Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Ok, if I were to say, "(Parenthetically speaking, the proposition is true)", would that be the same as saying "((The proposition is true.))"?

In other news, I slept poorly last night. Coincidence? ((I think not.))


That Song Is About What???

I recently read John J. Miller's article, "Rockin' the Right" (I read the print version in the latest issue of National Review, but I assume the NRO version is identical), which purports to list the top 50 'conservative rock songs' of all time. Certainly, the list is compelling and interesting -- note that he separates the song from the singer -- that is, he looks only at the lyrics of the song in question, ignoring any politics for which the band or singer might be famous.

Anywho, coming in at number 23 is Ben Folds Five's Brick. In his writeup, Mr. Miller tells us that the song is about the "emotional scars of 'reproductive freedom' " -- apparently it's about Mr. Folds' real-life experience taking his highschool girlfriend to get an abortion.

Like many "brickheads", as the now-defunct band's "true fans" like to derisively call us, that song, their only major radio hit, was what got me listening to the group (and stands out as one of their few melancholy, slow songs -- most are upbeat "piano rock" songs). So the song is very familiar to me. And yet... I never thought it was about abortion. Weird. I'm trying to think on other past revelations of songs I may have listened to but never really considered the meaning. However, being somewhat musically dense, nothing is coming to mind. Anybody else?

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wherefore Peritomen?

Sorry for the (intentional) obfuscation in the title. But I warn you: the following discussion is probably for guys only, as it's something to which only men can relate: circumcision (peritomen being the Koine Greek word for it). Specifically, the act of circumcision as required by Mosaic law of all Hebrew males. More to the point: Why, specifically, circumcision? What about that particular act made it special to God?

My thinking of this was recently spurred on by an all-male group study of Romans. We started getting a bit... antsy in the pantsy... if you will, when Paul began talking about "the circumcised" (the Jews) and "the uncircumcised" (the Gentiles). While I've thought of it before, we all were trying to consider the reason why God would demand first of Abraham and then of all his descendants that their male children all be circumcised -- why not a tattoo, or a garment of some sort, or maybe some other symbolic gesture of some sort. Why incise the foreskin of the penis? It just boggles the mind that God would be so interested in our hoo-hoo-dillies.

First, though, let us consider: what was circumcision intended for? Very clearly, Genesis 17:11 says that it was to be "a sign of the covenant between [God] and [Abraham]". Did the circumcision make Abraham righteous? Of course not. Paul himself makes this very clear in Romans 3, and even in Genesis 15:6, Abraham was declared righteous before God, before circumcision entered into the picture. It was a symbol, a symbol of the covenant -- a mark upon a People whom God declared to be special. So, when I read in Romans "the circumcised", I read "the people who God deemed special". It served as a reminder to the male Hebrews: you are special, you are marked by God. Behave accordingly.

Ok, so now we have a reason as to why there was at least an act or sign to separate them. But why that specific act? Here's my thoughts: what if it had been a tattoo, or a piece of clothing, or something else? First, those are all obvious, outward signs. Many cultures, or groups within cultures, have adopted certain affectations like this, to set themselves apart. And I suspect such obvious, outward symbols have universally been met with jealousy, scorn, and derision -- at least in the long term. People don't like to be reminded that you consider them inferior in some way. Even a tattoo is likely to be seen by others. Moreover, all of those symbols can be falsified in some way -- someone can wear a uniform, or someone can paint a tattoo on themselves, and at least superficially pass for a member of the selected class, since it is an outward sign. But what if you, as the person dictating this requirement, wanted your followers to not boast about the sign? Then you'd have them put the sign somewhere that nobody would ever see it.

Now, on a man, where is one place that a mark may be made that no-one would ever see? That's right, north of the kneecaps, south of the navel. Think on this: when it comes to male nudity, that is the only area that seems nearly universally to be deemed taboo. Slaves (ancient) would work in the field stripped to the waist, but they'd wear at least a loincloth. Ever seen Sumo wrestling? The only thing that the traditional obi covers is -- you guessed it -- that region. Even the buttocks are typically bared for all the world to see. There doesn't seem to be any restrictions on what a male may wear (or not wear) on his legs, arms, chest, head, etc., but the bits and pieces must be covered at (almost) all times!

Sure, there are exceptions to this: the ancient Greeks would hold atheletic competitions in the nude, after all, and some native tribes even in the modern world seem to walk around completely exposed. Of course, exeptions do not disprove a rule -- atheletics in ancient Greece were all about exhibiting the exquisite form of the athelete, after all; and while some aborigines do not cover themselves, so many more do, without having been told to -- it's hard-wired into our genes, or our souls, at least (you may argue here that this is an evolutionary trait -- we are protecting that which allows us to reproduce -- and frankly, I'm perfectly ok with that explanation).

So God gave a symbol of His convenant to Abraham, but made it such that that symbol is placed in a spot where it would be hidden to all except the bearer of the mark, and his most intimate of associates. This meshes well with the Judeo-Christian principle of humility, I'd think. It's like God is saying: "You get to be special. You get to be better than everyone else, because I have chosen you to be my People. In fact, I want you to mark yourselves to set yourselves apart. But you're not going to want to show that mark to anyone else, are you?" God, I think, is never arbitrary, desipte what some critics would have us believe. But having infinite and boundless wisdom and acting on it might look like that to us poor mortals.

Afterthoughts: Of course, this only addresses the specific covenant between Abraham and God, to bless him and his descendants. It does not address salvation, or the necessity (or lack thereof) of Christians to be circumcised. I think Paul addresses that vastly more eloquently than I ever could, so go read the first four chapters of Romans, or a couple chapters in Galatians. I think Galatians chapter 5, in particular, nails it.


Monday, May 22, 2006

The Demography, Indeed.

Not too terribly long ago, Mark Steyn wrote an article entitled "It's the Demography, Stupid", in which he pointed out that Europe was, indeed, going out with a whimper and not a bang -- largely due to the dwindling traditional European demographic, and the "rising star" of the north African/Arab Muslim demographic. It's an eye-opening and important read, so if you have not read it, go there now.

Anywho, the Mazur boys just put up a post commenting on various baby name trends, including a link to the Name Voyager, which is a fun little toy to play with -- and play with it I did. Now, look at the trends for common, traditional boy names such as "Robert" and "James" and "William", etc. Virtually every common, ordinary name I typed in, with only a few exceptions, has been on the decline as a percent-share of the general population (which is the figure-of-merit on the charts at that link) since, typically, the 70's.

I think there are two possible reasons for this: a) name diversity has been increasing. Certainly (as the Mazurs lament), "Designer Names" are on the rise -- "Jaiden" and "Mackenzie" and "Skyler" and the like (and those are just the boy names!). This certainly accounts for some of it, but I think there's a bigger trend.

b) The proportion of people who would pick "common" or "traditional" names is decreasing. First, the most obvious increasing demographic in this country: type in names like "Juan" and "Carlos" and "Pablo" -- and virtually any typical Hispanic name you can think of! Every last one of them is on the rise, steeply. Now, I don't know a lot of white folk -- even those on the cutting edge of naming trends -- who who are naming their kids like that. So that certainly says something.

However, more in line with Steyn's observations, type in "Mohamed" (or just "Moham" to catch several variants). Type in "Ali". Sweating yet?

Of course, it's not all bad news. A lot of ultra-traditional names, taken straight from the Old Testament, are on a very steep rise as well. Abraham, Isaac (our own choice, should we have a boy in the future), Jacob, Israel -- got the Patriarchs covered (whither Joseph, though?). Prophets? Check: Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Micah, Malachi, Zechariah, Elisha, Elijah... very steep rise on those names as well. So either the Jewish migration to Israel has gone in reverse, or there's a return to the "Judeo" part of our Judeo-Christian roots.

Still no Haggais or Habbakuks though. What gives?

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Dumb-Vinci Code

You like that title? I came up with it all by myself!

Ok, two movie blog posts in two days -- sorry. Anywho, I just watched this clip over at CNN (full spoof feature here), and it pretty much proves it: Dan Brown is an idiot man-child. Apparently, Mr. "I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and called that 'research'" Brown failed to do any more research beyond the sketchy (at best) religious pseudohistory he presents in his novel, and it has Al-bean-os up in their pasty-white arms. For one, the albino (sorry, "person with albinism") character Silas has the stereotypical "pink eyes", which (who knew?) are actually just a myth. Not only that, he is able to engage in a car chase at night, and shoots people from a distance using a rifle -- both impossible for your typical albino, who often has many problems with his or her vision.

Ha ha, Dan Brown is an idiot. Let's all point and laugh.

Anywho, yeah, I read the Da Vinci Code. It was terrible. I read Angels and Demons (its prequel -- although is a story written before and taking place before considered a "prequel", or is that only a story written after and taking place before? I mean, The Road Warrior is definitely a prequel to Mad Max, but would you call Rocky a prequel to Rocky II? But I digress...) before that, and it was equally terrible. Fast-paced? Sure. Action-packed? Kinda, yeah, ok. But the literary quality is somewhere between one of those Harlequin romance novels and a pulp comic from back in the days of yore (yes, my older readers, the days of yore, I say!). An example from Angels and Demons, of which I'm quite fond, goes something like this: Our intrepid college professor of symbology (is there a lamer hero archetype, Professor Henry Jones Junior notwithstanding?) just happens to be wandering through a research facility (CERN, I believe, although I could be mistaken here), and of course just happens to wander past a vertical wind tunnel in which a research scientist is currently floating. Of course, then somebody casually mentions to him some physical property about drag and (I think) terminal velocity in freefall, and then our wordsmith of an author whips out the follow-up (I'm paraphrasing here): "Little did [our hero] know, that fact would save his life that very night!"

Oh man. Can we just hand him a Pulitzer or a Nobel right now and call it a day? Such elegant, subtle use of that clever, ingenious literary technique called "foreshadowing" that I'm sure his ninth-grade english teacher told him about, too! Wow!

Actually, the word "hamfisted" comes to mind regarding his abuse of that particular device. And I don't mean in the traditional sense exclusively -- I actually have this image of Dan Brown with two large hams at the end of his wrists instead of hands, aimlessly pounding an old typewriter in a vain effort to come up with better drivel than he currently produces.

This dovetails nicely into a trend I've seen among the book's critics from the religious angle. Even my own pastor, who will be giving a sermon this weekend on the historical inaccuracy of his book (followed by a live simulcast on the topic featuring Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, later Sunday evening), had to thrown in a line about the book being "well read/written" in the church bulletin. It's as if no one wants to admit that Dan Brown is a really, really, really, really, really, really bad author. For crap's sake, I'M a better author than this man -- even this blog post has higher literary quality than his books, and believe me, that's no boast!
Anywho, it's like people want to be careful to point out that they're only criticizing it from a historical perspective, lest anyone damn their credentials as literary critics.

Of course, this all begs the question -- if the book was so terribly written and rife with historical inacc -- er, err -- oh, ok, fabrications, why has it been such a huge phenomenon? Without delving into the psyche of middle america (maybe that's another blog post), let us at least examine a simple analogy:

The Da Vinci Code : Fine Literature :: _________ : Fine Cinema

a) The Seventh Seal
b) Citizen Kane
c) Rashomon
d) Armageddon, or Mission Impossible, or Titanic, or Independence Day, or any one of hundreds of their ilk.

Hint: The correct answer does not appear on the "2" button of a standard touch-tone phone.

I'm not even going to waste my time "debunking" the religious and historical aspects of the book. Suffice it to say that I, a college-educated-but-not-theologically-trained individual, was able to spot and counter a number of historical fallacies and falsifications (not the least of which was the nature of the Council of Nicaea, which Brown maintains was the point at which the Christian church "declared" Christ to be divine). The problem here is that the vast majority of the world, even among Christians, have such a weak and tenuous grasp on world- and Christian- history (and we can thank "progressive" education standards and touchy-feely college professors for that, I think) that they can't spot the lies when they see 'em. And that's a shame.
But because the book "really made them think!", it's declared to be a Great Work. Bleh. Why do I think many of these are the same people about whom it can be said The X-Files or Fahrenheit 9/11 "really made them think"? Real James 1:6b kinda people, if you ask me.

Ok, I'm done here.

Update: Ok, apparently that link doesn't work. CNN has always been on the non-cutting edge of the internet world, what with free video only being a recent addition to their website and all. They also don't seem to realize that being able to link articles is the very substrate upon which "teh intarweb" has grown, and do not make their videos linkable, at least easily, as far as I can tell. Hooray for the morons at CNN! For now, just go to their main page and read the article. Once they remove it, you're own your own.

Update 2: Just watched "The Da Vinci Deception" on the religious channel last night. Hour-long program that succinctly debunks all the major fallacies of the novel (some I didn't even catch!). As it's hosted by Dr. James Kennedy, and features a number of "popular" conservative Christian luminaries (Lee Strobel, Paul Maier, Kennedy himself, and a couple other names I recognized -- and don't worry, they threw in a couple Catholics for good measure, so it's not just evangelicals!), it's not exactly an "unbiased report", but you can't argue with the facts. Two quick highlights:

CLAIM: The figure seated next to Jesus Christ in Leonardo's "The Last Supper" is not John, but Mary Magdalene.

DEBUNK: a) If that's Mary, then where's John? That would leave only 11 other disciples in the painting! b) John is always presented as a young figure (and thus "effeminate-looking") in classical art. Were all classical artists therefore in on the conspiracy?

CLAIM: Well, not really a claim, but all of Brown's Art Historians and other experts refer to the man almost exclusively as "Da Vinci"...

DEBUNK: ...which of course just means "of Vinci". No true art historian or historian in general, or anyone "in the know", would refer to him as "Da Vinci", but as "Leonardo". This just shows that Brown's "research" was minimal at best, and that, again pointing and laughing, he is an idiot.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Hollywood Thinks You're Stupid

Ok, the title should not come as a shock to anybody, but it's true, Hollywood thinks you are stupid. What brought this particular rant on, though? Well, the wife and I just watched Memoirs of a Geisha the other night, that's why. Eh? Follow me here.

Now, before I continue, I should note that I took 2 years of Japanese as my language requirement back in college, and I've logged probably in excess of 1000 hours listening to Japanese being spoken (mostly in the form of animated films, old samurai flicks, and a bunch of Kurosawa and Miyazaki, apart from class-related activities). So, I think I've developed an ear, at least, for what the language ought to sound like -- not that I'm fluent in it myself, mind you -- it's been 6 years since I last studied it.

Clearly, this film is holds itself as an authentic look into immedately pre- and post-WWII Japan, particularly through the lense of that uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon that was geisha.
And yet, to accomplish this goal, they hired for their lead roles non-Japanese actresses to play the lead roles! Not just filler roles, but the two main roles of Sayuri (the Geisha whose Memoirs are being told), and Hatsumomo, her main geisha rival, played by Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li, respectively. Oh, and the primary supporting character of Mameha, Sayuri's mentor? Michelle Yeoh. It's beginning to read like a Hong Kong action flick. I was expecting Chow-Yun Fat to come out any moment as the emperor, with bodyguard Jet Li, and Jackie Chan as none other than Tojo himself!

Anywho, I thought Hollywood, for all its self-righteous, smug pomposity, had at least moved beyond the awkward and embarassing days of white men in blackface, or the leading men of the day smearing brown paint on their faces to play mexicans or indians (dots, yes, and feathers!) or arabs or Klingons or what-have-you -- I thought we had reached a point where people of ethnicity X got to play people of ethnicity X, except in such cases where ethnicity X is only distinct by its language rather than any physical appearance, in which case other people might suffice (I'm thinking here of americans playing Europeans and vice-versa, mostly -- although some Arab roles might fall into this as well as some Indian/Pakistani/Bengali roles). Sure, a lot of different Asian ethnicities are not all that different to our indiscriminate eyes, but please -- the actresses in question, in this country at least, are almost famous merely because of their ethnicity!

Ok, so that's one: casting chinese (well, two chinese and a malaysian, but they all speak chinese, anyhow) actresses in very Japanese roles. The second deals specifically with the language itself. I think a number of recent, independent and foreign films have shown us that the American audience is growing more sophisticated in its ability to -- wonder of all wonders -- read subtitles. Look at Passion of the Christ -- I doubt that film lost more than a handful of viewers to its lack of spoken english. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn't seem to suffer from a lack of audience, certainly. Nor did Amelie. All of these, in fact, received great acclaim both from critics and at the box office here in the states, given their (Passion excepted) relatively small releases. And yet, how are we treated in this film? Snippets of Japanese at the beginning, and sparsely interspersed throughout the rest of the film. The rest, including virtually all dialogue, spoken in English -- heavily accented, even when the speakers are native english speakers, as in the case of "The Baron", who IMDB tells me was an army brat who happened to be born in Tokyo, and "Young Pumpkin", who was born in Seattle to the slightly un-asian-sounding name of Zoe Weisenbaum. "Young Chiyo"'s english sounded so heavily accented as to be coached, (i.e., she didn't speak a word of english otherwise) and even some of the Japanese spoken in the beginning (here's where my "trained ear" comes into it) sounded like IT was spoken non-natively as well! (Side note: You ever hear Japanese spoken by an East Texan? Very funny stuff!).

You want to know how it ought to be done? Go watch "The Last Samurai". That movie, in spite of Tom Cruise, was fantastic. Ok, maybe even because of Tom Cruise -- he's a whackjob, yes, but a fantastic actor. I'd just never let him near my family, is all. Anywho, all the Japanese in that film was spoken -- horror of horrors! -- in Japanese!. All the English was spoken in english. A good deal of conflict was drawn from the very conflict resulting from the language barrier, even! Wow, what a concept!

Ok, third, somewhat minor note: just when the hell did Sayuri and Pumpkin and Mameha learn to speak such good english, when they were speaking with the Americans toward the end of the film? There was no attempt at translation, no indication that the americans were speaking Japanese (also unlikely at that point, I think), nothing. Just, BAM, this geisha could speak fluent, conversant english. Whaaaaaa?

Ok, final note: the film kept pointing out that Geisha was not about sex, and was not simple prostitution. And yet the major plot device of the film involved the geisha-to-be giving her -- umm, how do I say this gently -- "flower" to the highest bidder, so she could become a full geisha. Maybe this is something against Japanese culture rather than the film itself, but that sure seems to be sex-centric to me. And kinda icky, at that.

Oh, and the book upon which the film was based? Written by Arthur Golden. Hmm. "An authentic look into immedately pre- and post-WWII Japan" indeed.

Not that this is a film review, but the movie really fell apart toward the end anyways. WWII was a 5-minute segueway, followed by interloping, boorish American soldiers in all their glory... but remember, kids, negative stereotypes are only bad if they're NOT of Americans!


Monday, May 08, 2006

Fun with Hollywood!

For those of you interested in the goings on of Hollywood (and independent film distributors as well) from a financial angle rather than a consumption angle, have I got the place for you! The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a very impressive "game" site in which an entire stock exchange has been built up around movies, actors, directors, and related things. Movie "stock" prices are set based both on demand and on expected earnings -- and after a film's release, the price is readjusted to reflect its actual earnings. Think you can predict when a movie is going to flop? Short that mother! Think something's gonna be a sleeper? Go long on it. Best of all, it's completely free! (I think I read somewhere that, apart from ad revenue, studios pay the owners for alot of their stock data -- after all, if EVERYBODY is betting a movie will flop -- and there are thousands upon thousands of players -- it's probably gonna be a flop).

I've been playing for a few months, and have managed to turn my $2,000,000 initial sum
into about $8 million. It has its ups and downs -- I really thought The Sentinel would do much better, and lost about $750k on that one after my initial gains. However, I shorted MI3 this weekend, and earned a cool $1.7 million in 3 days! That pretty much made up for a string of recent losses. I was in the top 20 this weekend for gains! Hooray! If only I had had enough to fully invest in that short -- I could only afford around 38k shares, out of a max of 50k for movies (20k for actors, 10k for funds and options).

A word of advice -- shorting seems to be much more reliable than going long over opening weekends, especially as of late. There are a few exceptions -- harry potter, narnia, and a few others have all exceeded their expectations -- but generally hollywood is a big vortex of suck right now -- hence the fact that MI3 can lose $50 a share over its own opener. Also, most funds seem very reliable, steady, long-term gainers -- I think there's a minimum portfolio value requirement to start a fund. Actors and actresses are VERY long-term games. Whereas a movie's value can fluctuate +/- 5-10 points in a day and move like a roller coaster over weeks, an actor will generally never move more than $1 a share, and generally fluctuate about some stable mean -- and I think that has a lot to do with their system of evaluating an actor's net worth to set a price -- they only see major changes after a movie of theirs is a major hit or a flop, since their value is set as a moving average of their last few movies (with some other factors involved too). I almost never invest in actors, and I suspect few other serious players do either.

Meanwhile, I sunk $200k into the Summer Blockbuster fund and have made nearly $600k profit off that. Read the prospectus, and if their strategy sounds good, invest! If you catch it at the IPO, it'll generally be a modest outlay of cash for some steady growth. Unless the fund's "theme" -- they're all themed -- is arbitrary or trying to make a statement -- like the "black actors fund", dedicated to films featuring black actors or directors -- Denzel and Halle can only make so many movies, people! Bernie Mac and Queen Latifah are just not in the business of turning a huge profit!

You can also have fun with "penny stocks" -- I classify them as movies in development or wrap phase (you can search by phase!) that are less than $1 a share. I spent a whopping $20k on 50k shares in a sequel to the classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and it's up to around $5 a share now!

Anywho, it's good fun without having to actually WATCH the dreck that comes out of hollywood these days.