Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Queen for a Night

One Night with the King

Somehow the conversation come up that there was a movie playing around that was about the events of the book of Esther. I hear it's pretty accurate for a romantic comedy. Well, I don't know if it's all that comedic, but I do hear they made Xerxes into a nice guy, so I figure that "romantic comedy" is probably pretty fitting.

Anyway, I think the film's called One Night with the King, but I keep getting mixed up and calling it Queen for a Night. Probably a matter of six in one hand, half-dozen in the other. In any case, this serves, I think, to highlight some of the weirdnesses of the story of Esther.

I'm not really sure where to begin, but let's talk essentials. Mordecai. Essentially a pimp? Who whores his cousin out to the king, knowing that he'll think she's hot and that maybe this could work to someone's advantage somewhere down the line. Esther. Essentially Xerxes's flavour of the night? With how often she saw the king and what a big deal it was when she did, we can assume that she was just one in a cast of thousands.

Let's forget about the weirdness of Mordecai grooming his cousin who he cares for like a daughter to be meat for the Persian king. Let's try not to think about how one might prepare a girl to really excel at that position.

What I'm curious about is how Mordecai can justify his action in light of his religion. Under the Mosaic covenant, the children of Israel were forbidden to intermarry with the pagan. That was a very bad thing and caused, really, the downfall of the nation. So, what is Mordecai thinking, by preparing his Jewish cousin to be bed-buddies with the king of the pagan empire? I can think of only two probable conclusions: a) he was a bad, bad man whose inadequacies we gloss over because we're willing to let the end justify the means in this case; or b) the Mosaic covenant was no longer applicable, as the Israelites had already received the final execution of its sanctions.

Anyway, I'd like to raise a toast this Valentine's Day to Esther: Queen for a night. Or three. Suffice it to say: cultures are weird.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Coffee Haüs Profiles

Neckbeard the Pirate

As I've been spending a lot of time at one of the local purveyors of over-priced and caffeinated beverages - enough time, perhaps, to even be considered a regular - I have the opportunity to spy out an enormous quantity of people from the many varieties of Southern Orange County life.

Today's episode: Neckbeard the Pirate.

Ahoy, ye lubbers of land! Heaken thine scalliwaggerly ear unto this yap and hear ye the tale of Neckbeard the Pirate!

Okay. I'm not gonna write the entire post in anything so obnoxious as that. I'll just stick to my normal level of obnoxiousness. I looked and looked and looked on Google for an image that truly spelled out the facial-pube horror that IS Neckbeard the Pirate, but though I found a good number of scarinesses, nothing truly captured Neckbeard's awe-striking style.

Neckbeard comes in once or twice a week and seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a rather shy young lad. He sports loose-fitting jeans, a zippered hoody, and the most shocking display of misplaced facial plumage I have ever had the pleasure/horror of witnessing firsthand. Instead of your garden variety, Abe-Lincoln-inspired neck growth, he has collected what would normally be considered a longish, gangly, hipster goatee. Yet this scraggly hirsute proturbance issues not from his chin as would be proper and modest. It is not even beneath his chin - a style that has a modicum of acceptance in less respectable climes. No, this wonderment pours forth from that point, that obtuse angle, at which under-chin and neck meet (on those who have the good fortune to not yet have that obtuse angle have slumped into a plane).

Neckbeard the Pirate

Really, I don't know what more there is to say. Except maybe that I don't really sleep all that well on nights when Neckbeard the Pirate crosses my path. Woe unto us all for he makes his curse to be our curse.

In any case, here are some amusing and troublesome - though less troublesome than neckbeard himself - examples of neck beards:

Neckbeard the Pirate



Friday, February 23, 2007

These Were the Ashes They Lent Me

Ashes to Ashes

Ah, 'tis the season to be lenting. Fa la la la la, la la la lah. As remarked elsewhere, I'll be celebrating Lent this year by giving up Lent. I know, I know. It'll big a big sacrifice, but I like to think I'm up to the challenge. Last year, for Lent, I gave up not commenting on Scott's site while he gave up the internet for forty days. I almost made it too, but I got lazy near the end. Isn't that always the way with us Lenters.

When I was again considering what I find so deeply distasteful about Lent (and at root, unchristian), I thought of a number of issues related to the topic, but I won't share those. Well, not all of them anyway. I treated one aspect last year. Here's another.

Lenters announcing their fast strikes me as something quite akin to trumpeting one's prayer or offering. The Lookatme-Lookatme aspect is almost inescapable. Everybody is happy to announce what they are sacrificing oh-so-noblely this year. What are you giving up? Oh for me? The internet. For me? Chocolate! For me? Caffeine! For me? RSS Feeds! For me? Pornography! For me? Boasting in artifice!

Making time in one's schedule to contemplate with sobriety the life, obedience, death, justification, and ascension of Christ is a great thing. We should do it all the time. And constantly be reminding ourselves to think thusly. But so much of Lent-practice strikes me as Hey everybody! Look what a sacrifice I'm gonna make for Jesus!

Look. Our entire lives are to be a sacrifice. A living sacrifice. And we are to submit ourselves humbly before our God, neither parading our deeds nor trusting in our own covenants to merit us good. If you want to participate in Lent as a personal reminder to spend more time with and in the Word, than please do so. Only don't parade it. Don't lift it up as if it is some Holy Thing.

But! Just so you guys won't think I'm a total Grinch, here's a picture from a couple days ago on Ash Wednesday with a little Ash on my forehead:

Lend some Ash and I'll sing you an evil tune...

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Authorial Intent and Self-Contradiction

What Is vs. What I Like

Scott (who is not as patient as he looks) took note of a comment I made last year on a post on DYL that seems to stand in contradiction to more recent comments of mine. In the original post, Jessica raises the question of authorial intent in discussing the re-imagination of a prior creator's work. In comments there, I state something along the lines of:

I donít see any problem with interpreting additional information into oneís perspective on literature and film. When I read a novel, I have almost no interest in what the author intended; my only concern is whether my personal experience of the text is satisfactory.

In response to Rich (Jessica's husband), who suggests that Jessica's lax response to the question of authorial intent poses certain (and potentially heretical) dangers if applied to Holy Writ, I respond with:

Your example, comparing Jessicaís view on lit to heresy if applied to Scripture is akin to comparing oneís liberty to prefer chocolate ice cream over sushi to oneís preference of one religion over another (making it a matter of taste). Because whatís at stake is so different, the comparisons cannot be made.

Scott points out that this seems to be at odds with recent comments I've made regarding the primacy of authorial intent in interpreting a text (mostly here and on Johnny T's site). Specifically, he quotes:

A question for you: if author intent does not concern us when we seek to arrive at Meaning, what does that mean for your biblical hermeneutic. It seems rather destructive to me, not caring what God actually meant. But then, maybe Iím putting words in your mouth.

Now then, how is our fiery The Dane to extricate himself from this tangled net of words? Can he possibly be free of contradiction? Or should we just say that he changed his mind and leave it at that? Or, more palatably, is he some babbling moron who just chooses a position based upon the roll of a d20 and rerolls every time a topic comes up? Not unlikely, but today I think we'll find a slightly different answer to the posed dilemma.

A big part of the answer comes when we consider that in the two places, I am talking about two different things. In the one case, I am talking about discovering a text's meaning. In the other case, I am talking about how I approach reading books and watching movies. The difference lies in one single piece of information: when devouring novels or movies, I rarely pay any thought to Meaning.

It's true. On a personal level, I don't care what literature or cinema means. I imbibe because I enjoy, not because I care to have a window into the soul of a stranger. Occasionally - and this is rare indeed - a story will so affect me that I'll become interested in what it means. In those cases, I doggedly pursue authorial intent. Because. Authorial intent is so intimate with Meaning that it cannot be overlooked.

So there we have it Scott. Where meaning is concerned, authorial intent is king. Where personal enjoyment is at the fore, meaning may or may not play any part at all and so authorial intent mileage will vary.

How this works in the details of my criticism of Rich (that bringing up Bible interpretation wasn't important) and my question to Johnny T (wondering how could he hold to the degradation of authorial intent and still interpret Scripture with "accuracy") is this:

Rich compared how Jessica approaches literature with a heretical approach to Scripture, though Jessica wasn't talking about Meaning but only about what she gets out of literature and movies. Johnny was talking about Meaning and texts. I maintain that they were talking about two different things. And from this, we may gather that yes, I definitely see Meaning and What One Gets Out of Something as being two entirely different creatures - that sometimes cross paths.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Half-Foil/Half-Monkey Monsters

Jonathan Coulton: He'll Swallow Your Soul

Tonights plans were foiled.

Foiled by a number of things. Time. Distance. Sanity. You know, the usual suspects.

In any case, what I am missing is Jonathan Coulton's show tonight up in L.A. I had thought to myself that it would be rad to speed up to Hollywood tonight after I finish helping with the juniour high group and settle myself in for an evening of ponies, monkeys, and destitute sea horses.

But eventually, reality came a-calling and reminded me the show didn't start 'til 11:oo. Which means not getting home 'til after 1:oo - as Hollywood is a good hour-long drive. I also read how his San Francisco show was entirely sold out and really didn't have the desire to drive all the way up to some hole in Hollywood only to be turned back at the door.

*sigh* 'Twas not meant to be. Here's hoping that his next visit out to the West Coast will include an Orange County show.

For those unaware, Jonathan Coulton is a male songstress who is eminently worthwhile (as far as listening to his songs goes). He's funny, creative, and dare I say, snappy? I dare. Here, then, is a brief introduction to the works of the man who I will not hear singing live tonight.

He'll soft-rock your face offJonathan Coulton was born to a pack of roaming gypsies in the arid wastelands of Coulchester, Connecticut back in the '40s. As a young man in his mid-to-ambiguous-twenties, he developed a taste for application programming using VB .NET. Sensibly, he found such tastes to be soul-sucking and through pale, hollowed eyes, he glimpsed a dream. A dream that included occasionally playing soul-crushing (in an inspiring way) music at venues that prohibit my attendance via difficulties with time and space. It should also be noted that as yet, he has no entry on the Encyclopedia Mythic. Further, he would like to stick it to the RIAA and does so by "successfully" employing a Creative Commons license on his product.

Essential Coulton Links:
His Website
The Mike Spiff Videos - Mike Spiff's WoW machinima are fun productions that bring life to Coulton's songs. Uhm, not that his songs don't already have life... nevermind (p.s. his First of May video is definitely NSFWOPHOAEMYLRGLSSFIABUWHAMYL*
   • Re Your Brains (was hugely popular a while back)
   • Skullcrusher Mountain
Code Monkey Jammy Dance - "Code Monkey" is anthemic. Jammy dances are rad. In theory.
Code Monkey vs. The Uke

*Not Safe For Work Or Probably Home Or Anywhere Except Maybe Your Lame Roommate's Girlfriends Laptop So She'll Find It And Break Up With Him And Make You Laugh

So then to wrap up:

My Top 5 Jonathan Coulton Songs
(in no order beyond alphabetical)

"Re Your Brains"

"Code Monkey"

"Soft Rocked by Me"

"Skullcrusher Mountain"

"I Feel Fantastic"

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Coffee Haüs Profiles

The Budding Insurgent

As I've been spending a lot of time at one of the local purveyors of over-priced and caffeinated beverages - enough time, perhaps, to even be considered a regular - I have the opportunity to spy out an enormous quantity of people from the many varieties of Southern Orange County life.

Today's episode: The Budding Insurgent.

As they sat down - a mother, a a father, and a boy of about ten years old - they continued a conversation that had evidently garnered no small history preceeding my own inclusion in it (via dropped eaves). An arcane and solemn energy crackled from their dance of words - the parents stern and understanding, the child wild with righteousness.

"But dad, if everyone needs food to live, then shouldn't the government provide it?"

The concern and quiet shame etched into the lines on his face, the father patiently paced through his ritual explanation of which responsibilities were the governments and which were not. I can only imagine the fear that such a singular question could bring to the hearts of such stolid and upstanding capitalists as themselves. These were members of the Dove Canyon elite, after all. Or maybe it was Coto de Caza. Who can tell, these days?

In any case, their lecture went on a good fifteen minutes or more, punctuated by plaintive cries from the mother, her last desperate hopes to sway her son from a life of reverencing Che Guevara and Karl Marx, from a Chomsky-infused activism in his college years some time down the road. "But hunny," she said. "Most people are democrats because they don't know any better. I mean, even I used to be a democrat!"

And so it went. I don't think this kid bought into it though. I think his parents are probably crying themselves to sleep, praying for his soul.

Also, I think they must have been headed to his aunt's house or something because as they got up to go, the youngster sighed deeply, stating that he would "rather spend a hundred years here than an hour there." Either that or they had finally gotten to him and he was just talking about France.



Thursday, February 08, 2007

It Lives?

talking about books

As I prepared to embark on my current project, a serious, 350-page graphic novel, Trouble asked me to keep in mind the process as I went. See, he had always heard interviews with authors who spoke whimsically of their creations, saying things like, "I was really surprised. The character just kind of took a life of his own and took the story in a whole direction that I hadn't planned." As he was skeptical, Trouble wanted to know if I would have the same experience.

The answer, of course, is no. I haven't had this experience. I attribute this to the fact that I am sane.

The thing we have to remember is this: the characters in a story are entirely fabricated by the author. Good, bad. Pure, impure. They're all aspects of the author's mind. And what's more, every story is contrived. By the author. The author is soverveign over every jot and tittle. The author is the one who says, You know what? This character, Melissa? She's not quite satisfied with the explanation that Lt. Whatshisface gave her down at the police station. And because of that, she's going to do this and that and another thing - which will take the story to its end. Its appointed end, I might add.

What might surprise authors is the breadth of creativity they possess. They might be shocked that they thought of something better than their first choice of character direction. They might be wowed at how easy it is to write a given story. But this has nothing to do with the character coming to life or writing himself. It doesn't even have anything to do with the author being surprised by what a character did in a situation.

It has everything with either an author being two steps shy of a foxtrot or, more likely, the author is just trying to be cute and cloyingly reverential toward his own creation. And people fall in love with that picture.

The fact of the matter is, no story writes itself and no character takes on a life of its own. There are stories that are easy to write and one's that aren't. The stories that we write effortlessly are the ones that are most at home in the morrow of our knowledge and imagination. The characters that we write most easily are the one's we are most comfortable with (what that says about authors who are most comfortable writing villains is something I'll leave alone for now). And the stories that really stretch us? Those are the ones that require research, that deal with characters we're not all that familiar with, with situations with which we share no analogue.

Me, writing a believable story about a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will not be an easy experience. That story will not seem like it's writing itself. Now, a story about an artist living in a studio in Laguna Beach going to local churches to find girls to date? Piece of cake, because even though I've never been that guy or done those things, there are enough shared experiences between my life and his that it'd be a breeze. So basically, when you hear someone say that a story wrote itself or that a character took on a life of its own, they're essentially admitting that you'll be buying and reading something that contains a minimum of their creative spirit, that you're going to be purchasing something they made only for the paycheck.

And that's today's Tip for the Day! And knowing is half the battle.

*note - mast image ripped from threadless and this guy, Ian



Monday, February 05, 2007

My Top 15 Favourite Comic Characters

Yotsuba& Cats

Basically, everyone knows how I love doing lists in lieu of actual posts. The funny thing is that lists take me way more time than, say, a thousand word discussion of why Lynn Johnston's For Better or for Worse is an apt metaphor for a failing marriage. In any case, this one is inspired by Kalinara's recent look at her four favourite comic book characters. Since I was feeling less than exclusionary, here are my Top 15.

1 - Bigby Wolf (Fables - DC/Vertigo)
Bigby WolfBigby is great. Let me get that out of the way from the outset. He's got this deep sense of purpose. He's patient and cunning. He's brave and strong. He's high adventure, secret intrigue, and noir potboiler in a single, perfect package. He's a lover and a fighter. And he doesn't beat around the bush. He's invincible and vulnerable all at once. He's the king of wolves and he believes in marriage. And that is just rad.
2 - Yotsuba (Yotsuba& - ADV)
Bigby WolfYotsuba is that pure kind of childhood that all of us wish we remembered and none of us ever really had. She's undiluted by the world around her. Pure. She takes the goofiness of this world and, by her other-ness, shows it for what it truly is: goofy.
3 - Dove (Hawk and Dove - DC)
DoveWhen Barbara and Karl Kesel were writing Hawk and Dove, they brought to life a Dove who I could immediately respect. Dawn Granger was smart, sharp-witted, and actually had a personality. It would have been too easy for her to be just a girl in a painted-on costume who behaved as an automatic writing for the Lords of Order. But she was too good for that.
4 - Usagi Yojimbo (Usagi Yojimbo - Dark Horse)
Usagi YojimboWhat strikes me first about Usagi Miyamoto is that he is humble. Honestly humble. Not that fake sort of humility you get with Superman where he pretends to be weak to fit in. Usagi is one of the better swordsman wandering the countryside of a feudal Japan peopled by anthropomorphic animals; and yet he willingly subverts his skills until needed not because he wants so desperately to fit in, but because his humility is hard earned. Once proud, he learned to respect the value of life. He learned that his talents were not enough to make him the best. He learned that he had ever so much more to learn. He learned that he is no better than those among whom he sojourns. And that is something special.
5 - Hellboy (Hellboy - Dark Horse)
HellboyHellboy is the kinda guy whom we would describe as a galoot. Or if not "we" then certainly someone from a bygone era of American history would have. He's enormous and has a fitting weight upon his shoulders - the weight of knowing he shall bring the world to an end - and he approaches this with a certain devil-may-care attitude. He reminds me of what the Thing would be if he were less a caricature than he is. Oh, and if he was a demon, of course.
6 - Starman (Starman - DC)
StarmanJack Knight is exactly the kinda guy I can relate to. Relentlessly hip in an entirely trivial way. Dearly attached to cultures that don't exist. And he appreciates a good Hawaiian shirt. Of all my favourites, he was always the most reluctant hero. It was a joy to watch his story unfold over the course of eighty or so chapters.
7 - Virginia Applejack (Stray Bullets - El Capitan)
Virginia ApplejackPoor little Virginia Applejack. She carries about her the scent of doom, of a life that's fated for catastrophe. Still, she's scrappy and she's tough and she's too big for her britches and really, in the end, she'll kick your butt. It may take a while for her to get around to it but sooner or later, she'll take a swing at your head with a baseball bat. Unless she's protecting you, that is. Respect.
8 - Bartleby (Bone - Cartoon Books)
BartlebyBartleby, in a classic struggle between nature vs. nurture, overcomes his carnivorous tendencies to become the Bone cousins' most stalwart ally. Really, besides being a foil for Smiley Bone (and cute as a button), he just wants to help. And he probably wouldn't ever touch a quiche.
9 - Daredevil (Daredevil - Marvel)
DaredevilThe blind lawyer/vigilante may be Marvel's greatest creation. Spider-Man's is a good character and fun to read and identify with, but Daredevil is just plain intriguing. He believes deeply in the American judicial process and the Rule of Law; but simultaneously, he circumvents the law daily in his vigilante activities, and in so doing, admits that the Rule of Law is flawed. Plus he's blind. Like justice. Get it? Really, it kind of depends on who's writing him, but in the hands of Bendis or Nocenti, he is an awesome read.
10 - Ayumu "Osaka" Kasuga (Azumanga Daioh - ADV)
OsakaI know it's cheating but the Osaka from the comic and the Osaka from the tv adaptation of the comic blend into one for me and I hear the English voice actress for Osaka every time I read her lines in the books (like how I now hear Johnny Depp every time I read something by Hunter S. Thompson). And that = rad. It's funny too, because I read the books before I ever saw the show. I think the show just jived so well with what was in my head that it immediately became Right. In any case, I think I have a thing for seemingly dumb-but-funny characters, who then turn out to be not so dumb but only different (I also adore Roger from BPRD and Smiley Bone from Bone). In any case, Osaka is the reason to read/watch Azumanga Daioh.
11 - Liz Sherman (Hellboy and BPRD) - Dark Horse
Liz ShermanLiz carries just the right mix of melancholy and humour to be truly horrified by herself but still find genuinely rich friendship in the company of Hellboy and Abe Sapien. She's somber and morose and with good reason. But there's still something in there that wants to escape the horror and the moping. And it's that spark in her that I love.
12 - Knives Chau (Scott Pilgrim - Oni Press)
Knives ChauI'm so stoked beyond belief that someone would name their daughter Knives that it hardly even matters what her character is. Fortunately, she's nice and sweet and I just feel bad for her and want to root for her. I'm conflicted because I'm mad at Scott for dumping a girl named Knives, but I understand why he did it. *shrug* Poor little Knives Chau.
14 - Spider-Man (Spider-Man - Marvel)
Spider-ManReally, it's pretty hard not to like Spider-Man. He's one of the best characters ever created. He's iconic without really having much of an icon. It's really hard to get around his origin theme: With great power comes great responsibility. When I got to the end of Jack Knight's story, I couldn't help comparing him to Spider-Man and asking, How will he sleep, knowing that he had the power to help and gave it up? Spider-Man's power is both oppressive and fun for him. It's the bane and boon of his existence. He should be in therapy, but he's too busy saving your life.
13 - Sam Smith (Mister Blank - SLG)
Sam SmithSam Smith is exactly who I'd want to be if they made a comic of my life. He's unassuming and average. Yet, when things crank up and the world around him falls apart, he's right there, poking life and fate in the eye with a sharp stick. He gots moxie, this guy. And he gots it in spades.
15 - Fone Bone (Bone - Cartoon Books)
Fone BoneReally, the only reason anything in Bone turns out alright in the end is because of this guy. When Gran'ma Ben and Thorn are acting like ninnies, playing the melodramatic card, this little guy plods forth with a resolve unmatched. He's kinda like Sam Smith in that way. Both Thorn and her grandmother, Rose, have powers and abilities - and the still mess things up. Fone Bone's got none of that, but what he does have is determination founded in love. This guy is the real deal.

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Public Domain Dedication

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