Tag Archives: culture

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

Controversy, Plague, And A Nursery Rhyme

Some things about England:

In England, Bob The Builder is called Robert The Construction Engineer.

In England, Spongebob Squarepants is translated into the local dialect as “Spongerobert Squaretrousers”.

These facts have two things in common: 1) that they are fun to say, and 2) they are completely untrue.

But there are occasionally cultural differences that I bump into.

Over here, there is this nursery rhyme:

Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posey,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

To someone used to a different version, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, like it came to American English from British English through a third-party language.

Of course, the version I grew up with doesn’t make much sense without the commonly-held explanation (which I also grew up with).

(A) Ring, a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
Atishoo, atishoo,
We all fall down.

The commonly-held explanation is that it refers to The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, or the Great Plague Of London.
The theory goes that a red circular rash (the “ring of roses”) was a symptom of the disease, as was sneezing. The bunch of flowers was some uneducated attempt to keep the disease away, and the falling down was the afflicted patient falling off the mortal coil. So to speak. The “ashes” from the American version may be associated with cremation, according to Wikipedia, and the “posey” is written as “posies” in the American version, too, so it could just be that the kids are singing it slightly wrong. Though “posie” in the singular is found on Snopes.

Wikipedia says that folklorists now dispute this association, but the short version of the explanation that appears there, isn’t entirely convincing. Not that it’s necessarily wrong, but doesn’t necessarily take everything into account, either.

1. The plague explanation didn’t appear until the mid-20th Century.
Seems to be the best point they make. No mention is made of where the Opies got that association: whether it was received, or whether they connected some dots and reached that conclusion.

2. The symptoms don’t correspond very well to the disease in question.
The footnote says the Opies (the ones who first published the connection between rhyme and disease) “note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.”
I find this to be interesting, because if the Opies were coming to this conclusion by dots-joining, wouldn’t this discrepancy lead them to some other conclusion instead?
There are some interesting things to note with this, too:
Another commonly-held belief about the spread of the plague, is that it was spread by rats and their fleas. You’d think that flea bites, while technically not a symptom of the plague itself, might leave itchy red spots.
And while the flowers may not have been an effective cure, or talismanic barrier, the Wikipedia page on the Bubonic plague mentions “There were many ethno-medical beliefs for avoiding the Black Death. One of the most famous was that by walking around with flowers in or around their nose people would be able to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them”.”
So, that would be the pocket full of posies accounted for in the explanation, and not the detraction.
I didn’t spot sneezing per se as a symptom, but coughing is mentioned (which would also require use of a handkerchief). Also, “The plague is also known to spread to the lungs and become the disease known as the pneumonic plague.” Pneumonic also lists coughing but not sneezing. One could imagine a conflation…

3. There are rather a lot of forms of the song, and only a few could have this meaning applied to them.
How often is there a song, and someone modifies the lyrics to it? There are plenty of examples of popular songs being reworded for advertising purposes. To claim (as both Wikipedia and Snopes do) that for this version of the song to have this meaning, it must be the original version, and other versions must be divergences from it, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Other printed variants may not see much use today as culture homogenises, but before such things as mass media and standardised education, local variants of things could hold on quite tenaciously. The number of versions of this song that are mentioned rather attest to this.
So I wouldn’t say the articles are necessarily wrong that this version of the song is unlikely to be the original, the trunk from which the others split. That does not necessarily preclude the possibility that it’s a local branch that gained more widespread popularity in later years. And if the interpretation was a received one, rather than formulated, then it’s pretty likely to have come through the same locality.

4. Talks about European variants, and other English 19th Century variants, which end up mattering not a bit if this version and its explanation are a localised branch variant.

Snopes on the subject goes on about mostly about trying to tie the American variant with the plague, which is trickier. “Ashes”, it notes, could either be a corruption of the sound in other variants (atishoo, hush, and several others), or it can mean “ashes” and have an explanation for that. which is a fair point if you’re talking about “Ring Around The Rosie”, and not a version that actually has “atishoo” in it.

Snopes also has a paragraph looking down its snooty nose about the late publication date of the rhyme in any form. I’m just going to copy the lengthy paragraph:

[“Ring Around the Rosie” is sometimes said to have originated with a later outbreak of the plague which occurred in London in 1665, to which all of the following reasoning applies as well.]

Although folklorists have been collecting and setting down in print bits of oral tradition such as nursery rhymes and fairy tales for hundreds of years, the earliest print appearance of “Ring Around the Rosie” did not occur until the publication of Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes in 1881. For the “plague” explanation of “Ring Around the Rosie” to be true, we have to believe that children were reciting this nursery rhyme continuously for over five centuries, yet not one person in that five hundred year span found it popular enough to merit writing it down. (How anyone could credibly assert that a rhyme which didn’t appear in print until 1881 actually “began about 1347″ is a mystery. If the rhyme were really this old, then “Ring Around the Rosie” antedates even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and therefore we would have examples of this rhyme in Middle English as well as Modern English forms.)

With a few earlier exceptions, nursery rhymes weren’t really documented on any scale until the end of the 18th Century, with most of the work done in the 19th. And the geography factor would be an issue. A different version with the same tune is mentioned at the beginning of this period, according to Wikipedia. So while some 17th century plays started noting down nursery rhymes, it wouldn’t be surprising that a large proportion of popular rhymes weren’t recorded there, and were only documented later.

Also, there’s the literacy factor (writing rhymes for the wider population when a lot of them can’t read), the preservation factor (exactly what percentage of writings from 350-ish years ago do you think actually survive, that you can make such a blanket statement about all of them). Could there be a class factor? If the locality of this version of the rhyme being popular, was at the low end of the social scale (anyone doubt there were areas like that in London?) how long would it take, after publishing nursery rhymes became a thing, for such a rhyme (or version of one) to appear on the radar?

That’s the thing about history. It’s messy, and most of it’s missing. I don’t spend a lot of time on Snopes, I don’t like its tone. The heavy-handed “you’d have to be stupid to believe this” tone evidenced above, is far too common. And it didn’t take a lot of research, and wasn’t exactly hard, to find any number of possible reasons for the shortage of documentary evidence. We Westerners love stuff in print, but it’s historically ignorant to expect to see absolutely everything documented down to the smallest degree.

Is there any truth to the association between one particular version of this rhyme, to its commonly-held meaning? Much as some would like to, I don’t think that it can be dismissed out of hand. One way or the other, there’s some extant pieces of the puzzle, but I think we can only speculate about the final picture.

Thoughts On British Candy #1: Some Favourites

Sometimes the differences between similar cultures, can be observed in the different foodstuffs that one country has, that the other doesn’t. I thought I’d write a little about that in this entry, and my mind turned, as it is rather fond of doing, to chocolate. And then on to other sweets/candy. I haven’t bought a lot since I moved to America, but I have observed some that have bridged the gap. Milky Way, Snickers.

Some have similar equivalents: Almond Joy is suspiciously like Bounty, but with an almond stuck to the top. Whoppers are similar to Maltesers, but Maltesers are obviously far superior.

Here are some sweets/candy I like, that are less accessible in the USA.

I don’t recall seeing any tins of Roses or Quality Street around here. Around Christmas time, if you see a big tin wrapped, or a smaller box of a certain shape, you knew it would be one or the other. I think that Quality Street had the edge, because they had the toffees, and Roses had Strawberry Cremes and Orange Cremes, that tended to be a lot less popular than other varieties in the pack.

Smarties. Something similar to Refreshers has the name Smarties in the US. Smarties are like M&Ms, only bigger. Often come in a cardboard tube, the lid of which is plastic, and has a molded letter on it. Collect enough, and you can spell out words. I’m not sure anyone I know ever had enough collected at one time to spell much, but there you go.

After Eights. Dark chocolate flat squares, with soft mint in the middle. Each one comes in a kind of open envelope, and a box has a bunch of them in a line. Also yummy is the white chocolate version. I couldn’t quite eat a whole box in one go…

Wine Gums. No alcohol used in the making of them. Stick with Maynard’s variety (tried store-brand, didn’t like them so much), one of my favourites. Flavourful, and can last a long time and retain their flavour if you can manage not to chew them.

Jelly Babies. Not quite a gummy, these soft sweets have a nice gentle fruity flavour. Again, Bassett’s beats store brand. A favourite of the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who.

Kilogram slabs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. If they even do them anymore, in our diet-mad society.

Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They’re not Terry’s, they’re mine. I tended to prefer the milk chocolate ones to the dark chocolate, though I am less fussy nowadays. And the Chocolate Mint variety they did (same shape, different flavour) was really good, too. I mention them even though we have found them over here (don’t think they’re widespread, but we have encountered them), because of something I noticed. When I first encountered them, they said “Tap and unwrap”, which was a traditional British understatement, meaning “hit it with a baseball bat, and the pieces might come apart”. Sport may not be my thing, and American sport even less so, but British schoolchildren are familiar with the concept of a baseball bat. Not necessarily in the context of the sport, but definitely in the context of hitting things. The chocolate orange I had from over here said “Whack and unwrap”.

fisherman’s Friends. Like mint, only so strong you can’t tell if it’s mint, or some other ingredient. Gives you a similar reaction to an extra-strong mint, if you try to drink a cold water afterwards. Serving suggestion: Fill a cup with ice cubes. Fill the rest with water. Have a Fisherman’s Friend or two (no chewing, that’s cheating). Drink some of the water.

Well, those are a few of my favourite things, and I’m sure I can revisit the topic in time. I can still think of some that were more staples than some that were on today’s list, and I can think of some that the recommendation would be to avoid, and some that just fall in the middle.

Let me know if there’s anything you want to hear about, any sweets/candies you think I missed here, that sort of thing. More fuel for future writings.

The Man In The High Castle, Season 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Man In The High Castle, currently exclusive to Amazon Video. I wrote about that, at the time.

So we’ve just finished watching the whole series.

The show does not wrap up all the threads that it sets up, so there’s potential for a second season. Just did a search to see if I could find any information on a second season. IMDB trivia says that the showrunner got confirmation from Amazon that there would be a second season, before writing the finale, so he wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger if the show weren’t returning.

Some observations:

The season ends on the word “twist”. Literally.

Rufus Sewell’s character is introduced as a ruthless villain. Later on, we meet some people who are even worse. Prediction: his character will become less hard-line about certain things next season, which has the potential to make him more brutal in others. I don’t see him doing a complete about-face. If I’m wrong on that, he’ll stay as hard-line on the point I expect him to soften on, then that’ll make him intolerable in everything, then he’ll slowly crack.

Juliana. Her deferential mannerisms seem appropriate to the context which she’s grown up in. I’m not sure we see the same from any other significant character in the Pacific territory. She knows she doesn’t have the complete picture, and I think that this leads to indecisiveness and mind-changing, rather than setting a course and keeping to it.

After the first couple of episodes, I thought the show would be mostly Juliana and Joe in Canon City, was surprised it didn’t work out like that.

I really enjoyed the character of Trade Minister Tagomi. Looking the actor up on IMDB, it was interesting seeing that he was in Star Trek TNG (Mandarin Bailiff! Wooo!), Babylon 5, Alien Nation, and Stargate SG1. And a bunch of other things I’ve either seen or heard of. Getting towards the end of the series, I was still waiting for more explanation of his motivations. We get some, but I think Season 2 will shed a lot more light on this.

As this is my Sunday post, I’ll say that I looked at the Wikipedia page of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the guy who played the Trade Minister. There’s a paragraph towards the end of the Career section, which talks about his religious belief, which I found interesting.

The eponymous Man In The High Castle is mentioned a bunch at the beginning of the series, and Juliana and Joe seem to come close to meeting him in episode 4. The thought occurs, though, as I write this post, that we do happen to see a castle that’s geographically altitudinous, in which a male lives, who seems to be a bit of a film collector.

Rats, now I’m going to have to read the book, to see if it’s actually him, or if the title character is a…. mirror? counterpoint? reflection? Something along those lines.

A lot of what most of the characters do is reactionary, rather than being proactive. This leads to a bit of a settling-down somewhere in the second half, before things get a bit shook up again. I think even towards the end, when a bunch of characters get more active, there’s still a bunch of doing what they’re told, rather than forging their own path.

The creepy Edelweiss theme, kind of delicate over the dark brooding images of the credits, was given an interesting explanation by someone far smarter than I am (my wife): the song is associated with Germany (or, rather, Austria, though in our universe, the song was written for the film The Sound Of Music, rather than being traditional). But the arrangement here may be intended to suggest a Japanese musical style (America being divided between Germany and Japan in the show). The singer in real life is Swedish, that does not necessarily discount the idea.

In my previous post on The Man In The High Castle, I linked to an article that Wikipedia referenced, which was an examination of the Japanese-ness of the Japanese portion of America in the pilot. One of the things it pointed out was Hirohito Airport, where naming an airport after someone was not a Japanese thing to do. When Joe flies into an airport in the Pacific States later in the series, I noticed that it wasn’t named after anybody. Different airport? Retcon? I don’t know. And though, in the scenario, Japanese culture would become dominant in the areas they control, who’s to say there wouldn’t be any cultural bleed the other way? Perhaps using Americisms in some places, but with a Japanese edge, as a secondary, softer method of establishing cultural dominance.

Interesting show. I look forward to Season 2, and hope that the continuation feels organic. Obviously, with certain developments, it’s not going to be the same as Season 1, but it might be a bit of a balance to feel like the same show.

Oh Look, Another War

There was an episode of Father Ted, where Ted was running a raffle, and the grand prize was a new car. Unfortunately, soon after he picked it up, the car suffered a minor dent. Ted got it into his head that he could tap the dent out with a small hammer. This, of course, went horribly wrong, and the denting spread and spread around the whole car, it looked like a write-off.

Here’s YouTube to help:

My Facebook was lit up today with posts about the British Parliament’s vote to bomb Syria.

This Father Ted clip reminds me of the West’s foreign policy. And not a new phenomenon. I recently read an article concerning a bunch of places whose economies we ruined, and whose population we severely harmed. The CIA overthrowing governments, installing their own preferred puppet, who turns against them a few years later. From 2001 to the present day, going into perpetual war in Afghanistan, Iraq. Fighting ISIS in one country, aiding them in another (*cough*Syria*cough*).

Our rhetoric about protecting the poor civilians, again and again proves to be misleading (to say the least). At best, our rhetoric says something to the effect of “we caused this problem, so we should go and fix it”. At least that kind of rhetoric actually acknowledges that we caused a problem, too often it doesn’t. But, much like the poor car, our “fixing it” hasn’t made things better in… how long? The Fifties at the latest?

And it’s baffling to me when people use this issue to side with one political party over another. Blame the Tories when, in reality, Labour has done it as well. Same in the US with Republicans and Democrats.

I believe that part of the problem is that the debt-backed economic paradigm has war as an integral component. Look for a pattern of the minority party being able to provide more dissenters than the majority party. Politicians who stay in office long enough to establish a consistent dissenting opinion and vote, and actually consistently do, are very rare.

Ted, at least, had a conscience. Mulder’s maxim of “Trust no-one” sadly very much applies in this arena.

Pray for the Syrian Christians. May they fare better than those in Iraq, where the effects of our actions have proved catastrophic for them.

DS9 Season 2, Part 3: Rules Of Acquisition

Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.

Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.

It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.

Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.

Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.

The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.

Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”

This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.

I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.

The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.

We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.

Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.

The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.

“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”

One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.

From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.

But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.

The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.

The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.

I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.

But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.

Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.

And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.

And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.

Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.

Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.

But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.

For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.

It Feeds The Rich While It Buries The Poor

I saw a video on Facebook a day or two ago, giving an overview of how the US effectively turned ISIS from a powerless group into what it is today.

Link here.

This sounds somewhat familiar, as ne’erdowells such as Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, Carlos Castillo Armas, and many others were put in power, trained, propped up, or otherwise backed by the US, before becoming a thorn in the side.

I recall reading a bit about this in a book by Michael Moore, while he was on his big crusade against Bush II. That was before I discovered Mr Moore was just as misleading as the Bush regime, but on that particular point he was quite right. (He’s been suspiciously silent during the reign of Bush II’s successor, who hasn’t been any better – wait for Moore’s big comeback when the next Republican president hits)

“We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials, for example, to create a vacuum. Then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer.” – quoted in Civil War by Guns ‘n’ Roses (embedded below).

It also should be pointed out that, in addition to the power vacuum mentioned in the video above, There’s lots we’ve done to encourage people to be our enemies. The humiliations we inflicted on our prisoners, which were, and were supposed to be, deeply offensive to Muslims (though I can’t imagine anyone else would particularly like it, either). Bombing the shit out of countries for no good reason isn’t going to win you any friends, either, and for all the propaganda about very precise weapons, the amount of “collateral damage” we’ve inflicted is something we should be deeply ashamed of, and is likely to turn people who might possibly be supportive of us, into personal enemies.

And I very much doubt the list stops there.

It should also be pointed out that our actions have had lethal repercussions for Christians in the middle east. The near-total elimination of Christians in Iraq (either fleeing the country, or through death), churches that dated back to the first couple of centuries AD. I recall seeing that symbol replace profile pictures on Facebook. the martyrdom of those Ethiopian Christians, in that video that did the rounds a little while ago.

A little while ago, Christian leaders in Syria were begging the West NOT to help them, it’s like they’ve seen our track record, or something. Christians in Syria are supporting Assad. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the US are trying to oust him (mentioned in the video above, though I’ve also read France and Saudi Arabia are also against him).

Listen to “Syria, Assad, and the US” and “A No-Brainer In Syria

i don’t remember how I felt about the war in Afghanistan when it started. I’d like to think that I thought it was a knee-jerk reaction, a punishment meted out before all the evidence had come to trial, so to speak. I’d like to think I thought that, but I don’t really remember.

I remember being skeptical about the war in Iraq. That the news outlets were pushing for it (shame on you, BBC) in the run-up, the reasons for going to war being dubious, the Blair regime saying they hadn’t decided to go to war yet, when they’d already started shipping troops out, and the protest against the war, apparently the largest protest in British history, being completely ignored.

Two books on the subject, one I read a few years ago, and the other about a year ago, have proved pretty interesting. Disarming Iraq, by Hans Blix, who lays out his experiences very methodically, goes into the perspectives of the weapons inspectors. Backstabbing For Beginners, by Michael Soussan, goes into the inner workings of the Oil-For-Food program. A much more lively book, it provides insight into the political situation of Iraq at the time.

More recently, I remember the Kickstarter videos for an as-yet incomplete documentary project called “The Killing Of Tony Blair“, where George Galloway, MP, intends to prove that the former Prime Minister is guilty of War Crimes. Galloway was the only Labour MP to lose his job over opposing entering the war in Iraq. I think he’s probably got a pretty good case, though I am a bit cautious. The caution may be a natural reaction to Galloway being a politician. And, although Galloway has done all right for himself since then, the documentary may be easily dismissed by some as a “revenge piece”.

On the American side of the pond, although the current President talked a lot about peace while he was campaigning for the job the first time round, he seems to have acted as much an interventionist as his predecessors, at least as far as Truman. The only politician who’s really seemed to mean what he says about not going to war, has been Ron Paul. Recent article

I’ve seen on Facebook statements like, “if we can’t afford to care for our veterans, we shouldn’t send them to war in the first place”, which I have to say I agree with.

There’s also been kerfuffle over policies of immigration of refugees from these places. There seem to be extremes of “don’t let anybody in” and “let everybody in”, where a middle way is probably much more sane than either.

The concern over refugees is specifically about the Muslim ones, though we know Christians are trying to escape the area. It seems accurate that there has been Muslim killing Muslim, and so (most of) the refugees are trying to escape those you don’t want to let in. Seems reasonable to me.

Those concerned about the Trojan Horse factor, I don’t know. That doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, either, but I cannot envision a vetting process that could easily catch that. Can’t say I’m terribly worried about it, but then again, I don’t live in an area that would be a priority target.

The relationship between Christians and Muslims has long been tricky, and that needs to be acknowledged. Church and State usually have tensions and disagreements, and political power is often at the expense of someone else’s, so there’s a certain amount of status quo there. Trying to compare Greece under the Turkish yoke, or Syrian Christianity under the Muslims, to Christianity in China, or in he USSR as-was – my face twists like a dog chewing toffee, just trying to think about it.

There was a story I came across in the last year or two, about previously friendly Muslim neighbours giving up a Christian family to extremists that were heading into town.

The situation’s difficult, and it’s frustrating how little acknowledgement of that, how little nuance, and how little consideration for opposing viewpoints there is.

Anyone can cherry-pick verses from the Koran (or the Bible) to show how it promotes peace, or violence. I think careful consideration needs to be given to the history of Christian/Muslim relations, and try to discern events that are purely religious, and what is political with a religious mask on.

Another thing I’ve seen on Facebook, is the uncensored version of the phrase, “Stop killing people, you f***ing twats.” I’ll agree with that one, too.

Musings On the Hunger Games: The Books And The First Three Movies

When The Hunger Games was pretty new in the cinema, I was treated to go and see it. My sister-in-law took my wife and me. I knew next to nothing about it.

I enjoyed it. Then I went and enjoyed all three books.

Watching a movie before reading the book is one thing, watching the movie after reading the book is another.

Seeing Catching Fire, then, was a different experience. It fairly faithfully depicted the events of the book, point-by-point, but the movie was stuffed to bursting with these things, and there wasn’t really the space to flesh things out that needed fleshing out, or to enrich the environments or the story. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t really seem to bring anything new to the table.

Of course, it already had the odds stacked against it in that regard, as the story of Catching Fire isn’t terribly different from the book/movie before it.

Ultimately, it wsn’t a bad film, let’s say it achieved a rating of Adequate rather than Great.

Last night, I finally got around to watching Mockingjay, Part 1. Saw the Hunger Games at the cinema, and Catching fire on DVD (ex-rental). I put the DVD/Blu-Ray combo of Mockingjay Part 1 on hold at the library a few months ago, but I guess the queue’s moving really slowly on that one, it hasn’t come through yet. It’s been on sale a couple of times on Amazon, but I haven’t bit the mullet and bought it yet (usually saving up for birthdays and Christmas). Who knows, Black Friday is soon and we usually pick up some DVDs cheap that day.

Mockingjay 1 has been free on Amazon Prime streaming, and so my wife and I watched it last night, during the eternal wait for Youngest to go to sleep. Who knows when it will disappear, I fairly often hear of things disappearing from Netflix.

Again, I enjoyed it. The movie was well-paced, it didn’t drag. This one had room to breathe. It’s been a long time since reading the book, and so there were things I remembered, things that were familiar, and things that weren’t. I don’t know that this means they added anything, but I felt a lot better about this movie than the previous one.

I liked some of the music in this one. The tune of The Hanging Tree starts a bit before Jennifer Lawrence sings it, and it’s introduced as a violin piece that to me was reminiscent of “One Will Fall By The Way”, a tune from the miniseries of the Stand. As originally broadcast, the violin kicks in at the end of The Stand Part 3, as the four heroes leave on their walk to Vegas.

There’s still rather a lot that needs to fit into Part 2, so I hope they manage to maintain the pacing, and the space needed for the story.

A big theme running through the stories, is Agenda.

The Capitol’s agenda for enslaving the Districts, and living a pampered lifestyle off the backs of their productivity.

The Capitol’s agendas for oppression and entertainment, putting the Districts’ children in the lottery for The Hunger Games.

Getting more personal to Katniss, who has been affected by all of the above impersonally until her sister was selected, and she volunteered in her place, Katniss becomes subject to the agendas of the production staff, particularly Effie, who want to put on a good show.

In the arena, first time round, Katniss is largely free from the pressure to act a certain way (she’s a bit busy fighting for her life), but she does still get some notes.

As a Victor, there’s a public face she is compelled to put on. Peeta’s quick thinking forced her into a certain role, President Snow makes threats for what might happen if she doesn’t comply, and of course the production staff like Effie are still trying to put on a good show.

By this time, Katniss is thoroughly allergic to being subject to other peoples’ whims. Her friends forge alliances for her, to help her, and the others, to survive. She’s likely to resist the plan if they just explain it to her, so they try to break it to her gently. and, naturally, she doesn’t appreciate being manipulated.

And she’s none too happy when she finds out why she was saved: her friends and supporters want her to be the face of the rebellion against the Capitol, be the symbolic mockingjay that will galvanise people to the cause. Her attempts at the scripted promos betray her dislike of being manipulated, even when she’s consented to it.

Haymitch is very astute when he asks which Katniss moments made the others in the room feel something, and the answers reveal it’s when she’s free, undirected.

Assuming the next film follows the book, there’s some more we see of how Katniss reacts to being subject to someone else’s agenda, and what she does when she’s finally able to go her own way.

President Snow is also very astute, and though he sucks at trying to control her, he knows very well how to get under her skin. He asks if she can trust the people she’s working for, and it’s clear she doesn’t really.

I heard a talk a while ago about youth work, and among other things it mentioned the popularity of The Hunger Games series. It resonates so well with kids and teens, because they similarly feel subject to the agendas of so many other people.

That talk is downloadable and streamable here.

Star Wars, Religion, And Magic

In Star Wars: A New Hope, there is a memorable exchange between an Imperial officer and Darth Vader:
Admiral Motti: Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…
[Vader makes a pinching motion and Motti starts choking]
Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

In a kind of mirror encounter, Han Solo expresses a similar disbelief to Luke, while Obi-Wan listens in:
Luke Skywalker: You don’t believe in the Force, do you?
Han Solo: Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen *anything* to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. ‘Cause no mystical energy field controls *my* destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

So I think we get a sense that the general understanding in the universe at this point, is that there is no magic, no Force, religion is dismissed as not alive, perhaps not much thought about.

In one of the Force Awakens trailers, it seems the same zeitgeist permeates the universe.
Rey: There are stories about what happened.
Han Solo: It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.

This may be reading too much into the quote, but perhaps there’s a bad guy mirror scene:
Supreme Leader Snoke: There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it? The Dark side, and the Light.

I guess Luke didn’t singlehandedly rebuild the entire Jedi Council in the intervening years.

The parallels with various countries of the 20th and 21st centuries are obvious. In various places, the Communists tried to stamp out all religion, and those places are having to spend effort in recovering what they once had. And there are various currents rather obvious in English-speaking countries, either apathetic or hostile to either religion in general, or Christianity in particular. Not always without good reason.

I was thinking tonight about sites in England (springs and wells) that historically were regarded as miraculous, such claims easily dismissed now even by most Christians in the country. And miraculous things I find out about in my approach to Orthodoxy that seem really weird coming from a Protestant background, but seem to have something to them.

I don’t want to bang on too much about the subject, so I’ll just post a link instead, but there were a couple of stories like this that seemed fairly close together, this was the one I found: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/up-from-the-ashes-helping-south-boston-parish-recover

Perhaps there’s more magic in the world than people generally see.

Musings On Being Not From Around Here

I thought that I should write something more about the experience of being an Englishman in a foreign land. Occasionally there’s stuff I miss, like certain kinds of cheeses I was particularly fond of. I’ve been watching Pie In the Sky with my wife, and Henry Crabbe’s signature dish is steak and kidney pie, which has me drooling. I was not so fond of the kidneys in those pies, guess I lean more towards Steak and Ale. And once you start down that path, Shepherd’s Pie, Cottage Pie (hey, I could probably manage to make one of those. Hmmmm….)

Rats, now I’m hungry.

And just having been through Candy Day, sweets/candy are different. What’s called Smarties in the US, those from the UK would recognise as Refreshers (weep with me, people).

But other than inconsequential stuff like that, there’s not always that much noticeable difference. The flags everywhere one gets used to. The politics is several decibels louder, but is otherwise much the same: people I wouldn’t want to vote for, against other people I wouldn’t want to vote for. I mercifully don’t get to vote over here, so I am freer to ignore as much as I can. Which is nice, because so many people are extremely uncharitable to differing viewpoints.

On that note, that reminds me of an incident from a year or so ago. It seems that the pool for jury duty is pulled from the Department of Motor Vehicles’ list of people with a driving license. I’m pretty sure the application form for the driver’s license asked about my citizenship status, but I can’t find the form online. If it did, and if the person working there entered the information accurately (so, pretty big if), then the system wasn’t clever enough to disqualify me there.

I got a questionnaire about jury service. Question 18 was (and I truncate it somewhat): “To be eligible… you must… be a US Citizen… do you meet these qualifications? If not, why?”.

I took the questionnaire back with the relevant portions completed. Handed it in to the people behind the desk, said I wasn’t a citizen so I couldn’t be on a jury. They told me that not being a citizen didn’t automatically disqualify me to be on a jury. Well it says right here on the form… We know what it says.

I believe I have mentioned on this blog before, my intense dislike of forms (especially ones with stupid questions). Imagine how much I don’t like the form and all my research saying one thing, and people who have to deal with the form saying the exact opposite. Lying to my face, whether they know it or not. I must confess, I have a hard time being charitable.

Had I ended up on a jury, I’m sure one lawyer or another would have had a field day with that.

Anyway, I happened to know a guy… my neighbour used to be the Justice of the Peace, and so when I saw he was around, I took the form round and asked him about it. He didn’t think the issue had come up during his time (and who knows, may not have since: could go some way to excuse the desk jockeys). He said I should fill in question 19 and get it notarised.

Question 19 was:
“Do you feel you should be excused from serving as a juror because of undue hardship or because you do not meet the eligibility requirements for jury service? [yes/no] If you answered “yes”, please complete the Affidavit For Excusal on the reverse side and have your signature notarized and return to the address above.”

“Do I feel?” That’s a really weird way of putting it. It is not lawful for me to be on the jury, what on earth do feelings have to do with it? Or excusals? If I’m not allowed to do it, and they would open themselves up to legal trouble if they made me do it, “excusal” is a funny word. I’m not let off the hook, as it were, because legally, I’m not on the hook.

See what I mean about stupid questions. Which then continue.

On the affidavit mentioned towards the end of Question 19, there was a space for “Permanent Exclusion based on incapacity due to illness or injury”, and a space for outlining “undue hardship”, but there was no space properly designated for any of the grounds for disqualification/ineligibility from Question 18.

As the “illness or injury” part said “Permanent Exclusion”, the neighbour, and later the notary, thought that might be the right place for saying why I couldn’t do it. The notary was surprised that the people I’d dealt with didn’t seem acquainted with that part of the law.

When I took the form in this time, it was a different person at the desk, and she was dealing with someone when I got there. When I could, I handed the envelope over. In the envelope, I’d also enclosed a note that suggested it might be good for the affidavit to be amended to include an appropriate space for the disqualifications. I seem to recall mentioning that the envelope was about jury duty, and that I couldn’t do it because I’m not a citizen. She said she’d give it to the judge or JP or whoever it was that deals with them. Whoever it was, I was surprised it was someone so high up the food chain who had to deal with it. On my way out, I heard the envelope being opened.

This was over a year ago, and I haven’t heard anything back, so I assume it went ok.

I think that’s the biggest thing that’s directly relevant to my experience of being an alien (“whoa, I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien…”). I had to take a long trip to have my biometric information recorded for my green card. I had to carry my immigrant visa everywhere, and now I have to carry my green card everywhere, but I’ve never been required to show it.

So, that’s what springs to mind about being a foreigner. Feel free to throw me some more questions about the experience, in the comments below.