Tag Archives: history

Following Egeria

A few days ago, I finished a book that I got for Christmas but had only recently gotten around to reading, “Following Egeria” by Lawrence Farley.

The gist is, there was a 4th-century nun who went and visited the Holy Land, and she wrote to the folks back home the things she saw and experienced.

Her writings were known about, then lost for a time, then reappeared in the 18th Century… but missing the beginning and the end. Still, the extant part is quite informative, about Christianity that had recently emerged from the shadows of persecution, of an Israel that has been somewhat buried over the centuries.

Father Lawrence (Orthodox priest) is treated to a trip to Israel by his deacon, and is familiar with Egeria’s writings, and also familiar with the scholarly research as to the authenticity of sites.

Fr Lawrence quotes Egeria where their travels overlap, and comments on which sites have the better claim as to Where Something Actually Happened, and why, and also expresses how he was impacted by each site.

This book made my wish list about as soon as I heard about it, so it was obviously a book I was expecting to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

Egeria herself isn’t really quoted at length, so I was definitely left wanting to hear more from her.

Also, the scholarly research into the sites, mentioned fairly frequently, is only lightly touched upon, and I was left wanting more of that, too.

Also, after reading the book, I really wanted to go back and visit the places again (there were quite a few “been there!” moments). The thing is, I knew rather a lot less then than I do now. Was completely ignorant about Orthodoxy, and nearly-completely ignorant about Catholicism (as a Protestant, oftentimes one just has an unsympathetic view that Catholics Are Wrong, with perhaps a few specifics). Unfortunately, this ignorance doesn’t really help when the majority of sites are Roman Catholic or Orthodox. And then, one of the places I’d been to, that Fr Lawrence talks about, he’s not interested in what’s obviously there, he’s interested in looking at the remains of something that was there before. And for some reason I can’t jump back into myself-of-10-ish-years-ago.

That said, the book is partly aimed at people who haven’t been over there, so they might perhaps experience it second-hand, so I won’t moan too much (or dwell on being jealous of myself-from-around-a-decade-ago).

So, thumbs up, but definitely wanting more (not that that’s a bad thing).

The New Site Is Live!

Let me start by saying a little about what I did.

I installed the plugins. One to help with site administration is Google Analytics by Yoast, and one to help with content presentation is Geo Mashup.

The site I unveil today, is History Basics.

Sometimes, information about the past is very forthcoming, and sometimes it’s not very forthcoming at all. There has been a lot of archaeological work that has happened, but sometimes finding out about it is non-intuitive. Documentation may be in a local, national, or international publication, or in a book, or perhaps it may be entirely unpublished.

There are frequently articles about archaeological finds, and it seems that a lot of them do not mention who’s doing the work.

Also, what we do have isn’t necessarily safe. Sometimes finds corrode or erode quickly after they’ve been discovered. Sometimes care isn’t taken with objects: how much more might we know about ancient Egyptian practices if rich Victorians hadn’t had a penchant for mummy-unwrappings. And in the riots in Egypt a couple of years back, some mummies were destroyed, museums in Iraq were looted during the Coalition invasion, Joseph’s tomb in Israel has been attacked several times, a proposed high-speed rail line in England has archaeologists scrambling to find out what might be in its path.

And so on.

Also, conclusions are drawn from findings, and sometimes new findings generate new conclusions (sometimes new conclusions arrive all by themselves). The conclusions might not manage to accommodate all the available evidence. Like life, it’s kinda messy. So I don’t mind presenting conclusions, but I do want to emphasise that on which the conclusions are based (and that which the conclusions ignore).

So, a disorganised field to organise, a world to save (in the “archive” sense of the word, like Donna Noble in the Library). And hopefully make research easier for anyone who wants or needs to (I’m trying to aim the writing so it can be engaged by teens in school, and anyone older than that).

I’m not strictly limiting myself to archaeological sites, as the messiness rears its ugly head again: there’s a 12th-Century church I know of that’s still in active use, and there’s certainly many archaeological sites contemporary and much more recent, so while I intend to have an archaeological focus, it’s not a criteria I will rigidly adhere to.

So that’s something in the way of the underlying idea behind the project.

I spent much of today cleaning up the showcase entry on the site: I noticed surprisingly little spelling that needed cleaned up, but some bolding, italicising, and rather a lot of making links look not-dorky. It’ll take you a while to read it, but check out the entry on Bushmead Priory over there, to get the feel of what I’m going for.

Why Bushmead Priory, you may ask?

When I was looking for a starting point, I found a list of sites that would make a great base to build from. It was Wikipedia’s list of English Heritage properties. I went through the whole list, finding the co-ordinates on Google Maps (and occasionally Bing, when Google’s image wasn’t quite adequate). Then I started over, gathering the PastScape data. And a few months ago, when I decided I really needed to get a full-fledged post done, that was quite literally the top of the list.

After I got that entry all finished, I had a bit of a battle of wills getting the forum set up. I don’t want to start with too many sections on the thing until there’s a bit more of a demand, but I got some sections set up and described, and a couple of threads started. Such is the state of things, though, that I’m using the Admin account and another account that I’ve set up for myself, and I’ve had to use the Admin account to approve the posts that I have made with the other one (one more to go).

So there, we go, this actually feels like a start, now. To invert a line from a movie (the original line including the movie’s title), “we must go forward… to the past!”

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.

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.

Items Rescued From A Closing Store

Once upon a time, there was a video rental store called “Crazy Mike’s”, which my best man Mike took advantage of in his speech. That closed a while ago. There is another video store on the edge of town, apparently run by a guy called Steve, who doesn’t admit to any level of insanity in his store’s name.

Well, now this store is closing, too. I’m sorry it’s closing, but as I’m more of a buyer than a renter, I haven’t contributed to its staying around.

But they’ve been selling off their stock, so I decided to go in and see what they had.

Newer movies were on some deal, 3 or 4 for $20, I don’t remember how many. I skipped past that one, and the horror movie deal, to the “Get 4 for $10″.

A 3-2-1 Penguins had Oldest dancing around when I got home, and a Strawberry Shortcake did similar for Middlest.

Bubba Ho-Tep had been languishing on one of my hidden wishlists for a while. I’d been interested in seeing it, and so had my uncle-in-law, who gave a big cheer when I read the list out of what I’d got. In the movie, Elvis hadn’t really died. Now he lives in a retirement home. When evil, in the form of a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy, rears its ugly head, it’s up to Elvis, and a black JFK, to save the world.

Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s post-Avengers free-time project, we’d borrowed from the library and watched, but was also sitting on a hidden wishlist.

The rest were somewhat more opportunistic. Hot Fuzz I’d had taped off TV ages ago, but never got round to watching before we moved. I’ve seen the other two parts of the Cornetto Trilogy, so this theoretically fills the gap.

I enjoyed the first Alien vs Predator, so I picked up the sequel, though I have heard it’s not as good. Slightly bummed that though I checked the boxes of all the movies for aspect ratio, I didn’t check the discs. So I intended to get the original widescreen, but ended up with a full-screen disc. Whose dumb idea was it to produce these things in the first place? BOOOOOO!

Pirate Radio, from the makers of Love Actually. Familiar with the likes of Radio Caroline and so on, from my dad’s interest in them, and having met a former presenter of one of those stations, I’m interested to see this take on the story.

Having these in hand, I was not readily coming up with an eighth DVD, though there were many reasonable candidates. An X-Files movie, I know people in the house like X-Files. Space Cowboys, I did want to see that. More. In the end, my mother-in-law suggested a movie that she was interested in seeing, co-incidentally one I’d caught in the cinema when it was new. Don’t remember it well enough to give it a review, and my take on it would probably be different now, after the spiritual journey of the intervening years, and perhaps more than that, more exposure to the landscape of American Christianity. I picked up “Saved!”. I joked that I should find a bell to set it next to.

So there we go, my taking advantage of another casualty in the ever-changing face of physical-store-based commercial endeavours.

I expressed condolences to the guy in the store (presumably the eponymous Steve), and he said he’d had a good 12-year run. I wished him all the best for whatever his next thing would be.

Game Clones

I was pondering writing about Abandonia, a site that covers old games (primarily DOS games), lets you know if they’re abandonware or not, and if they are, provides downloads of them, or if they’re for sale on somewhere like GOG, provide links to there.

But, as it’s been rather a while since I browsed Abandonia, and I don’t think I’ve even opened DOSBox since installing Windows 10 (and often played stuff I still own when I did, and abandonware downloads surprisingly little), I’m not sure I really have much to say on that front.

From back in the day, I do recall a trend of the same game coming out on many different platforms (which you still see today in the console market, just with less platforms generally supported). And, of course, games that were only available on one system.

But there was another trend, which seems like an oddity now: clones. A game released, that is basically a copy of another game.

This was a thing, and you wonder how they got away with it. I mean, to borrow a movie example, it’s more than just Armageddon and Deep Impact coming out not-too-distant from each other.

I mean, how many different versions of Breakout, or Space Invaders, could there be? (answer: lots).

I recently watched, with my wife, a series of short YouTube videos about graphics in videogames, and one game they highlighted was an arcade game from 1981 called Defender. I had up to that point never seen the game, and so not played it either. But I had played a C64 game called Dropzone, I seem to recall hearing it referred to as a “Defender clone”, though it does seem to have its differences. Looking up Defender on Wikipedia, it lists Dropzone in the “Remakes and Sequels” section.

But it gets more interesting. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s Defender page: “Defender was Williams Electronics’ first attempt at developing a new video game; the company’s earlier game was a Pong clone.”

For those of you not familiar with the videogame industry of the ’80s and early ’90s, the era was mostly not games that were copies of other games, and there were some very creative uses of the limited power of machines of the time. That being said, there were an incredible amount of games, so a certain amount of games-that-were-similar should not be surprising.

Through all of this, I only heard of one instance where similarity led to trouble: the infamous Great Giana Sisters was very very close to Super Mario Brothers (the similar titles going some way to suggest just how similar), the first level was apparently almost identical. It’s commonly understood that Nintendo brought legal action, but according to Wikipedia that’s not quite correct: Nintendo was apparently responsible for the game disappearing from the shelves, however. The article suggests that’s not the only game Nintendo sabotaged (though I don’t think such sabotage was entirely unfair, it does suggest that Nintendo had a different ethos than other companies of the time).

In fact, thinking about other media, books, movies and so on, the only industry that I’ve really noticed multiple high-profile cases of litigation for copying, is the music industry.

The game clone concept hasn’t entirely gone away: I’ve seen quite a few versions of 2048.

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.

Comparison: Schindler’s List vs Schindler’s Ark

Sometimes there are things you read or watch, that just stick with you. Or some particular story or anecdote that you always have associated with a particular type of feeling or experience, that it becomes your go-to example for the rest of your life.

Schindler’s List the movie at came out at just the right time, that when I was doing World War 2 in school, was encouraged to watch. Or possibly made, I have memory of seeing a “Schools Edition”. Needless to say, I appreciated it more, later. It’s full of good people, it’s not a bad story, some of the imagery is quite clever and haunting. The actors alongside the people they played at the end.

Spielberg’s pretty good at sentimentality, and the film does rather reflect that. The feel of the film is, these people are living through this time that’s very bleak, and oh, it’s so hard and dangerous, and oh no this new situation is even direr.

I read the book the film was based on. My copy is called “Schindler’s Ark”, although I think because of the movie it got renamed to “Schindler’s List”. It’s by Thomas Keneally. The tone is very different.

Rather than the melancholy tone of the movie, the book is much more adventurous. Much more in the way of “previously he’s used his stores of wine to bribe the guards, but now he’s out and has to get across this bridge, which is guarded by two Nazi soldiers. Technically he’s not supposed to go across. How’s he going to get through this?” and so on. Much more enthusiastic and vibrant. More of a sense of just how many times Oskar stuck his neck out for his workers, tried to use the bureaucracy against itself, getting into serious trouble, and how almost unbelievable it is that he got out of trouble again.

I’d almost like to see a movie of the book, one that retains the tone, style and flair.

The only drawback to the book, is that some of those Polish street names are HARD. I thought about asking some Polish co-workers at one point about the pronunciations, but in the end, I didn’t. There were points I just pigeonholed some of the names, recognising the shape of the name and saying, “ok, it’s that one”, rather than forcing my brain to butcher the language each time I came across it. So that’s more to do with my own inadequacies (which, who knows, you might share) than any actual problem with the book.

So Schindler’s List is my go-to reference for difference in tone between book and film.

The film’s not bad. I read a Rabbi’s article saying that everyone told him he should see the movie but he didn’t, because he had certain expectations about the Hollywood-isation of the Holocaust, and other things along those lines, then he read about the movie later, which was apparently enough to confirm his suspicions. For that sort of reason I wouldn’t say the film was a “must-see”, and although the UK ratings certificate says it’s for 15-year-olds and older, I think that might be too young to really appreciate it. And I say this as someone who’s still pretty pleased to have got the Collector’s Edition DVD, with the film cel, little booklet and soundtrack.

On the other hand, the book is much more recommendable, if it were fiction it might be classified with seat-of-the-pants thrillers. So if that kind of book is your kind of thing, and/or if history is your kind of thing, this book’s a winner.

Halloween From A Different Angle

Something occurred to me a while ago, which has rather the potential to change one’s understanding about Halloween, particularly when thinking about the historical context. I knew that there was an ancient understanding of the cycle of the day, certainly in Old Testament Judaism, that the day started at sunset. “Evening and morning, one day”, the creation narrative tells us.

I’m not quite sure when I started understanding this, but that perception of time continued into Christianity. An Orthodox example, the first Sunday service is Vespers on Saturday evening. This perspective may not be maintained in modern denominations, or if it is, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it doesn’t mean much practically outside of a liturgical framework. In fact, even in the liturgical concept, if you weren’t told and didn’t pick up on a few subtle cues, you might not immediately notice, either.

With that in mind, then, Halloween becomes not “the day before All Saints’ Day”, as you’ve probably heard all your life. It is the evening that marks the start of All Saints’ Day.

In a similar manner, then, properly speaking, the 24th of December is not “Christmas Eve”. The evening at the end of what is commonly perceived as the 24th of December is the evening that marks the beginning of Christmas Day. I found it confusing when in Germany I was told they celebrated Christmas on the 24th. I think perhaps they retained at least the practical implications of Christmas Day starting in the evening of the secular 24th, where in England we retained the understanding of Christmas Day being the 25th.

So what does this mean for Halloween? It means that whatever historic Christian traditions that were associated with Halloween, and the insights those traditions might provide to how our ancestors depicted evil spirits, or how they understood the deceased and how they relate to us, was part of, not separate to, their participation in the Feast of All Saints.

Digging through the layers of candy to discover those traditions and insights, now that’s the hard part.