A stated purpose

July 31, 2008

Time for a confession – I’ve harbored desires to be a fantasy writer pretty much since I read the Lord of the Rings when I was 11. I started reading fantasy with Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles the year before, but had never really gotten so much into it until Tolkien.

I realized a few years later, I think it was the world-building element of it: Tolkien’s world seemed more immersive and detailed, and I think I liked that about his work. Other good fantasy, I think, involves detailed settings that are at least internally consistent, but also with more than one-dimensional characters. That does depend on the context, of course; much of Tolkien’s work seemed to be in the cast of creating a new national myth for England, so themes and metaphor maybe were more important, and to that end character wasn’t as important for that piece.

So, since I had this idea in my head of being a fantasy writer, I’ve often thought about what kind of story I wanted to write, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve seen stories fall to plenty of cliches – sexual violence features very prominently in one specific series, for example. Lately, I’ve come to a decision that I want to write something that tries to avoid those cliches and create something that challenges, instead. With fleshed-out and developed characters, instead of stereotypes.

That applies to nations and civilizations as well; no more caricaturized hordes of tribesmen threatening civilization from beyond, bent only on brute slaughter and devastation. That scene’s getting old.

A Change

July 31, 2008

H/T to commenter JupiterPluvius for this comment.

Wowee, it’s been a while!

June 18, 2008

I went on a bit of a direction here towards Judaism, but most of my posts in that nature have gone into my other blog with The Girl Detective, so I haven’t had a lot to say in a while. Turns out I’ve been pretty busy, with work and things.

Work’s pretty good, actually – I’ve learned it’s possible for me to go down the project engineering path, rather than to stay in the technical side of things, and also that said path is not closed to me on account of being an engineering technologist, instead of an engineer. Which is good – I don’t want to take three more years of school now, I’m 25 and there’s a family to start soon!

I’ve been on a bit of a tear on Amazon, lately, with books by Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel (the politically correct choice for admiration, naturally), and I think they’re going to be coming in soon. Can’t wait! I also found out there’s a book on Ladino that’s going to be available in September, so I put that on pre-order too.

In other news, why are there so few books on process control that are actually readable? I understand that mathematical modeling is important, but that’s not really the entirety of the field by any means!

Message to the three devoted readers

May 30, 2008

I haven’t made much in the way of serious posts in, well, quite a while, and here’s why – I’m doing most of my “serious” commentary over at Modern Mitzvot instead, so this will probably be mostly about stuff that’s not applicable there, like personal stuff or whatever I else I occasionally find interesting. So there you have it!

A triumphant return, sort of

May 29, 2008

I admit, I’ve neglected this, and I apologize to the three of you who still read it, but just tonight I found this blast from the past, encapsulating everything that was hilarious about the world of 1980s rock:

Now bear in mind, I’ve never embedded anything before, so this might not work:

Frank Zappa Part One

May 16, 2008

I can’t help but notice that this whole site is named after a Frank Zappa song but I’ve had little to say about him in the month or so that this has been up.

Frank Vincent Zappa was best known for obscene and juvenile songs about sex in the most puerile manner – Dinah-Moe-Humm (look it up), Bobby Brown, Dirty Love, etc. Truth is, that was only one facet of his work.

As far as rock musicians go, Zappa’s comments on the racial situation and racial tensions in America are among the most incisive and pulling-no-punches (not sure that’s a phrase but OK) ever committed to music in the 60s and 70s.

On his first album, Freak Out! (first or one of the first double-LPs in rock history!), he recorded a song called Trouble Every Day which talked about the Watts riot and media coverage, but also mentioned things like class mobility and race:


Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friend
Is anybody’s guess

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Wednesday I watched the riot . . .
Seen the cops out on the street
Watched ’em throwin’ rocks and stuff
And chokin’ in the heat
Listened to reports
About the whisky passin’ ’round
Seen the smoke and fire
And the market burnin’ down
Watched while everybody
On his street would take a turn
To stomp and smash and bash and crash
And slash and bust and burn

And I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Well, you can cool it,
You can heat it . . .
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it . . .
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all the unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head begin to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsman say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so

And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They will be the first to tell,
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

And if another woman driver
Gets machine-gunned from her seat
They’ll send some joker with a brownie
And you’ll see it all complete

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Hey, you know something people?
I’m not black
But there’s a whole lots a times
I wish I could say I’m not white

Well, I seen the fires burnin’
And the local people turnin’
On the merchants and the shops
Who used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item
Watched the mob just turn and bite ’em
And they say it served ’em right
Because a few of them are white,
And it’s the same across the nation
Black and white discrimination
Yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
‘N all that other jazz they hand me
In the papers and TV and
All that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

You know we got to sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many live
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Just won’t amount to nothin’ more
Gonna watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor


Given today’s nomenclature, I think one thing can be said about Zappa and lyrically – he did sing about white people a lot and in his overall oeuvre (when he wasn’t mocking yuppie culture, hippie culture, 70s disco culture) he was aware of white privilege at a time when white liberals seemed to believe that the Civil Rights Act meant that racism was over. I certainly am not trying to say he was the only one writing stuff like that, just that it’s all the more jarring that a polarizing man known for crude insensitivity to a great deal of things also had awareness of these things, so I admit I find that kind of interesting, as problematic as a lot of his stuff is from this standpoint.

Weekly Parashat 2

May 11, 2008

I know I’m a day late, but the fiancee is going on another family vacation for eleven days, so I spent the day more or less with her.

So this week’s portion is Emor, which means “say” – it covers Leviticus 21:1-25:1. I will be honest, I don’t have a lot to say about this – there are a lot of rules for ritual purity and the Levite caste.

Starting with Leviticus 23, however, the rules for the major Jewish holidays are set down: the Sabbath, what becomes Rosh Hashanah, Passover, the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, and the holiday of booths, Sukkot.

Leviticus 23:27 uses a peculiar phrase that probably could use some explanation:

“You shall have a holy assembly, and you shall degrade themselves.”

It’s been pointed out that this is the same term describing how the Egyptians treated the Israelites, and generally means “oppressed”, either as a noun or adjective – or “to oppress, afflict, abuse” as a verb. (Friedman, 396). This is where the idea to not take care of oneself or eat came from, I would probably say.

There is an intriguing story to round out Leviticus 24, however. The son of an Egyptian father gets into a fight with an Israelite man, and profanes the name of God, so he was taken before Moses and stoned. Now, the barbarity of blasphemy aside, some say this story’s primary purpose is to show the importance and strictly observed equality before the law of the land for Israelite and foreigner, in this case Egyptian. (Friedman, 400).

What is also interesting, at least to me, is that the considered foreigner has an Israelite mother but an Egyptian father. It is most likely the Biblical, as opposed to post-Biblical, method of measuring descent, that inspired the Reform movement to use patrilineal in addition to matrilineal descent to define Jewishness.

Getting back to the story, it finishes off with God telling Moses to tell the congregation that all the people in the land of Israel, citizen and foreigner alike, are under the law for blasphemy. This is also emphasized at the end of Leviticus 24, showing how important equality under the law is for the Torah. At least, from a citizen’s perspective.

Finally, we get to the “eye for an eye” bit in Leviticus, a frequently misunderstood passage. It’s been taken as evidence of the very stern and vengeful character of the Torah but in context, the whole passage suggests an idea of measured retribution – that is, the punishment should be in equal measure to the crime, and not any more excessive (those in the know would wonder how this fits with orders to kill children disobedient to their parents, but I digress).

“And a man who will strike any human’s life shall be put to death,

and one who strikes an animal’s life shall pay for it: a life for a life.

And a man who will make an injury in his fellow: as he has done, so it shall be done to him.

A break for a break, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth: as he will make an injury in a human, so it shall be made in him.” (Lev. 24:17-20)

Friedman amonishes us against taking this passage literally, noting that the Bible also refers to people “knowing God face-to-face” and that of course not being literal (Friedman, 401).

The lesson here, for progressive politics is this: think of the drug war, and of the treatment of lower-class prisoners and especially foreigners in the current War on Terror. The US claims to be a Christian nation, but if Christianity is built on Biblical morality, then the government has failed quite drastically by meting out excessive punishments for drug offenses and not allowing foreign nationals due process under law, which is what this Parashat very strongly emphasizes, mentioning it twice in one chapter towards the end, and also crafting a fairly lengthy story for additional emphasis.


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