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User Journal

Journal Journal: Philosophical Maunderings

We've had a philosophy book come through the plant. It's gotten me thinking about the kinds of philosophies that are self-defeating. I've been inspired by Locke, who is saying something to the effect of, if you (the empiricist) run into a guy who says that the world is but a dream, tell him to go stick his hand on a hot furnace. That sort of thing.

As I got to thinking more about this, it occurred to me that many kinds of philosophies that, though they can be held to be true, are not persuasive. I don't mean only that they aren't persuasive to me; I mean that something about them abrogates its own power to persuade. A person considering various philosophies in the isolation of reason (perhaps, to determine which one to live by) will find a few which un-recommend themselves...

User Journal

Journal Journal: My "Pirate" Voyage

As a music "pirate", I have some good words for all of you at the RIAA.

I don't buy it. I don't understand how downloading music has hurt music buying. The overpackaged, overpriced product that pays for a bloated bureaucracy of marketers, managers, service charges, record executives was never going to survive a little competition.

I also doubt that the people who download music would really be buying all the interesting music they now listen to, or that they would have heard of the pop-idol MTV hacks whose CD sales are declining anyway. I, for one, would never have heard Sting's "Mad About You" in Italian.

Don't believe me? Here, then, is my major music-sharing adventure. And all you friends and family who know the names I will be obfuscating, don't rat me out to the police.

Friend A makes me a sampled CD, with one band I've never heard of and one band I don't listen to. He combines tracks from at least four different CDs. The band I'd never heard of blows me away. I listen to the burned CD for weeks on end every day at work. I am hungry for more, but am not ready to buy any CDs. Who knows if the tracks I haven't heard are good? So for a long period of time, months to a year, I sit on my burned CD.

Friend B hears I like this band and gives me a copy of a live recording of a concert (two discs; it will never be on sale). It is one of the best albums I have ever owned. I listen to it, if anything, even more than the first CD, and make some life decisions. I decide I love this band, and will buy anything they ever make again.

So I buy three of your precious CDs, a concert ticket, and even a band T-shirt. But I don't buy CDs. I don't go to concerts. I don't even buy band T-shirts. But something about them, not you, has resonated with me and I am glad to contribute to their success. And I still want more! I still have a list of CDs to buy, to feed my habit for this perfect band.

All this, notice, is the result of not one, but three CDs worth of songs that friends burned for me. They were file sharing just as much as if I had "illegally" downloaded mp3s.

Why am I telling you this? Because your best bet to get my hundreds of dollars is to promote P2P. It already worked for you once.

User Journal

Journal Journal: "The Passion of the Christ"

I finally got around to seeing the Mel Gibson movie. I was one of the throng that made it the biggest five day opening in history (beating Return of the King by a million dollars or so). I saw it on Saturday.

To understand what this whole thing was like for me, you have to know what movie theaters are like in my hometown, Logan, UT. Basically, most of the movie theaters in town are owned in a chain, so one small group decides what plays where. Also, the LDS church (again, I'm in Utah) has a standing rule that R-rated movies are non-watchable to faithful LDS people. As a result, some shadowy character made a decision that this movie would be shown at the small, somewhat crappy Logan Art House theater. It wasn't going to play well here. No stadium seating. Just three shows a night.

I spent a little time with some friends before the show, reading the story in Matthew, and talking about it. There were nine or ten of us, and we took up a whole row of the theater. We bought our tickets early, thank goodness.

It's a couple of blocks from my friends' house to this small theater on the highway through town, that goes south to Salt Lake City and north to the Idaho border. The show was at 9:30, so we left at about a quarter to 9. It's still cold here, but we had heard rumors the show had been selling out, so we wanted to get there in time.

We rounded the corner in front of the theater, and sure enough, there was a line; not to buy tickets, just to get into the building. It already had something like 60 people when we got there.

We waited and talked, or just stood looking around at each other. I remember seeing very young children going to it, under 10. Some guy in stubble and a cap said, in a roughened voice, "This is the movie that's supposed to change my life," but then he laughed. He said it again to someone who hadn't heard his joke. All this time, the line was stretching, past the theater, past the next business, past the next, and person after person headed toward the end of the line, until I couldn't see the end of it down the sidewalk. And all this time, people who knew what we were all standing in the cold to see at the theater would drive by on the highway, and honk their horns at us.

I didn't know what to expect, exactly. I had read Roger Ebert's review, which was basically favorable, and had read about the stations of the cross (in Catholic tradition) to try to get another handle on the traditions Gibson might intermix with the text of the New Testament stories. I had followed the anti-Semitism debate over the movie, and had formed an opinion just from the things people were saying and the way they were saying them...

Is it fair to say all that preparation fell away when the previews ended and the movie began?

I was drawn in immediately by the language. I was a Linguistics student at University of Washington. A lot of the Aramaic sounded like the Modern Hebrew I had studied (not well, but studied), and the Latin sounded familiar in the same way, from our own English and my own study of French. Mostly I read the Bible with built-in English subtitles, so this was very different for me.

The violence, somewhat surprisingly to me, didn't shock me the way it should. I watched it all, sometimes crying, but all. And no, kids should not see this movie.

I have seen some criticisms of the movie that accuse it of being too narrow. Even my brother-in-law thought that it concentrated too much on the death, not enough on the resurrection. I disagree. They are judging from the standard that the movie should match the gospels in form and content; that is, that the ministry and resurrection should be included in equivalent detail, and that there should be explicit interpretation of the meaning of Christ.

For what it is worth, these categories correspond to something like the different systematic theologies of the Protestants and Catholics, with a wild twist. One Protestant friend I talked to about the movie said it was about more suffering than Protestantism usually is, pointing out that crosses in Protestant churches are often empty to symbolize the resurrection, while crosses in Reformed or Catholic churches often depict Jesus hanging. But the theological emphases of Protestantism and Catholicism are primarily on the suffering of Christ (that indicts us all for sin, accuses us all of perpetrating the shame of the cross on God-with-us, and then informs us of the way of forgiveness), and on the incarnation of Christ (emphasizing the presence of God on earth and in nature and renewed intimacy with God). So is this a Protestant or a Catholic movie or what?

The answer, fortunately, is no. This is not a movie just for one sect of Christianity, or one religion. This is the retelling of the Passion of the Christ in the New Testament. I did notice some Catholic flavorings: the increased focus on Mary as she follows her son through these trials; the matching with the stations of the cross, as Ebert suggested; Saint Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. Fortunately, these are not louder than the rest of the movie; the details take their rightful places surrounding the true story, the death of Jesus.

It is an awful story, and the images and the violence lingered long after I left the theater. Only a few more notes about my own viewing, then I am done. I took my own advice and pictured myself as the Roman soldiers while they savagely beat him, Simon of Cyrene, who helped carry the cross, Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas. The result is not pretty; not those people but all people, all are in the story. I am in that story, still, I am in that story. But I also noticed something else. While Jesus is being beaten, in scenes that will not seem to end, it came to me: this is what hell is like. That's one thing that hell is like; savage violence, pain, and loss. And he went through hell for me.

Last, there is a shot at the end, when Jesus is alive and clean, where his hand fills the screen. For an instant, the scene can only be seen through the wound in his hand. That, to me, is what life is like. All abstract philosophies, all ideas about human nature, the world, God, must be seen through his wounds.

I suppose there are many more meanings, but I will have to stop here.

And I will probably go and see it again.

User Journal

Journal Journal: What am I going to do?

I have many musings about this, but I still don't know. Especially reading the Neil Gaiman web and seeing how much he just enjoys writers and stories, I find it hard to say to myself that I don't enjoy writers and stories, and that this computer stuff, however lucrative I hope it becomes, will be a colossal waste of life.

So what's the deal? Where do I go for these burning questions? Even more, why can't I write a simple story?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Delete Entry for Today

I got up this morning and got in a fight with my wife on the way to work. We made up.

Then I found out I had left my keycard at home and showed up almost an hour late. I ate my lunch for breakfast.

Then I went home for lunch and burned it to the pan. I got back from lunch late.

My neck hurts.

User Journal

Journal Journal: School Stuff

Basically, I am worried that money will get in the way of my getting a degree. The Expected Family Contribution on my FAFSA is 7000+ dollars! 600 a month. No way.

I'm basically stuck with it though. I don't know how much money the school will provide. I suppose they expect me to pay with money from the job I will be going to half time at most while I study math and science. Or from my wife's job, that she'll have to leave soon here (for private reasons).

I guess the last solution is just to get more loans. I can't believe I'm on this train, again, but sooner or later, it had to happen, I guess. I've taken too long to go back to school and now my wife and I have to hang on for the ride of our life.

Today, hopefully, we'll head out to a condo and see if it is right for us. We've seen a very similar one and liked it, and we are supposed to get a good deal from them and a good helper to sort out the loan for us. It'll be a little more per month. Hopefully, the food stamp people will be generous with us while I get my technical degree.

Really hopefully, the school will take our monthly situation into account when everything finally shakes out.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Big Fish

Just real fast, about Big Fish.

Go see this movie.

The best thing about it is what you might call its underlying philosophy, its raison d'etre. This story about stories asks the question, "Which is better, the story or the reality?" What is not obvious from previews or even favorable reviews is the question behind this question: "Which is more real, the story or the reality?"

This question was taken up by The Matrix, which played with the masking of reality by a plastic, digital world. "I think the Matrix can be more real..." says the traitor Cipher, as he pulls the plugs on Epoch and Switch. In that film, the fake, pleasant, cultured world is the evil world, and the real world, though dirty and broken, is the heroic one.

In Big Fish, though, the bright, fantastic, untrue world is the heroic world. Reality isn't good enough for the sheer joy of that world. The same theme is taken up in The Silver Chair where Puddleglum tells the Queen of the Underworld, our fantasy world can lick your real world clean. So, I will behave as a citizen of that world, not of your world.

But which world, in Big Fish, is more real? You will have to decide for yourself, but I can say for myself that the "real world" in that movie was less real than the world of the fish. In the same way, sometimes this ordinary life is less real than the reality that lies behind it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: First Journal - Mostly about "Passion"

This is a first shot at this blog stuff I hear so much about. Some of my favorite authors and people maintain a blog, and maybe it's a good idea for me to get back into the practice of writing.

This is a strange week for me. All my materials went in to USU to start a BS in Computer Science this summer. The same day all this was getting done (meeting an advisor, getting my financial aid forms in order, applying to the school), Ask Slashdot posted a question about a doctor who wanted to become a computer scientist, and many people said "Don't do it! Foo!" All that made me a little nervous.

In truth, I think that the coming education will be good for me. In the process of going to school, I'll be finishing a first Bachelor's in Linguistics (with Math and English minors), and who knows what else. I've been working with a book company for the last year or so laying out textbooks and learning computer stuff. The times I've gotten to use Perl have been the most fun.

I've been watching this whole Mel Gibson Jesus movie thing lately. It seems to me like the criticism is a little too wild and hyped to be believed. The Jewish critics (i.e. officials from the Anti-Defamation League, and maybe pundits) seem to think that a movie only about Jesus-bar-Joseph, King of the Jews, will make anti-Semites take steno pads to the theater and write down torturing ideas, or that non-anti-Semites will be convinced that the Jews were or are responsible for the death of Jesus. They asked Mr. Gibson for a blurb at the end of the film about how the Jews were not responsible, this movie should not be an excuse to hate, etc.

I don't see why this film, which will mean so many things to so many people, should be forced into a box by some special interests. Along with most of the public, I haven't seen the film yet, and to comment on specifics is impossible. But the spirit that tries to take the film and make it into something it's not, or in any way diminish or shortchange its meaning, is wrongheaded. The reason I write this is not because of the clothing this particular film wears, but the message at its heart.

Many special interests at many times have tried to diminish the event of the cross or shortchange its meaning. The powerful story is that God revealed (him)self on the cross (not really a him but the label is traditional), as much as God will ever be revealed to anyone anywhere. All the stories that the human race will ever write, all the sadness and danger and betrayal and pain and death in any story, are all in that story.

The story is not about that one sentence, "His blood be on us and our children," that a special interest has recently taken up to criticize the story itself. The story is not about that one line, "One man must die so that the nation will live." The story is not about that one prophecy, "You will deny me three times before the cock crows." The story is not even about that heart-piercing cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

No. God is revealed on the cross. That is the message, the torment that for a few hours one day, a brief moment in the breadth of human history, we tortured and executed God.

I say we. We did it. All of humankind is implicated. We need no argument about Adam's sin to know that we are members of the crowd in Jerusalem. We need no thought experiment about our likely response if Jesus had appeared in, say, downtown Los Angeles. It would be no surprise that this voice would be silenced again, by powerful men with an agenda, in a city of civilization and mixed cultures, while we all looked on and did nothing. We need only search ourselves, our desires, our sins, and determine that many of the things we love, he loathed and hated. Many of the things we care about, he would call trash to our faces on television. Many of our most cherished beliefs and relationships, he would cut apart with a look. He would reveal the best things in us to be worthless, not just the worst.

To test this in yourself, just read the story. Later this month, when the film comes out, if it is even reasonably faithful to the story, watch the film. Say to yourself, "The whip is in my hand. What will I do?" Say to yourself, "The crowd will tear me to pieces. What will I do?" Say to yourself, "I am holding the nail. What will I do?" "I am surrounded by soldiers. What will I do?" "I am drowning in politics. What will I do?" Think about it to yourself, and be honest in your heart of hearts.

Then remember what he did, instead.

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"There is no statute of limitations on stupidity." -- Randomly produced by a computer program called Markov3.