Sunday, October 29, 2006

Similarities

Have you noticed the similarities between the ways we celebrate Halloween and Easter? For Halloween, the kids dress up in fancy costumes, carry around bags, and hunt around to load up on candy bars and other sweets. For Easter, the kids dress up in fancy clothes, carry around woven baskets and hunt for painted eggs and candy eggs and rabbits. The one is Trick Or Treat, and the other is Wicker Treat.

It isn't that simple

It is received wisdom that men are only interested in sex. As with most stereotypes there's some truth there. It is received wisdom that men aren't as interested in who the sex is with—that they're eager to “make new conquests.” Once again, there's some truth here, but it is usually explained in terms of a reductionist view of sex, where the only things that matter are sensation and gene propagation.

Sex isn't that simple.

The sensations of sex are pleasant. But there's more. It is also pleasant to give pleasure to your partner. And it is pleasant to give pleasure to your partner by letting your partner give pleasure to you. During sex the distinction between giving and receiving can become blurred. Sometimes it even seems that the boundaries between bodies become blurred. It is not for nothing that people speak of sexual union. I know that people can be selfish and stingy and careless. I'm talking about when sex works right. And of course you don't have to have sex with someone to discover their selfishness—you can spot that ahead of time.

We all know that sex by itself doesn't create a permanent emotional union or generate permanent love. I won't try to summarize Lewis' The Four Loves here—I'll assume you understand the different operations and similarities of affection and eros and friendship and agape. The natural operations of sex mimic the results of deeper love. But that's not all.

The natural operations of sex even somewhat resemble the “fruits of the Spirit.” That they are not the same is obvious—one need merely look for the fruits of the the “fruits of the Spirit” to see that. Love, joy, etc are supposed to have lasting effects and produce results in our lives. But the appearances are still there when the sex works right.

We all know of people who wake up with a stranger, or feel disgusted with themselves, or even “past reason loved” resulting in “past reason hated.” But these aren't what they were looking for in sex.

  • Love. Even without a marriage to sustain it, sex can result in a strong affection. In fact it bonds so strongly that you feel almost like a part owner of the other person. The bonding is dulled by promiscuity, and selfish people focus on their pleasure and their “ownership.”
  • Joy. Excitement and pleasure on the one hand and satisfaction and satiation on the other resemble joy.
  • Peace. Satisfaction and exhaustion make you feel peaceful.
  • Patience. Oops Sex isn't famous for producing patience.
  • Kindness. Serving your partner's pleasure is one sort of kindness.
  • Goodness. Oops Sex isn't obviously connected with goodness, although you can play semantic games about it being a good thing.
  • Faithfulness. For a moment, at least, one feels linked forever. But faithfulness is a long-term thing, and the emotions I'm writing about here are quite temporary. Oops
  • Gentleness. Satiation and exhaustion can leave you feeling gentle. Excitement doesn't always lead to gentleness, though. Half credit?
  • Self Control. Oops Sex is not famous for inspiring self-control.

I suppose 4 1/2 out of 9 isn't bad for an imitation.

If you discover something that seems like love, that bonds you to another person, and that seems to make you a better person, it makes sense to think about it a lot, and want to share it a lot. It isn't just a matter of looking for sensual pleasure.

Of course that's not how the rules of the game go, and undisciplined sex winds up causing a lot of evil and pain.

Unquiet dead

In The Lord of the Rings the barrow-wights that Frodo et al meet are plainly not pinned to their barrows, but can move around by night. Probably the wight brothers could even fly.

King Tut and the sequel

I didn't see the “golden” King Tut exhibit back in the 70's. This tour didn't include so much gold, but more “everyday” sorts of things and artifacts to put Tut's treasure into perspective. There were artifacts from the tombs of his relatives, for instance; an animation (not a cartoon) showing how the shrines and coffins were nested (with almost no room to spare!), and things like his sister's chair and his chair and the coronation regalia (maybe) box.

Usually funerary goods made of wood were fairly shoddy, but the royal furniture was pretty well made. The lid of the regalia box had Tut's cartouche on it—detailed, so the falcon looked like a falcon with feathers, the grid showed a painted checkerboard pattern, ad so on.

One lady near me was comparing the pectoral with the Navaho jewelry—presumably because both involved turquoise. (I bit my tongue when she expressed amazement that the ancient Egyptian work was almost as good as the Indian—I've never seen Navaho jewelry even close to the Egyptian worksmanship.)

We saw many wooden statues. Many were defective, so we could see how they'd been pegged together (not always carefully—they seemed to rely on filler or paint to cover the gaps). The stonework was excellent, though. A cosmetics box had a lion resting on the lid, scenes of predators attacking deer on the sides, the god Bes with his tongue hanging out on two sides, and heads of Nubians and Syrians under the feet of the box. I marvel at the dishonesty of the afrocentrists who claim the ancient Egyptians were black. Not only were they not black, some of their folklore and iconography is pretty racist. Omar Sharif (yes, we bought the audio tour) said this symbolized the victory of order over chaos, but that seems pretty silly—the theme is obviously domination by the “lions,” though I admit I don't quite see hos Bes' tongue fits into the picture.

Another item explained as symbolizing “order over chaos” was Tut's mace. The head struck me as odd—it was carved to look like some large bud. Maybe they meant it to look nice, or maybe the bud had some magical/symbolic meaning; or maybe both at once.

The wooden cow heads came along with the story of the divine cow, which I'd completely forgotten. Recently I'd been trying to figure out why the Jews kept making images of calves (Aaron, Jereboam). But if a cow took the gods to heaven, it might be that the cow was an intermediary afterwards, and thus a sort of generic figure to envoke when trying to contact a god/gods.

The exhibit spent a lot of time on the results of the latest CAT scan of Tut, which showed that he hadn't had his head smashed after wall, but suggested that a very recently (days) snapped femur might have had a bearing—infection, maybe. His skull was elongated, though not nearly so far as in the Akenaten caricatures.

I got to see up close details of things I'd only seen pictures of before. I'd not realized before that the black areas on the pectoral weren't black gemstones but paint. Amazing what binocular vision does for you.

Since the Egyptian antiquities people were so heavily involved, I was surprised more wasn't made of Akenaten's monotheism. Perhaps it was still too repulsive for them to focus on. True it wasn't a pantheon, but it did focus on a created thing.

The place was crowded! It took us two hours to get through the exhibits, and at least two school groups went by us.

Of course there was more to see before and after our tour of the Tut show. The younger kids got to finish going through the animal designs/adaptations section; somebody always wants to see the hall of gems (even if part of the lights are out), and we went through the Evolving Earth halls. The Cambrian room had three huge screens playing underwater scenes with trilobites and unpronounceable creatures going about their businesses. Truly weird.

The new dino arrangement is well thought out.

Alas, though our trip to the museum was only marred by an almost near miss and an ominous shudder when trying to park, the return trip proved fraught and expensive. The car didn't want to accelerate, and by the time we were halfway to Oak Park we plainly had transmission problems. I checked the levels at Austin—and unfortunately the fluid seemed OK—ominous news. Before we got to the Harlem exit the engine was racing and we ran to a stop halfway up the exit ramp.

I had to get out several times to wave around drivers who didn't realize what flashers meant. 911 eventually brought a state trooper, who summoned a DOT tow truck to get us off the ramp. (He was very solicitous for our safety, and we're grateful.) AAA eventually arrived, but not before an old Oak Park friend came and fetched the three kids. AAA towed us to a firm that didn't do transmissions—everybody was closed and they couldn't check—and I had to wait around another hour and a half the next morning for another tow. Turns out the fluid had cooled enough to engage first gear again, and I probably could have driven the four blocks.

The middle daughter drove down from Madison and all but I headed back home at 23:00.

I left the car with AAMCO with promised that they'd call with estimates, took the subway to O'Hare and the bus to Madison—but I decided to get off at Dutch Mill rather than try to ride into the gathering crowd for the Halloween party on State Street.

Shave and clean clothes!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Royal dentists

This story from the BBC about tombs of the the pharaohs's dentists is interesting. Given the amount of sand reported to have been found in ancient Egyptian bread, and the horribly worn state of their teeth, I guess it isn't surprising that dentists would have been honored. Oddly enough, in the book Dead Men Do Tell Tales it was reported that Tzar Nicholas had teeth so bad he must have been in constant pain. The authors guessed that he was afraid of going to the dentist.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Punching out Picasso

Something about this story seems oddly fitting. $139M? Selling "art" like this isn't serious; its a game for people with more money than imagination. It seems quite proper for the owner to accidently poke a hole in that con-artist's painting: no great loss. Even the money isn't a great loss; it is just a game.

Worship in song

Door Creek Church tried out a song called "Sing Alleluia"

It was syncopated, had irregular meter, had irregular rhyme, and there was no music supplied--just lyrics.

For some reason the congregation didn't sing it very loudly. Funny, that. They sang fine on other pieces, so it wasn't for lack of desire to worship together through singing.

You'd think it fairly obvious that congregational music has to be somewhat different from the average songs. A congregational song has to sound good when sung by a large group of untrained voices. The singers need more support, in the form of easy melodies and straightforward meter (and normalization for the pitches). If you're going to get fancy, show them the notes.

One song leader I knew could take fancy Christian songs and massage them until the congregation could handle the tunes. He made it look easy, but it probably isn't.