I’ve inadvertently taken a couple of weeks off here — between traveling and the holiday, I wound up not in front of a computer, at least with any appreciable time, on a Friday.
In that time, though, I did run across plenty of interesting stuff, although most of it washed away from my brain in subsequent days, so I’m focusing on something that just came up in the last couple of days.
I was involved in a conversation about Superman, and someone was saying that the character was boring or tapped out of steam or similar (and I love Superman), and it recalled to me the comparison I’d heard that the archetype for Superman actually dated back thousands of years in human history to the legend of one of the first superhuman hero-kings, Gilgamesh.
An epic recorded in Sumerian cuneiform on twelve clay tablets around 2000 BC, the story focuses on the Mesopotamian myth of the demigod King of Uruk, Gilgamesh.
I’m not sure how the math works out on this one, but he was purported to be two-thirds god by parentage — so that sounds sloppy, even if divinely so. I scanned through the translation of the first of the twelve tablets, and there’s a lot of bovine imagery — Gilgamesh is credited as being "son of the august cow, Rimat-Ninsun" and "the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull".
Even in that first tablet, there’s plenty to indicate his superhuman strength and power, and the idea that human beings have a fascination with a more than perfect model of ourselves, and with the potential to do good for us as a communal entity:
"Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,
he is the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull.
He walks out in front, the leader,
and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions.
Mighty net, protector of his people,
raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone!
Offspring of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh is strong to perfection,
son of the august cow, Rimat-Ninsun;… Gilgamesh is awesome to perfection.
It was he who opened the mountain passes,
who dug wells on the flank of the mountain.
It was he who crossed the ocean, the vast seas, to the rising sun,
who explored the world regions, seeking life.
It was he who reached by his own sheer strength Utanapishtim, the Faraway,
who restored the sanctuaries (or: cities) that the Flood had destroyed!
… for teeming mankind.
Who can compare with him in kingliness?
Who can say like Gilgamesh: "I am King!"?
Whose name, from the day of his birth, was called "Gilgamesh"?
Two-thirds of him is god, one-third of him is human.
The Great Goddess [Aruru] designed(?) the model for his body,
she prepared his form …
… beautiful, handsomest of men,
Neat — to me, that does sound a lot like Superman — even if it’s Bronze Age Superman, sent to earth by a divine cow instead of a long dead alien planet. A paranormal origin either way, whether there’s an S or a G on the cape.
I especially like the imagery of the "raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone!" Neat, that gives me that comic book mental image.
As for the general story, in reading the summary, it sounds like it mostly concerns Gilgamesh and his pal Enkidu hanging out, getting into fights, and going on adventures. There’s certainly a lot in there too that does not jive with modern sensibilities, but, you know, it was four thousand years ago.
Historically, there may have been a real Gilgamesh as well, governing around 2600 BC. Although, I’m taking a wild guess he couldn’t break through stone walls, and didn’t have three parents.
For the text I’ve quoted, take a look here, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Wikipedia provides a good summary again too, of the epic, and of the historical Gilgamesh.
And, finally, here’s a more detailed summary and discussion.
Now, we have Beowulf, where’s my Gilgamesh movie?]]>
I missed another week adding to the Wild Wave last week (and will next week because I’ll be out of the office Friday again), sadly because Kristen’s grandfather passed away, and we attended the funeral in Westmont.
At the service, I saw a sign saying something about a dedication at the church being for St. Monica — “The Patron Saint of those that have wandered from the faith”.
Which is an interesting idea — that there is a saint tagged with looking out for the people that aren’t interested in participating any more. It also reminded me how interesting I think the whole vast array of saints idea is.
It seems, and maybe this is historically an obvious thing, like it’s a kind of similar thing to the polytheistic religions of the old world where there were minor gods and goddesses responsible for everything. It’s just saints instead of gods — which probably makes sense looking at it from Greek beliefs to Greco-Roman to Roman Christianity, there’s a line of conceptual heredity there.
To backtrack, I think I sort of picked up thinking about that very consciously back in high school. I was a member of one of those book clubs, and I netted a bunch of great books — Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords books, Michael Moorcock’s Elric stuff, Terry Pratchett’s Magic Kingdom: For Sale — Sold! All kinds of stuff like that.
So it’s clear where my interests were … and one of the books I wound up with was this. The picture on Amazon for it is a gem.
The book itself as a role-playing game is dreadful, super boring stuff. Even as a super RPG geek at the time, I couldn’t plow through it. It reads like a game for people that want less high-flying fantasy escapades and want more historical accuracy of the most boring variety, more beancounting, and more opportunities to substitute chess-type rules for social interaction. Yuck.
But, one thing that I did notice was that the book lists out game statistics for figures in Christianity. It was normal par for the course for a fantasy game to sort of do that for Greek and Norse mythology — mostly so the tools of the gaming world (an especially low rung of individual) could brag about defeating Zeus with their flaming sword — but to actually list out saints next to devils. Wow, pretty weird.
I actually still have my copy of the book, so just for wiggles and giggles, here are some examples –
Feeling like taking on the English? Watch out! It’s St. George –
Astrological Controller — Aries
Combat Level — 17
Intelligence — 16
Endurance — 26
Agility — 25
Physique — 26
Mana — 288
Magic Level — 18
Faith — 28
Resistance to Appeals — 5
Rank in Host — 5
Areas of interest & Patronage — War, Englishmen
Areas of Disfavor — French
OK, well, maybe that’s reasonable — he fought dragons and stuff, sure maybe he could turn up for a fight in a game, right?
Well, how about the Virgin Mary. Yes, the Virgin Mary — STATS!:
Astrological Controller — Virgo
Combat Level — 10
Intelligence — 28
Endurance — 26
Agility — 32
Physique — 24
Mana — 384
Magic Level — 24
Faith — 34
Resistance to Appeals — 5
Rank in Host — 8
Areas of interest & Patronage — Virginity, motherhood, forgiveness
Areas of Disfavor — Sex
Wow. Those are numbers. If somebody, wants, in this game, to get in a fist fight, I guess. Isn’t there something a little unsettling about that?
At least they hedged their bets a little bit on the A-Number-1 supreme being –
Astrological Controller — Leo
Combat Level — 24
Intelligence — 40
Endurance — ?
Agility — ?
Physique — ?
Mana — ?
Magic Level — ?
Faith — ?
Resistance to Appeals — 7
Rank in Host — 9
Areas of interest & Patronage — Creation, dominance
Areas of Disfavor — Rebellion
Special characteristics and notes — Three persons, can operate independently
Yikes. Well, it does seem like a weird way to boil that down to numbers. Mostly punt it away, but still give a “Combat level” and a set intelligence. And that three persons thing. I feel like this would be a great comedy bit, but it’s completely serious.
In any case, though, as ridiculous as this is, it’s my main reference for looking up saints. Because I can at least learn stuff like, don’t ask St. George for help if you’re French.
And to bring it back around, after seeing the note about St. Monica, I came to this book to follow up — and she’s not included!
Wikipedia paints a pretty sad picture — although I can see why she is attached to wanderers from the faith. Her parents married her off to a non-Christian with a temper and predisposition to adultery, and she avoided beatings by being really obedient to him. So much so that eventually he converted to Christianity. A difficult success story to get behind.
On top of that, she had a son, Augustine, that was a great scholar, but took after his dad in terms of morals and religious outlook. Although eventually he converted, and subsequently achieved sainthood himself.
The entry doesn’t mention anything about the patronage of those that have strayed from the faith, although it’s pretty easy to read why that might be between the lines — instead it attributes her to “patience, wives, mothers, and abuse victims”.
I don’t want to be disrespectful, but the abuse thing seems really off — if the message is don’t complain and be subservient to your abuser — and it’ll all work out. I am not well-educated on the subject, though, so perhaps that is flippant.
Just a few more references:
… from the Catholic Encyclopedia
… from the Patron Saints index
The second one also lists her as having a patronage of disappointing children — “mom is praying to St. Monica over you” — yikes, just seems mean.
Still, what’s her Combat Level?]]>
I missed adding to the thread last week because I headed out to Kansas City (teammate Ryan Dolan’s home town) with Rob, Len, and Ryan in the middle of the day on Friday …
It was a great time, and we had some good, fun shows, ran what I believe was a successful workshop, and enjoyed meeting and watching some very nice and talented folks from the KC improv scene. Which reminds me a lot of North Carolina’s scene, actually — full of great folks, with a lengthy history, and probably regarded nationally much less than it ought to be.
In any case, one of the pivotal points of the trip was an opportunity for the other guys to enjoy KC barbecue. I’m a vegetarian, so I enjoyed barbecue sauce on fries or onion rings.
But maybe I got the best part with that — as gross as this winds up sounding, I heard a number of times over the weekend that for KC barbecue it’s "all about the sauce". Yeech.
Coming from NC, I know there are different kinds of barbecue, so I thought I might explore some of those — academically. For me, having any kind of preference for a regional barbecue style would be like me having a brand preference for a feminine hygiene product. But, still, it’s good to know things.
In KC, we visited Gates and Arthur Bryant’s, and wikipedia details notable sites including those. I had heard that the trademark was the use of tomato as the basis for the aforementioned sauce. And kicking around, this Yahoo answers entry seems to confirm that.
In the same entry, it tips toward what NC barbecue entails — a vinegar base.
However, in NC, barbecue further breaks down into western and eastern styles, and I had always heard it as the same distinction — one was tomato-based, one vinegar-based.
According to this NC travel site, western-style (I have a friend from Lexington, NC, a city that gets attached to the style in conversation as a descriptive — "Lexington barbecue") involves ketchup. And I guess in this day and age, ketchup counts as a tomato serving.
Which would make eastern-style the most vinegar-based preparation.
Apparently, though, as well, NC barbecue largely concerns itself with how the pig is cooked, and as other areas to the west are examined, it really does become more about what is applied to the pig.
For a truly in-depth examination of all of this stuff (from an NC perspective), this is a very detailed article …
But looking at all this stuff it is interesting to view barbecue in terms of geography and to extrapolate what it might mean to someone’s meal.
Traveling from the east coast of the country into the west, it seems as though you eat progressively less of the pig, and become more focused on what goes onto the pig. Like a mounting sauce wave drowning out the pig body …
Perfectly suited probably for some sort of weird and horribly grisly line graph.]]>
When I was in high school, the three years of history classes I took were all taught by one guy, a really great teacher, by the name of Mr. Jones. I really liked him — funny, smart, and actually pretty tough. I felt like I got a lot out of those classes and was always intellectually challenged.
One of the things we had to do for one of the US history classes was book reports. Just two, actually, we had to read a book and give a talk on it to the class each time.
The first book I read was an account by Thoreau of a canoe trip into the woods of New England. It was really, really boring. I selected it because I had been reading about him in my English class, and respected his philosophy and the way he put it into practice.
But the book wound up being filled with the minutiae of details of tree bark and mosses and so on — and it was an awful read. Really long too.
So, the next time around, I picked up a book that was a collection of African American folk tales. It was great. I already sort of had a fixation with mythology because of all the Greek stuff I had read or had read to me as a kid. So it was great to read something I would enjoy on my own anyway.
I don’t recall what that specific volume was called — if I did, I would hunt it down and add it to my library. But, I’d been thinking about it recently, and tried to find something like it — specifically a collection with the story I’ll be coming to shortly.
I found a pair of companion collections and bought them, one on African folk tales and one on African American folk tales.
I read most of the African folk tale collection (chronologically, it seemed most apropos), although I felt the style of how the stories were told was a little tough for me to get through. The introduction to the collection explained it might be, because the stories have always been an oral tradition, with lots of repetition, and call and response, and the like. Which makes for kind of circular reading.
In any case, it is interesting to see some cultural things emerge, mostly the struggle for food. In those stories, it was completely normal for characters that had pretended to be civil to one another to kill and eat each other. It was the most common story element I saw. Such an odd translation of environment to tale, but it makes sense.
I haven’t gotten into reading the African American collection yet, but I did find that the story that stuck with me from so long ago and got me here in the first place is included. And it’s basically nowhere online, shockingly enough.
I’ll jump back to my book report, though, on the book. I read the book for that high school class cover-to-cover, loved it, and gave my presentation.
In my presentation I talked about general themes, and the recurrent character of Anansi, the spider trickster, and various sorts of observations on the collective experience.
And then started heading to my seat, when Mr. Jones stopped me, and asked me for a specific story as an example. And for some reason, in a high school class, I chose to tell the story of Mr. Bamancoo.
Which I guess is a good example of how the profane can be a part of basic folklore for a culture. But it made for an awkward conclusion to the report.
Here’s the story, in a nutshell, no pun intended:
(And in the version I remember it was maybe Anansi that did the tricking with a bird accomplice, and it was the reason for a rain storm instead of a flood, but this is from the version I have in front of me right now)
Mr. Bamancoo and Mr. Chickenhawk were best friends — Mr. Chickenhawk being a chickenhawk, and Mr. Bamancoo being a gentleman afflicted with severe elephantitis.
So we’re off to a child-friendly start.
They both were way into the ladies (gross) but Mr. Chickenhawk got jealous of having to share with Mr. Bamancoo, so Mr. C told Mr. B there were tons of ladies in heaven or the clouds or the sky, or what-have-you.
Mr. Bamancoo wanted to see, so he climbed aboard Mr. Chickenhawk, and they flew off into the sky.
After some unsafe flying Mr. Chickenhawk dropped Mr. Bamancoo to the ground, and Mr. Bamancoo’s enormous testicles popped, washing people away in a great flood of water.
Alright, sleep tight kids, pleasant dreams …]]>
When I was a kid, one of the many awesome things that my dad did with my brother and I was build models from kits. Honestly, we did a lot of partial building. Despite starting several, I never had much acumen at it, and I always produced junky wrecks. A completed, painted, decaled model was a true jewel in the crown, because they so rarely got there.
And most of those models were fighter aircraft from WWII, so that transitioned us into checking lots of books out of the library that had pictures of WWII military aircraft. And that formed this fascination, I think for all three of us, with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
Aside from looking really rad, and having about one of the coolest nicknames possible (up to the B-52 Stratofortress — wow, that sounds tough!), B-17s were apparently designed to be fast, tough, self-sufficient bombers that could go on bombing runs without requiring fighter escorts. Part of the fortress aspect being that the planes sported machine guns of their own to fend off any enemy aircraft.
That design played into an influential bombing strategy being advocated by significant military personnel. Such as General Billy Mitchell — for whom the Milwaukee airport is named — f - y - i. Wisconsin Pride!
In deployment to Europe, it sounds like the B-17s got off to kind of a rough start against the Luftwaffe, but eventually were instrumental in wreaking havoc on German aircraft manufacturing and breaking the back of German air forces.
The bombers seem to have had a reputation for soaking up abuse and still having a chance to make it through the storm of combat. In poking around the internet, I found a site devoted to pictures of battle-damaged B-17s.
Which, to me, seems like a really American hero archetype sort of thing. Here’s this plane that goes and gets the crap kicked out of it in straight-up head-on daylight missions, independent of relying on other planes to protect it, and capable of tearing things up no matter what it’s shooting for or what is coming after it. It’s like the Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis of aircraft, at least in concept.
A few more links –
I thought this was the most interesting summary I found.
And, of course, there’s Wikipedia, which seems to have a pretty thorough collection of information this time.
Finally, the Boeing site has a brief summary and some quick stats.
And now I’m going to have to see if I can get my hands on a B-17 model kit somewhere. Although I’m sure my skill level has not improved from when I was seven years old.]]>
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about how, now that she’s pregnant, a previously rail-thin waif-ish friend of ours is kind of enjoying flaunting her new curves. And I said that she must be having fun being rubenesque for a while. At which point both my friend and I sort of stopped and wondered if I was using the term correctly — so it’s been in my mind to look it up and make sure.
As it turns, out, I was, so that’s neat — from the urban dictionary –
Applied to a woman who has similar proportions to those in paintings by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Ruben; attractively plump; a woman who is alluring or pretty but without the waif-like body or athletic build presently common in media.
So, I opted to check in on more information on this Rubens guys — I’d heard his name before, but I’ve never known much about him, aside from his association with more voluptuous ladies.
Peter Paul Rubens spent time in various European countries, but seems to be identified primarily with the Netherlands. He was active in the early part of the 1600s, and painted in the Baroque style — that lush, rich style of painting from the era that always (to me) seems to have lots of prominent reds and sort of vaguely creepy and ghostly looking people.
Lots of religiously themed subjects — and of course there has to be examples of the curvy ladies, although the stuff I ran across first seemed to be mostly that classical sort of subject matter.
There are some examples of his work here and here …
And thorough information at wikipedia …
And if you’re looking for a rubenesque lady, you could check out rubenesquepersonals.com , which I was happy to find in my google search — at least, you could’ve before 2006. It seems they missed their intended relaunch date, and you might have to visit plushbabypersonals.com . Which just seems less classy and complimentary to me somehow.
And whenever I hear Rubens’s full name, I can’t help but think of Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman. Is there a hilarious comic amalgam just floating out there of a renaissance painter with a thing for larger ladies in a bow tie and huge shoes? I guess it might really work at an academic luncheon.]]>
So I was prepared to dig into the Iroquois creation myth about the earth being on the back of a turtle, but then I went to the dentist and found out I have to get a root canal — which consequently absorbed more of my focus.
The dentist went over it with me — essentially there is an infection in a cracked and decaying tooth (that also happens to anchor my Maryland bridge) which seems to have reached the root of the tooth. So they go in and dispose of the infection and all of the remaining soft organic material in there and pack the tooth with something like rubber in the hollow area. And then put a crown on it since the tooth is dead and can be a little brittle, to keep it all together.
That’s the nutshell version. This site goes through it in great detail, and it’s pretty interesting … I’ll sum up what really stuck out to me.
The hollow interior of a tooth, going down into the roots contains tooth pulp, which includes all kinds of biz — the nerve, but blood vessels and other soft tissues.
Now, apparently, a tooth nerve doesn’t really serve too much of a functional purpose — if you "feel" a tooth through pressure, it’s nerves around a tooth, but the nerve in a tooth does not actively send signals. Unless it gets infected or damaged.
So what can happen is the soft tissue inside a tooth can pick up an infection, get wrecked, and then just serve as a place for bacteria and infection that the body has a tough time getting at — so an infected tooth can kind of be like a fortress-like hideout for bad news stuff, and the interior of a tooth is pretty much just there to wait around for that to happen, and not much else.
That’s kind of an oversimplification — the stuff inside a tooth, if healthy, does maintain tooth health, but a lot of the functionality of it is in development of the tooth, and if it’s gone because of appropriate dental procedure, you’re not necessarily going to be missing a major body function.
So the root canal itself is the process of cleaning out the infection and filling the spaces so that the opportunity for a repository for infection to strike out into healthy tissues really isn’t there. So it seems to be partly reparative and partly preventative.
Considering that I’m in some pain right now, the whole thing seems pretty reasonable to me — I feel like I’m effectively going to wind up with a robot tooth to replace my shoddy original one. No problem — get all the bad stuff out and fill that guy with rubber.
The real message to me: teeth are stupid, and we need to get on the task of evolving something superior.]]>
As Kristen and I were cruising back from picking up a gift certificate for a couple that had the most rad awesome rock and roll wedding, we passed a school advertising itself as a Suzuki school.
I had heard the term in reference to musical education before, but I didn’t really know what it meant, aside from the idea that it had a bit to do with listening. Kristen was much more familiar with the general concepts, but I decided that I’d dig into it a little and see what I could find out.
The few sources I’ve run across have language that reads as a bit "cult-y" to me. But is still pretty interesting … here’s what seems to be the best web presence I’ve found: suzukiassociation.org
The crux of the whole deal appears to be the idea that children naturally learn to speak a language just by being exposed to it day-by-day, and the desire here is to have an individual learn how to hear and perform music by capitalizing on those same language acquisition skills.
So the "method" seems to be kind of an immersion in music for a child — I think they say starting at birth, but I’ve seen stuff that essentially says that anyone can start at any age. But I suppose for developmental purposes the target would be to have it be a life choice for an infant or at least someone very young — when the whole language process is firming up anyway, rather than trying as an adult to learn a new language, for example.
And the idea being that you put a child around music constantly as a vital, repeated form of expression, and they’ll pick it up. Which is kind of a neat idea, the notion that as a kid, when you learn to speak, you could be learning to speak "music" as a language. Maybe not super useful for concrete communication, but how dreadfully poetic.
The innovator responsible was a Japanese violinist from the early part of the 20th century named Shinichi Suzuki, and it sounds like he had plenty of almost hippie-love-wave-style ideas about the whole thing. Or, at least, a very egalitarian outlook on the whole thing: here’s a pretty bold quote I got from that above web site:
“Musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability, just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited.”
So, wow. I guess he leans toward nurture over nature, then.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard different things — I just read an interview on eMusic (to which I subscribe, and I think it’s great) with a musician that I’ve really been enjoying lately, Andrew Bird. He was Suzuki Method trained, and the interview sort of talks about some aspects of how the deemphasis on note reading can make for tough times in the professional classical music circles. But, that it makes understanding and hearing music a very natural thing.
I think that may have been where I first bumped into this lately and got interested in learning more …
Check out that interview, and even move on to the Wikipedia entry — and see if you find the introductory paragraph to it vaguely unusually constructed …]]>
A friend of mine is launching a podcast at some point in the future called WhyPod, which will be an ongoing effort to describe relatively high-minded science in a way everybody can understand. I think it’s a great project, and I’ll be eager to listen regularly once it’s launched. I’ve been privy to some of the early recordings for it, and one of them helped me understand what stem cells are. The subject is all the political hot button, but I don’t know that anybody ever really talks about what they are. Mostly, you hear that scientists want to study them to help unravel how to approach certain diseases and injuries, or have politicians imply that they’re basically stolen parts of dead babies.
But neither of those ideas, while intimidatingly futuristic or horrifyingly grisly, really explain what a stem cell is. My friend does so in this upcoming podcast, and it’s really pretty simple — and neat. I’ll summarize his summary …
To set the context, I need to start with a basic refresher on primary school biology — we’re all composed of cells, each of which does something different, and are the building blocks for tissues up to organs up to systems up to a whole person.
These cells are constantly being replaced, and the way that happens is via cellular mitosis, where a cell divides and becomes two cells, copies of the original cell. So a skin cell, for example, splits to become two skin cells, and we’re constantly replenishing, so that all the stuff that flakes off of us doesn’t mean we erode to literal dust in the wind and all that jazz.
A stem cell is special in that when it divides, it’s able to divide into not only another stem cell, but another kind of cell as well. So, for example, if you need more blood cells, and you have a stem cell that can divide and create a new blood cell, it could do so, and still have a stem cell after that process (which maybe could go and divide and create not only a blood cell or a stem cell but some other sort of cell as well).
So from my understanding, they’re just cells that support the whole cellular division thing by being kind of flexible in what role they fill. How cooperative.
Now, the whole deal with embryonic stem cells and why they’re pivotal is that there are different kinds of stem cells.
Adults have multipotent stem cells, which means that those stem cells can produce more than one cell type but do have a limit to what can be provided. So, we’re not going to be in luck, I think, if we come upon a sudden and urgent need to produce a bunch of new brain cells.
Embryonic stem cells are totipotent, which means that those cells can become any other kind of cell in division. My extrapolation here is that that’s how we go from fertilized egg to having all those bones and nervous system components and skin and all that business from an initially homogeneous small pool of cells.
Pretty cool stuff …
And so I think that’s kind of the story — from a non-scientist’s point of view, it seems that the interest in understanding embryonic/totipotent stem cells comes from the opportunity to grow entirely new and functional elements of the body from a kind of cell that doesn’t really exist in adults.
And the issue with that for some folks is the current source the scientific community has for that sort of research.
But from a strictly academic viewpoint — wow, it’s neat that this kind of thing really happens. Even if it’s only completely versatile in those greedy little pre-babies.