A Damnable Dilemma!

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Ah to be just as cool as this! (pun intended)

Ah to be just as cool as this! (pun intended)

Seems like I’m always reading (or hearing) that atheists are just as bad as religious folks. This theme has a few funny variants! Pushy atheists are just as bad as pushy  believers, or maybe they are just as closed minded as fundamentalists. Atheists who force their views on others are just as obnoxious as Christians who do the same.You can add all manner of pejorative adjectives and get the same formula. We non-believers always seem to be just as annoying, just as rude, and get on people’s nerves just as bad as those we criticize.

I guess atheists are justazzy people.

…which I suppose is fair enough, but is being ‘just as’ really just as bad as being what others just are when someone accuses them of being justazzy?

It’s a bit of a dark night where all cows are grey, this world of justazzyness. I guess it’s a question of priorities, and some folks’ priorities don’t leave much place for the the particulars. Those without a damn to give will hear only that others talk too much about a thing and not much about what each has to say about it.

…which makes for a whole lot of justazzyness.

It’s easy enough to imagine the possibilities. We’ve all met the assholes who could easily square this equation off quite nicely. But of course, folks complaining about the justazzyness of non-believers are rarely clear about just what it takes to cross the line into justazzyness. It could as easily be a thoughtful question as a bit of snark; just likely to be respectful disagreement as a bitter bit of insult. I can’t help thinking in most cases one enters the land of justazzyness simply by stating a point of view in the first place.

My old high school used to suspend both parties in a fight, even if one clearly attacked the other. To them defending yourself was just as much a ticket to the principal’s office as picking a fight to begin with. This would seem to have been just as much a case of justazzism as the one that has me up at this fricking hour. It’s 3:30am fer fuck’s sake! And my dreams no doubt find this topic just as poor an excuse for keeping them waiting as any other.

Soon, dammit!

Oddly enough I can’t help thinking this justazzitude is just as unfair to the justazzinination as it is for the justazzinandum. It can be no better to be a measure of damnation than it is to be damned for opposing the damnable. But of course that’s just as one would expect it to be. But is it really a forgone conclusion that faith imparts an evil to anything that shares a measure of whatever it may be? Is belief really such a settled villain that the only question left is will it take its foes down with into a Hell of great peevishness? I’m no friend of Jesus, and even I wouldn’t say it’s such a settled matter as that. But who could fault a fellow for saying no to anything so easily dismissed as that? Who but someone who really just wants the issue off the table whatever the costs ad whatever the merits of the parties involved?

What a damnable state it must be to live in a world where one can neither affirm nor deny with anything more than a shrug and a meh!

It’s a tragic narrative I suppose. An unbeliever confronts the monsters of superstition and gullibility only to find himself becoming a monster in the eyes of a third party. Try as he might, our soldier of reason can only see in those eyes staring back at him  the very darkness he seeks to combat. There is no argument against apathy. But is faith not the original sin for this tragedy, a seed which bears fruit in the form of a rotten dilemma? One may accept it, or one may just as well accept it in the act of denial. Damned if you do and damned if you might as well have anyway.

You have to wonder! Will those impatient souls who make no distinction keep to that mood Saturday and Monday as well as Tuesday and Friday? Or will they take a side some day, perhaps one which is just as present today in their thoughts as it will be when they at least choose to voice it? Not that they will wish to discuss the matter then, now, or ever.

…which is just as frustrating to some of us anyway.

I expect this rant makes just about as much sense as a kite in a bowl of soup, but then again, I’m feeling kinda justazzy tonight.

Anyway, I guess we’ll have cause for concern when folks start talking more about how religious folks are just as bad as unbelievers.

RedskinsFacts Does the Meta-Hypocrisy Shuffle

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Redskinsfactsagain

(Click to Embiggen)

The accusation of hypocrisy can be a very effective means of facilitating the same. Case in point? This little gem from Redskinsfacts.com. I hesitate to post it, because the link will take you to Blaze TV, which is Glenn Beck’s little neck of the net, but well… professional bigots must at times be answered, even if it means giving petulant children more attention than they deserve.

Glenn Beck is in rare form in that video, trying to turn “What’s up my Cracker?” into a thing. It is neither clever nor insightful, though I suppose he thinks it some sort of social commentary. What his use of the phrase does do is help us understand that some folks never outgrow the adolescent desire to piss off the adults in the room, and that those people frequently find their way into the heart’s and minds of those addicted to right wing political porn. You can also hear some bizarre comments about Hitler’s non-existent children in that video along with something about an alleged apology for his actions. There is nothing in the clip to suggest that Beck and company know this little trip through Godwin’s Law is utter bullshit. Rather, they appear to figure this narrative is true, because, well that’s what must have happened, right?

…which is pretty much how history works in the world of Glenn Beck.

All that aside, Beck’s main point (to the extent that he has one) is that the Oneida Nation of New York is building a casino to be named after The Wizard of Oz. What makes this disturbing is its author’s history of racism. L. Frank Baum advocated the complete annihilation of Native Americans. yes he did. They are right about that. Beck and Company find it absurd that a tribe which has been critical of Washington’s football team would honor the work of a racist. In fact, they find it quite hypocritical.

As you can see above, so do the folks at Redskinsfacts.com.

It pains me to say this, but they do have a point. Whatever the merits of The Wizard of Oz in literature, cinema, or simply marketing strategies, it’s difficult to explain why any Native American community would want to be associated with Baum’s work. We could debate the exact equivalent of naming a casino after a work done by an author whose also expressed racist views and the use of a name that directly perpetuates racist stereotypes with every mention made of it throughout the entire football season, but some might think that was splitting hairs (or giant redwood trees, …whatever!). At the end of the day, they do have a point; this is a problem.

Of course the problem doesn’t end there. Inconsistencies abound in politics, and one can hardly point at the second face of someone else without raising questions about his own self-presentation. Beck and company aren’t really trying to get the tribe to drop its plans for a casino named after Baum’s work, and they are certainly uninterested in spreading the word about Baum’s racism. No, this is an opportunistic moment for them, a chance to seize on a misstep by those who threaten their world in some tiny way. Beck and company are defending the name of the Washington football team, and that team is thoroughly invested in racism at every level of its organization. The Oneida Nation of New York could easily reconsider its pans (and let us hope they do), but a change of the Washington team’s name would require re-branding on a scale unimaginable to some folks. If this is a tale of two racisms it is a tale in which one of them is a Hell of a lot more important than the other. Beck and company know this, and they are hoping their audience doesn’t. As explained by one of Beck’s talking heads, the name of the team has always been used to honor Native Americans.

…he is of course lying.

It’s interesting to watch Beck and company run through the motions of pretending to discuss the issue as one of his talking heads plays good cop to the other guy’s bad cop. His sole effort in defense of the Oneida is to remind us of Washington Team’s name and to add that they are playing football. That’s it. That’s what Beck and company offer to speak for the case against the Washington team’s name. And of course they move on to suggest that the Oneida must be trying to accomplish something secret in attacking the team name. Bad cop can’t quite tell us what that is, and of course he’s somehow forgotten all the other Native Americans who also oppose the team name, but he can probably rely on most of Beck’s audience to forget this as well. Ultimately, the bottom line in this segment is a clear defense of the Washington Team by mans of a simple tu quoque fallacy.

If Beck and company say “what about you” loud enough, they hope everyone will forget about their own politics and those they hope to support through segments like this.

This is of course also the only reason the folks at Redskins Facts bring it up as well. They too are not the least bit interested in saving any indigenous people from exposure to the racist views of L. Frank Baum. They merely hope to embarrass a political enemy by pointing out the inconsistency of linking themselves to the work of a racist while opposing their own team name. They are right to the extent that there is an inconsistency in this, but that inconsistency stands like a mirror reflection of their own agenda. They hope to deflect attention from the racism saturating their own politics by calling attention to the hypocrisy of one of their principle critics. In doing so, they themselves become hypocrites themselves, and their sole hope is that no-one will notice the reflexive nature of the problem.

We can well ask if the Oneida should be building this casino while opposing the name of the Washington football team. We can also ask if RedskinsFacts.com, Glenn Beck, and all his talking heads ought to be complaining about what an Indian tribe chooses to name its casino while defending a sports team with an explicitly racist name?

I’m guessing the better answer is ‘no’ on both counts, but then again, we all know we won’t be getting that kind of answer from the folks pushing this story any time soon.

Underdogs All the Way Up!

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Sled dogs waiting patiently

So, I am enjoying the Alaska Native Studies conference in Fairbanks last weekend, and one of the many things that keeps catching my attention is a persistent use of outside authority for a kind of whipping boy. I hear about how ‘the media’ portrays Alaska natives and minorities i general. I hear complaints about The Federal Government, academia, and ‘the system’ in general. Different people have thought these phrases through to different degrees, so the quality of the references vary from the completely vacuous posture to reasonably well defined concerns.

Meh, nothing particularly new under the sun (unless it’s a rather Northy start for the Iditarod which began right in front of the Hotel I was staying at this year, …a couple hours after I flew out. …dammit!) I haven’t attended many academic conferences in the last decade or so, but this is hardly new to me. I just have to cast my mind back a bit to remember how often I used to hear this theme in the old days of my grad work.

…or I could just remember the last time I visited more conservative friends and family down South. They too like to complain about the Federal Government. They too like to complain about academia. (Oh yes they do!) And they too can sometimes be heard to talk disparagingly of something called ‘the system.’

I am keenly aware of the fact that these groups often argue for radically different political goals, but I am rather struck by the fact that they do so using remarkably similar narratives. Each seems rather consistently to present themselves as countering the effects of some overarching authority that resides somewhere out there, so to speak. But this is hardly unusual. In America, at least, most people seem to frame their politics in populist terms. That includes the most well-funded of incumbent political candidates and their supporters. It also includes people arguing for the clear and forceful exercise of political authority just as it includes those arguing against such authority, and it includes all manner of politics falling somewhere in between. It isn’t just that we can’t always tell who is exercising authority and who is objecting to it. What strikes me about this is the fact that the common preference lies on the down-side of the equation. It seems as though everyone wants to be the underdog, and you could take a lantern about in the day looking for someone who will happily cop to playing the man to all his low-brow critics.

In the culture wars lefties typically presented themselves as countering long-term abuse of authority by privileged parties; their right wing opponents bash PC politics and the liberal establishment that tells them what to do and what to say. Evangelical Christians complain of persecution in schools and other government institutions even as secularists fight against believer-bias in those same institutions. And how many religions count oppression somewhere in their founding narratives? (Probably as many as appear in each others’ oppression narratives, I should think.) Climate scientists struggle against well-funded corporations to counter the effects of powers both political and mechanical even as climate skeptics buck the authority of a plot to spread government authority. Some folks will burn a flag to protest the authority of government. Others will wave it to flaunt their patriotism in the face of ‘elitists’ who don’t like it. Even Hollywood actors sneer at the culture of Hollywood, and the educational reformers who crash upon the curriculum in waves of paperwork and conference panels always seem to see themselves as flying in the face of some institutional conventions. Retention and Persistence specialists complain about professor-sages who just want to pronounce wisdom to their students from a lectern and those same professors complain of reformers using administrative leverage to force dubious changes and undermine academic freedom. Advocates of gay marriage often appeal to personal freedom even as its opponents appeal to personal freedom to disregard such marriages.

Indie this and Indie that! (Just cross-apply this theme to movies, music, fashion designers, writers, and Hell, most likely fish-tank designers at this point. I wonder if guppies complain of pretentious betas while zebra fish moan about the abuse of authority of neon tetras.)

…okay, the fish tank bit was probably a bit of a stretch, but hey I’m trying to buck a system here!

Some of these narratives are more authentic than others, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all these agendas are really of equal value, but I am interested in the way so many different political views (some of them diametrically opposed) seem to vie for the moral low-ground. It really is fascinating to see just how ubiquitous the underdog status seems to be in contemporary political rhetoric. Sure, those with political power will exercise it, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who frames a political agenda in terms of a straight forward claim to authority and an equally straight forward intention to use it. Even those with tremendous power seem to present their exercise of that authority to some other regime at power.

When at last we meet the Man so to speak, he usually tells us that he is new to the job and only there to finally undue the damage done by the real Man, the guy with all the power who is only just out of office (and probably lurking somewhere nearby). That other man, the real man, is the real bastard. He has power even when he doesn’t, and it’s his abuse of that power that necessitates the use of power by real people in charge of real institutions.

…who always seem to be underdogs despite themselves.

I sometimes wonder at this vacuum into which all authority seems to escape. Is it purely a function of rhetoric? To listen to folks, the real power always seems to lie somewhere else. And yet it must really exist or all this rhetoric is hot air. And of course we do encounter power and authority in our daily lives, but its presence is almost always akin to a force of nature. It is a fact with which we must contend even if we cannot find a cogent case for it. And when one looks for that case, so often we find only a case against some other use of power.

Could it be that all this obligatory underdogging be a product of cognitive bias? Is it easier to see authority in others and damned hard to feel the power of authority when it’s in your own hands? There is often (perhaps always) a little bluff in the exercise of authority, a little sense that its successful use depends on the willingness of others to accept it.

I once TAed for a professor who liked to mock his own authority. The students were not reassured by his self-deprecating humor. He might have hoped to communicate that he didn’t take himself too seriously, but what his students heard was that he didn’t take his position seriously, and most particularly, that he didn’t take seriously the responsibilities of that position and the limitations of his authority. This was underdog failure at its finest and most cringe-worthy.

And I suppose this is what bothers me the most about it all. I can’t help but see in the collective impact of all this underdogging something a bit like the students saw in that professor a marked inability to grapple with the authority that people actually do have and very clearly will use. We can’t all be under-doggier than the next guy. Or if we can, then perhaps it says something rather sad and ironic about the value of low-brow politics. For one reason or another, it is often more effective to position oneself as the underdog than the authority.

And if you can get by with wielding authority while pretending to be that underdog?

Well, ain’t that just the cat’s pajamas!

 

Updates Schmupdates: I Are a Bad Blogger!

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I-n55YS7

This last Halloween I dressed up and went as a respectable person.

Hi all,

I know I haven’t been that active here lately, and I thought I’d drop a note here on what i have been up to. First come the excuses; work, frozen pipes, bad sickness, work, and aliens kidnapped me.

Okay, I’m glad we got that out of the way.

I have done some writing in the last few months. Most of it just isn’t showing up here. I finished a couple book-length stories this last year and I’ve begun collecting rejection letters. Whoo-hoo! (…I think.) Aside from that I, wrote a guest post on Mark Parker’s Blog, Real Spirituality, and I started a second blog called Hinterlogics for the purpose of collecting interesting texts for argument analysis. That’s pretty technical. By ‘technical’ I probably mean tedious. I’m still trying to work out the details on that one, not the least of them being the question of whether or not I really want to keep it going at all.

Anyway, hi all!

An Uncommon Doodler

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Have y’all heard of Vi Hart? I’m not really sure what she does, except that it involves math and brilliance.

Here is one of her better ones.

…and her expose on SpongeBob SquarePants can be found here:

Course she’s not down with pi! (Yeah that’s right, Vi is anti-Pi.)

…it’s enough to make a guy wish he studied math.

Taking The Piss Out of Magic: What it Isn’t and What it Really Isn’t: Special Gaming Edition

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flashlightDo you Recall that glorious moment in The Return of the King when Gandalf rides out to save Feramir and the last defenders of Osgiliath! Do you remember when he raised his staff and great light issued forth, driving the ring-wraiths away (along with all the cool kids who happen to be reading these here lines)? Yes, well, I do too. And now that it’s just us nerds here in the blog, let us talk of wondrous things!

What I’m particularly interested in on this dark morning here on the tail end of polar midnight, (aside from hope of a Gandalf-like ray of sun-light soon to come) is the way that some folks (ahem gamers!) often speak of wondrous things in particularly unwondrous ways.

‘Unwondrous’, Yeah, it’s a word now dammit!

One of the amusing meta-games that gamers have been playing ever since those heady-days of the early 80s is the game of “how do you stat that?” You know, the one where you decide that the Arnold version of Conan is a 10th level Ranger with an eighteen double-ought strength, and then your friend says; “hell no, he’s a 12th level fighter and he must have supernatural strength, 20 at least, …probably Chaotic Good alignment.” Then someone says; “You must be nuts! He’s easily true neutral.” …yeah, we geeks do that. Well anyway, the game of “how do you stat that” really comes into its own with magical effects, because stating magic helps to define the fantasy worlds in which the games take place.

In Tolkien’s work, mythic narratives began to flourish in fantasy fiction. Hell, for a time they almost seemed cool, cool enough for the mighty Zep at any rate, and this was a significant part of the cultural background informing the early days of pen&paper RPGs. But here is one moment where the game of stating the worlds around you  (real or imagined) always seemed to fall short for me, at least in mainstream games. They fall short really the minute the game of stat this is played.

You see, to stat that magic moment in which Gandalf drives off the wraiths in AD&D one would need to assign his light effect to a designated spell with a designated range, area of effect, and duration, all defined in precise mathematical terms. The effects of light on undead would be clearly defined in this spell, and the sort of power it takes to generate the spell would also be clearly explained. In Dungeons and Dragons and many of the games emulating it, this wondrous moment in the story becomes a function of well-defined principle of mechanics. One might even suggest that it becomes part of the natural laws of the universe in which the games take place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed countless hours of manipulating precisely those very mechanics over the game table. Good times! I wouldn’t part with them for brand new vorpral sword. But one thing is definitely lost in this approach to gaming, the wondrous part of it all. The rules of mainstream fantasy games normalize the features of mythic narratives to such a degree that they become a kind of demi-science. One can often see gamers haggling over the details of some magic effect or trying to plot the precise mathematical formula needed to ensure that all the orcs on the game table fry-up in a fireball without singing the elven maiden. in most cases there is nothing mysterious about it; the game rules tell us exactly how this sort of thing works. It’s how many of these games are played.

What is lost in this approach to gaming is the very fluid nature of the narratives which inspire and inform the genre. The Lord of the Rings doesn’t really present us with a theory of Gandalf’s light, not a complete one at any rate. We might imagine that Gandalf is able to generate that effect because of some arcane set of rules we know nothing about, but what we have in a mythic narrative is simply the fact that he did that, odd as the whole thing may be. Wondering just how such seemingly impossible feats actually happen is an important part of the story. Wondering about it at the game table? Not so much. Not usually anyhow.

In the scientization of mythic narratives, the spell-books of classic fantasy gaming effectively set that wonder aside. Of course there are alternative approaches to the subject, such as those used in story-teller games, but my purpose here isn’t to argue for upping the nerditude of the game table. It’s to comment on something I consider an interesting twist in the culture of fantasy gaming, namely its tendency to frame wondrous things in terms of a well defined rational principles.

If fantasy games presents us with a kind of alternative physics, I don’t think this is entirely unique to modern perspectives on the subject. One sees it in references to The Force of Star Wars, and still more so in the theme-killing notion of Midi-chlorians (microorganisms responsible for the force. …blech)! You can see it in old Theosophical notions of an astral plane through which emotional and psychic powers turn out to follow a kind of physics in their own right, and of course you can see it in sundry New Age efforts to turn Quantum Mechanics into a science of wishful thinking. Folks use these notions and others like them to embed the uncanny moments of a narrative in a theory which makes sense of it. In some cases, that is the total point of the theory; in others it is one of many uses.

Time and again, folks seem to want to find a theory in stories made wonderful precisely because they defy our theories, or more importantly, because they defy our normal strategies for making sense of the world. What makes the moment Gandalf creates his light effect compelling is precisely our inability to fully make sense of it. It is likewise with more traditional epic narratives such as the role of missletoe in the killing of Baldur in Norse mythology, the origin of sea mammals in the in Sedna’s severed fingers, or the forceful eviction of the Gambler in Navajo legends (he was fired up into the skies from a great bow). What all of these and so many more narratives share is not conformity to an arcane set of natural laws so much as a momentary in-your-face violation of expectations which people are most familiar.

What I am suggesting here is that the notion of magic isn’t really a part of these narratives, or at least that it is not the key to understanding the momentary occurrence of irrational events. Such stories may relate information about a natural order (such as a world in which the availability game-animals are in some sense part of an active relationship to Sedna), but that order does not itself explain the moment in which something odd springs forth from her severed fingers.One doesn’t really need a theory to explain why such an event would occur, nor need one assume that someone telling that story entertains such a theory to explain the event they describe. One needs only to understand that the outcome of the narrative will be meaningful. In the interim, the shear absurdity of moments in that story is a thing to be savored, not to be explained away.

The notion of magic along with its specific variations come into such stories in efforts to square them with more familiar realities. Where the uncanny can be a feature of such stories, it becomes a bug when one imposes an expectation of literal truth upon it. So, people sometimes concoct a theory to explain the matter. Some of those theories provide an ad hoc defense of the uncanny, and sometimes they damn it as in the more pejorative uses of terms like ‘magic’ or ‘myth’, but the explanations remain ad hoc in either event, providing us with no real insight into the stories.

Magic, resides in the secondary and even tertiary rationalization of mythic narratives, but there is no reason to believe it resides in the narratives themselves. We needn’t imagine Tolkien plotting an area of effect for Gandalf’s wraith-baffling light ray, nor do we need to ascribe a theory of mythic-evolution to Inuit story-tellers relating the story of Sedna. Hell, we don’t even need to imagine that the Book of Genesis constitutes an attempt to explain the cosmos, though a world touched by the hand of Thomas Aquinas can hardly seem to imagine otherwise.

There is something in the effort to find a theory behind wondrous narratives that does violence to those narratives themselves. Such theories always end up falling short of their source material. It is the same whether we are talking about the hackneyed apologetics of fundamentalist Christians looking to read a consistent theory into all the traditions crammed into the Bible; an anthropologist trying to find such a theory in the oral traditions of some exotic people, or yes; something as simple as a gam designer trying to fit a wondrous theme into a rule system. The explanation never quite lives up to the promise of its inspiration.

Sometimes that failure matters more than others, but for me at any rate, the disappointment is a fairly common reaction. What concerns me most nowadays is the ease with which people seem to accept that mythic narratives ought to have a theory behind them, a set of principles that will explain them, even if only in terms of an error. That just isn’t the case. Sometimes this expectation gives us bad story-telling, sometimes it steers a whole generation of fantasy-gamers right past the fantastic part of fantasy, and sometimes it leads people to genuinely misunderstand great texts and brilliant oral traditions. Either way the variety of magics are never quite as brilliant as the stories which inspire them.

Magic itself just isn’t all that compelling, but a man playing chess with a fish or a cat that sings itself into a dragon? No explanations required.

…or wanted!

One Story to Rule Them All!

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the_hobbit_the_battle_of_the_five_armies_2-t2We All know that the ring destroyed the kings of men. We know it haunted Bilbo all those years in the shire. The ring destroyed Boromir and he was never even a ring bearer. We all watched as Frodo waste away under the influence of the one ring. But my question is what has the ring done to Peter Jackson?(Warning – Spoilers to follow. And yes, I know. I’m a grumpy old grognard. It’s worse than you think.)Yeah, I finally saw The Battle of the Five Armies, so I guess now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on it. I’m not angry really. I’m just disappointed. More than that, I am concerned, very concerned.

I think I read the hobbit around 6th grade or soon thereafter. What I remember of the book was an enjoyable light read. It was the sort of story you read when young and cherish well into adulthood. I could identify with it as a youth because it was the story of a child like character adrift in a world larger in every respect than he was. Bilbo learned to get along in the Hobbit, even to thrive in it, but he never quite got a handle on the larger forces at work in that story, and neither did we as its readers.

It was a fascinating world that Bilbo carried us into. It was a world of myth to be sure, but not just because of the elves and the dragons. It was also a story in which the quest for gold seemed a perfectly sufficient reason to undertake a dangerous adventure, and a world in which orcs and goblins attack, because frankly that’s what they do. It’s a just-so logic that guides the Lord of the Rings, and that is just as any good mythic narrative would have it. a world in which great wars will happen. They will simply happen. No need for political complexities or struggles on which the fate of a whole world will hang. That sort of story will come later, but in the Hobbit, wars happen for lesser reasons, and that is all there is to it.

It is one of the charming features of The Hobbit that Bilbo never quite accepts the logic of that world, at least not its more violent features. His rejection is visceral, childlike. It isn’t a worldly critique of the Draco-gold standard or the perils of Dwarven realpolitik. Bilbo never quite understands the logic of the battle which serves as the focus of this last film, not that I remember anyway. One suspects that there is nothing really to understand; it is simply what these characters were born to do, how Thorin was born to die.

Tolkien dies not unleash the complexities of Middle Earth on his readers until the Lord of the Rings. He did rewrite the Hobbit to put it more in sink with the larger work, but even then he let much of the larger scheme rest on the background of The Hobbit. We may even see hints of that larger scheme, even as we continue to see hints of material from the Silmarillion in the Lord of the Rings. But what isn’t explained in both stories is as essential to the story as what is. Tolkien understands this. If Jackson ever did understand it, he has almost certainly forgotten it by now.

Watching The Hobbit has been a lot like attending a play with someone who has read he script and wants to make sure we know it, along with everyone in the next three rows. Just as an annoying theater-troll will spout the next lines ahead of the actors, Jackson keeps turning The Hobbit into a chance to tell us about the Lord if the Rings. He simply will not let the Hobbit be the Hobbit. It must instead be a prequel to that later (larger) story.

Focused as he is on the grand scheme of things, Jackson has all but forgotten Bilbo. The epic narrative that Jackson insists on relating has little time for a simple hobbit and little place for aHobbits point of view. Yes Bilbo does many of the same things in this trilogy that he does in the book, but his story is never really allowed to compete with that of Thorin’s quest for power, the rise of the bowman to leadership, the doomed love affair between a Dwarven romeo and his elven Juliette, or for that matter, Gandalf’s efforts to piece together the story of the Necromancer. How could Bilbo possibly compete with all that!

All that Bilbo can do is to play a bit part in a failed bid to avert a war. Yet, the problem isn’t that Bilbo is a minor player in the great scheme of things. Rather it is that this version of The Hobbit has forgotten the importance of bit players. It is too interested in the great heroes to give any real credence to those with humbler ambitions. In that respect, this version of The Hobbit couldn’t have wanderd further away from its original source.

This Hobbit is a story that contains a hobbit, but it most certainly is not a story about a hobbit. It is too busy being a story about other things.

So what? If Jackson and his writing team want to tell a different story, there is no particular reason why they shouldn’t do just that. And yet The Hobbit remains unsatisfying (for me at any rate) because it can never really be what Jackson and his team want it to be, which is another Lord of the Rings. The story line simply doesn’t support the tone of an epic narrative; it’s characters have never been quite up to the task. The Dwarves are just a bit too foolish, the elves a bit too vain, and the men too reluctant to be anything at all. These are interesting characters for a story with less ambition than Jackson has brought to the story. For a grand epic, they simply will not do. So The Hobbit trilogy remains overshadowed and upstaged by the epic narrative which is to follow, the one we’ve already seen, the one against which this story cannot help but pale in comparison.

Yes, Jackson and company can certainly tell us what ever story they like, but I cannot help thinking something a little closer to the original Hobbit would have been more valuable. I find myself wanting to say; we’ve seen this. You did it right the first time. Now show us something new.

But alas! This was not to happen.

For whatever reason, Jackson could not bring himself to let the hobbit be the hobbit, or even to fashion it into something altogether new and creative. So many of his interventions pull the story towards the Lord of the Rings, which is something it simply can never be. Jackson’s heart is set on the Lord if the rings. His mind is bent on it. And it is his master.

The final scenes of the Hobbit are filled with allusions to the coming trilogy, and truth be told, that is to be expected, even relished. Yet each of these references drags on a bit too long. We get the reference to Aragorn, and we get the moment Bilbo replies to a knock on his door, which is actually kind of clever, or at least it would have been if Jackson had been content to let a couple quick lines connect the two stories. But he can’t do that. Jackson has to make sure we get the point, and each of these references seems to carry on well after we get the point.

Spoiling it.

It seems as though Jackson just cannot let the coming epic go, and the urge to tell us about his precious Lord of the Rings won’t let him settle for a proper allusion, just as it would not let him simply tell us the story of the Hobbit in the first place. It’s as though the Lord of the Rings has hold of his spirit.

It will not let him go!

The Crystal Gallery Ice Sculpture Contest in Anchorage, A Review

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Last year I was in anchorage in early December, just a bit too early to catch the completed ice sculptures of this annual competition. I still got some interesting pics, but as I didn’t get the final products, what I got never quite found its way into the blog. This year, I’m stoked, because I’m in town later than before, and that means I get to check out the completed work.

Yeah-boyee!

So, let’s have a look at the completed projects for this year’s Crystal Gallery Ice Competition.

(You may of course click on an image to embiggen it.)

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We can begin with this spectacular bit of minimalism, well placed in front of a colorful tree. It takes courage for an artist to run with an idea like this. Such a simple composition and so profound, all of it beautifully executed.

I really like this one.

 

 

 

 

??????????????????????????????? Now this piece, here is some real talent. I mean, the symmetry of it all, and I really like the use of color. I mean, you wouldn’t think that would be a factor in an ice-sculpting competition, but seriously, this piece has some real color going for it. Also, it’s very blocky. Yes, it’s quite block-like.

Why don’t these pieces have titles anyway? I would entitled it “Colorful Block of Ice.” The artist should totally go with that!

???????????????????????????????This array of rough hewn blocks in front of the tree has a definite, um, ethos. Reminds me of Santa’s Reindeer, they way they are all stretched in a line like that. I don’t know who the artist is, but hey art guy, if you’re looking for a title, I would suggest; “Reindeer in Front of a Tree.” It really is an excellent piece, but my one quibble would be that you know there are supposed to be more of them, 8 I think, or is it 9 with Rudolph? I forget the exact number, but I’m pretty sure that you need to add more.

…also, they are kind of blocky.

…for Reindeer, I mean.

DSC00731These guys over here look kinda lonely. I don’t think they made the cut, really. Better luck next time guy! If you don’t mind a little suggestion, perhaps, you could do something a little more intricate. Please don’t be offended. I’m just, I mean, I know I’m not an artist. I just think, well, you know. Anyway, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t presume. I mean it’s your vision, and I respect that. It’s just.

I dunno.

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I think this one is some kind of ironic commentary on the public facilities around Anchorage, which I think is way cool. I mean, I know some people don’t like it when art gets too political, but personally, I like the edgy feel of it.

 

 

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Yellow on blue? Okay, I just love the way some of these guys work with colors! That really was a surprise here. Maybe some sort of study in contrasts or a meditation on the color green. I don’t know.

I just can’t help feeling the sculpture could have put more effort into shaping the piece.

No, nevermind. That’s just conventional thinking on my part. Who am i to question this guys vision? You rock-on block-carving ice-sculpture guy.

Rock on!

 

???????????????????????????????Now this is shear brilliance! It totally has my vote for ‘best in Show’. Do we get to vote? I mean, is the public part of this? Or is it, just professionals? I mean, well I don’t know. You just, you really gotta hand it to this artist. He has the shape of the blocks down perfect. So symmetrical, and so boxy! I mean, others seem to be exploring similar shapes, but I really think this piece nails it perfectly.

I’m also kinda hoping, we can move on to some more ideas here soon, because honestly, how are y’all gonna top this? You can’t really. Once perfection has been perfected, you just gotta go find your own bliss.

…preferably not in a block.

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I just, I dunno.

These guys really aren’t listening.

 

 

 

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Oh fuck it; I’m going to Humpy’s!

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