Friday, July 29, 2011

why you'd hate to live in mexico

Here's a quote from a man who was tortured in Mexico. He's an honest cop who was arrested for corruption and questioned. It turns out that his name was included on a list of names given by another cop who'd been questioned in the same manner — a sickening spiral of law enforcement gone wrong.
"I say, 'O.K., I'll do what you want.' I was always screaming, 'Please, please don't do that t me.' But I think they don't care." He was given a denunciation, a list of names, to sign. "The worst thing to me was that I signed that paper, which I hadn't even read." ...

I just signed the paper. Whatever. This was on a Wednesday. They destroyed my mind. They destroyed my spirit. Always with tape and handfcuffs. No opportunity to defend myself. But the government, the military, believed what I'm confessing. They believed things I said yes to from torture, because I don't want to die. They are very bad persons, but they are also stupid."

They are very bad persons, but they are also stupid.

Yes, they are very bad persons, and they are also stupid.

Monday, July 25, 2011

fun with sam and jan and dick

(All names and artistic details are changed.)

At a recent party, some people got into a discussion of Zero Attack, one of those shows with overarching storylines, the kind of thing you have to watch from the very first episode in order to get it. The entire series had come to a conclusion. Sam and Jan hadn't seen it; they were trying to decide whether to commit — and had very carefully kept themselves in the dark so as not to spoil anything — but were skeptical based on what they'd heard from people who had.

Some had said the whole thing was a bust. (With many such stories, with lots of plot twists and characters, it's almost impossible to pull off a satisfactory conclusion.) They felt robbed, and insisted it was a waste of time.

Others, though (including me), had said it was no bust at all. I was very satisfied by the show was pulled off, and was impressed that the storyteller had so masterfully sewn it all together. I'd spent a little while defending it and assuring Sam and Jan that it's a compelling tale well told, when Dick spoke up.

Dick said the series finale was a cop-out and a disappointment that rendered the whole story a waste. I asked for details, though keeping my language vague so as not to spoil it for Sam and Jan. It came out that Dick hadn't seen the whole story. He gave up in the second or third season, figuring that the show had lost its way and the storyteller was just making things up and marking time till they could figure out how to get out of it.

So he hadn't seen the whole series after all? Well, no; he'd seen nothing but the first seasons and then — disastrously — the last episode. That's it. Naturally he would think dimly of the series; anyone would who'd experienced it that way.

I assured him that he'd gotten the wrong impression, and that during those seemingly slow stretches the storyteller was just laying groundwork for what comes later. This is an argument I'm used to making about the tedious-seeming parts of Wagner's Ring Cycle. In both Wagner and the series, it's entirely true. You think the storyteller might have lost his way, but — nope! — much much later it turns out that the information you were getting was essential, and pays off in spades.

I said all that, and Dick poopooed it. He even mentioned one episode: "the one with the two big guys in suits." The very model, he said, of one of those meaningless episodes that does nothing for the series and gets you nowhere.

I responded, "Ahhhh. You picked the Perfect Bad Example. That episode turned out to be vital: it had tons of stuff in it that proved that they knew what they were doing from the very first moment, and details and information that gets wrapped up in later seasons."

He quite simply didn't believe it, though I was sitting there right in front of him as someone who had seen every single episode and seen how it all came together, and though he was sitting there right in front of me as someone who had quit pretty early and then only swooped in for the last few moments.

Then, as Sam and Jan were listening, Dick went on: "But I saw the end, and it doesn't get wrapped up."

Me: "Well, it doesn't all get entirely wrapped up in just the final episode. All through the last season the storylines get resolved and minor and major things are addressed."

Dick: "Uh-huh. The last episode doesn't resolve anything, though. Oh, sure, we find out Sherlock and Jezebel and the whole Robinson family are all mafia after all, except for Timmy. Sheeeesh, what a cop-out."

Me: (looks aghast at Sam and Jan, who have just had the single most vital plot point completely ruined for them) Thanks, Dick.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the potter rule

Just saw the final Harry Potter movie today. I've arrived at a formula that describes the way the filmmakers chose to adapt these books.

Anything good about the books that can be explained to a Hollywood producer in a T-shirt and blazer made it to the screen intact and shining. (The escape from Gringotts, the exhilaration of a Quidditch game.) Anything good about the books that cannot be explained to that producer will be botched, ignored, or somehow not trusted. (The actual game of Quidditch, any spell done with a wand, denouements.)

Further, and poisonously, everything that could be so explained if only it were changed a bit gets changed. (Dumbledore's brilliant escape from his own office goes from being a miracle of timing and teamwork to ZAPPO!!!!!!; the ride in the Ford Anglia goes from being an amusingly anticlimactic episode of sunburn and boredom to a rollercoaster ride; the final duel with Voldy goes from being a smart and dramatic showpiece ... to a rollercoaster ride.)

It's of course a Hollywood miracle that we managed to have a Potter series in which Robin Williams never appeared and in which Harry and Hermione never have a love scene. For that we (according to our training) should be grateful. But the thing could have been done so well. An overwhelming number of fans see the movies as ikons, pointers to and reminders of all the great stuff about the books, a way of reawakening our fondness. If I could see it that way, I'd probably be as thrilled as they are. Wanting real movies, though, and unwilling to take a paint-bath in the idea that it's asking too much for the movies to capture the spirit of the books (Lord of the Rings, anyone?), I'll have to content myself with bits and pieces, most of the third movie, and the sizable chunk of the last movie in which you can squint and see the real thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

lord, Lord, LORD

There are 3 ways of doing the word "Lord" in most Bible translations (leaving aside the beginning of sentences).

An uncapitalized lord refers to a human. Since Lord and Lady Dedlock don't make an appearance in the Bible, you're left with uses such as Sarai calling Abram her "lord."

An initially-capitalized Lord refers to God in some form, whether God the Father or God the Son.

Then there's the all-capital LORD, which is used when the original Hebrew uses the word YHWH, or "Yahweh," the not-to-be-spoken-out-loud name of the Almighty, which is often rendered into English as "Jehovah." When devout Hebrews would see the word in the text, they'd just say "Adonai" out loud, a word which roughly translates to Lord.

I'm mentioning all this because of something that regularly amuses me. A friend sent along a song that she's interested in doing in worship. I was checking it out, as I often do, on youtube, where such songs are accompanied by slides of the lyrics (often in a bad font). When it got to the place where the lyrics are "oh lord," it said "Oh LORD."

I assume this means that when the songwriters wrote the song, back in 2009, in the original Hebrew, they used the word "Yahweh."