Morality Movie Monday – A Christmas Story

This was never a classic piece of Christmas entertainment while I was growing up; I was nine in 1983 when this movie came out, but my local channels relied on Alastair Sim, Jimmy Stewart, Boris Karloff and whoever starred in Miracle on 34th Street. Maureen O’Hara, and others I see.

So the story: Ralphie is nine in the 1940s and desperate to get a BB gun for Christmas, regardless of everyone who’s against the idea. Many “You’ll shoot your eyes out!” warnings. He is undeterred by their concern and lack of faith in his ability to hold his own. When we watched this, the Hubs noted that there really isn’t much of a plot to the film, beyond loosely connected stories of Ralphie, his family, his run-ins with the local bullies, and his small pack of friends.

Fair point. The gun dream holds the pieces together but otherwise it’s all short stories about family dysfunction at Christmas.

This was only my second time watching the film, the first being maybe 15 years ago. The Hubs had seen pieces over the years and the Young One, who is nine this year, had never heard of it. We kept poking him in the head when Ralphie would make the goofy grins and big elaborate sighs over how tough his little life was. “Looks like you! Sounds like you!” Then he’d growl. It was funny.

The Hubs and I debated a little over the godawful fishnet stocking leg lamp Dad wins through some random raffle and Mom’s reaction to it based on Dad’s reaction. Was he really overjoyed to get this ugly thing in the mail as his prize? I was totally on Mom’s side. Find a way to “accidentally” break the bloody thing so he can’t show it off to the neighbours anymore. Bloody hell.

Watching poor Schwartz get triple dog dared into sticking his tongue on a frozen metal post brought back my own childhood memories; we used the chain link fence but only touched the tip of the tongue to the metal. Still hurt like hell to yank off but didn’t need firefighters, ambulances and stitches. Kids are so stupid.

Wataching Ralphie lie and lay blame on Schwartz for who taught him how to swear (even though Dad knew a bucket-ton of bad language) and then hearing his mom beat the shit out of the boy for that over the phone was really hard to take, too. Not sure if Ralphie felt any guilt over that, nor for leaving Schwartz in the playground stuck to the post. “The bell rang!” FFFUUUUUUUU>>>>

Spoilerage – Dad buys him the gun, shrugging at Mom, “I had one when I was 8…” and Ralphie pouring on the tears while he lied about how his glasses broke after using it – the kickback knocked them right off his face and he stepped on them. Icicles? What mother will buy that story? Ralphie’s I guess.

I guess I get the classic status of the movie. I’ll watch it over the mess that is the Griswolds. It speaks to the nostalgia of the season, regardless of the era. I still have fond memories of being shocked to get a Care Bear; I literally ran back to my bedroom, rubbed my fingers in my eyes, and ran back to see if it was still there. Good old Good Luck Bear. I’m sure I wanted a “cooler” one at the time, but I was happy all the same. The year I was asking for a large Stegosaurus stuffed toy I got a small yellow and white dinosaur instead, plus a nifty fox. Dino and Todd lived in my bed from the moment of opening the wrappers. I think I still have Dino with his saggy neck. Old Todd was given away some years ago, though.

Sometimes it’s more about the memories of the things than the things themselves..

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Forgot Sounds of Sunday so here’s Music of Monday

I’m in a Facebook group that’s centered on Terry Pratchett (GNU!). They’re mostly Great Britainish in the group, I’d say, with Europeans, Aussies, Americans and Canucks for extra flavour.

Today I kept seeing comments regarding #whamageddon and a game they were playing to avoid a particular popular Christmas song. Can you guess which one? At least the rules state that it’s hearing the original that knocks you out of the game which runs until Christmas Eve, but any other version can be “enjoyed” without penalty. You’re welcome!

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“Intelligent design” in the science of smell?

Going by the Christian Headlines headline, yes.

In a study published last month by Nature Communications, researchers reported new findings from fruit flies about how the olfactory system works. Until now, scientists assumed olfactory receptors worked by sending a simple yes-or-no response to the brain. But, much to the researchers’ surprise, they discovered that when a receptor cell fires, it can generate either an excitatory or inhibitory signal. In the nervous system, excitatory signals trigger certain behaviors that might involve something like moving away from a bad odor or toward a pleasant aroma. Inhibitory signals generally decrease behavioral responses.

So the receiver cells deal with twice as much input as previously thought in order to correctly identify the proper body response in any given smelly situation. Cool. (I found the study they refer to if you want to read it.)

The writer of the piece ends with this:

Like the senses of vision and hearing, the new study shows a complexity in the sense of smell that defies natural selection explanations and would make Charles Darwin’s toes curl.

Sigh. That’s just brimming over with wrongability.

Scientists love fruit flies because their life spans are so short so they can get many generations worth of flies faster and better study the mutations in a population without needing decades of time. This “complexity” was not instantaneous, instead happening within a species over generations and hundreds of thousands of years, likely one tiny beneficial mutation at a time. Those that could better judge the safety of an odor were going to be the ones who’d live to breed and pass on that ability to the offspring. Those who couldn’t tell shit from sugar would become the minority once enough time had passed, or be phased out altogether. That’s how natural selection works, baby. Lots of babies over lots of time.

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Star of Bethlehem “found”

It’s the Christmas season again so again stories pop up to explain the nativity story with a hope of sounding scientific and also justified to keep Christ in Christmas.

This one I get from Charisma News:

In the spring of 5 B.C., Chinese skywatchers recorded a nova along the meridian of the bright star Altair. Another group of skywatchers saw the nova rising in the East and followed it to Bethlehem, where it stood directly overhead. Thus the wise men used the Star of Bethlehem to find the Christ Child.

Some sky measurements in the article are used to “prove” it based on where a black hole is now so of course I had to go do a Google to find corroboration that wasn’t printed in a religious publication. The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Vol. 32, NO.4/DEC, P.389, 1991) looks like a good source to me. That article lists several theories, including this one on page 391, noting that it had first been suggested in 1729 by Jean-François Foucquet, a Jesuit mathematician who lived and worked in China at the time, and possibly by Kepler even earlier than that. The author then rules out the nova/supernova theory by referring back to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, where, if we have to take it as a true account, the star was moving with the Magi, and a nova would be stationary relative to us. It had to be something a lot closer to the planet. Also, the ancient Chinese records from 5 B.C. list the appearance of a comet in the sky, not a nova, that was visible for 70 days or so.

Screencap from page 392:

The article notes next that certain turns of phrase in that chapter had been used in other writings from the era (80 ADish) to indicate the apparent behaviour of comets overhead. The comet answer is unpopular among believers, however, due to the belief that they are portents of doom. Not in every culture and era, mind you; some comets were thought to mark auspicious events, typically birth of kings.

So the next time somebody trots out this old “mystery” to solve, tell them to save their breath. It’s probably done, whether they like the answer or not.

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1minion invites God in – stars reveal a radiant presence

Time to delve into astronomy, astrology and the word of God. Pg 30 of Inviting God In by Joyce Rupp. (Other posts in the series are under the tag: Inviting God In.)

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Psalm 147:4

We’re in a situation in the world these days where city light becomes a problem for astronomers, professional and amateur. There are fewer and fewer places where the sky is dark enough on a clear night for telescopes to get a decent view of the “heavens”. I suppose radio telescopes are less affected by that? And the other option is telescopes in space, like the Hubble and the future James Webb Space Telescope, to launch in 2019.

On the acreage where I grew up, it was dark enough most nights to get a bit of a sense of the Milky Way spanning the sky but it wasn’t very bright and it seemed like I needed to not look directly at it to see it better. Then I see the photographs where the whole of the thing is there, stretching out above the world, and think, yeah, I can see why people created gods when they got around to contemplating the view and wondering what was out there.

Rupp admits much the same on this page, sensing “an attraction and a yearning for mystery that far outreaches my rational mind…I find myself wanting to kneel before the beauty and mystery of the creator.” Whereas I don’t care much about astronomy but admire the view.

I thought she’d bring up specific stars; since this is the advent section of the book, I figured the Star of Bethlehem would at least get a nod, but no. I Fucking Love Science has a piece about the star from an astronomy point of view. (I’ll ignore the fact that they claim 3 wise men since that number isn’t even in the bible story at all):

Astronomer Michael Molnar points out that “in the east” is a literal translation of the Greek phrase en te anatole, which was a technical term used in Greek mathematical astrology 2,000 years ago. It described, very specifically, a planet that would rise above the eastern horizon just before the Sun would appear. Then, just moments after the planet rises, it disappears in the bright glare of the Sun in the morning sky. Except for a brief moment, no one can see this “star in the east.”

They remind that the word “planet” comes from Greek (“wandering star”) and actual stars don’t seem to change their positions over a person’s lifetime so constellations don’t change shape and will be in the same “place” every season.

Though the planets, Sun and Moon move along approximately the same path through the background stars, they travel at different speeds, so they often lap each other. When the Sun catches up with a planet, we can’t see the planet, but when the Sun passes far enough beyond it, the planet reappears.

And now we need a little bit of astrology background. When the planet reappears again for the first time, and rises in the morning sky just moments before the Sun, for the first time in many months after having been hidden in the Sun’s glare for those many months, that moment is known to astrologers as a heliacal rising. A heliacal rising, that special first reappearance of a planet, is what en te anatole referred to in ancient Greek astrology. In particular, the reappearance of a planet like Jupiter was thought by Greek astrologers to be symbolically significant for anyone born on that day.

Nobody actually knows how “real” the story is or what the star would have been if it was, though. It’s all guesswork and conjecture. And, for believers, faith.

Next time, resting in God’s arms.

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Armchair art critics decide art is inappropriate

In particular, a piece at the New York Met.

(via the article)

The piece, “Thérèse Dreaming” by the French artist Balthus, “sexualizes” the girl by depicting her lounging in a skirt with her knee up on a chair, according to the petition, which was posted on the website Care 2.

“The artist of this painting, Balthus, had a noted infatuation with pubescent girls and this painting is undeniably romanticizing the sexualization of a child,” writes Mia Merrill, 30, a New York City entrepreneur who started the petition.

“Given the current climate around sexual assault … The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children.”

The painting is from 1938 and the Met’s response to the 7000 or so people who went online to sign was a satisfying NO.

But a rep for the museum said it won’t remove the painting because art is meant to reflect many time periods — not just the current one.

“[Our] mission is to collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas,” said spokesman Kenneth Weine.

“Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present.”

The article also notes a previous show of the man’s work back in 2013. From the Village Voice article about that:

Curated by Sabine Rewald, a renowned Balthus scholar, and featuring 34 hard-to-borrow paintings, the Met’s exhibition expends a tremendous amount of energy on interpreting the Frenchman’s feline fancy (the French word chat, like its English counterpart, also refers to the vagina), but precious little on his crucial leitmotif: little girl lust. It’s as if the curator and her wall texts are too embarrassed to squarely face the artist’s lifelong psychological problem. In view of Balthus’s canonical popularity (the Met and the Pompidou held a storied retrospective for the artist in 1984), it’s patently absurd today to muffle his enduring theme.

Doing a quick Google of the man’s work, I can say I’m not a fan of his styles but to understand the art means to have an understanding of the artist and what drove him to depict the scenes he chose.

Balthus’ composition, derived from Renaissance models, used the inter-relationship of figures, objects, and setting to create a sense of space. The atmospheric stillness in Balthus’ painting infuses the everyday activities he depicted with a psychological sense of mystery and intrigue.

Balthus worked outside the main artistic currents that developed in Paris, but during the 1930s he was in contact with the Surrealist group and he became friendly with the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. The Surrealists, who were interested in the psychology of the unconscious, were drawn to the dream-like quality of Balthus’ paintings, their sexual ambiguity, and his confessed desire to shock. Balthus himself disavowed the erotic content in his work.

I look at the piece and I see an innocence there, of a girl in a hot room maybe, trying to cool off a little. It’s intimate maybe, and the girl is perhaps late teens but I don’t see a sexual picture here, in all honesty. Not compared to the other art the man did. I’m glad the gallery didn’t cave to public pressure on this.

If you don’t like it, the solution is for you to avoid it, not for you to try and forbid others to see it.

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Nine signs you’ve been visited by an angel

Otherwise known as a random list of crap Earth We Are One is posting as “real proof” of an angelic presence in your life. I’ll list the nine with commentary:

1. Unexpected temperature change

– This is called random drafts from windows, cracks in doorways, or fans. And sometimes a person just gets chilly or overheated. This is all coincidence, not evidence.

2. Mysteriously appearing odor

– Did somebody fart? Sometimes when I’d go out after a rain, I’d get a weird whiff of fish even though it’s the city and nowhere near the river or garbage dump. Another coincidence.

3. Differently coloured lights (or shadows)

– Yesterday on the bus I could have sworn there was a UFO hanging in the sky. Turned out to be a reflection through the window of a building’s doorway light but it looked like a hovering orange globe in the sky from the angle I was sitting. Really neat.

4. Angelic voices

– yesterday at work one of the toilets was making noise that really sounded like I should be able to understand the language. It was a bellowing mumble of sounds that really would have made me think someone conjured up a demon in the loo somehow and ran off terrified by the success…or eaten..

5. White feathers

– Because all the birds with white feathers can’t possibly account for them. This is like the yeti shit. If you think it’s an angel feather, get it tested, get the proof. A lot of samples that people have sworn were yeti evidence turned out to be less an undiscovered primate and more a bear.

6. Dream appearances

– Angels are real in dreams, apparently. I don’t trust dreams as useful prediction tools for anything. I rarely remember them, and the ones I do remember were weird for reasons I don’t feel like explaining.

7. Feeling of a presence

This is a real phenomenon and people may interpret the feeling to something mystical when it happens and several reasons why it happens. Not proof of “real” angels.

8. A stranger who seems otherworldy

– Might just be someone mentally ill or perhaps on the autism spectrum. Doesn’t automatically mean this is an angel.

9. A change in air pressure

– For fucks’ sake. There’s always a reason for that, you just don’t know the cause, maybe.

Which reminds me.. there was a news story years back about a weeping statue and oh it’s so miraculous and oh, it’s so mysterious and oh, we must drink the tears… and somebody finally investigated the cause for the crying and it turned out to be clogged drainage pipes:

Edamaruku said his exposure of the weeping statue was also a contribution to public health in Mumbai as some believers were drinking the water hoping it could cure ailments. “This was sewage water seeping through a wall due to faulty plumbing,” he said. “It posed a health risk to people who were fooled into believing it was a miracle.”

Moral of the story here, don’t be fooled by random lists on the internet that claim to have all the meaning you’re missing in life. Don’t take them at face value. Think a little. Look for what’s more likely. Maybe it takes the mystery and wonder out of certain things, but truthfully, the knowledge itself, once earned, if far more wonderful than any dream of an angel.

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