Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Jewish Christmas
Tuesday, December 25 2001

the secular Christian part

I had a dream this morning that I'd stolen a motorcycle and was using it as my principle means of transportation. I didn't know any more in my dream about motorcycles than I do in my waking life, and was wondering why the damn thing didn't have much power. Then someone helpfully showed me that I had the emergency brake engaged. Do motorcycles even have emergency brakes? Even in my dreams, it's not much fun to drive a stolen vehicle, especially when I don't even bother to change the license plates. Being on edge every time a car comes up behind me, or god forbid, I see a cop, is not the ticket to a long, healthy life.
A week or so ago Gretchen had decided that the best place for us to open our Christmas presents was beneath the public Christmas tree that authorities had erected within a low green fence directly in front of Grand Army Plaza's triumphal arch. (The Plaza didn't play favorites when it came to honoring holiday traditions; there was also a large iron menorah whose lanterns had been lit in the proper daily sequence throughout Chanuka.)
This morning as we were preparing to go open presents in Grand Army Plaza, I was telling Gretchen about my stolen motorcycle dream and jokingly adding that I'm one of those car stealing bad boys that the girlies just can't keep their hands off of, even though they know they'd be much better off with a doctor or a lawyer. "Yeah, I'm Bad Company, and I can't deny it. And I'm gonna be that way until the day I die!" I sang. But later I expressed doubts about whether we'd actually be able to scale that low green fence that had been placed protectively around the Christmas tree. For some reason in my mind it loomed much larger than it actually was. Gretchen wasn't impressed, observing, "I thought you were 'Grand Theft Auto: Bad Company' and you were going to be that way until the day you died! What, do you think there's razor wire ontop of that fence?"
We walked over to the public Christmas tree with Sally the Dog, a bag of presents, and a green blanket to spread out upon the paving stones. The fence was easy to scale, and I handed Sally and the presents over to Gretchen. The sun was out and there was enough shelter from the wind to make our time outdoors reasonable pleasant.
A dog walker passed by, led by a fluffy yellow dog, and Sally ran back and forth on our side of the fence barking energetically, as though the fenced-in area around the tree had suddenly become her territory and no other dog should even think about joining us.
I only had one gift to offer Gretchen, My Dog's Brain by Stephen Huneck, while she had several for me: a stocking stuffed with candy, nuts and a flask of French brandy (exactly as my mother used to do), a Let's Go! Guide to France (should I write a Let's Stay! Guide to New York?), a James Hetfield action figure (circa ...And Justice for All), and a Lego® Creator virtual world constructor kit (where one can build Lego® worlds entirely inside a computer's memory). Interestingly, the James Hetfield figure came with a little scale model ride cymbal (with stand) even though Hetfield was never a drummer. This must have been thrown in because if represents a fraction of the entire Metallica set; the hardware necessary for the drummer action figure (Lars Ulrich) was excessive that it had to be split up between the other members of the band. If I do anything creative with Mr. Hetfield, it will probably involve stop action photography, his limbs popping off, and chunky salsa. In the meantime, he's protruding from a void in an African sculpture hanging on the wall.

Where we opened our presents this morning.

the apotheosis of elevator music

In the afternoon, Gretchen and I found ourselves watching an N'Sync performance on teevee. Neither of us are N'Sync fans, but it's important to periodically take note of where exactly this handbasket in which society rides is headed.
In my day-to-day life, it's easy to forget why exactly N'Sync's entire oeuvre is detestable. It isn't just the pre-chewed pabulum of the lyrics and the cloying quality of the arrangements, or even the injustice of watching an all-white band getting rich on watered-down works appropriated wholesale from minorities. To my ear it sounds a lot like Christian Contemporary music from the 80s. Indeed, many of the songs do in fact mention God. Where N'Sync differs from true Christian music is that God plays only a supporting role. The songs include God, but are not really about God.

Here's the lyrics for "God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You," a song we saw in N'Sync's performance today. Note the extensive use of simile in the chorus.

Can this be true?
Tell me can this be real?
How can I put into words what I feel?
My life was complete.
I thought I was whole.
Why do I feel like I'm losing control?
Never thought that love could feel like this.
And you changed my world with just one kiss.
How can it be that right here with me
There's an angel?
It's a miracle.

Your love is like a river
Peaceful and deep,
Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep.
When I look into your eyes
I know that it's true
God must have spent a little more time on you.

In all of creation all things great and small
You are the one that surpasses them all.
More precious then any diamond or pearl,
They broke the mold when you came in this world
And I'm trying hard to figure out just how I ever did without
The warmth of your smile.
The heart of a child
That's deep inside
Leaves me purified.

Your love is like a river
Peaceful and deep,
Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep.
When I look into your eyes
I know that it's true
God must have spent a little more time on you.

Never thought that love could feel like this
And you changed my world with just one kiss.
How can it be that right here with me
There's an angel?
It's a miracle.

Your love is like a river
Peaceful and deep,
Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep.
When I look into your eyes
I know that it's true
God must have spent a little more time on you.

It's all so sweet, pure, virginal, and Christian. How could Mom and Dad, even Christian fundamentalist Mom and Dad, forbid such sweetness? It has all the edginess of Kleenex® box decoration, all the satanic backwards-message potential of elevator music. It is the apotheosis of elevator music, a sort of Barney the Purple Dinosaur® for teenage girls. A little girl happily listening to N'Sync hasn't had the radicalizing effect of even one sip of Mountain Dew®.

Girls are saving their lunch money and buying this disposable pop, but it's also being manufactured and marketed by people holding a finger on the pulse of the Great American Average, an average to which nearly all teenagers aspire. Record companies are inflicting this stuff on the youth of America, and in their youthful ignorance, the average among them don't have the power to resist, the knowledge and individuality necessary to ignore peer pressure and marketing to search out and find the truly soulful love songs that speak from genuine feelings, feelings unrelated to the desire to extract money from wallets. Their musical diet comes to resemble the very food they eat: blanched, sweetened, processed, and thoroughly uniform. It's a terrible footing for entering adulthood, and it's a crying shame.

a traditional Jewish Christmas

This evening the plan was to have a "traditional Jewish Christmas." Gretchen explained that on Christmas it's perfectly normal for Jews to go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant (since they are always open and their food is considered "automatically kosher" by many). Dinner is usually followed by the cinema, where Jews sit back and enjoy a major blockbuster release. A day or so ago, Gretchen had called up all the theatres on the Upper West Side to see if we could get a ticket for Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring tonight, but that area is so thoroughly Jewish that the show had already been completely sold out. So she set up reservations instead at a theatre in the decidedly more Italian Cobble Hill. For our dinner, we went down to Hunan Delight on Union and Sixth Avenue. At first we were the only people in the dining room (seated strategically by the window), but eventually a couple other tables were occupied. Gretchen looked over at them and matter-of-factly said to me in her hilarious Brooklyn accent, "Jews." Perhaps Hunan delight was expecting a deluge of Jewish Christmas celebrants, because they appeared to be excessively staffed. The only non-Jewish business that came in the door was a crew cut NYPD cop saddled with the Christmas night shift, poor sucker.
Cobble Hill is a twenty minute walk from downtown Park Slope across the Gowanus canal, but we made it to the theatre in plenty of time for our movie.
Just to be clear about our motivations for seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, I need to stress that neither Gretchen nor I are into fantasy fiction, Renaissance Faire, Dungeons & Dragons, elves, wenches, or any of the common frameworks for Geek socializing. Neither of us have ever read any of Tolkien's novels, though as a young teen, after Nathan VanHooser sang the praises of Lord of the Rings I read maybe a page or two. For Gretchen and me, what interested us more than the inspiring novel was the fact that Peter Jackson was the director, and we'd liked his other films. Actually, I don't think Bad Taste left much of an impression on Gretchen, even if it is my favorite flick of all time. But she did like Heavenly Creatures, which is, I imagine, something of a lezzie classic. We'd also seen glowing reviews in The New Yorker and other places (Salon and Wired for example), so we had high expectations.
At first, I was drawn in by the lushness of the sets and the allure of a world where the really interesting things are still being done by wizards dressed in cloaks and pointy hats. I was thinking about some equivalent period in human history, when people empowered by language must have seemed like wizards in comparison to those still getting by on emotive grunts, cries, and laughter.
Still, this was an expensive major motion picture, and since no expense was being spared, no risks were going to be taken. The film couldn't help but be, to a large extent, a paint by numbers production. The characters risked little by placing themselves in perilous circumstances. A string section in the soundtrack swelled at all the predictable moments. Whenever something really unlikely needed to happen in order for our heroes to survive, that unlikely thing had a way of happening. And when things died, they never took the right amount of time to expire. Either they dropped dead in vast numbers at the slightest insult (shades of Bad Taste) or they kept swinging always and even chattering long after my interest in their demise had moved on to other things. At times I understood. It was a big budget fantasy flick. It had to be this way.
I remember the very moment when I decided that The Fellowship of the Ring was a stinker. It came after a pause in the frantic action, when our various heroes regrouped at a pleasant retreat vaguely reminiscent of Vail, Colorado. I realized that nothing truly interesting had yet happened to any of the characters. They hadn't developed in any way, and they hadn't interacted with each other in any but the most predictable of ways. All that had happened was that they'd been chased around Middle Earth by some nightmarish horsemen whose evil, it can safely be said, was not exactly complex.
But even at this point, the movie was far, far from over. We were treated to yet more danger-plagued adventure, particularly the sort that should be avoided by anyone with a fear of heights. This kept on for three long hours, and towards the end it came to feel like a prison sentence.
Through thick and through thin, Bilbo Baggins kept the same unchanging expression on his computer-altered face, a variant on the "Why and I here? Oh yeah, I'm in high school" look (I stole that line from an article in the New Yorker about coerced classroom patriotism). By the end of the movie, this look was something of a running joke between Gretchen and myself.
The lack of emotional richness in The Fellowship of the Ring rather reminded me of other Geek-friendly productions I dislike, particularly Star Trek. A little comic relief is necessary in any movie, but in The Fellowship of the Ring it was grossly underdeveloped. Indeed, throughout the entire film, the only humor that didn't come across as tacky and cheap (usually playing on the perception that short people are more ridiculous than normal-statured people) came when the wizard Gandalf blew a galleon of smoke through a smoke ring blown by Bilbo Baggins.
I suppose I could go on and on about the smothering Hollywood predictability of all the action sequences, but I'm fully aware that Lord of the Rings was written a long time ago and is probably the pioneering ancestor of (and has the best justified claim upon) these clichés. Still, this movie did just come out, and it wasn't completely unfair of me to groan at the predictability. Something would happen and I'd say, "Hey, they stole that from Star Wars," and then I'd realize that George Lucas probably stole it from one of Tolkien's novels to begin with.
Maybe there's something about the wiring in my brain that cannot follow fantasy fiction, but I just couldn't get the point of the movie. Lots of motion was taking place, but nothing seemed to be happening. Even after it was over, nothing had really been achieved. It was like a long, drawn-out first episode of a serialized novel. I turned to Gretchen at one point and said, "There's no way I could ever read this book." She agreed, and added that she'd be selling the unread copy of Lord of the Rings that has been gathering dust on her bookshelf for years. That's the kind of unity that love is made of.
Still, there's no getting over the gorgeousness of many of the scenes. The Fellowship of the Ring on video will definitely be a must-have for those who like to jerk off to pre-Raphælite ladies clad in long white gowns. Such people will find the camera doesn't disappoint.

On the walk home, Gretchen and I tried to puzzle out what exactly the critics had seen that we hadn't. Perhaps it all made more sense if one read the book. But still, there were plenty of things that Peter Jackson could have fixed as a director. The glacial nature of the plotline could have been accelerated three or fourfold and left us with a vastly more watchable film.
Oh well, intelligent people are free to disagree. Though I don't get it, The Fellowship of the Ring doesn't leave me fearing for the children anywhere near as much as N'Sync does.

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