On One’s Work

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966, reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton (W. Shannon ed. 1993).

Check Everything and Twice

A couple from snowy Minnesota decided to take a winter vacation back in the simple Florida resort where they had stayed for a honeymoon twenty-five years before. Because of his wife’s delayed work schedule, the husband went first, and then when he got there he received a message that she would meet him soon. So he sent her this e-mail in reply. But because he typed one letter wrong in the e-mail address, it went by mistake to an old woman in Oklahoma, whose minister husband had died the day before. Here is what she read:

“Dearest,

Well the journey is over and I have finally arrived. I was surprised to find they have e-mail here now. They tell me you’ll be coming soon. It will be good to be together again.

Love as always.

P.S. Be prepared. It’s quite hot down here.”

Source Unknown

Senator Grassley, People, and Party

More people like this, and on both sides, please.

Senator Grassley is 88 years old. He voted to oppose Judge Jackson’s nomination.

“Having carefully studied her record, unfortunately I think she and I have fundamentally different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government because of those disagreements I can’t support her nomination,” Grassley said.

Jordain Carney, “Grassley to oppose Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination”, The Hill

Via JK.

On Sitting on your Arse

I like nothing more in the world than sitting on my ass doing nothing. And it’s not my fault I have this attitude, because I happen to have an amazingly comfortable ass. It may not look like much, but if you could sit on this baby for two minutes, you’d realize that getting off this ass would be a crime against nature.

Lori Chapman

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius by Graham Farmelo A

'The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius' by Graham Farmelo

I was lucky. I went to good schools, I had excellent teachers. I was in the right place at the right time.

Paul Dirac

Opportunity and luck bestow their benisons upon a once-in-a-generation genius, mathematical mystic, and one of the greatest theoretical physicists to have walked the planet.

You never hear of Dirac much1. I read this article about him being in love and decided to read more about his life and work. This award-winning book came highly recommended. I enjoyed its breadth and depth thoroughly. I am a slow reader and was surprised by the speed at which I got through its heft: 625 pages2! Farmelo expertly weaves world history, politics, religion, and humor into Dirac’s story. The epilogue spends some time conjecturing that he may have been autistic in a bid to explain his many eccentricities and severe taciturnity3. Lots of painful family tragedy that was rather difficult to read. Intuition and Mathematical beauty were paramount to him:

If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand. Again and again, when I have been at a loss how to proceed, I have just had to wait until [this happened]. It has led me along an unexpected path, a path where new vistas open up, a path leading to new territory, where one can set up a base of operations, from which one can survey the surroundings and plan future progress.

Here’s an In Our Time episode with Farmelo and two other physicists if you want to get a taste of what this excellent and riveting biography is about. I thought this description of Dirac by a young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who took Dirac’s Quantum Mechanics course at Cambridge four times in 1930 because it was “just like a piece of music you want to hear over and over again”) was rather funny:

“Dirac showed none of the confidence that might be expected of a young man at the top of his game. Chandrasekhar wrote home to his father that he was disappointed that Dirac did not show a bit more swagger: ‘[Dirac is a] lean, meek shy young “Fellow” (FRS) who goes slyly along the streets. He walks quite close to the walls (like a thief!), and is not at all healthy. A contrast to Mr Fowler […] Dirac is pale, thin, and looks terribly overworked.”

Update

Here’s a video of the author giving a presentation on Dirac and Mathematical Beauty

  1. And according to the author, not even in his native Bristol… ↩︎

  2. Well, a hundred or so are copious footnotes and references. ↩︎

  3. And I do mean laughably, alarmingly severe. His colleagues came up with a unit called a “Dirac” which is one word per hour. ↩︎

Kali

Drawing of Kali from 1900 at a Museum in Baltimore

Unknown artist, circa 1800

The terrifying goddess Kali, wearing a necklace of skulls and holding a severed head in one of her hands, is worshiped here by other gods. From the left, we see Indra, Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Kali is associated with violence and sexuality; she stands for the forces of destruction, but she is also a life-giver. Her posture is that of a woman giving birth.

Kali as the Supreme Deity”, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Not gonna lie: Her head reminded me of the Dust Bunnies in Spirited Away 🙏

An Anglerfish

Photograph of an Angerfish

What a strange, strange creature. Those bumps remind me of rivets on a submarine. But because they are anglerfish, the bumps are even more bizarre than you’d expect:

Since anglerfish are deep sea creatures, it took scientists years and years to figure this stuff out. They could never find a male. Females preserved in formaldehyde sitting on dusty museum shelves usually have strange lumps that appear to be parasites. They ARE parasites. Sexual parasites!

Those lumps are all that is left of the males! They had taken that last bite and had become absorbed into the females’ bodies and became nothing more than dangly bits. The male’s eyes and fins atrophy away, and nourishment comes from the female’s blood.

BioGeoPlanet

Lovely.

Clean (2022) IMDb B-

Adrien Brody is a great actor and I love watching him act. I absolutely love good, easy revenge flicks. So this was an easy pick. Mr. Brody channels his inner Travis Bickle (for the most part.) This was Taxi Driver meets Taken meets John Wick, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Brody produced, wrote, and scored the movie, leading someone on Reddit to call this a “tough guy savior vanity project”. I loved the camera work, the overall revenge theme, ass-kicking, and little else. Recommended, easy watch if you like this genre. Others include The Equalizer (Denzel), Man on Fire (Denzel), and The Man from Nowhere (absolutely not Denzel).

Oh and RZA’s in this! His presence in this movie somehow reminded me of his role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which is another fantastic movie of the “kind-hearted lone mumblegrumbler with a dark and troubled past kicks badguy ass to save the innocent” genre 💗

Dan Brown is Renowned

These articles are from a while ago. I love them a lot. By Michael Deacon.

That’s true, mused the accomplished composer of thrillers that combined religion, high culture and conspiracy theories. His books were read by everyone from renowned politician President Obama to renowned musician Britney Spears. It was said that a copy of The Da Vinci Code had even found its way into the hands of renowned monarch the Queen. He was grateful for his good fortune, and gave thanks every night in his prayers to renowned deity God.

Michael Deacon, “Don’t make fun of renowned Dan Brown”, The Telegraph

And the renowned encore:

His imagination was racing like a racecar made of brains. Picking up his personal copy of acclaimed tome The Da Vinci Code, he reread its exquisite opening paragraph.

“Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece towards himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.”

Hmm, meditated the 5’9” caucasian male. There is no doubting the magnificence of the prose, from the effortless elegance of its syntax to the way it brings characters vividly to life through evocative details like “the seventy-six-year-old man”. But the young people of today wouldn’t know about museums or Caravaggio. I must start again from scratch – and bring the story right up to date.

Michael Deacon, “Look Out, Kids! It’s The Return Of Renowned Dan Brown”, The Telegraph

I read The Da Vinci Code when it was all the rage a long while ago1, and so much of what’s being ridiculed here reminds me of submissions to the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest2.

Update

Here’s John Oliver on the phenonemon that was The Da Vinci Code. 19-year old Nikhil was absolutely mesmerized. His reaction at 5:45 is chef’s kiss

  1. My roommate at the time bought me the illustrated version for my birthday! ↩︎

  2. On my bucket list: Have a submission mentioned honorably 🙏 ↩︎

Steller’s Sea Eagle

The Steller’s sea eagle is one of the world’s rarest eagles. There are only around 4,000 left. It’s native to Russia and Japan. One was spotted in Maine and got bird watchers very excited.

“It would be like an elephant walking up out of Africa into Scandinavia,” Mr. Lund said. “Like getting a call that the Rolling Stones are playing in a field behind a warehouse in the next town over.”

Marion Renault, “This Eagle Is Very, Very Lost”, The New York Times

It also just happens to be an absolute unit of a bird at 20lbs with an 8ft wingspan 🔥🦅😍

Steller's Sea Eagle - 1
by Andres Vasquez Noboa

Steller's Sea Eagle - 2
Photographer unknown (source)

Steller's Sea Eagle - 3
by John Charles Putrino

Steller's Sea Eagle - 4
by Andres Vasquez Noboa

Dr. Lees said vagrancy, as a biological mechanism, could help migratory birds expand their ranges, a potential advantage as global warming redraws the contours of suitable habitat. Dr. Farnsworth said, conversely, extreme weather — which is anticipated to grow in frequency and intensity as climate change progresses — can also play a role in displacing birds by hundreds or even thousands of miles.

What’s next for the lone, pioneering Steller’s sea eagle? It could migrate along with native bald eagles down the coastline. It could find its way back to northeastern Asia. It could stick around Nova Scotia, as it is well adapted to the cold and seems able to survive there. It could die, out of range of its original flock.

“It’s like an avian soap opera,” Dr. Lees said. “We’re all rooting for it. Will it make it home? Or is it doomed to never see another species of its own in its lifetime?”

Nailbiter.

The Salesman (2016) IMDb A+

Saw with LD. This was our first Asghar Farhadi movie and it won’t be our last. Everything was magnificent: story, acting, screenplay, all of it. I remarked to LD that he managed to punch us in at least ten emotional centers in our hearts. So masterfully paced we didn’t feel two hours flow by.

Here’s a short clip where he describes his filmmaking process:

The hardest part is when the movie is done. When the movie starts to have its distance from me. When the movie is over I don’t show it to actors. Because they just look at themselves, and their opinion wouldn’t help me. I show it to some people who don’t have anything to do with cinema. Same with the script. I have the past script to the French teacher of my daughter.

When normal people see the film they can’t tell you what they feel right away. But while they’re watching the film you can sit with them and feel which part they are getting bored and which part gets them excited. The most important thing for me to understand after I am done with a film is that if my film is boring or not. I don’t like anyone to go out when viewing my film even if they have to go and pee. My film has to do something that they have to finish it and then leave.

I’ll watch the A Separation next1.

  1. Not that they matter too much but both these movies won Academy Awards for Farhadi. He refused to accept the second Oscar in person “out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.” If you didn’t notice when the movie was released: One guess as to which administration that happened under. ↩︎

On Fear (and Lethargy)

The question is, what does it mean to be living a fear-based agenda? Then your life is always constricted. Then it’s sabotaging the expression of your possibilities in life. Jung said once, in a book published in 1912, “The spirit of evil is negation of the life force by fear.” That’s strong language. Only boldness can deliver us from fear, and if the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated. Now, I think of that as a kind of daily reminder to me. The way I put it in one of the books The Middle Passage, “Every morning, two gremlins at the foot of the bed, challenging us and threatening us, fear and lethargy. Fear says, it’s too much, it’s too big for you. You can’t handle this life. And lethargy says, chill out. Tomorrow’s another day, turn on the television, try to be distracted if you can.”

And both of them are the enemies of life, and they’ll be there again tomorrow, no matter what you do today. So we have to realize they are inside of us. The biggest enemies to life are inside of us: fear and lethargy. If we can address that life opens up and begins to be what it’s supposed to be, in my view, the unfolding of the gem that each of us embodies in this world.

James Hollis on an episode of the Insights at the Edge podcast with Tami Simon

Here’s a transcript. Via LD 🙏

Oracle

Here’s Bryan Cantrill’s classic assessment of Oracle Corporation (taken from this talk.)

On Twitter, a year after that video:

If you were an enterprise database customer who hadn’t heard of the Nazis, might it be easiest to explain them with Oracle allegory?

@bcantrill

I know people who’ve worked there (none of whom are with the company, mercifully) and have heard nothing but fascinating tales of dysfunction, fiefdoms, sinecures, overwork, and bureaucracy. One engineer told me that, of all the bad places he’d worked at, he felt his “soul dying slowly” at Oracle. It’s a generic and very real Evil Corporation™, and probably the company the protagonists in Office Space work at.

And this wouldn’t be too far-fetched a thought. Consider that the producers of Terminator: Genisys, who are an Oracle Co-Founders’s own children, based “Cyberdyne Systems, the fictional defense company responsible for the creation of the evil AI Skynet” on their dad’s company. Amazing.

On Drawing Logical Conclusions

I can’t see a thing on the surface of Venus. Why not? Because it’s covered with a dense layer of clouds. Well, what are clouds made of? Water, of course. Therefore, Venus must have an awful lot of water on it. Therefore, the surface must be wet. Well, if the surface is wet, it’s probably a swamp. If there’s a swamp, there’s ferns. If there’s ferns, maybe there’s even dinosaurs.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

It was only in 1922 that:

[…] fantasies of a wet, swampy Venus started to fade. Astronomers analyzing the visible light reflected from the planet’s atmosphere found no signs of the wavelengths which would have been given off by oxygen or water. Venus, they proposed, may instead be barren and dusty, a desert-like place.

The Venutian Dinosaur Fallacy, BigThink

which, as that article notes, still did not prevent us from imagining a Wet-Ass Venus well into the 1950s. Here are some pictures of its surface.

Car Silhouettes

Henry Lin has a degree in Architectural Design is a “a lover of all things transportative”. He draws really lovely Car Silhouettes 😍 Here are a few.

Silhouette of Chevrolet-Corvette-C3-08 by Henry Lin
Chevy Corvette C3 (1968-1972)

Silhouette of Jaguar-E-Type-02 by Henry Lin
Jaguar E-Type (1961-1968)

Silhouette of Lagonda-Rapide-01 by Henry Lin
Lagonda Rapide (1961 - 1964)

Silhouette of Mercedes-w221 by Henry Lin
Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W221)

Silhouette of Mercedes-C218 by Henry Lin
Mercedes-Benz CLS400 (C218)

Silhouette of Bugatti-Centodieci-01 by Henry Lin
Bugatti Centodieci

The Eye: Calanthek

This is a short film done entirely with the Early Access version of Unreal Engine 5. It’s only around eight minutes long and took six weeks to make but its plot is more exciting and coherent than whatever the heck was happening in Prometheus1.

  1. Some examples: Let’s take our helmets off on an alien planet teeming with life forms we are yet to study. Let’s then just go ahead and touch and electrocute said life forms. And what exactly are David’s motivations? From Wikipedia: “Writer Damon Lindelof stated that the character provides a non-human perspective on the film’s events, and said, ‘What does the movie look like from the robot’s point of view? If you were to ask him, ‘What do you think about all of this? What’s going on? What do you think about these humans who are around you?’ Wouldn’t it be cool if we found a way for that robot to answer those questions?’” Let’s ask these questions, never answer them, and waste Michael Fassbender on this embarrassing shit instead. Oh and if you didn’t know that the ‘Engineers’ in the movie are mad at us and want to destroy us because we killed Jesus, you do now. ↩︎

On Living Together

You’ve said that, despite being married three times, you’ve been in love only once. Do you think you might have a particularly higher bar than other people?
No, I think I’m not that interested. I’m much happier on my own. I can spend as much time with somebody as I want to spend, but I’m not looking to be with somebody forever or live with someone. I don’t want somebody in my house.

Have you always felt like this?
Yes. I’m the round peg, and marriage is the square hole. You can’t have a square hole, can you?

Whoopi Goldberg, in an old interview with Ana Marie Cox, The New York Times

I am 20

In 1967, the Films Division of India1 asked all kinds of 20-year olds about their dreams and how they felt about the future of a nation that was, itself, 20 years old. Here’s the original video. A lot of the kids who speak English in the video (starting at 5:00) attend the august Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

A colorized and edited version of that video went viral. Here’s a most fascinating “Where are They Now?” follow-up by the author where he tracks down seven people in the video. It’s a mix of Hindi and English. Lessons learned: Life is way too short, way too fickle, and almost never pans out the way you think it will. Privilege helps a lot.

  1. Which I just realized is a thing. ↩︎

Akhanda (2021) IMDb D

REALLY 📢 LOUD 📢 NOISES 📢 with a good dose of Hindutva1. It’s really, really loud.

This is Boyapati Srinu’s third movie with Balakrishna after Simha (loud) and Legend (louder.) Akhanda is the loudest and shittiest collaboration yet. The story is a complete afterthought and, very loosely, holds together punch dialogues, fight scenes, and forgettable shit songs featuring Balakrishna’s embarrassing and dismaying calisthenic attempts at joint health and mobility2. Meat for the most hardcore of Balayya fans. At this rate, he could just put out a two-hour plot-free smorgasbord of Balayya belting us with nothing but punch dialogues and still have a hit on his hands.

Diarrhea with kernels of punch dialogues. Please make sure you protect your hearing if you decide to watch this disaster. Here’s a review via NN. 0:09 to 0:24 is accurate.

Update

When I said the first few seconds of the review above were accurate, I wasn’t fucking around.

Those histrionics are marginally better than the movie.

Update

The music director thinks it’s wrong to call his shit loud. “You don’t ask the priests at the temple to turn down the volume of the bells ringing do you?” He submits that the ear-splitting volume induces a “trance” state. Otolaryngologists might call it “trauma” but OK Bro.

  1. It’s just what the market wants you know? ↩︎

  2. Tho truth be told, I’d be very happy if I could move like that at sixty-one 🤷‍♂️ ↩︎

Worlds Beyond the Stars

Dil Se, written and directed by Mani Ratnam, is one of my all-time favorite movies. I still consider its soundtrack to be A R Rahman’s greatest work. It’s just magnificent stuff.

When I was 15, I remember seeing the movie’s trailer1 and being awestruck by this haunting background song2 that didn’t make it into the official tracklist. The song is a rendition of a well-known poem, Sitaron Se Aage Jahan Aur Bhi Hai, by another genius Allama Iqbal.

I’ve been looking for this song for a long while, settling for shitty movie extractions (which are exactly that.) I went to the extent of trying to contact Madras Talkies, the director’s production company, several times to no response or avail.

Twenty four years later, and thanks to the internet, I’ve finally found good versions of this elusive song 🥰

All of these appear to be from a 20-year anniversary release I couldn’t find anywhere but here. The whole thing is just absolutely lovely. Oh and here’s another version at appears to be mostly the same as the one linked to, and a solo version by a guy named Sujay.

  1. Which was badass and which I also cannot find. We went to see Bade Miyan Chote Miyan↩︎

  2. Sung by Sukhwinder Singh and, I’m guessing, a fucking banshee. ↩︎

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) IMDb B+

Saw with LD on Christmas Eve. I thought it was well-done millennial nostalgia porn. Nothing wrong with that. I loved the humor and digs at techbro culture and co-option of “red-pill” by the far-right (which led to my favorite set of Tweets.) Thought it could be a deconstruction of the original Matrix (for what isn’t these days?) and was very swayed by this lovely analysis by /u/Dangerous_Budget8897.

Breaking free from the Matrix is about breaking free from preconceptions. This is emphasised by the fate of the real Morpheus, who was so convinced by the mythology of the One that he couldn’t accept the new peace could be undone. I think Lana regards certain fans of the original film in the same way, with their steadfast commitment to the original film’s aesthetics. This revival executes the highly-anticipated action scenes with total indifference, all while cheerfully embracing goofy comedy along with the defiantly uncool visual palette continued from the final shot of Revolutions.

Is this a middle finger to the audience? To some extent, but I think Lana would argue that they need their expectations recalibrated. For her, the Matrix is about love. She is aware that, as the analyst says, “people will find it sentimental”, but the positioning of sentimentality in favour of macho posturing is one of the film’s core tenets. Co-writer David Mitchell has said that Neo never shooting a gun was a purposeful choice, and it makes sense in light of the trilogy’s sacrificial ending. Neo is no longer the One, flying off alone at the end of the film, but someone who is incomplete without Trinity. Smith is once again used as an individualist counterpoint to the protagonist, but is here rendered almost irrelevant. Freedom is impossible or meaningless without connections between people, and an act of faith (in this case jumping off a building) can be more about trusting in other people than yourself.

There is also the element of further rejecting binaries. Another aspect of the Trinity arc is to do with accepting or integrating other aspects of yourself, in a way which perhaps reflects Lana’s transition. The female led cover of Wake Up1 can be seen as a kind of corrective to the aforementioned macho elements, and the conservative adoption of the term “red pill”. People in this story are kept in place by ‘Fear and Desire”, the sense that possibilities are just out of reach, and the film proposes that the only way to set them free is by example, to “paint the sky with rainbows”.

💗

  1. Not from the movie but this is fucking great. ↩︎

On Stupid Questions

Journalist David Walsh recounting a story about his late son John in the context of his work uncovering Lance Armstrong and the USPS Pro Cycling Team’s “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful”1 doping program.

One story stood out. One of John’s teachers at [inaudible] National School in the Midlands of Ireland said to me that she remembered John for something that happened when John was six or seven, and she was reading this story of the Nativity.

You know, Mary and Joseph had come to Bethlehem and sought a place in the inn but all the inns were full and they ended up in a stable. And it was there that Baby Jesus was born. And the shepherds came and then the Three Wise Men came and they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And then Mary and Joseph came back to where they came from and they lived a very modest life because Joseph was just a humble carpenter and they didn’t have very much.

And John’s hand went up. And Mrs. Toomey, his teacher, said “Yes John.” And he said “Miss, you said Mary and Joseph didn’t have very much. What did they do with the gold that the Three Wise Men brought?”

And she said “John, I’ve been reading this story for thirty-three years and nobody has ever asked me that question. And the honest answer is: I don’t know.”

And I said Mrs. Toomey that’s the most beautiful story. Because it is the most pertinent question, in that, journalism, which is my profession, that’s it! In a nutshell! “What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold?” You ask the obvious question. People may laugh at you. People may think you’re an idiot. But that doesn’t deter you. If you’re unsure, you ask.

David Walsh, “Extraordinary Proof”, The Moth (cached)
  1. Lance Armstrong: Usada report labels him ‘a serial cheat’, BBC Sport ↩︎

When Does It End?

COVID Theater has become a sad thing to behold these days. Do we still wear masks? If transmission is mostly airborne, why do we get to take them off at restaurants to eat our food when droplets from a sneeze can travel in excess of 25 feet? What’s all this talk about a second booster? Is Omicron something to worry about? How bad is it really?

“We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked,” Biden said, emphasizing that vaccinated individuals, especially those with a booster shot, are “highly protected” against the virus.

Biden preaches concern, not panic on omicron”, The Hill

I see. Well this is very practical and actionable advice, for I was planning on being distressed myself before I read that.

Mike Dawson expresses the mood I’ve picked up from most of my friends and family (all of whom, I’m happy to say, are vaccinated because they are responsible adults and not selfish, stupid, and insolent bloody children who are determined to make this nightmare last as long as possible because of their expertise in infectious diseases.)

COVID comic by Mike Dawson

Adventures of the Magic Monkey Along the Silk Roads by Evelyn Nagai-Berthrong and Anker Odum A+

'Adventures of the Magic Monkey Along the Silk Roads' by Evelyn Nagai-Berthrong and Anker Odum

A friend used to loan me this lovely book when I was 12 or 13. I loved reading and re-reading it to the point where I remember asking him if he could just gift it to me for my birthday (he declined). And then Life happened and I grew up and I forgot all about it until around 3 years ago, when I suddenly went “wait a second” as I was casually reading some translation of Journey to the West. This book is a childrens’ adaptation of that classic Chinese tale! I then started looking for it, off-and-on, with very little luck.

Last year, LD told me about this absolutely lovely website called “Stump the Bookseller” run by LoganBerry Books in Cleveland. For a nominal fee, I submitted everything I could remember about the book hoping that someone would know it… only to find it myself that evening. My Google-fu had somehow improved after submitting that request. I bought it from AbeBooks posthaste.

It’s just a fantastic adventure to get lost in. To understand the Myth of the Monkey a little deeper, I turned to this paper by Professor Whalen Lai1. There’s just too much to quote but here’s a highly condensed TL;DR of both the book and the story:

Our search for the original face of Monkey should not distract us from his final destiny. Genealogy is only half the story. In his second westward trip Monkey rises above his animal past, above even humanity, to become a Buddha. In his first trip he acquired only Taoist immortality, and discovered only his premoral, childlike, monkey nature. Still capable of grudges against Heaven, Monkey loses his good temper and is damned for his Titanic pride. Only on his second trip West does Monkey, guided by the compassionate Guanyin, find his true self, his Buddha-nature. Guanyin teaches Monkey an invaluable lesson: that it is more important to tame the demon – the “monkey mind” – within than subdue the demons without.

In that second journey to the West, Monkey learns the art of Buddhist self-discipline. Guanyin initially puts a headband, a “crown of thorns” as it were, on Monkey’s forehead. The headband gives Monkey insufferable headaches every time he harbors evil thoughts. Mindfulness of good and evil eventually allows Monkey to “Do good, avoid evil, and cleanse the mind.” By journey’s end, Monkey is his own master, a victor over the demons within. When he finally asks Guanyin to kindly remove the headband, Monkey is told that it is not necessary. The crown of thorns had long since magically disappeared. At last this protean Ape had grown, in his progress as a pilgrim, into a Buddhist saint.

Whalen Lai, "From Protean Ape to Handsome Saint: The Monkey King, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29-65
  1. An Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at UC Davis. ↩︎

On Old Gods

In the succession of religions, there are only so many ways the old gods can end up. They can fade away, in which case they are lost to us for good; they can be held up to scorn as pagan demons who persisted in their old, evil ways; or they can be recruited into the new faith as its servants and defenders.

[…] This pattern of subjugation and conversion had already occurred during the rise of Buddhism in India with the Vedic gods and demons (the deva and the asura). Indra, the storm god of the warriors, became Sakra, who piously requested teachings from the Buddha. Brahman, the creator god, turned into a defender of the Law. Lesser deities too resurfaced in new roles. The nymph-like yaksi came to decorate the gates of the stupas at Sanchi, and heavenly nymphs became angelic musicians, scattering flowers in the air (they remained scantily dressed, as fertility deities should). Satyr-like yaksas ran errands for Yama, the old moon god who now supervised the Buddhist hells, and so on. Their fate is not unlike that of the gods of Old Europe. Those who did not fade away ended up either as denizens of hell or as saints in the Christian calendar.

[…] This is not an uncommon fate for the old chthonic gods. In India an equally insatiable “Face of Glory” is stationed outside temples, supposedly to scare away the evil spirits. In Rome, the griffin was the guardian of the sarcophagus (which means “meat-eater”). In medieval Europe, gargoyles likewise crouched watchful on eaves. In Egypt, Anubis the Jackal – Dog-Man by another name – witnessed the weighing of souls. In Buddhism, Mara the Devil holds samsara in his jaws. In Tang China, a pair of life-size hounds with human heads (and sometimes single horns) stood guard near the dead.

Whalen Lai, "From Protean Ape to Handsome Saint: The Monkey King, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29-65

Aranyak (2021–) IMDb B

Watched with LD. Decent attempt at Desi Noir in picturesque Himachal Pradesh1. Raveena Tandon is intense, vulnerable, and puts in good work as Kasturi Dogra. Great stuff by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Zakir Hussain, and Meghna Malik. If Jeff Goldblum had a younger brother from an Indian mother, he would look like Indraneil Sengupta. The denouement was a bit rushed and left the door wide open for a second season presumably based on how well this one did. Watchable, predictable, enjoyable.

The wedding song was the laziest composition I’ve heard in a while (spoilers… maybe.)

  1. Really didn’t see the Mare of Easttown comparison and am irritated that, henceforth, any tough female cop character with domestic issues will almost always draw a comparison to Kate Winslet’s Mare. Lovely 🙄 ↩︎

On Unorthodox Marx

He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep or waking up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the comings and goings of the whole world.

Purported account Karl Marx’s work habits from a Prussian spy

Sounds lovely, really.

Iowa’s Blackout License Plates

I just ordered a set of “blackout” plates from the DMV here. They’re rather cool and look like this:

Iowa blackout plates

I didn’t know that they were actually a solution to a problem. People would take existing, specialized plates for Dordt University and cover them up to look like the blackout plates.

Iowa Dordt University plates

Clever! But led to some unnecessary altercations with law enforcement since doing this was a legal gray area. State Senator Charles Schneider was able to get the mandate for blackout plates included in 2019. Just in that year, the state raised $850,000 through the sale of these plates for the Road Use Tax Fund (simple arithmetic suggests that ~14,000 people ordered them.)

I got all that from Aaron Calvin’s article in The Des Moines Register. Summarized it here since the Register’s website, like most websites these days, is an unreadable and unusable crock of shit.