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29 Apr 2012: The Audacity of Lope

I have put off writing about Fuente Ovejuna for so long that I may have to read it again—not an unpleasant thought. Until then, Lope de Vega is not far from my mind. I was checking out my Google Analytics and just by chance, I came upon this great image under the heading, The Audacity of Lope:

The Audacity of Lope de Vega

Brilliant. I wish I were that clever.


The image was created and posted by Javier Candeira.

27 Apr 2012: RIP: Mr. Bunny Rabbit

Captain KangarooI was looking up "French antique folding chairs" when I came upon the picture on the left of Captain Kangaroo. It was from a blog post from 23 January 2004, the day that Bob Keeshan (AKA Captain Kangaroo) died. The picture caught my eye not because of the Captain but because of the little guy he's holding: Mr. Bunny Rabbit.

It is a sad statement that Marcel Proust warned us about, coming up on 100 years ago: we lose the past. And something I had lost but regained from the picture is the memory that Mr. Bunny Rabbit wore horn-rimmed glasses. I guess the idea was that he was farsighted. In reality, there were no lenses in the glasses, so I think it was a fashion statement.

What I did not forget was all the larceny that Bunny Rabbit committed. Carrots were not safe around him. Whether via the con or the sneak, carrots would soon be his.

Thus, the first thing I created in the "Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour" was Wordsworth—a carrot-stealing, rabbit hand-puppet who is an homage to Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Of course, he's more well-rounded than Bunny Rabbit; he also writes poems, because he's the reincarnation of his namesake. Because it's written by me.

When I was a kid, I hated Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood because the puppets were awful. And I was none too keen on Captain Kangaroo, because I only liked Mr. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose. Unfortunately, they were on screen too little of the time. I don't require much: hand puppets without wooden heads. If only I ran a studio, the world would be a brighter place.

We'll always have Bunny Rabbit. We didn't have—we lost him until finding that picture. Next 23 January, buy a carrot for Mr. Bunny Rabbit.

27 Apr 2012: A Good Cry

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
This is the sort of thing that commonly makes me burst into tears. Not because it is awful. It is actually kind of sweet:

I don't understand what this guy thought he was doing. He wanted to protect the children from multiculturalism by killing them? Sixty-nine of them? Anders Behring Breivik[1] really deserves terrible punishment. I don't believe in murder, so that's out. Anyway, I don't want to turn this guy into a martyr for proto-fascism. And torture is out. But life in prison with only bread and water doesn't sound too harsh.

[1] Why do we always give the full names of murderers? It is because the media do not want there to be any mix-ups. I would be very unhappy if a guy named Frank Henry Moraes killed a bunch of people and the press referred to him as "Frank Moraes." Apparently, this rule does not apply when you have the same first and last name: Sirhan Sirhan.

Fay WrayThe other day, I was over at Big Lots and I noticed they had the 3 disc King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition for $3. This is the most recent remake of the classic, released in 2005, directed by Peter Jackson. I really like this film. Of the three versions, it is by far the best. The original is quite good, but the subplots are weak, the portrayal of the natives is racist, and Kong is kind of dorky. Still, I own it. The 1976, John Guillermin, remake is an embarrassment. (It still seems strange to me that when people talk about bad films they turn to interesting low-budget films like Plan 9 From Outer Space rather than terrible big-budget films like Jeff Bridges in Kong.) Even though I already own the original release of Jackson's Kong, I bought the Deluxe Extended Edition.

The best thing about this film is that Kong becomes a real character. Despite 43 years of technical innovations, the Kong in the 1976 version was no more real than the stop-motion original. In fact, what I hate most about the film (but there is a lot of competition) is the stupid, static look pasted on Kong's face whenever he looked at Dwan (the Ann Darrow character in the other films). In Jackson's version of the film, Kong is a real character who interacts seamlessly with Ann Darrow. In the other versions, it is hard to care too much about the obviously fake creature. Kong's death in this version, however, is heartbreaking. I could say much else about this film: the script is great; the casting is perfect; and all the other things I usually gush about.

The Deluxe Extended Edition contains the film with 13 extra minutes. These are all in the second half of the film and are no big deal. On the first film disc is 38 minutes of deleted scenes. These are a big deal. They take an already rich story and expand it. It isn't surprising that I would think this, however; most of these scenes are from the voyage to Skull Island, which is my favorite part of the film.

The third disc of the set is basically one long documentary. It is interesting and certainly worth the $3, but I could have lived without it. There was one really great part of it, however. Naomi Watts, who plays Ann Darrow, met with Fay Wray, who played her in the original. I've never thought much about her; I don't think I've seen any other of her 100+ films. Unfortunately, she died right before they started principle photography on the film. She was 96. You would think if she'd hung on all that time, she could have managed another year. Sad.

Actually, when I think of Fay Wray, I don't think of King Kong—at least not directly; I think of this:

Peter Bogdanovich once said to Orson Welles that he loved Marlene Dietrich, but that it was a shame she only ever made two really great films. "Well," replied Welles, "You only need one." As much as I like this remake of King Kong, the original is still the classic. And it is Fay Wray, and not Naomi Watts, who is immortal.

My Dinner With AndreWhen I was 18, my girlfriend and I went to see My Dinner With Andre at the Plaza Theater in Petaluma. We were, to put it mildly, pretentious young intellectuals. After the film, we went to a restaurant and ordered french fries that we tried to "really taste." If I weren't involved in the memory, I would find it charming. But I am involved, and I find it at least a little embarrassing.

Thus it was with some glee that I approached watching this film 30 years later. Before, I found Wally to be a pathetic character, deserving of equal doses of pity and scorn. In contrast, Andre was an admirable man tackling tough questions with as much success as anyone could hope from. Now, I expected to find Andre a pretentious bore and Wally a kind of working class hero of the intelligentsia. But it was not to be.

My Dinner With Andre made me feel a little better about myself, because I think my outlook on the world has done more than change over the past three decades; it has improved. I found that I quite liked both Wally and Andre. I saw myself in both of them; I saw everyone in both of them. More than anything, I saw us all in the waiter—a character I didn't even notice at 18.

This is a film about two connected issues: class and needs. Wally is motivated by fear, because his place in society is dominated by insecurity. Andre has transcended fear, because of his professional success, which has removed economic uncertainty. But he is just as lost as Wally—maybe more so. Wally looks forward to a life where simple creature comforts can make him happy. I don't see the next step for Andre, other than a sad resignation that some things are unknowable.

The waiter is the most interesting character. In his role, he constrains the other characters, even chastising Andre when he gets too exciting. Yet, the waiter has no power, other than the anonymity of the role he plays. At the end of the film, when all the guest are gone and Wally and Andre are about to leave, he smokes a cigarette. It is the only time we see beyond the character he plays. Unlike Wally and Andre who are only aware of the characters they play in life in the most intellectual terms, the waiter knows his character as well as he knows the tuxedo that he wears as part of it.

Everyone gets what they need in My Dinner With Andre. Andre gets to relate to another human being. Wally gets a free meal. And the waiter gets paid. But it is a horrific image of life. Any of the three people could easily fit into any of the three characters. If the waiter had been born with modest talent to upper-middle-class parents, he could have been Wally. If one of Wally's plays had been a hit, he could have been Andre. If Andre had had some very bad luck, he might be a waiter in some posh New York restaurant—or worse. I don't think that it is an accident that this is a major theme Wallace Shawn's Essays. It is an issue that upsets him greatly. And me. And that should upset everyone.

24 Apr 2012: Um...

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
XXXLast week, I read Michael Erard's exceptional Um... Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean. It is the kind of book that changes you. At least, it does so if you care about language. Regardless, the subject of the book was very much on my mind in the months leading up to reading it.

You see, I've been making videos and annoying my friends by making them watch them. This is all supposedly leading up to public videos that are basically of the "talking head" variety, but cleverly disguised. What I've learned is that, much as I might want to cut from sentence to sentence, I must be able to do one to two minutes continuously in front of the camera.

I'm a pretty good public speaker and an excellent impromptu speaker. But there is a big difference between performing for people and performing for a camera. Once you start recording yourself, you become painfully aware of every slip, stammer, and pause. And you really notice—Are hypersensitive do?—your own personal cliches. For me, the most annoying is, "Okay?"

Verbal disfluencies come in two types. The best known is the hesitation disfluency: use of "uh" and "um" and other indicators of planned pauses. "Uh" means, "I'm inserting a short pause here." "Um" means, "I'm thinking; don't interrupt." In conversation, I do not use a whole lot of these. However, when doing the videos, trying to remember some speech I've worked out but haven't memorized, I use "um" a lot.

In normal conversation, I use the repair disfluency: repeated words and phrases. This is like, "Mozart wrote Don Gio, The Magic Flute..." Or, "When I was a kid, when my father was a kid..." And if I go in front of the camera cold and start ranting, these are the kinds of errors that I commit.

Generally, the hesitation disfluency makes someone sounds a little thick. But this is a misimpression. Everyone commits these errors and they even commit them at about the same rate as those they are around. How you are disfluent is determined by your style: do you like to plan things out or just wing it. This is verbally speaking, of course; I know that I am more the type who likes to wing it verbally but apparently in no other part of my life.

What Michael Erard's book did to me is make me more sympathetic to verbal blunders, at the same time it has made me hypersensitive to them. I used to only notice them in my videos. Now I notice them everywhere. So if you are brave and true, read Um... Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean. You have been, uh, you know: warned!

23 Apr 2012: History Channel

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
At last, someone has said it:

By the way, this guy has a lot of great videos. Go subscribe.

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
After 190 videos spanning more than five years, Billy Bob Neck is no more. Earlier this month, Paul Day—the man behind this inspired creation—posted the following video:

Many people, myself included, thought this was just a ruse. You see, Billy Bob Neck went away before: he was raptured. But then God sent him back to earth to help George W. Bush win a third term. This time is more serious, because Billy Bob took his own life.

There were no real signs that Neck was headed for a fall. Sure, he had just released his soul-rap Songs to Stop People From Bein' Gay. But who would have thought that a man like Billy Bob Neck would following in the footsteps of an evil sodomite like Nick Drake?

If I had to guess, I would say that Day just got tired of doing the videos. He has received roughly a million total views, but his videos have not been as watched recently as they used to be. This is not because the quality has declined. If anything, it is quite the opposite. I think there are a couple of reasons for the decline in viewership. The most obvious is that Bush is no longer in office. In fact, I fear that for many people, watching a Billy Bob video may result in bad flashbacks of that period.

But what I really think doomed the Neck videos to a smaller audience than they deserved is a combination of "satire is dead" and "Day is too good." Billy Bob Neck is an uncompromising creation. The videos always amused me, but they also angered me. Day created a character who is an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of a shockingly large part of our country.

We need Billy Bob Neck. I asked Paul Day what he was planning to do next. He wrote back, "Iíve got no idea what Iíll do. Iím sure something will come up. Iím just going to enjoy being a civilian." I like that last sentence because it indicates that doing Billy Bob Neck was something more than comedy—something more like a war.

I have two ideas for what Day can do next—both involving Billy Bob Neck. One seems obvious, since Neck killed himself: Billy Bob in hell. I'm not sure how the other would be done, but it amused me to think about: zombie Billy Bob Neck.

Come back to us, Billy Bob.

23 Apr 2012: My Vote for President

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Unfortunately, he isn't running in the United States: Francois Hollande.

Francois Hollande

Why, oh why, can't we have a real political debate in this country? Why are we limited to "right" and "far right"?

20 Apr 2012: How I Rate a Film

YojimboI am glad that Netflix uses a five-star rating system. It is probably because of the very many films that I think deserve 4 stars; somehow, 3 out of 4 stars doesn't seem quite high enough.

I almost never give a film a rating of 2 stars, and I can't remember ever rating a film as 1 star. To do so would reflect badly on me, I think. The filmmaker spent at least a year working on the film and I spent perhaps two hours. If I think it is really bad, isn't it more likely that I just don't get it? Even a film as sophomoric as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead is still worth at least 3 stars. And perhaps more, because the film really doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't. Would I have rewritten it? Sure. Could it have been so much better for me? Absolutely. Would doing so have reduced its potential audience by 90%? Probably.

One of the greatest films ever made is Yojimbo. It tells the story of a ronin who saves a town by setting its two controlling gangs against each other. This may sound familiar because it's been made at least twice since then in the form of A Fist Full of Dollars and Last Man Standing. And I can think of no three films that better illustrate the difference between 3, 4, and 5 star ratings. Just so you know what I'm talking about, I rate them thusly:

***Last Man Standing
****A Fistful of Dollars

All of these films are good. I've watched them all many times. But why is Yojimbo better than A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing? There are a few reasons. First, on its storytelling merits, it is better. It is funnier and more exciting. But that in itself wouldn't cause me to put it into the 5-star category. Yojimbo is also at base a serious film with real characters.

This is not true of the other two film, which are at base comic books. Joe[1] and Rojo in A Fistful of Dollars are superheroes. All the characters are stereotypes. The same thing goes for Last Man Standing. The argument can be made that Sanjuro[2] is a superhero. I don't think it is very strong, but it doesn't matter. The people who occupy the town are very real, and the film is mostly about them.

The final thing that makes Yojimbo great is that it is beautifully shot. A Fistful of Dollars really falls down here. In particular, I am thinking of the day-for-night graveyard sequence. Last Man Standing, on the other hand is easily as beautiful as Yojimbo. This is one of the best things about it.

So why is A Fistful of Dollars better than Last Man Standing? One reason: Bruce Willis. I don't generally mind Willis as an actor. In particular, he was excellent in the great film 12 Monkeys. But here, his performance is bad enough to almost destroy this film. Otherwise, I would likely thing Last Man Standing the better of the two.

In general, I will only give a film five stars if I think the filmmakers' intent was serious. But there are exceptions. I don't think of His Girl Friday as anything more than a romp. But, you know: Rosalind Russell. The truth is, other than for the purposes of getting Netflix to suggest films you will like, film ratings aren't that useful. Anyway, most people don't agree with my overall impression of a film. When I write in depth about a film, I think it at least adds something to the conversation. Like, you know: Rosalind Russell.

[1] Note: he has a name. He is not "The Man With No Name." The fact that people know him by this moniker is indicative of the mythic nature of the character.

[2] I believe that Sanjuro means "30-year-old" based upon the translations in Yojimbo and the almost equally wonderful Sanjuro.

19 Apr 2012: Sarah and Kory

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Sarah PalinHidi-ho gentle readers. For once, I haven't been writing here because I've been in a good mood. Fancy that.

Now, that doesn't mean that I've been happy by real people standards. Every day starts with my lying in bed hoping the day will go away. When this doesn't work, I put on They Might Be Giants[1] because it makes me feel less alone. And I have a huge crush on Joanne Woodward in that film. She was far too good for Hud. But irregardless of my feelings about this, Kory Stamper has a new video out.

Why is it that Merriam-Webster does not set up a system that allows people to embed their videos? As I well know, there are many fans—thousands come to this site each month.

Back in 2010, I predicted, "And I know how this all ends: just when I get used to Stamper's new hair color, she'll change it back." As a public service, I feel I must warn you that I was right. Stamper's hair appears to be back to its original color—or close anyway.

This time, Stamper is doing what she and all the folks at Merriam-Webster do best: leading the fight against the grammar Nazis. This time, it is "irregardless." (Did you like my little joke above, or did it just infuriate you?) I have never been one to use words like irregardless or refudiate. But I don't have a problem with them. I've had many grammar snobs take me aside and try to have a hate-on about people who would use such a construction. Sorry, but I don't run like that.

Similarly, when Sarah Palin, "invented" the new work "refudiate," I wasn't bothered. For one thing, this was a very understandable language disfluency: her mind wasn't sure whether to say "repudiate" or "refute" and it came out "refudiate." That's not only understandable; that's a good new word, even though it must have been similarly coined millions of times before.

I never accepted the "Sarah Palin is stupid" line. She most clearly isn't stupid. She is really ignorant and even more evil, but she's not stupid. In fact, I think a year with me—forcing her to read Don Quixote[2], Moby Dick, and most important, Thomas Paine : Collected Writings so she could learn what the Founding Fathers really thought—and she might be okay. Unfortunately, too many people think she is already the Billy Joel ideal: perfect just the way she is.

On the other hand, without talking to her husband and children, we are forced to assume that Kory Stamper is perfect just the way she is. Irregardless, there is no doubt that she is great in her new video.

[1] Sorry folks, this DVD is rare and expensive. It includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes and a short featurette: Madness...It's Beautiful. Or you can watch it on Instant Watch on Netflix. (I've given it 5 stars. It is far from perfect, but like Don Quixote itself, it is great. But be warned, you need to see it at least twice. It is unlike any film you've seen before.)

[2] I've linked to an exciting relatively new translation by Burton Raffel. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it is quite different from Putnum or Grossman, who, despite all the fuss, is really very similar more than 50 years later.

17 Apr 2012: Wanker of the Decade

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Tom Friedman - Artist's ConceptionAtrios is celebrating a decade of blogging. And despite a maddening number of typos and grammar errors, he is still a good read. By way of celebration, he has been counting down to worst political pundits in a "Wankers of the Decade" series. Well, the time has come. Today, he posted his The One True Wanker of the Decade. Who is it? I had already figured it out, given that he hadn't mentioned him in the runners up. He is the guy who all thinking people love to hate: Thomas Friedman—the optimistic "centrist." You should read the whole article, but here is a taste:

Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false "centrism" which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

Ha cha cha cha!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Last Night on The Last Word, Jonathan Capehart and Ryan Lizza were talking about the current Romney scandal. But all I could think was, "Do these guys have the same mother? Who dresses them?"

Jonathan Capehart and Ryan Lizza Dress Alike

16 Apr 2012: Must See TV

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I'm spending almost all my time on a video series and some publishing matters as well as my taxes, where I paid only a slightly less percentage than Mitt Romney, even though he made 1000 times as much. Anyway, that's why there hasn't been much posting. Until I get around to something, you should really check out this interview with Larry M. Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age:

Watch The New Gilded Age on PBS. See more from The Open Mind.

Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonI really don't like Frank Capra. This is strange, because he directed one of my very favorite films: It Happened One Night. Even though I am a total softy and I love films that have a nice, gooey center, I find it hard to take Capra's sentimental style. Add to that, Jimmy Stewart—an actor who diminishes any production he is part of (think: Philadelphia Story)—and you really have trouble.

The film that immediately comes to mind is that plague on all our house, It's a Wonderful Life. I swear to you, if it comes down to having to watch this exercise in sentimental extremism and gouging my eyes out, I will start looking to Homer as my artistic ideal.[1] But there is another Capra masterpiece (I do not mean this ironically) that is just as awful: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. After all these years, I had managed to miss it, so I sat down last night to watch it.

When looking at Frank Capra as a director, it is easy to see that he succeeds despite technique. His films are filled with bad blocking, clunky editing, passable camera work, and uninspired art direction. He seems to do okay with actors, but generally, they do better with other directors. Where he succeeds is in storytelling; he has a knack for it, even when dealing with a problem script. So it isn't surprising that he is at his best when Robert Riskin is writing for him. Riskin did not write Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Sidney Buchman did, a poor job from an otherwise good writer.

What makes Mr. Smith Goes to Washington so painful to watch is that it is a desperately earnest civics lesson pitched at a second grade level. And the main character played by Stewart isn't a character so much as the personification of the American spirit. We first see him directing a marching band inside his house. Unfortunately, this is the last time we like him.

At the dramatic peak of the film, Senator Paine (played brilliantly by Claude Rains[2]) asks Smith if the corruption to Jim Taylor isn't made up by all the good Paine has done. Smith, with the intellectual maturity of a dull pollywog thinks not. But I disagree, which probably just proves how cynical I am. Politics is a messy business and it always has been. This brings us to the most pernicious aspect of this film for modern audiences.

It puts forth the conservative lie that legislation is easy: anyone with a true heart can go to Washington and change the place. This goes right along with the conservative myth that there was some glory day of our country when everyone was true and just. It ain't so.

Frank Capra was politically liberal. He cared about social justice. He cared about people! I generally agree with his world view that good will out. I accept that people are basically good. But in modern America, those who don't give a damn about social justice and individual rights use the Capra world to sell their hateful policies. I think the United States is in the bad state it is because their are too many Mr. Smiths who have their naive beliefs in "liberty and justice for all" used against them to elect politicians who want only to redistribute wealth upward.

And that's hard to watch for an hour and a half.

[1] Get it? Because Homer is often thought to have been blind. I suppose Oedipus Rex would have been more direct. "Call me Oedipus." But now that I think of it, most people don't think "gouging eyes out" when they think of him. So a footnote was required.

[2] Jean Arthur and Thomas Mitchell (the drunk doctor in Stagecoach and Scarlett's father in Gone With the Wind) are really good too.

Category: Computer
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I can forgive almost anything. Murder? Rape? Voting Republican? Hey, we all have bad days. But this?! I cannot forgive this:

George Zimmerman Website

Zimmerman should consider himself tried and convicted in the court of "Websites That Sucked 20 Years Ago."

I say hang the bastard.


It turns out that Zimmerman earned $204,000 from this pathetic site!

10 Apr 2012: Cage Does Cage!

Category: Music
Posted by: Frank Moraes
When I was a music major, before I learned that I was no musician, I loved John Cage's work for prepared piano. This will give you a pretty good idea of this kind of music:

John Cage is best known for a piece of music titled 4'33". It consists of one or more performers sitting down at or with their instruments and not playing any notes for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. People often refer to it as 4'33" of silence, but that entirely misses the point of the piece. As you can hear in the following performance of the piece, it is not silent. The point seems to be that any performance of any piece of art is necessarily a different piece of art. Watching the first 30 seconds of this video—Which happens to be the length of the first movement!—will give you the idea (although if you wait to the end, the applause is overwhelming):

All of this discussion is not just to school you in the avant-garde of the 1950s. Today, Slate brought my attention to the following video by artist Adam Lucas. It is titled Cage Does Cage and consists of 4'33" of scenes of Nicolas Cage not saying anything. The Slate article is worth checking out, but you should at least watch this really great video:

Am I not beneficent, providing you with enough background so you can enjoy a good insider laugh? You're welcome!

10 Apr 2012: The Case Against Q

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
The Case Against QI was listening to a Robert Price and Frank Zindler on Point of Inquiry recently. Price mentioned that the existence of Q had come into doubt and he referenced Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q. That was surprising to me, because I thought that Q was an established fact. But I suspect that you are scratching your head wondering what the hell I'm talking about.

Q is a theoretical document that was supposedly filled with the sayings of Jesus. If it ever existed, it is now lost to us. It's existence is inferred based upon the Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. And it is really interesting. What you need to know is that Mark was the first Gospel written, at around 40 years after Jesus is thought to have died. Matthew and Luke came about ten years later. They are based largely on Mark, as you can see from this great figure from Wikipedia:

Synoptic Gospels

The first thing to note here is that roughly half of Matthew and Luke come from Mark. In saying this, I really mean it: plagiarized. Looking at the original Greek text, it is often copied word for word in the later Gospels. This really does destroy the idea that many Christians have that God was speaking through these men[1]. Would he really have created this kind of overlapping text? Again, we aren't talking overlapping story; we are talking overlapping words, phrases, and sentences.[2]

The existence of Q comes out of the "double tradition" overlap between Matthew and Luke. This material is almost all Jesus' sayings, like the parables and the Sermon on the Mount. Again, much of this is word for word. Thus: just like with Mark, they plagiarized Q. Or so the theory goes.

A question obviously comes to mind: why not assume that Luke just used Mark and Matthew, given that it was written after both of them. As far as I can tell, proponents of Q claim that if Luke were based upon Matthew, there would be more agreement between the two Gospels in the material from Mark. Critics, Mark Goodacre for example, claim that there are such "minor agreements." Having seen these minor agreements, I must say that I'm not convinced. Just the same, I'm not that convinced by the primary arguments in favor of Q.

Goodacre spends a good deal of time going over all of this material. If you really want to know this stuff, The Case Against Q is a good place to look. Personally, I found his arguments kind of thin. But the book was really helpful in demonstrating that the arguments on both sides are kind of thin. There are lots of alternatives that just aren't discussed. On top of this, my belief in entropy convinces me that with such old documents and the incentives of the early Christians to redact the texts for individual and Church purposes it, there is no truly satisfying resolution. These documents are what the Church is based upon. Anyway, there is most likely no there there.


Mark Goodacre has a nice website supporting The Case Against Q. In particular, for those wanting to know more but not interested in reading what is a pretty technical book, he provides Ten Reasons to Question Q. I've provided the points below; if you go to this site, he gives a paragraph or so explanation of each.

  1. No-one has ever seen Q

  2. No-one had ever heard of Q

  3. Narrative Sequence in Q

  4. Occam's Razor [This one is very compelling. -FM]

  5. Major Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark

  6. Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark

  7. Minor Agreements in the Passion Narrative

  8. The Phenomenon of Fatigue

  9. The Legacy of Scissors-and-Paste Scholarship

  10. Recognising Luke's Literary Ability

[1] Just so you know, these books were not written by any of the 12 Apostles. For one thing, these men were almost certainly dead by the time Mark was written. For another, it is hard to imagine that illiterate fishermen and carpenters would suddenly learn to write what all experts agree is sophisticated Greek.

[2] Again from Wikipedia, here is a comparison of a verse from Matthew and Luke with the text in red being identical:

Matthew and Luke Comparison

09 Apr 2012: The Dude Abides

The Big LebowskiI watched The Big Lebowski last night. It is a film that grows on you. I know that it suffered at the time of its release because it came right after Fargo, and everyone wanted to see Fargo II. But there are more important reasons to not like the film. Most notable is that it just seems loose—like they really needed another run at the screenplay.

It makes me happy that the the Coen Brothers don't discuss what their films are about. For example, when asked what the ending of Barton Fink meant, one of them said something to the effect that the lead character was sitting on a beach (from the painting in his room) with a woman's head in a box. And that is probably as much as they know. The truth is, that like most great art, Barton Fink just works and it is kind of hard to say exactly why. But the fact that the Coen Brothers don't try to say any more than is up on the screen (note the lack of "director's commentaries" for their films) allows people like me to say whatever we want.

The Big Lebowski is far more obvious than Barton Fink. The tumbleweed is the perfect symbol for The Dude. And bowling is the perfect game: the pins just set there waiting for the bowler who doesn't even need to throw the ball because the lane is downhill. Other than The Dude (and perhaps Donny—the biggest problem with the script), all of the characters in the film play parts. This is seen in The Big Lebowski himself, who is every bit the leach he castigates The Dude for being; and Walter, whose status as Vietnam vet, Jew, and intellectual, are all questionable; and The Stranger, who is some kind of Hollywood cowboy monstrosity. The Dude, despite having many annoying character traits, is likable because he is authentic. What you see is all there is.

William Goldman complained in Which Lie Did I Tell, that The Big Lebowski did not work because there was no final bowling tournament. This badly misunderstands the intent of the film. Just the same, the Coen Brothers seem somewhat confused on this point. All the talk about the bowling tournament is not leading anywhere, they clearly understand this. But The Dude's investigation of the kidnapping of Bunny Lebowski is also not leading anywhere. Yet, they feel the need to resolve it without really resolving it. We learn that The Big Lebowski was just scamming the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers out of a million bucks and framing The Dude for it. We learn this 20 minutes from the end of the film. But this remaining time is not used to tie up the large number of loose ends. We don't learn what becomes of the Lebowski's relationship, or the PI sent to retrieve Bunny, or if Maude Lebowski will get her father to return the million dollars he stole. We don't learn any of this and much more because the film is no more interested in that than it is in what happens in the bowling tournament.

Instead, the film meanders on for another 20 minutes about what it had been meandering on about for the first 100 minutes: The Dude abiding. A tumbleweed tumbles on, despite strange men urinating on your carpet, rich men framing you, and friends dying. "Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds."

The Dude abides.

08 Apr 2012: Cardenio

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
CardenioThe first philosopher I ever read was Arthur Schopenhauer. I have no idea why. However, his thinking seems to have infected me. I keep thinking about his basic view of the futility of life. Basically: I keep doing the things I do so that I can keep doing the things that I do. I eat today so I will be alive tomorrow. And what will I do tomorrow? I will eat so I will be alive the next day. Given that the experience of life grows more and more grim as the days pass, I don't too much see the point. When I was a child, things were nice because each day was new. That is no longer the case. What's more, each day is filled with somewhat more physical pain and a great deal more psychic pain. So what is the point? I wish I knew.

Given this state of mind, it makes sense to take a step back and try to find some of the things that make life worth while. So I thought I would read some Don Quixote, which generally puts me in a better mood. I was going through the book, trying to find where I last stopped writing about it. I realized I was last reading about poor Cardenio. This is a story within a story. Our daring duo come upon this half-crazed man who tells us the story of his sad life: he made friends with the Duke's son, who betrayed him with Cardenio's fiance.

What I find interesting about this is that the basic plot sounds rather similar to a Lope de Vega play. In particular, PeribŠŮez y el Comendador de OcaŮa. I am struck again at the revolutionary content of early 17th century Spanish fiction. Even with the constraints placed on them by the society, both Cervantes and Lope were skeptical of those in power. In their world, power did not equate to moral. This is very unlike the world of that English playwright.

Cardenio is in Chapters 23-24.

08 Apr 2012: Happy Easter

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
This is the first video from a long video series called Excavating The Empty Tomb (beyond a reasonable doubt). It was either this or a two and a half hour debate between Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Chief Justice RobertsI want to put in my prediction of how the Supreme Court will rule on the individual mandate of the ACA.

Rube Goldberg Law

For the record, I'm not fond of this piece of legislation. It is a huge giveaway to the insurance industry that adds nothing to the system. In the name of getting bipartisan support that it never got, it is overly complicated—a Rube Goldberg[1] monstrosity designed to provide votes more than provide healthcare. But on balance, it seems that we are better with it than we are without it. If it didn't mean great pain and suffering for tens of millions of people, I would like to see it overturned. It would be interesting to see what the Republicans would do. The truth is that the ACA was the Republican healthcare plan. It is the "free market" solution to our problem of skyrocketing healthcare costs. (I don't think the Republicans see the uninsured as a problem.) When they decided that the individual mandate was unacceptable, they effectively cut their own throats. Now the only thing I've heard them suggest is to let people in one state buy insurance from another. This would help our healthcare problems, but only very little; it effectively leaves the Republicans with nothing to replace the ACA with. (Remember all the Republicans claiming that they wanted to "repeal and replace Obamacare"?) So in the long run, we are left with some kind of single payer health insurance. The problem is that this is likely to take a long time—enough so that I will already be in the Medicare system (assuming the Republicans don't destroy it first—or the Democrats who seem inclined to do this in the name of being "serious").

The Moderates

I do not know how the Supreme Court will rule on the individual mandate. I am certain that the four moderate justices (commonly, although erroneous, called "liberal") will vote to uphold the law. This is because they are not primarily political actors; they still behave the way judges traditionally have; this is not to say they are above politics, but they are not motivated by them in a fundamental way. How the conservative justices will rule is less certain. Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will almost certainly rule against the law; they are not only extremely political in their rulings, they seem to be uninterested in how corrupt they appear.

Roberts Against

As is the case so much these days, the fate of the ACA will depend upon Justice Kennedy. Even if he votes to strike the individual mandate, he may vote to uphold the rest of the ACA. I don't want to get into that issue, however. What I think is important is that Chief Justice Roberts' ruling will depend upon Kennedy's. He will vote whichever way Kennedy votes. If Kennedy votes to strike, Roberts will do so because he wants the law destroyed. This is not, of course, because he is against the law. If a conservative were in the White House, none of the conservatives would vote against the ACA. The vote against it is a vote against the President. This is a way to slap down Obama and perhaps deprive him of a second term.

Roberts For

If Kennedy votes to uphold the ACA, Roberts will concur. He will do this because unlike Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, Roberts does care about how the Court is perceived. He will vote to uphold the ACA so that he can better make the case that the conservatives on the court are not simply political hacks. A ruling to uphold the ACA will make the rulings on Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission appear less political. But having the Court appear less political is not as important as embarrassing the President. To Roberts, voting to uphold the ACA is just a way of making a bad situation a little better.

Final Ruling

So the final ruling will be 4-5 if the Court rules against the ACA and 6-3 if the Court rules for. Regardless, the decision will be political. Of course, we already knew that when Scalia brought up broccoli—a common example from Fox News and conservative media. I've never thought that the Court was above politics, but since Bush v. Gore, it has lost any pretense. I feel sorry for the moderates on the Court, because they really do try. And still I hear people claim that the Court is polarized when this isn't the case; there are four moderate and (as much as possible) apolitical justices and four conservative ideologues. Kennedy is just the one conservative who remembers the way the court used to be. Of course, even he wasn't reasonable enough to rule that all the votes in Florida should be counted in 2000. Electing the next President of the United States was just too exciting to resist. Who knows if he'll feel the same way this year.


Republicans see the Supreme Court as a political institution. You can see this by how they appoint justices who are very old. Other than Elena Kagan (whose nomination may indicate that the Democrats have decided that they should start playing the same game), all of the Republican nominations have been younger. Here is the list with the age of the justice during the year they were placed on the Court:

50Antonin ScaliaR
52Anthony KennedyR
43Clarence ThomasR
60Ruth Bader GinsburgD
56Stephen BreyerD
50John G. RobertsR
56Samuel AlitoR
55Sonia SotomayorD
50Elena KaganD

And this situation has been in place farther back. Rehnquist (48), Sandra Day O'Connor (51), and David Souter (51)—a Bush Sr. nominee, even though he turned out to be a moderate—were all younger than John Paul Stevens (55). Before the Reagan appointments onward, conservatives went for experienced thinkers rather than political ideologues. The three Nixon appointees were all old and moderate: Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (65), Harry Blackmun (62), and Warren E. Burger (62). You have to go back to Eisenhower's recess appointment of Potter Stewart (43) in 1958 to find someone as young as Thomas nominated to the Court. Stewart's career shows that one does not have to be old to be a brilliant justice. Thomas' career does much harm to the reputation of young justices. The point here is not that young justices cannot be good, but rather that Republicans have specifically nominated young justices so as to maximize their political power. Political power is more important than good governance to Republicans. But then, we already knew that.

[1] I found this delightful video about Rube Goldberg from the group Rocket Boom. They are very good. I'm surprised more people don't watch their stuff. They are well worth checking out:

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Artis Brown - Exxon-MobileI'm sort of on vacation, so just a quick note here. Exxon-Mobile is an evil corporation and Artis Brown, supposedly an engineer, is an evil apologist. In the most recent add, he repeats the widely discredited talking point that the oil sands pipeline could create more than half a million jobs. Why stop there? It could create 5 billion jobs. In fact, the Keystone Pipeline is estimated to create as few as 500 temporary jobs, but surely not more than 6,000 jobs.

This is the add running on "liberal" media source MSNBC:

01 Apr 2012: Seagullible

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Sea GullOne day when I was at college, a classmate asked, "Did you know the word gullible is not in the Dictionary?" Like an idiot, I said, "Really?!" It took me a half hour to get the joke. I am a gullible person—or at least very trusting. So I hate April Fools Day. I'll believe anything. But I assume you are not as gullible as I am.

I discovered an amazing book on word origins titled The Surprising History of Common Words by I. A. L. Diamond. I was particularly taken with these histories:

Definition: a public institution in which offenders against the law are confined. History: People often assume that "pen" either refers to an enclosed structure as for a farm animal or is an abbreviation of the word penitentiary. In fact, it is an abbreviation, but for the word penultimate, as in: he is going to the penultimate before he goes somewhere else.

Definition: easily duped or cheated. History: From the late 16th century popularity of "sea gull poker," an easy mark was considered "seagullible." The word was shortened to "gullible" in the 19th century during the great "sea" shortage, which caused great harm to the oceanographic sciences.

It turns out "seagullible" is not in the dictionary. Can you believe it?!