May 24, 2015

  • Reflections on Away from the Madding Crowd

    Films derived from source materials written by men, but centered on a woman are often of great interest to me – because the perceptions men have about women, the way they assess and understand how women work normally are phenomenological rather than empathic. I have never read a book by a man that really captures the internal struggles of women the way that a woman can write that sense.

    Indeed, I don’t believe men even experience that struggle the same way that women do. The intense internal tensions that women experience, holding many ideas and desires that conflict simultaneously is something that is typical if not normal, but for men, I don’t think that it is true…

    And so, reading these or watching these, it’s always illuminating.

    Moreover, when men write such books, there’s a sense of what this woman represents to the writer. And the writer’s proxy typically the main character male, in this case, it is Gabriel Oak.

    So, let’s break down the characters:

    Bathsheba
    Her namesake is the woman whom with David committed adultery. She does not know the meaning of her name, nor why she was given this name – but I do not believe the author would have picked this name without reason.

    In the book of Kings, this is a woman of surpassing beauty and of implied willfulness. Bathing on a roof in full sight of the King of Israel sets off David’s desire for her – and they sleep together; and when she is with child, the King tries to cover it up by having her husband, an officer in his armies, return home for his wife and have him sleep with her. Yet, that man refuses to return, desiring to faithfully serve at the front lines.

    So instead, David arranges for his abandonment in battle, and thus orchestrates his death. The cost of this betrayal is huge, and beyond the pale of this review, but recalls a very complex emotional background for the name Bathsheba. A woman who is at the heart of a sad betrayal, and the object of great love and desire.

    She is, in this version, young, smart, independent and willful. Becomes an heiress, and then a confident landowner.

    Gabriel Oak
    He is a neighbor to Bathsheba when she was poor – an enterprising shepherd who loses it all due to the actions of his young sheepdog. He had 200 sheep and loaned farmland, and was planning on paying off his loans. Had offered to marry Bathsheba when she had naught, but then, after disaster, ends up in her employ.

    In the midst of all manners of the other suitors, he oft hold his tongue, though maintains a certain ardour for her.

    He represents steadfastness. Though he boasted at the outset of his means, ultimately the author paints Oak in terms of humility and solidity.

    The movie leaves out how Bathsheba saved his life earlier in the book.

    Baldwood
    The next neighbor is a wealthy and successful farmer in his forties who becomes smitten by Bathsheba after she writes him a love letter. In the book, it is a letter that says, “marry me?” while in this movie, but a fanciful love poem of surpassing simplicity beginning with the age old, “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…”

    Somehow, he becomes charmed by her resourcefulness and hands on approach.

    He persistently seeks her hand in marriage, even after she marries another and later becomes a “widow”, offering her safe harbor and love – even if she cannot offer him genuine passion.

    A particularly poignant moment is when they sing an old English folk song about a young maiden who is jilted and has her thyme/time stolen. They sing beautifully with very natural harmonies, in a way that highlights their artistic resonances (he is a tragic lonely man) but set against what amounts to a warning to women falling in love with the wrong person – which I expect is her warning to him.

    One major element about Baldwood is his fixation on whether Bathsheba had broken a promise to him. How he could not blame her for his feelings that remained unrequited. He sought to protect her reputation even when they became the subject of nasty rumors of her “standing him up” and marrying our third male lead.

    Sergeant Troy

    Troy is introduced to us (in the movie) as the dashing young sergeant who is about to marry a fetching young Fanny Robbin, who originally worked at the farm that Bathsheba Everdene was about to inherit. Troy is stood up at his wedding as Fanny went to the wrong chapel (life before GPS and cellphones), and stalks off enraged and humiliated.

    When he reappears in the story, he immediately tells Bathsheba that she is beautiful – and seduces her in the most usual way of gallants – with displays of recklessness and power, taking from her a kiss that sets her heart, and mind, racing.

    Oak warns her that this man has no conscience, and that he will ruin her. She dismisses Oak in anger, only to be forced to ask for his help with an illness with the sheep (not going to detail), and yet continues to become closer to Troy… in a series of secret tete-a-tetes, that are so well designed to allay inhibitions.

    Married, Troy quickly displays his boorish alcohol dependencies, hubris in treating the workers, and overconfidence – “there will be no rain, it is our wedding day – my wife forbids it!” even when Oak predicts a massive storm… leading to a somewhat contrived scene where Oak and Bathsheba work together to save the harvest when everyone else is drinking inside the farm.

    Troy begins accruing massive gambling debts – and the later encounters Fanny again, learning that she is now with child. He attempts to secure money (20 £s) for Fanny from Bathsheba, who asks – “what is this money for?” To which he can give no satisfactory answer.

    Fanny dies never making it to the bridge where Troy had arranged for their meeting – another missed rendezvous. Instead, her body is brought back to the farm, where Bathsheba pieces together the story.

    When Troy returns, they argue, and he tells her that Bathsheba means nothing to him.

    The next day, he then swims out to the ocean and ostensibly drowns.

    Decisions

    With new debts unpaid, Bathsheba confronts the possible loss of her farm, and Baldwood offers to marry her and cover the debts. He meets with Oak, offering him employment, and in some measure of grace, tells Oak that he is appreciative of Oak’s loyalty, and steadfastness… and that he knows that Oak still loves Bathsheba.

    At the dance/party at which Baldwood expects Bathsheba to accept his proposal, Baldwood asks them to dance. As they dance, Oak and Bathsheba speak – and she asks him, what should I do?

    He replies – do the right thing.

    She flees from the dance, leaving them bewildered. She encounters Troy who realizes that his apparent death leaves him still destitute, thus he returns demanding that she sell the farm and share with him the proceeds.

    His forceful swaggering is brought to an end when Baldwood fires a rifle, putting the beast down…

    A scene that is very reminiscent of when Oak shoots his young sheepdog (young George) that destroyed his fortune. It is an act of grief and pain.

    Baldwood then goes to prison, but not executed. Oak tells Bathseba that now the farm is safe, he can move to America and that he would be off the next morning.

    When the next morning breaks, and he is gone, she watches Old George (the older sheepdog) and anxiously ponders what to do. She finally rides off (only one scene does she ride side saddle – at the beginning) and catches up with him.

    She tells him not to go (I forbid it!).

    They wrangle about why to stay – and he reveals that he would stay if there were a chance that they could marry (he has no airs now, their positions and status so different). She reveals that she doesn’t know what she would say, but that the only way to find out is if he were to ask again.

    In contrast to his reserved and tepid and tenuous prior advances, he pulls forward and they kiss.

    Everything else is implied.

    Analysis

    The three men represent, in some way, a very Freudian version of desire –
    Troy is pure, impulsive Id. Desire unchecked, passion unblunted, and all the crazy consequence. Baldwood is older, safe, passionless – it is Superego. Oak, is the balance, passion and safety, and sometimes censure – it is only Oak that ever rebukes her.

    Whether the modern feminist appreciates rebuke from a man, (and that’s so not Disney) a real relationship requires rebuke – in both directions. No man or woman is perfect, and the dialogue between lovers must have words like these. “This is beneath you, Miss Averdene.”

    At the heart of any female-centered romantic tale must be choice; and these were hers. Evolving from “I don’t need a husband,” to realizing that perhaps it isn’t so bad… She also comes to realize that the man that has been most steadfast (though often silent) has been Oak. She was much more attracted to Status (her discussion of station, her discussions with her assistant re: Baldwood, as well her attraction to Troy and his breeding and prowess) at the outset.

    When Oak was on the road, “You have to fight your own battles… and win them (by yourself).” I don’t know if these words appear in the book, it seems a bit more modern, but I understand the sentiment. I suspect the author might have meant the scene in that Oak was absolving himself from long term servanthood from this woman who was not willing to be his wife.

    For him to continue to be her superintendent was to relegate himself to a very painful place indeed. Better to seek his own place in life, and let her find her own way with or without some other man.

    It is in Gabriel where I think we find the Author’s voice best. It is an homage to the quiet competent men that are neither rich nor flashy, but rather quietly, somewhat behind the scenes, people who get things done. Many people fixate and the flash and bang, but rarely does much work get done by those in the limelight. It is Gabriel that ultimately runs both farms.

    Gabriel is the man who is often overlooked. I hazard the author felt so once.

    The authors’ message to women also includes a rebuke – do not play with hearts. There are 2 men tortured here, and 1 man doing the torturing. In some ways, had she not whimsically played Baldwood, perhaps she might have avoided Troy?

    That is the karmic relationship David encountered post Bathsheba.

    I Samuel 12:1-25

    12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
    4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
    5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
    7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
    11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
    13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
    Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
    15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth[b] on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
    18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
    19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
    “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
    20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
    21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
    22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
    24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.[c]

    Note that:

    1) Nathan uses the Shepherd as his background for the story/parable
    2) David’s sin with Bathsheba is accounted as David’s.
    3) David declares that the man who stole the sheep should pay four fold
    4) David learns that he is the man who stole – and that he would pay
    a. The bloodbath in his family shows up in the later passages.
    5) David sinned in secret – it is often that temptation works better in “secret” lots of reseach in this area. Secret pleasures shared builds intimacy… sometimes of a destructive sort…
    6) When the child dies, David stops praying/fasting and mourning. He moves on. There’s nothing left to do (grief can paralyze)
    7) After all this, God still blessed David and Bathsheba – with Solomon.

    Concluding Comments.

    I enjoyed thinking about the meanings and metaphors of this film. There are cautionary tones to all of the characters – something that is so sorely missing in modern storytelling – everyone’s a good guy, nothing to be morally learned.

    There are warnings and lessons here… the filmcraft is fairly good, but what really stokes my thoughts are the questions about humanity, character and responsibility that really drive the tale.

December 25, 2014

  • Musings regarding Japan on Christmas Day

    Worshiping in Japanese

    The past weekend I had the occasion to attend a Christmas Sunday service at the Japanese American United Church in New York City. It’s not often that I get to attend service in Japanese, and it was a true pleasure.

    Why is that?

    As a person of Chinese ancestry, my roots have some passing relationship with Japan – the mainland Chinese relationship with the Isle of Wa is long and undergoes many turns both good and ill. It’s no surprise that there is friction between the peoples, given some of the more conflict filled terms – indeed, it’s hard not to have friction between some of the more prominent nations that abut.

    But, growing up in the west, and traveling more often to Hong Kong and Taiwan, I’ve never been very influenced by those memories or events, remembering instead the contributions to art, cuisine, science and industry that Japan has made. I have surrounded myself with much Japanese culture over the years, and feel very comfortable amidst the sound of the language, and the sights and smells of the land. When I hear the speech and the voices, see the body language – it is comfortable and… なつかしい。恨情怯。

    In short, I feel comfortable in that milieu.

    When one considers what many things make Japan unique, one often escapes the mind of non-Japanese… what other country has enjoyed two atomic weapons? Hiroshima and Nagasaki both suffered nuclear assaults. It is ironic that the US remembers those events without much remorse – and indeed, the memories relate more to the horror of mutually assured destruction with the Soviets, rather than the Enola Gay, and the radioactive waste that Japan suffered.

    Of course I remember Nanking (南京) and all the privations that occurred during the war(s) in the far east… but in history, both perpetrator and victim are often one and the same, and no nation is innocent. I won’t go so far as to say there is no such thing as a greater amount of guilt, but in the Lord’s eyes, the people have both guilt and things to glory over.

    But it is not merely my fond memories of Japan, nor affection for her people – it is knowing how much the Japanese Christians have suffered over the centuries, and how few are there.

    The Lord desires every tribe and tongue to confess him and bow their knees. In a nominally Shinto/Buddhist spiritual mooring, the modern Japanese are typically more akin to functionally agnostic, with many assuming a hazy spiritual stance if at all.

    It is in this context that I am so moved.

    131 years this little church has stood – changing congregations and pastors. It is in this milieu that I am so very touched, seeing sincere love for Christ, and singing hymns in Japanese and some English as well.

    My heart leaped, and my spirit refreshed.

    Many years ago, I sought to learn Japanese thinking that perhaps one day I might be called to that island nation. While that day has never come, my affection and longing for the people has never ceased.

    I thank the Lord that he’s given me the chance to spend it in worship with these people – seeing the babies, the kids, adults and the grandparents. I was so at home…

    So glad!

    May the Lord bless Japan, and bring more Japanese to a saving knowledge of His grace, and belief in His gospel.

    お神さまの恵。。。

    Blood on the Snow

    On the flight to HK, I watched a Japanese movie called Blood on the Snow. If you plan to watch it, please do not read on.

    The movie is about two men, one a failed bodyguard who was supposed to protect a pro-trade minister during the fall of the bakufu/shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji period and the restoration of “Imperial” rule – and the other a patriotic assassin that was party to the group that slew that minister.

    It follows the changes in society that occurred with the end of the shogunate with no small attention to the identity and role that former samurai were to play. While romanticized in some way, it still brought a lot of thought and consideration to the way duty and honour can both strengthen and shackle a person.

    The symbol that underpins the story is the camellia that blossoms in the winter, beautiful amidst the snow. The adversity and suffering experienced by the main characters over 13 years after the assassination have left them in emotional limbo – one charged to bring the assassins to justice before he may commit suppuku, and the other waiting for someone to take his neck – waiting for execution.

    It is about two men being stuck in the mire of choices made and failures that followed those choices. But one additional nuance, and I know not new or not to the Japanese media – it comments that the person that suffered the most was not the bodyguard, nor the assassin, but rather the bodyguards wife.

    While men might suffer in limbo, wracked by their choices and failures – the women that love them might suffer far more, even more helpless to loose the chains that bind the heart and soul in torment.

    What’s the lesson here?

August 29, 2014

  • plurimae leges corruptissima re publica

    The above link is an article about the rash of governmental -> corporate regulatory actions that have resulted in big payouts to governments from corporations.

    It's an interesting time we live in, where companies are paying out such large sums to opaque agencies who then use those funds in just as opaque a fashion. These are not trifling sums, and, not for the first time, I despair at the condition of this body politic.

    Tacitus' observation:

    "Plurimae leges corruptissima re publica" states that the greater the number of laws, the more corrupt the politicians. Upon reflection, how can one argue with this?

    Our current legal system consists of a patchwork of intersecting and conflicting rules; some in general agreement, others at odds. The use of precedent is supposed to smooth out legal interpretation, giving predictability to what is and is not acceptable.

    When the number of laws is too great, and complexity of interaction too severe, enforcement becomes selective. The number of persons and time necessary to enforce hundreds of thousands of law beggars reason - it's simply impossible. And selective enforcement leads to chaotic implementation... how is this law at all?

    Or when new laws/regulations are introduced in a haphazard, opaque way, it makes it difficult to even know what will be done to implement them, leading to uncertainty for those who are regulated.

    The author of the above article points out that at present the nearly arbitrary fashion in which the government in the US is approaching corporate "shakedowns" is difficult to distinguish from the way the Chinese government is operating.

    I can't disagree.

    Reliable, consistent, clear regulation and law is what open, transparent society should expect. While law cannot enforce morality, it can provide a framework for more fair treatment in society. Excessive complexity erodes that purpose. While legality does not ensure justice, it's society's best approximation -

    Selective enforcement of laws ensures that many quasi legal practices go unnoticed, which is also hardly fair.

    Straightforward, clear, enforced laws reduces the opportunity for corruption. Excessive complexity benefits those in power, who can navigate the vagaries with inside knowledge of the system; and they can confer similar benefits to their allies, friends and associates. Laws and systems only understood by a few is no basis for fair, egalitarian, law based society.

    Tacitus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus) understood this in the first century...

    I think the framers of the constitution did as well.

    What happened? :/

August 24, 2014

  • Food Bigotry

    Consider the humble Gluten.

    Presently, in US vernacular, the proteinaceous amalgamation of gliadin, glutenin and starch. Glue-like and sticky (in fact derived in name for the latin for Glue), gluten presently has acquired a most odious reputation for being the offending antigen for sufferers of celiac sprue, and gluten free foods are sold at a high premium... even when the diner has no allergy to the stuff.

    Over in asia, however, gluten has been a part of diet in a purified form, particularly as a vegetarian meat/protein substitute. Indeed, it's a staple vegetarian food, along with tofus of various consistency. When one mentions gluten in asia, it's a very neutral substance, or perhaps even positive, when one things of foods like 烤麸。

    Which brings us to the strange variegations in societal attitudes towards foods near and far.

    I think few of us remember the days when the US feared the fruit so ubiquitous in Italian cooking, the Tomato. Indeed, tomato was considered an undesirable fruit during the early part of the US' history due to its similarity to deadly nightshade. And it took tomato sauce (Ketchup/Catsup - possibly derived from cantonese pronunciation of 茄汁, and gastronomically derived from various "fish sauces" used in the south pacific)and Italian cuisine to bring the tomato to its present glory.

    Or perhaps the lobster, originally considered a trash fish, and sold at bottom of the barrel prices in Boston during the mid 1700s. Few of us consider lobster so pedestrian now, eh?

    One more - let's consider beef ribs. Low grade meat if one were to consider steak. After all, there is no "rib cut." And barbecue ribs are sold at rather inexpensive prices relative to the mass of the meat sold. But in Kalbi, the price of a similar amount of meat is suddenly much higher. Go figure? You wouldn't blink an eye at 29 dollars for 2 short ribs in a Korean restaurant - but those prices would beggar reason in a southern barbeque joint.

    While the aphorism "One man's trash is another man's treasure" might be a bit trite at times, there's no question that the relative pricing and desirability accorded to foods (yes the connotations as well) differ across regions, cultures and nations, it's quite striking that a food hated/reviled in one context is quite innocent in another.

    Think peanuts in the hyper-allergic western world vs. southeast asia where its ubiquity would yield asphyxiation in far too many with hypersensitivity.

    I'll leave with one more dissonance in views on foods.

    Consider soy vs. milk.

    In the west, you put milk in a jar and drink it. In the east, you crush it and filter it and you yield soy milk. Culture both and you get cheese and tofu respectively. Traditionally, easterners didn't really know how to eat cheese - and its taken some time for the west to accept tofu; both of which are quite common and accepted in their traditional regions.

    And what bothers people most? I still think it's texture. Unfamiliar textures probably cause more anxiety than tastes...

    So, how much of a food bigot are you?

    (Allergies don't count...)

July 27, 2014

  • A New Age of Strife: The return of the Nation-State

    Having spent some recent days reading about the movements of hearts and minds that resulted in the Great War, it seems reasonable to reflect on the stirrings that we see around us today, from ISIS, to Palestine/Israel/Gaza, and issues with Ukraine, as well as Kurdish peoples... Heck, to a large extent Africa as well.

    In very broad strokes, I think we're reaching a thawing of the quasi stability that came to be after the great wars between the european powers in WWI and II, the establishment of relative pre-eminence of the USSR and USA, and the number of proxy wars and detentes that came to be between them.

    As should be common knowledge, a great number of "treaty countries" came to exist after other nations that had occupied or colonized the area stepped back, and created new amalgams ex fiat. Czechoslovakia, Nigeria are two prominent examples, but the division of kurdish lands and peoples amongst several other geographic regions certainly can be traced back to treaties signed by nations without intimate knowledge or interest in the wellfare of those so consigned.

    As these influences fade, and the interests, power and attentions of declining powers move from these spheres, is it any surprise that peoples might begin to foment for more autonomy and self-definition? That's what much of the conflict I see in this current crop of conflicts, a desire to return to a nation-state build of ethnics and or religion.

    The age of amalgamated peoples crested, I think with amalgam identities such as the US, Brasil, USSR, Canada... but there are many smaller groups of identities that are re-asserting those identities, above that of government.

    It's a concept relatively foreign to the US, but one that is all to common around the world.

    Further, in the past, conflict normally continued until subjugation or annihilation, but in the "modern world", intervening interests can "freeze" conflicts, leaving laundry for the next government or leadership change.

    As the chilling/stabilizing influences of a bipolar conflict have ended, multipolar interests now dominate...

    I think the nation-state is back...

    And that will be the theme of this next century.

June 3, 2014

  • And then I read...

    Hotness re-invented.

    A friend of mine sent me a link to this blog post, written in January of this year:

    http://banei.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/hotness-reinvented/

    I'll leave it to the reader to peruse its contents, but I will state simply that it is the perspective of a Christian woman on why Christian men often prefer physically beautiful women, and what a Christian woman's response to this might be.

    For a number of years I've been keeping the idea of a book in my head for "Confessions of A Christian Romantic" - a book that centers on the collision between idealism/romanticism and the belief in a loving, just, omnipotent and omniscient God that has a personal plan for your life and the implications for life and love.

    Particularly in the modern world of the ubiquitous internet, dating and marriage has become a much different affair than what those but a generation ago knew.

    But that will be a book written at such a time that I can write on this topic with someone who can inform the discussion from the other side of the gender divide. :)

    But for Banei's post, here goes:

    Predication:
    1) We are all sinners; despite all our most lofty intentions and desires, our hearts are base and motivations admixed with darker things beneath the surface.
    2) All that is good within us is ultimately redeemed, not the product of original "goodness."
    3) We are works in progress, lives colliding with other works in progress.

    "Why are Christian guys looking for hot girls rather than godly women of character?"

    This is an age old question, certainly present from 2000 bc and hence. The more generalized form is: "Why do guys look for hot girls rather than women of good character?"

    In fact, the very phrasing, dropping further adjectives would be: "Why do guys look for girls rather than women?"

    The very choice of nouns reflects a great deal of nuance - why do men look for young pretty things, rather than mature, insightful _women_?

    This cannot be answered today in any definite way (after all, like all questions worth pondering, ready answers elude), but I think a little insight can be shed.

    From a biological perspective:
    Men look for outward signs of reproductive health - animals do it too. Symmetry, colour, muscularity, proportionality all imply health which implies fecundity. This data is reasonably consistent. We're hardwired to enjoy beauty. Women too - in women and in men. Babies recognize beauty but days out of the womb. Physical beauty is the easiest thing to perceive in another person, and the first/quickest thing to find attractive.

    Now this next perspective is not as well studied, but I think it follows logically.

    The next thing that's the easiest for a man to assess is charm. Charm is interesting, because, at least in the English, it can imply two different facets of attractiveness. Charm requires some combination of perceptiveness and intelligence, and is manifest in conversation (requiring the ability to perceive the desires and thoughts of the other, as to be able to later manipulate/influence) dress (implying either resources to dress well, or the cognitive ability to dress/select well.) Strangely, I personally read a lot into makeup - it suggests (only suggests~!) a great deal about the person, what style of makeup (revealing aesthetic moorings, and potential group-identity/affiliations), as well as the dexterity and artistic inclinations of said person, or at least their makeup artists. :) In a similar vein, musical ability is normally considered attractive by both genders - and I think it is because it communicates a combination of the same things that charm communicates.

    And yet:

    "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (PRV 31:30)

    The deeper truth here, for those that would desire to be wise, is that God looks beyond our "genetic potential" and to our hearts. Recall:

    "6 So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

    7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”"

    Samuel 16:6-7.

    Samuel, like any of us men (and many women!) would love to pick a tall, good looking, strong man to be a leader or at least an ally. But God sees inside. A quick glance at the heights of prior presidents of the US reveals that they have nearly uniformly been of a significant height greater than mean, with several exceptions. We naturally prefer tall, stout men as leaders... but not God.

    In the end, in verse 12-13, Samuel annoints a ruddy, bright eyed, good looking David to be the next king... So, a secondary point here is that God doesn't judge by beauty - but neither does he condemn it. It is the heart that matters most.

    As an aside:

    Deuteronomy 17:14-20

    The King

    16The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

    18When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

    This is a beautiful example of how God prescribed what nobility ought to be like: not too rich, not too materially blessed. He is to fear God and to not consider himself better than his fellows - he must obey the Law.

    How different this is from what we tend towards as people?
    We allow our heroes and great people to get away with all sorts of misdemeanors and selfish behaviour. We, as a people, have a tendency to idolize - and we erect heroes in sports, entertainment, beauty and power, allowing them to flout rules and mores. This is not to their advantage nor ours - not in the lens of eternity.

    So - if charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting (and really, so much is said nonjudgmentally in that phrase), then what normally follows?

    Depends on the man:
    1) A man who simply (foolishly) loves beauty will be ensorcelled by beauty and that's the end of it. Does any wise woman want to be loved by such a simpleton?

    2) A man who simply (foolishly) loves charm (and/or intelligence/artistry) may be ensorcelled by these and that's the end of it. See above for my comments. :)

    3) A man who desires a woman of character, be he religious or not, will look for these things beneath the veneer of beauty and charm... Though this may take time, and he may be distracted by women who possess the former two in spades, but little of character. At some point, some such men may decide that they cannot trust beauty and charm and actively eschew those qualities.

    4) Of course what man, whatever creed or code, would not prefer a woman that possesses beauty and charm and character (when alloyed with mercy and love)?

    Indeed, some may not wish so scrupulous a character as it may thwart their own dark ambitions. On the other hand, character alloyed with unconditional love seems desirable in any situation... making me wonder is truly unconditional (truly blind) love objectively, immutably good.

    On the other hand, what do women want (in this context)?

    To be loved (sometimes worshiped?)
    To have a man who is: "respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land."
    Is good looking, hardworking, and charming undesirable?

    Song of Solomon 1:16
    "How handsome you are, my beloved!
    Oh, how charming!
    And our bed is verdant."
    2:3-13
    "3 Like an apple[c] tree among the trees of the forest
    is my beloved among the young men.
    I delight to sit in his shade,
    and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
    4 Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love.
    5 Strengthen me with raisins,
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am faint with love.
    6 His left arm is under my head,
    and his right arm embraces me.
    7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
    by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
    Do not arouse or awaken love
    until it so desires.
    8 Listen! My beloved!
    Look! Here he comes,
    leaping across the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
    9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
    Look! There he stands behind our wall,
    gazing through the windows,
    peering through the lattice.
    10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
    “Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
    11 See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
    12 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
    the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
    13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
    Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

    Within this passage she extols his virtue in contrast to the other young men who are but trees - he is an apple tree, providing food and sweetness. He protects, giving shade - he delights with his fruit, which is sweet to her tastes. He provides via fruits and foods in the banqueting hall - he loves and comforts, providing an arm for her to rest her head, and holding her with his right arm.

    He is gallant, bounding over the mountains, strong and fast like a young stag. He is eager to see her, gazing through windows and lattice - he brings adventure, declaring that the winter is past - and it is time to explore the world anew "arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me."

    This picture of the lover may or may not be literally true, but it communicates a wealth about a lover ought feel - strong, gallant, loving, and leading somewhere. I think it rare that a woman would reject a man who can give her the sense of all of those things?

    -------

    And admixed with all of this is entertainments ability to magnify (and many a times, distort) all these attributes and create new icons of that which we desire. And so, men and women find themselves wondering after icons that are synthetic simulacra of bits and pieces of what we find desirable, which alas, exist perhaps only very rarely if at all.

    Men look for persons that exist rarely if at all. And sometimes women do the same...

    "Why are Christian guys looking for hot girls rather than godly women of character?"

    Some do look for hot rather than look for character. But some look for more. Some look for too much, and some look for too little (character).

    The guys you gals should want, should be made of the same stuff you're trying to be - full of grace, inner beauty and Christ. Don't be distracted by the icing. It's not good for either gender. :)

    As to the rest of Banei's post:

    Thanks for providing such a great counterpoint. Inner beauty must indeed be predicated on inner-vision. Without seeing the debris/detritus and hypocrisy in our own lives, it is so very hard to objectively and compassionately enter into the lives of others.

    As a final thought, a recent conversation made me pay fresh attention to:

    Prv 31:15, 21, 27,
    15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
    21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
    27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

    One of the characteristics of the woman in PRV 31 that is easily missed in the US is her concern for her servants. This is not a woman who bosses around her staff imperiously - her servants are well provided for, well fed, and well clothed. She is not idle, and whatever her mettle, she does not settle to lunch while her workers toil.

May 17, 2014

  • What is Music?

    A friend of mine -
    In fact, my sister-in-law, once wrote a piece titled what I've written above. I won't try to re-capitulate what she'd written, nor will I write something that even pretends to complete. But here, as I listen to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? Jacky Cheung's many many pieces, a smattering of Bread, and a bit of Jim Croce... I can't help but remember that Music, at its heart, is a language for the soul. Passing from eons past to eons yet to come, there is something sublime and transcendent in the tones that speak in math and in spirit.

    440 hz. And segment and multiply.

    Harmonically constructive, destructive.

    It builds and speaks to the soul. (Though obviously, it can destroy)

    How can I live without the muse that music is? How can I live the music, without a muse within?

    What is Music?

    It's a mirror for my soul.

April 24, 2014

  • Truth

    "And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless."

    Revelation 14:3-5

    This period in my life, I've come to realize the slippery slope of deceit. Little bends beget bigger bending, and omissions lead to commissions. Integrity is a virtue that must be guarded. A love of truth must be... vigorously held to. These are the standards of living, and I fall short.

    I can only beg for help and hope from my redeemer.

    My sin is ever before me.

    Cleanse me with Hyssop.

    Let me be white as snow.

    Amen.

December 6, 2013

  • Pinyin and Simplified Characters: Raison d'etre?

    One of the primary motivations for promulgating the adoption of simplified characters was the high rates of illiteracy in pre-modern China. Learning complex stroke order and forms for the 1-2000 characters used in common language was very challenging and time consuming. Passive and active command of ideograms is no mean feat, and requires much repetition in order to gain mastery of the common characters - never mind the other 104000 listed in the 2004 yitizi zidian (異體字字典).

    Several prior simplifications have occurred, and indeed, this is a theme in the evolution of a languages. Typically, while the actual numbers of words increases, the syntax and grammar simplify over time. The debate surrounding simplification of Mandarin during the latter portions of the Qing raged as one might typically expect - simplification in a language like chinese, with the meaning and art of a character at risk, is an emotional subject for many. The goal however, is wider spread adoption of the language of discourse and access to writing.

    The communist regime actually considered complete elimination of the Han script and adoption of Pinyin as a the sole language, thus implementing what had already happened with Vietnamese, and, to a certain extent with Japanese/Korean with their syllabaries. However, given the intense tonality of the language, and the number of homonyms, reading pinyin only Chinese was rife with unclear meanings.

    Another problem with the pinyin only model was that the sound for a character differed regionally. Definitely with regional patois such as Cantonese/Shanghainese/Minan etc... but also with regards to local pronunciations of words as well. Thus, a pinyin system would remove the very unusual feature of chinese writing that allowed people that are vocally incomprehensible to be understood through writing alone.

    So, Pinyin currently exists as a pronunciation system for standard Mandarin only.

    Fast forward 60 years, skipping over early chinese typewriters, we come to the problem of how to take keystroke inputs and translating them into images. The major input methods are pinyin based and Changjie based. The latter utilizes the form of the character, using the keystrokes to tell the computer what character it is by pieces of it's form. Pinyin based utilizes the mandarin pronunciation, using familiar roman keys.

    The situation is now completely different. With input systems becoming the norm, writing is used less and less. Input via either pinyin or Changjie doesn't actually require precise knowledge of a character's stroke order or form - it requires a rough knowledge in both cases. Both systems will bring up characters that match the inputted keys, and give an array of options, thus rendering "writing" a near passive-knowledge experience.

    If you can recognize the character, it's enough...

    So to me, the development of Chinese input methods has essentially obviated the need for simplified characters. With a pinyin/recognition system, you're not writing each stroke anyway, right? Changjie as well...

    So, with smartphones in ever increasing numbers of hands... and more word processing, why not bring back the more beautiful traditional script paired with modern input methods?

  • Winter Again

    Crisp,
    The snow alights upon dark branches,
    The trees proffer their limbs in whispering supplication
    To the winter sun scattering light in the paper sky

    The air is fresher,
    The sounds somehow clearer
    And the colours so much starker
    Today.
    12.06.2013