Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In which I leave the house and go see a movie

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The heroine, played by Felicity Jones, is in the center of the frame. She's actually 63" tall. The most engaging and interesting character is a re-tooled Imperial droid, K2-SO.

A long time ago, in an Atlanta, Georgia you would barely recognize, I saw the original Star Wars (1977) at the Tara Theater on Cheshire Bridge Road. We went to an early showing. The next screening, the line for tickets tracked twice around the building. I enthusiastically went to see the Empire Strikes Back (1980) which introduced a new character, Lando Calrissian, the only black man in the galaxy.

They finally got poor Lando some company in Return Of The Jedi (1983).

I was even there for Episode I (1999), starring the great Liam Neeson and a much less memorable Ewan McGregor. The villain was Darth Maul. Subtle.

By this time of course, the franchise was beginning to wane under its creator's fundamentally juvenile worldview. It's hard to believe this is the same man who made THX 1138 (1971).

My previous last attempt at a Star Wars film was to watch Christopher Lee in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). What follows is stitched around some comments I left at iSteve.

Rogue One (2016) is not bad, and not entirely emblematic of our cultural malaise. I fully expected it to be formulaic and illogical, and my expectations were met–nay, exceeded–so I was able to relax and enjoy the ride a bit.

There's a huge space-air-land battle at the end on the Imperial Resort/Archives Planet that is pretty cool, even suggestive of some professional, technical military input. Steve Sailer notes that most of the time Lucas is just recreating the old World War II movies he grew up with.

Other than that, the movie is the usual assortment of Star Wars action figures and playsets. Having the series walk backwards on itself for the sake of recycling characters who grew old and died ages ago/forward in time is getting to be absurd. CGI of people such as the hours-ago deceased Carrie Fisher, and of Peter Cushing who's been in the ground twenty-two years, is just jarring. C-3PO and R2-D2 even get cameos for no reason whatsoever. Darth Vader gets rolled out of his nutritive bath, noticeably lacking the graceful, measured movements of the physically imposing David Prowse.

The movie seemed to be aiming really, really young with sloppy plotting and dialogue, cartoonish villains, and busy, fast-paced visuals. And sure enough there were lots of children under age 10 in the audience. Several of them clapped and cheered when Darth Vader came out.

The other thing that struck me is how unremittingly business-like this gloriously diverse galaxy of a long time ago and far, far away has become, with a total lack of sexual or romantic tension in the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is (or was) a huge part of adult life and to have nothing like that anywhere in the movie tells me the target audience is adolescents. This isn't low-brow; it's after-school special.

I could make a very long list of all the illogical contrivances:

Why put the directional controls for the transmitting dish out on the very end of an open-air platform a thousand feet up?

Why wouldn’t Head Science Guy like, e-mail the plans to the Death Star, send a thumb drive, take a picture with his cellphone? And wasn’t the whole point to transmit the plans? At one point everybody’s scrambling around, playing hot potato to get a stylized computer diskette on to a cargo ship with Lord Vader one step behind.

Heroine couldn’t take some notes while Dad was talking–this is important?

Why are freaking Sturmtruppen walking around in white plastic that doesn’t protect them from anything--a hit with a mop handle, a blaster, falling twigs?

All that tech to send massive ships at light-speed and Desert Planet is … a desert? And you can put a force field around a whole planet but don’t have enough surveillance to find the single rifle squad fumbling around the landing pads with no ID or credentials?

Pulp-comics level illogic. I’m probably insulting pulp comics.

I mentioned the lack of romance but there is a soulful embrace by the male and female protagonists at the end, right before everybody dies in the nuclear conflagration. There’s a pedestrian explanation for killing everybody off: it’s a prequel and these characters never showed up retrospectively. So again, the series cynically backpedaling on itself to recycle increasingly shopworn characters is becoming absurd and incoherent.

In sum, I wasted twenty-eight dollars on this crap.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas to all

Bashar visits Christian village outside Damascus on Christmas

Christmas celebration in Aleppo:

Link: Children from a Shia orphanage sing Christmas carols at a Beirut cathedral

Bartella, Iraq, October 22:

Hussam Matti knelt to the ground, grabbed two fistfuls of brown-gray sand and poured it over his head. The grains mixed with the sweat on his brow as he stood up, smiled and threw up his arms.

“This is the earth of Bartella,” he shouted. “This is our land.”
But for Matti, despite the dangers, it was nothing short of a homecoming.

“In these two years I died. The 32 years I’ve lived so far — you can forget about them. Today I’m born,” he said, as he and his comrades, all members of a Christian militia known as the Nineveh Plains Force, lashed two pieces of timber to make a cross.

They carried it to the top of Mar Shmony, a church on the town’s eastern flank. There, ringed by counterterrorism service members who urged them to watch for sniper fire, they hoisted the cross over the church’s dome and adorned it with an Iraqi flag. One man, with a touch of ceremony, placed a nativity scene set he had fished out from the wreckage of the church at the cross’ base.

A multi-credal nationalism emerges across the Middle East, in opposition to Wahabbist hegemony funded by the Saudi and Qatari royals.

Elsewhere, remnant Anglicanism sputters on:

At the end the Vicar paused, beamed at us, and prepared to give us our Christmas blessing, at which point the organist launched into the cheerful tunes of dismissal. I commiserated with her [ouch. and we were doing so well] over a drink later. “I was only going to say Merry Christmas” she lamented. I assured her that her intentions had been sensed by the congregation, but that our services moved in a mysterious way.

In terms of demographics, the congregation of about 45 souls had the one young girl who read the lesson, her 19 year old brother, one 30 year old, but was otherwise skewed in the 45 to 93 years old direction, with a peak towards the latter years. There was one farming couple, one neighbour whose grandfather served in the Great War, but few of the rest had been born in the Parish. All congregants were Anglo-Saxon.

Leaving the church, a celebrant said it felt as if this was one of the last village services, and the end of an age.

In Church Going Philip Larkin worried,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was.

It's all about Who lives Where. And Christianity depends on living, breathing, worshiping Christians. And when it's gone, it's gone.

Friday, December 9, 2016

"America's Yeltsin Era..."

Steve Sailer observes that American life expectancies are dropping. Ilana Mercer touches on the same theme here: The Curious Case of America's Waning Whites.

The immediate causes appear to be obesity, car wrecks (likely more distraction from electronic devices), and drug overdoses. There is probably also a blip from black men shooting each other. Of course, we are also importing more impoverished and dysfunctional humans.

How can this be, in a time of endless cheap calories, cheap credit, and cheap entertainment? Obviously, the spiritual nourishment is missing, in the absence of which you're just working to have enough money to pay taxes and buy food and housing so you can rest up and eat to work to make the money to pay the taxes, etc.. Disposable income is spent on entertainment, psychotropic drugs, booze, and the ersatz tribalism of sporting events. Some will save for the future, most won't. People were meant to do something other than merely exist, but their metaphysics and their heroic legends have been taken from them. Anglo-Americans, among others, have chosen atheism or rootless Protestantism, secular democracy, and the marketplace over things like tradition, family, nation, and it is coming back to bite them.

I have a lot of immigrant acquaintances, and my perception is that one of the greatest gulfs between them and me is who our heroes are. The American mythos–characters like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, the Last of the Mohicans, and actual men like Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett–is being scrubbed from the culture to make the new arrivals more comfortable. It is being replaced with people like Rosa Parks and St. Martin of Atlanta (because, of course, recorded history did not actually start until 1965). The Pakistani who set foot on the tarmac thirty minutes ago must be assured that he is every bit as American as somebody whose family came ashore with John Wesley; nay, since we’re a Nation Of Immigrants, even more American due to his greater immigrant-ness! Founding stock Americans are becoming a people without a past and, as they are endlessly screamed at, no future. Hopefully Trump buys us some political and cultural space before the post-Modern Future arrives in earnest.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Not Great, not Holy, and not Conciliar

The Bulgarian Patriarchate didn't use the term "ludicrous," but they might as well have.

As a refresher, I previously posted on this proposed pan-Orthodox Synod, a conciliar, authoritative meeting of all the Church's Patriarchs, here and here. With characteristic prescience, I observed that the only issue that actually mattered--the status of the so-called "diaspora" Churches--was all but absent from the Council's agenda, and there was no consensus on this and other ecclesiological disputes. Theologically, the Faith was declared at the culmination of the Seventh Council, so there is nothing left to talk about there. Hence, the Council's work product was, and could only be, a collection of aspirational statements on administrative and external matters, which a number of hierarchs refused to endorse. The Council made no attempt to address Antioch's protests over Jerusalem's incursions into her territories, the Orthodox Church in America was shamefully ignored, and zero progress was made on the status of the "diaspora" Churches. Four venerable, autocephalous jurisdictions refused to participate, which should have shut down the Council right there.

What are the broader lessons, for people not concerned with Orthodox Christian arcaneum?

1. Sovereignty: Don't let your reach exceed your grasp. The Ecumenical Patriarch, the (post-Schism) First Among Equals, commanded his brothers to listen and attend. Four of his brothers told him to go pound sand, which means he is no longer the First Among Equals. I do not envy the Greek Patriarch.

Everybody wants to be the He Who Answers To Nobody. There are a lucky few in that category, but when they have to remind people that they are the sovereign, then Sovereignty has started slipping away from them.

Here's Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, finding out he's no longer the sovereign.

I'm not saying the Ecumenical Patriarch will meet Ceausescu's fate, and he's still sovereign over his Patriarchate, but he's no longer the First Among Equals even if people don't realize it or are too polite to mention it.

2. Substance: Focus on what matters. Everybody wants peace, harmony and good will, but human affairs return endlessly to the question of Who gets to live Where and run the Institutions. A few vestigial Greek bishops run Alexandria and Jerusalem, for now, but the actual Egyptians became Copts, and the Jerusalemites are increasingly restive Arabophones. Everybody says, "There is neither Jew [ha!] nor Greek," but nobody acts like it. Canonically, a single hierarch should be presiding over the territory of the United States. The facts on the ground are the OCA, the Antiochians, and the Greeks (and the Serbians, and the Romanians) have staked out their respective jurisdictions and remittances, and nobody but nobody is going to change that. Why is this? Why do people cling to a certain jurisdiction or particular praxis? There may be a non-prescriptive solution if we'd ask the right questions.

The inability of the Ecumenical Patriarch to command a Great Council knocked out the substance, so this became a Parish Life Conference for Orthodox hierarchs. Nice and all, but not substantive. Dignity, like Sovereignty, must be jealously guarded; don't waste time on frivolous matters.

I tried to come up with an elegant trinity of points but these two are all I could muster.