November 1st, 2008


Robots in Disguise

The idea of automated people, often utilized as servants, is hardly a new one. I believe Hephaestus was said to have had automatons serving him. The Jewish idea of the golem is pretty similar to that a robot, so much so that Terry Pratchett mixes in a lot of elements from modern robot lore when writing about the golems of Ankh-Morpork. Traditionally, a golem isn't made of metal, but of clay, and then animated with holy words, either written on their foreheads or inserted into their heads. The most famous is the Golem of Prague, built by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to protect the Prague ghetto. Like computers, golems are often said to follow instructions exactly, sometimes resulting in overzealousness similar to that of the water-carrying brooms of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The beings are traditionally said to be unable to speak, although I'm sure this varies with the particular legend.

Greek mythology, however, actually has a fully functional metal automaton. To examine this creation, we return to the island of Crete, home of liars, labyrinths, and cattle-fuckers. Talos was a gigantic man made of bronze, with ichor (the substance that made the gods immortal, apparently sometimes associated with lead) flowing through his one vein and held in place by a bronze peg. He was a gift to the Cretans by either Zeus or Hephaestus, depending on the version. His duty was to protect the island, throwing rocks at any strange ships in the area. Our old friend Medea, while sailing back to Greece with Jason, either drugged or hypnotized the mechanical marvel, and then removed the nail, allowing the ichor to drain out. There was obviously some shoddy workmanship involved in making that one peg keep the monster intact; I'm guessing that the gods might have outsourced the project. Then again, he DOES seem to have been an original creation, with no previous giant bronze-bots to use as a model. If there had been a Talos 2.0, perhaps they could have avoided this obvious design flaw.

If all goes as planned, I should be bringing you more robots tomorrow.

Halloween in Review

I've always liked Halloween. It was never the candy for me. I eventually gave up on trick-or-treating, and just dressed up to hand out candy to other kids, because I enjoyed that more. bethje and I did go trick-or-treating a few times when we were way too old for it, just for fun, but we didn't do that this year. We did, however, walk around her Aunt Marjorie's neighborhood with Beth's young cousins Nathan and Samantha. Nathan was dressed as a knight, and Samantha as one of the fairies from the Tinker Bell movie. From what we managed to gather, Tinker Bell talks in the movie, and has several friends. Come on, I haven't seen all of Disney's Peter Pan, but even I know that Tinker Bell doesn't talk, and gets jealous of other girls. Can she only talk to other fairies, or did the same crocodile who ate Captain Hook's hand bite out her tongue? And what happened to all her fairy friends? Did she abandon them once Peter came along? If these questions have any answers, I'm sure they can only be found by watching the movie, and I'm not sure I want to subject myself to that. But I sometimes have the idea that I should actually watch as many of those direct-to-video sequels as I can, and see if they're as bad as they look. (I know from what I've seen of it that The Little Mermaid 2 is.) Anyway, getting back to Halloween, it seemed like Nathan and Samantha rushed through trick-or-treating, and then took off their costumes as soon as they got back. I kind of think Halloween should be appreciated a little more than that. I think one of the cool things about the holiday is that, at least in our society, it seems to be second only to Christmas as far as the mythology associated with it.

Here are some pictures from the evening.

Later that evening, Beth and I went out to eat, which has become a Halloween tradition for us. This time, we went to Friendly's, and I had the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger, with cheddar cheese instead of American. After that, we watched Cujo, which wasn't really what either of us had expected. We had thought the dog becoming evil would be something that would come about over time, but instead he was bitten by a rabid bat at the very beginning. Maybe we were just supposed to be shocked at seeing violence come from a St. Bernard, a breed that we usually associate with administering brandy to dying mountain climbers. I'll admit that the car scene was kind of scary, although they easily could have shortened it. In fact, the whole movie could easily have been a short, which kind of seems more like the appropriate venue for visual representations of Stephen King stories in many cases. But we also saw Pet Semetary recently, and that's one that actually did work as a feature-length film.

Speaking of horror movies, we saw Saw V at the theater on the previous night. It really seems like, with the more recent additions to the series (and maybe the earlier ones as well, although it wasn't quite as obvious back then), the plots are just an excuse to come up with elaborate traps. I found it difficult to keep track of the characters, especially when they kept cutting back and forth between them. And it turns out that Jigsaw had ANOTHER accomplice? Man, if this series runs too much longer, he's eventually going to have had an entire entourage.

Incidentally, speaking of Halloween, is the conservative Christian movement to paint it as some kind of celebration of Satan (because the Devil is apparently empowered by kids dressing up as princesses, soda cans, and Buzz Lightyear) a relatively recent thing, or did I just not hear about as a kid? It seems to have gained a lot of steam in recent years, but maybe it's just that I've been keeping more of an eye on the Radical Religious Right recently.