March 7th, 2009



  • 07:13 @eehouls A very wild night out, I'm assuming. #
  • 08:25 Church sign: "Sin has no minimum wage." #
  • 08:26 Anyone who's a fan of XTC (the band, not the drug) might want to follow @xtcfans #
  • 08:26 Dunkin' Donuts gave me my breakfast sandwich on a croissant instead of a bagel. And their croissants aren't as good as Burger King's. #
  • 11:50 @miscellaneaarts Guess you'll have to wait for the Blue Man Group movie, the Smurfs movie, or "Braveheart 2: Even Braver Heart." #
  • 17:19 Glenn Beck's poll said that more people would rather have a small government and less taxes than a big government and higher taxes. #
  • 17:20 Later on in the show, he hit on Winnie Cooper. Seriously. #
  • 17:32 @colleenanne I thought you didn't like music anymore. #
  • 21:08 @colleenanne You didn't, but I think you said there was nothing you were really interested in at the time as far as bands go. #
  • 23:44 I think the path to success in American Idol is never to listen to what the judges say. #
  • 00:01 If they replaced the American Idol judges with robots pre-programmed with a few phrases, would anyone notice? Well, maybe with Randy. #
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The Case Against Mars

Ares, the Greek god of war, does not appear to have been a very well-respected part of the pantheon. He was identified with the chaos and slaughter of war, and according to Homer, even his own father hated him. Myths associated with him sometimes made him out to be an object of ridicule. One story reports how he was trapped in an urn for thirteen months by some giants. He also had a long-standing affair with Aphrodite, who was married to Hephaestus (figures that the hot but ditzy chick would favor the dumb jock over the ugly genius). When the smith god found out, he rigged up a net to trap the two secret lovers, and brought in all of the other gods to laugh at them in their nudity.

The Romans, with their more warlike culture, had much more respect for their own equivalent of Ares, whom they called Mars. He was one of the most popular Roman gods, and the first month of the year was named after him. Yeah, March used to be the first month of the Roman year, until the legendary King Numa Pompilius stuck January and February before it without changing the names of the later months. That's why we have such anomalies as a month called "eighth month" that's actually the tenth. Anyway, there were festivals devoted to Mars in the month they called Martius, and the god's name was also the source for many terms associated with warfare, as well as that of the red planet.

Incidentally, Ares/Mars was regarded as a legitimate child of Zeus and Hera, along with Eris, Hebe, and Hephaestus (although some myths claim that the latter was a result of parthenogenesis on Hera's part). So Zeus's children by his actual wife were a belligerent buffoon, a psycho bitch, a goddess Zeus respected so little that he made her work as a waitress until he could marry her off, and a talented but hideously ugly guy. Was his constant habit of knocking up other women due to the fact that he didn't see much in his legitimate children, or did the Thunderer have less respect for these children because he didn't like their mother that much? Maybe it's a chicken-and-the-egg kind of thing, although that's kind of an outdated expression. We've known for over a century that it was the egg that came first, laid by an animal that wasn't quite the species gallus gallus as we know it today, right? Oh, well. I suppose old metaphors die hard.

If all goes according to plan, we'll take a look next week at a hero born with eight extra digits. For now, though, good afternoon, and happy birthday to chhinnamasta!

Unicorn Alley

Unicorns have typically been regarded as one of the cuter, girlier kinds of mythological creature, and there's some sense to that. After all, unicorns are usually regarded as gentle, with magical healing horns, and a particular fondness for maidens. But I guess it really varies.

While modern conceptions often show a unicorn as simply a horse with a horn, other descriptions of the animal have given it features of other animals. The first known person to have made a report of the creature was the physician and historian Ctesias of Cnidus, who described it as a wild ass. Later writings make comparisons to stags and goats. The heraldic unicorn (like the one in the Scottish coat of arms) has a goat's beard and lion's tail. Pliny the Elder wrote of a unicorn as having the feet of an elephant, which adds some credence to the popular theory that the original unicorn reports were really descriptions of the rhinoceros by people who hadn't actually seen the animal.

The link between unicorns and virgins is well-known, with some legends saying that only a maiden can catch a unicorn, and that you need to be a virgin to ride one. I have to wonder how they figured this out, though, and whether they considered the gray areas. Does oral sex count? What if you're a virgin, but have a ruptured hymen? For that matter, what if your hymen is ruptured by riding a unicorn? Will it throw you off? If I ever write anything with unicorns, I'm thinking I might have it revealed that unicorns are really just easily spooked by all but the most docile people, and the maiden thing was made up by a culture with a virginity fetish.

There are several creatures resembling unicorns in non-European cultures. These include the Persian shadhavar, the Hebrew re'em, and the Chinese qilin. The shadhavar plays music through its horn (which would be a pun in English, but I can't say I know whether it is in Persian) in order to attract prey. The re'em is a strong horned animal mentioned several times in the Bible. It was translated to "unicorn" in the King James version, but more recent scholars think that it might actually refer to an auroch. The qilin is a mixture of several different animals, but was typically said to have antlers, rather than a single horn. The Japanese equivalent, the kirin, is generally depicted with one horn, although its body is more draconian than equine.

Unicorns also show up in a lot of fantasy series that I like, including Oz, Narnia, Xanth, Discworld, Harry Potter, and even Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (in which Tenniel drew the animal as a caricature of Benjamin Disraeli).

And, of course, the unicorn is highly merchandised, showing up as toys, jewelry, and all sorts of other memorabilia. And I don't think you have to be a virgin to buy this stuff.

Oh, and if I may go totally off the subject, happy birthday to not_glimmer!

The Hazards of Indexing

As you probably know, I read a lot of apocryphal Oz books and stories, and one project I've been working on for years (on and off, of course) is a sort of index of new characters who appear in these works. I'm sticking to stories that are consistent with the Famous Forty, or at least the Baum fourteen, which means it doesn't contain any original characters from, say, Wicked. I try to be thorough, but it's a pretty casual project, and I'm not sure how I'll make it into a format that other people can read. Also, there are several categories of characters with whom I'm not entirely sure what to do, including:

  • Crossover characters. Over the years, writers have crossed over Oz with everything from Alice's Wonderland to Raggedy Ann to Greek mythology to Red Dwarf. Should characters from these other universes be included in my main list, or maybe a separate one?
  • Expanded universe characters, which is to say characters from Baum fantasies who don't appear in any of his Oz books, but do in later ones, such as Zurline and Tanko-Mankie.
  • Characters in Oz stories who really have nothing to do with Oz. This is especially problematic in the Skeezik books, which have a lot of stories within stories. I think it might be best not to include these characters, unless they actually intersect with the main story at some point (which some of them do, but most don't).
  • Insertions of the author, and/or the author's family and friends. This sort of thing is a pet peeve of mine. I mean, I've certainly imagined myself having adventures in Oz, so I can see the appeal. And not all of the stories that do this are bad; The Flying Bus in Oz, which stars the author's children, is a quite good Oz book. But I think it strains the credibility of these stories. If you want to put people you know into your Oz stories, at least figure out a way that the person can fit into what we know about the fairyland. Edward Einhorn, for instance, wrote of two characters who share names (and quite likely personality traits) with his nieces Ayala and Talia, but they're also princesses of the Ozian sub-kingdom of Tonsoria. So he managed to put in family references, but not in a heavy-handed way. Still, I should probably include these self-insertion characters, unless they're only there to narrate.
  • Real people mentioned in Oz stories. For the most part, I ignore them, but there are some stories where they're actually significant to the plot. Buddy Ebsen meets Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot in March Laumer's The Vegetable Man of Oz; and graycardinal's story "The Solitary Sorceress of Oz" makes Glinda a former maid to the sixteenth-century English scholar and occultist John Dee. So should these people be included or not? I'm thinking of a possible separate list for them.
  • Contradictions. For the most part, I'm not that concerned with them for this particular project (although it's almost certainly a project that I'd like to take one at some point), but I think I'll make cross-references when two characters are credited as doing the same basic thing, like how March Laumer mentions someone other than Conjo as the creator of the Love Magnet, and how there have been several different names (and two different genders) given for the royal cook in Ozma's palace.

This will be an ongoing project as long as new Oz stories are still coming out, and I don't expect to catch everything. And, contrary to what you might think, I haven't read every book with "Oz" in the title, so I'm going to leave out characters from some stories simply out of ignorance. I'll probably want to make this a collaborative effort at some point, but for now, I'm keeping it as my own pet project. Or has someone else been doing basically the same thing? I don't know.

A Multitude of Messiahs

This post has an interesting embedded video telling about other claimants to the title of Messiah in the early days of Christianity. As one of the comments mentions, these documentaries are often quick to present suppositions as fact, but I suppose there's only so much you can do in a fairly short exploration of such a large topic. I'm also always kind of amused by the reenactments in these things. Who knew Simon Magus looked kind of like Yanni? And I'm not sure whether their Apollonius reminds me of anyone in particular, or he just looks like some generic soap-opera heartthrob. All criticism and joking aside, though, I did find the information presented to be fascinating. I knew that the Roman cult of Isis was contemporary with that of Mithras, but not too much else about it. From what I've heard, the mystery religions were basically secret societies, and only the higher members were told the truth behind the teachings. There's a general idea that the mythology surrounding deities like Mithras and Isis was not regarded as factually true by the leaders, but symbolic of greater truths. (Sort of the opposite of Scientology, where you don't hear the crazy stories about Xenu until you've already moved up in the ranks.) I get the impression that the mystery cult idea was influential to early Christianity as well, fundamentalism being a much more modern development.

I have to say that I've always found it ridiculous that people who are convinced they know the divine truth often insist on squelching and censoring rival beliefs. If what you believe is true, won't it triumph in the end regardless of how many followers it currently has? Is the Almighty God so incapable of getting His message heard that He needs censors to remove all other possible messages? And speaking of contradictions, what about the story that Constantine converted to Christianity after winning the Battle of the Milvian Bridge? Yeah, beating the crap out of enemies in order to gain political power is TOTALLY Christ-like behavior, right? :P There's some question as to whether this story is even true (his mother was a Christian, so he was exposed to the religion long before the battle), but even if it is, Constantine's Christianity was definitely a much more politically expedient variety than the religion of Peter and Paul. And I found it kind of amusing that Christians looked down on the Isis cult as a religion to which people just pay lip service, when that's now the case for a lot of Christians. Another case of radical ideas becoming institutions, I suppose.