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(no subject) [Oct. 20th, 2016|03:44 pm]
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Maimonides by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel, this is an early work of Heschel, written when he was 28 and living in Berlin in 1935. That... is an astonishing fact to recall as you read, and think about the questions and dangers to his community that Heschel was grappling with as he tried to provide context and meaning to the life and works of the Rambam.

Heschel's biography is primarily informed by the primary sources- Rambam's own writings about this life, as well as what can be inferred about Rambam's life from his theological and philosphical writings. He pulls a little extra detail from the writings of Yehuda HaLevi and Yosef Ibn Aknin and some of the Rambam's other contemporaries, but not a whole lot. The biography is therefore, on the whole, a direct intellectual conversation between Heschel and Maimonides, both giants of Jewish philosophy. That is something to treasure.

Heschel is extremely interested in Maimonides's wandering, how he went from Spain to Morocco to Israel to Egypt, fleeing Islamic persecution and seeking a stable, safe Jewish community, and at the same time trying in all of his sojourns to offer meaningful and pragmatic spiritual succor to the Jews living under pressure. It's a tradition he links to Rambam's father, Rabbi Maimon, who wrote a powerful letter providing halachic cover to Jews forced to pretend to be Muslims and only practice Judaism in secret, against hardliners in the Jewish community insisting that only those who risked martyrdom by openly practicing Judaism were offering valid worship to God. Rambam picked up the responsibility when his father died, engaging with splinter sects and messianic cults in a desperate and important effort to hold Jewish unity against the siege of Almohad persecution. Just imagine Heschel reading these texts in 1935 and thinking about their applicability to his own situation, how to create a viable Judaism in response to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis! How just three years after he published the book, the Jews of Berlin would see a pogram as bad as anything Maimonides ever saw, how he would lose most of his family to the Holocaust over the next decade.

Heschel sees in Maimonides's teachings a very clear response, and it is the response that informed the rest of Heschel's own life: Torah education and the spiritual exploration it fosters is the reason man was placed in the world, and it is the great protection of the survival of Judaism and the Jews. Maimonides, in both Mishneh Torah and Moreh Nevuchin, as well as Iggeret Teiman and his responsa literature, was creating the pathway for Jews to survive in spite of the persecution of the Almohades. Heschel reviews all of this literature in detail and in context. Earlier this year I reviewed Seeskin's A Guide for Today's Perplexed, which offers an interpretive gloss on Moreh Nevuchin in an explicitly modern philosophical language. Seeskin is asking how to understand Maimonides in the wake of Kant and Hegel and so on. Heschel is interested in understanding Maimonides on his own terms, in relation to medieval philosophy generally. This is, generally speaking, a less useful approach to engaging with the philosophical message of Maimonides, but it is a much richer approach to engaging with Maimonides as a person and as a leader. Heschel's biography of Maimonides is a thrilling guidebook to thinking about how to keep Judaism thriving.

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Dear Festividder [Oct. 18th, 2016|09:08 pm]

Dear Festividder!

This will be my fourth festivids, but only my second time signing up- the past two years I've only done treats. I'm nervous and apprehensive about having to create a vid to someone's request again, but every time I've participated in festivids in any fashion, I've had fun, so I look forward to more fun this year.

I really don't want to constrain you too much in what you want to make. My musical taste is almost laughably eclectic and it's basically impossible to come up with a musical style I am resistant to. I have vidded to speed metal and to opera and I welcome anything within the gamut. Please just try to have fun and make a vid you are proud of.

Some thoughts on fandom feelings:

Alpha House (2013) [TV]

I'm fond of all the members of the house, but especially Gil John, and especially season 2 Gil John: defiantly a perks person, and magnificently goaded into waging a defense of old-style business-as-usual politics. I know it is super weird to say it, but if the West Wing is the left's idealized version of the Democratic Party, Alpha House is my idealized version of my own Republican Party. The Circle of Civility is everything. And just as the Democrats get Janel Moloney on the West Wing, we Republicans get her in Alpha House. Walking a treadmill in heels, like a boss! Drawing a gun in the Capitol, to prove a point!

I'm a conservative, but obviously this is a show that makes fun of the Republican Party quite a lot. And also obviously it's likely given the demographics of fandom that you are not a conservative. Don't worry about any of that, I'm pretty comfortable seeing media that contradicts my political instincts, and I'm not all that tribal when it comes to politics.

Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965) [Movie]

This is my favorite SF film of all time. Godard makes Paris seem like another planet, the noir blends perfectly with the surrealism, and the sense of dislocation and the tension between individuality and community is so powerful. I've vidded Skynet and would love a character study of Alpha-60- robot intelligence and transhumanism is totally my thing. Shippy vids, of any sort, would also be welcome. Also, while I haven't seen any of the other Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution films myself, I've been meaning to and I think it'd be interesting to play those off against Alphaville if you're familiar with them.

The Cape (2011) [TV]

My favorite thing about this show was the training montages, how they were entertaining and imaginative and also character-building. Anything exploring the relationship between Max and Vince and how they both grow through their training together would be great. I'm also interested in Palm City as a failed city- Orwell, Portman and their struggle to fix Palm City not via Cape-style vigilantism but by improving governance, and how Vince gets pulled along on their crusade.

Ghostwriter [TV]

I was a religious watcher of this show growing up. I'm a lover of wordplay and punning and language games and Ghostwriter does a great job of taking these things and making them visual, and I'd like a vid that focuses on the word stuff and Ghostwriter as much as I'd like a character-centric vid. That said, Lenni and Jamal are my favorite characters- gloriously creative, unrepentant nerds!

The Newsroom (Canada) (1996-2005) [TV]

I've only seen S1 and parts of S2, but feel free to use whatever source you feel like. Talking about favorite characters seems amiss here- everyone on the show is deliberately unlikeable, and petty and self-centered to boot. I do not have a favorite character, and would not looks amiss at a vid trashing any or all of them. That said, what is important and powerful about the Newsroom is the cynical idea that our media is not filled with sincere and idealistic truth-seekers, but just ordinary people trying to get through a day at work by any means necessary. And that that does not mean that the media is sick or broken, it just means that the media is like everyone else, not worth putting on a pedestal. Much more effective than Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom.

Only Connect [TV]

No idea how to vid this show, but curious what emerges. The Board Gamers of Series 8 are my favorite team, but I was also very fond of last season's Wayfarers. Needless to say, "Why Aren't There Dolphins on Only Connect" seems the natural vidsong, but I'm open to other ideas, lateral thinking.

A Serious Man (2009) [Movie]

My favorite part of the film is the dybbuk sequence, but I also love the three Rabbis sequence. I love how rooted the film is in both realism (My father, upon seeing the film, declared "I know Sy Ableman! No, I know twenty Sy Ablemans!") and in Yiddish storytelling traditions. I love how perfectly the set dressing is done, how the Coens and their team capture the era so perfectly, and how deep and difficult the films questions about faith are to answer.

Whodunnit? US (2013) [TV]

As always when talking about this fandom, my interest is in ignoring the metagame and treating this as if the murders were actually real. I think this gets easier as the show goes on and the players get deeper into the fantasy, and particularly after Don's death the players seem to really take the deaths seriously. I'm particularly interested in the social dynamics of the final foursome. And I'm interested in the murderer as a cipher who never really reveals their motivation for the murders.

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Chag Sukkot Sameach [Oct. 16th, 2016|01:19 pm]
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Janky as hell, after two failed designs and bad weather pushed me to the time limit. But it stands up, mostly! Chag Sukkot Sameach!

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New Vid [Oct. 15th, 2016|08:15 pm]

Title: Gettin' Ready to Get Down: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Calf
Fandom: Moses und Aron (Straub-Huillet production)
Vidder: seekingferret
Song: "Getting Ready to Get Down" by Josh Ritter
Content Notes: TW: Suicide, Heresy
Length: 2:40
Responsible for the lack of consistent title block from vid to vid: seekingferret
Summary Take that, Schoenberg!
Acknowledgements Thanks to [personal profile] ghost_lingering and [personal profile] raspberryhunter for betaing: The former as my knows-vidding-but-doesn't-know-the-opera beta, the latter as my knows-opera-but-not-vidding beta, together they were a great team.

This vid exists because United cancelled my flight to Vividcon. 90% of the timeline was laid in Newark Airport, at least the original draft. It's taken a lot of finetuning since then, but I'm really proud of the final result.

This is definitely yet again a vid for a fandom nobody's seen, but whatever, I've been rabidly fannish about this movie for a decade and I'm so pleased to celebrate it and share it with the greater world.

Moses und Aron is an early 20th century atonal opera by Arnold Schoenberg, which presents an extremely idiosyncratic take on the story of the Exodus, filtered through the thinking of Freud and Buber and other important early 20th Century German-Jewish philosophers, as well as through Schoenberg's own twisted and difficult relationship with his Jewish faith. It was filmed in the mid 70s by a team of French experimental filmmakers whose film treats the Sinai desert as another character in the film, filling it with stark, vast desert shots that dwarf the characters and make everyone seem small compared to the vastness of God. Straub and Huillet's film is beautiful but harrowing, and it is so static and irregular that it proved a great challenge to vid.

In Schoenberg's presentation, Moses and Aaron are oppositional forces. Moses is the champion of an unknowable, ineffable God, while Aaron believes that metaphor and imagery must be used to bring God's message to the People, who together comprise a third character sitting in between the dialectic fraternal struggle. In the unfinished third act, Moses triumphs far more than in the original text of Exodus, exiling his brother from the nation for trying to introduce the idolatrous worship of the calf.

This is a very different story than the Jewish Exodus, and I sought in this vid to rehabilitate Aaron, to show why physical enjoyment and visual beauty has to have a place in Jewish worship of the divine.

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(no subject) [Oct. 5th, 2016|10:45 am]

Dear Yuletide Author,

Thank you for writing for me! I am not a difficult author to write for. I do not ask for you to write anything in particular for me, only that you write something that you have fun writing. The rest of the letter consists of prompts, designed to kickstart your imagination, not actually requests for story elements I particularly want. What I most want out of fanfic exchanges is to be surprised.

Some stuff on fandoms:

Manhattan Project RPF - Leo Szilard

I requested Szilard because he seems like a glue character, someone who has told enough stories about his time at Los Alamos that he connects to virtually every other major figure in the project in some fashion. What most attracts me to the Manhattan Project as human drama is the combination of the stakes and the massive cast of interesting characters, so don't feel like your story needs to focus on Szilard. Write about whoever most interests you. I will say that my take on Feynman seems different than a lot of the fandom- I tend to read a lot of the comic stories in Surely You're Joking as being dark horror about the consequences of the youthful Feynmann's inability to take his work with the appropriate seriousness.

My own Manhattan Project fics have been crossovers with Back to the Future. I encourage crossovers and playful historical revisionism, as much as I welcome fiction that confronts the lurking darkness inherent in the subject.

1850s London Cholera Epidemic RPF - John Snow (1850s London Cholera Epidemic) Reverend Henry Whitehead (1850s London Cholera Epidemic)

I was given The Ghost Map for Yuletide bookswap last year and I fell in love with it and with the Snow/Whitehead relationship. Science!Detectives! BFFs! Adventurers! I love how much they had to risk, not just the not-inconsiderable physical danger of venturing into the cholera-stricken neighborhoods of London, but the reputational risk of taking a heterodox position on miasma theory, and they selflessly risked it all to save lives. And the quote Steven Johnson digs up from Whitehead, after Snow's death, about how the work he did with Snow was the best and most important thing he ever did in his life, and he'll never forget how Snow changed his life... That made me have shippy feelings.

Also, Henry Whitehead's beard is epic.

Something realistic focusing on their relationship while investigating would be great. Something steampunky and ridiculous would also be welcome.

A Void - Adair - Anton Vowl

Should a story in lipogrammatic form, arising from your wanting to copy from canon as your primary inspiration, show up in my inbox in honor of this fanfic holiday, I would tip my cap to your skill with wordsmithing. That lipogrammatic constraint is so important to what A Void is. But I think that you could find a distinct approach to Anton Vowl's conflict, should that turn out too difficult. I'm not picky, this fandom is odd and surprising all on its own.

Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant - Sandia Labs

I requested this last year because I was requesting fandoms with stupidly long names, but I'm genuinely fascinated by so many elements of this report. Obviously, it is tangentially connected to the Pandora's Box opened by my first request, Manhattan Project RPF, and the new challenges and new ways of thinking about the world forced by the development of nuclear energy. Crossovers welcome! But mostly what I'm interested in is the Markers as a setting, a space for whatever characters seem interesting to you to come against the dangerous realities of nature and the even more perilous nature of human communication. Really, there's so much content in this report and you could go anywhere with it, so I encourage you to use your imagination and see what kind of future encounter with the markers you can dream up.

The Cape (2011) - Max Malini

My favorite thing about this show was the training montages, how they were entertaining and imaginative and also character-building. I'd love to see an expansion of the training montages, of Max imparting wisdom to Vince. I'd love to see Max training other members of the carnival of crime, or to see Max's own education in crime and gymnastics.

There is much about The Cape that is silly, and that is also something I embrace. Palm City is a town that knows darkness. In a lot of senses it's a completely failed city of the type that populates the darker and more ponderous Batman films (*coughcough*Christopher Nolan*coughcough*), but unlike those films, it knows that solving the problem of a failed city by means of vigilante justice is a fundamentally silly idea, not to mention an empty gesture. It's probably why the show failed, but it's also why the show's silliness should be taken seriously. If you're interested, I'd love a story that did meta things with the governance of Palm City and its issues.

Edit Letter finished, I suppose!

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(no subject) [Sep. 27th, 2016|09:26 am]

A little more about the Shacharis minyan I go to Sunday mornings...

The shul I grew up with was, for the area, an old shul. It was founded in the early 1900s, when Eastern European Jews who'd come to New York in the First Wave were starting to move out of the city proper. There was the town it was founded in, which over the next fifty years became a small but significant manufacturing center, and there was farmland all around in every direction. It was an Orthodox synagogue, more or less, but Orthodoxy meant something a lot different back then before the War. It was the only synagogue, is more to the point, and people davened there regardless of how observant they were. In the 1920s, as the Jewish community grew, they moved to a bigger building: a fussy, idiosyncratic building that could be radically reconfigured as the community needed for different functions.

The community grew, and Judaism in America changed- in the 1950s, the shul hired a new Rabbi who was from the first class of the new Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ- the earliest post-war establishment of organized Charedi Judaism in America. Ironically, though BMG would ultimately become one of the major forces moving Orthodoxy rightward, the Rabbi who went to my shul went with dispensations from BMG to make allowances for the lack of observance in the community- over time, my shul's identity became blurred, a synagogue with a brilliant, well-trained Orthodox Rabbi and a mostly non-Orthodox congregation that nonetheless refused to affiliate officially with either the Conservative or Orthodox movements. In the '70s, as the farmland turned into suburbs, larger officially affiliated Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform shuls opened in the adjacent townships, drawing members from my shul.

But my shul still had history, it still had a strong sense of community, it had character, and it still had a brilliant Rabbi, who served the community for almost fifty years. He performed my bris and my bar mitzvah, and then when I was a teenager he retired. The shul then ran through two Rabbis in the next five years, losing members by the score the whole way. When I was away at college the shul folded. It formally merged with a Conservative synagogue a few towns away, but it sold its building to a Hispanic church and it distributed its remaining assets not only to the shul it officially merged with, but to the five or six other shuls, of all three denominations, its members fled to.

And since then, its members daven all over the place, or they've lost shul affiliation altogether, and mostly I see them on the occasion of a shiva minyan when an old member dies, but the people who ran the morning minyan were able to get the Jewish county Federation (an umbrella organization that runs charitable community services and distributes money to other Jewish community organizations) to let them use their building for a daily prayer service during the week. So this small group of people- we struggle to get a prayer quorum on time most days, unless someone has a yahrzeit and puts out a special call- reunites as a minyan in exile to keep this community alive.

When I daven there, I'm usually the youngest person there by thirty years, and most attendees are even forty or fifty years older than me. It's a wonderful group of people of diverse religious beliefs and life experiences- college professors and a judge, and electricians and construction workers, most of them retired or working reduced hours. We've all known each other for decades - even me, I've been davening in this minyan with these people since I was thirteen, I was the only kid who stayed on and kept davening there after bar mitzvah, and we're comfortable yelling at each other and bickering with each other and teasing each other.

And I don't know how long it will last. The shiva minyans for old members grow more frequent, and the minyan is in a tenuous condition where if it loses three or four regulars that might be enough to end it. it won't be the end of the world if it does end, either. This is not a "Minyan Man" scenario where losing the minyan means people won't be able to constitute a minyan if they need it. Everyone in the minyan has an alternative minyan that is probably closer and more convenient and integrated into their full-time synagogue that they could go to instead. We choose to daven together instead, to temporarily reconstitute a vanished community. It'll be sad when it falls apart.

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(no subject) [Sep. 25th, 2016|06:19 pm]
Things I did today

-Made it to davening for all three services
-Ran laundry (new, nonleaky washing machine just installed by landlord!)
-Baked challah for the next couple weeks
-Paid electric bill and did other financial stuff
-Filed old health insurance paperwork
-Cleaned my apartment
-Biked about five miles
-Finished another draft of my new vid and sent to betas
-Watched the Giants game :(

Fairy productive Sunday :)

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Pitch [Sep. 22nd, 2016|10:08 pm]

Pitch, the new TV show about the first female Major League baseball player, was amazing!!!!

The baseball looked real, the story beats felt right but also felt realistic enough that they could drive a serious drama rather than a classic feel-good sports movie, and Ginny was awesome. I can't wait to watch more of this show.

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(no subject) [Sep. 22nd, 2016|11:04 am]

The Empress, The Queen, and the Nun: Women and Power at the Court of Philip III of Spain by Magdalena Sanchez

Alternately infuriating and fascinating, an academic re-examination of the historical view of the roles of Empress Maria, Philip III's aunt and grandmother, Queen Margaret of Austria, Philip III's wife, queen, and cousin, and Margaret of the Cross, Maria's daughter who took vows as a nun, possibly as an alternative to having to marry her cousin Philip II and possibly out of sincere devotion to the Faith. The trio were the most visible and notable Habsburg women at the court of Philip III, and I mention all their family relationships to highlight what Sanchez does repeatedly, that family and politics were intertwined deeply for the Habsburgs and this reality enlisted the Habsburg women as powerful political agents on behalf of the House of Austria, in spite of a significant literature composed by the Habsburgs' allies that suggested that these women were pious Catholic women who did not engage in politics but only served their nations as wives, mothers, holy women, charitable givers, and other positive stereotypes of early modern femininity.

The main reason the book is annoying to read is that Sanchez demolishes this anti-feminist Habsburg propaganda literature fairly quickly and extremely effectively and then spends the rest of the book repeating herself. Not just repeating her arguments- repeating her facts.

Sanchez shows how power in Philip III's Spain was driven by two things only- access to the King and access to his privado, or personal favorite, who for most of the period discussed in the book was the (infamous) Duke of Lerma. The privado served as a sort of informal chief minister, capable of speaking in the King's voice within certain limits. And while in official political settings, the King and the Duke of Lerma moved in exclusively male circles meeting with the Council of State, various ad hoc committees, and diplomatic envoys from other nations, the reality of the King's court was much broader and included significant room for female access to the King. As a devout Catholic, much of the King's day often involved religious activities such as attending masses, giving money to poor people, and visiting convents and monasteries. And those activities were often undertaken with his wife, and often led to interacting with other royal women, including his aunt and cousin, who lived in the Descalzas Real convent that was adjacent to the royal place in Madrid.

Sanchez lays out the evidence for this reality, that King Philip was constantly talking to and being influenced by his female relatives, and that the serious players at court were aware of this and that they moved within spheres of influence including those whose agendas were set by Empress Maria and Queen Margaret of Austria. She draws from the memoirs and letters of male diplomats at court who knew that if they wanted to advance the Austrian Habsburg agenda, their first call wasn't to Lerma but to Empress Maria. She talks about how these womens' agendas began with protecting the interests of their Habsburg relatives in Central Europe but expanded outward from there to encompass other personal political agendas- rewarding trusted allies, establishing legacy-making institutions, providing for the poor and needy. She uncovers the way Lerma tried to gain influence over Queen Margaret by planting his relatives as ladies in waiting to the Queen, and how Queen Margarget kept suborning his spies and forcing him to install new spies, and how the Queen's allies were able to use the Queen's sudden death as a political tool against Lerma because of the seeds of doubt in Lerma's loyalty that the Queen skillfully planted during her lifetime. She highlights how Lerma's desire for an isolationist public policy, a Spain-First policy involving negotiated peace with England and other traditional rivals in order to build the wealth of Spain and consolidate a century's gains against the Moors, warred with Philip III's ties and obligations to support his Austrian Habsburg relatives in their wars against Protestants and Muslims to the East and North.

The first three chapters or so were great, but as I got deeper and deeper into the book these details just got rehashed again and again in new variations. Chapters 4-6 barely had any new ideas or facts the first three chapters don't have. I got more and more desperate for any kind of new argument or perspective.

And then we got one, and it was even more infuriating- a final chapter on the melancholy and illness of Empress Maria, and how it was a political tool wielded to influence Philip III and the Duke of Lerma. Basically this chapter reduced its discussion of melancholy to "Empress Maria pretended to be sick in order to manipulate men."

Sanchez doesn't have much evidence of this beyond outcomes- sometimes when Empress Maria claimed melancholy, she ended up achieving some political objective, or sometimes just a thing that one might suppose was a political objective, like getting more visits from King Philip III. She has no letters between Empress Maria and her political allies where Empress Maria says that she's going to feign melancholy. Nonetheless she tries to argue that her melancholy wasn't a disease afflicting her but a pose used to communicate displeasure.

This makes me so angry because I have science!feels about humor medicine. Which is kind of ridiculous, I know. On the one hand, humor theory is completely wrong. The body has far more than four fluids whose regulation is necessary for the operation of the body, these fluids have no connection to the four elements, except in very rare cases these fluids do not get out of balance in a way where draining or infusing one of the fluids is going to help a person medically... As a medical theory with any relation to a realistic description of the body's processes, humor medicine is mostly bunk. As a medical theory offering any useful advice toward treatment, humor medicine is completely bunk.

But as a symptomology, that is less true. Here's what I mean by that: We know depression is a illness caused by brain chemistry problems. This did not start being the case when scientists disxcovered the faulty neurological processes, it was always a human condition that some people had. Likewise, the flu existed before we discovered the microbe. And it was doctors in the Galenic/Hippocratic tradition who treated them, and recorded the symptoms in their records. The science was fake, in other words, but the symptoms were real. They were using humor medicine to treat people who actually had the flu. And to treat people who actually had schizophrenia, and people who actually had depression.

It's not very clear how to map 'melancholy' onto the modern diseases of clinical depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophenia, etc... Probably it included all of them to some degree, and brain tumors, as well as other physical ailments that caused mental struggles, and probably it also included some things that modern science would not call disorders of any kind. Sanchez notes that Queen Margaret reported periods of melancholy after her pregnancies- we would today likely call that post-partum depression.

It seems... really toxic to me to treat melancholy, since it is a fake disease created by unsystematic doctors compositing various symptoms together under the false theory of humor medicine, as reflecting fake symptoms. Even today we as a culture are bad at treating depression as a real disease. I certainly am not proposing to diagnose Empress Maria as suffering from clinical depression from across five centuries- not only am I unqualified to diagnose anyone with any mental illness, but the facts in the historical record are ambiguous and mental illness seems to me to at least partially encode culture, so diagnosing a 16th century woman with clinical depression is meaningless. But I'm proposing that we ought to assume that when people claimed the symptoms of melancholy in the 16th century, they were claiming symptoms of a disease that they were legitimately suffering from, unless we actually have evidence to the contrary.

In any case, I read this book so that I could learn more about Philip III's Spain, toward eventually writing a Pirate Rabbi novel. It was definitely helpful in that regard... The impressions I held of the Duke of Lerma and Catalina de la Cerda and which informed "Chasing Pirates" and "If We Were All Wise Men" seem to me to have been inaccurate in some respects, and I would have written those stories differently had I written them with knowledge of this book. It also gave me a closer and deeper sense of how Catholicism informed the court, which is essential knowledge to a story about Jews navigating the court. In the end, it was a valuable read.

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(no subject) [Sep. 15th, 2016|11:14 am]

Now You See Me 2

I loved the first film enough that I actually requested it for Yuletide one year. Somehow the release of the sequel slipped past my awareness until Facebook started spamming me with ads for it, at which point I made a point to watch it.

I was disappointed by the sequel. It didn't ever seem to get its footing in the way the first one did in terms of telling interesting stories about the characters, and it seemed less enthralled with the power of magic and more convinced that magic was the refuge of manipulative misanthropes. NYSM skated past its imprecise plotting by being such a joyful film. NYSM2 was largely joyless.

Lizzy Caplan was a rare exception- stepping in for Isla Fisher as the token female Horseman, she brought energy and mystery and comic sexiness to the film that it desperately needed. That being said, it would've been better if the film had more interesting female characters besides her- Sanaa Lathan's police supervisor seemed like her scenes had probably been cut back, based on her lack of interaction with Dylan or any of the Horsemen, Melanie Laurent's French detective from the first film was sorely missed, and I'm disappointed that my weird pet theory about Hermia, Bradley's assistant, being more important to Bradley's plans than the first film suggested got no further evidence in film 2. The presence of the token female Horseman is grating no matter how cleverly they subvert it, and how effective the character actually is. I will say that I appreciated how intentionally they made it clear that she was not Atlas's new love interest.

And then you had Atlas and Jack get basically no character development, and the weird thing with two Woody Harrelsons had no emotional payoff in the end. Bradley was great (Morgan Freeman being morally ambiguous, duh), and we got one awesome Bradley/Tressler scene (they were definitely a couple at some point, right?), but then the Bradley/Dylan stuff had the laziest payoff because I guess they've shoved resolving Dylan's daddy issues for real to the third movie. Obviously Lionel Shrike is not dead, they've been hitting us on the head with how obvious that is for two movies now (First Jack's fake death, then Mabry's fake death... then Dylan surviving despite being apparently killed in literally the same vault that apparently killed his father), but they're unwilling to reveal him yet.

But Mabry was the movie's biggest problem. Daniel Radcliffe playing a manic sociopath was supposed to be the big new addition to the movie, the thing that upped the ante from the first film, but he was just not amped up enough to really be scary to the Horsemen. He never pushed any of his scenes far enough, never made it seem like he was actually worse than Tressler, and Tressler's mid-film reappearance undermined Mabry even further, making it seem like he wasn't competent enough to fight the Horsemen without assistance from papa. A demonic, soulless Daniel Radcliffe would have foiled Atlas perfectly, battle of the nerds for magical dominance, but he never got anywhere close to pushing Atlas, and the Horsemen coasted to a victory that was somehow both too easy and not easy enough- too easy because you never got the sense that they could actually lose, not easy enough in the sense that they were accomplishing their magical wonders with the breezy self-confidence of the first film's Horsemen.

In truth, the first raid on Octa was a monkeywrench in the film's sense of fun that they never really overcame. After showing the Horsemen so publicly humiliated, you would think that in addition to making contact with the Eye, there would be a sense of needing to prove themselves as stage magicians again, but that dynamic was left out of the film, so after that scene, I had lost confidence in the showmanship of the Horsemen, a confidence they never tried to re-earn. Was London a frothy triumph in the vein of the Vegas/France heist of the first film? Yes, but it had no character oomph behind it.

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