Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chirstmas night TV experience - Messiah a la Claus Guth

Sad Christams evening global TV reality
How sad!  Why do not the TV's in Christian countries celebrate Jesus birth with joy and happiness?

We have at home a satellite receiver that gives us almost one thousand channels from Hotbird and Nilesat. For nice Christmas programs we searched. Scan we did - but no luck. Either secular programs not knowing it is Christmas or Islamic channels not knowing it is Christmas. Even the Palestine TV was touching the Christian feast of the minority population only sporadically before it began to broadcast the entire Christmas mass from Nativity Church. Mix station was as if someone had forgotten the camera on pointing at the crowd in front of the Bethlehem Nativity Church....

ZDF showed a lovely German Christmas program with hostess talking with guests, children singing carols and all kind of nice cliches. Some stations showed movies somewhat related to Santa Claus and his folks. Lebanese Christian stations had Arabic style holy music, slow almost funeral style songs. Trinity Broadcasting was overwhelmingly American.

It was quite depressing, really. Plastic Christmas, Santaclaus cult, repeating programs with candles and other attempts to reach some sort of atmosphere.

And then I reached Mezzo TV channel...
What iz thiz?

Absolutely heavenly music and a most strikingly human play in Vienna during Händel's 250 year celebrations.

Our family stopped everything and we all just sat down and watched and listened...

Claus Guth
Claus Guth (b. 1964) has directed a totally fresh Händel's Messiah which an impeccable gang of musicians and dancers performed to perfection.

Susan Gritton, Cornelia Horak (sopranos), Bejun Mehta (alto), Richard Croft (tenor), Florian Boesch (bass). Arnold Schönberg Choir, Jean-Christophe Spinosi conducting Ensemble Mattheus.  Perfecto.

Paul Lorenger dancing as symbolic Christ. Unforgettable.

Nadia Kichler talking in sign language as symbolic angel Gabriel. Angelic.

The touch of heaven on earth, the holy Words of Bible inteacting with the most mundane life stories of modern day people, the fascinating novel way to use a choir, the reality of lack of faith, those little details and props on the smoothly moving stage and lights and shadows making you now to laugh now to cry always to wonder and think...

Some comments
The singers, choir and orchestra out the brilliance of Händel's masterpiece in such a nuanced and committed manner that I do not expect this performance to be surpassed anytime soon by anyone.

The Messiah in Vienna was an absolutely amazing performance and I have never seen anything like it.

I will never forget the singing of Hallelujah in that funeral.

Or "I know me Redeemer lives" with a huge glass of red wine

Or "The Trumpets will sound"  ... just majestic from a drunken drug user

Heaven and earth touched

Word became flesh

A true encounter with the true Messiah through the Word of God, music and acting.

G.F. Händel would have enjoyed this performance enormously.

Messiah for today's wicked and adulterous generation.

Real Christmas
Sorry to confess, but strangely the Mezzo TV showing Messiah with contemporary message somehow felt much more genuine Christmas event than the Midnight Mass from the Nativity Church seen on another channel with cameramen concentrating on the faces of the important politicians present in Bethlehem 2012.

This is not secular Messiah as some critics would define it. Rather, this is the kind of theology that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was talking about as Alfred Eaker has noted (though he wrongly calls it "humanizing Messiah" - Isaiah 53 is very human).

"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Lk 5:32 NIV

Sunday, December 23, 2012

For us a child is born!

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor - so let us ask for His advise
Mighty God - so let us ask for His help
Everlasting Father - for He is nothing less
Prince of Peace - and let us pray for peace on Earth

O little town of Bethlehem

O come to us, abide by us
our Lord Emmanuel
our Lord Emmanuel

Merry Christmas - for us a child is born!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

How Internet benefits us all through the generosity of sponsors and through the very hard work of many!
This is also major gift to humanity by Gooooogle.

Well, there must be competition between institutions in such a mighty subject, don't you agree!

Israel Museum Project was first one to open to the public.
Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

Israel Antiquities Authority Project was second one to open but is technically superior.
The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Library

Cambridge Digital Library

We are being spoiled, really!

Cambridge Digital Library

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Connecticut innocents

Adam Lanza, 20.

Their house may have been full of guns.

It might still be smart to look at his computer game collection and Internet game connections.

Popular violent computer games

  • teach how to aim and shoot with a variety of weapons and at multiple targets
  • reduce the shooting target into a moving object and something else than a human being

Norway has one example, Connecticut maybe another, how such games affect intelligent lonelies.

update 17 December 2012
Newtown local press reports that police discovered his computer and noticed that the detached hard-disk had been smashed into pieces.

update 20 December 2012
Senator Jay Rockefeller wants violent video games to be studied! PoliticoPro

Saturday, December 15, 2012

GoP: Young Earth Creationism and Jehovah's Wttnesses

Another Guide to the Perplexed definition

Young Earth Creationism and Jehovah's Witnesses are internally related movements born from the background of late 19th century Seventh Day Adventism.

Both claim to have NUMERIC KEY to the Holy Bible and raise it to the center of world view constructing belief-systems on false realities.

Jehovah's Witnesses look forward and calculate the date of the second arrival of Jesus and have developed a complex reality of the New World that He is going to bring upon future Earth.

Young Earth Creationism look backward and fix the date of the creation of the Universe on the genealogies of the Bible. They build a complex pseudo-scientific reality of the Old World that once existed upon Earth created on 4004 before Christ.

The claim on the inner relationship between Young Earth Creationism and Jehovah's Witnesses movements is based on documented history of the two movements roots in Seventh Day Adventism and its rationalistic, highly moral and Bible respecting heritage.

Because of the NUMERIC KEY both movements distort both the Bible and God's creation and rule of history.

GtoP: Darwinism and Marxism

Another Guide to the Perplexed definition 

DARWINISM (or EVOLUTIONISM) is an ideology born in 19th century England. Its origins are in the writings of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his colleagues. Darwinism considers evolution through natural selection as the key to understanding the rise and evolution of life upon planet Earth.

MARXISM (or COMMUNISM) is an ideology born in 19th century England. Its origins are in the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and his colleagues. Marxism considers private ownership of capital as the key to understanding the rise and evolution of human societies upon planet Earth.

Proponents of both ideologies have raised and still raise fierce criticism against religion
Darwinism against God the Creator
Marxism against God the King

EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY is a branch of science studying the origins and evolution of life upon planet Earth (Astrobiology elsewhere in the Universe). Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is among the Founding Fathers of evolutionary biology.

SOCIOLOGY is a branch of science studying the birth, development, evolution of human societies (there is also branch of sociology concerned with animals). Karl Marx (1818-1883) is among the Founding Fathers of modern sociology.

As strictly scientific disciplines neither Evolutionary Biology nor Sociology claim to be qualified to determine the existence or non-existence of God.

Scientists hold their personal belief systems - or lack of such - but pursue methodical research and interpretation on the basis of "what is given" (positivism, August Comte) or "what can be said in a meaningful way" (logical-positivism, Ludwig Wittgenstein).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Black Venus (2010)

Black Venus (Vénus noire) in its naked truth is a painfully disturbing portrayal of the human condition. It is also a powerful declaration of human rights.

The movie is based on the life of Sarah Baartman (also Bartmann). It was directed by Abdellatif Kechich (b. 1960 Tunis) and written by him with Ghalya Laroix. It is not only what approaches a historical documentary but also very contemporary as it contains elements so sadly familiar to many modern immigrants, strangers, aliens and other foreigners who are different in today's Europe, post-colonial England and France included.

Wikipedia tells:  "Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman (before 1790 – 29 December 1815) was the earliest and most famous of at least two Khoikhoi women exhibited as freak show attractions in 19th-century Europe under the name “The Hottentot Venus”.

Baartman's physique, characterised by large breasts and steatopygous buttocks, though common among the Khoikhoi was rare in Europe. There it aroused widespread public fascination and fed curiosity about the sexuality of non-European races.

Racism skewed perceptions of Baartman during her life and allowed her remains to become a museum display after her death. She is now seen as a potent symbol of the denigration and de-humanization of African peoples and their cultures during the colonial period." wikipedia

The Night
Sarah Baartman experienced the "interest" of white Europeans in early 19th century England and France. She was an orphan taken with the dream of "from rag to riches" from her native South Africa to London by her master, Dutch farmer Caezar. 1814 she is taken to Paris where her "career" degenerated from freak shows to French saloons and finally to alcohol and prostitution. At only 29 years Sarah became fatally ill and died abandoned alone. Her body was dissected by curious scientists and her remains were later displayed to the public in Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Paris.

Yahima Torres as Hottentot Venus
Image from Cranes are flying blog discussing the movie

The camera work focuses intensively on the face of Sarah who is acted with such great dignity by  Yahima Torres. The effect of following with such intensity her facial expressions - or lack of them - leads to a complete reversal of the concepts "primitive" and "civilized" in the minds of the viewers.

This powerful movie contains cruel naked debauchery and hypocritical attitudes of those judging others. All is exposed by director Adbellatif Kechich's cinematic skills in a truly painful manner - painful, because so truthful. We in the audience take part in the voyeurism and violation of her humanity by watching the movie - we know it but cannot stop looking and our basic instincts demand the right to do what we want to do regardless of the prise ... to others, that is.

It's a man's world!
Andre Jacobs as slave master Caezar 

The Poem
Image wikimedia

Sarah's earthly remains have been reburied in Vergaderingskop, Hankey, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The signboard showing the location of the tomb includes a poem dedicated to her by Diana Ferrus.

Diana Ferrus.
University of Western Cape.
Photo uwm Afrikaans
I have come to take you home
home, remember the veld?
The lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
Your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-song
as it hobbles along over little stones.

I have come to wretch you away:
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!

I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.

I come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white:
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you.

Poem copyright Diana Ferrus

The light
Black Venus is modern commentary to the words in the Letter to the Ephesians - who were not Sunday school children, either. These are not empty words - they are part of a divine message that eventually changed South Africa. This happened when the words reached also the oppressed and not only those in power. Ask, for example, Bishop Desmund Tutu or the Namibians.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:8-20 NIV

Image from Talk to Aletta blog

Some studies of Sarah and her world

Cuvier, Georges, (1817). Mémoires du Muséum d'histoire naturelle: Extrait d'observations faites sur le cadavre d'une femme connue á Paris et á Londres sous le nomme de Vénus Hottentotte. Muséum d'histoire naturelle.

Holmes, Rachel, (2006). The Hottentot Venus. Bloomsbury, Random House.

Koster, Marian and Lisa Leimar Price, (2008). Rwandan female genital modification: Elongation of the Labia minora and the use of botanical species. In: Culture, Health and Society, 10(2): 191-204.

Perez, Guillermo Martinez and Harriet Namulondo, (2011). Elongation of Labia minora in Uganda: including Baganda men in a risk reduction education programme In: Culture, Health and Society, 13(1): 45-57.

Praise, Clifton and Scully, Pamela, (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press.

Qureshi, Sadiah, (2011). Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain. University of Chicago Press.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean, (1999). Black Venus; Sexualized savages, Primal Fears and Primitive Narratives in French. Durham: Duke University Press.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite Poster 
Napoleon Dynamite was written and directed by the American couple Jared and Jerusha Hess with Jon Heder as Napoleon.

I couldn't stop laughing - in a nice way.

It is very difficult to define why it is so funny.

It just is.

Very funny.

But more importantly, the movie does not poke fun on the characters in a malevolent way. It is very understanding and gentle towards all, good and bad, like a twisted mirror that modifies figures, emphasizes certain features and generates not mocking but happy laughter and real joy: that's exactly how he or she is!

Their other movie Nacho Libre (2006) has the same very warmhearted atmosphere spiced with humor and filled with surprising, real people with their dreams and hopes.

(Gentlemen Broncos (2009) I have not seen.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Claudio Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea

 L'incoronazione di Poppea - Teatro Real Madrid, 24 May 2010
Image Intermezzo
The editorian review describes the 2010 performance that I recently watched in Mezzo TV.
The culmination of a three-year Monteverdi project led by conductor William Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at Madrid's Teatro Real, L'incoronazione di Poppea brings a potent blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. Leading the cast are Danielle de Niese, Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic and Anna Bonitatibus.

William Christi, who most recently started 2012 at New York's Metropolitan Opera, conducting The Enchanted Island, is joined by the Les Arts Florissants as he evokes a veritable orgy of nuances, subtly creates atmosphere and shows a perfect sense for the accents of the piece. It took Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi three years to mount Monteverdi's three operas together. The result was a production full of elegance and beauty.

Performed in a new edition of the Venetian version of the opera by the musicologist Jonathan Cable, Poppea features a starry cast. Playing the upwardly mobile temptress of the opera's title is the glamorous American soprano Danielle de Niese, who, in the words of the New York Times, is "seductive enough to woo gods as well as mortals".

In an interpretation described as "overwhelming" by El Pais, the capricious Emperor Nero (Nerone) is embodied by French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. The brilliant Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic plays Nerone's rival for Poppea's love, Ottone, while Nerone's discarded wife Ottavia, is sung by the Italian mezzo soprano Anna Bonitatibus, described by Forumopera as "an incandescent Ottavia who vouchsafed a superb example of singing and of theatre".
Editorial Amazon.com

O tempora! O mores!
In his opening speech against Catiline, Cicero deplores the viciousness and corruption of his age. Cicero is frustrated that, despite all of the evidence that has been compiled against Catiline, who has been conspiring to overthrow the Roman government and assassinate Cicero himself, and in spite of the fact that the senate has given senatus consultum ultimum, Catiline has not yet been executed. Cicero goes on to describe various times throughout Roman history where consuls have killed conspirators with even less evidence, sometimes - in the case of former consul Lucius Opimius' slaughter of Gaius Gracchus (one of the Gracchi brothers) - based only on "quasdam seditionum suspiciones", certain suspicions of insurrection (Section 2, Line 3).
While listening to the music of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and his students that was performed to such perfection I casually googled Internet for historical information about the characters appearing in the play. And what shocking reading it makes, ugh. Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985) told us about those times in I, Claudius (1935) but reading the factual history and Tacitus is worse.

Considering the historical background Giovanni Francesco Busenello (1598 -1659) wrote a surprisingly self-contradictory libretto about the victory of evil over good. The opera was first performed in Venice during the carnival season 1642-43. They knew the story well; while the royal couple sings the heavenly final love aria the audience surely remembered that soon enraged Nero would kick pregnant Poppea to stomach causing her death.

Monteverdi's vivid music describes the characters vividly from the dignity of Seneca the Younger and Octavia to the strangely childlike Nero made helpless by the beautiful cunning Poppea. The music is harmonic and beautiful while the characters are grotesque murderers and conspirators of the worst kind.

In the introduction audience is warned that this is not a story how good wins over evil. And it is not.

Veni, vidi, vinci
The events date to the time when a new religion was spreading from the East and first considered a sect of the old religion of Judaism.

L'inconorazione di Poppea gives a highly realistic, almost twist in tongue description of the world into which the child of Virgin Mary was born.

The Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders crushed Him.

But quietly, from heart to heart, He won over this Iron Empire of power politics, legal systems, almost invincible military power, police force and cultural domination of Mare Nostrum.

Constantine the Great and with him the entire Empire of Rome knelt in front of the Man of Galilee only about three hundred years after He had been crucified in Jerusalem.

He had won and it was time for Western Rome to go.

Did humanity change?
It is so remarkable how Monteverdi and Busenello addressed the Venetian audience through the opera. They knew their people and were sure that the contemporary meaning of the play will not escape the Italian citizens of 17th century.

Nor are we any better than the Borgias or Flavians.

Humanity has not changed. Our interest in Monteverdi's baroque opera is proof of that, isn't it?

What has changed is the arrival of the Son of God with forgiveness, grace and God's love.

Who can love a world like this?

Our Heavenly Father can.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
John 3:16-17 NIV

District 9 (2009)

Why is District 9 so effective?

Here are my suggestions in no particular order of importance

  • The background of District Six, Cap Town South Africa and the forced removal of its 60.000 inhabitants in the 1970'ies gives the movie an eerie reality; something that fits what Charles Peirce called "a ground for understanding signs". 
  • When Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell wrote the script and screenplay they adhered to the wisdom of H.G. Wells about SciFi "If anything is possible nothing is interesting". The vulnerability and limitations of the aliens possessing such superior technology and the weakness of the hero Wikus van de Merve (Sharlto Copley) makes everything in the movie unpredictable and interesting.
  • We feel with the characters. We smell the rotten things, feel the dusty wind, feel their pain and anguish and anger. We care about them, even the villains.
  • We feel that this is plausible. Since news and documentaries are the way we learn about distant places this is how most of us not living there would get information about an alien ship hovering over Johannesburg and about the problems in Soweto. The portable video camera emphasizes familiarity, reliability, telling the unedited truth.
  • District 9 is not the usual SciFi roller coaster with wows and huhs and eyees and then total emptiness after the ride. Instead, after watching the movie with many wows we feel that someone has opened a new perspective into how to look at things in apartheid South Africa past, in Africa present, in the human world around us, in us and those we love. 

Last but not least, District 9 is so effective because of Sharlto Copley who is living through the story and not acting at all.

The sad thing is that the depiction of us humans in District 9 is so sad and truthful. Our hearts go with the persecuted, the violated, those from whom we deny human rights and consider them aliens that can be treated anyway we wish.

Usually badly.

Christopher and his son. The most sympathetic characters in District 9.
Image Darksidecostumes