Monday, July 30, 2012

Jesus Says That Monster Sized Rodents Are Technically Fish, and No, I’m Not Making This Up

Let’s talk about “Rats”.  No, not the type of rodent that I’ve been hinting at doing an article about since June.  That started as a 2 page piece on a cool science experiment and has since expanded into a 14 page monstrosity on biology, social engineering, and architecture- in other words, it’s still a work in progress.  No, I want to talk about “Rats”, the song by Rasputina.  It is a totally sweet song.  You should go listen to it right now.  Go on.  Do it.

Okay, so, it’s a rad song, right?  Man, and they do all that with nothing but cellos?  Rasputina is pretty awesome.  In fact, I’m officially making them The Amazing Justin Palm! Approved™.  I love that song, which is why now I’m going to ruin it with actual history.  (It’s, like, tough love, or something?)

First of all, the song would probably more accurately be titled “Rodents”, which wouldn’t be as cool a title, but would be more correct.  The song is about the capybara, the world’s largest living species of rodent, which roam all over South America.  And they are pretty large, adult weight averages around 125 pounds.  They spend a lot of time in water, live in herds, and spend a lot of time grazing.  Basically, they’re like cows.  Cows that are giant rodents.  And as you know, cows exist for pretty much one reason in nature, to be snacks for large carnivores.  Tasty, delicious snacks.
Yes.  This is just like a cow.

Obviously, when humans first encountered the capybara thousands of years ago they started eating them too, and just like with cows, people have been farming capybaras for hundreds of years.  And straight up, it’s mostly true that certain parts of Venezuela do have special dispensation from the Vatican to eat the monster rodents.  But this isn’t due to any form of famine or something.  It’s because of some pretty silly Catholic rule bullshit.  (Honestly, I really haven’t been on some sort of militant anti-religion crusade this month.  I just think this story is really stupid.  But the funny kind of stupid, at least!)

Best of all, there’s a few different versions of the story, so actually?  NO ONE REALLY KNOWS HOW THIS HAPPENED.  But anyway, in parts of South America it’s traditional to eat capybara on Fridays in Lent, and during Holy Week.  That’s right, much like fish, it’s considered to be meat that is not meat.  Or to be the meat that you can eat when you’re fasting, or whatever?  Depending on who you ask, capybara IS fish, according to the Pope himself.  The truth is probably a little more complicated than that. 

I’m not going to go into the details of the Columbian Exchange here, because that would take a lot of work, so, uh, here’s the Wikipedia page.  When Europeans first encountered the natives roasting the dog-sized rodents they probably thought “Wait, you eat that filthy thing?” and within 24 hours were eating it too, for lack of any other food source.   That’s just the nature of cultural exchange, pre-internet.  And just as soon as European colonists/conquerors had settled the region/suppressed the locals (it depends on which side of the pond you were originally from), you can sure bet that missionaries showed up to make sure they saved everyone’s souls. 

According to some, this whole “rodents are fish” thing got its start when the missionaries of the 1600s were trying to convert people.  Apparently when asked why they’d have to not eat meat in Lent, the missionaries answer of “because Jesus and stuff” was unsatisfactory to the locals, and they kept eating the capybara anyway.  To keep the new converts for leaving the religion over something terribly silly, the missionaries basically decided to fudge the rules and hope none of their bosses half a world away noticed.

Another explanation is that when the capybara is salted and sold at the market, it’s texture and coloring made it look like fish meat, and that’s what caused the confusion when westerners (re: Catholics) arrived.  They just assumed that they were eating fish during Lent, only to discover it was mega-mouse meat all along.  Of the different versions of how this all got started, I find this one the most suspect; but hey, never underestimate the stupidity of other people, right?

A different version still has one Padre Sojo, a fairly well respected local priest in the later part of the 18th Century, travelling to Rome to get a Papal decree making capybara legitimate Lenten food.  And it totally is, because the rule is, anything that spends a lot of time in water is classified by Rome as “fish”.  No, really.  Beaver is totally cool to eat during Lenten fasting, if, you know, that’s what you’re into.  I bet you could make an argument for hippo or penguin.  If it’samphibious, then it’s a fish, as far as the Pope is concerned.  I looked it up.

Full disclosure, I have never been to South America, and there may well be historical documents that concretely explains the true story about all this.  As much as I love the song “Rats” though, the real story is even weirder (whatever the ‘real’ story may be).  I mean, fasting isn’t really my thing anyway, but if you’re going to have such totally crazy exceptions you might want to ground them in reality?  Or not, maybe?  I don’t know.  It’s their club, they can be as crazy as they want to be with it.  And hey, they make me laugh about how silly they are, so maybe I should be thanking them.
Yes.  This is just like a fish.

Thank you, Pope {Whichever}.  Thank you for turning monster rats into fish for Jesus.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Noah's Ark is a Horrifying Story We Should Not Tell Children

So, last week when I was talking about God being an asshole in that one story, it really kind of nudged me into thinking about something I've been meaning to write about for a while: Noah's Ark is possibly the most horrible story in the entire god damn bible, yet we turn it into a cute little picture of animals on a boat with a rainbow in the background, and then we slap it on a blanket for toddlers.
Pictured: Global Extinction Event and mascot for daycare centers.

Am I.... Am I the only person who finds this appalling?  Maybe.  And don't get me wrong, it's stupid to get upset over what is a PROFOUNDLY STUPID story.  I know this.  Noah's Ark never really happened (well, not the way everyone thinks it did, anyway).  The notion that all the non-water based biodiversity on the planet could fit in one party boat is beyond ludicrous.  Only the most hardcore of religious Jewish/Christian/Islamic person would ever truly believe this is a literal story.  People (mostly apologists) are always saying that Noah's Ark works as mythic storytelling.  Well, I won't argue, clearly this IS mythic storytelling.  My issue with it is the "works" part.

Let's start at the beginning, literally and figuratively, which is actually pretty easy.  Noah's ark is way early in the Bible, Chapter 6 of Genesis.  So here's what's happened so far in the history of the Biblical universe:  The creation of the (flat) Earth; Adam and Eve fall from grace (the original boning!); Cain and Abel (I'd place my bets on the meat-eater winning this match); the list of patriarchs (who mostly never appear again); and the Grigori bone a bunch of ladies (the part no one remembers, I'll come back to this in a moment).  And that's it.  Literally all that has happened before we open with the Noah story.  I'm assuming you know how it goes, but here's the cliff notes in case you forgot:

God's pissed off about the world being wicked.  He decides to murder the entire world, except for Noah's family.  He has Noah build a bigass boat, and put 2 of every kind of animal on it, and hope the in-breeding doesn't kill us all.  Then he floods the entire planet.  Everything dies, except for fishes and whales and shit like that.  The waters recede, and even God's feeling like he might have gone a little overboard with this whole "murder everything" thing.  To make up for drowning everyone, he invents optics, and promises to try to keep his temper in check.  Noah decides to just say "fuck it" and get drunk, which I admit is the only proper solution to this horrifying situation.  And then to put a nice little epilogue on this tale, while Noah's unconscious from all the booze, his son.... rapes him.  Or he rapes his mom?  Or something?  Whatever he does, uncomfortable incest is implied for reasons that are never really explained.  The end.

Guys.  This story is horrible.  Nothing good happens in it.  And the more you think about it, the worse it gets.  Let's start with the whole "God's pissed about something" part. The story tells us that he's mad that mankind is wicked.  Well, okay, but when was mankind taught what "wicked" meant?  This isn't post-ten commandments or anything.  God can't say "Stop breaking the rules!" when he's never given them to the people.  That's totally not fair.  God got pissed at his "children", and rather than trying to change their bad behavior, God decided to just flat out kill them all.  God is the worst parent I've ever heard of.

And why flood the whole world, anyway?  God's beef was with humanity, the plants and animals were just collateral damage.  Couldn't God have just invented a plague or something that would wipe out the human race and leave the rest of the world alone?  Is he just that short of imagination?  Rather than surgery to fix the world, he opts to smash the whole damn thing.

And think I'm just making the incest thing up?  Genesis 9, verses 22-24:
"And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.  And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.  And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him."
Scholars don't agree on exactly what that means, but whatever it is is just gross to think about.  Now, because I look into things like this, I could tell you that the whole excerpt is to justify some at-the-time political bullshit to excuse the fact that Israel was being a dick to the land of Canaan.  But that's not the point, not if you're taking the story literally.  It's also not the point if this story is supposed to be a metaphor, because what is it a metaphor about?  Drinking is bad?  Nudity is awful?  Don't rape your parents?  While I think we can all get behind that last one, I really don't think that needs to be explained.

God got pissed off for an unreasonable reason, killed everyone, and tried to make up for his asshole behavior with a fucking rainbow. Then something, something, incest.  And people try to tell me this story is all about renewal and the triumph of the human spirit.  Renewal my ass.

There's one other possibility that I haven't told you yet.  You remember the Grigori?  Who they are and what they're all about is a little vague in Genesis, but most biblical scholars think that they're supposed to be fallen angels.  Basically, the bad angels come down to Earth, make babies with all the hot ladies around here, and those babies grow up to have super powers.  Some people think that the "wickedness of man" is actually God covering up all this.  He destroys the world to get rid of all the angel-babies.

Now that just makes the story worse.  God kills everyone to cover his own ass?  Because that's what this theory implies.  These angels go get their dicks wet, and the only way God can keep everyone from finding out how God's bros knocked all the ladies up was to murder the world?  And sure, they were "fallen" angels.  But why did they fall?  And as their manager, God is responsible for there behavior, yes?  In this scenario, God could have told the entire world "Look, they went crazy and left Heaven, and are causing all these problems.  So, I'm going to selectively smite some people to take care of the issue.  So please, humanity, stay cool for the next couple minutes while I do that."  But no, to cover up that there was ever a problem, God's solution is "Murder.  Everyone."  In this interpretation, he'd rather hide the problem than own up to it, even though hiding the problem leads to mass genocide.

And that's what Noah's Ark is about, no matter how you look at it.  Mass genocide.  This is a story about God killing every man, woman, and child on the planet (along with all the cute animals) except for the one family in all the world that was holier than thou.  And that's bullshit.  Doesn't matter if God was hiding something, or just pissed about humans breaking ill-defined rules, this is a story where God destroys the world, just because he can.  Is that really a message you want to endorse with cute animal pictures?
You can tell just by the eyes that all of them are dead inside.

So does it work, as mythic storytelling?  It's about mass genocide, for either no good reason, or because God was covering something up.  Oh, also, probable incest-rape.  Honestly, if this story "works", are we really sure we like what it's telling us?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making Marvel Mine: Essential Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Vol. 1 (and 1/2) (Sgt. Fury #14-23 and Annual #1)

Face front, true believers!  Ah, yeah, Howlers!  I got myself the Essential trade, so that we could fix the minor chronology glitch in my Marvel Essential read.  That means two things:  1.) pretend this came before all that puttering I did on Dr. Strange; and 2.) In a surprise move, (and on a technicality to boot) Sgt. Fury beats the Fantastic Four to finish line and becomes the FIRST SECOND ROUND on my Essential read.  Weird.  First time I don't have to introduce all the characters.  Crazy.

So let's talk about the second half of this book, and see how it compares to issues 1-13.  Well, it's still pretty innovative and awesome.  There's no issue that compares to #6's "The Fangs of the Desert Fox!", but there are a few that come close.  Issue 18 comes to mind, but I'll get into that in a bit.  Point is, the whole series seems to be all action, all the time, and still presses the boundaries of what comics could be in the early Silver Age.

Right off the bat, in issue 14 we're greeted with the concept of war time escalation in a totally comic book way.  Turns out, Adolf Hitler has had enough of all this commando bullshit, and he orders Fury's personal nemesis Baron Strucker to capture the Howlers to be publicly executed. Strucker isn't a huge fan of der fuhrer, but hey, orders are orders, and he decides to fight fire with fire.  He storms the Third Reith looking for suitable candidates, and forms his own commando squad to take out the Howlers.  Thus, the Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker is formed! Ludwig, Fritz, Otto, Siegfried, Ernst, and Manfred! And they all wear adorable hats!  These guys are here to stay, and while they're no Masters of Evil, it's good to have some more reoccurring villains. 

Also added is Mayor Rooten, who is mayor of... Holland?  Somewhere in Holland, anyway.  Everyone thinks he's a Nazi sympathizer, even his own son, but it's all a ruse, as he's the top secret Allied Agent named Agent X.  Not the greatest codename, but whatever.  Fury figures it all out, but the deception must stay.  To protect his son Hans, Rooten has the Howlers bring the boy with them back to England, becoming their new mascot.  (It was a different time.)  Also added to the cast (if you're paying attention) are too privates named Stan and Dick, who both are pretty keen on the Howlers exploits.  I love how Stan Lee writes himself as an insufferable asshole to everyone around him, and especially being dickish to his artists (he did it in Amazing Spidey Annual 1, too).  I appreciate that, for some reason. :)

In the Annual, we get a tale from the Korean War, where we learn that a battlefield commission made Fury an officer, which of course would lead to his eventual promotion to Colonel.  Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. had just started over in Strange Tales, so obviously they wanted to explain the continuity of those stories.  I hope they release an Essential of Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. soon...

Anyway, Issue 18, "Killed in Action!" lets you know right on the cover that "Someone dies!" and remember, this is Sgt. Fury, probably the first mainstream American comic where death was an actual, legitimate threat for a main character.  Most of the issue is standard Howler flair, but with the added ominousness that you keep waiting for "who's gonna die?", because you know someone will.  But you've been duped; Lee and Ayers have subverted your expectations for the comic, because the person who dies isn't one of the Howlers themselves.  It's Nick's girlfriend, Pamela Hawley.  And it is heartbreaking.

It's clich├ęd to the point of being stupid nowadays, but it was incredibly innovative at the time.  The story begins as a bombing raid is occurring in London.  Fury's with Pam, and he insists that she get to protection.  But she refuses, she's a nurse, and she needs to take care of those injured and dying in the air raid.  She's just as much a hero as Nick Fury is, and Nick realizes that's one of the reasons why he loves her.  After he single handedly blows up a German bomber from the ground (What?  This is Sgt. Fury, after all; it's page 2, time to make something explode!), he calls her ambulance unit to make sure she's okay.  She's fine, but there's wounded, she can't talk long, she'll see him soon.  Fury's realized just how much she means to him, and buys an engagement ring for her.

Then it's the mission.  Whatever, punching Nazis is great and all, and for a moment Fury almost loses the ring, but he catches it, so moving on.  Fury is so freakin' happy when he gets back to England that he won't give anyone a chance to talk to him.  He's got business to take care of, asking Pam to marry him.  No one has a chance to tell him the awful news until he gets to her father's estate and asks him for his permission to marry his daughter.  Lord Hawley can't believe no one told him, and is forced to tell Fury the awful news: There was another air raid.  Pam was tending to the wounded as the bombs continued to fall, and this time she was killed in one of the blasts.  In grief and horror, Fury drops the engagement ring, and slowly walks away in sorrow. Fade to black.

Holy shit, people.  This is some heavy stuff in a funnybook.  It's shocking and awful, and well, that's the whole point.  War sucks, and people die, sometimes just for doing the right thing.  For trying to help others.  Man, this comic is a master class at not just subverting the audience's expectations, but doing tragedy really, really well, in one friggin' page.

But don't worry.  Next issue Fury vents his rage at literally every Nazi ever by disobeying orders, single-handedly invading a Nazi airbase, and punching a Nazi pilot to death while said pilot is IN MIDAIR WITH FURY STANDING OUTSIDE THE AIRPLANE!  This comic is so awesome you guys.