Sunday, November 29, 2015

It Seems That Most People Who Saw Revolver Really, Really Hated It

I'm just saying that as a warning: I like the movie very much, but most people hated it. So don't take my positive review as a guarantee that you would like it. Don't go see it because of what I'm saying and then come back angrily to me because you hated it, because I warned you: most people hated it.

I've mentioned the film a few times already in this blog, in connection with chess: watching the movie has significantly improved my chess game.

Okay, as long as I'm warning you about the movie, I should mention that it contains lots of violence, nudity and vulgar language. Lots and lots and lots of all three, so if those are things which make you not like a movie, then there's no point in you watching this movie.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to stop reading this blog post, because violence, nudity and vulgar language are not the interesting things to me about Revolver, and the interesting things can be looked into with seeing the movie, if it's not your kind of movie. The interesting things are: Kabbalah, and overcoming the ego.

Let's take the 2nd one first. This may be something that many or even most people are already familiar with, but it had eluded me until I watched Revolver: the concept of the ego as an enemy of the true self, the ego as an obstacle.

One of the things which the movie relates to the ego is the game of chess. Jake Green, the film's protagonist, played by Jason Statham, is released from prison at the beginning of the movie. He had spent part of his time in confinement in solitary confinement in a cell between a chess Grandmaster and a con-man. Jake never saw either of them, but he did intercept many of the notes they passed back and forth, and he learned a little about chess. After his release, he becomes mixed up with a couple of loan sharks, Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin), and plays some games of chess with Avi.

Before I ever saw Revolver, I had already noticed some of the way in which ego interferes with playing chess. In some of my blog posts about chess I noted that over-confidence in my ability as a chess player leads directly to disastrously poor chess play. In Revolver, this interference is addressed much more directly. In the film, chess is one of the things which teach Jake about the ego. For example, the ego resists playing stronger players. It wants to win all of the time. Even though it's very plain to see that a chess player (or, as the chess players in the movie point out, a player in any sort of game) can only improve by playing stronger players -- which of course will involve a lot of losing, which offends the ego. In his games with Avi, after having studied chess in prison for years with not much else to do, Jake wins game after game, and after one of the many times Jake announces checkmate, Avi says with annoyance that he's not going to play Jake anymore.

But since watching the movie I'm playing stronger players much more, and surprise surprise, my game has improved quite a lot.

As I have written on this blog before, I've seen chess games where the very best players in the world -- Fischer, Kasparov and other world champions -- lost, analyzed by the world champion who lost. Whereas for the most part it's very unusual to come across games analyzes by the losing players. I keep analyzing games I've won, even though I realize how much my game could benefit from analyzing games I've lost. My ego is still directly interfering with my chess game to that extent, and I can see it, and I still can't bring myself to battle my ego that much. I believe I've analyzed a total of 1 game I've lost on this blog.

Oh well. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's not as if I make my living from chess.

Revolver represents only the 2nd time of which I'm clearly aware in which a work of art directly, tangibly and immediately improved my life by explaining something about my own mind to me. The first time was decades ago when I read Gravity's Rainbow, which explained to me that paranoia consists of irrationally over-estimating the amount of attention other people pay to you. I just needed to remind myself that others had plenty of better things to do than participate in a plot against me, and poof, there went my paranoid tendencies.

Again, maybe that was everyday common knowledge to many or most people, but to me it needed pointing out.

Also, at the end of the movie several different people, not playing fictional characters, spoke about the ego. I think some of them were psychiatrists. One of them was Deepak Chopra, and he said something which I didn't find dopey. I like that. A few years ago, I was caught up in a feud between New Atheism and Chopra. In the meantime I have come to regard New Atheists as dopey. Who knows, maybe Chopra beloings on the long, long list of people and things about which the New Atheists are wrong.

The other interesting thing about Revolver is the Kabbalah symbolism: names, numbers, colors, mannerisms and other things refer to symbolism and archetypes of Kabbalah. I don't really know anything about Kabbalah yet, but the colors are purty, which I think is way cool, and the stories are interesting, whether they actually make sense or not. (And SOME of them probably DO!) I'm an atheist, but I've never let that spoil my appreciation of religious art.

For those of you considering watching Revolver -- remember, most people hate it, as I've warned you several times now -- there's a third thing I'd like to mention: Mark Strong, one of my very favorite actors. He gives the most brilliant performance in Ritchie's much-more-popular Rocknrolla, as the hard-as-nails Archie, and he gives the most brilliant performance in Revolver, as Sorter, a very quirky and extremely lethal hitman.

Chess Log: I'm Improving, Because I Watched Guy Ritchie's Film Revolver

The film has some very sound advice for the chess player hoping to go from poor to mediocre: play stronger players, and don't let your ego interfere with your progress. In the film, the stuff about the ego is said to apply to all areas in life. Tangible progress is much easier to measure in chess than in some other things.

5-0 blitz, I played White:

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 ♘ge7 4. d4 exd4 5. ♘xd4 a6 6. ♘xc6 bxc6 7. ♗a4 ♗b7 8. O-O h6 9. ♘c3 ♖b8 10. ♗f4 ♘g6 11. ♗g3 ♗d6 12. e5 ♗b4 13. e6 dxe6 14. ♕xd8 ♖xd8 15. ♗xc7 ♖d7 16. ♗g3 ♗xc3 17. bxc3 O-O 18. ♖fd1 ♖fd8 19. ♖xd7 ♖xd7 20. h3 ♖d2 21. ♖b1 ♗c8 22. ♖b8 ♘e7 23. ♗xc6 ♖xc2 24. ♗d7 ♖xc3 25. ♗d6 ♔f8 26. ♗xc8 ♖c6 27. ♗d7 ♖c8 28. ♗xc8 ♔e8 29. ♗xe6 ♘c8 30. ♖xc8 1-0 {Black checkmated}

Black's fatal mistake in this game was 21. [...] ♗c8. up until then, as far as I can see, the game was pretty even.

Another 5-0 blitz with me playing White:

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. ♘f3 cxd4 5. ♘xd4 a6 6. h3 ♘c6 7. a3 ♕a5 8. ♗d2 ♕c5 9. ♘xc6 bxc6 10. ♗b4 ♕b6 11. ♗d3 c5 12. ♗d2 e6 13. ♘c3 ♗b7 14. ♘a4 ♕c6 15. b3 d4 16. ♘b2 ♕xg2 17. ♖f1 ♕xh3 18. ♕e2 ♘h6 19. O-O-O ♘f5 20. ♗e4 ♗xe4 21. ♕xe4 ♖c8 22. ♕b7 ♘e7 23. ♘c4 d3 24. ♘d6 ♔d8 25. ♘xc8 ♘xc8 26. ♕xa6 dxc2 27. ♗a5 ♔e8 28. ♕xc8 ♔e7 29. ♖d7 1-0 {Black checkmated}

As early as 12. [...] e6 Black was cramping me with a strong Pawn storm, and by 16. [...] ♕xg2 I felt I was in some serious trouble. however, by my 22nd move I had achieved a strong counteratack. 26. [...] dxc2?? was a serious error on black's part, allowing me to begin the winning combination with double check on 27. ♗a5!

And yes, I'm aware that I'm continuing to let my ego interfere with my progress by continuing to focus on games I've won, which are flattering to my ego, rather than games I've lost, which might show me weaknesses in my play and allow me to improve tremendously. Grappling with the ego can be very difficult, even after you've become aware that that's what you're doing.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Claims That Ancient And Medieval Chriatians Didn't Take The Bible Literally Are Ridiculous

I'm extremely skeptical of the claims -- and lately theologians and people led astray by theologians have made many such claims -- that Christians and Jews were not literalists in bygone eras. The most extreme of such claims is that there were no literalists at all until the late 19th or early 20th century in the US.

All one needs to do in order to correct such impressions is to actually read texts written by ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Jews and Christians -- I myself am angrily waving a JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh in one hand as I type this with the other -- and see how little those earlier people resemble contemporary theologians' descriptions of them. The plain truth is almost exactly the opposite: before the early 19th century, non-literalist readings were made by only a minority of believers, and before the 17th century, of course, non-literalism, like non-belief, could only be very carefully hinted at between the lines if the author were not to be tortured and burned alive for his trouble.

From before Irenaeus to after Calvin, the number of Christian theologians who referred to the Bible as the perfect, inerrant word of God was -- all of them. The number who refer to it as the perfect, inerrant symbolic and allegorical word of God was none of them.

Once again, in our time, Christian theologians -- most certainly including the most progressive among them, who want so badly to find concrete proof that Jesus was gay-friendly or even gay, and feminist, and pro-choice, and anti-handgun, and pro-stem-cell-research, that they think they already have -- are making things up.

Once again, it seems that the only people not making up their own version of Judeo-Christian history are the fundies and the atheists. The atheists are bright enough to reject the tradition with horror, the fundies aren't, and the progressive believers should be, but they're in denial and they refuse to look at what's in front of them, unless what's kin front of them is a book or article by one of these contemporary theologians spouting nonstop nonsense about how how sophisticated the faith of the ancients was, and how the fundies have gotten it all wrong.

But this stuff about people hundreds and thousands of years ago reading the Bible very much as if they were 21st-century textual critics appears to be an article of faith among some 21st-century theologians, so that there's no debating it with them. It seems that the best people interested in the truth can do is discuss things without and despite them. When it comes to politics, the progressive believers are progressive. When it comes to talking sense about religion, they're as hopeless as the fundies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Anti-Racists Formulate Concepts Of The Superman, Racists Come Along And Misunderstand Them

The comic book character Superman was created in 1933 by two Jewish guys who presumably were not Nazis.

The term superman is -- or was, for a while -- generally translated into German as Uebermensch. The Nazis often referred to themselves as Uebermenschen. The German term Uebermensch was coined by Nietzsche, who hated anti-Semites and racists in general.

In English, before the creation of the comic book character, the most prominent user of the term superman was George Bernard Shaw, also an anti-racist. Some people think that Shaw's support of eugenics was racist, but, on the contrary, he favored breeding across ethnic and class lines -- the exact opposite of racist goals of "racial purity." In direct opposition to racist pseudo-science, Shaw's assertions that benefits would come from broadening the gene pool are scientifically sound.

Nietzsche first mentions the Uebermensch in Also sprach Zarathustra, published in 1883. Shaw first mentioned the superman in his play Man and Superman, written in 1903, first performed in 1905. It has often been erroneously asserted that Shaw got many of his ideas directly from from Nietzsche. Shaw himself attempted to clear this up, saying that, although he liked Nietzsche's works very much, he first began to read them after he had read assertions that he had gotten various ideas from Nietzsche -- but the error persists. When Shaw read Nietzsche, he found that they had much in common -- such as being frequently misunderstood by people who very annoyingly claimed to be championing their causes without first having gone to the trouble of reading their works.

An annoying tendency which still hasn't died out.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dream Log: Steven Saul Bollinger Berenson Of The Wrong Homeland Monkey

I dreamed that I, Steven Bollinger, also known as The Wrong Monkey, author of this blog and perenniel contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, was also, to a certain extent, the fictional Saul Berenson, big CIA muckety-muck portrayed by Mandy Patinkin on the TV series "Homeland." I wrote this blog and was myself, but I also had a huge magnificent beard like Saul's, and I worked at CIA headquarters in Langley. Working on this blog was my job at the CIA. No-one seemed to have any doubt that success on the blog, high readership and my professional success as a writer, equaled a good job done for the CIA and better security for the US.

However, at the moment my methods were unpopular. I was working on a computer program which, I was convinced, would bring more traffic to the blog and greater safety to the world. However, my colleagues -- young punks, most of them -- had very little if any confidence in my abilities as a programmer. It seemed clear to me that my program was working, but mysteriously, no one else seemed to notice that traffic on my blog had sharply increased.

A man who resembled Dar Adal, the fictional colleague of the fictional Berenson on "Homeland," came to invite me to have some waffles for brunch with him. I'd recently started jogging and didn't feel the need for all of that syrup and butter, but Dar was very insistent.

Everything seemed connected: the blog, espionage, jogging, waffles -- it all seemed like one seamless thing.

Walking to the restaurant which Dar had recently discovered to get our waffle brunch, the topic of conversation gradually turned from Dar raving about the waffles at this place, which Dar assured me would blow my mind, to Dar complaining about Carrie Mathison (the fictional character portrayed by Claire Danes on "Homeland," Saul's protégé and friend). Carrie was convinced that some vital intelligence was being passed at dog shows, and was spending a lot of time among the people who showed dogs, despite the CIA director threatening her with suspension or worse if she didn't stop this line of inquiry. Carrie herself had gotten a dog for the first time in her life and was bonding with it. As usual, many people seemed to think that Carrie had finally gone permanently insane, and very few people besides me/Saul could see that she was continuing to function at genius level.

The neighborhood we were walking through on our way to the restaurant was beautiful: full of high-end shops, with broad sidewalks which had recently been paved with tiles in dark earth-tones. Many trees lined both sides of the street, it was a pleasantly brisk autumn morning, there were a few leafs in various bright colors on the sidewalks, the laughter of schoolchildren on recess was faintly aubible. The whole area was like an embodiment of the very principles of prosperity, calm, good health and other good things.

But before we reached the restaurant, the dispute about Carrie had become so heated that Dar began to grab and push me in anger, and I turned around and headed back to the office rather than risk getting into an actual fistfight with Dar, who was also a friend as well as a colleague.

Everything seemed connected in my mind: the blog, the CIA, computer programs, jogging and eating healthy, waffles, the beautiful neighborhood, the laughter of children, dogs -- everything. As I walked back to the office I felt very frustrated, because I thought that Carrie could understand such connections much more clearly than I. I wanted to talk to her and ask her to explain the connectedness, or at least try to make it more comprehensible to me. But at the moment she was undercover with the show-dog people, and very hard to reach.

At the office I checked the stats for the traffic on my blog, and it seemed as clear as could be that my programming had increased the traffic tremendously.

Then it occurred to me that no-one else had looked at the stats on the terminal in my office. The blog stats were classified and encrypted and tightly controlled, I couldn't access them on a phone, and neither could anyone else, unless they were an excellent hacker, or had some kind of clearance which I didn't know for sure that anyone had.

Otherwise, the blog stats were only accessible on the terminals at Langley and a few other CIA offices around the world. I had assumed that my snot-nosed young colleagues, who had remained so strangely unimpressed by my program and its effect on the blog's traffic, had been looking at the same data as I -- but now it occurred to me that perhaps an enemy hacker had separated my terminal from the others, so that either I was looking at falsified stats about the blog, or everyone else was, or maybe even both.

Then I woke up.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

me r munkee. me mayk art.

me r munkee. me mayk art.

uh thing cald New Masters Academy sez


that izz verr naiss. ai luv yu tu, New Masters Academy. butt yu sed MASTERPIECE OF HUMANITY and me r munkee.

thats ok. yu prolly dint reelaiz yu wirr dissing munkee an eluhfunt artists wen yu rote that.

i think eluhfunts r awesumz. kittiez tu. that iz just mai opinyun.

i laik kittiez butt sumtaimz thay wil skrach yu or bait yu an it hertz. but thats ok cuz kitties r littel an prolly sumtaimz thay git skeered. if yu hold owt yr hand tu uh kitteh hoo duznt no yu, jist hold yr hand neer thuh kitteh, it will cum up an snif yr hand an that maiks it les skeered and it wil not skrach or bait yu so mutch. ai don no wai that wurks butt it duz.

sum peepl say that wee munkees smel bad. me r sorree iff that r true. maybee it r not tru an peepl hu say that don no munkees.

sum peepl smel. butt prolly not on purpuss.

sum peepl r verr naiss. sum peepl grum munkeez. that iz naiss. wee munkeez grum eech uthur to b kleen butt allso kuzz it feelz naiss.

sumtaimz munkees bait peepl, butt that izz mostlee kuzz weer skeered. sorree.

ai luv yu. bai.

ps me r chimp. sum hyoomuns git mad when yu cal chimpz munkeez sted uv ayps. sorree.

ai luv yu. bai.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"It's better to have no religion at all, just Jesus, himself, alone." -- ACTUAL QUOTE

Actual quote from a real person:

"It's better to have no religion at all, just Jesus, himself, alone."

My fellow atheists, this is a perfect example of why many of you are way too excited about all those polls claiming that "religion is in decline." Someone tells the pollster they're not religious, but what you don't see when you read the poll results is them saying, "I don't need religion -- just Jesus!"

But you should sense it, because quotes like the one above are now so common that nobody but me remarks upon them. Once again, I have to do everything by myself. (A perfect example of why I deserve the Nobel Prize in Literature.) It's the people who often call themselves SBNR or "spiritual but not religious," whom I often call "religious but in denial about it" or "the disorganized religious." And of course, these people who don't call themselves religious are finding each other and organizing into groups that they don't call churches or temples, led by people they don't call clergy -- place where they get together and talk about how great God is and discuss His plan.

Similar to religion? Gee, ya think?

Yes, it's identical to religion. Identical to early Protestantism in most cases: people leave their churches because the churches are "doin' it wrong," and start their own, more self-righteous and Bible-obsessed groups.

At the very least, those doofuses taking the polls should become aware of all this, and adjust their polls to distinguish between atheists and the disorganized religious -- but as I've said before, sociologists aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer either.

Stupid disorganized religious, stupid atheists, stupid pollsters -- I'm surrounded by idiots! And no, this doesn't make me feel smart. Not at all -- I've allowed a bunch of idiots to surround me!