What feelings lie within the story of Jonah and his whale? On the surface there is horror, but, as George Orwell argued, there lies beneath the horror a deeper current of feeling, one predominated by envy. A half-suppressed wish to trade places with Jonah and to take with acceptance what he fled from in terror. To surrender all worldly agency and concern, to give up on responsibility, to retreat within a small and private world and to there while away all the long hours of this life in perfect comfort and pointlessness. 

Much of the horror genre follows this pattern, a veneer of fear layered over an appealing fantasy of greater or lesser anti-social character, and for the story of Jonah it is the appeal of whale as womb. The siren song of warm oblivion. The song that, as Margaret Atwood put it, "forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls." In our current age it is heroin that sings to us this song.


An inherently funny word, movie. We have this new invention by which pictures are made to move, moving pictures we call it, but that's a little long and lacks the catchiness so important when trying to sell the public on innovation and so overtime the phrase shortens to the brilliantly playful 'movie.' But playful isn't always what we want, especially when the 'we' refers to critics whose careers depend on extolling the potential for movies as Art with a capital A. 

There are alternatives. Film sounds suitably portentous but becomes more inaccurate day by day. Cinema is best, burying its functional equivalence to 'movie' under the academic camouflage of Greek (kinema meaning movement). The only problem being that the word cinema, while ostensibly referring to the movies themselves, has rather inextricably come to refer to the theaters that show the movies. In fact, the whole business of movies shows a certain confusion in this regard. Cinema is the biggest offender but the entire language suffers a general vagueness when it comes to separating the film, if you'll excuse the archaism, from its customary viewing area. The reason why is plain after a little thought. In days gone by the theater and the film truly were inseparable. Unlike music or plays the only way that a moving picture could be experienced was inside a darkened room equipped with the host of technical requirements. There was only one way to see a movie and that was to go to the movies. What is remarkable is how this connection has not yet passed out of consciousness. Even in todays world of home video the cinema and its theater remain incredibly linked.

So why do movie theaters still exist? What is the attraction that brings people out of their homes, through traffic, past the prohibitively expensive gate and into the seats? What does the theater give? The answer is threefold: It produces a trance like experience, allowing us to momentarily divorce ourselves from the innumerable distractions normally filling our lives. It bestows a communal experience, letting us share experience of emotions with another group of humans, even though communication during the experience is heavily discouraged. Finally, it offers people the chance to give their money in service of something they believe in. This last may seem ridiculous but I could point to numerous article arguing that we ought to lend our support, through ticket sales, toward one kind of filmmaking or another. That there is a market for these articles proves that monetary sacrifice toward a higher goal is a factor, though probably a minor one, behind ticket sales. Trance, community, and sacrifice. What do these three things add up to? Well, when one consider them functionally it becomes obvious what niche movie theaters fill in our culture. They're churches. Churches to cinema, the great religion of our day.

What is a religion other than a set of stories that serve to give our lives meaning, provide succor in times of need, and create a sense of community between people who would otherwise have nothing in common? It's possible that Star Wars alone serves these functions for more people than many major religions. Even the way the popularity of movies has spread across the globe mirrors that of religion, diffusing into foreign places through the building of churches coupled with aggressive advertising. All backed by a staggering amount of money in the hopes of making even more money. Though, if criticized on that front they can always say that while it's true the new markets will make them an ungodly amount of money, the true purpose is to spread the joy of what they sell. Today they're even undergoing something of a Reformation thanks to the revolutionary technology of streaming services which, like the printing press of the 15th century, has been slowly but surely eroding the importance of churches and the traditional, ecclesiastical power structures behind them.


Once upon a time the humble leaflet was the dominant form of public discourse.  From the fifteen to seventeen hundreds matters of religion and policy were debated through the proliferation of thousands of vitrolic pamphlets. When the Seven Years War was winding down and Britain felt sure of its victory over France there was considerable debate over which colony they would take for their own. Some wanted to seize the island of Guadeloupe and its considerable wealth in sugar. Others thought they should seize Canada and its vast tracts of lands. Both sides printed a steady stream of leaflets arguing their points. Near the end of this pamphlet war one final argument was made for Guadeloupe. If England were to seize Canada, the argument went, then the American colonies would no longer have the looming presence of France to fear. Without that fear and the consequent need for British protection the colonies might feel themselves self sufficient and attempt to seize independence. Despite this argument, Canada was indeed the choice made. A little over ten years later another pamphlet was made and circulated throughout the Thirteen Colonies. It was Common Sense by Thomas Paine and its arguments for independence fueled the fires of rebellion, inspiring thousands to join with Washington and the other American elite in fighting against British rule. A few simple pages can change the world.


When Democritus proposed that the universe is composed of atoms or when Ibn Kahldun theorized that humans came from a gradual, generational transformation of monkeys they were both astoundingly correct. Both ideas turn out to be true, but both are in some ways simply lucky. Today we admire these men and their ideas because we value are ideas in the marketplace of evidence and it so happens that today we have mountains of evidence backing up both of these claims. This hasn't been the case for most of history. When these ideas were proposed they were not competing in a marketplace of evidence, they were competing in the marketplace of truthiness. Truthiness, a brilliant word gifted to us by the great Stephen Colbert, being exactly that quality of an idea that makes it feel true without the need for any evidence backing it up. 

While the theories of Democritus and Kahldun gained a degree of acceptance in their time, along with a degree of infamy, they were both eventually reduced to footnotes of history precisely because, while considered interesting, their truthiness value was low. It was only when humanity began shopping for ideas based on the quality of evidence that these theories were rediscovered and received the success they deserved. That shift of marketplaces, when humanity decided that an idea must be tested against the world and not just within the confines of our own minds, was one of the most momentous and beneficial in our history. But the old marketplace didn't go away. It's still there, and we must always be wary of those attempting to bring us back to the old and shiesty bazaar of mere believability.


Do you have backing? It's one of the most crucial questions in life. Anyone can be a maverick, anyone can shout their lone opinion against the overwhelming resistance or worse, apathy, of the world. Every street corner doomsayer does that. But to have backing, that is to have convinced at least one person that your not crazy. That your shouting reason and not madness. It is of course no guarantee that this is the case. While there are no street corner doomsayers with backing, there are plenty of cult leaders.


In mathematics there are two kinds of optimums. There is the global optimum which is the best and most perfect solution. Then there is the local optimum. The local optimum is the greatest solution in its immediate vicinity. It is not the best solution that exists in the problem space but any step away from it would be in a downward direction. Once one of these is reached optimization plateaus. The great solution is never found because to get there would mean the abandonment of the good enough. Good can be the enemy of great.


From Sargon's Akkadians to the British East India Company the business of occupation is a venerable one, including amongst its historical ranks also the Persians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Mongols, the Aztecs and the Conquistadors. But how is it done? How does a minority of a population, and often a hated and invasive one, take and hold the reigns of power over all?

Tolstoy wrote in a letter that inspired Gandhi, "What does it mean that thirty thousand men, not athletes but rather weak and ordinary people, have subdued two hundred million vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves?" The truth captured in this simple calculus is that it was not truly the invading English that captured India, but rather the local legions of ambitious bureaucrats and petty tyrants who saw an alliance with the English, or even outright subordination, as a way to increase their personal power. 

When the Spanish came to the New World the pattern was the same. The Incans saw the invaders as game changing allies in their ongoing civil war. The oppressed peoples of the Aztec Empire saw a weapon with which they could at last throw off the parasitic imperial yoke. It's only after the war is over and victory won that the consequences become apparent. One begins to notice that the influx of these new people is unceasing and accelerating. That those now in power are precisely and exclusively those people utterly dependent upon the occupiers for that power, and that the institutions established by these people are slowly becoming more pervasive, more entrenched, and more tyrannical.


Frequently the most interesting part of a spectrum is what's left outside of it. When we speak of the color spectrum displayed in a rainbow what we are referring to is the tiny stretch of electro-magnetic wavelengths our eyes are able to detect. The larger spectrum ranges from x-rays, so small and energetic they can punch through the surface of solid objects, to radio waves so large and lazy that they unnoticed through solid earth. And what is left out of this spectrum? Well unlike color this spectrum is based on a mathematical relation, wavelength times frequency equals the speed of light, and so there is no wave that cannot be placed upon it. But, it is not yet determined where in actuality the waves stop. Just how far this spectrum goes is an open subject in theoretical physics, and so again we find the true fascination just outside the edge.

This as true of politics as it is in physics. In this country we are accustomed to seeing the spectrum of opinion regularly presented to us in our elections. The liberal conservative spectrum that runs from Democrats to Republicans. So accustomed that it can come as a shock to realize that in some countries our politics seems as narrow a space as color is when compared against the full richness of the electromagnetic field. It is always important to ask what lies beyond the edge of the familiar.


It seems a trivial thing, area. In these days of satellite imposed grids knowing the size of a space hardly seems a bother. But, it is a task that has for much of history has kept many a bright mind occupied. It was the genius of Newton that gave us Calculus and for the first time, after at least three millennia of trying, we were at last able to find the true area inside curved lines. It is only now, in the last fifty years, that radio and rocketry and relativity have given us the GPS systems that allow us to know the area of any place on Earth without laborious effort. Such is the story of humanity, we solve problems so we may have the luxury of forgetting they ever existed.


When something is polished it is more than finished. Not just done but also shinning. Exemplary. Sometimes this final stage is accomplished through the application of something extra, by layering on the wax or the varnish. The thing by itself is incomplete and only by fusing it with these thick layers of alien matter can it be made to shine in the way we desire. Other times the thing has within itself the capability to shine. We know locked inside is perfection, and polishing is then an act of cleaning, of scouring, of hacking away until the beauty we believed to be inside is brought blazing to the surface.