Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fact, Fancy, and Fiction

Last week, while doing some literary research on elements of the Harry Potter stories, I noted that some of the magical objects in those stories are inspired by analogs from the real world.

For example, there really was an historical figure named Nicholas Flamel, an Alchemist who sought to create the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life.

Similarly, there really are such things as Bezoars, and they may well have some ability to neutralize arsenic poisoning in drinks.

Another curious idea, with some plausible basis in science, has found itself into storylines on X-Files and CSI. And this one also involves a potter, with a lower-case 'p'. When a potter tools a pot on the potter's wheel, the grooves made by the potter's tool are a little bit like the grooves on a phonograph record. To the extent they can be 'played back' as sound, one mostly recovers the hum of the spinning wheel, much like the unwanted 'wow and flutter' on a vinyl phonograph record.

This observation has led some screenwriters to posit that the potter's trowel could have picked up other sounds and transcribed them onto the clay, something like a faint audio print.

This is such a good story thread that it went beyond the screenwriter's fancy to become an April Fool's Hoax that circulated for a while as a demonstrated achievement in the forensic recovery of fragments of audible speech.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

InterTroll Anonymous

InterTroll Anonymous (ITA) is a reference to a growing practice of setting up forums, blogs, and other sites where anonymous SuperTrolls are free to gin up and publish scandalous attacks on randomly chosen targets. It's a game that more and more anonymous trollers are engaging in, perhaps for the thrill of the chase.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Revisionist Bible Stories

Between modern day blockbuster novels like The DaVinci Code and the recently translated Gnostic Coptic texts like The Gospel of Judas, biblical era storytelling is enjoying a dramatic resurgence.

These revisionist stories provide some intriguing insight into how cultural beliefs (including myths) are crafted, how they grab the spotlight, and how they become sorted out.

There is a curious (if inexact) parallel between the Judas Story and late-breaking news in the case of Scooter Libby. The parallel has to do with the phenomenon of self-betrayal. In The Gospel of Judas, we learn that Jesus recruited Judas to betray him, for the sake of the story. There is also a fictional variant (similar to The DaVinci Code) suggesting that Judas fingered someone other than Jesus to go before Pontius Pilate, thereby letting the real Jesus get away.

These alternative plot lines say more about the art of storycraft than they do about historical events, but they also highlight the subtlety of betrayal and self-betrayal in current events having to do with stories surrounding leaks of concocted national security estimates that serve to sway public opinion about WMDs in Iraq.

Perhaps the deeper story is that propaganda eventually betrays itself.