Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Enough with the damn penguins already!

Okay, it's not funny anymore. Or maybe it is, but I'm getting sort of tired of it.

In the last week, this blog has had 36 hits, and 33 of them were from people doing a Google search for pictures of sexy penguins. That's about 92%, for those of you who are into percentages. (Great, in the midst of a post essentially complaining about Rule #34, I'm contributing...) I've got sexy penguin seekers from Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Mexico, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, and of course plenty right here in the USA.

Seriously, what's the deal? Has the recent spate of Penguin movies suddenly got everyone hot and bothered for a little penguin action? Is there nothing in the modern world that is beyond fetishizing? What's next, sexy trilobites?

Look, I don't know, alright? Maybe if you stumbled upon my blog looking for a sexy penguin, it was just some sort of joke. I know there are people who use odd search strings just for comedy value, but it's likely that there are folks out there typing the word "penguin" with one hand, know what I mean?

Seriously, dudes.... Get some help.

Friday, April 13, 2007

If you're going to sin, you might as well be original

There's been a lot of buzz around the Internet about a piece of stolen artwork, and it's growing. Not just the buzz, but the scope of the theft.

Todd Goldman, an "artist" and online purveyor of pop-art T-shirts was holding an art exhibit of his works and somebody noticed a similarity between the art on one of the canvases and a webcomic drawn by Dave "Shmorky" Kelly in 2001. Fans of Shmorky researched, and the plot thickened. Among several versions of the work in question, one of them appeared, upon being superimposed with the webcomic, to have actually been traced from it! This wasn't merely an homage, but surprisingly blatant plagiarism. That wasn't all; further research of Goldman's (so-called) work turned up case after case of striking similarities to extant works found in various places on the web. It's hard to say where any of this is leading, or how much of this is a misunderstanding, but it seems that virtually nothing that Goldman has created is original. It's a fascinating story, and if you're not familiar, you might want to read about it and see the evidence yourself.

I'm not here to condemn Goldman, nor do I intend to defend him. What I want to consider here is the nature of plagiarism.

When I was in college, I took a lot of courses from a lot of different disciplines. However, not being much of an artist (on the technical side, that is; I like to think I'm creative), I ended up taking only one course from the art department, a course known as "Photomechanical Reproduction". In other words, we were making art with Xerox machines. It's been a heck of long time now since I was in that class, but as hazy as my memory is, I do remember the issues that it brought up on the subject of what art really is, the nature of originality and the legal aspect of fair usage. (Although I tried a number of different techniques throughout the course, my favorite images to work off of were money; for one project I made a stack of very authentic-looking zero-dollar bills using only the money I had in my pocket and the free supplies at the local Kinko's.)

You could scoff at such work being considered "art"--and you could probably come up with some snide remark relating the idea back to Goldman's dubious techniques--but there was really something to it, and over the years since then, I've used the things I learned repeatedly to make what I considered to be works of art, sometimes from somebody else's art as a basis, and sometimes from nothing at all; you can make rather interesting art on a Xerox machine with no source material at all, if you know a few tricks. Maybe I ought to scan and post a few I've done. But as usual, I'm getting off-topic. The question is: is copying another person's art something that can be art itself?

Webcomics artist Scott Kurtz put one of his own characters in a pose just like the original piece, and had him say the same line, but nobody considers that plagiarism, I assume. It's not just because Kurtz didn't trace the artwork like Goldman did; there are a lot of works in Goldman's portfolio that people are calling rip-offs that don't really look much like the thing people are claiming he ripped off. At the same time, something can be a blatantly stolen and still be somehow special and original because it's intended for parody purposes. Think "Weird Al" Yankovic, or better, a little panel I threw together in a couple minutes:

It doesn't matter so much that both the image and the caption are blatant copies; I'm not likely to get sued for this picture because I'm making a point with it, not trying to rip off Shmorky or Jim Davis. In many ways, intent has a great deal to do with whether something is considered plagiarised, doesn't it? If I printed out the original webcomic and put it on the wall of my office, people would see it and laugh, and nobody would have a problem with it, least of all the artist, who might even be flattered. Blow it up on a big canvas, tell people it's my original idea, and put a $5,000 price tag on it, and now we have a problem. An artist ought to have the rewards of his or her art and in the former case, I would be increasing the acclaim of the art, while in the latter, I'm taking money that should be theirs.

But people do take other people's artistic ideas and make money off of them all the time. I'm not just talking about parodies, which have some amount of legal protection, but stealing images in order to make an artistic statement that launches from preconceived notions of existing iconic images and ideas. How many people have made artistic statements launching from Grant Wood's "American Gothic"? (Contrary to popular belief, the image depicts a father and daughter, not a married couple.) There's something to the concept of taking a pre-existing idea and running with it in a new direction, or even taking it as it is and merely presenting it in a new fashion. Some artists, such as famously Marcel Duchamp, take items that are not not art, and present them as art.

Is there really such a thing as an original idea? Many great artists make their art by copying things they see in the world around them, or illustrating a well-known story. Even those that tend towards the more abstract still use concepts that we all understand on some level, whether it be the ordered, clean colored blocks of Piet Mondrian or the chaotic splatterings of Jackson Pollock. One might wonder what a change it would bring to the legal status of Goldman's work if he openly admitted the complete lack of originality, and stated proudly that his artistic genre was plagiarism. Really, why not?

The odd fact is that plagiarism is a very strange concept, one of those ones that is hard to define, but you "know it when you see it". When you were required to write a paper in school, you were probably admonished by your teachers to use the encyclopedia, but not copy your info directly out of it, but rather summarize. When you summarize or paraphrase, you state in your own words and sentence structures the meaning of someone else's writing. Since the words and the sentence structures are yours, you do not use quotation marks, though, of course, you must acknowledge the author of the idea. If you use the original sentence pattern and substitute synonyms for key words or use the original words and change the sentence pattern, you are not paraphrasing but plagiarizing, even if the source is acknowledged because both methods use someone else's expression without quotation marks. I copied most of this paragraph directly from another website about plagiarism in an attempt to be ironic, but is it plagiarism when I acknowlege having done it, despite lack of quotation marks?

Sure, Goldman stole the image, but in a way, the true originality of Goldman's method was the blatant manner in which he stole it. I don't know if anyone would call that art, though.

Friday, April 06, 2007

What's so "Good" about Friday?

Although I think I noted in the past that there's almost something clichéd about a Christmas post, I don't think that it may be so for an Easter post. Perhaps I'm wrong, I don't know. The thing is, though, while I wanted to make a post for the Easter season, I was having a hard time figuring out what it was exactly that I wanted to say about the holiday. Then it hit me: in a way, I'd partially already said it.

In my previous post about Elizabeth Edwards, I noted that while there is sometimes a faith that moves mountains, I think more often there is a faith that says, "You know, that mountain is probably there for a good reason." I wondered if such a message would be accepted by many, and I suspected that there are more than a few Christians who would scoff at the idea of a passive, "let it be" faith. (Of course, since nobody seems to be reading, it's hard to tell what people think. It's okay, I don't write for fame, but merely as a creative outlet.)

Then it occurred to me that the best way to make an argument for the value of something to a Christian is to show it modeled in the life of Christ. So today, we come to Good Friday.

The evening before Jesus was crucified, a couple of things happened in short succession, the Gospel of Luke outlining the events best in Luke 22:39-51. Jesus goes off a short distance from his disciples to pray by himself, and this is what he says in that passage:

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Jesus knew that he had less than 24 hours left to live, and he wasn't looking forward to the painful death coming to him, but he didn't want a miraculous escape if it meant that his purpose in coming to earth and dying would be defeated. He knew that this was his fate, not only that night, but for all of his life. Many times he had taught his disciples that it was coming. In Matthew 16:21, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be arrested, tortured, and put to death, and later in that same discourse, he gives the famous line about
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)
He means that in a figurative way for many, but for more than a few with him that day, it was meant literally. The Apostle Peter in particular is known to have been crucified. Jesus knew that difficult times were coming for him and for his followers, but he did not suggest running away, but facing it with bravery instead.

It's the second event that happened that night that illustrates something about Jesus' attitude, faith, and power. Shortly after praying the prayer above, the soldiers came to arrest him. Peter, knowing by that time what was going on, but still not completely accepting of the idea of Jesus going to the cross, jumps up and cuts off the ear of one of the men with a sword. Jesus rebukes him, saying,
"Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (John 18:11, Matt. 26:53)
Jesus points out that he is accepting his fate despite the fact that he has at his disposal the supernatural power to avoid it, and with that, he heals the man's ear. That act of healing is the last miracle of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, and he performs it for a man who is coming to take him away to his death!

How could any Christian say that anyone has greater faith than Jesus had himself? Being God in the flesh, he knew more than any other the power and the purpose of God. He knew that in any situation, he had either the power to provide for himself anything he wanted, or to simply ask his Father for provision and it would be given. But throughout the Gospels, even to the moment of his death on the cross, Jesus never performed a miracle for his own personal needs.

Maybe in your hour of need, God will save you. Maybe he will rescue you from your trouble or heal your pain, or make you rich. Maybe. But consider this: Jesus never did any of those things for himself.

Consider the things that you wish you had. Feel free to pray for them; it's not a sin. But think also of the things that God has given you, and realize that any favor you have been shown by God is more generosity than He showed for His Son. Jesus, the Lord and Creator of the universe, gave us everything, and today is the day that we remember that all he took for himself was death, the punishment for our sins. Good Friday wasn't such a good day for Jesus, but he made it a very good day for the rest of us.

Have a blessed Easter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Elizabeth: "The Oath of God"

I had a few other topics I was considering blogging on, including the lovely but somewhat unusual seder I went to last night, the death of Anna Nicole Smith (which ought to be old news by now, but you'd hardly tell it by watching television) and actually something strange I recently saw at McDonald's; but I had something that really touched my heart in a surprisingly special way in the last 24 hours, and I intend to write on that.

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, has recently had a remission of her cancer, for those who didn't manage to pick up that tidbit of information from between reports of Anna Nicole's death. Back in 2004, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and while it seemed for some time that she had managed to beat it, it seems that the cancer had spread to her bones, and this time, there is nothing that can be done about it.

The latest issue of Newsweek features a short interview with Edwards on the topic of her coping with cancer, and in reading it, I found a lot of truly inspirational stuff. The one thing that really jumped out at me was that the interviewer asked her essentially about how it had affected her faith. Years before, Edwards had lost her 16-year-old son in a car accident, and she started to speak about her reflections on God's treatment of her and her family.

I had to think about a God who would not save my son. Wade was—and I have lots of evidence; it's not just his mother saying it—a gentle and good boy.
This is the sort of thing that I hear so many people struggle with when they talk about faith. I've blogged on it several times. It seems so often that I hear people who come to this issue, and they don't so much "struggle" with the idea, it seems, but come to a quick conclusion: There must be no God. (Not that I want to cheapen the power of that conclusion; some people may not have jumped to it so easily, and yet still arrived there. Faith (or lack thereof) is a personal thing.)

Philosophers discuss it. Pastors preach on it. Complex theological concepts are batted around by both professionals and laymen like myself. However, there is something simple and profound that perhaps is typified in the book of Job.

Most of you are probably somewhat familiar, but let's review the basics of that book of the Bible, considered by many scholars to probably be the oldest book of the Bible, and one of the oldest philosophical discussions of the problem of suffering. (You may read it here, if you want to, but the book is rather long; you can get the gist of it by reading the first three and last three chapters.) There's this guy Job, and he's an exceedingly good man. God is discussing him with Satan, and Satan claims that Job is only good because he gets rewarded for his goodness by God, and if he had nothing, he wouldn't be such a great guy. So God allows Satan to take away everything Job has, and leave him in poverty. Job's response?
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)
This alone is pretty impressive. Most of us wouldn't be so complacent. Satan is not satisfied, however. He claims that so long as a man has his health, he hardly is suffering. So God allows Satan to make Job break out in "painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head." Now Job has really sunk to a low point, and most people would expect him to give up his faith. Indeed,

His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9-10)

To me, that is real faith, deep faith. Faith that doesn't just expect God to be like a genie that grants your every wish, but knows that God is good and righteous even when you can't see His justice in action. Faith that says,
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him..." (Job 13:15)
And that's really the point of the book of Job in many ways: that we have to accept God on His own terms, even if that means suffering for our faith. People will make accusations against people of faith (as Job's friends do, later in the book) and against God because they want and expect God to behave a particular way. But God does not live by our rules, if indeed He lives by any rules at all. Should we expect the Creator of the universe to live up to our expectations, or should we only expect Him to be who He claims to be?

What did Edwards come to believe as a result of her personal losses?
...I had to accept that my God was a God who promised enlightenment and salvation. And that's all.
This is what touched my heart. It sometimes made me seem like a pessimist to my fellow Christians, but in times past, when I had gone through suffering and loss, there were people who told me that I should expect things to improve, because God was looking out for me. My response? "God was looking out for Job, too, wasn't He?"

But for me, this wasn't pessimism, it was realism. If I take God and say that He's a powerful being who exists to take care of my problems, I don't think I'm being Biblical. Jesus Himself promised that we would have trouble (John 16:33), and who am I to say that Jesus is wrong? This isn't bad. Sure I should hope for the best, but just as I'm not going to limit God by saying that He can't fix all of my problems, on the flipside of that, I'm not going to limit Him by saying that He will fix them. Sure, it takes great faith to expect miracles, but doesn't it also take great faith, to say, like Edwards:
I'm not praying for God to save me from cancer. I'm not. God will enlighten me when the time comes. And if I've done the right thing, I will be enlightened. And if I believe, I'll be saved. And that's all he promises me.
I pray that for so many of us unsure in our faith through hard times, that will be enough.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A spiritual quest

I've been too busy lately with my new job to post much, but I thought I could throw together a quick post on a topic that continues to entertain me. My traffic stats. Now while I've been trying very hard to push myself as the leading authority on Complete Crap, but seem to have slipped a bit in the ranking somehow, there are certain things that I can be proud of.

People all over the Internet are searching for things, and occasionally, they find them here in my humble blogs. My advice for other bloggers is never to underestimate the power of poor spelling. As I once commented in my other blog:

I'm glad to see that thanks to anonymous, this blog was located by a blog search for "canabis outdoors fertilisers". Evidently, I will continue to be a popular blog for stoners with questionable spelling skills.
Likewise, here in this blog, I've noticed an upswing in people wondering what Christianity teaches about "mastubation" finding me out through searches like "christian gay blogger mastubation", "does god approve of mastubation" and "videos of mastubation in human beings". I hope through the serendipity of my omission of an 'r', I managed to enlighten these people. No video, though. Sorry. Wait, no I'm not.

It seems that I continue to be a popular destination for people looking for sexy penguins, too. (And how can I forget that other lovely search result?!) While the actual sexy penguin traffic is not huge, I enjoy mentioning it for the mere fact that it will allow me to reuse the tag I created for the article. Penguin sex! Penguin sex! Penguin sex! Actually, I probably should be worried...

Of course, just as I largely got my new job because I knew someone in the company, a fair amount of web traffic comes through association. I seem to get a lot of hits coming through Arbuckle, a parody of Garfield that I suspect both fans and haters of Garfield would enjoy. I know I do. I also get some people passing through from lonelygirl15, an Internet phenomenon that I plan to write a post on some time in the near future. Not so much funny, but a very interesting art form in its own way.

In my other blog, the search terms can always be curious. I get far more hits there overall, but here are a few interesting ones: "the 7 plagues that hit pharoah" Time for a recount? "angel makes the earth rotate so satan would be in light" Wow, there's got to be an interesting story behind that one. "the bible verse with anybody without sin caused the first stone" Actually, this is an interesting bit of creative spelling, as a Christian would believe that Jesus is not only the one man without sin, but also the person who created/caused the first stone, heh. "bashemath's husband" This is interesting because the Bible has a bit of confusion over who Bashemath's father was, but none at all about the identity of her husband. So who knows what this guy was looking for?

Hmm, I guess it's been slow lately, but help me out. Leave a bizarre comment that will bring some interesting searches here. I'm bored. Whoops, gotta go, somebody is searching for sexy penguins again...