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Sulu (Star Trek)

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek dur...

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek during the third season (1968–1969). From left to right: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, DeForest Kelley, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sulu is the fictional helmsman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek TV series. The character is played by actor George Takai.¹

Takai was one of very few Japanese Americans to hold a significant role in 1960s American television and his character was devoid of all the usual stereotypes present of that era.

With the inclusion of an international crew, Star Trek’s creators directly challenged racism.

In 2005 Takai made public that he had been and still was gay. In the very first episode of the first season, “The Man Trap” (1966), we find an interesting, perhaps, prefigurative dialogue between Sulu and Yeoman Janice Rand in the Botany department of the starship about the gender of a plant called Beauregard (traditionally male) / Gertrude (traditionally female).

RAND: Where are you, Sulu?
SULU: In here feeding the weepers, Janice.
RAND: I’ve got your tray.
SULU: May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet.
RAND: Thank you. Hello, Beauregard. How are you today, darling?
SULU: Her name’s Gertrude.
RAND: No, it’s a he plant. A girl can tell.
SULU: Why do people have to call inanimate objects she, like she’s a fast ship.
RAND: He is not an inanimate object. He’s so animate he makes me nervous. In fact, I keep expecting one of these plants of yours to grab me [italics added]. ²

¹ Sulu was originally known only by his last name. The full details at Wikipedia:

Hikaru Sulu is a character in the Star Trek media franchise.[1] Originally known simply as ‘Sulu’, he was portrayed by George Takei in the original Star Trek series. Sulu also appears in the animated Star Trek series, the first six Star Trek movies, one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and in numerous books, comics, and video games.[2] Sulu’s first name, ‘Hikaru,’ appeared in a 1981 novel well over a decade after the original series had ended. John Cho assumed the role of the character in both the 2009 film Star Trek[3] and its sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. See » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikaru_Sulu

² http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/6.htm

Related » Gene Roddenberry


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Sunni (denominations of Islam)

Map of predominantly Sunni or Shi'a regions in...

Map of predominantly Sunni or Shi’a regions in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sunni represent a major denomination of Islam, along with the Shi’ite (or Shia). The Sunni branch is comprised of about 85-90% of contemporary Muslims and is often taken as the orthodox form of this religion.

The Shi’ite branch, mostly in Iran, Persia and partly in Iraq, represent about 10-15% of today’s Muslims.¹

Historically speaking, the Shi’ites and Sunnis split over a disagreement about the legitimacy of Mohammad’s successors (Caliphs)—not entirely unlike the Protestant refusal to recognize the authority of the Catholic Papacy.

¹ I was never a huge fan of demographics and religion, preferring the experiential and doctrinal aspects of faith. So rather than rewrite what Wikipedia presents so well, I’ll simply copy and paste:

The demographic breakdown between the two denominations is difficult to assess and varies by source, but a good approximation is that 85-90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni[1] and 10-15% are Shia,[2][3] with most Shias belonging to the Twelver tradition and the rest divided between many other groups.[2] Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities: in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, and most of the Arab world. Shia make up the majority of the citizen population in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, as well as being a politically significant minority in Lebanon. Azerbaijan is predominantly Shia; however, practicing adherents are much fewer.[4] Indonesia has the largest number of Sunni Muslims, while Iran has the largest number of Shia Muslims (Twelver) in the world. Pakistan has the second-largest Sunni as well as the second-largest Shia Muslim (Twelver) population in the world. » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia%E2%80%93Sunni_relations

Related » Bahai


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Surya (Asian deity/deities)

Konark Sun Temple Panoramic View via Wikipedia

One of the main identities of Surya is an Indian sun god associated with fantastic temples, like that found at Konark.

Like most mythic beings, Surya appears in different contexts. The deity variously exhibits divine, semi-divine and aristocratic attributes, according to the tradition in which it has evolved. This variety poses a problem to archetypal theorists who tend to simply complex mythic histories by interpreting them in vague, watered-down “general principles”—e.g. Great Mother, The Wizard, The Wise Old Man.¹

Surya or the Sun God, Konark.

Surya or the Sun God, Konark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon closer inspection much of the data forced into conceptual boxes by archetypal theorists is far more inconsistent and variable than they claim. Mythic and religious data is linked to politics, economics, geography, and war. With war we find that the aggressive movement of populations usually results in the conquest and subjugation of peoples, whose gods may be replaced, adapted or tolerated by the conquerors, who themselves almost always introduce something new to the cultural and religious landscape.

In defending their archetypal position, theorists like Joseph Campbell and C. G. Jung assert that they’ve distilled the underlying essence or commonality among various cultural expressions of an archetype. To distinguish a cultural manifestation from the archetype, proper, they use the term archetypal image. Archetypal images of a given archetype vary, but the underlying archetype behind its imagery is (supposedly) one and the same.

To my mind that’s like saying all cities are “the same” because they share core elements such as people, a downtown, suburbs, roads, utilities, government and housing. Anyone who has compared a developing to a developed city will find it a gross simplification to say that all cities are “the same.” And so it is, I would argue, with those archetypal theorists who claim that all myths and religions are “the same.” It’s an unwarranted simplification often made with good intentions, out of political correctness, or perhaps through lack of experience.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See the following for the tremendous variety found in the Surya character, according to Asian tradition and scripture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya

¹In the Star Wars mythos Obi Wan Kenobi arguably plays a dual role of the Wizard and the Wise Old Man. Filmmaker George Lucas actually consulted the mythographer Joseph Campbell to facilitate the idea that Star Wars would tell a modern story with timeless, mythic appeal. So, in fairness, we could say that the success of Star Wars throws a vote in favor of the archetypal theorists and their tendency to generalize. However, many films use so-called archetypal ideas and bomb at the box office. So that’s clearly not enough for the making of a blockbuster.

Related » Underworld


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Sutra

A sutra (Sanskrit = thread, twine, string; related to woven) is a highly condensed verse, loaded with spiritual significance for believers, respectively, in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sacred scripture.

The Hindu Upanisads (end of the Veda) are written in sutra form. Each sutra properly corresponds to a specific Veda.

Detail of Elder Subhuti, from the famous Dunhu...

Detail of Elder Subhuti, from the famous Dunhuang Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), the first known printed book. The picture is derived from the second chapter, in which Subhuti asked the Buddha how bodhisattvas can achieve enlightenment. “From the midst of the great multitude, Elder Subhūti arose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, and placed his right knee on the ground. With his hands joined together in respect, he addressed the Buddha…” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Related » Ahimsa, Diamond Sutra, Heart Sutra, Raja-yoga, Sankara

Note – This is another mini entry from the far back of our catalog. We’re now updating the very oldest entries at earthpages.ca. Some of these have been neglected, perhaps because I wasn’t terribly interested in them anymore, or perhaps because I just didn’t feel ready to add any more info, or perhaps because they were “stubs,” as Wikipedia puts it, that are more fully explained by clicking on related entries (listed at bottom). Rather than ignore and leave these short entries at the far back of the blog (almost limbo), I thought it would be refreshing to update, as I say, from the very oldest entries.


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What’s a synagogue?

Pope Francis arrives at the Rome’s synagogue, flanked by leaders of the local Jewish community Ruth Dureghello (L) and Renzo Gattegna (R) on January 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy. The visit marks the third time a pontiff has been invited to the synagogue, following on from the visit by Benedict XVI in January 2010 and the historic encounter of Pope John Paul II with former Rabbi Elio Toaff there in 1986.

A synagogue [Greek synagoge: assembly] is a Jewish house of worship and center for religious education. The synagogue has ancient roots. Today it is often synonymous with “temple” and “shul.” But there are differences, outlined here >> http://www.jewishboston.com/Ask-A-Rabbi/blogs/3729-what-s-the-difference-between-a-temple-synagogue-and-a-shul

Related » Hebrew, Judaism, Spinoza, Torah

 


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Upanaya

English: The sacred thread of Hinduism. Upanay...

The sacred thread of Hinduism. Upanayana is the “sacred thread ceremony”, a rite-of-passage ritual when the sacred thread is received by young boys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Hinduism, Hindu males at age 12 belonging to the upper three castes undergo the ritual of upanaya, receiving a sacred thread to indicate their status as ‘twice born.’  Not unlike the Christian Confirmation or Jewish Bar Mitzvah, this ceremony contains both cultural and spiritual significance.

When I lived in India from 1987-89, it seemed that many upper caste Hindus held a considerable amount of disdain for lower caste individuals. But from my perspective, the lower castes, in general, seemed far more attuned to the spirit than the higher caste ones. There were exceptions on both sides, of course. But the whole setup seemed even more desperately wrong and gridlocked than the class-based discrimination still found in the West.

Related » Caste


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2001: A Space Odyssey

 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a science-fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke and an MGM film with screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Clarke. The film stars Keir Dullea (as Dave Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (as Frank Pool).

2001’s Discovery – via Wikipedia

It is probably best for sci-fi fans to read the novel after seeing the enigmatic film. The novel helps to make sense of the movie, but for me it’s a bit pedantic. On the other hand, the movie is widely regarded as a cinematic classic. It was even on Pope John Paul II’s top 10 list of favorite films. And before the Star Wars debut of 1977, this sci-fi film was a benchmark for all the others.

In a time before CGI and the first moonwalk, 2001 was groundbreaking, and rightly recognized as such. The apes in the opening shots were painstakingly researched and constructed. Actors studied the movement of real apes and were filmed with actual baby apes. Anthropologists were consulted, partly because “Man The Ape” was a resonant theme back then.¹ In fact, in the late 60s, it was hip to be “Anthro.” And the apes in 2001 were leaps and bounds ahead of the apes in the original Planet of the Apes movie (also released in 1968).

Watching the film today, we find some awkward anachronisms that just wouldn’t wash in 2016. For instance, when Dr. Heywood Floyd he arrives in an orbiting space station, he is generically asked by a computer to enter his “Christian Name.” Russians are cast as a sneaky lot (this negative stereotype continuing until the new millennium, around which point Hollywood branched out to find new ethnicities, cultures and personality types for their cardboard cutout characters).²

English: The famous red eye of HAL 9000

The famous red eye of HAL 9000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The special FX in 2001 were mind-bending for 1968. Today they seem pretty lame and most of the sets dated. But we have to remember that this is an older film with big ideas.

With a bare minimum of dialog and certainly no love story, two related themes are explored:

  • The evolution of Mankind
  • Mankind vs. Machine

The machine, a HAL 9000 computer, malfunctions and murders astronaut Frank Pool and several others traveling in suspended animation en route to Jupiter (Saturn in the novel). The catalyst for the Jupiter mission (and for the eventual transformation of Bowman) is a signal emanating from an anomalous, rectangular monolith discovered just underneath the Moon’s surface (TMA-1).

The film tells us that another, identical object was present on Earth at the dawn of mankind, which we see in the opening scenes with the apes. (The novel explains that the monolith was planted by aliens in order to guide mankind’s evolution through the centuries.)

In an eerily dramatic scene, the lone survivor, Dave Bowman, disconnects HAL’s higher processing modules, despite HAL’s psychiatric advice to “take a stress pill, relax, and think it over.” HAL then sings a song learned in “childhood” as his voice processor slows down to nothingness.

The "Star Gate" sequence, one of man...

The “Star Gate” sequence, one of many ground-breaking visual effects. It was primarily for these that Stanley Kubrick won his only personal Academy Award. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bowman is directly transported through an alien gateway to a distant world. Back in the day people used to talk about the “fantastic” special FX of this segment, which nowadays seem unspectacular.

The next segment, perhaps the most interesting and odd, sees Dave in a strange kind of Renaissance room, where he ages rapidly.³ Dying in front of another monolith, he is reborn a Star Child.

In the novel the Star Child orbits the Earth and safely detonates a low-orbiting hydrogen bomb to prevent it from being used for violence. Unsure what to do next, the Star Child will “think of something.” The film, however, leaves us with an ambiguous ending. We see the Star Child in orbit. And that’s it. Close curtain.

On the whole, the screenplay is far more open-ended than the novel. But both portray astronaut Dave Bowman’s metamorphosis in a way consistent with world myths illustrating the mythic cycle of death/rebirth and transformation. So 2001 could be taken as another myth situated in a longstanding tradition of death/rebirth and transformation myths.

Subsequent novels like 2010 (also a film, not nearly as respected by critics), 2064 and 3001 use the literary device of retroactive continuity. Retroactive continuity means that some plot and setting details are modified (or elaborated on) for a greater, holistic sense of coherence. For instance, in the sequel film 2010 we learn that the HAL 9000 was told to lie by Washington, which was incompatible with HAL’s programming. So the computer’s somewhat sinister ‘malfunction’ in 2001 becomes something of an unavoidable, forgivable psychosis ultimately caused by human error, as HAL ironically suggested in the original film.  

Stanley Kubrick

To me, this kind of retroactive continuity detracts from the magic of the original film. Not to mention charm. Perhaps that’s the difference between Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick. One a very talented but essentially pragmatic writer who likes to tie up all the loose ends. The other, a cinematic genius who realizes the value of mystery.

Having said that, Clarke’s novel 3001 explores an idea where human consciousness (Dave Bowman) eventually merges with a computer program (HAL) to create a new kind of hybrid named Halman. And this is an intriguing idea, considering our potentially endless future.

Related » Cylons

Book cover

Book cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Desmond Morris published the massive bestseller, The Naked Ape in 1967 and the popular imagination was very much attuned to our roots in Africa along with the mind-boggling achievements of NASA. Oval pottery and anything remotely “tribal” was equally as trendy as rounded plastic chairs. So this film came along at the right time, to put it mildly.

² This constant updating of marginalized types arguably reflects and reinforces the bigotry and xenophobia of a given era.

³ The renaissance room is explained in the book (which itself is based on Clarke’s earlier short story, “The Sentinel”). The aliens have been monitoring Earth. But due to the time it takes for light to travel to their home world, their information about a “normal” living space is dated by a few centuries. Today, we think about wormholes, bending the space-time continuum and the instantaneous transfer of information across space and time. So this explanation seems not only pedantic but also dated. In this regard, the TV show Star Trek (1966-69) was light years ahead with its warp drive and several episodes about time travel.

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