A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘harry potter

[NEWS] Five social science links: Canadian Jews, US mafia, Miles O’Brien, online fandoms, Monopoly

  • The Conversation hosts an article looking at the evolution of Jewish identity in Canada from something religious to something cultural.
  • The state of the American mafia, so thoroughly Americanized, is remarkable in a lot of ways. VICE reports.
  • There is definitely something to be said for the idea that Star Trek’s Chief Miles O’Brien is one of the best representations of someone Irish and of Irish culture in popular culture. entertainment.ie has it.
  • This Wired article takes a look at the online interactions, positive and malign both, that have complicated so many fandoms like that of Harry Potter.
  • Monopoly, this article reminds us at The Conversation, was a board game invented to remind people about the pitfalls of capitalism.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes new evidence that the Pathfinder probe landed, on Mars, on the shores of an ancient sea.
  • The Crux reports on tholins, the organic chemicals that are possible predecessors to life, now found in abundance throughout the outer Solar System.
  • D-Brief reports on the hard work that has demonstrated some meteorites which recently fell in Turkey trace their origins to Vesta.
  • Colby King at the Everyday Sociology Blog explores sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s concept of social infrastructure, the public spaces we use.
  • Far Outliers reports on a Honolulu bus announcement in Yapese, a Micronesian language spoken by immigrants in Hawai’i.
  • JSTOR Daily considers the import of the autobiography of Catherine the Great.
  • Language Hat reports, with skepticism, on the idea of “f” and “v” as sounds being products of the post-Neolithic technological revolution.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen is critical of the idea of limiting the number of children one has in a time of climate change.
  • Jim Belshaw at Personal Reflections reflects on death, close at hand and in New Zealand.
  • Strange Company reports on the mysterious disappearance, somewhere in Anatolia, of American cyclist Frank Lenz in 1892, and its wider consequences.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel identifies five types of cosmic events capable of triggering mass extinctions on Earth.
  • Towleroad reports on the frustration of many J.K. Rowling fans with the author’s continuing identification of queer histories for characters that are never made explicit in books or movies.
  • Window on Eurasia has a skeptical report about a Russian government plan to recruit Russophones in neighbouring countries as immigrants.
  • Arnold Zwicky explores themes of shipwrecks and of being shipwrecked.

[URBAN NOTE] “Why Toronto is so obsessed with Harry Potter”

blogTO’s Amy Grief makes the case that Toronto’s deeply interested in the universe of Harry Potter. (I think it would be too much to argue that Toronto is uniquely interested, mind.)

Toronto might not be part of the Harry Potter universe, but the city is feeling awfully magical nonetheless.

Lately, it seems like the Statute of Secrecy has been thrown out the window here as Harry Potter-related events, shows and trivia nights have become more commonplace in Toronto.

Of course, the new 2016 additions to the Harry Potter cannon – including the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie and the rather lacklustre Cursed Child script – have helped keep Potter in the public eye.

But here in Toronto, this newfangled Pottermania started earlier, when The Lockhart, the city’s unofficial Harry Potter bar, opened on Dundas West in September 2015. The local watering hole got international media attention and it naturally attracted lineups around the block.

Since things have cooled off a bit, co-owner and general manager Matt Laking says he and his team have been able to introduce magic shows and trivia nights on certain nights of the week.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2017 at 9:45 pm

[LINK] “Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects”

While Harry Potter fans might be familiar with this item already, the recent British Medical Journal article by Ramagopalan et al., “Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects” deserves the widest possible propagation for its analysis of the genetic origins of magic and its suggestions as to the locations of certain genes responsible for certain abilities.

We hypothesise that a profound mutation in an evolutionary ancestor occurred in a histone gene, which radically altered genome wide chromatin structure. This created new sites of chromatin accessibility and altered gene regulation, including novel enhancer elements to drive “magical” type expression of genes (figure). Such magical enhancers would join a growing list of regulatory elements such as promoters, enhancers, silencers, insulators, and locus control regions.17 These regulatory elements are currently being identified and catalogued by the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project Consortium, with analysis of 1% of the human genome recently reported.18 A dominant mutation in the histone gene could provide heritability of this epigenetic effect.19 Such a mechanism originating in our ancestors would account for non-human magical creatures with some magical abilities (for example, house elves, goblins, centaurs). The basic human genetic structure still develops, making wizards and witches in most ways phenotypically similar to muggles. Squibs may result from an as yet unidentified compensatory epigenetic phenomenon, which returns the chromatin to near normal (muggle) function.

In the fast-approaching age of practical human genetic engineering, who knows what this sort of information might produce? Imagine, a world with no Muggles or squibs!

Written by Randy McDonald

January 5, 2008 at 7:25 pm

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[REVIEW] Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left me cold, with not enough important framing material (the role of Kreacher, most importantly) was used in a film which felt badly paced. Two bright points lie in the casting: The selection of Imelda Staunton to portray Dolores Umbridge, all quiet malevolence in fuschia with a girlish giggle, was inspired, and as perplexing as it may be that Helena Bonham Carter was the director’s second choice for the comparatively minor character Bellatrix Lestrange at least the right actress was picked in the end.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 7, 2007 at 11:35 pm

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[LINK] Two critical Harry Potter links

First, imomus‘s “Dickens, the humanity!”, excerpted below.

Nobody is telling us the new Harry Potter, or the last series of The Wire, or Bill Viola’s new triptych is great because it shares insight with Kafka or Beckett or T.S. Eliot. No, we make a big lacuna over everything artists told us in the 20th century — stuff rooted in Nietzsche and Freud and the Futurists and the Surrealists and all that nihilist dynamite.

Instead, they’re invoking Dickens. Now, I have nothing against Dickens — it’s amusing, if a little exhausting, to keep meeting a man with a funny name who proclaims “I’ll eat my head!”, or to weep over the death of Little Nell. But is rolling out the name of a 19th century writer really the best way to legitimize art being made now? Have we just decided to skip the 20th century entirely?

“Rowling understands that grief is part of what makes us wholly human, along with the ability to love and forgive and show remorse. And while magic is ultimately seen to have limits — Death has its dominion, even at Hogwarts — love does not.” That’s novelist Elizabeth Hand, writing about the new Harry Potter in the Washington Post.

I’m already disturbed, in that, by the idea that some humans are not “fully human”. You can already see, right there, how this brand of “humanism” might be employed in an inhumane way. We have to work to be human? Some of us aren’t?

The kind of big-canvas, 19th century humanism being touted here is secularized religion, and therefore teleological (does love really have no bounds? Does human life really only gain meaning from suffering, vicar?) and rhetorical, designed to sweep us along, sweep us away, make us cry. Hand tells us she wept at the end of the Potter book, which reminded her of Dickens.

Next, via Marginal Revolution, Megan McArdle’s “Harry Potter: the economics”.

There are two ways, I think, that one can present magic: as something that can be done, but only at a price; or as a mysterious force that is poorly understood. So in Orson Scott Card’s Hart’s Hope, women who perform magic must pay the price in blood, their own or that of others.

Those prices provide the scarcity needed to drive the plot forward. In the Narnia books and the Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, magical power has no obvious cost. But we don’t need to understand the costs of magic, because the main characters can’t perform it. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having a deus ex machina in a story; your average fiction writer does not need to explain the operation of the law of gravity, or provide a back story for running out of gas at an (in)convenient moment.

But there have to be generally accepted rules. Characters can’t get out of the predicament the author is sick of by having the car suddenly start running on sand. Similarly, if your characters will be using magic, they must do so by some generally believable system.

Yet in the Potter books, the costs and limits are too often arbitrary. A patronus charm, for example, is awfully difficult – until Rowling wants a stirring scene in which Harry pulls together an intrepid band of students to Fight the Power, whereupon it becomes simple enough to be taught by an inexperienced fifteen year old. Rowling can only do this because it’s thoroughly unclear how magic power is acquired. It seems hard to credit academic labour, when spells are one or two words; and anyway, if that were the determinant, Hermione Granger would be a better wizard than Harry. But if it’s something akin to athletic skill, why is it taught at rows of desks? And why aren’t students worn out after practicing spells?

The low opportunity cost attached to magic spills over into the thoroughly unbelievable wizard economy. Why are the Weasleys poor? Why would any wizard be? Anything they need, except scarce magical objects, can be obtained by ordering a house elf to do it, or casting a spell, or, in a pinch, making objects like dinner, or a house, assemble themselves. Yet the Weasleys are poor not just by wizard standards, but by ours: they lack things like new clothes and textbooks that should be easily obtainable with a few magic words. Why?

I disagree with the authors–the style of the popular novels of the 19th century has remained popular for a reason, and users of magic of the Potterverse are constrained in their abilities in certain predictable ways–but their essays do raise interesting points about, respectively, the structures of popular literature and fictional universes.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 23, 2007 at 11:44 pm

[REVIEW] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Given my place of employment, it’s not too surprising that I was able to get hold of a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows soon after the release midnight on Friday. I’m still digesting it, but I have to say that the use of tantric magic is–

No, no spoilers, not even joke spoilers.

Here be spoilers. Seriously, don’t venture beneath the fold if you don’t want spoilers.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 22, 2007 at 11:58 pm

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