Category Archives: Movies

Edward Elric’s Flamel

Edward Elric, the main character of a wonderful Japanese manga, Full Metal Alchemist, wears an odd symbol on his bright-red cloak. It’s called a Flamel, a snake on a cross with a crown and wings above. This is the symbol of a famous French author and alchemist of the 1300s, Nicholas Flamel who appears also, tangentially, in Harry Potter for having made a philosopher’s stone. But where does the symbol come from?

Edward Elrich with Flammel on back.

Edward Elric wears a snake-cross, “Flamel” on his back.

s03_ama

Current symbol of the AMA

A first thought of a source is that this is a version of the Asclepius, the symbol of the American Medical Association. Asclepius was an ancient Greek doctor who, in 85 BC distinguished between chronic and acute disease, developed theories on diet and exercise, and cured parasitic snakes under the skin by wrapping them around a stick. In mythology, he was chosen to be ship’s doctor on Jason’s voyage, and was so good at curing that Hades told Zeus he revived the dead. Zeus then killed him and set him among the stars as a constellation (the snake-handler, visible in the winter sky between Scorpius and Hercules). Though the story shows some similarities to Full Metal Alchemist, the Asclepius symbol don’t look like Elric’s Flamel. Asclepius had two daughters, Hygeia (hygiene), and Panacea (drugs?); the cup of Hygeia, below, is similar to the Asclepius but not to Ed’s Flamel.

The cup of Hygia, the symbol of pharmacy.

The cup of Hygeia, the symbol of pharmacy.

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Another somewhat-similar symbol is the Caduceus, symbol of Hermes/ Mercury, left. It was the symbol of the AMA until 2005, and it has wings, but there are two snakes, not one, and no cross or crown. The AMA switched from the Caduceus when they realized that Hermes was not a god of healing, but of merchants, liars, and thieves. Two snakes fighting each other is how the Greeks viewed business. The wings are a symbol of speed. The AMA, it seems, made a Freudian mistake picking this symbol, but it seems unlikely that Flamel made the same mistake.

The true source of the Flamel, I think, is the Bible. In Numbers 21:8-9, the Jews complain about the manna in the desert, and God sends fiery serpents to bite them. Moses prays and is told to put a bronze snake on staff as a cure – look upon it and you are healed. While one might assume the staff was a plain stick like the Asclepius, it might have been a cross. This opinion appears on a German, coin below. The symbol lacks wings and a crown. Still, it’s close to the Flamel. To get the crown and wings, we can turn to the New Testament, John 3:16-17. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up … “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The quote seems to suggest that the snake itself was being lifted up, to holiness perhaps or to Devine service. In either case, this quote would explain the crown and wings as an allusion to Jesus.

German coin, 1500s showing Jesus, a snake and cross on one side. Christ on the other. Suggests two sides of the same.

German “taller” coin, 1500s showing Jesus on the cross on one side, a snake on the cross on the other. Suggests two sides of the same holiness.

I should mention that Flamel’s house is the oldest still standing in Paris, and that it contains a restaurant — one that would be nice to visit. Flamel died in 1418. His tomb has this symbol but was found to be empty. A couple of other odds and ends: the snake on the cross also appears in a horror story, the curse of the white worm, by Bram Stoker. In the story (and movie), it seems there are serpent-worshipers who believe it was the serpent who died for our sins. If you re-read the lines from John, and take the word “Him” to refer to the serpent, you’d get backing for this view. Edward might have adopted this, either as part of his mission, or just for the hell of it. The following exchange might back up Ed’s desire to be controversial.

Roy: I thought you didn’t believe in gods, Full metal.

Edward: I don’t. That’s the thing. I think they can tell, and it pisses them off.

salvation-army

As for the color red, the color may allude to blood and or fire. In this direction, the Salvation Army symbol includes a red “S” on a cross with a crown and the words “Blood and Fire.” In the manga, life-blood and fire appear to be the ingredients for making a philosopher’s stone. Alternately, the red color could relate to a nonvolatile mercury compound, red mercury or mercuric oxide, a compound that can be made by oxidation of volatile mercury. Flamel claimed the symbol related to “fixing the volatile.” Either that’s making oxide of mercury, or putting a stop in death.

Robert E. Buxbaum, February 9, 2017. I’ve also opined on the Holy Grail, and on Jack Kelly of Newsies, and on the humor of The Devine comedy. If you have not read “Full Metal Alchemist,” do.

Air swimmer at REB Research

Birds got to swim and fish got to fly. Gonna love that hydrogen till the day I die. Here’s a movie of our hydrogen-filled air swimmer, a fish-blimp at REB Research. My hope is that this thing will help us sell hydrogen generators — perhaps to folks who fly military balloons, or those who fly hydrogen balloons for sport. On the other hand, the swimmer is a lot of fun to play with — and I got to show it off to a first grade class!

Aside from balloon fliers, military and otherwise, the sort of customers I’d hoped to attract were those building fueling stations for fuel cell cars or drone airplanes, and those running multiple gas chromatographs or adding hydrogen to car or diesel engine. Even small amounts of hydrogen added to a standard engine will reduce pollution significantly, add raise mileage too: a plus for a company like VW.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, December 2, 2015. I should mention that hydrogen balloons are no where near as unsafe as people think. Here’s a movie I made of lighting a hydrogen filled balloon with a cigar.

Is cannibal tourism good for Michigan?

Governor Snyder has no appetite for it, but ex-governor Jennifer Granholm did, and some of her Democratic colleagues still do. Not cannibal tourism, as such, but movie subsidies paid for by a tax on business property independent of profits. Some seven years ago, in 2008, then-governor Granholm and a majority of our legislature instituted a $132 million/year subsidy program that provided up to 42% of movie production costs. The hope was that films would bring Hollywood-type wealth and glamor, and that they would spark tourism. As it happened, the jobs went to Hollywood transients to such an extent that the total number of MI film employees was reduced. It is now 100 lower than at the start, and virtually all of the money spent went to out-of state employees (quite often the high-priced star) who left as soon as the filming was done. The report concluded that the program returned 11¢ for every tax dollar spent. One of Governor Snyder’s first acts was to diminish the subsidies, and the legislature has just put an end to them: revenge of the nerd.

Offspring, filmed in Michigan. It does not seem to have promoted Michigan tourism.

Offspring: no jobs created, and perhaps no tourism … but think of the cool factor.

The amount spent in the early years, $132 million/year, was about 1/3 of the state’s deficit, a major misuse of funds. Reason magazine claimed it was “stone-crazy” to support movies when the state had, at the time, 14% unemployment, the highest rate in the nation. They argued that the money could be better spent on roads, or schools, or left in folks’ pockets (I agree).

The effect on tourism isn’t quite what was hoped. Movie makers tend to see Michigan as a setting for dystopian films, for example, “Offspring,” a film about cannibal tourism. This film got one of the largest state subsidies. A plot summary is:  “Survivors of a feral flesh-eating clan are chowing their way through the locals.” If this encouraged tourism, it’s not necessarily the tourists you wanted. You can tell it’s Michigan by the Michigan symbol on the police cars. Michigan funds also brought two Batman movies to Detroit, along with Michael Moor’s “Capitalism, a love story“, a  movie billed as showing how capitalism makes life in America a nightmare. The current head of the film board has noted that “realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depiction …. is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light.” I can agree.

Batman and Superman in Detroit.

“Batman vs Superman.” They battle in Downtown Detroit, as do “Red Dawn” and “Transformers.”

Opposition to dropping the program came mostly from the Democratic side of the aisle. Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said the film incentives were creating good jobs. Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, pointed to “… the cool factor. Who doesn’t want to see Ben Affleck or Amy Adams walk down our streets?” (I don’t). In the end, three Democrats and virtually every Republican voted to end the program. Among the Republicans for keeping the program were Kathy Crawford R-Novi, and Mike McCready, R-Birmingham.

You should not feel too bad for the makers of gore films. Subsides are still available in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, California, Minnesota, Nevada, and several other states. Massachusetts welcomed Part 2 of The Offspring, a Massachusetts headline proclaimed the victory: “Come to Massachusetts, We Love Cannibals!” Massachusetts folks have been full of themselves for years. As for the money we saved, our Michigan legislature has finally begun balancing the budget and decreasing the destructive personal property tax that helped fund these schemes.

Robert E. Buxbaum, November 5, 2015. I should also commend the legislature for making “talk like a pirate day” a state holiday, and for passing, on November 3, a necessary roads bill. It was signed by most Republicans and two Democrats. Bipartisan-ish. With good management, Michigan might be coming back – lets hope it continues.