Monday, November 28, 2005

The New Harry Potter Movie

Thomas Hibbs had a review of sorts of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (it's also about the new Pride & Prejudice movie and how both relate to virtue) on NRO today. It reminded me I haven't posted about GoF, even though I saw it last Monday.

In a word, fantastic. Well, maybe that's a bit much, but it is really enjoyable and the special effects are great. The only disappointment in my moviegoing experience was that I didn't finish our Hogwarts house scarves beforehand so we could wear them to see the movie; that probably means I'm turning into a big old dork.

Some points:

  • The movie starts off with so many great-looking effects right in a row that I wondered for a split second if there'd be any story or if they just meant to distract us with special effects; there is a story and the film continues to look good.
  • This movie might be too scary for really young children, possibly even ones who've read the book; reading a book gives the individual some control over the imagery, whereas a movie can't. Also in one or two spots the movie is darker than the book; the most important is the changing of the Death Eater march after the World Cup.
  • They had to leave a lot out of this movie. There's no Dursleys, no Winkie, no House Elf Liberation Front. It makes me wonder how they'll fit all of The Order of the Phoenix in; one way, which I think we can safely say won't happen, would be doing it in two movies, part one and part two, like Kill Bill.
  • Anyone who hasn't read the books may be left slightly confused in one or two places, but over nothing major, unless the change in the Death Eater march made them think the DEs were already working with Voldemort.
  • They really should have made these movies faster. The kids are already looking too old for fourteen; with the next one scheduled for 2007, the kids definitely aren't going to look fifteen.
  • For the first time, their having cast a pretty girl in Hermione's part mattered. The scene at the ball, when people see Hermione and say she looks beautiful, loses most of its point if Hermione was pretty beforehand.
  • Dumbledore shouldn't have grabbed Harry like that, after the choosing of the champions. It was dramatic and the action would have been reasonable in most people, but it just wasn't Dumbledore, so it took me out of the movie for a moment.
  • This movie led to a new experience for me. The friend we saw GoF with had a question about one of the actors, so after the movie I was looking the answer up on Internet Movie Database and I saw the actor who played Krum was born in 1985. For a moment I felt like a dirty old lady. I'd been thinking Movie Krum was kind of hot. Sanity returned a moment later when I realized, appallingly recent birthdate or not, he's physically a man, so I'm not a pervert. But before this it had never occurred to me women could feel like the female equivalent of the dirty old man.

Friday, November 25, 2005

'Tis pity she's a person of negotiable affection...

Why are so many people nowadays so obsessed with whoring? It's as if no girl nowadays can say, "I like yarn" or "I really enjoy cookies"; no, it's "I'm a yarn whore" or "I'm a cookie whore." And don't even get me started on the fact that a large segment of the American population now uses the term "pimp" to refer to good, or at least innocuous, things.

Is it that the consumeristic, materialistic mindset has now been carried so far people no longer mind admitting they are for sale--and for cheap too. And does the same materialistic mindset mean they see no longer see any reason even to pretend to find exploiting people wrong? If that's so, why not go the whole hog and start talking about being a "yarn slave" and "slavemastering your 'ride'"?

Are some of them trying to shock people? If so it's not working, because everybody says it; maybe they could get a reaction if they talked about "lynching" instead of "pimping".

Or is all the whore and pimp talk just rampant crudity and no one using it is thinking about what they're saying?


But I wonder if the whore thing--and the slut thing, too, as "slut" is used a lot and in a similar way-- isn't part of our modern anti-goodness. People nowadays are less apt to believe in goodness. When we see it depicted in fiction, we scoff at it; when we see it in life, we suspect it; when we hear it promoted, we mock it. We want our heroes not just
"warts and all", but nearly all wart; a strangely large number of us now prefer villains. Maybe this whore thing is a related phenomenon? People don't believe in virtue any more, but think if it did exist, it wouldn't be egalitarian to reach for it, so we're all more in tune with the times if we embrace vice instead. No girl believes in the idea of or wants to be a lady, but any girl can call herself a whore or a slut, and who's going to contradict her?

It's probably just crudity. But whatever it is, crudity or sign of deeper problems, couldn't people at least mix it up a little--say "pander" or "procuror" occasionally instead of "pimp", throw maybe an occasional "prostitute" or "madam" or "bawd" in there; I have seen a "harlot" or two, but that doesn't provide much variety. Even crudity needs originality! Get with it all you yarn/cookie/whatever cathouse denizens--pander your language!

And while you're doing that, maybe you could come up with some sort of ranking for the various whores? Just so we know where we are. I mean, is a two-skein whore the high-priced yarn whore or the cheap one? Do cookie whores come in two-chip versus blue-chip varieties, or is it a chip versus chunk scale? I just want to know so I don't inadvertently insult someone by suggesting her price is lower than it is--say calling a woman a styrofoam cup of instant Folgers whore when she's really more of an overpriced espresso kind of whore.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Some Other Things To Be Thankful For

Hygiene. Soap and water are cheap and plentiful in our society. We no longer get diseases from filth in the street or doctors not washing their hands before surgery.

Relative lack of pollution. It's not just that we no longer leave human or transport animal waste in the streets, but that in the last forty years we've cleaned up the emissions of our factories and cars so much that, even with more people and more cars, the air is cleaner.

Public libraries. I have no idea what libertarians think of them and I'm not usually much on government funding of non-necessities, but I love the fact that even poor children in America can go into a public library and check out books. It feels like taking away treasure, just on the promise you'll bring it back in two weeks.

Supermarkets and all-you-can-eat-buffets. Okay, most of us should probably stay away from the latter--I know I should--but both are possible because food is abundant, available, and cheap. That has not been the case in all societies, either in the past or now. We have so much food we can afford to overfeed not only ourselves but our non-working domesticated animals.

The whole online world, even if it does contain a whole lot of porn, frivolous shopping sites, and such "oh god, please let this be a joke, why are these people serious" sites as the Chapstick addiction pages. Thanks to easy research tools and news blogging, it is now much harder for news programs or politicians to lie to the public without being caught; also with blogging we're a lot closer to something Chesterton mentioned once, the ideal of everyone (who wants one) being able to have his own newspaper. And for everyone who's had some jerk harass him on an irc Urkel chat room, there's many more who've had interesting conversations, made friends, or were inspired to learn a new skill from people they've interacted with online. The many countless people who maintain informative websites are engaged in what the public libraries I mentioned above are engaged in--the sharing of treasure.

Modern dental practices. If we have rotted away our teeth with desserts today, we don't have to face a choice between persistent dental pain and decay or having our teeth ripped out by a pair of pliers with no anesthesia beyond getting drunk as possible beforehand.

Factories. Not a very crunchy thing to applaud, I'll admit, but if we're honest, we all have to admit that our current high standard of living owes a lot to the much-maligned assembly lines. We should all think about it every once in a while, when looking around our kitchens or sewing rooms, laundry rooms or living rooms, computer rooms or garages--could we afford to buy the things we have in those rooms if they weren't mass produced, assuming they were available at all?

And this is definitely not a PC thing to list, but Uncle Pookie is grateful for the fact that "our ancestors killed off all the really annoying beasts, leaving us with only the minorly annoying beasts." When I'm slapping mosquitoes next summer, I'll try to remember to be thankful they're not saber-toothed tigers, but I'm not promising anything.

Something To Be Thankful For

On this Thanksgiving--not to mention every other day of the year--I am thankful I live in a country where citizens can cavort in the streets, burning our national flag, spitting at our policemen and soldiers, ranting about the oppressive, fascist nature of our government, equating our elected leaders with Nazis, war criminals, mass murderers, etc., and calling for the impeachment, imprisonment, performance of anatomically improbable acts upon, removal from power, or occasionally even the death of those leaders--and then those same citizens can go home to their families and jobs, with nary a fear that the government will come in the middle of the night and take them or their families away for "reeducation", shut down their websites, take away their jobs, or burn their homes.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Go Not Genderly Into That Good Term

In the 1970s, a small number of people got all het up about language, and we got a lot of terms like "fireperson", a sudden surge in slash usage (s/he, his/her), and the beginning of quite a lot of other pronoun nonsense, especially people being so afraid to appear sexist that they began to use plural terms where a generic "he" or "his" was called for ("Anyone wishing to survive the crash should put on the lifejacket stored beneath their seat. Anyone without a lifejacket may wish to put their head between their legs and...") A lot of the anger among the very few people in the population who actually cared was over the fact that English uses a male term as the generic--"mankind" rather than "personkind", "his" rather than some sex-generic term like "shis". That "man" can refer to a male human or to everyone, while "woman" can refer only to a female (or, more rarely, to females generally) but never to humanity as a whole, was supposed to be offensive.

I'm a child of my time, so I understand what they were saying: "The male is made the standard of all things, etc." But really now, couldn't it be interpreted exactly the opposite way? "A man is just a man, but a woman is something else! WOman is man-plus, man the deluxe model, man with extra. We say 'his'or 'he' for people within mixed groups, because while anyone can fit the basic model, not just anyone can be the luxury model."

Well, it makes as much sense as what the '70s language police were saying.

I'm about to go off to have my dinner, but it occurs to me that there's another oppressed group whose concerns the gender-in-language people were not concerned with: the animals. Won't somebody please think of the animals?! Language tradition wasn't much concerned with them either. How else do you explain the fact that there is no way to refer to members of a mixed humans (both sexes) and animals (both sexes) group? If I wanted to say that all the members of a mixed household were about to have dinner, but I started off with a singular term, how would I continue? "Each member of the Jones household is about to have her/his/its dinner." Rather awkward, don't you agree? So far the only non-sex or species-specific terms I can think of to substitute are "shirts" or "shits"; as the former may be somewhat more appropriate, I propose we use "shirts" for "her/his/its" and use "sheet" for she/he/it. I leave the question of why the Jones household is called by the name of its human oppressor rather than by the name of one of its animal members to someone else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Long, boring, rambling post, mostly about crochet

"I mean she used to be happy here until she, she
started on the crochet....Now she can't do without it. Twenty balls of wool a
day, sometimes. If she can't get the wool she gets violent. What can we do about
it?" (Monty Python, "Hell's Grannies")

I had to pull out my crochet hook recently to remove my knitted dishcloths from the knitting loom. (I wrapped fourteen pegs on the blue Knifty Knitter loom and used either the second flat removal method from Decor Accents or single crochet to get the dishcloth off the loom.) Handling a crochet hook again made me think about crochet, my grandmother, and my own oddity.

Crochet actually has an interesting, if obscure, history. (The two best online resources I've seen are the Wikipedia entry and "Crochet--A Biography Disputed" at Suite 101.) There seems to be no hard evidence of crochet's existing before about 1800, but it proceeded to become popular toward mid-century. Unfortunately it also acquired a bit of a stigma. Impoverished Irish women (supposedly taught by nuns) crocheted lace to make money so they could live. This sold because it was cheaper than the previously available forms of lace, but because of its providing a cheaper substitute for "real" lace--and, let's face it, because of its association with the Irish--crochet was looked down upon by some people as a lower-class pursuit. (See here for another possible reason it may have been looked down upon: poor people frittering away their time making finery for themselves may have offended some of the non-poor.) Crochet's status was helped somewhat when Queen Victoria both wore crochet and learned to DIHRS (Do It Her Royal Self), but it seems to have retained a slight taint as a lower-class pursuit. I read on Craftster that the knitting teacher and author Elizabeth Zimmerman was known often to sneer at crochet, and many people, if they think about it at all, have some vague idea of knitting being "better" or cooler or a greater accomplishment or nicer--or they at least know what knitting is and haven't a clue about crochet. Personally, I think some of the crocheted atrocities of the 1970s (can we say gaudy Granny square hippie vests?) or early '80s (look here if you dare) did not help crochet's hipness factor, but those days are behind us. What with nicer yarns (as far as I can tell crochet thread is much the same as it ever was?), crocheters sharing ideas online, new books on the subject, and so forth, crochet may even be set for a resurgence in popularity.

But what I actually find interesting here is that, because of some incident of its origin (assuming the 1800s was its origin), a perfectly neutral hobby and useful skill could come to be seen as less classy than another perfectly neutral hobby and useful skill. Does this make any kind of sense? Do some people really need to feel better about themselves so badly that they must sneer at other people's hobbies or method of clothing themselves? Yeah, I guess so, since people still do the same thing today.

As far as my own pathetically small crochet history goes: My grandmother, like a fair number of older women in our area, crocheted (was it because the Deep South has a lot of Scotch-Irish people or for some other reason entirely?) crocheted, but one of my peculiarities as a child was that it never occurred to me to ask the adults around me to teach me how to do things. (Probably mostly because I'm a natural lone wolf, but then there's my having learned early on not to expect much out of people and my having been raised in a "children should be seen, not heard" milieu.) So I never asked my grandmother to teach me. When I was twelve or so, the woman who lived across the road offered to teach me to crochet if I'd buy my own size G hook. I can't say I had much of a desire to learn, but I picked out a pretty gold-colored hook and went over to her house one night. She showed me how to chain, single crochet, double crochet, and change colors, and she talked me through making a Granny square out of her scrap yarn. I made a nice job of it, if I do say so myself, but I didn't try it anymore after I went home and so within a year or two I'd forgotten how to do any of it but the chaining--which, believe it or not, I've actually found useful a few times over the years.

(Incidentally, when I say "my grandmother", I mean the only grandparent I ever knew. My maternal grandmother crocheted, my honorary grandmother crocheted, and at least one or two of my great-grandmothers did. Like I said, it was popular way back when.)

I wore some crochet in the 1970s. I remember favorably a brown hat with a pink and white design and a crocheted poncho (we called them "shawls" for some reason) and a (tasteful) vest. When there was a local fad in the '80s for crocheted collars, I was given a stack of them in several colors, but I never wore any of them. I've been given some other crocheted gifts over the years, but, except for a Christmas ornament or two from my grandmother and a framed filet crochet of my married surname, somehow these gifts have never been to my taste. (I like saying "filet crochet"; it makes me think of file gumbo, even though the pronunciation isn't quite the same.)

So what does any of this mean, assuming there's anyone awake to ask the question? I don't know. It's just that for some reason--possibly I don't have enough on my mind?--getting out the crochet hook made me think of both crochet and my grandmother. I've thought about her more this past week or two than I ever have before. I can't say we were never close--partly me, no doubt, and partly my mother having so frequently put down my father's family--but when I acquired sewing supplies as an adult, I bought an old-fashioned red tomato with attached strawberry pincushion because that's the kind my grandmother had. And I developed a habit of sticking stray pins in my clothes over my bosom (my grandmother's word) until I can get to my pincushion--just the way my grandmother did. And what does that mean? I don't know. But this week I got out my crochet hook and made a dishcloth each in single, half-double, and double crochet. It felt oddly pleasurable, despite the fact this isn't a hobby I want to have.

Edited to add: I should have mentioned the how-to resources I used to learn or relearn what little I know., which has online videos; Lion Brand's really useful Learn to Crochet pages (they also have free patterns, not that I'm up to that); and The Step-by-Step Needlecraft Encyclopedia, by Judy Brittain (originally published in Great Britain under a different title and notable for containing a photo of the ugliest garment ever created--crochet, I'm afraid.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Random Thoughts


Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but if your wife suddenly starts taking an inordinate pleasure in cutting things up, you might want to pay attention.


Why do people insist on talking about "the Confederate flag"? There were many Confederate flags. Every state had one and the Confederacy as a whole had one, so what's with the "the" business?


It's often said that comedians tend to be unhappy men, but some of them seem also to be frustrated idealists. I've always gotten that feeling about George Carlin, and I'm certain it was true of Bill Hicks; Brett Butler said she thought Hicks identified with or secretly wanted to be Jesus, but only the angry Jesus, chasing the money lenders out of the temple--sounds about right to me.


If my last name had been Moriarty, I would have gone into academia just so I could be called Professor Moriarty. Some things are just too cool not to do.


I'm not a fan of treating women like china dolls that men can't mention certain things in front of *, but at the same time I'm not sure it is really such a great sign of liberation that, when Alito's nomination to SCOTUS was announced and a crudely-worded question was asked about it publically, no one in the country had to ask what "sloppy seconds" means.

(*Although apparently some contemporary feminists are: witness the whole Larry Summers debacle earlier this year.)


Having a dog, especially a young one, must be hard on full-time nudists--at least the ones who don't live in clothing-optional communities. How do you throw on enough clothes not to scandalize the neighbors in time to get outside with a dog who must go NOW?


I try not to chain myself to other people's ideas of how people of my age or sex should act, but somehow it's still mildly disheartening to discover that, going by their activities list, the patrons of the local Senior Center have a more active and interesting social life than I do.


Also Seen Around The Corner

"We are in danger of forgetting that waiting comes before wanting"

An excellent little essay about our cultural disconnectedness and "me,me,me,now,now,now" attitude (my term, not the author's). Here's a quote:

States exist by reason of power. Societies exist through a
shared moral code and a sense of collective responsibility. The symbols of
states are palaces and parliaments. The institutions of society are families,
neighbourhoods, communities and schools.

For some years now we have been living under the illusion
that you can have a state without a society, politics without politeness,
civilisation without civility. You can’t.

Read the rest for yourself.

*** *** ***

"The Party of Sam's Club"

Probably only worth reading if you have an interest in the future of the Republican party. As for me, I vote Republican these days, but I'm not particularly attached to it and might well join a Conservative party should the Republicans split. This article has a lot--almost too much--to think about, though, and I might read it again.

*** *** ***

Homemade Flamethrower.

Cool, yes, but using my authorities as a civilizer of mankind (I believe women are the civilizers of the species and exist to keep men and children from having fun), I have already declared that Uncle Pookie is not allowed to build one. Actually, I believe there was some incident involving hose, a sprinkler, and gasoline once, but that was before I knew him and had wifely powers.

*** *** ***

Who was Che?

This link is not to a complete article, but only to a teaser portion for the print magazine. But here's how it answers the above question:

He was an Argentinian revolutionary who served as Castro's primary
thug. He was especially infamous for presiding over summary executions at La
Cabaña, the fortress that was his abattoir. He liked to administer the coup de
grâce, the bullet to the back of the neck. And he loved to parade people past El
Paredón, the reddened wall against which so many innocents were killed.
Furthermore, he established the labor-camp system in which countless citizens —
dissidents, democrats, artists, homosexuals — would suffer and die. This is the
Cuban gulag.

That's worth remembering every time you see a Che tee-shirt or poster. (It's also worth posting twice.)

Philip Pullman

Here's a review of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
[Link via The Corner.]

All I know about Pullman's books is what I've read about them: that he's on record as saying he wanted his books to be the anti-Narnia; that his books support an atheistic, anti-priest, anti-Christianity worldview; that educators praise his books highly; and that J. K. Rowling is believed to have written a satirical portrait of Pullman, in her character Gilderoy Lockhart, an egocentric, shallow, boastful celebrity who eventually proves dangerous to the children under his charge (not by doing anything to them himself, but by not equipping them to deal with the dangers they face and by not helping protect them himself.) This review of Pullman's work goes into more detail than any comments I've read previously, and it reaffirms my suspicion I wouldn't like the books or be willing to hand them to a child; I may eventually read some of them myself to make sure, but, as life is too short to read all the books I want to read, Pullman would be wiser not to hold his breath waiting for a royalty from me.

Reading this review does bring up a question though: Where do so many Americans waste their breath complaining about an innocuous series of books that has repeatedly championed love, friendship, and a willingness to sacrifice for others; that rejected moral relativism in its very first book; that included a sort of mini-hymn to free will in its most recent book; that has its wisest character tell us that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person; and that depicts its worst villain as having (if I'm not reading too much into this) a Gnostic-like hatred of humanity's physical bodies with their eventual decay and death--in short, why are people wasting their time complaining about Rowling's Harry Potter when Pullman's books sound so much worse?

Monday, November 14, 2005

What Is It About Places Named Berkley?

A school in Berkley, Michigan has pulled a song called "Pick a Bale of Cotton" from a middle school concert. I am not familiar with the song, but apparently it contains such racially charged lyrics as,

"Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton. Gotta jump down, turn around, Oh, Lordie, pick a bale a day."

Oh, the horror, the horror.

The song was pulled after one parent complained. The child of that parent explained their problem with the song thusly: "They were bringing back the memories of how African-Americans picked cotton, and it wasn't a good memory. It was disrespectful to African-Americans."

Should there be any kind of pain and suffering settlement out of this, I hope I can get in on it. Reading the above statement made me remember how my European-American grandfather made his European-American children pick cotton on their small farm. It's wasn't a good memory. It was disrespectful of the Berkley School District to force me to remember these events, and I hope that in future they will be more sensitive.

To further that aim, may I suggest that the Berkley schools also remove "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" from any future inclusion in its concerts, as the line "Well, you get in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots and pans" brings up painful memories of how female-Americans have been forced to labor in the homes of their male oppressors for low or (more often) no wages?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Our Enemies, Our Siblings

The United States is fighting a war against terrorism. I think we can all agree that terrorism is a bad, terrrible thing and should be fought against, no matter who the terrorists are. But, un-PC though it may be to notice it, let alone call attention to it, most acts of terrorism are committed by Muslims. I have come to think that we have to regard not terrorism but that form of Islam which fosters terrorism as our real enemy; whether we call it Islamism, militant Islam, radical Islam, Islamofascism, or fundamentalist Islam, it is the enemy of not just the US, but all of Western civilization. We nurture it to our own endangerment.

But part of Western civilization is the Christian precept of remembering the humanity of our enemies, reminding ourselves that they too are children of God, whether they believe it or not (which in fact Muslims do, though they would quarrel with Christians about the nature of God.) This facet of the West's great Judeo-Christian tradition is shown in a piece NRO has today by a US military chaplain. It is an emotional piece, but I was struck by this line:

"...isn’t this the kind of world we are fighting for — a world where an
Imam teaches a Rabbi words from the Holy Koran to comfort a young Muslim boy,
and that rabbi himself is comforted by a Christian, a Catholic priest."

Yes. I don't think we should downplay the dangers of radical Islam and as a Catholic I wish more people would come home to the Church, but yes, this is the kind of world I want to live in.

Remembering Veterans

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

"In Flanders Fields" is perhaps the most widely known poem from a war that produced a lot of good poetry. (No, NOT the Vietnam War, which may have produced some fine soldiers who went on to serve in later conflicts, but produced zilch in the way of poetry worth reading.) I usually read "In Flanders Fields" on Veteran's Day, which is the post-WWII name for what used to be called Armistice Day, a day celebrating the end of WWI and honoring those who died in it. Now we in the USA mostly celebrate our living veterans on November 11, and honor the dead veterans on Memorial Day.

And--not to sound like a broken record--I think one of the best ways to honor veterans, living or dead, is to pray for them. Praying isn't everybody's thing, of course, but we can all take a moment to think about the people (mostly men) who have served our country, some of them to the point of giving their lives, and remind ourselves that we sleep peacefully in our beds because rough men stand willing to serve in such ways.

Many of those who served in WWI--and possibly even some who died in WWII--have no one alive who remembers them, and the generalized prayers or thoughts of strangers is all they have. I once read a poem by an English poet (whose name I can't remember--sorry!) that had the men of the Great War "disappearing" as the people who could remember who those uniformed young men in photos on the mantel were died off. There are still some WWI veterans around, but most people who can remember that time are gone. Eventually no one will. It's a sad thing, but it happens to every generation and the best we can do are these "generalized memories", reminding ourselves that there was such a group and that such and such happened back then. As Vonnegut (a WWII vet) would say, so it goes.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday to the Marine Corps

Today is the 230th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. November is also a month that we Catholics pray for the souls of the dead. (Not that we don't the rest of the year, of course, it's just focused on more in November, which begins with All Saints Day and All Souls Day.) Combining the two observances, this month I will remember to pray for my favorite departed Marine, C****** ****. Although he had had to leave the Corps to attend to family responsibilities, he considered himself a Marine to the end; once a Marine, always a Marine, some people say. C was a good man and a father figure as well as a friend to my husband and me. We still miss him.

C had a sort of reversion or resurgence of faith (he was a Baptist) some months before he died. I was at the height of my anti-Christian feeling back then, and his upsurge of faith disgusted me; now I'm glad he had it. My conversion experience began the next year, and a ways into it I wondered if C were praying for me. There's no way of knowing now, but presumably one day I will. Meanwhile I can return the possible favor.

Anyone else who's been close to a Marine who has died might want to do the same today. Or you could pray for the ones who are serving our country now. (This includes one of my cousins.) Even if you don't think prayer can help, it certainly can't hurt. And if you don't think your prayers will help, you can do as I did on 9/11 and ask someone else to do the praying for you; we Catholics believe the pool of people you can ask includes both the people alive in this world and those alive in the next.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Any time you catch yourself thinking that your life might be empty and
pointless, just meditate for a minute or two on the concept "Paris Hilton fan."
That should set you straight." (John Derbyshire)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Dose of Dalrymple

I've mentioned Theodore Dalrymple's excellent, clear writing before--especially in his book Life at the Bottom--and here's another dose:

"The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris", an article Dalrymple wrote three years about the Muslim immigrant-filled suburbs of Paris.

"The Suicide Bombers Among Us" , in which Dalrymple tries to get inside the minds of people most of us shrink from thinking about too much.

And as a bonus, an interview with Dalrymple.

Ballykissangel, First Series

I only learned of the existence of Ballykissangel when I came across it on Netflix recently, but this show--the first season, anyway, which is all I've seen--is worth watching. Even then I somehow got the idea it was a thirty-minute sitcom, when it's actually an hour-long program (i.e. about 48 minutes) that I guess some might call a "dramedy"; there's lots of "human interest" with the humor.

It is about a young English priest who goes to the Irish village of Ballykissangel, a almost unbelievably beautiful area filled (like most places, if you bother to listen) with interesting people, some of whom may tend toward a very mild eccentricity. Really, it reminds me of nothing so much as a toned-down Northern Exposure, with more beautiful scenery and a certain nostalgic charm. Another difference would be that Father Clifford wants to be where he is, unlike Joel.

The show skirts a "forbidden love" theme in the attraction--irritable and reluctant, but there--between the village atheist (more likely just a scorner of religion, but "village scorner of religion" doesn't have the same ring) and Father Clifford. There's some instances where one could argue Father Clifford could handle various things better; the worst is an instance in the next to last episode where he seems almost to give approval to a grave sin that a dying man admits having commited in the past. Also, Father Clifford's immediate superior, Father MacAnally (played by an actor who is the very picture of an Irish priest), can be a mite, umm, less than idealistic at times. I can see how a few particularly straightlaced Catholics might be offended by these things, but there is no reason to be. Father Clifford is always portrayed as a good priest, trying to do his best. Moreover it's a town where the local church is a fixture of people's life (how often do you see that on TV?) and the clergymen are respected. I also like that all the major characters have good and bad qualities; surely it's a Christian-friendly idea that even the most bad or just plain irritating people we deal with have redeeming qualities?

I really liked this program, which is apparently very popular. Even Uncle Pookie, who'd had no intention of watching it, got sucked in and stayed up late to watch. We already have Series Two in our Netflix queue. According to the Netflix reviews, the show takes a downturn in Series Three, so I don't know how far we'll watch, but I do recommend this first series. You can watch it with the whole family; there's nothing in it I'd be embarrassed to watch with a child or an elderly person.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Knifty Knitters

Several weeks ago I bought a set of Knifty Knitters at Wal-Mart. I'd been interested in the nice wooden knitting looms I'd seen online but was reluctant to order something I wasn't sure I would enjoy; looms showing up at a local store for really cheap made it easier to risk I'd like it.

As it turns out, I do enjoy looming. I never learned to knit and my crochet skills don't really go any further than chaining, but it's nice to be able to do something with yarn other than sew it to a doll's head. Knitting on the loom is an easy, pleasant activity to do while watching DVDs. The basic technique takes only a few minutes to learn, but there are variations to keep you interested. I've already made four adult hats and seven baby hats, including the one I made just to learn the technique; the three cutest baby hats I've already given away to a former coworker who has a new baby. I'm currently working on a camouflage hat for my father and learning to do flat panels by making dishcloths. I hope eventually to make a Harry Potter scarf or two (Gryffindor and/or Ravenclaw) and maybe a shawl.

As for the Knifty Knitter looms themselves, I don't see any problem with them. They're made of a sturdy plastic. Occasionally a single fiber from a strand of yarn will catch on the little ridge (that raised bit you sometimes see on plastic products where the part came off the mold at the factory) in the plastic pegs, but it's not a problem for me. People who wanted to loom things in a smaller gauge might want to buy a different set, but I think most people interested in this would be happy with the Knifty Knitter.

If I had it to do over, I wouldn't bother buying the little Knifty Knitter instructional booklet. There are some websites with instructions and free patterns for knitting looms that do a better job than the booklet. However, the booklet is only 97 cents and if I were buying Knifty Knitters as a gift for someone with limited online access, I'd get her the booklet too.

The very best instructional site is Decor Accents. This site has both written instructions and short how-to videos. They also have free patterns. The free patterns aren't written for the Knifty Knitters specifically. Although Decor Accents sells Knifty Knitters (they recommend them for children), their focus is a broad collection of mostly wooden knitting looms, boards and rakes. As far as I can tell just looking at the site, they seem to make a fine product. If I ever decide to buy a knitting board or another kind of loom, I will almost certainly buy from them, just because I like their instructional information so much. (Note: The link to their flat panel removal instructions is broken--apparently mistyped--but here it is.)

Free patterns and instructions are available elsewhere online. Provocraft, the makers of Knifty Knitters, has five pages or so of free projects. The Loom Room has instructions and several free patterns. Bev's Country Cottage has instructions, patterns, and a lot of links. If you search for "knitting looms" at Yahoo! Groups, you find a good many groups; someone on Craftster said KniftyKnitters is the best, but I haven't tried any of them and can't say.

Knitting on a loom may lack some of the coolness of a couple of clicking needles--I just can't see Miss Marple with a loom, plastic or otherwise--but it is fun. (Besides which, you might not want to take your coolness recommendation from someone who thinks Miss Marple is cool.) I recommend it for anyone who thinks s/he might like that sort of thing, anyone who has a need for a lot of hats, or anyone who wants to buy a low-tech, non-noisemaking, no-batteries-required gift for a child.

Another reason I'm glad I bought my Knifty Knitters, is that now that I've tried it I finally understand how spool knitting works. A couple of people on a Usenet group I used to visit years ago were describing knitting on a spool when they were schoolgirls (apparently it was popular in the '50s), and for the life of me I just could not understand how it worked. I would almost picture it, but not quite get it. That really bothered me. But now I know. And yes, I realize it's entirely possible I have mental problems. Now to find a bunch of historical reenactors and learn how to use a drop spindle...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Saint Martin de Porres, Pray for Us

Today is the feast of St. Martin de Porres, patron of barbers and (according to some accounts I've read, but not others) of people of mixed race; I would think animal lovers, nurses, and anyone facing unjust discrimination might turn to him.

Of course today honors quite a few others as well, but I like St. Martin de Porres best. It's hard not to like a saint who's often depicted with a dog.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An Uplifting Development

I am a pessimistic person. I rarely find anyone more pessimistic than I. Once recently NRO's John Derbyshire posted something in the Corner that made me think, "Dude, lighten up, it's not quite that bad", but usually when I read him or anyone else saying we're doomed, doomed, I'm apt to nod or irritably ask what else is new.

I'm not a denier of facts, though. We are better off in many ways than we used to be. Technology (applied science) helps, as does more humane attitudes toward our fellow men, more enlightened attitudes toward women, and the unprecedented wealth of modern Western societies. We now feed nearly everyone, survive diseases that used to be death certificates, and pollute less driving around than we used to pollute just letting our cars sit in the driveway. In many ways, things are getting better and better.

But nothing I've read about has excited me quite so much as this: a couple of biomechanists say that, what with new fibers and increased knowledge of how breasts move, we are about to have happen with bras what happend with running shoes in the 1970s. (Link via The Corner.) Just think of it. Comfortable bras that look good and support you. Remember what tennis shoes were like in the 1970s? Now remember how much better they were in the 1980s--so comfortable people started wearing them everywhere, because they didn't want to take them off. (If you're not old enough to remember wearing tennis shoes in the early '70s, look at some old photos of athletes. Do their shoes look comfortable to you? No. They had to exercise in shoes less comfortable and supportive than ones we wear to drive to the grocery store.) Now, if you're a woman, just imagine bras making that kind of leap in quality. Ahhh. It's a good thought. No more uncomfortable bouncing, dented shoulders, drooping where it should lift, bulging where it shouldn't, poking wires, biting elastic, cups that fit funny, and so on. Oh, brave new world that will have such things in it!

(If you're a man reading this, you probably have no idea what I'm on about. For an explanation, ask your wife or girlfriend if she's happy with her bras--better yet, ask a group of women. Try to still look interested when the complaining moves into the second half-hour.)

The Middle Ages for Early Ages

A few weeks ago at the thrift store, there was a buggy of free books and I found a book I enjoyed as a girl, The Maude Reed Tale. I picked it up out of nostalgia, and, although the level of characterization was too low for teen or adult tastes, the book was otherwise as enjoyable as I remembered. I was hesitant about reading it the first time, as I had some vague idea Norah Lofts might be a romance writer and I didn't want to read any mushy girly stuff, but the heroine (a girl who wants to be a wool merchant) and the background (middle ages castle life and wool merchant life) to the story turned out to be interesting. I think Maude might appeal to homeschoolers who, I've read, favor books about children behaving self-sufficiently; Maude may begin the book pitching a fit to get her way, but by the end she's learned to keep her own counsel, and think and act strategically.

On the nonfiction front, I recently found three books from the children's history series The Library of the Middle Ages in the local public library. Going by the list on the back of the books, there's twelve books in the series, but my library had only Medieval Feasts and Banquets, Medieval Clothing and Costumes, and Tournaments and Jousts. I'm no expert--in either medieval history or children's history books generally--but these books seem very good. They are beautifully illustrated with pictures from medieval manuscripts, maps, and, in Tournaments and Jousts, photos of armor. They seem to cover the subjects well for children's books; I'm no child and I know just enough about the Middle Ages that I didn't really learn anything from the food or clothing books, but the tournaments book taught me some things, and all of the books were a pleasure to look at. Each book has a glossary to help children with new terms and a large selection of additional resources on the subject.

I could perhaps quibble with a few remarks in the clothing book--not the facts, but attitude or interpretation--but I won't. The only real problem I had was an error in Tournaments and Jousting: the author explains excommunication as the Church condemning people to hell. While I don't want to ascribe to malice what may be explained by simple ignorance, that is a pretty glaring error. Excommunication is a formal acknowledgement of something the excommunicated person has already done to himself--namely, remove himself from the sacramental life of the Church by obstinately persisting in grave error; in still other words, if a man is going to hell, it is because of his own choices, not something the Church has done to him. Excommunication is intended to help the person by, 1.) preventing him from receiving communion unworthily (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) and, 2.) impressing upon the person the seriousness of what he is doing, so that he may be more likely to repent.

That aside, I recommend the three books I've read in this series, and it seems as if the series as a whole would probably prove worthwhile. However, several of the books deal with crusades and/or Muslims, and, given the nauseatingly PC world the West has become, I would want to read those volumes myself before I gave them to a child.

Believe it or not, I can recommend some more children's books set in the Middle Ages. Several years ago, when I still lived somewhere with a good public library, I read three novels by Karen Cushman, all of which were well-written, entertaining, and, I think, likely to inspire an interest in the Middle Ages in the children who read them. They were Catherine, Called Birdy, The Midwife's Apprentice, and Matilda Bone. The first of these was the most entertaining; it's the diary of a thoroughly delightful 13th century girl and, among other things, her funny attempts to avoid the suitors her father brings to their home.

The Midwife's Apprentice seemed to me (remember I'm no expert) to be intended for younger children than the other two, but it is still a good story of an orphaned or abandoned child who must steal food and sleep on dung heaps to keep warm. She is taken on as a servant by a midwife, and gradually begins to learn the midwife's trade. By the end she's not only learned a trade that will allow her to support herself, but has given herself a name and acquired a sense of herself as a person and a valuable member of society.

The third Cushman book I listed, Matilda Bone, is the only one I have any hesitation in recommending. It is about an orphan girl who is dropped off to live with a bonesetter as apprentice. What we see of medieval medicine is interesting and the characters are likeable, but the Church doesn't fare well. The priest who raised Matilda before the book begins is pretty unattractive, if not downright repulsive, and we get no countering portrait of a more attractive churchman. (There is a local priest, but he hardly appears.) The attitudes the priest has inculcated in Matilda make a poor display before the earthy decency and humanity of the new people who finds herself around. Worst, Matilda is prone to having conversations with saints, and I thought the saints were treated rather flippantly. There is nothing so bad in this book that I wouldn't recommend it, but I would caution Catholic parents--or anyone giving a gift to a child in a Catholic family--to read the book beforehand and decide whether you think it crosses the line.

I'd be interested in hearing anyone else's recommendations for good children's medieval-related books.