Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is It Like the Turtles?

You know how some people say no one has free will, that everything we do is just the product of our upbringing and societal influences. And that the people who brought us up aren't responsible for their behavior either, because they also are the products of their upbringing. And the people who brought them up are just the products of their upbringing, and so on. Well, does it just keep on going and going, all the way back to the first recognizable human? Is there any point at which someone was responsible for his behavior, or is it just upbringing all the way down?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ranma 1/2 Clerihews

WARNING: "Vogon Clerihews" would have made an equally apprpriate title.

I mentioned Ranma clerihews from when I had clerihews on the brain last week. I would have liked to go back and make one for all the major characters, but the mood is gone and as trying would only inflict more torturous attempts at English rhymes for Japanese names there seems little point and much cruelty. So here they are in all their incomplete "glory".

Saotome Ranma
Had to con Ma;
He found to avoid seppuku
There was little he wouldn't do.

Hibiki Ryoga
Seldom wore a toga.
Wandering around Japan
Left him a lonely man.

Tendo Soun
Is really quite prone
To nervous attacks
And needs to relax.

The life of Tendo Kasumi
May not be your cup o' tea,
But in the house of Soun
She's the sine qua non.

Tendo Nabiki
Could be a bit sneaky.
She had a million and ten
Ways to get yen.

Is quite a guy;
He's filled several shanties
With schoolgirl's panties.

Grandmother Cologne
Seems hardly half-grown,
But her mighty fighting technique
Bests all but the old freak.*

*Yes, I know Ranma once beat her, but he could only do it by--I'm trying to avoid spoilers--doing something drastic that took her completely by surprise. He won't be able to get away with that again, and I think it'll be a few years before he can best her otherwise. Ranma will surely reach that point, but in the meantime, age and treachery (not to mention three hundred years of training) beat youth and enthusiasm, and Cologne remains second only to Happosai. But if you disagree, here's alternate lines for you: "...But her fighting skills/Can give you the chills." Oh, and I'm going by the anime here; I've not read all of the manga.

11/4 ETA: While I was typing this up the other day, I had another spasm which I'm now including to show what letting clerihews enter your mind even for a moment can do to you.

Omar Khayyam
Refused to try yams,
But he professed a great like
For properly grilled pike.

Somebody please stop me.

Overdue Random Thoughts (and a Neologism!)


The National Abortion Rights Action League changing its name to NARAL Pro-choice America was like Kentucky Fried Chicken changing its name to KFC so noone would know it serves fried food.


Just once in a movie I'd like the token female scientist to be a middle-aged, non-hot woman. You know, someone who looks as if she might actually be old enough to have had time to earn all those degrees and do all the research the film claims she has.


If you're whinging about it all the time, you're not really "leading a life of quiet desperation."


Why do so many people refer to "two twins"? I'm not aware of any naturally occurring sets of three twins, so until the geneticists give us that much longed for item of engineered humanity, you might as well save a syllable.


Getting bored watching the trailer is second only to their having changed directors twice on the list of bad signs about an upcoming movie.


Word of warning to the young folk: Whoever said "Life is one long lesson in humility" was really, REALLY not kidding.


Of all the questions that were answered in Deathly Hallows, one question was only made more, ah, questionable: What is the deal with Aberforth and goats?


Better Pickwickian than Pecksniffian.


I wonder if a human who had never heard wolf sounds would, when hearing them at night out in the wilderness, find them frightening. How much is real eeriness and how much is our conditioned expectation?


Think about the line about there coming a time when people will no longer tolerate sound doctrine, preferring instead teachers who tickle their ears, the next time you hear someone saying they can't believe the Church still teaches all that old-fashioned stuff.


Your neologism for the day: "dexternormative". Damn all those right-handed people acting as if it's normal to be right-handed!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Take That, Yankees

A while back I saw a meme asking for five foods you're embarrassed you like to eat. I thought and thought and could only come up with three foods that sorta, kinda met that definition. But I can come up with all kinds of foods that other people seem to think I should be embarrassed to eat, and that list is made possible just by looking to people who live in other regions of the US, not by selecting for vegans or health nuts or local foodists or what-have-yous. Well, here's a small bit of vindication for one of those food items:

"A new study by a group of Huntsville researchers found that boiled peanuts
bring out up to four times more chemicals that help protect against disease than
raw, dry or oil-roasted nuts."

Auntie Suzanne was once informed--by some Yankee, no doubt--on irc that it is "wrong" to eat peanuts boiled. The only acceptable method for peanut preparation, according to this person who'd never heard of such a thing before I mentioned it to him, was roasting. I can't tell you how glad we Southerners are to have our ignorant, backward ways corrected by the more enlightened folk who dwell in the the only parts of the country that understand tolerance and the value of diversity. How glad I am to have been saved from the degrading and terrible experience of driving along on a cool autumn day, spotting a farmer beside the road with a large pot and a hand-lettered sign that says "BOILED PEANUTS", stopping and buying a bag (or two) of hot, wet peanuts, and continuing along our way, cracking open the shells with my fingers or teeth, tilting back the shell to drink the warm, salty liquid within, and eating the tender, delicious flesh of each peanut contained within the shell, savoring the taste, then doing it again and yet again, marvelling how each peanut is slightly different in shape, size, or number of nuts and how the shell is so soft, thick, and plushy when the peanut was immature and the nuts must be teased out with a pointed tongue or exploring finger , yet hard, thin, and easily cracked open to reveal its treasure when it is fully mature, and how such a dirty-looking, unpromising outside can hold such sweet delights inside and...Well, just thank goodness I've been saved from all that. That half-eaten bag of boiled peanuts currently sitting in my refrigerator? That's Uncle Pookie's. He's the one who refuses to learn.

A Birthday That Isn't

Today would have been Sylvia Plath's seventy-fifth birthday. Well, it could have been and might have been, if she hadn' know.

Little Sylvia Plath
Was filled with wrath.
When she needed a muse
She looked to Ted Hughes.

For some reason--presumably my cold--I got a case of clerihews on the brain yesterday evening. Tricky stuff to shake off. So here's some more:

Miss Sylvia Plath
Loved a hot bath.
She got wet behind the ears
Listening to the music of the spheres.

A Scorpio, Plath,
Chose the poetic path,
Forgetting babies and rhymes
Only mix some o' th' times.

Sylvia Plath
Had no head for math,
And she wrote many verses
On her aversion to nurses.

Sylvia Plath
Got lost on the path;
When her soul for poems she decided to dredge,
She ended up stopped at "Edge".

Given the limited number of rhymes for Plath, I figured I was perilously close to having her outgrabe a mome rath and managed to stop there. (Well, with the Plath ones anyway--ask me about the Ranma 1/2 ones, I dare ya--and actually I'm leaving out one on grounds it violated good taste.) Feel free to add your Plath clerihews and hate mail to the comments box.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Life in the Undergrowth

David Attenborough
Was very thorough.
In his documentary on bugs
He included erotica for slugs.

Seriously. It's very cool and, fortunately, readily available from Netflix and Amazon. I have new respect for aunts, new sympathy for the tragedy that is the queen bee's life, new appreciation for termite engineering, and new something or other for something or other. (Sorry for petering out there, but my mind is fuzzy--and various parts of my face drippy--with a cold.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pointless Personality Quizzes

Or, what do Katherine Parr, midnight, and Guy Smiley have in common?

Which of Henry VIII's wives are you?this quiz was made by lori/'>">Lori Fury

You are Midnight

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.
Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.
Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.
You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

What Sesame Street Character Are You?

Your Score: Guy Smiley

You scored 75% Organization, 65% abstract, and 33% extroverted!

This test measured 3 variables.

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more about herself.

You are very organized, more abstract, and more introverted.

Here is why are you Guy Smiley.

You are both very organized. You almost always know where your belongings are and you prefer things neat. You may even enjoy cleaning and find it therapeutic. Guy Smiley uses his organization to assure that his gameshow runs smoothly and that he is always dressed appropriately.

You both are abstract thinkers. Guy Smiley uses his imagination to come up with ridiculous game shows. You definitely are not afraid to take chances in life. You only live once. You may notice others around you playing it safe, but you are more concerned with not compromising your desires, and getting everything you can out of life. This is a very romantic approach to life, but hopefully you are also grounded enough to get by.

You are both introverted. At first glance Guy Smiley may appear to be an extrovert given he hosts a popular show. But in reality he struggles to relate with other people. His prizes tend to just be Guy Smiley merchandise. For whatever reason you are a bit uncomfortable in social settings.. You may have one or two people that you are close with. You'd rather do things by yourself and you dislike working in groups where things are always so inefficient.

The other possible characters are
Oscar the Grouch
Kermit the Frog
Cookie Monster
Big Bird
The Count


Link: The Your SESAME STREET Persona Test written by greencowsgomoo on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

I can honestly say that I did not expect to score as Guy Smiley; if I'd thought about it beforehand, I'd probably have guessed Oscar. The Midnight thing shouldn't surprise anyone, and while being the "Died" of the "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" rhyme might seem more appropriate to midnight, I guess I can see being the "survived".

Actually, as far as that handsome rogue thing goes, I've always rated intelligence and the ability to carry on a conversation--especially wide-ranging ones--much more highly than appearance. And I much prefer a tall, husky man of non-handsome appearance to a short yet good-looking man. But do I have an appreciative eye for nice-looking manflesh? Yes I do. That is why it can be so much fun to have a gay male friend: it's so nice to be able to talk about good-looking men to someone. It's something heterosexual men just aren't good at, presumably due to having no interest in the matter.

Good Riddance to Summer

Pretty much every year of my life--maybe every year--there has come a day in, oh, September or October when I've woken to the palpable fact of there being a new feel to the air that morning. Something that I can not quite describe, even to myself, would be different. When I was a child this was usually accompanied by the sound of someone cutting firewood with a chainsaw in the distance, and when I would swing my feet to the floor there would be a faint coolness there. And I would know that it was Fall.

Gentle Reader, that day was today. Well, yesterday, technically, as I'm up after midnight, but oh goodness, it isn't half lovely. For you see, it means I have survived summer. Hideous, hideous summer. Summer, with its blazing sun and its humidity and its sweatiness and its "not even mad dogs and Englishmen" feel. Fall has always been my favorite season, because in addition to its own charms, it means summer is over and not to be thought of for months. Oh, I know, Mississippi weather is apt to zap us with some more unpleasantly hot days after I wake up to the first fall day, but it can't take away the wondrousness of that first day of fall feeling or the knowledge that all is working to the good weatherwise now--the hot days won't be as hot and there will be fewer of them. (Of course it's still hurricane season, but let's not quibble; hurricanes hitting are rare and sweatiness is daily.)

I got to enjoy delicious fall air all day. The temp only got up to around 84 degrees F; it was cool enough in the morning to actually need a top sheet. This year I even got the chainsaw sound. Admittedly a chainsaw that seems to be operating no more than a hundred yards away from one's bed loses something that the chainsaw so far in the distance you couldn't even guess what neighbor might be using it has, especially when that nearby chainsaw is soon joined by a neighbor cutting grass, but nothing can take away the wondrousness of the first fall day. Even an idle thought of, "Whatever happened to that old Bible Belt 'don't do yard work on Sunday' thing?" floats away like gossamer, leaving only good will and continued luxuriating in the air.

Take note, folks, this is about as good-tempered as I get all year.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chesterton on Hobbies

I read G. K. Chesterton's autobiography a few weeks ago and was struck by, among other things (it is Chesterton after all), his comments early in the book on hobbies.

Chesterton talks about his father, who was known outside the home as a reliable, ordinary businessmen but wh was at home a man of many talents and loads of hobbies. ("It was a very good first lesson in what is also the last lesson of life; that in everything that matters, the inside is much larger than the outside.") This leads him to talk about hobbies:

"A hobby is not a holiday. It is not merely a momentary relaxation
necessary to the renewal of work; and in this respect it must be sharply
distinguished from much that is called sport....It is not merely taking
exercise; it is doing work. It is not merely exercising the body instead of the
mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised thing. It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected thing."

[emphasis in that last sentence mine]

The outside world limits us; our hobbies expand us. Our hobbies let us use the rest of our mind, the parts that our job usually doesn't, that the world--perhaps especially the modern world--doesn't care if we have or not.

Chesterton also says that seeing his father at work on his hobbies, and especially on Chesterton's beloved toy theater, made a great difference in his life--not least that he learned to love seeing human hands engaged in doing and making. If the father had been only a businessman, he would have seemed smaller in his son's eyes.

"And this experience has made me profoundly sceptical of all the modern talk
about the necessary dullness of domesticity; and the degrading drudgery that
only has to make puddings and pies. Only to make things! There is no greater
thing to be said of God Himself than that He makes things."

And being Chesterton, of course he has more to say and it is interesting. The next few pages move into buying things versus making them, how children play, moral/moralizing literature and adult cynicism, wondrous reality and imaginative play, and a great deal more. This is the second chapter of the autobiography and quite the best one in it; read it for yourself if you have the chance. Some craftster types might like another line: "I wish we did not have to fritter away on frivolous things, like lectures and literature, the time we might have given to serious, solid and constructive work like cutting out cardboard figures and pasting coloured tinsel upon them." I've loved books and stories too much to quite agree, but I'm on board with the general point; considering Chesterton was himself a great reader, I don't think he'd have wholly given up literature for his cardboard figures, although I can't say for the production of literature.

Anyhow, can there be any doubt that if Chesterton were writing today he'd have something to say about this news item on a new surgical technique which "whittles" thumbs down to better fit i-Phones and other handheld devices. We do not fit the machines that are supposed to serve us, so we alter ourselves to fit the machine, rather than altering the machine. It's like women who, rather than having clothes made to fit their bodies, agonize year after year, trying to make their bodies fit the clothes. Or worse, and more precisely, the women we read about a year or so ago who were having surgery on their toes so they could wear fashionable pointy-toed high heels. Oh what a brave new world we are making.

Update: The news item I linked above is apparently false. I was not familiar with the source and was taken in. My apologies. However, as the other examples I mentioned are true, I believe my larger point stands.

Monday, August 06, 2007

(Catholic) Quote of the Quarter

"Milque-toast Catholicism does not produce milque-toast Catholics, it produces non-Catholics."

(Thomas E. Woods, EWTN Live, May 2007)

Oh so true. But never let it be said that I'm friendly only to Catholics. Here's a secular quote everyone can enjoy:

"Lemme tell ya something, Webster. Grammar am for people who can't think for myself. Understanded me?" (Bucky Katt, Get Fuzzy)

Visualize World Papercuts

One periodically hears of leftists starting a drive to send a 1000 (origami) cranes to Congress or the White House or whoever, which activity will no doubt promote peace, pascifism, faux-pascifism, environmental consciousness, or global healing in ways that are unclear to me. And I say good luck to them; a little harmless eccentricity never hurt anybody and, besides, origami cranes are kind of pretty. Maybe the congressional pages take them home as free Christmas--sorry, Holiday--tree ornaments? Or play some crane version of desktop football with them. But I digress. Because what I was actually wondering about, before I started visualizing Congressmen clustered around a men's room sink having paper crane races, is what message mailing an origami Cthulu to a politician sends? The old "Vote Cthulu" buttons had it that he was the choice for when you're tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. Sooo...that means this "send a 1000 pieces of folded paper" campaign will be by conservatives to Republicans? Gentlemen (and ladies), start your folding.

(Hat tip to Jimmy Akin for the link)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Forgotten Tidbit

I meant to post this with my "Crafty Tidbits" post earlier today, but I forgot.

Isn't it funny how the tiny bits of the past get forgotten, waiting for something to recall them abruptly to mind if it is part of our past or gone utterly until we find a chance reference if it happened before we were born. (Assuming any reference exists.) A couple of months ago I finally got around to reading The Annotated Lolita. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the writing was and I decided to risk the 1990s film; I'd seen the '60s film and just assumed the remake would be worse, as remakes usually are. The '90s Lolita turned out to be as good as the first film, if not somewhat better. It was certainly better in the sets.

Well, when one of the closets in the Haze woman's house was opened and there was one of those bits of unimportant history that gets forgotten: braided coathangers. We had these when I was a kid, and so did my grandmother's house; heck, my grandmother's probably the one who made them. I got such a nostalgic kick out of seeing them, yet I'd totally forgotten their existence until I saw them. I think there were also some knitted discloths hanging in the kitchen, but they may have been potholders. There's also cool '40s clothes to look at, and Jeremy Irons isn't so bad to look at either.

Anyway, I recommend both the Lolita films and the book, which I plan to reread, but in the unlikely event that anyone decides to watch the second film based on my recommendation, maybe I should point out there's full frontal male nudity in one scene. I'm not offended by nudity myself and this isn't gratuitous, as Clare Quilty's penis flapping about as he runs down the hallway serves only to underscore the pathetic state his life has become, but some people are offended by nudity so I thought I'd mention it.

HP and Religious & Cultural Illiteracy

I don't want to go on and on about Harry Potter, but this morning's Corner had a post with links to HP articles. One warns James Dobson and others are picking the wrong fight and should save their fire for genuine attacks on Christianity. (I've said much the same.) Another talks about Christian references in HP and his failure to convince some American evangelicals of their existence. I could quibble with a couple of his not-central-to-the-main-point claims, but why bother? His column is more worth its space than my quibbles would be, and I'd rather remark on a sad observation he makes:

...I think the problem is that so much of the religious
right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so
little Christianity itself. Yes, there are a few ‘memory verses’ from Saint
Paul, and various evangelical habits like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and the alter
call. However the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures
of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two
millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of
American Christendom, including its leaders.

Let's right up front get rid of any notion that what the author is referring to is a phenomenon of evangelical Protestants only. Catholics are every bit as guilty of being ignorant of Christian heritage, and as our Christian heritage forms the bulk of our Western heritage, one could argue secularists are guilty as well.

People used to grow up hearing the Bible, even if they weren't particularly religious, and we also lived in a culture where it was okay to mention religious themes in conversation or artistic expression and so people gained some familiarity almost through their skin. That is gone. We don't know the Bible and we don't know expressions originating there.

For example, John Derbyshire once mentioned using the expression "being expected to make bricks without straw" and having not one of the group of educated Americans he was talking with know the term. As another example, I once referred to Isaac and Ishmael and the lifelong churchgoer I was talking to asked who they were. Kathleen Norris has written about her hymnal changing the term "my Ebenezer" to "my greatest treasure", presumably because people nowadays aren't expected to know what Ebenezer refers to. And lest it seem I'm only picking on other people, back in the nineties I had to ask someone where the phrase "through a glass darkly" came from. I wasn't a Christian, but considering what our Western heritage is, that is no excuse. I didn't know any Ebenezer other than Scrooge, either, and while I assumed it came from the Bible like so many old-fashioned names, I didn't know who the Hezekiah my busdriver was named for was.

And taking my examples away from the Bible itself, I can remember as an older child reading a magazine my mother sometimes got at church (I read everything...well, except the Bible) and seeing an article in which the author mentioned attending Handel's Messiah. I'd never heard of the Messiah, I'm not sure I'd ever heard the term messiah, and I don't think I was aware of any classical music having been informed by Christianity. Yet I was more culturally literate and well-read than any of my classmates. And, at least through the elementary school years, my religious education was the equal of any of theirs. I may have read lots of novels and plays and recognized lots of paintings and sculpture, but there was any number of things I didn't know about the Christianity I'd supposedly been raised in and even when I recognized something came from the Bible or was a religious concept I often couldn't tell you what the reference was or define the concept.

Is any of this important? Well, when as a teenager I was told by various sources that Christianity hates life and regards the natural world as evil, I believed it because I was too ignorant to know otherwise. That mental path--or chute--was already well-greased by years of media depictions of Christians as ignorant hicks who were apt to be bigots as well and I'd already long since rejected Christianity, but that one particular lie which I did not have the knowledge to refute, more than anything else, resulted in my becoming a pagan. So is it important for people to know what Christianity teaches? If you're a Christian parent who doesn't want your teenager to leave Christianity for something else, I think you'd say yes.

And as to Christian history--or the general history of those parts of the world formerly known as Christendom--and the artworks inspired by Christianity, you do not have to be Christian to believe it is important to know about those. Friar Tuck, the Holy Grail, the Nun's Priest, the fleur-de-lys, the Pieta, De Profundis, and Judith Beheading Holofernes belong to all of us.

1 + 1 + 1 = 4

Uncle Pookie had a good story the other day. Seems some stranger started telling him how the singer formerly and currently known as Prince is Satanic. Her "reasoning" was that Prince wrote a song called "Purple Rain", there is no such thing as purple rain, therefore purple rain is unnatural, therefore Prince is Satanic.

Me: "I don't think doves actually cry, either. Did she mention that?"

UP: "Yes."

You just can't make fun of some people.

Crafty Tidbits

Acrylic Yarn and a New Word

A few weeks ago I learned a new word: tawashi. A tawashi is a Japanese scrubbie. (And "scrubbie", for anyone who doesn't use the term, is an English word for something you use to scrub dishes with.) What's interesting to me is that I've read they're typically crocheted with acrylic yarn. I've come across a lot of people online saying you must use cotton yarn for crochet and knit dishcloths, with no reason given, unless you count "because acrylic yarn in the kitchen--eww!" Now, I knew you could use acrylic yarn--my first few did--and that it worked fine. Also, as acrylic yarn dries much faster than cotton, it was arguably more hygienic. (I figure the longer the cloth hangs around damp, the longer nasty things that thrive in damp environments have to grow on it.) But people were so unanimous about not using it I wondered if they knew something about acrylic fiber I didn't. It's good to have some backup to my "it's okay" theory.

So if you have some cheap, scratchy acrylic, make tawashi. Scratchiness is a plus for scrubbing.

You can see one lady's pattern for a tawashi here. I haven't tried the pattern; I'm mostly linking it as an excuse to link the rest of her site, as she's obviously a very skilled crocheter and happens to reside in my home state.

Painting #10 Thread

I mentioned recently that I find size 10 crochet thread a bargain, as I can find it for 29 cents a ball at Goodwill and a ball lasts a long time; even paying retail, which I've never done, it isn't expensive, considering how far it goes. But, no more crocheting than I do, I don't want to clutter up my house with a lot of balls I won't use up. If you need a small amount of size 10 crochet thread in a color you don't have, you can make it yourself, provided you have some cheap acrylic paint on hand and don't mind taking a bit of time. I've tried this several times now, and the only color I had fail was black--I got a nice gray instead. How-to below.

Wind the desired amount of white or ecru thread onto a book or chair back, then loosely tie this skein with a bit of acrylic thread in six places so it won't become tangled during the dyeing. (Five ties will work for skinny skeins.)

Dampen the thread, if desired; I wouldn't bother for a tiny amount of thread, but for a thicker skein it can help get more even coverage.

Squirt acrylic paint in the desired color into a cup or plastic bowl. Thin with water and mix well; you don't want the mixture watery, just a bit more soupy than straight paint (the size of the "bit more" can vary according to the effect you're going for).

Submerge the thread and stir to coat thread with paint. (A bamboo skewer is handy for this.)

Leave to soak a while. I'd say at least half an hour, but how long depends mostly on when it will be convenient for you to do the next step; I've left it all day with no problem. Just leave it somewhere accessible so you can give the thread another stir every time you walk by.

Remove the thread from the paint and hold under running tap water to rinse. When you've rinsed it well, hang to dry.

Bamboo Skewers

Bamboo skewers, while we're near the subject, are a another good crafting bargain. Where I live you can get a pack of fifty, 9"-long bamboo skewers for under a dollar. In addition to poking holes in polymer clay and such like, you can make knitting needles with the skewers (mine gave US size 3); like Thompson's Individual String-ettes, there's a whole host of household uses.

This Blog

I recently began adding labels to past blog entries. I'm far from done and I may never get done because it is a mind-numbingly boring task, but I'm 99% sure I have gotten all of the crafts posts labelled. Not that I'm a good resource or anything, but just in case anyone is interested.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I saw this post on "hip-hop syndrome" last week, and I wanted to mention it for somewhat tangential reasons. It quotes a City Journal article by Myron Magnet that references Wynton Marsalis.

Wynton Marsalis’s scathing critique of rap understands how hip-hop relates to the larger problem. Leaving aside the lyrics, rap is musically “ignorant,” Marsalis says. “Rhythms have to have a meaning. If the rhythm is corrupt, the music is corrupt and the people become corrupt.” (And, one might add, rap also subverts music’s aim of creating a realm of harmony and beauty.) As for the lyrics, Marsalis says, “I call it ‘ghetto minstrelsy.’..."

I am not well able to comment on the musical opinion Marsalis is quoted on (although I find the idea intriguing), and I refer people to the City Journal article for a discussion of hip-hop syndrome. What I wanted to share was something about Wynton Marsalis, the man.

Eighteen or so years ago, I had the good fortune to hear Mr. Marsalis play. I enjoyed the experience, although I was well aware that my place would have been better filled by a more musical person who could more fully appreciate the obvious artistry. What I best remember is a non-musical thing. I was seated near the stage and could see everything. Mr. Marsalis' piano player was blind and before the performance began, Marsalis led the piano player to his seat himself. And after the performance, Marsalis, the man we were all there to see, gave the piano player his arm once again and led him off the stage. Now, that might seem just common courtesy, but there were other band members, less famous, who could presumably have been made to do it. And there was something thoroughly humble about the manner in which this action was carried out. Mr. Marsalis' name and his face was the one on the tickets and the posters, but he clearly did not consider himself above the un-glamorous task of helping a colleague to his seat. Moreover, it seemed to me by the way he introduced his fellow musicians that he respected them; he really seemed to be more interested in the music than his own ego.

This may seem like a very small thing to relate, but it impressed me at the time. And really, can anyone imagine Barbara Streisand helping her underling to his seat with her very own hands? Or any of quite a lot of other famous people putting aside their own applause for a moment so they can look to someone else?

I may not know much about music, but I do know that I have a lot more respect for any man (or woman) who is more interested in practicing his craft and in being a decent person than in behaving like a prima donna. No one will ever write "Decent Guy" out in sequins and sparkly paint on a tee-shirt, the way they do with "Diva", but we'd all do a lot better to aspire to decency and humbleness than to diva-hood. Or to hip-hop values.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Small HP-related Update

I spent Saturday doing what a great many other people worldwide did, reading Deathly Hallows. I was a satisfied reader; Uncle Pookie seemed a little bit less satisfied than I, but part of that is his ongoing frustration with the Ministry of Magic's failure to come up with better preventive measures--e.g., spells or devices for detecting Imperiused employees. Anyway, I don't want to give any spoilers away for those who haven't yet read it, so I'll just say I liked it and that I was mostly right in the things I guessed would happen. One important thing, on which I'd disagreed with UP, I was wrong about, but to be totally fair I had said that if that thing had happened, it was surely an accident, not deliberate, because doing it deliberately would have been a really bad idea. And I was right about that part of it. (Cryptic enough?)

But I did want to point people to Thomas Hibbs' review, "Harry Potter & the Art of Dying Well" on NRO. Hibbs is a good reviewer, and this review is no exception. I also recommend the Alan Jacobs review that Hibbs links to. I'd read it a couple of years ago on the First Things website, but I read it again and, although it was published when there were only three books in the series, it is well worth reading; there is some really interesting stuff about magic and technology that would be interesting even to people who haven't read or who don't like the Harry Potter series.

And speaking of people who don't like HP, I do not recommend the Ron Charles article Hibbs links as an example of "it's for the masses, therefore it must be bad" type of thinking. (Unless of course you need to see such an example, and in that case I guess it is a pretty good example. I'm only linking it myself because the link in Hibbs' article is broken.) I do not say this because Mr. Charles does not like HP. I do not care whether other people like HP or not, except insofar as I might have more chance of a fun conversation about the books with someone who does. Someone once said that, "in literature, as in love, other people's choices astound us"--in other words, tastes vary; I've seen any number of couples whose reason for being together is completely inexplicable to me, and I'm far too old to think that my tastes in books, anymore than my taste in romantic/marital partner, is or ever will be universal. So the dislike doesn't matter.

But a couple of the reasons for the dislike do. I do not care for the "for the masses=bad" notion, popular though it is among some. I myself often fell prey to that type of pointless sneering when I was young, but I have recognized it as groundless elitism, resting on, insofar as it rests on anything, the faulty idea that something popular can't be good and worthwhile. Of course popular things can be bad, but it is going a long way from that fairly obvious truth to say they're popular because they are bad or that if Billy Bob and Sally Mae like it, it must be crap. And I don't care whether we're talking books, movies, Wal-mart, crafts, or what have you, I do not care for this attitude.

Far more important is one of the other reasons Mr. Charles dislikes HP and it is the reason I bothered to say I do not recommend the piece: Charles refers to "Rowling's little world of good vs. evil". That's a telling phrase if I ever heard one. Hear the contempt? The dismissiveness? People who believe in good and evil, even just to the point of being willing to entertain the idea of a fantasy world in which such things exist, are so-o-o-o medieval! Who knows what sort of backward, incorrect thinking such might get up to? I do believe in the existence of good and evil, and I believe that they are in conflict not only in fictional worlds, both well and poorly written, but in this world, within and without ourselves. And I consider the idea that good and evil do not exist to be a pernicious belief which we entertain to our own destruction. I am completely serious here. Act as if good and evil do not exist or as if they are beneath consideration by intelligent, educated people and you will begin to damage your own self and the wider society. The phrase "rot from within" comes to mind. Much better to dislike the HP books because you think they are badly written or juvenile or boring or even for the reason that they're popular, than because they depict good and evil. That is a hopeless, dead-end sort of thinking that affects far more than your opinion on one series of children's books.

Anyway, I recommend as thought-provoking both the Hibbs review and the Jacobs article. Uncle Pookie also found them interesting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Last Minute Bookscarves

So-called because they crochet up incredibly fast and there's still time to make yourself (and a friend!) one for marking your place in Deathly Hallows. They could also make a last-minute addition to any book you might be giving someone as a present, or something personal to go with a bookstore giftcard.

Please note, these bookscarves do not look like the house scarves shown in the HP movies, but they use house colors and they do look like scarves. They work up much faster than movie-accurate ones would and there's no tedious weaving in of ends. Bear in mind scarves are not described in the books, so you can imagine Hogwarts students wearing scarves that look any way you like and no one short of Ms. Rowling herself can tell you you're wrong. I think these lengthwise scarves are darn cute, whether they look like the movie scarves or not; that's why I'm posting the pattern, in spite of the fact it is so simple a project I should be embarrassed to presume to give directions.


steel crochet hook, US size 6 (or thereabouts)

small amount of size 10 crochet thread in two colors--I used red and gold for Gryffindor; substitute blue and bronze (or silver) for Ravenclaw, black and yellow for Hufflepuff, green and silver for Slytherin, or whatever colors you want for non-Hogwarts scarves

(optional) tapestry needle

Incredibly Simple Pattern:

Using red (or whatever your MC is), ch until you have approximately 7" of foundation chain (about 60 st).

Dc in fourth ch from hook, and dc across.

Join gold (or other CC) thread, ch 3, and turn.

Dc in fourth ch from hook and dc across.

Join red (or your MC) thread, ch 3, and turn.

Dc in fourth ch from hook and dc across.

At this point, you may want to iron your scarf, spraying lightly with spray starch on each side.

Now those dangly bits of thread where you joined yarn will become part of your fringe. Find a piece of pasteboard or something else that is about one and a half inches in diameter and loosely wind thread around it--about sixteen to twenty wraps of each color will be enough for one bookscarf. Cut one end of the wrap. Now you just add the fringe to the ends of your scarf. You can do it by poking a crochet hook through the scarf and pulling a doubled strand through and looping it around itself the way we often see yarn looped through a punched hole on commercial bookmarks. Or, because this is such tiny stuff, it may be preferable to thread a piece of fringe in a tapestry needle, pull it through the scarf, and tie it on by hand. When all your fringe is on, trim so it's more or less neat-looking, and you're done. Happy bookmarking.

Alternate version, in case you don't have steel hooks or don't like using them: Use the smallest aluminum hook you have--I used a D hook--and ch about 7" same as above, but sc two rows of each color instead of dc-ing one row. Looks just fine and it is still a fast little project.

Note on length: The length of these bookscarves works with the Harry Potter hardcovers, but if you want a bookscarf to go with trade paperback size books, you're gonna want something a bit shorter.

Note on fringe: While typing this, I had an idea to make the fringe-making go faster: take a long piece of thread in tapestry needle and thread through the end of the scarf repeatedly, leaving loose loops of thread below each part where you put it through--clear as mud?--then cut across the end of the loops. When I've actually tried this, I'll update this with whether it worked or not. [Update: Yes, it works, and it does save some time, although not as much as I'd thought it would.]

What I Wore to OotP...

No doubt a lot of fans wore their Hogwarts scarves to see The Order of the Phoenix this past week, but as a fat woman who lives in a #&*%#!*% swamp, I'm not letting a wide, double-layered strip of knitted yarn touch my body in July. But I like dressing up, so I wore a house colors headband.

I knit it a week and a half ago, out of some crochet thread that I had just finished using in another HP-related project. It's basic size 10 crochet thread I found at thrift stores; I don't remember why in the world I bought the red, but when I saw the yellow-gold I snatched it up, because aside from its being a great color in its own right, I knew it would work with the red as Gryffindor. I see crochet thread in thrift stores fairly often, and it is a good bargain because it holds up well (IME thus far, old crochet thread in thrift stores always looks better than the old yarn) and because it lasts for a long time. From my ball of red and gold--29 cents and 25 cents respectively--I've gotten one relatively densely knitted project, one headband, and a passel of crocheted bookmarks. There's still a fair amount of thread on the gold ball (which said 175 yards on the band) and a lot of thread on the larger, red ball.

Anyway, if anyone wants the very simple pattern, here it is.

House Colors Headband

size 10 crochet cotton in house colors (red & gold Gryffindor; blue and bronze or silver Ravenclaw; yellow and black Hufflepuff; green and silver Slytherin)
US size 3 ( 3.125-3.25mm) knitting needles
small crochet hook
tapestry needle for weaving in ends

N. B.: Headband is worked holding two strands of thread together.

Start of headband:

Using crochet hook, ch 50 in MC, then switch to knitting needle.
CO 1 (now 2 st on needle) and K across.
CO 1 (3 st on needle) and K across.
K 1. Kf&b. K across.
Repeat last row until 18 st are on the needle, or until piece is desired width.
K three more rows.

(K 3, P until last 3 st, K 3; then on next row
K across) Repeat this until you have 14 rows of st st.

Join in CC, work 2 rows of st st, continuing to have the 3 knit stitches on each edge throughout.
Join in MC, work 4 rows of st st.
Join in CC, work 2 rows of st st.
Join in MC.
Repeat this pattern until you have 4 repeats of the trapped bar design.
Work 14 more rows st st in MC.

End of headband:
K1, K2tog, K across.
Repeat until there's only one st left on needle.
Switch to crochet hook and ch 50. Tie off.

Weave in ends. Iron or press headband to block, if desired; you may also spray lightly with spray starch.

Notes for alteration: Size 10 crochet thread, when doubled, is approximately equivalent to size 3 crochet thread (just a bit smaller); consequently, if you can find appropriate colors in size 3 thread, it will substitute almost exactly. This headband is pretty wide, about two and a half inches, so some people might prefer a more narrow scarf. If making this for children, you'd probably only want three repetitions of the trapped bar design; it would be easy enough to make the crochet chain ties a little longer if three repetions is almost long enough.

Random Thoughts


I'd have lots more interesting stories to tell about my youth if I were just a bit stupider.


Doc Martens were probably never popular in Japan.


Isn't it funny that people who would never condemn the moral choices of any individual (who is, after all, just "doing his own thing", "doing the best he can", etc.) within a nation, thinks nothing whatsoever of condemning an entire nation or civilization.


It's odd that Civil War reenactment is so much more popular than American Revolution reenactment. Our gloriously successful, against-the-odds founding vs a very sad time and the latter is more popular for commemorating.


The Merchant of Venice is not a play for those uncomfortable with complexity/ambiguity, who can't understand that a victim may also be an aggressor, a pitiable man may also be a bad man.


Considering relativism says no philosophy or set of practices is better or more true than another, it's a wonder anyone has ever quite dared to teach it. Or bothered.


There's two kinds of people in the world, people who let flies crawl on their children's eyes and people who don't. I figure this is at least as true as any other "two kinds of people" statement.


One of my favorite new words: Incumbistan. As in "plump, complacent resident of Incumbistan."


Is it just a coincidence that, as young women are less and less likely to have children, the number of young women with pampered dogs is going up?


You know how you can wait for the opportunity to make a certain joke, like waiting for someone to mention thunderdomes so you can say, "Oh, can't we just get beyond the thunderdome?" (Yes, I have been watching MST3K.) Well, I'm now waiting for a chilly time around a campfire so I can say to the firebuilder, "Oy, stop being so niggardly with those faggots, there's a nip in the air."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Well, maybe...

...but I strongly deny any belief in the Rotfang conspiracy. Now where did I put my radish earrings?

You scored as Luna Lovegood. You're an extreme introvert and because of this, are also a deep thinker. You ponder things others would never dream of pondering and stand with your beliefs without backing down. You find it more valuable to daydream than to socialize, because there's so much more going on in your head than others'. Most people don't understand it, but you seem to prefer it that way.

Luna Lovegood


Neville Longbottom


Ron Weasley


Hermione Granger


Albus Dumbledore


Severus Snape


Bellatrix Lestrange


Harry Potter


Sirius Black


Remus Lupin


Lord Voldemort


Percy Weasley


Oliver Wood


Draco Malfoy


Harry Potter Character Combatibility Test
created with

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Book Every American Should Read

The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, by Ramesh Ponnuru

I put this book in my shopping cart when it was released last spring, but I somehow never got around to purchasing and reading it until a few weeks ago. That was a mistake. This is an important book. It has been out for nearly a year, and there hasn't been nearly the amount of discussion of it there ought to have been. Perhaps some pro-life people figured it had nothing to tell them, but I assume far more people were turned off by the title. The author has explained on NRO and elsewhere that the term "the party of death" did not originate with him and that, no, it does not refer to Democrats.(Although people hearing "the party of death" and assuming it means Democrats is interesting, no?) But this explanation of the term is somewhat undercut by the fact that the subtitle names Democrats and names them first. Surely a better subtitle would have been "Politicians, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life", because, as Ponnuru says, there are members of the party of death in both of America's major political parties and because I think that subtitle might cause many people who would benefit from reading it to dismiss it as just another divisive political diatribe. And that's a shame, because this is a well-reasoned and clearly written book setting forth a secular case--not necessarily the secular case; let's see what other authors have to say--for respecting the right to life. You don't have to be a lawyer or a philosopher or a politics groupie to understand this book; any average high school student should be able to read it and understand the arguments, and the chapters aren't so long that they'll tax many people's attention span. Read it and think about it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

And another thing...

While we're on the subjects of the British and of people using language funny--well, sort of, almost on those topics--some days back I saw a news story about a disabled British man whose Christian hospice had, in some unspecified way, facilitated his hiring a prostitute so that he wouldn't have to die a virgin. Someone speaking on behalf of the hospice said that they didn't make moral judgements for their patients. That is just plain fatuousness. When we refuse to help someone carry out an action that we believe to be immoral we are not making a moral decision for that person, we are making a moral decision for ourselves.

Who says the British are the masters of understatement?

An AP story, dated yesterday but which I only read today, says that a Texas man named Adrian Estrada has been sentenced to death for murdering a seventeen year-old young woman and her fetus. Estrada choked and stabbed the young woman who was pregnant with his child thirteen times.

"Estrada's attorney, Suzanne Kramer, had argued that her client made bad

As a way to describe murder, "bad decision" is accurate, as far as it goes, but it just doesn't go far enough. There are bad decisions and there are bad decisions. A man who decides not to lock his car door because he's "just going to be in the convenience store for a few minutes" has made a bad decision. The man who decides to take advantage of that unlocked door by stealing the car has also made a bad decision. Yet only one of these bad decisions deprives someone of his rightful property and can result in jail time; Christians might also note that only one of those bad decisions requires repentance. And I think all of us, including the most ardent car-lovers and property rights upholders, would agree that deciding to attack and murder a pregnant woman is a much worse bad decision than deciding to steal a car. Even people who wouldn't want the fetus listed as one of Estrada's victims would generally agree that murder is a very bad decision indeed.

"It that enough to execute him? Is that enough to kill him?" she asked the jury.

Apparently Texas law and that jury think so.

A question I'm probably not supposed to ask: I wonder if these murderous attacks on pregnant women have become more frequent since the advent of the birth control pill and legalized abortion.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Recommending Liberty!

I just wanted to recommend a DVD series that Uncle Pookie and I finished watching this weekend: Liberty! The American Revolution. This six-episode, PBS documentary is from 2004, but it was new to us. No history documentary is perfect or can satisfy everyone, but I think this one is excellent. Liberty! is especially good in showing that American opinions were varied before, during, and after the war and reminding us that the outcome of the conflict was by no means known by the rebels or guaranteed to be successful (an obvious fact that we nevertheless sometimes forget, not only about this war but about others in history.) There is a lot of use of extracts from contemporary documents, which I loved. The ending of the war in episode 5 (ep.6 carries us through the creation of the Constitution) seemed rather abrupt, but other than that small thing I can't think of anything I disliked about this series. I heartily recommend this to everyone; families with junior high or high school students studying American history could get a lot of good from it--enjoyment, help with schoolwork, and food for conversation.* It would almost be worth watching just for the poignant rendition of "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier", a song popular at the time of the Revolution, that ends each episode.

* FWIW, my top recommended question for discussion is, "If you were an American colonial before the war, which side would you have been on?" I have been a patriotic American and a believer in the Revolution since I was a little girl, and yet I have never been able to answer that question with 100% certainty for myself ever since my high school teacher suggested it one day during class. But if you find this an easy question there's lots of other things to discuss in this series.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


However much we might hate talk about "all the wrong people having children" and the egregious idea that lies behind it, try to tell me some of us didn't squirm a little at the wonderful bit of satire at the beginning of this film that contrasts the nice, intelligent, middle-class couple's approach to procreation with that of the gauche, lower-class family.

Beyond that beginning, Idiocracy is less good, although still entertaining in a Fox kind of way--even if Fox did refuse to support the film after it'd been made. Ignore the logic holes and enjoy. And who knows, maybe there will be a few babies born to intelligent, educated couples as a result of watching it. Our society needs more babies.

The Men of Firefly

Jayne is the kind of man you have an affair with if you happen to have an affair (which of course you shouldn't) while you're ovulating. Wash and Simon are the kind of men you marry. The captain is the kind of man you hold a secret, lifelong attraction for; he might or might not marry. Discuss.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

Noone has tagged me with this meme, but here they are anyway:

# I take pride--not much, but some--in the fact I've never let my household run out of toilet paper. (I grew up in a household where the lady of the house often let us run out of staples, including toilet paper.)

# As a child, riding past fields on Christmas Day, it seemed sad to me that the cows didn't know it was a special day.

# My earliest verifiable memory took place on the Halloween a few days before my first birthday. (I have a non-verifiable memory that would have had to take place months beforehand.)

# I will spend longer dithering over whether to spend two dollars on a non-necessity than my husband does over spending two hundred dollars on a non-necessity.

# Because humans need analogies and metaphors and because I am who I am, I tend to think of God as the Great Novelist.

# I'm a fan of refrigerator stew. (Definition below, for the uninitiated.)

And that's my six things. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to post theirs on their blog or in the comment box.

Refrigerator stew is a soup made in the following way: Keep a container in the freezer and every time you have a too-small-to-save amount of leftover vegetables (non-cruciferous veg only) or legumes you put it in the container. When the container is full or nearly so, dump the contents into a large pot, add broth or vegetable juice and some meat, throw in some herbs for extra flavor, and simmer the whole thing until done. If I have a leftover serving of rice or pasta in the refrigerator, I might add that to the soup pot too. Results are usually good, sometimes very good. Now I think of it, there's no reason you couldn't start with a roux, although I don't.

Words That Sound Like Other Words

Yesterday on Craftster I saw a thread in which a couple of people seemed to have some discomfort with the term "fagot/faggot stitch", a knitting stitch pattern which I must confess I'd never heard of, although I've long known the similar sewing term--and, for that matter, the original stick term and its use in shortened form to refer to cigarettes in England, as well as the pejorative term these posters wanted to avoid seeming to say. Laudable as their desire not to give offense may be, I have a comment.

Item: My mother has told me how, in her youth, her teenage brother used to upset their preschooler nephew mightily by accusing the nephew of "peering out the window". The outraged child would be driven nearly to tears as the older boy asserted that he'd "seen him do it".

Item: Supposedly there was a politician back in the '30s who "attacked" his opponent by telling voters that the opponent's sister was a known thespian and that the opponent and his wife had practiced pre-marital celibacy. Ignorant voters drew the (intended) conclusion that the opponent and his family were immoral and supported the accuser.

People who get offended by words that happen to sound like other, offensive words are like my preschool cousin and those voters: they are betraying their ignorance by getting upset over inoffensive words they don't understand. Actually, many of them are even worse off than my little cousin and the uneducated voters, because my uncle was deliberately trying to annoy my cousin and the politician was deliberately trying to mislead the voters. A city councilman or teacher who uses the word "niggardly" to describe something that is niggardly is not trying to mislead or offend anyone. A person who uses the word "faggot" to describe a bundle of sticks, "fagoting" to refer to a certain decorative sewing technique, or "fagot stitch" to refer to a particular knit stitch pattern is not intending to mislead or offend anyone. To insist on being offended in these cases where there is no offense and no intent to cause offense is either to show that you are ignorant or to show that you are determined to be offended even when you know there's nothing to be offended about. Better vocabulary instruction in the schools could help with the former, but I don't know if there's anything that can help the latter.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cats Are Like Clerihews and Other Random Thoughts


Someone once said that the odd thing about clerihews is that the very best of them aren't much distant from the worst of them. Cats are like that.


How old do you have to be before you stop being a "product of conception"? I mean, I'm no longer an embryo, anymore than I'm a teenager, but aren't I still a product of conception?


Do you think Scandinavians in the 870s ever crooned along to that great old song, "Who's Making Love to Your Old Lady, While You're Out Pillaging Saxons?"


Pointless products: half-slips for mini-skirts. Really mini skirts. I think if you're wearing a skirt that barely covers your butt you've already decided you don't care if strangers can see what we euphemistically, and in this case ironically, refer to as your "privates".


I really wish people would once again start using the word bitch to refer to female dogs. I have no quarrel with the other uses of the word, I just miss the original use.


A relatively new (about 2 yo) pet peeve in my list of peeves: young girls referring to clothes that sit at the natural waist as "high-waisted". How can something possibly be high-waisted when it sits at the waist?


If you kept trying to "express yourself" and everything you made was ugly, wouldn't you think it's time to try expressing something else?


Spotted at a Best Buy: A longish job posting taped to the door that moves to the side as you approach. Apparently they're recruiting non-myopic speed readers.


I recently heard that it's wrong to "put limits on people". Guess I'll get started protesting those anti-murder and anti-cannabalism laws now. I feel really limited by those animal cruelty laws too. And don't even get me started on that oppressive stuff about leaving vengeance to the Lord.