Saturday, July 30, 2005

Potting Heather

The soror and I have discovered the thrills of amateur movie-making. It's thrilling, all right. Her camera (blessings upon its digital head) has a video function: only thirty seconds' worth, and no sound, but a decent enough video. It's not unlike the early season of Hitman, only quieter.

We are currently visiting relatives, including grown-up cousins we haven't seen for, oh, seventeen years. We were at an aunt's house all afternoon, with only ourselves to amuse one another.

It happened, all in the best tradition of silent films. ::insert impressive music::

The first video sequence was--lame. Lame even according to my standards. I hope it is banished to the wilds of cyberspace, from which no coherent data returns.

The second sequence was great. First we asked our cousin, Heather, if she would be the heroine. "What do I have to do?" "You have to let me mug you and rifle through your purse--but it can be my purse--and your brother Jeff can rescue you." Heather agreed.

Jeff, hearing his name at the other end of the room, said, "What are we doing?"

"HE VOLUNTEERED! HE SAID 'WE'!" put in his brother-in-law. And Jeff most amiably did.

There was a lovely potting shed in the back yard, with a convenient corner for Heather to get mugged around. The trouble was, what should the sister whack her over the head with? So we all trooped outside. Ah! A pot!

We took our stations. I stood near the fence, camera at the ready. The sister lurked with her pot. Jeff stood off to stage right, ready to rush to the rescue. Heather stood behind the corner.

"GO!" I shouted. She came. She was potted. The sister sniped her purse (which was her own purse borrowed by Heather for the purpose). Jeff rushed up. Jeff snatched the purse, picked up his sister, and left the wrathful would-be-mugger purseless and expostulating.

We did one take, and it was beautiful. I named it, "Potting Heather."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Further brilliance of Tolkien

Tolkien just got even smarter than I had realized.

I was reading one of my Old English grammars this afternoon, and discovered that their poetry wasn’t based merely on half-lines and alliteration, but also has “feet,” of a sort. That is, there are five patterns (conveniently labeled A through E) into which the syllables of the half-line must fall. Therefore, I decided I had to investigate the Song of the Mounds of Mundburg. It scans.

I append the first two lines. Slashes are stressed, x’s unstressed syllables. They're in the right order, and it worked when I typed it, but when Blogspot publishes this post, it messes up my spacing. Sorry--I know it's miserable to try and decipher.

Type B Type C
x / x x / x x / / x
We heard of the horns in the hills ringing
Type C Type C
x / / x x x / / x
The swords shining in the South-kingdom.

The book also states that an additional unstressed syllable, an “anacrusis,” may be placed before lines of Type A and D. I scan down to line four, and behold! It’s a Type A half-line with an anacrusis! I indicated it by parentheses.

Type A Type B
/ x / x x x / x /
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
Type A Type A
(x) / x x / x / x / x
(As) wind in the morning. War was kindled.

Tolkien even made his sentence lengths within the poem like those in Old English. Some, like lines 1 and 2, are an even number of lines long. (In other words, OE wasn’t big on enjambments.) Other sentences are a line and a half, with a second, half-line-long sentence in the gap, like lines three and four of Mundburg, and like line 11 of Beowulf. (“That was a good king!” I’d append the OE, because it’s charmingly comprehensible to modern ears, except Blogspot isn’t really set up to deal with odd characters like the thorn and ash. I expect it could be done, but I don’t know how to do it.)

Line five starts off with a rousing Type E, which involves a secondary accent on the first syllable of “Theoden.” I indicated that with a backslash.

Type E Type A
/ \ x x / / x / x
There Theoden fell, Thengling mighty,
Type B Type C
x x / x / x / / x
To his golden halls and green pastures,

That’s about as far as I got, but I thought my discovery was so cool I had to share. :-)

The Battle of the Pelennor

I was reading Return of the King this afternoon, and I was really impressed by the lament Tolkien wrote for the fallen Rohirrim at the battle of the Pelennor, which he called the Song of the Mounds of Mundberg. It is a remarkable technical achievement, straight in the tradition of the Old English poets.

The meter is as Old English poetry, with two heavy stresses, a pause in the middle of the line, and two more stresses. Three of the stresses alliterate in each line, and generally the fourth alliterates with something somewhere in the line. The word choice is heavily reminiscent of Old English, appositive-heavy, adjective-rich. The "-ing" suffix is like the Norse "-son," like "Peterson."

I would that I could write like this, for my story would be much the better for it!

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.
There Theoden fell, Thengling mighty,
to his golden halls and green pastures
in the Northern fields never returning,
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthlaf,
Dunhere and Deorwine, doughty Grimbold,
Herefara and Heubrand, Horn and Fastred,
fought and fell there in a far country:
in the Mounds of Mundberg under mould they lie
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.
Neither Hirluin the Fair to the hills by the sea,
Nor Forlong the old to the flowering vales
ever, to Arnach, to his own country
returned in triumph; nor the tall bowmen,
Derufin and Fuilin, to their dark waters,
meres of Morthond under mountain-shadows.
Death in the morning and at day's ending
lords took and lowly. Long now they sleep
under grass in Gondor by the Great River.
Grey now as tears, gleaming silver,
red then it rolled, roaring water:
foam dyed with blood flamed at sunset;
as beacons mountains burned at evening;
red fell the dew in Rammas Echor.


There's something ironic about losing your USB memory stick.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I have finished three books in the last few days: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dante's Paradise, and Augustine's Confessions. I am a happy camper.

Confessions: read them. Augustine is excellent much of the time. The most peculiar thing (to me) was his frequent flights of allegorical interpretation, which is a thing we just don't do much. At least, I thought that until I was reading some Spurgeon and discovered that's his method, too...

Half-Blood Prince: the minimum reading age for the series--at least, as far as I would let my hypothetical kids read them--just jumped a couple years. It's good. It's not so dark as Order of the Phoenix, and has some really good stuff, but it also has certain content issues. Alas. For the record, I don't approve of sixteen-year-olds "snogging"...

Paradise: Alas, just when it was getting really good, we spend three cantos mostly praising Mary! Jesus may be the Main Point, but He's barely there!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It’s a strange movie. It’s not bad, exactly; it has a lot of good content; but it’s strange. It’s a lot like The Wizard of Oz, even to the color scheme. Just so you know, my review does contain spoilers: I couldn’t talk about it sensibly otherwise. Sorry.

Johnny Depp plays Willy Wonka, the owner of the chocolate factory. Remember the part in Pirates where he asked Will Turner how far he’d go for Elizabeth, and Will said he’d die for her, and Depp replied, “oh, good”? That’s sort of how he was for Chocolate Factory, only more so. Kindness to others was not his prevailing virtue. He also has a high voice, effeminate hair, and pale makeup, so I probably wouldn’t have recognized Depp if I hadn’t known it was him. So that was not so great.

Wonka’s factory is run by the Oompa Loompas, a tribe of munchkins who came from the jungle to eat cocoa beans instead of (admittedly disgusting) green caterpillars. Wonka’s jungle travels in which he discovered them were his most manly parts of the movie, but the Oompa Loompa language itself tended towards middle-school humor. They are musical munchkins. Every time someone disappeared from the tour, they put on an elaborate song and dance number (rather like “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead,” only with more cultural references). The dances were supposed to be funny. They tended to bewilder me. Or weird me out. I think I just don’t quite get Tim Burton’s sense of humor, which is probably good.

Christopher Lee plays Wonka’s father. He was a being with no existence in the book, but he works in the movie. At least, he adds (moderately obvious and unimaginative) depth and motivation to Wonka’s wonky character. In addition to being a great Saruman and Count Dooku, he’s also a great evil dentist. Seriously! He did well with what he had to work with. There’s a reunion scene at the end. “I haven’t seen bicuspids like this since…WILLY?” “Dad!” “You haven’t flossed since you left?” “Not once.”

On the other hand, the movie did some excellent things. Charlie Bucket’s family is very poor, but they love each other and his parents both work hard, his dad to support the family and his mom to keep the household running. (The casting job on the Bucket family, all seven of them, was phenomenal. Actually, most of the casting was really good.) I was surprised how nonfeminist the movie was, in that and other regards. It was a major theme that Family is Good and Selfishness is Bad—even more so than Harry Potter, actually. Charlie at the end passed up riches beyond his wildest dreams to stay with his family.

It was also a big theme that obeying your parents is good, even if you don’t understand. Charlie had a line to Wonka about how “they love you and want the best for you.” Every one of the frightful four children had parents who spoiled them. The Oompa Loompas knew perfectly well whose fault it was, and sang so.

I loved the way the movie skewered four vices. Everyone had a fitting end for his sins, rather like Dante’s Hell. :-D

The first to go was a glutton, plain and simple. He tried to eat what wasn’t his, fell into the chocolate river and was sucked up into a factory UFO, and that was that.

The second was your feminazi go-conquer-the-world type of girl, with her mother exactly the same. ::shudder:: She was a champion gum-chewer and chewing the wrong gum was her downfall. Wonka actually went to some effort to save her from herself (he generally didn’t), but she, knowing better of course, turned herself into a blueberry.

The third was a prim and spoiled young lady, who insisted on her own way and got sent down the garbage chute for her pains. Her doting father followed her: a squirrel pushed him in.

The fourth boy was a combination math whiz and video game addict. He was not as consistent a character, actually; I think they tried to do more with him than was possible. He was incredible at puzzles, math, and technology, and also liked violent video games. He’s the sort of boy who stomps on pumpkins for no reason but destruction. His dad halfheartedly tried to dissuade him, but was too much of a wimp to give an actual order or enforce it if he did. The Oompa Loompas sang that TV rots your brain, but it was so manifestly not true in this boy’s life, that one fell rather flat. His foul character was certainly bad, but they didn’t denounce it very convincingly. It should also be pointed out that bashing TV using the medium of cinema is perhaps not the most consistent.

The movie was, in short, of ambivalent quality. There were some funny parts, and some good parts, and some gross parts (mostly the caterpillars), and some parts that fell hopelessly flat. At least there was no love story to “fall on its face and skin its nose.”

Friday, July 15, 2005


This evening my sister and I had adventures.

We and Deba were going to go watch "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" tonight, the 8:50 showing, and the six-something showing had sold out. So we opted to go buy the tickets early.

But before we got tickets, we had to go get a Young Life discount card from Deba because that way you get the matinee price. Deba was babysitting up in the Quemazon development. Now, this is new since the fire, built up on the side of the mountain and full of really gorgeous houses and twisty roads named things like "Sinuoso" and "Esperanza." If I had a spare million dollars I'd want one of those houses. Anyway, this development being fairly new I don't know my way around it. The soror knows her way rather better, but she didn't know the family Deba was sitting for.

So first we take the wrong turn off Diamond and have to go back and find the right road. Managed that. We turned into the development all right (it's labeled QUEMAZON in black letters on a cliff 20 feet tall, so that was good) and couldn't quite remember the address. We thought it was on Bertha del something road. She asked what dels roads were named after, and the only one I could think of right offhand was Commedia dell'arte, which we were pretty sure it wasn't. We get there and find Brisa del Something--Sol, maybe?--and go, aha! That's it!

But now the question is WHICH house on Brisa del Sol. It's supposed to have Deba's brother's truck in front of it. But it's his new truck, so we aren't entirely sure. We drive all the way up Brisa del Sol, amuse ourselves with all the street names, express the desire to be named Esperanza de la Vega, come back down Quemazon in Grandma Low gear because it's so steep, and determine which truck is probably Deba's brother's. We park behind it. Right.

Unfortunately, the truck that's probably Deba's brother's is parked between two houses. And each house is actually three townhouses smooshed together. So we call Deba's brother's cell phone, reasoning that if she's got his car she might have his phone too. Well, he answered. So we ask him if he knows the address where Deba is. He doesn't. We ask whether the truck is his. He sort of describes it. We read the license plate to him. He doesn't know his license plate. Sigh.

So the sister says she'll just go knock on the door and if it's the wrong house, ask them where the family lives! But one last time before she gets out--oh, it's raining, a steady soggy Virginian rain unlike anything normal for here--she looks for the paper she wrote the address on. Eureka! Yay! We are in more or less the right spot and now we know which house too.

The sister goes to the door. She goes in. A bit later she reappears with a Young Life card, cash for Deba's ticket, and a big piece of notepaper that had been taped to the front door, addressed to her. "Just come on in, I'm giving the kids a bath."

We went and bought tickets. They were not sold out. They weren't close to being sold out, though (the girl said) you never know if they will be. It just depends on if lots of people feel like staying up late.

On the way back, the traffic lights were having issues: they kept turning red on us. When this happens, there are two responses in our family. The first is the comment, "Life is tedious." The second is to try and cajole the light into turning green. You can ask nicely. You can wave your hand and go, "Green, green, green!" You can point at it like Spiderman and say, "Go, web, go!" You can insult it in Spanish (which we tried to do--or rather, I lapsed into ungrammatical Latin, things like "malo lumen").

At one point, the standard approaches weren't working, so the sister yelled, "BLUE!" And it turned green! That traffic light is having an identity crisis!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Good, good, keep going... :-)

Breakpoint had an interesting commentary on the 12th about a Cardinal's clarification of the Catholic position on evolution.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna... was chosen by John Paul II to be lead editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is also close to the current pope, Benedict XVI.

In early April, Schönborn spoke with then-Cardinal Ratzinger and told him that he "would like to have a more explicit statement" about the Church's position on evolution. Ratzinger encouraged Schönborn "to go on," and the result was a piece that appeared July 7 in the New York Times.

From the start, Schönborn rejects the idea that the "neo-Darwinian dogma"—of "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection"—is "somehow compatible with Christian faith." While the Church leaves to "science many details about the history of life on earth," it also "proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world … "

He characterized attempts to deny or "explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology" as "ideology, not science" and "an abdication of human intelligence."

Schönborn's piece quickly provoked a reaction. "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution" was the New York Times headline a few days later. The headline should have read: "Catholics Mean It When They Recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday."

After all, the Cardinal simply said that a Christian cannot consistently believe in God, the Creator of "all that is, seen and unseen," while also believing that life is the result of "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection."

Note that I said "Christian" and not just "Catholic." The incompatibility Schönborn described is just as true for Protestants as Catholics.

Would that all who believe in the Creator thought so. As you can tell, Breakpoint approves of the move; I found Schonborn's own article, and wasn't quite so excited. It's fine as far as it goes, and was certainly good enough to make various bloggers throw fits and start referring to Copernicus, but...why leave open the possibility of theistic evolution at all?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The rites of Bealls

For all you who may be wondering, work is going adequately. :-) It's not frightfully exciting, but I think it's character-building. I get to practice doing all things heartily, as for the Lord, not for men. I develop some sympathy for those who complain that they aren't properly appreciated (i.e. paid). I am learning to deal with all sorts of people. I have become convinced of my inadequacy in Spanish, Romanian, and Albanian, a fact I had suspected before. (It was rather cool. I tried out the one semi-appropriate Romanian greeting I could remember on a lady and promptly messed up the word order! Ah well, at least she knew what I was getting at!) I have plenty of time to analyze pop music: for those of you who dislike Christian rock, I should like to assure you, it has equal musical value and more sensible and edifying lyrics. I have time to contemplate blog entries which I forget before I get to a computer. I get to see pretty much all my acquaintances, including those I haven't run into for, oh, ten years or so. This is great if I happen to recognize them and good for practicing humility if I don't. :-)

Beall's is rather like a shrine, which every dweller in the town and surrounding villages and farms must visit sooner or later, and I am like a lowly priestess therein. The rites must be observed. There are the rites to welcome the day, rites to apply to the needs of pilgrims, rites at the setting of the sun, the rites for the closing of doors. There are rites for dealing with those in authority over our store, rites for one another, and rites for setting forth the items therein. There are rites for putting objects out for viewing and rites for restoring them to their places after pilgrims try them on. There are separate rites for receiving paper and metal, plastic, and checks. If one fails to properly observe a ritual, one more fully initated into the mysteries must come and purify one's mistakes.

The interesting thing is that while these rites must be scrupulously observed, for failure one faces no wrath greater than humans. At least, one isn't told so.

Humanist of the year speaks

Richard Dawkins, accepting the 1996 "Humanist of the Year" award, said this:

Don't fall for the argument that religion and science operate on separate dimensions and are concerned with quite separate sorts of questions. Religions have historically always attempted to answer the questions that properly belong to science. Thus religions should not be allowed now to retreat away from the ground upon which they have traditionally attempted to fight. They do offer both a cosmology and a biology;
And he continued,

however, in both cases it is false.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I have come to the conclusion that I like current fashions.

Not all. But a lot of it.

To start with, longish fullish skirts are in style. I am now back in agreement with 90% of ladies in all of world history. This makes me happy. It's quite possible to manipulate a long skirt into any sort of costume at all; it's very difficult to do that with jeans. Also, most girls look good in longish fullish skirts, and hardly anyone looks good in tight little pants.

To continue with, there are COLORS this season, both in clothes and in shoes. I am wearing hot pink ballet-style shoes as I type. Black and brown are good and worthy, but for goodness' sake, there's a whole rainbow out there.

There's a ton of variety now, too. One can wear what one likes, and not be ostracized. One can thus also find modest garb.

Many members

It occurs to me that there are two different types of conforming. There’s group or herd mentality, the sort of thing that leads to committees, and then there’s obedience to a rightful ruler, either a coach, a government, or God. Everyone wants at the same time to belong (remember the theme of alienation?) and to be an Individual. It’s the problem of the one and the many applied to humans.

Christianity is an excellent example of the good sort, for there are many members, but one body, and the Head is Christ. An Individual causes problems, but individuals are essential.

I wonder if all those “question authority” bumper stickers—stated in the imperative, if you notice—are picking up on the problem with herd mentality, and aren’t distinguishing between the two. Of course, it’s entirely possibly they deny the existence of any rightful ruler, in which case there’s nothing to do but pray.

There is a genuine difference here, it seems to me, but I’m not sure how to define it. Is it the presence or absence of a plan? Of a proper authority? Of likemindedness?

Dancing, I think, illustrates this. There’s the sort we do at the Valentine’s dance. It lacks structure, and if you’re good at it, it’s because you’ve just got the hang of it, and everyone will stand in a circle and cheer you on. If you aren’t good at it, that’s fine, because hardly anybody else is either. Classic instance of a herd of Individuals. Then there’s contradancing. It is very structured, and it takes some learning. If you haven’t got it, you’ll mess everyone up. Classic instance of many members and one Body.

Can anyone explain what I mean better than I can? 

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Theologian quiz

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'



Karl Barth


John Calvin


Jonathan Edwards


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Martin Luther


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich






Which theologian are you?
created with

I think the author of the quiz doesn't quite have Augustine; I'm pretty sure I am more Augustinian (and also more Edwardsian) than the results say. :-) But it's a fun quiz.

Friday, July 01, 2005


In this, one may behold Tex the Cat, Head of Household Security (indoors), and Lilly the Mighty Huntress (on the patio).

Of forests that move

They say Tolkien had Ents because Shakespeare didn’t. Macbeth was told, "fear not, till Birnam wood/Do come to Dunsinane; and now a wood/Comes toward Dunsinane." A moving forest! So anyone reasonable would presume from context; so Tolkien presumed. But it was only Malcolm and Siward carrying branches. How dull.

Ents, however: Ents shepherd trees, and their woods do walk. In one night trees of Fangorn came before Helm’s Deep. They destroyed the Orcs and in another night were gone back to their place. That were a forest to make a mortal tremble properly.

In the last two days I have seen a forest move. The air was full of tree-matter, so muddying the sky that one could hardly see the Sangre de Cristos just across the valley. The sun shone orange through the smoke as it did during the great fire five years ago. When Dad and I drove up to work, we thought there was another fire in the Jemez; but it was in reality the forests of Arizona, north of Phoenix, which were caught up by the flames and sent flying five hundred miles, over deserts and mountains and state lines, to sit in the Rio Grande valley. A Jinn could do no greater wonder.