Monthly Archives: May 2006

Why I Keep Praying for Christopher Hitchens

I realize that the world is full of traps for atheists, as Lewis said of himself. But Christopher Hitchens is no more an atheist than I’d be a solipsist if I just refused to talk to you or acknowledge your existence.

Yet another exhibit to that effect:

“Since all efforts at commemoration are bound to fall short, one must be on guard against any attempt at overstatement. In particular, one must resist efforts to ventriloquize the dead. To me, Cindy Sheehan’s posthumous conscription of her son is as objectionable as Billy Graham’s claim, at the National Cathedral, that all the dead of Sept. 11, 2001 were now in paradise. In the first instance, we have no reason to believe that young Casey Sheehan would ever have supported, and in the second instance we cannot be expected to believe that almost 3,000 New Yorkers all died in a state of grace. Nothing is more tasteless, when set against the reality of death, than the hollow note of demagogy and false sentiment.”

If the man was really an atheist, the state of dying folks’ immortal souls would hardly be something he’d worry about. No, he’s a man wrestling with God and his own soul as hard as he can, going for chokeholds and throws with all the strength and fury he has. He has good reason for that fury. But it is fury at a Person, not an abstract nonexistence.

But if he makes it, he’ll be a far greater saint than I’ll ever be.

The problem, of course, is that if Mr. Hitchens read this post, he would be so hacked off at me and the world that it would set him back a long way. But you can’t take him out to dinner if you live several thousand miles away from him (not that I’d be any more effective as an evangelist or a cheering presence than your average planarian). So prayer’s what I’ve got.

UPDATE: You see? You see?

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In Which the Versifier Attempts to Prove Her Point.

Every so often, I hang out over on the forums for Megatokyo, a rather unique fannish webcomic. One of the forum traditions is separate threads for discussing the newest comic and for commenting on it in haiku. (Or even as a renga. Also in the "Irish haiku" form, better known to the rest of the world as a limerick.)

Every so often, folks float in who just don't get the point. There are those who despise all haiku in English, those who despise haiku that doesn't have the traditional seasonal references (though actually, a lot of folks do throw those in), and those who just plain despise haiku. This week we got someone who despises haiku that don't follow the full rules and is "deformed" by being in English, and who advised us all to write sonnets, which are better than haiku anyway.

(Why is it that I absolutely can't stand someone who's even more persnickety than me? I'm all for overaccuracy and scholarliness. Must be the incredible humorlessness that gets me.)

Anyway, the upshot was that I wrote this poem, of which I'm rather proud. Both forms, plus seasonal and individual webcomic references! I'm no Seanan, but I have my clever moments. 🙂

My friend, the sonnet is a simple form
For those who've read enough. Also, haiku
Does not require some great mental storm
Or superpowered skill from me or you.
The art of poetry is what is hard;
It's never mastered by the greatest pen.
But that's no reason not to mount your shard
Of what is beauty next to Will's. Write, then!

A Tokyo spring
More cherries and less thunder
Lightning stabs two hearts —

And inkstained paper
Conducts the charge to readers
Astound with wonder

For silicon and dream have
Made them no insulator

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In the Twinkling of an Eye

Leigh Ann Hussey, well-known fan, filker, longtime SCAdian, and fiddler for the bands Annwn, Brazen Hussey, and Nuit, died suddenly yesterday in a motorcycle accident. She was apparently on her way home from geocaching. (She had only recently begun the hobby, and was already close to making six hundred finds.) She had a concert slot coming up at Baycon on Memorial Day weekend, as well as a geocaching event she was sponsoring this Sunday. She will be missed by her many friends, and by the many who knew and respected her.

I only knew her slightly, I'm sorry to say. I live in Ohio — of course I only knew her slightly. But it is true to say that science fiction fandom and the SCA are communities; and in that sense, she's someone who's been living down the street or across the road for almost as long as I've lived there. Also, I know people who knew her well, and I grieve for them as well as for the loss of a darned good musician whom I knew slightly. At moments like this, human connections seem both more powerful and more fragile.

The news story on her death

Please drive carefully, folks. And remember that we don't know when we'll have to go.

Someone quoted this song by her:

I'll bless the bonny ship that brings
me leave and liberty
to wend the way of saints and kings
and souls across the sea
I'll seek the voice that sings to me
and draws me on my way

Where the twilight seals the day,
to the West, to the West,
I am summoned as the dreamers come before.
With my wounds all healed away,
like the sun I will rest,
where my vision leads, along the Western shore.

(Lord, may Leigh Ann Hussey's commitment to creating beauty, her kindness and good works even to strangers, and her search for truth, have numbered her among those who died in Your friendship. Grant that she be one of those who will come from the east and the west and sit down at Your banquet table. May she join in the songs of the angels, and may light eternal shine upon her.)

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I Swear It’s Good. (And It Only Costs a Buck, So Trrrust Me.)

Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths, Legends is without a doubt, one of the most complex cartoon series ever written and produced in the US. You can now buy ten of its forty episodes at Wal-Mart. For a buck each. 

Yup, Digiview (aka Those Guys with the Cheap Slimcase DVDs) has put out two volumes of a forgotten masterpiece of American cartooning. Many of America's best cartoon writers worked on this series: Greg Johnson of Transformers: Beast Wars. Reboot alumni. Comics writers, too. Good folks, I'm telling you. (Heck, Greg Weisman of Gargoyles even contributed some important story elements, though they didn't end up using his story bible and pilot.) 

You're going to like and care for the characters. (Some of them have great chemistry together, too.) But don't expect that first impressions will be the whole story; you'll have to get to know some of them. Give it a little time, and expect to be surprised again and again. 

So get out to Wal-Mart soon. The boxes have been on the shelves since the beginning of May, and you're going to have to search through them. You want Volume 1: The Bait and Volume 2: Bounty Wars

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Nuclear. Duct. Tape.

3M sells Nuclear Grade duct tape.

"High Performance Duct Tape Nuclear Grade. A unique construction of high tensile cloth and aggressive adhesive. Designed for applications in the shipbuilding, nuclear power plant and stainless steel industries… Nuclear Grade is designed for both permanent and temporary applications both indoors and outdoors… provides clean removal with little or no adhesive residue from most opaque surfaces up to 6 months after application. It offers sunlight/UV resistance for up to 1-Year without the backing deteriorating or delaminating… temperature use range: Up to 200 ° F (93deg C)…"

And it's available in either red or slate blue. (Though some supply houses on the Net still carry the less-identifiable silver version.) Here are the specs. (You can also buy nuclear grade duct tape that isn't from 3M.)

(Hat tip to SCA Today.)

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Hat Links

As we all know, I rather like hats. They usually don't like me — at least, once you get past the Middle Ages — but I am broadminded and forgive them for not looking good on my face. 

However, I have found a very nice hat. I bought two at Stein Mart — first the black one, which goes nicely with my raincoat, and yesterday the white one, which should be very useful in the summer sun. You can buy it all sorts of places on the Net; the link is provided for illustration purposes. (You will note that this hat does not have a rolled-up brim. For some reason, that sort of brim is in; but I cannot wear such things.)

I have also found a Quite Useful article about hats. These are the sorts of things our mothers and grandmothers absorbed by osmosis, but which we were never told. Read and remember. (The snarky fashion remarks are a bonus.) 

For those pious ladies who enjoy wearing hats for devotional purposes (or those thrifty ladies who just can't justify paying all that money at the RenFaire), here are nifty articles on the basics of barbette and fillet hats, stuffed roll hats, circlets for wearing over veils, hoods, crespinettes, cauls, wireframe headdresses for stuff like hennins… (pant, pant, pant) …how to wear veils gracefully, how to braid stuff into hair, how to store heavy garments, and lots more.  As a bonus, the resident maven also provides us with a Highly Useful series of articles on modern fabric and how to tell if modern clothing is well-made.

You can also take a look at the construction of St. Birgitta of Sweden's coif, and a few other surviving medieval hats. You can also look at more hats and hat patterns and learn how to make straw braid hats. You could put up your hair with ribbons to distribute the weight. Or you could go a little further east and later in time, and make Russian regional headdresses

If you decided to make hats or join the SCA, you'd probably end up going to the fabric store. All fabric stores are as fascinating as hardware stores can be. But some fabric stores carry weirder fabrics than others.

Finally, if you've ever had a yen to own a pith helmet, go forth and live the dream.

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Marian Hymn Translation: “Salve, Salve”

Here’s my translation of an interesting song I found last night. A MIDI file of the music is right beside the linked lyric. I couldn’t find any credits for this, so presumably it’s “Trad.”

“Salve, salve,” they sang to you, Mary,
“Only God is more pure, more pure than you.”
And in Heaven, a great Voice repeated,
“Only God, only God is more than you.”

With torrents of light how they flood you,
The archangels kissing your feet.
The stars now encircle your forehead,
And God sees, and is well-pleased with you.

Then, calling you pure and without sin,
All the worlds fall down upon their knees;
And your spirit expands in your rapture —
So much faith! So much love! So much zeal!

Oh, blessed the Lord who upon Earth
Was able to make you pure and clean
Like the mountain range forming a diamond,
Like the sea coalescing a pearl.

Seeing you between being and nothing,
And shaping your body, He exclaimed,
“Immaculate her womb will be,
For from her I have to be born.”

Since you were His pure Virgin Mother —
He said, “Let there be light!” and there was light;
From your breasts He drank your tender caring,
To your arms, He came down from the Cross.

Flowers, flowers! still come to the temple,
And on your throne of light and at your feet
Archangels and cherubim scatter
More of them than there are seeds in sheaves of wheat.

Flowers, flowers, the clouds all are pouring
On the Virgin whose honor’s unstained,
She whom the heavens call their Queen
And whom men call their mother and their love.

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Top Ten Gnostic Quotes

From our office in Nag Hammadi, it's the
Top Ten Quotes from the Gnostics!

10. From "Allogenes":
"He is a perfect, invisible, noetic Protophanes-Harmedon.
And empowering the individuals, she is a Triple-Male."

9. From "The Apocalypse of Adam":
"….from the nine Muses one separated away. She came
to a high mountain and spent (some) time seated there,
so that she desired herself alone, in order to become
androgynous. She fulfilled her desire and became pregnant
from her desire."

8. From "The (First) Apocalypse of James":
"You are to say to him, 'They are not entirely alien,
but they are from Achamoth, who is the female.' "

7. From "The (Second) Apocalypse of James":
"I am he who received revelation from the Pleroma of Imperishability…
he who stripped himself and went about naked…."

6. From "The Dialogue of the Savior":
"Judas said, "…When we pray, how should we pray?"

The Lord said, "Pray in the place where there is no woman."

Matthew said, "'Pray in the place where there is no woman,'
he tells us, meaning 'Destroy the works of womanhood…."

5. From "The Gospel of the Egyptians":
"A hidden, invisible mystery came forth:
iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
oooooooooooooooooooooo uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." [the 7 vowels, 22 times each]

4. From "Marsanes":
"And consonants exist with the vowels, and individually
they are commanded and they submit… And the consonants are self-existent, and as they are changed, <they> submit to the hidden gods…."

3. From "The Sophia of Jesus Christ":
"All these were perfect and good. Thus the defect in the female appeared."

2. From "A Valentinian Exposition":

"But the Decad from Word and Life brought forth decads so as to make the Pleroma become a hundred, and the Dodecad from Man and Church brought forth and made the Triacontad so as to make the three hundred sixty become the Pleroma of the year."

And the #1 Quote from the Gnostics:

1. From "The Gospel of Thomas":
"Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life."

Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too
may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female
who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."


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Our Lady of Chiquinquirá

Two titles for the price of one!

As the UD Mary page notes, Colombia’s patroness is Our Lady of Chiquinquirá. This refers to the story of a Spanish painter’s image of Mary as Our Lady of the Rosary, holding the baby Jesus and flanked by Ss. Anthony of Padua and Andrew the apostle. The painting was kept in the town of Chiquinquirá in the worst conditions. One day, a woman saw its delapidated condition and wished that it looked as it once had.

And it fixed itself. And it continued to be in good condition despite all the loving use and bad storage it received for 300 years. (For the last hundred years or so, it’s been behind glass.) Her feast, celebrated in Colombia, is July 9th.

But in Venezuela on Lake Maracaibo, the people of the province of Zulia also honor Our Lady of Chiquinquirá. This title comes from a miraculous wooden statue of Mary, carved with Indian features and skin, and found floating in the lake. (Huge numbers of miraculous statues of Mary are found floating down rivers or on the ocean. Given the huge numbers of galleons that didn’t make it, this isn’t hard to understand along seacoasts.)

According to legend, the old woman who found the statue (while doing her wash on Nov. 13, 1749) at first thought it was just a little board, and then thought she saw a picture on it. She left to do errands, and when she came back found a crowd crying out, “Miracle! Miracle!” (Milagro! Milagro!) The piece of wood was glowing and floating in the air, and a picture of Our Lady of the Rosary (similar to the one in Colombia) had appeared upon it. So the street on which the woman lived is now called El Milagro.

This version of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá is affectionately known as “La Chinita”, for short. The La Chinita Festival (La Feria de la Chinita) is a very big deal, and the airport is even named for her!

Lovely photos of the Basilica and the image being lowered and taken out for the festival.

Chiquinquirá Delgado, co-host of Univision’s Battle of the Sexes show, was born in this area. According to this interview, the doctors had feared that she would be born deformed. So her mother told Our Lady that if her baby were saved she’d name the child Chiquinquirá. (Chiqui for short.)

This is fun! I think we’ll have to look at some more Marian stuff!

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The Virgin of the Thirty-Three

This month, since it's May, I wanted to put up some images of Mary which are less known around here.

The Virgin of the Thirty-Three (La Virgen de los Treinta y Tres) is both a title of the Virgin Mary and the name of a little wooden statue in a church in Uruguay. It was made in one of the Guarani Indian workshops founded by Jesuit missionaries in what is now Paraguay. In it, Mary is portrayed as the Immaculate Conception, standing on the crescent moon, and upheld by three cherubim. The statue came to the city of Florida in 1779, along with a group of Guarani who were moving there.

The statue gained its fame from the moment on April 19, 1825, when 33 rebels from the east bank of the Rio de la Plata (Orientales) knelt before the little statue and placed the fate of the nation they hoped to found in the care of the Virgin Mary. Their revolt against Brazil began on August 25, 1825, and indeed ended with Uruguay a free and independent nation.

(I would like to note that this story was not found in any of the books on Uruguay which I consulted for my seventh grade Ohio and Latin American History project, and I was quite thorough. Which goes to show that the Web is a very good thing.)

Today the Virgin of the Thirty-Three resides in the Cathedral of the city of Florida, Uruguay. Every year, a pilgrimage commemorates the founding of Uruguay and the gratitude of her people for Mary's continued protection and care. The dioceses of Uruguay celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Virgin of the Thirty-Three, every second Sunday in November. She is the patron saint of Uruguay.

(And just so you'll know that her husband isn't neglected, check out the Shrine of St. Joseph. Lots of nice Baroque statues of Joseph and Jesus.)

Here's my translation of the Prayer to the Virgin of the Thirty-Three:

Most holy Virgin Mary, before your image, the founders of our country dipped their flag and reverently bent their knees. Always protect this people born in your beneficent shadow. Oh, Mother, grant that religion and all the Christian virtues may flourish around our hearths. Grant that we see the reign of Christ, which is one of truth and justice. Obtain us these graces and that of eternal salvation, from your son Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

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Skip the Foreword!

I am now going to give you a piece of advice that will stand you in good stead.

If there's a foreword to a classic book, and it's not written by the author (or possibly, an author you like), skip the foreword.

There are a few occasions when forewords actually provide useful information, or perform the task of making the reader interested in reading the book. But usually, forewords either spoil the plot, or try to tell you what some professor thinks you should think of the book. In either case, they also last long enough to dampen your enthusiasm for reading.
So skip the foreword and start reading the actual book. You can decide for yourself what to think about it. If the book can't do its own introductions, it's not much of a book.

Then, when you're done, go back to the foreword and see what was so important that they had to write a foreword about it. The professor's opinions will be a lot more interesting, because you will actually know what the heck he's talking about.

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Aristotle: A Writer’s Best Friend

Today I listened to this public domain audiobook of Aristotle's Poetics.

I only wish I'd read it back in college or even in high school, because this book says everything I've ever tried to say in class. (And gotten short shrift for saying.)

Characters only exist so plot can happen! Action reveals character, not pretty speeches! (Pretty speeches reveal thought and mindset, which ain't the same thing.) The dramatic unities are an analysis of contemporary best practice, not prescriptive rules!

Annnnnnd the "tragic flaw" is a good person's lapse in judgment. Mwahaha! I knew there was something wrong with that classroom definition of tragic flaws!

I see no reason why every creative writing and English major, much less the drama folks, should not read Aristotle's Poetics. If nothing else, it's full of good advice and good ideas. It's actually much less prescriptive than the average creative writing teacher. That makes it a good starting point.
So read the primary sources! Read them and make others weep!

"….one may string together a series of characteristic speeches of the utmost finish as regards Diction and Thought, and yet fail to produce the true tragic effect; but one will have much better success with a tragedy which, however inferior in these respects, has a Plot… beginners succeed earlier with the Diction and Characters than with the construction of a story… We maintain, therefore, that the first essential, the life and soul, so to speak… is the Plot; and that the Characters come second."

Sorry. I just had to savor that again. Characters come second. Style and characters are the easy part. Yes, Aristotle's got my back! 

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Secret Agent Priest?!

You never asked for it… you never heard of it… but it’s out on DVD….

A little show by Gerry Anderson called The Secret Service, whose main character is Fr. Stanley Unwin, agent of BISHOP.

Bizarre, huh?

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Cute Yet Gritty!

I happened to catch a really cute little show this morning when I woke up. (In the US it's part of Playhouse Disney, and apparently in the UK it's part of CBeebies.) The Koala Brothers is an Australian show set in a small town in the outback. All the townspeople are anthropomorphous animals (CGI, I think), but they live in a very detailed and realistic (and dusty) town. 

I am glad to report that no Aussie accents were removed for the sake of Americanization, under the idea that "the kids won't understand" or "the kids can't identify with someone from another country". (I don't know why that trend has returned, but in a world where your kids are almost certain to meet kids from other countries online, and even speak to them over their videogame connection, it's an even lamer idea than it used to be.)

It's cute, but also a bit thoughtful. The theme of the show is helping others, but they also ponder how best to help, and whether some help is really help.

In the episode I watched, the Koala Brothers' small sister Mitzi dearly wanted the cuckoo clock on the wall of the general store. The shopkeeper (some kind of mole, I think) gave it to her, but then pined for the clock (and had trouble keeping on time). Meanwhile, Mitzi and everyone else on the Koala homestead found it hard to sleep with the cuckoo clock around.  But the shopkeeper was too polite to ask for a gift back, and Mitzi was afraid she'd hurt the shopkeeper's feelings. Politesse met necessity; Mitzi asked the shopkeeper to keep the clock for her.

Anyway, here are some cute little websites for the show:

 Disney Playhouse: Music videos, stories, and games.

 CBeebies includes a link to a song and some games.

 Random House gives a better sense of the "set". 

 Always entertaining to read the site for the industry…. 

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