Monthly Archives: October 2010

Halloween Hostage Standoff in Iraqi Catholic Church

A bunch of al-Qaeda types attacked the Iraqi Stock Exchange, were driven off by security forces, and ran into Our Lady of Deliverance church, shooting up random congregation members on the way. They then holed up in church with the congregation as hostages. Iraqi security forces ended the standoff by storming the building.

US estimates were that nine hostages were killed and thirty wounded, including a priest (apparently injured in the initial sprays of bullets when the insurgents ran into church) and a nun. Seven Iraqi security guys were killed, and five insurgents. Numbers apparently vary wildly from non-US sources.

Yup, just another Sunday goodwill tour for those charming Iraqi “insurgents”.

CNN has pictures of the church.

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What I Think about the New BBC Contemporary Sherlock Holmes

1. If it were just Steven Moffat, it would be better. Sorry, Gatiss. Of course, Moffat would probably kill everybody heroically, so probably it’s a good thing that Gatiss is involved. (Heh. Just ragging on you, guys!)

2. Aside from the curtseys to contemporary pieties and certain jokes that most Holmesians and Sherlockians won’t like, it’s very clever and funny. On the whole, the storytelling devices are solid, and the playful adaptation of A Study in Scarlet into an entirely different fanfic story is sensible enough.

3. The Watson writing and portrayal is quite good. I don’t quite buy Martin Freeman as ex-military (he obviously didn’t go through as good an actor boot camp as some), but I do buy him as Watson, with all the Watsonian qualities we know and love. The vexed question of Watson’s wound is dealt with in a very sensitive and interesting way.

4. Holmes… um. Well, Cumberbatch makes a fun Holmes, but he looks like an alien. Which would be fine if this were whatever that one was called, where Holmes was a genetically engineered time traveler, but it’s not. Nevertheless, he does a good job with many of the classic Holmesian traits. The writing of his character is another thing.

The insanification and pulpification of Holmes is more acceptable than turning the Doctor into someone willing to cross the line, because Holmes always has been highhanded. Nevertheless, I disbelieve that Holmes would ever torture anyone, even if he were amoral. There are ways to cheat that Holmes would not stoop to do, and he just doesn’t strike me as stupid enough to believe anything learned by torture. I also failed to believe the sexual harassment moment. This sort of thing is bad writing.

5. Rupert Graves is quietly competent as D.I. Lestrade. Just letting the man be a police inspector works very well, because Holmes is so crazy in this version. I totally failed to believe his crew, though. Particularly Sgt. Donovan. I don’t care how torqued off she was (and admittedly, one could be torqued off a lot by any Holmes, and particularly this one). She didn’t come across as a police detective doing her job, or as any kind of professional. If you’ve put up with some jerk on the job for several years, surely you will have achieved some kind of equilibrium. (Even if you then make mocking comments behind his back later.) If the writers were trying to do a tsundere character in real life, they also failed badly.

6. Mark Gatiss as Mycroft was hilarious, and the writing and staging was excellent for both his appearances. It’s obvious that both Moffat and Gatiss watched way too much Avengers and Airwolf, and that they read Stross. Not that that’s a bad thing.

7. I’m not sure why they threw in stuff to torque off the old-school fans, and then simultaneously threw in tons of in-jokes about Sherlockian/Holmesian papers that only true fans would get. I guess they can’t decide whether they want to be part of the tradition or not. (Either that, or they were getting their in-jokes from Les’ annotation books.)

8. Boy, did they make it abundantly clear why Holmes might not be romantically attractive. It was practically a male fanboy rant about “why do women like Holmes?”, except put into a visual format! Hysterical.

9. Watson as an optimist about romance just managed to avoid making him look like a loser, and also just managed to look like persistence and not stupidity. A fun take on Watson’s penchant for appreciation of the ladies, though I hope to see him achieve some success with his renewed self-confidence. Brave, proud, intelligent, kind guys who also look like Martin Freeman probably don’t stay home on Saturday nights. :)

10. I like the music. It’s pretty clearly a ripoff of the Sherlock Holmes movie score, which seemed to have been inspired by equal parts pub songs and Castle, but still it’s darned listenable.

11. I really, really like the contemporary deductions. Nice.

I am going to watch the show tonight, and I expect to enjoy most of it. It is probably not something kids should be watching, though, unless they’re older kids. If you missed the first episode, it will be available for viewing on pbs.org until December 7, and the other episodes will also be available the day after airing.

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Cats Are in the Bible

I remember reading once that medieval people hated cats because they weren’t in the Bible, et cetera, et cetera. Most of medieval Europe was pretty fond of mousers, as it happened, though the Welsh were the ones who wrote all kinds of super-duper cat-favoring laws. Monasteries of both sexes seem to have had cats around to fight the mice, without the temptation to go hunting that ratter dogs provided.

But anyway, if you’re Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, cats are in the Bible.

Chapter 6 of Baruch, or (in Orthodox Bibles) The Epistle of Jeremiah, is said to be a copy of a letter from Jeremiah to the Babylonian captives. It may or may not be a work written in the Jeremiah tradition by somebody else; there’s some weird archaic stuff in there if you ask some scholars. Anyway, copies of it were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The letter reminds people, with great verve and sociological detail, to resist pagan peer pressure to worship idols and pagan gods. It points out this helpful truth about household gods in Baruch 6: 21-22:

“Owls* and swallows and other birds fly over their bodies and above their heads, and cats** walk*** on them in like manner, whereby you may know that they are no gods. Therefore, fear them not.”

(* Bats in modern translations.)
(** In the Vulgate, cattae, she-cats; in the Septuagint, it’s ailouroi, cats of either sex.)]
(*** Some claim that the verb for both groups of animals is about defecating on the idols, which would go along with all the talk about the household idols up in the rafters constantly getting dirty from dust and hearthsmoke.)

So there you go. Cats clearly are useful to the observant monotheist. And they are mentioned in the Bible.

So why are cats not mentioned in the Bible? Because your Bible is the abridged version. :)

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What’s Black and White and Read All Over?

Librivox’s new free audiobook about the life of Blessed Joanna of Portugal, A Crown for Joanna, by a Dominican named Sister Mary Jean Dorcy. It’s illustrated in black and white, it’s by a black-and-white-habited Dominican, and it’s read by Librivox’s finest.

(I know, it’s not funny if you’ve got to explain it….)

Joanna, the Infanta of Portugal, was offered the hand of Richard III of England after his beloved wife Anne Neville died, as part of a double marriage deal in which Elizabeth of York (Edward III’s daughter) would marry the Duke of Beja (the male heir to the Portuguese throne). Joanna didn’t plan on marrying anybody, but was pressured by her family. She apparently had a dream warning her that Richard was dead, and told her family that she’d marry Richard without demur if he still lived. Bosworth Field was already done.

Since Elizabeth of York got stuck marrying Henry VII, who proceeded to judiciously murder most of her relations and maybe her brothers too, instead of Manuel the Lucky, who got to run Portugal during its early glory days of African exploration, you gotta say she got the short end of the stick. Since Manuel’s resulting ambition to marry a Spanish princess set off some very creepy events in Portugal, I’d have to say that Portugal got the short end of the stick too. History has some very odd twists and turns.

However, since the princess by that time had already rejected three very royal suitors in favor of God, and since she was actually several months older than Richard, it leads one to wonder whether Richard was actually planning to marry this woman in the pursuit of kids, or whether he was just seeking somebody to help with admin and keep the councilors from pestering him to marry again. Shrug. He was still in the prime of life, and it was still possible for her to have kids; and royalty did tend to be very hopeful about such things, back then. But if Elizabeth of York was going to go off and become a queen-in-waiting, even illegitimate, you have to wonder whether Richard was just planning to name the Little ex-Princes his heirs, or what? It’s just a really weird development that I haven’t heard mentioned before.

At any rate, the Infanta Joana is a fascinating figure, sometimes a powerful regent of a farflung empire and sometimes kept from following her dreams by the prison of her rank. The Portuguese seem to love her still, but I wonder why we non-Lusitanians haven’t heard more about her.

An album of church music dedicated to her.

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Movie of Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse

There’s some other author named Goudge out there (a distant cousin or niece of some sort), but Elizabeth Goudge is the one we’re concerned with. She made her name with Green Dolphin Street (which became a justly famous Hollywood movie and a famous jazz tune). But she wrote a good many other novels after that.

Most of her novels are historicals, though some were contemporary to her time of writing. They tended to be set in the English countryside or in small old towns. The past tends to be a constant presence. Emotions run deep but don’t show up right away. Sometimes things slip into fantasy. Generally things are either cozy or terrifying, and there’s not much warning of either. She was a favorite of J.K. Rowling, among many other fans of note, but hasn’t gotten much reprinting. Out of her extremely prolific output, I’ve seen about ten of her books and that’s all.

So I’m surprised that anybody filmed the influential but deeply odd fantasy The Little White Horse. I’m even more surprised that they filmed it under the title The Secret of Moonacre, but so it is. Your man Ioan Gruffudd and your man Tim Curry are both in it.

When it comes to reprints, there are a few US editions these days, but mostly you’ll have to look to libraries, used book purveyors, and aged relatives. In the UK, the situation is not much different, alas.

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Blatantly Cute Picture of Fannish Dog

Yes, there are many costumes like this one. But this particular one is pretty darned cool.

The one you want is Picture #1 of 15, at Bow Wow Ween. Get it while it’s up.

I have attempted to persuade my mother that on Beggar’s Night, she should ensconce our dog and her bones out in the yard, along with some of those fake skeleton bones just beyond her area. Alas, I have been veto’d, so our dog will not appear to the neighborhood in the character of a friendly anthropophage this year.

(Warning: If you do this, you have to keep a close eye on your dog, because as we all know, some people like to pull mean pranks and steal things on Halloween. But it could be a fun gig for pretty much any dog, and would spare them being costumed.)

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A Gentleman’s Travels Through the Galactic Empire

Alexei Panshin isn’t an author or critic with whom I have much patience. But once upon a long time ago, he wrote tales both humorous and deep of a remittance man named Anthony Villiers and his alien friend Torve, traveling through the Galactic Empire and committing the odd act of derring-do.

Star Well, The Thurb Revolution, and Masque World were out of print for many years, and alas, Panshin did not continue the series to its conclusion. (First, because his publisher did not want a fourth book; second, because he claims he is no longer the same young man who wrote about Anthony Villiers.)

However, an omnibus edition of the books came out in 2003 (which I didn’t know), and said omnibus is currently available on Kindle for the discriminating reader, for less than two dollars a book. Thus, you will not have to attempt to obtain them by crawling through many an obscure used bookstore, interfering with illegal gambling operations or Lovecraftian rituals of summoning by disturbing their dusty peace.

However, for whatever bizarre reason, Amazon will not let you buy this Kindle book unless you have accepted the odious 1-Click system, which I shall never do. So feel free to send Amazon a nasty letter about their stupid prejudice against normal buying methods. Apparently they must have shifted their policy within the last month or so, because previously I had no trouble buying Kindle/Mobipocket books from them. Twits.

Fortunately, Fictionwise also sells it as an ebook in several formats, including Mobipocket, which would take care of your needs nicely. The price is a tad higher unless you’re in their ebook club, though.

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