Monthly Archives: December 2010

Geeking Out on New Year’s Eve

The weather today continued to be more like a Florida winter than an Ohio one, so I decided it was time to reward myself for the hard work the last few days. I went out and about. 🙂

My younger brother and I finally went to see Tron Legacy, now that I’m actually healthy. We both enjoyed the IMAX 3D with this movie, even though the matinee price was still not cheap. I thought it was interesting, surprising, and well-made, but with plenty of action.

We adjourned to Half Price Books, where I had the dubious fortune of finding several books that needed a good home with me. 🙂 I don’t know when I’ll see another used set of a recent translation of St. Augustine’s commentary on the psalms, or of Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans and Christians, so I succumbed to financial temptation. The idea is to have something interesting and improving to read while I’m stuck inside in the winter. Of course I also picked up some fiction, but that was MUCH cheaper.

Then we went over to Arrow Wine, so Kev could pick up some stuff for his celebratory needs, and I picked up the Chateau Monet stuff mentioned below. (More financial temptation….) Then we ate a very late lunch or an early dinner at one of the local Indian restaurants. It was kinda quiet on New Year’s Eve, but we enjoyed it.

Well, I’ll have to be good about resisting financial temptation from now on. But after being cooped up at home in bed for so long, under gray skies, I really needed this mini-vacation.

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Chambord Is Good Stuff

Every so often, I spring for something that’s a bit out of my way. For New Year’s Eve, I decided to try Chambord. Then I saw the price, and decided to buy the cheaper version right next to it (Chateau Monet), because I was afraid to spend a lot of money on something I might not have liked. (Yes, I’m cheap and paranoid, and have friends who made me drink nasty sour lemon drinks while promising I’d like them.) Now I’m sorry I didn’t spring for the name brand, since I find I do like this liqueur family a lot.

First of all, these aren’t raspberry liqueurs. It’s black raspberry liqueur. They do use raspberries and blackberries as part of the recipe, but the flavor is clearly not that of either. They call this family “framboise liqueur” just like the raspberry ones, but the label is very clear about the black raspberry part. 🙂

Second, it’s very tasty all by itself. I drank a wee bit as a sort of dessert liqueur after I got home from the Indian restaurant, and it was a very good dessert as well. I liked it warm, but many people seem to prefer it chilled or over ice. It’s a bit stronger than wine, though (as you’d expect from a liqueur).

I wouldn’t throw it down as a shot; the whole point is the taste. (Also, liqueurs tend to get their revenge for such cruel treatment. Object lessons are available at bars everywhere.)

A lot of people like to mix it with champagne (a Kir Royale), and I can see how that would work. Supposed also to be good with sparkling water, white wine, milk, vodka, and so forth. Chambord with 7-Up on top is apparently a popular layered drink, sometimes with vodka between the layers. Some of the other cocktails people suggest for Chambord sound pretty disgusting, but I suppose tastes differ! Some people like to mix it so much that they think it’s better as an ingredient than a drink; some people just like liqueurs and cordials as themselves.

Apparently this also makes a good topper for ice cream (yum!) or waffles and pancakes (I guess that’d be for a late night breakfast). It’s supposed to be very good for cooking with chocolate also. I know somebody who makes Chambord chocolate truffles, and I can say for a fact that they’re darned good. (Yeah, I forgot this when I was in the liquor store.)

They do recommend that you finish the bottle within six months after you open it.

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Yeah, We Had an Earthquake Yesterday

But I didn’t feel it. Apparently my apartment building is in some kind of weird geological area that damps out these things a bit. It was only fifteen seconds, anyway, but I guess it had a bit more horizontal shaking than we usually get in our itsy-bitsy earthquakes around here.

However, this does bring up an important safety matter.

Eventually, New Madrid will let rip, or we’ll have some decent-sized East Coast earthquakes again. We’re due for it, folks. Around the time that happens, there will probably be earthquakes in all kinds of atypical places.

So take a good look at your furniture, and try to make sure that you don’t have tall heavy stuff anywhere that it could fall on your bed, or in areas where people tend to sit. Look at where you keep glass things, and think where they could go. I’m not saying to be paranoid; but even if there’s not an earthquake, it’s a good idea to think about safety with this stuff. Bookshelves and tall TV/stereo cabinets are not something you want on your head.

(I own a lot of bookshelves, and one of them once fell, thanks to construction stuff going on and some bad weight distribution by me. But I had positioned it originally so that a fall would no harm. See, I’d remembered that Harlan Ellison once had a bookcaseful of his own books fall on his head during an earthquake, with bad results. This had made me think about these things.)


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That Cute Song from the Laughing Cow Cheese Commercial

I tend to mute commercials and do other things, so I guess that’s why I didn’t notice the English steampunk /skiffle/disco/chap music song that was playing on the Laughing Cow cheese commercial.

Of course, the Internet gestalt knows all, sees all. It’s a song called “Don’t Stop” by Patrick and Eugene. Their music video is very cute. Apparently they’ve done a lot of cute stuff on several albums, had many popular music videos, and been featured on a lot of shows I don’t watch and a lot of commercials that didn’t run on the channels I watch.

Well, I’ve found them now.

(Skiffle is the banjo-ish stuff that a lot of English rock bands played, just before they were rock bands. Sort of like Dixieland or jug band music in the US. Sort of, but not. Anyway, I didn’t make up the name.)

(And yes, I should be asleep, but I drank caffeine a bit later than I should have. Way too much to do today to get tired in the afternoon…. Tomorrow I rest.)


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Villains Who Demand Approval to Cover Their Own Unease

If Henry VIII had really been comfortable with his actions, he never would have tried to destroy the Office for St. Thomas a Becket’s Day.

This sounds like it must be really dramatic and cool. And there are big bells tolling for a death.

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Your Parish Church Should Look This Good.

I’ve heard about this guy before, but I’ve never seen pictures of the church this extensive, and he’s made a lot of progress the last few years.

The Madman and the Cathedral, a 20-minute documentary in English by James Rogan.

Some people call him “Don Justo”, the Spanish honorific for a monk who’s also ordained as a priest. He’s actually a layman named Justo Gallego Martinez. Once he was a novice Trappist monk (at Santa Maria de la Huerta, in Soria), but he contracted tuberculosis. Any serious health problem that surfaces in the long novitiate is seen by orders as a sign that God doesn’t mean you for a monk, or that your body’s not strong enough for all the work, and for shifts of sleep broken by constant prayer. (Since God makes your body, that’s a valid clue.) Tuberculosis, being contagious and thus dangerous in any enclosed community, is usually an automatic out.

So they sent him home in 1961, at the age of 35, in his eighth year of monkhood, to find what God did mean him for. He prayed to Our Lady of the Pillar that his tuberculosis would be cured, and promised that he would build her a church if he got well. He did. So Don Justo decided that he was meant to build a church. A big church. And since he couldn’t raise enough funds and enthusiasm for it, he’d just build it himself.

That’s not unprecedented. When St. Francis heard God telling him, “Rebuild my Church”, his initial interpretation was that God wanted him to restore the small broken-down church in which he was praying, so he did. Then he built or rebuilt several other small churches, which led to the foundation of the Franciscan family of orders and to the various Franciscan church reform movements. In mission lands, it’s very common for priests and religious without any architectural or construction experience to find themselves building churches for villages. There’s a German missionary priest in Peru who’s built hundreds, planning them in his head and using the ordinary people of each parish as labor.

But Don Justo started work on a cathedral-sized church, using nothing but scrap and repurposeable trash folks let him scrounge and his own labor, spending his inheritance money on what had to be bought, and renting out the rest of his land to farmers to get money to live and build on. Twenty years ago, he got a part-time helper, Angel Lopez Sanchez; and his six nephews helped him with the steel beams for the dome. Sometimes volunteers or donations show up, and when there’s money, he sometimes hires a summer helper. Otherwise it’s all him, collecting scrap at four in the morning and beginning construction work at six, reading books about cathedrals to get information and ideas. Working out in the fresh air every day but Sunday has kept his lungs healthy. Apparently God knew what He was doing. 🙂

He’s obviously an ardent spirit in the Spanish style, fasting and making promises to God that he then fulfills, trusting God to take care of the details. But he’s not a vacant-eyed dreamer, as you’ll see in the documentary. He’s a shrewd hardheaded person, concerned with making his church both beautiful and “economical”, and not letting anything useful go to waste. If he weren’t born Spanish, he’d be some tough old Yankee from up in New England.

His work was featured in an ad for a Coke product in Spain in 2005; the money and attention from this is apparently why he’s been able to make such progress lately. A lot of people call it a sign of the power of one individual with a dream, but Don Justo says it’s all about the power of the Gospel. Unfortunately, visitors can only look from the outside at present, because the mayor is concerned about safety. (And to be fair, it’s a work site, and Don Justo doesn’t want to be distracted.)

Previous stories I’d seen about this guy made it sound like his “cathedral” was a rattletrap. Obviously architecture can have hidden flaws, but the BBC news story on TV showed a solid, massive structure with graceful lines, and amazingly beautiful stained glass and murals executed by Mr. Lopez with ground glass in all sorts of colors. The reporters weren’t shy of going inside, as previous reporters were. The documentary shows some scary-seeming practices, but it does all seem to work. It’s already a real tourist attraction, and I hope that someday it can be checked out by structural engineers and then dedicated as a church.

Nobody had a problem with Don Justo’s little project when it was just heaps of stone and brick on a hill on his inherited land. He even had an “open building permit” that was supposed to make it all okay. But now the law keeps making noises about demolishing all Don Justo’s hard work. It’s been fine for decades, but now it’s suddenly dangerous. And of course, no union construction workers or professional architects are behind it, so it’s automatically against the rules.


A work of beauty like this should not be held back by planning permissions (which nobody asked for when he started) or EU architecture laws (ditto). After fifty years, surely it’s grandfathered in! If it ends up being solid and safe when it’s done, waive the rules. If it’s not, let people enter at their own risk, and have it just be a devotional work of art instead of a working church. Either way, it’s a latter-day wonder.

When he dies (may the day be far off!), he’s left the building and land to the diocese of Alcala de Henares. Nobody knows what they’ll do with it. He would like it to be a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar (Nuestra Senora de la Pilar).

At any rate, it does raise one question — if your parish church isn’t at least as beautiful as this homemade project, why not?

Information on bank account for donations.

Juan Gallego Martinez on Wikipedia, in English and (with more info) in Spanish.

Mejorada del Campo, now a suburb of Madrid instead of a country town. The Spanish page has much more info than the English one.

Don Justo’s explanatory flyer for visitors. In Spanish.

A plan of how he hopes it will look when finished.

A 2005 picture, which shows how much further along he’s gotten in just five years.

A 2005 news story which shows what it was like up on the roof.

A Flicker pool of photos of the place.

A fan webpage. In Spanish.

A 2010 travel story with a picture of an entranceway.


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The Twelve Days of Christmas (Zillionth Takeoff)

This came to mind tonight. I’ll spare you most of the pain….

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Wise men coming mumming,
St. Simeon Stylites pillaring,
St. Titus, Cretan,
The Holy Name of Jesus,
Feast of the Holy Bris,
St. Sylvester baptizing,
Six Alexandrian martyrs,
St. David’s go…ld ha….rp, [or, “Five Canterbury tales,” for St. Thomas Becket’s Day]

For the Holy Innocents,
St. John’s love,
St. Ste-e-phen,
and a Baby to hang on a Tree.

No really good puns, but I tried.

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Da’ud Bob Is Still Reviewing Medieval Movies

With Season of the Witch coming out next month, expect to see the medievalist bloggers in various states of hysteria, hysterical laughter, and resignation.

You may not be familiar with the SCA’s favorite movie reviewer, Da’ud Bob ibn Briggs. (The name is a JOKE. And yes, “Joe Bob Briggs” gave his permission.) Following the principles established by Joe Bob Briggs’ Drive-In Movie Reviews, and adding the sensibilities of a reasonable knowledgeable Scadian, Da’ud Bob is out there every month with some kind of movie review. (The reviews go away after a month, though.) Reviewing movies from the point of view of a hobbyist leads to some interesting reflections. You can be deeply unhappy about all sorts of things, but appreciative of a fight scene or a really nice costume. A cheesy movie can have sets or a location far better than its script.

He also provides monthly warning of movies and TV shows coming up. Like Showtime’s upcoming miniseries The Borgias, which will probably be exactly like The Tudors except set in Italy and involving the papacy at closer range.

On his website, you can buy his many books of collected reviews of medieval-ish movies, including an entire volume of Da’ud Bob ibn Briggs Goes to Shakespeare Movies.

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Pull a Patron Saint for 2011!

The Catholic blogosphere has gotten a lot of fun and education out of the formerly-obscure custom of randomly picking a patron saint for each new year, besides one’s usual patrons and favorite saints, or of having one picked for you.

Now we have achieved the ultimate: a patron saint randomizer created by Jennifer Fulwiler. It draws from the really big list at! (Not quite as totally complete as your really obscure reference books, but reasonably complete as to saints we know reasonable amounts about.)

I got St. Barbatus of Benevento, a bishop of the 7th century who was called to minister to a town full of Arian and pagan Lombards.

According to a ninth century legend, for obscure reasons the Lombards of the area worshipped a golden viper, an animal skin, and a sacred tree. (It sounds like a Golden Fleece cult, I’m telling ya, and they did come from the steppes of Asia originally. They might have picked up some Scythian/Colchis stuff.) He found himself in the weird position of helping defend this town against an Imperial army, while encouraging the Lombards to abandon their false beliefs and call on the true God to break the siege. Some did, and the Emperor Constans lifted his siege and left the Lombards alone. In gratitude, Duke Romuald became Christian and ordered the snake worship ended. The golden viper was melted down, and the gold made into a chalice for Mass. Romuald’s wife Teudorata became a particularly pious Christian, and helped the bishop in many of his charitable ministries. He died in 682.

Via The Anchoress.

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Wearing My Christmas Clothes to Do Laundry

Feeling much better. Clean warm clothes, caffeine, lunch, a show about snipers, washing my nasty flu-ridden clothes clean of germs — it’s amazing how much better you can feel after just a few hours. (I’m sure that Carlos Hathcock doesn’t want to be considered “comfort viewing”, but competent people who are on my side do tend to make me feel better about life.)

My other stressful thing is going in for a mammogram tomorrow afternoon. Honestly, this isn’t a big painful deal for someone of my (moderate) size up front; but my mom always has to be harping on the cancer thing. I’m one of those people who really doesn’t benefit by loading emotion onto routine actions; it tends to paralyze or depress me. My mom is the same way, but she apparently thinks that _everybody else_ benefits from drama. This is true, with some people in my family. Alas, not with others.

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So I got back from the holidays yesterday, and I found out that my neighbor whom I gave a roll of toilet paper had been moved to give me back a roll — by hanging a translucent plastic bag, obviously containing the roll, on my apartment door.

I don’t want to discourage anybody from paying anybody back, but how long was that bag hanging there? Man, it’s like a combination of announcing to thieves that my apartment is empty with public weirdness. I’m not much into worrying what my neighbors think, but this goes over my threshold.

Also, I got a note that they’re doing the pesticide thing in my apartment tomorrow. Oh, joy. I get back from the holidays late on my unexpectedly free week off, when I’m just getting well, and I have to clean to a deadline.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things this is nothing upsetting. But criminently, this is ridiculous. Now I’m tired and depressed and stressed, when I was planning to relax and recuperate. I don’t think I’m getting out of the house either, when that was my dream all the last couple weeks. I don’t even have anything to wear to do laundry, or any clean sheets to sleep on, or any PJ’s that aren’t all over fever-sweat. This stinks.

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I Don’t Think That’s What Happened.

I’ve been reading back through the last few days of Instapundit and found a call for cutting stupid funding for education that doesn’t actually serve to educate or enrich kids’ minds. Unfortunately, it included a “historical anecdote”, which proved that even the educated in this country ain’t.

“Eight hundred years ago education was controlled by the church. Groups of independent scholars, using Latin as a common language, began to congregate apart from the church to pursue a true education. By mid-12th century this grew into the university movement — Hic et ubique terrarum (here and anyplace on earth) as they said in Paris in 1163. It took a century or so, but by AD 1400 the church no longer controlled education.”

Noooooo, that’s not what happened.

Education wasn’t “controlled” by the Church. In Ireland, you could get a perfectly good secular education at a secular school, because Ireland cared about educating its poets, historians, lawyers, genealogists, and other “men of arts” (which included women in some cases).

But in most places, the only people who cared enough about the arts and sciences to dedicate resources to teaching and learning them were monks, nuns, canonesses, and priests. So sure, if you wanted to go to grammar school and you were a Carolingian Frank, you probably had your parents donate some tuition to the canonesses down the road. If you wanted something more extensive, either you joined an order or you donated some more money. In some areas, poor children with ability were taught for free — if their parents could spare them from working to help the family survive, that is. Sometimes kings (like Charlemagne or Alfred) were rich enough and smart enough to see the value of educating kids for secular jobs; many nobles and merchants educated their kids also, and hired a tutor or a chaplain who doubled as one. But in general, life was hard and study a bit theoretical to be useful for most folks. The spread of monasteries and convents did much more to spread education on the elementary level than anything else.

Then various local bishops had a brilliant idea. They had all been hosting schools in their cathedrals, both to train seminarians and to train kids to become seminarians. Some schools were better than others, so some bishops with less money and resources started to send their seminarians and money to the bigger better schools at places like Paris and Bologna. Some of these schools, like Bologna, began to devote more resources to specialty courses like canon law. More seminarians were sent along to study, as well as monks sent by their orders. After a while, the numbers got so great that the local bishop stopped feeding and clothing the visitors. Their bishop back home, or their order, was responsible for costs now, so the visiting students paid their teachers and paid for lodging in the town. After that, of course students showed up who just had rich parents, or an ability to grub up just enough money for a few classes; and so teachers showed up in town who knew more subjects and offered to teach them, many secular people. After a bit, you had a university.

But all this took place under the direct aegis of the local bishop, to the point that even secular students were protected by canon law and wore various forms of clerical dress. Even where universities were sponsored by the king, as in England, the primary purpose of a university was to produce educated clergy, and students lived and dressed like clerics. Professors could not teach without receiving a license from the local bishop or the ranking local parish pastor. Universities had ties to secular power and grants from it, but so did bishops and religious orders. They had many legal freedoms and privileges, but so did many religious houses. Universities were not independent or secular; they were regarded as arms of the Church that also served other secular purposes. Whenever universities started making noises about being independent of all non-university authority, the towns and kings usually laughed in their faces and made them listen harder to the local bishop or archdeacon or what have you.

(That didn’t change when Protestantism came in, either — Oxford is a perfect example. You didn’t have really independent secular universities in Europe until the 18th or 19th century. Of course, universities today are usually beholden to the federal government and/or rich people, so they’re not really independent; and most of their professors espouse and evangelize an awful lot of the same pieties, so they’re not secular, either.)

The only problem was that, the more prestigious and all-encompassing the big universities became, the more expensive they were. The cathedral schools that hadn’t turned into universities tended to wither. Many clerical candidates were headhunted by merchants, nobles and the king, to do their administration. This often meant that they never returned home to their own dioceses, and never schooled anyone except other clients of the noble or king they worked for. This improved general education levels in the towns, but didn’t do anything for the country.

So obviously, the poorer bishops and orders now only sent a few trusted candidates to the universities for schooling; other priests and monks had to survive with nothing but grammar school under their belts. (Women generally couldn’t go to universities – except in places like Bologna – so women’s local educational infrastructure didn’t collapse during the days of centralized universities. Only after the Reformation and the destruction of nunneries were middle and upper class laywomen left ignorant of their letters and Latin.) Thus, the university system eventually promoted elitism and promoted ignorance throughout the land, which was only leavened by the civilizing influence of women religious and their female pupils. This would be the time your guy above promotes as being such a great time of “independent scholars”.

As part of the Counter-Reformation, smaller religious universities and local seminaries were set up in smaller, poorer dioceses, so that each bishop would once again be responsible for thoroughly educating all his priests. Many small Protestant sects took a similar approach, although others took more centralized approaches. Harvard was a typical preacher-training school, developed to school American Puritans who would never be allowed to attend an Anglican college back home in England (and who didn’t want to go, either).

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Piers Corbyn Is My Nerd Hero

He’s right, he’s right against opposition, he’s right for the right reasons. He’s unpretentious. He seems like a nice guy whom you could trust (as opposed to Julian Assange, who seems like a weasel you shouldn’t turn your back on).

Dig that crazy hair. Maybe he’s a human woollyworm! 🙂

Yes, Sailorette reported it first.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that, in some benighted areas of the US, they call poisonous stinging caterpillars “woollyworms”! I don’t mean them; I mean the folk heroes of Midwestern weather prediction, those harmless, friendly fall caterpillars here in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, et al.

Woollyworms (our kind) are smart enough to eat alkaloid-laden leaves to kill off parasites, so you can see they’re smarter than the average caterpillar! 🙂 They’re also tough enough to live through cold weather, thanks to natural “antifreeze”. So, a good symbol for meteorologists, and a little more inspiring than a groundhog. 🙂

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Pacific Natural Creamy Mushroom Soup

It’s pretty good mushroom soup, except for one thing. And I realize that this may just be my tastebuds, enfeebled by a week of sickness and stuffiness. Or maybe this is a desired feature of champignon and/or porcini mushrooms, which is what the company uses in the soup. My mother feels that this is desirable in some mushroom varieties, for example, and she is something of a mushroom lover.

So this soup I got in the organicky-fancy-healthy soup section at Wallyworld…. It’s creamy, and it tastes like mushrooms, but it also kinda tastes like dirt.

I added soy sauce to bring out the mushroom flavor, which worked for a bit. But then the soy dropped to the bottom, and the soup tasted like dirt a little again.

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