Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Captain America Movie Was Excellent

You know, I used to think that maybe Superman was the best superhero movie ever, or maybe Spiderman (the first one). And The Rocketeer was definitely the best retro comic book movie ever, except for parts of Hellboy.

But now, I would argue that Captain America is the best, most faithful superhero adaptation ever. Best cast, best protagonist, best fights, great origin story coverage, great details, great use of the surrounding superhero universe, and pretty much pitch-perfect in every way.

I’m even not annoyed by them using the stupid Brubaker-new-version-of-Bucky. That’s a miracle, by the way. Brubaker came up with crap that was intended to break the one rule of the Marvel universe.* Joe Johnston and his screenplay writers managed to turn his malicious, evil, trollish crap into golden roses. The entire crew over at Marvel Comics should go kiss their feet and pay their grocery bills forever.

* Because Captain America’s fate was so affected by the death of his teenage sidekick Bucky (who like most teenage sidekicks was phased out in the Fifties and Sixties, as they became no longer cool), and because all of the Marvel stuff from the beginning of the Stan Lee era was affected by Captain America, the one rule of the Marvel Universe from the Sixties until after 2001 was that all other characters could come back to life, but teenage Bucky must stay really dead. So of course this idiot had to mess around.

Ironically, these days the movies are more like Marvel Comics than Marvel Comics is, but that actually forces the return of good stuff to Marvel. Of which I’m all in favor. But it’s totally in the spirit of comics storytelling to take the content of some radical storyline as actually having happened, but to treat it as if it happened in a reasonable or interesting way instead of whatever stupid way somebody else did it. (The trick is to do it in a good way which strengthens the overall story of the character throughout all time, and not to do stupid Brubaker stuff just because you can.)

One of the great purposes of movies is to entertain and cheer you up, as well as to support the important things in life like love and doing good. This movie is a humble sort of blockbuster, working hard just to do its own small bit right, and openly leading up to the Avengers movie. But that is what makes it all work. The established comics universes are not the work of one vision or one ego. This movie is clear on that and glad of it, which allows it true creative freedom. I loved it.

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Famous Books Nobody Reads: The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great

This is a fun book, which is why it was such a medieval “bestseller” (ie, heavily copied and distributed). St. Gregory the Great already had written several famous books before he became pope (much like Benedict XIV and our Benedict XVI), but he wrote this one after three years in the papacy. (Again, a lot like our Benedict keeps putting out books, also for the benefit of normal, non-theological readers.)

Basically, this is Chicken Soup for the Early Medieval Christian Soul.

Gregory (then just a famous abbot — he basically lived on his family estates as a hermit and then had a bunch of other monks show up) and his brother monk/deacon Peter are feeling down in the mouth. It’s hard not to slip back into bad habits, and sometimes the spiritual life and growth in holiness is one step forward and two steps back. So Greg basically says they should cheer themselves up (and re-focus their efforts) by contemplating the example of famous holy men of their own area and time. Peter says he doesn’t know anybody famously holy as a monk from Italy, much less anybody recent, and certainly not anybody who was a wonderworker of apostolic sorts of miracles. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in modern times.

So Greg launches into a series of true stories, all (he says) gleaned from eyewitnesses or folks who knew the saints. (Later we get into folks from farther away in time, like St. Benedict.) The dialogues are arranged into “days”; each day is a little more than a hour’s reading, if you read it out loud. (Handy for reading out loud to your fellow monks during meals.)

So yeah, it’s a lot like Fr. Groeschel talking about Ven. Solanus Casey, or at least like Br. X talking about what Fr. Groeschel said.

You get a lot of people prefacing this book by saying it’s all about escaping late Roman/Gothic kingdom chaos by monastery life. Ha, ha, she laughed hollowly. It’s made abundantly clear in the course of Greg’s stories that late Roman chaos affected the monasteries big time, all the time. Goths and Lombards and Franks are always showing up at random, often looting the monastery or killing those who live there, or at least demanding things. Political leaders often want the abbots to do something for them or to journey to talk to them. Meanwhile, the senior monks often have to roam the countryside either to do evangelism and good works, or just to do business, buy supplies, or carry out administrative duties.

The point of this book is to show that holiness shows up in the middle of ordinary life, whether violent or peaceful, strange or normal. He picks out memorable stories (some of them pretty wild), because he wants people to remember these stories when they need them.

The other thing people say about this book is that it’s all full of either miracle stories that can’t be true, and are obviously ridiculous because they’re just too funny or cool or paranormal. Well, it is full of miracle stories, but they are arranged so that the more strange miracle stories come after the stories about plain old holiness and then more practical sorts of miracles.

The nun who found out why you should always say grace before eating, for example, because her greedy lapse while eating lettuce allowed her to be possessed by a demon. The demon was exorcised by the holy guy being talked about, and whined about it. It’s often quoted as an example of how stupid medieval people were, how Greg obviously was lying for effect, how medieval people lived in fear, blah blah blah. But in context, it’s just a funny and bizarre story about possession and exorcism. It’s a bit presumptuous to say you know for sure it couldn’t have happened; and if you were a famous abbot, it would be silly for you to write a book full of stuff which allegedly occurred in X place, when your fellow monks in X place would know for sure that it didn’t happen. So if anybody made this stuff up, it probably wasn’t our buddy St. Gregory the Great. So basically, it’s a complaint about it being a book of miracle stories (which the preface did say it was going to be).

The other complaint you hear is that the Latin style is lousy. (Okay, you don’t normally hear that now, but I read old books.) Greg pretty much says that he’s going to use a less formal style to talk about popular contemporary stuff, especially since a lot of it uses country sorts of words. Welcome to the beginnings of medieval Latin. (And if you read it in translation, you’ll never see the Latin anyway.)

I haven’t gotten all the way through the book yet, but it’s good so far. Obviously influential, too. It’s very sad that there’s no TV miniseries. (It’s not really a kids’ book, though. Very much gives the impression of an adult writing for the benefit of adults, particularly those who run things.)

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Wright B Flyer Test Flight Crash Kills 2

During test flights of a new Wright B Flyer replica, “Silver Bird”, there was a bad crash back in the waybacks, reachable only by ATVs. The two volunteer pilot/engineer men who were flying the plane were both killed. One of them was a friend of my parents, and all of us kids knew his kids.

Please pray for the souls of Mr. Don Gum and Mr. Mitchell Cary, and for their family and friends, and for all the volunteers over at Aviation Heritage. Mr. Cary was a retired Air Force test pilot who also did theology grad studies over at the University of Dayton. Mr. Gum was retired from working over at WPAFB on the civilian contractor side, and he was an engineer and a civilian pilot.

Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. And may the angels lead them into Paradise.

UPDATE: They did tell the airport on the radio that they’d have to make a forced landing, but it took the emergency people forty minutes to find and get to the plane because of where it crashed.

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Sorry I’m in Such a Vile Mood

It’s hot, darn it.

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In Which One Feels Better about Academia

Apparently, there is some kind of English-language Beatus in progress. Not sure whether it’s a translation of an art book, a translation of just the Commentary, or a translation of the Obras Completas. I’d really like to find out what’s the deal; but it does reassure me that there’s not some huge overdose of “let’s ignore a major work” going on.

The gentleman/gentlewoman who’s apparently doing this is a University of Chicago professor emeritus. In paleoanthropology, particularly Spanish sites. How this leads one to medieval Latin Scripture commentaries is anybody’s guess, but it’s a pretty nice retirement project, one imagines.

I don’t see any signs of imminent publication, though, so I guess it’s okay to go on with my bloggentary.

I may have to shell out for at least one volume of the Obras Completas (ie, the one with the Commentary translation into Spanish). I don’t really want to buy it totally sight-unseen, though, and it seems unfair to only buy one volume. I suppose I can buy it, use it, and then donate it to the relevant nearby academic library (which should have had a copy already for me to use, darn it, frustrationfrustration). And I really wish this stuff came with illustrations. (Alas, the artbook facsimiles of the various codices are apparently super-expensive.)

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Found an old paper by a kid studying manuscripts-in-context about the Morgan Beatus. I don’t want to be too mean here, although anybody getting to go study mss in context is probably living a life too happy (and useful) to care what I say.

First off, this is a sixteen page (double-spaced, big font) paper to cover an amazingly complex theological, historical, artistic, and bibliophilic idea. He gives it a book-sized title. Whoever let this kid write a paper on this wide of a topic was an idiot. (And then bringing adoptionism into it… i-yi-yi.) This paper includes at least seven or eight topics broadly suitable for a paper of this length; if he had focused on just one, and found one sub-topic of that one and drilled into it, he could have really made some good comments and possibly even written a scholarly article of his own. Instead, he never actually addresses the topic used in his title. He brushes by a few elements of it, but that’s it. (And God forbid he should provide specific examples of any of his points. Honestly, that’s the most frustrating part of the whole thing.)

Like (apparently) pretty much everybody writing in English (Spanish scholarship seems better, but I can’t get those articles) on this topic (especially those writing on a professorial level who should know better), he also doesn’t consult any of the text except the tiny bits quoted in The Illustrated Beatus and/or the Morgan Library book description notes. He does have some random patristic quotes (probably also drawn from art books or other people’s articles), but in general it’s just hugely unconcerned with the book’s content.

The kid supports the idea (apparently previous in the literature) that the Beatuses were supposed to bring on a mystical experience. Well, duh, all Christian art is supposed to be designed to help bring you into direct contact with God, or at least to be a “holy reminder”, as Mother Angelica put it. But I find the idea that it’s a “machine” for mystical knowledge of God offensive, and the idea that mystical knowledge = automatic salvation is pretty clearly wrong wrong wrong to anybody who knows anything about Christian mysticism. I mean, yes, there’s St. Clement of Alexandria’s take on experiential knowledge of the divine as a path to holiness; but given that you can be sitting in the Garden of Eden and still Fall (as one of Beatus’s sources points out), there ain’t no automatic salvation.

(Continually re-choosing to turn back toward God and live like Christ, continually living in Christ and His Church and taking advantage of His gifts of grace, continually being aware that His mercy is a gift and being grateful for it, and continually responding to God with love in a personal way: those things shape you into the kind of person who can be judged a sheep and not a goat in the end. But just as the till-then goat can repent even at the last minute, the till-then sheep can change his mind and heart at any time and choose to go to Hell.)

Oh, and even a Bible isn’t a “physical manifestation of the divine”, much less a very nice illustrated commentary of a single Bible book. Jesus Christ is a physical manifestation — indeed, the Incarnation — of the Divine. (If this is some kind of weird “four presences” thing bleeding over to the world of scholarship, I wish they’d stop it. Also, the initial academics pushing this idea should only meet some Asturian monks in a dark mountain pass, because I feel they’d be offended by the implication that they were a bunch of heretical occult yahoos.) The kid brings in the Eucharist and ikons, and so we have a nice equal-opportunity offensiveness. (The kid has no idea what he’s saying or implying, either. What do they teach kids in these schools?)

And did I mention the consistent typo “lecito divina”? Aaaaargh. Argh. Argh. Bad, professor who graded this paper. Bad. Bad.

And did I mention that the kid gets into the mss asking for prayers for the artist and scribe, without mentioning that this was an extremely common practice with many medieval mss? Heck, people add it to the end of blogposts. It’s like saying, “Bob said he ate at McDonalds, which means he saw McDonald’s as his unique source of nourishment.” Arggggh. Everything monks do, just like everything all Christians do, is supposed to be part of their path to holiness. That was one point of being a monk — more focus on that fact.

UPDATE: Then there’s the cognitive exoticism. Garsh, Latin words are clearly composed of meaningful morphemes, often the length of a syllable or letter, whereas the vernacular languages were often less transparent about morphemes. Garsh, people who memorize texts out of books often associate the text with the specific page they learned it from. Garsh, memorization was a primary medieval way to learn text, because you needed to stomp whatever you read into your head lest you never get a chance to read it again, and because you ought to internalize the basic texts of the Bible, like the Psalms that taught you your letters in the first place.

But there’s a good germ there in the passage about Maius putting the memory of himself into the book and the text, by asking for prayers in a memorable way as part of a memorable book. Especially since his strategy clearly worked. Now if only the art and theology scholars would actually remember to pray for his soul when they read about him, his plan would be working perfectly. The monk who copies out a text is dealing with the future reader in good faith; alas that the future reader does not always return the favor in the fashion he would most have desired.

Stars do come in red and white. Picking out yellow and blue stars in the night sky is a lot harder. (Personally, my eyesight isn’t such that I can usually pick up any color even in dark sky conditions or with a telescope; but I know that many amateur astronomers have much better eyesight than I.) Perhaps I am prejudiced by the fondness of sf artists for white and red stars, but I fail to see how these symbolic “element of fire” colors are not also naturalistic.

Modern artists also use black, brown, purple, and dark blue to represent darkness, in my experience.

I like the comments about translucent and otherwise thin layers of pigment in the book as representing divine light, though it would really be hard to judge without looking at the actual artwork in the actual book, perhaps even in natural sunlit-and-shadowed reading conditions. If you were primarily reading this book during the liturgical then-season of Pentecost, in the early summer, you would probably not want to read in direct sunlight (for the sake of heat and the books’ well-being), but the colors would glow more.

On the bright side, at least somebody out there in the English-speaking world has been writing papers about the Beatus, even if they’re really really badly-conceived ones; this is a nice summary of some of the papers out there; and the bibliography is very useful. Also, if you start off going for the crazy ideas, you can always go back and have sensible ones afterward, when your imagination is more harnessed to experience and sense.

So yeah, somebody’s got to get this text translated into English and more widely distributed. This situation is ridiculous, and scholars that make money off this stuff are leading the young kids into terrible habits.

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Friday Food: Tamagoyaki (Japanese Omelet Roll)

This is something you see in anime pretty often as a lunchbox staple. You could also eat it right away. But more importantly, it’s perfect food for Fridays!

Tamagoyaki with pictures and instructions.

“Mirin” is a low-alcohol, sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking. Here’s a deeper explanation. You can (obviously) make omelettes without the mirin; it just won’t taste quite the same. The comments say that a sweet white wine can also work.

Of course, sweet omelets with jam are also traditional in Europe, as all readers of Dorothy L. Sayers know. 🙂

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Time for Some Irish Wolfhound Videos!

The fun of owning a wolfhound, the agony of knowing what we sound like to dogs….

IW puppy vs. the Bottle Monster.

Dogs like what you like.

Dogs like fruit.

Top Gear dogs.

Playfighting

DIY backrub. If you picture the dog sleeping in all these funny positions and several more, it’d be a video of my parents’ dog. 🙂

Puppy-paddle.

Wolfhound demonstrates how to greet a human. Human demonstrates how to greet a wolfhound.

Stuffed animal not long for this world.

Puppies at the vet.

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