Monthly Archives: August 2011

Tsui Hark’s Judge Dee Movie Comes Out Friday in the US!

Okay, only in California and New York, but…. The great Chinese detective/magistrate and statesman, famous in history, legend, and Mr. Van Gulik’s books, is back on the big screen!

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame on Ain’t It Cool News, with a YouTube interview link. You can find the trailer and many clips on YouTube also.

The US movie website. They’ve only got the first month of release sites. Those of us in non-major non-coastal cities usually need to keep checking back.

I should warn people that this film treats Empress Wu sympathetically. The traditional view of Empress Wu is that she was very shrewd and picked her servants wisely, but was also an extremely cruel and wicked dictator who would stop at nothing. Sort of like Queen Elizabeth I — very interesting, as long as you live hundreds of years later and aren’t liable to be killed or tortured in horrendous ways by her. (And of course, it was much safer not to be in her family.)

And yes, the modern government of the Socialist Republic of China is busily whitewashing all the cruel and evil rulers of Chinese history. National pride, only Western rulers are evil, blah blah blah. However, it’s true that if you’re going to present Judge Dee the statesman working for Wu, you either have to explain the extreme Chinese Confucian sense of duty to country, or make everybody in charge nicey-nicey. I think we know where modern moviemakers go…

But maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe this is Empress Wu’s good side. And it’s true that a lot of women in Chinese history are viewed with sexist bias. But there’s a lot of difference between, say, burying Hatshepsut’s memory, and being a tad upset about Wu’s body count. Women can be evil tyrants, too.

Anyway, ignore my cynical harumphs and focus on Judge Dee. Deeeeeeeeee.


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Not Loving My Sinus Passages

Way too many fronts the last few days, way too many changes in barometric pressure. Yesterday and most of today was okay, but now? Not enjoying it.

I’ll probably take my nighttime sinus pill and go to bed early.

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OK, Maybe This Does Really Happen

King Philip II (Augustus) of France (otherwise known as the nasty customer who started a war with Richard I of England while Richard was still on Crusade) apparently also had his marriage troubles. His first wife died in her second childbirth, and it took him a while to look around for another queen. (Fortunately his first son was a healthy kid, the future King Louis VIII (the Lion).)

His second wife was Ingeborg of Denmark, a nice grave young woman who even put up with being given the French name Isambour. But apparently he decided right after the wedding night that Norse chicks disgusted him, and made to send her back to the Danish king. She, being of tough stock, insisted loudly that the marriage had been consummated and that she wasn’t going to be sent back or put away. Philip then actually tried to claim too much consanguinity with the Danish kings, but of course the Norse love genealogy and were fully prepared to list complete ancestries of everybody involved.

In the middle of all this, Philip tried to marry Marguerite of Geneva, the daughter of Count William I of Geneva. But the traveling party was ambushed by Count Thomas I of Savoy, who abducted Margaret and married her himself, on the grounds that, duh, the King of France was already married, so a chivalrous man would save the lady.

The Italian version of Thomas’ Wikipedia entry assures us that Thomas I had already met, wooed and won Margherita di Ginevra before all the abduction stuff, but that her stiffnecked father thought Savoy was too small and weak to make Thomas a good choice of suitor.

There does seem to be some question as to whether this was true or just a romantic dynastic legend invented later on. It’s a good legend, if so.

At any rate, they had fourteen kids: 8 sons and 6 daughters. One of their kids became Archbishop of Canterbury, of all things. Another became Earl of Richmond, and built his London house where the Savoy is today.


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What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Okay, I’m not a big fan of horror movies, or even scary movies. But this doesn’t strike me as fair.

Guillermo del Toro, like a lot of kids who grew up to love horror movies, grew up watching scary movies that had a G rating. Most of this stuff was open to audiences of all ages: the Universal horror movies, the TV horror movies of the Seventies, the freaky late night CBS Mystery Theatre on the radio. This is not necessarily to say that you should let your three year old watch; but heck, I remember going to sleep in my parent’s bed listening to the bonechilling CBS Mystery Theatre, and it didn’t even give me tiny tot nightmares. It was just scary stories.

However, when Guillermo del Toro decided to make a really spooky movie for kids and their parents to enjoy (okay, shiver through) together, it seems that the Ratings Board did not agree.

They rated his movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a haunted house movie remake, R for “pervasively scary”.

Yup. No sex, no violence, no nudity, no bad words. Rated R for suspense that makes you shiver and jump.

I gather the Ratings Board doesn’t spend much time camping in the woods telling ghost stories.

I will grant you that it is possible that del Toro really did make it too scary to handle, given that he really does come up with scary scary stuff. But I find it hard to believe that he has somehow beaten The Monster in the Closet, the Dark Space Under the Bed, the Things That Will Bite Your Hands While You’re Asleep If You Don’t Keep Them Covered, and the normal “pervasively scary” lifestyle of kids after dark.

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Black Death Was a Mutant

Not just normal Yersinia pestis. Mutant Yersinia pestis.

Good ol’ fashioned genetic engineering by Mother Nature. Yum.

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Historic Allergies

Hay Fever and Paroxysmal Sneezing is an interesting old book. At that time, allergy was fairly rare except in the US and the UK, and in some countries in Europe (like Spain) it was vanishingly rare. Obviously there’s something about modern living and hygiene that makes up more susceptible!

Anyway, in this book, Sir Morell Mackenzie grapples with allergies and tells what case studies he had managed to dig up from Europe’s annals. He also advocates the latest treatments… like cocaine. Or stramonium cigarettes. Or lead. Or perchlorate of mercury. Tincture of opium. Belladonna. Yeah, let’s treat a splinter by cutting off your arm….

A lot of people with hay fever actually seem back then to have come down with real fevers and serious asthma or really bad red-eye attacks. Creepy. Many people were really distressed most by not knowing what was happening to them or thinking they were having nerve/mental problems, and were only enlightened by folks from areas where hay fever was more common.

However, it seems that food allergies affecting the stomach or causing rashes and hives were very commonly known throughout the history of Europe, and many of things that are common allergens today were also common then. For example, seafood (especially crab), strawberries, and eggs. Egg allergies to some Victorians were apparently as bad as peanut allergies today; and when eggshell was used in tiny quantities to improve coffee brewing, some unlucky people with egg allergies would go into convulsions or apoplexy and get airway constriction.

Allergy to roses was then called “rose fever” or “rose cold”. We hear the tale of Cardinal Caraffa, who was so allergic to roses that he set his guards to keep them out of his palazzo, and of other poor rare sufferers. One of Queen Elizabeth I’s unfortunate ladies had her allergy to roses tested by some household scientist sticking a rose on her face while she was sleeping; poor Heneage got blisters from it. (Think how bad it would be for you, to be allergic to the Tudor Rose.) This was probably Jane Brussells Heneage, the second wife of William Heneage; she served Elizabeth for 24 years.

There’s also a funny bit in the foreword:

“It is now clearly shown that hay fever is of quite recent growth… As civilization and culture advance, other diseases analogous to the one discussed in the following pages may be developed from over-sensitiveness to sound, colour, or form, and the man of the twenty-first or twenty-second century may be a being of pure intellect, whose organisation of mere nervous pulp would be shattered by a strong emotion, like a pumpkin filled with dynamite.”

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The Amazing Harry of WWI

Wonderduck has a true story of heroism, love, art, fighting, and a stranger in a strange land making it his own.

Read the whole thing.

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Bart Simpson Talking about the Transmigration of the Soul

This is how you know you’re watching Dayton public access: Nancy Cartwright, the voice actress who plays Bart Simpson, doing readers’ theater! Under “Fairmont’s Fall Play”, they were doing a fantasy/horror short story called “If I Were You”. The idea was that a short circus guy with an inferiority complex learns how to switch bodies, and proceeds to do it against people’s will. Most of the parts were played by students, but the narrator and “Tommy” were played by adults.

Pretty freaky, but well done. You can see a short clip of the results here.

Anyway, the not terribly secret reason that they could get a professional to do reader’s theater was that “If I Were You” was an old L. Ron Hubbard pulp story, Scientologists are continuing to plug their founder’s long-gone literary career, and Bart’s voice actress is a Scientologist. This doesn’t make the story itself more or less solid as pulp fantasy; but just so you know the motive.

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More Manuscript Libraries with Readable Scans

The Library of the Royal Academy of History in Spain (Biblioteca Digital Real Academia de Historia) has links to nice digital scans of their manuscript books. You have to go all the way down to the bottom of the catalog entry, where it says “Objetos digitales”. Then, if you know (from the catalog) which pages you want, you can pick out the right thumbnail, zoom in, and even save it for yourself. (Mwhahaha.)

(To save, click on the Save picture, get presented with a page warning you how long it will take on dialup, and click on “Descargar”. This will let you save. When you’re done, click on “Volver” to return to the place you left off in the thumbnails or the manuscript viewer.)

Of course, whether or not you can read the handwriting is your problem. (Part of why courses in historical handwriting are getting more important, though.)

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Pat Robertson vs. St. Greg the Great

Not that they’re likely to have a throwdown or anything. 🙂

It’s been interesting, comparing the popular apocalypticism of this week to the attitudes of the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers quoted by St. Beatus of Liebana (in his Commentary on Revelation). People like St. Gregory the Great and St. Isidore of Seville did not live in easy times of peace. A good many of the Fathers (and St. Beatus) lived in areas where there are a fair number of earthquakes and storms. Maybe that’s why they could walk about the Apocalypse without running around claiming every earthquake and storm means the end of the world.

(There is a tall tale by Bishop Elipandus of Toledo that Beatus did run around like a chicken with his head off claiming the sky was falling; but then, he had similar tall tales about all the church guys who were arguing against his heretical Adoptionist position, all mocking their achievements and resumes. The scale of stuff that Elipandus described happening would have left a large mark on the historical records if it had really happened, but somehow only Elipandus ever had heard of this stuff. So Elipandus apparently thought he was a comedian as well as an edgy theologian. Also, medievals apparently thought that it was insulting a person to say that they anticipated the end of the world a little too much.)

Anyway, St. Gregory the Great takes a lot of verses about the earth moving, and is much more concerned about relating them to the human heart and mind, through the famous Adam=earth pun. An earthquake of the mind that is caused by feelings of contrition and penitence is beneficial in the long run, though painful medicine at the time. Less beneficially and much further on in the book, earthquakes are taken as a sign that persecution is coming; but it’s also a sign that the Church is doing something right, since persecution is caused by the “voices and thunders” of preaching the Gospel.

Now, on the other hand, here’s a column by one Steven Prothero claiming that the religious view of storms is represented by Puritans sure that the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 was a divine punishment for their sin. He doesn’t mention the great tornado of 1812, that notoriously drove off the invading 1812 British army after its successful burning of DC — the storm as helpful defensive power. Israel generally took a view of the Lord riding upon the whirlwind as helpful to His people, though obviously sometimes the Lord did smite Israel for acting up. The Puritans tended to have a guilty conscience.

But even in the Bible, there is the sense that God does allow stuff to happen that is simply a big impressive event, which the Lord may defend you against or may let you suffer through, either way for your own good. Again, generally the Lord was seen as being at Israel’s side during these sorts of things, and even more at the side of the Church, Whose sufferings are His sufferings and thus redemptive and helpful to others.

Of course, it’s also true that people who are used to earthquakes, storms, floods, etc. are only bothered by the big ones, whereas those of us who aren’t used to natural disasters are more likely to take even small ones more personally. (And we’re more likely to take damage from them, because we don’t build for them or prepare mentally for them.) But being aware of the signs of the times shouldn’t mean living life either in fear or in excessive confidence. If you believe in God’s providence and love, all you need to do is your Christian duty in the state to which God has called you. (Which of course entails a lot, but not anything panic-worthy.) Whatever happens, you will then be ready, if you just act prudently and with love.

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Don’t Forget — Olive Oil Mason Jar Lamps Are Your Friend

Candles are a fire hazard. Candles in jars are better. But shallow amounts of olive oil in a jar as a lamp burns cooler and is less smoky. Salt your wick to keep it from charring.

For those of us who aren’t handy and have been meaning to put an olive oil lamp together, Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio will ship you a nice storebought one.


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What the Heck Are Those Weird Ingredients?

Here’s an oldish webpage I’ve never seen before, all about what those common ingredients with weird names actually do for your common household products. The shampoo explanation is very good.

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Paying Attention to Yourself

Well, I’m finally done with a big chunk of St. Beatus on Revelation, quoting St. Gregory the Great on Ezekiel and the Four Living Creatures. And once again, unlike the crazy people we meet on the Internet, these guys are not particularly concerned with secret scifi weaponry or anything of that sort. They wade into the Bible like an ocean, picking up interesting shells and fish and water and looking at them from all angles as they float beneath the waves. It’s not the approach of an academic or a codebreaker; it’s full contact.

Anyway, there’s some odd Latin expressions in the Vulgate here (mostly because Ezekiel is kinda odd itself), and this passage uses them for its own advantage. Basically, the Hebrew says the four critters move straight ahead in the direction that their faces are facing, never looking back. The Latin uses a couple of different synonym expressions for “walk”, and it adds the word “coram”, which is usually an expression about being in someone’s presence or under their eye. (Except that I guess some scholars think it’s derived from being in a direct line with your heart or your mouth or something like that.) Not an expression I understand, frankly, but it comes up a lot. Often it’s about the presence of God, but the Bible verse doesn’t say it’s God’s presence.

Whatever it was supposed to mean, St. Gregory the Great exploits this idea of “presence” to point out that a lot of people just do things without thinking about them. They have a self-image with no relation to what they really do, or they judge their neighbors harshly for the same things that they excuse in themselves. It’s not hypocrisy so much as not noticing. So if you want to be holy, you’ve got to start noticing what the heck you’re up to.

We also have the very topical message that, if you love your neighbor as yourself, you also love his stuff as you love your own, when it comes to fair business dealings.

We also get a quote from a topical Bible verse: “He who has earned wages has put them in a bag full of holes.” [Haggai 1:6] Nothing like the Bible for expressing how you feel when times are bad or good. Also, Chapter One of Haggai is pretty darned topical all around.

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Ancient Roman Improv Comedy Punchline Book

The Sententiae of Publilius Syrus (or Publius Syrus) were very famous in the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance world. But unlike most surviving texts, they are not the work of a philosopher, a statesman, or a poet.

They are the punchlines of a Syrian ex-slave, who ran an improv troupe in the time of Julius Caesar.

Roman improv was called “mime”, and it seems to have been one of those weird native Roman things. It wasn’t silent. There was a lead actor (okay, mime) and several others, and there could be a real storyline or just gags. Also, female parts could be played by women (though often they were prostitutes on the side and it wasn’t a respectable career), masks weren’t used, and the settings were usually related to contemporary life. (Hence “mime”, because it imitated life.) It seems to have been a lot like commedia del’ arte, really, often leading up to punchlines or emotional moments composed in advance. A lot of funny grimacing seems to have been involved, and a lot of obscenity and “earthy humor”. Any improv mime in the troupe who was caught without a comeback left the stage, and performances ended when the lead mime ran away.

Syrus was captured in Syria (hence the name) and brought back by a young officer, who ended up giving him to his patron when Syrus smarted off with a clever line in the patron’s presence. Syrus continued to be funny as well as clever and useful, and was eventually freed. He founded an improv troupe with some support from his ex-master, and seems to have been a quick and long-lasting success with pretty much everybody in Rome, from nobles to the poor. He apparently revolutionized the mime form, making it more expressive while still staying funny. St. Jerome, centuries later, called him “master of the stage.”

Here’s a post from Roger Pearse, pointing you to both the Latin edition from Cambridge, and the Cleveland, Ohio translation into English by D. Lyman Jr., M.A. Originally the punchlines were arranged alphabetically, but over the centuries, the various collections were rearranged however the editor felt like.

These are pretty good proverbs, wisdom, and jokes, and they wear pretty well. Check it out.

Oh, and here’s a Roman comedy text that scholars think might be an example of a mime.

Of course, just to make things “better”, it seems that later on in imperial times, mime plays were turned into reality shows in order to gain political support for their sponsors, as real criminals were really executed in place of having actors play dead. So yeah, there are valid reasons that your early Christians were not big fans of classical forms of theatre. Ahem.

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