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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