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The Great Courses Are Great, Except When They’re Not.

First off, I do think that, in general, The Great Courses series on Audible is a really good deal. Unfortunately, you don’t get any of the really heavy-duty courses (like taking Koine Greek as a language), but you can get some really good courses that are full of up to date research, stuff that is hard to get elsewhere. (Like the course on the Etruscans, or on Central and South American civilizations, or on the ancient civilizations of the Asian steppe. The “Medical School for Everybody” series is very useful and practical, too.) Many of the best ones cover multi-disciplinary material, so you get enrichment in several areas.

The best deal is during those months when Audible subscribers get two-for-one, or when Great Courses are on sale. There are also free short podcasts by Great Courses professors, treating various interesting short subjects.

The problem is that some of the Great Courses are… um… not so great. So you have to keep an eye out.

First off, make sure you listen to the audio samples. If a professor’s voice is going to drive you up the wall, don’t buy that course!

Second, be prepared to tinker with the audio speed. Most audiobooks today are provided to you at twice the speed they were recorded, because many listeners want to get through books fast. So be aware that, to get the actual normal speed, you will have to lower the speed to .75 or .50 on your player. (If you like fast listening, you may even turn up the speed, of course! Myself, I can’t absorb stuff at that speed.)

Obviously, there is no way in heck that you want to take “The New Testament” from Bart Ehrman. Ewwww. He’s a bad scholar, dishonest in argument and talking out both sides of his mouth. He’s bad about citation, saying nasty stuff about a primary source in one paragraph, and then using it silently as backup for his own argument. (And did I mention that he brands someone a liar and forger for being an ancient male victim of sexual harassment, and writing anguished autobiographical material about how harrowing it was? And then he uses other bits of the man’s writing as a source throughout his book, to prove how awesome and good the harassing groups were? Ewwwwww.)

Even other atheist scholars of classical and early Christian literature despise Ehrman. Every time he puts out a book, professors and other knowledgeable researchers put out page-by-page reviews of his mistakes and deceptive statements. So the chances are that you will actually lose knowledge if you listen to him, as well as providing money to an objectively evil man.

On the other hand, you probably would want to listen to “The Old Testament” course by Amy-Jill Levine. She was Brant Pitre’s professor, and she’s a big honking expert on a lot of Second Temple stuff. You will learn a lot of interesting info, as well as getting familiar with all the scholarly speculation you could ever want. You even get some rabbinical stuff thrown in.

The problem is that Brant Pitre was apparently more patient with professors than I am. Yes, you get lots of good information. Yes, she does discuss a lot of hot topics and important questions in Old Testament studies, and a lot of the whys and wherefores of why modern people think certain things about Biblical stories. But geez, sometimes she is annoying when she is trying to be engaging.

(Honestly, I do not care whether or not some professor likes or dislikes any character in any book, and I care even less about whether she likes a Biblical person. I certainly don’t want to spend five or ten minutes out of every “class” on professorial likes and dislikes. I don’t want people reading stuff into the text that isn’t there, or at least not for twenty minutes. Just tell me about the actual thing, thank you!)

(I realize that this is exactly what profs do in actual classes. Ptui. I’ve dealt with it before, yes. There are very few profs who are good at it, and even they are wasting their students’ time and money. It’s unprofessional, and it’s not edgy or cute. If you have to say it, say it in 30 seconds or less, and then move on.)

The more serious thing is that Levine tends to mention stuff that might hurt someone’s faith in the Bible, without mentioning stuff on that same topic that has been the usual explanations for these things. She doesn’t do this all the time; in fact, she is sometimes very interested in providing different exegeses from different times and different faiths. But it must be hard on younger, less experienced students.

So yeah, “The Old Testament” is a goodish class and a frustrating class, all at once. The advantage is that you can talk back to the professor all you want, and it doesn’t disrupt other students or affect your grade. 🙂

“Biblical Wisdom Literature” by Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., is just about the exact opposite. It’s a course taught from the standpoint of a scholar with specifically Catholic faith, but he is careful to give space for thought for Jewish, non-Catholic Christian, atheist, agnostic, and pagan students. (And not by saying that their faith traditions or unbelief are as valid as Catholicism, or more valid.) He wants people to learn and grow, not to be distressed. Since the Biblical wisdom literature does include a lot of material teaching civic virtue, natural law, and philosophical wisdom, he has room for this. He also encourages direct interaction with the original texts, as well as contemplation on how they can inform his students’ lives. He clearly wants the students to pay more attention to the texts than to him talking about the texts. Whenever he expresses personal opinion, it is clearly marked as such, and it doesn’t take long. The information is carefully expressed.

So that would definitely be a great course to take!

One final word. These are college-level courses aimed at adults, so the professors feel free to discuss mature or shocking material. You can’t talk about some topics at a college level without going into nasty details. There’s not going to be a medical course that doesn’t get a little gross. There’s not going to be a course about the Bible that doesn’t talk about sex and violence. So be careful about listening to these, where little ears can hear.



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The Pope Who Was an Armed Librarian

Before he was elected to the papal see, Fr. Achille Ratti was just an ordinary paleographer and seminary teacher. Then, because his manuscript skills were so good, he was assigned to work at the famous Ambrosian Library in Venice. He spent many years there, from 1888 to 1911. He was made head of the library in 1907.

(He was also a great man for mountain climbing during his librarian days, btw, and was the first person ever to climb many Alpine peaks.)

During his happy time at the Ambrosian, Milan was a growing industrial city. Labor disputes and civic unrest sometimes occurred. The library was sometimes threatened.

And one day, when a break-in was attempted and the manuscripts and books were threatened along with the staff and patrons, Fr. Ratti’s coworkers found out that he kept a gun in his desk and wasn’t afraid to use it. So did the crowd of evildoers, who retreated in frustration. (I can’t find a cite for this, but I remember reading a quote from one of his Milan coworkers.)

Ratti was later assigned to the Vatican Library. He never had to use a gun there, but we know he still kept his in his desk. We know this because later, when he was appointed to Vatican diplomatic duties in Poland, he felt the need to write back and send for it. (It was mailed to him in the diplomatic pouch, of course!)

He was made a cardinal in 1921, to honor his diplomatic service and his work in the Vatican Library, but was simultaneously made Archbishop of Milan. But he had barely begun his new job in Milan when Pope Benedict XV died.

Ratti’s election was a surprise to everyone. He was allegedly a compromise candidate, supported by those who would otherwise have voted for Cardinal Gasparri or Cardinal Merry Del Val.

Pope Pius XI was elected pope in 1922, and served until his death in 1939. It was a rough time to be pope, especially with Mussolini moving in next door. He attempted to secure the rights of the Church in a time of oppression by diplomatic concordats. Unfortunately, most of these were immediately broken by said dictatorships. He canonized St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas More, and St. Therese of Lisieux, among other inspirational saints for modern people. He re-established the Pontifical Institute of Sciences. He also published the famous encyclical in German, “Mit brennender sorge,” which had to be smuggled into Germany, and was read out in every Catholic parish in defiance of the Reich. (He got help in composing strong enough German prose from his secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would be his eventual successor as Pope Pius XII.)

And so… if somebody tells you that the Florida bill allowing armed school librarians goes against Catholic teaching and practice, remember Pope Pius XI – armed librarian and armed diplomat!

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Muffin Surprise!

Up in Chicago, there’s a place called Dokil Bakery that ships goodies all over the place. My local Korean groceries carry their chestnut bread, sweet bean bread, and castella cakes, and it’s good stuff.

So I saw a new castella muffin/cupcake at the Korean grocery. It had big red splotches and some stringy stuff, and it looked interesting. Of course I bought it.

Heh. Surprise!

1. It was a savory muffin/popover.

2. The red blotches were chili peppers.

3. The filling was some kind of grated cabbage.

So… yeah… it was tasty tasty tasty, and I don’t regret buying it. But the packaging and ingredient list were totally incorrect!

Literally, “the cake was a lie” ….


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A Tool Chest That Lasts Several Lifetimes

Today I happened to tune into a PBS show called “A Craftman’s Legacy,” which visits various craft businesses.

I was shocked to hear that they were visiting a famous toolbox manufacturer in Dayton. I didn’t know there was such a thing.

But sure enough, when they showed the factory premises, I saw a familiar building, up on the other side of the Great Miami from downtown Dayton, close to the old railroad bridge, and between Sinclair and old St. Elizabeth’s. I’ve passed that building plenty of times, and it’s one of the few factories and warehouses in that area that hasn’t been torn down.

It’s called H. Gerstner & Sons, and they make beautiful, durable wooden tool chests, toolboxes, liquor cabinets, bottle stands, knife holders, jewelry boxes, collectible keepers, and pretty much anything else of that nature that you could want. They will even make you a stylish wooden purse or attache case.

They have a set of bookends that double as firearms storage. And they look darned nice. They also make more conventional firearms cases.

They will also fix and restore any of their old products that you happen to have around the house. Yep, Great-Grandpa’s toolbox can be your toolbox, too.

Finally, if you take a look at their stuff and want to make one just like it — you can buy a kit!

This stuff kills me. It is gorgeous. It looks like some of this stuff would be perfect for wedding presents, for instance.

But yup, apparently they are famous among people in the skilled trades, even if the rest of us don’t know about them. They should be famous with everybody!

The other interesting thing is that they are doing the work with a blend of century-old specialty tools, age-old hand tools, and super-new programmed tool machines. They have improved the processes they can, and left alone the ones that were already best.

So check out their website. Even if just to drool. And keep in mind that they have a warehouse sale every spring!

Also, if you have a lot of gaming miniatures or other knickknacks, and you want to organize and protect them while making your house look nice… they have a lot of stuff for you!


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Purple Yam Ice Cream. With Cheese.

I woke up Sunday feeling cruddy, but I thought it was just sinus headache from air pressure. So I went to church anyway. (Sorry, choir folks. Hope I didn’t pass anything along.)

For the rest of the day, I continued to feel cruddy, and gradually accepted that I either had some kind of evil flu or a sinus infection. I still don’t know which. But headache and fever are apparently flu this season, the headache is partially outside my sinus area, and nothing gross is coming out of my nose; so I’m assuming it’s flu. (I would go to the doctor, but we’re kinda snow and ice heavy at the moment, and the county buses aren’t running. I’m not about to walk and get sicker.)

The fever broke last evening, my lymph nodes have shrunk today, and my scratchy throat is responsive to all that liquid-drinking, but the stupid headache has hung on. (My tummy has been fine all along and there’s no drippage to speak of. So yeah, that doesn’t usually happen with flu, colds, or sinus junk. I have no idea what I’ve got.)

So given that I don’t have any Tamiflu around the house, I did a little research. It turns out that, if you think you have a virus (like flu), doctors now advise eating your head off (so your body has energy to fight with) and getting a lot of Vitamin A (as well as lots of fluids and lots of Vitamin C).

And thus, I decided last night that it was time to break out the Filipino ice cream.

Ube and keso flavor is purple yam (lots of Vitamin A!) and cheese (cheddar). The yam was pretty good, like any sweet flavor of ice cream. The orange cheese inclusions were odd but likeable enough. (And there was some kind of sugar syrup along with the cheese.) It was good stuff. The main thing is that purple ice cream will create purple stains, so be careful how you eat it!

I ate about 3/4 gallon. It was very soothing to my throat. And my immune system seems to have used just about all of it for fuel, rather than turning it into fat and bloating me up. Hahahah! Nutritional victory!

I am resting today, continuing to eat, and continuing to keep up the vitamin and fluid barrage. Whatever this junk is, I want it gone.


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Dirty Jobs as Biblical Enrichment

A lot of people get grossed out by Jewish moyls doing circumcision with a knife, and then clotting the blood by mouth.

As Dirty Jobs points out, the best, quickest, and least painful way for shepherds to castrate lambs is still to do it… with their own teeth.

Major surgery. With their teeth.

Teeth are the first human tool. We tend to forget that.



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Internet People: William of Orange

Seen at Eye of the Tiber:

Susan: Hey William of Orange what are you doing in this site

William of Orange: I’m actually a double agent. Trained by the Jesuits for twenty years, I lived an ascetic life with mortifications that would make Josemaria Escriva look like a self indulgent throw-back to Woodstock. I’m part of an elite group philosophic counter terrorists. In addition to extreme physical training, I had to memorize the entire Summa, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and all the encyclicals up to Pope JP II.

I infiltrate the strongholds of anti-Catholicism (I once provided IT support for James White in order to gain access to his personal computer). We gather intel on all heretical groups and rank non-Catholic groups in order of threat relevance. For example: the Foursquare Gospel Church has a ‘TR’ (threat relevance) of 347. They could move up at some point, but it is unlikely. What makes them less threatening than, say, the Anglican Church, is not their relative obscurity, it’s their crappy worship music. The musicians they attract are only ever capable of playing tired early 1920s and mid-depression hymns long since abandoned by the Methodists. The dissonance of their badly tuned cheap guitars accompanied by the staccato rhythms of the pastor’s nephew on drums awkwardly trying to play along with music discarded before his grandfather was born poses no threat to Catholic liturgy – even those lefty parishes that insist on including Ashes by Tom Conry on Good Friday. We also specialize in writing very long sentences.

Like a cold war era spy drinking potato vodka in an anonymous speak easy that doubles as the front for a safe house in East Germany, this forum is the only place where I can allow (only a part) of my real identity to be known despite the fact that I must still do so using extraordinarily long strings of words lest my commitment to the use of verbosity flag even in the slightest.

I would surely appreciate it if you kept this under wraps.

Dominus Vobiscum


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