Friday, December 28, 2007

Michael Kidd, rest in peace

When I saw the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for the first time, I'd hate to think how much of the time I spent with my jaw hanging down, struck with disbelief that those dancers were actually doing what they were doing - and making it look easy into the bargain. It was a wonderful mix of amazing talent, superb training, guts, humor, wit and inventive choreography. To this day I'm in awe that the producers of that movie could get that much well-nurtured talent together and unleash it like that.

OK, OK, sometimes since then, even without the surprise of seeing it for the first time, when I've watched the most amazing parts, my jaw still drops. I don't know any other musical like it. I can't believe they dared to do what they did, plus the dancers are generally laughing as they do it. And they are acting. And staying in character. Without missing a beat. Remarkable. (And don't you wish more of today's talent would be channeled into something meant just for fun?)

Now comes word that the choreographer of that movie (as well as a number of other Broadway and Hollywood shows) has died.

Email newsletter about children's books

In addition to her blog, kidlit fan Jen Robinson has a free weekly email newsletter called Growing Bookworms.

Inkheart fans sought

Krista at Musings of a Lady is looking for fellow fans of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart fantasy series, specifically to discuss the trailer for Inkheart: The Movie.

I haven't read any of the Inkheart books yet, so am out of this loop. How about you?

Pro-life honors offered, nominees sought

From Ruben at

On her blog, Jill Stanek is seeking nominations for the "Pro-lifer of the Year". Among some possible candidates are Eric Scheidler, President Bush, and Phill Kline. As for me, I'll nominate my friends Troy Newman and David Bereit, among others...

But for a couple of weeks now, I've been meaning to proclaim Jill as "Pro-life Blogger of the Year." (If you have paid any attention to the situation in Aurora, Colorado, then you have probably read at least one of her posts on that situation.)

There are so many good posts on her blog that I won't bother to point out any particular one - just visit her site at

Who are your nominations for "Pro-life blogger of the year?"

Please go to Ruben's post to make your nominations, if you have any. Thanks.

Zig / Zag (or the state of churches)

Do you ever get mental whiplash as you surf the internet? I've just gone from this post to this commentary (via this post), and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, especially since just a few minutes ago I was here (via here).

I think it all makes sense if you think about it, though...

"Flat Stanley" tips sought

At As Cozy as Spring: Flat Stanley, the blogger is planning to participate in a "Flat Stanley" project, and is asking for input from those of you who have experience. I wrote about my secondhand experience here (customers brought a Flat Samantha to our bookstore for a photo shoot). In that post, I also linked to a delightful ongoing series from a Flat Alexis hostess in Texas, but I find that those links have gone bad. Rats. It was the best Flat Stanley presentation I'd found.

Pop on over to As Cozy as Spring if you have good ideas to share. (Or warnings. If you'll read my previous post you'll see that the parents of our local Flat Samantha hosts found that the project got a wee bit out of hand...)

In Miami-Dade County...

...the right to meet in private homes for prayer and Bible study has been recognized.

The ethics of blogging

A question on whether it's unethical to blog anonymously prompts The Jewish Ethicist to focus on the ethics of blogging.

A hundred recipes

Via Lady Jane, the Food Network has posted what it calls its Top 100 Recipes of 2007.

Far be it for me to pass on a Top 100 list that starts with macaroni and cheese, and includes so many other homey-looking recipes? (OK, where's my shopping list...?)

For Jan Karon fans...

...this post at A Circle of Quiet takes a quick look at two of her books, plus has a link to a discussion of Jan Karon's fiction by Lauren Winner.

"The Ballad of the Goodly Fere"

If you're tired of wimpy portrayals of Christ, you might want to read this.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

P G Wodehouse continues to conquer the world

India has enjoyed something of a Wodehouse craze. Now Russia?

Too fun.

hat tip: Frank Wilson

Blogger makes good

Congratulations to Dawn Meehan. Her blogging, about life as a mother of six, has led to significant advertising income, and a two-book deal. NPR has the story (Blogs Scoured for Book Deals, Morning Edition, December 27, 2007).

Refusing to fill a prescription (for death)

So, a couple Sundays back I was listening to a preacher talk about when his wife was carrying their first child. The doctor said she was likely to have a miscarriage, and if she didn't miscarry, the baby was going to be born blind, and so, he said, she should get an abortion. The preacher said he told his wife to tell her doctor to stick it in his ear. She must have done something of the sort, because she went on to give birth to a baby who has now grown into a lovely young lady of 18. The girl, by the way, wasn't born with any health problems, much less the blindness that was predicted.

Of course, if she had been born blind they would have loved her anyway. (BTW: Parents who don't run from their disabled children do tend to find them a blessing. Read this account of a young woman with Down Syndrome for yet another example of that. As her mother notes in the article, Hope taught her to slow down and smell the roses - not a bad thing, that. In the full disclosure department, I've met Hope and I like her.)

At any rate, I've been thinking. For one thing, I'm wondering if there's a person left in America who doesn't know someone who is alive today only because someone stood up to a doctor who prescribed giving up? Honestly? (Wouldn't it be better if we could trust doctors to admit when matters have gone past where they feel they can do anything useful, instead of making the mighty - not to mention arrogant - leap to declaring who should be allowed to live?)

For another thing, wouldn't it be better if more people learned to tell death-dealing doctors when and where to get off? Perhaps it's wild fantasy on my part, but I can't help wishing that more women, when advised to go get an abortion, would reply something along the lines of "You patronizing beast. Stop treating me like a child. I may not know exactly how to work my way out of this mess yet, but I refuse to be treated like an incompetent, cowardly, disloyal ninny, and beyond that, nobody treats my baby like garbage." Of course no one talks like that, but you get the idea.

Something similar goes for those of us who love anyone with disabilities. When my somewhat-crippled husband was critically ill a couple of years ago, I'm afraid I got a bit of experience with a couple of doctors who thought he ought to be reminded that assisted suicide is legal in Oregon. This was not a good move on their part. (My husband is doing fine these days, by the way, unless you count that he's down again with the flu or something like it. Ugh. We're having a month to forget, in the common winter ailment department.)

For the record, most of the people who were consulted during my husband's near-death experience were solidly on our side, and fought like crazy to save his life. Thank goodness. But the ones who weren't sure his life was worth living provided an extra layer of nightmares to the ordeal. To be fair, no one pushed the point after bringing it up, but then again, we didn't give them an inch.

Sigh. Do you remember the days when it was greedy heirs who had to get past a doctor to hasten Grandpa's demise, and not loving relatives who had to work around a doctor to save someone's life?

Should we have to put up with this?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ah, December

Or, perhaps I should say, ah-choo December. Or, oh-my-tummy December... Or, dibs-on-the-closest-bathroom December... Or...

We're fighting bugs around here, like we do most Decembers. I'm only moderately sick, which means I can take care of normal chores and duties. On the other hand, I'm dragging, and my mind feels as sharp as mud.

I yield to the folks in my sidebar, until I perk up a bit.

Closed circuit for my friends in Ontario...

OK, so it's written for Ontario, Canada - but I can't see why the folks of Ontario, Oregon USA couldn't sing a version of Ontari-ari-ari-o when they feel like it. :) Follow the link from Dewey's Treehouse for the video.

For those of you who are wondering, it's my understanding that Ontario, Oregon, was named after Ontario, Canada, after the four founders of the town drew lots to see who would get the honor of naming the place. The winner's name was James W. Virtue, and I understand he was French-Canadian by birth.

P.S. Congratulations to Dewey's Treehouse for winning the Cyberbuddy category in the Homeschool Blog Awards.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Saturday Review of Books... up at Semicolon.

Churches help fugitives surrender safely

Via Mark Earley, have you heard of the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program? Churches and media cooperate to give fugitives for non-violent and misdemeanor crimes a safe place and time to turn themselves in.

One-man Stonehenge

Have you heard about Wally Wallington of Michigan, who has figured out how to erect a replica of Stonehenge single-handedly, using lumber and pebbles and other low-tech stuff? He uses similar techniques to move barns, etc. Six-minute video here.

Very cool. Hats off to Mr. Wallington.

Now, kids, I'm counting on you to get permission from your parents before you try, say, to transplant the garage. There's a very good chance they a) don't want the garage moved, and b) don't want you hurting yourself. You should note on the video where Mr. Wallington talks about the times he got hurt while perfecting his methods. OK? You with me on this?

Semi-related: This makes me think of Archimedes and the quote "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." It's so easy to forget the power of levers... And gravity... And other basic stuff...

hat tip: My husband

Monday, December 10, 2007

The science behind global warmism

I was following a link from this post at Joust the Facts, and was reading The Science of Gore's Nobel by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board (, December 5, 2007), when my husband (off on an errand) called to say that that it's brittle outside, and that's it's expected to sink to single digits or lower tonight. This in one of the banana belts of this part of the world...

So, now that I'm through chuckling (it was great timing, and a nice contrast), I think I'd better share with you what Mr. Jenkins points out as the science behind Gore's crusade (it's not what Mr. Gore would like you to think):

The media will be tempted to blur the fact that his medal, which Mr. Gore will collect on Monday in Oslo, isn't for "science." In fact, a Nobel has never been awarded for the science of global warming. Even Svante Arrhenius, who first described the "greenhouse" effect, won his for something else in 1903. Yet now one has been awarded for promoting belief in manmade global warming as a crisis.

How this honor has befallen the former Veep could perhaps be explained by another Nobel, awarded in 2002 to Daniel Kahneman for work he and the late Amos Tversky did on "availability bias," roughly the human propensity to judge the validity of a proposition by how easily it comes to mind.

Their insight has been fruitful and multiplied: "Availability cascade" has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; "informational cascade" for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd's beliefs; and "reputational cascade" for the rational incentive to do so.

Mr. Gore clearly understands the game he's playing, judging by his resort to such nondispositive arguments as: "The people who dispute the international consensus on global warming are in the same category now with the people who think the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona."


Public opinion cascades are powerful but also fragile--liable to be overturned in an instant when new information comes along. The current age of global warming politics will certainly end with a whimper once a few consecutive years of cooling are recorded. Why should we expect such cooling? Because the forces that caused warming and cooling in the past, before the advent of industrial civilization, are still at work.

No, this wouldn't prove or disprove a human role in warming, only that climate is variable and subject to complicated influences. But it would also eliminate the large incentive for politicians to traffic in doom-laden predictions--because such predictions would no longer command media assent and would cease to function as levers to redistribute resources.

Read the whole thing

I think we all need to sometimes step back and ask if what we're championing is based on nothing more than a cascade that took on a life of its own, apart from the facts. I know I've had a few jolts in my life when I realized to my horror or dismay that I'd been working off of faulty info or misguided opinion. (I've been obliged to disown some of what I spouted when I was feminist, for instance... Ahem...)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Great underrated or underread books

Anthony Esolen is in the middle of writing The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, a project that has him looking at some books he hasn't read in a while. This got him thinking about compiling a list of the "Top Twenty Books Nobody Reads." He tosses out a list to get things started, but he's open to nominations.

The storm situation...

... in this part of Oregon isn't as dire as the news media and various government sorts are apparently portraying it.

I hear that there is flooding in other parts of the state (with probably worse to come, if the rain predictions come true, or the Chinook winds melt much more snow), and we've heard travelers tell tales of road closures, and of watching vehicles get blown off the road north of here, and of driving through road conditions they never wish to see again for the rest of their lives. And a business associate had to cancel a phone appointment with my husband today, because the associate needed to go help deal with some storm damage where he lives, over near Portland. So, yes, here in Oregon we are having storm troubles, and I guess we're in for more trouble for a few more days at least.

But we just got a call from a frightened relative from another state who was watching the evening news and thought the report essentially said that all of Oregon was under water and about to slide into the ocean, or something to that effect. We reassured her, and I would like to reassure other friends and family, that right here we've had, off and on over the past couple/three days, some nasty, often-strong, sometimes-swirling wind that a time or two felt like it was going to rip the roof off, but didn't (not yet, anyway), and we've had snow and we've had melting and more wind, but basically it's been noisy and not pleasant, but not damaging - except when it's been lovely weather, which it has also been, off and on, in waves. (Welcome to winter in Oregon.)

The winds were shoving the exhaust fumes from our oil furnace back into the house, so we turned it off and are getting by with electric space heaters and extra clothing for the time being, but so far that's the worst problem we've had. So, kindly do not fret about us. We were raised on pioneer stories. We're following in the footsteps of folks who used bad weather as an excuse to hole up in their cabin with friends, break out the fiddle, and party. And so far, honestly, we haven't had anything worse than usual winter weather, in this little valley at any rate.

I'm sure there are folks in Oregon who need help right now, but we're not among them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Duly noted

I was baptized yesterday evening.

More later, but right now I need some extra time offline.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Call me a true klutz, I guess...

... because I've done this. More than once. (But I help run a bookstore. It's an occupational hazard.)

I like her follow-up post, too. Funny stuff. :)

"Beatrice's Feast"

Here's a story of a young lady who rose to the occasion. Bravo. (And pass the hankies, please. It brought a tear to my eye.)

Actually, it's more than the story of the young lady who rose to the occasion. It's about a family coping with cancer, from the point of view of a mother who sometimes has to let her children help her these days.

hat tip: Dewey's Treehouse

Blog find: Deliciously Clean Reads

How can I resist a blog called Deliciously Clean Reads? With a tagline of "Clean books that are delicious to the soul."?

From the welcome post, March 8, 2007:

Welcome to my brand-new blog. Here's the gist of why I'm here...

The last few books I have started, I have not been able to finish due to pages full of swearing/sex scenes. It is extremely frustrating to get halfway through a page-turner and find that your conscience will not let you continue. I wish there was a rating system for books similar to movies. Then, I would know not to pick up R-rated books. Few Pg-13s would make my to-be-read list, to be honest.

In other words, I hope this blog will be a valuable resource for people who, like me, want to read clean books. I am a huge advocate for reading. And I hope that this will become a place where many people will feel free to comment, discuss and make recommendations for future clean reads in the novel-length fiction category...

Hear! Hear!

I see that the sidebar has links to other "Clean Lists."

hat tip: Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Umbert strikes again

Who but cartoonist Gary Cangemi could have taken the statement that as far as famous people go, "Of course, nobody knows you're famous BEFORE you're born" - and extend it to Umbert concluding that "In the womb, it's much easier to hide from the papparazzi."?

I also like this send-up of Star Trek, which is today's strip.

I realize that this sort of humor isn't for everyone, but I have to say that Mr. Cangemi routinely cracks me up.

You can find the current cartoon at

Bike ride across America planned

Katherine notes that her youth group leader from high school has decided that now that his kids are in college he's going to bike from Washington to Maine next summer to raise money and awareness for his work in Europe for Youth for Christ International. Well, it won't be just him.

The proposed route for "Sea to See" is mapped out here, if you're wondering whether they'll be coming through your area.

Five books reflecting the spirit of Scotland

Every week, runs a "Five Best" feature, in which someone touts five books on a chosen subject. This week, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and former economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland, takes a turn.

Reining in AIDS estimates

The BBC made my husband gnash his teeth a bit earlier this week. (This happens fairly frequently, actually.) He'd been listening to the BBC on NPR radio and he'd heard a story about the UN admitting that it had been off on the number of AIDS cases by millions and millions and millions of people. But, he said, the radio guys were spending their time commenting that perhaps Bush had been right for once. They seemed focused on the President Bush angle, when perhaps the real news was that the UN had once again been caught using bad figures to promote a cause and raise money and extend its reach. He wanted the news, and they got caught up in their sidebox commentary, and it was a bit frustrating.

Today I had time to follow up so I spent some time googling trying to find the story, but found it hadn't seemed to make much of a splash. Either that, or I was using the wrong search words. But then I went to Considerettes, and there it was, with a link to a Washington Post story from Tuesday. A page one story, no less. And hey, if you go all the way to the end of the article, it notes that variations in behavior are the biggest determining factors in how severe the HIV epidemic is from region to region and from group to group. News you can use, that is, even if it isn't politically correct.

The Washington Post article quotes two authors: James Chin, author of "The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology With Political Correctness," and Helen Epstein, author of "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS."

Girls get curls

If you've ever wondered how to do "rag curls," Higher Up and Further In has a how-to post.

I will admit to some disasterous attempts at rag curling as a child. But nothing that a shampoo session didn't cure. :)

More praise for 'Bella'

Baptist Press - 'Bella' receives critical acclaim while literally saving lives' by Michael Foust has more information on the movie, and its success so far.

I haven't seen the movie yet (where I live, I have to wait for a DVD), but that's not keeping me from cheering on the founders of this little, start-up movie company and their first film. From the Foust article:

Bella is the first film released by Metanoia Films, a new company formed by Verastegui and four other partners. Verastegui himself is well-known in Hispanic cultures, having starred in Spanish soap operas and even being named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in People en Espanol. But after taking the lead role in the U.S. film "Chasing Papi," Verastegui had a change of heart as to his involvement in edgy productions. Metanoia Films subsequently was formed.

"In my opinion I was poisoning our society with the projects I was involved 'with'," he said. "One day I made a decision, made a promise to God that I would never use my talents to do anything that will offend my culture, my family. That's when I had this conviction to open a production company to produce films that will have potential not only to entertain but to make a difference."

Verastegui, one of the movie's producers, said he wanted to make films so clean he could "invite my mother or my grandmother."

"At the same time I was so passionate about promoting the gospel of life, the sanctity of life -- to show in a very subtle way and a very artistic way why life is sacred, life is a gift from God," he said.

I get so frustrated when very talented people use their talents to produce something toxic. At the same time, when they do pick up a moral compass and go where it points, they can do a tremendous amount of good. Here's hoping Metanoia Films continues to help lead the way in producing worthwhile entertainment.

How share and share alike led to starvation

John Stossel provides some background on the Pilgrims and their ill-fated first policies in The Tragedy of the Commons. (via Bookworm)

It's my understanding that the Jamestown colony had much the same problem, which cleared up when a "If you don't work, you don't eat" policy was instituted. But I like the Pilgrims' solution better. (See Stossel's column for how they finally learned how to produce enough food.)

The Saturday Review of Books... up at Semicolon.

If you're not familiar with The Saturday Review of Books, it's a hub for blog book reviews. Bloggers leave links to reviews they've written during the week. I've found some good books through this project - and some interesting blogs, too.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book note: Fighting Angel, by Pearl S. Buck

So, I finished a really big project a few days ago, and to reward myself I sat down with a book I'd never read. The paperback edition I have is an old one, a Giant Cardinal edition that sold originally for 50 cents. It appears to be a second printing, from May 1964. The book itself is copyright 1936.

At any rate, the cover copy and the inside blurbs couldn't praise this book highly enough. On the front, it blares:

The heroic portrait of her father - described in her citation for the Nobel Prize as a "Masterpiece of Biography"
On the back, it says (ellipsis in original):

An American Missionary in China

One of America's greatest and most beloved writers, Pearl S. Buck never saw this country until she was eighteen years old. Born and raised in China, she was the daughter of American missionary parents.

FIGHTING ANGEL is Pearl Buck's deeply felt portrait of her father, a man who in true pioneer spirit was willing to leave his own country for an unknown land halfway around the world. It is the story of an heroic man with a calling, a faith that could move mountains and withstand countless trials and dangers.

"In the limpid flowing beauty of her writing, in the unerringly clarity and directness of every word and image and expression, Pearl Buck... has drawn a portrait with far more than personal vividness, touched problems as deep as all humanity." -- The New York Times

So, a lot of high praise, yes? And I have a weakness for biographies. And I love 'man moving mountains' stories. And so I settled in to read.

And things got strange. The last thing I expected from all that build-up was to find myself in something of a 1930s version of a modern day television talk show wherein a daughter airs her father's perceived shortcomings as a father and a man, much less a book that often seemed clueless about Christianity. (I think it's fair to say an author is clueless about Christianity if she holds herself superior to her father because he claims there's a fundamental difference between Christ and Confucius, and she can't see any difference that matters. Just for starters.)

By the time I got to page 31 the author's take on Christianity and her father were getting pretty clear, but this paragraph laid it on the line:

Nor can I tolerate for a moment any mawkish notion that it was his religion that filled him with that might. Religion had nothing to do with it. Had he been a lesser mind he would have chosen a lesser god, had he been born for today he would have chosen another god, but whatever he chose would have been as much god to him. Whatever he did he would have done with that swordlike singleness of heart. As it was, born of the times and of that fighting blood, he chose the greatest god he knew, and set forth into the universe to make men acknowledge his god to be the one true God, before whom all must bow. It was a magnificent imperialism of the spirit, incredible and not to be understood except by those who have been reared in it and have grown beyond it. Most of all are those yet in it unaware of what they are.
I guess she wanted people to know she'd "grown beyond it," as she liked to think. But the funny thing is that she goes on to write a biography that I think turns that paragraph into so much wishful thinking, not to mention wrong. If her portrait of him is at all accurate, her father wasn't forcing anyone to "bow" to his God. He was sharing the Gospel, letting those come to Christ who felt called to come, baptizing those who seemed to be sincere (some of his fellow missionaries were horrified at his willingness to baptize what they considered questionable converts, but his policy, he said, was to leave it to God to sort the wheat from the tares). And he was setting up schools and handing out food and in general trying to help people, whether they were Christian or not. And he was friendly toward Chinese non-Christian priests, too, at least in her telling of things; he disagreed with them, but gently, and with humor.

It never occurred to me that Pearl Buck might not have been Christian. Is not the fact she was born to and raised by missionaries in China prominently noted in practically every mention of her, even in thumbnail sketches of the briefest sort? Have I not stocked and sold and read "Story Bibles" by her, both Old Testament and New? I have no idea what her stance was later in life, but in 1936 she was holding herself out as too sophisticated to be lumped in with those poor misguided persons like her father. It's pretty sad, actually.

I think it's pretty telling that she describes spending some of her playtime pretending that there is no God, because God gets so much of her father's attention. She also describes going to bed one night rebelliously not saying her prayers - and finding herself alive in the morning decides she doesn't have to be as afraid of either God or her father as she had been.

The lady had issues, people. Not to mention some strange ideas about God.

To be fair, certainly some of the missionaries she describes should be held to account for bad behavior, both inside their circle, and out amongst the Chinese. Some of them acted very badly indeed. But she seems to confuse the wannabe poster children for Christianity with the religion itself - hardly something that holds up intellectually, in my view. And she seemed to relish the chance to point out where and how missionaries didn't act like saints. (Did I mention that the lady seemed to have some unresolved hostility issues?)

And yet, for all that, once I got into the book, despite a cringe here or there (sometimes for her father's sake, and sometimes for the author's) I found it a worthwhile read.

Her father comes across as one of those men who hasn't much idea how to be a father, to be sure. But then he also comes across as a man who is horribly unsure of himself where women are concerned. He hadn't planned to marry, but his mother conned him into making her 'just one promise' before he went to China, and after he'd agreed to honor that 'just one promise,' she told him he had to marry before he could leave, because she'd worry about him without a wife to take care of him. Oh, my. What a thing to ask of a man, especially a man like that. (She didn't want him to go to China, if you're wondering.)

So, then, finally, being a man of his word he manages to round up a wife, and then finds himself married to a woman who gets used to ruling the roost when he's off on trips, who won't paddle the children herself but has him do it when he gets home, who is openly relieved when he heads off for a few days or a few weeks, who imposes suffocating rules on her children when he's home, but teaches them they can relax when he's gone... hmmm... I guess I'm not horribly surprised he wasn't always comfortable in his own home, or that his daughter grew up with a few issues...

Luckily, the book has enough meat in it that Buck's resentments and recollections of petty misunderstandings don't take over the book. I think they mar the book, but I still found it a worthwhile read. I wouldn't hand it to a snarky atheist, though. Not unless you want to enforce their disdain of Christianity. Buck can't seem to get past the personalities of the people of her childhood, and lets their many and serious shortcomings serve as illustrations of her idea of Christianity. Snarky atheists in my experience being prone to that sort of thinking, I wouldn't want to encourage them in that 'logic,' just speaking for myself.

A plus: there's some good history in here, despite the ax grinding.

But it certainly wasn't the book I expected, especially after reading the cover blurbs.

And, oh, speaking of the cover blurbs: According to chapter eight, when Buck describes her decision to join the church while visiting relatives in America (so that she could wear her new frock - honestly, she says she decided on the spur of the moment to 'join' the church because her favorite cousin was joining and was going to wear a pretty frock, and here she had a new white frock she'd never worn because there had been no occasion for it), well, anyway, she sure seems much younger than eighteen in that chapter, yet there she was in America, using her uncle's church for a fashion show. So I don't know where that "Pearl S. Buck never saw this country until she was eighteen years old" business comes from. (Pause while your hostess googles...) Here we go, that trip was right after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and she was born in 1892, so... yeah, she was a lot younger than 18.

A side note: In this biography of her father, her father is never named. Not that I saw. I had to look up his name on the internet: Absalom Sydenstricker. In the book he is only Andrew, except where he's called by a nickname the Chinese hung on him. I guess she thought we should be happy to think of him merely as the father of Pearl S. Buck? What? But then, Buck almost never names herself either, except as "Carie's daughter," or "one of Carie's daughters." Did I mention there are some strange things about this book?

But, on the other hand, one of the really interesting things about this book is that in the end I thought Buck's father comes across as a better man than perhaps she knew: flawed, and hemmed in by his times, and wrapped up in his work, sure - but heroic and noble and tough and unselfish, a man with a lot of integrity and courage.

Buck wrote a biography of her mother called The Exile, also copyright 1936. I haven't seen it yet, but in Fighting Angel she clearly favors her mother over her father, so I'm guessing it would be a more sympathetic portrayal.

Added: Just so you don't think I'm declaring Pearl Buck a nonbeliever based on my own take of her religious views as presented in this book, the following is from page 194 in this edition (Buck is in this instance referring to herself as "Carie's daughter" again):
...Carie's daughter listened and never argued with him, or ever showed her unbelief. Not for her life would she have robbed Andrew of one atom of that faith that had made life so worth living for him, not now when he was old and needed the faith by which to die. And he never thought to ask her what her own faith was, being so full of his own.
(Or, maybe, since she'd insisted upon joining the church when she was young, it might have led him to think that it wasn't his business to quiz her on her faith, especially now that she was a grown woman, and responsible for herself?)

Imagine that, it's cold this time of year

Hey, I have the office up to almost sixty degrees now, so I guess I can go to work...

My office is in our little library, which is in a part of the house that doesn't get heated in winter. I have a space heater I crank up to make it usable, but I'm not inclined to pay for the electricity more than a day or two or three a week if I can help it. Much of my work can be moved to the dining room for the duration, but anything to do with the internet requires this computer, which requires connections over here in the Arctic sector. It's one way to break yourself of spending too much time online, I guess...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Having a "Les Miserables" Day

First I ran across a blogger writing about a children's theater performance of Les Miserables (and discussing a truth she can't shake after watching), and then I ran across a recommendation for a 1930s French movie version of Les Miserables (in a post where the blogger notices something that story has in common with the currently showing movie Bella).

Is it something in the air?

Pop quiz: Which classic book...

..."...describes a society that has allowed mindless entertainment to replace genuine human connection and discourse. Written in 1953, elements of the story are positively prophetic..."?

I had to read this one in school, but reading this review makes me think I probably was too young to get the main points. And so another book goes into the to-be-reread-now-that-I'm-older stack...

Child-friendly candlemaking

As Cozy as Spring: Making Candles with Children has info on making beeswax candles. The blogger says even her three-year-old can make a candle this way. (And she claims there's almost no mess.)

His movie, her movie, etc.

After you've been married a while, it occurs to you that you can have two different tubes of toothpaste (if you harbor/cherish opposing theories on how to squeeze the tube), or you can even go on a date where you go to different movies and rendezvous after. Heh. (Young love is sometimes highly overrated. Properly seasoned love doesn't get sniffy or insecure about things like liking different movies...)

In the same post, Debra recommends the movie she saw:

I totally recommend Dan In Real Life. I came away feeling like I'd attended my own family reunion in the most amazing old house (complete with a 'kids' table') on a misty-grey lake. Such a decent movie and I never once felt embarrassed for the two teeny-bopper girls in front of me in the nearly-empty theater (our theater is nearly always nearly-empty, that's why I love it). Yes, it was so devoid of bad language, sex and violence that at one point I asked myself, "Do they even make movies like this anymore?"

So refreshing... and such a simple, fun Saturday here in our tiny spot of the world.

Easy/hard gift givees

A middle-aged friend of mine was talking to a mutual friend of ours, a young single man, who (my middle-aged friend tells me) is trying to buy gifts for members of his family. The young man's mother and sister are easy, being currently gaga for anything Charles Wysocki. (No, I don't think anyone in that family reads this blog. If I've given away any secrets I'll try to think of some way to make it up to them. And apologize profusely, of course. And promise to never mention them again, even anonymously and vaguely at third hand, like I'm doing now...)

His father, on the other hand, is hard because he already seems to have everything he needs, and as a matter of course goes right out and buys whatever he wants, if he decides it's worth it. While this keeps his own life on a steady-ish keel, it would tend to make it hard for would-be gift-givers to stay ahead of him, I think. Either he has the thing already, or he's decided it's not worth the money. Either way, it's not making life easy for the would-be generous around him.

But this young man's brother is hardest of all, because his brother is currently in a minimalist phase, bragging that everything he owns he can fit in the trunk of his car. My middle-aged friend is of the opinion that everyone should go through a phase like this at least once in his or her life - having tried it himself and having found it a very satisfying way to live, at least for a while - and so is happily siding with the minimalist brother, who wants no extraneous stuff. After a bit of thought, he suggested that perhaps a gift certificate for a service or for gas might be a good idea? (Full disclosure: Our bookstore is inside a gas station, and so a gift certificate for gas would be nice for us as well as for the brother. And please don't yell at me about gas prices. We don't set them, and we get paid per gallon pumped, which means that when people cut back, we have to cut back.) It was also thought that perhaps an offer to do something for the brother might be a good idea? I also thought food would be good.

But that's assuming the brother wouldn't be upset by getting a gift. In our experience, a goodly percentage of people going through a minimalist phase would rather not be handed a gift, it being seen as something of a burden one way or another, a tie to a way of life they're trying to leave behind, or at the very least an unwanted distraction.

So, if you've been in a gift-giving mode and the givee was in a I-don't-want-any-more-stuff mode, what did you try that worked? Or didn't? (Assuming you can share the story without betraying any confidences, of course.)

If there's anyone out there who has taken a vow of poverty, perhaps you could give us a hint or two from the other side?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Bella fan

Add Rebecca Hagelin to the growing list of people who recommend seeing the movie Bella. (But, she says, it's not for little ones.)

Information sought on old baseball franchise

A reader has left a comment on a post in my archives which linked to an article about baseball in early Washington state. She writes:

My great-grandfather, Johhnie Schroeder played outfield for the Everett Washington Smokestackers. I am looking for photos, articles, stats, etc. on the Smokestackers. I have an old newspaper article with no date and it says that one season he batted .310. Any other information that you could give me would be greatly appreciated...
If you can help her out, please click through above for contact info. Thanks.

If you're just looking to read a bit of history on early pro ball in the Pacific Northwest, complete with slide show, the article to which I linked in the earlier post is here.

The slaughtered show this 'hero' for what he was

Che Guevera has, for whatever reason, become an icon of the Left. I like to think that most of the people who sport his most famous photo on their clothing, etc., are only trying to be chic, and are merely too ignorant to know better. If they wanted to be less ignorant, they could use this version. It uses tiny photos of people killed by Cuba's communist regime to replicate the famous image. My thanks to the Young America's Foundation for coming up with this. Well done. Touché, even.

My thanks also to reporter Robert Stacy McCain and The Washington Times for the story: ("Poster relates Che's dark side," November 5, 2007).

hat tip: Denny

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Frugal but rich

See The Common Room: Thrift and Miserlyness, for a Phyllis McGinley quote that helps explain the difference between meanness, economy, and thrift.

If history provides a foundation of knowledge...

... then some of today's kids are going to be building their opinions on cracked bricks if we and they aren't careful, it seems to me. That's if the contents of this email I got from Terri S. Leo are any guide:

Rewriting History – An Erosion of Our Standards
By Mike Pearce

The great Roman historian Tacitus once penned, “This I regard as history's highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.” In short, we owe it to ourselves to respect and honor our history.

But today in Texas schools, the study of our history is under assault by academic elites and education bureaucrats under the guise of multiculturalism and political correctness. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has developed college readiness standards for the high school curriculum. These proposed standards abandon the instruction of traditional history and replace it with vague feel-good “diverse human perspectives and experiences.” Texas parents must take a stand against this erosion and demand that our history be taught as it really happened.

America’s greatest generation, our World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 per day. But you won’t find mention of them or their heroic deeds in the proposed social science standards. What you will find is a recommendation that our students explain the impact of World War II on the African-American and Mexican-American Civil Rights Movements, how the policies changed our economy, and whether the decision to drop the atomic bombs was correct. Our high school students will now study the impact of WW II, but not the War itself.

There are no recommendations on how industrialization led to the betterment of mankind. Instead, students must evaluate the impact of the Industrial Revolution and rapid urbanization “on the environment”. Where is the standard that asks one to evaluate the quality of life in America before and after industrialization? Our scholars in high school will be figuring out much deeper problems, like “how climate change might affect the US economy.” So, the Industrial Revolution is out and global warming is in.

Not yet convinced? The standards have no mention of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, or the Magna Carta. But what did make the list was a recommendation that students listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and summarize 5 main points. While King’s historic speech is very worthy of study, so are many other monumental events.

What the standards do is to provide an “approach” to questions under the guise of trying to make the students believe that they are developing their own conclusions. It is the belief of the academic elite that the “broad” should be substituted for the “narrow”; and they set the parameters of academic importance. You will not find a standard that asks students to learn about the beautiful melting pot that is America; but our students will study “xenophobia and its impact on immigration policies in the United States.” Our students will not be learning about the Judeo-Christian values that were the foundation of our nation; but our students will “analyze how conflicting religious values create social conflict in local communities.” Students will not learn about how the United States has stood as a beacon of liberty for the world, but they will learn about various important civil rights cases, including Lawrence v. Texas which mandated an end to anti-sodomy laws.

There were few things I enjoyed more about teaching American history than covering the Declaration of Independence. From the philosophy of John Locke to the poetic words of Thomas Jefferson; from the faith in the idea that men had divine rights rather than mere secular ones, to the notion that liberty was an institution for which all men yearned. Now, under these proposed standards, our children will no longer hear any of that. Instead, they will “analyze the Declaration of Independence from the perspective of men and women, and people of Native American, European, and African descent.” In other words, The Declaration of Independence was merely a document wrought with chauvinism, racism, and could just as easily be viewed as a “declaration of treason” by the British.

Texas parents must stand up to this erosion of our historical standards now. The Higher Education Coordinating Board is accepting public comments online now through December 10th at In the words of Tacitus, “Noble character is best appreciated in those ages in which it can most readily develop.” We must teach our students integrity, leadership and character and use the heroic figures in our history as models. If we allow the purveyors of political correctness to re-write our history, we sentence our greatest patriots to death through their expulsion from our history books.

Michael Pearce taught history and social studies for 10 years in Texas schools. He is the founder of MVP Education Products, a computer-based education curriculum for history students.

Terri Leo

State Board of Education District #6

...[ed. note: she included her address and phone number here]...

Now, I'm a firm believer in the ability of kids to eventually overcome a bad education, especially if they learn to read enough books that wouldn't pass muster with the PC police, and otherwise discover the joys of feeding their mind with quality ideas, pertinent facts, and plain, old-fashioned inspiration. But, of course, I'd rather they have a good education in the first place.

I do have hope, folks, if for no other reason than I've seen a fair number of teens and twenty-somethings buying history books and classics and non-PC books in our bookstore. They know they've been shortchanged, if nothing else. They're starved for their heritage. Their real heritage. Some of them know they've been handed counterfeit. I wish there were more of them, but I assure you there are some smart and savvy young folks out there who are determined not to be conned or led around by the nose by the 'multiculturalism' crowd. It's a start.

Not to put you on the spot, or anything like that (she types, knowing full well she hopes to put you on the spot ;), what have you done lately to help someone else learn enough history or perspective to have a fighting chance of recognizing nonsense or propaganda when it's handed to him or her as something else?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Some Chinese babies...

... have received an unusual name in honor of the upcoming Olympic Games.

hat tip: Cindy Swanson

Tony Snow discusses the news business

Tony Snow discussed the current state of American journalism and how it got this way, in remarks made Oct. 16, 2007, while accepting the Freedom of Speech Award from The Media Institute. For an overview of the speech, see Snow Sees First Amendment Threat from Media Practices, by John Eggerton (Broadcasting & Cable, 10/17/2007).

hat tip: Bookworm Room

Peer culture and its downsides

Back in my youth, I was a huge fan of columnist Ellen Goodman. And then, as I grew up, I wasn't. (I became more conservative. I got tired of reading her stuff and sputtering, 'I used to believe this? I used to hold this point of view?!? What was I thinking?!!' It was, on the whole, embarrassing.)

Still, though I'm no longer a fan, giving credit where credit is due, I'm pretty sure it was Ellen Goodman who cured me of my opposition to home schooling. (People who know me these days will be surprised to hear this, but back in the day I wanted home schooling to be illegal. Ahem. I'm sorry. I was wrong. Also misinformed, but that's another story.)

I suppose you might be wondering how a liberal-leaning columnist cured me of my objections to home schooling? It's simple. She wrote a column on an educational program that combined senior citizens and kids. I can no longer remember the details (perhaps it was a senior center located on a school campus???), but I remember that it involved interaction between old people and young people, and it had proved to be very good for both young and old. More to the point, she discussed in this column what we'd done to our kids - how much damage we can do to them - by segregating them in "age ghettos." That turn of phrase - age ghettos - zinged right into my brain, and I've never been able to shake it.

Looking around after that, I decided it wasn't just a catchy phrase, but one with stark truth in it. Public schools have their good points. But that whole age ghetto thing isn't one of them, in my view. And so I started to give other ways of doing things a second look. When I took another look at home schooling it was through new eyes.

See "Et tu?": The lost children for the very interesting post that prompted this post (it's not on home schooling, but on peer-oriented children and teens), and a review of the book Hold On to Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.

This and that

Time flies when you're having fun. I knew it had been a few days since I'd been to this part of the house, into my office, and had this computer on, but I didn't realize it had been a whole week. I have been more or less camped, you see, in the dining room, which doubles as our living room, where I have been reading and writing. I am up past 66,000 words on the first draft of the book I'm working on, and that project is devouring the time I usually devote to surfing and blogging. Beyond that, my hands, wrists, arms, etc. are whimpering, and do not want to participate in any typing that can be avoided. Yinga, even. Ouch, even. Beyond that, trying to keep everything tied together in my mind is taking pretty much all my brainpower right now. (My husband could probably verify this for you, were he the sort of man to tattle on his wife.)

I did want to share a funny story from the day before Halloween, though. That evening, my husband was outside in a parking lot, chatting with a friend, when from the neighboring parking lot came a child's voice, very loud, proclaiming, "I will not play games. I will not have fun. It isn't Halloween!" There was a short pause, and then the screaming continued. "I don't care if anybody gives me candy. It isn't Halloween. I. Won't. Have. Fun!"

That's it, fella. Stick to your guns. Don't let anybody bribe you into having fun on the wrong day. :)

Perhaps I should mention that around here, there is a Halloween party for big kids at the Elks Lodge on Halloween, and one for the little kids at the Elks Lodge the day before Halloween. Perhaps part of the problem might have stemmed from the frustration of being designated a little kid. I don't know. I do know that he cracked people up out beyond where he could see.

The poor kid. It's so hard to have a sense of propriety in a world that doesn't understand.

Changing gears here, I also wanted to note that the October 2007 Imprimis has a great interview with Clarence Thomas, much of it about his recently published book and his grandfather. In addition to it being an interesting interview, I'd like to note that it was conducted by student journalists. It gives me hope for America, when I see actual reporters entering the field (as opposed to, say, activists wielding keyboards, so to speak).

An excerpt (Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College):

Q: What is your purpose in writing your opinions?

CT: What I try to do first in my opinions is to apply the Constitution. But also, I look on the Constitution as the people’s Constitution. And so I try to make the Constitution accessible again to people who didn’t go to Harvard Law School. Of course, some of it gets involved because you have to deal with a lot of case law. But I want people to understand what the cases are about.

As for how I think about my opinions, imagine a train with 100 cars. The cars are the previous cases dealing with some issue—the meaning of the Commerce Clause, for instance, or of the First Amendment. Often what our decisions do is just tack on a new caboose to the train, and that’s it. But here’s what I like to do: I like to walk through the 100 cars and see what’s going on up front. I like to go back to the Constitution, looking at the history and tradition along the way. Because what if there’s a flashing light on the dashboard up front that says “wrong direction”? What if we’re headed the wrong way?

My job is to apply the Constitution. And here’s a useful lesson: You hear people talk all the time about the Bill of Rights. But you should always keep in mind that the Bill of Rights was an afterthought. That’s why it’s made up of what are called amendments. It was not in the original Constitution. The rights in the Bill of Rights were originally assumed as natural rights, and some people at the time thought that writing them into the Constitution was redundant. Read the Declaration of Independence. We should always start, when we read the Constitution, by reading the Declaration, because it gives us the reasons why the structure of the Constitution was designed the way it was. And with the Constitution, it was the structure of the government that was supposed to protect our liberty. And what has happened through the years is that the protections afforded by that structure have been dissipated. So my opinions are often about the undermining of those structural protections.

People need to know about that. Many might say, “Well, they are writing about the Commerce Clause, and nobody cares about that.” But they should care about it. The same is true of the doctrine of incorporation. The same is true of substantive due process. People should care about these things. And I try to explain why clearly in my opinions.

OK, that's a relatively dry part. Important, I think, but dry. If you're looking for something less dry, how about:

...Have you ever read Modern Times, by Paul Johnson? I read it back in the ’80s. It’s long, but it’s really worth the effort. One point it makes clearly is the connection between relativism, nihilism, and Naziism. The common idea that you can do whatever you want to do, because truth and morality are relative, leads to the idea that if you are powerful enough you can kill people because of their race or faith. So ask your relativist friends sometime: What is to keep me from getting a gang of people together and beating the hell out of you because I think you deserve to be beaten? Too many people think that life and liberty are about their frivolous pleasures. There is more to life. And again, largely what relativism reflects is simply a lack of learning.
Um, actually, I don't think I'll ask my relativist friends just exactly that, thanks, but I certainly do see his point. (I suspect, however, that my relativist friends, many of them at least, would naively reply that government would stop me, if we just passed the right laws. Government, you see, is the Great Channeler, that teaches non-elites how to think and what to do, and what is right and what is wrong. Supposedly. In their dreams, at least.)

I was talking to a friend who listens to NPR and BBC radio a lot, and he said that some of the folks at the BBC were practically gushing over this interview, saying that overall it was one of the best interviews with Justice Thomas they've seen. Hey, how about that? Somebody at the Beeb reads Imprimis? Good on them.

Imprimis home page here

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vietnam vets receive medallions

The state of Missouri is stepping forward to honor vets of the Vietnam War, giving them the recognition they were denied when they came home. Sam Blackwell of the Southeast Missourian has the story.

More good movies

A Circle of Quiet recommends a couple of movies. The first I'd never heard of, but the second is one of my favorites.

You just never know...

Saturday I heard peculiar noises out back. Peeking out the window I saw, I kid you not, a hot air balloon taking off from the vacant lot that adjoins our back yard.

Ah, ha, says I, I've heard those sounds many times before, on television, on footage showing hot air balloons. I've even heard those noises in person a time or two, while watching hot air balloons getting filled or replenished with hot air at one event or another. Silly me, that I couldn't figure out I had a hot air balloon in my back yard without seeing it. Those distinctive bursts of whooshing could have told me, all by themselves - if I'd merely been able to imagine that I'd have a hot air balloon out back.

Which I couldn't. Not without seeing it.

That sort of thing has simply never happened around here. The old brain couldn't make the leap, I guess. (At any rate, it didn't.)

The balloon was tethered, and was giving rides as part of some celebration associated with the opening of the new Chamber of Commerce office, or so I'm told. Somehow I'd missed the PR run-up to it. (On the whole, the small town grapevine is highly overrated, folks.)

I didn't go for a ride. I saved my money and stayed on the ground, enjoying the spectacle for free, and laughing over the fact that a birds-eye view of our little ramshackle house was temporarily part of a tourist attraction.

I took some short walks, too, going up and down the way to give myself the good fun of seeing other people noticing the balloon for the first time. For my small trouble, I was treated to kids jumping up and down. Balloons seem to do that to kids. OK, I saw some mighty cheerful and delighted adults. Balloons seem to turn a goodly percentage of adults into kids, somehow. Me included. Ahem.

They gave rides Sunday, too. So I had two mornings full of unexpected fun brought practically to my doorstep. Such a deal.

Parochial intellectuals

Frank Wilson nails it on the head, I suspect:

I don't think a TV ad is good evidence for a "dominant idea" in the U.S. or anywhere else. As for "the quantity of uppers consumed" - could we have some figures, please. Most ordinary people I meet are neither consumed by melancholy nor obsessed with pumping up their enthusiasm - nor consuming quantities of uppers. But then, I live in an ordinary neighborhood populated with ordinary people. Most writers and intellectuals hang with other writers and intellectuals and project their parochial outlook onto the rest of society. That explains why so much that is written is such a bummer...
At least I think this is true of many of our 'elites' of today. It sure seems like it, at any rate. I would include many people in the news industry in this group, by the way.

For that matter, I think it's time for an encore for this commentary by John McWhorter. It's related. Sort of. Kinda. Maybe.

hat tip: Phil at Brandywine Books

More on Bella

Matt Barber's Oct. 22 column was on the independent film Bella, which he compares to The Passion of the Christ. Barber also participated in an audio interview with Leo Severino, co-writer and co-producer of the film. (Note: The column perhaps needs a borderline spoiler alert attached. In the audio interview, Severino is careful to not reveal too much of the plot, but there are audio clips from the film at the front and end of the interview, which give away a bit of the storyline, but which increased my desire to see the film. I thought it was an interesting interview.)

Did anyone get a chance to see the movie this weekend? What did you think?

Previous related post: Good news out of Hollywood

Our ever-changing world: migrating land masses

From a packet of Instant Quaker Oatmeal:

Q. On what continent did dinosaurs first appear?

A. Trick question! All the continents were joined together during the Early Triassic period in one big continent called Pangaea.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

I think one of my favorite memories from school days was the day we got to Pangaea in our textbook. You could look at a globe, or even a map (if you were good at adjusting for the distortions in map projections) and see how continents fit together if you scrunched them back together in your mind. I didn't even need the further evidence of matching rock formations along different shorelines to make me believe this theory.

We had a lot of fun, as I recall, playing with the mental gymnastics that naturally followed from the idea of one bigger land mass breaking up, with the parts heading off in different directions. For starters, animal and plant populations would be severed. And then the following generations of plants and animals on each traveling continent would have to adjust to the slow, slow, but big, big changes that would occur. The latitude as well as the longitude would change, and with it seasons and daylight and temps and who knows what all? Plus, the ocean currents would have to change as the land masses moved around, moving the blockades, as it were. This would, as I understand it, make for big changes in weather patterns.

And then, when you also started factoring in the growth of new land, thanks to volcanoes, etc., it got really interesting. For instance, the evidence pointed to North America and South America not being joined at first, but being linked after volcanoes in what is now Central America built up the land bridge that is there today. Can you imagine what a difference that had to make in climate, not to mention to ocean plant and animal populations? I mean, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were linked there, and then they weren't. I've been led to believe that this happened slowly, but still... I saw a television documentary on this once, and it showed an animation of ocean currents swishing through there, and then being blocked and therefore totally, drastically rerouted. I hope it was an accurate rendition, because it made a big impression on me. The oceans got cut in two, but land animals had new lands made available for migration. Such a deal.

For another instance, where I live used to be practically a rain forest (you should see our fossils around here - what a fascinating story they tell), but ever since the Cascade Mountains grew up, this part of the world has been in a rain shadow (that is, we don't get much rain because of the mountains to our west). And I'm sure the wind patterns are different, too. Certainly the seasons are more extreme than they used to be. And...

But you get the picture, I'm sure. To try to approach a comprehension of reality, start with the above and start factoring in everyday sorts of erosion, not to mention drastic changes from earthquakes and floods, and then try to factor in the natural evolution of ecosystems as soils mature, and then...

Well, you get the picture, I'm sure. The histories of the physical and biological worlds can be hard to get one's head around. But it can be fun to try.

Have you ever tried to map what's happened to the spot where you live? How it's (probably) migrated over the globe over the eons? I don't know of any computer games or models for this, but I think they'd be fun to play with. At a guess, you could set your imaginary self down in the tropics and travel to the temperate zone without ever standing up, if you factored in enough time, and picked the right starting point.

OK, yes, perhaps it might be somewhat-geeky fun, but I like somewhat geeky fun. Heh.

Nicely said: 'quilting with fishnets' edition

Do you ever run across a turn of phrase that you hadn't heard before, that is so vivid and laser sharp that you wish you had a use for it right now, just off the top of your head?

How about this one from a post critiquing the use of data by a pro-abortion group:

This is like stitching a quilt from fish nets.
Well, yes, now that you put it that way, a lot of reports and/or conclusions based (or supposedly based) on statistics are exactly that.

I wish I'd come up with that. It makes the problem so clear. At least to me.

Now comes the hard part. Now I have to be careful not to use it where it doesn't fit, just because I want to use it for something...

hat tip: Happy Catholic

Heads up: Meth marketed to kids

We just got an email about 'candy meth' being marketed to kids, which Snopes says is partly true. Read the whole article for latest updates.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Beyond past dreams, via a grocery list

I've read a fair amount of history, and I've read quite a few older books, so one of the things that I routinely fall back on when I think I'm having a bad time is to compare my life against that of even the richest or most powerful people of not all that long ago, or the lives of folks in poor countries today. It's hard to feel altogether sorry for yourself when you have access to a well-stocked grocery store, for instance, just for starters. Kings couldn't have dreamed of the meals I can fix, and I'm a frugal shopper and cook.

I find Jennifer F. has come to much the same conclusion, but she says it better.

For me, reading about people who broke the ice in the water basin in their bedroom when they got up in the morning so that they'd have water to wash their face with, and who took it as a matter of course that ice would form inside the house in winter, has a tendency to remind me that I'm embarrassing my ancestors if I happen to get impatient for the hot water to reach the bathroom from the water heater in the other room. That would be the heated bathroom. The heated, indoor bathroom. With electric lights. And a water-flush toilet that takes germs and smells right away at the flick of a lever. The bathroom that's near a kitchen with a refrigerator. The refrigerator/freezer, to be more precise. The kitchen that also has a garbage can that can be emptied into a dumpster which is emptied once a week, taking the germs and the smells right away...

I'm pretty sure I would have done all right as a pioneer woman. But I'm glad I wasn't one, all the same, thanks.

Beyond increasing my gratitude for what material comforts I have, I find that doing comparisons with the old days is also is a good trick for helping me cope when times do get tough. I can't tell you how often I've told myself something like 'good grief, up until a couple of generations ago nobody had this convenience/product/service/whatever, therefore it's obviously possible to live just fine without it.' Since I grew up in a culture that didn't generally draw sharp distinctions between needs and wants, this little mental trick has been very useful indeed. It's helped me to keep my life more simple than it might have been, I think, and has kept me from wasting money, too. Such a deal.

hat tip: PalmTree Pundit, who credits The Paragraph Farmer

A day in the life of a mother...

... set to The William Tell Overture. No, really. Heh.

The piece is by Anita Renfroe.

I'm glad the stolen painting has been found...

... and the story has some nice twists, but... it's thought the painting might bring one million dollars at auction? That painting? (Tres Personajes by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo)

I think I've said this before, but the folks who float around in the upper-range collector circles are beyond my comprehension. I can't see spending that much for a painting (with, possibly, a few exceptions, but only for the very best, most beautiful, most inspiring masterpieces of all time), but why, for pity's sake, would you spend big bucks for something that's ugly?

I know, I know, when you're talking about modern art, it's (supposedly) not the painting that counts, it's being in the know about what is hot just now, and what is yesterday. The art is just a token of your worldly sophistication and a way to flaunt how dripping you are with wealth, not to mention a prize to be captured away from other collectors. Still...

Good news out of Hollywood

There's another company devoted to making good films, this one called Metanoia Films.

LifeSite has a joint interview with Eduardo Verastegui, a former Latin American soap opera star who converted to Christianity, turned his life around, and is now dedicated to making films that stress family values; and Leo Severino, producer of Bella, due for release in the U.S. this weekend. Bella is being rolled out like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, so if you are willing to sponsor a showing, or can get large groups together to see it, or are willing to help promote it, please check the website for more information. Bella won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, and has gone on to more acclaim from there.

From the interview (Eduardo):

One day, I did this soap opera where I was playing a drug addict and the consequences and then at the end, let's show the guy goes to rehab. OK, but the first three or four months of that story was really attractive - I am riding in this convertible car with two beautiful girls and guys doing drugs and I remember after that show, I was in Miami one day and this guy from Venezuela came and approached me and said, "I love your show - it was amazing. I was watching every day. I can't believe that I am meeting you - and I have to tell you, my favorite scenes were when you were getting high to the point where I started doing drugs because of your show."

That was the first pin right into my heart. Can you imagine someone telling you, "Thank you - because of you, I started doing drugs." That was when I really realized the power of the media. How, one guy is changing his life only because of what he saw - so either for good or for bad. Then, as an actor, producer or writer, sometime we don't assume responsibility. Sometime we just do it for the career, for the fame, for the opportunity, but we forget that whatever we are doing - we are going to be affecting somebody out there.

Knowing all these things, the purpose of the company is to make films. We want to be able to make a difference in society - we want to be able to touch people's hearts - and make a good influence - no matter how tiny. We know that people are going to be imitating art - well then, lets create the right art so that whatever they are imitating is going to be the right thing, you know.

Update: Via Lars Walker, here's more on Bella, from Rebecca Cusey (New Film "Bella" Rejects Latin Stereotypes, The American Culture, October 24, 2007)

Nutty landscaping

If by chance you are thinking of planting a walnut tree in your yard, may I suggest you think twice? Our neighbor has a walnut tree in her front lawn, which sheds branches year round (sometimes quite large branches, they seem to be rather brittle and break a lot) and which rains walnut fruits in the fall. If you are thinking of the little dried walnuts in the store, you don't have the proper picture in your head. This is the still-moist walnut in its casing, altogether heavier than the lightweight nut with which you are familiar. (But it's somewhat padded, to be fair.)

This tree, unfortunately, is enough to this side that it also sheds branches and nuts into our yard. Worse yet, it is far enough forward to make the sidewalk a danger zone, too, especially this time of year. The fruits can make you fall if you step on them, and the chances of being conked are pretty good, if you forget yourself and turn that direction instead of (ahem) jaywalking to get to the other side of the street, which has no walnut tree. I'd also strongly advise against parking in front of that house for a few days yet. (This year's 'harvest' is nearly over, thank goodness.) The sound of a fresh walnut hitting a hood is probably not something you want to hear if it's your hood.

No, I haven't been conked yet. Nor have I fallen. But I figure it's only a matter of time, since I'm in the habit of going that way on most of my errands, and habit is a curiously powerful thing...

Woodstove advice sought

Headmistress is looking for information on small woodstoves selling for less than $300 - where to look and what to buy.

Alphabets do tend to evolve...

... except when they don't. Heh.

(And would Gudson be better than Judson? No, wait, under his plan it would be Gadson. I think.)

Update: Another mother has a son who is trying to correct the alphabet (but in a much smaller way).

Funerals, etc.

The United States of America, for better or worse, has so many funeral traditions it isn't funny, plus people are always coming up with innovations, also for better or for worse. Recently, for instance, we had a funeral around here for which people were told to show up wearing cammo clothing because the deceased was an avid hunter. Even the minister was in cammo, he told me the other day. Ummm. I tend to appreciate a bit more formality than that, speaking strictly for myself. Let us say I have mixed feelings about such innovations, and leave it at that.

The memorial service for one of my relatives - who had died in midwinter, weeks before the memorial gathering - was an April Fool's Day get-together at a community theater, which the invitation stressed would feature multi-media presentations. Ummm. I hope it brought comfort to his widow and children, etc., who planned the affair. And, no, he wasn't an actor. He was a lawyer. Ummm. Let's leave that at that. Well, no, let me say that although I hadn't been a big fan of April Fool's Day, this didn't make things better. It does make the date easy to remember, but... would you really want your family to remember you every April 1, specifically? (And, yes, he was a 'liberal.' Why do you ask?) I don't wish to sound harsh, here. For all I know, the date had significance for that family. I hope it did. I don't want to think that they meant it as some kind of joke. Perhaps that was the only day available at that theater, and that theater was dear to his heart? I've been afraid to ask, to be honest with you. I prefer to think that his immediate family got pushed into a corner, and did the best they could under the circumstances.

When my maternal grandfather died, I somehow managed to scrape together enough money to travel more than halfway across the country to Tennessee in hopes of finally getting to meet some of his friends from his days before he moved to Florida. To my surprise and dismay, my aunt had already announced in the newspaper that it was to be a family-only affair. We few who had come stood in a small cluster in a graveyard, with an urn of ashes, which we stuck in a pre-dug hole in the ground, and the aunt asked if anybody wanted to say anything. Nobody having been told this would happen, nobody had much to say - and pretty much the whole assembly being atheists or agnostics (at that time, at least), there really wasn't much to say, at least as far as the big picture went. Very sad, that was. Pathetic, really. On the plus side, it was so family-only that not even anybody from the funeral home was with us, to see us being inept, alone, embarrassed, and mumbly.

My paternal grandmother's memorial service, on the other hand, was so big I'm not sure everyone who wanted in could get in the church, and it was a big church. People lined up to give tributes: long, friendly, loving, glowing, lively tributes, as I remember. She had lifted us up in life, and she did so in death, too. It was wonderful to get together in her name, and to meet others who loved her.

All in all, funerals do seem to be all across the board, don't they? (That's when there is a funeral. Off and on we seem to have mini-runs of deaths without gatherings. I tend to wonder, on the non-funeral deaths, whether at least sometimes it's because there's a fear of no one showing up?)

The subject comes up because this week I was talking with a friend, and somehow it came out that he was related to a young woman who was murdered recently, not around here. It appears the young lady had gone to someone's apartment to use the phone, and so just happened to be there when a drug dealer showed up to mow down someone he thought had crossed him. She was, my friend said, not into drugs, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got killed in the crossfire. She had a three-year-old daughter (I think he said the daughter was three - she was quite young, at any rate), and the family decided for the little girl's sake to have an all-white casket on which people at the funeral could leave colored handprints.

I hadn't heard of that before, and I'm still not altogether sure what I think about it, to be honest with you, but today, out of the blue, I couldn't help wondering what archaeologists of the future are going to make out of what we're leaving behind us now.

Not that I think anything was funny or ridiculous about the handprints on the casket idea, because I don't - and I applaud their wish to reduce the trauma of a funeral for a toddler who has lost her mama - but when I try to guess what archaeologists down the line might come up with to explain a white casket with handprints of all sizes on it, I had to chuckle. I wouldn't be surprised if it were along the lines of Here, my dear Dr. Jones, is evidence of a society which placed its faith in the magic of handprints, able to carry the dear departed into the next world, which, of course, was thought to be ruled by an eight-armed goddess, as you can clearly see from the arrangement of the prints on the casket, and this squiggly smudge over here, which Jenkins, et al, identified in 2084 (i.e. 117 BCE) as indicative of a female deity believed to have some control over global climate... The scientists would be wrong, of course. In this case, it was a Christian who died, and it was a Christian funeral, and the handprints were merely there out of love for a little girl too young to understand what was happening in her ripped-apart world.

But, then, I suspect that some archaeological theories/conclusions about past societies are sometimes as far off the mark as that, based as they are on such often-random and always-incomplete findings as they seem to be, and seen as they are through the prism of the scientists' own experiences, education and worldview. But I could be wrong about that, of course.

Staying connected

I was having so much trouble getting on - and staying on - the internet, and I've been so busy offline, that I just gave up on online life for a while. I pretty much avoided television, too. (That is nothing new. Overall, I barely watch television. I can't see where it helps me to watch it.) All in all, I'm currently horribly uninformed as to "news" of the wider world, but I'm better connected with people in my community. This I consider not such a bad thing, all in all.

I've also read quite a bit (not a bad thing), and I'm up to 40,000 words on a novel I'm writing (also not a bad thing).

The only thing I consider a really bad thing about my recent blog lull is that I'm feeling ashamed of myself for not fighting my way online somehow to let you know I was off concentrating on other things, and not, say, languishing in a hospital or something. My apologies.

We are still having some interesting connection problems, plus I will need to spend less time online while I work on other things, but I'll try to hop on now and then until I can blog regularly again. In the meantime, please consider "no news" to be "good news." I'd hate for anyone to worry about me simply because I'm spending more time with local friends and in church activities and at my computer keyboard writing a book instead of blogging.

A side note on the connection problems: It could be worse. The other day we got a phone call and the caller ID said it was from a local doctor's wife, a lady we know but hardly expect to call us about anything. Upon answering the phone, my husband found it wasn't the doctor's wife at all, but another friend of ours. The friend said that ever since some work was done on the phone lines, the doctor's wife's phone number got attached to her line somehow, and she'd been getting their phone calls. The doctor, we hear, was not amused, and was assuring her that the problem would be fixed very soon (if he had anything to say about it).

Well, yes. Having your phone line swapped with someone else's phone line could be a problem, I guess. And no, I don't know how, or if, our friend was able to get any phone calls that were aimed at her during the mix-up.

On the other hand, it could, possibly, be worse. Talking with my inlaws not that long ago, we found that they'd been without phone service for several days, because both their landline and their cell phone managed to go out at the same time. So, here they were, with a backup line that couldn't provide back up. They were none too happy about it, all the more so because they had just had a phone installer in their house, who didn't speak English, cut holes in the floor where he felt like it, and seemed to be casing the joint, as far as they could see, since he stuck his head into nooks and crannies that didn't concern him. And then left them with phones that didn't work.

As I understand it, they now have phone service from another company, having lost faith in that one. (Isn't competition good?)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boyhood in the BL era

Via Robert, to Robert, to this comment, I got to the resurrected The Diplomad blog (tagline: Continuing the Conservative Underground Revolution in America's Most Liberal Institution, the State Department), which has a post that begins:

The Diplomad has just read The Dangerous Book for Boys by the Iggulden brothers.

It is a very nice book, and one which injects fresh air into our stale socio-political debates about gender. It is a polite plea to let boys be boys; it is a cry of loss over the old days when boys could be boys without fear of being sued, expelled from school, or otherwise reprimanded for harmless pranks. While I read the American version, it remains largely a British book; not all of it is relevant to Americans, but still it brought back all sorts of memories of living in America in the old days, in the BL era, the Before Lawyers era.

Toys. I thought of the toys I had and compared them to ones my kids had. Mine were crude, positively dangerous, and absolutely wonderful...

Read the full post

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Food history: Tabasco sauce

McIlhenny's Gold by Jeffrey Rothfeder, a former BusinessWeek editor, takes a look at the legends and history of Tabasco Sauce. Mark Robichaux's take on the book (and its subject) here.

Bookish history

See Albert Mohler's Books, Libraries, and the Ideal of Christian Scholarship for a look at how books used to be reserved for the rich and powerful, and how and why that changed.

In his post, he cites Megan Hale Williams' book, The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship (University of Chicago Press, 2006), and provides some short excerpts.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Another mistaken "scientific consensus"

John Tierney's Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus (New York Times, Oct. 9, 2007), has some good examples of how scientists and doctors and the media (etc., etc., etc.) can get caught up in an "informational cascade," which leads them to wrong conclusions.

The article cites Gary Taubes' new book which examines diet myths, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007).

hat tip: Frank Wilson

My "fall color change" Japanese adventure

A few weeks ago we had a visitor who had lived in Japan as a boy, the son of missionaries. We fell to swapping "my life in Japan" stories. We soon found out that we'd both had some interesting experiences simply because we'd been in areas that didn't see non-Japanese people all that often, and more specifically because we're both blond.

In his case, for instance, the neighbors expressed concern because he had blue eyes, and to them that meant blindness. I guess if everyone you know who can see well has dark eyes, and people you know who are blind have light eyes, that sort of concern would be logical. It's not correct when you start applying that rule of thumb to the world population, of course, but it would be logical to worry if you didn't know better.

In my case, I was a twenty-something woman a few years into a newspaper career when I got an invitation from a childhood friend who was over there teaching English. She offered me a free place to stay, and guide service, and local transport, if only I'd come over and give her a native English speaker to talk to for a few weeks, and, as much to the point, an American to chat with. She was going a bit crazy, she said, being essentially the only resident foreigner in town, not to mention an American with no countrymen within visiting distance.

I got a leave of absence lined up, and then found out how unbelievably large the Pacific Ocean is. Yinga.

At long last, after flying (and flying, and flying), and train rides and more train rides, I was in the town where she taught, and was immediately adopted by various and sundry folks wanting to try out their English skills, for one thing, and to hang out with an American newspaper reporter for another (that I represented a small, regional paper didn't seem to matter all that much), and also, I think, just for the excuse to go play tourist themselves. At any rate, I was taken to all sorts of interesting places, sometimes by one group of people, sometimes by another.

One day, a group of young ladies took my friend and me to a place called, if I remember correctly, The Hawaiian Center. At any rate, it amounted to something along the lines of a mall combined with an entertainment complex, and the overall theme was decidedly the Hawaiian Islands. There were shops and eateries, and public baths, and a regular swimming pool or two, and a looped pool with a current in it, that you could either float in, going around and around, or else get a workout in, by swimming against the current. I don't remember what else.

After you changed into your swimsuit but before you got into a pool, you were supposed to shower under a nozzle set up outside the dressing rooms, in full view of people on the two or three levels of this mall (I can't remember how many stories it was, but only two or three I think). So I got into my swimming suit - my brand new, bought especially for the trip, sophisticated black swimming suit which I'd never worn anywhere before - and stepped outside to the shower and went under the spray. I heard gasps. I heard strange murmurings. I looked around and people were staring at me, from the upper balconies as well as ground level, and my hostesses looked like they would faint and some of them were crying.

My first thought - relatively modest American that I am - was that I'd had a wardrobe malfunction with the never-before-worn swimming suit. I'm of an age that I grew up with the occasional swimsuit that got baggy when wet, sometimes with excruciating consequences. (Bikinis, especially those made for rail-straight pre-adolescents, should never have been made of such fabric, in my humble opinion. But I digress.) But, of course, a baggy or shifted swimsuit wouldn't have shocked the Japanese people in that mall. It might have prompted giggles or rude comments, but it wouldn't have shocked people - and people were definitely stunned. And I was definitely the center of attention.

Their distress had knocked what English they knew clear out of my companions (and my bi-lingual friend was nowhere to be found, naturally) so there was much use of hand gestures and stabs at finding a Japanese word I knew that would convey something about the calamity. Finally, by pointing at my hair and using a Japanese word for the turning of the leaves in autumn, I was made to understand that my hair, subjected to Japanese shower water, had, unbelievably - and they were horribly, horribly sorry about it - my hair had gone not-blond, and was now a different color.

Having grown up with hair that always goes dark when it gets wet, it took me a while to understand what the problem was. But then I realized that black hair stays black when it gets wet, so of course if you only knew about black hair, to see hair that was altogether different when wet would be a bit on the supernatural or calamitous side.

I assured my hostesses that my hair - all blond hair for that matter, as far as I know - goes dark when wet and it would undoubtedly return to the usual color when dry, just like always. This was a huge relief, and after confirming it with me three ways from Sunday to prevent spreading false reassurance, they announced to all and sundry within polite yelling distance that everything was all right, that the foreigner's hair always changed color when wet and would be just fine when it dried - as surprising as it seemed, everything was normal.

People stopped being statues, and stopped being unhappy, and laughed a bit (or a lot, depending on how it struck them), and bit by bit people stopped pointing at me, and soon everything was back to normal, on the upper decks and down at ground level, too.

Not that stories need to have a moral attached, of course, but to me this one rather dramatically represents the concept: You don't know what you don't know.