Monday, February 26, 2007

On bookplates

Joanne Kaufman appreciates bookplates, and knows a bit of history about them, too. (Still Stuck, OpinionJournal, Feb. 23, 2007)

Taste testing a good book

Brittany Shahmehri, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 6, 2007:

My husband is reading "The Secret Garden" aloud to our boys. They are at the part where Mary Lennox has told Colin that she's found the garden his mother loved. It's an exciting moment. But the passage I'm waiting for is a few chapters on, after Colin has tasted his first breaths of fresh moorland air and Mary has grown strong running in the garden. It's just a detail, but my kids will notice it: a luscious description of roasted potatoes and eggs.

We have a tradition of trying foods from the books we read aloud. It started when we read Elizabeth Enright's "The Saturdays," and one of the boys asked, "What are petit fours?"

An answer, my husband and I felt, wouldn't be as good as a sample. So one Saturday we all sat down to tea and little cakes, iced in pink, green, and yellow. It was exciting for the boys to try a dessert they had learned about in a book...

Full article here

That's my kind of tradition. :)

hat tip: Albert Mohler

Burglar's Bane snow

Over the weekend, we had some of the noisiest-to-walk-on snow I've ever walked on. Every step creaked. It wasn't a sharp sound, in that it was somehow cardboardy, but it was loud. More than that, every footstep left behind it a perfect, sharp, clear mold of the sole of the shoe.

I couldn't help thinking that if I were a burglar or mugger I would have hated that snow.

Bread 'from scratch'

My husband told a young man of his acquaintance that I'd started making bread from scratch. The young man likes to cook, you see, and my husband thought he'd be interested in the doings of someone else who likes to cook.

'Oh,' the young man said, perking up, 'What type of bread machine did she buy?'

'She doesn't have a machine. She made it by hand,' my husband informed the fellow. For which information he got something along the lines of a blank stare.

'Why would she do that?' the young man asked, when he got his voice together.

'Because it's fun,' my husband said...

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think bread machines are inherently bad. If I get gimpier or my hands get to hurting too much, or I have to take on many more work hours, I might use one myself someday. And, if we ate a tremendous quantity of breadstuffs around here, I could see a bread machine might make sense, at least during more harried days and weeks.

But why in the Sam Hill, if you're able, would you let a machine have all the fun? (So to speak.) I ask you.

Perhaps too many of us in recent decades have been influenced by people who look down on housework, including cooking, as drudge work - but at the same time consider cooking, especially from scratch, to be the sort of thing that is beyond their capacity to learn. (Yes, I know that's a bit inconsistent, but people tend to be inconsistent, don't they? Or perhaps it's merely a variation on "sour grapes"?) And bread making in particular is often held up these days as Very Hard Indeed. Not to mention Something That Takes A Lot of Time. And also Somehow Different From Other Cooking. And, of course, Reported to Be Prone to Failure... especially if you aren't born with some vaguely mystical magical inner gift for cooking that some folks seem to think exists. (As if even the best cook around didn't have to learn to cook? Even, for all intents and purposes, learn to cook over and over again as he/she took on new types of food? Hello?)

Well. I'm prepared to be humbled a few times by batches that don't turn out (I've made three types of bread so far, and so far I seem to be having beginner's luck, but I'm not kidding myself that I know what I'm doing yet).

On top of that, bread making doesn't really take quite the time or effort that I'd been led to think it might. You do have to be around at the right times, but that's true of a lot of things. Including the average family dinner.

And it is fun. And a great stress buster.

So I intend to keep at it. I intend, in fact, to make up recipes until I invent a bread or two or three uniquely mine. Translation: I have a hard time sticking to recipes. I love to experiment in the kitchen. :)

(Did I mention that I'm prepared to be humbled by batches that don't turn out?)

Of course, you're visiting the blog of someone whose favorite classes in school included labs for chemistry and physics. People who love chem lab are naturals for cooking, I think, because cooking gives you the same sort of thrills and experience and feedback, and (barring the inevitable, occasional flubs) - tah dah! - you get to eat the results.

But, anyway, even for folks who don't like to 'invent' food, bread baking is fun, I think, and the most fun comes in the stages that people with bread machines cede to the machine.

The dough changes as you knead it. Very curious, that. And that going from a smallish solid mass to an airy largish mass during the risings (aka proofs) is interesting, too. And that whooshing sound that often happens when you punch the dough down? I kind of get a kick out of that. (I know, I know, I'm too easily amused. But there it is.)

Do you ever wonder (I do), how we ever got to this point? I mean, who in their right mind would have tried eating yeast bread in the first place? Really? I mean, if you were sitting around minding your own business and the dough you'd made for flat bread happened to pick up yeast from the air (which fact you wouldn't know, of course) and bubbled and expanded and smelled different from usual, would you turn to someone and say, 'Let's beat the air out of that and pat it into shape and see what happens?'

OK, maybe you'd do that. Maybe I'd do that. Especially if the food supply was tight.

But, when it bubbled and smelled and spilled itself out of a container or crept over the edge of the counter a second time, seeming strangely alive in an odd and unprecedented way, would you even consider trying to cook it and eat it? If you weren't crazy, I mean?

I'm glad our ancestors figured it out, and shared, and that cooks through the ages have improved our knowledge of how all this works. But I wonder - if I'd been at the front end of all this, with no one I trusted to tell me it was good that way - if I wouldn't have been scared of the stuff and thrown it away and started over?

Update: Melissa Wiley and her children are also beginner breadbakers, and they've got a bread blog - Peace of Bread - where they're collecting their successes, failures, recipes, notes, questions and answers. Check out, for instance, The Science of Bread.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Book note: 500 Time-saving Hints for Every Woman, by Emilie Barnes

Jane at Much Ado has info on a book that sounds like it might be a good resource for those of us trying to make our homes more manageable and more gracious/livable/pleasant at the same time.

British World War I records coming online

From WWI soldiers' records go online, BBC, Feb. 23, 2007:

Service and pension records for more than two million soldiers who fought in the British army in World War I are being put online for the first time.

The documents provide a broad range of detail, from name and next of kin to wounds suffered and conduct record.

The release by the Ancestry website, working in partnership with the National Archives, is taking place in stages over the next two years.

The images are available to view on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.

All the records are already viewable on 28,000 rolls of microfilm at the National Archives in west London, but it is hoped the digitisation process will make them available to a much wider audience.

For an account from a man using newly released documents in a quest to learn more about a grandfather he never knew, see Uncovering the trenches, by Rob Liddle, BBC, Feb. 23, 2007.

New Zealand fishermen land a colossal squid that lives up to the name

Colossal squid aren't the same as giant squid. They're much heavier. In this case, much, much heavier (an estimated 450 kg, which means about 990 pounds!).

In the linked article, the BBC provides a size comparison chart, using a London bus as a starting point. The squid is longer.

For those of you into specifics, the squid in question is said to be a Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, and it was found in Antarctic waters.

An abundance of toes

Meet a kitten named Extra, and learn about polydactyly in cats, past and present. ("Extra-special cat has 26 toes," Karen Kotze, East and Bays Courier, Feb. 21, 2007)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Woodlands Web

I've just stumbled across what appears to be a treasure trove of a site. The Woodlands Junior School of Tonbridge, Kent, has information on British life and holidays (see, for instance, What is Lent?), and it has educational games and interactive activities, and it has Pooh traveling down the Thames...

I expect I'll be spending a bit of time in the Guide to British Life, Culture and Customs section. Too fun. :)

They invite questions, by the way.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Book note: Around a Rusty God, by Augusta Walker

I came across a Autumn 1954 edition of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, and noticed that one of the books was one I didn't recognize: Around a Rusty God, by Augusta Walker. The jacket blurb says:

In a world threatened by war and famine, a little boy builds a frail security for his most cherished possessions, two spindly goats. Their world is China, but it might be anywhere, for this poignant story tells a universal truth about the way a child grows in maturity by taking care of something he loves.

After reading the book (condensed version), I will say that it's different from anything else I've read recently, and I don't mean that in a bad way. According to the write-up in this book, the author taught English at Lingnan University in Canton, China, from 1947 until 1950, when she was forced to leave the country. She has a distinctive voice and a gift of description, and the assuredness of someone who seems to have noticed a great deal.

I'd disagree a bit with the blurb, in that the story struck me less as being about 'a universal truth' than about the craziness and failings of humankind, some of it being funny, and some being sad, but most of it ringing true:

So Beng Gow became a goatherd. His mother never understood it, although she was always explaining it to people. All the women came with their babies tied on their backs to have it explained to them. A teacher at the Big School had heard about the virtues of her son, who certainly was not worthy of such fame, and went out driving one day to look for him. He found her worthless son sitting on a grave, minding the geese for Ah Lok, who was no account at all minding geese, and he drove her son away in the automobile to give him anything in the world he wanted. But her undeserving son wanted nothing for himself, only to serve the Gow Sow, and so he became the Gow Sow's goatherd, and was so self-denying that he would accept no more than five hundred yen every seven days.

Ah Lok's mother did not like this story, and she told one of her own. One day her son had been out obediently tending the geese, and Beng Gow, whose mother had no geese to tend, nor anything else, came along looking for something to do, and threw a stone and killed a goose. A teacher of the Big School then came by in an automobile and, taking pity on her weeping son, seized Beng Gow and took him to town to make him buy something for Ah Lok. But Beng Gow had no money, of course, so the Gow Sow bought the goats, and Beng Gow was being forced to take care of them for Ah Lok by way of payment until they were big enough to eat. As for the five hundred yen, this did not exist.

Everybody doubted both stories and modified them, and many versions were told. And indeed Beng Gow was not able to bring home the money very often, for the Gow Sow could not remember it. Sometimes he remembered and paid a thousand at once, and then Beng Gow's mother would buy a very large fish, which she showed to everybody as evidence of what she had told.

Neither mother is very close to being right in her version, by the way. Not by a long shot, actually.

A question: I was trying to find out more about the author, and haven't been able to scurry up much yet - but on various bookselling websites I've noticed several copies of a book called The Goat Boy by Augusta Walker, also from 1954, but published by Michael Joseph, London, instead of The Dial Press, New York. I'm guessing this is the same book, but I'm not sure. Does anybody know?

Book note: 24 Declassified: Cat's Claw, by John Whitman

I have to admit that I don't quite understand Jack Bauer mania. I've watched some of the show "24" this year (filling myself in at the show's website for the episodes I've missed), and I'll grant it's heart-poundingly well done, and has twists and turns aplenty, and lots of deep issues, so to speak. In its way, it's rewarding television, in that it deals with duty and self-sacrifice and steep odds and grit and mistakes people make and evil and greed and what goes wrong with people either under duress or when they're being misled or when they smell a chance to become a big player in some way. But so far it eludes me what people see in Jack Bauer himself that makes them elevate him to some kind of hero status. And since the show is quite violent, and since I don't have one of those fancy ways of getting rid of the ads (I don't mind ads per se, but I can't see any reason to sit through ad after ad for R-rated movies and previews for what appear to be highly twisted and super-violent television shows), I might never figure it out, since I'm not sure how much more I'm going to watch.

But for those of you who "get" the Jack Bauer popularity, and can't get enough of his exploits, there are (did you know?), books, too. For instance:

24 Declassified: Cat's Claw
24 Declassified: Cat's Claw

Clicking on the book cover will take you to Barnes & Noble.

Update: Oh, good. The show's executive producer says they'll be cutting back on torture scenes. I'm with Danielle Bean on this. Only, I'd add, "Yay, Mrs. Gordon!"

Narnia, Narnia, and more Narnia

I recovered from my warehouse adventures better than expected, so Sunday I decided to go ahead and try baking bread from scratch. (It turned out all right. Not great, but all right. The consensus is that I got a bit too free adding flour during the kneading stage to keep the dough from being sticky.) At any rate, since the bread baking required some waiting time, I decided to get some reading in. And since I'd recently read “Let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage” by Micheal Flaherty, President, Walden Media (Imprimis, February 2007), I pulled down my omnibus The Chronicles of Narnia, which has the seven books, in the order C.S. Lewis preferred for them to be read (as opposed to the order in which they were written and published).

If you're wondering, the way he recommended was The Magician's Nephew, then The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and then The Last Battle.

The Chronicles of Narnia One Volume
The Chronicles of Narnia One Volume

Months and months ago, I'd read the first two, and later had made a stab at The Horse and His Boy. (Some emergency or something came up, and I'd given up on finishing it, if I recall correctly.) It was no good trying to pick up The Horse and His Boy from where I'd left off - too much time had gone by to remember what I'd read. So I started at the front of that one. And that was Sunday afternoon, and here it is Tuesday afternoon and I've read The Horse and His Boy and Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Not quite in one gulp, but close enough. Whew. I even took a not-quite-full-load of laundry to the laundromat yesterday so I could pretend I was working while I read. :)

I suspect that if I'd tried to read this series when I was young (even into my twenties, and possibly probably thirties) I might have thrown the books down in disgust (being something of a pacifist cum feminist on the one hand, and definitely being squeamish on the other, amongst other reasons) or in despair (from not understanding enough of it). But I've finally grown into them I guess, because I'm getting a great deal out of them besides rip-roaring adventure and mind-bending flights of imagination.

Scho late schmart.

I think I'll let these books digest a bit before I try to finish the series. (Besides, I have a friend who likes the series up to this point, and doesn't like the ending at all. It makes me hesitate, just a bit.)

What's rather hard about these books is that so much of what's in them seems so applicable to other people - try telling me you haven't dealt with Dufflepuds, for instance - but, of course, in the spirit of the thing one probably shouldn't go around calling other people Dufflepuds (for instance), since one has one's own shortcomings to work on...

(And how did C.S. Lewis know what my shortcomings are, anyway? ;)

I can see how the Narnia books could easily annoy the stuffing out of a wide variety of people, from "I am woman, hear me roar" feminists (I expect they'd have heart attacks, some of them; at the very least we're talking major hyperventilation attacks) to a stricter or easily-ruffled sort of Christian (the books are crawling not only with magic, but with ancient myths that aren't at all Christian). But, for me, Lewis handles the myth and magic well, using them to tell his story and make his points, and I don't find it objectionable at all. And I like that the girls are heroines in their own right, while being treated as special and worthy of protection by the heroes.

I am in awe, by the way, of the way Lewis could be blunt but gentle and understanding at the same time. I'm enjoying his method, and his manners, immensely.

One downside, such as it is, is that the way the characters speak is almost contagious. I find myself wanting to say "Oh, bother" and "rot" and "he's a brick" and so on. Actually, I do say "Oh, bother" and "rot" anyway, but this "he's a brick" business might seem odd to people who know me. (I have more or less the same trouble when I read Wodehouse, by the way.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book note: From Baghdad, With Love, by Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth

I haven't seen this book yet (I stumbled across promos for it while looking for something else on the Internet), but I'm a sucker for dog stories (and the dog in this one has a winning way about him in the videos and pictures at the author's website). So...

From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava
From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

More info and links at The Globe Pequot Press.

Clicking on the book cover link will take you to Barnes & Noble.

"Pearl S. Buck on euthanasia" updated

Back in April, I shared a short quote by Pearl S. Buck that I'd found in a dictionary.

Today, following links around, I stumbled on a new blog, Soli Libri, that has the quote in context. The longer quote is much better than the snippet shared in the dictionary. It's a great appeal for recognition that "there is a sacred quality of life which none of us can fathom. All peoples feel it, for in all societies it is considered a sin for one human being to kill another for a reason of his own." The blogger also notes that Buck's brand of feminism was quite a different thing from what feminism has become. (And how!)

Update: Amanda at Wittingshire has more.

Two years old? Already?

Suitable For Mixed Company turns two today. (And your blog hostess just keeps toddling along...)

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

Friday, February 16, 2007

A salute to the the Welcome Home a Hero program

On Feb. 2, 2007, ABC News saluted a man who joins with others to welcome troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. See Person of the Week: Bert Brady: Veteran Makes Soldier Homecomings a Daily Ritual.

hat tip: Anna

Churches versus worshippers

We were sitting around talking about people in the UK telling survey takers that they hadn't quit going to church because of a loss of personal faith, but because they felt the church had abandoned moral and doctrinal teaching, and about Joshua Livestro's article in The Weekly Standard in which he discusses what he calls Holland's Post-Secular Future. Livestro found evidence of "a Dutch relapse into religiosity" - but one that wasn't as visible as it might be because so many of the newer congregations don't meet in church buildings.

This led to a discussion about how the stats on religion here in Oregon always strike us as suspect, because if you only count the big denominations you miss a whole lot of Christians. Independent and community churches are big here. And although churches and meeting halls of one type and another are thick enough on the ground, we know of one grange hall in our valley that unobtrusively provides meeting space for two congregations, and another that provides meeting space for three. There's a little church tucked into what used to be an office downtown; it's obviously a fellowship if you read the sign, but otherwise it looks like a seminar room of some sort. A cowboy church meets once in a while in non-church settings. And I wouldn't want to guess about home churches. Etc.

All of which led to the following story from a friend of mine. He knew of a town in South Dakota, he said, that used to have several churches all holding their services at the local grange hall. He thought it was seven congregations all told. When the Catholic Church burned and they had to find some place to meet, the only time slot available at the grange was something like 7:30 at night, he thought. At any rate, it was right after the Lutherans, and there had been a lot of bad blood between the Lutherans and the Catholics so nobody was happy about having the Catholics showing up as the Lutherans let out. But after a while of forced encounters and a few hellos exchanged, things began to thaw, and before you knew it the Catholics and Lutherans were holding joint potlucks, etc.

I wish the story ended there, but it doesn't. My friend said that shortly after the Catholics got their church rebuilt the rift returned.

It sounds like folklore to me, but on the other hand I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were true, people being what they are. Sigh.

On a semi-related note, see this post at Mere Comments for links to discussions of Rites & Wrongs of Passage, on (according to the Mere Comments post) "what the Marine Corps remembers about ritual and solemnity that many churches have forgotten."

Making a Ta-Da List

You read that right. Not a to-do list, a ta-da list. It's a nice idea, I think.

The best-laid plans...

I got up this morning with plans to celebrate finally getting the upper hand against yet another winter bug. I was going to bake bread from scratch. Or try to. I figured the worst that could happen was that I'd waste a few cups of flour and other inexpensive ingredients, some of my time, and a bit of electricity heating the oven. Besides, I'd get a bit of exercise doing that kneading, and I certainly could use some exercise after all the napping I've been doing lately.

The weather looked gloomy, wet and gray. No worries. I campaigned for an early spring by putting on a colorful skirt and bright shirt; not winter weight but it's fifty-some degrees outside, nearly seventy inside, and I'd be in a room with an oven on part of the day anyway. An apron would protect my clothes while I worked in the kitchen, I figured. I had to dig out sensible shoes that didn't look too clunky with the skirt, but all in all I was pleased with the effect. Cheered me right up.

I still had work to do, of course (I work at home, thanks to the wonders of the computer age), but I figured I could sneak work in - and run all the errands that needed to be done before the weekend - while the bread was rising. And then tonight, with the smell of bread in the air, I could sit down to do a little blogging, maybe. That would be fun, I thought. I've been spending my spare time sleeping, or reading, or watching DVDs, waiting for my head to unfog from the latest virus.

All in all, it seemed like a nice day I had ahead of me.

And then I took a quick run into the online bookstore's warehouse.

At the bottom of a stack of letter-legal boxes full of books was a box that was wet on the bottom and starting to crumple. And then I saw another. And another. And so on. My livelihood. Getting water damage. And only me to move boxes. And repackage them. And catalog the damage. Yikes.

Did I mention I've been sick? Or that I dressed up a tad this morning? Or that I'm less than five feet tall? Or that these stacks run from four to six boxes high?

I started to count how many boxes I needed to move, but gave it up as a bad business. Sometimes it's better to ignore the magnitude of a task and just do one thing at a time until you're done. This seemed like one of those times.

I've been pacing myself, doing a bit of work and then resting while I work out a game plan. My back's holding up better than I thought it might and I've tackled about half the job already. I'm feeling a bit relieved, too, because I expected to have to throw away more books than I have. I'm not happy about the losses, but it looked at first glance to be much, much worse than this. (Thank goodness for multi-layered boxes. The boxes are a total loss, but they have protected the contents.)

I did intend to get some exercise today, but not quite this much, thanks.

I gave up on the bread making.

Maybe tomorrow?

Probably not. I expect my back to be talking to me tomorrow.

Tomorrow, by the way, is the second anniversary for this blog. Two years already? Can't be. Surely?

Well, I hate to say so, but it's back to the warehouse for a bit more manual work. Wish me luck.

(And yes, I'm still in the cheerful, printed, colorful skirt. It's cotton. It can take it. And it's comfortable. I might look silly, but hey, women for eons managed without trousers, right?)

Update: I am one tired puppy, with sore muscles and joints (hooray for aspirin, hooray for a recliner with a footrest), but the casualties are in the dumpster, the surviving books are in fresh, dry boxes and out of danger, the problem that caused the crisis is fixed (yay husband, yay home supply store), and the fan is going to dry out the floor. Tomorrow I get to put boxes back where they belong. Whew. I really, really could have done without this mess. But mostly I'm relieved it wasn't worse.

Book note: Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes

One of the impossible-to-answer questions that I like to mull over is how much worse World War II might have been if authors, publishing companies, news people, and the movie industry hadn't helped keep up morale and bust enemy propaganda as much as they did (not across the board, of course, but in general).

The point comes up because this week I finished reading Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes. My copy is a Fawcett Crest paperback, which shows copyright 1941, 1969 by Helen Highet (Highet being the author's married name). The cover painting, I might add, shows a man and woman hiding from danger in a woodland setting, and the woman is wearing a chartreuse green miniskirt and has a bouffant hairdo, which strikes me funny for a book about Europe in 1939, but I digress.

The book has gone through several printings, but I can't seem to find it currently in print, which would be a shame if true. There are quite a few used copies about, though, so it should be easy enough to find an inexpensive copy if your library doesn't have one.

On my copy, the front cover leads off with "The Famous Suspense Masterpiece by the author of MESSAGE FROM MALAGA." In the early going, I wondered where they got the idea this was a masterpiece. By the end, I still wouldn't call it a masterpiece myself, but I won't quibble with anyone else who would like to. My goodness, it was loaded, and layered, and had some very good twists and turns, and I was both surprised and pleased how it came out in the end. And this was her first novel? Wow.

What annoyed me most at first was the author's insistence on sprinkling the narration with references that clearly expected you to share her very good educational background. I got a fairly standard baby boomer education: short on literature, shallow in history, and completely lacking in architecture. While I've tried to fill in the gaps since I got out of college, I found myself on the outside looking in here and there in the early chapters.

As it happens, I came to appreciate that. Having set it up so the intellectuals and sophisticates of her day could say, with evidence to back them up, "Oh, look, James dahling, here's a book that the rabble can't possibly get as much out of as we can," she proceeds to shoot down (politely, but firmly) various varieties of sophisticated wishful thinking regarding the Nazi threat. She also stands up to anti-British propaganda. And she properly pokes holes in the Nazi idea of proper behavior. All within a lively adventure story that's lush with description without bogging down in it. And it's got some humor, too. Not a bad deal.

There were a few places where I had to stop and flip back to something I'd read earlier to make sure I knew who was who and what was what, but that might be my fault (I'm under the weather again, and hardly in top form). And there were a few places where the educating got a bit obvious. But all in all, a good book.

And, all in all, the sort of book that well-educated people tended to turn out in the 1930s and 1940s, cheering on the home folks while tackling the public's ignorance.

There was a 1943 movie based on the book, starring Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford, with Basil Rathbone as a bad guy. In the movie, the lead characters, Richard and Frances Myles, are on their honeymoon. In the book, they've been married a few years, just long enough to have learned quite a bit about each other's strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and ways of thinking. Who knows how else the movie differs from the novel? At any rate, regardless of how true it is to the book, with that cast I'd like to see it. I haven't been able to find it on DVD anywhere yet. Anybody?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

L-net: Oregon libraries network

Via, I found a website on which Oregonians are invited to chat live with a librarian, or e-mail questions.

From About L-net: Oregon libraries network (emphasis in original):

Librarians online work at libraries all over Oregon.

You can learn more about who we are by looking at our profiles.


Evenings, weekends, and early mornings you will be connected to librarians all over the United States. You may also be connected to a librarian from outside Oregon if L-net is busy.

The person you are talking to may not be local, but will still be able to help you with resources at your library...

So I'm guessing other states have services like this?

The home page for L-net has links for an L-net for kids and teens, homework resources, colleges and universities, librarians faced with questions they'd like to hand off, more. I'm on the fly right now, so haven't followed the links to check them out. But I thought I'd toss this post online as part of the continuing discussion on the role of libraries (and, by extension, librarians).

Friday, February 09, 2007


The Suitable For Mixed Company Annex post that accidentally wound up here has been shifted to its proper location. My apologies to anyone who happened to catch it here and wondered where it went.

How It's Made

We've been catching episodes of How It's Made on the Discovery Channel when we can. Online, you can find some info and a few segment videos at The Science Channel. (Which, inexplicably, seem to have the Canadian narration, with metric measures, instead of the United States narration.)

For those of you in Canada, I tried to watch videos at the Canadian site of Discover Channel, and was told I couldn't watch in my country. (But have fun, if you can get it to work for you.)

While looking for the UK link, at Discovery Channel over there I came across an entry for How Do They Do It?, which featured an interactive quiz called What Are They Doing? I found it great fun. (Once I figured out how it's set up so I could, you know, make a stab at an answer before I ran out of time. Ahem. I'd tell you my score but I've been humbled enough for one morning, I think.)

Go straight to the quiz (has sound)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More great old movies

Debra at As I See It Now has a list of the movies from the 1940s (give or take a few years) that she enjoys watching over and over again. She's asked for recommendations for others.

In a hurry / Not in a hurry

Kate DiCamillo was in a hurry and (of course) got stuck behind someone in a check-out line who wasn't.

And if I say anything more than that I'm going to ruin the very good story she tells about it.

So I won't say a word. Except: go, read, it's short (but loaded).

hat tip: Krista

The euro debates continue

From Mixed-up emotions 'bad for the euro' by Bruno Waterfield (, Jan. 30, 2007):

European Union officials yesterday blamed "mixed up" people for letting emotions get in the way of a proper appreciation of the euro.

The remark came in response to a new FT-Harris poll which shows that most of the eurozone's citizens would like to have their old, comfortable national currencies back.

Feelings are particularly strong in Germany, the present holder of the EU's rotating presidency and Europe's largest economy.

Two thirds of Germans now prefer the Deutschmark to the euro and more than half believe that the European single currency has damaged their country's economy.

But the European Commission insists that ordinary people are simply failing to grasp the benefits of the single currency...

Rest the rest of the Waterfield article. It's got some comments from Derek Scott, Tony Blair's economic adviser between 1997 and 2003, who argues against the euro.

I found that article via Brussels Blames the People for Euro’s Unpopularity, The Brussels Journal, January 30, 2007 -- which also links to Europeans still take a dim view of the euro, by Ralph Atkins, Financial Times (, January 28, 2007. Atkins' article appears to be a bit more rounded, shall we say, and has the poll particulars. A taste:

"[The survey] results will disturb the European Central Bank, which has faced stiff criticism in recent weeks from both Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, the main candidates in April’s French presidential elections, who accuse the central bank of hampering growth. The ECB regards its public credibility, and that of the euro, as essential to its battle against inflation, which is sees as the prerequisite for growth.

The survey also shows that most adults in the largest European countries think migration has reduced wages and only a quarter have a positive view of the entry into the European Union this year of Bulgaria and Romania.

However, eurozone citizens generally see wider benefits of the euro. More Germans, Italians and Spanish see a positive impact on the EU economy than a negative effect, according to the survey. That suggests they see others benefiting rather than themselves. The exceptions are the French, more of whom see a negative rather than positive impact.

The results come at a time when eurozone growth prospects have brightened, thanks largely to a pick-up in Germany, the largest of the region’s 13 member countries. The ECB is expected next week to prepare financial markets for another interest rate increase in March.

Read the full Financial Times article.

P.S. Just so you have a point of reference:

This FT/Harris Poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive among a total of 5,292 adults, within France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain. The survey was conducted between January 10 and January 22 2007.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sociology, then and now

Wilfred M. McClay compares sociology's age of free-wheeling inquiry with the present state of things in the field. The present doesn't come off looking so good, on the whole. (The Twilight of Sociology, OpinionJournal, Feb. 2, 2007)

Teach a man to fish...

From Wellspring House Gives Homeless Hope, Many Families Have Homes Because Of What They Learned At A Unique Shelter - CBS News:

Schwoyer runs Wellspring — easily America's nicest homeless shelter. Families who stay there are considered guests. They eat the same food at the same time and table as the staff. And they can stay as long as they need to.

Schwoyer says she does it "because it's the human thing to do."

So how does she get people to leave? Not a problem. "Oh, as beautiful as this is, it's not their own home," she says.

Wellspring started in 1981 when Schwoyer and a group of friends from church decided to buy a house, live in it together and share it with homeless families. "And support them in whatever they needed to get on their feet," Schwoyer adds.

Since then, through donations and grants, Wellspring has expanded its building and its scope. It now offers everything from classes on finding jobs to the clothes for landing them. Perhaps because Wellspring is so comprehensive, its success rate is phenomenal: 80 percent of people who come to the homeless shelter are never homeless again.
Saying "never" about people who are still alive is always stretching your luck, but still, that's one amazing success-rate-so-far, isn't it?

hat tip: Miss O'Hara (last part of post)

Semi-related: The Samaritan Awards spotlight programs that provide effective compassion.

Author note: Rumer Godden

Julie at Happy Catholic writes about the author Rumer Godden and her books, and links to what others have written.

As a side note, I am beginning to feel like the last person in America who hasn't read Godden's In This House of Brede. I know I've read reviews and discussions of it on several blogs, at any rate. A surprising variety of people seem to really like this book. (Yes, it's on my to-read list. I'm getting to it, really...)

If you've got a suitable-for-this-blog post on a Rumer Godden book, feel free to drop a link in the comments box. The more the merrier.

hat tip: People of the Book

The good news in the federal budget

From Fiscal Revelation (OpinionJournal, Feb. 6, 2007):

Politicians are typically late in picking up trends, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes Washington to acknowledge the big story in the Fiscal 2008 budget that President Bush unveiled yesterday: To wit, with a little spending restraint, Congress could balance the budget in no time.

You wouldn't know this from all the garment-rending yesterday in response to Mr. Bush's proposal to spend the not-so-meager sum of $2.9 trillion. Our favorite agonist is Kent Conrad, the Senate Budget Committee Chairman, and he didn't disappoint. "The President's budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality, and continues to move America in the wrong direction," said the Senator who was himself blocked from sneaking nearly $5 billion in "emergency" farm spending into a military construction bill in the final days of the last Congress. The North Dakotan needs to keep shouting disaster in a crowded political theater so he can justify his desire for a big tax increase.

The news Mr. Conrad won't broadcast is that over the past three years the federal deficit has shrunk by 58%. The Congressional Budget Office--not the White House--is estimating that the current year's deficit (for fiscal 2007) will fall to $172 billion. That's not bad given continuing Katrina relief spending, $30 billion for homeland security, and a couple hundred billion or so to fight the war on terror.

The White House is projecting that its new budget will eliminate the deficit by 2012 assuming Mr. Bush's tax cuts are extended after 2010. We don't put much stock in future budget forecasts because they depend on so many variables. But even CBO predicts the deficit should remain near or below 1% of GDP for the rest of the Bush Presidency. That's well below the 40-year average of 2.4% of GDP.

This also means that the federal debt burden will continue to fall...


The other news you won't often hear concerns the soaring tax revenues in the wake of the 2003 supply-side tax cuts. Tax collections have risen by $757 billion, among the largest revenue gushers in history...

The numbers are too big for me to get my head around, but I like that "over the past three years the federal deficit has shrunk by 58%" bit, and the debt burden falling business...

Read the rest of the OpinionJournal editorial.

OpinionJournal is a free online site of The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Monday, February 05, 2007

On car doors and locks

My husband went to the store yesterday. When he got there, he noticed a group of people in the parking lot, bunched around a car, trying to get into it using a piece of wire.

No, no, don't get ahead of me, here. One of the people was a respected grown-up my husband recognized. It was clearly a case of a young woman having locked herself out of her car, and people on hand coming to her aid as best they could, given their lack of knowledge of car thievery and the car's doorlock design.

When my husband went back outside, the group was still at it. On a hunch, he walked over and said, "You have tried the back door, haven't you?" as he reached out for the door handle for the passenger seat behind the driver's seat.

Which. Opened. Nice. As. You. Please.

I'd laugh harder except I've made mistakes just as silly in my lifetime. Ahem.

As it happens, I read a locked-out-of-car post just the other day. See Joe McKeever's It Takes a Professional for a story taken from Ron Dunn's book "Don't Just Stand There, Pray Something."

Apron Power!

Barbara Curtis over at Mommy Life recently hosted a contest for women who love aprons. It's over now, but pictures are up at Picasa Web Albums - Barbara - Apron Power!.

I applaud Barbara's comment explaining her contest:

I say it's time to bring back the apron - and I don't mean the unisex cloth chef's apron, but the frilly feminine - even to the point of useless - kind.

What's funny (or perhaps sad) is that up until last fall I might not have agreed. I remember that we were required to make aprons in home-ec class at school, but we were embarrassed about it. My friends and I didn't want to be caught dead in an apron. We were beyond aprons.

Last fall, I chanced upon some cheap (I mean $1.99 cheap) aprons at a local store. Feeling faintly ridiculous, I bought one, just because it seemed it might be practical to have one, and because I really liked the colors. If nothing else, I told myself, it would be a nice decorative touch, hanging on the wall.

Practical it has been (and how). But more than that, it has been fun. I've got two aprons now, both rather the chef's kind but in vintage prints (to go with my wonderful old-fashioned kitchen), and I'm thinking of making some frillier ones. Just because I feel like it.

Barbara elaborates in a post called Further thoughts on aprons:

As I told you in the beginning, I just started wearing an apron a year ago. It was only after the contest began that I "got" the significance of the apron - how feminism had changed it into a symbol of oppression. Funny how all those little womanly things that were passed down for generations were thrown out the window and now people like Martha Stewart make a fortune teaching us how to do them again :)

So my question is, have any of you had any further thoughts on the significance of aprons? Have any of you tried them for the first time and found them to be empowering? How about the fact that your clothes stay cleaner? :)

I think she's on to something. I'm having a grand time rediscovering the worthwhile know-how and wisdom and heritage and folkways that were given unwarranted bad press (or suppressed, or reinterpreted out of all recognition) in my formative years.

Like aprons.

I felt uncomfortable putting one on that first time, several weeks ago. Sheepish, you might say. Bad steers from bad company in your younger years can linger, worse the luck.

Then I went through a very brief defiant stage, a la Take that, you misguided mentors of my youth! I've outgrown you! I CAN wear an apron!

(Childish, I know. But there it is. Does it help any that it was just a flash, gone as quickly as it came?)

And now? Now those aprons are a part of my everyday routine. They make working in the kitchen easier. And they bring a smile to my face. They fit. Not literally. I'm short and they don't fit me well, but I've decided aprons in general are my style.

So's helping to run a business. And writing. And studying. And trying to learn something every day. (And blogging, when I've got the time. You might have noticed that.) And being neighborly. You know, trying to be a well-rounded, complete human being, improving as I go, if I can, but never (I hope) taking myself too seriously.

Tell me again why we ever bought into the ridiculous notions that a woman who liked being mistress of her domain - who enjoyed running a home - had taken two steps back and was somehow letting other women down? That wearing an apron was a badge of shame? Puleeze. How provincial can you get?

Feminists tend to panic too easily, I've decided.

That's their problem. Heh. Aprons for me, please.

Addition: Randi has a tutorial for making a "Mommy's Little Helper Kitchen Apron".

Addition: (via SFO Mom) My goodness, the blogger The Kitchen Madonna is organizing a National Wear an Apron Day! (An Apron Manifesto or How to Get All Tied up with Apron Strings of Love, The Kitchen Madonna, January 24, 2007):

There is an apron renaissance going on out there and much of it is recorded on the internet. Women everywhere are taking pictures of their aprons and posting them on certain blogs. They are scouring the internet looking for vintage patterns and materials. They are writing about what being a mother and a housewife means to them. These women aren’t depressed. They don’t need valium or to secretly drink or to watch a wildly popular television show that is a diabolical inversion of their lives.

I think a National Wear an Apron Day should be May 14th during the month of Immaculate Mary and the day after Mother’s Day. Amidst the quiet drama of our everyday lives, we can celebrate in gratitude our homes and families by toasting each other with tea and homemade cookies and fresh buttered bread. And go ahead, on Career Day at your local school, invite a girl over to see what your life is like. She most likely will have no idea how to hold a baby or how to make a stew or how to bake a casserole to take to a bereaved family or how soft your apron is for drying tears.

The devil very well may wear Prada but authentically feminine women wear aprons!

If you support a National Wear An Apron Day, please email the Kitchen Madonna...

This is my kind of revolution. :)

I don't think I'd go so far as to insist that authentically feminine women wear aprons. But if y'all want to sort females out into apronphobes versus the rest of us, well... let me think about it some more but it does have an appeal, I must say.

Update: Kitchen Madonna writes (see comments):

I need to clarify that while I love aprons, they also symbolize something THAT DOESN"T REQUIRE AN APRON TO ACHIEVE OR TO BE. You can be authentically feminine and not wear one. Don 't have to. I'm just taking a homey, common object and trying to say what women do in the home is so important...

New blog watch: Jay's World View

Now, this could be interesting, not to mention fun. It's a boy's blog from Kenya. So far, amongst other things, he's posted on a really cool treehouse, the coolest bug he's ever seen, abseiling down a really steep cliff!!...

hat tip: Nairobi Paul (that would be Jay's father)

The future is what you make it: Eastern Europe housing edition

You know those awful prefab high-rise apartment buildings of Eastern Europe? There's a move on to not tear them down, but instead to make them more energy efficient. (Making Eastern Europe's Tower Blocks Energy Efficient, Deutsche Welle, 04.02.2007)

I guess saving energy trumps feeding the human spirit with beauty if you're a certain type of efficiency geek. Or if you're a certain type of reporter. The caption on the lead photo with this article actually says, "The prefab's future is looking rosier."

Gee, that's good news. Isn't it?

Well, here, let me be fair. Here's the first part of the article:

Starting in the 1960s, virtually all new public housing projects in eastern Europe were pre-fabricated tower blocks. Millions of people continue to live in the buildings, which were built in an age when saving energy was low on the list of priorities. Now a group of researchers from the University of Kassel is doing their best to make the towers more environmentally friendly.

Engineer Hartmut Hübner and his colleagues have been working in Dunaujvaros, south of Budapest, to convert Communist-era high-rises into environmentally friendly housing. The high-rises aren't just inefficient in terms of energy consumption, they are also a potential source of social conflict, according to Hübner.

(Don't hold your breath. It's not what you think...)

"Here in Hungary, as in other eastern European countries, heating costs are still subsidized," he said. "But that will change. And with rising energy costs, it'll be difficult for the people here to pay their heating bills."

The Solanova Project, of which Hübner is a part, has already succeeded in retrofitting a seven-story building in the small town. The biggest problem was that prefabricated components for the buildings no longer exist, so the engineers had to experiment with parts such as solar panels or energy-efficient windows.

OK, OK, I have no objection to making existing buildings more energy efficient, especially if the government is about to hand over the costs to people who are stuck there.

But does it strike anybody else as somehow tragic that somehow all this gets reduced to 'efficiency good, energy waste bad'?

A little catechist humor, and a question

From Catechist's Journey, a blog I stumbled on this morning thanks to Georgie Tamayo Clemens, here's a child's take on Psalm 23. (He seems to have the gist, even if the words aren't quite right...)

On a slightly more somber note, from the same blog, where do people get the idea that priests are supposed to be perfect? I grew up in a secular environment, and I know I was taught wrong on this, but why do so many people from religious families get so messed up on this?:

...It’s no wonder that young people shy away from the thought of a vocation if they think it means being perfect. Yes, we need to teach them a respect for priests and religious, but we also need to help them see that all people, including priests and religious, struggle with the call to holiness…a call we ALL share. In a sense, to be holy is to be perfect but God alone is holy (perfect). When we refer to people as holy, we are saying that God’s presence is revealed in that person. We can all strive to reveal rather than conceal God’s presence in us.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bibliothèque nationale de France - Virtual exhibitions, and France in America

While looking for a specific Medieval painting for Amanda's color feast (I found the uncredited painting in a book, but have yet to find it online, alas; Medieval art can be sooo colorful), I came across the virtual exhibitions of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, aka BNF, and managed to find my way to a version of the website in English. There's some good stuff there.

See, for instance: The sea
Also: Medieval bestiary

Getting out of the virtual exhibits, I found a France in America section:

Conceived in partnership with the Library of Congress - the great library of Washington - La France en Amérique/France in America is a bilingual digital library made available by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It explores the history of the French presence in North America from the first decades of the 16th Century to the end of the 19th Century.

Through direct digital access to complete books, maps, prints, and other documents from the collections of the partner libraries, the project illuminates two major themes in the history of relations between France and the United States: the major role played by France in the exploration and settlement of the continent and its participation in several events which indelibly marked the history of the United States: the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the cession of Louisiana. The site will be completed in fall 2006 with a panorama of economic, scientific, literary and artistic exchanges between the two nations in the course of the 19th Century.

The missions of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Library of Congress are to make their resources available to ever growing numbers of people and to preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. La France en Amérique / France in America is the newest addition to Gallica, the Bibliothèque nationale de France's digital library. With some 76 thousand digitized texts and 80 thousand images to date, Gallica offers the online public an encyclopedic reference collection as well as sites dedicated to particular themes. The companion site at the Library of Congress is part of the Global Gateway project, whose mission is to establish cooperative digital libraries with national libraries from around the world.


This digital collection takes its place alongside two other websites brought online since 2003 dedicated to the shared history of France and North America: La Louisiane française, 1682-1803 (, produced by the Ministry of Culture as part of the "National Celebrations" collection; and the French-Canadian site Nouvelle-France, horizons nouveau (, undertaken by the initiative of the Direction des archives de France, the Library and Archives Canada, and the Canadian Embassy in Paris.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Library of Congress present these documents as part of the record of the past. These historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The two libraries do not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.

So, what are you doing still hanging around here? ;)

Photoperiod-based sleuthing

From Super-Fun Geography Studies with Journey North's Mystery Class (Melissa Wiley, The Lilting House, January 24, 2007):

As one of my little ones used to say, I'm so a-cited! It's almost time to begin a new season of happy hunting with the Journey North Mystery Class. Ten classes of schoolchildren around the world have been chosen to be Mystery Classes, and it's up to the rest of us to track down their location. You too can join in the fun!

Here's how it works...

"Best Silly Kid Arguments" sought

Melissa Wiley is collecting Kids Fight Over the Most Ridiculous Things stories. (It started, as I understand it, when she posted about her kids fighting over dryer lint...)

Share The Love Blog Awards

Share The Love Blog Awards showcases a lot of blogs I don't know, nominated along with blogs I really like. Hmmm. I know my links list is too long already. But... but... this looks like a gold mine. The awards are hosted by the hostess of One Woman's World.

hat tip: Randi

Movie note: The Pursuit of Happyness

In Commentary: Material Goods and The Pursuit of Happyness, Jordan Ballor writes:

Will Smith's latest movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, stands as an extended argument underscoring the truth of conservative values. This may sound like an improbable anomaly given the traditional political, ethical, and social allegiances of Hollywood, but the power of the story lies in its basis in fact, and this in turn prevents it from being appropriated as a tool for liberal political ideology.

The narrative is inspired by the true life experiences of Christopher Gardner, a struggling and homeless single father turned successful stockbroker and CEO. The story begins in 1981...

Movie note: Miss Potter

Javamom recommends the movie Miss Potter, based on the life of Beatrix Potter.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Job opening

From Help Wanted (Cafe Hayek, January 30, 2007):

I'm looking for someone who might be able to do some simple animation to tell economic stories. For example, I have an idea for a narrative that would show how the minimum wage hurts the workers with the lowest skills. You could make it a full-blown documentary or animated story. But what I'm thinking of is a low-level of visual sophistication (stick figures or crayonesque drawings) that would have a certain stylish simplicity so that you could create this kind of visual story quickly and at relatively low cost. But it would be fast-paced enough and entertaining enough that people would want to watch.

Ball's in your court.

What are libraries for?: Social uplift edition

From A Social-Uplift Program That Works by Nicole Gelinas, City Journal Autumn 2006:

The Queens Library is that rare New York phenomenon: a government-funded social-uplift program that works. It succeeds by doing what it has done for over a century: giving New Yorkers with ambition (however modest or grand it may be) the tools they need for self-improvement. These tools get real results in Gotham, where people can earn an incremental reward for each skill they obtain. Learn English, and move from a kitchen job to an office job. Master math, and pass the GED and start technical college. The Queens Library’s crowded branches suggest that many poor and immigrant New Yorkers understand the city’s opportunities for upward mobility and that they see themselves not at all as victims trapped by circumstance but as individuals possessing the independence, the self-discipline, and the chance to get ahead.

That's the good news. For the bad news, Gelinas notes that city leaders don't recognize libraries as poverty-fighting tools and have cut funding.

The article has some nice history (including background on Andrew Carnegie), and showcases the services offered then and now. For instance:

Because nearly half of the residents of Queens are foreign-born, one of the library’s most practical services is to help the borough’s African, Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern immigrants assimilate into American society, just as it helped German, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants become citizens a century ago. The library is particularly effective at this task, because it recognizes a key truth lost on many contemporary immigrant-advocacy groups: newcomers can’t succeed in America unless they speak English. Hence the library’s wildly popular, and free, English-for-Speakers-of-a-Second-Language program—the largest such initiative in the nation, serving 3,000 students annually. Each semester, the program must turn people away, sometimes two prospective students for every one who gets a slot.

The whole article is well worth a read.

Previous related articles:
What are libraries for?
What are libraries for?, revisited

The sign

Donna-Jean recounts going to a March for Life rally nineteen years ago:

Nearly everyone, it seemed, carried a sign. They were both factory-made (big red octagon shapes saying "Stop Abortion Now") and homemade (I remember the quote from Dr. Suess' "Horton Hears a Who" on one: "Because a person is a person, no matter how small.").

I didn't have a sign. I could have asked for one, I'm sure, but I wanted something different - something that reflected why my husband and taken the time to come there.

Then I realized my sign was in my pocketbook. I pulled out my latest photo of our precious just-turned-two year old daughter, got a safety pin from my husband (one of those people who always, always has one in his wallet, because "you never know when you'll need one"), and pinned her picture to my coat.

Click through to her post for more on that rally, plus what she and others are doing these days for women hurt by abortion, and to help young men and women grow up with valor and virtue.

Color feast entry (or would that be entree?)

Does the green outweigh the grey, do you think? (In other words, is it colorful enough for a color feast? Possibly not, but I hope it'll sneak in as warm, heartening, or cheery.)

This shot was taken from inside the house, through a window, the end of October. There were two or three other deer in the back yard, but this trio looked especially at home. We keep the back semi-wild for the fun of it, and are repaid with scenes like this. (Actually, they sometimes also bed down in the more-manicured front lawn, too. Deer around here aren't terribly shy.)

For those of you not up on wildlife of Oregon, those are mule deer. The ears should explain the name.

Previous related post: On color feasts, dog years, and Leap Day, etc


I've just changed over to New Blogger. I'm hoping it's a smooth transition. Please bear with me while I learn the ins and outs of the new set-up (and do let me know if I introduce glitches)...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

On color feasts, dog years, and Leap Day, etc.

Amanda Witt's family recently relocated to a snowy area, and all that whiteness is getting to her. She's fighting back in a wonderful way (to my way of thinking):

And so I was driven, two days ago, into the arms of defiant El Greco. Today I give you Cezanne, along with an invitation: Bloggers, post something bright, something colorful, warm, and heartening, and let me know; non-bloggers (unbloggers?), if you run across something colorful and cheery in the next week or two, send me a link to it. I'll post the links, and we'll have a color feast to tide us over until Valentine's Day.

I don't know why, but this made me think of one of my favorite bits from The Pirates of Penzance. The Pirate King has come to explain to the hapless (but dutiful) Frederic why he isn't out of his apprenticeship after all:

For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I’ve no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don’t know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February,
twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.
Through some singular coincidence – I shouldn’t be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy –
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year, on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you’ll easily discover,
That though you’ve lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you’re only five and a little bit over!

OK, OK, I know why I thought of it. First of all, because of the idea that February is shorter because it's beastly, and it's not nice to add a day to it every fourth year, but you might as well laugh at it. Secondly, because I'd just read this other Wittingshire post on dog years. Personally, I'd like for the concept of "dog years" to become one of those things that dissolves in the mists of time. I don't find it very useful as an adult, and it confused the stuffing out of me as a kid. But the post is funny, and I got to wondering if that household has ever tackled the ins and outs of the folks who have their birthday on Leap Day. I seem to remember being concerned, when younger, about people who only had "real" birthdays every four years. From a child's perspective, it seemed the sort of thing that might scar you for life, being subjected to faux birthdays or, worse, being asked to stoicly not have a birthday party three years out of four. Horrors! ;)

Beyond that, it just seemed a riddle, that some years were longer than others, and Feb. 29 sometimes was and sometimes simply wasn't.

Then I found out that George Washington (along with a lot of other people, of course) had two birthdays, because the calendar got changed during his lifetime. That really threw me. Calendars, to that point, had seemed eternal truths, or something along that line. (A very wrong assumption, as it turned out.)

On Reading Aloud

Kate Pitrone advocates reading aloud. Why? Let her tell you. (On Reading Aloud, Guest Commentary, Ashbrook Center, January 2007)

hat tip: Wittingshire

"Angels Among Us"

See Angels Among Us at A Rose By Any Other Name for a link to a video by the musical group Alabama, taking note of those who make a difference in the lives of others. Good stuff.

Putting his foot down (and in his mouth at the same time)

Mark Laswell, deputy books editor at The Wall Street Journal, takes on Sen. Chuck Hagel's jab at shoe salesmen:

Washington is a city of many diversions, but very little surpasses the pure entertainment value of watching a senator--media chatter about his potential attractiveness as a presidential prospect ringing in his ears--commandeer the microphone during a committee meeting and then posture in a most forceful and statesmanlike way for the television cameras. Sen. Hagel did not disappoint last week. As the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations prepared to vote on the resolution expressing outright opposition to the increase in troops, Sen. Hagel, a longstanding critic of the war, was in ultra-dudgeon about what he apparently regards as an insufficient amount of Capitol Hill kibitzing on the president's conduct of the war.

"I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line" by having to make a "tough vote" on the troop increase, Sen. Hagel said. In a bit of bullying that instantly became the TV quote of the day, he then appeared to call out an unspecified number of his honorable colleagues as cowards: "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes."

Whereupon, Mr. Lasswell makes some comparisons between having a Senate job and selling shoes, (which is, as reality would have it, not that safe a job).

But here's the meat in the broth:

It's not clear precisely what the point would be of a resolution opposing the troop increase, other than letting legislators flatter themselves with the notion that they have some influence over the president's war-making strategy. Conducting a periodic opinion poll on Capitol Hill (for that's what nonbinding resolutions are) might be useful. Certainly historians would wish that during the Civil War the Senate had taken its temperature every few months regarding President Lincoln's prosecution of the war. Might have been interesting to compare their vacillations with his single-mindedness.


Full article: If the Shoe Fits: Chuck Hagel courageously takes on footwear salesmen (OpinionJournal, Feb. 1, 2007)