Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

A blessed and Merry Christmas to all!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big News from the Library - Update

     Just about an hour ago, I finished moving all of the books that the Education department said were OK to withdraw. I was wrong, it wasn't 1600 books - it was more like 1,800 books. But they're off the shelves and tucked away in Technical Services awaiting processing. And you thought librarians just sat about reading books all day!
     But that's not the big news. The big news is that just moments before I had placed the last handful of withdrawn books onto the shelves, the row of shelving collapsed. 1,800 books and the shelves they were on went toppling to the floor.  One moment everything was fine and dandy and the next moment CREAK-CREAK-CRASH. Folk from all over the library came running to see what happened, and stayed to help clean up. Thanks be to God, no one was injured and while some of the books took a beating, they were being withdrawn anyway. 
     I call this a providential happening, because the shelves that failed were erected to hold the mass of new books that will be ordered in the spring ordering rush. Today the area was nearly deserted, in the spring there would have been workers on both sides of the shelves placing and removing books. So if it had to come down, thanks be to God that it happened today. 

Feast Day of Saint Thomas the Apostle

Thomas was one of the Twelve Apostles. Through his doubt in the Resurrection of Christ the Lord, a new proof was given of that wonderful and saving event. The resurrected Lord appeared to His disciples a second time, in order to convince Thomas. The Lord said to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas replied: My Lord and my God (John 20:27-28). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the apostles cast lots to see where they would each go to preach, the lot fell to Thomas to go to India. He was a little saddened that he had to go so far away, but the Lord appeared to him and encouraged him. In India, St. Thomas converted many, both aristocrats and poor, to the Christian Faith, and established the Church there, appointing priests and bishops. Among others, Thomas converted two sisters to the Faith-Tertiana and Migdonia-both wives of Indian princes. Because of their faith, both sisters were ill-treated by their husbands, with whom they no longer wanted to live after their baptism. Eventually, they were allowed to go. Being freed of marriage, they lived God-pleasing lives until their repose. Dionysius and Pelagia were betrothed, but when they heard the apostolic preaching they did not marry, but devoted themselves to the ascetic life. Pelagia ended her life as a martyr for the Faith, and Dionysius was ordained a bishop by the apostle.

     Prince Mazdai, Tertiana's husband, whose son, Azan, was also baptized by Thomas, condemned the apostle to death. Mazdai sent five soldiers to kill Thomas. They ran him through with their five spears, and thus the Holy Apostle Thomas rendered his soul into the hands of Christ. Before his death, he and the other apostles were miraculously brought to Jerusalem for the burial of the Most-holy Theotokos. Arriving too late, he wept bitterly, and the tomb of the Holy Most-pure One was opened at his request. The Theotokos' body was not found in the tomb: the Lord had taken His Mother to His heavenly habitation. Thus, in his tardiness St. Thomas revealed to us the wondrous glorification of the Mother of God, just as he had once confirmed faith in the Resurrection of the Lord by his unbelief.

With thanks to Father Patrick Cardine for sending this to me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big News from the Library

     Weeding. This is the term that librarians use for deciding which books have been on the shelf too long and need to go, to make way for new books. For some in our profession, this terms is entered into the glossary right between the terms "bubonic plague" and "Patriot Act" in terms of discomfort. Seriously. Many libraries put off doing any weeding at all for fear of negative reaction from the user population (Q:"Why are you throwing this out?!?"  A: "because no one has read it since 1953".), or from an attachment to all the old familiar books, or uncertainty about what should stay and what should go. It creates a lot of stress.     
     Strangely, I'm not one of those people. I don't mind weeding our collection. In fact, I'd be very happy if our library director allowed me to do more of it. One reason I don't is that it creates a lot of work for our already overworked Cataloging department. Until you've seen the amount of work it takes to get a book out of the shipper's box and onto the shelf, you don't really appreciate how hard librarians work. But I digress. 
     Why bring up weeding? Because today, after several months of e-mail discussions, faculty from our School of Education came over to the library and took a look through our Education section (Library of Congress Class L) and decided some things could go. I had asked the Chair of the Ed department about the relative importance of the age of the books in that section, and was surprised to learn that the Education faculty would like the books to be no more than five years old, excepting histories of education and some standard works. When I pulled a report of books in that section including publication date, I found that over 80% of our books in Class L were outside that age boundary. I relayed this information to the Chair of Ed and they agreed that something should be done. 
     Did they ever do something about it. I was anticipating, in absence of input from the Ed department, removing about 250 books from the shelves, which is about how many new books we added in that section last year, to maintain total book count parity. The Education professors who came down today selected well over 1,600 books to be removed. BTW, if you're ever in a library and you see a book or books that have been turned down on their spine, don't tip it back up again. It's probably the case that someone wanted to mark the book to find it again (whether to check out, or to pull into Technical Services for some kind of processing). Well, that certainly will keep me and the catalogers busy for a while, clearing all that out of the catalog. Still, on the plus side, we will have plenty of room for new books when the spring book ordering rush arrives, and from all I've read in the professional journals, weeding actually increases the browsing and checking out of books in the weeded section. Don't know why, but it does. And if nothing else, at least we've given the shelves in that area a good dusting. The dust bunnies were piling up pretty fast, especially on those bottom shelves. Achoo!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wisdom from the Fathers - Abba Sisoes

An encouraging word from one of the Desert Fathers
A brother confessed to Abba Sisoes.
"I fell, Father. What am I to do now?"
"Get up," said the Holy Elder, with his usual simplicity.
"I got up, Abba, but I fell into that cursed sin again," the brother confessed with great sorrow.
"And what's stopping you from getting up again?"
"For how long?" the brother replied
" Until death finds you either falling or rising. Is it written, "wherever I find you there shall I judge you?" the Elder explained. Only pray to God that during your last moment you will be found upright in holy repentance."
With thanks to Hieromonk Joshua for sharing this. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day

     Seventy years ago today, the United States was attacked at the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air and naval forces of the Empire of Japan. Thousands died, and the following day the United States went to war. May God remember with mercy the souls of all those who fought in that war, especially those who served our country and gave the last full measure of devotion.
     Let us this day and every day remember the past, pray for peace in the present, and hope for peace in the future.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Happy Saint Nicholas Day - Tuesday December 6th

Tuesday the 6th is the feast of our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345 AD)
courtesy of
    Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told.
      He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother's breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit's life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls.
      When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man's house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).
      God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea.
      He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. 
And St Nicholas says BOOM!
     This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him.
      While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks.
      The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint's relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Nostalgia Failure

     I have enjoyed over the last few years introducing my sons to the classic cartoons of my childhood. Wonderful Saturday Morning fare like Scooby-Doo, Johnny Quest, the Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny and the Laff-a-Lympics have provided plenty of terrific Saturday mornings. So I wondered whether I should try introducing them to another cartoon I watched with great devotion - G.I. Joe. This mid-80's afternoon cartoon probably had as much to do as anything with my decision to join the Army. I bought the 'action figures' and read the comic books. Hopefully this establishes that I liked the cartoon as a kid. So I recently had the opportunity to watch the mini series "The Revenge of Cobra" which served as one of the 'pilots' for the regular afternoon series.


     It was awful. Completely, cringingly awful. Oh, the animation was decent enough for a cartoon of the time, but in every other respect it was just plain bad. The plot of the mini-series was absurd, with improbabilities of all kinds and plot holes that a tank could drive through. The characters were either flat & interchangeable or ridiculously over-the-top. The leadership of Cobra was particularly susceptible to fits of insane laughter, which made them look dumb rather than threatening.  The laser bolts flew fast and furious, except that even Star Wars Stormtroopers could shoot with better accuracy. Characters on both sides shouted their sides' catch-phrases "Yo Joe" and "Co-braaaaaa" with disturbing frequency. The humor wasn't funny either. 

     Now look, I didn't expect that it was going to be classic theater or anything. But it just wasn't any fun anymore. All those other cartoons I mentioned at the top, they're still fun. They still make me laugh. I still root for the good guys. But GI Joe? It just doesn't hold up. Disappointing but true. At least I still have the comic books. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wisdom from the Fathers - St. Augustine

"Two criminals were crucified with Christ. One was saved - do not despair. One was not - do not presume."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

To Lose or To Fail?

What is the difference between losing and failing?  I bring this up because my older son was bemoaning this afternoon of his 'failure' at A House Divided, the game I mentioned in a post on September 4th. Yes, we're still playing. Despite being an "Introductory Level" game in its complexity, it still takes a long time to play, like 40 turns. The game is still ten turns from over, and from my perspective, it could still go either way.
     Now I know that nobody likes to lose. The last two times my friends and I have played Axis & Allies, my side has lost. I admit that I struggled some with keeping my calm and not ruining the event by grousing. Being a sore loser steals the fun from everyone who played. So I sympathize with my son for feeling down. What I hope to teach him is how to lose without failing; and the biggest aspect of doing that is accepting the loss and being willing and ready to go in and play again. I say this to my fencing students a lot as well. Even if you lose, learn something from it so you can do better next time. Always give your best game and expect that your opponent will do likewise. Don't expect to be handed a win, you have to earn it or it doesn't mean anything. 
      I think that failing, on the other hand, is doing the opposite of this: not taking the game seriously, not playing by the rules, not doing your best, not learning anything, refusing to try again when not guaranteed a win. In short, self-centeredness. Even in a martial art where you are in effect trying to "kill" your opponent, you can still show respect by following the rules and giving your best - respect for the opponent's person and ability. Winners and losers can do this. Only Failures don't or won't.

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Gregory the Great

     Saint Gregory the Theologian commenting on Isaiah chapter 55: "The divine nature cannot be apprehended by human reason." 

     Saint Gregory and many other Church Fathers counseled against trying to use human reason to understand God's purposes, as the Jews did in Luke chapter 13. Jesus told them straight out that they were wrong in assuming that a massacre and a building collapse were God's judgement on those who died. Instead, Jesus told them such things are reminders that unless we repent we too shall perish.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Musical Break - Take Five

     We invited some friends over last night to play games, and this song came up in a trivia-type game. It's such an excellent piece of jazz music and musicianship I decided to share it. It is the center piece of an excellent album by Brubeck & Co. called Time Out, in which all of the pieces are notable for their unusual and underused time signatures. Take Five, for example, is in 5/4, which explains the odd feel to the rhythm. It's still a popular album among jazz fans, so it should be easy to get a hold of a copy. Check it out!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Off the Cuff Movie Review Special: Cars 2

This is not really a movie review. The boys and I just got back from watching Cars 2 at the theater, and overall, it was a fun, enjoyable adventure. As always, Pixar animation is top-notch and the voice-acting is excellent. Kudos for the cameo by Bruce Campbell, or should I say, Sam Axe.

N.B. Here there be limited spoilers, in case you haven't seen the film yet.

What I wanted to say, though is this:

Well into the movie a serious and grown-up character tells Mater, rather matter-of-factly, that he is an idiot and a fool, and that everyone thinks this of him, which is true. This, of course, upsets Mater terribly. But just a little while later in the film, his best friend Lightning McQueen, (unaware of the revelation Mater was given) tells Mater that he is fine just as he is, and that if other people don't like him, then they must change, not Mater. It's the tired old mantra of the self-esteem crowd: “Just Be Yourself”. Except that this is hogwash. We are given, via a flashback sequence, a montage of all the ways in this movie that Mater acted like a clown or did stupid and foolish things, and Mater momentarily at least feels badly about this, perhaps realizing that he could have acted differently. In short, Mater is given an opportunity to stop acting childish and begin to grow up.
But no. “Just be yourself,” his friends tell him; why would you want to be an adult when you are told it's OK to be perpetually immature?

This message of the movie I find much more disturbing than the in-your-face accusations leveled at “Big Oil”. Kids probably won't be personally affected by that, since international oil markets are not everyday fare for them. But they are affected by what others around them think of them, and while nobody likes to be laughed at or told they're foolish, this movie could have given them an example (like McQueen does in the first film) of someone taking some criticism, doing some critical self-reflection and then taking steps to change in a positive way.Instead he decides, judging by his actions, to continue being a fool. 

As I said to my boys on the way home as we discussed this, sometimes it's OK to act silly and goofy, but at other times, we should act a little more grown up. Knowing the difference is called maturity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fantasy Ideology

I was asked recently by a student at the school where I work, what I think about the Occupy Wall Street thing. I admitted that I haven't paid it that much attention, but the general impression I got from various media sources was that it was a disorganized affair, with no coherent/unified message or goal. Much has been said of the hygiene deficiencies of the participants. Now, I don't intend to get involved in a debate as to whether these folk are right, wrong or whatever, but the question brought back to my mind an article I read nine years ago, discussing the motivations of Al Qaeda in conducting the 9/11 attacks. [N.B. I am NOT trying to directly compare OWS to Al Qaeda, so don't get all worked up about it. I am NOT saying that OWS are a terrorist group or that they have any terrorist intentions.]    

     The author of the article, linked here, argues that, while most everyone assumed in the aftermath that 9/11 had been a politically motivated attack,  there may have been a completely different reason that had nothing to do with actually achieving a political goal. I here present the article, and put forth the idea that the OWS group may have a similar non-political objective. 

From the article:

     "For Stockhausen did grasp one big truth: 9-11 was the enactment of a fantasy — not an artistic fantasy, to be sure, but a fantasy nonetheless.
     My first encounter with this particular kind of fantasy occurred when I was in college in the late sixties. A friend of mine and I got into a heated argument. Although we were both opposed to the Vietnam War, we discovered that we differed considerably on what counted as permissible forms of anti-war protest. To me the point of such protest was simple — to turn people against the war. Hence anything that was counterproductive to this purpose was politically irresponsible and should be severely censured. My friend thought otherwise; in fact, he was planning to join what by all accounts was to be a massively disruptive demonstration in Washington, and which in fact became one.

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason — because it was, in his words, good for his soul.

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

    So if I have anything to say about the OWS thing, I suppose it is this: What is motivating this group to act as it is?  Unless we (the general population and the protesters) are all talking about the protest using the same frame of reference, there is very little point in talking about it at all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Off the Cuff Movie Review: North by Northwest

     I was asked recently to review my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie. This was not a simple request to fulfill, since I've seen many, not all, of his films and liked most of them. But after reflecting on it for a while, I decided that North by Northwest  was the one with which to go.
      The film begins with Roger Thornhill, played by one of my all-time favorites, Cary Grant. Thornhill is an ad executive in New York. While out at lunch one day, he is kidnapped by a group of men who have apparently mistaken him for “Mr.Kaplan”, a government agent that has been following them. The gang leader, Vandamm, played by the excellent James Mason, disbelieves Thornhill's protests and tries to kill him by staging an 'accident': getting him roaring drunk and putting him into a car headed down a winding road.
Thornhill survives, but no one believes his story of abduction – the criminal/spy gang have a good enough cover story to bluff the police. So then Thornhill tries to track down the real owner of the house where he was held, and finds that he works at the U.N. The two barely have time to meet before a member of the gang kills the diplomat with a thrown knife. Thornhill foolishly grabs the knife and implicates himself for the murder. Somehow he escapes, and goes on the run, trying to find Mr. Kaplan. He makes it on board a train headed to Chicago, and meets Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint. She helps Thornhill escape capture by the police for her own reasons. In Chicago, Thornhill is pointed towards a meeting with Kaplan in an isolated cornfield. Instead of a meeting, Thornhill gets attacked by a biplane and almost gets run over by a truck. Escaping mostly by luck, he returns to Chicago and confronts Vandamm again. When Vandamm threatens his life, Thornhill's only way to escape is to get himself arrested. Once in custody he is turned over to “The Professor”, a CIA-type director who explains the truth about Mr. Kaplan, Vandamm and Eve Kendall, all of whom are more (or less) than they seem.
      So why is this my favorite Hitchcock movie? Well, anything with Cary Grant is going to be worth my time. Here he's less the suave, urbane man-about-town that you get in some of his films, and more a man struggling to cope with a situation he is totally unprepared for. But he still gives great delivery of both dialogue and action. James Mason is also terrific in this film. He nails the slimy threatening bad guy, covered over with a veneer of sophistication. Eva Marie Saint trades witty banter with Grant and Mason and is a far more complex character than a 'damsel in distress', although she's in great danger throughout the film.
      While the action scenes show their age in both the special effects and in the amount of stuff exploding, any observant movie watcher should know that good effects and explosions can't prop up a weak story. Hitchcock gives us a strong story with strong characters to keep our interest. The tension in this film, and it is tense, is all about the unanswered questions about Mr. Kaplan, and the menacing presence of Vandamm. There are twists in the plot that keep you guessing, but you know in the end, the good guy is going to win, and get the girl.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Off the Cuff Movie review - Shiloh

     This week it was my son's turn to pick the movie for Sunday night, and we watched  Shiloh.  It is the story of a boy (Marty) and the dog (Shiloh) that he wants to have. At the start of the film, the dog belongs to a mean spirited neighbor who wants Shiloh for a hunting dog, but Shiloh runs away because of mistreatment. Marty befriends the dog but has to return him, over his vocal protests that its owner will again mistreat him. After Shiloh again runs away, Marty, concerned now for Shiloh's life, hides him and concocts a plan to buy him from the owner. When Marty's parents eventually find out, they insist that the dog be returned to its owner. Marty works to earn money and negotiates a deal with Shiloh's owner to acquire the dog, but at the last minute the owner goes back on the deal. Eventually, though, the owner grudgingly realizes that Marty wants the dog far worse than he does, and agrees to let Marty keep Shiloh.
     I am not normally fond of movies that star or prominently feature animals. It's not that I'm not fond of animals (I own two dogs, which I walk with every day) but animal films have never grabbed me. The character I liked the most in this film is Marty, because at the wise old age of eleven, he is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Shiloh safe. He puts in a week of serious manual labor for the dog's owner, as well as multiple other odd jobs to earn money to pay for Shiloh's care. This was one dedicated kid! 
     The film is set in West Virginia, so there's lots of pretty scenery, although the film doesn't dwell on that. The acting is good, solid but not spectacular. The dog in the title role is well trained, but is not on-screen that much of the film, and when on screen, often doesn't do much. Never the less, this was an enjoyable family film, or for anyone who is an animal lover.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Athanasius

From On the Incarnation, chapter 2

We saw in the last chapter that, because,death and corruption were gaining ever firmer hold on them, the human race was in the process of destruction. Man, who was created in God's image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word Himself, was, disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there as on escape. The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil, and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creature who He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was he to let corruption and death have their way with them? . . . It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Off-the-cuff movie review: IVANHOE

Last night our family watched the 1982 made-for-TV version of Sir Walter Scott's romantic adventure, Ivanhoe. The boys liked it because of the jousting and sword fighting, I liked that too, but also enjoyed the political and religious and social interactions between the varying parties. 
Ivanhoe is set in the time of King Richard the Lionheart, and Prince John's attempt to seize the throne is the backdrop for the story.  The main character, Wilfred of Ivanhoe (played by Anthony Andrews), is a young knight, disowned by his Saxon father for running off with Norman King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Ivanhoe returns and hopes to favorably influence his father by competing anonymously in a tournament, where he defeats and makes enemies of three Norman knights, who are loyal to Prince John. On the way to the tourney, he befriends Issac, the Jew of York, played by the excellent James Mason, who is almost chewing the scenery every time he's on screen. Isaac's daughter Rebecca, played by the lovely Olivia Hussey, gets it bad for Ivanhoe, even though they are kept apart by religion, and the fact that Ivanhoe only has eyes for Rowena, his father's ward. Rowena, played by Lysette Anthony, is also desired by one of the Norman knights that Ivanhoe gave a whuppin' to. 
Cedric, Ivanhoe's father, refuses to acknowledge his son, even when he is gravely wounded at the tourney, so if falls to Isaac and Rebecca to give Ivanhoe aid. They fall in with Cedric's party on the way home, and all of them are captured by the Norman three, and taken to the castle of Front-de-Bouef,played by John Rhys-Davies, who DOES chew the scenery every time he's on screen.
Enter the Black Knight, played by Julian Glover with heaps of presence and gravitas, who with the aid of Cedric's fool Womba, and the surprise arrival of Robin Hood and his band, attacks the castle and rescues (nearly) everyone. One of the knights, Brian Gilbert, played by Sam Neill, has gotten the hots for Rebecca, who unsurprisingly, wants nothing to do with him. So Brian flees the castle with Rebecca in tow, and runs off to the HQ of his religious order, probably meant to be the Knights Templar. The head of their order decides she's a witch, and orders Rebecca's execution. In the end, Ivanhoe saves the day, and the Black Knight's name and position are revealed. Everybody should be happy, except for Isaac and Rebecca, who depart in sadness for Spain, hoping to escape the religious bigotry and persecution they endured in England. Oh, and Rebecca doesn't want to stick around now that Ivanhoe and Rowena are married.
Apart from the scenery chewing, the acting all around was very good. Even the secondary characters were fully rounded people, not just stereotyped cutouts. The scenery, English countryside, was of course beautiful, and the costume people did not skimp at all on the robes, banners, armor, coats of arms, etc. The plot was multilayered, with large-scale politics blending with and interfering with such basic personal relations as father and son, lovers, friends and masters. The Fool Wamba, for example, very knowingly and very calmly puts himself in the way of certain death so that his master Cedric can escape, a fact which Cedric very gratefully promises will be remembered "as long as there is honor in the world".
Now, on the down side. There is one scene in which Front-de-Boeuf is threatening to torture Isaac, and this could be terrifying to younger kids. It doesn't happen, but we get right up to the edge before events intervene to stop it. The tourney scenes and the battle scenes are not bloody or gory (remember this was filmed for TV in 1982) but are very loud and I think more realistic than theatrical. Lots of knights and other fighting men do die. At one point Brian Gilbert is trying (not very well) to woo Rebecca, but she sees him as trying to assault her, and while the word rape is not used, nor is any violence done to her in the scene, the tension is very palpable, and may prove confusing and upsetting to younger kids. Especially when Rebecca threatens to throw herself out a high window rather than accept Brian's advances. Rebecca's treatment at the hands of 'Christian' knights was also deplorable, and prompted some discussion with our boys about whether these guys were acting in accordance with the Christian faith. I am proud to say they saw right through the knight's self-righteousness, and we had a good conversation about the importance of our actions matching our profession of faith.
Run time was two and a half hours, with convenient fade out-fade in breaks every fifteen minutes, where the commercials would have gone. Overall, this was a good, well acted movie with a mature plot that is still accessible to kids, and enjoyable on several levels by grown-ups.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wisdom from the Fathers - Saint Gregory of Nyssa

From St. Gregory of Nyssa:
"Do you ask why God was born among men? Here is the reason for God's presence among men. Our nature was sick and needed a doctor. Man had fallen and needed someone to raise him up. He who had ceased to participate in the good needed someone to bring him back to it. He who was shut in darkness needed the presence of life. The prisoner was looking for someone to ransom him, the captive for someone to take his part. He who was under the yoke of slavery was looking for someone to set him free. Were these small and unworthy reasons to make God to come down and visit human nature?" 

From a commentary on the Nicene Creed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roleplaying - a lifelong hobby

It occurred to me while I was composing this post that I've been playing RPGs for almost ¾ of my life. I was introduced to Traveller when I was 12 or 13, and I've been playing ever since. I've played other games as well, but I always come back to Traveller.
For those who don't know already, roleplaying games are a social activity in which a group of people collectively make up a story. Most of the group use a set of rules to create an alter-ego, an imaginary other self that exists in the imaginary world. One member of the group, let's call him the referee, takes the role of the imaginary world, telling the others what they see, hear, and know about the imaginary world that the other characters inhabit. The players are presented with a situation or problem to respond to, and they tell the referee how their characters respond. The referee, guided by the rules, and also by what makes a good story, decides what results from the characters actions, and they characters respond to this, and so on. The way to 'win' this kind of game is not to defeat the other players, or even the referee, but to achieve the goals the players set for their characters. These goals are limited only by the imagination of the group and the structure set up by the rules. There are rules sets for fantasy stories, science fiction stories, super hero stories, spy stories, explorers, crimefighters, criminals, monsters and aliens and that doesn't even cover it all.
The game I mentioned earlier, Traveller, is officially subtitled “Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future”, so it's obviously got a sci-fi orientation. The original rules were published in 1977, and since then the rules and the imaginary universe the rules depict have undergone several revisions. I have tried several of the rules versions, but I've always come back to the original rules, now known as “Classic Traveller”.
Classic Traveller (CT) is now known as an “old-school” rules system, which is fine by me. CT has its roots in the science fiction stories of the 50's, 60's and 70's; authors like Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, H. Beam Piper, Andre Norton, E.C. Tubb and Robert Heinlein have all influenced the Traveller rules and 'feel'. Almost all the stories I have written or at least begun to write in the last ten years have been influenced by Traveller and its literary antecedents. The story Snowball, which I posted last week, is a Traveller story.
As the game was published the same year that the original Star Wars movie debuted, and two years before Star Trek the Motion Picture, these two currents of popular science fiction did not have a great deal of influence on Traveller. Which to my mind is a good thing. Movies are obviously a visual means of telling a story, while RPGs are not visual. They are conversational and can move at a pace far slower than what is acceptable to a movie audience. So while the general population may be most familiar with those two film franchises, Traveller has gone in a different direction. The visual genre seems to gravitate to bright sparkly things and technobabble, because of their visual appeal, and the ability to keep the plot moving without detailed explanations of things. Traveller, and many other RPGs take the time in the background rules to explain things and lacking the visual element, have to use more verbal means to describe things. It is possible for players to spend an entire evening's game session just playing out a scene that might take two minutes of screen time. Usually, that means the two minutes is a scene of combat, since most game systems have their most detailed rules for how to punch, shoot or stab someone/thing else. Of course, conflict of this type is a mainstay of films, and to some extent books, but the classic authors I've read tend to gloss over combat scenes or just focus on one character's limited viewpoint of the battle.
Traveller also evokes the classic sci-fi authors in its approach to technology. Speculations from the 1960's about what computers would look like, or how space ships would work can seem quite laughable now, but the authors it seems to me minimized the issue by keeping technology in the background. Novels like Starship Troopers and Cosmic Computer had 'spacey' technology, and often described its effects rather than its principles of operation. But technology was secondary to the story, which was about people, normal, everyday people who faced the same kinds of struggles we face – interpersonal conflicts, political struggles, growing up, and the like. In other words, I read these stories because I related to the protagonists, not because I thought they had neat gadgets. So Traveller takes what I call the “low-tech approach to high-tech” - there's enough equipment described in the game rules that players can get stuff done, but not so much that a character can just whip out a gadget and instantly solve whatever problem they're facing.
One of the best parts of the Traveller game, for me, has been creating my own universe. The game provides rules for describing planets, their populations and governments; and leave the rest to the imagination of the players. So far my universe has over 150 planets, some part of large interstellar empires, some planets barely scraping by as independent 'nations'. Eventually I will figure out how to post an image of the map that I've developed for my universe so you can see what I mean. I have made use of my real-life study of political theory to model the various governments and other groups, and to decide how the various polities will interact with each other. It just makes more sense for the universe to be a dynamic rather than static place. Characters in this universe can have influence over significant international events.
Next time in this series, I will introduce some of the characters and locations in my Traveller universe (usually shortened to MTU).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why the library is cooler than you think

I suppose this one's been around for a while, but I still think it's hilarious. I've used this as my "cold opening" when talking to first year English classes. It gets their attention at least. Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie Review: White Christmas

I don't go to the movies often enough to try reviewing current movies, so I will instead write reviews of old movies that I enjoy. Here's the first one, that I wrote while I was deciding whether I should start a blog. 

This is my favorite Christmas movie. The plot follows the career of two army buddies, Bob (Bing Crosby) and Phil (Danny Kaye) who go into show business, and make good. At a club in Florida, they encounter a 'sister act' of the outstanding singer Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and outstanding dancer Judy (Vera-Ellen). The guys are attracted at once, but things are never simple in the movies. Through a series of comic circumstances the four find themselves at a ski lodge/inn in Vermont that is in financial trouble. This becomes important to the guys when they discover that the inn is run by their former Army commander General Waverly (Dean Jaeger). The guys cook up a big plan for a Big Show to help out their beloved General, leading to some great song-and-dance numbers and more comic interaction between the four leads as Bob courts the hesitant Betty and Judy courts the oblivious Phil. Eventually the Big Show starts interfering with the romance, and Betty splits for New York. Bob pursues her, hoping to patch things up while still trying to pull off the show. Of course it all works out in the end, the inn is saved, the show works, and the two couples end up happily together. We all knew that was coming, the fun is in watching the incredibly talented lead four show their stuff.
   The film's pace is brisk but not hurried, and the backdrops are pretty; you can tell the whole thing was shot on sound stages rather than live, but you watch this movie for the actors, not the scenery. The famous costumer Edith Head did the wardrobes, which adds in a subtle way to the visual appeal. There's a good crop of supporting actors in the film, most notably the hilarious Mary Wickes as the General's housekeeper, who moves the plot along, although not always intentionally. The dialogue is snappy without any modern sarcasm, and comic exchanges abound. When Bob calls his theatrical manager to bring the show to Vermont, he asks how much it will cost. The answer, unheard, provokes a shocked “Wow.” to which Phil asks “How much is Wow?”. Bob: “Somewhere between ouch! and boing!” Phil:“Wow!”
The film has very few low spots, one being the difficulty that arises between Bob & Betty that causes her to leave. It felt contrived, as most cases of misunderstandings do. Also, Betty is watching when Bob reveals that his Big Plan is not what she thought, but there is no reason for her to have been there. You could say that one or two of the dance numbers from the Big Show are just filler material, if it weren't for the fact that Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye are doing the dancing. Who cares if it doesn't move the plot when the dancing is this good?
Lots of singing, dancing, comedy, romance and a great big heartwarming ending make this a feel-good film for you & your sweetie or for the whole family. There's something for everyone in White Christmas. 

I'll be happy to take suggestions of movies to review.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011


A few months back, I dusted off a short story I had written years before, cleaned it up and the folks at Lantern Hollow Press were kind enough to publish it in their quarterly e-zine, Gallery of Worlds. 

  The Gentry-class space liner Lady Caroline accelerated smoothly on its way, departing the planet Winter, en route to the hyperspace limit from which it could safely jump the five light-years distance to the planet Dumas. The ship was small, as liners went in the space lanes of the Talaveran Empire. A long tube, rounded at either end, the Lady Caroline offered a selective passenger list and quiet comforts. Ships of her class were the choice of those who wanted to travel in comfort and not be disturbed. The Third Officer made his way along the narrow access corridor that ran the length of Lady Caroline's port side. It was a cramped passageway, but it was the quickest way to get to Engineering.  The basso hum of the fusion plant was louder here than in the passenger staterooms on the other side of the bulkhead but the officer preferred it to tiptoeing around staring at the ceiling to avoid upsetting the privacy-conscious passengers with unwanted eye contact.

He came to a section of the corridor where the ceiling was lower, as it passed underneath where one of the ship's lifeboats was housed.  As he ducked his head, the Third Officer noticed a large tool case against the exterior bulkhead.  One of the maintenance crew must have left it here, he thought as he picked it up so that he could give it to the engineer. The crewman would get a stiff reprimand from the demanding engineer.

The officer never made it to Engineering. Instead he vanished as that section of the ship's hull was ripped open in a ferocious explosion. The blast wave tore down the corridor and into the engineering compartment, spraying debris.  Lady Caroline shook from bow to stern as the explosion threw her into a wobbling roll to starboard. Her thrusters died as the debris peppered the machinery.  The ship's power plant failed, then flickered back on a few seconds later. The emergency backup power was a fraction slow and the internal artificial gravity vanished for that second; crew, passengers and everything not bolted down were thrown against the starboard bulkheads as the ship rolled around them. In that mad second everything and everyone tumbled about like loose change in a clothes drier. Even when the power returned, damage to wiring and hardware left parts of the ship with little or no internal gravity so people and furniture continued to be tossed about. Damage alarms wailed in every compartment as Lady Caroline tumbled helplessly through space.
You can read the rest of it at:  Lantern Hollow Press

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why "Deep in the Stacks"?

As I said, I'm a librarian. We often refer to our book shelves as 'stacks'. For a career that isn't rocket science, we have a fair amount of professional jargon.
I'm a librarian because I love books. I love to read, but more than that, I work in what I call a “great big candy store for the brain”. I can wander down any given aisle, reach out my hand without looking and pull a book from the shelf, and find therein something interesting to read about. I do not know how anyone could be a librarian without a hearty curiosity. I tell my boys now and again that “the world is full of interesting stuff – all you have to do is look around.”
Now I am an expert at very few things, maybe at nothing at all. But I can with confidence enter into a conversation with just about anyone on just about any topic because at some point in my career (over 10 years now) I've run across a book or journal article about it and I remember just enough to ask intelligent questions. That's the key to conversing when you know a lot less than the other person. Ask questions, and let them do the talking. Everyone likes to talk about the things they know, so show your interest and let them impress you. They'll appreciate it, and will have a favorable impression of you.
When I'm working at the Reference desk (the place where librarians sit and hope someone will come and ask them something so they can sound clever) I get questions on just about every topic there is. College libraries are like that. Every time I get a new question, I add that to my collection of experiences and things I know just a little about. That's one of the great things about being a librarian. You are always learning something you didn't know about. It doesn't matter that I know (next to) nothing about what the student is interested in because as I often say, “I don't have to know that, I just have to know where to find it”. I try to teach the students how to find information, my specialty, and they, without knowing it, teach me about their specialties. 
So in summary, being a librarian is the coolest job in the world. If you are a trivia loving voracious reader with a "what happens if I push this button" curiosity. Your experience may differ. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Deep in the Stacks

So what is this blog all about?
Well, me. The things I work with, stuff I read, games I play and so forth. To begin with, I work in a library. For a college. Which one doesn't matter, because I won't be talking about it that much, at least not in the specifics. If you know me personally, you know where I work. When I talk about the library, I'll talk about things that apply to libraries generally. .

I anticipate writing about a lot of things. I like movies, especially old ones, so I'm going to try my hand at writing movie reviews. I have two boys, so there's lots of potential material there. My family is involved with our local homeschooling co-op, where I teach junior high students the art of fencing. We're also very involved with our church as Orthodox Christians. I'm a fan of reading, naturally enough for a librarian, and will discuss books that I'm reading or have read. For many years I have played old-school pencil-and-paper roleplaying games, which has recently branched off into short story writing.