Sunday, February 26, 2012

So why read anymore?

Just read a wonderful article on the continued value and importance of reading. By Victor Davis Hanson, of the Hoover Institute. 

A sample:
"We don’t need more technocrats who fool us that their Ivy League law degrees are synonymous with wisdom. They can be, but now are more likely not much more than tickets that allow an Eric Holder or Timothy Geithner into the first-class seating. I am not calling for us to be academics or scholastics with our noses in books or our heads up our posteriors; but to match physicality and pragmatism with occasional abstraction and reflection from the voices of the past — just a little, now and then, to remind us that Twitter or Facebook speed up communication, but can slow down thought."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Justin Popovich

"To be Orthodox means to have the God-man Christ constantly in your soul, to live in Him, think in Him, feel in Him, act in Him. In other words, to be Orthodox means to be a Christ-bearer and a Spirit-bearer."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Games I Have Played

I've been thinking about all my years of gaming, and all the games I've played. Earlier I was reading the entry at about Tabletop Games, and looking over the list I was surprised both by how many I have played, and how many more there are out there that I haven't.

Games/systems I have owned:
Traveller, Classic & MegaTraveller versions
GURPS 3rd ed
The Lord of the Rings RPG 
Star Wars RPG (West End Games version)
Twilight: 2000 1st & 2nd edition
Top Secret & Top Secret: SI
Dungeons & Dragons Basic & 1st ed Advanced
Basic Fantasy RPG
Marvel Super Heroes
BattleTech, CityTech, AeroTech
Mechwarrior 1st ed 
James Bond RPG
Dragon Raid
Doctor Who RPG (FASA)

Games/systems I have played (but not owned)
Palladium RPG 
Traveller:2300 aka 2300 AD
D&D via Marvel Super Hero rules (no, I'm not kidding)
Gamma World
 . . . and probably several I've forgotten.

So for better or for worse, this is what I spent my adolescence doing. Do I regret having not spent more time hanging out at the mall or at somebody's house watching MTV?  Definitely not. These games were fun, and I even learned a few things from them. 
I have very little time for these now, and most of the ones I'd owned I have sold or given away. I've kept a few for nostalgia sake, and the possibility that some day I'll find a new game group to play with. Who can say?

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Maximos the Confessor

One can distinguish five reasons why God allows the devil to attack us: 

First, so that from attack and counter-attack we may become practiced in discerning good from evil; 
Second, so that our virtue may be maintained in the heat of the struggle and so be confirmed in an impregnable position; 
Third, so that as we advance in virtue we may avoid presumption and learn humility; 
Fourth, to inspire in us an unreserved hatred for evil through the experience we thus have of it; 
Fifth, and above all, that we may attain  inner freedom and remain convinced both of our own weakness, and of the strength of Him who has come to our aid.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nostalgia Success - Batman

     I've said before on this blog that I've been re-visiting my childhood by watching DVDs of old cartoons, and bringing my boys along for the ride. The last few Saturdays we have watched another 70s TV cartoon that I remembered but had not seen for a long time - "The New Adventures of Batman" from 1977.  
     I have heard around the Web that in the 1970s the television networks insisted that 'super hero' cartoons keep the violence to a minimum - Batman wasn't allowed to punch anyone!  Compared with today's superhero cartoons, this sounds like a recipe for boring. I was afraid when I put the DVD in that I'd be cringing in dismay. Well, it turns out to not be so. My boys are enjoying them thoroughly, and I'm having fun too. 
     The tone, both in the dialogue, the setups and the background music is far from the grim tone of the recent Batman films or the Batman character from the "Justice League Unlimited" series. The campy silliness of the 60's TV show shows through with the return of Adam West and Burt Ward as the voices of the Dynamic Duo. Most of the villains are more amusing than threatening. The good guys win, the animation both of characters and background is good, if not outstanding, and there's a good dose of humor. I understand that a lot of Batman fans absolutely hate "Bat-Mite", the miniature and self-appointed sidekick to the Duo. I can't say I like him, but he's certainly less annoying than Scrappy-Doo, or some other sidekicks I could name.
     Well, why am I sitting here at the computer instead of in the living room watching cartoons with my boys?  I think I've made my point clear. Holy Cartoon Saturday! 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Making Change

     While sitting in a meeting room recently, I read a quotation, the source of which is uncertain, which someone had written on the marker board. It read as follows:

"The only thing we can create by resiting change is sorrow" 
I'm sorry, but I disagree. 

     I know that there are lots of well intentioned people out there, working every day to change the world. Students at my school are often encouraged to be world changers. But the above quote seems to me to take as a foundational assumption that change equals good. This is simply not so. Every day we experience change that is not good. Aging is change; find anyone in this day & age who thinks getting old is good. I remember from my high school & college science classes that entropy, the relentless movement (read: change) from order to disorder, is a fact of the physical universe. Also not good. Let us not forget the most significant change we will all one day experience: death. As an Orthodox Christian, the way I see physical death is quite different from that of the wider culture - death is a temporary separation, not a permanent end. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Christ by His death overcame and destroyed Death and opened for us the gates of everlasting life. Forgive my digression. Where was I?
     Oh yes, change. Not only do I not agree with the unstated assumption that change is always good, I disagree with the specific statement quoted above. I can name some very important and very good things we create by resisting change: Stability. Tradition. Order.
     Foster children experience change every time they get placed with a new family, but what they typically want is to find a family with which to stay; in short, they seek stability. In much of modern American Christendom, there is an expectation of novelty, creativity, doing something "new and exciting" that is rightly criticized for putting appearance over substance. Tradition is taking what is known to be true and preserving it as a precious gift for the next generation. Since my conversion to Orthodoxy six years ago, I have celebrated the same Liturgy hundreds of times and it is not at all boring or old, it is timeless because it is true. Who would care to come home and find that all of ones belongings have been re-arranged and put into different drawers, dressers or rooms?  Or perhaps just thrown into one big pile on the living room floor? Order makes life simpler by establishing what goes where. As a librarian, Order is my daily work. We might have the book you want, but without order, we couldn't find it in the stacks. 
     So, not all change is good, but of course not all change is bad. The originator of the quote that set off this musing probably was intending for whatever change was proposed to do good and improve things. Let us use some discernment, and take each potential change on its own merits instead of making sweeping statements. 


American History - A Quote

     One of the great things about the library, as I have said many times, is that you never know what new and interesting stuff you're going to find. Today, while looking at a book on Revolutionary War weapons for my Military History Class, I came upon the following quote from a British officer, Major George Hanger:

"Colonel, now General Tarleton, and myself were standing a few yards out of a wood, observing the situation of a part of the enemy which intended to attack.  . . . A rifleman, observing two officers laid himself down [by a mill run] to take a good shot at a long distance.  Now observe how well this fellow shot. It was the month of August, and not a breath of wind was stirring. Colonel Tarleton's horse and mine were not anything like two feet apart; for we were in close consultation  . . . a rifle ball passed between him and me [and] I directly said to my friend 'I think we had better move, or we shall have two or three of these gentlemen shortly amusing themselves at our expense'. The words were hardly out of my mouth when the bugle-horn man behind me said 'Sir, my horse is shot.' Now speaking of this rifleman's shooting, nothing could be better . . . I have passed several times over this ground and ever observed it with the greatest attention, and I can positively assert that the distance he fired from at us was full 400 yards."

     I don't know which part of this impresses me more, the fact that an unknown American militiaman with (probably) a Kentucky rifle was able to hit a target at 400 yards - a feat which would have been near impossible with the modern M-16 I trained with; or the coolness of the British Major who had a rifle bullet pass within a foot of him, and his only reaction is to casually remark that they should probably move. Remarkable.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gaming Report A House Divided

     I've actually two games to report on this time. Earlier this week my good friend Dallas came over for dinner and afterwards we spread A House Divided on the kitchen table. We played and shared historical facts about the War Between the States for several hours but were not able to finish. So we recorded the position of all troops on the board and packed it up. I am glad to report that I've learned from past battles, and made it past the game turn in which Dan won his stunning victory. 
     Today I continued with my game with my son. We're half way through 1864 and it is still an even match, but I think that I barely have the upper hand. I've posted a few new pictures to illustrate what I'm talking about. I've kept the western front very lively, and St Louis has changed hands several times in the last two years of game time. Currently I have three units of Crack infantry (the best unit available) entrenched in Quincy, west of St. Louis but close enough to strike. In response, my son has piled an enormous force up in the Ohio Valley & Indiana, intending to force me out. (See photo 2) This suits me just fine. As half of the Union army is distracted with the St. Louis campaign, there have been very few forays into the Confederate states, and the ones that have happened have been blunted or turned back. Meanwhile, over on the East Coast, the Army of the Potomac took the plunge and attacked Richmond. Now, the loss of Richmond would be a serious but not fatal blow to the Confederacy. But the attack was thrown back as the mix of Militia and Veteran Union forces had to contend with the entrenchments and the presence of Crack defenders. A timely reinforcement from Petersburg added to the Union woes. The Army of the Potomac, having been drubbed and smarting, headed back to Washington.There we stopped for today.
     After this game is finished, my son and I will have a lot to talk about. He allowed himself to get distracted from what was really important in the West (taking and holding Confederate cities) and has effectively taken out of play probably a dozen units trying to get at my three. In the East, he developed a plan for conducting a naval invasion of the deep South, but that plan was contingent upon rolling a six for his allotted marches at the start of his turn. After a 'year' of not rolling sixes, he impetuously turned the forces on the shore towards Richmond, with the results I described. Here, while his plan was solid, and was holding to the objective of capturing Confederate cities, he was I think too focused on that goal and could not wait, or adapt. His lack of focus in the West was probably directly related to his stalled plan in the East.  It was frustration not planning that led to the Battle of Richmond. Whether in war or in anything else, making a decision to act out of frustration, anger or impatience will usually lead to trouble. 
     In my work, I often find myself distracted and frustrated by several projects all competing for my attention. Often I find that I stall out fretting over which project should come first. As a result, after a period of spinning my wheels I pick one at random and, from the desire to 'get something done' I dive into it without taking the time I should to plan. So far I haven't caused any disasters (it's not like I work with explosives in a library) but I'm sure I've caused myself extra work that I could have avoided with proper planning. Alternately, proper planning could have given better quality work. So I shall talk with my son, and at the same time try to take my own advice about planning and working towards a goal.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wisdom from the Fathers - Humility

St Peter of Damascus assures us that 'nothing is better than to realize one's weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than not to be aware of them'. St Maximos the Confessor teaches ' the foundation of every virtue is the realization of human weakness. St John Chrysostom teaches ' He alone knows himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being nothing'.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Horatius at the Bridge

No commentary this time, just an excerpt from the poem itself. Great works don't need my rambling. 
This poem can be found in its entirety at: Project Gutenberg

The famous part:

Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods,

And for the tender mother who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses his baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus, that wrought the deed of shame?

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may!
I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three:
Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?'

Then out spake Spurius Lartius; a Ramnian proud was he:
"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee."
And out spake strong Herminius; of Titian blood was he:
"I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee."

"Horatius," quoth the Consul, "as thou sayest, so let it be."
And straight against that great array forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome's quarrel spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life, in the brave days of old.

To summarize (spoiler alert!) the Dauntless Three in fact hold the bridge, keeping the invaders at bay until the bridge is felled, then retreating safely across the Tiber, to the cheers of even the hordes of Lars Porcina for their unparalleled act of gallantry.


     I have children. Every parent has heard from their children at some point the lament "I'm bored".  When I hear it, which is I am glad to say not often, I think 'What do you mean?  How can you possibly be bored when you are surrounded by toys, books, games, the backyard, bicycles, etc.?'  But in my kid's defense, I think I do understand what their problem is. It seems to me that the heart of the matter is the multiplicity of choices. 
Merriam-Webster defines boredom as "the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest." Could it be that when we are bored it is because we are drawn in too many directions and lack the wherewithal to focus our attention on any one of them? 
     I learned an interesting term from reading about the Desert Fathers, the monks of the 4th/5th centuries who retreated into the desert to focus their attention on God. The term is 'Acedia', which is from the Greek and is sometimes translated as boredom. Acedia is the inability to be in the moment. The one who suffers from acedia is physically one place and mentally another. If this can happen to a monk sitting alone on a deserted hillside, is it any surprise that it happens to us in our busy crowded lives?  It should be surprising that it doesn't happen more often.
     More is not always better, sometimes it's just . . . more. A corollary to Murphy's Law state that "90 % of everything is crud." I have yet to see any proof that Murphy was wrong about that one. Most of the choices that crowd around us and demand our fractured attention are, quite simply, not worth it. Is that TV show really that meaningful?  Is there some great political or moral consequence of the outcome of that sporting event?  What does it really matter what this or that celebrity said or did yesterday? [Don't get me started on celebrities - people who are famous for being well-known, as it has been said]. Will you be a better person for having played Angry Birds for an hour? Does your life depend on reading someone's Twitter post or Facebook page, or answering/sending one more text message?  [Or for that matter, reading this blog?]
     May I suggest that you try an experiment - see how long you can sit in one place, quietly, and without any visual or audio media that you have the power to shut off. Just concentrate on being aware of where you are. Then ask yourself why you could only sit still for that long.
       I am not suggesting that this is a fast-track to inner peace. It's just an idea about becoming more aware of your own behavior and trying to understand why you act the way you do.