Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sturm, meet Drang

All that work on the plum puddings has left me tired, and in need of relaxation. So in keeping with the generally Victorian atmosphere of my Christmas pudding odyssey, I turned to my favorite lady novelist, the Swan of Newark, and I was in luck, because last week saw the publication of a new 3-volume novel.

Volume I commences with a fetching frontispiece portrait of the Anti-Hero. Here he is, the Reverend Snidely Whiplash (played by Christopher Cantrell):

Just look at him. Have you ever seen such a sinister character? Just the sort of villain to besmirch a fair damsel's reputation! Oh, Basil Rathbone, why did you leave us before the greatest movie adaptation of all came along?

The authoress graces us with a preface:
Sisters and Brothers,

I don't normally do this
So this is bound to be good.
I am quite used to being vilified by the folks in pews on the Far Right of the Church. There are several Conservative Weblogs who say such hateful things about me and the people I love that normally, I don't even bother to read them.

Not to worry, I won't even send you there (but you know who you are).
Because it's not the sort of literature you'd want your wife or servants to read.
Trash. The lot of it. Not worth a moment's consideration by anyone.
Least of all me.
Besides, most of it is the same handful of people who are so hurt and angry they can only spew their venom back and forth at each other.
Not like me and my friends at The Episcopal Majority and The Consultation Steering Committeeand Wake Up. We're so diverse, you can hardly find two of us in one place at the same time.
I understand the feeling. I was once in that same emotional space, but from the other end of the spectrum. And then, I rediscovered Jesus and it changed my life.

But that's another story for another day.
Because Heaven knows, you're not interested in hearing about MY flaws!
What's fascinating is that these folk claim to have found Jesus AND THEN they got ugly and mean-spirited and bigoted.

There are just some mysteries to a personal profession of faith I'll just never quite understand.
It makes me wonder if they're really Christians at all. I mean, just look how different they are from me.
You know, even the Weblog of Kendall Harmon, the Theologian of the neo-Puritan, orthodox evangelical movement, has "Web Elves" who censure those who cross the boundaries of good taste and decency...Not so with all the brethren.
And on that sustained, ominous organ chord, the novel begins:

Take a look at APOSTOLICITY

This is, at the very least, conduct most unbecoming a Christian, much less one who is ordained in a position of leadership.

You know, one of those Conservative Weblogs I don't read at all, and neither should you.

You'll instantly recognize the face of our Presiding Bishop in what has been described to me by the Weblog Author as "visual satire."

"'Visual satire'! 'Visual satire', you dare to call it! Know you not that a woman's fragile reputation is at stake? How will she fare if this scurrilous report should be bruited about? Why, her name shall be the sport of every wastrel in the county!"
All my lamentings and pleadings were to no avail; the stony-hearted scoundrel tossed back his cope, a sardonic smile curling his thin lips.
One of his fans says she thinks this is not only "hilarious," it is yet one more piece of evidence that "reasserters" (that's "orthodox-talk" for liberal/progressives) have no sense of humor.

(Gee, I seem to remember that claim in the early days of the feminist movement.
It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now! Why, Margaret Sanger and I went to school together, and you should have seen her do The Cups And Balls using three diaphragms and a dried pea - boy, did we laugh!
You know,I think what really angers me most is that these folks have absolutely no originality or creativity. They really think they have ORIGINAL THOUGHTS.
They're not deep thinkers, like me.
I'm absolutely aghast. No matter where you are on the theological spectrum,I trust you will be as well.
Thank goodness I just got my bottle of smelling salts refilled and the springs on the fainting-couch replaced.
You will note that I have tried to communicate my distress to The Weblog owner. He has responded that he is of the opinion that I need to "lighten up."
Yes, it's easy for him to say! He's a man - what would he know of vapours and tingles, of palpitations and flutterings, of the sort of general collapse and enervation that assails a virtuous woman when confronted by this sort of...of BEASTLINESS?
I understand his anger and the outrage. I do. I'm not a fan of censure. However, there have to be healthier, more appropriate ways to publicly express one's emotions - especially for one who is entrusted as an ordained leader in the church...
I mean, there are videos and magazines and things like that, aren't there? Not that I'd know, but I've heard them talking when I pass by the tavern.
Indeed, I think his bishop, if he isn't already, ought to be made aware of the contents of this Weblog.
Indeed, indeed. I'd write myself, except that I'm so busy signing letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury these days. But there are always other people who are willing to take on this sort of work. Anyway, I have the bishop's address and phone number, for anyone who needs it.
It's an embarassment to the church - not to mention placing the authors of the comments and this Weblog in jeopardy of cannoical charges of "conduct unbecoming.
Yes, those people making comments should watch their step, too. We haven't quite gotten around to chaining up the laity yet, but it's only a matter of time. And believe me, the list is getting longer every day.
Perhaps the most loving thing anyone can do is to call this brother into account.
For his own good, of course.

Volume II begins with a stunning piece of news:
I am informed by the author of the Weblog APOSTOLICITY that the offending pictures (and all of the comments) have been removed.
That threat of a thrashing by the Squire had the requisite effect.
It's still not funny. It remains deeply offensive. As do the comments about rape, which he left up because, even though he admits they are "over the top," he didn't write them. Indeed, they were written, he claims, by a member of the Via Media Group in his diocese.
With eyes flashing defiance, I haughtily spurned the cur as he grovelled before me.
"Back, villain!" I cried. "The hand that dared to defame that purest of women shall never touch mine! A lifetime's penance would not suffice to expunge thy crime! Go!"
See? This is how conversation is supposed to go. All in good order and decency. Both sides making every attempt to meet somewhere in the middle...
Exactly. I demand something, and you give it to me. Easy, right?
It's really hard to find common ground when your beginning point of discussion is to the right of Atilla the Hun and you are hell bent on the destruction of The Episcopal Church you claim to love.
But then, hyperbole has never been my strong suit.
Maybe if we hold each other accountable when we cross the line, we'll have a better chance of finding our way back to the middle again.

It takes work and vigilance and patience, but, I think it's worth the effort.

Especially patience. Why, I had to wait a whole two hours to get what I wanted. And since "the middle" is wherever I am, surrendering will automatically get us there. So you see how things should work from now on.

Volume III provides the heartwarming conclusion that every Victorian novel needs.

Thank you, Christopher.

Thank you for pulling the picutres and the story off your Weblog.

Thank you for admitting you were wrong.

Thank you for apologizing.

With trembling hands, he reached out for the goodness that had escaped him in life, and which his benighted sinfulness had attempted to besmirch.
"Forgive me," he croaked. "Now I see I were wrong. Truly, it is an angel's face which leans above me! I wish to make amends..."
An unearthly light played about his features as he sank back upon the ground and expired. We bowed our heads at the Maker's stern yet merciful judgment upon the repentant sinner at our feet.

Ah, some people may laugh at these old melodramas, but I find they're the very thing for a cold wet day in November.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Plum Puddings V

Finished! The smallest one came out a little lopsided - I think it tipped a little in the pot, so it stands at an angle. We'll probably keep that one for ourselves. The others look great, though - dark brown, almost black, and they appear moist yet solid.

Oh, I discovered a funny thing. Yesterday was what the English call "Stir-Up Sunday", that last Sunday before Advent. The name comes from the Collect for the Day in the 1549 Prayer Book:
Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Anyway, it is traditional on or around this day to make Christmas puddings, so I inadvertently maintained an old tradition by making mine today.

Plum Puddings IV

Final steps.

Into the pudding basins:

And into the pot they go:

Now, they will boil for about 6 hours, and around suppertime tonight, I'll take them out and we'll see how they look.

Plum Puddings III

Raisins are all chopped, all the candied fruit is measured out, and we are ready to assemble the puddings.

The fruit goes into the dry mixture of flour, soda and spices. The other bowl contains suet, eggs, red currant jelly (yes, the very same one I made at the beginning of the summer!) nuts, brown sugar, breadcrumbs and brandy.

Finally, it's all mixed together:

Plum Puddings II

This is the tiresome part. The recipe calls for 1.5 cups of currants, soaked and plumped, and 1.5 cups of raisins, soaked and then chopped. I was a little short on currants, so I added more raisins, but now I have to cut up even more of them. I guess it's to keep everything the same size for cooking, but it takes forever. By the way, the currants are sitting in my new collapsible silicon strainer. I am replacing everything I possibly can in my kitchen with silicon, and this is fantastic, because it just flattens down like one of those joke tophats that collapses flat. The measuring cups are made the same way, and I wish I had a second set of them, because they wash up so easily and take so little space.

Plum Puddings I

Today I will be making plum puddings. I already made a couple last week (first time ever!) and I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to make some more today. Emma's home sick, so I won't be going out to take her to school, so I figured I might as well get in some serious cooking today. Unfortunately, I can't eat these things, because they're too rich for me, but I can give them for Christmas presents. And the church will be having a bakesale in a few weeks; I let them down last year, as I'd promised to make some pies for the sale, then ended up in Emergency with pneumonia the very day of the sale. So this time I'll be prepared in advance, and provide a few plum puddings.

Since last week's effort was a success, I thought I'd photograph the process today and put it on the blog, for anyone else who may want to give it a try. As pictures take a lot of space, and I'm not that handy at editing and moving them around, I'll do this in a sequence of postings, otherwise this will stretch on forever.

First, I must introduce to you the Übermaschine:

I got this Vita-Mixer Maxi-4000 at an auction a few months ago for the ridiculously low price of $26.00. I haven't even started trying out all the things it can do, but there are some things it does REALLY well. One of them is making fresh breadcrumbs. As you can see from the following photos, you take a couple pieces of bread (my own homemade wholewheat/poppyseed loaf), wad them into a ball, put them into the machine, flick the switch a few times, and behold!

I've never seen anything like it. Beside the crumbs are the chopped walnuts it did, too.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Betty Comden, R.I.P.

One of the greatest Broadway and Hollywood lyricists in the world died on Thanksgiving Day - Betty Comden. She and her partner Adolph Green, were my heroes. Singing and dancing are great, but they were writers, and that was more glamorous to me than any kind of performing could ever be. I loved 'Singin' In The Rain', but I loved even more 'The Bandwagon', which also had two lead characters based on them - Lily and Lester Martin. They weren't married, but 'The Bandwagon' turned them into a husband-and-wife writing partnership, because they figured the public wouldn't really believe in two people who worked that well and closely together who weren't also married.

Mark Steyn was lucky enough to have met them both, and wrote this article about 'Singin' In The Rain'. I remember seeing them both being interviewed by Andre Previn. It must have been in the '70s, for 'Previn and the Pittsburgh'; they seemed incredibly old to me then, but now I realize they could only have been in their 50s. I don't know just where the Pittsburgh Symphony was for that episode, because I only remember the 3 of them with a piano. At one point Previn asked them about a song called "Mabel" that he'd heard they'd written, but had never been able to find. They laughed, and said it was a sort of a joke song, and then they both started singing very fast some totally ridiculous nonsense, full of accompanying musical sound effects. "Diddle-diddle-dum! Mabel, I love you! Diddle-diddle-dee!" Previn turned to the piano, and tried to follow them, but they were going so fast, he couldn't catch up and finally just broke down laughing as they rattled away. It was like trying to catch Chinese firecrackers. They were the best.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn has written a retrospective on both Comden and Green here, and it's very good.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hitler's home movies

Interesting article in 'The Telegraph' yesterday, about the movies of Hitler "at home", made by Eva Braun. These are all silent, but now there is new computer technology that can lipread at any angle, and so it's now possible to figure out what the people in the movies were saying to each other.

This is most interesting to me, because I'm a great fan of silent movies, and I'd love to see this new technology applied to silent films, so we can learn what the actors were actually saying. Intertitles can never give the whole story, you tend to get just the essentials. Plus, there are all those stories about what was REALLY going on when there was no sound recording equipment to catch what the actors were saying. I've heard that there was a lot of filthy language being said, while the action was all of love and romance - that scene in 'Singin' in the Rain' where Don Lockwood and Lena Lamont insult each other while acting out a passionate love scene isn't all fiction.

This wasn't the case with Fritz Lang's films, though. He wouldn't let anyone improvise anything, not a word or a movement. That stereotype of the movie director with the monocle and the jodhpurs, barking orders through a megaphone? Lang INVENTED that character - he was an absolute dictator and a thoroughgoing bastard. I can lipread a bit, and where there are dialogue cards, I can see that the actors are saying the exact same words. But a lot of stuff isn't titled, so it would be fun to know what else the characters were saying. I suspect it was all in character and scripted - Lang would never let anyone just make stuff up.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I mean REAL housekeeping, not the usual blog-redecoration kind. We've decided to move all our books, and the bookcases, down to the basement. When we first moved here, we envisioned a cozy den with book-lined walls, fireplace, sliding glass patio windows looking out on the garden...oh, and a TV, stuck in the corner. In the intervening four years, the kids have made the TV the absolute centerpiece of the room (if not the house), and we finally decided that our books were just forlornly sitting on the shelves, ignored, while the TV went on and the kids jumped around to the music. Plus, James occasionally will take them out and use them to build towers or tunnels for his trains, so they were getting rather battered.

I've been moving armloads of books down all week, and today I finished. However, I realized (too late) that I'd moved MY books first, and Dean's last, and since they are all presently stacked on a table in the basement, this means that his are all in front and on top of mine, so that mine are completely inaccessible (and he never reads his books, anyway)! So I guess now we really will HAVE to move those bookcases down the stairs, because I'll never see another book until we do.

The bookcases aren't very good - just typical pressboard bookcases from The Bay, nearly 20 years old, and the one on the end is falling apart because the weight of the books pressing out on the free side caused the shelves to come unattached. I think I can fix it; we really have no choice, because new bookcases would be very expensive (and no better built). The only alternative is to learn how to build wood bookcases myself, but that's a bit of a longterm strategy, and we need something right now.

Despite the work, it's been fun at times to move the books. I was able to reunite old friends - my Jane Austen novels and criticism had gotten scattered about into 3 different bookshelves. And I found books I'd forgotten I had - I'm re-reading my Joan Aiken novels, and after going through The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea, I was delighted to find that I DID have a copy of Night Birds on Nantucket, so I'll tackle that one soon. If you want a good, spunky heroine, forget about Lyra Bevilaqua - Dido Twite is MUCH better, and she doesn't need to use a Magic 8-Ball to get out of trouble, either.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The super-duper doubleplus top secret weapon

Here it is. Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin is being OUTED!!!! When shall we hear the famous words, "I have here A LIST..."

I have to admit, this "outing" business among homosexuals has always baffled me. I can't think of any other supposed victim group who seeks revenge on its enemies by flaunting its own repulsiveness. Did Jews in Nazi Germany denounce other Jews for...being Jews? Did Christians in Communist Russia go to the authorities and say, "You know that Ivan Boronsky two blocks away? Well, he's just a dirty Christian, like me!" The AACP can be pretty scathing about blacks who refuse to stay on the plantation, but even THEY don't resort to saying, "Oh, that Thomas Sowell! Who can believe anything he says? He's just lousy BLACK MAN!"

It's a sign of the desperate viciousness among the leftists in ECUSA that they're trying this gambit. Frankly, I don't think it's going to work. Americans really do tend to be more annoyingly broadminded than rigid ideologues give them credit for, and this probably isn't really news, anyway. (Well, it was to me, but then, I'm not a clerical groupie, so I don't follow these things all that closely.) One thing I've noticed about Episcopalians - maybe it's Americans in general - a thing is just really not considered that bad unless it involves children or money (especially money). And so unless they can discover some teenage boyfriend on the payroll, I don't think anyone is going to do much but shake their head and go on just as before.

UPDATE: According to Rob Eaton, a priest in Bishop Schofield's diocese, the whole thing is a lie that started on the HoB/D listserve. I think the Bishop might have a good legal case for libel and defamation.

The interesting thing to me is that the Left is recklessly using these scorched-earth tactics. "Hardball" would be too mild a term. These are political "dirty tricks", "October Surprise" tactics, and nobody on that side seems even faintly embarrassed about it. I really don't know what the limits are for these people; what would make them blanch? Planting evidence? Watergate-style burglary? Who knows anymore?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

This day in history

Well, not THIS day, but my birthday. Kasia at The Clam Rampant tagged me for a Wikipedia quest - the first time I've ever done this. So, this is what I turned up for my birthday date:


1) 1572 - The wedding in Paris of Henry of Navarre (Henri IV) and Marguerite de Valois. This was meant to defuse the whole Catholic-Protestant thing that was simmering in France, but it didn't last too long - the defusing, that is. The St. Bartholomew Day massacre of Huguenots occurred 6 days later. Actually, the marriage didn't last too long, either; they were divorced in 1599
2) 1877 - Asaph Hall discovers Martian moon Phobos - I just like the name
3) 1938 - President Roosevelt opens the Thousand Island Bridge, linking Canada with upper New York State - earning the thanks of many generations of Canadian shoppers who cross to the U.S. for cheap smokes, gas and groceries.


1) 1587 - Virginia Dare, first English child born in North America. Unfortuntely, she died the next year.
2) 1830 - Emperor Franz Josef of Austria - I'm reading 'The Last Days of Imperial Vienna' right now


I was interested to discover that 3 popes died on this day, but as I'm restricted to just one death, I'll choose...

1227 - Genghis Khan


Not much to choose from. This is the day of Saint Helena of Constantinople in the Roman calendar.

Here are the rules:

1) Go to Wikipedia
2) In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3) List three events that happened on your birthday
4) List two important birthdays and one death
5) One holiday or observance (if any)

And now I, in turn, nominate Nasty, Brutish and Short to give it a go.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Church of the Sterile Cuckoo

Do you know what they say about cuckoos? They'll sneak into another bird's nest and lay their eggs among the nest-owner's eggs, then depart. Not only does the other bird have to hatch the alien eggs, the cuckoo egg typically hatches before the other eggs, and the cuckoo chick will evict the parent bird's true offspring. The leftists who have taken over TEC are like the cuckoo - instead of building their own church, they laid their eggs in a church that already existed, then displaced the original owners.

But when I read this interview of Mrs. Schori in the New York Times today, I realized that the degeneration is even further advanced than I'd realized. These cuckoos can't even be bothered producing their own eggs to replace those they've pushed out.

The thing about cuckoos, you see, is that they're parasites. That's even what they're called in Wikipedia - "brood parasites". Not all parasites are bad; some carry out useful functions of using up and disposing of waste material. But no matter how benign a parasite might be, it is essential that their numbers be kept small. Too many parasites will overwhelm and kill the host.

It is not surprising that a church that champions unnatural barrenness should be a magnet for selfish hedonists of all kinds. Every day we see in the sickness of TEC the signs of a host in the process of being overwhelmed and killed by its parasites. And parasites that it has eagerly invited in and welcomed.

God has a terrible reward in store for this self-infatuated church. It's interesting that the Presiding Cuckoo speaks of Genesis and the "meaning" behind the creation story, without even realizing how completely it condemns her and her church. For the first words God ever addressed directly to His creation were "Be fruitful and increase in number," and He said it TWICE - to the first living creatures, and then to Man. A people too proud and selfish to reproduce will not only expire from natural causes, they will earn the anger of God for their deliberate disobedience and sabotage of His will.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Emma the orange

It's a colourful time at our house - yesterday James was green, and today Emma got her orange belt in karate. We're all very proud, and I told Dean that next time he really should come to see her grade, because she stayed very cool and did an excellent job. Here are two before and after photos:

It's not easy being green James

James decided that he wanted to dress up as the Grinch. So here he is in a Santa hat and red parka. Of course, one thing more was needed, so he sprayed himself all over with green food colouring. It washes off, but it has an oil base because it's in aerosol form, so he went to school the next day looking a little green around the gills (I couldn't get it out of his ear, and he was VERY outraged that I would even try).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Braxton's Lear - Emotional mouth-breathing

It isn't only the Episcopal Church which has opted for emotional wallowing as the ideal method of expressing itself. This article, by a Catholic priest, could give Purple Haze a run for her money any day. It's hard to tell where the quote from Nouwen leaves off and Rolheiser begins, though to be fair, Nouwen at least confined his emotional breakdowns to his private correspondence. Rolheiser can't wait to tell us all about his visceral needs and wants, until you want to tell him to just get a room somewhere.

Everyone has those times when they think "Is this all there is? I don't WANT to be married/single/a mother/a father etc. etc. YOUR GRIPE HERE." I don't consider THAT a "dark night of the soul", but I can see why Rolheiser does. It's a way of saying "I need/I want/I'm not fulfilled, therefore I'm just the same as St. John of the Cross!" I guess the frisson from this article is supposed to come from the fact that it's a priest writing, not a 12-year old girl. Blubbering because there's nobody to tell him he's pretty is not worthy of any man, let alone one who assumes the title of "Father".

The article ends with a flourish that would make Purple Haze herself sick with envy:
But to come to this, we have to learn a new way of breathing emotionally. The excruciating pain we feel sometimes when precisely we want nothing more in the world than a physical and emotional touch that we can't have is, in essence, a weaning, the pain of the child who has to cry herself to sleep because her mother will no longer nurse her, but is forcing her instead to learn a new way of taking in sustenance.

Our prayers don't seem to be heard because God, like a good mother, knows that giving a certain emotional breast back to the child only delays the inevitable. Maturity lies in learning how to breathe emotionally in a new way.

An artist. I'm sure there isn't a dry...eye in the house.

(thanks to Catholic World News


The song remains the same

ABC News online posted a news article today that's a beautiful illustration of the press's agenda-pushing yet ignorant approach to the Catholic Church. The title is sensational: Pope to Hold Summit on Married Priests. Wow! A summit! Well, this sure is dramatic news - let's read on, shall we?
Pope Benedict XVI has called a meeting Thursday with top Vatican officials to discuss lifting the celibacy requirement for priests seeking to marry or who have already married.
Uh, wait a minute. Top Vatican officials? Aren't these the guys who work for the Pope? I mean, they're all in the Vatican together, right? When President Bush holds a cabinet meeting, the press doesn't usually call it a "summit". Must have been a mistake - slip of the pen by the headline-writer. But no! There it is again!
Benedict called the summit to examine the implications of the "disobedience" of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the Zambian prelate excommunicated in September for installing four married American men as bishops, the Vatican said Monday.
When I think of the Pope calling a summit, I think of something that would, at the very least, be attended by the heads of the different branches of the Catholic Church. And probably the Orthodox patriarch, too - and to discuss something of vital importance, like reuniting the ancient churches of Christendom. Not a staff meeting to discuss disciplining a randy renegade.

In the next paragraph, we finally get a statement from the people doing the meeting:
The Vatican stressed the meeting would not open a general discussion of the celibacy requirement but would only examine requests for dispensation made by priests wishing to marry and requests for readmission made by clergy who had married in recent years.
So what the heck was the point of that flamboyant title, then? And notice how there's no gloss given for the very Catholic word "dispensation" - I wouldn't think the average reader of ABC News would automatically know what that meant. And after the sensational headline, plus the rather vague way it's described: "requests for dispensation made by priests wishing to marry", it leaves the impression that they are debating giving out permits for priests to take a wife. I think a dispensation is a release from previously-taken vows that a man is now breaking; more like an annulment. I don't know if this is the same thing as "laicization", but the end result is that the man seeking to marry stops being a priest, not that he can be allowed to take on two conflicting vows at the same time.

Nor is this any special event - priests have been applying for and acquiring dispensations for all sorts of reasons; the writer is describing a meeting to discuss a routine matter in the Vatican. What makes it a bit special is the involvement of the ridiculous Archbishop Milingo (note the scare quotes around "disobedience" in the first paragraph). A prelate going nuts does require higher-up attention, so this is why the Pope is involved. But the writer keeps trying to drag the story back to the phantom issue of priestly celibacy, although the Vatican won't cooperate.

The mouse wars

I finally cracked, and bought a humane mousetrap. I couldn't stand setting those old-fashioned traditional snap traps, and having to deal with a corpse in the morning. I only caught 4 mice that way - well, one escaped minus his tail, as I already described, but I still CAUGHT him. I just didn't want to do it anymore. So we now have a Ketch-all trap, which I know works very well, because we had one once, long ago, when we lived downtown. I set it up last night, and we caught 3 mice. BUT...one got his TAIL jammed in the mechanism! We must have the stupidest mice in the world; how could 2 of them manage to get into tail trouble? I thought we'd caught 2 live ones and a dead one, but it turned out the third one was just passed out. When we took them down to the river to release them, I noticed the protruding tail, which started to thrash, and then I had to figure out how to get the silly thing out of the trap. I finally got a stick and advanced the spring mechanism by another turn, and it somehow slipped out, and dropped out onto the ground. The other 2 sprang away, but I thought this one was dead, until Emma, with great excitement, noticed it twitching. So maybe it will recover from the shock and survive - I just want them out of my house, what they do after that is their business. We'll set the trap again this evening.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

And then I said, 'Pullman, you twathead...'

I just finished reading Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials'. It took me a week - I found the books for sale second-hand at the Christmas bazaar of the United Church down the road. I know I'm late to the party, as these books have been out for a few years, but I'm never very up-to-date with popular culture. I only got around to seeing 'The Sixth Sense' this year, and if you can believe it, I'd managed to keep myself ignorant of the trick ending all this time, so that I was actually able to enjoy it!

I wish I could say as much for these books. The first one I liked a lot - it was a good, exciting adventure, and the main character, Lyra, was quite believable. It was a nice accomplishment to make her rather obnoxious, and yet I was interested in her, and I wanted her to win, even though I could easily imagine wanting to avoid her in real life. The different "cultures" had a feeling of depth behind them - we don't know all the history of the gyptians, but I can imagine that it's there, because the characters seem to be carrying it around with them all the time. The villains were dangerous and a satisfying threat, especially Mrs. Coulter. Lots of narrow escapes from her, and Lyra went up in my estimation for being able to outwit such an opponent. 'The Magisterium' and the sinister clergy - well, of course I couldn't take that very seriously, but it wasn't really necessary to, at this point. It was laughable, anyway - the CHURCH is engaged in Mengele-type genetic engineering. Riiiighht. As far as I was concerned, they were just "the bad guys", and they could as easily have been "The Empire" of Star Wars - I tended to think of them like that, anyway. The ending was exciting and shocking, and I was interested in seeing how Lyra would go on to make things right.

Book 2 wasn't bad - I liked the eeriness of Cittagazza, where only the children were alive, and the adults had all fled. A bit like 'Lord of the Flies'. I was never really certain what the Spectres were doing to the grownups - Will said that something similar happened in our world, but what would this relate to? Growing up and becoming robotic wage-slaves? I don't know. I thought Pullman was pretty good at describing extraordinary things happening in the midst of the prosaic and the ordinary - visitors from another world, walking around Oxford and trying to figure out how to blend in. Meanwhile, ordinary life is just flowing around these alien occurrences like a river, not exactly knowing how to react, but keeping on in the normal way as much as possible. More explicitly anti-religion stuff here, and it was getting harder to ignore. All the endless descriptions of Will's unhealing wounds and gushing blood began to grate on me, too, but I realized that this was just the beginning of Pullman's fascination with bodily effusions of all kinds.

Book 3 was a real dud. Far too long, for one thing - I think the Rowlings-effect kicked in, and nobody dared to edit this thing. Five pages, to describe reforging a knife? Another five to describe all the moving parts of the Intention Machine? I started skipping pages. Plus the anti-religion theme took over, and when the didacticism is in, the wit is out. It just became boring, especially as the speeches became almost as long as the descriptions. Pullman stopped telling a tale, and became obsessed with proclaiming a message. At one point, Mrs. Coulter launches into a diatribe about nasty, celibate priests wanting to paw her daughter, and I thought, "Wow, I bet he's waited a LONG time to say that to a clergyman!" It sounded so rehearsed.

I never believed in Mrs. Coulter's maternal nature suddenly springing to life, and both she and Lord Asriel became like a pair of Ayn Rand heros - strong and powerful, swept by passionate desires and destiny, blah blah blah. And of course, being heros, they have great sex - this is always an important aspect of anti-Christian obsessives. They seem to think that sex is the great Secret Weapon that one day will...well, things get a little hazy about just how this is supposed to work, but trust me, it's the answer to EVERYTHING, and the Church will crumble before it. It's how Mrs. Coulter tricks Metatron, after all - God just can't resist a trim ankle.

Then there's Mary Malone, the ex-nun who discovered all that Jesus-stuff was bunk when a man flirted with her. That's the only thing that shocked me in this book - that Pullman actually dared to refer to Jesus directly; it was like dropping a piece of kryptonite on the kitchen table. Anyway, Mary ends up living with some creatures that are like alien native Indians, living in perfect harmony with the elements and the beasts of the field, and it was like having to live in a Greenpeace commercial.

Well, after the big battle and the death of God, we ended up with Lyra and Will in the Garden of Eden, eating a fruit and kissing, and this was somehow the key to the cosmos, but to me it seemed very puerile. Then, just as Fr. Gomez is about to shoot them, they are saved by the angelus ex machina, Balthamos, and I lost it. The character we'd last seen about 250 pages earlier, when he turned as white as his feathers and fled into the sky - that guy. The Moping Angel. I could see Pullman going through his list of Loose Ends and Requisite Symbols and methodically checking them off.

By the end, I was thoroughly bored with Pullman's endless complaints about God and religion. I felt cheated, as if a man had lured me on a date with a promise of whitewater rafting, and I'd ended up spending the whole evening sitting in a dingy living room, listening to him bicker with his mother.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Vestments (huh) - what are they good for?

I was not the only one who looked askance at Mrs. Schori’s vestments at the National Cathedral last Saturday. Not only hers, of course – I was almost equally scornful of the garb of her assistants – but hers was the starring role, so naturally she got the most attention. As the Episcopal News Service wrote, “Jefferts Schori's vestments were designed and made by Victor Challenor and the Rev. Paul Woodrum of Challwood Studio in Brooklyn, New York. The design, meant to represent dawn over the earth, is rendered in shade of blue and green with orange and yellow.” This reminds me of the story of Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787:

On the final day, as the last delegates were signing the document, Franklin pointed toward the sun on the back of the Convention president's chair. Observing that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising sun from a setting sun, he went on to say: "I have often ... in the course of the session ... looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun."
Franklin, observing the birth of a new country and a new experiment in governing, had reason for his optimism. When I looked at Schori’s vestments I saw a setting sun.

But I don’t intend to quibble over the correct interpretation. What I’ve started thinking about is what is the point of vestments in general, and these in particular. Since it was discussed openly on Fr. Jake’s blog, obviously it’s no secret that Woodrum and Challenor are a gay couple. Now, the ‘gay priest living with a partner” train left the station a long time ago, so I’m not surprised by that. What I find remarkable is that THIS is who Schori chose to make her vestments, and I’m sure it was deliberately done. She must have had to work pretty hard to find someone who could successfully combine so many “progressive” policy points. I suspect that Challwood Studio could have designed ANYTHING and Schori would have worn it, since the point is WHO not WHAT.

Of course, one can play dumb and claim that there is no “message” beyond what anyone can see by looking at the vestments themselves. The designers were the best for the job, Schori loves their work, etc., and I’m just being paranoid. I just don’t buy that argument.

To me, hiring the designer of this is a message all on its own.

If Pope Benedict XVI had worn at his installation the vestments of Pope Pius X plus the Triple Tiara, nobody would have believed the Vatican if they’d declared, with big innocent eyes, that they only chose them because the colours were so pretty. People who think about symbolism notice these things, and nothing Schori has said or done convinces me that this was not a little under-the-radar wave to her true constituency. And a subtle giving of the finger to those not “in the know’ enough to notice it.

As to the vestments themselves, I’m not surprised, as so many were, that there were no Christian symbols on them. They’re not about Christianity – a look at this collection, which contains other Challwood designs, shows that an absence of Christian symbolism is pretty much the norm among modern designers. Some of these designs are rather pretty, but they’re attractive in a purely “wall art” kind of way.

In a discussion of liturgical dance, a poster on MCJ wrote “If you take a liturgical dance out of context and perform it next to a secular dance -- say something choreographed by Martha Graham (whom lots of liturgical dancers love to emulate) -- can you tell which piece is which?” By that standard, applied to textile art, nearly all the pieces on this page fail. The abstract bands of colour, the butterflies, they’re nice, but there’s no reason on earth to strap them on a priest’s back.

By comparison, look at this site of art quilts (I picked that because it’s the textile art I know most about) and ask yourself why any of them couldn’t just as easily be found among the liturgical hangings in the ECVA exhibit.

So what now is the point of liturgical vestments, in a church that no longer has anything to say about God? Modernists like Schori are too proud to just take over what was there before – it requires humility to accept what the ages have given us, and submit ourselves to the same customs that have shaped those who came before. A true modernist will want to demonstrate that he is not just the new caretaker, but the undisputed master. So what is old is cast out, to make sure that there is no bridge back from the Brave New World. And maybe there’s also that dark pleasure in deforming what has been valued by others that I’ve sensed before. As Belloq said to Indiana Jones, “Dr. Jones. Again you see there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

ECUSA's demographic death spiral

Very interesting article out today at The Christian Century on the "precipitous" population drop in the Episcopal church. While the U.S. population increases, ECUSA's dwindles; in 1970 it was 1.9% of the population, while today it is 0.9%. It has dropped out of the top 10 denominations in terms of size. This was the sentence that caught my attention, though:
The Episcopal Church, whose active membership has slipped to 2,205,376, has built-in deterrents to growth because Episcopalians have the lowest birth rate among U.S. Christians and nearly 60 percent of the people in the pews are over 50, said Kirk Hadaway, the denomination's director of research.
It sounds like ECUSA has entered what Mark Steyn has often described as 'the demographic death spiral'. Too few people, most too old to have children, and the rest disinclined. Steyn writes most often about the way the West (and particularly Europe) is unbreeding itself into extinction, but he could be talking about ECUSA:
Seventeen European nations are now at what demographers call 'lowest-low' fertility--1.3 births per woman, the point at which you're so far down the death spiral you can't pull out. In theory, those countries will find their population halving every 35 years or so. In practice, it will be quicker than that, as the savvier youngsters figure there's no point sticking around a country that's turned into an undertaker's waiting room....

In Japan, the rising sun has already passed into the next phase of its long sunset: net population loss. 2005 was the first year since records began in which the country had more deaths than births. Japan offers the chance to observe the demographic death spiral in its purest form. It's a country with no immigration, no significant minorities and no desire for any: just the Japanese, aging and dwindling.
I think we can look at ECUSA as a miniature lab experiment of death by demographics.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Leftover turkey

I watched the coronation of the new head of ECUSA via the online feed. It would have been nice to read some liveblogging, but this isn't the Academy Awards, after all. I took notes for about half of it, then gave up. Just a few impressions:

The congregation looks really OLD! Boy, did everyone in the Episcopal Church under the age of 30 get a performing role in this play?

Music was all over the place - piano lounge music at the beginning, Indian drums and wailing, gospel swing, organ music, you name it. The congregation could only participate when the organ played, though; apart from the traditional hymns, they did nothing at all.

Lots of dancing in this show - semaphore dancing with coloured flags, maidens in white gowns curvetting around the altar and the font. Another thing nobody else could participate in, though considering the age of the spectators, maybe it's kinder that way. Those long streamers on poles - I kept catching glimpses of them lashing out from behind pillars, and they reminded me of the way you'd just momentarily see the creature in 'Alien' as it flashed from one hiding place to another.

Vestments. Textiles are a particular interest of mine, and I have to say, the use of cloth in this performance was terrible. The guys assisting Schori throughout were wearing balloony outfits with wide diagonal stripes of yellow, blue and white - couldn't tell the material by watching it onscreen, so maybe it was silk, but it looked like nylon. Cheap and vulgar, like clown costumes - was it some sort of cathedral livery? As for Schori's outfit, I don't know what to say. I guess it's supposed to be a "landscape" - green "earth", blue river, mountains, red sun, purple sky. Her mitre looked like it had a moon on it, so the whole ensemble gives the impression of a sunset, which is appropriate. But the red apron midway down her thighs looked like a nasty bloodstain - didn't the designer notice that the eye is going to be drawn straight to the one and only bright spot on the costume? Geez.

Frank kinda shoved the crozier at her when it came time to hand it over, and she looked pretty contemptuous when they brushed cheeks, but she didn't show much enthusiasm at any point, so it's hard to say if that indicated anything at all. I'll read her sermon at some point - I just remembered that there were a number of cliched expressions in it. And the MDG again - she really does seem to believe that these "goals" are achievable. The fact that Jesus said they weren't convinces me, but I guess other people disagree.

Was there ANYTHING I liked? Not really. Even the organ music annoyed me, because they insisted on adding a big drumroll to build excitement - it did sound like the moment of opening the envelope at the Academy Awards.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ed Grimley: The Fella Who Couldn't Wait For Christmas

Tomorrow is Katherine Jefferts Schori Investiture Day. Oh, the anticipation! Right this minute, 'The Episcopal Majority' and the hundred people coming to their confab are feeling like Ed Grimley in this classic SCTV piece.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Told ya

I was writing earlier on the hazards of trying to amicably share living space with rodents. As if to illustrate my point, along comes this story at The Living Church, about the now-famous bullying letters sent to the dioceses of Quincy and Fort Worth. This is the checking-your-coffee-cup-for-mouse-droppings stage of the "live and let live" experiment conservatives are running with the liberals.

I'm reminded of some lines of Macaulay, which can be adapted to the situation:

Now Anglican is to Anglican
More hateful than a foe,
And the bloggers beard the high,
And the bishops grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,
So in battle we wax cold:
And we win souls no more as we did
In the brave days of old.