Thursday, August 30, 2007

Planning study for the ACC Ottawa Diocese

A few weeks ago, I had a post about proposed downsizing in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. The news story followed the release of a study commissioned by the diocese, to assess present conditions, parish-by-parish, and propose recommendations.

The study itself is now online. It's lengthy, but there are some interesting things in it. (You need the most up-to-date version of Acrobat Reader to open it.)

Demographics are a big issue, and the final 50 pages of the report are full of graphs, maps and tables showing how population trends in the geographic area covered compare with the number of Anglicans on parish rolls. It makes for grim reading. Basically, where population is falling, Anglican numbers are falling faster, and where population is rising, Anglicans are still falling.

By the way, I find it very confusing that the study uses the term "diocese" to describe both the Anglican adherents within the area AND the complete population of the entire geographic area, whether Anglican or not.
The population of the diocese grew from 1.287 million people in 1991 (273,349 in Quebec and 1.014 in Ontario) to 1.437 in 2001 (330,072 in Quebec and 1.132 in Ontario). In 2006 the population grew further to 1.509 million people (330,072 in Quebec and 1.179 million in Ontario). The diocese overall in growing by 20,000 people annually. In 2021 the population of the diocese is estimated to reach 1.803 million (371,065 in Quebec, and 1.432 in Ontario).

It just seems a clumsy way of writing. Surely "the diocese" is ONLY the people who are members of the church, not everyone who happens to live inside the geographic boundaries. I'd have though "catchment area" would have been a better term.

One thing I learned was that there are several six-point parishes in the diocese. Now, 3 of the "points" are tiny chapels that only open one day a year, so it's not as if some poor clergyman is desperately racing about to 6 different locations every Sunday, but still. I can't see much to argue with when it comes to the churches recommended for closure. I mean, look at Christ Church, Maniwaki:
Average Sunday attendance 1991: 9
Average Sunday attendance 2005: 0
Percentage of population aged 60+: 100%
There were a few churches (chapels, really) where the recommendation was cold-blooded but almost funny:
Greenmount, Charteris and Bristol should be closed permanently. In Charteris, it is important that all Anglican signage be removed from the location immediately. The location has deteriorated to the point that it is detrimental to the Anglican image in the community.

The church in Deux Riviere is in very poor condition. A tree branch has caused damage to the roof, and the interior ceiling is falling through in one corner. The front doors are in very poor shape. This is a family chapel and though it is not costing the diocese any money to keep it open, the poor condition of the building is eroding perception of the Anglican Church. This location needs to be closed and Anglican signs removed as soon as possible.
Despite the British heritage, we just don't do picturesque ruins here in Canada.

Speaking of which, there's a section on pages 28-29 that hints a little at one of the troubles assailing the Anglican Church. The number of people claiming "British" as an ethnic identity on census forms has dropped by half. This doesn't mean that all the Brits have died off or moved away; the form was changed in the intervening years, and now people who in the past might have ticked off "British" can now choose "Canadian" as an ethnicity. A lot of those former "Brits" would have been Anglicans, but as they've shed traces of their history, they've dropped the church affiliation as well. It obviously isn't an exact equation that British background=Anglican, but there's enough of a connection that the study points out that the western part of the diocese was more populated by people of British descent, while the eastern part has had more people with French background (and hence the stronger Roman Catholic presence there). It's not a coincidence that the western rural areas used to be strongly Anglican.

Though the recommended church closings got the press attention, I think the most controversial recommendation was the one about starting up a French-language Anglican ministry in the Quebec section of the diocese.

Another great challenge facing the Anglican Church is its ability to reach other cultures. Membership continues to be a predominantly British culture. The Ottawa Diocese is unique in that it spans two provinces, Quebec and Ontario, and therefore, the challenge of doing ministry in a French and English culture needs to be addressed. (There is no "French and English culture". There is French culture and there is English culture, and the people who belong to each often get along very well, but it's just phony government boosterism that pretends that there exists some sort of third "hybrid" culture that combines both.) There is very little evidence of French culture in the diocese. The website is in English. (The language of the people in the church. I've always heard that it's courteous to speak to people in their own language.) Part of the sparsely populated Quebec section of the diocese has been cut off the map. (Maybe because nobody lives there, and there are no roads leading up into the wilderness.) There are only two churches in the diocese with bilingual signage. Even in Quebec there is very little evidence of the French culture. The Quebec churches are predominantly British congregations, and moreover, with the exception of Chelsea and Wakefield where there is an influx of British population, the existing churches all serve an aging British population. (You say that as if it were a bad thing!)
It's good someone comes right out and says it - the Anglican Church here in Canada is what it always has been - a church of people with a British background, either by birth or adoption. It's not an international smorgasbord of different cultures, like the Roman Catholic Church. There are few French signs on Anglican churches for the same reason there are few Ukrainian or Russian or Spanish signs - there are no people around to read them.
Holly feels that the spirituality of the French people needs to be understood. Holly described the French people as being "wired for spirituality". (I knew there was some good explanation for all those shrines to the Virgin Mary made out of half-buried bathtubs.) She said they "approach devotion with great intimacy": something that Anglicans often struggled with. (And we all know how well that works in practice:) In Quebec, attendance at worship is one of the lowest in the country. They feel conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church. The buzzword among Roman Catholic French is "outré" (other). (I've absolutely no idea what this means. "Outré" exists as an English expression, too, and a curiously appropriate one to describe what goes on in a lot of Anglican churches.) Holly's congregation loves the fact that Anglican clergy are married. They say she is "human" to them. She has tried some interactive sermons that were very well received. The congregation welcomed this opportunity of not being preached to. Holly is not Francophone. She is from Hamilton and although she speaks French, she has learned the language and the culture on the job. She has discovered that the French people appreciate her willingness to learn. The love to laugh at her British accent. She has allowed them to see her vulnerabilities. (The altar guild just presented her with a lovely new chasuble with the old French expression "Kïck Mè" embroidered on the back. Don't know just what it means, but the congregation sure enjoys the processions.)

Pierre feels that most importantly a priest has to understand the French Canadian culture. (Especially the "You're Not The Boss Of Me" ethos.) He also agreed with Holly, that the discipline of the Roman Catholic clergy and Anglican clergy are very different. The approach of the Roman Catholic Church does not promote the engaging of laity in ministry; it is more autocratic. Pierre was unable to think of a single situation where using clergy from a Roman Catholic background has worked. (Interesting, that. The laity can be converts themselves, but they don't want a priest who's a convert. Is it because they can't respect someone who used to be a "real" priest who's fallen away from the faith?)...Pierre said that many of his divorced and homosexual parishioners have been hurt in the church, and they want (all together now) an inclusive church that is welcoming and caring.
Once again, there's that promise of a vast tide of disgruntled/divorced/homosexual Catholics just waiting to come surging into the Anglican Church.

This seems to me to be a completely backward way of proceeding. There are some foreign-language Anglican churches in Ottawa (I know of one Chinese congregation), but that's because there was already a population present in the church that could benefit from translated services. The same thing goes for native language congregations in the North - the people were already there, and using the local language made things easier and more meaningful for people who were already members of the church. This, on the other hand, is a sort of religious speculation - create a French ministry, and THEN watch as the people arrive. I don't think it will work. There are many more reasons why French people aren't in Anglican churches than just the fact that the proceedings take place in English. A lot of Roman Catholic priests are just as liberal and dotty as the Anglicans, and yet still Quebecers stay away from church, despite there being no language or cultural barrier. Being "spiritual" doesn't automatically translate into church-going. And many Quebecers wouldn't consider joining "the English church", no matter how you dress it up. (Dean says they have a marginally better chance of getting French Canadians into the Anglican Church by resurrecting press-gang methods - going to a Quebec strip club and dropping a coin into some guy's glass of beer then shouting, "AHA! You've taken the Archbishop of Canterbury's shilling, now you must do his bidding!")

I'm afraid this "bilingualism" wheeze is going to be one of those useless prestige projects that the ACC will shovel money into and which will never get off life support.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Has it been 10 years already?

We're coming up to the 10-year anniversary of Princess Diana's death. Time seems to have gone strangely in the intervening decade. I'm not sure if it seems a long time or a short time ago that she died. Longer, I suppose - the event itself seems as distant as JFK's assassination, as if the era that contained it is impossibly remote. And yet 10 years is not such a long time, and I don't feel that the past 10 years of MY life have been so terribly long.

Mostly, what I have is almost a strange disbelief that she was ever alive. Did we REALLY take her seriously? What was wrong with us? Granted, the 1990s altogether look pretty shabby now that we're in the post 9/11 age. But not even the stupidities of the Clinton era seem quite as frivolous as the whole Diana saga. She really was just "a gilded hysteric", as someone (I think Kathy Sheidle) described her.

For what it's worth, I remember having one flash of precognition in my life, though now it looks pretty obvious. When Charles and Diana's divorce was finalized in 1996, I remember saying, "She'll be dead within 5 years." The truth is, though, that I assumed she'd commit suicide.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kitchen business

It's heavy work in the kitchen right now, so posting has been sparse. It's the end of the summer, a lot of produce is in season, and canning has been proceeding apace.

First of all, I made use of our tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers and celery and made a batch of salsa. The celery isn't full-grown yet, but for all I know it may not ever get to the size of celery you buy in the store, so I just picked a lot of very thin little stems to make up the 4 stalks the recipe called for. It worked fine; actually, the celery taste was a little more prevalent in the final product than I'd have liked, so maybe fresh celery has a much stronger taste than store-bought celery, and you don't need as much. We haven't had as many large tomatoes as I'd expected, so I had to resort to some cherry tomatoes as well. It all worked out, though, and I ended up making 10 pint jars of salsa.

The bigger project was cooking all the damson plums I bought last Friday.

Damsons are excruciatingly picky work, because they're small, hard and clingstone.
There are two ways of dealing with them: you can just throw them all in the pot and cook them, then pick the stones out afterward, or you can laboriously carve and gouge the flesh off the stones and THEN cook it. I chose the latter course - I didn't want to fish around in a pot of hot stewed plums to pull out hundreds of pits, and putting it through a food mill would take forever, plus it would grind up the skin, and I prefer to have large pieces of skin in my jam rather than a puree.

I used this recipe, only I doubled it, so this picture is of 3 kgs of pitted plums. The plums have green flesh, and the whole thing starts out with the juice a nasty brown colour, but as it cooks, the blue skin starts releasing colour, so by the end it's a nice dark red.

Each batch took over 2 hours to prepare, standing the whole time, and I made 3 batches over 2 days. Altogether, it made approximately 45 half-pint jars of jam. Now I have new respect for the problems my aunts in Victoria encountered last year. They planted a damson plum tree the year before, and last year it produced 75 lbs of plums! This was how much work I had with only 18 lbs - what I'd do with 75, I can't imagine. Start giving them away to other people to cook, I suppose. The thing about damsons, though, is that they have a pattern of producing very heavily one year, then doing almost nothing for 1 or 2 years after, as they gain strength for another huge crop. So now I know what I have to look forward to, if my tree survives.

This has all kept me from commenting on the ongoing Anglican angst, though nothing much seems to be happening until the end of September, so things just seem to be in a holding pattern. I expect I'll get back to it next week, once the kids go back to school and I have more time to myself.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back from the auction

Emma and I drove down towards Iroquois on the St. Lawrence today, because the apple farm I frequent down there finally had damson plums! I got about 20 lbs, so jam-making begins this weekend. As we were so close to Spencerville, we went over to the auction I wrote about yesterday, just to see what was there.

I got a picture of the Jesus painting:
Now that I've seen it, I have to say, I think my original idea about this painting was correct. This Jesus is pretty scary:
He's holding that crook like he's about to bash the occupant with it the moment the door opens, and he really looks like he means business. Plus he seems anatomically a little strange, like a Barbie doll - the location of his knee is VERY low, and makes him look like he has an incredibly long waist. Plus the robe bunched up over the shoulder gives him a slightly hunchbacked appearance. The town in the background reminds me a little of the way buildings and hills are done in icons, but that weird little stone fence crossing the field spoils it all. It looks as if Jesus has tiptoed over the fence all the way from the town! I don't know if it was really painted on canvas - I suspect it might have been board. It looks like this is the version they were working from. They look similar, but believe, the expression was just quite different.

Apart from that, it was an enjoyable outing, with lots of bizarre old things collected over decades in an old stone house. I got a weird 1950s chair, plus a box of winter gloves and a laundry hamper with a nondescript quilt top in it. It's just squares of material (BADLY sewn together) but in like-new condition, so since it's not really any good as a quilt, I will use it to repair other quilts.

Here are some pictures, including two a young girl who was very taken with all the fancy hats and vintage finery there and modelled some for me. Alas, she didn't get the pretty pink dress - it was bought by another lady for $7.50.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Auction listings

In case anyone is interested, this is the website I consult daily to see what auctions are taking place in the neighbourhood. It covers eastern Ontario and the southern part of Quebec.

One soon gets used to the "style" of auction listings. Most of them are very detailed, especially if they don't also provide photos. But sometimes there are funny expressions, which you'd think wouldn't slip through. "Rod iron" instead of "wrought iron" is one I encounter all the time. And sometimes they just don't know the exact term, so you get an approximation.

There's an auction tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure that what is being sold is copy of this old familiar painting:

I think we all know this painting. It's commonly called "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," because that's the phrase out of the Bible that inspired it.

But this auction lists it as "original oil on canvas 'Jesus Knocking On Your Door'", which conjures up quite a different image of a pissed-off Christ about to kick the door down. I might just go tomorrow, to get a look at this painting to see if my guess is correct.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'The Great Detective', by Stephen Leacock

I think it was last year, Kasia at The Clam Rampant (on her old Blogspot site) had a piece on murder mysteries and detective stories. This put me in mind of a wonderful essay written in the early 1900s by the Canadian humourist, Stephen Leacock, called "The Great Detective", where he outlined all the aspects of the classic detective tale. Unfortunately, nowhere could I find it online. Leacock wrote a second Great Detective story, and that one is available, but the first, and I believe the best one, was not. So over the months I set about hunting down a copy of the essay, and typing it out. Finally I finished, and now I present it for all fans of detective stories and humorous writing.

by Stephen Leacock

“’Ha!’ exclaimed the Great Detective, raising himself from the resilient sod on which he had lain prone for half an hour, ‘what have we here?’
      “As he spoke, he held up a blade of grass he had plucked.
      “’I see nothing,’ said the Poor Nut.
      “’No, I suppose not,’ said the Great Detective; after which he seated himself on a stone, took out his saxophone from its case, and for the next half hour was lost in the intricacies of Gounod’s ‘Sonata in Six Flats with a Basement.’”
--Any Detective Story

     The publishers tell us that more than a thousand detective stories are sold every day—or is it every hour? It does not matter. The point is that a great many are sold all the time, and that there is no slackening of the appetite of the reading public for stories of mysterious crime.
      It is not so much the crime itself that attracts as the unraveling of the mystery by the super-brain of the Great Detective, as silent as he is efficient. He speaks only about once a week. He seldom eats. He crawls around in the grass picking up clews. He sits upside down in his armchair forging his inexorable chain of logic.
      But when he’s done with it, the insoluble mystery is solved, justice is done, the stolen jewels are restored, and the criminal is either hanged or pledges his word to go and settle on a ranch in Saskatchewan; after which the Great Detective take a night off at the Grand Opera, the only thing that really reaches him.
      The tempting point about a detective story—both for the writer and the reader—is that it is so beautifully easy to begin. All that is needed is to start off with a first-class murder.

      “Mr. Blankety Blank sat in his office in the drowsy hour of a Saturday afternoon. He was alone. Work was done for the day. The clerks were gone. The building, save for the janitor, who lived in the basement, was empty.
      “As he sat thus, gazing in a sort of reverie at the papers on the desk in front of him, his chin resting on his hand, his eyes closed and slumber stole upon him.”

      Quite so. Let him feel just as drowsy as ever he likes. The experienced reader knows that now is the very moment when he is about to get a crack on the nut. This drowsy gentleman, on the first page of a detective story, is not really one of the characters at all. He is cast for the melancholy part that will presently be called The Body. Some writers prefer to begin with The Body itself right away—after this fashion:

      “The Body was that of an elderly gentleman, upside down, but otherwise entirely dressed.”

      But it seems fairer to give the elderly gentleman a few minutes of life before knocking him on the head. As long as the reader knows that there is either a Body right away, or that there is going to be one, he is satisfied.
      Sometimes a touch of terror is added by having the elderly gentleman killed in a country house at night. Most readers will agree that this is the better way to kill him.

      “Sir Charles Althorpe sat alone in his library at Althorpe Chase. It was late at night. The fire had burned low in the grate. Through the heavily curtained windows no sound came from outside. Save for the maids, who slept in a distant wing, and save for the butler, whose room was under the stairs, the Chase, at this time of the year, was empty. As Sir Charles sat thus in his arm-chair, his head gradually sank upon his chest and he dozed off into slumber.”

      Foolish man! Doesn’t he know that to doze off into slumber in an isolated country house, with the maids in a distant wing, is little short of madness? Apparently he doesn’t and his fate, to the complete satisfaction of the reader, comes right at him.
      Let it be noted that in thus setting the stage for a detective story, the Body selected is, in nine cases out of ten, that of an “elderly gentleman.” It would be cowardly to kill a woman, and even our grimmest writers hesitate to kill a child. But an “elderly gentleman” is all right, especially when “fully dressed” and half asleep. Somehow they seem to invite a knock on the head.
      After such a beginning, the story ripples brightly along with the finding of the Body, and with the Inquest, and with the arrest of the janitor, or the butler, and the usual details of that sort.
      Any trained reader knows when he sees that trick phrase, “save for the janitor, who lived in the basement,” or “save for the butler, whose room was under the stairs,” that the janitor and the butler are to be arrested at once.
      Not that they really did commit the murder. We don’t believe they did. But they are suspected. And a good writer in the outset of a crime story throws suspicion around like pepper.
      In fact, the janitor and the butler are not the only ones. There is also, in all the stories, a sort of Half Hero (he can’t be a whole hero, because that would interfere with the Great Detective), who is partly suspected, and sometimes even arrested. He is the young man who is either heir to the money in the story, or who had a “violent quarrel” with the Body, or who was seen “leaving the premises at a late hour” and refuses to say why.
      Some writers are even mean enough to throw a little suspicion on the Heroine—the niece or ward of the elderly gentleman—a needless young woman dragged in by convention into this kind of novel. She gets suspected merely because she bought half a gallon of arsenic at the local chemist shop. They won’t believe her when she says, with tears, in her eyes, that she wanted it to water the tulips with.
      The Body being thus completely dead, Inspector Higginbottom of the local police having been called in, having questioned all the maids, and having announced himself “completely baffled”, the crime story is well set and the Great Detective is brought into it.
      Here, at once, the writer is confronted with the problem of how to tell the story, and whether to write it as if it were told by the Great Detective himself. But the Great Detective is above that. For one thing, he’s too silent. And in any case, if he told the story himself, his modesty might hold him back from fully explaining how terribly clever he is, and how wonderful his deductions are.
      So the nearly universal method has come to be that the story is told through the mouth of an Inferior Person, a friend and confidant of the Great Detective. This humble associate has the special function of being lost in admiration all the time.
      In fact, this friend, taken at his own face value, must be regarded as a Poor Nut. Witness the way in which his brain breaks down utterly and is set going again by the Great Detective. The scene occurs when the Great Detective begins to observe all the things around the place that were overlooked by Inspector Higginbottom.

      “’But how,’ I exclaimed, ‘how in the name of all that is incomprehensible, are you able to aver that the criminal wore rubbers?’
      “My friend smiled quietly.
      “’You observe,’ he said, ‘that patch of fresh mud about ten feet square in front of the door of the house. If you would look, you will see that it has been freshly walked over by a man with rubbers on.’
      “I looked. The marks of the rubbers were there plain enough—at least a dozen of them.
      “’What a fool I was!’ I exclaimed. ‘But at least tell me how you were able to know the length of the criminal’s foot?’
      “My friend smiled again, his same inscrutable smile.
      “’By measuring the print of the rubber,’ he answered quietly, ‘and then subtracting from it the thickness of the material multiplied by two.’
      “’Multiplied by two!’ I exclaimed. ‘Why by two?’
      “’For the toe and the heel.’
      “’Idiot that I am,’ I cried, ‘it all seems so plain when you explain it.’”

      In other words, the Poor Nut makes an admirable narrator. However much fogged the reader may get, he has at least the comfort of knowing that the Nut is far more fogged than he is. Indeed, the Nut may be said, in a way, to personify the ideal reader, that is to say the stupidest—the reader who is most completely bamboozled with the mystery, and yet intensely interested.
      Such a reader has the support of knowing that the police are entirely “baffled”—that’s always the word for them; that the public are “mystified” that the authorities are “alarmed” the newspapers “in the dark” and the Poor Nut, altogether up a tree. On those terms, the reader can enjoy his own ignorance to the full.
      A first-class insoluble crime having thus been well started, and with the Poor Nut narrating it with his ingenuous interest, the next stage in the mechanism of the story is to bring out the personality of the Great Detective, and to show how terribly clever he is.


      When a detective story gets well started—when the “body” has been duly found—and the “butler” or the “janitor” has been arrested—when the police have been completely “baffled”—then is the time when the Great Detective is brought in and gets to work.
      But before he can work at all, or at least be made thoroughly satisfactory to the up-to-date reader, it is necessary to touch him up. He can be made extremely tall and extremely thin, or even “cadaverous.” Why a cadaverous man can solve a mystery better than a fat man it is hard to say; presumably the thinner a man is, the more acute is his mind. At any rate, the old school of writers preferred to have their detectives lean. This incidentally gave the detective a face “like a hawk,” the writer not realizing that a hawk is one of the stupidest of animals. A detective with a face like an ourang-outang would beat it all to bits.
      Indeed, the Great Detective’s face becomes even more important than his body. Here there is absolute unanimity. His face has to be “inscrutable.” Look at it though you will, you can never read it. Contrast it, for example, with the face of Inspector Higginbottom, of the local police force. Here is a face that can look “surprised,” or “relieved,” or, with great ease, “completely baffled.”
      But the face of the Great Detective knows of no such changes. No wonder the Poor Nut, as we may call the person who is supposed to narrate the story, is completely mystified. From the face of the great man you can’t tell whether the cart in which they are driving jolts him or whether the food at the Inn gives him indigestion.
      To the Great Detective’s face there used to be added the old-time expedient of not allowing him either to eat or drink. And when it was added that during this same period of about eight days the sleuth never slept, the reader could realize in what fine shape his brain would be for working out his “inexorable chain of logic.”
      But nowadays this is changed. The Great Detective not only eats, but he eats well. Often he is presented as a connoisseur in food. Thus:

      “’Stop a bit,’ thus speaks the Great Detective to the Poor Nut and Inspector Higginbottom, whom he is dragging around with him as usual; ‘we have half an hour before the train leaves Paddington. Let us have some dinner. I know an Italian restaurant near here where they serve frogs’ legs a la Marengo better than anywhere else in London.’
      “A few minutes later we were seated at one of the tables of a dingy little eating-place whose signboard with the words ‘Restauranto Italiano’ led me to the deduction that it was an Italian restaurant. I was amazed to observe that my friend was evidently well known in the place, while his order for ‘three glasses of Chianti with two drops of vermicelli in each,’ called for an obsequious bow from the appreciative padrone. I realized that this amazing man knew as much of the finesse of Italian wines as he did of playing the saxophone.”

      We may go no further. In many up-to-date cases the detective not only gets plenty to eat, but a liberal allowance of strong drink. One generous British author of today is never tired of handing out to the Great Detective and his friends what he calls a “stiff whiskey and soda.” At all moments of crisis they get one.
      For example, when they find the Body of Sir Charles Althorpe late owner of Althorpe Chase, a terrible sight, lying on the floor of the library, what do they do? They reach at once to the sideboard and pour themselves out a “stiff whiskey and soda.” Or when the heroine learns that her guardian Sir Charles is dead and that she is his heiress and when she is about to faint, what do they do? They immediately pour “a stiff whiskey and soda” into her. It is certainly a great method.
      But in the main we may say that all this stuff about eating and drinking has lost its importance. The great detective has to be made exceptional by some other method.
      And here is where his music comes in. It transpires—not at once but in the first pause in the story—that this great man not only can solve a crime, but has the most extraordinary aptitude for music, especially for dreamy music of the most difficult kind. As soon as he is left in the Inn room with the Poor Nut out comes his saxophone and he tunes it up.

      “’What were you playing?’ I asked, as my friend at last folded his beloved instrument into its case.
      “’Beethoven’s Sonata in Q,’ he answered modestly.
      “’Good Heavens!’ I exclaimed.”

     Another popular method of making the Great Detective a striking character is to show him as possessing a strange and varied range of knowledge. For example, the Poor Nut is talking with a third person, the Great Detective being apparently sunk in reveries. In the course of the conversation the name of Constantinople is mentioned.

      “I was hardly aware that my friend was hearing what was said.
      “He looked up quietly.
      “’Constantinople?’ he said. ‘That was the capital of Turkey, was it not?’
      “I could not help marveling again how this strange being could have acquired his minute and varied knowledge.’

      The Great Detective’s personality having been thus arranged, he is brought along with the Poor Nut and Inspector Higginbottom to Althorpe Chase and it is now up to him to start to “solve” the mystery. Till a little while ago, the favorite way of having him do this was by means of tracks, footprints, and other traces. This method, which has now worn threadbare, had a tremendous vogue. According to it, the Great Detective never questioned anybody.
      But his real work was done right at the scene of the crime, crawling round on the carpet of the library, and wriggling about on the grass outside. After he has got up after two days of crawling, with a broken blade of grass, he would sit down on a stone and play the saxophone and then announce that the mystery is solved and tell Inspector Higginbottom whom to arrest. That was all. He would not explain anything but what the Poor Nut, half crazy with mystification, begged him to do.

      “’The case,’ he at last explained very airily, ‘has been a simple one, but not without its features of interest.’
      “’Simple!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Precisely,’ said he; ‘you see this blade of grass. You tell me that you see nothing. Look at it again under this lens. What do you see? The letters ACK clearly stamped, but in reverse, on the soft green of the grass. What do they mean?’
      “’Nothing,’ I groaned.
      “’You are wrong,’ he said, ‘they are the last three letters of the word DACK, the name of a well-known shoemaker in Market Croydon four miles west of the Chase.’
      “’Good Heavens,’ I said.
      “’Now look at this soft piece of mud which I have baked and which carried a similar stamp—ILTON.’
      “’Ilton, Ilton,’ I repeated, ‘I fear it means less than ever.’
     “’To you,’ he said. ‘Because you do not observe. Did you never note that makers of trousers nowadays stamp their trouser buttons with their names? These letters are the concluding part of the name BILTON, one of the best-known tailors of Kings Croft, four miles east of the Chase.’
      “’Good Heavens!’ I cried, ‘I begin to see.’
      “’Do you?’ he said drily. ‘Then no doubt you can piece together the analysis. Our criminal is wearing a pair of trousers, bought in Kings Croft, and a shoe bought in Market Croydon. What do you infer as to where he lives?’
      “’Good Heavens,’ I said, ‘I begin to see it!’
      “’Exactly,’ said the Great Detective. ‘He lives halfway between the two!’
      “’At the Chase itself!’ I cried. ‘What a fool I have been.’
      “’You have,’ he answered quietly.”

      But unfortunately the public has begun to find this method of traces and tracks a “bit thick.” All these fond old literary fictions are crumbling away.


      In fact, they are being very largely replaced by the newer and much more showy expedient that can be called the Method of Recondite Knowledge. The Great Detective is equipped with a sort of super-scientific knowledge of things, materials, substances, chemistry, actions, and reactions that would give him a Ph.D. degree in any school of applied science.
      Some of the best detectives of the higher fiction of today even maintain a laboratory and a couple of assistants. When they have this, all they need is a little piece of dust or a couple of micrometer sections and the criminal is as good as caught.
      Thus, let us suppose that in the present instance Sir Charles Althorpe has been done to death—as so many “elderly gentlemen” were in the fiction of twenty years ago—by the intrusion into his library of a sailor with a wooden leg newly landed from Java. Formerly the crime would have been traced by the top heaviness of his wooden leg—when the man drank beer at the Althorpe Arms, his elbow on the side away from his leg would have left an impression on the bar, similar to the one left where he climbed the window sill.
      But in the newer type of story the few grains of dust found near the Body would turn out to be specks from the fiber of Java coconut, such as is seen only on the decks of ships newly arrived from Java, and on the clothes of the sailors.
      But, by the one method or the other method, the “inexorable chain of logic” can be completed to the last link. The writer can’t go on forever; sooner or later he must own up and say who did it. After two hundred pages, he finds himself up against the brutal necessity of selecting his actual murderer.
      So, now, who did it? Which brings us to the final phase of the Detective Story. Who really killed Sir Charles?



      According to one very simple expedient, the murder was not committed by any of the principal characters at all. It was committed by a tramp. It transpires that the tramp was passing the Chase late that night and was attracted by the light behind the curtain (as tramps are apt to be), and came and peered through the window (as tramps love to do), and when he saw Sir Charles asleep in his chair with the gold watch on the table beside him, he got one of those sudden impulses (such as tramps get when they see a gold watch), and, before he knew what he had done, he had lifted the window and slipped into the room.
      Sir Charles woke—and there you are. All quite simple. Indeed, but for the telltale marks on the grass, or the telltale fiber on the carpet, or the telltale something, the murderer would never have been known.
      And yet the solution seems paltry. It seems a shame to drag in the poor tattered creature at the very end and introduce and hang him all in one page.
      So we have to look round for some other plan.


      A solution, which is a prime favorite with at least one very distinguished contemporary author, is to have it turn out that the murder has been committed by somebody else altogether different. In other words, it was committed by some casual person who just came into the story for about one half a second.
      Let us make up a simple example. At the Althorpe Arms Inn where the Great Detective and the Poor Nut are staying while they investigate the death of Sir Charles, we bring in, just for one minute, “a burly-looking man in a check suit drinking a glass of ale in the bar.” We ask him quite casually, if he can tell us anything about the state of the road to Farringham. He answers in a surly way that he’s a stranger to these parts and knows nothing of it. That’s all. He doesn’t come in any more till the very end.
      But a really experienced reader ought to guess at once that he committed the murder. Look at it: he’s burly; and he’s surly; and he has a check suit; and he drinks ale; and he’s a stranger; that’s enough. Any good law court could hang him for that—in a detective story, anyway.
      When at last the truth dawns on the Poor Nut.

     “’Great Heavens,” I exclaimed, ‘the man in the check suit!’
      “The Great Detective nodded.
     “’But how on earth!’ I exclaimed, more mystified than ever, ‘were you ever led to suspect it?’
      “’From the very first,’ said my friend, turning to Inspector Higginbottom, who nodded in confirmation, ‘we had a strong clew.’
      “’A clew!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Yes, one of the checks on his coat had been cached.’
      “’Cashed,’ I cried.
      “’You misunderstand me; not “cashed,” CACHED. He had cut it out and hidden it. A man who cuts out a part of his coat and hides it on the day after a crime is probably concealing something.’
      “’Great Heavens!’ I exclaimed, ‘how obvious it sounds when you put it that way. To think that I never thought of it!’”


      According to this method, the crime was committed by a thoroughly bad, thoroughly dangerous woman, generally half foreign—which is supposed to account for a lot. She has just come into the story casually—as a nurse, or as an assistant bookkeeper, or, more usual and much better, as a “discarded flame” of somebody or other.
      These discarded flames flicker all through detective literature as a terrible warning to persons of a fickle disposition. In any case, great reliance is placed on foreign blood as accounting for her. For Anglo-Saxon readers, if you put a proper quantity of foreign blood into a nurse and then discard her, that will do the trick every time.
      To show how thoroughly bad she is, the Dangerous Woman used to be introduced by the writers of the Victorian age as smoking a cigarette. She also wore “high-heeled shoes and a skirt that reached barely to her ankles.” In our time, she would have to do a little better than that. In short, as the key to a murder, we must pass her by. She would get acquitted every time.
      Let us try something else.


      According to this explanation of the mysterious crime, it turns out, right at the end of the story, that the murder was not done by any of the people suspected—neither by the Butler, nor the Half Hero, nor the Tramp, nor the Dangerous Woman. Not at all. It was the work of one of the most audacious criminals ever heard of (except that the reader never heard of him till this second), the head and brain of a whole gang of criminals, ramifying all over Hades.
      This head criminal generally goes under some such terrible name as Black Pete, or Yellow Charlie, or Blue Edward. As soon as his name is mentioned, then at once not only the Great Detective but everybody else knows all about him—except only the reader and the Nut, who is always used as a proxy for the reader in matters of astonishment or simplicity of mind.
      At the very height of the chase, a new murder, that of a deputy police inspector (they come cheap; it’s not like killing one of the regular characters), is added to the main crime of killing Sir Charles. The manner of the murder—by means of a dropping bullet fired three miles away with its trajectory computed by algebra—has led to the arrest. The Great Detective, calculating back the path of the bullet, has ordered by telephone the arrest of a man three miles away. As the Detective, the Nut, and the police stand looking at the body of the murdered policeman, word comes from Scotland Yard that the arrest is made:

      “The Great Detective stood looking about him, quietly shaking his head. His eye rested a moment on the prostrate body of Sub-Inspector Bradshaw, then turned to scrutinize the neat hole drilled in the glass of the window.
      “’I see it all now', he murmured. ‘I should have guessed it sooner. There is no doubt whose work this is.’
      “’Who is it?’ I asked.
      “’Blue Edward,’ he announced quietly.
      “’Blue Edward!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Blue Edward,’ he repeated.
      “’Blue Edward!’ I reiterated, ‘but who then is Blue Edward?’”

      This, of course, is the very question that the reader is wanting to ask. Who on earth is Blue Edward? The question is answered at once by the Great Detective himself.

      “’The fact that you have never heard of Blue Edward merely shows the world that you have lived in. As a matter of fact, Blue Edward is the terror of four continents. We have traced him to Shanghai, only to find him in Madagascar. It was he who organized the terrible robbery at Irkutsk in which ten mujiks were blown up with a bottle of Epsom salts.
      “’It was Blue Edward who for years held the whole of Philadelphia in abject terror, and kept Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on the jump for even longer. At the head of a gang of criminals that ramifies all over the known globe, equipped with a scientific education that enables him to read and write and use a typewriter with the greatest ease, Blue Edward has practically held the police of the world at bay for years.
      “’I suspected his hand in this from the start. From the very outset, certain evidences pointed to the work of Blue Edward.’”

      After which all the police inspectors and spectators keep shaking their heads and murmuring, “Blue Edward, Blue Edward,” until the reader is sufficiently impressed.


      The writing of a detective story, without a doubt, gets harder and harder towards the end. It is not merely the difficulty of finding a suitable criminal; there is added the difficulty of knowing what to do with him. It is a tradition of three centuries of novel writing that a story ought to end happily. But in this case, how end up happily?
      For example, here we have Blue Edward, caught at last, with handcuffs on his wrists—Blue Edward, the most dangerous criminal that ever interwove the underworld into a solid mesh; Blue Edward, who—well, in fact the whole aim of the writer only a little while before was to show what a heller Blue Edward was. True, we never heard of him until near the end of the book, but when he did get in we were told that his Gang had ramified all the way from Sicily to Oklahoma. Now, what are we to do?
      If it is not Blue Edward, then we’ve got to hang the Tramp—the poor tattered creature who fried potatoes by the hedge. But we are called upon to notice that now has “a singularly vacant eye.” You can hardly hang a man with a vacant eye. It doesn’t do.
      What if we send him to prison for life? But that’s pretty cold stuff, too—sitting looking at four stone walls with a vacant eye for forty years. In fact, the more we think of it, the less satisfied we are with hanging the Tramp. Personally I’d rather hang Meadows the Butler, as we first set out to do, or I’d hang the Nut or the Thoroughly Bad Woman, or any of them.
      In the older fiction, they used to face this problem fairly and squarely. They hanged them—and apparently they liked it. But nowadays we can’t do it. We have lost the old-fashioned solid satisfaction in it, so we have to look round for another solution. Here is one, a very favorite one with our sensitive generation. If I had to give it a name, I would call it—


      The method of it is very simple. Blue Edward, or whoever is to be “it,” is duly caught. There’s no doubt of his guilt. But at the moment when the Great Detective and the Ignorant Police are examining him he develops a “hacking cough.” Indeed, as he starts to make his confession, he can hardly talk for hacks.

      “’Well,’ says the criminal, looking round at the little group of police officers, ‘the game is up—hack! hack!—and I may as well make a clean breast of it—hack, hack, hack.’”

      Any trained reader when he hears these hacks knows exactly what they are to lead up to. The criminal, robust though he seemed only a chapter ago when he jumped through a three-story window after throttling Sub-Inspector Juggins half to death, is a dying man. He has got one of those terrible diseases known to fiction as a “mortal complaint.” It wouldn’t do to give it an exact name, or somebody might get busy and cure it. The symptoms are a hacking cough and a great mildness of manner, an absence of all profanity, and a tendency to call everybody “you gentlemen.” Those things spell finis.
      In fact, all that is needed now is for the Great Detective himself to say, “Gentlemen” (they are all gentlemen at this stage of the story), “a higher conviction than any earthly law has, et cetera, et cetera.” With that, the curtain is dropped, and it is understood that the criminal made his exit the same night.
      That’s better, decidedly better. And yet, lacking in cheerfulness, somehow.
      It is just about as difficult to deal with the Thoroughly Bad Woman. The general procedure is to make her raise a terrible scene. When she is at last rounded up and caught, she doesn’t “go quietly” like the criminal with the hacking cough or the repentant tramp. Not at all. She raises—in fact, she is made to raise so much that the reader will be content to waive any prejudice about the disposition of criminals, to get her out of the story.

      “The woman’s face as Inspector Higginbottom snapped the handcuffs on her wrists was livid with fury.
     "Gur-r-r-r-r-r!” she hissed.”

      (This is her favorite exclamation, and shows the high percentage of her foreign blood.)

      “’Gur-r-r-r-r! I hate you all. Do what you like with me. I would kill him again a thousand times, the old fool.’
      “She turned furiously towards my friend (the Great Detective).
      “’As for you,’ she said ‘I hate you. Gur-r-r! See, I spit at you. Gur-r-r-r!’”

      In that way, the Great Detective gets his, though of course, his impassive face never showed a sign. Spitting on him doesn’t faze him. Then she turns on the Heroine and gives her what’s coming to her.

      “’And you! Gur-r-r! I despise you, with your baby face! Gur-r-r! And now you think you will marry him! I laugh at you! Ha! Ha! Hahula!’”

      And after that she turns on the Nut and gives him some, and then some for Inspector Higginbottom, and thus with three “Gur-r-r’s” for everybody and a “ha! Ha!” as a tiger, off she goes.

      But, take it which way you will, the ending is never satisfactory. Not even the glad news that the Heroine sank into the Poor Nut’s arms, never to leave them again, can relieve the situation. Not even the knowledge that they erected a handsome memorial to Sir Charles, or that the Great Detective played the saxophone for a week can quite compensate us.

The art of parody

Mark Steyn has written a great article on the difficulty of musical parody. It starts out as a review of 'The Simpsons Movie', but he goes on to laud past brilliant musical parodies from the TV show. These are from the first seasons, of course: Bleeding Gums Murphy's rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the baseball game, and Tony Bennett's song about Capital City. Later years got carried away with the musical jokes, and they just became filler, but some of these early ones were really good. As Steyn says, you really have to KNOW the style and feeling of those songs in order to parody them.

As I'm an SCTV fan, I thought I'd post what in my opinion is the most brilliant rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner ever: Rick Moranis as Mel Torme.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Speaking of movies

We rented an interesting one last week: 'The Cooler'(2003). It's by Wayne Kramer, the director of 'Running Scared', which I admired very much. This site has some trailers and clips.

Kramer is an interesting director, and worth keeping an eye on. He has a genuine respect for film, and his commentaries are very informative and engaging. He reminds me of Lang a bit (not temperamentally, thank goodness) because he has such a clear mind when it comes to making movies. He knows what he's doing, and the effect he wants to create, and he goes straight to the object without any fiddling around. He never wastes a shot, his movies are always intelligently put together. Such a contrast with some self-indulgent directors who just point the camera and shoot 30 takes of everything every which way, in the expectation that SOMETHING will be bound to work, and it can all be put together with editing. That's not directing - I mean literally, it's not. It's just tagging along for the ride while the actors try out every possible combination, and then culling the result for a final product.

Anyway, 'The Cooler' is set in Las Vegas, where Bernie (William H. Macy) works as the "cooler" for the Golden Shangri-La casino. His luck is so terrible, it almost magically rubs off on other people, so when people are starting to win big, Bernie turns up to cool things down, and put an end to winning streaks. He's such an adorable sad sack, with his badly-fitting suit and his limp (souvenir of a kneecapping) - even his cat has run away from him. His luck changes when he falls in love with Natalie (Maria Bello), and this immediately creates problems when he can no longer keep the casino reliably in the black.

The parallel story concerns the casino manager, Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), who is determined to hold on to the old-fashioned Vegas atmosphere and ethos, in the teeth of a modernizing Young Turk (Ron Livingston), who is backed by the mobster owner of the casino. There are a lot of themes throughout the movie - good luck, bad luck, honour, honesty, and what is for sale and what isn't.

There's some pretty graphic sex and some serious violence in this movie, so be warned. Frankly, the effect far outweighs the number of minutes actually shown; even the violence is more implied than explicit, and it tends to end quickly, but it's so effective, you are left with the impression that you've seen more than you actually have. Actually, there's more bad language than either sex or violence - the swearing is pretty much non-stop, but that doesn't bother me much.

When watching this, I realized that I'd never actually seen Alec Baldwin in a serious movie role - just 'Thomas the Tank Engine', really. He's a darn good actor. I've heard so much about his politics that I assumed I knew all about him, but then realized that I'd never really seen him just doing his job.

I think I'll eventually get a copy of 'The Cooler' to go along with 'Running Scared' - the commentaries alone are worth owning, they give so much information about the job of movie-making. Kramer is working on a new movie called 'Crossing Over', about immigrants in L.A., trying to get legal status - very topical. If it's shown up here in Ottawa, I'll have to see it, just to see what he does with the idea.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Birthday yesterday

It was my birthday yesterday - 48. Dean gave me the Criterion Collection 2-dvd set of Fritz Lang's "M", and we've been watching it. I still think 'Testament of Dr. Mabuse' is greater, but 'M' is very good. Lang was not a big fan of sound in movies; this was his first sound film, and still, about 1/3 of the movie is silent. Oddly enough, it works better than a foreboding soundtrack; when you see a nighttime police raid in preparation, the fact that you don't hear anything, when you know you should, creates a lot of anxiety. (I know one of the commentators says that the rental of sound equipment was very expensive, and the silence was partly to save money, but I don't believe it. I think Lang knew what he was doing.)

Nowadays, I think movies are too saturated with sound, especially music. Every single moment seems to be accompanied by music, and I think it's cheating - trying to FORCE us to experience a mood that the script and the acting alone can't produce. When I watch an old movie like 'Casablanca', I keep thinking, "Now, if this were made today, they'd cover this whole scene with loud strings, like a coat of cheap shellac." It's almost uncanny to see a romantic scene WITHOUT music, but they used to do it all the time.

We don't have cakes much in our house - they just end up going stale and being wasted. So I made a peach pie in the morning (yes, *I* had to make the pie for my own birthday! Nobody else can do it as well, so the job always falls to me!) I've also been experimenting with making chutney this week. On Wednesday I tried a Major Grey Chutney, which was a bit complicated, but seems to have turned out well. Today I made a simpler mango chutney, which is very nice and sweet, with just a hint of chili powder in it (plus the vinegar, of course). I'll have to wait 2 weeks at least before we can get a good idea of what they'll taste like. It was very reminiscent of making mincemeat, as a matter of fact.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Gentle ferocity

Three guinea pigs fighting over a piece of cucumber. I love the determination of each guinea pig to exclude the others from the prize, and that this video is almost entirely silent throughout their epic struggle! (Thanks to relapsed catholic)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Banana Boat Dirge

Everyone knows that the Master of Bad Food is James Lileks. I've bought copies of The Gallery of Regrettable Food for all my friends and relatives. But not even he can cover EVERYTHING. I've always liked kitchen nostalgia, and I've been collecting old cookbooks for years. Country auctions are good sources for those little softcover cookbooks, which were often advertising some company's product.

I picked up some more at last week's Almonte auction, and thought I'd start sharing from my collection.

"You know, Sid, I've always liked bananas. I know that's not profound or nothin' - heck, we ALL do. But for me, it goes much beyond that." The old Far Side cartoon of the two gorillas musing about the mystery of bananas came to mind when I looked over this little booklet, with its pompous invocation of Homer, Cleopatra and Napoleon in the introductory paragraph. This is an attempt to move the banana away from the lunchbox snack and into the mainstream. Now we have innovative banana salads. Indeed, a veritable Bazaar of banana salads! And we are enjoined to eat all the salads in this book, because there's nothing worse than a banana dilettante.

So let's see what awaits us.

About half the recipes are of the fruit salad variety, like the double page spread below:

These don't look too bad, despite the black-and-white photos. Banana-peach, banana-grapefruit salads - sure, I could go for that. Though the author seems to have an inability to leave well enough alone. "Pineapple Banana Criss-Cross" finishes with the line "Serve with French dressing." And "Banana Crescent Salad" takes a perfectly nice combination of bananas, berries and grapes and tacks on "Serve with mayonnaise or cream dressing."

The mayonnaise theme oozes its way through the book. "Banana Peanut Fan Salad" isn't a bad taste combination, though I foresee some practical problems:
Peel and cut banana crosswise into halves. Split each half lengthwise and spread open as a fan. Place banana on a salad plate. (Thanks for the reminder - I was trying to balance it on the back of my wrist.) Sprinkle cut surface with chopped peanuts. Garnish with crisp greens.
Well, ok, except that you just know that when you try to eat this thing, you'll pick up a piece of banana with your fork, and all the peanuts will fall off onto the plate, unless you mash it all down a bit before eating. Oh, but wait...
Serve with mayonnaise or cream dressing.
I guess if you glop some mayonnaise on top, it'll bind the peanuts to the banana long enough for it to reach your mouth for the short trip halfway down to the stomach, which is as far as it will probably get.

"Cream dressing", by the way, is probably this one, from the back of the book:
Banana Cream Dressing

1/2 ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3/4 tsp salt

Fold banana into whipped cream. Add mayonnaise and salt.

Though for fancy occasions, you could use this:
Banana Peanut Butter Mayonnaise

1 ripe banana, mashed
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 to 3 tablespoons peanut butter

Well, so far the book has restricted itself to fruit salads, despite the occasional adulteration with mayonnaise. But the author's far more ambitious, so we also get "Banana Apple and Onion Salad", as well as "Banana Cabbage Salad" (yes, it's got mayonnaise in it, but it also has MUSTARD!).

But I've saved the best for last. Here it is; the crud de la crud:

Yes, you read aright. "Banana Sardine Boats" And there's a picture of a grey banana with a shrivelled black sardine poised on top.

But there's no need to feel cheated by the old-fashioned black-and-white photo. I discovered that last year, a braver blogger than I actually MADE this recipe! Yea, and ate it too! Here is his story. All honour to him.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sandwich quiz

For once, a personality quiz that is ABSOLUTELY, 100% ACCURATE!!!

You Are a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

You are a traditional person with very simple tastes.

In your opinion, the best things in life are free, easy, and fun.

You totally go with the flow. And you enjoy every minute of it!

Your best friend: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Ham Sandwich

Yes! I AM a grilled cheese sandwich! And I even had one for supper yesterday! (Dean was at a practice, got home late, and I didn't feel like having a big supper as it was hot out.) (A tip of the stethoscope to Dr. Sanity

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Auction in Almonte

I went to an auction yesterday near Almonte. It's the kind I very much like - a 4th-generation farmhouse, where stuff has been accumulated for decades. I didn't buy that much, actually - another coffee pot (though I think it's stainless steel, not aluminum), set of aluminum canisters and a few pyrex dishes, plus a box full of old cookbooks (a few of the more ridiculous ones I plan to post here, Lileks-style), and 2 chairs. But I took some photos, just to show you what one of these auctions typically looks like.

Jim Hands is the auctioneer, and his system is that most of the small stuff is kept inside the house, where we can go look at it before the auction starts, then it's brought out piece by piece to be bid on. I prefer the auctions where EVERYTHING is outside on wagons, so when they're selling something I'm not interested in, I can walk around and look at other stuff. It's more entertaining, plus I can never really look at things closely when they're stuffed into boxes and we all have to crowd into a room or garage to look. But at least this time, there were books to look at out on the lawn. You can't tell how much small stuff there was at this sale, because it was all inside, but there were a LOT of pictures, dishes, embroidery, linen, you name it.

Milling around before the auction starts:

The books over at the side of the house:

The auction underway. Notice the table covered with old crocks. Some of those must have been very old and collectible, I think one went for over $100. There were also some old tin toys (trucks, mostly) that went for over $100 each. Obviously, collectors know which ones are valuable.

A bunch of guns for sale:

There were a LOT of old furs, including this buffalo coat. The auctioneer said, "Now, if any of you are thinking of starting a new career as a pimp, this is just what you need!"

It was a lot of fun. There were fields of soybeans all around us, and it was VERY quiet - far away from the highway. Living in the city, I really notice when I hear that sort of stillness.

'It's all very well for you, standing there, smoking that potato..."

I've always liked that line - it's by Michael Flanders, of Flanders and Swann, as he narrates a comical history of the origin of the tune "Greensleeves". It's only purpose here is to provide a good excuse for the following pictures of...POTATOES!!!

Yes, we are harvesting potatoes. I have some pictures of the Chaleur potatoes, although we have already dug up some Chieftain and even a few All Reds, though they are a late variety and their foliage is still growing.

Here's how they look coming out of the ground:

Yin discovers that they are good to play with:

Giving them a wash:

And here is our haul:

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Things are different in Quebec

Interesting story demonstrates how different life is in Canada compared to the U.S. A lady living in Quebec has just married, and wants to take her husband's surname. Guess what? In Quebec, women are forbidden by law from doing so.
In Canadian provinces where common law prevails, a woman can begin using her husband's surname after marriage. Armed with a copy of their official, provincially issued marriage certificate, women can easily and officially acquire new identification for documents such as a driver's licence.

But in Quebec, since a 1981 reform of the civil law, women are not permitted to adopt their husband's name at marriage -not even if they apply for an official name change.

Procedures for formal name change are very strict in Quebec and the decision is up to the director of civil status. It requires a serious reason, such as difficulty of use due to spelling or pronunciation, or bearing a name that is mocked or that has been made infamous.
And of course, there were good, sound, leftist ideological reasons for this:
The civil law reform took place shortly after the creation of the Quebec Charter of Rights in which equality between men and women was clearly stated, recalls Alain Roy, a family law professor at the University of Montreal.

"It was a logical follow-up to translate that equality into name attribution. And it was a highly symbolic gain for the feminist movement," Mr. Roy said in an interview.
Somehow nobody thinks it's degrading for women to be known by their father's last name all their life long. One of the side effects of this law is a sort of "rootlessness" - if M. Leclair marries Mlle Lesage, their children will be Pierre Leclair-Lesage or Marie Lesage-Leclair (or they can take the last name of either of their parents). So no family name will be carried on for more than one generation, because each generation will find itself marrying and mixing up more name combinations, even within the same family.

I only point this out because Americans are often unaware of just how accustomed Canadians are to being pushed around and ordered to do things by our government - and there's a whole additional layer of pushiness added if one lives in Quebec. You seldom have to deal with bureaucrats micromanaging the details of your private home life, or instructing you on the correct way to name your children.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Garden pictures

Some pictures from this morning:

Beetles attacking a rose - ugh. Never mind, their days are numbered.

Now, the good stuff.

First, the Garden Monster - a Sugar Snack cherry tomato plant which has gone berserk. It's nearly 6' tall, and it has thrown out branches 4' long, which are trailing along the ground like vines. It actually overran and toppled a large "Champion" tomato plant 3' away. I only discovered the smothered victim when I noticed one big green tomato among all the little ones, but I managed to pull the tentacles off of it and right it again. Turned all the lower leaves yellow, but I think it will survive.

Here's Emma with a raspberry. We have 3 types, and I can't remember the names of any of them anymore. But the two others are earlier varieties, and smaller. This third one, we have a whole row of (second picture, with the potatoes in the foreground), and they are HUGE, especially when they first ripen. They are just starting to get ripe now, and will continue to produce until the frost.

Finally, some flowers:

Hot 'n humid gardening

It's going to be a hot day today, with little relief for the coming week. This is NOT the record-breaking hot summer the environmental experts were predicting, it's really pretty average for temperature, but it's still damp. Today I MUST mow the lawn, despite this morning's rain. I should have done it on the weekend, but I postponed it and now I have no choice. The boys are away for respite today, and I can't mow when they're around - James would come sneaking up behind me, and I can't hear him with the mower going, so it would be dangerous. Besides, the people renovating the house next door mowed THEIR lawn on the weekend, and I was so guilty at the sight that I had a dream that their garden was better than mine! They knocked down the fence so I could see, and they were planting a huge row of onions. And a little further off, they even had COWS!

Meanwhile, the roses and raspberries are being bedevilled by Japanese Beetles. I'll spray the roses, but it's too late to spray the raspberries, because the berries are ripening right now, and if you spray, you can't harvest for at least a week. Plus, these are ever-bearing raspberries, so the canes are continually producing flowers, attracting many bees. The spray is highly toxic to bees, and I can't bring myself to kill them, so we'll just have to cope with the beetles. They only eat the leaves, not the fruit, so although they're not doing the plants any good, we should be able to put up with them, and I don't think there are enough to kill the plants.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Deconstructing the Creed

During a discussion of an interview with Bishop Gene Robinson, someone highlighted this disturbing quote from the Bishop of New Hampshire:
One day when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn’t believe, he said ‘well, when you’re in church, just say the parts of the creed you do agree with. Be silent for the others. We’re not asking you do so something against your integrity’.
Someone pointed out that Robinson's anecdote dates from many years ago. Can we be sure that this is STILL the case? Perhaps he no longer feels the same way. Fair enough - there's nothing unheard-of in having doubts and then getting over them. Many great people have done the same. So I thought I'd see if I could find some current reference to Robinson's attitude toward the Creed.

This interview is from 2005, so it's pretty up-to-date. It deals with the Creed question about as explicitly as you could ask, and starts off with the same story, in almost the exact same words:
I had an assistant chaplain there who, when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn't believe, encouraged me to just drop out when I got to a phrase that I didn't believe. And participate in however much of it I did feel comfortable with.

“And I [thought], a religion that can be that undefensive about itself is the place for me. I gradually said more and more of the Nicene Creed until I did believe it. I found [the Episcopal Church] to be this amazing community where people were not afraid to use their minds, where people were not afraid to read and believe the scriptures, and did not seem to be forcing on anyone else its own beliefs in the way that I felt the religion that I grew up with had been doing.

“By the end of my time at Sewanee, I felt a calling to the priesthood and went on to [General Theological Seminary in New York, N.Y.] from college.”
Well, that would seem to put him on the side of those who experience the 'dark night of the soul', but persevere and come through on the other side with their faith strengthened. But just when you think that everything's OK, he goes and ruins it by telling the truth:

Gunn : How much of the Nicene Creed do you believe today?

Robinson : “I believe all of it. The two things that the Episcopal Church gave me that I did not have in my former denomination were history and liturgy. One of the reasons I love all the historic creeds is that it ties me to believers who lived so many centuries ago. While I have no doubt that I might articulate the meaning of the Nicene Creed differently than would have been explained 1,000 years ago or 1,700 years ago, saying those same words connects me with this whole company of the faithful who have experienced God and believed that Jesus Christ was his very incarnation on this earth. So I love saying those ancient words because it connects me with all of those people who have been faithful throughout the years.
There's no longer a conflict, because Robinson has hit on the happy expedient of just mentally rewriting the Creed he says every Sunday, and giving his belief to that. The words now mean something quite different from what they've meant for 1600 years - what, exactly, he doesn't say, but saying words that other people have written still has a value: he is enacting the same pantomime earlier generations have done, and that "connects" him, even though it's only the physical act of pronouncing words that's the same.

When I hear the words "historic creeds" my antenna goes up, because I know of another place the word "historic" is commonly used - the 39 Articles. You know, that page or two at the back of the Prayer Book that's just there as a fossilized record of what people USED to think. Useful for history buffs, but not of much relevance to life today. Now it looks as if the Nicene Creed can take its place among the trilobites as well. That people actually still say the same words today is just a quaint custom.

Robinson doesn't go into detail about what HIS rendition of the Nicene Creed means, but this guy, also writing in 2005, gives a pretty clear picture of what sort of alchemy is involved in "believing" something you don't believe.

What this is, of course, is our old friend Mr. Deconstructionism at work. One jumps on a text like a Ferengi on a garbage scow, and then rides it to galaxies unknown. As an example of how this works, I present


We start with the first line:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth
Now, naturally we must focus on the key word of this sentence: "in".

When we think of "in", that is, the very "in-ness" of the word itself leads us to the pure interiority of thought and concept. From "in" we look "out", which brings us to the nexus - the conflict between being In and being Out.

This seemingly irreconcilable strife between two supposed opposites produces a symbiotic living in tension, which can be summed up by the eternal struggle between the Insies and the Outsies.

As we deal forensically with these terms, we draw closer to the Ur-text which produced them, i.e., the great "bellybutton" controversy, which posits that Adam did NOT have a bellybutton. Yet a closer consideration of the original text, (known among savants as "Q") would lead us to a different conclusion: the word "bellybutton" itself is a later translation of the original term, which was "navel". Now, an examination of "navel" leads inexorably to the concept of "navel-gazing", and here we come to the crux of the argument.

"Gaze" is identical in sound to "gays". Furthermore, the technical term for such a coincidence in sound is "homonym"! Therefore, the concept of homosexuality is present in the very first words of the Creed! Proving that there has never been any conflict between Christianity and anything else.

Friday, August 03, 2007

ACC - Ottawa diocese downsizing

Today's Citizen had an article by Jennifer Green on the parlous state of the Diocese of Ottawa. This study was commissioned last year, and has now reported (not available on the diocesan page yet). Briefly, the news is not good. Roughly one-third of the 138 parishes, it is recommended, should close - 4 immediately, and the rest in the course of a few years, as their remaining parishioners die off and the parishes become unviable.

I noticed that the lady who did this study, Ms Myrlene Boken, is the same one who did a similar study for the Diocese of Ontario. I looked it up for an earlier post, because I was curious about a nearby country parish that had closed. Some of the artifacts had wound up at the auction. I expect the Ottawa report will be similarly detailed. One thing I noticed was that a problem highlighted in the Diocese of Ontario was that the demographics were against the Anglicans; Anglicans declined from 19% (in 1981) to 15% of the region, and "50% of the membership is over the age of 60, compared to 21% of the Diocesan population." In Ottawa, it looks even worse, especially when you consider that this took place in only half the time:
Between 1991 and 2001, the Ontario portion of the diocese went from 12 per cent to nine per cent Anglican, and the Quebec portion went from three to two per cent, for a total loss of 7,000 Anglicans.

Worse, only 34 per cent of the remaining Anglicans attend service every week, so that in about 40 churches, there are less than 25 people every week. And those attending were three times more likely to be over the age of 60 than the rest of their communities.