Friday, December 31, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
So I grew up as a geek; my mother raised me on Star Trek, my first computer was a TI99/4A, and I've had a subscription to National Geographic from the time I was nine. So the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is a highlight of the holiday for me. And the most recent one is arguably the best (though "The Christmas Invasion" comes in a close second).
Yes, Michael Gambone is wonderfully nasty as the Scrooge stand-in Kazran Sardick; there hasn't been a Scrooge who was that much of a bastard since George C. Scott. And the steampunk mise-en-scène fits so nicely, so well for a Christmas Carol retelling (and for some reason, it works better for me than "The Next Doctor"). But what made this episode so good was two-fold: it gave a surprisingly fresh take on the Dickens warhorse, and it really embraced the secular meaning of this season: as the Doctor says, we're halfway out of the dark.
Amy and Rory are on an interstellar ship headed for disaster unless the man who controls the skies over his planet--Kazran, who inherited this position from his father--clears the skies and lets them land. He won't, simply because he can--and, as he says, the planet already has a "surplus population"--who needs another 4003? So, naturally, the Doctor needs to change him, and since it's Christmas, he's inspired (in a fairly straightforward way) to take on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Kazran's memories are changed in front of his--and our--own eyes, once the Doctor goes back to change him into a better person. Moffat knows how to play with time travel better than any of the writers of the revived show, and he pulls out all the stops here, including a clever take on the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. Kazran's lost love Abigail is, unfortunately, apparently suffering from Victorian Novel Disease, but at least she exists for more than breaking Kazran's heart; Katherine Jenkins's voice is appropriately haunting, and let's face it, singing to sharks is cool.
Like Dickens, and like It's a Wonderful Life, this is about someone who isn't too far gone, who can be redeemed. Kazran's father was too far gone--he was dead; Mr. Potter was too far gone--he never even had a crisis of conscience. But Scrooge? George Bailey? You and I? We're not too far gone--we can come back out and see the light.
We've come through the longest night of the year; from here on out, the days get longer, even if winter's grasp on us won't lessen for a long time.
On Christmas Eve, while driving home from seeing some friends, my husband asked "Why do you think Christmas is so tied up with being depressing? I don't think Charlie Brown started it--so where did it come from?" We didn't come up with a good explanation, just a list of examples--Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, the great O. Henry story "Gift of the Magi". Catcher in the Rye is about a kid losing his mind right before Christmas. The Bishop's Wife is about an angel who falls in love and can't do anything about it. We talked about whether it was a post-war phenomenon, whether it was born of that whole modern alienation problem. But now I wonder if it isn't partially because it really is the darkest time of the year, and we suffer from a type of seasonal affect disorder. Or if it's tied up in anxiety about families, and at least in the U.S., families are flung to the four corners, and often not speaking to each other; this is certainly true for my family. But Christmas is all about families, they say--and so anxiety reigns.
But maybe it's as simple as seeing all the commercialism, the worrying about money, about status, about presents, meanwhile every day gets darker and darker, and so striving for something more--because something has to bring us out of the dark.
Well, we're halfway there--the sun is no longer standing still, the days will slowly get longer, the year is about to begin again.
Also, finally, isn't Matt Smith wonderful as Eleven? I can't wait for the next series to start.
Monday, December 20, 2010
All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man's friend,
That doth but the best that he may;
Forgetting old wrongs, with carols and songs,
To drive the cold winter away.
Here on the US east coast, the longest, darkest night in nearly four hundred years has begun.
Thankfully, this isn't a metaphor--it's science.
Tonight in the northern hemisphere is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice; and it's the first time in hundreds of years that the longest night of the year has had a lunar eclipse.
Actually, I don't know how this is the darkest night--if the moon is in total eclipse, it's not like it's a new moon, which we can't really see; even if it's dark red, it's still a light.
The court in all state now opens her gateBut that's not really why I'm posting. For what the moon is doing--passing through the shadow of the earth, from light into darkness and again into light--is much like the Winter Solstice itself, when we reach the longest night, when the strength of the sun (metaphorically) is at it's lowest point, and ancient people waited out the night to see the sun rise again, knowing that after this, the sun would gradually strengthen again, that the long, dark nights would eventually give way to spring, to summer, to growth. And regardless of whether we ever had Christmas, we would still have had the solstice, we would still have had that long, dark time of year, when we light lights through the night.
And gives a free welcome to most;
The city likewise, tho' somewhat precise,
Doth willingly part with her roast:
But yet by report from city and court
The country will e'er gain the day;
More liquor is spent and with better content
To drive the cold winter away.
Thus none will allow of solitude nowLast Friday, my husband and I threw a party, because that's what you do this time of year. I don't mean that dismissively--I am being entirely sincere. These are the longest nights; it's cold, it's miserable, and there's little to do outside but rush from one place to the other. We gather together, eating and drinking, talking and remembering, because this is when things are slow. We need a break--like the sun, we're worn down, and waiting for renewal.
But merrily greets the time,
To make it appear of all the whole year
That this is accounted the prime:
December is seen apparel's in green,
And January fresh as May
Comes dancing along with a cup and a song
To drive the cold winter away.
To mask and to mum kind neighbours will comeAnd from now until after the New Year, the sun stands still--for that's what "solstice" means in Latin--and so do we. And on this, the longest night, when even the moon, for the first time in hundreds of years, goes from full brightness to an eclipse, it's good to remember, beyond the politics of Christmas, of buying gifts and worrying about the bills to come, of whose family to visit (or whether to avoid families altogether), it's good to remember that while we live, each night will come to an end, just as much as each day. Sometimes it takes longer to see the sun again, but it's coming. It will come. And the night will, eventually, end.
With wassails of nut-brown ale,
To drink and carouse to all in the house
As merry as bucks in the dale;
Where cake, bread, and cheese is brought for your fees
To make you the longer stay;
At the fire to warm 'twill do you no harm,
To drive the cold winter away.
When white-bearded frost hath threatened his worse,
And fallen from branch and briar,
Then time away calls from husbandry halls
And from the good countryman's fire,
Together to go, to plough and to sow
To get us both food and array,
And thus will content the time we have spend
To drive the cold winter away.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
For those who don't know, the Mummer's Parade is held on New Year's Day here in Philadelphia; it's a day-long parade of people in costumes, divided into four groups--comics, string bands, fancies (which combine elements of comics and string bands with small floats), and the fancy brigades, which have very elaborate, feather- and sequin-covered costumes.
It's something to see, usually while drunk--which is OK, since the comics are usually still drunk from the night before. All of which is keeping in the tradition of mumming, which goes back to medieval Europe. Mumming plays, wren boys, the Mari Lwyd, and the Philadelphia Mummers are all part of a larger tradition wherein the working classes (both urban and agricultural), given freedom from work for two weeks, drank and ate and partied, often to the dismay of their social "betters". It's one of the reasons the Puritans outlawed Christmas in both Britain and America in the 17th century (see the fantastic The Battle for Christmas for more on this).
What's interesting about Nerd Island is that unlike the other brigades, these aren't from the old neighborhoods--these are young people, seeing an opportunity to carry on a tradition, while getting it back to its anarchic roots. Like the best comic brigades, they're using pop culture and politics for their inspirations (for Nerd Island, it's the environment), and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, taking donations for charity (in this case, Haiti).
This is one reason I love Philly--here we have this drunken, crazy parade, and it's entirely keeping with a medieval tradition, even if we don't realize it.
Plus ça change...
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Called the Guidizzolo inscription, this rustic Roman calendar, found in norther Italy (near Verona), in the province of Gallia Cisalpina, mentions this feast as
'XV Kalendas Ianuarius Eponae'.
This date--counting backwards fifteen days from the Kalends of January (i.e. January 1), would lead to today's date, December 18th, as explained here:
--American journal of archaeology, Volume 8
Of course, why Epona was worshipped in December is unknown; but it is interesting to note the old Welsh custom of the Mari Lwyd held around the time of the new year (i.e. January 1), wherein a mumming troop carry around a horse's skull on a pole, the jaws hinged so that the skull can talk and engage in rhyming contests, earning food for the mummers. The origin of the custom is unknown, but certainly Wales had its own horse goddess in Rhiannon.
And so, have a happy Eponalia!
For more about Epona, check out Epona.net, the most comprehensive site on the subject.
1. The other two are the famous "TRINOX[tion] SAMO[nii] SINDIV" i.e. "three-nights of Samonios today" on the 17th of Samonios; when the month of Samonios occurred is of much debate; the other is "DECAMNOCTIACIS GRANNI", the ten-night festival of Grannos, about which we know nothing, not even when it occurred.
Professor Bromwich, more than any other scholar, has influenced my work; my website (and really, my life) would be much poorer if I'd never come across her writings.
Her Trioedd Ynys Prydain is one of the most important works on Old Welsh literature--really, if you're interested in Welsh literature and legend, you can't just pick up a copy of the Mabinogion, you have to seek out TYP. The notes alone are an impressive encyclopedia of Welsh myth and legend. And her works on Welsh Arthuriana in general are without match. She also was instrumental in translating the works of Sir Ifor Williams, whose studies on Taliesin are among the best.
She published an updated edition of TYP as late as 2005; I can only hope to be as active at that age (or live that long).
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Video via Heavenfield
For those who are wondering, this gospel contains the Surrexit Memorandum, one of the earliest texts in the Welsh language (which you can see at my website, with a translation of one section by John Rhys.)
Friday, December 10, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
It tosses the ocean's white hair.
Tonight I fear not the coming over on the Irish Sea.
of fierce warriors of Norway
--9th c. Irish poem
So no doubt if you noticed this film was nominated for an Academy Award, facing off against Pixar's Up, as well as Coraline, and Wes Anderson's The Fantasic Mr. Fox, you probably said to yourself, "what the hell is The Secret of Kells?" Which is a shame, because you've missed out on one of the best movies of the year.
It's become a cliche to talk about how the Irish saved civilization--not that they did it alone, of course, but that the Irish monks helped keep literacy alive in the West is without doubt. They also, in the process, created one of the most beautiful books ever made--the famous Book of Kells.
The Secret of Kells is the story of that book... sort of. We don't know who actually created the Book of Kells, whether it was started by St. Columbcille on Iona, or whether it was the product of the Abbey of Kells, or whether it was started on Iona and finished at Kells, or even which artists put their hands to it. And so Kells puts its creation in its proper context, during the tumultuous period when Vikings attacked Britain and Ireland, sacking abbeys, burning books, looting gold, and scattering the literate communities to the winds. In this world we find Brendan, an orphan raised by his uncle Cellach, the abbot of Kells, who is understandably obsessed with fortifying the abbey in the face of the Viking raids. But with this determination comes a stultifying existence for Brendan, only alleviated when the illuminator Aidan comes, having escaped the destruction of Iona.
Aidan is an artist--for him the creative practice is a way to give hope in dark times. For when life is only struggle, when it's only about building walls out of fear of the inevitable, the very enjoyment of existence is extinguished. For Aidan, everything about life hold beauty and wisdom--not just what can be found in books or in the abbey, but the natural world, as well, like the best of those Celtic monks. So Aidan encourages Brendan's interest in the art of illuminating manuscripts, while Cellach only wants Brendan to focus on building up the walls of the abbey. Brendan naturally rebels against Cellach, and leaves the abbey for the first time. He heads for the forests, looking for plants to make the ink used in the manuscript.
Here he meets Aisling, a faery girl, one of the sídhe, who saves him and the cat Pangur Ban (!) from a pack of wolves. Like Aidan, she teaches Brendan not to fear the natural world, to enjoy it and and learn from it.
But the Vikings are a real threat, and the abbey is vulnerable, despite Cellach's best efforts. And Vikings aren't the only danger--there is also Crom Cruach, the dark spirit who haunts the edges of the woods.
But the book is most important thing. Aidan is old, his hands shake, his eyes are dim. He wants Brendan to design the Chi-Rho page:
The actual Chi-Rho page from the Book of Kells
The Chi-Rho page is one of the most intricate pieces of art ever created; I have a large copy of it, measuring twelve inches by about fifteen, and I still can't imagine creating such tiny, interlacing details; the picture above doesn't do it justice.
So that's the beginning of the story of the film; but what you should really go for is the art. This is easily one of the most beautiful animated films I have ever seen. From what I've read, it's mostly done in the traditional, 2D, hand-drawn animation, which rather neatly imitates the look of a manuscript. It doesn't rely on gimmicks like 3D, or the plastic-looking CGI of Dreamworks and (forgive me) Pixar--like the best and earliest Disney features, it uses the ability of the human hand to create a lush and vibrant world, intricate in detail and never condescending to the audience. (And the details are stunning--see if you can spot the ogham in the forest).
This is a film about the power of art to bring light--illumination--in times of darkness. To bring joy, to fire the spirit, to help us communicate, to give us a reason to communicate. This is a film about finding joy in the face of destruction, to live in spite of death.
Also, for those of you who have some knowledge of Old Irish poetry, stick around through the credits--it's no mistake that the cat is named Pangur Ban.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I'd like to get excited, but some of us remember the time FOX tried to take on Doctor Who.
So a few caveats:
- First, please, please, please don't set it in America. But if you must, don't set it in L.A., damn it.
- Second, let's not forget that while FOX was home to The X-Files, it's also the graveyard of Firefly, Dollhouse, Arrested Development (yeah, not sci-fi, don't care, I'm still mad), and, again, the infamous Doctor Who tv movie.
- This is American tv--what are the chances Jack's sexuality is imported unaltered?
So--how bad do you think it'll be?
*For the record, I'm not a Paul McGann basher. The movie wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen, just painfully American.
Which is why my (hypothetical) mystery novel will be set during the beginning of the Roman colonization of Britain. And the detective is a druid.
Wait, what's that you say? It sounds like Cadfael or The Name of the Rose with white robes and hard-to-pronounce names? Dammit. Yeah, well... You and my husband can go back to reading Conan Doyle; I have genius to tap into.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I dislike is the implication of the post that if you're bothered by the romance, it's because of Uhura. For me, it's how I thought of Spock's character. It's not that I think he's not being really Vulcan if he dates Uhura; I just never thought of him as having any passion. It never occurred to me.
Am I prejudiced against nerds?
(Is using the word "nerd" offensive?)
I don't know about the argument that in the 24th century Uhura and Spock would have the experience of being outsiders in common; I'd hope that by then, being a black woman wouldn't have any more significance than having red hair. But then again, even red hair is still an issue, apparently.
Humans are stupid.
And I always wanted red hair, but that's neither here nor there.
I grew up watching TOS, since my mom was a big fan. I'm sure there are a lot of things I missed, and don't remember correctly; I've only seen a hand-full of episodes as an adult, mostly I don't think it's in syndication right now. Is it?
Now, TNG, that I remember. And it helps that Syfy (ugh) plays it on Mondays. (Mondays? I think so--days blend together).
The Book of Kells and similarly illustrated manuscripts of seventh- and eighth-century England and Ireland are known for their entrancingly intricate artwork -- geometric designs so precise that in some places they contain lines less than half a millimeter apart and nearly perfectly reproduced in repeating patterns -- leading a later scholar to call them "works not of men, but of angels."
But behind the artwork's precision is a mystery: How did illustrators refine the details, which rival the precision of engravings on a modern dollar bill, centuries before microscope lenses were invented?
The answer, says Cornell University paleontologist John Cisne, may be in the eyes of the creators. The Celtic monks evidently trained their eyes to cross above the plane of the manuscript so they could visually superimpose side-by-side elements of a replicated pattern, and thereby create 3-D images that magnified differences between the patterns up to 30 times.
Read the whole thing, it's fascinating.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
You could make a case that Old Irish is a 'Classical' language, like Latin or Greek or Sanskrit. Latin? After a while, ordinary Latin ends up being more or less transparent to the reader. (Ordinary Latin, not Tacitus or Propertius.) You can read it quite cheerfully. And Greek I think always remains a bit trickier (the midgy drifts of particles, the propensity to dialectical forms, the specialised jargons). And Sanskrit is like an exotic holiday for Classicists: a new script, a complicated phonology, the system of sandhi-variations which obscure the endings, and a general rather bewildering mixture of stylization and lushness. Like the above trio, Old Irish is Indo-European, has a heroic literature, and grammatical features such as inflected nouns and adjectives, plus a complex conjugated verbal system.
But describing the Old Irish verbal system as 'complex' is like referring to the Arctic as 'somewhat chilly'.
Yes. Indeed. I still can't wrap my head around Old Irish. Put Old Irish in front of me and ask me to translate it, and I might weep. Or send you on your way to David Stifter.
Oddly enough, the great Whitley Stokes could handle Old Irish, but apparently never mastered Modern Irish.
For those of you who love language, or Old Irish, go read it.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Some docs, worried about their reputations, are trying to fight back against negative reviews, requiring patients to sign contracts — critics call them “gag orders” — promising not to post comments to public sites. Others ask patients to sign over copyright to future comments, hoping for leverage to have any nasty tags removed.
Complain about your doctor, and he can refuse to treat you?
There's another side to it, of course:
“There’s no venue for physicians to get their side of the story out,” said Segal, who notes that doctors can't respond to specific patients because doing so would violate federal privacy laws.
While some sites, like Angie's List, know who's posting, most don't identify or verify commenters, said Segal, who blasts that anonymity.
“You don’t know whether it’s a patient, an ex-employee, an ex-spouse or even a competitor," Segal said.
I understand the urge to fight back against someone complaining about you. But what's really disturbing to me are two things: first is the copyright idea. Let's look at that again:
Others ask patients to sign over copyright to future comments, hoping for leverage to have any nasty tags removed.
Wow. And I thought the RIAA overreached.
And secondly, there's this:
Patient will not denigrate, defame, disparage, or cast aspersions upon the Physician; and will use all reasonable efforts to prevent any member of their immediate family or acquaintance from engaging in any such activity,” reads the “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy”
The contracts typically limit patient comments for five years from the last doctor’s visit and they imply that breaking the terms could land the patients in court.
So let's say I signed onto this contract because this is the only doctor I know--let's face it, most of us work full time, may have restrictions on who we can see put on us by our insurance plans, and even if we didn't, shopping for doctors can be an exhausting experience, especially if you have something seriously wrong with you. Or worse yet, let's say most or all doctors adopt this practice, so I can't even rely on a "free market" approach of just hunting down a doctor who doesn't require this kind of contract. And my (hypothetical) doctor screws up and doesn't diagnose a brain tumor, and I die. If my family publicly complains that hey, this doctor is a quack who can't find a baseball-sized tumor, they can be hauled into court and sued for complaining in a public forum.
I actually understand the position of doctors--or really anyone--who are being anonymously criticized, sometimes unfairly, and sometimes may be lied about. But then again, without the protection of anonymity, people probably wouldn't publicly complain, and sometimes those complaints are earned. I can think of several off-hand as I sit here, but to be honest, I'm afraid to post them because I don't want to get any negative repercussions for the patients involved, since the situation is on-going.
And really, what I find disturbing isn't the idea of doctors being able to fight back and reclaim their reputations; what I find really scary is the idea of using copyright law to fight them, and of suing patients' families. Because my husband, who makes $15/hour and drives our rattling ten-year-old Ford Taurus, really doesn't have the right to challenge my Miata-driving doctor who makes $150,000 a year.
I hope he likes fixing that clunking noise it makes.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Given how much money the state makes in taxes on alcohol, you'd think they'd jump at the chance to legalize medical marijuana.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Lifehacker has some tips on keeping warm. Me? I'm a believer in longjohns and hot toddies.
So let's take an incomplete tally:
- The Brick Playhouse: well, this is a case of mismanagement--I know, because I was a member. But the few years I was part of the Playhouse was some of the happiest of my life.
- Zipperhead: namechecked in the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl, it was, of course, a clothing store. Best part about the place was the exterior (which may still be there, I don't know, I haven't been down that way in a while)--big ants crawling up the side of the building. Apparently they've moved and changed their name, and the fact that I only found out about it in 2010 says something, though maybe it just points out my own ignorance.
- Spaceboy Records: and when we lost Zipperhead, we lost their neighbor, Spaceboy. I loved Spaceboy--they had a great selection of new indie, new lps, old LPs and CDs upstairs. But with the massive changes in the record industry, even big chains have gone out of buisness. Between the high rents and the decline of record sales, there was no way a place that deals largely in new music products was going to survive, but it still hurts.
- The Book Trader: not exactly gone; they moved up to 2nd and Arch. But I miss their two-story store on the corner of 5th and South, with the big bay windows where you could look out on the street below, busy with foot traffic, lit up at night. They moved, but it's not the same, and South Street isn't the same.
- Philadeli: sure, it was pricy, but they sold six-packs, great sandwiches, and now they're gone too.
- TLA Video: I don't know what got them more--the rise of Netflix, or the decline of South Street? Sadly, I'm going with Netflix overall, because this isn't the only store they've closed; they've also closed the one near my old apartment on Spring Garden St.
And there's probably lots of others that I can't remember.
There are a lot of causes--South Street's rent is too high, we're in the Great Recession, and media consumption has moved from brick-and-mortar stores to the computer. And there are still places that I like down there--The Bean Cafe, Tattooed Mom, they're still there, and hopefully will stay there. But I've lost a lot of reasons to go down there.
And now Pearl Art, where you could find just about anything you wanted, is gone. And I hear that's as much how the company--not this particular store--is managed.
I don't have to leave my house anymore to buy a book, or find a record, or rent a movie, or talk to friends. Everything can be done right here on my laptop, as I sit on the living room, warm and narcotized by the soft glow of Law and Order in the background, while tabs for Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook are up on the browser. But doing so, I'm losing something. I'm losing real human contact, I'm missing meeting new people, I'm missing finding things by accident.
Den just reminded me of Tower Books, also gone a long time, before even Tower Records, IIRC. He used to sell his zine there.
Friday, January 8, 2010
First of all, how is interviewing a bunch of evangelical fundamentalist nuts about the apocalypse "history", when they believe it to be a future event? And furthermore, the winning stupid comment goes to Left Behind author Jerry Jenkins, who, speaking against the idea of gamma rays hitting the earth, said "God doesn't have to use science to destroy the world". What? What does he think science is--a branch of magic? "God doesn't have to use geomancy to destroy the world"? I ... I can't even figure out what that means. What does that even mean???
"God doesn't need sound waves to make a noise."
"God doesn't need to use words to recite The Waste Land"
I know, looking for real history--as opposed to another episode of "How awesome is Dan Brown?"--on the History Channel is like looking for educational programs on TLC, which, if I remember correctly (and I do), used to mean "The Learning Channel", where they'd show programs like the awesome Connections. And now...
And now I just heard a guy say "Well, ancient peoples didn't know human anatomy, but they did know blood is the source of life." WHAT? Really, there were no doctors? Hippocrates? Celsus? Oh, those guys were morons--they didn't anything about the human body.
Also, the source of life? What does that even mean? What a meaningless phrase.
Look, I'm glad I'm alive in a world of MRIs and antidepressants, but I really get tired of the idea that everyone who came before the modern world was just a bunch of morons sitting around banging rocks together.
As my husband just said, "I guess they're not going to show Power of Nightmares on here."