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Showing posts from 2007

Pope Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Today is the sixth day of Christmas--halfway finished. I'm realizing this year that 10 presents or so, for each child, is quite a bit, even if many were inexpensive. We're going to have to retool this a bit--work out our celebration with fear and trembling (not just trembling at the amount of money spent).

Today's feast is brought to you by Pope Sylvester I. I didn't realize there was a Sylvester II, much less the first one. Supposedly he's the inspiration for "Father Time" (S 1st, that is). Anyway, whenever I hear the name Sylvester, beyond the association with the cartoon cat with a saliva problem, I think of William Steig's endearing book, the only one of his I ever read as a child, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.The story has nothing to do with popes or even Christmas. All I can think of is poor Sylvester transformed into a rock, causing his parent's unimaginable heartache, and Sylvester's loneliness through a year(?) sitting in a m…

Feast of the Holy Family

Well, not quite half-way finished with Christmas--presents still under the tree. Even one for me. The wife gave me The Simpsons Season 10 DVD yesterday. Christmas has been quiet, but good. And it is snowing right now. This is good too. What makes a good Christmas for you? Does anyone find it odd that soon after the feast of the Nativity we have a day commemorating all three members (in your best brogue)-- Jesus, Joseph, and Mary?

The Fourth Day

At the grocery store today the cashier asked me if I had a good Christmas. I replied, "Yes, but it isn't over. There are twelve days of Christmas."

"There are? Oh, are you Jewish?"
No dear, Hanukkah only has eight days. And Jews and Christmas (at least in its religious expressions) don't mix.

Happy feast day of Tommy B. of Canterbury martyred this day in 1170. Also, it's colly birds, i.e. coal black--not calling birds. Some suggest the four birds represent the four Gospels. And then some suggest that a bird is sometimes just a bird.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me. . .

Here's a meditation, or something, I wrote last year to commemorate the third day of Christmas--a day to remember the slaughter of The Innocents. The babies of Bethlehem who were butchered for Herod's paranoia.

The Third Day . . .
Don’t strange things happen in threes? Work routine almost reestablished until the order comes in to ride to Bethlehem, swords at the ready. What will I use that Lowe’s gift certificate for? Bust down the doors, yelling "Merry Christmas!"—we live and die for tyrants—let’s hear it for the boys as we gut them, slash and smash them. Oops, did we just kill your daughter, Ma’am? Later, much later, the reports claimed 14,000 dead tonight (the Syrians said 60,000) but I think the number was closer to 20 dead Jew baby boys. And the least I can do is to unplug the tree lights and skip dessert for these, lully lullay, who died in thy stead. A baby boy now on his way to the land of dusty pharaohs.

And so this is Christmas. . .

Yes, it is still Christmas in the Martin household. Perhaps one of the few Protestant economies still practicing in its twelve-day splendor. Though, now, on the feast day of St. john there's only about 15 minutes left. The Martin offspring are equivocating--all presents now!--save some for later--all presents now!--save it for later (they aren't really familiar with the English Beat). Here is the inculcating of virtue in action. Can this newly minted four-year-old and fiver hold out for all their gifts through Epiphany Sunday? Only time, that strange, strange teacher will be able to report it to you.

Anyway, raise a glass with the Martins--I drink to you the love of good Saint John.

Christmas Eve

Today is the last day of Advent. But then tomorrow, after the feast of the Nativity is Christmas. 12 long days and nights of celebrating a most preposterous event. Creation is good! Molecules matter! We lose sight of the goodness of the stuff around us; no, not death and destruction and 24/7/365 marketing, but nature and people and even aspects of human culture. That God would put on the human dress, would condescend to us, lifts all of us, all of creation up. These insights are nothing new, but so many forget--especially Christians. Those who should so highly esteem the created order are quite often those who dismiss it or worse want to escape it at the soonest juncture of temporal passage. God is Good! Merry Christmas, dear readers (all two of you). Pax et caritas et gloria soli Deo in excelsis!

Addendum: I think I mangled the Latin syntax.

St. Wendell again

I'm currently reading Wendell Berry's collection of short stories, Fidelity, and I have to say is there anything this man can't write? Drama, perhaps? Anyway, I'm into the second story, but not enough to comment on it; so I'll talk briefly about the first one, "Pray Without Ceasing." As always the story is set in Berry's fictional Port William, Kentucky and we are introduced to many characters and families that Berry has developed further in his novels. The story revolves around a young man trying to understand his great-grandfather who was murdered before he was born. Ben Feltner was shot dead by his friend, Thad Coulter. His grandmother relates the story to the great-grandson and she says,
"People sometimes talk of God's love as if it's a pleasant thing. But it is terrible, in a way. Think of all it includes. It included Thad Coulter, drunk and mean and foolish, before he killed Mr. Feltner, and it included him afterwards.&quo…

"I Need a Snow Day!"

Wish granted. Except I really don't need a sabbath from the Sabbath. Church was cancelled today. So we went and did this:

My part of Michigan had "Thunder snow" last night and we awoke to 8 inches of the crystallized water and no church.



Yesterday, we cut down our Christmas tree:

No new snow while we were out, but man, that wind was as sharp as the saw I used to commit arborcide. Funny, I used to be against cutting down Christmas trees, but tree farms (Yes, I know about the pesticides) are sustainable unlike the Chinese plastic tree in some living rooms. Actual pines keep money in the agricultural community, they provide carbon exchange, mulch (after Epiphany), and habitat while the trees are growing. Aside from the bug/disease control tree farms are very beneficial. Additionally, Michigan is number three in Christmas tree production, behind Oregon and North Carolina as 1 and 2, respectively.

The co-owner of the farm was kind enough to give us credit for the tree a…

Punk Rawk Kid!

This is so pedia-indulgent. But I just had to post these.














P.S. St. Nicholas left me the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album in my boot. I love Advent. I'm fasting tomorrow though, honest.

Ahhh, Advent

My background is low, low church. Assemblies of God, ya'll. Due to this deficit I am highly respondent to high church liturgical practices. Anyway, my family (that is my wife and I and now our children) have only been celebrating Advent for about eight years now. Every year I learn a bit more about the beginning of the Church calendar. For instance, our Orthodox brothers and sisters view this time much like they do Lent--a time of fasting and preparing for the Feast of the Nativity. I'm going to try my hand at fasting once a week for these four weeks, though it'll only cost me three lunches since Advent ends on Monday the 24th. I'm also trying to work my way through a devotional based on comments from the Church Fathers.

We've experimented with our children in our celebration of the season before the twelve days of feasting, and we've tried to scale back the cultural encroachment of Christmas. We do this by slowly adding decorations in the house. We u…

The Darjeeling Limited

I can't believe I haven't seen an adult movie since waaay back in August. So over the holiday weekend I caught up with Wes Anderson's latest, The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson's understated comedies have always resonated with me, especially The Royal Tennenbaums of a few years back. Anderson's schtick (all right, let's call it ouevre)is all about family and community. What holds families together? What pulls them apart? Anderson seems fascinated by the quirky dynamics of family. Owen Wilson tricks his brothers into a faux spiritual quest in order to make contact with their mother who has become a nun in India. All of this takes place after the father's funeral, since then no one in the family has spoken to each other. At times Anderson's dialogue resembles that of a bad acting exercise but his direction and his actors manage to strip the wood from the words. Not as strong as the aforementioned Tennenbaums, but Darjeeling is worth a trip.

The Secret to Good Gravy

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful for this little tip that I added to my gravy to make the BEST turkey gravy EVER--boil down some hard apple cider and mix it in. I guarantee it'll add a subtle but distinguishable enhancement to the gravy. Mangia!

Bored? Read this.

Who knew a book about boredom would be so refreshing. It's under a 150 pages, but Richard Winter's Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder is so pithy and wise. In it he disects the deadness of our souls and how we came to be so. He traces the idea of boredom from the early church fathers use of the term acedia (or indifference) to the Medieval's idea of sloth: "Some believed it [acedia] to be the most deadly sin of all because it represented intellectual and spiritual indifference and lethargy." To continue with this development Winter writes, " Between the eleventh and twelfth centuries the description of acedia and sloth shifted from emphasizing idleness or laziness to suggesting a state of 'spiritual slackness, weariness and boredom with religious exercises, lack of fervor, and a state of depression in the ups and downs of spiritual life.'"
Today with our focus on immediate gratification and about a mi…

$20 Apples!?

Today while making a small purchase at Westborn Market (an ersatz farmer's market) I was standing behind a couple who had purchased a bag of MICHIGAN honeycrisp apples (a 10 year old breed of apple that I have yet to find a superior taste to). The bags were listed as being $2.99 a pound. The total for the bag (at over six pounds) was over $20. Now, admittedly $20 does sound like a lot for apples and I don't know this couple's financial situation, but even the cashier was agreeing with them. After they left I told the cashier that Americans are too used to cheap food. Our current agricultural system diverts the true cost of food from the consumer and puts it on the farmer, specifically the small, independent, family farmer--you know, T. J.'s dream of citizen yeomanry. I informed her that farmers have to make money too.

Again, $20 for a bag of apples is probably stretching things for poor people, but the cheap shit is exactly that--shit. High calorie and car…

"Hands Off Our Water"

So says the headline of yesterday's Detroit Free Press. It seems some secret study at the federal level wants to know what our national water supply is like. Congressional reps Candice Miller and Vern Ehlers (Republicans no less) smell a river rat. Miller says to the Feds "Do not look to the Great Lakes to solve the nation's water problems." And Grand Rapids native Ehlers responded to the question of water-napping with, "I would suspect we'd call up the militia and take up arms."

There are a couple of issues here. One is the ever-creeping power and reach of the Federal branch of government caused by BOTH Democrats and Republicans. If you weren't aware the Constituion reserves powers and rights to the states that aren't explicitly outlined in the Constitution.

Federal control of the Great Lakes would probably represent such ursupation. The second issue is the idea of growth without limits. People should be free to settle where they w…

"A harsh, cruel world."

While Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is about clones, it isn't very science-fictiony. In fact, outside of a few instances of jargon and that the main characters are clones you'd never get that futuro-techno feel at all. The story takes place in the 1990s in England, but the whole story is character driven rather than by plot. The narrator, Kathy H., recalls her life growing up at a school (for clones) called Hailsham. The overall mood of melancholy and flatness informs her storytelling. You get the sense that much is missing from these people's lives. And it is, but then what would you expect from a slave class? I won't give away any more (not that there is some big shocking ending--there isn't) but if you're looking for a novelized form of Gattaca or The Island, this isn't it. Ishiguro is interested in how a clone would live out her life conscious of what she was. And he does it well. Not fast reading, not gripping, but quiet and deadly ser…

Traitor Joe's?

I like the idea of Trader Joe's stores and have patronized one in Northville a few times, but after shopping there today I don't think I'll be visiting much anymore. Here's the problem--outside of wines--no local products. How hard is it to stock MICHIGAN apples in October? Better yet how hard is it to stock local apple cider? There was no local produce, no local meat, no local dairy, nothing except the wine. I'm trying to make this a blog with as few F-bombs as possible, but this is testing my limits. If they don't want to support local/regional farmers then I don't really want to support them. They are sending money outside of a state that badly needs income. What about you? Do you even care that you eat South African oranges, Chilean apples, and New Zealand lamb?

What kind of miracle are you?

In reading a brief passage today from The Backyard Beekeeper I had one of those epiphanic moments we all occasionally have. A bee spends the first three days of its life as an egg, about the size of a grain of rice sliced in half, and after that "the egg dissolves, releasing a tiny grublike larva." From there depending on whether it was fertilized or not it becomes a queen (if the workers decide that), a worker, or a drone. Yeah, yeah, to beekeepers this is nothing special. This is what most novice beekeepers learn early on. My question is where does that bee essence come from? Sure, there's the sperm and ovum, that's true for nearly all living things, but think about it--all living things are composites of their forebears. The individual bees, bears, and humans didn't exist before conception--and yet, here they and we are! What a miracle is this! Skip the genetics lecture, I get it; where did we (that's you and me) come from? How is there bee essence and oa…

Trans-Atlantic Epistolary Cinema

Who knew a film about books, letters, and friendships could be so charming? 1987's 84 Charing Cross Rd.is a gem I have ignored for about a year. I watched it this evening and found it time well spent. Yes, it is based on a play, but it doesn't feel wooden or claustrophobic as many stage to screen translations often do. Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft portray the main characters who live an ocean away from each other yet strike up a friendship through the ordering of books. The story takes place in the paleo days of 1949-1970something--that's pre-bubble wrap and pre-Amazon.com. Ahh, a movie for bibliophiles (and maniacs as Bancroft builds up an impressive library of hard-to-find titles). Put the kiddies to bed, parents; this one's for grown-ups. That means no explosions, car chases, nor jiggling breasts. Unless you count the scene where Bancroft's character is arrested.

And it was good

Camping this weekend was good. Perhaps it wasn't camping--we stayed in a cabin--let's call it primitive living. Heat (much needed) from a wood-burning stove and no electricity. We hiked, I don't know, maybe six-seven miles through the Waterloo Recreation Area, sharing the trail with horses. But perhaps the best, though fleeting, moment was to hear early in the morning the croaking bugle of these flying over. They are as large as blue herons but don't resemble pteradactyls flying (at least that's how I picture herons). While their call is not beautiful in the conventional sense, beauty ain't always pretty, they match the sensuous and graceful undulations of the "Ooh, dat ugly" octopus. It beats the sound of the internal combustion engine any day of the millenium.

Tales of the Sweetwater Seas

Before you leave Michigan (for something flimsier than employment reasons) read Jerry Dennis' The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. This luminous work is part travelogue, part natural and cultural history that only makes living in this region all the more sweeter.

Dennis, himself a Michigan native, intersperses his tale of sailing a former tourist schooner, the Malabar, out of the Lakes to Bar Harbor, Maine (another sub heaven) with stories and information about invasive species, Indians, weather and specifically storms, fishing, Chicago and the forest fire it overshadowed, the "Mighty Mac," shipwrecks, and just about any other topic related to Lakes HOMES.

The writing is personable and enticing. I had the pleasure of reading most of it while camping outside of Traverse City about two months ago and could recall either by memory or while presently there some of the sights Dennis describes.

EVERY Michigan native should read this love letter to o…

My Country--Michigan

Robert E. Lee told Lincoln, when asked to take command of the army at the beginning of the Civil War, that he couldn't choose to fight against his country. He was talking about Virginia. Perhaps it's time to think that way again.

Oh, where to begin? So many natives trashing the state of our state. On an assignment for my creative writing class one of my students wrote that she hopes to leave Michigan for good. Now there could be some personal baggage she wants to get away from, but so many people talk about leaving because of the economy, the climate, the cultural life, whatever excuse they want to make. Many of those excuses are legitimate--I mean, you can't live where you can't work, unless you choose to be indigent or suck the state's teat.

OK, strip away the economic reasons. Why leave Michigan? Or turn it around: why stay? I don't know about you (the two people that visit this blog) but I've Lake Superior coursing the vascular tunnels in my body. I'v…

Tension in the Capitol

I'm only a few hours back from my first trip to Washington D.C.



While it was a working vacation, of sorts, I did have time to observe some of the more typical elements of that city that would be Rome. I won't bore anyone with all the touristy details, but I did want to discuss one point. The wife and I visited the National Archives yesterday ( an interesting, though perhaps less glamourous stop than others). What I found, rather what I felt, hard to take was the rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. In the inside of this basilica were the "scripture" of the U.S.--the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution (Happy Constituition Day, BTW), and the Bill of Rights. Now, I found the fact that those were the original, faded documents very cool. What I had problems with were the quasi-religious elements at work. First the light is dim, yes, I know, to aid in the preservation, but let's be honest it is also meant to add to the air of holiness present. You are su…

Resurrected, Living in a Lighthouse

I haven't written any album reviews on here, so why start now? Well, honestly, Arcade Fire's Neon Bible is just too good not to spread the word about. David Dark has a more extensive review in Books and Culture, but this will have to suffice. Starting with a carnivalesque organ the album churns out dark and yet contrarily hopeful songs. Two in particular to focus on are "The Well and the Lighthouse" and "AntiChrist Television Blues." The first concerns a story of sin and redemption with the end chorus slowly chanting "Resurrected living in a lighthouse, if you leave them ships are gonna wreck.
Resurrected, living in a lighthouse, the lions and the lambs ain't sleeping
yet."Oblique yet illuminating for those with ears to hear. The song immediately following is the antithesis. Some schmuck wants to use his daughter (who sings beautifully) vicariously to testify about the power of God. As the song progresses he turns on his daughter, continually qu…

Auughh!

School starts tomorrow. I don't feel ready, though I am looking forward to teaching high school students again. I think the longer one is off from work the harder it is to begin working again. Something like: inertial mass increases over time thus requiring more energy to break the grip of inertia and move. On the plus side, I did finish A Tale of Two Cities today. I found the first third somewhat slow, but that last third--whooo! Is Carton's scheme going to work?

. . . and St. Wendell too.

Local cultures and economies, forest communities, small shares of private land, and health--these are the themes explored by Wendell Berry in the latest book of his that I have devoured. Six relatively short essays only add to the imperative that Western culture has some serious problems with it. That fact is not news (nor even literature ala E. Pound) but Berry's solutions could be considered a new antithesis to the G.O.D. complex of our political masters (that's Grow Or Die).

I suppose one could say that Farmer Wendell says nothing here that he hasn't already said. But wisdom doesn't come in a vaccination i.e. one shot of it doesn't keep you for life, instead one needs a regular dosage of wisdom to truly be at home in our skins and on the earth. So, Berry will keep writing until enough of us get the message and do something about it.

A couple of excerpts (note I've posted a couple of different quotes from this book earlier in "What Hath Economics to Do wi…

St. Walker

I finished Walker Percy's 1983 existential parody Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book in early August. It was an uneven attempt at getting people to see why they may be "lost." The book really picked up in the last two parts his "Space Odyssey." Something akin to C.S. Lewis' space trilogy Percy wrote a scathingly funny examination of what would happen if humans tried to colonize space. After reading that you should listen to T. Bone Burnett's "Humans From Earth." Have you ever been to Lost Cove, TN?

God and Evil

As my friend, philosopher R. S. Lee, put it perhaps the strongest argument against God is the problem of evil (G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the strongest argument against Christianity was Christians). Many atheists, of the loudmouthed stripe these days, seem to think this is some new evidence that they alone (the "brights" as Richard Dawkins wishes to label his ilk) have marshalled this damning bit of quandry against the forehead of Goliath-like religion with some smooth stone of David. Acutally guys, this reasoning is pretty old. . . ancient, in fact. Many of the ancient Greek dramatists and poets dealt with this topic. And yet, Christians are still here (religion is still here for that matter).
In David Bentley Hart's 2005 book The Doors of the Sea he tackles the problem of evil (theodicy as the ancients knew it) in the context of the 2004 tsunami that killed 1/4 of a million people. This short book is an excellent meditation on the question whether an all-good Go…

Collapse ahh, ahh (sung to the tune of Queen's "Flash")

The subtitle of Jared Diamond's Collapse- "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed"- doesn't quite give you the idea that the core of collapses that he examines are from environmental causes. Environmental causes couple with human ignorance or hubris, that is.
Diamond chronicles the fall of several past societies--Easter Island and some other South Pacific groups, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Maya, the Vikings, and the Norse of Greenland. Additionally, he looks at some contemporary examples of collapse and those on the verge--Rwanda being the former with Haiti, China, and Australia in the latter. Diamond also examines the state of Montana for signs of despair and hope closer to home.
He outlines five factors that combine to cause a society's collapse; they are 1) the resilience of the local environmental region and the amount of human-inflicted damage, 2) climate change (which isn't necessarily warming), 3) hostile neighbors, 4) decreased support …

What If . . .

I found this quote on the web today--

Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio challenges Christians to consider the following thought experiment: “What would happen if theologically conservative Christians were noted for their commitment to improving arts education in public schools more than for their opposition to the teaching of evolution? Is it possible that a commitment to a well-trained imagination is a necessary asset in properly apprehending the kind of thing Creation is?”

Why that's down-right un-Jesusy isn't it? Look, I have trouble with the story of macro-evolution too, especially the materialism it engenders, but I'd say we have a larger crisis of a poverty of the imagination, both in the larger culture and in the Church.

What does it mean to have a baptized imagination anyway? Why do so many (myself included) find themselves in battles that have little meaning (I don't mean to imply that the battle for creation metanarratives is trivial, it isn't) and can't find…

Introducing. . . Fishergirl!

This is what pride in your children feels like ( in your case, dear reader, reads like.) On our recent trip to Arbutus Lake (see "Ah, Quasi Wilderness") Rhonwyn wanted to use the fishing rod and reel I gave to her for her fifth birthday last month. So we went down the slope from our campsite to the lake and practiced casting for awhile with a weighted plug on the end of the line. A day later I purchased some Fancy, Imported Crawlers (they were from Canada).
When the time came to actually fish, Rhonwyn, in typical five-year-old girl fashion refused to bait the hook. OK, I think when I was her age I made my grandpa do the same thing. We cast a few times, lost some worms to weeds, logs, and nibbles, but received nothing for casting our worm out on the waters.
We stopped because we had to finish packing up to leave, but I wanted to give her one more chance. After the packing was finished we drove a short way over to the boat launch. I, once again, did my dadly duty and hooked th…

Are You Charlotte Simmons?

All right, I downed my first ever Tom Wolfe novel (in about 2 1/2 months). It was . . . good. A bit cardboardish with the chioce of characters, but given that Wolfe is trying to paint a broad canvas of contemporary US collegiate life, I think we can overlook his less than Reubenesque characterizations. I don't want this to be a long review so I'll just say that EVERY high school junior and senior in America (probably Canada too) should be forced to read the consecutive chapters titled "To . . . Us" and "You Okay?". As Wolfe has Charlotte observe throughout the book human sexuality is reduced to "rutting" and a spirit of gnosticism is found in every molecular gap on the campus of the fictional DuPont U.
The lesson for those who take the supernatural as real should be this: one coat of moral fiber/teaching is not enough. Charlotte absentmindedly refers to the Christianity she was brought up with, but it is not enough to stop the deluge of the need to…

Ah, Quasi-Wilderness

Well, we made it through our second camping trip of the season. We stayed at Arbutus Lake State Forest Campground, which is about 15 minutes south of Traverse City. We had the beach almost exclusively to ourselves during the five days we were there. A blue heron or two hung out to the northeast of this beach and at least one loon made its home somewhere on this particular lake.
While there we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Surprisingly, this has been one of the few attractions in Michigan that I have failed to visit. We didn't spend as much time as I would have liked there so we'll have to go again. This picture is from a .6 mile hike to Pyramid Point, the northernmost part of the park. You have a great view of South Manitou Island from the bluff up there. That's about a two hundred foot slope below my feet there.
We also hit the Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, and Point Betsie Lighthouse on the way home. (Does anyone know how to layout photos so they are…

Curses!

I went to check on my lone beehive (down from two in previous years) only to find them queenless! Auuugh! The weather has been mild and dry to hot and dry this summer so I imagine the nectar flow has not been the best. They should have at least close to 60 pounds of honey by this time--I estimate they have about 45. This is very frustrating. They are raising their own queen, she's capped right now, but I fear that will be too little, too late. So much for an empire of honey this year. On the off chance that any other beekeepers come across this ( I feel like a beehaver) how has your summer been?

What Hath Economics to Do with the Environment?

Having recently taken (and passed, I might add) an Ecological Economics course and in reading a couple of books namely McKibben's Deep Economy and currently Wendell Berry's Another Turn of the Crank has changed my thinking immensely. A few years years ago I wouldn't have made the connection between economics and the environment other than the usual tired arguments about jobs versus saving some particular place or ecosystem. The issue is deeper than that.
What is your view of the global ecosystem? Is it a subset of the economy or is our economy, both local and global, a subset of both kinds of ecosystems? As we move farther and farther away from living and having our being in and on the land we would probably choose the first option. I think, based on science and the Bible, that it is the second one.
Anyway, in thinking about these things nearly incessantly these days, I come across Berry's comments in his essay "Private Property and the Common Wealth" where he …

The Past Ain't What It Used To Be

I finished Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus back in March and I'm still letting some of his work settle in between my cranial folds. A couple points of interest he raises:
There were quite possibly more people living in the Americas than Europe in 1491 (scientists disagree but even the conservative estimates are higher than those found in most high school textbooks)Some Indians were living in harmony with their environment, but many had radically changed their surroundings:e.g., the Great Plains of America, the areas of New England where the Pilgrims and Puritans first settled.This is fascinating because the idea still is disseminated that Indians were perfect Earth-keepers as oppossed to those greedy Europeans. The evidence gives the lie to these antiquated ideas. The truth is that Indians like any other group of people they had good and bad practices and that they impacted their environment for their benefit. See for instance, Mann&…

"The Most Ruined City in America"

I'm reading Bill McKibben's Deep Economy, a popularist approach to populism and its cultural accoutrement, localism. Anyway, here's McKibben's take on one way Detroit may be saved:

Say you're a dreamer. Imagine the most ruined city in America.
That would be Detroit, which has lost half its population in the last few
decades. A million people have moved away; as much as a third of the city's 139
square miles consists of empty lots and dilapidated buildings, "an urban core
giving way to an urban prairie," in the words of the New York Times.
But slowly, some of that land is coming under cultivation: forty community
gardens and microfarms, some covering entire city blocks, have sprung up in
recent years. A farmer named Paul Weertz farms ten acres spread over seven lots,
prducing hay, alfalfa, honey, eggs, goats' milk, even beef cattle. His tractor
barn is an old garage. In 2000, a group of architects, urban planners, and local
activists convened by the Universit…

Nerds, Part II

The wife and I saw the premiere of The Simpsons Movie last night. It was genuinely funny--like a long episode. What I found the most fascinating though, was the audience demographics: overwhelmingly White males. In fact, they were quite like the crowd last Saturday at the DFT. To paraphrase Hamlet: "What did you see my Lord?"
"Nerds, nerds, nerds."
Again, where does that leave me? I suspect at the regularly timed premiere today a slightly wider audience diversity can be expected. But man, last night, we were awash in a sea of Jeff Albertsons.

Simon Birch rot in Hell

Why do some great books wind up as celluloid drek? I realize they are different medium and ask different things of their viewers/readers, but c'mon, why eviscerate a story and then place it on the screen? Maybe that's why John Irving's hilarious and compelling novel was called A Prayer for Owen Meany and that treacly, aspartame-filled film it was based upon ended up titled Simon Birch.

The two bear some resemblance but not much: both take place in New Hampshire, both concern a diminutive title character, and both narrator's mothers have died in a baseball accident leaving the identity of the father a mystery.
All I remember from the movie was a treacly, feel-good message about believing in yourself or some such pop-pshych mush. The book, obviously, dwells much more deeply on themes of identity, destiny and providence, and friendship.
A book about a boy and his abnormally small friend who sees his own tombstone in a vision doesn't sound all that funny. To top it off Ow…

Fish in the Rouge

On the way to picking up our van from the mechanic's shop, my son and I took a detour along the bank of the Upper Rouge River (about a minute walk from my house). Looking in the water in a shallow pool I noticed fish! Baby fish--minnows or some species I couldn't tell, but still, there were living fish there. That might sound very mundane, but you have to realize that until only recently the Rouge River was one of the most polluted in the US. The fact that there are environmentally sensitive species living in an urban stretch of this river is testimony to the fact that people can get their act together when it comes to environmental devastation.

Can you say "nerd"?

I took my three-and-a-half-year-old son to the "Creature Double Feature" at the Detroit Film Theatre this afternoon. We watched The 7thVoyage of Sinbad and Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster (though the literal translation of the title seemed much longer). I thought I'd introduce him to something from my childhood (they were old when I saw them for the first time in the late 70s). While he did enjoy them and was very well-behaved for his age I hope he doesn't get the idea that this was fine cinema. Camp, camp, camp! Was that dialogue the best they could do for Sinbad? I don't know what cultural conditions were like in Japan in the 60s but the American filmmaker's attitude seemed to be "This stuff is just comic-book crap. It's just for the kiddies. It doesn't need to be well written." That was unfortunate, because the fx director, the great Ray Harryhausen, took his craft seriously. The stop-motion work in that 1958 piece was astounding. Sure, i…

Long Live the White Rose!

I watched Sophie Scholl: The Last Days last night. Yet another movie about the Nazis, though this one was somewhat different than many in that it relayed a short episode (about a week) of a small group of student resisters to National Socialism (no, it isn't that wretched film Swing Kids). Sophie Scholl and her brother were caught after distributing leaflets critical of the Nazi prosecution of the war. Of course, in a totalitarian society, political critiques are not welcome, in fact, they were labeled high treason. Sophie and the group are motivated not only by political opposition but a grounding in a principle that is higher than the state; though it is presented a bit fuzzy, Christianity seems to be the principle. The interrogaters have made a god of the state, and so are a bit befuddled to see an intelligent, non-violent, and principled stand against such idolatry.
Another point appreciated in this film was that the Nazis (and their minions) were presented as humans. Police …

Introduction

This will be an occasional blog for a couple of reasons--I don't want to be tied down to writing something here daily (and do you want to have to check my blather daily?) and I honestly don't think I can sustain daily scribblings anyway. So, check back maybe weekly or less, I'll have to see how well this will work for me.

Why is this blog titled as such? Well. . .
I adore Shakespeare and find Hamlet to be my favorite play that I've read or seen of his (so far). OK, so why the negative title?

I'm not a person of high-born lineage-thus negating a tragedy based on my life following Aristotelian standards (see his Poetics, especially 8.1)

I'm not pestered by demons. Some view the ghost of Old Hamlet as a demon tempting Hamlet to murder and damnation. While there are persons I don't particularly like, I don't wish them dead. Maybe just maimed.

I'm not dead.

I am not involved in some familial-political intrigue (though my family is certainly interesting).

I don&…