Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Do TV Writers Have a Moral Obligation to Society?

One of my favorite network shows is Crossing Jordan. Jordan Kavanaugh is a medical examiner in Boston. She's intelligent, tough, tenacious, headstrong, and committed to Truth and Justice. She also has Issues with commitment and following orders.

Normally I don't have a problem with the program. It's fiction, after all. And I have a "thing" for Jerry O'Connell (had since he was in Sliders).

The episode for Sunday (Jan. 28) crossed a line for me. A high speed chase ended in an alley. The driver of the vehicle drew a gun and fired at the police. They fired back and killed him. The police noticed someone hiding in the back of the car. They ordered the person to come out of the car with his hands up. According to the police, that person also fired two shots at them. The police (four of them) answered back with a volley of bullets. The person they thought was hiding turned out to be a nine-year-old boy. Both the boy and the driver of the car are African-American.

Jordan's job is to examine the body and determine if the police account is accurate. According to her preliminary investigation, it is. The Boston Police Commission exonerates the officers involved and a riot breaks out.

Jordan--the daughter of a Boston cop and whose best friend is a Boston detective--is suspicious of the official story. She investigates further and finds significant discrepancies between what that story is and what the evidence on the body shows. In the course of discovering the Truth, another police officer is killed.

And the Truth is--the police officers made a mistake, a fatal one, and tried to cover it up.

Several things bothered me about this episode. The mother, single, never married to the bio-father of the boy, always "felt" that the boy's father would get him killed. Yet she lets the man come into and out of her son's life at will. And she lets the boy get in the car with his unreliable bio-father and take him to school. No one questions her judgment.

The bio-father gets into a high speed chase with the police with his son in his car. He draws and fires a weapon at the police, with his son in the car. The father is killed--but no one questions the father's judgment. What caring father would endanger his kid like that? What reasonable adult?

Four police officers are involved in the shooting and the cover-up. One of them is an older, African American man. He was actually hit by the bullet from the father's gun; fortunately, the cop is wearing a Kevlar vest. Yet the focus of the program is on the young white male cop. Why not focus on the African American officer, one who had been "around the block" a few times and who might have experienced a similar situation? Not enough racial contrast?

My biggest complaint, however, is that this program plays right into the paranoia of African American inner-city residents: the cops will shoot African American children and then conspire to cover it up.

Frankly, the police who patrol cities, especially in the ghetto areas, have a difficult job. They deal with the suspicion and mistrust of the residents all the time. A young man is shot in broad daylight and "nobody sees nothin'; nobody knows nothin'." The police officers, male and female, all races, speak of their frustration in not being able to apprehend the bad guys because of lack of information. Residents have candlelight vigils to "Stop the Violence," but without witnesses, the hands of the police are tied.

Do we really need a fantasy show to feed into this paranoia, to reinforce the stereotype of the prejudiced cop? Or that African American neighborhoods are ready to riot at a moment's notice? A show that's seen by millions of viewers?

What would have happened, how would the story have been different, if the boy and the bio-father were white? Or if the African American cop, the one who had been shot, had been the cop we got to know? The writers make mention of the historically tense racial relations in Boston--why not try to move the story beyond that?

Where was the balance?

Police officers make mistakes. Some also lie or are on the take or are prejudiced. But are the majority guilty of those crimes?

Where are the stories of the good cops, especially on weekly crime shows? The shows that reach millions of viewers across the country?

Do television writers have a bigger moral obligation to the social order, the social consciousness, because of their large audience? Let's face it: even though the networks are losing market share, they still command a much larger audience than print media or radio. And, yeah, I think television writers need to be aware that their stories can have a tremendous impact on how groups are perceived.

If they didn't, why would CAIR be so upset about 24?

Souper Bowl of Caring

This flyer came home last night in the Family Envelope. I think it's a great idea, so I'm spreading the word...

"More than 15 years ago on a Super Bowl Sunday, a single youth group was inspired by a simple prayer. They started the Souper Bowl of Caring, a youth-led movement that is now an international event.

"Since 1990 on Super Bowl Sunday, the Souper Bowl of Caring has raised more than $33 million for individual charities across the country. It is also turning our nation's biggest weekend of football into its largest weekend of giving."

In our parish, the Youth Ministry and Confirmation students will have soup pots at the entrances of our church to collect donations for two local soup kitchens. I think it's a great idea--I wish our parish had found out about this earlier.

For more information on the organization, Souper Bowl of Caring, their website is http://www.souperbowl.org.

Monday, January 29, 2007


"We have now had several generations growing up with either missing parents or well-meaning but “barely-there” parents. A lot of what we learn regarding intimacy we learn from Mom and Dad and Grandma. If they’re barely in the picture, from whom will we learn it?"

--The Anchoress

I grew up in an average- sized 1950's suburban house. Three bedrooms. One bathroom. A living room with a dining "L". A medium-sized kitchen. Two car garage.

The house was bigger than the homes either of my parents had grown up in. And it seemed plenty big when they bought it--for the three of us.

Twelve years later, there were eight of us living in that same house. I got used to getting up at 6:00 a.m. so I could have a half-hour alone in the bathroom before high school. I learned to do my homework despite the television, radio, chatter of younger siblings. I became somewhat territorial, somewhat fanatic about "my" things and asking permission to use them.

Sharing a dorm room and a bathroom on the floor was a snap after that.

When my dad was dying, the hospice worker asked my parents if there were any unresolved issues, anyone in the family that needed to make peace with another. My parents couldn't think of anything. Mom called and asked each of us. We couldn't think of any issues, either. The hospice worker was quite surprised. How could a family of eight strong-willed individuals get along so well?

When I was pregnant with DD#1, Hubs and I looked for a larger home. Our requirements were simple: he wanted a garage and a fireplace, I wanted three bedrooms (minimum) and two bathrooms. We found our house. It met our minimum requirements. Although the kitchen is tiny (I can't open the oven door and the dishwasher door), there is a family room. And the backyard has an amazing view. We proceeded to have two more children. Everyone shares a bedroom. The cars haven't seen the inside of the garage for fifteen years. The "living room" is the computer/study room. The dining "L" is the craft area.

I complained to my mother one day about how crowded we were. She pointed out there were two less people in more square footage than in the house where I grew up.

But my children, despite the gaps in their ages, are really close to one another. There are fights over possessions, there are complaints that the older two are "bossy" and that Hubs and I "spoil" the younger two. But they buy each other gifts with their own money, gifts that reflect the interests of their sibling. They know each other, intimately. DD#1 spends an hour helping DD#2 primp for a holiday dance, suggesting outfits, fixing her hair, applying just the right amount of make-up for a 13-y.o. DS#1 will spend thirty minutes explaining a math concept or a chemistry concept to DS#2. DS#2 will practice his Spanish with DD#2, who will make spaghetti for the family for dinner from a recipe DD#1 has taught her.

They come along for family parties and they come for important events, like graduations and christenings and my dad's Anniversary Mass.

Why are we so close?

My guess is because we are so close physically. There is, quite literally, no where to hide in this house.

Lack of privacy can be a problem. Hubs has to get up early, so he's often in bed before the adult children are. And the TV in the family room echoes up the stairs. The master bathroom has the only shower. DS#1 is easily distracted; to study he leaves the house for the library or a friend's home or even studies in the car.

But it's impossible not to know what's going on. They share music. They share anime shows. They share movies. They share discussions about the sacred and the mundane, the intellectual and the crude.

Long ago, a friend of mine pointed out that the British Parliament building was severely damaged during WWII. The British could have made the building larger, so that each MP had more room. Instead, they rebuilt it the original specifications. They felt that this forced an intimacy among the MPs. They could not hide from nor ignore their co-workers. They had to work together.

I often wonder, as I look at the new houses in my area, if the British weren't on to something. Homes are getting bigger as families are getting smaller. Days can go by where families don't have to interact--especially as the children move into high school and become more independent. With TVs and computers in every room, with iPODS and headsets locked firmly into ears, with everyone having their own phone, it's easy to lose the sense of "family." It's almost like the office--every worker ensconced in his or her own cubicle, moving to their own beat.

Families are messy, emotionally, often physically. It's where we learn how to live with other people, how to take care of not only our "stuff", but the stuff of others as well. Where we practice sharing and consideration. (Emphasis on the word practice here.) Isolating ourselves from each other physically limits our opportunities to interact, to learn.

And perhaps that is causing the increased isolation young people seem to be feeling.

Updated and bumped up.

You Know You're in Trouble...

...when your pastor knows who you are outside of your normal context.

This week is Catholic Schools Week and yesterday was the Mass and Open House. Fr. P was there, of course. I was walking out of the school gym when he stopped me and said, "Your name came up, but I can't remember why."


"Yes, we were discussing Oktoberfest and your name came up as part of the core group. We don't want you to stop doing the Pig Race, but we thought you could take a bigger job."

"Like Booth Chairman?"

Fr. P. nodded, "Something like that. Ask R. She's here and she'll remember."

DS#2 and I left to visit DD#2's classroom. DS#2 looked at me and said, "Mom. Just say, 'No!'"

Fr. P. later remembered what the job was that "everyone" thought I would be good at: Non-game booth chair. And I would be good. Problem is, I'm up to my eyeballs as chairwoman for other projects for Girl Scouts (mostly) and I feel like I'm already not giving those jobs the attention they deserve.

And I want to write more. I find I need at least an hour to get even something simple like a blog posting done. I can't do that if I'm involved in multiple meetings.

So this request by Fr. P: is this a challenge from God? Is He testing my resolve about writing or is He telling me that my time and talent would be better used this way? Would "Our Father Below" (to borrow a phrase!) use Fr. P. to deviate from the path I should take? (I need to re-read the section in The Screwtape Letters where Screwtape discusses using religion to keep a soul from the correct path.)

Internal discussions like this is why God often needs a "clue-by-four" to get my attention. Maybe that will be my prayer request this week!

A New Look

Yesterday I finally had some time to start playing with the new templates and options offered by Blogger. More tweaking will come, since not everything came over (where's my TTLB Ecosystem ranking?) and I need to tweak the picture.

I may have to break down and buy HTML for Dummies, as my preferred method of learning a new computer language is "Let's try this and see what happens!" There are limits to what one can do that way! :)

Suggestions, comments, criticisms gladly accepted, although I might not listen to them.

As my friend, Alice, says, "I give myself very good advice, though I very seldom follow it."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Book Review: Endymion

Dan Simmons' name was mentioned in a discussion over at Happy Catholic about science fiction and religion. His series (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion) takes on the challenge of religion (several, in fact), life after death, the "humanity" of androids and cyber-human hybrids.

John Keats, the cyber-human hybrid, is a major character. Martin Silenius, the poet, writes an epic poem called Cantos. Two Roman Catholic priests are involved, one who follows Teilhard de Chardin and the other who is more orthodox.

It has been a while since I read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. In fact, I didn't realize, until the discussion on Julie D.'s blog, that Mr. Simmons had written two more novels in the series. So I ordered Endymion and Rise of Endymion from the library and took a chance that I what I didn't remember about Hyperion would be covered it recap.

Most of it seems to be, although there are pieces missing. Had I time, I would probably re-read the entire thing, in order, and the gaps would be filled. However, if I recall correctly, a lot of Fall of Hyperion is recap.

Raul (rhymes with tall) Endymion lives on the planet Hyperion. His family name comes from the city of the same name, which has been abandoned since The Fall. His family are shepherds and stories are handed down orally by Grandam. Since then, Raul has had several jobs, including a stint in the Home Guard and as a hunting guide.

During one of his hunting expeditions, there is a mishap. Raul is condemned to die. Since he has not accepted the cruciform of the One True (Roman Catholic) Church, his death will be permanent. So he is quite surprised to find himself resurrected, in Endymion, at the behest of Martin Silenius, author of the Cantos and one of the original pilgrims to Hyperion.

Raul's task is to find Aenea, the daughter of the cybrid John Keats and his human wife. She alone can discover what happened during the Fall and what happened during the Fall of the WorldWeb and those who maintained it. And, by the way, he also needs to discover the fate of Old Earth.

On the planet of Pacem, headquarters of the Vatican of the Holy Catholic Church, one Father Captain de Soya is given orders to find Aenea and bring her back to the Holy Father, Pope Julian XVI. Julian is Father Lenar Hoyt, also one of the original pilgrims in Hyperion, and he carries not only his cruciform, but that of the second priest who was with him.

Endymion raises a lot of questions about religion and what it means to be human--what it human--and the role of religion and the freedom to practice what you believe. The cruciform, given to all "true believers" ensures that one arises after death. But not all chose to accept that gift. For non-Christian religions, specifically Judaism and Islam, what place can they have in the new world order (called Pax)? And is there a conflict between being a priest and being an officer on a battleship? (In fact, there are now women priests and cardinals.)

I do not like this Catholic Church, although they have preserved all the pomp, circumstance, and artwork associated with the traditional church. In fact, they pray in Latin. But they are souless beings, many of them and remind me of the Church during the time of the early Renaissance--the Borgias and their intrigue.

The poetry and symbolism of John Keats plays an important role in these books and I wish I knew more about them. I feel like I'm just missing something important, some hidden reference, although these stories are really enjoyable reads. I think I'd get more out of them if I had a better background in classical poetry and Classical Greek and Roman symbolism. I am in awe of writers who manage to bring in allusions that I sort of kind of recognize and weave them into the story.

Next up is the Rise of Endymion, which means, of course, the story of Raul, Aenea, the blue android, Bettink, Father de Soya, and Pope Julian continues.

On the March Hare scale: This is a tough one, because it's #3 in a series. But I give it 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks. Thought provoking and exciting. Starts slowly, build to a crescendo and a logical denoument, for a serial book. ;)

Which Science Fiction Writer Are You?

This is a question that has long intrigued me, so when Julie D. over at Happy Catholic had this quiz, I knew I had to take it. Here are my results:

I am:
Robert A. Heinlein
Beginning with technological action stories and progressing to epics with religious overtones, this take-no-prisoners writer racked up some huge sales numbers.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Now I have to admit, I was rather surprised. I've always thought I was more like Ray Bradbury. So I changed a few of my answers and... I was still Robert Heinlein.

Unlike some of the other quizzes, this one did not list the other possible writers. So I wonder who else is on the list. Isaac Asimove? Ursula LeGuin? James Tiptree, Jr.? Harlan Ellison? Theodore Sturgeon?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What If...

One of my favorite memes in science fiction is "Alternate History" where the author changes one event and speculates on what that means for the (current) future.

What if Nixon had taken the advice of his political advisors in 1960 and challenged the results of the election? There was strong evidence of widespread fraud, especially in Chicago (apparently the dead rose to vote for Kennedy) that could have changed the results. In our timeline, Nixon decided that a challenge would be too divisive and damaging for the country, so he simply conceded the election to Kennedy.

What if the fraud was proven and Nixon declared the winner?

*JFK would not have been assassinated. LBJ would not become President. There would have been no "Great Society" program, at least not in the form it took under LBJ.

*RFK would not have been Attorney General. Would he have still gone on to become the Senator from New York? Would he have run for President himself? Would he have been assassinated?

*Would Ted Kennedy be the Senator from Massachusetts? Would his behavior have received the pass it has if his brothers had not been assassinated? Would Mary Jo Kopechne still be alive?

*Would Nixon have gotten the U.S. involved in Vietnam?

*Would the U.S. have supplied the military support to the Cubans fighting against Castro at the Bay of Pigs? Would Cuba have been overthrown? Or would Krushchev have rushed military aid to Castro to prevent regime change, including the use of nuclear weapons?

*Would there have been a Space Program? Several items that we use every day and take for granted (velcro, for example) were developed for the Space Program and later put to commercial use.

*What about the Civil Rights Movement?

*There would not have been a Watergate. There may have been a different scandal, because Nixon was paranoid, but the Watergate Hotel had not been built yet. So instead of every scandal ending in "-gate," it would end in something else.

Comments and speculations are welcome. Have some fun with this!

Your Prayer Donation Is Greatly Appreciated

...for my co-worker who recently had "minor" surgery and requires a blood transfusion.

...for DD#2 who takes the first of two high school entrance exams this Saturday. The second one is the following Saturday. (This is what happens when you apply to two different Catholic High Schools in two different dioceses.)

...for DS#2, my candidate, and the others in their Confirmation Prep class who are going on retreat this weekend. The theme is the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. My hope is that they are open to receiving them now and for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review: The Ant Bully

First a disclaimer: I watched Disney's The Little Mermaid right before watching The Ant Bully. The contrast between the two were jarring and have probably affected my judgment about The Ant Bully. And not to the better.

Lucas is a young boy, small for his age. His mother, who has the most incredibly pear-shaped body I've ever seen in an animated character, calls him "Peanut." He is regularly picked on by the neighborhood bully who specializes in giving "Atomic Wedgies" that rip Lucas's underwear.

Lucas has a teenage sister who is plugged in to her phone or her mp3 player, a dad, and a grandmother who is always losing her teeth. Grandma also keeps electric fans on in her room to keep the aliens away.

Mom and dad, incredibly enough, leave Lucas and his sister in the care of Grandma and go off for a vacation in Mexico. Mom doesn't want to go--or at least, she'd like to take the kids. Dad, on the other hand, sees this as a second honeymoon.

Poof! They're gone.

Lucas, having nowhere to vent his anger and frustration, decides to pick on about the only things smaller than himself: the ants who live in his yard.

The anthill has an aspiring wizard (who knew?) who is trying to use "fire rocks" (have no clue what they are really supposed to be--but he bangs them together and they spark--but they're red, not black like flint) to concoct a potion that will make big things ant-sized. He finally gets the spark he needs and Poof! He has a potion.

The wizard ant, along with his girlfriend ant, decide they are going to Teach Lucas A Lesson. They pour some potion in his ear and Poof! He's ant-sized. Lucas will remain ant-sized until he learns How to Be A Good Ant.

But Lucas has been tricked into signing a contract with an Exterminator.

Will Lucas learn to be a Good Ant?
Will he thwart the Evil Exterminator and Rescue the Colony?
Will the wizard and his girlfriend get together?
Is Ricardo Montalban so hard up for money that he agreed to read these lame lines (albeit in a voice as rich as fine Corinthian Leather)?

If you don't know the answers, then you haven't watched much "kid" fare lately.

I try not to be Paranoid about Liberal Hollywood and Their Agenda. But this movie constantly stressed that Cooperation for the Good of the Colony was Good. Although characters showed some individual initiative, it was either ignored or condemned as "Bad." Except for the Exterminator who was downright Evil and Ignorant, the parents and Grandma were clueless and useless. The teenage sister embodied just about every stereotype of female teenagerdom: mean to her brother, plugged in constantly, mean to her grandmother and parents, totally unsympathetic. About the only cliches that were missing were cheerleading and trips to the mall.

Unfortunately for Warner Bros., the studio behind this movie, Pixar has set the bar very high not only in terms of technical ability in CGI, but in terms of storytelling as well.

Besides, haven't we seen Ants done before?

On the March Hare Scale: Skip this one. Rent The Incredibles or A Bug's Life to see great animation AND storytelling.

Book Review: The Kite Runner

Amir and Hassan are best friends in Afghanistan during the late-1960's and early-1970's, or as best of friends as the culture will allow. Amir is Pashtun and a Sunni; Hassan is a Hazara and a Shi'a. Amir lives in a big house and goes to school. Hassan lives in a mud hut and is the son of Ali--the servant of Amir's father, Baba.

Both boys are motherless and were nursed "from the same breast" (the same wet nurse), which makes them, according to Ali, closer than brothers.

Hassan is also the best kite runner in Kabul--he chases down the kites cut free during the kite fighting competition, which is nearly a national sport in Afghanistan. Hassan has an uncanny ability to determine where the kite will ultimately end up and is there waiting for it.

More than anything, Amir wants his father's love. Unfortunately Amir takes after his mother: sensitive, poetic, thoughtful. Baba would prefer a son more like himself: athletic, strong, sure of himself. Baba's friend and business partner, Rahim Khan, is often the only one who can bridge the gap between father and son.

Harder for Amir to accept is the fondness Baba often shows to Hassan, which includes providing the surgery necessary to repair Hassan's harelip. Amir's jealousy cause him to try to provoke Hassan, who tells Amir, "For you, a thousand times over."

Ultimately, though, Amir's jealousy causes Hassan to leave, which means when Baba and Amir flee Afghanistan for America, Hassan and his family are left behind.

Amir and Baba rebuild their lives in America, settling in Fremont, California, where they find a large Afghani population. Baba works at a gas station while Amir goes to high school. On weekends, they comb through garage sales on Saturdays and sell their finds at the San Jose flea market on Sundays. Their lives move forward as Amir continues on to college and falls in love. In traditional Afghani fashion, Baba speaks with her father and the marriage is arranged. Their engagement is not long because Baba has cancer. He lives long enough to see Amir married and settled, but not to see Amir's success as a writer in his adopted homeland.

Life has become comfortable when Amir receives a phone call from Rahim Khan. Rahim is in Pakistan and would like to see Amir.

Rahim Khan is dying. But before he does, there is some information he must pass on to Amir and some decisions Amir must make. In more ways than one, Amir must confront his past.

The author, Dr. Khaled Hosseini, is an emigre from Afghanistan himself and lives in the Bay Area. And so his novel provides an insider's view of Afghani customs, cultures, and prejudices. He, too, was a child when his family fled to America and Amir's memories of Kabul are those of a child, which makes the modern reality of Kabul much more grim.

Ultimately, however, this is a story about individuals and how their actions and decisions echo down through the years. Assumptions and prejudices are confronted--and those most often are internal.

The Kite Runner is an emotionally powerful book and I'm not sure how Dr. Hosseini is going to follow this book. (I kind of hope he writes a different book rather than continuing the story.) There are a lot of themes: relationships between fathers and sons, Truth, prejudice, tradition, literature, God and religion. I raced to the ending, then went back and read it more leisurely so I could enjoy the impressions of a part of the world I will probably never visit.

On the March Hare Scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Monday, January 15, 2007

Book Review: Going Postal

This is the second book I've read in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and, like Carpe Jugulum, it's a stand-alone story.

Alfred Spangler is a con artist who has been caught, tried, and convicted. He is duly hung. When he wakes up, however, he is not in Heaven nor in Hell, but in the office of Lord Havelock Vetinari, despot and tyrant of the country of Ankh-Morpork. And Lord Vetinari knows Alfred's real name: Moist von Lipwig. Turns out Mr. von Lipwig has been hung, quite literally, within an inch of his life.

Lord Vetinari has a proposal for Moist: he can become the Postmaster of Ankh-Morpork or he can walk out the door. The door, Moist discovers, leads to a room where the floor is several hundred feet below the one where he is currently standing. Moist decides to take the Postmaster job.

What Moist doesn't know is that the mail hasn't been sent in about 20 years. Mail and packages fill the rooms of the Post Office because Junior Postman Groat won't allow any mail to be discarded. Mr. Groat and his assistant, Stanley, live in what once was the locker room of the Post Office. Mr. Groat remembers the glory days of post office, when mail was moved efficiently, chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and a great golden statue of a winged god dominated the lobby. Mr. Groat doesn't think Moist will have any better luck restoring the Postal Service than his predecessors did--four of them in the last five months.

When faced with this Augean task, Moist does what any reasonable person would do--he runs away. He uses a cache of cash, stored under another alias, buys a horse and is off. Several horse trades later, and Moist is well outside the city limits of Ankh-Morpork. That night, however, is his rudely awaken by a golem by the name of Mr. Pump. Seems golems don't sleep, don't eat, and don't give up. He carries Moist and the horse back to Ankh-Morpork and Moist resigns himself to being Postmaster and dealing with the mess.

Meanwhile, there are the "clackers"--basically semaphore towers that send messages, either by visual signals or lights, across town or across countries. What took days or weeks to send by post can be sent in hours. The clackers were an invention of some clever engineers who were not particularly savvy businessmen. After a few years, the engineers found themselves eased out of their business and the savvy businessmen took over. The businessmen enjoy their monopoly on communication, along with the high rates they charge and the fact that the clackers are often out of commission. After all, what alternative does the populace have--the Postal Service?

The smarter among them realize that, yes, Lord Vetinari is serious about reinstating the Postal Service. And they realize that this challenge cannot go unanswered. And someone is sabotaging their signalling equipment. But who? And why?

Moist, who now understands the persistence of golems, goes off to hire some and meets Miss Dearheart. He cannot charm her and that intrigues him. Moist also discovers that the Post Office is not always what it seems to be--or when. (This is Discworld, after all.)

Does Moist use his talents for good instead of evil? Do the evil business owners of the Grand Trunk Clacker get their comeuppance? Has Lord Vetinari met his equal in Mr. Gilt? Does Moist ever date Miss Dearheart?

Read the book and find out.

Warning: Terry Pratchett is British and this book is full of British humor. What that means is there is usually quite a set-up to his jokes. If you laugh out loud, you'll have a difficult time explaining why to those around you.

I enjoyed this book more that Carpe Jugulum, perhaps because I was more familiar with Discworld or perhaps because this story was really more about Moist von Litwig and I came to like him. A lot. While there are supernatural elements in the story, Going Postal is really more about one man and how he is able to make a difference.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Weekend Jokes

Courtesy of Suzanne from California Stampin' & Scrapbooks:

Patient: "Doctor, I hear all kinds of animals talking in my head."
Doctor: "Don't worry, you're just having Disney spells."


A psychiatrist's secretary walks into his office and says, "There's a gentleman in the waiting room asking to see you. Claims he's invisible."

The psychiatrist responds, "Tell him I can't see him."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Parental Statements

DD#2 has decided she would like to attend one of the Catholic high schools in our area. She's actually applying to two of them, but really wants to go to the one that's the most geographically inconvenient.

Of course!

Whether she actually goes is another matter, mostly financial. But we'll apply for aid and leave the rest in the hands of God.

Meanwhile, I'm writing up the Parental Statements, since Hubs is not good at these things. Both schools want to know what I expect from them in the areas of academic preparation, co-curricular activities, and religious preparation. One school combines all three areas and gives me about five lines to answer. They go on to ask questions about any special circumstances surrounding my daughter and what she's like. For the other school, each of the three questions gets a third of the page. Plus I have to write a letter of recommendation for my daughter.

What I want is for my daughter to capture something of the experience I had attending a Catholic high school: the opportunity to really study the foundations of the Catholic Church, to live as a Catholic during the week as well as just on Sunday, to keep questioning and (hopefully) to have someone who can answer those questions.

In my case, there was also a sense of sharing an experience. Most of us recognized each other by face and name when we graduated. We had spent four years going from dorky freshmen to young womanhood. We were challenged daily to learn more, to do more, to give it our best effort. Not everything we learned came from textbooks and not everything was on the approved curriculum.

Not everyone had a positive experience. Talking with former classmates, I'm surprised to see how different high school was for each of us. And while I was not a pariah, I was not one of the "popular" crowd. (It's funny to see that DS#2 occupies the same social zone. He has friends who are brains, friends who are jocks, friends who are geeks, friends who are nerds, friends who are in leadership. He also seems to find those who are active in Boy Scouts--and a few Girl Scouts.)

The difficulty is, of course, how to capture that in a concise, coherent statement!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Book Review: Carpe Jugulum

Julie D. over at Happy Catholic had been posting selected quotes from this book for weeks. Since I'm a sucker for a clever title, I had to check it out.

Carpe Jugulum takes place in Discworld, a flat world held up by four elephants resting on the back of a giant turtle. Why? Because it's Terry Pratchett's world and he can pretty much write it any way he likes it!

I had never read a Discworld novel before and, I'm happy to say, that lack didn't seem to matter. Mr. Pratchett's humor is of the British sort--think of it is as kind of a written Monty Python sketch. If you're willing to jump right in and go along with things, you'll enjoy it. If you need sensible explanations, well, you're not going to get them.

The King and Queen of Lancre, one of the countries on Discworld, are having a Naming Ceremony for their new daughter. The King, not wishing to offend anyone important, has invited everyone on Discworld, including the Count and Countess of Uberwald. Who happen to be vampires. The Count--a rather modern, forward-thinking vampire--excuse me, vampyre--has decided that he should rule Lancre. So he takes it over in a bloodless coup by controlling the King's mind.

Fortunately, there are witches in Lancre. One, Granny Weatherwax, is not present as her invitation was stolen by magpies. One is the Queen, who "gave up" witchcraft when she married. The remaining two are Nanny Ogg, related to most of the population of Lancre, and Agnes, who is of two minds about everything because there really is another personality (Perdita) inside her.

Granny, thinking she had not been invited, leaves her cottage and goes out to the moors, which is gnarly ground. Nanny Ogg, not happy at being the "crone" in the witches coven (crone, mother, maiden), tries to roust the vampires from the castle. But these vampires have desensitized themselves from all the normal tricks that can be used to get rid of vampires. So Nanny and the Queen set off to find Granny.

Agnes, meanwhile, is left to distract the vampires in the castle. The son of the Count has taken an interest in Agnes because he cannot control her mind. What he doesn't realize is that he can control Agnes, but he can't control Perdita.

And then there is Mightily Oats, a priest of Om, who is unsure of his faith, especially since it seems to be fracturing into different denominations daily.

Other characters who play important roles are a phoenix, Igor (servant to the vampires and who misses the Old Count and the Old Ways), and the "Pictsies" (Pixies) who are fierce and vaguely-celtic.

"Carpe Jugulum" means, of course, seize the jugular, and is the family motto of the vampires.

There be magic in Discworld, but it is not used much. The witches seem rather normal, really, relying more on their wits to rid Lancre of vampires than any magic potions. There is much discussion about "what everybody knows who knows anything about {fill in the blank}." "What everybody knows" usually turns out to be mistaken. Discussions about good vs. evil, the nature of sin, belief and faith are scattered throughout the novel. The novel ends with some questions that may--or may not--be answered in subsequent novels. Afterall, this is not a "straight line" series.

But it is a fun read if you're ready to pop through the Rabbit Hole.

On the March Hare scale: Three out of five Golden Bookmarks.

Even the Sanctuary Is Not Safe

Okay, this is really disturbing: a man walks into a church on Friday night and sets fire to the Christmas tree and Nativity scene. At least he gave the choir, who were rehearsing, warning to get out.

St. Cornelius is across the street from the Civic Center, in the flatlands of Richmond, CA. Most of the parishioners are low income; many are Hispanic. It's located in a tough neighborhood--parents or grandparents often walk their children to school, crossing several busy streets.

The Catholic school is next door to the church and has a gym where my kids played frequently in CYO volleyball and basketball games.

And, oddly, no one mentioned it at the volleyball tournament held at the Catholic School just down the freeway or at Mass on Sunday, where our sanctuary was filled with Christmas trees and a large Nativity scene. The group of parishes clustered around I-80 are fairly close knit and word usually travels quickly when something happens.

I'm glad no one was hurt and that the police were able to capture the man responsible.
Odd that he would wait until almost Epiphany to attack--a couple of days and the trees and Nativity would have been gone. Most of the damage seems to be smoke and water damage, rather than structural. Still, it's going to require some clean-up.

Please keep the parish in your prayers.

(H/T: See-Dubya at Michelle Malkin's website)

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Quiet Resurrection

It occurred to me this morning that while the birth of Christ was heralded by angels and a star, the Resurrection--a much bigger deal--was quiet. The women came to the tomb and saw an angel sitting there. No songs. No star. Just a person speaking quietly.

When Jesus died, there was a huge storm, possibly an eclipse of the sun, as well as an earthquake. When He rose there was--nothing. No change in the weather. No righting of the Temple. In fact, Jesus didn't even present Himself to Pilate or to the Pharisees and Sadducees to demonstrate His power over Death.

Many arguments and disputes would have been forestalled, if He had. There would have been less room for doubt.

Perhaps that's why Jesus rose quietly and showed himself to those who already believed. In John 20:29, Jesus tell Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." We are free to believe or not. Pilate had condemned a man he knew to be innocent for political expediency. Did he hear rumors that this man had risen from the dead? Did he dismiss the rumors? Or did he worry, in some secret corner of his soul, that these rumors may be true? Did some of the answers Jesus gave him begin to make sense?

Forty days later, Jesus was gone. Ten days after that, His Apostles and Disciples came out to the marketplace and began preaching--and everyone who heard them understood what they were saying: "Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'" (Acts 2:7-12).

And we are still asking "What does this mean?" some 2000 years later. The story of Jesus has "legs," despite the lack of publicity, despite the lack of verification by the government or by a religious authority or by a phenomenological expert.

LINOS: Libbers In Name Only

The local news was filled with stories about Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her historic "shattering" of the Capitol Ceiling by become the First Female Speaker of the House.

(Hubs' reaction: "Aren't all women Speakers of the House? And of the Car and the Store and..." He couldn't go on because I poked him. In a particularly male sensitive spot.)

This particular newscast featured comments from Senator Feinstein, a fellow San Franciscan of Speaker Pelosi's. (Sen. Boxer, it must be noted, is from Marin.)

Sen. Feinstein noted Speaker Pelosi's many years in Congress and noted how young she was when she started.

"Fortunately, Nancy's husband has done well," Sen. Feinstein said. "Nancy didn't have to worry about money."

Sen. Feinstein then went on to say (and I'm paraphrasing) that in her family, "...my husband's job is to earn the money and I spend it. It works for me. It works for Nancy, too." And then she laughs.

So, these two liberal and liberated women have traditional marriages: hubby earns while wifey spends and, essentially, runs around the country playing Lady Bountiful.

And Sen. Feinstein mentions that Mr. Pelosi has made his money (and continues to make it) by old-fashioned capitalistic means: he invests it.


I guess it's easy to be empowered when you're using someone else's money.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Titanic Tragedy

Last Friday we saw the exhibit of artifacts brought up from the Titanic. The exhibit was well done as well as emotionally affecting, for the curators focused as much on the passengers of the Titanic as they did on the physical items of the ship.

We were handed a "boarding pass" when we entered the exhibit. On one side was a facsimile of the White Star Line's pass. On the other was our name, our port of embarkation, and a brief biography. I was May Peel, a well-known novelist, returning from Europe with her novelist husband, Jacques Futrelle, who had just signed several book contracts. We were traveling in First Class. Hubs, on the other hand, was a Danish immigrant, relocating to Detroit with his wife and six children to work as a machinist. Originally scheduled to sail on another ship, a coal strike delayed their sailing. White Star Line offered them passage on Titanic and they took it. Third Class on Titanic cost more, but the accommodations and food were superior to those of other lines. In fact, Titantic's Second Class was as good as First Class on many other lines.

Besides passengers, Titanic carried a good deal of commercial cargo. Their freight rates were higher, but because the ship was considered unsinkable, the marine insurance costs were lower. Some of the cargo included automobiles, perfume samples, clothing samples, and art work. The RMS before Titanic's name indicated she was a "Royal Mail Steamer," and postal clerks were busy all voyage sorting letters loaded in Southampton, Cherbourg, and Queenstown, Ireland.

The exhibit began with the construction of Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic. Much care and thought were put into the design of these two ships, including such safety features as a double-walled hull and water-tight compartments. They were designed to be able to make port even if four compartments were flooded.

In order to get the ship built on time, hydraulic riveting was used, although riveting was done by hand, using teams of two men and two boys, in smaller spaces. She had four steam whistles, although two were dummies--only the two on the two front funnels worked. Her engines were huge and consumed an enormous amount of coal. She carried twenty lifeboats--although she was designed to carry more, some were removed to provide more promenade space for the First Class passengers. Still, the twenty lifeboats were more than what was required at the time by either Britain or the U.S.

Titanic was designed so that the passengers never mingled with nor saw much of the crew. They had separate dining rooms and sleeping quarters which they reached by their own passageways. Still, being a steward or a maid on a White Star Line ship was considered a good job. The engine room was hot and dirty, but the men who worked there were a proud bunch.

Much attention was paid to detail, from the artwork on the walls to the Grand Staircase to the design of the Smoking Lounge for men and the Sitting Room for ladies. Children were welcome and the Verandah Cafe was designed with a tile floor where the children could play games. In fact, one family, emigrating from France to Haiti, changed their passage from the France to the Titanic because of the restrictions the France placed on children.

The exhibit uses quotes from passengers, crew, and those involved in designing and building the Titanic to provide context for the events. Some were worried that declaring a ship "unsinkable" was insulting God and had a bad feeling. Others saw the Titanic as an incredible feat of modern engineering and science.

None of them thought about the human factor.

Because of the coal strike, the Titanic left Southampton a bit earlier than planned. The binoculars for the crow's nest were either misplaced or never brought on board. (Why this wasn't noticed when the ship left Southampton and the binoculars replaced in Cherbourg or Queenstown is not mentioned.) Would the binoculars have allowed the two lookouts to spot the iceberg earlier, allowing the Titanic to complete its turn in time to avoid it?

Many of the crew survived, mostly because they were manning the lifeboats. Their accounts of the events of that night are heart-wrenching. There is a block of ice that visitors are encouraged to touch--and then we are told that the water was much colder because of the lower freezing point of salt water. Most people died of hypothermia, not drowning.

And then there is the list of names. There are four categories: First Class, Second Class, Third Class, and Crew. Those categories are divided into those who survived and those who did not. Most First Class passengers survived, as did the crew. Most Third Class passengers perished, including entire families.

There are some notable heroes. John Jacob Astor put his pregnant wife in a lifeboat, but did not join her. Isidore Straus, owner of Macy's Department store, urged his wife to get into a lifeboat and she refused, stating that they would die as they had lived: together. Margaret Brown, immortalized as "Molly" on stage and film, took over her lifeboat when the crewman on board had a mental breakdown and encouraged the other passengers to row. Several children were placed in lifeboats, separated from their parents. Women in the lifeboats took these children under their wing and, in some cases, ended up adopting them.

The last part of the exhibit was the search for and discovery of Titanic. They showed pictures of what they found, including a complete set of dishes, lying unbroken in neat rows on the ocean floor. The cabinet that had stored them had rotted away around them. There is a 15-foot section of the hull and a piece we could touch. There were explanations of the science involved in preserving the paper, the leather, the porcelain, the metal that has survived. There is a discussion of the latest danger to the Titanic: iron-eating microbes that are turning the steel back into basic iron ore.

All told, it took me two hours to go through the exhibit--but I read and looked at everything. (Hubs, who has been to several museums with me, is used to this and found a bench. DS#2 has not had as much experience as Hubs. When I got to the end, he said, "Finally!")

As it had in the film, what affected me most were the stories of the passengers, especially those in Third Class. They were coming to America, full of hope and dreams, carrying the tools of their trade. They were meeting their brothers and sisters, their aunts and uncles. One Second Class passenger was a priest, coming to New York to preside at the wedding of his brother. He stayed behind, giving comfort and praying.

And the children--there were so many! I think that's what surprised me the most. All those hopes and dreams, the parents sacrificing surety for the promise of a new and better life--gone.

The Titanic exhibit is coming to other venues. Check out their website, http://www.rmstitanic.net/, for venues, dates, and more information.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Boarding Passes

Ta-Da! The Final Stationery Set

The following cards were my Christmas gift to my cousins, sisters, in-laws, outlaws, and friends. In exchange, I received homemade goodies and teas--a fair trade, since I don't bake!

In all, I made about 25 sets, and I ended up with a couple of sets for myself. Once I come up with a design, I do the rest as an "assembly line" and I can do one set in about an hour or two. Every card has an envelope with an accent that follows the theme.

My only "rule" is that the cards are used. The record for turnaround is the year Sis#2 got her set the night of Christmas Eve and used one as a birthday card for our mom--Christmas night.

I can't remember how long I've been doing this now. DD#2 thinks it's at least ten years. (She could be right.) And everyone still is excited to receive them at our annual Christmas Eve party.

They made with rubber stamps card stock. Vellum and handmade paper was used as accents on some of the cards. Some images were embossed using powder while Pearl Ex or Perfect Pearls (basically pigment powder) was used on the others.

One of them is a goof that I was able to salvage, sort of. I stamped the initial upside down. I stamped it again the right way and it made kind of an interesting design. DD#1 thought it was cool and suggested I do all the initial cards that way, but I didn't want to tempt fate!

If you're interested, e-mail me (march.hare@comcast.net) for more details.

New Year's Resolutions

One of the best things about being a Catholic is that we have lots of chances to make resolutions, with Advent and Lent being the best known. Plus we have the traditional New Year. And the Tuesday after Labor Day, the Official Start of the School Year--although that's been creeping into the middle of August around here.

My Resolutions don't change radically from year to year or from Season to Season. What does change is that I have become more specific about the actions I will take to achieve my goals.

So, in no particular order, here are my Resolutions for 2007:

*Get back to my Goal Weight. (If you've ever done Weight Watchers, you'll know what I mean!)

*Do one set of Christmas Gift stationery each month so I'll be done by December 1.

*Send out Special Occasion cards on time!
Use some of the paper/stamps/embellishments/ink/envelopes I've been hoarding. Scan the cards and then send them!

*And the big one for this year: have the house clean enough to host DD#2's 8th Grade Graduation party (for the family, anyway). This involves many, many sub-categories, such as clearing out much junk that seems to accumulate.
*Donate at least one bag of used clothes or goods to Goodwill/St. Vincent de Paul/ or other charities each month. Donating uniforms to the school Uniform Bank will also count!
*Go through all the Cub Scout stuff that I have and donate it to the Pack. DS#2 has been in Boy Scouts now for five years. It's time to go through all the stuff I accumulated as a Den Leader and Pass It On.
*Same with the Brownie Girl Scout stuff. Although some of that I can take to Japan.

*Write more. Whine less.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Who Are We Rooting For Again?

Hubs and I have a few rules about Who We Root For:

1.) Cal (college) or 49'ers (pro)
2.) Bay Area teams (even the Raiders)
3.) California teams
4.) West Coast teams (or Pac-10 teams)
5.) Western teams
6.) Underdogs

There are exceptions to the above. For example, we root for Notre Dame over USC. If a relative lives in the state, often we'll root for their home team.

Our choices often confuse The Children--at least, they confused DD#2. She understood why we rooted for Cal. She sort of understood why we rooted for UCLA. But the Rose Bowl? We rooted for USC, even though we hate USC and Michigan wears blue & gold. (Okay, I wanted SC to win, but I also wanted a close game.)

And then we rooted for the Broncos last night--although we had rooted against them on Sunday. (Did anyone else notice that the school colors and mascot for Boise State looks a lot like the pro team from Denver?) Boise State was the clear underdog and Oklahoma didn't take them seriously. We also rooted for West Virginia, Auburn, and Wisconsin because we thought they were the underdogs. The games were close and didn't disappoint.

Well, maybe the Emerald Bowl did.

DS#2 wanted to go visit a friend's house. A reasonable request--except that it came during the middle of the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl! As any reasonable person who follows football living on the West Coast knows, The Rose Bowl is the New Year's Day game. Especially for alumni of schools that haven't been there in, say, 40 years.

But the Fiesta Bowl had it all: David (Boise State) and Goliath (Oklahoma). Smash mouth, hard-hitting football. A young coach who had paid his dues coming up through the system. A revered former coach sitting in the box. The governor who moved his inauguration up in order to catch a flight to Phoenix to watch the game. A school with a lot of tradition and swagger. A couple of tricky plays. The hero of the game throwing the ball to father sitting in the stands and then proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend on national T.V. (As the quarterback said, "It wouldn't have been quite so romantic if we had lost.")

Will the National Championship Game next Monday be as exciting? Will it mean any more to the fans or the team?

Will the Superbowl?