Friday, October 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 42

Still hosted by Conversion Diary.

1.       Happy Halloween! You know, lately I’ve been seeing a bunch of different posts in the Catholic blogsphere about how Catholics should embrace Halloween. I guess I’m not really the target audience, because I already love Halloween. The macabre, the spooky, and the grotesque are all part of the Christian tradition and a day that celebrates those things seems perfectly reasonable in my book (then again, I’m the guy who thinks A Nightmare On Elm Street is an allegory about the destructive nature of sin, so what do I know?).

2.       To celebrate the holiday, I put together a music video I’d had in mind for a while: Marilyn Manson’s cover of This Is Halloween set to footage from the Arkham games. Batman is supposed to be a fairly scary hero, and his villains even more so, so it seemed a good fit. Making music videos is a hobby of mine, just one that sometimes is hard to indulge because I’m obsessively detailed about that sort of thing and need to find the exact right song with all the necessary footage before I make it. This one was a lot of fun, though time consuming, since there was so much footage to go through. Enjoy!

3.       I used to celebrate the run-up to Halloween with a series of horror movie reviews, but lately I just haven’t found the time or energy to write reviews. Oddly enough, my recent film diet has largely consisted of Disney movies, most of which I hadn’t seen since childhood. I’m finding them a nice tonic to my moods, as nothing uplifts quite like a good fairy tale.

4.       Speaking of fairy tales, I’ve also purchased Charles Perrault’s classic collection and read through it in a flash. He’s retellings tend to be gentler than those of the Brothers Grimm (though still with plenty of death and murder to go around), and often with a surprisingly wry sense of humor. For instance, in his version of Sleeping Beauty, when the princess awakes she and the prince sit there and chat for four hours before the housekeeper comes in to remind the princess that the whole castle has been asleep for a hundred years, are near faint with hunger, and so could they please come down to dinner now!?
 Oh, and I love how in his version of Cinderella the title character cheerfully forgives her wicked stepsisters after marrying the prince, invites them to live in the palace, and finds them noble husbands, instead of the old version where they get their eyes plucked out by birds. In fact, this version of Cinderella is all around a pleasant character, responding to her unfortunate lot in life with humble good cheer and answering the rudeness of her stepfamily with kindness. Some call it passivity, I call it goodness (and Monsieur Perrault agrees with me).  

5.       On that note, rewatching Sleeping Beauty and so forth has made me realize that I’ve been approaching Order of the Rattlesnake all wrong. I’d been thinking of it as an urban fantasy in the mold of, oh, say, Harry Potter. Instead, I realized, it’s a modern-dress fairy tale. So, I’m going to be taking a step back for a while to do the ‘nanowrimo,’ and in the meantime rebuild the story in a proper fashion (I suspect I’ll be able to keep most of what I’ve written, only tweaked here and there, so that’s good news).  

6.       Last night was Rifftrax Live: Anaconda. Rifftrax, for those who don’t know, is basically an updated version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, featuring the three leads and head writers of the show – Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett – ‘riffing’ on various films. They offer both downloadable Mp3 commentaries to synch up with big-budget modern blockbusters and pre-synched versions of more obscure features and shorts. Now, Anaconda is one of my formative movies: I love the damn stupid thing, so I was of course eager to see them ply their talents here. They were in top form, with lots of great riffs on the general stupidity of the film and, especially, Jon Voight’s famously over-the-top performance (“If you can’t trust an insane poacher who casually confesses to killing many people, who can you trust?”). All in all, a good time.

7.       Let’s finish up with a suitable Halloween quote (and it’s disturbing how often this perfectly applies to my own life. Except for the ‘girlfriend’ part):
Ash (looking at himself in a mirror): “I’m fine…I’m fine…”
Mirror Ash (jumps out and grabs him): “I don’t think so. We just cut up our girlfriend’s head with a chainsaw. Does that sound ‘fine’?”
-Evil Dead 2

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, October 24, 2014

7 Quick Takes vol. 41

Still hosted by the inestimable Conversion Diary.

1.     These past two weeks have been an up-and-down series of getting sick, getting depressed, and then apparently coming out of both only to plunge back in. The worst part is that my sickness has never been extreme enough to warrant taking off work (though I have considered it once or twice). 

2.     Speaking of work, my work computer died suddenly this week. Yes, the one I have complained about before. Surprisingly enough, it had been doing much better, with only a little sluggishness, right before it permanently kicked the bucket: sort of like how head-injury victims often feel perfectly fine and even get up and walk around right before dying.  I’m now working off a borrowed computer while they sort out what to do about replacing mine.

3.     In a fit of boredom, I started listening to my audio book version of Monster Hunter Alpha by the inimitable Larry Correia last weekend. Really, those books are horribly addictive: Alpha is a seventeen-hour audio book and I not only already finished it, I’m now about three-quarters of the way through the next one, Monster Hunter Legion (both of which, I might add, I’ve already listened to at least once). I like his Grimnoir Chronicles better (they’re in the rarified ‘books I have to resist the urge to re-read as soon as I finish them’ category), but the Monster Hunter books are a truckload of fun. The trouble is that whenever I read something while I’m writing, I start to panic when my stuff isn’t as good as the stuff I’m reading/listening to.

4.     Speaking of writing, Order of the Rattlesnake is proceeding torturously along. I’m now having to tackle some rather complicated and difficult action scenes, of which I only have a vague idea of how they’re supposed to play out, so it’s slow-going. At least I have one major action scene in a semi-presentable state, so that’s good news!

5.     I’ve been considering doing an overhaul/reboot of my blog. I’m finding the ‘Catholic Nerd’ image doesn’t fit my inclinations as well as it has in the past (though I am still proudly nerdy and Catholic), and I’d like to do something more personal. We’ll see. I don’t know.

6.     I’m also considering seeking a graduate degree that would allow me to teach at the college level. The problem there is that I currently have almost zero respect for most institutions of higher learning and doubt I’d have the patience to endure a constant stream of the kind of nonsense that spews from them. I’m planning to use my free time this weekend to work out some kind of life plan and settle on what to do about all that.

7.     And let’s end with another quote:
“We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”
-Robert E. Lee

Vivat Christus Rex! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 40: Joke Pictures

Welcome Conversion Diary readers!
This week we're going to keep it light with some little joke pictures I made:

1. Cat Stevens in Space!

2. The Rescuers foretold*

3. Mongolian pet shops are hardcore!

4. A little reported greeting Pope Francis gave upon meeting Vladimir Putin

5. Putin's next formal reception was a little more laid back

6. Pope Francis's, on the other hand...

7. Still, he's had worse

*In case you don't get this one, the two actors are George C. Scott and Geraldine Page: these two pages will explain the rest.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, October 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 39: Presidential Trivia Edition!

                I’ve been reading a good deal about various past Presidents lately (mostly the comparatively obscure ones, because they have some of the best surprises) and have stumbled across some (I think) interesting little factoids. So, for today’s 7 Quick Takes, I’m going to share some in the form of a series of trivia questions (visitors from Conversion Diary, I again apologize for the conspicuous lack of cute babies).

1.       Which Presidents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery?
A.      John F. Kennedy (which everyone knows) and William Howard Taft. Why Taft? Taft had a really remarkable career, which included Secretary of War, Governor of the Philippines (which he successfully calmed down following the American-Filipino War), Solicitor General, Governor of Cuba, President of the United States, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Apparently, it was considered only fitting that he should be laid to rest in the Union’s most hallowed ground (his wife, Helen, is interred there as well). 

2.       Who is the only President to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor?
A.      Theodore Roosevelt, though he was awarded it posthumously. He won it for his suicidal bravery during the Battle of San Juan Hill, during the first half of which he was the only mounted man on the battlefield (which he did to inspire his troops), and during the second part of which he ended up storming San Juan Hill with only four other soldiers (the others didn’t hear him calling the charge). Roosevelt then ran back to his men, all the while under heavy fire, to berate them for not following, then became the first man to reach the enemy trenches while leading the charge. It’s frankly a miracle he survived.
So why did he have to wait until the Clinton administration to get his reward? Politics. Roosevelt made a stink about the delay in bringing the troops home after the war (many of whom were contracting tropical diseases), which resulted both in the homecoming of the troops and the embarassment of many of the top brass, who got even by letting Roosevelt's cause for the Medal of Honor sit and rot for the rest of his life. Roosevelt shrugged it off and ran for governor.

3.       Who was the first President to take up Golf?
A.      Once again, William Howard Taft. Taft was a surprisingly active man considering his weight: he enjoyed dancing, was the first President to throw the opening pitch of the baseball season, and in golf he found an engaging past-time that didn’t place over-strenuous demands on his body. His love for golf helped popularize the sport among Americans, and thus began a long, often painful history of golfing Presidents.

4.       Which President annually dressed as Santa Claus to deliver gifts to school children?
A.      Theodore Roosevelt. Among his many other virtues, Roosevelt was an extremely kind man who loved children (something he no doubt learned from his father, Theodore Roosevelt sr. who created a boarding house for New York’s orphaned newsboys). Every year he would visit Cove School in his hometown of Oyster Bay, dressed as Santa, to talk with the kids and hand out presents (he bought the presents out of his own pocket). Santa got fairly mobbed by his young friends on Christmas 1898, after his exploits in Cuba. Roosevelt continued the tradition until 1918, when his rapidly failing health prevented him. His son, Archie, filled in for him instead.  

And we got some cute baby pictures in after all!
5.       Which President, while serving as an officer during wartime, didn’t lose a single man under his command?
A.      Harry S. Truman. Commanding an artillery regiment in France during the First World War, Truman decided he couldn’t face the prospect of losing a man under his command, so he vowed to see them all safely through to the end. Miraculously, and despite some close shaves, he managed it, and his troops never forgot that fact.

6.       Which President (not counting Obama) was accused of having a Black ancestor?
A.      Warren G. Harding. The rumor that his great-great grandmother was a black woman had begun generations before and entered family legend. His great-great grandfather claimed that it had been started by a thief whom the family had caught in the act as an attempt at extortion, but considering how socially debilitating it would be if true, who knows whether that’s the case or not? Remember, at the time the ‘One-drop’ rule was in effect: in certain parts of the country, any proven Black ancestors meant that you were legally Black (and no, now that you mention it, that doesn't make any sense).
To his credit, when the issue came up in the 1920 election, Harding didn’t bother denying it. His answer when confronted with the question was, and I quote: “How the hell should I know?”

7.       Of the four murdered Presidents, who was the only one who wasn’t shot in the presence of his family members?
A.      William McKinley. Compounding the tragedy of our four Presidential assassinations is the little noted fact that three of them were committed right in front of the murdered man’s family. Lincoln and Kennedy both were shot in front of their wives, while James Garfield was gunned down while in company of his two sons (ages 16 and 18). McKinley was spared this, in part, due to the fact that both his children died in early childhood and that his wife, Ida, was too weak and sickly to join in most of his public events. McKinley’s response to being shot (after stopping the crowd from beating his murderer, Leon Czolgosz) was to urge his secretary to be careful in how he told his wife.

             Bonus Trivia!
McKinley had a habit of wearing a red carnation in his lapel for good luck. He didn’t have it on him when he was shot because he had given it to a little girl just a few minutes earlier.
Rot in Hell, Czolgosz! 

Vivat Christus Rex!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 1571

White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain--hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,--
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
    Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plum├Ęd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
         By G.K. Chesterton 

Friday, October 3, 2014

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 38

1.     Missed the last few weeks for the usual reasons, so some of these are left-overs from earlier attempts. As always, hosted by the marvelous Conversion Diary. If you came here from there, I sincerely apologize for the lack of cute children on this blog. 

2.     Remember how last time I said I was in the market for a gas mask? Well, I got one! That military surplus store came through (though it was a bit farther away than I had anticipated). The staff was friendly, laid-back, and helpful, and I walked away with an Israeli civilian model mask that fits over my glasses and beard (which I hadn’t even considered until the clerk brought it up), a filter, a hydration straw, and a couple of old field manuals: one on first aid, the other on setting booby traps (let’s see people ignore that “no solicitors” sign now!). Actually, that inspired me to go on something of a bug-out bag shopping rampage, and I ended up with a few more tools for my car, an extra roll of duct tape (forgetting I’d already gotten one), lots of rope, and a blanket for my car (getting ready for winter). Now I really should get the actual bag part, but I’ve been spending way too much lately and need to go on a freeze for a while (look, there was a rare DVD of The Return of Godzilla available and a complete eleven-film set of the Gamera series: I wanted to grab them while I still could).

3.     I’m listening to a biography of Calvin Coolidge at the moment, which I’m enjoying. The more I learn about him, the more I relate to Coolidge: the quiet, introverted, bookish lawyer who made friends slowly and eventually rose to be an extremely successful President. He also had an amusingly deadpan sense of humor, as in the famous anecdote where his response to the lady who informed him that she had made a bet that she could get more than two words out of him during the evening was “you lose.”
Oh, and I find this picture of him and his wife to be an absolutely hilarious image of the principle “opposites attract”:

She looks like she's about to start flirting with the cameraman, he looks like he's severely constipated. True love, ladies and gentlemen!

4.     By the way, there’s one particular set of invoices at work that have been the bane of my existence for months and now are possibly almost done. There are three of them (all for the same PO), two of which are released for payment while the third and largest sits there with no word on what the holdup is.  Interestingly, the numerical designation of the company they come from starts off with “666.” Coincidence? I think not.

5.     This week I learned that some people can not get around to reading emails for months on end. I honestly didn’t realize that. See, since e-mail is more or less my equivalent of Stephen Hawking’s voice box, I have my email up pretty much all the time as a matter of habit, whether at work or home (sad, I know). So the idea of missing an email for months (heck, more than a day or two) is completely foreign to me. This actually makes me feel a lot better about the oft-long waits between correspondents’ replies (“they’re not ignoring me! It’s just that they’re just normal and I’m not!”).

6.      Today I once more indulged my odd habit of making dark jokes out of historical figures. Gives you a pretty good idea how my mind works. Here are a couple samples:

“Startling new evidence has emerged proving that the hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole was actually created in a fit of bitterness by Robert Falcon Scott as one final "F you" to Roald Amundsen.”

“Well, that could’ve gone better.”
-J. Bruce Ismay upon landing in New York, April, 1912

7.     And we’ll round out with an actual quote:

“Some people misunderstand evil, and believe it will relent. And because their misplaced hope inspires dark hearts to dream darker dreams, they are the fathers and mothers of all wars. Evil does not relent. It must be defeated. And even when defeated, uprooted, and purified by fire, evil leaves behind a seed, that will one day germinate and, in blooming, again be misunderstood.”
-Odd Thomas, Odd Apocalypse

 Vivat Christus Rex!