Not a Fan of Friars

March 18th, 2009

Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue of the Summoner's Tale

For you have often heard, by God, how a friar's spirit was once carried off to hell in a vision, and as an angel led him about to show him all the pains there, he did not see a friar in the entire place; he saw plenty of other people in woe.

Then the friar spoke to this angel, "Now, sir," he said, "do friars [have] such grace that none of them shall come to this place?"

"Yes, many millions!" said this angel, and led him down to Satan. "Now, Satan," he said, "has a tail broader than the sail of a barge. Rise up, Satan," he cried, "let the friar see where the nest of friars is in this place!"

And before a person could walk half a furlong, just as bees swarm out of a hive, so there drove from out of the Devil's arse twenty thousand friars all in a mob, and swarmed about throughout hell, and came back again as fast as they could, and every one crept into his arse; and he clapped his tail down again and lay still.

(from eChaucer)

Reviews: Coraline, Revelation, India after Gandhi, Watchmen

March 18th, 2009

Coraline - 8/10
I really enjoyed Coraline. Not an ambitious film but very well executed, and replete with the odd, imaginative touches that are a hallmark of Neil Gaiman's work. The story is simple but elegant; I particularly appreciated the realism of the Coraline character when confronted with events. Visually it's a treat (we did see the 3D version) and although not for small children it is a fine telling of a spooky-but-not-too-spooky bedtime story.

Revelation by C.J. Sansom - 6.5/10
I enjoy the Matthew Shardlake mystery novels. Set in the waning years of Henry VIII's reign, they are nicely evocative of the period. The characters are interesting and well-painted if frequently morose or obtuse. This latest novel in the series was an enjoyable read but it lacked real spark; certainly not on a par with the earlier novels.

India after Ghandi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha - 8/10
I am working with more and more Indians these days, and my knowledge of Indian history is patchy at best. This book was an excellent introduction to modern Indian history; obviously it was a quick (well, at 800 pages not that quick) survey of many topics, but the book is easy to read and conveys lots of basic information that any Indian student would know and no American student has ever heard about, such as the linguistic origin of the states and the critical role of Jawaharlal Nehru. I would definitely recommend it as an introduction to Indian history for someone who wants to know about India today. One complaint: it could have used more maps.

Watchmen - 8/10
I have read Watchmen the graphic novel perhaps a dozen times, so one might say I am a fan of the book. On the whole I quite enjoyed the film. It took necessary liberties, including changing the ending, in order to fit in the timeframe of a single feature film, and was the weaker for it. To be honest, the story would have been better served by a television miniseries, but of course they do not have the budget for those that one can get for a movie.

The visual presentation was excellent and with a few exceptions spot on - Adrian Veidt was I think not cast well and there were a few other nitpicks, but they are more than outweighed by the strength of the other performances. The depth of the characters varied but was in many cases quite strong, and Snyder did a truly exceptional job in bringing the world itself to life. A fine film that falls short of the source material, but came as close as I think any film could have given the constraints of the genre and the complexity of the original.

Ow! My Brain!

March 17th, 2009

I am working from home on Mondays. This means that I am taking my lunch at home on Mondays, and this in turn means I am receiving some exposure to daytime television.

And I have to say, "Ow! My Balls!" would be an improvement over almost all of the dross currently served up there.


March 17th, 2009

Since we moved to Pleasant Hill a year ago, I've watched the continuing construction of a nice new office building a block from the Pleasant Hill BART station. Placing office buildings adjacent to BART stations is a great idea, it allows for easy rail commuting. It's an attractive building and nearing completion; they just put the big logo signs up.

Now, which company is putting up this office building you ask?


A much longer slope

March 5th, 2009

Steve Benen has a good point. Conservatives frequently cite the "slippery slope" theory when discussing gay marriage - that if we allow gay people to marry, the next step would be to allow people to marry multiple people or their pets or stop signs or whatever. Marriage would become so nebulous, so all-permissive, that it would be destroyed!

What the linked article points out, and I hadn't realized before, is that this slippery slope goes a lot further than even the conservatives had realized. Because once people are allowed to marry dogs or robots or multiple spouses - then they can combine those sins! They could marry multiple robot dogs! Multiple gay robot dogs! When would it end?

Conservatives are terrified by the idea. Rational people are amused by the stupidity of the idea.

The "slippery slope" concept applied to marriage is of course utterly ridiculous. I think the best comment on the topic I've seen was from, of all places, Newsweek, which observed that the Biblical definition of marriage was an institution between a man and as many wives as he could afford. As with all social institutions, we are constantly defining and redefining what marriage is; currently it's between two people who are emotionally bonded and want to be treated as a single entity by the rest of society. Usually there is sex involved; sometimes but not necessarily there are children. Excluding gay people from this institution is pointless discrimination.

Excluding multiple gay robot dogs, on the other hand, is something only a Republican would worry about.