27 November 2007

My lovely wife Debra was kind enough to pass on to me an interesting article she found:

Todd Friel on Hugging Jesus

Kind of one of those articles I don't want to resoundingly agree with publicly, because of the potential backlash of Jesus Boyfriends and Girlfriends out there that dig those kind of songs, but definitely worth a read. While I've been interminably frustrated with the ├╝ber-lame "Jesus is my boyfriend" style of music, I'd never before considered that one of the reasons these songs are so lame is a fault of the English language. Because we have one predominant word for love, which in Greek and other languages can be translated in different ways, we end up lumping shallow, feel-good emotional love, romantic eros love, and agape charity-love all into one devil of a four letter word. It is an interesting point he makes.

It is a bit ironic when you consider what is viewed as the "secularization of Christian music". Commonly this refers to adopting the sounds, styles, instruments, and techniques of secular popular music, with guitars, electric instruments, drums, "avant garde" compositions and the like, but to me the far more relevant side is the secularization of lyrics. While still under the pretense of being "Christian", we've basically taken the lyrics of classic love songs and interspersed them with "Jesus" and "King" and wallah, Christian music.

"Wallah" is one of the better words in this world. I'm not sure if I found the correct source for its etymology, but here is a possibility:


I was listening to Rubber Soul by the Fabbissimo Quattro today and I heard the following line delivered by Lennon on the song "The Word"..."now that I know what I feel must be right, I'm here to show everybody the Light!" All too often that is what we run into, in political ideology, religious discussions, debates on terminal ballistics of handgun ammunition (ha!), whatever. Somebody feels something they assume to be right, and then they have to take that Gospel to everyone else. If only we could depend a little less on feeling, and more on more substantive measures, perhaps our differences wouldn't be debated with such rancor. Sing it, John...

"It's SO fine, it's SUNshine, it's the WORD! LOVE!"

26 November 2007

So I'm only a few pages into a new book on the Second Boer War, this one a contemporary (1902) account by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entitled "The Great Boer War". It is a much more colourfully written book than the "The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham, as could be expected when the author was known for inventing Sherlock Holmes among other things, but it is rumoured to be somewhat factually inaccurate in places. No matter...as I was saying, I'm only a few pages into it and I feel I've gotten my money's worth by this insightful passage:

An American would realise the point at issue if he could conceive that after the founding of the United States the Dutch inhabitants of the State of New York had trekked to the westward and established fresh communities under a new flag. Then, when the American population overtook these western States, they would be face to face with the problem which this country has had to solve. If they found these new States fiercely anti-American and extremely unprogressive, they would experience that aggravation of their difficulties with which our statesmen have had to deal.
This is admittedly obscure and uninteresting to the general reader (who rarely tends to share my strange fascination with 19th Century South African history), but for me it was an enormous revelation. I had somewhat bought into the forgone conclusion that the British Empire was purely interested in expanding its grip and spreading its empire across continents when it found itself at war with the Boers in 1899. I can't help this, I'm sure it has to do with the way we are educated today; it was a popular refrain to bash "imperialism" with the Brits as Exhibit A (until we overtake them!). But Conan Doyle's illustration above seemed to make the British motivation (other than Milner's personal ambitions) for war much clearer and more reasonable.

Another rather quotable bit is his eloquent praise for the hardy nobility of the Boer blood, with which he opens the first chapter:

Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and fortune and left their country for ever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances under which no weakling could survive, place them so that they acquire exceptional skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman, and the rider. Then, finally, put a finer temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual, and you have the modern Boer-the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial Britain. Our military history has largely consisted in our conflicts with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have never treated us so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their ancient theology and their inconveniently modern rifles.

"Inconveniently modern rifles" made me chuckle a bit...the British, who enjoyed the advantage of outclassing their rivals in firearms technology in most colonial wars of the era, found themselves outclassed by that immensely impressive design, the Mauser magazine rifle. The British by this time were using a relatively advanced bolt design in the Lee-Metford, but they were still using a blackpowder cartridge. From the numbers I've seen, the Mausers (using high-tech smokeless powder) had approximately 800 fps higher muzzle velocity than the Lee-Metfords, which gave them better range and accuracy, not to mention kept them hidden by obscuring the white puffs of smoke after firing from hidden positions. The British fielded some Lee-Enfields at that time, which used a new rifling and fired a smokeless cartridge, the venerable .303 British.

Although I will say I didn't realize that I did not have to pay for this book. I found out later it is public domain, and available all across the web. If you're interested, get started here:

The Great Boer War

Another book worthy of mention is "The Washing of the Spears" by Donald Morris. History of the Zulu kingdom from Shaka to Cetswayo (downfall under the latter). Very entertaining and enlightening.

19 November 2007

Coffee Root Beer

Coffee root beer is a creation of my younger days, working long hours (or what seemed to me at the time to be long hours) at a barbeque restaurant as a dishwasher. Our benefits package included run of the soda fountain (barring unreasonable abuse). This is the time when black coffee, in copious quantity, became a staple beverage of mine, but I also concocted a somewhat unique beverage that was a little more thirst quenching than a slug of day-old cold coffee, but still with a bit of extra caffeine kick for those long evenings .

There is nothing complex to the making of coffee root beer; it is as simple as it sounds, with a variable ratio depending on taste. I like a ratio of three parts root beer, 1 part good black coffee. One is best off chilling the coffee before adding it to the root beer, and never (as I did) try to funnel hot coffee into a 2-liter almost full of root beer. This will release all the carbonation into foam, and generally make a mess.

The resulting coffee root beer has the bitterness and flavour of the coffee balanced by the nutty sweetness of the root beer. Coca-Cola's "Blak" product was an annoying preemption of my idea, marketed towards the energy drink crowd and ridiculously overpriced. But simple, humble coffee root beer is an excellent drink.

16 November 2007

Time Now for the Snotty Art Film Hour's Foreign Cinema Roundtable Snootfest!

OK, I'm going to play the pretentious film critic here for a while, so bear with me. I've recently taken a liking to Japanese movies (at least, the ones I have seen, which are all Akira Kurosawa films) and I was a bit bored, so I thought I'd run through with some brief comments on each one. So crack out the nigori nihonshu, grill up some teriyaki and udon, and open your Netflix queue!

Stray Dog - 1949 - A very young Toshiro Mifune stars in this depiction of a rookie cop that loses his firearm to a pickpocket. For those that carry or own guns, this is a particularly relevant story because it details the horrifying emotions that sweep the main character as he realizes the evils that his gun has done in the hands of a criminal. The storyline seems pretty simple or dull (stolen gun, big deal) but it is surprising how much suspense Kurosawa packs into this. Takashi Shimura also stars as the wise mentor cop, in a very likable role.

Rashomon - 1950 - This is the one beloved of wine guzzling art-film lovers because of its alleged refutation of absolute truth. It tells the story of a crime out in the woods, the rape of a woman and murder of her husband. The story is told four times, first by the suspect, secondly by the woman, thirdly by the summoned spirit of the husband, and lastly by a woodcutter who was in the area and saw what went on. The differences in the stories they tell are supposed to make a brilliant point about how all truth is relative, but it seems to me that unlike the first three accounts, the fourth is essentially impartial and has no motive to tell anything but truth in the matter. The popular interpretation is that all four accounts are wrong and all four accounts are yet also right, but I take the traditional interpretation of the first three accounts were wrong and the last account was probably right. Call me a philistine if you must. But still, a good movie. Mifune is the wild-eyed suspect and Shimura is the woodcutter.

Seven Samurai - 1954 - The first Kurosawa film I saw, this is probably one of the best known. It tells the story of a group of samurai that band together to defend a village of destitute peasants from roving bandits. Shimura has the lead role in this one as the head of the samurai, and Mifune had a memorable role as the childish, immature, and overcompensating Kikuchiyo [sic?], who eventually proves his worth and earns a place with the others.

Throne of Blood - 1957 - This is a dark, dark film, but I like it. Mifune shifts dramatically here, into a brooding, older character beset by ambition, malice, and greed. It is an adaptation of Macbeth, and a very good one at that! The "Lady Macbeth" character is particularly loathsome in her needling words of manipulation to Mifune's Macbeth. Not a particularly happy film, but a good one!

Yojimbo - 1961 - One of my favorites, this establishes Toshiro Mifune as the Eastern Eastwood. Or rather, that's a bit backwards...Eastwood became the Western version of Mifune after this movie. It is a story of a wandering ronin samurai that enters a town split by two warring factions, and he ends up playing both against each other. Sergio Leone remade this movie with the young Clint Eastwood as "A Fistful of Dollars", a great film in its own right, but a near carbon copy of this film.

Sanjuro - 1962 - Sanjuro is a continuation of the Yojimbo character, and while it was a good movie, it didn't strike me as a particularly memorable one, in the company of these other movies. Mifune's character throws his lot in to help a group of generally witless and inexperienced samurai that are embroiled in a political fight involving their masters.

High and Low - 1963 - Another one of my favorites, this one ventures out of feudal Japan and into the contemporary. Mifune (again!) does really well in this one as an ambitious executive that is blackmailed by the kidnapping of his chauffeur's only son. I won't disclose any more of the plot, as this one is particularly suspenseful. It is surprising and frustrating to me, when I consider how great a movie like this is, and how relatively thrilling it can be made to be, without the almost requisite staples of modern crime drama (shocking violence and sex). The final scene is particularly effective (I did promise not to give away the plot details). All in all, a very recommendable movie!

13 November 2007

Get your cats indoors, folks, because Jimmy Carter is on the prowl, he's got birdshot loaded, and he's ANGRY!

A 17 year old letter, stored in a museum, tells the story of Carter's feline intolerance in a colourful way. My first theory was that President Carter mistook the animal, from a distance, for the giant swimming rabbit that tormented him over ten years prior, back to finish the job once and for all. Another possibility is that Gerry Ford swung by with a couple cases of Natural Light and halfway through the second case, the 38th President bet the 39th President he couldn't zing that mangy cat out on the lawn with his over-and-under.

Perhaps this can be taken as an exoneration of Dick Cheney. Apparently politicians fail to separate the effects of a shotgun in Looney Tunes shorts from the effects of a shotgun in real life, and assumedly the Dark Lord Chenu was just trying to "sting" Mr. Whittington, like Carter with his sister-in-law's cat.

12 November 2007

With apologies to Israel Houghton:

I am a friend of the zoo!
I am a friend of the zoo!
I am a friend of the zoo!
They call me friend!

If you know that song, and I just got my edited version implanted into your brain (where it will repeatedly resound for the next 12-16 hours), I am sorry. If you don't know to which song I am referring, do yourself a favour, let it go, don't go looking it up.

But anyway, we are now friends of the zoo, which means we've spent the last two weekends at the Kansas City Zoo. It's our form of exercise; we get a lot of walking in, and now instead of it costing $20 a visit for both of us, it is $50 per year (actually the term is about a year and a half). It beats a health club subscription, in my opinion. Heck of a lot more entertaining. The animals seem more active in cooler weather; the African Wild Dogs were having a domestic squabble last week. They look kind of strange, and you'd think they'd almost make a good breed to own until they start fighting; they don't so much bark or howl, as scream. Although, that might make a great home watchdog. Instead of the all-too-familiar bark, intruders would be warned by a high pitch banshee screech, like the Devil himself coming for your soul. Woowee! Of course, as my wife duly pointed out, they would eat our cat. I suppose that is a deal breaker.

The meerkats are pathetic little beggars. I think someone has been feeding them.

All in all we've got a pretty decent zoo in Kansas City, and I find that I enjoy simple things, like a zoo, more than I might have several years earlier. Doesn't hurt that we get exercise in at the same time.

And lastly, received my Tanfoglio Witness 10mm Compact this weekend. Rather elegant lines reminiscent of the CZ-75 family, excellent craftsmanship, great fit and finish. And it fits the hand just right; 10mm may be heavy on the recoil but this feels like it has enough ergonomics to help you deal with it. Nice trigger, not too touchy or too heavy, balanced just right. I'm going to get some ammo straight away and get this thing out to the range.

02 November 2007

Zwei dinge...

First, after noting a particular passage of Wodehouse this evening, while supervising the slow smoking of a beef brisket, I thought about the unique virtues of the "one" pronoun. One doesn't normally consider this pronoun with any special thought, but tonight I understood it a bit better. "One" is a pronoun of discretion. It can be used in the first person sense to impart an element of privacy: "one doesn't wish to complain, but the noise from downstairs is quite disturbing." It can also be used in second person to impart a sense of cordial distance in otherwise confrontational situations: "please refrain from using ethnic slurs, Mr. Connery; one should not use the term 'dego' on live television." Of course, it can also be used in third person, and in plural senses with equal utility.

Secondly, thanks to the "Instant Watch" feature of Netflix, I watched a comically dated film last night. I watched for the first time (and the last time, until last night) the film "So I Married an Axe Murderer" from 1993. I found the introduction to the film the most comical, in the way it focused on the then-hip coffeehouse, a scene which has gone drastically out of style since the mid 90s. I had forgotten how cool coffeehouses once were. And Mike Myers, while generally funny, seemed to be an amalgam of Austin Powers, Doctor Evil, and Fat Bastard. It is hard watching him prior to his prudent dissection of these different comic personalities.

And as an extra, I have a 10mm Witness on the way, after winning a gunbroker.com auction. Needless to say, I am excited.


We watched the final of Leone's "No Name" trilogy again last night, and I can't expunge Morricone's soundtrack from my head, try as I might with live tracks of the Who. So for your enjoyment, skip ahead to the climax and enjoy: