Saturday, December 22, 2007

A good reason not to be an ancient Greek

I'm still working my way through that translation of the Iliad. Today I got to the funeral for Patroclus. Pretty much it struck me as a nasty tradition, and one just as well not adhered to these days.

Achilles, Patroclus' best friend, sponsored the funeral. There were sacrifices: sacrifices of a dozen noble Trojan youths, in retribution for Patroclus' death, and then there were sacrifices of bulls and pigs for the giant feast. There were games, with prizes. First prize was--I don't know, a bowl or something valued at twelve oxen, and second prize was a woman skilled at women's work, valued at four oxen. Then there was the chariot race itself. Apollo cheated and helped one contestant, but Athena saw and tripped him up and helped someone else win. The decision at the end of the race didn't so much take into account who won as a number of other factors, like the contestants' rank, how good their horses and usual driving were, and the interference of the gods.

The number of problems with this whole scenario almost boggles the mind.

Also today I was reading The Daring Book for Girls, which is a sister book to The Dangerous Book for Boys. The girls' edition was rather a disappointment, in a way. Dangerous really reached an essential part of boy-ness, with its delightful mix of adventure and knowledge. One feels that if a boy really absorbed everything in that, he'd be well on his way to being a good, dangerous man. Daring, while it had a fair amount of interesting content (including the letters of Abigail Adams!), overall wasn't very feminine. The entire premise appeared to be a feminist "anything boys can do, girls can do better and should be allowed to," which is rather different. If a girl absorbed everything in that, she'd be...a wannabe boy. They left so much girl-ness out.

Don't get me wrong. I have no objections to canoes, or tying knots, or the daring exploits of ancient queens and modern female scientists and Olympic champions. I adore world travel and really great espionage. When they pointed out that in ancient times, the prizes for the men's Olympic games were, in fact, women, I acknowledged the justice of the charge. (Homer, I trust you now know that was a problem.) It's just, ironically, in their zeal to prevent girls from being "only" a girl, the authors almost prevent them from being girls at all, in the sense of being different from boys.

Girls need to become more themselves, to do activities more pleasing and suitable to who they are, and not just take chapters out of the boys' book. It reminded me of Enchanted, where the daddy kept buying his little girl books about strong women, but she just wanted to read about princesses. It would never do for the daddy to be a sweet princess, but it was excellent for the princess to be one. It also wouldn't do for her to turn into a hard lawyer, but it made him awesome. And in the happy ending, they married, remained their delightful selves, and she ran a very successful business--sewing princess-style party dresses. And the New York lady went to the kingdom and probably did a splendid job helping her prince run his kingdom, because he didn't have a lick of common sense and she did. That's the kind of thing I'm thinking about. I want a broader vision for femininity than Daring had.

I can't think of any philosophy that leaves room for boys to be boys and for girls to be girls besides Christianity. (Fairy tales demand a Christian worldview and asphyxiate in any other: but that's a blog post for another day.) God considers every human precious, for we are made in His image and for His glory, and He loves us, and we ought to consider one another precious. It's not a power struggle any more. We don't have to be perennially terrified that someone might take advantage of us, and even authority of one person over another turns out to be okay, under God. The genuine gender differences become good things, and in another sense irrelevant, given our equal status as members of the Body of Christ. Should the ear get jealous of the eye, or say it's not needed because it's not an eye? Of course not. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? But we are all members of Christ, who is all, and in all.

None of the ancient religions can say this. If there's no god, your importance is what you make it. If there are many gods, your importance depends on how much you can make the gods like you, and by all accounts they're not very reliable. They bicker like four-year-olds.

So I was vaguely disturbed to see paganism alive and well at the museum gift shop this afternoon. They were selling little silver acorns, in remembrance of the Norse oak tree symbolizing life. Why would people want to bring back the gods? They weren't nice to people. They were into terror, and human sacrifice, and using women, and foulness of all kinds.

All this today--the ancient poet and the modern feminists and the revamped pagans--made me appreciate again my religion. :-) Christianity is so much better than any alternative. I'm so glad it's Christmas and that Jesus came to earth, and became a human, and our high priest and our entirely-good-enough sacrifice and our lawyer before God. That's something to be merry about.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wolfram, Wulfric, and Murgatroyd

The good doctor asked me this morning if I knew the chemical symbol for tungsten. Not offhand, I had to admit, though I'd probably seen it at some point. Well, it's "W." Had I heard this story before? Why, no, I hadn't.

Tungsten's symbol is "W" because its old name was "wolfram." It was so named by alchemists, back in the day. They had discovered that if you added chromium and whatnot to iron, you got this lovely lively springy steel--but if you added even a bit of tungsten, it would become very brittle. It sucked the life right out of steel, just like a werewolf sucked the life out of people. Hence the name "wolfram."

He told me this story because of our poor local dragon. I've been on a dragon-drawing kick, as you know, but was utterly unsuccessful at convincing Amelia to draw them with me. No; she went home and sculpted one, and brought it back to keep watch over our front desk. We named him Wulfric, and as I was discussing with a young patient of ours, he was definitely not a Hungarian Horntail, nor a Norwegian Ridgeback, nor even a Welsh Green, due to a preponderance of red and gold about his person. We eventually classed him as a Welsh Red.

Wulfric put the good doctor in mind of wolfram, because he shares certain of its qualities. He's a rather brittle dragon. I was holding him on my shoulder when he tumbled off and broke both his ears. Amelia took him home for repairs, and he has not yet resumed his duties.

Murgatroyd is neither a metal nor a dragon. Murgatroyd is our new piece of office equipment. It's got a monitor like a head, and a long pole, and a basket for a brisket, and a lovely splay-footed rolley base. I'm actually not sure what Murgatroyd does, but I get the impression he monitors vital signs or something. He's quite personable, just like a Pixar creature, and therefore needed a name. So far we really do refer to him as "Murgatroyd," which is a good sign.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quote of the day

"Cookies! Cookies!" --the good doctor

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quote of the day

"Heidegger is always appropriate." Bales

Friday, December 14, 2007

And cats just love bonnets

The long-awaited day came at last: the day Lilly got her sutures out. The vet was reasonably happy with how she's healing, but was concerned by the sores where she's been licking above the bandage. So she kindly supplied me with bitter stuff to rub on the wound, and also with a large blue bonnet for the cat.

She hasn't quite got the hang of it, and every single corner she goes around, she gets the bonnet hung on. Step--step--STOP. Shake head, try again. Poor Lilly.

We tried to convince her that it matched her eyes, but she's having none of it. You can tell by the tail. The bonnet is driving her to profanity. In fact, upon returning home from the vet, she said, "It's just one d--- thing after another!" And her comments got less quotable from there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The most important reason to have a tip jar

This morning a patient tried to tell us we could put a tip jar on the counter. Lisa and I looked at each other and were like, no. That would be so tacky.

After he left, another patient from the waiting room brought up the subject. "But he forgot the most important reason to have a tip jar. I saw it on CNN last night."


"You can use it to beat off robbers. This guy in a 7-11 did that--he said he was afraid of how he'd look on YouTube if he didn't do anything."

You can be heroic for love of family, for patriotism, for conscience's sake, or from fear of YouTube. That works...I guess...

Update: About an hour later, a patient looked at his credit card receipt. "No place to write in the tip," he said.

"Did you hear the conversation earlier??" we demanded. He claimed he hadn't. But he offered to bring us a tip jar.

To which I, with great eloquence, wailed: "Nooooooooooooo!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Come on, it's lovely weather

"Cool!" I thought, as I left the house this morning. The driveway and my car windows were clear (thank you, Daddy!), but everything else was frosted with heavy day-old snow and a shimmer of brand-fresh snow. The wind was quite still and a thick fog obscured even the other side of the street.

So I was driving along through the fog, thinking pleasant foggy thoughts and being grateful I wasn't in Albuquerque because they had several wrecks this morning, when something golden started gleaming up ahead. What's this? It grew brighter, and pinker, and golder--

--and I popped out of the fog and right into the most gorgeous morning ever to be seen in Northern New Mexico.

An apricot sunrise lit up shreds of low-hanging clouds, and bright orange cliff-faces, and six inches of snow on pines that came straight out of a Christmas play. The roads were perfectly clear and dry, and everything else was just like a picture-print from Currier and Ives. Even the "Lane ends, merge left" signs took on the appearance of big ornaments for the occasion.

God loves us, that's all there is to it. These wonderful things are the things we'll remember all through our lives. :-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


How the Grinch Stole Back Christmas.

I especially like the bit about St. Nicholas punching out Arius. I don't approve, certainly not, but Arius really was asking for it. Does anybody know of a source for that delightful story? :-)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Patience is a virtue

My beautiful Lilly-cat had some surgery on her front leg last week. It wasn't too big a deal (we hope), just getting a tumor removed, but naturally it required stitches. Lilly wouldn't leave the stitches alone, and as we couldn't very well let her tear them out with her teeth, we had to cover the wound with gauze.

Tonight I noticed the skin above the gauze is all raw where she's been trying to gnaw it off, and every once in a while she'll let out the most pitiful meow. When I rewrapped it this evening, I made it cover the raw patch. So all her efforts have done is make the bandage larger. It's such a shame: if she'd leave it alone, she wouldn't need one at all.

But just now she's sitting on my lap purring. All she needs is love--and sometimes a little thin-sliced deli meat.

I know why Lilly and I get on so well. We're a lot alike. Mostly I'm pretty happy if my people are with me and happy with me, and send little goodies my way, but if God should happen to want something irritating for me, suddenly I'm not nearly so pleasant. TAKE this gauze off, Sir! And these stitches, what do I need them for? Rip--rip--rip--and then I wonder why there's blood all over the rug.

It's quite amazing what some trust and patience will do. God actually does know what's good for me better than I know it myself. And patience is apparently a virtue for a reason--go figure. :-)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

On a winter's day

I ventured out today for my noontime walk. High, thin clouds covered the sky like a milk-glaze, thick enough to mute the shadows but not so thick as to obscure them completely. A stiff breeze make me appreciate my jacket. Pine needles sprinkled the sidewalk, possibly from last night's rain, and green moss and green grass stood out in shocking contrast from the ground's winter-dull beige. It takes so little moisture to make New Mexico green, even in December.

My office-plants are still surviving. The infusion of coffee grounds into the palm tree pot hasn't made it darker green, but it seems relatively happy in its paleness, sprouting new branches and all. Maybe it likes the diffused sunbeams that come through our window. I do; that's one of the biggest advantages of winter in this office. In summer, the suns's angle is too high to reach under the eaves.

I finally made it up the hill to Starbucks, where an old homeschooling buddy was kind enough to make me a cinnamon dolce mocha with whipped cream on top--or, in other words, a fancy hot chocolate. :-) It was (naturally) expensive, but the good cheer made a welcome contrast to the chilly outdoors and equally chilly fellow walkers outdoors. One of them was moving fast, eyes down, earphone firmly plugged into his ear. I didn't say hi as he passed; he pr'y couldn't have heard me anyway. Personally, a favorite part of walking over lunch is that I don't have music going, but rather get to hear birds (when they're in season) and traffic and trees rustling and whatever else is making noise.

We've been experimenting with XM radio stations lately. The goal is that perfect mix of Christmas music that dental professionals and patients alike can enjoy. I discovered there is one station that plays a lot of Celtic music, and I've been hunting for that for a while, and learned that the XM station namers call it folk. So that was fun. But they weren't playing Christmas music, exactly, and also Loreena McKennit's bagpipes got annoying. So we switched to--I don't know--nineties pop, for some inexplicable reason, and we changed that after they played Elton John, on the grounds it was uncivilized. Usually we dwell with the classical station. They definitely get into the Christmas spirit. But their downside is that the random sopranos also get into the Christmas spirit, or maybe some other kind of spirit, and one can only handle so much random-soprano-hood. Any nonmelodious wailing required in the office, I can supply quite happily, thank you.

The walk back got colder. I was headed into the wind, so I buttoned up and clung to my mocha. As days go, it really wasn't very nice, but as a specimen of weather it was fascinating. The breeze, the clouds, the sunbeams falling between trees where sunbeams really shouldn't have existed at all, judging from the color of the sky--yes, it was a good day for a walk.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In praise of Latin for politicians

Hear, hear. In the New York Times, no less.

Hat tip: Firinnteine.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Vaguely horrifying

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz
Harry Potter Personality Quiz
by Pirate Monkeys Inc.

Let's see. INTP is introverted, intuitive, thinking, and perceiving. And I do believe this is the second time I've come up as Lord Voldemort--and on two different quizzes, too.

There's only one quote appropriate for the occasion: "She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or for evil."

Monday, December 03, 2007

On thriving cliches

I am somewhat puzzled by the apparent inability of those promoting "modern-English translations" to discern a cliche in its native habitat and exterminate it.

The Message Bible aims at readability, but my experience with it (admittedly brief) has been that of cliches strung together, like beads. To do it justice, The Message tells you straight out it's a paraphrase.

Also right now, I'm reading the Iliad, translated by W.H.D. Rouse, which the back cover says is "colloquial as Homer was colloquial, never pedantic, high-flown or cliche-ridden." It seems to me the colloquialisms wander dangerously close to cliche-land on pretty much every page.

"...and he took a header off the wall."

"...away went the Trojans higgledy-piggledy."

"They were in three ranks, all dead tired and asleep..."

"I can't praise you enough, this is a feather in your cap! How did you get those horses? ....Like the shining sun, I do declare! I am always about in the battle, and I don't bide in the rear, old as I am; but I have never set eyes on any horses like these."

It's a pretty readable translation, if you can tolerate the worn-out phrases, but...surely modern English has more to offer than that? If not, maybe it's time to retire modern English and go with something better.