Friday, November 30, 2007

Department Meeting

The Department meeting today covered a wide range of topics--too many for the time allowed. One that caught my eye was a proposed new course Seeking Truth, Living with Doubt, to be based on the book by Marshall Onellion and Steven Fortney. Onellion had worked with a lecture series at the library on faith and reason; one of whose speakers was Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists. Red flags immediately--Hedges, to the best of my observation, lied.

The proposal met a fairly cool reception--lots of worries about hassles from upset students, is this the department for this kind of thing, etc.

Afterwards I looked up the book. Onellion and Fortney take the position, if references can be trusted to describe it accurately, that any dogmatic position whatsoever is evil. The only useful religions are those that have no "dogma," which curiously enough included Buddhism. Any sort of Christianity or Islam or Judaism that makes propositional statements, as opposed to filtering everything through mysticism, they hate.

A course on science and religion might be useful, but this one isn't going to help any.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Translation music again

On Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin tonight he played both the French and English versions of "Les feuilles mortes" / "Autumn Leaves" by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert (English by Johnny Mercer). I'd commented earlier that you could tell the original language, but it wasn't true this time. I think this may be because the melody is so forgiving--extra syllables slide in naturally. Both sound fine, neither seems more awkward than the other.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Virtues of War by Steven Pressfield

I saw that Pressfield had written another book, so of course I read it. This one is about Alexander the Great.

As usual, he has the protaganist tell the story to someone else at the end of events. Of course nobody knows exactly what Alexander thought, but Pressfield's imagining of it is probably not too far off base (though once again I think he fails to grasp the religious dimensions of the ancient world).

Alexander tells the story of his life (skipping the conquests of the Levant and Egypt) and why he loves war and feels himself impelled by his daimon; and how bitter it can be. The battles are well told, and you get some understanding of how such a small army could have managed such amazing feats.

Go read it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lazy Sunday

We went to church last night instead of this morning, so that we could take some neighbors whose car doesn't work (and whose Sunday is fraught). So this morning was a sleep-in down-time day. I finished Pratchett's Making Money and rested.

I made some beignets from the French Market recipe. They're good, but the kind my mother used to make puffed up hollow, which made them ideal for scooping up loose powdered sugar. (Just don't inhale when eating!) Middle Daughter is alergic to the oil vapors from frying, so we've not had these in years. The double batch didn't last long. I held off on one tray until Oldest Daughter had lunch break. Apparently butter isn't a good substitute for margarine--it browns too quickly. This recipe results in risen dough that floats from the get-go. I'll try this one next time. BTW, a wok is really nice for this sort of thing: you can set the dough on the side and slide it in rather than dropping it into hot oil and splashing yourself.

I finished pulling out the contents and shelving from the storage corner in the garage, and stuffed the last of the fiberglass batting in between the studs. Cutting up the plywood to cover this new section will have to wait a few days more, but then that wall will be finished. The garage door seems to work just fine with styrofoam in the sections. (That construction adhesive doesn't want to come off your fingers!) Of course the roof is completely uninsulated, but with some cleverness in the rafters I think we can keep the garage a little warmer this year, and presumably that side of the house as well. And in the process, quite a bit of stuff is moving out to the curb.

As I type this, Youngest Son is downstairs watching Star Trek videos. The heating ducts carry sound all over the house, so there's really no such thing as solitary video watching. TV reception in the basement is abysmal, and we don't get cable; so videos are about all we see.

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

This is the latest Diskworld novel. Moist has a new assignment: the Post Office is going well enough that he's not really needed there anymore. The title should tell you where.

Type of Diskworld novel: Moist and Vetinari (maybe too much Vetinari; best not to show too much of your hand) and old Ankh Morpork families; wizards play a role and the Watch has cameos. It is better structured than Thud, and full of the wonderful sly descriptions he's famous for. What happens when a golem has a crush on her employer?

Is it easier to list the complaints: The character Cosmo is a bit too crazy, and Bent's revelation almost works, and Vetinari appears too much. And I hope Pratchett isn't planning to write the book Vetinari gives a teaser for at the end.

Aside from those minor points, the book is quite enjoyable. I suggest the reader be already familiar with the Diskworld series, but aside from that I recommend it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why not local history?

I noticed in this article from the Isthmus that Madison was Copperhead territory during the Civil War. Certainly an interesting, if not especially noble, aspect to the history of the town.

Why shouldn't the history of the town you are living in be part of the curriculum in school? It wouldn't have to be a very long course: a couple of days would probably suffice for Sun Prairie; a few more for Madison. This would have to come after American history, of course, so that things could be put in context. A history of the state should also be taught. I wonder how hard that would be to put together? Some contentious details might derail the course, especially if powerful figures clash. Still, it seems reasonable.

And, FWIW, I think a parallel American Indian history would be good to learn also--provided it isn't whitewashed into "Red Man good, White Man bad" propaganda. Where else on earth will anyone learn about the Crow? They won't teach about them in Burma...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shed preconceptions about mental health maintenance

This is brilliant.

Monday, November 12, 2007

State and Family

Youngest daughter had an interesting insight last night. In China, the baleful one-child policy didn't just create "little kings." It created a society without aunts or uncles or cousins or neices or nephews. It skeletonized the family.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Funny how you can tell

I was pretty sick of the rap that came on every time I started the rental car, and couldn't figure out which button turned it off permanently, so I punched a couple of other channel buttons. They were preset to digital radio stations, and one was "Nostalgie 2" or something like that: devoted to "oldies" or at least to the novel notion that the lyrics should be clearly heard above the guitar. Oddly enough the first couple of songs were American, and then I heard some familiar chords and new words: "Et maintenant, que vais-je faire?"

Funny how you can tell--I could hear immediately that this was the original, and "What now, my love?" was a translation. Same dramatic orchestration, same meaning--but the English version's lyrics always felt slightly clunky. The musical phrasing was meant to fit the French, and the English that fit the musical phrasing was a little forced.

"Seasons in the Sun" was another such: the English phrasing was a little jerky, and even nonsensical ("the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach"), but Brel's French version fit the music much better.

I wonder how often a translation comes out better. Probably has to be "unfaithful."