Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

Edward II (1307-1327)

For the record, I've got to say that I think Edward II holds the title of England's Gayest King.

Sure, I know what you're saying (if you're saying anything in particular): What about James I? And I hear you, I do. But whereas James mostly had boy-toys (to whom he tended to grant ridiculous amounts of power, yes), Edward pretty much wanted his boyfriends to be co-kings with him, and he didn't care who knew it (example: at the coronation feast of Edward and his wife Isabella, was it Isabella who sat next to Edward? Was it Isabella whose coat of arms hung next to Edward's in the hall? [Hint: no. It was his boyfriend]).

Granted, this measure of "gayness" may not perfect; I'm not sure who I would think was "straighter," Edward I, who was (as far as anybody can tell) faithful and devoted to his wives, or Henry I, who was a raging mistress-o-holic.

. . . What was I talking about? Oh right, Edward II. Did you know that Edward was the first son of an English King to be known as the Prince of Wales? Now you do.

Edward was also, let's face it, kind of dumb. In Alison Weir's Queen Isabella (a biography of Edward's to-be-monarch-momented-later wife), she wrote a sentence I loved so much I actually dog-eared the page (don't worry, I own the book). When analyzing a letter Edward wrote to his wife, claiming to be super confused about why she hated his super vindictive Boyfriend #2, Weir states: "In his next sentence, Edward demonstrates that he was a liar of the first order or capable of the greatest self-deception or perhaps extraordinarily stupid." They might all have been true in some measure, but if I had to choose, I'd pick door number three.

Admittedly, Edward didn't come to the throne with many advantages--the war in Scotland was already going badly, and the extremes to which his father had gone to prosecute the war had left the country's finances in sad shape. Still, his reign is just frustrating to read about--it's a continuous cycle of politically tone-deaf blunders, perpetrated by someone seemingly without the capacity to learn from his mistakes.

He'd lavish too much power and land on his boyfriend (at first, it was Piers Gaveston of the hair-pulling incident). The barons would get (understandably) fed up, and force the king to exile the boyfriend. Edward would find a way to bring the boyfriend back. Repeat a few times until boyfriend is killed by angry barons. Find a new boyfriend (Hugh le Despenser the younger). Lavish too much power and land on boyfriend until barons get fed up and force the king to exile the boyfriend. Boyfriend turns to piracy. Edward finds a way to bring him back. Edward, boyfriend, and boyfriend's father rule tyrannically and horribly until Queen invades and deposes them all--except that's a story better left for next time.

Even though he was a lousy king, it's hard not to have a soft spot for the poor fella. He was, on top of everything else, just kind of a weirdo (by, of course, the standands of his time, which are the only standards by which weirdness really matters). It was said that with his kingly stature and physical abilities, he could have been a great warrior like his father. He just . . . didn't feel like it. He preferred hanging out with commoners and doing common stuff:

[I]t was commonly reported that he [Edward] had devoted himself privately from youth to the arts of rowing and driving chariots, digging pits and roofing houses; also that he wrought as a craftsman with his boon companions by night, and at other mechanical arts, besides other vanities and frivolities where in it doth not become a king's son to busy himself.
The Chronicle of Lanercost, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

As Weir puts it, Edward's barons were "horrified" by Edward's penchant for "digging ditches on his estates, thatching roofs, trimming hedges, plastering walls, working in metal, shoeing horses, driving carts, rowing, [and] swimming--even in February." But I think it's adorable! Even though he was just a terrible king, it makes me feel bad that he was eventually deposed and murdered (. . . or was he?!?!!), but again, I'll get back to that next week.
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There's Just Nothing Like the Internet

I found this video on YouTube (no, I don't even remember how I got there anymore), and I was enchanted.

I soon discovered that there are many, many, many, many Mario Paint Composer videos on YouTube and, unfortunately, not one of them is nearly as good (some people don't have a sense of rhythm and/or are incapable of delivering rhythm through the medium of Mario Paint Composer). Here are a few others I enjoyed (to a lesser degree):


This "Thriller," though it does not make me feel warm inside like "The Maple Leaf Rag," is very well done.

And now I should really go to sleep.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Braveheart Was Somewhat Dumber Than I Remembered

To prepare to write about Edward I and Scotland, I decided I needed to re-watch Braveheart. Fun fact: Braveheart was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. (My mom rented it for me on VHS and then told me when to cover my eyes for the dirty and/or violent parts [and thanks to Braveheart's battle-buttockery, there actually was a point to which both "dirty" and "violent" applied].) But I hadn't seen it since, so last week I checked me out a copy from the library.

As the title of this post indicates, it was somewhat dumber than I remembered. And I'm not even counting what might be the most obvious dumb thing: William Wallace impregnating the Princess of Wales. In fact, that I enjoyed for its soap operatic hilariousness. I also tried to mostly ignore timeline difficulties--for instance, in the year the real Wallace died, 1305, Isabella of France (whom the fictional Wallace knocked up) was not yet married to the future Edward II. Or living in England. And she was ten years old. But again, oh well. Here are the main things that did bother me:

#4: Some of the battles (particularly the first one in that village right after the English kill Mrs. Braveheart) are just Monty Pythonesque in the hilariously untenable ways that Scottish dudes kill English dudes.

#3: The whole "primae noctis" thing--besides the fact that it never existed--has no point in the narrative. Wallace claims near the end of the movie that it was the reason he and Mrs. Braveheart hid their marriage, but that's not true. They hid it because her father disapproved of him. Remember? The beginning of the movie? When her father disapproved of him?

#2: "Freedom!"? Really? When serfdom was in full swing? That battle cry would have been beyond meaningless to those destitute Scottish dirt farmers.

#1: Wallace wins Isabella over for good by revealing that Longshanks did, like, bad stuff. Like when he took over cities, he'd like, kill people. This was the only part of the film that actually made me angry, because it was the Fourteenth Century. This was hundreds of years before they stopped chopping criminals up and hanging the bits up around major towns. How could Isabella possibly have been shocked and appalled by the fact that bad things happened in wars when she would have seen rotting decapitated heads every time she went anywhere in London? COME ON.

The way things really were is showcased in the execution scene, where everybody brings their kids down to have a fun day watching a man die an excruciating death. Now that was how people rolled in the Middle Ages.
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Back to Normal

Due to popular demand, the color scheme has been returned to normal. Let this screen shot stand as a monument to a noble, yet failed experiment.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

So, What Do You Think!?

Pssst . . . hey, everyone! It's me, Neal! You know, the other person who sorta sometimes posts on this blog. Rachel is asleep and I thought I would make a few modifications in the color scheme. If you would like these new, incredibly awesome colors to stay, vote 'Yes' in the comments.

I'm a genius.
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Things Found In Library Items Today

1. unused temporary tatoo

2. popsicle stick (which had clearly been used as a bookmark)

3. what I FERVENTLY hope was chocolate cake

4. cheese

Oh, and on an unrelated note, I would like some blog feedback. I did away with the yellow because, although the shade itself was lovely on my computer, it was hideous on my work computer, and I can't risk it looking like that to anybody else. But now I can't decide how I should do the sidebar titles. They're intentionally crazy right now because I can't decide between this
and this.
What do you think?
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Ways I Hurt Myself Today

Oh man, that sounds like a post title on the livejournal of an emo high schooler, doesn't it?

Instead, it is a list of the injuries incurred by a klutzy person who has a job that involves a lot of carrying and moving things around.

1. scraped two knuckles when grabbing DVDs wedged behind the book drop chute.
2. paper cut, courtesy Sunday's Chicago Tribune.
3. slight rug burn on fingertips from dragging items across floor of book drop closet (on the weekends, the chutes would clog up if we left the bins in there, so we just let everything fall on the floor).
4. slight bruise on chin from dropping (small) book from six-foot shelf onto face.

Ah, library employment. It's dangerous work, but somebody's gotta do it. (It's the paper cut that hurts worst.)
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Monday Monarch Moment

Edward I and Scotland

Edward's tombstone reads Edwardus Primus Scotorum Malleus hic est: "This is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots."

(What a sweet nickname.)

Edward and Scotland didn't start out as enemies. The troubles didn't begin until 1291, when the Scots, having suffered a series of really unlucky royal deaths, found themselves without a clear heir to the throne. There were thirteen claimants, but it really came down to John Balliol and Robert the Bruce. Edward picked Balliol, but afterwards demanded Balliol be subservient to him. Edward kept picking fights until war broke out, giving him an excuse to invade.

The whole situation is pithily explained over at Cracked (where they put Edward #1 on their list of "6 Historical Villains Who Were Actually OK Guys"):

Scotland: Help us, Edward Longshanks, you're our only hope!
Sure, I'll be glad to help. But first, I'll be needing Scotland.
Scotland: You'll be needing Scotland to do what?
To belong to England. I'll be needing you to give me Scotland.
Oh. Er. Hm. OK, you can have our country, as long as you give it back when you're done.
...Sure. I'll give it back. (rolls eyes)
Huzzah! I don't see how this could possibly go wrong!
Seriously, Scotland? Had you even
met England before?

Now, to be fair to Scotland, Edward had acted as peacemaker in other international pursuits. But not for countries of which he considered himself overlord. They really should have looked at his behavior towards Wales (that is, he refused to stop destroying stuff until he owned it) instead of that toward, say, France.

Here's a fun story about the siege of Dunbar (both of these quotes are from Michael Prestwich's Edward I):
[T]hose within the castle unfurled their banners, and directed the customary insults at the English, calling them 'tailed dogs', and threatening them with death and the amputation of their tails (it was a well-known myth in the middle ages that all Englishmen had tails).

Now, the reason William Wallace was so effective was because he used guerilla tactics--like all invadees facing a stronger opponent throughout the ages, the Scots did best when not forced into formal battle. Of course, the English did not take kindly to his methods or his success; after his capture, he was given a show trial:

The accusations against him reproduced some, but not all, of the English propaganda against a man who was feared and hated to a remarkable extent. He was accused of sparing none who spoke the English language, and of slaying infants, children, widows and nuns, but the curious charge that he had organized choirs of naked Englishmen and Englishwomen to sing for him, who were then tortured, was, understandably, not produced in court.

And this has been your fairly tangential monarch moment.

I'll admit, my heart wasn't totally in writing a second Edward I moment, because I am so! excited! for Edward II. So, as a preview, I bring you this segue--the account of the Edwards' most famous father-son moment. The backstory is that junior wanted his boyfriend, Piers Gaveston, to be given the territory of Pontieu. Instead of asking his scary dad himself, he got a bishop to do it:

The king was mightily enraged. "Who are you that dares to ask such a thing? As the Lord lives, you shall not escape my hands unless you can prove that you undertook this negotiation against your will, through fear of the prince. Now, however, you shall not leave until you see what he who sent you has to say." Having called for his son, the king said, "What negotiation have you promoted through this man?" His son replied, "That I might, with your acquiescence, give Ponthieu to my lord Piers de Gaveston." "You baseborn whoreson," shouted the king, "do you want to give away lands now, you who never gained any? As the Lord lives, if it were not for fear of breaking up the kingdom you should never enjoy your inheritance." And seizing a tuft of the prince's hair in each hand, he tore out as much as he could, until he was exhausted, when he threw him out.
Walter of Guisborough, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

Wow, good times.
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Report: The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

I recently read The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes. It's an interesting topic for a few reasons--one is that the Founding Fathers are always good times (and you know how I feel about John Adams) and another is that it's a topic that finds its way into discussions about America and what it is to be American to this day.

I'll admit that I read the book partly with a view toward arming myself with knowledge for use in arguments, specifically the "separation of church and state" kind. My view is always "Separation of church and state = very yes" because the only thing worse than having religion all up in your government is having government all up in your religion. The common rebuttal to this involves the idea that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation" by Christians and more specifically, the people who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights wanted people to be able to worship in whatever (Christian) church they wanted, but that they never intended for the nation to irreligious. So it was with a view toward finding an answer to the question of the Founding Fathers' beliefs and intentions that I read this book.

The book starts out pretty slowly--the writing in the opening section, in which the author explains the general trends of religion in the colonies, is pretty clunky. He also, throughout the course of the book, explains what Deism is two or three separate times. It's true that an understanding of Deism is indispensable in order to grasp the religious views of the Founding Fathers, but the organization leaves something to be desired. (The best explanation of Deism is still one that an English professor of mine gave--Deists believed in a "clockmaker God"; one that created everything in nature but then sat back to let it run on its own.) Once Holmes gets to the meat of the book, though, it picks up quite a bit. The chapters are very short, which makes for easy reading, but they aren't dumbed down--they just make the salient points about each Founding Father quickly and fairly efficiently.

I liked his methodology. What he does is research primary sources--letters mostly, but also diaries, speeches, and sermons. He includes material written by many different people, but makes clear which sources are reliable (such as the Founding Fathers themselves, their wives/daughters, or their close friends) and which are not (people writing far after the fact and/or with agendas). He meticulously pores over all the evidence of what the Founding Fathers wrote or said and what they did to try to compile the best possible assessment of what their personal beliefs were.

He emphasizes Deism so much because it was a very prominent school of thought among the generation of the Founding Fathers. However, Deism was not a uniform set of ideals. Some people, such as Thomas Paine, were radical Deists--Paine rejected Christianity and the Bible, thinking it all superstition and nonsense, but he saw his Deist tract, "The Age of Reason," as a refutation also of atheism, which was gaining popularity in Revolutionary France. Most of the Founding Fathers were Christian Deists, who may have discounted some Biblical stories or Christian traditions (such as the Trinity), but who maintained most of the beliefs of their churches.

The first three presidents of the United States are good examples of the variations that Holmes describes. George Washington never philosophized much on the topic of religion, but he clearly had some Deist leanings. He went to church regularly but would not take communion. He would participate in prayers but would not kneel.

John Adams described himself as "a churchgoing animal" but eventually migrated from the Congregationalist Church of his youth to Unitarianism (which was just taking off and much different than the Unitarian Church is today). Holmes sums Adams up by writing, "Reading and reflection caused him to discard such beliefs as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, total depravity, and predestination. . . . [H]e asserted that humans should study nature and use reason to learn about God and his creation."

Finally, no Christian I personally know would consider Thomas Jefferson's beliefs "Christian." He believed that Jesus was admirable moral teacher, but a human one. He even wrote a Deist New Testament called The Life and Morals of Jesus from which he cut all miracles and prophecies; the letters of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude; and the Last Supper and the Resurrection. However, Jefferson was also a regular church-goer and financial contributor to churches.

Holmes also examines the religious beliefs of Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and (consensus non-Founding Father) James Monroe. He spends less (but some) time on lower-tier Founding Fathers such as Ethan Allen, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, and someone I'm afraid I had never heard of named Elias Boudinot. Samuel Adams and John Jay are valuable additions to the study because they were straight-up orthodox Christians, showing that even though very many educated men of that era were Deists, not all of them were. (Holmes also devotes a chapter to the wives and daughters of the major Founding Fathers, confirming the truism that women are more orthodox and religiously-involved than men.)

Near the end of the book, Holmes outlines the very debate I mentioned--though he examines it on a larger scale. He lays out what the sides are: the left wing that rejects the "Christian Nation" notion and the right wing that emphasizes the Christian devotion of the Founding Fathers. In other words, Holmes knows why I read his book. He also knows that his book will only be useful for fact-finding it is objective, and it is.

The strongest opinion that Holmes expresses does not explicitly favor one side or another; it seems simple, but is actually tremendously important to remember: "These founding men and women were often sincere believers. But their faith differed--often markedly--from that which many Americans have held in later centuries." He goes on to say, "Writers need not revise history to align the founders' beliefs with their own. Americans can tell their story unhesitatingly, warts and all. To do otherwise is to be untrue not only to history but also to the founders themselves. 'The past is a foreign country,' a twentieth-century writer accurately observed in words that apply to the religion of the eighteenth century. 'They do things differently there.' "

It is wrong to assume that the Founding Fathers, because they were church-going, serious in their study of theology and the Bible, and believers in a God, were deeply Christian in the way we understand it today. To try to impose religiously-derived standards on the American people in the name of men who worked and sacrificed to create a country of free worship is also wrong. The point of keeping government free of religion is to keep it free from any particular religion, because to do otherwise is to prevent Americans from worshipping (or not worshipping) in accordance with their beliefs.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Brontë Odyssey: The Beginning

I was inspired--inspired by a cartoon entitled "Dude Watchin' with the Brontës." (I can't get over it--dude watchin' with the Brontës. I swear, that girl could be my Canadian soulmate.)

Anyway, if you follow the link, you'll see that the cartoon is about the differences and similarities the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. Reading their Wikipedia articles (which I did just to make absolutely sure I was getting the joke [being unsure didn't make it any less funny, BTW]) piqued my interest further--what's the deal with those wacky Brontës?

Yes, I decided to read the works of each Brontë gal. "Have you ever read Wuthering Heights?" Neal asked me when I told him about this plan. When I answered in the negative, he replied, "Good luck," but not in the cheerful way. In the foreboding way.

Here's the thing: I don't feel like I suffered, educational-development wise, going to a public/ridiculously small school. I've done all right. But the one area in which I'm really lacking is in how many Serious Books I've read. For some reason, my high school did not go in for Serious Books. Or even "books anyone has heard of." In four years, we read two Shakespeare plays, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, the first part of Beowulf (not even the part with Grendel's mother!) and then just a slew of pointless short stories and excerpts from non-famous/non-important books. They even stopped assigning the junior class The Jungle by the time I got to be that age. So no, I've never read Wuthering Heights and I've never read Jane Eyre, and I feel like I should. Also, The Tenant of Windfell Hall. Because why not?

So here's the plan: I am going to read one book by each of the Brontë sisters, in descending order by cultural relevance. In my time on this earth, collecting general knowledge, I have learned the most about Wuthering Heights, so Emily's up first. (Things I know about Wuthering Heights: Cathy, Heathcliffe. Babies. Death. The wildness of the moors reflects the wildness of Heathcliffe's character. It is best performed in semaphore.)

(Sorry, my choices were "embedding disabled by request" or "apparently actual Norwegian subtitles pasted on.")

Coming in second, we have Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. (I know there's a nanny, and kids and also a brooding dude. Like The Sound of Music with fewer chilluns? And no Nazis? Definitely no robots.)

And the third book I will read will be Anne's The Tenant of Windfell Hall. (What I know about it: it has a shorter Wikipedia article than her other book.)

So as I journey through these books, all for the first time, I will keep you posted on how it goes. Get excited!

In conclusion, I don't know how to tell Blogger to make that fancy e. I just found one and copy/pasted "Brontë" for this whole post instead of typing it out.

(P.S. Don't forget to scroll down after this post--there's a new monarch moment and a Harry Potter review.)
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Monarch Moments (which, admittedly, is not a very catchy name)

Edward I (1272-1307)

You may remember Edward I from Braveheart--he's Edward Longshanks, the cruel old English king bent on destruction of William Wallace and Scotland. And while that description is not actually untrue (he could be pretty cruel, he was old by that time [especially for the Middle Ages], and he really wanted to have Scotland), neither is it complete.

Anyway, Edward's imbroglio with Scotland is a whole big thing unto itself, so that will be covered in the next Monarch Moment. For now, let's get to know Edward outside a Braveheart-related capacity.

Edward is sometimes called "The English Justinian," because his reign saw major reforms to English law. Edward emphasized justice and was the first king to regularly--and of his own will--summon parliaments.

Before he ascended to the throne, he led a Crusade to the Holy Land and, since he wasn't utterly humiliated, it seemed pretty successful. He had a lifelong ambition to lead another, larger, pan-European Crusade to win back Jerusalem, and to that end, he promoted peace throughout Europe. He sometimes acted as a mediator in disputes between other rulers, and he did his best to maintain good relationships with them himself. Edward was eventually drawn into a war with France, but only because Philip IV bullied him into one. Michael Prestwich, author of the book I just read on Edward I, even compared the over-eager diplomacy of Edward's agents in the run-up to the French war with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler--that's how bad Edward wanted to stay friends.

Edward could be merciless to those he did not see as equals, though. He conquered Wales, after all.

My favorite Edward I story (this one made me laugh so hard the first time I read it that Neal came in the room to see what was going on) is from his father's reign, when Edward was captured by rebel forces. And, even though it's true he did escape from them, this story is almost certainly not true--which is a bummer:

. . . Edward went out riding from Hereford in the company of a number of knights . . . The classic account of what took place is that Edward asked to try all the horses in turn. Having found the swiftest, he dug in his spurs and rode off, shouting "Lordings, I bid you good day."

Michael Prestwich, Edward I
Edward was an able military commander, but he was also strangely lucky:

In Palestine he survived the murderous attack of the assassin by almsot a
miracle; in Paris the lighnting passed over his shoulder and slew two of his
attendants; at Winchelsea when his horse leapt the town wall he was uninjured;
at the siege of Stirling a bolt from a crossbow struck his saddle as he rode
unarmed and a stone from a mangonel brought his horse to the ground. Even illness seemed to pass him by and his last years found him as vigorous and upright as a palm tree with eyes and brain undimmed and the teeth still firm in his jaws, able to bite hard literally as well as figuratively, at the table as in the field.

L. F. Salzman, Edward I, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

In short, Edward I wasn't very nice, but he was pretty awesome. To be continued!

Bonus moment: the children of Edward I

Edward had two wives; the first was Eleanor of Castile, whom he apparently loved devotedly. She bore him fourteen verifiable children, though many died in infancy or childhood. The boy who would become Edward II was the last of her children, so he had three older brothers more likely to become king than he. But I think it's interesting that had the Medieval Infant Mortality Dice rolled differently, England could have had a King John II, a much quicker King Henry IV, or a King Alphonso. King Alphonso of England--that would have been weird.

Edward's second wife, Margaret of France, had three children. The first was Thomas of Brotherton:

According to Rishanger, Thomas was a patriotic baby, who rejected the milk of his French wet-nurse, and began to thrive only when he received good English milk.

I just think "patriotic baby" is an adorable phrase. (!)
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Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: The Movie!


I really liked it. I hate to inflate people's expectations about things, because it's always a bummer when something isn't as good as you think it's going to be even if it's still good on its own merits. However, I have to admit that this is my new favorite Harry Potter movie. Yes, it has unseated Azkaban. It's scary, it's funny, it's sad . . . it's really good.

The biggest complaint about the movie in reviews (although the reviews are generally favorable) is that it doesn't have much of an independent plot; it's just sort of marking time before the end. And that's fairly true. On the other hand, is it actually a problem? As they pointed out on this podcast, this movie assumes that the viewer knows what's going on. It doesn't spend any time re-acquainting you with the characters, recapping what happened at the end of the last movie, or explaining concepts to you. It just does its Harry Potter thing, because if you have any desire to know what's going on, then you already do. So why is it problematic to have a movie that just moves the overarching story along?

The acting is the best it's been so far. Emma Watson toned it down (which is a good thing); Daniel Radcliffe is very good and at times very, very funny; Jim Broadbent surpassed my expectations as Slughorn--he was a treasure; and Neal liked second Dumbledore a lot more in this one (although I've always liked second Dumbledore, so I didn't really notice a difference). Oh, and the girl who plays Ginny very nearly almost gave her character a personality, which is an improvement.

On a more general note, there are always Harry Potter book fans who complain that they cut to much out of the movies. This, in my view, is as useless as complaining that you went to see the movie at the theater and it was just too loud. There are some obvious constants about movies and one is this: there can't be as much in there as there is in a book. There can't.

For instance, the most exact book-to-movie/TV adaptation I can think of is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You know, the good one. The cartoon Grinch is basically identical to the movie Grinch (well, except for the songs). So a half-hour of film basically translates into 64 pages . . . that are mostly filling with drawings. And you think, you really think, that people would be able to make an under three-hour film out of a 652-page book without cutting huge swathes of it out? That's entirely unrealistic.

I think they did a pretty good job deciding what to and what not to cut, but I'll go into more detail on that below.

Spoilers, or at least specifics, follow after the break.

As to the cutting: the central plot of the book, in my view, is Harry's learning about Voldemort. There's very little (proportionally speaking) of that in the movie. I think they had to decide whether it was going to be a movie about Voldemort, with Harry in a passive role, or whether it was going to be about Harry doing stuff, even though that part isn't as cohesive. And I can't fault them for choosing the latter--after all, it's a Harry Potter movie. On the other hand, I can't say I would have made the same choice, especially considering how important Harry's knowledge of Voldemort becomes in the final book. I assume that will make the last two movies trickier to handle, but we'll just have to find out.

One book-to-movie difference that stood out was in Dumbledore's last stand--in the book, Dumbledore magically paralyzes Harry to keep him from intervening in the fight; in the movie, Harry just stands there of his own volition. It seemed a little troubling, EXCEPT! The reason Harry ends up not doing anything right there at the end is because Snape comes up and indicates that Harry should be quiet, as if assuring Harry that he's going to take care of everything. Harry's confidence in Snape is boosted at the moment because Dumbledore had just told him to go get Snape, that Snape's was the only help he, Dumbledore, wanted. And this means that for Harry, when Snape kills Dumbledore, there's an extra level of Snape betrayal. And that's pretty awesome.

So, my favorite part (at least on first viewing) was when Harry and Hermione were at the Slug Club dinner and Slughorn is asking Hermione what her parents do; she's like "They're dentists" and all the other wizards have a look of "smuh?" on their faces, while Daniel Radcliffe, over at the side of the shot, looks like, "Yeah, awesome. Dentists!" That doesn't describe it very well, but seriously. He was so funny right there. (The rest of the dentist conversation is also a hoot.)

Of course, Radcliffe was even funnier in the Felix Felicis scene. That's probably my favorite scene in the book, and I was surprised that the movie managed to live up to it. OH MAN. SO FUNNY.

And one final word on the greatness of Jim Broadbent--I didn't like Horace Slughorn in the book. He was a weasel. But Broadbent managed to incorporate the weasellyness, mix it with the timidity that is also present in book-Slughorn, and produce a Horace Slughorn that is not just sympathetic, but actually loveable. I loved him. And Broadbent is such a good actor--you could never confuse Slughorn with, say, Bridget Jones's dad, not because of hair or makeup, but just because of the way the actor held his face to play the part. He's SO GOOD.

Well, I know I'm forgetting tons of stuff, but I'll just wrap it up here. Suffice it to say, I really, really liked this movie.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


If I were harder-core (or if I didn't have to go to work this morning), I would have gone to see Harry Potter last night at midnight. I did see HP #s 3 and 4 at midnight, but then summer before last, by the time Neal and I went to go buy midnight tickets, they were sold out. (It was like 3 in the afternoon.)

But we are going to see it this afternoon! Huzzah! Perhaps I will even post my review of the movie later today. But really, this post is just an excuse to again post this, one of my favorite internet pictures.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monarch Preview

This entry is going to be updated at intervals of when-I-feel-like-it in order to keep track of what's coming up in Monarch Moment Land. (The Monarch Moment Municipality? On Monarch Moment Mountain?) This is mostly for my own planning purposes, but it's also here for you if you get curious about the near future of the feature. Be warned, though, dates are very subject to change.

Here's what's planned for the next few weeks of monarching:

Monday the 10th: The Hundred Years War: What's up with That?

Monday the 17th: Edward III

Sometime that week: The Children of Edward III

Monday the 24th: Richard II

Monday the 31st: Henry IV

Monday the 7th of September: Henry V

Monday the 14th: Henry VI

Then, Oh My Goodness, It's the Wars of the Roses!
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Comic Thought

So, I can tell that the whole point of "Rose is Rose" is to be insufferably, suffocatingly cute. "CUTECUTECUTECUTECUTE!" the writer seems to want to plaster over every strip. But to me, the artwork suggests less "cute characters of cuteness!" and more "demonic creatures from a horrible hell dimension":

Remember, you can click on the picture to enlarge the horror.

Look at that hideous baby in the second-to-last panel! I'd be less inclined to put sunscreen on it than to douse it with Holy Water--I'd expect it to disintegrate into ashes, but whatever it takes to keep it from eating my brain. (Yes, I know I'm mixing monsters here, but that creature could be anything.)
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Underrated Weird Al Songs

It has long been clear that one of my purposes in this life is to educate others about "Weird Al" Yankovic. (I had to do it the other night at a bar, even.) And so now, I shall drop some Weird Al knowledge on all y'all.

Anybody who knows about Weird Al knows about the big ones: "Amish Paradise," "Eat It," "Smells Like Nirvana," and recently, "White and Nerdy." But what most people don't realize is that half of the songs on all of Al's albums are original, not parodies. They are often what he calls "style parodies," in that they are general homages to a style or a band, but the music and lyrics are all his own. And among these are the hidden gems.

I love, I really love "Pancreas," Al's take on the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. Also, it's about the pancreas.

"Everything You Know is Wrong" is the inspiration for this post--it happened to come on my iTunes this morning, and I was like "This song is great and also underappreciated!" (I also had to resist the urge to start tweeting the lyrics as if they were my updates. ex:
"I was driving on the freeway in the fast lane with a rabid wolverine in my underwear"
"when suddenly a guy behind me in the backseat popped right up and cupped his hands across my eyes!"
"I guessed is it Uncle Frank or Cousin Louie, is it Bob or Joe or Walter? Could it be Bill or Jim or Ed or Bernie or Steve?"
"I prob'ly would have kept on guessing but about that time we crashed into the truck"
"And as I'm laying bleeding there on the asphalt, finally I recognize the face of my Hibachi dealer who takes off his prosthetic lips"

"You Make Me" is so zany. My favorite line is "When I'm with you I don't know whether I should study neurosurgery or go to see The Care Bears Movie."

I've been a fan of "Generic Blues" since I was a wee lassie. It only gets more awesome over time.

"One More Minute" is apparently based on an actual breakup that Al had.

"Since You've Been Gone" is acapella. And funny. And it's the only Weird Al song I can think of that has a punchline at the end (for whatever that's worth). It has no relation with the much later Kelly Clarkson single of the same name.

His newest, which he's released online well in advance of his next album, is the Doors homage "Craigslist." (He even got the original Doors keyboardist to keyboard it up!) I really like the video. (Apologies to Neal here, and maybe it's just the Jim Morrison wig, but I think Al is getting hotter as he gets old. Thoughts?)
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three Miscellaneous Internet Items

1. As I mentioned a little while back, I've gotten back into newspaper comics (although I read them on the internet). And it's all because of The Comics Curmudgeon. It's this guy, see, and he has a blog where he makes fun of comics, hilariously. Here's an entry that's unusually long, but only slightly above-average in funniness.

One revelation the blog has presented me with is soap opera comics. It turns out that Apartment 3G and Mary Worth are secretly hilarious. The problem with that kind of strip (OK, the main problem) is that everything takes forever to happen, so it's hard to know what's going on at all. But ever since the 'mudge has explained the characters and general mission of the strips (via mockery, of course), I've found them pretty engaging. Well, engaging is probably too strong a word (especially for Mary Worth), so let's say amusing. Armed with the knowledge that Mary is a controlling butinsky/biddy and that she's been pushing her young friend Delilah into going home to her husband so they can work on their loveless marriage, I found this confrontation between Mary and Delilah's sleazy ex-boyfriend laugh-out-loud funny.

Look how angry! Mary hates it when you interfere with what she's busy interfering with!

2. As far as internet comics go, I've started reading another one: Octopus Pie. It's not out-loud funny, most of the time, but I enjoy the characters and the long-form story.

3. And in other newish-blog-links-on-the-sidebar news, one of my college friends has started a food blog. She got a real domain name and everything! It's
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

Henry III (1216-1272)

Well, I tried to get interested in Henry III, I really did. (I even checked out this hilariously old fashioned and terrible biography of him--seriously, it was written in the 1950s, but with all the melodrama and bias, I would easily have believed it was from the 1890s.)

But it's tough. He came to the throne at nine years old, which is sort of interesting--but then that means for the first 11 or so years of his reign, he was just some kid in a crown while the real work was done by grown-ups. And when his reign started, there was a civil war/French invasion (I forgot to mention that some of John's barons got so fed up with him, post Magna Carta, that they invited the French king's son to come over and rule England. Yeah. King John, ladies and gentlemen). And then there was another civil war later, where Henry and his son got captured by a rebellious earl. But it was Prince Edward, not Henry, who escaped and saved the day. And the first parliament was called during his reign, but it was forced on him by barons who were aggravated by his poor decision-making (like father, like son).

Henry is mostly known for his piety--although he is outshined (outshone? I really can't decide) in that area by Edward the Confessor, Henry VI, and his own contemporary King of France, St. Louis. And then he really liked architecture. He was responsible for building a bunch of cathedrals. Oh, and he was cultured and fostered learning and such; the first colleges of Oxford University were founded in his reign.

But none of that really lights a fire under me, you know? So let's talk about his zoo:

As premier zoo-keeper of Western Europe, Henry kept in his royal menagerie at the Tower a camel, buffaloes, the first elephant in England, a [polar] bear for the King of Norway, three leopards from the Emperor Frederick II, and a lion from Louis IX.
Elizabeth Longford, The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

About this time, too, an elephant was sent to England by the French king as a present to the king of England. We believe that this was the only elephant ever seen in England or even in the countries on this side of the Alps; wherefore the people flocked together to see the novel sight.
contemporary chronicler Matthew Paris, via ibid.

And this has been your Monday Monarch Moment.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Have a Question for You

Would you consider James Monroe a Founding Father?

I'm reading this book (The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, which I'll tell you about when I finish) that includes Monroe as a Founding Father along with Franklin, Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. Those other five guys: no question. But Monroe? It made me figuratively raise an eyebrow. (I lack the ability to literally raise one eyebrow, which causes me no end of sadness.) I asked Neal about this last night, and we decided that a guy can only be a Founding Father if he was in the Continental Congress (and I was thinking specifically of the Second Continental Congress, c 1776) or was at the Constitutional Convention.

(Your definition can, of course, be different. Wikipedia, for instance, lists him under "Other Founders" along with guys I wouldn't contest, like Patrick Henry.)

Here's Monroe's deal:
  • was 18 years old in July 1776
  • fought with distinction in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War (I can't find anything saying whether he was an officer or not)
  • served in the Continental Congress, but not until 1783-86 (Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown happened in 1781; 1783 saw the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the removal of the last British troops from the US; also, Monroe's stint in the Continental Congress in mentioned on Wikipedia, but not on his official White House biography page; finally, according to a different Wikipedia page, by '83 it was technically the Confederation Congress anyway)
  • was not part of the Constitutional Convention; was part of the Virginia Ratifying Convention that ratified the Constitution for that state (I can't find whether he voted for the Constitution or not--he was an anti-Federalist, so I'd guess he didn't. Not that being an anti-Federalist disqualifies a guy, but just so you know.)
  • fifth President of the United States and hey, five is a pretty low number
So, what do you think? James Monroe = Founding Father, yea or nay?
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