So here I am back in Illinois, as still-raw winds blow over the unworked fields and the world slowly awakens into spring. I have some ambivalent emotions, just like the season. It’s a big change, and it will take time to make the adjustment. But I’m on the path, and well-supported, and trusting. I miss the people in Japan. My heart is with those who are suffering so greatly. My mind is boggled at the timing of my departure. There must be some meaning there that may become clearer in time. The overwhelming message I get is that my life is being guided with a purpose, and I need to live it with awareness and care, redeeming the full value of the days.

Another thought I’ve had: in the speculative fiction field, we talk about the genre of epic or heroic fantasy. We read and write of heroes. Our society at large venerates its sports “heroes.” But today we’re seeing the truest of all heroes — those workers in Fukushima who have committed themselves to remaining at the nuclear reactor site, sacrificing their lives for their fellow human beings. At one point, a report said there were 300 of these workers, and I thought, “Wow! It’s Thermopylae again, the Brave Three Hundred at the Hot Gates.” I believe the number who stayed after the radiation levels got so high is much smaller. Books will be written about these selfless people. Movies will be made. These are heroes, and I pray for their success.

While we’re on this serious topic: I don’t normally do “causes” on the blog, but I’m guessing no one will be too offended if I post one address. If you’re looking for a way to help the people of Japan and aren’t sure which organizations you can trust to use your contribution properly, here’s one that I know is rock-solid and genuine. Checks (noting “Japan Disaster Relief” in the memo line) can be sent to: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO  63166-6861.

Okay, onto brighter subjects:

On the writing front, it’s an exciting time. I am just now checking what’s called “first pages” for The Star Shard. This is the typeset copy, exactly how it will look in the finished book. At least two other capable pairs of eyes at the publisher’s are also going over it, so I hope among us, we can catch any typos that may still lurk. And if we don’t . . . well, remember those tiny flaws the Amish deliberately work into their magnificent quilts, to maintain humility before God?

Also exciting: Head for your newsstand now! My article “Riddles: An Ancient Game” is in the April issue of Cricket! It’s beautifully illustrated by Julie Collins, who did a fantastic job of visually portraying my riddles without giving them away. Cricket also secured permission from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for me to quote a few riddles from The Hobbit by way of example! But it gets better! The writing contest at the back of the magazine is based on a writing prompt in my article. So we’re hoping young readers will be coming up with their own Anglo-Saxon style riddles and/or poems, the best of which will appear in a future issue. And in the magazine’s Cricket Country cartoon panel, the buggie characters are telling riddles — so the entire issue is riddled with good stuff! (Pun fund . . .)

I did some detective work and found out that my article “The Great God Pan: Myth, Horror, and the Divine” appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of FATE Magazine. If anyone wants to track that one down, it can be ordered from their website at I believe they’ll sell you either a hard copy of the magazine or a very inexpensive pdf version.

It’s good to be back at my home church again, worshiping in English, singing in the choir, and even playing with other instrumentalists. I’ve been practicing my trombone, and this past Sunday we did a trombone trio plus flute on “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Fun!

It’s very nice spending time with aunts, an uncle, and lots of cousins. Since coming back, I’ve done some yard work, been through a week-long bad cold, and am trying to help around the house as I do some job-related research and explorations. One of my main duties at my aunt and uncle’s house is to take the dog Cassie on her daily walk. Thanks to the blessings of a CD Walkman and an iPod (the latter very kindly given to me by one among you — a wonderful present!), I’ve been listening to a lot of music on these walks.

A couple days ago, out by the fair grounds, Cassie caught the scent of a large groundhog. I saw the animal at a distance as it came out of a shed, hid briefly beneath a storage trailer, and then headed for the trees along the edge of a field. Cassie didn’t see that, and she was convinced the groundhog was still hiding under the trailer. She had a fantastic time sniffing and running back and forth, around and around the metal unit, poking her nose into every groundhog-scented space. That day was perfectly windless and we were away from traffic noises — the ideal listening experience — so I let Cassie take us around and around the trailer — good exercise, good canine fun, excellent music.

The other day in the comments section of this blog, Chris made a point that, coincidentally, I had just been thinking of myself: how one great thing about albums is that they often introduce us to songs among their contents that are actually greater treasures than the songs that may be getting the most attention and radio time. I also have been thinking that songs are like people in the way they make their impressions on us. Sometimes we’re not particularly impressed when we hear a song for the first time, but on subsequent listenings, those same unassuming selections can rise to become dear friends.

My favorite new (to me) songs and albums in these spring days:

The Celtic Circle: Legendary Music from a Mystic World. It’s by various artists — a two-disc set. It includes most of everyone’s favorite Celtic artists as well as a suite from The Lord of the Rings  and “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter. My favorite on the album is a track by Phil Coulter featuring Sinead O’Connor singing “The Shores of the Swilly.” It’s a haunting, achingly lovely song.

Priscilla Ahn’s album A Good Day. (This one is not Celtic.) Favorite songs: “Dream,” “Lullaby,” and “A Good Day (Morning Song),” although the whole album is well worth owning.

The Tannahill Weavers, Dancing Feet. I’ve had this one for awhile. Lately I’ve been revisiting it, and it gets better and better. Lively, driving, merry, sad, living Scots songs. I love “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “The Final Trawl.” Courage and inspiration!

Loreena McKennitt’s new album, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Absolutely lovely stuff. Favorites: the title piece, and also “Down By the Sally Gardens,” text by W.B. Yeats.

Finally, Sinead O’Connor’s Sean-Nos Nua. Hard to pick a favorite on this one — it’s all superb. Sinead O’Connor has been impressing me more and more lately. The following songs of hers, not from this album, are all extraordinary: “Song of Jerusalem,” “Three Babies,” “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” and “Mna Na Ha Eireann.”

So I move forward, with a dog straining at the leash — into the wind, into April, into the undiscovered country. Talk to you again soon.


134 Responses to “Transition”

  1. Chris Says:


    I can probably best describe myself nowadays as having the philosophy of “existential nihilism”, in that I see no need for “meaning” to come “pre-loaded” in our lives. No meaning other than what we imbue it with. For me, the “meaning” behind you escaping before the earthquake was no more or less than the meaning of those who didn’t make it out.

    That sounds harsh but it is in no way intended to be. It just goes back to the question that many have of “why did I make it out but others didn’t?”

    The reason Japan had the big quake that horribly afflicted so many lives is precisely because of the same reason that Japan even exists in the first place. The beauty you saw in Japan, in it’s natural setting, and since the land helps define the people, maybe even in the people themselves is because of where they live. The things you loved so much about Japan are in no small part due to the very thing that threatens to destroy so many lives there when the earth rumbles.

    The forces that caused the massive devestation (well, everything except the nuclear disaster…that’s man’s little added gift) was set in motion millions of years ago as the hot, plastic mantle convected heat and helped move the tectonic plates around. Japan exists where tectonic plates come together.

    You came to Japan at some random point in time and left at some other random point, but the forces were always working under your feet. The meaning to me appears to be that you just rolled the dice.

    I know that sounds hard from the POV of religious thought. God provides a guiding hand, the path is laid out to fulfill His plans. But I am uncertain if there’s a signal to be found there. If the plan was put in place millions of years ago, or even before time began in His infinite wisdom, what does that say about “predetermination”?

    Even from a religious point of view I’m not sure I would have wanted to interpret some greater “plan” that God may have had for me or not based on that event. I would rather have assumed that God started the machinery running and like some giant monte carlo simulator that is reality the events unwound according to the physical processes and the random events. If I were religious I might actually prefer to see God as watch the events unfold, not to fulfill some plan for each piece on the board but rather to see how each piece responded.

    But that’s just me. You should never take religious advice from an atheist.

  2. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I love your post Chris and I am not arguing with you at all. This however, is my take on it. Two days before Fred left, and three days before the earthquake, we read a new blog post announcing the long hoped for news of our hosts return to the states. He told us it had been a long 10 year decision, and in answer to, “Why now?” he said:
    “…it’s just time. The little signs and “nudges” have been steadily accumulating, and . . . well, it’s just, as I said, time.”
    Take it however you like, but I went back and read this line again while waiting to hear whether Fred made it out of Japan in time, and it had… well, “meaning”

  3. jhagman Says:

    Alot of what Chris wrote is very debatable,,,philosophers are still arguing about the semantics of meaning, alot of what he is presuming is noumena. Christians have been debating for centuries about freewill vs. predestination and their is some German theological thought (historicists) who believe that paradoxically we are both free and predestined, decades before German physicists were making their startling pronouncements. Christians say that their God is a very personal God (I am agnostic) but to understand Fred’s motives is to claim knowledge of a thing in itself, even for a modern scientist this is quite a leap- and when you make that leap, logically your argument is only EVEN with Fred’s, not better. As human beings we only scratch at the surface of things.

    • Chris Says:

      Perhaps I didn’t express my point well. I am not claiming my argument is logically superior to Fred’s intuition of some deeper meaning. I’m merely pointing out the standard response that when one finds “meaning” in a given event (say a timely escape) it really evaporates when one realizes that the same event resulted in no such “escape” for many others.

      But more importantly, while that really makes no difference, I am also pointing out that part of what makes Japan what it is, fundamentally, is tied up in the forces that have wreaked so much havoc of late. Japan is the product of enormous physical forces in the earth. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as “special” if it were not the product of these forces. Mt. Fuji exists because of the same forces that drive the earthquakes that rattle Japan. It is a monument to those forces and one that the Japanese and everyone across the globe marvel at in its beauty. But it’s beauty really is danger writ large.

      And finally, I do not wish in any way for anyone to think my exitential nihilism is somehow “superior” to Fred’s religious convictions. I wouldn’t want that at all.

      The reason I am an existential nihilist is because I see no reason to assume “meaning” is imposed by some supernatural factor. We find (or fail to find) meaning in life as it unfolds around us. If we wish to take signs from nature as indicators of meaning that is fine. I prefer not to as that makes me afraid I will be interpretting “signal in noise”. I will be looking for visions in the random formations of clouds.

      I am also rather of a “materialist” so nuomena carry little meaning for me as I understand Kant’s usage. I can only make decisions on _phenomena_ as I am only left with my senses to experience the world around me and gather data.

      As such, flawed as I may be and limited by my “mere humanity” I am left to draw the conclusions from only the available data in front of me.

      (That’s why I said Fred should never take religious advice from an atheist at the end of my post.) 🙂

  4. fsdthreshold Says:

    Back in 2005 or thereabouts, Chris and I engaged in an epic series of correspondence, discussing and debating our thoughts about faith and science. Did you save those, Chris? It would make a fantastic book!

    I wasn’t suggesting that God “moved me out of Japan just in time” — in fact, Niigata received almost no damage from the disasters, and by all accounts, the school year is starting up normally at Niigata University, and there’s not even too much concern about radiation because of the prevailing winds and the central mountains. So in one sense, it “wouldn’t have mattered” if I’d stayed in Niigata or not. My perception is more along the lines that the world seems full of signs and wonders. There’s a whole lot going on — maybe that’s my bottom line. God is infinitely vast, and I readily agree that we ALL understand Him imperfectly. But as I go through life, I can’t help but perceive a preternatural elegance to things. I simply can’t buy that it’s all random. Too many things happen just right. There’s orchestration to it all. I moved out of Japan, a process which had been in the works for a long, long time. As I left, God played a profound chord on the great organ. No — I’m not saying the earthquake had anything to do with me. It’s just that I think every individual life fits into the grand story somehow, and the plot is infinitely complex and well-conceived. God continually reminds us that we’re precisely here and now in a design that is not an accident. Do I know precisely what I’m “meant” to do? No — that kind of thinking leads to some very dangerous and detrimental human behavior. But I have some very good guidelines and a general idea. I’m meant to write. I know that!

    • Chris Says:

      Point well taken.

      As I spend more time with statistics the concept of randomness actually becomes more fascinating to me. There’s all sorts of beautiful and stunning things that fall out of randomness.

      Pardon me if I wax a bit mathematical for a moment, bear with if you can stand to:

      In “inferential statistics” (the statistics where you test and assumption and say ‘yeah I see an effect here’ or ‘no, I don’t see an effect here’) there’s a small percentage applied to these statistical tests we use called a “p-value”. This is the probability that you are making a particular type of error: the error of a “false positive”.

      If a scientist makes a claim that is later deemed to be a “false positive” it means that he or she presumably found an effect that really wasn’t there. “My superdrug here will make your ears smaller!” when in fact it doesn’t. But the scientist may have simply, randomly, selected data that, when analyzed showed an “effect”. But in reality it was only by chance that this happened.

      What this means is that when I or any scientist tests an effect and we run our statistical tests we generate a p-value. It is never perfectly absolutely 0. It always has some nominal value, even if it is diminishingly small. That’s because we always have the possibility that we could, because of random noise, find an effect.

      The best we can do is bring that p-value down as low as possible. We can’t ever eliminate it altogether.

      Here’s the other half of the “bargain” we make with randomness: by increasing my ability to determine if I’ve made one type of error, there’s another type of error that becomes _more_ likely. It’s a trade off. I can either nail down one error at the risk of making the other or nail down the other and increase my risk of making the first one. No free lunches.

      But the beauty of randomness is sometimes at random effects “appear real” when, with more testing they may not be real.

      Remember graphs in school? Remember fitting lines to the points of the graph? There’s a statistical test of the slope of this line called an “F-Test”. In an F-test we are testing to see if the line has a “zero slope” (in other words “no effect” of x on y) or a non-zero slope (a real effect). The best we can do at the end of the day is say we have a certain percentage assurity that the slope is significant or not (statistically). But what that means is sometimes we find a slope in the data just at random sampling when no real effect exists.

      We reach into the vast bucket of data and just happen to, at random, pull out a bunch of x’s and y’s that make it look like there is a slope, when if you were to have all the data from the bucket no such slope would be there.

      OK, end of math lecture. Sorry for the diversion. But philosophically as a scientist my “ideal” (and I often fall far short of it, quite often actually) is to take only that data in front of me, draw whatever conclusions based on an unbiased assessment of the data and realize that there’s a certain percentage possibility I am dead wrong. That is the deal I have struck with “reality” if I am doing it right as I understand it.

      I can do nothing else.

      BUT, that being said, I am glad that it brings people comfort to find something they feel they are “meant” to do. We all benefit from writers such as yourself who endure any and all manner of deprivation because of your art. Our world is richer for people who stick to the meaning they feel their life is imbued with.

      One last thing: in Southern California here we have what are called “human directionals”. These are people hired to stand on the street and hold a sign for a business and wave it around so drivers see them. The other day I saw a human directional whose sign was mounted on a tripod-based pole so all they had to do was stand there on the street and kind of juggle a mounted sign.

      In a sense that has really firmed up my “existential nihilism”. I rather assume that no one feels that they were “meant” to be a human directional, let alone one who doesn’t even really have to do anything but mildly jiggle a sign on a pole.

      But part of me fears that is exactly the meaning of my existence. Or will be if the economy tanks some more and my job disappears.

      And who’s to say that I would be wrong? 🙂

      • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

        My head just (expletive deleted) exploded!

      • Chris Says:

        Actually to be fair, Brownsnowflake, after I wrote this I realized I _DO_ have something I was “meant” to do

        Whatever I can to bring YOU pain!

        Be it math dissertations or screaming leftist liberal talking points! Maybe even some heresy discussions thrown in for spice! 🙂

  5. jhagman Says:

    Chris, while I think your arguments about statistics are elegant, I remember that statistics by their very nature are inductive, and as such will always be an interesting but unruly tool, and if as empiricists we assign too much meaning to data we really don’t understand we become like sign twirlers, hoping to catch something from the Universe.

    • Chris Says:

      Hume’s “Problem of Induction” is one thing I steer clear of since science could easily be halted. But statistics takes that into account since we are all reminded all the time that “correlation is not causation”.

      Which is why, at best, we look for correlations and infer possible causation. But I’m not a pure “extreeeeeeme empiricist” in that I will allow for the possibility that I can infer the potential of a causal relationship even if I cannot prove it perfectly).

      One other thing: while correlation is not causation, surely you will agree that causation will require correlation. It is necessary but not sufficient for the proposal.

      It is also important with statistics that we not infer too far outside of the bounds of the factors. I can extrapolate but usually within a narrow range.

  6. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    The only damn statistics I worry about are batting averages, free throw percentages, etc. This eggheaded math talk is great for all you intelligent people, but it is giving the grunts like my a migraine (and no, Chris, I do not want to see the chemical makeup of aspirin!) ha ha

    As for God/Fred/Japan. I side partly with both of you. What if their had been no earthquake, but instead the flight right after Fred’s flying the same route had been diverted due to engine trouble, or Fred had chosen not to eat the fish and thus avoided illness, or Fred’s ride at the airport narrowly missed being in an accident? All these are random things, but Fred could, rightly I believe, take this as just one more indication he is doing the right thing by leaving Nippon.

    The counter argument is: If you look for meaning you are bound to find it, which is what I think Chris worries about when he says he fears finding “signal in noise.”

    You have to separate Faith from Science here. Is it, on the face of it, absurd to believe some Jewish carpenter from the sticks died and rose again and, BTW, is the Son of God. Yes. But that is where Faith enters.

    I am an opinionated snot. I admit it (Marquee and I are currently in a furious but fun back-and-forth over Iraq on facebook). While I may disagree with Chris, I am not about to say his ‘opinion’ is ‘wrong.’ How can an opinion be wrong? It is an opinion. Viva la differance!

  7. jhagman Says:

    But I dooo want to see the chemical makeup of aspirin (does it come from tree bark? Someone told me it does). The problem is when we infer and extrapolate, we are reading “signal from noise”, and we have to understand the truly gigantic limitations of human tools when it comes to understanding phenomena.

  8. fsdthreshold Says:

    What’s interesting is that the position of faith has much to do with empirical evidence (the whole science of Christian apologetics deals with demonstrating that there are no true intellectual barriers that can keep a person away from the faith — that there is no scientific reason that logically makes Christian truth impossible) — and at the same time, science is ultimately a faith — a trust that the material is enough, that there’s nothing lurking beyond its edges — a trust that the “p-value” will stay conveniently close to zero and prove to be insignificant enough after all.

    We might use the analogy of an EKG monitor. A spiking, pulsing heartbeat line indicates the existence of God and an invisible world; a flatline indicates the nihilist’s world of nothing out there, no meaning behind anything. The nihilist says to the believer: “You haven’t looked at enough of the line. Beyond the little blips that would seem to be movement, the line is really flat.” The believer says to the nihilist: “You haven’t looked at enough of the line. Beyond the plateau that looks so flat, the spikes and pulses start again.”

    Both parties are sincere in their belief that they are using common sense and analyzing the data before them.

    My question for nihilists, though, is this: Why is “why” not an important question to you? Why a snowflake? Why a whale? Why a nebula? Why human life?

    • Chris Says:

      Ahhh, this is a rich set of questions in so few words (the writers craft!)

      I will start with the “Why” question at the end. As a nihilist and materialist I have no need of “why” to find immense beauty in a snowflake. I look at it differently from you, though. Let me give you a hint of what I see when I see a snowflake if I might.

      I don’t see a miracle crafted by God, but rather an amazing output from an even more amazing “machine”. Snowflakes are crystals of ice. Water, when cooled to a certain point gives up it’s heat. At 32degF the mass of water starts to give off it’s heat _but it’s temperature doesn’t change until all that mass of water changes from liquid to solid (!!!!!)_. After that the temperature of the water (now ice) can continue to drop. But in that point the water molecules are orienting themselves in a very specific pattern that is an outgrowth of the most simplistic aspect of how electrical charge is distributed in an H-O-H molecule (it is bent at an angle with more electrons in the oxygen end of things and less in the H end). The way it orients the “hydrogen bonds” it forms cause it to be one of the few solids that is LESS DENSE than it’s liquid form (!!!!) All this is because of how much oxygen atoms like electrons and willing hydrogen atoms are to share their electrons when in a molecule. In addition the oxygen has additional electrons vs hydrogen. Then on top of that water, when frozen, takes on a specific crystalline structure according to how the molecules “stack up”. It isn’t miraculous, it is like stacking blocks. Only in the case of water they stack to make a crystal with a 6-fold symmetry (hexagonal crystal system, crystal class 6/m 2/m 2/m to be more precise) –as an aside when water freezes in deep ocean gas “clathrates” in some cases it can be “forced” to take on different crystal structure if I recall correctly…truly an interesting “going against it’s nature” sort of thing.

      Blah blah blah…I’m getting off into the science stuff too much. But for me _that_ is the “why”. The beauty in the system is “enough”. I am uncertain that I _need_ to know “why” basic laws of physics are true. There’s an entire aspect of theoretical physics that deals with the form of “natural laws”.

      I love to know “why” water does what it does but ultimately that quesiton can go extremely “reductionist”. Why does oxygen have a higher “electronegativity” than hydrogen? Well we know something about how the atom is “built” so we have an explanation of that, but why are electrons – while protons are +? That becomes a question of why is anything anything? Why am I a bad writer and not Fred Durbin? But by the same token why is Fred not Chris? Is there are necessary ‘reason’?

      This is precisely why I’m OK with religion (so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else)…precisely because it provides for some people a feeling of place and comfort in the world. It answers the questions they find important. In some ways I don’t have the need for those questions to be answered and if I did perhaps I’d perfer a more “concrete” answer.

      NOW onto the first question:

      When I was a Christian I _loved_ the Scholastics. I loved the Ontological Proof of God. It made Him much more amenable to the “intellect”. But the Apologists and Scholasticists ultimately seem kind of cold in that many things seem to become ‘word games’ and rhetorical devices. Even the Ontological argument has a potential flaw.

      But is it “enough” to know someone has “nailed God down with a logical syllogism”? Well, it should be, except I can’t “use” that information to better understand God. Or what His actions would be in any given setting. I see good people killed and slaughtered in approximately equal numbers to “bad” people.

      What I see is a pile of data and I’m looking for the “causative” agent to “correlate” the data. I can’t find anything that says Christians are more or less in love with their conception of God or feel he gives them more or less than Muslims or any other religion.

      In a sense the “hypothesis test” for the effect of religion on human existences seems to indicate all religions have equal effects on people’s lives which means no one religion is “more true” than another, and hence any _ULTIMATE UNIVERSAL TRUTH_ is still eluding all the religions.

      If ALL TRUTH is equal then what’s the use of that TRUTH?

      If there is no “FALSITY” then is there any “TRUTH”?

      I am so happy that there are people like you folks on this blog out there who have your religion and it is good an kind and inspires you to do “good” in the world. (Just as a side note atheists are equally motivated to do good in the world, just an fyi).

      It has been my (sometimes sad) experience in the world that religion never stopped anyone from doing any evil they truly wanted to do any more than atheism never stopped anyone from doing any good they really wanted to do and vice versa.

      There’s beauty in the world whether your religious or atheist. Maybe we don’t have all the same questions. And I’m not saying that my “answers” are better than yours. Fred is correct. Materialism is ultimately a faith that there are no “unaccounted for factors” in the mathematical model of reality. But that is the faith predicated on a full assessment that I am imperfect and can only know what is in front of me. It is my “empiricism”.

      In a sense what does a Christian really “know” of God? That being than which none greater can be conceived is predicated on the term “conceived”, not “perceived”.

  9. Chris Says:

    Jeezly I wish there was a way to go back in and correct my typos and grammar errors in posts once posted.

  10. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Speaking of snowflakes. When I see a snowflake my first reaction is usually somethng along the line of: “Ha Ha Fred! Take that, you and all your damn August humidity!” heh heh heh

    Thanks, Chris, for the explanation of the snowflake. I understand the science, but my question is: Who made the rules? Who decided protons would carry a positive charge? Who said photon (light) torpedoes could defeat Klingon shields? If you can answer those, perhaps you can also answer these queries:

    Who put the bomp
    In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
    Who put the ram
    In the rama lama ding dong?
    Who put the bop
    In the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
    Who put the dip
    In the dip da dip da dip?

  11. jhagman Says:

    Aha! Chris admits that “Materialism is ultimately a faith” and you Dr. Chris are a High Priest, certainly not a monk. What is of historical interest to me is that this new faith (the scientific method) was born/evolved in Christian Europe.This speaks volumes to me.

    • Chris Says:

      It is effectively the same faith that I have that there is no invisible weightless micro-elephant living in my refrigerator.

      I am not required to prove a negative.

      I hope I am not leading you to believe that I am “sure” of anything with perfect knowledge. I hope I have not given that impression. As an empirical scientist I can only make statements about that which I can detect and measure.

  12. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    correct, Jhag. The scientific method and laws of reason were created by the Church.

    • Chris Says:

      Weeeellllll, this isn’t exactly true. The scientific method was not created by any single entity. Arguably the scientific method has been attributed to many different people working from many different approaches. Roger Bacon may have even used _muslim_ concepts developed of repeated observation, hypothesis, experimentation etc.

      As for the “laws of reason”, logic certainly predated the Catholic Church (otherwise philosophers wouldn’t focus so much on the ancient Greeks).

      I’m not discounting the Church’s role in nurturing logic, learning and even early science. Just pointing out that to put all the advantages of science and logic firmly at the feet of the Church is to denigrate all the non-Christian efforts. The essential “HUMANITY” of the scientific endeavor.

      • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

        sorry if it appears I implied that. I certainly do not want to take anything away from the Arabic and Persian contributions to science and math, which nearly all ended once the lie of Islam spread. I should have been clearer, as the atheist was: the church nutured science and helped develop the university system. and, of course, others came along after 1520 and have made outstanding contributions as well. What I SHOULD have said was “the Church kept the light on” in the so-called “Dark” Ages

      • jhagman Says:

        Actually the evolution is much stranger than even that. The main contributions that made the scientific method a dynamic came from occult roots. Scholars until that time postulated, but did not test their ideas- the dynamic to test came hermetic philosophers like Giordano Bruno, Astrologers like Galileo and Kepler (yes they were astrologers) and alchemists like Isaac Newton. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were aswim with these “scientists” practicing occult arts.

    • Marquee Movies Says:

      Exactly! Just ask Galileo!

      • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

        Touche Marquee! Very good! I was thinking more of Copernicus, who had his excommunication rescinded not too long ago. That there were men who erred in the church is of no debate … there will always be human fraility, which the church acknowledges. Where she is incapable of error is in her Magisterium, as it is the Holy Spirit who protects the bride of Christ,

  13. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Two articles for Chris and his ilk: for “Catholics and Atheists Unite!” and for “Is Climate Change argument mathematically sound” (or something close to that; it is the first listed article for Thursday, April 7).

    The first is a great bridge-builder while the latter made me laugh at the “the poles are going to disappear and New York is going to under five feet of water” Henny Pennys.

    • Chris Says:

      OK, anytime someone tells you they are going to explain TIME SERIES STATISTICS in “plain english” be wary. I have spent the last several months trying to get my head around TIME SERIES STATISTICS. (So what I say here is to be taken with a large grain of salt since it is more a display of my vast ignorance of the topic)

      See that little “AR1” in the article? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Autocorrelation is a serious concern that can dramatically impact the way we run a standard “regression analysis” since one of the central assumptions of a regression analysis is that the errors are “normally distributed” about the fit. If there’s autocorrelation then the assumption may no longer hold.

      My work with time series statistics is really grossly limited and poor. Recently I was corresponding with a researcher at Scripps Oceanography. We were talking about a method to quality check location data from oceanographic research cruises. I thought it would be cool to check the “autocorrelation” of latitude/longitude data points (figuring that a ship can only move so far in a certain time, so the location data should be somewhat “autocorrelated”) so I took a Scripps research cruise data set and replaced one lat/lon reading with a “fake one” like you might get if the computer hiccupped and gave a really wild lat/lon data point. Then I ran an autocorrelation on the data and was able to find the point. But I still don’t really fully understand how to analyze time series data. I still don’t know exactly if I was doing this right or if I was interpretting the data correctly. But I could find the erroneous datapoint. 🙂

      The discussion here is really extraordinarily complex. The discussion about AR(1) is, in my simplistic understanding, is ultimately related to how many “lags” one uses in the analysis. A highly autocorrelated data set may show autocorrelation going back further (longer lag). In fact data can be measured to find how many “lags” it takes to find autocorrelation. These are called “Correlograms”. In a correlogram we can assess how far back (how many lags we use, how many data points _back_ we need to go to find any autocorrelation in the data. If you are looking at monthly data you may have to go back 12 “lags” to start seeing some “seasonality” to the data.

      Again, this is extremely complex stuff. I am rather assuming that since this area is extremely well covered by statistically savvy scientists over the past 50 or so years that it is highly unlikely that any “errors” found are simple matters of a single faulty assumption. You will also note that the author only seems to focus on the IPCC report _not saying anything about_ an analysis of the number of lags tested. Note how he or she does not actually show you a correlogram or, more importantly a “PARTIAL AUTOCORRELATION FUNCTION (PACF) plot to prove their point. It appears more an article written from “personal incredulity” than actually finding a specific error.

      I wish I could go into this in more grotesque detail but it is a bit beyond my skillset.

      Now you’ve got me thinking about Time Series stuff again. Thanks. I had kind of purged my brain of that. It was frustrating me. Now I can obsess on it a bit more. Greeeeat.

    • Chris Says:

      I do like the continued conversation between the religious and the atheists. Unfortunately so often atheists see all religions as full of incoherent nuts and so many religious folks see atheists as amoral devils incarnate. Neither view is even remotely correct.

      That’s why I like hanging out on this blog. YOU guys are largely the type of Christian I know. Almost all of my friends and acquaintances are Christians or relgious and they are almost all to a person perfectly rational kind good people. And hopefully any atheists you guys know are pretty decent people.

      In the end I think religion is fine so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. And if I thought an atheist was out to hurt someone I would equally be offended.

      My greatest hope is that I will NEVER take anyone’s religion from them. If anyone were to listen to me and make a life-changing choice like abandoning religion because of what _I_ said I’d be extremely sad.

      Because I’m an idiot.

      So it’s good to keep the dialogue going, but in the end it probably wont’ be productive either way. Except to realize our common humanity. Our common human decency.

      We are all just people.

  14. Tim in Germany Says:

    I have two thoughts to share on the religion/science divide, but first I’d like to point out that Barry Mann put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp (like…..duh).

    But seriously, a little-appreciated aspect of the divide between religious types and scientific types is the profound difference in the way they understand identical questions. If I ask, for example, why humans die, an ecology-based answer about maximizing genetic diversity with limited resources reveals one understanding of the question. A faith-based answer about a glorious progression to heaven reveals an almost entirely different understanding of the question.

    This human ability to shape the question to accommodate the answer we prefer leads to my second point about the religion vs. science debate, which has to do with outcomes. When something awful happens, some people interpret the event as a “question” about how best to endure the suffering. Other people interpret the catastrophe as a “question” about how to avoid the same problem in the future. To some degree, the religious mindset is one of “accepting” while the scientific mindset is one of “solving.”

    As such, and given the profound capabilities of modern science, it seems reasonable to argue that religion in the 21st century is a variety of learned helplessness. As the fundamentalist mother says in Futurama, “I don’t understand evolution, and I’ve got to protect my children from understanding it.”

    And now back to your regularly scheduled rama lama ding dong…

  15. fsdthreshold Says:

    Tim, you know what I’m going to say. You posit that the faith mindset is one of “accepting” while the scientific mindset is one of “solving.” To a degree, I see your point. But faith (specifically Christianity) offers a solution to the vexing and fundamental human problem of individual death. Last time I looked, science still offers no solution.

    I still observe that when atheistic scientists [I use the adjective here not to malign scientists, but to acknowledge that not all scientists are atheists] set out to answer “why,” they only answer “how.” As Chris says, apparently “why” is not necessary to them. To me that is baffling. But I know that to most people it’s baffling how I can be so apolitical, how I can not care who’s playing in the Superbowl, how I can have no clue (without looking it up) how much money I make a year.

    Chris points out that many atheists are motivated to “do good” in the world. That is apparently true, but I am curious as to the “why.” And what is “good” if you believe in no good or evil? In my observation, atheists profess that nothing ultimately matters, but they go right on behaving as if they were eternal beings, as if there were an ultimate standard of good and evil: they get up in the morning, go to their jobs as if they had hope; they take pride in their work as if it mattered; they give alms to the poor, they help the guy stranded with the flat tire, they rescue the little girl from the falling piano. What’s the motivation for this? Is it to keep our species thriving in an orderly fashion?

    “Conceived, not perceived” — this seems to be a misreading of Christianity. Faith involves perception. “Oh, taste, and see that the Lord is good.” Someone is on duty. Someone is answering the prayers. Atheists can’t see a loving God there, but Christians can’t see an empty void.

    • Chris Says:

      OK, let me come to the rescue of nihilism and atheism all at once…just a sec while I jump into this phone booth to change into SUPER MATERIALIST!

      Why do I as an atheist “do good”? That is a good questions apparently because I am asked it almost all the time. Even by the esteemed Dr. G, Philosophy Professor.

      Here’s why I care about my fellow people, why I obey the laws, why I give my time to the San Diego Food Bank at times etc:

      Because I am human. Humans are, by nature, social creatures in that we gain an evolutionary and survival advantage working in “packs” or “groups” (society). I do good for my fellow people because it helps stabilize and make better the society I live in.

      If I do what I can then others will hopefully do what they can and we can all help each other. And in the long run we all benefit.

      In addition I am kind of “hardwired” to like to see others feeling good. If I can help someone else avoid pain, or at least not be the cause of it, I feel good myself!

      This is what I call “Functional Morality”. It may look like I think of myself as some “eternal being” but I don’t. It may look like I believe in a fundamental “right and wrong” but I realize what is “right” for a human is not “right” for a tiger. Mauling to death an innocent child is perfectly fine for the tiger, it wouldn’t be particularly good for a human to do that….unless the child was really, really delicious. But even then…well, yeah…even then.

      As for the “Conceived vs Perceived” I think you misunderstood me. That is a crucial point in the Ontological Argument. It helps avoid the fact that perception in the structure of the argument could potentially limit the definition of “That being than which none greater can be _conceived_”. (It’s a subtlety of the Ontological argument and not intended to be an overall religious concept…rather a rhetorical and logic device to ensure that the concept can stand up to various rebuttals. Just an FYI).

  16. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    and again I ask: Who set the rules? Who decided the speed of light? If the Big Bang theory is correct (I am inclined to believe it), how was the speed of light set when all was one tiny glob of matter in which lights speed need not have mattered? And where did the light come from?

    This is why I love science and urge it forward …. keep looking deep and far enough, and one day you may just stumble upon the artist’s signature …

    • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

      P.S. If you have read “Contact” by the late Carl Sagan, he chose in the novel to have the artist’s signature buried endless miles downstream in the 11th dimension of pi

    • Chris Says:

      Let’s answer the question with a “hypothetical”. Let’s say “GOD set the speed of light”.

      Now can I ask a question or two? Who created God? Who determined God’s properties? Why is God Omniscient?

      No fair saying that God simply “is”. That isn’t an answer any more than me saying the universe just “is”.

      I raise this point precisely because in the end we all wind up with unexplainable things on our hands. Our knowledge is, by definition, limited.

      As a materialist I merely forego “feasting” on what is beyond the limitations of my ability to know.

      Why? Not that I am not in any way “curious” about this! Not at all! Just that if there’s no way to know it and no one has so far found anything other than personal hypotheses and guesses about the nature of “beyond nature”, then I see little point in that “knowledge”. It is equivalent to any other other “guesses” by a host of other similar simians as myself.

      And unless we have the ability to understand it, it is little more to me than a “thought experiment”.

      For me the one thing that religion has failed to do throughout history is come upon a _universal_ concept of God that all perceive similarly and whose rules are, by necessity, similar and cannot be explained by more mundane mechanisms.

      Earlier, Brown Snowflake, you mentioned the “lie of Islam”. That lie provides countless millions of people the same comfort with exactly the same level of profundity and “reality” as your beloved faith does. There are so many good muslims out there, people who rival Fred in gentleness and kindness. Are they in thrall to a lie? And there are hate-filled Christians who make Al Qaeda look tame. And, of course, vice versa!

      Whose truth is more “truthful”? Whose God more vengeful and fearful? And whose more kind and loving?

      I try these days to stick to my sandbox. There may be a bigger playground out there, but I’ve not met anyone whose seen it. And I can’t reach the hypothetical swingset of Paradise so talking about it and theorizing how comfortable the seats on it are seems to kind of be less “real” to me than all this nice sand I’ve got to play with!

  17. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    As for Islam I should point out that both my brother and my sister are married to Muslims. Nika, by ethnicity a Uigar, is from Almaty, kazahstan, and her father, at least, is a strict observer of Islam and she was raised in the faith. My sisters husband, Mammad, is Iranian and his family fled in 1978. They return to visit Tehran every October, and the Iranian ambassador to Spain in 2007 flew to Baltimore to attend their wedding (the Haerians and this gentleman, I forget his name, are longtime friends). So you can say I have a bit of experience with Islam.

    And Islam is a lie. It is a sham, a mangled combination of Judaism and early Christianity (Mohammad’s wife was an uneducated Christian). The God of Islam changes his mind, contradicts himself repeatedly, is not beyond deceiving humanity, etc.

    Does it bring peace to millions? Undoubtedly. Will those millions enter heaven? I cannot say, and ask for the mercy of Christ, who is the only way. I hope His Mercy extends to all.

    Some on this blog will be upset over what I have written, but I do not ask your forebearance.

  18. Marquee Movies Says:

    This has been a rather heady set of posts! Chris, I like what you said about how there are many Muslims who are as devout and good-hearted as Fred (or anyone who posts here) is. We need to find more of what we have in common, not what divides us. Anyway – I wanted to get back to Fred’s original post, and talk about his terrific article in Cricket Magazine! The article is fun to read, of course, but the riddles are fantastic! I was only able to figure out the second one – the first and third were genuine puzzles to me – and then, once I learned the answers, I went back and saw how cleverly Fred had planted the clues to the answers in the lines! Back when I was growing up, I read Cricket magazine constantly. One of the aspects I loved so much was the fact that the bugs and other creatures of the magazine would show up in the margins, sometimes explaining a word, sometimes just commenting on the article itself, talking about how it related to their existence. (It occurred to me not too long ago that this “Comment in the margins” activity is not too unlike what the brilliant MST3K does!) Anyway, a number of the characters who have been living on the pages of Cricket magazine since I was a kid commented throughout Fred’s article! And there’s even more in the back, all about what Fred contributed to this issue! So folks, go out and get your Cricket magazine, and see if you can do better than I did on guessing the three riddles. Good job, Fred!

  19. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Marquee gets us back on track! Hear, hear, and kudos to Fred!

  20. Catherine Says:

    Gracious! Just a couple months ago a few of the DJs on our local radio station were playing Loreena McKennit all the time . . . ! Now you’ve got “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” in my head . . .

    Congratulations on your latest appearance in Cricket, Fred, and welcome back Stateside!

  21. john c Says:

    Our prayers go out to Japan. Would you consider putting up some of your art as a fund raiser? I’d buy it, especially for a great cause!

  22. morwenna Says:

    Marquee Movies, thanks for commenting on Fred’s marvelous article about riddles. The April issue of Cricket is so much fun! Young readers will love penning riddles for the contest.

    From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
    “Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
    “No, I give it up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
    “I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.

  23. Marquee Movies Says:

    Ooh, riddles from stories! OK – here’s an example of a riddle that was told in the wonderful Steve Martin film “Roxanne.” His best friend (played by Shelley Duvall) is trying to get C.D. (Steve Martin) to act on what is obviously in his heart. So she says: “What do you sit on, sleep on, and brush your teeth with?” C.D. says he doesn’t know.
    “A chair, a bed, and a toothbrush.”
    Annoyed, C.D. says, “What’s your point?”
    “Sometimes the answer is so obvious, we just don’t see it.” In other words, don’t give into fear – act on who you are, not on how you think others see you. A lovely, funny, romantic film.
    Gosh, I wish more people would let me know if they were stumped by any of Fred’s three riddles in the Cricket article. I don’t want to be the only one who couldn’t get some of them……

    • morwenna Says:

      Marquee, Fred’s code for the riddles’ solutions pulled me straight in, so I read the first answer right away. Like you, I solved “The Dinner Guest” (delightful poem, Fred). I loved “The Warriors” and couldn’t come up with the answer.

      Just watched a great clip of Frank Gorshin playing The Riddler! 🙂

  24. fsdthreshold Says:

    Marquee Movies — thank you for your wonderfully kind words about the CRICKET article! (Morwenna, too!) I’m honored that you went to the trouble of hunting down the magazine. A while back, I tested out those riddles on some friends, and you are definitely not alone. A certain fantasy magazine editor I know solved them right away; a visual artist (homeschooled, I might add) solved them while sick with a high fever (which may or may not have helped); but at least two other friends were stumped, even after several hints. One friend came up with an alternate answer to the first riddle, which is somewhat defensible — that friend is here among us! 🙂

    But this should make you feel better: the CRICKET editors who accepted the article told me everyone in their office was stumped, and no one could figure out the answers without looking at the answers! (Note: this was AFTER the offices moved away from Peru, Illinois, and most of the office personnel changed.) To be fair to them, most of those who “couldn’t solve them” were probably called to look at them in the middle of a busy day and probably had a hundred other things on their minds.

    As to riddles in books — here’s a great and famous one for you, from The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle: “How is a raven like a writing desk?” (This would make a fascinating comment thread: riddles from stories, either in print or on film! Does anyone else have favorites? And can anyone solve Peter S. Beagle’s?)

    Finally, john c: Thank you for your kind thoughts toward Japan. Also, I’m honored at your suggestion about my “art”! Let me think about that issue . . . does anyone else have an interest/opinion? Meanwhile, thank you, john c!

  25. morwenna Says:

    Fred, that’s the riddle Alice can’t answer! The Mad Hatter asks “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

  26. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Had I been Bilbo Gollum would have killed me straight off (leading to Sauron eventually recovering the Ring) as I suck at riddles. Here is my best guess (given 2-3 minutes thought) …

    “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” They both have something they want to crow about?

  27. morwenna Says:

    I typed the hyphen between writing and desk because (although it looks a bit odd) that’s how Lewis Carroll penned it.

    Liked your solution, Brown Snowflake. 🙂

  28. Marquee Movies Says:

    “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” is supposed to be one of those classic unanswered riddles, but fans over the years have come up with different answers. Another one (in addition to Mr. Snowflake’s) is: They are both subjects on which to write. Another intentionally unanswerable riddle is found in “Life is Beautiful,” the Italian film written and directed by Roberto Benigni. The father (played by Benigni) is fond of telling riddles such as: If you say my name, I vanish – what am I?
    But he deliberately put in a riddle that has no solution – to represent, most likely, how there is no answer to the question of how humans can do evil things to other humans (the story is set during the Holocaust). The riddle (translated from Italian, and which has NO answer) is:

    Fat fat ugly ugly, truly all yellow
    If you ask me where I am I tell you
    “Here, here, here” (quack quack quack)
    When I walk, I go “Pop”
    Who am I? Tell me a little.

    Interesting when storytellers intentionally use a riddle with no answer. (By the way, the answer to the one above is “Silence.”)

  29. morwenna Says:

    I thought of two answers to “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” Then I googled my ideas and found out that these responses are very common. But anyway:
    1. They both have quills. (The desk holds quill pens.)
    2. They’re both associated with Edgar Allan Poe.

  30. Chris Says:

    Man, here I thought the answer to “Why is a raven like a writing-desk” was because they are both flat and made of wood.

    In the words of Emo Philips:

    “What has 4 legs in the morning, 2 legs in the afternoon and 3 legs at night?”

    The answer of course is:

    A duck.

    It has 4 legs in the morning, you chop 2 off in the afternoon, glue one back on in the evening.

  31. Marquee Movies Says:

    Funny, Chris! I like the Emo joke he told when some girl scouts came up to him.
    “Would you like to buy a girl scout cookbook?”
    “I understand you taste like chicken.”

  32. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    I still miss Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor …

  33. fsdthreshold Says:

    When someone asked Peter S. Beagle at World Fantasy a couple years ago, “So why IS a raven like a writing-desk?” he said these were two possible answers:

    1. Poe wrote on both.
    2. Both have inky quills.

    Then someone else in the audience stood up and said,

    3. Both produce notes that are generally not musical.

    The girlscout cookbook reminds me of:
    “Mr. [W.C.] Fields, how do you like children?”
    “Par boiled.”

  34. jhagman Says:

    I saw Peter Beagle at last month’s “Vintage Paperback Collectors Show” in Mission Hills, here in SoCal. It cost $5 bucks to get in, and there were oodles of writers everywhere. I saw Tim Powers there, William F Nolan, Harry Turtledove, and tons of others! Mystery writers, Romance, SF Fantasy authors, all rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses, very cool. Anndd,,, get this, there was a positively ancient “Bear Pit Barbecue” right next door. My girlfriend, however took me to Fab’s Hotdogs (in Reseda) of “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives” fame- I am still waiting for some of my major organs to fail. While I was at the LesserCon ( as they call the Vintage MM show here) I spoke with Tim Powers, Beagle was standing right next to him, but he looked so worn out and sad, that I did not want to put him through the pain of conversing with a fan. Beagle is such a fine writer, “The Last Unicorn”, “I See By My Outfit” and of course the sad, beautiful book “A Fine and Private Place”, but I could not get into “The Folk of the Air” or “The Inkeeper’s Song”- they seemed much lesser children of this god of fantasy- my opinion.

  35. Marquee Movies Says:

    Jhagman, that was a cool story! I LOVE it when restaurants have cool names – “Bear Pit Barbecue” and “Fab’s Hotdogs” already sound like they have delicious comfort food in a cool, off the beaten path environment. And that was really respectful that you decided not to hound Mr. Beagle – I think it’d be hard for some to avoid going up to him. There’s a small group of filmmakers that, if I found myself in their vicinity, I would not be able to stop myself from approaching them and gushing. Not too proud of that, but….there it is.

  36. fsdthreshold Says:

    Jhagman, isn’t Tim Powers great to meet? At World Fantasy, I will usually do whatever I can to get to the panels he’s on, and he’s most often the voice of reason on them. He’s quite a showman — knows how to be very funny and very insightful on a panel, yet he never hogs the mike. Last year, I got some very cool closeup photos of him signing books for a friend of mine.

    Interesting (and sad) that Mr. Beagle looked tired and sad when you saw him. I think I’ve told my stories about meeting him on this blog, haven’t I? I told him how much The Last Unicorn meant to me as a kid, and he said that for him, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows made him want to write fantasy. Peter S. Beagle is an excellent reader of his own material (which is NOT true of all authors). And then there was the added bonus of how, in referring to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he said, “In my beloved Buffy. . .” And then there was the shirt story: I was wearing my “So Many Books; So Little Time” sweatshirt, and he said, “I used to have that shirt! My kids stole it from me.”

  37. jhagman Says:

    Around ’96 I was working at a B&N in Encino SoCal- after my shift, I drove to Dangerous Visions Bookstore in Sherman Oaks, Lo and behold in this quiet little store, there was Tim Powers. He is close friends w/ one of my favorite writers of all time (along w/ Herr Durbin) James Blaylock. I asked after Blaylock, and Powers said “he’s doing great! He’s got a full time teaching job at Chapman College, so he gets a check every month, and he gets benefits”. I smiled at Powers and said “that’s great”, but inside myself I said “What THE HELL,,,do these writers get properly paid”?? Expletive-Expletive. 15 Years later both that Dangerous Visions and B&N are gone , and I see one tired Beagle, I feel pity and sadness for both myself and Peter S. Beagle. I hold my chin up, and go and have a hot dog.

  38. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    we are dying here! Somebody say something controversial (Chris?!?) to get us all riled up again!

  39. fsdthreshold Says:

    Well, I don’t know about controversial, but jhagman, I loved that latest comment! You’ve touched on such a profound truth about our world. There are a few giants who can write and have no financial worries whatsoever. But the vast majority of writers may be fantastic writers, but they need “day jobs” in order to survive.
    Today I was in the Springfield B&N. Now, these are the supervillains — the ones who drive the independents out of business, who treated Dragonfly most cruelly, who go with the safe bet . . . I looked in the children’s section and on the general magazine racks, and they did not carry CRICKET. I found Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer shelved under “Men’s Interest” (sorry, ladies — according to B&N, writing is a male interest — run along to the kitchen and be barefoot) . . . and anyway, even at B&N, the fantasy section had noticeably dwindled. A year ago, it filled three aisles, right and left. Today it occupied less than one aisle. Could this be why Peter S. Beagle looks sad?!

    • Chris Says:

      Sorry to be a traitor but I’m a B&N guy. Have been for years. If I can’t have a Joseph Beth around I default to B&N. Never liked the feel of Borders and B&N used to be one of the others that had comfy chairs to sit and read in.

      I concur nothing is much of what it was in the heydays of the 1990’s when bookstores were becoming great. That ended.

      Money trumps all. Just be glad that bookstores still exist. I fear they will soon go the way of record stores as eReaders take over.

      Just surf online for whatever the latest “best seller” is or what the “Genius Software” spins in front of you based on a mathematical algorithim intended to utilize your purchase history to find just the best stuff for you that you couldn’t find yourself.

      Download it and hope a stray EMP doesn’t wipe your entire library off the planet forever or the software doesn’t change in the next 30 years. I mean who can read books that >30 years old these days? Meanwhile I can open all the files in WordStar that house the early drafts of my thesis! Oh, wait, no I got that backwards….

      Hey let me tell you about quality control on printing “direct mail marketing collateral”!

      (Did any of that sound embittered? Gosh I hope not.)

      • Chris Says:

        Should note that it’s been about 15 years since I’ve been in Joseph-Beth, I don’ t know if they like B&N have become less wonderful over the years or not.

    • Daylily Says:

      Writing under “Men’s Interest”? ***SIGH***

      • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

        ahhh, there she is! thought we had lost you, Daylily! 🙂

      • Daylily Says:

        No, no, I’ve been reading along. But as a classical music enthusiast, I didn’t have much to say on the last alphabet game. Classical music albums sometimes don’t have titles. They just list the names of the artists and the works performed.

  40. morwenna Says:

    Brown Snowflake, this isn’t controversial, but let’s play an alphabet game. Many of us heaved nostalgic sighs after we saw the picture of the comic-book rack in Fred’s parents’ bookstore. Our game is to name any character from a comic book. From serious to silly, from major to minor, the choices are wide open.

    I’ll start off. Lots of people are familiar with Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. But can you name Daisy Duck’s cute triplet nieces? They are April, May, and June.

    “A” is for April Duck . . .

  41. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    oh boy, comic books. THis will really task me, as I was never a reader of comics. Lets get Morwenna’s game going … but I will be of almost zero help.

  42. morwenna Says:

    Brown, without your posts, it won’t be as fun. Let’s think of another theme. What about fictional villains? The baddies — from scary to bumbling — could be from books, movies, comics, and more.

  43. Marquee Movies Says:

    “B” is for Batman comics. Can I claim “R” now, or do I have to just hope I catch it as the wheel comes around?

  44. Chris Says:


    Yeah I skipped ahead a few letters and I’m not certain if this is a comic book hero or villain.

    I’m controversial like that.

    (If you are familiar with Tom the Dancing Bug you’ll know Dinkle)

  45. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    OK we have come to a confluence, or an intersection, a serendipitous kaldeidoscope of menagerial chaos:

    Do we continue the just-started comic book character list or do we, following the liberal philosophies of some on this blog, simply abort the newly-formed list in an act of barbarous butchery, a bloody slaughter of the innocent in the name of convenience?

    Thanks, Morwenna, for the kind encouragement. We wait with baited breath for Marquee’s ‘R’ as we switch, with your approval (you can start us off with ‘A’) for a new alphabet list: FICTIONAL VILLIANS (from movies, literature, poetry,your neighborhood, mythology, wherever …)

    Morwenna? …

  46. Marquee Movies Says:

    Morwenna, you waited about 8 seconds before deciding to change things! Goodness, if Brown Snowflake isn’t that familiar with comics, then this will be the perfect opportunity for him to learn about some! That’s what we’re here for, to learn from each other, right? (Do I sound like I’m desperate to hold onto this one? Hope not, even though I am.)
    I WAS going to point out that Buffy is now in comic book form – some of which I enjoy very much, some of which puzzles me. But hey, any extra time with Buffy and Willow and Xander and Giles is definitely worth the effort.
    ALSO – ASTRO CITY is one of my favorite comics ever. It’s a city where superheroes and supervillains co-exist with average citizens, but the stories are often about the average citizens, or how they interact with the superheroes.
    Then, of course, Conan the Barabarian. (There, Chris, I just made it OK for your “D” choice.) I’ve been talking about Conan in both my Hidden Star Wars and Hidden Harry Potter presentations, saying how the fact that both Harry and Luke had similar upbringings, orphaned, sent off to live with people who may not have understood them. Much like Conan the Barbarian and Anne of Green Gables. (Yes, I really use both of them as examples.) Orphaned, and had a very hard youth, all of which contributed to the fact that they became heroic characters.
    Speaking of Robert E. Howard, the writer of Conan the Barbarian, there was a wonderful film made back in 1996 about his shy courtship with a schoolteacher. The film stars the great Vincent D’onofrio and Renee Zellwegger, and is based on the real-life courtship. It’s a terrific movie, a very touching story. The film is called “The Whole Wide World.”

  47. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    I never said ditch the first list. I am an adamant proponent of not killing off the already-fertilized!

    As we are already at E, perhaps the first list should continue. And we have a good idea on deck.


  48. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    As a bonus, with at least one list in operation, I can save my anti-Glee and anti-American Lounge Singer (Idol?) rants for a later date …

  49. morwenna Says:

    Wow, chaos! Comic books. Villains. Villains in comic books. What have I done? (Well, one thing I’ve certainly done is to jump-start the blog’s comments section.)

    As has been suggested, let’s stick with the comic-book list. If people like the villains idea, we can save that game for another time. Happy, Marquee? 🙂

  50. fsdthreshold Says:

    Since I’m just joining you all in this alphabet game, I’m going to invoke the rule that says anyone can chime in with another example of a letter that’s already been used.

    A is for Andar. One of the two most influential comic books of my childhood (the other is coming up when Marquee gets his hands on “R”) was Turok, Son of Stone. I’m talking about the Turok of the seventies, before it got into the future, science-fiction, etc. The original Turok had absolutely everything for a kid to love. The premise was that two Mandan Indians (native Americans), before the coming of the white man, get lost in a cave near their desert home in the Southwest. They wander and wander, and eventually re-emerge into daylight in a lost valley where prehistoric life goes on unchanged. (So it begins with a prolonged cave adventure, and then there are dinosaurs!) The two Mandans, Turok and Andar, learn to use the available flora to make a salve which, when applied to their arrowheads, puts the “honkers” (dinosaurs) to sleep.

    Turok and Andar journey through Lost Valley, constantly seeking the way back to their own world. But the cliffs are unscalable, attempts at seeking a cave passage never pan out, and they are always getting embroiled in run-ins with the local tribes of cavemen. I still have a small suitcase full of my Turok comics . . . many, many happy memories. The artwork was wonderful!

    I have GOT to look up The Whole Wide World! Wow, thanks, Marquee! Who’d have thought YOU would bring up Robert E. Howard and Conan on the blog? Spec fic meets the movies — great stories are great stories, and they pass through right here!

    (When people first started talking about watching “Conan” on late-night TV, I wondered why the sudden popular resurgence of interest in Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian . . .)

    Hey, Marquee, speaking of that — any news about the new Red Sonja film? Last I heard, the filming was delayed somehow.

  51. Marquee Movies Says:

    Goodness, Fred – “Who would’ve thought that YOU would bring up…..” To quote Ron and Hermione, “Always the tone of surprise.” Dude, Conan was the first R-rated movie I ever snuck into. It was a rainy summer night, and my friend Dave and I got a grownup to buy us tickets at the Pickwick theatre. It was the night before my family and I were going to leave on a vacation to Floriday in 1982, the same year that E.T. came out. There was a great line in the novelization of “Conan the Barbarian” that I always thought was cool: “Ever they directed him farther to the East.” I know, more infomation that you need. “The Whole Wide World” is a lovely film too – though I was able to see it without anyone buying a ticket for me.
    Morwenna, your villain idea is a TERRIFIC one as well, and I hope you’ll implement it soon! Thank you for the comic book character idea – I hope my plaintive pleading to continue this alphabet line didn’t come off as too pathetic.
    As for “E,” I came up with Elektra, who I really know only from the Jennifer Garner film.
    Fred, bad news on the “Red Sonja” front – the project appears to have sputtered and died – it’s one of those that various names have been attached to, but it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. Hope the alphabet game makes it to “R.”

  52. morwenna Says:

    Thanks, Marquee! 🙂

    “F” is for the Flash.

    “G” is for Green Arrow.

    And here’s another “G”:

    In brightest day, in blackest night,
    No evil shall escape my sight
    Let those who worship evil’s might,
    Beware my power . . . Green Lantern’s light!”

  53. fsdthreshold Says:

    My boxes arrived from Japan today! I wasn’t expecting them yet, since I’d just talked to a person at the shipping company this morning, and she said an agent would be calling me this week to arrange a delivery time, and the stuff couldn’t be delivered until I paid a $67 X-ray fee. But then, as my aunt and I were sitting down to lunch, a GIGANTIC truck pulled up in front of the house. I said, “Huh. When they deliver my things, I’ll bet it will be in a truck about like that one.” Then the driver proceeded to come up to our front door . . .

    I could tell I was back in America by the driver’s unwillingness to extend his service one millimeter beyond his legal obligation. In Japan, the driver would have put the boxes where I wanted them, and would have done his best to keep me from helping. But this is the U.S., and the driver helped me only by pushing the boxes to the back of the truck. I had to get them from there to the street, and then up the driveway to the garage. I’m glad I hadn’t taken a shower this morning, because I ended up wringing wet with sweat. At least he lent me a dolly (sp?) to haul the boxes with. I guess that’s something! So now they’re here. I rescued my wall paintings, DVDs, computer keyboards, and the AlphaSmart Neo — those all seem to have made the trip safely! In the next few days, I’ll have to go through everything and sort it out a little.

    Marquee: “Always the tone of surprise” — heh, heh! It seems only yesterday that the shoe was on the other foot, and I was irked when you asked, “How do you know about that [pop culture reference].” I’m just happy that Robert E. Howard has transcended the confines of “genre.” Lovecraft certainly has, too. It’s wonderful to see him anthologized in great literature collections along with Dickens and Herodotus and everybody.

    That IS bad news about Red Sonja. Well . . . at least we have the old one.

    Speaking of old ones, my aunt and I watched Jaws on TV the other night. (Wow! Here in America, movies from the past are on TV like ALL THE TIME if you know where to look! What an amazing place this is! I’m discovering all sorts of things . . .) But anyway, Jaws: that film is SO well put together. Every scene, every line, every camera angle. Man, this is our textbook. It stands up just as well on the zillionth viewing as on the first. It is as good as it was when I was 10, and how many stories can we say that about?

    I discovered something new about the layout of the Orca on this zillionth viewing. In the night cabin scene, I’d always thought Hooper and Quint had their backs to the bow, that they were facing the stern. I’m now convinced that Hooper is sitting with his back to the port rail, and and Quint is initially sitting with his back toward the stern, until he slides over closer to Hooper. If anyone cares to question this conclusion, I’ll go into more detail.

    Crickets: Breek, breek, breek . . .

  54. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    So glad everything arrived safely (so far as you know). Welcome back to the USA, where poor service rules.

    To wit: I had a college friend from Chicago whose dad had arranged (that is how it works there) for him to have a summer job with the city parks dept. One day they were spreading extra dirt on ball diamonds in extreme heat when the city dumptruck arrives, air conditioner blasting. The guy just drives out to second base and dumps the whole load (leaving the crew the hard work of spreading it, as opposed to dumping smaller piles here and there). When the foreman jumped up on the cab to bitch the guy out, he just yelled back (keeping the window up, of course, the AC was on) “I just drive the truck!” and drove off. Typical union slug.

  55. Scott Says:

    I wonder. Was the $67 X-ray fee for security, or was it for the added “bonus” radiation that came along for the ride?

    Morwenna, I loved Green Lantern as a kid. I can’t wait for the movie to come out.

    H is for Hawkeye, the Marvel Comics version of The Green Arrow and member of the Avengers.

    I is for Invisible Boy from the Legion of Super Heroes.

  56. tandemcat Says:

    I’ll throw in another “B,” from Walt Disney, and an actually unrelated connection to a certain fantasy author in this discussion: the Beagle Boys, who loved to victimize Scrooge McDuck.

  57. Marquee Movies Says:

    Tandemcat, did you know that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas got many of their ideas for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” from a Scrooge McDuck comic book? It’s true! It’s title something like Scrooge McDuck and the Lost City of Cibola. How cool is that? God bless comic book writers and artists!

  58. morwenna Says:

    Fantastic contributions!

    Scott, thanks for filling in “I” (not an easy letter). The Legion of Super-Heroes is a gold mine. I still remember odd characters like Bouncing Boy.

    And Tandemcat, the Beagle Boys are tops in silly comic-book crookdom.

    I simply must mention Classics Illustrated Comic Books. I’m giving a “J” to their version of Jane Eyre.

  59. Scott Says:

    J is for Jughead. He is the true star of the Archie comics.

    I’m drawing a complete blank on K.

    L is for Little Lulu.

  60. Chris Says:

    What’s wrong with me? I dislike comic books and I have serious problems with “graphic novels”. The true irony is that I love illustration and even cartooning, having spent a significant bulk of time in undergrad and grad school doing editorial cartoons for various newspapers! But for whatever reason I cannot stand comic books, even as a child when I’d sit and look through Fred’s few comic books I didn’t quite connect with them.

    And the new “graphic novel” format would seem like a great medium for a visual person such as myself who has done some paid drawing (never really very good), but I am getting so sick and tired of every single movie with an interesting plot that comes out is “based on the graphic novel….”


    So my top comic book villian would have to be: Comic Books and their evil side-kick Graphic Novels.

    Why is this? Why am I like this?

    (And please don’t get me started on anime/manga. Ugh…why did humanity even evolve visual capability if we were only going to one day develop anime and spread it around the earth?)

    • I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

      Completely agree, Chris! I could never get into comic books (dunno why, just never did) and I DESPISE anime. As if the Japanese are not guilty enough for having a wacked-out diet (who the hell in their right mind would deliberately consume squid ink?) but then they foist anime on us … and you wonder why Godzilla invades Honshu and not Oahu …

  61. morwenna Says:

    Scott, Jughead’s last name (Jones) is a “J,” too. Fun choice!

    “K” is for Kal-El of Krypton (raised as Clark Kent) and Krypto the Superdog.

    “L” is for Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lori Lemaris, and Lex Luthor.

  62. Scott Says:

    M is for Mr. Mxyzptlk, foe of Superman.

    N is for Nova.

  63. fsdthreshold Says:

    This is really getting interesting!

    1.) Scott, do you mean Nova from The Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes? Is she a comic book character? Well . . . yes, in the PotA magazines, the original movies were serialized in graphic novel form, so yes! Nova can count as a comic book character . . . if that’s the Nova you mean.

    2.) Mr. Mxyzptlk — that reminds me of a time in first or second grade. Darrin P. was drawing a cartoon of a spaceship blowing up, and he was adding speech balloons, and he asked me, “Fred, how do you spell [vocalized sound effect of a prolonged explosion]?” My two talents back then were spelling words and drawing PotA ape faces — I remember other kids often asking me to do both.

    3.) We’re drifting pretty far from our resolution not to name-call and use certain words! 🙂 Just saying. Do I have to come over there?

    4.) While we’re talking about things we DON’T like — I liked certain comics a lot as I was growing up, but I have never “gotten” the allure of superheroes. I mean, okay, yes, Beowulf is a superhero. Heracles is a superhero. They’re no more realistic than the ones who wear capes and tights and masks. But for some reason, I’ve just never been able to get excited about the great host of crime-fighters with secret identities. (This will be an unpopular opinion, I know.)

    5.) BUT I have to defend the graphic novel / manga as an art form. This is the subject for a blog post all its own, but there are things the storyteller can do in sequential art that cannot be done as well in prose fiction or in moving pictures (film, etc.). I could start giving examples of what I mean — but it really would be better as an entry.

    • Scott Says:

      The Nova I was thinking of was a teenager that received superpowers from an alien from a distant planet/galaxy. His costume was blue and gold and he had a gold helmet. He was invulnerable and could fly super fast among other things. I thought it was a short lived comic book, but I just looked it up on Wikipedia (I LOVE WIKIPEDIA) and it is still going today, although greatly evolved. He was still learning to use his powers when I was reading it.

      Speaking of superheroes learning to use their powers, does anyone else here remember a TV show from the late 70’s or early 80’s called Greatest American Hero? It starred William Katt, Robert Culp, and Connie Sellecca.

    • Chris Says:

      The graphic novel format _should_ be compelling to someone like me, especially if the artist is good, but for whatever reason I find it a “sub genre”, a lesser art. And honestly I do not know why I feel that way. I am not being sarcastic or snippy here, I really honestly do not understand why I don’t like them.

      I also fear that as a basis for movies it is kind of “cheating” since the images are already developed and “storyboarded”. The art would then seem to be translating static into moving images and maintaining some of the atmosphere of the original art. But that turns the movie into little more than a “derivative art form” itself.

      For me prose serves the purpose of explicitly providing me with a unique feeling vs looking at pretty pictures and deriving the story from that.

      As for anime and manga, well I must admit a very visceral dislike for a couple of clear reasons: 1. I don’t like the style, but that isn’t anyone else’s problem. 2. The production quality of the anime we see here in the U.S. is of such low quality it really makes one wonder how we can go from old style high value animation in the 1930’s to modern cookie cutter, poorly animated anime today and the preference is for today’s stuff.

      It is a form of “de-evolution” of the art form. (And to be clear, I also don’t like much of the art brut movement either, so that’s at least consistent).

      But anime as we’ve received it here in the U.S. seems overly contrived, overly “mechanized” (in that it is basically the same shapes over and over again) and underly developed and underly executed.

      -end rant-

      I love the graphic arts. That’s why whenever I travel I usually spend part of at least one day in the closest art museum. I love editorial cartoons, I love some cartoon strips and I even love XKCD even though it breaks my rule that the art has to be good (the writing and concepts are so excellent in XKCD that I can let the stick figures slide). I’m even willing at times to bask in art I dislike but art that makes me feel nothing defeats my “art instinct”.

      And I know bad art. It is my specialty. Believe me, after several years in college bashing out my own “style” to the point where I actually constructed and deconstructed my own style of drawing in order to get a good feel for what I wanted and what I could produce I recognized in myself my inability to “pull it off”

      (Want proof? Check out: it even contains some of my old editorial cartoons as well as doodles and my work with Illustrator and Photoshop. Or maybe my shortlived experiment of online comic strip: “Rob after the nuclear war”

      So I don’t understand why comic books and graphic novels never hit me.

  64. morwenna Says:

    Fred, thanks for sharing your fond memories of Turok. It sounds like the perfect comic series for you. I enjoyed looking up an old cover online. Cavemen are chasing Turok and Andar!

    Yes, Beowulf is a wonderful superhero. So is Odin with his eight-legged steed and a spear that always hits its mark, and Thor with his iron gloves, magical hammer, and a belt that doubles his strength. Modern superheroes, with their cool costumes, weapons, cars, and Achilles’ heels (for example, Kryptonite) are updates on the old stories of flying chariots and power objects.

    “O” is for Jimmy Olsen.

  65. Scott Says:

    P is for Plastic Man. He could form himself into just about any shape.

    Q is for Quicksilver, the Marvel version of The Flash.

    And that brings us to R…

  66. Daylily Says:

    R is for Road Runner. Beep beep!

  67. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Turok was turned into a video game probably a decade ago .. I forget what system it was for.

    Chris, I have another story for you to read. Forbes magazine website, article is called “Vodoo economics? How about voodoo climate science?” There is a link to it on the April 22 site.

  68. morwenna Says:

    “S” is for teenage witch Sabrina Spellman.

  69. Scott Says:

    T is for the Teen Titans

  70. morwenna Says:

    U is for Uncle Scrooge McDuck.

  71. Scott Says:

    V is for Victor von Doom better known as Doctor Doom, foe of the Fantastic Four.

  72. morwenna Says:

    W is for Wonder Woman.

  73. Scott Says:

    X is for X-Men and their leader, Charles Xavier.

  74. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    well I will be damned, Scott stole the only thing I could think of! ohh wait, Y!

    Y is for: Yougottabekiddinme, a creature that lays in wait for lists to end

  75. morwenna Says:

    I can’t come up with a Y or a Z. Scott, thanks so much for your expert help! You’ve already won a ride on a flying surfboard and a trip to the fifth dimension. Will you try letters 25 and 26 for a tour of a giant money bin in Duckburg? 🙂

  76. Marquee Movies Says:

    Greetings, Teen Gang! I have been out of the state for three days, without my computer. So, let me begin by…..
    Scott – YES, I remember The Greatest American Hero – I loved that TV show! It actually took a fresh approach to superhero-dom, in that William Katt’s character didn’t know how to use the suit he had been given, so he had to stumble his way through learning how to use these amazing powers. It was a fun show to identify with! For those who need a newer reference point, the episode of Seinfeld when George is screening his calls – the outgoing message on his answering machine is a variation of the Greatest American Hero theme by Mike Post (who did the beautiful theme to Hill Street Blues, among many others.) “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home, please leave a message, at the beep…..”
    Morwenna, kudos to you for your excellent explanation of how today’s superheroes are simply modern versions of the gods and heroes stories that have moved millions for centuries. Bernard Malamud wrote “The Natural,” a mythological story about the greatest baseball player who ever lived. (It’s actually a retelling in some ways of the King Arthurian legends – instead of pulling a sword from a stone, Roy Hobbs pulls a bat from a tree – he doesn’t become a Knight of the Round Table, but does become a member of the New York Knights baseball team.) Malamud opens his book with a quote saying that studying the baseball greats is like studying the history of the gods – meaning that these are not mortal men who exist on the same plane of existence that you or I do. These men are larger than life – we LOVE stories about characters who are larger than life. (And sometimes even more so when they act very human.) Again, well said, Morwenna! Excellent point!

  77. Marquee Movies Says:

    And I hope you’ll forgive my late arrival to “R” – man, you guys smoked through this list! You’re very good at calling up all these wonderful comic book characters.
    OK – my “R” is the wonderful Richie Rich. I LOVED Richie Rich comic books – they were so fascinating to read, so cleverly written (often – not ALL the time, but hey, when you love something, it’s all pretty good.) One of the stories of the poor little rich boy that still resonates with me today is the time Richie and his best friend Freckles (great comic book name – what a fun time!) were given the very serious job of counting how many rooms there were in the Rich mansion. This was no simple task – this was a serious adventure trek that took several weeks to accomplish. The Rich mansion was larger than some towns, because a lot of it was underground. I still remember the image of Richie and Freckles setting up tents as they struggled to make it through the giant snowstorm that was taking place in the walk-in freezer, which was thousands of acres across, and the sweltering heat as they dragged themselves across the desert of the sun room, and on and on – all without ever leaving his own house! What was also important to me besides this fun creativity was that Richie was a very decent kid. He never boasted about his money, and he was always kind and considerate of others, and always willing to help out. (The way he did so was often quite clever.) His trusty staff, including Cadbury the butler and Irona, the robot maid, loved Richie, because he was so decent and fun to be with.
    Now, this may sound very silly and one-dimensional – but I never saw it that way (still don’t). The thing is, about being THAT rich – it’s like having a superpower. There’s a scene in the director’s cut of Richard Donner’s marvelous Superman II where Superman, using superspeed, flies to different places around the world just to bring special things to the table for Lois Lane, who is happily sitting at his table. Well, the chef for Richie’s dad does just that, taking the corporate jet to different places around the world to get all the ingredients for a one-of-a-kind fish dinner, not to be equaled anywhere. Richie flies with him (of course he does!) to all these exotic locations that afternoon, and when Richie’s father sits down before this amazing dinner, he says, “Fish? But I had fish for lunch!” The last frame is the chef walking out the door with his bags packed. A cute story, and one that illustrates – being super-wealthy is like having superpowers, in a way! The ability to help SO many people – the ability to go where you want and when you want for as long as you want – surely this skill belongs to only a few. Again, the point isn’t, Hey, being rich would make me better than everyone else – the point is, this is attainable – and look at how much better you could make your life and so many other lives with this amazing power! There’s a line in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt,” when an important woman calls Mr. Flynt to invite him to dinner. He says No, he’s very busy. She says, “You know what’s nice about being as rich as we are? We’re allowed to do pretty much whatever we want.” He shows up for dinner. When Oprah Winfrey interviewed JK Rowling last year, she asked the author about what it was like to go from being very poor to one of the wealthiest people in the world. It was an interesting part of an interesting interview, and one of them (I don’t remember which) made the point that being that wealthy is like having a superpower. Garrison Keillor wrote about it – he said “It makes the air smell sweeter. It changes everything.”
    OK – the point being (once again) that this boy, Richie Rich, was heroic because he always thought about his fellow human beings – he was not defined by his surroundings – he was determined to be a thoughtful and fun friend.
    You’ve let me prattle on. Thank you for letting me share “R,” Daylily!

  78. Marquee Movies Says:

    One last thing – Fred, I would LOVE a posting on anime. Just today, before I came home, I had a wonderful discussion with someone about Hayao Miyazaki’s films. This person had actually visited the Miyazaki museum, which I didn’t know about! He said the museum had to be seen to be believed, with amazing presentations and designs and creature critters all over the place. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and my all-time favorite, Kiki’s Delivery Service.
    Incidentally, on this trip, I made a roomful of people watch “Tangled,” Disney’s new film, which is the Rapunzel story – one of the best animated films I’ve seen in years. It was even better the second time around! (By the way, Miyazaki modeled his characters faces and eyes after the way that Walt Disney did it – and nowadays, pretty much every major animator alive happily says that Miyazaki is the greatest living animator on the planet.)

  79. Scott Says:

    Y is for Yellow Jacket, member of the Avengers.

    Z is for Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins from the Saturday morning cartoon The Superfriends (they also appeared in comic book form).

    Thank you for a wonderful alphabet game Morwenna. This was fun.

    Marquee – I loved Richie Rich. I’m glad you brought him up when you got back.

    Snowflake – You said you hate comic books, but didn’t KISS have a comic book. If I remember correctly, they were all given super powers to match their makeup.

  80. morwenna Says:

    A big thank you to everyone who participated in the alphabet game.

    Super job of wrapping things up, Scott. Your bonus prize — a gold-edged invitation to a lavish dinner at the Rich mansion — is in the mail.

    Marquee, great to have you back. Thanks for your interesting words about the wealthiest little boy in the world. Richie is such a likeable character: polite, plucky, and kind. He’s a complete departure from the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid.

    Viewing an old RR cover online made me smile. The comic book’s price? Twelve cents. Even Freckles and Pee-Wee could afford a copy!

  81. Marquee Movies Says:

    Morwenna, now I want to buy that Richie Rich comic! (And good call on Pee Wee and Freckles! Those names remind me of the great nicknames they used to give many ball players back in the day.) By the way, I was going through some earlier postings, and I realize that I accidentally forgot to give credit to Fred for being the first to point out here that Heracles and other mythological characters were the forerunners to today’s modern comic book hero. I apologize, Fred – always a bad idea to fail to give credit to a writer (or to anyone, for that matter)! And I also noticed that no one ever came up with a “K” for the list. So I went to my trusty Astro City, and found Kitkat, an original member of Honor Guard, the most celebrated crime fighting team in Astro City.
    By the way (boy, you really learn a lot when you go back and reread!), I don’t think I made it clear with my Superman/Richie Rich fish for dinner story that Richie’s story was first. I’m not saying anything like, They ripped Richie Rich off! My point is to compare how fabulous wealth has unusual and unthought of advantages that very few will ever know about, much like having superpowers (which even fewer will know about).
    One last plug for Astro City – the very first issue ever is about a Superman-like being who came from another dimension, and lives now in Astro City. Every night as he sleeps, he dreams of flying, swooping through the air, turning circles, soaring along majestic skylines. He hardly ever sleeps, though. He feels so compelled to use his amazing powers to save people that he barely sleeps – he develops amazing systems that let him know where there’s any sort of trouble – earthquake, gunfire, accidents – and he flies to those locations around the globe in seconds to save as many lives as he can. He begrudgingly accepts awards from the citizens of Astro City who love him, though he feels guilty sitting there listening to their accolades, because he knows he should be out helping others. (His “voice-over” narration has the lovely line, “I push the chicken around on the plate while they talk.”) He keeps flying off here and there saving people, until his body insists it sleeps, which he again does for less time than he’d really like. So why does he dream of flying, if he can already fly? Because he can never enjoy it – he’s always darting off so quickly to save lives that he can’t ever allow himself the luxury of simply….flying. He can’t soar along, doing loops, as much as he’d like, because he feels morally obligated to use his unique gifts to help others – ALWAYS. It’s a fascinating series, with wonderful moral questions raised. Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter/Passover!

  82. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    Scott: KISS probably did have a comic book at one time, as there is no avenue of making money that Gene Simmons will not pursue … but I still like most of their pre-1986 stuff, especially the first four albums.

    When it was decided to do this list I was a bit worried that Scott would simply post once, with every letter filled, as he has been a comic book fanatic for as long as I have known him (we met in 7th grade, WAY back in 1978-79!)

    Yes, Fred, an anime post would be great … it would give Chris and I wonderful opportunities to vent all the dark energy stored during the completion of this list.

    • Scott Says:

      Well…I probably could have done the list all by myself, but what would have been the fun in that. Looking at everyone else’s posts dredged up some old memories of my sister’s comic books and the comics I read before I got into the superhero comics. Besides, torturing you and Chris with post after agonizing post was so much more satisfying!

  83. fsdthreshold Says:

    It’s very rare, but this is one case in which I’ve decided to exercise my authority as editor and host of this blog to delete a few comments that were taking us in an unpleasant direction. By no means should anyone be offended at this revision — it happens all the time in the world of publishing, and the blog is — for blogger and commenters alike — a form of publishing. The words go into electronic print, and they remain for the world to see.

    So the chalkboard is erased, and all well-intentioned and courteous comments continue to be most welcome here, be the opinions they express ever so diverse!

    I know it’s time for a new post, as we’ve finished the alphabet game (great job, everyone!) — but I’ll most likely be away from the Internet for several days. A new post will be coming as soon as possible! Continued thanks to all who gather here!

  84. I am Mr. Brown Snowflake Says:

    I think I just heard someone say “you boys play nice” … I will be away for awhile as well and do not know when I will return … it has been fun

  85. jhagman Says:

    Uhhhh,,,,, did I miss something? I like Comrade Snowflake, his approach to things is always spicy, it mixes well with the healthy roughage of Dr. Chris.

  86. Scott Says:

    While we wait for Fred and Snowflake to come back, why don’t we discuss our Summer reading lists.

    I have 2 books on my list. I already have both of them, but I haven’t had time to read them.

    The first one is “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi. It’s a science fiction book about Senior Citizens being recruited to fight a war in space or on another planet.

    The other book is “Dead or Alive” by Tom Clancy. I bought this book when it came out last December (?) but I haven’t had time to read it yet. It is a fiction book continuing his Jack Ryan storyline.

    My other goal this summer is to finish or completely shelve the dozen or so books sitting around that I have started over the last couple of years and not finished.

    So, what’s on your Summer reading list?

    • Chris Says:

      “Old Man’s War” sounds (this is not meant to be harsh), but _sounds_ hilarious. It appears to have great potential:

      Science Fiction
      The Elderly

      I really can’t find a way that that could be anything but epic win!

      (I’ve run the numbers and there’s no combination of those elements that isn’t simply made of win.)

      As for my reading this summer I’m just about finished with “The Monster of Florence” by Preston and Spezi. It is a fascinating book about how the fiction author (thriller books) Douglas Preston got hooked up with a journalist in Florence Italy who had spent years following a serial killer I’d not heard of before: the “Monster of Florence”. And the strange turns this took as both Preston and Spezi were later incriminated by a judical system gone completely bonkers! These two writers were sucked into some investigators’ mad fantasies about satanic cults and ridiculous conspiracy theories.

      It has made me think very strongly that if you visit Tuscany in Italy do not do ANYTHING because apparently ANYTHING can be used to link you to a horrible crime spree by some shadowy cabal of mysterious evildoers. Real or imagined.

      It’s pretty fascinating reading.

  87. Marquee Movies Says:

    Good question, Scott – two books that I’ve never read, but have always been meaning to are on my summer list. (They’re sitting right next to me as I type.) I actually went out and bought them, and will finally read them (God willing). Robinson Crusoe (I promised my father years ago I’d read it), and The Great Gatsby. I also want to read this book on Charlie Chaplin that I’ve been reading about. As for what I’m reading right now – re-reading my favorite book of all time, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, and also What Would Buffy Do, a very fun and interesting look at the spirituality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, possibly the greatest scripted TV show of all time. Tons of ideas from different religions from all over the globe, as well as a chance to spend more time (in a way) with these characters that I love so much.

    • Chris Says:

      Everytime I hear W. Somerset Maughm all I can think of is that line from the song “One Night in Bangkok”. I believe it goes: “Some are set up in the Somerset Maughm suite”.

      I sadly seldom read the “classics” like Robinson Crusoe or The Great Gatsby.

      My problem with “the classics” is that I’ve seen so many that are dreadful bores. They were “classics” for someone, but not for me. Which was kind of an epiphany for me. That there really is not “objective” greatness in any art. Maybe a technical greatness can be assessed but that doesn’t mean one needs like it.

      So I tend to avoid the classics. Oh, I’ll have another gratuitous go at Jane Austen but could someone please explain to me why Jane Austen is considered a great of literature? I cannot see how multiple novels aimed at exploring the marriage plans of the either soon-to-be non-wealthy amongs the currently wealthy and the ad nauseam “balls” and dances can be considered readable, let alone art.

      And I know there’s some clever turns of phrase in her books, some good writing…but there was so much Jane Austen in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” that I couldn’t even make it all the way through that!!!!

      For me the art has to “speak to me”. And when I see something pounded at people as a “Must read Classic of Human Literary Achievement” my first thought is: Oh, OK. Maybe when I’m stuck in prison and the only book in the library is “Mansfield Park” I’ll read it (and make a shiv out of the coverstock)”

      There’s all sorts of art I love that makes me FEEL it. And in a sense if I thought it was going to be “classic” for many others I’d question our ability to be individuals with discernible differences in taste.

      Just sayin’. Why didn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald write about the elderly fighting a war in space? THAT I would read. (Even if it is “Jazz Age Elderly” time-transported to the future to fight a war in space…wait…that I might read SEVERAL TIMES! Hey, don’t anyone steal my idea….I’m working on the opening paragraphs now….)

  88. jhagman Says:

    Robinson Crusoe flows like a fun adventure novel, and it is very modern, an epiphany for me was when I realized the physical sciences could be as objective as the arts!

    • Chris Says:

      jhagman, that’s a good point. The physical science can have a measure of “subjectivity” in them. The ultimate goal of scientific research is to limit the “subjective” element.

      One thing I always love to point out to folks who struggle their way through some science articles is to look at most of the graphs on them. In many cases you’ll see a little thing called a “p-value”. That’s a rather complex and somewhat convoluted message that speaks volumes about the “objectivity” of science.

      A “p-value” is a mathematical representation of how certain you are that you are _not_ going to make a particular type of error of inference. A “False Positive”.

      But you are unlikely to ever see a p-value that is absolutely perfectly zero.

      Scientists realize that there’s errors in their work. Both “pure” and induced errors. We could be working with imperfect equipment or we ourselves could have made an error.

      The goal is to eliminate our “bias” and unflinchingly assess the data. But we are all human so mistakes are made and a p-value keeps us humble. It helps remind us that no matter how much we want to make “technical uber alles”, sometimes it’s not.

      Art, however, can range from almost pure technique and no “soul” to almost all “soul” and no technique. Science tries to avoid that.

      One last thing about “subjective and objective” in the sciences. Part of my job is work with patents. Not only are patents nearly impossible for a regular human to read but as a scientist I’m not necessarily required to prove my point with statistics. I don’t have to be a perfect scientist. If I feel my invention honestly works and I can find some evidence for that I can file the patent.

      It’s an interesting world where scientists have a lot of trouble because we all want to write as if we were writing for a peer reviewed journal but the lawyers want to get as much coverage for us as possible so they broaden descriptions out to include our invention as well as things we assume might possibly work if they are somewhat related. So it can at times become somewhat more “subjective”.

  89. jhagman Says:

    Herr Chris, just as in the laboratory sciences that uses a “p-value” to stay humble and honest, so do artists and scholars for millennia who have studied the relationships of Art and Beauty. As a matter of fact the concepts of “Objectivity” were born of these pursuits. It makes perfect sense to me that Omar Khayyam was both a gifted poet and a pioneering mathematician. There are gigantic questions still unanswered about universals, we have not even achieved a logical basis to arithmetic. One of my favorite writers is Sir Walter Scott, and after he had read some Jane Austen he became depressed because he realized he could never write as well as her. In other words when I read Jane Austen (like you Chris, with little pleasure) I realize it is not because of her limitations, but my own. My lack of refinement limits my sight, my taste, and I realize how much there is to understand in this life.

    • Chris Says:

      I have always seen art as working to break away from objective metrics. Some of my current faves like Gallen-Kalela, were considered to be doing shocking art in the early 20th century. Isn’t that always what art is about?

      As I pointed out in an earlier post, I am quite the cornersewer of bad art having produced much of it myself (see my earlier links to my “art” site and my short lived web comic from about 9 years ago). But part of what draws me to do art is to indulge that subjective part of my brain.

      Don’t get me wrong: you were absolutely 100% correct that many great artists are quite technical and scientific. Music is a great example. It is, effectively, mathematics in sound. BUT you can produce great music without knowing anything about the mathematical foundations of tuning.

      All that aside, I give Jane Austen a hard time (mainly because she ruined one semester of my life in high school…time I can never get back) but in reality I find her art to be whatever it is for _whomever_ reads it. If I were to walk away from Jane Austen and say “I really didn’t like her stuff but gosh it was so good I could never do that good” I’d be afraid I was going mad.

      When it comes to art (at least in my humble opinion, p<0.05) it is only "art" if it makes me feel something. What is art to you may be nothing to me and vice versa. There's certainly a technique to all art but often times great art comes from breaking that technique.

      It has to "speak" to me on some level. If it is purely technical I can get goosebumps (like reading a description of a phrase of music from say, Richard Lloyd, who is quite technically adept on the guitar) or it can be rather abstract and it will also bring me great joy. Art is sort of in that "just is" category for me.

      Bound but anti-bound to technical skill, grounded yet not always having to have contact with the ground.

      The reason Omar Khayyam couldn't write like Jane Austen is because Omar Khayyam was not Jane Austen. The very minute I see Fred writing like James Joyce I'll call all the folks in Taylorville and see if he can get some meds and some medical help asap.

  90. jhagman Says:

    From Ronald Tanaka’s “The Shinto Suite”- “i’ve been taught to expect a certain precision in human relationships, in aesthetic terms, this means that one can’t expect to have both beauty and comfort, i assume you understand”. Jane Austen did not write for people who measured time in semesters.

    • Chris Says:

      Considering I’ve spent more time in university than most people spend in elementary through high school I hardly think I measure time out in “semesters” as a drudgery. I mean 11 years of university study hardly makes me one who is merely crawling through the world of ideas in order to get out. (This is not to say that semester time frames are not completely devoid of meaning to me because of this experience, but the implication that one who measures time in “semesters” is going through the motions to achieve an end really doesn’t apply to me in regards to the “life of the mind”. Just an FYI, IMHO.)

      Jane Austen didn’t write for me specifically because I couldn’t care less about the “adventures” of those attempting to navigate the 18th-19th century English aristocracy (both actual wealth and perceived “status wealth” without money) and the efforts to “marry well”. She writes for some, but not for all. Hence determining her writing to be “classics of English literature” renders that phrase meaningless.

      As I said I do not wish to merely focus on Austen but she is one I greatly dislike. Sadly I also dislike that Hemmingway I’ve read as well. A writing style stripped down to a “journalistic style” of simple declaratives leaves me cold.

      This is why I fear it when people proclaim that all should become familiar with this or that by duty to it being a “classic of english prose”. It may speak well to some, but not to others.

      I am much the same way with regards to music. I don’t listen to classical music (with few exceptions) despite being trained in music, precisely because it often speaks not at all to me. If it helped inform the art of the artists I love then that’s fantastic. It means little to me.

      I know I’m coming off here as a grotesque philistine and for that I’m actually quite happy. It is my own bit of rebellion.

      Part of my path through life has been to attempt in my own life to bridge the two hemispheres of my brain. I play music, I draw and I do science. I value the technicality of being analytical, but I use art to “let loose”. To free myself of some technicality.

      This is, again, not to say there isn’t technical aspects to all art. But it is to say I value my “independence” with regards to art. My independence allows me to say “No, I will not accept someone else’s classification of a ‘classic’ that I simply must read to be part of society”.

      Right now, beside my computer I’ve got my synthesizers and guitars. I’ve got written out the values on the circle of 5ths that correspond to the individual numbers in the euler number (e) as a lark to see if I can make an “e-song” like the recent “Pi song”. It’s a fun aspect that has no meaning and sounds like crap when I play it.

      When I get tired of that I just put on the headphones and jam on the guitar playing random trash that makes _me_ happy but would please no one else.

      It is “my” art. And it gloriously sucks! Sucks with olympic proportions. But it is mine.

      And the art I love I love it because it speaks to me. Perhaps no one else. I can think of almost no one else in my social circle who would dearly love to hear ODB’s “Got your money” right now! But just thinking about it makes me want to switch over to my iPod right now! 🙂

  91. jhagman Says:

    Chris, that you did not measure semesters as drudgery is exactly my point. My point is that our even most educated readers do not touch the level of education as it was delivered in the 19th Century.Because of comfort, the ability to feel and understand is inhibited. A PH.d used to have to write and defend dissertations in classical languages, most of the doctorates I know now are monolingual- we simply are just not the scholars or reading/feeling public we once were. And please,,, do not get me started with “musicians”, they seem like people who use it as a “diversion” while playing with expensive toys.

    • Daylily Says:

      As a composer, organist, pianist, and singer, let me just say that the reference to musicians is a blanket statement.

    • Chris Says:

      Oh, I get it. My bad, jhagman.

      However, I don’t think that education was necessarily more complete back in the 19th century. Just different. I am saddened that I am monolingual. However that doesn’t necessarily detract from my ability to enjoy the writing in my own language.

      As for the statement about music and toys: I must wholeheartedly agree that toys are employed….but I think it is GREAT! Frankly the joy I receive from the various things related to “recording”, “overdubbing”, synthesizers and guitar pedals is beyond my imagining.

      I remember reading one musician who said he felt synthesizers were a valid outlet for him to get sounds he couldn’t get otherwise to expand his palette. But not to sacrifice or make the music less important.

      I totally agree. I am not a gifte musician ( ), but I love the ability to get sounds that are pleasing to me out of the technology I find at hand. In some ways the ability to overdub and the effects on my guitar pedal allow me to sound better than me alone, but the “art” in that is no less an “art”.

      Back in high school my greatest joy came when I got ahold of a couple of tape decks and started playing around with overdubbing and then took one apart and flipped the play head so I could record stuff backwards.

      Oh sure, Autotune today can be used to hide the worst singing and if it is done to mask bad stuff and not to be it’s own unique sound then I feel it somewhat “cheating” but it can also make some really neat effects and some cool ways of experiencing music that were not possible before the advent of this technology.

      Toys, toys toys! They make music fun! 🙂

  92. jhagman Says:

    I stand corrected! I personally know musicians who have travelled to Europe to study languages just so they can understand composers like Bach and Verdi, they have spent years on their musical education- but I know alot more people who call themselves “musicians” because they mix sounds on computers. When I try to equate the two, it sets my teeth on edge! I BARELY earned BA in history, but I come from a family (my mothers side) of Chemists, Engineers, Doctors, and yes Teachers- but I would be lying to myself if I said that the new ones I see today are of the same quality as the ones I saw growing up, things grew easier in our schools!

    • Chris Says:

      My wife and I are now taking “boxing classes” at a local gym which means we now hear a lot of “dance mix” music. Ugh. I can’t say I like it, and I grow annoyed when all people seem to do is sample one beat and then a bunch of pre-composed music by other musicians. But clearly it moves our instructor like nobody’s business.

      But, like Jane Austen and Hemmingway, the art there does nothing for me. It is not “art” to me.

      But the ability to electronically massage sound is a wonderful thing. Even some of the annoying techno-dance-funk-tribal-sample stuff we work out occasionally contains something that is transcendantly beautiful. Occasionally.

  93. Scott Says:


  94. Scott Says:


  95. Tim in Germany Says:

    OK then. I’d like to suggest that you all read

    It’s a blog post about the mystery and magic of maps, especially those that we know to be fanciful.


    Tim Rausch

    • Chris Says:

      Interesting article! One thing my wife and I learned back in grad school teaching geology to unnergrads was that people are largely “map illiterate”, so the initial question of how did people function before maps is pretty easy to answer: just like most people today.

      But we do use maps of all sorts whether we know it or not. How to read a map is just how we plot out relationships either real (geographical) or elements of a story.

      Now for the obligatory “math” lecture: mapping in fantasy novels misses this subtlety but the math that goes into “projections” of maps adds a further element to “fiction vs reality”.

      Take a look at any map on a wall, probably something like a Mercator projection or some such, but look how big Greenland is. That’s not real, but it falls out of the math behind the projection. It has to. It’s a built-in problem of taking a real item in one “space” (a sphere) and projecting it onto a flat plane.

      Just like an author “projects” the events in their world to ours via the medium of a book or story.

      Except the mathematics probably don’t include the _hyperbolic tangent_ of anything. Unless the author is prone to hyperbole and tangents (har har har).

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