Thursday, January 24, 2013

Make Do and Mend: Irish Folk Furniture Wins at Sundance

While living in England, Brits’ effortless mastery of outdoor spaces fascinated me. After years of wandering through gardens and grounds and taking a few gardening courses, I found that part of their talent came from accepting what they had. Americans would more likely rip out all the old plants to make their preferred design work, which often resulted in depthless landscapes that only occasionally look good in a magazine layout. 
We do the same thing with houses and interiors. We build a new house and then distress certain elements to give it that Old World look. It never works. We can’t recreate age. We have to find and keep the beauty of old things we already have.
I received a delightful reminder of all of that from a friend who posted the Sundance Best Short Animation winner, Irish Folk Furniture:  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Barbie Can Tell Us About the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

Last week, when the kids stayed home sick from school, I got out some old DVD's to entertain them. One was Barbie and The Three Musketeers. For the uninitiated, Barbie has a series of girl power animation movies. Some are better than others, but they all have those 'girly things are good because girls do them'  and 'girls can take care of themselves' themes.

I covered "Don't mess with the dress!" a few years ago. My annoyance with fashion as girl power is why the DVD was in the back of the cabinet. But between Christmas break, the week of rain, and the flu that kept them home, I folded when they pulled out this movie. They like the sword fighting and this time that is what caught my attention.

In this version of the tale, Prince Louis's regent uncle conspires to kill him by making sure all the good guys are unarmed at the ball. Everyone turns their swords in at the entrance and picks up fake swords for a ceremonial sword dance. The bad guys smuggle their swords into the ball by disguising theirs as more of the decorative fake swords. When they make a play for Prince Louis, they expect no armed resistance. But Barbie (D'artgnan's daughter, in case you wondered) and her three friends, all aspiring Musketeers who were denied entrance because they were women, they engaged in a bit of passive resistance and smuggled in weapons. They disguised them as fashion accessories, scarves as whips, fans as shields. (No, I'm not making this up.) They thwart the evil plot and save Prince Louis.

But besides all of that, what caught my attention was that even in PC fairy tales for 4 year olds, the bad guys know the necessity of an unarmed venue. And when a power hungry tyrant makes a move, the good guys need more options than just begging for favor, or mercy.

So why hasn't Barbie faced a backlash for metaphorical support of the 2nd Amendment? Because the metaphor, guns to swords, allows the makers to hide the real world implications that we don't want to think about, like effective self defense with weapons. The Barbie shows are only supposed to make little girls dream of girl power and rescuing the guy. It's the attitude that matters, not actual results. (See also, Head Start, green "technologies," the welfare state, childhood obesity initiatives...)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Children and In-App Purchases

First week with all the kids in school and I'm desperately trying to prioritize all the things that piled up over the last three weeks. New stuff keeps popping up, however. Annoying but typical how that happens. 

Anyway, as many of you know, Calvin, my 9 year old, came up with a blog idea over Christmas break. He's writing about how gadgets can take over a kid's life. I'm really pleased with our endeavor. Yasha and I let him do it mainly because his teacher wanted him to work on his writing structure. He tells stories well, but needs to work on exposition. A blog seemed a perfect fit, and it is working with he and I discussing distilling main topics and paragraph structure. Its an ongoing process, but he's engaged and eager, which is what I wanted. I had hoped that he would get an extra benefit, perspective, and that has come through in spades. Now that he thinks about when games take over your life, he self polices. It's all I can do not to dance a little jig when he turns down some computer fun for some outdoor fun. Better still, he's modeling for his sisters. They more willingly follow his lead than listen to me lecture them about video games melting their brains.

He writes in spurts, like his momma, and last night dictated three posts to me. The first we published was about in-app games purchases. It seems it is more than just an annoyance:

New research from premium rate regulator PhonepayPlus revealed huge bills could also be racked up either by ‘malware’ in fake applications or by people failing to keep track of what they’re spending in legitimate programmes.
Complaints rose by 300 per cent in the last year as consumers discovered large phone bills caused by both the malware and unexpectedly costly purchases, often from children.
In one case, a counterfeit Android game billed £15 to the user each time it was opened.
Two-thirds of 11- to 16-year-olds download their own apps, and PhonepayPlus warned that parents could see bills of "hundreds or even thousands of pounds" as a result of these in-app purchases.
PhoepayPlus said that “naivety” from young people was often to blame and that it was causing concern among parents. 
 The helpful link The Telegraph mentions at the end,, either it doesn't work in the US or The Telegraph link crashed it. Anyone know a good phone safety primer for kids?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Creative Storytelling, It's Nature and It's Future

A storytelling entry from The Transom late last year. I'm not a Hobbit fan myself, I prefer Lewis to Tolkien, but I acknowledge his influence and the storytelling points hold regardless of the story. I made similar points most recently about The Avengers
I enjoyed The Hobbit very much. Thinking afterward, I've been struck by how much of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi cultural renaissance of the past two decades is founded in those who read J.R.R. Tolkien in their youth and whose daydreams were inspired by his imagination. The difference between these imaginative stories that make a mark and those that fail to connect to a broader, non-Fantasy audience seem to me to be largely dependent on those stories which have a moral/amoral message as their aim (the stiflingly dull Philip Pullman comes to mind) and those which focus on just creating good stories, where the moral lessons follow naturally from them. Tolkien understood this even before he became as large a figure as he was later in life, writing in 1939: “We make in our measure because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” This extends beyond the Fantasy/Sci-Fi realm, of course. Consider the aims of Preachy Hipster Jesus Dave Eggers in writing the Matt Damon anti-fracking film which is even getting panned by Mother Jones.  The troubles they had made the story stumble from the beginning: the facts just wouldn’t cooperate with their anti-energy revolution aims.  Thus, Promised Land's big twist is laughable – essentially a bias that all evil people work for evil energy companies.  It’s already become the worst kind of propaganda, which fails to even give support the biases of true believers. Yet what approach do modern conservatives generally use when telling stories – is it the creative storytelling approach, where political ideas are undercurrents, or is it the Eggers approach, where people talk and live in bumper sticker form? Consider: Tolkien was rather obviously a country mouse conservationist, in love with the trees and hills of his island and the halcyon life of the English countryside, and viewing it not just as favorable because of its nature, but as a bulwark of simple honor and duty that may represent a last hope against a postmodern mechanistic view of humanity itself. But he did not write his tale with this as his aim, but something which flows naturally from the stories he tells and the world he creates. (There are lessons in this for those on the right who seem to be aiming at “better propaganda” – instead, why not try telling the stories which are already there, which just aren’t being told by the fading storytellers of a media dominated by graying enterprises struggling to adapt to a new marketplace. People are not stupid, but stories are more memorable than numbers for a reason.)
He's right. Better propaganda is still propaganda. It only lasts as historical artifact, something that only was able to compel or persuade in its own time.

Related: these companion pieces from Dave Swindle and Andrew Klavan on the future of feature length movies discussing that some of the big action sequences that look great on the big screen become filler fluff on a TV, much less an iPad. It seems what—or one of the many things that—Hollywood has forgotten: movies are best suited to short stories. But Swindle and Klavan have gotten me thinking. Some stories do look better when larger than life. What if Hollywood revived the serial? For example, instead of turning each Harry Potter book into a single movie, turn each into a short series. 

I realize that the economics of movie making are set up for blockbusters and inexpensive little movies and TV is cheaper with less upside, but think about Game of Thrones. The series costs so much to make that the seasons contained about half the episodes of a typical series. What if some enterprising Hollywood exec had taken this established fan base of action novels and put the show on the big screen? Would we show up at the theater for 10 hour and a half episodes released at 6 week intervals? Could Hollywood create a bunch of mini-blockbusters for the price of expensive TV? Every time I go to at theater these days, the advertisements and numerous previews suggest an industry that is desperate to keep us coming back. Taking our beloved stories and turning them into badly edited drivel in order to fit the blockbuster profile wears thin. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mumford and Sons and Christianity in Pop Culture

"The cool kids aren't happy." No. No, they are not. 

Although I suspect that the heavy Christian themes of Mumford and Sons is more 'brilliant use of broken vessels' than straight up Christian evangelizing, this article is right: 
Critics, more so than the bands they critique, lack originality. The herd mentality they lament in music they embrace in criticism. The Marcus Mumford meme demonstrates this. Few bands play like Mumford & Sons. Few critics say anything different about Mumford & Sons.
Sonically, the mere fact that Mumford & Sons features organic instrumentation sets them apart from other popular music. You hear drum machines, Auto-Tune, and synthesizers on the radio. But banjos, accordions, and the dobro?
Lyrically, Mumford, even if sparingly and obliquely, addresses matters of faith. Rihanna can sing that “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But chains and whips excite me” in “S&M.” Madonna can make a play on the club drug ecstasy in titling her latest album MDNA. Snoop Dog can rap about killing undercover cops. Just don’t dare talk about Our Father.
In a world without taboos the only taboo is God. A higher power reminds of limitations, authority, and that something greater than number one exists. The rock star imagines himself as a human deity, and his many worshippers treat him accordingly. God’s a real buzz kill in that anthropocentric universe.
The media's confusing condescension stood out for me: 
An NPR piece on the backlash against the band notes that the group’s singer was “raised in a devout Christian household” and that the “rise of the megachurch… has a lot to do with the newest wave of folk-rock taking hold.” The writer references a “rock ‘n’ roll code” that celebrates outsiders and subversives. Mr. Mumford, a Christian in the pop world of Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and Eminem, rebels against that code. This makes him a conformist. Do you follow? 
The rise of the megachurch? First, that's not such a big trend in the UK, where the band is from, than in the US so it has nothing to do with why they write the lyrics they do. Second, if the reviewer means to suggest that folk-rock comes and goes, that shows a pretty stunning lack of knowledge about the history of rock with it's origins in black gospel music. Christian allusion is ever present in rock, intentional or not. (Now that my kids are older and I do listen to the radio in the car, wow that list of mine is not exactly current.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Passive Resistance and The Right to Keep and Bear Arms

A post for a Tweet that I cannot answer in only 140 characters. 

Yesterday, I engaged in the following tweet conversation with SelfishMom. The link in her first tweet refers to a letter from a former Marine written to Sen. Feinstein (text at the end of this post) regarding her gun registration proposal. 

Yes, I am. And I have two main reasons why.

First, what Mr. Boston proposes is not the same thing as criminal breaking of the law. There is a fundamental difference between, for instance, a convicted criminal who steals a legally owned gun in order to commit an additional crime and a law abiding citizen who refuses to surrender his natural rights. To take another right listed in the Bill of Rights as analogy, if Congress passed a law outlawing political debate on blogs—or to keep the analogy tight, a law requiring blog registration of all non-professional journalist writers who mention politics with the probable intent of shutting down those blogs at a later date—would you comply?

What Mr. Butler is saying is not that he would break the law, but that he does not recognize Congress's power to pass a law that infringes on man's natural and inalienable rights. He will consider such a law invalid. "You ma'am have overstepped a line that is not your domain." Mr. Butler is engaging in passive resistance

If Congress ever managed to pass such a law, he would not be alone in his resistance. I suspect that we would see many appeals to the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence and a revival of the Gonzales Flag.

Second, my tweet was actually directed to the foolishness of disarming the law abiding citizen when the criminal certainly won't register much less eventually turn over his weapons. This appeal to rule followers would only achieve making us more vulnerable to criminals.

For both reasons but mostly the first, as a practical matter, any law Congress passes infringing on the right to keep and bear arms will not be effective. I'd be happy to explain how this might play out, to anyone who would like—and no, we will not likely need battles or revolution as was necessary in 1776 but would merely expose how dependent the federal government is on consent of the governed.

The letter from Cpl Joshua Boston from the link in SelfishMom's tweet:
Senator Dianne Feinstein,
I will not register my weapons should this bill be passed, as I do not believe it is the government's right to know what I own. Nor do I think it prudent to tell you what I own so that it may be taken from me by a group of people who enjoy armed protection yet decry me having the same a crime. You ma'am have overstepped a line that is not your domain. I am a Marine Corps Veteran of 8 years, and I will not have some woman who proclaims the evil of an inanimate object, yet carries one, tell me I may not have one.I am not your subject. I am the man who keeps you free. I am not your servant. I am the person whom you serve. I am not your peasant. I am the flesh and blood of America. I am the man who fought for my country. I am the man who learned. I am an American. You will not tell me that I must register my semi-automatic AR-15 because of the actions of some evil man.I will not be disarmed to suit the fear that has been established by the media and your misinformation campaign against the American public.We, the people, deserve better than you.Respectfully Submitted,
Joshua Boston Cpl, United States Marine Corps, 2004-2012

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Twelfth Night, aka "Women's Little Christmas"

Everyone has heard the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was I kid, I liked the song but didn't get it. Christmas was only two days, Eve and Day. Except in New Orleans, where people never miss an opportunity to have a party, Americans haven't observed traditional Advent or full Christmas in a long time.

Once I had kids and became more religiously observant (and Episcopalian) I wanted to get back some of these traditions, a desire only heightened by our years in London. (The English observe the traditional seasons less than in the past but still more than we do.) This year, I finally figured out some "new"ways to observe Advent and the full Christmas season. There were a few bumps, but I'm generally pleased with the result and I will post about it all soon.

But this is my second year to observe the Twelfth Night with a little tradition stolen from Ireland. Historically, Twelfth Night festivals were a bit like opposite days from when you were a kid with lots of mischief thrown in. (English traditions. American Traditions: The Holiday that time Forgot. And, of course, NOLA continuing traditions.) The Irish one started out as basically a women's tea party (the little cake and sandwich kind) with the men left behind to do the housework and childcare. In the modern era, it has turned into a women's day, or night, out to celebrate the end of the busy Christmas season. I liked that idea. I liked it a lot.

Last year, about a dozen of my girlfriends and I gathered at a local pub to toast the Magi and the end of Christmas. (The Twelfth Night is when the three wise men arrived to meet Jesus, and in many nativity displays, they don't make get placed until January 5.) We had a lovely time. So I've called a meet again this year. Interestingly, there has been some confusion about the date. I have been known to leave either the time or the address off of email invitations, but this time the confusion isn't my fault. Historically, whether the Twelfth Night falls on the 5th or 6th depends on many factors. From the NOLA link above:

Epiphany celebrations are also known as “Twelfth Night” celebrations because January 6th is the “Twelfth Day of Christmas.” There is some confusion over whether Christmas Day is the “first day of Christmas” or Boxing Day (December 26th) is the “first day.” Another variation in the celebrations is whether or not Twelfth Night happens on the night of January 5th or 6th. This confusion results from the date convention of Medieval Europe where a “day” begins on the night before.
As the sun sets on January 6th and the rest of the world formally gets back to normal life, New Orleanians merely shift the focus of our celebrating. The Christmas season is over, and the Carnival season begins.
I went for simple. Christmas Day is day 1 of Christmas and the Twelfth Night is the evening of the 12th day which is January 5th.

An Excellent Conversation with Alton Brown at Authors@Google

It is still Christmas around here. My kids don't go back to school until next Tuesday. I'm getting organized, just not as quickly as I'd like, which is pretty typical for this stage of motherhood. Anyway, the other day while setting up Calvin's iPod with links to Good Eats, I found this excellent interview with Alton Brown. It's a little over a year old but suffers no untimeliness. If you thought Alton was cool previously, you will really like him now. He discusses everything from publishing to diet soda to the importance of father and daughter time (in his case by using nitroglycerine to blow up food) to judicious use of social media.

My favorite part: the spontaneous suggestion to have Google create a professional, subscription based search engine. As someone who often needs to find some article from a specific-but-forgotten publication from 2 or more years ago, I would happily pay for a search engine that could filter out all of the most popular or most recent hits. The web needs a layman's Lexisnexis.

I vaguely recall that the Weekly Standard or maybe City Journal had an article a few years ago on how we really want more individual control on the internet. I'd search for it, but without the author, publication, or a specific and distinctive phrase, the chances of me finding the article I recall are next to nil. I need that special search engine. And while I'm wishing, and in case anyone from Google happens to see this post, I'd like to be able to limit searches to sites I have bookmarked—not the individual pages I've bookmarked, but the whole sites.