Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gotham Violence

I saw the new Batman movie on Sunday.

The movie was quite abusive towards physics and human stamina. It irked me slightly that a microwave machine didn't affect people, that Bruce Wayne seemed to heal from wounds as if he was Wolverine, that the fear poison didn't affect children or Arkham inmates, and that the antidote to the fear poison worked perfectly for Bruce and Gordon but only partly for Rachel.

But it was a comic book movie, so that was okay. Strange techno-gizmos and unexplained bouts of health and weakness are part of how the genre works.

What irked me more was the low-quality nature of most fight scenes. As Scott Kurtz wrote, "The fight scenes in the second half are awful and are so jumpy you don't really see anything. The movie shines most between the action. I kept waiting for the action to end so that I could get back to the movie. Which is strange for a Super-hero flick."

It's not that I wanted better action. The issue was simply that the "non-fight scene" at the docks worked very well, and the people who made the movie clearly knew this, and then it seemed like they forgot.

The film's theme was fear. Our role as the audience was to watch people be afraid and either conquer or succumb to fear. Bruce conquered his fears. The thugs at the docks didn't. The fight scene at the docks worked because its basic message was that the fight was over before it ever really began.

The terrible fight scenes were a complete contrast. So what if Batman moves fast and punches hard and the camera can't keep up? Why was Bruce fighting Ducard in the monorail anyway, once he jammed the control? Did Batman ever use his gloves with whippy fingers? Who cares? Most of the fight scenes only distracted us from the drama that was the core of the movie.

Rachel was a great character. She was naive and idealistic and no match for the evil and violence of Gotham. Bruce as Batman could not relate to her, and at the end they both realized this. It was the perfect setup for a strong female character in a sequel, to pose for Bruce the dilemna of a accepting a woman to which Batman could relate or remaining patiently faithful to Rachel -- the choice of stepping more permanently and completely into the dark and cynical role of Batman or retaining his humanity.

Gordon was a great character. He had a family; he was vulnerable and wimpy; his only virtue was recognizing Batman as a worthy ally. He was constantly in over his head, not knowing what to say or do, but able to do the best he could, which was good enough.

Bruce not only conquered his own fear but helped Rachel and Gordon conquer their fears. To make this blatant he did so chemically as well as emotionally.

The Scarecrow used fear poison to create images of a person's personal fear so they would fear more. Batman used the image of his own personal fear to help others conquer fear (if they were "good guys") or overpower them without much fighting (if they were "bad guys"). This parallelism should have been supported by every scene with violence: the docks and huge stairwell were too few and isolated.

Ducard tried to end Gotham's decadence, of which Earle was the token representative. Bathman tried to raise Gotham's sense of self-control, of which Lucius and Gordon were the token representatives. In the end Earle lost and Lucius won because Gordon won, and Gordon won because Batman helped him conquer fears.

And Rachel lost, but was brave about it, because a Gotham with self-control meant more to her then a romance with Bruce. That was our expected reaction too, as the audience: we should want a living symbol that helps us conquer fear, and a place where people have courage and self-determination, more than we want a romantic ending.


The website mentioned in the President's speech is a great idea. A simple message of encouragement is meaningful to our troops on the day America celebrates freedom. Accumulating thousands of messages shows that people appreciate the individuals whose courage and sweat advances freedom (irregardless of approving of the anything bigger than an individual's bravery and toil).

But the website seems oddly primitive. It is counting total messages, not the number of messages from distinct IP addresses. And I would expect it's welcome page to show a random message and response from a soldier instead of merely a single chosen token response from a soldier. And the lapel pin ordering is cheesy: why add a marketing gimmick to a site otherwise aimed at reminding soldiers that they are appreciated?

Ice Cream Mix

Last night my wife thought I was crazy because I had as dessert a bowl of Oreo-cookie ice cream topped with dark chocolate shavings and in root beer as a float. It was great. Perhaps some day people's vanilla-for-floats prejudices will be overcome by peaceful demonstrations. Hm. More demonstrations are needed!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wierd Dreams

I often have really wierd dreams. Last night had two good examples.

The first involved a new hobby: suburan boar hunting. Two groups of friends participated. One designed a treasure hunt, which ended at a certain house in which a wild boar was dangerously loose. The other followed the clues while carrying various sizes of boar spears (the first group accompanied them as spectators), and the event ended when the hunters found the boar, lured it outside (no boar blood in the house!), killed it, and cooked it in the backyard for both groups of friends to eat.

As a kid I enjoyed reading The Once and Future King, which includes a boar hunt young Kay and the Wart went on. But I have no idea what prompted this dream.

The second dream was obviously prompted by two stresses of yesterday: the sewing machine needed oil before I could get some sewing done, and I was thinking about some upcoming air travel that involves switching airlines mid-day.

The result: a new T.V. game show in which participants are given a sum of money and a suitcase full of airport-legal but awkward items (such as a battery-powered, running sewing machine) and must visit four specified cities as quickly as possible. The participants start in the early morning at the first city when the airport opens, and must plan a route to the remaining cities, purchase tickets, and do the traveling.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Some things are supposed to be hard to find, but are not if you know where to look.

Other things are surprisingly not well known, such as free software and computer games.


I've been meaning to try this for a while, with the squirrels in our back yard. But not this.

Simply Clean

Today I did a lot of house cleaning. Some family is coming to visit on Wednesday. They are passing through Oregon on the way to and from a wedding in Ephrata, WA.

I like Simple Green. One of my cleaning chores was to clean the guest bathroom. No icky fumes, no bleach stains on clothes, no dried out hands -- and now the bathroom is spotless, and excessively disinfected.


Over the weekend I found out that Spaceward Ho! is available for the Palm OS.

I played that game quite a bit in my undergraduate years. It's still as good as ever.

Well, almost. The Palm OS version does not have sound effects. I have to imagine the spaceship pilots yelling, "Yahh!" like cowboys when they set off on voyages.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Firefox: subtle aroma, robust, faintly fruity, pleasant aftertaste

I have not yet waxed complimentary about Firefox. But I really should.

It has a feature that removes most advertisements from web browsing, which is really nice. It has a feature that checks links and color-codes them by validity, which I use now and then when looking at penei.org. It's easy to enable pipelining, which speeds up browsing on a fast internet connection. And Firefox is not vulnerable to Active-X problems.

Except for doing Windows Updates, it does everything I need and does it better.

A few days ago I found out that Mozilla also producing a free FTP Client. It also works much better and faster than my old FTP software. Hooray!

(I'm also using Thunderbird for e-mail because it is more secure than Outlook, but it does not do everything Outlook does for e-mail. Outlook can be set to automatically file a sent reply in the same folder as the message you replied to; with Thunderbird I have to spend a few moments each day sorting the contents of my "Sent" folder into other folders. Outlook can change an outgoing e-mail from plain text to HTML on-the-fly; with Thunderbird if I want to break my normal habits and send an HTML message I have to change an account setting before composing the e-mail, and put the setting back afterwards. But to be fair, Outlook cannot bounce mail.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Today I did a lot of drilling.

Whomever built our house only used nails to attach the metal support-pillars in the middle of the garage to the big wooden beams above them! Even though this has been sufficient for 50 years it needs fixing! In some cases the four holes in at the top of each pillar were positioned and I could simply replace the nails with 3/8" screws. But when new holes were needed I did some drilling. Slow...

I also installed our new fire safe. Something seem odd, when the first instruction for using a new safe is to drill holes through it. And that was surprisingly easy. Moreover, thanks to a super-drill-thing I borrowed from a friend, drilling the holes in the cement to mount the safe was only a matter of seconds.

Too bad I don't have more concrete that needs holes drilled into it. Faster than a hot knife through butter...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Nerd Test

I'm only 62% nerd these days, according to this test.

The times change... I would have had at least one question about if you ever used a hole punch to double the storage capacity of a floppy disk.

The other day I overheard a father notice his young son playing with a Transformer toy and ask, "Is that an Autobot or a Decipticon?" Words I wouldn't have remembered until I heard them again, even after watching the recent Citron commercial or the Singapore Navy recruitment ad.

Tricky Theology Essays - Done!

A big "back burner" project was to write some essays for the P'nei Adonai FAQ page about whether Jews and Gentiles fit differently into the Kingdom of God. This is a tricky issue that many people get emotional about. Did I do a good job? (The essays are the group in the middle, under the section "About the Household of Faith".)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Only One Thing?

Today's bit from My Utmost for His Highest had an interesting statement:
"We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself."
This statement could be dismissed as an example of "practical exaggeration", except that other statements that Oswald Chambers writes make it quite clear he means this statement literally. In his view, all of a person's possessions and abilities are merely on-loan from God.

Taken literally, the statement is terrifying in its simplicity. It is much more pleasantly manageable to give a small portion of our right to ourself to God. "I can give up leavened food for Passover." "I can not do this fun activity to get important work done." Etc. But making bargains with ourselves is a part of dieting, not spiritual maturity.

Sunny Monday

Today is sunny, and seems to have fewer allergens in the air than the latter half of last week, so I got to ride my bike around town when I did some of my errands. But I did use the car to pick up the lawnmower from the shop that sharpened its blades.

Mondays usually have a prayer meeting, but today that was canceled. So since I was near Westmoreland Park I did disc golf with a friend. I'm terrible at disc golf -- he did as well as I did using an absurdly light frisbee that was in terrible condition.

Monday afternoon: time for some ministry-related phone calls. No time for games.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Superb Chocoalatey Ice Cream

Did I say ice cream? A family with three little kids is coming over for dessert tonight. So I had little choice today but to make ice cream. Really.

In a medium saucepan combine:
  • 1 cup sugar (use a 1-cup measuring cup)
  • 1 1/2 cup skim milk (use a 1/2-cup measuring cup)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch (use a 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
While these are heating on medium-high, beat in the 1-cup measuring cup
  • 1 egg
Whisk the mixture as it simmers 1 minute. Then very slowly add some to the egg, whisking as you go so you do not get egg drop soup. Once the egg has successfully heated, dump that measuring cup back into the rest of the mixture.

Cook the mixture for 2 more minutes, until it thickens slightly. Meanwhile, microwave at 60% power for 2 minutes:
  • 5 oz of dark chocolate (we use 5 squares of Trader Joe's 70% Dark Pound Plus)
Add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Add:
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp alcohol-free vanilla
Whisk again until smooth. Let cool on the counter for a few minutes. Put in the freezer for a couple hours, to make life easy for the ice cream maker.

(This recipe, as with all my recipes, may be freely distributed if credit is given.)

Some Random Links

I had a few minutes today to go through old bookmarks, while waiting for my ice cream to cool. (When making home-made ice cream, you cook it first before transferring it to the ice cream machine. In between it needs to cool.) Enjoy!

- - - - -

Periodic Tables: one and two.

I can see how Photshopping the words to Little Golden Books might become an Olympic Sport.

Waste a little time, a medium amount of time, or a lot of time.

Monday, June 06, 2005



Warm Chores

Today I get a treat. Not only do I have time to bake cookies, but I get to re-read my first novel and do some work towards (God willing) getting it published. Such work has been on the back burner for too long.

It was with some trepidation that I re-read the first few chapters last night before bed. It had been over a year since I had looked at the story. How would it seem, especially following some recent free-time novel reading by famous and worthy authors?

I notice a few typos. I notice one paragraph that needs rewording. But mostly I am astounded. I typed that? I remember well that year of novel writing, being guided by God and usually unsure in my mind what to write but I pray and start typing and...the novel came forth. It was amazing then, and is amazing today.

I also have other ministry work and housework to do, so no nap today.

Healthy Brown Spice Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. The cookies will bake for 15 minutes on a greased baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl combine:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar
Mix well, then add:
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup oat bran
  • 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, scant
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, scant
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves, scant
Mix well, then let sit for ten minutes so all the cookies will have the same consistency.

The cookies do not spread much when baking, so this recipe is good for making fun shapes.

These cookies are only 16% calories from fat and they have almost as much fiber as whole wheat bread, so you can eat as many as you want with no reason to feel guilty.

(This recipe, as with all my recipes, may be freely distributed if credit is given.)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Swing Dance Parallelism

The other night at a swing dance lesson, the instructor mentioned three relationships a lead must have while dancing:
  • with the floor - without this foundation the person you dance with will not be able to follow
  • with your partner - even dancing with few steps is fun if you have "connection"
  • with the music - musicality and styling make a dance interesting and unique (as well as fun)
I thought about how the same is true with my spiritual walk:
  • the written Word - the foundation that enables me to have genuine and secure communication with God
  • the living Word - having the God's Spirit in and with me makes life fun
  • the work to do - each week is different because God asks me to do different things; life is interesting (as well as meaningful from having connectedness with God's Spirit)
Moreover, the difficulties are also parallel:
  • it is tiring to be constantly using a deep foundation -- laziness and weariness are problematic
  • when doing a new step it is easy to panic and lose focus -- this destroyes connectedness
  • when in a new situation we fear change and new styling -- the fear of looking foolish has us be bland and ignore the differences in opportunities

Sweet Scones

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scones will bake 16 minutes on a greased baking sheet.
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oat bran
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
The recipe either makes four "drop scones" (balls of dough) or one large ball cut into quarters. If you do the latter you get traditional wedge-shaped scones, but be sure to spread them apart before baking or the interior corners will not bake well.

The sugar and oat bran make the scones tasty enough to eat plain. If you plan on putting jam or lemon curd on the scones then you will not need as much sugar.

(This recipe, as with all my recipes, is my and Ceri's own and may be freely distributed if credit is given.)

A Night at the Rescue Mission

Thursday night I stayed at the Eugene Rescue Mission. Someday, someone will approach the congregation looking for help for whom the Rescue Mission will be an appropriate resource.

The other ministers I network with tend to think the Rescue Mission is the best thing since sliced bread. People I know who consider staying there all claim it is dreadful. Obviously, the truth is somewhere in between, and now I know the details first-hand.

What does it offer? A clean and safe place to sleep. Good food, and as much as you can eat. A staff that is friendly towards first-time guests.

The building is meticulously clean, but ugly. That makes sense. Sickness is bad, but this building is not supposed to be a cozy place people want to stay at forever. For the same reason, the furniture is comfortable but really ugly.

The food for dinner was heavily bread-based: pasta with chicken, steamed vegetables, bread, soda, pie. Someone who is gluten-intolerant would be in trouble. I wonder if the Rescue Mission can prepare alternative meals for people who need them if they receive sufficient notice?

I had left my wallet and cell phone at home, but this was needless. One guest even had a laptop with him. The place is safe if you are careful to never leave items unattended.

At dinner I poured soda for the people next to me, and got surprised looks of thanks. All the guests were friendly but defensive. I had to start every conversation. Extending my hand when I introduced myself was an oddity: I was willing to risk their germs? People took care of themselves; there were few opportunities for a "please" or "thank you". If politeness is the oil that makes the gears of society run smoothly, these gears had long ago worn down to toothlessness and thus vaguely remembered oil but no longer needed it.

Advice to potential guests: bring tea and ramen and a cup and spoon since there is an instant hot-water spout in the main room; bring a flat pillow if you prefer it since the pillows are big and firm; walk or bike there since the bike racks are fenced and locked but the parking lot is not; bring flip-flops to wear when showering.

What can local ministers do to help? Donate some towels; towards the end of the showering they had run out of adult towels and only had child-sized towels. Call local dentists to get donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste for first-time guests.

And I had only one thought of advice for the Rescue Mission: assign bunks so people share only when necessary -- why risk a potential argument among guests ("You're noisy! Stop wiggling!") for no reason?

As Charity Navigator points out in the above link, the Rescue Mission spends more on fundraising than helping people. But as a guest I was not sure what else the Rescue Mission should have spent money on to care for me. I got clean sheets, clean pajamas, abundant food, a shower, and comfortable shelter. Given the economic realities of Lane County, I'm willing to believe until I see evidence otherwise that the Rescue Mission must spend so much on fundraising to meet its expenses.

Finally, a note about the bunk's mattress. It was plastic and imminently washable. Clearly that is the proper priority, but this mattress was soft yet offered no support. Lying on my back I felt like I was in a hammock, and so I fell asleep to the snores around me with the tune from the Pirates of the Carribean ride running through my head, imagining I was on a pirate ship. If there are better washable mattresses being made, the Resuce Mission could use those! But I'm guessing it's not a market to which modern mattress technology has any interest in offering perfection.

Peace and Freedom in Episode Three

I recently saw Revenge of the Sith. It was fun. I appreciated how well the plots of Episode II and Episode IV were connected. I was slightly annoyed at how many times "rules of that setting" were broken, especially regarding a Jedi's speed, stamina, and danger sense. I smiled that the awkward dialog between Anakin and Padme now seemed reasonable since those two were supposed to be ill at ease with each other.

Most interesting to me was the contrast in that setting between two mindsets.

Some people (the Emperor, the Senate majority, and most importantly Anakin) valued peace as the primary virtue. Stopping the warfare was of ultimate importance. Sacrificing some freedoms was acceptable. With peace there would be more advances in society and quality of life, especially in prolonging life.

Other people (Padme, the jedi, and their allies in the Senate) valued freedom as the primary virtue. They recognized that if you gave people freedom there would inevitably be disagreements and conflict, and sometimes war. Stopping the war was important, but not so important as to warrant loss of freedoms. With freedom there would be more meaning to society, especially since only freedom allows loss and tragedy to be meaningful.

The Emporer was clearly evil, yet he did not lie and betray more than was minimally necessary to accomplish his noble ends. The Rebels were less clearly good, since they sought to preserve a stability that no longer existed. Killing a general would put an unquestionably end to a war. Absolutes are dangerous, even though only the good guys believe they exist.

And, as a whole, the six episodes no longer focus on Rebel vs. Empire or Jedi vs. Evil. The tale is now Anakin's Story, and the end of Episode VI is substantially different when the party on Endor's Moon is visited by a small group of happily paternal ghosts from which Padme is conspicuously absent. Sorry, dear, but you didn't have enough mitochloreans.

(p.s. - According to the Ultimate Star Wars Personality Test I'm Wicket the Ewock.)

A Switch from Everyone Letters?

For many years I've been sending out "Everyone Letters" by e-mail to family and friends a few times a year.

Who has time to keep in touch personally with all the friends they have met? The "Everyone Letters" were a reminder and a welcome: I'm here; I'm doing this and that; if you reply to this we'll chat, and otherwise accept my well-wishes and we'll correspond later on...

I'm long overdue for an "Everyone Letter". So I set aside time today to get back in touch with the friends and family who have not heard from me or my wife in a while. And I thought, "Why not try Blogger?"

Why not? A constant problem with writing the "Everyone Letters" is that my life as a minister and teacher is (thankfully) not terribly exciting, but has interesting things to write about happening at least weekly. I'm busy, and there is the tendency to think, "If I wait a few days then I can also write about this..." But of course, in a few days the same situation remains. The letter never gets written.

Maybe short bits of news and quick thoughts about life will be a welcome change of pace.