Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Another exciting discovery

Tombs in Egypt, statues of Rameses II (although the man was such an extremely long-lived megalomaniac that I wouldn't think that would be that big a deal), new species... This seems to be an amazing time for archeologists and whoever the people are who study the new species. My only question is: if this eruption was 4 times bigger than Krakatoa, why isn't it given as much space in the history books (at least as far as I know)? (Update: It is mentioned in the book Ghosts of Pompeii by Charles Pellegrino, a fascinating book that I'm slowly making my way through.) Click on link or title to read whole story.
Scientists Claim to Find Lost Civilization

By RAY HENRY, Associated Press Writer Mon Feb 27, 9:29 PM ET

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. - Scientists have found what they believe are traces of the lost Indonesian civilization of Tambora, which was wiped out in 1815 by the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Worse than Guantanamo?

And Dubya is worried that deep-sixing the port deal is going to “send the wrong message” to the Arab world? (From what I understand the millionaires in the UAE aren’t exactly resoundingly popular with the average Arab in the street anyway.)

Click on link or title for full story.

A Growing Afghan Prison Rivals Bleak Guantánamo

Published: February 26, 2006
While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.

Friday, February 24, 2006

THIS is what science is about

Click on link or title to read complete article.
Beaver or Otter, It Lived in Dinosaurs' Time
...Thomas Martin, an authority on early mammals at Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, said the find pushed back "the mammalian conquest of the waters by more than 100 million years" and "impressively contradicts" the conventional view.
"This exciting fossil," he wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, "is a further jigsaw puzzle piece in a series of recent discoveries, demonstrating that the diversity and early evolutionary history of mammals were much more complex than perceived less than a decade ago."...
If something comes along that really contradicts what they thought before, and for which there is legitimate evidence, good scientists will abandon the previous views - maybe not without a backward look, especially if it was something they had an investment in, but they will abandon it. Look at "continental drift." When it was first proposed it was pooh-poohed because the theory for the mechanism wasn't convincing. Continents don't float on top of the ocean. When plate tectonics made its appearance, it was eventually accepted.

Creationism, on the other hand, never changes or evolves. (You should forgive the expression!) It undergoes cosmetic revision, name changes, etc., but essentially is still the same as it was 20, 50, or a hundred years ago.

Update: I'm reading a very interesting book called Finding Darwin's God which goes over the basic anti-evolution arguments. I will have to concede that, to continue the analogy, creationism does mutate somewhat in response to outside threats, to the extent that there are now three different varieties. It's still the same species, though.

Here are a few excellent evolution-related websites: Talk.Origins, Understanding Evolution, The Panda's Thumb, the National Center for Science Education, Pharyngula.

Book Review: Rubicon

Rubicon by Tom Holland *****

Rubicon is a history of the fall of the Roman Republic that reads like a novel, but seems to be based on pretty sound scholarship. Professional historians may quibble with the style, but this is an excellent overview for the average reader, dealing with a subject that is neglected in the school curriculum but seems very relevant to 21st century America.

Starting with a brief runthrough of the early history of Rome, the establishment of the Republic, and the gradual growth of an empire, Hammond gradually focuses in on the last century leading up to Julius Caesar’s fateful crossing of the Rubicon and shows the gradual crumbling of values and institutions that allow one brilliant, popular demagogue after another to hijack the government and turn it to his own ends. Pre-emptive wars of "defense" are only one of the tactics that will sound very familiar.

I believe that some reviewers have objected to Hammond’s use of “anachronisms,” but I found this to be an effective, if not always precise, way to convey what was happening. After all, the fact that a name has only recently been given to “spin” doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been done for millennia.

This book’s real strength, however, is in its portrayal of a huge cast of living, breathing human beings who grow and change over time. Pompey starts off looking like an obnoxious showoff, but his real love for his wives (which got him laughed in a society even more macho than 20th century America) and his devotion to the Republic give him an air of tragic pathos. Cato is curmudgeonly but honorable to the end, and Hammond’s portrait of Caesar projects a charm and ruthlessness that are both utterly calculated and extremely dangerous.

For anyone who wants to learn more about this fascinating era, whose parallels to our own can send chills down the spine, I highly recommend Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cat Sites

Since I haven't been chasing Shadow around with my camera lately, here are a couple of sites with good cat pictures.
Cute Little Kittens

Also, just because it's a good idea, the Humane Society of the US. Check and see what you can do for animals.

Oh, well - it all makes sense now.

Click on link or title to read complete article.
The dirty little secret behind the UAE port security flap
Politicians and the media are loudly decrying the Bush administration's proposal to turn over port security to a firm owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - a country with ties to terrorists. They are talking tough about national security - but almost no one is talking about what may have fueled the administration's decision to push forward with this deal: the desire to move forward Big Money's "free" trade agenda.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory ****

The title of The Other Boleyn Girl pretty much says it all; it’s the story of Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary, who was Henry VIII’s mistress before he became infatuated with Anne. The historical Mary seems to have been very different from the rest of her ambitious family, receiving virtually nothing of value from Henry herself and eventually marrying, after her first husband’s death, a comparatively humble man and becoming the only one of the three Boleyn children to die in bed. In this novel, however, although she is the pawn of her family, pushed into the path of the king in her mid-teens, she is far more.

In Gregory’s portrayal, Mary is an extremely sympathetic character but also a flawed one. She admires Queen Katherine but betrays her not only with Henry, a situation in which she has little choice, but also in more reprehensible ways. She allows her first marriage to become all but meaningless, but eventually, after Henry leaves her for Anne, begins to feel a growing closeness to her husband and, after his death, finds the strength to defy her sister and father to marry a man she loves. Despite her sometimes bitter rivalry with Anne, Mary and her daughter are the only members of the family who defend her upon her arrest. By the end of the book, she has truly become her own woman.

The politics of Henry’s court are also portrayed in all their sordid detail: family gatherings centering on which sister should be pushed into the king’s bed and how to keep her there; the bribery of maids to find out whether the queen has had her period and the secret disposal of miscarried babies; the pimping of his own sisters by their brother George, who has his own shameful secret; the intrigues of councilors and churchmen to achieve the king’s desires and their own ambitions. Yet for the most part, these people are portrayed as living human beings, not angels or monsters.

My main quibble with this book, and the reason it doesn’t rate five stars with me, is its portrayal of Anne Boleyn. Gregory gives a realistic picture of her charm, drive, and relentless ambition to become queen, but other aspects of her character are not delineated as well. When she falls in love with Henry Percy (son of the Earl of Northumberland, not the Duke), I find it hard to believe, although Gregory obviously means for it to be a real passion that affects the course of Anne’s life. Also, even though Mary mentions her (Anne) reading theology with the king as well as her wit, I never get a sense of her real intelligence or of a personality behind the obsessive ambition.

On the whole, however, I recommend this book very highly; despite its almost 700 pages it only took me a few days to get through it and I enjoyed it immensely. It's also encouraged me to get a couple of biographies of Anne from the library to refresh my memory about her historical character.

Censorship or judgment call?

This is an overarching issue that is touched on by my two previous posts. Should inflammatory material be disseminated by responsible media. What is paramount, the right of the public to see the material, freedom of the press, the possibility of offending individuals or groups, or even the risk of endangering lives? This is a knotty and complex problem that unfortunately has no one-size-fits all solution.

It has been pointed out (alas, I don’t have a link), that in reporting on other controversies, such as some of the artwork that has been seen as defaming Christianity in recent years, American newspapers and news shows have often shown the works in question. I’m not sure to what extent the vicious anti-Semitic slanders found in some areas of Muslim culture have been reproduced by those who oppose it, but I am sure that sometimes these things have to be seen to illustrate just how bad they are. I would think that if I were a Muslim who was offended by the cartoons I would feel the same way, but of course if I were offended by any representation of Muhammed, positive or negative, I might consider reproduction of them to be a mulitiplication of the offense. This situation is a very difficult call.

A similar dilemma was presented in the Talmud class I was at today, although the dilemma itself wasn’t the question we were studying. If a person is on trial for blasphemy, must witnesses repeat the blasphemy in describing what happened? It seemed that in some cases they would substitute another, innocuous word for the name of God, but this didn’t seem to be true in all cases, since it was stated that upon hearing the report of the offense the judges (and presumably anyone else within hearing) were required to rend their garments. This implies to me, at least, that the witness was repeating the actual blasphemy.

In the case of the Abu Ghraib material, the (obviously self-serving) argument is made by the government that it should not be made public because it a) would violate the privacy of the victims and b) would inflame the Muslim world. This is absurd, since as many people have pointed out, it is the acts themselves which are inflammatory and degrading, not the photos, although certainly the photos may have made things worse. These things were known over there; the photos only prove it to the rest of the world. As long as there were no photos or videos, we could dismiss the allegations as propaganda, so it seems to me that the perpetrators who took them unintentionally did the country a service by forcing us to acknowledge that these things were done. I also believe that they should be made public so that the American people know what is being done in their name, and the incredible hypocrisy of an administration that denounces Saddam’s “torture chambers“ while doing its level best to replicate them.

Friday, February 17, 2006

More material from Abu Ghraib

Update: You can see the full video from the Australian TV program here

A few days ago some of the photos from Abu Ghraib that have so far been withheld by the US government were shown on Australian TV. Now Salon magazine claims to have “more than 1,000 photographs, videos and supporting documents from the Army's probe, ” some of which are published on their site. Do not look at these photos unless you are prepared to be disgusted and ashamed of the treatment meted out to other human beings in our name. Bear in mind that the vast majority of these detainees were either innocent of any wrongdoing or guilty of only petty offenses, not dangerous terrorists. Below is a quote from the article:

The DVD containing the material includes a June 6, 2004, CID investigation report written by Special Agent James E. Seigmund. That report includes the following summary of the material included: "A review of all the computer media submitted to this office revealed a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of Military Working dogs being used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts."

Questionable acts? After that laundry list, what qualifies as "questionable acts"?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

OK, I'll jump in

I haven’t commented before now on the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed but I think I’ve finally found an article that seems to have the right balance. Maybe I should try to give my opinion myself but this isn’t something that I really feel I have all the background on. For example, according to this article on the Huffington Post site, the people who held the contest originally are far-right, anti-immigrant types whose aim was to stir up trouble. I haven’t seen this view before or since, so I don’t know if it’s reliable, but it, along with this one from give a more nuanced view of the whole situation. It’s interesting that only a day or two after reading the HuffPo article, there was a story on NPR on how a far right group in France was out “feeding the hungry,” but was only serving soup with pork in it, as a deliberate poke in the eye to both Muslims and Jews. When confronted about it, they would state piously, “But we’re only feeding the hungry.” So Zogby’s contention about the original intent of the contest is certainly plausible.

There are a few points that I would like to make, which have certainly all been made by others, though possibly not all in the same place.

1) Yes, freedom of the press is an important principle, which includes the “right to offend.”

2) As with any freedom, it should be exercised with responsibility.

3) As the author of the piece points out, the “right to offend” also includes its corollary, the “right to be offended.”

4) Offense is no excuse for violence, but peaceful protest, boycotts, etc. are all legitimate methods of objecting.

5) Papers which chose not to print the cartoons certainly had a right to make that decision and should not be accused of cowardice, knuckling under, etc., although I would hope that they would at least point their readers to a website where they could go if they want to judge for themselves. (I recognize that not everyone has web access, but for the moment there’s always the library, assuming you don’t mind ending up on a government list.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006


What are we coming to? About the only time I’ve come across the word is when I learned about the Alien and Sedition Acts in American history, and they weren’t presented as a good thing, but as a time when we detoured from the ideals on which the country is based and attempted to criminalize dissent. Something similar happened during WWI, though I’m not sure if the word was used. Watch what you say in those letters to the editor!

From Editor and Publisher:

Nurse Investigated for 'Sedition' After Writing Letter to Editor
By E&P Staff
Published: February 11, 2006 9:00 PM ET
NEW YORK Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has asked Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson for a thorough inquiry of his agency's investigation into whether a V.A. nurse's letter to the editor criticizing the Bush administration amounted to "sedition." 

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Something positive, for a change

Click on link or title for full story and photos.

Updated: 10:53 AM EST
Lost World of New Species Found in Jungle

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Feb. 7) - Scientists exploring an isolated jungle in one of Indonesia's most remote provinces discovered dozens of new species of frogs, butterflies and plants – as well as mammals hunted to near extinction elsewhere, members of the expedition said Tuesday.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hearings, Part 3

Feingold (D): At least he registered his disapproval of the fact that Gonzales isn’t under oath. Dubya has a “pre-1776 view of the world.” He’s going after G on his testimony in his confirmation hearings (which was under oath). Gonzales is playing word games, of course - Feingold had asked him about behavior “in contravention of the law” and as far as he was concerned it wasn’t in contravention of the law. If he were a Democrat this would be called “Clintonesque.” He’s invoking Lincoln, Wilson and FDR, whose actions, of course, all took place during shooting wars, if not declared ones.

Graham (R): Another apologist, although I’d heard earlier that he had expressed serious concerns. Maybe I was wrong. At least he’s acknowledging the “slippery slope” danger, and says the “inherent authority” argument could neuter the Congress. I guess he didn’t notice that he and the rest of them have pretty much already been neutered. (I’m so sick of this “we are at war” refrain - he’s already admitted that this “war” is pretty much perpetual.)

Schumer (D): Good point - this is not an either-or proposition. We can have both freedom and security. He’s the second one who has brought up that it’s not only D’s who are questioning the legality of this thing. Whether Ashcroft’s #2 disagreed - he’s not going to answer the question. Let’s get Mr. Comey (sp?) in there to speak for himself, if Gonzales “can’t” answer. Tough questioning - yes!

Cornyn (R): Apologist. ‘Nuff said.

More on the hearing

Biden (D): “This administration has made assertions in the past where their credibility has been questioned.” So we need to know what’s really going on, not what they say is going on. “Why limit eavesdropping to calls where one party is outside the US, if you’re serious about going after Al Qaeda?” Good question. Ha! “Is he refusing to do it for PR reasons?“

Kohl (D):
Gonzales: ”Congress can declare war“????? That makes it sound like it's OK for them to, but they don't have to. Later: Sounds like he’s saying they will hold onto any information that they get forever, even if it turns out they don’t have any foundation for suspicion. ”Think about the public reaction“ if he authorized the same program domestically. In other words, it is about PR.

DeWine (R):
More games ala Alito. ”Please state for the record that you’re not a fascist.“ Well, at least he admits that, even if Dubya’s within his rights, it’s better for him to come to Congress. What if Congress excluded these calls from FISA and provided for direct oversight? Interesting question, except that Dubya just ignores Congressional requests in the course of their oversight duties, so that would basically be giving him a blank check. And a lot of people think FISA is a rubber stamp!

Feinstein (D):
It’s too bad when she has to start out saying, we all support fighting terrorism. At least she brought up that speech in Buffalo. She's also asking if the authorization for the use of force means that Gonzales can lie to Congress if telling the truth would obstruct his "war on terror." Of course, if they think it does, it means nothing when Gonzales says no. She’s got some good questions but of course he’s not going to answer any of them. Of course, at least they serve to illustrate her point that this is a very slippery slope.

Sessions (R) isn’t even worth commenting on - he was the one who was in the hall during the break. But I found this from the Progressive Daily Beacon to be very interesting:
Also, not surprising, though not many American people will be made aware, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, immediately declared the Attorney General wouldn't be sworn in before giving testimony. As the Democratic Senators pointed out, Gonzales had been sworn in during his two previous appearances before the committee. Though, for the news channels, Gonzales not being sworn in wouldn't be important - the fact of the matter is that, last time Gonzales was questioned before the Senate, he lied.
Dang - I wanted to hear Feingold but they’re evidently going to lunch now - evidently they all can’t sit for more than an hour and a half without needing to pee or something.

Gonzales hearing - live blogging

I didn’t even listen to Gonzales’ opening statement, since he basically repeated what they’ve been saying all along.

Specter and Leahy did OK, but Gonzales keeps stonewalling them. Every time they ask him to answer the question, he starts in “blah blah blah” and you know he’s not going to answer. He wouldn’t say whether they tell the FISA judges whether the info they’re using to apply for a warrant comes from this program. Specter could barely get an answer on whether he’d mind if Ashcroft testified. Of course, if he said he would mind, I would get Ashcroft in there on the double! I think Leahy made a mistake by just asking him what else the President could do (X or Y), because Gonzales just said, “Well, he’s not doing that.” Leahy should have asked, “Could he decide tomorrow to do X?” I’d like one of them to ask him if he would be comfortable allowing President Hillary Clinton or any future president these powers.

Hatch is defending the program - why doesn’t he just sit up there with the guy?

Kennedy asked why they just didn’t come to Congress? “We’re at war.” (whine whine) As Kennedy pointed out, the threat was just as great when the FISA statute was originally passed.

Now they’re on a break and one of the R’s is out there using 9/11 - even got a relative of a 9/11 victim to use as a prop. Where are Kristin Breitweiser and the “Jersey Girls” when you need them? Is this guy the only one they could find to talk to?

Grassley is just going to attack the NY Times for exposing the whole thing in the first place. Except for Specter, the R’s are just repeating the administration talking points. I guess they don’t mind being made irrelevant - maybe they don’t realize that if they allow it they’ll be just as irrelevant under the next Democratic president.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Books I've been reading

These are actually books that I’ve finished recently and haven’t been able to get around to reviewing, though I would like to give more attention to some of them.

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D. ****
I don’t believe that I know anyone who fits this description, although the author claims that 4% of us are sociopaths, but a lot of the traits seem to fit a certain world “leader” who shall remain nameless (initials GWB).

The Post-Truth Era by Ralph Keyes, Ph.D. ****
Particularly apropos with what seems to be an epidemic of lying and fabrication in the news that only seems to be getting worse. The author’s main thesis seems to be that human beings are not innately honest, but in the past have been more constrained by the fact that most people spent their lives in small communities where everyone knew everyone else. Since he’s not a Luddite who wants us to ditch all of our technology, I don’t think that he has much of a solution for the problem.

Birth of the Chess Queen by Marilyn Yalom ****
An interesting history of the development of the chess queen, starting with the her beginnings as a male vizier who was limited to only one diagonal move. The author traces the evolution of the piece as chess migrated from India through Persia and into Europe through Muslim conquests, and argues that the “sex change” (10th century) and greatly increased power of the queen (15th century) are a reflection of the presence of powerful medieval queens on the stage of Europe, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the related cult of courtly love. Interesting, with a lot of information about both chess and historical queens.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis ****
The first volume of Lewis’ “Space Trilogy.” I liked this one much better than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,“ but I will refrain from comment until I’ve finished the trilogy.

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris *****
A mystery set at the beginning (literally) of the English Regency period. With well-rounded characters and an intelligent plot, it looks like the very promising opening of a series. The Regency era bids fair to become almost as well-populated with mystery series as the Victorian era, at the rate they’re appearing. Restoration mysteries, anyone? (This is one the few eras that is untouched, as far as I know. Samuel Pepys might make a good detective.)

Women in Purple by Judith Herrin ****
A history of three Byzantine empresses, all of whom lived during the Iconoclasm controversy of the late eighth and early to mid-ninth century (another appropriate topic considering the recent violence in the Muslim world over the cartoons showing the Prophet Muhammed). Herrin suggests that the power held by these women is the result of the weakness of the empire in the face of an expanding Islam, which itself was a motivation for the Iconoclast movement. (”The Muslims are winning battles; therefore the reason we’re losing must be that God doesn’t approve of representative art.”) Interestingly, Irene (who actually ruled on her own as “Emperor” after deposing and blinding her son), Euphrosyne (the daughter of that same son), and Theodora (the wife of Euphrosyne’s stepson), all were on the side of the iconophiles, and it was their stance that was victorious in the end. Herrin also makes the case that if Iconoclasm had prevailed, western art, which took much of its inspiration from the Byzantine empire, would have been much poorer.

Friday, February 03, 2006

George W and science

I have to say that Dubya calling for more science and math training is a bit like David Duke calling for racial harmony. This, after all, is a man who has consistently muzzled scientists and had political appointees alter their reports when he didn’t like their conclusions, lied about the number of stem cell lines available when he made his “great compromise” decision in 2001, supported injecting religion into high school biology classes, put out false information about condom use and birth control... The list goes on and on, and we might also want to mention the most recent budget cuts in aid to college students. Googling “bush muzzling scientists” gives about 27,000 hits; here are some excerpts from a representative one (2004):

With more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners, having signed a statement opposing the Bush administration's use of scientific advice, this election year is seeing a new development in the uneasy relationship between science and politics...

...this is the first time that a broad spectrum of the scientific community has expressed opposition to a president's overall science policy...

Feud intensifying

Scientists' feud with the Bush administration, building for almost four years, has intensified this election year. The White House has sacked prominent scientists from presidential advisory committees, science advocacy groups have released lengthy catalogs of alleged scientific abuses by the administration, and both sides have traded accusations at meetings and in the pages of research journals.

"People are shocked by what's going on," said Kurt Gottfried, a Cornell University physicist and chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been in the vanguard of the campaign against the administration's science policy....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Coming soon: The end of the Internet as we know it?

To read entire article, click on link or title. This is very disturbing, and considering that the government is owned by the special interests, I have little doubt that what the author envisages is possible. We need lobbying and campaign finance reform NOW!
ARTICLE | posted February 1, 2006 (web only)
The End of the Internet?
The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

The Trouble With Narnia (for me, at least)

Part 1 (Update: Since my friend Jeanne has strongly recommended that I read the whole series, I will hold off on future installments, and this one will only apply to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

Warning: if you like these books this will probably annoy you exceedingly.

I just reread (on audio) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to see if the Christian allegory was really as bad as I remembered, especially after being told by other people that they didn’t see it. I thought that maybe when it did come along, maybe it just overwhelmed the rest of the story in my memory and distorted my view, and that it was actually better than I remembered.

This theory turned out to be partly true; there is only one explicitly allegorical section, which is the “passion,” death and resurrection of Aslan, so that part did overshadow my memory of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, however, I found the part that I did not remember well to be extremely disappointing on the second read.

(I will stipulate that some of this may be off base because, according to at least one reviewer on Amazon, the book - and presumably the series - are to be read as an extended fairy tale in which one should not expect to find well-rounded characters and moral complexity. For those who may feel that I am judging the book on adult terms, I am comparing it to other things I have read for similar age groups, and not just modern material, either.)

First of all, it may have been partly the narrator’s style, but the whole tone that was taken seemed to be very condescending. (I have to admit that Tolkien is guilty of the same attitude in parts of The Hobbit, probably one reason why it’s not one of my favorites.) Lewis might want to mention in “Don’t try this at home” tradition that you should never close a wardrobe door behind you, but not three times, and of course the good children always do the right thing and the bad one doesn’t.

Speaking of which, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and flat, either all good or all bad. The faun is probably the most complex character in the book. This may change in later books in the series (I believe that the same characters do show up again), but at least in this one there are three perfectly good children and one perfectly bad one, without much distinction between the good ones or any reason given why one turned out so bad. (Personally, if I were Edmund and had three paragons as siblings, I might be a little obnoxious too.) I would like a little motivation, please, and I think I would have wanted it at a younger age, too. Maybe Edmund is more sensitive than the others, and the relocation brings out the worst in him. Maybe it’s his position in the family, being neither the oldest girl, the oldest boy, nor the “baby.” We are never given a clue: he just seems warped from the start, which makes it very unbelievable to me when he finally shows some compassion for the animals when the White Witch turns them to stone.

Also, I didn’t really care for the “Turkish delight” trick that the Witch uses to draw him in. It seems to be like some kind of drug, so he could certainly argue that he was acting under coercion. If someone were addicted to heroin (given to them in some harmless-appearing candy) and then told he couldn’t have any more unless he killed another person, surely he would not be considered fully responsible for his actions. I think it would have been better if Lewis had left out the “addictive” part and just let Edmund be bribed, sweet-talked and deceived into helping the Witch.

This brings me to Lewis’ portrayal of evil, which I will deal with in another post.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Farewell to Coretta Scott King

Like the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Era is receding into history, and its lessons are in danger of being forgotten. We are reminded of this by the continuing efforts in the Southern states to disenfranchise African-American voters, the winking at such efforts by the Justice Dept. in defiance of their career prosecutors’ recommendations, and the poverty exposed in the wake of the inept response to Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs. King and Rosa Parks are both gone, but their legacy, along with that of Dr. King and the other participants in the events of that pivotal time, must not be forgotten or allowed to be undone.