Friday, October 31, 2008

Oh, C'mon!

As mentioned here, the gaming world was saddened this past spring by the death of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. Subsequently, as a way of paying homage to Mr. Gygax, the organizers of this year's GenCon gaming convention decided to give the proceeds of the annual charity auction to his favourite charity, the Christian Children's Fund. The auction duly raised over $17,000 dollars for the CCF.

Imagine, then, the dismay and astonishment of the GenCon organizers when the charity turned down the donation. And for what reason? It turns out that the CCF was unwilling to accept money that had been raised partially through the sale of D&D material. Fortunately, another, more willing charity was found, so the money did end up going to a good cause.

Now, I don't wish to bash on the CCF too much here. I know that it does good work all over the world, and has been doing so for a long time (the CCF was founded in 1938). Indeed, I could even see their point, had the funds offered been raised through the sale of, e.g., hardcore pornography. But D&D material? I mean, really! I've got the mid-1980s on the line here, and they'd like their irrational fear of a harmless and enjoyable hobby back please.

Update: First of all, a bit of clarification. CCF actually refused to allow itself to be associated with GenCon before the charity auction occurred, rather than turning down the money afterwards. I don't think that changes matters too much, though; they still refused to accept a donation from a group based on its ties to D&D.

A couple more things, here. To begin with, in CCF's favour, the organization has a bad reputation among some of the quite fundamentalist groups over the fact that it doesn't attempt to convert the people whom it feeds. Secondly, and not in CCF's favour, they've responded to the whole issue with a fairly mealy-mouthed statement saying essentially that the fact that they didn't want their name associated in any way with a gaming convention doesn't mean they dislike gamers. Hmmmm.

It is possible, of course, that the matter was out of CCF's hands. If the charity was pressured not to accept "D&D money" by some of its more important donors (and I'm sure that there are people and groups out there who donate far more than $17,000 to CCF), then the decision is perhaps more understandable. Anyway, there's a lengthy discussion of the issue, including CCF's statement of response, right here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A large fez-tip to the friend of mine who pointed out this site to me! There's some very funny stuff there; for example, check out Hamlet as told through the medium of Facebook status updates!


Canadians will miss Bush if NAFTA threatened, U.S. ambassador says
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 | 2:09 PM ET

Canadians will find themselves missing U.S. President George W. Bush if the next administration tinkers with the free trade deal, the American ambassador to Canada says.

The only thing that would be likely to make Canadians miss George W. Bush is a McCain-Palin administration. And even then...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So, Do You Know What Day It Is?

It is apparently a bad day to be an Englishman at home in bed!

It's also, for the record, the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Friday, October 24, 2008


When I teach Latin in the summer, I am usually placed in a so-called "smart" classroom, which has built-in multi-media capabilities. However, this fall I am in an old-fashioned classroom, and thus have to lug the multi-media in on my own. Which is why this morning found me hauling an LCD projector and laptop into the classroom and fiddling with them while my students wrote their quiz. Yes, today was their first introduction to Roman inscriptions! And here's what I showed them (Warning: Roman tomb inscriptions can be quite powerful!):

The inscription from the Pantheon in Rome! Translated, it reads "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this] during his third consulship." Agrippa, the son-in-law and close friend of Augustus, did indeed oversee the construction of the Pantheon in 27 B.C. However, his edition of the building burned down in A.D. 80, and was rebuilt under Hadrian. Hadrian, however, decided to go with the original inscription.

One of the inscriptions from the Arch of Titus (actually constructed by Domitian in about A.D. 81). "The Senate and the People of Rome [dedicate this] to the divine Titus, son of the divine Vespasian, and to Vespasian Augustus." The little holes in the letters are nail-holes; originally, there were inset bronze letters, but these have been looted. Interestingly, the name of the emperor does not appear here. This omission is possibly the result of Domitian trying to distance himself from his brother Titus, whom he quite possibly murdered.

Leaving aside public architecture, here we have the base of a statue from Britain. The inscription reads: "The soothsayer Lucius Marcius Memor gives [this] as a gift to the goddess Sulis." Sulis was a Celtic deity associated with the hot-springs at Aquae Sulis (literally, "Waters of Sulis"), the city now known as "Bath." What's interesting about this particular inscription is the tremendous use of ligatures, which is what you get when you combine two or more letters into one. Note, for example, the "M," "A," and "R" in "Marcius." Incidentally, we still make use of a common Latin ligature; it's "&," which is comprised of an "e" and a "t" squashed together, thus giving you the Latin word "et," meaning "and."

Most of our Latin inscriptions come from tombstones, of course (I mean, where would you go if you wanted to see a bunch of English inscriptions in one place?). Here's one that reads: "To the divine Shades and to Dionysius her most pious brother, [who] lived 21 years, Chrysopolis, his sister, made [this]." Given that we have Greek names showing up on a Latin inscription, it's very likely that both Chrysopolis and Dionysius were slaves. Obviously, though, they'd managed to salt away enough money to afford a tombstone; either that, or they had a master generous enough to pay for it himself and let Chrysopolis put her name on it. In either case, they were probably skilled slaves; field-hands or galley-slaves would not have been able to afford something like this.

This one's rather sweet, I think. We have here the tomb of a young boy. The inscription reads: "To the divine Shades of Anthus. Lucius Julius Gamus, his father, [made this] for his most sweet son." I particularly like the puppy; the Romans did keep pets (cats, dogs, birds, etc.), and if we are to judge by the image here, young Anthus had a little dog of whom he was fond.

"To the divine Shades of Minicia Marcella, daughter of Fundanus. She lived for 12 years, 11 months, 7 days." We actually know a little bit about Minicia Marcella. Her father, Fundanus, was a good friend of the writer Pliny the Younger, and thus we have the following, from a letter written by Pliny:

"Caius Plinius greets his friend Marcellinus." (i.e. "Dear Marcellinus") "I, very sad, write these things to you, the younger daughter of our friend Fundanus having died. I have seen no-one anywhere more pleasant, more lovable, or more worthy of a longer life than that girl. She had not completed 13 years, but already had the wisdom of an old woman, the dignity of a matron, and yet a girlish sweetness. How she clung to her father's neck! How both lovingly and modestly she embraced us, her father's friends! How she loved her nurses, her tutors..." The letter goes on to complete the portrayal of a well-educated, well-brought-up, and immensely beloved young lady.

And, finally, my favourite. This one's from northern England, up near Hadrian's Wall. The grammar in the inscription is a bit shaky, but, loosely translated, it reads: "To the divine Shades. Regina, freedwoman and wife, Catuvellaunian by nation, lived 30 years. Barates the Palmyrene [made this for her]." We have here the story of a man (Barates) from Syria moving to northern Britain, and one wonders how he dealt with his first British winter. There, he falls in love with one of his slaves, a Celtic woman named Regina (the Catuvellauni were one of the Celtic tribes of Britain). He subsequently frees and marries her, and I would take this opportunity to point out that neither of those would have been necessary if all he'd wanted to do was sleep with her. After her death, he commissions an enormous, elaborate tombstone (compare it to that of Minicia Marcella, whose father had been consul!). And, as a final touch, he adds, at the bottom of the inscription, a single line in Aremaic, his first language. It reads, poignantly, "Regina of the Catuvellauni, alas!" I nice little story, I think!

Anyway, the class seemed to enjoy looking at the inscriptions, which was the main thing. Hopefully, as well, it will have gone some way to reminding them that we are actually dealing with REAL people who ACTUALLY EXISTED! This message sometimes get lost when one is working almost exclusively with the canon of Latin literature.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Adieu Monsieur Dion

Dion to resign after Liberals choose new leader
Last Updated: Monday, October 20, 2008 | 6:08 PM ET

Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion said Monday he will step down after a leadership convention, blaming his party's losses in the federal election mainly on its inability to counter Conservative "propaganda" against his Green Shift carbon tax.

I happen to think that St├ęphane Dion is a profoundly decent human being. And, while I do think that attacks on the Green Shift policy played a role in the recent poor Liberal showing, I also perceived a particularly nasty sort of anti-intellectualism in play against Dion. The fact that this sort of flaunting and celebration of ignorance enjoyed the success that it did is very offensive and deeply worrying. "Read a damn book sometime; it won't hurt you," says I.

On a related note, and speaking of ignorance, I have read much since the election on the subject of the dreaded Bloc Quebecois holding the balance of power. Comments on this issue tend to run along these lines, generally and occasionally verbatim: "Only in Canada would a separatist party be allowed to hold the balance of power in Parliament." Um, no. First of all, while the Bloc has a share in the parliamentary balance of power, so do the Liberals and NDP. If any one of those parties chooses to support the Conservatives on a piece of legislation, that legislation will pass, simple as that. Secondly, separatist parties holding the balance of power is not a phenomenon in any way unique to Canada. In fact, it's pretty much the rule in any nation that has a parliamentary system and features either more than one large ethnic group with a solid geographic base or significant economic disparities between different areas of the country. There are separatist, or at least strong regionalist, groups holding the balance of power, or very close to it, in Belgium, Italy, and Spain, to name but three.

Here endeth the grump.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm Scared

Ok now, let's continue the circumstances:

  • The Edmonton Oilers are 3-0-0, and in all three of those wins they've successfully defended a 1-goal lead. Furthermore, their big off-season acquisitions, Mssrs. Cole and Visnovsky, already have 3 goals between them. Oh, and their power-play is scoring goals too.
  • Napoli are leading Serie A, having just beaten Juventus (ok, there are teams right behind them with games in hand, so they'll likely be overtaken tomorrow, but still...).
  • Millwall have lost exactly once since August, and are sitting a comfortable third. Today they beat Leeds United, something that has not happened in almost 20 years.

Yup, we're definitely through the looking-glass here...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

De Epistulis

So there I am, a couple of weeks ago, returning from a run to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. Close to home, I trundle past a solitary vehicle parked at the side of the road. And lo, the rearview mirror is lit up by a brilliant flash, not dissimilar to that produced by, let's say, a camera flashbulb!

And do you know what? It was a camera! I know this because today I got a letter with a lovely picture of me driving. Hooray!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not Election Blogging!

Yes, we have an election today, and I am happy to report that I have duly exercised the franchise. I was somewhat disappointed to discover that that there were no members of strange fringe parties running in my riding.

In more amusing news, this is about the funniest thing I've seen in awhile, even without the caption (it's just something about the cat's facial expression):

more animals

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Riot-Grrrrl-y Musical Interlude

A couple of things here to get you through the afternoon! First up we have The Muffs:

And we'll get The Distillers in here as well!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Engineer's Guide To Cats

Watch! Funny!

Fez Tip to Maru.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Latin Update!

In the week leading up to the first mid-term exam, I detected a bit of trepidation among my students this time out. This is completely understandable, given that, for many of them, it was to be their very first university exam ever. However, it seemed to me that the worrying was a bit more pronounced this year, so I spent a bit more time than usual preparing the class for the exam itself.

This may, in hindsight, have been unnecessary. My poor, poor, exam...

* Pauses to console exam, which is curled up whimpering on the floor *

Here, by the way, is a photo of the infamous Dalek, as mentioned in this post.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Remember When...

...we used to have nice elections. You know, the kind where, yes, the various parties disagreed with each other, and probably disliked each other to a certain degree, but at least acknowledged each other's right to exist. The kind where a party would get into deep trouble if it ran ads making fun of an opposing candidate's appearance. The kind where a party whose platform consisted essentially of a list of reasons why one should hate and fear one's neighbours would be giggled at, and subsequently ignored (yes, Conservative Party of Canada, I'm looking at you).

Ok, maybe I've got the ol' rose-coloured specs on again as I gaze backwards in time, but I sure as hell don't recall this sort of shit going on in earlier elections.

I mean, really. Cutting brake lines? WTF?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In Which We Raise A Glass

I was thinking that maybe it would be good idea to mention the other cats whom I have known over the years (and still do know, in many cases).

Therefore, and without further ado, here's to:

Abraham, Agata, Aiacina, Anthony, Bedelia, Belisarius, Benny, BPluff, BScreamy, Bubastis, Claudia, Cleopatra, Cooper, Delilah, Desdemona, Epaminonda (aka "Baffo"), Isaac, J.J., Ko-Ko, Lemke, Margherita, Micah, Misha, Nefertiti, Nuvola, Ophelia, P'tit Duc, Paint, Pest, Puah, Samson, Sarah, Taffeta, The Cat Whose Footprints I Found On An Ancient Roman Rooftile, The Nameless Kitten Who Lived With Us In Ossaia, and Yum-Yum.

This is obviously not a full list; for one thing, I can't remember the names of all of Bubastis' progeny (help with that, CR?), nor those of Baby Cat's sibs (Chorus?). Do feel free to suggest additions and corrections to the list! In fact, feel free to send in the names of cats that you've known. I'll add them to the list, and we'll salute them all!

UPDATE: I think we're getting there...

FURTHER UPDATE: Here are a couple of pictures of the recently departed one.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fabellae De Fele Taffeta

Well, as CR has already reported, we lost a friend this week. And so I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a couple of the many, many, anecdotes generated over the years by a most sociable and excellent cat.

  • Did I mention that she was sociable? I recall receiving a phone call from the local elementary school, requesting that I come over and pick her up. She had gone over to play with the kiddies during recess, and had simply gone into the school with them afterwards. Tired out from her exertions, she had then decided it was naptime, and so, when I arrived, she was curled up fast asleep. On the Principal's desk, of course.
  • She once joined a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses who had come to our door, and set off accompany them on their rounds. We could here them attempting to dissuade her as they headed off up the block ("Go home, Kitty! Go home!"). Eventually they succeeded, and she returned.
  • She did, once, nearly meet her end as the result of a chance encounter with a wandering coyote. I had just come around the back of our house into our driveway when Taffeta went past me at about Mach 7, leaving me face-to-face with the oncoming coyote. It stopped oncoming, and we stared at each other for a moment before it turned and ran off. As near as I can figure, the coyote had trapped Taffeta under our neighbour's low-rider van, where it couldn't quite get at her, and my appearance on the scene prompted her to make a break for it.
  • Ah, but the truly epic Taffeta story involves the ash tree in the front yard, which she liked to climb up and perch in. She was, in fact, perching in it one fine autumn day, when a young woman jogged by beneath her (I mention that it was autumn because the tree was bare, and in no way up to camouflaging the presence of a 14-lb cat). As the jogger passed by, Taffeta went into full National-Geographic-Special-on-jungle-panthers mode, and actually leapt from the branch on which she was perching at the oblivious jogger. However, and fortunately, she came up well short, and had to content herself with running at the jogger's ankles, causing the young woman to skip in startlement. It was truly a fine performance.

She was an excellent companion for many years, and is very much missed.