Which to drink, and which to use for rinsing the brush?

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… is driving me mad.

First, I won an e-book reader. It is actually quite handy, as you can take the equivalent of about a ton of books wherever you go (and there is a lot of stuff for free on Gutenberg project, and the like). Nevertheless, I have found myself (I am horribly ashamed to say) swiping my fingers across the (paper) pages of actual books to turn pages.

I should have known better, but, in order to sort of replace (or at least supplement) my much loved, aging Samsung 10” netbook, I got myself a 10” convertible (i.e. a keybord + tablet combination). Now, when I am not getting crazy trying to fight Windows 8 on the tablet, I am trying, in vain, to operate my netbook by fingering its (non-touch) screen. Argh!

Add to this the mental challenge of remembering which port and which cable can communicate with whom: My micro-USB-to-USB adapter plugged into the USB port of the keybord of the convertible can connect to the USB-to-micro-USB adapter of the charging cable of my e-book. The tablet and my camera, however,  have propriotary charging cables, and the tablet, unlike the netbook, has only a micro SD reader and no SD reader. If my mother’s camera’s SD card slot is somehow, enigmatically, configured in a different way to my camera’s SD slot, there is, consequently, no way for me to access my photographs during a trip without an extra mini-USB-to-USB cable, which I did not take on a trip, as it was needed for neither the tablet, camera, e-book reader, or USB stick on their own.

Do not let me get started on mobile phone SIM card sizes,or, worse, the (in-)compatibilities between mini-HD, HD, and VGA ports and plugs, respectively.

There is nothing like technological progress.

… but maybe you need a birthday present soon?

I was having a pious telephone conversation with Magdalena where we pondered how to make praying the Holy Rosary attractive to children who are not that much steeped in Catholic culture. Magdalena suggested that, in analogy to what appears to be the thing in childrens’ books, there should be a rosary available that says the Hail Mary when you squeeze the beads. I idly typed ‘electronic rosary’ into Google. While half of me wishes I had not, the other half looks at it as one of the high points of the day.

Just two examples (only the tasteful ones, mind!):

Electronic_Rosary_1 available here 


available here, but also here.

Words fail me.

[And this is but the tip of the iceberg. Beware, if I ever feel really bored, I might post some of the other stuff I found.]


As I mentioned, Seraphic has started to continue writing chapters of the ‘Bodis Riper’. And once you have re-re-re-read, and re-re-re-re-read the whole thing, what do you do, waiting for new instalments? You proceed by association: great fiction with crush-worthy male protagonist –> Lord Peter Wimsey –> last Dorothy Sayers novel you gave your mother as a birthday present –> reference to Ruritanian novels.

Ruritarian novels. – No? –Well, well, well: ‘Ruritania’ seems to be the very equivalent of ‘Alice and Bob’ when referring to countries. More specifically, it has become a ‘generic term for any small, imaginary, Victorian or Edwardian Era, European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and the plots of adventure novels’.

And it all started with this novel: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Antony Hope Hawkins (1894), and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau (1898).

Neither novel, and I would like to stress this, is great art (this is, after all, a series on pop culture). Nevertheless, it makes quite amusing reading, at the very least on a meta-level (I will come back to that phenomenon when addressing Star Trek). The hero is an English gentleman, and the whole story has a lot of stiff upper lip and of the ‘If’ spirit (which it predates, I know, I know). While there is a LOT of cheesiness, a minimum standard of good taste is still maintained in this respect. O yes, there is drama galore, including the story of an entire novel [moderate spoiler alert] with quite some casualties all starting just with a rather unnecessary, or at least imprudent, love letter. But even though you pretty well know what is going to happen (helped by plentiful foreshadowing) tension is kept, and within the rather unrealistic setting, WSoD* is relatively easy. What contributes to this, and also, IMHO, to the artistic value, is that both novels [Spoiler Alert] end sadly, in a way.

Informed by Wikipedia that the expressions of ‘Ruritarian’ and ‘Graustarkian’ novels are used almost synonymously, and seeing that the Graustark series consists of quite a number of novels, I valiantly dived into it. With regret, I have to say. There are very few novels I actually stopped reading. This one came terribly close. In fact, towards the end, I just scanned the text to see if the outcome was as I thought it would be, or if there would be some saving surprise (hint: it was, on the whole, worse than I had thought). The hero (as is the author) is an American, and all through the story, he is great just because he is an American (Not saying the Ruritarian novels are not full of, let us say, patriotic idealization. But at least it is far more subtle, and, within the story, deserved.) And that is another aspect: Even within the story setting, the characters are not only inconsistent and unbelievable, but outright vexing. No WSoD here, no. Towards the end [moderate spoiler alert] I would have viewed the beheading of Grenfal Lorry, if not with approbation, at least with relief. I am (in spite of what I will report on in this series) no reader of the sort of ‘romance’ novels sold at news agents as crassly coloured booklets. Still I suppose that, paradoxically, McCutcheons somewhat greater gift with language makes these his flights of improbable, implausibly, ouright annoying high emotion probably even more painful to read.

Enough. The conclusion of this first installment (and I am just warming up; there is better stuff , hopefully, coming up later): If you wish to pleasantly flush you brain, or are amused by retro pop-culture: Read The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau. Avoid the Graustarkian novels unless you are really thrilled by So-Bad-It’s-Good stuff (and maybe even then).

*Willing Suspension of Disbelief


Deary deary me. How serious and intellectual this blog has become. No offence meant, of course. I just wonder if we have entirely lost shoe post readers by now [if not, give a sign of life, please…], because, if so, it is probably all my fault. Now I do have this absolutely brilliant series on pop culture in my head, ranging from Ruritanian novels over Georgette Heyer, Isaac Asimov and Start Trek to the Vorkosigan series (chronologically, that is). Plus cool webcomics, just you know. I just feel cowed by the standards set here because finding time for serious reflection is – difficult. I wish I could just let my inner child write, who does not care for this.

And this leads me to the hot tip of the month: Seraphic is CONTINUING the BODIS RIPER ! Who would have thought it! If you do not know it as yet, go here – that is the start of part 3 only, but if you send Seraphic’s Inner Child some really cool fan art, who knows if she will not send you parts 1 and 2 as well (I don’t, but you could ask her…[sorry Seraphic, this is no attempt at blackmail]).

Oh yes. And I found this draft that is three years old, but could have been re-written a number of times in the interval. Just as a shoe post in between.

A Cynic’s Notes to Self  – No. 38

Never travel in trains without earplugs.

Unless you are really filled with unshakable universal charity, this constitutes at least a near occasion for sin. It is highly unlikely that you will manage to offer your fellow passengers’ annoying behaviour up without first harbouring uncharitable thoughts to a degree that at least cancels any later merit.

You will not feel indulgent towards the elderly man opposite you who, with highly inefficient headphones, allows you to listen to his music in nearly original volume, not if the absolute high point of this music is ‚Dschinghis Khan’ and your thoughts continually and helplessly slip from your work to fantasies of grasping his discman and jumping on it. His varying the noise composition by munching unindentifiable, but very crunchy snacks over a prolongued period will not soften your heart.

You will develop no sisterly feelings for the young woman, just slightly older than yourself, who starts a conversation with an apparently nice and sensible business man opposite to her. You will rather think that in that conversation, sense is distributed uncommonly asymmetrically between the two partners. Her casually mentioning her working hours (till 9 pm); or how much nicer long-distance flights, to Canada, for example, usually are compared to inter-European flights; or how annoying train travel is, with all the long distances you have to walk on the platforms instead of just getting directly from the luggage reclaim to the taxi: none of this will further endear her to yourself.

In the end, you will be annoyed at yourself for starting violently at her mentioning her dissertation: has your experience still not told you that completed doctorates are a remarkably weak predictor for individuals’ intelligence?

All this is but very slightly set off by the profound sympathy between yourself and the man opposite to you, whose frantically moving lips indicate that he is finding the book he is reading somewhat hard to follow in the present circumstances, too, and who occasionally exchanges glances of shared suffering with you.


As Magdalena and I were walking in the lovely hills of England, we had a package of fudge biscuits with us for provisions. And I thought to myself, idly plodding along, that while these were lovely yet unavailable in Germany, how hard could it be to make some?

So, even though these days I am not that keen on baking unless I have to, for some reason, I actually started to search for inspirations on the web, and found these. Now, as they are called ‘cookies’ there, and we can’t be having with this here, and as I have some comments and changes, my own brilliant version below.

Take a whole package (250 g) of butter (soft, out of the fridge for a while) and mix it thoroughly with the equal amount (250 g) of sugar (recipe says brown sugar, I used half brown, half white). Just mix for a while, all these phrases as ‘beat foamy’ or ‘cream together’ just try to make you feel bad: I challenge you to get this stuff look creamy. Add two eggs and 2 table spoons of vanilla extract (if you are lazy, and live in a civilized country, just take two packages of vanilla sugar), and go on mixing for a bit.

Mix come 330 g, or so, of flour, 1 tea-spoon of baking powder, and a little bit of salt in another bowl. Than add the crucial ingredients: nuts and fudge. The original recipe says 100 g of pecan nuts (which are expensive). I used about 100 g of mixed nuts and almonds, chopped into smaller pieces (size depending on taste and diligence). Now the most important bit: Fudge. If you live in fudge-selling countries, take 170  g of it and chop into small pieces. If you live in Germany, take any toffee (Karamellbonbon) and spend ages unwrapping each of the pieces and trying to chop them into small pieces, give up and chop them into large pieces instead.

Having already switched on the oven and preheated it to 180 °C, mix flour mixture with butter mixture quickly, and put dough on a greased baking tray (better: a baking tray lined with baking paper): a blob of about 1 tablespoon per biscuit; it does not matter how misshapen the blob, just leave enough space around it – this rather dubiously textured dough will melt and flow sideways and rise in a most astounding fashion. Bake for about 12 min.

I was making these as a sort of experiment, but with the intention of giving some of them to a colleague who had done me a favour. Looking at the, let us say, strangly formed things I felt rather apologetic of inflicting them on him. But apparently, he hardly got any, as his family were devouring them. Same effect on other colleagues, and, though I say so myself: quite a challenge for my own self control, as, if you put them into an airtight container after they have cooled down, they appear to get even better over the next couple of weeks. Just do not add up the calories but tell yourself that butter at least, if from grazing cows, is immensely healthy for you – and enjoy.


In my ongoing quest of watching all 79 episodes of Star Trek – The Original Series (TOS), I have stumbled on a rather unusual one. An anonymous friend once characterized TOS as “banal American optimism”, comparing it favourably to its successor series’ Evil Nietzscheanism. There is a lot to be said for banal optimism, American or otherwise, for emotional-anaesthesia and/or gently-rinsing-one’s-brain-at-the-end-of-the-day purposes. Therefore, I like Star Trek best when it does not focus on deep philosophical contents, because when it does, it usually, and not surprisingly, gets it  wrong (Although, to be fair, the general rule of Narm Charm holds even here: when Star Trek is good, its is good; when it is bad, it is usually So Bad it’s Good).

The episode in question is ‘Bread and Circuses’, and has been generally rated as rather mediocre (possibly justified, though there are far worse), and, interestingly, as sort of  betraying what Star Trek stands for. The script is written by no less than (Star Trek inventor) Gene Roddenberry and (inventor of Klingons, Prime Directive, and much more) Gene L. Coon. Kirk , Spock and McCoy beam down to a hitherto uncharted planet to find it a planet of Space Romans – Romans with -us names, the Roman deities, slavery (albeit more humanized), arena fights (circuses!) – and Earth 20th century technology. For the first time, we even get an explanation why all these suspiciously Earth-history like planets are not just a ruse to make the most of pre-existing scenery and costume in a low-budget production: it is due to Hodgekins’ Law of Parallel Planetary Development. As I said, science explains everything.

Anyway, Kirk, Spock and McCoy first run into a group of runaway slaves drawn together by a sun (?)  worship with ideals of brotherhood, non-violence even in the face of cruel treatment (i.e., they are the goodies of the episode). McCoy is confused, as he does not know of any sun worship amongst Earth Romans, and everything on the planet is just so plausibly transformed-into-20th-century Romanism. However, everyone is far too busy being imprisoned, threatened, made to fight in the arena, consoled by pretty half-clad blonde alien females, and the like, to bother about that detail. Happily back on the Enterprise, they pick up this thought again, and Uhura is able to clarify things: She has been listening to the Space Romans’ radio programme, in which they tried to ridicule that religion of the protesting slaves, without success. It turns out they do not worship the sun, but the Son: Christ. And Kirk is blithely intrigued, wishing it was possible for him to “see it all happening again” – confident that slavery and arenas will soon disappear on this (unimaginatively named) Planet 4 of star system 892 through the rise of Christianity.

Given this:


They are peaceful Christionas and won’t use this gun on Kirk & Co.



might be a cool nerdy Christian witness T-shirt. You could have bets who among your pious friends gets it.

This could be a good place to discuss the questions of  a) whether, theologically, we can exclude the possibility of intelligent non-human life out there somewhere, b) whether, if there should be intelligent non-human life out there somewhere, they are either not fallen, and have a natural end, or fallen, and unredeemed, or fallen, and redeemed by Our Lord, or what. It could also be used as a justification of wasting one’s time with watching Star Trek, because, hey, it is after all, sometimes, and awkwardly, sort of Christian, isnt’ it?


On the one hand we have this gender neutral nightmare on the other hand this terrifying caricature of femininity. I seem to remember some feminists are hostile to ‘trans’ personages as the very concept implies objective gender roles. I suppose these awful ‘Lego Friends’ represent extreme Platonic gender realism or something. On the one hand we have the gender nominalists where everything is a social construct and then on the other we have separated subsisting genders in which the transitory shadow-beings of earth fleetingly participate. Time for gender Thomism.

As there have been certain requests to somewhat raise the girly note of this blog again, I hit upon the topic of ‘getting older’.  When a colleague of mine turned 30 this year, and literally fled the country on that occasion, I had little sympathy. When I myself turned thirty, I was conscious of a sudden influx of maturity, equanimity and wisdom that enabled me from that moment onwards to look down with incredible benevolence on those young folks in their twenties with whom I had to do. Looking into the future, I guess turning 50 also has a sort of romance to it. But 40 – that, I thought, might be possibly the only milestone birthday (goodness me, there seems to be no proper translation for this concept!) that might be thought depressing. However, one has to face these things – and some time ago I realized that 40 was the age at which one could leave behind oneself all attempts of appearing ‘youthful’, and instead, turn eccentric.

Proposing that idea to a group of female friends, I was met with astonishing enthusiasm. But the question also came up: What would you do to be eccentric? Personally, I would have my hair cut quite short, either dye it bright red or (as this is unfortunately  too an common idea) just leave it to grey in a haphazard and undyed way; wear glasses with broad black rims (I know, they are fashionable now, but hopefully will not be by then) and look at students coming into my office over the rim of these; I will wear brightly coloured clothes of unusual cut, and large necklaces (I am even pondering if the option of wearing huge, unusually shaped earrings might not be worth to get myself earring holes, but I think it is not worth it). Of course one would not have a television, or a car, and steadfastly refuse to be on twitter, facebook, or whatever new fad might be around by then. Already, I have started to use a fountain pen and bought myself a paper (!) diary for 2013.

Aelianus also suggested to me to put a quote of Cato or Varro in every one of my lectures (though unfortunately they were not as prolific on meadows as they were on other agricultural subjects).Forty would also be the time to start saying: ‘I call it Elymus repens. I do not care what they choose to call it now: they will change it back or to something else in five years’ time, anyway, and I am beyond caring for these short-lived whims.’ Having even the slightest tinge of a British sense of humour (by association) would make one an eccentric in Germany in any case. One could add to this by frequent references to Terry Pratchett (may God grant him the grace of conversion), Woodhouse, Dorothy Sayers, and 19th century English novelists, besides, please God, being offensively Catholic.

Yet: is the potential already exhausted? Any creative ideas would be welcome.

Stood all the way through Maundy Thursday Mass (thank you mr organist for growly pedal reeds and lots of mixtures in the Gloria!), stood all the way through the Good Friday liturgy (in heels, for about two hours) stood all the way through the Vigil (2 hrs 20 mins, approx, in heels), stood all the way through Easter Sunday Mass (about an hour), got to sit for Mass on Monday BUT spent most of the day on my feet (in heels) and then on the train back to Warsaw two Fat Conductors were sitting in the seats in the guard’s van and so I stood (in heels) all the way (ok, only about half an hour) to Warsaw with a humungous 12 kg back pack on, and having bike had to stand all the way in the metro too.

I am glad so many people go to the Triduum liturgies, but this year I think I will wear my extravagantly comfortable squishy walking boots with the added superergonometrical posh insoles.

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