New Beer Reviews Soon

Dear readers, I will be having a short visit to my brother’s place this week. Whenever this happens, beer almost flows like water. So, I’m just giving you a heads up to prepare for more reviews of beer, which have been few and far between of late. Cheers!

By the way, I found a rather amusing picture:

Looking at that picture, their threat doesn’t seem very potent, does it?

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Fiction’s Raison D’Etre

Quite a long time has passed since anything has been posted, hasn’t it?  I can only excuse myself by saying that my attempts at writing a profound article on Elfen Lied have all failed thus far.  Some of you would likely reply to me that writing a profound article on Elfen Lied is like trying to write a profound article on Battle Vixens; that Elfen Lied made its name with gratuitous nudity and violence; and that it offers little besides that.  On the contrary, my article would reveal that the writer uses such things not simply in order to shock, but in order to highlight themes about the fallen nature of the world and humanity’s overwhelming desire for innocence.  Yet, despite the excellent material at my disposal, the article comes out flat.  Imagine me as a carpenter with all the materials necessary for a luxurious mansion, and yet, after all my hard work, a lean-to stands as the end result.  Then, a scruple keeps running through my mind: do I really want to convince anyone to watch it?  You see, even though the show contains many positive attributes, they truly do go too far with violence and nudity.  If this work were written as a novel, I should have no problem; but, the viewer must naturally see everything, and might find themselves tempted to lust or have their souls damaged in some other way.  Or is my scruple excessive?

Now to progress to the article proper: why do we bother reading or watching fiction?  Concerning books, a writer in the New York Times announced that fiction is dead.  Even though one still sees a sizable following, moderns do tend to prefer their newspapers and true accounts.  (I’m reminded of how Albert Camus said historians would describe the 20th century man: “He fornicated and read the newspapers.”)  We are much more greatly attracted to the exact truth than people of prior ages.  Where we use exact quotations, our ancestors of earlier historical epochs preferred indirect quotes and, if they used direct quotation, they used it to make passages more lively and were satisfied as long as they captured the general import of what the speaker wished to say.  Then, there’s also a religious bias against fiction that has existed since St. Augustine wrote his Confessions.  Why bother with fables and falsehoods when the Bible suffices?  In general, the modern man prefers his newspapers, books about current events, and history to a good novel or play–and even though fictional movies and TV shows are very popular, might not reality television and slice-of-life shows eventually win out?

So, what’s fiction’s major draw?  Entertainment?  I must say that the thought that one only watches such stories to be amused has bothered me of late.  Please note that the verb amuse derives from an Old French word meaning “to stare stupidly.”  If staring stupidly into a book or television screen sums up this activity, would it not be better to kill it in our lives and render it as dead as the writer from the New York Times claimed it to be?  History features plenty of entertaining personalities.  Travel narratives tell of many fascinating places around the world.  Would we not be better served reading these things for entertainment?  We should at least acquire the real benefit of enriching our minds about the world.

Aristotle and C. S. Lewis appear to give the most compelling reasons for us to continue this hobby.  Aristotle claims that fiction (yes, his Poetics concern tragedy, but the mythological tragedies he refers to are all fictional) stands superior to history because it teaches general truths, while history relates particular truths.  For example, a novelist will usually portray virtue as preferable to vice; on the other hand, history may relate the life of a ruthless individual who gained every material good before dying peacefully in his bed.  Certainly, the general truth of crime not paying is a better lesson to inculcate than the idea that backstabbing, lying, murder, adultery, and theft may offer a way to material happiness!  But, religion and philosophy also teach such truths, so this seems like an insufficient excuse to justify fiction’s existence–especially so since religions offer the combined knowledge of some of the most brilliant minds over the course of millenia.  The input of one flawed human being pales in contrast to that!

But, I do believe that C. S. Lewis gives us the best reason.  He states that we read in order to see the world using another mind.  In doing so, our own minds become larger.  Of course, one does prefer to read those who hold the same opinions one has, and it might be argued that certain authors may poison the minds of those reading them.  Although, the latter group tends to be formed of a small group of vicious men whom a well educated individual would have little trouble in perceiving–except in one case at any rate.  I mention the exception because most moderns have been subverted, and advocates of this poison have little trouble luring the majority of people into its net.  I am speaking of fornication.  If you don’t believe this can poison people, just watch the anime School Days.  It might offer a good perspective for those who have accepted the post-modern idea that fornication is not evil.

So, C. S. Lewis says that we ought to broaden our minds as much as possible by seeing it through other minds.  Each person is completely unique, and it is worthwhile to try to understand how they think.  Lewis went so far as to remark on how wonderful it would be if dogs could write so that we could see the world from their perspective as well!  Merely knowing someone’s philosophy does not suffice in giving us enough knowledge about him.  I might add that knowing only our own philosophy does not give us enough information to know ourselves either.  People are also a tangle of emotions, fears, idiosyncrasies, experiences, and God’s grace.  Only in fiction do we see how a man’s rational nature interacts with his intuitive/emotional nature.  One may know perfectly well that he should stand his ground combat and that flight is shameful; but, seeing one person after another mowed down, having bullets narrowly miss him, being deafened and shaken by the eruption of shells, and–worst of all!–watching someone else run for his life might have the accumulative effect of causing him to run.  An officer with understanding will think that this gentleman has a chance to recover and perform better in his next action.  One without this quality may have him shot.

Also, it’s easy to hate factions.  For example, one easily sees why a monarchical government is evil, and that anyone who supports it over a republic is a blithering idiot.  However, if we read books like Sir Walter Scott’s novels we might understand why a monarchy might appear attractive to someone, and we shall not only not hate such a person, but even take pains to bring such a person to our point of view rather than treating them as an idiot.  We might recommend some Alexandre Dumas to show how treacherous and bloodthirsty a monarchy can be.  And indeed, a novel might be more persuasive than a historical account.  For example, some people believe than Marxism can still work despite Communism killing about 94 million people in the 20th century.  Reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward might make them have second thoughts.  In summary, fiction is more useful than other modes of writing for helping us understand the psyche and allowing us to consider matters with emotion and intuition rather than just reason, which is why it refuses to die.  The entertainment we also receive is only a bonus.

So, does my reasoning miss the mark or did I get it about right?  I hope that you enjoyed this overlong article and that it makes up for my long hiatus!

Who is Your Apostle?

Both a passage from the Revelations of St. Gertrude and the fact that today is the Feast of St. Matthias (the Apostle who was chosen after Pentecost to take the position which had been held by Judas Iscariot) combined to give me the idea of this post.  While conversing with St. Gertrude, Jesus Christ told her (oh, if that sounded rather unexpected, be sure to read my little review of the work) that it had come to his attention that she had no apostle.  Thereupon, he presented St. John the Evangelist as her patron, and we are treated to a wide variety of revelations about how his purity and love of God and neighbor earned him many special joys in heaven.  Which reminds me of another passage where St. Gertrude asked Jesus what he was thinking about.  He responded by saying that he was thinking of how to reward St. Gertrude’s every good deed, good word, and good thought a hundred times over in heaven.  To think that in exchange for seventy years of toil, we gain an eternity of rest where we shall be rewarded infinitely above our deserts!

To return to the topic, reading this passage inspired me to have a devotion to St. Bartholomew.  (Thoughts about the greatness of the saints’ charity have inspired another digression.  Think of how great the difference must be between even the least saint in heaven and those of us still struggling down here.  How eager they are to listen to us and help us despite our wretchedness!  Imagine a shabby beggar approaching a richly dressed duke and asking the duke to petition the king for him.  Not only does the duke not turn the beggar away, but even directly makes his way to the king.  Further, he brings the beggar’s petition before the king and even asks the king to consider it as a request directly from him.)  I had long been attracted by those character traits of St. Bartholomew visible in the short passage where he features in the Gospel of John (John 1:43-50): his cheerfulness, simplicity, honesty, and wholeheartedness.  Also, one seems drawn into the joy with which Our Lord greets him: “Behold, a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.”  Then, the life of St. Bartholomew in the Aurea Legenda in which he converts an Indian kingdom from paganism by forcing the demon in the main idol to destroy this idol and all the other idols in the temple, and then having an angel present the demon in chains to the converted king is rather awesome.  Unfortunately, the king’s brother took offense at this, and–depite St. Bartholomew also defeating his idol–has St. Bartholomew flayed alive.  The chronicler also mentions that some people say he was flayed alive in Armenia, which is the most accepted version.  Needless to say, the king and his priests meet a bad end.

So, my question to you, dear readers, is whether you have a favorite apostle?  The reason may be because you value his intercession and/or are attracted to his character.  Did you decide on this only through scriptural accounts or did you look at other material?  St. Paul is a valid option too, by the way.

Favorite Teas

Well, dear readers. the the idea to write a post on some of my favorite teas came to mind.  As for which categories of tea I prefer, oolong takes first place, then black tea, followed by white tea, and green tea the last place.  I just prefer the flowery and yellow fruit flavors which one tends to find in oolong.  It’s particularly relaxing after a hard or stressful day.  Oolong’s caffeine level stands midway between black and green teas, so it won’t keep one awake all night.  Black tea is practically a sine qua non for me in the morning: the morning doesn’t start until that first sip of Assam or whatever strong tea fills my cup passes my lips.  Occasionally, I do have coffee, but I often find myself making a pot of tea afterwards anyway.  Then, green tea goes well during the afternoon or dinner.  Even though I prefer white tea to green tea, sometimes there is difficulty in finding the right occasion for it: having a cup or two of white tea used to be my favorite way of sobering up from a drinking party; so, it’s often the last tea of the day.  Now, I shall name which specific strains of tea within each of these four categories are my favorite.

My favorite Oolong has always been Phoenix Mountain Oolong.  It’s flavors of honeysuckle and apricot are particularly endearing.  At the moment, I’m trying an oolong from the same region sourced by Adagio Teas, named Dancong Aria.  It’s also quite wonderful, but the flavors seem a little less intense than what I remember in the Peet’s oolong.

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Hop Wallop

A long time ago, I promised to start reviewing Victory Brewing Co.’s beers.  The first of these articles is finally here!  A couple of nights ago, I visited a friend’s place bearing a six pack of Hop Wallop, which far exceeded the expectations I had for it.  You see, American craft beer drinkers love hops; so, one often finds IPAs either containing enough pineyness to remind one of gin or such overwhelming citrus that one thinks one’s downing some grapefruit juice.

From the high ABV of 8.5% and the name “Hop Wallop,” one expect that this will be an abrasively hoppy ale.  However, developing such an expectation means that one has forgotten the softness of the water this brewer employs.  This prevents the hops from taking a rough edge.  We see a similar effect in Czech Pilsners.  Hop Wallop stands as an incredibly drinkable American Double with delectable flavors of pineapple, tangerine, and honeysuckle.  One really has to be careful not to drink this one too fast; otherwise, the 8.5 % ABV will soon turn one into a blithering idiot–which, by the way, is the name of a tasty barley wine from another Pennsylvania brewer, Weyerbacher.  The only drawback I can see in this beer is the high ABV, which effectively prevents one from having as much of it as one would like.

Cheers!

The Michel Thomas Spanish Course

Dear readers, I’ve mentioned in my about page that I enjoy learning new languages.  Let me tell you about my favorite method: learning through audio tapes while driving.  This method has its ups and downs.  At times, I lose concentration while driving, which has led to some sloppy performance behind the wheel to say the least, and what is happening on the road often makes me unable to pay attention to the lesson.  Yet, studying a foreign language beats listening to the same songs on the radio one thousand times.  Listening to audio lessons makes me feel that my time driving has not been lost.  This article claims that we spend 290 hours a year (a little over 12 days) driving.  That’s a loss of almost two weeks!

I’ve just about finished the Michel Thomas Spanish course for beginners.  You must read this biography about the teacher’s most interesting life.  The most amusing line is how he fled from Poland and immigrated to Germany to escape anti-Semitism as a young boy.  How things changed!  At any rate, he’s a splendid language teacher.  I had gone through a Pimsleur course on Spanish prior to this.  That course made me confident that I could communicate enough to order food, buy things, and the like in Spain, which is very important.  However, after finishing the Michel Thomas course, I felt that I could attempt to read a Spanish novel with the help of a grammar and dictionary.

You see, both the Pimsleur method and the Michel Thomas one employ repetition; but, the former course relies on one memorizing set phrases and matching one’s pronounciation to native speakers by ear.  On the other hand, the Michel Thomas course utilizes a classroom set up with two pupils who are even more ignorant of Spanish than the average beginner is.  Michel Thomas is the teacher and is constantly correcting his pupils, which makes it easier to perceive where one is going wrong.  This course also includes informative digressions about the Spanish language to help the student gain a clearer understanding of how the language works and proper pronunciation.  (His digression on the definition of nouns, verbs, and adjectives stood as the only unhelpful one: the classic definitions which you learned in grammar school work well enough.)  Then, I also love how he concentrates on verbs, which are always the most difficult part of a language and must be thoroughly understood for fluency.  He even went over the present, past (really the perfect tense if Spanish is anything like Latin), imperfect, future, and present progressive forms!  Let me also mention here that, unlike Pimsleur, he does not teach Castillian, but the dialect spoken in the Americas.  Yet, he does describe where and how Castillian differs so that one can also understand Spaniards.

So, I highly recommend this course for those of you who also like learning languages or think that it might be a worthwhile way to make your long drives more productive.

Chaos; Head Revisited

The thought occurred to me that some time has passed since my little article on Gokudo.  A blog named Medieval Otaku ought to have more anime posts; so, dear readers, this post will consist of some thoughts about Chaos; Head, which I’m enjoying for a second time.  Only the last two episodes containing the amazing finale separate me from finishing it.  Watching it again makes me wonder why such great enthusiasm for it filled me the first time around.  I do believe one of my friends considers this show to be among his top ten, but the show only performs at an above average level.

Having said that, I’m still rather fond of Chaos; Head.  The main character, Takumi Nishijou, lives the life of a reclusive otaku–almost a hikikomori, which allows me to identify with him quite easily–though less so than formerly.  In a critical situation, he says perhaps the most endearing line ever uttered by an anime character: “I knew that I should have stayed home, watched anime, and played video games!”  To tell you the truth, he’s almost Shinji-esque, but the fact that he’s a more active character (How amazing to think that a reclusive anime junkie should have more drive than a giant robot pilot!) and that he’s not motivated by other people’s praise make him much more sympathetic.  The harem aspect also appealed to me on my first viewing, though my present age made this less of a factor the second time.

The plot begins with a series of bizarre murders with which our hero becomes unwittingly involved.  He chats with the wrong person online, finds himself at the site of one of these murders, unthinkingly flees the scene with one of the murder weapons, soon winds up associating with people possessing the power of making “delusions” reality, and catches the attention of the evil corporation hoping to make us of this power.  The show goes on to give a philosophical/pseudo-scientific explanation of how this works, which I then found rather deep and now consider trite; but, it still bolsters this show with enough substance to make it more enjoyable.

My cutthroat description of the plot might have turned many of you away.  But, this show still has many enjoyable aspects.  The show opens powerfully before episodes 5-8 plunge us into a sagging middle, but episodes 9 and 10 begin a crescendo leading into the fantastic finale of the last two episodes.  These two episodes stand as one of the most enjoyable finales in anime, packed with great action and we cheer Takumi on as he overcomes his limitations and gains the courage to stand against the ringleader of the villains.  The profusion of “anime lines” (You know what I mean; e.g. “Are you a member of the Church of Natural Divine Light?”) and awkward scenes make this an especially great show to watch with friends.  Nevertheless, I can still only consider it above average.

Now, a related anime which you may prefer to watch is Steins; Gate, a masterpiece which I’ll await another time to describe.  Let me just say that one Crunchyroll viewer claimed that he’s seen it seven times.  I cannot blame him in the least: the anime studio even seems to have taken pains in order to make the audience learn new things with each viewing, and the plot and characters are outstanding.

Anti-Teaism

Having just post onThe Book of Tea, I need to laugh at this event which happened in a park known as Deep Cut Park today.  Those of you who happen to reside in the eastern half of Monmouth County, New Jersey have likely paid it a visit.  On a prior day, I brought The Book of Tea with me to the park, and the similarity of the park’s structure to a tea house and its environs struck me.  Consider the parking lot as the ante chamber.  From there, we begin to walk on a path which leads us to a small pond containing several large orange and white koi and many smaller fish.  After the sight of these fish bores us, we move farther along the path.  The abundance of trees obscures the parking lot from us as we descend a gently sloping staircase.  On each side, we have dense, wide-spanning trees lining the way with purple and white flower bushes adding splashes of color against a dark green background.  Eventually, a vista opens up with a garden and a gazebo at the path’s end.  The flowers among this garden’s shrubbery have yet to bloom, but it’s still a very pleasing walk.  Like the roji before your traditional sukiya (the Japanese word for a tea house/cottage, lit. “house of fancy”), this does a marvelous job separating us from the cares of the outside world.

Today, I selected a bench overlooking the gazebo from which to write.  As I wrote, a large procession consisting of a pair of newly weds and their eighty or so guests arrived.  I suppose the best way to ensure that the roji does not separate one from the world is to bring the world with one!  How greatly this defeats the purpose!  Though these people are also coming here to enjoy the environs, how well can they while surrounded by people as they mill about the gazebo?  They almost might as well have chosen a mall.

Then, I noticed a gray catbird hopping about under the bush next to where I sat.  Seeing that he had an admirer, he hopped onto the bench beside mine and looked me straight in the eye.  Never have I seen a catbird so used to the presence of a human being!  I sat petrified, scared that the slightest movement should frighten him.  As it presented its somberly beautiful gray and black plumage to me, it seemed to say: “Enjoy my beauty, dear visitor.  I’m invisible to the rest.”  Then, having entertained its sole guest, he flew away.

Review of Okakura’s The Book of Tea

For those of my dear readers who did not know me in college, I am a tea connoisseur.  My preference for tea has existed at least since I turned ten.  Some time after that, I began to indulge in coffee but always considering it a lesser drink to be enjoyed with much milk and five teaspoons of sugar until after my college years.  Indeed, in my dorm room, you could find eight to ten high quality teas and a box of Folger’s bagged coffee just in case I needed a change of pace.  Even now that I enjoy coffee more, I usually keep only one premium coffee.  You see, I felt that all coffees were the same, but tea held real variety!  In the early days, Bigelow’s Raspberry Royal was the most prized of teas, now it’s Phoenix Mountain Oolong (a Peet’s item.  In addition to their coffees, they also offer some very high quality tea).

In order to enrich my tea hobby, I got a couple of works on tea.  One is an incredibly dense and informative work called The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by Francois-Xavier Delmas et al. and the other is Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, which will be the book under review.  Okakura is famed for his resistance to the Westernization trend during the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).  He wrote two other works (also in English): The Ideals of the East and The Awakening of Japan in order to explain Japanese Culture to a Western audience.  He strove to demonstrate that there is much good to Asian culture and that it is worthwhile for Westerners to understand it–samurai are not the only worthwhile part of Japanese culture!  For someone working in a second language, his skill with English is incredible.  Also, the boldness of his style seems equal to the best passages in Nietzsche, and the variety of information and humor in this particular work make its 49 pages fly by!  I’d highly recommend picking this work up, especially as it deals with a part of Japanese culture which has almost disappeared.

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Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

This feast was established in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a response to May Day, but it is also a way to affirm the dignity of workers and work.  One of the greatest saints in heaven was a humble carpenter!  In the modern era, two forces seem to try to strip workers of their dignity: a Social Darwinist form of capitalism by degrading workers as wage slaves and nothing more than cogs in a Capitalist’s machine and Communism by despising the masses as ignorant and making them cogs in the state’s machine.  Pope Leo XIII had already addressed this in an encyclical named Rerum Novarum (literally Latin for “Of New Things,” but Romans referred to revolutions by calling them new things; hence, the more accurate translation “Of Revolution”) on May 15, 1891.  In this encyclical, he wrote about the rights of workers to fair conditions and wages and the rights of the rich to their property and personal safety.  Pope Leo XIII basically paved a middle way between the two extremes.  Though, the idea that the rich have certain obligations to the poor and that people have a right to their property have long roots in the Catholic Church.  Leo XIII was basically just giving the modern world a summary of them.

Wishing you a happy Feast of St. Joseph the Worker!

Finally Posted Again!

Well, it’s been quite a while since I posted, hasn’t it?  I just wrote a page about the devotion to Mary’s Seven Sorrows.  This is one of my most important devotions.  Things just do not seem to go right for me unless I pray this devotion as early in the day as I can.  I hope that this proves beneficial to many of you here.

To tell you the truth, an acute case of writer’s block came over me several days ago.  Even the article on Gokudo feels a bit clunky to me.  But, the thought kept recurring to me that this writer’s block would end when I had written about Our Lady of Sorrows.  So, let’s see if this is just a fancy of mine or true.  I feel that I should write an article about today’s feast day, St. Joseph the Worker, and another one on The Book of Tea by Kakuzou Okakura.  Look forward to them!