Thursday, December 29, 2005

Calvin and Hobbes follow-up

It seems that recently I've always been either too busy or too lazy to give our Complete Calvin and Hobbes a full inspection. But to those who have been wondering whether there are other altered strips besides the one I wrote about in September, I can now report that the answer is yes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Memo to Santa

Don't go to Washington this year. Send the polar bears instead.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Przewalski's horse returns

Another species has been reclaimed from extinction, this time through human efforts. The Daily Telegraph reports:

A working group of scientists at London Zoo has now recommended that Przewalski's horse, previously characterised as "extinct" in the wild, should now be listed as "endangered".

It is a rare case of a species climbing away from extinction. If the new status is accepted by IUCN, the World Conservation Union, scientists say it will be a milestone for large mammal conservation.

In 1945, there were only 31 of Przewalski's horses in captivity, but by the early 1990s there were more than 1,500, and reintroductions began in their harsh native environment in Mongolia.

Przewalski's is the only true wild horse and is genetically dissimilar to the domestic horse, having a different number of chromosomes. It was discovered [presumably they mean 'described'] by a Russian, Col Nikolai Przewalski, in 1879.

It was hunted heavily by local people from the 17th century and its extinction in the wild came through further hunting at the end of the Second World War. The decline was exacerbated through agriculture in its natural habitat.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government announced that it would be spending $680,000 to expand a breeding centre for the horses.

There are lots of pictures and videos of these gorgeous animals at

Friday, December 16, 2005

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's most famous novelist, appeared in court today to face charges of 'denigrating Turkishness and the republic.' The judge promptly halted the trial, however, and scheduled it to resume in early February pending a government review.

I had heard a lot about Pamuk's prosecution, which was sparked by an interview in which he held Turkey responsible for the
Armenian genocide and the oppression of the Kurds. But I didn't realise that the law he was charged with violating had been passed four months after he made the remarks. Apparently this sort of ex post facto case requires approval from the Turkish justice ministry, and the prosecutors haven't got it yet. After court was adjourned, the minister of justice said it would take a long time to examine the file, then blamed the media for stirring things up.

I suspect the government is planning to let the case drop. This is no surprise, since the prosecution has provoked an international outcry and caused many foreign politicians to question Turkey's fitness to join the EU. Letting Pamuk off on a technicality would allow Turkey to get out of the mess without losing face. Unfortunately, it would also leave the wider issues unaddressed.

(On a personal level, all this has me thinking I should read Pamuk's Snow, which has been sitting on my 'to-be-read' shelf for a while now.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Judges 11:1-3, 29-40

And Jephthah the Gileadite was strong in strength. He was the son of a woman who was a whore, and Giled begot Jephthah. Giled’s wife also bore him sons, and the sons of the wife grew up and cast out Jephthah, saying to him, ‘You will not inherit in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.’ And Jephthah fled from the face of his brothers and settled in the land of Tov, and empty men flocked to him and went out with him. …

And a spirit of the Eternal came upon Jephthah, and he crossed through Gilead and Manasseh and past the watchtower of Gilead, and from the watchtower of Gilead he crossed over to the sons of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow to the Eternal, saying ‘If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then [it will happen that] the one who comes forth from the doors of my house to greet me on my return in peace from the sons of Ammon will be the Eternal’s, and I will offer him up as a holocaust.’

And Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight with them, and the Eternal gave them into his hand. And he battered them from Aroer until you come to Minnith, twenty cities, and until Avil Kamim, (with) very great slaughter; and the sons of Ammon were humbled in the face of the sons of Israel.

And Jephthah came to the point overlooking his house, and behold, his daughter came out to greet him with timbrels and dances. She was his only one; he had no son or daughter besides her. And [it happened that] when he saw her, he tore his garment and said, ‘Ah, my daughter, you have brought me very low, and you have been the cause of my disturbance; I have opened my mouth to the Eternal, and I cannot go back.’

And she said to him, ‘My father, you have opened your mouth to the Eternal; do to me that which came forth from your mouth. After all, the Lord has made revenge for you upon your enemies, the sons of Ammon.’ And she said to her father, ‘Do this thing for me: leave me alone for two months so I can go and descend on the mountains and weep over my virginity, I and my friends.’

And he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months, and she and her friends went and wept over her virginity on the mountains. And [it happened that] at the end of two months she went back to her father, and he carried out on her the vow that he had vowed. She had not known a man.

And it became prescribed in Israel. From that day to this, the daughters of Israel go to recall the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days in the year.

(My translation)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Speak ye uncomfortably

I'm a lector at my church, and the passage I had to read at Mass this morning was both easy and difficult. Easy, because it's one of the most famous and beautiful passages in the Old Testament: Isaiah 40:1-11, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. ...' Unlike some of the drier paragraphs of St Paul, for example, you don't have to think about how to read this one expressively.

Yet it was difficult, because in the
translation used by the Catholic Church in this country, it isn't 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people' at all; it's 'Console my people, console them.' Although I try to concentrate on the sense rather than the sounds, it's hard not to choke on lines like 'Let every valley be filled in.' (As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison once remarked, 'Try setting that to Handel.')

This would be easier to take if the modern translation were more accurate than the King James version, but that isn't always the case. Take the phrase I just quoted (better known to music-lovers as 'Every valley shall be exalted'). The Jerusalem Bible's version is a direct translation from the Septuagint (πασα φάραγξ πληροθήσεται), but I would have hoped that in the 21st century we wouldn't still be translating Hebrew scriptures via a frequently inaccurate Greek version. The Hebrew contains nothing to justify the Jerusalem Bible's translation. The word for what is going to happen to the valleys, נשא (which is used here in a passive form), means 'to lift up' (physically) or 'to exalt' (in status); it never means 'to fill in.'

The Jerusalem Bible's translation takes a description of a miraculous occurrence (who but God can 'lift up' a valley?) and turns it into something man-made ('filling' valleys is what sleazebag coal companies do in Appalachia). It also ignores the metaphorical meaning of נשא and destroys the parallel with the mountains and hills in the next part of the verse (שפל, which the Jerusalem Bible accurately translates as 'be laid low', can mean either 'be lowered physically' or 'be humbled').

Although this translation doesn't seem to have come from as far out of left field as
'mother' for τροφός in 1 Thessalonians, it is none the less ugly and misleading. Things like this make me wonder why the Church has used the Jerusalem Bible for so long.