Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews recounts a fascinating version of the struggle between Joseph and his brothers when he frames Benjamin with theft as a pretext to recall them to Egypt:
Even the angels descended from heaven to earth to be spectators of the combat between Joseph the bull and Judah the lion …
[Judah’s] outcry reached to a distance of four hundred parasangs, and when Hushim the son of Dan heard it in Canaan, he jumped into Egypt with a single leap and joined his voice with Judah’s, and the whole land was on the point of collapsing from the great noise they produced. Joseph’s valiant men lost their teeth, and the cities of Pithom and Raamses were destroyed, and they remained in ruins until the Israelites built them up again under taskmasters. Also Judah’s brethren, who had kept quiet up to that moment, fell into a rage, and stamped on the ground with their feet until it looked as though deep furrows had been torn in it by a ploughshare. And Judah addressed his brethren, “Be brave, demean yourselves as men, and let each one of you show his heroism, for the circumstances demand that we do our best.”
Then they resolved to destroy Mizraim, the city of Egypt, and Judah said, “I will raise my voice, and with it destroy Egypt.”
Reuben: “I will raise my arm, and crush it out of existence.”
Simon: “I will raise my hand, and lay waste its palaces.”
Levi: “I will draw my sword, and slay the inhabitants of Egypt.”
Issachar: “I will make the land like unto Sodom.”
Zebulon: “Like unto Gomorrah will I render it.”
Dan: “I will reduce it to a desert.”
Then Judah’s towering rage began to show signs of breaking out: his right eye shed tears of blood; the hair above his heart grew so stiff that it pierced and rent the five garments in which he was clothed; and he took brass rods, bit them with his teeth, and spat them out as fine powder. When Joseph observed these signs, fear befell him, and in order to show that he, too, was a man of extraordinary strength, he pushed with his foot against the marble pedestal upon which he sat, and it broke into splinters. Judah exclaimed, “This one is a hero equal to myself!” Then he tried to draw his sword from its scabbard in order to slay Joseph, but the weapon could not be made to budge, and Judah was convinced thereby that his adversary was a God-fearing man, and he addressed himself to the task of begging him to let Benjamin go free, but he remained inexorable… .
When Judah heard this, he was exceedingly wroth, and he took a stone weighing four hundred shekels that was before him, cast it toward heaven with one hand, caught it with his left hand, then sat upon it, and the stone turned into dust. At the command of Joseph, Manasseh did likewise with another stone, and Joseph said to Judah: “Strength hath not been given to you alone, we also are powerful men. Why, then, will ye all boast before us?” Then Judah sent Naphtali forth, saying, “Go and count all the streets of the city of Egypt and come and tell me the number,” but Simon interposed, saying, “Let not this thing trouble you, I will go to the mount, and take up one huge stone from the mount, throw it over the whole of Mizraim, the city of Egypt, and kill all therein.”
Hearing all these words, which they spake aloud, because they did not know that he understood Hebrew, Joseph bade his son Manasseh make haste and gather together all the inhabitants of Egypt, and all the valiant men, and let them come to him on horseback and afoot. Meantime Naphtali had gone quickly to execute Judah’s bidding, for he was as swift as the nimble hart, he could run across a field of corn without breaking an ear. And he returned and reported that the city of Egypt was divided into twelve quarters. Judah bade his brethren destroy the city; he himself undertook to raze three quarters, and he assigned the nine remaining quarters to the others, one quarter to each.
In the meantime Manasseh had assembled a great army, five hundred mounted men and ten thousand on foot, among them four hundred valiant heroes, who could fight without spear or sword, using only their strong, unarmed hands. To inspire his brethren with more terror, Joseph ordered them to make a loud noise with all sorts of instruments, and their appearance and the hubbub they produced did, indeed, cause fear to fall upon some of the brethren of Joseph. Judah, however, called to them, “Why are you terrified, seeing that God grants us His mercy?” He drew his sword, and uttered a wild cry, which threw all the people into consternation, and in their disordered flight many fell over each other and perished, and Judah and his brethren followed after the fleeing people as far as the house of Pharaoh. Returning to Joseph, Judah again broke out in loud roars, and the reverberations caused by his cries were so mighty that all the city walls in Egypt and in Goshen fell in ruins, the pregnant women brought forth untimely births, and Pharaoh was flung from his throne. Judah’s cries were heard at a great distance, as far off as Succoth.
When Pharaoh learnt the reason of the mighty uproar, he sent word to Joseph that he would have to concede the demands of the Hebrews, else the land would suffer destruction. “Thou canst take thy choice,” were the words of Pharaoh, “between me and the Hebrews, between Egypt and the land of the Hebrews. If thou wilt not heed my command, then leave me and go with them into their land.”
I had in mind when I got up this morning to write a review of “my first comic book.” I was going to explain that it wasn’t actually my first comic book:
- OK, a year or two ago we took the kids to free comic book day at a local store, and when they couldn’t come up with enough books to pick out for themselves, I got one Firefly issue. I read it once, and I suppose it’s somewhere in Ian’s room.
- Then there was that distant memory of a time when I was a kid—fourth or fifth grade, maybe—when my parents took us somewhere (a regular bookstore? a comic book store?) and let us pick out a couple of books. Maybe they did free comic book day back then, too. Anyway, I ended up with an issue of Fantastic Four and a Star Wars story that I think was set sometime between the first three movies.
- Oh, and the Chick comics. Around sixth grade I started collecting those like they were made of gold. As a married adult, I dug them out and gave them away to a friend …
- And then, somewhere out of the blue, I remembered. Archie. No, not that Archie—the Christian one. Published by Spire Christian Comics. They also did modernized Bible stories—I had at least a couple of those. Biographies, of people like Chuck Colson, Corrie ten Boom, David Wilkerson, Brother Andrew, someone named Hansi? Johnny Cash, Jim Elliott, Tom Landry, Tom Skinner—I had all of these. I don’t remember when I accumulated them, or where, or for how long, but I must have read them all repeatedly, and the memories came flooding back.
A while back I was pondering my Geek Cred, wondering why I never got into the social things that geeks do. I didn’t visit comic book stores, I didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t go to sci-fi conventions. But I did read the major works of Tolkien a dozen times by the time I finished high school. I did watch original Stark Trek reruns and the original Star Wars movies. I played Dragon Raid, which was a short-lived Christian knock-off of D&D, complete with 10-sided dice and Scripture memorization. And apparently I had a rather extensive comic book collection, just nothing you’ve ever heard of.
It’s not that I wasn’t a proper geek—I just lived at the odd intersection of geek and Christian subculture, where I mostly played by myself, because there was no one else to play with.
badass babies before the Flood
From a traditional Jewish story about ideal conditions before the flood:
The raising of children gave them no trouble. They were born after a few days’ pregnancy, and immediately after birth they could walk and talk; they themselves aided the mother in severing the navel string. Not even demons could do them harm. Once a new-born babe, running to fetch a light whereby his mother might cut the navel string, met the chief of the demons, and a combat ensued between the two. Suddenly the crowing of a cock was heard, and the demon made off, crying out to the child, “Go and report unto thy mother, if it had not been for the crowing of the cock, I had killed thee!” Whereupon the child retorted, “Go and report unto thy mother, if it had not been for my uncut navel string, I had killed thee!”
When I went looking for an edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I thought for some reason the name Philip Pullman sounded familiar. I never read his books, but I thought the Golden Compass was kind of lame as movies go. Anyway, the stories themselves don’t seem to suffer, but his commentaries are sometimes more enlightening about the editor than the content.
I’d never read or heard the story of the Girl with No Hands. It’s about a pious young girl whose father makes a deal with the Devil and ends up cutting off her hands but sparing her soul when the Enemy comes to claim his prize. Throughout the story she prays often and is protected by angels. There is misunderstanding, and deception, and a good king, and pursuit of his bride, and a happy ending. It’s much like any other fairy tale, except that instead of witches and magical tasks we have the Devil and angels, simple faith and prayer. I suppose one might argue, if anything, that it portrays a too-magical understanding of spiritual things, but Pullman has a different take:
The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman’s hands simply preposterous.
"But aren’t fairy tales supposed to be full of preposterous things?"
No. The resurrection of the little boy in “The Juniper Tree,” for example, feels truthful and right. This feels merely silly: instead of being struck by wonder, here we laugh. It’s ridiculous. This tale and others like it must have spoken very deeply to many audiences, though, for it to spread so widely, or perhaps a great many people like stories of maiming, cruelty and sentimental piety.
A boy with never-shaken confidence in his own abilities, or who unquestioningly follows the magical advice of an elf and finds his true love raised from the dead “feels truthful and right”; but never-shaken confidence in God, protecting angels, prayer, and physical restoration are just silly. Apparently, Christian faith is not just superstition and fairy tales—it’s something far inferior wherever it appears in the popular imaginings of backward people.
Thank you, Mr. Pullman. Your feelings about fairyland leave us much wiser than we were before.
It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase … and the coals in the coal-scuttle … and pianos … and policemen.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.
There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action. And this hesitation chiefly arises, oddly enough, from an indifference about where one should begin. All roads lead to Rome; which is one reason why many people never get there. In the case of this defence of the Christian conviction I confess that I would as soon begin the argument with one thing as another; I would begin it with a turnip or a taximeter cab.— I think this quote from G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, but not that kind) addresses at least in part why I find it more difficult to explain my conversion to Orthodoxy, the further I get from my chrismation. It’s become home—a place to be lived, not a proposition to be defended.
love of place saves the world (from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett)
The Quarry was the calm center of a stormy world.
Thunder didn’t just rumble overhead, it tore the air in half.
"I’ve got some more friends coming," Adam repeated. "They’ll be here soon, and then we can really get started."
Dog started to howl. It was no longer the siren howl of a lone wolf, but the weird oscillations of a small dog in deep trouble.
Pepper had been sitting staring at her knees.
There seemed to be something on her mind.
Finally she looked up and stared Adam in the blank gray eyes.
"What bit ‘re you going to have, Adam?" she said.
The storm was replaced by a sudden, ringing silence.
"What?" said Adam.
"Well, you divided up the world, right, and we’ve all of us got to have a bit—what bit’re you going to have?"
The silence sang like a harp, high and thin.
"Yeah," said Brian. "You never told us what bit you’re having.”
"Pepper’s right," said Wensleydale. "Don’t seem to me there’s much left, if we’ve got to have all these countries.”
Adam’s mouth opened and shut.
"What?" he said.
"What bit’s yours, Adam?" said Pepper.
Adam stared at her. Dog had stopped howling and had fixed his master with an intent, thoughtful mongrel stare.
"M-me?" he said.
The silence went on and on, one note that could drown out the noises of the world.
"But I’ll have Tadfield," said Adam.
They stared at him.
Adam’s gaze dragged itself across their faces.
"They’re all I’ve ever wanted," he said.
They shook their heads.
"I can have ‘em if I want," said Adam, his voice tinged with sullen defiance and his defiance edged with sudden doubt. "I can make them better, too. Better trees to climb, better ponds, better … "
His voice trailed off.
"You can’t," said Wensleydale flatly. "They’re not like America and those places. They’re really real. Anyway, they belong to all of us. They’re ours.”
"And you couldn’t make ‘em better," said Brian.
"Anyway, even if you did we’d all know," said Pepper.
"Oh, if that’s all that’s worryin’ you, don’t you worry," said Adam airily, “‘cos I could make you all just do whatever I wanted—"
He stopped, his ears listening in horror to the words his mouth was speaking. The Them were backing away.
Dog put his paws over his head.
Adam’s face looked like an impersonation of the collapse of empire.
"No," he said hoarsely. "No. Come back! I command you!”
They froze in mid-dash.
"No, I dint mean it—" he began. "You’re my friends—"
His body jerked. His head was thrown back. He raised his arms and pounded the sky with his fists.
His face twisted. The chalk floor cracked under his sneakers.
Adam opened his mouth and screamed. It was a sound that a merely mortal throat should not have been able to utter; it wound out of the quarry, mingled with the storm, caused the clouds to curdle into new and unpleasant shapes.
It went on and on.
It resounded around the universe, which is a good deal smaller than physicists would believe. It rattled the celestial spheres.
It spoke of loss, and it did not stop for a very long time.
And then it did.
Something drained away.
Adam’s head tilted down again. His eyes opened.
Whatever had been standing in the old quarry before, Adam Young was standing there now. A more knowledgeable Adam Young, but Adam Young nevertheless. Possibly more of Adam Young than there had ever been before.
The ghastly silence in the quarry was replaced by a more familiar, comfortable silence, the mere and simple absence of noise.
The freed Them cowered against the chalk cliff, their eyes fixed on him.
"It’s all right," said Adam quietly. "Pepper? Wensley? Brian? Come back here. It’s all right. It’s all right. I know everything now. And you’ve got to help me. Otherwise it’s all goin’ to happen. It’s really all goin’ to happen. It’s all goin’ to happen, if we don’t do somethin’."
a conversation that could only happen with one of our children
- Child: I'm hungry.
- Me: What would you like for breakfast?
- Child: What is there?
- Me: There's peach muffins . . .
- Child: I don't like peach muffins.
- Me: How do you know? Did you try them?
- Child: Yeah.
- Me: [list other options]
- Child: I want peach muffins.
- Me: I thought you didn't like them.
- Child: I'll try them again. [Eats half the muffin.]
- Me: Well, what do you think?
- Child: I don't like it.
- Me: Well, what else would you like . . .
After 10+ years living in Howard County, I finally tried the local public transit for the first time. Yeah, I know. But in my defense, it’s pretty useless.
Perhaps a couple of examples would help:
- When we lived in Elkridge, I left the house around 4:45 and returned home around 5:30. My usual commute involved a 20-min bike ride to and from the train station, a commuter bus to and from Rockville, and Metro to and from work. Now, I could have walked across the street to catch the Purple bus at 7:00, but I wouldn’t have got home until 9:00 at night. A much better option (if I really didn’t want to ride my bike) was to catch the commuter bus on its way south, spend an exorbitant amount for a five-minute ride, and walk from Rt. 1 to the MARC station. I’m guessing it would have worked better to walk all the way from home, too.
- This morning I rode over to the Mall to pick up my bike. Julie picked me up from the bus stop last night because of the storms, and I figured I’d try this way to get it back. I can catch the bus over by the kids’ school, but it takes 20 min to get to the Mall—about five minutes longer than it took me to get home. And if I ride my bike, I get exercise and skip the $2 fare.
I’m also not a big fan of route maps that show stops in the completely wrong location. This morning I ended up running to catch the bus, because I went by the published map/schedule, which shows a stop at the corner of Tamar and Old Montgomery. I walked a fair distance each way, figuring they wouldn’t put the stop right at the corner but didn’t see any signs. I stood at the corner, since it was the only street light around, and I figured I could try to wave down the bus as it came by. While waiting I looked over the schedule again (the dot for the stop was clearly at the intersection). It mentioned a Web site to look up arrival times, and when I got on there, it listed the stop at the next street up.
I suppose once you figure out where your stops are, it’s not bad for getting around locally. But it’s more expensive than driving (and you don’t pay for parking at most destinations in Howard County), slower than biking, and the buses come too infrequently. If you’re trying to connect to something else, you could spend a few hours getting wherever you’re going. In short, without significant changes, I don’t see it being a mode of transportation that anyone would choose. If you have no car and no choice, you can probably make it work (assuming you don’t have to go too far).
adventures in library patronage
How not to borrow an audio recording (in this case, the original BBC radio program of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, grouped by multiple seasons):
- Catalog search: first three seasons not available in my county library system
- ILL request: first season arrives OK, second request rejected as “duplicate”
- ILL request (with note specifying “secondary phase” subtitle): request rejected as “duplicate”
- Call library: explain to them that there are multiple seasons, called “phases,” each with a unique ISBN (included in the request); assured that they understand now, and requests will be processed
- Catalog search: fourth season available; oh, wait, it’s an electronic resource through the state consortium
- Check-out: i.e., download a file that needs some application to run (Windows, Mac, smartphone/tablet, e-reader)
- First attempt: work computer (since I’m on it all day, and that’s when I listen to stuff)—blocks DRM
- Second attempt: Blackberry—doesn’t work with Windows Media files
- Third attempt: home computer (hopefully able to load from there to my portable player)—requires security upgrade to Windows Media Player
- Security upgrade won’t apply—looks like a fix involves deleting the DRM folder, but access denied
- Reboot into Safe Mode and try again? This is getting way too complicated.
- ILL request: remaining seasons
"breaking" my daughter’s favorite toy
This morning, a little over two weeks after Jenna got a much-requested nabi Jr. for her birthday, I broke it. Technically. At least, I intentionally voided the warranty, which seems like it should meet some definition of “breaking.”
You see, leaving it unbroken—leaving it the way it was designed to work—would have been terribly inconvenient. We got the cheaper model with only 4GB of internal memory. Not a big deal, since it comes with a microSD card slot that can add up to 32GB of capacity, right? Right?
Yeah, not so much. I already knew that Android ICS (the operating system) was not terribly cooperative about storing apps on the SD card. Julie’s phone has the same limitation, but there are simple hacks to enable at least a partial transfer. No such luck with the nabi Jr. Not sure why, but at least I was expecting that part.
So if you can’t use that extra capacity for apps, what can you use it for? The stock answer is, for extra media storage. Great! It comes with a built-in camera, so at least all those random pics and video won’t tie up precious internal memory. Oh, wait. There’s no setting to change the storage location for the camera. It looks an awful lot like the stock ICS camera app, but with a lot fewer setting options, including—yes—the storage location. You can move pics and video, either by connecting it to a computer or by installing a file manager, and the gallery will find them without any extra prompting. But you can’t tell the camera to save them there directly.
OK, so, sideload a more standard camera app, right? Well, you can do that, but now you have two camera apps. And one of them is hard-wired to first page of the home screen, so it’s always staring her in the face. Guess which one? Oh, the gallery is also stuck there, so there’s no point setting up another, more customized page. Now, I’m no expert on designing technology for kids. But you try explaining to a six-year-old that there are two camera-thingies that look almost the same and act almost the same, but use this one, not the other one, because if you use the other one you won’t be able to load more games.
<sigh> See, an SD card is useful if you can put stuff there instead of the internal storage. And a tablet for little kids needs to work well without a lot of thought. Locking down the camera app may have seemed like a good idea, but by not giving parents control over the storage location, they made the SD card pretty useless. You could load a bunch of pics and video on it from somewhere else and view them in the gallery. I suppose that might have some entertainment value. You could fill it up with 32,000 songs.
Well, there was nothing left but to break the thing. I rooted it, installed Titanium Backup, and deleted the stock camera app. (Rooting, if you don’t know, is inserting the superuser function that allows administrative rights for various types of applications. By default, Android locks the end user into a status that cannot control certain preset aspects of the operating system and software. This helps protect the system against attacks and user error, but it also means there are things you can’t do without rooting. And pretty much all Android manufacturers consider the warranty void once you’ve done that.)
The icon disappeared from the home screen, and I could replace it with the new, much more helpful camera app. Going forward, I can also clear off the apps that they decided for some reason should be permanent fixtures and clear off even more space. Maybe I can even figure out a way to store apps on the SD card. Now I have something I can work with. But I shouldn’t have to break it to get that.
Getting to Know the New Neighborhood
Various factors (shuttling the kids back and forth to finish out the school year in Elkridge, a burgeoning Battlestar Galactica addiction, etc.) have combined to edge out recreational bike riding since we moved to Oakland Mills. In the past week or so, I’ve finally got back in the saddle—initially to recon my route to catch the bus at the Mall instead of the park-and-ride.
The bus that I currently ride (still haven’t heard whether it will continue after July or not) starts from the Snowden park-and-ride, then stops at the Mall in Columbia, then hits a few other park-and-rides on its way to Bethesda. The easiest, most straightforward option is to get on at the park-and-ride, which involves riding east on Rt. 175, then taking Dobbin around to Snowden. It took a few tries to settle on the best way to come home, but it’s reasonably direct, and the only real difficulty is timing the left turn off 175 coming home. Heading west, toward the Mall, 175 loops up to the north, which makes it a longer ride. But there are foot/bike paths available that cut off the loop, making it about the same distance as the park-and-ride.
Getting on at the Mall has some distinct advantages:
- minimize riding on roads, which should be safer
- more interesting scenery, though that’s less useful in the dark
- cut off some of the bus route, which should shorten the overall commute time
Also, if they do discontinue the bus route, I’ll have to head that direction to catch a different bus. On the other hand:
- the route has more hills and bumps, so it’s harder on bike and rider
- the paths are shared with walkers, so speed is lower
- it’s a bit harder, and technically illegal, to navigate in the dark
- it’s less convenient to leave my bike there while I’m at work
On this last point, I haven’t found anywhere close to the bus stop at the Mall that’s really designed for locking up a bike. I suppose I could just tether it to a light pole if I had no other choice, but I have. If I walk across the parking lot to the Mall itself, there are a couple of bike racks near one of the entrances. They’re the portable type that require you to lock at the wheel, which is less convenient. They’re also in a higher traffic area than I’m used to leaving my bike, so I wonder about the increased likelihood of vandalism. I’m also not crazy about navigating a mall parking lot on a bike, though the traffic doesn’t seem too heavy at the time I’m leaving.
All that’s to say, I needed to familiarize myself with the route, figure out how long it would take, and look for the best place to leave my bike. So I made a couple of early morning trips before starting telework, to see what I was dealing with. Another morning I decided to ride down to Lake Elkhorn. I followed Tamar Dr. to the end and picked up the path from there. Today I rode around the school and took the main path the other direction, up under 175 and Tamar, around Jackson Pond, and up to Rt. 108.
Up to this point, I’ve mostly been taking the paths where they’re designed to go for their own sake. I think the next step is to start figuring out how to get more places that I might actually need or want to get to. I already ride past Oakland Mills Village Center and the Columbia Lakefront on the way to the Mall. Last weekend Ian and I rode over to the Stevens Forest pool for Jenna’s swim meet. Long Reach Village Center should be a short side-trip off of the route I took this morning. I also want to figure out at some point how to get past Rt. 100, just because I don’t like being penned in.
But right now I’m just glad for the early morning sunlight and cooler weather. Can’t imagine it will last very long.