Are We There Yet?

Thanks to a mention on Trip Payne’s website, I have been spending too much time this past week on Mark Halpin’s lovely set of puzzles called Are We There Yet? This is a set of 12 puzzles loosely based on The Odyssey — a diagramless crossword puzzle on a theme related to the encounter with the Cyclopes, a logic puzzle based on the bag of winds given by Aeolus, and so on. Each puzzle also has something tricky going on with it, and when the solution is properly interpreted it will give a phrase that you can enter at the website; if you’re right, you get back a piece of a map or other item. At least, I think that’s what’s going on with all 12 puzzles, but I have only solved seven of them all the way to the point of entering the right phrase, so whether there is something even trickier going on with other five, I don’t yet know.

I especially enjoyed the puzzle connected with the plunder of Ismaros, a sort of twisted word search puzzle that took me several hours and much, much Googling to solve. It’s impossible to talk about this sort of thing much because you don’t want to give any unwanted hints to anyone who might want to try it, so I’ll just say that I encountered a lot of surprises and discoveries along the way to the answer. I just today finished the diagramless crossword for “The Island of the Cyclopes”, and it’s got a delightful surprise at the end — the several ways in which the puzzle ties into the theme are clever and a lot of fun to discover.

My one caveat is that these are pretty tough (though fair) puzzles and I think an inexperienced solver would have a lot of trouble just knowing where to start. None of them comes with clear, full, and specific instructions; in most cases a lot of the help in figuring out what to do comes just from recognizing that the puzzle looks a lot like a particular puzzle type you’ve seen in magazines. So when each puzzle turns out to have an unexpected twist in it somewhere, that’s just the right level of challenge for someone like me. But for someone who maybe hasn’t seen a Fences puzzle before or a Flower Garden puzzle or an Anaquote or a diagramless crossword and so on, and doesn’t know how to solve them even without the twists, I think maybe that person is going to get lost quickly. It might be a nice thing if Mr. Halpin were to write up a sheet of instructions for the basic puzzle types that his are based on; the more experienced puzzlers like me don’t have to look at it.

I’ve “solved” all 12 puzzles now, but as I said, I still haven’t figured out what to do with five of them. For each of the other seven, I’ve entered a phrase and received a piece of a map or other item, but the seven pieces I have received don’t seem to do me any good yet, so I’m figuring I’m not going to be able to go anywhere with that till I get all 12 pieces.

And in the meanwhile, the final steps of these five puzzles still elude me:

AIOLIA — I’ve solved the logic puzzle about the winds of Aeolus, but I don’t see any way to derive a phrase from the answer.

THE ISLAND OF LOTOPHAGI — I’ve solved the clues and filled in the grid, and I have a number of letters that sure look as though they ought to be significant, the sort of thing where if this were a puzzle in Games magazine or the like, the letters would have spelled out a message. However, in this case they don’t spell anything at all, and I haven’t been able to anagram them into anything relevant either.

OGYGIA — I’ve completed the puzzle, which is a mildly unorthodox Cross Sums, but I don’t see how to derive a phrase from the answer, which of course is all numbers.

THE SIRENS — I’ve found the answer to the Anaquote-like three-letter pieces at the bottom of the page, and I see a reason (or at least a correspondence with something connected to the rest of the puzzle) for the eight large letters on the ring of islands shown in the middle of the page. Doesn’t give me a phrase.

THRINACIA — I’ve solved the puzzles on the four smaller maps, and I see how the four solutions can be related to the larger map. But there seem to be two equally valid ways to apply this, and I don’t see that either of them gets me a phrase.

More Notes About Pages

I have come across two things that I can do in InDesign but can’t find a way to do in Pages. First, I can’t find a way to make objects snap to grid lines — not crucial, but you can do it in InDesign and it’s a help. Second, I can’t find a way to vertically justify the text in a column.

Basically, the lack of these two functions means that aligning the bottoms of side-by-side columns of text takes a lot of fussy tweaking instead of a few quick actions.


I bought the new iWork ’08 suite last week, lured by the new spreadsheet program and the promise of enhanced Word-compatibility which might make it possible to do work from the office on my laptop without having to actually buy Microsoft Office for the Mac.

The compatibility seems okay but I forgot to investigate whether Pages works well with Equation Editor or MathType, which are essential for my work as a technical editor. It doesn’t, so I won’t be using it for office work after all.

Right now I’m trying out Pages for layout, which I usually do in InDesign. I’m laying out the announcement for the New Year’s Billy gathering. It’s pretty easy to use, and so far I haven’t encountered anything I want to do but can’t. It’s obvious at a glance that Pages has fewer capabilities than InDesign, but so far it looks like the ones that are missing are things I don’t use.

Many of the functions are easier and more intuitive to use than in InDesign. Dropping graphics onto a page and adjusting how text wraps or doesn’t wrap around them seems easier. Adjusting how an image in the text is sized and cropped is a bit easier and faster in Pages than in InDesign, and that’s something that comes up a lot because, unless you’re dealing with an image of a painting or an art photograph that should be shown complete or not at all, you want to be able to tweak the image to fill the space available — shaving a little off an edge of a snapshot, for example.

A feature called “Instant Alpha” allowed me to very quickly remove the white background from some graphics (so that the text would flow around the object rather than around the white rectangle containing the object); that’s possible in InDesign, too, but it takes more time; in Pages, it was just a matter of two mouse clicks. Nice.

This announcement is taking me about as long to lay out in Pages as it would in InDesign, but a lot of that time has been spent looking things up in the help file and just generally exploring where everything is. I think for fairly straightforward layout jobs, once I get to know the program, Pages will be faster.

I haven’t had time to look at Keynote and Numbers yet.

Interview With John Shelby Spong

While reading some blogs about Bishop Spong’s open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury (or “ABC” in Episcopalese) Rowan Williams, I came across a terrific interview with Spong at the blog Faith and Theology. The interviewer is not all that sympathetic to Spong.

Some of my favorite bits:

On what he thinks of Pope Benedict’s most recent book: “I don’t think he and I live in the same century.”

On the recent prominence of outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens:

As I see it, there are three responses to our contemporary crisis of faith. The first is the reaction of those extreme fundamentalists who close their minds and remain so fearful that they will ban or try to silence anybody that disagrees with them. The second is the emergence of what I call the “Church Alumni Association,” which is by far the fastest growing Christian movement – certainly much faster than right-wing fundamentalism in America, and I would bet in Australia too. These are people that can’t see an alternative to fundamentalism, and so they say that they just don’t want to be part of that whole ‘religious thing’. And the third response is this new wave of militant atheists who see religion as a positive evil. Now this is an enormous ferment, and I think it’s really an alive and fruitful and exciting time to be someone who is publicly addressing God and Christ and theological issues.


I see all these battles that we’re now caught up in, both inside and outside the church, as very exciting, even invigorating.

On the controversy about Gene Robinson:

I know that Gene Robinson is not the only gay bishop in the Episcopal Church right now. I won’t name the others, but I will say that among these gay bishops are some of the most homophobic voices that are raised within that church. I sit back and look at these people with bewilderment. I could name the gay bishops in the Anglican communion in England without any trouble. I know them! So it’s not that we have this new thing called a gay bishop. The only thing that’s new here is that we have an honest gay bishop. …

Like I said, I grew up in the South, and I know that when there’s a moral principle involved — like slavery — you don’t compromise on that. Slavery is either right or it’s wrong. And you don’t keep unity in the church by keeping the slave owners happy. … In my opinion, the issue of homosexuality is just as strong and just as morally serious.

On Archbishop Williams:

In my opinion, he collapsed the day after he was appointed. He wrote a letter to all the Primates saying that as the Archbishop of Canterbury he would not act on his personal convictions but only on the Lambeth resolutions, which in effect gave away his leadership ability. The previous Archbishop, who was extremely homophobic, would never have done such a thing. He would never have said that he’s not going to act on his principles, because he believed that his principles were directly from God and it was therefore up to him to impose them on others. Liberals are always weak. Liberals can see two sides of an issue, and therefore are reluctant ever to impose a position on anybody. But if Rowan would just say: “This is my personal witness. I will try to preside over this institution with all of its foibles, but I need the world to know that discrimination against gay and lesbian people is wrong, and I think the church is wrong to be compromised on this issue ….”

On the Christian myth:

Before Darwin we told the story of the Christian faith in terms of human beings that were created perfect in God’s image, but who disobeyed God and fell into sin, thus corrupting the whole created order. Human beings couldn’t save themselves. The law tried and the prophets tried, and finally God enters the world in God’s good time in the form of a saviour-rescuer. And that’s the story about Jesus, how he pays the price for sin on the cross, and so restores the fallen creature to what God intended them to be in the first place. That essentially is the theology of the incarnation and atonement that we’ve talked about for years.

But it doesn’t work, and it’s not true. We never were created perfect in God’s image. We were created as single-cell units of life and we evolved over four-and-a-half to five billion years into various stages until at least we achieved self-consciousness. We are survival-oriented people because we wouldn’t have made it through the evolutionary process if we hadn’t been survival-oriented. And so we are radically self-centred, survival-orientated creatures, and we had to be to win the battle of evolution. But once we’ve won the battle, then there’s no more enemy except ourselves and so we turn our survival-instincts against one another — in genocide, for example. What got us to this position of dominance in the world is not sufficient to get us to whatever the next stage is. What Darwin suggests is that none of us need to be rescued from a fall that never happened, or restored to a status that we never possessed. That whole way of telling the Christian story simply doesn’t work.

So instead of seeing Jesus as the divine saviour-rescuer who pays the price of sin, I think we’ve got to turn our whole Christology toward seeing Jesus as the kind of humanity that enables us to get over being the kind of survival-oriented creatures that we are and begin to give our lives away. I think that is dramatically powerful, and something to which people would be willing to give themselves if they understood it.

I have to say, though, that I don’t think single-cell units of life are necessarily any less “created in God’s image” than we humans are — if there’s any truth in that concept at all (and I think there is), the one thing it really cannot mean is that we look physically like God.

And There Are a Lot of Things the Lack of Which I Can Easily Associate With Theater Rhino, But Balls Is Not One of Them

Dave and I just got a note from a director friend of ours asking if we have any disco-style mirror balls we could lend Theater Rhino for their 30th anniversary revue next week. They only have four so far, and they want more.

Hard to believe that Theater Rhino doesn’t have a box of 38 mirror balls in storage somewhere. Surely this is not the first time in 30 years that a director at Rhino has thought of having lots and lots of mirror balls on stage at all once. First time in 30 weeks, maybe.

The Wrong Side of History, the Wrong Side of Morality, and the Wrong Side of Truth

My friend Terry sent me the text of an open letter that John Shelby Spong wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury a few days ago. As usual, Bishop Spong just totally rocks.

This may be my favorite passage, though there are many to choose from:

You continue to act as if quoting the Bible to undergird a dying prejudice is a legitimate tactic. It is in fact the last resort that religious people always use to validate “tradition” over change. The Bible was quoted to support the Divine Right of Kings in 1215, to oppose Galileo in the 17th century, to oppose Darwin in the 19th century, to support slavery and apartheid in the 19th and 20th centuries, to keep women from being educated, voting and being ordained in the 20th and 21st century. Today it is quoted to continue the oppression and rejection of homosexual people. The Bible has lost each of those battles. It will lose the present battle and you, my friend, will end up on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of truth.

I have to quibble about “The Bible has lost each of those battles,” because it isn’t the Bible that has lost those battles but rather those who have made absurd claims about what the Bible contains, claims that could have been disproven at any time just by reading the darned thing in large passages rather than picking at it a sentence or two at a time taken out of context, which is the usual practice.

But here’s the whole letter.

Dear Rowan,

I am delighted that you have agreed to meet with the House of Bishops of the American Episcopal Church in September, even if you appear to be unwilling to come alone. It has seemed strange that you, who have had so much to say about the American Church, have not been willing to do so before now. Your office is still honored by Episcopalians in this country, so our bishops will welcome you warmly and politely. We have some amazingly competent men and women in that body, many of whom have not yet met you.

There is clearly an estrangement between that body and you in your role as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I want to share with you my understanding of the sources of that estrangement. First, I believe that most of our senior bishops, including me, were elated, at your appointment by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Most Americans are not aware that yours is an appointed, not an elected position. Those of us who knew you were keenly aware of your intellectual gifts, your openness on all of the great social debates of our generation and indeed of your personal warmth. We also believed that the Lambeth Conference of 1998, presided over by your predecessor, George Carey, had been a disaster that would haunt the Communion for at least a quarter of a century. An assembly of bishops hissing at and treating fellow bishops with whom they disagreed quite rudely, was anything but an example of Christian community. The unwillingness of that hostile majority to listen to the voices of invited gay Christians, their use of the Bible in debate as a weapon to justify prejudice, the almost totalitarian attempt made to manage the press and to prevent access to the wider audience and the dishonest denial of the obvious and blatant homophobia among the bishops made that Lambeth Conference the most disillusioning ecclesiastical gathering I have ever attended. The Church desperately needed new leadership and so many of us greeted your appointment with hope. Your detractors in the evangelical camp both in England and in the third world actively lobbied against your appointment. The hopes of those of us who welcomed your appointment were, however, short lived because in one decision after another you seemed incapable of functioning as the leader the Church wanted and needed.

It began at the moment of your appointment when you wrote a public letter to the other primates assuring them that you would not continue in your enlightened and open engagement with the moral issue of defining and welcoming those Christians who are gay and lesbian.

We all knew where you stood. Your ministry had not been secret. We knew you had been one of the voices that sought to temper the homophobia of your predecessor’s rhetoric. We knew of your personal friendship with gay clergy and that you had even knowingly ordained a gay man to the priesthood. You, however, seemed to leap immediately to the conclusion that unity was more important than truth. Perhaps you did not realize that your appointment as the archbishop was because you had different values from those of your predecessor and that your values were exactly what the Church wanted and needed in its new archbishop.

In that letter, in a way that was to me a breathtaking display of ineptitude and moral weakness, you effectively abdicated your leadership role. The message you communicated was that in the service of unity you would surrender to whoever had the loudest public voice.

A leader gets only one chance to make a good first impression and you totally failed that chance. Unity is surely a virtue, but it must be weighed against truth, the Church’s primary virtue.

Next came the bizarre episode of the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, a known gay priest, to be the area bishop for Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. He was proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. The nomination was approved by all of the necessary authorities, including you, the Prime Minister and the Queen. The fundamentalists and the evangelicals were predictably severe and anything but charitable or Christian. They and their allies in the press assassinated Jeffrey John’s character and made his life miserable. Once again you collapsed in the face of this pressure and, in a four-hour conversation, you forced your friend and mine, Jeffery John, who is not only a brilliant New Testament scholar, but also one who gave you his word that he was living a celibate life, to resign his appointment to that Episcopal office. The message went out for all to hear that if people are angry enough, the Archbishop will always back down. Your leadership, as well as our trust in your integrity, all but disappeared.

Shortly thereafter, you concurred in a “guilt” appointment by naming Jeffrey Dean of St. Alban’s Cathedral. It is a strange church and a strange hierarchy that proclaims that a gay man cannot be a bishop but can be a dean. Your credibility suffered once again.

When Gene Robinson in the United States was elected the Bishop of New Hampshire and, more particularly, when his election was confirmed by a concurrent majority of the bishops, priests and lay deputies at the General Convention (read General Synod), you appeared to panic. You called an urgent meeting of the primates of the entire Anglican Communion and allowed them to express enormous hostility. No one seemed to challenge either their use of scripture, which revealed an amazing ignorance of the last 250 years of biblical scholarship, or their understanding of homosexuality. By acting as if homosexuality is a choice made by evil people they violated everything that medical science has discovered about sexual orientation in the last century.

Just as the Church was historically wrong in its treatment of women, so now as a result of your leadership, we are espousing a position about homosexuality that is dated, uninformed, inhumane and frankly embarrassing. No learned person stands there today.

Then you appointed the group, under Robin Eames’ chairmanship, that produced the Windsor Report. That report confirmed every mistake you had already made. It asked the American Church to apologize to other parts of the Anglican Communion for its “insensitivity.” Can one apologize for trying to end prejudice and oppression? If the issue were slavery, would you ask for an apology to the slave holders? That report got the response it deserved. Our leaders were indeed sorry that others felt hurt, but they were not prepared to apologize for taking a giant step in removing one more killing prejudice from both the Church and the world. Those angry elements of the church were not satisfied by the Windsor report, inept as it was. They never will be until they have bent you and this communion into a pre-modern, hate filled, Bible quoting group of people incapable of embracing the world in which we live.

Next came threats issued by the primates of the excommunication of the American Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, as if they actually had that power. Ultimatums and deadlines for us to conform to their homophobia were treated by you as if that were appropriate behavior. When the American Church elected Katharine Jefferts-Schori to be its Presiding Bishop and thus the Primate of our Province, your response to that major achievement was pathetic. You did not rejoice that equality had finally been achieved in our struggle against sexism; your concern was about how much more difficult her election would make the life of the Anglican Communion. Once again, institutional peace was made primary to the rising consciousness that challenges what the Church has done to women for so long. When Katharine took her place among the other primates, she underwent with dignity, the refusal of some of those bishops to receive communion with her. Is that the mentality required to build unity?

Later you issued a statement saying that if homosexuals want to be received in the life of the Church, they will have to change their behavior. I found that statement incredible. If you mean they have to change from being homosexual then you are obviously not informed about homosexuality. It is not a choice or a sin, anymore than being left handed, or male or female, or black or even transgender is a choice or a sin. All of us simply awaken to these aspects of our identity. That truth is so elementary and so well documented that only prejudiced eyes can fail to recognize it. No one in intellectual circles today still gives that point of view credibility.

Next you declined to invite Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. All of the closeted homosexual bishops are invited, the honest one is not invited. I can name the gay bishops who have, during my active career, served in both the Episcopal Church and in the Church of England. I bet you can too. Are you suggesting that dishonesty is a virtue?

You continue to act as if quoting the Bible to undergird a dying prejudice is a legitimate tactic. It is in fact the last resort that religious people always use to validate “tradition” over change. The Bible was quoted to support the Divine Right of Kings in 1215, to oppose Galileo in the 17th century, to oppose Darwin in the 19th century, to support slavery and apartheid in the 19th and 20th centuries, to keep women from being educated, voting and being ordained in the 20th and 21st century. Today it is quoted to continue the oppression and rejection of homosexual people. The Bible has lost each of those battles. It will lose the present battle and you, my friend, will end up on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of truth. It is a genuine tragedy that you, the most intellectually gifted Archbishop of Canterbury in almost a century, have become so miserable a failure in so short a period of time.

You were appointed to lead, Rowan, not to capitulate to the hysterical anger of those who are locked in the past. For the sake of God and this Church, the time has come for you to do so. I hope you still have that capability.

John Shelby Spong, 8th Bishop of Newark, Retired

Some of the comments I’ve seen about this letter amaze me. For example:

Spong’s letter to [Archbishop] Rowan is most disrespectful. But consider the source: this is from a low-church bishop who seldom if ever wears the proper vestments to celebrate Mass. Such people have limited credibility until they improve their churchmanship.

I’ve seen many an argumentum ad hominem but an argumentum ad vestitum is a rarer creature.

Not So Hysterical

Dave and I saw Hysteria at the Aurora Theater today. I think there may well be a gripping play to be found somewhere in the whole unpleasant business of Freud’s recantation of his own seduction hypothesis, but this isn’t it. The farcical parts aren’t really very farcical — you don’t create a farce just by having characters hide in closets and slam doors a lot — and the serious parts are terribly earnest, one-sided, and clumsily contrived.

I have no idea what Dali is doing in the play — even though he’s the funniest character on stage, he has nothing much to do with anything. I got the feeling that the author was figuring if Tom Stoppard could write a play about James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Lenin all being in the same city at the same time, then by God he could write a play about the fact that Dali once visited Freud.

The play is occasionally funny — especially an unexpected series of events near the end — but only occasionally. At other times it’s pretty lame. Usually it’s neither all that bad or all that good, just uninspired and, I thought, oddly predictable.

Cut Sleeve Boys

Dave took me to see this movie on Tuesday — he’d seen it the night before and liked it a lot despite a lot of negative reviews, and he wanted to see it again.

I agreed with him — it’s a delight, a lightweight but skillfully told satirical romantic comedy about two gay Asian friends living in London. Some of it is a bit clumsy here and there, but on the other hand a lot of it is absolutely brilliant, both in its quirky observation of a subculture that there just haven’t been a whole lot of movies about, and in its shrewd storytelling technique. I was won over by the opening sequence alone — look at how much information is given to us before the first word of dialogue is spoken, and in ways that are both elegantly economical and laugh-out-loud funny.

The performances are terrific all around, and I thought Steven Lim’s as Melvin Shu was especially good, a remarkably rich and inventive portrayal of a remarkably shallow person. I thought Chowee Leow was completely endearing (in spite of being something of a bitch) as his friend Ashley Wang, taking the plunge into full-blown transvestitism for the first time.

I wonder whether some of the coolness of the reviews might have to do with critics not knowing enough about the subcultures involved to catch on to all the humor. There were an awful lot of very small and understated things that had Dave and me laughing hard — but I’ve been partnered to a first-generation Chinese-American man for nearly a decade and a half and so a lot of it for me was the laughter of recognition.

Oh, and Ash’s kitchen — oh my god. Every new camera angle had me laughing. The set designer must have had a ball — just the contrast between Ash’s and Mel’s kitchens alone tells us volumes about the two.

Well worth seeing before it leaves the theaters and metamorphs to DVD.