Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lusty As An Eagle

One of the fun things about using a prayer book written in 16th century English is that occasionally a phrase just pops out at me (and frequently sends me looking up archaic meanings of its words). The most recent one was Psalm 103, verse 5: Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things : making thee young and lusty as an eagle.

"Lusty as an eagle"? Just how much lust can something that was on the endangered species list until 2007 actually have? Obviously eagles are capable of reproduction, but when I hear the word "lust" the eagle is not the first thing that comes to mind.

When I looked the word up, however, I discovered that while lust has sexual connotations, the adjective that matches it would be lustful, rather than lusty. Lusty, like the old meaning of virtue, is closer to strong than to their modern meanings. I remember noticing when I was taking Latin in college that it was much easier to translate Latin into 16th century English than modern English. Word meanings have slipped quite a bit over the past four hundred years.

These days the pace of change has accelerated so much that Diane Duane has just produced a new edition of So You Want to Be a Wizard, even though the book is less than 30 years old (the New Millennium Edition is available at Now the heroine has an MP3 player, and when her sister drops a stack of textbooks she was carrying, there's a Kindle on the top of the pile. I have ambivalent feelings about this. It's certainly interesting to see what Diane changed, but do we really want to deprive young readers of the knowledge that there was a world before people routinely carried electronics with them everywhere they went? I admit that I do most of my reading on Kindle so that I can adjust the type size to something I can see, and I've heard of people putting their Kindles in water-tight plastic bags so they can read in the bathtub. I'm certainly not saying that technology is bad, but I feel we're losing our sense of history here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Golden Rule

It's no secret that I get a lot of my ideas (and my story titles) from the Psalms. This morning's selection, Psalm 72, seems particularly apropos this month, with the forthcoming election and the current state of the economy. In describing the ideal king, it says "For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper." Last Sunday's reading included the Christian version of the Golden Rule: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." For the past week my mind has been contrasting that with Atlas Shrugged, which I read and found thoroughly creepy. The idea that a person could have lots of money and not help the poor and needy is repulsive to me. Despite the validity of the arguments in Stephen Prothero's book God Is Not One, even the religions that do not specifically require charity (giving to the needy is one of the five pillars of Islam, and many Christian churches ask their members to tithe) teach that helping one's neighbor is a good thing to do.

The question now appears to be who really needs help and what the best way to provide it is. Both candidates appear to agree that anyone with income greater than $250,000 a year is not middle-class, but Romney puts the floor for "middle-class" at $200,000 a year. When I heard him use the term in his speech at the convention, I did get the impression he wasn't talking about me (and I certainly grew up thinking I was middle-class), which left me puzzled. What does he think that people at my income level are? "Deserving poor"?

What about the people I consider poor: the ones without homes or jobs, or the ones with jobs that don't pay enough to live on (even if they manage to stay healthy). And if, as he said "when you lost a job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits you took two jobs at $9.00 an hour..." how long can you work two jobs without collapsing? I managed a full-time job and a full-time course load when I was getting my Master's degree, but I was in my 20s then. There's no way I could do that now.

I know quite a few people in their 50s who call themselves "retired" because they can't find a job, and they're not in the unemployment statistics because they're no longer looking for work. The lucky ones are living off their savings, and Romney looks good to some of them because they think he can help the stock market. I remember the last time we had a president who believed in "trickle-down economics." It didn't work then, and I don't expect it to work any better now.

Obama hasn't cleaned up the mess he inherited yet, but at least he has taken some concrete steps to help. The adjustment to social security and medicare withholding may seem like a little thing, but if you are making that $9.00 an hour that Romney spoke of, you need every bit of help you can get. And if you are making less than that....

As for me, I give money and volunteer hours to charities that help the poor, I'm planning to vote in November, and I pray that the economy will improve and that more of the people above the $250,000 level will help the people who really need it. If you don't feel for the plight of the poor and those who have no one to help them, remember that gifts to charity are tax-deductible.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Marriage without Fuss

My sister was married “over the anvil” last week. As this is probably unclear to anyone who doesn’t read Regency romances, it means that she was married in a blacksmith’s shop in Gretna Green, Scotland. Gretna Green is located just over the border from England, and its blacksmith’s shop has been a favorite place for elopements for centuries. Today, one can get there from London in less than six hours using the M1 and M6 motorways. As my sister and her new husband live in Carlisle, it’s literally just across the border, less than ten miles away.

One reason to elope is to have a simple, no-fuss, inexpensive wedding. A second reason is to avoid local legal requirements. There are a couple of places in the United States that fulfill the same function as Gretna Green: Las Vegas, Nevada, and Elkton, Maryland. Elkton is where Interstate 95 (the main north-south East Coast highway) crosses from Delaware into Maryland. Marion Zimmer and Robert Bradley eloped there from New York in 1949 (she was 19, but the age of majority was 21 rather than 18 back then), and one of my classmates eloped from Richmond when we were in college (I think his bride was too young to marry in Virginia). Nevada is another state where getting married is easy: no waiting period and no blood tests. Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon married there, but I believe it was because it was a central location for their families (it was a fun wedding, too).

In England, with its established church, the laws governing marriage during the Regency period  were similar to the requirements still in use in the Church of England today. In order to be married in church you must either have the banns read in your parish or parishes on three Sundays before the wedding (which means that everyone is going to know about your plans, and if the groom has an insane wife locked up in the attic, someone can tell the vicar before the ceremony--Jane Eyre might have appreciated that), or you must get a license, which can be expensive and is not automatically granted. Scotland, on the other hand, had Marriage by Declaration until 1939. No banns, no waiting period; all a couple had to do was stand up in front of two witnesses and declare their intent to be married.

Actually, getting married in the church is more difficult now than it was in the early 1800s. In addition to the banns or a license (or in America, the banns and a license), the church also requires pre-marital counseling. (Now that the state allows you to get divorced, the church wants to be sure you won’t.) Depending on the church, a couple may have to produce baptismal certificates, go through interviews with the priest in addition to the standard classes, and even produce friends to be interviewed about the state of the relationship. Between that and the dresses/tuxedos, music, flowers, photos, videos, finding a venue for the reception, arranging seating so that feuding family and friends are kept know, elopement may be the way to go after all.