Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Tain, as retold by The Decemberists

This is the Tain, or Tain Bo Cuilgne, or the "Cattle Raid of Cooley" as retold in verse by the Decemberists.
What's going on? Well, the King and Queen of Connaught get into an argument about who has more wealth. It turns out the King is very slightly ahead by owning a prize bull. So the Queen calls out the army to invade Ulster and steal the Brown Bull of Cooley. The army is repelled by the hero CuChulainn, who is the only warrior of Ulster available to fight due to a curse.
CuChulainn is nigh invincible when he is in his battle rage, which transforms him into a monster. He lays waste to the Connaught army. But eventually the Queen sends the warrior Ferdiad, a boyhood friend of CuChulainn, to face the hero.
CuChulainn survives, and chases the Queen and the army out of Ulster, but they take the Bull of Cooley with them. The two prize bulls meet in a pasture and fight. The Bull of Cooley impales the other bull, then breaks through the fence and runs home to Cooley, where its heart explodes.
Yes, like so many wars, this one was a waste of time and life. And this story dates from the pre-Christian era of Ireland; some truths are eternal. If the outline of the story doesn't seem like much, pay close attention to the video, which relates the story with more poetry -- and shadow puppets!

Cyber Black Weekend

That's right folks, it's that time of year again: Christmas shopping season. And since you've all been out improving the economy by buying things you can't possibly afford, I thought I'd give you a few more ideas on how to spend your money. I know it's a question that's been burning in your minds all weekend: "What does good ole JRF want for Christmas?" Worry not, I'll be happy to answer that very question here and now.
Every item here is on my actual Wish List, which I provide to my family as a courtesy and helpful service prior to Thanksgiving Day. I want them to have plenty of lead time.
First, I need to satisfy my interest in the Viking Age. The first item is a miniature army of characterful Viking Raiders from Foundry Miniatures.
You get 60 bloodthirsty warriors, shield maidens, berserkers, and a jarl. That's enough for two longboat crews and raiding any miniature monastery you might come across. Just don't forget to buy the necessary pack of generic spears to arm your men. Paints and glue are also not included.
I find when I'm painting my miniatures that it helps to imagine myself in character, and nothing helps get a person in character better than dressing up. So I asked for these comfy, leather, size 10 Viking Age boots to lounge in while I'm painting Viking minis and humming "The Ride of the Valkyries."
You can get these from Boots by Bohemond ( in a variety of different colors. Tan is nice, but I do like this chocolate brown. They are a nice alternative to slippers.
And there's an empty place of honor in my Man Cave for a new action figure. While a number of really great action figures were released this year, I put the Hot Toys Captain America: The First Avenger on my wish list.
This 1/6 scale action figure features an exacting replication of the final version movie costume and includes multiple hand sin various positions, a M1911 pistol, Thompson Sub Machine Gun, and (of course) the mighty shield. What red-blooded American wouldn't want one of these in his Man Cave?
I've already got my fingers crossed they release an Avengers costume Cap next year.

But why limit my display of affection for the star-spangled Sentinel of Liberty just to my Man Cave? With this sculpted Captain America ceramic mug direct from (, I can show my support for Cap anywhere I choose to drink a hot beverage. And I can drink my hot cuppa java in manly proportions, too!
"But, JRF, don't you like pointy things? Where are the dangerous sharp objects we know you love?" I'm glad you asked.
This is the Benchmade version of the SOCP (for "Special Operations Combatives Program") dagger. ( I think this is a very exciting design with all kinds of interesting possibilities for a martial artist. Many traditional Koryu jujutsu systems often included small knives or sticks as aids in grappling situations; this tool fills the same role in the modern Combatives curriculum. Fully describing the potential of this tool probably deserves its own post. The red, blunt dagger in the picture is the training tool version. You can get a set of blade, sheath, and trainer; and I recommend getting the set so you can experiment with the tool safely in a training environment.
In the long blade department, a serious gap in my sword collection is the Viking Age. I have a Viking Sax, but no sword. But this Generation 2 replica of a sword recovered from the River Whitham in England would nicely match my Sax. ( The reviews of this sword compare it favorably with replicas costing five times as much. I have several Generation 2 blades, and they are all well made.
But for my secret, ninja, stealth missions, I need a "sword" that is a little more compact. The Columbia River Knife & Tool Hisshou fits that role perfectly. ( This is a monster knife, or midget wakizashi. It measures an overall 18 1/2 inches, and over 12 inches of that length is blade. Like big, slashing, Japanese blades but think 18 inches is too much blade? That's okay, CRKT released the little brother to this short sword, the Shinbu ( which measures in at 14 3/4 inches, with a blade over 9 inches long. Heck, get both and be prepared for darn near any nasty, close quarters social engagement you might be invited to.
"No, seriously, JRF; what do you really want for Christmas?"
I am serious.
"Then let me rephrase the question: what do you actually expect to get for Christmas?"
Ahhhhh. Good question...
This is a very nice LL Bean "Scotch" plaid flannel bath robe in Blackwatch tartan. ( I love tartan. And I love flannel, although I like fleece better for warmth. And I need a new bathrobe.
My In-Laws also discovered this year that I need a decent suitcase. So I', very likely to get this LL Bean rolling Pullman suitcase. ( I asked for it in Plum. There are so many black suitcases on the luggage carousel.
I also asked for a bunch of books through the Amazon Wish List feature. Maybe I'll do a separate post on some of my reading picks later. But realistically, I'm far more likely to get a dozen books and DVDs than I am a Hisshou, a pair of comfy Viking Boots, or (sadly) a Captain America action figure. And given the cost of things, I'll probably end up buying my own SOCP dagger on December 26. My family loves me, but I don't think they completely understand me.