Saturday, January 31, 2009

10 Years

Feast of St. John Bosco

Today is the 10th anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church.

The road to that point began with my wife's decision to become Catholic the previous Easter (12 April, 1998). After that I thought, "Well, I guess she's serious about it." So I consented to talk to her priest and read the catechism and do a bit of research.

I approached this project with no sympathy for Catholicism. I wanted to be a good sport, however, so I went about finding out what was going on. I certainly had little enthusiasm for the project; my chief motive was just to give Catholicism a fair hearing -- to hear what it had to say for itself and no more. I looked at it as a matter of duty, an obligation to do my part to help bridge the the rift caused by my wife's decision. I fully expected to come to the end of my inquiries better informed but unconvinced.

Such was not to be, however. In the course of my investigations I found that Catholicism had better answers than Protestantism not only to the proper meaning of the Scriptures (which was surprise enough), but to history, philosophy, and just everyday human nature.

So I admitted defeat and took the plunge. Of course, it was a humbling experience when I admitted to my wife, "You know, I think I'd like to become Catholic too."

"That's fine," she said matter of factly. Then she added, "You know, if you'd ever asked me to choose between the marriage and being Catholic, I would have let you go." Ouch. But as I said, I figured she was serious about it.

So, many retreats, pilgrimages, Confessions, and Masses and Communions later, here I am. It didn't turn out to be the experience I expected, but the best things seldom do.

Indeed: I even entertain a good hope of Heaven, Deo gratias.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rice Krispies Sushi

I've given sushi a fair hearing and decided it's not for me. I did, however, get a kick out of Rice Krispies Sushi -- made with Rice Krispies, marshmallows, Swedish Fish gummies, and Fruit Roll-Ups.

See
http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/01/rice-krispies-sushi-recipe.html

Swiss Police and Google Earth

Source

Swiss police said Thursday they stumbled across a large marijuana plantation while using Google Earth, the search engine company's satellite mapping software. Officers seized over a ton of the plant (street value $780,000) that the farmers will perhaps claim they intended to use to fashion hemp rope (street value $10).

Yesterday I was talking to someone in the office about the early days of the DotCom era, when crazy activities were tolerated (and at times even expected). My colleague mentioned an outfit who served not just the normal cocktails at a company gathering, but illicit mind-altering substances. "I guess it's no different than serving alcohol, which we shouldn't do either," she concluded.

"I don't know," I said. "It's possible to drink without getting drunk, but it's not really possible to smoke pot or drop acid without getting high or tripping out."

Ah well, so much for moral equivalency.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline

From Discipline of the Mind (pp. 160-61) by Fr. Basil William Maturin:

It is not *where* a person is that matters, but what he is thinking about. The whole edifice of the spiritual life may be tottering to its ruin and the enemy rushing in like a flood while the subject of this terrible disaster is on his knees and uttering the sacred words of prayer.

It is within, therefore, that the great battle of life must be fought; it is within, with our own thoughts that we must struggle if we would see the world of men and things as it really is.

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The author, Fr. Maturin, had been a High Church Anglican who converted to Catholicism. He drowned on the Lusitania while en route to America. As the vessel was sinking, Father calmly heard Confessions on the deck of the ship; he was last seen handing a child into a lifeboat with the request, "Find its mother."

"It was a great victory of the human mind which annihilated space and time, and circled the globe with telegraph wires. But greater still is the victory which gives a man strength and courage to receive with equanimity over those wires a message telling him that all he valued in life has been taken from him." - Fr. Maturin.

Requiescat in pace, Pater.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vatican Unveils YouTube Channel

Source

VATICAN CITY -- On Friday Pope Benedict XVI launched his own YouTube channel. The Vatican said it was launching the channel to broaden Pope Benedict's audience while also giving the Holy See better control over the papal image online. Pope Benedict welcomed viewers to this "great family that knows no borders"...

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Commentary

The complete article (which requires a registered account to read) includes
Pope Benedict's warning that virtual socializing had its risks:
* "obsessive" online networking could isolate people from real social interaction;
* it can broaden the digital divide by further marginalizing people.

His Holiness addressed producers of new media in his message for the World Day of Communications when he urged them to ensure that the content respect human dignity and the "goodness and intimacy of human sexuality."

Then there was this tidbit, which gave me a chuckle: "The 81-year-old pope has been extremely wary of new media and their effect on society."
That’s like saying a man who sends his soup back to the kitchen because it has a fly is extremely wary of dinnerware. The problem isn’t the delivery vehicle (i.e. dinnerware), the problem is the content that the vehicle delivers (i.e. soup with a fly) -- in this case, material that doesn't respect human dignity and the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality.

Of course, it's easier to call a guy a Luddite than to set a moral safeguard on one's revenue stream.

Non potestis Deo servire et mammonæ.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pope Benedict Lifts Censure of SSPX Bishops

Source

Score one for a world leader standing up to modernist and modernizing tendencies: yesterday Pope Benedict XVI lifted the decree of excommunication of the four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) ordained by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. Three cheers for Pope Benedict XVI!

The Superior General of ther SSPX, Bp. Bernard Fellay, published this press release on the matter on the SSPX news site, http://www.dici.org/
:

The excommunication of the bishops consecrated by His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on June 30, 1988, which had been declared by the Congregation for Bishops in a decree dated July 1, 1988, and which we had always contested, has been withdrawn by another decree mandated by Benedict XVI and issued by the same Congregation on January 21, 2009.

We express our filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, will benefit the whole Church. Our Society wishes to be always more able to help the pope to remedy the unprecedented crisis which presently shakes the Catholic world, and which Pope John Paul II had designated as a state of “silent apostasy.”

Besides our gratitude towards the Holy Father and towards all those who helped him to make this courageous act, we are pleased that the decree of January 21 considers as necessary “talks” with the Holy See, talks which will enable the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X to explain the fundamental doctrinal reasons which it believes to be at the origin of the present difficulties of the Church.

In this new atmosphere, we have the firm hope to obtain soon the recognition of the rights of Catholic Tradition

Te Deum laudamus. Deus Vult.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good Thing His Mother was Pro-Life

There's a commercial doing the rounds that starts with video of a baby moving in the womb revealed by ultrasound.

The screen cuts to black with this text in white: "This child's future is a broken home."

"He will be abandoned by his father."

"His single mother will struggle to raise him."

"Despite the hardships, he will endure."

"This child will become the first African American president."

Then there's a shot of President Obama and "Life. Imagine the potential."

Take a look here

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama vs. the 4th Estate

When asked by the press about his nominees, last night President Obama cut the interview short. "I came down here to visit," he said. "We will be having a press conference."

Source

With all the work a sycophantic Fourth Estate did to get Obama elected, you'd think he'd be more understanding of a reporter working a story. And what with the economy going from sour to curdled, why wouldn't he help out a presumptive member of his base by providing a snippet of a reply that could help the guy keep his job?

Fortunately another reporter in the room stayed with the script -- after witnessing two of his colleagues receiving the Presidential brushoff, a cameraman called out, “I’d like to say it one more time: ‘Mr. President.’ ”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cheesy 80s Sword & Sorcery Films

Though I'm a Tolkien enthusiast, I was able to overlook the infidelities of the Jackson films and enjoy the movie trilogy. It could be that my enjoyment of the three films had as much to do with the terribly poor fare that preceded them as the quality of the productions -- after all, in my teen years I was subjected to a legion of awful 80s Sword & Sorcery flicks. Here's a sampling.

Hawk the Slayer (1980). Hawk is a swordsman out to right a wrong; his companions are a giant named Gort who carries a warhammer, an elven archer named Crow who can restring his bow between camera frames, a whip-wielding dwarf named Baldin that provides comic relief (a forerunner of Jackson's Gimli?), and a chap with a repeating crossbow. Chief villain Voltan -- Hawk's brother who is old enough to be his father -- is played by Jack Palance. The soundtrack carries echoes of old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.

The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982). The hero is Prince Talon, a champion who is driven into exile as a lad; he bears a 3-bladed sword that can fire two of its blades like miniature rockets. Talon was played by Lee Horsley, and many fans of the genre thought Horsley's daring and reckless character was a better model for Howard's Conan than the brooding and wooden Schwarzenegger.

There were plenty of other bad S&S films from that decade:
* the made-for-TV Return of the King (1980) was worse than the 1978 Bakshi film, but it does include Mordor Orcs singing the memorably absurd Where There's a Whip There's a Way;
* for some reason Beastmaster (1982) sometimes still shows up on TV;
* as does Krull (1983);
* the atrocious Blademaster (1984) is just about lost in oblivion;
* Brigitte Nielsen falls short in yet another role as Red Sonja (1985);
* Dolph Lundgren dumbed down a dull He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987);
* and I knew in the opening scene that I'd wasted my money on The Barbarians (1987).

Flawed but non-cheesy examples of the genre include:
* Excalibur (1981), a paganized look at the Arthur legend;
* Dragonslayer (1981), with Peter MacNicol playing a hermaphroditic wizard;
* The Dark Crystal (1982), where Jim Henson's muppets get creepy (look for a 2011 sequel);
* Legend (1985), in which Ridley Scott put Tom Cruise to work as a beefcake character;
* The Black Cauldron (1985), Disney's sinister take on the Lloyd Alexander Prydain novels;
* Highlander (1986), the Christopher Lambert noir-ish cult-classic that introduced an Egyptian character who dressed like a Spaniard, wielded a katana, and spoke with a Scottish accent;
* Willow (1988), a special-effects-infested effort by George Lucas and Ron Howard.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Money-Grubbing Corporate Capitalists

I read a news story yesterday about Hugo Chavez eating crow and approaching U.S. Oil companies for business to help keep the Venezuelan economy afloat. I composed the write-up below in Chavez’s honor.

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Click here to read the
complete article

When US Airways flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, "controlled chaos" broke out. One witness reported, "People started running up and down aisles. People were yelling and pushing."

But then matters turned around when calmer heads began to prevail. The men rose to the occasion, and chivalry even made an appearance when cries of "women and children first!" were heard above the din. The more able-bodied assisted the elderly and the infants, all the while maintaining order during the ordeal. By the time rescue workers arrived, the scene had changed dramatically -- one rescuer reported, "There was a lot of calmness...People weren't running around." One survivor even dealt with the trauma by joking that it was the "best landing I ever experienced." Experts in the industry say that it is incredible that an emergency water-landing resulted in all-hands alive and accounted for.

So who were the champs who kept their composure and came through in the pinch?

They were business executives from outfits like Bank of America, Wachovia, and TIAA-Cref. An international investment banker helped a woman out of the freezing water. The last passenger off the plane -- a married father of four -- works for Oracle Corporation, of all things. "God put me on that plane," the Oracle man said. "I was supposed to take the later flight, and God put me on that plane."

Will they never learn?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Counting by Tens

"How old are you Uncle Sean?" one of my friend's 5-year old kids asked.

"Guess," I said.

"Thirty!" she chimed.

"Higher," I answered.

"Forty!" she exclaimed.

"Lower," I replied.

"Fifty!" she shouted.

"Lower the other way," I suggested.

She did finally guess the correct answer by counting down to the right number -- and each number was proclaimed with just as much enthusiasm as the first few. What fun!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Katyusha

"What's something that sounds romantic in Russian?" my wife asked.

"Nothing sounds romantic in Russian," I said.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. But if you wanted to say 'I love you,' it would be 'Ya tebya lyubyu.'"

This was greeted with great laughter.

Not that Russians are unacquainted with amour: they have a bittersweet folk song titled Katyusha about a young girl who is singing for her beloved gone to
war. The tune is quintessentially Russian. Listen for yourself.

Rendered in English, the song goes thus:

Katyusha (Катюша)
Apple and pear trees were blooming,
Mist was creeping on the river.
Katyusha set out on the banks,
On the steep and lofty bank.

She was walking, singing a song
About a grey steppe eagle,
About her true love,
Whose letters she was keeping.

Oh you song! Little song of a maiden,
Head for the bright sun.
And reach for the soldier on the distant border
Along with greetings from Katyusha.

Let him remember an ordinary girl,
And hear how she sings,
Let him preserve the Motherland,
The same as Katyusha preserves their love.

The name Katyusha is a diminutive of Katya, which is itself a diminutive of Katarina. During WWII the Soviets gave the name Katyusha to one of their screeching rockets.

Figures.

Katyusha Rockets & Launcher

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Being Trained for What Exactly?

The Feast of the Holy Family

A new toy called The Force Trainer uses a simplified EEG device to detect brain activity and then transmit wireless signals to a receiving device that makes a training sphere (i.e. ping-pong ball) rise and fall in a transparent tube.
Story here
Photo here

For my part I prefer a Grasshopper to a Padawan, something even a run-in with a condescending Mahayanan couldn't cure.


Master Po and His Grasshopper

Call me unenlightened, but I find myself in agreement with Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan the Elder) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan the Younger) who said that the Lucas stories are banal and the epitome of tedium.

Not that a tale of a half-Chinese Buddhist monk wandering the American wild west having Kung-Fu battles every week is the height of classicism. Even so, when was the last time you saw marketing for a kid's toy that involved
dodging spears or using his bare hands to lift a cauldron filled with hot coals?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tree, by Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien's grandson Simon Tolkien is a barrister and published author. His web site has been de-commissioned, but before he took it down he made public this memorable comment about his grandfather:

"I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn't agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right."

The image this conjures is lovely.

In a letter to his son Michael dated 25 August, 1967, Tolkien commented directly on the matter of the new Mass (source: The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no. 306):

"The 'protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness - which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because 'primitive Christianity' is now and in spite of all 'research' will ever remain largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is, and was in great a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian liturgical behaviour from the beginning as now. (St Paul's strictures on Eucharistic behaviour are sufficient to show this!) Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history - the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the 'mustard-seed' and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth, the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is part of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree. Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites and so forth. (With trepidation, knowing how little their knowledge of growth is!) But they will certainly do harm if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils. The other motive (now so confused with the primitivist one, even in the mind with any one of the reformers): aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this, 'ecumenicalness' has also become confused."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Who Was That Ent?

Tolkien said that he modeled the voice of the ents after his deep-voiced friend C.S. Lewis.

A sampling can be heard here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tolkien Trivia


A few months back I dropped in on a Tolkien meetup group. We chatted about things Tolkien over dinner, after which the organizer broke out the Tolkien Trivial Pursuit game.

I was one of four Gen-Xers in attendance who was trounced by the Gen-Y college co-ed. The four of us, you see, had jobs and other demands on our time, so we didn't have the advantage of the Gen-Yer to repeatedly watch the
Lord of the Rings movies and commit the dialog to memory. You also know you're in trouble at Trivial Pursuit when the pace-setter declares, "Gee, I don't remember this question."