Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Me and Neil deGrasse Tyson on the film Gravity

This week's movie from the library was Gravity ...

a 2013 science fiction thriller film. It was directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Alfonso Cuarón, and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts. The film depicts the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle and their subsequent attempt to return to Earth.

First, the visual effects are really amazing. I love seeing realistic portrayals of stuff that is near impossible, from a park stocked with dinosaurs to depictions of the future, so I did appreciate the outer space special effects.

But on the downside, much has been made in reviews of the movie's theme. Many have seen that theme as religious, and you can read reviews by Fr; Robert Barron and by those at Thinking Faith on this.

To me, however, it didn't seem religious but more like a really well constructed driver's training film. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong, with the actors going from one splendid looking catastrophe to the next, barely (and sometimes not) surviving. It had elements of nihilism: the female astronaut told of her little girl's meaningless death (this is always worse, I guess, than a "meaningful" death), and her fellow astronaut saved her life only to lose his own as a result. And I also found it spiritually manipulative: we're given glimpses of a religious icon, a statue of Buddha, mentions of prayer and the afterlife, mentions of how beautiful the Ganges river looks from space, and a last minute save via a ghost, all against a backdrop of terrible adversity as beautiful music ebbs and flows. Sigh - it was like The Tree of Life in space :(

When the surviving character, despite her depression over her daughter's death and her co-astronaut's death, realizes she has the will to survive in spades, the music gets especially "moving" ... I think that's when I turned the sound off ;) ... and as she finally drags herself out of the lake and onto shore like Earth's evolving proto-creatures crawling up from the slime, I decided this was an existential film in which the character,s as well as the viewers, were free to take what was intrinsically meaningless and give it value.

For those like me who were not so enamored of the movie, here's Neil deGrasse Tyson telling you about all the things wrong with it :) ...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fifty Shade of Gray = Theology of the Body

- the Huntsman and Snow White

I was kind of disturbed to realize that the actor in the Fifty Shades of Gray movie is the same person who plays the Huntsman in Once Upon a Time. The Huntsman was one of my favorite characters in the series because he cared about animals ... he had been raised by wolves and in his 'modern' incarnation, he volunteered at the animal shelter. Unfortunately, the Evil Queen stole his heart, literally, and eventually killed him by crushing it. Here he is getting persuaded by the Queen to kill Snow White (he instead let her escape) ...

I haven't read the Fifty Shades of Gray but I've read some excerpts and some articles on it and what I find creepy is the connection I perceive between the underlying beliefs of the book and the conservative Catholic view of sex (Theology of the Body) ... both seem desperate attempts to control the honest and unpredictable unfolding of people's sexual relationships through programming and technique.

Sad to see the Huntsman morph into such an icky character.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


- Physics ....

- I remember reading this book when I was a teen, Now a movie about the book and its writer ...

- From Tina Beattie: Pope Francis has done little to improve women’s lives

- From an international law blog: Update on Archbishop Wesolowski Prosecution

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The resurrection of Thomas Riker

One of the things I like about the book I'm now reading - Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice - is that it includes the character of Thomas Riker. For those not Star Trek fans, Thomas Riker was introduced in the tv episode, Second Chances, in which Commander Riker comes face to face with an exact duplicate of himself, created years earlier by a transporter phenomenon.

Thomas Riker had quite a hard row to hoe after he had been rescued ... Willaim Rkier was uncomfortable around him and though he and Deanna Troi tried to recapture what they had once had, the relationship failed. He tried being an officer on another ship but eventually he left Starfleet and joined the rebel force, the Maquis, working against the (fairly evil) Cardassians. He showed up on an episode of DS9 next when he tried to steal a ship for his cause by impersonating William Riker ...

Thomas Riker chose to give up the ship and surrender himself to the Cardassins in order to save his crew, and he thereafter languished in a Cardassian prison until his death.

Or did he? ;)

In the book I'm now reading, it's revealed that Thomas had escaped and had faked his death during the fog or the Dominion war. He and William come into contact again when he's recruited for a clandestine mission, and by the end of the book the two men are reconciled. I found it very satisfying that the character of Tom Riker, whose life had been terribly blighted by circumstances beyond his control, was finally given a second chance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Talk Shows On Mute

I don't listen to the radio so most of the music I hear is actually embedded on tv shows or movies or playing on the muzak at stores :) Here's a song I liked from last night's episode of The 4400 ....

Take a bow
Pack on powder
Wash 'em out with buzzing lights
Pay an audience to care
"Impress me" personality

Still and transfixed
The electric sheep are dreaming of your face
Enjoy you from the chemical
Comfort of America

Come one, come all
Into 1984
Yeah, three, two, one
Lights, camera, transaction

Quick, your time is almost up
Make all forget that they're the moth
Edging in towards the flame
Burn into obscurity

Still and transfixed
The electric sheep are dreaming up your fate
And judge you from the card castle
Comfort of America

Come one, come all
Into 1984
Yeah, three, two, one
Lights, camera, transaction

Your foundation is canyoning
Fault lines should be worn with pride
I hate to say it but
You're so much more
You're so much more
Endearing with the sound turned off

Arctic Cathedral

- Arctic Cathedral

I'm still reading books in that Star Trek: Titan series and the latest one, Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice, has a scene set in the beautiful Norwegian town of Tromsø, where the Arctic Cathedral lives. You can see the cathedral at the bottom of the bridge ...

Some other pics of the town (all are from Wikipedia Commons) ...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pope Francis is failing on sex abuse

As the notorious Cardinal Brady offers his resignation (mandatory at his age) ... Cardinal Brady's resignation 'too little, too late' ... one is reminded that when Pope Francis met with sex abuse victims, one of them from Ireland begged him to remove Brady from office ... Irish abuse victim tells Pope she wants Cardinal Brady removed ... but the pope's only reply was that "it was difficult to make these changes" - to date, no action or even comment has been taken or made by the pope on *any* bishop who has been known to have covered up sex abuse.

Meanwhile, the man Pope Francis has chosen to be one of his eight advisers and to clean up corruption in the Vatican's financial system - Cardinal Pell - shows once again his lack of respect for abuse victims.

And today I read about the Vatican's failure to deal fairly with the sex abuse career of former Dominican Republic nuncio Wesolowski ...For Nuncio Accused of Abuse, Dominicans Want Justice at Home, Not Abroad. I had an earlier post about him - How not to inspire confidence - and here Laurie Goodstein sums it up ...

[T]he Vatican has stirred an outcry because it helped Mr. Wesolowski avoid criminal prosecution and a possible jail sentence in the Dominican Republic. Acting against its own guidelines for handling abuse cases, the church failed to inform the local authorities of the evidence against him, secretly recalled him to Rome last year before he could be investigated, and then invoked diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic ...

The district attorney, Ms. Reynoso, said her investigators had identified four children aged 12 to 17 with whom the nuncio had sexual contact, but that there were likely others.

The 17-year-old had epilepsy, and the nuncio gave him medicine for his condition in exchange for sexual acts, starting from when the boy was 13, the district attorney said. She said she had “no doubt” about the credibility of the youths’ testimony, because it was corroborated by other evidence. “This is the most terrible case that I have ever seen,” said Ms. Reynoso. “He was abusing kids who were living in extreme poverty, in exchange for pills for a boy’s illness. It’s very perverse.” ....

The Vatican has refused to extradite Wesolowski to Poland as well.

Even John Allen, something of a Vatican cheerleader, notes the lack of any progress on sex abuse by the pope ...

[In] the Church’s reform wing vis-à-vis the abuse scandals, there’s growing concern about a perceived stall at the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, launched in December 2013 to be the cutting edge of the clean-up operation. The commission, which includes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, was instrumental in engineering Francis’ first meeting with abuse victims on July 7.

While there’s been plenty of work behind the scenes, statutes for the commission have not been officially approved, new members representing other parts of the world have not been appointed, and decisions about where the commission will be located and what its leadership will be have not been announced. Aside from the victims’ meeting, the commission has not launched any public initiative that would provide some indication of its priorities and direction.

All this stands in contrast to the rapid pace at which the financial reform launched by Francis and spearheaded by Pell is moving.

What reformers in the Church are saying, for now just on background, is that the commission needs to do something soon to create the impression of momentum. What they don’t want is for people to draw the conclusion that while managing money matters under this pope, protecting children is a comparative afterthought.

Too late.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Captain Hook's backstory

At last the third season of Once Upon a Time is rent-able. I've now learned that the infamous Captain Hook ...

was once a legitimate officer in the royal navy ...

until he met with personal tragedy in Neverland. Here he is with his brother on a quest from the king to find a magical plant, where upon they meet Peter Pan, and then a bit later, disaster ...


- Fr. Tom Reese SJ has a post at NCR - Why Pope Francis supports limited action against Islamic State. He tries to explain why the pope is being Catholic in not being a pacifist ... the whole Augustin/Aquinas Just War thing. I know only a shred of Catholicism is pacifistic (Pax Christi), but the Catholic Just War idea doesn't seem very "Christian" to me.

- Cardinal George Pell Sparks Outrage In Sex Abuse Survivors With 'Trucking Company' Analogy. Surely we saw this coming ... Pell has been a scary guy forever - see my past posts ... Pell, sex abuse, church money ... Cardinal Pell and the Ellis sex abuse case ... Cardinal Pell

- Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 1 and Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 2

- I can't help thinking the upcoming Vatican synod on the family will be pointless, given the Vatican's refusal to re-examine its teachings despite the huge chasm between those teachings and the way everyone, including Catholics, live their lives.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Back in 2006, I had a post about a movie, Proof of Life, which dealt with the use of kidnapping for not only financial but political purposes, and about the profession of those who work to get the kidnap victim back safely - K & R specialists. I was reminded of that post when I read an editorial in The New York Times today about the kidnapping of journalist James Foley. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] Kidnappings have been a staple of guerrilla warfare since they were popularized by Latin American revolutionaries in the 1970s, as has been the debate over whether to pay ransom. The United Nations estimated that about $30 million was paid out in ransom for political kidnappings in Latin America in 1973 alone.

The practice was exported around the world and especially to the Middle East, where many hostages, including journalists, were seized over the past decades. More recently, ransom income has played a major role in financing the Qaeda network — a recent report by Rukmini Callimachi in The Times found that more than 50 hostages have been seized by Al Qaeda over the past five years, and many have been ransomed for substantial sums paid by European governments.

Still, there have been changes in recent years. First is the cruelty of kidnapping foreigners purely to post their executions online. The beheading of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, by a top Qaeda operative in 2002 revealed the viciousness of the Islamic fanatics, a cruelty raised to new levels by ISIS .....

Speaking of kidnapping, I saw this in the news today - Hamas Admits To Kidnapping And Killing Israeli Teens

Thursday, August 21, 2014


I know I'm not objective about this stuff and not even well informed because I often avoid reading news stories that will upset me, but in my travels through the web today I felt sick at seeing the juxtaposition of two articles ... Anglican priest Giles Fraser's continuing defense of terrorism and this story linking Britain and the video beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Here is James Foley speaking at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in 2011 ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A contemporary crusade?

On the plane back from Korea, the Pope appears to have endorsed military action in Iraq. Here's a video of Francis speaking on this issue, from the Catholic News Service ...

I was surprised and kind of disturbed - the church seems much more militant about this conflict involving Christians than it has been about any other current conflict ... think of Francis' call for prayer and fasting rather than military intervention in Syria, where many more people have been killed and displaced (The Syrian civil war ... has left more than 170,000 people dead and displaced 9 million more).

Pope says ISIS must be stopped. But how?

Nonviolence, Not Just War - Fr. John Dear

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And more on Hans Urs von Balthasar

After seeing Karen Kilby's talk in my previous post, I was intrigued to see that Fr. Baron had a couple of video talks on von Balthasar as well. Usually I find Fr. Baron too conservative, but his take on the Swiss Jesuit was interesting ... I didn't know, for instance, that he was a fan of Mozart :) ...

Another video lecture ...

from the celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the foundation of Heythrop College and of the Jesuit educational tradition, this one on four Jesuit theologians: Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, and Henri de Lubac. The talk is by Karen Kilby, the Bede Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University. She has some interesting things to say about von Balthasar and Rahner ...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Philip Endean SJ lecture

From a celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the foundation of Heythrop College and of the Jesuit educational tradition, here's the video of a talk given by Philip Endean SJ on The Reception of Ignatian Spirituality in Britain ....

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What I read about today

- The Tacit Supernaturalism of Popular Science

- Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

- There are so many popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages/Renaissance ... here's the debunking of one example ... Busting a myth about Columbus and a flat Earth.

- Stars in talks over Massachusetts Catholic church sex abuse case movie ... Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci and Michael Keaton are in talks to star in a film about the Catholic church’s attempt to conceal sexual abuse by priests, according to multiple reports. The film, Spotlight, will follow the Boston Globe’s investigation into the decades-long cover-up of church sexual abuse in Massachusetts. The Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting lead to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, who had helped hide a history of serial abuse, and also precipitated a wave of similar charges across the US and the world.

- A letter from Stephen Fry to (a different) Crystal about depression.

- Everything You Know About Ebola Is Wrong

- As online anti-Semitism grows, so do efforts to counter it

- Some beautiful photos of bees :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014


My latest book from the library is Heresy by SJ Parris (Stephanie Jane Merritt). It's an historical mystery about Giordano Bruno .....

an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. He is celebrated for his cosmological theories, which went even further than the then-novel Copernican model: while supporting heliocentrism, Bruno also correctly proposed that the Sun was just another star moving in space, and claimed as well that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds, identified as planets orbiting other stars. Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of several core Catholic doctrines (including the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and Transubstantiation). Bruno's pantheism was also a matter of grave concern. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori.

Here's the beginning of a review of the book in the Guardian ...

Stephanie Merritt's pseudonymous third novel opens as its hero, the philosopher and memory expert Giordano Bruno, is discovered reading Erasmus on the privy. Not such a crime, you might think. But the year is 1576 and Bruno is a Dominican friar at a monastery in Naples. Before you can say "No one expects the Italian inquisition", Bruno has dropped the book into the cesspit, fled the building and become a fugitive from religious justice – which is, of course, no justice at all.

Actually, these are true events. The historical Bruno ended up in Paris where he secured the patronage of some of France's most powerful men, notably King Henry III. In April 1583, he visited England for the first time. With his friend, the poet Philip Sidney, he travelled to Oxford, where he hoped to find a teaching post. Alas, his progressive views – he went beyond Copernicus in proposing an infinite universe containing solar systems similar to our own – led to accusations of heresy and necromancy, and he emerged bruised from a public dispute with the rector of Lincoln College, John Underhill.

Merritt uses Bruno's Oxford trip as the framework for an atmospheric and well-written historical thriller ....

I've just started it but so far it's pretty good :)

Love this piece of music ...

by Steve Jablonsky - My Name is Lincoln - that comes at the end of the film The Island ...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Original sin and The X-Files

- The Fall of Man, Hendrik Goltzius

I read an interesting article today at The Atlantic - The Internet's Original Sin - about how good intentions can be the paving stones to hell ;) Here's just a bit of it ...

[...] What we wanted to do was to build a tool that made it easy for everyone, everywhere to share knowledge, opinions, ideas and photos of cute cats. As everyone knows, we had some problems, primarily business model problems, that prevented us from doing what we wanted to do the way we hoped to do it. What we’re asking for today is a conversation about how we could do this better, since we screwed up pretty badly the first time around .....

I use the first personal plural advisedly. From 1994 to 1999, I worked for, helping to architect, design, and implement a website that marketed content and services to recent college graduates. When that business failed to catch on, we became a webpage-hosting provider and proto-social network. Over the course of five years, we tried dozens of revenue models, printing out shiny new business plans to sell each one. We’d run as a subscription service! Take a share of revenue when our users bought mutual funds after reading our investment advice! Get paid to bundle a magazine with textbook publishers! Sell T-shirts and other branded merch!

At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good .......

How do The X-Files figure into this? Years ago when I belonged to an online fiction writers group, I wrote a short-short story about the imagined murder of the creator of pop-up ads, which came to the attention of Mulder and Scully ....

- my autographed DD postcard :)

* * *

X-File Homage

This story was written for a Science Fiction Challenge on the subject of fan fiction

Special Agent Fox Mulder leaned against the wall of the autopsy suite, eating sunflower seeds and watching Agent Dana Scully as she pulled the sheet from a dead body. The corpse lay at an awkward angle on its side due to the computer keyboard that protruded from it's nether regions.

"Ouch," muttered Mulder. "That's got to hurt."

Scully gave her partner a baleful glance and began to speak into a voice activated recorder that hung from the ceiling between the bright surgical lights. "The victim, Fred Wiggins, appears to have died from blunt force trauma to the head ..."

"You can say that again," Mulder added, interrupting her. He gazed at Wiggins' head, or what was left of it ... a computer terminal had all but obliterated it and seemed now to be fused to the remnant of skull and brain tissue.

Picking up a scalpel in a gloved hand, Scully began to carve a Y incision into the stiff body that lay before her. "I don't understand why we've been assigned this case, Mulder. I'm as happy to snap on the latex as the next person, but this seems to be an albeit grotesque but normal murder, not an X-File."

Mulder crunched a sunflower seed hull between his teeth and suppressed a sigh. "Scully, Scully, Scully ... after all we've seen, how can you still be so naive?''

His partner arched an interrogative brow as she began to remove the corpse's rib cage with a handsaw. Mulder elaborated, pointing to the strategically placed computer keyboard. "Remember that case we had in which ritual magic was used to materialize surgical instruments inside a person's intestinal tract?"

"Yes, but this isn't exactly ..."

Mulder held up a restraining hand as he continued. "Then there was that X-File in which a man exposed to toxic chemicals was slowly turned into a machine."

"Surely you don't think that's the case here, Mulder. This man has obviously ..."

Before Scully could finish her sentence, the door to the autopsy suite swung open and FBI Assistant Director Skinner, the agents' boss, walked in. "You two are off the case."

"On whose say-so?" Mulder asked.

"The Justice Department has deemed this to be not a wrongful death after all but justifiable homicide. And they want the details kept quiet," Skinner said, as he cast a disturbed glance at the mutilated corpse.

"Just as I thought ... a far reaching global conspiracy concocted by the secret powers within our government and their alien masters." In emphasis, Mulder thumped his fist against the computer terminal that the deceased Mr. Wiggins now used as a head.

"Oh, come on Mulder ..." Scully began, but Skinner cut her off.

"He's right, Scully."

"I am?" Mulder looked more surprised than his partner.

His expression grim, Skinner looked around the room, as if to be sure they were alone. "Yes ... Mr. Wiggins was involved in something more diabolical, more truly evil, than anything you've yet encountered in the X-Files. I think it's possible that someone in the government had him silenced before he could reveal anything. Wiggins was a computer programmer. In collusion with unnamed forces so powerful and dangerous as to be beyond accountability, for dark purposes I can't even begin to imagine, he created the prototype of ... the pop-up ad."

"My God!" Scully gasped.

Mulder was, for once, speechless. Then, taking a deep steadying breath, he put the unsolvable case behind him. "So, you guys hungry?'

Skinner shrugged, "I could eat."

Scully snapped off the latex and, discussing restaurants, the three left the room.

* * *