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Friday, February 27, 2009

Keith Ward interview

I liked that last lecture by Keith Ward that I posted the other day and so decided to look for more about him. I found this video interview of him by Robert Wright at Slate magazine. He talks about world religions, religion and science, and the problem of evil (hs take on this last point I found less than convincing) .... pretty interesting. The page at Slate where the video lives is here, where you can also find a link to a transcript.





Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thomas Reese SJ on Lefebvre ....

...... from 1988, which is historically interesting as it's just when the founder of the SSPX was about to consecrate four bishops against the will of the Vatican, one of whom was the Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson. Here's a little of what Fr. Reese wrote, from Archbishop Lefebvre: Moving Toward Schism? .....

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Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is threatening to ordain three bishops this June, a move that will put him in formal schism with the Roman Catholic Church. The ordination of bishops is the act of rebellion most feared by the Vatican because it would provide episcopal successors to the 82-year-old Archbishop. Without bishops, the movement will eventually wither away after his death since there will be no one to ordain new priests and bishops. If he does ordain a bishop without Vatican approval, he will be automatically excommunicated under the Code of Canon Law .....

Marcel Lefebvre was raised in a conservative French family by an industrialist father who longed for the return of the monarchy. Both father and son believed all of France's problems (liberalism, modernism, socialism and Communism) originated in the French Revolution. In the Archbishop's mind, the council presided over the marriage of the church and the revolution. "The union of Church and Revolution is adulterous. And from such an adulterous union, nothing but bastards can come forth. And who or what are the bastards? Our rites. The rite of the Mass is a bastard rite!"

Archbishop Lefebvre is known most widely for his support of the Tridentine liturgy and his attacks on the liturgical changes initiated by Vatican II. But his complaints against Vatican II go far beyond liturgical reforms. He also rejects conciliar developments in collegiality, religious liberty and ecumenism. These are seen by him as corresponding to the Revolution's égalité, liberté and fraternité.

At the Vatican Council, he even refused to sign the final versions of "The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" and "The Declaration on Religious Liberty." In his view, "The council has allowed those professing errors and tendencies condemned by the popes...to believe in good faith that their teachings are now approved."

Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended from priestly functions in July of 1976 after ordaining priests against the direct order of Pope Paul VI. He has continued to ordain priests against papal orders. These priests, and others who have joined him, do not recognize the authority of the Pope or of local bishops. They have sown confusion among the faithful by constantly reviling the council and attacking local bishops as heretics. In a 1970 profession of faith, he rejected "the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant leanings that clearly manifested itself in the Second Vatican Council and after the council in the reforms issuing from it." .....

In Archbishop Lefebvre's view, "Not we are in schism, the conciliar church is!" He has vowed that "no authority--not even the highest authority in the hierarchy--can compel us to depart from our Catholic faith as it has been taught for 19 centuries." (See Bede Lackner, "Archbishop Lefebvre and His Rebellion Today," America, July 13, 1985) ....... Despite this mud slinging by the Archbishop, the Pope has continued trying to bring the Archbishop back into the church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has met repeatedly with the Archbishop .....

The day of reckoning between Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and John Paul II is fast approaching. Up until now, the Vatican has followed the same strategy one would use with hijackers or terrorists. Vatican officials have kept talking in the hopes that the Archbishop would be reconciled or die before he ordained a bishop. Archbishop Lefebvre says, "I've already pushed the date back four times, and I cannot delay the ordinations another time." Unless the Archbishop once again postpones the ordination of new bishops, the Pope must give in to the Archbishop or acknowledge his excommunication.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Keith Ward lecture


- Keith Ward

Today I listened to a fun lecture (mp3 or video, about 1 hour length) from last month by fellow of the British Academy and Anglican priest Keith Ward, entitled God, Science and the New Atheism at Cambridge. Early on in the lecture, he mentions the Flying Spaghetti Monster :) ......




Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday


- Ash Wednesday by Roger Wagner

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Roger Wagner's Visionary Landscapes, Image Journal

[...] An elegiac note is also struck in one of Wagner's earliest compositions, entitled Ash Wednesday. In it, he has translated an enigmatic section from T. S. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday into pictorial form. The section begins:

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live?
.....

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What Rilke meant



I've started a Lenten audio retreat given by Creighton University. The first installment (of eleven mp3 files) began with a poem by Mary Oliver .....

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Paul Touvier and the SSPX

I've just begun reading a new audio book I got by chance at the library yesterday. I only picked it out because there was a picture of Michael Cain on the cover :) but it's weird how the story it tells turned out to relate to recent events - the furor over the Pope de-excommunicating the SSPX bishops.

The book is The Statement by Brian Moore and is a fictional mystery but is based on the the real-life case of Paul Touvier, A French Vichy era war criminal who was long protected by government officials and the Catholic Church. He was found guilty of treason and collusion with the Nazis, and was also later charged with crimes against humanity for the deportation of Jews and the murder of seven Jewish hostages at Rillieux-la-Pape, near Lyon, on 29 June 1944. He was sentenced to death in absentia because he was on the run and never caught until 1989 when he was found hiding with the SSPX. Here's some of what Wikipedia has on this ....

It was not until 1989 that Touvier was found hiding in the Society of Saint Pius X Priory in Nice. The SSPX stated at the time that Touvier had been allowed to live in the Priory as "an act of charity to a homeless man."

After his arrest, further allegations appeared in print, stating that he had been aided for years by the Catholic Church hierarchy in Lyon and later by members of the Traditionalist Catholic movement. He was defended by the monarchist lawyer Jacques Tremollet de Villers, who later became president of the Traditionalist Catholic organization La Cité Catholique ....

Paul Touvier was granted provisional release in July 1991 and his trial for complicity in crimes against humanity only began on March 17, 1994. He expressed remorse for his actions, saying that he thought of the seven Jewish victims of Rillieux-la-Pape every day. A Traditionalist Catholic priest of the Society of Saint Pius X sat beside him at the defense table, acting as his spiritual advisor. On April 20, a nine-person jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life imprisonment .... On July 17, 1996, Paul Touvier died of prostate cancer in Fresnes prison near Paris. A Tridentine Requiem Mass was offered for the repose of his soul at St Nicolas du Chardonnet, the Society of St. Pius X chapel in Paris.



Steinbeck on Positano



The picture in my calendar for today is of Positano. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ....

Positano is a small town on the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana), in Campania, Italy .... Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times, and prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. But by the mid-19th century, the town had fallen on hard times. More than half the population emigrated, mostly to Australia.

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper's Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."


As it turns out, you can read what Steinbeck had to say online here. Here's just a bit of it .....

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[...] Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water lips gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide.

Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it. You think, " If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell. " There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano. In the first place there is no room. There are about two thousand inhabitants in Positano and there is room for about five hundred visitors, no more. The cliffs are all taken. Except for the half ruinous houses very high up, all space is utilized. And the Positanese invariably refuse to sell. They are curious people. I will go into that later.

Again, Positano is never likely to attract the organdie-and-white linen tourist. It would be impossible to dress as a languid tourist-lady-crisp, cool white dress, sandals as white and light as little clouds, picture hat of arrogant nonsense, and one red rose held in a listless whitegloved pinky. I dare any dame to dress like this and climb the Positano stairs for a cocktail. She will arrive looking like a washcloth at a boys’ camp. There no way for her to get anywhere except by climbing. This alone eliminates one kind of tourist, the show tourist. The third deterrent to a great influx of tourists lies in the nature of the Posianese themselves. They just don’t give a damn. They have been living here since before recorded history and they don’t intend to change now. They don’t have much but they like what they have and will not move over for a buck .....

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Naked is good ....


... if you're a mole rat :)

One of the pages I visit is New Scientist's news page. Their stories can be very interesting, like this one about Beauty - Map-reading skills change how we view beauty.

But my favorite recent story was about naked mole rats and the possible clue they may have to longevity. I came upon these little guys a few years ago when researching a story about zoos and thought they were wonderful. Here's a short video of them from the Oregon Zoo ...

Piteşti prison

Paula sent me a note about a place I'd never heard of before - Piteşti prison. This from Wikipedia ....

The Piteşti prison (Romanian: Închisoarea Piteşti) was a penal facility in Piteşti, Romania, best remembered for the brainwashing experiment carried out by Communist authorities in 1949-1952 (also known as Experimentul Piteşti - the "Piteşti Experiment" or Fenomenul Piteşti - the "Piteşti Phenomenon"). The latter was designed as an attempt at violently "reeducating" the mostly young political prisoners, male members of banned groupings such as the National Peasants' and National Liberal parties, as well as those who claimed inspiration from the fascist Iron Guard or Zionist members of the Romanian Jewish community .....

I have to admit I don't know much about communism in Europe back in the 50s. If anything, I was pretty desensitized to the subject as a kid by the anti-communist ferver of my great aunt Alberta, a member of the John Birch Society. Reading about Piteşti prison was really sobering, though.

You can read a little more about it at the Wikipedia page and also at another site - The Memorial of the Victims of Communism


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nice Pascal quotation

I read a recent post at James Alison's website. The posted article - The pain and the endgame: reflections on a whimper - is in the form of a letter in which Fr. Alison responds to an inquiry about how he feels after various recent incidents relating to being Catholic and gay. His take on the Vatican's private and public stances on the issue and how these relate to its interaction with the news media is interesting. Best to read the whole thing, of course, as I had to leave a lot out, but here's just a bit of what he wrote .....

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Dear C.

You wrote to me to say how overwhelmed you were with the various incidents in the public domain relating to being Catholic and gay which piled up over the last few weeks of 2008, and wondered if I had anything to say. I asked you for some time, since I too have found it all somewhat overwhelming, and wanted to avoid immediate commentary, which tends to be reactive and not helpful.

However, I’ve been trying to work through it all, and have sort of got a handle on it – one which is odder than I had expected.

So let me list the various incidenti:

* There was the press surrounding the Vatican document on the use of psychology with regards to the preparation of candidates for the priesthood; There was the simultaneous good news of Obama’s election and the bad news of the victory of Proposition 8 in California, made worse by the way in which our Church was associated with the Mormons in helping produce that victory, and made weirder by the odd semi-apologies/semi-justifications made by several Bishops to gay and lesbian catholics;
* There was the row over the Vatican’s initial refusal to go along with a UN proposal concerning depenalisation of homosexuality, justified with some truly bad arguments by Archbishop Migliore, and then rather inelegantly backed-down from by the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi;
* there was the huge kerfuffle surrounding the Holy Father’s pre-Christmas remarks to the Curia surrounding ecology and “gender”;
* and finally, and this has happened since you wrote to me, there has been a minor, but very interesting, flap in the Italian press surrounding a much more sensible than usual article which appeared in the official newspaper run by the Italian Bishops’s Conference.

..... (very big snip) ....

There are two quite objective issues which are going to play in this media’s favour in the foreseeable future. The first is that it is by now abundantly clear that the basic characterisation - the whole “objective disorder” package - which underlies current Church attempts to deal with matters gay, is untenable. And yet no one in a public position of authority in the Church dares to speak reasonably or truthfully about this. What starts as a mistake does eventually turn into a lie when it is held onto deliberately while the evidence grows against it, and it is more and more obvious that those charged with defending it know that it is indefensible. In this sphere, the media know they’ve got the Church in a lie, and they enjoy making the Church squirm.

The second and linked objective issue is that the media knows perfectly well that it is dealing, in a significant number of cases, with closeted gay men. Those who live in the press village in Rome know a great deal concerning who is gay, and who is who’s boyfriend. This is nothing new. What is new is that what in generations gone by was agreed by everyone to be a subject not fit to be talked about, is now increasingly normal and non-scandalous conversational fare. So when Church authority starts to talk about matters gay, it is talking out of a “don’t ask don’t tell” culture which is increasingly not shared by anyone else. In short, the media knows not only that it has the Church in a lie, but it also knows that very frequently in this sphere it is dealing with liars. This is what dwelling in a field of mendacity has done to us all.

And the liars have absolutely no idea how to cope with this. The office holders are entrapped liars, living in a sphere in which they appear to suffer from a moral impossibility of truthtelling, and are constantly vulnerable. The good reasons for silence and discretion (not scandalizing those of little faith, enabling slow and gentle change) and the bad reasons (self-preservation, convenience, job security) are impossibly closely intertwined. So they retreat into implausible, dry and defensive positions which only make the Church more ridiculous. And of course they can never draw attention to the small, sensible shifts which they are longing to bring about, and are actually bringing about, since that would be to reveal themselves. The sensible ones don’t dare to say anything except in the most oblique of codes, while the less bright shoot their mouths off at the slightest provocation.

All of this is far too good news for the media to be able to be resolved easily. Closet cases can be relied upon to be excessively hardline in backing up right-wing causes, knee-jerked by the tacit blackmail of the more conservative press which at least is trying to keep alive the “don’t ask don’t tell” world so vital for the survival of the closet. While the liberal press can constantly titillate, rile, and scandalize with its subtle hints of the hypocrisy of the whole operation.

Now it seems to me quite important, again, for our own mental hygiene, that we be able to stand back sufficiently from all this not to be too quickly and easily drawn into the scandalous world of the scandalised, which is what is promoted by the current link between matters gay, Church authority, media, and cultural shift. The Holy Spirit is not part of the scandal, and is quietly, gently undoing its knots from within so as to set us free.

..... (another big snip) .....

To the relief of both of us, my final point. Because we are talking about a work of the Holy Spirit, leading us into truth, and because we are talking not about a culture clash, nor a political struggle, but the birthing of the new Creation through the sacrament of salvation which is the Church, there is a quite specific dynamic which has been given us to live out creatively in the midst of this time of flailing. The nausea-inducing lies, poor arguments, moral opportunism and cowardice will flourish as sideshows while the Spirit gradually brings its work into being. But the Spirit’s work will not be achieved by clever victories, or putting bad people down .....

I’d like to conclude with a couple of quotations I found in the most recent book of the thinker I follow, René Girard, called Achever Clausewitz. The first is from Pascal, and says incomparably well what I have been trying to flesh out above ....

What a long and strange war it is where violence tries to crush truth! Hard as it may struggle, violence cannot weaken truth, and its efforts only make truth stand out more clearly. Truth, however brightly it may shine, can do nothing to stop violence, and its light only irritates violence even more. When might is ranged against might, the stronger defeats the weaker. When discourse is ranged against discourse, what is true and convincing confounds and dissipates what is based only on vanity and lies. But violence and truth can do nothing, the one against the other. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled by that into thinking that they are at the same level as each other. For there is this extreme difference between them: that violence only has a course marked out for it by God’s command, such that its effects redound to the glory of the truth which it is attacking, while truth subsists eternally, and triumphs in the end over its enemies. Because it is as eternal and powerful as God himself. .......

May we be given to drink deep from this “goût du réel”!

Your brother,
James
São Paulo, February 2009.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lent and baptism


- is Lent all about eating gruel? :)

What's Lent about? I realized I don't really know. I had a nagging feeling that it's more than just not eating meat .... I'm already a vegetarian ... so I decided to look for some online info. Usually I look at Creighton University and get the Jesuit take on things (their Lent page), but today instead I went to American Catholic to see what the Franciscans had to say (their Lent page). There I found a short video on Lent with Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M. who tells how the Vatican II Council looked back to the origins of Lent and saw it as a preparation for baptism. It reminded me of my RCIA journey. For those interested, here's the video ....




Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ivanhoe


- Rebecca and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert by Léon Cogniet

My latest book from the library is Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. It's set in England in 1194 during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, though when it begins, he's not yet back in England after the third crusade in the Holy Land. Prince John is regent and portrayed as pretty awful (I think he gets too much bad press) and Richard is being waited for with the combination of reverence and hope one associates with the second coming (I believe he was actually a pretty bad king, all in all). The Normans are top dogs, the Saxons are put upon, and the Jews are terribly used.

The main characters are Cedric the Saxon, a direct descendant of Harold II and one of the few Saxon thanes still holding on to a bit of property and power, his ward Rowena, mostly known for her beauty, and Cedric's son Ivanhoe, who loves Rowena and is incognito, just back from fighting in the crusade under Richard.

Other characters - the Jewish moneylender, Isaac of York, his beautiful daughter Rebecca, and a Knight Templar named Brian de Bois-Guilbert who falls for Rebecca. Oh, and Robin Hood too :)

There's a tournament, a castle seige, and combat between Ivanhoe and the Templar, with the heart of Rowena and the life of Rebecca hanging in the balance. All is saved in the end by the appearance of King Richard.

The book has been made into movies a number of times and you can read it online here


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Greg Boyle SJ



I noticed today that Creighton University has a page with a story about Jesuit Greg Boyle, with a video and also an audio file (mp3) of a talk given by him on February 10th at St. John's Church ..... Finding Christ in the Suffering of our Cities. It's worth listening to.

Here's a little about Fr. Boyle from Wikipedia ...

Father Gregory "Greg" Joseph Boyle, S.J. is a Jesuit priest. He is the director and founder of Homeboy Industries and former pastor of Dolores Mission Church ..... Father Boyle began his work at Dolores Mission organizing the parish around Christian base communities and following Liberation Theology principles. With his support and guidance, the base communities began developing different programs to help the working poor in their community: a shelter for homeless immigrants; a cooperative daycare; a community organizing program; a school; and a jobs program for gang members, the latter being the precursor of Homeboy Industries. In 1986, Father Boyle declared Dolores Mission a sanctuary for all immigrants. His motto is “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job.”


Friday, February 13, 2009

Gary Wills at Grace Cathedral

I came across another video discussion from Grace Cathedral, this one with the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Catholic writer Gary Wills, who discusses his latest book, Head and Heart: American Christianities, an examination of Christianity's place in American life across history, with mentions of the Deist Founding Fathers, The Great Awakening, the bloody religiosity of the Civil War, the Karl Rove era, and there's an interesting comment on present day Catholicism - I found it really interesting :) .....




Thursday, February 12, 2009

What if The Matrix ran on Windows ?

I'm always the last person to see these things, but here it is anyway .... as a mac user, I just couldn't resist :)




Kessler Syndrome


- The Kessler Syndrome is a scenario, proposed by NASA consultant Donald J. Kessler, in which the volume of space debris in Low Earth Orbit is so high that objects in orbit are frequently struck by debris, creating even more debris and a greater risk of further impacts. The implication of this scenario is that the escalating amount of debris in orbit could eventually render space exploration, and even the use of satellites, infeasible for many generations. - Wikipedia

When I read that two satellites had collided in space, I was not much surprised - the amount of stuff in orbit around the earth is huge - and I wondered why none of the neat ideas come up with over the years by science fiction writers to take care of the problem had never been explored :) Here's just the beginning of an article that shows what I mean .....

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Terminator Tether - EDT Solution To Space Debris Update

You wouldn't think that humanity has been this busy in space - but there are over nine thousand satellites and other large objects in orbit around the Earth, along with many smaller objects. These objects include spent vehicle upper stages, separation bolts, lens caps, momentum flywheels, nuclear reactor cores, auxiliary motors and launch vehicle fairings. Material degradation due to atomic oxygen, solar heating and solar radiation produces particulate matter. Solid rocket motors used to boost satellite orbits leave motor casings, nozzle slag, solid-fuel fragments and exhaust cone bits. More than 124 satellite breakups have been verified; many more are believed to have occurred; these are generally caused by explosions and collisions. Satellites or other objects in orbit higher than 700 kilometers will stay there for hundreds of years; LEO satellites have an average working life of just five years.

Studies have shown that low Earth orbit is not a limitless resource and should be managed more carefully. Some sort of debris-mitigation measures are needed to solve the problem of old, unusable satellites and space junk.

Arthur C. Clarke had exactly this problem when he was trying to build his fictional space elevator in his wonderful 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise; he initiated Operation Cleanup:

For two hundred years, satellites of all shapes and sizes, from loose nuts and bolts to entire space villages, had been accumulating in Earth orbit. All that came below the extreme elevation of the Tower, at any time, now had to be accounted for, since they created a possible hazard...

Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task...
(Read more about Operation Cleanup)
..........

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Nothing says "forever" like a vacuum :)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Piazza della Signoria



One of the great things about the beginning of the year is that I get to have a new calendar. This year's is a small desk calendar with a new page for every day .... of Italy :) The one for yesterday has a photo of the statue of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Here's a little from Wikipedia ...

Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It was named after the Palazzo della Signoria, also called Palazzo Vecchio.

It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists.

The impressive 14th century Palazzo Vecchio is still preeminent with its crenellated tower. The square is also shared with the Loggia della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palace of the Tribunale della Mercanzia (1359) (now the Bureau of Agriculture), and the Uguccioni Palace (16th Century, with a facade probably by Raphael). Located in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Palace of the Assicurazioni Generali (1871, built in Renaissance style).


The square holds a lot of statues, including the one on my calendar page from the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati. It was commissioned for the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565.


- Neptune

Perhaps the most well known statue in the square is by Benvenuto Cellini - Perseus with the Head of Medusa ....



This one is my favorite as I like the Greek myth of Perseus and the Gorgon with her snakey hair, who could turn people to stone :)


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Guy Consolmagno SJ

Here's a video of a discussion with Vatican astronomer and Jesuit Br. Guy Consolmagno from San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. It's pretty interesting :) .......

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Remember the future

I came across a homily given a few days ago by the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás SJ, at St. Ignatius Church on the campus of the University of San Francisco. It's about martyrdom and I thought it was very thoughtful. You can find an audio file of it on this page at sjweb, you can read about his visit to USF here, and you can see a video of the church service and of him giving the homily at St. Ignatius Church here.


History of Niagara Falls



I was looking through the library's online catalogue of new books and saw Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies. It's about the history of Niagara Falls (someplace I've actually visited :) and that led me to a Wikipedia page about The Human Drift.

The Human Drift was a book written by King Camp Gillette, a businessman most well known for having inventing the safety razor, but also a utopian socialist. Here's a bit from Wikipedia about the book, which was influenced by the work being done by Tesla and Westinghouse on electricity ......

Gillette .... published a book titled The Human Drift (1894), which advocated that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910), was a prospectus for a company set up to create this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a fee of one million dollars. (Roosevelt declined the offer.) ...

The title of the book, the human drift, was his term for the "chaos of contemporary existence" which he hoped his utopian city (named Metropolis :) would replace with predictable progress. One thing I found especially interesting, was his idea that the perfect society should be ruled by a corporate tycoon .... I can see Socrates rolling in his grave, and Agent Fox Mulder saying "See!?"


- Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel

Anyway, the book, Inventing Niagara:: Beauty, Power, and Lies sounds pretty interesting, and I haven't even read yet about the missing mummy. You can read more about Niagara Falls and the book at the writer's website.


The Jolly Company

- Rupert Brooke

The stars, a jolly company,
I envied, straying late and lonely;
And cried upon their revelry:
"O white companionship! You only
In love, in faith unbroken dwell,
Friends radiant and inseparable!"

Light-heart and glad they seemed to me
And merry comrades (EVEN SO
GOD OUT OF HEAVEN MAY LAUGH TO SEE
THE HAPPY CROWDS; AND NEVER KNOW
THAT IN HIS LONE OBSCURE DISTRESS
EACH WALKETH IN A WILDERNESS).

But I, remembering, pitied well
And loved them, who, with lonely light,
In empty infinite spaces dwell,
Disconsolate. For, all the night,
I heard the thin gnat-voices cry,
Star to faint star, across the sky.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Not everything can be resolved

I'm on the eighth day of that audio retreat I mentioned and the speaker, Larry Gillick SJ, mentioned something that I looked up later - Keats' idea of negative capability. Though it's probably known to most, I hadn't heard of it before. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ....

Keats' theory of "negative capability" was expressed in his letter to George and Thomas Keats dated Sunday, 22 December 1817 ..... Keats believed that great people (especially poets) have the ability to accept that not everything can be resolved ..... Negative capability is a state of intentional open-mindedness paralleled in the literary and philosophic stances of other writers. Much has been written about this ..... In the 1930s, the American philosopher John Dewey cited Keatsian negative capability as having influenced his own philosophical pragmatism, and said of Keats' letter that it "contains more of the psychology of productive thought than many treatises." Additionally, Nathan Scott (author of a book titled Negative Capability), notes that negative capability has been compared to philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of Gelassenheit, “the spirit of disponibilité before What-Is which permits us simply to let things be in whatever may be their uncertainty and their mystery." Author Philip Pullman excerpts from Keats's letter and prominently incorporates the concept in his fantasy novel The Subtle Knife.

Here's the letter ......


Sunday [21 Dec. 1817]
Hampstead Sunday

MY DEAR BROTHERS,

I must crave your pardon for not having written ere this. ***

I saw Kean return to the public in 'Richard III.', and finely he did it, and, at the request of Reynolds, I went to criticize his Luke in Riches. The critique is in to-day's 'Champion', which I send you, with the Examiner, in which you will find very proper lamentation on the obsoletion of Christmas Gambols and pastimes: but it was mixed up with so much egotism of that drivelling nature that pleasure is entirely lost. Hone, the publisher's trial, you must find very amusing; and, as Englishmen, very encouraging-his Not Guilty is a thing, which not to have been, would have dulled still more Liberty's Emblazoning-Lord Ellenborough has been paid in his own coin-Wooler and Hone have done us an essential service-I have had two very pleasant evenings with Dilke, yesterday and to-day, and am at this moment just come from him, and feel in the humour to go on with this, began in the morning, and from which he came to fetch me. I spent Friday evening with Wells, and went next morning to see Death on the Pale Horse. It is a wonderful picture, when West's age is considered; But there is nothing to be intense upon; no woman one feels mad to kiss, no face swelling into reality-The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth. Examine 'King Lear', and you will find this exemplified throughout; but in this picture we have unpleasantness without any momentous depth of speculation excited, in which to bury its repulsiveness-The picture is larger than 'Christ rejected'.

I dined with Haydon the Sunday after you left, and bad a very pleasant day, I dined too (for I have been out too much lately) with Horace Smith, and met his two Brothers, with Hill and King ston, and one Du Bois. They only served to convince me, how superior humour is to wit in respect to enjoyment-These men say things which make one start, without making one feel; they are all alike; their manners are alike; they all know fashionables; they have a mannerism in their eating and drinking, in their mere handling a Decanter-They talked of Kean and his low company -Would I were with that Company instead of yours, said I to mvself! I know such like acquaintance will never do for me and yet I am going to Reynolds on Wednesday. Brown and Dilke walked with me and back from the Christmas pantomime. I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

Sbelley's poem is out, and there are words about its being obiected to as much as "Queen Mab" was. Poor Shelley, I think he has his Quota of good qualities, in sooth la!! Write soon to your most sincere friend and affectionate Brother

John [Keats]

****

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Monastery


- Worth Abbey

I've always wondered what it would be like to live in a monastery .... now I can find out! :) I came across YouTube videos of a BBC tv series called The Monastery - the whole thing is there in 18 bits, and the first part is here below. I'd heard of the series but never saw it, if it did indeed end up on US tv. Here's what Wikipedia says of the show .....

The Monastery was a documentary television series made by Tiger Aspect Productions for BBC Two which aired in the UK in May 2005. The program follows five modern lay men as they embark into a 40 day and night introduction into Roman Catholic monastic life at Worth Abbey, West Sussex, England under the guidance of Abbott Christopher Jamison and the community of 22 Benedictine monks .....




I have been her kind

Saw this poem by Anne Sexton today ...

Her kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Book of Daniel


- Daniel and Jesus

This week's DVD rental was the first disc of a now defunct tv series from 2006 called The Book of Daniel, which starred Aidan Quinn as a progressive Episcopal priest, the Reverend Daniel Webster. I think the intent of the show was to be sort of like Six Feet Under but they may have tried a little too hard ..... they cast a show that makes the Plantagenet family dynamics in The Lion in Winter look boring ;).

The show was pretty much doomed from the word go because conservative religious groups really hated it and complained about it, causing some stations to refuse to show it. I mostly like the show, but even I had to wince at the one depiction I saw of a Catholic priest - he would have been more at home in the movie Goodfellas :) I saw in Wikipedia, though, that the Rev. Susan Russell, who's blog I like to visit, liked the show - some of the scenes were filmed at her church, All Saints Church in Pasadena, California - so maybe I'm being too harsh.

There was one thing about it I did really like, and interestingly, it's one of the main things most critics hated - the depiction of Jesus. Daniel and Jesus have lots of conversations in the show and to me it seemed so Ignatian :) Here's what Wikipedia says ....

Struggling to be a good husband, father, and minister, Webster regularly sees and talks with a classic-looking, white-skinned, white-robed and bearded Jesus (Garret Dillahunt), who nonetheless is rather unconventional. Daniel's Jesus appears only to him and openly questions modern interpretations of church teachings, reminding Daniel of his own strengths and weaknesses ..... some critics have objected to what they see as Jesus's portrayal as a somewhat disinterested hippie character.

So, rent it at your own peril, but you may find the Jesus/Daniel part worth the rest of it, as I did.


I want to believe, but ...

I found a link today at America magazine's blog (in a post by James Martin SJ) to an On Faith comment by Thomas Reese SJ about Benedict's lifting of the excommunication of the SSPX bishops. Fr. Reese makes some points, one of which is the idea that the Pope is a smart guy surrounded by intellectually intimidated advisers who hesitate to critique his decisions. I find that a weak excuse, if it is indeed even true, for his recent decision, but still it's a little more believable than the assertion in a statement released by the Vatican that maintains Benedict was unaware of Williamson's stance on the Holocaust at the time of the remission of the excommunication. As someone pointed out at dotCommonweal, Williamson has been all over YouTube with his anti-Semitic rants for at least a year - another person speculated that the Pope might not know about YouTube, but of course Benedict has his own YouTube page - and anyway, as an article points out, the stance of the SSPX could really come as no surprise to anyone at the Vatican (Lefebvre movement: long, troubled history with Judaism).

Yesterday I wrote something about why I thought the furor about the Pope lifting the excommunication of the SSPX bishops had not died down, despite Benedict's repeated assertions that the Holocaust was a bad thing. I deleted it, thinking it was too mean-spirited .... I suggested that people needed to hear the Pope explain why he won't redeem excommunicated lefties like Call to Action, but will redeem the SSPX guys, if indeed it's all about forgiveness and inclusion (Fr. Reese says it's about bishops). I had begun my post with what seemed a bit of relevant dialogue from The X-Files :) ...

DEEP THROAT: Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in (insert here the Pope's disingenuousness, instead of the existence of ETs), not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?

MULDER: Because, all the evidence to the contrary, is not entirely dissuasive.

DEEP THROAT: Precisely.


But enough about me. Here below is what Fr. Reese had to say on the subject .....

****************************

Benedict Undermining His Own Legacy

The lifting of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson by Pope Benedict XVI caused a firestorm of protest from Jews and liberal Catholics. Jewish leaders expressed shock and hurt because Bishop Williamson had denied the reality of the Shoah (Holocaust) that exterminated millions of Jews. Catholic liberals complained that Williamson and the three other bishops of the St. Pius X Society have still not accepted the Second Vatican Council.

The complaints against Bishop Williamson are on target. He is a Shoah denier and does not accept Vatican II. His views on women are also anachronistic. He disapproves of women in pants and says women should not go to universities. This is a man who would be happier living in the 19th century, like many members of the Lefebvre movement who have not recovered from the French revolution. Oh yes, he also believes that the World Trade Center was destroyed by explosions, not by airplanes.

Three aspects of this debacle need to be separately examined: the decision to lift the excommunication, how it was made and how it was communicated to the world.

The Decision

The media has described the decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Williamson as the pope "rehabilitating" him, "returning him to the fold," and "embracing" him. None of this is true.

The four bishops, along with Archbishop Marel Lefebvre, were excommunicated because Lefebvre ordained them as bishops without the approval of the pope. They were not excommunicated because of their beliefs about the Shoah or Vatican II. They were excommunicated because they were ordained bishops.

Lifting the excommunication says nothing about their beliefs. It is the ecclesia equivalent of a "cease fire" not a peace treaty. The bishops are still suspended from ministry, they are forbidden to act as bishops or even as priests. Long and difficult negotiations will be needed to bring about any reconciliation between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X. There is a very good chance that these negotiations will fail.

As one who believes that the Catholic Church should be a big tent with room for different views, I do not criticize the pope's attempt to reach out to the Lefebvrites. In my view, lifting the excommunications was a judgment call, and I would defend the pope's right to make that decision. My disappointment is that while the Vatican is enthusiastic in wooing the right, it has no patience with the left. Only the right side of the cafeteria is open.

Why is the Vatican putting so much effort into reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X? The real reason is because these men are bishops. If they were simple priests, the Vatican would not give them the time of day. The Vatican is caught by it own theology that sees these men as validly if not licitly ordained. As a result, these bishops can ordain more bishops and the schism can go on forever.

If the bishops ordain more bishops, they will again suffer excommunication. If the bishops refrain from ordaining new bishops, the schism ends when these four bishops die even if they are not reconciled with the pope. If lifting the excommunication is the price for keeping the bishops from ordaining more bishops, then in the view of the Vatican it is a cheap price to pay.

The Decision-Making Process

This latest controversy and others that preceded it (like his Regensburg address) point to a fatal systemic flaw in the Benedict papacy that is destroying his effectiveness as pope: He does not consult experts who might challenge his views and inclinations.

No one disputes the fact that Benedict is a brilliant theologian, but he is surrounded by people who are not as smart as he is and who would never think of questioning him. How do you challenge someone who you think is the smartest man in the world?

A smart person surrounded by less than smart people will always get in more trouble than an average person who consults smart people who are experts in their fields. The fact that Walter Kasper was not consulted on lifting the excommunication is just another in a long line of examples.

The firestorm that followed the decision should have been foreseen and prepared for. Unnamed sources in the Vatican are saying that they did not know that Williamson was a Shoah denier. Haven't they heard of Google?

In any other organization, heads would roll after so many disasters, but in the Vatican, loyalty still trumps competence. The pope needs a good chief of staff who would make sure this kind of thing does not happen.

Communicating the Decision

Finally, the way in which this decision was communicated to the world was a disaster. Benedict still acts like a German professor who can demand the undivided attention of his students. He has little PR sense. He needs people to protect him from himself.

Special efforts should have been made to communicate the decision to Jewish leaders. For example, after explaining to them that the decision did not represent an endorsement of the bishops' views, the Vatican could have argued that during its dialogue with the Society, it would try to change the Lefebvrites' views on Jews. It could argue that it is better for the Jews if the church acts as a check on the Lefebvrites than if they are simply left to fester by themselves. This argument and other arguments might not have worked, but Jewish leaders would have known that the Vatican takes their feelings seriously.

The Vatican still believes that all it has to do is announce a decision by the pope and everyone will greet it with enthusiasm. One-page press releases will not do it. Most large American universities have more sophisticated media offices than does the Vatican, which is the headquarters for a 1.1-billion member organization. Simply setting up a YouTube channel will not do it either. The Vatican needs a sophisticated and modern communications strategy.

The sad thing is that Pope Benedict is saying and doing many great things, but these media disasters are undermining his papacy. His words about peace, justice, refugees and the economic crisis are not being heard. Benedict wants to be a pastor and teacher, but he needs people who know how to run an organization and communicate in the 21st century, and he does not have them. The Vatican's model for the papacy is still the absolute monarchies and royal courts of the past. That model simply will not work today.

*******************************

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sherlock Holmes


- poster for The Seven Percent Solution by Richard Amsel

The latest audio book CD I've been listening to is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's not one story but a collection of a number of them, as told by Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes' friend, and detailing the detective cases he and Holmes worked on.

I'd never read the book before, though I knew of it, of course, and had seen the movie Young Sherlock Holmes (too much fun :), the film The Seven Percent Solution in which Holmes sees Sigmund Freud for help with his cocaine addiction, and a made for tv movie, Case of Evil, which starred James D'Arcy as Holmes and Vincent D'Onofrio as Professor Moriarty.

The book is worth a read!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cat journal


- a old pic of Kermit, Spot, Grendel, and Data looking out the window

Tonight I decided to look for my internet connection information in case I'm able to revive my old computer and switch from this one back to that one. I didn't know where the info was, though, except in a closet with tons of other stuff. Once I started, that obsessive-compulsive part of me that wants to make everything neat and to throw away old stuff kicked in, so I was at it for hours.

I found old notes from the one (really bad) novel-length story I wrote, two old keyboards and mice, tarot cards, a sea shell, two cat restraining bags, books, CDs, photographs, watercolor paints/brushes and a block, and a health journal I kept about my four cats.

I looked at the journal, which was full of entries about fleas and medications and allergy tests and dietary suppliments - I had forgotten how anxious I was about being a cat parent. It reminded me that it's 10 weeks since Kermit died - still miss her.


HMS Victory


- a full rigged ship sails under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

I saw in the news today that the 1737 HMS Victory (not Nelson's Victory) had been found - Wreck of Warship Is Found in English Channel. Here's a little of the story ....

Sea explorers probing the depths of the English Channel have discovered what they say is a legendary British warship that sank in a fierce storm in 1744 with the loss of more than 900 men and possibly four tons of gold coins valued at $1 billion. The team found the wreckage of the HMS Victory last year and confirmed its identity through a close examination of 41 bronze cannons visible on the sandy ocean bottom, Greg Stemm, head of the discovery team, said at a news conference Monday in London .....

The Victory was armed with up to 110 bronze cannons, making it one of the deadliest vessels of the age. The biggest cannon weighed four tons and could fire cannonballs weighing 42 pounds — the largest and most powerful guns then used in naval warfare. In July 1744, the flagship and its fleet of warships were sent to rescue a Mediterranean convoy blockaded by a French fleet at Lisbon. After chasing the French away, the Victory escorted the convoy as far as Gibraltar and headed home. A hard gale scattered the British fleet shortly after it entered the English Channel, and on Oct. 5, 1744, somewhere off the Channel Islands, Victory went down with all hands. The flagship was the only member of the British fleet lost at sea .....


A few months ago this news wouldn't have meant a whole lot to me, aside from reminding me of an old movie I saw once about Lord Nelson. But since then I've read two books by David Weber, Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder. They're the first and second books in a science fiction series, and I think I posted about them when I was reading them, but I don't think I mentioned that one of the major themes in the stories is the art of warcraft via sailing vessels. The books have the main character, an android, teach an almost medieval society how to move from galleys to galleons, how to make and use them, to win a religious war. He goes into vivid detail, and though the finer points of mechanics, tactics and strategy were somewhat lost on me, I was impressed with the horrific damage such vessels could wreak, and also with the beauty they could embody.


- A French galley and Dutch men-of-war off a port by Abraham Willaerts, painted 17th century

Here's an excerpt from By Schism Rent Asunder, courtesy of Barnes & Noble .........

*********************************

Chapter One

Eraystor Bay,
Princedom of Emerald

Bright morning sunlight glittered on the crossed golden scepters of the green banner of the Church of God Awaiting. The twin-masted courier ship flying that wind-starched banner as she scudded along on the brisk breeze was little more than seventy feet long, built for speed rather than endurance . . . or even seakeeping and stability. Her crew of sixty was small for any galley, even one as diminutive as she was, but her slender, lightly constructed hull was well suited for rowing, and her lateen sails drove her in a rapid flurry of foam as she went slicing across the brilliant sun-splintered water and foaming white horses of the thirty-mile-wide passage between Callie’s Island and the northeastern shore of Eraystor Bay.

Father Rahss Sawal, the small fleet vessel’s commander, stood on his tiny quarterdeck, hands clasped behind him, and concentrated on looking confident while he gazed up at the seabirds and wyverns hovering against the painfully blue sky. It was harder than it ought to have been to maintain the outward assurance (it would never have done to call it arrogance) proper to the master of one of Mother Church’s couriers, and Sawal didn’t much care for the reason he found it so.

The Temple’s messengers, whether landbound or afloat, enjoyed absolute priority and freedom of passage. They carried God’s own messages and commands, with all the authority of the archangels themselves, and no mortal had the temerity to challenge their passage wherever God or His Church might send them. That had been true literally since the Creation, and no one had ever dared to dispute it. Unfortunately,Sawal was no longer certain the centuries-old inviolability of Mother Church’s messengers continued to hold true.

The thought was . . . disturbing, in more ways than one. Most immediately, because of the potential consequences for his own current mission. In the long run, because the failure of that inviolability was unthinkable. Defiance of the authority of God’s Church could have only one consequence for the souls of the defiers, and if their example led others into the same sin . . .

Sawal pushed that thought aside once more, telling himself—insisting to himself—that whatever madness had infected the Kingdom of Charis, God would never permit it to spread beyond Charis’ borders. The universal authority of Mother Church was the linchpin not simply of the world in which he lived, but of God’s very plan for Man’s salvation. If that authority were challenged, if it failed, the consequences would be unthinkable. Shanwei, lost and damned mother of evil, must be licking her fangs at the very possibility in the dark, dank corner of Hell to which the Archangel Langhorne had consigned her for her sins. Even now she must be testing the bars, trying the strength of her chains, as she tasted the overweening, sinful pride of those who sought to set their own fallible judgment in place of God’s. Langhorne himself had locked that gate behind her, with all the authority of eternity, but Man had free will. Even now, he could turn the key in that lock if he so chose, and if he did . . .

Damn those Charisians, he thought grimly. Don’t they even realize what door they’re opening? Don’t they care? Don’t—

His jaw tightened and he forced himself to relax his shoulders and draw a deep, cleansing breath. It didn’t help very much.

His instructions from Bishop Executor Thomys had been abundantly clear. Sawal was to deliver the bishop executor’s dispatches to Bishop Executor Wyllys in Eraystor at all costs. That phrase—“at all costs”—had never before been part of Sawal’s orders. There’d never been any need for it, but there was now, and—

“Deck there!” The shout came down from the crow’s nest. “Deck there! Three sail on the port bow!”

“Well, well,” Commander Paitryk Hywyt, Royal Charisian Navy, murmured to himself as he peered through the spyglass. “This should be interesting.”

He lowered the glass and frowned thoughtfully. His orders were perfectly clear on this point. They’d made him more than a little nervous when he first received them, but they were definitely clear, and now he discovered that he was actually looking forward to obeying them. Odd. He wouldn’t have thought that was likely to happen.

“It’s a Church courier, all right,” he said a bit louder, and Zhak Urvyn, HMS Wave’s first lieutenant, made a distinctly unhappy sound.

“Some of the men may not like it, Sir,” Urvyn said softly. Hywyt glanced sideways at him, then shrugged.

“I’ve got a feeling the men’s attitude may just surprise you a bit, Zhak,” he said dryly. “They’re still about as pissed off as I’ve ever seen them, and they know who that courier’s really working for this morning.”

Urvyn nodded, but he looked gloomier than ever, and Hywyt grimaced mentally. It wasn’t the men Urvyn expected to be unhappy; it was Urvyn himself.

“Bring her three points to port, if you please, Lieutenant,” Hywyt said, speaking rather more formally than was his wont. “Let’s lay out a course to intercept her.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” Urvyn’s expression was worried, but he saluted and passed the order to the helmsman while other hands pattered across the wooden decks to tend sheets and braces.

Wave changed course, slicing across the water close-hauled on the port tack, and Hywyt felt a familiar surge of pleasure as his vessel responded. The sleek, flush-decked, twin-masted schooner was just over ninety-five feet long on the waterline, and mounted fourteen thirty-pounder carronades. Unlike some of her sisters, Wave had been designed and built from the keel up as a light cruiser for the Royal Charisian Navy. Her revolutionary sail plan made her faster and far more weatherly than any other ship Hywyt had ever encountered, far less commanded, and she’d already taken no less than seven prizes—almost half of those captured by the entire blockading squadron—here in Emeraldian waters since the Battle of Darcos Sound. That was what speed and handiness meant, and the comfortable sound prize money made falling into their purses had helped overcome any lingering qualms his crew might have cherished. They were Charisians, after all, he thought with a gleam of humor. Charis’ numerous detractors were wont to refer to the Kingdom as a “kingdom of shopkeepers and moneylenders,” and not in tones of approval. Hywyt had listened to their rancorous envy for years, and he had to admit there was at least a little truth to the stereotype of the Charisian constantly on the prowl for ways to make a quick mark.

Of course, we’re also very good at it, aren’t we? he reflected, and felt himself smiling as the courier boat with the dark green flag drew rapidly nearer.

He couldn’t be positive the other ship had come from Corisande, but no other explanation seemed very likely. The dispatch boat had obviously approached through Dolphin Reach, which certainly meant it had also crossed the Sea of Zebediah. No courier from Haven or Howard would have been coming from that direction, and Hywyt rather doubted Sharleyan of Chisholm was particularly interested in corresponding with Nahrmahn of Emerald at the moment. And judging from the way the fellow had chosen the strait between Callie’s Island and the Emeraldian coast, he definitely didn’t want to attract the attention of the blockade squadron.

Unfortunately for him, he already had, and it was evident that his ship, for all its sleek design, was quite a bit slower than Wave under these conditions.

“Clear for action,” he said, and watched the gap between the two ships narrow as the drum began to beat.

Rahss Sawal tried very hard not to swear as the Charisian schooner swept towards him. Obviously, his information was even more out-of-date than he’d feared when Bishop Executor Thomys gave him his orders. He hadn’t expected to see Charisian warships actually inside Eraystor Bay proper. Then again, he hadn’t expected to see the gold kraken on black of the Charisian flag flying above what used to be the Emeraldian fortress on Callie’s Island, either.

The dispersal of the Charisian warships was the clearest possible evidence of the totality of their victory at the Battle of Darcos Sound. The true extent of the allied fleet’s defeat had still been unclear when Sawal left Manchyr. That it had been crushing was obvious, but everyone in Corisande had clung to the hope that the majority of the ships which had not returned had found refuge in Emerald, where they were even then helping Nahrmahn defend their anchorage.

Obviously not, Sawal thought sourly.

He could see exactly four ships now, counting the schooner charging down on his own command, and every one of them flew Charisian colors. They were spread out widely, as well, to cover as much of the bay as they could, and they wouldn’t have been doing that if there’d been any possibility at all that someone might consider attacking them. That, coupled with the fact that all the island fortifications Sawal could see from his quarterdeck had clearly become Charisian bases, not Emeraldian ones, made it abundantly clear that there was no “allied fleet” any longer, much less one that was still defending its anchorage.

Sawal had never before encountered one of the Charisians’ new schooners, and he was astonished at how close to the wind the thing could sail. And by the size and power of its sail plan. His ship had the same number of masts, but the Charisian had to have at least twice the sail area. It also had the stability and size to carry more sail, and it was driving far harder under these conditions than his own ship could manage.

The number of gun ports arranged along its side was at least equally impressive, and he felt his stomach muscles tighten as the stubby muzzles of cannon poked out of them.

“Father?”

He glanced at his own second-in-command. The one-word question made the other priest’s tension abundantly clear, and Sawal couldn’t blame him. Not that he had an answer for what he knew the man was actually asking.

“We’ll have to see what we see, Brother Tymythy,” he said instead. “Hold your course.”

“He’s not changing course,” Urvyn said.

As redundant statements of the obvious went, that one took some beating, Hywyt thought.

“No, he isn’t,” the commander agreed with massive restraint as the range fell steadily. It was down to less than three hundred yards and still dropping, and he wondered how far the other skipper was going to go in calling what he undoubtedly hoped was Wave’s bluff. “Pass the word to the Gunner to stand ready to fire a shot across his bow.”

Urvyn hesitated. It was a tiny thing. Someone else might not have noticed it at all, but Urvyn had been Hywyt’s first lieutenant for over six months. For a moment, Hywyt thought he would have to repeat the order, but then Urvyn turned heavily away and raised his leather speaking trumpet.

“Stand ready to fire across his bow, Master Charlz!” he shouted, and Wave’s gunner waved back in acknowledgment.

“I think he’s—”

Brother Tymythy never completed that particular observation. There was no need. The flat, concussive thud of a single gun punctuated it quite nicely, and Sawal watched the cannonball go slashing across the waves, cutting its line of white across their crests as cleanly as any kraken’s dorsal fin.

“He’s fired on us!” Tymythy said instead. His voice was shrill with outrage, and his eyes were wide, as if he was actually surprised that even Charisians should dare to offer such insult to Mother Church. And perhaps he was. Sawal, on the other hand, discovered that he truly wasn’t.

“Yes, he has,” the under-priest agreed far more calmly than he felt.

I didn’t really believe they’d do it, he thought. I’m sure I didn’t. So why am I not surprised that they have? This is the beginning of the end of the world, for God’s sake!

He thought again about the dispatches he carried, who they were addressed to, and why. He thought about the whispered rumors, about exactly what Prince Hektor and his allies had hoped for . . . what rewards they’d been promised by the Church.

No, not by the Church, Sawal told himself. By the Knights of the Temple Lands. There is a difference!

Yet even as he insisted upon that to himself, he knew better. Whatever technical or legal distinctions might exist, he knew better. And that, he realized now, with something very like despair, was why he truly wasn’t surprised.

Even now, he couldn’t put it into words for himself, couldn’t make himself face it that squarely, but he knew. Whatever might have been true before the massive onslaught Prince Hektor and his allies had launched upon the Kingdom of Charis, the Charisians knew as well as Sawal who had truly been behind it. They knew the reality of the cynical calculations, the casual readiness to destroy an entire realm in blood and fire, and the arrogance which had infused and inspired them. This time the “Group of Four” had come too far out of the shadows, and what they had envisioned as the simple little assassination of an inconvenient kingdom had turned into something very different.

Charis knew who its true enemy had been all along, and that explained exactly why that schooner was prepared to fire on the flag of God’s own Church.

The schooner was closer now, leaning to the press of her towering spread of canvas, her bow garlanded with white water and flying spray that flashed like rainbow gems under the brilliant sun. He could make out individuals along her low bulwarks, pick out her uniformed captain standing aft, near the wheel, see the crew of the forward gun in her starboard broadside reloading their weapon. He looked up at his own sails, then at the schooner’s krakenlike grace, and drew a deep breath.

“Strike our colors, Brother Tymythy,” he said.

“Father?” Brother Tymythy stared at him, as if he couldn’t believe his own ears.

“Strike our colors!” Sawal repeated more firmly.

“But, but the Bishop Executor—”

“Strike our colors!” Sawal snapped.

For a moment, he thought Tymythy might refuse. Tymythy knew their orders as well as Sawal did, after all. But it was far easier for a bishop to order an under-priest to maintain the authority of Mother Church “at any cost” than it was for Father Rahss Sawal to get the crew of his vessel killed as part of an exercise in futility.

If there were any hope of actually delivering our dispatches, I wouldn’t strike, he told himself, and wondered whether or not it was the truth. But it’s obvious we can’t keep away from them, and if those people over there are as prepared to fire into us as I think they are, they’ll turn this entire vessel into toothpicks with a single broadside. Two, at the outside. There’s no point in seeing my own people slaughtered for nothing, and we aren’t even armed.

The flag which had never before been dipped to any mortal power fluttered down from the courier boat’s masthead. Sawal watched it come down, and an ice-cold wind blew through the marrow of his bones.

It was a small thing, in so many ways, that scrap of embroidered fabric. But that was how all true catastrophes began, wasn’t it? With small things, like the first stones in an avalanche.

Maybe I should have made them fire into us. At least then there wouldn’t have been any question, any ambiguity. And if Charis is prepared to defy Mother Church openly, perhaps a few dead crewmen would have made that point even more clearly.

Perhaps they would have, and perhaps he should have forced the Charisians to do it, but he was a priest, not a soldier, and he simply couldn’t. And, he told himself, the mere fact that Charis had fired upon the flag of Holy Mother Church should be more than enough without his allowing his people to be killed, on top of it.

No doubt it would, and yet even as he told himself that, he knew.

The lives he might have saved this morning would be as meaningless as mustard seeds on a hurricane’s breath beside the horrendous mountains of death looming just over the lip of tomorrow.

******************************

Sunday, February 01, 2009

EOTWAWKI


- from April 21, 1990, this is a photo of the last eruption by Redoubt Volcano. Photograph by R. Clucas. Courtesy of the Alaska Volcano Observatory website. Not related to my post, really, but nice photo :)

When I was a kid, I was always worrying about the end of the world as we knew it - I read post-apocalyptic novels (The Stand, Lucifer's Hammer, The Postman), saw the movies (On the Beach, The Omega Man, A Boy and his Dog). Those scenarios for the end of the world posited causal events as diverse as asteroid strikes, deadly contagions and global thermal nuclear war, but none of them foresaw a civilization doomed by cow flatulence and leaky refrigerant. Still, doomed is doomed, and I'm getting pretty depressed about it. I know some of you guys see global warming as nature's way, but even if our radical climate change isn't mostly due to the effects of man (and I think it is), the suffering of Earth's present inhabitants is going to be pretty awful. Here's the latest story I saw on the subject .... Global warming 'irreversible' for next 1000 years: study

And there's a thoughtful post on climate change at America magazine's blog - Global Warming 101