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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Nick Cage in Left Behind

I see there's going to be another effort at making a movie of the book(s) Left Behind, this time starring Nicolas Cage ...

Left Behind is an upcoming American apocalyptic biblical thriller film directed by Vic Armstrong and written by Paul LaLonde and John Patus. It is based on the series of novels of same name, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and is a reboot of Left Behind: The Movie, which is based on the biblically prophesied pre-tribulation Rapture. The film is set for an October 3, 2014 release.

I actually did read the first book in the series when it came out years ago but I thought it was pretty bad. For those who don't know of the book series' subject matter, it tells of the ...

Christian dispensationalist End Times: pretribulation, premillennial, Christian eschatological viewpoint of the end of the world. The primary conflict of the series is the members of the Tribulation Force against the Global Community and its leader Nicolae Carpathia—the Antichrist.

Or long story short, the rapture happens and those not good enough to be raptured are 'left behind' to endure a lot of awful stuff while the antichrist gains sway, until the second coming, when Jesus sorts everything out.

If you like this kind of thing, I think a much better version of the story is the Christ Clone Trilogy by James BeauSeigneur ...

The trilogy starts with In His Image, where living human cells discovered on the Turin shroud are used to clone a child, Christopher Goodman. The book follows Goodman's story by telling the tale of Decker Hawthorne, a journalist and the main character of the series. Among the main events covered in this book are the creation of Christopher, the rapture and Christopher's progress to becoming a key figure in the United Nations.

The trilogy continues with the Birth of an Age, in which a series of disasters and plagues assault the earth and its inhabitants. Towards the end of this book Christopher is killed and then resurrected.

Finally in Acts of God, there is coverage of further natural disasters and the realization of Christopher's true identity and motives. This book follows through to the end of the world and life afterwards.


Here's the trailer for the film. From this glimpse, I doubt even Nick Cage can save it ;) ...


Friday, May 30, 2014

On my bookshelf

Right now I have four digital books on my library e-book shelf, a couple of new ones and a couple of old ones, that I'm hoping to get to before they must go back. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there's The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, but now also ...



- Gone by Michael Grant. Here's the blurb from Amazon...

The first in New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant's breathtaking dystopian sci-fi saga, Gone is a page-turning thriller that invokes the classic The Lord of the Flies along with the horror of Stephen King. In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young. There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: on your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else. . . .



- The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson ...

It is the fourteenth century and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set to occur–the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe’s population was destroyed. But what if? What if the plague killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been–a history that stretches across centuries, a history that sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble, a history that spans horrible famine and magnificent innovation. These are the years of rice and salt.

This is a universe where the first ship to reach the New World travels across the Pacific Ocean from China and colonization spreads from west to east. This is a universe where the Industrial Revolution is triggered by the world’s greatest scientific minds–in India. This is a universe where Buddhism and Islam are the most influential and practiced religions and Christianity is merely a historical footnote.

Through the eyes of soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars, Robinson renders an immensely rich tapestry. Rewriting history and probing the most profound questions as only he can, Robinson shines his extraordinary light on the place of religion, culture, power, and even love on such an Earth. From the steppes of Asia to the shores of the Western Hemisphere, from the age of Akbar to the present and beyond, here is the stunning story of the creation of a new world.




- Timeline by Michael Crichton ...

In an Arizona desert, a man wanders in a daze, speaking words that make no sense. Within twenty-four hours he is dead, his body swiftly cremated by his only known associates. Halfway around the world, archaeologists make a shocking discovery at a medieval site. Suddenly they are swept off to the headquarters of a secretive multinational corporation that has developed an astounding technology. Now this group is about to get a chance not to study the past but to enter it. And with history opened up to the present, the dead awakened to the living, these men and women will soon find themselves fighting for their very survival—six hundred years ago.

So many books, so little time :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The interview is back

I posted the NBC interview with Edward Snowden last night, for those like me who couldn't watch it on tv, but then the videos were taken down and I deleted the post. Now the interview seems to be back on YouTube. Let's see how long it lasts ;) ...



Some reading: Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden would not get a fair trial – and Kerry is wrong

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carrot cake waits for no man

As I eat my piece of carrot cake from the store - you have to eat it before the cream cheese frosting melts! - I recall the song playing on the muzak there tonight ...


More links

- Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny ...

When Santa Barbara police arrived at Elliot Rodger’s apartment last month—after Rodger’s mother alerted authorities to her son’s YouTube videos, where he expressed his resentment of women who don’t have sex with him, aired his jealousy of the men they do choose, and stated his intentions to remedy this “injustice” through a display of his own “magnificence and power”—they left with the impression that he was a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human.” Then Rodger killed six people and himself on Friday night, leaving a manifesto that spelled out his virulent hatred for women in more explicit terms, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown deemed him a “madman.” ....

- The Netanyahu/Pope Francis Spat Over Jesus That Wasn’t ...

Yesterday, the press reported a sparring match between Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu that never really transpired. To judge by media reports, the Israeli Prime Minister had a testy exchange with the Supreme Pontiff over whether or not Jesus spoke Hebrew. Reuters broke the story with the headline “Pope, Netanyahu spar over Jesus’ native language.” Using the language of verbal combat, the piece reported the Israeli leader as saying, “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.” The Pope was said to have “interjected” with a correction: “Aramaic.” To this, Bibi “shot back” that Jesus “spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.” The Chicago Tribune soon dubbed the incident a “spat,” and by the time it made its way to The Age in Australia, Netanyahu was said to have “publicly bickered” with the Pope, evincing the “sour undertone” of the Catholic leader’s entire visit to Israel. The Forward tweeted “#Jesusgate spat over Hebrew ends testy #PopeFrancis visit with Benjamin Netanyahu.” But unfortunately for headline writers hoping to gin up controversy for clicks, there is video of this supposed smackdown, and it shows nothing of the sort ....

- Abuse victims to meet with pope: Chance for healing or 'dog-and-pony show'? ...

A man who took part in a private meeting six years ago between Pope Benedict XVI and victims of sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests said Tuesday that he hopes another summit planned soon with Benedict's successor will be more productive ....

Some photos

A huge mystery plant has taken root in one of the flower pots ... triffid? ...



Vicky the cat dozes in the shade ...



The oleanders are blooming. So many poisonous plants in the yard ...


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some links



- Google's doodle today is about Rachel Carson. She was ... an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.. I read Silent Spring in college and it had quite an effect on me.

- Beautiful photos of mushrooms

- You can read a summery of what Pope Francis had to say to the press on his plane ride back to Rome here. One comment that caught my attention was about the sex abuse problem ...

At the moment there are three bishops under investigations: one has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed.

Apparently only those bishops who might have abused (O'Brien, Wesolowski, Contreras) are being investigated. Does this mean then that up to this point, bishops who abuse kids have *not* been investigated?

It seems those bishops who have covered up abuse (Law, Mahony, Finn, et al) will still not be investigated, much less punished, by the Vatican, and that's a hell of a lot of bishops ... Roughly two-thirds of top U.S. Catholic leaders have allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working, a systematic practice that spans decades and continues today, a three-month Dallas Morning News review shows. The study - the first of its kind - looked at the records of the top leaders of the nation’s 178 mainstream Roman Catholic dioceses, including acting administrators in cases where the top job is vacant. from Special Reports: Catholic Bishops and Sex Abuse

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Francis and the AMIA bombing



One of the stops Pope Francis made while at Mount Hertzl in Israel was at a panel with the names of 85 victims of an attack in Buenos Aires on a Jewish community center in 1994 (Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial).

That attack, referred to as the AMIA bombing ....



... was Argentina's deadliest bombing ever. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, the largest in Latin America and sixth in the world outside Israel .... Over the years, the case has been marked by incompetence and accusations of cover-ups .... In 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis, was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary. And in 2010 ... he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.

Some have opined a photo-op tug of war between Israelis and Palestinians, but given Francis' history with the AMIA bombing case, it's not surprising that he would want to visit this memorial.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Du bist verurteilt



Remember the trolly car moral dilemma and it's modern version (robot cars)? There's another wrinkle ... your choices may be different depending on what language you use for thinking about the problem. Here's the beginning of an article, Thinking in a Foreign Language Could Sway Your Moral Judgments, about this strangeness ....

Would you kill one person to save five?

This cruel dilemma pits the principle of thou-shalt-not-kill against simple math: Five is greater than one. But presumably it’s a dilemma each person solves the same way each time, unaffected by superficial things like the language in which it’s presented. After all, we like to think we abide by a consistent moral code.

Yet psychologists say that’s not always the case. In a series of experiments, they found that people confronted with this one-for-five dilemma were far more likely to make a utilitarian choice when contemplating it in a foreign language.

“We tend to think about our ethical decisions as reflecting something fundamental about who we are,” said psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago, co-author of the new study, published April 23 in Public Library of Science ONE. “You wouldn’t think they would depend on such a seemingly irrelevant thing as whether you’re using your native language. But it can matter.”

The findings fit into a growing body of research that casts decision-making as involving the interplay of competing psychological mechanisms: one that’s instinctive and emotional, and another that’s deliberative and calculating .....

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pope Francis in Israel

Here's a story on this from NCR ... Israelis welcome pope but keep hopes realistic. And here are some of the places the pope is set to visit while in Israel, according to this itinerary ...


- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,


- the Western Wall


- Yad Vashem on Mount Herzl


- Heichal Shlomo


- the room of the Last Supper

- and the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, which is a Vatican owned hotel ....



You can watch videos of the trip events here - link courtesy of Dina :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Darwin Elevator



My latest kindle book from the library is The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough. I've downloaded it to the computer but haven't yet started it so I can't yet say if I like it, but it's nice for a changee to find a real science fiction novel instead of the prevalent "fantasy novel pretending to be science fiction" ;) You can listen to a review of it at NPR, or read it too. Here's a bit of the review ...

[...] just couldn't put it down, this first novel by an unknown writer. Even the format was exciting, as a fiendish science fiction reader friend of mine blurted out in pleasure - it's just like the old days, he said, a science fiction paperback original. Hough goes back to the old days for some of his motifs, such as the space elevator, an idea that's been around since the end of the 19th century and featured in some novels from the 1970s, notably Arthur C. Clarke's "The Fountains of Paradise."

And the old visit from the aliens who have a shadowy plan for reshaping life on earth, that's here too in Hough's novel. The extraterrestrials arrive to build the space elevator in Darwin, in the north territory of Australia and then they depart, leaving their invention to send out a powerful signal in an area surrounding the elevator in the town, which is good because a dozen years later, a terrible plague spreads around the world turning people into what Hough's surviving characters dub as subhuman or subs, zombie-like creatures who rip and tear and kill and maim any normal human being who gets in their way ...


And here's a brief interview with the author ...


More on the stray cat problem

What began as me leaving out food for one stray male cat who'd been hanging around in the yard for a couple of years (and who I had wrongly thought was my neighbor's cat) has morphed with additions: two female cats who are fairly friendly also began hanging around here, then four male cats who are mostly feral also appeared, and I just noticed yesterday that there are kittens too hiding amongst the bushes. The places I've been giving small donations to over the years ... the no kill shelter, the feral cat places, the animal rescue places, etc. ... have all either not called back, have said that maybe in a year they might be able to take one cat, have suggested that blind-as-a-bat and car-less me somehow capture all these cats in my big unkempt yard, get them spayed at a far away low cost clinic, keep them inside my deteriorating home while they heal, and then adopt them all. I don't really have the means of the will to do this and I have the feeling that things are just going to get worse.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The church's #1 pro-life issue is the environment


*

Catholic Church's #1 Pro-Life Issue Is The Environment, Says National Catholic Reporter Editorial ...

Abortion has dominated the pro-life debate for decades, providing a hot-button issue particularly important to Catholics in the United States. But another issue may take its place as the number one 'pro-life' concern, as the National Catholic Reporter argued in a recent op-ed.

In a piece entitled "Climate change is church's No. 1 pro-life issue," the NCR wrote, "The Catholic church should become a major player in educating the public to the scientific data and in motivating people to act for change."

Referencing the 2014 National Climate Assessment, the article said it was time to confront climate change as human-induced problem and see it as the foremost pro-life issue for the Catholic Church ...


You can read the NCR editorial here ...

[...] If there is a certain wisdom in the pro-life assertion that other rights become meaningless if the right to life is not upheld, then it is reasonable to assert that the right to life has little meaning if the earth is destroyed to the point where life becomes unsustainable. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodríguez Maradiaga described the problem during a talk opening the Vatican conference. He described nature as neither separate from nor against humanity, but rather existing with humans. "No sin is more heartless than our blindness to the value of all that surrounds us and our persistence in using it at the wrong time and abusing it at all times." ....

From the Chauvet Cave paintings to the poems of Rilke

Humans are fascinated by our fellow animals – is that just an evolutionary hangover or something more profound? ... ‘There is a crack in everything,’ sang Leonard Cohen. ‘That’s how the light gets in.’ Watching animals opens that crack just a little wider, and through it we get a better view – not only of animals, but of ourselves.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"A step toward justice"

As Pennsylvania chooses marriage equality, the Catholic Church there gives ithe typical negative response, but not all Christians feel as the Catholic Church does. Here's a statement from Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania ....

Today is a joyful day for Pennsylvanians who believe as I do that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in our state. These couples work hard, raise children, volunteer for good causes and pay taxes. Pennsylvania would be poorer without them, and I am pleased that Judge John E. Jones III has moved them one significant step closer to equality under the law.

The Episcopal Church has struggled faithfully with the issue of same-sex relationships for more than three decades, and in that struggle most of us have come to understand that same-sex couples and their families are blessings to their communities and to their neighbors and friends. Like opposite-sex couples, their love draws them more clearly into fidelity to one another and service to the world. Like opposite sex couples, they are signs and sacraments allowing us to see the boundless love of God more clearly.

I am aware that faithful Episcopalians in the Dioceses of Bethlehem and Northwestern Pennsylvania disagree with me on this issue. I want to assure them that our dioceses will remain places where people of good conscience can differ charitably and remain united in the hope and healing of Jesus Christ.

After reflection and consultation, I will write to both dioceses with guidance for clergy who want to officiate at same-sex marriages. For today, I am grateful to live in a state that has taken a step toward justice.

The Pope's Middle East trip


- the Last Supper room

I've been reading about the pope's visit to Israel and the conflict over a spot where both King David's Tomb and the Last Supper room are thought to be, and where the pope plans to hold mass.

Pope’s ‘Last Supper’ mass raises Jewish hackles

[...] The Cenacle is on the upper floor of a Crusader-era building that is holy to all three monotheistic faiths. Not only was it a mosque in Ottoman times but it is also directly above the site revered by some Orthodox Jews as the burial place of King David. This has led to protests from some Jews, who say the planned mass would contravene an agreement in place since the days of the British Mandate under which different faiths have access to the site, but are mostly barred from holding religious rituals there.


- King David's Tomb

There's a worry by some that Israel may give this multi-religious site to the Vatican, but the Israeli government has denied this. What's kind of interesting is the theory as to *why* such a decision would be reached .... the return by the Vatican to Israel of the gold Menorah thought to have been taken to Rome after the sack of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I once read a novel that touched on this, posted about it here. As I wrote then, no one really knows what became of the Menorah, but here's the possible trail ...

The gold Menorah was taken to Rome after the sack of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and then was probably taken to Carthage by the Vandals who sacked Rome in 455, and then maybe was secured by Belisarius in 515 and taken from Carthage to Justinian in Constantinople, after which it may have been sent to a Christian church in Jerusalem, where it might have been captured by the Persians in 614, but was probably instead smuggled back to Constantinople where may have lived until the crusader siege of the city in1204, whereupon it might have been taken back to Rome and the Vatican.

But back to the present, I'm kind of surprised that given all the tensions around the pope's visit to the Middle East and the fraught history of relations between the Holy See and Israel, the pope plans to hold a religious service in such a contested place.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Blind like me

I'm still thinking about the self-driving cars that are now available. Here's a video of a man who is visually impaired like me and who can now "drive" a car again ...



It's great that technology can solve so many problems now for we who are disabled. Not so great that it just won't happen for those like me who cannot afford it. As this article about the video above states ...

[...] The clip is amusing and tremendously uplifting--showing how autonomous driving technology can empower a person, giving them a sense of independence and freedom to do whatever they want, when they want to do it. Problem is, most Americans (disabled or not) can’t afford such a vehicle .... The featured Prius, which starts at around $24,000, is optioned up with a $75,000 to $80,000 Velodyne LIDAR system, visual and radar sensors estimated to cost about $10,000, and a nearly $200,000 GPS array. Not to mention the cost of the driving computer and software. Put into context: The staid-looking Toyota Prius Mahan “drove” around in the video costs more than a Ferrari 599. At $320,000, that’s an exclusive purchase, and well above the mean cost of a car, truck or SUV ...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Queen Margot



Spent some time today perusing the movies at Apple. One that caught my attention was La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) ...

a 1994 French period film directed by Patrice Chéreau, based on the 1845 historical novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. It stars Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, Virna Lisi and Vincent Pérez. An abridged version of the film was released as Queen Margot in North America, and in the United Kingdom under its original French title.

I was intrigued because I read the Dumas novel when I was a teen., at the same time I was reading his other Three Musketeers novels.

It's set in a really interesting time, during the French Wars of Religion, fought between Catholics and Huguenots. I especially remember the Bartholomew's Day massacre from the book. it was ...

was a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of Catholic mob violence, both directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion. Traditionally believed to have been instigated by Catherine de' Medici, the mother of King Charles IX, the massacre took place five days after the wedding of the king's sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). This marriage was an occasion for which many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots had gathered in largely Catholic Paris.

The massacre began in the night of 23-24 August 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), two days after the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots. The king ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, and the slaughter spread throughout Paris. Lasting several weeks, the massacre expanded outward to other urban centres and the countryside. Modern estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

The massacre also marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Though by no means unique, it "was the worst of the century's religious massacres." Throughout Europe, it "printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion".



- A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew's Day by John Everett Millais

The woman the film is about, Margaret of Valois, was interesting too. Shakespeare wrote a play touching on her: Love's Labour's Lost . Here's a bit about her from Wikipedia ...

Aside from being twice a queen—first of Navarre (1572), then of France (1589), Margaret was famous for her beauty and sense of style (she was one of the most fashionable women of her time, influencing most of Europe's Royal Courts with her clothing). She was also a gifted poet and writer, notable for both her own scandalous behavior and for revealing that of others. Margaret took many lovers both during her marriage and after her annulment. The most well-known were Joseph Boniface de La Môle, Jacques de Harlay, Seigneur de Champvallon and Louis de Bussy d'Amboise. When imprisoned by her brother Henry III for eighteen years, she took advantage of the time to write her memoirs, which included a succession of stories relating to the disputes of her brothers Charles IX and Henry III with her husband Henry IV. The memoirs were published posthumously in 1628.

Here's the trailer for the movie ...


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Robot cars and the trolley dilemma


- Google's self-driving car

Remember the trolley car ethical dilemma? It's ...

a thought experiment in ethics, first introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967 .... There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. Unfortunately, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You do not have the ability to operate the lever in a way that would cause the trolley to derail without loss of life (for example, holding the lever in an intermediate position so that the trolley goes between the two sets of tracks, or pulling the lever after the front wheels pass the switch, but before the rear wheels do). You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?

A more fun version was shown on an episode of Stargate Atlantis :) ...



Today I saw an article about a modern version of this thought experiment ... the programming of autonomous cars.

The Robot Car of Tomorrow May Just Be Programmed to Hit You ...

[I]magine that an autonomous car is facing an imminent crash. It could select one of two targets to swerve into: either a motorcyclist who is wearing a helmet, or a motorcyclist who is not. What’s the right way to program the car? In the name of crash-optimization, you should program the car to crash into whatever can best survive the collision .... it means striking the motorcyclist who’s wearing a helmet. A good algorithm would account for the much-higher statistical odds that the biker without a helmet would die, and surely killing someone is one of the worst things auto manufacturers desperately want to avoid.

But we can quickly see the injustice of this choice, as reasonable as it may be from a crash-optimization standpoint. By deliberately crashing into that motorcyclist, we are in effect penalizing him or her for being responsible, for wearing a helmet. Meanwhile, we are giving the other motorcyclist a free pass, even though that person is much less responsible for not wearing a helmet, which is illegal in most U.S. states ....

Philosophers have been thinking about ethics for thousands of years, and we can apply that experience to robot cars. One classical dilemma, proposed by philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson, is called the Trolley Problem .... This dilemma isn’t just a theoretical problem. Driverless trains today operate in many cities worldwide, including London, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and dozens more. As situational awareness improves with more advanced sensors, networking, and other technologies, a robot train might someday need to make such a decision.

Autonomous cars may face similar no-win scenarios too, and we would hope their operating programs would choose the lesser evil. But it would be an unreasonable act of faith to think that programming issues will sort themselves out without a deliberate discussion about ethics, such as which choices are better or worse than others. Is it better to save an adult or child? What about saving two (or three or ten) adults versus one child? We don’t like thinking about these uncomfortable and difficult choices, but programmers may have to do exactly that. Again, ethics by numbers alone seems naïve and incomplete; rights, duties, conflicting values, and other factors often come into play .....


I was really looking forward to robot cars because finally seeing-challenged me would be able to drive again ... now I'm not so sure. OK, I'm depressed and need to watch this past video that ends with a glimpse of a self-driving car :) ...


Friday, May 16, 2014

"The wild is a dangerous place"



I'm still thinking about the elf king in the Hobbit movie ... there's something so fey about him. In a clip of interviews with the actor who plays him, Lee Pace, he says this of Thranduil, the elf king of Mirkwood ... The elves work in nature in such a harmonious way and there's that element of nature that is very much a part of his [the elf king's] spirit, I believe. He's a wild thing, and the wild is a dangerous place ... Here below is a clip of the dwarves being taken prisoner by the elves of Mirkwood and their leader, Thorin Oakenshield, being brought before the elf king. It doesn't go well ...


Elves can be evil ???


- Smaug the magic dragon lived in a cave ...

This week's movie rental was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ...

the second installment in a three-part film adaptation based on the novel of the same name by J. R. R. Tolkien .... The film follows the titular character Bilbo Baggins as he accompanies Thorin Oakenshield and his fellow Dwarves on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. The film also features the vengeful pursuit of Azog the Defiler and Bolg while Gandalf the Grey investigates a growing evil at the ruins of Dol Guldur. The ensemble cast includes Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, and Orlando Bloom.

I didn't like this second installment of the trilogy as much as the first one, which I wrote about here. What mostly got my attention was actually trivial stuff, like how much of a change can be wrought with makeup and a wig ;) ... the female elf character, Tauriel, is played by the same actress who was Kate (Freckles) in Lost. And I was reminded of the talking dragon in Dragonheart by Smaug. And then there was the realization that there are evil elves ... Legolas' dad, the Elvenking of Mirkwood forest, is bad - eek! ....



No wonder Legolas has so many issues ;) ...



Is it worth watching? Yeah, but it's not up the the standard of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Here's a trailer ...


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Will Francis punish bishops who covered up sex abuse?


- Cardinal Law's church

An editorial in The Economist on Francis and the handling of sex abuse - A bid to hold the Catholic leadership responsible for paedophile priests

[T]he Vatican has not obliged bishops to report suspected abuse to the police because, say officials, in some places paedophile clerics could suffer barbaric punishment or execution. This argument hardly holds in, say, Italy—and yet in March the Italian bishops’ conference told its members they had no “juridical obligation” to tip off secular authorities.

Cases are still coming to light of bishops who endangered children by failing to investigate allegations or by moving paedophile clerics to other dioceses, leaving them free to abuse again. Yet the Vatican has refrained from sanctioning them. “The safeguarding of minors in his diocesan community is a sacred duty of every bishop,” says Bishop Scicluna, and episcopal negligence is a crime under canon law. But in America, says Mr Clohessy, “not one bishop has lost a single day’s pay for having put kids in harm’s way.”

That is where the continuing scandal becomes personal—and papal. Only the pope can handle penal cases against bishops under canonical law, so if the taboo against disciplining bishops is to be broken, only he can break ..... Francis’s papacy will be judged on how he treats this running sore.


I'm not holding my breath. On Francis' first day as pope he visited the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, the church where the notorious Cardinal Bernard Law presides, and it was erroneously reported that he had done so to sack Law for his part in the abuse cover up. The stories were untrue and a Vatican spokesman called the idea of the pope banishing Law "absurd" (Pope’s visit with Cardinal Law criticized), and never once since Francis became pop has he ever even mentioned the subject of the cover up by the church of sex abuse, much less moved to punish it. I don't think he ever will, and that's one of the reasons I don't have a lot of respect for him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Can one be both 'holy' and married?


- Jesus considers marrying Mary of Bethany (Jesus)

More talk on the 'Jesus' wife' papyrus fragment ... Fresh Doubts Raised About Papyrus Scrap Known as ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ ...

[...] Dr. Askeland [who raised the new concerns] is an evangelical Christian who is also affiliated with Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical college in Marion, Ind., and the Green Scholars Initiative. That organization was founded by the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores to study a collection of biblical artifacts amassed by the family for display in a Bible museum they plan to build in Washington ....

Dr. Askeland wrote his Ph.D. thesis at Cambridge on the Coptic versions of John’s Gospel, so he decided to compare this square fragment with another John text called the Codex Qau, an authentic relic which was discovered in 1923 in a jar buried in an Egyptian grave site. Amazingly, the text of the small John fragment replicated every other line from a leaf of the Qau codex, and for 17 lines the breaks in the text were identical. It “defied coincidence,” he said. Dr. Askeland’s theory is that a modern-day forger copied from a photograph of the Qua codex off the Internet. If the John text is forged, he reasons, so is the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, which seems to be written by the same hand .....

Editorials by scholars in The Wall Street Journal, CNN’s Belief Blog and several academic blogs have pronounced the case closed. But other experts say, not so fast.

Malcolm Choat, a Coptic expert at Macquarie University in Australia who cautiously contradicted the doubters in his paper last month for the Harvard journal, said in an interview that the new evidence was “persuasive,” but “we’re not completely there yet” — until the John and Jesus wife papyruses can be studied in person or using high-resolution images to understand their relationship. Roger Bagnall, a renowned papyrologist who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, and who early on deemed the Jesus’ Wife papyrus likely to be genuine, said in an interview about the skeptics, “Most of the people taking this view wanted it to be a fake, and they haven’t asked critical questions about their own hypothesis.”

Perhaps the copying of these two John texts was done in ancient times, not the modern era. Perhaps the John and Jesus’ Wife fragments were not written by the same hand: Indeed, the testing found that the ink is similar but not the same. The critics have asserted it would not be hard for a forger to mix a batch of carbon-based ink that could fool scientists. But Dr. Bagnall said, “I don’t know of a single verifiable case of somebody producing a papyrus text that purports to be an ancient text that isn’t. There’s always the first.” .....


It does seem like a lot of people come to this subject with an investment in the fragment being a forgery. This reminds me of Fr. James Martin's article in which he avers that Jesus was not married because being unmarried would have allowed Jesus to make a "single-hearted commitment to God". I think that assumption is erroneous on a whole number of levels and I have to wonder if this is all about a belief that a 'holy' person cannot have either a sex life nor a lifelong commitment to another human being.

Google Glass: a priest at Mass

Google Glass goes to Mass ...

There’s a term for obnoxious people who wear these things, ‘Glassholes,’ which is why the term ‘Glassholy’… I know, priest joke. I experienced this Sunday when I took this video — I had to take Glass off halfway through the sermon and at the Communion rail because I was feeling distracted and not taken seriously; I sensed others were too. Church is a sensitive environment to bring a camera, even if it’s pretty well hidden. And I expect a certain amount of pushback from people along these lines as a result of this little experiment. However, I think it’s really important for us to be trying new things, to experiment and put ourselves out there. We are living in some of the most dynamic, developing, and innovative times the world has ever known and I think the Lord wants us to be in the game.

I guess I'm among the majority of people who don't really like the idea of Google Glass because of privacy concerns, but it is kind of neat to see a priest's eye view of a church service :) The video lives on this page.

Monday, May 12, 2014

What ministers don't say at funerals

From Keith Ward's book, God: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013 edition) ...

The minister very rarely says things like, 'As we come to bury Joe, I have to say that he has very little chance. He was a real rotter when he was alive, he showed no signs of repentance, and it looks very much as though he is probably going straight to Hell. In fact I would assess the probability as much higher than 56 per cent, which, as you know, is my favorite probability. Let us pray.'

:)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Coming home

Thinking about the ending of Inception. It's a scene in which everyone (on a plane landing in the US) wakes from the shared dream and the main character realizes he has made the impossible happen: after years of exile he's no longer a fugitive and can finally go home to be with his children (or is he still in the dream?). The music makes my hair stand on end - the song is Time by Hans Zimmer ...


Friday, May 09, 2014

Inception

Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange. ...



This week's old movie from the library is Inception ...

a 2010 British-American science fiction heist thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars a large ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a professional thief who commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He is offered a chance of redemption as payment for a task considered to be impossible: "inception", the implantation of another person's idea into a target's subconscious.

I really liked this, with all the stuff about how we create and what we'll believe when we're dreaming. Roger Ebert gave the movie 4 stars in his review. Here's the beginning of it ...

It's said that Christopher Nolan spent ten years writing his screenplay for "Inception." That must have involved prodigious concentration, like playing blindfold chess while walking a tight-wire. The film's hero tests a young architect by challenging her to create a maze, and Nolan tests us with his own dazzling maze. We have to trust him that he can lead us through, because much of the time we're lost and disoriented. Nolan must have rewritten this story time and again, finding that every change had a ripple effect down through the whole fabric.

The story can either be told in a few sentences, or not told at all. Here is a movie immune to spoilers: If you knew how it ended, that would tell you nothing unless you knew how it got there. And telling you how it got there would produce bafflement. The movie is all about process, about fighting our way through enveloping sheets of reality and dream, reality within dreams, dreams without reality. It's a breathtaking juggling act, and Nolan may have considered his "Memento" (2000) a warm-up; he apparently started this screenplay while filming that one. It was the story of a man with short-term memory loss, and the story was told backwards.

Like the hero of that film, the viewer of "Inception" is adrift in time and experience. We can never even be quite sure what the relationship between dream time and real time is. The hero explains that you can never remember the beginning of a dream, and that dreams that seem to cover hours may only last a short time. Yes, but you don't know that when you're dreaming. And what if you're inside another man's dream? How does your dream time synch with his? What do you really know? ....


Here's a trailer ...


The stray cat saga, ctd

It all began when I found out the cat I thought of as my neighbor's cat, Scruffy, was not her cat but a stray. I felt sorry for him and left out some food. That caused an avalanche of apparently homeless cats. Two of them are females and pretty friendly, but very shy ...





I've stopped leaving food outside - it also attracted raccoons and a possum and a skunk ;) - and now I just bring out food for those two cats above and then take it away after they eat (they won't come inside the house). Sadly, this hasn't discouraged the other cats, who probably like the yard because it's so big and with lots of trees, bushes. And I worry that the girl cats might get pregnant and have kittens, making things ever so worse.

I tried the one no-kill shelter in the area but they had no openings available. So I called the vet to see if I could board the two girl cats there while they helped me look for homes for them - I've done that in the past, but years ago. Unfortunately, it's so much more complicated and expensive now ... first they would have to get exams and shots and tests for feline leukemia and aids. Then they'd have to be spayed: $200+ for each, and they'd have to spend about a week inside the house after that, wearing elizabethan collars and getting medicated somehow by blind-as-a-bat me. And then, they'd have to be "socialized" ... after all that, I can board them while they wait for homes ... $30 a day each. The SPCA offers a lower cost spaying - from$45 to $85 - but all the rest would still apply. And all this doesn't address the male cats out in the yard.

I feel so overwhelmed :(

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Aliens



The latest book I'm reading is Aliens: The Official Movie Novelization by Alan Dean Foster. The novel sticks very close to what is one of my favorite movies: Aliens ...

a 1986 American science fiction action horror film directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton. It is the sequel to the 1979 film Alien and the second installment of the Alien franchise. The film follows Weaver's character Ellen Ripley as she returns to the planet where her crew encountered the hostile Alien creature, this time accompanied by a unit of Colonial Marines. Aliens' action-adventure tone was in contrast to the horror motifs of the original Alien.

Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 stars in his review. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] Weaver was the only survivor of that first expedition [see Alien], and after saving her ship by expelling an alien through the air lock into deep space, she put herself into hibernation. She is found 57 years later by a salvage ship, and when she awakes she is still tormented by nightmares. (The script does not provide her, however, with even a single line of regret after she learns that 57 years have passed and everyone she knew is dead.) A new expedition is sent back to the mystery planet. Weaver is on board. She knows what the aliens are like and thinks the only sane solution is to nuke them from outer space. But in the meantime, she learns to her horror that a human colony has been established on the planet and billions of dollars have been invested in it. Now Earth has lost contact with the colony. Has it been attacked by aliens? Are there stars in the sky? The crew is made up of an interesting mixed bag of technicians and military personnel. My favorites were Lance Henrikson as a loyal android, Jenette Goldstein as a muscular marine private and Michael Biehn as the uncertain Cpl. Hicks. Also on board is the slimy Burke (Paul Reiser), who represents the owners of the planet's expensive colony and dreams of making millions by using the aliens as a secret weapon.

The movie gives us just enough setup to establish the characters and explain the situation. Then the action starts. The colony has, of course, been overrun by the aliens, all except for one plucky little girl (Carrie Henn) who has somehow survived by hiding in the air ducts.

The marines explore the base on foot, which seems a little silly in view of the great speed with which the aliens attack. Nobody seems very interested in listening to Weaver's warnings. After all, she's only the one person who has seen an alien, so what does she know? And then the movie escalates into a nonstop war between human and alien.

It's here that my nerves started to fail. "Aliens" is absolutely, painfully and unremittingly intense for at least its last hour. Weaver goes into battle to save her colleagues, herself and the little girl, and the aliens drop from the ceiling, pop up out of the floor and crawl out of the ventilation shafts. (In one of the movie's less plausible moments, one alien even seems to know how to work the elevator buttons.) I have never seen a movie that maintains such a pitch of intensity for so long; it's like being on some kind of hair-raising carnival ride that never stops ...


:)

Here's a trailer ...


Will the real Cardinal Kasper please stand up



Cardinal Walter Kasper is on a book tour in the US (Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life) ... he's sometimes referred to as Pope Francis' theologian and the pope has said he's been influenced by Kasper's book. You can listen to an interview with him about his book here.

I'm not sure what to make of him. Yes, he seems progressive ... in the interview he even says that the church is "not against birth control at all" and that using birth control is up to one's personal conscience ... but when I think of Kasper, I think of a couple of events from the past ....

In 2006 he gave a talk to the Anglican Communion's House of Bishops in the UK warning them against ordaining women bishops ... you can read his address here and NT Wright's response to his talk here.

And in 2010, in anticipation of B16's visit to the UK, he made some fairly mean-spirited remarks ...

What Cardinal Walter Kasper said about the UK

The interview, in news magazine Focus (published on 13 September) has provoked a storm of protest in Germany and the UK ... When asked why so many Britons had expressed resentment towards Pope Benedict, the cardinal replied: "England is today a secularised [literal translation], pluralistic country. "When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country," Cardinal Kasper told Focus .....

The reporter asked Cardinal Kasper why the Pope was opposed to the planned equality of treatment of homosexuals in Britain. "The question is whether we can accept partnerships of same-sex [couples], and regarding this issue, the Church has for centuries defended the understanding of marriage and family which equates to the order of God," he replied .....

So what is the Pope setting out to achieve in the UK? "He wants to work on the difficult dialogue with the Anglican community. He will discuss possible fields of co-operation," said the cardinal. And when asked, will women priests ever be ordained in the Catholic Church? Cardinal Kasper's response was blunt: "The decision of John Paul II was so clear-cut that I don't expect that." And not even in 100 or 200 years? "I am not a prophet. But I don't think so," said Cardinal Kasper. He added: "Have a look at the Protestant churches: they don't have celibacy and they have women priests. But are they doing better? The Anglican Church has also taken on formidable problems with these new developments. I wouldn't wish those problems on my church." ...


Andrew Brown commented on Kasper's comments here: Cardinal Kasper reveals the Vatican's true beliefs ...

[He was] the man who in 2008 urged the Anglican communion to take a stand against homosexuality. And his remarks fit into a conservative view of Britain, one which would have appealed to John Henry Newman in his conservative moods. And it is Newman who the pope has come here to beatify.

Britain today, said Kasper, is "a secularised [translation corrected] and pluralist country. Sometimes, when you land at Heathrow, you think you have entered a third world country."

The standard liberal remedies for the church's decline hold no attraction for the cardinal. "Look at the Protestant churches," he said: "They have married priests and women priests, too. Are they doing better? The Church of England has also taken on terrible problems with these developments. I wouldn't wish those problems on my church."

This is not only stupefyingly tactless, and wrong (the Church of England has 600 priests in training, half of them women; the Roman Catholic church here has 39), it is also bizarre, in view of the pope's initiative last year to welcome married Anglican clergy, if they are opposed to women priests.

The Church of England, Kasper believes, has been brought to the point of schism and collapse by compromise with the spirit of the age. He says: "There is a crisis of values and direction in western society which has its roots in the Enlightenment, and was given added impetus by the radical movements of the 60s. And because the churches live in this society, their faith is weakened."

This view will horrify many English Catholics. For the liberals in the English church, the reforming Second Vatican Council of the 60s opened the church to learning from the outside world, and the last two popes have attempted to drag down again the iron shutters which once kept the church distinct. But to Pope Benedict and his circle, the council showed it had learned all the necessary lessons of the 500 years since the Reformation. Now it is time once more for the world to learn from the church ...


Kasper refused to apologize.

So, is Kasper the merciful and liberal theologian of the Francis era, or the conservative anti-gay, anti-women, anti-pluralist, not-veryi-ecumenical theologian of the Benedict era?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Calculate your carbon footprint



Your carbon footprint can be calculated here: Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

Yay - one less thing to feel guilty about ... my carbon footprint is 3,929 lbs of CO2 equivalent per year, while the average for a one person household in the US is 20,750 pounds. Time for some cookies :)

The UN, the Vatican: rape, torture, and suicide

Understanding Clergy Sexual 'Abuse' as Torture

On Monday and Tuesday, a United Nations committee in Geneva asked the Vatican very tough questions about its track record on preventing and punishing acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Committee Against Torture and international human rights law have long understood rape and sexual violence as forms of torture because, as one international tribunal observed, rape "strikes at the very core of human dignity and physical integrity." Most of the Committee's questioning was directed to the Vatican's handling of widespread and systemic sexual violence by clergy.

[...]

Some studies indicate rates of attempted suicide are as much as 12 times higher for people who experienced sexual violence as children than those who had not. As one member of the Committee noted today, commissions of inquiry and other investigations into clergy sexual violence have documented this pattern:

- A commission in Belgium reported at least 13 people were believed to have committed suicide as a result of the sexual assaults by clerics;

- A commission in Australia was established in the midst of controversy surrounding news reports that at least 40 people who had been reportedly sexually assaulted by clergy had committed suicide. A police investigation suggested that church officials had known about the linkages but had chosen to remain silent.

- In Kansas City, a police investigation linked five suicides of young men to the sexual assaults they endured at the hands of one priest.

In addition to the elevated risk of suicide, research has shown that adult survivors of childhood sexual violence are far more likely to experience acute and chronic mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, major depression, and severe anxiety. More recent research indicates that traumatic stress caused by childhood sexual violence can even cause neurological damage and changes in brain function. Other studies suggest increased risk of other health problems, including increased risk of cancer.

The context of clergy sexual violence carries with it a particularly insidious and devastating kind of harm given the betrayal of trust and profound significance of religious authority, with priests and bishops held out as God's "representatives." Manfred Nowak, a former UN expert on torture, emphasized the impact that religious authority can have in these situations when he observed that torture is often an exploitation of powerlessness and that rape is an "extreme expression of this power relation, of one person treating another person as merely an object." The Australian commission noted that the harm of sexual violence is exacerbated when the perpetrator enjoys a position of "high moral standing" as priests and others associated with the church often do. A grand jury in Philadelphia observed after a lengthy investigation into clergy sexual violence that "the human toll of the Archdiocesan policies is staggering." It found that not only had children "suffered the horror of being sexually assaulted by priests" but were then "victimized a second time by an Archdiocesan administration that in many cases ignored, minimized or attempted to conceal their abuse."

[...]

Vatican representatives today tried to limit their responsibility under the Convention Against Torture to acts occurring within the tiny confines of Vatican City State - blaming other governments for failing to protect children and vulnerable adults from clergy sexual violence on their territories. International law and the committee of experts are clear that the obligations under the Convention do not end at the border of any state but extend beyond their territories, particularly when agents acting on behalf of a state are involved in perpetrating or acquiescing in the perpetration of crimes like torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Last week, Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi was already urging the UN Committee Against Torture not "to bring the issue of the sexual abuse of minors into the discussion on torture" - once again minimizing the lived realities of survivors and the severe physical and mental suffering they have endured ...

Monday, May 05, 2014

Braithwaite and singing the creed

"The difference between words used in ritual and words used in science is brought out quite well by a story about the Cambridge philosopher Richard Braithwaite, who wrote influentially on the philosophy of science. He decided quite late in life that he wanted to be baptised as an Anglican.

Accordingly he attended a short course of instruction. All went along very well, until it was pointed out to him that in the baptism service he would have to say the Apostles' Creed. This creed contains all sorts of apparently factual statements about the virgin birth, the resurrection and so on.

Braithwaite, who was one of the few philosophers who admitted to being a logical positivist, felt very uneasy about this. He certainly did not believe such things had literally happened. But his feelings were reassured when he was told that he could sing the creed if he wanted. So, he sang it. Singing was preferable to him, because you don't have to mean what you sing. Or at least you don't have to mean it literally. It is more like a story, a narrative. And indeed it could be said that the main point of reciting the creed is not to give a list of strange beliefs, but to praise God, to affirm a certain sort of personal commitment. It gives a sort of shorthand account of the sort of God you are praising -- a God who gives life freely and unconditionally, and whose love overcomes the power of death. This is much clearer when you sing something, so Braithwaite's attitude is perfectly understandable."

- God: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013 edition), Keith Ward

The CDF's Müller and Elizabeth Johnson

In the news: Cardinal Gerhard Mueller Rebukes U.S. Nuns For Honoring Feminist Theologian Elizabeth Johnson. There's also a post about this at dotCommonweal - CDF prefect tells U.S. nuns they were wrong to honor Elizabeth Johnson. I don't know a lot about Elizabeth Johnson, but I do know of (and dislike the conservative) Müller - see my past post on him: Müller on marriage and divorce. Meanwhile, here's a video lecture by Elizabeth Johnson - "An Ecological Inquiry - Jesus and the Cosmos" ...



Hillary for president :)

Like the disciples of Jesus, we cannot look away, we cannot let those in need fend for themselves and live with ourselves ... We are all in this together. - Hillary Clinton

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Some photos

From the yard today -

The carnations are blooming ...



Kitty ...



Still some roses ...



And my sister said there were pine cones in one of the pine trees. It was a tree we planted that had been our live Christmas tree when I was a kid. I couldn't see the cones with my bad eyes, but I aimed the camera up and could see them once I downloaded the photo :) ...