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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This week's movie rental was Unstoppable, a 2010 film directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine (James Kirk of the new Star Trek), and Rosario Dawson. It tells the story of an unmanned runaway train carrying toxic chemicals and the heroic acts of two guys on a different train who risk their lives to save the day. The story was based on the real life CSX 8888 incident ....

The CSX 8888 incident, also known as the Crazy Eights incident, involved an unmanned runaway train led by CSX Transportation locomotive #8888, an EMD SD40-2, that was pulling a freight train consisting of 47 cars, some of them loaded with Molten Phenol, a highly explosive and largely toxic chemical. The train ran uncontrolled for two hours at speeds up to 51 miles per hour (82 km/h) through the U.S. state of Ohio. It was finally brought to a stop with the help of a railroad crew in a second locomotive, which caught up with the runaway and coupled to the rear car.

I rented the film because I like Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, and both of them were good in their roles, but the movie wasn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped. That may be because the film tried to stay true to the original events (or could be because I watch too much science fiction :), and if you like trains, you may find it more captivating than I did. One interesting thing, though, is that the movie does bring up the topic of hazardous materials like nuclear waste being shipped by train

Roger Ebert liked the movie more than I did, giving it three and a half stars out of four. Here's jut a bit of his review ....

BY ROGER EBERT / November 10, 2010

[...] Scott tells the story from several points of view. In the cab of another train, a longtime engineer named Barnes (Denzel Washington) is breaking in a new man, Colson (Chris Pine). In the station yard, a yard master named Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) is in charge of dispatch and operations. In the railroad's corporate offices, an executive (Kevin Dunn) is concerned mostly about the cost of losing the train, which seems harsh, since it is carrying hazardous materials and is rocketing straight toward the heart of Scranton, Pa.

Overhead, news choppers circle, providing a live TV feed that Scott intercuts with the action. That allows him a plausible way to provide an overview and narrate the action; a similar device was used by his brother Ridley Scott to help us follow events in his "Black Hawk Down" (2001).

There isn't a lot of room here for personality development, but Washington and Pine provide convincing characters, the veteran driven by love of his job, the new guy more cynical. This conflict isn't ramped up for dramatic effect in the screenplay by Mark Bomback, but is allowed to play out as naturally as it can, under the circumstances. Rosario Dawson makes her dispatcher aggressively competent, and the hurtling train of course rumbles beneath everything ......

Monday, May 30, 2011

Joan of Arc

- Sleeping Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc on her way to Reims) by George W. Joy

As mentioned in a post at Pray Tell, today is the anniversary of the death of St. Joan of Arc, who was burnt at the stake on May 30th in 1431. Given that I'm a peace-nik, it's strange that I find her interesting, but I do. I thought I'd post of few bits from my past posts about her.

In Ten for the 4th, I mentioned a movie about her - The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc - a 1999 film directed by Luc Besson and starred Milla Jovovich (Joan) and John Malkovich (Charles VII of France). It didn't get the greatest of reviews (Ebert gave it two stars) but it did have some arresting visual imagery .....

In A fool for Christ, I posted an except from Fr. James Martin's book, My Life With the Saints, in which he discusses a painting of her. Here's the painting by Jules Bastien-LePage ...

In Leonard Cohen's Joan and Bernadette, I posted the lyrics to Cohen's song Joan of Arc ...

Now the flames they followed joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.

Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I’m fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.

Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

In Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Paris, I posted a photo of the statue of her there ...

In my post Bad girls in church, I posted an excerpt from an article that mentioned Joan - The Best and the Brightest of the Catholic Bad Girls by Frances Kissling.

In Magical swords, I wrote about the book, The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, which has Joan of Arc as one of the characters (still alive in the present).

In The discernment of spirits and connecting with God, I posted an excerpt from an article by Michael J. Buckley SJ, from a 1975 issue of The Way, in which he mentions Joan as someone who was guided by spirits - The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Spirits.

And finally, in my post Anna Hyatt Huntington, I published a photo of a sculpture of Joan ....

Justice and charity

I have a bad cold, so none of this may make any sense ;) but ....

I've noticed a number of articles lately .... Are There Natural Human Rights? by Michael Boylan, Against Human Rights by John Milbank, The future of conservatism in the UK by Phillip Blond, and Inherent rights, disability and the justice of God by Stanley Hauerwas. All the articles are about the same thing - justice - and about the way we make decisions on how to treat others (and in some cases the articles are about justifying the Big Society's slashing of state run social services to replace them with volunteerism).

The article that especially bothered me was the one by Stanley Hauerwas in which he reviews Nicholas Wolterstorff's book Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Hauerwas dislikes the idea of justice as fairness as well as Wolterstorff's idea that all people have an inherent right to justice. Instead Hauerwas embraces justice as a kind of gift given, and he uses the example of disabled people as the recipients of this gift of justice. Being a disabled person myself, I thought I'd respond. First, here's a bit of what he wrote ....

[...] Like Wolterstorff, I too want those who suffer from Alzheimers to have the care that befits their status as human beings. Such care I believe, moreover, is a matter of justice. But I do not think such care is more likely to be forthcoming or sustained by a natural right theory of justice.

Rather, what is required is the recovery of communion made possible through the works of mercy. In particular, a text such as Matthew 25:31-45 makes clear that the works of mercy are not principles or values that then must be translated into a more universal or secular vision of justice ........

I know of no book that exemplifies better this understanding of Jesus as God's justice than Hans Reinders's Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics.

Reinders observes that much good has been done in the name of disability-rights for creating new opportunities as well as institutional space for the disabled. But such an understanding of justice is not sufficient if we listen to the disabled.

They do not seek to be tolerated or even respected because they have rights. Rather they seek to share their lives with us and they want us to want to share our lives with them. In short they want us to be claimed and to claim one another in friendship.

If you need an image for what it means for charity to be the form of the virtues and, in particular, justice, take this scene from Jennie Weiss Block's book, Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities.

She tells the story of Jason, a fourteen year old boy with profound intellectual disabilities who was born with spina bifida. He has an enlarged head and, because his arms and legs have often been broken due to a bone disease, his limbs are twisted. He cannot feed himself and must be carefully bathed and diapered. He is cared for by Felicia Santos, who is a professional caregiver.

Weiss Block reports on a particular visit, a visit that she says changed her life, when she witnessed Felicia

"leaning forward, talking softly to Jason. He was smiling. I stood for a few minutes before speaking and watched their interaction. What I witnessed between them was the purest love - the kind of love that asks for nothing in return."

That is what charity-formed justice looks like. Such a view of justice shaped by the works of mercy will doubtless be dismissed as "philanthropy." But that is exactly the perspective that must be rejected if the justice that is the Church is not to be identified with the justice of the nation-state.

Wolterstorff worries that such justice will lack the universality necessary to sustain appeals to justice as such. But no theory of justice will be sufficient to do that work. Rather than a theory, God has called into the world a people capable of transgressing the borders of the nation-state to seek the welfare of the downtrodden..

While I appreciate as much as the next person the idea of small communities taking care of their own based on voluntary interdependent caring and charity, I'd still prefer rights and services guaranteed by law and provided by my state. Charity and justice are not the same thing - charity keeps the powerless in their place and it depends on the good intentions of those providing it, but justice raises the powerless up to an equality in which they don't have to hope they'll be treated fairly but instead can expect it. Social services and laws may not be as warm and fuzzy as charity, but they're more dependable, have no agenda, and are in a manner of speaking the powerless helping themselves through their taxes and their votes, rather than being the recipients of largess. As for the love and friendship Hauerwas mentions, those things are not precluded by fairness guaranteed through law, and they're not guaranteed with charity - it's disingenuous to set this up as a choice between the loving kindness of charity and the cold dead emotional wasteland of institutionalized welfare. We disabled need love, yes, but we shouldn't have to buy it by giving up our rights.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Taste and see

- do not taste the marmot

God and food ..... Faith and Theology mentions the book, The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist by Angel F. Méndez Montoya ...

(read more about Dominican Brother Angel F. Méndez Montoya here)

... Women in Theology mentions Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth ...

... and I was recently reminded of a pamphlet by peace activist John Dear SJ, Christianity and Vegetarianism: Pursuing the Nonviolence of Jesus (pdf) ...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Two movies: The Debt and The Hunting Party

I saw in the news that Ratko Mladić, Serb military leader and accused war criminal, was arrested - Serbia Says Jailed Mladic Will Face War Crimes Trial. This made me think of two movies: one is upcoming and I haven't yet seen it but it looks like it will be good, the other I have seen but I'm not sure I should recommend it .....

The upcoming film is by British director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) .... The Debt. The movie stars Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson, and is a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. It tells a story in both the past and present of agents sent in the past to capture a Nazi war criminal, and the weirdness that ensues when the results of that supposedly successful operation come undone in the present.

The movie I'd seen some time ago was The Hunting Party, directed by Richard Shepard and starring Richard Gere and Terrence Howard. It tells of a war correspondent (Richard Gere) who loses his job and tries to get it back by hunting down a Serb war criminal, and is loosely based on an Esquire article about a journalist looking for Ratko Mladic, the guy mentioned in the news story at the top of this post. What makes the film odd is that it's a sort of un-PC satire of what is a pretty serious topic, so caveat emptor.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How not to be transparent

I've had a couple of past posts about Jeffrey John, the Dean of St. Albans, so when I saw an article in The Guardian by Andrew Brown about the behind-the-scenes machinations leading to his being passed over for bishop in 2003, I thought I'd post part of it ....


Church of England tied in knots over allowing gay men to become bishops
- Andrew Brown

A meeting of Church of England bishops in York this week has broken up without agreement on whether gay clergy should ever be allowed to be chosen for promotion to bishoprics ..... The fraught divisions have been laid bare in the leak of an anguished and devastating memorandum written by the Very Rev Colin Slee, the former dean of Southwark Cathedral, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer last November. Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, vetoed candidates from becoming bishops of the south London diocese.

The document reveals shouting matches and arm-twisting by the archbishops to keep out the diocese's preferred choices as bishop: Jeffrey John, the gay dean of St Albans, and Nicholas Holtam, rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, whose wife was divorced many years ago. Eventually Christopher Chessun, then an assistant bishop, was chosen ........

Slee described Williams shouting and losing his temper in last year's Southwark meeting, which left several members of the crown nomination committee, responsible for the selection of bishops, in tears.

Slee also in effect charges the church with hypocrisy, stating that there are several gay bishops "who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions". The memo warns: "This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear." ...........

The memorandum was written last September, shortly before his diagnosis and two months before his death, in response to an internal inquiry into how John's and Holtam's names had been leaked to the press .... Slee's evidence to the leak enquiry claimed that it was the archbishop of Canterbury himself who was responsible for the leak by asking church lawyers outside the committee for legal advice on whether John could be stopped ..... The House of Bishops sought legal advice to discover whether it would be illegal to deny John a job. A briefing in December from the Church House legal department appears to state that though it would be illegal to discriminate against him because he is a celibate gay person, it was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people ........



See the Thinking Anglicans post for links to Colin Slee’s memorandum and the Legal memorandum.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the news

- a marmot

I see that the Danes have banned a British food item called "marmite" ... I'm afraid to ask what it's made from ;)


- by Todd Davis

I love the church
of the osprey, simple
adoration, no haggling
over the body, the blood,
whether water sprinkled
from talons or immersed
in the river saves us,
whether ascension
is metaphor or literal,
because, of course,
it’s both: wings crooked,
all the angels crying out,
rising up from nests
made of sticks
and sunlight.

More photos

The strawberry plant has a flower, which I hope will turn into a strawberry - stay tuned ...

A little tea rose, named for having a fragrance reminiscent of Chinese black tea ...

The gray squirrel ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CS Lewis film

- Hopkins as CS Lewis with his wife's son

Last night I watched a movie I'd checked out of the library - Shadowlands. It's a 1993 film directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It tells of the relationship between CS Lewis and Joy Gresham.

The movie tries to show an evolution in Lewis' theodicy brought about by his actual experience of suffering when his wife dies. In the beginning of the film, he's giving a talk and saying that pain is "God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (The Problem of Pain). It was this very attitude that made me throw my one CS Lewis book away in disgust ;). But towards the end of the movie he gives a lecture in which he says, "See, if you love somebody, you don't want them to suffer. You can't bear it. You want to take their suffering onto yourself. If even I feel like that, why doesn't God?" Maybe I'll look at the library for his later book, A Grief Observed.

Anyway, I did like the movie: there are some very nice images, also some nice music, and both Hopkins and Winger do such good jobs that I was moved by the events portrayed. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars in his review.

Here's some of the music from the movie, Veni Sancte Spiritus (you may have to turn the sound up a bit to hear it well):

Monday, May 23, 2011

A few links

Some stuff I saw around today that may be worth a read ....

U.S. Bishops: The Great Inertia - Eugene Cullen Kennedy

The Patriot Act and bipartisanship - Glenn Greenwald

How Power Corrupts - Jonah Lehrer

The Flight of Curiosity - Justin E.H. Smith. At the resumed NYT philosophy blog, The Stone, he writes, Must one be endowed with curiosity in order to become a philosopher? Today, in the academic realm, at least, the answer is surely and regrettably “no.” .... I'd bet the same is even more true in theology.

And finally, I still find it just weird that in the UK, bishops are 'spiritual lords' who vote in Parliament ... Lords Spiritual could be reduced to 12 bishops

Feminist theology

Here's another vireo from Nottingham University ......

More on helping

After reading the news today of how bad things are in Missouri, I thought I'd repost my mention of United Animal Nations, a group that helps rescue animals in disaster areas .... link. I first learned of the group when I was trying to find a home for some baby raccoons living under my house :)

You can read more about the group at Wikipedia.

The rapture

- (photo courtesy of Ben Witherington)

I missed all the rapture excitement, but better late than never: here are a few links for rapture enthusiasts ....

The Rapture, a 1991 film starring David Duchovny, Mimi Rogers, and Patrick Bauchau (rated R). I saw part of it on tv once and it was fairly depressing.

Christ Clone Trilogy, rapture trilogy by former National Security Agency analyst James BeauSeigneur that's a bit better than the Left Behind stuff. My favorite part - the apostle John, about whom Jesus said (to Peter), "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?", is still alive in the present in the story.

Finally, for a Catholic take on the rapture, here's a past article by Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., a professor of Old Testament, Semitic languages and biblical spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley ... Raptured or Not? .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A bee and a plum

Friday, May 20, 2011

Body of Lies

- Leonardo DiCaprio and Golshifteh Farahani

This week's movie rental was the 2008 film Body of Lies, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, about espionage in the Middle East, and is based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius.

DiCaprio plays a CIA operative looking for a certain terrorist in Jordan, with Crowe playing his handler back at Langley. He asks the head of Jordanian Intelligence for help in his quest, he meets and befriends an Iranian nurse working in Jordan, and eventually he concocts a plan to lure the elusive terrorist out of hiding. All along the way, there are lies being told by him to his Jordanian partner, to his informants, to his boss, to the woman in whom he's interested, and to himself. His lying costs him his self-respect, and of course he's lied to in turn, which nearly costs him his life. I guess this is why the movie begins with lines from W. H. Auden's poem, September 1, 1939, written on the occasion of the outbreak of World War II.: I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return.

Do I recommend the film? Well, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Strong (who played the head of Jordanian Intelligence) did really good jobs, and the technical stuff, like spy plane surveillance images, was interesting, but the theme of war, terrorism, and people doing each other wrong, was so grim and ugly that I doubt I'll want to see the film again.

Roger Ebert gave the movie three out of ofur stars, and here's a short blurb about the film from The New Yorker ....

This shrewd and tightly drawn anti-terror thriller, directed by Ridley Scott, suggests that the C.I.A. has all the technical advantages but not enough of the human intelligence to combat Mideast terrorism. The field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is just about the best there is, but his efforts on the ground are often confounded by a higher-up, Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who manages him via cell phone and laptop from the Washington suburbs. Hoffman, an American consumer of advanced technology and vast amounts of food, is too impatient; in the end, he’s dependent on help from the brilliant but secretive head of Jordanian intelligence (the English actor Mark Strong, in a witty performance). The movie has the usual tropes of the genre—surveillance shots from drones, S.U.V.s tearing across the desert, explosions, scenes of torture—but Scott manages the space and timing better than most thriller directors. William Monahan adapted David Ignatius’s novel. Shot in Morocco.

Creeping infallibility

For those interested in papal infallibility and women's ordination, there's a post at US Catholic by Robert McClory, author of Power and the Papacy: The People and Politics Behind the Doctrine of Infallibility, and professor emeritus at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism - Why church teaching on women's ordination isn't infallible. Here's a bit of it ....

[...] To merit the stamp of infallibility, according to church teaching, a doctrine must be founded on scripture or on an unbroken tradition or on both. The pope and bishops are not free to decide on their own what qualifies and what doesn’t. As Vatican II said in the document Verbum Dei:

“Now the Magisterium is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it conscientiously and explaining it faithfully, by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit.”

A related article that's kind of interesting is Infallibility Revisited by John J. Carey, which mentions a dispute between Karl Rahner and Hans Küng.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The cat whisperer :)

There's a post at Feminist Philosophers with a video from Animal Planet about how to get on better with your cats: it's from a My Cat From Hell series :) This video below is on cat body language ....

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must - Not!

Two unrelated stories in the news, but I see a common theme.

This ...

DSK Déjà Vu - Katha Pollitt, The Nation
[...] DSK’s predatory behavior was always common knowledge, the stuff of jokes, gossip and veiled allusions in the press. It was just called something else: seduction, love of women, even, proof of good health. It took a powerless outsider in a foreign country—the housekeeper had no idea that DSK, as one of the world’s most powerful men, was entitled to make violent use of her body—to take action. Now DSK’s defense attorney is saying the sex, if it took place, was consensual. Because nothing is more likely than that a housekeeper—a Muslim widow in a headscarf, no less—will leap at the chance to fellate a 62-year-old hotel guest who springs naked out of the bathroom ...

And this ....

The Vatican Comes Up Short - NYT editorial
[...] The [Vatican guidelines on sex abuse] directive came two days before a new study of the abuse problem that cites the sexual and social turmoil of the 1960s as a possible factor in priests’ crimes. This is a rather bizarre stab at sociological rationalization and, in any case, beside the point that church officials went into denial and protected abusers ..... The Vatican guidelines note that abusing children is a matter for secular law and call for dioceses to create “clear and coordinated” policies by next year. But the continuing stress on church priority in what essentially are criminal offenses is disheartening ...

DSK had a rude shock when he abused beyond the reach of his powerful and protected milieu. I await the day when the powerful and protected in our church who have covered up sex abuse get the same kind of shock.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Ben Witherington has a post about the movie on the lives and deaths of the Cistercians monks of Tibhirine, kidnapped and killed during the Algerian Civil War (this reminded me of a book by Timothy Radcliffe and others, A Life Poured Out: Pierre Claverie of Algeria, about the bishop of Oran, also killed). Here's just the beginning of Ben's post ...

‘Of Gods and Men’—- A Movie for the Post-bin Laden Era

If you have not had a chance to see “Of Gods and Men,” the winner of all sorts of film prizes, including the Grand Prix at Cannes, you should drop everything and watch it, and all the more so when Osama bin Laden has just been murdered. Yes, I said murdered. When an unarmed civilian, criminal or not, is killed rather than captured, that would be murder. Yes I realize he is responsible for many many murders. Yes I realize that there is some justice in what happened to him. But before you decide how a Christian should feel about all that, I urge you to see this movie, a movie about French monks who decided to stay in the face of the Mujahadeen uprising and continue to serve the people of their village .......

Rainy photos

- the rain has denuded most of the flowers on the boysenberry bushes ...

- some soggy thompson seedless grape leaves ...

- neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayeth the squirrel from his appointed sunflower seeds :) ...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Karl Rahner and the Innsbruck mosaic

I'm at the end of Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean SJ and there's an intriguing bit about a mosaic in Innsbruck. I managed to find a photo of the mosaic (see bottom of post) but first, here's what Fr. Endean wrote about it (pp. 259-60) ......


In the chapel of the house in Innsbruck where Rahner lived during his most productive years, a visitor is confronted by a large wall mosaic. At the centre stands Christ, dressed in priestly vestments and carrying the cross, with his heart openly displayed. On the right is Thomas Aquinas, holding the Summa theologiae; on the left we find Ignatius, with his Constitutions leaning against his cloak.

Rahner was not the sort of theologian who took works of art as a starting-point, but this mosaic can nevertheless stand as an illustration of Rahner's approach to Christianity. Rahner's writings on the Sacred Heart depend relatively little on the idea of reparation so strongly emphasized in the mainstream devotional tradition. For Rahner, the term 'heart' points, rather, to a metaphysical truth about human identity, about being a 'spirit in world'. Our access to our own 'hearts', our self-presence, comes only in and through our interactions, through our presence to others. When devotion to Christ centres on the symbol of his heart, this reminds us that Christ's revelation occurs only in and through his relationships with us. The Jesus we read of in the gospel must become the cosmic Christ who incorporates us. Thus Christian tradition remains permanently to be continued.

Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius have their place in the picture, because both developed articulations of Christianity particularly respectful of this fundamental principle. If the word of God is proclaimed in terms of Thomas's austere scholasticism or of Ignatius's terse requests 'to reflect and draw profit', then the event is completed only when the hearer responds, participating in the mystery in ways that we cannot predict in advance .....


Here below is a detail from the photo of the mosaic (click to enlarge), kindly provided by Joe Koczera SJ at The City and the World. You can visit his post which incorporates his photo here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


This week's movie rental was Agora, a 2009 historical drama starring Rachel Weisz and directed by Alejandro Amenábar (The Sea Inside).

The story is set in 4th century Alexandria (the movie was filmed in Malta) and tells of three things: 1) the building tensions between the Pagan, Jewish, and Christian inhabitants of the city which (may have) led to the burning of the library of Alexandria; 2) the power struggle between the governing Roman prefect, Orestes and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril; and 3) the life and death of Hypatia, a Greek astronomer and philosopher.

- Hypatia teaching her class

I like ancient history and science so the movie was interesting for me. The characters were pretty well done, not one-dimensional, although I have to say I didn't especially like Hypatia - she could think outside the box when it came to science but it never seemed to occur to her that enslaving others was ethically questionable. The film did have some really arresting visual images, including a beautiful satellite view of Alexandria, some great costumes, and neat architecture. Still, all in all, I found it rather grim ... never have I seen so many people stoned, and I don't mean in the recreational-drug sense of the word ... what got me down was the self-righteous cruelty and brutality of the members of all three religions portrayed: I'd be tempted to think Richard Dawkins produced the film :) but I'm afraid that instead the movie just brings to light the sad truth that human nature can take even what's inherently good and mess it up.

- Orestes

The movie was scathingly reviewed in the Catholic press because it dwells on a creepy Cyril and on the murder of Hypatia by a Christian mob. Historically, though, it's hard to get around these two things. Hypatia does seem to have been murdered by Christians, though whether because she was a Pagan female in science or because she got in the way between Cyril and Orestes, is hard to say. And as Wikipedia states of Cyril ....

Cyril is counted among the Church Fathers and the Doctors of the Church .... but Theodosius II, the Roman Emperor, condemned him for behaving like a proud pharaoh, and the Nestorian bishops at the Council of Ephesus declared him a heretic, labelling him as a "monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church". Cyril is controversial because of his involvement in the expulsion of Novatians and Jews from Alexandria and the murder of the hellenistic philosopher Hypatia. Historians disagree over the extent of his responsibility for these events.

- Cyril

Here's just the beginning of a review of the film by Roger Ebert, who gave it three out of four stars ....

BY ROGER EBERT / July 21, 2010

I went to see "Agora" expecting an epic with swords, sandals and sex. I found swords and sandals, some unexpected opinions about sex, and a great deal more. This is a movie about ideas, a drama based on the ancient war between science and superstition. At its center is a woman who in the fourth century A.D. was a scientist, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and teacher, respected in Egypt, although women were not expected to be any of those things.

Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) was born into the family business. Her father Theon (Michael Lonsdale) was the curator of the Library of Alexandria, which had as its mission "collecting all the world's knowledge." Scholars traveled there from across the ancient world, doing research and donating manuscripts. It was destroyed by Christians in 391 A.D., and "Agora" takes place in the years surrounding that incalculable loss ........

Monday, May 09, 2011

More ...

There's a post today at America magazine's blog by Jesuit Raymond A. Schroth - Readings: When Is A Killing Not a Murder?. Here's a little of it --


Readings: When Is A Killing Not a Murder?
- Raymond A. Schroth SJ

[...] I flicked my TV on around midnight last Sunday to a foreign language news broadcast where the subtext seemed to say that Osama bin Laden was dead; but that was contradicted, I thought, by the video of hoards of young people screaming “U. S. A.” and yelling and waving American flags, as at a football game. Both were true. The bad guy was dead and college kids were dancing in the streets. He had died like a coward, but in battle, the report said, clutching his wife as a shield, shooting it out with heroic Navy Seals. The next morning the tabloids rejoiced. The New York Daily News shouted, “Rot in Hell!” on page 1 and ran that as a banner the rest of the week.

An email from a lawyer friend said: “I think it may become clear that there was a summary execution.”

That had been implied in President Obama’s announcement the night before, just from the way he emphasized the word “kill,” and the way administration spokesmen tacked on vague references to the dead man or his wife or son making “threatening gestures.” But soon we knew there was no “battle.” Our troops quickly killed a man and a woman on the first floor then started up the stairs. No more shots were fired. Bin Laden stood in his doorway, turned back into his room. Our troops entered the room. Bin Laden was unarmed, although reportedly a Seal saw a gun elsewhere in the room. They shot their target in the chest and head, blowing off part of his skull, scooped up the body, took pictures of the corpse, wrapped him and dumped him in the ocean from one of our ships.

This event, said the President, will unify America, proving we can do anything as a nation that we put our minds to. My list of other things we should put our minds to is long.

I have mixed emotions. I am relieved that Osama bin Laden was found. I am ashamed, as a former army officer and as a Catholic priest, that, under these circumstances, he was killed .....

I agree with my lawyer friends who say: This is not justice. Justice means arrest, fair trial, and punishment. Robert Fisk, the renowned British war correspondent who has interviewed bin Laden several times, says it best: “The real problem is that the West, which has constantly preached to the Arab world that legality and non-violence was the way forward in the Middle East, has taught a different lesson to the people of the region: that executing your opponents is perfectly acceptable.”


Me here again ... I think the reason I keep posting about this, the reason it bothers me so much, is the inconsistency: Christians are ignoring the sermon on the mount in favor of retribution. But forget religion for a minute and let's talk politics -- people who I considered "liberal" are somehow ok with assassination. I'd expect that from Bush Republicans who from the word go were ok with ignoring the Geneva Conventions and curtailing our civil liberties in the name of beating terrorism, but how can people who had ethical and moral objections to what Bush did now make an exception in this case? This bit from a past post by Glenn Greenwald expresses what I feel --


The Osama bin Laden exception
- Glenn Greenwald

[A] large number of people who have adopted the view that bin Laden's death is an unadulterated Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, mostly Democrats, who reject that view -- who genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice -- yet who view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a symbol) that they're willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception .......

[Y]es, I believe in all these principles of due process and restraining unfettered Executive killing and the like, but in this one case, I don't care if those are violated. Like I said, though I strongly disagree with that view, I understand and respect it, particularly given the honesty with which it's expressed.

My principal objection to it -- aside from the fact that I think those principles shouldn't be violated because they're inherently right (which is what makes them principles) -- is that there's no principled way to confine it to bin Laden. If this makes sense for bin Laden, why not for other top accused Al Qaeda leaders? Why shouldn't the same thing be done to Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen who has been allegedly linked by the Government to far more attacks over the last several years than bin Laden? At Guantanamo sits Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged operational mastermind of 9/11 -- who was, if one believes the allegations, at least as responsible for the attack as bin Laden and about whom there is as little perceived dobut; why shouldn't we just take him out back today and shoot him in the head and dump his corpse into the ocean rather than trying him?

Once you embrace the bin Laden Exception, how does it stay confined to him? ..... For me, the better principles are those established by the Nuremberg Trials, and numerous other war crimes trials accorded some of history's most gruesome monsters. It should go without saying for all but the most intellectually and morally stunted that none of this has anything to do with sympathy for bin Laden. Just as was true for objections to the torture regime or Guantanamo or CIA black sites, this is about the standards to which we and our Government adhere, who we are as a nation and a people ....



I've been reading about the flooding of the Mississippi river - I had received an email from a group that helps animals in disaster areas, United Animal Nations, about rescuing animals in the flood zone. This reminded me about the post I had earlier about helping animals in Japan after the earthquake, tsunami, radiation leak. For those interested in reading about what's happening with the animals in Japan now and in other disaster areas, there's a recent storey on the subject ... They Walk With Us, We Carry Them: Disaster Planning for Pets. Here's the beginning of it ...

7:03pm | Fires, floods, weird weather, earthquakes, a tsunami and what may be soon considered the worst nuclear disaster in history… We briefly entertained the notion of building an ark but scotched the idea because you’re only allowed to save two of each nonhuman species.

Animal rescuer Isabella Gallaon-Aoki, founder of Animal Friends Niigata in Niigata, Japan, has been rescuing animals in the Fukushima danger zone caused by the earthquake and the resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster. People fleeing the scene let their pets go free so that they wouldn’t get hurt, Gallaon-Aoki said during an April 14 CNN interview with Anderson Cooper.

Unlike the United States, where an increasing number of states and communities are instituting FEMA-supported so-called “No Pet Left Behind” legislation, there is no government disaster plan for pets and no support for lost, abandoned and starving animals in Japan. And so Gallaon-Aoki and her group walked into a life-threatening condition and literally hunted down pets too frightened and hungry to remember that humans can be their friends .......

- A kitty rescued by UAN during a Butte County, Calif., fire. Photo courtesy of Alexis Raymond, UAN.

I'm not sure what to make of this ...

but it made me smile :) -

Some music

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day :)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A book and a quote

I only know who physicists Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson are because they were mentioned in an episode of Stargate Atlantis (question asked, 'who would you rather fool around with: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Brian Greene?'). By coincidence, today I checked a book by Greene out from the library, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, and today I also came across a remark made by Neil deGrasse Tyson ...... Two American goals that took a decade, and more than $100 billion to achieve: 1) Walk on the Moon 2) Find Bin Laden.


I read about this poem, Manfred by Lord Byron, tonight in the novel I'm still reading, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In the novel, Mr. Strange, a magician, keeps bumping into Byron in Europe and the two come to really dislike each other, the poet eventually writing this poem about a magician quite unlike Mr. Strange :). Wikipedia states ....

Manfred is a dramatic poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with music in Three Parts, and later by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his Manfred Symphony, Op. 58, as well as by Carl Reinecke. Friedrich Nietzsche was impressed by the poem's depiction of a super-human being, and wrote some music for it .....

Manfred is a Faustian noble living in the Bernese Alps. Internally tortured by some mysterious guilt, which has to do with the death of his most beloved, Astarte, he uses his mastery of language and spell-casting to summon seven spirits, from whom he seeks forgetfulness. The spirits, who rule the various components of the corporeal world, are unable to control past events and thus cannot grant Manfred's plea. For some time, fate prevents him from escaping his guilt through suicide. At the end, Manfred dies defying religious temptations of redemption from sin. Throughout the poem, he succeeds in challenging all authoritative powers he comes across, and chooses death over submitting to spirits of higher powers. Manfred directs his final words to the Abbot, remarking, "Old man! 't is not so difficult to die." ...

You can read the poem here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rowan Williams and David Foster Wallace

I saw that the Archbishop of Canterbury has made a comment on the death of Osama bin Laden, and I thought I'd post some of what he had to say ....


The Archbishop of Canterbury's bad manners

[...] Yesterday, while people were stil celebrating the extinction of Osama bin Laden, he [Rowan Williams] was asked at a Lambeth Palace press conference whether the US had been right to kill him. After some reluctance to give a response at all -- Archbishop Rowan always knows when he is about to flung into the fire, and yet his honesty always wins out over his fear -- he replied:

"I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances. I think it’s also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal, in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed."

... (snip) .....

He was making a point about the one fact we now do know: that bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was shot. Whether he was executed by deliberate order (the complications of arresting and trying him are after all almost too great to contemplate) or because he failed to surrender (the Navy Seals feared a suicide vest or worse) is among the facts we don't know. But that he was shot while unarmed leaves open the strong possibility that this was an extra-judicial killing.

To which a chorus of voices has cried: so what? Did bin Laden care about the death of unarmed people? Why have any sympathy for such a monster? But this is not about him; it's about us, and whether the means of self-defence we deploy to preserve our way of life are consonant with our values, or whether, in sacrificing principles for the sake of a perceived immediate goal, we hand our enemies a victory, and so prolong the battle.

That's the point the Archbishop wanted to make. When terrorists wage war on democratic countries under the rule of law, they not only slay the innocent but tempt civilized nations to abandon the rule of law. And they key point about the rule of law is that nobody is outside it, whoever they are and whatever they have done; and the law cannot be set aside because it is justified to do so. The enormity of bin Laden's crimes, therefore is irrelevant; if anything, it makes the need for deploying the law more, not less, compelling ..........


This reminds me of the short essay by David Foster Wallace at The Atlantic - Just Asking

And I recommend this really good post for going over all the ethical and practical implications of where we throw down on the killing - The Osama bin Laden exception by Glenn Greewald.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

David B Hart, Jonathan Strange, and Mr Norrell

I'm still reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and liking it very much. As Wikipedia states, it's an ... alternative history set in 19th-century England around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it is based on the premise that magic once existed in England and has returned with two men: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange .... and I've come to an interesting footnote in the story which discusses religion and magic. It reminded me of what David Bentley Hart wrote about magic


(the punctuation may be off as I'm listening to,, not reading, what's below) -

Jonathan Strange: There used to be a proverb, defunct now, something about priests sowing wheat and magicians sowing rye, all in the same field. The meaning is that priests and magicians will never agree (4).

Footnote 4: The meaning was perhaps a little more than this. As early as the twelfth century it was recognized that priests and magicians are in some sense rivals. Both believe that the universe is inhabited by a wide variety of supernatural beings and subject to supernatural forces. Both believe that these beings can be petitioned through spells or prayers and so be persuaded to help or hinder mankind. In many ways, the two cosmologies are remarkably similar. Priests and magicians draw very different conclusions from this understanding. Magicians are chiefly interested in the usefulness of these supernatural beings - they wish to know under what circumstances and by what means angels, demons, and fairies can be brought to lend their aid in magical practices. For their purposes it is almost irrelevant that the first class of beings is divinely good, the second infernally wicked, and the third morally suspect. Priests, on the other hand, are scarcely interested in anything else. In medieval England, attempts to reconcile the two cosmologies were doomed to failure. The church was quick to identify a whole host of different heresies of which an unsuspecting magician might be guilty .... This is not to say that all magicians avoided confusing religion and magic. Many spells which have come down to us exhort such and such a saint or holy person to help the magician. Surprisingly, the source of the confusion was often the magician's fairy servants. Most fairies were forcibly baptized as soon as they entered England and they soon began to incorporate references to saints and apostles into their magic.


More yard photos

- the orange tree is blossoming. This orange tree is pretty old, but not as old as the Mother Orange Tree :) ....

- the pecan tree is sprouting tiny leaves ....

- The color of these roses always reminds me of this painting - Flaming June ...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

More stuff ...

no one wants to hear (except me, I guess) - Killing of bin Laden: What are the consequences? by Glenn Greenwald, from a couple of days ago.

The killing of Osama bin Laden is one of those events which, especially in the immediate aftermath, is not susceptible to reasoned discussion. It's already a Litmus Test event: all Decent People -- by definition -- express unadulterated ecstacy at his death, and all Good Americans chant "USA! USA!" in a celebration of this proof of our national greatness and Goodness (and that of our President). Nothing that deviates from that emotional script will be heard, other than by those on the lookout for heretics to hold up and punish ....

But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden's head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we've started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now? Those are rhetorical questions. None of those things will happen. If anything, I can much more easily envision the reverse ....

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

More on "justice"

I'd like to add that Bryan Cones has an update to his post at US Catholic. Here's a bit of it ...

UPDATE: Is Osama bin Laden's assassination "justice"?

[...] I did not say that bin Laden should be alive, or that he was misundertood, only that using virtue of justice to describe his killing is a pretty anemic understanding of justice, and, I would argue, not a Catholic one. Nor is it Catholic to "celebrate" the death of any human being. Bin Laden's death may have been necessary for many reasons, but it should not be cause for rejoicing, as the Vatican also pointed out. We should all grieve that this is the world we live in, indeed the world of our own making ..... Deny it if you want, but both as citizens of this country and as Christians, we must take responsibility for our role in the world's violence if we are ever to approach anything like a Catholic vision of justice, which means a world in which every human life has a chance to flourish.

Monday, May 02, 2011

In the news ....

The New York Times - Vatican: Bishop Who Broached New Rules for Priests Is Ousted

The Vatican ousted an Australian bishop on Monday who had called on the church to consider ordaining women and married men. In a statement, the Vatican said that it had “removed from pastoral care” Bishop William Morris, left, the bishop of Toowoomba, Australia .... Bishop Morris had recently published an open letter saying that he was being removed for having argued in 2006 that the church should consider ordaining women and married men in order to fight a shortage of priests, prompting Pope Benedict XVI to open an investigation into his diocese ...

An aericle with more details at Australian Broadcasting Corp - Secrecy and silence continues in the Catholic church

Osama bin Laden

From a post at US Catholic by Bryan Cones - Is Osama bin Laden's assassination "justice"?

"Justice has been done," said President Obama last night, announcing the assassination of Osama bin Laden, a couple of his aides, and a woman used as a human shiled in the attack. Is that what "justice" is? I say that not because I don't think Osama bin Laden should have escaped punishment for his crimes. The man was guilty of murder thousands of times over. But I wonder if the president of the United States, a nation that has committed terrible and grotesque acts of grave injustice in these past 10 years, should be so bold in invoking "justice." I wish in some way the president had called the action exactly what it was: revenge for the attacks of 9/11 .....

Sunday, May 01, 2011

I doubt, therefore I am

A song for St. Thomas Sunday: Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek ....

Doubting Thomas

What will be left when I've drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I've met and the folks who've known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me

I'm a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe
Oh me of little faith

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I'm a coward
If there's a master of death
I bet he's holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

I'm a doubting Thomas
I can't keep my promises
Cause I don't know what's safe
Oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I'm scared I'll find proof that it's a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I'm not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I've wasted

I'm a doubting Thomas
I'll take your promise
Though I know nothin's safe
Oh me of little faith