My Photo
Location: United States

Friday, September 30, 2011


Tonight I watched the director's cut of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. It's almost a different movie - a lot must have been cut to make the theatrical version that I saw earlier (see my review here). But anyway, as I came to the part where Russell Crowe's character speaks of liberty to his king, I was thinking not of medieval feudalism and John Plantagenet but instead of the pope and our present day church: that last absolute monarchy of the west, run by a ruler legally untouchable, whose clergy dare not speak truth to power lest they lose their jobs, and which ironically speaks itself of liberty, the liberty to discriminate against others .... :(

Ah well, here's the speech ......

Altar girls

There's an editorial at America magazine - Save the Altar Girls - that's worth a look (courtesy of Pray Tell). Here's just a bit of it ...

[...] The rejection of altar girls disregards the counsel of the Second Vatican Council that the charisms of the baptized “are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation.” By virtue of baptism, the council reminds us, “there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.” There is “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Nos. 12, 32) .... Inevitably the issue of women’s roles in the church raises the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood ....

Killing the right people

There have been a lot of posts about capital punishment and the death penalty lately in the religious blogosphere - almost always against it (and I myself am against it). Today, though, I came across this by Aquinas scholar Edward Feser - In Defense of Capital Punishment. His article champions the idea that it's not wrong to kill people as long as the people you are killing deserve it ...

it is clear that the intentional killing of a human being is not intrinsically wrong. What is intrinsically wrong is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. That is why, contrary to what Tollefsen insinuates, those who oppose abortion and euthanasia but support capital punishment are perfectly consistent in their thinking.

This seems like an example of the disconnect between scholasticism and gospel Christianity. Thomas Aquinas wrote in support of capital punishment ... But the life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men. ... sounds like what the authorities said about Jesus.

Radioactive particles in cigarettes

I posted about polonium-210 in cigarettes yesterday but deleted the post. Today, though, I saw a video about it and decided to re-post. The story - Big Tobacco knew radioactive particles in cigarettes posed cancer risk but kept quiet, and the video ....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy Feast of the Archangels

- angel in the Dream of Three Wise Men from the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is this the best of all possible worlds?

- Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jessie Willcox Smith

I saw this post today about the search for Goldilocks planets at 13.7: Cosmos and Culture - The Goldilocks Enigma: Is The Universe Fit For Life?. Here's a bit of the post ....

[...] As astronomers zero in on possible habitable planets, it's worth pondering on the often-stated belief that "the universe is just right for life."

How certain are we of this and why? And when we say life, what do we mean by it?

The essential reason why so many scientists are confident that life exists elsewhere is the regularity of the laws of physics and chemistry across the cosmos. The same laws of nature that apply in our solar system apply to galaxies billions of light-years away. They move in similar ways and shine in similar ways to galaxies nearby, allowing us to identify their distance and chemical composition with near certainty. If the same laws apply everywhere and at (mostly) every moment of the universe's history, and if the same chemical elements are found in distant stellar systems, it's fair to assume that the same chemical processes that led to life here on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago will reoccur in other planetary platforms. This is what could be called the argument from regularity.

But is it enough? ..........

It is interesting to imagine how the finding of life on other planets and/or the transplanting of human life to other planets will affect our religious beliefs. Science fiction has been all over this forever, of course, and even Vatican scientists have addressed the issue, but I'm betting it will make a big difference to ideas like original sin/atonement and human exceptionalism - I think this will be a good thing :)

I looked out the front window ...

... a few minutes ago and saw this guy taking a break by the flower pot :) On the other side of the flower pot is a bowl of water. I started leaving it out for the birds before I got the birdbath, but the squirrels use it more often than the birds ....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


One thing I like about taking photos is that I can see in the photos stuff I can't see in real life, like this little oak titmouse below. The titmice are only about 3" tall and are very shy and quick, so I never get close enough to really see them (or to take a good photo). This one has come by to get a sunflower seed ....


My Gerbera has a couple of flowers :) ...

Monday, September 26, 2011


This week's movie rental was Thor. Most people have already seen it so I'll just say I thought it was more or less ok (Ebert gave it 2 stars out of 4). What I mostly noticed was how different it was from the Thor comics I read as a kid, in which Thor spent much of his earthly time as the frail doctor who needed to walk with a cane, Donald Blake ....

I miss the contrast between the mighty Thor and his more vulnerable human alter ego.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Christ on the mountain

Saw an interesting painting today by Édouard Debat-Ponsan ....

The pope and Les Murray

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. - Matthew 6:28-29

Today I came upon mention of The Philippi Collection ....

a private collection [with] more than 500 head coverings gathered from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Caodaism, Shinto, Buddhism, Sikhism, Free Churches, Sufism, Anabaptism and further communities of faith. Moreover that, the collection contains more than 100 pieces of accessories used for clerical and ecclesiastic purposes. Among these are shoes of the Pope, pontificial gloves, pallia, pectoral crosses, rings of bishops, pieces of the papal china, sashes, scarves of cardinals ... pectoral cross-cords ...

- a pair of B16's loafers in The Philippi Collection

The collection's even got papal shoes, though apparently not papal slippers or episcopal sandals (don't even ask about the liturgical silk stockings). Wikipedia states of the papal shoes ...

Pope Paul VI ... completely discontinued the custom of kissing the papal foot ... In 1969, Paul VI abolished buckles from all ecclesiastical shoes, which had been customarily required at the Papal Court and for prelates. He also discontinued the use of the indoor velvet papal slippers and the Paschal mozzetta and shoes. Paul VI wore plain red leather shoes throughout the rest of his pontificate. Pope John Paul I, who was pope for only 33 days, continued wearing the plain red leather shoes worn by Paul VI. Early in his pontificate Pope John Paul II wore red shoes; however he quickly adopted wearing ordinary brown shoes ... Pope Benedict XVI restored the use of the red papal shoes, which are provided by his personal cobbler in Rome. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI also restored the use of the white damask silk Paschal mozzetta, which was previously worn with white silk slippers.

- the collection has a page on Benedict's above mentioned mozzetta. Poor stoats ... Prelates of the Catholic Church still wear ecclesiastical garments featuring ermine (a sign of their status equal to that of the nobility) - ermine

This obsession with elaborate and expensive clothing just creeps me out - I'm with poet Les Murray in thinking casual wear's the thing .....

The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever
- Les Murray

To go home and wear shorts forever
in the enormous paddocks, in that warm climate,
adding a sweater when winter soaks the grass,

to camp out along the river bends
for good, wearing shorts, with a pocketknife,
a fishing line and matches,

or there where the hills are all down, below the plain,
to sit around in shorts at evening
on the plank verandah -

If the cardinal points of costume
are Robes, Tat, Rig and Scunge,
where are shorts in this compass?

They are never Robes
as other bareleg outfits have been:
the toga, the kilt, the lava-lava
the Mahatma's cotton dhoti;

archbishops and field marshals
at their ceremonies never wear shorts.
The very word
means underpants in North America.

Shorts can be Tat,
Land-Rovering bush-environmental tat,
socio-political ripped-and-metal-stapled tat,
solidarity-with-the-Third World tat tvam asi,

likewise track-and-field shorts worn to parties
and the further humid, modelling negligee
of the Kingdom of Flaunt,
that unchallenged aristocracy.

More plainly climatic, shorts
are farmers' rig, leathery with salt and bonemeal;
are sailors' and branch bankers' rig,
the crisp golfing style
of our youngest male National Costume.

Most loosely, they are Scunge,
ancient Bengal bloomers or moth-eaten hot pants
worn with a former shirt,
feet, beach sand, hair
and a paucity of signals.

Scunge, which is real negligee
housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,
is holiday, is freedom from ambition.
Scunge makes you invisible
to the world and yourself.

The entropy of costume,
scunge can get you conquered by more vigorous cultures
and help you notice it less.

To be or to become
is a serious question posed by a work-shorts counter
with its pressed stack, bulk khaki and blue,
reading Yakka or King Gee, crisp with steely warehouse odour.

Satisfied ambition, defeat, true unconcern,
the wish and the knack of self-forgetfulness
all fall within the scunge ambit
wearing board shorts of similar;
it is a kind of weightlessness.

Unlike public nakedness, which in Westerners
is deeply circumstantial, relaxed as exam time,
artless and equal as the corsetry of a hussar regiment,

shorts and their plain like
are an angelic nudity,
spirituality with pockets!
A double updraft as you drop from branch to pool!

Ideal for getting served last
in shops of the temperate zone
they are also ideal for going home, into space,
into time, to farm the mind's Sabine acres
for product and subsistence.

Now that everyone who yearned to wear long pants
has essentially achieved them,
long pants, which have themselves been underwear
repeatedly, and underground more than once,
it is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts,

to moderate grim vigour
with the knobble of bare knees,
to cool bareknuckle feet in inland water,
slapping flies with a book on solar wind
or a patient bare hand, beneath the cadjiput trees,

to be walking meditatively
among green timber, through the grassy forest
towards a calm sea
and looking across to more of that great island
and the further tropics.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Which tiara would Jesus wear?

- Benedict's tiara

I didn't realize until today that the pope has a tiara. Why am I surprised - he has his own country, why not a crown? I find this so repugnant :( but let's push on. Here's a bit about the papal tiara from Wikipedia ...

The Papal Tiara ... is the three-tiered jewelled papal crown, supposedly of Byzantine and Persian origin, that is a prominent symbol of the papacy ... Papal tiaras were worn by the popes of Rome and Avignon from Pope Clement V (d. 1314) to Pope Paul VI, who was crowned in 1963 ..... At the end of the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, Paul VI descended the steps of the papal throne in St. Peter's Basilica and ascended to the altar, on which he laid the tiara in a dramatic gesture of humility and as a sign of the renunciation of human glory and power in keeping with the renewed spirit of the Council. Since then, none of his successors has worn a tiara. It was announced that the tiara would be sold and the money obtained would be given to charity ....

- tiara of Paul VI

However, Benedict chose to wear the tiara when meeting with the Lutherans in Germany (The Pope and his tiara, The Tablet). So much for the renunciation of human glory and power, not to mention ecumenism :(

Anyway, Wikipedia tells us that there's not just one papal tiara, but a number of them (List of Papal Tiaras in existence) from which the pope can choose, many of them kept in the Vatican Sacristy/Treasury. Here's JPII's unworn tiara ......

I find it hard to look at all this stuff and not wonder why it isn't sold and the money given to charity, as Paul VI chose to do with his tiara.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Aquinas on the Soul

Another book I picked up at the library was the one on universal salvation by Rob Bell, Love Wins. And speaking of universal salvation, today I was looking up 'the four last things' (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) in an article in The Catholic Encyclopedia, and I cringed when I saw this description of universal salvation therein ....

The restitutionist view, which in its Origenist form was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 543, and later at the Fifth General Council (see APOCATASTASIS), is the cardinal dogma of modern Universalism, and is favoured more or less by liberal Protestants and Anglicans. Based on an exaggerated optimism for which present experience offers no guarantee, this view assumes the all-conquering efficacy of the ministry of grace in a life of probation after death, and looks forward to the ultimate conversion of all sinners and the voluntary disappearance of moral evil from the universe.

Right, the last thing we'd want to do is be overly optimistic where God's concerned - yikes! But anyway, the reason I'd been looking up the four last things was that I'm reading an interesting paper about Thomas Aquinas' body/soul theory and how that relates to existence after death ... "Resurrection, Reassembly, and Reconstitution: Aquinas on the Soul" by Eleonore Stump (the paper can be downloaded here). Here's just a bit from the beginning of it ....

Resurrection, Reassembly, and Reconstitution: Aquinas on the Soul
by Eleonore Stump

In his entry on the immortality of the soul in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Richard Swinburne calls our attention to a problem often raised in connection with the Christian doctrine of resurrection. He says:

[...] if I come to live again, the question arises as to what makes some subsequent human me, for [at death] my body will be largely if not entirely destroyed. If the answer is given that (most of) the atoms of my original body will be reassembled into bodily form, there are two problems. First, many of the atoms may no longer exist; they may have been transmuted into energy. And second, what proportion of the atoms do we need? Sixty per cent, seventy per cent, or what? If it is mere atoms which make some body mine and so some living human me, then no body will be fully mine unless it has all my atoms. Yet some of my atoms, even if not destroyed, will have come to form other human bodies.1

... (snip) ...

This problem is thought by many to afflict Aquinas’s theory of resurrection too, because Aquinas does not identify a human being with his soul .... On Aquinas’s own view, the soul is the form of the body, and a human being is a composite of matter and form .... As far as that goes, on Aquinas’s account how are we to understand what happens to a human being between earthly death and resurrection in an afterlife? Aquinas believes that the soul is capable of existence without the body; between earthly death and resurrection, he thinks that the soul persists separated from the body. But the separated soul is not a material composite. So what are we to say about a human being in the period in which all that remains of him is the separated soul? Does he continue to exist during that period? If he does, then in what sense is it true to say that he is a material composite? On the other hand, if he is a material composite, then how could it be true that he exists when the matter composing him is gone?

In this paper, I want to try to shed some light on these questions and on Aquinas’s theory of the resurrection by looking with some care at Aquinas’s basic metaphysics of matter and form as well as at his theological treatments of the persistence of the soul and the nature of the resurrection .......

Nothing changes

I've been catching up on the pope's visit to Germany. I've read that he's met with the Lutherans, the Jewish community, and sex abuse survivors, and while all this sounds positive, I think the meetings are little more than photo ops to gain publicity while doing nothing concrete to change for the better the actual relationships between the church and those with whom the pope met. Discouraging :(

There's this ...

Pope Benedict XVI met ... for half an hour with five victims [of sex abuse] ... Emmanuel Henckens of Belgium, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the German meeting, "will make a handful of wounded individuals feel better for a while," but will do nothing "to stop priests from molesting kids, or bishops from concealing crimes."

And ...

Germany's small Jewish community praised Pope Benedict on Thursday for stressing the common roots of Christianity and Judaism but warned him it would be hurt if he honors wartime Pope Pius XII, who it said was silent during the Holocaust. Dieter Graumann, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, also said Jews were hurt by his support for an ultra-traditionalist Catholic group [SSPX] they consider bigoted against Jews, Muslims, gays, women and Protestants ...

And ...

Pope Benedict XVI [wearing his tiara!] disappointed Protestants seeking common ground with Catholics by stressing differences between the two groups, as he continued a four-day journey in his native Germany. The Evangelical Church of Germany, or EKD, an umbrella group of German Evangelical and Lutheran denominations, had raised the issue of joint communion for married couples of different Christian denominations. Speaking in the eastern city of Erfurt today, the Catholic leader rebuffed expectations by saying that one can’t “think through or negotiate” faith. “I’d like to point out that this represents a political misunderstanding of faith and ecumenism,” Benedict said in a speech to a joint-faith group in the St. Augustine cloister, where Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, began his monastic studies in 1505 ....

- The Library of the Evangelical Ministry

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deleting ...

I'm weeding out my odd assortment of video bookmarks and thought I'd post a few ....

- Buffy the vampire slayer cuts the Twilight vampire dead ...

- Fr. Barron talks about why Thomas Aquinas is his hero ...

- Chuck Norris, before he became a conservative nut, takes out the trash in The Octagon ....

- Puppies! :) from RedRover (formerly United Animal Nations) ...

- a past interview with Keith Ward .....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stellan Skarsgård is Theseus :)

- Theseus and Helen

I so like Greek history, philosophy, art, plays, and mythology, so when I saw this movie at the library, I picked it up. Helen of Troy is a 2003 television miniseries based on the Iliad. Shot in Malta, it stars Sienna Guillory (Inkheart), Rufus Sewell (Dark City), Matthew Marsden, John Rhys-Davies, and Stellan Skarsgård.

Most movies made about the Trojan War, like Troy, are told from the the point of view of the Greeks, following the Iliad .....

The Iliad (sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege, the earlier events, such as the gathering of warriors for the siege, the cause of the war and similar, tending to appear near the beginning, and the events prophesied for the future, such as Achilles' looming death and the sack of Troy, prefigured and alluded to more and more vividly approaching the end of the poem, making the poem tell a more or less complete tale of the Trojan War.

But this movie is told from Helen's point of view, from her youth in Sparta when she's kidnapped by Theseus, to her forced marriage to Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, to her meeting and running away to Troy with Paris, with whom she'd been in love since seeing a vision of him as a girl, to the destruction of Troy. The story is a pretty sad one - the triumph of military power and one man's obsession (Agamemnon's) over and against true love - neither Troy, nor Paris and Helen, ever have a real chance but are doomed, thanks to the goddesses Paris offended.

I think the film is worth a watch - the acting is ok, the sets, costumes, locations are interesting, and it really makes events from long long ago in a region far far away come alive. Here below is a clip from the movie (you can watch the whole thing on YouTube). The clip shows the young shepherd Paris coming to Troy to retrieve a bull he raised which had been stolen by the King of Troy's men to be the prize in a tournament. He seems to be a country bumpkin, but he's actually a prince of Troy .... when he was born, it was prophesied that if the baby lived, he'd be the destruction of Troy. The king told a servant to kill the baby bu instead he exposed him on Mount Ida, whence he was found by a shepherd who raised him as his son and named him Paris ... only when Paris defeats everyone in the tournament, including Prince Hector, is it revealed to all, as well as to himself, who he he truly is ...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I used to imagine ...

myself orbiting the earth in a capsule - so peaceful, so quiet (unless one gets crushed by space debris or eaten by aliens, of course). This is what I would have seen ....

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nóirín Ní Riain and Glenstal Abbey

Fr. Anthony Ruff mentioned Glenstal Abbey in a recent post at Pray Tell, and I followed his link to the abbey's site. There I found mention of a workshop given by Nóirín Ní Riain ... Irish singer, writer, teacher, theologian and an authority on Gregorian Chant ... and gives workshops about "Sound as a Spiritual Experience" .... As a child, Nóirín often visited Glenstal Abbey in Murroe to listen to the chants of the Benedictine monks. Later she performed and made several recordings with them under which the trilogy: Vox Clamantis in Deserto (Caoineadh na Maighdine), Vox Populi (Good People All) and Vox de Nube (A Voice from the Cloud).

Here's a video fo her singing with some of the monks of Glenstal Abbey .....

And here's her Song of the Pooka ....

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Physics/Cosmology & the problem of evil

When I was at the library, I picked up an interesting book - Physics and Cosmology: Scientific Perspectives on the Problem of Natural Evil. Nancey Murphy, Robert John Russell, and William R. Stoeger S.J. are the editors and they and others have contributed articles, including one by Denis Edwards titled "Why is God Doing This? Suffering, the Universe, and Christian Eschatology". I hope to post something from it soon.

Out and about

When my sister took me for groceries and to the library, I brought my camera along. First stop, Whole Foods - yum :) ...

- then to the library ...

- and on the way back we passed my church. Though I haven't attended for a while, I guess I still think of it as "mine" .....

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

I'm re-reading a novel - Moscow Rules - that's partly set in Russia and which mentions the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour ...

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior rose before him, its five golden onion domes dull against the heavy gray sky. The original cathedral had been dynamited by Kaganovich in 1931 on orders from Stalin, supposedly because it blocked the view from the window of his Kremlin apartment. In its place the Bolsheviks had attempted to erect a massive government skyscraper called the Palace of Soviets, but the riverside soil proved unsuitable for such a building and the construction site flooded repeatedly. Eventually, Stalin and his engineers surrendered to the inevitable and turned the land into a public swimming pool -- the world's largest, of course. Rebuilt after the fall of communism at enormous public expense, the cathedral was now one of Moscow's most popular tourist attractions. - Moscow Rules, p. 331

A recurring theme in the novel is how big everything is in Russia, and Wikipedia states that With an overall height of 105 metres (344 ft), it [the cathedral] is the tallest Orthodox church in the world. :) The original cathedral was built by Alexander I in thanks when Napoleon retreated from Moscow and was designed to resemble Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The cathedral was eventually dynamited as the novel stated, and many of its holy relics were preserved at Donskoy Monastery. In 1990, the Orthodox Church received permission to rebuild the cathedral and a replica of the original was designed. It's said that nearly a million Muscovites donated money for the rebuilding.

- a capture of the ceiling from a 360º Virtual Tour of the cathedral

Friday, September 16, 2011

The friend of the bridegroom

- Jesus and John, Hagia Sophia

There's a post at dotCommonweal - Irish Bishop Calls for Optional Celibacy - that has linkst in the comments section to both the German and the English versions of a 1970 document titled "Memorandum regarding the discussion of celibacy" and which is signed by Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger, among others. Here's a bit from the end of the document, which seems ironic in view of the pope's present stance on any questioning of church policy ....

[W]e have the right and the duty in this troublesome situation, on the basis of our office as theologians and our task as consultants, to say to the members of the German bishop's conference, in all respect for their high office and position of responsibility, that in the question of celibacy they must take new initiative and consider themselves dispensed neither through the former practice of the Church nor through the declarations of the pope alone.

One of the comments to the dotCommonweal post supported the idea of a celibate clergy, using a quote from the pope ... You [priests] are the living sign that points to Christ Jesus, the only Good Shepherd. Conform yourselves to him, to his style of life, with that total and exclusive service of which celibacy is an expression, and also with a quote from Archbishop Chaput ... The relationship of a bishop and his local Church is very close to a marriage. The ring I wear is a symbol of every bishop’s love for his Church. And a bishop’s marriage to the local Church reminds me, and all of us, that a bishop is called to love his Church with all his heart, just as Christ loved her and gave his life for her. .

But I liked better the responding comment from Fr. Komonchak ....

I believe that associating celibacy with the priest’s alleged spousal relationship with the Church is a very novel connection–that is, the idea that the priest stands “in persona Christi Sponsi.” Many of us priests by far prefer Augustine’s view that a bishop or priest stands in the relationship to Christ the Bridegroom that characterized St. John the Baptist and St. Paul, that is, they were “friends of the Bridegroom,” attendants upon him, facilitating the marriage between Christ and Church but not usurping the role of the Bridegroom. It was the Donatists, not the Catholics, Augustine said, who put themselves in the place of the one Bridegroom of the Church.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Conspirator

This week's movie rental was The Conspirator, a 2010 historical drama directed by Robert Redford, and starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Justin Long, and Kevin Kline (and Colm Meaney :). It tells the story of the only woman charged with conspiring with others to Kill Abraham Lincoln - Mary Surratt - a Catholic convert (The Catholics and Mrs. Mary Surratt: How They Responded to the Trial and Execution of the Lincoln Conspirator ), a Confederate sympathizer (and slave owner), the owner of a boarding house where the conspirators met, and the first woman executed in the US. The acting was fine, especially that of James McAvoy, and the sets and costumes were very good.

- Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) and her lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy)

Robert Redford is said to have made the movie as a criticism against the current military tribunals of Islamic terrorists. I'm not sure, though, that Mary Surratt's arrest/trial fits this scenario. I say this because I read the Wikipedia article on Mary Surratt (which seems to cite some decent sources) before watching the movie, and thus I was aware of some of the discrepancies between what the movie portrayed and what most historians seem to think actually happened. I'm not saying the movie was purposefully misleading and of course it's not a documentary so it can have a pov, but I did think the film shaped information in a way to make Mary seem a victim - an example: it's implied that Mary would not be allowed to testify in her own defense because she in particular was being railroaded, but as footnote #165 to the Wikipedia article on her states ...

Neither Mary Surratt nor any of the other defendants testified on their own behalf. Although some sources claim that they were prevented from doing so, this is incorrect. At the time, the federal government and 35 of the 36 states did not permit defendants in felony trials to testify on their own behalf. See the discussion in Boritt and Forness, p. 352-353, 3721

- Surratt's boarding house, which now houses a restaurant, is located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. - Wikipedia

The film begins with a scene setting up the impeccable character of Mary's future lawyer, Frederick Aiken, then skips ahead to the conspirators doing their deeds, and then their arrests, and the beginning of the trial. The movie has Mary ask lawyer and US Senator Reverdy Johnson to take her case and it seems he does so out of idealism, but I wonder - Johnson's the same guy who made a constitutional argument as counsel for the defense in the Dred Scott Case. At any rate, in real life his two minions, Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt, handled most of the work of defending her, and the movie focuses on Frederick Aiken as her attorney.

Mary's real-life defense was that she didn't really know what was going on because of her bad eyesight, that she was too good of a person to have conspired (a number of Catholic priests were called to the stand to testify to her good character), that those testifying against her were all liars, and that the military tribunal had no jurisdiction over her, a civilian. The movie follows this. The evidence against her was found compelling by the judges (in the movie it's seen as as a total set-up for political purposes) and she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The movie holds an opinion about her verdict that's commented on in footnote #176 of the Wikipedia article about her ...

It has been alleged by various sources that the federal government did not intend to execute Mary Surratt, but that her death sentence was a lure to bring John H. Surratt, Jr. out of hiding to defend her. But historian Joan Cashin has argued that the scant two days between her sentencing and execution did not provide enough time to lure John Jr. out of hiding, and therefore her sentence was not intended to "bait" her son into returning. See: Cashin, p. 299; Swanson, p. 365.

I'm no American history scholar, but the little I learned from the Wikipedia article would lead me to believe that the evidence against Mary was substantial, though circumstantial. Did she conspire to kill Lincoln - I don't know. Was her trial fair - I'm not sure. Was it right to hang her - I'm against the death penalty, so I'd say no, whether she was guilty or not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Andrew Linzey

- from the Aberdeen Bestiary

Here's a 6 minute video of Anglican priest and Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey giving some points to consider in a debate about the treatment of animals. Learn more about him at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.


Sadly, I doubt anything will come of the requests for reform in the church (women preachers, married priests, communion for Protestants and the re-married, etc.) from the group of Austrian priests led by Helmut Schüller ... Vienna Cardinal Schönborn offers scant hope to dissident Austrian Catholic priests.

But hey, who says the church isn't willing to consider change, especially when it calls for accepting back into the fold the Holocaust-denying, Vatican II-hating SSPX ....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What I'm listening to ...

... a podcast of Keith Ward's past Gresham College lecture, "Religion, ethics and evolutionary psychology" ... you can listen to it here. He begins with a mention of of EO Wilson and his ants, and Richard Dawkins and his selfish gene.

Also listening to a song ...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sweet Afton

Here's a version of the poem, Sweet Afton by Robert Burns, sung by Chris Thile of Nickel Creek (on mandolin). The poem describes the Afton River in Ayrshire, Scotland (the poem is posted below the video) ...

Sweet Afton
- Robert Burns

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning leaps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream

More about forgiveness

Someone kindly pointed me toward this Vox Nova post, Volf and Barron on Forgiveness, and I found a video there as well. Here it is ...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nancey Murphy and Frank Jackson

I've mentioned Nancey Murphy before - she a physicalist who believes the universe is entirely physical - though she's a Christian minister, she believes we have no souls (read more). Here's a video of her speaking on "Nonreductive Physicalism and Free Will" .....

Nancey Murphy: "Nonreductive Physicalism and Free Will" from Metanexus Institute on Vimeo.

I was reminded of her when I saw a Philosophy Bites episode on Frank Cameron Jackson who's known for his thought experiment arguing against physicalism, Mary's Room. You can listen to the podcast here.


I wasn't going to post anything about 9/11 because my feelings about it are so mixed up and I fear atypical. But some posts I saw today have encouraged me to write a few words. The posts - Reflections on the 9/11 Commemoration: Mourning for Whom, for What? at Bilgrimage ... Remembering September 11, 2001 at Feminist Philosophers ... Together on September 11 at Jerusalem Hills daily photo.

Two of my mixed up feelings on this:

One is that I don't think we should "mythologize" what happened. Terrorism and violence had been happening to everybody all the time around the world - it was just our turn. I once read a novel with an account of the Dizengoff Street bus bombing - there were only 22 victims but reading about slivers of people being picked up with tweezers by Rabbis to be saved for burial really made an impression. Violence to others is bad, no matter how many victims or who they are.

The other thing is that all around religious blogdom I've seen posts about 9/11 and forgiveness. It's not surprising, given this week's gospel reading of the parable in which we're told that if we don't forgive those who owe us a debt, God won't forgive our debts (and will send us off to the torturers - yikes!). But maybe I'm just a bad Christian because when I see those familiar headlines in the news - 'parents of murdered girl forgive her killer' - I'm not inspired, I'm incredulous. I'm a pacifist, I'm against revenge and war and the death penalty, etc., and I think I can understand why people participate in terrorism, given the inequalities in the world. But I can't (or maybe just don't want to) forgive it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Love means never having to say you're sorry

- The Unmerciful Servant, wood engraving by John Everett Millais (Scanned image and text by Simon Cooke)

I dislike the gospel reading for tomorrow, the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which a king sends to be tortured a previously forgiven servant who owed him money but who would not himself forgive a debt ... scary and disturbing. I can't come up with a benign interpretation of the parable, but I like Fr. Rob Marsh's past homily on it here. You can read more interpretations of Matthew 18:21-35, like Martin Luther's, as well as Resources for the Anniversary of 9-11-01, at The Text This Week.

Remembering Grendel today

Grendel was a stray cat that I first saw one night when she looked in at me through the screen door. and once she had three kittens in the garage, we adopted them all. Grendel was an outdoor cat and I slowly tried to turn her into an indoor only cat (like her babies) - for a while we compromised and she wore a little harness and I took her for walks around the yard on a leash :). There were some hard times with her - she got a herpes blister once on her eyeball (eek!) and my mom and I had to apply hot wet compresses to the eye twice a day for weeks while Grendel had to wear the dreaded elizabethan collar. She was very affectionate and the only one of the four cats who liked to be picked up, who liked to be groomed. When older she got feline hyperthyroidism and then later chronic renal failure and though we spent some time giving her medication and sub-Q fluids, eventually she passed away. Miss her still.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Some videos

- Nickel Creek performing "This Side" on PBS Sound Stage in Chicago (lyrics at the bottom of my post) ....

- A video about Thomas Aquinas and the "Franciscan Thesis" (Duns Scotus) ...

- Perhaps this is in bad taste, and if so, please forgive me, but sometimes I have to laugh so I won't cry ... Mr. Deity and the problem of evil ...

- Socrates (my hero :) on how to stand up for what you believe ...

Nickel Creek - This Side

One day you'll see her and you'll know what I mean.
Take her or leave her she will still be the same.
She'll not try to buy you with her time.
But nothing's the same, as you will see when she's gone.

It's foreign on this side,
And I'll not leave my home again.
There's no place to hide
And I'm nothing but scared.

You dream of colors that have never been made,
You imagine songs that have never been played.
They will try to buy you and your mind.
Only the curious have something to find.

It's foreign on this side,
And the truth is a bitter friend.
But reasons few have I to go back again.

Your first dawn blinded you, left you cursing the day.
Entrance is crucial and it's not without pain.
There's no path to follow, once you're here.
You'll climb up the slide and then you'll slide down the stairs.

It's foreign on this side,
But it feels like I'm home again.
There's no place to hide
But I don't think I'm scared.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The latest visitor to the birdseed ....

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

History geek me

Courtesy of Liam, here's a list of ten historical battles. Why is a peacenik like me interested in battles? I don't know but I have always been :) (see my past post on 10 war movies).

The list below is from a post at TopTenz - Top 10 Most Important Battles in History. Best to read the whole thing for details on the battles, as I'm just posting the list itself with my own commentary on the battles I know something of ....

1. Adrianople, 718 ... Arabs defeated by Byzantines and Bulgarians.

2. Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE ... Greeks beat the Persians on the sea. This is one battle I know a bit about, having read Herodotus in school. It takes place just after the Battle of Thermopylae. You can listen to an interview at NPR with the author of Salamis: The Battle That Saved Western Culture. And here's a short fun (to me anyway) video from the History Channel about the battle and the general who made it happen, Themistocles ....

3. Yorktown, 1781 ... in the Revolutionary War, the US and French trounce the British.

4. Battle of Vienna, 1683 ... the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth beat back the Ottoman Empire.

5. Battle of Tours, 732 ... this battle I'm familiar with too - Charles the Hammer (grandfather of Charlemagne) defeated an invading Muslim army.

6. Gettysburg, 1863 ... the North ends the South's advance in the Civil War.

7. Waterloo, 1815 ... Wellington defeats Napoleon. Everyone knows about this battle, even me, having read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and having watched the movie Waterloo

8. Actium, 31 BCE ...

- The Battle of Actium by Lorenzo Castro

This is a battle with an interesting backstory - Cleopatra and her then boyfriend Mark Antony fight and lose a sea battle against Octavian/Augustus. Julius Caesar had been murdered, and his nephew (and adopted son) Octavian was called to Rome to join up with Mark Antony (a friend of Caesar's who gave that famous speech at his funeral - Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in a military dictatorship, after wiping out Caesar's assassins. The relationships eventually began to deteriorate, with Lepidus being exiled and Mark Antony hanging out with Cleopatra (who had had a previous relationship and son with Caesar). BTW, Mark Antony, a general, at this time captured Jerusalem and surrounding areas in 37 BC ... he installed Herod as puppet king of Judaea (link). But anyway, things fell apart between Octavian and Mark Antony and they went to war. Mark Antony lost the battle of Actium, he and Cleopatra retired to Egypt, and both eventually committed suicide (or, some say, MA was actually murdered). The latest movie I've seen which touches on these events was Julius Caesar.

9. Midway Island, 1942 ... the US Navy defeats the Japanese Navy.

10. Stalingrad, 1942-1943 ... Russians stop the German advance in WWII. I'm familiar with this battle because I recently saw a film about it - Enemy at the Gates - and posted about it here. I wrote this about the film ...

The movie begins by introducing Vasily (Jude Law) as a young Russian shepherd who gets sent to a horrifically besieged Stalingrad that's burning like Gehenna, where many of his comrades are killed by German bombers before leaving their transport, and where many more are shot by their own troops for retreating in the face of brutal German fire -- all in the first ten minutes. It was a Saving Private Ryan beginning, and though I've read that it's unlikely this kind of thing actually occurred at the Battle of Stalingrad, Wikipedia states: "The Battle of Stalingrad ... was amongst the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare with the higher estimates of combined casualties amounting to nearly two million deaths."

- Motherland Calls ... a statue in Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, Russia commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad. It was designed by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and structural engineer Nikolai Nikitin.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ipomoea purpurea

Another of my sister's plants is blooming - a morning glory. So delicate :) ....

The imperfection of beauty

There's an interesting post at In Living Color - Do we have reasons to enjoy music?.

I've been thinking about how music affects us - take The Tree of Life. No, I haven't seen the movie and I don't want to, but I think part of why some people have liked it so much is that in a way it kind of cheats - it borrows the grandeur of beloved pieces of music to infuse its visuals with reflected profundity. An example: who cannot fall in love with whatever they're gazing at while they're listening to Die Moldau, a piece of music used in The Tree of Life ....

Die Moldau seems almost perfect, and when I hear it my hair literally stands on end, but is it perfect, and is perfection what beauty is really all about? Here's a bit of the post at In Living Color ...

I recently discussed a Fleet Foxes song ("He Doesn't Know Why") [lyrics at bottom of post] with my brother, who is a music professor and cellist ....

... I wanted my brother to explain in music theory terms why I find this song so beautiful, and he had quite a lot to say about it ... knowledgeable people seem to be able to tell us why we should like some music and not like other music. In fact, my brother told me (fairly politely) that I shouldn't actually like Fleet Foxes so much. He said they sing out of tune, for example. Should I notice that and respond negatively?

This reminded me of a past post by Johnah Lehrer, Why Does Beauty Exist?, in which he writes ...

[T]he hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness. It’s what happens when we sense something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap, when a pattern is almost there, but not quite. I’m thinking here of that wise Leonard Cohen line: “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” Well, a beautiful thing has been cracked in just the right way ...

I really like this idea and I think it's true of a lot of what I find beautiful - it's the lack of 100% of perfection that keeps me interested and engaged, I think because in a way my brain and my heart keep trying to complete it. I wonder what Thomas Aquinas would say about this view of one of the Transcendentals :)

He Doesn't Know Why

Penniless & tired with your hair grown long
I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong
memory is a fickle siren's song
I didn't understand
In the gentle light as the morning nears
You don't say a single word of the last two years
Where you were or when you reached the frontier
I didn't understand
See you rugged hands and a silver knife
Twenty dollars in your hand that you hold so tight
All the evidence of your vagrant life
My brother you were gone
And you will try to do what you did before
Pull the wool over your eyes for a week or more
Let your family take you back to your original mind
There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can say

Monday, September 05, 2011

Inside the Actors Studio

I've been watching episodes of Inside the Actors Studio at YouTube, and thought I'd post the one I watched tonight with David Duchovny. I really liked The X-Files, but he's had some good roles in movies too, like Kalifornia, Playing God, Return to Me, and he wrote/directed House of D. An interesting guy .....

Santiago de Compostela

Here's a video, courtesy of Open Culture, of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral as filmed by a small remote-control helicopter .....

Up on the roof

The past couple of days we've been putting tarps on the roof so it won't leak when rainy season begins. Here we're tarping by the peak of the roof near the chimney ......

Another part of the roof. Though this isn't a very good photo, you can see some of the trees I mentioned in an earlier post - from L to R, the walnut tree, two pine trees with a little oak in front of them, and then the boxelder, with some plum trees in the background ......

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Vatican's response

Sometimes when reading about the Vatican and sex abuse, I'm reminded of The X-Files, in which the concept of plausible deniability was raised to an art form.

As you will recall from the news, the Cloyne report came out, which ...

highlighted a 1997 Vatican letter which expressed "serious reservations" about a policy drawn up the year before by Irish bishops requiring abusers to be reported to the police. It found the diocese then failed to report nine out of 15 complaints made against priests between 1996 and 2005 which "very clearly should have been reported". - The Guardian

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny then made a speech on the issue (I thought it was a a really good speech) ....

And then the Vatican recalled it's ambassador from Ireland, and now has finally responded - Vatican denies claims of abuse cover-up in Ireland. Here's a bit about the Vatican's response, from The Guardian story ...

"The [Vatican] congregation for the clergy did express reservations about mandatory reporting," it said, adding that this was only because of concerns of clashing with the work of church tribunals in rooting out paedophile priests .... "Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how Archbishop Storero's letter… could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law." It admitted the Vatican's "shame" over the "terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure" in Ireland, but stated the blame for abuse in Cloyne after 1997 was squarely with the diocese.

You can read a lot of commentary on the Vatican's response, from Archbishop Martin, to David Quinn on Vatican Radio, but I can save you some time ..... the Vatican has successfully maintained its plausible deniability in the eyes of these two commentators.

But as the writes in Vatican lays blame at door of local church, What the Vatican does not manage to do in yesterday's statement is to engage with the Irish experience in a way that acknowledges that it might have done more, or that Rome's intervention in respect of earlier guidelines from Irish bishops was damaging in practice while perhaps justified in principle..

And as Maeve Lewis, the Irish director for the anti-child abuse campaign group One in Four, said in The Guardian story, Once again the Vatican has failed to take responsibility for a culture which prevails in the Catholic church which facilitates the sexual abuse of children, ... In the response, they seek to justify actions and present themselves as having been misunderstood, whereas people in the church were using Vatican writing and thinking to find a way to avoid reporting abuse to civil authorities.

The Wikipedia article on plausible deniability defines it as the ... ability to deny a fact or allegation, or to deny previous knowledge of a fact. The term most often refers to the denial of blame in (formal or informal) chains of command, where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such act or any connection to the agents used to carry out such acts.

I think the Vatican has this technique down cold, but no matter how well they employ that X-File maxim 'deny everything', I doubt most people will believe them (and I myself do not believe them). Why, if the Vatican is not involved in covering up abuse, do they not mandate, in language which cannot be misinterpreted, that all abuse allegations must be reported to the police? Further reading ... It takes 25 pages and 11,000 words to say - 'nothing to do with us' by Patsy McGarry at the, Revising history Vatican style by Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., and Statement on the “Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland Regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne” at

Thursday, September 01, 2011


- mother and baby seal under the arctic ice

This week's movie rental - Oceans - was truly amazing. The 2009 documentary film, directed and produced by Jacques Perrin and narrated by Pierce Brosnan, explores the Earth's five oceans. The trailer is at the bottom of this post but it doesn't do the movie justice. The cinematography was great and you get to see a number of creatures in their natural habitats ..... octopuses, seals, whales, penguins, walruses, dolphins, turtles, otters, sharks, etc. ... plus more exotic specimens like the Mantis shrimp, the Sun fish, the Spanish dancer sea slug, Narwhals, and the Asian sheepshead wrasse .....

While the movie was beautiful to watch, there ware some disturbing moments too - you see some animals/fish becoming the meals of others (as I mentioned in an earlier post, this is so not the best of all possible worlds!). I especially felt badly for the newly hatched baby sea turtles trying to make it to the ocean before getting carried off by birds - when hatched in daylight, only about one in one thousand succeeds ....

But also distressful was stuff about the negative effect over-fishing, pollution, and global warming are having on the oceans and their inhabitants ... one scene shows all the creatures accidentally caught in fishing nets, another shows satellite imagery of waste seeping out of rivers and into the seas, and there's a scene of a seal swimming curiously around a submerged metal shopping cart.

- one of my favorite creatures in the film was this Garden eel

The movie, though, is more than just a peek at life in the oceans - it's about life itself and about valuing it in all its forms. I was reminded of some lines from an Adrienne Rich poem ...

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

The movie begins with a boy at the seashore asking what the ocean is exactly, and near the end of the film, Pierce Brosnan's voice over says the the ocean is a universe of wonder and mystery, a fragile dwelling place for living beings who share our planet, and he adds that Every breath we take and every drop we drink depends on a healthy ocean, and now her life depends on us. So instead of asking what exactly is the ocean, maybe we should be asking who exactly are we.