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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Torture's slippery slope ... then and now

The Episcopal Cafe has something about an article at The Huffington Post about the Inquisition. The latter post ... The Top 10 Questions Everyone Has About the Inquisition ... is by Cullen Murphy, writer, former managing editor of The Atlantic, and present editor at Vanity Fair. You can read about his recent book, God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, in this NYT review - The Influence of the Inquisition. I haven't read the book myself, so can't speak personally to its worth, nut it's interesting how he compares the Inquisition to our modern torture scenarios.

Here's one of the questions in The Huffington Post post ...

7. When I think "Inquisition," I think "torture" -- is that real or is it a myth?

Torture was an integral part of the inquisitorial process, mainly to extract confessions -- just as it was part of the systems used by secular courts of the time. Modern historians explain that the Church tried to regulate torture, establishing clear guidelines for its use. Unfortunately, limitations on torture never really work -- that's one lesson from the Inquisition, and from the recent American experience. It's never hard to justify applying a little more physical coercion once you've decided that physical coercion is fine to begin with. Medieval inquisitors, limited to one session of torture per person, sometimes conducted a second or third or fourth, arguing that it was just a "continuance" of the first.

Practical Magic

I got a pile of nooks at the library the last time I went and one of them was Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I had seen the movie some years ago but hadn't known it was first a book until I saw it at the library. I've always liked reading about magic, from fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White when I was a kid, to The Once and Future King and The Lord of the Rings when I was a teen, and most recently The Dresden Files. I'm just at the start of the book, but it's well written and seems to be very much like the movie in plot, but I'm finding it a little sad so far.

Here's the Publishers Weekly blurb from the Amazon page ....

Her 11th novel is Hoffman's best since Illumination Night. Again a scrim of magic lies gently over her fictional world, in which lilacs bloom riotously in July, a lovesick boy's elbows sizzle on a diner countertop and a toad expectorates a silver ring. The real and the magical worlds are almost seamlessly mixed here, the humor is sharper than in previous books, the characters' eccentricities grow credibly out of their past experiences and the poignant lessons they learn reverberate against the reader's heartstrings, stroked by Hoffman's lyrical prose. The Owens women have been witches for several generations. Orphaned Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their spinster aunts in a spooky old house, grow up observing desperate women buying love potions in the kitchen and vow never to commit their hearts to passion. Fate, of course, intervenes. Steady, conscientious Sally marries, has two daughters and is widowed early. Impulsive, seductive Gillian goes through three divorces before she arrives at Sally's house with a dead body in her car. Meanwhile, Sally's daughters, replicas of their mother and their aunt, experience their own sexual awakenings. The inevitability of love and the torment and bliss of men and women gripped by desire is Hoffman's theme here, and she plays those variations with a new emphasis on sex scenes?there's plenty of steamy detail and a pervasive use of the f-word. The dialogue is always on target, particularly the squabbling between siblings, and, as usual, weather plays a portentous role. Readers will relish this magical tale. BOMC main selection.

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play the kitchen witch sisters in the movie adaptation of the book ...

Monday, January 30, 2012

CS Lewis on Christian politics

I had a post about an article at ABC Religion & Ethics - A Christian alternative to America's broken political duopoly - but deleted it in one of my bad moods. I mention it now because Lee at A Thinking Reed has posted on the same article and gives an interesting argument from CS Lewis to back up his thesis (pretty much the same as mine: that a Christian political party is not a great idea). Check out Lee's post ... Do we need a Christian party?

And for those interested, my deleted post also had an excerpt from a past podcast of a conversation between John Milbank and Stanley Hauerwas ..... the link to the podcast can be found here

Timothy Dolan and singing mice

All I seem to see in the news is stuff about the US Bishops' conniptions over the contraception regulation. My opinion of the bishops, Dolan in particular, just keeps getting lower - depressing - but then I take a deep breath and remind myself of something I read at the end of The Lost World ....

Are you listening to all that? I wouldn't take any of it too seriously. It's just theories. Human beings can't help making them, but the fact is that theories are just fantasies, and they change ... You feel the way the boat moves? That's the sea. That's real. You smell the salt in the air? You feel the sunlight on your skin? That's all real. You see all of us together? That's real. Life is wonderful. It's a gift to be alive, to see the sun and breathe the air. And there really isn't anything else.

I saw this in the news today too and it seems much more real to me than all Dolan's disingenuous rants put together ..... Weird & Wild: Male Mice Have “Singing Voices”


Sundance Film Festival and Bishop Gene Robinson

I see that a documentary film about Bishop Gene Robinson has won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Grace Under Pressure. The film is about what happened after Robinson was elected as the first openly gay bishop in Christendom.

I remember when I first heard of Gene Robinson - I saw an interview with him on an episode of 60 Minutes years ago. and was really impressed with his honesty and his courage. You can watch the first few minutes of the 60 Minutes episode here. And here's just the beginning of the transcript of the whole 60 Minutes interview ....

Correspondent Ed Bradley reports on this story that first aired last spring. Robinson has been called the most dangerous man in the Anglican Church. Does he think it's true?

"As an openly gay man, I'm not way out there. I'm not something odd and unusual. I think I'm probably dangerous because I'm pretty mainstream," says Robinson. "I've got a mainstream family. I believe in the church. I believe in God, and I'm only dangerous because I'm not weird."

Why does he consider his family mainstream? "I would call it mainstream because we care deeply about each other," says Robinson. "And if you come into our home, you see a Christian family-valued household."

For 16 years, Robinson has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, a state health official. "Our relationship is one of mutual support, love, care -- making a place for another person in your heart, the way a marriage ought to be," says Robinson.

And he sees no contradiction between being a bishop and being a practicing homosexual in a committed relationship. In fact, he is open about his lifestyle.

On a recent trip to New York, he stopped at a gay bar with his daughter and a friend for after-theater drinks. "I'm not embarrassed about being a gay man. I'm not embarrassed about being in a place with other gay folk," says Robinson.

He believes God is doing something new – leading the Church and society to a greater acceptance of homosexuals. "I think God is meaning for gay and lesbian folk to have a full, whole, and complete life - both as citizens of this country and as members of the church," says Robinson. But a lot of Episcopalians don't agree with Robinson. When his election was submitted for confirmation at their national convention last summer, it touched off a civil war.

But when the votes were counted, Robinson had the majority, and that triggered a walkout by conservatives.

How does he respond to those who say that what he openly practices, homosexuality, is a sin?

"Well, in the eyes of some in my church, it's a sin. And in the eyes of others in my church, it's not," says Robinson. "And one of the great things about the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal church in particular is that we have always disagreed about various and sundry issues, and yet come together around the altar rail." ....

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Good Samaritan and A Clockwork Orange

Thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan because I saw a post at the NYT's philosophy blog by Peter Singer that mentions it ... Are We Ready for a ‘Morality Pill’?. The post deals with why some people will go out of their way to help strangers while others will ignore someone who's vulnerable (or even harm them) ... is it all about our individual beliefs or about our individual brains ... and it a asks the question: if the thing that causes people to help others can be isolated, would it be appropriate to impose this trait on everyone (think A Clockwork Orange - one seriously disturbing movie!). Interesting questions raised.

- The Good Samaritan, John Everett Millais

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Enigma, Alan Turing, and Blade Runner

- Scott and Winslet

I picked up a movie at the library - Enigma - a 2001 film starring Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, and Jeremy Northam, with a script by Tom Stoppard. It's about the Enigma code-breakers of Bletchley Park during World War II.

In 1943 amid the largest convoy deployment from the US to Britain, cryptanalyst Tom Jericho [Dougray Scott] returns to Bletchley Park to help find the code to the U-Boats' Enigma communications. On finding a cypher containing highly classified information, hidden by a former lover who has gone missing, he attempts to solve the code while working on cracking the German U-Boat code against a background of subterfuge, spies and the Katyn massacre.

The film was co-produced by Mick Jagger, who provided funding for the film, as well as access to his own Enigma machine. It was shot in England, Scotland and the Netherlands. Critical reviews were largely positive, although there was criticism of the largely fictional storyline which does not mention the real codebreaker Alan Turing, nor give due credit to the Polish cryptanalysis foundation on which subsequent British codebreaking was dependent for its successes
- Wikipedia

You can read Roger Ebert's three star review of the film here.The trailer ....

The movie seemed just so-so to me, though Kate Winslet was good, and Dougray Scott did his best as a disturbed and out-of-place working-class genius who'd just had a nervous breakdown. I think it was a mistake to leave Alan Turing left out of the story. Scott's character was based on Turing, but apparently the makers of the movie wanted the main character to have a heterosexual romance, so they created a "Turing-like" character instead.

I have a 2009 post about Turing, in which I wrote ...

I saw that Alan Turing was in the news today - UK gov't apologizes to gay codebreaker Alan Turing

Science dope that I am, I only know who Turing is from watching science fiction tv/movies .... stuff about his Turing test, which gives a guideline for assessing whether one is communicating with a machine or a person. Turing proposed his test in an article for Mind in 1950 - Computing Machinery and Intelligence - in which he claimed that an appropriately programmed computer could think. One of the most well known objections to that theory was the Chinese Room, a thought experiment by John Searle.

In the Chinese Room experiment, Searle gives two scenarios - in one, hidden in a room is a computer which has been programmed to accept input Chinese characters and to respond with other Chinese characters that its programming deems appropriate. It can do this well enough to fool the person outside the room, who is inputting the characters and reading the responses, into believing that he's conversing with a person who understands Chinese. This computer would pass the Turing test. Searle then asks us to imagine another scenario in which not a computer but a man sits hidden in the room, receiving the queries in Chinese and, using the programming instructions, then creating appropriate Chinese responses - the man would also pass the Turing test.

Neither the man nor the computer, however, understand Chinese but are only able to simulate understanding due to their programming. Searle argues that without understanding, neither the computer (nor the man) are thinking.

According to what little I've read, many think that the Chinese Room thought experiment doesn't disprove the Turing test. I wish I could explain why not, but to be honest, though I find this stuff interesting it's pretty much all Greek to me. I like better the Voight-Kampff empathy test in Blade Runner for assessing whether or not someone's a machine - remember the tortoise in the desert? :) ....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stuff seen today

* From Open Culture, a video about the song, "Here Comes The Sun" ... Dhani Harrison, the son of the late guitarist, returns to the recording studio (presumably at Abbey Road) with George Martin, the Beatles’ legendary producer, and Martin’s son Giles. Together, they play with the mix of “Here Comes the Sun,” and then the wondrous little moment of discovery happens. They stumble upon the long lost guitar solo that never made the final cut ...

* Hah! Take that, dopey complimentarianism! .... Get Over It: Men and Women Are from the Same Planet

* A post by Daniel P. Horan, OFM, at Dating God - Why I Do Not Support the (so-called) March for Life (h/t to Bilgrimage)

* An article on conscience at NCR by Santa Clara University's David DeCosse - Bishops' conscience model makes light of practical reason

* What Happened Before the Big Bang? The New Philosophy of Cosmology

* Andrew Brown has a post about the women bishops situation in the UK - The Church of England's fudge on female bishops is breathtaking

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I can still remember what I first said upon being diagnosed with Stargardt disease that summer after graduating college ... "I won't be able to read books anymore!"

As it turned out, I can still read books, though it's hard - I have to use magnification and even then I have to guess at most of the words. It's a slow and frustrating process, which is why I hardly ever read any actual books anymore. I eventually gave up reading fiction completely because the stories just couldn't flow. But then I began listening to books instead of trying to read them. It took me a while to get used to that, but once I did, the stories resumed flowing.

The downside of listening to audio books, though, is that they're more expensive than print books (saying you can even find the book you want in audio). For instance, you can buy Storm Front by Jim Butcher in paperback for $9.99, but if you want it in audio, it will cost you $39.99 ... ouch!

So I try to find the books I want at the public library. My library doesn't have a lot of audio books, but fortunately one can use a process via computer, link+, that lets one get books that are at nearby libraries if your library doesn't have them. This too can be frustrating as you have to pounce on these books quickly before anyone at their home library puts a hold on them, as they have priority. There are a few link+ audio books I've been lying in wait for ..... Kraken by China Miéville, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, Before I go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen ... someday :)

But meanwhile, I did just capture one link+ audio book I'd been waiting for for a while - Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Hope it turns out to be good!

Holocaust Memorial Day.

Rowan Williams speaks about Holocaust Memorial Day .....

I'd also like to recommend a movie I posted about last year .... A Tree Fell in the Forest

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If you care about the environment ...

don't vote for a Repiblican.

Here's a bit from a news story I saw yesterday ...

In GOP contest, environmentalists see cause for alarm as candidates show signs of shift

[...] The candidates have called for fewer environmental regulations, questioned whether global warming is a hoax and criticized the agency that implements and enforces clean air and water regulations.

“A cycle ago, there were people who actually believed in solving some of these problems,” said Navin Nayak of the League of Conservation Voters. “Now we’re faced with a slate that doesn’t even believe in basic science.”

The candidates, of course, dispute such a characterization. But their stances have generally grown more conservative. And even when they haven’t, they often offer positions that aren’t in line with conservationists.

—Romney heralded the passage of stricter limits on carbon emissions in 2005 when he was governor of Massachusetts but last year said it was a mistake. He previously agreed with the scientific consensus on global warming and humans’ contribution to it but now says “we don’t know what’s causing climate change.”

—Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich supported tougher environmental regulation early in his congressional career and appeared in a 2008 TV spot with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleading for action on climate change. Now he’s says appearing with the San Francisco liberal was “the dumbest thing I’ve done in the last couple of years” and is calling for lifting restrictions on offshore drilling and branding the Environmental Protection Agency a “job killer” that must be replaced.

—Texas Rep. Ron Paul said during his 2008 campaign that “human activity probably does play a role” in global warming. Now he calls the science on manmade global warming a “hoax.”

—Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shows fewer signs of a shift on such issues. He has called for more drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and doubts research that points to a human role in global warming, calling it “junk science.”

An analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found about $2.8 million in campaign donations were made by those in the energy and natural resources sector, according to Federal Elections Commission data, with about 84 percent of it going to Republicans.

Meantime, the EPA, which is responsible for policing environmental rules, has been singled out for Republican criticism this campaign season. Paul has called for its outright elimination as part of his plan to drastically curtail the federal government. Romney has said it’s “out of control.” Santorum has railed against the EPA’s limits on mercury from coal-fired power plants. And Gingrich has called for overhauling the EPA, saying it should be converted to an “environmental solutions agency.” .....

Australia at the movies

Today's Australia Day - I wouldn't have known of not for Dina's post at Jerusalem Hills Daily Photo :) I've never been to Australia and all I know of it comes from movies and books and stuff on tv, but still it's made an impression and I thought I'd mention some of the Australian-related movies I've rented or seen on tv ....

- On the Beach ...
a post-apocalyptic drama film based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel of the same name. The film features Gregory Peck (USS Sawfish captain Dwight Lionel Towers), Ava Gardner (Moira Davidson), Fred Astaire (scientist Julian—John in the novel—Osborne) and Anthony Perkins (Royal Australian Navy lieutenant Peter Holmes). It was directed by Stanley Kramer, who won the 1960 BAFTA for best director. Ernest Gold won the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score.

- Walkabout ...
is a 1971 film set in Australia, directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg (credited as Lucien John) and David Gulpilil. Edward Bond wrote the screenplay, which is loosely based on the novel Walkabout by James Vance Marshall. Walkabout premiered in competition at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.

- The Last Wave ...
a 1977 Australian film directed by Peter Weir. It is about a white Australian lawyer whose seemingly normal life is disrupted after he takes on a murder case for Aborigine defendants. He discovers that he shares a strange and unexplained mystical connection to the small group of local Australian Aborigines accused of the crime.

- Mad Max ...
a 1979 Australian dystopian action film directed by George Miller and revised by Miller and Byron Kennedy over the original script by James McCausland. The film stars Mel Gibson, who was unknown at the time. Its narrative based around the traditional western genre, Mad Max tells a story of breakdown of society, love and revenge.

- Breaker Morant ....
a 1980 Australian film about the court martial of Breaker Morant, directed by Bruce Beresford and starring British actor Edward Woodward as Harry "Breaker" Morant. The all-Australian supporting cast features Bryan Brown, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, and Jack Thompson.

- Gallipoli ...
a 1981 Australian film, directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War. They are sent to Turkey, where they take part in the Gallipoli Campaign.

The Man from Snowy River .....
is a 1982 Australian drama film based on the Banjo Paterson poem The Man from Snowy River.

- The Thorn Birds (TV miniseries). OK, not really a movie, but how can I leave it out? :) ....
a television mini-series broadcast on ABC between 27 and 30 March 1983 ... based on a novel by Colleen McCullough. Set primarily on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback, the story focuses on three generations of the Cleary Family and spans the years 1920 to 1962.

Rabbit-Proof Fence ...
a 2002 Australian drama film directed by Phillip Noyce based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. It is based on a true story concerning the author's mother, as well as two other mixed-race Aboriginal girls, who ran away from the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, to return to their Aboriginal families, after having been placed there in 1931.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stuff I saw today ...

* Time-lapse seasons at Yosemite National Park ....

* In the UK, bishops have what the US bishops can only dream of (thank God!) - voting seats in the nation's legislature ... yep, we're talking spiritual lordship. There's an interesting post by Andrew Brown on how that seems to work - This welfare bill has united bishops like never before

* Given all the media coverage of the Personal Ordinariates (Anglicans/Episcopalians switching to Catholicism), I was interested to see a post at the Episcopal Cafe that puts all this into perspective ....

[...] Thus far, 100 priests and fewer than 1,400 people in 22 church communities have expressed an interest in the ordinariate. Gather them all in Washington National Cathedral, and the place isn’t half full. Only six of these 22 communities have more than 70 members .....

According to the 2004 U. S. Congregational Life Survey—which I believe is the most recent one available—11.7 percent of Episcopalians were formerly Roman Catholic. The Episcopal Church had slightly fewer than 2,248,000 members in 2004, indicating that not quite 263,000 of its members were former Catholics .... there are currently some 228,000 former Roman Catholics in the Episcopal Church ...

The stories on the ordinariate also report that as many as 100 priests—many of whom may be Episcopalians—have also applied to join the ordinariate. Is this evidence that the Catholic Church is winning priests from the Episcopal tradition? It reads that way, unless one knows, thanks to the Church Pension Group, that 432 living Episcopal priests have been received from the Roman Catholic Church ...

* Saw a photo of Preikestolen ... Preikestolen or Prekestolen, also known by the English translations of Preacher's Pulpit or Pulpit Rock, and by the old local name Hyvlatonnå (“the carpenter-plane’s blade”), is a massive cliff 604 metres (1982 feet) above Lysefjorden, opposite the Kjerag plateau, in Forsand, Ryfylke, Norway. The top of the cliff is approximately 25 by 25 metres (82 by 82 feet) square, almost flat, and is a famous tourist attraction in Norway ...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jesus says goodbye to his mom

- my copy of the Spiritual Exercises

It's week 19 in Creighton University's online Spiritual Exercises retreat in everyday life, which deals with Jesus leaving Nazareth to get baptized. Though the NT doesn't discuss Jesus actually leaving his mother and his home to set out on his public life, Ignatius of Loyola mentions it ... After He took leave of His blessed Mother, Christ our Lord went from Nazareth to the River Jordan where St. John the Baptist was.

One thing I liked about the movie Jesus was that it showed a close relationship between Jesus and his mother. In the film, after Joseph dies, Jesus just doesn't know what to do with himself and his mother is the one who encourages him to leave home. He doesn't want to at first, and when he and his mother say goodbye, it's touching and kind of sad. To see this part in the video below, start watching at about 6 minutes, 57 seconds in: Joseph has died and Jesus is in the family's workshop, grieving ....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Get down :)

Dirty dancing: dung beetles get down to walk the line

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Contraception saves lives

This from US Catholic ... Higher rates of abortion and unsafe abortion in the developing world: How should the pro-life movement respond?

Today's news that abortion rates are higher and abortions themselves exponentially more unsafe in countries where the procedure is illegal should provoke reflection in the pro-life movement ... .... Around 47,000 women died due to complications from unsafe abortions in 2008, with more than 8 million experiencing serious complications, according to a Time magazine blog. The 2008 numbers suggested that 86 percent of abortions occurred in the developing world, where abortion is either illegal, unsafe, or both ...

One difference between the developed and developing worlds seems to be access to modern methods of contraception (methods controlled by women) ...

The pro-life movement in the United States, and the U.S. bishops, have largely focused on changing laws governing abortion, as Scott Alessi reported in our January issue. But key to reducing abortions must also be preventing unintended pregnancies, especially giving women the power to decide when to conceive (and when not to). If being pro-life means being pro-women and pro-children already born in addition to being pro-unborn life, then perhaps it is time to focus equally on giving women power to decide when to get pregnant in the first place. Catholic teaching may be opposed to most forms of modern contraception, but in this case, perhaps it is better to choose the lesser of two evils--or at least this evidence seems to point in that direction.

Further reading - Unsafe abortions rise as contraceptive funding is cut (New Scientist) ...

Global abortion rates have stopped falling, ending a period of rapid decline that began in 1995. However, the proportion of abortions that are dangerous continues to rise. Paradoxically, morally conservative US restrictions on foreign aid may have promoted the abortions they sought to restrict ......

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Internet censorship

I never realized how much I rely on Wikipedia until last night when it shut down to protest Internet censorship. It looks like these online protests are bearing fruit .... Web Protests Piracy Bills, and Senators Change Course

For more information ... What Is SOPA Anyway? A Guide to Understanding the Online Piracy Bill

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Monk and the Fish ...

by Michael Dudok de Wit

In the news

There's an article on the negotiations between the Vatican and the SSPX at Vatican Insider .... Fellay’s second response. I find it incredible that the Vatican is bending over backwards to get these creepy characters back into communion with the rest of us. As was mentioned in a 2009 Tablet editorial, Not yet back in the fold ......

[...] But not far below the surface of the Lefebvrist movement have lurked some rather more disturbing views, not only its commitment to an ancien-régime style of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, but also to a virulent brand of Catholic anti-Semitism which has a long and disgraceful history, particularly in France (where the movement is strongest).

Bishop Williamson's recent remarks [denying the Holocaust] have to be read in that context. The Lefebvrists reject, for instance, the teaching of the Vatican II decree Nostra Aetate, including its key repudiation of the charge of "deicide" (literally god-killing, because of the supposed Jewish role in the death of Jesus). Lifting the excommunication of someone like Williamson, while he is still publicly propagating his bigoted opinions, sends an appalling signal to the world in general and to Jews in particular. To say of these opinions that they are "totally unacceptable", as the Bishops of England and Wales did in a statement this week, hardly does justice to them. They are evil ....

Monday, January 16, 2012

Occupy the Vatican

There have been a number of posts by Fordham theology professor Tom Beaudoin at America magazine's blog about the Occupy movement, and while I've seen stuff about the Occupy movement and St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and articles about the Occupy movement and the Trinity Wall Street church in New York, I wondered what would happen if there was ever an Occupy situation at a Catholic church. Today I saw that an attempt to set up a protest camp at the Vatican was stopped by riot police ....

Vatican protesters evicted by police

[...] While the activists outside St Paul's received a mixed reaction from the Church of England, Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the Holy See had no doubts about removing the demonstrators before they set up home in St Peter's. "Considering the actions undertaken and the language used, these Indignados evidently wanted to use the piazza in an improper way, not in keeping with the spirit of the place and it was therefore considered just and opportune to move them out with the co-operation of the police," he said.

Jeffrey John and discrimination

Iin the US, the Supreme Court case on discrimination and ministerial exception. In the UK there's been news about Anglican priest and Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John (I have some posts on him here and here and here), and a possible lawsuit against the Chuch of England under the Equality Act of 2010.

Here's the beginning of a post at Andrew Brown's blog on the subject .....

Jeffrey John is an extremely intelligent man who will never be a bishop in England. That much is clear. So why should he threaten a legal action that he is vanishingly unlikely to win, to force the church not to discriminate against him? The only possible answer seems to be that he wants to expose the fact of this discrimination. But I can't believe in that one, either, if for no other reason that he has quite fiercely guarded his private life for the last 20 years, and any court case would make that more difficult.

Besides, he would still lose. Last year the Church of England published a legal opinion that makes it quite clear that it believes it is legal to discriminate against John, not because he is gay, since he is also celibate, but because he is not in the least bit ashamed of being gay. That is what sticks in the craw of the conservative evangelicals who oppose him. They have moved on from supposing that it is absolutely wrong to be gay. They now believe that it is OK to be gay providing that you are very unhappy about it.

No one any longer pretends that the Church of England is not full of gay clergy, some of whom are bishops. And – while I may be wrong – I don't think that anyone any longer believes that they can be driven out by natural wastage, if no new gay men or lesbians ever enter any theological college.

But the toxic legacy remains of Rowan Williams' bad judgment and worse conduct eight years ago when he first proposed his then friend, John, as a bishop. He got into a battle that he could not afford to lose, but which he was not prepared to fight to win ......

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Remember the show about a retreat, The Big Silence? Here's the first episode for those interested ...

Here's a video about a retreat on prayer given by NT scholar Felix Just SJ (Catholic Resources) ...

Here's a video from Duke University NT scholar Mark Goodacre (NT Blog) - would Jesus tweet? :) ......

Randall Balmer, Episcopal priest, editor at Christianity Today, and professor of religious history at Columbia University, gives us 2 mins on the separation of church and state ...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Jesuit in The Mission ...

Jeremy Irons now plays a pope ....

This week's DVD rental was the first few episodes of the 2011 tv series The Borgias. As Wikipedia notes ....

The series is based on the Borgia family, an Italian dynasty of Spanish origin, and stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI with François Arnaud as Cesare, Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia, David Oakes as Juan and Aidan Alexander as Gioffre Borgia, respectively. Derek Jacobi and Colm Feore also star as Cardinals Orsini and della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II.

The series takes place during an interesting period, with rival powerful families and conflicts between Italy and France (see Prince of Foxes). The scary Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (bonfire of the vanities) lived at the time too and was burned as a heretic by order of the Borgia pope.

Despite this, I don't know if I'll watch the rest of the series. It's just depressing to see the accepted level of corruption that was so pervasive in the church at this time, with Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI leading the pack in that corruption .... as a churchman he had mistresses and children (and pretty awful children :), he bribed and threatened his way into the papacy, and he continued his rotten behavior in multitudinous ways while pope. The story of the Borgias is one of power, wealth, and the frailty of human nature ... all it would take to keep me interested in the story would be one person about whom I could care, but I haven't seen such a person yet.

Today at the grocery store ...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Terminator TV

I checked out the first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles at the library, a 2008 science fiction tv series that continues the story of the Terminator movies, picking up with what's happening to Sarah Connor and her fifteen year old son John just after Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

At the beginning of the television series, a T-888 using the name Cromartie is sent back to the time following Terminator 2: Judgment Day to kill John. Cameron, a Terminator that John sent back from 2027 to protect his earlier self, leaps forward in time with John and Sarah to 2007 jumping over the year in which Sarah would have died. Now wanted fugitives with the fear of pending cancer playing on Sarah's mind, they must also face the reality that other enemies from the future could be after them. - Wikipedia

Yes, the time-travel storyline is complicated if you haven't watched the four movies in the series first. I liked the first movie best though it seems a little dated ....

- Sarah and Kyle make explosives in the first Terminator movie

I liked the second movie ok, the third not so much, and I have a past post on the fourth movie. For those who care, there's a summery of the storyline of the four movies in that post.

- Sam Worthington as a terminator in Terminator Salvation

I've so far only watched the first episode of the tv series, but I don't find it very compelling so far. If you're interested in seeing what it's like, episodes of the tv series can be watched online at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's ok to discriminate ...

... if you're a church.

The supreme court (with a majority of Catholics on the bench) has voted unanimously that religious institutions don't have to worry about discriminating against the disabled in the workplace .....

Supreme Court: Discrimination laws do not protect certain employees of religious groups

[...] "The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court. “But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.” When those principles are in conflict, Roberts said, “the First Amendment has struck the balance for us.”

The ruling came in the case of Cheryl Perich, a teacher who complained that Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Mich., violated the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2005 when it fired her after she received a narcolepsy diagnosis .....

I think this sucks :( I know the arguments for "religious liberty" but i find it's so disheartening to see institutions that should have the highest of ethical standards and the greatest wish to help the disadvantaged instead use their power to claim exceptions to hard won civil rights.

For those interested, there's a past article on the issues in the case here - Is Religion Above the Law? by Stanley Fish

Bob's your uncle

Yesterday my sister sent me a link to a National Geographic photo of Hatfield House ... the photo is here. The photo was so neat I thought I'd look up Hatfield House at wikipedia ....

Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I .... The Queen Elizabeth Oak on the grounds of the estate is said to be the location where Elizabeth was told she was Queen following Mary's death. In November 1558, Elizabeth held her first Council of State in the Great Hall ...

I remembered Robert Cecil from various movies about Queen Elizabeth, like Anonymous ....

But little did I know that the expression, Bob's your uncle, so ubiquitous I've even heard it used on Stargate :), was in reference to another and later Cecil, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury .......

The British phrase 'Bob's your uncle' is thought to have derived from Robert Cecil's appointment of his nephew, Arthur Balfour, as Minister for Ireland.

You can see more of Hatfield House at the website

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jesus' conversion experience?

There's an interesting post at Thinking Anglicans by Joe Cassidy, Principal, St Chad’s College - Was Jesus faking it?. Some of the comments to the post are pretty interesting too. Here's just the beginning of it ....

Was Jesus faking it?

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’s baptism is almost the start of the whole story. Brief, to the point, Jesus is baptised and he is the (only) one who sees the heavens open; he’s the one who hears the voice, ‘You are my son, the beloved’. Matthew, having done Theology 101, isn’t all that crazy about Jesus being baptised, and he depicts Jesus as virtually going through the motions ‘to fulfil all righteousness’. In Luke, again it is Jesus who hears the words addressed to him — though this time it is after his baptism, while he was praying: a sort of prayer experience. In John, it is the Baptist who attests to Jesus’s baptism.

All those differences aside, I’ve long wondered why Jesus queued up that day to be baptised. If Matthew is correct, how did he feel being the only one not repenting of anything? Or do we take the other accounts at face value? He got baptised: live with it.

Thirty years ago I wrote a brief article suggesting that Jesus could well have felt guilt for social sin, as anachronistic as it was to use that term in that context. But if he is as incarnate as we believe him to be, he would have been the product of a particular culture with all its insights and biases, some of which hurt people (Mark 7.27). He would have had to participate in an unjust socio-economic system - what other option did he have? And, without wishing to psychoanalyse him, he might naturally have felt, as a good Jew, a collective responsibility for the sin of his people. There were reasons to be in that queue .....

Depression survivors

I have a problem with depression, so I was interested to see this - The fight goes on - in the links at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Here's the beginning of it ....

If you follow me on twitter you already know that I’ve been battling off one of the most severe bouts of depression I’ve ever had. Yesterday it started to pass, and for the first time in weeks I cried with relief instead of with hopelessness. Depression can be crippling, and deadly. I’m lucky that it’s a rare thing for me, and that I have a support system to lean on. I’m lucky that I’ve learned that depression lies to you, and that you should never listen to it, in spite of how persuasive it is at the time.

When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We call them survivors. Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark…ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness…afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe .........

Monday, January 09, 2012

Scottish independence

In the news ... Renewed Sparring Over Scottish Independence Movement ...

The smoldering issue of Scottish independence has ignited again, this time in a political context that appears to give Scottish nationalists at least an outside chance of gaining popular support for the end of Scotland’s constitutional ties with Britain in a referendum among Scottish voters within the next two or three years. The political alignment in Scotland in the wake of the outright victory in last year’s election by the Scottish National Party, a group that has campaigned for independence since the 1930s, has created an unmatched opportunity to press the case for an end to the union ....

Though some of my ancestors came from Scotland via Ireland, I'm not all that knowledgeable about Scotland. Thanks to medieval history classes, I can tell you about William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots, but not much else (unless we count Highlander :), so I looked the subject up, and this is what I understand of it ...

Though there are Scottish members of the UK parliament, Scotland only got its own Scottish Parliament in 1998 as part of the Scotland Act, - the British Queen picks its First Minister, and the parliament can only make decisions about non-reserved matters. But the Scottish National Party, the party that wants Scottish independence, won the 2011 Scottish General Election and so wants to hold a referendum on independence, hoping to become a Commonwealth realm like Canada,. But the UK maintains that the Scottish parliament's referendum for independence wouldn't be binding on the UK under the Scotland Act.

I know there could be reasons for Scotland wishing to remain part of the UK, but I think the decision of whether to be independent or not should be Scotland's alone. I guess we'll see what happens.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Republicans

I haven't been paying attention to Republican candidates. I guess this is because I cannot imagine a scenario where I'd vote for a Republican, given a living/breathing candidate who's a Democrat - the basic Republican stance on the economy, education, health care, the environment, energy, entitlements, gay rights, women's rights, the military ... eek!

Having said this, I do have a past post about Mitt Romney ... Mitt's speech on Mormonism ... but I'd not vote for him. I've seen the ocassional post in blogdom about Gingrich or about Santorum, probably because they identify as Catholic ... the posts have been negative and I agree with the posts that these two are not vote-worthy either.

Recently, I saw an interesting post at A Thinking Reed about Ron Paul and his non-intervention foreign policy stance - Foreign policy and the Golden Rule. Here's a video of Paul giving a speech in congress which exemplifies his beliefs on the subject. But though I might find some of Paul's ideas interesting, I'd never vote for him .... he's too much a schizophrenic mix of beliefs, most of which I don't share.

So I'll go on ignoring these guys. Even if by some chance it seems the Democratic candidate will likely lose, I'm not sure I could justify voting for one of the Republicans .... the lesser of evils is still evil ;)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Francis X. Clooney SJ on the Epiphany

- detail, Adoration of the Magi

Fr. Clooney has a post at America magazine's blog on ecumenism ....

[...] Finally, this Sunday, January 8, we celebrate the feast of Epiphany .... The story of the three wise visitors from the East .... We do not know what they think the meaning of this child is, but we see no effort — by Mary or Joseph, or by the Evangelist — to convert the visitors, or to get them to give up their own religion. They come in peace, following their own religious instincts, weave their way through the intrareligious tensions of the scene, and leave to assimilate what they have learned, in their own way. Whatever else we discuss in the Church this year, let’s honor this feast by recognizing a key fact about the way the world is today, and taking seriously the interreligious dimension of every aspect of being Christian, being Catholic today ...

Friday, January 06, 2012


- cardinals, Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Jesuit Thomas Reese has a post at In All Things about the pope choosing some new cardinals. I was interested that one of the choices is a Jesuit and one is NY archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The choice of the Jesuit, Karl Joseph Becker SJ, is a little surprising because Ignatius seemed to be against Jesuits becoming bishops, and cardinals usually must be bishops before becoming cardinals ....

Jesuit priests at the time of their solemn and final profession in the Society of Jesus promise: I will never strive or ambition, not even indirectly, to be chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity in or outside the Society; and I will do my best never to consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin (Constitutions S.J., Part X, N°6 [817]). Yet because of various reasons and in different circumstances—for example, need of a bishop in an area where the Church has still to be developed, recognition of a theologian's outstanting contribution to theological reflection, etc.—several Jesuits have been made bishops or even cardinals. In such cases they remain only nominally Jesuit, as they lose active and passive voice within the Order and are no longer under the obedience of the Superior General. - Wikipedia

But the choice of Timothy Dolan is not surprising - it's depressing. He seems to be liked very much, though as far as I can see, his one claim to worthiness seems to be that he's jovial. The mean-spiritedness with which he's battled gay rights is well-known (Gay Marriage: New York, not North Korea), he's a signatory of the Manhattan Declaration, his dealings with the sex abuse problem have been checkered, and he's no friend to the future possibility of married priests or women's ordination. This from his past interview on 60 Minutes ...

[...] But if you think Dolan plans to push for changes in those doctrines and beliefs, think again: despite the jolly open demeanor, he's about as conservative as they come ........

"I don't wanna see changes in the church when it comes to celibacy or women priests or our clear teaching about the sanctity of human life and the unity of marriage between one man and one woman forever. I'd love to see changes in the church in the very area that you're hinting at over and over again, in the perception of the church as some shrill scold. We need to change that," Dolan said.

Dolan says he wants people to celebrate the beauty, charity and timelessness of the church, and not focus so much on what the church prohibits. "Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the church is at her best," he told Safer.

"But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. And an awful lot feel that the church is going down the wrong road," Safer said.

"Yeah, I guess, you got two different world views there," Dolan replied.

"And you ain't gonna change," Safer remarked.

"I'm in one world. You're in the other," Dolan replied, laughing. "I'm glad you're visitin'."

In other words, he's a perfect choice for cardinal, from Benedict's point of view ... the college of cardinals elects new popes and thus the present pope can more or less stack the deck of the future in his ideological favor :(

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Debt

- Rachel views photos of Vogel's victims

This week's movie rental was The Debt (rated R), a 2011 thriller starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and was directed by John Madden. It's a remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name by Assaf Bernstein, and tells a story that takes place both in the past (1965) and in the present (1997).

In the present, Rachel (Mirren), her now ex-husband Stefan (Wilkinson), and their friend David (Hinds), are middle-aged Israeli former-agents whose past feat of capturing and killing a Nazi war criminal, Dieter Vogel (The Surgeon of Birkenau), in East Berlin in 1965 has been publicized by a book written by Rachel and Stefan's daughter. When they find out that the truth may soon be revealed to all -- that the Nazi wasn't killed by them but escaped -- David commits suicide, and Rachel sets out to find Vogel.

- David

At first the timelines are interspersed, but the middle of the movie takes place in 1965 .... the meeting of Rachel (Chastain) and David (Worthington) and Stefan (Csokas) in East Berlin for the operation, the pretense of a marriage between "German" couple Rachel and David, Rachel becoming the patient of the now gynocologist Vogel, the Nazi's capture, his escape, and the agents' decision to lie about what had happened.

- the older Rachel

I thought the movie good but also disturbing. The disturbing part wasn't unexpected .... the scenes of the photos of the Nazi's victims contrasting spookily with the photos of his patients on his doctor-office wall, the awful toll of the switching of roles when the agents become the captors and the Nazi their prisoner, the crushing responsibility the agents feel to bring Vogel back alive so he can admit his crimes to the world. I think very few of us can understand the effects on individuals of having been victims (or the relatives of victims) of something like the Holocaust, but the film does try to illustrate this through the characters, especially the character of David, the only surviving member of his family.

The story reminded me of Adolf Eichmann, who'd escaped after the war to Argentina with the help of Catholic Bishop Hudal and his ratline, and who was eventually captured by Israeli agents and put on trial.

I recommend the film - it may be too violent for some and the ending was a little too convenient, but the scenes in Tel Aviv and Berlin were interesting, the acting was good, and the story escaped being a routine thriller with its emphasis on the characters and the question of what's the ethical response to an evil that can barely be understood, much less compensated for. Here's The New York Times review of the film - Heroic Past Erodes in Present. And here's the trailer ..

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

What would Jesus do ...

at a wedding?

Reading a paper on poet GM Hopkins by Philip Endean SJ ... How Should Hopkins Critics Use Ignatian Texts? I came to a part where Fr. Endean writes of the transforming immediacy that imaginative contemplation of gospel stories can have (as opposed to the analyzing of those same stories) ....

To illustrate what I mean, let me take an example. A Martzian ‘poem of meditation’ on the marriage feast at Cana would probably turn on some rather conventional Marian piety, or else on how Jesus’s arrival in the world transforms our watery situation, invigorating us with the heady new wine of the Kingdom. Something notably different happened, however, when an experienced retreat giver asked a rather driven and earnest young man to contemplate this scene during a retreat:

(The man in question) had a vivid imagination and had seen tables heaped with food set out beneath a blue sky. The guests were dancing, and it was a scene of great merriment. ‘Did you see Christ?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘Christ was sitting upright on a straight-backed chair, clothed in a white robe, a staff in his hand, a crown of thorns on his head, looking disapproving‘ “

Ignatian prayer aims at fostering an interaction between the gospel and a person’s life-situation — an interaction going beyond general statements, whether profound or platitudinous. Through this experience, and through subsequent reflection on it, the young man in question was helped to see that his fundamental operative understanding of God had been sub-Christian. Moreover, he was empowered to change, to grow towards something more authentic ...

Reading about the wedding at Cana and the disapproving Jesus of the above contemplation, I was reminded of the movie Jesus ... there's a scene of the wedding at Cana and the Jesus of the movie doesn't sit in a chair, glowering at the revelers: instead he dances the night away, and it's his disciples who are disapproving :) Start watching the clip below at about 2 minutes in ....

Monday, January 02, 2012

The path ...

to my backyard, filled with oak and pecan tree leaves - for Our World Tuesday.