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Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue moon and blue stars

There's a blue moon tonight, and I winked at it for Neil Armstrong. Here's some music to go with this - not blue moon but blue stars by Ryan Adams ....

Plato on the election

There's been mention of Thomas Aquinas, and thus Aristotle, in the presidential race ...

"If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas!" This statement by Paul Ryan in a 2012 National Review interview is an understandable attempt to distance himself from the Objectivism of Ayn Rand by claiming the priority of his own Catholic faith .... Philosophically, it is understandable that Ryan would seek to distance himself from Randianism .... Conversely, the Thomistic heritage of the great Catholic thinker Aquinas would seem to be a safe bet. St. Thomas was responsible for the Medieval Synthesis which many feel preserved the Christian tradition of Western culture at a time of attack from Islamic philosophy. The saint trumps the atheist! Who could fault basing one's view of knowledge and reality upon the "dumb ox" of Chesterton who stands as the foremost exponent of Christian teaching in the Catholic tradition? It is, however, not quite that simple. Both Ayn Rand and Thomas Aquinas share the same philosophical foundation: the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle ....

But let's forget Aristotle and ask ourselves instead how his teacher, Plato, would feel about the upcoming election. Or at least we can try, for as is mentioned in a post at the NYT's philosophy blog, though Plato lived in what is history's most famous democracy, he wasn't the biggest fan of democracy ;) In the NYT's post by Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting, he imagines talking to Socrates about the election and Socrates opines that we might as well just flip a coin rather than going through the whole election process ...

Gutting: You don’t see any difference between Obama and Romney?

Socrates: Oh, I do. I’m very impressed with Obama, no question. He’s intelligent, courageous, self-controlled and has a good sense of justice. Just the sort of person I had in mind for my philosopher-rulers. But none of that’s going to make a difference to the American voters. The election’s likely to be close, and in any case the outcome will turn on the October unemployment report, the price of gas, an Israeli attack on Iran, who has the most money for attack ads in the last two weeks or some other rationally irrelevant factor that you don’t yet have any hint about.

G: But surely you’d prefer to let Obama make his case to the American people rather than let blind chance decide the outcome?

S: I think letting the American people decide is no different from leaving it to chance. The vast majority of you don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates to make anything like a reliable decision. (It was the same in Athens in my day.) Take the economic issues all your commentators say will be decisive. I think Paul Krugman makes a decisive case that, for all its flaws, Obama’s approach to the economy is likely to be far more effective than anything Romney and Ryan have in mind. But there are prominent economists who reject Krugman’s argument. If Krugman’s right, you can’t trust the experts who disagree with him. So why should you trust the judgment of the non-experts whose votes will decide the election? ......

Wow, and I'd thought I was already depressed enough about the election ;)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

This week's DVD rental ...

was Once Upon a Time, a fantasy tv series from the writers of LOST. Here's a bit about it from a past review ....

- Prince Charming's castle

The gist of the story: On orphan Emma Swan's (Jennifer Morrison) 28th birthday she is visited by a charming boy, Henry (Jared Gilmore), who tells her she is actually the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas). No, the child is not an escapee from a nearby loony bin but he's in fact the son she gave up for adoption 10 years before. Also revealed in this fun meet cute: Emma, a jaded bail bondsperson, is the only hope of saving the whole town of amnesiac fairy-tale characters.

That's where the fun begins. Emma was not actually abandoned as a child but sent away to be protected from the Evil Queen's curse and ultimate unhappily ever after: Maine. Dun. Dun. Dun. Basically the fate of all happy endings rests on her shoulders. Her backstory is unbelievable, but any birth mother with a soul can't help but be moved by Henry's passion, and Emma is.

The characters are intriguing in both worlds. Ginnifer Goodwin enchants as Snow White and her Storybrooke counterpart, Mary Margaret. The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) aka Regina, the mayor of Storybrooke, is not a one-dimensional villainess. She is mean, conniving, slightly heartbreaking and clearly the hero in her own story. While Emma Swan is the cool girl that you'd want to be your BFF, but she has no friends because badass orphans can't have friends .....

- the evil queen's huntsman is the sheriff in the mundane world

I've just watched the first few episodes but I like it. I've been really intrigued by fairy tales since I was little and it's interesting to see them reinterpreted modernly (a mini-series kind of like this was The 10th Kingdom, which I posted about here and here). Here's a tv promo for the show ....

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Schrödinger's cat tattoo

When I get depressed about the news, I visit science blogs ...

Today I learned that robins have magnetic compasses in their eyes, and that people can learn new information while they're sleeping, and that there's a Science Tattoo Emporium :)

This Is Not a Test

- at the monastery

There's a post at America magazine's blog, 'Christ is Testing Us', about the troubles of Coptic Christians in Egypt, in which someone is quoted as saying “Christ is testing us. I tell my friends to stay. Christ could end this suffering, this trial, at any time. How will you feel, I tell my friends, if you’re in Canada instead of Egypt when Christ returns?”

This made me think of a Lost episode I'd just watched. In that scene, Desmond has joined a monastery (in Scotland?) and is helping his superior put labels on the bottles of wine that the monastery sells ...

MONK: You do realize you are free to talk again, Brother Desmond.

DESMOND: Used to being quiet, I suppose.

[He looks at the "Moriah Vineyards" label]

DESMOND: Moriah. I find the name the brothers have chosen for the wine made here interesting.

MONK: And why is that brother?

DESMOND: Well, Moriah's the mountain where Abraham was asked to kill Isaac. It's not exactly the most festive locale, is it.

MONK: And yet God spared Isaac.

DESMOND: Well, one might argue then God may not have asked Abraham to sacrifice his son in the first place.

MONK: Well then it wouldn't have been much of a test, would it brother?

I don't want to believe that God tests us. If you look online, though, you'll find lots of support for the idea that he does. One example which I found really distressing was a past post at dotCommonweal - it didn't ask *if* God tests us but instead assumed he did and explained why, using Augustine and Aquinas as backup. Today, though, I came across a sermon by a Methodist preacher, Does God Test Us?, that reached the opposite conclusion - I really liked it.

Monday, August 27, 2012


I've been watching a British tv series about an Anglican priest in London, Rev. You can watch an episode from HULU below at the bottom of this post ... BTW, it's maybe a bit beyond US tv censorship standards, but it's been a long time since I've had tv service so I'm not sure ;).

Wikipedia states ....

The Reverend Adam Smallbone is an Anglican priest who has recently moved from a small rural parish to the "socially disunited" St Saviour in the Marshes in East London. Unable to turn anyone away from his pastoral care, Smallbone is faced with a collection of moral challenges as he balances the needs of genuine believers, people on the streets, and drug addicts, as well as the demands of social climbers using the church to get their children into the best schools.

Adam has an impossibly difficult job being a modern city vicar. His wife, Alex who has her own career as a solicitor to worry about, provides fantastic support for him, seeing through his life as a priest, whilst not being involved with his work. He is also supported by lay reader Nigel, who believes he should be running the church. In supervision is Archdeacon Robert, who puts pressure on Adam to increase the congregation and church income.

It's interesting to see the differences between the UK and US and also between the C of E and the Catholic Church - I feel like I'm missing many of the jokes, not being Anglican or British :) The church where the series is filmed is St Leonard's, Shoreditch. The show reminds me of a past US series about an Episcopal priest, played by Aidan Quinn - The Book of Daniel. You can read more about Rev. here - Life's Too Short/ Rev, BBC Two.

"All are welcome in this place."

A post by Kelvin, the Provost of St. Mary's (Episcopal) Cathedral, Glasgow, about Catholics (and others) asking to visit his church on "National Marriage Sunday". Here's the beginning of his post ...

An Invitation

Update – this blog post is featured in an article in the Herald newspaper.

I think it is appropriate to post on this blog the invitation that I shared with the congregation last weekend.

We are currently living through a period of social change, as the Scottish Government finalizes its plans to allow same-sex couples to get married.

Now, the churches tend to react in their own distinctive ways. Christians are not of one mind about whether marriage for gay couples is a good thing or not. However, it is clearly coming.

Over the summer, I’ve been contacted a number of times by people who have asked me whether they can come to St Mary’s Cathedral on a one-off basis on Sunday 26 August 2012. The reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church is declaring this coming Sunday as National Marriage Sunday and has said that it is setting up a special commission – a new body which will be “charged with promoting the true nature of marriage”.

Now, I believe in marriage. I believe in marriage for straight couples. I believe in supporting family life. I also happen to believe that marriage should be open to same-sex couples who wish to publicly declare that they are going to be faithful, stable and loving in the same way that straight people can. I believe in Equal Marriage and hope it comes soon.

The trouble is, the rhetoric that is currently coming from the Roman Catholic Church on this topic can be hugely negative. We saw that on Scotland Tonight on Thursday evening when one of their spokesmen once again asserted that gay people live shorter lives than straight people and seemed to suggest that people needed to be “warned” against being gay. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to describe it as homophobic and that is a word that I almost never use. It is also my view that the attitude of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy seems to be at odds with the membership of that church whom I generally encounter as gentle, respectful, caring and kind.

Now, the fact is, not everyone at St Mary’s Cathedral has the same views on this topic. The truth is, the people at St Mary’s Cathedral tend not to have the same views about many things, as it happens.

However, we all do tend to agree that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. My congregation is not a place where people question whether gay people are loved by God. We know it is true that everyone is loved by God.

The people who have contacted me about this upcoming Sunday to ask if they can join us for a week are quite varied. Some are straight people and some are gay. Some are Roman Catholics who simply don’t want to be told what to think about this topic and who reject the current rhetoric coming from the Scottish Roman Catholic Church. Others have no connection with that church but simply want to turn up to a church on that Sunday where the message is of compassion and love. Indeed, I have been contacted by a couple of atheists who said that they would like to come to church on that day to mark a particular anniversary and wondered whether they too would be welcome. The answer, of course, was yes. All are welcome in this place .......

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Scotland ...

the Catholic Church has declared this "National Marriage Sunday" and has had a letter read in all parishes that asks each church's congregation to "pray for our elected leaders, invoking the Holy Spirit on them, that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society" (BBC).

I wonder how this works exactly, this praying for God to force people to believe as you do, or I guess, in Cardinal O'Brien's view, praying for God to make people "see the light". It's never really seemed to work for me (yes, I've tried), this talking God into changing other people - maybe I should ask the Cardinal for some prayer tips.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Keith Ward on ...

Religion, Ethics, and Evolutionary Psychology. He mentions Dawkins' idea of the selfish gene and it reminded me of an episode of The X-Files in which Scully explained the same to Mulder, saying: There are theories which pose that our bodies are simply vehicles for genes needing to replicate. This theory is sometimes used to excuse certain kinds of behavior, it's the belief that we make decisions based on motivations buried so deeply in our genetic makeup that we have no real control over them (like the idea that women will be subliminally attracted to wealthy and powerful men because that will ensure the survival of their offspring). I do believe we have genetic prompts, but I also think we move beyond them every day of the week via free will. But anyway, back to the video - I'm not sure I agree with everything Keith Ward says but it's an interesting subject.

Religion, Ethics and Evolutionary Psychology - Professor Keith Ward DD FBA - Gresham College Lectures from Gresham College on Vimeo.

More unpleasantness

Here's the beginning of a post from Dr. Kate Clancy's Scientific American blog, Context and Variation, on Congressperson Todd Akin's rape/pregnancy statement ....

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape

So Congressperson Todd Akin of Missouri has said some interesting things. Referring to the possibility of pregnancy after rape, and whether abortion should be allowed in this circumstance, he said according to his understanding “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” but that, should one embryo slip through, that “the punishment should be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.” In Akin’s non-apology about his insensitivity towards the “thousands” of rape survivors each year, he remains firm on the point that abortion shouldn’t be allowable for pregnant victims, saying “…I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

I don’t like writing about rape. I didn’t like turning my Laser Beam Eyes of Ladybusiness Justice on my Twitter feed today, which was a constant stream of information, reaction to, and anger about Akin and his baseless, stupid comments. Rape reminds me of the ways in which I am powerless, simply by being female. It doesn’t matter how many contact sports I play or muscles I build. It doesn’t matter how big my husband is. Sometimes I look at my life, and see what I’ve built, and how I’ve tried to protect myself. And I wonder what measures other women have taken for the same reasons, measures that ultimately mean little in the face of cultural conditioning to make men happy, of sexual dimorphism in musculature, of a powerful rape culture.

Some legitimate context

Unfortunately, it is rather normal to be a survivor of sexual assault if you are female. One out of six women in the United States have been the victim of rape or attempted rape, and that is using a rather tight definition that does not include many kinds of assault victims can experience. 64,080 women were raped in the US between 2004-2005 ......


Yesterday I had posted a link to this interview with John O'Brien of Catholics for Choice, but then I got anxious and deleted it. It's not easy being a Catholic who's pro-choice ... so many Catholics equate "pro-choice" with "pro-abortion" when all it really means is not wanting to criminalize abortion. I don't suppose it matters anyway - I can count on the fingers of one hand the Catholics who talk to me, and still have some fingers left. In a way it's ironic - I joined the church because I was lonely and I didn't expect to come to believe in God. Now I do believe in God, but have no community.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More LOST vistas ...

Shapeshifting in San Francisco

I'm still reading The Enchantress, an urban fantasy set in San Francisco. Last night I read of Nicholas Flamel sharing his consciousness with a red-headed conyer so he could fly from the Embarcadero to Alcatraz island ......


"Parrots are the most remarkable birds," Nicholas continued, ignoring him. He stretched out his left arm and the merest hint of mint touched the salt air. His lips moved, his breath hissing softly between them. There was a sudden flutter of wings and a spectacular red-headed green-bodied parrot settled onto his outstretched hand. It tilted its head to one side, silver and gold eye regarding him quizzically; then it slowly began to sidle up his arm. The Alchenyst ran the back of his finger down its breast. "Parrots are extraordinarily intelligent. And their eyesight is marvelous. There are some species whose eyes weigh more than their brains. They can see into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum; they can even see waves of light." (pp. 35-36)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Republicans, the Sierra Club, and the environment

- John Muir (R) and Teddy Roosevelt at Yosemite

There's a lot of pro-life rhetoric from the Republicans but none of it seems to encompass the environment. This should come as no surprise, since Romney and Ryan and most of the Republican party don't believe in climate change (Read more about what Romney and Ryan think on this - Do Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney disagree on climate change?). Here's a bit from another article ...

[...] The Republican Party is notorious for this and a Romney/Ryan office would be no exception. Both of them have blatantly stated that they don’t agree with climate change, citing uncertainty within the scientific community as their reasoning.

While not denying climate change, Romney told a New Hampshire crowd last summer; “What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”

Ryan is even less ambiguous about his views, and has attacked climatologists in a 2009 op-ed in which he criticised “the EPA’s declaration that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant” and seemed to suggest a conspiracy scenario when making accusations that “leading climatologists make clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”

For those of you who think there is much scientific uncertainty with respect to global climate change, you couldn’t be more wrong; 97% of the scientific community agrees that the Earth is warming and 82% believe it’s a human-induced phenomenon (Doran & Zimmerman, 2009). Moreover, Republicans and the like often like to misconstrue semantics, claiming that climate change is ‘just a theory’.

What the general public doesn’t realize is that a theory is the most solid of an explanation you can achieve in science – it is essentially a fact. The problem is that the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of climate change is at odds with the Republican oil and industrial agenda ....

Here's a short video from the Sierra Club, which endorses Obama for president. If you care at all about the environment, give it a watch ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Great Synagogue of Rome

I saw this video today at Clerical Whispers. I have a past post that touches on the Great Synagogue - B16 at the Great Synagogue of Rome .

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Spirituality for Real Life

My latest kindle book is The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin SJ. I'm just at the beginning, which has a short bio of Ignatius plus an intro to what Ignatian spirituality is about. Here's a little bit from the part I've just read (pp. 5-8) ....

[F]inding God in all things.

This deceptively simple phrase was once considered revolutionary. It means that nothing is considered outside the purview of the spiritual life. Ignatian spirituality is not confined within the walls of a church. It's not a spirituality that considers only "spiritual" topics, like prayer and sacred texts, as part of a person's spiritual life.

Most of all, it's not a spirituality that says, "Well, that -- whether it's work, money, sexuality, depression, sickness -- is something to avoid when talking about the spiritual life."

Ignatian spirituality considers everything an important element of your life. That includes religious services, sacred Scriptures, prayer, and charitable works, to be sure, but it also includes friends, family, work, relationships, sex, suffering, and joy, as well as nature, music, and pop culture.


[T]he way of Ignatius ... is an incarnational spirituality. Christian theology holds that God became human, or "incarnate," in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (The word incarnation comes from the Latin root carn, for "flesh.") More broadly, an incarnational spirituality means believing that God can be found in the everyday events of our lives. God is not just out there. God is right here, too. If you're looking for God, look around. To this end, one of the best definitions of prayer is from Walter Burghardt, a twentieth-century Jesuit theologian, who called it a "long, loving look at the real." Incarnational spirituality is about the real.

I'll probably post a few more bits from the book as I read more. Meanwhile, from me who likes to find God in nature, here's another screen capture from LOST :) ...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tony Scott RIP

Film director Tony Scott, brother of Ridley Scott, has died. I've seen many of the movies he directed, the most recent one being Unstoppable (see my post about it), but I thought I'd mention his first one ... The Hunger, a 1983 movie about vampires based on a novel by Whitley Strieber.

Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful and dangerous immortal vampire, promising specially chosen humans eternal life as her vampire lovers. As the film begins, her vampire companion is John (David Bowie), a talented cellist she married in 18th century France. The films opens in a night club in New York to a live performance from Bauhaus. They live together in an elegant New York townhouse posing as a wealthy couple who teach classical music.

Periodically killing and feeding upon human victims allows Miriam and John to possess eternal youth—or at least that is what John was led to believe. John begins aging rapidly; he realizes that Miriam knew that this would happen and that her promise of "forever and ever" was only partially true. He will have eternal life but not eternal youth. Feeling betrayed, he seeks out the help of Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), who specializes in the study of premature aging, hoping she will be able to help reverse his accelerating decrepitude. Sarah assumes that John is a hypochondriac or mentally unbalanced and ignores his pleas for help. As John leaves the clinic in a rage, Sarah is horrified to see how rapidly John is aging. She tries to help, at which point John rebuffs her ...

I saw this on tv years ago but don't remember much of it. The storyline sounds like it has such possibilities - maybe the novel is good? - but the film received a really bad review from Roger Ebert ...

"The Hunger" is an agonizingly bad vampire movie, circling around an exquisitely effective sex scene. Sorry, but that's the way it is, and your reporter has to be honest. The seduction scene involves Catherine Deneuve, as an age-old vampire, and Susan Sarandon, as her latest victim. There was a great deal of controversy while the movie was being made (all sorts of rumors about closed sets, etc.), but the scene as it now appears isn't raunchy or too explicit -- just sort of dreamily erotic. I mention the scene so prominently because it's one of the few scenes that really work in "The Hunger," a movie that has been so ruthlessly overproduced that it's all flash and style and no story ....

Here's the trailer, and I must admit it does seem eminently skippable ...

BTW, I did see another movie adapted from a Whitley Strieber book, Wolfen, and I posted about it here. Someday I'll have to check out Communion, a movie in which Christopher Walken portrays Strieber.

But anyway... very sad about Tony Scott. Rest in peace, Tony.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Your pew dollars at work

The Economist has a story on the US Catholic Church's finances - Earthly concerns. It's a long and detailed article, so it's best to read the whole thing, but here are just a few tidbits from it .... ...

According to the story, the church spends relatively little of its money on charity ... The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). We think 57% of this goes on health-care networks, followed by 28% on colleges, with parish and diocesan day-to-day operations accounting for just 6% and national charitable activities just 2.7% (see chart) .... These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

Catholics in the pews are thought to contribute about $13 billion a year to the church but much more comes from wealthy private donors, and ... Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Cardinal-Archbishop of New York (a “corporation sole”, meaning a legal entity consisting of a single incorporated office, occupied by a single person), is believed to be Manhattan’s largest landowner, if one includes the parishes and organisations that come under his jurisdiction.

The church has spent an incredible amount on sex abuse settlements and is spending a lot also on trying to squelch any relaxation of the statutes of limitation for those crimes ... The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years ..... Cardinal Dolan and other New York bishops are spending a substantial amount—estimates range from $100,000 a year to well over $1m—on lobbying the state assembly to keep the current statute of limitations in place.

The church has used money meant for the retirement of priests and nuns to pay for abuse settlements. An example ... Under Cardinal Bernard Law, the archdiocese of Boston contributed nothing to its clergy retirement fund between 1986 and 2002, despite receiving an estimated $70m-90m in Easter and Christmas offerings that many parishioners believed would benefit retired priests.

And the church has apparently moved money around and undervalued assets in order to keep from paying victims in abuse settlements ... Creditors in the Milwaukee bankruptcy case, which is still in progress, have questioned the motives behind a $35m transfer to a trust and a $55.6m transfer from archdiocese coffers to a fund for cemeteries. Cardinal Dolan, who was Archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, authorised both transactions. The creditors think the movement of such large amounts had more to do with shielding cash from sexual-abuse victims than with the maintenance of graves, calling the manoeuvre fraudulent. Cardinal Dolan’s office responded to questions about these allegations by pointing to blog posts in which he described them as “baloney” and defended the transfers as “virtuous, open and in accord with the clear directives of the professionals on our finance council and outside auditors”.

... and ...

the diocese of San Diego listed the value of a whole city block in downtown San Diego at $40,000, the price at which it had been acquired in the 1940s, rather than trying to estimate the current market value, as required. Worse, it altered the forms in which assets had to be listed. The judge in the case, Louise Adler, was so vexed by this and other shenanigans on the part of the diocese that she ordered a special investigation into church finances which was led by Todd Neilson, a former FBI agent and renowned forensic accountant. The diocese ended up settling its sexual-abuse cases for almost $200m. If it had not done so, the bankruptcy would have been thrown out of court and the bishop and chancellor of the diocese and its lawyers might have faced contempt charges.

And church leaders wonder why people are leaving the church :(

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Enter 77

- Sayid

I'm still watching LOST and I was especially struck by what happened in an episode I just saw, Enter 77. In it, Sayid remembers an event from his past. He'd been working as a chef in Paris after the war in Iraq, a war he spent as a torturer first for the Iraqis and then for the US. He's recognized and taken prisoner by a woman, Amira, whom he tortured, pouring boiling oil over her arms. All she wants is for him to admit what he did to her, but he refuses. Then one night she comes to talk to him, bringing her cat ....


AMIRA: After my husband and I first arrived to Paris, I was afraid to ever leave our apartment. So I would stare out in the window into the alley, and I would see this cat looking for scraps. One day some children came into the alley and trapped him in a box. I watched them light firecrackers and drop them in the box. I could hear him howl from three stories above. So finally, I had a reason to leave my apartment. I rescued this cat and I brought him home. He sits with me when I read, sleeps with me, and he purrs. But, every once in a while, he will bite me or scratch me. He does this because sometimes he forgets that he is safe now. So I forgive him when he bites me, because I remember what it is like to never feel safe. And that is because of you. So today, I ask only one thing of you: I ask you now to show me the respect by acknowledging what you did to me. That it was you who questioned me, tortured me and that you remember me.

SAYID: I remember you. I remember your face. Your face has haunted me ever since I left Iraq. [crying] I am sorry. I am so sorry for what I did to you. I am sorry.

AMIRA: I forgive you. When my husband returns, I will tell I made a terrible mistake, that it was not you, and he will release you.

SAYID: Why? Why are you letting me go?

AMIRA: We are all capable of doing what those children did to this cat. But I will not do that. I will not be that.


At the end of the episode, Sayid sees a cat in the jungle that looks like Amira's cat.

Putin, the ROC, and Pussy Riot

A post at dotCommonweal about Pussy Riot asks why the group would protest against Putin in Christ the Savior Church. I had a past post about that church here, and also a past post about the Russian Orthodox Church and its relationship with women here. Here's a bit from that last post that may help explain why Pussy Riot would choose that church for its protest against Putin ...

Putin's Reunited Russian Church
(TIME, 2007)

The Russian Orthodox Church was torn in two by revolution and regicide, by the enmity between communism and capitalism, nearly a century of fulmination and hatred. That all formally ended on Thursday in Moscow. Thousands of the Russian Orthodox faithful — including several hundred who flew in from New York — lined up under heavy rain to get into the Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. There, they witnessed the restoration of the "Canonical Communion and Reunification" of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) .... While the sumptuous ritual was clearly an emotional and pious event, the reunification has political resonance as well because the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly a symbol and projection of Russian nationalism.

Indeed, rather than first give thanks to God in his speech, the head of the ROC, Patriarch Alexy, paid homage to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Patriarch emphasized that the reunification could happen only because the ROCOR saw in Putin "a genuine Russian Orthodox human being." Putin responded in his speech that the reunification was a major event for the entire nation.

Nationalism, based on the Orthodox faith, has been emerging as the Putin regime's major ideological resource. Thursday's rite sealed the four-year long effort by Putin, beginning in September 2003, to have the Moscow Patriarchate take over its rival American-based cousin and launch a new globalized Church as his state's main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument. In February press conference, Putin equated Russia's "traditional confessions" to its nuclear shield, both, he said, being "components that strengthen Russian statehood and create necessary preconditions for internal and external security of the country." Professor Sergei Filatov, a top authority on Russian religious affairs notes that "traditional confessions" is the state's shorthand for the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church's assertiveness and presence is growing — with little separation from the State. The Moscow City Court and the Prosecutor General's Office maintain Orthodox chapels on their premises. Only the Orthodox clergy are entitled to give ecclesiastic guidance to the military. Some provinces have included Russian Orthodox Culture classes in school curricula with students doing church chores. When Orthodox fundamentalists vandalized an art exhibition at the Moscow Andrei Sakharov Center as "an insult to the main religion of our country," the Moscow Court found the Center managers guilty of insulting the faith, and fined them $3,500 each. The ROC had an opera, based on a famous fairy tale by the poet Alexander Pushkin, censored to the point of cutting out the priest, who is the tale's main protagonist. "Of course, we have a separation of State and Church," Putin said during a visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery in January 2004. "But in the people's soul they're together." The resurgence of a Church in open disdain of the secular Constitution is only likely to exacerbate divisions in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Russia. ....

And more recently, and with Kirill I chosen Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009 (an ex-KGB agent - can this be true?), things don't seem to be getting any better .... Art under arrest: A blasphemy trial shows the limit of Russia’s cultural freedom

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Video - Ignatian spirituality

Here's the first video in a series from Busted Halo of James Martin SJ discussing Ignatian spirituality. He's such a good speaker :) ...

Basilica della Santa Casa

Reading about the Basilica della Santa Casa today ...

The Shrine of the Holy House or basilica of the Santa Casa (Italian Basilica della Santa Casa), is a Catholic place of pilgrimage in Loreto, Italy, containing, according to tradition, the house in which the Virgin Mary lived.

- angle, fresco in the basilica, by Melozzo da Forlì

- the "house" within the basilica

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

James Alison and same-sex marriage

I saw that some UK Catholics have made a statement in favor of same-sex marriage, one of the signatories being James Alison ... British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation.

Fr. Alison wrote something in 2009 that touched on the issue of same-sex marriage - it's pretty interesting ... The pain and the endgame: reflections on a whimper


I've just noticed that the toothpaste I've used like forever (Colgate Total) contains triclosan .....

Antibacterial Soap Could Harm Your Heart and Muscles

[...] Now in the new research, which appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors report on three experiments that explored the impact of triclosan, which is found not only in antibacterial soaps but also in toothpaste, mouthwash, clothing, carpets, toys, and more common products. In each of the experiments, the scientists used doses of triclosan that people and animals could expect to be exposed to in daily life.

When scientists exposed heart muscle cells and skeletal muscle fibers to triclosan in the lab, presence of the chemical interfered with the normal communication between proteins that allow these cells and fibers to respond properly, thus causing skeletal and heart muscle failure.

* Within 20 minutes of exposure to triclosan, mice experienced up to a 25 percent reduction in cardiac function

* The mice also exhibited an 18 percent reduction in their grip strength for up to one hour after exposure to one dose of triclosan

* Fathead minnows exposed to triclosan in their water for one week demonstrated significantly less ability to swim when compared with unexposed controls. These fish are typically used to study water pollutants.

What does this study mean to consumers
The results of this study, as well as others involving triclosan, including previous work by UC Davis researchers linking triclosan to problems with reproductive hormone function and brain activity, suggest consumers should rethink their use of products that contain the chemical ......

Must find an alternative - maybe Tom's of Maine fennel toothpaste :)

- fennel

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Proposal

I'm watching old episodes of Frasier. In tonight's episode, Niles asks Daphne to marry him. He's planned a secret romantic evening at his apartment to surprise her - he's written an elaborate proposal speech, Wolfgang Puck is making dinner in the kitchen, and there are myriad singers and musicians hidden, ready to burst out when he pops the question. But Daphne arrives with a very bad cold, so Niles decides to postpone everything and re-so it all when she feels better, getting Frasier to sneak everyone out of the apartment without Daphne noticing. Then unexpectedly, Niles decides to propose after all :) ....

"You owe a debt to the unlucky"

There's a really interesting post at the NYT's philosophy blog that's about Romney/Ryan and John Rawls and the way people think about what other people are due. A lot of conservatives, religious conservatives especially (NT Wright thinks Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations), hate Rawls' idea of justice as fairness and they believe instead that justice means giving people what they "deserve" (I think they're wrong - guess they never read that parable about the vineyard workers).

But anyway, here's a bit from the post (and see the video at the bottom) ...

The Veil of Opulence

[...] Rawls charged his readers to design a society from the ground up, from an original position, and he imposed the ignorance constraint so that readers would abandon any foreknowledge of their particular social status — their wealth, their health, their natural talents, their opportunities or any other goodies that the cosmos may have thrown their way. In doing so, he hoped to identify principles of justice that would best help individuals maximize their potential, fulfill their objectives (whatever they may happen to be) and live a good life. He called this presumption the “veil of ignorance.”

The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.

Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence ..... the veil of opulence operates only under the guise of fairness. It is rather a distortion of fairness, by virtue of the partiality that it smuggles in. It asks not whether a policy is fair given the huge range of advantages or hardships the universe might throw at a person but rather whether it is fair that a very fortunate person should shoulder the burdens of others. That is, the veil of opulence insists that people imagine that resources and opportunities and talents are freely available to all, that such goods are widely abundant, that there is no element of randomness or chance that may negatively impact those who struggle to succeed but sadly fail through no fault of their own. It blankets off the obstacles that impede the road to success. It turns a blind eye to the adversity that some people, let’s face it, are born into. By insisting that we consider public policy from the perspective of the most-advantaged, the veil of opulence obscures the vagaries of brute luck.

But wait, you may be thinking, what of merit? What of all those who have labored and toiled and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to make their lives better for themselves and their families? This is an important question indeed. Many people work hard for their money and deserve to keep what they earn. An answer is offered by both doctrines of fairness.

The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved. The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might ake steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get .....

And here's a video that's linked to above about the role luck plays in our lives ... "you owe a debt to the unlucky" ... it's funny and worth a listen -

Ayn Rand in Christian drag

Paul Ryan's faith in Ayn Rand is a political problem for Romney
- Giles Fraser

[...] It feels odd to be arguing that there ought to be more religion in US politics. In many ways, I'd prefer there to be a lot less. And certainly a lot less of the hard-right hogwash that borrows the wardrobe of Christianity but has no intention of being subject to its moral values. Jesus said nothing whatsoever about homosexuality or abortion. He said a great deal about poverty and our responsibility for the vulnerable. Which is why Paul Ryan is little more than Ayn Rand in Christian drag ...

Monday, August 13, 2012

What kind of choice is Paul Ryan for women?

Why Paul Ryan is bad news for women (and everyone else)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An article at NCR ...

Which presidential candidate is truly pro-life? by Nicholas P. Cafardi. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] There is no doubt Obama is pro-choice. He has said so many times. There is also no doubt Romney is running on what he calls a pro-life platform. But any honest analysis of the facts shows the situation is much more complicated than that.

For example, Obama's Affordable Care Act does not pay for abortions. In Massachusetts, Romney's health care law does. Obama favors, and included in the Affordable Care Act, $250 million of support for vulnerable pregnant women and alternatives to abortion. This support will make abortions much less likely, since most abortions are economic. Romney, on the other hand, has endorsed Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan's budget, which will cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the federal plans that support poor women. The undoubted effect: The number of abortions in the United States will increase. On these facts, Obama is much more pro-life than Romney.

But let's not stop there. Obama does not financially profit from the abortion industry. Romney does. Bain Capital, in the time Romney was listed as its legal head and even when he was attending Bain board meetings, was an owner of Stericycle, a major disposer of the dead bodies of aborted children in the United States. (See: Romney Invested in Medical-Waste Firm That Disposed of Aborted Fetuses, Government Documents Show.) Bain owned a share of Stericycle until 2004, selling its interest for a profit in the tens of millions of dollars. We can parse what Romney's 1999 "retroactive retirement" from Bain means, but he still gets an annual payout from the firm. To the extent those dollars are part of Bain's Stericycle profits, a strong argument exists that Romney is an abortion profiteer. How pro-life is that?

And it has long been known that millions of Bain Capital's original outside funding, solicited by Romney himself, came from wealthy El Salvadorian clans, some of whom, while they were funding Bain, were "linked to right wing death squads." (Salt Lake Tribune, 1999; See also: Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads.) .....

Vicarious Hawaii

Haven't seen any worthy movies lately so I've just been using Netflix to watch old tv, like LOST. One nice thing about LOST is the Hawaiian viewscape in most of the scenes ...

Jack and Ana Lucia talk on the beach ...

Sayid ponders a list ...

Libby and Hugo go jogging ...

Though the characters of Lost spent a lot of time in the lush tropical jungle, they weirdly never (to my knowledge) had any insectoid encounters .....

One of my favorite characters on the series was Vincent ...

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Trying to imagine he future under Romney/Ryan ....

Mr. Ryan’s Cramped Vision

[...] As House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan has drawn a blueprint of a government that will be absent when people need it the most. It will not be there when the unemployed need job training, or when a struggling student needs help to get into college. It will not be there when a miner needs more than a hardhat for protection, or when a city is unable to replace a crumbling bridge. And it will be silent when the elderly cannot keep up with the costs of M.R.I.’s or prescription medicines, or when the poor and uninsured become increasingly sick through lack of preventive care. More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans. That means billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations ...

Dystopia :(

Friday, August 10, 2012


I have to admit I've not been paying a lot of attention to the olympics - just a few glimpses of the diving, equestrian jumping, fencing, etc., but the Google olympic doodle for today made me check out a video of rhythmic gymnastics ....

Sometimes I really miss tv ;)


There's a post at America magazine's blog by James Martin SJ with a video of his answer to the question 'for whom should a Catholic vote?' He says that the church never advocates for any specific candidate but with the Vatican ambassadors stumping for Romney and Bishop Lori warning Catholics not to vote for the "intrinsic evil" candidate (sigh), there's little doubt who the institutional Catholic Church is rooting for.

In the video Fr. Martin advises voting as Jesus would and also as a Catholic would, and when his post at In All Things first appeared, the title asked how Jesus would vote - it's since been changed to asking how a Catholic should vote. I think there would be a definite difference between how Jesus would vote and how the church (or say, Thomas Aquinas) would vote, and I was sorry to see Fr. Martin change his post. But either way, I'd still vote my own conscience.

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In the yard

- the naked ladies are blooming ...

- the squirrel comes for a peanut ...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Mystical experiences on the rise?

Given the recent news about religion in Ireland (The end of Catholic Ireland) I thought this past video interview of Diana Butler Bass on her book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of A New Spiritual Awakening, might be interesting.

One thing I was intrigued to hear that ... in the early 1960s, 22% of Americans said that they had had a mystical experience with God, and that that number had gone up to close to 50% by 2009. I imagine St. Ignatius beaming :) Ross Douthat's book, Bad Religion, gets mentioned as one that starts at the same place her's does but which comes to an opposite conclusion. As the interviewer says, she seems to choose hope while Douthat chooses comfort. I like her way better .....

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mystery flower

Here's a flower my sister gave me as a bulb. Can't remember what it is, though.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Church of the Transfiguration

Today, the Feast of the Transfiguration, I looked up Mount Tabor and the Catholic church there ...

The Church of the Transfiguration is a Franciscan church located on Mount Tabor in Israel. It is traditionally believed to be the site where the Transfiguration of Christ took place, an event in the Gospels in which Jesus is transfigured upon an unnamed mountain and speaks with Moses and Elijah ...

(photos from the Wikipedia page)

The Enchantress

My latest book from the library is The Enchantress by Michael Scott. It's the last book in an urban fantasy series (soon to be a movie) about the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. Flamel (based on the alchemist of the same name), is an immortal alchenist in possession of a magical book, the Codex, which he must protect from the bad guys, one of whom is John Dee (based on mathematician and occultist of the same name), with the help of teenage twins Sophie and Josh Newman. The books are fun and filled with mythology and magic and history :) My favorite character is Scáthach who is/was, as Wikipedia states, a legendary Scottish warrior woman and martial arts teacher who trains the legendary Ulster hero Cúchulainn in the arts of combat. I liked the first couple of books in the series best, but still didn't want to give up on it before the end.

Here's a short video by the author about the series ...

And you can read an excerpt from chapter one of The Enchantress here.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

"I am the bread of life."

The reading for tomorrow is John 6:24-35. Ever since I saw the movie The Gospel of John, I've been sort of mesmerized by "watching" Jesus (Henry Ian Cusick; Desmond of LOST) saying the lines from that gospel .... Cusick invests the sometimes over the top words with such a compelling enthusiasm that I can't anymore just dismiss that Jesus as too remote or other-worldly. If you click on the timeline bar of the video below at about 4:47 into it, you can watch Jesus deliver the reading (the Good News version) ....


Looking through the sermon archive (podcasts) at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, and found some that might be of interest ...

* The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams - Friends of God, Sunday, May 13, 2012

* Fr. James Alison - Broken Hearts and New Creation: Intimations of a Great Reversal, Sunday, November 13, 2011

* Archbishop Tutu - Transfiguration, Sunday, March 6, 2011

Friday, August 03, 2012

Jesuit retreat

And here's the beginning of another article by Bryan Cones at US Catholic, this one about a retreat ....

Be quiet: What do you do on a silent retreat?

All you have to do is show up—and shut up,” said the Jesuit priest, drawing a final chuckle from a group of 40 people settling down for a week of silent retreat. God would do the rest, we were all promised; we had done our part by getting there.

Though weekend retreats have been part of my spiritual practice since high school, I was a little skeptical that my first extended retreat was going to give me what I was looking for. Having struggled for years to understand “God’s plan” for my life, I was hoping for some clarity—if there was any to be had—so I had a lot riding on these eight days. I showed up. Would God?

Six days later I had my answer: “You have chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from you,” I wrote in my journal, a paraphrase of Jesus’ words to Martha from the Gospel of Luke. I set down the pen with a bit of shock: I had always been on the right path, a truth I knew with a certainty I’d never had before .....

Maybe someday :) ...

Personal conversations with God

Saw this article by Bryan Cones at US Catholic today. Here's the beginning ...

Look who's talking: Personal conversations with God

It’s not often that you turn on the radio and hear someone talking about you—well, not you personally, but someone like you. That was the reaction I had listening to National Public Radio’s Terry Gross as she interviewed Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford University anthropologist who had just published When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God (Knopf). Luhrmann had been intrigued when she met a woman who “had coffee with God” and “talked about God as if he were a person,” so she began participating in a prayer group at a location of the evangelical Vineyard Church to see what was going on.

I was intrigued as well, since I have been talking to God as long as I can remember, and I know a lot of other people who have, too. I was mostly interested in the fact that such a relationship with God—“as if he were a person”—was such an object of curiosity.

NPR’s Gross at times sounded a little incredulous (though always respectful): “What’s the difference between the imaginary friend that you’re supposed to outgrow,” she asked, “and this approach to believing that . . . God or Jesus is like your friend, your buddy?” ....

This is how I relate to God too. I think this is partly why I don't really get liturgy - it seems somehow at a remove.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Some videos

* Why study Hans Urs von Balthasar? Karen Kilby from the the University of Nottingham tells us why ...

* Gifford Lectures Revisited: Reflections of Seven Templeton Laureates -- Part 2 : Ian Barbour, John Polkinghorne, Holmes Rolston, Charles Taylor, and moderated by Keith Ward. At the British Academy, London, June 1 2012 ....

* Jesuit Paul Campbell SJ gives us the very same advice my sister gave me today :) ....

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Truce at Bakura: Star Wars

My latest kindle book is The Truce at Bakura: Star Wars by Kathy Tyers. I read the book long ago when I could still decypher paperback-sized print and I remember it being particularly good, wanted to re-read it, but it only exists in audio as abridged. Today I saw that it was a kindle book: unable to resist was I :)

The story begins the day after the events of the last movie, Return of the Jedi, have occurred ....

No sooner has Darth Vader's funeral pyre burned to ashes on Endor than the Alliance intercepts a call for help from a far-flung Imperial outpost. Bakura is on the edge of known space and the first to meet the Ssi-ruuk, cold-blooded reptilian invaders who, once allied with the now dead Emperor, are approaching Imperial space with only one goal; total domination. Princess Leia sees the mission as an opportunity to achieve a diplomatic victory for the Alliance. But it assumes even greater importance when a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke Skywalker with the message that he must go to Bakura - or risk losing everything the Rebels have fought so desperately to achieve. -

Here's how it begins ....



Above a dead world, one habitable moon hung suspended like a cloud-veiled turquoise. The eternal hand that held the chain of its orbit had dusted its velvet backdrop with brilliant stars, and cosmic energies danced on the wrinkles of space-time, singing their timeless music, neither noticing nor caring for the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, or their brief, petty wars.

But on that petty human scale of perspective, a fleet of starships orbited the moon's primary. Carbon streaks scored the sides of several ships. Droids swarmed around some, performing repairs. Metal shards that had been critical spaceship components, and human and alien bodies, orbited with the ships. The battle to destroy Emperor Palpatine's second Death Star had cost the Rebel Alliance heavily.

Luke Skywalker hustled across one cruiser's landing bay, red-eyed but still suffused with victory after the Ewoks' celebration. Passing a huddle of droids, he caught a whiff of coolants and lubricants. He ached, a dull gnawing in all his bones from the longest day of his life. Td--no, it was yesterday-- he had met the Emperor. Yesterday, he had almost paid with his life for his faith in his father. Yet a passenger sharing his shuttle up to the cruiser from the Ewok village had already asked if Luke really killed the Emperor--and Darth Vader--single-handed ......


Hope it's as good as I remember.