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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Links and a movie review

- A post at dotCommonweal about Syria. One comment to the post ... Most of the good reasons for killing somebody are gone. To aid the rebels? Off the table due to presence of terrorists. Get rid of Assad? Off the table due to the enemy of our enemy also being our enemy. End the fighting? Off the table as too risible to consider. Force someone to the peace table? See above and above.

- Andrew Brown on the AB of C on homophobia ... Justin Welby thinks that it is a huge problem for the church in this country that it is defined by what it's against. "Young people say 'I don't want to hear about a faith that is homophobic'," .... "The church has not been good at dealing with it. We have implicitly and even explicitly supported [homophobia] and that demands repentance."

- The Tablet on a poll held in the German diocese of Würzburg.: emarried divorcees want communion without annulments ... Those who rejected annulments emphasised that their former marriages had been part of their lives and could not be deleted.

- This week's movie rental was Olympus Has Fallen. I got it because I like Scottish actor Gerard Butler (he was Attila!) ....

But sadly I had to give up on the movie about half way through - rated R, it was just too nihilistically violent‎ without any really redeeming virtues. Here's the plot in a nutshell from a review in The Guardian ...

The film is about an attack on the presidential home by a bunch of loathsome North Korean terrorists who circumvent security with worrying ease. But they prove to be vulnerable to counterattack from one guy, just one guy, armed with nothing but guns, guts, patriotism and a pair of cojones the size of Saturn's moons.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gabriel and the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Reading Moscow Rules. Gabriel, an art restorer, has been working on the Martyrdom of St Erasmus for the Vatican Museum. Gabriel is also an Israeli agent and his boss and friend Navot meets him in Assisi to tell him a Russian journalist wants to talk to him. Gabriel and Navot visit the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi as they talk, making a stop at Francis' tomb (video at the bottom of the post gives a brief view of the interior of the basilica) ....

* * * * * *

They left the restaurant in darkness and joined a procession of brown-robed Capuchin friars filing slowly along the narrow street toward the Basilica di San Francesco. A cool wind was chasing about the vast forecourt. Uzi Navot lowered himself onto a stone bench and spoke of death.

“His name was Aleksandr Lubin. He worked for a magazine called Moskovsky Gazeta. He was killed in a hotel room in Courchevel a few days after Christmas. At the time, the rest of the world didn’t take much notice. As you may recall, its attention was focused on London, where the daughter of the American ambassador had just been rescued from the clutches of the Sword of Allah.”

Gabriel sat down next to Navot and watched two boys playing football near the steps of the basilica.

“The Gazeta claimed that Lubin went to Courchevel on holiday, but the French police concluded otherwise. They said he was there on an assignment. Unfortunately, there was nothing in his room to indicate exactly what that assignment might be.”

“How did he die?”

“A single stab wound to the chest.”

“That’s not easily done.”

“Better yet, the killer managed to do it in a way that no one heard a thing. It’s a small hotel with poor security. No one even remembered seeing him.”

“A professional?”

“So it would appear.”

“Russian journalists are dropping like flies these days, Uzi. What does this have to do with us?”

“Three days ago, our embassy in Rome received a phone call. It was from a man claiming to be Boris Ostrovsky, the Gazeta’s editor in chief. He said he had an important message to pass along regarding a grave threat to the security of the West and to the State of Israel. He said he wanted to meet with someone from Israeli intelligence in order to explain the nature of this threat.”

“What is it?”

“We don’t know yet. You see, Ostrovsky wants to meet with a specific agent of Israeli intelligence, a man who has made a habit of getting his picture in the paper saving the lives of important people.”

The flash of a camera illuminated the forecourt like lightning. Navot and Gabriel stood in unison and started toward the basilica. Five minutes later, after descending a long flight of steps, they were seated in the gloom of the Lower Church before the Tomb of St. Francis. Navot spoke in a whisper.

“We tried to explain to Ostrovsky that you weren’t free to take a meeting at the moment, but I’m afraid he’s not the sort to take no for an answer.” He looked at the tomb. “Are the old boy’s bones really in there?”

Gabriel shook his head. “The Church keeps the exact location of the remains a carefully guarded secret because of relic hunters.”

Navot pondered this piece of information in silence for a moment, then continued with his briefing. “ King Saul Boulevard has determined that Boris Ostrovsky is a credible figure. And they’re eager to hear what he has to say.”

“And they want me to meet with him?”

Navot gave a single nod of his big head.

“Let someone else do it, Uzi. I’m on my honeymoon, remember? Besides, it goes against every convention of tradecraft. We don’t agree to the demands of walk-ins. We meet with whom we want under circumstances of our choosing.”

“The assassin is lecturing the agent-runner about matters of tradecraft? ”

A nun in full habit materialized out of the gloom and pointed toward a sign that forbade talking in the area surrounding the tomb. Gabriel apologized and led Navot into the nave, where a group of Americans were listening intently to a lecture by a cassocked priest. No one appeared to notice the two Israeli spies conversing softly before a stand of votive candles.

* * * * * *

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Some links

- Saw a response today - We don't know if antidepressants work, so stop bashing them - to Anglican Priest Giles Fraser's post, Taking pills for unhappiness reinforces the idea that being sad is not human

- From TIME: “I Am Chelsea Manning”: Why Gender Isn’t So Easy to Identify

- What Do Believers Believe? (Not What You Might Expect)

- Andrew Linzey - Is Religion Bad for Animals?

"Go away from me"

Today's gospel reading made me feel kind of sick ... Luke 13:22-30 ...

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.

I guess this is about maintaining going-to-heaven exclusivity standards, but I wish the way was wide, not narrow.

Friday, August 23, 2013

David B. Hart and Aquinas

David Bentley Hart has an article at First Things - No Enduring City: The Gospel both created and destroyed Christendom. Here's the bit that discusses Thomas Aquinas' belief that heretics should be murdered ...

[T]here is no genuinely faithful proclamation of the Gospel that does not involve a very real and irreducible element of sheer contrariness towards the most respectable of human institutions. When the peasant Christ tells the aristocrat Pilate of his kingdom not of this world, or when Paul warns Christians against any commerce with the works of the god of this cosmos, or when Christ commands his followers to forgive those who wrong them in excess of all natural justice, or likens the wealthy citizen at heaven's gate to a camel attempting to slip through a needle's eye -- as well as at countless other junctures in the New Testament -- the Gospel is announced as something essentially subversive of the accustomed orders of human power, preeminence, law, social prudence, religion, and government.


Some twelve to fifteen years after the promulgation of the Liber Paradisus (the date cannot be more precisely determined than that), Thomas Aquinas put the finishing touches on that famous (or infamous) passage in the Summa Theologiae where he defends the practice of executing heretics. The argument he laid out there was quite a simple one, consisting of only two points, both of which he considered more or less incontestable. First, as regards the heretics themselves, their sin by itself warrants both excommunication and death. Second, as regards the Church, the graver evil of heresy is that it corrupts the faith, which gives life to the soul; and so, if we execute forgers for merely corrupting our currency, which can sustain only temporal life, how much more justly may we deal with convicted heretics not only by excommunicating them, but by putting them to death as well.


Now, making whatever allowances we wish for ... the good intentions of Thomas in hoping to preserve as many souls as possible out of the general ruin of this fallen world, [this] provides a perfect epitome of the spiritual contradictions inherent in Christendom ..... one of the greatest speculative minds of Western Christian tradition recommended that, when confronted by the preacher of aberrant doctrine, the Church should (albeit reluctantly) assume the role of Caiaphas, and encourage the secular arm to discharge the part of Pilate ..... Christ may indeed have stood upon the side of truth, over against the verdicts passed upon him by both Caiaphas and Pilate, but the truth to which he bore witness was among other things a very particular rule of life, a clear and concrete way of inhabiting the world, a very specific practice of the presence of God among human beings; and it was one absolutely antithetical to the violence of religious and political power.

So, granting that Thomas and his order were products of their times, still the use of coercion and murder to defend the Church cannot be anything other than a betrayal of the Gospel far graver than any mere doctrinal deviation could ever be. Thomas' argument is at once entirely consonant with the ­principles (social and moral) of Christendom, and yet entirely alien to the principles of Christianity ...


- Constantine

There's a post at Vox Nova - Living in Fear of Hell - about an article by Mark Shea - Scruples and the Fear of Hell. The Vox Nova post takes issue with some of what's in the Shea article, and I thought I would too. Shea writes ...

[...] Jesus' diagnosis is that our race is sick with sin. Hell is the fruition of a life obstinately ordered toward sinful selfishness. The endstage of sin is hell just as the endstage of cancer is death. It’s not an extra added punishment for sin. It's just what sin fully is. So it’s not something God does to us. It’s something we do to ourselves. God is not Daddy Dearest, standing there threatening to shove you into the box of scorpions forever “to teach you a lesson” if you don’t clean up your room this minute. He is the guy on the beach waving his arms and trying to get the oblivious (and contemptuous) bathers out of the surf and into the Land Rover that will speed them to high ground before the tsunami makes landfall ..... He doesn't want you to be afraid any more than you want to be afraid ..... He hates hell more than you do, because he loves you more than you do.

The argument attempts to place God within, and powerless to act against, a system that actually was created *by* God and which he stands outside of. It attempts to blame the victims for their eternal punishment (it’s not something God does to us. It’s something we do to ourselves) but the NT shows a God who does indeed send people to a scary hell against their will (Luke 16:19–31, Matthew 25:46). No argument can logically square a good God - a Jesus who preaches forgiveness, non-violence, and love - with one who forces people into an eternal and awful punishment, so these kind of arguments instead try to move the goal posts.

I guess I too go off the rails - I want to believe there *is* no hell. The difference between me and the people who justify hell is that I'd rather believe in a God who never created it than try to make him look good while having done it.

Photos from the yard

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Carl Sagan meets Umberto Eco"*

My latest book from the library is Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Here's the blurb from Publishers Weekly at the Amazon page ...

Starred Review. A present-day scientific odd couple who are longtime domestic partners, physicist Sharon Nagy and historian Tom Schwoerin, look into the fate of the Black Forest village of the title, which apparently vanished in the plague year 1348, in Flynn's heartbreaking morality play of stranded aliens in medieval Germany. Most of the narrative focuses on the consequences of the discovery in the 14th century by Eifelheim's pastor, Father Dietrich, of a crashed space ship carrying the "Krenken," horrific grasshopperlike aliens. Despite Inquisitorial threats, Dietrich befriends, baptizes and attempts to help the aliens return home. Flynn (The Wreck of the River of Stars) masterfully achieves an intricate panorama of medieval life, full of fascinatingly realized human and Krenken characters whose fates interconnect with poignant irony. Through human frailties, the very Christianity by which Dietrich hopes to save Krenken souls dooms them all.

* Wook Kim, Eifelheim, Entertainment Weekly

I'm just at the beginning of the book it's fairly interesting so far. The Black Forest, where Eifelheim was supposed to be, is one of the few places I've actually visited, though I didn't experience any aliens, only cuckoo clocks and swiss cheese sandwiches :) And also interesting: there's a Fraticelli character in the book, one of the Franciscan Spirituals who are found in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (see my past post: From Catherine of Siena to Umberto Eco ).


Kevin Hart and Ralph McInerny ...

"Poetry, Fiction, and Evangelization" a panel discussion by Kevin Hart and Ralph McInerny from ND Center for Ethics and Culture on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some poems

Nights - Kevin Hart

There’s nothing that I really want:
The stars tonight are rich and cold
Above my house that vaguely broods
Upon a path soon lost in dark.

My dinner plate is chipped all round
(It tells me that I’ve changed a lot);
My glass is cracked all down one side
(It shows there is a path for me).

My hands—I rest my head on them.
My eyes—I rest my mind on them.
There’s nothing that I really need
Before I set out on that path.

Biscuit - Jane Kenyon

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

What I Would Do - Marc Petersen

If my wife were to have an affair,
I would walk to my toolbox in the garage,
Take from it my 12" flathead screwdriver
And my hickory-handle hammer,
The one that helped me build three redwood fences,
And I would hammer out the pins
In all the door hinges in the house,
And I would pull off all the doors
And I would stack them in the backyard.
And I would empty all the sheets from the linen closet,
And especially the flannels we have slept between for
nineteen winters;
And I would empty all the towels, too,
The big heavy white towels she bought on Saturdays at
And the red bath towels we got for our wedding,
And which we have never used;
And I would unroll the aluminum foil from its box,
And carry all the pots and pans from the cupboards to the
And lay this one long sheet of aluminum foil over all our
pots and pans;
And I would dump all the silverware from the drawer
Onto the driveway; and I would push my motorcycle over
And let all its gas leak out,
And I would leave my Jeep running at the curb
Until its tank was empty or its motor blew up,
And I would turn the TV up full-blast and open all the
And I would turn the stereo up full-blast,
With Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on it,
Schiller's "Ode to Joy," really blasting;
And I would strip our bed;
And I would lie on our stripped bed;
And I would see our maple budding out the window.
I would see our maple budding out our window,
The hummingbird feeder hanging from its lowest bough.
And my cat would jump up to see what was the matter
with me.
And I would tell her. Of course, I would tell her.
From her, I hold nothing back.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Some links

- I want one! :) The Cronut Craze Goes Global

- I came across an old post at In All Things (and a link there) which reminded today of just how scary the conservative Catholic view of sex can be ;)

- a really interesting Philosophy Bites podcasr: Samuel Scheffler on the Afterlife. It's not about whether people go to heaven after death but about how important it is to those dying to believe that other people will still live on once they themselves are dead. This reminds me of the past Hugo/Nebula award winner, To Your Scattered Bodies Go , in which the earth is completely destroyed by an asteroid and aliens "save" all the people who die and resurrect them on another planet: the survivors are so deeply disturbed to learn that no one on earth has survived their own deaths.

- people in the lowest 20 percent of income levels give a larger percentage of their money to charity than the upper 20 percent - from Charitable giving: what's in it for me?. A few days ago I went through all the mail requests/ads I get for money from charities, trying to pick out the most "worthy" ones to give to. I visited GiveWell, a place that evaluates charities, but could find no animal charities listed and saw this instead ... I do not value the lives of animals equally to those of humans – not even close. I couldn’t bring myself to give money to animal welfare charities that could be spent on global health instead, given what I understand as the realistic range of cost-effectiveness for the two. ... this is one of the reasons I give to animal charities: most people will only give help to other people. Here's a better charity evaluator - Charity Navigator

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My new bed

Finally got a futon to replace my mattress ... it smells of almonds :)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Blood Rites

My latest book from the library is Blood Rites by Jim Butcher. I've read all the Dresden Files books, but had read this one only once before so I thought I'd read it again - so much that's important to the main character, wizard Harry Dresden, happens in this one. Harry is hired to work undercover on the set of a porno film, he's terribly injured by vampires, he finds out he's not alone in the world after all but has a brother, he learns his mentor has been living a double life, and he ends up adopting a dog, much to the chagrin of his cat, Mister :) ...

* * *

I felt tired. I felt afraid. And I felt alone. The puppy sat up and displayed some of the wisdom and compassion of his kind. He wobbled carefully over to me, scrambled up onto my lap, and started licking the bottom of my chin.

I petted his soft baby fur, and it gave me an unexpected sense of comfort. Sure, he was tiny, and sure, he was just a dog, but he was warm and loving and a brave little beast. And he liked me. He kept on giving me puppy kisses, tail wagging, until I finally smiled at him and roughed up his fur with one hand.

Mister wasn't about to let a mere dog outdo him. The hefty torn promptly descended from his perch on my bookshelf and started rubbing himself back and forth under my hand until I paid attention to him, too.

"I guess you aren't nothing but trouble," I told the dog. "But I already have a furry companion. Right, Mister?"

Mister blinked at me with an enigmatic cat expression, batted the puppy off the couch and onto the floor, and promptly lost interest in me. Mister flowed back down onto the floor, where the puppy rolled to his feet, tail wagging ferociously, and began to romp clumsily around the cat, thrilled with the game. Mister flicked his ears with disdain and went back up onto his bookshelf.

I laughed. I couldn't help it. The world might be vicious and treacherous and deadly, but it couldn't kill laughter. Laughter, like love, has power to survive the worst things life has to offer. And to do it with style.

* * *

Muzak ...

A song from the store today - the video is pretty neat :)

Heh :)

Area 51 Is Alive and Unwell

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Vatican overseer preaches to LCWR on Mary's submission to God

Sigh :(

Mary was a person, not a handy object lesson, and if she was going to teach us something, I don't think it would be submission .... when Jesus took off as a kid and worried his parents, she remonstrated with him ... when Jesus and his mom attended a wedding, she influenced him, despite his objections, into taking the first step on the road of his public ministry .... and when he did take to preaching, she apparently wondered if he'd lost his mind ;)

But say perhaps Mary *was* submissive to God in her agreement to be Jesus' mother - even if so, to use that example to force women to be submissive to the church is to conflate God with an all too fallible earthly institution.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Meerkats :)

Interview with Keith Ward

July 2013 at Biola University Center for Christian Thought in San Diego. Towards the end of the interview he was talking about morality - why people do what they think is right - and he said something that sounded Ignatian - "You do what is right [not out of duty, but] because you love."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Anti-gay laws world-wide

Russia has been in the news for its recent anti-gay laws ...

And that made me wonder a couple of things: are there other countries with similar laws, and if so, why do we not see mention of them in the news or mention of them by churches (as the Episcopal Church spoke out against anti-gay sentiment in Uganda: Statement In Response to the Murder of Ugandan Gay Rights Activist David Kato).

Apparently there are a lot of countries with anti-gay laws - check out this Wikipedia page or see this story - 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad As Or Worse Than Russia’s.

Here's a Pew Forum chart (click to enlarge) from their article, The Global Divide on Homosexuality ...

Raymond E. Brown

Mark at the NT Blog has a link to a site on Raymond E. Brown, Catholic biblical scholar and priest. As Wikipedia states ...

Brown was one of the first Roman Catholic scholars to apply historical-critical analysis to the Bible. As Biblical criticism developed in the 19th century, the Roman Catholic Church opposed this scholarship and essentially forbade it in 1893. In 1943, however, the Church issued guidelines by which Catholic scholars could investigate the Bible historically. Brown called this encyclical the "Magna Carta of biblical progress." Vatican II further supported higher criticism, which, Brown felt, vindicated his approach.

Brown remains controversial among traditionalist Catholics because of their claim that he denied the inerrancy of the whole of Scripture and cast doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith. Conservatives were angered at his questioning of whether the virginal conception of Jesus could be proven historically. He was regarded as occupying the center ground in the field of biblical studies, opposing the literalism found among many fundamentalist Christians while not carrying his conclusions as far as many other scholars.

Brown's specialty was the Gospel pf John. Here's one of the videos from the site ...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mystery flower

My sister gave me a bulb that has grown into this little flower, but I don't know what it is ... any ideas? ...

Schrödinger's cat: wanted dead and alive :)

The Google doodle today reminded me of an old episode of Stargate SG-1 in which Sam gives a cat named Schrödinger to Narim, an alien from a technically advanced world which no longer has animals, and explains the quantum physics thought experiment conceived of by Erwin Schrödinger ...

You can read more about it at The Christian Science Monitor - Erwin Schrödinger: Why the Google doodle celebrates him and his cat

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Artificial intelligence

Oxford's Practical Ethics blog has an interesting post - Would you hand over a moral decision to a machine? Why not? Moral outsourcing and Artificial Intelligence. Hmm - Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises is about learning how to make good decisions - would machines be able to "discern"? Here's a bit of the post ...

[...] At a recent academic workshop I attended on autonomy in military robotics, a speaker posed a pair of questions to test intuitions on this topic.
“Would you allow another person to make a moral decision on your behalf? If not, why not?” He asked the same pair of questions substituting “machine” for “a person”.

Regarding the first pair of questions, we all do this kind of moral outsourcing to a certain extent – allowing our peers, writers, and public figures to influence us. However, I was surprised to find I was unusual in doing this in a deliberate and systematic manner. In the same way that I rely on someone with the right skills and tools to fix my car, I deliberately outsource a wide range of moral questions to people who I know can answer then better than I can. These people tend to be better-informed on specific issues than I am, have had more time to think them through, and in some cases are just plain better at making moral assessments. I of course select for people who have a roughly similar world view to me, and from time to time do “spot tests” – digging through their reasoning to make sure I agree with it.

We each live at the centre of a spiderweb of moral decisions – some obvious, some subtle. As a consequentialist I don’t believe that “opting out” by taking the default course or ignoring many of them absolves me of responsibility. However, I just don’t have time to research, think about, and make sound morally-informed decisions about my diet, the impact of my actions on the environment, feminism, politics, fair trade, social equality – the list goes on. So I turn to people who can, and who will make as good a decision as I would in ideal circumstances (or a better one) nine times out of ten.

So to the second pair of questions:
“Would you allow a machine to make a moral decision on your behalf? If not, why not?”

It’s plausible that in the near future we will have artificial intelligence that for given, limited situations (for example: make a medical treatment decision, a resource allocation decision, or an “acquire military target” decision) is able to weigh up the facts for a and make as a decision or better than a human can 99.99% of the time – unclouded by bias, with vastly more information available to it.

So why not trust the machine? ...

And here's a funny video asks some related questions about AIs ...

Baby bat ...

takes a nap :) ...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spiritual direction

- Audio lecture by Fr. Geoffrey (Monty) William SJ on spiritual direction - scroll down this page to "the lecture audios: 1 and 2" and you can read the lecture here.

- Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI ...

- Fr. Richard Rohr OFM ...

Friday, August 09, 2013

Some poems

A Boat - Richard Brautigan

O beautiful
was the werewolf
in his evil forest.
We took him
to the carnival
and he started
when he saw
the Ferris wheel.
green and red tears
flowed down
his furry cheeks.
He looked
like a boat
out on the dark

Moon - William Jay Smith

I have a white cat whose name is Moon;
He eats catfish from a wooden spoon,
And sleeps till five each afternoon.

Moon goes out when the moon is bright
And sycamore trees are spotted white
To sit and stare in the dead of night.

Beyond still water cries a loon,
Through mulberry leaves peers a wild baboon,
And in Moon’s eyes I see the moon.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

US Bishops and Schüller

Schüller wraps up US tour: 'We all must speak out'

Fr. Helmut Schüller's "Catholic Tipping Point" tour of the United States ended where it began: in New York. He gave an address Wednesday evening in Manhasset and on Thursday, he visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, where he delivered thousands of red ribbons and signatures he collected in 15 cities across the nation. The original plan was to give the ribbons, which symbolize Pentecost, to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, but no one from the archdiocese was there to accept them .....

Even before Schüller stepped foot in the United States, U.S. bishops tried to block him, he said, confirming that Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and Dolan contacted Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, his bishop in Vienna, to prevent the tour. "They phoned [Schönborn] to try and stop me from coming," Schüller told NCR. O'Malley and Dolan were concerned the tour would "cause trouble," he said .....

Schüller was formally banned from speaking on Catholic property in Boston, Detroit and Chicago, and the archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, said Schüller could not speak on archdiocesan property in the city. But the Sisters of St. Joseph welcomed Schüller to the Catholic venue of Chestnut Hill College, a move Chaput later said was "regrettable." ... In his final speaking event Wednesday in Manhasset, Schüller used his experience in the United States to make his case for reform. In the United States, he said, "priests are totally reliant on the bishops for their livelihood. These are the methods of a dictatorship." Making his point, he said in Detroit, priests were forbidden to meet with him in their own homes ...

The bishops :(


- David Duchovny as the bad guy

This week's movie rental, which joins the pack of sub stories I've endured ;), from Das Boot to Last Resort, was Phantom ...

a 2013 American film about a Soviet submarine during the Cold War in the 1960s .... It stars Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner. The film tells the story of a Soviet Navy submarine captain attempting to prevent a war. It is loosely based on the real-life events involving the K-129 crisis of 1968.

I'd like to say it was good but sadly it was not ... an uninspired script and unexciting sets. The actors were all pretty good, though - Ed Harris was fine, David Duchovny was an almost believable villain, Lance Henriksen had a small part :) and William Fichtner did well too (the blind scientist in Contact) ...

Fichtner is now in what sounds like an interesting tv series - Crossing Lines - about the International Criminal Court's special crime unit, (a fictionalized unit). Based in The Hague, it investigates crimes (some serial, others not) that cross international boundaries. The unit includes an anti-mafia covert specialist from Italy, a tech specialist from Germany, a crime analyst from France, and a weapons specialist and tactical expert from Northern Ireland. - must rent it when it comes to DVD :)

But anyway, Richard Roper gave Phantom only 2 stars in his review. Here is the trailer ...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Star Trek on meat

In the news: Google's Brin funds $332K lab-grown beef hamburger, looks to make meat a sustainable resource ...

I don't doubt meat will eventually be artificially made and made well enough to pass for the original. What I wonder is if people will eat it. I'm a vegetarian and I wouldn't eat real or artificial meat, but I know people who would feel almost cheated if a living animal wasn't killed to provide their meal. It's a cultural thing and I hope we eventually get over it, for the sake of animals and for the sake of our environment as well. If Star Trek is any indication, maybe we will :) ...

Read more at Oxford U's Practical Ethics blog - Press Release: Ethical Meat

The Church isn't an apartment we've rented

A July 2013 video of a talk in Chicago by Fr. Helmut Schuller. ....

And the questions and answers that followed ...

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Clergy vampire romance novels :)

Speaking of books, I saw a post at the Daily Episcopalian - Safe, not sterile: discussing sex at church - by an Episcopal priest, Amber Belldene, who also writes vampire romance novels ... Blood Vine . I haven't read any of her books so I can't opine on their worth, but I'm intrigued by priest-written novels. The only others I've read have been some mystery novels about a Jesuit, these, by Brad Reynolds SJ.

The Man Who Folded Himself and my story too

I'm now reading The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. From Wikipedia ...

The Man Who Folded Himself is a 1973 science fiction novel by David Gerrold that deals with time travel. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1973 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1974. The book explores the psychological, physical, and personal challenges that manifest when time travel is possible for a single individual at the touch of a button.

The book is ok but it seems a little too much like a thought experiment on the paradoxes inherent in time travel and I'm having trouble empathizing with the main character. Still, it may be worth a read if you like time travel.

A few years ago I wrote a short story with a time-travel theme myself - here it is, for those who might be interested ....


Rick Logan sat slumped on the couch in his shabby apartment, staring with amused disbelief at the flickering screen of the TV.

"Physicists like Stephen Hawking have theorized the existence of wormholes and closed time loops, actual portals through which matter can travel backward through time. Although, phenomena like extreme heat and gravity would render the trip lethal for any organism," commented Special Agent Fox Mulder to his car's passenger as they drove through the rainy night.

Rick loved old episodes of the X-Files and this, Synchrony, was one of his favorites. Ironic that a re-run on time travel was playing the very night he planned to travel back in time himself.

He glanced at his watch. Switching off the set, he picked up his prosthesis, attaching it firmly to the stump of his right knee. He then retrieved his Glock and checked the clip ... fourteen rounds plus one in the chamber. That should be sufficient to save Phillip's life. And, Rick added grimly, to end the life of the man responsible for his partner's death. He reached a shaking hand for the half empty bottle of vodka, hesitated, let his hand fall away. He'd wait.

Rick pushed open the glass door of Stanford University's Physics Research Center and walked toward the elevators, waving to the security guard stationed behind the lobby's desk.

"Hey, Mr. Logan. Why're you here so late?" The guard, more interested in the sports page's box scores than in a member of one of the research teams dropping by unexpectedly, hardly listened to Rick's reply.

"Left something in the lab. I'll be out of your hair in a couple of minutes." As Rick entered an elevator, he smiled - the guard had already forgotten him. In moments he was in the lab, opening the locked door with his ID card. He deftly pushed a number of buttons on a computer console and the room began to hum as machinery awoke. While he waited impatiently for the time travel module to open, he thought about how this had all come to pass.

Nearly a year ago, he and his partner, San Francisco homicide inspector Phillip Crane, had been ambushed at the ruins of the Sutro Baths while following up a lead on a case. He'd lost his leg, Phillip lost his life. Rick had been taken off the case, put on disability, and that's when the bottle had become his new best friend. Survivor's guilt, the department shrink had called it.

The one bright spot in his personal vortex of doom had been Barry. A friend since college, Barry had dragged him back from the brink with an offer of a new job, one Rick instantly recognized as giving him a chance to rewrite history - his and Phillip's.

Barry belonged to a research group at Stanford that had managed to take time travel from theory to actuality. Barry spoke of wormholes, closed timelike curves, four dimensional space-time ... none of it had made sense to Rick, but he could see that Barry believed in it and he believed in Barry. He had to.

The research group was ready to send a human subject back in time. Only two problems remained - choosing an historical event to observe and finding the right observer. The field of events had been narrowed down to three - the shooting of JFK, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the accidental death of Princess Diana. The big money in the lab's pool had been on the grassy knoll but against all odds, Jesus had won.

Rick's reminiscing was interrupted as the heavy stainless steel door of the time travel module slowly hissed open. He entered. As he checked flickering instrument panels, he saw that the readouts of the digital displays showed the module was already programmed with the date and place of Christ's resurrection. He opened the notebook he'd brought along and scanned the instructions. He'd have to reprogram ... enter the time and place of Phillip's death. As he flipped the pages of the notebook, his mind drifted back once more.

It had been Barry's idea to hire Rick as the research group's observer. Barry argued that the ex-cop had the necessary intelligence and knew how to take care of himself. Rick believed they'd finally chosen him, however, because of his drinking problem - they felt they could control him, discredit him, if necessary. And if things went completely south and he didn't return from the trip alive, he had no one who'd miss him enough to ask troublesome questions. Plausible deniability was the bottom line in a place with government contracts.

"What the hell are you doing with my notebook?" Rick was jerked back to the present, his head snapping up, as Dr. Mary Brooks, the group's multi-degreed researcher, snatched back the notebook. "And why have you turned on the module?"

Rick didn't bother to answer the professor but simply decked her with a punch. Catching her limp body, he lifted her out of the module and recovered the notebook, returning to his task. The group had scheduled the trip back to Christ's resurrection for a month from today, giving Rick time to learn how to use the remote navigational device and to absorb cultural and language skills sufficient to matriculate in first century Jerusalem. But Rick had never planned to follow through. Now that he understood the module's workings, he was ready to pursue his own agenda. He wouldn't need Aramaic to save Phillip's life and he had no use for the remote nav device because he had no plans to come back.

Just as he reached out to reprogram the module, a shadow fell over him and he turned to see an outraged Dr. Brooks swinging a computer keyboard at his head. He grabbed for Brooks, but didn't duck quickly enough and the two of them, tangled together, fell heavily against the programming panel. The last things Rick heard as he lost consciousness were the sounds of the module's door clanging shut and of Dr. Brooks swearing.


Rick waited. He didn't wait well. It gave him too much time to think. His thoughts, now, were of how terribly wrong his plan had gone. He took a deep breath of the cool morning air and struggled into a more comfortable seated position against the rough stone of the city's well. Pulling the fabric of his stolen robe into place, he glared at Dr. Mary Brooks.

He hadn't had a chance to reprogram the module before she'd accosted him. The place and date originally laid in - the tomb of Christ and the time of his resurrection - had been skewed when he and Brooks fell against the instrument panel. They'd ended up in Magdala, a city on the sea of Galilee, and they were years too early for the resurrection.

A local woman stopped at the well, filling a large ceramic jar, and gave them a suspicious glance. Brooks said something in fluent Aramaic and the woman, reassured, left them in peace. "He should be here any time now!" said the professor. Not sharing her enthusiasm, Rick merely grunted and went back to his thoughts.

The first thing he'd done when they'd recovered from their arrival, stunned and retching from the enormous speed and gravitational forces to which they'd been subjected, was to check his prosthesis and his weapon. Next he'd scanned the remaote navigational device Dr. Brooks clutched in one hand - she'd had the presence of mind to snatch the device as they began the transition - it appeared to be functioning properly. The device could envelope them in a temporal field, no matter what their distance in time or space from the time travel module in the lab. He'd then tried to convince Dr. Brooks to use the device to send him back to the where and when of his original destination - the moment of Phillip's death - but she'd refused.

Since he was insufficiently trained for the job, she'd decided to complete the mission herself - meet Jesus, become a disciple, be there when the moment in question occurred. The fact that this would take years didn't faze her - no matter how long they stayed, they'd still return to the lab only moments after they'd left. If Rick had understood how to work the remote nav device, he would have taken it from Brooks then and abandoned her. But he didn't. So he waited ...


Blinking in confusion, Rick realized that he'd fallen asleep. Standing over him were Brooks and a stranger. Struggling awkwardly to his feet, his gaze was caught by her expression. The Brooks he'd come to know was cold and driven, but now she glowed. Her smile was filled with something he'd never seen in her before - hope. She reached out a hand and squeezed his arm in a friendly and uncharacteristic manner.

Puzzled, Rick turned to the man at her side. Was this really Jesus? Rick tried to wrap his mind around the idea that this man was supposedly the Son of God. He was having a hard time with it ... he'd expected someone more imposing, taller maybe. What he saw instead was a man not unlike himself ... no stranger to suffering. But there was a difference between the two of them, Rick acknowledged. This man had a vulnerability and warmth that issued a gently compelling invitation. And those eyes, the mystery that lay within them ...

"Rick, I'm not going back."

Startled, it took Rick a moment to process what Brooks had said. "You're not going back - ever? But, what about ..."

Before Rick could finish, the stranger reached out to him, spoke quietly. Rick didn't understand Aramaic but he got the gist of it. The man was asking Rick to remain with them and there was something more intended - perhaps an offer of healing. Rick gazed into those strange eyes and then stumbled backwards, shaking his head. He didn't realize how much he'd wanted this until it was proffered. But he couldn't accept. If he remained here, Phillip would never get the second chance he deserved. Blinded by bitter tears, Rick lurched away from Brooks and the stranger.

As he tried to regain his composure, he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. Then he heard Brooks say, "I've reprogrammed the remote nav device according to your specifications." He turned to see her holding it out to him. "Good luck, Rick."


Rick stood on the dark shore of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, rain splashing against his face. It was 3:00 am. He scanned the distant ruins of the Sutro Baths. A Victorian bathing palace built into the cave-riddled ocean cliffs in 1896, it had once served 24,000 swimmers as well as housing restaurants and museums. It had burned in 1966 and now only the remnants survived - deep sea-water filled pits and skeletal concrete beams. This was where Phillip had died.

Rick approached the ruins and then ducked into the mouth of a nearby cave as he spotted a car - Phillip's car. That night almost a year ago, Rick had been on the way to Phiilip's home to fill him in on some late-breaking developments in their case. As he'd approached, he'd seen Phillip drive from his garage with a screech and tear off down the quiet street like a bat out of hell. Filled with foreboding, Rick had followed. By the time he'd reached the ruins, Phillip was already dead. As he'd bent, desolate, over his partner's body, he'd also been shot.

Rick shook the memory from his mind and stared in wonder from the cave - he saw not only his partner but his very own past self exit Phillip's car. But how ... ? Then he remembered, Brooks had warned him about this - that because of her remaining in the past, in the first century, the present/future time-line was likely to be corrupted or changed in some ways.

Rick gasped as a gunshot rang out and he saw Phillip fall, saw his past self duck. A dark ski-masked figure advanced on the inspectors, still shooting, and Rick saw his other self pull Phillip behind a concrete beam just before he too was shot. Cursing himself for hanging back, Rick raced toward the ruins, unholstering his weapon. The shooter saw him and faded into another cave but Rick had eyes only for his partner. Phillip lay unmoving but as Rick reached him and put a hand to his neck, he was rewarded with a pulse.

But where was the other Rick? Crouching low, he searched the immediate area and then froze. When shot, his past self must have fallen into one of the deep watery pits connected to the ocean, for he saw his doppelganger floating face down there in the surf-filled ruins. Rick watched as the body was swiftly sucked out to sea. He shuddered - this part of the Pacific Ocean, known as the red triangle, was a hunting ground for great white sharks - he doubted the body would ever be found.

Pushing wet hair back from his face, he returned to Phillip. His original plan had been to save his partner and destroy his would-be murderer but now that he was reliving the moment, Rick no longer felt the need for revenge - all that mattered was helping his partner. As he began to lift Phillip in his arms, something hard and cold was pressed into his spine.

"Get up, Rick."

Rick slowly rose, a sick feeling in his stomach. He recognized the voice. The shooter, his gun held on Rick, pulled off the ski mask. All Rick could think of to say was, "Why, Barry?"

"First, your gun." Rick handed over the Glock and Barry began to explain. "Science ... I did it all for science." Rick shook his head, not understanding. Barry continued, "The research group was so close to finishing the time travel module. I won't go into the details - the very fact that you're here now means you must know about the experiment. All we needed was a source of energy roughly as powerful as a planetary body. A scientist at Berkeley found a way to harness Strange Matter and I believed that would do the trick."

Rick realized Barry was talking about the murder case he and Phillip had investigated a year ago - Dr. Grimes, a Berkeley physicist, and his wife, had been killed in their home. Rick had pegged the wife's lover as the murderer but Phillip hadn't been convinced.

"I see you understand. I didn't mean to kill Grimes - he and his wife came home before I found his research journal. It would've been fine but for your partner who figured the whole thing out. I was arrested. While out on bail, I broke into the lab, made the necessary modifications to the module based on Grimes journal, and went back in time to before my arrest. I called Phillip, told him to meet me here, that I had information about his case. I killed him, wounded you. Feeling guilty about crippling you, I helped you get a job with the research group. But eventually, you figured out the truth as well. So I decided to come back in time once more and kill the both of you."

Numbed by this callous confession, Rick analyzed his chances of overpowering Barry. Suddenly, he was thrown backwards with the impact of Barry's body, a gunshot ringing in his ears. He struggled out from under the dead weight of his former friend while a couple of plainclothes cops ran towards them. As one of them radioed for the paramedics, Rick realized that in this time-line, Phillip must have had the presence of mind to call for backup.


Rick closed the door to Phillip's room and walked down the hospital corridor, holding the remote navigational device. It was now defunct. He supposed this was because Barry had died in this time-line before finishing the module. Rick's mind spun with the various temporal paradoxes of time travel, not to mention the problem of how to explain to his partner why he now had only one leg. He shrugged. All he cared about was that, in this particular present, Phillip was alive. He passed by the door of the hospital chapel and paused, remembering the invitation given him by the man he'd met in Magdala. Maybe it wasn't too late to accept. He opened the door.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Video: Fr. Helmut Schuller

A July 27, 2013 talk by Fr. Helmut Schuller of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative during his tour of the US. I really liked what he had to say, especially in his answers to questions at the end of the talk :)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Let the dead bury the dead and Russian churches

- Letting the Dead Bury the Dead by Ed Kilgore ...

[...] His [Timothy Dolan's] transfer of all that money into cemetery funds was deemed “shocking” by the Editors of the New York Times because it was clearly intended to keep it out of the hands of plaintiffs in 575 separate lawsuits against the Milwaukee archdiocese alleging sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Now that the archdiocese has filed for bankruptcy protection, it has sought in court to claim a religious liberty right to keep the transferred money off the table in the resolution of creditors’ claims, and Judge Rudolph Randa has agreed, citing the Catholic belief in the Resurrection of the Body as privileging the cemetery fund.

So victims of clerical abuse will not secure justice, but cemeteries will be well-tended.

The decision and the publicity around it is going to be a public relations nightmare for Dolan and the American Catholic Hierarchy, and perhaps even the Vatican. I’m sure we will often hear, as we should, the words of Jesus (Luke 9:60) to a believer who begged for time to bury his father before following Christ to Jerusalem:

Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

- A story today in TIME magazine - 7 Things Edward Snowden Should Do in Russia. I thought I would add a few things to their list . The article says he'sa Buddhist but he still might enjoy the art and architecture of places like ...

- Saint Basil's Cathedral and Resurrection Gate and chapel in Moscow. Here's a view of St. Basil's seen through Resurrection Gate ...

- and in St. Petersburg he might check out Saint Isaac's Cathedral ...

And the Church of the Savior on Blood ....

Thursday, August 01, 2013

For today

- St. Ignatius Cupcakes :)

- Bishop Gene Robinson comments in TIME on what the pope said: The Pope's Baby Step on Gays

- Unbelievable: apparently the defense to fraudulently concealing money in a bankruptcy case from rightful claimants is being a church, and so Dolan gets away with stiffing sex abuse victims. Federal Judge: Catholic Church Has A Constitutional Right Not To Compensate Victims Of Sex Abuse

- From The New Yorker: In Defense of Leakers: Snowden and Manning

- Finally, trying to decide what book to ger next at the library: 2313 by Kim Robinson or Perdido Street Station by China Mieville or The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey. I think all won Nebula or Hugo awards. Any recommendations?