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Friday, October 30, 2015

When Vampires Stalked the Earth

Almost Halloween. Here's the very first short story I ever wrote - around 2002, I think. It was for an online writers BBS challenge in the area of science fiction ....

When Vampires Stalked the Earth

2036 AD

Dylan crouched behind a fallen table in the deserted genetics lab at Stanford University. The reek of freshly spilled formaldehyde was overpowering and he cursed his clumsiness. That mistake would probably cost him his life for he was sure they'd heard the explosive sound of breaking bottles, that it would be only minutes before the vampires who'd taken his sister would find his location.

As he crept quietly past smashed lab equipment towards the door, he corrected himself - they weren't really vampires in the normal sense, but victims of the disease of porphyria. Unfortunately, the distinction was moot. Avoiding the light of day, they relentlessly hunted their victims, searching in the evening hours for the blood meal that would keep the terrible symptoms of their affliction at bay. And now, his sister was with these creatures.

Dylan reached the door and, after checking the hallway, began to run for the lab's nearest exit. He'd been tracking these particular vampires for weeks, ever since his sister had been kidnapped by them. But now, when he'd almost found their lair, they'd be alerted to his presence. He'd have to retreat, regroup. As he slowly pushed the door to the outside open, there was a sound from behind him and before he could turn he crumpled under a blow to his head.

Darkness slowly resolved itself into what looked like another dimly-lit, defunct area of the genetics lab, this one a procedure room. Dylan groaned and tried unsuccessfully to sit up. He realized he was restrained in some way, flat on his back on an examination table. He felt a fatigue that was crushing and there was something wrong with his leg. Twisting his head painfully to one side, he was just able to make out a contraption attached to one of his ankles. Understanding dawned as his saw his life's blood being pumped out, with every beat of his heart, through a transparent tube.

"I see you're awake."

A older man sat in a chair across the room. Next to him on the floor was a large glass bottle filling slowly with Dylan's blood. He couldn't be a vampire, Dylan thought, he was too old. But then why ...?

"I'm Dr. Archer, son. What's your name?" When Dylan refused to reply the man sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about all of this." He waved his hand at the bottle of blood by his side.

"Your not one of them. You don't need my blood, and even if you did, there are quicker ways to drain a body."

"I'm taking it slowly so we'll have some time to talk. It's not often I meet someone born before the change. And as for the blood, it's for my grandson. He has the affliction and I think he's dying. If he has your blood, maybe he can hold on until ... until my research is done."

What research, Dylan wondered. "And that makes it all right?"

"No. It doesn't. I've done things I never would have thought myself capable of before the change. But I guess conventional morality is just another casualty of what happened thirty-five years ago."

Through the beginnings of a lethargy induced by blood loss, Dylan thought about what had happened back then. He had only been five years old when things had gone south and his sister had not yet been born. If this man truly was a doctor, maybe he had some answers. It couldn't hurt to ask. "If you know what caused all this, tell me. It's the least you can do."

Dr. Archer nodded and stood slowly, beginning to pace the room as he spoke. "I had just finished my residency then, genetics was my area of interest, but even here at Stanford, we weren't really sure what had happened." Dylan tiredly closed his eyes and let the older man's voice carry him along.

"I expect by now you know all about porphyria - the hereditary disease caused by a defect in an enzyme on the heme biosynthetic pathway. The symptoms are many and severe, including abdominal pain, seizures, nerve damage, photo-toxicity and of course, eventual madness. The only true cure is the consumption of blood." Dylan knew this all too well because of his sister.

The doctor stopped pacing to stare sightlessly through the cracks of a small, boarded-up window. "Thirty-five years ago, that disease suddenly morphed, evolved. Within a year, nearly every child born on this planet had porphyria. They believed that almost the whole world's population had been infected by a virus, a virulently contagious virus that had targeted the germ line cells leading to a mutation in the human gene that causes porphyria. I don't know if that's true but that's the thread I'm following with my research."

How the man could conduct research here was a mystery to Dylan. The university had been shut down years ago, the lab had obviously been plundered many times. He sighed. All that mattered was that life as it had been known had changed and not for the better. He'd only been a kid, but he remembered the doomed progression of events. First there'd been disbelief and denial, then heroic medical and social efforts to find a cure, and to adjust.

Despite everything, though, society had begun to collapse. No one had counted on the lengths people would go to to save the lives of their afflicted children. And no one had counted on the destructive force of a generation driven insane with the lust for blood.

Many had committed suicide and some had just given up and let nature do them in. The strong and the ruthless were the ones that had survived and they'd created a culture unrecognizable in it's ferocity and nihilism to those born before the change.

The doctor walked back to Dylan and checked the intravenous tubing at his ankle. "It will be over soon, son." He gave the younger man a friendly pat on the leg and then sat down once more. Perhaps out of loneliness, perhaps to pass the time left, he asked, "So what's your story?"

Dylan bit back his first response. No point in recriminations now. He knew he was bleeding out and he felt an almost overwhelming desire to give in to this fate. He'd never been a happy person and had only managed to endure this long because of Wendy, his little sister. Her tenacious will to live despite her illness had somehow anchored him to a life he'd found otherwise meaningless. He had to stay alive as long as there was a chance to save her.

His attention was suddenly caught by a noise from outside the room. It sounded like the creaking of an old wooden floor under the careful application of a person's weight ... someone was approaching this room, someone who didn't want to be heard. He realized this might be the one opportunity he would have to escape and the renewal of hope was painful in it's intensity. Dylan glanced quickly at the doctor but he didn't seem to have heard anything. If he could keep the other man distracted, there might be a chance to get away after all.

"You want to know my story?" Dylan responded. "Sure, why not?" With one ear cocked towards the door, he began. He described a personal life lived out against the backdrop of a growing societal chaos. At first things hadn't been so bad. The government had instituted a free health care system, had regulated the distribution of hematin and heme arginate for those with the disease. But there were too many who were sick and not enough doctors, hospitals, drugs.

"As you know, it wasn't long before the families of those with the disease became desperate. Animals were the first to go - wild ones hunted almost into extinction for their blood, domesticated ones slaughtered or hoarded for repeated bloodlettings. Soon only the rich could afford to own a living creature and eventually even people became enslaved for their blood.

"When I was ten, my sister was born with porphyria. My parents were poor but did what they could for her, even draining their own blood, little by little, to sustain her. Before they died, they entrusted her care to me. I've tried ... " Dylan had to pause to regain his composure.

"As the years went by, those born before the change, those who remembered what an ordered society had been like, began to perish and with them perished the last remnants of normality. The madness drove those infected to unspeakable lengths in order to survive and no one was safe. I finally took my sister to the mountains, to a place near Desolation Peak, not far from where the Donner party had stopped for lunch. We've been barely surviving in an abandoned cabin up there ever since."

"What brought you back to the city?" asked the doctor curiously.

"One day when I was out looking for food, some vampires found the cabin, took my sister with them. I've been trying to find her ever since. I think their lair is somewhere here on the campus."

"Your sister's one of them, right? Maybe she went with them of her own free will, wanted to be with her own kind."

Dylan felt his heart thump painfully against his chest and he forced himself to regain his calm. Getting upset would only hasten his death. "No! She wouldn't leave me like that ..."

Dylan's words were interrupted by the sudden crash of the door being kicked in and a ragged group of four vampires descended upon them. As Dylan watched with a mixture of horror and hope, three of the creatures ran for the doctor and his bottle of blood. The other slowly advanced on him, peering with amused interest at the blood-letting equipment attached to his ankle.

Above the background noise of shrieks and thuds from across the room, the vampire pointed to Dylan's ankle. "It looks like the old man has done our work for us." The creature leaned over him, his fetid breath a miasma between them. Dylan barely had time to notice the skin lesions and reseeded lips of his admirer before that person and the examination table on which Dylan lay were abruptly flung against the wall, accompanied by a blast of sound.

His restraints loosened by the fall, Dylan tore the tubing from his ankle and shakily got to his feet. The vampire lay quiet below him, a smoking hole the size of an orange in his back. Dylan's head snapped up at a repeat of that roaring sound and he saw the doctor blow away another of the creatures with a shotgun. The two vampires so far unharmed gave up the fight and ran from the room.

Dylan stumbled over to the disheveled doctor, his ankle leaving a trail of blood. Staring down at the dead creature at the doctor's feet, he slowly crumpled to his knees, shaking hands reaching out to gently stroke the hair back form his sister's blood-flecked face.

Unaware of the doctor's worried stare, Dylan, feeling a strange sense of peace for the first time since he was a boy, lay himself down next to Wendy and, holding her close, allowed himself to finally let go.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The theologians' letter about Douthat

Reading a couple of posts about the letter from Catholic theologians to The New York Times criticizing their conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat ... Theology and Hate by James Martin SJ, and Ross Douthat, Vatican II Catholic at dotCommonweal.

What's the dust-up all about?

Here's the letter sent by the theologians to the Times (check the link to see the signatories) ...

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

Here's the article by Douthat mentioned in the letter - The Plot to Change Catholicism

The heresy thing mentioned in the letter refers to a twitter exchange between Douthat and Massimo Faggioli in which Doubhat implied that Faggioli's opinion that divorced/remarried should be allowed to receive communion was heretical.

I think there are two issues involved ...

1) Who has the right to opine about the church? ...

The short answer is 'anyone'. The letter from the theologians to the Times stated ... Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject ... but as James Martin SJ mentions in his post on the subject ... the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium states that laypeople are ‘sometimes duty bound’ to speak ‘on matters concerning the good of the church.’

2) What do people have the right to say when discussing church dogma, doctrines, practices? ...

The short answer is 'anything'. The letter from the theologians also states ... accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. ... Douthat is a very conservative Catholic, and there's nothing traditionalists love more than harking back to the day when the church had the power to burn "heretics" at the stake. But of course there are no longer any heretics - the word is an anachronism. The idea that the CDF would begin an investigation into silencing a theologian based on a twitter insult by a writer at the Times is just silly (and come on - the head of the CDF himself, Ludwig Müller, just agreed to the aforementioned "heretical" stance at the recent synod).

So, do we moderates/liberals dislike Douthat's conservative opinions and is it mean to call someone a heretic? Yes. But should the theologians have written to his boss? I think they overreacted.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Some music :)

More on the synod

Two more articles from Jesuit Thomas Reese and one by Frank Bruni of the New York Times on the synod ...

Synod on remarried Catholics, consensus in ambiguity

[...] What is remarkable about the three paragraphs dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics is that the words Communion and Eucharist never appear. Yes, that’s right, they never mention Communion as a conclusion of this internal forum process.

So what does it mean? A conservative might interpret it as closed to Communion because it was not mentioned in the text. A liberal might interpret it as including Communion since it is not explicitly excluded in the text.

I think that the truth is that Communion was not mentioned because that was the only way the paragraphs could get a two-thirds majority. Like the Second Vatican Council, the synod achieved consensus through ambiguity. This means that they are leaving Pope Francis free to do whatever he thinks best ....

If a brother, why not a sister in the synod?

If a religious brother can be a voting member of the synod of bishops, why can't a religious sister?

This was the question I asked Br. Herve Janson who is the first voting member of the synod of bishops who is not a bishop or priest. He is the superior general of the Little Brothers of Jesus and was selected by the International Union of Superiors General to be one of their 10 representatives at the synod. All the rest are priests.

Theologically and canonically, he is are no different from the superior of a women's religious order, except for his gender. He is not a cleric. He is not ordained. As one of my Jesuit brothers used to say to people who thought all Jesuits are priests, "think of me as a male nun."

So how exactly did Br. Janson get in? What is the rationale for his being admitted to the synod and for women religious not being admitted to the synod? .....

What Family Really Means

[...] Are most Catholics even paying attention [to the synod] ?

We in the media are drawn to these doctrinal wars and the hushed, cloaked deliberations inside the Vatican.

People in the pews are less rapt. The warmth and respect they feel for the current pope doesn’t translate into any obeisance to church edict.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, only one in three American Catholics believes that it’s sinful to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage. Only one in five believes that it’s sinful to get a divorce.

While 44 percent of the respondents in that poll frowned on sexual relations between two men or two women, 39 percent didn’t.

And while respondents clearly viewed a family headed by a father and a mother who are married to each other as the ideal, most of them did not view it as the only acceptable situation. More than 80 percent were O.K. with divorced parents, single parents or unmarried parents living together. More than 65 percent were O.K. with gay or lesbian parents.

That openness to a variety of arrangements is sometimes described — by religious leaders, by social conservatives — as a drift away from morality, a sad surrender to an anything-goes ethos.

But the truth is more complicated and less somber than that .....

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Updated: The end of the synod

Update - The synod's final report is out. As conservative Damian Thompson writes ...

The final report of the Synod encourages pastors to ‘accompany’ divorced and remarried Catholics as they ‘discern’ their culpability – on a case-by-case basis, as not every divorced Catholic is equally guilty (very true, but a point already made by St John Paul). However, there’s no mention of readmitting them to communion. If I were a Catholic in this situation, I wouldn’t read the report as giving me any sort of permission to receive the sacrament, though I might – with a leap of the imagination assisted by liberal Catholic journalists – recognise the tiniest of steps in that direction.

As for homosexuality – no change at all. How could there be, when the most powerful African bishop, Cardinal Robert Sarah, described gay rights and ISIS as twin evils threatening Christendom? (I’m sick of pointing this out, but opposing homophobia in the Church is not high on Pope Francis’s agenda. Fighting gay marriage is.) ....

But the conservatives won’t regard this as a famous victory, and the liberals won’t despair. That’s because Francis, so far as we can tell, supports some form of pastoral change and he is, after all, the Pope.

NCR offers a more optimistic view of the final report - Synod offers striking softening to remarried, proposing individual discernment

Read more about the final report here - Synod report urges ‘accompaniment’ tailored to family situations and check here as Crux translates the report.

Now, my original earlier post ....

A couple of articles on the end of the synod ... Where were the voting women at the Synod? by Fr. James Martin SJ and Drafting committee cardinal: Synod will not provide Communion path for remarried by Joshua J. McElwee.

First, from Fr. Martin: he mentions a question asked by Thomas Reese SJ at a synod press briefing ...

[T]his morning something very disturbing was revealed, thanks to a perceptive question by Thomas J. Reese, SJ, former editor in chief of America and currently a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Brother Herve Janson, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, an order noted for its poverty and simplicity, was one of the participants at the daily press briefing. It was noted that he was also a voting member.

Father Reese asked, rightly, “What is the rationale for you being admitted to the Synod and religious women not being admitted to the Synod? (The exchange can be seen on the video below, starting at 42:00)

What does that mean? Basically, Brother Janson is not ordained. Some may not be aware of this tradition, but you can be a member of a men’s religious order and not be ordained: thus the term “Brother.” Brother Janson is neither a bishop, nor a priest, nor a deacon. Technically, his canonical “status” in the church is that of a layman. That is, he has the same “status” as that of a woman religious, or in common parlance, a Catholic sister. And the same status as a laywoman as well.

In response to Father Reese’s question, which produced some uncomfortable laughter from the other panelists (who immediately grasped the challenging nature of the question): Brother Janson said (my translation from the French): “That is a big question….I felt very uncomfortable (malaise)….Before, the distinction was between cleric and lay. And now, it became between man and woman, exactly as you said very well….I asked myself the same question.” Strikingly, Brother Janson said he thought of refusing (renoncer) the invitation to be a voting member, out of solidarity with women religious. (This exchange can be viewed at 42:00 in the video below.)

This is a serious failure for the Synod. Previously, at least as far as I had known, it seemed that ordination was a prerequisite for voting. That is, there were priests who were appointed, in addition to the bishops, as voting members. There were strong theological arguments that could be advanced for that: it was a synod of bishops, and, in Catholic theology, priests participate in the ministry of the bishop through the sacrament of holy orders.

Now, it seems that the prerequisite for being a voting member was not ordination, but being a man ..... For me this is the worst kind of sexism ....

And this about the results of the synod from NCR's McElwee ....

One of the prelates responsible for drafting the final document from the ongoing Synod of Bishops has said he does not anticipate that it will propose changes in the Catholic church's practices towards the divorced and remarried.

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias -- one of ten prelates who co-drafted the document after three-weeks of intense deliberations among some 270 bishops at the Oct. 4-25 Synod -- said in particular that one specific proposal that might have allowed the remarried to take Communion would likely not be mentioned.

That proposal would have suggested that the church could use what is called the “internal forum” to allow some remarried persons to take the Eucharist on a private, case-by-case basis after seeking guidance, advice, and then permission from priests or bishops. "I don't expect that," said Gracias, speaking in an NCR interview Thursday. "I think this has got to be studied." ....

Three weeks of deliberating on all the big issues brought up in the Vatican's pre-synod survey, issues over which a majority of Catholics dissent from church teaching .... contraception, marriage equality, cohabitation, women's ordination, communion for divorced/remarrieds ...and the synod fathers have come up with nothing, not even the token "change" of openly allowing divorced/remarrieds to do what is already discretely done - receive communion with the ok of a nice priest. And, of course, as I wrote in my post about the synod's beginning, the synod has shown the world exactly how little value the church sees in women.

Moderates will spin the synod as a victory for collegiality ... the bishops all talked to each other and listened to each other. Good for them. Meanwhile, the people they should have been talking to and listening to are still screwed .... the LGBT folks who must not have romantic relationships, the women who can't even be deacons much less priests, the divorced/remarrieds who are treated like moral failures.

Now the Pope will have a chance to make a decision about the bishops' synod non-proposals. I fear he'll choose a wheel-spinning gesture ... perhaps a commission to "study" the issues further :(

Friday, October 23, 2015

Daniel Craig on James Bond

Read an interview today - Daniel Craig on James Bond.

I do like Daniel Craig, especially in the films Munich and Copenhagen, but I'm not a fan of the James Bond movie series. I've only seen one of the Craig Bond films and the only Bond movie I really liked was The Living Daylights ... even that one was silly but at least Timothy Dalton's Bond wasn't as much of a sexist as is typical for the series. And there was A-ha doing the song :)

Anyway, here's a bit from Craig on Bond and the woman thing ...

THE RED BULLETIN: Speaking of women, many men admire Bond for his way with the ladies …

DANIEL CRAIG: But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.

THE RED BULLETIN: What about you? Are you the kind of guy who sticks around?

DANIEL CRAIG: Well, I’ve been married for four years.

THE RED BULLETIN: Bond has actually become a bit more chivalrous in the most recent films, hasn’t he?

DANIEL CRAIG: That’s because we’ve surrounded him with very strong women who have no problem putting him in his place.

THE RED BULLETIN: And this time you’ve gone one better, showing 007 succumbing to the charms of an older woman.

DANIEL CRAIG: I think you mean the charms of a woman his own age. We’re talking about Monica Bellucci, for heaven’s sake. When someone like that wants to be a Bond girl, you just count yourself lucky! .....

Don't know if anyone remembers, but in 2011, Craig made this video for International Women's Day ....

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Paradise Lost

I'm re-watching season 2 of Sleepy Hollow, and in tonight's episode, Paradise Lost, Abbie meets an angel, Orion, who has just escaped purgatory after being imprisoned there for the last 200 years. He is presented as the angel that George Washington supposedly saw in a vision at Valley Forge. Abbie's so curious that she can't help nut ask him a few questions .....

Abbie: I would kick myself if I didn't ask this. What's He like? If He is a He and not a She.

Orion: By "He" you mean...

Abbie: Mm-hmm. The Almighty, Yahweh, Jehovah, or whatever name you'd use.

Orion: The concept of names does not apply. Neither does the concept of gender. All there is, is what is. You'll never be satisfied by my answers.

Abbie: No, not if you answer like that. Come on. Does heaven exist? Why are we here? Did creation really take seven days?

Orion: No.

Abbie: "No" to creation taking a week, or "no," you won't answer? How about dinosaurs? You ever seen a dinosaur?

Orion: Before my time. But I didn't always walk the Earth. I served in the Angelic Host for a long time.

Abbie: Served, as past tense? So you're off the reservation?

Orion: I broke ranks. It was not an easy decision.

Abbie: I can't begin to imagine.

Later she and Ichabod learn that Orion is an angel of destruction as things go terribly wrong.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The synod: spinning its wheels

Another post by Jesuit Thomas Reese on the synod - Synod ends where it began, in disagreement. Here's some of Fr. Reese's post ....

With time running out, the synodal fathers appear no closer to resolving their conflicts over issues facing the family than they were a year ago. One of the principal sticking points is over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who do not have an annulment. Another controversy is over the language to be used in speaking about homosexuals ....

One group of bishops, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, would like to see a pastoral solution that would allow a penitential process leading to Communion for such Catholics but .... Kasper does not have the votes in the synod for his solution ....

Meanwhile, bishops are talking about pastoral outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics that does not include Communion. They are using words like “accompany,” “listen,” and “welcome.” This has been caricatured as “You are welcome to come into our house, but you can’t eat dinner with us.”


In the West, there is also some support for modifying the church’s approach to homosexuals. Let’s be clear: No bishop is talking about blessing gay marriages. Nor are any bishops talking about the positive aspects of these relationships as they did at the last synod .... On the other hand, some bishops are obsessive in their opposition to homosexuality. Some still see it as a lifestyle choice. Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, a lay auditor and head of the Association of Catholic Doctors in Romania, gave an impassioned speech at the synod linking homosexuality and Marxism while arguing that homosexuals can be cured ....

The bishops are currently trapped in the old theology they learned in the seminary. They are afraid of new ideas and are not consulting with theological experts who could show them other options. As a result, it is unlikely that new pastoral approaches will be coming forth from this synod ...

I won't be surprised if the synod does end without any progress having been made. From the start the Pope has maintained no doctrines would be changed and the bishops and cardinals have ignored the results of the pre-synod Vatican survey which showed a majority of Catholics around the world disagreed with and ignored church teaching on contraception, divorce, marriage equality, sex outside marriage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (The Thrawn Trilogy)

The latest book I'm reading (actually listening to as I walk) is Heir to the Empire: Star Wars (The Thrawn Trilogy): Star Wars, Volume 1 by Timothy Zahn. I vaguely remember reading this long ago and with the recent buzz about the new Star Wars movie, I thought I would give it another try. It's rated #88 in NPR's list of the 100 best science fiction/fantasy books and here's a bit about it from the Wikipedia page ...

The Thrawn trilogy, also known as the Heir to the Empire trilogy, is a series of best-selling science fiction novels written by Timothy Zahn. The novels are set in the Expanded Universe (EU) of the Star Wars galaxy approximately five years after the events depicted in the film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The series introduced many notable characters of the EU, such as Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the more notable villains in the EU ....

The trilogy sold a combined total of 15 million copies. The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski credits the Thrawn trilogy with rekindling public interest in the Star Wars franchise after it had faded following the release of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1983. According to Kaminski, it is possible that this renewed interest was a factor in George Lucas' decision to create the prequel trilogy

Here's a review at Tor - How Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire Turned Star Wars into Science Fiction

Sunday, October 18, 2015

I'll follow the sun

Seeing Toasty heading towards the sunshine this afternoon reminded me of this old song :)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hansel naps

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rethinking family

From scripture scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden: something I think the synod of the family bishops and cardinals should consider as they continue to so narrowly define what "family" means ...

Why we need to rethink parenthood

An interesting though obscure discovery hit the headlines this month -- in the medical community at least. According to researchers at the Fundacion Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad and Stanford University, mothers who use donor eggs to have children pass some of their genetic material on to the child. Researchers suggested the findings lend weight to the idea that the womb is more than just a home to an unborn child but may actually have a "reprogramming effect on the embryo, fetus, and adult."


The reality is that family today is not simply about biology. In fact, it rarely ever has been. Among the elite of the Roman world, for example, adoption was often privileged even above biological procreation. And although Julius Caesar had a biological child with Cleopatra, it was his adopted son, Octavian, who was understood to be his legal heir. Issues of inheritance and legal status outweighed genetics. Back in 18th- and 19th-century India, court eunuchs created networks of kinship among themselves and their servants through formal ceremonies and rites of symbolic naming.

The inability to prove paternity was actually a fact of life throughout most of human history. This in part explains the widespread cultural anxieties regarding female virginity and fidelity. But it also means that until the modern era, the very concept of "parenthood" was not, and could not be, exclusively or even primarily biological. Families have always been built on more than genetics. And yet too often today we maintain the illusion that kinship somehow comes down to a biological fact rather than social realities ....

Thomas Reese SJ on why the synod will fail

From Thomas Reese SJ - Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail ... The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him ...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cinderella and Ever After

This week's movie rental was Cinderella ...

a 2015 American romantic fantasy film directed by Kenneth Branagh, with a screenplay written by Chris Weitz ....The film stars Lily James as Ella ("Cinderella"), Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine (the Wicked Stepmother), Richard Madden as Prince Charming, Sophie McShera as Drisella, Holliday Grainger as Anastasia, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother.

The film follows the basic theme of the fairy tale. Ella is a happy child with loving parents and her mom teaches her "to have courage and be kind" ... she's especially kind with animals ...

Her mother dies and her father remarries, later dying himself and leaving her at the mercy of her mean stepmother and stepsisters. They treat her as a servant and she lives in the attic, her only friends a family of mice ...

One day when riding in the forest, she meets the local prince on a stag hunt and talks him out of hurting the animal, charming him. Later, when a ball is announced at which the prince will choose a mate, Cinderella hopes to go. You know the rest :)

I liked this version of Cinderella, especially the dress she wore to the ball - couldn't help but think it would be great for Sufi whirling :) But most of all I liked the emphasis on animals and the underlying moral imperative given to Ella by her mother ... I want to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer. Have courage, and be kind. Ella, you have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body. Where there is kindness, there is goodness. And where there is goodness, there is magic.

Here's a video review from Richard Roeper ...

Seeing this movie reminded me of another Cinderella movie that had similarities and difference - Ever After ...

a 1998 American romantic comedy-drama film inspired by the fairy tale Cinderella, directed by Andy Tennant and starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, and Dougray Scott .... The usual pantomime and comic/supernatural elements are removed and the story is instead treated as historical fiction, set in Renaissance-era France. It is often seen as a modern, post-feminism interpretation of the Cinderella myth.

This one has no magic, but Danielle (Cinderella) is a more developed character and there's a mention of Thomas Moore's Utopia and Leonardo da Vinci makes an appearance :) Here's a clip from the movie. Leonardo da Vinci is trying out some boat shoes on the river and he runs across Danielle. The prince appears - he's met her once before and erroneously believes she's royalty, not just a commoner - and they have a conversation ...

Roger Ebert liked it and gave it 3 out of 4 stars in his review. Here's the beginning of it ...

"Ever After" opens with an old lady offering to tell the true story of "the little cinder girl," who was, she says, a real person, long before she was immortalized by the Brothers Grimm in the Cinderella myth: "Her name was Danielle. And this ... was her glass slipper." The movie that follows is one of surprises, not least that the old tale still has life and passion in it. I went to the screening expecting some sort of soppy children's picture and found myself in a costume romance with some of the same energy and zest as "The Mask of Zorro." And I was reminded again that Drew Barrymore can hold the screen and involve us in her characters.

The movie takes place in 16th century Europe, although it is a Europe more like a theme park than a real place, and that accounts for Danielle's remarkable ability to encounter the rich and famous--not only Prince Henry of France, but even Leonardo da Vinci, who functions as sort of a fairy godfather. It's a Europe of remarkable beauty (magnificent castles and chateaus are used as locations), in which a girl with spunk and luck has a chance even against a wicked stepmother.

Not that the stepmother is merely wicked. "Ever After" brings a human dimension to the story, which begins with Danielle living happily with her father (Jeroen Krabbe). He springs a surprise: He is to marry Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston), who will bring her daughters Jacqueline and Marguerite (Melanie Lynskey and Megan Dodds) to live with them. Soon after the marriage, the father drops from his horse, dead, and life changes abruptly for Danielle ...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Democratic Debate

Watching the Democratic debate online at CNN. According to the news, more people have watched this debate than the Republican one. I have been rooting for Hillary Clinton, but after watching the debate, I do like Bernie Sanders too. If only I thought he could beat the Republican contender I might vote for him, but I think that's unlikely. I guess time will tell on my decision of who to vote for in the primary. You can read a transcript of the debate here

Day 8 of the synod

From Vatican Radio - the Press Briefing for Day 8 (today) was discouraging.

Statement from Cardinal Napier ..... one of the Cardinals who sent a letter to the Pope at the beginning of the synod saying that he had rigged the process against conservatives .... denying, denying, denying what he'd written. Sometimes the synod seems like an episode of The X-Files.

One of the women at the press conference is probably a good example of the lack of objectivity in choosing who could participate in the synod ... she teaches Natural Family Planning, a traditionalist alternative to contraception that only about 2% of Catholics engage in.

And finally, remember the press attention given to the possibility of women being deacons? The idea has gone nowhere, of course, and this comment was made at the press briefing ... On the question of the ordination of women to the deaconate, Abbot Schröder said that it was a single proposal by an isolated voice that did not seem to be important in the room.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jack's Back

This week's movie rental was Jack's Back ...

a 1988 horror film directed and written by Rowdy Herrington and starring James Spader and Cynthia Gibb. In Los Angeles, a young doctor is suspected when a series of Jack the Ripper copycat killings is committed. However, when the doctor himself is murdered, his identical twin brother claims to have seen visions of the true killer.

- Spader as the doctor

- And as his twin

This is one of my favorite old movies. I guess you would call it a B movie and it's rated R for language/violence but James Spader really does a good job in his dual role. And there's a cat :) I'm not the only one who liked it - here's the Siskel & Ebert tv review of the film ...

And Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars in his print review. Here's the beginning of it ...

Exactly a century has passed since Jack the Ripper committed his monstrous crimes, and now a copycat killer is duplicating them - each murder 100 years to the day after the Ripper’s crimes. This sounds depressingly like the premise for an exploitation film, and the title “Jack’s Back” does nothing to encourage our hopes. But the surprising thing is that this is actually a good movie, with intriguing work by James Spader.

He plays two characters: twin brothers, one an earnest medical student, the other a rebel who has had some trouble with the law.

Without revealing any more of the film’s surprises, I can tell you that the good brother discovers one of the victims, and that the other brother eventually finds himself considered as the police department’s prime suspect for the murders.

The movie develops into a thriller in which the second twin has to run from the police, clear his name and somehow prevent the real killer from murdering the woman who has loved both twins.

All of this sounds contrived. Of course it is contrived. A movie like this is nothing without contrivance, and one of its pleasures is to watch the plot gimmicks as they twist inward upon themselves, revealing one level of surprise after another. By the end of the film, we are more or less sure we understand everything that has happened, but even then there is one more surprise - and not the one you’re no doubt expecting ......

Conservative Cardinals write to the Pope

In the synod news, some conservative Cardinals wrote a letter to the Pope at the beginning of the synod averring that the process was rigged. Of course, it *is* rigged - the Pope chose everyone who was allowed to participate and when it's reached a conclusion the Pope alone will decide what to do about the results ... welcome to the Catholic church ...

As defined by Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was strictly an advisory body, with no authority beyond what the pope conceded to it. As Paul’s document repeatedly stated, the synod was subject “immediately and directly to the authority” of the pope. Probably without realizing it, Paul VI radically redefined what the word synod had meant since the church’s earliest days. A synod was no longer a decision-making body. It was now an instrument not of the bishops but of the Holy See, to use or not use at it saw fit.

The Cardinals know this. What they're upset about is that they think the synod is rigged *against* their interests instead of *in favor* of them. Ugh! No surprise to see Pell, Müllerr, and Dolan among the signatories.

Thirteen cardinals—including Cardinals Di Nardo and Dolan—sent a letter to Pope Francis on the opening day of the Synod on the Family in which they challenged or raised serious objections to decisions taken or approved by him regarding the organization and the conduct of the synod.

In it, they expressed “concerns” in relation to two important aspects of the synod, which they claim are shared by other synod fathers: the basic working document or “Instrumentum Laboris,” which they consider inadequate, and the synod procedures which they allege “lead to a predetermined conclusion.”


List of Signatories

The names of the 13 signatories are, in alphabetical order:

- Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, formerly the first president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family;

- Thomas C. Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Canada;

- Daniel N. Di Nardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, vice-president of the U.S. Bishops Conference;

- Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, United States;

- Willem J. Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland;

- Gerhard L. Müller, former bishop of Regensburg, Germany, since 2012 prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith;

- Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, president delegate of the synod underway as also at the previous session of the synod of October 2014;

- John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi, Kenya.

- George Pell, archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, since 2014 prefect in the Vatican of the secretariat for the economy;

- Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico City, Mexico;

- Robert Sarah, former archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, since 2014 prefect of the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments;

- Elio Sgreccia, president-emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Vatican City;

- Jorge L. Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


- From the ongoing synod ... German archbishop: Church’s stance on divorce makes people ‘doubt God’ and Rediscovering the role of the Synod of Bishops from John O'Malley SJ

- Tracey Stewart’s Animal Planet (wife of Jon Stewart)

- Climate apocalypse is here, now: Science fiction has become our new reality ... is the film The Day After Tomorrow becoming reality?

- The Martian Glorifies Nerd Dudes. What Does It Have to Offer Nerd Ladies?

- What Activist Nuns Really Think About the Pope

- I saw a couple of trailers for films about past actors at the Apple movie trailer place - Ingrid Bergman and Steve McQueen - which might be interesting ...

Friday, October 09, 2015

Sight Unseen (Star Trek: Titan)

The latest kindle book I've been reading is Sight Unseen by James Swallow, the latest (8th) in the Star Trek: Titan series.

As I wrote before in past posts about other books in the series, it's set after the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, the one in which Commander Riker and Counselor Troi get married and in which Data sadly dies. Now, Riker is the captain (and eventually an Admiral) with his own ship, Titan, which in addition to Riker and Troi, is manned by a very biologically varied and culturally diverse crew. There are some familiar characters, like Tuvik, but three of my favorites are new ... Ensign Torvig, who is of an alien race that looks like a cross between a sheep and a deer with bio-mechanical implants ... Chief of security Lieutenant Commander Ranul Keru who's an unjoined Trill and (a first for Star Trek, I think) gay ... Dr. Ree, the chief medical officer, who looks like a velociraptor.

This particular book in the series is based in part on a past Star Trek tv episode - Schisms - in which crew members were unwittingly abducted while asleep by subspace aliens and experimented upon. Here's a clip from the episode which shows Riker, exhausted from having been constantly kidnapped during his rack time, trying to stay awake through Data's poem about his cat Spot ...

So far I'm liking the book very much.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Day 4 of the synod

Today's press briefing included some comments from Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley of Accra, Ghana ...

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley of Accra, Ghana, said that the world needs to be patient with Africa when it comes to dealing with issues like homosexuality. “Give countries time to deal with issues from our own cultural perspectives,” he said. He added that the dignity and rights of all God’s son and daughters need to be upheld.

Also speaking from the synod was Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa ...

Archbishop Palmer-Buckley wants the world to be patient on the subject of how LGBT people are treated in Africa, so how *are* they treated? In Palmer-Buckley's country of Ghana they're treated badly ... gay male sexual relationships are illegal (unclear about female relationships) and those who have them shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty-five years. British Prime Minister David Cameron, the US State Department, and the UN have all spoken out against the policies towards gays in Ghana. I'm not sure why we should be patient with that kind of situation. The 'respect for culture' argument seems based on a kind of moral relativism that the church usually criticizes, at least when it's referring to the west's so called "culture of death".

Cardinal Napier mentions 'ideological colonization' and population control - he says that countries in the west want to control the populations of Africa so that they don't "overrun the world". Is this true? Nope. What's true is that women in Africa want very much to have access to safe, effective, and affordable contraception - it's not being forced on them. Why do they want contraception? Because ... Most of the countries with the lowest rates of contraceptive use, [have the] highest maternal, infant, and child mortality rates .... over half of all African women would like to use birth control if it were available. The main problems that prevent access to and use of birth control are unavailability, poor health care services, spousal disapproval, religious concerns, and misinformation about the effects of birth control (Birth control in Africa). Here's a TED talk from Melinda Gates about access to contraception for women in the developing world ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sleepy Hollow: old and new

I've just seen the first episode of the new (3rd) season of Sleepy Hollow. It appears that a lot has changed, and not just the hair ;) ...

Many of the actors I really liked on the show have left, like Clancy Brown who portrayed Sheriff August Corbin. OK, yes, he died in the very first episode, but on Sleepy Hollow that doesn't keep you from showing up in episodes. Remember when Clancy was The Kurgan :) ...

Also gone from Sleepy Hollow now ... John Cho (Star Trek) who played Officer Andy Brooks, Katia Winter who played Ichabod's wife, and John Noble (Fringe) who portrayed Ichabod's son.

Also gone is Matt Barr who played Nick Hawley, an arms and artifacts dealer ...

And I'll especially miss Orlando Jones who played Captain Frank Irving (heh - get it?) ....

I hope the show will still be worth watching, but it won't be the same.

Day 3 of the synod

Every day you can read about the latest press briefing at Vatican Radio. Here's today's - Synod on the Family: Press Briefing Day 3 - in which Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Laurent Ulrich of Lille, and Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón of Ayacucho o Huamanga of Peru appeared to discuss what;s happening in the small language-similar groups the bishops have broken into. Chaput is, of course, a conservative, and he commented about the necessity of keeping church teachings on marriage untchanged. Read more - Philly’s Chaput: Bishops sorting out into lobbying groups at synod

One thing that struck me today was this from Damian Thompson ...

I remembered that when I saw the list of those invited by the Pope to the synod, that name had caught my attention ... Cardinal Godfried Danneels is considered a liberal and in our church I guess they're thin on the ground, but he's also notorious in the area of sex abuse (see my past post). Here's a bit from the 2010 NCR article ...

Audio recordings leaked to the Belgian media this weekend reveal Belgium's Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a sex abuse victim not to make public that his abuser was his uncle Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium. The recordings show Danneels pressuring the young man not to force Vangheluwe to resign. Vangheluwe eventually did resign April 23. He had served as bishop of Bruges for more than 25 years and was 73 years old.

A spokesman for Danneels told NCR that the cardinal did not comment about his meeting with the nephew and Vangheluwe, during an earlier press conference, because "he assumed that it was a confidential conversation to be kept within the family." ....

Yuck :( More creepy - the discussion about Danneels and if he deserves to be at the synod is fraught with liberal/conservative politics, and this is just a particular example of the larger liberal vs conservative synod tug of war.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Day 2 of the synod

A couple of soundbites from Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher ...

*** One was his suggestion that women be allowed to be deacons .... "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

Whenever I see this suggestion I have to sigh :( Oh, the suggestion has been made before, the last time (that I recall) was in 2013 by Cardinal Kasper, though he titled them "deaconesses" and they weren't to be ordained. Even that conditional suggestion was shot down soon after it was made, by Cardinal Marx and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.

I understand why the idea keeps coming up - some church leaders actually do want to give women some worthy role in the church, but with the Pope continuously dooming the idea of women as priests, they don't have a lot of other options to suggest.

The thing is, even if women *were* allowed to be ordained deacons (and they won't be) that just will not be enough - no pit stop along the road to full equality of opportunity for women in the church will satisfy justice.

*** The other thing Durocher spoke about was communion for divorced/remarrieds. You have to watch the short video to get the full impact of the byzantine complexity that's been woven by the church around a few of Jesus' words on divorce. What's never asked is 'what did Jesus mean, what was his aim, when he said what he did' (read what Keith Ward wrote on this) ...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Day 1 of the synod

- Introductory Report of the Synod on the Family

On Day One of Synod 2015, conservatives strike first That strike was dealt by Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő, the man chosen to guide the synod's work.

[...] In his 7,000-word opening address on Monday morning, intended to set the tone for the synod’s work, Erdő seemed determined to close a series of doors that many people believed the last synod had left open — beginning with the controversial proposal of German Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion. That Communion ban, Erdő insisted, is not an “arbitrary prohibition” but “intrinsic” to the nature of marriage as a permanent union. Mercy, he said, doesn’t just offer the possibility of forgiveness, it also “demands conversion.” ...

The progressives like Kasper want to have divorced/remarried people take communion based on the idea of being merciful. The conservatives will almost certainly not allow this to become an accepted MO.

Some believe the problem will be solved by the Pope having made annulments cheaper and less complicated, but as I mentioned earlier, most people don't decide not to get annulments because they cost too much or because they are complicated .... many people just don't want to embrace the fiction that their failed marriage was never really a marriage at all.

What will not come up at the synod is any re-examination of what Jesus said and meant about divorce. I fear that the synod will end up keeping things as they now are.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The synod: and so it begins

[...] Few events in contemporary church life have been as hotly anticipated as this month's synod on the family. The global meeting of Catholic bishops is in many ways an incredible attempt to bring together the universal church's rich diversity in one place to discuss pressing issues of our time. More than half of voting participants of the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops come from the global South. Francis' appointments represent a breadth of theological diversity.

There is, however, one glaring exclusion: Not a single woman has a vote. For a synod convened to discuss struggles faced by families, that is particularly appalling. Several women have been appointed as auditors (able to listen and occasionally join in discussions) and collaborators (to provide expert advice to members), but those are non-voting roles. Three women religious serve in non-voting roles, while the 10 delegates from male religious orders all get votes.

The synod is, of course, a meeting of bishops, so it's not women as such who are barred from voting, it's non-bishops. And that's the trap. One can't be a bishop unless one is first a priest. And women can't be priests. That door, we know well, is shut.

When asked about women in the church, Francis ardently calls for women to have a more "incisive presence" in the church, calling them in a recent Wednesday catechesis not just needed but necessary.

Yet he bars the door for their entry to the halls that will discuss issues of great need .......

This excerpt from an editorial at National Catholic Reporter is just one example of why I don't have much interest in or hope for the Synod of Bishops on the family which has begun today.

Not only is almost everyone invited male, but also almost everyone invited is a conservative. And even those few who are considered liberals, like Cardinal Kasper, have no intention of changing doctrine but want instead to offer "mercy" to those of us whose lived experience is miles away from those doctrines.

The thing is that many Catholics around the world who disagree with church doctrine (those in Ireland, Japan, Germany and Switzerland, the UK, and Belgium) don't need or what mercy, but instead want the church to be humble enough to re-examine it's failed teachings.

From Candida Moss

A couple of things from Candida Moss, professor of NT studies at Notre Dame ....

- She has an article in The Daily Beast about the downside of the pressure on victims to forgive those who have hurt them or their loved ones. I agree with her - I have to admit that my skin crawls when I see a parent make a public statement forgiving the person who murdered their child. What Christians Get Wrong About Forgiveness

- And here she comments on the news. She mentions the fact that though the Pope has changed the "tone" of the church's stance on various issues like LGBT relationships or women's roles, he refuses so far to make any *real* changes in doctrine or operation. I bring this up because it both exasperates and angers me that so many people seem completely satisfied with a change in tone only. We need real concrete changes in the church. It's not good enough for the church to simply be nice to people as it's disenfranchising them - it has to to *stop* disenfranchising them.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Into Thin Air

My latest book from the library is Into Thin Air by Joe Krakauer ...

Since the 1980s, more and more "marginally qualified dreamers" have attempted the ascent of Everest, as guided commercial expeditions have dangled the possibility of reaching the roof of the world in front of anyone wealthy enough to pay for the privilege. In 1996, Outside magazine asked Krakauer, a frequent contributor, to write a piece on the commercialization of Everest, and Krakauer signed on as a member of New Zealander Rob Hall's expedition. The disastrous outcome of the 1996 expedition forced Krakauer to write a very different article.

You can read more about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster at Wikipedia.

What made me decide to get the book from the library was seeing the trailer for the movie adapted from it - Everest ...

a 2015 British–American disaster drama and adventure thriller film directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. The film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal .... It is based on the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and focuses on the survival attempts of two expedition groups, one led by Rob Hall (Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal).

Here's the trailer ...


- In the wake of the Pope meeting both Kim Davis and a gay couple, the church fires a priest (who works at the CDF and teaches theology at the Pontifical Universities) from his job at the Vatican for coming out as gay. From Newsweek: Vatican Dismisses Gay Priest Who Planned Demonstration

- Remember the anti-abortion group that made those deceptive Planned Parenthood videos - the Center for Medical Progress? One of their board members, Troy Newman, also a member of the notorious Operation Rescue, is being deported from Australia as a danger to public safety ... "I am most concerned that Mr. Newman's call for abortionists to be executed could lead to threats or the commission of acts of violence against women and medical professionals," wrote Terri Butler, a member of the opposition Labor Party. Meanwhile - Planned Parenthood Clinics Targeted With Vandalism And Arson In The Wake Of Released Videos

- I deleted my latest post about the Pope and his Kim Davis meeting, but this article covers many of the points I made ... Vatican ‘Clarifies’ and Complicates Story of Pope Francis-Kim Davis Meeting

- From The New York Review of Books ...

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A new rug :)

'Mine, mine, all mine!' ...

Not for long ...