Monthly Archives: November 2010

No, The Pope Didn’t Say Condoms Are Okay

He said in an interview book that, if you’re a person who carelessly sleeps around for money and has a disease, having the urge to use a condom to protect your customers is probably a moral step up from just carelessly doing whatever and spreading disease. Protective feelings and thinking about what’s right for you to do to others — that’s a sign of hope, even if your ideas or the way you act on them are wrong.

So he didn’t say condoms were a good thing for such a person to use, or even rightish-ish-ish. Using a condom in such a situation would be just as wrong as usual (not more wrong, not less). The Church’s teaching hasn’t changed on this topic since the days of ancient Rome.

The pope did say that just wishing to restrict oneself in order to protect others (albeit in a totally wrong way) is still some kind of attempt, and potentially opens the heart to turn toward what actually is right. (The right thing to do would be for this person to work to get off the street and respect his own body’s dignity, eventually finding a home and making a real life for himself. Obviously, not easy. So Christians should be helping people to change and grow, with material as well as spiritual and educational help.)

He also said that, all things being equal and the creek don’t rise, the real way to stop STDs from spreading is “humanizing” all people’s ideas of themselves and their sexuality, not “banalizing” it into something you put a Band-Aid on and forget. (Nobody should be satisfied to issue condoms and a pat on the head to people who have real needs and are in trouble. And obviously, if the only people spreading STDs were people happily married to each other and sadly unaware of a previous infection, the spread of diseases like AIDS would be a lot easier to fight.) Often, we wouldn’t treat a dog the way we treat ourselves and those we encounter. Humanization seems like a good idea.

Peter Seewald’s interview books are wide-ranging and interesting. But reading descriptions of excerpts (like mine) — that’s pretty useless. His conversations with the now-pope have been interesting because they are full of complicated thoughts, difficult to pare down into soundbites. You’re better off reading the book than trusting anybody’s synopsis.

Fr. Z on this topic.

Christopher McCamley explains this concept by using a different issue.

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Drawmij’s Instant Summons

Longtime TSR game designer James Ward, who created Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha, co-created the setup of the Pool of Radiance computer game, and wrote the novels of the Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe and Pool of Radiance series (and whose name was reversed to create the famous Greyhawk archmage Drawmij, after he noted that wizards should have an instant summons spell), is suffering from a serious chronic neurological condition, and the co-pays are something fierce.

If you’ve got any money to put in the kitty, or if you just can publicize the need, the website is Friends of Starship Warden. You can donate through their online donation page, or you can write a check and mail it to the bank address they give.

Every little bit helps.

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If It Tastes Bad, It’s Probably Good for You

Apparently, Fernet-Branca, the only myrrh-flavored drink I know that’s popular in Italy and Argentina, is also very big seller in San Francisco these days, and has been creeping around the US from there.

Like a lot of other mysterious concoctions (Chartreuse, Jagermeister), Fernet-Branca is a blend of secret herbs and spices with enough alcohol to potionize the ingredients and kill any germs that might be in your body. A sort of medicinal home remedy supposed to be good for your digestion and able to cure most of what might ail you, but not designed to taste like anything but palatable herbal medicine. Possibly this is why it was never banned in the US despite Prohibition, and despite being over 40% alcohol.

Chartreuse tastes like incredibly high-class and delicious cough medicine. Fernet-Branca, according to an old San Francisco Chronicle article, tastes like drinking cough medicine and then getting punched in the nose. But people agree that it wakes one up and stops pain and bloating from overeating.

Some say its original purpose was a home remedy for cramps at that time of the month; and it would probably work for that, especially if you drink a lot of it. :)

The modern solution to this is to drink medicinal liqueurs as shots (thus not to taste them), or to mix them with other stuff and then throw them down as shots (still not tasting them). But this is silly. Either acquire the taste, or don’t order it. (“I love Jagermeister” and “I wouldn’t let Jagermeister ever touch my tongue” are not compatible statements.)

Taking an exactly contrary position, the Fernet-Branca company website recommends that one take three sips in a row, holding each one in the mouth for several seconds, in order to experience the full herb flavor of this stuff, right down to “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume”. They have recipes on the website to cook with it. They say it goes good with coconut milk.

Anyway, the descriptions I’ve found agree that Fernet-Branca has a strong mint/menthol taste, a strong licorice/fennel taste, and a whole bunch of bitter herb and alcohol. Known ingredients: saffron (of which the company is the major world buyer), aloe, myrrh, gentian root, orris (iris) root, cinchona bark (against malaria), and zedoary. (Yup, A to Z.) The Fernet-Branca website admits further to cinnamon, galangal (blue ginger), bay leaves, linden (European lime-tree), gentian root, rhubarb root, chamomile, colombo, and bitter orange. Some say there are 27 and others say forty ingredients, which are known to include fungi as well as roots, leaves, spices, and bark. Some think wormwood is one of them; but it sounds like gentian is bitter enough to account for the bitter side of the taste.

Anyway, the stuff’s got myrrh in it, so that means you should drink it on Epiphany, right? :) But I guess I’d better not, ’cause me and linden don’t exactly get along, and neither do several of the other ingredients. (The dark side of secret herbs and spices.) But it sounds like good stuff for everybody else, though obviously it would help to be somebody who likes the flavor of black licorice and doesn’t hate bitter tastes. At the very least, you can brighten a bartender’s day by getting down one of those dusty bottles.

It’s a pretty interesting corporate website. The “Fernet-Branca: The Story” section includes a sort of advertising archive that goes back to the late 1800′s. If you like art deco and art nouveau posters, it’s your kind of website.

People seem pretty divided about this one. Here’s a description from a first-time taster who drank it neat: “I rather like the ‘grown up’ taste. Maybe not cigarette ashes, but certainly the kind of taste favored by the coffee, cigarette and steak crowd.” Other favorable opinions: “It’s sure not a chocolate milkshake, but it has its own appeal. I like the scent of it also, and the thought of all those herbs, nuts etc. that went into making it.” Then there’s this full-length article by an Argentinean on the glories of Fernet con cola, and another on The Miracle, which combines Fernet and creme de menthe.

Other descriptions of the taste from first-time tasters: “somewhere between pine-scented Lysol and baking soda toothpaste, with hints of anise, molasses, and ashtray” and “a cross between medicine, crushed plants, and bitter mud.” The latter is softened with “when diluted substantially with Coca-Cola it is really quite enjoyable, the coke somehow softening the bitter, mud-like flavors I’d found so horrific when taken neat.” However, there’s people out there who don’t even like the taste of Chartreuse, so it’s one of those things. Often people’s tastes broaden as they grow older, so don’t say any definitive no.

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Well, This Is Stupid.

Apparently the FDA is covering their butts by insisting that their warnings about “caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CAB)” are not directed at “alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee flavoring.” Because their friends drink kahlua and Irish coffee and Long Island iced tea.

So if you were selling Long Island iced tea in a can, that’s okay. Or if you concentrated down enough mate or coffee or cocoa to take your head off with caffeine and mixed it with Everclear, that would just be a completely natural indigenous flavoring. But Four Loko, now, that’s scary dangerous. Sheesh.

Personally, I think “malt beverages” are disgusting and nasty, and adding caffeine doesn’t help. But people drink all kinds of disgusting crud that’s perfectly legal; and we don’t blame the existence of Strawberry Surprise if they keel over and die. We blame their own stupidity.

This essay points out that people who go to expensive cocktail bars drink a heckuva lot of Red Bull and vodka mixed together, which not only sounds a lot more lethal and disgusting, but is apparently making a lot more money off wideawake drunks than some silly canned thing. But nobody is banning that.

As for Four Loko’s nickname of “Blackout in a Can”, apparently this is the sort of nickname approved by people who routinely drink way too many shots or jello shots. They are idiots who don’t appreciate the real joys of alcohol with taste, but it’s legal to throw down drinks and not remember much in the morning. Goodness know that the respectable ladies at work even do such things on special occasions, so it’s a bit hard to tell legal-drinking-age college kids that their jokes about blackouts get their stuff banned, but ladies their mom’s age doing the same thing are good and pure. More oppressive, fascistic idiocy we don’t need.

Other popular alcohol/caffeine blends: Rum and coke; red wine and coke; mate and red wine; Kahlua (though that’s about as caffeinated as tea) and all its offspring, like White Russians; Bailey’s Irish Cream and all other chocolate-flavored drinks; Irish coffee; all those bits in old novels where somebody puts a nip of brandy into somebody’s tea. This elegant drink called “The Awakening”. Fernet-Branca and cola, or any other liqueur and coffee. And so on.

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Titular Churches

Every cardinal gets a “titular church” to care for. This goes back to the days when cardinals were drawn from the ranks of clerics from Rome, almost exclusively. Giving non-Roman guys a church in Rome gave them a sort of “in” with the possibly hostile Romans, a job that gave them a right to be there and have opinions. There used to be a very small pool of titular churches inside Rome; but the huge number of cardinals these days means that pretty much every church in Rome’s diocesan purview is eligible. :) Some of this stuff is laid down by tradition and association, some of it isn’t.

Cardinal Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising (the same see that the Pope once held) got the church of San Corbiniano (St. Corbinian, patron saint of Munich).

Apparently the Holy Father wants his chief canon law judge to have a good excuse to get out of town, every once in a while. He gave the now-Cardinal Burke the titular church of Sant’ Agata de’ Goti (St. Agatha of the De Goths). It’s way outside Rome, in a little town of the same name.

UPDATE: The commenter below is correct and I am wrong. The town and church of “Sant’ Agata de’ Goti” are not the right one! TOTALLY different! Even though the Pope did own big chunks of it! So I apologize abjectly for my pathetic lack of accuracy.

Cardinal Burke has “Sant’ Agata dei Goti”, which was built by actual Arian Gothic tribesmen Goths and is in Rome. Its Latin name is even “S. Agathae in Urbe”, St. Agatha in the City, and used to be “S. Agathae in Suburra”, St. Agatha in the Subura (a bad part of town, in Roman times). It’s actually the only Arian-built church still existing in Rome, but big parts of it were rebuilt in the 9th century, in Baroque times, and in the 19th century. The Goth Ricimer, the “Roman general” and puppeteer of “Western emperors” who built it, is buried in it. It used to belong to the Irish College for a while, so it’s appropriate for a Burke. :) The Churches of Rome Wiki, which is where I should have gone first, has a big ol’ page all about it.

Cardinal Wuerl of DC got the original St. Peter in Chains, which is an interesting and/or pointed choice for somebody serving in the capital of a powerful nation.

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Gift Idea

If you’re of a certain fairly wide age-range, and if your local station carried it in syndication, you’ll remember Voltron: Defender of the Universe, with the Castle of Lions, the five Lion mecha and the Sword of Blazing Light. Keith, Pidge, Hunk, Sven, Lance, Princess Allura, even those wacky space mice. And then there was the more forgettable stuff about the Galaxy Alliance’s space fleet, and their Vehicle Voltron; and then there was yet another season of the Lion Voltron.

Well, some of you may know that the show called Voltron (like Robotech) was actually created by smooshing two different Japanese anime shows together and changing their plots. But most of us have never gotten a chance to see them.

Well, there’s a new Voltron Force cartoon coming out in 2011 on Nicktoons. So to stir the pot, the anime that all the Lion Voltron stuff came from is finally being released as a DVD boxset, after coming out in pieces in 2008.

Beast King Golion (Hyakujuou Golion) has the great advantage of not being a patchwork, so that you no longer have the impression that you’ve somehow missed an important episode or two. The plots suddenly make a lot more sense when you find out what was actually meant to be going on. OTOH, while I haven’t seen anything super-bad, this is the kind of 80′s anime where people get killed outright. I mean both the faceless people in the background of battles, and main characters. The bad guys have an extremely unpleasant culture, too. The subtitles are pretty good, but as usual, you’ll want to listen hard to the Japanese if you want the whole story.

(For example, the Japanese version of Lance now looked awfully shady to my anime-trained eye; and sure enough, he calls somebody “aniki”, the Yakuza word for “bro”. It does have a normal family use too, and might be a term of affection between unrelated guys used by somebody who’s not Yakuza. But I didn’t take it that way because he really looks shady.)

If you’re not quite that nostalgic about Voltron, Crunchyroll is going to be making the whole series available for free to US viewers in February. (People with a Crunchyroll subscription can watch the whole series right now.) Everybody can watch the first episode for free now — and believe me, it will make you understand how much was changed.

If you liked the Vehicle Voltron part, the anime that came from is also out on DVD, in three parts. It’s called Armored Fleet Dairugger. I don’t know anything much about that, except that it too makes more sense in the original.

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The More Things Change….

I found this super-fun book earlier this week, lost it, and couldn’t find it again. I finally went to the extreme of looking up my browser history to find it!

It’s a 1908 book (in three volumes) with the rather blah title of Our Church, Her Children and Institutions from Angel Guardian Press. (Yes, really.) It’s an anthology of all sorts of non-fiction information and opinions about Catholicism by famous Catholics. Volume I contains a lot of innocuous stuff, like a mini-catechism and prayers; but it also contains things like mini-essays from Catholic newspapers about stuff these famous Catholics didn’t like. This anthology section is called “Little Gems of Catholic Wisdom”. Some of it is _very_ revelatory of Catholic culture — both what was preferred, and what often really happened. It gets better as it goes along. :)

A huge number of excerpts come from an 1891 book called The Correct Thing for Catholics by the delightfully named Lelia Hardin (misspelled Hardin here) Bugg. Here’s a couple. It’s an interesting mix of actual Church commandments, local practice and bias, practical wisdom, and binding crazy burdens on people. I’m sure that she meant people to distinguish between what’s a good idea and what’s the law; but a lot of people don’t, so a book that doesn’t make the distinction explicitly is a serious spiritual problem. But the book was strongly recommended by The Catholic World magazine when it came out, to the point that they suggested memorizing it. You can see where it could have been useful, but sheesh! So yeah, it’s the Catholic Emily Post.

I did enjoy one comment in the Rosary section: “….a muff in winter enables a lady to say her rosary without observation.”

Other works by Lelia Hardin Bugg (who hailed from Wichita) included: the novels The People of Our Parish (1900) and Orchids (1894); A Lady: Manners and Social Usages (1893); Correct English (1895); the anthology A Little Book of Wisdom (1897); many short stories, some while she was still Lelia Hardin; and the collection The Prodigal’s Daughter and Other Tales (1898).

The People of Our Parish is nasty. It has the ring of truth and I’m sure she meant well, but geez, she makes professional curmudgeons look kindly! How the heck did she pray while paying attention to everybody else’s faults? And some of her ideas about prayer are enough to give anybody scruples attacks!

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Art History at the Consistory

When the Vatican holds a big event (at home or elsewhere), they often decorate the program book these days with some nice color illustrations drawn from the Vatican Museum, the Vatican Library, or the Secret (in the sense of ‘private’) Archives. In recent years, they’ve put these up on the Vatican website for everyone’s use and delectation (usually as PDFs, but occasionally in HTML, such as for the yearly Holy Week Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.)

The upcoming Consistory to make cardinals is an especially nice example of this. Both the program books for the official “Notification” and for the Mass with the new cardinals feature extensive sets of illustrations drawn from the same piece of art! The “Dalmatic of Charlemagne” is a beautiful old silk vestment (14th century Byzantine, not 9th century Romanesque!) which is absolutely coated with scenes of Jesus with the Apostles on both sides. One side is pictured in the Notification Mass program book, and the other (which is better preserved) in the Concelebration Mass one. There are more and more detailed pictures every few pages, and there’s a nice explanation of the vestment at the back. The vestment makes some very nice theological points while being a sort of silent admonition and beautiful inspiration.

If you’re interested in any of the fabric arts, don’t miss this. It’s amazing material. The PDF illustrations are much more detailed than this small picture on the website or Wikipedia’s sad black and white illustration. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has good pictures and explanations left over from its appearance at a 2004 exhibition. You can zoom in pretty close and see the shine of the embroidery, which the PDF can’t reproduce.

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More More “Verbum Domini”

There’s been various complaints in the blogosphere that “Verbum Domini” has been ignored. I don’t think this is true. But the post-synodal statement was a lot longer than anybody expected (a book!), and it came out in the middle of November (not September 30, as it was officially dated). The middle of November is practically the end of the church year, and after that comes Advent. For academics, it’s midterms. For priests and parish workers, it’s the brief moment of preparation before crunch time. For journalists, it came between the big trip to Barcelona and all the Vatican consistory and USCCB election stories, as well as the stories about the jihadis’ massacre at Our Lady of Deliverance, and about poor Asia Bibi in Pakistan and the other lady in Iran. For normal Catholics, it came at the time of freaking out about how they’re going to get the kids to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas without being stripped or groped by the TSA. So I don’t think people are ignoring it. It just came at a busy time. Come Advent or January, we’ll hear more about it. Let people read and digest it first.

You no longer have to read this sucker on super-long PDF. Here’s “Verbum Domini” in HTML format and in English, on the Vatican website. For your ebook reading pleasure, you can also download unofficial conversions to .epub or .mobi/Kindle format over at Curt Jester’s.

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Stating the Obvious

A lot of the oh-so-puzzling history of Prince William’s relationship with his now-fiancee Catherine seems to graph fairly well to Lt. William Wales’s deployment and training schedule. He’s apparently the kind of guy who doesn’t want to get married right before going somewhere dangerous to shoot things. (There’s another school of thought; both are reasonable.) He also apparently didn’t want to get married right before going to helicopter school, which is really really a good way to get killed. (His great-uncle, for whom he may have been named, died piloting a plane in 1972, btw.)

I’m sure there’s more to it than that; but nobody seems to be mentioning this HUGE GLARING FACTOR at all.

Of course, some would say that settling down to a career in Thames Valley search and rescue as a whirlybird pilot isn’t actually settling down to anything all that safe, but apparently having a job close to home is good enough! Probably his younger brother getting married was also a factor.

Andrew Cusack notes that the village name “Windsor” means “riverside winch”. No wonder the young princes’ father and uncle, in their youths, tended to go after the winches. :)

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Think about It a Minute

You know who would have made an awesome Wolverine?

James Cagney.

Okay, so he’s not Canadian and not a ninja and not darkhaired and not five-o’-clock-shadowed. But still. The intensity. The compact body. The street smarts. The bravado backed up by real toughness and decisiveness. The freaky standup hair, whenever he didn’t plaster it down. And heck, a guy who could dance as athletically as that could play a ninja with adamantium claws and healing factor if he’d wanted to, right?

Logan back in WWII. In a suit and hat. Lookin’ dapper and scary. Saying “Bub” with conviction. Yeah. Cagney.

Of course, this opens the question of what other classic movie actors would have been good casting choices for classic superheroes….

UPDATE: You could also see Cagney saying, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.”

Cagney’s appearance in a Marvel comic book is listed. The movie photo that goes with the article is a pretty good Wolvie face, albeit no crazy hair. Also, Cagney playing guitar like Wolvie.

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Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

Okay, so Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) is the Sinbad movie where they go up to the Arctic, with Ray Harryhausen monsters, where the 2nd Doctor as a good magician. And Jane Seymour is in it.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) is the one with Ray Harryhausen monsters, where the 4th Doctor is an evil magician. And Carolyn Munro is in it.

I guess what confused me is that I remember seeing ads for the 1977 one.

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Catholic Dramatized Audio New Testament Out

Falcon Picture Group, a little audio company out of Illinois, has produced a dramatized audio Bible for Catholics (RSV Catholic Edition) that just came out through Zondervan as distributor. They’re the same people who put out The Word of Promise Audio Bible last year, but this is an all-new cast and recording. Presumably the Old Testament comes next.

The Truth and Life Audio Bible New Testament features Neal McDonough as Jesus. (He’s the guy who refused to do sex scenes on an upcoming TV show, and thus lost his star part.) Julia Ormond plays the Virgin Mary, Sean Astin is Matthew, Blair Underwood is Mark, Stacy Keach is John, Michael York is Luke, Kristin Bell is Mary Magdalene, Malcolm McDowell is Caiaphas, Brian Cox is the voice of God the Father, and John Rhys-Davies is the narrator. Also, the pope wrote a little foreword, which is a pretty good celebrity endorsement. :) It comes on 22 CDs. The CD holding inserts are shaped like red crosses.

You can listen to samples of how it sounds over on the Aquinas and More store’s blog. They’ll sell it to you, too. :)

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This Is Why I Can’t Read These Books 2

Please, writers. If it’s a fictional story that’s pre-1800′s, and you’re saying somebody looks like an angel, you’d better be talking about a cherubic baby, a cherubic boy, or a beautiful young man. We are talking Michael and Gabriel and Raphael here. NOT A WOMAN.

If your medieval hero thinks a girl looks like an angel, she better be masquerading as a guy at the time. (Unless she’s really really boyish in appearance.)

Now, you are allowed to say that a woman looks like a saint, and elaborate on exactly which class or individual of female saint she looks like. You might even get into her looking like a Virtue or some other allegorical figure. That would be awesome. “She looked like Fortune on her wheel, smiling at him on his way up.” “She looked like Philosophy appearing to Boethius in prison.” Mm, mm, medieval.

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