Monthly Archives: July 2003


More Adventures in Hymnwriting

Hymns are soooooo much harder to write than songs, at least for me. Not only are you competing with half the writers in the history of Christendom and then Judaism before that. Oh, no! No, you’re also doing this for God and trying to be theologically correct. You can’t just post the drawing on the fridge; you’ve got to color within the lines, too!

No pressure…no, none at all….

Beyond that, it’s kinda stupid to write hymns since nobody is actually going to publish mine. (Not knowing how to write down music is sort of a handicap here, admittedly.) Also, it’s less than likely that anyone would want to hear them on an filk album. (My “Vampire Hymn” might barely make it, though I get rumblings that some find it offensive on several fronts. I suppose I could write some insipid space or eco-cred thing; but honestly, we’ve all heard those filks before.) I’m seriously doubtful that I’ll even be able to do my song for Sean’s wedding, frankly.

But OTOH, I don’t really care. It smacks of cowardice and ingratitude for a Christian songwriter not to attempt, at least, the odd bit of praise to the God she worships. I sing hymns at least once every seven days, so I must know something about them. Besides, when the impulse strikes me to write hymns, it’d be stupid to ignore the Muse entirely.

So, another vanilla hymn from me. The tune is reminiscent of an Irish slow air. (You could probably set it to one, actually.)

As we kneel, our simple offerings,
Our humble gifts of bread and wine
Become Your body and Your blood, O Lord
Truly human and divine.
This is a sign; this is a miracle.
This is no symbol; there You stand.
This is Your body, blessed and broken here,
That we dare hold here in our hands.

The God who made both vastness of the stars
And tiny quarks within them all;
Who made the laws that rule the universe
And knows each creature, great or small;
Is with us now, as in Jerusalem
On that shameful old Skull Hill.
This is the Body that was broken then;
This is the Blood the soldiers spilled.

O Lord of more love than our hearts can know,
More mercy far than we deserve,
Help us to know You in the bread we break —
This is no mere meal You serve!
This is Your gift; You give us all of You.
This is Your sacrifice, Your pain.
Open our eyes; You feed Your life to us.
Souls, not just bodies, this sustains.

The last line is somewhat lamish. Anybody got any better ideas for the last four lines?

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Noir: Assassins Stalking Truth

Noir, an anime series that ran in 2001, begs for comparison with the American live-action extravaganza The Boondock Saints. Both series and movie use large amounts of violence to talk about Catholic and moral themes. But while The Boondock Saints cheerfully opined that what this society really needs is a few more crusaders and warrior saints on a mission from God, Noir seems to doubt that even killing in self-defense is entirely moral. (Yes, it’s that perennial Japanese staple — a pacifist show with a high body count!)

Mireille Bouquet is a reliable assassin-for-hire who lives in Paris and works under the nom du guerre “Noir”. She is emailed by schoolgirl Kirika Yumura, who asks Mireille to go on “a pilgrimage to the past with me.” Kirika can remember nothing before she found herself in an empty house with a gun and a musical pocketwatch — and the urge to contact Mireille. When both are attacked, Kirika demonstrates that she is frighteningly proficient with that gun. After much consideration, Mireille decides that she will help Kirika to find the truth about both of them, and the shadowy organization now after them both. But she warns the girl that noone who knows Noir’s real name can be allowed to live. Kirika says that she looks forward to being killed.

(For those of you who aren’t anime fans, Japanese shows really do tend to have a high percentage of suicidal characters. I don’t really remember seeing anyone commit suicide onscreen, but there are a lot of folks who find peace only through conveniently being forced to go out in a blaze of glory while opposing unbeatable forces. However, Kirika is unusually upfront about not minding death, and without the usual gung-ho justifications. Still, the pattern remains; to convince a Japanese audience that a character is really serious, the character seems to have to be openly ready to die.)(Or really old and smarter than that.)

So Noir becomes two people — the “maidens with black hands who protect the peace” of the introduction. Shadowy forces keep setting traps for them while Mireille tries to keep her business going.

There are a lot of anime shows which include a bit of Catholic flavor here and there: the orphanages run by a priest and a nun in Cyborg 009 and Cowboy Bebop, the priest who gets monster-fied in Sailor Moon, the odd church wedding, and so on. But this is the most Catholicism I’ve seen in a series since St. Tail or Ten Pound Gospel — and both of those were set in Catholic parishes.

The flavor starts with the opening song, “Coppelia’s Casket”. Coppelia, the windup android heroine of the eponymous ballet (and,as Olympie, of the opera Tales of Hoffman) is dead and nobody mourns for her. She is juxtaposed to “the Lamb on the altar”. The song goes on to talk about the dark modern city, in which the POV character of the song “cannot meet you”. The singer calls on “God the Savior”, warns that people are dolls who are tired of dancing for the rulers of this world, and asks how this clockwork dream will end.

The Catholic theme is continued in a Latin chant set to a techno beat, “Salva Nos”. This is used as the background music for many action scenes. As you can see below, it’s a duet (thus representing Mireille and Kirika) that is a sort of symbolic prayer for the women’s safety and requiem for their victims.

In the second episode, we see a police officer’s interment in a churchyard, with three priests in attendance as well as many of his fellow police. One character hopes that they will catch the killer; the other says that he will also pray for it. This character turns out to be saying this hypocritically. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the episode doesn’t turn out well for him.

This episode is called “Daily Bread”, and in it we see Mireille and Kirika bringing home and eating a long loaf of it. Mireille admonishes Kirika for not taking more open pleasure in her “daily bread — God’s blessing”. But at the end of the episode, Kirika points out that their daily bread is killing people. Despite the fact that their targets in this episode were terrorists and a traitor, Kirika takes no pleasure in it.

The third episode begins in a cemetery, as Mireille visits a grave only to find another mourner already there. This episode again presents the assassins with deserving targets, but Mireille finds herself forced to kill another assassin who is a kindred spirit. They agree that people like them should never visit graveyards, because the dead call them, and that they will never be buried in a named grave. But defiantly, Mireille brings flowers to the assassin at the cemetery, even though the assassin isn’t actually buried there.

The fourth episode goes overseas. Noir’s target is a man whose corporation arranges coups. This certainly seems like a worthy cause. But Mireille and Kirika are forced to confront the fact that evil men are people, too, when his friendly daughter comes to spend her birthday with her workaholic dad.

In the fifth episode, the symbolism really hits as Mireille and Kirika confront their shadowy enemies at St. Galen’s Church. A friend of Mireille, now dead, leaves information for her among the bones in the crypt. They capture an enemy trying to steal the information. Mireille ends up confronting him alone inside the candle-lit church. He taunts her by saying she can’t kill him without losing what he knows, but Mireille kills him anyway. (Thereby deconsecrating the church. Bad Mireille!) The information turns out to be a vaguely Gnostic-sounding medieval prophecy which reveals the name of their enemies’ organization.

The sixth episode is perhaps the most morally problematic one. Noir is hired, by members of a minority ethnic group, to assassinate a KGB man who did his best to commit genocide. But Yuri Nazarov disappeared from the KGB years ago, and has spent his time since then living in poverty and feeding everyone around him who is poor. Mireille says that it seems he’s trying to atone, but the victims obviously don’t think it’s enough since they want him dead. Kirika adopts a lost kitten and finds, to her consternation, that it’s Nazarov’s. (And named “Prince Myshkin”.) Nazarov collapses and Kirika saves him. She is filled with guilt and returns to Nazarov’s house to try to kill him, but the house is full of grateful people. She returns to the hotel room, where Mireille figures out Nazarov’s reasons for the killing and offers to let him off, especially since he’s old and will die soon anyway. But Kirika insists on killing him, and does, despite the cat’s accusing gaze. Nazarov does not resist.

This is essentially an episode about a genocidal killer who becomes a saint and dies a martyr’s death. This is clearly good for him but not so good for our heroines, who now have a saint’s blood on their black hands. I really don’t understand why Kirika went ahead and killed him, unless it was an attempt to feel sad about doing it, or because she envied him and the kitten for having names and known pasts. The episode as a whole does seem to be an argument that if you don’t kill killers, some will repent and change their ways.

The next episode is pure action set in a beautifully drawn Middle Eastern country. A dying imam declares to evil revolutionaries that Noir, in killing their leader, acted as a servant of God. But the main question is whether or not Mireille will kill or leave behind the severely wounded Kirika. Mireille passes this test, and both are airlifted to freedom as Mireille concludes that they are bound together by Fate. (Not love or friendship or respect, of course. Suuuuuure, Mireille.)

The eighth and ninth episodes are a story about the Mafia princess called the Intoccabile. Of course we visit a church. But as three mafiosi “with saints’ names” swear fealty to her while we hear a choir sing “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” in Latin, it was startling to me to see her standing in front of a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel. (Anime studios often seem to use their artists’ travel photos to get really authentic location shots.) We also meet a priest when the Intoccabile visits a church in Sicily. He is persuaded to share what he knows when the Intoccabile reminds him that God loves truth. But the final battle between Mireille and the Intoccabile takes place in the ruins of a pagan temple and ends appropriately for someone who lived by fear.

It is hard to tell what the rest of the show will be like. The shadowy enemy does seem to be some sort of bizarre little Gnostic sect with Illuminati-like ambitions. I’m certainly okay with that. But I’m uncomfortable with Mireille and Kirika being simultaneously presented as angels of death and creepy sinners, and I’d like to be more certain that the show won’t end in some sort of murder/suicide or Gnostic power fantasy. *sigh*

It’s a good show, but definitely not recommended for kids too young to have their brains twisted. Violence with classical music and thought behind it is still violence.

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Fixed It

Nihil Obstat noticed a link which had achieved some very interesting rot. I just gave up and removed the link entirely, since the news story seems to have left the Web. I left the quote, though.

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Noir lyrics: “Salva Nos” by Kajiura Yuki

Noir is a very odd anime about a pair of female assassins fighting a shadowy organization. For some reason, Catholic imagery and music is thick on the ground. (I’ll post the details later.) One major example is the song “Salva Nos”, which is used as incidental music during the show — usually when someone is being killed, or when the protagonists are trying to avoid getting killed. It’s chant to a strong techno beat. (For folks who like their chant straight, there’s a brief moment in one episode when a choir sings the Latin version of “By the Father’s Love Begotten”.)

I don’t normally post other people’s lyrics, but I have two reasons for doing so in this case. First, every version I’ve seen on the Internet is wrong about the words and their meaning. Second, the lyrics are about as far into the public domain as possible, being taken from the old Requiem Mass. (Which of course means the choice and arrangement of those lyrics, and their connection to the music, is the copyrighted bit.) It’s pretty clear bits o’ Latin were grabbed out wholesale…. Anyway, the part in English (and italics) is my translation.

Dominus Deus,
Lord God,
Exaudi nos et miserere.
Listen to us and have mercy.
Exaudi, Dominus.
Listen, Lord.

Dona nobis pacem
Grant us peace
Et salva nos a hostibus.
And save us from the enemy.
Salva nos, Deus.
Save us, God.

The above verses are repeated twice; then the following two verses are sung simultaneously.

High voice sings in counterpoint:
Dominus, exaudi nos.
Lord, listen to us.
Dominus, miserere.
Lord, have mercy.
Dona nobis pacem.
Grant us peace.
Sanctus — Gloria —
Holy — Glory —

Low voice sings in counterpoint:
Dona nobis pacem,
Grant us peace,
Et dona eis requiem,
And grant them rest,
Inter oves locum.
A place among the sheep.
Voca me cum benedictis.
Call me along with the blessed.
Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem.
Merciful Jesus, Lord, grant them rest.
Dominus Deus — Sanctus — Gloria.
Lord God — Holy — Glory.

The first two verses are repeated again.

The “holy — glory” bits don’t make much sense to me; it seems like the songwriter was just grabbing words there. But “inter oves locum” and “voca me cum benedictis” are quotes from the “Dies Irae”. Very interesting. Definitely catchy, and the polyphonic verse is beautiful. But then, the Noir soundtrack is an exceptionally good one all around.


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Anime Christmas Episodes: Cyborg 009

I’m probably going to have to do an ongoing series on anime Christmas episodes. They’re always interesting. Is it a totally secular or Shinto/Buddhist person’s reflection on a Christian holiday, or a Christian trying to tell a story that will touch the heart of a Shinto or Buddhist person? You never know.

Cyborg 009, currently airing on Cartoon Network, is an anime based on a very old, very famous comics (‘manga’) series from the sixties. (Ex-Manga and this manga listing provide reviews.) The show is very well made.

(Unfortunately, the American dubbing once again follows the annoying trend of having characters from all over the world played by Americans who all have the same regional accent. This was incredibly annoying in G Gundam (in which mecha drivers from all over the world contend in a tournament while representing their home countries). It’s not less annoying here. The British guy? The French woman? Same accent. Except for the black guys, who are played by black people so they sound black. Russians and Chinese folks have less difference of accent than black people. Uh huh. And never mind that the black characters aren’t from America; they will speak with the standard accepted African-American accent, because otherwise they wouldn’t be properly black. *rolls eyes* I admit that cretinously cheesy accents are worse than no accents at all, but when you’ve got a team of nine people wearing identical outfits, I want accents! It worked for Star Trek, didn’t it?)

Anyway, back to the Christmas episode, which aired last night. The female cyborg, whose real name is Francoise, goes home to Paris for Christmas for a day. Like all the cyborgs, her family is all dead, and she was cryogenically frozen for years after she was stolen away by the terrorists of Black Ghost to be made a cyborg. So she wanders Paris pursued by her memories. She particularly remembers her brother Jean-Paul, who apparently was killed doing aerobatics, and her best friend Natalie, who made her promise never to stop ballet dancing. But of course Francoise can no longer dance; she’s in a war for survival against Black Ghost. But she can’t help remembering her old love of dancing, as symbolized by an old movie of The Red Shoes.

At this point, things get surreal. Francoise is apparently captured by Black Ghost and a hallucination-causing chip implanted on her neck. One hallucination puts her in front of Notre Dame, mysteriously empty on Christmas Eve, and has her attacked by gargoyles that morph back and forth into her friends and family, all insisting that she dance. The idea seems to be that when her teammates come to pick her up, she’ll kill them while caught in the illusion. But while Francoise dances on and on in her red shoes, not realizing she’s dancing on the crumbling balcony of an abandoned church, Cyborg 009 is led to her by a man in a biplane — her dead brother Jean-Paul. When Cyborg 009 manages to get Francoise out of her trance without getting killed or letting her fall through the holes in the floor, fireworks go off over Paris and the biplane appears once more, only to fade away after Jean-Paul waves to Francoise.

But this isn’t the weirdest Christmas episode I’ve seen. Not by a long shot.

(Btw, 009 spent his childhood in an orphanage run by a Catholic priest. The priest was murdered when he discovered that Black Ghost was faking adoptive families in order to kidnap children and use them in experiments.)

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“At the rising of the sun and in the evening,/We will remember them”

This Washington Post story about two soldiers named Ikins made me cry like a baby.

It’s hard for people who haven’t done historical or genealogical research to understand just how deep a bond one can feel for the dead, or even for the living, if you’re going through someone’s papers. You feel as if you’d known the person all your life — as if you’d been the person, or at least could see through their eyes.

I remember how odd the modern world used to look when I’d spent all day in the 1930’s back in the archives of the museum where I interned one summer. When I went to see The Rocketeer, suddenly everything looked right. I’d never been any good at aircraft recognition; but because I’d been immersed in aviation for several months, I could recognize the models of airplanes as easily as I could tell apart Queen Anne’s lace from milkweed. It was wonderful and fun. But then, I got down to the end of the papers. World War II came; and my subject was a Quaker. Then the war ended, and things got tighter and tighter, and she was dating the wrong boyfriend and seeing a shrink who prescribed huge amounts of Valium. She dutifully wrote down her dreams, and they were mostly nightmares. She suffered injuries in a plane crash (someone else was piloting, unfortunately for her) which left her an invalid. And then….

Well, some of her papers are somewhere else. Some of her papers were destroyed. I prefer to think that she died of an accidental overdose, and with what that quack was prescribing, it would have been easy. But I found myself grieving for a woman I’d never met as if she were my best friend in the world.

When her one surviving brother came to visit, I couldn’t face him, frankly. My job had taken me as deep into his sister’s and his family’s business as any human can go who wasn’t there to live through it. I don’t know how biographers can bear to go through with such an intimate process in public.

And yet…we all have stories, and they all deserve to be told.

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Old Irish Marriage Law

While we’re watching Canada’s leaders and the US’ black-robed masters fiddle around with marriage law, it might be a good time to talk about the old Irish marriage laws. (These old laws are sometimes referred to as ‘brehon law’, since they were administered by brehons, a sort of lawyer/judge in one. The brehons, like the poets, went to school for many years to learn their art. The similarity behind poet and lawyer schools was no coincidence, since tradition tells us that laying down the law was originally one of the poets’ jobs. It was taken from them by the kings when decisions began to rely too heavily on technicalities and obscure language, so that the people — and the kings, for that matter — could not understand them. Since justice was everybody’s business and the kings’ responsibility, this was obviously a breach of the social contract.)

First, one hears that there were trial marriages of a year and a day under brehon law, after which one could back out if one chose. However, I still haven’t seen any specific references to this from the actual lawbooks. (Of which there are quite a few in existence.) The invaluable Sharon Krossa has looked into the situation in Scotland, and what she finds is that handfasting, ie, betrothal, is being confused with marriage. They weren’t necessarily supposed to be having sex; but it happened. Note that if the couple did have sex and produced a kid, they were instantly considered married and any backing out was null and void.

Next, one hears a great deal about how enlightened medieval Irish marriage law was, and how women were equal partners, etc., etc. Well, in some ways it was better than medieval European law on the subject — and more to the point of the arguers, more just than British law of the late nineteenth century. But the sad truth is that, in the brehon law, women were practically always acting not on their own, but through a ‘guardian’. Before a woman was married, her ‘guardian’ was her father or the male head of her family; afterward, it was her husband or (should she be in conflict with her husband legally) a male member of her family. There were a few cases when women were responsible for their own actions (if her husband was landless or an outsider), but these were special cases, like panels of women chosen to investigate medically whether a man was really impotent or not. (Impotence was a legal reason for a marriage to be dissolved without the woman losing her brideprice.)

The reason a woman maintained the right to her own land and property in the marriage was, I’m afraid, because nobody really owned his or her own land and property. In the really old Irish law, all the land used to belong to the tuath (tribe); equal amounts of land (carefully graded to be equal amounts of arable land, marshland, grazing land, etc.) were given out by lottery every year. The real wealth in the old days was in cattle. Naturally, those with many head of cattle couldn’t possibly maintain them on their own bits o’ land, so those folks would give their cows to others who would raise them during the year. The really poor were something like sharecroppers of cows. Later, as agriculture took a little more hold, people did own their own land. But even then, you couldn’t really sell things very easily. The land was held for those who would inherit it in the future, and selling land was discouraged. Cows were a bit easier. *grin*

The consequence of the Irish focus on marriage as a contract was that, even into the nineteenth century, many Irish marriages were arranged as a business deal between two families. Although women and men both had to freely consent, they often were freely consenting to someone they’d never met before…though just as often, they were marrying someone in the district whom they’d known and been courted by for a long time. However, as this interesting article on John Ford’s The Quiet Man points out, the contract, as well as the property and wealth involved, were really symbolic of the union of families. So it wasn’t just soulless money…but it was also rather constraining for individuals.

Anyway, there were either eight, nine or ten forms of marriage recognized under the law, as laid out in Cain Lanamna. (Irish lawbooks seem to have preserved both older and younger forms of relevant laws, so you sometimes get more than one version.) These were not all “real marriages”; some were considered marriage to give children of such unions a right to support and inheritance both from father and mother (as well as a place in the tuath). Each kind of marriage had different levels of rights for each partner. (This part of my post leans heavily on the helpful but pagan-biased article “Marriage, Separation and Divorce in Ancient Gaelic Culture”, by Alix MacIntyre Hall, but it also leans on my memory of reading some of the same books she did. *grin*)

Lanamnas comthinchuir — union of joint property in which both partners contribute moveable goods into the union. The woman in such a union is called a wife of joint authority. (This is the partnership thing alluded to above; neither person could make a valid contract without the consent of the other.) It seems to have been the most common sort, since this way neither person’s kin feels like they’re getting a bad deal, and the woman’s honor price (the amount in cows you were worth if you were murdered, which also determined how much compensation you got for many other offenses against you or how much you paid for bad stuff you did to others) was not diminished.

Lanamnas mna for ferthinchur — union of a woman on the man’s property, into which the woman contributes little or nothing. The man could make contracts without the woman’s consent, but he couldn’t get rid of necessities like food, clothes, cows, and sheep without her, since that affected her support.

Lanamnas fir for bantinchur — union of a man on the woman’s property, into which the man contributes little or nothing. The woman could make contracts without the man’s consent.

Lanamnas fir thathigtheo — union of a man visiting, which signifies a less formal union in which the man visits the woman in her home with her kin’s consent. (Even into the nineteenth century, there were many people who were old enough to marry who didn’t have a separate home or resources to support a wife. This is a marriage of two people so poor they’re both still living in their parents’ basements, in other words.)

Lanamnas foxail: union in which a woman goes away openly with a man without the consent of her kin. Also, a union in which the woman allows herself to be abducted without the consent of her kin. (The second version was actually known to happen in Ireland occasionally in the nineteenth century. When two families have to agree, sometimes two kids get a tad bit impatient.)

Lanamnas taidi — union in which a woman is secretly visited without knowledge of her kin. (And as we all know from the old ballads, it’s never a good idea….)

Lanamnas eicne no sleithe — a union or mating by forcible rape or stealth. (Stealth in this case also means trickery and deceit, or the use of drugs or magical potions.) Rape was a crime, as was sexual assault. As I pointed out earlier, this is a legal definition for purposes of inheritance and legal rights.

Lanamnas fir mir — the union of two insane persons. (Insane or feebleminded persons were not responsible for their own actions under the law, and didn’t really have much in the way of honor prices. Their kin were responsible for them, or whoever was with them when they did things.)

Here’s another list of marriage forms. It’s similar but sorted by degrees.

A first degree union takes place between partners of equal rank and property.

A second degree union in which a woman has less property than the man and is supported by him.

A third degree union in which a man has less property than the woman and has to agree to management of the woman’s cattle and fields by someone from her family.

A fourth degree union is the marriage of the loved one in which no property rights changed hands, though children’s rights are safeguarded.

A fifth degree union is the mutual consent of the man and woman to share their bodies, but live under separate roofs.

A sixth degree union in which a defeated enemy’s wife is abducted. This marriage was valid only as long as the man could keep the woman with him.

A seventh degree union is called a soldier’s marriage and is a temporary, primarily sexual union.

An eighth degree union occurs when a man seduces a woman through lying, deception or taking advantage of her intoxication.

A ninth degree union is a union by rape.

A tenth degree union occurs between feeble-minded or insane people.

Polygamy did occur. Without the consent of the primary wife, other wives or concubines could not be given the full status of the first kind of wife. (It was effectively taking another partner into the family business. Getting three people’s consent to a contract would’ve been a real pain….)

All children were equally heirs and both parents responsible for a child’s support, except in certain cases. If one parent died, the other parent took sole responsibility. If the mother was a known prostitute, only she was responsible for the child; it was the one of the costs of doing business. No professional satirist, male or female, could be held responsible for raising a child; this could have been because they were considered bad parents or, more likely, because an unwilling satirist would make life hell for everyone else, diminishing their honor prices in the bargain. The father (or his kin) was solely responsible for the child in cases of rape. A sane person who impregnated or bore a child to a feeble-minded person was solely responsible for the child. A child produced by a marriage between feeble-minded or insane people was the responsibility of the guardian who was legally responsible for allowing the marriage.

Divorce was contract-breaking and heavily penalized, unless there were grounds. If there were grounds, the party who provided them was fined and the fine given to the other partner. Grounds for a husband to divorce a wife and keep her brideprice included: unfaithfulness, persistent thieving, inducing abortion, bringing shame on his honor (and thus reducing not only his own honor price but his wife’s), smothering a child, and being without milk through sickness. Wives could divorce and get their brideprice back for: infidelity, failure to provide support, spreading false stories about her, making a satire on her, being a big mouth (“it is not right for a man who talks of bed to be under the blankets”), claiming she wasn’t actually a woman, impotence, too obese to fulfill his marital duties, homosexuality, sterility, her husband giving her a blow that caused a blemish, and finding out he was in holy orders. A marriage could be dissolved without penalty if one partner wanted to go off and join the clergy or go on a pilgrimage or very long visit; death also dissolved the marriage without fault. (Lawyers!) If the marriage was infertile and they didn’t want to divorce, each had the right to separate temporarily and “seek a child” with someone else, but the biological mother and father would be responsible for the kid, and his/her inheritance would depend on them.

I’m not even going to go into the brideprice/dowry stuff. There were four different kinds, for goodness’ sake!

The thing about Irish marriage law was that it tended to protect the rights of the tuath, one’s kindred, and one’s children over the actual persons getting married. It was just in its fashion, but it certainly wasn’t easy and simple. Now, the Irish liked things complicated…but then, they had a lot of long winters back then and law was a spectator sport. We have other things to do with our time. So maybe we ought to be a bit cautious about experimenting, unless we really want to be sitting around asking each other what kind of marriage Alice and Bob have and in what degree.

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If You Don’t Like Your Right Hand, Cut It Off?

Envoy Magazine had a link to an MSNBC story about people who long to amputate their own healthy limbs. Not in the X-Files sense, either, though that’s probably part of it.

(For the uninitiated, in the episode “Quagmire” by Kim Newton, Mulder and Scully’s boat sinks while they’re investigating an alleged monster in a Georgia lake. They get stuck on a rock talking about the death of Scully’s dog Queequeg and the obvious parallels between Moby Dick and their lives. Scully tells Mulder he is Ahab, and Mulder replies, “You know, it’s interesting you should say that, because I’ve always wanted a pegleg. It’s a boyhood thing I never grew out of. Now I’m not being flippant. I mean, I’ve given this a lot of thought. If you have a pegleg or hooks for hands you know maybe it’s enough to simply carry on living, bravely facing life with your disabilities. It’s heroic just to survive. But without these things you’re actually expected to make something of your life, achieve something — earn a raise, wear a necktie. So, if anything, I’m the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a pegleg, I’d quite possibly be more happy and more content, and not feel the need to chase after these creatures of the unknown.”)

The interesting thing is that this documentary treats these amputee wannabees with such total lack of judgmentalism or judgment. Couldn’t your average five-year-old see that cutting off a healthy arm or leg is a crazy thing to do? Is it not glaringly obvious that these people need help not with getting amputations, but with resisting their impulses and learning to love their own bodies and selves? But nobody sees this. It’s their own choice and they should be allowed to do what they want, yupyupyup. Most disturbingly, supposedly sane surgeons are willing to forget the basic principle of their profession (“First, do no harm.”) and help these folks with their sick desires. Nobody seems to mention what happens when someone still feels bad after the first elective amputation. (I’m pretty confident Mulder would feel he wasn’t a good enough amputee….)

I don’t say this without some understanding. At least these folks only want to obliterate a limb. I, like many people, have struggled since childhood with the longing to kill myself. I’ve thought about different ways to do it, found good reasons for it, yearned for oblivion to get away from all this. But I’ve never done anything about it, and I try not to think about it. I know very well that there are places on the Web and in real life where I could have my “choice” validated by supposedly reputable psychologists and doctors, who would be entirely willing to help me leave this life. (Some of them wouldn’t even make me pay for it.) But you know, I also have a small dose of common sense (and a large dose of religion) that tells me suicide is not the way.

More to the point at hand, I also have friends or readers who, if I was sitting here spouting off about killing myself being great, would be quick to persuade me against suicide or take steps to stop me and make me better. The filmmaker is not interested in doing anything but handing amputee wannabees the bone saw. (I think Jesus had something to say about false shepherds leading people astray, and it doesn’t just apply to clergy….)

.But in the end, we cannot always rely on others to tell us when we’re on crack, drinking the Kool-Aid, or acting like idiots. We do have free will. We are responsible for looking after ourselves. Unless these poor folks really are beyond distinguishing right from wrong on this, they should be able to see that this is a stupid, crazy thing to do. (Even if the total lack of opposition to their plans makes them think even more that they were right about hating their own bodies, since everybody seems to agree the limbs should go.)

The truth is (oh, here comes an insight never reached before in the history of the human race!) that sometimes we desire to do things that are bad for us, just as sometimes we desire to do bad things to others. The correct, healthy thing to do in these cases is to resist that desire, not give into it in the vain hope of satisfaction. Throwing ourselves to our own wolves is nothing but self-betrayal.

If we believe in the individual, in human rights, in protecting the weak from hatred and prejudice, and in the dignity of all human beings, we must logically protect even our own weak selves from ourselves by resisting the temptation to hurt ourselves or do things that violate our own human dignity. If we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we must love ourselves at least a little. Enough not to give consent to doing things to ourselves that would get somebody else thrown in prison. Enough to say no to the darkness of our own hearts.

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Trailer for Mel Gibson’s The Passion

I downloaded the trailer tonight from Ain’t It Cool News. It looks very good.

Brief rundown of scenes:
The ever-nifty logo for Icon Productions. (Fitting!)
Jesus looking at a torch. (Garden of Gethsemane at night.)
Something flying through the air — it’s a bag of silver being thrown to Judas Iscariot. He catches it clumsily and the silver spills all over. (Seems to be set somewhere in the Temple.)
It’s bluish night, and a hollow-eyed woman in a dark mantle/cloak looks up at us. She looks down and sees a snake winding its way across the grass. (A pinkish snake with dark spots.)
Jesus getting scourged at the pillar by Roman soldiers. Very bloody and convincing.
Mary starts and looks around as if awakened from a dream. She is _very_ Mom-looking — by which I mean she has some mileage on her. Unless the hollow-eyed woman is Mary and this is Mary Magdalene…and I don’t see that, to be honest.
More scourging. Eugh.
The crowd goes wild in a bad way.
Roman soldiers move in to keep order.
Pontius Pilate’s place.
Pontius shows off an incredibly bloody Jesus with the words “Ecce homo.” (Pronounced not like Church/Medieval Latin, but definitely not Classical Latin, either. Ech-che ah-mo. I look forward to learning more about Latin pronunciation of the time.) The crowd goes wild again.
Jesus looks around.
Blood on the pavement.
Jesus starts off carrying his cross. We see Mary (and other friends) moving sideways through the crowd.
We see the hollow-eyed chick moving through the crowd on the other side of the road. And this has got to be some sort of symbolic representation of Death or something, because honestly, she looks like she works the counter at Four Horsemen Rent-a-Plague.
Jesus turns his head, and nail hammering ensues. EUUUUGH! Tastefully done — we don’t actually see the nailing itself — but something about the way they press the nail into Jesus’ palm is just EUUUGH! Oh, yeah, this is going to be waaaay realistic, folks.
Jesus hangs on the cross. You can see the whole town from here. *shiver* We hear just the beginning of “Eli, Eli”. A woman looks up at him. (I bet _that’s_ Mary Magdalene.)
Mary, her face bloody from her Son’s wounds (WOW! What an image!), stands looking up with John behind her. We see Jesus on the cross again. He looks dead.
Mary holds the dead body of Jesus; John and Mary Magdalene (or one of the Maries, anyway) are helping. Mary is staring out at something only she sees.
Death is staring out again in the bluish not-night. The snake shows up again.
A sandaled foot STOMPS that snake a good one!
A man wearing Jewish clothes (presumably Jesus without all the blood) stands up and looks out at the screen. (And yes, he looks substantial enough to be a carpenter.) He looks very serious, but then there’s just a hint that He’s about to smile….
The title “The Passion” appears. (Unfortunately, in a twee-looking font.)

All in all, a good trailer. However, I think working the symbolism in with the Death figure…well, I was confused on who the women were. On the first viewing, I thought Mary, Death, and Mary Magdalene were all the same person, thanks to the (realistically) similar mantles. The action scenes were good, though, and the snake-stomping was excellent! But yeah, the realistic treatment of the Passion is going to be easily as difficult to watch as Schindler’s List. And rightly so.

Anyway, thank you, Harry Knowles, for putting the trailer for The Passion up on your site!

And now, since it’s almost four in the morning, I’m going to bed. Somewhat more coherent commentary in the morning.

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Counting Our Blessings

I work for a company where they announced today who the next CEO was going to be, and everyone cheered. Sincerely. We knew he was a guy who knows everybody’s name, keeps everyone clued in, and actually does something about what the lower echelons think and want. He used to be the president of our division. He’s worked in just about every division, and he’s done great things for all of them. He’s also wonderful on selling outsiders on our company and getting accounts from them.

And it took all of four minutes after the announcement for one of the old hands to inform the new that, “He’s hot, too.” Heh. Yes, we are a company of over 75% women…can you tell? But it was probably just as well; we wouldn’t want the newbies to be totally unprepared, since today or tomorrow will no doubt see one of his sudden excursions through the aisles to chat with people and see how things are going. (Also, to be honest, I ditched most of the other company pictures of people playing volleyball at a company outing, but his picture was one I kept — mostly so I could send it to female friends and get their amusing reactions….)

But there’s something fun with all our senior staff that we joke about, and if the guy was an idiot or a jerk his looks would be something to mock. It’s his smarts and attention to our company’s old school values that we really appreciate, both women and men. We’re blessed to have the kind of leadership that most working people can only dream of, and we look forward to the future with justified pride.

(Btw, the current president of our division is female and also strikingly good-looking. Just so you don’t think it’s discrimination, the women in our company are also known to comment about this. Though they’re more likely to focus on “I want hair/makeup/an outfit/height like hers”, obviously….)

Anyway, why are good, smart bosses so rare? Maybe not everybody can have business acumen, but you’d think most people could figure out you catch more flies with honey, or that good people work best with very little prodding. Instead, some folks like to work out their problems on other people, or indulge their yen for dominance.

Of course, I’m also someone who just can’t see the point in being an Evil Overlord. Well, maybe over the publishing industry, the record companies and Hollywood. But even then I don’t think I’d be too interested in the petty details. As long as they produced artistic tribute of satisfactory quality, I’d just lounge around Fortress Evil Overlord and let people fend for themselves. I guess I’d be more of a Laissez-Faire Overlord.

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You Aren’t a Priest Forever: Nightcrawler vs. the Writer, Part 3

(Well, geez. Just when Bill Cork had kindly linked to my blog, and I’d gotten up a good head of steam and everything. Darn those inconvenient facts.)

Bamfette explains it all. No, Kurt Wagner was never a priest. It was all just delusions planted in his head by mind control. For at least fifty issues or more. *bangs head against desk*

And people ask me why I gave up on X-Men, or used to be so glad that Excalibur took place in England, far from the Mutant Shenanigans of the Month. It sounds as if the distortions of Catholic practice and the lack of clue on how to use Kurt’s priesthood in the storyline were already so great that many readers are just glad to get shed of the plotline by any means, however idiotic.

(In case you were wondering about Bamfette’s issue references, there is a comic book every week in the month which chronicles the X-Men’s adventures. Uncanny X-Men is the original book and has been running since the late seventies. X-Men only started in the early nineties. The other books are The New X-Men, which is apparently Chris Claremont’s return, and Ultimate X-Men, which doesn’t take place in the normal Marvel universe and can be ignored for this purpose. Also bear in mind that each issue costs four or five bucks. Gee, I wonder why kids and teenagers aren’t picking up the comics hobby….)

I’m glad that most of the apparent anti-Catholicism is not the result of malice, but stupidity. See, the plot only gets stupider. Mr. Austen has the schismatic Church of Humanity planting nanodevices in the communion wafers, wine and holy water in every church in America, Catholic or no, to get rid of “the religious right”. (Now I start to believe that he was raised Catholic, because he apparently thinks that every Christian church uses these things.) The sheer logistics is laughable. Communion wafers and wine do not all come from one centralized factory. Holy water is made on the premises of a church. There would have to be huge numbers of Church of Humanity agents or members, something I don’t think likely. And where did the nanotech come from, and how much did it cost? Even assuming help from mind control, the scope of the thing is just ridiculous — and that’s if it’s just being done in the US.

But anybody who crucifies Jean Gray and Jubilee on the front lawn of Xavier’s mansion (yes, that was what Austen wrote into Uncanny X-Men #243), in a 25 cent issue intended to attract kids and new readers, has obviously got an awful lot of malice and stupidity in him. Unless Marvel’s comics division wants to go back to the Land of No Profit, he should go.

(But no, they’d rather lose Mark Waid.) *bang head against wall* Well, bah. I think I’ll just go catch up on Ruse and try to forget what they’ve done to my poor Kurt.

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Watch Out, True Believers: More on a Bad Month for X-Man Comics

George Grattan explained that we Catholics don’t believe in the Rapture and wrote in part:

So that’s probably where Mr. Austen got tripped up– he swallowed the association of the Catholic Church with all the bad parts of the Rapture story (fundamentalist Christians have always been *profoundly* anti-Catholic), but got confused about the fact that the Evil Catholics are Evil precisely because they *don’t* believe in the Rapture (and all it portends), and hence won’t be in any position– for long– to benefit from it.

My, it’s delicious when they give idiots pencils. Anyone got the appropriate editor’s address at Marvel? I feel a letter of complaint coming on. If they’re going to let their writers be bargain-basement bigots, they should at least require them to get the plots and players straight. Next thing you know, we’ll have Magneto as a Holocaust-denier….

Then Jeremy Henderson pointed out:

The problem with this…the only people disappearing would be Catholics (since they’d be eating the… sigh… disintegrating wafers). So what’s that going to say to all the Rapture believers when the only people being beamed up to Heaven are the very people belonging to the Church led by a devil? No matter how you cut this, this is an evil plot that just makes no freaking sense whatsoever.

Then George Grattan sighed:

Not that the Church– my Church–doesn’t deserve it, to an extent. But it’s pretty damn hard these days to walk that line between criticism and what’s been wisely identified as the last publicly acceptable prejudice in America: anti-Catholicism. I have no idea what motivates the writers and editors at Marvel these days in such matters– and Catholics certainly aren’t the first group they’ve given cause to take offense, nor even the most aggrieved, by a long shot (paging Luke Cage, paging Luke Cage….)–but perhaps they have tapped into an overall mood in the culture which says such things are fair game right now.

Entertainingly, one Bonehammer commented:

Nice shot in the balls, Chuck. Thanks for making us anticlericals look like bigoted morons now. Cardinal Ratzinger will surely ‘preciate that.

Meanwhile, Saxon Brenton noted from over in Australia:

My goodness. Literal ‘Death Cookies’. Between this story and the Wolverine arc that had the Shadow Pope planning to mind-control New York into becoming Catholic, it sounds to me like Jack Chick might have infiltrated Marvel Comics. Do the villains laugh by going “HAWHAWHAW!”?

To which Terrafamilia replied simply:

Well, they have already gotten us used to bad artwork.

While the X-Men newsgroups discussed the issue fairly thoroughly, most of the review sites on the Web did not. Jason Cornwell detected plot stupidity, at least. But Franklin Harris’ Pulp Culture column goes into detail about Mr. Austen’s writing problems.

Here are the covers of some recent issues, including #424. The art looks pretty nice, actually. Maybe we ought to let the artists control the content again….

The really mindboggling thing is that the editors would allow a storyline this nasty to come out right after the latest movie. The people who’ve just gotten on board the X-Men comics are likely to get right off it again. It’s a far cry from the days when Stan Lee’s friendly summaries made everything sound exciting and called everyone a “true believer”. There’s not much here worth believing in.

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“Mr. Austen, there’s a blue priest with a saber here to see you…”

“…And he says he doesn’t need an appointment….”


Thanks to Bill Cork for drawing my attention to this. Unfortunately, the Catholic League commentary doesn’t actually tell people what’s wrong with the X-Men issue in question. However, Usenet, the font of all human knowledge, is ready to pick up the slack.

From The X-Axis, 1 June 2003, by Paul O’Brien (no relation), a monthly review posted in rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks and rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe:

Readers may recall that last year, Wolverine #177-178 featured the title character locked in battle against evil Catholics who planned to use mind-control to convert New York. It is undoubtedly the stupidest religion-themed story in the history of the X-books.

Or at least, it was undoubted until this week, when UNCANNY X-MEN #424 made a brave bid for the title. While Wolverine secured its position with a mixture of awful art, inept plotting and total failure to include any thematic elements pertaining to Catholicism, Chuck Austen goes for the high ground. His story at least makes a certain degree of sense, and has competent enough illustration from Ron Garney. Never one to run from an issue, Austen grapples head-on with the issues of Catholicism.

The result is predictably terrible.

The last couple of issues have already shown that Austen has a certain antipathy towards the Catholic Church, including his desperate attempt to retcon Nightcrawler out of being a priest – always a slightly odd
plot but hardly one which needed a massive retcon to remove it. Austen, however, seemed to feel the need to explain the whole thing away as a mind-control storyline involving the Church of Humanity….

Austen jettisons Casey’s origin story for the Church of Humanity’s Supreme Pontiff – which was about the only interesting thing in the original story – and replaces him with a disillusioned Catholic nun who’s been, you guessed it, the victim of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. So she sets out to bring down the Church by – brace yourself, this is the good bit – creating an evil plan to install Nightcrawler as the Pope under an image inducer, and then revealing him as the supposed Antichrist at the same time that she simulates the Rapture. Then Catholics the world over will turn on the Church and the Church of Humanity will step in to take over!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow. That’s an incredibly stupid storyline.” And do you know what? It’s even worse on the page.

(Someone in the ensuing thread no doubt pointed out that Catholics don’t do the Rapture…but I really doubt the comics writer was interested in actual Catholic theology. Anyway, back to The X-Axis.)

You may also be wondering how the Church of Humanity plans to simulate the Rapture. After all, that involves good Catholics being taken up to Heaven. Well, they’re going to disintegrate people using evil doctored communion wafers.

I’ll just repeat that. The villains are going to usurp command of Catholicism by installing Nightcrawler as the Pope and using murderous disintegrating communion wafers. No, this is not meant to be a comedy story.

This story is so bad that it deserves to be immortalised in derision for years to come. Even as a hardcore atheist, I have little sympathy for Austen’s bizarrely twisted idea of the Catholic Church, which seems to revolve exclusively around the twin concepts of sexual abuse and bigotry. Granted that those may be the Church’s most prominent flaws, in Austen’s stories they seem to be the Church’s only features.

The idea of a plan to instal Nightcrawler as Pope – never previously mentioned prior to this issue – is comically over the top…

(Too bad it’s just an evil plot. Kurt minus his weird movie-only ideas is a strong orthodox guy who’d make a darned good Servant of the Servants of God. He can teleport, which would cut down on travel costs and security problems for Papal visits, and he’s a swashbuckler at heart, which would get men excited about the Church. Every Pope should know how to fight saber!

…The idea that the world’s Catholics are going to react to a simulated Rapture in anything like the manner described is little short of ludicrous and suggests that Austen still thinks ordinary Catholics are little more than dogmatic slaves of their church. I rather suspect the average Catholic in the street would continue their existing policy of generally acting much like everyone else.

Ooh, now there’s a criticism of us. Ouch.

Oh, and let’s not forget the disrespect shown to previous writers of the Church of Humanity and Nightcrawler’s priest (also a pre-existing character). The original stories may not have been great, but they were better than this.

Why the hell would anyone want to wrest control of the Catholic Church, anyway? It’s not like it’s a significant political power any more. I suppose it’s all very well if you have an evil scheme which entails
interfering with the distribution of condoms in Angola, but otherwise they might as well be fighting for control of the West Godalming Yoga Centre.

Paul, alanna, you are never going to take over the world with that kind of lack of vision! Political power is the least of it! Control a major world religion and people will do the politics for you! In theory, anyway…. *sigh*

I wonder if the comics writer, Mr. Austen, realizes that the eventual failure of his plot in the comics (because, dude, the bad guys always lose in the end, even if it takes years of comics stories) will just mean that, even in the Marvel Universe, the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church?

More to the point, even if Nightcrawler gets defrocked, he’ll still be a priest — and some comics writer down the road will undoubtedly use this. If he’s killed, he’ll still be a priest. Whatever Mr. Austen does, for the rest of time in the Marvel Universe, Kurt Wagner will be Father Kurt Wagner.

So phbbbbbt, liebchen.


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Bad, Bad Celtic Music Fan!

I’d somehow failed to notice certain new hymns in the hymnal until last week when I was looking for wedding songs. The one that made me laugh was allegedly to a tune called “Marie’s Wedding”, which was “Irish traditional”. That’s Mairi, ya ignorant Sassenachs! And it’s a Scottish tune!

Anyway, I swear I remember running across a hymn allegedly to the tune of “Whisky in the Jar”. (I have serious doubts as to whether any church organist I know could actually play that tune and make it sound right.) Whether or not I remember this correctly, I had to write one myself. I’m only sorry I didn’t manage to make Jesus sound more like a highwayman. (Ooh, wait, that’d be St. Dismas or maybe Barabbas, wouldn’t it? That gives me another idea….)

Uisge Beatha in the Jar


Allelu, allelu, allelu!
For God so loved the world,
For God so loved the world,
He sent His only Son.

He didn’t wear silk and he hadn’t a cradle,
The Lord of all worlds was born in a smelly stable.
The poor shepherds heard all the angels in chorus,
And that’s how our God came to live and die here for us.

He walked down the road and his feet they got blisters.
He knew people’s hearts, and the hypocrites, they whispered.
The humble were healed while the proud sat there hatin’
And all the time, Death was down in the city waitin’.

Betrayed and condemned, not a friend to stand by him,
Except for his mother and the women all there sighin’
He could’ve called angels to smite every sinner.
Instead he met death — and ol’ Death was not the winner!

He swore he’d return when we heard of earth a-quakin’,
And big storms and wars — but those things are always breakin’!
So we keep good watch so he won’t find us sleepin’
When he comes to end all our sorrow and our weepin’.

You may thank God that you were spared my attempt to versify “In the beginning was the Word” to this tune….

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