Monthly Archives: December 2008

Perfectly Good Reason Not to Go See The Spirit.

Like a lot of comics fans of a certain age, I know Eisner is famous and respected and recognize his art style, but never actually had the money to read any collections. (Nowadays, you kids can go to the library to read graphic novels….)

Anyway, it turns out that movie critic Steven Greydanus not only read Eisner but studied under him. Apparently, Frank Miller’s style really got up Eisner’s nose, for perfectly good reasons. And unfortunately, it would seem that Miller’s movie version of Eisner is pretty much designed to make Eisner not just roll over in his grave, but rise from it like Jacob Marley, determined to make Miller repent.

Very disappointing.

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Sorry about the small amount of posting….

I haven’t been sleeping well, and have been tired out a lot of days. (Two choirs, a job, a gaming group, and going to family stuff — it adds up.)

Sunday I was very proud of myself that I spotted myself putting on shoes from two different pairs, and stopped and corrected it. Then, after cantoring and being in choir, I finally noticed that I had actually put on the opposite odd pair of shoes! Eee! I have also done a lot of running into walls, losing paperwork that’s on the desk right in front of me, reading incomprehension, and one incident where the Walk audio signal sounded and I started to walk the wrong way, into oncoming traffic. (I have been very careful crossing streets since then.)

So the main reason I haven’t been posting much is that I haven’t had the energy.

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Now You Don’t See It, Now You Do.

Via Slashdot, I just read an interesting article about “blindsight” and our various visual systems. It turns out that people whose visual cortexes (cortices?) have been destroyed by accidents are still able to walk through obstacle courses — without any kind of help from canes or sounds — because their eyes and nerves still work and because our brains have another system that processes visual information, and which the info goes through before it reaches the visual cortex. This subcortical system is apparently some kind of quick and dirty information collector, which tells stuff to our reflexes. So it makes these visual cortex-blind people able to avoid objects, dodge things, and cringe from hostile faces. (I think we should call it “dangervision”, don’t you?)

Now… I’m starting to wonder if this parallel visual info system in our brains is responsible for some of the odd phenomena we experience. “Something looked strange, but I couldn’t tell what it was” sounds like it might be coming from just such a quick and dirty dangervision center. Dangervision might give you a “bad feeling” about somebody, because it caught a nasty micro-expression that your slower, high-definition regular visual cortex missed. It might even be responsible for making people think they’re “psychic” or have really smart subconscious minds, when in actuality they just have really hyper-efficient dangervision centers in their brains.

One interesting consequence of blindsight that’s mentioned way down in the Slashdot comments is that ordinary people can learn to use this facility to avoid things in fairly dark areas. The trick, apparently, is to trust your instincts.

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The Pope’s Address to the Curia

In his long and interesting annual Christmas address to the Vatican senior staff (the Curia), Pope Benedict XVI talked about alllllll sorts of things. As with the stuff a CEO tells his folks at their annual Christmas get-together, this is usually an indicator of what stuff the guy thought worked out well last year and what stuff he plans to think and talk about during the next year. The media don’t normally give it much notice, which of course goes to show that they’re not paying attention in class.

This year, they paid attention — but in their usual “What dogs hear” way. (You remember the old Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson? “Blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah.”) So I thought I’d write a little about it.

The major theme of the address was “an atmosphere of grace”. This gift from God is to be spread to others by the Church, attracting and inspiring them to do good and love God (and incidentally, to commit fewer sins). The Pope noted several big occasions in the past year when the Church apparently did a good job of this (as in the peaceful and happy World Youth Day festivities in Sydney). “On such occasions, the Church makes itself publicly perceptible…This public manifestation of the faith calls out to all who seek to understand the present and the forces which operate in it… It was a feast of joy… a feast for everyone. Or rather, it was the first time everyone realized what a feast is, a celebration – an event during which everyone is, so to speak, outside himself, beyond the self, and therefore, truly with oneself and with others.”

The Pope strongly supported these public events in the speech, and defended their theological status, even. Despite his own natural shyness and intellectual approach to the faith (not to mention his well-known personal distrust of “Dionysian” religious and musical elements), this is something that he understands to be important. “Faith, in its own way, needs to be seen and touched.”

Big events are part of a process, a road. What happens before and after an event can change lives.

“….a long road along which young people proceed to encounter each other and to encounter Christ.

“In Australia, it was not by chance that the Via Crucis through the inner city became a climactic event of those days. It synthesized once more all that had happened in preceding years and called attention to him who brings us all together – the God who loved us to the point of death on the Cross.

“And so, the Pope is not the star around which these events orbit. He is totally and only the Vicar [of Christ]. He points to the Other who is among us.”

(That’s the only way to avoid stage fright, too. Seriously.)

In the next paragraph, the Pope returns to what history will probably judge to be the primary theme of his papacy — the importance of Mass.

“….the solemn Liturgy is the center of all the celebration, because in it, what we cannot realize takes place, that for which we are always in wait. He is present. He is among us. He has torn open the heavens and this makes the earth bright. It is this that makes life joyous and open, and that unites us with one another in a joy that cannot be compared to the ecstasy of a rock festival.”

And then he quotes Nietzsche, because that’s our little Pope for you! So geeky, so fun!

And of course, Nietzsche leads directly to talk of the joy of the Holy Spirit. (It works well in context, but that’s not what Nietzsche makes me think about. The Pope loves, loves, loves making these non-obvious connections. He’d probably get along swimmingly with James Burke.)

And this is where the news media perked up, because here’s where the Pope deliberately dropped them some bones by talking about stuff that wasn’t all God and joy and other things the editors wouldn’t think was news.

One of the big themes in Sydney was joy and respect for Creation and all God’s creatures. This included human beings. A lot of people overlooked this as standard ecological and diversity rhetoric, so it’s time for the Pope to reiterate it again in his speech.

“First of all, there is the affirmation that comes to us from the start of the story of Creation, which tells of the Creator Spirit that moved over the waters, created the world and continuously renews it.”

This isn’t just a myth, the Pope is saying. You should pay attention, because —

“Faith in the Creator Spirit is an essential element of the Christian Creed.”

Paralleling this, we have an essential element of science:

“The fact that matter has a mathematical structure, is full of spirit (energy), is the foundation of the modern science of nature.”

So we hit the synthesis, insisting that there’s only one kind of truth, not some weird separate-but-equal science and religion segregated school system:

“Only because matter is structured intelligently is our mind able to interpret it and actively remodel it.”

But you can’t just stop there, admiring Creation. Noooo. There’s work to be done!

“The fact that this intelligent structure comes from the same Creator Spirit that also gave us our spirit, implies a task and a responsibility.

The ultimate basis of our responsibility towards the Earth is our faith in Creation. The earth is not simply a property that we can exploit according to our interests and desires. It is a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and through this, has given us the orientative indications to follow as administrators of his Creation.”

So God hasn’t just given us a gift and the job of taking care of it; He’s given us pointers to show us how to take care of it. We have a manual, and we also have pointers found in the way the thing was designed to work. But since a work of art always has a little bit of the artist in it, this has interesting consequences:

“The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit also means that their rational structure – which beyond their mathematical structure, become almost palpable through experimentation – carries in itself an ethical orientation.

“The Spirit that shaped them is more than mathematics – it is Goodness itself, which, through the language of creation, shows us the road to correct living.

“Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Creed, the Church cannot and should not limit itself to transmitting to its faithful only the message of salvation. She has a responsibility for Creation, and it should validate this responsibility in public.

“In so doing, it should defend not just the earth, water and air as gifts of Creation that belong to everyone. She should also protect man from destroying himself.”

At this point, the Pope shifts over to theology of the body, as is perfectly natural. However, it’s fairly clear that stuff about “man destroying himself” was going to be read by reporters as the opening to a condemnation of war that their editors would love. So they paid attention. GINGER blah GINGER blah GINGER! And then they heard this instead:

“It is necessary to have something like an ecology of man, understood in the right sense.”

And the reporters keep on pricking up their ears. Ooh! Environment! GINGER! And then they get this:

“It is not outdated metaphysics when the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected.

“This has to do with faith in the Creator and listening to the language of creation, which, if disregarded, would be man’s self-destruction and therefore a destruction of God’s work itself.”

Poor reporters. Suddenly the happy unicorns and hippie elves of the rainforest are asking them to be carbon-neutral in an entirely different way. That pope guy sure is tricky!

There’s a lot more address after that, and it’s all pretty important and interesting. Creation was just point #1 in a series on the Holy Spirit, the unity of the Holy Spirit and the Son, the joy of the Church being derived from its connection to the Holy Spirit and the Son, etc. I’d love to analyze it all later, but I’m about to head over to my parents.

But GINGER’s work was done, and that’s the story the newspapers printed — albeit in a very distorted way. And it’s pretty obvious that the Pope really did set them up for that on purpose, wily ol’ professor that he is. (Of course, GINGER was included more for the Curia’s sake than that of the reporters, which is interesting, too.)

Now, whether or not his ecology/Natural Law/Theology of the Body talking point got out there as well, that’s a different question. The Pope says what he means, which is very hard for some people to understand.

In other news, the media is shocked to report that the Pope is still Catholic.


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Marcia Espinola: Catholic in the News

This morning on Good Morning America, they interviewed one of the people who was trapped in the burst water main flood on River Road in the DC area. She was very open about her prayers while trapped in an SUV and holding up a sign with her husband’s phone number. She said, as well as I can remember: “All the time, I was praying to the Virgin Mary, to God, to a friend of mine who died on the 19th — ‘I know we are all going to be together someday, but I don’t want to go right now! My husband needs me, my family needs me….'” The Washington Post‘s article on the matter has her also crediting the intercession of St. Anthony, other saints, dead relatives, and her deceased mother. “Please don’t take me too soon, Mother,” she remembers praying. “I want to see you, but not yet.” (She said she prayed so much that her throat got dry.)

Now that is Catholic. That is the Communion of Saints in action, right there. She’s not ashamed of talking about it, either. Good for her! (And good for the Washington Post. Some reporters are embarrassed by the religious portion of human experience, even though that’s something usually brought up by dramatic situations like this.)

Espinola also said that she had to start cooking for Christmas right after the GMA interview. Beans, I think she said. Mmmmm.

Btw, you know how the firefighters got there so fast to start rescuing people? They were taking the firetruck to get money from an ATM! For dinner! And just happened to see water vapor and thought it was smoke! (But then they saw the wall of water, of course.)

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Merry Christmas!

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth, but I have been pretty busy lately. Sorry about that!

We’ve had two icy-slick days in the course of a couple weeks. I was going to go home to my parents’ house last night, but it was too icy for even so short a trip. (No point setting the whole family up to go sliding off the road, right before Christmas.) But everything should have melted overnight in the warmer weather that came in, so we should still be having the normal Christmas Masses. (ChristMasses, in fact.)

The nursing home concerts with the Choraleers group went pretty well. Some of these places have good acoustics and some don’t. Sometimes I’m in good voice and sometimes not. Sometimes I can remember my part and sometimes I can’t. But we did a pretty good job, all things considered; and hey, it’s free!

(And yes, I know that’s horribly embarrassing to admit, but you have NO IDEA how much harder it is to play the role of an alto than it is to play soprano. Composers rely on altos to do all the weird connecting parts, and I can’t sightread or rely on memory when I’m tired. Which is most of the time when I’m in two choirs at once. And no, I have no idea why I’m stupid enough to keep doing something I can’t do particularly well, unless it’s the intellectual challenge — and the smiles on our audiences’ faces, which really are satisfying. )

Anyway, I wish everyone happy and merry at this blessed time of the year, and I’m sure I’ll make lots of frivolous posts once I have time again! (Which is probably going to be in about 72 hours.)

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The Old White Veil Rule

Talking to my mom this morning, I mentioned the recent comments on Father Z’s blog about people in some traditional Latin Mass communities having the custom that single women wear white lace “veils” and married women wear black lace veils.

(This sort of simple identification custom is very useful for a small community, but it’s also the sort of thing which immediately screams “New tradition!” I mean, what do you do when people wear purple veils or blue veils or rainbow veils? Or what if they wear solid or print fabric veils or scarves? It also obviously discourages the wearing of hats…. Besides, it’s a bit creepy to advertise marital status with your head instead of your ring finger. But I digress.)

The important bit is that my mom was really unhappy about the idea that anybody was wearing white veils in church. Why? Because it’s after Labor Day! “No white after Labor Day” applied back then to veils as well as all other clothing. (Unless you were wearing a habit and had escaped such things.) Naturally, this would only have been an American rule, although I believe “no white in the winter” was/is a fashion rule in many countries with cold climates. (Dirt. Coaldust. So white was for cool summer clothes.)

Anyway, since all of Father Z’s Hispanic and Italian combox members disclaimed all knowledge of this tradition, I was wondering if this married/single color thing had been some kind of whitebread American Catholic insta-tradition from the bouffant days before Vatican II. So I asked. My mother disclaimed all knowledge of such a tradition and said that none of the teaching nuns had ever told them any such thing, and basically expressed dislike for the very idea. (Which is pretty much the reaction you’d expect from my mother to a new tradition! If I think something’s vaguely hinky, you can bet it strikes my mom about five hundred times worse.) 🙂

OTOH, my mom did indicate that she was somewhat open to people wearing hats/veils in church again. That is, she didn’t swear eternal hatred of headcoverings today, and said that she’d far rather dig out her veils than her hats, because the veils and scarves wouldn’t crush her permed hair. 🙂

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All Right, I Admit I Was Wrong

To Aru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magic Index) does in fact have a pretty darned wacky premise. But the really wacked-out Japanese versions of Christian stuff are suitably handwaved, by blaming them all on renegade offshoots of alternate universe sects.

(Very small renegade sects are underused, these days. The Church of the Itsy-Bitsy Remnant used to be a really good way to do your satirical or wacky stuff without worrying about researching actual practices and theologies, or offending a large chunk of your potential readership. Now, a lot of writers tend to think either that their bizarro theology is indistinguishable from what all Christians believe, and don’t care about offending anyone who’s not living an alternate lifestyle or non-Christian religion — because surely those people never read and perhaps don’t know how. Much more fun to do satire that your readers can all enjoy!)

Anyway, the show takes place in a near future, soft science fiction world of espers, into which intrude a good number of folks who fight with magic (but don’t necessarily like it much). The show turns out to spend a lot of time exploring love, faith, sacrifice, and hope in action. It’s funny and serious by turns, and full of adventure and mystery. Also, the hero’s biggest power turns out to be thinking outside the box. So yeah, it’s definitely worth checking out. Not much chance it’ll ever be licensed, though.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that a good writer can make you suspend disbelief in a ridiculous premise, or figure out a way to make it sound perfectly logical. A bad writer makes even the most ordinary and probable premise seem unbelievable.


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My Drinking PSA

I know a lot of folks out there like to drink, and certainly plenty of people like to drink during the holidays. Fine. Good. You have my blessing. But here’s some advice.

1. Stick to one kind of beverage at a time, and you’re less likely to get a hangover. Anyway, if you’re drinking wine, why do you want a beer? If you’re drinking beer, why do you want a boilermaker?

2. If you must have mixed drinks, then stick with one kind. Unless you’ve been invited to some kind of cocktail tasting party, in which case you may possibly decide that a learning opportunity is worth pain in the morning. But even then, be careful.

3. Do not do shots. Shots (ie, mini cocktails designed to be thrown down in a single gulp) are designed for little baby drinkers who don’t really like the taste of alcohol. They are designed to separate you quickly from your money and your common sense. Many of them don’t even taste good, and the ones that do are nothing but sugar. They are designed to get you not just drunk, but wasted. Just say no. If you don’t have any desire to linger over a drink, why drink it at all?

4. If you’re drinking anything, why spoil it with Jell-O? Eat the Jell-O; do not drink it. Especially, do not pay anyone else for the privilege of drinking (shudder) alcoholic Jell-O. If you must drink such things, you should at least hide your shame and not enrich others at your expense.

5. Don’t drink when you’re feeling depressed or angry. You will either waste good money and still feel like crud, or you will make the situation worse. Hot chocolate or going dancing are a lot better ideas.

6. Don’t mix medicines with drinking. Bad plan.

7. If you want to know how to drink something, find out what it was designed to do. There’s no use complaining that Jagermeister tastes like medicine to you; it was designed to be medicine, so of course it tastes like that! If you take a liqueur designed for genteel sipping and try to gulp it down all night, don’t be surprised if it punishes you for it.

8. De gustibus non disputandum.

9. Just because it’s sweet and good doesn’t mean that it won’t make you very drunk. Just because one rum toddy was good, that doesn’t mean that you can drink two. Leave yourself wanting more, so that you can have it next time.

10. Food and alcohol go together. Alcohol and an empty stomach doesn’t.

11. There is no reason why any woman should try to outdrink any man. You are not Marion Ravenwood. Indeed, there is no reason why any person should strive to outdrink or keep up with another. Everyone at their own pace is the way to have fun. (You’re also a lot less likely to wake up dead.)

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In Which the Cradle Catholics Give the Academics an Extremely Nonplused Look

As part of a very long post describing conference papers, I came across something that made an impression on me. Apparently, an academic has discovered that Cistercian nuns’ churches got just as many requests for Masses commemmorating dead folks as Cistercian monks’ churches did. And there was much be-puzzlement among the academics at this conference, because women can’t be ordained! And therefore must obviously have less pull with God!

*incredulous look from all people raised Catholic*
*incredulous laughter from same*
*simultaneous incredulous murmurs of “Art thou sh*tting me?”*

First of all, any priest in good standing, in any parish or no parish, is going to perform a perfectly workable commemorative Mass. You give him a nice stipend and don’t worry about it. In general, everybody capable of saying a Mass for the dead is saying as many of them as he can stand and farming out the rest to poor missionary priests. And that’s in today’s non-believing world, not the medieval world where everybody you’d ever met was probably Catholic.

Second, it’s a well-known Catholic fact that NUNS GET WHAT THEY PRAY FOR. They have pull. They get results. They sit there in their little cloisters and save the world. I thought everybody knew that!

I am not saying anything against monks, especially strong, silent, steel-making Cistercian monks from the Middle Ages. They are good singers, too. Sure, the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, and sure, the priest monks in their churches were very cool and had their own Form of Mass to boot.

But they are not quite the same as nuns, my academic friends. Sweet little nuns with sweet little voices to sing chant in their side of the church — they do not need to be ordained or ordainable. They don’t need to be in persona Christi, because they are sponsae Christi. (Or whatever the proper grammar might be.) You do not mess with the nuns; you want them on your side. (Which is how bits of St. Therese recently got to space, if you remember. Little cloistered St. Therese and her little cloistered Texas friends have big enough pull with NASA to get to Earth orbit.)

There’s also the geographic thing. Which church is closer? That’s the one you’ll likely pick, all else being equal.

So of course the nuns’ church got just as many Masses sung for the dead as the monks’ church did. If you’d said they got more sung, I wouldn’t have been surprised, because nuns are also pretty persuasive salespeople. Besides having pull.


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Worst. Creative Differences. Ever.

A middle-aged singer-songwriter has just come out with her first album, after living twenty years in hiding to get away from her psycho ex-boyfriend and ex-songwriting partner, “who told her the Zen gods commanded him to leave her ‘dismembered and hanging from the trees.'”

The appropriate musical tribute would seem to be, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal, You”.

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One of Admiral Nimitz’s Daughters Was a Dominican Nun?

More unknown facts for me!

Chester Nimitz wasn’t Catholic, didn’t have any Catholics in the family, wasn’t all that interested in religion, never went to any church unless necessary, and didn’t know whether or not he’d been baptized until he got an uncle who still lived in Texas to look it up. (He was baptized a Lutheran, as it happened.)

Nimitz was good at getting along with just about anybody, though, and apparently had very friendly relations with several Catholic leaders. Apparently he once had Bishop Spellman visit him on Guam (at the time, Spellman was in charge of the military diocese), and asked him to get the Vatican to reassign the then-bishop of Guam, who had fled his flock, come back when the Americans did, and then not done much to rebuild the island or help his flock. Spellman agreed, and there was this interesting episode where Spellman had the Navy guys (with Nimitz’s permission) transmit messages in Vatican code.

(Surely the Swiss Guard Ninja will emerge soon.)

However, during WWII, Mrs. Nimitz sent their daughter Mary to a Dominican convent boarding school, for security reasons and because it was a good school. They kept her with the Dominicans for her secondary schooling as well. During her years with the Dominicans, long after the war was over, she decided that she wanted to become Catholic. No problem for her parents. Then she decided she wanted to be a nun. Not quite so smooth.

However, Nimitz apparently sympathized with his daughter’s desire for a life of service, and there you go.

The Nimitzes apparently got a lot of hatemail and anti-Catholic screeds shoved under their door, all of which they kept away from their daughter. They also had to dodge a lot of nosy paparazzi. But Sister Mary Aquinas was apparently very happy as a Dominican biologist, teacher, and professor. The Nimitzes visited often, and the admiral took a great interest in the grounds and planting trees. His comment to another officer whose daughter was becoming a nun was, “I never feel that I’ve lost a daughter. In fact, I’ve acquired 345.”

Sr. Mary Aquinas died on February 27, 2006, still working at Dominican University of California.

I am going to have to read more about Admiral Nimitz. He seems like a fascinating character.


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The Sinking of the Gunboat Panay

There were a lot of incidents in my AP history book which were simply mentioned, but not really explained. The innocent-sounding XYZ Affair, for instance. You learned their names, you learned where they slotted into history and their barest outline, but you didn’t really know what they were about, and thus assumed they must be rather boring.

The Panay Incident was just another of these innocuous little names you had to memorize. Something about a gunboat and the Japanese, right? Some kind of diplomatic incident?

Holy crud

What kills me is that this is all on film, that it was a major incident in FDR’s presidency, and yet we never heard nada about it in history class. We could have watched it, for goodness’ sake!

At the Internet Archive, newsreel journalist Norman Alley’s onboard footage of Japan attacks on Nanking, and of the bombing and sinking of the USS Panay. It says it’s uncensored, but the US government did ask Universal not to include Alley’s footage of Japanese planes bombing ships from mast height. Newsreel. 22 minutes. (Includes real blood, violence, and dead bodies — and a pantsless gunner! — so use discretion showing it to kids.)

English webpage about the Yangtze Patrol, with a page about USS Panay which includes more clips.

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New Info on Pearl Harbor

Via Dom Bettinelli, some fresh information on Pearl Harbor (and the Battle of Midway) from a priest who was stationed there in those fateful days. It comes from a private account written long ago, but only published this year by the priest’s hometown newspaper.

You’ll have to scroll down a bit, as the priest began his account with some well-known historical statistics about the scope of the attack.

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