Monthly Archives: December 2015

Samurai Pizza Cats: Now Available on Crunchyroll!

Crunchyroll has been adding a lot of older animes lately. Now they have added the famous/infamous Samurai Pizza Cats, a humorous, non-literal American dub of a fairly bizarre Japanese show about anthropomorphic cats wearing battlesuits.

If you’re a subscriber, you can watch the whole run as of today. If you’re watching it free with commercials, 18 episodes will be made available each week until the whole run is available to free users.

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The Various Orthodox Churches Don’t Have Saintly Giftbringers?

Yep, it’s another edition of “Someone on the Internet is wrong.”

It’s always tempting for people in a subculture to either try to be more like, or less like, the dominant culture. It’s also tempting for them to make sweeping statements. So you get Irish-American Catholics saying that “Catholics don’t do such and such,” when really they mean “Irish-American Catholics, or at least the ones whom I know, don’t do such and such.” Sometimes it’s even tempting to say that “Such and such is against my religion,” when really it just conflicts with one’s own tastes and likes.

The primary giftbringers in Orthodox countries were St. Nicholas of Myra (especially in Russia and Eastern Europe before the Communists), St. Basil of Caesarea (in most parts of Greece and Asia under the rule of the Ottoman Empire), and the Baby Jesus (in various places in Eastern Europe). Russia also used to have the Babushka (a pre-Revolution Russian figure who was similar to La Befana). Today Father Frost has mostly replaced St. Nicholas, but the good saint is making a comeback in other places in his Santa Claus guise.

Here’s a very good article about St. Basil’s Day in Holy-Days and Holidays, a collection of articles edited by Deems. (Although the author doesn’t seem to know that every saint’s deathday is his “natalis” or birthday, according to the Church.) Kids received gifts from St. Basil on the night of Dec. 31, St. Basil’s Eve. St. Basil also granted wishes for the forthcoming year. People made giant vasilopita (St. Basil’s cakes) and gave large hunks away to charity, and to carolers who would sing songs about St. Basil. They also ate a nice dish of “St. Basil’s piglet.” It was also the nameday for anyone named Vasilios or the like. Finally, as told by the mother of the author of In the Neighborhood of Zero, St. Basil would appear at night to teach Greek to little children living in Turkish territory.

(Btw, Holy-Days and Holidays reprints a fair number of articles that are dedicated to proving that American Protestantism is good and everything else is bad; but this article is benign, as most of them are. The latter half of the book is about civic American and Canadian holidays, many of them under older names. Both sections of the book feature poetry excerpts of interest. Another interesting publication for holiday info is Foreign Born, a periodical for immigrant New Yorkers.)


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Shariah Law in Brunei: The Grinch That Stole Christmas

If convicted of celebrating Christmas in Brunei, you will go to prison for five years.

Offenses include putting up Christmas trees, singing religious Christmas songs, sending out Christmas cards, or wearing Santa hats. Non-Muslims are allowed to celebrate Christmas behind closed doors, but become subject to penalties if they do it anywhere that a Muslim could find about about it. Muslims who do anything Christmassy are always subject to penalties.

Who do we have to thank for this? The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah.

Why is he doing it? To implement shariah law. Yep, that wonderful multicultural shariah law, which we have absolutely no reason to dislike in any way.

Residents are defiantly tweeting #MyTreedom for religious freedom, but obviously an absolute monarch is hard to get on your side.

Meanwhile, in an amusing coincidence caused by Islam’s constantly moving lunar calendar, on December 24 Brunei celebrated Maulidur Rasul, which commemorates the birth of Muhammad. The main focus of the celebration was a religious procession. Christians are forbidden to hold any religious processions or parades under shariah law.

I think I’ll go put up a few more decorations. Christmas decorations.

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Attachment Vs. Love

Today is Christmas, one of the two great feasts celebrating the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (The other is the Feast of the Annunciation, when He first became man, as a fertilized egg in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.)

One of the great revelations of God to the Children of Israel was that He not only was willing to look after them as their god, but to perform a covenant ceremony with them that made them part of the same clan. Throughout Israel’s history, He did not just act like their king; as Isaiah daringly sang, He acted like their father.

Isaiah 63:16 –

“But You are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel [Jacob] acknowledge us;
You, Lord, are our father,
“our redeemer” is Your name from of old.”

Ki ‘attah ‘abinu
ki ‘Abraham lo yeda’anu
we-Yisra’el lo wekiranu
‘attah YHWH ‘abinu
go’alenu me’owlam semeka

(Isaiah rhymes a lot. I feel that this should be made clearer to us English speakers.)

Isaiah 64:7-8 –

For You have hidden Your face from us
and have dissolved us
because of our iniquities.
Still, O Lord, our Father
are You; we are
the clay; still You are our potter;
we are all the work of Your hand.

ki histarta paneka mimmennu
beyad ‘awonenu
we-‘attah YHWH ’abinu
’attah; ‘anahnu
ha-ḥomer we-’attah yo-serenu
uma‘aseh ya-deka kullanu.

The next step was to have God join our clan and take up our lives, and even die and rise for us. He did not turn away from us or hide His face; He dug in deeper and was even stubborner than His people.

Which brings me to the other subject of this post.

One of the great problems with Star Wars is that it doesn’t adequately explain (through action!) the difference between love and attachment, and the difference between the Western and the Chinese/Japanese/Indian ideas of attachment.

The Eastern view is that all love and all involvement in the world is attachment, and therefore the thing to do is to avoid suffering by going off in the mountains, there to never see anyone or do anything ever again. (Bodhisattvas are putting themselves through a lot of crap by deigning to help suffering mankind instead of just dissolving away in nirvana, like a sensible enlightened being.) This led to all the “anger is of the Dark Side” and “Jedi can’t love” silliness.

The Western view is that you go off into the mountains in order to get to know God better and love Him more. Attachment is idolatry of people and things and goals; whereas love values them appropriately, and in their proper relationship to God (Who created them). Celibacy is a tool for focusing on God, and for practicing for life in Heaven where there’s no marriage or sex (but unimaginable intimacy of heart and soul with Christ, and with the rest of His Body). You get less attached, but much more involved and in love.

Alec Guinness was a Catholic, and he played Obi-Wan as an old Western monk who had doubted and gotten weary, but who began to flame up more and more with an inner glow of joy. He threw in a few Oriental bits of flavor, but overall he didn’t present the Asian type of “old master” and monk. Not at all. Star Wars was in large part about finding friends (even if you weren’t friendly at first) and sticking with them, not about dropping all your healthy loves and friendships in favor of nirvana.

Similarly, the Eastern Buddhist idea is that all emotions and thoughts are ultimately destructive and illusory, including the happy ones. The Western idea is that emotions and thoughts shouldn’t become idols and that you shouldn’t chase experiences like a drug; but that ultimately, God wants us to have joy. In His life on earth, Jesus was not ashamed to be angry or to be sad. Emotions are not a failing. He created them for us, to be helpful and beautiful (in moderation).

So without spoiling anybody… it’s pretty clear from the new movie that Star Wars continues to confuse those two things. I hope that the next movie will challenge that confusion. I think it would make a very satisfying story, actually.

Merry Christmas, everybody! Love your families and friends, in the name of Love Himself. Do not fear the suffering that comes with loving others, because Love will make it your glory in the end. Do not give up because it is hard. Dig in deeper.


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One of the Mysteries of Songwriting

It’s perfectly logical that not all songs will be amazing songs, or even competent songs. Of course 90% of everything is not entirely successful. But most bad songs are bad in a clear and sincere way. You can see why they failed, and it’s perfectly natural to miss the mark by just a tad, in those normal ways.

However… one of the true mysteries of songwriting is this:

There is apparently an endless supply of songs which are bad in a cutesy-wootsy way, and yet which also make the skin crawl, and which are also factually or theologically wrong. This isn’t an easy thing to do, and yet many songwriters manage it with great regularity. Editors of certain hymnals manage to unearth these coprolites with equally impressive consistency. And they usually stick the stickiest ones in the Christmas section, where unwary music directors can unleash them upon the world.

But how? How does this strange happening, this bizarre melding of form and function, manage to occur over and over again, through so many different songs in so many different hymnal editions?

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“Good Order and Happiness”

There have always been rules about being admitted into the US and about becoming a citizen; and the basic principle for both is that you can’t come into the US if you’re an enemy. (Unless you’re covered under diplomatic rules; and even that usually isn’t allowed in time of war, except maybe for purposes of peace negotiations.)

Here’s the text of my great-great-great’s naturalization papers.

State of Ohio, Darke County, SS.

Court of Common Pleas, _October_ Term, 185_7_.

Be it Remembered, That _Cornelius O’Brien,_ a native of _Ireland,_ and now a resident of this county, has this day come into Court, and made application to be fully Naturalized and to become a citizen of the United States; and it appearing to the satisfaction of this Court that the said _Cornelius O’Brien_ did on the _22nd_ day of _July,_ A. D. 18_54,_ declare his intention to become a citizen of the UNITED STATES.

And this Court being satisfied by the oaths of _John Shayne & Michael Hamish,_ that the said _C. O’Brien_ has resided within the United States five years, that he is of good moral character, that he is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same, and the said _C. O’Brien,_ being admitted by this Court, took the oath to support the Constitution of the United States of America and that he doth now absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to _Victoria, Queen of Great Britain & Ireland._

This is Therefore to Certify, That the said _Cornelius O’Brien_ has complied with the laws of the United States, in such case made and provided, and he is therefore admitted to be a citizen of the United States.

In Testimony Whereof, I hereunto set my hand, and affix the seal of said Court at Greenville, this _8th_ day of _October,_ A. D. 185_7._

_S. H. Robison,_
Clerk Court Common Pleas, Darke Co., Ohio.

So there you go. He had to be of good moral character – ie, not a criminal or a layabout. He had to believe and stand by the US Constitution and its principles, and to swear to support it. He had to be “well disposed” to law and order under the Constitution, and to the happiness of all the states united under it. He also had to swear that he renounced all foreign allegiances (since he wasn’t eligible for a dual citizenship) to all other forms of government. Since he was an Irish nationalist who allegedly fled Ireland rather abruptly, renouncing Ireland was a big deal for him. (Renouncing Queen Victoria, not so much!) Since he ended up fighting as a volunteer for the Union a few years later, you can see that he didn’t take his new allegiance lightly.

There was a time when folks in the US thought that maybe Catholics had a temporal and political allegiance to the Pope as the temporal head of the Papal States, and later, as the temporal head of Vatican City. This was eventually ironed out, mostly by Catholics showing their loyalties through their actions, and through being Catholic and American both. (Some Catholics may have gone too far in taking their religion out of the public square, which of course was unwise.)

If Muslims want to be citizens of the US, they can’t pledge allegiance to any present-day caliphate or be working for such a thing. If people decide they want to be loyal to another government, there is such a thing as renouncing one’s citizenship and leaving. Otherwise, you need to buckle down, and be a good citizen of the US and demonstrate the civic virtues.

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NY Times Writers Never Heard of Memorial Day

First off, I commend the NYT writers for writing a story about the brave, dedicated men who cremated Liberia’s Ebola corpses, and how they are unjustly treated as a sort of “untouchable” outcast group.

But they include one very stupid paragraph.

Instead of reminding people of the many churches and religions around the world which forbid cremation (except sometimes in emergencies), and the stigma which cremation still holds in the US when not done for the right reasons, they come up with this:

To understand how cremation is viewed by Liberians, one must first consider that this is a country with a national holiday — Decoration Day — meant solely for people to go and clean the graves of their loved ones. Every year on Decoration Day, Liberians troop to cemeteries and burial plots across the country with brooms, bleach, soap and water.

Yeah, just like that national holiday Americans have, where we also go to visit, decorate, and clean the graves of our loved ones. You know, Memorial Day. The one that used to be called Decoration Day. The one that Liberians got from black American immigrants who moved there.

Wakes can go on for days. People with little or no money to spare will beg and borrow to lay their dead in coffins made of black mahogany wood. They will build marble tombstones, and buy entire plots of land just to bury those they love. Many Liberians believe that if the dead are not properly buried, they will come back to haunt the living.

And all this is different from US funerary customs? How? Okay, we can’t usually get mahogany, but it sure used to be popular for funerals here; and we have marble tombstones and funeral plots, and plenty of us hold wakes that don’t last just one day. Also, many Americans believe in ghosts.

So… seriously, NY Times editors? What the heck were you thinking?

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Retraining Your Hands to Stay Warm?

There’s an old New York Times article from 1988, that says the US Army had even then known for decades how to train cold hands that don’t warm up (easily or at all). The idea is that you re-teach the body to dilate the hands’ blood vessels whenever the body feels cold.

How do you do that?

Apparently the idea was that you get in a warm place and have your hands in warm water.

Then you go to a cold place, without putting on anything particularly warm — but you keep your hands submerged in warm water.

You do this every other day, but 3 to 6 times on that day.

The idea is that your body gets used to having your hands feel toasty and relaxed while your body is cold, so it starts to set your blood circulation in your hands on “toasty and relaxed” whenever your body feels cold.

The bad news is that the retraining can take a long time. But since they were training soldiers who had to be stationed in Alaska, I guess they had the time.

Obviously it would be a bit harder to do this with cold feet or a cold nose, and a lot harder to do it with a cold butt (unless you have a cold bathroom and a warm bathtub). But it seems logical.

(Though you would probably want to make sure you go to the bathroom before commencing your training periods, if your family ever used water on hands for your toilet training… which a lot of mothers used to do….)

The article did warn that it doesn’t work well for people with high blood pressure, arterial disease, bad veins caused by drug abuse, etc.

I hate having cold hands all day, so it’s probably worth a try.

UPDATE: I’ve been Instalanched!

Rhhardin, a  year-round biker, says in the comments over there that the secret is to keep your wrists warm. I can believe it, since my wrists are always getting cold. But they also get cold when my arms and wrists are fully covered, so maybe rhhardin has really warm wristbands.

I haven’t been diligent about the retraining, but it does seem to be helping. Of course, it also helps to eat my veggies and take my vitamins. (Iron helps the body control temperature, and pretty much everything from A to D will help your body work better.)

This is a pretty old blog, with no particular theme. I talk about science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, early Christian writers (“patristics”), anime, name origins, Catholicism, and so forth. If you look under the Buy My Books tag, you’ll see that I’ve also done translations of some old books. Feel free to buy them and review them! (I’ve sold somewhere around 50-200 copies of them, but I’ve got no reviews on Amazon yet. A puzzlement.)


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A New Alvin Maker Story by Orson Scott Card

Over at National Review, of all places.

Features one of the few watercolor illustrations I’ve ever seen of a fantasy/sf story.

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My Paranoid Thought of the Week

In recent years, Japanese society’s worry about Chinese military moves has translated into not just increased funding and materiel for the Japanese Self Defense Force. There has also been a much more straightforward series of attempts (through anime and manga, anyway) at dealing with Japan’s bad military past in WWII; and at trying to figure out how to have a strong military without weird elitism, while still being the good guys.

However, it occurred to me the other day that another development in recent years has been that outlying areas of Japan are getting a lot more attention and use as settings. Sometimes it’s pretty obviously the work of local tourist boards (or anime artists taking more staycations in Japan instead of going overseas). But there’s also started to be a pretty persistent theme that outlying areas and rural areas are important parts of Japan, and that a patriotic Japanese person from Tokyo should be respectful of people from the rural west coast of Japan, or Hokkaido, or Okinawa, or the southern islands.

And then it occurred to me that if the Chinese or the North Koreans did pull anything, it would likely happen on the islands, or on the rural west coast, or up in Hokkaido.

So yeah, I hope it’s just staycations and a love of rural landscapes and unusual settings, but I’m afraid it might be a government-supported attempt to make sure that city Japanese feel solidarity with outlying Japanese, in case of war.

And if it is… well, it’s not the worst idea, promoting a love and knowledge of all the provinces of Japan to help pump up patriotism. I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be necessary.

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Expressions from the Ancient World Quoted by St. Jerome

St. Jerome is a tad slaphappy and humorous in his short book Against Helvidius (Contra Helvidium), probably because he wrote it in a single night.

Albus… aterve sis, nescio.

“I don’t know whether you be white or black.”

Expression meaning: “I don’t know you from Adam.”

Camelum vidimus saltitantem.

“We’ve seen a camel dance.”

Expression meaning: Seeing something attempted by someone not fitted for it, which makes the results strange and ridiculous.

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Amateur Introverts

The amusing thing about Internet cellphones is that now everybody has turned into introverts for part of their day.

The not-so-amusing thing is that these extroverted amateur introverts have not developed the introvert skills they need for survival.

Peripheral vision is your friend, as are the sensory nerves in your feet. There is no reason you should be running into people while reading and walking, except lack of practice. Please practice somewhere safe before attempting advanced maneuvers, o amateurs.

(To be fair, a crowded New York sidewalk is never going to be ideal for reading and walking. So why do it there?)

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Alvar of Cordoba on Reality Denial in Societies

Alvar of Cordoba was a 9th century Christian writer who lived as a dhimmi under Muslim rule and Sharia law. He was part of a reform movement trying to encourage Christians to be proud of their religion, and not to convert to Islam for gain, and he wrote about the various martyrs of Cordoba.

Martyrdom was easily achieved for these folks, because Muslim law held that one could be killed for being a Muslim who converted to Christianity, killed for being a Christian child of a Muslim parent, or killed for being a Christian who says a few home truths about Mohammed. (Plus the ever-popular “getting killed by a Muslim mob before you even get to a qadi’s law court.”) The sound of church bells and of public Christian or Jewish preaching was also prohibited, among many other normal activities which were harshly penalized.

Despite all the martyrdoms and despite this injustice inherent in the Muslim system, along with a whole lot of other onerous dhimmi rules and fines and taxes and “voluntary contributions,” some Christians and Jews were disinclined to admit that life in Cordoba was basically living on sufferance, and that Sharia law was designed to make non-Muslims and Muslims alike live in a state of submission and fear. (Even though the name of the religion is “Islam,” which means “Submission,” and the relevant texts say that dhimmis are supposed to feel oppressed, because otherwise it’s not following Sharia law.) They apparently resented the martyrs and the preachers for “making trouble,” instead of resenting Sharia law or their Muslim rulers.

So yeah, this sort of thing does happen in societies. And this is what Alvar said:

“You who would deny the existence of persecution at this time – are you maybe fogged in some cloud of error sprinkled with the dregs of iniquity?

“And what greater persecution is there going to be?

“What kind of harsher degradation are you waiting for, when what is reasonably believed in the heart cannot be mentioned in public with the mouth?”

Indiculus Luminosus, 6.

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The Martyrs of San Bernardino

Since the Farooks killed all their victims in hatred of the Christian and Jewish faith (and a few others), the faithful have become martyrs who went directly to Heaven, and who can and will intercede for us. Many of them may have led imperfect lives, but martyrdom takes care of that.

Here is an article on the victims. I’m going to spotlight the known Catholics, but of course many modern martyrdom causes (like that of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions) have included Protestant martyrs too; and the Maccabees and other Jewish martyrs of the Bible are also part of our faith. (And we can certainly hope and pray for the salvation of all of them.)

Tin Nguyen, parishioner at St. Barbara’s. Former Vietnamese refugee from Communist oppression. She was 31 and engaged to marry a nice young engineer. Her best friend at work was a Muslim lady named Anies Kondoker, who was also shot but survived.

A fund for the martyr’s funeral expenses and for her family.

Tin Nguyen, pray for us!

Damian Meins, 58. Parishioner of St. Johns, Rubidoux in the past; couldn’t find his current parish. Husband of the Sacred Heart Parish School principal. Taught phys ed at St. Catherine of Alexandria School and ran the after-school programs, played Santa Claus for the church, and painted a mural for the school. Selfless and smart.

Damian Meins, pray for us!

Bennetta Betbadal, 46. She was an Iranian Catholic whose family fled persecution in Iran when she was a child, and married another devout Catholic. She was also a chemist.

A fund for the family of the martyr.

Bennetta Betbadal, pray for us!

Harry Bowman, 46. His childhood parish was St. Joseph, in Dallastown, PA. He graduated from Dallastown Area High School in Pennsylvania, then from Johns Hopkins (geography and environmental engineering) and then got his doctorate  from Ohio State. He was a private person who once worked at CREATE at USC doing counterterrorism analysis, but changed his career to do statistical analysis at the health department. He was a pious Catholic who taught religion classes at his parish. According to his obituary, he taught Confirmation classes especially. He was also an avid hiker, gamer, and dancer. His nickname was “Hal.”

A fair number of gamers have been killed while fighting the War on Terror, or while otherwise serving the US (like Sean Smith in Benghazi). But this is the first Catholic gamer martyr of whom I’m aware.

UPDATE: Bowman was apparently separated or divorced, and it’s not clear what the situation was. But of course, even if you’re not in a state of grace, martyrdom puts you in one.

UPDATE: The mother’s side of the family has set up an education fund for his daughters. There’s also a YouFundMe that is apparently a scam, so beware!

Harry Bowman, pray for us!

Yvette Velasco, 27. Parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena.

Yvette Velasco, pray for us!

Martyrs of San Bernardino, patrons of food inspection and health departments, pray for us!

Also, let’s not forget those who survived, and who thus qualify as confessors. Pray for them, because they are probably suffering a lot of physical pain, survivor’s guilt, and grief. Pray for all the martyrs’ families and friends and co-workers, too.

Remember, Christ warned us how it would be. If the world was always going to crucify the Master, how are they going to treat the disciples any better? (cf. Matthew 10:24-25)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you, because of Me.” (Matthew 5:11)

“Dearly beloved, do not take it as strange that a fiery trial takes place among you, as if some strange new thing were happening to you. But if you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice! For when His glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)

“Blessed is that servant whom, when his Lord shall come, shall find him working.” (Matthew 24:26)


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