Thursday, April 16, 2015

Restart, Reboot, Reset, Re . . .

Niall rolls up to his blog, blows away the dust, sweeps away the cobwebs, taps it gently, and says:

"Hello? Is this thing on?"

Well, after what could be one of the most epic blog fades in history, I've decided to restart this crazy blog thing. I really have no explanation for my absence (except possibly a serious addiction to Facebook). My previous blog post was in August. Late Summer faded into Fall, Fall faded into Winter, and now Winter has faded into Spring. April showers and all that, dontcha know.

Usually after Christmas I go into a kind of blue funk that lasts through January and February, but usually in March and April I feel myself coming back to life. I wouldn't exactly call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but sometimes it sure feels like it. I feel as though I really don't have very much to say that's interesting, either about myself or about the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church or any of my other passions or interests. What has been said about the Catholic Church has usually been said better and in a more timely fashion by writers far better than I. I've thought about shutting the blog down or at least moving to another blogging platform for a new look and a fresh start. For now though, I've decided to keep the blog where it is and keep going.

Now that Spring is here, however, I feel the itch to do some writing, and I thought perhaps it would be best to start small with some new blog posts. I have been working a tiny bit on some unfinished fiction projects that have lain dormant for a long time, and perhaps I'll have more to say about that later. My renewed interest in writing isn't helped by the fact that I'm frequently hampered by pain in my lower back, legs, and feet that seems to be getting steadily worse. About the only things that really help are prescription pain relievers and sitting with my wheelchair seat tilted back at an angle. Unfortunately with the wheelchair seat tilted back, it's impossible to use the keyboard and mouse. However, I'm thinking about possible solutions including using a lap tray and wireless keyboard or even dictating my stories to at least get them out of my head.

It also didn't help that in the last few days I discovered my computer was infested with malware, spyware, and for all I know, under-ware, that made it nearly impossible to use the internet without millions of annoying ads and pop-ups appearing. Desperate for a solution, I had to call HP, renew the warranty on my now aging desktop machine, and get a couple of technicians to take over the computer  remotely and purge it of all the offending unwanted software. A whole afternoon and at least $50 later, the computer is now malware free, at least for the moment. The whole experience has made me skittish about using, and especially downloading, anything from the internet, at least for the time being. It made me nostalgic for the days of manual typewriters or the pre-internet days of the late '80s and early '90s where each computer was a standalone machine and one could use it without fear of being infected by something evil.

So that, Dear Reader (if I have any regular readers left), in a few brief paragraphs, is a summary of where the blog is today. I will do my utmost to be a more regular and faithful correspondent. Until next time, friends.

Your humble and obedient servant,
Niall Mor

Monday, August 04, 2014

So Where Have I Been?

My Precioussss!
Nowhere much, but the blog has suffered, unfortunately. In May I received an Amazon Kindle Fire from my brother Bill, something I'd been hoping for and hinting at for quite some time whenever possible birthday and Christmas presents were mentioned. I am ready to proclaim this thing the coolest gadget in the history of gadgets. Being able to take a library of e-books, apps, and podcasts, with me anywhere I go on one little easily portable device has been enormously liberating for me. On these lazy summer days, I can read, chat on Facebook, play a game, or surf the web from anywhere in the house, including my nice comfy bed if I so choose. Interestingly, I find myself downloading a slew of superhero-themed e-books and comics, returning to an old interest of mine. The Kindle revolutionizes  the experience of reading, so I'm dusting off some old, unfinished superhero writing projects of my own and daydreaming about the time when they just might appear on an e-book reader near you. We shall see.

Stratford Caldecott, RIP

Stratford "Strat" Caldecott, the British Catholic author, speaker, and Marvel Comics fan that I blogged about in my last entry, has died. He passed into eternal life July 17 with his wife and daughters at his side. Here is a link to the obituary published by Second Spring, the journal he edited. I had not heard of him until recently, and of course I did not know the man personally, but I wish I had. I shall have to read one of his books. Any man who loved Marvel Comics, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Catholic faith is someone I would like to have met.
From all accounts, he was a man of deep faith, profound intellectual insight, and a gentle sense of humor. I am sure he will be missed by those who knew and loved him. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Avengers (And I) Assemble for Stratford Caldecott!

I #CapforStrat!
I heard about this yesterday on Facebook, and I thought it was so cool I had to join in.

Catholic writer and Marvel Comics fan Stratford "Strat" Caldecott is in the last stages of a long fight against prostate cancer. In order to make his remaining time as pleasant as possible, his daughters have asked Marvel Studios for an advance copy of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier DVD because Mr. Caldecott was too ill to go to the theater and see the movie. They've also reached out to stars of the Marvel superhero movies and the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. via Facebook and Twitter asking them to tweet photos with messages of love and support with the hashtag #CapforStrat. Mr. Caldecott's daughter Sophie reports that Marvel executives have arranged for a private screening of the film, and that many Marvel stars and ordinary people alike have tweeted their support. I'm not a movie star, but I'd like Mr. Caldecott and family to know I'm with them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repost from Holy Thursday 2012

NOTE: I originally posted this on Holy Thursday 2012, and unfortunately once again I'm ill on Holy Thursday, so I'm going to have to repost this. Prayers for all my readers as we enter the Blessed Triduum.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend tonight's Holy Thursday liturgy due to illness. For all those in a similar situation, whether due to illness or some other reason, I offer this, the beautiful Eucharistic hymn "Tantum ergo sacramentum," traditionally sung as the Eucharist is removed from the Tabernacle to a place of repose. The lyrics in Latin and in English are as follows:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who Reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless Majesty.

A Blessed and Holy Easter Season to all my readers!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lorica of St. Patrick

The Lorica of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgement of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim
In obedience to the Angels,
In the service of the Archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of Holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun
Brilliance of moon
Splendor of fire
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea
Stability of earth
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s host to secure me
against snares of devils
against temptations of vices
against inclinations of nature
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd.
A summon today all these powers between me and these evils
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of heathenry,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Thrones,
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the Creator.
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of Christ
May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Find the original text here.

St. Patrick, patron of Ireland, pray for us!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Now therefore saith the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord' s ministers shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered and said to his people: Behold I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.

(Joel 2: 12-19, Douay-Rheims Version, Epistle for Ash Wednesday Mass in the Extraordinary Form)

Monday, February 03, 2014

Surely Not, Sherlock!

Well, I wasted two hours of my life last night.

No, not watching the snooze-fest that was Seattle's absolute trouncing of Denver in Superbowl XLVIII, although that might have been preferable. No, I watched the third season finale of Sherlock, the BBC's postmodern update and reboot of the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. I watched the first season of this show when it premiered on PBS in the United States a couple of years ago, wasn't especially impressed, and skipped the second and third seasons. I decided to give the show another look, however, when some recent late night pain and insomnia kept me up, and I needed something diverting to watch while waiting for the pain medications to kick in. Before I knew it, I was hooked—not on the pain medicine, but on Sherlock. With each "season" being only three episodes long, it was a fairly simple matter to get caught up. I plowed through seasons 1 and 2, and the two previous episodes of season 3 in order to prepare for the big finale last night. What a letdown!

For those who haven't seen the show, perhaps a few words of explanation are in order, but here there be spoilers. You have been warned. In this contemporary update of the Holmes universe, some elements and vestiges of the original stories remain, although often transmuted and transmogrified.  Holmes is still a brilliant but asocial, eccentric oddball, a violinist, and a sometime nicotine addict, residing at 221B Baker Street, London, and attempting to make a living as the world's only "consulting detective." In his day job, he's a pathologist at London's St. Bartholomew's Hospital, but he's forever running his own bizarre experiments on the cadavers to test equally bizarre theories that his coworkers find incomprehensible. His coworkers, however, are just as incomprehensible to Sherlock as he is to them. One of his colleagues, the timid, mousy Molly Hooper (brilliantly played by Louise Brealey) has a massive crush on him, but he's oblivious to her attentions. When Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade of Scotland Yard (Rupert Graves) calls Holmes a psychopath, Holmes snaps back, "High functioning sociopath. Do your research."

While Conan Doyle's original Holmes was definitely an asocial eccentric, he could, if need be, muster a modicum of social skills, and, on occasion, a kind of gallantry, particularly, if a woman was in danger. He could rally to the defense of a damsel in distress. For much of this new series, Holmes, as played by Cumberbatch, isn't that classy. He's simply arrogant and condescending to anyone he considers his intellectual inferior, which is to say most people. To put it bluntly, he's a jerk. For much of the series, Holmes insists he isn't really interested in questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the needs of the people who come to him for help. People are merely ciphers, minor factors in a complex intellectual problem. However, as the series progresses, we see that despite his protestations to the contrary, he really does have a sense of right and wrong and a desire to help people achieve justice. In a way, the series is as much about Sherlock's coming out of his shell and learning to form normal social relationships as it is about solving mysteries. Sherlock matures as the series progresses, especially through his relationship with Watson, but with each season being only three episodes long, we don't get to see that relationship develop as much as we might like.

Sherlock's brother Mycroft, on the other hand, remains largely the same throughout the series. Brilliantly played by series co-creator Mark Gatiss, Mycroft "is the British government," a sinister and calculating spook and spymaster, holding a shadowy but powerful position in the British intelligence services. Mycroft does have a more human side, but we don't get to see it until the very end of the series. The long-suffering Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), Holmes's housemaid in the original stories, is now his landlady, who owes Sherlock a favor: he saw to it that her drug-dealing, abusive ex-husband was sent to prison.

Watson, for his part, is a veteran of the current war in Afghanistan, who has been advised by his therapist to keep a blog as a means of treating his post-traumatic stress disorder. Holmes and Watson, both in need of a roommate, are introduced through a mutual acquaintance, and a legendary partnership is born. Watson blogs about Holmes's adventures, the website attracts new clients, and the two detectives battle an assortment of serial killers, art thieves, terrorists, assassins, and blackmailers, most of whom, it seems, are under the control of the psychotic master criminal Jim Moriarty (chillingly played by Irish actor Andrew Scott). Throughout the series there are all sorts of clever, winks, nods, and references to the original stories, from episode titles and names of characters to plot points and little passing observations Holmes makes. Often the writers will combine and update elements from two or more different Conan Doyle stories and give them a contemporary spin. Most of these references and updates are clever and well done, but not all: I wasn't a big fan of making Irene Adler, the opera singer who actually manages to outwit Holmes in the original Conan Doyle story "A Scandal in Bohemia" into a high class prostitute and dominatrix in the updated version, but I was willing to overlook it because the series up to that point had been pretty good.

I suspected the show was headed for real trouble, however, as season 2 ended and season 3 began. At the end of season 2, in an episode loaded with references to the Conan Doyle story, "The Final Problem," Holmes and Moriarty have an epic confrontation, Moriarty apparently succeeds in destroying Holmes's reputation, Moriarty apparently commits suicide, and Holmes likewise apparently leaps from the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital to a bloody, suicidal death right in front of a helpless Doctor Watson. As season 3 opens, however, we find that Holmes never really died and his apparent death was all a piece of remarkably clever stagecraft managed by British Intelligence. By this time, Watson has moved on and proposed to Mary Morstan, the love of his life (who originally appears in the Conan Doyle novel, The Sign of the Four), and is furious to find that Holmes deceived him. Since we don't get to see the relationship between Holmes and Watson develop in depth over time, and because Holmes is such a jerk for so much of the time we do see, Watson's emotional collapse at Holmes's apparent death and outrage at Holmes's fraud and deception, don't ring entirely true. The second episode of season 3, which takes place on Watson's wedding day, is little more than a clip show and a comic relief episode in which Holmes struggles valiantly to give a best man speech, recount some "humorous" cases, and solve a mystery that's taking place at the wedding reception itself.

The real deal-breaker for me, however came with last night's season finale. Holmes and Watson, having forged an uneasy truce after Holmes's deception, go up against a particularly loathsome blackmailer, tabloid magnate Charles Augustus Magnusson ("Charles Augustus Milverton" in Conan Doyle's original story). Mary Morstan Watson, John Watson's wife, is also going after Magnusson, because he knows that she—get ready for this—is actually a foreign intelligence agent and international assassin posing as Mary Morstan. Sherlock deduces the truth about Mary and tricks her into confessing to him and to John. John is again outraged, but somewhat incredibly, decides to forgive both Mary and Sherlock. Sherlock and John return to confront Magnusson, but discover that all the incriminating information Magnusson has about Mary is in his head, and only in his head—there are no paper documents or files on computer hard drives. When Sherlock points out that Magnusson thus has no proof of Mary's real identity, Magnusson coolly replies, "I don't need proof. I'm in newspapers."

Knowing that Magnusson will be a threat to John and Mary as long as he's alive, Sherlock calmly shoots Magnusson in cold blood. In order to save Sherlock from a long prison sentence, Mycroft proposes a deal: Sherlock can go to Eastern Europe and perform some high level espionage for the British government, or he can go to jail. Sherlock agrees to do the spy work, leading to what looks to a final parting between himself and John Watson. Just minutes into Sherlock's exile, however, Mycroft calls him back to England; it seems none other than Moriarty is alive and up to his old tricks. End episode, roll credits.

Will there be a fourth season? I don't know. Will I be watching it? After that turkey of an episode, I really don't know. I don't mind the secret agent stuff so much if it's done in moderation. From my reading of the original stories, I know that at times, largely because of Mycroft, Holmes is called upon to be as much a secret agent as a detective, performing certain highly confidential services for Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria and the other crowned heads of Europe, so there is that precedent in the source material. This reboot, however, really overdoes that whole aspect, transforming Holmes from a nerdy science geek who solves crimes into some kind of badass James Bond-style superspy. I like James Bond and superspy stories too, but when I tune in expecting one kind of genre and get something else, it really bugs me.

It would have been perfectly plausible to imagine what might happen if Magnusson knew something incriminating about Mary Morstan. It would have also been perfectly plausible to imagine what might have happened if she had confronted him about it; but that incriminating something should have been something believable. Maybe, years before, she had embezzled from her employer, or had an affair with an important married man. She should have been what she had been portrayed as up to that point, a middle-aged woman happy to find love at last, and desperate to keep an incriminating secret; not a spy or an assassin, or some ridiculous baloney like that! Come on! And the whole "Sherlock and Mycroft at home with their parents for Christmas" subplot? Please! Honestly, sometimes I think even I could write something better than that. Why don't I?