Friday, December 29, 2006

From the IAS Sports Department . . .


This just in from the Sports Department here at It's All Straw:

University of South Carolina 44

University of Houston 36

Get details here!

Meanwhile . . .

University of Kentucky 28

Clemson University 20

Get details here!

Tough break, Creegs!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Claybourne: The Season That Never Was


In my previous post, I discussed the original radio and podcast drama Claybourne. Here are some further thoughts.

One of Claybourne's creators, Andrew Dubber, keeps a blog and in this post he explains that the 96 extant episodes of Claybourne were only the first half of a planned two-season story arc for the show. Regrettably, the money ran out, and the second season was never made. He provides a synopsis of the show for those who haven't heard it and a brief outline of the phantom second season, a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.

He proposes many ideas I like and some I don't. In Season Two, we would have learned more about the origin and intentions of the taniwha (If you think the story is weird now, just wait. It gets weirder). The odious Frank Buchanan and his equally reptilian estranged son Philip reconcile to each other and find a measure of redemption as they sacrifice themselves to defeat the taniwha and save the town. Frank's proposed theme park, "Maoriworld," is never built. Clive Moody, a smooth talking computer expert addicted to creature comforts, goes mad and dumps all of his gadgets, from his espresso maker to his stereo system (perpetually playing cool jazz) out on his front lawn. So far, so good. Dubber's plans for Thompson and Karen, however, were positively perverse:

Karen's abusive husband finally turns up - only to be eaten by the taniwha... but not before threatening Karen with extreme violence. She ends up running away (after he threatens her, but before he gets eaten) and for some reason I can't entirely recall, she ends up in prison in Auckland.

You remember she took off with the money after Janine's death - well, most likely she was nabbed for passing counterfeit bills (though we toyed with the idea of credit card fraud). I don't think we ever finalised the details - but I know we wanted to subvert the lovers' happy ending at all costs.

Thompson takes her one phone call but dismisses it as another fraudulent Delilah trick. It was going to be cruel, surprising and very, very final. We just thought it was funny at the time and that seemed a good enough reason.

Thompson, of course, settles in Claybourne - probably, we thought, reunited with his wife (though she would have been fun to kill).
(Emphasis added).


I, for one, would have been infuriated with this ending. Call me an old-fashioned romantic, a sentimentalist at heart, but I thought Thompson and Karen deserved a break. These characters have been kidnapped, shot at, and buried in concrete up to their necks, and now they're NOT going to get together? Aw, c'mon! That's not transgressive, just twisted. What's especially disturbing is the evident glee with which these plot developments were contemplated. Sounds to me like some especially nasty postmodern cynicism breaking through, as if to say, "All that old-fashioned stuff about love, and courage, and justice? It's all bullshit." Yes, "real" life is often painful, cruel, and unjust. That's why I think, at least occasionally, happy endings are important in fiction. A steady diet of defeat in both fact and fiction leads not to "realism" but to despair.

All is not lost, however. Dubber concludes his post with this sentence that's practically a license to re-imagine the story as the listener sees fit:

"Likewise, feel free to embellish the story in your own imagination. It's all yours now."

I think I feel the urge for some Claybourne fan fiction coming on :-).

"Claybourne"


What do artificial intelligence experiments, strange legends of New Zealand's Maori people, corporate hit men, and morphine-addicted real estate developers have in common?

They're all elements of Claybourne, an original radio drama broadcast in New Zealand in the 1990s and now resurrected on The Podcast Network. I've previously blogged about how much I've come to enjoy podcasts in general and podcast dramas in particular, and Claybourne is definitely one of the most original, entertaining, and at times, downright bizarre podcast dramas I've come across--despite a few flaws I'll get to in a minute. This story should appeal to fans of The X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, and with the latter two shows on hiatus until after the first of the year, Claybourne might serve as a substitute for those seeking entertainment that's chock full of paranormally weird goodness.

While on vacation in New Zealand, Thompson, an employee of an American telecommunications firm, is summoned to the remote village of Claybourne, where one of his company's transmitting and receiving stations seems to be malfunctioning. From the moment he arrives, strange things start to happen. His cell phone goes dead and none of his faxes to the home office go through. The local Maori shaman warns of a terrifying dragon-like creature lurking outside the village at night--a creature Thompson seems destined to confront. The manager of the station turns up dead under very suspicious circumstances, and the local constable seems only too happy to sweep the whole matter under the rug. The local landlord, a brash arrogant entrepreneur named Frank Buchanan, confronts Thompson with a gun. Everyone in town seems to have a secret, but no one seems to want Thompson to leave. Romantic sparks fly between Thompson and Karen the hotel manager, but even she has a troubled past. The deeper he digs into the mystery the weirder it gets.

The dead station manager was an expert in behavioral psychology, and the manager before that, who mysteriously disappeared, was a disgraced former military officer. For some reason, the station is equipped with an elaborate state of the art security system, far more sophisticated than anything a telephone company would need. The company is willing to pay any price, including a million dollars in cash to a local landowner, to keep the station running. People in town are receiving unexplained phone calls and faxes. Just what is going on up there? It seems Thompson's company and the U. S. government have been conducting experiments in artificial intelligence using the station as a laborotory and the people of the town as guinea pigs. Things have gotten way out of hand, and the company has sent in Thompson, and later, a thuggish expert in "risk management" to clean up the mess.

Claybourne is part whodunit, part sci-fi thriller, part travelogue, and part soap opera, but it's all entertaining and all delivered with a distinctive Kiwi accent. The contrast and sometimes tension between the dominant white or European culture and the distinctly different native Maori subculture provides an important subplot and adds color and texture to the story. The two flaws I mentioned have to do with the length of the episodes and a maddeningly inconclusive end to the series. The episodes are short, averaging less than seven minutes each. This means that just about the time the story takes an interesting or provocative turn, the listener has to stop and download the next episode. The alternative, of course, is to download several episodes at a time, but this can be time-consuming, specially for listeners like me with a dial-up connection.

The other weakness to the show is a maddeningly inconclusive end to the series. Just as it seems our hero and heroine, Thompson and Karen, can safely declare their love for one another, Thompson's ex-wife Monica, for whom he's still carrying a torch, arrives on the scene. Will Thompson and Monica reconcile? If so, where does that leave Karen? The series ends as she decides to leave Claybourne with Mike, a young Maori man who had been Thompson's ally, and with the million dollars Thompson's company provided, unaware that the money is counterfeit. Meanwhile, up at the station, in a truly bizarre twist, "Delilah," the artificial intelligence behind much of the mischief in Claybourne, and the strange dragon-like entity known as the taniwha enter into an unholy alliance.

More on Claybourne in my next post.

Another Satisfied Customer

In response to my recent post concerning the University of South Carolina's victory over Clemson, blogger Creegs wrote:

I am a Clemson alum, and fan. That game ripped my heart out. I have nothing but bitter hatred towards just about all Cock fans, but I must tell you, your writing and tale of the story was very entertaining, and appreciated. Good luck in the bowl game!


Thanks, Creegs! I'm not sure I like the "bitter hatred towards just about all Cock fans" part, but I appreciate your compliments on my writing, and I think it's very generous of you to wish us luck in the upcoming Liberty Bowl.

See Creegs? USC fans aren't all bad--as long as you get us back in our coffins before the sun comes up :-).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Toora, Loora, Loora To You Too!


Are there closet Catholics on the staff at Trinity Broadcasting Network?

I was pleasantly surprised while channel surfing late last night to find the mostly Protestant-oriented cable channel showing Going My Way starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. They've also recently shown The Shoes of the Fisherman with Anthony Quinn, reruns of Bishop Sheen's old Life Is Worth Living series, and admiring documentaries about Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. These forays into Catholicism are welcome diversions from TBN's usual parade of evangelical preachers marching back and forth across the giant stages of megachurches, badgering, lecturing, and hectoring their congregations while waving oversized Bibles at them. When I'm visiting kinfolk in Charlotte, I can watch EWTN on cable up there, but this part of South Carolina may as well be the buckle on the Bible belt. I'm glad to see that TBN at least acknowledges that Catholics are Christians. I'd love to see more Catholic-oriented programming from TBN: more Catholic movies and maybe even (gasp!) a televised Mass occasionally. Hey, it could happen!

As for the movie Going My Way itself, by today's standards, it's a schmaltzy piece of work (even one of the characters uses that word to describe the title song), but it is refreshing to see priests portrayed positively--nary a closet homosexual, a pedophile, an authoritarian prig, or an alcoholic in the bunch. Unlike, say, the hatchet-job Priest, in which all these loathsome stereotypes appear. Heck, in Going My Way, priests even look like fun people! Sure, Barry Fitzgerald plays a crusty old Irish padre, but even he turns out to have a heart of gold. Bing Crosby plays the young, progressive Father O' Malley, sent in to cash-strapped St. Dominic's parish to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald), but instructed to do it gently in order to spare the older priest's feelings. Der Bingle organizes the local street punks into a boys' choir that sings pop tunes as well as liturgical music. Hearing "Would You Like to Swing on A Star?" juxtaposed with "Ave Verum Corpus" is a bit jarring to say the least, but hey, this is the gospel according to Hollywood. Father Bing, aided by his boys' choir and a former girlfriend who's now with the Metropolitan Opera, tries unsuccessfully to peddle the song he's written, "Going My Way" to a music publisher, in hopes that the fees and royalties will help St. Dominic's out of its financial woes. The publishers don't go for "Going My Way," but they do like "Would You Like to Swing on a Star," so Father Bing can get St. Dom's out of the hole. Father Bing and Father Barry develop a friendship, the church burns down, and Father Bing brings Father Barry's Mom over from Ireland, but Father Bing leaves St. Dominic's with a song in his heart because he knows he'll be replaced by his old high school buddy who's also become a priest.

This movie is a muddle, but it's a sweet, sentimental muddle, and I'll take sweet and sentimental over cynical and mean-spirited any day.

GAME! . . . COCKS! . . . GAME! . . . COCKS!


It occurs to me that I have been remiss in my blogging duties. I reported on Auburn's fifth consecutive triumph over their perennial foes Alabama, but I failed to announce the victory of my own beloved South Carolina Gamecocks over their detested arch rivals, the Clemson Tigers, by a score of 31-28. Better late than never. The title of this post is an effort to reproduce in print a neat little auditory effect you'll hear at home games. One side of the stadium yells "GAME!" The other yells "COCKS!" The stereophonic effect has been known to discombobulate opposing teams.

It wasn't just a game, it was a cardiovascular workout, with highs and lows and plenty of heart-stopping moments for fans. Too often, the Gamecocks come out looking like college football's equivalent of the Chicago Cubs, a bunch of lovable losers that you just can't help cheering for no matter how often they break your heart. Carolina fans celebrate every victory they can get, especially over Clemson. If there's one thing I've learned in nearly 40 years of pulling for South Carolina, it's to keep your expectations low. For example, right before half time, Carolina, down 14-7, was driving on the Clemson goal. USC quarterback Blake Mitchell dropped back to pass, but a Clemson defender got in his face, deflected the ball, and ran the other way for a Clemson touchdown. I thought we were doomed.

At one point in the third quarter Carolina trailed 28-14. Again, I thought we were doomed, but miracle of miracles, the Gamecocks rallied, using stiff defense and taking advantage of Clemson turnovers to actually go ahead 31-28 late in the game. Clemson, of course, promptly got the ball and drove down the field, lining up for a field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime, where in all likelihood Clemson would win. Would Carolina's miracle slip away? I'd seen it happen before.

On the last play of the game, Clemson lined up for a field goal . . . and missed! Carolina beat Clemson! Could life get any sweeter? As a result of this titanic victory, the Gamecocks will now have the opportunity to play in the Totally Meaningless Media Event & Marketing Opportunity Bowl, or some such. Not so many years ago, there were only a few major college bowl games--Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Orange--and each one had a share in determining college football's national championship. In short, they meant something. Now, however, there are so many of these postseason extravaganzas that just about any team that wins more than half its games can go to one of these artificial hoopty-dos. Oh, well. We'll take it.

As an interesting side note, Auburn, whom I love for Dad's sake, and Clemson, whom I detest . . . well, just because they're Clemson :)--have many similarities. Both are the land grant colleges and agricultural and mechanical schools for their respective states. Both claim the Tigers as their mascots (I think Auburn's battle cry of "War Eagle!" originated during World War II when the school was used as a training facility for combat pilots

[UPDATE, 2009: Since this was originally posted, I have learned that there are many possible explanations for the origin of the phrase "War Eagle!" none of which can be verified].

Both schools use orange as one of their team colors. (Auburn uses orange and blue, Clemson, orange and white). But you see, because my Dad went to Auburn, Auburn Tigers are fine, hardworking, upstanding, God-fearing sons and daughters of the soil who labor diligently by the sweat of their brows to make the world a better place. Because nearly everybody else in my family went to Carolina (one of my sisters pulls for Clemson just to be contrary, but we love her anyway), Clemson Tigers are backward, ignorant, uncouth, unlettered rednecks and the source of all evil in the world :-). (JUST KIDDING!) :-)

In conclusion, I'd like to recall the words of our late beloved Pope John Paul II when he visited the USC campus several years ago. The Holy Father was addressing a group of students on the Horseshoe, the historic heart of the campus, when he departed from his prepared text and said:

"It is wonderful to be young."

(This was greeted with a scattering of applause).

"It is wonderful to be young and a student at a university."

(More applause)

"It is wonderful to be young and a student at the University of South Carolina."

(THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE).

I've always figured this was a dignified way for the Servant of the Servants of God, the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of Peter, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church to say:

GO COCKS!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

WAAAAAAAR EAGLE!


This just in:

Auburn 22

Alabama 15


The Auburn Tigers have just defeated their archrivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide, for the fifth year in a row, by a score of 22-15. That's the first time that's happened since the 1950s. My Dad and a former college roommate of mine, who were both Auburn alumni, would be proud. Dad, Paul, this one's for you.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Two by Hopkins


This time of year always makes me a bit melancholy, as it does many people, so I thought it appropriate to post this poem by the great English Jesuit poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Spring and Fall
to a young child



MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


However, I can't think of Hopkins very long without also thinking of this marvelous, much more joyous poem:

God’s Grandeur


THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Hat Tip: Bartleby.com.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Most Important Thing


"More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ."
--Philippians 3:8 (New American Bible)



For several weeks now, I have been feeling a vague sense of depression, discouragement, unease, restlessness, and dissatisfaction and couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me. I had allowed my prayer life to atrophy because I had become far too concerned with TV shows, comics, podcasts, blogging, internet surfing, and fiction writing. All of those things, taken in moderation, are not in and of themselves sinful, but without Christ they are empty. They are like Twinkies or some other dessert: as an occasional treat they add sweetness and excitement to life, but a steady diet of sweets without the "solid food" or "meat" of Christ (1 Cor. 3:2) is sickening, unhealthy and unsatisfying. All those things without Christ are, as Paul says to the Philippians, "rubbish." The New Jerusalem Bible puts it a little more strongly, using the word "filth," and the old Douay-Rheims Bible puts it even more strongly still, using the word "dung." Dung! Poop. Feces. Excrement. Who wants that? Not me.

Since Thursday of this week, I've made sure to allow time for prayer and Scripture reading every day, and I can already feel a difference. May I keep it up, "staying awake for even one hour." (Mt. 26:40). I want to scale back my time in front of the TV. The time I spend surfing Catholic blogs and internet sites and listening to Catholic podcasts, as worthy as it may be, is really no substitute for actual time before Christ in prayer.

I want to re-evaluate my fiction writing, too. I believe I mentioned that I was working on a story in which Superman meets The Shadow, a tribute to the classic, cornball pulp fiction I love so much. I've always loved The Shadow as a character, but I do know that The Shadow's creator, Walter B. Gibson, was heavily involved in the occult. I don't want to do anything, even indirectly, that would promote such things. Is it all just harmless make-believe, or an opening for something more sinister? Am I worrying over nothing? I don't know.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.


For the text of the Prayer to St. Michael, a Hat Tip to Our Lady's Warriors.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who Needs Mainstream Media?

Anybody who reads this blog knows I have a love/hate relationship with television and other forms of mass media. At times I'll get disgusted and denounce everything on TV as unadulterated trash that's destroying Western Civilization as we know it, and at others I'll find a show that will attract my interest, spark my imagination, connect with my inner geek, and get me watching faithfully, at least for a while: shows such as Wild, Wild West, Star Trek, The Rockford Files, The X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, for example. One of the fascinating things about the personal computer and internet revolution, however, is the way it gives ordinary people the ability to produce and distribute information, opinion, and entertainment in a way that bypasses the conventional major media outlets.

For example, blogs give almost anybody the ability to become an op-ed columnist without going to work for a magazine or newspaper. I suspect one reason blogs are so popular right now is that many people feel their political views (whether right, left, center, or none of the above) aren't being adequately represented in the mainstream media. Fan fiction or "fanfic" websites such as Trekiverse, The Sugar Quill, and Fanfiction.net give aspiring short story writers and novelists a way to create new adventures of their favorite fictional characters and distribute their work to a potential audience of millions without going through a major publishing house.

Now some fans are taking all of these emerging technologies one step further by making old radio and TV shows available in digital format, and, even better, producing their own online radio and television shows. Since I'm currently working on a story about The Shadow, one of the heroes of radio's golden age, I've revived my interest in old-time radio and discovered hundreds of old radio shows available through iTunes and individual fan sites. I've also discovered sites such as Pendant Audio where a group of mostly twenty and thirtysomethings with a taste for audio drama are creating new audio adventures in the spirit of the radio shows of old. So far, they've created serial radio adventures featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, James Bond, and Indiana Jones. They've also created Dixie Stenberg and the Brassy Battalion, a tribute to/parody of classic adventure serials such as Captain Midnight, and Star Trek: Defiant, an original adventure in Gene Roddenberry's universe.

Another talented and dedicated group of fans are those over at Star Trek: New Voyages (Hat Tip to Rod Bennett) who are actually creating new episodes of classic Star Trek and making them available for download in Windows Media Player format. The actors (who are also the producers, writers, and directors of these shows) have paid out of their own pockets for props and memorabilia from the original series and have done a remarkable job of recreating the look and feel of classic Trek. They've signed Gene Roddenberry Jr. as a producer for one episode, and several alumni from the original series have made guest appearances, either as new characters, or reprising their original roles.

The weak spot, unfortunately, in both these fan-created audio and video dramas, is the acting. The performances (Ahem. How can I put this delicately?) lack a certain polish and range from truly abysmal to pretty good, depending on the performer's skill and previous acting experience. It's hard to be too critical, however, of people who are obviously having the time of their lives creating these shows and not making a nickel in the process. This is a labor of love for all concerned. Besides, almost anything's better than another episode of Survivor.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hooked on Heroes


While we're on the subject of TV, there's another show I've started watching that looks like it has the makings of an addiction: Heroes (Mondays, 9 PM ET, NBC). I was intrigued by the promos this summer, caught the first episode, and was almost immediately hooked. The show's tag line is "ordinary people discovering extraordinary abilities." Across the globe, a small group of people discover they're not like everybody else—no matter how much they might want to be. It seems each of them has a genetic mutation that gives them superhuman traits:

In New York, a struggling artist and comic book writer, Isaac Mendez, has the ability to predict the future in his paintings. His girlfriend Simone wants to put him in drug rehab again, believing this is just some sort of delusion. She finds herself falling for the handsome young male nurse who is caring for her dying father. The nurse, Peter Petrelli, who is likewise falling for Simone, finds he can fly. The problem? So can Peter's domineering, politically ambitious older brother Nathan who wants something this bizarre hushed up.

In Texas, high school cheerleader Claire Bennett finds she is virtually indestructible. She has a friend videotape her repeated dives off a roof from which she comes up unscathed. She plunges into the heart of a fire to rescue an injured man and emerges without a scratch. She sticks her hand down a working garbage disposal to retrieve her class ring, and her bloody mangled hand reverts to normal in seconds. A fellow student leaves her for dead after a rape attempt and Claire awakens during her own autopsy. As if that weren't bad enough, her adoptive father, a nerdy looking guy with horn-rimmed glasses, is hunting down mutants and has found the videotape.

In Las Vegas, Niki Sanders, struggling single mom and webcam stripper, heavily in debt to the mob, discovers she has a really nasty—maybe even homicidal—alter ego that seems to peep out at her from mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Two mob enforcers, sent to shake Niki down, wind up dead in particularly gruesome fashion, and Niki has no memory of what happened. Her alter ego leads her to a vintage candy apple red T-Bird with another yucky very dead body in the trunk and also leads her to a convenient spot in the desert to bury same. There she finds yet another dead body and a ring linking her thug of an ex-husband to the murders. Her seven-year-old son Micah is a genius who can rebuild a computer's motherboard from scratch.

In Tokyo, Hiro Nakamura, a geeky office worker with a passion for science fiction and comic books, discovers he can bend the space time continuum by the force of his will and teleport himself anywhere in the world. He teleports to New York approximately five weeks in the future and finds an Isaac Mendez comic book that describes his adventures. He also finds Isaac has been brutally murdered and gets a glimpse of a future cataclysm that will completely destroy New York—unless he can prevent it.

In Los Angeles, thoroughly average cop Matt Parkman, who failed the test for detective three times, learns he can hear other people's thoughts. Using this new talent, he finds a little girl who has been hiding out in her home after her parents were brutally murdered. He also learns there is a particularly vicious serial killer on the loose named Sylar who is also a mutant and can't be killed by conventional means. Sylar's modus operandi, or M. O. in cop lingo, is to freeze his victims, saw the tops of their heads off, and remove their brains. Blecch!

Meanwhile, a young geneticist, Mohinder Suresh, comes from India to New York trying to make sense of all of this and investigate the death of his father who died under mysterious circumstances while also tracking the mutants. Agents of the man with the horn-rimmed glasses track Mohinder and nearly kill him, but he is rescued by a beautiful young woman who claims to be his father's next door neighbor. In his father's apartment, they find a message on the answering machine—a conversation between Mohinder's father and Sylar the mutant serial killer. Stay tuned.

Think of this show as X-Men meets the X-Files. Mohinder, as the man of science trying to figure this all out is a bit like Professor Xavier, and the guy with the horn-rimmed glasses is this show's equivalent of the Cigarette Smoking Man. NBC is clearly banking on the geek-appeal of this show, trying to reach the folks who love comics and sci-fi. The promos brag about the internet buzz this show is already creating. The official website has downloadable graphic novels, areas for fan fiction ("fanfic" in internet parlance), and a section for fan art. There's already considerable discussion on the show's message boards about whether the cute next door neighbor is actually working for the bad guys.

Some of this smacks of manufactured enthusiasm (or in Noam Chomsky's famous phrase, manufactured consent) that may backfire on NBC in the long run. For a show to have true geek-appeal, the buzz the show generates has to be spontaneous. If the perception arises that all the enthusiasm for a TV show or a film is being artificially created by the suits at the network or the studio without any real excitement from the audience, the project will die horribly. Remember The Wild, Wild West movie? Or, for that matter, The Da Vinci Code? Both movies were heavily promoted, but once the word got out that they were lousy movies, they simply bombed. No amount of hype could save them. If the stories and characters of Heroes remain interesting, the show will prosper. If not, it won't be worth saving.

The show has some problems. During the pilot episode, Mohinder lectures his genetics class on the evolutionary advantages of the cockroach: it can survive adverse conditions for long periods without food, water, or even a head. He then says, "If God creates in his own image, then I suggest to you that God is a cockroach." Later when Mohinder moves into his late father's shabby New York apartment, we see a tight closeup of him stomping a cockroach. What exactly is being implied here? That modern science is stomping on God? That God should be stomped on? I'm not sure. While there's not too much onscreen violence, there's too much blood, guts, and gore afterwards. Sylar's method of killing his victims is particularly grisly; unnecessarily so. The writers can make him scary without making him disgusting.

Nevertheless, I'll keep watching, at least for awhile. But now to bed.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lost in Lost


"Franz Kafka, call your office."

That was my first thought after watching the season premiere and first regular episode of Lost recently. Lost started off as part jungle adventure, part Star Trek-like plea for racial and ethnic harmony, and part philosophical/theological meditation on issues such as sin and redemption and the role of divine providence, blind fate, and random chance. Lately, however, the show seems to have veered off into this uber-creepy, super-paranoid territory. I watched Season 1 pretty faithfully, and missed much of Season 2 for one reason or another, but this seems to be the upshot:

In season 2 we learned the hatch that Locke and Boone discovered at the end of Season 1 leads down to a vast underground complex housing a vast underground, computerized, electromagnetic something-or-other that plays havoc with navigational equipment and was responsible for all the castaways being marooned on the island: the survivors of Flight 815; Danielle the crazy French scientist; Desmond, the British soldier turned round-the-world sailor; and Mr. Eko, the African warlord/drug smuggler turned faux priest. From the looks of the computers used to run the whatever-it-is, all this stuff was built in the '70s by some outfit called "The Dharma Initiative." Who they are, and why they built all this, we still don't know.

In Season 2 we also learned that there's a second group of Flight 815 survivors who apparently have their own agenda. Or is there in reality a third group that's manipulating everyone? Members of this third group kidnapped Michael and his son Walt and forced Michael to spy on Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayyid, et al. Michael murdered two of the second group when his spying was discovered. Jack, Kate, and Sawyer went to find Michael and get to the bottom of all of this but promptly got themselves captured by this mysterious third group. In return for their cooperation, Michael and Walt were placed on a boat and given a compass bearing that they were told would lead to rescue. Meanwhile, Locke, Eko, and Desmond tried to destroy the gianormous, computer-powered, electromagnetic thingamabob.

Now at the beginning of Season 3, it appears that this third group was on the island all along, and the crash of Flight 815 was deliberately induced by their super-duper whatchamajigger. Jack wakes up in a cell in an enormous underground--nay, underwater--complex (Must be one big frickin' island!) being interrogated by a lovely but cold-hearted woman named Juliet. She has a full dossier on him. How did she find out all this stuff and why? What does she want to know? Meanwhile, Sawyer and Kate are being held above ground in cages that look as though they were originally built for animals. Sawyer can get "fish biscuits" only if he works levers in the correct sequence, and gets an electric shock if he does not. Kate is treated to a lavish breakfast with the leader of this third group (Henry?), but she refuses any of it when he refuses to release Jack and Sawyer. He promises her "the next two weeks will be very unpleasant." At the end of last week's episode, Henry reveals that he and his group have been in contact with the outside world all along and offers Jack a Faustian bargain: if Jack will cooperate with him, Henry will release him and allow him to go home. Will Jack take the deal? Stay tuned.

Now you see why I'm confused? I suppose part of it is my own fault for missing some episodes, but Sheez, Louise! J. J. Abrams & Co. could make things a teensy bit clearer, ya know. Will somebody please explain what the funk is going on with this show?

Operation Hope


I just returned from two hours of soliciting donations for Operation Hope, the annual effort by the Knights of Columbus to raise money for organizations that assist people with mental retardation. It's a small and simple way I can help someone in need, The money Knights raise goes to Special Olympics and other state and local organizations dedicated to ensuring that citizens with mental retardation have the best and most productive lives possible. If you see somebody in your community wearing the K of C logo or a bright red and yellow smock, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps, and you'll get a Tootsie Roll in the bargain! Such a deal!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

My Kind of Exercise Program!

OK Go - Here It Goes Again

Wanted to see what this looked like on my blog. I can now post video to my blog! All the cool kids are doing it!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Great Minds Think Alike!


In a recent post, I commented on the outrageous piece of liturgical music abuse that is "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Seems I'm not the only one who feels this way. Via Pes, a commenter at the New Liturgical Movement blog comes the following:

Let there be chant on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be chanted Mass,
the Mass that was meant to be.

With God as our Father,
singers all are we,
Let me chant with my brothers,
in pure monophony.

Let chant begin with me,
let this be the moment now.
With every Mass I sing,
let this be my solemn vow,

To pray each moment and sing each moment
of Mass, liturgically.
Let there be chant on Earth,
and let it begin with me!
Pes | 10.03.06 | #

No, wait a sec:

With God as our Father,
singers all are we,
Let me chant with my brothers,
at every liturgy.

To pray each moment and sing each moment
in pure monophony...
Let there be chant on Earth,
and let it begin with me!

That's better.


HT: Matthew at Shrine of the Holy Whapping

Well, Here's a Shocker! (Not)

Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit, reports on the Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech:

At least 99% of those who protested have not even read the speech as yet. Yesterday [Sept. 29] I took part in a broadcast on Iranian television with two imams, a Palestinian Sunni and an Iranian Shiite. They all told me they had read the speech in Arabic two days after it was given. But this was not true: the translation into Arabic was prepared only eight days later, by a friend who put it on his private site. When I tried to explain the meaning of the entire text, they kept quoting the famous phrase of Manuel II Paleologus, like a script.


What I find most disturbing about that quote is perhaps not the fact that so many Muslims haven't actually read the speech. I have the general impression that general levels of literacy and access to accurate, unbiased, uncensored information are much lower in the Muslim world than in the West. What bothers me is that the imams (i. e., religious leaders, i. e., people who should be better educated and better informed) would claim to have read the speech in Arabic when they couldn't possibly have read the official text. That means either (a) they relied on unofficial, inaccurate translations, or (b) they lied. The whole "Islam is a religion of peace" line is more than a little suspect, and now it looks like some imams aren't much on truthfulness either.

Hat Tip:Amy Welborn

Saturday, September 30, 2006

"We Highly Protest Against Pop's Hypocritical About The Islam"

That's a verbatim quote. The message appeared on a sign carried by Pakistani Muslims protesting what they think Pope Benedict XVI said about Islam in a recent speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The sign appeared in a photograph accompanying a Catholic News Service story in my diocesan newspaper expressing the Pope's regret over negative Muslim reaction to the speech. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the photo online.

I've been wanting to blog about this controversy for a couple of weeks now, but I found it hard to put into words what I thought until I saw that banner. The Pope put forth some complex ideas in German, a language these poor, misguided, agressively ignorant souls don't understand, and are expressing their outrage about what they think he said in English, another language they obviously don't understand.

If they had been willing or able to read the actual speech, they would have found that the Pope's perceived criticism of Islam was actually a quotation from a medieval Byzantine emperor that few people had ever heard of, and that the emperor's views are not shared by the pope. The supposed dig at Islam was offered almost in passing. Indeed, the pope's speech is far more critical of Western rationalism, empiricism, and scientific materialism than it is of Islam.

I'm going to try to summarize what I think the pople was saying as a thought exercise and a way to help me understand it:


  1. From a synthesis of Greek philosophy and the Judaeo-Christian revelation, Catholic Christianity formulated the principle that because God is essentially motivated by love for human beings and all of his creatures, He will act in a way that is comprehensible to human reason. Therefore, it is reasonable for the Christian and the human being to believe in God, and the existence and essential nature of God can be understood, at least in part, by the use of human reason. To act violently, especially in matters of religion is unreasonable, or contrary to the nature of God. The Greek influence on Christian thought, which postulates that God acts in accordance with reason or logos is what the pope refers to as "hellenization."


  2. Islam, however, which either never had or rejecteted a hellenizing influence, presents a concept of God who is so awesome, so transcendent, and so far above human understanding that the God of Islam is not bound to act in accordance with human reason.Therefore violence has always been considered a far more permissible means of spreading the faith in Islam than it has in Christianity.


  3. Unfortunately, a process of "de-hellenization" or rejection of the idea that God acts in accordance with human reason or logos began in Western thought too, beginning with the Protestant reformers who rejected the concepts of Greek philosophy and metaphysics as inadequate to describe God. God could not adequately be described using logic and reason. Therefore, faith ultimately became something subjective and emotional.


  4. The process of "de-hellenization" of Western Christian thought continued with the 19th-century liberal German theologians who emphasized the concept of Jesus as man, moral philosopher, and wisdom teacher, but not as transcendent, incarnate Christ. Jesus as Christ was held to be a theological construct which could not be supported by empirical historical evidence.


  5. If God could not be described using vocabulary derived from philosophy and logical reasoning, and Jesus was only a wise man or a moral teacher, then the only things that human reason and logic could safely be applied to with any hope of finding truth were the physical sciences that could be empirically verified by observation and experiment. The "de-hellenization" of Western thought was complete.

  6. The tendency in Modern Western thought to rely on the rational, empirical, and readily provable and exclude the spiritual, the metaphysical, or the religious leads almost inevitably to agnosticism or atheism, a point of view the Islamic world has rightly rejected. Therefore, the West and the Islamic world cannot enter into real dialogue as long as the West has deprived itself of a real vocabulary to discuss spiritual issues that are so essential to the Islamic world view. Islamic faith and secular materialism can't comprehend each other, much less talk to each other. In order for the West and the Islamic world to enter into a real "dialogue of cultures," as the pope puts it the West will have to rediscover the reasonableness of faith in God and its own religious traditions.



That's what I think the Pope was trying to say. If my vast and erudite readership could read the speech, read what I've written, and tell me if I'm on the right track, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Apologies

A friend of mine asked why I hadn't posted to this blog in a while. Normally weekends are about the only opportunity I have to post here, and for the past couple of weekends I've been working on a fiction project. It's fun and exciting, but "It's All Straw" is still around, too. In addition, I spent much of last weekend working on Legion of Mary stuff since I am now acting president of our praesidium. Please pray for us, since our active membership appears to be dwindling. I would hate to see our praesidium wither away into nothing. Mary, Mystical Rose, pray for us.

Monday, September 04, 2006

And Speaking of Hymnody . . .

Ironically enough, just after I finish posting a piece on the glories of polyphony, comes this item. Via Drew at Shrine of the Holy Whapping, I learn that an essay by Catholic cultural critic extraordinaire George Weigel, on the most deplorable tendencies in contemporary Catholic music, is now available online. Mr. Weigel half-jokingly suggests creating a musical equivalent of the old Index of Forbidden Books, an Index Canticorum Prohibitorum. I read this essay when it first appeared in my diocesan newspaper a couple of years ago. While Mr. Weigel makes several valid points, I must respectfully disagree with him when he says the following:

Next to go should be those "We are Jesus" hymns in which the congregation (for the first time in two millennia of Christian hymnology) pretends that it's Christ . . . . "Be Not Afraid" and "You Are Mine" fit this category, as does the ubiquitous "I Am the Bread of Life," to which I was recently subjected on, of all days, Corpus Christi — the one day in the Church year completely devoted to the fact that we are not a self-feeding community giving each other "the bread of life" but a Eucharistic people nourished by the Lord's free gift of himself. "I am the bread of life" inverts that entire imagery, indeed falsifies it.


Huh? While it is true that "Be Not Afraid" and "You Are Mine" take some liberties with biblical texts and concepts, the lyrics of "I am the bread of life" (at least if they're the ones I'm thinking of) come almost verbatim from Jesus's discourses in the sixth and eleventh chapters of the Gospel of John. The congregation is recalling the words of Christ recorded in Scripture. By that logic, is any lector delivering an Old Testament reading beginning: Thus says the Lord "pretending" to be God? For that matter, is the priest or deacon reading the Gospel and quoting the words of Jesus "pretending" to be Jesus? (Yes, yes, I know, the priest stands in persona Christi, but that's different). If a lector, priest, or deacon can read the words of God, the people of God should be able to sing them.

Furthermore, while listing certain hymns that should be unceremoniously booted from every Catholic hymnal in the land posthaste, Mr. Weigel fails to mention the one that in my humble opinon is the most egregious offender: "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

This piece of drivel (I hesitate to call it a hymn) is so bad on so many levels! Theologically, yes, it mentions God, but only once, and fails to specify whose god is being invoked. Certainly not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the God who became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Not that God. No, the god the authors of this song want to invoke seems to be some sort of cosmic Santa Claus who is there to make sure we get along with each other and play nice:

"With God as our Father
(Wonder how that got past the Inclusive Language Police?)
Children all are we.
Let us walk with each other,
In perfect har-mo-nee."


Bad poetry? You betcha. Pass the Pepto, I'm about to be ill.

My late father used to say that this song reminded him of that detestable Coke commercial from the late '60s and early '70s. You know the one I mean. ("I'd like to teach the world to sing . . ."). Have to agree with ya there, Dad. Musically, this song always sounded to me as if it would be more at home at a Celine Dion concert than as part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet I have heard parishioners and choir members, mind you, get all teary-eyed and ask, "Isn't it beautiful?" (Well, not if you ask me, but I guess there's no accounting for taste).

It seems to me that Mr. Weigel is straining at gnats and swallowing camels. If he wants to get rid of wretched hymnody, I'm all for it, but let's start at the top and dump this gigantic stinker first. Then we'll move on to the small fry.

There. I feel better. I'll go try and calm down now.

The Palace of Tallis


I have never placed my hope
in any other than you, O God of Israel,
who can show both anger and graciousness,
and absolve the sins
of suffering man.
Lord God, creator of heaven and earth,
be mindful of our humiliation.

—Thomas Tallis, Spem in alium, translated by The Tallis Scholars.

For several days now, my tiny apartment has been resounding with the magnificent polyphonic liturgical music of Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). I'm listening to him now as I write this. In a post back in April, I mentioned my fairly recent discovery of Tallis and my determination to get a CD of his music, but I couldn't decide on which one. After much dithering, I chose The Tallis Scholars Sing Thomas Tallis, a two disc collection by the English choral group who, as their name implies, devote themselves to the music of Tallis and other Renaissance liturgical composers. I chose this album because of the completeness of the collection, the thoroughness of the liner notes, and the inclusion of complete translations of all the Latin lyrics. This was despite the complaints of some listener-reviewers on Amazon.com who felt that the soprano voices tended to overwhelm others and predominate on Tallis Scholars recordings. My only real quibble with this album is with the packaging. The little tray holding the two discs broke off from the rest of the container on the second day I had the album. Surely there must be a simpler and more durable way to package this music! On balance, however, I would say that the strengths of this collection far outweigh the weaknesses.

The collection itself includes nearly three hours of music from throughout Tallis's career, both pieces he wrote for the Roman Catholic liturgy in Latin and the Anglican liturgy in English. I find that while the English material such as "If Ye Love Me," is indeed quite beautiful in a stark, severe sort of way, it lacks the soaring, transcendent quality of the Catholic, Latin compositions. Judging from the music alone, I would say that in his heart of hearts, Tallis was and remained a Catholic even though he lived in a time of considerable social and political pressure to become Protestant. His sympathies, musically speaking, are plainly with the Catholics. The liner notes point out that Tallis's Catholic and Anglican pieces are written in significantly different styles because the Anglican liturgy placed a premium on the congregation's ability to understand the text. Since the Catholic compositions were in Latin to begin with, the congregation's ability to understand the text was probably considered somewhat less important, which allowed Tallis to be freer musically and create layers upon layers of sound. Again, judging from the music alone (and I am certainly no expert), I would say that perhaps Tallis's intent with his Catholic, Latin compositions was not so much to inspire reflection on a text but to create a mood, a general atmosphere, if you will, of prayer, praise, and adoration. Spem in alium, quoted above, is usually considered Tallis's masterpiece, but I find myself especially moved by Gaude gloriosa Dei mater ("Rejoice, O Glorious Mother of God"), a hymn to the Blessed Virgin that goes on for over 15 minutes. To me, this music is what heaven sounds like.

I expect this is only the beginning of my adventures in polyphony. I'd like to get some more Tallis recordings (perhaps by different ensembles to compare their interpretations of various pieces), as well as works by Byrd and Palestrina. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Medieval Madness!

Attention medievalists! Did you know Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? That's right. The author of The Canterbury Tales has entered the cyber-age! (Neat trick, considerin' ol' Geoff died around 1400). Two bloggers calling themselves Le Vostre GC and Katherine de Swineford have created a spot-on parody of Middle English prose, and, for English majors at least, one of the funniest blogs around. I wasn't always a lowly librarian and Mark Shea/Amy Welborn wannabe, no sir. Back in the day I was a graduate student in English and American Lit. specializing in medieval and Renaissance literature, and for a split nanosecond, this blog made me think nostalgically about graduate school. I had a professor who would have loved it. I daresay the authors are two grad students in medieval studies facing rather bleak employment prospects who've decided to have a bit of fun at Geoff's expense. Don't miss Serpentes on a Shippe, their send-up of Snakes on a Plane.

Chaucerians looking for chuckles might also try Geoff Chaucer, Medieval Dick. If the Parlement of Fowles had included The Maltese Falcon, it might have gone something like this. Newly illustrated--with tapestries! (For those of you concerned about bad language, the word "Dick" in this case refers to the slang term for detective, not a vulgarism for a certain portion of the male anatomy). Enjoy!

Astounding Adventures Now Online!


Happy Labor Day to all citizens of the blogosphere and greetings to all my faithful readers (both of you)! If you're looking for some light reading this weekend (and I do mean light), you might try Astounding Adventures, my online pulp magazine and fiction archive. In a previous post I confessed desire to start writing again and my unfortunate fondness for old-fashioned adventure fiction of the kind you might have found in the old pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s. Astounding Adventures is my tribute to the genre and a central location for all the fiction I've posted to date. There you'll find a couple of Star Trek stories and a story inspired by Michael Chabon's extraordinary novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a loving tribute to the "golden age" of comic books, pulp fiction, and old radio.

I plan to add more stories as time goes by. In honor of the Superman Returns movie that came out earlier this summer (which I enjoyed hugely, BTW), I decided to dust off an old idea I had for a story in which Superman meets The Shadow. I will say no more about it at present, as it's in its earliest stages and may take awhile to complete. In the meantime, enjoy what's there and let me know what you think.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Man of Styrofoam!


Supes&Me, originally uploaded by Niall Mor.

Received ol' Supes here as a belated birthday present from a co-worker. Another co-worker snapped the picture.

Words to Live By

from my friend Linda:

They can't get your goat if they don't know where it's tied.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blasts From the Past

Now that my parents are gone, I find myself really treasuring reminders of them and all the generations of my family that came before us. I received one such really big reminder last weekend: a small antique desk that belonged to my great-grandmother. It's not a roll-top, but I don't know what this style of desk would be called. The writing surface folds down from the desk supported by slats or rails that can be pulled out from the body of the desk. I understand that my great-grandfather Roberts bought it for my great-grandmother, and that at one time it sported an elaborate, highly carved top piece that held a mirror. Such fru-fru was probably too much for my great-grandmother's eminently practical Germanic sensibilities, and she had that top piece removed. When my mother was a little girl and went to visit her grandmother, she was allowed to sit at the desk and play while her grandmother took a nap. Years later, as a boy I played at that same desk. As a kid I was fascinated with the idea of being a private detective along the lines of Sherlock Holmes or Jim Rockford, and that desk was my "office." It has cubbyholes and drawers aplenty, just the kind of thing in which the Hardy Boys might find a long lost treasure map or a vital clue. I kept hoping I would find a secret compartment or a false bottom in one of the drawers. No luck. I'm also sorry to report I haven't found a secret passage to Narnia, Middle Earth, or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but it looks to me like the sort of furniture that could lead to such a place.

I've loved that desk ever since those days of daydreams, and Mom promised me that I could have it. Last weekend my sister and her husband delivered it (in the rain, bless their hearts). I feared it would be too big for my tiny apartment, but there was a perfect spot for it in my living room. Almost magical, one might say. It's the first piece of furniture in the apartment that wasn't bought or donated when I moved here, so it's the first piece of furniture that has a real history and a connection to happier times. I also have my great-grandmother's lovely, delicate tiny gold Rosary inscribed with the words "Mrs. J. J. Roberts" and a date, Oct. 26, 1913. It must have been a birthday or anniversary gift. I have my Dad's old wristwatch, but my skinny wrists can't accommodate it. He left some big wrists to fill.

To my faithful readers (all two of you), I offer this advice. Remember the past, live in the present, and look to the future.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Cable Guy: Addendum

We had some thunderstorms earlier this week, bringing much needed rain to these parts, but as a result of the storms, one of the three shopping channels went out. That's right. There are not one, not two, but three shopping channels in my basic cable package of fewer than two dozen total channels. How much bling does one need?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Cable Guy


Well, I did it.

About a month ago I signed up for cable, something I resisted doing for a long time.

Ya see, it's like this. My sister-in-law asked me if there was anything of Mom's that I wanted. I asked for Mom's TV since it was about twice the size of the one I had. I don't watch much regular TV, but I do rent movies from Netflix so I figured a big screen would be nice when I watched a movie. This new, bigger TV didn't have "rabbit ears" or an external antenna, so it was pretty much cable or nothin.' I signed up for the bare bones, no frills, most basic, basic, basic of packages (all the broadcast networks, PBS, C-SPAN, and a couple of Christian stations) because all the other packages were more expensive with a lot of stuff I'd never watch anyway.

I have to say that even with this minimalist approach it's been interesting. I can now get not one, but two NBC stations (why I don't know), while before I couldn't really get even one, except in good weather. One show I've discovered via cable is "Sue Thomas: F. B. Eye". It's about a young deaf woman who lands a job with an elite team of FBI agents specializing in surveillance because of her acute powers of observation and skill at lip reading. Since the show originated on the former PAX-TV channel, a Christian cable station, it's light on onscreen violence and heavy on a positive, uplifting, vaguely religious message. Sue frequently tells her fellow agents or the people who come to them for help, "I prayed for you," or "God brought your daughter back," or something similar. Think of it as "Touched by an Agent," a cross between "Without a Trace" and "Touched by an Angel."

Sometimes, however, the show's efforts to be heartwarming come across as just plain sappy, and if you want gritty realism and hard hitting crime drama, this isn't the show for you. Sometimes the plot twists make my implausibility meter go off the scale. In a recent episode, an agent's gambling addiction that he had concealed resurfaces when he goes undercover to catch a crook participating in a high stakes poker game. This is the FBI, for Pete's sake! Don'tcha think they'd know if one of their agents had a gambling problem because he'd be a security risk? On second thought, some of the worst spies and security leaks in this country in recent years have been FBI agents, so I guess it's possible.

What makes the show interesting to me is the fact that Sue Thomas is a real person (albeit a good bit older and less telegenic than her TV alter ego) who did have a real job with the FBI, and the actress who plays her is really deaf, so there is a grain of truth in these highly dramatized and romanticized adventures. I'm encouraged to see somebody with a disability playing a lead role in a series with a positive message.

Unfortunately for fans, however, PAX-TV was recently bought out by somebody else, who changed the name and appears to be in the process of changing the station's focus and programming. The producers of "Sue Thomas" had already stopped making new episodes, and now the parent company wants to scale the reruns back to once a week and possibly eliminate the show altogether. There are no plans to re-release the show on DVD. I just checked on the show's website, and the small but vocal fanbase who post on the message boards are upset. I can understand why. Even though I can see flaws in the show, and even though I've only been watching a short while, the show has grown on me. This looks like yet another example of a corporate TV behemoth obliterating an original, entertaining show that didn't score high enough in the ratings (i.e., make enough money), in order to replace it with just more of the same ol' same ol'. That's the free market at work, baby! *Sigh*

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I Cleaned Off My Dining Room Table!

I have just finished cleaning off my dining room table! That may not sound like much to you, but it's a huge step for me. There are still some odds and ends on it, but now it's simply a matter of tidying up, not a major archaeological excavation. Until this weekend that table was a hopeless jumble of bills, books, old mail, and general junk several layers deep, a perfect metaphor for my life.

Somewhere along the line, in late 2004, I think, when I realized my father was terminally ill, and I developed serious health problems and heartaches of my own, I simply allowed my life to go off the rails in some fundamental way. The daily responsibilities of life were too much, I thought, and I allowed stuff to pile up on top of stuff on top of stuff. As time went by, the problems grew bigger and more difficult to deal with. "It's too intimidating," I thought. "I'll just sit here and watch TV or read--or blog--instead."

Now that both my parents are gone, however, I've been forced to take a hard look at my life and take responsibility for myself as I never have before. I've been in counseling for depression for years, and this past Friday, as my counselor asked me about my job, all my frustrations poured out. I realized it was time to seriously seek another position, something I've been thinking and talking about doing for awhile now. Friday I decided it was time to do something about the table, and yesterday and today, by the grace of God, I made it happen.

I sorted the bills into folders and threw most of the rest away. Now the next step will be to sort through the bills and come up with a complete accounting of how much I owe. My mother left me a modest annuity, so I can use some of those funds to retire some debt and invest the rest. May God grant me the grace to make wise decisions in the days to come! This feels like the beginning of a whole new beginning.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Birthday Number 43

Today is my 43rd birthday. Tomorrow, my brother Bill will be arriving, and we'll be going up to Charlotte to rendezvous with my other brothers and sisters in order to have a joint birthday celebration with one of my sisters, whose birthday is three days after mine.

On the one hand, I have to say I don't feel much like celebrating. My mother's death is still hanging heavy on me and all the kids. It's a weird thing to be getting birthday cards and condolence cards at the same time. On the other hand, I think a family gathering to celebrate a happy occasion will do us all good after the ordeal of waiting through Mom's final illness. She wouldn't want us to be too sad too long. Here's hoping for a happy birthday, but I sure wish Mom could be there.

The Story of I Love You


A cherry when it's blooming
It has no stone
A chicken when it's piping
It has no bone
The story that I love you
It has no end
A baby when it's sleeping
It's no crying.


"The Riddle Song."

I took a brief hiatus from blogging to try to process my mother's death. I decided I needed to come back.

Thanks to all of you who have left comments or e-mailed with prayers and words of comfort and encouragement. They are much appreciated.

I want to tell you about what has happened since I last blogged. The night before my Mom died, we all gathered in her room. I think we all had an intuitive sense that it would be her last night with us. My oldest sister Susan was softly singing "The Riddle Song" to Mom and said that Mom had taught it to her when she was a little girl. I knew Mom loved old folksongs, but I didn't know "The Riddle Song" was one of her favorites. We started singing any old folksongs or snatches of songs we could think of. One in particular that I remember that Mom always liked is "High Barbary".My brother Allen got out his guitar and started playing some original music he had written. I know Mom liked that.

A few days later at the memorial service, my niece Maggie got up and sang "The Riddle Song" again and accompanied herself on the guitar. I knew she had been playing acoustic and electric guitar for quite awhile, but I had no idea she was so accomplished! It was beautiful.

The memorial service was lovely, except for one thing. For some reason no one is quite sure of, Father Jim did not allow any time for family members to give eulogies or tributes. He did say afterwards that he had an important meeting at the Chancery that he couldn't avoid, so maybe that forced him to cut the service short. Or perhaps there was some miscommunication between Father Jim, the family, and the people at the church who planned the service. Here is what I might have said had I been given the chance:

When I think of my mother these days, I think of two things. One is her definition of heaven, one of the wisest and most beautiful things she ever said to me: "Heaven is where all the people you love know each other." The other is the fact that she was such a great cook who loved bringing her family together for a great meal. But her meals were never about linen napkins and fancy place settings with everyone on their best behavior. Whether it was a giant hamburger with everything, shad prepared the Charleston Receipts way, or a huge salad full of fresh vegetables, Mom's meals were all about good people enjoying good food and having a good time. If there wasn't enough room with the grown-ups, you could grab a seat at the kids table or even on the living room couch. Want some more? Help yourself!

Now I believe Mom is in heaven where all the people she loves know each other. Dad is there, Mary Darby is there, and all the people we have known and loved who have gone before us are there. And we are there, too. For I believe Mom has passed out of time and into eternity, where there is no past and no future, but only an eternal now. Therefore, to Mom it seems we are there and have always been there. In a few moments more of time, we too will enter into eternity, and it will seem to us too that we are there and have always been there.

More than once (Mt. 25:1-14, Rev. 19:7) Scripture compares heaven and the Kingdom of God to a wedding feast, the marriage feast of Christ the lamb of God. I believe Mom is up there right now, helping out with that wedding feast, making sure the people she loves are comfortable, happy, and have enough to eat. Maybe she's sharing her recipe for blueberry muffins with the angels! I love you, Mom.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Mom's Obituary

Here is the obituary I wrote for my Mom.

Cecilia Allen Roberts Leslie of Indian Trail, N.C., was called home to God on Thursday June 29, 2006.

She died at home after an illness.

She was born October 19, 1924, in Columbia, SC, the daughter of the late John Cornelius Roberts of and the late Agnes Cecilia Allen Roberts, also of Columbia. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor's degree in journalism. After a brief career in radio and newspaper journalism, she married the late William Stewart Leslie of Birmingham, Alabama, and largely devoted herself to providing a loving and secure home for their six children. They were married for 55 years. For nearly 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie operated a retail business, Clocks & Crafts, in Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, SC.

Mrs. Leslie is survived by her six children: Susan Leslie of Charlotte, NC; John Stewart "Jay" Leslie of Dallas, Texas; William Farley Leslie of Chapel Hill, NC; Edward Allen Leslie of Indian Trail, NC; Mary Grace Leslie Davis of Little River, SC; and Neil Roberts Leslie of Marion, SC; five grandchildren; and two great grandchildren, She will be remembered for her unfailing wisdom, compassion, sense of humor, and strength of character, and will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

A memorial service for Mrs. Leslie is scheduled for Monday July 3 at 11 AM at St. Luke Catholic Church in Mint Hill, NC. The Rev. James F. Hawker will officiate.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cecilia Roberts Leslie, RIP

I'm back in South Carolina, at least temporarily. My mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie, passed from this life today at about 6: 45 AM. My sister-in-law and a very conscientious nurse's aide were with her. They said her passing was very peaceful. There was no pain, no struggle. My brother Allen called everyone else and we gathered at the house a few minutes later. We said goodbye, wept, prayed, and comforted each other as best we could. My brother Bill and I decided it would be best if we went back to my house and prepared ourselves for the memorial service on Monday.

I don't have the words to say much more about it right now. At Allen's request, I've written an obituary for the newspapers, but those few lines of stiff, formal language don't do justice to the wonderful woman who was--and is--my Mom. As the days and weeks go by, no doubt I will be blogging more about her. For now I can only offer this prayer:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.

Rest in peace, Mom. I love you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wait Continues

I am still in North Carolina. Mom appears to be weakening almost daily. Monday morning, my brother's pastor came over yesterday to give her the Anointing of the Sick and a general absolution. He did his best to put everyone at ease, telling lots of funny and comforting stories. I could see Mom smiling while he was here. She enjoyed that.

Almost as soon as Father Jim left, however, Mom began complaining of more pain, and we decided it was time to arrange for her to get stronger pain medicine and more of it. My brother Allen became somewhat frustrated because he had trouble making contact with the doctor and hospice workers to authorize the change. The most wrenching part of this for all of us is to see Mom in pain and be able to do so little about it. Once the new medicine arrived, however, it seemed Mom was able to relax more and get some extended deeper sleep that she desperately needed. The hospice nurse came and evaluated her, and alerted us all that her breathing was becoming shallower and more irregular. According to the hospice folks, this is usually a sign of approaching death, but it's impossible to say exactly when that will come. Last night before my brother Bill and I went back to the motel, I sat with her for a few minutes, and even I noticed the irregular breathing pattern.

I am torn. Of course I want to be with Mom, but it's so emotionally demanding that I can only be in the room for a few minutes at a time. Today I said the Tessera, the set of prayers associated with the Legion of Mary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet while I was with her. We all have to take frequent breaks and draw strength from simply being together and doing normal family stuff such as reading and watching TV. Last night as we gathered for dinner after a long day, we found ourselves talking about what a great cook Mom was and how she loved to bring the family together for a great meal. Even when she can't be with us physically, Mom is still in our hearts.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us
.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Waiting

I am live blogging from North Carolina where we are waiting ... for what?

My mother is gravely ill with cancer and a broken rib. I think we're very close to the end now. My brother Allen called me early Friday morning and said, "If you want to see Mom, you had better come sooner rather than later." My brother Bill and I arrived Saturday afternoon. All of my other brothers and sisters and their respective spouses are here too.

Mom is shockingly pale and frail--downright gaunt, with sunken eyes. She needs help to roll over, and barely has the energy to talk when she's awake. When I arrived, she was dozing in a new recliner chair because it's difficult for her to lie completely flat in bed and be comfortable. Allen has engaged a nurse's assistant to sit with her during the late night and early morning so that he and his wife Nita can get some sleep. They are exhausted. During the night, the nurse's assistant moved Mom to the bed, and she's been resting there intermittently ever since. We've been taking turns visiting her and tending to her needs as best we can.

I have never seen Christlike love in action so powerfully as I have in the last 24 hours or so. My brothers and sisters have to give Mom water from a sippy cup, and when she feels like eating, we spoon feed her cream of wheat, pureed peaches, and the occasional cup of chicken broth. They do it with such incredible tenderness! It's a small--wholly inadequate--way we can say thank you for the millions of times Mom cared for us with equal tenderness over the years when we were sick.

Yet even the in-laws and the newest members of our family that don't have that long history with Mom recognize what an extraordinary woman she is and love her for it. Yesterday, Mom was complaining of itchy and dry skin. My sister-in-law Carla, the newest member of our family, gently and tenderly rubbed on some lotion so that Mom could feel better. I was so touched by that! I sat and quietly said the Rosary while she slept earlier this afternoon. There is little I can do physically for Mom because of my disability, and it makes me feel guilty, but she told me she's glad I'm here.

Even though she's so ill, she's still Mom, with a wry sense of humor and a never-ending concern for her kids. A couple of nights ago the nurse's assistant recognized that Mom needed a catheter and demanded that a nurse come out in the wee hours of the morning to put one in. We started talking about how important it is to demand what you need when you're sick. I said, "You don't get extra points for being a hero." She said, "You don't even get extra points for being polite." She could still give a lopsided smile when somebody told a joke.

As if all of this situation with Mom weren't bad enough, I've been hobbled for the past couple of weeks by a nasty intestinal something-or-other. Yesterday, I was feeling particularly vile. The first words she said to me today were a question about how I was doing. When I told her I was feeling better, she said, "I'm so glad." She worries about her daughter-in-law Nita, who worries about her. Always a Mom!

We are simply waiting for whatever happens next.

Mary, help of Christians and help of the sick, pray for us.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I Am Not Worthy!


I have been given an honor I did not expect.

K T Cat, Maximum Leader of the Feline Theocracy, has graciously granted me the title Holy Scribe of the Feline Theocracy. You are too generous, O Feline One! May you be free of hairballs forever! Jacob the Syrian Hamster, faithful beadle of the Theocracy, was particularly impressed with the tribute I wrote to my Dad. What can I say? I merely wrote from my heart. I will strive to be a faithful servant of the Maximum Leader, although it may be difficult for me to scratch behind her ears since I am in South Carolina and she is in San Diego.

Update on my Mom

Thanks to all of you who have been praying regarding my Mom, Cecilia (Cele for short), and her battle with cancer. Here's an update. I'm afraid the news isn't good. She had her PET scan last Sunday. The cancer is in her lungs and lymph nodes. The oncologist is estimating that without chemo, she has perhaps six months to live. If she takes chemo, she could add two or three months, but that's about it. As if that weren't bad enough, she's got other health problems--osteoporosis, stress fractures, chronic back pain, muscle spasms, and deteriorating vision, to name a few--that would make chemotherapy even more difficult than it normally is. She hasn't made any decision yet, but my brothers and sisters tell me she's leaning toward taking no treatment because chemo would be an awful lot of discomfort for very little benefit. The kids will do everything we can to make her remaining time as comfortable as possible and will spend as much time with her as we can. One of my brothers and I are going up to visit her next weekend.

I am holding up fairly well by leaning on family and friends here in town and in other places that I stay in touch with by telephone. I'm very blessed to be part of a close-knit family. When there's a crisis like this, we rally and support each other. I must confess I'm having a hard time praying about this because I don't know what to pray for. I don't want my mother to die, but I don't want her to linger and suffer needlessly, and I don't want to oppose God's will. Please pray for Mom and for the whole family.

Thanks.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Comments! We Get Comments!

Well, goshdarmit, it looks like somebody reads this li'l ol' blog after all!

I e-mailed Rod Bennett to tell him how much I was enjoying his series on C. S. Lewis and pulp fiction and invited him to visit this blog. Rod graciously responded that he had already seen my blog.

Janjan left a comment thanking me for mentioning her blog and adding her to the blogroll, and another wishing me luck in my fiction writing endeavors.

Finally, I must make a correction and express my thanks for the merciful benevolence of K. T. Cat, Maximum Leader of the Feline Theocracy. In my mention of The Scratching Post blog, I erroneously identified Glenn Reynolds as the human member of the triumvirate that runs TSP. The human left a comment informing me that he is not Glenn Reynolds and adding that he wishes to remain an anonymous servant of The Maximum Leader. Many thanks for your charity in not rebuking me further for my error, O Feline One. I am not worthy. May you have catnip, fresh milk, and balls of yarn forever!

It's nice to be noticed. I feel almost famous. Are my 15 minutes up yet, Mr. Warhol?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Fiction Is a Necessity


I've been thinking about writing again.

Not just blogging--but writing fiction, too. Life seems a mite drab these days: Get up, go to work, come home, look at stack of unpaid bills, ignore unpaid bills if possible, mourn deceased father, worry about elderly mother, regret mistakes and missed opportunities, especially in relationships. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

There's nothing like the death of one parent, the illness of the other, and your own physical problems to make you think about your own mortality and the fact that none of us knows how long we have on this earth. I don't want to spend my whole life slogging through stuff I don't want to do and miss out on some of the things I do want to do. I realize life can't be a 24/7/365 thrill ride, and that we all have to carry our crosses, but I would really like something to get excited about in my life--something that adds color and challenge, and a feeling of having created and accomplished something good. Something that makes me get up out of bed and say, "Wow! Today I get to . . . (fill in the blank)." Writing may be that something. I have notes and drafts for several unfinished fiction projects on my hard drive--mostly of a comic booky, pulpy, science fictiony, type nature. I, the holder of a Master's in English, with a specialization in Renaissance Lit., have to confess: I love pulp, or at least I used to. Somewhere along the line I lost interest and it became much less important. Perhaps I overdosed on it and provoked a reaction. Can I pick it back up again? I don't know.

Why pulp? Why not higher brow literature? I've written some of that too over the years. I think for now I would just like to try to write something fun. Fun to write and fun to read. No moral, no message, no deeper meaning other than the victory of good over evil, which might be the theme of all great literature. I want to see the hero save the world and get the girl. I think all literature, even if it deals with serious issues, arises out of a need to imagine, to create, to pretend, to play. I want to play, at least for a little while. Pulpy, comic booky, science fictiony type stuff appeals to me, I suppose, because it brings that desire to play and the desire to see good triumph over evil down to their most basic and obvious level. It's hard to take Superman seriously as a work of literature, but it's easy for a nerdy guy like me to identify with Clark Kent, wish he were Superman, win the love of a girl like Lois Lane and whup a villain like Lex Luthor. As the great Catholic essayist G. K. Chesterton observed:

The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. . . Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity . . The poor--the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life-- have often been mad, scatter-brained, and cruel, but never hopeless. That is a class privilege, like cigars. Their drivelling literature will always be a "blood and thunder" literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.


I'm not poor, but every once in a while I feel stooped under the burden of life and need some "blood and thunder" to give me hope. Let's go make some blood and thunder!

Blogroll Business

Howdy once again, blogfans, and welcome to the NEW AND IMPROVED "It's All Straw." For your convenience and mine, the blogroll on the left has been alphabetized and expanded for easy access to favorite blogs old and new.

Among my particular new favorites, Rod Bennett over at tremendous trifles has been running a fascinating series of posts on the influence of pulp and science fiction on the writing of C. S. Lewis. (part one, part two, part three, part four) What Rod has discovered may surprise you. Seems ol' "Jack" Lewis was more of a sci-fi geek than we thought. Do check it out. I know I've railed against some really vapid pop culture on this blog in the recent past, but I've always had a soft spot for fantasy, sci-fi, adventure fiction, classic pulp, and their modern day descendants, such as Star Trek and Star Wars.

Once a Chicken, Now a Fish is the story of blogger Janjan's circuitous path from Reform Judaism to Catholicism, told with dry wit, honesty, and style. Her blog With Issue continues the story as she struggles to live out her faith like the rest of us, while looking out on this crazy world we live in. Shalom, and welcome to the Church, Jan!

The blogger known only as Anonymous Teacher Person gives us a glimpse inside her Catholic high school classroom with her blog Scrutinies. Her career as a Teacher Person may be coming to an end, however, as she and her TeacherHusband are moving and mulling the possibility of having more TeacherKids. Prayers and best wishes as they consider what comes next! Blogger Rachel Swenson Balducci tells us what it's like to live, love, and bring up kids Catholic in her male-dominated Testosterhome.

Blogger and author Mike Aquilina instructs us in The Way of the Fathers and explains why the teaching and practice of the earliest Christians are still relevant today. For my money, knowing something about the real history of the early church is a useful and badly needed corrective to all of the nonsense and lies spouted in The Da Vinci Code.

Over at The Scratching Post team bloggers KT Cat, Jacob the Syrian Hamster, and their pet human, Glenn Reynolds, "make the business case for kindness." You'll find conservative political commentary and "World of Good Blogburst" posts which describe various opportunities for community service. The first-person (um, first-animal?) reports on the ever-so-trying life of KT and Jacob are hilarious, but woe to ye who incur the terrible wrath of the mighty Feline Theocracy! Ignore their "catwa" at your peril, unbeliever!

Finally, even though he's been on my blogroll for awhile, I gotta give a shout-out to my former colleague Mark Mossa, S. J. and his blog You Duped Me, Lord. When I last saw him, Mark and I were graduate students in English at the University of South Carolina. Now Mark is a Jesuit "scholastic" or candidate for ordination, scheduled to become a priest in 2008. God bless you, Mark, as you pursue this vocation.

Watch for new and interesting additions to the blogroll as I discover them.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bad News

It looks like my Mom's cancer is back.

She had one bout of lung cancer in 2002-2003. My Dad died of lung cancer in 2005. She actually got sick before my Dad did, but the doctors caught the cancer in its early stages and it responded well to chemotherapy and radiation. This time it looks as though there are multiple tumors in both lungs and they may be farther along than the first time. I'm getting my information indirectly from my brother, who's getting it from my sister-in-law who got it from the nurse in the oncologist's office. Mom herself is pretty stoic about the whole thing, implying that the doctor's just over-reacting, or that she's just old and ill health is to be expected. We'll have more definitive information after she has a PET scan next weekend. There is still much we don't know. Prayers are requested. My Mom's name is Cecilia, Cele for short.

I am trying not to freak out over the whole thing. It doesn't seem quite real yet. But it is depressing. I just finished writing a remembrance of my Dad, and the thought that I may soon have to write one for my Mom, is disturbing to say the least. I will keep you posted, adding more details as they become available. God's will be done.