Friday, December 25, 2009

An Old Christmas Carol

For all my readers who may be facing tough times and may be tempted to despair this Christmas, I present the following. When you're caught up in the debate between Scrooge and Fred, choose Fred:

"What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? . . . keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A New Christmas Carol

Just when you thought all the great Christmas songs and carols had been written, along comes this new item from composer Gerald McClain:





This Christmas Joy
by Gerald McClain

In swaddling clothes to us arrive,
This Jesus Christ, our hopes revive!
In Marys arms, her little boy:
This tiny babe, death to destroy.

Was not in clouds, come down to reign
But from a girl in labor pain; (Revelation 12: 2)
Not in a throne was he to lay
But in a manger full of hay.

Welcome to Him from us today,
This Christmas joy, in us to stay.

From foreign lands their homage paid:
To Bethlehem, the star did say.
Fall prostrate where did shepherds come;
Laid out their gifts a costly sum.

Then in a dream: from Herods gaze,
Another path to home was made.
A furious king proclaimed forthright
That innocents shall loose their life.

Though in a world with evil known,
This Christmas joy, Love has outshone.

Give glory to the Fathers Son:
Begotten of the Holy One.
Though evry part is from the same,
The Word to us in flesh he came.

A preview of the coming years,
A final act to wipe all tears:
From nursling small to mature man,
Fulfillment of the Godheads plan.

All praise and laud and glorious powr,
This Christmas joy, tis Jesses flowr.

Gerald McClain
© 2005 Musique de McClain

I think this piece has a lovely "neo-medieval" or "neo-Renaissance" feel that appeals to my antiquarian sensibilities. I like older, more out of the way hymns and carols that haven't yet been turned into Muzak, and that you don't hear every time you go to that most godless of places, the mall.

Mr. McClain has also written a French language composition "Une voix dans Rama" (A Voice in Ramah) commemorating the Slaughter of the Innocents described in Matthew 2: 18 (Douay-Rheims version):
A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Hat tip to Patrick Archbold of Creative Minority Report for posting some Christmas clips from YouTube, which in turn prompted Mr. McClain to post links to his compositions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Life Imitates Art?

I once had plans for a fiction project that I ultimately dismissed as too silly. Something involving the discovery of priceless artifacts with mystical powers, evil druids on the loose in Ireland and America, and, oh yeah . . . costumed crime fighters. Sort of a superhero/urban fantasy mashup. Justice League with a Celtic accent. Ridiculous, right? Then along came this item from Irish blogger Deiseach that sounds like something straight out of the story I was planning to write:

It seems that in April of this year, the Irish police were investigating a burglary at a drugstore in County Roscommon and recovered not only the loot from the robbery but also priceless Irish artifacts dating from approximately 2000 B. C. that the original owner of the shop kept in his safe. His daughter, who took over the business after he died, had seen the artifacts but had no idea how old or how valuable they were. The artifacts, a gold necklace and two gold discs, will be turned over to Ireland's national history museum for study and safekeeping. Here's a link to the story in the Irish Independent newspaper and a link to the story as reported by RTÉ, Ireland's national TV network.

Something about this story just strikes me as so weird. Did the guy know what he had? Did he have the artifacts appraised, or did he at least take them on "Irish Antiques Roadshow" or something? Did the thieves know what they were stealing, or were they just looking for cash and drugs? Why did the guy just keep the stuff in his safe and not tell anybody, least of all his family? We'll probably never know. Weird. Just weird.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a White Trash Christmas

It's Christmas party season, and I've been singing this song pretty much compulsively for the last several days now, so I guess it's OK to share it with you guys. It's Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas From the Family." The song and the video are priceless. Enjoy.



A tip of my Texas ten-gallon to Dale Price of Dyspeptic Mutterings for alerting me to this great song. BTW, I swear that Christmas at my house isn't (much) like this. Really.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Insert Japanese Monster Movie Joke Here

Our colleague KT Cat reports that giant jellyfish are threatening Japan's fishing industry. No lie. Here's the story as reported by the Australian affiliate of Fox News:



The official story is that Global Warming, um excuse me, Global Climate Change and pollution are partially to blame, but has anybody investigated the link between these events and all the nuclear tests in the 1950s? After all, those tests led to a rash of appearances by men in rubber monster suits, and the destruction of uncounted numbers of plywood cities and toy tanks and airplanes, as this documentary footage reveals:



This looks like a job for UltraMan and the Science Patrol:



Can they save the day? Gosh, I hope so!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We Come in Peace . . . Y'all!

I first saw this on Mike Flynn's blog and then on Mark Shea's, and I thought it was too good not to share:

Close Encounters of the Redneck Kind from Marc Bullard on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Techno Tip

I don't consider myself a real computer savvy, techno-geeky kinda guy. I know the basics: how to double-click, how to send e-mail, how to use an installer to install software, how to design simple web pages, that kind of thing. So when I got an alert message from ZoneAlarm, the makers of my anti-virus and anti-spyware software, informing me that an update was available, I clicked where I was supposed to click and installed the update. "What could it hurt?" I thought.

Well, the answer turned out to be, "Plenty." This update from ZoneAlarm installs a "safe browsing toolbar" that's designed to protect your computer from viruses, harmful scripts, and other junk as you surf from website to website. So far, so good, right?

Wrong, at least for me. Apparently, this safe browsing toolbar conflicts with my browser of choice, Firefox, and prevents it from launching or re-launching properly. With the toolbar installed, I could launch Firefox once, but if I closed it, went to another application and then tried to come back to Firefox, I couldn't relaunch it without shutting down and re-booting the entire computer.

Needless to say, that wasn't a very practical option for the long term, so until I could figure out a solution, I used another browser. I alternated between Google Chrome and Safari for Windows, finally deciding that Chrome was the better of the two. I barely bothered with Internet Explorer.

Finally, today, I figured out how to disable the ZoneAlarm toolbar: Go to the Tools Menu, select Add-Ons, click Extensions, and select the ZoneAlarm Toolbar, and click the Disable button. That appears to have solved the problem. It was so breathtakingly simple once I figured it out, that I really felt like a dope for taking so long to figure out a solution.

Moral of the story? If you're using Firefox, and ZoneAlarm, DON'T install the ZoneAlarm toolbar. I offer this message as a public service to all the other clueless non-techies out there. I figured it out so you don't have to.

Cash, checks, credit card numbers, and PayPal donations will gratefully accepted.

You're welcome :).

For Veterans' Day

Sunday, November 08, 2009

So, Ya Think It'll Sell?

So, I've been thinking about doing some writing lately, and I got this great idea! It can't miss! Check it out:

Your challenge is to write crossover fanfiction combining Night of the Living Dead and Oregon Trail.
The story should use brainwashing as a plot device!

Generated by the Terrible Crossover Fanfiction Idea Generator

Hat tip to Dale Price of Dyspeptic Mutterings.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Eifelheim


Eifelheim / Michael Flynn. New York: Tor Books, ©2006; Blackstone Audio, ©2007, via Audible.com.

From time to time here at It's All Straw I've posted audiobook reviews, but today I've added something new: the first ever review of both an audiobook and its print equivalent. I recently finished reading and listening to Michael Flynn's extraordinary science fiction novel Eifelheim. I say reading and listening because after downloading the audio version from Audible.com and listening to about half of it, I found it so remarkable that I decided I wanted to read it for myself and have a physical copy to keep—or perhaps share and give away to friends. For those who prefer their books on paper and not just as a collection of disembodied electrons inside an MP3 player, it's also available in paperback from Amazon.com.

I first heard of it at least a couple of years ago, shortly after its initial publication, when it got highly favorable reviews from Mark Shea, Darwin of Darwin Catholic and some other big guns in the Catholic blogosphere. It won their kudos (and mine) because of its highly original premise, finely drawn characters, skill in dealing with moral and philosophical issues, and perhaps most of all for its sympathetic treatment of the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church. In this absorbing, moving novel, Flynn shatters stereotypes about the church and grapples with deep questions about the meaning of sin, redemption, and suffering.

The story begins in the year 1348, as residents of the tiny German village of Oberhochwald awaken in the predawn hours of a summer morning with the inexplicable feeling that something momentous, and perhaps dreadful, is about to happen. Just as some of them gather at the parish church, a tremendous crash and explosion take place, causing fires in the woods beyond the village. When a small party of villagers, led by Father Dietrich, the parish priest, goes into the woods to survey the damage, they find something beyond their wildest dreams: Oberhochwald has been visited by beings from another world.

The visitors, large, grasshopper-like creatures who call themselves Krenken, however bizarre and fearsome their appearance, are not truly malevolent, merely choleric or quickly prone to anger. They have crashed on Earth by accident and are just as bewildered and frightened of humans as humans are of them. The Krenk surreptitiously station listening devices throughout the village in order to learn the rudiments of German and fashion translation and communication devices in order to interact with the locals. Father Dietrich makes a special effort to befriend the Krenken, and in order to understand their culture and explain human society to them, draws on his extensive knowledge of medieval philosophy, logic, metaphysics, and theology. Here Flynn explodes the myth, popular in certain circles nowadays, that the Catholic Church, and especially the medieval Catholic Church, was ignorant, superstitious, hostile, and afraid of scientific knowledge. On the contrary, Flynn argues, the process of systematic logical reasoning, observation, and experimentation that today we call the scientific method, had its beginnings in the Catholic universities of medieval Europe.

The Krenken, for their part, try to explain the complexities of interstellar travel to Dietrich as much as his knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension will allow, and ask for his help in finding or fabricating materials they need to repair their ship. Some locals agree to help with the repairs, and one man, while trying to assist the visitors, sacrifices his life in order to prevent a Krenk from being killed accidentally. The Krenken have no concept of charity, or the voluntary surrender of self for the good of another. Their society is based on duty and responsibility, and a Krenk's social status is genetically predetermined. The man's selfless act makes a powerful impression on the newcomers, and several of them begin to inquire about human religious beliefs and ultimately ask to be baptized. This causes tension both among the Krenken and the villagers. Both species believe the natural order of things is being upset by this action. Some Krenken even agree to become vassals of the local nobleman, Herr Manfred, once the existence of the Krenken becomes more widely known.

Manfred, Dietrich, and the other villagers attempt to keep the existence of the Krenken a secret in order to prevent a panic, but of course, the greater the number of people who know a secret, the harder it is to keep. Rumors of strange flying beasts with yellow eyes and demons with occult powers and strange weapons are beginning to escape to the outside world when news of something even more terrible arrives. The Black Death, the outbreak of bubonic plague that decimated medieval Europe, has reached the surrounding towns. Order collapses and panic descends as the villagers begin to sicken and die, unable to understand or prevent the spread of the plague. The Krenken seem immune to human plague, but soon have to confront their own medical crisis. Earth's foods lack a certain protein the Krenken need to survive, causing the aliens to also sicken and die. The only source of the vital protein is the bodies of the dead Krenken that the survivors are forced to consume. The words of Christ at the Last Supper, "Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body, which will be given up for you," take on a terrible literalism among the baptized Krenken. Humans and Krenken alike seem to be moving inexorably to their doom.

The story of the terrible tragedy that gradually unfolds in the medieval village of Oberhochwald is interspersed with a contemporary story of two present day researchers. Tom, a historian, wants to know why the German village of Eifelheim was suddenly abandoned in the Middle Ages, acquired a mysterious and eerie reputation, and alone of all the villages near it, was never resettled. Sharon, Tom's lover, and a theoretical physicist, is absorbed in a complex theoretical problem that Tom only dimly understands. Unwittingly, however, their two areas of research come together. Using tantalizingly incomplete, vague references from historical documents, Tom deduces the incredible truth: Eifelheim was Oberhochwald. After being abandoned because of the plague, Oberhochwald became known first as Teufelheim ("Devil's Home") and then Eifelheim. The solution to Sharon's theoretical physics problem explains how the Krenken were able to travel through space—and how humans might one day do the same. An obscure document that Tom thinks at first is only a treatise on mystical theology is actually an effort to explain the physics of interstellar travel in medieval terms. An oddly illuminated medieval manuscript is actually a diagram of a crucial part of the alien ship. When Tom and his colleagues discover the remains of a Krenk buried in the old cemetery at Oberhochwald, however, they decide not to desecrate the holy ground and let the dead rest in peace. The book ends as one of the gravediggers in the party looks up at the stars with an expression of hope and wonder on his face.

This is not a perfect book, but it is a very good one. Flynn includes a great deal of information on the mundane details of village life and the bewilderingly complex worlds of medieval religion and politics. These may seem as if they are irrelevant digressions at first, but they give this imaginative recreation of 14th-century Germany real heft and weight. This was a real world, populated by real people who worked, thought, prayed, loved, and died, the author seems to say. They deserve to be treated with respect.

The characters themselves are well-drawn and well-realized. Manfred, Dietrich, and Dietrich's adopted daughter Theresia, all have secrets and troubled pasts they would like to forget, but they are all trying to do good as best they understand it. In time, many of the villagers come to accept the Krenken, addressing them as "friend grasshopper," or "brother monster." Fra Joachim, a young Franciscan friar who assists Dietrich, is prone to outbursts of intemperate zeal and heterodox theology, but he is also capable of extraordinary acts of kindness toward the Krenken. Even the mysterious alien Krenken themselves gradually take on distinct individual personalities. Several of them remain behind after the Krenken ship is repaired, unwilling to leave their human brethren. Others tend those villagers sick and dying of plague. Tom and Sharon, the contemporary characters, by contrast, seem shallow, brittle, and far less interesting than their medieval counterparts.

My one real criticism of the book has to do with the ending. Flynn actually introduces the Tom and Sharon subplot fairly early, alerting the reader that something eventually went terribly wrong in the village of Oberhochwald/Eifelheim. This creates a sense of mystery, impending doom, and inevitable tragedy almost from the beginning of the book, and the reader is almost compelled to continue with the story in order to answer the burning question, "What happened?" What went wrong in Eifelheim? When the answer is finally revealed, it seems somehow oddly flat and anticlimactic—heartbreaking, poignant, and completely plausible given the previous events of the book—but nevertheless, somewhat small and diminished compared to the buildup of tension that preceded it. Perhaps I've been spoiled by too many "Hollywood Blockbuster" endings, but I could think of a couple of alternate means to get to the same ending that might have packed more of a dramatic punch than the one Flynn chose.

Overall, however, Eifelheim is an excellent book that will leave readers or listeners with much to think about long after they have closed the book or switched off the MP3 player. It belongs in the same category with Walter M. Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz or Mary Doria Russell's pair of novels, The Sparrow, and its sequel, The Children of God. These are all outstanding novels that deal intelligently with Catholic themes and take The Catholic faith seriously.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Reading "On Fairy-Stories"


My long-awaited copy of J. R. R. Tolkien's collection of essays, The Monsters and the Critics, arrived today (I didn't realize my copy had come all the way from Merrie Olde England), but it was worth the wait. I ordered the book because it contains one essay I particularly wanted to read, "On Fairy-Stories," that provides a particularly illuminating glimpse into Tolkien's thought and a rousing defense of speculative and fantastic fiction, especially from a Christian perspective.

Originally delivered as a lecture at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 1939, "On Fairy-Stories" is a long and somewhat rambling essay that covers a lot of intellectual territory. Tolkien displays a near-encyclopedic grasp of ancient and medieval European literature to support his points. What I used to say about one of my own graduate school professors applies even more so to Tolkien: "He probably forgot more about medieval literature than I'll ever know."

Tolkien begins by trying to define fairy stories, freely admitting that he knows more about what fairy stories are not than about what they are. They are not mere juvenile stories about tiny beings with wings [e. g., Tinkerbell]; they are not merely stories about travels to exotic lands and faraway places on earth; and they are not simple falsehoods. What they are, Tolkien spends the rest of the essay elaborating. After briefly discussing the possible origins of fairy stories, Tolkien begins to warm to his topic when he describes how the mind works to create fairy stories in the first place:
 The human mind endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more potent. . . .
 The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into swift water. If it could do one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our mind awakes. . . . But in such 'fantasy,' as it is called, new form is made; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.
  Tolkien takes particular exception to the belief that fairy stories are fit only for children, as if children are somehow more simple-minded than adults, more eager to believe the fantastic, and more willing to suspend disbelief than adults are:
Is there any essential connection between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? Reads them as tales, that is, not studies them as curios. Adults are allowed to collect and study anything, even old theater-programs or paper bags. . . . Fairy-stories in the modern lettered world have been relegated to the 'nursery,' as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the playroom, primarily because the adults do not want it and do not mind if it is misused.
(As an aside, I would say that thanks in large part to the phenomenal popularity of Tolkien's own works, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, their many imitations and derivatives published since, and contemporary works of fantasy such as the Harry Potter books, "fairy stories" are more widely accepted among adults than ever before. Tolkien's next major point about the "willing suspension of disbelief" still holds):
Children are capable, of course, of literary belief, when the story-maker's art is good enough to produce it. That state of mind has been called 'willing suspension of disbelief.' But this does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful 'sub-creator.' He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true' : it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.
Having considered what fairy stories are (or are not) and how they are constructed, Tolkien next considers the purpose and value of fairy stories. "Fairy stories were plainly not concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded," he writes. Based on memories of his own boyhood, Tolkien argues the most fundamental desire a successful fairy story can arouse is the desire to see those places, creatures, and things that are totally strange, totally Other, totally alien to one's everyday experience, even if that Other is somehow dangerous:
The dragon had the trade-mark Of Faërie written plain upon him. In whatever world he had his being, it was an Other-world. Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie. I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course I in my timid body did not wish to have them in my neighborhood . . . But the world that contained even the imagination of Fáfnir [a dragon from Germanic mythology] was richer and more beautiful at whatever cost of peril.
The dark and perilous aspects of some fairy stories, far from being harmful to children, can actually be beneficial to them, Tolkien argues:
Children are meant to grow up and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder; but to proceed on the appointed journey: that journey upon which it is certainly not better to travel hopefully than to arrive, though we must travel hopefully if we are to arrive. But it is one of the lessons of fairy stories . . . that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.
One of the greatest purposes of a fairy-story, Tolkien seems to imply here, is to impart a great truth about life in our "Primary World," even as it moves and delights us by relating the adventures of characters in a totally imaginary "Secondary World." Far from being a waste of the human being's creative or imaginative abilities, the making of a genuine fairy story is the highest achievement of narrative art:

Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. . . . [but to] make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labor and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few will attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed, narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
 Indeed, Tolkien insists, the human ability to create Secondary Worlds in fiction and to create tales of the beings who populate those worlds is not just an idle amusement, but a fundamental defining characteristic of human beings, a right given to them by God, who is Himself a creator of worlds and beings:
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
The ability to create secondary fictional worlds in which strange and fantastical things happen should give us the ability to look at our Primary World with fresh and appreciative eyes:
We should look at green again and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses—and wolves. This recovery, fairy-stories help us to make. In that sense only a taste for them may make us, or keep us, childish.
Tolkien concludes his essay by discussing what he believes to be the most important characteristic of fairy-stories: what is sometimes called the happy ending, but more than that, the dramatic unexpected turn of events that heals and restores the characters and brings about real profound joy that was also totally unexpected. Tolkien calls this moment the complete opposite of tragedy or catastrophe and coins the term eucatastrophe to describe it:
In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatatrophe , of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will), universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
 Evangelium, of course, is the Latin word for the gospel, the "good news" of the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. By the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, "God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this [story-making] aspect, as to others, of their strange nature." Tolkien suggests here that just as human nature may be redeemed by the death and resurrection of Christ, human fairy-stories and the human ability to make them, may be redeemed as well. The gospel, Tolkien suggests, is the ultimate fairy-story—not in the sense that it is false or imaginary—but in the sense that it contains marvels worthy of the best fairy stories and the greatest eucatastrophe imaginable. The Death and Resurrection of Christ, which looked at first like the greatest defeat in all of history achieved the salvation of the world. The most mind-boggling reality about the gospel, however, is that it is true:
But this story has entered History  and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.
Does this mean, then, that once the greatest fairy-story has been told, there are no other fairy stories to tell? No, says Tolkien. On the contrary, if human nature has been redeemed by the Death and Resurrection of Christ, human fairy-stories and the human ability to make them may be redeemed as well. A well-made fairy story, with its evangelium and eucatastrophe, a message of incredible good news about a totally unexpected turn of events that brings incredible, unexpected joy, may awaken readers' imagination to the greatest and truest evangelium and eucatastrophe of all: the Death and Resurrection of Christ:
. . . in God's kingdom, the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the 'happy ending.' The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may now assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may yet come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, fully redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Readin' and 'Ritin' (But No 'Rithmetic)

Hello There! Yes, I know there's been some serious blog fade around here lately, but I am still alive and kicking, Thanks Be To God! I believe I'm finally over the consarned, goshdarned, !@#$%^&* medical problems that (sometimes literally) cramped my style for much of the summer. Now that I'm feeling more or less normal (whatever that is), I'm beginning to think again about serious questions, such as what I can do to support myself. I'm receiving disability payments and have some savings, but I'd like to be generating income as well as spending it.

Before I got sick, I was thinking about doing some fiction writing, resuming work on a project I had laid aside awhile back. I am slowly getting back into that. I'm a great one for thinking about writing, but not so hot on actually doing it. I have a pretty fierce inner critic who tells me that writing fiction is a waste of time and a way of avoiding reality (I think he's related to my Scottish Calvinist ancestors). However, when I can get him to shut up, I read and listen to other people's fiction. I've listened to two podcast versions of Treasure Island in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, and am currently reading Michael Flynn's excellent medieval Catholic science fiction novel Eifelheim and Phil and Kaja Foglio's "gaslamp fantasy comic" Girl Genius.

As if that weren't enough, I'm also listening to a  series of podcasts on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. In his introductory episode, the host of these podcasts, a professor of medieval literature, cites an essay of Tolkien's, "On Fairy Stories," that I just can't wait to read for myself. In it Tolkien argues that the urge to create imaginary worlds in fiction is a natural human desire since humans are made in the image and likeness of a God who is Himself a creator of worlds. Furthermore, the desire to create magical or fantastic worlds in which extraordinary things happen is not an escape from reality or a denial of reality but a reminder to humans that our world contains spiritual realities that go beyond what we can see or prove in ordinary day to day sense experience.

A Christian justification for writing speculative or fantastic fiction could be hugely liberating and could open up a whole new world of creativity for me. I have to ask myself, "Why shouldn't I try to create my own fictional worlds, worlds that could be every bit as exciting as the worlds I am currently visiting as a reader? Why shouldn't I find out if readers will enjoy visiting these worlds as much as I enjoyed creating them?

I am not suggesting that I will drop everything and try to become the next J. R. R. Tolkien, or the next J. K. Rowling, or even the next Stan Lee. I know that trying to make a living writing fiction is a long shot even under the best of circumstances. Most manuscripts are never published, most published books are never reviewed, and most reviewed books never sell millions of copies. Every author I've ever read who has written about the craft of writing, however, explains that real authors never write solely for the money. They write because there are stories that authors would like to tell, want to tell, and need to tell.

What I am suggesting is that I am going to see what stories I can tell, and see who else might like to read them. I'll probably never make a dime, but I might possibly make a few bucks and might even make millions, although I consider this last possibility highly unlikely. I just hope the journey will be fun. When I think about the situation in this light, the question becomes not so much, "What am I going to do to support myself?" as, "What can I do to keep the lights on and groceries in the fridge while I write?" The second is a far more interesting question than the first.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Huh?


Have I wandered into some strange alternate universe? Bizarre, unexplained things are happening.

First, the Carolina Panthers have finally won their first game of the season after a string of three rather embarrassing losses. A victory. How refreshing!


 Carolina Panthers defenders wrap up a Washington Redskins running back as part of Sunday's 20-17 win.


Second, as the Fox Sports guys were signing off after the game,they advised the viewing audience to stay tuned and see the poker playing priest on the Pokerstars.net Million Dollar Challenge. The words "poker," "playing," and "priest" are not normally used in the same sentence, so that raised my eyebrows and provoked my curiosity. In the next few minutes, however, I got an extra large helping of raised eyebrows with a side order of "WHAAAAAT?" when I learned that the priest in question is the pastor of a parish I used to belong to in my home diocese! It's one thing when a priest is doing weird things somewhere else, but when it's a priest in your own backyard, it's especially surreal. What's more, Father Andrew Trapp, with the help of a professional poker player, defeated two other professional poker players and then defeated the same player who had coached him in a round of Texas Hold 'em, thereby winning $100,000. One hundred grand! He'll probably have to render at least a third of that unto Caesar, but that's still a nice chunk of change. He said he learned to play poker while in seminary. Where did this guy go to school? Our Lady of La Roulette?

 Father Andrew Trapp, the "poker playing priest."

To be fair, the good padre said he will donate all his winnings to the church building fund and will auction off his other prize, a trip to somewhere in the Caribbean (The Bahamas, I think), in hopes of raising more funds.

Third, the gang at Blogger, WITHOUT TELLING ME, re-jiggered the template for new posts, leading me to believe for several days that I couldn't post pictures to my blog. Fortunately, I found out about the changes and a correction to the problem via the Blogger Help forums (Thanks, guys).

Wait, I can't be in an alternate universe. No previously good, clean shaven person of my acquaintance has suddenly sprouted a beard and become evil. (Whew, that's a relief).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Love and Marriage, Pirate Style

Ahoy there, Mateys! That fair wench The Ironic Catholic hath reminded me that today be Talk Like a Pirate Day once again, it be. Shiver me timbers, I almost missed it! Here be the link to the last time I blogged about TLAPD. But what's more, it seems The Ironic Catholic (Dr. IC for short, don't ye know), has as a story to tell about Lizzie the Pirate Wench, Jack her intended, and their parish priest, no less! Lend an ear, ye scurvy dogs, and ye'll learn somethin' about that there Theology of the Body, so ye will, and have a laugh besides.

In the meantime, here be a video of a song that some scurvy dog hath composed in honor of the occasion:



Arrr!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Happy Haka

Reader PaperSmyth and I have been chatting via the comment boxes lately about rituals, symbolism, and team loyalty. When I mentioned that wearing an Auburn University cap brings back all sorts of memories of my Dad, and wearing a University of South Carolina cap brings back both memories of my Mom and memories of my own time at USC, Papersmyth responded that she has used the earthshaking, earsplitting experience of The Tunnel Walk at University of Nebraska home games as a metaphor for what The Last Trumpet in the book of Revelation might be like:



This is obviously a pregame ritual designed to psych up the home team and home fans and intimidate the visitors, right?

Then, as it happened, I listened to the most recent episode of Father Roderick's Daily Breakfast Podcast. Father Roderick has been visiting Australia and New Zealand speaking to members of the Australasian Catholic Press Association. His host in New Zealand mentioned a local rugby team, The All-Blacks (so named because of their uniforms), that performs a haka, or a kind of war dance used by New Zealand's Maori people, before every game. The haka uses chanting, shouting, aggressive body movements, and fierce facial expressions to convey the message to opponents: "We are bad dudes, and we will mess you up."

In other words, it's a pregame ritual designed to psych up the home team and home fans and intimidate the visitors:



And it's quite effective! So, PaperSmyth, I'll see your Tunnel Walk and raise you one haka. Maybe if the Gamecocks did that before every game . . .

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Won Again!

Yes, Dear Readers, it has happened again.

More than a year after my first victory in the HeroMachine Caption Contest, I have won again!

Jeff Hebert, creator of the fantabulous HeroMachine software, website, and blog has recently revived his much beloved caption contest. Every couple of weeks, Jeff searches through his vast library of comics, finds a single panel rich with comedic possibilities, removes the dialogue, and invites readers to submit their own. The reader with the funniest dialogue (in this case, that would be me) wins a prize drawn by Jeff. Since he is currently hard at work on the next major upgrade of the software, the prize will be an item of my choice to be included in the next version of HeroMachine or (shudder) a caricature of my face, an item too horrible to be contemplated.

Here is this week's panel with the original dialogue removed:



Here's the same panel with my dialogue inserted, which I hope, Dear Readers, you will find appropriately hilarious:



I have an idea of what I would like for my prize, but I haven't made a final decision. I'll keep you posted.

Caps

It's funny how the physical objects around us can get us to thinking.

Now that another college football season is upon us, I splurged on a University of South Carolina baseball cap to show my team loyalty. This is the one I chose:



I've cheered for Carolina teams since I was a boy, long before I did my graduate work there (and far too often been poorly rewarded for my loyalty, but that's another story). Hope springs eternal in the Gamecock fan's breast however. This might just be the year the football team or the basketball team or the baseball team or the women's track and field team or somebody does great things.

When the cap arrived yesterday I wore it with great pride, but it reminded me that I had a similar one for Auburn University, my Dad's alma mater, a cap very much like this one:



Towards the end of his life, I noticed that Dad had taken to wearing a baseball cap whenever he drove to keep the sun out of his eyes. He was wearing a generic baseball cap he'd gotten from somewhere (the USC bookstore if I remember correctly). Two Christmases before he died of cancer, I gave him an Auburn cap. He smiled and thanked me. Later I learned that he wore it whenever he drove until he was no longer able to drive. After Dad's funeral, my brother Allen asked me if I would like to have the cap and I have kept it ever since.

Dad was never a big sports fan. Normally he paid very little attention to Auburn athletics—until perhaps the annual weekend that Auburn played Alabama. When I rediscovered the cap, however, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I found Auburn's fight song on the internet and have been listening to it almost compulsively. I'll keep an eye on how the Auburn Tigers (Clemson Tigers = BAD! Auburn Tigers = GOOD!) do this year, even as I'm cheering on my Gamecocks. And should Auburn triumph over Alabama, you will hear a rousing cry of WAAAAAAR EAGLE!" from this direction.

Miss you, Dad.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What The . . .?

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) know that two of my interests are the Catholic faith and comics. These two things came together in a rather bizarre way when I looked in on Jeff Hebert's Heromachine Blog on Friday and found the following item:



As I commented on Jeff's blog:

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Bats in the altogether except for his cape and cowl? With his batboys discreetly covered by the undulations of Joker, aka the Serpent in the Garden of Eden? This is not just whacked out comics, folks. This is some SERIOUSLY whacked out theology.

(Darned Episcopalians!) :)


The meaning of this one confounds both Christians and comic book fans. Never let it be said that It's All Straw does not broaden your educational, cultural, and theological horizons, dear readers.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

'Sup?



Hey, everybody. I know it's been awhile since I posted anything of significance. Still having some medical problems that interfere with my ability to do much of anything useful, but I'm still here. So . . . 'Sup with you?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just for Laughs

OK, enough with the cute pictures of dogs and cats with hilarious captions and the grousing about my medical problems. It's time for this blog to regain the moral and intellectual high ground with . . . superhero parody videos! Yeah, that's it! That's the ticket! I blundered across this yesterday on YouTube and thought it was hilarious.



To be perfectly honest, I always did think Wonder Woman was a little bit on the lame side. Glad somebody else thinks so too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two Blogs Go Black

Two giants of the Catholic blogosphere, Amy Welborn and Dawn Eden, have decided to bring their blogs to an end. I'll let them explain why. I'm sure they had good reasons, but I will miss both of them.

Third-rate hacks like me are still available, however. :)

Dawn announced she was going on a permanent blogging vacation almost a month ago, but I kept checking back every so often in the forlorn hope that perhaps she had reconsidered her decision. No such luck.

As for Amy, I hadn't checked on her blog in a while, and was surprised to find during a quick visit to her site that she had decided to call it quits.

We'll miss you, ladies. Be well, and God bless you both. Thank you for all you have done to make the internet a saner, more humane, more Christlike place.

Pax vobiscum.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sign Her Up for the Schola Cantorum!

Tangle (formerly called GodTube, I think) sent me this video, and I thought it was too cute not to share. Yes, she is singing the version of The Lord's Prayer found in the King James Bible, which means she's probably not Catholic, but hey, she's only two! Things could change.



Makes you think, doesn't it? Have you said your prayers today? Even more importantly, have you made sure your kids have said their prayers today?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cheeseburgers in Paradise



A member of my Legion of Mary group very graciously presented me with a George Foreman Grill recently (on my birthday no less) and last night and today I finally had a chance to try it out. I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "grill," I start thinking, "hamburgers," and the instruction book just happened to include a recipe for "George Foreman Power Burgers" (with your choice of vegetables and seasoned bread crumbs added to the meat) that I just had to try. I bought just over a pound of ground chuck and a white onion and made the bread crumbs myself. I followed the cooking directions and last night produced two rather tasty burgers with all the fixin's (cheese, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, pickles), a very satisfying, if somewhat messy meal. I just had another plain burger for lunch, and cooked and froze the remaining meat in a rather oversized patty that I'll reheat later, either in the microwave or the toaster oven.

My only complaint about the whole process is that the plastic spatula provided and recommended for use with the grill is pretty darn useless. Using it is like trying to flip your burger with a credit card. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to grilling all sorts of goodies. Now, I have the option of being able to prepare a slow-cooked meal in my new crock pot, or to cook something fairly quickly on the grill. Recipes and tips will be gratefully accepted.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Mass Appeal

I went to Mass today for the first time in several weeks after a long illness. I'm still not fully recovered, but I consider the fact that I felt well enough to go to church an encouraging sign. More news as it becomes available and events warrant. That is all.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Still Struggling

Man, this is getting tedious. Sorry about the blog fade for the past couple of weeks, but I'm still having medical problems that are embarrassing, messy, and painful in a certain (ahem) sensitive region of the male anatomy. This all started with a pair of infections, back to back, and even after two rounds of antibiotics, I still don't feel particularly good. In fact it feels as though the infection is trying to make a comeback. I'm planning to see my doctor on Monday, and we'll discuss where to go from here.

On the bright side, I did get to visit my family in North Carolina for birthday number (mumble, mumble) and I treated myself to the DVD of The Incredibles with a the Wal-Mart Gift Card my sister gave me. The Incredibles is rapidly becoming one of my favorite movies. Writer and director Brad Bird combines a smart script and stellar computer-generated animation to serve up a spankin' comedy action/adventure/superhero movie, even as he gently pokes fun at the action/adventure/superhero movie—and, as if that weren't enough, his turn as the voice of Edna Mode, costume designer to the supers, is almost worth the price of admission by itself:



I think the secret to the Pixar gang's success is that for all their mind-blowing technical skill with computer animation, they never forget that the real essentials of any story are character and plot.They rarely fail to give us interesting characters and to make the journey on which those characters embark interesting as well. Unfortunately I missed the latest Pixar vehicle, Up, during its theatrical run, but in light of all the enthusiastic reviews I read, it's definitely slated for rental the minute it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Response From the President

You may recall that back in April I posted an open letter to the President voicing my opposition to the so-called Feedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Yesterday I received this response:

The White House
Washington

July 2, 2009

Dear Friend:

Thank you for taking the time to share your views on abortion. This is a heart-wrenching issue, and I appreciate your input and thoughts.

I am committed to making my Administration the most open and transparent in history, and part of delivering on that promise is hearing from people like you. I take seriously your opinions and respect your point of view on this issue. Please know that your concerns will be on my mind in the days ahead.

Thank you again for writing. I encourage you to visit Whitehouse.gov to learn more about my Administration or to contact me in the future.

Sincerely,
Barack Obama


I offer this with very little comment, except to say that it's obviously a form letter, which I expected, if I expected any response at all. There's no indication that anyone associated with the President attempted to respond to any of the objections or concerns I raised. The letter moves quickly from a generic, bland thank-you for "sharing my views on abortion" to a discussion of what seems to be the President's favorite topic—himself and the wonders of his Administration (note the capital A). The envelope was addressed by hand, probably by a lowly White House mail room employee.

"Change we can believe in?" I think not. To me it just looks like more of the same old thing--blarney and double-talk from another politician.

Monday, July 13, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


I'm still struggling with medical issues. My sister came for a visit this weekend and brought some much needed TLC, some yummy home cooked meals, and her very sweet dog for company, but the weekend was still pretty rough. I found out I do have an infection and have started on another round of antibiotics. I'm also going to see my doctor later this afternoon. Your prayers, dear readers, would still be very much appreciated.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Medical Update

Thanks to all of those who have been and are praying for me. Please keep it up. Your prayers and good wishes are very much appreciated. The outpatient procedure went very well. There is no evidence of any Really Terrible Disease or Really Big Medical Problem, which is what I was really scared of, so that is a huge relief. I think I may have finally turned the corner on this thing and may soon be back to my old self.

I have to give an extraordinarily big shout-out and thank you to the incomparable Dawn Eden for her support during this time. I e-mailed her to ask for her prayers, and she went one better, not only praying for me, but also calling me and offering personal words of counsel and encouragement the night before the procedure. She sent me a link to a pamphlet by the great Fulton J. Sheen, an extraordinarily rich meditation on the relationship between Christ's sacrifice on Calvary and the events of every Mass. This booklet is well worth your time and will doubtless require several readings to fully appreciate. Thanks for everything, Dawn! You're a real mensch!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Prayer Request Redux

Dear readers,

The medical problem I spoke of a few days ago has been more stubborn and persistent than I expected. The standard treatments don't seem to be working, and my doctors are at a loss as to what to do next. I am worried about how I will continue to pay for further treatments or medical procedures if they are necessary, because at the moment I am unemployed and without health insurance. I am also worried that this problem could be a symptom of something more seriously wrong. Thanks to all of you who have prayed for me. Please keep it up. Additional prayers from friends old and new would be welcome and very much appreciated.

Thank you.

UPDATE 7/6/09: Thanks to all of you who have prayed and are praying for me. At the recommendation of my doctor, I am planning to undergo an outpatient medical procedure on Wednesday so that we can better identify the problem and any possible solutions. Please pray that this procedure goes well, and that the problem can be easily identified and treated. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At Least Hamlet and Horatio Are Still BFFs

Here's a link to a very funny site that retells the story of Hamlet as a series of postings on Shakespeare's Facebook page.

Hat tip to the incomparable Dawn Eden for posting the link.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Priest Shortage Hits Home


Any Catholic who practices and cares about the future of the faith knows the church today is afflicted with "crisis in vocations"—or to put it more bluntly, a critical shortage of priests and religious. Today that shortage came to my parish. For the first time since I have been a member of my present parish, we were forced to have a Sunday communion service rather than a proper Mass because there was no priest available. Our parish priest has been away for several weeks dealing with a family emergency and, God willing, is scheduled to return next weekend. For the last three weeks, we have had a visiting priest fill in for him, but this weekend that priest was not available.

I was at home recovering from an illness, so I was not at the service today, but it distresses me that we were forced to this pass because of the shortage of priests. I live in rural, eastern South Carolina, an area where Catholics are few and far between, and today was the first time in my memory that my parish has ever been without a priest for Sunday Mass. I can only imagine what the situation is like in areas where the priest shortage is even more severe. On a recent episode of his "Daily Breakfast" podcast, Father Roderick Vonhögen, a priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands, estimated that by the year 2015, his diocese would have only 50 active priests available to serve a population of over 1 million Catholics. As it is now, he and each of his fellow priests are responsible for 7-10 parish churches that have been grouped into "mega-parishes" simply because there are no priests available to serve the smaller parish churches.

All of this goes to show how entirely appropriate it is that Pope Benedict has declared a Year of the Priest, to encourage reflection on the importance of priests in Catholic life, to encourage priestly vocations, and to encourage those already serving as priests to keep up their good work and to strive even harder for holiness of life and better service to God and his people.

If you're blessed enough to live in a parish with a resident priest, thank God for it— and thank the priest for his service to you. Pray for him, and pray that God will raise up good and godly men to succeed that priest when the time comes. If you know any unmarried, faithful Catholic men, encourage them to consider the priesthood as a vocation. I seriously considered the priesthood when I was younger, but I lacked the courage to follow through—now I think I would lack the physical health and stamina. I can still pray, however. Pray for your priests! Pray for more priests!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Too Large To Be An Insane Asylum


On hearing that his native state had seceded from the Union in December 1860, James L. Petigru, a unionist and opponent of secession quipped, "South Carolina is to small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum."

I thought of that remark a couple of days ago as I got up early to take some medicine and switched on one of the morning news shows. The show gleefully led off with the latest on l'affaire Sanford, the fallout from Gov. Mark Sanford's tearful public admission that he went AWOL from the state capital for a week in order to fly to Argentina for a tryst with his as yet unidentified paramour. The same show included a report on a South Carolina mother who has been charged with abuse and neglect for allowing her teenage son to grow to a gargantuan weight of 550 lbs.

The hosts of this program, who seemed more like gossip columnists than news reporters, interviewed the mother, and I must say, she didn't exactly sound like the brightest bulb on the sign, so it's easy to imagine how that unfortunate situation might have occurred. The Sanford episode, however, boggles the mind. I have to say this in my best Dr. Phil voice: What was he thinking? Did he honestly believe that it would somehow be OK if he sneaked off for a week of extracurricular extramarital activity without telling anyone his true whereabouts? Did he force his staff to put out the cover story that he was stressed out and had gone hiking along the Appalachian Trail, or did they concoct that one themselves?

So far, Gov. Sanford has indicated that he will not resign as governor, but the more I think about it, the more I believe he should. He says he wants to devote his remaining months in office to rebuilding the trust of the people of the state. I think, however the best way he can do that is to voluntarily surrender his office. It would demonstrate that he understands that actions have consequences. It would also remove him from many situations in which he might be tempted to make a similar monumental error in judgment that would have damaging consequences not only for him, but for the whole state. Finally, I think it would allow him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his relationship with his wife and children, which, if I were in his shoes, would be my first priority.

I love the state of South Carolina. I was born in Georgia, but I've lived here since I was an infant. It's my home. When stuff like this happens, however, I just have to shake my head and wish I were from somewhere else. South Carolina may be too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum, but I'm afraid it's just the right size for a national embarrassment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Have a Follower!


Yes, that's right! I have an official, signed up with Google follower, someone who will blindly obey my every command and help me achieve my plans for world domination, um, I mean, hang on every word I write, um, no, I mean stop in and read what I have to say and maybe leave a comment every so often. You know who you are. Thanks so much. I'm flattered, really. I don't have as many willing slaves as that poser wannabe Dark Lord Mark Shea, but hey, everybody's gotta start somewhere, right?

My first follower . . . (sniffle) . . . I'm so proud!

P. S. Oh, and Dread Dark Lord Mark Shea? Just kidding about that whole "poser wannabe" thing, honest. I mean I'd never . . . What I mean is, I wouldn't dream of . . . Hey! What are you doing? Put that down! No! Please! Aaaaaaaagh!

Some Things That Rise Must Converge



It's odd sometimes how some of my interests come together. As readers of this blog may be aware, I'm fascinated with all things Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, since many of my ancestors came from that part of the world. Readers may also know that I am president of my parish's praesidium (local chapter) of The Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization dedicated to fostering deeper devotion to Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary.

The Legion of Mary was founded on September 7th, 1921, in Dublin Ireland. That may sound like so much interesting historical trivia until you realize, as I did a few days ago, that the 1920s were a very turbulent time in Irish history. In 1921, the Irish had just concluded their War of Independence from Great Britain and set about trying to establish the Republic of Ireland. Tragically, however, the Republican movement soon split into factions because of profound disagreements about what the nature of Ireland's relationship to Britain should be. Each faction accused the other of betraying the revolution and selling out the Irish independence movement. Infighting between the factions escalated into The Irish Civil War of 1922-23. The political fallout from the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War, including the partition of Ireland into the predominantly Catholic and independent Republic and the British and Protestant-controlled territory of Northern Ireland, played a huge part in "The Troubles," the political and sectarian violence that plagued Northern Ireland until very recently.

So what's the connection? At every Legion meeting, members pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the world, mercy from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and prayers and intercession from the Immaculate Heart of Mary—worthy things at any time, to be sure, but especially valuable in times of war and violence. I imagine that to the founders of the Legion, these things were not just pious niceties or pretty phrases, but things they desperately wanted and needed—and things that are just as much wanted and needed in our world today.

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us.

Prayer Request

Dear Readers,

(All three of you)

Blogging has been sparse around here of late in part because I've been struggling with a medical problem. I'll spare you the gruesome details. It's not major, but it is uncomfortable, messy, embarrassing, and darned inconvenient. With the right medication and treatment I should be back to whatever passes for normal around here in a few days. Until then, I'll just have to grin and bear it. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I Want to See This Movie!



The trouble is, it hasn't been made yet.

As a relative newbie in the world of comics, I gather that a big screen version of the adventures of the Green Lantern is like the holy grail to fans. There are rumors of a Green Lantern project in development, but apparently it hasn't been cast and there isn't yet a final version of the script—in short, it's in "development hell."

I've seen other fan-made GL trailers, but this is by far the best. This effort is from an individual by the name of Jaron Pitts. If you watch the original video on YouTube and click on the "more info" link, he lists dozens of audio and video clips from movies and TV shows that he stitched together (rather expertly, I must say) to make this video. He talks about the development process here. I was blown away by the professional look of this little film. It looks like a real, studio-produced movie trailer. In my humble opinion Nathan Fillion would be an excellent choice to play Hal Jordan/The Green Lantern, but the word is that he probably will not. Until the movie comes out, at least we have this beautiful little dream of what could have been.

Hat tip to Damien Stadler of the HeroMachine Developer's Blog and combox for bringing this to my attention. Thanks, Damien!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Meet Julie Fowlis

I have plans for a fiction writing project that involves some borrowing and adaptation from Celtic mythology, so I've been listening to lots of Celtic music trying to get the mood and atmosphere right. While searching YouTube, I ran across clips of a wonderfully talented singer and downright beautiful young woman named Julie Fowlis who hails from Scotland's Outer Hebrides and sings in Scots Gaelic. Have a listen!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Too true!

I found this via Mark Shea and thought it was too good not to share. Disturbingly accurate, isn't it?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trekkin,' Across The Universe . . .




Boldly going forward, 'cause we can't find reverse!

(with apologies to Dr. Demento)

ATTENTION: Here there be Spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie yet and still want to, DO NOT read this review. You have been warned.

More than three years after I first heard about it, the new Star Trek movie is finally here. I'd say it was worth the wait.

I saw the movie (which is mercifully unburdened with a ponderous or pretentious subtitle) last night with some friends, and we all had a great time. Good fun for hardcore Trekkies/Trekkers and newbies alike. My friend Bill, who, of the three of us, initially seemed the most skeptical and least enthusiastic about a new Star Trek movie, was laughing and hooting delightedly at the action sequences like a kid on a roller coaster ride. Indeed, the whole film is played up like a gigantic action adventure romp, and if the story has a fault, it tends to rely a bit overmuch on eye-popping visual effects, with things crashing into other things and exploding dramatically. On the other hand, the film doesn't take itself too seriously and has a sense of humor, which means that viewers are spared pious lectures about how "non-interference is the Prime Directive," which was never really anything more than a plot contrivance anyway.

Speaking of the plot, it's based on one of those temporal paradox/alternate time line thingies so beloved by Star Trek writers and fans. A renegade Romulan named Nero, who blames the elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) for the destruction of his home planet (don't worry, it's all explained in the movie), contrives to travel back in time and attempt to destroy the young Spock early in his career and eliminate Spock's best friend, James T. Kirk, at the moment of his birth.

Nero's first attempt at temporal mayhem fails, however, thanks to the heroic self-sacrifice of Kirk's father, and young Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) and young Spock (Zachary Quinto) meet years later, when the two of them are hotshot young punks fresh out of Starfleet Academy. At first, the two future heroes and fast friends can't stand each other, but events soon force them to put aside their differences. Nero is still up to no good, and he's out to turn the planets of the Federation into black holes, one by one, with the help of a monstrous "space drill." His first target is Spock's home planet Vulcan, followed, of course, by the Earth.

Starfleet pulls out all the stops to meet the crisis, mobilizing its new state-of-the-art flagship, called the Enterprise, and, because experienced crews are in short supply, manning her with untested young cadets. Among these are a cranky Southern surgeon named Leonard "Bones" McCoy; a brilliant young communications officer named Uhura; a nervous fencing expert named Sulu; a cheeky Russian named Chekov; and an irascible, eccentric engineer named Montgomery Scott—in short, all the beloved supporting characters from the original series. Under the wise guidance and heroic example of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the heroes we know and love come together for the first time. When Pike is forced to put himself in jeopardy to protect the Enterprise, it's up to his brash young first officer, Jim Kirk, and the hyper-logical Mr. Spock to devise and execute a desperate plan to save the Earth. Can they do it?

C'mon! This is Star Trek we're talkin' about! Of course they can! Suffice it to say that at the end of the movie, Pike recommends that Kirk replace him as Captain, the crew is assembled on the bridge with Kirk in the center seat, and Leonard Nimoy, in a husky voiceover, proclaims them ready "to boldly go where no one has gone before," like a priest intoning a benediction. The torch has been passed from one generation to the next. The new adventures of the old heroes have begun.

The blend of new and old elements are what the movie is really about. There are many nods to the original series, from the use of the original sound effects to the retro-styled uniforms (Kirk is back in a yellow shirt, Spock and McCoy in blue, and Scotty in red, with Zoe Saldana, the new Uhura, ably filling out a miniskirt-like costume for female officers). And speaking of skirts, Chris Pine as young Jim Kirk chases more than a few of them, and tends to be the "shoot first and ask questions later" kind of captain that fans of the original show may remember. Zachary Quinto, perhaps best known as the psychotic supervillain Gabriel Sylar from the NBC show Heroes, is pitch-perfect as the young Spock. Only Karl Urban, as the younger Bones McCoy seems to be doing a bad DeForest Kelley impersonation. His obligatory, "Damnit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" line seems a bit forced. Otherwise, it's almost as if director J. J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman really do have a time machine and are able to show us the pasts of these characters we know so well.

However, even as Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman make it clear that they respect the broad outlines of the Star Trek mythology, they also make it clear they are going to do Star Trek their way and not be bound by a slavish obedience to any previous continuity. About halfway through the movie, young Spock observes that by traveling back in time, Nero has irrevocably altered the fates of the Enterprise crew in a way that's impossible to predict. I take that as a message to hardcore fans that if they are looking for absolute consistency between previous versions of Star Trek and this current incarnation, they will be disappointed.

Hence, there are some new wrinkles and surprises in this new version of Star Trek even as it deliberately hearkens back to the old. Fans will be startled and perhaps saddened to learn that in this outing, the planet Vulcan is destroyed, claiming the life of Spock's mother Amanda. Also in this version, there is an open and passionate romance between Spock and Uhura, as opposed to the clandestine and unrequited love between Spock and Nurse Chapel from the original series. Another smaller surprise is the look of the Enterprise herself. The designers and art directors have kept the classic saucer and cylinders configuration that's become something of an icon, but the new/old Enterprise looks both sleeker and more muscular, a starship that really looks like it could kick some serious alien bad guy butt.

Overall, this is a great summer movie with plenty of action, a dash of comedy, and a new look at old friends in a science fiction universe that feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. Let's hope the adventures continue.

My 15 Minutes of Fame

Well, Good Golly, Miss Molly! I'm almost famous.

It seems my recent review of Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen has come to the attention of some bloggers I really respect, including John C. Wright, Mark Shea, and some other folks who have asked me to be a guest blogger at ModernConservative.com

Recently, John C. Wright, author of science fiction, master of obscure pop culture references, moral philosopher of the blogosphere, and recent Catholic convert, blogged about how much he hated the film version of Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta. In the comments I mentioned that I had a very similar reaction to Watchmen and included the link to my review in my comment.

Then, I'll be darned if Mr. Wright didn't actually read the review, quoting it approvingly and at length in a post on his own website. He was particularly impressed with the way in which I was able to cite a pop culture icon of yesteryear, The Shadow, and the great Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton, in the same essay. Mr. Wright observed:

My comment: Anyone who mentions both Chesterton and The Shadow in the same paragraph has won my favor, and therefore shall be made one of my ministers and granted way-cool ninja-jedi Mind Control powers, once my dirigible planet enters the solar system from the transplutonian darkness. Perhaps I will make him master of Australia, and wed him to my beautiful but evil daughter, Princess Aura.


To which I replied:

You are far too gracious, O Mighty One! I'd settle for the flight powers of the Hawkmen and a ride in your dirigible planet. I'm sure your beautiful but evil daughter Princess Aura is a swell gal, in an evil sort of way, but she's not gonna, like, murder me in my sleep or anything, is she? Just askin'.


This exchange, in turn, came to the attention of Mark Shea, who is, in my humble opinion, the dean of the Catholic blogosphere. He wrote that my essay was "full of wisdom and insight." Imagine! Mark Shea said that something written by li'l ol' me was "full of wisdom and insight." I'm all tingly. Usually the stuff I write around here is definitely full of . . . something . . . but it ain't wisdom and insight!

In the comments to a subsequent post, I received an invitation from one David Marcoe to be a guest blogger for the Modern Conservative website. We corresponded at length, and I am still waiting for final word as to whether they would like me to blog for them. I may include my e-mail to them as a future post.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Da!

Your results:
You are Chekov
































Chekov
75%
Uhura
60%
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
50%
Deanna Troi
45%
James T. Kirk (Captain)
40%
Spock
40%
Data
40%
Geordi LaForge
35%
Worf
35%
Jean-Luc Picard
30%
Mr. Scott
20%
Beverly Crusher
20%
Mr. Sulu
15%
Will Riker
15%
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
10%
Brash, rash and hasty,
but everyone loves you.


Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test