Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Banshee TV: My Cartoon Picks for Fall

As usual, America's children's programming is all over the map this fall. A lot of good shows won't be returning until later in the year (Static Shock, frex), and a lot of neat-sounding new shows won't be along till later, either. But there's some good stuff out there for kids to watch.

Kids' WB: Still the best cartoon lineup on broadcast TV. Too bad that's largely by default. Ozzy and Drix, Jackie Chan Adventures, and X-Men: Evolution will all be back. Ozzy and Drix is a decent kids' cop show, with some health info on top. Ignore the fact that it's a tie-in to a bad movie; the writers and actors on this version are much better than their big-screen counterparts. (Something very common in the world of animation.) If you haven't been watching Jackie Chan Adventures, you might want to jump in. Sony/Columbia's usual band of skilled writers and artists tell stories in which chi magic collides with modern life, while going through every possible permutation of using martial arts in a story without actually showing people getting hit much. (Gotta love the censors.) Each season usually includes one major story arc about thirteen eps long, as well as thirteen or so stand-alone eps. X-Men: Evolution is the X-Men with most of the merry mutants as teenagers going to public school and only living with Professor Xavier. I hate the premise and the "trendy" outfits, but I love the writers on this thing. With great angst comes great responsibility. As for the other shows...I haven't cared about Pokemon since the end of first season, Mucha Lucha gives me hives with both its premise and art style, Yu-Gi-Oh may be well-loved but I hate its art and its card game, and What's New, Scooby Doo? or whatever it's called is just wrong, somehow. (Maybe it's their Velma's voice. Ew. Way too high.) Maybe I just missed all the good episodes, though; there are some good writers working on the show.

Fox Box: This century's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series will return, which is good news for anyone who likes good animation, action, humor and writing all in one package. (Hey, they watch Korean soap operas too!) Adults, particularly comics fans, will get a lot of the references that kids won't. I should be interested in Shaman King, but it's another tournament show and it's drawn Yugiesquely. Yuck. I feel very bad vibes coming from Funky Cops. Cops by day, disco stars by night? Um...there's a remote possibility this could work, I suppose... Kinnukuman: Ultimate Muscle is returning. Ugggggly. Kirby is returning. Shrug. The unlikeable Cramp Twins are returning. Gag. Cubix has immigrated from the WB. Shrug. And there's going to be a new Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic X. Historically, Sonic series have been good. (I must admit a very soft spot for Sonic Underground, which actually made good use of its ludicrous lost heirs/fugitive rebels/rock band premise. Good writers can do anything....) So maybe Fox Box will be a little better this season.

ABC: I won't really be commenting on ABC. Most of their cartoons are set on Earth, in the real world. As a kid, I wished to forget about school and other kids as much as possible during my off hours. As an adult, I don't really feel any need to revisit the horrors of childhood. However, ABC's Fillmore is somewhat righteous, since Disney paid big bucks to use a riff by the filk rock group Ookla the Mok as the show's theme song. (Thank you, Mr. Potato Head....) Oh, and I do like the concept of a kid cop show.

PBS: Same thing. But Sagwa's been pretty righteous, and Liberty's Kids was better than I could have dreamed.

Nickelodeon: It's all been downhill since 1985. But any network that would cancel Invader Zim deserves to rot in obscurity. Dang right I'm bitter.

DiC Kids' Network: a three-hour syndicated block similar to what DiC did for Fox this year, designed to help stations reach their three hours of "educational programming". It's all reruns from DiC's vaults. Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century will supposedly be part of it, along with Archie's Weird Mysteries, The Littles, Stargate: Infinity, Savage Steve Holland's Sabrina: The Animated Series, and a player to be named later. (Probably Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? or Alienators. ) I'm highly skeptical about the educational value of the nuggets of fact these shows contain, but they're decent little shows for the most part. (Despite their premises.) Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is particularly recommended for its quirky style, but Archie's Weird Mysteries benefits from the amazing visual sequences of Jymn Magon, and Savage Steve Holland is always slipping in hilarious stuff. (Sabrina's grandfather Gandalf, for example.) Worth waking up early for.

Cartoon Network: Still the best network for cartoons of any stripe (though sometimes that's by default, also....). Justice League will be back in an hour-long format, and Teen Titans has already proved itself to be cute with brains and heart. (Although some of the anime jokes are getting a little much. Getting a Japanese group to sing the format was cute; Japanese-accented villains are maybe a bit much. Still, it's a good show and well-drawn.) Duck Dodgers looks like it could be good. I'm not really into Totally Spies, but at least it's an action show for girls. I suppose even popular girls deserve a few spy adventures. I'm not much on FLCL or Blue Gender, but the new season of Big O is of course a must-see.

Pazsaz has the lowdown on all the premieres coming up in the next few weeks. (Ignore the header that says it's the 2000-2001 season.) Enjoy!

All Dungeonmasters and No PCs

I really am out of the gaming mainstream. I still can't believe I ended up missing GenCon now that it's in Indianapolis...but I was sorta at Confluence at the time...and I have to say, my little brother should have realized that previewing the Stargate RPG was obviously more important than getting food poisoning. This is a sad comedown for one of the original playtesters for (IIRC the name correctly) the full RPG version of Kung-Fu CB Trucker Mamas vs. the Aztec Motorcycle Wrestling Nuns. (Yes, it is rather silly for someone to make a full RPG of a one-shot joke character sheet, but hey, gamers are silly. Fun game, too.)

Anyway, if I were still in a gaming group, I have to say I'd be pushing to play the year-old Universalis. It's diceless roleplaying for people who like worldbuilding and storytelling and don't want to leave it all up to one gamemaster! But fear not -- it's all conducted in the sound capitalist fashion of giving people points ("Coins") and letting them purchase what they want. Everybody gets to influence the game, but nobody controls it. A true marketplace of ideas.

I suspect this is pretty popular among gamers who know about it. Obviously this format lends itself well to pickup gaming. However, it also sounds like a good idea for playing long campaigns, as it allows everyone to have a stake in all the characters, villains, and plot complications instead of focusing solely on one's own character and goals. Of course, good gamers are always concerned about the big picture and can try to influence it for the better; this system gives them overt power to do so.

The Universalis homepage linked above gives some really good information, but here's a short but sweet review by Lael Hickman, and here's a record of a game played in a techno-fantasy version of ancient Greece.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

More on St. Ita, aka Deirdre

Yet another Irish saint who had one name when she was a layperson and another when she entered religious life. Anyway, this page on St. Brigid also includes an interesting quote from St. Ita: "True faith in God with purity of heart; simplicity of life with religion; generosity with charity." (Nice little triad, eh? You can tell she was a teacher.)

There's also an old poem, "Isucan", associated with the legend that she had a vision of holding the Baby Jesus. You get a lot of these POV poems in Irish stories; like a musical, it's all prose until suddenly it breaks into song.

A really nice short play

Iosagan by Padraic Pearse. This is really nice -- a kids' play that's not childish. I wish I knew the songs, though.

Rage against the Language

The Hillbilly Sophisticate has fits of irrational rage over West Virginian pronunciation, or (sic) "verbal manglings".

The other night I was strolling through Wal-Mart when a woman announced over the intercom, "The associate in pets - a customer needs help by the FEESH tanks." BAHHHHHH! And, of course, in her thoroughness, she repeated the page twice, clearly saying FEESH both times. What do you want to bet this same person says CRICK instead of creek? WHAT IS SO BLOODY HARD ABOUT THE SHORT 'I' SOUND?!

[Sarcasm On] Why, gee, it sounds like two vowels are being exchanged. Do you think it could be part of a larger dialectal sound shift? Wow, sounds like the kind of thing that happens in a living language that people actually speak and stuff.[Sarcasm Off]

The Hillbilly Sophisticate also points and laughs at the pronunciation of "hurricane" as "hurkin". BBC English pronounces "hurricane" as "hurikin", and sometimes it even sounds like "hurkin" if they're in a hurry. Welcome to the wonderful world of Shakespeare's English as preserved in the Appalachians. But then, that Bard said things funny, too.

By the way, in Dayton, the heartland of Standard American English, we routinely switch between "wash" and "warsh"; D.C. is almost always "Washington", but George is "Warshington". Phbbbbbt.

Now, if you want to complain that you'd like people to code-switch from their native dialect to the Standard American English one in any sort of formal public setting, you can do that. I think I'd laugh at the idea that Walmart's a formal public setting, but whatever turns you on. But demanding that dialects change to suit you is as silly as King Canute commanding the tide -- and he did that to demonstrate the limits of an individual human's power. Your only hope is to convince people that Standard American English -- or to be more honest, the way people talk in certain parts of Ohio and California -- will be seen as cooler than this particular way some West Virginians talk. So start saying something cool, or give it up.

Pennsic for Non-Scadians

It occurs to me that I'd best define Pennsic for those who've never been part of the medieval recreation group The Society for Creative Anachronism. For the first two weeks in August for the last twenty-odd years, SCA members have camped out at Cooper's Lake Campground in New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Before that, it was held in Ohio for a few years.) The ostensible reason is to have a War, or rather, a series of melees and tournaments, between the members of the East and Middle Kingdoms and their allies. (The East Kingdom nearly always wins...this year, too.) The real reason is to spend a large amount of time with our twelve thousand closest friends, living in a reasonable attempt at a medieval world. Much revelry ensues.

I think I should probably explain at this point that Scadians are not hostile toward technology. In fact, it is characteristic of Pennsic that there are always folks with laptops who have the latest satellite weather pictures of what's heading for Cooper's Lake. I once had a very interesting talk about making kumiss the real old-fashioned Mongolian way with a scientist gentle who'd recently wintered over in Antarctica. Scadians appreciate the resourcefulness of our ancestors and the "good parts" of their world. We do not want to live there all the time, not even for two weeks in August (though some folks give it a very authentic try). But we also do not denigrate the past as a barbarous place populated by persons less human than ourselves.

Sometimes we may take the ideals of the Society and our love of Pennsic a little too seriously. But this gentle is neither the first nor the last to call it a pilgrimage, or this place sacred ground. "Mount Eislinn" commemmorates a lovely and noble queen who fought cancer so bravely that both the East and Middle fought in her name the summer before she died. When one favorite tree at the top of Runestone Hill lost a large branch in a storm, people took pieces of it home. And if you followed the link, you already know about the Runestone, where each year the kingdoms swear its oath again. In a world where ideals are few and honor is mocked, it is not strange that people sometimes go a bit overboard. They're people in love.

That said, I can't wait to hear my friends tell their stories about what I missed. The Midrealm won the fencing point! There was an Elizabethan fireworks display! (Now that this guy's gotten sucked in, he'll never get out again....) And for the first time at the War, there was sighthound coursing! (Dogs love it, and it's really medieval....) Also, I'm sure I missed a lot of good bardic circles, siestas in the shade, arts and sciences classes, dances in the barn, wonderful food, wading in the crick, great parties, the latest celestial liquors from the Guild of St. Solange, jugs of sekanjabin ("a refreshingly minty Middle Eastern drink"), drums beating at midnight and bagpipes at dawn, whatever the Horde got up to, fresh chocolate milk from the local dairy, and Mass on the battlefield.

But there's always next year.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Gratuitous Scadian Religious Poetry

Here's a little poem that I wrote tonight, based on something that happened to me once at Pennsic. You will note that, while it's important to know where your towel is, the medieval hoopy frood needs to know where her cloak is. I recommend heavy blanket wool, because it gets warmer when it gets wet, and can be placed on the ground without worry.

I remember Pennsic, when the clouds
Dumped rain on us in sheets and thunder rolled.
The wind came up and lashed us, sharp and cold.
A child among the booming cried out loud.

But I was wearing my thick warm wool cloak.
I took it off and held it overhead.
It flapped its plaid: green, yellow, orange, red --
We huddled underneath till sunshine broke.

That's how they drew you, Mother, long ago,
With sinners clinging to you like that child
Who feared the rain and wind that blew so wild.
Beneath your cloak we're safe when worldwinds blow,

For you have weathered storms worse than this one.
You saw the sun grow dark and felt Earth shake,
And yet at last there came that bright daybreak
When suddenly you saw your risen Son.

The only problem is that this poem doesn't really capture the moment: the weird light, the way we ended up cramming at least ten people under a fairly small circle cloak, the poor kid shivering, the way the cloak itself got heavier and heavier as it absorbed more rain, or how its height kept increasing as taller people got under its roof...nope, not even close.

Thinking Positive

T.S. O'Rama made a good post on Why You Shouldn't Apologize for Sucking at Apologetics, and Curt Jester added more reasons. Either my whining has gotten so epic that everybody's reading it, or I've been sent a Message from God to CUT IT OUT. I'm not sure which is more unsettling. Either way, I'm shutting up! ;)

Several Obvious Truths about Prostitution

For some reason, a lot of people seem to be confused about prostitution. So let's chat, shall we?

1. The majority of prostitutes don't want to be. They are desperate for money to stay alive, have a drug habit to support, or were lured in and kept in by an abusive pimp. Nowadays, we once more get a lot of women who've been brought from their own countries under false pretenses who are kept here either as outright slaves or through the burden of a debt they will never be allowed to pay off. There are a few women who have been abused or tricked enough that they actually think they like prostitution, but this is a small minority, usually highly paid. Women go back to prostitution after being arrested not because they like it, but because they are afraid or they know nothing else. Prostitutes tend to have drug habits after a while even if they didn't have them before -- because being a prostitute is nothing you want to be fully conscious for!

2. Johns should be arrested and sent to jail. For a good long time. Their pictures should go in the newspaper, too. Humiliations galore for these scum, since we wouldn't have prostitution and white slavery if there were no customers for it. Since it's not exactly difficult to obtain free sex in our promiscuous society, these people are clearly sickos who don't want consenting sex from an equal.

3. Prostitutes should be given help and retrained for other jobs. Get them off the drugs, give them some self-esteem, and gee, they might just be able to reenter society and get real jobs.

4. Legalized prostitution just makes the state the pimp. Nothing like skimming off abused and brutalized women's tax dollars. Sure, they get a little added protection -- but the pimp does that, too. Since legalized prostitution is usually combined with legalized drugs, it doesn't even protect them from that.

5. Every country should crack down on sex trafficking. It's disgusting that the white slave trade is being allowed to flourish. We need to stop the trade, put all the scum doing it in prison, rescue the women (and boys, etc.), and give them some help getting back up on their feet. As a public health measure alone, it would be invaluable.

6. Calling it "sex work" just panders to the panderers. Yes, it is inherently brutalizing. The major reason to call it "sex work" is so that johns can use women without complaints by feminists. As an added bonus, they can bring in white slaves and claim they're just undocumented workers -- again, without complaints by feminists. Nothing like sleight of word.

7. Prostitution drives away legitimate businesses. Nobody decent wants to be mistaken for a john or a prostitute. (Especially since prostitutes tend to attract lovely people like serial killers.) So legitimate businesses die wherever prostitution takes root.

8. Prostitution victimizes everyone by teaching that sex is for sale. Women and children and young men become nothing but objects to johns. Again, note the lovely connection between johns and serial killers.

Incredibly obvious points, aren't they? And yet they're really controversial. Open your eyes, people. Prostitution is a terrible scourge on any society. For any feminist -- for any human -- to support it is insupportable.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

A Joan of Arc manga

Joan is a wonderful manga by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Beautiful scenes of medieval life blend with a really interesting story that both tells the story of Joan of Arc and of her effect on France after her death. Oh, and better yet -- for once, Joan's not depicted as crazy!

Emile is a gifted young knight, his adoptive father's pride and joy. One catch: Emile is really Emilie, but was raised as a boy to protect her from her parents' enemies. Emile's hero is Joan of Arc, whom her father trained. Emile begins to see visions of Joan: sometimes visions of actual events back in time, and other times of Joan the saint coming to advise her. Joan tells Emile to do God's will and protect the King (the same guy whom Joan helped become king, and who ultimately betrayed Joan). So Emile goes forth into France with a small band of her father's men, her hopes high and her experience low. In the process, she and we get a good look at the important folks and forces in France back then. We also see a very nice examination of the difficulty of following God instead of just our own wills, and the struggle to keep faith or to go back to faith after losing it.

The only problem with this manga is that the translator obviously had problems with French words written in Japanese. The worst one is where he translates "Helas!" as "Alas!" So here's the girl standing with a big grin on her face, and the speech balloon says, "Alas!" (, the editors these days stink like...gooseberries!) But hey, as long as you know the problem before you read it, you can translate it mentally for yourself.

Reviews from Sequential Tart, The Fourth Rail,, and Diamond Comics. If you don't believe them, you can download a preview of Joan (and Yasuhiko's other big religious manga, Jesus) from Comics One's sample page in the manga section. (While you're at it, tell me if Bass Master is any good, huh?) You won't regret it!

The Feast of St. Seiya?

The first anime show I ever saw in Japanese, St. Seiya, is coming to Cartoon Network on August 30 at 7 PM. Here, as in most parts of the world, it will be called Knights of the Zodiac. Which is just as well, since Seiya and his fellow "saints" work for Athena and a bunch of other pagan gods. ;) "Knights" is probably a more sensible terminology, especially since the guys get their powers from "armors". (Is this sounding a bit familiar? Yep, Ronin Warriors drew on this concept.) Basically, a classic eighties show written for boys with still more tournaments. I swear, this tournament format must go. Lucky for me that I was introduced to the series through the movies, which had nothing to do with tourneys and everything to do with saving Athena. (Though I had some basic issues with the goddess of martial skill, the chick who took down Ares, as a damsel in distress. She should have been rescuing them.)

Anyway, your basic Japanese team of cute, angst-ridden young guys who are as great a danger to themselves as to the enemy. And yet they will triumph, and I will cheer...assuming the dub's decent. The young girls will love it if the eighties hair doesn't kill them first. I look forward to the show as a return to my youth. I also look forward to seeing whether the new fanfics produced are just as sappy and/or slashy as the fanfics of yore.


KairosGuy announced the birth of his daughter Deirdre Niamh. Welcome, KairosBaby! I expect she's a bit busy this weekend, but will have her own blog sometime next week.

I don't see any explanation stuff there about the young woman's illustrious names, so I will take it upon myself to put up a few links. "Deirdre" is a name linked not only to the medieval Irish tale of Deirdre of the Sorrows (dramatized by both Synge and Yeats), but with the great St. Ita, the sister of St. Brendan. The name is variously translated as "sorrow", "raging" or "trouble". Personally, I know many Irish women who have Trouble as their middle name; having it as one's first is even more efficient! Niamh was the name of the fairy woman who carried off Oisin to be her husband. She was the daughter of Manannan mac Lir; her name meant "brightness". So, in short, the KairosParents have given their daughter two excellent and beautiful Irish names.

Hard Sayings

As I explained below, I really am not comfortable explaining Catholic theology in anything but the simplest and most non-argumentative way. If you want to know what's going on with transubstantiation, there are a ziliion people who can explain it better than me -- and nobody but God who will be able to tell you it all, because the thing's a mystery beyond human comprehension. We believe it because Jesus said so.

But yes, it's strange that we Catholics (and Orthodox) are so stubbornly literal in explaining today's gospel. Usually we're the ones telling everybody else to take it easy, because thus and so passage is written in poetic language. The earth doesn't have four corners and it wasn't made in seven days, and sheesh, why do you think we have two Creation stories? But not this passage. Oh, no. This is the passage that drove off many of Jesus' disciples and made the Romans think we were cannibals and vampires. This is where the rubber starts to hit the road.

Jesus said to the crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food,
and my blood is real drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."

If this had just been a symbolic meal of bread and wine, there wouldn't have been any big deal. Plenty of people ate symbolic meals of unity with each other in the ancient world. Jews had Sabbath meals all the time that were holy. But not this holy. The holy of holies was at the Temple, where the priests made sacrifices to God.

We also have priests. They do more with the altar than present God with offerings of bread and wine. No, it is an altar of sacrifice. Through them, God makes Himself really present, flesh and blood, in what only looks like bread and wine. Jesus is our sin offering, since there is no lamb spotless enough, worthy enough, for the sins of the whole world. God is sacrificed to God on the altar; the Perfect One in the hands of imperfect priests. It isn't a remembrance or reenactment of Calvary; it is that single perfect sacrifice at Calvary.

It is a holy moment. The early Christian priests hid the moment from the people. The Orthodox still do it in a little room behind the altar area, and up till Vatican II, the priests did everything at the altar with their backs turned. Now we can see it, but still bow our heads before the awesomeness of the mystery.

But why, if the sacrifice has already taken place, does God let us all participate in it every week? What's the point?

The point is that, as always after a sacrifice, whether pagan or Jewish, a sacrifice creates leftovers that somebody has to eat. In this case, it's the priests and the priestly people. We eat real meat and drink real blood. We have to. They say you are what you eat, and nothing but the body and blood of a mortal who is also the Eternal God could make us mortals who will live eternally. So we eat and drink.

We would not dare to do or say these things of our own volition. They are commanded of us. This is one of the most ancient and central beliefs of Christianity, handed down to us by the apostles. Martyrs died for this to live by it forever. Everything else may be a symbol, but this is real and true -- Jesus feeds us His meat and blood.

As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the "Panis Angelicus", Dat panis coelicus, figuris terminum. "The heavenly bread gives an end to symbols."

The Queen Stands at Your Right Hand

I think it's a bit amusing that people have so much trouble with the Assumption. You got your Enoch and your Elijah going to Heaven the short way, so why not Mary?

....And to You, My Brothers and Sisters....

Confession time. If I weren't Catholic, I'd never go to church. Not that I don't like church services; I do. But I'm very forgetful, and I'd probably forget every week. Having the Sunday obligation engrained in me during childhood helped a lot. But there are still times when I find myself forgetting it's Sunday.

So it's probably no big surprise that Holy Days of Obligation really throw me off. I usually manage somehow during the fall and spring, but oh, those summer ones. So yes, I managed to totally forget to go to Mass for Assumption, in spite of the fact that it's my very favorite feast of the whole year. I followed this up by forgetting to go to Mass on Saturday so I could hit Confession beforehand. (Not for missing Assumption -- forgetfulness isn't a sin -- but for something else I would rather not specify. Sins are always so stupid and smallminded, which is why they're so humiliating. I really ought to be too embarrassed to do evil....) Then, I hit the trifecta by forgetting I was still in a state of sin and taking Communion. I of course remembered all these things as soon as it was too late to do anything about them.

At this point, all my non-Catholic friends will be giving me weird looks and wondering why this is bothering me. Beyond the fact that they aren't bound by these regs, we all know (as I've just pointed out) that forgetting isn't a sin. Yeah, but forgetting something means that something is left undone, and worse, that I haven't cared enough to make sure I did it. Would you forget a holiday in honor of your mother? Would you forget to apologize and sit brazenly at dinner in your father's house, parasiting off his hard work and sacrifice, after you'd done something nasty and offensive against him? If you're absentminded enough, maybe people would understand. But that doesn't make it a good thing to do.