Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Krypto the Super-Dog

Oh. My. Goodness. Somehow I missed the existence of the new Cartoon Network show Krypto the Super-Dog, from the famous DC animation team of Alan Burnett and Paul Dini!

For those who are unfamiliar with Krypto, Superman (or Superboy -- that DC stuff
always confuses me) used to have a dog. Who was also from Krypton. Who also could fly, use superstrength, and had X-ray vision and heat ray eyes. For whom Supes made a cute little cape and collar.

The new cartoon for some reason has Krypto living in a suburb of Metropolis with an ordinary boy named Kevin. Krypto can not only fly but talk, although he apparently only reveals this ability to Superman and Kevin. He has cute adventures. For example, exposure to red kryptonite makes him switch bodies with Kevin on a day when the boy is slated to attend a birthday party. Krypto also can talk with other animals. In today's episode he teamed up with Batman's dog Ace to defeat a plot by the Joker's hyenas Lou and Bud. (No, continuity with the other DC cartoons does not seem to be an object here. In case you were expecting some. In which case you are even sadder than I am.)

It's cute. It's funny. It's possibly the most non-violent superhero cartoon ever (in a non-lame way). But it's smart comedy for kids. The body-switching episode covered almost every implication you could think of, and the dog behavior in a kid's body was well thought out. (In Kevin's body, Krypto went to sit down and circled a chair several times before sitting down on the ground.) Batman's dog had a utility collar in which he kept endless amounts of clever gadgets, and interrogated a street rat snitch. If Krypto wags his tail too hard, he creates gale force winds. (Hey, I laughed!)

The primary reason I didn't realize the cartoon was on the air seems to be its airing time. Cartoon Network shows it at 9 AM on weekdays and 7 AM on Saturday. This is a cartoon for younger kids, and is being aired accordingly. But if you've got kids at home or you care to let your VCR do the watching, I think you'll find it's a pretty fun little show.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Where Have All the Sisters Gone?

To Nashville, Indiana, Alabama, and Ann Arbor, apparently. The Sisters of Life are doing land office business in New York, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity (and the other three affiliated orders she founded) don't even need webpages to grow. Contemplative orders seem to be doing okay, in their lowkey way. But you won't see that in this article, though you will in Amy's comments.

I think the reason most orders are shrinking is that they're not out looking for members where they can be found. When was the last time you saw an order have a booth at a career day? How many hold retreats for college girls, or invite girls to visit on field trips?

Well, okay, that new order in Ann Arbor does booths at the Ann Arbor parishes. And they've got no trouble at all attracting warm bodies.

I've been a Catholic all my life, and I've only ever seen the inside of a convent once, for about a half hour, in fourth grade. The sisters got sent away at the end of the year after that (donors and parish council members' kids were being given higher grades and being disciplined less by some sisters than kids of us peons -- but nobody told us kids why). It was just as well, since the German nun was always getting mistreated by kids and none of the other nuns did anything about it. (Some sisterhood.)

I don't remember any nuns or nun programs affiliated with the campus parish, even though Lourdes College was right over the hill with tons o' nuns. I've never heard a nun talk about how much she loves her vocation and how every young woman should consider it. They assume you don't want to join, I guess. Maybe they assume you shouldn't even think about it unless you get a Call with a big neon arrow pointing to their place. But they sure as heck aren't doing anything of a serious recruiting nature. (Putting tiny ads in the back of religious magazines, or having dorky websites you can't find unless you already know all about the order, is not what I call a serious search for recruits.)

They say you have to believe in your own company and products before you can sell them to anybody else. Orders that know they're doing good work for the Lord are able to attract and retain members. Orders that don't believe or love what they're doing will of course fail to convince people to join them, unless God Himself takes pity on them and provides recruits with the aforesaid neon arrow.

There will always be plenty of women with vocations, just as there will always be plenty of men with them. It is sad that so many people who would love to spend their life serving God have been held back by the timid inaccessibility of so many religious orders. There's nothing sadder than women who act ashamed of the vocation God gave them and the legacy their own sisters handed on.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Audiobooks of Interest

Coming in July to the Doctor Who audio adventures line: The Council of Nicea.

Yet what is history to one person is the future to another.

Is it possible for history to be rewritten? And if it can, can the Doctor afford to let it?

What the heck could you want to change about the Council of Nicea? The Easter date? "Watch out for guys named Mohammed"? Take Arius back to the Tardis for a soothing brainwash? I just can't see any possibilities that are ethical or useful....

Right now, you can download free MP3s of the pope's funeral and the pope's prayers from It's in the free content link.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"Then Biff said, 'Divine intervention! Hey, that's always worth a try!'

My state tax form has miraculously been disinterred from its hiding place, along with the last bank tax form I was needing. Yay! Yet another proof of the existence of God! (Not to mention "render what is Caesar's unto Caesar".)

Also (forgot to mention this earlier), the spiffy Dawn Eden has been busily communing with saints both in the blogosphere and celestisphere. Predictably, this sweet post was inundated with comments that weren't quite so sweet. But nobody ever said that telling the truth will make you (or it) popular.

Sick Day

I started coming down with a sore throat yesterday afternoon, right after I got done working with the kid I tutor at lunch. (And I'd appreciate prayers that she doesn't catch it, as she's had more than enough illness and hospital time lately.) By late afternoon yesterday, I'd already figured out that I wasn't going to work today.

Unfortunately, I haven't really been able to rest. Due to my leaky ceiling and move from one apartment to another, I lost my handydandy pile of W2s and tax forms. I have now found the W2s, but not the tax forms. And yes, it's almost April 15th. (St. Ruadan of Tipperary, curser of kings, pray for us!) So I guess I'd better call the library and find out if they've got state and local tax forms. Sigh.

Changing the subject from the sadness of my own life, this is certainly pretty sad. But what do you expect? In a world where any male friendship between fictional characters instantly becomes food for slashfic, real life heterosexual guys have good reason to fear the misinterpretation of their most ordinary activities. Even the article calls two male friends spending time together a "man date". Not a lunch date. Not going to a gallery to hang out. No, a man date. Sheesh. Give the subtext a rest, folks.

Now here's a man who has a date with destiny: a portrait of the Pope as a university student that hangs over in Steubenville.

In other news, I've been thinking about polyamory. You know, there is a place for loving multiple people equally well. It's called "parenthood". It can even be the love between siblings. But seeing as I already have parents and siblings from whom I experience and toward whom I express plenty of the above kinds of love, obviously I would want something rather different in the realm of romance!

I suppose that if you came from a broken home, you might long for that sort of day-in, day-out love. You might even prefer it to romantic or married love, especially if you identified marriage as "what always ends in divorce". Not only does the polyamorous person get this sort of "I love all of you equally" love, he gets sex while being able to hide his essential self in the crowd of other lovers. As long as things never get more settled than that, there are never any expectations to get disappointed about.

See, traditional romantic love is intrinsically rather threatening and dangerous. It makes you vulnerable. It makes you depend on someone else. Scarier still, that person depends on you. Both people involved tend to make promises and sacrifices. You can't stay safe, especially if you get married and totally change your life.

Polyamory seems designed to provide the illusion of safety in love and sex. Nothing needs to change except your schedule. As long as you are honest, you don't need to make sacrifices. Of course, the poor idiots who buy this crup then get to experience all the family joys of peer pressure and lack of privacy, without ever getting compensated by being the most important person ever to someone -- anyone.

But then, when you think about historical occurrences of polygamy, it pretty much seems to be a rich man's way to buy new sex slaves when the old ones are no longer nubile enough, or a clan's way of surviving high mortality rates among young men of fighting age, young women of childbearing age, and infants. Best to give the survivor men a big chunk of women, breed as fast as possible, but never get too attached. This sort of lifestyle of course demanded that women never be allowed to marry outside the tribe, unless there was a reciprocal trade. And it was really bad to be a young man; but hey, you want the young men jazzed up for battle, anyway. What better way than letting them know the only way they'll get any before they're thirty is if they steal a sex slave from the next tribe over?

Prostitution and sexual slavery are the ultimate ways not to get attached, of course. So there are plenty of people in our society -- even women daring to call themselves feminists -- who support prostitution and refuse to condemn trafficking in women, girls, and boys. We are going down a very scary path, and I'm not sure where it will end.

I think the answer to our problems is very simple. We need to treat each other with more respect for individual human dignity, and we need to treat ourselves with that same respect. People need to quit settling for situations I wouldn't foist on my worst enemy. They need to figure that there are a lot worse fates than being alone on Saturday night.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

More Mefody Buslayev

In case you're wondering what the kid looks like:

Zozo Buslayeva put down the magazine and looked at her son thoughtfully. A normal twelve-year-old -- he looked normal, anyway. Thin with skinny shoulders. He was also not growing taller...He had three front teeth, to start out with, and long light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. The uniqueness of his hair was that they really hadn't cut it since the moment of Mefody's birth. At first Zozo didn't do it because the child kicked, threw himself around and screamed like he was being cut; and then the grown Mefody started to claim that it hurt him for scissors to touch his hair. Whether this was true or not, Zozo didn't know. But when once, five years back, she'd tried to cut a piece of plasticine out of her son's hair, she'd seen blood on her scissors from who knew where...hen, calming herself, Zozo managed to open her eyes -- the scissors were completely dry, if we don't count one small brown speck.

Beyond the hair, there was still something else about Mefody which was no part of the diagram called 'twelve year old boy'. And that was his eyes. Slanted, not quite entirely symmetrical, and of a completely undefinable color. One person thought them gray, another green, another black, and a couple of men were ready to swear under oath that they were blue. In actuality, their color changed according to the light and the moods of Mefody himself.

Every now and then, especially when her son got angry or was agitated over something, Zozo -- if she happened to go near him -- felt a strange dizziness and weakness. It seemed to her that she descended in an elevator endlessly, into a narrow black mine. She almost really saw this elevator with its dim lamps, flat iron buttons, and boldface marker inscription: "Welcome to the Gloom!" She saw it, and couldn't shake off the hallucination in any way.

Here's Mefody's home life:

Mefody only knew that first there was Papa Igor. Then life rolled Papa Igor up into its carpet and carried him off somewhere. Now he showed up once every two or three years, bald and battered by fate; and he brought a little three-carnation bouquet to his wife and Chinese pistols to his son, and boasted that everything was
fine with him. A new wife and a company which repaired washing machines. However, Edward Khavron, who knew it all, claimed that Papa Igor's affairs were only so-so and it wasn't his company that did repairs, but himself.

...After Papa Igor, into Zozo and Mefody's life came Uncle Lyosha, Uncle Tolya, and Uncle Innokenty Markovich. Uncle Innokenty Markovich stuck around for a long time, almost two years, and he bugged Mefody with his quibbles. He made Mefody hang his trousers on a hook, wipe his own nose, and call him by his patronymic as well as
his first name. Then Uncle Markovich evaporated somewhere, and Mefody no longer bothered to memorize the rest of the uncles, so as not to overload his young memory.

You drive such nonsense into my brain cells, and there won't be any room for my classes! he reasoned.

Eastern Patriarchs' Greatest Hits!

If you were also wondering about that haunting but joyful song the Eastern Patriarchs kept chorusing at the end of the Pope's funeral...well, here's the same song sung by a Greek Orthodox choir. And with considerably more women involved. And a lot more English than Greek and Arabic. ;)

You can read a translation of the Eastern bit of the Papal Mass at Inferno XV. (Scroll down past the bit where he talks about his own choir activities.)

Anyway, the snazzy chorus goes like this:

Christos anesti ek nekron
Christ is risen from the dead
thanato thanaton patisas
Trampling down death by death
ke tis en tis mnimasi zoin kharisamenos.
And on those in the tombs, giving life!

Note that important word "charis" there...wouldn't that be "gracing" them with life?

(And hey! He's not just Snake-Stompin' Jesus, He is Death-Stompin' Jesus, too!)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Yemets on the Soul

"New Russian fantasy" is sure as heck turning out to be entertaining. What really kills me is how quickly the children of the intelligentsia of the godless Soviet Union are turning into good little mystics of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I submit for your consideration the following passage from the prologue to Methodius Buslayev: The Midnight Mage, the first book in Dmitry Yemets' newest children's fantasy series. (Actually, the kid's name is Mefody, just as Martha in Russian is Marfa. But my English-speaking tongue has a good deal of trouble even saying Mefody without it turning into Methody, and at that point....) This series exists in the same universe as his earlier Tanya Grotter series, though the people involved rarely seem to cross paths. However, the infodump in the prologue is provided by the mage instructors from the previous series. It seems that there are other, more powerful beings around which do not get their power from ordinary magic, but from the eidos.

And what is an eidos?

"This eidos which the Guardians of Gloom hunt is the nucleus, the essence of the ensoulment of matter, the ticket to eternity, the key to immortality, the soul. Most vitally important, they are the same both in every normal human and every one of you... Each person has only one eidos. It cannot be counterfeited or copied even with the help of magic. A human who has lost his life and body, but saved his eidos, loses nothing. But a person who loses his eidos loses everything, even if his body, mind and life are out of danger," explained Sardanapal.

"Mm-hm...And what does it look like?" asked Tararah.

"Almost nothing. An eidos doesn't have weight or shape. Or maybe it does. Mages have been arguing about this for several thousand years so far. Avessalom the Flattened thought that the eidos was an invisible jewel which is thousands of times more valuable than any diamond, even the biggest one. Ekril the Wise was certain that it was a second heart which controls the beating of the first heart. Hugo the Cunning asserted vaguely that the eidos is 'that which is not'. In other words, the eidos does not exist in time; during dormancy its existence is not detected by any concrete personality. Only when its existence is recognized does it appear. However, the majority of scientists, which include your obedient servant, have converged in the opinion that there's an eidos in everyone, independent of whether one realizes it or no. The eidos is like a small bluish spark or a piece of grit. This spark has an incomparably enormous force with which it introduces us to eternity, and does not leave us in the putrefying flesh after death. An Eidos is the eternal particle of existence, part of the One Who created us with a Word. It cannot be destroyed by a brigade of gargoyles or a nuclear explosion or the end of the universe -- nothing. And this is the power inside even a single eidos!

"This is exactly what the Guardians of Gloom are after. The more eidos inside one's darkth, the greater its ability and hence, the higher it is in their hierarchy. It doesn't bother the guards at all that they are taking eternity from a human along with its eidos. For them, it's a target -- nothing more."

"They take the eidos by force?"

"An eidos cannot be stolen by force. But eidos can be given away voluntarily. It is possible to be given one, or to sell one, or to trade one for a diamond, a kingdom, a bite of apple -- whatever you think it's worth. You will already have decided to have nothing to do with this. But already, over hundreds of years, millions of humans have given up their eidos, and added to the darkth of the Guardians of Gloom," said Sardanapal darkly.

Horrid translation by me, of course. The iffy bit is that the mistaken mages are dark (tyomniy) and the guards or guardians are of a worse darkness (mrak). You can also translate 'mrak' as 'gloom', but Gloom Guards or Guardians just sounds way too cutesy for what are essentially hosts of demons. (Btw, they are opposed by the Light Guards, who are essentially angels. The Light Guards protect and defend the human eidos.)

Yemets is not out there writing Christian fantasy for the sake of writing Christian fantasy, folks. He's a bestselling children's writer who could be writing whatever he wanted to. He's writing stories with these elements because he likes them and thinks they will sell. He's been right so far; his publisher EKSMO seems to be doing very well both on this book and its sequel, Methodius Buslayev: The Wish Scroll. So obviously kids do want to read about angels and demons battling for human souls, and a kid who has to use his free will to pick which side he'll be on. I'm not quite sure where this is going...but like the anime series Full Metal Alchemist, it seems to be going somewhere good.

UPDATE: The more you read a book, the more you figure out what's going on. The baddies of the Mrak are headquartered in Hades, which definitely counts as a land full of Gloom. So I guess "guardians of Gloom" isn't quite so dumb after all.

However, they do not seem to be demons so much as a very bad crew of superpowerful beings. At least one of these seems to be on a story arc about redemption, though,
so they're not demons. Likewise, the guardians of Light seem to be more in the way of magical beings than angels. We'll see what happens later on, but Ares and Daphne don't seem to be particularly supernatural. :)

I'm also going back to calling the kid Mefody. His nickname is Mef, and turning that into Meth would just imply really wrong things. ;) Also, I found that if I rhymed his name with Melody, it wasn't quite so hard to say.

More Church Fathers Stuff

Seeing as I've just started Dmitry Yemets' Methodius Buslayev series, I thought I'd go browse through a little St. Methodius. What do you know? I found a possible Tolkien source!

Remember the Beren and Luthien poem, which is called "The Lay of Leithian: Release from Bondage"? Remember how Luthien's power (which came to her from her mother Melian, a Maia just as Gandalf was) was to sing magical (or holy) songs of power and allure?

Well, here's Methodius with a little dialogue "Concerning Free Will" (bolding mine):

The old man of Ithaca, according to the legend of the Greeks, when he wished to hear the song of the Sirens, on account of the charm of their voluptuous voice, sailed to Sicily in bonds, and stopped up the ears of his companions; not that he grudged them the hearing, or desired to load himself with bonds, but because the consequence of those singers' music to those who heard it was death. For such, in the opinion of the Greeks, are the charms of the Sirens.

Now I am not within hearing of any such song as this -- nor have I any desire to hear the Sirens who chant men's dirges, and whose silence is more profitable to men than their voice; but I pray to enjoy the pleasure of a divine voice, which, though it be often heard, I long to hear again -- not that I am overcome with the charm of a voluptuous voice, but I am being taught divine mysteries, and expect as the result, not death but eternal salvation. For the singers are not the deadly Sirens of the Greeks, but a divine choir of prophets, with whom there is no need to stop the ears of one's companions, nor to load oneself with bonds, in fear of the penalty of hearing. For, in the one case, the hearer, with the entrance of the voice, ceases to live; in the other, the more he hears, the better life will he enjoy, being led onwards by a divine Spirit. Let every one come, then, and hear the divine song without any fear. There are not with us the Sirens from the shore of Sicily, nor the bonds of Ulysses, nor the wax poured melting into men's ears; but a loosening of all bonds, and liberty to listen to every one that approaches. For it is worthy of us to hear such a song as this; and to hear such singers as these, seems to me to be a thing to be prayed for.

Apparently, another fun Father is Tertullian. In "On the Pallium", he starts things out by telling folks in Carthage, "I rejoice that times are so prosperous with you that you have leisure to spend and pleasure to find in criticising clothing." Heh! Blog on, Tertullian! I must read more!

On the Road Again

It's that time of year again. Eastertide, when the usual first reading from the Old Testament is replaced by a reading from the Acts of the Apostles, and suddenly the second reading from an epistle always seems to be talking about current events. This Sunday it was also time once again to read about the road to Emmaus.

Is it just me, or are these disciples just darned likable? They're the Joe Schmo guys, not part of the inner circle of Jesus' best friends, and for some reason they succumb to the press of business and leave Jerusalem, just as things seem to be getting really interesting. But Jesus knows them and comes to them. Not for some piddly moment or two, either. He stays and talks with them along the whole road to Emmaus.

This is what occurred to me today -- this is exactly how the whole interaction between Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition is supposed to work. The disciples know their scriptures, sure. They've heard Jesus deliver the Good News, live and in person. Yet they do not understand the Word of God until Jesus explains it to them. He teaches them with authority and lays out the hidden connections between old Covenant and new, between what the prophets wrote and what they had seen with their own eyes. That is the Tradition they carry by word of mouth to the apostles and the other disciples. That is the Tradition, the Magisterium in fact, that Cyril of Jerusalem taught his catechumen classes -- he had it from somebody who had it from several somebodies who had it from Christ Himself. And that is the Tradition that my church taught us today. (Ooh, apostolic succession and the deposit of faith all in one....)

The catechumens who joined the Catholic Church at Easter are still going to class, btw. This is not a sign that they are not full members. Just as the apostles and disciples did, they are spending the forty days of Eastertide learning what the heck it all means, sticking together and looking to their Lord. Back in Cyril's day, this mystagogy was absolutely essential. Like the apostles, catechumens heard the scriptures and Gospel and had a certain amount of it explained. But though they knew more or less about what baptism meant, Communion and Confirmation came as a big surprise. Like the apostles, they would only afterward realize fully what had just happened to them.

This is also part of the point of Emmaus. The scriptures and Gospel are known to the disciples; His explanation of them makes the disciples' hearts burn. But they do not recognize God in His Gospel or His teachings, just as they do not recognize Him when they see His long-known face. They only recognize Him in the breaking of the bread -- in the new-made New Covenant -- in a Sacrament of His infant Church.

This is not meant to denigrate scripture or tradition, I think, but rather to show us that God really was coming to everyone where they were. Jesus was a rabbi, and Jesus liked scripture and interpretation and so did his disciples. But Jesus is showing the disciples that the moment of recognition of God doesn't have to come through scholarship and storytelling. God is with us in our bodies as well as our brains.

Here's a paper on "The Temple Roots of the Liturgy" from a page on Jewish Roots of Early Christian Mysticism. It's pretty interesting, but some of the
ideas about Wisdom and shewbread if true. (And that's a big if.) But the rest seems like a very good start for further investigation. A lot of this stuff probably seemed so obvious back in the day that there was no need to teach it....

UPDATE: Dappled Things was thinking about the same thing, but a great deal more coherently. I guess there really are idea particles floating about, just like Terry Pratchett says.... ;)

Also, Jimmy Akin had a post with a bit of info on the oral tradition of rabbinical scripture interpretation. There's more in the comments.