Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Taste of Russian Romance

Irina Melnikova apparently can write a good Regency (or Russian equivalent). She apparently also has decided to become the thinking Russian woman's Tom Clancy. For your escapist needs, I present an excerpt from a novel that's about as far from Katrina as you can get.

From The She-Wolf, or Wild Leeza
by Irina Melnikova


An intelligence officer must know how:

-- to make parachute jumps, come down a rope from a hovering helicopter, and pilot hang gliders, parasails, catamarans and motorboats;

-- to learn military topography to perfection, to orient himself in any locality by compass and map or local landmarks, to quickly and accurately find the necessary objectives, to indicate the coordinates of the investigated objective on the radio;

-- to determine by appearance any potential enemy weapon and know its tactical and technical data, and to determine the enemy's training for the use of WMDs;

-- to identify enemy personnel by uniform and rank insignia and enemy technology by identification markings and exterior appearance; to determine by sound the location,
number, and nature of the activities of the enemy;

-- to learn the actions and tactics of the subdivisions of a possible enemy, and how to use his weaponry and technology;

-- to carry out with excellence both maskirovka techniques and methods of noiseless movement in any locality;

-- to carry out all reconnaissance methods: observation, interception, ambush, photography, and reconnaissance in force;

-- to secretly and noiselessly overcome wilderness and urban engineering barricades, to ford or overcome water obstacles by improvised means, to swim and float well;

-- to endure a prolonged forced march, shoot accurately, throw a knife or a grenade both accurately and far, use a riflebutt or a knife skillfully, and be a master of hand-to-hand fighting;

-- to act as a 'military mountainclimber';

-- to master the skills and habits of survival under extreme conditions...

Judging by Anatoly Taras' reference works, the INTELLIGENCE OFFICER must know all of this. He is a strong, powerful, specially trained man, who has no right to lose control of himself in even the most outrageous situation.

But if a woman finds herself in such a situation? What do the reference books advise?


The signal vanished off the dispatcher's radar screen ten minutes after the airplane took off. The dispatcher was experienced, with many years of accident-free work. He couldn't believe his eyes. Only a couple minutes ago, the captain had reported that the aircraft had achieved cruising altitude, and that everything was normal. He had reported in a totally workaday manner, with no agitation. Any captain of any airplane always reports that everything is working and he's on course with no interference. But the signal disappeared, and it didn't reappear in ten seconds, or in a quarter of an hour, when it should have showed up on the dispatchers' radar screens at the Novokuznetskovo Airport. Then they reported the whole thing to their superiors.

Naturally radio contact with the crew was lost at the same time the signal disappeared. The dispatcher sensed fate's nasty plan in this, because yesterday morning when he was getting ready to go to work, he'd glanced at the calendar. He'd hurried to brag to his wife that tomorrow he'd have finished ten years of service at the airport; and they'd surely congratulate him, especially since he deserved it for his excellent work.

Idiot. He really did know it was bad luck to compliment himself, but no, he didn't hold back. And now he'd got a total snafu by the horns. The last trip of his shift, and so unpleasant a surprise -- a ChP, on top of it all! An IL-76 transport plane, like always, loaded with soldiers of the technical division and three jeeps for the military district command. Nine crewmembers and sixteen passengers... Had twenty-five people, including two children, crashed somewhere in the taiga? The dispatcher no longer believed that everything would work out. If the signal had vanished, that bad luck wouldn't pass by as he'd prayed to God it would.

It was equally old news that he would now never become flight director, although he felt he'd done nothing wrong. All his actions as dispatcher had been competent, precise, accurate and professional, but uneasiness didn't let him off the hook. As always, they'd be looking for a scapegoat, and who, after all, would it turn out to be? The dispatcher, of course -- just a meek little workhorse.

So thought Leonid Ogurtsov, the supervisor of the air traffic control group in whose shift this tragedy occurred.

After two hours, when the aircraft failed to land at its destination, there was no longer any doubt that it had suffered a catastrophe. But within the hour, army and MChS (Ministry of Emergency and Disaster Relief) helicopters took off. Beneath them lay the endless taiga, covered by dove-gray haze. Autumn had made lavish brushstrokes across the glens and forests, painting them in impossibly bright tones: aspen groves blazed crimson, birch groves molten gold, and poplars blushed rosily on riverbanks and islands.

But to these people, there was no beauty in the taiga. On the contrary, the abundance of hues interfered with concentration and finding the crash site, the broken treetops, the smoke from the fires where fragments had fallen...

Chirring like giant magpies, the helicopters combed the course followed by the lost aircraft. Helo pilots were no less superstitious than air traffic controllers, and until they'd found the exact site of the disaster, they
preferred to call the aircraft "lost".

Rain had fallen in the mountains for several days in a row. It had totally drenched the taiga, so there probably couldn't be a large fire, especially if the IL had fallen into a lake or onto the rocky spurs of the Kuznetsk Alatau.

Search and rescue workers, following the same course through the taiga on cross-country vehicles, had time to question both local residents and hunters. They hadn't noticed anything strange in the sky in the given hours, they hadn't heard explosions, crashes, or any odd sounds; and so far they hadn't found one intelligent witness, either. To be more exact, they learned nothing about what they were looking for. In these godforgotten taiga villages, they saw anything and everything from flying saucers to little green spirits with horns, tails and hooves; but nobody'd noticed anything like a crashing airplane. True, the airplane had been lost at five in the morning, but even the most honest farmwives, who got up to milk their cows before dawn or even the first light, had also plainly heard nothing except the lowing of cattle, yes, and the streams of milk ringing against the bottom of their milkpails.

To sum things up, there had been an airplane, but there was no airplane now. It was as if a bird had whisked it away on the wing; as if a magician had pointed his wand and turned the gigantic airliner's lifting body and everything in it -- many tons of fuel, its cargo, and almost thirty people -- into dust, into molecules, into nothing....

Within the hour, the loss of the aircraft had been reported to the President and the Chairman of the Security Council, as well as to the Ministers of Defense and the MChS. Later, they reported it on television without any details. In the following hour's news program, they showed a map of the area where the plane was assumed to have crashed. True, the TV cameramen didn't yet know that although the area had
been plotted out, the fallen aircraft hadn't turned out to be there....


All around her, it seemed to stink of cinders and gasoline. Her body, from head to heels, was in unbearable pain. The woman opened her eyes and didn't understand where she was, at first. She lay in an extremely inconvenient position, almost hanging by her feet, face buried in something stiff which, after more thorough examination, turned out to be the cellulose suitcase in which airline shuttles transport their cargo. What's more, this bag was not the only one, and the woman found that her head was surrounded by them.

She tried to pick her way out of this obstruction, but first she had to free her foot, which had gotten stuck between the bags and a torn piece of metal the size of a car door -- but which had pitilessly mangled someone, and hung over her head like the sword of Damocles.

But in spite of her pain, she nevertheless managed to avoid the blow when she pulled her foot down, and the door fell onto the bags, cutting like a knife through one of them.

After this, the woman finally came to herself. True, her head continued to ring like a bell, but she had already begun to distinguish separate sounds. Before this, they had merged into one alarming rumble. But now they were divided into burning hot howling wind, tree noises, and... a thin wail which sounded like the whine of a puppy weaned from its shaggy wetnurse.

The woman went on the alert, and immediately felt milk begin to flow from a breast. The child had cried, and her body had reacted to his weeping more quickly than she'd understood what these sounds indicated in reality. A hot stream slid along her stomach; her chest was being bent to the breaking point. Paying no attention to the pain, she quickly moved her hands to free her from cellulose captivity. And the first thing she saw after picking her way outside was a patch of blue covered with odd feathers -- clouds in the sky -- in a frame of bent metal. Its sharp corners and razor edges confirmed unambiguously that they'd been made by an explosion.

She crawled along on her elbows, because her weakness made it impossible for her to rise to her full height. Her head whirled, nausea rose to her throat, but the woman kept crawling toward the source of the sound that was bothering her. Finally she found herself on the edge of what had been, a few hours before, the tail of an airplane. This quite small piece of it was hanging between two gigantic cedars and the toothy peak of a cliff. The piece of metal was all that remained of an enormous airliner, by some miracle balanced on the edge of a precipice. Further on, hooked from a branch, a stroller was hanging, and from it came the baby's cry.

Despite everything, the woman rose to her feet. The child was no more than two meters away. But between them lay a real precipice, and there was nothing to lean against so that she could reach for him. She looked down to where a young fir grove's tops bristled. Enormous chunks of basalt peeked through it. Ten meters to the ground, but to jump down would be dangerous without a doubt; she might not just break her legs, but her neck, too.

Once again she measured the distance to the child by sight, then put out her arms, and almost screamed from horror. Her warm flannel shirt with its dark green checks was ripped to shreds. Its sleeves were completely gone, and her hands were one continuous bruise, intersected by several deep cuts and abrasions, the blood already dried.

With horror, the woman raised them to her face, refusing to believe her own eyes. Then her gaze slid lower. It turned out that her jeans were in as bad a state as her shirt. But her feet weren't much different from her hands, because enormous bruises and abrasions decorated them no less lavishly. Then she tore open her shirt, and found the same collection on her thighs and ribs. Probably this was the result of the aircraft's crash against the cliff, or to be more accurate, its tail's crash -- the tail which trembled and screeched threateningly with every threatening motion.

The baby kept up its crying jag, but she couldn't do anything. Her head was feeling even sicker, her thoughts were confused, and not one of them would stay with her for long -- which she maybe should have wanted.

Milk had overfilled her breasts. Her mammary glands had hardened, and every motion of her arm shot back a dull viscous pain. At that instant the child fell silent as if its spirit had flown somewhere, but a minute later it took to wailing with even more strength, and her breasts responded with new milkflow. It did not spare her brassiere, which became wet and chafed her under the armpits. Moreover, the milk came right through her shirt, turning her into a window and making it possible for the cool breeze to easily take a walk along her whole body.

The woman glanced to both sides. What to do? She knew perfectly well that she could stay here forever and watch while the child went on crying. For that matter, she couldn't at all remember why she'd been on the airplane. Indeed, only yesterday they'd taken her into the family-home, but her absence of belly and abundance of milk in the breast confirmed that she'd already had time to give birth. Yes, and judging by the cries, the baby was already pretty big. Her baby? But why didn't she remember how she'd borne him, and why had she found herself in an airplane?

The woman pressed her fingers against her temples. Something wasn't adding up in her head. At first she couldn't even remember what they called her. And she was greatly cheered when her husband's voice floated up in her memory. "Leeza! Leezok!"

It sounded so clearly in her ears that she shivered. Was he really around somewhere?

But now she refused to think like this. The time of his mission to the Caucasus had been over last winter, and now it was almost autumn; she must be ready to give birth...

But when had she had her baby?

Her temples were ready to burst from stress, but the child wasn't crying anymore. But he had apparently fallen silent because his hunger had made him lose all his strength. And then she began to take decisive action. First she threw down a bag of airline rags. True, they scattered when they fell, but still she hoped that she wouldn't break a leg if she had to fall down. Then she crawled up to the edge of the piece of aircraft that had saved her life. She leaned down sharply, and then, without thinking too long, the woman jumped. Without a push, without going limp against a possible miss and fall. But evidently God had saved her this time, too. She managed to hook herself a branch next to the stroller.

The branch turned out to be none too reliable, and it bent under her weight. But the woman's hands were strong, and she herself was young and agile; she instantly shifted to the lower, thicker branches. In spite of the pain in her whole body, she moved easily, noting to herself that she was hampered only by her known injuries, and this was a good sign in itself.

It didn't give her any special trouble to get to the stroller. The baby did turn out to be pretty big, ten months old or not much less. He stared with round little eyes and tried to get up. He was saved by the fact that he was closed inside; otherwise he would long ago have been thrown from the stroller. Leeza carefully caught him up with one hand; the baby gulped and smiled. She pressed him against her chest and carefully started to work her way down, continually throwing her head up to see what was going on with the torn piece of metal hanging over her head.

Just as soon as she hit the ground, she rushed to the cliffs to get as far as possible from this dangerous place. The child quieted in her arms. She pressed him against her breast and prayed Fate would let them find cover under the rock overhang before the piece of airplane crashed to earth.

But she heard the terrible crash more quickly than she'd expected. Leeza rushed toward a huge basalt chunk, and without remembering, rolled behind it. And came back to herself at the baby's loud cry. She was holding the little one in a death grip and apparently it'd hurt him, because he twisted in her arms and wailed his tiny lungs out.

"Shh, shh," she whispered, and kissed the baby on his tearstained cheek. He quieted, and she, putting her hand on his head, carefully looked out from behind the stone.

The fragment of airplane, after shearing off a gigantic tree branch and the mossy top of the cliff like a razor, had fallen down the precipice, where stones were still being brought down and a terrible echo beat along the gorge's rocky walls.

Some of the bags disappeared after it, seized by the pieces falling down, but three or four only flew further away, and those remained. Leeza rose to her feet, but the child in her arms started to cry again; and so she tore open her shirt and put him to her right breast. He sucked long and greedily, casting glances at her with his little black eyes with their thick eyelashes. The pain in that breast was eased, but then the left one overflowed with milk, and another hot stream ran down her belly without ceasing.

But the little child was that hungry. His little wool suit was soaked right through. The little one should have been changed immediately and muffled in something warm before he froze in the icy wind. The gusts were getting stronger and stronger, and when the first excitement from the rescue started to die down, Leeza felt herself getting chilled to the bone. And that wasn't amazing; her clothing had turned into pitiful rags.

Finally the little one fell from her breast. His eyelids closed over his eyes, but wet diapers kept him from falling asleep. And then Leeza carefully left him on the moss. The child wailed offendedly. But this was not that bitter and hopeless weeping which rended her heart, and so she risked leaving him alone.

The first bag happened to be pretty packed with leather jackets, but on the very bottom she found two sport suits, one pre-worn, and a packet of men's knit hats. All this was free of sizes. Of course. Second, she found packages of towels and oilcloth shower curtains. Also good, she thought, immediately figuring out that the towels could be used instead of diapers and babywipes. In the third bag was nothing but big stuffed toys, but after turning them over in her hands, she figured that if she ripped them up and took out the stuffing, she might come up with quite decent baby clothes for the little one.

She dragged the suitcases back to the place where she'd left the child. The landing knife which she always wore fastened to her ankle was still in place, and like a experienced taxidermist, Leeza pulled out a large monkey and stabbed it in the stomach. She pulled out porolon, which meant it was a well-stuffed toy; she decided to think how she could adapt the stuffing, too. And only then was it the little one's turn. He was a boy, and he smiled merrily when she took off his wet diapers. Luckily, he wasn't hurt at all. Leeza looked at his body carefully and didn't find a scratch or a bruise on him. He laughed, kicked his legs around, and tried with all his might to grab her nose when she bent too low over him. Leeza wasn't mistaken. He was ten months old. And he stood up firmly, but he apparently wasn't walking by himself yet.

As she must, Leeza wiped him off with the hem of her own shirt, which seemed to have come apart for exactly this purpose. The water from the puddle she moistened the rag in was very cold. And before she used the rag, she warmed it on her stomach for a little while. She was still quite chilled, but she must not scare the little one or let him catch cold.

After accomplishing this procedure, she wrapped him up in a diaper made of soft towel, adding a piece of porolon from the eviscerated monkey. Now the boy was dry and warm. In addition, Leeza tucked him into an improvised playsuit made from the hide of the little monkey. She got it on him just in time, and the child immediately shut his eyes and sniffled. She kissed the little one on the forehead, tucked him into the smallest of the jackets and carefully laid him on the moss. And only after all this did she study herself.

She took off her rags and climbed into the new sports suit, and put on the old suit's sports jacket. It apparently had belonged to a man, because she found an open packet of cigarettes in the pocket. The suits were a little big for her, but she was instantly warmer, and when she put on a man's leather jacket over it and a wool hat on her head, she thought that now her own brother wouldn't recognize her.

Leeza bent over the boy. The little one slept and looked very funny in the fuzzy fur coat of a little toy animal. Leeza squatted next to him. Now it was time to ponder it all and figure out what else to do. She closed her eyes....

...a narrow stony road. Up ahead an APC dives and bumps from hole to hole, behind them is another APC, and in between is a tarp-covered truck. Oleg is at the wheel, and she's next to him. Terrible pain keeps stabbing into her stomach. "Breathe, breathe through your mouth," Oleg pleads. He doesn't look in her direction because he can't take his eyes off the road, the machine is throwing him side to side so much. With every push she grits her teeth so as not to yell out from the current assault of pain. His words start to sound to her like "Suffer, suffer, homegirl...." And that's all! A fiery flash pierces the sky, a terrible crash, and she flies, flies into the precipice....

Leeza shuddered and opened her eyes. What was that? What happened? Why didn't she remember anything but this trip on a truck? But clearly, she did have her baby. And this was the child. He certainly looked like Oleg. Yes, and who else could it be, when her breasts were bursting with milk. But then, why didn't she remember the past nine or ten months, or what they'd named the boy? But then, how could she have any doubt? He had to be Dima, Dimok -- that was the name of Oleg's friend who'd been killed back in the first Chechen war....

Leeza rubbed her forehead. And her fingers hit a narrow scar. Where did she get that from? She hadn't had it before. Her heart stopped with alarm. Something had happened to her, and she didn't know the explanation. And this catastrophe... she didn't have a clue what airplane she'd flown on, or where.

She pulled what was left of her clothes toward herself. No documents, either for her or her child. No tickets. No medical information. Nothing which you could use to get back memory of the events which had led her to this absolutely wild world, where there was only forest, yes, and cliff, and beyond that the white and blue autumn sky.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Help from Everywhere

First off -- if you were in a Katrina-damaged area, are employed by BellSouth or the Berry Company and haven't checked in, or if you're close family to someone employed by them and haven't checked in -- please call 1-877-BLS-I-M-OK. Folks are worried about you. Even if the building you work in has been destroyed, your job is still there. Even if you have to come up and visit us in Ohio. (We don't bite.)

Second off, if you're really jonesing to go volunteer, the Red Cross has apparently loosened its training requirements:

The Red Cross has been overwhelmed by people wanting to volunteer to go to the Gulf Coast states to assist in hurricane relief.

Volunteers, who must be at least 21, should expect no electricity, high humidity, temperatures of 100 or more, limited communications and exposure to reptiles while staying in "shelter accommodations, at best."

They must attend one four-hour training and then leave within 24 hours for an assignment of at least three weeks' duration.

You're in the army now, so eat your puppy chow....

20 other countries have been offering the US aid.

Russia offered us search and rescue help -- two big transport planes full.

Germany is either being rather snitty about the whole thing, or displaying touching faith in our abilities:

Many believe, however, that the scope of the disaster is such that the US government, which has one of the most sophisticated crisis management systems in the world at its disposal, should be able to respond to it adequately.

Fortunately for sanity's sake, many other Germans think this is pretty rude.

The Latin-American Cruz Roja (Red Cross) site has links to help with Katrina. Interestingly, this is not true of many of the national Red Cross organizations' sites. (This may not be apathy so much as infrequent updating of the website; or they may feel that the international and continental website is a better place to put the links.) However, the Costa Rican Red Cross is linking by popular demand, and the Spanish Red Cross links to our Red Cross, too.

The Tahlequah Daily Press from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reports that the Cherokee Firedancers, a unit of forest fire firefighters which operate under the auspices of the US Forest Service, headed for New Orleans Monday. They also published a little recruiting plug:

Want to travel to exotic locations, breathe lots of smoke, and carry heavy equipment around all day? Maybe you should be a Cherokee Nation Firedancer!

Good stuff.

There's going to be a Katrina telethon Friday night on NBC. And MSNBC. And CNBC, too.

I don't know where to put this, but in other news, this 1984 Ohio State Disaster Center study claims that looting is sparse in disasters, and homeowners are imagining their losses.


Katrina Charity Blogburst

On to the main event. Instapundit proposed a charity blogburst today, so I'll do it too. I've been supporting Catholic Charities.

In times of disaster, the U.S. Catholic community is there to help...recovery work is provided by local Catholic Charities agencies in the impacted communities.

Here's a page on previous 2004 hurricane relief:

Immediately following a hurricane, local Catholic Charities agencies’ emergency assistance ranged from distributing food, water, personal care items, and lodging vouchers to providing medical assistance and mental health counseling to helping the community's clean up efforts and assisting people in completing FEMA applications.

Today, the agencies’ long-term recovery efforts are focusing on providing temporary and permanent housing, mental health counseling, budget and financial counseling, job placement and counseling, outreach to migrant farm workers, and other assistance.

"This is going to be a long, sustained recovery process..."We need to get people back into their homes, back to work, and feeling secure and safe again."

In other news, Amazon finally decided this disaster is big enough to warrant a Red Cross link. I'm glad. Faster would have been nicer, but I'm glad.

You can find links to many other worthwhile charities at Instapundit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Gospel According to Trolls

I am disgusted (but not surprised) to see idiots attributing Katrina to the sins of the Gulf Coast. The wrath of God is not something one wishes to mention lightly, much less judge as having occurred. Those who do it are tempting God to send a judgment upon them.

The only sin being punished here is the sin of under-engineering, and the defiance of natural laws. Like gravity. And Murphy's.

Natural Theology
by Rudyard Kipling

I ate my fill of a whale that died
And stranded after a month at sea. . . .
There is a pain in my inside.
Why have the Gods afflicted me?
Ow! I am purged till I am a wraith!
Wow! I am sick till I cannot see!
What is the sense of Religion and Faith?
Look how the Gods have afflicted me!


How can the skin of rat or mouse hold
Anything more than a harmless flea? . . .
The burning plague has taken my household.
Why have my Gods afflicted me?
All my kith and kin are deceased,
Though they were as good as good could be,
I will out and batter the family priest,
Because my Gods have afflicted me!


My privy and well drain into each other
After the custom of Christendie. . . .
Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
The Saints are helpless for all I offer—
So are the clergy I used to fee.
Henceforward I keep my cash in my coffer,
Because the Lord has afflicted me.


I run eight hundred hens to the acre
They die by dozens mysteriously.
I am more than doubtful concerning my Maker.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
What a return for all my endeavour
Not to mention the l.s.d.! *
I am an atheist now and for ever,
Because this God has afflicted me!

* Pounds, Shillings, Pence.
(l. for liber, d. for denarius.
What were you thinking this meant?)


Money spent on an Army or Fleet
Is homicidal lunacy. . . .
My son has been killed in the Mons retreat,
Why is the Lord afflicting me?
Why are murder, pillage and arson
And rape allowed by the Deity?
I will write to the Times, deriding our parson
Because my God has afflicted me.


We had a kettle: we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week. . . .
The bottom is out of the Universe!


This was none of the good Lord’s pleasure,
For the Spirit He breathed in Man is free;
But what comes after is measure for measure,
And not a God that afflicteth thee.

As was the sowing so the reaping
Is now and evermore shall be.
Thou art delivered to thine own keeping
Only Thyself hath afflicted thee!

May the good Lord have mercy on us all, and continue to soften all the curses we bring on ourselves. (And don't forget to donate.)

Katrina's Aftermath

aftermath: A somewhat delayed consequence or result, especially a bad one. [Root sense: "second mowing." < After, w. OE maeth, a mowing, a swath. Hence, at root, a second mowing of hay. And since in most of Britain the growing season is short, the second mowing is likely to be inferior to the first, whence the root implication, "lesser (bad) result". As distinct from the upshot (which see), an aftermath is an eventual rather than immediate result.

--- A Second Browser's Dictionary by John Ciardi.

Like everybody else, I feel horrified by the difference between the night after Katrina blew through and the horrors of yesterday. We still didn't know quite how bad it had been in Mississippi and Alabama. We honestly thought it was going to turn out to be all right for New Orleans. We didn't know the levees were still going to go.

Everybody's freaking out about the looters. Yeah, stealing food when you're hungry and penniless is morally permissible. (Though you ought to leave an IOU on the counter if you can.) Profiteering and stealing DVDs and computers is bad, unless you can prove you really needed a computer for some higher purpose. (And then you definitely have to leave an IOU. And bring the thing back afterwards.) But no policeman should be stealing from Wal-Mart. Not at all.

But to get to my point, what freaked me out about the Wal-Mart looting was that nobody was picking stuff up off the floor. Not even kicking it out of the way. They would go around it, rather than do anything remotely tidy. Now, I'm hardly a domestic goddess, but it drives me crazy to see clothes displays at Wal-Mart that hit a certain level of disorder! How can people stand to see this chaos and not do anything about it?

I guess I just want to see people pulling together to help each other, giving themselves a good memory of strength in the bad times instead of weakness and evil. When things are as bad as this, there's just no point making things worse. When there's damage everywhere, who can resist the impulse to pick some spot, however pointless, and start picking things up?

But I guess that's not the kind of people who spend much time looting Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The One-Armed Man Did It

This is a very sad and shocking story. Like we didn't have enough human misery today.

Most Hated TV Show

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Is it just me, or does everyone hate the commercials running for that new ABC drama, Commander-in-Chief? It's a great concept for a show, and yet already I want to kill every character I've seen. So do they quit running these annoying commercials? Oh, no. They run them all the time on every channel, so the hate gets stronger.

Look, I don't care if Alexander Haig were this chick's staffer. If the President had just died or been assassinated in office, the staffer would stand behind the Vice-President. There might well be a feeling that the Vice President knew nothing and would be a disaster, as in Allan Drury's real life account of Harry Truman's succession to FDR, or his retelling of the whole thing as a novel. But nobody would call upon the Vice President to resign, even if the Vice President were dying or a real idiot. The succession of the office according to the Constitution, and the confidence of the American people that the succession will always go according to that constitutional plan, are more important than mere qualifications for the office. We all know this, instinctively, just by being American.

Furthermore, the idea that some staffer would object to the President being female is stupid. Nobody would even mention such a thing. It's a nonstarter. Like someone said, if you have a problem with a woman in power, you obviously never had a mom.

Most of all, if you were an Evil Staffer(TM), you wouldn't torque off your new boss as soon as she became your boss. No, you would rejoice in your new boss' lack of qualifications, certain that you could make her dance like a puppet on your strings. You would become her Lord Melbourne and make her regard you gratefully as her political father, or her Disraeli and be all courtly and helpful. You would conspicuously defend her against all comers (especially in front of her), never letting anyone know how you really felt. (Until sweeps, anyway.)

So the commercials are advertising "Our show is going to be utter crap! With no connection to reality!" And obviously I know how to plot this show better than whoever's in charge.

Sigh. I really would like a decent show about a woman president. Especially if she were allowed to be conservative, Republican, and a force for good. But the networks have something against giving me shows I want to watch. How did House get through?

Monday, August 29, 2005

After Katrina

Well, the hurricane's dwindling into just another storm. The rain's coming our way to end our drought. (And my Nawlins uncle and aunt did indeed bug out -- all the way to family in Atlanta. I slept a lot better last night.)

I was glad to see St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans come out okay (minus a couple of oldtimer oak trees). It looks like Biloxi got hit hard -- yeah, it really looks like Xenia. That same unsettling mix of destruction here, houses standing there. (And my aunt and uncle have houses both in New Orleans and Mississippi...oops.)

But the people of Xenia rebuilt, and so can Biloxi. I promise.

Meanwhile, here's a prayer from Ohio for you Mississippi folks, since your state patron saint is Our Lady of Sorrows:

Dearest Mother, before you could become the Consoler of the Afflicted, you first had to know true sorrow. I pause with you now, and meditate on that great suffering in your life, the death and burial of your most beloved Son.

Oh, how humble I am, dear Mary, when I see before me your Son in the tomb. He gave His life so we may know freedom from sin. Remind me always that any suffering in my life is passing, just as the suffering you experienced passed in the joy of the Resurrection.

Holy Mary, Mother of Sorrows, I mourn with you, knowing the certain joy of your Son and His gift of everlasting life. Through this act of His, you have become our Mother of Consolation. Amen.

May every tear be wiped from your eyes, and may your skies be clear.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Katrina's Not Looking Good....

New Orleans is just plain one of the best cities in the world, much less the US, and one of the lowest, too. They've got a giant hurricane heading right at them. There are a lot of other folks on the Gulf Coast also facing this trouble.

St. Louis, patron saint of New Orleans, pray for them. St. Barbara, patron saint of storms, pray for them. St. Gregory the Wonderworker and St. Florian, patron saints of floods, pray for them. St. Jude, patron of New Orleans' fire and police officers, pray for them. St. Expeditus, pray for them. Mary -- patroness of Biloxi; Star of the Sea; Our Lady of the Assumption, patroness of the Acadians; Our Lady of Prompt Succor, helper of New Orleans and patroness of Louisiana; Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of Mississippi; Our Lady of the Gulf, patroness of Alabama -- pray for them. And all you saints in Heaven who've lived in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, and all you souls still in Purgatory who've lived in these places, please pray with us for the people along the Gulf, and especially in those places you loved in your time on Earth. In Christ our Lord, Amen.

All things are tame to Him Who made;
He called their names and they obeyed.
Jesus can calm the stormy sea,
As once He did in Galilee.

So if it be Your will, please keep the storm surge from going over the levees, Lord, and comfort and protect those poor people who could not get out. Keep an eye also on all those whose jobs keep them in harm's way: the doctors and nurses, the public safety workers, the reporters and camera handlers, the hotel employees, and all the rest. And may you bring anyone who dies safely home to You. Amen.

I realize that this may sound very hysterical to folks out there. To be honest, seeing as my nursery school and my dad's workplace were destroyed in the Xenia tornado, I do have personal problems with big huge storms. I don't know where my aunt and uncle who live in New Orleans are now, although I've no doubt they bugged out in good time. Beyond that, I really wish there was something I could do, and besides donating money to Catholic Charities, this is the only thing I can do that seems even vaguely useful. So if I'm being a bit compulsive, that's why.

Book: Our Lady and the Church

Somebody was just mentioning Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner, S.J. (the other Rahner's brother). I don't know who it was, but when I find out I'll give them a hat tip and many thanks. This is yet another awesome little theology book with lots of spiritual nuggets of information in it. Apparently there's a lot to be said for taking the old puzzle pieces and putting them together into a coherent picture.

See, I've always had the vague impression that whatever you said about Mary, you could pretty much say about the Church, and vice versa. (I even remember saying this in a discussion with my friend Joy.) But Rahner takes that tiny old piece of information and goes forth and studies all kinds of interesting things which relate to it. He moves freely from the earliest Fathers to the Middle Ages to the stuff people said practically last week, and the richer and more beautiful the picture gets. I could quote from this book all day.

So yes, Mary is the Mother of God and Jesus' first follower, and hence the Mother of the Church. Indeed, some early Christian people even called her Church; and back when she was Jesus' first and only follower, she in fact was the Church. (Among other reasons.) But on the other hand, the Church carries Christ's Word within her, and with much pain and labor, she is delivered of many newborn Christians, many newborn Christs. (Without having sex, even!) So you can even call the Church the Godbearer, the Theotokos.

(Of course, if you go around calling Mary "the Church" and the Church "the Theotokos", people are not going to understand you without an explanation.)

On the way, we have some fun with Jesus telling Mary and John, "Behold thy son" and "Behold thy mother". Well, considering John had just eaten and drunk Jesus the night before, he really was Mary's Son. Similarly, when Jesus said that those who followed his word were His mother, he was not just complimenting believers (and His mom the perfect follower, of course!), but telling the literal truth. Apparently lots of folks have pointed out that at baptism, we begin to carry Jesus inside us, and hopefully we let Him grow. So the Christian soul becomes the Theotokos -- another Mary. For this reason, St. Ambrose liked to point out that after his resurrection, Jesus just called Mary Magdalene "Mary", and that it was the same thing with the newly baptized:

When the soul, then, begins to turn to Christ, she is addressed as 'Mary'...for she is become a soul who, in a spiritual sense, gives birth to Christ...Not all have brought to birth, not all are perfect, not all are 'Mary'; for even though they have conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit, they have not all brought Him to birth. There are those who thrust out the Word of God -- miscarrying, as it were. See to it, therefore, that you do the will of the Father, that you may become the Mother of Christ.

All those wacky St. Ita visions of rocking Jesukin don't seem so wacky now, huh?

(And maybe Rocco should be a little less snarky over at Whispers from the Loggia about "Bearded Marys", ne?)

Another good bit I noticed is the importance of the baptismal font's symbolism as the womb from which we are born again (both Mary and the Church's womb). So no more of this "chalice as symbol of femininity" stuff. (I always thought it sounded dorky and wrong when applied to Judeo-Christian stuff, and now it turns out it's in the whoooooole wrong part of church. So I laugh hard.)

You will notice just how far beyond feminism or any kind of -ism this sort of sacramental and Biblical imagery goes; everyone is Mary, everyone is Christ, everyone is the Church. Being male or female isn't important to any sacrament of the Church except Matrimony and Holy Orders. (Which I've always thought was a nice and just balance.)

I just wish we'd learned all this back in CCD. They're not exceptionally difficult concepts in themselves, and they give you a lot of deep implications to think about and discuss. There are times I just like to look around church and let my mind rove through the meanings of the symbols everywhere around us, one bright picture melting into another. Thanks to this book, I've picked up a lot more symbols to play with. Now I only hope they'll inspire me to live up to those implications.

Btw, going back to Sor Juana below, she also had a good Mary/Church insight. She wrote a villancico celebrating Mary for being "black and beautiful" in the Song of Songs, and pointed out that the reason Mary (especially la Guadalupana and the popular Black Madonnas of Spain) was so tan was that she spent all day in the light of the Sun of Justice and was also clothed in the Sun; and also that anything, no matter how spotless, that's held up against the Sun looks black by comparison. Fun, fun poem.

Russian SF/F Sources

Most of the Brothers Strugatsky's major novels are still available in the US, if you regard used bookstores and libraries as available. I read some of these in junior high, and found the translation very flat. Of course, I may be older now and have a little more patience; and any translation is helpful if you're using it as a crib for the original. The Strugatskys were also pleased to make their books available online as soon as possible.

(Many Russian authors are happy to do this, given the oddities of book distribution in Russia. Generally, however, you will find only excerpts or nothing at all of their newest or most popular books. This is because Russian publishers are now selling low-priced e-books to catch their farflung markets.)

There were also a few Russian anthologies that came out in translation, so you might poke around looking for them.

Fossicker Books is now publishing translations through Capricorn Publishing. Their catalog is a PDF file at the top of the page. They primarily sell their books online through Barnes and Noble or, apparently. (Amazon has plot blurbs explaining what they're about, which B&N apparently does not.)

Current selections include: Kir Bulychev's charming stories about Alice, a little girl of the future who manages to get in and out of trouble faster than her biologist father can keep up with, his story collection The Perpendicular Worlds of Kir Bulychev, and his starship wreck novel, Those Who Survive; the Strugatskys' Destination Amalthea and Far Rainbow; Ivan Yefremov, The Andromeda Nebula; Vladimir Vasilyev, Death or Glory; and Alexander Belyaev, The Amphibian. These are all pretty famous books. But you'll notice a distinct preference for fairly hard sf!

(Not to mention that the authors are all men...though apparently this was largely true of Russian sf until quite recently.)

If you want to buy books in Russian, there are immigrant Russian bookstores in most big cities and most carry at least some sf/f/horror. There are also several Internet bookstores and bookstores with Internet presence. I've had good luck with, which is out of New York.

If anybody else knows any English language sources for translations, I'd be glad to post links to them on my blog.

So Anglosphere SF/F Isn't Sacral?

First let's start with an extreme view. I can't get in and read this article, but Project Muse contains the following abstract:

Nikolajeva, Maria "Fairy Tale and Fantasy: From Archaic to Postmodern"
Marvels & Tales - Volume 17, Number 1, 2003, pp. 138-156
Wayne State University Press

The essay discusses the ontological, structural, and epistemological differences between fairy tales and fantasy literature, two genres often treated together in critical works. Using contemporary theories of the fantastic, it is argued that unlike fairy tales, with their origin in archaic thought, fantasy literature is firmly anchored in twentieth-century science and philosophy, especially the postmodern concepts of uncertainty, intersubjectivity, heterotopia, and heteroglossia. The characteristic features of postmodern fantasy literature are illustrated by the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Susan Cooper, and Russell Hoban.

and Google contains the following line from it:

"....however, fantasy has distinctly lost the initial sacral purpose of traditional fairy tales."

It's hard to know where to start on a comment like that. First off, are we truly sure that fairy tales had sacral purpose always and everywhere, or are we drawing a line around what fits the thesis and calling everything else a folktale?

Second, has Nikolajeva deliberately chosen examples which leave out fantasy written for sacral religious purposes, and is she misreading the examples she has and missing that purpose? I mean, including Pullman is just one giant gimme. (But it also argues against her thesis, because Pullman is a perfect example of an atheist with a fierce interest in promoting beliefs which he holds by faith. He is no less a missionary as his despised Lewis and MacDonald, which is endlessly amusing to the rest of us.) And no, contemporary mainstream fantasy isn't particularly known for promulgating Christian religious beliefs, but there are tons of folks promoting pagan and gnostic beliefs. The quote should not have been "fantasy has lost the sacral purpose", but rather, perhaps, "The need to get authors and sell books in a religiously pluralistic society has made sacral purpose a nice but not essential element of fantasy."

Although, to be honest, if you don't have religion in science fiction also, you are betraying the fact that you don't think religion is real, and isn't just a nice nostalgic element we don't believe in anymore. Which leads us to this essay by Vladimir Gakov, "The Clever Heresy of the Fantastic" (via the Sacral Fantasy LJ community).

Gakov, quoting from the article on Religion in Peter Nicholl's e Science Fiction Encyclopedia, claims that religion was TABOO back in the old pulp days. Well, yes and no. (And Nicholls, that capitalization of yours!)

Now, sex, that was TABOO. Religion was not TABOO in horror magazines at all, because any evil priest or whatever was just being possessed by the Devil -- though it behooved the editors not to offend their Catholic buyers. Religion was only semi-TABOO in fantasy, which found a home right next to horror in Weird Tales and its few imitators. But the science fiction zines were dealing with a crop of young science-minded people, some of which were extreme atheists, some of which were extreme believers in all sorts of religion, and all of which were willing to get worked up over tiny things. More than that, they were dealing with drugstores and newsstands which they wanted to stock their magazines, blue laws they didn't want to break, and parental and ministerial anger they didn't want falling on their heads. They were living in an America in which depicting the President in a play or movie was deemed disrespectful, much less Jesus. So religion was a subject the editors just didn't want to deal with, unless it came from a "classic writer", like in a reprint of H.G. Wells, or it was some exotic Eastern belief. Writers could just save the religious discussion for hardcover books.

Indeed, as soon as American science fiction writers got a chance, they did start writing about religion. Often not in flattering terms, and often coming up with new "heresies" -- yes, Gakov is right about that. But often too, writers came up with deeply religious stories. He admits that Bradbury often sounds very religious -- so much so that Russians didn't get to read him for forty years. He doesn't spend any time on Poul Anderson's classic story of a telepathic alien and a black hole, which begins and ends with a main character praying among the nuns of a convent on the Moon, set up to pray perpetually for starfarers. He doesn't mention Anthony Boucher, Zenna Henderson, Manly Wade Wellman, or the little faith stories or religious characters that have always showed up here and there. But oddly enough, Gakov's Russian take on Isaac Asimov's Robot stories is much more religious than I ever read them to be; he reads the whole thing as a sort of rabbinic discussion of morality.

The problem with these sorts of cross-cultural discussions is that so much depends on the size of your net and what you've happened to drag in. The place of religion in British and American sf/f and horror has varied widely over the years, but it has never gone away entirely. Even the atheists -- especially the atheists -- would never let it go.