Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Jesse Tree Madness!

Now, you may ask yourself (or more likely, your kids may ask you) why Jesse Trees don't include all of Jesus' ancestors on them.

Without even getting into Levirate marriages and dual sonship, this is why.

For my money, I think people who get stumbling blocks over genealogy questions are sweating waaaaay too much about the small stuff. If you don't want to believe in the general historical accuracy of the Bible, why aren't you worrying about Ajalon? And if you do want to believe, why are you worrying about genealogy tables?

But I think the main problem is that ancient genealogy tables are as much a literary genre as a real source of factual information. Who you-the-writer choose to include, who you choose to leave out, and which generations you elide are pretty much the points of interest here, as well as how the generations are organized. If later readers expect a DNA chart including every Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal involved, they're bound to be sorely disappointed. But that's not the writer's fault.

If you really wanted to know evvvvvery gennnnnneration evvvver, there were probably people in the Jewish community before the destruction of Israel (and hence, the Christian community) in apostolic times who could have told you. Heck, there were still kinfolk of Jesus around. (Well, not the ones who were martyred, and not the ones who were killed by the Romans for being potential foci of rebellion as House of David members.) So why include such easily-obtainable but boring information in a book meant for reading out loud to the congregation?

No, anybody who's in the genealogies in the Gospels is there for a specific reason -- displaying God's plan as carried out down the ages. If we don't get the gist of that, that's our problem.

For example, this site talks about the women in Christ's genealogy, but doesn't explain why these "disreputable women" are there. First off, none of these women are disreputable -- those who sinned repented. Second, all these women represent virtues. Tamar won a son for her dead husband despite his family's unjust opposition and their maltreatment of her. Rahab, a foreigner, was brave and hospitable to strangers and helped Israel win a city, winning her place among them. Ruth, another foreigner, took care of her mother-in-law, brought her dead husband's property back to his clan, and was the classic example of a good woman and wife to Boaz. And Bathsheba, for all her problems, was a fierce and wise queen mother to her son Solomon, helping him rise to kingship and advising him once he got there.

So all these ladies of note, with their checkering of good and evil, convention and innovation, faithfulness and un-, represent Israel itself as well as the spotless Church, Jesus' bride. God helped them bring good out of evil. They also foreshadow the Virgin Mary, because all these women's good deeds and cooperation with God helped the Messiah to come.

That particular site gets pretty weird with its thoughts on Joseph's parentage, btw. Totally glides over the whole Christian tradition that Joseph was the son of a levirate marriage in favor of an explanation from one source, the Jerusalem Talmud. Totally avoids the fact that every other source says Mary is the daughter of Joachim and Anna. Totally avoids the fact that it's as likely that Mary might be the daughter-in-law "daughter of Heli" as that Joseph might be the son-in-law "son of Heli", for that matter.

However, there's some really fun thoughts about Joseph's relationship to Jehoiakim's curse. Worthy of a fantasy novel.

Here's a Greek Orthodox priest who talks about some more of these issues.

The always useful Catholic encyclopedia article has a lot of the sources summarized. This one talks about Biblical genealogy principles. If you're really interested, you can also go diving through Eusebius and learn all about Jesus' kinfolk in the Church.

Shanda Fur Die Goyim

I thought Baraita had stopped blogging. But no! Yay!

In addition to many other good posts, she has just introduced me to a wonderfully useful Yiddish phrase: "shanda fur die goyim" -- which she defines as "Jewish embarrassment at a fellow Jew doing something Really Stupid in front of non-Jews".

I want this phrase. I want it in common use. Think of the applications! For Catholics, shanda fur die separated brethren and shanda fur die schismatics! For Christians, shanda fur die pagans and shanda fur die atheists! For fans, shanda fur die Mundanes! For media fans, shanda fur die actors and shanda fur die other fandoms! For those who don't like anthropomorphics, shanda fur die furries! For conservatives, shanda fur die Left! For liberals, shanda fur die Right! And for evangelical folks embarrassed by Pat Robertson, shanda fur die everyone!

I do wonder whether this has any connection with Shanda die Panda... I mean, Shanda the Panda. :)

(I realize I'm being a bit silly about this, but it is a serious concept and a very serious post. Sadly, I know that I've been an occasion of shanda for a good many of my friends and acquaintances on a good many occasions...and this may be yet another one.)

My Spoiler-Free Goblet of Fire Review

I finally went to see the movie yesterday with my parents. This was pretty fun, although possibly not for those around us. You see, my mother and father have taught junior high kids, and they have not read the books! So there were numerous events in the movie which they thought either true to life (the dance, the spats, etc.) or amusing (Rita Skeeter, Snape whapping students upside the head). As a result, I heard a lot of whispers!

(My mother's insistence that Snape was acting like a nun was a bit disturbing.... Especially since I could almost see Snape's sister, Sr. Mary Severus of the Holy Whapping.)

I also found the movie unexpectedly true to life. For once, the moviemakers were less busy smirking or screaming, "Look how cool this stuff is!" than just telling the story. It's possible that this focus told the story better than the book did, creating the rare spectacle of a movie adaptation better than the original book. Certainly the message of cooperation between wizards, houses, and countries came across better. The relationship between the Crouch family problems and Harry's eternal search for a father figure also worked. The music was also great and serious.

More to the point, though, I thought the movie edited down the story to a manageable length. If only JK Rowling had done the same!

On the whole, it's hard to say whether I liked this movie or the last movie better. I think this one, by a nose. But I like both of them a lot better than the previous two.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Audiobook Progress Report

As you know, I also do an audioblog or podcast of public domain audiobooks. I then archive them over at for the use of all and sundry. This provides me with download statistics (and the vast majority of my readers, truth be told).

So far, it seems that the way to go with fiction audiobooks is to do long-form poetry and short stories. As you might expect, snappy and appealing blurbs and good keywords also seem to provide results. Short Christian works are more appealing than long ones. Stories appealing to seasonal tastes (horror stories and dark fantasy put up pre-Hallowstide) seem to do well, also.

Most of the multi-part works start fairly well, but peter out. (Witness the dramatic drops on The Red Thumb-Mark and The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena.) This may be because people get bored or irritated; because they fail to be interested enough to read on; or most likely, because they come to or my blog by chance, read what's there, and just happen not to come back.

I am glad to see that holding up the banner of clan loyalty has also been a good thing for me. Fitz-James O'Brien is one of those great and influential American writers who has been unjustly forgotten, mostly thanks to his untimely death. (Not to mention his insistence, resented by scholarly posterity, on pointing out that Melville had become a victim of the Brain-Eater after he started putting out cruddy novels. (But they were cruddy! He was a reviewer! Pointing out bad value for the dollar was his job!) So it gives me great satisfaction to see Fitz managing once more to entertain the public, a hundred and fifty years later.

Obviously, I ought to do more in the areas and authors that are currently doing well. Still, I also mean to amuse myself, since I am the one who has to read all this stuff! However, suggestions -- particularly for entertaining and enlightening bits of the Fathers -- are earnestly solicited.

My Top Twenty Audiobooks, with Number of Downloads

1. "The Sword of Welleran" by Lord Dunsany -- 102

2. "The Blue Sequin" by R. Austin Freeman -- 93

3. "The Dragon-Fang Possessed by the Conjuror Piou-Lu" by Fitz-James O'Brien -- 79

4. Annus Mirabilis by John Dryden -- 67

5. The Red Thumb-Mark, pt 1, by R. Austin Freeman -- 59

6. "Locksley Hall"/"Locksley Hall 60 Years Later" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson -- 58

7. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning -- 56

8. "A Message from the Deep Sea" by R. Austin Freeman -- 53

9. "Jubal the Ringer" by Fitz-James O'Brien -- 51

10. "Of the Song of Angels" by Walter Hilton -- 50

11. "The Man Without a Shadow: A New Version" by Fitz-James O'Brien -- 49

12. "The Nightmare" by G.K. Chesterton -- 46
12. "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley -- 46
12. "A Terrible Night" by Fitz-James O'Brien -- 46

13. "What Was It? -- A Mystery" by Fitz-James O'Brien -- 43

14. The Red Thumb-Mark, pt 2, by R. Austin Freeman -- 37

15. Folk Tales of Napoleon -- 35

16. The Red Thumb-Mark, pt 5, by R. Austin Freeman -- 33

17. "The Didache" -- 30
17. "The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans" -- 30

18. The Bridal of Triermain by Sir Walter Scott -- 29

19. The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, pt 1 -- 28

20. "Two Pioneers" by Elia W. Peattie -- 26

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Political Song Corner

Via Jimmy Akin, a great new song from Berkeley: "Bush Was Right".

Other great Conservative songs:
"Razom Nas Bahato" by Greenjolly. This was literally the themesong to the Orange Revolution, picking up the slogan of the demonstrators and making it dance and rock.

(In a typical postmodern twist of fate, Greenjolly and "Razom Nas Bagato" will be Ukraine's entry in the Eurovision song contest this year.)

"Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy" is Dr. Frank's tribute to that unknown Iraqi with an appreciation for democratic culture. With all that implies. (Link was no longer working when I just checked it.)

"Ronald Reagan (Please Forgive Me)" is a funny song that's absolutely true for a lot of ex-liberal guys out there! Maybe not work-safe, though.

Good Stuff Early Warning System!

Those of you with kids, and those of you who just love good movies, will want to stock up on tapes in January. Turner Classic Movies is airing a Ghibli film festival, and airing movies in both their American dub and Japanese subtitled versions.

Check it out:

Thursday, January 5
8:00pm: Spirited Away (2002 - English-language version)
10:15pm: Princess Mononoke (1997 - English-language version)
1:00am: Spirited Away (2002 - Japanese-language version)
3:15am: Princess Mononoke (1997 - Japanese-language version)

Thursday, January 12
8:00pm: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 - English-language version)
10:00pm: Castle in the Sky (1986 - English-language version)
12:15am: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 - Japanese-language version)
2:15am: Castle in the Sky (1986 - Japanese-language version)

Thursday, January 19
8:00pm: My Neighbor Totoro (1988 - English-language version)
9:30pm: Porco Rosso (1992 - English-language version)
11:15pm: Whisper of the Heart (1995 - English-language version)
1:15am: My Neighbor Totoro (1988 - Japanese-language version)
2:45am: Porco Rosso (1992 - Japanese-language version)
4:30am: Whisper of the Heart (1995 - Japanese-language version)

Thursday, January 26
8:00pm: Only Yesterday (1991 - Japanese-language version only)
10:15pm: Pom Poko (1994 - English-language version)
12:30am: Only Yesterday (1991 - Japanese-language version)
2:45am: Pom Poko (1994 - Japanese-language version)

So why watch the Japanese version?

Well, obviously the original voice cast is closer to the original intent. But that's not the real issue. The silences are.

Although some dubs are just fine, dub producers have a tendency to want to fill silent or quiet moments with louder music or new songs or voice-over dialogue. This is unfortunate, because a good deal of the beauty and thoughtfulness of Japanese art and culture is in the spaces it leaves and the things it doesn't say. Miyazaki and his compadres at Ghibli use such devices often; so their movies have tended to suffer from the American prejudice against "dead air".

For example, Kiki's Delivery Service (not being shown) featured a witch girl flying on her broomstick, traveling alone for the first time. In the original version, Miyazaki made much of the sound of flight -- of the wind rushing past, and the sounds of the natural world around her. At one point, the silence got too much for her, so Kiki turned on one of those little transistor radios and listened to a defiant little Japanese pop song from the early sixties, complete with realistic static and tinny sound.

In the American version, the wind was replaced with loud soundtrack, and the song with a new sugary, overdidactic, self-esteem song by an American songwriter who can write better than this. Transistor sound and loneliness was not even attempted. The point of the whole scene was lost.

Spirited Away is of course the Oscar-winning story of a girl trapped in a Japanese resort in fairyland or the world of the Shinto gods. Either way, she has to work her butt off to get her name back, win back her parents, and get home. But hard work and cheerfulness will win her unexpected friends, even in this strange place....

Princess Mononoke is not a cartoon for kids. It is a Kurosawa movie, if Kurosawa worked in anime. It is a fantasy set in shogun-run Japan, about the needs of ordinary people versus the needs of nature, and how sometimes neither one is in the right. Watch it. Just realize that early on, heads will roll. Literally.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is okay for kids who are old enough for Harry Potter, I'd say. It's an eco-science fiction movie of the sort we all remember from the seventies. (Post-nuclear war, check. Downfall of civilization, check. Devastated Earth, check. Chosen One, check.) Except that this time, an eco-science fiction movie is actually being made about people you'll care about. (Including the "villains".) Interesting things happen. Love and joy still exist, even in the midst of chaos. And through it all, Nausicaa flies like the fresh winds that preserve her valley. If you've only seen Warriors of the Wind, the chopped up version from the eighties, be sure to watch the uncut Nausicaa. It's a whole new movie.

Castle in the Sky is an action/fantasy/science fiction/steampunk/air pirate/men in black kind of movie. You and your kids will love it.

My Neighbor Totoro is a must-see for kids and parents alike. For once, you'll get to see a father who is capable, caring, and believes in his kids; and kids who love and trust their parents. A gentle fantasy set in 1950's rural Japan, this movie is comfort food for pretty much all ages. (And you can tell your little ones that the mother gets better. She had TB, but she comes home from the hospital during the credits.)

Porco Rosso is the story of the Crimson Pig, a World War I ace cursed to look like a pig who now fights air pirates -- for a price -- while hiding out from Mussolini's Fascist government. He's cynical about the world, women, and himself -- but is he really such a pig as he claims? Another fun film for all ages.

Whisper of the Heart is not by Miyazaki, but don't miss it for that reason. I've never seen it myself, and am dying to do so. Set in the 70's, it's the story of a young Japanese girl (living in a suburb built over the same area we saw in My Neighbor Totoro) who is trying to find her place in the world. It's not a fantasy movie. It's not science fiction. It's not action. It's just about life.

Only Yesterday is another rarely seen non-Miyazaki Ghibli movie. It's the story of a young Japanese woman who suddenly realizes that she has no home, and needs one. As she goes out to the country, she begins to remember her childhood in the sixties. She also begins working on getting herself a future that's not all work. Again, it's just a simple story about life.

Pom Poko is the last film in the festival. Also non-Miyazaki, and also set in the same place as My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, and bits of Spirited Away, it tells the story of what happened to the animals when the woods, mountains, and fields were destroyed and remade to provide a place for the suburb to be built. The tanuki (Japanese relatives of raccoons that look like bears, and are sometimes also called badgers) haven't used their magical shapeshifting and illusion powers for a long time. But if the humans are going to attack them with bulldozers and starvation, they figure they may as well fight back! This hilarious and heartwrenching story mixes samurai drama conventions, Japanese folklore and folksongs, and urban fantasy to make a story that everyone will love. Yes, its humor is earthy. So was Shakespeare.

I should probably also point out that all these movies include a large dose of Shinto and a small dose of Buddhism. It's not evangelistic -- just a natural part of the characters' lives. (Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if prayer and going to church could be included in American stuff? Heck, anime includes more Christian moments than American TV....) I don't think this should be a problem for anyone with well-formed religious beliefs. (Besides, Americans never seem to go for real pagan beliefs; just made up neo-pagan stuff and Buddhism.) Be prepared to answer kids' questions, that's all I'm saying. "That's how some Japanese people pray" or "They don't know the truth about God, so they don't know any better than to worship God's creatures" will probably be enough.

Cartoon Update!

Ack! Nobody told me that Cartoon Network has been airing Gigantor at 5:30 in the morning on weekdays! (Eastern time, of course.) Yes, it's the original American translation of the black and white R/C giant robot show (Tetsujin 28). Yes, it's pretty bizarre. Yes, that theme song is catchy. Yes, I've got a whole November's worth of shows to catch up on.

Gigantorrrrrr... Gigantorrrrrr...

Magical Doremi, airing on the Fox network at 8 AM, is probably the feelgood show of the season. It's aimed at fairly young kids (school age or below). Three school friends have become "witchlings" (apprentice witches, with powers that only work after a really cute magical girl transformation) to learn how to help a witch they accidentally turned into a mushroom. (Apparently, calling a Japanese witch a witch is a bad thing for her.) So now after school they work in the witch's magic shop, making and selling magical items, to earn the "spelldrops" that power their wands. (And no, kids that age aren't allowed to work in Japan. There was actually an episode where they fell afoul of child labor laws, and got out of it by claiming they were just volunteering. It was a stitch.) In their copious free time, they help out people who visit the shop, and negotiate with the visiting witch who sells them spelldrops.

Over on Kids' WB at 8:30 AM, The Batman is in its third season, and is currently going strong. Batman is no longer a vigilante hiding from the police (so Detective Yin has vanished from the show). Commissioner Gordon has showed up and instituted the Batsignal, and his teenage gymnast daughter has volunteered her sidekick services as Batgirl. This was not entirely appreciated by Bruce, but he's become resigned to her presence. OTOH, Bruce knew Batgirl's secret identity from the first, but Barbara Gordon still hasn't figured out who she's really working with.

Winx Club isn't all nearly as good this year. But it's on twice a Saturday (they're trying to use the first showing of it on Fox at 8:30 AM to keep girls from changing channels to watch The Batman. Whatever). Anyway, this year the three annoying seniors from the witch high school who got expelled, took over the world, and then graduated to doing hard time, have been broken out by An Evil Force With Batwings and put to work as his servants. Over at the fairy high school, the Winx Club gained new members: a refugee fairy princess and six fugitive pixies. The Evil Force With Batwings wants the power of the pixies and their hidden village, so much anti-pixie intrigue has ensued. Furthermore, the Evil Force With Batwings is apparently the dualistic result of having Bloom, our protagonist (a red-headed fairy princess raised on Earth by adoptive parents), possess all the remaining power of her destroyed world of dragonfire fairies. (Good must be balanced by Evil, yadda yadda... what Manichee crap! Wouldn't it be better to say that Evil is scared of Bloom and is trying to take her out while she's still young?) Meanwhile, one of the prison guards (sometimes angel-winged guys called paladins) has transferred over to the fairy high school to teach, and all the girls are drooling over him; and Flora, the only Winx Club member with no romance last year, appears to have met someone over at the hero school. (Hey, how come girls can be fairies or witches, and guys are stuck just being heroes? Isn't there a mad mage school or something?)

Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! is still one of the better cartoons on the air. It's an entirely American show aimed at younger kids, yet also includes some fairly deep themes and plotlines. For us adults, the retro stylings recall Battle of the Planets and other old anime giant robot and sentai shows. The kid and his five monkey robot buddies are still fighting the Skeleton King and defending Shoogazoom City, while drawing upon the Power Primate. Big revelation was that the monkeys were actually invented and built by the guy who later became the Skeleton King! He felt himself inexorably becoming evil, thanks to being possessed by some outside force, and so made the monkeys in a desperate bid to defeat himself. Will it work? Stay tuned!

One Piece is off the air right now. Too bad. It's good pirate fun. The current incarnation of GI Joe, OTOH, is pitiful.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Take It with a Grain of Psalter

Check it out! The Paris Prose of the Paris Psalter -- 50 prose translations into Old English prose. (The other 100 psalms were translated into Old English poetry. Which I would think would also be web-suitable, but alas, I was not consulted.)

The more I read the Fathers and other traditional stuff, the more I feel that the psalms are getting a bit slighted by modern Christians. I mean, the psalms were nearly as important to traditional Christian thinking as the Gospels or the letters of Paul. People used to learn to read from reading the Psalms. You don't get more basic than that.

Here's some other psalmy stuff:
Fragments from Bishop Hippolytus on the psalms.

Some bits of St. Athanasius' commentary on the psalms.

A severely abridged version of St. Augustine's commentary on the psalms.

Methodius' Oration on the psalms.

Hilary of Poitiers' homilies on the psalms.

A medieval commentary on the Psalms.

St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on the Psalms. Another version of the commentary on Psalm 1.

Countess Marie de Champagne wrote a commentary on a psalm!?! Heh! Of course it's about courtly love!

The Burnet Psalter: actually more of an all-purpose prayerbook and book of hours. Every page is scanned, and the text given alongside in modern font and explained!

The Theodore Psalter, a Byzantine psalter, explored as a sort of paper hypertext. Note the similarities to the Book of Kells.

The Luttrell Psalter for dialup and broadband. The explanations are not totally enlightening, but better than nothing. Here's more info about the psalter, along with links to similar important works you can also look through.

The Macclesfield Psalter with some nice pictures of the manuscript. You can buy the whole schemozzle all scanned in as an Adobe Acrobat file, if you wish.

The Getty will let you look at this psalter's pages with initials. This one, too.

An exhibit on Books of Hours that explains some of the psalter conventions, and another Books of Hours explanation site.

Picture of a besieged psalmist.

A modern psalter -- in tanka form! (Not even as rengas, so a tad brief.)

A parallel Latin/English psalter, suitable for decoding medieval manuscript illos!

Radiator Sickness

I write this not in a bad mood, and not in a good mood. I am in a half-asleep mood, and I have to get out of the house in about ten minutes when I really don't want to move. But if I want food and coffee and a trip to church that doesn't take a half hour's walk in the cold, I must move....

Fitting that the gospel reading for this Sunday is "Stay awake!"

Alas, the ancient radiators of my building are acting up again. They just came in and worked on mine last week, and already it needs it again! So it's lucky for me that the temperature has gone up somewhat. (But fear not. Since I'm in a building with other apartments whose radiators are working, I do get more heat than what the radiator is currently providing.)

I'm also not happy with my situation at I admit that a free service probably is going to have some hiccups, especially over Thanksgivingtide. Still, I would like my six chapters of Surtees to show up somewhere before Judgment Day. :)