Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Laogai Delenda Est

Collagen from dead Chinese prisoners, among other types of Chinese body farming for fun and profit.

Prisoners' organs for sale, especially to foreigners. Who know the organs are from prisoners, btw.

'A cadaveric kidney comes from a dead person and in the majority of cases in China, the dead people are prisoners, which allows for us to know at least two weeks ahead of time when the kidney will be ready.'

The corpse art factory in Dalian. Gee, I wonder what happens to all those executed Chinese dissidents?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Princess of Wands

When you find a book about a Christian paladin in the modern world, and it bears the name of a Tarot card and quotes from Alistair Crowley at the very beginning... it might be a little bit syncretic.

I love Baen Books. I love those folks dearly. But sometimes they are a little bit weird over there. Probably comes of having a Libertarian publisher and a Trotskyist editor.

And John Ringo, God love him, is one of the foci of current Baen weirdness. Good storyteller, odd little quirks. The extended and bizarrely inaccurate riff on menstruation in There Will Be Dragons, in the same book in which he fanboyed all over Heather Alexander. The love of seemingly pointless amounts of gore. The creepiness of even just the sample chapters of Ghost.

And yet, he does improve with every book. Noticeably. As long as people keep on him.

He's not someone I dislike. He just makes me beat my head slowly against my desk while mentally whispering, "What do you think you're doing?!"

So okay, I really wanted to read Steve White's new book. (So shoot me. I love Steve White. He's probably never going to be great, but he's consistently good.) So I bought the January 2006 Baen ebook pack, which also included Ringo's new book Princess of Wands.

It's a new take on the old urban fantasy ground covered by Bureau 13 -- a secret organization of paladins, clerics, and faith-based mages is out doing law enforcement on Evil From Beyond Our World. In a cynical yet highly successful marketing move, this organization (at least in the US) is largely made up of various stripes of neopagan. And Opus Dei.

*pause for maniacal laughter from all Third Order and Lay Apostolate folks*

In a less normal move, the paladin who's the main character is an evangelical Episcopalian soccer mom. (Of course, since this is a Ringo book, she is also trained in the use of every weapon and Special Forces tactic known to man or woman.) However, she is one of but a few Christians in the organization in the US. (Even though the Catholic Church donates a third of its operating funds.)

*pause for maniacal laughter from anyone on a parish finance committee*

The thing is, Ringo is dead right about how most neopagans and occult-types (at least in fandom) tend to behave and think, and so that part of their organization rang true. (Except the part where it hadn't actually fallen apart in several messy feuds. But we'll take self-preservation as an explanation.)

What he never actually comes right out and says, though, is that their way of thinking is precisely the sort of thing that doesn't work for any stripe of Christian. It would mess a Christian up seriously if they bought into it, or even tried to wrap their heads around it very long.

If you don't believe that God is the God, and that God's power all comes from God and not from his worshippers, then you don't worship God. You worship a minor Semitic god with a certain amount of popularity.

The other thing is that it's obviously kind of stupid to ask the opinion of pagans as to whether doing magic is permitted by God. People who don't actually worship God don't get a vote on that sort of thing. You could consult them on matters of natural law, but not on religious law. (Unless, of course, you were asking a scholar of religious history for a historical overview. Advice, no.)

I'd also like to say that St. Michael the Archangel has absolutely nothing to do with Mars, Frey, or any similar concatenation of wargods, except in that he could kick their butt any day of the week. As he will no doubt explain to certain people at the end of time.

Finally, Mr. Ringo introduces a perfect example of a scantily clad chick who tells the world she has high esteem and a devotion to Heinlein. The more the unclad women protest how high their self-esteem is, the less I tend to believe them. I've never met anybody yet who dresses like that who doesn't have even more issues than the average geeky fan; and dressing like that helps them create even more horrible events to have to deal with. This doesn't make them bad people. It makes them badly confused people. Badly confused people shouldn't be confused and enabled further by books like this.

However, I did find it psychologically true that such a woman would strive to dig deeper into berzerker anger.

I do commend this book as an excellent adventure and a great evocation of fandom, particularly in the convention scenes. But as in fandom, the Christian is left scrambling for footing and thrown back upon her own resources. She rarely gets to encounter anyone else with even roughly similar views, and is constantly forced to re-invent the wheel.

Telenovela on Public TV!

I'm on vacation today, but I didn't sleep in. So I found out there's a telenovela of sorts running on our public TV station at eight in the morning. It's not a real telenovela, of course; just one designed to teach Spanish. (With the exciting name Introduction to Spanish.) But it's a pretty entertaining show, all the same. I wish I'd seen it back in 1992, when it first aired.

This show was a lot more hardcore than previous language learning ones I've seen. Today they had a mine disaster! Also, a bunch of the kids got sick, and the pater familias was in the hospital. (The show's theme was words for being sick and going to the hospital. Yeah, buddy, they did that.)

The big shock is that there's a main character who's a priest! (Not a shock on a telenovela, but a shock on PBS.) Also, they did a little explanatory feature on Our Lady of Guadalupe, with file footage. (There was a woman walking up to the basilica on her knees; and her husband, a blue-collar guy, was carefully bending down to put little pieces of cloth down in front of her and picking them up from behind her, so she wouldn't hurt her knees or her outfit too much. It was very sweet.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

You Know You Live in the Future When....

You watch a video hosted on Google from the Dvinsk Clan, a group of teenagers from Daugavpils, Latvia, who play a French urban gymnastics sport called "parkour" that's a sort of course run with acrobatics.

Apparently this is the same thing that was used in the French action flick Banlieue 13, or B-13 for short. (Not to be confused with Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic.)

Some informed commentary on the Dvinsk Clan's l33t PK skillz. :)

I'm torn. Obviously this is a sport combining skill, daring, and an appreciation for pre-existing structures. It's almost a sort of speed building-hack (another sport I admire but do not emulate). Yet it also seems pretty darned dangerous, to the point of insanity. On the gripping hand, this does seem to be the sort of activity that quickly teaches you a decent respect for gravity and pain, so it's probably safer than the sort of thing stupid kids do who watch MTV's show Jackass.

But not much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Deliverance of Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin -- all I can say is, praise the God who made you.

After the horrible mishmash-mosh last year that SciFi Channel called Earthsea, the geniuses at Ghibli are going to be adapting it as their next big film.

Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea (Record of the Ged War, or The Ged War Chronicle) (Look, Ged! It's your name!) will be directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. (Originally his father was not supportive of his directorial ambitions, but apparently the old man has changed his mind.)

Isn't this poster awesome?! (You can save this smaller one.)

And my most sincere congratulations to both LeGuin and Ghibli. This is going to be good.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Happy Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe!

Patroness of all of North America, uniter of all of North America's peoples, pray for us!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Torture Bad. Interrogation Good.

Torture is one of those things that's too obvious to talk about it. Obviously, it's a bad idea. It's not a good thing to do, either morally or from a practical standpoint. It doesn't produce good information. It encourages the other side to torture your side, if they weren't already, and takes away your side's moral high ground, if they were. It's bad for military discipline. It tends to bleed into everything else those people do afterward. It is, as Bujold put it, "an infection of the imagination".

On the other hand, interrogation is good. It's just that you really shouldn't be doing anything rougher than the police are allowed to do. All the American experience with interrogation has shown that tea and sympathy work a lot better than torture at getting someone to talk, which your Aunt Gladys could've told you long before the FBI found it out.

The real art of interrogation is learning to climb into someone else's head. This requires a certain amount of empathy. It's uncomfortable to empathize with Really Bad People, and it's hard work. But it's better than not empathizing with them, and becoming a Really Bad Person yourself.

To be completely honest, I suspect that a lot of those people who advocate stuff like serious sleep deprivation, disorientation, and waterboarding don't really understand what they're advocating. The reason they don't understand it is that a good number of them have undergone certain of these techniques as part of the escape and evasion training. They escape, they evade, they get captured, they get "tortured", they sign their little paper and wish they'd been tougher, like that Ranger team that broke out. It's more like Hell Week than going through hell.

But even the most detailed simulation is just a simulation. Deep down, American soldiers in training know that unless there's a training accident, it will end happily in the near future, and then everything will be all right. This is just something they have to get through.

Deep down, they know that they themselves don't really mean to hurt the Bad Guy, either. But they don't have the Bad Guy's medical records, and they don't have as much experience as the trainers did at doing this stuff safely. (And let's be honest, they don't really have as much incentive not to really hurt the Bad Guy as the trainers had not to hurt them.)

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy has no reason to believe that things will ever be all right again. (If he really believed that Americans were the Good Guys, he wouldn't be fighting them, ne?) So for them, it really is torture, not just an unpleasant and scary experience which will end in the near future.

There's a big difference between your brother twisting your arm behind your back and a scary drunk guy with a gun twisting your arm behind your back. Even if the force being exerted is the same.

(Btw, that torture legislation of McCain's was incredibly bad law, as written. Sounds like it will encourage soldiers to prefer shooting people to capturing 'em.)

UPDATE: A lot of these ideas came together after reading this post at Blackfive. I have all the respect in the world for Blackfive, needless to say, but on "coercive interrogation techniques" we clearly disagree. I freely admit this may have as much to do with my low threshold for pain and high incidence of being beat up and taunted as a child as for any kind of respect for natural law, human dignity, and the teachings of the Catholic faith. :)

However, my younger brother wished to point out that it's equally dangerous to have people around who have no idea at all how much pain, damage and death certain simple actions can cause. I agree; the kids dying from choking themselves for fun are a perfect example.

Linguists in the Movies!

Obviously, there's Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. Then, after Stargate came out (Daniel always acts more like a linguist than an Egyptologist!), you got stuff like Disney's Atlantis.

But I never knew about a cute little Howard Hawks flick from 1941. In Ball of Fire, Gary Cooper is a linguist writing some kind of encyclopedia article on slang when he discovers that he's been missing out on a lot of good new slang all around him! Hijinks ensue as he invites all sorts of people back to his house (which he shares with seven other profs also working on the encyclopedia) for interviews, including a singer who's on the run from the cops and her gangster boyfriend.

The situation is silly (especially when the linguist is repeatedly confused with a cop), but the screenplay (by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) shows an obvious love for "the living language" that is really endearing. Also, the musical numbers are definitely better than anything in Disney!

Anyway, you gotta love a movie with lines like, "Never mind the etymology -- was she a blonde or a brunette?"