Friday, September 30, 2005

And so it goes...

A Summary of News From Around the World:
Sorry.  I am under the weather today and it makes my thoughts turn to the grim side.

Bookmaker blasted over 'Last Supper' ad
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power was fending off the wrath of Christians in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Ireland on Friday over an advert depicting Jesus and the Apostles gambling at the Last Supper.

Foetuses found at Bogota airport
Colombian police have found the bodies of three human foetuses hidden in statues destined for the United States.

Abortionist accused of eating fetuses
A Kansas City abortionist is out of business after investigators discovered a grisly house of horrors at his clinic – with fetuses kept in Styrofoam cups in his refrigerator and one employee accusing him of microwaving one and stirring it into his lunch.

Sources: Priest killed Hudson funeral home workers
Prosecutors said they will present strong evidence in a hearing next week that will officially declare the case of a double murder at a funeral home in Hudson, Wis. closed.

Dutch ‘marriage’: 1 man, 2 women
The Netherlands has legalized polygamy in all but name, granting a civil union to a man and two women.
Victor de Bruijn, 46, of Roosendaal "married" both Bianca, 31, and Mirjam, 35, in a ceremony Friday, the Brussels Journal reported.

In the immortal words of fictional FBI detective Fox Mulder, “Did you really think you could summon the devil, then ask him to behave?” (X-Files, Die Hand Die Verletzt, first aired Jan 27, 1995.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005


September 29th – Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Today is the feast of my patron, Michael. Michael is one of the few angels mentioned by name in scripture, and by tradition holds four primary offices:

(1) Battle leader in the heavenly war against Satan
(2) Rescuer of souls from the power of Satan, especially at the moment of death.
(3) Champion and Protector of God’s people – that is, of both Israel and the Church.
(4) Caller of men’s souls from earth to judgment.

Although his actual position in the choirs of angels has been a disputed point since antiquity, he is generally regarded as the captain of the Heavenly Host, the Archistrategos (I never can get Greek to come out right on Blogger) or chief general, of heaven.

The following prayer, a simplified version of the original, was instituted by Leo XIII after an 1884 vision. What the Pope apparently saw, as described later by those who talked to him at the time of his vision, was a period of about one hundred years when the power of Satan would reach its zenith. That period was to be the twentieth century. Leo was so shaken by the spectre of the destruction of moral and spiritual values both inside and outside the Church, that he composed a prayer which was to be said at the end of each Mass celebrated anywhere in the Catholic Church. Given the subsequent events of the Twentieth Century, it is more than a little difficult to dismiss Leo's visionas anything but real.

Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in this day of battle;
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
And do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
By the power of God,
cast into Hell, Satan And all the evil spirits,
who prowl the world Seeking the ruin of souls.

Smart beer mat orders refills

For when you’re too drunk to raise your hand and order another beer…  Coming next, the car that starts itself when you’re too drunk to find the keys.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Inheriting the Wind

The “E” Word – One More Time
I am a loyal attendee of a local men’s BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) group here in South Austin. BSF is an interdenominational and fairly intensive bible study with a 7-year cycle that covers the bulk of scripture. It has been a wonderful experience, and it has done marvels for my biblical literacy, understanding, and discernment. I highly recommend it to anybody.

After that ringing and heartfelt endorsement, I am going to use this year’s study to carp a bit. The topic this year (and.every eighth year hereafter) is Genesis. BSF comes from a pretty evangelical orientation, and here in Texas I would have to say the vast majority of attendees are evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. (“Fundamentalist” is used here in the original sense, meaning folks who adhere to “The Fundamentals,” including a fairly rigid standard of biblical literalness. It is not being used in the mainstream media sense of the word that cannot distinguish between a crazed Islamofascist dynamiter on a Jewish school bus and the Wheaton College English department.)

Anyway, there is an almost passionate rejection of both Big Bang cosmology and biological evolution. Both are frequently conflated into one amorphous entity that epitomizes modernist atheism. (In all fairness, a lot of modernist atheists I’ve met do exactly the same thing.) A friend there who knows my background said, “I keep wondering what’s going through your twisted brain during all this.” My answer was that I just wanted to get out of there alive. Part of the hostility is based, I am sure, on the “Popular Evolution” that makes up most people’s understanding of the subject. If evolutionary theory was what most folks think it is, I wouldn’t buy it either. But there seems to be an underlying anti-intellectualism in a large part of modern evangelical Protestantism that is very off-putting and counterproductive.

I just really, really don’t understand what the problem is supposed to be. What do people expect to find in the creation story? Maxwell’s equations? Whenever I read the first chapter of Genesis, I see a pretty darned good description of events by a 2nd millennium BC nomadic shepherd who probably woke up twitching after one humdinger of a vision. He did a lot better job of recording what he saw than I would have ever managed. I would probably have gotten a cup of coffee, sworn never to eat goat before bedtime again, and gone to count the sheep. Heck, it’s almost like the guy was inspired…

As far as BSF goes, my wife (who has already done this study) tells me that if I hang in there past the first few weeks of Genesis, the rest of this year is very, very good. I have to say, though, that if this had been my first year in BSF, I probably would have thrown up my hands and walked away.

Sorry for wasting bandwidth on “the evolution thing,” which has been talked to death for 146 years. Just needed to vent a bit. By the way, this whole rant was kicked off by the following posting from The Speculative Catholic, a blog worthy of note.

Brief notes for a history of the universe
Creation. Angels. Fall. Devils. Big Bang. Matter. Stars. Galaxies. Novae. Solar nebula. Protostar. Sun. Planets. Earth. Moon. Bombardment. Crust. Ocean. Life. RNA. Prokaryotes. Glycolysis. Photosynthesis. Bacteria. Evolution. Cyanobacteria. Oxygen. Iron. Mitochondria. Eukaryotes. Organelles. Sex. Multicellularity. Algae. Seaweed. Invertebrates. Sponges. Jellyfish. Flatworms. Neurons. Vertebrates. Fish. Tetrapods. Amphibians. Pangaea. Reptiles. Dinosaurs. Birds. Mammals. Flowers. Hominids. Man. Adam. Eve. Fall. Sin. Fire. Burial. Domestication. Irrigation. Cities. Literacy. Abraham. Judaism. Moses. Immaculate Conception. Annunciation. Virgin Birth. Incarnation. Eucharist. Papacy. Crucifixion. Resurrection. Church. Ascension. Pentecost. Succession. Assumption. Persecution. Bible. Conversion. Arianism. Islam. Hermits. Monasticism. Schism. Crusades. Cathedrals. Mendicants. Gunpowder. Protestantism. Electricity. Antibiotics. Atom. Moon landing. Internet.

Giant Squid Photographed Alive!

Coolest Story of the Week
Wow! I wish I could find the whole film loop on the web! I have been a giant squid fan since I was a kid, and that is getting to be a long time ago! Between the Giant Squid (Architeuthis) and the Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis), there are some really cool predators out there. Now that Architeuthis turns out to be a pretty aggressive predator, the argument will continue as to which one is the best candidate for a Ultimate Invertebrate. It is too bad there are no fresh-water squid (one reason – they lack the equivalent of red blood cells). I can see a great movie plotline where a giant squid invades the sewers of New York to feed on the alligators.

One interesting thing I noticed on the MSNBC story in the first hyperlink above - as part of the page there is a “Related Stories” link list, most of which are at least loosely related in the area of natural science (cheetahs, Kennewick Man, Australian anthropology). As of 10:15 AM Central, however, one of the “Related Stories” to the giant squid photographs is “Report: Jennifer Jason Leigh marries.” I am not sure of the connection, and I probably do not want to know. Most Americans, I am sure, find the culture of Hollywood to be far more alien and strange than that of any lost tribe the anthropologists are likely to come up with.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Saint Blownapart?

ROC Names Patron Saint for Nuclear Bomber Forces
MOSCOW (AFP) - Historic Russian admiral Fyodor Ushakov -- a hero of Russia's wars against Turkey and Napoleon Bonaparte -- was designated the patron saint of nuclear-armed, long-distance Russian bombers by the Orthodox Church.

The various branches of the military certainly deserve their patron saints. God knows that soldiers, sailors, and airmen are the ones who put their own fragile bodies “between their loved home and the war’s desolation.” They are certainly worthy of both spiritual consolation and intercessory prayer. This, however, sounds like St. Fyodor is becoming the patron for a specific and rather unpopular variety of weaponry. Sort of like making St. Roch the patron of biological warfare. On the other hand, there has been a serious move to make St. Gabriel Possenti the patron saint of handgunners, so who am I to comment?

My Oh My...

I Really Wanted to Comment on This…

…but words fail me. I can't help wondering, though - does putting in coins automatically ring up indulgences? And do they have a Judas bank that holds up to 30 pieces of silver? My oh my oh my…

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lunacy in the Name of Compassion

A Catholic Bishop Responds to Animal Rights Nazis
The original article from (link may expire quickly) includes some really appalling examples of terrorism and extortion.

“Darley Oaks farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, announced plans to stop breeding guinea pigs after ceding to a six-year campaign of intimidation, the BBC reported Aug. 23. One of the more recent acts that spurred the decision was the theft of the body of a family member from the local churchyard last October. Over the years the owners of the farm, the Hall family, have been the target of harassing phone calls, bomb scares, and arson attacks. Local shops and businesses have also been targeted, to force them to cancel any commerce with the farm.”

That is beyond anything my warped mind would even be able to imagine. Personally, I love critters – everything from sponges to schnauzers. I usually won’t even kill the scorpion on the bedspread – I just chuck it out the door. It probably goes with my original training as a biologist. Irrational people-hating Luddite lunatics Animal Rights Activists and their Hunnish tactics, on the other hand, are the natural outgrowth of a worldview that rejects any transcendence in the human person. If humans are powerful animals with no externally-mandated divine purpose, then – if I prefer the company of guinea pigs – there is no logical reason why I should not destroy human life to protect guinea pig life. It is merely the culture of abortion taken to its logical conclusion. The Church’s position is, to say the least, a bit more reasoned and nuanced.

“Earlier this year Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, of Bologna, Italy, entered the debate over the relationship between animals and humans. In a speech Jan. 15 before the school of veterinarian medicine at the University of Bologna, he argued that it is essential to keep in mind the "essential diversity" between man and animals. The human person, unlike animals, has a spiritual life based on the soul and should not be reduced to the level of the natural world that surrounds us. This does not mean we have nothing in common with animals, the archbishop explained. Rather, what we have in common with animals is not all that makes us a person, he said. This superiority justifies the use of animals by humans, the prelate said. At the same time, he acknowledged that animals are also creatures of God and that our dominion over them should not be violent. This does not mean, however, that animals have rights. Rights are something that should be reserved for the category of relationships between people. Rather than basing our behavior toward animals on the concept of rights, we should found it on the rationality of the human person, Archbishop Caffarra argued. We owe it to ourselves as humans, he said, to act reasonably in our relations with animals.”

To a Christian, humans are given stewardship over the earth and its living and non-living resources. I am responsible to God for how I treat both my neighbor and my dog. The difference is that I am also responsible to my neighbor for how I treat him; I am not, however, responsible to my dog.

Strategic Flying Carpet Forces?

Iran plans to weave world's largest carpet
The mammoth rug from the spiritual homeland of Persian carpets will cover almost 6,000 square metres and will fetch some $8.2 million, its makers told Reuters on Saturday…

The carpet has been ordered by the Sheikh Zayed mosque that is being built in Abu Dhabi, after Iran scoured its Gulf neighbours for contracts that might help revive business for local wool merchants, dye makers and weavers…

Iran is hoping to break its own record for Gargantuan carpets, which it says is currently held by the 4,400 square metre carpet woven for the Sultan Qaboos mosque in Muscat.”

No doubt this is a thinly-disguised cover story for them to build the delivery system for their planned A-bomb. Looks good on paper, but the question remains – will it really fly?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sept. 24 (Maronite Calendar of Saints)

St. Thecla, Equal to the Apostles
Thecla was a virgin of Iconium who was converted to Christianity and led to dedicate herself to perpetual virginity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Miraculously saved from death at the stake to which she had been condemned, she went with St. Paul to Antioch in Pisidia where she was thrown to the wild beasts and was again saved from death by a miracle. After this she went to Myra where the Apostle was, and finally to Seleucia where she died. With the consent of St. Paul she had acted as a "female Apostle" in proclaiming the Gospel. (from The Catholic Encyclopedia)

By tradition, Thecla was converted at the age of 18, being engaged at the time. Having preached Christ in various cities and suffered many things, she reposed in Seleucia of Cilicia at the age of 90.
Inspired by the divine teacher's words
thou wast inflamed with love for thy Creator.
Thou didst disdain all earthly pleasures
and endure wild beasts and fire.
O glorious Thecla, companion of Paul,
entreat thy divine Bridegroom
to grant us His great mercy

Radiant with virginity and adorned with the crown of martyrdom,
thou wast a bearer of the Faith.
Thou didst turn flames to dew and tame a wild bull by thy prayer,
O glorious Thecla, first woman martyr

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Update

Rita Heads North
Hurricane Rita has veered well to the North and East. Our refugette that has holed up at our place should be able to return to an intact home in Rockport in a few days, and it looks like Houston will miss the worst of it (God willing). Austin may not even get a drop of much-needed rain out of the deal. (Austin actually gets more rain per year than London, England – it’ just that they get a tenth of an inch a day 250 days out of the year, and we get all of ours in 1-2 inch chunks).

This sort of thing always leaves me in a quandary. As Father Don pointed out at Mass on Wednesday, “You want to pray for it to go away, but you don’t really want to pray for it to go somewhere else.” God’s protection and peace to all those around Beaumont and Port Arthur. I hope they are able to get out or ride it out safely, as they were not really in the initial evacuation zones.

From Today's "Bliss" on JWR

Taking Advantage of the Opportunities…

This cartoon makes me think. I try to make a point of “giving thanks for my blessings,” but how often do I actually use them to their full potential? Most days, I take most everything I have for granted – from my family, to my job, to simply the fact of living in the USA - and in Texas, to boot! What would life be like if I really believed in what I’ve been given, and really trusted in the giver? As a follower of Christ, I tend to be like those guys in Luke 9:

"And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." "
(Luk 9:59-62 NASB)

I’d be the guy you don’t see in this cartoon, running like hell for the other shore, saying “Thanks for getting us away from the Egyptians,” but not really trusting that the water’s not going to come down on my head any second. The only reason I have enough trust to head out in the first place is that I really don’t have much of a choice. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. “

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Viene un Tormento

A Storm is Coming

Hurricane Rita appears to be aiming for the central Texas coast, and just made Cat 5.  Our house will be expecting anywhere from one to three guests this weekend, not including animals, and depending on the projected landfall.  Right now, it looks to be headed for a relatively less populated section of coast.  Given the coastal population migration of the past few decades, however, I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes.  It has been decades since a really big storm has hit this part of the world, and people have forgotten why it’s not always a good idea to put buildings on islands that are nothing but giant sandbars.

Luckily, Austin has found non-emergency housing for all but the worst-off of the Katrina refugees that came here.  There will at least be emergency shelter available for people, but I gather hotel accommodations are impossible to find.  Not only do we have people evacuating inland, but the Austin City Limits music festival is this weekend.

We’re way far away from the coast, of course.  If the thing swings east of here, which is what most of the projections look like, it will probably be no big deal.  If it jogs to the west, however, we could get a ton of rain.  Central Texas is supposed to be the flash flood capital of the world (that’s why so many of the roads have big rulers next to them - so you can tell how deep the water is).  Whenever the creek beds fill up, there are always some people who are convinced they can go through 3 feet of water because they are driving a Cadillac and are therefore important.  There are also always some people who decide that high water is a good time to go tubing down the river.  One is sorely tempted to mutter “natural selection,” and turn off the TV – I guess that is not a terribly Christ-like response.  Act of Contrition to follow…

Our Lady’s and St. Francis both just did some collecting and fund raising for the Katrina victims; looks like we’ll be doing it again for our fellow countrymen.  With all due respect to those that were involved, I can’t help expecting (and certainly hoping) that Texas will handle things better than Louisiana did.  Even so, the darned thing is likely to make a heck of a mess.  Prayers for all concerned – and especially the soldiers and emergency personnel – would be appreciated.

For this place, for every city and country place and the faithful dwelling in them, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.For favorable weather, the abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful time, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.For the travelers by sea, air, and land, for the sick, the suffering, for those in prison, and their salvation. Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and need, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and protect us, O God, by your grace. Lord, have mercy.


Leviticus for Dummies?
From Yahoo News, September 21st, 3005:

“A Church of England vicar was on Wednesday unveiling his self-styled "100-Minute Bible", an ultra-condensed edition of the Christian holy book which claims to neatly summarise (sic) every teaching from the Creation to the Revelation…

Publishers the 100-Minute Press say the book has been written for those who want to know more about Christianity but who do not have the time to read the original in full.”

I am sure this guy means well, and I am sure he has given it his best shot.  I haven’t read his book, and I am not trying to pan it specifically.  But I have a big problem with this whole approach to evangelistic outreach.  The unspoken, and hopefully unintended, implication is that we can improve on the scripture to make it more palatable for modern lifestyles, and that the scriptures can be safely condensed.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing whatsoever against summarizing Christian teachings, or presenting an outline of scripture in a way that is informative and readable..  When I was a kid, we even had comic books with bible stories and lives of the saints in illustrated format.  I have, firmly embedded in my memory, a picture of a fish jumping into the hands of Tobias (deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, for the more Evangelical-oriented readers).  I remember it after all these years because of the strange expression on the face of the fish.  Anyway, there is nothing, IMHO, wrong with using any means of communication to spread the Kingdom.  (Well, maybe some means.  I have a pretty warped mind, and just came up with some marvelous-but-unprintable mental images.)  But for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to do that, don’t call the product “scripture.”  I don’t remember the name of the comic book, but they didn’t call it “The Holy Bible – Looney Tunes Version.”

I guess my point is that the scriptures are supposed to be hard to read – not because of the language (I’m no KJV fan) but because of the content.  You are supposed to say, “What the heck does this mean?”  You are supposed to think, “I must be missing the point, here.”  You are supposed to chew on it for a while and let it chew on you for a while.  It’s only then that you begin to understand the scripture in terms of the church’s teaching and the church’s teaching in terms of scripture.  It’s only after a lot of chewing and digesting that you start to see the “seamless garment” nature of scripture.  It’s only after a lot of chewing and digesting that you start to see the inner integrity of all those “hard” parts that fly in the face of common wisdom.  To try to short-circuit that process for “newbies” is to cut them off from the source God provided – not unlike short-circuiting the Eucharist to “everybody grab a slice of bread.”  You lose something extraordinarily precious and important.  The church used to have a lengthy catechumen process, where newcomers were trained in the faith.  If you really want to fill your pews, then smart it up; don’t dumb it down.

Other than that, I guess I have no strong opinion on the matter.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Have You Ever Wondered About Your Broker?

Wanted: Psychopaths to play the stock market:
Somehow, we always knew this was true….

Monday, September 19, 2005

We're Not Number One

I Thought America Was Supposed To Be the World’s Worst Nation.
According to The Times of London, the most violent country in the world is Scotland, with England and Wales running a not-too-distant second. 3% of the Scottish population have been victims of violent crime, compared to 2.8% in Merrye Olde England and only 1.2% in the evil Bushist nation of gunslinging cowboys USA. The Scots attribute their problem to the rise of a “booze and blades” culture in Western Scotland. Personally, I suspect it has something to do with wearing kilts. It has to be really cold in the wintertime, and that makes people cranky; besides, you probably have to defend your honor a lot.

Predictably, the authorities want to control it by regulating the sale of liquor and knives. Perhaps they might think about teaching young Scots that it isn’t nice to go around stabbing one another? But I guess that would be considered to be “imposing one’s personal moral code.” Can’t have that, can we?

Arrrr, Matey!!!

By the Way,
…today, Sept. 19th is “Talk Like a Pirate Day.”  I have already caused a few nervous titters and looks in meetings and conference calls this morning.  Security will probably come by my cubicle to escort me out the door pretty soon; they are lucky I didn’t bring the lovebird this morning and carry her around on my shoulder.  There are advantages to getting older – you start to ask yourself, “Hey, what can they possibly do to me?”  Old age, it turns out, is intrinsically countercultural, because they just can’t force you to give a darn anymore!

Keeping Up With The Latins

It Only Seems Fair…

…That if the pope gets his own special car,…

…then The Presiding Bishop should get one too.

After all, fair is fair, and what are we about more than fairness?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Skinny and Scared

Summer Night with Lizards

One thing we have a lot of around my house, just outside old Austin town, is geckos.  Geckos, not Geicos – you know, the little nocturnal lizards that run up the walls and hang on the ceilings, looking for their next meal and trying to avoid becoming someone else’s next meal.  They are “Mediterranean Geckos” to be precise, Hemidactylus turcicus – apparently they came to Texas on shipboard from the old world some years ago.  They are cute little things, maybe six inches long for a real giant of the species, speckled brown and gray and white.  The little ones are almost transparent – you can tell if they’ve eaten recently because you can see the food in their stomachs through their little translucent tummies.  On a warm summer night, it’s not unusual to see a dozen or more hanging on the walls and ceiling of my back porch.

Anyway, the little guys frequently get inside the house.  There are much worse things to get into one’s house around here – the geckos neither bite nor sting.  But once inside, they are pretty much cut off from any sources of food or water.  You see them on the wall or the floor or the window, and you try and catch them and put them back outside where they can flourish.  Unfortunately, they are quick and I am clumsy.  They skedaddle into a crevice or underneath a piece of furniture where finding them is hopeless.  And, saving themselves from my clutches, they unknowingly condemn themselves to slow death by dehydration or starvation.  Sometimes you will see the same one over and over, getting steadily skinnier and still eluding capture and rescue.  Usually, I catch them before the end, but every once in a while you find a desiccated little corpse in some out-of-the-way place, a victim of its own clever elusiveness.

I can’t help wondering how much my own reaction to God has been like that little gecko’s reaction to me, running without comprehension from the scary hand that would rescue me.  Whenever I see one of those dried out little bodies, I remember how lucky I am – not that I was smart enough not to run, but that I was too clumsy not to get caught.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina Impacts

This Could be a VBT*
According to Forbes, at least 20 oil rigs have sunk or come adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now that is less than four percent of the existing number of rigs, but it does cause one to wonder how many other rigs have suffered sufficient damage to keep them from getting back into production quickly.  The disruption in Gulf Coast oil production and refining capacity is already sending gasoline prices through the roof.  (Yes, Virginia; the price of oil may not be that much higher, but to convert oil into gasoline at the pump requires refineries, pipelines, etc.)

I have a pretty healthy respect for both Satanic Western Technology and the American work ethic, so I can’t get too gloom-and-doom about the long range impacts, but in the short term it could have some significant nation-wide effects.

Having said that, I feel a little tacky griping about the pain in my pocketbook when so many people are in truly dire straits.  The citizens of New Orleans are going to need a lot of help to keep things together while they rebuild.  There are plenty of scum sucking vermin poor souls who haven’t yet found Jesus who will even now be cooking up phony charity scams to intercept the donations.  Make sure you donate to a worthwhile organization, and at this point, cash is probably better than gifts in kind.  Catholic Charities USA is a reliable agency, though there are many others.

*VBT = Very Bad Thing.