Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What do Punch and Judy, a Black Cat, and Spaghetti Have in Common? The Magicians of Caprona, Of Course!

The Magicians of Caprona (Chrestomanci, #4)The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been enjoying this book tremendously since the first page. Tonino is born into a famous spell-making family in the Italian kingdom of Caprona (although there is no unified Italy in this story). Although he can't do spells well he does have his own special talent which his large, loving family appreciates very much. They have many other things to bother them though, such as their ancient rivals (the Petrocchi family), the war that threatens their kingdom, and a hostile enchanter who is said to hate both families. And more.

This is an engaging adventure which I absolutely couldn't predict the path of ... other than the identity of Rosa's fiance and the identity of the evil enchanter. In typical Diana Wynne Jones style, this book is both enchanting and completely imaginative. I hesitate to say more other than any review can do no more than touch the tip of this rich iceberg. Don't let the age limit put on it by library groups make you hesitate. Any age who enjoys a good story will enjoy this book.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Google: Nanny Interwebs OR Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket - UPDATED

Google evidently has been gradually rolling out the new requirement of forcing anyone with a business email address to put everything Google-ish into one account.

What this means is that if I am using my email, which is from work (owned by my husband and myself), for my Blogger account, which is owned by Google ... then I have to roll my blogs into the administrative account. Having agreed, of course, that my "administrator" is now privy to any and all information contained therein.

If not, well, you just can't get into your Blogger account, little miss. Not unless you get yourself a dandy new personal email (because I needed two to keep track of).

They didn't ask our business if we wanted this. Because we didn't.

They just rolled into town last week and started making us do this.

Notice that Google is rolling it out gradually, a la the way that Facebook makes changes. This allows the constant stream of problems and complaints about highhandedness to stay at a fairly low level.

That's why my blog wasn't updated until now. I was forced at gunpoint, essentially, to get a new email address so I could get into my blogs. Because even though Google owns Blogger, after account consolidation, you are told that, gee, sorry, but Blogger isn't one of those programs who we're consolidating now. But since you've done this, we won't let you into your old Blogger accounts. Here's a nice new one though. Wouldn't you like to begin a blog?

Aaargh! What incompetence.

Tom's theory is that their very large email clients want this protocol.


But for those of us who don't, this is causing quite a few problems.

Legitimate business problems.

Such as ... Tom was required to get a G-mail account in order to be able to use Google Apps.

He went ahead and did all that Google asked to consolidate accounts.

Only to be told that Google Apps can't be rolled into everything. And that by agreeing to consolidate, he gave up the old account.

So all he has now, is access to fresh new Google Apps without any of the data which has been collected over time.

Oh, and also a nice little questionnaire where Google asked what project he'd like them to take on next.

Here's a thought.

How about letting us keep our eggs in those different baskets?

Or, failing that, actually finishing what you began by letting Google Apps be consolidated along with everything else?

I received this comment from a pal and I know it represents others with the same opinion so I'll just mention this here since I realize I may have combined too many issues to make my point clear:
Google is in Google is in business to make money. You may want to set up your own blog and pay a few shillings a month to a service that lets you have it your way. There are companies in place that can do this for you.

I buy my own books. My wife thinks I'm crazy. (She goes to the library) I believe the author (no matter how little he/she makes) deserves this. If you wanted to post all your writing in a newspaper you would have to pay for it. Who pays for the electricity that Google uses to make your blog available to the public?

No harm intended here: Why are you upset about the constraints being leveled on you for a free service? The internet is not FREE. Inexpensive? Yes.

Take a deep breath and investigate alternatives for your blog. You may want to look into WordPress templates and an ISP that you pay for.
It is not the constraints for the free blog ... it is the overall constraints of how they are treating business for this.

Ignore the blog issue.

Our problem is with the business issue. About my husband being required to get a G-mail address to use Google Apps, both of which he pays Google for.

And then being forced to move the Apps account, even though it was always part of the business.

And then not being able to access his old info ... etc.

And the highhandedness of forcing our business to have all those accounts combined whether we choose to do so or not. They do not allow a business to be benevolent should they desire and allow their employees to use their email addresses for whatever they choose.

They gave the businesses no choice. And then can't deliver on what they say they are doing.

That is the problem.

P.S. As for Blogger, my main problem was that even after I did what they wanted and consolidated accounts, they still wouldn't let me have access to my old info because, as they point out, they aren't set up to do that now. So I did just what they wanted and was shut out from access to their service. Just as with Apps.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mao's Barefoot Doctors and How Alternative Medicine Spread Into the Western World

Today we're going to take a look at how Chinese alternative medicine spread into the Western world. Promoters of alternative medicine claim that this ancient wisdom was (and is) in common use throughout China, and the Western world is becoming aware of its value. Skeptics of this position point out that alternative medicine was only used in Chinese rural areas where conventional treatments were not available, and it became popular because it was inexpensive, not because it was effective. The actual history brings some interesting perspective onto both of these points of view.

A little bit true and a little bit false. Both sides.

The whole scoop from the Skeptoid podcast. You can read or listen.

Something I Really Like: Creatively Wrapped Gifts

I opened a box. Which had another box in it.

Opened that box. Which had another box in it.

Opened that box. Which had another box in it.

Opened that box. Which had ... finally ... a wooden top lying in it.

I took the top out, thinking, "I should know this from somewhere. What does this mean?"

I spun the top, thinking but also confused. (Remember, we'd been to Victor Tango's which meant cocktails! Yes, I'm using drink as my excuse.)

Rose said, "Listen!" and turned her iTouch up high. Played the theme music from Inception.

"INCEPTION!" I shouted.

(Then she got the dvd from where she'd hidden it.)

Now, that is what I call thinking OUTSIDE the box! (ha!)

Diocese Live - Discussing Dante

Because Dante and modern takes on it were on my mind, that is what I discussed with Leo Brown during my monthly chat, the first of which began with these.

I love talking with Leo and he's such a pro that he saves newbies like me when they forget to mention a book name! Or other such errors.

Here's the link to the mp3 from at Real Live Radio (from May 19, segment 3).

A Hard-Boiled Detective in Hell. Literally. -- Reviewing Dante's Journey

You have to understand that in 1961, Boston PD was very much a family affair. If you were Italian or Irish, you were pretty much guaranteed a slot. I was half of each, so I was practically assigned the badge at birth.

The irony--I loved being a beat cop. Beatrice was the ambitious one. She wanted me to advance faster in the department than I had in mind. It took an SOB like Argenti to bring me closer to my wife's wishes and our higher income. So, in some twisted way, we could curse Argenti for our family's pain and thank him for our extra comforts.

If it's all the same to everyone involved, I think I'll just hate him.

The name's Joe Dante, Boston PD. This is my journey.
Detective Joe Dante is chasing Filippo Argenti, drug kingpin and murderer of Dante's family,  when he's gunned down. Waking in a dark wood, Joe wants only to find Agenti and dispense justice but soon meets Virgil who tells him that the gunshot killed him and he wound up in Hell. Thus we find ourselves following hard-boiled detective Joe Dante on an imaginative journey modeled after Dante's Inferno.

Disbelieving and obsessed with revenge, Joe makes Virgil promise to lead him to Argenti first. As they travel through the circles of Hell, Joe gradually comes to believe. It is a measure of his obsession that he will not accept Hell's punishment of Argenti, but still wants to administer his own. In fact, it is a measure of Joe's desire to control events. Layered between the Cantos (chapters) mirroring Dante's Inferno, are flashbacks that tell us Joe's story. We realize how Joe was betrayed and why he is so driven. As Joe travels deeper into Hell, witnessing greater and greater levels of sin and punishment, he gradually realizes what he himself is guilty of and that his relationship with God was not as deep as he thought. It is this knowledge, of course, that can set Joe free. What we can't tell, however, is if Joe will let obsession drive him or finally face the truth.

As with many hard-boiled detective novels, Joe is always ready with a quip. Once he realizes that there is no death in Hell, he takes outrageous risks to get what he wants. Joe meets nefarious villains and people from the far future, which also provides opportunities for humor. The by-the-book detective's first encounter with hippies, glam rock stars, and rappers made me laugh. I also enjoyed it when Joe investigated places that the original book didn't examine, such as the virtuous pagans' Limbo. I also appreciated the author's sense of humor when I looked at the name Filippo Argenti and realized that a translation into English might be ... Phil Silvers. Ok, maybe that's pushing it too far. But there is a distinctive witty sense driving the book which made me get more involved in the reading. And that's a good thing.  Taking inventive liberties with Dante's blueprint, author J. C. Marino ratchets up the action to include space ships, hand-to-hand demonic fighting, and ray guns. By the end of the book, the reader is breathless, feeling as if we've been watching an action movie.

Marino also changes other basic elements of the classic in service of his story, such as making Virgil a more active character, allowing demons and damned to travel between the circles of Hell, and changing the underlying theology enough that repentance and salvation are possible in Hell.
 "Listen to me, all you who are willing to hear the truth," Virgil shouted.

Through the fog, Virgil presented an eerie sight as he preached to the growing crowd. With his leather jacket and slicked back hair, I couldn't tell if he looked more evil or good, anymore than I could discern the nature of his message.

"All you hoarders and wasters, miserly and prodigal... You reside here merely because you accept it. If you have faith and if that faith is strong, forgiveness is yours. Then, you will discover the way out."

I watched the crowd as Virgil delivered his message in a warped version of Jesus' sermon on the mount. People from the 1920's Chicago stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslims. Pirates clustered with pilgrims. Heavy metal rock stars leaned next to... Well, more heavy rock stars. Those who'd lived life too much gathered beside those who hadn't lived enough.

"Any one of you may walk out of here at any time, but you must accept the truth. You must know the truth about God, about yourself, and about your faith. For that, you must begin by answering one question -- who are you?" Virgil continued.

The crowd remained silent for a moment, and finally, someone laughed. Another joined in and soon, everyone was laughing.

The only ones who didn't were Virgil and me.

"There is no way out. This is Hell!" a waster yelled out. "Our fate is to be tortured for all eternity!"

"It is not torture that is your fate, but torment," Virgil said.

"What be the difference?" a Pilgrim hoarder hollered.

"In life, you each created your path, one that led directly to where you stand now," Virgil lectured.

"In life, our greatest sin was trying to have a good time," a waster called back. "Don't you want us to have fun?

"I want you to experience joy," Virgil answered, "and true joy begins with knowing who you are."

"Damn Sam, you are one crazy dude!" another waster yelled out.

"It's never too late to repent," Virgil said.
Dante's Journey is not perfect. There is one plot element to which I particularly object, but which I won't share here as it would be a spoiler. I also got very tired of Joe's repeatedly finding that Virgil's advice was right, but continually taking matters into his own hands anyway. A few times is fine but it was repeated enough that it made Joe seem like the dimmest bulb at the Boston PD every time he resolved to do things his way. That said, these moments did lead to some of my favorite action scenes so I am hard put to say how I would change that aspect of the book.

From a Catholic point of view, the theology was absolutely right in some ways and twisted like a corkscrew in others. I wonder what it is that makes modern authors want to water Hell down into simply an edgy version of Purgatory? I have no problem reading books that don't agree with my beliefs, but it is important that readers realize an important aspect of the theology in this book isn't what Dante communicates in the original. See the Theological Caveat below for more.

These issues aside, the book works spectacularly as entertainment.  I read it at breakneck speed and am hoping that a sequel will continue the journey into Purgatory. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as Marino juggles classical elements, hard-boiled noir, and science fiction/fantasy to give us a story that I will definitely be rereading. He is a talent worth watching and I'll be waiting impatiently for his next book.

Perhaps more importantly, Marino is true enough to Dante's original work that readers can feel the overall message shining through. I found myself pondering my behavior and old-fashioned sins. It was like an examination of conscience, albeit an entertaining one. I know that I am not alone in this reaction. Numerous reviews on Amazon and elsewhere mention that readers were moved to pause and ponder their lives during the story. Some became interested in reading the original. I also pulled my copy of Dante's Divine Comedy from the shelves to look through and reread sections. Therefore, I would say that as an introduction to Dante's Inferno, this book works wonderfully well.

Definitely recommended.

Theological Caveat
Some of the theology Dante includes is no longer taught by the Catholic Church, which we might expect since he wrote in the early 1300s. An example would be that virtuous pagans go to Limbo in Hell which is no longer taught. (Actually, as far as I can discover, the Church never officially had teachings about Limbo, but the belief was so widespread that it might as well have been from the point of view of believers.) However, the teachings on Heaven, Hell, salvation, and redemption, are still what the Catholic Church teaches. This excerpt from John Ciardi's essay on Dante at the beginning of his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy shows the salvation theology underlying Dante's Inferno. It also gives us exactly the point denied by both Dante's Journey and another of my favorite modern Dante-inspired stories, Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
The damned are there because they offended a theological system that enforces certain consequences of suffering. But part of that theological system has also decreed that salvation was available to all men. Christ in his ransom had procured endless mercy. One need only wish to be saved, need only surrender his soul to God in a last gasp of contrition, and he will be saved. He may have to suffer at length in Purgatory, but, once there, his place is reserved in Heaven and he will in time arrive there. Purgatory is like our modern colleges: no one can flunk out of them.

It follows then, that the only way to get into Hell is to insist upon it. One must deliberately exclude himself from grace by hardening his heart against it. Hell is what the damned have actively and insistently wished for.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Discussing Science Fiction, Religion, and Some Very Good Stories

Ted Chiang's book of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others, is under discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Scott and I talk about three selected pieces that challenge us and make us think (but read them all ... anything by Chiang is pure gold).
  • “Tower of Babylon” • (1990) • novelette
  • “Story of Your Life” • (1998) • novella
  • “Hell Is the Absence of God” • (2001) • novelette

On the Highway to Hell

I've got two great modern takes on Dante's Inferno that I think you'll like. One from the science fiction shelf and the other in the tradition of hard-boiled detective novels. Read all about it in my Free Mind column at Patheos.

The Amazing Chocolate Pie


I chose well for my birthday dessert!

Read about it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

By the way, thank you so much to everyone for the outpouring of birthday wishes! We had a wonderful time sipping cocktails at Victor Tango's and sampling dishes from their "American tapas" menu.

I was blown away by the amount of thought that my family put into my gifts. This year was really unusual that way ... I'll share more about that later.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's Something About Toast

I love toast.

And never more than here.

Though it is probably not hot anymore. And nothing is worse than cold toast.

EXCEPT here.

And there's also something about OK Go. I love them too. Possibly as much as toast.

Once Again ... It is the Third Most Important Day of the Year

I say this every year, but that's just because it is always true. First is Easter, then is Christmas, then is ... my birthday!

Some people ignore their birthdays or don't want much fuss made. Not me. Everyone in the household knows it too. (To be fair, they all regard their birthdays to be the third most important day of the year.)

And I must say that this year is atypical because I keep forgetting it is my birthday, only to have friends and wellwishers surprise me with birthday wishes. What could be nicer than that?


You notice that only Jesus trumps this day for me ... so then imagine the place He holds to overcome a lifetime of "most important day of the year" before I became Christian.

Hannah showed the proper spirit several years ago when she was filling out a job application on Sunday and asked me what the date was. Then she answered her own question with, "Oh, wait. It must be the 22nd because I know Wednesday is the 25th." Yep, just like Christmas. All other dates are figured around this one.

No cake this year ...  or Strawberry Tart as I made a couple of years ago, not even Tiramisu as last year (which was tempting), but Chocolate Pie which for  struck me a few days ago as just the thing. I saw an interesting technique in Cooking Light, of all places, where you combine 3 ounces of melted chocolate with the chocolate crumbs for the crust and then freeze it. The logic is that it holds together better and (PLUS!) is more chocolatey. Rose is going to make it for me ... with real milk, not fat-free, as per their recipe.

Oh, and real whipped cream. Not that hydrogenated, ersatz fat-free Cool Whip they are calling for either. It IS a birthday, after all! And real whipped cream is so simple ... a little heavy cream, a bowl, a whisk, and a little powdered sugar. (Just because I love to share ... did you know that if you use powdered sugar in whipped cream that the cornstarch in it stabilizes the cream? So go ahead and spread it on that chocolate pie ahead of time if need be. It'll work.)

Also I love the fact that this is also St. (Padre) Pio's birthday. I still remember the sense of joy and light-heartedness that I received while reading a biography of him. It was a photo of him with his head thrown back laughing that first made me notice him. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to..."

While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.
And it is the Venerable Bede's saint day which is also very cool. You will never read a better death than that of the Venerable Bede.
On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he was decidedly worse : a swelling appeared in his feet. Nevertheless he continued to dictate cheerfully, begging his scribe to write quickly, for he did not know how long he might last, or when it might please his Maker to take him. That night he lay awake, giving thanks alway. The next morning he urged the
brethren to finish writing what they had begun, and when that was done, at nine o'clock, they walked in procession with the relics of the Saints the origin of our "perambulation day," according to the custom of the time. One stayed with him while the others were thus engaged, and after a time reminded him that there was still a chapter to finish, would it weary him to be consulted about it ? " Get out your pen and ink," was Bede's reply, " and write fast, it is no trouble to me."


Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth," Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Little Bit of Michel Gondry

Tom and I chose Be Kind, Rewind for the monthly movie night that we share with another couple. This prompted Rose to begin talking about the many excellences of director Michel Gondry. (The first of these is that every film student loves him ... and that is a feat in itself.)

All it took was for me to hear that he prefers to work "in camera" (shunning CGI whenever possible) and I became much more interested in his work (and approving ... yes, I have a prejudice that way).

Although admittedly erratic in movie excellence, I never realized that he began as a music video director.

And in watching samples on YouTube, I fell in love with this one. Keep in mind it was done all as stop motion, requiring a tremendous effort on everyone's part, not to mention many, many drum sets.

The Ogre Downstairs

The Ogre DownstairsThe Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Casper, Johnny, and Gwinny are quite unhappy when their mother marries Jack, whose dour nature and heavy handed approach to discipline lead them to dub him The Ogre. Adding to their unhappiness are their two new stepbrothers, Malcolm and Douglas, who are every bit as unappealing as The Ogre, albeit in different ways. When Jack gives each group of children a chemistry set, everyone is surprised, but no one expects magical results. However, they soon discover that some combinations of ingredients lead to such fantastic results as being literally lighter than air ... or to having inanimate objects come to life. This leads not only to great fun but opens the door to greater understanding between the children as their magical misadventures force them out of their comfortable roles of resenting others who they have not made any attempt to understand.

As with many of the books written for younger readers, this one was less interesting to me than other Wynne Jones wrote. However, also as with others of this stripe, anything by this author winds up being compelling, or such is my experience. If the reader hangs on until the last fourth of the book, the action ratchets up and the book becomes quite compelling. I would have liked to see the Ogre's character developed more, as well as his relationship with Sally. We are never shown a reason for her to be so fond of him, at least from the children's point of view. That is what keeps this book from being better than it is. However, it does end on a note of new beginnings and the beginning of everyone's attempt to understand each other better is probably the reason these characters are left fairly undeveloped.

I especially enjoyed the toffee bars, the pipe, and the dust bunnies. Confused? Read the book and you'll know what I'm talking about.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mystery on an International Level: Reviewing Mystery at Geneva

Mystery at Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings by Macaulay, Rose, Dame

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Henry Beechtree, a newspaper correspondent for the British Bolshevist, is covering the latest otherwise sleepy session of the League of Nations in Geneva, when the newly elected President – a member of the Norwegian delegation – disappears mysteriously, adding some badly needed ‘spice’ to Henry's assignment. 
I was quickly hooked by the humorous tone of this 1922 book with the naive young reporter learning his way around the League of Nations meeting when the president disappears, leaving foul play suspected. The book is moving quickly with many short chapters taking the reader rapidly from scene to scene, often changing points of view in the process. It is not difficult to keep up with and the wit and intelligence of the writing left me unwilling to listen to anything else.

This is a Librivox free audiobook. Cathy Barratt narrates a bit too quickly for my taste, but just right (probably) for those who like to put their audiobook speed on fast. Her narration seems flawless when it comes to reeling off the many foreign phrases which the book is larded with, due to the international flavor of the setting. She has a pleasant voice, good expression, and is easy on the ear.

In the end, the author surprised me with two different plot twists out of the blue. Overall, she amused me greatly with her astute, cleverly put observations about politics and human nature. Perhaps it says more than she intended at the time, when I reflect that world politics are still recognizable enough to keep her observations still timely.

Short, quick, and recommended.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Prayer Request for My Mother - Update

She is in the hospital, probably facing surgery for a long-standing ailment which has just been properly diagnosed. Weak and in pain, she is suffering.

I am so grateful that my sister is on hand. She is much savvier to the ways of hospitals and doctors than I am and is the perfect person to be there supporting my mother.

I am praying for all involved that the suffering is light, the medical staff both competent and compassionate, and that my sister's duties in this time fall lightly on her shoulders.

If you are so moved, I would appreciate your intercession on my mother's behalf. Thank you!

Thank you so much for the generous responses through comments and email. I know that there are many who plunge into prayer without stopping to comment on it. I am grateful for such a community.

My mother had surgery on Sunday, came through it well according to all accounts, and will be recovering at the hospital for ... maybe a week? Now, I can't remember and I know my sis will be updating me.

Right now, I am just stunned at the devastation of Joplin, Missouri, from tornadoes. I think this hits harder than usual because precisely a week before the tornadoes hit Joplin, we spent the night there on the way home from Chicago. Although it was a short stay, the mind's tendency is to be grateful that we were a week away from trouble and, at the same time, to think, "This is how close ultimate change can be ... a blink of an eye." In other words, it could have been us.

This is good for reminding me that it could always "be us" but nevertheless not to dwell on disaster but to enjoy the good moments as they occur. And, of course, to reach out and help those affected. Not only because it could be us at any time, but because it is the human condition to need help (though, luckily, not always because of a tornado). And we are here to give it and help one another.

Weekend Joke: Roger and Martha

Roger left for work on Friday morning. Friday was payday, so instead of going home, he stayed out the entire weekend partying with the boys and spending his entire pay packet.

Finally, Roger appeared at home on Sunday night, and obviously he was confronted by his angry wife, Martha who castigated Roger for nearly two hours with a tirade befitting his actions. Finally, Martha stopped the nagging and said to Roger, 'How would you like it if you didn't see me for two or three days?'

Roger replied grimly, 'That would be fine with me.'

Monday went by and he didn't see his Martha. Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with the same results.

By the Thursday, the swelling had gone down just enough so that Roger he could see Martha a little out of the corner of his left eye

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quick Look at a Recent Book: The Planet Savers

The Planet Savers: Including The Waterfall (Darkover Series)The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to part of this ... maybe from Librivox (?) ... and then decided that reading would be faster and keep my attention better so I downloaded a free version for the Kindle. I never have read any of the Darkover books and this early book is a great example of classic sf. It tells of two races having to come together to save one race from a deadly plague. Mirroring this is the character of Jay Allison who suffers from an internal division of his own which must also be overcome in order to not only help save lives but to save his own identity. Fascinating and attention holding, as well as a quick read. I will be looking for other Darkover novels.

What to Read Next? Help a Blogger Out.

... the hell with it has posted an impressive list of choices when trying to decide what book to begin next. (Gee, and I thought my "to read" list was long.)

Recommendations are requested so drop by and help a blogger out!

Re: The End of the World - UPDATED

To: Tom D.
Seeing as the world is ending Saturday, I'm wondering if the office is open tomorrow. Please respond in haste, trying to make last-day-on-earth plans.

Thanks and see ya on the other side!

To Laura H.
Sorry, we're only taking off the day before the Mayan end of the world.

Which means we'll get a Thursday off in 2012*. Woohoo!

In related news: Post Rapture Looting
I've been invited by Frank Weathers to the Post-Rapture Looting (since Catholics will be Left Behind, as Tim LaHaye has reliably informed us - I don't mind ... it's primarily an evangelical thing as I understand it).

What would we do without Facebook?

Time: Saturday, May 21 · 12:00pm - 3:00pm

Location: Everywhere

More Info: When everyone is gone and God's not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansion we're going to squat in.
For the Catholic take on the whole "rapture" concept as it is understood here, read more here.
*For more on the Mayan end of the world (Dec. 21, 2012), see here.

In related news: Raptor attack info
Whereas Joe believes we are defending against the wrong Raptor and that there will be dire consequences. (Check his site for thorough defense plans.)
I have been informed that the person, some Protestant minister, who has predicted the arrival of the Raptor this Sunday may be mistaken. Foolish people are trying to disprove him by the use of Scripture. I can tell you most definitely that the Scripture is silent on Velociraptor attacks. (I have checked thoroughly).
Doing the Math: Rapture + Zombie Apocalypse = Movies and Beer!
Frank's got it all together for reveling in the apocalypse ... including the beer. I love being Catholic. Someone always brings drinks along.

For more thoughtful takes ... and some that are not so thoughtful (which we always enjoy) ... The Anchoress has a Rapture Round-Up

Also, I would like to mention, in case I am upsetting anyone who sincerely believes in the rapture, that I make fun of many things. For example, the quote in the sidebar (which will be changing later in the day) shows that I can take it as well as dish it out. (From the Contemporary American Poultry episode of Community)
Troy: If God were edible - not that I'm Catholic - but if it was cool to eat God, he'd be a chicken finger.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The ONLY Catholic Blog Bringing You the Latest Zombie News

I am not sure exactly how I became the one that people think of when passing on news about zombies (ok, I know ... between World War Z and The Reapers Are The Angels, it is easy to figure out).

However, I won't look a gift horse in the mouth ... I'll just pass on the news as I get it, folks!

Zombies in the news, and that ain't the Hollywood news, but the real news ...

CDC Warns Public to Prepare for Zombie Apocalypse
I like that they know how to have fun while figuring out how to get people to read their hurricane preparedness press releases

Best Car to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
Fox News is taking the CDC's idea and running with it. Or driving it into the ground. Something like that.

Thanks to Deacon Lawrence Klimecki for sending me these breaking stories. For some very cool modern Catholic art, swing by his place. There might even be something about an apocalypse there. Just not one with zombies.

More late-breaking zombie news ... though this is really more of a preparedness plan in several parts. Thanks to Mockingbird for taking this task upon themselves. There are now five parts, but I'll start you at the beginning ... here.
Do you have a zombie plan? This is a hot question right now, right up with “What do you do for a living?” Of course, my answer is always an emphatic “Yes!” How could you not? In the event of a zomb-pocalypse, my family and I will lock all doors, retreat to the attic (via the pull-down attic entrance), cut the cord that enables someone (or someTHING) to pull down the steps, and eat and drink stored provisions. Then, during a lull in zombie activity, we will make a break for the truck, drive out to rural parts and become southern Ted Kaczynski-s. Of course. Wouldn’t you? Like Y2K.
Thanks to Tante Leonie for turning me on to Mockingbird, where you may also read excerpts of their book, The Gospel of Pixar.

Faith and zombies. Faith and animation. What's not to love?

Happy Catholic on Inside the Pages

Kris at Discerning Hearts has the podcast available of our conversation together. I really enjoyed speaking with her. Check out Discerning Hearts for all sorts of author interviews and fascinating series about many Catholic subjects.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Interesting Pieces of Catholic News

English and Welsh Bishops Reintroduce Meatless Fridays
LONDON (CNS) -- Catholics in England and Wales will be obliged to abstain from meat every Friday under a new rule brought by the bishops.

The "act of common witness" will take effect Sept. 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain.

The rule, announced at a news conference in London in mid-May, reverses a relaxation of the Friday penance regulations introduced in England and Wales in 1984. This allowed Catholics to choose their own form of Friday penance -- such as offering additional prayers, attending Mass or abstaining from alcohol.
The whole story is here. Via A Momentary Taste of Being who calls this a welcome restoration, with which I agree. Though at our house this would be more of "business as usual" as when I read about the requirement for Friday penance many years ago, I had to agree with the comment (in the Catechism maybe?) that giving up meat was one of the easiest to remember to do. And, certainly, it is one that makes one think throughout the day as we realize how much meat there is in our every day diets.

Independent Study Shows That Homosexuality, Celibacy Didn't Cause Abuse Scandal
WASHINGTON — Researchers commissioned by Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. to analyze the pattern of clergy sex abuse have concluded that homosexuality, celibacy and an all-male priesthood did not cause the scandal.

The study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York instead said that the problem was largely the result of poor seminary training and insufficient emotional support for men ordained in the 1940s and 1950s, who were not able to withstand the social upheaval they confronted as pastors in the 1960s. Crime and other deviant behavior increased overall in the United States during this period, when the rate of abuse by priests was climbing.

"The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in society generally," the report's authors said. "Factors that were invariant during the time period addressed, such as celibacy, were not responsible for the increase or decline in abuse cases over this time."
Read the entire story here. This by no means excuses such behavior or more especially the behavior of many bishops who protected the guilty at the expense of the innocent. However, it is interesting and I like the fact that it was an independent study.

Update: Whispers in the Loggia has links to the full report pdf and more.

He won! He won!

Speaking of Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find ... he ran for School Board and won the hotly contested three-way race.
Oneida County School District #351 Board of Trustees: Zone 3 
Scott Danielson 108 votes 
Deborah F. Horsley 73 votes
Arne Jones 79 votes
Congratulations, Scott!

They're lucky to get you!

Fallen: When Julie and Scott disagree.

Yes, it has finally happened. One of us loved Fallen and the other ... not so much. Here's the A Good Story is Hard to Find episode that ran last week when I was gone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We're Back! Truly a Graduation to Top All Others.

We really had a wonderful time in Chicago.

We had rooms at the Marriott Courtyard in downtown Chicago (a fantastic location on Hubbard Street) which was fairly close to Rose's apartment ... she said that she loved it because when she hung out with us in the evenings it was if she were on vacation also).

Unfortunately Tom wound up spending a fair amount of time managing the defense against a website attack against one of our clients (not sure if the attack was the result of personal malice or the desire to take the site down and then demand "ransom" but either way it was annoying).

However, Hannah and I spent most of one day at the Art Institute which has so many glorious paintings that it is impossible to choose a favorite. We spent most of our time in the impressionist galleries though as they were in storage the only other time I was there and that is what Hannah wanted to see as well.

We did break Tom away to go to the Museum of Science and Industry where our favorite exhibit was the U-505 Submarine. An actual Nazi submarine in the flesh (so to speak) and the only one captured. An amazing story and the submarine itself was fascinating. We didn't have time to see the Apollo exhibit which I feel would have come in a close second, but surely we'll be in Chicago again and there will be another chance to go there. We also spent some time strolling through the Japanese Garden behind the museum, another rehabilitated site that began as part of the Chicago World Fair. It is not only beautiful but just in the limited time we were there it was obvious that it is a wonderful place for birdwatching.

Then the graduation ... as only Columbia College probably can do it:
  • This is the only graduation I have ever been to where they really do drop balloons and the graduates all throw their caps in the air. 
  • Certainly it is the only graduation I am likely to attend where they had an hour pre-show of three musical entertainments: a gospel choir accompanied by orchestra, a jazz ensemble, and a recording/pop group. 
  • As well, there were frequent stops between speeches to feature more music, video montages, and poetry. 
  • Definitely it is the only graduation I have attended where the graduating class comes in to a specially written march that sounds like "Sing, Sing, Sing", and where the faculty literally dances up on stage to "Walk This Way" and where everyone patiently waits for the last jazz guitar solo to finish before seating themselves.
  • I was most impressed by the president of the college who actually had a personal remark for each one of the 2,000 graduates whose hand he was shaking as they crossed the stage. (This was the first of three graduation ceremonies over the weekend ... I can only imagine how sore that man's hand was at the end of Sunday.)
  • Best speech was the alumni David Cronin (sp?) ... who kept it short and honest.
I'm getting ready to dive back into work and I can see from email that quite a bit awaits me.

If I can trust my calendar then I have a Busted Halo interview tonight ... but I haven't checked email while I was gone (and it was heavenly, believe me!).

Obviously, I missed y'all and will be checking email and back here, but responses will be slow as I catch up.

Thank you for your patience!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"My wife is quoting you at me." -- Mike Aquilina

The last couple of weeks have been very, very good for Happy Catholic (the book), so I thought that I'd pass along the love (yes, boring, but at least it is just every so often, right? right!). Links are in the subheads if you want to see more.
Mike Aquilina
Who was not only kind enough to write a blurb for the cover but was good enough to further review it on his blog ... and told me via email that "my wife is quoting you at me." It don't get much better than that, folks!
I read it in manuscript, but I like it even more now that it has a bright, sunny cover. I’d read it again if I could wrest it from my wife’s grip. I suppose I’ll have to buy a second copy. But that’s OK, because it’s an excellent book to keep on hand for passing out to inquirers or fallen-away or disaffected Catholics. Julie knows how to lead readers, at just the right pace, to see the Church’s human and divine aspects for what they are: human (long sigh) and divine (wow!). For me, she defines realism because her realism reminds me so much of my mom’s and my wife’s.
Terry Fenwick liked Mike's comments so much that he wound his own Amazon review around them. High praise on two levels, that!

Listmania: The Humorous Guide to Learning More About Your Faith
Jessica says of her list, "Because, let's be honest, being Catholic is awesome and we have a great sense of humor as Catholics. If you want to know more about the Catholic faith in an entertaining way (but also in a totally faithful way), pick up one or more of these books." And I am completely gratified to be on a list with all three of John Zmirak's "Bad Catholic" books (which I love). All of the books on there are good, to be honest, so that makes me even prouder! Thank you Jessica!

... engages both contemporary and time-honored culture - Joseph R.
I know Joseph's Zombie Parent's Guide blog and so it makes his review even better for me. He posted at both Amazon and Goodreads so, for variety, I put the Goodreads link.
What I really love about the book is how it engages both contemporary and time-honored culture. Quotes range from the recent Battlestar Galactica TV show and The Onion to St. Augustine and Lao-tzu. The uniting thread is the underlying truth found in all of these: how God touches our lives in the most remarkable and most mundane ways.
You want a friend around like this! - Tom N.
Tom N. pointed out that Barnes and Noble has some Happy Catholic reviews as well, one of which is his.
Read a page or two (It's set up much like a blog - only on paper) and think about it. This book helps keep your mind in the beauty of Catholicism with all the wonders and diversity. Happy Catholic is written by a Catholic who loves to practice her faith.
For those who had inquired, I discovered that there will not be a Nook version of the book available.

Thanks to these and others who have been so generous in reviewing Happy Catholic and making their views public! Keep 'em coming!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

You have to watch "A Fistful of Paintballs"

Which takes Community's crazy good paintball episode from last season spoofing the thriller/action movie and moves it to the Western genre.

A two-parter featuring Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) as The Black Rider in part 1 and I hear we'll see Nathan Fillion (Firefly, natch) in a cameo in part 2.

The previews for part 2 were brilliant.

It's available online.

Let's face it, you should be watching Community anyway. We only stumbled across it with the brilliant Halloween episode. However, having recently finished watching the first season dvds, I have to say that this show, although spotty in brilliance from episode to episode, always has something brilliant in each show. (Generally involving Troy and Abed, but I've got a soft spot for geek bro-mance.)

Note: on rereading this, I'm not sure I said "brilliant" enough. Just to be sure you get the point.

B. R. I. L. L. I. A. N. T.

Also, in checking the Hulu feed for someone, I realized the brilliance (yes, still more!) of having the cards beside each person in the credits ... and how they tie in to the end of the episode. It took me seeing the credits again to get that.

Blogging Around: 5 Easy Pieces

From the Saturday WSJ, which just gets better and better. In the order in which the links came up in my Google reader.
  1. Demystifying the homemade souffle
    Which, let's face it, is not that hard to do anyway. And the article, surprisingly, tends to make it more intimidating by saying things like "Put a large pinch of salt in the egg whites, and if possible, leave them out of the refrigerator for a day or two before making a soufflé."

    You know what? Don't.

    Just make the souffle and don't worry about letting them sit around on the counter first. But otherwise a nice piece, especially with the bit about eating it anyway and calling it pudding if it falls.
  2. Bin Laden's followers represent a real interpretation of Islam. Why don't more Muslims challenge it?
  3. How Rembrandt reinvented Jesus
  4. Steampunk's time has come
    I knew it already (thank you, Amy H. Sturgis). But it's nice to see the WSJ with a major article letting the world know.
  5. Five winning jarred tomato sauces
    I never think to use them but this article left me wanting spaghetti and thinking maybe I'd look for one or two of these brands.
And one for the road.
  1. Ars Sacra book review featuring the image of "This Isaiah is one of the most ecstatic works of art ever coaxed from stone" which made me long for a $199 book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

When You Wake Up and Can't Smell the Coffee (Or Taste It Either): Reviewing "Season to Taste" by Molly Birnbaum

Having been admitted to the Amazon Vine Program I was eager to find a book to try that I would not normally come across. Season to Taste: How I lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way, in which Molly Birnbaum relates her loss of smell due to a head injury and intersperses her story with delving into the science of smell, filled the bill. What makes Birnbaum's loss of smell, and subsequent almost complete loss of the ability to taste, all the more painful is that she was set to go to the Culinary Institute of America to begin training as a chef. Watching her learn to deal with her unexpectedly debilitating infirmity is fascinating and is making me more aware of all the scents that make the pattern of my life.

Birnbaum is an unexpectedly good writer. Possibly because she had to focus on the visual and textural aspects of food and the world around her after losing her sense of smell, she describes her environment and experiences in a way that takes the reader into her world. This can be unexpectedly jarring when she points out aspects of scent that affect us daily in ways that we never thought about. For example, if one isn't smelling pine or mint or some other vivid fragrance, can we remember what it is like? It was rather disturbing to realize that I couldn't actually do so in the way that I can recall a flavor. These experiences enhance our appreciation for what Birnbaum and others deprived of scent go through. The science of the book was interesting and I appreciated the fact that it was interwoven with the personal story. This added gravity to Birnbaum's story and lightened the science enough to take it all in. Her quest takes her to science labs, Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, perfume experts, and a chef who managed to keep cooking despite developing tongue cancer. One of the most fascinating sections of the book was when the author went to perfume training school in France in an attempt to give her olfactory neurons additional stimulus and herself extra training to help her recognition of scents.

My one negative feeling about the book was that Birnbaum kept on worrying about how much of her sense of smell would return, even after much of it had come back. While understandable on one hand, and probably an accurate accounting of her feelings, the overall effect was to make the book was to become tedious and whiny seeming at times.

I did wonder, as the book went on and time seemed to be passing year by year, was how Birnbaum was supporting herself. A job or two is mentioned but only ever as a method of helping to cope with or try to train her limited sense of smell. At other times, she clearly is not employed and I wondered how she was able to afford living in New York City or traveling to France to attend perfume school. It didn't detract from the story but it did occur to me forcibly from time to time.

Overall, I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in cooking, taste, perfume, and the science of scent. Oh, and an interesting story well told.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Catholic and Catholic Spotlight

I had the great pleasure of chatting with Chris Cash from The Catholic Company for his podcast, Catholic Spotlight, about Happy Catholic. It was lots of fun! If you want to hear what we talked about, including some favorite quotes from the book, just click through the link to hear it.

The Catholic Company also has several copies of Happy Catholic out with their reviewers ... and it made me happy to read that the book exceeded Transitus Tiber's expectations and provided a list of books and movies to be explored, based on the quotes included!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I keep hearing that it isn't popular to pray for Osama's soul

Any time that someone dies it is a time to think of their soul and pray for them.

When someone dies with as much on his soul as Osama bin Laden had on his, it should prompt us to drop to our knees and think about the fact that he had many opportunities every day to turn away from the path of destruction, to make the right choices that would bring light into the world instead of darkness.

What small things do I let slip that can grow quickly greater without me realizing it? What small things did Osama let slip that grew beyond his desire to prune them back?

Popular has nothing to do with it.

As the Vatican statement said:
In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
So I pray for his soul. His and the souls of the others who died with him.

May God have mercy on them.

"If my clergy have a sex life, I‘d prefer not to hear the faintest whisper of it, which just goes to prove that I do regard them with a properly filial attitude."

Some in favor of changing the discipline like to argue that married clergy will be better able to plug the Church’s line on birth control, etc., to married couples. Maybe — but only if the married couples are receptive. Once, several years before entering the Church, I attended a “Victorious Christian Living” seminar at a nearby Baptist church. (I was wingman for my buddy, who went at the insistence of his girlfriend, who brought him at the insistence of her grandmother.) At the podium we found a pastor and his wife standing in front of a whiteboard. They were both wearing acid-washed denim that had gone out of style around the time of the Velvet Revolution. On the whiteboard, someone had sketched a pyramid. One end of the base was marked: “PASTOR RON”; the other, “HIS WIFE”; the peak, “GOD.”

Pastor Ron began by pointing at his wife: “I despise her flesh,” he told us.

The pastor’s wife pointed back at her husband. “And I despise his flesh,” she said, smiling demurely.

I can’t really tell you what happened after that, since I quickly jammed half my fingers in my ears and the remaining ones in my eyes.
Max Lindenman ... that guy really makes me laugh! In a good way! Go read it all.