Sunday, August 30, 2009

At the Seminary

To let everyone know I'm alive, I'm now happily installed at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. I haven't had the chance to post before now as we have been in our tightly packed orientation week. I'll put up some more substantial posts later when I have the time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Notes on a Recurring Topic

John C. Wright has produced a six-part essay on the subject of why chastity is good, why the erosion of marriage leads to a breakdown in society, and why homosexuality is disordered:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

On a similar note, I'd like to apologize to readers for some of my posting on the same subject. I can't recall ever calling names, but at least one post I can think of off-hand (this one) is too flippant and can be read as a personal insult, which is not the way to treat people who are suffering. The post was meant to hold up as ridiculous the idea of setting aside a month to celebrate sexual preferences, but it does not work well, and can be read as a personal insult. Also, in another place where this blog appears, an old acquaintance of mine called me a religious bigot in response to my comments on the APA and reminded me that my opinions were apparently different back in high school, so this is a response to that:
You read the rough draft of my post, which contained some sarcasm the final draft did not. I'm sorry for that. I didn't realize the rough had been archived, and I did not think anyone could read the flippant line I later took out. When I deleted it, your comment went with it, so if you want to make the comment again, feel free. This time, you might try adding something to the discussion instead of calling me names. The label "bigot" is so easy to achieve these days, it is meaningless.

In regards to the quote you attribute to me, I've little doubt I said that or something like it. I said a lot of stupid things in high school, and I even meant some of them. Again I apologize to you: on a few occasions now, both back then and in the present, I have done a poor job of representing myself, my opinions, and my religion to you. My religion allows neither bigotry nor self-indulgence, and you've seen me practicing both.

I do, however, find it strange that you praise me for something thoughtless I said years ago, especially since the comment was a disparaging remark about women. When I criticize the American Psychological Association for refusing to treat homosexuals who want treatment, you call me a bigot, but when I practice misogyny, which is actually a form of bigotry, you praise me. That makes no sense to me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Road Trip, Part 4

It has been a long journey, but I'm finally in Oregon. I'm currently in Troutdale, and will be in Mount Angel tomorrow morning.

The worst part of the trip of course was yesterday--I say "yesterday," but of course what you all experienced as a day, I experienced as approximately fifty years, since I had to drive down I-84 through the Waste Lands at the base of Purgatorio, between Utah and Idaho. As you know, I-84, considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the modern world, stretches in a long, three-thousand-mile arc around the toe of the Mountain, running generally northwest. Its historic construction was costly, both in terms of money and lives, as approximately twenty-five workers died mysteriously every day during its construction, not to mention the goats sacrificed every hundred feet along its length to appease the dead who haunt the Wastes. Most of those who died in the construction died of consumption, and some speculate that their lives were sucked away by the spirits of their departed relatives.

It is a strange, twilit country, those Waste Lands. Settlements along the freeway are few: small, creaky gas stations and greasy diners, mostly; towns are rare. The sparse trees are short and twisted, no buildings stand more than a story high, the road signs are bent, and the churches, what there are of them, have no steeples, for the spirits in that land of the dead suffer nothing to stand straight and compete with the Mountain itself, which rises in impossibly steep, unending layers above the highway. The people living here are also bent, hunched, as if the heavy presence of the Mountain has pressed them, crushed them down. The nights in that country are as bright as the day, lit with an angry red glow from the Mountain's peak, which is rimmed with unquenchable fire.

Just as other gas stations on other highways sell figurines or cheap toys, the gas stations along I-84 sell amulets to ward off the dead. At my first stop, I saw a small cross, which the clerk swore was made of real silver and cold iron intertwined around a sliver of white oak bark, blessed by the pope himself. I doubt this, though: It was too cheap, and the papal runes too shoddy to be genuine. I bought it anyway.

The motels along the road are filthy, but well equipped. The beds are not like normal beds, of course, but are instead cold tables inscribed with pentacles, the lines of which--at least in the best motels--are carefully maintained to ensure against breaks where a spirit might slip in. The nightstand always has an instruction manual in several languages, and for several religions; following the instructions for Catholics, I was always careful to arrange the proper objects around the pentacle every night before sleeping: a vial of holy water, an icon of St. Michael, a blessed Bible (open to 2 Maccabees 12.43), a crucifix, a garlic clove. Tying a cord around my waist, I would lie down in the protective circle and try my best to sleep, closing my eyes against that eerie red light streaming in through the curtains.

At either end of this three-thousand-mile stretch of ugly road, at Brigham City and Twin Falls, are stations where they make you stop to ensure your vehicle is properly equipped for the arduous journey. I've been down this stretch many times before, and the questions at the stations are always the same: do you have the proper amulets? have you learned the proper spells? do you know about the time dilation? any family history of vampirism, incubii, or tuberculosis? After the ministers of seven religions had exorcised my truck, and after I had been handed the obligatory multifaith amulet to hang from the rear-view mirror (but which I threw in the trash, as no self-respecting ghost could be afraid of it), I was free to drive on--on and on, through that never-ending hell that is Purgatory, a trip of decades that takes a day. I didn't age during the journey, of course, except for my hair, which is now full of gray, but I still had to live every monotonous minute of it. Small wonder every crossroads along the way--few though they are--is choked with the graves of suicides.

But I made it. The Mountain is behind me now, and from here in the Gorge I can't even see it, though it will be visible again, that cloud-rimmed cone, when I reach Mount Angel and the view is unobstructed.

Time for photos:

The darkness and oppressive sky of the unending Wastes.


Why, it's Baker City, Oregon, my old stomping grounds, where I grew up, fell in love, and did all that other important stuff.


Sort of, but not really, a wider view of Baker City.


Baker High School, the site of much adolescent melodrama, which doesn't look as important now as it used to. Notice the sign in front there: that's a fitting sign to put up in front of a modern public school.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

Oops.

I've been on the road and visiting home, and I was about to start in on an important post I hope I can get up tomorrow or the day after, and realized I once again spaced the blog tour. That's what I get for moving and utterly changing my life during a blog tour. My apologies to all tour members and visitors who have come to this blog looking for a book discussion and instead found narcissistic personal notes. I bet you never expected to see those on a blog.

Okay, the author this month is Robin Parrish, and the novel is Offworld*; as you can guess from the title, this novel is being published in a new experimental digital format broadcast from deep space. Contact your local SETI representative for your copy.

Hm, even I can't laugh at that. Okay, that's enough for title jokes. Let's get on to content:

First, you can see Robin Parrish's website here and his blog here.

The plot summary goes like this: The crew of the first manned Mars mission returns to Earth to find everyone else on the planet has disappeared, and...wait, didn't we talk about this novel in June? (Checking old post.) No, no, this one's different, though it has the same premise of a large-scale disappearance.

Says Frederation:

My biggest complaint was that Offworld shut down my willing suspension of disbelief at several points, and that takes some doing in a story I like. There was the characters’ Wile E. Coyote-like resistance to injury, a few car stunts that would make Hollywood filmmakers blush, and a key element of the story that gave me a whole new perspective on deus ex machina. [more...]

Whoa, that's actually a recommendation in my book. (And I'll add this is the only criticism; the review at Frederation is otherwise quite positive.

Projecting A has a brief bio of Robin Parrish.

A Place Called Fiction has a book trailer as well as a sample chapter.

Now the rest of the tour:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Canadianladybug
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
Nissa
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Steve Rice
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Stephanie
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Elizabeth Williams


*Because it's off world, get it?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Road Trip, Part 3

I'm here in Kansas hanging with the fam, so I haven't had much time for blogging. The U-Haul is gone and everything in the truck is repacked, and it looks as if I'll get out of here with all the books I intended to take. A few last things to wedge in there, but I think I'll manage it. I will probably hit the road again early on Thursday.

The trip down, a total of two days, I made on a total of one complete meal, one granola bar, and two cans of caffenergy sauce. I arrived severely dehydrated and took a day to recover. I think I will treat myself a little better when I turn back around and head to Oregon, so I'm fit enough to pack all those boxes of books up to my room. Since this time I won't spend the morning of the first day packing and cleaning, I should be able to leave early and make good time even if I stop for meals.

I meant to have some Kansas photos for you; contrary to popular believe, Kansas is only mostly, and not completely, flat; I had a great view of beams of light shooting down through the clouds above the rolling plain, but it was gone by the time I found a safe place to pull over, so all I got was a lousy hill with a cloudy sky behind it. That's the second good photo I missed; I had a great rainbow on my first day, but it too had disappeared by the time I found a spot from which to take the picture.

Speaking of clouds and rainbows, I was followed by Oregonian weather on the entire trip from Utah to Kansas, and we've had intermittent thunderstorms the last couple of days, which have made my computer access especially spotty. This is, I assume, heaven's way of warming me up for things to come. On the plus side, since I assisted Mass on Sunday morning before hitting the road again, I dressed up and had, due to the weather, opportunity to wear that black greatcoat, which billows nicely in the winds of Colorado and Kansas.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Road Trip, Part 2

After much combined effort, we managed to hit the road this morning at about 10:30 or so. Weather was surprisingly wet and cold; as I'm headed for Oregon, Oregon apparently decided to visit with some weather. Today, I was in shorts. Tomorrow, I'll dress more appropriately--and it will probably be hot again.

I'm presently in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is halfway along the first leg of my first journey, the one I'm taking before I turn around and go all the way back again. Phenny and Frederick have already moved into Snuffles's cave, where they'll be living now that I'm no longer paying rent. Lucky wanted to come along for the trip because she wanted to spend time with me or something (I don't remember how she put it because I wasn't listening). Snuffles is accompanying me of course, because by grabbing the roof of the truck and flapping his wings, he can lighten the load and improve the gas mileage. He gets a lot of comments at diners, but he helps keep the cost down.

Having gone through Wyoming, my old stomping grounds, I'm reminded of just how big Wyoming skies are. When describing the sky in Wyoming in "Dragonsaint," I didn't have to exaggerate much.

The rig, ready to go.


Leaving Utah.


When the clouds look like that, it's a good sign you're in Wyoming.


Another shot of a Wyoming sky, with windmills.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Road Trip!

Tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, I was planning to start the road trip that would eventually, God willing, bring me to safe harbor at Mount Angel Abbey.

Not gonna happen.

If I'm lucky, I'll leave at noon tomorrow, after I've cleaned this apartment and found a spot for those last few items I forgot to pack. Like the toaster. Curse you, toaster.

The plan, at present, is to pack all the junk I'm not taking to seminary in a U-Haul trailer and ditch both the trailer and its contents in the town near the fairy woods where my birth parents live, and then, my truck overflowing with the goods I am taking, turn around and drive to Oregon. Fortunately, I've given myself a number of extra days for this trip because, as I just said, it's not going as planned. If I'm lucky, I'll be out of here by noon tomorrow, and I'll have to repack everything once I get to fairy woods: it seems I tried to cram too many boxes of books in my truck, leaving no room for important things. Like clothes. I must make sacrifices; do I give up my books on folklore? On religion-themed science fiction? On martial arts styles? On guerrilla warfare? This is a quandary. I have already given up so many books that must now go into storage, I hate to give up more, but life does not, after all, consist in the quantity of our possessions. Not even, alas, in the quantity of our books.

Plus, I am not getting out of here as fast as planned because I spent half the day today just picking up the trailer, which was waiting for me in another town over an hour away, a town so obscure I had to ask directions three times just to get there, and at one embarrassing point I found myself getting cross with a clerk at entirely the wrong U-Haul dealership because I couldn't follow directions properly. The trailer being in the wrong town is not anyone's fault; apparently, I had reserved the last such trailer in all of Utah, or at least within a sixty-mile radius, and that just happened to be where it was. I guess it's moving season.

I will attempt to document the road trip on my blog. Occasional photos will be forthcoming, along with some musings about why I am going to seminary at all, a subject I have meant to post on but have not, mostly because I've been too busy getting ready to go to seminary, and partly because it's a personal subject I will have difficulty discussing without publicly embarrassing myself even more than usual. Plus, it will require me to drop character; the personality I portray on this blog is mostly an exaggeration of my real personality mixed with a number of outright fictions.

After today's comedy of errors, my priest and and a good friend in town were kind enough to send me off in grand style, with a vigil Mass for tomorrow's holy day, a fine dinner, and some parting gifts. Also, this road trip already has its inside joke ("It was impossible, man, like trying to rent a U-Haul") and a large cache of caffenergy sauce, which is also taking up space that could be occupied by clothes.

Lastly, I must add, without giving too many personal details having to do with someone else, that the father of a friend mine has recently passed away. Please pray for the friend, the father, and the family.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Best Movie Ever?



This movie preview for Raging Phoenix got me so totally pumped, I nearly kicked my mom right in the face. It's the new JeeJa Yanin flick from Thailand, and though it is unfortunately still made with that "real fighting" and "real injuries" garbage...it has dance-fu! Do you hear me? Dance-fu!!! And it has JeeJa Yanin, of course, which is also a bonus, and it even claims to contain the first film presentation of Chinese Drunken Boxing vs. Drunken Muay Thai.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

St. Philomena's Feast Day!



Agh, I feel awful. Here we are into August and I completely forgot that today is the feast day of St. Philomena, [unofficial] patroness and muse of struggling, absent-minded science-fiction-writing seminarians! Some of my readers remembered my patroness better than I did and sent me reminders. For shame, Deej.

Hermeneutic of Continuity has a short write-up, and a picture I stole.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Big Brother Really Is Actually Watching You

So, the White House wants you to report on the free speech of your fellow citizens, as you can read here. It says, " If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy", you can send it flag@whitehouse.gov.

Hmm.

You can read Senator John Cornyn's response in the Washington Wire.

Karina Fabian and Ann Lewis on the Radio

Karina Fabian, who you know as the editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God and the author of the Dragon Eye, PI stories, and who I know as that person I pester all the time, was on the radio along with Ann Lewis, mystery writer, in an interview by Al Kresta. Do you want to hear them on the radio? Of course you do, so go here to hear the podcast.

Dresser on Vampires

I have just finished reading Norine Dresser's American Vampires: Fans, Victims, Practitioners, a rather unorganized look into the idea of the vampire and its impact on American culture. Dr. Dresser, a folklorist, jumps around quite a bit: she discusses a sexual perversion called oral sadism, lists vampire fan clubs, describes vampires' appearances in television and film, and in the book's best chapter, discusses a group of genetic diseases called porphyrias, which were the center of a media frenzy beginning in 1985 when Dr. David Dolphin proposed that its symptoms may have given rise in the Middle Ages to the vampire myth.

Without being too harsh with Dolphin, Dresser cites medieval legends, compares the actual symptoms of the various forms of porphyria, and thoroughly explodes Dolphin's hypothesis. Dolphin proposes that porphyria sufferers have adverse reactions to garlic; Dresser gets information from doctors indicating this is false. Dolphin proposes that porphyria sufferers could find relief by drinking blood; this is also false. Dresser also reveals that Dolphin's ideas of vampirism come mostly from the image of the creature constructed by Bram Stoker, and not from pre-existing legends.

But the most interesting part of this chapter, which makes this to me a profound book and not merely an informative one, is Dresser's discussions of porphyria sufferers who were ostracized or mocked by friends, family, and coworkers as a result of Dolphin's hypothesis (a result Dolphin hadn't anticipated). Although most of the examples Dresser cites of people making jokes about porphyria clearly meant it to be harmless, it isn't harmless to those who have the condition. This has led me to a resolution to change the way I discuss disorders--of any kind--on this blog or elsewhere. Even well-meant jokes can sting when people are suffering. I think of some of the ways I've discussed homosexuality in previous posts and am not much pleased with myself.

Also, I'm inclined to say I wish I had read this before Snuffles, Lucky, and I had written our review of Twilight. In her discussion of fan groups, particularly associated with the TV horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which began its run in 1966. Vampire romance and fangirl vampire fantasies about dangerous but alluring vampire men, rather than being merely a contemporary fad as I had supposed, have been around for decades. Stephenie Meyers has not simply capitalized on a current craze, but has instead constructed her own take on something within fandom that is both widespread and enduring. That doesn't make the romance in her book any healthier, but it does help explain why her unhealthy romance is so popular.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cementing my Bias against Psychology...

The Associated Press reports that the American Psychological Association has declared that psychologists should not treat people afflicted with homosexual desires. Here's a gem of a sentence:

Instead of seeking such change, the APA urged therapists to consider multiple options — that could range from celibacy to switching churches — for helping clients live spiritually rewarding lives in instances where their sexual orientation and religious faith conflict. [more...]

Apparently, it is no longer the job of psychologists to treat mental disorders, but it is their job to entice people away from their religions. Changing your sexual desires? That's too hard, and it might even be harmful! Let's change your entire view of reality instead--that's easy!

I cannot easily imagine changing my religion to pursue a sexual perversion, or for that matter, even a sexual non-perversion. Anyone who changes his religion for such a reason cannot possibly take religion seriously. I shudder to think what my turn at the Last Judgment would look like:


Jesus: So, after a few years of prayer and study, you became Catholic because you arrived at the the conclusion that the Catholic Church was the Church I had founded and in which I still resided. But then, after three years as a Catholic, you suddenly became Mennonite. Care to explain that?

Me: Well, you see, Jesus, there were these babes--

Yeesh. Whatever comes after that can't be very pleasant.

The same article includes a mention of Alan Chambers, former (yes, former) homosexual and president of Exodus International, which successfully treats homosexuality. I have here somewhere, unfortunately packed in a box, a document, replete with citations, by a collection of Catholic psychologists who claim a review of the literature indicates not only that changing homosexuals is possible, but that psychologists who work in that field report a 30% success rate, which they consider high. It will be interesting in the near future to see how the two sides of this issue clash over each other's research. These paragraphs in the news article are telling:

Yarhouse and a colleague, Professor Stanton Jones of Wheaton College, will be releasing findings at the APA meeting Friday from their six-year study of people who went through Exodus programs. More than half of 61 subjects either converted to heterosexuality or "disidentified" with homosexuality while embracing chastity, their study said.

To Jones and Yarhouse, their findings prove change is possible for some people, and on average the attempt to change will not be harmful.

The APA [American Psychological Association] task force took as a starting point the belief that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, not a disorder, and that it nonetheless remains stigmatized in ways that can have negative consequences. [more...]

If that last, loaded sentence is accurate, the APA's report can hardly be considered the product of unbiased scientific research. It appears that the APA's real message to homosexuals is, sorry guys, it's just not fashionable to help you.

Meanwhile, you can read here that, as the American Psychiatric Association prepares the DSM-5 (that is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which will include a new, updated list of sexual deviations, the psychologists and psychiatrists involved find themselves in a conundrum: having, with their approval of sodomy and their outright advocacy of masturbation, divorced sexuality from decency and reason, they find they just don't know how to define "normal sex." Some are even suggesting all the paraphelias be removed from the DSM (note that the article makes a qualification of that, but frankly, I don't buy it). Though the advocates of perversion will probably lose that battle this time around, it must be hard to argue with them. Once you claim that sexual desire for a member of the same sex, with whom it is impossible to actually have sex, is normal, it becomes difficult to call anything else abnormal.