Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

BBC concert

From 1970, James Taylor :) ....

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The icemen cameth today

And they brought me a new refrigerator :) Remember my past post where I mentioned that the electric company had a program that replaced low income client's old fridges with new ones for free? Here's the pic of my old refrigerator with its massive block of ice where the freezer's supposed to be ....

And here's the new one sans ice block ...

Now I can buy all the frozen stuff I've longed for but haven't been able to keep, like Dove ice cream bars :) ....

Once upon a time in Romania

Reading today about Romania's Decree 770 ...

Before 1967, the Romanian abortion policy was one of the most liberal in Europe. Because the availability of less drastic contraceptive methods was poor, abortion was the most common means of family planning.

Through a combination of modernization of the Romanian community, the high participation of women in the labor market and a low standard of living, the number of births significantly decreased since the 1950s, reaching its lowest value in 1966. However, the leaders saw the decreasing number of births mainly as a result of the decree issued in 1957 that legalized abortion.

To counter this sharp decline of the population, the Communist Party decided that the Romanian population should be increased from 23 to 30 million inhabitants. In 1967 (1966 according to some sources), decree 770 was authorized by Ceaușescu. Abortion and contraception were declared illegal, except for:

- women over 40 (later raised to 45)
- women who had already borne four children (later raised to five)
- women whose life would be threatened by carrying to term, due to medical complications
- women who were pregnant through rape or incest

To enforce the decree, society was strictly controlled. Contraceptives disappeared from the shelves and all women were forced to be monitored monthly by a gynecologist. Any detected pregnancies were followed until birth ....

I hope the Religious Right doesn't win the upcoming presidential election!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Impossible: Where Was God?

Remember this ... Where Was God? An Interview with David Bentley Hart ... and Hart's follwing book, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?? Both were about the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the question of how God could let so much suffering occur.

I was thinking about Hart when I decided to sign up for tonight's rental movie, The Impossible ...

a 2012 English-language Spanish disaster drama directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sánchez. It is based on the experience of María Belón and her family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The cast includes Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland.

Here's the trailer ...

And here's a bit of Roger Ebert's review, in which he gave the film 4 stars ...

[...] As “The Impossible” begins, all is quiet at a peaceful resort beach in Thailand. Seconds later, victims are swept up like matchsticks. The film is dominated by human figures: a young British couple, Maria and Henry Bennett (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor), and their three young sons, Lucas, Simon and Thomas (Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin). All five fear they will never see their loved ones again.

In the earlier Eastwood film [Hereafter], they seem the victims of cruel destiny singling out a fate, perhaps foretold. In the Bayona film, have they been doomed by destiny? Seated in a dark theater, I reached out my hand for that of my wife’s. She and I had visited the same beach and discussed visiting it with our children and grandchildren. An icy finger ran slowly down our spines.

Such a connection can be terrifying. What does it mean? We are the playthings of the gods ....

I decided to watch the movie after seeing the interview with Ewan McGregor, but though the movie was really good, I wish I hadn't rented it after all. The scenes of the tsunami and the suffering of all its victims (human and animal) just added to my already existing worries about how God could allow such things to happen.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Books for the Spiritual But Not Religious

From the The Huffington Post: 26 Books Every 'Spiritual But Not Religious' Seeker Should Read. I've actually read a few of the books on the list ...

- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

- The Shack by Wm. Paul Young ... I posted about this book a couple of times: Me and The Shack and Ben Witherington/antinomy

- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

- The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch ... actually, I watched the video lecture instead.

- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Check out the article for the other books on the list.

Walking today

- Keith Ward, an Anglican priest as well as a philosophy/theology professor, often preaches at the Church of England parish church of Saint Michael in Cumnor

Today as I walked I listened to an interview with Keith Ward by Rachael Kohn. The interview took place at his home in Cumnor, and it touches on his book, Re-thinking Christianity, and on the personal relationship people can have with God ...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stargate Universe

The latest tv show I've been trying is Stargate Universe ...

a Canadian-American military science fiction television series and part of MGM's Stargate franchise. It follows the adventures of a present-day, multinational exploration team traveling on the Ancient spaceship Destiny over several billion light years distant from the Milky Way Galaxy. They evacuated there and are now trying to figure out a way to return to Earth, while simultaneously trying to explore and to survive in their unknown area of the universe.

I think I watched a few episodes when this first came out, but for some reason I abandoned it. I've started watching again partly because I realized that one of the main characters of the show is played by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, who plays one of my favorite characters, Rumplestiltskin, on Once Upon a Time. Here the redeemed Rumplestiltskin proposes marriage :) ...

But anyway, so far Stargate Universe is pretty ok - more R-rated-ish than the other Stargate shows - and sometimes General Jack O'Neill of Stargate SG-1 makes an appearance :)

Here's a sample ...

"The Second Victim"

Saw this in an article in the LA Times today ...

[...] Some anti-choice activists have suggested that clinics literally hold women down and force them to have abortions. But most people floating the "coerced abortion" myth are more subtle. They pretend that unscrupulous boyfriends and clinic workers exploit women's supposed inability to make rational decisions when emotional.

In 2007, the National Review hosted a forum in which anti-choice activists laid out the theory that women are too stupid — though they shied away from that word — to make a fully informed choice to end a pregnancy. The woman is the "second victim of abortion," argued Dorinda C. Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund. Villanova University law professor Joseph Dellapenna concurred, saying, "Women were victims of the abortion and not perpetrators."

Throughout the forum, participants advanced the notion that women choose abortion because the poor dears don't know "abortion for what it is" because "health and legal authorities fail to tell them," as Catholic blogger Pia de Solenni put it. And so, as Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, claimed, abortion bans are about "protection, not punishment."

In other words, much as we have laws that say a minor is too immature to consent to sex, we ought to shield women — lifelong minors, effectively — from making choices about their own bodies.

The ignorance argument is all over the latest attacks on Planned Parenthood. David Daleiden, the head of the Center for Medical Progress, told the National Review that if he had a chance to ask Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, anything, "I would ask her if she knows abortion the way Planned Parenthood providers know abortion." ...

For some reason, pro-life people don't seem to see women who choose to get an abortion as moral agents able to make coherent choices. I can't help thinking this idea of women as second victims is just a disingenuous way to avoid what would be a very unpopular but logical conclusion of pro-life beliefs .... that women who get abortions are baby killers. Perhaps it's in part this blame-shifting that has lead to the murder of clinic doctors and staff.

And this from The New Yorker: Planned Parenthood Means Fewer Abortions

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How can *I* take ok photos?

Someone mentioned recently that it was surprising that, given my vision problem, I can take in-focus photos. Actually I usually can't ;)

I went though most of my life never owning a camera - too expensive and also, with the growing eye problem, impossible for me to focus. But after my mom died I had some extra money and by then cameras had auto-focusing capabilities. My friend Susan was always posting beautiful photos online and so I asked her advice about cameras - she pointed me towards the Olympus C-740 3MP Digital Camera with 10x Optical Zoom - it doesn't cost much now but at the time, 13 years ago, I think it was about $300. Here's a photo of the back of it, from the Amazon page ...

So, now I had a camera that could focus for me :) and all I had to do was point it in the right direction and hope for the best. Unfortunately it isn't that easy. The camera has trouble distinguishing what I want focused on and I usually have to take a multitude of photos to get even one that is in focus - sometimes none of the 20 or so I can take at once are in focus. Usually I delete the bad ones, but here's what most of my photos look like when I first put them on the computer ;) ...

- supposed to be the roses in focus, not the trees

- my fridge ... it hurts to look even at this ;)

- eeek! I cut off his head!

So, if anything does turn out ok, it's a combination of luck and the auto-focus :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Walking while listening to actors

I got tired of listening to music, so the latest things I'm listening to to help distract me from my sore knee as I walk are interviews of actors by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. They are pretty interesting and last long enough for me to get some useful exercise, so I've bookmarked a bunch of them to watch in the coming days - there's one of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart for X-Men fans like me :) - but the one I listened to today was of Ewan McGregor ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


- Meat-Eaters Are The Number One Cause Of Worldwide Species Extinction, New Study Warns. ... so now I'm waiting for the pope to tell Catholics to become vegetarians like me.

- Hiroshima by John Hersey

- Catholic church in Scotland asks forgiveness from child abuse victims ... A commission chaired by Andrew McLellan, a former prisons inspector, had told the church that an apology for the abuse and comprehensive action by the church to make reparations and overhaul its procedures was essential for the future of Catholicism in Scotland.

- Investigations turn up no Planned Parenthood wrongdoing ... In light of the recent controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood, quite a few states launched their own investigations into whether the health care organization is honoring relevant laws. The Huffington Post reported Friday that the group passed its tests with flying colors: every state that investigated “found area Planned Parenthood affiliates to be in full compliance with state laws and regulations.”

- Americans Still Back Family Planning Services at Planned Parenthood, New Poll Shows ... A majority of Americans, including Republicans, support the current federal funding system for Planned Parenthood, according to a new poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos. That’s despite relentless efforts from anti-choice activists this summer to demonize the organization.

- Jesuit says priests should be able to marry ... He says the discussion of priests marrying has come as a result, in part, of “the fallout of the priest sexual abuse problem.” “Some good things” have evolved since then, he says, “and one is this question of openness to a priest's physical and psychological health. The second is that the hierarchy, the leadership, that we have needs to be more open and transparent and admit problems and faults as they happen and that we're not above the law. Those two things are a direct result of the scandal.”

- The 27 Best Feeds to Follow in the World of Science

- Clinton Says She Opposes Arctic Drilling One Day After Obama Approves Arctic Drilling .... I'm definitely voting for Hillary :)

- How Big Pharma Used Feminism To Get The “Female Viagra” Approved. I wrote about this drug in an earlier post and as I mentioned then... It's been in the news as a kind of Viagra for women, but it's a very different kind of drug -- Viagra make men who want to have sex with someone physically able to do so -- Flibanserin makes women who *don't* want to have sex with someone change their minds. For some reason I find that a bit creepy.Here's more reading on it: Flibanserin Sparks Debate About Women And Sexuality

Monday, August 17, 2015

Heh :)

I'm still reading The Martian and I've come to the place where NASA has finally realized that the main character, astronaut Mark Watney, marooned on Mars, is not dead after all, but, you know, marooned instead. A couple of NASA execs feel the pathos of the situation, and then we see the latest journal entry from Watney ....

“What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Martian

The latest book I've been reading is The Martian: A Novel. Here's the Booklist blurb from the Amazon page ...

Remember Man Plus, Frederik Pohl’s award-winning 1976 novel about a cyborg astronaut who’s sent, alone, to Mars? Imagine, instead, that the astronaut was just a regular guy, part of a team sent to the red planet, and that, through a series of tragic events, he’s left behind, stranded and facing certain death. That’s the premise of this gripping and (given its subject matter) startlingly plausible novel. The story is told mostly through the log entries of astronaut Mark Watney, chronicling his efforts to survive: making the prefab habitat livable and finding a way to grow food, make water, and get himself off the planet. Interspersed among the log entries are sections told from the point of view of the NASA specialists, back on Earth, who discover that Watney is not dead (as everyone assumed) and scramble together a rescue plan. There are some inevitable similarities between the book and the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but where the movie was a broad sci-fi adventure, the novel is a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man’s ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Riveting. --David Pitt

You can probably get a good idea of the book from the customer reviews - there are more than 14,000 of them! I learned of the book when I saw a trailer for the Ridley Scott movie that's been made from the book ...

I'm just a bit into the book so far but I already know more about growing potatoes than anybody has a right to ;) Here's a review of the book from the Wall Street Journal - Book Review: 'The Martian' by Andy Weir | 'Red Rising' by Pierce Brown ... An unheralded author has written the best pure sci-fi novel in years.

Unrepentant women

Newsweek weighs in on this question of why conservatives really hate Planned Parenthood ...

[...] If you want fewer abortions, keeping Planned Parenthood open would be a better strategy [than defunding it].

So why might politicians want to restrict access to safe, effective birth control? Being able to plan and avoid pregnancies by using birth control empowers women to enjoy their sexuality. And why might politicians want to dissuade women from that?


As Rickie Solinger, historian of women’s sexuality and the politics of birth control in the United States, has argued, when women’s independence is facilitated by their ability to time pregnancy and childbirth, that independence is seen as “fearsome.” It is seen as a rejection of motherhood as the pinnacle of women’s lives, Solinger persuasively argues.

By providing women access to safe and affordable birth control and abortion, Planned Parenthood enables women to be fearsomely free in determining the trajectory of their lives. Being able to plan and avoid and terminate pregnancies allows women to work for pay outside the home when they need or want to. It allows women to leave bad relationships and stay in good ones. It allows women access to education and promotions and other opportunities that, in 2015, are still constrained when women reproduce.

When legislators in Alabama, New Hampshire and Louisiana vote to defund Planned Parenthood, they are participating in a politics that would ask us to return to second-class citizenship. They are parroting a rhetoric that expresses fear of women’s sexuality. And they are engaging in actions that will deny women access to vital health care, reduce rates of abortion and improve maternal lives ...

I think this is not only true for conservative politicians but for the conservative religious people as well. I believe one of the reasons pro-life people hate Planned Parenthood so much is that to them the organization represents unrepentant women: women who are unapologetic about having sex lives that might be an end in themselves.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Faith leaders *for* Planned Parenthood, and more

- Faith Leaders: ‘A World Without Planned Parenthood Would Be Disastrous’ ... Faith groups are speaking out about their support for Planned Parenthood, offering a prayerful defense of the national women’s health organization after a series of misleading videos sparked a movement to end its federal funding .... a group of more than 50 faith-based organizations signed on to a letter urging the Senate to end the push to defund Planned Parenthood, proclaiming “a world without Planned Parenthood would be disastrous for many women and their families.”

- Fact Check: Was Planned Parenthood Started To 'Control' The Black Population? ... In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center, surveyed all known abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood clinics, in the U.S. (nearly 2,000) and found that 60 percent are in majority-white neighborhoods .... in 2013, 14 percent of its [Planned Parenthood's] patients nationwide were black. That's nearly equal to the proportion of the African-American population in the U.S.

- What would happen if the U.S. defunded Planned Parenthood? ... It would destabilize the progress the U.S. has made toward fewer abortions and unwanted pregnancies .... It would create a large gap in reproductive care for lower-income patients.

- Obama Administration Warning: States Defunding Planned Parenthood Violating Federal Law ... The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) advised officials in Louisiana and Alabama that their efforts to terminate Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood may illegally restrict beneficiary access by not permitting recipients to get services from providers of their choice,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Listening and walking

Yesterday and today I didn't listen to music as I walked, but instead I listened to a talk by theoretical physicist Brian Greene on his book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. I've actually checked out this book a few times from the library and each time the ideas have been so disturbing ;) that I've given up. I think multiple universe/parallel universe possibilities are so intriguing and attractive, but I have no science background and all my knowledge on the subject comes from science fiction. Maybe I'll give the book another try. Anyway, the talk was very interesting and for a while I was able to forget my knee hurt :) ....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A disingenuous argument

Reading this article at First Thoughts ... Why Animal Lovers Should Abhor Planned Parenthood. The writer tries to draw a comparison between the plight of animals and the plight of fetuses, especially after the release of the Planned Parenthood videos, and tells animal lovers they cannot also be pro-choice. I think the argument made is misleading. Here's a bit of this article ...

[...] So powerful are the videos that some people are already talking about them as a turning point in the public perception of abortion — as the pro-life movement’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin ....

I wonder whether those videos might reconfigure our moral landscape in one other way. For many years now, the similarities between the industrialized, cavalier trashing of human life and the industrialized, cavalier trashing of animal life have been plain for anyone to see — at least for people who could bear to look. No, I am not saying with PETA president Ingrid Newkirk that a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. I’m saying that visual evidence of the mistreatment of animals has changed society, its carnivores and its non-carnivores alike; that many more people than before want to disengage their consumer and other choices from animal suffering; and that maybe, just maybe, the Planned Parenthood footage will make other people out there think twice about the moral connection between born animals and unborn human beings.

For whatever those videos reveal of the inner workings of the abortion industry, they point as well to this related truth: Defending animal welfare while remaining adamantly pro-choice with respect to the abortion of human animals is not morally and intellectually sustainable. As an argument retaining any credibility, it’s over ...

Maybe I'm an anomaly among animal lovers, but I think the conclusion reached in this article is wrong. I do defend animal welfare but I am also pro-choice. Why? Because there are differences between animals and embryos/fetuses.

What motivates most animal lovers to defend animal welfare is the conviction that animals are in some sense "persons" capable of self-consciousness, thinking, feeling, relating to others, and of suffering. And I think this is why the pro-life argument to animal lovers is disingenuous .... Christians are usually pointing out the differences between animals and humans, always to animals' detriment (animals have no souls, only humans do, so it's ok to use animals for research, entertainment, food) and I doubt the writer would accept a turn-around of their thesis - that all pro-lifers must work for animal welfare. Pro-life people don't fight contraception and abortion because they believe embryos and fetuses are "persons" capable of self-consciousness, thinking, feeling, relating, or suffering, but because embryos and fetuses are human. The impetus behind the animal welfare movement and the pro-life movement is different.

Two down and two to go

Today my sister helped me catch two of the kittens in the yard - the little Siamese and Daisy. They were the most trusting, so they were the easiest to capture :( I hope that the vet will find good homes for them and that their lives will be better than they would have been with me and the nine adult cats already here! Later this week we'll try to catch the other two. Missing Daisy :(

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Republicans' long con?

I can't help wondering if Donald Trump exists as a Republican candidate for one reason - to make the other Republican candidates look reasonable in comparison. Today I saw an article which articulated how this is working out ... As Long As Donald Trump Is Running, Conservatives Oppose Misogyny. Here's the beginning of the article ...

If last Thursday's Republican debate was a trap, intended to lure Donald Trump into finally bringing his embarrassing campaign to an end, then Megyn Kelly was the perfect bait. Blonde, pretty, and impertinent: The only way she could have pushed Trump's buttons harder is if she'd asked him a question about alimony. She pressed him on his history of misogynist comments, no doubt knowing that the best way to send a sexist twit into a tantrum is to point out that he is a sexist twit ....

But it doesn't matter! Whatever Donald Trump meant by the comment, the opportunity is ripe for various Republicans to strike offended poses about the evils of misogyny. Those poses have been awkward, to say the least. Take, for instance, Scott Walker, who tweeted on Saturday that "there's no excuse for Trump's comments." Walker also explained during Thursday's debate that women should be denied abortions even at the risk of the woman losing her life. Trump has a nasty mouth, but hey, at least he doesn't think pregnancy should carry a potential death sentence.

Or take Jeb Bush, who fumed, “Give me a break. Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters? What Donald Trump said is wrong." Bush arguably insulted 53 percent of all voters when, as Florida governor, he muscled in on two cases to prevent a mentally disabled rape victim and a 13-year-old ward of the state from obtaining abortions, because one of the tenets of a "culture of life" is that children and the disabled be forced to give birth after being raped. But no period jokes! ......

Friday, August 07, 2015

Didn't see the GOP presidential debate

But have seen a few commentaries on it. (I like Amy Davidson's comments) But still, this was my favorite ;) ...