Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Responsibility for Joy

The last few days I've been struggling with a case of the funk. Some of it has been due to recent reading - Emma's War's lack of heroes and positive outcomes has been pretty typical for the non-fiction I've been reading lately.

World news hasn't exactly been a fount of hope and joy, either. (North Korea, what are you thinking?) Memorial Day is a downer of its own - either I'm thinking of people gone, or wishing I was celebrating the day in a more traditional fashion (ie, beer and BBQ), or getting grumpy with people who are enjoying themselves this last weekend -

- and seriously, while I don't want to speak for anyone else, I would like to think that the veterans we honor on Memorial Day would want people to be celebrating and happy. I don't think they'd hold it against us -

- which is truly not the best way to look at things.

I've started and abandoned a handful of posts on this theme - about how everything is horrid and miserable and I'm going to go out into the garden and eat worms.

I even had a list of worms I was going to eat - links to all sorts of things that made me sad and unhappy.

Then I went to Mass this evening.

Today is the feast day of St Phillip Neri - a man who abandoned his studies for ordination and became a lay leader of the church. His attributes were humility and gaeity, and he, like St Francis of Assisi, was one who delighted in God.

In that spirit - in the spirit of Christ who is ever willing to look past our failures, our anger, our laziness and our indifference, and passionately pour out his love on us all, a short list of things which are more butterfly than worm:

Amy Deanne at 160acrewoods posted book review of Faith to Faith - about conversations and commonalities between Christians and non-Christians.

Another book - Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work - which might have implications for those who are trying to find a balance between work and prayer. (Or it might be something else - haven't read it yet.)

Some others may also remember Sister Wendy (the art nun) judging the Jesus 2000 painting contest, and the controversy surrounding the winning portrat. I managed to come back across the painter's web site: Jesus of the People painter. I think it really is a glorious piece of work.

A Happiness Project

And if all that is insufficent: I Can Haz Cheeseburger - I find the ongoing references to Ceiling Cat and Basement Cat funny and frequently (if accidently) profound.

Finally: Where the hell is Matt? - out in the world. Dancing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The internets are out to get me...(Book review: Emma's War)

...or, at least that's what it has seemed like this afternoon. I have a whole list of interesting links saved on a draft email that I can not get to.


Recently finished: Emma's War, by Deborah Scroggins. Non-fiction account of the 80's and 90's in Sudan, as seen via focus on a British aid worker who married a south Sudanese warlord.

Emma McCune was born and raised in Yorkshire, England, but fell in love with the idea of Africa. In tracing her path through the tangle of Western relief agencies, end-of-the-cold-war international politics, and the hair-tearing snarl of Sudan's civil war, the book is part history lesson, part cautionary moral fable, part biography, part travel-writing, and part romance.

It's about as confusing, frustrating, and anti-inspiring as you would think. Quite gripping writing, and the people involved are facinating. But I remember enough of the famines of east Sahara to be furious that nothing better came of the fighting, the relief efforts, and the aid shipped in by Western nations.

Emma's War asks more questions than it answers. It fails to have a happy ending, it fails to show the good guys winning, and in some ways it has neither good guys nor an ending.

As a sidenote to the larger drama of Emma McCune's life, the author makes note of a family of British Quakers, Chris and Clare Rolfe. The Rolfes came to the Sudan to start a micro-loan program among the refugee camps, as they had in other famine-struck regions. They were killed in 1988 in a bombing carried out by Palestinians connected with AQ. There were seven people killed - among them five British - by a bomb thrown into a hotel dining room.

Four of those British were the Rolfes - Chris and Clare, and their three year old son, and year-old daughter.

The suspects were caught, tried, and convicted. Sudanese law offered two choices - a blood price to the families of the dead, or execution. The Rolfes' families - non-violent Quakers - refused both. The families of the Sudanese killed accepted the blood price, and the convicted murderers walked out of the courthouse free men.


I don't know how to start praying about that. Or about the larger scope of the wars in Sudan. Or Afghanistan, or any of the dozens of little ugly wars that never make it to the headlines, so that I can walk through the day, unware of the specifics of other people suffering, dying, torturing, and killing.


Catholic Bridge - an information site about the Catholic faith, aimed mostly at non-Catholic Christians and intended to unwrap some of the questions that divide us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Non-Review: Stephen Lawhead's "Tuck"

...I can't review it because I haven't finished it yet.

What I can say so far is:

This is the first Robin Hood book I can remember reading that worked (mostly) from Tuck's pov.

This is not my favorite Robin Hood book. (Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin Mckinley)

I think the writing is solid, I'm not so sure about the place-setting, it's not nearly as grim/realistic in sense detail as I tend to like, and man, there's an awful lot of talking in this book.

More, later, I hope. Meanwhile, Christian sf Book tour has some actual reviews.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stem Cell Research

(Touches on that Great Evil of Our Times, Politics. Feel free to walk on past.)

I wouldn't be posting this, if Neil Gaiman hadn't put up a post here that (IMO) misrepresented the stance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on stem-cell research.

I am a strong supporter of scientific research. I strongly support research into inovations in health care and cures for chronic disease. I'm in favor of the space program, GM crops (to include animal crops) and the rational use of experimental animal models (which means I am in favor of testing medications and techniques on animals.)

But I think all of those should be pursued with caution and with strict attention to the moral and practical effects of the studies in question. (Including as simple a question as "is this the best thing for our money to be spent on today?")

I do not support the destruction of viable human embreyos embryos in scientific research. I think that - even if *no* study options were available - this practice is a long step down the slippery slope that leads to endorsement of euthanasia of the unwanted. (As a veterinarian, I recognize, respect, and use euthanasia as the valuable tool that it is. I do not support extending that tool to humans.)

I also feel that this is not an either/or arguement, that adult stem cells have been shown to be of medical use.

Because of this, I object strongly to the use of federal funds to support stem cell research that depends on the destruction of viable human embryos. If you agree with me, may I suggest that you contact and express your opinion?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Books - read, found, and so forth

Ye gods, that's what I get for nattering about 'omg, back to writing, woot!' -

- work dropping in with a vengence.


I love my job, and I'm thankful to have a job that I love. I just wish there had been less of it to love, these past few weeks.


Books - recently read, and other wise:

Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia by Jo Ann Kay McNamara. Lengthy, indepth history of Catholic female religious. (650 pages not counting the footnotes, not light reading.) And not as indepth as one would think - the scope of McNamara's book means that she skimmed over a great deal of Christian (and world) history. I can't argue against the skimming (650 pages) but I think my understanding of the subject would have been better if there had been more cross-references to secular/mainstream Church history. The sheer scope of the book was daunting, and the scholarly effort that went into it impressive. However, I kept being thrown out by the author's bias...McNamara wrote a book about religious women, but the primary opponent for this 'band of sisters' was men - not the devil, not their own natures, not the temptations of the world. I think I would have gotten more from a book with a less secular author pov and with more focus on the female interpetation of Christianity.

Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi by Donald Spoto. Brief but equally well-footnoted biography of St Francis. Presents the saint as a man undergoing constant conversion and conversation with God, and places him firmly in the context of his time. Manages to wash away the fairy-tale glitter to reveal the stunning stonework underneath the life of my favorite saint.

Now I'm working on The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain by Fernando Cervantes. Dry but fascinating.

Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction by John Rieder. A Marxist treatment of early SF. Intriguing, but the author keeps using words in a manner that I don't quite follow. Being read in bits and drabs.

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction edited by Jeff Prucher. Fun and educational. Not exactly enlightening, but I like the methodology of using citations.

The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World by Thomas M. Disch. Haven't read all of this yet, but I haven't come across a work cited yet that the author doesn't skewer in some form or other. (Same goes for authors.) Some of the ranting gets pretty brutal - Le Guin's politics are not treated kindly, here. Refreshing for its mostly even handed battering of all types and forms of SF. (I get the impression that the author loves SF, deeply and truely, and too much to not be honest about the genre.)

From the fiction reading pile:

Horizons, by Mary Rosenblum. Near-future LEO multicultural SF. Lots of action, well-fleshed out characters, few-to-none cheap grandstanding of ideals. Don't love the book, but I'm having a good time reading it. Assuming the last third holds up, I'll gladly read more by this author.

Draco Tavern, by Larry Niven. Near-future alien contact. A collection of short stories, which means some of the themes get really short shrift. But the wrting is nearly invisible, the infodumps kept to a minimum, and I keep wanting more.

(Side note: the short story "War Movie" deals with an alien race who visited Earth to make documentary movies of us killing each other. One alien, bitter at the failure of the enterprise (now that peace had mostly broken out across the globe, post-contact) tells his sob story to a human in a bar. A human woman. And I was part way through the story when I realized that in the universe of the story (and possibly the author) there was no way this human woman was military. Which...anyway.)

The Black Company by Glen Cook. Read this one first in a SFBC edition, and I'd forgotten how good it was. (Although I seem to remember later books wandering a bit.) Also - I was talking with some one about military sci-fi, and wondered if there was military fantasy. Which, yes, there is - the Black Company novels, several Turtledove novels, Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History, and others.

Recently found/rediscovered: Dossouye, by Charles Saunders. Published last year (Jan 08) - why don't people tell me about these things?!?!?! Sword & Sorcery, set in Africa, Dossouye is a warrior woman who rides a bull. Short stories first appeared in Amazons years - YEARS - back.


And now to try to do some of that writing thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Links - H1N1 and otherwise

It's been quiet because I've been busy.

(Not, alas, writing - note to self: soon as you say woot! been writing again!, life will eat you again. Best to keep it on the QT.)

Links related to work the H1N1 outbreak:

The best discovery I've made in relation to the outbreak is Virology Blog. (No, I don't follow everything in the more technical posts.) Check out the interview they linked to in Science Magazine - with the CDC.

A Washington State biosecurity firm reportedly warned of the Mexico flu spike two weeks before WHO picked up on it. (I tend to think that this is over-inflated, and doesn't give WHO enough credit.)

(Also in the out-there-but-possible theory bubble is an identification of a pig farms in Veracruz as the location of animal-to-human transmission. Making Light linked to an essay that seemed to point this as fact - looking at the source blog (another great find) I'm not so sure. The head of the Mexico Epi labs (interview here) casts doubt on the identification. FAO personnel are on-site, testing. Time will tell.)

Not as charitable a pov as some, but a thought worth considering What are our individual rights in time of plague?

Not charitable, but practical - Megan McArdle discusseslack of extra capacity in the USA healthcare system - specifically doctors and nurses. Which means - if we make it a point to provide more services to more people, we need a bigger factory to do so in. Especially if we are going to do more preventative medicine, which has a greater capacity to increase life and quality of life than pure intervention. (Comments to this post are occasionally acid but interesting.)

Links NOT related:

Sci Fi Catholic talks about an article in SF Signals dealing with religious systems in fiction.

Phil Carter - ex-Army Officer and lawyer - has a new job. I followed Carter's Intel Dump back when he was still in Law School. Don't agree with everything he says, but his perspective is valuable.

Via Instapundit, 50 Tools Everyone Should Own. There's a place for a post about this - about what it means to have those kinds of resources, and about how it would be different if the list dictated "Books Everyone Should Read" or "Places Everyone Should Visit" or "Clothes Everyone Should Wear" - about how some sorts of things are more vital than others, who makes those decisions, and what will still be important in 50 years. Don't have time for that post, though.

Also don't have time for posting about this post on...racism and science fiction/fantasy and SFF publishing and SFF fans. But. I found this post (and comments) about 100% more helpful and on-target than the bits of the LiveJournal conversations that have gone on in the last few years. Not perfect, not by a long shot, but making long strides towards being something that fixes the problem, rather than just providing a platform for yelling.

...And that will be it, as I have intentions to go write.