Apr 272015
 

I have been going through the whole Doctor Who series. I am a bit of completionist and so this was an appealing idea for me. Although considering how many of th early episodes for the first two doctors were lost it is rather frustrating.

Like many Americans my first real introduction to Doctor Who was the fourth doctor Tom Baker via PBS. Although in my case I was aware of Doctor Who much earlier. My father was one of the hosts on a weekly show called Sinister Cinema for the local ABC channel in Portland. Each Saturday Night they would play two movies of the horror, SF, or fantasy genre. I ended up doing some research for the show finding trivia and other information regarding the two movies that they could refer to during the show. A rather ideal job for me since I loved these genres and spending time in the library doing research was a bonus. So when Doctor Who and the Daleks was scheduled to be on I had my first look at this series. Unfortunately the movie with Peter Cushing as Doctor Who was not very good at all. Yet I did learn about the series that was such a phenomenon in Britain, but virtually unknown in the United States.

So Tom Baker’s Doctor Who is what I grew to associate with the series and came to greatly enjoy it. So now in my viewing I have watched the first 11 seasons and am finally arrived at the shows for the 4th Doctor. For the most part I have been getting the DVDs from Netflix, although they have some episodes for streaming. It is also not hard to find the same episodes at places like dailymotion.com.

Still looking back at these old shows has been a lot of fun. There was a lot I came to like about the first Doctor William Hartnell. Especially after he had grown into the part. The first episodes were rather rough, but you could tell when he really started to have fun with the part. I also liked the mix of characters. Usually with Doctor Who you have just the Doctor and the “companion”, the young women that accompanies the adventures. Occasionaly another male character would enter into the mix. With the first Doctor you had the “companion” along with another women and man. I thought this worked quite well as you had a steady core of characters that would interact and provide dramatic tension. Considering that the first Doctor was much older than subsequent Doctors, this larger group worked well for the stories. This allowed travel to different planets while having a core group of people. While you expect Doctor Who to be quite campy, the fight scenes involving William Russell who played the young man in the group were quite awful and clumsy. Still the stories were mostly good and there was lots of creativity involving costumes.

The second Doctor, Patrick Troughton was quite fun. But since so many episodes involving him were lost I did not really see him in the full context of the series. The transition from the 1st to 2nd Doctor via regeneration is lost including the first use of the sonic screwdriver. Still you could see from the episodes that survived is that he had lots of fun with the part. So it was nice to see him again in the episodes for “The Three Doctors” where the first three Doctors all appear and Troughton is especially involved. The number of traveling companions is now reduced, but to make up for more continuity of characters we now have UNIT headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and other recurring characters as part of UNIT.

The episodes for the third Doctor Jon Pertwee have been preserved and so it was nice to see full seasons involving him and to finally have the regeneration scene along with the transition involved. A quite enjoyable Doctor who made being a bit of a dandy work. His final series of episodes under the title of “Planet of the Spiders” was an excellent send off for him. I just totally enjoyed it and even though the spiders were as fake as can be, there was still something frightening about how they did the effects. Really they were portrayed as Daleks with eight legs since they had similar arrogance and tone in how they spoke. I suspect there was a rather purposeful homage to James Bond since the Doctor’s vehicles and chase scenes were quite reminiscent. In fact in the episode after this with Tom Baker they refer to James Bond. Pertree seems to have also introduced a Doctor much more capable at fighting.

So last night I watched the episodes for “Robot” which introduces Tom Baker as the forth Doctor. So I was happy to find that I was still delighted with his performance as the Doctor and can remember why I had previously so enjoyed his portrayal. There was a lot I liked in each of the preceding Doctors, but there was a wacky enthusiasm to his performance that was just perfect.

Watching him this time around he instantly reminded me of Harpo Marx in his looks and facials gestures. He even did a pocket prop gag like Harpo. A quick Google searched confirmed that a lot of people see this likeness. He has a different form of clownishness than Patrick Troughton. I always liked the sort of self-awareness of the campy style of the show by the actors in the show.

So who is my favorite Doctor Who? Well I kind of like them all, but certainly Tom Baker brings back fond memories. I have also seen the rebooted Doctor Who series when they started back up with the 9th Doctor. Although during the first year of Matt Smith as Doctor Who my DVR rebelled against me and decided not to record any new episodes on BBC America. So I guess I will get back to these shows after I watched all the old episodes and there are still a lot of older episodes to go.

Mar 162015
 

My RSS feed is chock full of Catholic blogs, Catholic news sites, and other news sources. So often I am doing much more skimming than reading. Sampling what catches my interest. There are exceptions to this and a dozen blogs or so that I read every entry.

One example of this is Thomas L. McDonald’s God and the Machine. He writes on Catholicism, technology, gaming, history, with occasional forays into more political subjects. Often the topics he covers don’t fit into just one category but spillover. Even when his areas of interest don’t line up with my own I still find myself interested in what he has to say.

His posting today was a good indicator of the variety of his topics and the excellence of his writing regarding them.

First off there was another post in the series “How I Pray” series this time with Al Kresta. I’ve pretty much stopped listening to “talk radio” except in the case of Al Kresta’s show via podcast. So when I saw today’s entry in this series was from him I knew it would be something special and it was. One thing I so love about this series is the honesty of those who have responded. It might be an odd-encouragement to see the struggles of others in their prayer life, but it is the solidarity of those attempting to grow in holiness. I’ve learned something from each author in this series. Last week’s entry by Amy Welborn was also exceptional, but really there hasn’t been an entry that wasn’t worth reading (possibly even my own contribution).

He also writes for the National Catholic Register and his piece today on net neutrality was also exemplary. Net Neutrality Needs to Be Done the Right Way. This is a complicated subject that is not well explained as echoed via the various political divides. I have heard and read much discussed about the subject over the years with many opinions regarding this. Still what is best about this article is that it was written not just for geeks like myself, but for a more general audience – not an easy task. His conclusions concur with my own, but that’s not his fault.

Also today he posted Exorcising A Possessed Statue of The Virgin Mary and Child which is perfect linkbait for me. His posts on Catholic art history often have the bizarre and this is no exception. All I know is that if I ever need to create a costume for Halloween I will go as St. Peter Martyr.

Feb 282015
 

I pretty much never comment on deaths of celebrities other than just a personal prayer for them. Mainly because such comments would be more talking about myself and the celebrities impact than the person who has died. Kind of like a Obama’s White House photo in tribute that of course was a picture of himself and not Leonard Nimoy.

Still this time I have to indulge. Looking back I had two childhood heroes that I wanted to imitate. Sherlock Holmes and Spock. Not a big surprise they were both fictional characters and why they appealed to me as an atheist with stoical tendencies. I mentioned this fact to a coworker who is an atheist after the news and he admitted the same two heroes.

At least in the case of Spock there was a real person behind the character whose skills brought the character to life. I follow hardly any “celebrities” on Twitter, but Leonard Nimoy was one of them. It is nice to watch a career of an actor and never have the reveal that in their personal life they were a jerk. That in reality they were a class act. His personal life was not without flaws, but they were ones he mostly overcame. Still it is easy to love someone who wrote two biographies I am not Spock and I am Spock.

As both now a Catholic and someone who believe in eternal life I can say LLAP to Leonard Nimoy and mean it. I do find it odd that many people who don’t believe in eternal life are using LLAP in regards to his death, seems rather ironic.

Another interesting aspect is the reaction to his death by such a large segment of people. As a geek it is pretty awesome to see that an actor who is mostly known for playing a character in a SF series has had such a profound response. The mainstreaming of SF via Star Trek and Star Wars goes beyond the commercialization and has opened new generations to my lifetime favorite genre.

I am also reminded of SF author John C. Wright’s quote “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”

This appeals to me as someone who aspired to be a Vulcan, but is much happier as a Catholic.

So Requiescat in Pace and Live and Prosper Leonard Nimoy.

LLAP (Live Love Avoid Purgatory)

Jan 222015
 

Lifted from Brandon Vogh’s blog regarding a great book I previously reviewed.

Some REALLY exciting news on this otherwise sobering day:

Today, January 22, 2015, marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion throughout the United States. In an effort to combat abortion and spread the gospel of life, Catholic Answers is offering Trent Horn’s tremendous new book, Persuasive Pro Life: How to Talk About Our Culture’s Toughest Issue, as a completely FREE download.

Those who follow Trent’s work, or who have seen this book, know that it’s simply the best book out there on pro-life apologetics. If you want to become more confident and effective at defending the dignity of life, this is definitely the book you want.

This free offer is exclusively for the Amazon Kindle version of the book, and ends on midnight, January 24. Just click here to download your FREE copy.

NOTE: You do not have to own a Kindle device to read this free book. You can instantly begin reading the book online through Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader, or download their free Kindle apps onto your computer, phone, or tablet.

Sep 222014
 

I had toyed with the idea of having a blog post with the title of “The Golden Age of Catholicism” which just had the title and the body of the post was blank. To illustrate the idea that there never was such a golden age.

Charles Dicken’s summed up Church history perfectly even if he wasn’t referring to it

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – A Tale of Two Cities

Church history frankly is messy and it started out that way. You don’t read St. Paul and come away with the idea that everybody was properly catechized and faithful. We are always on the cusp of some heresy, in the decline of one, or amidst one.

Sometimes we will idealize a previous generation because of a numeric superiority of priests and those in religious life. We talk about the last forty years or so of bad catechesis as if we had ever been fully catechized. No doubt the quality of catechesis has waxed and wained over generations due to multiple factors. Yet those generations who were supposedly more fully catechized managed to fall apart despite this and to pass along a diminishment in teaching.

When we look at the problems of the day it is easy to look fondly on a time without those exact same problems not fully realizing that they either had a different set of problems or roughly the same set. That each age if full of people with original sin and all that it entails. It is certainly a laudable thing to identify positive aspects of the past and want to bring them forward. The problem comes in when we have a wistful affection of the past that is devoid of the problems of that time also.

It is quite easy to be a critic of the times you live in, not as easy to see the good among the bad.

“The Reformer is always right about what’s wrong. However, he’s often wrong about what is right.” G.K. Chesterton

We can read the sign of the times and despair or we can read those same signs and be a saint. The universal call to holiness has nothing to do with the time period you live in. We are called to “Pick up the cross daily” precisely because our crosses will never be in short supply. Seemingly so many paths to anger and few to prayer, yet this is but the crossroads of what direction we travel in reaction to events. It is just and right to be scandalized by sin, but it is neither to further scandalize others by our reaction to this.

Whether it is the best of times, or the worst of times; our commitment to Christ and spreading the Gospel remains the same.

Now this post is not meant to show an example of any kind of wisdom. Often I find myself not writing posts for others, but to preach to myself my own faults.

Aug 272014
 

From a post by John C. Wright where he responds to one of his readers.

I’m fairly certain, if God is indeed maximally good and therefore would do everything he could to draw people, free agents, towards him, the greatest good, that logically, the best option would be to reveal himself not just occasionally, but always so that there can be no doubt as to his existence.

For though the heart of the atheist and other non-believers may be hard, and their minds closed off, I’m fairly certain even Dawkins and Osama Bin-Laden would have gotten on their knees and prayed for forgiveness and most likely would NOT have even needed to do so if God was always undeniably present.

What deficiencies, if any, are there on this option

Have you ever been an atheist? I was. I would have defied God to his face, and blasphemed the Holy Spirit. I solemnly assure you that I would have. The coyness of God is the only thing that saved from the one thing the Bible clearly says is an unforgivable sin. …

Now I can certainly identify with that. The idea that even if you see a miracle that you will instantly accept God really does not necessarily follow. It is a common complaint among atheists that both deny God and demand that he reveal himself to them. It is a nice idea that when we are provided by evidence that our philosophies will instantly change to take this new information in in. A nice idea absolutely refuted by human nature.

I know from my only life that what Mr. Wright says about defying God to his face is not just hyperbole. I know this since I have done such. Once when returning from an pre-deployment workup at sea my wife had told me about a miracle, one that she and our kids witnessed and that she had the benefit of. I have never had any reason to doubt the testimony of my wife or my children, but in this case I could do nothing but doubt. My philosophy as an atheist did not allow miracles and such they could not exist. So I was quite willing to totally ignore their testimony and come up with alternate theories to explain it.

Years later I was to experience an aspect of what they witnessed. This happened as I had started to believe in God. I accepted that there were miracles, but still I tested what I experienced to see if there was a natural explanation. I realized later how this was juxtaposed in relation to the testimony of my family. As a believer I could accept miracles, but deny or question specific ones and subject them to reason. “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) As an atheist I could only deny them with no need to question further.

A nice antidote to this idea of God revealing himself to remove all doubt need only to read the Book of Exodus. God continuously revealed himself to them and yet they disobeyed him at every corner. They witness countless miracles and did nothing but whine and build idols. Now even for those who do not accept the events in the Book of Exodus, still you can read this as literature and find nothing contrary to human nature. I have a hard time for even a skeptical reader to read the story and then say “There is no way they would act such after seeing such miracles and the constant presence of the pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.” You could reject this as a story, but not reject that is was an accurate portrayal of human nature.

Another interesting example is the story of Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel who witnessed two miracles at Lourdes and still could not bring himself to believe it was anything more than natural forces at work. For details see this article by the late Rev. Stanley L. Jaki.

Note: Post title is lifted from Mr. Wright’s post title.

Jul 312014
 

There was part of the Gene Wolfe interview I wanted to break out into a separate post.

I know you thought Algis Budrys a tremendous writer.

A. J. was a friend. I admired _Who_ [1958] enormously. The plot of _Rogue Moon _[1960] is striking: Budrys tells us that if you destroyed a man here and reconstituted him somewhere else, you’re fooling yourself if you think that the reconstituted man is the same as the original man. The man who goes into the matter transmitter is going to go dark; he’s going to die. You can create a new man with the memories of the dead man; but that doesn’t mean that the dead man is still alive. The dead man is dead.

A copied man turns up in _The Fifth Head of Cerberus_: a robotic simulation of the narrator’s great-grandfather. Mr. Million says, helplessly: “He—I—am dead.”

This describes perfectly some thoughts I had after becoming Catholic and thinking about the Star Trek transporter. Sure they had many plots where something went wrong with the transporter, but really everytime it was used something went horribly wrong. Now I know the idea of the transporter came about in the show as a way to save money regarding expensive set and model building for landings.

The the materialist the idea of the transformer involving dematerialization and subsequent rematerialization makes sense. If we are just material beings than copying our bodies down to the cellular level, converting it to data, destroying the source, transmitting the data, and then making a new copy based on the data raises no hackles.

From the Catholic point of view (and tongue-in-cheek) the transporter is a device of horror. Not only did the red shirts often die, but the so did those wearing green, gold, and blue shirts! Really during the series Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and the rest of them are killed hundreds of times and their copies go on. And they thought the Bearded Spock universe was evil? Really viewing Star Trek this way is quite scary, “Oh no they killed them all again”.

As St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church would attest the soul is the form of the body. Something that can’t be encoded into data, transmitted, and reconstituted.

In literature we sometimes find plots involving teleportation from the magical to the SF story. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Disintegration Machine is an early example, but more famously is the short story The Fly by George Langelaan. Still my favorite of the genre is Jumper by Steven Gould where teleportation was an innate ability (skip the horrible movie of the same name, but there the sameness ends).

You did hear from time to time the idea of dematerialization/rematerialization seriously bandied about where it is only a matter of time until such a process can happen. I would like to see a story involving such a endeavor where no matter the preciseness of the data copying the rematerialized subject is always dead whether it is vegetable, animal etc. See again St. Thomas Aquinas on the vegetable soul, the sensitive soul, and the rational soul. The plot would involve the struggles of the materialist scientists in coming to grip with the possibility there is a soul.

In the mean time I think I will watch an episode of Star Trek and scream every time the transporter is used.

Nov 302013
 

First off have a blessed Advent!

Eight years ago I decided to create my own Advent Wreath graphic instead of just using the normal animated gif that I had used previously. If you would like it for your own blog you can use the html code below. I will replace the graphic each week so that it correctly shows the number of candles that should be lit. On Christmas I will change it to another graphic I created for Christmastide.

<img src="http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/Advent/curtjester_advent.gif" width="170" height="189" />

Update: The above was updated since quote marks were not translating correctly

Additionally underneath my Advent graphic on my left side I have code that does a Christmas countdown showing how many praying days left.

Below are both a JavaScript and PHP versions.  For WordPress use the PHP version.

JavaScript Version

<!– Christmas Countdown – Jeff Miller–>
<script language=”JavaScript”>
function eventcount() {
var now = new Date();
var message = “”;
var event = new Date(“Dec 25 2013 00:00:01″);
var seconds = (event – now) / 1000;
var minutes = seconds / 60;
var hours = minutes / 60;
var days = hours / 24;
if ( (days%1)<.5)
days++;
days = Math.round(days);
if (hours< 0 && hours >= -24)
message = “Merry Christmas; Christ is born!”;
else if (days > 0)
message = “Only “+days+” praying day”+ (days>1?’s':”)+ ” till Christmas!”;
document.write(“
<p>”+message+”</p>
<p>”);
}
eventcount();
</script>
<!– End Christmas Countdown –>

PHP Versions

<?php function countdown( $event, $month, $day, $year )
{
 // subtract desired date from current date and give an answer in terms of days
 $remain = ceil( ( mktime( 0,0,0,$month,$day,$year ) - time() ) / 86400 );
 // show the number of days left
 if( $remain > 0 )
 {
 print "<p><strong>$remain</strong> more praying days until $event</p>";
 }
 // if the event has arrived, say so!
 else
 {
 print "<p>$Merry Christmas; Christ is born!</p>";
 }
}
// call the function
countdown( "Christmas", 12, 25, 2013 );
?>

Note: PHP version is adapted from here.

Nov 202013
 

small_10808923615The charge by some atheists that “religion is a crutch” is rather common. When I was a atheist I had heard the phrase and instantly agreed with it. It was just so much better to live by pure reason and to know that when you die “that’s all folks.” I would think that to believe otherwise was just pure wish-fulfillment and escapism to deny the simple fact that “life sucks and then you die.” From time to time I would pondere moving from existence to nonexistence. Something both scary and comforting since when you blink out “you” won’t think about it anymore.

Some make the counter-charge that atheism is also a crutch. That and atheistic belief can be comforting and wish-fulfillment in that ultimately there are not consequences to your actions. You never have to repent of your own perceived faults other than what seems to cause external problems in your day-to-day life. This counter-charge might have some truth to it. Although I would suspect that it a rather small factor in atheism. Still I can only judge from what I have experienced. For most of my time as an atheist this charge would have been way off the mark. I held that atheism was true and self-evident and thus this was the purest reason to hold to it. This took a bit of a hit as I grow to realize my myriad faults were something beyond just faults but something even into the territory of sin. Yet “sin” was too theological and I thought surely using reason and will I could overcome those faults that I perceived caused damage in my life. I could overcome these eventually while being able to keep all those faults I liked or thought didn’t really matter.

All of the events that paved the way for me to being open to faith ultimately came down to the reality of sin and working very backward to the reality of God. In this backdoor it is not far to go from the reality of sin to the reality of needing a redeemer. When I read years later G.K. Chesterton’s reply to why he became Catholic “To get rid of my sins.“ I was able to totally relate. During this transition period there was a time as an atheist where I was forcefully clinging to my atheist faith trying to shore it up with atheist books and a dose of Ayn Rand. I realize now just how much I feared leaving atheism behind. I just could not hide out in agnosticism, but I did manage to spend a couple of years on the cusp of faith where I guess I had become a ”cafeteria atheist.” But atheism as a crutch was a valid way to look at this time as I was truly afraid to step forward because I knew I had so much to repent of.

Now “religion as a crutch” is a rather odd crutch. Such a crutch is more like the staff that turned into a snake. The reality of sin and the possibility of Hell is not exactly comforting. So if Catholicism is wish-fulfillment, you’re doing it wrong. Repentance rather sucks and slowly working on all those attachements to disordered things is a day-to-day struggle. Plus when your really start reading Jesus’ words you find that he could never have gotten a job on Madison Avenue. Sayings like “Pick up your cross daily”, “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”, and “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” are not exactly Gospel ad copy. If “Turn the other cheek” and blessing those that persecute you is wish fulfillment you need to get out more.

Despite this the joy of knowing Jesus and his love for me strengthens me. Yet I also know that I have many battles before me and most of them battles with my concupiscence – talk about friendly fire. There is also the reality where “religion is a crutch” rings true. When you are unable to walk by yourself a crutch is extremely useful. It isn’t wish-fulfillment to know that you are injured and need aid to help you walk straight. Really the problem in most of my life is that I thought I was walking straight when I was really hobbling along, When I am at my smartest I realize I have to lean on Jesus to move forward and am at my dumbest when I once again forget this and hobble along on my own. The crutch of the matter is really the crux of the matter and it is with carrying that cross that I have a crutch in which to follow Jesus.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Martino™ via photopin cc