Thursday, December 31, 2015

Disappointing Sounds from Alanna-Marie Boudreau

I first discovered Alanna-Marie Boudreau's music more than a year ago.  Sadly, I've been increasingly disappointed with her more recent performances.  "I'll Be Your Woman" from her Hints & Guesses album was a track I could overlook--given the fresh originality of her first album, Hands in the Land.  Two more recent performances, though, are also bringing a return of this sappy and sentimental crooning. 




In "O Come Let Us Adore Him" from a collection: O Come Let Us Adore: A Christmas Collective, she turns a Christmas classic into something slow and about as celebratory as April 15th tax day.  Again, in her most recent release entitled "Simon (Petros)," she takes a soft approach to otherwise thought-provoking lyrics.  The sentimental--almost easy-listening--direction of her music is indeed a disappointment.  She could be a force to be reckoned with, if only each new song didn't come across as an echo of a past one.  Sadly, there's a problem with Catholic music.  Usually, the content of present-day Catholic music is not articulated well, and the music is hardly worth mentioning.  In Alanna's case, the lyrics are most often very good, but it feels like she's having difficulty finding her unique voice this year.  Here's hoping she does better in 2016!






Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sentimentality Awakens (A Review of Star Wars: Force Awakens)

I should preface this mini-review with a little disclosure. I'm a huge fan of the first two movies. They were real bright spots in my childhood. Sadly, though, none of the subsequent motion pictures has come close in matching the quality of the original--until now.  If my review seems too harsh, bear this context in mind.


I liked this motion picture quite a lot, and I especially thought Daisy Ridley's performance was a bright spot. She brought an authenticity and passion to the character that was refreshing. Still, there were too many heart-string pulls and hat tips to the original motion pictures that spawned this monster franchise.


Yes, Star Wars: Force Awakens was better than anything offered from George Lucas for a very long time--perhaps since Empire Strikes Back, but it could have been even stronger and tighter if more of the allusions to the first two movies had found themselves on the cutting room floor. A few hat tips and continuity references are great, but this one went just a little too far. For instance, there were even audio snippets of Death Star radio communications spliced into one scene in Force Awakens. This doesn't strengthen the current scene; it distracts from it. The tavern owner, Maz Kanata, was also too Disneyfied for my tastes: another distraction. A great movie, but it could have been awesome if it didn't convey the feeling, as others have first noted, that it was a motion picture created by committee.


Criticisms aside, this was a great family movie and a welcome relief from what passes for science fiction these days.  Daisy Ridley's new character really is helpful in bringing this movie up out of its sentimental tone (partially) and moving the narrative forward.  I only wish the strong casting choices had been paired with other good decision-making by George Lucas and J.J. Abrams.  








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Hey, are you looking for a short science fiction tale to help you face Star Wars withdrawal?  Check out Alcatraz Burning, a fresh release from Karl Bjorn Erickson (writer of this blog)!




Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Syrian Refugee Dilemma

     The Syrian refugee crisis is a heart-rending example of man's inhumanity to man.  The Middle East, no stranger to wickedness on a grand scale, is a house on fire.  While many of its victims are truly innocent, some are likely not.

     
NBC News ran an interesting segment recently focusing upon some of the heated rhetoric regarding this divisive issue. While hardly representative of objective, non-biased journalism, it's worth a watch. Our nation has a rich heritage of immigration, and no thinking, rational person would contend otherwise. As a Judeo-Christian country, our faith traditions were deeply influenced by a particular refugee named Abraham.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:8-12)



     The question in the particular case of the Syrian refugee crisis, however, is a different one than we've faced in the past. There are serious questions as to our ability properly and thoroughly vet the individuals applying for asylum in the United States. One also is reminded of possible connections of Syrian refugees with the horrific attack in Paris. All answers are not known, and the remaining mysteries may never be solved. There are valid reasons for concern. A knowledgeable friend shared the following words, which I will quote in full.

The short term: Who’s who?



What to do about those terrorists/wannabe terrorists that pass themselves off as just another refugee trying to escape oppression and start a new life? Well, I do think the rather long period it takes now (18 months plus is what I’m reading?) to get vetted before being allowed into the U.S. works in our favor because it can filter out those who were not entirely committed, convinced by emotion alone. But how to filter out the truly committed? There is no litmus test during the security screening parts of the vetting.

So in my view what we’re truly considering is:
1. Will there be terrorists/those with terrorist ambitions who will try to get in through this process? 
I absolutely believe the answer is yes.
2. If the answer to 1 is yes, then will, at least, some of those actually get through the process and enter the U.S. in this way?
I have no reason to believe they would not. Does anyone? How much cooperation do you think we’re getting from the Govt(?) of Syria in doing criminal record searches? How much biometric data do you think we have on terrorist wannabes from Syria? As for intel I can’t say but as you might imagine there are many, many, many names of Syrians that sound/read exactly alike (and/or are Romanized differently for the same person!). You can’t just run these guys through an NCIC.
3. If the answer to 2 is yes, then we turn to the moral(?) question: Do we take this risk anyway? Are we as a people willing to take in thousands knowing/believing that at least a few likely have terrorist ambitions and know-how?

The long term: Disaffected, disconnected, unemployed, and unassimilated.

After the refugees are placed (“resettled”) in communities in the U.S., what will be their future? Most will have few skills, most won’t speak any English. What are the odds that most will assimilate into American culture and adopt American values? Will they be inclined to do so if they can’t begin to make a living in short order? And if not, what’s the likely result? Alienation, resentment, anger, listlessness? Will they then be tempted toward a more radical interpretation of their faith. (Most, of course, will be Muslim.) What kind of social support structures, job training programs, and so on, can we put in place in these communities to help keep that from happening? Can anything be done? What will be their affect on native, if you’ll forgive the term, population and norms—will they be displaced? (See, for example, communities such as that in Leeds, England.)

The longer term: Disaffected, disconnected youth looking for a cause.

The vast majority of the immigrant generation will almost certainly remain poor because that’s the nature of this type of immigration. How will that affect the next generation—those born here? Some or perhaps even many parents will have embraced their new country and recognize and appreciate the escape from their previous situation and the freedoms and potential opportunities here in America. Nevertheless, the combination of growing up poor and culturally different sometimes engenders resentment by the next generation not felt by the immigration generation. (I’m trying to avoid the ambiguous terms “first generation” and “second generation” because that can be interpreted differently.) And that can encourage them to seek out striking back or at least being vulnerable to those that would seek to convince them that they are actively discriminated against by the infidels, they have betrayed Islam, and should right themselves by committing to jihad. (See, for example, the Lackawanna Six here in the U.S.)


     I suggest that we've lost a degree of common sense these days, and that more than ever we're influenced by sound bites and pictures that pull on our heartstrings.  This matter requires deep thought and a careful, measured response.  Pacifism at all costs, like open borders, is a pathway to a nation's destruction (from both the inside and out).  A government's responsibility is to protect its people, and the peoples' responsibility is to be informed citizens.  Sadly, we're losing the battle on both fronts.  


“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”


Isaac Asimov




Monday, December 7, 2015

Tragic Time, Reflection on the Nature of Time in Oedipus, The King




Tragic Time, Reflections on the Nature of Time in Oedipus, The King


     The mysterious quality of time has been an area of personal fascination for years. After all, our understanding of time is not restricted to just how we use it. A culture’s view and concept of time is reflected within its arts and faith(s). Time is more than counting minutes or hours; it goes to the root of how we understand the world—past, present, and future. In my own essay from Catholic365.com, entitled “Parting the Veil of Eternity,” I introduced a discussion on faith and the elusive nature of time with the following words.

What is it that so fascinates us about time? If you’re old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek series on a black and white television, you’ve likely experienced that nagging sensation that time speeds up as you age. Whether this phenomenon has more to do with increasing age or busier schedules, I can’t say, but it certainly seems to be a common and shared human experience. I suggest that this feeling might be associated with that deposit of earthly experience we have stored up over the years. It’s difficult to articulate, but it’s almost as if we reach a tipping point where we have more time completed than to come, and the sense is that time is rushing by us more quickly as we speed downhill towards that unseen finish line. If something like this is indeed true, then, what do perceptions along these lines communicate about eternity: the eternal present? More important today, can it be said that there is a unique understanding or grasp of time evident within Catholic theology and tradition?...


When we pause to look at Sophocles’ Oedipus, The King we catch an insightful glimpse of what time meant to the Greeks. Several different dimensions of time are conveyed: the unchanging companion of fate (time and fate intertwined), finder of truth and true nature of character, and time is also seen as possessing a kind of elegant symmetry and mysterious purpose.

     As popularly known (and discussed within this National Public Radio commentary), Beethoven is said to have told an assistant that the opening movement of his fifth symphony represented fate knocking upon the door. As a lover of classical music, these words have helped me see this musical composition with fresh appreciation. There is a quality in this understanding of fate that is also helpful in understanding the nature of Oedipus. He is a character fighting to be his own man in a culture that did not put much faith in free will. He was endeavoring to fight the gods (particularly the will of Apollo), but the one fight you can’t win is destiny. If you examine the past points of Oedipus’ life in the light of his true destiny, you can’t help but draw the conclusion that his victory against the Sphinx terrorizing the people of Thebes was actually a personal defeat with regards to what the future had in store for him. Rather than look at Oedipus as a fool who is unable to reconcile himself with the truth, the reader should appreciate the character’s struggle against the future that lies in wait.

     With realization beginning to dawn, the anguish of Oedipus is abundantly clear when he asks “where is a man more miserable than I? More hated by the gods?” (Sophocles, 30) Despite the character’s general knowledge of his fate, however, he actively fights against it with every fiber of his being.

Oedipus has spent all his life dealing with his fate. He has, we learn, been told that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. And he has refused to accept that fate. He has spent much of his life moving around, so as to avoid his fate. In other words he has freely chosen, for reasons which we can surely understand and applaud, to construct a life in which what he has been told will happen will not happen. (Johnston, 11)

For the Greek audience, free will was eclipsed by fate or destiny. Time was the ultimate changing force, and nothing, except the gods, could withstand the transformative power of time. While this entropic force, however, wrecked havoc on most, some men were able to hold their ground—at least insofar as character traits are concerned.

     This brings us, then, to our second dimension of time as conveyed with this play: time as the finder of truth and character. Just as Bible passages such as 1 Peter 1:7 refer to the “refiners fire” with regards to hardship and trials endured by man, time is the ultimate refining force in terms of human beings and human institutions. Creon’s wise words to Oedipus follow.

Test what I have said. Go to the priestess / At Delphi, ask if I quoted her correctly. / And as for this other thing: if I am found / Guilty of treason with Teiresias, / Then sentence me to death! You have my word / It is a sentence I should cast my vote for-- / But not without evidence! / You do wrong. / When you take good men for bad, bad men for good. / A true friend thrown aside—why, life itself / Is not more precious! / In time you will know this well: / For time, and time alone, will show the just man, / Though scoundrels are discovered in a day. (Sophocles, 24)

     Read that last sentence again, because this dialogue captures the essence of time’s mystery to the Greeks—and to us today. Like a small stream will wear away rock over thousands of years, man’s true nature will be revealed—be it good or bad—with the passage of time; no mortal can shield himself from its power of discovery. As Jacqueline de Romilly eloquently puts it, “indeed, this destructive action of time, which is clearly shown by the verbs describing it…is the very mark of the human condition. Gods are not submitted to time.” (de Romilly, 94)

     The third dimension of time in Sophocles’ Oedipus, The King is more challenging to articulate than the preceding two. Perhaps it is best described with a reference to Greek architecture. Picture in your mind an example of an ancient Greek temple, for instance, and it will certainly include towering columns and a profound sense of symmetry and order. Indeed, an elegant kind of symmetry is evident in ancient Greek architecture; it’s all about order. Sophocles seems to convey the movement of time in a similar fashion with this work. If you examine the life of Oedipus prior to the period begun in the play, you note that his life began in Thebes, and the play also ends there. While not such an unusual circumstance for dramatic settings, it does lend to the sense of unity of the play. The irony of the character’s fight against destiny is also telling with regards to how Sophocles perceived the nature of time. Time may be the destroyer of mortals, but the nature of time itself appears to take the form of something ordered rather than random. Like Greek architecture, time in this work is similarly ordered and suggestive of an elegant purpose and structure.

All in all, Sophocles’ use of time in his narratives is designed to serve his general interest in the theme of mortals coming to terms with the vicissitudes of their lives and the ways in which the past encroaches on the present. (De Jong, 292)

     In conclusion, the tragedy of Oedipus highlights a man’s fight for free will against the force of destiny. Unlike we usually see time in the modern world, ancient Greeks had far less confidence in free will than the capricious nature of fate (as controlled by their fickle gods). Ultimately, man was slave to his fate, and this destiny was unalterable. The Judeo-Christian response would be to emphasize man’s responsibility for his own destiny; his personal choices determine and shape the course of his life. (This is not to say that God fails to know what our ultimate choices will be, but this knowing does not infringe upon the choices themselves. In fact, from the Catholic perspective, a view similar to what we see within this play would be termed heretical predestinarianism. Christians don’t believe that God chooses hell for anyone, but that people make this selection entirely themselves.) We can agree with Sophocles, however, regarding seeing time as the refining fire, revealing character as dross or pure gold. Likewise, most of use could agree that there is a certain kind of elegance or order to time. While this may be more visible to the astrophysicist than the English major, scientific thought infuses our culture thoroughly enough for most of us to have a perception along these lines. What is the importance of this work? Charles Segal offered the following.

The implications of Sophocles’ play make all such universalizing extrapolations possible. The Tyrannus remains a founding text in European culture. It is one of the most revealing documents of Western man’s determination to define self-knowledge in intellectual and rational terms, and one of the most powerful statements of the limitations of the enterprise. (Silk/Segal, 142)

I’d like to end this essay with a passage from Jacqueline de Romilly’s excellent and thoughtful work, Time in Greek Tragedy. It reminds us why time is such a critical component of the dramatic arts.

Time shows through change; and in that respect it is obvious that tragedy deals with time. Its subject matter is always one great event, which overthrows all that existed before: it means death, destruction, reversal of fortune; its strength rests on a contrast between before and after; and the deeper the contrast, the more tragic the event. (de Romilly, 5-6)


Works Cited


Erickson, Karl Bjorn. "Parting the Veil of Eternity." Catholic365. N.p., 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Johnston, Ian. "Fate, Freedom, and the Tragic Experience: An Introductory Lecture on Sophocles's Oedipus the King." Vancouver Island University. Aug. 2004. Lecture.

Jong, Irene J. F. De., and Rene N├╝nlist. Time in Ancient Greek Literature. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.

"Predestinarianism." CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Romilly, Jacqueline De. Time in Greek Tragedy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1968. Print.

Silk, M. S. "Segal's Sophocles C. Segal: Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature,Society. Pp. Xii 276. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. £25. ISBN: 0-674-82100-9." The Classical Review The Class. Rev. 47.02 (1997): 250-51. Web.

"Sophocles Oedipus Rex 1957." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. The Seagull Reader Plays. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. Print.




(MLA Works Cited indentation not used on blog.)



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Introducing Roland West by Theresa Linden!

I wanted to take a moment to introduce my friend's new book! (Additional information and image coming this afternoon.)


Book blurb: Despised by his older twin brothers, new to River Run High, friendless, and the subject of cruel rumors ... Roland West has a plan. He wants to get his tutor back and avoid high school by proving himself on his father's upcoming assignment in Italy. Before the trip and while his father is away, he must avoid falling victim to his brothers' schemes. To get free from his brothers' first trap, he ends up accepting the help of Peter Brandt, a kid from school who lives nearby. Not sure if he can trust Peter, he finds himself drawn to Peter’s inheritance, an old, mysterious, locked box. The secret of the inheritance may have the power to change the life of this loner.


Quote:

"Roland West, Loner, is one of those books I couldn't put down. Linden tells a delightful tale, weaving the supernatural with the ordinary in a way that left me breathless. You'll never doubt the Communion of Saints after reading this wonderful novel. I can't wait for the sequel."

~Susan Peek, author of A Soldier Surrenders


Author Bio:

Theresa Linden, an avid reader and writer since grade school, grew up in a military family. Moving every few years left her with the impression that life is an adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace. A member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, Theresa lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, three boys, and one dog. Her other published books include Chasing Liberty and Testing Liberty, books one and two in a dystopian trilogy.


Social Media:

Website: http://theresalinden.wix.com/theresalindenfiction

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/theresalindenauthor

Twitter handle: @LindenTheresa

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/TheresaALinden/catholic-teen-fiction

Amazon (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Roland-West-Loner-Theresa-Linden/dp/0996816844

Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0189FKSPE