Sunday, September 28, 2008

Book Review: The Walls of Cartagena

I recently signed up for the Amazon.com "Vine" program which provides free advance copies of books to regular reviewers in an attempt to generate buzz for these new titles immediately upon release. They send you a regular newsletter via email with books (and other items) on it that you can request for review. From my perspective, about 90% of the stuff on there is junk--or at least supremely uninteresting. However, this book, The Walls of Cartagena, caught my eye.

Calepino is a 13-year-old Black boy in Cartagena. Life is hard in this slave-trading city, but Calepino has a talent for languages and works with Father Pedro and Sacabuche as an interpreter in the fetid holds of the arriving slave ships. In the course of his duties, Calepino becomes attached to two new arrivals from Africa--Mara and her young son Tomi. But when Mara and Tomi are sold to a cruel master, Calepino decides he must take action to save them.

The Walls of Cartagena is an entertaining little book meant for younger readers, age 10-12. The story is uncomplicated, the characters are generally sympathetic. There are numerous charming illustrations throughout. I appreciated the generally positive portrayal of the Catholic priest, Father Pedro, who is in reality Saint Peter Claver. The author obviously put a great deal of research into the story and this comes through in the numerous little details of life in 17th century New Spain which adorn the story. The writing is elegant and flows well. A good reader could easily devour this little story in one or two sittings.

My main criticisms of the book center around the author's incomplete and sometimes inaccurate overall historical perspective. While the author correctly examines the horrors of the slave trade, she also engages in a bit of historical hyperbole with regard to the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition. One character, Dr. Lopez, is presented as being persecuted by the Inquisition because he is a Jew. The author does not explain that Jews were never targeted by the Inquisition, but only those who feigned a conversion to Catholicism to maintain wealth or status within Spain or her colonies. Indeed, the Inquisitional courts of the 17th century were often considerably more lenient than comparable secular courts in other European kingdoms of the time.

The author also seems to follow the conventional wisdom with regard to the modern fable that the Catholic Church suppressed intellectual curiosity and exploration. There's a mildly tedious aside where Dr. Lopez introduces Calepino to the "forbidden" works of Galileo, who, the author tells us, "was under house arrest in Italy for asserting that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the universe." Anyone familiar with the history of this incident knows that this was not the reason Galileo was confined. Indeed, Copernicus had made this exact same claim decades before Galileo and suffered no such punishments. Galileo's contentions with the Church were much more personal than scientific.

Finally, I disliked how the author made the heroic rescues in the story only possible by the blatant telling of untruths by the major characters, including St. Peter Claver. This struck me as little more than a plot device as such actions were dramatically out of character for most 17th century Jesuits, who were often paragons of courage when it came to telling the truth to power. Many would have put their own heads on the chopping block before resorting to such dishonest expedients.

Setting aside these flaws, I found The Walls of Cartagena to be an enjoyable read and one which I would definitely read with my own kids as an intro to life during the Renaissance. I would, however, read it along side books which told "the rest of the story" such as The Outlaws of Ravenhurst or Angels in Iron.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Every Catholic needs to see this before election day

This short video puts everything into perspective nicely.



It's long past time for those who call themselves Catholic to start voting like it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review -- Father Elijah

I was first introduced to Michael O'Brien's writing when doing research for my reviews of the Harry Potter series. Mr. O'Brien is an ardent Potter-basher and at first, I considered him a bit strident. Yet after I finished reading the series and J. K. Rowling made her ridiculous "Dumbledore is homosexual" statements, Mr. O'Brien's opinions suddenly seemed right on the money. Here was a man who was able to cut through the moral haze of Pottermania and discover the slime within well in advance of the rest of us.

I had previously heard of Father Elijah but only recently made the connection between the book and its author. Once I did, it became imperative that I read it and I'm very glad I did so. Father Elijah is a fascinating and engrossing tale. Interestingly, it's subtitled "An Apocalypse"--as opposed to the Apocalypse. I suppose this is because this is a work of speculative fiction that offers a scenario of how the Apocalypse could happen and might be happening right under our noses.

The main character, Father Elijah himself, is a monk who entered the monastery after converting from Judaism. His past life was a succession of tragedies--he is a survivor of the Holocaust and was formerly a prominent figure in Israel. He has lived peacefully in a monastery near Mount Carmel in Israel for many years but now he has been called upon for a much more dangerous mission--to confront the one suspected by the Vatican of being the anti-Christ and convert him.

The plot continues from there through numerous twists and turns. There are moments of calm reflection on the mysteries of the Catholic faith interspersed with scenes of genuine spiritual warfare that are often frighteningly real. The characters are well-drawn and true to life. A couple of them seem like parodies of certain individuals or types within the Catholic Church. The better you know the Church, the more likely you are to chuckle at these characters. Overall, the writing is superb and flows well. It's easy to rip through 80 page chunks in one sitting.

O'Brien is insightful and clearly privy to the undermining effects of modernism which have been gnawing at the Church's foundations for at least the past 100 years. In Father Elijah he creates a mirror-world where certain clerics within the greater Church as well as within the Vatican itself, have embraced the spirit of the world and who view the spirit of God with contempt. There is one scene in particular where the sickly and aging Pope confronts a headstrong Cardinal on this very point and the outcome is striking. One is forced to wonder how many of our prelates in the Church today would act in the same way toward the Pope?

One thing that struck me about Father Elijah is that it clearly is set in an age before the internet. It was originally published in 1996 when the "old media" still ruled the roost. Among the chief culprits undermining the work of the Vatican and good priests like Father Elijah are those who run the so-called Catholic media--newspapers, magazines, etc. These are exposed as merely agents of the world who are trying to co-opt the Church for their own diabolical purposes. And indeed, in the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s, the Catholic media often acted in just this way, though with a few notable exceptions.

But in the 12 years since Father Elijah was first published, there has been a sea-change brought about primarily by the advent of the internet. Now, obfuscatory, dishonest, and outright dissenting articles published in places like the National "Catholic" Reporter can be exposed and criticized in a public forum before millions of serious readers. A good priest who is faithful to the Pope can have a blog that gets read by hundreds of thousands every day, while the true numerical and popular weakness of dissenters in the Church is made plain for all to see. Bishops, priests, and powerful lay people who publicly dissent from Church teaching and act as wolves in the sheepfold are known beyond their own localities--indeed, the whole world knows them now.

Of course, this takes nothing away from Father Elijah. It is an excellent read, highly recommended to anyone who is a Catholic and who wants to have a better understanding of the nature of evil and how evil has occasionally donned the guise of goodness and penetrated even the Church itself.

By way of closing, this book reminded me a great deal of another fascinating work of fiction called Dream of Fire. The plot is similar, though Dream of Fire is set in a fantasy world and is considerably more brutal, at least in a physical sense.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Obama took $100K from Failed Fannie and Freddie

Well, well, well. It looks like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, though eye-ball deep in bad paper, have been mighty generous with the Democrats, including neophyte Barack Obama. According to Capital Eye, the junior senator from Illinois has taken over $100,000 in campaign contributions from Fannie & Freddie and ranks third on the overall list of pigs who feed at this particular larder.

What's most impressive about Senator Obama's feat is that he's a newcomer to the field. Old porkers like Chris Dodd, who leads Obama's total by a mere 30K, took decades to amass these contributions. Even Hillary Clinton has only managed to compile $75,000, as compared to the Obamessiah.

Considering that the taxpayers are now expected to foot the bill for Fannie & Freddie's failure, I think it's only fair that Senator Obama return his $100,000. That would be the kind of change we could believe in.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Abp. Niederauer of San Fran chastizes Pelosi -- well, sort of

Nancy Pelosi recently made outrageously false statements about Catholic teaching and abortion (Pelosi lies about Catholicism and abortion). In response, at least three good bishops that I am aware of stood up to rebuke her in no uncertain terms—Cardinal Egan of New York, Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, DC, and Archbishop Chaput of Denver.

Conspicuous by his silence was Archbishop Niederauer of Pelosi's home diocese of San Francisco. Well, better late than never. Archbishop Niederauer finally released a statement on the matter today. In just under 2,000 ponderous, rambling words, the Archbishop manages to say very little by way of a direct rebuttal of Pelosi's words. Nor does he highlight the grave sin it is to spread un-Catholic teachings in the guise of Catholicism. Nor does he make it clear that individuals who are public advocates of abortion should not approach the sacraments.

Instead, the archbishop closes with the following words:
I regret the necessity of addressing these issues in so public a forum, but the widespread consternation among Catholics made it unavoidable. Speaker Pelosi has often said how highly she values her Catholic faith, and how much it is a source of joy for her. Accordingly, as her pastor, I am writing to invite her into a conversation with me about these matters. It is my obligation to teach forthrightly and to shepherd caringly, and that is my intent. Let us pray together that the Holy Spirit will guide us all toward a more profound understanding and appreciation for human life, and toward a resolution of these differences in truth and charity and peace.
Yes, a conversation. I'll be interested to see how Nancy Pelosi responds to this request.

One can only hope that the Archbishop is made of sterner stuff behind closed doors than he is in public.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's official--the left is in total meltdown freak-attack mode

Right now, Sarah Palin and her family are going through a media meatgrinder the likes of which hasn't been seen since Clarence Thomas dared to escape from the Democrat plantation in 1991. The Left doesn't like it when a constituency they consider "their property" gets uppity.

Sarah Palin is a stiff right-cross to the jaw of the left--hence the absolutely hysterical rush for "dirt" on this mother of five from Alaska. Indeed, Obama's surrogates at MoveOn.org are offering $5,000 for dirt on Palin's husband. And the elite media has been all too willing to pile on--going after her kids without the least bit of shame.

But these filthy tactics have always been a hallmark of Obama campaigns, despite his pious mumblings to the contrary. His surrogates in the Chicago media managed to get George Ryan's sealed divorce records unsealed in 2004, causing Ryan to drop out of the race. When Ryan was replaced by Alan Keyes, surprise! the media revealed that Keyes's teenaged daughter Maya was a homosexual.

At last, it seems that some on the left have had enough of this garbage. On Democratic Underground, the poster B2G wrote:
I've been here a long time. Not a prolific poster, but a prolific reader. And from what I've read today, I don't belong here anymore.

Women being bashed for their right to choose having a family and a career with the support of their spouse.

Women being called sluts, bimbos and brood mares.

Women having their appearance dissected and witchhunts for compromising photos.

Innocent young girls being slandered with rumors & innuendos.

Enough. I want to win. But I don't want to win this way. And if you do, then I don't want any part of it.
Is it possible there is some shame in lib-land? Maybe. Time will tell.

In the mean time, it behooves all good and honorable Americans to denounce this garbage in no uncertain terms. The best way to do so is to volunteer to help elect Johh McCain and Sarah Palin and make sure that Obama goes down to an epic defeat this November.

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