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Fortinbras Armstrong

Profile Information

Gender: Male
Hometown: Suburban Chicago
Home country: UK
Current location: Suburban Chicago
Member since: Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:54 AM
Number of posts: 2,469

About Me

Retired computer security expert/programmer. Married for 40 years, three sons, two dogs. Interested in history, music, religion -- mostly Catholic -- and cooking. MA in History of Religion (Harvard) and MS in Computer Science (U of Wisconsin).

Journal Archives

I like Steven Erikson's Malazan books

I will warn you that the first book of the Malazan series, Gardens of the Moon, does toss you in medias res, and lets you figure out for yourself what is going on. The glossary at the back of the book and the list of characters in the front of the book are very useful.

Keep track of the characters; for example, in Deadhouse Gates, (which should have the title The Chain of Dogs), there is a very minor character, Toblakai. His real name is Karsa Orlong, and he is a very important character in House of Chains and most of the succeeding novels.

The overall tone of the series is rather grim, although there are some bits which are quite funny; for example, the conversation Bugg has with his lawyer in Reaper's Gale just before he goes bankrupt is a first-rate piece of comic writing. Another bit I liked was Kallor having one of the best boasts in the history of boasts: "I walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I have commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I have spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?" Caladan Brood immediately shoots back with "Yes. You never learn."

There are no guarantees that anyone survives. For example, Whiskeyjack, the main character in the first book, is (spoiler) killed in the third book. Although being killed in this series does not necessarily prevent a character from reappearing, since (spoiler) Whiskeyjack shows up again in two of the later books. And Toc the Younger (spoiler) manages to get reborn twice, and loses his left eye three times. Hood, the god of death, is killed in Toll the Dogs, but reappears in The Crippled God. When someone says to him "I thought you were dead", Hood replies that being the former god of death gives certain advantages with regard to leaving the land of the dead.

There are also some novels by Ian Esslemont set in the same world at the same time. These novels are canonical, and do give necessary information; for example, we find out what happens to Lasseen in The Return of the Red Guard. Unfortunately, Esslemont is not as good a writer as Erikson (who can write a bit clunkily at times).

There is a unique system of magic, "warrens" from which a magic user can draw power. A character can "ascend" to godhood, sometimes involuntarily. The Crippled God makes Karsa Urlong a demigod (Knight of Chains) without consulting Karsa, and both Karsa and Heboric (a former priest who has accidentally killed his god) realize that the Crippled God is going to come to regret it. Similarly, Ganoes Paran becomes Master of the Deck of Dragons (a Tarot-like card deck which can be used to divine the future and has some aspects of control over the warrens) and doesn't want the job, since he feels that it gives him more power than he can deal with.

One character I should mention is Kruppe, who wants people to underestimate him as a minor magic user and fence who is interested mainly in good food and good wine. He is, in fact, probably the most intelligent character in the novels, and is a friend of the Elder god K'rull (not a worshiper of K'rull, nor K'rull's disciple or priest, but K'rull's friend). At the end of the first book, K'rull owes Kruppe a favor, something which Kruppe is not sure is a good thing or a bad thing. Kruppe also has an annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person.

I really liked it, and am waiting for the next books to come out.
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Sun Sep 23, 2012, 10:18 AM (1 replies)

That's one of the real problems with Humanae Vitae

Notice that HV does not actually define "contraception". I suspect that this is because any actual definition would shoot holes in Pope Paul's argument. Here's a definition: Contraception is a means of having intercourse without procreation.

The second objection I have is that HV concentrates on the method, and completely ignores intent. I suspect this is because the so-called "NFP" ("Natural Family Planning", the term that the Vatican prefers instead of "rhythm method") that the Vatican touts is merely another way of having sexual intercourse and avoiding pregnancy. In other words, the end is exactly the same, the only difference is the method employed. Ignoring intent is bad moral theology.

What is wrong with the Church teaching is that it starts with the view of the Roman stoics and pagan Gnostics that the body is evil, and pleasure is to be mistrusted.

Paul VI implies, although he nowhere says explicitly, that among the "lower animals", sex is only used for procreation. The closest he comes in HV 10: "In relation to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means the knowledge and respect of their functions; human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person". (The Roman stoic Ulpian said that if you wanted to know what natural behaviour was, look in the barnyard.) I suspect that this is what Paul VI was thinking of. However, this is not necessarily the best place to look. Primates, our closest relatives in nature, use sexual activity in pair bonding, not just procreation. See Alison Jolly's The Evolution of Primate Behavior, Chapter 13. If Pope Paul is going to use a biological argument, he should use good biology.

The view that sexual intercourse is only morally licit if it is being used for procreation was promulgated by people such as Augustine of Hippo, whose own experience of sex was through having illicit love affairs. Augustine thought that he knew what sex was about, but his views were undoubtedly colored by his own experience -- and he actually had not a clue as to the proper function of sex in a marriage. This view led him to say in his De Bono Conjugali that all sexual relations, except for the express purpose of procreation, were at least venially sinful.

Pope Gregory I supported this stand, saying in a letter to Augustine of Canterbury that "even lawful intercourse cannot take place without desire of the flesh ... which can by no means be without sin."

My next objection to HV is that Pope Paul does not have any scriptural basis to his argument, but uses something called "natural law". As Ireneaus of Lyon wrote, "From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law", Against Heresies 4, 15. Thomas Aquinas has a long discussion in his Summa Theologica I-II questions 90-106. Now, there are some things which can be said to be "implanted in the heart of man" -- aversion to rape, murder, incest, child molestation and so on. But birth control pills and condoms are certainly not among those things.

Pope Paul also says some remarkably silly things in HV. For example, he says

Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men -- especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point -- have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion.


In case the Pope had not noticed, there was a great deal of adultery and fornication going on before HV came out. His second point in this paragraph is that men may lose respect for their wives, seeing them as mere sexual objects. I do not believe that this has happened. For example, it is generally accepted that the great increase in reported incidences of domestic violence is due first, to better reporting techniques, and second, to a social awareness that this is not acceptable behavior.
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Fri Sep 21, 2012, 09:11 AM (1 replies)
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