Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Having Once Been Catholic: Allure of Rites Gone Past

Some of my friends stayed Catholic whereas I did not. Curiously, some of those still with it are divorced, "living in sin" as in with a man but not married to him, married but childless or married with only one or two children. These things you previously were unable to blend with being Catholic. Even more curious, it is not as if those things suddenly became legit. They are still outlawed. However, when they tell me about their parishes, it appears that the parishes they use are kinder and gentler than the ones in which we came of age. One of these friends from my youth even told me that a monk from a gentle, loving order runs his parish. There are things they tell me about their practices that I remember somewhat fondly so I thought I would share today some of the things which might have kept me in the church. They are closely tied to rites and rituals which offer comfort to the followers.

Votive Candles. If you want to hedge your bets by giving someone better odds of survival, votive candles are and were the number one choice. I never saw anything but red votive candles, top, but apparently some parishes now use white ones, bottom. One of my earliest memories is of a friend of mine when we were both about ten. Her father was in the hospital and in bad shape. She wanted me to take her to the church to light one of these as she was not Catholic. I remember trying a number of doors with her until we found one that was open. We went in and lit the candle. (Her father did recover.) Then when I had cancer, my childhood friend Mary would go to her church and light one for me every time I hit a critical juncture with my six months of severe chemo. Really if most of the religion centered on votive candles, I might still be in it.

Stations of the Cross. These may seem rather grisly images but taking the stations of the cross was a rather soothing, ritualistic experience. The church had pieces of art on the wall, evenly spaced, which were representations of Christ's journey to being crucified. You stopped before each art work and prayed specific prayers. It was very similar to saying a rosary but you were moving in front of art work instead. This became even more important to do during Lent and approaching Easter because that is the time it happened. 

Rosaries. These are quite personal to the user. Either you are given one as a gift or you select your own, usually in your favorite stones or wood. These can be expensive if you want one made of actual gemstones, which some people do. However, for such a person there probably will be no more used piece of "jewelry".  Some actually do wear them as well. There are a series of prayers one says on the rosary, ten Hail Marys to one Our Father per set of stones. The rosary is most closely linked with Christ's mother Mary. If you were given a penance after confession to atone for your sins, a most common one was to simply say the rosary. Both my grandmother and Jim's mother used their rosaries until the day they died. A hospital surgical waiting room is one place where rosaries abound. I remember Jim's Mom using hers all during his Dad's emergency appendectomy. Jim's Mom left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal one in the late 1940s but never left off using the rosary. I still have my rosary but I have not used it. It hangs atop a big handmade basket which is filled with my fabrics.

Patron Saints. Just about every cause imaginable has its own patron saint. Put your cause in the Google search engine along with the words patron saint and you will discover yours. Most Catholic imagery is grisly and especially those of saints because saints were typically martyrs to their faith. Click on all of these below saints and angels to see the huge art work version.

Saint Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer. When she was tortured for her faith, it was her breasts which were tortured and ultimately cut off. The grisly image is probably quite apt for those going through the torture of breast cancer treatment.

With the two eye surgeries for me and three for Jim which have all taken place since last October I think that we more than qualify for Saint Lucy as our patron saint. Here she is holding a set of eyes on a plate. Saint Lucy's eyes were gouged out when she foretold that the persecutions of Diocletian were coming to an end. Then she was killed. When she was being prepared for burial, her eyes were miraculously restored to her body.

This saint, Jude, is quite well known because he is the patron saint of hopeless or desperate causes. Thus, just about everyone has the need to call upon his intercession from time to time. He too was martyred but with an axe.

After his martyrdom, pilgrims came to his grave to pray and they experienced his intercession as a result. (They reported being cured or the hopeless cause being fixed.) Thereafter he was identified with hopeless causes.

Angels. Somewhat similar to the saints are the angels. Each of us have our own guardian angel plus various angels are identified with various special interests.

Archangel Michael is the most famous. Here he is conquering Satan, the embodiment of the forces of evil. Not surprisingly, he is thus the patron of police officers, the military and paramedics who identify themselves as doing the same.

Archangel Raphael is identified with healing and is the angel mentioned in the Gospel of John as stirring the water at the healing pool of Bethesda. One woman he healed was Sarah, possessed by a demon, who caused her to kill every man she married on their wedding night before the wedding could be consummated.

This is a depiction of a guardian angel watching over two children. We were told that each of us had one of these and were given the angel at the time we were born. This angel would be with us always.

Pageantry. The services were everything one could want in pageantry. It was spoken in a language no longer used, Latin.  It had beautiful costumes, angelic voices, gold and jewel encrusted objects, like chalices, and the smell of incense infusing the air. Christmas and Easter were especially filled with beautiful services. 

Catholic Retreats. I did one of these as a teenager. When I compared it with Jim's experience as an Episcopalian going on retreat, the two were quite different. As a teen I would have preferred his, which was more like an extended party. At this stage of my life I probably would prefer the Catholic type as it is more spiritual and withdrawn. I've met people as an adult who've gone on them present day, especially to the ones now available with orders of monks.  One person went to a monastery which had the Gregorian chanting and loved it.  If interested in this, check the retreats out further here.  I was really gratified to see the Jesuit Retreat House holding a retreat in October of 2014 that is for gays and their families. Frankly, you could have knocked me over with a feather as being gay was not tolerated when I was a practicing Catholic. So apparently some branches of the Church are making headway on their own.  Here is an image capture of this event:

In conclusion,  I personally reached an all or nothing point back in 1967. There was so much I did not agree with that was supposedly bedrock doctrine of the church that I could not imagine staying in it. I am less of an all or nothing person today and if there are indeed parishes that are kinder and gentler to people, perhaps I would have endured in one of those. But since we really don't change that much as people past a very young age, some say 7, some say a bit later, I think it is safe to say that a part of me has never left.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Carol's Secret Diary as an Aspiring Politician

There are two political satires of democracies on tv, one on UK tv and the other on American, in image above. They were created by a Scot of Italian descent, Armando Iannucci. The Brit one was The Thick of It and the American one is Veep. I love both shows and recommend you see them.

If a person had any remaining beliefs in the integrity of politicians, these shows finished them off. What they skewer is the true motivations of politicians. The reality is that these people are solely concerned with getting into office and staying in office. That is their platform or belief structure. There is no other.

Caution: If you hate my feeble attempts at satire, like Felix does, read no further for today I am satirizing myself as I might be if suddenly I wanted to hold public office.

Carol begins her journey to political office by assessing her chances realistically.

I'd like to sit in Congress. What party should I choose?  It has to be the one with a good track record in this District.

Carol checks the voting history for her District and notices that she is in the wrong section for being a Democrat.

Ok, Looks like I'll have to run as a Republican. I'm not crazy about all their ideas but I can make it work. Let's take a look at my prior statement that I made about my contributing by running. I need to adapt it for the other party.

Carol has the Bill of Rights sitting in front of her and goes over it with a red marking pen.

Ok, let's see that means I'm for having guns instead of gun control. I'm against abortion instead of for it. I want the cops to have more search and seizure rights, not less...

Carol briskly goes through her photocopy of the Bill of Rights, changing voting habits of decades with scratches of her pen. Next she goes to the Board of Election website to find out how to change her voter registration from Democrat to Republican. Next, she looks up the party itself online and finds out how to enmesh herself in it at every level, local, state and national.

Hmmm, I may need to run for something lower down first before I can make this big a jump. Congress is a big jump. I need to find someone in a political office with a lot of scandal going on who is up for reelection and run against that person. 

Carol is online for days running down stories about politicians and their reelection problems. Now she is staring at an article about the County Road Engineer who is at the center of red hot issues. First, he erected barricades on certain roads where residents had complained about traffic (his mother being one of them). Next he had reneged on constructing an extra two lanes on the main commercial drag and drivers who commute to work on there are caught in hideous traffic snarls. Plus he was supposed to fix potholes there and has not fixed one of them! He instead made another road the construction priority. It fronts his brother's cement busines.  Carol is not at all deterred by her ignorance about anything pertaining to roads, cars, construction and the like. In fact, she was amazed to discover that potholes had anything to do with ice and snow until her husband told her last year after she ruined her car's alignment by hitting a huge one.

This is perfect! All I have to do is run for fixing everything he did wrong while running him into the ground on every basis possible. The average voter is more like me in not caring how the roads are made and maintained as long as they work for getting him around.

Carol next looks up the incumbent's educational background. He has a masters degree from CWRU in engineering. Carol is a lawyer. Carol sees this solely as a matter of spin for the voters. She can make her education seem better if she can find the right angle even though it has nothing to do with roads.

How can I spin this? What if I said that his problem is that he understands how to build roads but not the legal ramifications whereas I will rely on unbiased road building experts for making my legal decisions about which roads should be built or repaired?  That actually sounds pretty good. Ok, let's rewrite my statement.

My opponent has abused the voters' trust by using his office to advance his own family's interests with the road projects of this office. My first commitment is to getting the residents of this county onto our roads from home to the work place and back. I would not put any one person's road needs first like my opponent has done with his mother and brother. As a Republican candidate, I am also for fiscal accountability and a strong sense of representing my constituents' interests rather than my own. As a lawyer, I am prepared to follow the law, not flaunt it, as to what should be built as roads in this county.

All of the above is pretty amazing when the truth is that Carol has struggled her whole life with balancing a checkbook much less anything more complex. She hates math, knows nothing about finance or economics, and hated tax and business law while in law school. If she runs over budget with these damn roads, well, she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it--heh, heh, her first "construction joke."

Carol is interviewed by the local paper about her views. She now understands why so many politicians are lawyers. The way law school teaches you to come up with credible sounding arguments for any position, no matter how outlandish, is political gold. Excerpt from interview:

Newspaper: Why the sudden switch from Democrat to Republican?

Carol: I realized with a commitment to road construction that I needed to adopt the most conservative stance for handling other people's money in their best interests.

Newspaper: Did this change how you feel about other issues like gun control and abortion?

Carol:  A County Engineer does not have any input or vote on enacting or amending federal law. Both of those issues are federal. I would at all times seek to vote with my own conscience while trying to respect the overall platform principles of the party. However, my number one priority is fiscal responsibility. This is why I became a Republican.
November rolls around and Carol wins the election handily. Voters are delighted as she removes the barricades, stops work by the cement business and starts work on the main drag. No one seems to notice that she still knows absolutely nothing about roads or construction. She just does what the hired gun experts tell her to do. The opposition might notice that expert consultation fees have swollen the year's budget to double what her predecessor spent. This will only matter if she wants to be reelected County Engineer, which she does not. Let whatever incompetent follows her deal with the niggling problem of balancing the budget.

A year goes by and she is approached by the Democrats who want her to switch back to Democrat so she can fill a state senate seat as the incumbent is resigning due to health issues. The Democrats have been watching her incredible ability to flip flop credibly on just about anything. That she can run credibly as a fiscally conservative Republican while blowing her road budget through the roof shows political savvy they admire. She is able to focus solely on getting elected without troubling herself as to firm stances on any issues. How could they have let a gem like this slip through their hands?

Both Carol and the Democrats agree that State Senate will give her credibility for a Congressional runoff whereas being County Engineer will not.  Carol accepts the offer and immediately begins work on staging her political reconversion to the Democrats.

I better start getting identified with a few liberal causes so I get street cred back with the Democrats. Gay marriage and stopping deportations would be good issues for me. I better start drafting my County Engineer resignation letter too.

It has been a privilege to restore this great county's roads and to make the lives of everyday residents better. However, I feel that I have made my contribution here. I have cleaned up this department and now it just needs day to day running. Blah, blah, blah....
Four years later Carol is at long last sitting in the U.S. Congress. She really likes Washington, finds going back to Ohio a drag, but she must constantly appease those local yokels so she will get back into office. Her staff works night and day on keeping them appeased. Her political website, blog, newsletter, mailing list and so forth pander to those voters 24/7. The worst part of her job is when she has to glad hand with all of those yokels both here and back in Ohio. To think that she thought she wasn't a hayseed when she lived back there! God, how would she ever stand going back? She hates this part of the job, working for them, but it is the price of admission. Her most important staff member is her spin doctor or PR person. He is a genius at handling the press so that no one thinks ill of her. She really would prefer being in the Senate and they are keeping close tabs on any weakness in Ohio's two senate seats.

Coda: Obviously I could not resist doing this again. I blame it on being shut up with "the invalid" for two weeks and starting a third week with him and his detached retina. I needed comic relief. Once again, I had a great time doing a satire. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

Film: Bride Wore Black by Fran├žois Truffaut; starring Jeanne Moreau

This is one of Truffaut's very best films. Truffaut has been dead for awhile now but for several decades, ending in the 1980s, he was probably the most popular French director for American moviegoers newly discovering French film. One thing that made him so accessible to Americans was that he started out as a movie reviewer and also wrote a definitive book on the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut understood what we Americans were drawn to at the movies but could also make it a new experience for us by making it French. This movie is an homage to Hitchcock's work yet also distinctly Truffaut's movie. The marvelous Jeanne Moreau plays the lead, a woman hell bent on revenging her husband's murder. She systematically goes after and murders each man who was in any way involved in gunning her husband down on their wedding day. She of course has to get rather close to each man in question to pull this off and she is wonderfully inventive in her methods. Perhaps her best "sendoff" is saved for last though. Be ready for a great night at the movies with this one as it holds up to the very best of Hitchcock's work.

TV: Seinfeld by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David

People ask  how a comedy about four self absorbed people could be so funny and excellent. After all, shouldn't we dislike Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer? No, the reason we were rapt with their lives is because just like Desi and Lucy mirrored the 1950s, this quartet mirrored the 1990s. In the 1950s, most people were in a marriage like Desi's and Lucy's. They might have felt like they were in a straightjacket but at least they were fully connected with their extended families and friends. 

By the 1990s, people were no longer in the straightjacket. They had their full freedom and could remain as single and unconnected as they wished. They now wanted perfection before they committed. Many of them chewed through their entire 20s and 30s looking for the perfection connection or none. So the quartet of Seinfeld characters rejected everyone but themselves for nine solid years and then ended the show as unconnected as the day the show began. This show is also genius at zeroing in on the day to day foibles of people. It also tackles previously taboo areas of sitcoms. For example, George loses his fiance in this show in a way no one in sitcom history has ever lost a fiance and it is hilarious. 

Larry David was the genius hand guiding the show but he was infrequently on camera as a character. However, I loved it when he played Stienbrenner, head of the New York Yankees and George's boss. I adore this show and love watching the episodes again. Any time I need an up, it is either this show or FRASIER. There are no substitutions.

Novel: The Importance of Being 7 by Alexander McCall Smith
from the 44 Scotland Street series of novels

Author Smith tells us in a prologue that of all of his myriad characters in his prodigious literary output, Bertie Pollock is his most beloved character. When he is approached by readers, the number one query is always about Bertie. This is fairly amazing when you come to realize that Bertie is a six year old boy living in Edinburg, Scotland, living at 44 Scotland Street, the name of this series of books. Bertie's adventures in the shadow of his major whack job of a mother, Irene, are hilarious yet poignant. This volume finds Irene mired in her usual pursuits, chief of which is foisting pschotherapy upon Bertie. One of the more hilarious moments in this volume is Irene's managing to fall into a charity crate and being shipped to Romania. Bertie, as usual, must rescue both himself and his brother while everyone investigates whether Irene has become, hopefully, a victim of foul play.

But Bertie is joined by other characters on his street who are almost as beloved as he is. Matthew and Elspeth find out they are having triplets. They must find a bigger place to live and run into the narcissistic Bruce who is their surveyor. He tries to ruin their purchase of their new home out of sheer jealousy.

Angus Lordie and his dog Cyril are pursued by two women with an eye towards marriage, Domenica and Antonia. They all go on vacation to Italy together, whereupon Antonia is felled by a syndrome well known to the Italians. She is overcome by all of the art and beauty in the country, becomes messianic overnight, has a major fit in the Uffizi museum, and has to be confined in a convent for a lengthy recovery.

The above is just a small sampling of the many delights of this novel. I am a major fan of this series and give it the highest recommendation.

Music: The Songs That Got Away, Sarah Brightman

I am not a theater-goer so had not heard Brightman prior to seeing her on a DVD with Andrea Bocelli. They did a duet together that was out of this world on "Night In Tuscany." So I decided to give her a try alone on an album and she is equally as great here. These are gorgeous songs and she has an incredible voice. As a first time listener, I couldn't be more pleased and now count myself as a fan. This may not appeal to rock and roll fans or jazz fans, although I like those categories too. Brightman's is a voice in a much more classical vein though and that is the only reason I can think why someone might not be taken with her.

Andrew Lloyd Weber was married to her for six years and she was his leading lady on stage as well. He wrote Phantom of the Opera with her in mind as the lead. He would not cast anyone else in the role although there was initial opposition to her. In 1990, he met a woman who was part of the Princess Anne Horse riding set, Madeline, and divorced Brightman to marry her. The two of them proceeded to adopt a lifestyle of English country squires, which continues to this day.

Brightman went on to pioneer the classical crossover music movement and is famed for possessing a vocal range of over 3 octaves. She is the world's biggest selling soprano.

Everything reviewed above is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Golden, Magic, or Blue Hour--Free Every Day

Photographers call it the golden hour whereas cinematographers call it the magic hour. Both agree that it occurs in that period shortly after sunrise or before sunset. Daylight is redder and softer compared to when the sun is higher in the sky. They get their best results then. Film director Terrence Malick, known for his painterly style, likes to shoot his movies during those periods because it so changes the mood and look. He calls it the blue hour.
Malick could only get the below shot for his film Tree of Life by using blue hour light. We know it is the blue hour because of how low the sun is, only as high as the human hand stretched forward.

Paul Cezanne's still lifes were painted in this light as well. Even though this is indoors, the light from the window is magic hour light.

In fact, across the entire spectrum of the arts and letters, there is use of this special period of light which occurs twice a day around sunrise and sunset. And the symbolism is pretty obvious too. This period is birth at one end and death at the other.
If there is a time I am going to be outdoors on any given day, I try and make it this time. Although I am up fairly early each day, I am not much on going out then so I gravitate towards that period at the end of the day instead. Magic hour makes me feel more alive than at any other time of the day yet I also sense the fleeting nature of time and especially my time. 

I have been swimming most days this summer during magic hour. Today, because there is a swim meet at 5pm, I had to change the time of my swim to 11am. I still enjoyed my swim but the ambience sure was different. I missed that light on me as I was moving through the water. The sun has also lost a lot of its punch by magic hour and so you don't feel the heat the way you do earlier. 

If you have not been doing anything during magic hour, try taking your camera with you one evening on a short hike. You will enjoy the results.
If this is all too ephemeral for you and you are the type of person who needs a practical payoff in trying something new, magic hour does not disappoint! I have a practical application for you of this principle which will make you the toast of your next birthday party (or your grandchild's). If you have always wanted a silhouette image, below, but didn't know how to take one with your camera, all you need is your camera, your subject and the blue or magic hour. Then shoot your camera straight into the sun with the subject's back or side to the sun. You've got your silhouette. This will not work at other times of the day or it won't work well. You want that subject absolutely black and this is the time you need for that. The camera on your phone will take the shot just fine.

You can have such fun doing these. If you have an image editing program, you can select the black of the animal and then paste another image into that black. Thus, I selected the black on the above image and then copied the below image to paste into it. So first is the copy image, below:

I then paste it into the black animal and here is the result:

This is an enormously popular thing to do with small children (of them and their pets) and at small children's parties. And this is just one thing this marvelous light makes possible.

Below are the two key steps used in an image editing program:

after these two commands, the one image goes inside the other image:

If this interests you, I found a website online which has a tutorial on taking these kinds of pictures with an iphone.  I am sure the general principles apply to all of these camera and tablet phones since they universally apply to all cameras. Go here to learn more.

Also, I found some tutorials for copy and paste into. Gimp and Photoshop both do this technique in exactly the same way. Gimp is free whereas Photoshop is not.
tutorial at photoshop essentials
tutorial at essential-photoshop-elements

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time Traveling Via Google Search Engines (and Leaving the Terrorists Behind)

I constantly tell people that the way I grew up, the way most of us grew up, made many of our modern problems not a problem. I grew up in the suburb of Cleveland Hts, directly east of Cleveland. Today I have used Google Maps to map my home and everywhere I used to go as a child and teenager to make my point easier to follow. It is post 1970s lifestyles which have yielded present day problems. These problems did not just "arrive". Of course, few of us are now in a position to reclaim those easier to navigate lives. In many cases, the places I mention no longer even exist which makes them impossible to resurrect. But follow along here and you'll see what I mean if your sons and daughters and grandchildren are commuting several hours a day far away from you for just about everything they do. And I will indeed reach those terrorists by the time I reach the end. (Click on images to see giant versions.)

My home was at 3452 Edison Road in Cleveland Hts, Ohio. We moved here in 1953 when I was 5. Like most kids, my world was made up of my daily activities which I traveled to from my family home. Behind my house was both my school and my church. So every day I just went through a gate in my back yard and I was at school. Likewise, I walked to church. There also were sidewalks throughout the city which were well maintained. No one ever walked in the street as they do today. My parents both worked as real estate brokers. They started their business in the home, in a little office to the extreme right on the first floor front. Then they got an office but no more than five minutes away from home by car. Next to their office building were: a gas station, drug store, restaurants, shops and two big supermarkets. They did not need to commute anywhere else between home and work.  It was all there.

My point here is that in a very short period of time we went from my parents living in small towns which had one set of schools and a small set of people, all of whom you knew, to close in suburbs. In those close in suburbs everything was a bit further apart than the small towns but they were obviously put together by people trying to adhere to that model of a community. And then we moved to sort of an "anything goes" system of living and did so in a shockingly short amount of time, from 1970 to present day. Let's just say that for many people their cars became their new best friends and they certainly spent enough time in and with them to earn that designation.

But here's my biggest point of all: we would not be in the fixes we are in now if we still lived like that, either in those small towns our parents grew up in or the close in suburbs to the cities in which we grew up. First, we would use much less in utilities straight across the board, of every type, and not be veritable hostages to interests like oil, natural gas and water (if you are in the West). But closely related to this is info the government recently released. Despite all the increases in Homeland Security, NSA, CIA, FBI, etc., the most likely way law enforcement will nail a terrorist before he strikes is if people in their local communities report something they see which is suspicious.  It trumps everything law enforcement can do.

I submit to you that if you put a terrorist cell back in what we used to know as our neighborhoods we would spot them in nothing flat and report them. Very few places could make that boast today. Indeed terrorist cells exist in just about every large city in America. It is easy for them to hide in America where everything and everyone are now so distant. One could almost say that we enabled the terrorists with our very own lifestyles post 1970.

Don't believe me still? Then study the places which are free of terrorist cells and then compare them with the below map. You will quickly ascertain that people in Bismark and Fargo, North Dakota; Pierre, South Dakota; Helena, Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming and so forth, have no terrorist cells. Why? Because those places are small yet vast, the frontier spirit prevails and a terrorist would be taking way too big a risk to try to insert himself into those communities, which most closely resemble the earlier modes of small town living in this country.