Saturday, August 30, 2008

My 2¢

In a move that was nothing short of ingenious, John McCain chose Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to adding Palin to the Republican ticket, but the reaction to McCain's decision has mostly been met with enthusiastic approbation by supporters who were expecting the worst.

The Pros of Palin (politically speaking)

1) Gender. By adding diversity to his ticket, McCain can reach beyond the cliched white male, Protestant voters, and has equal footing in courting what are traditionally regarded as minority groups.

2) Conservative. Sarah Palin seems to exhibit the same views as John McCain on social issues like abortion. Those of us (like me) who cringed at the thought of having Tom Ridge or Rudy Giuliani as the vice-presidential running mate are relieved by Palin's selection.

3) Commonality. Sarah Palin's describes herself as a "hockey mom" and has a new-born child diagnosed with down syndrome.

4) As governor of Alaska she fought and implemented a tax hike on the oil industry that reflated the state's treasury. She also battled corruption, and favors drilling for oil and gas in off-limits Alaskan territory.

The Cons of Palin

1) Unlike Joe Biden, she has absolutely no significant experience in dealing with foreign policy matters.

2) Is the subject of an ethics investigation in her home state.

3) Skeptics look at her choice as a political gesture to court a specific voter demographic as apposed to the selection of someone with experience.

4) Her glasses.

In short, Sarah Palin offers pronounced positives to the Republican ticket this election year, but inspite of these contributions she can't afford to procrastinate or become distracted. She has to quickly become well versed in national and international affairs since she will undoubtedly face at least one debate with her opponent Joe Biden, who is convincingly more experienced than she is in dealing with governmental affairs, and who is also well knowledge in the foreign policy arena.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

School has starter for big kids like yours truly, so I may not be able to post with the same frequency as I normally do. I will, however, check up on you guys regularly just to see who is misbehaving and how I can join in:0)

On a positive note, I have a three day weekend coming up. Just enough to forget everything I learned this past week!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beauty Contest for Nuns

An Italian priest in Rome is organizing an Internet beauty contest for Catholic nuns. Dubbed the "Miss Sister 2008", Father Antonio Rungi believes that by holding this type of contest the sisters will gain more publicity and simultaneously shatter misconceptions of what life as a nun is like. The contest is slated for September of this year. (source)

I think the efficacy of this "contest" will depend entirely on the way the organisers handle the execution. If it becomes superficial, egotistical, or pits one nun against the other (unbelievable, isn't it?), it will undoubtedly do more harm than good.

Also, might some nuns consider this demeaning? After all, I have heard of no contests evaluating the exhibition of priests and brothers within a competitive context, no matter how beneficial the objective might be.

Rock-it-Man: I'm going to be Hiiiiii...

The following clip William Shatner must wish had never happened, and when you see it for yourselves you'll understand why. It has sporadically been spoofed by various comedians and comedy shows, and even by the cartoon character Stewie from the Family Guy. Notice how unbelievably corny this whole thing gets when Shatner's image is doubled and he performs this song like a duo. The part of the song when he responds to his double by saying "In fact, it's cold as hell" is hilarious! And even dumber still is the segment when a third Shatner appears, prancing from out of nowhere, looking like he's had a little too much to drink.

When I look at some of the film footage of the 1970's and see how credulous and corny we were, I can't help but wonder where our collective head was.

Where was your head in the 1970's? And, please, don't say your shoulder.

Other than "dumb" and "corny", what other word best describes the above video? I keep trying to think of it but I can't nail it down.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My blogger-pal Tracy has awarded me with Blogging Friends Forever Gold Card . Tracy's blog, called A Catholic Mom in Minnesota, is one I frequently peruse, so I follow all the adventures of her life from the time her husband became a Catholic (under Tracy's Simple Life) to the more resent event in which Alex, her son, broke his elbow. Always writing on a level we can all understand and relate to, if I had one word to characterize Tracy's blog it would be with the word "simplicity." Thank you, Tracy!

By the way, Alex is doing much better:0)

In turn, I pass on this award to the following blogs:

1) Auntie A at Adrienne's Catholic Corner
2) Paramedicgirl at Salve Regina
3) Shirley at Seeking Jesus
4) Kimberly at Our God is an Awesome God
5) Jessica at The Flying Dutch Girl

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A New Age for Drinkers

Colleges and universities across the country are making a push to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 years of age. In a report published yesterday by the Associated Press, administrators from over 100 universities are petitioning lawmakers to lower the age limit because they feel current prohibitions encourage binge drinking on university campuses.

Dubbed the Amethyst Initiative, the chancellors and presidents of the institutions involved in the challenge unveiled their fundamentals in the following summation:

1) A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”— often conducted off-campus —has developed.

2) Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.

3) Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.

4) By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law. (source)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has begun its own campaign to contest the resolution of the Amethyst Initiative. They argue that lowering the drinking age to 18 simply passes the underage drinking conundrum to high school students, and that since 1984 - when the Uniform Drinking Age Act was signed into law by President Reagan - over 25,000 lives have been saved. According to their website, MADD is joined by former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, now president of the University of Miami; NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker; the American Medical Association, and have solidified bipartisan support from numerous congressmen and senators.

Does the Amethyst Initiative employ a rationale not unlike those who want to legalize pot, meth, cocaine, crack, and other illegal drugs? Many people feel that by legalizing these types of substances the profitability and criminal activity surrounding their sale, traffic, and use would significantly diminish. The Amethyst assemblage believes that by legally permitting those who can't legally drink now - with 18 being the new limit - the factors encouraging destructive alcohol use by collegians would also abate.

Personally, I think the root cause of underage drinking is much more complex and elusive than what MADD and the Amethyst Initiative can address with their individual strategies. Again, as we have all heard before, I think that there are societal catalysts that directly and indirectly quicken the onset of alcoholism. Unfortunately, as visible and unequivocal as these factors are, they are largely ignored.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"To serve with love for others"

Sister Guillermina Gavilanes - who is also a doctor - has delivered approximately half the population of Santa Clara, Ecuador. Fifty years into her service, she shows no signs of slowing down. A comparison to Mother Teresa is inevitable.

Left click twice on video for full screen viewing.

What's Your Style?

When I walk into a church, I like to know I've walked into a church and not an auditorium or some quasi-amphitheater. Churches should noticeably alert anyone who walks into their space that this is not just an ordinary environment where business continues as usual. Unfortunately, some churches' interiors suffer from either banal iconic and architectural construction, or are at the opposite end of the spectrum with flowery, very colorful, intricate, and distracting arrangements. I'm going to give you a few examples of those churches who miss equilibrium (using me as the scale) by applying too much of any one thing and those churches who get it just right.


Take St. Nikolaus Catholic Church in Austria(right). Oh you know you're inside a church when you walk in alright. But can you really keep track of everything that is going on here? It's beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, but distracting if you want to focus on an icon or some other facet of the church. You try meditating with the sound of a gong going off inside your head every time you look at the intricate arrangement of this church. The gold shine from the statues alone may require that some wear sunglasses if not sunscreen. This is a good example of overkill.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Church of the Sac-red Heart in Munich, Germany. Please tell me where exactly is the church in this pic? This church is what you might call modern architecture (I LOVE modern buildings), but is this interior not lacking in Catholic identity? The exterior of the church is indeed impressive (not shown here), but it appears that the interior is comprised of a series of tightly swathed ban boo sticks. Now, I'm pretty sure that the church is structurally sound, but where is the iconography that is conducive to Christian story-telling? Where is the Catholic identity in this church? A prosaic and languorous internal arrangement never strikes the interest of the laity.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The beauty, color, and texture of the materials used in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I think are self evident. The sheer elegance of this basilica is difficult for any church to match, let alone surpass. The majestic apse, multicolored icons, and light placement seem to diffuse a palpable sense of delicate accuracy, with a simultaneous reach for the Divine. Here I could focus my mind on the Christian Mystery. Here I find that elusive perfect equilibrium that other churches intentionally (but not maliciously) destroy on their way to constructing what they
feel is an appropriate liturgical setting.

Yes, I know the criticism: "Why build these beautiful but expensive churches, when you have the poor to feed." That brings me to my next example.

Minimalism Done Right

"Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all." ~ John 1:5

Nový Dvůr Monastery in the Czech Republic is a truly remarkable abbey. Lacking the iconic and color components of the basilica in Washington, D.C., and the bedazzled clutter of St. Nikolaus Church in Austria, simplicity characterises just about every facet of its construction. There are no icons or massive crucifixes floating above the altar, and no statues of saints embellishing its interior. As you can see from the picture, the altar is of simple construction, with a tabernacle to the rear that is flanked by two candles. Other than the blessed sacrament, what else does a worshipper have that invites contemplation and prayer? Well, how about LIGHT! One of the places we search for God is in the Book of Nature, and in that book many symbols have been appropriately used to give us an insight as to who and what God is. One of the most prevalent symbols from the Book of Nature is light, and the altar inside this abbey seems to be surrounded by it. I would then say light can rank as an icon - of a sort - reminding us of the sacred Mystery. There are strong historical antecedents that clearly demonstrate that Nature and monasticism go hand in hand. Do you think it's by accident that so many monasteries are located in rural and bucolic grounds?

By the way, in the book New Spiritual Architecture, guess which group is credited with having the most progressive Church buildings in the world? You guessed it, the Roman Catholics.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Churches of the Caucasus

Lets hope the Russians had the decency of leaving these churches undamaged during their invasion of Georgia.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oh Joy!

Guess what, guys! When I was browsing iTunes yesterday I came across the most marvellous vista ever. You have to SIT DOWN first before continuing to read.

Okay, are you sitting?


Here goes, New Kids on the Block is coming out with a new album this September!! Isn't it just doggone terrrrrrrriffic! Finally some good news in an otherwise bleak and dark world.

Welcome back Donnie, Danny, Joey, Jordan, Jonathan!! The world went to hell since your last album.

So what if they are mostly old men, they will always be New Kids on the Block to me. Yay!

I can just see myself running across a sandy beach, with my hair braided and beaded, and my arms stretched out, ready to embrace their album cover.

I'm especially a huge fan of the New Kid with the horse face.

Disclaimer: I like horses, and I prefer horse faces on horses. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Generating Controversy

DreamWorks Production is raising plenty of controversy with its latest comedy release Tropic Thunder, starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jack Black. The film has come under intense criticism from advocacy groups for its negative portrayal of people with mental and learning disabilities, and its gratuitous use of the word "retard." The film makers explain that the movie is actually poking fun at the characters of the film itself, and not callously mocking individuals with learning disabilities. That explanation has done little to assuage groups such as Special Olympics, the Arc of the United States, and the National Down Syndrome Congress, who have launched a nation-wide boycott of the film and are encouraging movie goers to skip it completely. On a related note, this past July shock-jock Michael Savage described autistic children as "brats" and characterized autism as a "fraud" and a "racket." Many of the same groups boycotting DreamWorks' Tropic Thunder have called for Savage's resignation. Savage, as far as I'm aware, to this day has failed to apologize for his comments.

The contentions generated by the release of Tropic Thunder bring several issues to the forefront of discussion:

1) We, as a society, are careful not to offend certain groups by applying specific words and phrases that are seen as derogatory and inflammatory. Why should people with learning disabilities not be afforded the same sensitivities?
2) Is all this tip-toeing around certain words with certain groups political correctness run amok? Some might wonder whether it might someday be impossible to say anything about anyone without causing a row.
3) Are people who are outraged by this film simply being a little too sensitive?

I have not seen Tropic Thunder and I probably never will. But the film's controversy does highlight weighty considerations as to when too far is far enough. Michael Savage, who gets his pay raises by getting a rise out of people, probably made those imbecilic comments fully aware of the publicity it would bring both to himself and to his radio show.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Uphill Battle for Catholic Equality in Russia

In 1997 Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a new law deceptively titled Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association. This law redefined a pre-existing law that was singed in 1990 by Mikhail Gorbachev, which gave religious freedom to groups that had been oppressed and persecuted during the administration of hard line communist authorities for almost eight decades inside the Soviet Union. Ironically, this law - which had been pushed by the Russian Orthodox Church and communist party members alike - is applied not unlike the undemocratic and authoritarian methodologies of the former Soviet Union. This particular law, in a sense, illegalizes any proselytizing done by any group that is not Russian Orthodox, and makes it nearly impossible for other religions to adequately support their respective churches.

Since communist authorities prohibited seminaries to operate inside the borders of the former Soviet Union until 1990, the Catholic Church is heavily dependent on the presence of foreign clergy to administer to Russian Catholics, and maintain Russian Catholic Churches. Unfortunately, under the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association, foreign clergy can only receive a nonrenewable visa that allows them to stay for only three months inside Russia before having leave the country. Businessmen and athletes visiting Russia are NOT subject to these restrictions. Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Russia expects to continue to be heavily dependent of missionary clergy for at least another generation until newly opened seminaries can meet the demand for Catholic clergy.

There are those suffering more than Catholics. The regulations in the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association require that a religious organisation be registered with the government for a period of no less than fifteen years before it can hold public worship services, distribute any propaganda about itself, and hire foreign clergy. Protestant denominations, since they are largely dispersed and ununified, do not have the pre-existing historical connections within Russia to meet these pre-requisites.

And you thought Soviet mentality had perished for good?

By the way, perhaps I'm wrong in my evaluation but Vladimir Putin, the former President and now Prime Minister of Russia, with his KGB career reminds me of those Catholic mafiosos who engaged in some of the most reprehensible and illegal acts you can imagine, but always went to mass on Sundays and made sure their kids were baptized.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beata viscera

Okay, I know it's not Christmas or the Annunciation, but this chant can't wait till then to be posted. This particular piece - called "Beata viscera" (Blessed is the womb) - was written by a man named Perotinus Magister (also referred to as Perotin), who was a French composer who lived almost nine hundred years ago. This beautiful chant is characterized by austerity, profound meditation (listen to the "humming" in the background) and concentrated prayer.

The times that I've heard this chant in the past, it has been performed by a counter-tenor. This is the first time I've heard it with the tenor voice at the helm.

By the way, Perotinus Magister is just about the coolest name I've ever heard.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Clay Aiken is a Father

Boy, was I wrong about him...I think.

Hey, James Bond fans, recognize any of these?

Rita Coolidge sings for 007 "All Time High."

In this video Louis Armstrong sings "We Have All the Time in the World."

Nancy Sinatra performs "You Only Live Twice."

And last but not least, Shirley Bassey's "Moonraker."

I grew up listening to these songs and at an early age became a fan of John Barry's sweeping melodies and rich accompaniments. His music has often been characterized by a certain poignancy that makes nostalgia almost inevitable when you listen to it (see Out of Africa soundtrack).

And, yes, I'm also a fan of James Bond movies with Roger Moore and Sean Connery as my two favorite 007's.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Mad Professor

Go here and see for yourselves a true outrage.

Rotating Buildings?

It's called Dynamic Architecture, and it was developed by Italian architect David Fisher. A building that is completely self-powered and prefabricated means the construction time is significantly reduced, as well as the usual dangers construction crews have to face when elevating a structure of this size. What is truly unique about this architectural venture is that Fisher claims his building will not only be self-powered, but it will be able to generate enough energy to power an additional ten buildings of similar size. This plan involves placing wind turbines between the floors to harness the wind energy that blows through the building. The first building is set to go up in Dubai. Watch the videos.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Parce mihi domine (Spare me, Lord)

Written by Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553) close to five hundred years ago, this chant is one of the most beautiful pieces from the Renaissance. I'm going to present to you two different versions of it, one very traditional and the other with a more progressive component.

This is the first version of the "Parce mihi Domine" and much closer Morales' original arrangement. It's beautifully imbued with serenity, profound contemplation and mysticism.

Now comes the second arrangement. This version is unique, to say the least, but not without merit. What makes this translation progressive is that it contains a saxophone in the arrangement, something that is unheard of in sacred music. When I first heard it on the CD, I oscillated between appreciation and recoil. But after hearing it a few times, I understood why I hadn't rejected it with complete disgust. This second version offers an interesting blend of the sacred and the profane, evoking an imagery that suits the feel of the arrangement: Imagine a small group of friars walking on a sidewalk, in a single file, way before the crack of dawn, in a major metropolitan city. They are making their way to a dining facility to feed the poor. Hooded, quiet, and with their arms tucked, as they walk to their destination they pass enormous buildings, banks, and other financial institutions. The city is quiet so early in the morning and the friars stare mainly at the sidewalk as they make their way to the poor, uttering prayers under their breaths. In this imagery, the chant is symbolized by the monks (sacred), and the saxophone symbolizes the city (profane). Please disregard the video of the second version since, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the chant. Just listen to the music.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Skip the Olympics this Year

"Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." Olympic Charter, Fundamental principles, paragraph 2

Does the Chinese government live up to these ideals?

The International Olympic Committee has chosen China as the host nation for the 2008 summer games. China's government (NOT the Chinese people) is guilty of perpetrating on its citizens unspeakable atrocities and violations of fundamental human rights. Skip the Olympics this year and show your solidarity with the Chinese people and not the Chinese government.

Thanks to Portal and the Redemption of Unity Gain for the pic.