Some time ago, the folks who waste their valuable time reading this bilge may remember I remarked, "One more (modern convenience) and I'm headed straight back to the 12th century." ["Now Conveniently in Rear Rows!" 11 October 2010] Well, one more modern convenience showed up, so I'm out of here!
(I will, however, continue to add titles to the "Works" list as they are published.)
31 December 2010: Feast of St. Zoticus. Vandals, Alans, and Suebians cross Rhine invading Gaul 406 AD; James I of Aragon enters Palma reconquering Majorca 1229; Americans defeated Battle of Quebec 1775; Victoria chooses Ottawa as Canadian capital 1857; Czechoslovakia divides into Czech Republic and Slovakia 1992.
IT'S HERE! IT'S HERE AT LAST!
No, we're only half-past Advent. Contrary to popular belief in the pagan world, the Twelve Days of Christmas trail December 24th like a flag.
No, what's here is the Kindle version of Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships. I just downloaded my copy at oh-dark-thirty.
Bengtsson's Viking tale, written during War World II, is two incompatible things (at least to those ignorant of history and who don't watch people)--good history and human comedy.
Set around the year 1,000 AD, it tells the story of Red Orm, a Norse businessman of the period. It begins with a attempted acquisition of livestock shares (in this case, sheep) by the captain and crew of a passing vacation cruise--remember, to go "aviking," is rather like the old joke "What does an Irishman do for a vacation?--He sits on someone else's stoop." These guys go on vacation each summer and steal someone else's sheep (and anything else they can physically lift). Orm declines the leveraged offer and, in doing so, receives a smack on the forehead with an ax. Happily for him and the long ship's captain, the the ax was oriented 90 degrees to it's most efficient operating position and Orm only ends up with a large bruise and the captain ends up with a rower to replace the one who was killed during negotiations.
Thus begins a theme that runs throughout the book--Orm has luck--battle luck, woman luck, weather luck (though he never seems to hit the lottery). And, Oy! Does he need it! Only a few of the things he has to put up with are being a galley slave down in Islamic Spain, having to beat feet or oars (I suppose) ahead of an irate caliph--something about the small matter of the theft of a ship, a large economy-sized Christian bell, and forgetting to give two weeks notice--enjoying his own vacation helping to shake down England (the whole country, mind you), converting to Christianity (I know the feeling, there's a woman involved in his case also), a search for his long lost brother's hoard of gold while avoiding a horde of unfriendly natives (are there any other kind in this type of story?), and finally having to clean up after the very worst missionary in Christendom.
Bengtsson had the refreshing ability to deliver hilarity with a perfectly straight face--you're halfway in before you realize just how funny the situation is (as an example, there is the heart-warming trial-by-combat involving a crone, a pair of purloined virgins, their future husbands, and a skinflint uncle).
Another joy of The Long Ships is that the history checks out. It is an excellent display of Europe in the run-up to the Second Coming expected on the dawning of 1,000 AD (after all, everybody knows the Lord always works in round numbers). It gives a good picture of the three-way-collision of Christianity, Islam, and Norse paganism and the heroes and knaves to be found in every belief system. Medieval history without pain and, best of all, you can let your teen read it--if they can get it away from you.
(Note to FTC: Bought it myself, oh guardians of confusion, needless expense, and red tape.)
15 December 2010: Feast of St. Urbitius. Belisarius defeats Vandals in Battle of Ticameron 533 AD, U.S. Bill of Rights ratified by Virginia 1791, Battle of Nashville 1864, 21st Amendment to U.S. Constitution takes effect--"The bar is open, boys."--1933, Gemini 6A and Gemini 7 make first manned space rendezvous 1965.
This year, we decided to buy the Thanksgiving dinner pre-built. A couple of the local supermarkets offered already cooked Turkeys, side dishes, and pies for a reasonable price, and this looked like the way to cut down on combat around the dinner table. Until recently, rather than looking like Norman Rockwell's version of Thanksgiving, ours tended to have more in common with discussions between, oh, say Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix at Alesia? (I would have said Lee and Grant, but our scrums weren't nearly so Civil.) We figured out that most of the fighting took place because everyone was exhausted by dinnertime Thursday afternoon. The wife and number one daughter had worked until late at the supermarket the night before (when you work in the service industry, there is no such thing as a holiday--those are for your betters who work weekdays, 9-5). Then everybody'd hit the floor early so as to get the cooking done for that photo op banquet table that only we would see. By the time dinner was ready, we really shouldn't have been allowed anything sharper than a bowling ball with which to carve the turkey.
After about fifteen years of this stupidity, the penny finally dropped. Why did Thanksgiving have to be on Thursday? Why not Friday? It's not like it's a religious festival that's pegged to one particular day. If you really are thankful, I suspect the Lord will probably take your "thank you" call on Friday. Besides, by celebrating on Friday, both ladies were more likely to be off from work and they could recuperate from what they un-laughingly referred to as "hell week" by sleeping-in Thursday.
Anyway, back to my bid for nonexistence. I'm at the store Wednesday morning to pick up the Thanksgiving dinner when I think of something. This grocery chain carries my favorite salty snack, Wise potato chips (Dr. Pepper and Wise BBQ chips, breakfast of champions--it's a Southern thing). Why not pick up a bag or fifteen? I normally shop at the store at which the ladies of the house work, so I wasn't sure where the chip aisle was located. I see a stocker adding a competitor's brand on a display in front of the checkout aisles. I look around and notice he's the only employee in sight aside for the red-shirted cashiers. I go over and ask, "Excuse me, could you tell me where the Wise potato chips are located, please?" He straightens up and blinks at me. His accent is purest Caribbean as he replies, "I beg your pardon?" Okay, I probably said it too fast and most likely mumbled. "Could you tell me where to find the Wise potato chips, please?" As he stares at me, my eye travels over his left pocket on which is emblazoned, "Frito-Lay." As my mind goes from All Ahead Two-Thirds directly to All Astern Full, I notice that his shirt's red doesn't exactly match the store personnel's red. He looks at me oddly and points down the main aisle. "Uh, chips are down on sixteen." My first thought is to reach inside my mouth, grab my butt from the inside, and jerk hard in hopes that I can cause myself to pop out of existence on this particular plane. Instead, I thank him profusely, assure him that Lay's is my number one choice when Wise aren't available (true), and beat feet out of sight. After adding two bags Wise chips to my cart (Regular and BBQ) I went back up to check out, taking care not to pass the gentleman working on his display. I'd like to take this occasion to tell Frito-Lay that they have a very nice, extremely patient, and mega-forgiving gentleman stocking shelves for them.
Note to FTC: Bought the Wise chips myself. Frito-Lay probably isn't about to send me anything now.
28 November 2010: First Sunday of Advent. Feast of St. Andrew Trong. Council of Clermont launches First Crusade 1095, Magellan sails into Pacific from Atlantic 1520, Beethoven premiers Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major 1811, Louis b. Mayer opens his first movie theater 1907, Tehran Conference 1943, Mariner 4 lifts off for Mars 1964.
Back in the garden, if I remember correctly, besides the Tree of Knowledge, there was also the Tree of Life. This one's fruit would grant eternal life (one wonders if this might be where the Norse picked up the idea of the apples that kept their gods young). If the first juvenile delinquents, (look, they couldn't have been more than a few months old--the Bible says nothing about either acne or teen-age angst) had gotten to that one, man's three score and ten would have been a lot longer. Me, I don't think I could stand the boredom.
With mortality, comes the crap-shoot, lottery, number coming up on the wheel, or draw of the card (notice how all of these seem to have something to do with losing money?) which determines check-out time. For some reporting in comes sooner than one would hope for (being more or less a believer in Christian charity, I won't discuss the other group). One who's stay was cut shorter than some of us would wish was Charley McDowell.
Charles Rice McDowell, Jr. managed something of a miracle in his time, he managed to be both a journalist AND a gentleman. He wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch (known to all of us who love it as the "Times-Disreputable"). I'm told that his political column was avidly read. Looking at an example--the way he wrote about the effect on people's lives of the wait for Richard Nixon's resignation, I can well see why. Column of 9 August 1974. Rather than speaking to its meaning for history or the interests of the political class and other elites as did most of his colleagues , he wrote about the people.
This view of the commonplace is what I remember most about him. I first met him while watching "Washington Week in Review" on the PBS station in DC, WETA. My wife and I watched that show right after "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser." Neither of us had any money and we certainly weren't "movers and shakers" (rather, we tended to be the "moved and shaken"), but here was intelligent TV before the term "spin" had been invented.
Back in those days (1975-1990) PBS attempted to attract people of all stripes to their viewership by providing a forum for Left, Right, and the folks in the middle caught in the crossfire. "Washington Week in Review" was a round table discussion show in which the moderator, Paul Duke, (who displayed no bias) and four (I think) journalists talked about the week's happenings inside the beltway. Usually there was a hard Leftist, an equally hard Rightist, and a utility player who sided with one or the other. Sitting on the moderator's physical left was Charley McDowell. He tended to be the voice of Everyman, neither far Left nor far Right. In fact, he seemed to pretty much hug the center of the road. This, along with his Shenandoah accent (hey, you gotta like someone who sounds like you among all those TV voices that say, "Hi, I'm from nowhere."), made him a favorite with the wife and me.
Here's the paper's writeup about him: Charley McDowell.
Now, he's gone, at least from around these parts. But, maybe in a couple of years we'll get to see him again. I suspect (and fervently hope) the Lord don't mind the sweet tones of a Shenandoah accent.
7 November 2010: Feast of St. Ernest. Ensisheim Meteorite - first dated impact - hits wheat field in Alsace 1492, Royal Governor of Virginia offers emancipation to slaves who fight for British 1775, brigantine Mary Celeste sails from New York 1872, Jesus Garcia saves Nacozaride de Garcia in Sonora from burning dynamite train 1907, Suez Crisis 1956.
Kelly, a guy I worked for many moons ago, put himself through art school working as an undertaker in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. One pleasant Indian summer afternoon, he was out in the driveway of the funeral home washing one of the hearses when he almost became one of the dearly departed. He had just walked under the carport to grab a swig of Dr. Pepper when he heard a car engine rev to light-speed and a loud thump. He looked up to see a Chevy Corvair coming down the hill and across the lawn from the Kroger's parking lot above at a high rate of speed (the fact of a Corvair moving fast proves it was downhill). Kelly did his best second base slide out of the way and the car crashed into the side of the funeral home beneath the carport's canopy.
When he opened the door, he found the driver, a late-middle-aged lady (the French, being the French, have a much more female-friendly phrase: "Une femme d'un certain age...") to be shaken--not stirred--but otherwise unharmed. It seems the heel of one of her stylish shoes became lodged against the accelerator and the Corvair fulfilled Ralph Nader's title, Unsafe at Any Speed.
While the repair work was being done to the funeral home, the owner decided an armor upgrade was in order figuring this might not be the last occasion of a prospective customer attempting to deliver themselves from the supermarket parking lot. So, a three foot-high brick wall was added to the outside edge of the carport.
Kelly was shoveling snow out front when he heard the tinny sound of a way over-revved Corvair engine and the familiar loud thump. He turned in time to watch the same Corvair fly down the hill, hit the bottom, become airborne, leap the brick wall, and end up wedged between the wall and the canopy overhead with its tail-end protruding far too saucily for a family-oriented blog.
While the lady, again, wasn't injured, the Life-Saving Crew did have to cut Detroit's masterpiece apart to extricate her. The cause? Yep, you guessed it. The heel of the same stylish sort of shoes had performed the trick of their predecessors.
This time she ended up in court. The Commonwealth of Virginia is generally pretty patient as such entities go, but this was getting to be a blasted habit. The offending stylish shoes were the Commonwealth's Exhibit "A." Both the Defense and the Commonwealth agreed that they were there more too ask his honor what to do about the problem rather than to seek punitive action against the unfortunate driver. The judge leaned back in his chair and studied the ceiling for some minutes, came to a decision, leaned forward, and ordered that henceforth, the lady's driver's license, on the line normally devoted to "glasses" or "hearing aid," would read, "sensible shoes."
Our lady of dragons is at it again--publishing a book that causes normal law-abiding people to breakout in loud, uncontrollable laughter in the middle of such places of quiet as libraries, funeral parlors, hospitals, and boiler factories. Her latest hoot, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, is hitting the stores and ereaders this December. Considering my low tolerance for zombie lit (something about Sturgeon's Law being at work in the tidal wave of this stuff lately--as it is in all things human), this is one of the two keepers I've found so far (maybe I'll talk about the other next time if I get bored enough). Here's links to some sites with information: The Zombie Cookbook, and Fabianspace. (Note to FTC: I neither bought it nor was given it, you guys figure it out.)
31 October 2010: Feast of St. Arnulf. Luther nails his "95 Theses" to door of Wittenberg church 1517, Maori Wars resume in New Zealand 1864, last successful large-scale cavalry charge (so far) in Battle of Beersheba 1917, torpedoing and sinking of USS Reuben James 1941, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assassinated 1984.
As an example, upon arrival at church, one should turn off the cell phone. Taking calls in the Confessional is generally frowned upon--even if you are the priest.
Another point of churchly etiquette was brought up in a bulletin from Florida I recently perused. It asks that late arrivals during Mass take seats in the back rather than create a disturbance and distraction by walking down toward the front via the main aisle. Unfortunately, every Sunday Mass (and not a few daily) I've attended, the last four rows are packed with early arrivals. The only spaces left are from the front back.
Apparently, if one sits way in the back, Father can't use his priest-vision to see the dark deeds of one's heart. Also, a lot of this last row thing, I think, started with Jesus' story of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisees, now being wise to how things work, sit in the farthest rows to remind all that they are holy by being humble enough to sit in the last rows.
So with the folks attempting to avoid priest powers, those reminding others of their final destinations, the young parents with squalling babies trying to escape other young parents with squalling babies in the"cry room," the ushers playing poker and talking baseball while waiting to take up the collection, and, of course, old poots like me who need the shortest limp to the restrooms, those last rows would give a sardine claustrophobia.
* Convenience: (old middle Wendish) noun. 1. A source of exasperation. 2. A blot on the face of technology. 3. an excuse to pay 100-150% more for an item.
11 October 2010: Feast of St. Peter Tuy. Day did not exist in Italy, Portugal, Poland, or Spain because of implementation of Gregorian calendar 1582, sack of Wexford by Cromwell 1649, Battle of Valcour Island in Lake Champlain 1776, J.E.B. Stuart loots Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 1862, Vatican II begins 1962.
For some reason, some folks are of the opinion that finding extraterrestrial life will prove the nonexistence of God. I'm not sure I follow their reasoning. My reaction to the discovery of extraterrestrial life as far as the existence of the Lord is something along the lines of "Yeah? So?" I see no reason why God couldn't have life other than that on our little blue dot. After all, He's God--He can do any dang thing He pleases (one of the fringe benefits of being The All Mighty).
One problem I think they have is that they are attempting to set up a strawman based on their mental construct of an entity they accept as not existing. At this point, the exercise begins to resemble the "Seinfeld" show--a show basically about nothing. Well, I must admit, they have faith if nothing else.
The second problem I see with the product the evangelical atheist pushes is that they really have no product. On the matter of what happens just before the first shovelful of dirt hits the top of the coffin, they say believers are offered "pie-in-the-sky." And they offer...what? My opinion only, but that pie may just taste better than their mouthful of dust.
So we will go our ways. Me sorry that they risk their immortal souls and them sorry I risk...again, what?
But, then, who am I to look askance at my betters? I'm just a poor, credulous peasant trying to get through life the best I can. So eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow may be--Fantastic!
Review (Note to FTC: Bought it myself, troops.)
The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events that Shaped Our Earth by Walter Alvarez. W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
Being as it's the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and I like rocks, I figured I'd troll this book by a member of the twosome that gave us the Cretaceous asteroid hit theory (Alvarez the younger) past for your consideration. It is a study of the undersea formation of the Appennine Mountains' limestone and their quarries--where Michelangelo worked as a pup--, the volcanic seven hills of Rome, and the evaporation of the Mediterranean Sea (you can't say things weren't exciting in that part of the world).
The book requires no real knowledge of structural geology and is written on a public high school level (Catholic middle school level). Alvarez is a good writer and makes the geology enjoyable.
4 October 2010: Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Gregory XIII implements Gregorian Calendar 1582, Battle of Germantown 1777, First run of the Orient Express 1883, Sputnik I launched 1957.
A model kit company (Testor's, I think) used to include on their kit instructions a drawing of an exasperated looking man, covered in bits of model airplane and streamers of glue, sitting on the floor looking at an instruction sheet with the caption: "When all else fails, read the instructions!"
Occasionally, this could be a portrait of my daddy. He was the sort who believed in opening the box, pouring out the pieces, and immediately putting the whatever together--"Instructions? Instructions? We don't need no stinkin' instructions!"
As evidence, the Commonwealth will introduce Exhibit 22B:
Time: 14:26 Christmas Day a heck of a lot longer ago than I care to think about.
Place: A house on the south bank of the Potomac River.
Subject: "Hey, let's give the new toy a whirl!"
We had received one of those new blenders from someone I forget and Daddy was "hot to trot" to try it out. He decided the best way would be to whip up some milkshakes. The two of us retired to the kitchen followed as usual by a lap fice and three cats (after all, the bipeds were heading for the place from which all good things flow). As he unpacked the blender, I snagged the instruction book as it flew by (hey, I'll read anything up to and including the wrapper off a roll of toilet paper--do you know how many board-foot go into the average roll of--oh, yeah...the story). While I worked my way through the lawyer talk in the first several pages (something to the effect of please don't be an idiot while trying to use this wonder of technology--and when you are, don't sue us), Daddy put the blender together, measured out the milk and put it, several scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a number of healthy shots of chocolate syrup in the glass part. He plugged it in and just as I got to the part that reads, "WARNING: DO NOT OPERATE WITHOUT LID IN PLACE!" pushed the button. The geyser of chocolate milkshake hit the ceiling and spread to cover him, the counters, the various small predators present, and a goodly portion of the floor. The next happening was the precipitous departure of all quadruped life forms. My mom, having been trampled in the stampede (well, at least below the knees), comes into the kitchen at "All Ahead Full," surveys the desolation, and, without cutting her throttles, makes a high speed 180 degree turn to port and exits the area of operations. My daddy looks at the new decor and says, "Well, son, I guess we better clean up." Going after the mop and bucket, the thought runs through my mind--as Tonto said, "What do you mean 'we' white man?"
*Old Poot Digression:
One of the great losses from the slow death of print journalism is the absence of newspaper used as packing material these days. Often, the newspapers could be more interesting than whatever they protected in shipment.
As most seemed to come from retailers in smaller cities and towns, one was given a snapshot of life away from the larger and, often, rather boring mainstream media outlets. Being small towns, the stories tended to be covered in an "up close and personal" way. A murder which might be covered in Baltimore only because of the novel way the dearly departed was done in and then in only two and a half short paragraphs on page 18--inside column, would be splashed across the front page, above the fold, with jumps to three different large column-inch feature articles covering what was thought to have happened, who was thought to have dunit, why they were thought to have dunit, when the heinous deed was done, how they accomplished this piece of human drama, and the fact that their (the victim, murderer, or whichever family or friend) Uncle Fudd was coming in on the bus from Chilhowie to officiate at the celebration. For those of a writerly bent, this is the grist for the keyboarded mill. Outside of Arnold Toynbee, this is the magnification at which most writers work. If writers were supposed to write what they'd experienced as opposed to what they know (the last delivered in a thick Russian accent), most fiction would be really boring. While most of us write about the experiences of our lives and those of our friends and families (in my case, this is pretty much a non-starter. None of my family have been particularly homicidal--at least to those within the family), without the wider knowledge of life we obtain through watching others' disasters, our output would be on a par with that seen on the "walls" in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."
18 September 2010: Feast of St. Gerreoulus. Constantine the Great wins battle of Chrysopolis becoming sole emperor of Rome 324 AD, Moscow burns 1812, "Fugitive Slave Act" passed by U.S. Congress 1850, South African troops land in German Southwest Africa 1914, U.S. Air Force established 1947, Voyager I takes first photo of Earth and Moon together 1977.
To which I say a hardy "Pshaw!" Perhaps it's something about me (please, Lord, don't let it be that!), but mostly what I seem to attract are 30+ year old fanboys smelling of Clearasil and a notable lack of Right Guard or Irish Spring. The first thing out of their mouth is, "Ooh, ooh, I love yer stuff!" (Not a bad beginning of a conversation.) This followed by, "I write, draw, basket weave, greased pole climb--what have you--too!" Line number three ensues, "How do ya break into the business?" (Son, if ever I find out, rest assured, you'll be the 234th to know.) He then launches into a presentation on the GREAT WORK of his life (usually in genre I either have absolutely no experience in or that I hate so much that I break out in purple and green spots). He expounds the entire plot of his six volumes; the main, secondary, and tertiary characters' motivations (including why the protagonist's mother's unthinking actions that particular Christmas all those years ago drive the plot); and how his elves/stardrive/magic system is truly original and how it all keys off his D&D characters. It must be admitted that this young Hugo winner of the future actually is talented--he is able to communicate all of this information as he escorts one down the hall at a walk, at the trot, at the canter, at the gallop--forward!--from the function rooms to, hopefully, a friend's room--never, never let them find your true lair. And as the door is slammed in his face, he asks if he can send the fugitive his manuscript as soon as he has it all written down.
As for the female of the species, the groupie, the closest I've come to attracting them was the rather shop-worn wife of a fellow scribbler who made a pass at me that I put down to either incipient insanity or sunstroke (there was the occasional glint of sunlight between the snow squalls that day). Of course I manfully rejected her advances because it would have been a mortal sin for both of us (adultery); besides, who knew where she had been; and the wife was just out of earshot buffing her gladius--hell nor the Defense Department hath a fury like a ticked-off Irish woman.
The preceding is what soured me on the writers' life and explains why I have done my level best not to become a known author (something at which I have been frighteningly successful).
There now, who sez I can't write fantasy?
One of those conversations:
#1 Son: "Dad, what temperature do you broil a chicken on?"
Me: "Uh, I don't know, how about 'Broil?'"
#1 Son: "Okay. Where do I put it in the oven?"
Me: "Is the stove gas or electric?"
#1 Son: "Electric."
Me: "Okay, put the broiler pan about four to six inches from the top element."
#1 Son: "It won't fit."
#1 Son: "The chicken won't let me put it that close."
Me: "Uh, son? Is the chicken cut up?"
#1 Son: "No. Should it be?"
Me: "Yep. Unless you have a rotisserie."
#1 Son: "Okay, thanks, Dad. Bye."
#1 Son: "Dad? I can't cut up the chicken."
Me: "I don't suppose it's still frozen?"
#1 Son: "Uh, yeah."
Me: "Okay, do you have a microwave?"
#1 Son: "No, Ted took it with him when he moved to his new place.'
Me: "Okay, put the chicken down in the refrigerator. It should be thawed by this time tomorrow. Do you something else to eat?"
#1 Son: "No, I'll have to go to the store."
Me: "Alright, tip for you--always try to have some hot dogs and buns handy in case something like this happens in the future. Okay?"*
#1 Son: "Yeah. Thanks, Dad. Bye."
I think I know why I'm gray. It ain't the years, it's the having kids.
* Our lady of dragons counseled me that I really should introduce him to that other staff of single life--Ramen Noodles, succor of twenty-somethings the world over.
13 September 2010: Feast of St. Amatus. Belisarius defeats Vandals at Battle of Ad Decimium in North Africa 533 AD, British capture Quebec 1759, Los Ninos Heroes killed defending Chapultepec 1847, Lee's orders found by Federals before Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) 1862, second day of Battle of Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge) on Guadalcanal 1942, first hard drive-IBM RAMAC 305-introduced 1956.
Some of the causes of the merriment were:
1. Virginia operating under a grant from James I had all the lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from somewhere around the North Carolina border to the North Pole (generous guy, James).
2. Charles I granted Lord Baltimore everything from the Atlantic to the western end of the Potomac River and from the Potomac north to Latitude 40 for his Catholic colony.
3. William Penn's charter from Charles II granted him and his family the land west of the Delaware River to somewhere and from Latitude 40 to the New york border--wherever that was to end up (unlike his father, Charles didn't lose his head over the matter). There is the opinion that Penn apparently hired non-union surveyors because Pennsylvania's Latitude 40 happened to be 28 miles south of Maryland's Latitude 40. Revisionists on the other hand suggest that Penn's city of Philadelphia--already built at the time of the grant--awkwardly lying south of Maryland's Latitude 40 may have had something to do with the error in navigation (which is why one always puts the fence at least six inches in from the property line). This small discrepancy led to Cresap's War (1736-1738) between the Maryland and Pennsylvania militias. George II was forced to knock heads together and ordered a proper survey ("Paging Mr. Mason, Mr. Dixon. The Royal governors would like to speak to you about a job.").
4. At the same time, Connecticut claimed the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania (what would become the three counties around Wilkes-Barre--Scanton). That there were only two other colonies between the two halves of what might become the "Nutmeg State" seems to have slowed these enterprising Yankees not at all (shades of the Danzig Corridor--not to mention East and West Pakistan). Connecticut also claimed the Ohio county, Great Lakes, western New York, Michigan, Texas, and the Canadian Prairie provinces ("Worst case of MPD I've seen in all my years of practice.").
5. Adding to the fun, the Iroquois Confederation--suffering a bad bout of imperialism--and the various Indians of the Ohio country, Great Lakes, and southeastern Canada were on the edge of their very own version of a world war (though this didn't stop the Iroquois from spending their vacations in the Carolinas and eastern Tennessee visiting Rock City and beating up on the Cherokees and Catawbas--as it turns out, the Shenandoah Valley was their favorite freeway back and forth--"Look, Flitting Bird, I like North Carolina. It's the sitting in traffic four hours because some clown jacked-knifed a canoe that drives me nuts. And it's always between the Stucky's!").
6. And of course, to the north and west the wily French lurked waiting to flail good honest English men with baguettes and rosary beads.
Sometime in the future, I'll give Jacques' side of things and take a look at why American convenience stores tend to stock beer and occasionally questionable pre-made sandwiches rather than good wine and brie.
11 September 2010: Feast of St. Ambrose Edward Barlow. Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9 AD, Battle of Stirling Bridge 1297, Battle of Brandywine 1777, Mountain Meadows Massacre 1857, September 11, 2001--need I say more?
Why don't Catholics sing in church? This is a question that has pestered those who worry about such things since St. Peter first ran through his prayers while vesting. The propensity to break into song at the proper places during the Mass is the thing that gives away onetime Protestant converts and the odd misdirected Low Church Anglicans who stumble in Sunday mornings.
There are a number of possible explanations that have been mooted. Some of my favorites are:
1. They are harking back to the early Church when to be heard tended to result in court action before a scowling Roman judge followed by the attentions of a non-scowling lion or six?
2. The have trouble remembering how to correctly pronounce unfamiliar Latin words such as "Holy Spirit," "Virgin Mother of God," "Heavenly host," etc.?
3. Speaking of hosts--or rather the Host, they're afraid they'll be caught with one in their mouth in the middle of a hymn with the end result of being either quite rude or worse, being guilty of violating some stricture of Canon Law?
4. They're afraid the lector gave the wrong hymn number and the ones posted are actually left over from the last funeral, wedding, Bar Mitzvah (hey, collections are down and that new roof ain't going to pay for itself!)?
5. They're confused about where in the two hymn books (one paperback, one hardback), worship guide, hymnal, missal, and three handouts to find the right song?
6. They've given up singing anything not by (Saints?) Peter, Paul, & Mary or the Iron Butterfly for Lent?
7. The tunes stink? (This one is a non-starter--we stole all the good ones...okay, borrowed lovingly in a blatant act of galloping ecumenism all the good ones from the Protestants.)
Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway just for kicks), none of this is a problem for yours truly. I sing. When one reaches my advanced age, one is so sour, twisted, and bloody-minded that it fails to bother one in the least that fellow worshipers around him have bleeding ears.
Speaking of music, catch the Huron Carol on Heather Dale's album, "This Endris Night." It's available for download from iTunes and Amazon.com. (Bought it myself, oh minions of the FTC.) I ran across this courtesy of the water-loving Cat up in the wilds of Canada. Here's the link: Click here non -techies.
8 September 2010: Feast of Bl. Dominic of Nagasaki. Titus sacks Jerusalem 70 AD, Knights of Malta defeat Turkish siege 1565, French and Indian War Battle of Lake George 1755, Second Battle of Sabine Pass 1863, first V2 hits London 1944, "Star Trek" premiers on NBC 1966.
We were kicking grave side services around over on the Catholic Writers' list a while back (we had to because someone who will remain nameless' blasted dragon swallowed our political football) and it reminded me of a grave side service that involved a former boss--call him Kelly. Kelly put himself through art school working as an undertaker at a funeral home in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
One time, they had a Catholic burial that included a grave side service. The ground at the cemetery was so rocky the grave had to be dug with a backhoe, resulting in an over-sized hole. To give the priest a place to stand at the head of the coffin, boards covered over with fake grass carpeting were placed around the grave. The priest arrived a few minutes before the family. Father was a bit old-fashioned and wore a biretta. As the family approached from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill, the priest stepped to the head of the coffin and vanished. Kelly and his assistant whirled and looked in all directions. Kelly said that he happened to glance down and there was Father's biretta sticking up out from beneath the coffin. Apparently, the priest had stepped on a spot were two boards had moved apart and gravity took it's course. While his assistant ran down the hill to stop the family, Kelly helped Father from the hole. The service was conducted by the mud bespattered clergyman without further entertainment. According to Kelly, Father took it well, for the most part, remarking that to be a good priest, one had to throw oneself into it. He also said while it (pointing to the grave) was the destination of all, he really hadn't expected to get there quite that fast.
As a Note,
The last passenger pigeon, a female, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on this day in 1914. During the 19th century, single flocks of over 2 billion covering an area of 1 mile (1.6 km) by 300 miles (500 km) were counted (estimated?) during migrations. Rather than being wiped out by sports hunters, they were destroyed by market hunters who shipped boxcar loads the eastern U.S. cities for the restaurant trade . Leaving this country boy with one question: Did y'all enjoy y'all's supper?
Certainly makes one appreciate the conservation work done by and paid for through donations, license fees, and taxes on ammunition by sports hunters through organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and others.
Thus endeth today's lesson.
Also on this day, something happy. Alberta, bringing with it one of the richest dinosaur fossil deposits around the Red Deer River, joined the rest of the Canadian confederation. Oh, yeah, Saskatchewan joined too--but they seem to have a dearth of dinosaurs. If you ever get the chance, check out Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
1 September 2010. Feast of St. Lupus of Sens. Montrose defeats Covenanters in Battle of Tippermuir 1644, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa founded 1772, Germans capture Emperor Napoleon III of France at Battle of Sedan 1870, Tokyo and Yokohama destroyed by Great Kanto earthquake 1923, Germany invades Poland 1939.
The other day, I'm putzing with the computer while the wife works a puzzle in one of her books. The conversation goes something like this:
Wife: "What does 'SSN' mean?"
Me: (immediately): "'Submarine Nuclear'--an attack boat."
Wife: "I don't understand."
Me (still looking at screen): "It's a ship designation part of a Navy hull number. 'SS' for a diesel submarine, 'SSN' for a nuclear powered attack boat, 'SSNB' for a boomer."
Wife: "A what?"
Me (mind still in neutral): "'Submarine Nuclear Ballistic.' A boat that launches ICBMs."
Long silence. I finally look around and she is regarding me with a confused expression (well, maybe, a more confused expression than I usually seem to induce in normal people).
Wife: "I'm sorry, I just don't get it."
The penny drops.
Me: "What's the clue?"
Wife: "It says, 'Nine digit designation.'"
Me: "Oh." Oops. "'Social Security Number,' dear."
Wife: "Ah. That works."
I dunno, maybe I was in the business too long?
On another subject:
It's been noticed lately that cats are showing signs of being sentient. The cats maintain that they were from the beginning--they just didn't want to put up with a lot of stupid conversation.
Karina Fabian, a specialist in astro-nuns, gumshoed dragons, and zombie haute cuisine, asked me , "So why are cats lowering their standards now?"
Why are cats coming out of the closet at this late date? I'm not totally sure. Dorsey, our cat and the handsome guy at upper left, seems to operate on a "need to know" basis; so like a China watcher, I'm making a guess. It may be a case of "if you want something done right, you do it yourself." I'll let you know more as I find out, but at the moment, it's strictly a matter of reading around the edges.
27 August 2010: Feast of St. Ebbo. Battle of Plataea 479 BC, Battle of Long Island 1776, Federals attack Cape Hatteras 1861, first jet aircraft--a Heinkel 178--flies 1939, Mariner 2 launched to Venus 1962.
Oh! Holy Gas
Oh! Holy gas
We know you come from Grandma.
She's in the grave. Ash to ash, dust to dust
Oil's from dinosaurs
But gas now comes from Grandma.
We turn on lights, and we say a prayer for her.
Pittsburgh says, the graveyard's safe for drilling
The money's good, pays their utilities
O! Please don't smoke
At funerals or you'll blow up!
O! Na-a-tural gas
O fuel! Oh gas!
O gas from Grandma's tomb.
Karina L.Fabian, 19 August 2010
Dragon Eye, P.I.
20 August 2010: Feast of St. Philibert. Battle of Yarmouk 636, St. Stephen founds Hungarian state - National Day 1000, Battle of Fallen Timbers 1794, President Andrew Johnson declares end of War Between the States 1866, Leon Trosky fatally wounded in Mexico City 1940, Soviets invade Czechoslovakia 1968.
The gas is trapped over a large part of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia in the Marcellus Shale. Supposedly, a potential 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies in the formation. The problem for the gas companies is that western Pennsylvania is mountainous so they prefer the flat places such as where most normal people like to build their stuff--say, between the ridges.
In the Pittsburgh area, topography laid down the rules of life early on. One was born and lived on the side of the mountain, worked down on the riverside flats, and was carried to the cemetery on top of the mountain at the end. With horses, the heavier the load, the lower on the mountain it stopped. A coffin and cargo was about the most a two horse hearse could get to the top. Of course, this allowed the saying in Pittsburgh, "Everybody gets to the top."
The potential of the Marcellus Shale has people somewhat split. The movers and shakers that run things smell lots and lots of money (taxes, sales, graft, etc.). The rest of the residents are a bit more leery ("You want to put that thing where?!!").
For Catholics such as myself (back-slider though I be), some questions now arise. Must special provisions be taken for the proper handling of gas from consecrated ground? I suppose it's okay to burn it as long as one does so in a proper respectful and religious manner. Maybe Vigil lights will be gas fueled from now on...Hmm, I wonder, should we say an "Our Father" or merely cross ourselves when we turn on the stove.
On another subject...
A nice website for the Daily Office (AKA: Liturgy of the Hours) can be found at Divine Office. Org.
19 August 2010: Feast of St. Bertulf. Battle of Knockdoe 1504, Charles Stuart begins the "Rising of '45" 1745, Lakota set out to attack New Ulm in Minnesota 1862, John Westely Hardin killed in El Paso 1895, first running of the All-American Soap Box Derby in Dayton 1934, liberation of Paris 1944.
"On a Road from Victory"--Margaret Mitchell
"A feather's Fall in Vacuum"--James Joyce
"Morning Ritual"--Lewis Carroll
"Tarzan at the Earth's Corps"--Cory Doctorow
"Cannon Law"--Stephen King
"The Sorcerers' Game"--Stephen king
"Gated Community"--Stephen King
"The Long Trek"--Stephen King
Chained Dogs (Chapter 1)--Kurt Vonnegut
Chained Dogs (Preface)--Kurt Vonnegut
Chained Dogs ("On Heinzelmannchen")--David Foster Wallace
"Marine Diplomacy"--David Foster Wallace
Mountain Peculiar (Chapter 1)--David Foster Wallace
"How the Fox Got His White Tail Tip"--Rudyard Kipling
"How the Deer Got His Antlers"--Rudyard Kipling
"How the Beaver Got His Tail Flat"--Rudyard Kipling
"I Gotta Tell This"--Chuck Palahniuk
"The Criminal Class"--Chuck Palahniuk
"Neither Fish Nor Foul"--Margaret Atwood
"The Christmas Fool"--Anne Rice
"Words of Rust"--J.D. Salinger
The only author in the bunch I've actually read was Kipling and the three "How the..." are, in deed, "Just So Stories." That the Chained Dogs preface and chapter sound alike (and the note on Heinzelmannchen sounded different) makes sense. I don't quite understand why the two Danube County stories and the autobiographical piece, "The Long Trek," would sound like Stephen King.
Never the less, a reasonable way to waste time.
16 August 2010: Feast of St. Fructuosus. Battle of Bennington 1777, Battle of Camden 1780, Fort Detroit surrendered to British 1812, Palestine Riots 1929, last emperor of China captured by Soviets 1945, highest parachute jump by Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II USAF 1960.
One of the sacramentals of the Catholic Church (at least in the U.S.) is the race to beat Father down the aisle after Communion, otherwise known as "The Running for the Doors." Apparently, the point of this part of the liturgy is to allow the parishioner to run out the door as early as possible thus demonstrating that with the consumption of the Bread of Life, one is ready to immediately pitch back into the battle with the world as one winds one's way to Heaven.
The race begins with the "hand-off" when the host is placed either in the communicant's hand or on their tongue. The athlete then consumes it and makes the sign of the cross, signifying the race has begun, and starts for the back of the church avoiding returning to the pew he or she had occupied during the countdown before Communion. The idea is to beat Father to the back of the church after he finishes the Mass. The starting gun as it were for Father is the utterance of the phrase, "The Mass is ended, go in peace," either by a deacon or Father himself.
According to those who know (or at least say they do), this ritual has taken place as long as anyone living can remember. An earlier version involved the celebrant leaving by a door toward the front of the church, but this was changed after Vatican II in order to heighten the athletic drama. Watching the race each Sunday, I've come to the opinion that it is an uneven competition. One of the things I think our Church should stand for in all things is fairness. While I am a neo in matters of theology and liturgy, I have a couple of suggestions that might even things up between celebrant and communicant.
First, I believe Father's vestments should be modified. The chasuble and alb should be shortened and Father should be encouraged to wear running shorts and shoes, the colors of which should match the season.
Second, the ushers should be tasked with blocking and tackling the communicants.
Third, every competing communicant should be required to wear a scapula bearing a number (these may be roman numerals to reflect the return of the Latin Mass), so that the charging ushers may discriminate between competitors and old poots like myself just heading for the bathrooms.
Fourth and finally, the races should be scored and documented so they may be communicated to the sports editor at the diocesan newspaper for inclusion each week. This could also be used to set up pools as a source of income for those jaded with bingo, raffles, and casino nights.
All in all, I see no reason why the Church should not profit by an apparently eternal fact of life.
29 April 2010: The Feast of St. Hugh the Great. Moors land at Gibraltar 711, Joan of Arc raises siege of Orleans 1429, New Orleans captured by Federals 1862, Dachau liberated 1945.
Kelly, a guy I once worked for, put himself through school by working as an undertaker in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. One of his charges turned out to be a fast food junkie.
Living at the funeral home, one of the things Kelly dealt with where the middle-of-the-night calls to come pick up a new customer. People often seem to have no consideration about when they drop dead. Of course, planning ahead by scheduling the event is rather frowned upon by the three major desert religions.
The call came in, as they always do, at oh-dark-thirty. One of the folks over at the state’s home for the bewildered had just become the dearly departed. The body was already on a gurney and had been released by the attending physician when Kelly got there with the hearse. A night attendant helped load the gurney in the back of the vehicle and Kelly headed back to the funeral home. All Kelly had to do was roll the gurney into the cold storage room in the home’s basement, lock up, and he could go back to bed.
Kelly told me he still says a prayer of thanks from time to time when he thinks of it that he had been caught by a stop light. As he sat there waiting for it to turn, he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and a child-like voice asked, “Could we stop for some fries?”
He whirled around and found himself eyeball to eyeball with the customer. Rather distractedly, Kelly said, “Pardon?”
The customer smiled gently and repeated, “Could we stop for some fries?”
Kelly said that by this time the world had dropped back into position and he explained to his new friend, Bill as it turned out, that it was pretty late and everything was closed. Bill seemed saddened by this so Kelly assured him that he, Kelly, would tell the folks at the institution of his request when they got back there. This seemed to satisfy Bill and he lay back down. On the drive back, Kelly discovered that Bill snored.
Kelly pulled up to the ambulance entrance and tooted the horn. The same attendant who had helped him before came out and walked up Kelly’s door. Curious, he asked, “What are you doing back here?”
Kelly replied, “I’m afraid this one ain’t done yet.”
At that moment, Kelly said, he was treated to one of the finest displays of the double-take as Bill raised up from the gurney and waved to the attendant with a happy, “Hi, Tommy.”
An hour later, Kelly was perusing an ancient copy of Field & Stream in a waiting room when Tommy walked in pulling on a jacket. The attendant told him, “You can head home, the doctor looked Bill over and says he’s fine.”
Kelly asked, “The same one who said he was dead?”
Tommy half smiled. “Hmm, on second thought, maybe you better hang around a while. Anyway, the boss says for the home to send a bill for your trouble.”
As they walked out to the parking lot, Kelly remarked, “I ‘spect you’ll be happy to get home.”
“Oh, I’m not going home. I’m headed out to one of the truck stops on Route 11.”
Tommy grinned, “We figure with what happened tonight, we owe Bill some French fries.”
23 April 2010: Feast of St. George. Battle of Clontarf 1014, Ottoman Empire of Sultan Mehmend VI falls 1920, King George II of Greece evacuates Athens ahead of Wehrmacht 1941, New Coke premiered to general distaste of humanity 1985.
23 April 2010: Feast of St. George. Battle of Clontarf 1014, Ottoman Empire of Sultan Mehmend VI falls 1920, King George II of Greece evacuates Athens ahead of Wehrmacht 1941, New Coke premiered to general distaste of humanity 1985.
One of the more interesting oxymorons I've run across is "Catholic self-help." This seems to be the idea that you can solve all your problems by reading the right book.
Pelagius, back on the fifth century British Isles, taught that a person can come to total Grace through sheer will all by themselves--that one can basically lift themselves by their sandal straps (give this stunt a try sometime if you have nothing better to waste time on). St. Augustine of Hippo argued that Grace is a gift of God and a human can't attain it through his own efforts. Both the Council of Carthage (418 AD) and the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) came to the conclusion that the Brit was all wet, and that man can only come to Grace through God.
When I first heard this idea of a "Catholic" self-help book, the Bible popped into mind as an example. You got troubles, check out the the Old Testament's Book of Job. For somewhat newer works, Father Benedict J. Groeschel's Tears of God and Dr. Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning might fit the requirement. What do these three have in common? Well, aside from all three being good reads, they also provide guidance when all hell breaks loose in one's life.
The magic word here is "guidance," not all the answers. Far too many authors try to sell their book as the answer to all questions. What they end up with is a one-size-fits-nobody philosophy of how to get through life with no pain. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it ain't gonna happen. As in the story about the New Englander, life is "just one long frazzle." What these three works offer is a path to the only Threesome Who knows what the heck is going on and why. When we go to Them, we get information not on a need-to-know basis, but rather on an ability-to-understand basis. The folder I receive tends to be pretty thin because I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack. Other, more intelligent folks get thicker folders--St. Thomas Aquinas comes to mind (he must have got bales by the forklift load).
Should we worry that somethings are beyond us? Not necessarily. This is where faith comes in--one has to have faith that when one is ready for understanding, the knowledge will come. For mere humans, this most probably will be in the next life (and boy, have I got a list of questions!). For me to try to understand the workings of the All Mighty is probably on par with my daughter's toy poodle understanding what I'm doing while tangling with filing the taxes. He settles for having faith that we love him and his food dish will be full each day. Me, I settle for pretty much the same.
Note to FTC: Bought 'em myself, guys.
18 April 2010: Feast of St. Wicterp of Augsburg. Cornerstone of present St. Peter's Basilica laid 1506, American Revolution's fighting begins and ends eight years later on the same day 1775-1783, Dolittle Raid on Japanese Home Islands 1942, Pawtucket Red Sox and Rodchester Red Wings play longest pro baseball game in history lasting 33 innings 1981.
Some of us have these predatory commandos barge in on us in that insidiously lethal form, the kitten on the doorstep. Others of us are stupid enough to actually go out and recruit these mercenaries (make no mistake, cats are mercenaries--dogs are regulars). My follies have covered both.
Dorsey, that handsome guy pictured to the left, hiring on with us was the result of one of my normal lapses in judgment (it must be true because the wife points this out quite often, usually while spoiling said creature). You don't own a cat. Either he owns you or, if you're lucky and have your act together, he hires on with you. Cats are independent cusses and only hang around if they like you, which is probably one of the things that appeals to me (the idea that they hang around only because you feed them tends to be a little doubtful--most seem to be of the opinion that they could do just as well or perhaps better elsewhere and have occasionally proved it).
Actually, our partnership has been a reasonably happy one on both sides. It's pleasant having him holding down the end of the bed and keeping my feet or the wife's head warm in the winter. And, happily, he learned early on in the relationship that bipeds are something to avoid as they stumble through the dark (after seven years, our daughter's black toy poodle is still working on that one). Like myself, he's not a picky eater for pretty much the same reason I'm not--growing up, if you didn't want what was served, you were welcome to go out and kill your own (contrary to popular belief, you generally don't see all that many cat or kid skeletons lying next to full food dishes). As long as the chow crunches and has a picture of a cat on the bag, he's happy. He will mention it occasionally when he thinks the cat pan could use some attention, but, then, I get kind of grumpy when the person before me forgets to put out a new roll of paper too.
So far, his major gripe with us is our lousy control of the weather. If it's very cold or pouring down rain. sleet, or snow, he will look out the front door sourly then stalk to the backdoor. When he sees the the same weather system appears to be also stagnating at that end of our mansion, he gives me a look loudly saying, "Klutz!" and stomps off toward the bed. When I think about it from his point of view, I can understand his opinion. We control the heat and air conditioning in the house; why can't we do the same outside? Robert A. Heinlein reported much the same behavior of his main protagonist in his novel, The Door Into Summer (1956). According to Wikipedia, the title and the book was suggested by a remark Heinlein's wife made about their cat. Now you know why writers put up with cats...or is it the other way around?
13 April 2010. Feast of St. Caradoc of Haroldston. Louis IX of France (St. Louis) is captured in Egypt 1250, Fort Sumter surrenders 1861, Troops of the Raj massacre 379 and wound 1,200 at Amristar 1919, Sidney Poitier wins Best Actor Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" 1963.