Sunday, May 20, 2012

Notes from the River, May 2012

Blows the cover off old diary.
"What's this? Posting at least twice a week?"
"I said she crazy, that chick. She writes whenever she gets the chance, she says. Then she writes posts four months in between."
"You have to make your own chances," opined the man with the blue necktie.
"Thanks, guys. If you're done, I'm going to post. Today, and not a minute later."

As per usual, my life seesaws from one extreme of pursuit to another- I just made peace with the fact that I have no interest in a couple of old obscure texts I've clung to for over three years. I'm hoping that sticking them on Amazon for sale will both free some shelf space and fund worthier pursuits.

And thinking about the excessive materialism of the modern age (and getting rid of my smart phone). My reasoning is thusly:

* It is true that the very rich and the very poor have similarities in that they live excessively simple lives. The poor (most of them) are not living simply because they choose to do so, except for religious orders, and whether or not you live simply because you choose it seems to make all the difference in the world.
* The very rich are freer in that they can start from absolute simplicity but can go in any direction with their pursuits- whether it's starting a new type of business, a new profession, or heading a volunteer project. Their only constraints on their spending/pursuits are those they elect to be held by- whether it's keeping up with the Joneses or making the Forbes list. The poor are less blessed in this respect, except (again) the religious orders, particularly orders like the Missionaries of Charity and the Franciscans, the Carmelites- they are sustained by something outside themselves that gives them not just endurance, but joy.
* The only thing that determines happiness or misery(regardless of how much money one makes) is the ability to fully live one's potential and do what you really, really want to be able to do, regardless of how much hard work you need to put into it. The possessions should always be a stepping-stone to the real goal: whatever you feel called for, whether it's building houses in Nicaragua or teaching an English class in your spare time.

 It's trite, but I think less trite when you live with a constant barrage telling you what possessions you need and how they'll help define you: "Buy this dress and be a quirky romantic heroine", "Buy this all-natural bamboo teething ring and be a Conscientious Mother", "Buy this iPad for your kids and be the Hip Parents", "Buy this beer and be a Real Man". And we can't shut that noise out, which wouldn't be so persuasive except most of us aren't really happy with what we do. Our work ought to define us, or whatever worthy endeavors we support through it. Instead of our work being defining, we have to look for something else and since we have no time to go busking on the streets of Madrid or read all the George Eliot novels, we buy things that will, hopefully, at least tell other people that's what we'd like to be doing.

Sigh. What price a ticket to Madrid?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guttmacher Institute: An Anti-Woman Coalition

Yes, I know that our president allegedly "compromised" on an issue that cannot be compromised, while citing a ridiculous figure of "99 percent of women have used contraception". This is quite some news to the virgins, NFPers', and people like my mother, my aunt Terri, and countless married friends who never used contraception.

More on that alleged compromise here: taken from CatholicVoteAction. Please read; there's some good explanations there.

 The story is, alas, nothing new. The figures the president cites are from the Guttmacher Institute, named after the first president of Planned Parenthood. Here's a charming quote from Mr. Guttmacher:

 "No woman is completely free unless she is wholly capable of controlling her fertility baby receives its full birthright unless it is born gleefully wanted by its parents."

This sentence encapsulates two chief problems that Christian humanists (particularly we Catholics) have with the entire ethos behind abortion. Starting with the first section of the quote, the idea that womanly fertility should subdued and discarded like a stinking dead thing that enslaves women to their men. Guttmacher and the Planned Parenthood attitude towards fertility is insane, and I will tell you why:

It runs counter to all Judeo-Christian and pagan ancient writings, where fertility is seen as an unqualified positive. In Genesis: Hagar bears Ishmael to Abraham, and even though this was outside God's plan, he provides for Hagar and Ishmael after Sarah drives her out. Greek myth: Niobe attempted to set herself up as a goddess on her qualification as a mother of seven sons and daughters. 1 and 2 Kings: The kings' consorts in Israel held very little power, but the Queen-mother could confidently intercede with the king for his subjects. In Eastern and island cultures people created and adored fertility idols shaped like voluptuous women, associating them with the success of crops and the blessings of deities.

In essence, to be woman was to be fertile, and fertility was Good. Womanhood in its fullest sense contains the idea of being fruitful with children, with works, with life. The "three faces of Eve" has the Mother- the mature and fertile genius- as the mid-point in female identity between the Maiden and the Crone. This is not to say that woman who lack fertility are less womanly, but the womb and fertility are crucial to the identity of women, not separate from it.

 This idea carries serious implications on the character of people who say that fertility is separate from being a woman and should be squelched as a distraction to the "sexy" aspect of women. The external appearance of feminity only is what determines womanly nature. Instead of empowering women with autonomy, this view cuts women adrift from their own identity. Women are expected to act like mini-men in their personal and professional lives, competing with men or titillating them, with value being assigned based on their attractiveness or their ability to keep pace with masculine standards for careers and financial achievement.

The push for autonomy in the bedroom in particul has damaged the relationship between men and women. Men are shut out from the women's decisions regarding the children that they both created. Women excuse themselves from any accountability, even though their decision affects two people. Good news for the irresponsible and callous men, who will refuse responsibility for their children (aside from state-mandated financial responsibility). Bad news for men who want children, whose fatherhood is at the mercy of a whim.

Speaking of deciding the role of parenthood, here's the second part of the quote again: "no baby receives its full birthright unless it is born gleefully wanted by its parents."

'Receives its full birthright'? Does this mean that the child isn't going to be completely happy when it's born, or that it won't really be a human person? Either way, if you could ask the baby, I'm sure it would prefer to be born and thus have the possibility of finding happiness!

"Gleefully wanted by its parents"- Both parents? If one of them doesn't want it, should they make the other one give in and agree to an abortion? He also speaks of it being wanted at birth; did he advocate partial-birth abortion and late-term abortions, as many Planned Parenthood clinics performed?

Guttmacher's "full birthright", whatever he means, the context spells it out: If both parents didn't want the baby, it's not a real person with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rights that our Constitution said were both "endowed by our Creator" and "inalienable", so foundationally, America's principles uphold the human right to life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Christmas Covers: Songs that Rule the Yuletide

I think I said before that I love Christmas music. And I like making playlists, regardless of the season. So here’s my Christmas favorites list, for the holiday standards. Some artists have covered a particular song so well that they can be considered the definitive version. You probably can think of a couple now- songs that have been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Christina Aguilera, but in that broad range of artists, there are one or two who just own that song, and having any version besides theirs is just superfluous.
So here’s my list. I’ve imposed order via a few simple rules: 1) the song must be definitely about Christmas, Epiphany, or Channukah, no vague songs about “it’s the time of the season where people agree…blah blah blah.” Let’s not be coy, here. Plus, this list is intended to give some love to the beautiful hymns that aren’t on most radio stations’ holiday lists. 2) It should be considered a “standard” in that more than two people have covered it. That’s the only reason that half the list isn’t Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 3) The song should be a non-recent phenomenon. I’ll do a list later of favorite original holiday songs.

10) Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song” – Nat King Cole, the first person you think of with this song.

9) Percy Faith and His Orchestra, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”- Beautiful instrumental arrangement.

8) Bing Crosby, “Silver Bells”- Expect a fair amount of Bing on his list. The man’s voice was made for Christmas music. “Silver Bells” is one of those nice, anticipatory songs about Christmas. And unusually for a holiday song, this one focuses on the urban decorations. It may seem commercial, but I think it celebrates the feeling of community experienced throughout the Christmas season. Ever had one of those magic moments where everyone- everyone in the town square- stopped to listen to a beautiful carol and smiled? Then you know what this song is about.

7) Reba McEntire “Silent Night” – I just like her take on this classic.

6) Josh Groban, “O Holy Night”- Josh Groban really did an amazing job, here. “O Holy Night” is a demanding song, with its simple structure and climbs, and it’s really easy to mess it up. The high point is, of course, “Fall on your knees/ Oh hear the angel voices”…and Mr. Groban’s strong voice carries it beautifully.

5) Daughters of St. Paul, “Carol of the Bells”- It’s hard to find their version, but the Daughters of St. Paul do a traditional version with the different singing parts, tricky and beautiful.

4) Bing Crosby, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”- I think this song illustrates the main problem with most Christmas music: production. Tampering with the classics is tempting because 1) the songs are well-known, so it’s difficult to get noticed 2) most artists have very little talent outside their narrow range of genre and ability. To cover the artists’ defect (and make the song more noticeable) they rely on heavy amounts of mixing. You will not catch Bing Crosby out this way. Well, except his version of “Rudolph” (the less said, the better). And this song uses a very simple woodwind and chime arrangement as a backdrop for a powerful voice.

3) Twisted Sister “O Come All Ye Faithful”- Before you decide this is a joke, listen to the link. Passion always rates high with me, so the emphatic nature of this song gets me. I know they’re being silly, but this is such an infectious cover. No, not infectious like a disease. You know what I meant.

2) Perry Como, “Home For the Holidays”- Good song, very nice for the drive to visit friends and family.

1) Adeste Fideles- Bing Crosby- Of course! No collection is complete without the greatest Christmas artist (Mr. Crosby, folks) singing this hymn. Adeste Fideles is one of the oldest Christmas songs that I don’t have time to look up the history on.  

Well, I better run. New posts later!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comments not working, and a Review

Argh! I would love to respond to comments, but for whatever reason, Google keeps telling me I don't have permission. This mystifies me. Anyway:
1) Yes, I love TSO. They are the definition of an instant classic. I want to see them although I have no idea when.
2) The St. Philomena design isn't meant to be a literal compass, but that was my inspiration. I was going to use it for a tattoo on my right shoulder blade, before I decided not to. Anyways.
3) More posts in a few days. I wanted to do a few top tens, for original Christmas songs, for covers of standard Christmas songs, and for obscure holiday movies.

Yesterday was lovely. I went for a walk in the park with my cousin's two dogs, and we watched Donovan's Reef at the house. It's a real rule-breaker of a holiday movie: it takes place in French Polynesia, quite a few years after World War II. John Wayne and Lee Marvin star in it, although Dorothy Lamour and Cesar Romero have prominent roles. John Wayne's character, Michael "Guns" Donovan, is having a normal birthday in the weeks before Christmas. At least, until proper Bostonian Emilia Dedham arrives, intent on gathering dirt on her father, (played by Ward Bond) who has recently inherited the lion's share of her family's shipping company. Guessing her intentions, John Wayne, Cesar Romero, and Lee Marvin are determined to hide her half-sisters and half-brother, passing them off as Donovan's for the duration of her holiday visit. The charade can only last so long, and the aftermath is where the heart is.

What I like about it:
1) Although it's not a slapstick yuckfest like National Lampoon, they have some great scenes. John Wayne and Lee Marvin have a magnificent brawl at the beginning of the movie- and there's an encounter with a group of Australian sailors that makes for some of memorable lines, especially when a belligerant Lee Marvin calls them limeys. For the record, that's a very dumb thing to say to an Aussie.

2) The focus isn't so much on the young kids at Christmas, as it is on the grown daughter's relationship with her father. This movie is very unapologetic about showing realistic relationships- that a disagreeable exterior can be an outer shell for vulnerability and wounded affection.

3) For a Christmastime movie, there's something refreshing about all the gorgeous South Pacific shots. Even more refreshing, this is a movie where there's very little in the way of over-used, over-thought Christmas cliches.

4) And when they do use a standard holiday trope, they do it very well- my favorite being the Christmas pageant at the local Church, where it's clear that some Vatican II extremist decided to do a "relevant translation" for the narration. Ahem: "And three kings came from the east: The King of Polynesia...the Emperor of China...and the Emperor of the United States of America." Lee Marvin enters in his normal sailor's striped shirt, but carrying an old-fashioned victrola and wearing a gold foil crown. Cesar Romero's reaction as he reads the script makes it even better.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Peope Look East, The Time is Near...

Have I said before, "I love Advent and Christmas" ? Well, I do. A fact that can be attributed to either nurture (i.e., being raised to celebrate it), nature (there's a lot of Austro-Roma-Hungarian blood on my dad's side) or to just the plain fact that as a Catholic, I recognize the Incarnation as the most important event and high point of history.

Which it most assurredly is. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" is the most stupendous act of love and grace that has/will ever happen. Something to remain mindful of; most people say they hate the holidays, and they are referring to the commercialism.

Crass advertisements blare from radios and televisions, insisting that if you cannot get your bratty relatives and children the "perfect gift", they will hate you forever as a bumbling idiot. I suggest taking note of every company and product that makes these advertisements, and ignoring them after writing a vehement letter. Make sure you have someone check your grammar and spelling; nothing destroys the impact of a good screed like second-grade spelling mistakes.

Anyway, what's more disturbing are the people who hate the holidays because they wish to avoid their family. Or they are irritated by other people's cheerfulness. Or they want everyone to be miserable because they see the world as a miserable place, e.g. "How can you be so happy when there's so much suffering in the world?" Dig deep and most of these people are offended by the idea of Christmas because they are offended by the idea of God. They may also be even more offended by the idea that if God is a caring Being who sent his Son to dwell with man, then there is an obligation on THEM to be and act as Christians.

Simple philosophical idea: To reject the gift is to reject the giver, and any obligation to him.

 Many who have rejected Christianity and/or the Godhood of Christ and the Incarnation, do so because they want to believe that they don't have to act as Christians. For the record: Most sensible Christians do recognize that there is suffering and evil in the world. Believing in God doesn't turn a blind eye to it; instead it comes with a recognition of responsibility as a Christian to work with God, offer up one's own suffering and hardships, and to act with Christ as a follower.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So, It's Time to Cancel "Doctor Who"

Now, hold on a second.

Just for the record, there are no plans to cancel Doctor Who. At least, none that I'm aware of at this writing. I love Doctor Who; it's one of my favorite shows and watching the series generally just pumps me up and makes me happy. Well into Series 6, I was watching it eagerly.

And then something happened. The bloom was off the rose, the humour was off me now; etc, etc. This wasn't a sudden transition; it was something that happened slowly starting with Series 4 of the "New 'Who".  The show captivated me, but I was finding more and more reasons not to be emotionally invested in it. Below, my reasons why it might be time to put Doctor Who back in the mothballs for a while.

1) The longer the show, the less emotional impact. At first, it was hard not to get sucked into every episode, even the more mediocre ones. And with the Tenth Doctor in particular, he moved from being a cocky, devil-may-care pretty-boy to an emotionally scarred, wistful, yet wiser man. And they played out his regeneration story for all it was worth. This makes the new series' constant teasing of Eleven's "death" just damn annoying as we already mourned one doctor, thank you, and we're not ready to be dragged through the ringer again. Stop it!

2) Lack of consistency becomes more evident. What Time Lords can and can't do becomes more squiffy with time; Nine cannot damage history because things will eat time (also, he will not even attempt to change fixed points in time); Ten gets righteously smacked down for trying to make himself "Time Lord Victorious"- and Eleven- well, I won't reveal spoilers, but they're playing fast and loose with the notion of "fixed points in time" all over the Eleventh Doctor's run.

3) We could use some of these people in other projects. Sherlock needs more consistent plotting, which Moff can collaborate on with Mark Gattiss- when he isn't doing Doctor Who. I'd love to see Sherlock have a regular series of at least eight episodes, because that show has some phenomenal characterization. Let's do more of that! Arthur Darvill is a great actor who's demonstrated some impressive range. Karen Gillan could also work in just about any show and bring more to it. It's really refreshing to see good actors running around. However it's also really annoying when they are likely to be pigeonholed in one series instead of getting to work as either main protagonists or part of a good ensemble.

4) Longer the series, less quality control. It's been remarked that with the scope of Doctor Who, a little silliness is inevitable. And although I didn't care for RTD's "silliness" in terms of the monsters and writing that Earth is endangered in every single series of his run, at least he worked on even characterization for everyone. Disturbingly, characterization seems all over the place in Moffat's run, even though it's usually his strong suit besides playing with the "timey-wimey" aspects of Doctor Who. Although he didn't write "The Girl Who Waited", he allowed an episode to run that was one of the worst bits of character-defamation and inconsistency in the entire series 5-6 run. "Let's Kill Hitler" illustrated that how clunky a "dating catwoman" theme is for Doctor Who. This is one very long-running show which makes it harder and harder to do new things with it.

In summation, folks, let's cancel Doctor Who for just a while, until sanity sets in again.  I know popular opinion and the notions of the BBC are against me. The series even now is one of the better things on television, but it's time to move forward to new vistas, different projects. I think if the Doctor was meta-aware, he himself would agree, and push the people who have devoted themselves to portraying his adventures to move forward to exciting new ones. Remember: "Any time, any where. Just one rule: it has to be amazing." Time to take that line as good advice.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

So, I'm Off Social Media

Just my blog and my email, for now. Why?

Simply put, I don't like having too much information out there. I never did. I want to silence that voice in your head that composes status updates as you go. Not that I think that there's a real risk of me being targeted for whatever.

Basically, I sat down and wondered where my life got to the point where I socialize by spending my free time sitting alone in front of a computer. That's messed up and not how I want to live. Even if going out there and meeting people isn't what I expect or planned, it's real.

And I also think of it this way: I'm ready to go. I've been thinking and praying about it, and I want to just keep in contact with the people God has put in my path, without getting distracted by superficial demands on my time and energy. I want to do things, not just write about when I do them or be preoccupied with the idea that I have some audience. I don't.