Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Misc. Fun Stuff Online

I have said on these pages in the past that Barbie is not a nice girl. I take it back. Here's a Barbie I can cheer for.
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Viking Kittens. This is an oldie, but still a cutie. It disappeared from its site of origin for a long time (possibly because its creator apparently doesn't know cute from the hole in the ground that is some of the things he replaced it with), but Ace of Spades recently posted a new (to me) address for it.

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This guy may be a little too fond of pregnant animals; then again maybe it's just that English is not his first language and he doesn't realize he sounds a bit odd. Either way, there's a lot of pictures of pregnant animals. I couldn't look at them all, but here's my favorites:

A proud pregnant lady (dog variety).

A not-so-ladylike pregnant dog.

Ever seen a pregnant meerkat?

A number of pictures of the big cats were notable for the casualness with which big-bellied pregnant cats loll about on tree limbs. I want to tell them to get down from there, to think of the kits for heaven's sake.

I don't know if egg-bearing creatures are considered pregnant before they lay, but one of Stephen Jay Gould's books had an amazing x-ray picture of a dodo-like bird that's egg makes up about 40% of its mass by the time its mature. That's an "it could be worse" type comment you could run by the nearest pregnant woman. (Note: I take no responsibility for harm to your person incurred by following my suggestions.)

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

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Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Of Interest to Dickens Fans

In addition to live digital feed, BBC7 keeps the last six days of its programming available free of charge online. Sunday they aired Miriam Margolyes' one-woman show, Dickens' Women, in which she talks about Dickens' life and acts out scenes from his novels. Very entertaining. It should be available until the end of the week.

Book Meme

Banshee at the Aliens in This World blog (good if you are Catholic and like anime) tagged everyone with the book meme. So here's my responses.

1. Total number of books I've owned. Hard to say, as I've been culling regularly ever since I was 11 or 12 and realized I'd have no space for new books unless I got rid of my Nancy Drews and kiddie books. Then when we moved here last year, I had to go beyond my usual culls and cut 'til it hurt. So I probably own about 200 now, but have owned two, maybe three thousand.

2. Last book I bought. An Introduction to English Poetry, by James Fenton. (Two dollars for pristine secondhand!) It just came in the mail yesterday. I opened the package right before bed, opened the book just to glance at the first page, and had read three chapters before I forced myself to stop. Writing about poetry is usually dry, so I'm impressed with Mr. Fenton, that he can make me have to force myself to stop reading.

3. Last book I read. One of the Azu Manga Daioh mangas. (FWIW I recommend watching the anime instead; the anime has cheerful music and Chiyo-chan's unbelievably enormous cuteness and Osaka's spaciness only fully come through in animation.) Other than graphic stuff, I went through a few craft books in the past few days--I hesitate to say I read craft books, I just sort of go through them. I can't remember the last novel or nonfiction book I read cover-to-cover. Possibly The Black Tower by P.D. James.

3.A. Books I'm currently reading. An Introduction to English Poetry, obviously. The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman and Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. I have a few things by the bed that I dip into periodically--several poetry anthologies, a collection of Fulton Sheen's essays, and The Imitation of Christ. But I go at those in such fits and starts, I don't really think of myself as reading them.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me. I hate this kind of question. But here's five that mean a lot, not necessarily mean the most.

1. Little Women, because it was the first novel I fell in love with. I talked about this in a previous post.

2. Heretics, by G. K. Chesterton. It was the first book I read by Chesterton, and thus my introduction--other than a Father Brown story or two--to that delightful mind. I think people undervalue Heretics because Orthodoxy overshadows it.

3. Witches Abroad, by Terry Pratchett. That was the first novel I read by Pratchett. And when I'd read it I actually got angry at my husband because he'd had it sitting on his bookshelves for years and had never told me how funny it was. We now have nearly every Discworld novel, but I still recommend most Pratchett newbies start with Witches Abroad. (I may give a different recommendation if I know something more about the person's reading tastes.)

Pratchett, incidentally, said in an interview in Weird Tales that he's a fan of Chesterton. Because Pratchett lived in Chesterton's town as a boy, there were a lot of Chesterton's books about, and he read them because they were there. (I understand that; I read whatever was there as a child.) He said that there's no better training for a fantasy writer, because Chesterton teaches a person to turn things upside down or sideways and see them anew.

4. The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis. I read this during my conversion. After I read it, I believed in hell. Before, the idea would have seemed preposterous, but Lewis described hell in terms that I could understand. Fully.

5. On questions like this it's usually considered bad form to name either the Bible or Shakespeare's Complete Works. I don't see why I can't name a play though, and it's Much Ado About Nothing. That was the first Shakespeare play I fell in love with. I'd already read Romeo and Juliet, and I won't dispute that R&J is better, but R&J didn't start my lifelong love of Shakespeare. MAAN did.

When I was, I believe, thirteen, I happened to turn on PBS one night and they were showing MAAN. I think it was the complete works Shakespeare Plays series that BBC did in the late 70s through the early 80s; some of the productions were bad, but I greatly enjoyed what I saw that night. Before I went to bed I got out the old, limp red-covered, two-columns-to-the-page, garage sale Complete Works I had and read MAAN straight through. I knew I was on to something.

In addition to starting a long-term literary love affair, MAAN probably created--it certainly nurtured--my preference for the bickering couple of fiction, rather than the starry-eyed romantics. I tend to trust the bickering couples over the romantics in life as well.


Like Banshee, I tag everyone.

Not Enough Babes in the Woods

Yesterday I read a fascinating Newsweek article on some of the less well-known consequences of Europe's de-population:

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8359066/site/newsweek/

The unexpected (by me, anyway) consequences include reforestation, the return of wolves, a decrease in biodiversity (as farmland becomes forest, there is an initial, generations-long decrease in biodiversity as meadow flora and fauna are lost), and sewer problems.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Sewing Tip You Won't Hear From Sandra Bettzina

Wear shoes in your sewing room. Especially if it's carpeted. No matter how obsessively careful you are about keeping up with pins, some of the little things find their way into the carpet, where they lie in wait for bare feet. My head must be harder than my feet, because I had to pull more than one pin from my sole before I finally learned.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tony Soprano vs. the New Age Guy

The recent news about French men supposedly wanting to be pregnant, should the technology become available (at least some Europeans want to have babies), and a fluff piece about macho men being out and vain metrosexuals being in (which I don't believe) that got a lot of comments online have had me thinking fondly of Tony Soprano this week. Especially that episode with the wandering bear where Tony feels bad because he's afraid he can't properly protect his wife now they're separated; it ends with a great scene of him sitting in the back yard with a shotgun, waiting and watching in case the bear should come back. Sure, Tony is a bad man, but at least he's masculine. I think most women would rather have a man who cares about protecting his wife and home than one whose biggest worry is whether he gets equal mirror time in the bathroom.

Much Ado About a Handkerchief

As best I remember, I haven't read Othello since I was a teenager, but over the past few weeks I've watched two movie versions and listened to an audio version several times. (I like to listen to audio books as I do housework or sew.) The movies were the 1995 Othello, starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, and Orson Welles' 1950s version. I didn't watch the 1995 one back in the '90s because I hadn't seen a trailer and feared it would be a mishmash of political correctness; to my pleasure, it wasn't . The script seemed to be trimmed pretty close to the bone, but it made a good movie, and the actors, scenery, and costumes were good. I especially liked Branagh's performance as Iago. Orson Welles' version, which was extensively restored in the '90s, is very interesting visually; it looks and sounds something like a horror film--not inappropriate considering what happens in the story is rather horrific.

Some random thoughts about the movies and the play itself:

* Some years ago I tried to watch Laurence Olivier's Othello, but I couldn't get past his blackface. Orson Welles looks boyish at times, but his blackface is much better than Olivier's.

* I don't know if it's a good idea to cast a handsome man like Laurence Fishburne as Othello. His appearance contributes to the erotic appeal of the DVD cover, but it makes all those "why would she choose him" comments hard to understand. Of course, I'm looking at this with 21st century American eyes, not the eyes of an early 17th century English audience, most of whom had likely never seen a black man; perhaps any black man would look odd to them. Still I think I would have chosen a man who's a bit older and less attractive than Fishburne to emphasize the differences between Othello and Desdemona.

* Branagh's Iago is somewhat more convincing that that of MacLiammoir in Welles' film. I can't fault the latter's acting; it's just that it's easier to imagine Othello--or anyone else--trusting the good-looking Branagh than the slimy, devious-looking Wellesian Iago.

* Iago's speeches are textbook studies of how to convince someone of malicious slanders: act very reluctant to cast aspersions, hint more than you say, suggest there may be nothing in it, etc. The same things that worked in Shakespeare's day work today.

* It is hard to like Othello, because jealousy is so unattractive. Still, I think Othello may be, by nature, no more jealous than the average person. His real fault seems to be that he is too willing to trust what others say. Iago says as much when he's planning his revenge. The hell of this is that, once his jealousy is aroused, his trusting nature doesn't extend to trusting Desdemona.

* Some people suggest Othello and Desdemona never consummated their marriage, because of the short time they had together on their wedding night, Iago's later comment that O hadn't yet made sport with D, and D asking Emilia to put her wedding sheets on the bed the night she was murdered (the usual rationale given is "who'd want to put the wedding sheets--presumably blood-stained--back on the bed?"). Both of these movies assume the marriage was consummated. I certainly hope so. The story is too terrible as it is, without thinking they never got to enjoy the physical side of their marriage before it was destroyed.

* Does no one just die in this play, or do they all keep talking after you think they're dead?

* I like the way Othello, before he murders her, tells D that if she can remember any sins she's never repented of, to pray forgiveness of them now, because he doesn't want to kill her soul. In this story it makes the murder all the more poignant to know how much he loves her and doesn't want to kill her, but I like the worldview that allows people (okay, fictional characters) to think of this when they have time before they kill. You used to see it in some older stories or movies. For example in The Cowboys, where even the bad guys allow Roscoe Lee Brown's character to make his peace with God before they string him up. (OTOH, one of them had earlier shot John Wayne in the back. It's a situational thing.) No one in movies does this any more, probably because we're more brutal and because the audience is less likely to understand the gesture.

* This is a very single-minded plot. The military thing is quickly resolved with no trouble to anyone, by an act of God. Who cares what happens to Cassio, except as it impacts O & D? The only other thing resembling a subplot is Iago's exploitation of Roderigo, and that never really amounts to much. Everything is driving toward making Othello jealous enough to punish Desdemona with death. It's very focused. But, now I think about it, is it really more focused than the other tragedies or does it just seem so because of the smallness of its outward action (everything hangs on one small handkerchief)? I'll have to think about this some more.

* Does Iago really think Othello cheated with Emilia? It sounds like mere excuse when he says it himself, but we later hear Emilia allude to Iago having accused her of that. (Also Iago's "It is a common thing" sounds like a slur on Emilia's virtue to me, but once again we're talking my 20th-century bred ears; it could just be a general insult.) The 1995 film suggests it is true, by having Branagh and Fishburne exchange significant looks when Iago says at the end "What you know, you know." I can't decide.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nausea and Loathing in America

The news has been boring me lately, but the things reported still have the capacity to sicken me--and at the moment I don't mean the horrific crimes we hear about all too often, but the seemingly unending accumulation of small stupidities along the path to total wussification of Western society. How many more articles on things like schools eliminating the honor roll because someone who wasn't on it might collapse from deflated self esteem when seeing a list of high achievers (if the honor roll in government school might be said to represent high achievement) that didn't contain his own precious name will I be able to read before I snap and take to the woods. And I would have to take to the woods, because now that I'm Catholic I'm not supposed to take to the bell tower anymore. And do you know how horribly humid the woods in my part of the world are?

The only two articles in recent weeks that I've really enjoyed were the one about the 74-pound Labrador retriever who fought down a 120-pound, rampaging Pit bull to protect a stranger child (I'd link to it, but the Chicago Sun-Times no longer has the story up) and this one about an increase in Catholic hermits. I mostly enjoyed the latter one because (in addition to suggesting something is stirring, as the Anchoress suggests about the increase in the more usual kind of religious vocations) it provides me with an excuse for my coming withdrawal to the woods. "Religious hermit" probably sounds better on a resume than "crazed misanthrope".

Incidentally it's dogs like that Lab and that sweet African dog who rescued an abandoned baby a few weeks back that make me wonder why anyone would think it's an insult to be called a bitch.

Americans Teaching in Japan

If you're looking for a bit of Japanese culture (and the occasional reminder that non-Americans get their ideas about America from our exported TV, music videos, etc.), a young American man has a series of posts up about his experiences teaching English in Japan. Apparently things have changed somewhat since Bruce Feiler wrote Learning to Bow, his book about teaching English in Japan. Should I be glad that it isn't only we Americans whose pop culture is filth, who've defined deviancy down, etc.?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Batman Begins

Thomas Hibbs' review of Batman Begins in today's NRO is pretty much on the money. BB is the best live action superhero movie I've yet seen*; it has real character development and some interesting explorations of fear and justice as well as cool gadgets and good action scenes. Well worth a trip to the theater, even at evening movie prices.

*On the animated front, The Incredibles might be able to beat it, but the two movies are so different it's hard to compare.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Praying for Artists

Penn & Teller's attack on Mother Teresa was covered by a number of Catholic bloggers a couple of weeks back. What I didn't hear many people saying is that we should all be praying for Penn & Teller. Maybe I'm more sensitive to this than I should be, because I've long enjoyed P&T's work. Whatever the reason, though, I do think Catholics should be praying for them. If not because it's a shame for anyone to be lost to a materialistic worldview, then because they are talented performers who promote that worldview, encouraging others to think that way. And if not for that reason, then because Penn just became a father, and that little girl is going to grow up being taught that Mother Teresa and her nuns are "f***ing c***s".

Of course, it shouldn't stop at P&T. I've long thought that, considering the power of writers and artists (including visual artists, actors, musicians, filmmakers, etc.) to influence thought, Catholics should be praying for all of them. So far I've spent more time thinking I should do it, than actually doing it. Mea culpa.

Here's a non-denominational Christian group who make it their job to pray for people in Hollywood:
http://www.hollywoodprayernetwork.org/
I'm not much of a joiner myself, but it seems like an okay group; I'm glad to know there are people out there praying for people in the entertainment industry.

As for me, I am going to do my best to remember to pray for writers and artists more often. I owe so much of the richness in my experience to artists from the past--not just Catholics or those who lived in predominantly Catholic cultures, but others who sought Truth and Beauty in their work. I'm going to pray that more artists today seek Truth and express it in their work.

I hope there are saints praying for this too. During my conversion I was inspired and gladdened by PJPII's Letter to Artists--really, can you imagine Jerry Falwell writing that?--and right now I am imagining John Paul the Great in heaven praying for artists on earth. With Chesterton. Maybe Flannery O'Connor and Shakespeare are there too, praying with Michelangelo and Fra Angelico? Along with St. Luke and St. John, and untold numbers of others.

Why Am I Thinking of Chesterton's The Flying Inn?

Michelle Malkin links to a video of a few Islamists demonstrating in NYC:
http://michellemalkin.com/archives/002684.htm
Ignore the flag-stomping and tearing. I've seen worse from American anti-war demonstrators. No, what's interesting here is not the video, but the audio.

Listen to the whole thing. In addition to the expected stuff about Islam dominating the whole world, these guys urge other Muslims not to be afraid, because this country is not like "back home", where protesting the government gets you taken in for turture. No, one of the "loopholes" of the US government, they say, is that it allows freedom of expression, so they have the right to verbally abuse the US and to stomp on its flag in the street.

Interesting. I mean, interesting even aside from the tacit acknowledgement that many, if not all, Muslim countries are oppressive. It's interesting because it shows that Islamists in progressive Western countries know they can use Western freedom against the West. They can use our freedom of expression laws to call for our destruction, and we will stand by, passively and politely listening, because to attempt to stop them or even to argue against them would be to judge them (the greatest of all sins), not to mention being a failure to celebrate their diversity--probably "hate speech" too.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Something Is Stirring

The Anchoress has a must-read post up today.
http://theanchoressonline.com/2005/06/02/the-holy-spirit-stirs-then-ravishes/

Taken with her recent post on the apparent increase in vocations
http://theanchoressonline.com/2005/06/02/the-holy-spirit-stirs-then-ravishes/
and other healthy signs (especially the increasing number of converts), it is very easy to think she may be right--something is stirring.

More Evidence I'm Male

The Guardian has tests to tell you whether your brain is male or female--actually, whether it tends toward empathising or systemising.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/news/page/0,12983,937443,00.html

I took them, and, according to them, either I'm male or low-level autistic. I scored a 32 (below normal) on the empathising and a 43 (above average) on the systemising; I think I'd have scored higher on the empathising if they'd distinguished more between knowing what other people are thinking and feeling and caring, especially caring enough to let it affect your actions. Ah well, God's garden has room even for the five-petalled clovers and slightly wonky daisies, right?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs

One of the Amazon.com reviews for a 1959 film called The Best of Everything has the following memory of 1959 office life:

"I was married then and remember being addressed as "Mrs." by my boss, even
though I was only 19 years old."

Well why not? And what does being only 19 have to do with it? Married is married, and once upon a time we had the idea that even very young married people were adults.

But I don't mean to snipe at the reviewer. What I dislike is the fact that we don't still call people Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Who decided that this was to be a first name only society? I don't remember being asked to vote on it. And I would have voted nay if I had been.

Honorifics convey respect for the other person. We once cared about showing respect and called most other people by their last name and an honorific. Nowadays every workplace has its employees on first name basis, whether they want to be or not. In the past, college students and even some high school students were addressed as Mr. and Miss in class; nowadays it's not unheard of for the students to call the teachers by their first names. Complete strangers who see my name on a form or on my debit card call me by my first name. People I've never met send me unsolicited mail urging me to buy their products, yet my potential patronage of their business doesn't rate a Mrs. (or even a Ms.) And has all of this faux chumminess made us a friendlier society? Hardly. I say we should bring back Mr. and Mrs. and Miss and, yes, even the rather silly Ms. Let's try for a little dignity and respect in both public and private life.

A New Magazine, Plus Thrifty Protestants Vs. Lazy Catholics

There's a fairly new magazine (it seems to be at its third issue) online called In Character . It bills itself as a magazine of "everyday virtues" and each issue is built around a theme--so far, creativity, thrift, and purpose, with loyalty up next. What I've sampled so far is pretty good, certainly better than the dreck in many women's magazines. Gregory Wolfe's article "In God's Image: Do Good People Make Good Art?" is very good and is of particular interest to Flannery O'Connor fans. (NRO reprinted it in a more accessible font size, so I recommend reading it there.) I also enjoyed Damien Cave's history of thrift stores and the reminiscing in "You Kill It, You Eat It and Other Lessons of My Thrifty Childhood".

That last article touches on thrift's relation to religion. Thrift is usually associated with Protestantism and "the Protestant work ethic". But today's evangelicals are usually just as consumeristic as their secular brethren; let's not even ask about "liberal" Protestants. The author says that, while we can no longer depend on religion to bring back the virtue of thrift, "It is within Catholic social teaching that one finds currently the strongest case being made on behalf of what is reasonably called thrift as a theologically grounded virtue." This, in spite, Catholicism's traditional reputation of encouraging slacking off by having all those holy days and religious festivals.

There's a thesis to be written on the subject of how Protestantism came to be associated with thrift and hard work. (Actual conversation at my house: Auntie Suzanne, exhorting Uncle Pookie to do something: Where's your Protestant work ethic? Uncle Pookie: I'm Catholic. And so are you.) I know Calvinism must come into and probably Puritanism, but there's also the question of why Protestants whose cry is "faith alone", would promote hard work as a sign of salvation. Also how much of this is the idea that if it's fun it can't be moral (aka general tight-assedness) or that if it's uncomfortable it must be virtuous? And why would the faith most associated with the Middle Ages not be associated with thrift--wasn't everyone thrifty by necessity, except for when building cathedrals or having the odd feast? (If you had to spend many man-hours spinning and weaving to get a small amount of cloth, imagine how careful you'd be in how you cut and sewed it and how you wore the subsequent garment. Now imagine all your goods represented a similar investment of time.) Many of the early Christians (Catholics, whether Jack Chick will admit it or not) were downright ascetic, and monastics have to work as well as pray. How do attitudes toward thrift relate to self-expression or church architecture? How does thriftiness affect the spirit? And if actual history and theology aren't enough to hang a thesis on, then there's the area of the great psychobable god of our age, self-esteem: Do any Catholics suffer low self-esteem because a great civil virtue is associated with Protestants? Probably not, since hardly anyone in our consumer-driven, materialistic culture cares about thrift, but that doesn't mean a college student couldn't BS about it for 20, 30, or a couple hundred pages.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Odds & Ends & Knicks & Knacks

My first political opinion was expressed thusly: "I hate Watergate." See I was a preschooler at the time and Watergate coverage just dragged on and on, interrupting all the "good stuff" on TV. Although I'm glad when political wrongdoing is exposed and punished, I haven't managed to work up much retroactive interest. My reaction to Felt's revelation that he was Deep Throat was, "Ah. Now we know." I suppose it, as others have noted, gives MSM a chance to relive glory days, when they could see themselves as noble defenders of freedom, rather than DNC shills with some credibility problems. I found this article, "Did the Press Uncover Watergate?" , mildly interesting, though.

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Re that "good stuff" on TV: I haven't had TV for over a year and I don't miss it. Uncle Pookie and I use the TV as a DVD player. Maybe I'll post later about why I don't watch TV anymore.

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The Archbishop of Los Angeles has rather a silly opinion piece in today's LA Times. It has the usual muddling of "immigrant" and "illegal alien" and the determination not to call amnesty amnesty. He claims to see a "growing hysteria" against immigrants and a fashion for blaming them for our social and economic problems that I have not seen. (Maybe it's only to be found in California?) At least he concedes that "[t]he war on terrorism has made national security a legitimate concern" and that the country has a right to control its borders. I have to wonder what blue collar people in his archdiocese think of this article. Or anyone who's had a relative murdered by terrorists.
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-mahony1jun01,0,3402540.story

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I've just found BBC7 online. I've already listened to several programs and I think they could become my new preferred internet listening. EWTN still has a place in my heart though--both the radio and its archived programs.

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In Drudge's headlines today, we had a UK couple celebrating their 80th wedding party and a "leading expert" saying that obesity must be treated as a disease. Am I the only one thinking back to The Onion's hilarious article last summer about how scientists still haven't found a cure for obesity? It featured sad stories of people who'd "caught obesity" after their marriage and how they sat on the couch day after day, watching TV in hopes of hearing that scientists had found a cure for their disease. Unfortunately I can't link to it, because the Onion's archives (past four weeks excepted) are now subscriber only.

And good for that long-married couple. Stable marriages are good for the society, good for offspring, and good for the partners involved. I may find romantic claptrap disgusting and my response to most marriages is a bewildered questioning of what each sees in the other, but I believe in marriage and think we should celebrate long-lasting ones.

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Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi. Seeing the Yahoo! News images of Corpus Christi celebrations in Spain and Venezuela and remembering a Crisis magazine article on village plays celebrating Corpus Christi made me wish for a moment that I lived in a Catholic culture. An actual Catholic culture, with popular traditions that had built up around the faith that informed all of life, both the big events and the everyday things. Or even a culture that had once been Catholic and was still hanging on to the more festive religious traditions.

But I live in a secular culture where the Super Bowl is more important than any kind of religious celebration (unless you count that secular orgy of getting and spending still known--at least in the less PC areas--as Christmas among religious celebrations). I have to be content that I'm in a parish that has Eucharistic adoration instead of nuns-in-name-only doing liturgical dance.

Just When You Think Things Can't Get Any Weirder...

http://www.drudgereport.com/flash3.htm

Israeli police have discovered a ring of about 20 local
neo-Nazis, young emigrants from the former Soviet Union, but are uncertain how
to proceed against them as Israel has no specific laws against supporting Nazi
beliefs, the Israeli daily Maariv reported Tuesday.


I will never understand anti-semitism. I've known that for a long time. It never even occurred to me that I might one day have to attempt to understand anti-semites who move to Israel.