Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I think I've discovered a universal law...

I am, for some reason, really amused by the Helsinki Complaints Choir, in which the complaints of Helsinki residents are set to choral music. There is also a knock-off of the idea done by singers in Birmingham, England. The universal law I think I've found is this: Complaining sounds a lot better when you don't understand the language.

Here's links to a few other interesting things I've read online recently:

"Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals" -- A short article urging exactly what the title says. The money quote:

"Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on Election Day."

"How to Cheat at Art" -- The text of an illustrated speech on art "cheats" such as the camera obscura; it even talks about some contemporary artists thinking that not leaving in preliminary, "feeling your way" lines is a cheat. We can't see the slides that would have accompanied this speech and the speech hasn't been copy-edited quite so well as it might have been, but it has some interesting tidbits.

"Scientists claim computer has solved mystery of Shakespeare's 'missing play'" -- Newspaper article I read a month ago that I still had in my temporary folder. Two professors claim their computer analysis shows conclusively that Arden of Faversham was written by Shakespeare. I have to confess I had never heard of this play, but its Wikipedia entry sounds interesting enough I might check it out someday.

Something About Underwear in an Article About Something Else --Here's the quote:

"Mine is only the second generation of males in my family to wear underpants. I wear them, and my Dad wore them. Neither of my grandfathers did, though. They wore shirts with long tails. Before putting on their pants, they tucked the shirt tails round underneath to establish the desideratum — apparently universal in pants-wearing cultures — of having something between pants and fundament."

I'd just been thinking about something along those lines when I read this. I think I'm the third generation of women in my family to wear both underpants and bra. According to my mother, when she was a small child (she was born during WWII) country women commonly did not wear bras and some of the very old women did not wear underpants. On the underpants question, bear in mind this was not just a poor part of the country, but a very humid climate; not having an additional layer underneath your dress and slip--or even just under a dress and apron--had some advantages, even if it wasn't the fashion to go without in other parts of the country.

As for bras, though, it's amazing to think how recent the modern bra is in human history. Stays may have provided some support in some eras, but Guinevere, Isolde, and Eleanor of Aquitaine never had any "cross your heart", "lift and separate" type support, and whatever Anne Boleyn may have done as a maid, she didn't "do it in her Maidenform bra". History is full of, if you'll pardon the expression, bouncing boobies--not that any of us ever think about that when reading Jane Austen.

And all of this means--I don't know really. I just found it interesting to think how recently my family, among other families, have taken to underwear. Something most of us regard as a necessity can be a relatively recent addition to people's lives. I was surprised the first time I saw a medieval illustration of people warming themselves near a fire, tunics hitched up and genitals showing, but it was apparently a not uncommon sight then, just as women nursing babies was a common sight before we decided that bottlefeeding was more "scientific" and hygienic than breastfeeding. Anyway, like I said, I'm not going anywhere with this, I'm just musing out loud. Also, I thought that shirt-wrapping thing was kind of cool, although it sounds rather awkward.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

St. Crispin's Day was October 25, but Veteran's Day (Remembrance Day to Canadians and British folk) is also a good day to listen to this speech. Another memorable recitation of this occurs in the movie Renaissance Man.

And for a reminder of what some of our veterans have endured for us, see this testimony from a POW. Page down and look for the program dated 05/29/06, that interviews Captain Guy Gruters.

One of my favorite characters in the Gospels is the Roman soldier (see Matthew 8:5-13) whose words we echo in every mass, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Jesus, who had not disdained to visit the man's house where his servant was dying, was amazed at the man's faith. Any Christians who may be inclined to disdain our military personnel should remind themselves of the Roman centurion whose faith impressed Jesus. We should all pray to have his ability to recognize Jesus; and it's an excellent day to add our soldiers, sailors, and airmen to our prayers, if they aren't there already.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Face and Stamps

The Face: Jesus in Art

If you like visual art, you'll probably enjoy this DVD even if you aren't a Christian, but if you are a Christian with an interest in art, this will be doubly interesting to you. It is an overview of the way Jesus has been depicted from the early catacomb days to twentieth century depictions, such as Warner Sallman's famous depiction. The Face was originally a PBS program and no one expects a TV program to be extremely thorough, but as an overview, I think it's good. The average viewer may have seen many of the works, but seeing so many organized together is informative and there are apt to be a few new things--for example, how many of us have seen Latin American triple-faced Jesuses?

For me, the most wonderful was a painting I've probably seen a picture of before (I used to enjoy spending lots of time looking at art books) but which, if I had, I'd never really noticed before, namely Chagall's White Crucifixion. It is amazing. Just having The Face bring this painting to my notice made it worth viewing for me. I'd like to think The Face could help do more. I long to see more Christians painting Jesus and other figures and themes from Judeo-Christian tradition, and who knows, maybe seeing this DVD could spark an interest in making religious art in the heart of an artistic young person. I can hope.

About the only problem I had--and it is a very minor one--was that in the final segment they called Hunt's The Light of the World the depiction of Jesus most influential on, if I do not misremember the wording, twentieth century art. I am not sure that is true. It certainly hasn't been reprinted as often as the Sallman's picture and I don't think the people are familiar with it, the way they are, say, DaVinci's Last Supper; I've look at lots of artbooks in my lifetime, and I don't think I'd ever seen it until four or five years ago I've look at lots of artbooks. Something can be influential without the average AuntieSuzanne on the street having heard of it, but I'd like them to have given some support for their statement and they didn't. Anyway, this is still well worth a spot in your Netflix queue.

FWIW, my favorite portrait of Jesus is Rembrandt's Head of Christ, which you can see here or here.

Holiday Mail

Speaking of art reminds me of something I just found out: the US Postal Service will be releasing a Madonna and Child stamp this year, and, wonder of wonders, it actually says Christmas across the top. (You can see all of this year's choices here.) If you remember, last year there were some complaints about the USPS releasing no Madonna and Child stamp as in years past, or any religious Christmas stamp at all, only a "holiday cookies" stamp. I don't think last year's grumbling had any effect on their decision, as these things are picked well ahead of time; the 2007 lineup--which includes a Madonna and Child--is already selected and viewable on the USPS website. But Christians and tradition-minded people generally can show support of traditional Christmas imagery by requesting the Madonna and Child stamp over the Snowflake or other stamps for your mail this season.

A Small Update

Just as an update to my post of a few days ago, here's a link to a Wikipedia article on the metric system in the USA.

I note it says that construction has been the industry slowest to adopt metric units. I guess that explains why, when I wanted metric measurements on something I was looking at in Home Depot, I could not find a single measuring device with metric units on it.

Anyway, it sounds as if we're going to see more all-metric product labels in the near future, so I guess that's some progress.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Which We Dip Our Toes Into the Depths of Auntie Suzanne's Psyche and Draw Back Quickly

The other night I dreamed I found or was given a piece of paper that had a design of letters with spaces written on it and if you folded the paper at the several spaces--kind of like the old MAD magazine puzzles--it would spell a word. It spelled meshuggeneh. When I woke up and remembered this, I had some vague idea that meshuggeneh meant crazy, but I hadn't heard the word in over twenty years and hadn known for sure what it meant then. So I looked it up. And discovered that it means specfically crazy woman. From this, I conclude that my subconscious knows Yiddish and uses it to insult me.

And that was even before I got to the part of that night's dreams where I decided to get into the room-sized hot tub--actually more of a warm tub--and "they" turned off the bubbles, so I decided to crawl over the threshold into the gymnasium-sized pool and they turned out the lights, to indicate they were closing. Ai yi yi, what a mind.

It's like the mule Faulkner talked about, who would faithfully serve a man for ten years, just for the sake of kicking him once. Except without the ten years of faithful service, especially nowadays; on that front it's more like a dog I knew who went for walkies with a great deal of enthusiasm, but if she got a little tired would flop down wherever she was for resties. Nowadays my mind is all kickies and resties and shoddy service, but I guess it can get away with it, being the only game in town (body?)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

And I Think the British Have Some Sort of Celebration Today

Obviously, I'm talking about Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night. You can read more about it here or read more about the event it commorates in Antonia Fraser's Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot; I recommend that book because it's interesting reading and is, moreover, the only book I've read on the subject. [insert eyeroll at my lack of history study here]

Or here's an even briefer introduction to the subject, in the form of a joke from an old BBC radio program:

" I've often wondered, who exactly was Guy Fawkes? Was he a Prime Minister?"
"No, no. Mind you, he should have been. He had more good ideas about Parliament than anybody else."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he tried to blow it up."

In these days of rampant terrorism, I should hasten to add that I am NOT in favor of blowing up Parliament. But I appreciate the joke as speaking to that "hang 'em all as a warning to others" frustration that I think all of us have sometimes felt when looking at our politicians.

St. Elizabeth's Day

Today is the day we remember St. Elizabeth, whose story we read in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel. (RSV vailable online here or KJV here.) It's a good day to reread, if not the whole chapter, at least the beautiful story of the Visitation, which for Catholics is the second of the Joyful Mysteries to be meditated on in the rosary.

Here it is:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechari'ah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."

(Luke, 1:39-55)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why, Oh Why, Can't My Life Be A Smidgen More Convenient?

I know as a conservative, a neo-Luddite (so UP says), and a Southern girl, I'm supposed to be in favor of the quaintly old-fashioned, nostalgia, and traditional things in general, and for the most part I am. But it is increasingly irritating me to have to convert metric measurements to the imperial measuring system. Why doesn't the US just switch? When I was a little girl in the seventies, "they" said we were going to switch. I saw things about the coming change on TV. In later elementary school we were required to do a section on metric measurements and do rows of tedious conversions from imperial to metric, because we'd be going to metric soon. As far as I can tell, the only thing that ever got done about it was that they started to make soft drinks in 2-liter bottles. And apparently this exhausted "them", because those early '80s textbook questions were the last I ever heard about it.

Oh, we were expected to know a little along those lines for some high school science classes and Coca-cola eventually released a 1-liter bottle. And of course people of various professions have to get comfortable with some metric measurements, which some of them no doubt had to do even before the government said we were going to switch. But the average American has no intuitive understanding of what most metric measurements stand for, the way we intuitively understand about what amount a cup of flour, a gallon of milk, or a footlong sandwich is. You have to have frequent contact with a measuring system to get that intuitive idea of how much a particular unit is. If you don't have those daily life type connections, the measuring system will always seem foreign to you.

Why don't we switch? Our not switching creates problems even in simple online situations, with US people not understanding non-US people's recipes--and sewing, craft, or DIY instructions--and vice versa. This is aside from any international business or government & military interaction problems that might be caused and which are probably more important than my petty dithering over dowel sizes and fabric bolts but which, OTOH, most of us, don't have to deal with as often as we might a foreign recipe.

It's not as if the American people are too stupid to switch. We've gotten used to the only metrically-measured thing most of us commonly see, the 2-liter bottle. We have no problem talking about mega this and giga that and health nuts or people with medical conditions necessitating reading food labels don't crumple when some of the nutritional information is given in grams. Our cultural heritage is predominantly British, and the British adapted to using the metric system just fine. (Although I have heard a few English grumblings about decimilizing their money when watching old TV shows.) Everybody else does it, why can't we? And it's not even as if it's a newfangled thing. Surely even conservatives can embrace something that's been around since the late 1700s.

I realize I could just start using it myself, but to be honest I'm lazy. I don't remember all of the formulas I "learned" as a kid, and I'm not going to go out of my way to use metric when everything around me is set up in standard US measurement. (Thanks to sewing, I have learned approx cm to inch and roughly how a meter relates to a yard, but I kind of had to and it's not so ingrained I couldn't forget.) And even if I did my own personal switchover and I wanted to, say, give a coworker a recipe, I would have to translate "my" measurements for other people. Better we should all be on the same page.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Hallows--We Are Not Alone

All Hallow's, the day that All Hallow's Eve is the eve of, is a day set aside to honor all saints (hence the modern name of All Saints Day), but perhaps more important, it is a day that reminds us we are not alone. Catholic teaching says that people alive on Earth, trying as best we can to live holy lives, are not alone in our efforts to come closer to God, but are surrounded by "clouds of witnesses"--people alive in heaven who wish us to succeed. They are all the people who have gone before us and made it to where we want to be. They are "a great multitude,which no one could count,from every nation, race, people, and tongue". The Church teaches that they will pray for us to God, if we ask them; of course you never need ask them if you don't want, but can it really hurt to have someone else also praying for you? Some of us--that would include me--need all the help we can get. When we are struggling and think we are struggling alone, we can not only ask God for help, but also ask a saint to ask for help for us too; I guess it's sort of like being in a big family and getting your brothers and sisters to join you in your requests to your father, although in this case the siblings are on Dad's side and probably aren't going to help you get ice cream for breakfast [lol].