Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This is not separation of church and state

Our country has a so-called "separation of Church and state." Now, there are a myriad of opinions as to how this is found in the Constitution (it's not) or how it should be applied through the protection clause of the 14th amendment. Whatever it is, it is clear that there is no state coercion with regards to the churches or its membership.

Now, the left wants the US to emulate Western Europe because it is so enligthened and progressive and everything is better over there. Really? Well, one thing you WON'T have in the US if we follow Western Europe's lead is this: SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. And that would be bad. How bad is it? Well, take a look at this article of something happening in Germany:

Reserve Christmas Service Pews for Paying Congregants, Politicians Say
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor

Berlin Cathedral, the German capital's biggest church, is handing out seat passes to members for Christmas Eve services. (Photo: Berliner Dom site)(CNSNews.com) – Germans who attend church only on high holidays such as Christmas should not be allowed to take pew space from regular church members, two politicians are insisting.

Seating room at the popular Christmas Eve services should be reserved for those who pay church taxes, Thomas Volk of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Martin Lindner of the Free Democrats told the Bild newspaper on Tuesday.

“I’m in favor of having church services on December 24 open only for people who pay church tax,” said Volk.

“Those who pay church taxes shouldn’t be like idiots locked out of their own churches during important services,” Lindner said. “Congregation members should be allowed to reserve seats ahead of non-members.”

Protestant and Catholic Church budgets in Germany are largely covered by taxes paid by all members of the respective churches, deducted automatically by the state. The right of recognized churches to tax members is enshrined in the constitution. Germans may opt out, but to do so they must also officially relinquish their membership.

As is the case elsewhere in Western Europe, church attendance in Germany is in decline. A Berlin newspaper, Tagesspiegel, reports that an average of just 17,000 people attend Protestant churches in the capital on most Sundays, while Christmas Eve 2007 saw almost 250,000 flock to services. Some 3.4 million people live within the Berlin city limits.

Past years have seen reported incidents of scuffling, as people elbow their way to seats before churches fill up.

After incidents at the Berlin Cathedral in 2006, the Protestant church – the city’s biggest – introduced a system of handing out free passes to members, guaranteeing them one of the approximately 1,650 seats.

This week’s proposal brought a sharp retort from church leaders, the Protestant Press Service reported.

The suggestion that only church tax payers be allowed to attend Christmas services was nonsense, said Ulrich Fischer, bishop of an evangelical Protestant church in Baden.

He noted that, according to the biblical account, the angels who brought news of Jesus’ birth to shepherds and encouraged them to visit the newborn messiah did not ask whether they had paid their temple tax.

Some commentators wondered how the suggestion would be enforced – whether aspiring church attendees would be expected to show their tax returns at the door.

The Deutsche Welle broadcaster remarked that Volk and Lindner seem “to have completely lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas.”

“The politicians may want to apply their market-oriented theories where they really belong, and look for a solution to overcrowded shopping malls instead,” it said.

And this is what some want to go to? Your membership in a Church has to be approved by the State? And then they can decide who can go and who can't at certain times of the year? Wow. This is what some want? Unless churches are forcing people to attend in this country (and they're not), this may be a solution. What ever happened to freedom of choice which the left espouses so much as its defining trait (but only for abortion rights, never for school choice, politicians, etc.)?

I favor the US model. That does not mean that I believe that certain opinions regarding the expression of religion in the public square are correct. I believe the state has a collected interest in maintaing the expression of religious faith in the public square, whether for politicians or for bureaucrats. I don't think we will follow Western Europe in this model, though I fear other things based on the Western European model will soon become a reality, but we should be on the look out for this. I'm pretty sure that when the choir of angels told the shepherds that they should see the newborn Christ in the manger, the angels didn't inquire first as to whether they were straight with their tax to the temple.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Tale of 2 Santas

I hate PC (political correctness, not PCs). It is oppressive and, ultimately, a penalty for thinking independently. Oh, gosh, we can't have that! Reminds me of when Principal Skinner gasps that there have been two independent thought alarms in one day. His respons: "2 independent thought alarms in one day. The children are overstimulated. Willi, remove all the colored chalk from the classrooms." To which Groudskeeper Willi replies, "I warned ye. Didn't I warn ye? That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself!" This PC movement, which proponents advocates as a way to avoid conflict and tear down walls, always builds walls up and discourages independent thinking so that no one's feelings can possibly be hurt and that self-esteem does not suffer. Well, here's another great PC moment.

Black, white Santas draw some criticism
Principal cites diversity of student body

By Andy Paras (Contact)
The Post and Courier
Friday, December 19, 2008

Students at St. Stephen Elementary School found out last week that Santa Claus can have the same skin color as them.

That's because two Santa Clauses — one white, one black — were invited to the rural Berkeley County school at separate times last Friday to take pictures with students of the same skin color.

Principal Willa Norton's decision to invite two Santas has drawn criticism from a few parents and from two civil rights organizations, which said the school shouldn't have divided the students by race without asking parents first.

Marguerite Lyons, who found out about the two Santas while picking up her son outside the school Thursday, said dividing the children by race smacked of prejudice. All the children should have seen one Santa, she said.

Now, I don't care what color the Santa is--I really don't. Granted, St. Nicholas is a German-Scandinavian import (despite the fact that, in real life, St. Nicholas was Greek/Phrygian). But forcing, yes, forcing children of one race to see the Santa of the same race, do the leaders of today's civil rights movement actually think that they are promoting the dream of Dr. King to have a "color-blind" society? How is this not a replay of segregation in the south of the 1930s, 40s and 50s? Now we have one Santa for white children and one for black children. Separate but equal. That was ruled, rightly, as discrimination in Topeka v Brown Board of Education reversing Plessy v Ferguson.

The principal's justification is lame--to show that no matter what color you are, you can do everything. That's fine, but to actually promote segregation at the same time! Let's be very honest--the leaders of today's civil rights movements: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Minister Farakhan, etc. do not want a color blind society. They want color everywhere. They want the color of skin to be on display everywhere. It's not colorblindness they are after. I would go so far as to say that civil rights for miniorities in this country have actually suffered a backlash under the leadership of these charlatans and self-profiteers and reverse racists (especially in the case of Farakhan).

What's even more alarming is this quote from the leader of the local NAACP chapter, Dot Scott: "I promise you, had you told the parents, you would have had some black parents take their kids to see a white Santa, but not one white parent would have taken their child to see a black Santa," Scott said.

Wow. What a statement! And it is the likes of this Dot Scott who dominate the modern civil rights movement. These leaders assume (just like Hillary Clinton did during the primaries and Jim Murtha insinuated about his western Pennsylvania consituency) that we needed the two santas at this school to justify that whites are, have been and always will be racist. I wonder who really is the racist here.

There needs to be an open discussion on race. In that vein, I do agree with President-elect Obama. But what we don't need is the institution of reverse racism, quotas and thought police to ensure a colorblind society. If virtue is compelled, by the government, by anyone, it is no longer virtue.

We have far to go. Legislating kindness doesn't work. In the civil rights movement, we are in the hearts and minds stage. There can be no more legislation to criminalize those who won't see skin color, no more hate crimes legislation. All this does is punish thought. Unfortunately, we are seeing the government move more and more closely to Orwellian control. Of course, it is done in the name of protecting people and doing what is right. What is right is to let people sort this out on their own.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Those who don't read history...

...are doomed to get their facts from Hollywood.

I love this quote. I post it at the end of my emails and I make sure that my students have this saying memory and entrenched in their skulls full of mush. Unfortunately, Hollywood has dictated how we understood history for the past 60+ years. It's ridiculous. Now out of the mouths of politicians, we are given this little tidbit of historical wisdom:

"America has failed to invest in its infrastructure for the past 50 years, and the bill is coming due." It's just flat-out not true. Investing in infrastructure, by the way, includes building new projects, and I know for a fact we have built new bridges. There are a couple of them down here where I live, one of them was falling apart because whoever designed the first one, it had wood pilings and there was some kind of mite, some kind of stupid bug that was eating the wood. They had to build a temporary bridge, shut down the main bridge, and then build a new main bridge. That's called investing in infrastructure. It happened in the past ten years.

"The situation is reminiscent of the ancient Roman Empire, which grew strong because of its advanced aqueduct system, but which fell into decline when that feat of engineering tumbled into disrepair."

OK, who said this? None other than the Governator himself, Arnold! Now, I don't recall any film that Arnold did where he played a Roman. He did play Hercules in Hercules in New York (one of his first roles and his voice was dubbed), but I don't think that counts.

Now the Guvernator is completely, completely, horribly, atrociously, egregiously mistaken and flat-out wrong. Rome did not fall because the Roman government failed to invest in its infrastructure. Have you been to Italy lately? Those aqueducts STILL work. Those roads are STILL being used. You ever heard the phrase "They don't build them like they used to." Well, hello!

What's worse is that the Governator is calling upon "his version" of history to justify why this country needs to invest in a radical federally financed program of improving roads, bridges, etc. Now, this is a separate issue but I'll just say that this is a state issue and should not be dictated by any federal administration and that includes the president-elect. Of course, the governator invoked Rome because everyone knows Rome fell and fell hard in the West in 476 though its doomed had been sealed since Alaric and his Visigoths came over the 7 hills in 410, sacked and burned Rome. It never fully recovered. So, Rome is invoked because we don't want to go that way do we? Because what happened after Rome? That's right, the Dark Ages! Oh, no. Not that! Even though most people are also historically ignorant about this time period as well (thanks a lot to Hollywood), people still regard that time period as one of barbarism, superstition, out of control religious zealotry, no technology. Rome, on the other hand, was the golden age.

This is nothing than pandering on behalf of the governator. If people were actually educated in history, they would call him out on it and blow so many holes in his flawed premise that it would make his head spin. Unfortunately, we are a country that revels and celbrates and rewards ignorance. And though hardly anyone reads what I write or cares, I'm right and as long as we continue to persist in our ignorance, then we will do nothing more than sign our liberties away and give rise to fascists who want to control us all under the pretense that they are doing such things to save us from ourselves. Wake up people and read! And put it into practice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Politics as usual

The Ancient Roman Republic was the template upon which the American Republic was modeled. It was born, according to legend, because Sextus Tarquiniius, the son of the last king, Tarquinius Superbus (the Proud) abused his power and raped a noble woman, Lucretia, who was a woman of great chastity and virtue. Lucretia killed herself and her brother-in-law, L. Junius Brutus (the ancestor of the Brutus who assassinated Caesar) and Lucretia's husband, Collatinus led the Romans in revolt and displaced the Tarquins and the monarchy. From that point on the term rex, king, was utterly distasteful and sacrilege. A republic was set up in its place.

To curb the power of the once absolutist kings, the Romans instituted the position of consulship which was held by two men, both of which had veto power (to check each other), imperium (the right to enforce the death penalty) and the ability to command armies in the field. The further genius of this position was that consuls could only serve for one year, must be 42 years old and must have completed the cursus honorum, the ladder of honors prior to running. If a consul wished to be consul again, he would have to wait 10 years before standing again. The consuls were chosen by the centuriate assembly, which grouped Roman citizens by their property classes, the most propertied having the most electoral power while those who constituted the proletariat (the lowest class), though more numerous, had only one total vote at their disposal.

From 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., the Roman Republic stood. For the last 100 years, it had survived despite the constant on-again, off-again civil war. In theory, the Republic, having survived for about 500 years could have had 1000 different people form different families in control of the Roman Republic. This never happened. I suppose that it was its longevity was the one of the many reasons why the founding fathers modeled our republic on that of the Ancient Romans. Essentially, the Roman consulship was controlled for these 500 years by about 35 families. If you were a Metellus, a Scipio, a Licinius, etc. and ran for office, your chances of succeeding were exponentially improved. Once a person from a family reached the consulship, he ennobled his family forever and thus there was a greater chance that one of his descendants would have been elected. If a person, whose family was not noble, was elected, which was rare, he was called a novus homo, a new man. Such notable novi homines were Cicero, Pompey and even Caesar. The interesting thing is that the Latin word novus, also means "strange." The Romans were a conservative people and hated change. That's why the continuous on-again, off-again civil war for 100 years. They knew the system was broken, but refused to abandon it for something new, because there was no precedent.

OK, so what's the point of this history lesson. Well, the Romans obviously believed in the power of the name alone. Apparently, so do we. With all the speculation surrounding who would now occupy Senator Hilary Clinton's senate seat, assuming she is confirmed to be the next Secretary of State, one of the names that has consistently been mentioned is Caroline Kennedy. Today, the speculation is put to rest and Kennedy is now offically the choice to succeed Hillary at least according to this report; http://www.drudgereport.com/flashck.htm.

Caroline Kennedy has only her name. She has no resume. She serves on the board of several charities. She has a law degree and has passed the bar but does not practice. She really doesn't have to work considering that she has the Kennedy trust to live off for the rest of her life. But, despite her affability and other things, this woman has NO experience, none to fill a senate seat. She's not qualified. She has only her name.

The governor of New York has the authority to appoint the new person. Caroline apparently jumped right up and suggested she would be perfect. But here's the interesting thing--if this senate seat were to be filled by a general election, we wouldn't even be hearing Caroline Kennedy's name. Why? Because she couldn't run a campaing. Because her inexperience and her lack of doing anything would be ruthlessly and accurately portrayed by her opponents and she would probably have a snowball's chance in hell of winning. But since no election is going to happen, she expects the seat to be given to her. Why? She's a Kennedy.

Just like in Rome, where you would hope that the consulship could be more evenly distributed over the Roman citizenry, it's the same thing here. How long do we have to put up with the barrage of Kennedeys, Schrivers, Townsends, Rockefellers, Bushs in public office? Most of them are not qualified and are running on the basis of their family name.

If Caroline had actually run for the office, I wouldn't be complaining; she would be crushed because she has no experience and no discernable qualifications save for her good intentions. But she demanded the senate seat and the only thing that gives her consideration is her damn name.

We are screwed as a country. Cronyism is alive and well. Despite the era of change that is supposed to be ushered in with Obama, we see that, even with his cabinet posts, the close personal friends of the ones in power are the ones given power. And we, as a people, unfortunately, seem powerless to correct this.

Senators are the new reges of the Republic of the United States.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Day Keanu Reeves Stood Still

ALERT: Spoilers ahead.

If you haven't seen The Day the EArth Stootd Stiill, don't. Rather, you should see the original black and white film made back in the 1950s. It is much better and has much better acting and isn't so tainted by "the human race sucks" mentality which came through loud and clear for the full 1 hour and 45 minutes.

OK, the positives--there aren't any unless you're one of those "special effects make any movie good" thinkers. The special effects were good, but not worth the price of admission by a long shot.

OK, the negatives. Keanu Reeves, as the title of my blog implies, doesn't move in this whole picture. Sure, he goes from one place to the next, but there is no variation in his facial expression for the entire movie. Now, I know acting, period, is hard for Keanu "Whoa" Reeves, but seriously this guy had only one expression throughout. Now, that's either talent or proof that he can't distinguish one emotion from the next. Even, at the very end, when he is so "moved" by Jennifer Connelly's very lame pleas for mercy, his facial expression remains the same.

Jennifer Connelly whines throughout the film. There is nothing attractive about it or her.

Will Smith's kid Jaden stars in this. A new Haley Joel Osmont he is not; far from it. His "acting" was so contrived, he could have only graduated from the Keanu Reeves' School of Acting.

The original movie was much more suspenseful because you didn't know Klaatu's intentions. He was still making up his mind as to what the fate of the human race should be. In this version, the decision has already been made and there is not much sympathy to be found in Keanu Reeves at all, not even when he changes his mind or sees the inherent wrong in the plan.

In the original, man still has a chance to repent of his crimes whereas in this version, man's repentance is basically summed up in Jennifer Connelly's ad nauseam pleas that we can change. Maybe that's why Keanu Reeves' Klaatu is so easily persuaded, because he cannot tell the difference between true repentance and mere words.

One final point, there was no "Klaatu barato nikto" in this one. Oh come on! I thought for sure that those words would be in this version.

Save your money and don't see it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My new project--What the hell does this song mean?

Heavy Metal is a much maligned and misunderstood genre of modern rock and roll. Part of the reason is because a lot of it is, quite frankly, bad, if not really, really bad. The music, however, of Ronnie James Dio, who started out in Elf, then joined Ritchie Blackmore after his departure from Deep Purple to form Rainbow and stayed with him for three albums until agreeing to front Black Sabbath, which was now Ozzi-less (which wasn't a bad thing), for two albums and then struck out on a solo career. The name of the band was simply called Dio. Dio went on to put out several albums which typified the metal of the 1980s.

Dio's first single release from his 1983 debut album, Holy Diver, was the title track itself. This is a great song. It was even used in a very early episode of South Park! But what the hell does it mean? Here are the lyrics:

Holy Diver
You've been down too long in the midnight sea
Oh what's becoming of me
Ride the tiger
You can see his stripes but you know he's clean
Oh don't you see what I mean
Gotta get away
Holy Diver
Shiny diamonds
Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue
Something is coming for you
Race for the morning
You can hide in the sun 'till you see the light
Oh we will pray it's all right
Gotta get away-get away
Between the velvet lies
There's a truth that's hard as steel
The vision never dies
Life's a never ending wheel
Holy Diver
You're the star of the masquerade
No need to look so afraid
Jump on the tiger
You can feel his heart but you know he's mean
Some light can never be seen

Now, I have no idea what he is talking about. Even my other friends who are in to Dio don't know. Erik Campbell, brother of my colleague and fellow Maiden-fan, John Campbell, who once wrote a great essay on "The Death of Satan" which is all about the heavy metal references to the Dark Lord,doesn't know. And I'd consider him to be one of the authorities on this subject. So, this is what I am going to spend my winter break doing. Sure beats doing actual work. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to email me.

Also, you may want to consider listening to the song itself and watching the video. Maybe that can add something to the interpretation.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Let's make this very, very clear--Obama IS NOT Christ

During the campaign, Barack Obama was often portrayed by media, social celebrities and even some prominent religious figures to be a saint, Christ-like figure if not the Christ himself. It was ridiculous. And unfortunately, this characterization has not stopped even though Obama is now the President-Elect. Tonight, On "Anderson Cooper 180", the following was reported as a segue before commercial:

COOPER: Well, ahead on 360: a speed bump for the presidential transition or just an awkward moment? The new first family asks if they can move into the presidential guest house early, but guess what? They're told, there's no room at the inn. Why? We will find out.

Now, the context is that the Obamas wish to move into the Blair household, ostensibly so that their kids can begin private school which resumes on January 5 even though the Obamas are not due to move into the guest residence, which is right across from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until two weeks later. For some reason, they thought they deserve special treatment.

Now, anyone who is worth their salt intellecutally will see that Anderson Cooper, who, by the way, is one of the most disreputable, unintelligent, disingenous reporters out there, is absolutely making reference to Christ. George Bush then is the mean inn keeper who sends poor Joseph and Mary out to the cave where the Christ child will be born.

Obama is NOT Christ. He is NOT Joseph. He is NOT a saint. He is the President-Elect. I have yet to see signs of divine powers from him. Let's actually wait to see him perform some miracles in government and this recession before we confer the title of Christ the King on him and then tremble because Christ has come again as He said to judge the world.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Eternal Memory to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, ALEXY II

The Patriarch of what is often called "New Rome", i.e. Moscow, so named because of the fall of the "second Rome", i.e. Constantinople in 1453 to the Turks, and the heresy of the "old Rome", i.e. Rome, reposed last night at the age of 79. The first man to hold the Patriarchal throne since the fall of communism in Russia in 1990, Patriarch ALEXY was responsible for a resurgence of the Orthodox Church in Russia, (re) building many churches and monasteries, many of which were destroyed in the purges of the Church, her priests and her property during the eras of Stalin and Kruschev. Though often looked upon as too complacent and agreeable towards Russian government policy and also very opposed to the Roman Pope setting foot in Russian land because of Rome's refusal to stop converting Russians to Latin-Rite Catholicism, Patriarch ALEXY II was very much a man who will be missed by the Russian Orthodox and the Orthodox faithful around the world. A locum tenens will be appointed within the next few days until a successor will be voted upon by the Holy Synod within the next six months. It will be very intersting to see who comes out of this as Patriarch. Though this will not be as watched as a Roman conclave to elect the Roman Pope, this event could hold significant implications for the Catholics and the Orthodox as the Patriarch of Moscow leads the greatest number of Orthodox faithful in the world (170,000,000 about).

Lord, have mercy on Thy servant, ALEXY, Patriarch of New Rome and All Russia. Grant him a place of repose, a place of verdure, where there is no longer any pain, nor sadness, nor death but life everlasting. +Eternal Memory! Vachaya Patma!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The aftermath of Thanksgiving

OK, people! It's now Thanksgiving Day and you have official permission from me who is your better in all things to hang up your outlandish, gaudy, tasteless Christmas decorations which leave not an ounce of grass showing. You are now free to put down fake snow, 3 ft electric candles and yes, even Santa and his reindeer. And feel free to arrange the reindeer into explicit poses. Yes, you now have permission to do this now that we are "officially" in the Christmas season. The turkey is digesting and now we can finally being paying attention to more important things--spending outrageous amounts of money on people and getting us out of this economic funk!

Tomorrow, for me, is like any other day except I'm not going to work. I will sleep in a little and I will resume my reading on St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. I may even take a run/walk in the park and catch up on some things for my class. I will also help my parents set up the Christmas tree and hang the lights for the outside. But I plan to make it a low key day while people embrace the true spirit of Christmas by trampling people to get that last I-pod on sale and cutting off people in the parking lot because it's easier than walking an extra 3 feet. So have fun on your first day of Christmas shopping. FYI, if I see anyone I know on the news running into the mall at 4 am tomorrow, rest assured that I will make fun of you for the rest of your or my life, whichever ends first.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...on November 14!

Every single year, retailers, radio stations and people's homes hearald the upcoming Christmas season. And every single year, they start doing it earlier and earlier. I have already been in stores where this is the case and I have heard a couple of songs when I randomly was flipping stations (I normally don't listen to radio) and I have counted no less than six homes which already feature lights and other accessories of the season such as nutcrackers, snowflakes, snowmen, etc. I can't wait until this one person who lives near where I do put up his entire display as if someone had gotten sick and vomited an entire Christmas display on his lawn. You can't even see the lawn after he's through; every inch of grass is covered with some iconic symbol of the season. My question is, of course, why?

For retailers and radio stations, the motive is fairly obvoius. They want to start the Christmas buying season early so that their profits go up sooner and maintain until the end of the season. The radio stations then profit from all the on-air advertising that these retailers are buying up in droves and then helping it further by playing redundant Christmas music in the background. How many times, honestly, can a person listen to "12 Days of Christmas" without going nuts? Really?

But why do ordinary people, who own homes, have families, have jobs and their own lives start with it so early? Is it because they are working for these particular retailers or radio stations which can profit from the season? I doubt all of them are! Is it because they have been hopelessly brainwashed? Considering how stupid wer are as a nation (present company excluded, of course), I suppose that is a possibility. But how about this as a reason.

For a lot of people, not all, but a lot, Christmas brings out the best in them. It's true. People become less irritable, more compassionate, more willing to help their fellow man. In a nutshell, they become nicer people. Now, I will certainly grant that the Christmas season turns a lot of people into jerks (most of whom were probably jerks to begin with) especially when it comes to shopping. These are the people that will run you over just to get that last parking spot at the mall before the other guy or will cut in front of you in line or will actually spit on you if you get that last toy before they do. We've all seen this; it makes (most of) us sick to our stomachs. But, still, every year, a lot of people change and change for the better for that one month time period.

As boring and is schlocky as it might sound, I think a great many of us want a world where that is the case 24-7. Is it possible? I don't think so since we are generally going to be more consumed with self than others. And so, I believe that these people who decorate their homes this early are perhaps subconsciously telling hte world that the season is upon us to actually start acting with more kindness to our fellow human beings and that we should press for peace. And rather than wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start that, maybe we should begin sooner.

I don't know what the reason is. This is only a guess. Maybe it's just easier to believe that people are engaged in a race to try to get their stuff out earlier and beat their neighbors to the punch for whom has the better and more spectacular display. Whatever the reason, it's still to damned early! Take down your lights! Wait until after Thanksgiving! Is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Commemoration of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom

Today, the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates and commemorates our father among the saints, John Chrysostom "Golden Mouthed." Very few figures are as synonymous with the Holy Orthodox Church as St. John. His liturgy is celebrated pretty much every Sunday and feast day, his prayers are gold mines of humility and repentance, his writings full of eloquence (hence his nickname), brilliance and fire. He is one of the three great hierarchs of the Church along with St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Basil the Great. Although beloved today, in his own day, St. John was constantly in trouble, especially with the royal court. The Empress, Eudoxia, was often the victim of his scathing attacks which he gave from the pulpit about her scandalous life and example to others. St. John was no mere priest, but Patriarch of the See of Constantinople. Exiled not once but twice, he died outside of his patriarchate but continued to live a life of humility, patience and repentance. May such be for me.

Troparion of St. John Chrysostom

Grace hath shown forth from thy mouth like fire, illuminating the inhabited world. Thou hast treasured for the world the treasures of silver-hating and revealed to us the sublimity of humility. Wherefore, O educator, by thy words, O John the golden-mouthed, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One of those "get to know you" questionnaires. Enjoy!

What is your occupation right now?
Latin and Greek instructor in the Bellevue Public Schools.
What color are your socks right now?

What are you listening to right now?

What was the last thing that you ate?

cherry yogurt
Can you drive a stick shift?

Last person you spoke to on the phone?
JoEll White.

Do you like the person who sent this to you?
Depends on what day of the week it is! (No offense Russ!)

How old are you today?

What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?

college hoops
What is your favorite drink?

fruit juice
Have you ever dyed your hair?

yes. Not going to say more.
Favorite food?

Gyros with pita and tzanziki.

What is the last movie you watched?

The DaVinci Code on TNT (stupid book, stupid movie)

Favorite day of the year?

How do you vent anger?

yell at my students
What was your favorite toy as a child?

Star Wars and GI Joe figures
What is your favorite season?

Cherries or Blueberries?

Do you want your friends to e-mail you back?

Who is the most likely to respond?
Who knows?

Who is least likely to respond?
Who knows?

Living arrangements?
small apartment by myself which is fine by me.

When was the last time you cried?

The other day.
What is on the floor of your closet?
ties, old notebooks, old binders, clothes, golf clubs, etc.

Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending to?
don't know.

What did you do last night
stayed in and had an unpleasant conversation on the phone.

What are you most afraid of


Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburgers?

cheese with all the fixins!
Favorite dog breed?
I hate dogs.

Favorite day of the week?

Sunday, usually my only day to relax.
How many states have you lived in?

Diamonds or pearls?

What is your favorite flower?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mountain lions in the city OR why liberalism doesn't work

In the news today, it was reported that a mountain lion has been seen in the city of Omaha during the course of the past month. Such occurrences happen every now and then and are not surprising. Usually people blame such occurrences on man intruding on the wild's natural habitat and so this is the result. That could be a reason, but let me posit another one.

On Tuesday, the United States made history by electing the first African American as President. We have also elected a near supermajority in both houses of Congress that could possibly enact a very liberal progressive agenda over the next couple of years until the American people (hopefully) get wind of what is really going on and do what they did back to Clinton back in 1994--repudiate him by electing the Republicans to majorities in both houses, thus stopping his agenda.

OK, the connection with mountain lions. Mountain lions are scared creatures. They will only attack when their lives of threatened and guess what? In the city, their lives are threatened but they keep coming back. Why? Well, which is easier--for the mountain lions to live in the wild and hunt their own food (which is what they were designed to do) or to wander around the streets and eat out of the trash dumpster behind the local Golden Corral? Obviously the second choice is the easier of the two.

Liberalism, in its most unrestricted form, basically keeps giving and giving without the prospect of work and what will happen to the mountain lion as a result? The mountain lion will become a dependant upon Golden Corral for its basic sustenance which it is supposed to get by hunting prey and then eating it. But the work was taken out of it so he becomes complacent. And what happens should that Golden Corral go out of business? The mountain lion will move on to the next restaurant garbage dumpster for the same thing. It will not simply revert to "hunt mode" again, though we may hope.

Is this simplistic? Of course it is. Allegory, at its heart, is always simplistic. Look at Orwell's Animal Farm. But it does get our attention.

Now I don't know for a fact that Obama and the Reid/Pelosi-led Congress will start pushing forth a socialist agenda to redistribute wealth though there are already elements at work (George Miller's plan to get rid of 401ks and put all the money into the social security "trust" fund), but if it does, it will only create dependence on other, specifically the government. And such is the hallmark of of socialist, leftist governments.

I'm a Libertarian. I believe that the greatest freedom we have is self-determination. And I'm worried that such can be taken away. But liberalism has been proven to never work. Simply throwing money at our major social and economic problems has been a failing proposition since the enactment of the Great Society under LBJ. All it has done is created a society of dependants. How many of them have actually worked their ways out of their situation? It wasn't until President Clinton signed comprehensive welfare reform that reduced those on the welfare dole and got them to work and lift themselves out. What government needs to do is to let the private sector create opportunities.

Again, it's simplistic, but the mountain lion analogy in the city may be an apt one especially if things go as they could over the next few years.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's going to be an interesting four years

And I don't mean that in a positive sense. Today, I witnessed a bare majority of Americans turn their back on American exceptionalism and embrace the philosophy of dependence on government and entitlements which have plagued and destroyed the institutions of Western Europe for the past thirty years. It may take us a long time to get to where they are, but we have been on this road for awhile and with President Obama, it will only hasten our own demise.

American institutions were created with the idea that the individual is responsible for his own actions, that, if provided opportunities, he can create outcomes that can lift him up from where he was born. Sadly, Barack Obama does not believe in that, at least not for everyone. Barack Obama is a man who believes he was entitled to his wealth and privilege and that everyone else should remain as they are and can only prosper by government's good graces. Government is the problem and with Barack Obama in power, our own liberties and self-determination will slowly but surely be withered down.

Liberals love the movie "V for Vendetta." To them it's gospel as to what happens when a right-wing person becomes a leader. Well, the problem is that most of the disgusting and revolting acts in human history, especially recent human history were caused by leftists. Just ask anyone who lived under the oppressive thumb of Stalin, Kruschev, Pol Phot, Bashir Al-Assad, Ho Chi Minh and so on. In that particular movie, V says "People should not be afraid of their government, but government should be afraid of their people." But leftists don't want the government to be afraid; they want to expand it and make it infiltrate your life just as much as Hitler did. Barack Obama is going to take an axe to the tree of liberty.

I didn't vote for McCain either. He is a fossil and he is a leftist as well just not as transparent as Obama. The Republicans are leftists; they just move more slowly. I am hopeful that in the first two years of Barack's presidency, that the people will realize just how misguided and how anti-liberty he really is which will usher in a new direction, similar to what happened in 1994 when the Republicans launched a major blitz against the Clintons and took control of the House and Senate and made Clinton backtrack from his ridiculous socialist politics. However, the Republicans are weak and feeble and not to be trusted.

As of this moment, I am concentrating my efforts to start up a national movement of Libertarians, those who believe that government is not a solution but an impediment to liberty in all facets. I call on anyone to join the Libertarian party to start launching, as of this date, a national offensive to hopefully take in 2012 the presidency from wealthy elitists like Obama and McCain and restore this government to the non-intrusive entity it was supposed to be as intended by the Fathers.

I know I am building myself up for only greater disappointment. But, it needs to be done and it needs to be done now.

I will still pray in the offices of the Church and in the Liturgy for our president, regardless of who he is. I did so for President Bush; I will do the same for Obama. I pray God gives him wisdom and strength to do the right things and to keep this nation safe from her enemies (and yes, we do have them).

It's going to be an interesting four years. Perhaps in that time, Americans will rediscover what truly makes us exceptional. If you want to be like Europe, move there.

Tomorrow, I'm sure that I will be called a number of things--racist, uncaring, uncultured, etc. simply because I did not vote for the "annointed one." I'm no racist and I am not caring and I am much more cultured than my friends who voted for Barack. At least I can tell the difference between Haydn and Mozart, I have seen movies in subtitles, I have read books in other languages, I know several different foreign languages, I have eaten and appreciated foreign cuisines, I have been abroad, etc. So, if you want to label me with any of those, go ahead. You have only proved that you can only converse in the realm of insults and not in the realm of ideas. Such is the realm of Democrats and Liberals.

God help us all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just stupid

I know that this upcoming election is an important and even historic one. I know it has been contentious, to say the least. But if there is one thing that I cannot tolerate, it is this image that Barack Obama is the Saviour. If he has downplayed it, and he has to an extent, many of his followers have not. I suppose that I should refrain from saying anything because these Obama supporters are exercising their rights to free speech but that does not exempt them from the right of me and others to criticize them and chastise them once they have opened their mouths, writte down their words or taken brush to canvass or whatever. I refer to the votive candle above where Barack Obama is cast as a modern day saint with cross in hand and the traditional nimbus of a saint adorning his head. Let me make this clear--this man is a politician, he is no saint. He should not be cast as one. There are plenty of saints in the pantheon; this man should not be counted among them. I find it all the more ironic considering it is usally the Dems who flee from religion openly as being "infantile" or "irrational" or "just stupid." Do they think such stunts as this will court those people in this country who have belief? Who knows.

By the way, in the interest in fairness, I wrote to the editor once of First Things who had the image of Flanders on there depicted as a saint with Marge and Homer flanking him as Seraphim. I said that this was unworthy of such a magazine and that it served no purpose except to insult.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Farewell to a staple of Americana

Let me first begin by saying that I am NOT a Yankees fan. I abhor and despise them, their owner, their fans (even the ones I like) and all the wannabes out there who are on the Yankees bandwagon. Having said that, let me say that it will be a sad day this Sunday when Yankees Stadium will be closed forever.

This is the same field which featured such greats as the Babe, sluggers as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and so on. Just the other day, Derek Jeter broke Lou Gehrig's seventy year old record of most hits in Yankees Stadium--a great feat to be sure and one that will never be surpassed. This was more than just the home of America's pasttime. Three popes held masses here for the faithful, it has been the sight of Billy Grahm's revivals and it was the place where the nation centered their attention to remember the horrible events of September 11. Yankees Stadium is part and parcel of who we are. It may not have the charm or nostalgia of Wrigley Field, the beauty of Kaufman, the (excessive) modernity of Bank One Ballpark, the green monster of Fenway, but it was home for the Yankees since 1923. Most people call this move progress. Progress is making something better. What can be better than something that represents the United States at its best and even its worst? What can be better than removing something that represents our very essence? The answer is nothing. Unfortunately, since we, as a nation, are so terrible at dispensing the lessons of history to our children and grandchildren and also because most of them have no respect for it anyway, I think the agony over the loss of this icon of Americana will only be with this generation until we die off in the next 30 or 40 years. Maybe it will take the loss of Fenway, Wrigley and others to really make us appreciate those symbols which we rally around.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Set aside Sunday, October 19 from 12:00--6:00 pm

Why? Because St. Mary Orthodox Church is once again holding its Middle Eastern Food Faire. If you were there last year, and you should have been, you'll know that we put on a great dinner featuring a lot of different Mediterranean delights. If you like Greek food, you'll like this because a lot of it is similar, just slightly different emphases.

Come and experience the flavors, the smells of tuboli, couscous, baklava, lubneh, zata, kibi, fatayah, etc.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for kids. Take-out is available.

See Palo for tickets.

Again, it's on Sunday, October 19 at St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church.

10303 Boyd St.
Omaha, NE 68134

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Democrats hate life and themselves and here's the proof

A Simpsons Episode features STampy, Bart's elephant, running rampant through Springfield. He wonders into a Republican headquarters where the people, upon seeing an elephant, erupt into cheers. THe banners hangning from the rafters say "We want what's worst for everyone" and "We're plain evil." As Stampy gets to the Democrat headquarters, the place erupts into boos. The banners hanging from the rafters say "We hate life and ourselves" and "We can't govern."

Anyways, if you needed proof that the Democrats to hate life and themselves, ask yourself why the Democrats insist on having Barbara Streisand perform at their events. Considering how much better and less painful-to-hear and witness entertainment exists out there, this proves that the writers of the Simpsons were on to something. Just a thought.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sharia Law comes to Britain

Revealed: UK’s first official sharia courtsAbul Taher
ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.

Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996.

Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.

Siddiqi said: “We realised that under the Arbitration Act we can make rulings which can be enforced by county and high courts. The act allows disputes to be resolved using alternatives like tribunals. This method is called alternative dispute resolution, which for Muslims is what the sharia courts are.”

Wow! This is absolute absurdity. Is it any wonder why Europe is so close to being destroyed. They are not only being out-bred, but now they are being out-traditioned. Now Britain's own historic tradition of law, order, trial by a jury of peers and individual rights are now being modified (i.e. dumped) for Sharia Law. Now, a Muslim who commits a crime is no longer answerable to the laws of Britain, but to the whims of a council of religious leaders.

Would we dare in the United States set up different tribunals for red state voters who commit a crime in a blue state and vice versa? Of course not! The law is the law for everyone. Granted, it may not always be enforced the same way and justice may not come about. But when it happens that the law actually means one thing for one person and another for another then it is no longer law; it is anarchy! And this is done, of course, in the name of toleration for other viewpoints.

If these Muslims want sharia law, move to a country that has it! Why are they in Britain? Living in Britain, expensive as it is, does afford many people a haven to have a better life than from where they came. But, the tradeoff is the acceptance of British Law. Forgive me for stereotyping, but why is it that Muslims expect us to honor all their traditions, but they won't honour ours? Why is there no religiious freedom in Saudi Arabia, but they expect the rest of the world to have their governments support and establish mosques for their expatriates?

As I mentioned earlier, the Britons and, by extension, the Western Europeans are breeding themselves out of existence. Soon Sharia Law will apply to most Britons who are Muslims and then probably will come to be applied to non-Muslims. If only the British had some gift of foresight to know that is precisely what will happen. But they don't need it because history is replete with many examples of the same thing.

The British have produced some of the finest historians of all time. Too bad no one is reading them anymore!

Why do we care what they think?

I suppose we should blame Ronald Reagan. After all he was a movie-star, maybe even a bad one, who successfully made the transition from HOllywood to politics which indicates that it is possible. But why do we continually want to know the political opinions of people who are in the movie and music business? Granted, they have a right to an opinion as everyone else.

Lindsay Lohan has announced her distaste for Sarah Palin. fine. She said so on her myspace blog. Good for her. She has every right to do so. But why do the media insist that such grace the pages of major newspapers?

Her comments are really not that insightful. Most of Hollywood's darlings are not insightful. Matt Damon, George Clooney Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, Leondardo DiC(r)apio all have opinions but not anywhere near the wherewithal to actually put anything into action. But the media gives them the attention to sound off. Yet at he same time, I can't remember the last time I had a debate with someone who disagrees with me reference any of the above people as "authorities" on anything. The only people who seem to do that are the media and idiot Senators such as Ted Kennedy who invited Jessica Lange to testify before a Senate Committee on poverty because she played a "poor person." I know actors and actresses are supposed to get into their roles, but that hardly qualifies one to suddenly become an expert. That would be like asking Charlton Heston (memory eternal) to fill in the bits and pieces of Moses' life that we don't know from the Scriptures because he played him in a movie. Or that Alec Baldwin is now an expert on SONAR because he played Dr. Jack Ryan in "Hunt for Red October" which featured a silent sub using a caterpillar drive. Get real.

Again, everyone has a right to their opinion. But the media and people who lead boring lives insist that they need to know the beliefs of celebrities because that gives their life meaning. Is it any wonder why this country is in such dire straits?

Lindsay Lohan Lashes Out at Sarah Palin
September 14 2008
Lindsay Lohan isn't happy with Republican vice presidential candidate John McCain's choice of running mate, Sarah Palin.

"I really cannot bite my tongue anymore when it comes to Sarah Palin," the actress, 22, wrote on her MySpace blog Sunday.

"I couldn't be more supportive of a woman in office, but let's face it, it comes down to the person, and their beliefs, male or female," Lohan said.

"I would have liked to have remained impartial, however I am afraid that the 'lipstick on a pig' comments will overshadow the issues and the fact that I believe Barack Obama is the best choice, in this election, for president," she added.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Latin and Greek are too difficult. Thus, get rid of them.

Having taught both Latin and Greek, I can say, with authority, that neither is an easy langauge, especially Greek. They both have rules and regulations which baffle speakers of modern language who believe that as long as someone "gets the jist of it" whatever they have said is thus a valid expression of the langauge. Perhaps. Now a University of Cambridge "specialist" (I'm not sure what she specializes in) believes that the jargon of Latin and Greek should be thrown out because it complicates understanding for patients and even doctors. Let's assume she is correct. Do we then come up with a new universal system? Will there be a committee to evaluate this? Will this be in some new made up language so that a doctor in Singapore and the UK diagnose the same way? Then will patients have to become fluent in that new terminology? The logistics against it just go on and on.I'll bet good money two to one that this "specialist" flunked Latin and/or Greek sometime in her life and is now trying to get revenge against it. I've had any number of students who have failed Latin and Greek go on to decry it because the languages weren't fair to them and weren't easy enough. Oh, cry me a river! Not everything in this life is easy. If you can't do it, fine. Do what you do well but don't discourage others and insult them by saying the Latin and Greek terminology should be done away with because of your own shortcomings. This system has been in place for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It's not broke, don't fix it. ANd considering how many of these medical terms also have cognates in our basic vocabulary which we use day to day, this "specialist" is essentially saying that you are too stupid to understand.

Medical terms all Greek to patients

Written by Lautaro Vargas Friday, 12 September 2008

The abundance of ancient Greek and Latin terms in medicine should be abandoned because it could be harming patients according to a University of Cambridge specialist.Dr Melinda Lyons of the Department of Engineering’s Engineering Design Centre (EDC) said the “dead language” terminology that underpins the medical jargon that makes up the exclusive language of doctors, dates as far back as the 5th century BC and spreads confusion that could potentially put patients at risk.Unlike previous research, the paper identified the prefixes that pose the greatest risk and Dr Lyons wants to see the language of medicine brought up to date and simplified by removing “archaic risk-prone terms.”Writing in The Lancet medical journal, Dr Lyons listed a wide range of ‘lookalike and soundalike’ prefixes commonly used by doctors which look or sound alike but have completely different meanings. Examples included, “inter” (between) versus “intra” (within), “super” or “supra” (above) versus “sub” or “sur” (below), and “hypo” (low) versus “hyper” (high).The field of healthcare typically manages problems of lookalike/soundalike terms through quick fixes such as coloured packaging and handwriting assessments, as well as encouraging ‘readback’ of terms though radical reforms of the language would rarely be seen as a solution.Dr Lyons said that In many ways the challenge arising from the lookalike/soundalike terms is similar to that addressed by the EDC’s inclusive design team, which seeks to educate designers to consider those with impairments or disabilities in order to ensure products are manufactured with their needs in mind.She said that the definition of an “inclusive language of healthcare” would ensure that the safety of staff and patients alike is not compromised through misreading or mishearing terms.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never forget

9/11 has brought out the best and the worst in many people. It brought out the best in people by their desire to sacrifice themselves for others. It has brought out the worst by those who would take a tragic event and exploit it to either cover for their anti-Americanism or to suggest that the USA is to blame for such an event or to score political points because they are more patriotic than others. Unfortunately, we will see all three of the worst in full display today across the nation from politicians to the ordinary joe on the street.

What should we remember about today? Let's keep it simple. Let's keep it straight and honest. Let us remember and honour the 3000 souls who perished today because of 19 thugs. Let us remember that despite all the evil in this world, there is still some good worth fighting for (I am speaking metaphorically and am not speaking of the "war on terror"). Let us remember that peace is not simply the absence of war, but the presence of justice and the ability to bring wrongdoers to their just rewards. Let us remember...never forget.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is he Muslim or not?

With less than two months before the next presidential election, I hereby declare presidential mud slinging season open! I know we all claim we want the candidates to discuss the vital issues of our country, but, let's face it--we are a nation always watching the likes of Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Montel, Ricky Lake, etc. We love the smear, we love the scandal. In a real sense, we very much need it.

One of the attacks against Obama--whom, I will confess, I will not and never for--has been that he is really a closet Muslim and only uses Christianity as a guise to fly underneath the religious radar screen. After all, all our other presidents were Christian so this one should be too. Of course, this kind of attack is not limited to Obama. When Mitt Romney was running for the Republican nomination, much was made about his Mormonism and how detrimental it is to Americans. My question is--so what?

On George Stephanapolous' show, this exchange took place:

In a television interview today discussing his religion, Sen. Barack Obama stated, "My Muslim faith." Obama, speaking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," was talking about what he described as "smears" that were claiming he was a Muslim when he maintains he is a practicing Christian. "Let's not play games," Obama stated. "What I was suggesting – you're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith. And you're absolutely right that that has not come." Stephanopoulos immediately interrupted Obama, stating, "Christian faith." "My Christian faith," Obama quickly said.

Now, was this a slip of the tongue or was it a momentary lapse in self-control which allowed the truth to come out? Frankly, I don't care. That's not the issue.

When we elect an official, we are not electing the pope. Don't get me wrong, I want to vote for someone who shares common beliefs and ideals especially when it comes to the governance of this country, but I know that I am not going to ever get an Orthodox Christian who believes in limited government. Michael Dukakis won the nomination back in 88, who was Orthodox, but was he a loser in governing.

Martin Luther once wrote something along the lines that he would prefer a virtuous pagan than a corrupt Christian as a ruler. Such should be the rule today. At the same time, if Obama is really a Muslim, then just say it. With the threat of Islamic Fascism and the numerous ways Muslims across the Middle East use deception, subterfuge and lies to gain positions of power and to get their way, people in this country would have a serious grievance if he made a 180 degree turn after election day, supposing he wins.

A Muslim was recently elected by the people of Detroit, MI to represent them in the U.S. Congress so it isn't completely unheard of that a Muslim would reach high office.

But still, let's get off of it and get to some real issues, shall we? Nah........

Friday, September 5, 2008

Romans now accused of causing susceptibility to AIDS

In the 1960s and 1970s during the cultural revolution our nation was going through with the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, etc. it became commonplace for the foundations of western civilization, i.e. the Greeks and the Romans, to be blamed for all of the current problems in the United States. We have racism, thus blame the Romans. We have sexism, thus blame the Greeks. In other words, had we founded our country on other philosophies than that of Greece and Rome, such horrible -isms would never have happened. Such an argument is absolute bunk! If anything the philosophy underlying the civilizations of Greece and Rome gave us the means to get rid of sexism, racism and slavery. Other systems were inherently totatlitarian, based on the whims of individual rulers rather than on the rule of the law, a great gift of the Romans. But it is still fashionable to blame the Romans and Greeks for bad things. Now, apparently, a researcher believes that the AIDS epidemic was caused by the Romans' DNA killing off the DNA of native tribes and thus allowed it to be more susceptible to HIV which causes AIDS. Here is the article. Judge for yourself.

Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to Roman invasion

Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to the Roman invasion, new findings suggest.

Dr Faure believes the Romans introduced a disease which killed off people with a variant gene that now protects against HIV Photo: TELEVISION STILLSResearchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reachedThey say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to.The gene lacks certain DNA elements, which means HIV cannot bind to it as easily and is less able to infect cells.People with the mutation have some resistance to HIV infection and also take longer to develop AIDS, reports New Scientist.A study of almost 19,000 DNA samples from across Europe showed the gene variant seemed to dwindle in regions conquered by the Romans.Generally only people in Europe and western Asia carry the gene and it becomes much less frequent as you move south.More than 15 per cent of people in some areas of northern Europe carry it compared with fewer than four per cent of Greeks.It is not clear why this is so since the spread of HIV - which began in the early 1980s - is too recent to have influenced the distribution of the variant.The difference in frequency of the key gene mutation reflects the changing boundary of the Roman Empire between 500 BC and AD 500.But study leader Dr Eric Faure, of Provence University in France, does not believe the Romans spread the regular version of the gene into their colonies by breeding with indigenous people.Dr Faure, whose findings are published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution, said: "Gene flow between the two was extremely low."Instead he believes the Romans introduced a disease to which people carrying the gene variant were particularly susceptible. As the Romans moved north this disease killed off people with the variant gene that now protects against HIV.

Monday, September 1, 2008

what's been going on

My dear readers,

Many of you have commented to me, personally and via email, that you have missed my writings. I'm very grateful that you find my musings to be worth at least a little something to you . My thanks. I'm sorry but lately, I have had neither the time nor the inclination to write much. Every great writer goes through writers block, so why not as miserable wanna-bes as well?

The time issue is obviously the most signficant hurdle right now. School is back in full swing, my responsibililties to the church are very high right now and even my social calendar has become a little bit more booked than I am accustomed.

But what should I write about? I could comment on the election, but pretty much all of you know my views on both Obama and McCain and how I like neither of them and think that they are both elitists centering their campaigns on the plight of the common man while they themselves are such insiders that no change will ever take place. That's why I vote Libertarian, if just maybe Washington would be shaken up a little. I could also write about just random things in this world, like things I put up in my poll, but for that to work, people have to make a choice. I could comment about my students and how far too many of them will not live up to their potential and would rather give themselves over to the rap/hip-hop culture to make it rich quick without any contributions to the society which helped procure that for them. All of these are great topics. I could comment on the Georgia-Russia conflice, the situation in the Orthodox Church of America, all of these things. But, for one reason or another, I will stay silent now.

However, know that I shall return. I often liken myself (with perhaps a little too much arrogance) to a modern Diogenes with his lamp, but for right now, I've decided to put away my lamp and retire to simply let knowledge find me than let myself find it.

Inspriation happens when we least expect it. Expect a new post when you see it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Farmers Market

I'm taking a break from my European Trip journal to post this. St. Mary Orthodox Church will be putting on a farmers market starting at the end of August and continuing on through September on each Saturday in that time. If you have the time, please come down and have a look or two.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 7--Schloss Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern family was one of the most powerful families in Europe up until the aftermath of World War II. Its family was from the Schwaebischen Alb formally, but one of its branches (the Franconian) eventually married into the Brandenburg families, establishing themselves as electors of Brandenburg and then later into Electors of the state of Prussia, then kings then kaisers of the German Empire formed after the Franco-Prussian War. Schloss (castle) Hohenzollern was the birthplace of this mighty family which produced such excellent generals and rulers as Friderich Wilhelm I "The Great Elector", Friderich II "Der Grosse" (The Great), King of Prussia and Kaiser Wilhelm I.

THe Hohenzollern family is like most other European ruling dynasties clouded in mystery. The first actual reference to the Hohenzollern is an obscure reference in a thirteenth century chronicle. This particular fortress which is outside the modern city of Hechingen was constructed around the 1100s. Though not as imposing or breathtaking as Lichtenstein or any of King Ludwig II's castles (like Neuschwanstein), this is still an impressive fortress with an excellent view of the area.

My mom decided not to go with my sister, dad and I. She decided to spend some time with my uncle and Joyce to walk around Mehrstetten and to reacquaint herself with old friends and old times, which, to no surprise, was her main reason for going. We left about 9:00 am and arrived an hour later. Surprisingly, we did not once get lost on our trip there. Up until that point, we were still finding out how to navigate German roads which are not as well marked as roads here are. It provides a challenge but we eventually got used to it, thanks mostly to my excellent sense of navigation (and to Steph's too!). While trying to get a distant photo of the burg (fortress), overhead we heard jets practicing maneuvers. They were F-15 strike eagles. I tried to get a good photo of them by the castle, but I couldn't focus fast enough. Damned auto focus!

We got to the burg. It is only about a 10 minute bus ride up, though you can walk it if you choose. We chose the bus out of consideration for my dad whose foot was really still bothering him. To his credit, he walked in a lot of pain and was quite stoic about it. I probably would have complained incessantly. The burg is layed out with any number of entryways each with its own portcullis, drawbridge. The ingenuity is that each entry way is not above the other one so if an invading army wished to besiege the fortress, their troops would have to wander to the other end of the fortress for the next entryway which would give the defending troops and archers a number of chances to shoot the invaders down. However, an interesting thing was that all of these winding roads winded to the left and not to the right. If you go to most buildings and even homes with winding paths or staircases, they wind to the right. This is obviously a defensive mentality. THe reason most wind right is so that invaders would find it very difficult to bring their shields into play and would have to essentially use their shields in a backhanded motion. Quite peculiar.

There is very little left of the old medieval castle. The only part that remains is the chapel of St. Michael, built in the early 1400s. The towers and courtyards and new chapel was largely the work of Friderich Wilhelm IV, king of Prussia, who, on a journey to Italy, stopped at Hohenzollern to acquaint himself with his old roots and had the castle reconstructed. It does look positively medieval and thus more authentic which is more than I can say for King Ludwig and his idea of medievalism! There are any number of watchtowers and over the last entry way you can spot two soldiers. I have no idea who these two guys are but my guess is that they are perhaps images of Burchard and Wezil von Zollern, knights who may have been the progenitors of the Hohenzollern line from teh Burkhardingers. The name Zollern may have Italic roots. Zolle is plural for zolla which is a turf. Thus Hohenzollern means "high turf" or something to that effect.

The first place we visited on our tour (which was all in German though he did speak very good English as well) was the ancestral hall. To give you perspective, I would call your attention to the movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" where Sirius Black's family is drawn out in an extended family tree in the room. Such was the case here except even more so. The lineage starts with Graf (Count) Friderich and shows the two branches of the Hohenzollern Family which split in the 12th century. Those in red represent the Swabian line who remained in southern German (and who remained CAtholic) and the blue represent the Franconian line (who embraced the Reformation) who later became the kings of Prussia and German Kaisers. It also shows the various connections via marriage to other royal dynasties such as the Hohenstaufens who were the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Hapbsurgs, who were the dukes of Austria and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire from 1387 until the HRE's demise in 1804 by Napoleon, the Badens, a dukal family, the Wurtemburgs, another dukal family as well as many others. Most castles you visit have protective coverings on the floor such as rugs or plastic sheets. Not Hohenzollern. Here we were required to wear slippers over our shoes as we navigated our way through the castle.

We then went to the Count's Hall which is both a banquet hall and ballroom. It resembles the interior of a church and this is no accident. The neo-gothic vaulting and spandrels and the red marble columns are very reminiscent of the church of Saint Chapelle in Paris, which the architect had visited and admired. The place is filled with what look like side chapels, one dedicated to famous Holy Roman Emperors and another to two bishops. The marble in the spandrels is a very deep blue, almost serene. Concerts are still given in this hall. What it would be like to see one there.

We made our way to the library which is not really much of one. THere were no books and it was not a very large room. What is notable about this room is the history of the castle in the frescoes. One of them shows the legend of the "White Lady." According to tradition, the "White Lady" comes to bring food and medicine to the soldiers of the castle as they are besieged, but she brings death to the members of the Hohenzollern family. The legend goes that a certain woman, a countess named Bertha or Kunigunde or even Agnes, was widowed and left with two young children. She fell in love with Albert, the burgrave of Nurenburg, a Hohenzollern and thus of the Franconian line that became the soverigns of Prussia and Germany. This was in 1381. Albert returned her love, but would not speak of marriage, because of "four eyes" that stood in the way. Bertha interpreted this to mean her children from her previous marriage since they would have the inheritance rights to her previous husband's titles and lands. If children were born to Bertha and Albert, those children's rights would supersede. In a madspell like a Medea she killed her two children and wrote to Albert what he had done. Albert had meant his parents (their four eyes) stood in the way of marriage, not her previous husband's children. She went to Rome to do penance, founded a convent where she stayed for the rest of her life doing penance and was later buried beside her children whom she killed. But this woman, who is not a screaming Banchee, comes to announce death to rulers but gives solace to wounded soldiers. Napoleon is even said to have had an encounter with her as he was on his way to Russia in 1812, when almost his entire army was destroyed by the cruel Russian winter. He stayed at a Prussian castle. On his way back to France, with that palace being the only possible place for refuge, he refused and found other quarters.

The parlor area is not a very large area, but is very green in the upholstery on the couches and the curtains. Pictures of the Great Elector, Friderich Wilhelm and the first Prussian King Friderich Wilhelm I adorn the area. Also here, you can see the current descendants of both branches of the Hohenzollern line, the Swabian lives in his castle in Singmaningen, a town not far from Mehrstetten.

Teh bedrooms are very Spartan compared with the lavishness of King Ludwig. They look more like what we would call servant's quarters. But, I guess you go with what works.

The rest of the tour focussed on reception rooms which housed portraits of the important Hohenzollerns, most notably Friderich II Der Grosse. I was intrigued to find that Queen Victoria's granddaughter married into this line and was a great painter. One of her portraits, that of her son and heir to the throne hangs in the room. THe child died at 11.

After the tour, we went into the museum where there were numerous relics of various Prussian monarchs, most notably Friderich. THere you saw medals, his decorations, his swords, suits of armour and even his transverse flute (he was a very good flute player; even J.S. Bach and his son C.P.E. Bach said so). You could also see a replica of the crown of the King of Prussia and imperial crown. There are only replicas left because the place was looted in a burglary in 1956. The originals still have not been recovered.

In 2001, a new discovery was made in the foundations--casemates. These are small caverns which provided shelter for the defenders from military attack. These date from the 1400s which is also the time that the cannon first started to make a consistent appearance on the battlefield. These housed soldiers during the 30 Years WAr which eliminated more than 1/3 of the population of Germany at the time and were quite impregnable. More work has yet to be done.

After the tour, we visited the Christ Chapel which was built by Friderich Wilhelm IV in the late 1800s. Unlike St. Michael Chapel which is CAtholic (the Swabian line remained Catholic), the Franconians became Lutheran and this chapel, which is more impressive than ST. Michael, in my opinion, originally housed the tomb of Friderich II der Grosse, but it has been moved to Potsdam since 1991 since that was where Friderich wanted to be buried. Of course, he wanted to be buried elsewhere where I couldn't see it! Typical!

It was a spectacular castle filled with history and great views. I even got to go up int he tower and took some good aerial shots. LIke I said, I'll get those up and published hopefully fairly soon.

After we got home (we did get lost on the return trip somehow), we didn't do much. Mom had a good time with Emil and Joyce and had managed to do some laundry. WE just hung around the farm for the rest of the day, playing with the dog, Terence. It was a good day.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle and King Ludwig II

I actually just returned from my trip to Europe no more than an hour ago. I'm working on doing my laundry and going through my stuff. Sadly, I seemed to have misplaced a poster of the Hohenzolleren kings of Prussia and emperors of Germany as well as my nice expensive watch! Anyhoo, here is one last entry which I did acutally do while I was over in Germany, but just never had the chance to put up here. Enjoy. More to follow including pictures, when I get all of those sorted out.

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria; King Ludwig II

We headed down to Bavaria a little late than we wanted to. We also had some difficulties navigating. We decided on a more scenic route as opposed to going up to Ulm and taking the Autobahn down to Fuessen where Neuschwanstein castle is. This is the very castle which Disney copied for Disney World which I’m sure is in some violation of copyright. We didn’t anticipate a number of detours (umleitung) for this scenic route so we ended up going west and u-turning back east and then caught the Autobahn. It added another hour to what should have been a two hour trip. We got to Fuessen near 12:00. We let my dad off so he could find where we needed to find tickets and we parked (which was very difficult). Spaces were very narrow and it took a good five minutes to help my sister get into this very narrow space between two cars that were crammed into their spaces like sardines. After that, we crammed some sandwiches down since there would be no point in getting food there as it would be very expensive. We finally found dad who was at the hotel where you bought tickets to go into the castle. You could see the castle and it looks splendid from where we are, perfectly situated in the Alps. I’m sure the splendour only increases with the autumn months. We found dad and he told us that the first available tours to go into Neuschwanstein was at 4:05. I was disappointed by this and thought that had we left earlier and gone the route I suggested that this could have been avoided.

But, in retrospect, I’m more than happy that such was the outcome. My sister and I went to the Mariensbrueche which is a bridge which overlooks a river with waterfalls that run by the south valley of the castle. It was about a fifteen minute walk but we stopped so much along the way to get pictures from different angles of the castle and look at the Alpensee, the lake which is to the west. You could also see Hohenschwangau, which is another residence of King Ludwig II, though built by his father Maximilian II and was his residence as a child. It’s not quite as splendid as Neuschwanstein but from the top overlooking the countryside, it’s indeed a great sight.
We got to the bridge and assumed that was all the further we could go. We were wrong. There was a trail that allowed you, if you were brave enough (some of it was pretty treacherous), to go up a hill to give you an even greater and more splendid view of Neuschwanstein and the surrounding areas of Fuessen. Stephanie and I must have climbed up nearly ½ a mile, but it was worth it. Stephanie did great considering that she was going uphill on the rocks in sandals. However, that doesn’t even begin to compare with this one woman who was wearing such a short dress and red stiletto heels that must have given her an extra lift of 6" off the ground (she wasn’t on the trail, but on the bridge and it was a windy day and a steep trail). Going on these broken trails gives you a great opportunity to also visit with people. We met a person who was from Arizona and another who said his mother was from Kansas City, Kansas and his dad from Kansas City, Missouri. Small world!

We got in our pictures (a lot of them) and then headed over to the castle to go on our 4:05 tour. I entered the courtyard and got my first glimpse of the wonders of Neuschwanstein. Despite its wonders, it was never completed. If you go to the terrace overlooking the courtyard you can see, marked in the stone, the places where Ludwig II wanted to build a medieval-style donjon or keep, but was never started. As soon as I took a picture, my camera died on me (and I don’t have a digital camera by the way; I’m old fashioned and I think my camera takes better pictures than any digital can, besides where is the art in that?). My batteries had died and fortunately, the snack place down the road had two CR2 batteries for sale though it did cost me €18. That’s nearly $30. I could have gotten them both in the states for $10! I guess there is profit to be had! OK, problem solved with the camera.

While we were waiting I did some reading on this place and the ruler who had it built. King Ludwig II is probably best described as "the man who wouldn’t be king." Ascending to the throne at age 18, with little experience in government or even basic socialization skills, Ludwig had spent his childhood in near isolation except for his servants in the area around Hohenschwangau. He loved wandering this area and even remarked that the natural beauty of the area easily surpassed the many works of art he decorated Neuschwanstein with. He was also a dreamer and was very much enamoured with a romantic past. He wanted to build a medieval castle on the Schwanstein, where two previous castles had existed but were destroyed and left dilapidated. His father, Maximilian II, first had plans to rebuild on this area but never started. It’s interesting to consider what Ludwig means by medieval. Though there are definitely medieval features in the castle, particularly a lot of neo-Romanesque, most of it is very post-classical, post-medieval and post-Renaissance. It’s an amalgam of numerous, and often conflicting, styles but a symmetry is achieved with all of the contradiction.
Ludwig was in love with all of the legends of both Germany and those of the Greeks and the Romans. This particular castle was inspired by his love for the music of Richard Wagner. Wagner’s operas primarily deal with Germanic medieval legends such as the Ring Cycle (based off of the Nibelungunlied), Lohengrin, Parsifal, The Flying Dutchman, Rienzi, etc. His castle is adorned with frescoes of scenes from these operas and frequently arranged for concerts and operas to be performed here with Wagner conducting them himself. Wagner did accept the invitation, but that inspired a lot of vituperation from the aristocracy and clergy who regarded Wagner and his music as that of the Teufel (Devil)! It was even rumoured that Wagner and Ludwig II were involved in a homosexual relationship, but that has never been conclusively proven.

What is known is that Ludwig II was a loner. I suppose that is why I can empathize with him. He was engaged to marry his first cousin, the Princess Sophie of Austria (her sister, the Empress Elisabeth, was actually the closest thing Ludwig had to a confidante or friend), but a few months later and without explanation, he terminated the marriage though the marriage cart had been built and the honorary medallions had already been minted for distribution. From that point on, Ludwig would confine himself to a schedule that would minimize public appearances and he would work into the early hours of the morning and not wake up until about 1:00 pm.
His palace then seems to reflect much of what he considers the ideal existence, one that he could never have. It is easy to dismiss him as crazy. In fact, to remove him from power, four psychiatrists of the day diagnosed him as mentally ill without so much as examining him! Although it seemed he did not want to be king or have anything to do with government, when the Bavarian Parliament ordered his removal from Neuschwanstein, which was still under construction though he was living there, he pressed for everyone to recognize his rights as king. Nonetheless he was arrested later and several days later he and his primary psychiatrist, Dr. Gudden, were found dead, having drowned in the Chimessing Lake outside of Munich. No one knows the exact circumstances of his death, whether it was suicide or a murder-suicide or what. Nevertheless, King Ludwig II will probably always be remembered as a crazy person. Only in this world where the dreamer and misfits are so alone, can they also be deemed as "crazy." (Un)fortunately, he is in good company.

The castle is quite impressive. The first main room we visited was his throne room which actually resembles more of the interior of a Byzantine Church. Behind the throne is an icon of Christ surrounded by Seraphim, his mother and John the Baptist. This symbolizes that while on earth, Ludwig II has his power derived from Christ himself. Below this icon are 6 kings and emperors from various European nationalities who were made saints. The ground is a mosaic depicting all the animals that live in the Schwanstein area. It is made up of over 200,000 square blocks (2 cm x 2 cm). There are additional icons of St. George and the columns are of blue Slovakian marble. Truly an impressive sight to behold.

We also saw his bedroom and his dining area. Everything in these rooms is made to reflect the royal splendour and also to show his love for the ancient German legends which were made popular to him by the music of Richard Wagner, who never visited the castle. I especially liked the music room which was particularly designed so that the operas of Wagner could be performed. The tapestries and backdrops all have scenes from various Wagner operas. It is clear from the main tapestry that King Ludwig II particularly preferred "Parsifal", Wagner’s last and greatest opera, centered around Parsifal or Perceval, in the English tradition, who finds the Holy Grail and helps to heal the Fisher King. The acoustics are magnificent, almost perfect. The great thing is that concerts are still performed in that room to this very day. I’m definitely going to have find out when those are and plan a trip around it. Finding anyone to perform Wagner in the USA is nothing short of impossible. The Europeans, for all their faults, still have a decent appreciation for what constitutes good music.

The place is nothing short of miraculous and is a testimony to one crazy person’s vision. It is overkill, definitely, in some areas and no one would be wrong to say that a man who had an annual income of 5.5 million marks every year spent way too extravagantly. When he died, he owed more than 20 million marks in debt! Maybe that’s why he refused to give up his throne (he didn’t want to be put in prison by his creditors!). If you ever go, tours are available in both German and English and there are any number of written guides to help you navigate.
Tomorrow’s update, if I ever get to it, will be of Hohenzollern castle in the Schwaebischen Alb.