Friday, April 28, 2006

The Box That Changed The World

Happy Birthday to the Box that Changed the World
First Containerized Cargo Shipped 50 Years Ago

Newark, N.J. – April 26, 2006-- It was 50 years ago today that Malcolm P. McLean's Pan-Atlantic Steamship company launched the SS Ideal X from Port Newark. On board: 58 trailers that could be loaded directly onto trucks or railcars when they reached the Port of Houston. In 1961, the International Standards Committee would establish the TEU (twenty-foot-equivalent-unit) standard container measure by which PIERS, leading source of containerized trade data, tracks fluctuating U.S. import-export volumes.

"“Today, close to 95% of U.S. trade by volume is containerized," says Brendan McCahill, PIERS COO, "with the largest vessels capable of carrying over 8,500 TEUS."

According to McCahill, containerized transport's low costs, high speed and relative security transformed cargo contents. "The data shows a transformation in cargoes from commodities, which represented some 40% of U.S. import-export shipments 100 years ago, to manufactured goods, representing over 80% of U.S. international commerce today. The transformation begins mid-century with containerization."

These "boxes" look like the back end of a tractor-trailer truck. And, in fact, they often are. These boxes allow an Italian exporter to load cartons of expensive virgin olive oil directly from his warehouse into the container, sitting on a chassis on the back of the truck, lock it and seal it. The trucker takes the container to the port, where it's loaded on a ship, or to the railyard where it's loaded on a rail flatcar and sent off to the port, where it's loaded on a ship. When the ship arrives at the U.S.--still locked and sealed, we hope!--the container is unloaded from the ship on to the truck chassis or the rail car. Eventually, that container is received at the importers warehouse, still locked and sealed, and it comes to a store near you.

Before Mr. McLean came up with this simple idea, exporters and importers expected to lose 10% of their shipments to theft and breakage. The idea of shipping something valuable--like computers, VCRs, DVDs, i-PODs--was unthinkable because the margin of loss would be too great. Because of containers, the cost of ocean freight is now a fraction of a percent of the retail cost. And manufacturing can now move overseas where labor costs and overhead are a fraction of what they would be in the U.S.

So, on the one hand we're paying much less for products than we would have without containers; on the other, containers have allowed manufacturing jobs to move overseas. While some Americans have lost jobs because of that, the standard of living in many Third World countries has improved as their job prospects have improved.

Global trade weaves a tangled web between producer and consumer and countries. Does this interdependence encourage global peace? Does it encourage global envy and resentment? Is globalization a rising tide or exploitation of the poor and weak by the rich and strong?

The answer to all of the above is "Yes." There is a mix of all of that going on. After all, we're human and only in rare cases are our motives ever pure. Certainly within a group of people (a community, a nation, a corporation, a political party, even a Church) seldom does everyone have the same motive for pursuing a common goal. Overall, I think the effects of globalization are positive. But I remain mindful there are also negative repercussions and those must be mitigated or minimized.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie Review: Pride & Prejudice

Continuing with my Jane Austen mini-obsession...

DD#1 and I wanted to see this film when it was first released in the theaters. Unfortunately, Pride & Prejudice did not stay at our local cinema very long, although it remained at some of the more upscale locations (like Berkeley) for awhile longer.

Sigh. For all those who protest there are no "good" family films out there, and that too many films feature half-naked actors (and often completely naked actresses) en flagrante dicto, this film is the antidote and deserved much more support than it got. Jane Austen's observations of human nature and the courtship and interaction between men and women are still relevant, two hundred years later.

Keira Knightly is a terrific Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman of strong opinions, not easily cowed by the status of those who consider themselves of higher class. (In fact, I think she is a better Elizabeth than Jennifer Ehle, who plays Elizabeth in the six-hour BBC/A&E version). Matthew Macfayden is Fitzwilliam Darcy and has to compete against other famous performances, such as Colin Firth. He is amazing! He's not traditionally handsome, but Mr. Macfayden has the most amazing blue eyes. And he is an extremely expressive physical actor, letting his face, his posture, and his gestures say more than his words can. His Darcy comes across as more shy and reserved rather than snobbish.

Mrs. Bennet, as acted by Brenda Blethyn, is not as silly as in the BBC/A&E version or in the novel itself. She loves her daughters and means well and is determine to secure their futures by making sure they are well-married. Donald Sutherland is Mr. Bennet (and wouldn't it be interesting to see him play Jack Bauer's dad?). In the novel Mr. Bennet is almost contemptuous of his silly wife; in this version he is much kinder. He loves his wife and puts up with her sometimes silly behavior because of his love. He also loves his daughters, although like many men who live in a predominantly female household, he likes to "hide" in his library and ignore the tempest outside the door.

My biggest concern was what do you leave out in a two-hour movie without harming the story? The screenwriters, which included Emma Thompson (aka Sybil Trelawney), did a marvelous job, mostly by using the "show not tell" method. However, some of my favorite lines were left out--Darcy's speech about Elizabeth's "dancing eyes" and Elizabeth's exclamation upon seeing Pemberly for the first time, "Oh! To be mistress of Pemberly!" My only other quibble is that there are a few scenes where Darcy appears "undressed" according to the standards of the day. And at the denouement, Elizabeth, unable to sleep, walks about the fields in her nightgown and coat and runs into Darcy and is not embarrassed that he sees her undressed.

Tom Holland is terrific as Mr. Collins and Dame Judi Dench is marvelously evil as Lady Catherine DeBourge.

The location filming is also wonderful. The DVD (which I bought on sale at our local warehouse store for about $7.00) has some special features, including notes on Jane Austen, how the ball scene was filmed, and commentary by the director. (I didn't agree with all of his interpretations, but they were interesting.)

Both the girls liked it, although they didn't rave about it. I think this adaptation is a great introduction to the book and to Jane Austen in general. At two hours, most teens can sit through it (although DD#1 and DS#2 have sat through the six-hour version with me). The film might be a good way to discuss the reliability of first impressions as well as how the relationship between men and women have changed over the years. Men stood and bowed, women curtseyed, the only physical contact was during dancing. Have we lost anything with the informality we have today?

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meditation for Today

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. Fore everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the tructh comes into the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

--John 3: 16-21

Gospel for April 26

The Cross of Christ

Although He was the light to enlighten all nations, Jesus was destined in His won day and in every age to be a sign disparaged, a sign oppressed, a sign of contradiction. This has been true of the prophets of Israel before him. It was true for John the Baptist and would be true of the lives of his future followers…

So the Cross becomes light; the Cross becomes salvation. Isn’t this perhaps the good news for the poor and for all who know the bitter taste of suffering? The cross of poverty, the cross of hunger, the cross of every other suffering can be transformed, since Christ’s Cross has become a light in our world. It is the light of hope and salvation. It gives meaning to all human suffering. It brings with it the promise of an eternal life, free from sorrow, free from sin. The Cross was followed by the Resurrection… And all who are united to the crucified and risen Lord can look forward to sharing in this selfsame victory.

--Agenda for the Third Millennium

April 26 Meditation

From A Year With John Paul II

I love John’s Gospel. His words, his cadences are almost like poetry. I love reading them out loud. I marvel at the concept that Christ is the Light of the World, our salvation, our hope, and yet we reject him, continuing to live in the darkness because we prefer our evil not be exposed.

And then there is John Paul II, echoing the theme that Jesus Christ came into this world to enlighten us and guide us. Our suffering has meaning because Jesus suffered and died for us. He saved us, so we now have the light of Hope.

As I grow older, I have come to appreciate the Light of Easter more and more, to realize the enormity of the sacrifice Jesus made, the magnificence of the gift given to us. Jesus gave us Himself and then left us the Church—first with the Apostles and then the other disciples, the Fathers of the Church, the great thinkers and writers and philosophers, even to the modern age. We have received an awesome legacy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yet Another Clue-by-Four

DS#2 has to read The Three Musketeers for his Freshman English class. To help him, I went to the local public library to check out the book on cassette or on CD, so he could listen along while he reads. I made the mistake of cruising by the New Books section.

There, in a red cover, was the book A Year with John Paul II: Daily Meditations from His Writings and Prayers, edited by Father Jerome Vereb.

I tell ya, I just can't get away from this guy.

I resisted. I have Mere Christianity waiting for me at home, along with Memoirs of a Geisha and a book about King Arthur. I have Genpei that I received at Christmas, which was highly recommended by Karen Anderson (Poul Anderson's widow and a well-educated, articulate woman whose recommendations I take seriously). I have my daily Scripture readings, based on the Liturgy. I do not need another book to read. Especially one that has 365 daily readings that I can check out for only three weeks.

(Is Julie D. laughing yet?)

The book is on my nightstand. I'm reading the meditation for the day, as well as one from the beginning of the year. I will probably end up buying this book, too.

I will confess that I am not very good at reading and then meditating on and praying over the reading. I tend to read it and move on. I'm trying to move at a deliberate pace, not read ahead, but it's difficult. I am a woman of strong enthusiasms and while I might not quite rush in where angels fear to tread, I will rush headlong, pall mall (or is it pell mell?) into a project until I run out of breath or energy or run into a wall. This is a book, much like the Bible, where I will have a new and different understanding each time I re-read it.

John Paul II can be so habit forming. Who knew?

(Okay--you can put your hands down now. I admit I was clueless!)

Book Review: 1906

I have a personal connection to the earthquake and subsequent fire that devastated San Francisco in 1906. My maternal grandfather's house and his uncle's butcher shop where he worked burned down, forcing his family to move out to the "country," now known as Noe Valley. My maternal grandmother lived out there and they met. I'm not sure how, exactly, but my mother had an abundance of auburn hair (and came from a large, Irish Catholic family) and she caught the eye of the quiet and reserved German Lutheran butcher.

So when I saw a book titled 1906, with a picture of a burning building, well, I had to buy it. And since April 18 this year was the 100th Anniversary, I thought it quite appropriate reading material.

The author, James Dalessandro, is based in San Francisco, and used archives in the San Francisco City Museum as his source material. Many of these archives expose the depth of the greed and corruption of City Hall and Boss Reuf's gang of cronies. Decisions made by Mayor Eugene Schmitz and U.S. Army General Fredrick Funston, based at the Presidio, exacerbated the problem. In fact, their decisions helped spread the fire. And when the book discusses the effects of the earthquake and how the fire spread through the City, the story leaps to life and I raced through the pages.

Unfortunately, that's only the last third of the book.

The heroine, Annalisa Passarelli, is the opera and society editor at Fremont Older's Bulletin. Her personal heroine is Nellie Bly and Annalisa aspires to be a real investigative reporter, leading Annalisa to work undercover and supply information about "Adam Rolf" (standing in for real life San Francisco Boss, Abe Reuf) to Dectective Byron Fallon. She knows Lt. Fallon because she grew up down the street from the Fallon family and he became her surrogate father when her parents returned to Italy and died of influenza during an epidemic.

Lt. Fallon also has two sons: a Stanford-educated engineer son, Hunter, who is young and handsome, and an older son, Christian, who is tormented by nightmares of a the city going up in flames. Christian does not share his nightmare with anybody, instead drinking to tame them.

Would an Italian immigrant mother in 1906 name her sons "Hunter" and "Christian"? Would Irish immigrant parents name their son Byron?

Byron and Christian belong to The Brotherhood, a group of honest police officers who are doing their best to bring down the corrupt Schmitz, Rolf, and the Chief of Police, Donen. They are all related, which wasn't unusual in San Francisco, at least through the 1970's. Hunter joins the police department and becomes a member of The Brotherhood himself.

Byron ends up getting killed on his way across the Bay to Sausalito while bearing incriminating evidence against Rolf. Which means The Brotherhood has to find his killer and find the missing papers before Rolf does and get them to Federal Proscutor Charles Feeney. Annalisa has to act as though nothing is odd while going to the opera to hear Enrico Caruso with Adam Rolf and avoid his unwanted attentions.

Meanwhile, Kaitlin Staley, from Lawrence, KS, happens into town. Her father, who is the sheriff in Lawrence, follows her and ends up being the bodyguard for Caruso. Would a sheriff from Kansas name his daughter Kaitlin in 1906? Would he have studied Latin (he's a graduate of the university in Lawrence) and be able to understand Caruso's Neopolitan accented Italian?

Anything is possible in this book.

The characters race from the Barbary Coast to South of the Slot to Telegraph Hill to Nob Hill to Van Ness Avenue to Chinatown and to North Beach. In terms of square miles, it really isn't far, but DD#2 and I did a similar trek last year, on foot, with no panicked citizens or animals or rubble blocking our way. We walked for about eight hours at a leisurely pace; these folks were running!

Okay, there's always the effects of adrenaline on the body.

But what really got me was the extraneous, modern comments the characters made. Annalisa's father taught her to sail, not because it was a good idea and they lived by the Bay, but because there was no reason a girl couldn't do anything her brothers could do. (Curiously, Annalisa's brothers don't play any role in the story.) Hunter's mother (an Italian immigrant) wanted to do two things in her life: hear Caruso in person and vote. Vote???

Hunter figures out how to tap Mr. Rolf's phone line and record it on a gramaphone cylinder. Hunter just happened to be part of the engineering team from Stanford University who surveyed the City's water lines for Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan. Chief Sullivan had, in fact, tried to convince the City Government to make changes to the water system as San Francisco had burned to the ground six times previously, including after the earthquake in 1868. He also had a disaster plan all worked out. Unfortunately, his home was damaged during the earthquake and he fell three stories through the floor while going to the aid of his wife. He lingered in a coma for four days before dying.

Of course, Hunter finds the plans but cannot convince Mayor Schmitz to follow it.

Oh, yeah. Hunter also wants to build a bridge across the Golden Gate.

One kind of quirky note: at one point anything mobile is comandeered by the Army to move injured people to the Presidio. There is a brief cameo by Charles Howard who owns a fledging Buick dealership on Van Ness Avenue. He is a real person--he later owned Seabiscuit and this incident is mentioned in the book of the same name by Laura Hildenbrand.

The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 was exciting and terrifying and disastrous. For years, the truth was suppressed about how much damage the earthquake did, how the decisions made by General Funston spread the fire, how many people died, how much was lost. The brand new, nearly completed City Hall was, in fact, destroyed--not just because of the earthquake but because of corruption in the awarding of the construction contracts and the use of inferior materials by the contractors. This novel does a pretty good job of exposing the dark underside of San Francisco society and politics as it was in April 1906. Mr. Dalessandro really didn't need to "modernize" his characters. Unfortunately, Annalisa and Hunter never came alive for me--Christian, with all his faults and his unrepentant solution to problems (shoot or beat up) seems much more real.

Mr. Dalessandro did another detail right, however: the web of family relationships in San Francisco. The Irish, the Italians, the Germans did mix and most of us who have families in San Francisco have cousins with various last names. (My mother, whose last name was German, has a cousin whose last name is Polish. They're related through their Irish mothers.)

This is not a "great" novel, but the history is not as skewed as The DaVinci Code. If you're curious about what it might have been like to live in San Francisco in 1906 and to live through the chaos of the earthquake and fire, you'd probably enjoy this book. (The book did make me appreciate that I am living here now instead of then!)

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 bookmarks

Thursday, April 20, 2006

File This Under "Be Careful What You Wish For"

Last year my parish's pastor was reassigned. Before assigning us a new pastor, the Diocese sent out some members of the Pastoral Staff to guide us in a townhall type meeting to help discern what qualities were important to us as a Parish.

One of my requests was to bring back some of the traditions of the Church, like Gregorian Chant and maybe Mass in Latin once in awhile. This request ended up being near the bottom of the list.

Fr. P came in June and, as one of his first sermons, presented a slide show of his experience in Rome during JPII's funeral and the subsequent election of BXIV. He revealed that he has a very dry sense of humor, as well as being self-deprecating.

I liked him a lot. I like him even more as I've come to work with him and hear more sermons.

Then came Triduum.

Fr. P. chanted the Gospel on Holy Thursday. It was not pretty. But it was sincere.

Fr. P. also chanted the Gospel on Easter at the Family Mass (11:00 a.m. in the school gym).

Since I was a lector, I sat in the front. DD#2 was the only altar server. The rest of the family sat in the back because they hate sitting in front.

God knew what He was doing because I would have had to inflict some bodily harm on my family during the Gospel.

"He sang the Gospel!" DS#1 exclaimed. "You're not supposed to sing the Gospel!"

"I know," DS#2 answered. "I almost laughed out loud."

"He didn't sing, he chanted," I pointed out. "Chanting the Gospel in Gregorian chant is an old tradition."

"It's still not right," DD#1 remarked.

"Yeah, why did he do that?" DD#2 asked.

"He did it on Holy Thursday," I pointed out. "You were there, right next to me and you didn't say anything about it!"

Hubs wisely kept out of the discussion. He is a musician and I'm sure that the cracks in Fr. P's voice bothered him.

So, I get my pastor who appreciates Gregorian chant and actually does it. And his valiant attempts, cracked voice and all, happens to be my children's first live exposure (the Pope's funeral was, of course, televised) to this beautiful sacred tradition.

Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

Movie Review: Ice Age: The Meltdown

First the Disclaimer: Last Saturday (April 15) was Hubs' birthday. Since it was pouring outside, we decided to forego working on our personal ark and go to a movie. He picked this one. We went to the matinee, just the two of us, and everyone else in the area who wanted to get out of the house. Since Ice Age is rated "G," that meant there were a lot of families with children. Lots of children, including young children.

Having been there myself, I felt a lot of sympathy for the parents. And I completely understand that many children, used to watching videos of movies at home, don't understand the concept of silence while at the theater. DD#2 has the same problem, in fact. However, watching a movie with a toddler screaming in the background does not enhance the experience and may prejudice my review.

By the way, I've never seen the first Ice Age movie. But it didn't take me long to pick up the nuances of the characters.

Sid (voiced by a John Leguizamo, who I didn't recognize) is a Giant Sloth who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He is currently running a camp for young critters at the foot of a glacier.

Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) is a Woolly Mammoth. If you've ever seen Everybody Loves Raymond or Mooseport, you know this character. Steady, steadfast, put-upon. Resigned to rescue everyone.

Diego (voiced by Dennis Leary) is a Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Aloof, proud, his answer to everything is to threaten to eat it. However, he has a secret fear hiding beneath his swaggering self-confidence.

And then there is Scrat, a squirrel-rat who is not connected with the three heroes, but whose obsession with an acorn runs through the movie. In Scouts, this would be called a "run on" skit: you run on the stage, do your schtick, then run off. A few minutes later, you run on again, do the next bit, run off. This continues until you get to the punch line. Run ons can be very effective and very funny. This one is. Sort of. Sometimes.

A vulture comes down to the happy collection of prehistoric animals and tells them the glacier is melting, releasing a flood of water collected behind it. Their only chance of survival is to flee to the other end of the valley where there is an ark that will save them. Some believe; some don't. Our intrepid trio manages to convince the group and they all head off.

Along the way there is some discussion about Manny being the last mammoth. He scoffs at the idea and is reminded of the dinosaurs. Then he meets Ele (voiced by Queen Latifah). Ele is, in fact, a female mammoth. Problem is, she was raised by possums and she thinks she is one of them.

Can Manny convince Ele she is really a mammoth? Will Diego eat the two possums that Ele thinks of as her brothers? Will Sid ever say anything sensible? Will the animals make it to the ark in time? Will Manny and Ele save mammoths from extinction? Will the warnings about global warming and extinction be emphasized? Will Noah and God be mentioned along with the ark?

C'mon, this is a kids' movie, by Twentieth Century Fox, no less. What do you think?

There is a great sequence where the vultures do a musical routine to the tune of "Food, Glorious Food" (from Oliver!) that was quite clever. Except that most of the audience didn't get it.

The computer animation was quite good, especially the fur of the animals which moved synchronously (is that a word?) along with the way the different animals moved. But when, oh when, are movie studios going to learn what Disney and Pixar seem to have mastered: story first, effects later, moral last. The storytelling was very uneven, especially for a movie aimed at younger kids. "Tweens" might enjoy some of it, especially the clever banter among the characters, even as they find the story itself "lame." The Incredibles was a much better family movie, one that everyone could (and in my house, did) enjoy.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Tickets.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rest In Peace

Susan's husband, John, crossed over last Saturday (Holy Saturday and Hubs' birthday). I've been trying to help by taking some of her work load, which is why blogging is light.

I can tell you--it's killing me! I have so much to say and no time to say it.

Please say a quick prayer for John's soul and for Susan. She's had a really tough year: her mother and mother-in-law died within weeks of each other; she moved to a new state (besides the standard moving craziness, she had to move her invalid husband and his specialized medical equipment. Her oldest sister has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy (and later will have radiation). Now this. I am amazed at Susan's inner strength.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Easter! And a Blessed Passover, As Well

Remember the fuss over "Merry Christmas"? Today I tried a different experiment. Today I wished everyone I encountered "Happy Easter!"

To a person, I received smiles and a "Happy Easter!" in return.

I confess, I'm not surprised. Most of those I saw today at the doctor's office and the store were Hispanic or Filipino. The deck was stacked, so to speak, in favor of Christians.

Still, the fact that they were pleased tells me volumes. Greeting someone with a "Happy Easter" just isn't very common. In fact, Easter is still primarily a religious holiday, rather than a commercial one. And that's fine with me!

I'm always pleased when Passover coincides with Easter, since Passover is an important part of Christian history as well as Jewish. So, Happy Passover to all! May you find your faith deepening and your family strengthened through these holidays.


Like many Catholics--like many people--I don't like being told what to do. Going to Mass on Sunday is an obligation. Going to Mass on Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday is something I have to do.

DD#2 came with me. Our pastor, bless him, tried to chant. The choir, and those of us over the age of 50, chanted the responses. We sang the Pange Lingua in Latin and most of the pronunciation came back to me.

"This is the second day in a row I've been to church," she confided.

"What did you do yesterday?" I asked.

"We had Tenebrae," she explained. The church is dark, except for candles. One by one the candles are extingushed, representing Jesus's suffering and burial. There are readings and songs. It's all very quiet, allowing for a time of reflection.

On Thursday, the school held a Passover seder with their Faith Families (there is one child from each grade, K-8, in the family). The oldest boy is the father. The oldest girl is the mother. The Kindergarteners get to ask the questions. The Seder reinforces our faith's Jewish heritage as well as the actions of Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper.

Tonight we will go to the Good Friday service. And I will proclaim the Second Reading and the Narrator's sections of the Passion. We'll skip the Easter vigil on Saturday, though, and go to the Family Mass on Easter Sunday morning. (I'm proclaiming there, too!) DD#2 volunteered to serve both as well.

Although the older kids--who are really young adults--keep telling me they "don't believe," that the Church is a "cult" and "it's all superstition anyway," it's interesting that they don't kick up a fuss about going to Mass, meatless Fridays, and fasting today. DS#2, in fact, just mentioned, "Oh, shoot! No snacks!" If they do snack, they are tactful enough not to in front of me. (Although DD#1 did pop some popcorn for lunch, which she knows I gave up! DD#2 told me last night, "Lent is officially over. Do you want to celebrate and have some popcorn tonight?" Even though it is, I hold out until Easter Sunday!)

After last night's service, there was the Adoration of the Holy Eucharist on the Altar of Repose. DD#2 and I stayed for a bit and prayed before hurrying home to deal with Life again. Maybe that's why I enjoy the Triduum so much--it gives me a chance to refocus on what my religion is all about, on what I believe. Before He died, Jesus gave us His Body and Blood. He gave us His Mother. He paid our debt to the Father. And then He rose again in triumph over Death and the Devil. He promised to bring us with Him, if we but believe and follow him.

It's all worth remembering, especially once a year.

Book Review: John Paul the Great: Rembering a Spiritual Father

I want a referral fee from Peggy Noonan.

Even before I was finished reading this book, I was recommending it to my parish Lector Group (the wife of one member owns the local Catholic bookstore across the street from our church. I need to give her the ISBN number so she can order copies). I told another friend of mine, during lunch, that he had to read this book. He wrote it down--he has learned to take my recommendations seriously.

Ms. Noonan's book begins with the essay published in the Wall Street Journal at the time of John Paul II's death last April: "I Saw A Saint At Sunset." Although I read it before, her essay still grabs my heart. Though diminished physically, JPII still exuded spiritual power and charisma. People still flocked to see him, to be near him. The book then jumps back to the death of Paul VI and John Paul I, detailing some of the strange coincidences that happened along the way to election and elevation of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy.

Of course, for those of us who believe, all this was not coincidence at all. Rather this is the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Interwoven with the background of JPII is Ms. Noonan's own spiritual journey; how her faith and her Catholicism deepened due to the influence JPII had on the Church and the world. She discusses his theology, how the death of the members of his immediate family by the time Karol Wojtyla was a young adult influenced him and his devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. She shows how he became a priest during the reign of the Nazi party, who had nailed the seminary doors shut, and how those obstacles influenced his view of the priesthood and may account for his seeming lack of response to the scandals of the pedophile priests in the U.S. She talks about the effect of a Polish Pope on Poland and on the Polish Communist Government and how, by merely speaking the truth of the faith and the history of the Polish people, JPII helped bring on the collapse of Communism in Europe.

JPII began as a parish priest, a bishop and a cardinal of a diocese and dealt with the problems that the laity bring to Church every day. When he became pope, Cardinal Wojtyla became parish priest to the world.

Ms. Noonan interviews those who worked with JPII, those who analyzed and watched him and lived with him. She quotes from his sermons, his encyclicals, his poetry.

And she tells how this all affected her personally--pebbles and Rosary.

This book is much more satisfying than Father Joe by Tony Hendra. For Ms. Noonan not only discusses the Big Picture, she relates it to the personal and she seems to understand the message. And she does this in 235 pages.

I read this book straight through, cover to cover. And then I went back and dipped into it. No matter where I open it, I find something worth reading, pondering, meditating on. I want to underline and highlight and Post-It Note (tm) the entire book. The only problem is that this copy belongs to my local public library. Which means, of course, I'm going to have to buy a copy. And maybe a couple of more when it comes out in paperback, for my family, so I can share.

This book is a great introduction to some of the themes and ideas of JPII and has piqued my interest to read more of what he wrote, more of what he said. Although JPII was pope for almost all of my entire adult life, I was busy with career, marriage, family, and didn't pay enough attention. And I forgot how dramatic the power of Solidarity was. I forgot Mother Teresa lecturing President Clinton and his wife.

Ms. Noonan ends with JPII's funeral and how "spiritually dead" and "too sophisticated for Church" Europeans overwhelmed the Vatican during his funeral. She speaks of Cardinal Ratzinger's surprisingly powerful eulogy. And she discusses how, when the bells of Rome and the Vatican rang, signally the election of a new pope, the people emptied out of offices and homes and cafes and ran to St. Peter's square to find out who it was.

And I agree with her conclusions about why they did.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 bookmarks. (I would be interested reading a review of this book by a non-Catholic and get their take on it. For it is a very Catholic book.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Women and the Church

One of the tasks I set myself this Lent was to keep up with the daily liturgical readings for the day. These are listed in a small box in my parish bulletin, which is most helpful. (I have been about as consistent with this as with one of my other Lenten resolutions--keeping the kitchen sink clean. Which indicates to me that I have a much easier time giving something up than doing something positive and pro-active.)

Since last Sunday was Palm Sunday and this week is Holy Week, I expected the readings to be concerned with the Last Supper and the Passion. So far, however, the readings have been about the Resurrection.

More specifically, Monday and Tuesday's readings dealt with the women finding the empty tomb and Mary of Magdala not realizing that she was speaking to Jesus in the garden.

I have also been reading Peggy Noonan's book, John Paul the Great (which I'll review later). In this book, Ms. Noonan discusses the role of women in the Catholic Church, especially why the beautification of Mother Teresa was so important, as well as the great love and devotion John Paul had for the Blessed Mother.

Once again I was struck by the importance of women in my Church. Jesus, in his great suffering and pain, took time to make sure His mother was taken care of. He gave her to John, and through John to all of us because we all need nuturing and support. Men are often problem-solvers and "fixers." Women are often comforters, and, although we try to "fix" things, too, our solutions are based more on making someone feel better.

It's the women who gather on the road to Golgotha to offer support to Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. It's a woman, Veronica according to tradition, who wipes His brow of the blood and sweat.

And it's the women who discover He has risen and who tell the apostles. Even "the disciple Jesus loved" finds out only because the women tell him and Peter.

What does all this tell me?

That my role, the role of femaleness, is essential to the Resurrection story. My role is not that of Peter, but of Mary of Magdala who came to the tomb expecting to anoint a body according to the Law of Moses but instead found so much less--and so much more. In Luke, Mary Magdala is the first person Jesus addresses. Why would He do that if women were not important?

And the disciples--Peter and John--listen to the women. They do not dismiss her. They run to the tomb to see for themselves that Jesus is gone.

Even Jesus listened to His mother and performed His first miracle at Cana at her request.

With those examples, why would anyone lightly dismiss the advice and counsel a woman provides? And why would anyone willingly give up the power to advise?

Friday, April 07, 2006

An Ordinary Hero

I first met Les Johnston when I was working at Cub Scout Day Camp. Les and Carl were Emperors of the Warehouse at Camp Herms. If I needed a shovel or a rake or a fire extinguisher, I was told to "Go see Les-and-Carl at the warehouse." (They were referred to as one: Les-and-Carl or LesandCarl.) Every morning, Les would drive his red Toyota pick-up truck in through camp, honking and waving as he passed by the Cubs assembled for morning flag. (Carl's truck was not as flashy.) Those men could fix anything at Camp Herms and, I later discovered, anything at Camp Wolfeboro up in the Sierras.

Except for the red pick-up, Les wasn't flashy. He just did what needed to be done so that Wolfeboro was ready for summer camp and Herms was ready year-round for all the use and abuse the program could give them. Les also had about as much use for the Powers-That-Be and red tape as any of us did, although he wouldn't volunteer that opinion!

DS#1 knew about Les from Cub Day Camp, of course, because he had a lot of time to kill waiting for me to finish up after camp was over. He became more personally acquainted when he accepted a job at Wolfeboro doing maintenance and making the run down to Herms because Les was too old to make the four hour drive down the mountain on a regular basis. When I sent him a copy of Les's obituary, he was stunned.

DS#1 is relieving the regular Camp Ranger this weekend. He's planning on attending the Memorial Service, after he opens up the Lodge at Camp Herms for the Eagle Court of Honor for the youngest son of close friends of ours. After the service, DS#1 will return to Herms, congratulate the new Eagle and lock up. He has to show up. Les won't be at the warehouse in case he forgets.

Remembering the Little People

When I enter the lobby at work in the morning, I say hello to the security guard on duty. He's a nice guy and does a good job.

When I leave in the evening, I say good-bye to the security guard who is on duty then. A different guy, not quite as out-going, but he's still a person.

I was taught it was polite to acknowledge the presence of those who serve us: wait staff, bus drivers, sales clerks, crossing guards. It doesn't take any effort, really, to wish someone "Good morning" or "Good afternoon." Sometimes they smile. Someone appreciates them. They are not just part of the furniture, the metal detector, the wall.

You know where this is going, don't you?

Rep. McKinney should have remembered this important point.

She complained that the security guard should have recognized her. My question to her is: does she recognize him?

The Great Illegal Immigrant Debate

The Great Illegal Immigration Debate is one of those social problems where I have difficulty seeing a solution that is just and merciful. Most of the articles I’ve read state there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Twelve million. New York City has 8.1 million in the Five Boroughs.

There were “only” 5 million illegals in the U.S. when Reagan granted amnesty back in the 1980’s.

Over $16 billion is sent to Mexico from the U.S. This is not a transfer of funds from one corporation to another. This is not a parent company sending money to its maquiladora plant. This money is private—family members in the U.S. sending money off to family members in Mexico. This money is the second largest source of U.S. dollars in the Mexican economy, trailing behind Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company.

When I read numbers like that, my blood pressure increases. And it’s easy to forget that there are real people behind those numbers. People like Anna and Roberto Salazar and their three children. Mr. Salazar has been in the U.S., illegally, since he was 8. Mrs. Salazar is a native California, a citizen. Through a series of missteps, Mr. Salazar’s has missed the opportunity to change his status. Now he’s facing deportation to a country he doesn’t know, doesn’t have any connection with. Mrs. Salazar could be jailed for “harboring” an illegal alien. According to the article, she could face a year or more in prison, loss of her children to foster care during that time, and forfeiture of her assets.

Those choices seem too harsh, especially since their only “crime” was not taking care of the paperwork.

Of course, the IRS also takes a dim view of things if your paperwork is not completed by their deadline. As does the Traffic Control Department if you forget to pay a ticket. Or the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are consequences for neglecting to dot your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” when it comes to the Government.

Debra Saunders has an idea. In her latest column, Prove It, she suggests Congress do the following:

“All they have to do is pass a law that allows for that legal pathway only after the number of illegal immigrants shrinks in America from some 12 million today to 8 million, or another number that represents a true reduction in illegal immigrants.

"When the number of illegal immigrants dips below 8 million, a trigger would allow the federal government to start proceedings to enable those illegal immigrants who otherwise have followed the rules become legal residents, and eventually citizens. If the number of illegal residents rises above 8 million, the government then can suspend the process until the number falls below 8 million again.”

That sounds like a reasonable compromise to me. Which means, of course, that it will never happen.

Why not offer blanket amnesty? Or offer amnesty to those who have made a life here, put down roots, bought homes, established businesses or have jobs?

“But that’s not fair!” I want to cry out. “What about those who have played by the rules? Who have waited—or are waiting—to come to this country legally? Why should those who happen to live close enough to sneak across the border get a pass? What about my friends, legal immigrants, whose husbands had to wait a year to come to the U.S.? What about my BIL, who is going through the slow process of becoming a citizen so that if something happens to my sister, he’ll automatically get to keep the kids?” (We were all shocked to find out that, should my sister die, my BIL would have to petition the courts for custody of his own children because they are citizens of the U.S. and he is not. How bizarre is that? How about fixing that part of Immigration Law along with the rest of it?)

I do believe that the seemingly endless supply of cheap unskilled labor depresses their wages as a group. I know that illegal immigrants have trashed homes of those who live near border areas. Because illegal immigrants have not had health screenings, drug resistant tuberculosis is a problem in my area, so much so that parent volunteers in the schools must have a TB test on file—the more complete, under-the-skin test or a chest X-ray. I know that gangs have crossed the border, bringing their feuds with them as well as drugs.

I also know that the United States is a Nation of Immigrants. There is something unique and vibrant about our country because it is a crazy quilt of nations. Because who you were in the “Old Country” doesn’t matter as much as who you are willing to become here. This land is brimming with opportunity for those who are willing to work hard.

There is a bit of racial hysteria in those who wish to seal the borders. There is also a bit of hysteria in those who see racial prejudice in every attempt to monitor and regulate the flow of immigrants into this country. Most Mexicans do not want to take back the Southwest (they left Mexico, remember?). Most American citizens do not want to break up families and seal the borders. The Mexicans who carry signs advocating "Reconquista" perhaps need to remember that their language and their ancestors also came from Europe. Our President, Ambassador, Secretary of State should press the governments of illegal immigrants to actively improve their economies and societies so their citizen will want to stay home. (As a "carrot," perhaps remittances to those countries from the U.S. could be frozen and used to repay the communities that are impacted by illegals. Or tax refunds and Social Security payments to invalid Social Security numbers can be earmarked for the same purpose. And the difference can be made up from the remittances.)

Currently, the Senate has come up with a compromise that no one likes--conservative, liberal, immigrant or citizen. Maybe that means it's a good one.

Immigration is definitely one of those issues where I'm glad I'm not member of Congress!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tolerance, Inclusion, Sensitivity, and All That Good Stuff

Friday evening we went to see the spring musical at the local high school--the one DS#1 and DD#1 graduated from and that DS#2 is currently attending. The performance was held in the school cafeteria. Posted on the wall is the menu with the daily specials listed.

Vegetarian meals are prominently marked with a heart.

A friend of mine, who works at the school, came over to say "Hi" while I was looking at the menu.

"Do you see anything odd about the choices of entree?" I asked her.

She looked. "No," she answered.

"There's vegetarian options on Tuesday and Thursday, but none on Friday," I pointed out.

"You're right!" she acknowledged. She's very active in the local Lutheran Church and we've discussed the similarities of traditions between Lutherans and Catholics. Her parish encourages the practice of meatless Fridays during Lent as well.

Since meatless Fridays are a Catholic tradition that goes way back, and seems to persist despite it being "optional," I think it rather odd that the public schools should not have a vegetarian entree available that day. It's not that the kids would starve: cheese pizza and cheese and bean burritos are available daily. (According to DS#2, though, they taste pretty nasty--this from a kid who will eat almost anything with cheese on it!) Still, why not move the vegetarian entree to Friday?

If you're a vegan or Hindu, you're pretty much out of luck except on Tuesday and Thursday. If you're Muslim or kosher Jew, your choices are also limited. So it's not just a blind spot for Catholic (or other Friday-fasting Christian) dietary restrictions or traditions.

I usually make DS#2's lunch, so he gets what I give him. But it would be nice if the school cafeteria at least paid token respect to religious dietary restrictions.

Movie Review: Fever Pitch

Since The Anchoress reminded me, 'tis the season, this movie is particularly appropriate.

Hubs deemed this a "chick" flick, and it probably is, so DD#1 and I were the only ones who watched it this weekend.

Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) fell in love with the Boston Red Sox when he was 9 and his Uncle Carl took him to a game at Fenway Park. When Uncle Carl died, Ben inherited his tickets, right above the Sox dugout. His fellow seatmates are his extended family. Ben's friends vie for a chance to get the "extra" seat in one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Ben's apartment is decorated in Red Sox memorabilia. You get the idea--Ben is obsessed.

Ben does have a job--he's a high school math teacher. During the off season, Ben meets Lindsay Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a high-powered, Type A executive. He's not her usual type, but, as her girlfriends point out, Lindsay hasn't had much success with her usual type. Ben's students don't think he has much chance with her, so, in defiance of their belief, he asks her out.

Surprise! Lindsay finds Ben funny, charming, and delightfully quirky. He confesses his Red Sox addiction. She thinks it won't be a problem because she has to work so much. Sounds perfect, no?

No. As the Red Sox march towards the pennant, Ben's passion for them and Lindsay's lack of same does become a problem.

Will Ben grow up and out of his need? Will Lindsay learn to lighten up? Hey, this is a romantic comedy--what do you think?

Drew Barrymore is really delightful in these types of roles. She's cute. She's energetic. She's witty without being cynically clever or drolly ironic. She is really believable.

And Jimmy Fallon plays the earnest teacher well. He's like the boy-next-door or the not-quite-a-nerd guy in high school who was liked well-enough that he was never hassled much, although he'd never be Prom King. His chemistry and his style is different enough from Adam Sandler that there's no comparison with 50 First Dates or The Wedding Singer, two other Drew Barrymore romantic comedies.

No foul language, although there are scenes in the bedroom--it's obvious that they are sleeping together (but, thankfully, they don't move in together). Which leads to the "I'm late" crisis. Interestingly, no suggestion of abortion.

[Digression: leaving aside all moral considerations of premarital sex, why does Hollywood rely so heavily on condoms as birth control? Don't they realize condoms have a 15% failure rate? What happened to The Pill and Depo-Provera? Wouldn't a modern, liberated woman use birth control herself as well as relying on a condom? And Hollywood wonders why teens don't understand basic birth control?]

Some great questions about the role of professional sports in a fan's life. The ending reminded me a bit of O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, which is not a bad thing.

The movie is based on Nick Hornby's book of the same name (reviewed here), which is concerned with his obsession with a professional soccer team in England. Mr. Hornby worked on the screenplay and the translation from soccer to baseball is done rather well.

I'd put this one up with some of the more memorable baseball movies, especially since it examines baseball from the perspective of a fan, rather than a player.

On the March Hare scale: 4 Golden Tickets.

Serendipity or Another Clue-by-Four?

About a week ago or so, I was in my local public library. This, in itself, is not an unusual occurrence--I'm a fairly regular patron. However, I was there this time because of DS#2--he needed to pick up a biography for his English class.

I steered him to the right area and he picked out a book or two that he thought would fulfill his teacher's requirement and that he might actually find interesting. While he did that, I went over to the New Book section. Peggy Noonan's book, John Paul II: Rememberances of a Spiritual Father, was there. I enjoy Ms. Noonan's writing, especially her account of her last audience with John Paul II. But I hesitated over checking the book out. I'm in the middle of another book, with several more waiting in the wings. Since I know the library has this book, I'll be able to check it out at a more convenient time.

But, then, it might not be here when I want to read it. It's here right now. And library books are free.

I checked it out.

I've only read the first couple of chapters (the book opens with her last audience with JPII) and I'm amazed at what I missed and what I've forgotten about the early years of JPII's papacy. As an excuse, it was a busy time of my life: Hubs and I were getting settled in our careers, getting married, buying a car, buying a house--doing all those things couples do when beginning their life together.

Then, at Mass this Sunday, Father P. mentions it's the anniversary of JPII's death. He's been gone a year.

I am not one of those who clamored for JPII to be canonized immediately. Frankly, I'd rather have the Church be cautious when canonizing saints, maintaining standards, requiring miracles, allowing the Devil's Advocate to do a thorough job examining the life of the proposed saint to ensure that there are no condemnatory secrets, no skeletons hiding in the closet. But this coincidence is just too strange. I had not planned this, I was not aware that it has been a year. What I was (and still am) planning to read was the novel 1906, specifically because it is the 100th year anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco.

God and JPII are chuckling at me. I'm sure of it.

NB: The Anchoress has, as usual, a lot of good links concerning John Paul II.

It's Just A Game

The question was innocent enough: “Who are we playing?” DD#2 asked. When I told her, all she said, very quietly, was, “Oh.” Their opponent is one of the toughest basketball teams in the league—a team DD#2’s school has yet to beat since they started playing in 3rd Grade.

The rest of DD#2’s team had the same reaction. And the game was pretty much the blowout we all expected. To their credit, DD#2 and her team did not roll over and die. They kept them running and kept their opponent busy as they passed, stole, and guarded vigorously.

The biggest problem with our school is historically they haven’t been able to shoot. I’m not sure why our school is so bad at it, but we are. And if you can’t make baskets, you can’t win. The players are also shuffled randomly between the two teams each year, so we don’t have an “A” team and a “B” team. And the girls have to relearn how to “read” their teammates each year.

The games begin with the teams joining hands in a circle, alternating players, and saying The Our Father. Then one of the coaches gives a little speech to the parents: “Let the kids play, the refs ref, and let the spectators spectate.” Even though this is CYO and we’re playing in the gym of a Catholic school, some of the parents can be less than Christian. Hubs and I happened to talk to the dad of one of the players from the opposing team. We complemented his daughter and her team on their high level of play. He told us about the game they recently played against one of the other powerhouses. It was a nail-biter, with the two teams trading the lead, and the girls giving the game their all. Afterwards, though, he couldn’t believe what he heard: a mother, whose daughter was on the losing team, cursed her daughter for a full five minutes. Not just critiqued her daughter’s play, but actually cursed at her daughter.

“These girls are only twelve,” the dad exclaimed. “They’re still learning the game. What’s the big deal about losing at this age?” (His daughter’s team had lost to this particular team earlier in the season, so he had been in the same situation.)

Hubs and I agreed. None of the high schools offer athletic scholarships. College and the WNBA is a ways off. Many of the girls are experiencing growth spurts and are still learning what do with their long arms, long legs, big feet, and breasts that are getting in the way of, well, everything. Playing basketball is supposed to be giving them confidence in themselves, one more skill set to master, an introduction to a sport that, if they don’t play competitively, they may want to play on a “pick-up” level.

Of course, Hubs and I know that our daughter will never play basketball competitively. She doesn’t have the passion for it. Still, it was gratifying to hear another parent echo our feelings, especially one whose daughter is good.