Saturday, December 13, 2008

Religion: Hazardous to Your Health

Our Advent Wreath sits on the coffee table in the family room. I try to keep the table clear of the Stuff that seems to collect on any horizontal surface in our house--I mean, these are real candles, with real flames. Usually someone is in the family room at all times.

However, no one told the cats.

We have four of them. Three are fairly intelligent; one is just, plain dumb. They love DD#1--she is their mother. When they see her, they cluster around meowing loudly until she gives them what they want. This particular cat loves milk, poured in a small dish and set upon the coffee table.

Apparently she didn't notice the Advent Wreath. Or, cat-like, chose to ignore it. She couldn't eat it--what good was it.

And so, while DD#1 was getting this cat her milk, the cat brushed against the candles and managed to set herself on fire.

I was upstairs when I heard DD#1 say, "What smells like hair burning?" (Yes, we've had some hair burning mishaps before.)

Then I heard, "Puppy! (Yes, the cat's name is Puppy. We also have a cat named Mouse.) You're on fire!"

Fortunately, Puppy just lost some fur. I was concerned that she would panic and set the house on fire. But DD#1 calmly put the fire out and Puppy maintained her dignity.

However, she no longer jumps on the coffee table!

Review: Mobile Gabriel

Mobile Gabriel is a website that has the readings for Mass, both Daily and Sunday. It's available for viewing over your computer or you can download it to your PDA or smartphone (iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, Centro, etc.) through an e-book reader called "Mobipocket." Mobipocket is available free of charge and Mobile Gabriel has instructions.

You can also download Mobile Gabriel to your PDA/smartphone through AvantGo, which is how I found Mobile Gabriel originally. (AvantGo has other sites, secular and religious, you can download as well.)

Mobile Gabriel is free. (I like free!) Besides the Daily and Sunday Mass readings there is a reflection written by Don Schwager which focuses on a key phrase from the Gospel.

The readings of Daily Mass either continue the theme of the readings from the previous Sunday or lead into the themes for the coming Sunday. Many of my favorite parables and Psalms appear in these readings. The same stories will often appear, but from a different Evangelist, so the same event will be told with a slightly different emphasis.

Reading the Daily Mass helps put the Sunday Mass into context and is especially useful for those weeks I'm a lector. By the end of three years (Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C), I will have read most of the Bible. And I don't have to flip through the different Books of the Bible to find the correct Chapter and Verse. Because I have my Centro with me, I'm more likely to follow the Daily Mass readings--I usually read them waiting in line for my BART train at the end of my work day. Waiting in line might not be the ideal time to contemplate the Divine; on the other hand, I'm reminded that God and Jesus are with me always. Besides, Jesus didn't just preach in the Temple. :)

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Bytes.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Christmas Time in The City

Out here in the Politically Correct Bay Area, Christmas seems to be making a comeback. The tree in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel (the largest hotel lobby west of the Mississippi), is called a Christmas Tree. Radio station KOIT calls itself the Christmas Music Station, playing secular songs and traditional religious Christmas carols. The classical music station, KDFC, intersperses traditional carols with classical music and offers classical Christmas music over the web.

Store clerks are as likely to wish me "Merry Christmas" as they are "Happy Holidays."

Mervyn's may be going out of business, but they let the Salvation Army station a bell-ringer out front.

My suburban town has a Christmas tree in the downtown park--and had a celebration to light it--as well as a string of lights in the shape of a star stretched across the street.

Kind of reassuring. Maybe we haven't completely lost our way.

"A Day Without... Whom?"

Okay--if I hadn't read about it on Michelle Malkin's blog, I wouldn't have realized that yesterday was supposed to be "A Day Without Gays." Even in Radical San Francisco there were no parades, protests, or signs. My BART train was full. The Holiday Party sponsored by the Management Group of the office building went on as planned. The food was as tasty as ever. The trio played all sorts of Christmas music.

If anyone called in "gay," I sure didn't notice.

The End of An Era

DD#2 had an appointment today at the orthodontist for a retainer check. When she came back to the front she announced, "I'm done!"

While she still has to wear her retainers, she no longer has any appointments.

DS#2's last appointment was this summer. DD#1's last appointment was a couple of months ago.

No more getting in the car at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. appointment. No more notes for school. After six years, we're done.

I feel kind of... sad. In a "another childhood milestone reached/completed" kind of way.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Movie Review: Australia

First Disclaimer: I would pay to watch Hugh Jackman read the phone book. So, no, this review is definitely not unbiased.

Australia is told from the point of view of a young boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters). He is a "creamy": half-white, half-aborigine. His grandfather, King George, is a "magic" man who is teaching young Nullah the songs that impart all the wisdom of the Aboriginal people. Nullah has some magic in him, too, but he also realizes that he does not belong to the Aboriginal world. Neither does he belong to the white world. He has to find his own spot.

Complicating matters, the Australian Government is removing mixed-blood children from their Aboriginal mothers, forcing the children to attend boarding schools with the intention of "breeding the black" out of them. So Nullah and his mother are ever watchful for the local law.

The year is 1939. World War II has begun, but is confined to Continental Europe for the moment. A young English woman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), flies to Darwin, Australia, to persuade her husband to sell his cattle ranch and come home to England where he belongs. However, her husband's cattle station, Faraway Downs, is the only competition for the local cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown). Carney is trying to drive Lord Ashley out of business so he will be the sole provider of beef cattle to the Australian Army.

Lord Ashley has sent his cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) to meet Lady Ashley at the pier in Darwin and bring her to Faraway Downs. The drover is self-employed, working for whomever he chooses. While waiting for Lady Ashley in the local bar, one of Carney's men insults him, calling him a "Boo lover." Drover slugs the man and the fight is on, moving out into the street, where Lady Ashley's luggage becomes part of the melee. She is horrified to see her lingerie scattered across the dirt street. Drover--for that's the only name he's called during the film--mutters an apology. They begin the two-day journey to Faraway Downs in a beat-up truck, overtopped with what ends up being a couch and arm chair.

Of course, Lady Ashley and Drover despise each other. She thinks he has designs on her. He informs her that he wouldn't sleep with her if she were the last female on Earth.

We know where it's going to lead--right?

Thirty minutes (or less--I wasn't looking at my watch), Drover has his shirt off and is washing up. For those who remember Mr. Jackman in Leopold and Kate, it's obvious Mr. Jackman has been working out. With good results.

When they reach Faraway Downs, Lord Ashley has been killed and King George is the primary suspect. Lady Ashley discovers that the foreman of the station has been working for Carney as well as beating Nullah (whom she suspects is his son) and Nullah's mother on a regular basis.

She fires him. He leaves, taking his men with him.

But there are 2000 head of cattle that need to be driven to Darwin if she is to have a chance at the government contract. She needs Drover's help. He's not sure that a well-bred Englishwoman can survive the tough ride.

And this is just the first half of the movie.

If you've ever watched a Western that involves a cattle drive, you know what will happen, more or less. What makes this drive different is Nullah. His grandfather is always watching from a distance. And Nullah is a special boy--he has learned his lessons well and he is brave. Frankly, Brandon Walters steals this movie from Ms. Kidman and Mr. Jackman, much as the director tries to limit his screen time.

There are lots of soulful looks between Lady Sarah and Drover. A lot of close-ups, which will probably play better on the small screen once this movie is released on DVD. There are discussions about the land and the importance of having a story and of song.

The cattle drive ends in Darwin, which sets up the next scene: a charity ball to fund the Mission where the mixed-blood children will live. This provides an opportunity for Ms. Kidman to wear a beautiful gown and for Mr. Jackman to clean up and wear a white dinner jacket. He does clean up well. The scene also gives Ms. Kidman a speech about how horrible it is to tear these children from their mothers and to show how small-minded and prejudiced the average white Australian was in 1939.

There is an interlude of relative calm until 1942. Using newsreel footage, the move jumps forward to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and on the movements of the Japanese through Southeast Asia. Drover accepts an assignment from the Australian Army: a six-month "drove" of cattle. Nullah wants to go walkabout with King George. Lady Ashley doesn't want either of them to go, so Nullah sneaks off and she tells Drover that if he leaves, he shouldn't return. So (of course), he leaves.

However, Nullah hasn't gone walkabout--he's been taken by the sheriff and is going off to Mission Island, which is directly in the path of the Japanese. Lady Ashley can't save him, but she can help with the war effort, monitoring the radio transmissions from the priest at Mission Rock.

Meanwhile, Drover is having his psyche dissected by his best friend, who happens to be an Aborigine. They notice planes flying over--Americans--and Drover figures that this is not a good sign. They ride back to Darwin in time to see the place in flames. Drover assumes Lady Ashley is dead and, when he hears that Mission Island has been attacked, commandeers a boat to find Nullah.

The acting is uniformly good. The writing could have been tighter and more true to the time: would an English lady really leave the manor to travel to the Outback? Would she really go against the conventional thinking about Aborigines? To her credit, Ms. Kidman makes it seem plausible. Mr. Jackman plays the quintessential cowboy, albeit an Australian. His toughness covers his vulnerability. His actions speak instead of his words.

The love scenes are discreet. The language is clean for the most part.

I was happily surprised that this was not another "Convicts come to Australia" movie. I tend to forget how close to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Theater Australia was. I wish I had looked at map beforehand, though, to get oriented as to where Darwin is on the continent. In the opening credits, it looks like the film was signed off by a group representing the Indigenous People (I don't remember the exact name and it's not listed on IMDb). Their characters and their traditions are presented very respectfully. In fact, I wish there had been more about them in the movie.

At the end of the movie, there is a note that the forced removal of children was ended in the 1950's and the Australian Government issued a formal apology to the "Stolen Generation."

Word of warning: do not drink a large soda prior to the movie. There is no intermission. ;)

There wasn't quite enough action to keep Hubs completely engaged. (Nicole Kidman is too thin for his tastes.) DS#2 (18), DD#1 (22), and DD#2 (15) want to see it--and I'd be willing to see it with them.

A good movie if you need a break from the holiday madness.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review