Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Luther's Revolution

Many will dress up in Halloween costume today. One in three adult Americans, and the majority of children and teens.  Take a minute between rings of your door bell and consider one of the greatest revolutions of all time.  Not ours from British rule, not the French overthrow of the monarchy, not those in the recent Arab spring.  Today, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther's act began the Protestant revolution, leading Christians away from the moral and intellectual domination of the Pope and the Catholic Church.  Luther's proposition was that absolution from sin was not achieved by buying a pardon, called "indulgence" from the church, but rather by acts of love and submission to the will of God.  His act was as life-threatening as the capital crime committed by our Founding Fathers when they signed the Declaration of Independence.  Luther was excommunicated, giving anyone permission to kill him without consequence. 

Luther did not mince words.  He took his case directly to the Papacy. Here are some of my favorite from the 95.  Read an excellent presentation of them all at this site.

  • It must therefore be the case that the major part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of relief from penalty. 24
  • There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest. 27
  • No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of receiving plenary forgiveness. 30
  • Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence 36
  • Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties. 44
  • Again: since the pope's income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers? 86
  • These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy. 90
  • And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace. 95

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


As we listen to the politicians talk about war, and sending our troops into "harms way", it is good to get a different perspective.  The Battle of Sulva Bay was part of the Gallipoli Campaign in the Great War.  As with the stalemate on the battlefields of France, the landing at Sulva and subsequent effort to displace the Ottoman stronghold brought slaughter to the troops, shame to the generals, and no resolution to the war.  This song needs no additional comment.

Monday, October 29, 2012

God Said the Fire Not the Flood Next Time

Monster storms are not new to the planet.  In the millennia before the current era the crashing waters and rushing winds of a flood became the stuff of received wisdom and warning.  In a world lit only by fire the loss of an ember could mean death.  As the account of the rising water was passed down from year to year the true scale and magnitude were lost to dramatic storytelling.  The books of the Old Testament include the story of Noah and his flood.  You can find it in Genesis chapters 6 - 9.  In light of tonight's storm on the East Coast of the United States, it is easy to imagine a more primitive people describing waters wiping out all life on earth.  Its easy to imagine passing down a story that involves a life-saving ark and a dove searching for evidence that the waters have gone down.  It is easy to understand how survivors might believe that  a greater power saved them when all others were lost.  The myths and legends of earlier societies survive today in our folk songs and tales.  In the acoustical age of my youth, Peter Paul and Mary sang such a song about Noah's flood.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do You Remember Thomas Eagleton?

In recent weeks we have heard about Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s treatment for bi-polar disorder.  Jackson has made his illness public, and spoken with confidence and relief that he has entered the Mayo Clinic, and will take his doctors' advice to follow through with treatment and rest. His constituents report that he will easily win reelection to his seat in Congress. 

In 1972, George McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton to be the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic slate with him.  Within three weeks McGovern's campaign had imploded in the backlash of questions about Eagleton's fitness for office.  It was learned that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received electric shock therapy. 

Is a candidate with mental illness that is managed with best currently available treatment less fit for office than a candidate with chronic heart disease?  Before our obsession with societal norms, great men with mental illness lead great nations. Abraham Lincoln was probably one.  Winston Churchill was certainly another.  Churchill called his depression "Black Dog".   Representative Jackson (who may not be qualified for other unrelated reasons) has demonstrated that in 2012, mental illness is not the political death sentence it was 40 years ago.  Whatever else Jackson contributes to civil society during his years of public service, his forthright treatment of mental illness is huge.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My name is Carlos. How can I help you?

If you are very lucky, you will find "Carlos" at the answer end of your call for help.  I don't mean help in a life threatening crisis.  I mean the kind of help that consumes your afternoon (or midnight hours) as you trouble shoot the problem that has  blocked you out of your own computer.  My problem was with my phone - a Sony Xperia Ion.  Carlos was in the Dominican Republic where Sony has a call center.  It was pure luck that put Carlos on the phone when I was ready to throw mine out the window.  Actually, he was the second Carlos to whom I spoke that day.  The first Carlos put me on hold "for a quick second" and never returned.  Carlos # 2, aka Carlos Fernandez, stayed with me for four hours.  We each ate lunch.  As rebooting occurred, first on the phone, and then, repeatedly, on my computer through which we would update the phone, we learned about our families and hobbies and talked about cruising in Alaska. My husband joined us and we talked about fishing and the species he caught in warm water.  He asked about salmon - that world renowned cold water fish caught with relative ease in SE Alaska.  I took a break to take our dogs out.  When I was in deepest despair, Carlos was right there with "not to worry", and we turned to plan B.  Then plan C.  We used every port on my computer, and moved over to my husband's.  When Carlos was stumped we searched the owners manual (107 pages) together. We fixed everything.  We cheered one another.  The mess was tidied.  The mysteries revealed.  The storm passed. 

Here's a shout out to Sony and to Carlos.  We mortals are at the mercy of the electronics that rule our lives.  I happily carry today the phone I was ready to toss yesterday.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tenors Behaving Badly

As I drove about my day today, the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast offered up Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.  Puccini (1858 - 1924) wrote beautiful music.  He had patrons and commercial success.  He had his choice among the best possible stories, and the most talented librettists with whom to tell his stories.  Why did he single out lead roles for men behaving badly?  Tune in and listen to the glorious melodies.  Think about what is happening.  In Madama Butterfly U.S. Navy lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton comes ashore in Japan and succumbs to the ministrations of lovely geisha Cio-Cio San aka Madame Butterfly.  In a cruel deception, he marries her, understanding that there is no legal obligation associated with the union.  His lust for soft light, soft skin and a subservient sex partner overcome any self control he might have learned at the Naval Academy.  The union ends badly with a child whom he takes from the heart broken Butterfly who chooses honor over shame and eviscerates herself with her father's sword.  The world was introduced to this cad in 1904.  Eighteen years later Puccini outdid himself when he introduced Calef, exiled Prince of Tartary in Turnadot.  Calef falls in love with Turnadot, the cold, vengeful and very mixed up Princess of Peking. In the climax of Act III he stands by to watch his father's faithful servant Liu tortured because she would not reveal his name.  What kind of man would  do that?  He is so taken with himself and the mystery he has introduced into the court of Peking that he sings an ode to himself, "Nessun Dorma" (meaning "no one sleeps" in which he refers to the mad search for clues to his real name).  Ironically, this beautiful aria sung at the height of conceit by Calef, was sung by the most unassuming contestant on Britain's Got Talent in 2007.  If you missed Paul Potts, and the electrifying reaction to his voice, feast your ears and grab a hanky.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Britain's Bogs

A battle over bogs brews in Britain. A bog, or peat bog, accumulates because plants decompose slowly in waterlogged soil.  Bogs can spread widely.  Bogs burgeoned in the cool and humid lowlands of northern England and central and north east Scotland. Britain's bogs are thought to have developed 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.  Peat was cut and dried for centuries and used for fuel.  In modern times, peat has been praised as an ideal medium for growing and mulching gardens.   Advocates are passionate about the benefits to the soil.   Bogs build slowly, adding about 1/2 inch in 100 years. Today  there is widespread support for a ban on cutting in order to preserve the unique bog habitat. The British will manage this touchy issue.  After all, they managed to ban fox hunting.  I am willing to bet that the remaining bogs will be preserved.  That will be an ecological win, but with an unfortunate unintended consequence.  Out of the British bogs have come archaeological treasures.  The most astonishing was the discovery of the upper torso of a man buried in the deep Lindow Moss outside Manchester.  He turned up during a commercial peat harvest.  His body bore the clear signs of ritual sacrifice, and has been a goldmine of clues to the mysteries of Druid society.  There have been other similar finds, all well preserved in the oxygen-free acidic moisture of the peat.  If no more bogs are cut, no more mysteries will be revealed.  So. Indulge your curiosity.  Read about Lindow Man in this short, action packed book, "The Life and Death of a Druid Prince".  You will learn what he ate for his last supper, why he might have died and much more.  A first century thriller.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Change of Life

I never heard my grandmother say anything about her personal health.  In my childhood women referred to "the change of life" in hushed tones with mild raising of the eyebrow.  Boys were brazen and cruel, with cutting remarks about girls "on the rag".  At school we called it the "curse".  In our "Health" class we were given a pamphlet with diagrams of ovaries, uterus and cervix.  The illustrations showed the thickening lining in the uterus each month and explained that it "sloughed off" .  A sanitary napkin was passed around.  This dry and clinical  information was for girls.  I have no idea what the boys were told.  It was inconceivable that we would talk to them about a woman's menstrual cycle.  We swirled around this issue in a cultural climate of confusion.

Today, we have unabashed public discussions and product advertising that were unthinkable just a decade ago.  Erectile dysfunction and low testosterone share the airwaves with Cheerios, investment trading,   incontinence and arthritis pain. But even in the rush of excitement about so many previously unspeakable maladies, the airwaves are largely silent with respect to menstruation.  Why?  Why do we still blush?  Do we somehow believe we are alone?  One-third of men and women ages 30-70 have experienced loss of bladder control at some point in their adult lives.  The nightly news sells their needs to advertisers and apparently has no qualms that viewers might be offended by cartoon-like figures fabricated from copper plumbing fixtures.  Every woman experiences the body and mind altering cycles of fertility. 100%.  From the onset of her periods at age 11 or 12, for the rest of her life, each woman learns that her equilibrium is easily put off kilter.  Menstruation lasts about 40 years.  Menopause lasts forever.  (Note to reader: don't believe "its just for a year or two")  For many women parts of the journey are unsettling, painful, even debilitating.  In polite society of even the recent past women were banished to insane asylums as they struggled with "the change".  Why isn't more known today?  Why so little research?  Do we still harbor aboriginal  taboos? When will we have the courage, or common sense, to bring it out of the closet?