"Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, August 31, 2015

Matthew Monday: Operations and Anatomy

Some conversations come out of nowhere and they usually lead to something interesting.  The mind of a five year old doesn’t work like ours.  Who knows what inspires them to ask what they ask?

I was eating lunch the other day at the kitchen table.  Matthew had eaten his lunch watching the TV watching one of his cartoons, Olivia I think.   Not sure why but he comes over and asked a series of questions.

“Did Nonna have an operation on her hip?” he asked.  Nonna is Italian for grandmother and how he refers to my mother.

“Yes, she had a hip replacement.”

“Did they have to put her to sleep?”

“Yes, she they had to make her sleep for it.”

“Did she have any other operations?”

“No, not really.”  Actually she had but nothing as major as a hip replacement and I didn’t want to get into it with him.

“Did Brandi have to get an operation on her stomach?”  Brandi was our previous dog who passed away a year and a half ago.  You can go through the Brandi tagged posts here.    

At first I wasn’t sure what he was referring to.  Brandi had internal cancer and they had to open her belly to investigate and pull some cells for a biopsy.  Or Matthew might have been referring to her being spayed, which would have been well before he was born but he might have seen pictures of her with that silly cone they put around their necks to prevent them from touching their stitches. 

“Yes, Brandi had an operation on her tummy,” I said, wondering where this would go.

“Did they have to put her to sleep?”

"Yes, they had to.”

“Did she have an operation on her penis?”

What?  Did he actually say ask that?  I guess he did. 

“Uhh Brandi was a girl.  Girls don’t have penises.”

“Oh, they don’t?” he said running back to the TV. 


End of conversation.  I can only imagine.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

On Language: 2015 New Words in Oxford Dictionary

Actually this was only the a quarterly update of new words added to the great Oxford English Dictionary but for some reason this quarter seems to be make the news headlines.  A thousand words were added in this go around and here are a few highlights.

I think the word that’s making the most waves is “manspreading.”  Now I know a woman must have come up with this term.  I’ve heard so many women complain about it, including my wife.  “Do you need to do that?” my wife once said.  “Do you need to display them as if their some sort of prize?”  Why is it that men have to sit that way?  I don’t know, but it just comes natural.  Here’s the definition.
Manspreading, n.: the practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.

“Brain fart” made the list and I have to say that’s been around a while.  People use it at work all the time. 

Brain fart, n.: (informal) a temporary mental lapse or failure to reason correctly.

Brain farts happen more frequently with age.

Then there’s “hangry,” a perfect word blend of which I know exactly how it feels.

Hangry, adj.: (informal) bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.

Don’t get in my way when I’m hangry.  A perfect reason for meetings not to extend into lunchtime. 

I came across “fat-shame” a few months ago on The Anchoress’s blog.  Apparently someone was fat-shamed and Anchoress took offense.

Fat-shame, v.: cause (someone judged to be fat or overweight) to feel humiliated by making mocking or critical comments about their size

I agree with Anchoress.  That’s not very kind.

Now “butt dial” is one I would never have guessed.  I don’t keep my cell in my back pocket and I try to avoid keeping it close to my body.  (Aren’t people afraid of getting butt cancer from the radio waves?)

Butt dial, v.: calling someone accidentally with your mobile phone in a rear pocket.

Now combine that with brain fart and you get a telepathic phone call that gives off a malodorous scent.

Now “spear phishing” is one I’ve come across at work as they try to provide computer and information protection training.

Spear phishing, n.: the fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender in order to induce targeted individuals to reveal confidential information.

With the attempt to eliminate gender in this oh so wonderful, brave, new world, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with “Mx.”

Mx, n.: a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.

And with my statement above, then I can sense some of you want to get me through a “deradicalisation” process.

Deradicalisation, n.: the action or process of causing a person with extreme views to adopt more moderate positions on political or social issues.
No sir, it won’t work.  I’m a fixed radical to this secular culture.  I’m a Christian.  The horror.

Now really, do “cat cafes” really exist?

Cat cafe, n.: a cafe or similar establishment where people pay to interact with cats housed on the premises.

If anyone out there has the sudden need to play with a cat and wants to pay for it, I can charge a reasonable amount for you to come to my house.

Now I can go on and on with some of these new words.  I have to stop.  But there are more interesting words.  Go over to the Daily Mail’s article, who seemed to have the best piece on this,to see what fatberg, cakeage, fur baby, rando, and beer o’clock mean.  OK, one more, the sister word to beer o’clock.

Wine o’clock, n.: an appropriate time of day for starting to drink wine.


It’s always an appropriate time at my house to drink wine.  In fact I’m going over now for a glass.  Cheers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Literature in the News: Robert Frost’s Poem, “The Road Not Taken”


In this past Sunday’s NY Post I was shocked to find an article on Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  It wasn’t in the book review or entertainment section where something literary might happen to be published.  It was in the main news section, and the news worthy issue was a newly published book of literary criticism that overturns the conventional reading of the poem.  From the news article 

It is the most famous poem in American literature, a staple of pop songs, newspaper columnists and valedictorian speeches….
Everyone can quote those final two lines. But everyone, writes David Orr in his new book “The Road Not Taken” (Penguin Press), gets the meaning wrong.
The poem is praised as an ode of individuality, to not follow the pack even though the path may be more difficult.

First off, it is not the most famous poem of American literature.  Let’s make that clear up front.  I don’t know where the author of the article gets that from.  Certainly there are poems by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, e.e cummings, John Crow Ransom, Langston Hughes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, T. S. Eliot, and so on that are more famous.  There are poems by Robert Frost himself that are more famous, such as “Stopping by the Woods.”  “The Road Not Taken” is often read in American schools and perhaps most Americans of some education and desire to read poetry have read it.  I certainly have and I have to say I think that wherever I was required to read this poem I was taught the conventional view that it is a poem about individuality.  Here’s the poem in its entirety.

 

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

The conventional reading of the poem would be that the narrator chose a road—symbolic for our life journey—less traveled, meaning his mode of life was more original, more individualistic, and in the end was gratified.  I can tell you that when I read the poem I envision the narrator to be Frost himself and I conjecture that the road taken was a life of a poet, which does not provide much financial wealth, does have a life of fulfillment.   

However, there is a bit of external information that sheds light on the poem.  The narrator is not supposed to be Frost but a friend of Frost, a English poet named Edward Thomas.  The news article goes on to say: 

In 1912, Frost was nearly 40 and frustrated by his lack of success in the United States. After Thomas praised his work in London, the two became friends, and Frost visited him in Gloucestershire. They often took walks in the woods, and Frost was amused that Thomas always said another path might have been better. “Frost equated [it] with the romantic predisposition for ‘crying over what might have been,’ ” Orr writes, quoting Frost biographer Lawrance Thompson. 

Frost thought his friend “would take the poem as a gentle joke and protest, ‘Stop teasing me,’ ” Thompson writes. 

He didn’t. Like readers today, Thomas was confused by it and maybe even thought he was being lampooned. 

One Edward Thomas biographer suggested that “The Road Not Taken” goaded the British poet, who was indecisive about joining the army. 

So the poem then according to David Orr is a satiric treatment of Edward Thomas’ indecisiveness.  The poem does not end on a sense of satisfactory pride but on a sigh of regret.   

The article says that Thomas was confused by it, and I can understand why.  Before I get to that, let me support Orr’s reading by saying that Robert Frost was not a Romantic poet, so it is very much with the body of his work that this poem goes against a Romantic tradition of idealizing individualism.  Frost should be read as a modernist poet with modernist themes, especially of the darkness that is emphasized in the modernist understanding of human nature.  While in theme he is closer to Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, his form and style tend to be those established during 19th century.  So while he explores themes of pessimism and alienation, the language and forms are from a different era, which contrasts in a way that is dissonant.   

For instance, Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” while in the form of a Wordsworthian blank verse monologue such as “TinternAbbey” the poem is about how nature fights humanity, and how the darkness in humanity requires that fences be built.  Or while Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” has the feel of an idealized landscape say of Percy Shelly, it’s actually about the underlying death that is in all living things.  Or while Frost’s sonnet “Once by the Pacific” echoes John Keats’ sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” Frost’s characterization of the Pacific Ocean is of a destructive force coming from God’s outrage instead of Keats’ wonder and awe the Pacific inspires. 

This disconnect between Frost’s modernist thought and his Romantic era forms has led him to not be rated in the upper regime of modernist poets.  Scholars downgrade him (I hate such rating systems) because he failed to articulate his themes in newer, more appropriate form.  Is that fair?  This article has made me realize how unfair that is and how wrong.   

Orr writes that “The Road Not Taken” is “a thoroughly American poem. The ideas that [it] holds in tension — the notion of choice, the possibility of self-deception — are concepts that define . . . the United States.” 

Whether the theme of self-deception defines the United States or not may be arguable (this poem is not even about an American) but the theme of self-deception is clearly a modernist one, and I think a profound one, aesthetically expressed through the style and form.  The narrator feels that his choice was one of individuality when in fact it was purely arbitrary.  It reminds me of how a young person claims individuality through their rebellious clothing and haircuts, when in fact all their peers have the same clothing and haircuts.  There isn’t any real individuality there, just a difference.  The form of the poem leads you to think this is a Romantic poem of individualistic expression, but it isn’t, bringing to the fore the narrator’s self-deception.   

So how is a reader supposed to see this theme of self-deception?  This is what I think confused Edward Thomas.  The poem reads as a poem of individuality.  Here’s where a literary critic can help and guide the reader, or by reading enough Frost poetry you can come to the conclusion yourself.  The constant disconnect between theme and form in Frost’s poetry is intentional and aesthetically supports his modernism.  It takes placing this poem within the context of Frost’s life work to see the irony.  Orr identifies that disconnect as by holding things in tension.  Yes, I would agree but I would go beyond that and say it creates a false foundation, a shaky foundation, where what you think is solid ground is actually illusionary.  As a result of understanding this, Robert Frost’s poetry has grown in my eyes.   

It’s great to hear a poem read out loud, and while you can find on youtube Robert Frost reading the poem himself, I particularly liked the way this reader read it.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Photo Essay: Donkeys in the Desert

A few months ago, on a business trip to Arizona, while driving on a back road in the desert I came upon some wild donkeys.  Here are two pictures I was able to snap from the car before they got frightened and galloped off.









Handsome creatures who amazingly can live in that environment.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lines I Wished I’d Written: How the Cat Works

I have not been reading much this whole summer.  I’ve gotten lazy and the evenings are taken up with following baseball, my sports love.  But I have been reading the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, and found an interesting and well written chapter titled, “How the Cat Works.”  I’ll post some parts of the chapter, subsection’s title which I put in bold.

How the Cat Works
In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “the smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  The cat is one of nature’s most elegant examples of form following function.  The design of the feline physique is perfectly suited to a predatory carnivore’s needs: detecting, pursuing, catching, killing, eating, and digesting prey.  In fact, the cat’s basic form has changed relatively little since wildcats first appeared some 30 million years ago.  The many species that now inhabit the world’s jungles forests, deserts, couches, and armchairs all follow the same basic blueprint.  Although most domestic shorthairs aren’t likely to catch anything more exotic than a few extra hours of sleep, today’s pet cat is built very much like its wild relatives.

Framework: Bones and Muscles
As any cat owner knows simply by watching, the cat is built for grace, flexibility, and power.  From a sitting start, it can jump up to nine times its own height.  It can make its chest and shoulders narrower, to squeeze through almost impossible tight spaces.  It can sleep curled into the shape of a letter O and, immediately upon awakening, stretch and form an inverted C, pressing the chest almost to the floor.

Sinuous Spine
Where does the cat get its remarkable elasticity, both in motion and at rest?  The first place to look is the animal’s spine.  Because cats’ vertebrae are flexibly connected and have particularly elastic cushioning disks between them, the feline spine is extremely supple.  A cat’s ability to right itself in midair so that it can land on its feet and to make rapid changes in direction while pursuing or capturing prey are both made possible by the flexibility of its spine. 

The flexibility of the cat’s spine also contributes to its fluidity and speed as a runner.  To reach top speed—about thirty miles an hour—a domestic cat depends on its spine as much as its feet and leg muscles.  When running, cats can lengthen their stride, and thus increase their speed, by alternately extending and flexing their vertical column.  When the cat’s feet push off to start a new stride—the claws serving as spikes for traction—the cat’s body stretches to its maximum length.  The cat’s running style thus resembles a series of elongated jumps or bounds.  The cat increases its speed by lengthening its stride with each bound, until every stride carries it about three times the length of its own body.  Many other mammals, especially humans, rely on a more pistonlike sprinting style, in which the key factor is how often the feet make contact with the ground.

Stretching and Squeezing
Another special feature that contributes to feline flexibility is the tiny, rudimentary collarbone, which helps cats lengthen their stride when sprinting by allowing them to extend their forelegs fully.  The lack of a long, anchored collarbone (as humans have) gives cats the ability to squeeze through tight openings by literally compressing themselves to fit the available space.  Moreover, the feline shoulder blade is attached to the rest of the body only by muscles, not bone.  This gives the shoulder blade tremendous freedom to move as the cat moves, enhancing the cat’s flexibility and grace and extending its long running stride. 

Legs and Toes
Whether running or walking, cats land on their toes.  Such digitigrade locomotion is the hallmark of a sprinter.  Animals that land on their full soles of their feet, using plantigrade locomotion, are better suited to sustain exertion.  Bears and humans, for example, have a plantigrade footfall.  Cats hunt using great bursts of speed (after which they often end up panting). 

The spring in a cat’s legs is phenomenal, thanks in part to the construction of its hip, knee, and ankle joints.  These joints have very little give from side to side.  They are very stable and strong and can withstand great force applied in one direction: forward.  When the cat’s hind leg muscles contract, the three joints extend in an instant, giving the animal enormous thrust to carry it either high or far.  The cat’s landing is cushioned by the thick pads on its feet, and by the bones of its feet and wrists, whose intricate construction makes a stable two-point landing on its forepaws possible. 

Explosive Power
One look at a cat in profiler provides an obvious clue as to why cats are such marvelous, explosive athletes.  In proportion to its overall body size, a cat’s hindleg muscles are enormous, as is its “launching pad,” an exceptionally long rear foot.  These anatomical features translate into tremendous power and mechanical advantage when a cat springs or leaps.

The cat’s particular type of athleticism may also come partly from many “fast-twitch-fatiguing” cells contained in its skeletal muscles.  As their names suggest, these cells produce explosive movement, but they use up their energy stores in a flash and tire easily—as does the cat, which has relatively few “slow-twitch” fibers to give it endurance.

Energy Conservation
Because cats lack the staying power of plantigrade long-distance runners, conserving energy is a must for them.  Even the way a cat walks can save energy, as the contralateral gait cats sometimes use—left hindfoot moving more or less in tandem with the right forefoot, and right hindfoot moving with the left forefoot—is mechanically very efficient.

The best energy-saving strategy, of course, is to stay put, and cats are masters at it.  Their brain chemistry makes it possible for them to spend more of their time asleep than awak.

Lightning Fast Nerves
When cats are awake, an intricate network of nerves radiating from the brain and the spinal cord operates in high gear, receiving and transmitting information and governing sensations, reflexes, and motor functions throughout the cat’s body.  The lightning speed at which the cat’s nervous system operates is illustrated by the well-known feline “righting reflex.”  Thanks to this and its remarkable flexible spine, a cat held feet upward and dropped will have its feet pointed downward, ready to land, before it has fallen twenty-four inches.

Dexterity
A cat’s wrist bones and their associated tendons and ligaments give the cat a measure of manual dexterity—not close to matching our own, or even a raccoon’s but enough to enable the cat to get mice out of hiding places (or food out its dish) with a handlike scooping motion and to hold onto trees.  This ability to pronate the wrist (carpus)—turn the bottom of the paw toward the midline of the body—is not common in the animal kingdom.  But then, neither are most creatures as graceful and nimble, yet powerful, as cats.

That’s enough for now.  Isn’t that fascinating?  It reminds me of an engineering project, only thing God being the engineer. 

Let me end this with a recent picture of Tiger, here sitting on the windowsill.  That sill is a good three feet off the ground and he makes a smooth calculated leap onto that less than two inch ledge. 




Isn't he a handsome kitten?  He's four months old now, and that picture was snapped three weeks ago.  I had to put a stop to him going on that ledge.  Early one morning, while the birds were chirping out there in the trees, he climbed up the window screen to the top.  It’s a good thing the screen didn’t fall out.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Faith Filled Friday: St. Maria Goretti on Tour

Some may have seen this news that the relics of St. Maria Goretti will be on tour in the United States come this fall.  From the National Catholic Register

It’s been confirmed. The body — the major relics — of St. Maria Goretti, beloved by countless millions, is heading to the United States.

When she arrives from Italy, the first public appearance will be on Sept. 21 at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark, N.J. — public because she will initially be visiting a prison before that. As of the latest scheduling she will tour through 25 Catholic dioceses spanning 18 states in parishes, schools, and prisons, including New York, Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, and Oklahoma City.

But I have even bigger news that that.  One of the parishes selected for the veneration of her relics will be no other than my humble, little parish in Staten Island, St. Rita’s Church.  Other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, St. Rita will be the only church in New York City where the relics will be on display.  I don’t know how we were selected, but what a huge honor for us.


Here are some details.  She will be hosted at St. Rita's on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 for one day only.  Public veneration will begin at 7:00 AM.  A Solemn Mass will be celebrated by Bishop John J. O'Hara at 7:30 PM.  Public veneration will end at 11:00 PM.

Hereis a website with the information. 

At the web site there is a schedule for the travel across the country.  She may be at a parish closer.  Here's the link to the travel schedule.

 There's also a Facebook page, but I'm not on Facebook to verify it.  Here's that link.


The relics will not be her entire body.  From the Register article:

To be clear, the major relics are her remains inside a glass-sided casket. The wax statue of her in repose contains her skeletal remains which are not visible. Her body is not incorrupt. But her skeleton is complete except for some small amounts of bone that went into reliquaries and her right arm that her mother Assunta donated to the Church of St. Nicholas, known as the Sanctuary of St. Maria Goretti, in her birth town of Corinaldo.  Maria used her right arm to defend her purity in the attack.

Expected to draw huge crowds, every stop on the tour at the various churches, schools and prisons will include presentations on Maria Goretti’s life and virtues, plus other prayer and veneration opportunities. Masses will often be part of the liturgical celebrations.  





I assume the display will be like this image of her relics on display above.  i pulled that off Google Images.

I know that my son’s class (he goes to St. Rita’s school) will be led into the church for veneration.  I don’t know how the little church will hold what I expect will be huge crowds.  I would guess that if we squeezed tightly St. Rita could hold maybe 400 parishioners.  The lines could be out the door.  Still I will be there for as long as I can, and certainly for the Mass.  If you plan to be in the neighborhood to attend, let me know.  I’d love to meet you.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Music Tuesday: The Papal National Anthems

Hat tip to Kathy Schiffer at Seasons of Grace blog for making me aware of this.  

Who knew Vatican City had a National Anthem, but it is its own country, so one shouldn’t be surprised.  Well, it’s not like they win medals in the Olympics for us to hear of it.  The current National Anthem, the  Inno e Marcia Pontificale, was actually composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod, a French composer   (who also composed Ave Maria), but it did not officially become the Vatican City anthem until 1949, replacing the previous anthem of 1829, the Marche trionfale, composed by the Austrian Vicktorin Hallmayer.    


Actually let’s compare the two.  Let me first post the earlier Hallmayer composition.





Now here is the current Anthem, the Gounod.





Which do you prefer?  I think both are characteristic of the national origins of the respective composers.  Remember both are Marches, which means they are intended for a formal procession.  Hallmayer has a 19th century Austrian military bearing.  The Gounod, with its brass flourishes, has an air of French ceremony. 

However, the Gounod music had lyrics composed by Antonio Allegra (later translated to Latin by Raffaello Lavagna) and a chorus has been added to the March.  Without any lyrics and chorus, I would say that I prefer the previous Hallmayer, Marche trionfale.  But Allegra’s chorus adds a layer to the Gounod Marche Pontificale that I can only describe as “churchy music.”  To my ear it takes the March and makes it a hymn. 

What do you think?

Both versions are not exactly brilliant compositions.  They sound rather routine as far as Marches or National Anthems go.  Most national anthems are quite boring actually.  I think we’re spoiled in the US with our Star Spangled Banner. 


It will probably be a rare day when we hear the Vatican City National Anthem again.  Unless of course the cardinals field a super basketball team—they don’t seem tall enough though—or the Holy Father is able to win the 100m backstroke.  Both unlikely.