Friday, January 30, 2015

What The...? It's Friday Already? Here's Some Music.

Bob Simmons

"You don’t need much. A deep fin can cause some real problems.”

I started to build a traditional Hawaiian/Polynesian surfboard last month.  These are not made like the boards that have been familiar since the mid-20th century; they are not a Styrofoam-like material carefully shaped to be hydrodynamic and coated in layers of fiberglass.  Instead, traditional boards, known as alaia, are made from the woods of the South Pacific: 'ulu, koa, wiliwili, and paulownia.  The early boards were little more than planks of wood without any sort of deliberate planing.

Ideally, it should look like the boards on the right rather than those on the left

The problem with traditional boards made from traditional wood is that they weigh between 60 and 100 pounds, which makes it a chore to lug them to the beach and back; not to mention that a runaway board is a deadly weapon.  Some board shapers experimented with balsa wood, but that proved to be far less stable in holding a rider, especially those who were on the tall side.

One of those tall riders was Bob Simmons who, at 6'2", found the balsa wood boards completely resistant to the rules of balance and for whom the standard heavy board lacked the nimbleness he desired in order to ride waves.  So, in pure American style, he decided to make something completely new.  He didn't do so, of course, so that he could create an industry and thus transform a hobby and sport, but simply so he could shred waves in a way that made sense to him and him alone.

Born in 1919, Simmons was a middle-class kid from early 20th century Los Angeles; the son of a postal worker.  When he was sixteen, he developed a cancerous tumor on his ankle that almost resulted in amputation.  His limb was saved from that fate due to his parents being unable to afford the surgery and the cancer knocking itself into remission.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a weakened condition that he attempted to rectify through cycling.  This lead to his next physical challenge when he was struck by a car while riding his bike, necessitating the fusion of his smashed elbow.  Not yet out of his teens, Simmons was now significantly compromised physically.

So, of course, he took up surfing.

The only thing was, with the loss of mobility in his ankle and elbow, his balance was, well, "non-standard".  This was exacerbated by the fact that he was left hand oriented, what's known in the sport as "goofy-footed".  Frustrated by his inability to finesse a standard, heavy board while in a wave and unable to balance on the lighter balsa wood boards, Simmons began to fixate on improving a surfboard's handling through mathematical re-design and material innovation.

While Simmons' injuries removed him from high school so often that he eventually dropped out before graduating, he nevertheless passed the entrance exam to Caltech where he was an exemplary student of engineering until, after the Pearl Harbor attack, he left school to serve his country.  While not qualified for military service due to his physical condition he nevertheless worked as a machinist for Douglas Aircraft.

After the war Simmons took some published studies on air wing design and aerodynamics and began to apply them to the hydrodynamics of the surfboard.  What he created was known as a Simmons Board, originally an unusually wide surfboard [for its era] that sported a square tail and spoon-shaped nose. Over the next decade, and with no small amount of awe, many of the up-and-coming shapers copied and built upon that design.

Simmons also experimented with foam sandwiched between layers of balsa, anticipating the construction method of fiberglass boards that exists to this day.  In order to test his developing theories of board craft and shaping, he would surf the various, and rather different, beaches and breaks of the West Coast.  Since he was an introvert intent on his board's dynamics and not a loquacious competitor in local surf cultures, he remained mostly a stranger.  Thus, he was known up and down the coast as "The Phantom Surfer", a figure of mystery and legend.

New ideas are rarely welcome, however, as students of history know well.  When Simmons began to create some early wood/fiberglass hybrids, he also began to out-surf the locals on their own turf.  Er, surf.  This lead to several violent incidents, especially when Simmons would ride so quickly on his self-designed boards that he would literally knock the other surfers out of the way.  He would be assaulted, dunked, and have his boards vandalized.  He wasn't a shrinking violet, though, and tended to retaliate, including on one occasion demolishing an entire beach's worth of surfboards with an axe.

Not exactly Frankie and Annette, is it?

Simmons was also the first surfer/shaper to visit the famous North Shore of Oahu and realize, when his own boards proved inadequate to the surf, that boards would have to be further customized with a particular beach's topography in mind.  Again, while this is common today, it was a revolutionary notion. Since every sport or social movement needs its pioneer, what Walt Whitman described as "the comet", Simmons filled that role and took surfing from its purely native roots and merged it with the burgeoning technology of his century.  The fact that the activity and its tools can retain both Polynesian nature mysticism and serve as a medium for developing hydrodynamics is credited to the Phantom Surfer.

Although rarely remarked upon, Simmons also introduced another rather important accessory to surfing. Namely, the surfmobile.  Legendary Surfers describes his as thus:
"The 37 Ford had a V8, 60 HP engine. Simmons had gutted it except for a driver's seat. He had a wooden milk box for passengers to sit on. The passenger side, all the way back into the rear, had a ply wood deck. He liked sleeping on floors and never a mattress. He carried a boy scout sleeping bag, cans of soya beans and fruits for food. He had a place to carry hydrographic charts of the coast and the world, to locate surfing reefs. He also had bags of fresh fruit that were in season [that] he got free from trees from friends and his Aunt and Uncle in Norwalk. The top of his car he had cut and padded two by fours that were bolted on his roof for a surfboard rack. His bathing suit, as you see, is hung on the front left bumper to dry. It was a surplus wool Navy tank suit with moth holes eaten in it. Inside on the dash, in the ash tray, he had a string of papered wooden ice cream spoons he got free from stores and would discard after using. He ate out of cans on the road. He used to top off a meal with a pint of ice cream."

Well, it's no 2001 Ford Ranger complete with a scrap wood surfboard carrier, ventilated wet-suit drainage bucket, and welded hidden key/phone locker, but it'll do.  [Yes, that's mine.]

Unfortunately, the practice of surf research would bring Bob Simmons to his meeting with mortality.  At the age of 35, while experimenting with yet another design development, he suffered head trauma when struck by his own board and drowned in the ordinarily pleasant waves off of San Diego.  As Greg Noll, another accomplished surfer/shaper and protege of Simmons' noted, "The irony of it is that it was only a six-or-eight-foot day. That's the way it always goes.  For the most part, it's not the big waves that get a guy. It's always some quirky thing."  Yes, and not just in surfing.

Simmons is now considered the "Father of the Modern Surfboard" and is memorialized by some of the lesser "halls of fame" associated with the avocation, but has yet to be placed on the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, an oversight that may be due to his notoriously taciturn and stand-offish personality.  Perhaps that will one day change.

Numerous sites on the Internet may give a more complete picture of Simmons and his influence; they are easy to discover.  The best testimony to his importance may be viewed, live and in person, on any surf beach in the world.  There one will see the pure product of his highly internalized vision, one that has enabled both a billion dollar sport and the quirky hobby of an upper-middle-aged preacher.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie

An art installation showing high heels on Islamic prayer rugs was pulled from an exhibition near Paris after a Muslim group complained the work could provoke “uncontrollable” reactions, the artist said yesterday.

It's a collection of pairs of shoes on some rugs.  This causes "uncontrollable" reactions?

Time To Bring Back The "Clean Plate Club"

Or, I miss the USA in which I grew up.

Seattle to Fine Residents for Throwing Food in the Garbage

Instead, toss it on the highway or in your neighbor's yard.

I Often Miss The USA In Which I Grew Up

It's been replaced by something that's becoming more and more disturbing to me.

Bound Brook cops stop teens seeking snow shoveling work

Their school was closed because of the snow so, instead of sitting around playing video games, they enterprisingly attempted to find gainful and helpful self-employment.  Naturally, The Man wouldn't let them.

The villain in this, in my opinion, is the nosy, useless neighbor who called the cops.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In Canada, Secular Media Reflects Theologically On Contemporary Issues

National Post:
Free speech is properly understood as part of a broader set of liberties rooted in the nature of the human person. That’s why Steyn argues for the full heritage of Western liberty, going back to Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which we mark this year. The Magna Carta begins with religious liberty, because it was precisely that Christian heritage of reflection on the origin and destiny, creation and vocation of the human person which gave rise to the recognition of man’s dignity as the secure foundation for human rights.

Theological reflection by U.S. media is always partially formed and usually embarrassingly skewed.

Archaeological News

I know it's not Biblical archaeology, but this was my area of interest and I still find it fascinating, especially as I know that there are wonders yet to be discovered, especially in those deep water cenotes.

National Geographic:
Nestled in a quiet forest in Belize, a deep aquamarine pool holds ruins from a time when the ancient Maya turned to a "drought cult," archaeologists suggest, and hurried sacrifices to a water god to try to stave off the fall of their civilization.

There is some wonderful photography that accompanies the article.  No surprise, I suppose, since it's from the Nat Geo folks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Frontiers In Matrimony

Woman marries HERSELF in emotional wedding ceremony after failing to meet 'the one' before the age of 40

Les policiers sont hypocrites, trop

Police officials have lobbied for the right to conduct a variety of unfettered electronic surveillance tactics on the public, everything from being able to affix GPS trackers on vehicles to acquiring mobile phone cell-site location records and deploying "stingrays" in public places—all without warrants.

Some law enforcement officials, however, are frightened when it's the public doing the monitoring—especially when there's an app for that. Google-owned Waze, although offering a host of traffic data, doubles as a Digital Age version of the police band radio.

Je suis un imposteur

Washington Post:
Two weeks after Zuckerberg said ‘je suis Charlie,’ Facebook begins censoring images of prophet Muhammad

One Will Never Go Broke Predicting The End

Yesterday, as Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and Mayor de Blasio rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare, photos of Whole Foods depleted of kale circulated, and people stocked up for what would likely be days (maybe weeks!) indoors.

Our Moderate Muslim Allies Certainly Take The "War On Drugs" Seriously

Three more beheaded under new Saudi king

A Moment Of Epiphany For This Fellow

That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.

Archaeological News

When the wealthy town of Herculaneum was buried in pyroclastic flows from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., organic materials...were instantly carbonized by the superheated gases and ash, sucking all the water out of them and preventing their decay. Subsequent pyroclastic flows buried the city in 60 feet of hard volcanic rock that preserved the city and its contents for 2,000 years.

On My Way To Church....

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Who Could Argue With This?

I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back

"It’s simple: You don’t tell me how to raise my kids to avoid reviving a horrific illness that hasn't been seen on our shores since our grandparents were children, and I won’t tell you how to raise yours."

[Yes, it's a satire.]

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Well, I Can Vouch For #'s 3, 5, 6, 7, 15, 20, 29, and 30 [Where My Band Once Played]

44 Amazing NYC Places That Actually Still Exist

A lot of the amazing places I knew from Chelsea in the 1980's are gone, unfortunately, including the Cuban-Chinese Restaurant, the Spanish House, the really neat fishing store on West 23rd [it's now on 36th St. but not as funky], and the Saigon Pavilion [the only Vietnamese restaurant in NYC at the time].

Sorry, but McSorley's is for the tourists.

The Effects Of The Anti-Vaccine Movement

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday's Music From The Daughter Of This Morning's Person

Or It May Not

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel

This is only my opinion, of course, but I've noticed through the years that NBC and its various cable incarnations tend to present sensational stories about Christianity, usually around Christmas and Easter, that upon analysis are rather inflated.

Kiyoshi Aki

"The first principle of Judo requires that we learn to fall as well as throw. - Jigoro Kano, the "father" of Judo

In 1964, when I was in 3rd grade, my parents were involved in the American Field Service, a worthwhile organization that matched international students with American families so that they might experience a senior year in an American high school and both parties could come to appreciate one another's cultures.

Through the Sixties we would host a number of students; Juan from Costa Rica, whose descriptions of the lush beaches and rolling surf of his home still makes me long to build a retirement home there; Bob, a student from Australia who taught me the words to "Waltzing Matilda", including the rude ones; Ignatz, a student from Austria who was a fan of Formula One automobile racing [yes, friends, he's the one to blame]; and Carlos, a student from Mexico who would start crossing himself when we watched horror/monster movies.  My favorite, though, was easily Kiyoshi Aki.

Kiyo was seventeen when he came to live with us.  His English was terrific and, after his tutelage, my Japanese wasn't bad.  The only word that gave him difficulty was "ketchup", so I suggested the alternative pronunciation of "catsup", of which he approved.  I was a skinny kid, something that Kiyo noted by squeezing my flexed bicep and suggesting that I eat more spinach [yes, Popeye cartoons were popular in Tokyo], so he would take me into the backyard and teach me something that was only seen in James Bond movies: judo holds and throws.

When it was my turn to represent at "show and tell" at school, I brought Kiyo.  He spoke of Japanese culture, taught us some words and phrases, gave an example of flower arranging and its purpose, helped the class compose a haiku, and then had the two of us throw one another around in a judo demonstration.  The teacher told my parents that it was the best show and tell of the term; my classmates were fascinated with a culture very different than that of mid-century Ohio.

Yes, it was a great success.  For about two days.

Then, our weekly neighborhood newspaper published a letter from a local police commander whose son was one of my classmates.  In it the captain complained that his son and the tender children of the classroom had been exposed to some "Jap" without the knowledge or permission of the parents.  He claimed his son had been traumatized by nightmares of "our boys at Pearl Harbor" [gee, I wonder who fed his son those lurid images] and that the school better do something about it.  He stirred up others, of course, in a meringue of bigotry.  The next day our principal paid an unprecedented visit to our classroom to tell us about Pearl Harbor and how the Japanese necessitated the use of the atomic bomb. It was all a bit of a puzzle to us that so many adults were so concerned about a war that had concluded more than a decade before any of us were born.

Meanwhile, at the high school, Kiyo, who was a straight A student, suddenly started to have "difficulty" with his homework and tests.  Teachers and coaches who had no issues with him before began to find all sorts of things wrong with his work.  My mother, who at the time was working on the school board, was outraged at this subterranean attack on someone under her protection and used all of her rabble-rousing skills [which were considerable] to counter the bigots, and I remember my father, who was a quiet man and Kiyo's teacher as well as American host, standing at a public meeting and simply stating, "There's nothing wrong with this boy's school work."  So rare were Dad's comments and so determined his mien that I remember that pretty much ended discussion.

Still, the AFS, with discretion being the better part of valor, decided to let Kiyo escape from the tender mercies of the Buckeye State's less sane residents and return to Japan, thus denying him the chance to graduate from an American high school.  He and I were saddened by this, of course, but inevitably I said farewell to my Japanese buddy, judo partner, and surrogate big brother.  I remember one of the friendlier teachers saying to my dad, "I hope he can make something of himself after this."  As it turned out, she needn't have worried.

Kiyo returned to Japan, graduated from high school and university, where he distinguished himself, and then, with a college friend, started a school for the study of foreign language.  He understood that the zeitgeist in Japan was on the verge of fueling an economic re-birth with everyone from elementary school students to captains of industry desiring to learn English and the other western languages.  His school expanded and expanded again so that Aeon Corporation is one of the biggest private language schools in the world.

He also did not let his experience in early-'60's Ohio sour him on western culture and people.  Through his work he met an American woman of Italian descent whom he married; their daughter, Angela Aki, is a well-known pop music artist in Japan and Hawaii whose compositions are also featured in video and computer games.  [An aside; Angela was educated at the 'Iolani School in Honolulu, which is one of the premier schools of The Episcopal Church.]

While I was only eight or nine years old, I look back on Kiyoshi's and my parents' reaction as representative of the finer portions of their characters.  As noted, Kiyo did not retreat into racial bitterness, my parents used the occasion strongly to stand for what they understood to be the basic tenet of their Christian faith [namely, hospitality], and I saw what it was to participate in what William Blake would poetically characterize as "mental fight" on behalf of a friend.

I suppose, now that I can recollect these events after many decades and with a small portion of experienced wisdom, that what Kiyo was doing was merely an extension of the first two lessons of Judo: Learn to fall, then learn to get up again, quickly and balanced.

Good News For Space Nerds

George Lucas Said Disney Killed All His Ideas for New Star Wars Movies

I was more of a Trek man, myself.

This May Be Why The Olympics Often Prefer Totalitarian Regimes

Documents obtained by MassLive show that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed an agreement with the United States Olympic Committee that blocks city employees from making negative comments about the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee, or the USOC.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

It's The 21st Century And Our Post-Christian Age Still Believes In Demons, Ghosts, And Evil

Newtown Votes To Raze Lanza Home

"Neighbors had been pleading with town officials to tear down the house of the mass murderer, with one resident saying it's 'a constant reminder of the evil that resided there.'"

Y'all should try some Jesus.  Then you'd realize it's just a house, that's all.  Evil is different than what you folks think it is.

This Is Actually An Interesting Conversation

This compound tragedy is generating a lot of commentary.  I am also now getting some marginally hostile e-mail from strangers about how "evil" is The Episcopal Church.

Washington Post: Case of bishop accused in bicyclist death opens debate about theology of addiction

This gets even more interesting when I see that her bail was provided by another seminary classmate of mine, one who is reported to have been "defrocked" [the actual term is "deposed"].  In reality, while deposed by the Episcopal Church of the U.S., he is a priest in the Episcopal Church of Brazil.  Yeah, that's a long story.

Just Admit You're Scared, NYT. No One Would Begrudge You That.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet has repeatedly claimed that the reason he’s not allowing any depictions of Muhammad to appear in the paper is because he’s highly attuned to religious sensibilities. It’s not because he’s terrified of Islamic radicals killing him or his staff.

No really. That’s what he’s going with.

And to believe this, you have to not be in any way a religious Jew or Christian who has read the paper in recent years. For us, the insensitivity toward our religious views is more a daily and expected occurrence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Archaeological News

This Minoan object, made from gold and crystal and dated to approximately 1600 B.C., has been fully restored.  Of course, no one really knows what it was/is, but the current best guess is that it's a board game of some sort.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Feast Of MLK, Jr.

I've always liked this photo as it reminds us that King was a man of the people, as was the Lord whom he followed.

Originally, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the only non-Episcopalian to have a day on our calendar of feast days. The reasons for this exception and his inclusion are, I think, obvious to any student of post-modern American history. [In recent years, however, the Episcopal Church has changed its policy completely and has been assigning feast days to anyone who appeals to aesthetic and intellectual tastes of the denominational leadership.]

However, the Episcopal Church remembers him not in January, which is the government holiday, but on April 4th, which was the day of his assassination. It is ancient tradition that martyrs be remembered on the date of their martyrdom.

In anticipation of his feast day, and in recognition of the federal holiday [when the government honors a highly educated American by closing all public schools], the Episcopal Church readings for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s day may be found here.

And since the media occasionally forget that he was a practicing Christian and person of faith, we remember him by his title "The Rev. Dr.".

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Link I Would Have Sent To Dad

The Beautiful Math Inside All Living Things

Haggis-Flavored Haggis Is Bad Enough

Haggis ice cream on menu as cafe honours Burns

Friday Drive Time; Here's Some Harp*

[In this context, "harp" is short for "harpoon", originally the blues musicians' nickname for a harmonica.]

Frank Miller

“The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He's dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he's a hero the whole time.” 

When I was a kid I read comic books.  As far as I know, I was the only one of my friends who did.  They were far less interested in fantasy literature than I and would roll their eyes whenever I would mention the latest volume of X-Men or Spider-Man or The Avengers.  It's funny to think that those titles are the ones that, lately translated into movies, now earn more money than any others at the box office.

My favorites of childhood were originally those of the DC Comics company, which featured Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Green Arrow among their champions [again, all now familiar through television shows].  The stories in DC Comics were simple and fun; there was little that was complicated in the relationships between the characters as they all represented the value of fair play and emotional maturity.  They lived in fantasy cities like Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, and such.

One of the high school seniors whom my parents was tutoring told me of another collection of titles and thus I discovered the more complicated world of Marvel Comics, where characters didn't always get along, were rarely supported by the police, government, or media, and always carried the wise-cracking attitude of their New York City locale.  While there were those who had a strong preference for one comics company over the other, I enjoyed both.

Then, due to the good tutelage of my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Haven, I discovered in my elementary school library a little used section in the corner that simply carried the title "Mythology".  What a series of wonders that section contained.  I checked out Edith Hamilton's classic book on the subject, read it until it was time to return it, checked it out again, and read from beginning to end practically memorizing each and every tale.  It was then that I noticed something interesting.

The themes that were present in the great myths of the Greeks and Romans were the same themes that common to the comic book stories.  Both groups dealt with heroes who carried tremendous flaws; so much so that it was often those flaws more than the super-villains that they had to overcome.

And, of course, in both myth and comics, there was the powerful theme of redemption.  A hero could fail, could know defeat, could be injured or even killed [after all, this was a comics universe so the rules of mortality were different than in the real world], but then, realizing the strength of their own goodness or will or calling or perseverance, they would reclaim their heroic stature to the confusion of their enemies and save the world.

Thus, I read comics with a new eye, eventually surrendering them to favor mythology and later, mainly due to some good professors in college, seeing the same mythic elements re-worked through the fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries.  It was those skills that eventually were employed in scripture and theology classes in my seminary days.  To the surprise of some, I can trace all of my academic achievement to the reading of comic books.

But myths of any sort have their ups and downs; they can collapse under their own mythic weight or not be well-served by their stewards.  Whether it is in the ancient myths or in more modern fiction, there comes a time when, as with their heroes, the literature itself needs to be redeemed.

Such was the case with the character of Batman.  While originally conceived as a man traumatized by his parents' murder before his eyes while a child and determined to wreak vengeance on the criminal class of his city, his originally dark stories became lighter and lighter to the point, by the 1950's, they were losing their audience.  While a silly and camp TV show in the 1960's stalled the decline of the title for awhile, Batman was all but doomed.

Absurd...and a little flabby.

Then a radically different story writer and artist, Frank Miller, had an idea that he managed to sell to Batman's publisher.  In the mid-1980's, a limited edition storyline was introduced that looked like nothing anyone had ever seen, especially for a venerable character that had been around since 1940.  Entitled "The Dark Knight Returns", over a four month period it told the tale of an upper-middle aged Bruce Wayne [for those who don't know, Batman's secret identity; a billionaire loner] long since retired from his highly individual service to his city, content to drink his way through his vast wine collection, muse on the death of his sidekick, Robin, and sit in the darkness of his mansion watching the evening news as the reporters describe in lurid detail the atrocities befalling his city.  Until, one night, a particularly vicious combination of gang violence and political corruption visits violence on the innocent and sends Wayne into a fugue state of righteousness.  Thus, once again, a mysterious figure begins to be seen in Gotham, striking out at the criminal class.

This particular path towards redemption is not easy, however.  Wayne/Batman is 55 years old and bears the long-term physical damage of his vigilante work.  He has not kept himself in shape and is rusty in the art of subterfuge.  The new class of criminal is younger, stronger, and far more vicious.  However, surrendering his alter ego of Wayne and again fully embracing that which he truly is, the persona of "The Dark Knight", Batman rediscovers the essence which is always that of the hero's.

"This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle — broken, spent, unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would... But I'm a man of 30 — of 20 again. The rain on my chest is a baptism. I'm born again."

Miller's reinterpretation of Batman not only revitalized the character and comic, but also the genre, beginning the process by which comic books now came to be known as "graphic novels".  What was once juvenile literature became a vivid and popular place to explore the relationship between darkness and light in character and action.  Through this renaissance, graphic novels began to reach an acme of literary nuance that was not captured in any other contemporary medium.  So much so, that his interpretation of the Batman character lead to at least three cycles of films that chronicled not so much the adventures of a cartoonish character as they did the nature of mortality, duty, responsibility, independence, and, of course, redemption.

These days one may easily buy collections of Miller's graphic novels in chain bookstores or check them out from libraries.  There are college courses that study his literary style and doctoral dissertations about Miller's contemplation of the archetype of hero.  At least one seminary professor has used Miller to illustrate how to tell a resonant story to adolescents.  Mostly, though, Miller's work is now known in cinema as many of his stories and screenplays have been and are in the process of being filmed. 

What's always been of interest to me through Miller's story is that sometimes, whether it is something as simple and common as a comic book or as deep and eternal as a faithful way of life, there is always the need to re-appraise and sometimes restore the relevance of an experience.  As with the comic book/graphic novel becoming a viable and unlikely source for the study of human nature in popular arts, so it is that religion, once it can be divorced from the narrow strictures assigned to it by poor leadership in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, would be able to blaze a newer, clearer path to a refined contemporary consciousness.

All it takes is a new vision, the courage of leadership to trust it, and that grand, welcome moment of epiphany.


Thursday, January 15, 2015


Not a Happy Pongal For Koyambedu Poo Sellers

This May Be Tricky, Especially Since They Publish The Works Of Sir Francis Bacon

Oxford University Press said all books must take into consideration other cultures if they hope to sell copies in countries across the world.  As a result, the academic publisher has issued guidance advising writers to avoid mentioning pigs or "anything else which could be perceived as pork" so as not to offend Muslim or Jewish people.

The Oxford edition of the Holy Bible might need to be dropped from their list of works, too.  Odd, isn't it, that the Old Testament [aka the Jewish Bible] contains numerous references to pigs and swine and yet nary a Jew in history has complained?  It makes me think that it's the other religion mentioned that Oxford is nervous about.  Je suis Charlie, my eye.

An Intelligent Observation On Islam In The 21st Century

If Muslims cannot find good ways to articulate and live their faith within the context of the modern world, the result will be more violence. Over the longer run, there are other serious implications for Islam as a faith. Already there are reasons to think that Christianity is ascending as an ever-more-important spiritual influence in areas of Africa and Asia that have traditionally been Islamic strongholds. Muslims are finding it more difficult to reach their own people, theologically and spiritually; other faiths are starting to fill the gap. This of course is one major reason why Christians are often intensely persecuted in those regions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I Was Thinking About This Three Weeks Ago

Why elderly couples often die together: the science of broken hearts

In Which Case, I'm Howard Hughes

The Atlantic [no longer Monthly]: Fitness Trackers Only Help Rich People Get Thinner

In Case You Missed It

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi continues to be the antithesis of longstanding mainstream media portrayals of him.

First there was his historic speech where he, leader of the largest Arab nation, and a Muslim, accused Islamic thinking of being the scourge of humanity — in words that no Western leader would dare utter.  This remarkable speech — which some say should earn him the Nobel Peace Prize — might have fallen by the wayside....

[Trigger Warning: This link takes the reader to a conservative website, so those of tender sensibilities are forewarned.  The article is useful in that it contains numerous links to the original speech and the reporting on it.  While it was lost in the rush of news regarding the Paris attacks, it may be a turning point for moderate Muslim sensibility in regards to Christians and the rest of the world.]

I'm Not Sure If This Is Touching Or Terrifying

Self-taught 7-yr-old shocks family with bagpipe skills

The Sad Tale Of A Seminary Classmate

Episcopal bishop charged with manslaughter

This seems a classic example of the two sets of rules in the Church; one for the elites, the other for the rest.
Diocese of Maryland spokeswoman...said [previous drug and alcohol] charges were disclosed to search committee members during a vetting process as the diocese searched for a new bishop. However, the information was not shared with those people — clergy and lay church members — who voted among four finalists. Following a complaint made last week, national church leaders decided to open an investigation to determine whether Cook violated church law in Palermo’s death.
The Church needs to investigate whether or not someone charged with manslaughter has violated church law?  I think that's a little garbled.  It might mean the Church needs to investigate whether or not church law was violated in being less than transparent in the election process for suffragan bishop. Either that, or some quiet deal was offered to the bishop that she seek treatment for alcohol and marijuana abuse in return for it not being a factor in her election prospects.  If so, it appears that wasn't successful.

I'm Already Tired Of 2015

Antisemitism in France: the exodus has begun

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Yes, What If?

What if people in the policy elite stopped assuming that the ideal was to make everyone more like them, and started thinking about making society more hospitable to those who aren't? My grandfather graduated into a world where a man with a high-school diploma could reasonably hope to own his own business, or become someone else's highly valued employee, a successful pillar of a supportive community. His grandchildren graduated into a world where a college diploma was almost the bare necessity to get any kind of a decent job. Why aren't we at least asking ourselves if there's something we can do to create more opportunity for people without diplomas, instead of asking how many more years we can keep everyone in school? Why do all of our proposed solutions essentially ratify the structure that excludes so many people, instead of questioning it?

Not Monty Python: A Portable Confessional

Scarier, Certainly, Than A Jesus Sighting

You'll scream for this ice cream: McDonald's customer finds 'souls of the damned' floating in fast food sundae.

Britain in crisis as Cadbury changes Creme Egg recipe

The spokesman defended his company's decision to utterly destroy the culture whose gifts to the world include the presumption of innocence, Newtonian physics, the Industrial Revolution, and the Parrot Sketch by pointing out that they never promised to stick to one type of chocolate.

Drive-Thru Churches Are Really Catching On

Driver loses control, crashes into Grace Baptist Church


With straight faces and an apparent belief that we’d all forgotten the media coverage we’ve been subjected to in recent decades, editors and executives at many media outlets claimed this week that their well-established respect for religion prevents them from showing images that Muslim extremists have used to justify murderous terrorism.

Nobody believes this.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Obituaries Of Note

I learned today of the deaths of two men who were of great importance in the development of my career, my academic work, and what some of my colleagues refer to as "personhood".

Matti Moosa was my mentor, friend, and parishioner during my first three years of ordained ministry, back when I was still in my twenties and a grossly inexperienced rector.  I wrote of him a couple of years ago in one of the Friday profiles.  That remembrance may be found here.  His obituary is here.

Donn Wright hired me for my first position as an Episcopal Church school chaplain and teacher.  He had not had much luck with chaplains and was almost ready to give up when we met and he took a chance on me.  It was a good relationship and, when I became an assistant headmaster at another school, it was his lessons in leadership that I employed.  The notice is here.

Matti died on December 30th; Donn on January 10th.  As my father died on December 26th, my wife just said, "All your dads in just two weeks."

Mystery book sculptor answers questions

An anonymous artist has been leaving delicate paper sculptures made from old books at locations in Edinburgh and around Scotland for more than three years.

Church Secretaries Are The Point Of The Spear

A driver who crashed through a basement window of a Pueblo church told a church secretary that he was Dorothy and he was going to Oz.

This Should Not Seem So Radical...

...but college campuses are awfully timid places anymore, especially when it comes to challenging ideas.

University of Chicago Free Speech Statement

Friday, January 9, 2015

It's Friday. It's Drive Time. Here's Some Music.

Lucien Aigner

"Pictures produce impact, writing adds meaning. Pictures without words are often ambiguous, words without pictures lame."

He was a small, natty man in a beret.  He would have looked at home in the French countryside, strolling with purpose towards the town.  With a showier wardrobe, he could have been Hercule Poirot.  I had one of the best afternoons of my life with him.

As it was, he didn't live in France, he lived in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a pokey railroad town with a large number of increasingly geriatric hippies that was just beginning to be discovered by an annoying collection of New Yorkers.  His home, which was also his studio, was just off the main street and in easy walking distance from his familiar hangouts.  On any given day, Lucien would be seen at the local coffee house, the provencal restaurant, the bookstore, the library and, on Sundays, at the Episcopal Church. 

I once asked him, since he was a Jew, why he attended the Episcopal church on Main Street.  He told me that his late wife was an Episcopalian and he had fallen into the habit of walking there on Sunday mornings to listen to the music, which he appreciated.  After services he also enjoyed the whole notion of a "coffee hour" where, as he said, "The coffee and conversation are of a high quality." 

I wasn't sure of his age, although I guessed he was in his 70's [I was off by about twenty years].  He no longer drove, so from time to time, especially as I worked in a school in those days and had weekends and summers off, I would drive him to the supermarket or to a bookstore in the northern part of town.

One year, due to the generosity of one of my wife's cousins, we wound up with season tickets to Tanglewood, the music venue that is the summer home of the Boston Symphony and hosts a variety of other orchestras, quartets, soloists and pop acts during the season.  It was common for us to take along a picnic lunch after my wife had concluded her church services and spend some pleasant afternoons on the great lawn.  When I mentioned this to Lucien, he asked if he could hitch a ride some Sunday and I said, "Sure". 

That Sunday came and I found myself behind Lucien in the season ticket holders' line.  I assumed that he had a ticket but, to my surprise, and to that of the ticket taker, he pulled from his ancient wallet an even more ancient press card from a magazine that was not only German, but I think had ceased publication around the time I was born.  I thought it might disintegrate upon contact with the air.  It looked like some artifact drawn from a forgotten shelf in an archaeology museum [That's about right, actually].  In a spiel that was carefully rehearsed, balanced in its use of persuasive language and enlivened by Lucien's continental charm, he managed to get past the gate attendant, the usher, and the guard and join us in the season ticket holder's private seating area.

As a former reporter, I confessed to how much I admired his technique.  His response remains a classic: "That was nothing compared to sneaking into the League of Nations."

Lucien Aigner was born in 1901 in what was then Austria-Hungary.  He was from a family that was prominent in the shoe industry [his younger brother, Etienne, was the founder of a famous house of luxury leather goods].  He rather disappointed his family when, at the age of nine and in possession of an early Brownie camera, he informed them it was his intention to be a reporter who also took photos.  Little did they realize that, once he had upgraded to a Leica, their son would create the entire field of photojournalism.

Lucien told me of his photo technique, that lazy summer Sunday on the lawn at Tanglewood, in that the secret was always to observe the hand gestures of the subject.  Their motion, more than facial expression or body attitude, indicated that an expression or gesture was about to be made that would allow the photo to have animation and resonance.

For example, the photo of Mussolini above, the one that would advance Lucien into the top rank of news photographers in the 1930's.  While it may appear that Il Duce was expressing his distaste for something before him, in fact he was about to sneeze.  The photo made the cover of Life magazine.

When that failed, it was also good to ask the subject a difficult or troubling question, something designed to annoy them for a moment.  Again, in that second of reaction, their mask would drop and their essence revealed.  For example, this is what happened to Fiorello LaGuardia when he shared a limousine with Lucien:

Or, when one interrupts Einstein when he's on his third pipe and on the verge of solving the riddle of the universe:

Lucien Aigner's photos are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert in London, and in galleries and smaller collections that specialize in the photographic arts.  I once found an Aigner portrait of Haile Selassie hanging in a small historical society in the Caribbean. 

There are many, many resources online that display the full range of the subjects.  Many of those photos I helped Lucien catalog while he was still living in his home/studio in Great Barrington.  They were stored in trunk after unopened trunk, still bearing travel stickers of the sort that had fallen out of use earlier in the century.  At least one trunk contained photos he had not himself seen in sixty years.  Personally, after combing through his collection, I always thought that his best work was of decidedly non-famous people:

Like this guy

Lucien would eventually move to an assisted living community elsewhere in Massachusetts, where he would die in 1999.  A very complete obituary appeared in the New York Times shortly afterwards; it marked well his contribution to journalism and the art of the camera.

On the occasions when I drive along Great Barrington's Main Street, I still sometimes absent-mindedly look for the natty man in the beret, walking with the memories of his times and those remarkable people, common and uncommon, whose visage he made eternal.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Who Better?

Military families in largest ever bereavement study share insights on grief

Forensic Archaeological News

The mystery of Chopin's death

Mideast Christians are genocide victims, says leading Russian Orthodox official

A leading Russian Orthodox official told reporters that Christians in the Middle East are undergoing what is “effectively genocide” and that “only Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church are speaking about this tragedy out loud.”

Caveat Empor

Scientists tallied up all the advice on Dr. Oz's show. Half of it was baseless or wrong.

A Lot Of This Can Be Laid At The Feet Of Church Leaders Who See Themselves Not As Apologists Of The Faith, But As Political Flacks

In the past, this season was marked by a greater interest in divinity, the family hearth and the joy of children. Increasingly our society has been turning away from such simple human pleasures, replacing them with those of technology.

Yes, But The Pope Has A Statement About Climate Change

At least 20 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya

Said to me sotto voce by a collegue this past week [one who has a numbered seat in a rather prominent house of the Episcopal Church]:  "Mainstream Christianity is becoming decadent and depraved if all we speak about are 'social justice' issues and not about the reality of the world outside that of the privileged and educated".

However, if a leader of the church has to whisper such a thing then that, too, is a symptom of our decadence.

Not Eleven Pipers Piping [Pretty Close, Though]

Friday, January 2, 2015

Archaeological News

Inside the Mysterious Underground City That's 5,000 Years Old

Tecumseh, The Greatest Shawnee Of Them All

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.  Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.  Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.  Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.  Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.  Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,even a stranger, when in a lonely place.  Show respect to all people and grovel to none.  When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.  If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.  Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.  When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.  Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."

In Reference To An Earlier Posting

This Is the Stunning 50th Anniversary Shelby 427 Cobra

What? Friday, Already? Man, This Is One Long Weekend. Enjoy Some Music, Folks, And Read About Carroll Shelby Below.

Not Nine Ladies Dancing

Carroll Shelby

I've always been asked, 'What is my favorite car?' and I've always said 'The next one.'

Once, on Ohio Route 322 in the rural part of the state east of Cleveland, when the flat two-lane blacktop gave me almost three miles of visibility, seeing no cars in front of or behind me, and knowing that none of the towns along that stretch had police departments, I scared myself silly getting that beast in the photo above up to 125 miles per hour with a simple tap on the accelerator.  Man, it was great.  I did, however, finally have to stop and turn around to help an Amish guy by the roadside pick up the cheese wheels and wedges that my draft had sucked off his farm stand. 

His first statement was, "Is that a Cobra?"

Maybe it was because I was exposed to it at an impressionable age, and with a couple of wrenches in my hands, but I've always thought that one of the world's great works of art is the carbureted V8 Cobra engine.  If form follows function in architecture and graphic arts, then surely this automobile engine, the pure product of mid-century American engineering, deserves a place in a museum.  [There actually is a Ford V8 museum in Auburn, Indiana.]

It has certainly captured the imagination of many different types of men and women through the years.  Some have been actual engineers, some garage or shade tree mechanics, weekend hobbyists, farmers with something rusty and discarded in the corner of a barn, Southern California hot rodders, or a 20-year-old in Ohio who has just purchased a 1969 Ford Torino GT with the 390 c.u. Cobra package from a neighbor for $100.  This writer even knows a professional poet who has about a dozen cannibalized V8's scattered about his garage in various conditions, all waiting eventually to be consolidated and fitted into a 1932 Ford pickup truck.  Whatever their background, they're all motorheads; and motorheads love V8's.

There is a bit of an "attitude" about a Cobra V8, too, that's rather hard to describe unless you take into account the guy who managed to make a simple auto engine an international corporate statement and the rallying point for a kind of asphalt patriotism. 

Imagine, if you will, a collection of Detroit auto executives in the 1960's gathered in a top floor office: Brooks Brothers sack suits, horn-rimmed glasses, skinny ties, button-down shirts, the full Mad Men look.  At least one has a pocket protector.  Their boss, Henry Ford II, and his hatchet man, Lee Iaccoca, have just given them a directive to build an American car that can compete with the best that Europe has to offer in both the showroom and the race track.

As the last innovation of these men was the Ford Edsel, the most unpopular car in U.S. automotive history, the room is rather glum.  Then in walks a tall, rangy, drawling Texan wearing a suede, western-style sport coat with no tie.  He looks around the room for the whisky decanter, rests his cowboy boot-shod feet on the nearest side table, and tells "the fellers" that he is "fixin'" to build them a car like no other.

I'm sure they thought he was either some kind of turbo-powered savior or a complete lunatic.  In reality, Carroll Shelby was a little of both.

He had done a number of things in the automotive world, mainly selling cars, building cars, repairing cars, improving cars, and racing cars.  Perhaps you will notice the leitmotif in his activities?  Born in a small town in Texas in 1923 and having spent his childhood in bed with a heart ailment, the teenage Shelby was told by doctors that he had "outgrown" his malady [ah, early century medicine] and thus indulged his interest in machines by attending the Georgia Institute of Technology [whose president at the time was my wife's grandfather, by the way].  Unfortunately, Shelby's academic career was interrupted by WWII.

After the war, during which he served as a sergeant in the air corps, he sought to recapture the thrill of aerial derring-do by entering as an amateur in auto races, performing so well that he became semi-professional and then fully professional, driving for several of the leading teams of the 1950's in competitions as significant as the Le Mans 24 Hour race, which he won in 1959 driving for Aston-Martin.  During the race he came to admire the sturdiness and style of the British AC automobiles against which he competed.  So much so, that when he retired from racing at the end of that year, Shelby received the license to sell AC autos in the USA as part of his new company, Shelby-American.

Even snazzier than James Bond's Aston-Martin.

There was just one problem, though.  Shelby thought that the 2-liter engine that AC installed in its cars resembled more a sewing machine than a high performance motor, so he replaced it by fitting, barely, a robust, bulletproof Ford V8 under the hood.  The Shelby Cobra, as it came to be known, would become the hottest and most desired high performance automobile in the United States, outselling similarly priced models from Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes. 

Not to mention making it the car of this writer's dreams

The mid-'60's were a wonderful time for flexing on the world stage the competitive muscles of American manufacturing.  For some time, Henry Ford II had been annoyed at the perceived superiority of the European racing marques, knowing that American cars could be faster and more reliable than anything produced on the continent.  The only way to prove that was to go to Europe and roundly defeat the European racers on their home ground.  In Carroll Shelby, Le Mans victor and car innovator, he found the perfect champion to lead this effort.

Shelby was hired by Ford to take their newest car, a Ford Falcon with a jazzed body, known at that time as "the car for secretaries", and turn it into a street and race track powerhouse.  This new car, eventually labeled the "Mustang", would prove to be as popular with young men as with secretaries, and the Shelby version, the GT350, would become the stuff of which dreams are made.

The Ford Motor Company took this...

And, keeping the same chassis and engine, put a new body on it to make this:

Otherwise, it was the same car.  Not the same price, of course.

This appalled Shelby, so he took the Mustang and made this:

To the naked eye it looks like any other Mustang of the mid-'60's, but motorheads know that the back seat is missing [Who needs that?], the Falcon engine was replaced with a 289 cubic inch V8 racing engine, and, for good measure, big sedan suspension, an overhead camshaft, aluminum headers, and a large barrel carburetor were added.  Oh, and a chrome fire extinguisher mounted to the drive train hump, because you never know, especially when it's putting out 225 horsepower.  

It was almost impossible to drive, rather uncomfortable, and everyone wanted one. [In fact, two are currently listed for sale by Hemmings' Motor News for $140,000.]   While it was "street legal", with minor modifications it could handily compete on the track. 

And that was just the street car.  In order to show the Europeans who was boss, Shelby designed for Ford what was probably the best sports prototype racing machine of its era.  Designated the GT40, it fulfilled Henry Ford II's desire to prove American cars the best regardless of where, when, and in what conditions.

The GT40 at rest.

And at work.

To give the novice an idea of how dominant Ford became, and how much it changed the world of European road racing, from 1923 until 1965, Italian, German, British, and French cars won the 24 Hours of Le Mans each year, with Porsche, Ferrari, and Jaguar the teams with the most victories.  From 1966 to 1969, the Ford factory team won every race, with Fords also finishing to either place or show in the same races.

By 1970, Henry Ford II had proved his point, and anyone with even a casual interest or knowledge in automobiles knew that the Cobra trademark stood for speed, victory, torque, and good old-fashioned American attitude.  Seriously, what could be better than that?

Carroll Shelby would move on to work with Chrysler-Plymouth when Lee Iacocca took over that company in the 1980's, producing Shelby Cobra versions of the Dodge Viper, Charger, Daytona, and lesser models.  He would also make his own line of Shelby Cobra cars, based on existing models but serving the motorheads everything they could want in a car that was barely legal to drive in suburban America.  In 2003, he would return to Ford and produce 21st century versions of the Shelby Mustang and a street model based on the GT40.  He would also make a fortune with his own...chili sauce.

He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992, and the SCCA Hall of Fame posthumously in 2013.  Shelby would die at the age of 89 in 2012, leaving a remarkable legacy in auto craft and racing engineering, reminding us of the glory days before cars looked like jelly beans stuffed with unnecessary electronics.

There are many, many books about Shelby, the Cobra lineage, and Ford's dominance in all forms of racing in the 1960's.  If I were to suggest one, it would be Go Like Hell, which chronicles the battle between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II in endurance racing; a book that prominently features Shelby and his contributions.  There is also an authorized biography entitled [What else?] Carroll Shelby.

If that's not enough, his chili sauce is tasty and more popular than ever and, if you're ever in Las Vegas, you can visit the Carroll Shelby Museum just outside the gates of the Vegas Speedway.