Athena

The Greeks (and Romans after them) had what I think is a pretty amusing set of deities. In fact, I’m pretty sure at least some of the stories were intended to be sarcastic and/or sacreligious. The objects of Greek worship were hardly heros of moral strength and piety. No, the opposite of that.

It seems like just about every god and goddess had an affair or two with the spouse of another diety, if not a human. For example, Ares seduced Aphrodites (Mrs. Hephaistos), producing at least two children. Ares went on to kill the son of Poseidon, who had raped Ares’ daughter. There was so much mischief and trickery that these folks could have run for Congress.

And as though the salacious stories and bizarre antics are not entertaining enough, it’s like a puzzle put together by a maniac. There are four wind gods, because you aparently can’t get one god to blow in more than one direction (sometimes there’s a fifth god who controls the other four). And there is Hypnos, the god of sleep, owning half our lives, and who worked with Morpheus, the god of dreams (more familiar as the red pill/blue pill guy from The Matrix), who might have eventually become the Sandman…

Some family members with a fake statue of a Roman goddess in Las Vegas (c. 2015)

But it really gets going when you get to the major gods, who have so many unrelated responsibilities, they were probably assigned using a dart board and a blindfold. Apollo is the god of the bow, who directed the arrow that fatally struck Achilles heal. And he is the god of music, or at least the lyre, and won musical competitions against both Marsyas with his flute and Pan with his pipes. His father is Zeus, and his mother is Leto, who was not Mrs. Zeus…

While the aforementioned Ares is the god of plain old war, Athena is the goddess of just or strategic war. But she is also the goddess of arts and crafts, and of wisdom and mathematics. Her mother was Metis, whose name means wisdom or craft, of all things. Metis was actually the wife of Zeus, Athena’s father. That may seem almost boring for a Greek diety, but stay with me.

Due to a threatening prophecy, Zeus feared the children of Metis, so he tricked her into turning into a fly, which he then ate. But she was already pregnant with Athena, and while inside Zeus, Metis noisily hammered out a helmet and made a robe for Athena, who was born from Zeus’s head, fully grown, armed, and armored. Athena went on to invent the flute which was played by Marsyas, and assisted Hercules, Achilles (oops), and Jason (of Argonaut fame). And that Trojan horse was actually her idea.

Wend

Happy New Year. By now many have begun their exercise programs, diets, and various other self-improvement routines. Although they are unlikely to make it through an entire one twelfth of the year, they are warriors in January. “We”, I should say. As much fun as we make of “them” for making and breaking their resolutions, it is something in which almost all of us participate. So we make fun of us.

In truth, it only makes sense that we start something and stop it. We’re constantly doing and undoing things. We get dressed, then we get undressed. We pack, then we unpack. We get dirty, then we get clean. Get up; sit down. Exercise; pig out… Ok, sometimes I skip the exercise. My son once worked on the “Event Staff”, though I’m not sure he ever got the t-shirt. He spent most of his time putting up the stage, or setting up tables and chairs, or whatever, then taking them down, rinse, repeat.

Road and fence wending their way down the mountain.

Not only are we starting and quitting our resolutions this month, but many of us are also taking down our Christmas decorations, or whatever holiday we started decorating for as soon as we woke from our Thanksgiving nap. It’s as though we can’t just do something; we have to undo something, too. Maybe that’s part of the yin-yang idea. Day and night, man and woman, young and old, cops and robbers….

In any case, our path may be in a direction, but it’s not so much a straight line. It’s three steps forward, two steps back. It’s punctuated by many side trips to investigate one shiny object after another. We wend our way through life. We’re going in a direction, but not directly, and typically not quickly. We are impacted by the wind blowing us one way or the other, but hopefully not getting turned around or blown completely off course.

One more thing about losing interest in our New Year’s resolutions before we even make it through January: we can undo the undo. We don’t even have to wait for another new year or new decade (so don’t try that excuse). Every tomorrow is Happy New Day. Start again.

Vehicle

Years ago, Jimmy Fallon was expanding his career from SNL to movies, and starred in a movie opposite Queen Latifah called “Taxi”. With lots of car chase scenes and pileups, it was a bit of a pun from the critic, Mark Deming, who said that “Taxi was Jimmy Fallon’s first big-screen vehicle after leaving…Saturday Night Live.”

That is the only instance I could remember where the word “vehicle” was used in that way, but I found that critic Robert Koehler also used it to reference the origial French movie that Fallon’s Taxi was based on, calling it a “Luc Besson vehicle” (Koehler didn’t like either movie). I’m not sure which reference came first, but Deming’s was the one stuck in my head for 15 years or so…

A vehicle in our driveway on a very cold day.

The movie itself was actually successful at the box office, but pretty universally panned by the critics. I’m really not sure why critics insist on expecting a masterpiece from recent SNL graduates, or on panning movies that consumers enjoy. Fallon certainly has become very successful, and constantly displays his comedic and musical talents as the latest host of The Tonight Show. It’s also interesting to me that he continues to impress with his celebrity impersonations (expecially the musical ones), since that is actually how he started out, and how he auditioned for SNL.

I’m not sure if anyone thinks his Taxi movie helped his career, though I’m sure it paid some bills, and maybe it got him exposure to an audience beyond SNL. But in fairness to at least two critics, it was definitely “a medium for the expression or achievement of something”, which is the definition of vehicle that would fit this use. Of course, a vehicle is also something that transports, such as a taxi. It could also be something that transmits a disease, such as a contaminated dish, or something that delivers a drug, pigment, or other material, such as the inactive ingredients in cough syrup carrying the active ingredients.

So, today is the first day of a new year; will 2020 be your vehicle to greater things? Will you use your 366 days (yes, it’s a leap year) to full advantage? My wish for you is for great success in the box office, and that you ignore the critics who tear you down to build themselves up. Happy New Year.

Nonborrower

Here it is Christmas Eve, 2019. Merry Christmas to you all. I wish for you all of the joy and truth of the real meaning of Christmas.

In the meantime, we watch Elf again. We shop and shop and shop. We eat too many wonderful treats. My wife and I took our two youngest children (they’re 20) to New York City for a few days. Aside from a small amount of siteseeing and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Christmas show, it was mostly a shopping, eating and walking trip. Did you know that the original Gimbals building is where the Manhattan Mall now is. That is also the final stop of the PATH train from New Jersey (33rd and 6th).

A glass ornament with tree lights in the back and a white poinsettia in the front, at Longwood Gardens.

We’re back home now, and I was reminded today of the Silver Bells line, “…even stoplights blink a bright red and green…” Because I was driving through town. On my way to the store. Too many traffic lights. Fortunately, our town has not gone completely crazy, and the one “superstore” that was still open was busy but not terribly crowded.

We did make cookies, though it was from a mix. There were some minor adjustments made, but no scratch cookies this year (so far). The egg nog is from scratch, as it must be. There will be spiral ham and smoked duck tomorrow. Also, apple cider made with Dad the other day.

With all the gifts and foods and travel, the expenses are adding up for us as well as for just about everyone in the Christmas loop. It makes me wonder if I’m still a nonborrower if I put everything on credit cards. I really don’t want to be in debt over the seasonal requirements. That would create a different context for the red and green–red for the debt zone, and green for the stacks of cash needed to get back to black. Nope. Not gonna do that.

Sandman

“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good.” Most folks recognize these lines from the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” lyrics written by Haven Gillespie. Some folks find the image a bit disturbing. These days, a man who watches children sleep is probably going to need to register with the local law enforcement.

It might have been acceptable, and respectable, when this song was written back in the 1930’s, for a grown man to secretly track children’s sleep and behavior patterns. It might have been fine for him to wear a bright red uniform with white fur trim. Even being overly jolly might not have raised an eyebrow. But we’re a jaded lot, these days. We’re the ones who drive our children a block to the bus stop to keep them safe. “Helicopter parenting” is a thing, now. A creepy man who breaks into the homes of children to reward them for good behavior and adequate sleep is just not going to be accepted for long.

But how about the Sandman? Not only does he keep track of kids sleeping, if they’re not asleep when they should be, he throws sand in their eyes to make them sleep! And, he controls their dreams. I don’t even think he’s jolly. He may reward good behavior, though. In Hans Christian Anderson’s story, he carried two umbrellas. The one for good children had fantastic pictures on the underside and was held over their faces while they slept to give them wonderous dreams. Bad children got the blank umbrella, and dreamless sleep. So there.

Vilhelm Pedersen illustration from “Ole Lukøje” by Hans Christian Andersen

Sandman certainly isn’t as popular as Santa, but he did get at least one song: “Mr. Sandman”, written by Pat Ballard. It was recorded by a host of performers, including the Chordettes 1954 version which made it to the number one spot on Billboard’s charts. If you’re unfamiliar with the lyrics, “Mr Sandman, bring me a dream…” is a request for the Sandman to bring a real-life man (or woman, according to who is singing) worthy of one’s dreams. Aside from the amazing assortment of artists who’ve recorded the track, and the possibility that it inspired the later, “Please Mr. Postman” lyrics, the Sandman song is still just a single, while Santa gets albums full of songs about him.

Even so, the next time you wipe the sleep out of your eyes, or hear any one of the “Mr. Sandman” versions, you may want to consider: was my sleep full of wondrous dreams with fantastic images? or was it it blank and dreamless? I mean, I’m sure Santa and the Sandman compare notes, and if you have no dreams, you may want to buy yourself a coal-burner in time for Christmas.

Plunger

Is there an age when folks stop feeling like they have a different career choice? Not necessarily a regret that they chose the wrong career, but that another option would be good once they’ve finished with this one. Like when folks become comedians after being teachers. Or novelists after being accountants. I’m just wondering if there’s a cutoff at some point.

Having had a pretty good career (still going) in the corporate world over the last 30+ years, I’m still wondering what to do next. I pretty much never narrowed down the possible careers I’d considered when I was a kid, so singing, dentistry, and house painter are all still options. Ok, maybe dental school takes a bit too much time and money to start now, but everything else is still on the table.

To make matters worse, there are new opportunites that have been added that didn’t exist when I was a kid. Uber driver. Podcaster. Virtual Assistant. Day trader. I could start part time and work up to full time just in time to retire from my corporate gig. It’s just too hard to know whether any of these would be more satisfying or successful than, say, cinematography. I mean, I wouldn’t want to waste my life on a bad second career choice.

Plunger, or “plumber’s helper”.

Speaking of day trading, if I became a gambler (almost the same), and took huge risks with the potential for huge gains (like I said, almost the same), I might be called a plunger. True. It’s one of the meanings. Or a diver, which is also called a plunger. But we usually think of plungers as the tool to clear the toilet. Or the piston in a syringe. All called plungers. But nobody ever asks you to bring a plunger except the one that’s a plumbing tool.

Hey, speaking of plumbing, how long does it take to become a plumber? Can I start part time? I’ve gotta consider my options…

Deliberate

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, rushed out of our minds and lives by the encroachment of the Black Friday phenomenon. I hope that the sales flyers, Christmas lists, and who-gets-what-where didn’t dampen the gratitude and family interactions that make Thanksgiving its own special holiday. And the food! Did you have way too much of way too many choices, and then follow it up with way too much of way too many dessert choices? I can’t be the only one.

One thing that was unique for us, this year, was that my son brought his smoker and smoked our two turkeys. Not only was that a wonderful taste experience, but it made it much less of a crisis when the oven element burned out. It was the larger, lower oven in our double oven. The top one is shallow with only a single shelf, so we had some delays and used some creative solutions to make everything come together.

Just starting to smoke the dry-rubbed pork.

Since we had the smoker here, we had also smoked a “Boston Butt” (upper part of the pig shoulder) a couple days before. Aside from the benefits of smoking the meats (tenderness, flavor, the chance to use “smoked butt” in every conversation), it isn’t the fastest cooking method. In fact, BBQ restaurants even advertise how slow they smoke their meats–slower always seems to be better. In our case, the extra time was definitely worth it for both the pork and the turkey.

But we don’t always associate “slow” with being better; there are alot more microwave ovens sold than smokers, for example. But there are situations where taking our time is absolutely the best choice. Being good at making quick decisions is usually helpful in sports, business, and life. But some decisions need to be weighed carefully and considered over a little more time. Those situations call for us to be deliberate. A root of this word is “libra”, which some may know as the zodiac sign represented by scales. The word, deliberate, is really talking about weighing carefully.

We can also walk in a deliberate way, which tends to be with a slow, even pace that one might employ while thinking more about a difficult decision than about hurrying to a destination. And another way to use deliberate is as a verb, such as what juries do to determine a verdict; the thoughtful, careful discussion, weighing each side’s arguments for the best chance at coming to the truth–and to unanimous agreement. And you probably know that when used as a verb, deliberate is also pronounced differently. This makes it a heteronym, since it is the same word, but sounds differently according to the meaning (such as bow or separate). Just a little extra info at no extra charge.

The well-known fable of the tortoise and the hare is actually a lesson in the value of being deliberate. Slow and steady yields better results than quick and inconsistent. Wait, you didn’t think it was about how to win a footrace, did you?

Corpuscule

Although I may have learned this in my schooldays, it was a surprise to me when I recently read that the Mason-Dixon line defined the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, settling a decades long dispute. In fact, the dispute was violent enough, at times, to be called “Cresap’s War”, named after a particularly nasty (and scrappy) Marylander.

The conflict was caused by an error in the land grant to William Penn in 1681, based on an inaccurate map, which essentially overlapped the 1632 Maryland grant pretty significantly. In fact, even Philadelphia fell within the disputed territory. It’s embarassing when your capital falls within the next state. Anyway, after on and off hostilities through the years, a final boundary took effect in 1750, and Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed the line in the 1760’s, earning themselves unexpected and lasting fame, and the 2019 equivalent of almost one million dollars.

Grace Street Cemetery, which has the graves of 275 Civil War veterans

The East-West line was along the latitude of the point 15 miles due south of the southernmost house in Philadelphia, which was on what is now called South Street. Where all the hippies meet. And a good place to eat. The line meets a North-South portion defining Maryland’s Eastern border with Delaware. At the corner is the Delaware border with Pennsylvania, which is an arc, rather than a straight line or natural border like a river. It is part of a twelve mile circle around New Castle, DE.

It wasn’t until the Missouri Compromise in 1820 that the Mason-Dixon line became associated with slavery and the legendary North-South border most people associate with the name. You can even buy Mason-Dixon souvenirs. Maybe even a souvenir from Cresap’s War, as well as the Civil War.

Speaking of bloodshed, there is something unusual about blood cells that you may not have ever thought about being unusual: they are not connected to anything. Unattached cells like blood and lymph cells are called corpuscules (or corpuscles). The word can also refer to any tiny particle, so it’s less special in that usage. In fact, the word literally means “little body”.

So, the next time you get a little splinter that causes some bleeding, you can say that a corpuscule caused you to lose corpuscules. Be sure to say it to someone who’s read this blog, though, or they’ll think you’ve lost more than a few corpuscules.

Hochhuth

Not long ago, my wife met a guy at a yard sale who was down on his luck. She ended up working out a deal where he would come to the house and fix a couple things and do some yard projects. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

One of the items he was to fix was a generator she’d bought at a previous yard sale. Generators are pretty heavy, and this one had no wheels. So I had put it on a yard wagon and pulled it around to the back patio. Since the wagon raised it up a bit, he left it on the wagon to work on it. He started by changing the oil, then he worked on checking the fuel flow.

Sign in Haiti where we bought fuel for a different generator while we were there in 2017.

This was going on while I was in the house, and at about this point, I heard him say, “no no no NO NO NOOOO!” And then the sound of things falling and more “NO’s” from him. I called out to ask if everything was ok, even though it was clearly not. Of course he said it was fine. But he was lying.

It turns out that while he was checking the fuel, he disconnected the fuel line. The gas tank was about half full. So gas was squirting out. And he couldn’t get it stopped. So gas was squirting out. In his further attempts to get that stopped, it started to tip off the yard wagon. This is probably the point where he started “No-ing”. As the generator continued squirting gas and continued to tip off the the yard wagon, he also lost his balance. As they tumbled over, the container of used motor oil got knocked down and spilled out, as well. But the generator was on top of it, so he couldn’t just pick it up, and used motor oil coated about one-fourth of the patio. He didn’t come back after that day.

Not everything we do works out the way we hope; you’ve probably noticed that. The German dramatist, Rolf Hochhuth, produced a nine hour play called “The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy” in 1963. It was his first major work, and of course it has never been performed in full, but always abridged. The work has been very controversial, but not for its length; it is highly critical of Pope Pius XII for his silence regarding Hitler and the Holocaust. Oddly enough, Hochhuth became good friends with British author, David Irving, best known as a Holocaust denier. At one point, he defended Irving in an interview, and became a victim of his own controversy; he was eventually forced to issue an apology.

He has gone on to produce other controversial works, including one in which he made the villain a real life person who was still alive and who successfully sued him for libel. Since Hochhuth is still alive at the time I write this, maybe we’ll run into him at a yard sale and he can take a crack at our generator.

Mozetta

Lorenzo Corsini was a lawyer in Florence, Italy. He came from a powerful family which was not only nobility, but had very close ties to the Catholic Church. He had many high ranking clergy on both sides of the family, including a saint on his father’s side. In fact, when he was 33, he also joined the clergy by buying a high ranking position of his own. Within five years, he was named an Archbishop.

Before long, he also became the Papal Treasurer, and eventually became Pope Clement XII. It was in 1730, and Corsini was 78 years old. He had an interesting term, even though it lasted less than ten years. He is known for such architectural projects as the facade of Saint John Lateran, and a chapel there, restoration of the Arch of Constantine, and starting the Trevi Fountain. Visitors to Rome are likely to see all of these, and Saint John Lateran is an “archbasilica”, outranking even St Peter’s, so a pretty likely stop for pilgrims. It’s also where Clement XII is buried.

Clement XII (1730-1740) By Agostino Masucci

He is also known for banning Catholics from becoming Masons, and worked to reunite the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches, and reduce the differences between the Romans and Coptic and Armenian churches. And, consistent with his interest in caring for the church treasury, he was able to make quick and significant improvements to its financial situation.

Two other important notes: by the time he became pope, he was mostly blind and bedridden. So he conducted business sitting up in bed, and never saw the architecture and building projects to which he is so closely associated. But most importantly in our immediate context, he wore a mozetta. Of course he wore a mozetta; it is part of the uniform for the pope and cardinals and other church officials. It’s a short, wrap-around cape with a hood, and the painting of Pope Clement XII by Agostino Masucci shows just enough of the hood so you can tell it’s there.

It’s a nice touch, as well, to show His Holiness sitting up in a chair, looking as though we have just interrupted him reading a letter.

(Read more, here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04030a.htm)

Hey, by the way, you know you can follow this blog (so you don’t forget and miss out)? Yeah, should be at the very, very bottom (according to what device you’re using), and it’s a button that says something like, “Follow”, so you’ll know it when you see it. Thanks!

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