Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Saturday in the Park

On Saturday, April 18th, 2009, Pop & Mom-Mom got a full day at Boyle Playground up in Somerton with Rez and Elysia with Aunt Kel helping enjoy the day as well. Swings and slides on this gorgeous spring afternoon!

Reznor Visits in March 2009

Reznor puts on a little bit of a show in a March 2009 visit to Pop and Mom-mom's home in Somerton. Grandfather, Aunt Di and Meghan were over for the visit too. Rez shows off his developing leg muscles, not quite ready to stand up yet. Then he and Aunt Kel put on a bit of a music show.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pandemics Are Nothing to Sneeze At

For some people it's probably a big joke. 'Swine Flu', it just has a funny name, right? For others it's probably a case of wondering what all the fuss is about, since we are talking about a few dozen cases in the United States, and all of those are down around the border with Mexico, which has the real problem.

So what's the big deal? Why all the headline stories in the newspaper and on television? And what's with all those empty stadiums this past weekend for all the big soccer matches down there south of the border?

Well glad that you asked, because the topic of handling a pandemic, at least from a law enforcement perspective, is being addressed this year in one of the Philly police MPOETC courses that I am teaching.

The course, titled 'Crisis & Emergency Management', is a scenario-based course in which the police officers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are presented with four unusual situations. Officers are asked to place themselves in the scenario, and are guided as to how they should be expected to respond. They are also given information on some of the resources that would be coming to help in the situation from the government and other entities.

One of the scenarios, in fact the final one that they are being presented, is a pandemic flu outbreak. How timely, huh? I can't tell you how many times that I have gotten that look in class. You know the one, the "You gotta be kidding me, this will never happen" look.

Well as today's headlines are beginning to relate, pandemic outbreaks are not only things that happened in the distant past or the subjects of science fiction, but they are very real threats to our society and our world, and we need to be prepared and informed.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The 'Secret' to a Good Marriage

Thanks to Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean, there has been a lot of discussion around the country in the past week regarding the issue of the sacrament of Marriage.

I also had the honor of attending a wedding yesterday, and got to enjoy all of the joy and happiness that surrounds those blissful occasions.

I'm going to keep the marriage topic going for one more day here. Only this time it's not going to be the issue of 'who' or 'what' should or should not be allowed to marry.

Rather, I'm going to dip in to my own personal experience and education bag of tricks to offer some advice to married couples, and to those who are contemplating getting married.

I think that I can speak on this topic as well as most anyone on earth. I've been married twice in my lifetime, raised children, and gone through almost every type of struggle that most normal married persons go through, including any number that I myself created along the way. I've bought and remodeled two homes. I've bought three cars, a handful of barbecue grills, and a golden retriever.

I've gone from being a 'cafeteria' Catholic to a solid, church-going, sacrament receiving, money-happily-donated defender of the faith. My point is that, like many of you, I come from a decades-long background and experience base that gives me a strong perspective of what it takes to make a marriage work.

I didn't come upon my own particular ideas easily or quickly, nor without causing myself and my family in both marriages a number of difficult moments. But what I have learned is that marriage can be broken down to the dedication of ones self to a pair of very simple words: love and priority. Let's deal with the easy one first.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What a Hateful Liberal Bigot Looks Like

They have always existed, but they have become more emboldened with the recent leftward lurch in American political direction.

I am talking today about liberal bigots, those lefties who are not only obstinately or intolerantly devoted to their own opinions and prejudices, but who also regard and treat those who disagree with them with vitriolic hatred.

You frequently hear them harping about wanting freedom of speech, the right to express their opinions and viewpoints publicly, even the right to have their alternative lifestyles accepted by the mainstream public as 'normal' or at least 'acceptable'. But this freedom of speech, this right to express opinions and viewpoints, can never, ever extend to those who disagree with them.

Perfect case in point came this past weekend with the Miss USA pageant questioning incident. As I previously discussed in another recent post, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was a contestant in the pageant. She is a beauty queen, a model, and she had a simple goal, to win a beauty pageant title.

She wasn't looking to change the world on Sunday night, and certainly when it came to the question-answer stage she did not expect a controversial question on an epic hot-button sociological and moral topic.

In any event, that is exactly what she received from pageant judge Mario Lavandeira, who goes by the professional name of 'Perez Hilton'. Lavandeira is a gay activist and celebrity blogger, and basically asked Prejean whether she supported 'gay marriage', and to give the reasons behind whatever her feelings were on the issue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Miss California Gives Straight Answer

What was very obvious early on in the Miss USA pageant held this past Sunday night was that Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was a beautiful young woman on the outside.

She was the typical stereotype of what we all would expect from a 'California Girl': blond, long legs, gorgeous face. And when it came time for the bikini/swimsuit competition she displayed the great body that you would expect to come strolling down the beach in Malibu.

But what did not become apparent until right near the end was just how beautiful Carrie Prejean is on the inside. It took an incredibly controversial question under those circumstances from an incredibly outrageous, over-rated, quasi-celebrity judge in the pageant named Perez Hilton who demonstrated his own internal ugliness to bring out Miss California's inner beauty.

Hilton, an openly gay male and celebrity gossip blogger, had the task of asking a question of Ms. Prejean during the final portion of the contest. All of the other finalists had to give their opinions on the somewhat difficult questions asked by a particular judge when their own turns came, but none got a more outrageous judge with a more sensational question than Ms. Prejean.

Hilton asked his question with wide-eyed enthusiasm, quite obviously expecting a different response: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?" 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Remembering the Nazi Final Solution

The Nazi Party came to power under the guidance of Adolf Hitler during the 1930's, and early on they blamed the Jewish people for many of their problems. The Nazis then began to formulate a plan for what Hitler himself called the "final solution of the Jewish question." 

In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed that saw classification of German citizens by race. If all four of your grandparents were of German blood, then you were a good German. If three or four of them were Jewish, then you were Jewish. With one or two Jewish grandparents, you were considered a 'crossbreed'.

The laws prohibited marriage and intercourse between Jews and Germans, as well as the employment of German females under age 45 in Jewish households. They also stripped those of the non-German blood of their German citizenship.

Efforts to begin eliminating Jews from German society began even prior to World War II. Those of Jewish ancestry were slaughtered in mass killings and became the victims of 'pogroms' - systematic riots against and attacks on their population centers. The attacks included physical violence and murder against people, destruction of businesses, and destruction of their places of worship.

Beginning in September of 1941, all Jews living in the lands under German control were required to wear yellow patches on their clothing for identification. Jews were not permitted to become doctors, lawyers, or journalists, could not use state hospitals, and would not be schooled by the state beyond age 14.

By the time that 1942 rolled around, with WWII underway fully across the globe, one million Jews had already been killed by the Nazi regime. But this was only the beginning of the worst slaughter of one group of people in the history of mankind.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are You Like 'Doubting Thomas'?

After his rise from the dead, Jesus appeared to a number of his disciples in a couple of different circumstances. But present at none of these was one of his closest followers, the Apostle Thomas Didymus.

Thomas was one of Jesus' original twelve disciples, one of his inner sanctum. Yet when the others related the news to him that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, and that the Lord had appeared before each of them, Thomas doubted. He said to them "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

How many of you reading this feel the same way? You may have been raised in the Christian faith, yet for many that faith has become watered down, and in some cases has disappeared entirely. For others it is something that they profess, and yet do nothing about.

You claim to not need the Church, not need anything 'formal', not need anything sacramental. You are 'spiritual', whatever that means, and no one should dare to presume to tell you what you should and should not believe. After all, everyone has their own beliefs, and we should not force ours on others. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Islamism Series: The Brotherhood

With the new kinder, gentler Obama administration becoming more and more entrenched by the week, their media apparatus and their own actions have thus far been successful in lulling us to sleep.

To ignore the presence and growth of radical Islam here in the United States, to sleep the sleep of the dreamers who believe that a simple regime change here in America has made any difference to those radicals whatsoever, places us all in greater danger.

On Monday, April 6th, 2009 the Hudson Institute, one of the most respected research think-tanks in the world, issued a report on 'The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States'. In short, the report states that "Leadership of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood has said that its goal was and is jihad aimed at destroying the U.S. from within." 

The report goes on to talk about the stated means of making this happen, by establishing Islamic organizations here in the U.S. that are under the control of The Brotherhood.

The organization has for more than four decades been building a wide-ranging and elaborate cadre of front groups while denying publicly that it has any desire to topple the American governmental structure.

The Hudson report, written by Steven Merley, says that the current operating goal has been in existence for at least two decades, and that is one of the concept of 'Settlement'. This benign-sounding term basically means the establishment, organization, and growth of Islam here in America.

The reality behind this soft-sounding term of 'settlement', as a 1991 document published by U.S. Brotherhood leader Mohammed Akram said, is quite simply "a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Parties Signal New American Revolt

On the night of December 16th, 1773, American colonists who had grown weary of British taxes on all sorts of goods boarded three ships in Boston harbor and dumped crate loads of taxed tea into the harbor waters. This protest against 'taxation without representation' became known down through history as 'The Boston Tea Party', and is considered a defining moment as the colonists moved towards declaring their Independence just two and a half years later.

Today is April 15th, and it is also the deadline for American citizens to file their income tax returns. All across the country, a new revolutionary movement has been building for months, and it will continue in over 500 locations across all 50 states with today's nationwide 'Tea Party' protest events.

What has ignited this grass-roots, web-based fire storm is the unprecedented turn towards a more massive government structure with greatly increased tax burdens for all American individuals and businesses. It is a bipartisan effort battling the situation that began with President Bush's $168 billion dollar 'stimulus' that has been taken to even worse levels by new President Barack Obama.

As was posted by The Heritage Foundation, "Americans have grown more and more wary of the ever expanding size and scope of the federal government." 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harry the K is Outta Here

"Once there was a silly old ant, who thought he could move a rubber tree plant. Everyone knows an ant can't move a rubber tree plant. But he had high hopes. He had high hopes. He had high apple pie in the sky hopes." There is perhaps no more wonderful, in-character moment in the adult life of Harry Kalas than that of him standing in a beer and champagne-drenched Phillies locker room in the fall of 1993. The Phils had just accomplished what many thought impossible. What is still perhaps the most beloved group of Phillies in the franchise' long history, a team that featured such characters as John Kruk, Mitch Williams, Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling and Darren Daulton, had just defeated the powerful and favored Atlanta Braves to win the National League pennant one year after finishing in last place. Harry stood in the middle of the trainer's room with the players all gathered around, everyone soaked with that bubbly and brew, and led them in a rousing version of the song "High Hopes" that someone had the great vision to actually record for posterity. The scene in the bowels of Veteran's Stadium can be viewed on any number of video products released from that magical season. It is my absolute favorite Harry Kalas moment of all-time. The pure joy in Harry, the obvious love that he had for the Phillies organization, and the particular affection that he had for that group of players was on full display. Last week, Harry Kalas began his 39th season as the lead broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies radio and television broadcasts. It all started with a game in April of 1971 that christened the shiny new Veteran's Memorial Stadium in South Philadelphia. On Monday afternoon it ended fittingly at a ballpark. Harry was prepping for last night's broadcast of the Phillies game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. when he collapsed in the press box. At the age of 73, the man who had become known affectionately as 'Harry the K' and respectfully as 'The Voice' had reached the end of his days. My own love affair with the team traces back to that very 1971 season. As a 9-year old, I began to be infatuated with the game and the team that had just moved from North Philly down to almost being in the shadow of my own home in South Philly. My friends and I would ride our bikes that spring up on to the nearly completed but not yet opened Delaware Expressway, now known simply as 'I-95', from our homes in the Two Street neighborhood and around to the shining new jewel of towering white columns that was 'The Vet'. We would ride around the concourse of the stadium, hitting full speed before exiting off one of the many long, sloping ramps that would lead tens of thousands of fans up to the entrances just weeks from then. The thrill of those rides was as great a rush as any 9-year old could ever hope for, or so I thought in the days just before my Phillies affair would begin. My dad took my brother and I to the Opening Day festivities for the Vet, and there we got to see the magical dancing water fountain in centerfield, the gigantic unfurling American colonial flag, the fan-friendly baseline picnic areas, and the huge, smiling faces of a couple of characters, Phil and Phyllis, who would fire off a cannon to celebrate every Phillies homerun in those early Vet days. I was hooked, and I began to listen to Phils games on the radio, something that for every year of my life growing up I had already heard my own grandfather and many of the older men of the neighborhood doing while sitting out on their porches on almost every summer evening. These men had listened to the games as they were broadcast from old Connie Mack Stadium by the legendary By Saam and Bill Campbell, and a relatively young, recently retired, and popular former Phillie named Richie Ashburn. But for the new era now opening at The Vet, the team wanted a new fresh face and voice, and so they lured the 35-year old Harry Kalas away from the Houston Astros organization where he had been the on-air voice since 1963. When I turned on my little transistor radio that April and began to follow the Phils, it was Harry's voice that greeted me, as it would for every single Phillies season over nearly four more decades. In those early years the Phillies quickly began to become strong competitors in the National League, culminating in the club winning three straight Eastern Division titles from 1976-78. They had some veteran pitchers such as Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw, and talented young players like Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, and most importantly a young, slugging 3rd baseman named Mike Schmidt. Over nearly two decades, Harry Kalas would develop a strong relationship with the Phillies Hall of Famer and greatest-ever player, highlighted by the development of a legendary and iconic homerun call that Phils fans would hear across two generations: "Swing, and a long drive, deep left field....Outta Here! Homerun, Michael Jack Schmidt!" It was a call that every Phillies fan would learn to imitate as well. You can stick a microphone in the face of almost any Phillies fan and get them to do their 'Harry homerun call' impression. Harry also developed an intense friendship with the man with whom he shared the broadcast booth for 28 seasons, the man who he simply called "His Whiteness", Rich Ashburn. The on-air chemistry that the two men had rivaled their off-field friendship, and this came out clearly in their banter and game-calling. When 'Whitey' passed away following the calling of a game late in the 1997 season, no one mourned more deeply than Harry, and for the rest of his career there would be fond, sentimental references to Whitey woven into many Phils' broadcasts. As many fans did, I had my own moment with Harry Kalas. It came during a late-90's season bus trip that some of my family members had taken to see the Phillies play the Baltimore Orioles at the beautiful new Camden Yards ballpark. We had rented out a party room for some pre-game food and drinks, and at one point I had to use the men's room which was down the hall from our party room. As I exited that men's room, there walking out of the doorway of another party room at the same moment was none other than Harry the K himself. I was startled at seeing the man so closeup, and he seemed startled just from the timing of our entry into the hallway at the same moment. I just blurted out "Hey, Harry!" and his reply was something that I can still hear ringing in my ears today: "Hey, How are ya?" in that typically friendly but signature voice as he ducked into the bathroom that I had just left. Harry Kalas had just personally addressed me with that voice. As stupid as it sounds to some of you, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. That's how big a Phillies fan, and a Harry Kalas fan, I had become, and still am to this very day. In the fall of 1980, the Phillies gave their fans what they had been waiting for over a century to see, a championship. But for we Phillies fans there was something missing. The rules of Major League Baseball at that time did not allow hometown broadcasters to call the games on radio or television, and so there were no broadcasts of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling those games in a live format for our fans. That lost opportunity made what happened in 1993 with those 'Macho Row' Phillies even more special, hearing Harry and Whitey get to call the World Series games together. But the Phillies lost that series in dramatic fashion thanks to the walkoff homerun by Toronto's Joe Carter, and so Harry still had never called a championship. Through any number of tough seasons in the late 1990's you wondered whether an aging Kalas would ever get that opportunity again. In 2002, Harry was honored with the Ford Frick Award for baseball's immortal broadcasters, and subsequently with enshrinement in the baseball Hall of Fame, joining both his longtime Phillies pals Whitey and Schmitty among the games legends. With a coming new ballpark the Phillies management and ownership began to loosen the purse strings and bring in some new talent like Jim Thome and Billy Wagner, and the team began to win again as one of baseball's most beautiful facilities opened at Citizens Bank Park. After a couple of seasons a group of young homegrown players like Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley finally brought the Philadelphia Phillies back to the World Series stage. On the night of October 29th, in the culmination of a game that had taken two days thanks to weather conditions, the Phillies were just one strike away from finally winning another World Series title when Harry finally was able to make the live call: "One strike away; nothing-and-two, the count to Hinske. Fans on the their feet; rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0-2 pitch — swing and a miss, struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball!" It was a moment long overdue, and a shining moment that Harry Kalas deserved as much as anyone who has ever broadcast any sporting event. This past Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were in our car, driving home from having spent Easter Sunday down the shore with some family members. We are both big Phillies fans, and got to enjoy both that unforgettable 1993 season and World Series heartbreak and the 2008 World Series victory celebration together. On the ride home we were enjoying the 39th season of listening to Harry Kalas call Phillies games, as the Phils put the finishing touches on a victory over the Rockies out in Colorado. As we heard Harry call it: "Bouncing ball to Chase Utley, this should be the game... Chase throws him out, and that will be it as the Phil's win 2 out of 3 here at Coors Field, coming back to take this one by a score of 7 to 5." Little did we know that it would be the final time that we would here Harry close out a Phillies game. There is an old saying that all good things must come to an end. Every one of those 1971 Phillies, the 1980 world champions, and the 1993 NL champs saw the ending of their careers come. Richie 'Whitey' Ashburn saw the end of his life come, as did Phillies legends like John Vukovich and Tug McGraw. This one carries perhaps the deepest sting and hurt, more so than even with the Tugger himself, who was a truly beloved figure in town. For almost four decades, Harry Kalas came into all of our living rooms and our cars, into our places of work, our back yards, our front porches, and down on to the beaches with us. He brought a magical, story-telling quality to Philadelphia Phillies baseball games with a unique signature of a voice, and with a love and passion for both the team and the game that if you listened long enough made you incapable of turning it off before falling in love with it as well. Now, Harry is back reunited with his good friend Whitey, calling games in heaven, which gives me something even more to look forward to in the hereafter. The words 'legend' and 'icon' are tossed around sometimes with too much ease. 'Harry the K' was truly an iconic legend here in Philadelphia that will never, ever be forgotten. And the great thing is that we have so much of it recorded. We will hear that voice at various times over the rest of our lives. Perhaps the best way to end this tribute would be with one personal indulgence. Far from being disrespectful, I believe the man that I met in that Camden Yards hallway a decade ago would love it. One final call, this time for Harry instead of by him: "It's a long life, deep affection left at the field, Harry Kalas is....Outta Here!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Make Pirates Walk the Plank

Shiver me timbers, thar's pirates lurkin' in the waters off the coast of Africa in 2009! Who woulda thunk it! Blue Beard? Black Beard? Captain Hook? Do these fellas have peg legs, long beards, bandannas, eye patches, and parrots on their shoulders?

A bit light-hearted there, but there is really nothing funny about what is happening these days off the African coast. Modern day pirates are taking over ships, attacking crews and holding them hostage, and making off with loot by the millions.

One of the questions usually asked relates to wondering how a small speedboat can overcome a large fishing trawler or a huge cargo ship. Here is the general attack scenario.

The little speedboat moves at high speed and is loaded up with a small crew of 'pirates', often from areas around either Somalia or Nigeria. It approaches the larger ship suddenly and then the pirates cast a rope ladder onto the larger ship. They climb the ladder and make their way through the ship to the crew, taking them hostage and sometimes killing them.

The pirates are armed with sophisticated weaponry that includes high-powered automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and even hand grenades. Even at times when the larger ship sees the pirates coming, they cannot overcome them because of this advantage in weaponry.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

After the Fire, the Fire Still Burns

John the Baptist began to spread the new way with a fiery oratory style and a radical message that inspired the masses and threatened the establishment. So the powers-that-be chopped off his head and extinguished his fire. Or so they thought.

Little did they know that Jesus Christ was there to pick up the torch. He would not allow the flame to be extinguished. Instead his message and his style went even further, flaming up so brightly that many saw the hope of an entirely new world, one which would not see the current authorities retain their traditional power.

And so again out of fear, they took him away. They beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to a cross where he would also die. They thought that they had extinguished the flame once again. The fire was out as Jesus died and his followers, it's final flickering embers, dispersed into the wind. Or so those same powers of this world thought.

Jesus had indeed been put to death on Friday, and his body taken away and buried in a tomb on Saturday. A massive stone had been set against the opening to the tomb, and guards set outside so that none would be able to remove it. And so night time fell, and into the early still-dark hours of Sunday morning, Jesus lifeless body lay there entombed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christ Has Died

There is no credible historical or religious writing that makes any allusion to any other fact than that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was buried in a nearby tomb.

He was not miraculously raised up to Heaven. He was lowered down from the cross, likely by his friends and followers, or by workers hired by Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph was a rich man who also had become a follower of Jesus and believed in his teachings. Joseph had stepped forward to donate a nearby tomb which he owned as the final burial place of Jesus, and thus had asked for the body.

His wealth and his status in the community as a member of the 'Sanhedrin', a local governing council, impressed Pilate enough that he granted Joseph permission.

When you think about this particular act, think a little more deeply. Roman law at the time was actually against this very type of action, because the authorities feared that such a tomb would become a shrine of pilgrimage.

There has been some speculation through time that Pilate granted the request simply because of Joseph's status in the community, or possibly some bribe or payment from Joseph.

There is also speculation that it was a simple matter of conscience. Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent of any crime, let alone one for which he should have been put to death. He stated this numerous times in the hours leading up to the crucifixion. At least a part of Pilate's decision to allow the burial at Joseph's tomb may have come simply from feelings of guilt.

Approval for this act of charity was granted by Jesus' family as well. And so the cross was lowered and the battered, bloody, and lifeless body of Christ was removed from it.

We think about the drama surrounding Jesus' passion and many of the events surrounding his death and resurrection, but we rarely contemplate the most minute details as Joseph and his friend Nicodemus would have dealt with them in the aftermath of the crucifixion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Place of the Skull

Golgotha is a real place, once a hill in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross and died for our sins. Be it in Latin, Greek, or Aramaic, the word or term that we know today as 'Golgotha' means 'the place of the skull'. That is also how it was described in all four of the Biblical Gospels. There are many important places in human history where events have taken place that have shaped humanity. There are none more important than Golgotha, for it was here that Jesus died so that you and I, and indeed the entire human race, might have the chance at eternal salvation. Jesus had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, had to endure six separate hearings or trials in one overnight and morning period, been beaten, whipped, and mocked, and had a crown of thorns embedded into his forehead. The Romans had hoped that this unmerciful treatment would satisfy the Jewish leaders' appetite for Jesus' blood, but it did no good. Their cry continued to be "Crucify him!" And so that is what Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea, ordered to be done. It is very hard to imagine how we can now refer to the remembrance of these events as 'Good Friday', for there was nothing good about the way that Christ was treated. With his back, arms, and legs scarred and bleeding from the beating, he was forced in the morning sun to carry his own cross up the rugged embankments of the hill known as Golgotha. When he reached the exact place that the execution was to take place, his hands and feet were tied and then nailed to the cross. His cross was then raised up and placed into a holding 'ring' which had been struck into the stone for support. Here hung the Son of God, who had come down to Earth as man to achieve this very purpose, in the hot baking sun for three hours. Then at noon the sky went suddenly dark. As Jesus hung on the cross during this period of darkness, God withdrew Himself, and Christ bore the full weight of the sins of all mankind, you and I and all men throughout history, utterly alone. At approximately 3:00pm, Christ uttered his final words: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." He breathed his last and gave up his spirit. A great earthquake rocked the land as tombs were split open and the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom. Taking in this dramatic site, a stunned and awed Roman centurion stated "Truly this was God's son!" His body was then taken down and away by Joseph of Arimathea, to be prepared for burial in a nearby tomb belonging to Joseph's family. The place where Christ was crucified and buried now lies fully within the boundaries of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church was built by the Roman emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity in the 4th century and whose mother, Helena, had researched and discovered the exact site of Christ's crucifixion, which had occurred some three hundred years earlier. Sometimes called by the gentler name of 'Calvary', it is a menacing name, Golgotha, "the place of the skull", and it was the site of one of the most important events in human history. We should recall those events today with awe, with acknowledgement of the guilt that we all share in creating them, and with thanks for the sacrifice made by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. NOTE: As always, the title of this article is a link to further information, this time to a site devoted to information and pictures of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TV Watch: The Tudors

The folks at the Showtime cable network have proven that they are just as adept at creating entertaining, high-quality television programming as their HBO network rivals.

Sunday evenings now belong to 'The Tudors', an excellent historical period piece that tells the story of King Henry VIII of England.

Henry was the 2nd monarch of the 'House of Tudor', which drew its identity from the family surname of Henry's father, King Henry VII, whom Henry then succeeded to the throne.

The Tudors had originally gained power in the aftermath of the 'War of the Roses', and in the period of their rule from 1485 until 1603 the five monarchs of the ruling family succeeded in uniting England with Wales and Ireland as one kingdom.

Their reign also resulted in great social, legal, and political questions of marriage, divorce, and the succession rights of women raised, debated, and answered.

Henry VIII, whose reign began at the age of just 18 years and lasted until his death in 1547 at age 56, was a particularly flamboyant and controversial figure. This was due both to his personal and religious actions, views, and rulings.

In his personal life, Henry was married six times, with the first three of his wives each bearing him children who would each eventually accede to the throne.

Henry treated his wives cavalierly, moving from one relationship to another at his sexual whim, and these relationships and the events surrounding them form one large part of the Showtime series.

Henry also was noted for establishing the 'Church of England', which broke from the Catholic Church after Henry was excommunicated by the Pope following his divorce of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Monday, April 6, 2009

An Existential Threat

Israel has been a people since early Biblical times, since around the 20th generation of mankind following their creation in the Garden of Eden.

God promised the ancient land of Canaan to the Jewish patriarch Abraham and what would be his innumerable descendants in a covenant that would be in exchange for their worshiping Him as their God.

This covenant anointed them as God's 'chosen people', and He promised them his blessings as long as they would worship Him and obey His commandments.

God also promised Abraham that in regards to the nation he would "bless those who bless them, and curse those who curse them." The same covenant was made by God with Abraham's son Isaac, and through to Isaac's son Jacob, who during his life had his named changed to 'Israel'.

The sons of Israel eventually prospered in the neighboring land of Egypt before their descendants became so numerous that the Pharaohs feared and enslaved them.

After hundreds of years of slavery, the Israelites were freed by God through the leadership of Moses and the imposition of a series of plagues on the Egyptians. Under Moses and with God's help the Israelites returned to the promised land.

Beginning just over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and continuing for almost a thousand years, various Israelite kingdoms and states ruled over the promised land. This beginning is the root of Israel's nationhood, established here on earth by the will of God Himself.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mel's Masterpiece

On February 25th, 2004, Ash Wednesday, actor/director Mel Gibson released what would prove to be one of the greatest and most popular motion pictures of all-time.

"The Passion of the Christ" depicts the final twelve hours in the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in a story based on a compilation of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

Gibson's telling of this story was made even more interesting and relevant with his decision to have all of the actors speak their parts in the genuine language of the times, with the Jews, including Christ, speaking their lines in Aramaic, while the Romans speak 'street' Latin.

Sub-titles allow viewers to follow along with the content of the lines, but the fact is that they are not necessary, especially for anyone who is already familiar with the details of the story.

Language was not the only spark of genius exhibited by Gibson, who according to the film's official website shot 40% of the scenes either at night or indoors under wraps in order to get an effect of light fighting its way out of darkness. Caleb Deschanel, who also did tremendous work previously on Gibson's film 'The Patriot' as well as 'The Right Stuff', was chosen as the cinematographer because Gibson felt his work was "violent, it's dark, it's spiritual".

These are some of the defining features of the film: violence, darkness, and spirituality. This is no touchy-feely effort that waters down the events involved in Christ's betrayal by one of his own closest chosen disciples, Judas Iscariot, his sham of a trial, and his persecution and death on the cross.

A brilliant cast of international actors was selected for the crucial roles. Jesus himself is played in a legendary performance by American actor James Caviezel, who had to endure 7-hour makeup days while filming the scenes of that persecution and death. This was the easiest of Caviezel's personal and professional sacrifices in making the film.

He was selected specifically because he was willing to make these sacrifices which included the difficult process of learning Aramaic, his hanging on the cross in freezing temperatures for hours over numerous days, and pre-filming months of other physical, emotional, and spiritual preparations.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

MLB 2009: Philadelphia Phillies

Over the past couple of days I have gone out on a limb with my predictions for the 2009 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, picking our World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies to return to the Fall Classic for a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays. Today I am going the next step, and predicting that the Fightin' Phils will become the first team in the 21st century to repeat as champs. The reason that I think the Phils can do it? They have the on-field talent, the off-field fan support, and apparently the front office and ownership willingness to add pieces during the season if needed. There are at least a half dozen other teams in MLB that are as good as the Phils, maybe a couple that appear better on paper or in statistical evaluations. But it is impossible to develop a statistic that measures the chemistry in the Phillies locker room, or the confidence the Phils gained from last year's title. That chemistry starts at the very top with manager Charlie Manuel, who has overcome early fan and press skepticism to become a beloved sports figure here in this tough-love sports town. Manuel's player-friendly but tough, down-home, old-school style has proven to be exactly the right touch as this team has developed from potential imagined to potential realized. He let's the players police the locker room, uses his experienced coaching staff to the maximum, and is never afraid to make a move and stand up for it, win or lose. Those moves become much more likely to succeed when you have the talent, depth, and experience that Manuel can go to on his bench and in his bullpen. The Phillies bench includes pinch-hitter and backup player extraordinaire Greg Dobbs, who can play 1st, 3rd, and the corner outfield spots, or just bring his bat off the bench with regular success. For power off the bench the Phils can turn to NLCS hero Matt Stairs, who is just one pinch-hit swing away from getting the team back into any game. Then there is Eric Bruntlett, the 'extra' player tossed into the Brad Lidge trade who has turned into that invaluable utility man that every successful team needs. Bruntlett gives the Phils steady innings all over the infield, in left field, and is even an emergency 4th catcher. Finally the Phils have the potent bat of veteran backup catcher Chris Coste. In what was the game's best bullpen a year ago, the Phils have Mr. Perfect, Brad 'Lights-Out' Lidge, back to close out games. While it's highly unlikely that Lidge can get through another season with perfection, he should again be one of baseball's best closers. Setting him up will be right-handers Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey, and left-handers Scott Eyre and Jack Taschner, the latter getting a shot to show what he has until the return of J.C. Romero in late May. Young J.A. Happ has made the team and will be used as a lefty reliever as well, but he would step immediately into a starting role should any of the team's starting pitchers go down with injury. That starting rotation might be the most talented in Philly in a long time. At the top is NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels, who is as talented as any pitcher in baseball and should be a perennial Cy Young candidate if he can stay healthy. Brett Myers is in the final year of his contract, has gotten himself into the best physical condition of his career, and will be highly motivated by the prospect of free agency next year. If he has a strong first half, the Phils would be smart to try hard to re-sign him before he gets to that stage. Joe Blanton was undefeated after coming to the Phillies in the 2008 stretch drive, and continued his excellent pitching in the playoffs, where his homerun against the Dodgers was just one of many team highlights. Amazingly, Jamie Moyer is my age and is still going strong. The fact is that 'Father Time' is going to catch up to this local guy at any time, but he looks and feels ready to go for another full season. The fifth starter when needed will be veteran free agent signee Chan Ho Park, who is pitching for national Korean pride and has had a strong spring. The Phils also have options for both the rotation and the bullpen at the AAA level, so the depth looks good right now for the champs. The final area to talk about is the regular starting lineup, which is as potent as any in baseball led by the big three of 1st baseman Ryan Howard, 2nd baseman Chase Utley, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. There was concern in the off-season that Utley might be out until late May while recovering from hip surgery. He came through it well, and then rehabbed his butt off, and is fully ready to go to start the season on time. Howard has had a monster spring, and could be ready for another MVP run. JRoll is the consummate leader on and off the field. Rightfielder Jayson Werth will be getting his first shot at everyday playing time, had his own monster spring, and seems primed to be one of baseball's major breakout players this season. Centerfielder Shane Victorino won the Gold Glove in centerfield a year ago, and is an offensive catalyst. The Phils said goodbye to longtime left fielder Pat Burrell, who will always be remembered with affection now for his long service to the team, especially for his leadership in last year's post-season which was capped by his own career-highlight, a booming double high off the centerfield wall to lead off the series-winning rally. His replacement should quickly become a fan favorite. Raul Ibanez was signed as a free agent, and is a much more consistent hitter, plays solid defense, and is known as a tremendous clubhouse presence. 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz has fully recovered from his own off-season surgery, remains one of the best glove men in the game at the hot corner, and knocked in the World Series-winning run. Carlos Ruiz normally has a light bat, but is as tough as any backstop, and he manages the pitching staff as well as any catcher in the game. Right now there are no major weaknesses in the Phillies pitching staff or lineup. They have talent, depth, and now have championship-winning experience. They have multiple MVP and Cy Young candidates. If the Phillies can avoid major injuries, especially to their key players, then there is no reason at all that they cannot hold off the Mets, Braves and Marlins and win the N.L. east division. Then with health and with hot pitching come October, the club has as good a chance as any to advance through the playoffs and successfully defend their World Series championship. These are the high-times for the local nine. The fans have been falling in love with this team ever since Citizens Bank Park opened five years ago, and this should be another summer of rollicking good fun in the packed stands at one of baseball's most beautiful parks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

MLB 2009: National League

Unlike the American League, which I covered in yesterday's entry and which is dominated by three teams, the National League pennant race in MLB is wide open. This is both good news and bad for our own Phillies. The bad news is that there are a lot of pretty good teams in the NL that the Phils will have to battle if they want to repeat as National League champions. The good news is that the Phils are one of them, and there is no team that is clearly superior to our defending World Series champs. Tomorrow will be devoted specifically to covering those Phils, but in starting out with the NL East race, let's just say that the Phils match up well with every team, and are better than most. They and the Mets are fairly even, though I still like the Phillies top-to-bottom lineup, their bench, and the depth in their bullpen better than New York. Those Mets will be a strong contender with a lineup that features one of the best young players and leaders in the game in 3rd baseman David Wright and one of the game's most exciting players in speedy shortstop Jose Reyes. Veteran bats like the two Carlos', Delgado and Beltran, provide run-producing pop as well. The rotation is headed by all-world lefty Johan Santana, but has a bunch of question marks after him. The Mets arguably would have won the division the past two years, and possibly a World Series of their own, if they just were able to finish out close games with their bullpen. They finally met that need this off-season by signing record-setting closer Francisco 'KRod' Rodriguez, and yet another closer to back him up in J.J. Putz. If they stay healthy, the Mets will not blow many 9th inning leads this time around. But this time the race will not stop at just the Phils and Mets. It seems like every 5-6 years or so the Florida Marlins accumulate enough strong young talent to become serious contenders, and this is possibly one of those years. Their middle infield of 2nd baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez rivals the Phils' own middle of Utley-Rollins as the best in baseball. They have a future all-star in Cameron Maybin about to burst on the scene in their outfield. And their young pitching has depth and talent that is the envy of every team outside of Tampa. The Fish are a couple bats short, and their bullpen is not good enough to overtake the Phils and Mets. But they will make it interesting much of the year, as will the Atlanta Braves. Perhaps no team but the Yankees improved their starting pitching rotation more than the Bravos this off-season. Atlanta added four solid veterans in Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami, and future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. They team with youngster Jair Jurrjens to give the Braves the best rotation in the east, assuming these guys stay healthy. The Braves lineup has good young parts led by catcher Brian McCann, but the key to contending will be the health of veteran leader Chipper Jones (pictured). If the Braves get a full season out of him, and if both outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Garret Anderson produce, the Braves could seriously challenge the top two teams. I am going to call it in this order: Phils, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals. In the NL Central, most prognosticators are picking the Chicago Cubs, as well as installing the Cubbies as favorites for the NL pennant and a trip to the World Series. There are plenty of reasons to like them starting with a talented and varied offense that includes Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Geovanny Soto. In the off-season the Cubs signed mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley. I am going to install him as a dark-horse MVP candidate, because if he can stay healthy he has the talent to be a difference-maker for this team. The Cubs have depth and talent in both their rotation and bullpen, but that rotation could easily be set back by injuries. If Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano hold up, the Cubs should win the NL Central. But hot on their heels could well be either or both of the Milwaukee Brewers, whose offense led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun matches up with anyone, or the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards have the mighty Albert Pujols back and at full strength, and that is truly scary since he won the NL MVP a year ago during a season in which he was injured. They also get back from injury a pair of arms in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and these guys staying healthy all year will be the key to the Cards staying with the Cubbies. Out in the NL West we can just refer to this as 'Manny Land', because the Dodgers' superstar and future Hall of Famer will be the key to this race. If his head is on straight and he is at full health, Manny will be Manny, and he will lead Joe Torre's troops to another division title. With a vastly improved middle infield of Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal, and with returning young bats in Russ Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, this lineup could contend even without Ramirez. Beyond young ace Chad Billingsley, who still has to prove he can carry that mantle, and strong closer Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers pitching staff is uncharacteristically full of question marks. Right on their heels will be the Arizona Diamondbacks led by the pitching troika of Brandon Webb-Dan Haren-Randy Johnson. With strong young bats like Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, and Conor Jackson, and a deep pitching staff, this team could very well unseat the Dodgers. The pick here is for those Dodgers bats to hold off the DBacks pitching edge, but it could be very close. Behind the division-winning Phillies, Cubs, and Dodgers the other contenders in New York, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Arizona should lead the Wildcard charge, and I like the DBacks to take that race. The playoff battles are going to come down to the same keys as they do every year: who is healthy and who is pitching well come October. This is just too close to call right now, but since I went this far already I'll call it a rematch of Phillies-Dodgers for the pennant, and why not pick our Phils to win it again and advance to a World Series rematch with the Rays? They have just as good a shot as anyone else, better than most. Tomorrow's article will be devoted entirely to our World Series champions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

MLB 2009: American League

Our World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies will open up defense of their crown on Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park in a nationally televised game against the Atlanta Braves. For the next three days leading up to Opening Day, I will take a look at Major League Baseball's upcoming 2009 season, beginning today with a look at the American League, continuing on Friday with the National League, and then finally on Saturday taking a close look at the Fightin' Phils in particular. All talk about contention for the American League pennant has to start in the East Division, home to three of the best teams in baseball. The defending A.L. champion Tampa Bay Rays didn't do much in the off-season, but they did make the one move that they really needed, adding a strong, veteran right-handed bat to their lineup. I think most of you may have heard of him. His name: Pat Burrell. Yup, 'Pat the Bat' (pictured), who helped dash the Rays hopes in last fall's World Series with a booming double high off the top of the centerfield wall to lead off the bottom of the 7th inning of a tied-up Game #5 signed with those Rays as a free agent. The fact was that the Phils never really made an offer to Burrell, who was beginning to become a defensive liability in left field and whose bat was always streaky. That double was in fact his only hit of the World Series. Still, thanks to a nice career overall and that final ringing heroic moment, Burrell will always deserve and receive affection from Phillies fans. He comes to a team that remains one of the youngest in baseball, but also one of its most talented. 3rd baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder B.J. Upton are two of baseball's biggest rising stars. 1st baseman Carlos Pena and outfielder Carl Crawford are two of game's biggest offensive threats. Their middle infield of 2nd baseman Akinori Iwamura, who just helped Japan win the World Baseball Classic for the 2nd straight time, and shortstop Jason Bartlett, who was thrown out at home plate in that 'fake throw' play in the deciding World Series game by Chase Utley that is legendary in Phillies lore, are both underrated and make a strong doubleplay combination. On the mound, the Rays sent perhaps their future best pitcher in David Price to the minor leagues to begin the season. He will be back by May at the latest, and he will be one of the game's elite arms this season and in years to come. Along with Price the Rays bring talent and depth to the rotation with James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and others. The one weak link could perhaps be the bullpen, which performed well a year ago, but whose closer Troy Percival got hurt late in the year and is always an injury risk. The Rays may need to dip into that young talent pool to solidify the back end of their bullpen, but given health they will battle the Yankees and Red Sox for the AL East crown and another trip to the World Series. Those Yankees are moving into new digs this year at the billion dollar 'New Yankee Stadium', which replaces the legendary 'House That Ruth Built'. It will be new surroundings for the Bronx Bombers, and they will have some dynamic new faces to play there after a typical free agent signing spree. The new 1st baseman, Mark Teixeira, is perhaps the best all-around player at his position in the game. His bat should help ease the sting of losing 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez to injury. A-Rod suffered through a difficult off-season that was mostly of his own making, but it may be the injury that proves most hurtful to the Yanks chances. The team needs him to recover and come back in May as the ARod of old, or it may struggle all year on offense. Shortstop Derek Jeter is slipping a bit, but remains the consummate team leader. On the mound, the Yanks shored up their rotation by signing both C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and get a healthy Chien-Ming Wang back from injury. They team with veteran Andy Pettitte and young phenom Joba Chamberlain to give the Yanks one of the best rotations in the game, one that will keep them in the pennant race to the end. Closer Mariano Rivera, a future Hall of Famer, is still around to shut the door at the end. In Boston, the beloved Red Sox are also talent-rich on the mound. The rotation is led by Josh Beckett and Daisuke 'Dice-K' Matsuzaka, who was just named the MVP of the World Baseball Classic for the 2nd straight time. These two veterans will be sandwiched between one of the best young arms in the game in Jon Lester, who overcame a cancer scare a couple years back and is ready to step to the elite level. The Bosox bullpen, finished off by closer Jonathan Papelbon, may be the best in the division. On offense the key will be whether David 'Big Papi' Ortiz can continue to be a legitimate big power source in the middle of the batting order. The club also has some aging and injury-prone veteran bats in outfielder J.D. Drew, 3rd baseman Mike Lowell, and catcher Jason Varitek. But it also has a couple of exciting youngsters in gritty MVP 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. That is my prediction for the 1-2-3 positions in baseball's strongest division, with the Rays edging out the Yanks and Red Sox. The Central Division looks to me to be a complete toss-up, with everyone except the Royals having a legitimate shot. The Minnesota Twins chances hinge on sensational catcher and team leader Joe Mauer being able to stay healthy for most of the season, because they have enough pitching to stay with the others. The Cleveland Indians are led by MVP candidate centerfielder Grady Sizemore, but have a ton of questions. Get the right answers and they contend as well. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, who won the division a year ago in a playoff with Minnesota, have similarly solid lineups with question marks up and down. In this division, I will go with the White Sox and manager Ozzie Guillen to find a way to again come out on top, with Cleveland and Minnesota hot on their heels if they stay healthy. Out in the West Division, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been the perennial favorites, but they are starting to come back to an improving pack. They lost record-setting closer Francisco 'KRod' Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to free agency, and now their top two starters in John Lackey and Ervin Santana are hurt and will at least begin the season on the DL. With veteran superstar Vlad Guerrero perhaps aging quickly, this could be a struggling season for the Halos. On their heels if they can find any reasonable starting pitching will be the improving Texas Rangers. The Rangers have some of the most explosive bats in the game. Outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose remarkable comeback from drug addiction has been highly publicized, is an MVP candidate. 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler rivals the Phils' Chase Utley as the top offensive player in the game at the position. 1st baseman Chris Davis and 3rd baseman Michael Young are also premier offensive talents. The play of rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus could be a key here, along with that pitching. The Oakland A's picked up a trio of veteran bats in the off-season in 1st baseman Jason Giambi, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and outfielder Matt Holliday. Combine these with a young but talented pitching staff and the A's could surprise as well. I am going way out on a limb here and picking the Rangers to take the west, followed closely by the Angels and A's. In the playoffs, I just cannot see any of the other teams being able to matchup with the Rays-Yankees-Red Sox combination. Funny thing is, only two of those clubs can make the post-season even though they will likely be the three best teams in the A.L. overall. Call it a Rays-Yankees showdown for the pennant, with the youthful Rays overcoming the Yanks' first playoff appearance in their new ballpark. As long as Longoria, Upton, Pena, Crawford, and Burrell stay healthy, Pat the Bat could be returning to the big stage of the World Series this coming fall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's

You pick up the receiver at work to answer a call to your business, and find no answer. The phone line sounds like it is dead in fact. And yet even though you answered the call, the phone just keeps on ringing.

Then you finally notice it...someone has taped down the 'plunger' on your telephone's main box. When you picked up the handset to answer, the plunger stayed down, so you were in fact talking to no one when you answered the call. April Fool's! Someone just got you with one of the oldest office pranks in the world.

Today is that day, April Fools Day, and all around the world there are people playing practical jokes on one another. The exact origins of this day are unclear, but there are a few stories that make sense down through history.

One traces all the way back to the Biblical story of Noah, when after the flood he sent a raven off in search of dry land too early. Tradition says that he did this on the first day of the Hebrew month corresponding with April.

Another story traces it's origin back to the 16th century and King Charles IX of France, who changed the beginning of the year there from April 1st to January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate the old April 1st date were called 'April Fools'.

A similar story comes again from that 16th century and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the centuries-old Julian calendar as the still utilized standard around the world, and referred to those who continued to follow that Julian calendar as 'April Fools'.

Also, many pre-Christian cultures are said to have celebrated May 1st, or 'May Day', as the first day of the summer planting season. Those who jumped the gun and planted in April were called 'April Fools'.

There have been some well-known public April Fools jokes played over the years on a large scale.