Saturday, December 25, 2010

what a friend we have in cheeses

We lived in Wisconsin for nearly five years in the early 1980’s, and quickly found some great, and lasting, friendships. It was a great time for the Brewers, who came within one game of defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. The mighty Green Bay Packers weren’t as fortunate, since the team only had one post season appearance the nine years that Bart Starr was the head coach.

It’s a well known fact that Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state, and is second only to Californian in total dairy production.

In spite of the fact that there’s a shrine to the Virgin Mary at a place called Holy Hill there have been no known apparitions at the site, nor any events that would be considered out of the ordinary. The closest that Wisconsin has come to anything resembling holy is the well known phrase, “holy cow!”

Wisconsin’s status took on a whole new direction earlier this month, in a way that very few people would suspect.

Since WWII, there have been 29 sightings of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States. Until very recently, NONE of them have been validated by the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve been to Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, and I strongly suspect that there’s a material spiritual force at work there. However, the Catholic Church still does not officially recognize the events that have occurred on the site, so I guess that my opinion doesn’t count.

The surprise entry into the “holiest of holy” sites is the Chapel of Good Hope, in Champion, Wisconsin, just a little north of Green Bay. It is one of only about a dozen sites worldwide that have been validated by Rome, and the first one in the United States.

Now that the chapel has been officially recognized, it’s entirely possible that there will be more pilgrimages to the town, but it’s doubtful that it will ever get anywhere close to Lourdes, France, which has had as many as 450,000 visitors on a single day.

By the way, if the title to this article sounds familiar, you may recognize the song posted below:

what a friend we have in Jesus

Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The greatest Christmas gift ever

During the waning days of the Roman Empire, it was still a crime (punishable by death) to be a Christian. By the year 350 A.D., the Roman Empire was on a downward spiral, so Pope Julius I felt confident enough to officially designate December 25 as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ. By the year 380 A.D., Christianity was the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

The tradition of gift giving at Christmas originated with a Christian bishop, St. Nicholas of Turkey, in the 4th Century. By the 10th Century, the custom had spread around the world. Arguably, the tradition could be traced back even further than that, because Three Wise Men from the East brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a small child who was born in Bethlehem.

It may surprise you to know that giving gifts in December actually goes back even BEFORE the Three Wise Men made their journey to Bethlehem.

Most of the customs now associated with Christmas were not originally Christmas customs but rather were pre-Christian and non-Christian customs taken up by the Christian church. Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December, provided the model for many of the merry-making customs of Christmas. From this celebration, for example, were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts, and the burning of candles that we associate with the Christmas holidays.

In America, from time to time, controversy has arisen about the practice of putting Christmas trees, or manger scenes, on public property, due to the idea of separating church from state. In the spirit of compromise, Daley Plaza in Chicago has both a Christmas tree AND a menorah, conveniently overlooking the fact that many of the traditions that we associate with Christmas are actually derived from a pagan festival.

Like many people, I’ve long felt that the celebration of Christmas has become WAY too commercial. Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving have absolutely no appeal, and neither does anything in the Neiman-Marcus catalog.

I’ve lived long enough that I’ve already accumulated enough “stuff”, so I’ve asked my family to try a different approach this year. I’m fully capable of buying my own scotch and cigars, so I don’t want them to feel obligated to give me any presents. Instead, I’ve asked them to donate some money to a charity of their choice in my name, since that act is, in my opinion, more in the true spirit of Christmas.

The majority of the people that live in this world aren’t Christians. As a matter of fact, a majority of the people that live in this world don’t even belong to an organized religion. In spite of that fact, though, there actually was a time that even those engaged in warfare had a one day truce on December 25, and most of the world pauses to pay homage to a small child who was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

In the Good Book, Matthew 1(23-25) reads "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."

What could be a greater gift than that?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bingo !!

It was a good crowd for a chilly winter night in Minnesota.

The KC hall was packed with the Friday night regulars, but there were also a few first timers in the mix as well.. Some of the gray haired ladies in the room resembled Maxine (of Hallmark card fame) but the clouds of smoke surrounding them had disappeared a few years ago, a victim of political correctness.

Rick held sway at the front of the room, calmly calling off numbers as they popped out of the container, a position that he had volunteered to do for at least a decade. After about 10 minutes, Rick called out “B14”, and the room exploded in a frenzy of excitement. Kathy, one of the regulars in the third row, hollered “BINGO” at the top of her lungs, and the attendants quickly scurried to verify her win, and to dole out her cash.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all played bingo, either at a church or at a Knights of Columbus hall. Chances are pretty good, though, that you have no idea how bingo originated, or why the Catholic Church has a strong connection to it.

Bingo as we know it today actually started in Italy in 1530, when the country was reunited, and it’s actually a variation of the lottery games that are currently played in nearly every state in America. The game has been played almost continuously since that time, and it’s an important contributor to Italy’s economy. The best estimate is that it contributes the equivalent of $75,000,000 to the Italian economy every year.

The game migrated to America at the start of the Great Depression, and the person most responsible for its transplantation here was a toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe. H e observed a crowd of people playing a game called “Beano” at a carnival in Jacksonville, Georgia, and was captivated by the intense interest in the game.

When he returned home to New York, he started playing the game with a group of friends at his apartment. On one especially exciting evening, one of his friends got so excited that that she stammered out “b-b-b-bingo” instead of “beano” - and the name stuck.

Not long after returning to New York, Mr. Lowe was approached by a priest from a parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who saw the game as an opportunity to rescue his parish from its dire financial situation. The scheme worked, and shortly thereafter, bingo games also saved a Knights of Columbus hall in Utica, New York.

News about these early successes spread fast, and by 1934, there were an estimated 10,000 Bingo games played every week. In the early 1930’s, the largest Bingo game in history was played in New York’s Teaneck Armory. 60,000 people participated in the event, and 10,000 more were turned away at the door. In addition to the cash prizes, 10 automobiles were given away.

In the last decade, interest in Bingo has faded, in large part due to state sanctioned alternatives like lottery games, off track betting, and state casinos. In spite of declining revenue, though, it’s unlikely that Bingo games are going to disappear at any time in the near future. Decades before Facebook came into being, Friday night Bingo games were the original “social networking” outlet for a LOT of folks in America- - and they still are today.

If you haven’t played Bingo for a while, I’d recommend that you find a game in your area, pay your admission fee - and start “stamping”.

To quote Humphrey Bogart (of Casablanca fame) it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We’ve all gone to look for America

One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs is one that you can listen to by clicking on the link below:

We've all gone to look for America

It took Simon and Garfunkel four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.

In recent years, it’s definitely a good place to be FROM, but not a good place to go to. Throughout most of the 20th century, the economy was dominated by manufacturing related to the automobile industry. As the domestic auto industry declined, the unemployment rate in Saginaw skyrocketed, and crime has been a major problem in the city in recent years.At 20.9 %, the unemployment rate is twice as high as the national average.

According to the FBI, Saginaw has been the most violent city in America since 2003.

Fortunately, the city’s fortunes will start to improve in the near future due to help from an unlikely source: the Chinese.

On November 29, General Motors announced the sale of Nexteer Automotive (a manufacturer of power steering components) to Pacific Century Motors, an affiliate of the Beijing municipal government. The $450 million purchase represents China’s biggest single investment in the global auto parts industry. It will also make Beijing into the largest private employer in the City of Saginaw.

At a celebratory luncheon earlier this week, chairs were lined with Chinese flags, and guests were served egg rolls.

Although $450 million is a lot of money, it pales in comparison to what the Chinese are doing in California.

In June of 2010, the Chinese government signed a contract with the State of California to build high speed rail lines in the state. The Chinese bullet trains are capable of speeds up to 215 miles per hour, and are touted as being environmentally friendly. Most of the funding for the $43 billion project will come from China. After its completion, the line will run from San Francisco all the way to Aneheim, which should be good news for Mickey Mouse. Since Anaheim is located in Orange Country, the best name that I can think of for the new railroad is “The Orange Blossom Special”

By the way, the Chinese will also become a big help to us in getting out of Afghanistan due to the fact that Chinese companies are currently mining for rare minerals in that country. Even though the current government in Afghanistan continues to struggle with problems of corruption, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that the current troubles in the country will diminish if public and private companies have a vested financial interest in making sure that the violence goes away.

From 1970 to today,Spanish has been the most popular foreign language studied in American schools. However, the languages that have grown the fastest since 1970 are Chinese and Arabic. Due to the fact that the Chinese government is paying the salaries of the Chinese nationals who are teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture in our schools, it’s likely that the study of Mandarin will continue to grow dramatically.

The thought of the Chinese people running our country is not going to set well with a lot of folks in this country. To put our current situation in perspective, if Hop Sing bought the ranch, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe would be working for HIM, and that would DEFINITELY be a culture shock for the rest of us.

As they continue their search, Simon and Garfunkel will eventually find America, and it’s going to be stronger and better than ever, However, it’s going to SOUND a lot different than it used to, so I’d recommend improving your Mandarin skills as rapidly as you can.