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Blog Archive/June 2006

June 30, 2006

Mark Twain’s Beef With the Fourth of July

I once took a trip down Mark Twain’s beloved Mississippi River. It was The Mark Twain Vacation, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company’s most popular “Steamboatin’ Theme Vacation” and a salute to what is widely considered Twain’s greatest legacy: his evocation of a simpler world of youth and innocence, of corncob pipes and Aunt Polly’s jam, of pirate games and hidden treasure, of river rafts and, of course, steamboats.

The Delta Queen’s 49-page brochure featured a photo of Twain, draped in Old Glory, on the cover. The brochure explained just why our most famous humorist was their star attraction:

“As in bygone days, when steamboats were the preferred mode of travel, you will see America from a distinctively patriotic and nostalgic perspective…. Within and without you will be transported back to turn-of-the-century elegance—to an era that, as with a vintage wine, only gets better with the passage of time… It’s a celebration of all that makes America great…an experience that will linger in your heart and memory for a lifetime!”

Appropriately, or so it appeared, the cruise was scheduled to coincide with July 4th. After all, who could be a better companion on the greatest American holiday than Mark Twain, right? Well, actually…

Continue reading And Never the Twain Shall Meet.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 26, 2006

Death Be Not Tacky

Need a gift for that special baseball fan in your life who already has every conceivable bit of memorabilia, from a pair of Randy Johnson’s dirty underwear to a bobblehead doll of Tatum O’Neal in “The Bad News Bears”? Then how about a casket embossed with the logo of his favorite team!

Eternal Image, Inc, a designer of caskets and urns, has announced it’s signed a licensing agreement with Major League Baseball that will allow the company to decorate its funeral products with any of the 30 major league teams’ names and logos.

“This new line of team-specific funeral products opens a whole new market for our company—a market that is just waiting for a way to make team loyalty a ‘final' statement of a great passion in their lives,” said Clint Mytych, CEO of Eternal Image, in a statement last week.

And if you think, say, a Tampa Bay Devil Rays casket is a little weird, check out Eternal Image’s other products. How about an urn topped with a Precious Moments doll? Or imagine storing your dearly departed spouse’s ashes in a bronze urn featuring a paw print and the photo of a dog, courtesy of Eternal Image’s relationship with the American Kennel Club? And only diehard (so to speak) Catholics would want to be interred in caskets inspired by the Vatican Library Collection.

Given how many American obsessions have spawned billion-dollar industries, there’s no shortage of lucrative themes Eternal Image could explore. Why not a line of porn coffins—complete with the sights and sounds of the decedent’s favorite X-rated stars going at it? Or NASCAR caskets? Mourners gathered solemnly at a wake would be knocked out of their chairs when a 750 horsepower engine is fired up at the rear of the parlor, filling the place with smoke and noise. Then the race-car casket would burn rubber down the center aisle to the front of the room for the viewing. The driver’s door could pop open, revealing the deceased dressed like Jeff Gordon. (Think that’s too much? Readers may recall the wake for Pittsburgh Steelers fan I wrote about last summer. The guy was dressed in his favorite team’s black and gold colors and was propped up in his recliner, along with a beer, a remote control, and a pack of smokes, facing a TV playing Steelers’ highlights.)

Anyway, designs for the Major League Baseball caskets and urns are now in full swing. Unfortunately for sports nuts with only months to live, however, the line will not be available until 2007.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 20, 2006

“The Sopranos’” Religious Bling

Mary Beth Crain’s essay on mob Catholicism in “The Sopranos” prompted one thoughtful reader to send me the following note. A mental health clinician in Southern California, Sharon writes:

I have been reading a number of your columns, which I found while researching “The Sopranos” and the irony of the Catholic identification of the characters. Indeed, as I have been told and am aware, there are cradle Catholics, Catholics by tradition, and more secular, and religious, Catholics. Nonetheless, I do find the irony and black humor to be quite brilliant in the interweaving of the character’s supposed reverence for God and the faith, and the breaking of all the other Commandments that they do themselves. One thing that I have noted that strikes me is that all the characters wear some sort of religious jewelry. It is an oddity, perhaps an oxymoron of sorts, to see a Catholic Medal hanging from Tony’s neck as he strangles someone to death.
I have read a bit of the “Gospels According to Tony Soprano” by Chris Saey, and he notes that Tony’s character wears a St. Jerome medal. It was obviously not an accident that he wears this medal in every show, if indeed it is St. Jerome. It looks like Christopher might be wearing St. Peter. Do you or any of your readers know which medals each character wears and their significance?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 20, 2006

Jewishy Irishy Comes to the Elm City

Laurel Snyder will be in New Haven tonight to read from her new book, Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales From Interfaith Homes. So if you’re in the area and want to soak up some wit and wisdom (Edward Schwarzschild, author of “Responsible Men,” will also be reading), drop by the Anchor Bar, at 272 College Street, at 7 PM. I’ll be there. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 19, 2006

Bishop Jefferts Schori: "Radical"?

Is it just me, or is there a slant in this Reuters wire report about Katharine Jefferts Schori’s election as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church? “Anglicans faced stark divisions on Monday after a woman radical took over the U.S. branch,” the piece begins.

That’s right—“a woman radical.” Now, I know what makes Bishop Jefferts Schori a woman, but what makes her a woman radical? From the article, all I could gather was that it’s because she supported the ordination of Gene Robinson. Lest we forget, though, Robinson was elected bishop by a majority. So if one's part of the majority, how could one possibly be radical?

I called friend and SoMA contributor Puck Purnell for his take. He’s an Episcopal priest. “You’re kidding me!” Puck said. “The article really called her a woman radical?”

“For real, dude.”

“She’s no radical,” Puck said. “She’s far closer to the status quo. I’d say she’s pretty representative of the Episcopal Church.”

“I’m really excited she got elected,” Puck added. “It’s a challenging time in the church, and she might be able to bring some much-needed reconciliation. Women tend to be better peacemakers than men.”

Healing divisions will be one of Jefferts Schori’s biggest tasks, as many in the church are still worked up over the ordination of Robinson. Seems she’s got the right attitude for the job. "I will bend over backward to build relationships with people who disagree with me," she said in a BBC profile.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 13, 2006

God and the Billboard Charts

If you want to hear folk singing praises to God these days, no need to go to church. Just turn on your local corporate hit music station. Or the Grammys. It makes you wonder: When did spirituality become cool again in pop?

Read Ben Westhoff's essay, "So, Maybe God Really IS a DJ," here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 8, 2006

What “The Da Vinci Code” Gets Right and Wrong

“Da Vinci Code” fans and foes will want to tune into the Hallmark Channel this Sunday morning. From the press release:

Krista Tippett, host of Public Radio’s ‘Speaking of Faith,’ will be hosting a panel discussion on the accuracies and inaccuracies of “The Da Vinci Code,” presented by Faith & Values Media. This discussion will follow an encore presentation of the documentary “Opus Dei and the Da Vinci Code” on Sunday, June 11, 2006, from 8-10 a.m. ET/PT (7-9 a.m. CT) on the Hallmark Channel.
Panelists scheduled to appear include:

* Amy-Jill Levine—professor of New Testament Studies, director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.
* Ed Murray—president and chief executive officer, Faith & Values Media, NYC.
* Dick Staub—author, spiritual pundit and former radio talk show host, Seattle, WA.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 8, 2006

The Saint of Magical Thinking

Don’t miss Pufff, brilliant Josh Gosfield’s latest Saint of the Month.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 7, 2006

“The Sopranos” Finale: “Plenty for Everybody”

Well, the season didn’t end with an all-out Peckinpah bloodbath between Brooklyn and New Jersey, but who really thought it would? “The Sopranos” has always been about nuance and atmospherics, not apocalypse, and this year’s finale stayed satisfyingly true to form, leaving plenty of tension to resolve next season. Or not.

Granted, some parts of the show stumped me. First, it began and ended with the Stones’ Moonlight Mile—a great song, but how did it relate? ("Oh I'm sleeping under strange strange skies/Just another mad mad day on the road." OK, the skies over Soprano land are strange and the days on its road are mad, but is that the only connection?) And it seemed odd that the episode was set during the holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, concluding with the family gathered around the tree. True, holiday themes overlap with the show’s themes: family, home, dysfunction, and the struggle to figure out what matters in life, what makes us happy—not to mention how much of it or how little. Still. A Christmas show, in the first week of June?

Once again, religion made appearances. A.J. has a new girlfriend who’s got Carmela concerned because she’s 10 years older than him, she has a 3-year-old boy, and she’s Puerto Rican. “Dominican—maybe,” Tony offers feebly. “At least she’s Catholic.”

And when Phil Leotardo suffers a massive heart attack (“Turds in the aorta,” Christopher calls it, “a medical first”), Tony goes to the hospital to try to ease the tension between them, understandably, because he's just learned Phil is considering a hit on someone (unspecified) close to Tony. “Now I never told nobody this,” Tony says to Evil Phil, bedside. “But while I was in that coma something happened to me. I went someplace. I think. But I know I never want to go back there. And maybe you know what I’m talking about.”

Tony didn’t elaborate on what he saw—hell, darkness, an empty refrigerator—but Phil, though silent and grim—had a tear of recognition in his eye.

“You take your time,” Tony continues. “You get better. You get out of this fucking place. But when you do, you focus on grandkids. The good things. We can have it all, Phil. Plenty for everybody.”

That’s a lesson Tony is still trying to learn. “He thinks everything is his,” Christopher explains to Juliana, the real estate agent Tony has a thing for and who Christopher is banging on the side during his wife’s pregnancy (“playground is closed, and a man has his needs,” he reasons). Here, Christopher risks running terribly afoul of Tony because, even though T never actually slept with Juliana, he did “in his mind,” and thus “planted a flag.” Christopher knows Tony suspects he’s got something going on with Juliana, so he comes clean, mostly because he knows if Tony snoops he’s bound to discover something much worse—that Christopher has relapsed and is doing junk with Juliana.

Tony responds that he doesn’t give a fuck if Christopher sleeps with her. But in the very next scene, of course, Tony unloads to Dr. Melfi about the cruel unfairness of it all—how he forfeited an opportunity to cheat on Carmela with yet another beautiful woman, and what’s his reward? “My fucking turkey neck of a nephew winds up with his dick in there. A guy I have to see every day.”

Melfi sees progress in his response; at least, she says, he didn’t erupt in an act of violence against his nephew. “Well, Christmas isn’t over yet,” fumes Tony.

There’s a moral in all this staring Tony right in the face, but Melfi has to spell it out for him. “You came out of that shooting feeling every day is a gift,” she says. “Well, this is a corollary to that.”

“A what?” he says.

“You don’t have to eat every dish of rigatoni,” she explains. “You don’t have to fuck every female you meet.”

Fortunately for Tony—and us—he’s got eight more episodes to work on that one.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 7, 2006

Like We Need Another Reason to Hate Ann Coulter...

“Witches”—that’s what Ann Coulter calls the four New Jersey widows who lost their husbands on 9/11 and demanded to know why, criticizing the Bush administration and calling attention to the failures that led to the attacks.

"I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much," Coulter writes in her new book, “Godless,” according to the New York Daily News.

“These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.”

"I'd like her to meet my daughter and tell her how anyone could enjoy their father's death," Kristen Breitweiser, one of the widows, told the Daily News.

“She sounds like a very disturbed, unraveled person," Breitweiser added.

Amen, sister.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 6, 2006

The Day of the Beast

Today is June 6, 2006—6-6-6—the day when the Antichrist, the very incarnation of Evil, will rise up, projectile vomiting green slime and bringing death, destruction, and decay to all the world. I'm referring, of course, to Ann Coulter. Today, the conservative commentator releases her latest foray into lunacy, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” She chose the book’s pub date specifically. "It's my little tribute to liberals to have it come out on six, six, six," said the Bad Seed in USA Today, confused about whom the joke is really on.

Coulter isn’t the only one hoping to tap the heebie jeebies associated with the “number of the beast” to promote a demonic release. Today, 20th Century Fox launches “The Omen,” a remake of the 30-year-old horror film, and the music industry kicks off Slayer’s “Unholy Alliance Tour—Preaching to the Perverted,” Deicides’ “The Stench of Redemption” album, and David Lee Roth’s ridiculously titled new record, “Strumming With the Devil.”

Will 6/6/06 give all this crap a boost? MSNBC contributor Dave White doesn’t think so. “Because as of June 6, 2006,” he writes, “Satan is officially lame, ruined by advertising.” Here are his six reasons why.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 2, 2006

Goodfellas for God

"While there are countless progressive Catholics around the world with a true sense of compassion and moral integrity, the mob Catholics of 'The Sopranos' are the product of an outdated, suffocatingly traditional Catholicism that prefers ritual to reflection, obedience to individual discernment, routine confession to genuine atonement. The killers turn up regularly at church for weddings, baptisms, communions, funerals and festivals, happily going through all the Good Catholic motions. Meanwhile, their wives who, by and large, have never made the acquaintance of an original thought, parrot everything 'Father' says like clueless children or bleating sheep. And when it comes to what Father says about homosexuality, 'The Sopranos' ascends into the rarified realm of true, unblemished absurdity."

From Mary Beth Crain's latest essay, "The Sopranos"' Mob Catholicism.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

June 1, 2006

Other Voices, Other Worlds

When Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita and Senior Bishop of the Church of the Province of Melanesia, felt “the shock of the 1998 Lambeth Conference plenary debate and resolution unambiguously declaring any homosexual practice incompatible with Scripture and, therefore, a sin,” he decided to canvass the globe in order to understand the extent to which homosexual practice actually occurs in indigenous cultures.

The result was “Other Voices, Other Worlds,” a collection of 24 essays by writers of stature, some with ecclesiastical responsibility, all thoughtful and filled with compassion, that offers a rich and varied view of homosexuality throughout the world and in the church.

Continue reading Puck Purnell's review, Gays in the Church.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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