Around the World Pic: Statue of Romulus and Remus in Rome

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I love Roman and Greek mythology. I can’t say that it’s really my forte (pronounced fort whether you believe it or not), but I do enjoy it thoroughly. Do you? What’s your favorite story?

Anyway, my friend Jennifer and I visited a number of museums as we traveled around western Europe, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to visit these museums with. As an art historian she has a way of making art very relevant for me in a way that it otherwise might not have been. How? By relating it to the history and religion that I’m familiar with, of course.

In Rome, she took a picture of me with this statue, which we both remembered from our high school Latin text books. Yes, it is Romulus and Remus, the abandoned twins, being suckled by the she-wolf that saved their lives. I’ll let you guess as to which of the two founded the ancient city of Rome…yes, that’s right – ROMulus.

I love statues. I think they look better in homes than paintings. I wish I could have this one. It’s so bizarre.

Have you been to Rome? Have you seen this statue? What did you think?

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Around the World Pic: Thuy, Peter and I at the Berlin Wall

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This Around the World pic is dedicated to the girl you see on the lefthand side of this photo. Her name is Thuy, and she rocks. She’s an old college friend of mine who happened to be traveling in Greece while Peter and I were traveling in Europe and she decided to meet us in Berlin, Germany for a day, before the three of us moved on together to Amsterdam.

Why is this picture dedicated to her? Because she’s visiting me in San Francisco right now! As a med-student in San Diego, she finally resides somewhere near me and so we’ve been able to connect four times already since I’ve moved out here. She’s come here to celebrate New Years with me. Awesome!

This picture is the three of us standing in front of the Berlin Wall, perhaps one of the most divisive – and now uniting – symbols in the entire world. Berlin was a really cool city and it’s a shame that we were only able to spend a day there. We did have lunch at an insanely expensive TGI Fridays.

Have you been to Berlin? To the Berlin Wall? What did you think?

And, oh yeah – HAPPY NEW YEAR. May your 2009 be filled with health, happiness and success.

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Around the World Pic: Texas Honkey Tonk Cantina in Tallin, Estonia

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Oh, the memories of the Honkey Tonk Texas Cantina in Tallin, Estonia. Tallin, by the way, is a magnificent little capital on the Baltic. We ended up spending three days there, which was most unexpected considering the speed with which we had been moving.

One day, as we were walking around Tallin, we stumbled upon this little gem. Tallin, Estonia – Honkey Tonk Texas Cantina. What!?! we cried, before shoving our way inside and demanding a table.

We enjoyed wings, quesadillas, and a variety of other hilarious tex-mex food that was entirely out of place in Estonia. We decided, too, that we would speak like hicks the entire time we were there, figuring that these random people on the Baltic wouldn’t understand our English, much less our ridiculous accents.

As it happens, Estonians, because their language is so obscure and useless worldwide, all speak relatively perfect English with little or no accents, and when we spoke like jackasses – a charade that we insisted on maintaining through the duration of our meal – they knew exactly what was going on. Yeah, we were idiots.

Have you ever been to Tallin, Estonia? Are you aware of this hilarious restaurant?

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Around the World Pic: Jewish Cemetery in Prague

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During my European travels I went to a lot of Jewish sites, a lot of churches, and any Mosque that I was fortunate enough to find. I love going into religious building and locations around the world. One thing that’s always easy enough to find is the Jewish cemetery, because all the Jews are always buried there since the community was only given one small plot of land for such things.

The particular cemetery in the photo I took above is located in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic – and it’s right in the middle of the city.

In this Jewish cemetery, as in others throughout Europe, people were buried one on top of the other, separated by approximately 6-18 inches of dirt. Then their tombstones were places one in front of the other. Why? No space for all the dead people! When you walk around the cemetery this makes for a particularly interesting look as tomb stones many hundreds of years old are leaning on each other and crammed together in ways hardly seen in more ‘modern’ graveyards.

Of additional note is the fact that this cemetery is filled with very important Jewish rabbis and wise men because Prague was a huge Jewish center both as a community and a place of learning. People went to Prague from all over the Jewish world to learn with its scholars and rabbis and to see a place of such renown. People stood at the graves of many of these famous men and prayed.

Care to share your experiences with us about visiting different cemetaries?

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Around the World Pic: Canyoning in Beautiful Interlachen, Switzerland

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Canyoning was one of the most intense things I did in four months in Europe. I was in Interlachen, Switzerland, the extreme sports capital of the world. Day 1 I went Alpine White Water rafting. Day 2 I went canyoning. After this 750 foot descent down waterfalls and into canyons day 3, when I went skydiving, was a piece of cake.

What an incredible three days.

Have you been to Interlachen? Switzerland? Have you been canyoning? Did you love it?

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Around the World Pic: A Statue of Jesus with a Jewish Prayer on a Prague Bridge

When I first went to Prague I thought this statue was incredibly fascinating. It is a statue of Jesus on the cross but around him are the words, in Hebrew, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts.” These words are part of an important prayer uttered by Jews every day the world over. They, under no circumstances, refer to Jesus, and so finding this statue on the Charles Bridge in Prague was a bizarre discovery for me.

As it happens, these golden Hebrew letters were part of a humiliating punishment assigned to a Jew at the end of the 17th century who’d been accused of blasphemy. He was forced to pay for them, and it made it seem that when the Jews said this prayer, they were referring to Jesus.

Needless to say, my love of European history and studying Jewish-Christian relations, made stumbling across this statue a wonderful treat.

Plus, a friend of mine stripped down to his boxers right here and planned to jump over the edge before something (Jesus?) compelled him to stop, because the river was likely more shallow than he imagined.

Have you ever been to Prague? Have you seen this statue? What’d you think?

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To read about Jesus’ connection to King David in the book of Matthew because of Hebrew lettering, click HERE.

The French Finally Get Something Right by Allowing a Woman to Sue the Church of Scientology for Fraudulent Practices

No, it’s not often that I like anything done by the French government, but finally, they’ve got something right. Let’s just hope that they can keep it that way.

Currently, in France, Scientology is not on a list of recognized religions and it is considered a commercial enterprise. Indeed, it is. The ‘church’ sells numerous products, makes outrageous and false claims about what they do, and only really cares about money.

After a woman gave the church nearly 20,000 Euros for illegally prescribed drugs, courses, books and counseling with an e-meter (that nonsensical device with no scientific backing), she finally realized (guess she wasn’t that bright to begin with) that the stuff was hocus pocus and is suing Scientology for fraud. Good for her.

Scientologists protest because they insist that they have already been cleared of similar charges. Shouldn’t they take a hint considering how many people are pissed and consider this fraudulent nonsense? Well, they probably have – it’s the people who keep joining Scientology that don’t get it.

In any case, I hope this woman sues successfully and wins, because Scientology is a scam that deserves to be shut down. At least booting it out of France and requiring it to give money to people will be a small start.

What do you think about suing Scientology?

To read about more Scientology in the news click HERE, which will lead you to South Park episodes about Scientology.

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In the News: Protestants and Catholics Still Over Centuries-Long War

U.S. President George W. Bush has just gone to the Vatican where he was welcomed warmly by Pope Benedict XVI. That is, an evangelical leader of the free/WASP/non-Catholic world (perhaps that’s giving a lot of credit to Bush, but allow it for the sake of comparison, please) has met with the Pope, the spiritual leader of the world’s billion or so Catholics.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to not the sixteenth century.

Now, of course, pope’s and U.S. presidents have been meeting for years now, and the Catholic Church and the Protestant world (though it isn’t so easily grouped in a unified way as Catholicism) have long since made amends…effectively. I for one, would like to state quite clearly how awesome that is.

We really take for granted in our day how wonderful it is that there is a relative amount of unity, a high degree of peace and a general disregard for the differences between Catholics and Protestants. The Christian world is pretty much A-ok on an inter-denominational basis. Sure, the Christian and Muslim worlds are effectively at war (though I neither believe that it is as ubiquitous as I have made it sound nor as dichotomized as Christian v. Muslim), but it’s great that Catholic-Protestant relations are at the height of their strength. Why am I harping on this issue, you ask?

Well, it really wasn’t like that for a very long time. The Puritan roots of this country can be traced back to a need to escape the Anglican Church because it was too close to and corrupted with popery – or Catholicism – Puritans claimed. People in the colonies hated, persecuted and banned Catholics in various places for a very long time. Life as a Catholic in America wasn’t easy for a while. Now, can I blame Protestants (back-in-the-day Protestants, that is), for being terrified of and hating Catholics? Considering the Church’s history and the way it treated dissenters, no, I really can’t, but let me be frank: relations never had to normalize.

Wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe were on an unimaginable scale, comparable to parts of the crusades, in certain areas of Europe killing up to a third of the population (sometimes more deadly than the Black Plague), and many people believed that Catholic and Protestant countries would never be at peace with one another. Slowly but surely, however, countries realized that interests other than religion set them at odds with one another and unified them with each other, and today, in our post-industrial, post-Cold War, newly hyper-globalized world, issues like whether you are a Protestant or Catholic country are really not the issues at hand. And that’s spectacular.

But then again, we’re not talking about countries, per se. The Holy See may be a country, but at the end of the day, it’s the Roman Catholic Church through and through, and I still think it’s awesome that an evangelical Protestant leader and the pope can greet each other warmly and genuinely, get along, discuss their common goals and interests (even if, unfortunately, some of those happen to be banning abortion and stem-cell research and continuing to promote abstinence – issues we will get to in due time, I’m sure), and be so friendly. It’s important, and not what one would expect after a few centuries of animosity and wars. If in the seventeenth century you’d asked who a Christian’s biggest enemy was, he’d say, a Catholic – never a Muslim, a Democrat or Oprah Winfrey or anything like that (don’t you love topical humor!).

So, that’s my thouhgt: we shouldn’t take for granted that the Protestant and Catholic worlds are effectively at peace (save a few small pockets of course), and when U.S. Presidents and Popes are hanging out together, we should appreciate that we’ve come a long way since the Thirty-Years War.

Note about tomorrow’s post: I will be posting in the afternoon because tomorrow is Movie/Book review day and I am going to see a matinée of The Happening. I have pretty low expectations but a close friend is a screenwriter of horror movies so we’re going – let’s see if it can break the low bar I’ve set. Check back tomorrow afternoon for the review of The Happening.

Around the World Pic of the Day: The Vatican & Red Hot Catholic Love

Jay in the Vatican

It’s a crappy picture I know – a little too dark, not centered, etc. – but it’s so appropriate for tonight’s episode of South Park, “Red Hot Catholic Love.” This is absolutely one of my favorite episodes. When the priest-molesting-boy scandal makes the South Park parents fear for their children’s safety, they abandon the Church and become atheists. In the meantime, Father Maxi goes to the Vatican to try to put a stop to the molestation and save Catholicism and the results and closing words of the episode are inspirational and amazing.

Personally, I found the Vatican to be one of the most sensational places I visited in four months of non-stop backpacking around Europe. The Vatican Museum was by far my favorite museum, especially Raphael’s School of Athens painting. It was breathtaking and brought tears to my eyes. The collection aside from that was spectacular, and I can’t even imagine all of the amazing knowledge waiting to be found in the Vatican’s files and libraries. Conceptually, that it’s a country, the place is also fascinating – so small and entirely inside the capital city of another country! St. Peter’s Basilica is unbelievably enormous (though the statues everywhere I found a little weird – kind of pagan and a little too cult worshippy). All in all, though, a sensational place that I recommend to every traveler.

But the issues in the Catholic Church are fascinating and require greater scrutiny – something that South Park gives us in episode 608. Why do the South Park parents go atheist? Are their reasons connected to their concerns about their children? Do you agree that when people don’t have any mythology to try to live their lives by they just start spewing a whole bunch of crap out of their mouths? A fantastic episode – do not miss it!

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South Park Tonight – Two Episode Wednesdays

Without new episodes of South Park airing in the off season, viewers like you and me are guaranteed an hour of enjoyable watching between 9:30 and 10:30. Tonight’s episodes are Free Hat (609) and Over Logging (1206). Despite the great lead-in with the latter episode, now, I don’t think, is the time to go into the effect of the internet on our society…oh, hell, for just a second maybe.

I love the internet. It’s a symbol of globalization. “Globalization!” you say, amazed that I could support a process that has such a devastating effect on the nearly extinct Nabotu tribe of southern Guinea that hasn’t contacted the outside world in 476 years. Well, fuck the Nabotu, I say. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great for people to embrace and appreciate their own cultures, but I don’t think the world should slow down because the Nabotu want to keep circumcising their women. And what is the ultimate symbol of the world’s speed and progress and most importantly, interconnectedness: the Internet. With the Internet we have all become connected to each other and we are all able to see the way that others love, making it impossible for those living in crappy circumstances to continue accepting a crappy deal from their crappy governments. And so they advocate for change. The Internet also creates more economic dependency faster than ever before and it is this that I believe is the key factor for preventing wars between nations: economic relationships.

Take France and Germany, for example. Terrible enemies for hundreds of years, and the major continental enemies of the World Wars, and after the economic integration of the post war years (thank you Allies for not devastating Germany the way you could have) the two countries have never been closer and a war between them would only result in mutually assured destruction for either. No more continental-wide European wars are even possible. It’s beautiful. Thank you globalization and thank you Internet for speeding that up. And that brings us to episode 1206, about our society’s dependence on the Internet.

What do you think of Globalization? Do you support its trajectory?

Yes, we certainly are, and it’s not always healthy or reasonable but hopefully the trend is pendulum like and eventually we will all start to realize the importance of a healthier balance in our lives than we have now – not that some of us don’t still play outside, enjoy sunshine and summer activities, interact with loved ones normally, etc. So, watch episode 1206 if only for Randy cuming so thoroughly that he covers the room in his semen.

Episode 609, Free Hat, is a great episode for a lot of reasons, including the way it attacks the foolish Hollywood enhancement of movies that were great the way they were. Notably, when the boys bring Speilberg and Lucas on Nightline, Cartman explains that the two director-producers are only concerned with money. Why? Coppell asks. Because they’re all Jews, Cartman explains. Lucas mentions, a bit confused, that he’s not a Jew. What is the purpose of this anti-Semitic (and hilarious) demagoguery? Chapter 9 of The Zen of South Park, all about stereotyping and anti-Semitism, will explain.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this scene or other similar ones or where a particular stereotype generates from?

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