Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by Benedict XVI

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by Pope Benedict XVI

As a farewell to our beloved pope (who steps down today as I am publishing this), I've been reading some of his books. I plan to reread his first Jesus of Nazareth book since it is soon to be discussed (soon being May 16, 2013, in case you are wondering) on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. On to my review...

Just before he was elected pope, Joseph Ratzinger wrote a short book based on some lectures he had delivered. The lectures are about the conflict between traditional religious cultures and the rationalistic culture dominant in today's society. The contemporary political culture has grown from a desire to have a pluralistic society founded only on rational principles and that does not discriminate against any one. The ultimate value is the individual's right to self expression, as long as that does not harm the rights of others.

The difficulty arises when the value, and indeed the rational foundation of society, is detached from the Judeo-Christian roots from which it grew. Legitimate rights for women to continue professional work, have a good reputation, and maintain a reasonable lifestyle come into conflict with an unborn child's right to life. In practical application, the rights of the unborn are denied in favor of other's rights, resulting in a contradiction. Human rights are assumed to be assigned by the state and not belong to humans by their very nature. When the state assumes this power, it betrays the democratic ideals of the rationalistic culture since it allows the weak, powerless, and voiceless to lose their rights in favor of others in a position of power over those defenseless people. That's the law of the jungle masquerading as the law of reason.

Recognizing the fundamental equality of all men and women requires a higher commitment than reason can demand.
...the look I freely direct to the other is decisive for my own dignity, too. I can acquiesce in reducing the other to a thing that I use and destroy; but by the same token, I must accept the consequences of the way I use my eyes here. These consequences fall back on my own head: "You will yourselves be measured by the measure with which you measure." The way I look at the other is decisive for my own humanity. I can treat him quite simply like a thing, forgetting my dignity and his, forgetting that both he and I are made in the image and likeness of God. The other is the custodian of my own dignity. This is why morality, which begins with this look directed to the other, is the custodian of the truth and the dignity of man: man needs morality in order to be himself and not lose his dignity in the world of things. [pp. 96-70]

The pope argues in a persuasive and clear way for a refocusing of the social order. The social order should both acknowledge the achievements made since the Enlightenment and recognizes the importance of the Christian principles which enabled and still enliven those achievements. The book is a good read and a valuable contribution to the current discussions of contemporary culture and society.

Sample Quote, on the need for social interdependence as related to faith: means of my act of trust, I become a sharer in the knowledge of another. This is what we might call the social aspect of the phenomenon of faith. No one knows everything, but all of us together know what it is necessary to know; faith constitutes a network of reciprocal dependence that at the same time is a network of mutual solidarity, where each one sustains the other and is sustained by him. This fundamental anthropological structure can also be seen in our relationship with God, where it finds its original form and its integrating center. [pp. 101-102]
The pope argues earlier that science is the same way--no individual understands all of science but relies on others' knowledge in order to reap the amazing technological fruit we have borne in the 21st century.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Walking Dead Ep. 311, I Ain't a Judas

The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 11: I Ain't a Judas

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Gore level

8 out of 10--Not much zombie killing in this episode, though Andrea does de-hand and de-tooth a zombie so she can visit the prison, which we see in too much detail; the usual amount of unpleasant looking zombies walk around; the Governor changes his eye bandage and we see his wounded eye.

Other offensive content

A little bit of bad language; very questionable loyalties; shadowy female nudity.

How much zombie mythology/content

Nothing new this episode.

How much fun

No big laughs here.

Synopsis & Review

After testing the waters at the prison, the Governor has Woodbury gear up to go on the offensive. Andrea doesn't think this is such a great plan and decides to play peacemaker. That means a trip to the prison to try to talk some sense into Rick and company. The only problem is she's the one who needs some sense talked into her.

At the prison, they discuss what their plans should be. Merle is awkwardly integrating into the group; Rick is pulling it together finally. The group still can't decided what the best course of action is--to run or to stay and fight. Hershel finally reminds Rick that Rick said he would be in charge and would make decisions for the group (what Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman called "the Ricktatorship," which hasn't really happened as far as I can tell). Then Andrea shows up and has a Merle of a time with Rick and company. They aren't sure if she's joining them or scouting for the Governor.

Andrea's conflict is center stage here. She wants the security of Woodbury; she wants safety for her friends at the prison; she wants to be loyal to the Governor but is willing to sneak around behind his back to do it. Maybe she thinks she's got a better perspective since she's been with both groups, but she clearly doesn't see how messed up the Governor really is. She is at once sympathetic and frustrating. She clearly doesn't want to be a Judas to either group, but does that mean she'll be a Judas to both?

The main plot doesn't move forward very much but there are a lot of good character moments for just about everyone.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spanish Food

It should come as no surprise that while we were in Spain, we ate food. Having small children means we had to compromise on what we were eating. Typically we ate dinner at our hotel/apartment, so we could eat earlier and eat food the kids are familiar with. But we ate out for lunch most of the time and the kids (especially J) were good at trying new things.

When we stopped for a snack in Marbella, I had the traditional breakfast for the region. Toast is served with olive oil and a tomato sauce that is not much more than tomatoes run through a blender. The tomatoes came in a fancy pouring jar and the whole thing was a refreshing snack. Spaniards would typically have coffee con leche with this dish, but not being a coffee drinker I opted for tea.

Bread, olive oil, tomato puree

J had a delicious carrot cake, though he was initially put off by the sauce they had drizzled on it. He had a taste and really loved it. It was a caramel sauce. Usually he's not a big fan of sweets but he loved this.

In Malaga, for our tapas lunch we tried to order the chicken nuggets for the kids, but they were out. We also tried to order a fish dish that was not available. We settled for the Serrano ham, a salt-cured meat that dries in the crisp mountain air. J tried some and loved it in spite of his initial hesitancy. We also ordered a pizza, which was surprisingly unpopular with the children. They gobbled up the cheese plate we ordered (Manchego cheese made from ewe's milk), along with our side of bread.

On our trip to Ronda, we had tapas at one of the local restaurants, Veronica's. Perusing the menu, I spotted something called "dogfish." Having never seen any catfish in England or Europe, I was curious to try this canine icthus. My wife was hesitant. We also ordered Serrano ham. J wanted a Spanish omelet, which is basically eggs and potatoes. A plate of Manchego cheese finished our order. We were a little intimidated by the prices but had the wonderful surprise of full plates coming to our table!

Tapas from Ronda

The other great surprise was the dogfish. It came as deep-fried nuggets. They were quite flavorful and had a wonderful lemony taste. My wife's fears were eased. We all enjoyed our food quite a bit, being the best meal out we had up to that point.

The next day we stopped for a snack in Antequera, where L had the thickest hot chocolate ever and we had the greasiest churros ever. Churros are a light dough deep fried in some sort of curved shape. Ours came like that fish symbol for Jesus. Perhaps they were going for one of those "awareness" ribbons that people wear on their lapels (cholesterol awareness?). The churros were yummy but we could feel our cholesterol skyrocketing. As for L's hot chocolate, chunks of chocolate were floating in it. My wife poured the leftover milk from our tea into L's beverage, and it barely made a dent in the thickness!

J was afraid to try the ominously lit snack

L couldn't wait to try them!

In Granada, we had a snack at one of the local cafes. The locals were ordering bread with olive oil and/or tomatoes, we ordered pastries.

Spanish pastries

My pastry looks kind of meaty, but it is actually coated in strawberry paste and then a thin layer of white icing to get that pink, porkish hue. J and Mommy shared a chocolate-covered cookies (that's already cut up into pieces). L saw a jar of what seemed like M&Ms. When we asked the guy at the service bar for some, he gave us a strange look and a small scoop. L loved them. And, we weren't charged.

Later, we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant called Martin's near our apartment. We ordered tapas again. L and J asked for salad but we parents were not careful about the salad we ordered. We wound up with a plate of tomato slices and mozzarella chunks drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It was very tasty but the kids only wanted the cheese. We also ordered a plate of cheese and calamari. For some unexplained reason, the waitress (or Waitrose as J referred to her) brought us a small plate of tiny mussels and another bowl of eggplant, tomatoes and onions, which were all very yummy but soon became too much food. We couldn't finish the calamari, which was also quite good. The calamari plate decoration was some fancy green leaves, which satisfied L's salad craving in a way the tomato dish did not. So it worked out. At the end of the meal, J had us all say it was "delicioso," which he learned from Dora the Explorer.

From the store, we bought a box of Spanish cookies, a mix of mantecados and polvorones. The cookies are a bit powdery but not dry. Cinnamon is the standard flavoring, unless the cookie (each was individually wrapped) had some special flavoring, like cacao (chocolate) or coco (coconut) or limon (lemon). We loved all the cookies.

By the time I took the picture, only the box was left

At the Alhambra, one of our courses at lunch was a yummy soup made with egg, Serrano ham, bread, and broth. It was delicious and delightful to the eye as well.

Granada-style soup

On our last day in Spain, we finally had paella. This dish is a spicy rice dish, usually focusing on either seafood, meat (carne!!) or vegetarian option. The cafe had one waitress/cook/barista/cashier, so I think the dish was more pre-fabricated than most paellas you can find. We liked it but it didn't knock us out.

We had mixta (seafood, carne, and veggies!)

The food in Spain was really good though we haven't fallen in love with any dishes enough to try to recreate them at home. We're looking forward to our next trip to Paris and Germany, which will begin soon!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Exterior and Gardens of Malaga Cathedral

The Malaga Cathedral has an impressive exterior and is surrounded by lush gardens that include some nice sculptures.

The front has a single tower (they ran out of funding for the other tower) and a very impressive doorway. A plaza has the usual fountain which J loved and a nice building across the street.

Malaga Cathedral

Incomplete tower in the foreground

J and the fountain

Across the street, not sure what the building is for but it looks nice

In addition to the main doors in the front, the two side doors are notable. The Doorway of Chains is the main entrance for visitors and is named after the chains that close off the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. The Doorway of the Sun is more ornate and faces the south side of the Cathedral, so naturally it gets more sun.

The Doorway of Chains

The Doorway of the Sun

The Courtyard of Orange Trees has many fine sculptures in it. One statue of Our Lady of Victory commemorates the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. Other sculptures seem to have a bell-motif and are more modern in style.

Our Lady of Victory

Bell sculpture

Another bell sculpture

The garden does have orange trees but not too many had fruit. It also has some pools and interesting pathways that the children pretended were mazes.

Part of the Courtyard of Orange Trees

Back of the Cathedral

As with many of our visits, after seeing the church we had a wonderful snack at a local cafe. More about Spanish food in tomorrow's post!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Malaga Cathedral

When the Catholic Kings reconquered Malaga in August of 1487, they did the typical thing and reconsecrated the main mosque as a Catholic Church. Soon a project began to make an entirely new cathedral in the Gothic style. The plan was abandoned in 1525 due to excessive costs and other problems. The next year, a new project began with a new design in the Renaissance style. Work began on the church and continued to 1588. By then a portion was completed and the bishop, Luis Garcia de Haro, moved the cathedral from the ex-mosque to the partially completed new building. Work more or less stopped at that point with a great deal left to finish. An attempt to restart work in the mid-1600s failed. When a report in the 1700s noted the risk of the structure collapsing, a new design began and construction resumed. Some controversial taxes were levied to pay for the expenses but they were not enough to cover the costs and work stopped again in 1782. Only one of the two towers for the front was completed. The locals nicknamed the cathedral La Manquita or The One-armed Lady. Since then only minor additions were made (some stained glass and some interior chapels).

The One-armed Lady of Malaga

In spite of the checkered history of its construction, the Malaga Cathedral is still an impressive sight inside and outside. Visitors enter through the Doorway of the Chains, so called because the chains separated the courtyard with the orange trees from the church proper.

Doorway of the Chains

Interior door

The interior has a long nave with a large choir in the middle and side aisles lined with chapels dedicated to various saints or inspired by various devotions.

The choir is interesting in that it has its own altar apart from the high altar. Also in the wall of the choir is the Retro-choir with statues to various saints.

Choir flanked by massive organs

Choir altar

Impressive organ

Choir book!

Retro-choir Pieta

St. Mary Magdalene

St. John

The high altar is easily visible from the choir and is nicely impressive.

High Altar


Like most cathedrals we visited in Spain, this one had a nativity displayed (it was still early January).


Many different chapels adorn the side aisles of the church.

Chapel of St. Sebastian

Chapel of St. Raphael

Chapel of the Incarnation

Chapel of St. Barbara

Chapel of St. Francis

Chapel of the Sacred Heart

Over the sacristy door is a fine painting, Feast of the Pharisees, by Flemish artist Miguel Manrique in the 17th century.

Feast of the Pharisees, Miguel Manrique, 17th c.

Another impressive painting is The Beheading of St. Paul by Enrique Simonet in 1887. I love how his separated head still has a saintly glow.

Beheading of St. Paul, Enrique Simonet, 1887

The Tomb of Archbishop Luis de Torres (who died in 1553) is found in the Chapel of St. Francis. His expectant rest is pretty common for tombs all over Europe. I assume he's waiting anxiously for the resurrection of the body at the end of time!

Tomb of Archbishop Luis de Torres

We'll wander around the exterior of the church in our next post!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: Costa Del Sol/Spain's Southern Coast

Insight Pocket Guide: Costa Del Sol/Spain's Southern Coast edited by Barnard Collings

We rely a lot on guide books for finding the best things during our vacations. One guide book that we really loved was the one we used for our Mediterranean Coast of Spain trip. The guide has a good and not-too-long history of the area. A good map of the general area gives the reader an overview of what is where. Then several itineraries are given, usually dedicated to one town or area. All the important sights in that town are listed and a recommended walking route (from a recommended parking area) leads the reader/tourist to all the good stuff. Small, accurate maps of each itinerary are provided, along with dining and shopping recommendations. We made a lot of good use of this book even if we didn't follow itineraries exactly.

The size of the book is great too. A lot of tour books cover whole countries and are not so practical to carry around day to day. This slim volume (94 pages) is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and not heavy enough to be a bother (unlike the DK books that we love but are a bit much to tote around as we tour). The maps are wonderful and the back has an index of hotels, restaurants, and other useful information for the local area and Spain in general. We will definitely keep an eye out for similar editions for other places we go.

SAMPLE LAYOUT: The first page on Antequera. Click to enlarge.

Unfortunately, out of print on Amazon--check your local library, where we found ours!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Walking Dead, Ep. 310: Home

The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 10: Home

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Gore level

8.0 out of 10--The episode goes on for a while with no zombies in sight, but the second half is full of full-on violent zombie mayhem--the usual head shots, splatters, etc, with a couple of creative uses of cars to kill, including running over heads with spilling brains and closing car doors on the zombies; Glenn still looks pretty bad though he is starting to heal up; human on human violence, mostly gunfire related.

Other offensive content

Minimal bad language; one character is crazy, having visions of a dead person; questionable and hypocritical attitudes toward looting; hard family discussions.

How much zombie mythology/content

Nothing new this episode.

How much fun

There was a bit of "splat-stick" humor when a zombie who'd already been incapacitated was run over (unintentionally) on his head and some brains stuck to the tire. It's kinda like the old toilet paper stuck on the shoe routine. Maybe I'm the only one who laughed at that bit.

Synopsis & Review

The Governor is moving his plans forward, though he doesn't seem to be playing it straight with anybody. He wants Andrea to take care of things in Woodbury but he asks Mitch to keep an eye on her while he disappears for a little bit. Woodbury is tensely holding itself together.

Not holding together so well is series hero Rick, who is going crazy, specifically seeing and following around his dead wife. With Daryl gone, that leaves the still steaming mad Glenn in charge. Glenn keeps changing his plan from assassinating the Governor in Woodbury to fortifying the prison assuming the Governor will strike soon. Maggie is pretty unhappy with the situation and they have a little talk that just makes things more tense. The prison is becoming a less viable option as a home for them.

Daryl and Merle are off on their own adventures. Their relationship is nicely developed, especially due to the unniceness of Merle. Their family history and dynamics are quite interesting to watch and are well written. Hopefully they are too popular to die off soon and we'll get to see more.

Yet another episode of good plot development and character building that leaves dedicated viewers waiting for more. 

Malaga Castillo Interpretation Center

The Castillo de Gibralfaro has a small museum that covers the history of the castle at the top of the hill. It was used as a military garrison and coastal lookout from 1487 up to 1925, when the town was put in control of the civilian population. The castle was then decommissioned. The museum covers the military history of the castle century by century.

Starting in the 16th century, we see a chest with various implements on it and some weapons from the period.

Chest with some writing paper and flagons

Weapons of the 1500s

Of special interest is a falconet, an artillery piece used as a siege weapon. Typically they were about four feet long, so this model is a miniature.


A typical soldier is on display. His main weapon is a halberd (a combination of the German words Halm (staff) and Barte (axe)), hence he is called a Halberdier. Since it's a two-handed weapon, I'm not sure how his shield works, unless that's for more close quarter combat with a sword or dagger.

16th century Spanish soldier

The 17th century is also represented by weapons and a chest with period items.

Chest, flagon, and small sword/large dagger

The 17th century soldier is armed with an arquebus (from the Dutch haakbus meaning "hook gun;" it is a forerunner of the rifle) and sword. His bandoleer has twelve gunpowder charges, affectionately known as the "twelve apostles."

17th century warrior

The 18th century features more elaborate furniture and firearms.

Desk and cupboard

Rifle, halberd, and trunk

At one point, a Royal Navy Training College was in the area. The model ship (called Corbeta San Telmo) was used in practical training of officers.

Model ship from the naval training college

The 19th century has its weapons and soldier, an infantry officer from the Peninsular War.

19th century rifles

Napoleonic-era officer

The 20th century also has its weapons and soldiers, though they all come from the early years of the 1900s since the fort was decommissioned in 1925.

Early modern firearms

20th century soldier armed with rifle and bayonet

These various historical displays line the outer walls of the museum. In the middle is a set of miniatures representing the 1805 first battalion of the Regimento Fijo de Malaga.

Infantry with supporting artillery

The band

Also on display are various stamps used throughout the period and some navigation and cartography instruments. Finally, there is a model of the town with the alcazaba and the castillo above it.

Malaga model