Archive | October, 2010

Hidden heroes of World War II given their due in entertaining format: Pulp history

October 30, 2010


Remember “Classics Illustrated”?

The comic book-style versions of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Treasure Island” and “The Three Musketeers”, were my first taste of great stories.

Simon & Schuster taps into some of that cartoon format in “Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler,” one of the publisher’s “Pulp History” series.

First, though, these are great stories that keep you turning the pages.

  • A one-time school teacher is dropped into occupied France and organizes resistance groups that badger the Nazis. Will he survive?
  • A young female refugee parachutes into France to send wireless messages right under the noses of the Germans. Will she escape before she can be caught?
  • Norwegians face impossible odds and endure incomparable suffering to try to blow up the factory making heavy-water that the Allies fear the Germans will use to create nuclear bombs. Will they get there to place their explosives, and, if they do, will they get out alive?

Great writing by Gary Kamiya of these stories of the agents of the British Special Operations Executive makes for 163 pages of entertainment, and the illustrations by Jeffrey Smith would make great posters if any of these stories of behind-enemy-lines fighters were to become movies.

Archival photos and propaganda posters from both sides of the conflict and informative sidebars add to a unique fun read that’s educational as well.

Yet, as thrilling as the spy stories are, as exciting as it is to read about the hidden heroes that helped to win the war, the post-script of “Shadow Knights” makes this work of history something to make today’s reader think about the events of our own time.

It isn’t far-fetched to read about the deaths of innocent civilians when a spy blows up a Nazi boat and think of both the deaths of thousands of innocents at the World Trade Center and the leaked informaton about the deaths of thousands of innocents in Iraq due to the terribly named “collateral damage.”

“Shadow Knights” makes it clear that the stories of the SOE agents is a tribute to the power of humans to sacrifice for others and achieve incredible feats for a greater goal; they do not glorify war.

An excerpt carries that message. David Howarth, who helped run the legendary small-boat service between Scotland and Norway for SOE, wrote:

” To ascribe glory to the violent death of any yong man loving life is only to add further folly to the failure of human wisdom which is the cause of war.”

Amen. — bz

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Dressed as a saint for Halloween? Send your photos!

October 30, 2010

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Our family is looking forward to Halloween. We have a tradition of going to the Mall of America for a party and trick-or-treating. My favorite part of it is being able to see the costumes. Minnesota weather is usually pretty cold on Halloween and kids have to cover their costumes with coats and hats to go door-to-door to collect their treats.

At the mall you can see all the elaborate costumes. And there is a wide variety. Parents, teens, toddlers, babies — they all get creative. Over the years, some of my favorites have been a preschooler dressed as a UPS delivery man, a newborn dressed in a bee costume, a really good Captain Jack Sparrow, an impressive Charlie Chaplin, and our own son as Indiana Jones. We didn’t, however, see very many angel or saint costumes.

Halloween is the night before All Saints Day. It was originally called All Hallows Eve and later shortened to Halloween. Costumes were a part of the celebration, but  the focus was on saints.

If you or your kids are dressing as saints or angels for Halloween, send me a picture. Tell me the first name of the person in the picture, their city or parish, and their saint.

I’ll follow up with a gallery of photos on this blog. Send the photos to

Have a happy and safe Halloween!!

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Faith and science: The dialogue continues

October 28, 2010

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I’m asked on occasion to speak to groups about the relationship between faith and science. The No. 1 message they ask me to convey is that faith and science are not inherently opposed to each other — that the church isn’t anti-science.

It’s helpful that the pope, likewise on occasion, takes the time to make that very point.

Most recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke Oct. 28 to 80 scientists gathered at the Vatican for the launching of the Pontifical Academy of Science’s plenary assembly on “The Scientific Legacy of the Twentieth Century.”

He reiterated that science can’t answer all the questions we have about human existence; it cannot answer why we are here or how we should conduct our lives, for example. Our faith guides us on those matters.

But science isn’t something we should fear either because it teaches us more about the universe God created and, in the process, more about God himself.

That’s why there’s a need for an ongoing dialogue. As the pope said:

“Our meeting here today, dear friends, is a proof of the church’s esteem for ongoing scientific research and of her gratitude for scientific endeavor, which she both encourages and benefits from. In our own day, scientists themselves appreciate more and more the need to be open to philosophy if they are to discover the logical and epistemological foundation for their methodology and their conclusions. For her part, the church is convinced that scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man’s spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers.”

Scientists need to search for truth, the pope added. But they also need to apply their discoveries in ways that are just and good for humanity. In this way, science and philosophical reflection go hand in hand.

That’s a dialogue I hope we all can agree with.

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To Photoshop or not to Photoshop

October 26, 2010

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I recently read about a controversy over Photoshopped NASA images. A conspiracy theorist accused NASA of “tampering” with a photo of Saturn’s moons. But what was done was nothing more than a basic clean-up of the image. Because of the type of camera that was used, some alignment of red, green and blue was needed. In my experience, digital images are rarely usable for publication straight from the camera.

Photojournalists have strict guidelines as to what is acceptable use of Photoshop. The program is a powerful image manipulation tool, but we only use a fraction of its capabilities. REUTERS has their guidelines spelled out very clearly. I’m sure NASA has similar guidelines in place to assure that no one is mislead by photos they publish but they still get the spectacular images that are expected.

For us at The Catholic Spirit and the other papers we publish, at the very minimum, images need to be toned to printer specifications, light and dark areas of the image need to be at certain levels so they don’t get too much ink (in the shadows) or no ink at all (in the highlight areas). And often there are dust spots that need to be removed (I have this problem a lot!).

As far as color goes, there are many reasons why the image you get out of the camera doesn’t look exactly like what you saw when you were taking the picture. Maybe it is under exposed, or more commonly the white-balance was set wrong. There is nothing wrong with tweaking the color to make it look more like the scene actually looked.

What we don’t want to do is alter the image to be something other than the scene that was photographed. No taking people out, removing unwanted items like poles, cars, etc…

Here’s an example of a photo I shot recently that needed a little work:

Original, untouched:
A usable version:
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Taking a stand

October 25, 2010


There’s a price for comfort when it comes to deer stands. If you want something that won’t be miserable to sit in for several hours, it usually means added bulk. And, that translates to hard work carrying it into the woods.

That was the case yesterday, when my brother, Paul, and I lugged a heavy duty ladder stand several hundred yards to his favorite spot on a piece of private property near Red Wing. He has shot — or shot at — deer every year for the last seven years. In his first year there, 2003, he shot a beautiful 10-point buck just an hour after sitting down on a 5-gallon bucket.

Not surprisingly, he put up a stand in the same spot the following year. He started with a flimsy ladder stand that I gave him, which had proved too unsturdy for me. It worked fine for Paul, however, because he is much lighter than I am.

So it went until two years ago, when a severe storm pounded the area, destroying both the tree and the stand attached to it. He then started using an old ladder stand that belongs to my dad. I sat in it last year, a few days after the opener, but it was not comfortable at all. Yet, I tried hard to endure the discomfort because Paul had shot a nice buck on opening day, then saw two others within the next hour.

This year, Paul graciously offered me the chance to sit in his spot on opening day, which is Nov. 6. I graciously accepted. Last year, he offered  the same opportunity to my brother, Joe, but he declined because he felt funny about taking away Paul’s spot.

Frankly, I do, too, but I know Paul well enough to realize that he has an extremely generous heart, and he experiences a lot of joy in sharing what he has with others. He has told me repeatedly that he wants me to shoot a deer from his spot, and that he doesn’t care if he gets one or not.

In my mind, Paul is the ultimate team player. Yesterday bore that out. He helped me carry the stand through some thick cover without complaining. Then, he patiently helped me set it up. I got very frustrated at one point because I couldn’t get the ratchet strap to work. That was an important part of the setup because the strap is used to secure the stand to the tree.

I tried and tried, but couldn’t do it. Paul couldn’t, either. I’ve always had trouble with those things. I told him I should take a class in how to use a ratchet strap.

So, there I was, thinking that I would have to make another trip down to put a strap around the tree. Then, I realized that two long sections of rope came with the stand. I decided to try using them to secure the stand to the tree. It worked.

We then went down the edge of the woods about 100 yards to where Paul had installed a portable stand. That’s where he would sit. He climbed up into it and checked it out. Then, it was back to the van in the waning moments of daylight.

We took a few test shots with his shotgun to make sure it was zeroed in, then left for home. I was very tired due to the amount of walking, but I was very glad to finish the job.

The next time I visit the stand, it will be in the blackness before the dawn on the opener. I greatly look forward to that day!

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Learning more about MN’s recent immigrants

October 22, 2010


Photo: From "Becoming Minnesotan" website

The Minnesota Historical Society recently launched a wonderfully informative website featuring oral histories of the state’s recent immigrants. The site, “Becoming Minnesotan,” features excerpts from interviews with members of the Asian-Indian, Hmong, Khmer, Tibetan and Somali communities.

The site also includes added information about the narrators, their communities and the issue of immigration as well as links to resources for students and teachers.

Particularly nifty is an interactive immigration time line that explains significant events in the histories of these communities.

Offering hospitality and support to immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves and their families is a key component of Catholic social teaching. This website offers a great opportunity to learn about these more recent arrivals to our state and dispel misconceptions and stereotypes fed by our unfamiliarity.

Parents should consider looking at the website with their children and talking about their own family histories and how their ancestors first came to America.

Families might also consider putting together some of their own oral histories. A series of podcasts accessible on the website offers advice ranging from getting started and preparing for interviews to writing questions and conducting the interviews.

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Wildlife sightings

October 22, 2010


Good thing I had my binoculars with me yesterday. I used them often while out in the field with two of my sons, William, 12, and Andy, 17.

I just wish we had taken one more shotgun along with us. That would have caused me to buy a fall wild turkey tag for Andy, to go along with William’s youth deer license.

Had I done that, Andy would have been able to take his pick from a group of 16 turkeys that walked by us yesterday afternoon on a farm near Cannon Falls. Instead, we all were treated to the sight of the birds feeding contently along the edge of a corn field awaiting harvest.

Our primary focus was on trying to help William shoot a deer during the four-day youth hunt in southeastern Minnesota, a new concept that the DNR is trying this year (I hope it will continue next year). On the way down, we bought his $13 tag at a hardware store. Had I been thinking, I could have picked up a turkey tag for Andy.

Originally, I was going to buy the turkey tag I had been awarded in the lottery. But, I discovered that I am not allowed to hunt while guiding a youth hunter on the special hunt. However, Andy was allowed to hunt.

I wish I would have thought about this. Actually, the reason I asked Andy to go in the first place was I had been sick for several days and was still feeling a bit weak. I wanted Andy there in case William got a deer, so that I could get some help dragging it out.

Andy generously agreed to supply a little bit of extra muscle. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting to see turkeys. I went to this same farm a year ago on two separate occasions and never saw or heard a bird. So, I figured our chances were slim of seeing one this time.

But, I was wrong. Only minutes after getting settled inside the permanent ground blind located on the far end of the property, I heard the familiar cluck of a wild turkey. I happened to have a few calls in my backpack, so I pulled one out and made a few clucks of my own.

Predictably, the bird answered back and kept clucking even after I shut up. It kept on going and sounded like it was moving in our direction. I figured it was a lone bird looking for some company. In the fall, the birds are gathered in large flocks and really like to stick together. If you find one isolated and can get it to answer your calls, it usually will come in.

It took a while, then I finally spotted movement in the woods somewhere between about 40 and 60 yards away. First one bird appeared, then another and another and another. Eventually, the whole flock stepped out into the field to feed. We probably could have shot then, but it would have been on the outer limits of shotgun range.

The birds worked their way across the field and continued on toward the corn field. They reached it, then ducked in and out of it for about 20 minutes. Finally, they exited the corn field and started walking along the edge — right at us.

It was fun to see the birds come closer, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sick that they were all about to come within shotgun range, and we would have to just sit there and watch them go by. Eventually, they all rounded the corner of the corn field and filed by us at about 30 to 35 yards.

I consoled myself with the thought that, if we had taken a shot, we may have spooked any nearby deer that might have come in for William. Actually, I may have been proved accurate on that point. Not long after that, two deer came out into the field about 150-200 yards away.

Now, we’re in business, I thought. I prayed to the Lord that he would cause the deer to move our way. They angled toward us and went into the corn just like the turkeys did. However, they came back out and headed the opposite way. I probably had my binoculars on them for about 20 t0 30 minutes.

Oh well. It was exciting for all of us to see both deer and turkeys. And, to their credit, William and Andy both said they enjoyed the show, even though neither got a chance to pull the trigger.

This morning, I got a chance to told William that I’m never disappointed about a hunt in which I see game animals. It’s not all about shooting something. I realize that can be a hard sell to a young hunter — or even to an experienced hunter like me!

I think it may be God’s way of putting it all into perspective. It’s very easy for hunters to get all wrapped up in the push for success in harvesting an animal. But, maybe, we should have a different definition of success — being able to enjoy the experience of seeing beautiful creatures that God has created and given to us for our enjoyment, not only to harvest, but to observe with awe and wonder.

The  awe and wonder are still there for me, even at age 49. I never tire of seeing wildlife in their natural environment, doing what they naturally do. The deer and turkeys we saw didn’t seem to notice us at all. They carried on seemingly oblivious to the human predators watching them.

We ended up with a front row seat to a show of God’s glory. How can anyone be disappointed with that?

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Last fall color fling

October 20, 2010


I took advantage of beautiful fall colors just in the nick of time. Last Friday, I had the privilege of doing senior photos of my coworker’s granddaughter, Paige (see photo).

In many years, the colors are just peaking at this time. However, things are early this year and leaves are already falling off the trees. So, I’m glad I scheduled the shoot when I did.

It was a beautiful day with sunshine and light winds. Actually, wind can be my biggest problem. It can wreak havoc with hair, plus it can blow over the battery-powered studio light that I use outdoors to cast nice light on my subject.

We tried several spots in and around the Cathedral with excellent results. Amazingly, in addition to turning leaves, we also found some flowers still in bloom. Just around the corner from the Cathedral parking lot, we spotted a small cluster of purple flowers that worked marvelously. With tight cropping and a zoom lens, a little color goes a long way.

At the very end, we found a wall of ivy that was showing brilliant color. It made a great backdrop for Paige and the navy blue jacket and striped scarf she was wearing. What a way to finish the shoot!

Just two days later, I took my son, Andy, out for his senior pictures. We went to the University of St. Catherine, one of my all-time favorite spots. I was shocked to see the colors were almost gone. We were able to find one small tree sapling with red leaves, and that was it. But, there also were a few trees where the leaves hadn’t turned, so I was able to at least have a green backdrop for his photos.

I always enjoy the fall color, but I get sad that it will be at least six months before the leaves return. I wouldn’t trade the changing seasons, but it’s tough right after the trees become barren. This is precisely why I have come to enjoy deer hunting so much. It gives me something to look forward to during a month that could otherwise be very dull and drab.

The color I now hope to see is the tan winter coat of a whitetail deer.

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Before he was Desmond on ‘Lost’, he was the central character in ‘The Gospel of John’

October 18, 2010

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I was in a religious goods store today, looking through the DVD section, and came across a shocker. Before he played Desmond on the long-running ABC series ‘Lost’, Henry Ian Cusick played ‘The Messiah’ in the 2003 movie, ‘The Gospel of John’.

The funny thing is, I saw that movie when it came out in theaters, and didn’t even realize it was the same actor when I was watching ‘Lost’.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s somewhat unique. The entire film, narration and dialogue, is word-for-word from The Gospel according to St. John the Evangelist.

From Wikipedia:

The Gospel of John is a 2003 film that is the story of Jesus’ life as recounted by the Gospel of John. It is a motion picture that has been adapted for the screen on a word-for-word basis from the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible. This three-hour epic feature film follows John’s Gospel precisely, without additions to the story from other Gospels, nor omission of complex passages.

It’s actually a very good film, and I recommend it. A couple caveats…

  • I still prefer Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’, and Franco Zeffirelli’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.
  • While Henry Ian Cusick does a fine job as Jesus, I still believe Jim Caveziel and Robert Powell in the aforementioned films represent the high-water mark.
  • I wished they would have used a different translation — I’m partial to the Douay-Rheims and NAB translations.

Nitpicking aside, there are some moving sections. My favorite scene was the re-enactment of the marriage feast at Cana, when Our Lord turned water into wine. I don’t recall ever seeing that particular scene filmed in any other Gospel movie. The wardrobe and scenery are also top-notch.

I was a pretty big fan of ‘Lost’, and Desmond was my favorite character. I was happy to see him have a pivotal role in the final episodes. Funny that it escaped me that I’d already seen him in that movie…guess I didn’t recognize him with short hair. 😉

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Norman Rockwell: Sacred Artist?

October 18, 2010

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A few weeks ago, I was in D.C. and decided to join those wandering through the Smithsonian American Art Museum on their lunch hour. The big exhibit was Telling Stories, which linked Norman Rockwell and his snapshot style to major motion pictures. The painting and sketches on display were from the personal collections of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the placards included their take on the tales the artworks conveyed.

It’s no surprise that Rockwell’s illustrations have inspired Hollywood. Most of them convey with a single frame a raw experience of humanity — the same experience, or maybe even broader, than what a movie does in 106 minutes. Rockwell’s brilliance lies in his ability to set the scene, incorporating details like an unruly hat or earned pilot wings pinned just so, so that the viewer can look at the still life and she her own life reflected back at her. People see themselves — or their neighbor, their father, their hero — in Rockwell’s work. He captured an era in an incredible way.

For me, the most profound part of looking at Rockwell paintings is that you’re invited into a silent moment with the people depicted. Often, the subjects are not speaking, and it as if the viewer is stealing a look, like glimpsing a scene through a door accidentally left ajar. In “Girl at Mirror” (1954) a barefoot girl about 11 practices a pout in front of a large mirror, her chestnut hair maturely twisted back, and a picture of Rita Hayworth on her lap. A doll is tossed to the side; uncapped lipstick suggests haste. But there she sits, looking at herself, and — at least for any woman — the image resonates. You can read her thoughts on her face because they’re your thoughts: Am I pretty? Could I be glamorous? When will I grow up? Why do I have to be young? Am I anything at all like my hero?

Rockwell himself said, “In my opinion nothing should ever be shown in a picture which does not contribute to telling the story the picture is intended to tell.”

In “The Storyteller’s Art” from the May issue of America, Terrance W. Klein calls Rockwell’s oeuvre “incarnational” and “art that reveals” — a body of images that accurately expresses the human condition while nourishing the spirit. This is what is so enduring about Rockwell’s illustrations, which included covers for The Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1962. Rockwell’s straightforward approach, rather than simply painting a scene, tells a story, and this method of giving the message, rather than hiding it, has friends like Michelangelo, Giotto, and other greats. And, it’s for exactly this — the “unsophistication” of direct storytelling — that critics have belittled his work.

Yet, Norman’s art deserves a much deeper — and longer — look, Klein argues.

“Unlike conceptual art, which seeks to evoke only a notion or an emotion, the nature of illustration embraces narration and storytelling, an attribute it shares with medieval stained glass windows, which taught the Gospel my means of imagery,” he writes.

“Good art helps us to perceive something of this world’s truth and, this world’s beauty,” he adds.

The author links this idea to Los Angles’ Cathedral of the Angels presence within the city sprawl — the real, gritty, beautiful presence of art in the real world. This comment reminded me of that cathedral’s saint tapestries, showing holy men and women lined in a perpetual procession toward the altar. The artistry itself is astounding, but what I found most compelling is the way the saints were shown — not airbrushed, effeminate or aloof, but real, worn, and lifelike. Totally Rockwellian.

They could have been the kid next to you at Mass, or the woman you passed on the street. For once, it really struck me that saints were real — are —people, and they didn’t walk around with light emanating from their heads. And in that moment, when one thinks, “They were like me,” he is simultaneously impelled to ask, “So, could I be like them?”

I think it’s the best contemporary Catholic artwork out there right now.

And, it’s good because it’s incarnational. And its artist John Nava could say the same thing Rockwell did: “I paint human-looking humans. . . . All of the artist’s creativeness cannot equal God’s creativeness.”

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