March 2013


Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

As a Catholic of passable standing, I didn’t even know a pope could resign. Like most, I figured that death was the only way out. Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement on the eleventh of last month, left even Cardinal Dolan speechless at first— a hard thing to do for this gregarious, media savvy, converted-New Yorker prelate (and even considered by some as a long shot candidate to be the next pope himself).


It bordered on hearing that the earth revolves around the sun. Which was first theorized by Copernicus in 1543, and supported by Galileo some 75 years later. (For which he was put under house arrest for the rest of his life for being “vehemently suspect of heresy”— a story for another day).


I mention these ancient moments in history, when human intelligence on scientific matters was still in diapers, to illustrate how they still pale in comparison, as to how far back you have to go to the last time a pope resigned. That would be 1415 when Gregory XII called it quits. And that was for political, not health reasons.


You have to go back even further to 1294, to Celestine V, to find a pope citing poor health for stepping down. Though poor health has been questioned in some quarters, as to being the real or only reason for Pope Benedict’s resignation.


Coming to the forefront now, concerns a bombshell dropped late last month by La Repubblica, Italy’s largest daily newspaper. It claims that a 300-page dossier involving sex, money and gay priests, was given to the pope on the day in December when he decided to resign. The Vatican has denied any such allegations, and it will be interesting to see how that story plays out, especially as it will be laid in the lap of a new pope to deal with.


Given that this pope certainly looks frail and moves tentatively, my tendency is to give him the “Benedict of the doubt.” (May God forgive me for that one). This is not a case of a healthy sixty-one year old Nixon, resigning in the face of Watergate.


Yet while Benedict is being applauded by many for his act of humility in stepping down in the face of infirmities, it does raise a question as to how many other popes over the past 700+ years, might have, should have, made the same choice? Or had it made for them?

It was a discomforting sight to see Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II, so vibrant and charismatic at the beginning of his reign…so feeble at the end to the point where he could no longer even speak.


Imagine a member of the Supreme Court with an “incapacity to adequately fulfill the duty entrusted to me” (to virtually use Benedict’s own words), making judgments on critical human issues, that can impact the lives of so many for so long.


This is not simply about advanced age either.


Benedict is 85. I have an uncle who at age 94, is still driving, still drinking vodka (though thankfully not at the same time), still playing his guitar, still going to gambling casinos and still getting together with the “boys” each week for dinner. It’s his lifestyle and not his age that would remove him from papal consideration.


The hope would be that Benedict has reset a precedent, so that similar action will be taken by his successors when their time comes. That it be recalled:


For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to seek and a time to lose
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

—Ecclesiastes 3.1…3.6


A time to be pope, and a time not to be pope.


Though the influence of the papacy has greatly diminished over time, it still holds sway in various direct and indirect ways throughout the world. And given the pageantry, mystique and sense of theater surrounding it—especially at election times— it has always been a source of fascination for followers and detractors alike.


Given the phenomenon (no other way to describe it) of a resignation, and now with a potential morality play perhaps waiting in the wings in the form of serious wrong-doing in high places, no doubt the color of the smoke coming out of the chimney this month, will be closely watched. And not just by Catholics.






Snow Day









Bones Under a Parking Lot Belonged to Richard III



I suppose there are worse places to have your bones found than under a parking lot. A 7-Eleven comes readily to mind. As if meeting a violent death in battle, with a mistreatment afterwards— as evidenced by several “humiliation injuries” according to a bioarchaeologist— and being stuffed into a “rough hewn” small grave were not enough, Richard III winds up several hundred years later in a place far beneath his monarchal stature. (My kingdom for a car!)


While this story seemed to come from out of nowhere last month, it wasn’t as if some lunch-pail laborer in Leicester, England had stumbled upon this find and thought: hmmm… I wonder if these are the bones of Richard III who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485? And then called over his co-workers for some sort of confirmation. “Sure looks like ‘im, what with the curvature of the spine ‘n all.”


Being so pedestrian when it comes to the field of archeology, that wasn’t too far from my initial reaction as to how all this might have come about. But it turns out to have been the culmination of an ambitious project that was championed for years by many learned institutions. Finally, upon making this discovery last August, confirmation of identity only came after extensive testing over a four month period.


Those tests included most importantly, something called mitrochondrial DNA which was extracted from the bones, and then amazingly enough…

“…was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III's sister, Anne of York, and a second distant relative, who wishes to remain anonymous.” (

Talk about six degrees of separation. DNA and genetic encoding have long since become fathomable to me. But finding that Canadian cabinetmaker?

So who was this king who reigned for only two years, and yet was so captivating a figure?


Shakespeare in his eponymous play, paints Richard III in murderous colors; a portrait of evil. In the opening, Now is the winter of our discontent monologue, Richard confesses to just how disfigured he is of body and how deranged of soul.

In modern everyday English, taken from a series of books entitled No Fear Shakespeare (SparkNotes Publishing), it translates roughly as:

I was badly made and don’t have the looks to strut my stuff in front of pretty sluts. I’ve been cheated of a nice body and face, or even normal proportions. I am deformed, spit out from my mother’s womb prematurely and so badly deformed that dogs bark at me as I limp by them.

Not exactly the sort of stuff you want to post on Facebook. He goes on:

Since I can’t amuse myself by being a lover, I’ve decided to become a villain. I’ve set dangerous plans in motion, using lies, drunken prophesies…I am deceitful and cruel…

Not so! Foul! Cry the members of the Richard III Society who hope that this discovery will force a reexamination of a man they claim, has been a victim of misrepresentation and tainted by unfair exaggeration. Sort of like Jessica Rabbit defending her character with, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”


Some have now gone on to pose this rather questionable question: Does this computer scanned reconstruction from Richard’s skull, turned into a three-dimensional plastic model face, look like the face of a tyrant?





No, I suppose not. Not any more than this one does.





For the record, Richard will be shortly reinterred in Leicester Cathedral, which was the closest Christian church to the original grave site. Yes, he was a Christian. A memorial service is to be scheduled at a later date. All’s well that ends well, I guess.


And finally, it now seems plausible that the bones of Jimmy Hoffa will one day be found. Using the improbable story of Richard III as a guide, that day would come in the summer of 2503. Wonder from under what venue he will be dug up?






Quote(s) of the Month



I came across this sentiment, which is not only politically incorrect given its gender jab, but suggestive of a variation on something that might have been uttered by a Borsch Belt comic. Call it, The Bible as “stand-up.”

A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a contentious wife are alike


                    — book of Proverbs 27.15

Shades of…


                      Take my wife…please!


                                                   — Henny Youngman





Kalends and Nones and Ides Oh My!



This has turned out to be an ancient history issue it seems, because now I’m harkening back even further, to an event that occurred in 44 BC. (Can The Big Bang be far behind?).

I had always been befuddled by the phrase “the Ides of March.” Yes, it refers to the fifteenth of the month when Julius Caesar got whacked—and therefore the watchword is “beware” —but it still begged the question: what are Ides exactly anyway?

In an edited reprise of a piece I wrote for the March MMV Muse-Letter, the answer (and then some), is offered for those who wouldn’t be afraid to ask, if they were curious in the first place.

Ides is a term that comes from the Roman calendar which was devised by someone(s) who apparently had a love for complexity. According to a piece by the editor of Time Almanac books:

“The Roman calendar organized its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days:

• Kalends (1st day of the month)

• Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July and October; the 5th in the other months)

• Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July and October; the 13th in the other months)

The remaining, unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or Ides.

For example March 3 would be V Nones— 5 days before Nones (the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the days).”

Insane as it all sounds, I couldn’t resist “decoding,” for want of a better word, my own August 20th birthday as it would have been stated in Roman times. In the form of a question, ala Jeopardy: what is XIII Kalends? Correct! (The 1st of September minus 13 days, with September 1st inclusive).

This convoluted method of date keeping, also suggests still one more reason, for the fall of the Roman Empire.






Haiku and Counting


The ant works harder
than seventeen syllables
winter, spring, summer









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