Saturday, August 24, 2013

Album Review: Making Arrangements

"Making Arrangements" is the debut album of a local Cincinnati band that I have recently discovered called Terminal Union.  Anyone familiar with Cincinnati will likely recognize the local flavor of the band name: one of Cincinnati's most prominent landmarks is Union Terminal, built for trains in the 1930's, now converted into the home of the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The Museum Center at Union Terminal, Cincinnati, Ohio

According to the band's website, Terminal Union is an "alt-country band showcasing true roots, folk, and Americana songwriting and musicianship."  Being primarily a hard rock guy, I'm somewhat new to this kind of music, but I have been pleasantly surprised by just how much I like this album.  Like any good album, it grows on you with each listen.

The best way I can describe TU's music is that it blends a retro, acoustic country sound (like something out of the 60's and 70's) with modern lyrics and themes.  The primary instruments are acoustic guitar, banjo, and piano, with occasional drums and harmonica thrown in.


If you like the dulcet sounds of 70's folk music (think early Jimmy Buffett sans beach setting) I think you'll like this album.

The album starts off with a solid number ironically titled Have Another Round, detailing the fatal shooting by Cincinnati police of a local musician who was armed with a knife.  "A 6-inch blade was all that they found/courtesy of the CPD/have another round."  This if followed up by Magnificent Sounds, a haunting, jazzy acoustic tune featuring solo trumpet that sounds like something you might hear from a street musician in New Orleans.

I Feel You is a great piano-based tune with powerful lyrics and a beautifully dark sound.  "It's okay to be afraid to die/I've been there before/you will rise up/and girl I feel you."  With its banjo riff and harmonica overlays, Things Left To Do might be an old Johnny Cash song, while Don't Tell Me showcases the band's melodic abilities with a fine duet on the chorus.

Perhaps the best song on the album is Comeback Kid.  This tune has all the earmarks of a great song, with meaningful lyrics set to music that fits the mood of the song perfectly.  "All I want to be is the comeback kid/forgive myself for everything I did."  The key change on the last chorus is chill-inducing.  This song really hits home because it touches on that oh-so-universal emotion of adulthood - regret and the desire to start over with a clean slate.

It's good enough to be worth a listen on YouTube.

"Making Arrangements" is available for download from both iTunes and Amazon's MP3 store.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes mellow acoustic music with profound lyrics, unique voices, and top notch musicianship.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Things My Heart Attack Taught Me: Lesson Four

Lesson # 4:

Your worst fear might come true, but you'll probably handle it better than you think.  

As many of you know, I have suffered from anxiety pretty much my whole life.  As a kid I always had irrational fears (such as refusing to take Tylenol because I was convinced it was poisoned), but I never had generalized anxiety or panic attacks until I was in college.  It was at that same time - during college - that I began developing paralyzing hypochondria.

It started in January of 1995, when I was just shy of 20 years old, and I got the thought in my head that I was having a heart attack, thanks to a random pain in my arm.  I couldn't get the thought out of my head and it began to overwhelm me.  The fear went on for weeks and ruined my 20th birthday in February.  I finally went to the health clinic at my school and ended up having my first panic attack right there on the table with the nurse practitioner.

Over the years, the source of the hypochondria would change from time to time: sometimes it would be a heart attack, other times a brain tumor, and still other times a neurological disease like Lou Gehrig's Disease.

After I started taking an anti-depressant when I was 29, the hypochondria started getting under control.  I still had fearful thoughts about my health, but those thoughts no longer stayed with me for weeks at a time, and only very rarely did I ever get anxious or have panic attacks.  In fact, it was so well controlled, that I allowed myself to gradually gain a lot of weight, eat a horrific diet, drink heavily (at least for a time), and start smoking cigarettes.

As most of you know, I had a heart attack this past March.  In every sense of the word, one of my worst fears came true.  In my 20's, when I would be in the throes of anxiety over fear of a heart attack, I would always remind myself that I had no family history of heart disease and that I was too young to have a heart attack.  I would, however, think to myself that by the time I got into my late 30's and early 40's, I'd be a basketcase all the time because then I WOULDN'T be too young for a heart attack.

Well, the unthinkable happened and I had a heart attack at 38.  Yet, miraculously, I handled it much better than I ever dreamed that I would.  My wife and mother both told me later that they feared this would "send me over the edge," and yet it didn't.  The first week was difficult, sure, but I handled it, I got through it, and I have made it into a very positive, life-changing experience for myself.

My Dad used to always tell me that even on the off chance that your worst fears come true, it probably won't be as life-shattering as you think.  He was right.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Things My Heart Attack Taught Me: Lesson Three

Lesson # 3

It's better to just stay calm and carry on. 

Even though I'm not gonna take your bullshit anymore (see Lesson #1), I've discovered it's just not worth it to get fired up about stuff all the time. It's better to just let it roll off your back. It's less stressful to be calm. Another way of putting it is like this: I just don't give a shit.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Are You Serious?

Bavarian is a garbage company in my county. Forget, for the moment, that they have a German name and were founded in the 1930's and were thus probably Nazi sympathizers. What I want to talk about is that fantastically ridiculous slogan.

"Dedicated to Serving God and Country."  Really? You're a WASTE MANAGEMENT COMPANY for crying out loud! God is served when you dump my dripping, stinking, garbage into a LAND FILL somewhere? Which God? The God of Garbage and Filth?

And what country are you serving? You picking up the trash from Congress? If so, next time take Rand Paul with you. THERE'S someone whose presence buried under two tons of landfill would serve God.

But seriously, which country are you serving? Your name is Bavarian, a state in Germany, and your logo is the Bavarian Alps. And you were founded the exact same year Hitler became der Fuhrer in Germany. Coincidence? You decide.

In the meantime, I use Rumpke.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Things My Heart Attack Taught Me: Lesson Two

Lesson #2

Don't be stupid about emergent health issues.  

If you've just done some vigorous exercise, and you're still panting after 15 minutes, and your heart feels like it is beating erratically, and you've got dull, achy pain from your right arm to your left arm, across your shoulders, through both sides of your chest, and radiating into your back, and you feel so weak in the legs that you can barely stand up, go ahead and call 911.  It's probably a heart attack.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Things My Heart Attack Taught Me: Lesson One

This is the first installment of a new blog series detailing all the many lessons I've learned after surviving a heart attack at age 38.  I figured maybe I can produce a few thoughtful ideas that might be of help to others.  Or not.  This is the first one.

Lesson #1

Life is too short to put up with anybody else's bullshit. 

We all produce our fair share of bullshit from time to time, some of us more than others.  But having a heart attack at 38 has shown me that life is too short to deal with other people's bullshit. This doesn't mean I've decided it's okay to be rude or unfriendly to people, but, as a general rule, I'm just not gonna take your crap anymore.        

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Notes from the Cave

Another weekend of third shift has come and gone.  Friday night was a struggle, but after sleeping until 2:30 Saturday afternoon, then staying in bed virtually all evening reading, Saturday night was better.  M and the kids start school this week, so M has been putting her room together; I went over this afternoon to help out, but just for a little bit.  A nice 4-mile walk this evening.

I had a follow-up appointment with my cardiologist on Friday.  This is how M and I spent our 16th wedding anniversary - two hours in a doctor's office.  Everything was fine, and he is cutting back another one of my medicines.  In the long run, I think the aspirin and the cholesterol medicine will be the only pills I have to continue to take for the long haul.  I am scheduled in October for an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart muscle) and a nuclear stress test.  I'm sure I'll be nervous about all that, but I'm also looking forward to having it done so I can find out exactly what condition my heart is in after all the dietary and exercise changes I've done.

While lying in bed yesterday afternoon, I made the rash decision to buy a new guitar.  I've been playing since I was 16 years old, and while I'm certainly no Eric Clapton, I'm pretty advanced as amateurs go.  Despite that, I only own two guitars - the classical guitar my parents bought me in high school, and an electric/acoustic I bought when I was 22 and fresh out of college.  I've never owned an electric guitar or a traditional acoustic, and I've never owned an amp.

Well, all that's gonna change on Tuesday.  I purchased a cherry sunburst Epiphone Les Paul electric guitar with a 20-watt amp for about 400 bucks.

The only electric guitars I've ever had the good fortune of playing were borrowed or rented ones (I rented a guitar for over a year in college when I was playing lead guitar in a band).  I'm pretty stoked about getting this thing and playing the crap out of it.

I might even buy some recording software for my computer and record a couple of songs I've been writing.  I know, I'm strange.  It might be worth noting, however, that the psychic I saw a couple of years ago (after being practically forced into it by my coworkers) told me I should be writing music and asked me why I stopped.  He said he saw me making money writing music.  He said this, of course, without me ever saying a word to him about being a musician, writing music, or the fact that I used to write music in high school and college and then quit.

I've got a busy week coming up.  In addition to working all week, I have a project I'm working on with a friend, ghost-writing an article for an industry publication for her, and I'm also continuing to make headway on my book about political parties, though it's coming along at a freaking snail's pace.  All that, with M and the girls heading back to school this week.  More than likely, the book will end up on the back burner again.  I had hoped to have it finished over the winter.  Last winter.  Now I'll be lucky to have it done before summer's over.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Cadaver Synod

In January of 897, one of the more bizarre events in the history of the Catholic Church occurred within the walls of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.

There, Pope Stephen VI personally conducted a posthumous trial of Pope Formosus, who had died about nine months earlier, and the dead pontiff's corpse attended in person.

Formosus was born around the year 816 in Rome and first enters written history in 864 when he was named Cardinal-Bishop of Porto (near Rome) by Pope Nicholas I.

Over the next decade, Formosus served a prominent role under a succession of popes, spending time as a papal representative in both Bulgaria and France.  The Bulgarians liked him so much, they petitioned to have him become their own archbishop, but this request was denied.  In 875, when Holy Roman Emperor Louis II died without an heir, Formosus was sent by Pope John VIII to Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, to offer him the crown of the empire.  Charles naturally agreed and was crowned on Christmas Day, 875.

This proved, however, to be a controversial decision by Pope John, as a number of papal officials believed Charles' older brother, Louis the German, should have been given the crown of the Holy Roman Empire instead.  Despite being one of those sent to summon Charles, Bishop Formosus was, evidently, one of these dissenting officials.  It didn't help that Formosus had been a candidate for the papacy himself in 872 when John was elected, so John might have had good reason to view Formosus as a potential opponent.

In any case, when the opponents of Pope John fled from Rome to escape his wrath, Formosus went with them.  John immediately convened a synod - that is, a council of church officials - to demand the fugitive bishops return to Rome under threat of excommunication.  For his part, Formosus was charged with conspiring to attain the Archbishopric of Bulgaria as well as conspiring to "destroy the Papal See," opposing the new emperor, and deserting his diocese.  When he and the others failed to return, another synod pronounced them guilty and Formosus, who was sheltering in France, was formally excommunicated and stripped of his titles and positions.

An artistic rendering of John VIII

Undoubtedly to Formosus's great relief, John VIII died in 882 and was replaced by Marinus I, who immediately reversed all of John's decisions regarding Formosus and restored him as Cardinal-Bishop of Porto in 883.

Such was the vacillating nature of the medieval papacy.

Formosus flew under the radar for the next eight years under a succession of short-lived popes, until 891 when Formosus, himself, was elected to the papacy at the age of 75.

He became the Bishop of Rome during a troubled time in European history.  The empire established by Charlemagne almost a century earlier had collapsed under his great-grandson, Charles the Fat.  Following his death in 888, the empire was split into five independent kingdoms.

One of those kingdoms was Italy, and it eventually went to Guy of Spoleto, who was crowned by Formosus's predecessor, Pope Stephen V, in 889.  Two years later, just before his death, Stephen crowned Guy as the next Holy Roman Emperor.

Formosus did not share his predecessor's trust in Emperor Guy and viewed him as a threat to the papal lands in Italy.  However, without a viable alternative, he was reluctantly forced to affirm Guy's claim to Italy and the empire in 892, also crowning Guy's son, Lambert II, as co-emperor.

Despite these public actions, Formosus secretly sent an embassy to East Frankia (modern Germany) to beg Arnulf, King of East Frankia, to come and overthrow Guy and his powerful allies. Arnulf agreed and brought his armies to Italy in 894.  There, he liberated northern Italy from Guy, who conveniently got sick a died a few months later, allowing Arnulf to proclaim himself the new Italian king.

Guy's son, Lambert, already crowned co-emperor but still just a teenager, had no intention of allowing Arnulf to take his inheritance.  As such, he traveled with his powerful mother, Empress Ageltrude, to Rome so that Formosus could confirm his inheritance as sole emperor and King of Italy.  In a decision that would literally haunt him even beyond his own death, Formosus refused, openly declaring his intention to give the crown of the empire to Arnulf.  Lambert and his mother had Formosus imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo for his efforts.

In February of 896, Arnulf arrived at Rome, liberating the city and freeing Formosus.  Empress Ageltrude fled to her son Lambert, who was by that time back in his stronghold of Spoleto. Formosus immediately crowned Arnulf as both king and emperor.  Following this, Arnulf set off to finish Lambert and his mother once and for all, but collapsed from a stroke on his way to Spoleto and was never able to continue the fight.

Several weeks later, in April of 896, Formosus, who was by this time about 80 years old, died of natural causes.

With both Arnulf and Formosus suddenly out of the way, Lambert and his mother found themselves without significant opposition in Italy, and only in need of a pope who would support their cause.

The succession of events following this are not entirely clear.  Here are the facts: within just a few days of Formosus's death on April 4, a Roman priest who had twice been defrocked for "immorality" was elevated to the papacy on the demand of the Roman populace (at this point in time, public and political pressure, not to mention bribery and corruption, frequently influenced the election of popes).  He became Boniface VI.  He ruled only 15 days before dying.  How he died is not clear, although sources record that he suffered from gout.  Much speculation has suggested he was murdered by a faction of Romans who supported Lambert over Arnulf, in order to make way for a pope more sympathetic to Lambert's cause.

Whatever the cause of Boniface's death, he was replaced by Stephen VI, who had been ordained as Bishop of Agnani by Formosus himself, but was no friend of the deceased pontiff.

Although his motivation is anyone's guess, a few months after taking over the papacy, Stephen ordered Formosus's body to be disinterred and put on trial.

The corpse was literally decked out in full papal vestments and propped up on a throne before the gathered council of church officials. Stephen presided over the trial himself, with a deacon of the church answering for the mute Formosus.  According to a 10th century historian writing some 75 years after these events, Stephen asked the corpse of Formosus: "Why did you usurp the Catholic Roman See in such a spirit of ambition?"  One has to wonder what the corpse's reply was.

The charges against Formosus were similar to those brought against him two decades earlier by Pope John VIII.  He was accused of perjury, ambition, coveting the papacy, performing clerical rites as a layman (presumably during his years of excommunication), and, perhaps most significantly, violating Church laws against the so-called "transmigration of bishops."  This last charge needs some context.

The First Council of Nicaea, which had established a series of Church laws in 385, had forbidden a bishop of one diocese from vacating that diocese and becoming bishop somewhere else. This is the ancient law that Nicholas I had used when denying the request for Formosus to become Archbishop of Bulgaria.  More importantly, this law also applied to the Bishop of Rome - that is, the pope.  If someone was already a bishop somewhere else, he could not become the pope.  Marinus I, in the 880's, had been the first to break this rule, and he had been followed in this by not just Formosus, but also by Stephen VI himself.  

How could Stephen have condemned Formosus for doing something that he, himself, was guilty of?  Wouldn't that also invalidate his own pontificate?

This is where the speculation on motive comes into play.  When, after three days, Formosus was found guilty of the charges brought against him, his papacy was declared invalid and everything he had done was declared null and void.  This meant that Stephen's consecration as Bishop of Agnani, performed by Formosus, was no longer valid.  Which, of course, meant that Stephen was no longer guilty, himself, of becoming Pope in violation of ancient Church laws on the transmigration of bishops.

Many modern historians argue that this desire to legitimize his own papacy is what motivated Stephen to enact the spectacle of the Cadaver Synod.  Others have chalked it up to the connivance of Lambert and his mother, seeking to punish and discredit Formosus in order to secure his own claims to Italy and the empire.  After all, if Formosus's pontificate was invalidated, then Lambert's enemy, Arnulf, had no claim to either the kingship of Italy or the Holy Roman Empire.  The weight of the evidence suggests Stephen was a shrewd manipulator who saw an opportunity to placate Lambert and his powerful allies while also legitimizing his own claim to the pontificate, which was undoubtedly on shaky ground.

After finding Formosus guilty as charged, Stephen ordered the three fingers of his right hand, which he would have used for making blessings, to be cut off, and his body thrown in a commoner's grave.  A few days later, a mob disinterred the much-abused body for a second time and tossed it into the Tiber River.

A monk, however, apparently rescued the body and by the summer of 897 claims were being made that the corpse had performed miracles.  This, together with a sudden structural failure within the basilica where the trial had taken place, soon led to a major backlash against Stephen by the fickle Roman populace.  A mob stormed the Vatican and deposed him, stripping him of his papal vestments and throwing him in prison.  He was strangled there a short time later, in August of 897.

After that, all hell broke lose.

The pro-Formosan faction installed a new pope, named Romanus, into the Vatican.  However, he was apparently not proactive enough in reversing Stephen's decisions against Formosus, so the mob deposed him several months later and confined him to a monastery, where he disappeared from history.  In his place, they elected Theodore II.

Theodore proved more responsive to the demands of the Roman public.  He immediately annulled the rulings of the Cadaver Synod, rehabilitated all the acts of Formosus, and re-installed all the Formosus-era clergy who had been stripped of their clerical status under Stephen.  Finally, he brought Formosus's body, which by now must have been in pieces, back to St. Peter's for an honorable reburial in his original tomb.  Following this, Theodore promptly died, just twenty days after being elected.

After his death, two competing popes were elected.  One was Sergius, Bishop of Caere, an opponent of Formosus who had actually taken part in the Cadaver Synod. The other was John, who had the support not only of the Formosus faction, but also of Lambert.  John's supporters eventually won the day, and he was installed as John IX in January of 898, the fourth pope in less than six months.  He confirmed all of Theodore's decisions regarding Formosus and (sadly for historians) ordered the minutes from the Cadaver Synod burned.

Sergius was not to be outdone, however.  John IX died in 900 and his successor, another pro-Formosus pope named Benedict IV, died in 903.  Benedict was followed by Leo V, a non-Roman who was likely a compromise candidate among an increasingly factional Formosan party.  He ruled less than a month before being deposed by another Formosan candidate, this one from Rome, named Christopher, who is now regarded by the Catholic Church as an anti-pope (though he was considered a legitimate pope until well into the 20th century).  Christopher, in turn, was overthrown a few months later by none other than Sergius, who apparently then ordered both Leo and Christopher to be murdered.

Sergius became Pope Sergius III and ruled until 911.  Opposed to Formosus and his supporters, he invalidated the rulings of Theodore II and John IX regarding Formosus and reconfirmed the initial rulings against him by the Cadaver Synod.  He even went so far as to add an inscription to the tomb of Stephen VI congratulating him for his work and demonizing Formosus.

The rulings by Sergius proved to be the last official rulings in the case of the Cadaver Synod.  By the time Sergius died, nearly fifteen years had passed since Formosus's death, and any more official rulings on his papacy must have seemed pointless by then.

Regardless, the Cadaver Synod is regarded today, both by historians and Catholic theologians alike, as totally unlawful, and Formosus is considered by the modern Church to have been a legitimate pope whose only failing may have been personal ambition.  It is worth noting, however, that there has never been a Formosus II, although one 15th century pope - Paul II - considered taking the name before being talked out of it.

The tomb holding the desecrated bones of Pope Formosus, housed in St. Peter's Basilica, was destroyed in the 16th and 17th centuries when the original basilica was torn down and the present St. Peter's was constructed.