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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Making a Sundial

Marc walked into our bedroom this morning and mentioned how the sunlight plays on the bathroom wall.  He noted how the light gradually slides down the wall as the morning progresses, with it eventually disappearing as the sun rises toward midday.  He thought he could make marks on the wall to indicate the time of day.

We told him that it would be better if he not mark up the bathroom wall; if he really wanted to do this little experiment, we told him to tape paper to the wall and mark the paper instead.  Then we told Marc about sundials, and how they told people the time before the age of watches.  This  piqued his curiosity, and so in a few minutes we were searching the internet for instructions on making a sundial. 

We needed just a few tools to make this temporary sundial:  A ruler, a protractor, a pen, a marker, and a knife.  We decided to make our first sundial out of cardboard.

Here Marc is cutting out the base piece from some leftover cardboard.

 Notice how Marc is always safety conscious....
 Here is the protractor and a sheet of paper we downloaded from the internet with lines already drawn for the hours.
 Here is one of the vital steps to the process.  One must know your location in latitude and longitude.  I always get the two confused, so I have to look it up.  Latitude are the horizontal lines which tell how far you are (in degrees) from the equator.  For our home, we are at 32 degrees North.  This number is used to make the 'gnomon,' or the part of the sundial which casts the shadow.

We traced the protractor onto another piece of cardboard, and then determined a 32 degree angle.  i cut the gnomon out of the cardboard.

 Longitude, by the way, is the distance (in degrees) from a vertical line running through the planet.  By convention, the reference point goes through, Greenwich, near London.

The next step was to mark the hours on the base of the sundial.  We traced them on this piece of cardboard, and Marc labeled the hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 Using some strong packing tape, we secured the gnomon onto the base.  We were ready to tell time.
 We place the sundial in the back yard and lined the '12' line up with North on my iPhone compass.  The picture below was taken at about 10:30 a.m.


What did we do wrong?  After moving the base around, making sure there were no large metal deposits below us, and switching from the 'True North' and 'Magnetic North' settings, I figured it was the Sun's fault.  Maybe it was the Earth's fault.  Global warming certainly had something to do with it.

After a while, I started thinking that the sheet we used to trace the hour lines was from a website based in England.  I suspect I shall have to go online and figure out how to calculate the 'hour' lines for our home in North Texas.  I shall put on an update about this after I investigate it further. 

Still, this was a cool thing to do with the children when I should have been sleeping after a night on call.

The rocks are on it to keep the wind from blowing it away.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Holocaust to End the Terror

Tomorrow we remember the Holy Martyrs of Compiegne, France.  I reviewed a great book by William Bush at this site back in 2007.

On July 17, 1794, sixteen members of the Carmel of Compiegne were executed by the Committee of Public Safety of the National Convention of Revolutionary France.  The group consisted of 11 discalced Carmelite nuns, three lay sisters, and two externs.  The role of an extern was to interact with the world outside of the monastery, and to accompany any sisters who had to leave the cloister.

At the time of their deaths, all of the sisters were out in the world.  Their convent had been closed, and they had just been convicted of treason and sentenced to death.  But there was something more.  One hundred years before the Reign of Terror, a sister in the convent at Compiegne had a vision of a group of nuns called to 'follow the Lamb.'  The Lamb of God is Christ (John 1:29), and so the sister thought it meant that the nuns were to literally offer their lives to Christ.  That was what the small community had started praying for: that they would be an offering or holocaust for ending the Reign of Terror.

After tens of thousands of deaths, the Reign of Terror did end on July 28, 1794, eleven days after the execution of the Sisters of Compiegne.

Here is the list of names of the sisters of Compiegne:

  • Madeleine-Claudine Ledoine (Mother Teresa of St. Augustine), prioress, b. in Paris, 22 Sept., 1752, professed 16 or 17 May, 1775;
  • Marie-Anne (or Antoinette) Brideau (Mother St. Louis), sub-prioress, b. at Belfort, 7 Dec., 1752, professed 3 Sept, 1771;
  • Marie-Anne Piedcourt (Sister of Jesus Crucified), choir-nun, b. 1715, professed 1737; on mounting the scaffold she said "I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me";
  • Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret (Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection), sacristan, b. at Mouy, 16 Sept., 1715, professed 19 Aug., 1740, twice sub-prioress in 1764 and 1778. Her portrait is reproduced opposite p. 2 of Miss Willson's work cited below;
  • Marie-Antoniette or Anne Hanisset (Sister Teresa of the Holy Heart of Mary), b. at Rheims in 1740 or 1742, professed in 1764;
  • Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy (Mother Henriette of Jesus), b. in Paris, 18 June, 1745, professed 22 Feb., 1764, prioress from 1779 to 1785;
  • Marie-Gabrielle Trézel (Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius), choir-nun, b. at Compiègne, 4 April, 1743, professed 12 Dec., 1771;
  • Rose-Chrétien de la Neuville, widow, choir-nun (Sister Julia Louisa of Jesus), b. at Loreau (or Evreux), in 1741, professed probably in 1777;
  • Anne Petras (Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence), choir-nun, b. at Cajarc (Lot), 17 June, 1760, professed 22 Oct., 1786.
  • Concerning Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception accounts vary. Miss Willson says that her name was Marie Claude Cyprienne Brard, and that she was born 12 May, 1736; Pierre, that her name was Catherine Charlotte Brard, and that she was born 7 Sept., 1736. She was born at Bourth, and professed in 1757;
  • Marie-Geneviève Meunier (Sister Constance), novice, b. 28 May, 1765, or 1766, at St. Denis, received the habit 16 Dec., 1788. She mounted the scaffold singing "Laudate Dominum". In addition to the above, three lay sisters suffered and two tourières. The lay sisters are:
  • Angélique Roussel (Sister Mary of the Holy Ghost), lay sister, b. at Fresnes, 4 August, 1742, professed 14 May, 1769;
  • Marie Dufour (Sister St. Martha), lay sister, b. at Beaune, 1 or 2 Oct., 1742, entered the community in 1772;
  • Julie or Juliette Vérolot (Sister St. Francis Xavier), lay sister, b. at Laignes or Lignières, 11 Jan., 1764, professed 12 Jan., 1789. 

   It struck me that the American Revolution and the French Revolution had some things in common. One is that France was still reeling from the financial assistance it had given to our country, and that this was one of many problems which precipitated the revolution.  The other similarity is that both France and the United States declared that there were certain rights which were guaranteed for all men, and that these were to be protected.  It is here that the two countries differed, however.  In our Declaration of Independence, those rights come from a higher power than Man:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (colors, underlining, and italics mine)

This point, the acknowledgement of a Creator, is absent from the French documents.  Thousands of people were executed by the government in France under the name of freedom.  It makes me wonder what will happen to our own country as we slowly see the importance of God being removed from our government.

I do not recommend Gertrude Le Fort's book The Song of the Scaffold; it is mainly a work of fiction, as were the works by George Bernanos and Francis Poulenc on this subject.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home

Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home

David Philipps

Soldiers returning home from war have always had it rough.  When I did my psychiatry rotation in medical school, I was assigned to the Veteran’s Administration(VA) hospital.  The psychiatric ward took up almost one entire floor of the main building, and was divided into two wings.  One was for patients suffering from PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while the other treated just about every other psychiatric malady.  With the typical cynicism which comes with being a medical student, we referred to the floors more by their nicknames than by their proper titles.  The section which dealt with a variety of psychopathology was called either the ‘Smorgasbord’ or the ‘Salad Bar,’ while the PTSD wing was more commonly called the ‘FTVA’ wing.  I shall leave it to the reader to decipher the meaning of the letters preceding Veteran’s Administration.  I was assigned to the Smorgasbord, and so had very little contact with the patients - most of them Vietnam Veterans - that filled the other wing of the hospital. 

Over the past twenty-three years, the military and the VA have continued to struggle with those who have experienced the horror of war.  Judging from David Philipps’ book, Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home, it appears as if the challenge is even greater today.  This book left me wondering if the ‘War is Hell’ which General Sherman spoke about has gotten worse, or perhaps the American soldier is entering combat unprepared for the tremendous moral, spiritual, and psychological upheaval which comes with it.

Philipps reports on the events that followed the return of an Army unit to their home base in Colorado Springs, Colorado from combat in Iraq.  Within a short time, the rate of violent crimes in the city increased, with most of them involving soldiers who had just returned from some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq.  Philipps interviewed soldiers who were in prison, as well as their family and friends, commanding officers, and a few of the people who were treating soldiers with PTSD.  He describes the plight of young men who went off to serve our country, and how the traumatic experience of serving in Iraq had changed so many of them for the worse.  He also relates how the medical and psychological support for them was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of personnel who exhibited signs of PTSD.  In addition, he poignantly describes how the military culture made it difficult for soldiers to seek help from the medical community.

This book was very sobering to read, from the recollection of encounters with an elusive enemy in Iraq to the descent of various characters in the book into depression and violence.  There was also a lot of strong language as well.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is considering a military career, as it shows how ordinary men could be affected by the stress of combat.  I spoke to some folks I know who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and they all agreed that no one leaves there without being changed in some way.  All of them talked of survivor’s guilt, and the strange desire to return despite knowing the danger.

I think this book will increase awareness for the need for more mental health care in the military, the Veteran’s Administration hospitals, and in the private sector.  Some of the changes made by General Graham while he was in command at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs sounded great, but programs like that may be eliminated by those who follow him. 

There were two things about the book which I found troubling.  One is that very few medical personnel were included in the narrative.  Throughout the book, physician or psychologist encounters were described as brief, usually after waiting a long time for an appointment.  Invariably, the soldiers were prescribed medications as a first means of treatment, with little counseling added to the therapy.  It was disturbing to read that a lot of the soldiers were taking prescription drugs while out on patrol.  I think that it is possible that the military medical community did not want to discuss this issue, and so their perspective was not included in the book.  Perhaps, like my initial encounter with PTSD in medical school, it is still considered a difficult area for discussion. 

The other thing which I found quite remarkable is that Philipps seems to totally ignore the importance of faith - any faith - in the life of these men.  He did not comment on the religious background of any of the soldiers; I would think that he would have at least mentioned if they had no faith at all.  This is an important issue for this book, because the type of fighting in Iraq after President Bush’s infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ declaration was not clearly defined.  The enemy blended in with the people, and made identifying friend from foe difficult.  The soldiers even comment that it was often safer to  shoot first in an encounter, which sometimes resulted in the death of innocent civilians.  Fighting under conditions which forced the soldier to make morally unpleasant decisions must have caused some amount of spiritual anguish among even the most hardened men, and yet this aspect is ignored by the author. 

I can think of several explanations for this.  One is that serving in Iraq limited our freedom of Religion; I recall that when I was in the Air Force we were told that certain religious items were not permitted in the Middle East.  Another is that there is a shortage of chaplains in the military; for some of these soldiers in remote locations, a visit from the Padre is a rare event.  But far more important is the way our government is gradually downplaying the importance of religion in our society as a whole.  In 2009, the military published an epidemiological study trying to determine factors which influenced the sudden increase of homicides at Fort Carson.  I looked over the report - all 126 pages of it - and found no mention of faith, or religion, or God in it anywhere.  The only reference to religion is the inclusion of a Chaplain in the epidemiology team.  Perhaps the faith of the soldiers was not investigated because, like other variables in psychology, it is difficult to quantify or analyze statistically.  Whatever the case, no discussion of religion, or God in both the Army’s report and Philipp’s book was very disappointing.

It seems to me that the de-emphasis of faith in our society and in the military in particular is to blame for a lot of the troubles which followed the return of these soldiers to the United States.  War has always been Hell, but the way that man faced it certainly has changed.  During the Civil War, mothers would make sure to include a Bible in their son’s belongings.  One of the books we have in our library is the ‘Catholic Prayer Book for the Marine Corps’ originally published during World War II.  Even in my own time, in the late 1980’s, faith was seen as important in the military.  I recall a Sergeant telling me about ‘GI Parties’ which were held on Sunday mornings for those who were not going to services.  A GI party consisted of thoroughly cleaning the inside and outside of the barracks.  It didn’t take long for those who wanted to sleep in on Sunday to ‘get religion,’ as it was called.  I don’t know about the current situation in the military, but if David Philipps’ book is any indication, religion, faith, and God have been pushed aside.  The events described in Lethal Warriors suggest what happens when the ‘Army of One’ has no One to fall back on.

I would recommend this book to only mature readers because of content and language.  I think it would be a good read for anyone considering serving in the military because it depicts the reality of war.  The subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something every man contemplating the military should think about before making such a serious commitment.

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

I am An Amateur Catholic Blogger!

Amateur Catholic B-Team Member