Jul 31, 2017

Checking Out The National Shrine

View of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from the east.

Last Thursday I took a trip for the day up to Washington D.C., a city I love very much. Rather than explore the usual sites, like those on the National Mall, I decided to go and check out some landmarks that are usually overlooked by the typical visitor. This plan took me to Brookland, a rapidly developing neighborhood in northeast D.C. Brookland, served by the Brookland-CUA Metro stop on the Red Line, is a hotspot for Catholic institutions within D.C., so much so that it has earned the nickname "Little Rome." The highlight of these institutions is undoubtedly the Basilica of the National Shrine, the largest Catholic church in not only the United States, but also North America (impressively, it is one of the top ten largest churches in the world).

Brookland is a pretty neat little neighborhood. Home to the Catholic University of America, it seems to be gentrifying pretty quickly. In fact, part of the community believes that the neighborhood is being overdeveloped; this has led to a couple of disputes with developers being brought to court.

The National Shrine, the full name of which is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was built between 1920 and 1961. Three popes have visited it since it opened its doors: Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Saint John Paul II. Mother Teresa also visited.

The National Shrine consists of 70 chapels that surround the Upper Church and the Crypt Church. These chapels display magnificent mosaics that represent all the people in different regions of the world that call Catholicism their faith. The Crypt Church is absolutely one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in. The atmosphere is incredibly peaceful, and it smells amazing in there, let me tell you.

Crypt Church. A must-see.

From the Crypt Church, heading upstairs will take you to the aptly-named Upper Church, which is the real star of the show. At 76,396 square feet, the Upper Church can hold a total of 6,000 people. The basilica design is very apparent here, with a huge nave flanked by chapels leading to the main apse of the church. It's evident that this is a church built for pilgrims, and it takes in about one million a year.

Looking down the nave to the main apse.

The church is built in a neo-Byzantine, neo-Romanesque style. Originally, the plans called for a church in the Gothic style, but the Catholic University of America wanted it neo-Byzantine, and there was a desire for it to not be a direct copy of the great churches of Europe. Additionally, there was the belief that neo-Byzantine/neo-Romanesque would be distinctly American and fit in better with the architecture of the nation's capital (this is probably true, but I'm still a sucker for gothic architecture). Finally, the Washington National Cathedral, located across town in northwest D.C. (ew) is built in the gothic tradition, and the architects felt a need to make a distinction between this new Catholic shrine and the Episcopalian cathedral. The neo-Byzantine elements of the church especially standout; the domes are reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia, and who could miss all of the mosaics? The art has its fair share of neo-Romanesque influences, especially the massive portrait in the apse that looks out into the nave.

Looking up from the nave. A very celestial feel.

If you are ever in D.C., I highly recommend visiting the National Shrine. It's not on the usual list of things to do in the capital, but it's one of the most breathtaking attractions you can visit in the country, and it's a refreshing break from the same old monuments of the National Mall. The National Shrine has a brand of serenity and grandeur all of its own.

Looking at the front of the church.

Pizza... hmmm.... a grand D.C. conspiracy? Is John Podesta involved at all?

Another view looking up from the nave.

Looking at the ceiling from the ambulatory in the Upper Church.

Yet another pic looking up from the nave.

A closer look at the main apse from the nave. The church is currently undergoing renovation. 

The flag of the Vatican! Very cool. Truly "Little Rome."

Jul 26, 2017

Virginian Centrism Isn't Going Anywhere (Yet, At Least)

Reading Jeff Schapiro's column in the Metro section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch is always one of the most boring experiences of my day. Everything that man writes is bland, but I suppose that that could be a symptom of writing about Virginia politics.

Today's column, though, actually looked to be somewhat promising: Debate shows Va.'s political middle seems to be fading. The fading political middle is extremely my thing! The first three paragraphs of the column continue to grab my attention, as Schapiro discusses the vanishing of centrism from politics in Virginia. Schapiro hints at his bad politics, but that's another post for another time.

But then something weird happens: Schapiro nearly completely stops talking about political polarization in Virginia. The rest of the column is a criticism of the gubernatorial debate's focus on national politics, rather than state politics. This is absolutely a fair criticism to make, but why did Schapiro lead off with a discussion of polarization, going so far as to title the column around the idea that centrism is going away?

About three-quarters of the way through the column, Schapiro does touch on the issue of polarization again, albeit briefly. He notes that both Northam and Gillespie are centrists, recalling that Northam voted for GWB and that Gillespie is friends with McAuliffe.

I have a theory as to why this column strayed so far away from it's intended purpose of highlighting the polarization of politics in Virginia: it's because the polarization isn't happening. In looking at the four major contenders in the race for governor just over a month ago, one can see that the two centrist candidates won out against everyone else. If this election was between Corey Stewart and Tom Perriello, I think that would be a good justification for the discussion about the disappearance of centrism in the state. But with a race for governor between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie, it's safe to say that centrism is alive and well in Virginia.

John McCain and More

Less than two weeks after being diagnosed with brain cancer, Arizona Senator John McCain returned to the Senate yesterday to bipartisan applause. In a rare moment of civility for Washington, senators from both sides of the aisle put away their divisive rhetoric and honored the senator and veteran who has leveraged his power to be a sharp critic of President Trump.

McCain's return allowed for the crucial vote needed to begin debate on repealing and potentially replacing the Affordable Care Act. Though McCain did not vote for the repeal bill that came to the floor, his vote ensured that the Senate could begin deliberating on a bill that would allow the ACA to become history.

In other news, the American Pilots Association hosted their annual luncheon this afternoon. The luncheon, held once a year, is an opportunity for the APA to recognize the best American pilots in the industry. This year, pilot Richard M. Stewart the Pilot of the Year award, the most prestigious title the APA recognizes.

Stewart delivered his acceptance speech to uproarious applause. Notable for frequently flying passenger airplanes while intoxicated, Stewart railed against unsafe piloting techniques. The 52 year old pilot has frequently spoken out about the dangers of flying while drunk.

In his 15 years of service, the St. Louis-based pilot has only crashed planes a total of 11 times. Shelly Tucker, a spokeswoman for the APA, said in a statement that the organization is "so proud of all that Mr. Stewart has accomplished. Though there may be disagreements about his technique, Mr. Stewart has proven himself time and time again to be a real hero; a maverick, if you will. Today's ceremony to honor him is a showing of the most important virtue in our society: civility."

Jul 24, 2017

What Is Going On Here?

Because I am never satisfied with anything I ever do, I've decided to make some further changes to this blog. And because of the many large changes, I'm having a hard time figuring out which change should be described as the biggest. There's the name change, the change in color and design, and the planned change in philosophy. I'll try to address all of them here in this post.

Let's start with the name change. If you read blogs, you'll notice that they always have a fun, eye-catching name. My blog is called Jimmy's Thoughts. Who names blogs after themselves? Only losers. In an attempt to stop being perceived as such a loser, I will be changing the name of this blog to 'macaroni hiccups.' Why? 'Macaroni Hiccups' is a phrase that I came up with early in high school and have always loved. A reflection on life in that it's inherently meaningless, macaroni hiccups has always been the working name of my projects throughout the years. Since it's always been sitting around in files on my computer and never really going anywhere, I think it's time I actually put it into use. So here we go! Of course, you will always be able to access this blog at www.jimmyokeefe.blogspot.com, but starting today, you can also access this blog at www.macaronihiccups.com. Very nice.

Next, the design change. It's really not complicated, I've always loved white text on a black background, and isn't it better for the environment or something? And to put it simply, red is just a cool color. For whatever reason, I feel more comfortable putting my thoughts online in this color scheme than I did with the boring black text/white background design.

And finally, a bit of a change in philosophy (hopefully). This blog has been pretty inactive in the past, and I would really like to change that. It would be kind of cool to actually have a readership, even if it's small, and the way to get a readership is to post more than just once a month. Ideally I would like to post multiple times a week, but we all know how difficult it is to set posting goals. Also, I really do need to write more; I'll be starting school next month as a journalism major, and it would be nice to be able to use this space as a way of developing my voice. I guess it's also worth noting that I feel more comfortable posting when it's not under my real name, so I think that the voice macaroni hiccups takes on will be more natural and a whole lot more interesting than the bland voice one could find on Jimmy's Thoughts.

So, thanks for tuning in, everyone. Let's see where I can take this.