Category Archives: Personal

Fun Facts about ME!

A Meditation On A Ritual: Concert Wristbands

I got asked a question today in the form of a statement: “Tell me about a favourite ritual”. I was just going to write a sentence, but I kept adding comments. Here’s what I finally said:

After a great rock show or other event, I keep the wristbands on till they fall off.

We have Drive-By Truckers Homecoming at the 40 Watt, where the coat checkers write the number of your item on your wristband with a Sharpie. I play with the numbers, whether they’re in order, whether the order is rising or falling, how they factor, what they might signify. This year, I got:

  • 168–the hours in a week
  • 93–the passengers who fought back
  • 111–a sixth of the way there

It also lets me have some idea where I was in line each time. ūüėČ

In the days after that in particular, I play with the wristbands, stacking them on my wrist, in date order sometimes, but really in whatever order they fit my arm best, the largest furthest up, each other slid under the next largest, a little showing of each.

They’d last longer if I didn’t, but then, so would I.

From a Detail in “Warrior”, by Gordon R. Dickson

That man sounds like some cheap gangster

Faking up the public anger

Necessary when a coward

Has a killing to move forward

But can’t find the guts within him

In cold blood to kill his victim

So his fear of looking foolish

After threats both wild and stupid

Gives the shove he needs to do what

Worse men do more easily.

So there’s that

For consolation, once destruction

Runs its course:

It could have been worse.

The Hermit of Walden Pond Meets the Sage of Tuscumbia, Alabama

This morning in church, the responsive reading¬†from Singing the Living Tradition was #660–just six short!–“Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?” from Henry David Thoreau. I do and did respond.

The call: “I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear,”

The response: “Nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary.”

You Are On Fire

It was a pleasure to burn.

The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Susan Frederick-Gray wrote a thoughtful call to action, Time for cold anger. It’s a quick read and worth your time. It contains several pointers to useful actions, and one piece of false hope when it says:

Anger is the legitimate response to pain, but it can become destructive. Turned inward and swallowed, it can consume us with shame, self-destruction, and despair. Turned outward, it can be explosive and violent. But when we understand the concept of cold anger‚ÄĒan anger that burns without consuming‚ÄĒwe understand that anger can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice. (emphasis added)

Right now, you are on fire. Every breath you take pulls oxygen in to burn in your guts; every exhalation puts out the carbon dioxide generated by the sacred trash fire that is our body. Every moment consumes a tiny bit more of us, some moments eating more than others. When we stop that burning, we are dead.

Take it from an anger swallower who wants to fly: There is no form of anger that does not consume you. Everything we do has a cost, even if it is only–only!–seconds of our life. Sometimes hot anger slices through stone cold bullshit like nobody’s business, saving precious time. Saving precious life. Precious lives.

Great Artists have told us this about fury and anger.

There’s anger that costs more and anger that costs less, and anger that gets more done or less done. We all pick our way through these choices and burn a little of ourselves every step of the way. Some of it is conscious choice–a slow and cautious way–and most of us run on habit and reaction and inertia. Sometimes you have to burn your way out of a rut.

Not that burning is a pure good. It’s not. Fire is a great refiner, a wonderful source of heat and light, all that. And if you’ve ever spent a fun night around a trash barrel with friends and a six-pack, you will remember that “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”

But the quote continues, “He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.” If I were asked to give an example of Evil without violence, burning books would be a good choice. There’s a special terror in seeing what isn’t built to die–unlike a human, for whom death is just another punch on our ticket–die anyway. A book, a painting, a hope, an idea. They don’t die like we die, though in the long term they do die as we die. We live short term and save what we can.

So accept that you are on fire, that you are burning as we speak and will eventually go out. You may rise again like the phoenix, disperse like smoke, or settle like ash. You may just be a process that ends, or you may be one more cycle round the center. No one knows for sure, and I think most of those who claim they do harbor secret doubts.

Go ahead and burn as you wish, hot or cold, fast or slow, over under sideways down. Here are two opportunities to Catch Fire, two of many Great Ways To Burn:

Walk through the fire
Fly through the smoke
See my enemy
At the end of their rope

I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when you taste so good
I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when my head it burns

You don’t have to pick one or the other, or either one. You just have to choose something.

The Mathematics of the Soul

In 1960, physicist Eugene Wigner published The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. The gist of it is in the title: Math is weirdly good at describing the physical world, good enough to seem unreasonable.

At the end, Wigner says:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning. (emphasis added)

I could’ve cut that off after the first sentence, but that phrase:¬†to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement. I’ve had that feeling with math, when something click click clicked into place and made the most wonderful, most unexpected kind of sense.

What, then, is the mathematics of the soul?

It can’t be mathematics, because the soul

  1. isn’t physical, and
  2. doesn’t exist.

So let’s ask the question this way: What is unreasonably effective at expressing, communicating, shaping, and preserving the fruits of the human heart? What carries those precious things through time and space and past the death of the individual?

Beauty. Art. But most especially song and story, story and song.

Song and story intersect at rhythm and narrative. Song has harmony and melody; story has plot and character. Song slices through reason like a sharp knife through the butterlike-brain; story marinates and soaks and dissolves and precipitates thought from reverie.

Song and story¬†are unreasonably effective in transmitting and preserving culture,¬†persevering¬†when written word and graven image do not. What’s sung and said is the most Permanent Record. Erasing that takes genocide, and even that doesn’t always work.

I could not accept a theory of humanity, a theology or a philosophy of life, without song and story as one of its foundations. Along with human solidarity and grateful wonder at the world, it is one foundation of mine.

Why and How You Should Use The Word “Chickenshit” In Church Services

Everyone knows this one, right?

Rev. Meg Barnhouse‘s lovely variation on the words of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and the first woman known to have written a book in English.

This is one of the songs, and links to a song, I keep in my back pocket for troubles, my own and others. It helps me. When I think I know when it will help a friend, I apply it to them gently. It seems to work; I don’t think it harms. It heals by virtue of being beautiful, in many different ways.

When I first encountered the next song, I’d passed through my first period of fascination with mystics and visionaries–Smart, Blake, Sor Juana, and St. John mostly*–so I didn’t see Julian of Norwich in it. Probably the authors didn’t either; I find the ways of the Spirit are even more mysterious to us atheists than to any believer. I was also far too hip to like anything Big On The Radio, and this whole record was big! Big! BIG!! It took my great and wasted friend Orlis to make me actually listen to the damned thing–on a cassette, no less, in a house stuffed with vinyl records–and discover it was really good. It took listening since him to see how it was great. Continue reading Why and How You Should Use The Word “Chickenshit” In Church Services

“the Muller investigation just paid for itself” Is Ferguson, Missouri Justice

You’ve probably seen this tweet:

@Pappiness: As part of Paul Manafort’s plea deal, he’ll forfeit bank accounts and properties worth about $46 million dollars. Someone should let Trump know that the Muller investigation just paid for itself.

This is an understandable but unprincipled way to view a criminal investigation. It’s fighting the battle on Trump’s chosen terms. He’s good at getting people to do that. Stop playing his game.

Criminal investigation isn’t about making money. It’s a service, a public good, that is paid for by taxes. Money it generates should go into general revenue.

What it costs to investigate a crime is often well out of proportion with the monetary cost of that crime, and that can be a just expenditure of money. We recognize the injustice of measuring the value of justice by its cost…in principle–even as we tolerate it in practice! The murder of a rich woman should not get a bigger, better investigation than that of a poor man. There isn’t any just way to say one death is worth more than another. Wealthy neighborhoods get better police protection and investigation than others. These practices have to change.

We’ve seen what happens when money from investigations is given to the investigating unit. It often leads to fraud, both outright criminal fraud leading to convictions and casual fraud of the everyday sort. For instance: Seizing a muscle car and letting that unit keep the car for use in “investigations”. That’s legal but not legit.

We all know of towns that fund themselves with speed traps. We all know of rich people walking away from DUIs in ways that poor people can’t.

You know who else walks away from big-ass felonies by forfeiting money? The finance industry. Look at the number of charges which get dropped because the company involved agreed not to fight and to forfeit a lot of cash. Do the responsible individuals get punished? Sure. They feel it in their reduced bonuses or golden parachutes. Does it hold down financial crime? Does it deter or incapacitate the perpetrators, provide retribution or restoration? Does it do any of that? Or does it make getting caught at financial crime against ordinary citizens just a routine risk of business to be figured into ever-increasing interest rates and noted in a cheery stockholders’ report?

What it comes down to is that making revenue generation the goal of law enforcement–especially making the argument for a particular investigation by how it pays for itself, rather than how much truth and justice it delivers–is Ferguson, Missouri justice.

Ferguson discriminatorily squeezed some of its citizens under color of law to pay for a government the rest of its citizens wouldn’t pay enough in taxes to run. Whether it was pure racial oppression or simple class warfare–it’s harder to parse them apart than it is to separate salt from sugar–does not change our judgement that it is wrong.

That doesn’t mean seizing Manafort’s money wasn’t just. Getting money back from crooked financial institutions is just, even if it isn’t sufficiently just or perfectly just. If it’s a good start, I say live with that and improve later on.

“We got the money!” is a lousy justification for seeking criminal justice in the first place. Whether it’s profitable to investigate my murder shouldn’t determine whether my killer is found. Getting the money to fund government through prosecution is an unjust way of providing government. These are basic principles. Let’s respect them.

Are There Clean Dollars In A Dirty System? And If There Aren’t, What Then?

I don’t believe there are any clean dollars in a dirty system. If you buy sportswear–or almost anything not directly from the producer’s hands, and even then sometimes–someone is getting exploited. So Nike isn’t unique in exploiting working people. It’s not like the New Balance shoes I wear are morally any different. And good for Nike for putting some money in Colin Kaepernick’s pocket and some positive images of him into the world.

If there’s an active boycott going on–not a “moral disgust” boycott, but a “change your ways or we’ll do our best to put you out of business” boycott–that should be respected, as the Nike boycott was by so many back when it was in force.

And now it’s not, so go buy some, if you want to.

But there’s something very sick about a society that turns its ethics over to the market.

The market has a clear and unambiguous answer for every question of value. When it is asked, “What is the worth of a human life?” it has an answer, in the form of another question: “What am I bid?”

So if you don’t have a deep, deep pocket, you’d best watch your ass in the coming years, or overturn some tables now.

The Assistance

I hit peak McCain on reading this: John McCain’s Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet.

Let’s call the roll of that gathering, shall we? From the article, in order: Meaghan McCain, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney–and at this point, let’s quote a paragraph:

For a moment, at least, they still lived in the America where Obama and Bush and Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney could all sit in the same pew, in the same church, and sing the same words to the patriotic hymns that made them all teary-eyed at the same time.

To continue the roll call: John Boehner, Elizabeth Warren, David Petraeus, Leon Panetta, Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Paul Ryan, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner–I understand no one slapped either of them, or threw a drink in either one’s face, but I suppose that’s to much to expect from a member of The Resistance–John Bolton, John Kelly–are you getting that warm, runny feeling yet?–and Jeff Flake.

Does that sound like The Resistance to you? It sounds to me like the people who got us into this mess in the first place. Which of those people has actually gotten in Trump’s way? Elizabeth Warren. The Obamas are taking a well-earned vacation, so they get a pass from me. The Clintons are out pimping their books. Leon Panetta and Al Gore are doing something, I suppose, even if it’s just shutting up because they don’t have anything useful to contribute. Madeleine Albright wrote a book that’s on topic but not going to motivate people to action, judging by the people I know who read it and recommend it, but she means well, bless her heart. And that’s the Democrats in the room!

And you know who else was at that memorial and gave a very moving speech? America’s Funniest War Criminal, Henry Kissinger! I shit you not: The very man who directed years of the criminal Vietnam War which John McCain got injured fighting. The only place we should see Kissinger hanging around is Nuremberg. But there he was, Resisting.

It’s possible to feel admiration for the personal virtues of a man like John McCain, who spent five years in a hellish prison and never finked on his comrades, and still despise the acts that put him in that prison in the first place. I realize that systematic mass murder of civilians is only a war crime these days if you don’t do it with a Very Expensive Weapon provided by one of the Major Powers, and that we’re supposed to pretend that strategic bombing isn’t terrorism. I myself figure anyone on any side of any fight who commits mass murder of civilians is a mass murderer. It’s awful hard to bomb a village in self-defense, but that doesn’t stop armies from trying, right?

The difference between McCain and Kissinger, then, is that one man had admirable personal virtues and the other did not. Kissinger’s virtues were turned exclusively to Evil purposes. It was his and Nixon’s policy to violently overthrow democratically elected governments they didn’t like. One can’t admire intelligence turned to that purpose.

So on reading that article, then hearing about Kissinger’s appearance, I realized there was a better word for that crowd: The Assistance.

The Assistance is the political creatures who thrived in a corrupt, self-serving political environment. They are the Ancien R√®gime of America, on an old road rapidly changing. And you know what? They don’t see any point in lending a hand, because it’s you who are in their way, as they ping little spitballs of tut-tuts at a man who exemplifies the system they are frantically trying to put back together. They are doing the absolute least they can do in defense of your interests–condemning in the strongest terms!–as they try to protect their own.

They are working to preserve the corruption that pays for their foundations and stuffs speaking fees strung with beads of zeroes on the end up their well-deserving buttholes. They get that money from the rich because it is the rich who they serve. When the rich yank the string on those speaking fees, you bet those political asses respond.

So don’t expect much from The Assistance. As always, we will have to save ourselves. And if you have to run one of The Assistance over in the process? It’s not like they weren’t warned:

Life During Wartime: A Video Soundtrack

Armagideon Time?

That Talking Heads song is about touring. It took me a long time to realize that. It’s still not just about touring for me, which I guess comes from Romantic childhood delusions not being properly corrected at an early age. But it’s worked out for me.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping track of song videos that have struck me as right for this moment in time for a year now. The first four:


20-JUN-2017: Who am I to disagree?

Oh, to be seventeen forever. Oh, to be thirty-four forever.


24-SEP-2018: You think they’re dumb, you think they’re so funny.

Just wait until they got you running to those…


20-MAY-2018: Johnnie wants to think of a joke.

Johnnie’s an American. Johnnie’s an American.


01-JUL-2018: If you want to teach ’em how to fight, you gotta treat ’em all alike.

I hate tear gas. Don’t you?


More to come!