Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ohio, Land of Freedom

Just days ahead of its opening, the organizers of Columbus’s Community Festival (ComFest) have announced that they intend to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against law enforcement agencies from punishing women for going topless at the popular event.

Actually, My Immigrant Mother was a University Professor

"I wonder if the GOP has asked itself who will clean their toilets & nanny their children & drive their limos when we're all dead & deported." - Mary Beth Williams, a Salon writer and Manhattan resident, displaying what she thinks "immigrants" do.

Also, who's this "we" you speak of, kemosabee?


In over fifty summers, I've sustained a damaged rotator cuff, torn thumb tendon, strained Achilles tendon, sprained ankle, simple orbit fracture, cracked palate, demolished molar [a surf board hit me in the side of the face; not my board, some teenager's], two black eyes [not at the same time], bloodied noses, a sprained elbow, jellyfish stings, and forty-eight sixty sixty-six stitches in various parts of me. Not to mention sunburn [although not since the early 80's], dehydration, ear infection, various minor abrasions, contusions, lacerations, a profound sinus irritation, and shredded knee cartilage. Oh, and a barracuda once gave me a dirty look.

Despite this, it's really my favorite season.  So much so that I traveled all the way to Australia six months ago just to experience summer twice.

Then again, I've seen colleagues literally work themselves to death in their congregations, so this doesn't seem so bad.

From The Dawn Patrol, by Don Winslow:

"The physicists call it a 'energy-transport phenomenon.'

The dictionary says it's 'a disturbance that travels through a medium from one location to another location.'

A disturbance. It's certainly that.

Something gets disturbed. That is, something strikes something else and sets off a vibrations. Clap your hands right now and you'll hear a sound. What you're actually hearing is a sound wave. Something struck something else and it set off a vibration that strikes your eardrum.

The vibration is energy. It's transported through the phenomenon of a wave from one location to the other.

The water itself doesn't actually move. What happens is one particle of water bumps into the next, which bumps into the next, and so on and so forth until it hits something. It's like that idiot wave at a sports event - the people don't move around the stadium, but the wave does. The energy flows from one person to another.

So when you're riding a wave, you're not riding water. The water is the medium, but what you're really riding is energy."

[Above is a photo of a Roman Catholic nun whose religious order hosts an annual charity surfing competition in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Was the Hebrew Bible written earlier than previously thought?


"Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It's not sensible to listen to it." - Michael Crichton

Australian Honeybees Make Spiral Hives

Shark Attack Saturday

Surfer bitten by shark on foot in Ponce Inlet, Volusia officials say

Not exactly the most dramatic of stories, but it served its purpose.  Mainly, it filled space.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Eric Hoffer

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

Since the profession of full-time pastor is drying up along with mainstream Protestantism itself, many of my ordained colleagues have become, in the euphemism of the church, "tent-maker clergy".  In other words, and based on how St. Paul's was employed while spreading the Word of God, they have jobs, usually in the secular realm, that they fulfill along with serving a parish.

During the week I will work three days for a parish, one or two days as a drywall installer or carpenter, and one or two days as a luthier.  One morning a week, I serve as an unofficial chaplain for an independent school.  A good friend serves on weekends at a parish in New York City as its priest-in-charge and during the remainder of the week works for a Wall Street banking corporation.  We have both noted in conversation that, while we do not have any days off, we often don't miss them as our duties can be very different from day to day.  When we're becoming fatigued with pastoral work, we have our other, rather different, duties, and vice versa.

Personally, I find that nothing better aids the mind and the organization of thought than spending time working a blank of ash into an electric guitar body.  Between the jigsaw and the router, the sander and the airbrush, some of my best sermons and teaching plans have also been shaped.  Just when I get tired of the sawdust and noise, I can sit with an elderly parishioner in a hospital and speak of eternal notions, or watch the youth of the parish design a liturgy, or simply celebrate the Holy Mysteries behind the altar.  It is a refreshing type of occupational "cross-training" and I have sought to do so most of my professional life.

My model for this was my favorite English professor, whose specialty was comparative literature and, to facilitate his international education, worked as a merchant seaman for some years.  The juxtaposition served him well as his insight and lectures were easily the most accessible and popular in his department, no doubt as he saw the world through a much richer and more colorful lens.

When I asked him about this style of experiential learning, he told me of Eric Hoffer, who had served as his model.  I had never heard of Hoffer, which was not unusual since he wasn't terribly popular in the university system of the 1970's as he was not a product of the Ivy League machine, but when I read his works I realized that the relationship between "common" labor and intellectual perception was far more important than many realized.

Eric Hoffer was born in The Bronx in 1898, which often surprises people as, until the day of his death, he spoke with a strong German/Alsatian accent.  Such were ethnic neighborhoods once upon a time, with native languages spoken on the street and in the homes and written on the signs in the butcher's window, that one could be born and raised in a place that retained even the accent of "the old country".

Orphaned at an early age, blinded in an accident, Hoffer was all but helpless until, in an event that would forever baffle his physicians, his sight was suddenly restored at the age of fifteen.   Fearing, as one would, that he would just as suddenly become blind again, he read every book he could lay his hands on and then, as he became more confident that his vision would last, sought to see as much of the world and its wonders as he could.

Of course, not having money, a trust fund, or any inheritance, Hoffer worked at a series of jobs, usually in the labor trades.  He lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles, sometimes homeless, for the better part of a decade.  When his despair at his condition became acute, resulting in a near suicide, he left L.A. to become a migrant worker, railroad man, and prospector.  His only, and cherished, possession in these days was his library card.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the 43-year-old Hoffer volunteered for service with the U.S. Army.  Being a little suspicious of someone fluent in German with little in the way of a documented history, he was turned down.  Instead, he became a longshoreman in San Francisco, a job he would hold for the next twenty-five years.

Feeling that America's "underclass" was underrepresented in philosophic inquiry [no kidding, check out 21st century political philosophy, where two entitled millionaire establishment figures are seeking to represent the rest of us], and having read philosophy in quiet times during his prospector days, Hoffer wrote The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, his first book.  Published in 1951, it is a philosophical examination of the nature of fanaticism such as through the world had suffered with Nazism and Stalinism.  The fact that this volume may still be read and be relevant is a testimony to the burgeoning nihilism of the past seventy years.

In marketing the book, Hoffer's publisher branded him "The Longshoreman Philosopher", a title that he would carry for the rest of his days.

As he wrote in the preface:
All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.

All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.
Hoffer had noted that the membership of the Nazi and the Communist Parties tended to be interchangeable, despite the gross difference between the two philosophies, indicating that the politics weren't as important as the "movement" in addressing an underlying need that was not being served by general society. In The True Believer and subsequent works, Hoffer observed that cultural movements were historically organized through largely predictable situations. Since a positive self-regard is necessary for personal happiness, when such esteem is lost, people will go to extraordinary lengths to claim the absent sense of well-being.  By extension, when they believe that their lives are useless and have been made so by a corrupt, untouchable Other, and that the only recourse is for individuals to gather together and foment or force radical change, movements then take life.  Depending on the depth of alienation, mass movements can be brutal.

Hoffer observed that this was the case even with relatively benign movements, such as Christianity, which he noted managed to take an eager persecutor like Saul of Tarsus and alter his thinking and practices so that he became St. Paul, an equally zealous apologist for the faith.

It does not take a philosopher to note that, during this particularly fractious year in politics, there is a remarkable similarity between some of the supporters of Sanders, Trump, and Clinton, with people reduced to rage, tears, dramatic gestures, chanting, and other emotionally compromised behavior, to see Hoffer's perspective has longevity.  Even a cursory glance at Islamism would reveal the same.

The True Believer was remarkably popular, written and published as it was during the height of American literacy.  It turned Hoffer into a minor celebrity, with positive interviews appearing in print and in the relatively new world of television.  By the mid-1950's, Hoffer was working three days a week as a longshoreman and one day as a philosophy lecturer at Berkeley [Where else?].  He would often be introduced as a "public intellectual", only to correct the speaker by replying, "No, just a longshoreman".

Hoffer would live into his 80's, residing no longer on Skid Row but in an apartment overlooking the San Francisco docks where he used to work.  He would publish twelve more books, most of which are still in print.  In addition, the Hoover Institution has archived an enormous collection of Hoffer's notebooks that include enough material for several other volumes.  In 1983, shortly before his death, he was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I'm Glad to See Politicians are Striving to Be Temperate in These Volatile Times

As amusing as I find it when Chris Murphy decides he's a moral theologian who has determined that there are now "degrees" of evil, and Elizabeth Warren indulges in what she understands to be her "inner Cherokee", we just had a congressman shot by a lunatic inflamed by the extreme language of fear.  Perhaps it's time to strive to be thoughtful in discourse, rather than emotionally de-articulated.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

No Surprise, Really

Daniel Day-Lewis Quits Acting

Knowing where he lives (I used to live in the same town), and how pleasant it is there this time of year, I don't blame him.

We once had a very funny conversation at the local market about kids, he was surrounded by about a dozen of them at the time, and ice cream, that they were violently raiding from the cooler rather like the Goths sacking Rome.  Clearly, he was enjoying himself.

An Obituary of Note

Bill Dana, Comic Best Known for Jose Jimenez character, Died at 92

I know that the humorless scolds of the 21st century would find much to criticize with Dana's characterization, but he cracked me up when I was a kid.  However, his biggest fans may have been the family next door to us who had recently fled Castro's Cuba.  Whenever he was playing Jose on The Ed Sullivan Show, you could hear the whole Fernandez family laughing.

If My Daughter Were Barbie....

...I would tell her that, although all of these young men appear neat and nice, and would probably be fun friends and shopping buddies, I would not count on a romantic relationship with any of them.

Mattel unveils diverse line of Ken dolls

Good News

Johns Hopkins researchers say they've unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it


I occasionally come across quotations that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn. I may or may not agree with the writer's perspective, but the quotation represents something that stirs my thinking and, sometimes, imagination. From time to time, I'll share them and their source, but caveat emptor.
Had Hillary won, everyone would have expected disappointed Trump voters to show a modicum of respect for the electoral results as well as for the historic ceremony of the inauguration, during which former combatants momentarily unite to pay homage to the peaceful transition of power in our democracy. But that was not the reaction of a vast cadre of Democrats shocked by Trump’s win. In an abject failure of leadership that may be one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the modern Democratic party, Chuck Schumer, who had risen to become the Senate Democratic leader after the retirement of Harry Reid, asserted absolutely no moral authority as the party spun out of control in a nationwide orgy of rage and spite. Nor were there statesmanlike words of caution and restraint from two seasoned politicians whom I have admired for decades and believe should have run for president long ago—Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. How do Democrats imagine they can ever expand their electoral support if they go on and on in this self-destructive way, impugning half the nation as vile racists and homophobes?

Mindless ideology is eating away at the soul of our education system

How schools fell victim to the attack of the Blob

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Victory for All That is American

Washington Post: Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms: There is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment

You may not like what some people say, but as long as they may do so freely, the rest of us may respond in kind.  Being an ordained Christian in the 21st century, one who often receives blistering criticism in the post-Christian public square, has taught how important this is.

Boats are More Dangerous Than Sharks

Hawaii soldier on surfboard dead after boat runs over him

There's Something Wonderfully American about this Headline

Maine woman attacked by rabid raccoon drowns it in puddle

Post-truth? It’s pure nonsense

For as long as there have been politicians, they have lied, fabricated and deceived. The manufacture of falsehood has changed over time, as the machinery becomes more sophisticated. Straight lies give way to sinuous spin, and open dishonesty disappears behind Newspeak and Doublethink. However, even if honesty is sometimes the best policy, politics is addressed to people’s opinions, and the manipulation of opinion is what it is all about. Plato held truth to be the goal of philosophy and the ultimate standard that disciplines the soul. But even he acknowledged that people cannot take very much of it, and that peaceful government depends on ‘the noble lie’.