Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas, summertime, and cognitive dissonance

  This December has been my third Christmas season since moving to Oz in December 2009. I think for the first time since we moved here, I'm feeling settled enough to allow myself to notice the extraordinarily bizarre way in which Australians adopt all the practices and customs of the Northern hemisphere holiday in blatant disregard of the fact that we are approaching summer solstice.

  I spoke to a mum from our kids' primary school today, and she confessed to having a surface sense of the strangeness of decorating with snowflakes.  I believe, however, that most Australians are unable, and will always be unable, to appreciate the deep meaningfulness of all these customs in the same way as those of us who grew up north of the 45th parallel.

  Some Melbournites spend a lot of hours affixing thousands and thousands of Christmas lights to their houses.  I  imagine having this conversation with any one of them:

You realize, don't you, that the POINT of putting up Christmas lights is to lift everyone's spirits in the coldest, darkest, most horrible time of year--when everyone is feeling suicidal because they're half frozen and and haven't seen the sun in 10 weeks?
Huh?  Oh--I think I know what you mean.  I remember once back in the winter of '79, there were like 3 days when the temperature dropped below 10 degrees (Celsius--that's 50 degrees Fahrenheit), in July.  I wasn't old enough to really remember, but my parents were traumatized for years.

  The other evening, about 6:30 PM, I was walking along past the coffee shop near my home. The sun was still high in the sky, and it was about 79 degrees F outside (that's 26 C). Blaring over the sound system from the coffee shop was some Christmas song the lyrics of which were about "frosty air".  Most Melbournites, I assume, have never actually experienced frosty air.  I certainly haven't seen any since moving here 25 months ago.  Maybe when they fly for ski vacations to New Zealand or something.

  The Australian church fathers, whoever they might be, should have done us all a favo(u)r and, having consulted with their magi/scientists, when they arrived they should have flipped the church calender about a 6 month axis.  Then, even though it never gets cold and never actually gets properly seasonally dark either, and even though the days are still longer than they're meant to be at winter solstice, at least there'd be SOME sort of reasoning behind trying to cheer yourself up a little in June/July, using festive sparkly tinsel and bulbs and lights and feasts and so forth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How I got off the fundamentalist ride, Exhibit A.

     Megs and I were wed in November 2000, in Port Macquarie, NSW, on the beach. It rocked. During the 3 months I spent in Australia in late 2000, a couple different things happened. On our honeymoon, we stopped in some little town and I got my ear pierced and a small earring. Also, during that time, I spent about 30 hours reading, trying to sort something out that I knew I needed to sort before we returned to my home church near Seattle. During my two years on LOGOS II, for very practical reasons, I had given up on the King James Version Onlyism of my home church (now Lifepoint Church NW). This because the small groups in which I participated, while operating in English, were composed mostly of folks from lots of nations who were operating in English as their second language. I quickly noticed that there was no way they could deal with the King James translation of the Bible. I suspected that this explanation wasn't going to fly with my home church, so I did some reading to figure out some better explanation. Also, I spent a few hours conversing with my wife and her two lovely sisters, and without quite realizing it my politics, which had already largely shifted anyway, were more or less cemented over to very left, while when I left Seattle they were very very right.

     When we flew back to Seattle in early January 2001, it was with the understanding that I was probably going to be offered a staff position at that church. However, that first Sunday, I completely and utterly failed to appreciate the politics of the situation. Pastor Tom welcomed me back and asked me to share a bit. I came up to the pulpit with my new ear ring. I'm sure he and everyone were shocked, but I had no clue at the time. I'd been away for 2 and a half years, and didn't quite realize how much I'd changed and how much they'd stayed the same. In fact, I shared with them that I wanted to become a Bible translator, and read a longish section from The Preface to the Readers (that's actually a bit of a delicious read which I recommend) which was originally contained with the King James translation. In it, the translators do a rather deliciously excellent job of dismantling all the arguments of the King James Onlyists--arguments which they themselves were of course having to deal with because there were those at the time making similar arguments about earlier English translations. Again, I think I had no clue how deeply closed they were. I'm told that my pastor was sitting there in the front row obviously displaying barely controlled fury. I didn't notice it at the time.

     After that, for a number of weeks, I had several meetings with Pastor Tom, during which we discussed various things, and he gave me lots of books to read which he believed supported his KJV only position, although it seemed to me that the books, written from very much inside the KJV only camp, instead made rather a spectacular case for the outright silliness of that entire camp (I think Revision Revised may have been among them). I was muddling along thinking/hoping that they would change/open enough to accommodate my views. My poor wife was muddling along feeling very very dismissed and ignored and generally shut out. No one at the church would talk to her. I think perhaps the guys were all a bit terrified of a gorgeous powerful women, and the women were all a bit cowed. No person had ever long been a member of that church who was not very much a white, right wing, fundamentalist American, and now here was this Australian, left wing, Anglican feminist Christian.

     Anyway, after the it's a small world story I told you earlier, I decided, all of sudden, that they were never going to change, and I asked Pastor Tom for a meeting to share with him about why we were leaving. He took the liberty of inviting the entire board of elders--four middle age white guys. The same pastor who'd asked me the small world question, upon hearing of this meeting, suggested to us that we schedule something else for about an hour after the meeting in case we needed an escape excuse, which turned out to be very handy.

     So one Sunday afternoon sometime in February 2001, Megan and I found ourselves sitting in the church office around a table with four rather serious looking middle age white guys. We spent about an hour beating around the bush. I explained that I'd realized that two and a half years earlier, my path and their path had diverged at perhaps a 10 degree angle. Not much of an angle, but over two years, we'd gotten further and further apart, so that now they were on path A, and I was on Path B, and I certainly wasn't going to come back over to their path, and it had become clear to me that they weren't going to come over to my path, so I thought we should just leave it at that, and part as friends. They were very dissatisfied with this explanation, and wanted to know about the exact nature of the stuff in between our two paths. I think they wanted to argue about it--to try to convince me to come back over to their path. I was extremely disinterested in doing this, and pretty much refused. We went back and forth for a long time. I felt very sad. At the end I was crying. It represented a big loss for me--they'd been my entire community from 87 to 98. They seemed angry rather than sad. I think they perhaps felt they'd made a big investment in me, and perhaps even had high hopes that I'd be a big cog in the machinery of their church which would help it grow and so forth.

     Near the end of an hour, Megs, who had been very very quiet, finally spoke up and said "Look, Benjamin has realized that this church is never ever going to accept me, and he decided he loves and values his relationship with me more than his relationship with this church." At that point, Tom became visibly furious. He is about 6 feet 2 inches tall, and is a very muscular and heavy man, with bright red hair. He leaned over the table, right into Megs' face, and, slamming his fist down on the table right in front of her, he shouted "You should NEVER have put him in that position."

     After that, I spoke up and said that alas we had another meeting we had scheduled and we didn't want to be late, so we'd have to be going. The youngest of the elders, Mark, then in his early 30's, I'd guess, found this outrageous, and said several times rather loudly "HOW CONVENIENT!!!". And of course he was right, it was incredibly convenient. Tom and the others strongly requested that we cancel the other meeting and stay until we could finish sorting everything out (to their satisfaction). We of course declined, and off we went.

     After that we had relatively little interaction with anyone from that church--some of whom I'd known for years and been very good friends with. It wasn't the best parting. I'd do it somewhat differently now, but I think at the time, it was really the only way I could leave. It has seemed to me, in the past, looking at that church, that in some sense the leaders act in the role of parents, and the parishioners act in the role of children, and the only way for the parishioners to leave in a growing up sort of way is the way in which I left. Or something like that. I remember from when I was inside the church all those years--that others would leave in such a way---that somehow they'd just be gone, and the general sense was that they had fallen away out into the big dangerous world, where people believed things other than the safe prescribed beliefs of our church. The hope was always that someday maybe they'd come back into our safe little fold and be okay again. But they rarely did. In fact there was a very tiny core of long termers, and other than that the membership was mostly medium term revolving door type people.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Awesome story by E, aged 9

My lovely daughter shared this story with us today.

The Never Ending Trail
by Eowyn Ady

Every day I saw it towering above me like a giant for the past 20 years, and now here I am ready to climb it. I took a step, then another, then another. I was just starting to feel more confident when suddenly something or someone grabbed me and began to pull.

I screamed for help. I was sinking into the ground. "Help!", I cried again, but I knew it was no use. People have died on this mountain. Nobody comes anywhere near it if they can help it. Then I realized something. I was no longer being pulled into the earth. Instead, something seemed to be tying my feet together. But that's not what was surprising me most. The rope felt very much like tree root. Then it hit me that it *was* tree root, tree root that was still connected to its sapling. They were going to grow the tree on top of me. I remember my mother once telling about these creatures. They wait for you to die then grow the tree on top of you then the tree eats you. There's only one way to get away--laughter! I thought, then I said a joke that made everybody laugh.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Acculturation into glorification of violence--why do we go to war?

In my children's primary school's weekly newsletter today, this:

"This morning our grade 5/6 students visited the Shrine of Remembrance to join thousands of others for the annual Remembrance Day service. As part of the service, B______ and B__________ , laid a special wreath made by the 5/6 students on the steps of the shrine."

Here's a new's article about the service.

I see I shall have to keep my eyes and ears wide open, if I'm to have any chance of my children growing up not believing the myth of redemptive violence. I think I shall have to do some exposure to MLK and Ghandi.

Tonight I shall ask them "Why do people go to war?" then I shall examine, with them, their answers. =)

What do you think--why do people go to war?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Update on miscarriage

Two weeks ago my lovely wife and I had a miscarriage. At the time, I thought I was fine with it, that it wouldn't affect me much if at all, etc.

I should have known better. One of the things I've noticed about myself in the past is that somehow these things gradually catch up with me, and affect me in big ways, but that it can take a bit. Maybe it's emotional stupidity. =) Like my emotions just take longer to get it.

So the thing I've noticed more than anything else over the past 2 weeks has been a rather steep decline in mental function. It's like my brain got switched over to half speed. I read papers--the whole paper, and as I'm reading I have this sense that the words and the sentences and the paragraphs make sense. But then when I'm done reading, I have NO idea what I've read.

I used to be able to complete a 1500 words essay in maybe 8 hours. Now it takes more like 20.

It's weird. Is this what all those undergrad students who got lower grades than me and seemed to be struggling while everything seemed so easy for me had to deal with?

It's weird just NOT being good at something I've always been good at. I've realized that I leaned on the fact that I had that particular sort of intelligence. I felt good about it--I felt good about myself because of it, plus it made a lot of things easier.

Maybe this is a brilliant experience for me. Maybe it will help me be gracious to people who are struggling. I hope so--it would be a nice benefit to counter the frustration I'm experiencing.

Memories of Grace Seattle

From the age of ~8 until the age of ~31, I generally went to Sunday Morning Church® gatherings every single week, at least 45 weeks per year. The very last church I was ever involved with in this manner was Grace Seattle. Grace was the place where I nearly finished my journey out of Christianity and into Pastafarianism. I was thinking of Grace today. Here's a couple memories I have:

There was a truly charismatic and delightful fellow by the name of Dave Sellers who was interim pastor at Grace when we started attending there. They had lost their founding pastor due to some scandal about which no one would talk. Dave had been the associate pastor at the time of the scandal, and had stepped in as interim pastor while the pastoral search committee looked for someone new. He had also applied for the position, but the committee didn't choose to hire him. His response to my and Megs' perhaps-not-always-so-gentle negativity towards what we saw as bullshit was delightfully non-defensive and open and inviting. He told us that he was really glad we were at Grace because he felt the church had a lot to learn from us. I'm glad for his sake that the church decided not to hire him as permanent senior pastor.

My memory of the pastor they did end up hiring, John Haralson, revolves around two episodes. The first was one Sunday morning in the foyer of the church. John was clearly angry at me because I would write perhaps-not-always-completely-gentle-and-politically-correct notes on the response cards which everyone was invited to fill out. One Sunday morning I guess he'd had enough, because he came into the foyer, noticed my response card in the basket of response cards, picked it up, walked swiftly over to me, standing very much inside my personal bubble (perhaps within 6 inches), and in a perhaps-not-entirely-soft-and-gentle-voice demanded to know why I continued to write such things despite previous warnings. It's kind of funny, looking back, 'cause I was SO frightened of him, and he was clearly at least somewhat frightened of me. Sigh. Frightened leaders and frightened parishioners do not the most brilliant combination make.

My other memory of him is a conversation I had with him when I had decided to no longer be involved with the church. He was, again, quite frightened for my future prospects--not so much about leaving Grace, but more about the fact that I was deciding not to be involved in church at all anymore. He was fearful for the temporal and eternal consequences of that decision and the accompanying deconversion with which he rightly understood it to correlate. He tried to warn me off. I guess he was doing his duty as watcher on the walls, so he didn't end up with blood on his hands (there's a little Biblical language for you, with apologies to the uninitiated).

One other memory sticks out for me. When we were looking to get involved with a small group at Grace, early on, we had rather a lot of trouble. The first group we investigated said their group was closed for a while because some members were having some sort of intense difficulty. The second group we investigated shared with us that the group didn't have any other small children, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable with Megan breastfeeding our infant daughter in the group, although they'd be glad to set up a separate room in the house where she could take her daughter to breastfed her in private. Sigh. So very American, that. All hail our Puritan fathers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ABA, spanking, gender identity, and suicide

Came across this rather fascinating story today.

Ole Ivar Lovaas was a Norwegian born psychologist and researcher who was arguably the father and chief early proponent of Applied Behavior Analysis (hereafter ABA). ABA is at the time of this writing considered to be the only evidence based treatment for children with autism, and is by far the most extensively used and best funded treatment protocol for helping children with autism.

In 1974, Lovaas, along with his colleague George Rekers, published a paper in the journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in which they describe their experimental and apparently highly successful treatment of a 5 year old boy in California named "Kraig". Kraig's parents, specifically his mother, were concerned about Kraig's excessively feminine gender-identity and behavior--things like playing with dolls, preferring to play with girls rather than boys, and exhibiting "mother-like nurture" rather than "male aggression". In cooperation with his parents, Lovaas and Rekers designed and carried out an ABA intervention which involved reinforcing Kraig's "masculine" play and attributes, while punishing his "feminine" play and attributes. Kraig was beaten by his father for "feminine" behavior as part of this intervention. The result of the intervention was that Kraig became a typical boy's boy, indistinguishable from other little boys in terms of gender-identity and gender-related behaviors at 26 months post treatment.

In 2003, the person who had been given the pseudonym "Kraig", Kirk Murphy, then 38 years of age, committed suicide.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Over the weekend, my lovely partner, lover, and spouse was hospitalized with excruciating abdominal pain. Urine test suggested pregnancy, which we did not know about. She's been bleeding for a week or so, and we thought it was her period. Ultrasound found no signs of pregnancy. bHCG blood levels confirmed pregnancy, and bHCG levels 24 hours later confirmed loss of pregnancy.

Megs asked all of us for names, and so we named the fetus Ronan Elrond Samwise Isabella Pippen Ady =). Me thinks perhaps we would never saddle a living child with such a name =).

Fascinatingly, Saturday (October 15th) was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. There's a lovely International Wave of Light in which folks light a candle on that day at 7PM in their own time zone in remembrance of lost pregnancies or lost infants. I think it shall be lovely in future years to participate in this in memory of Samwise =)

I've been reading and pondering a bit on what it all means. Following are some notes on things I've learned.

Apparently upwards of 20% of known-about pregnancies and up to 50% of all conceptions end in early spontaneous abortion (i.e. miscarriage). Apparently calling spontaneous abortion by that name is odious to some because the term is associate with induced abortion, about which lots of people have judgments.

The concensus reality seems to indicate that sadness an/or psychological distress is called for. The NIH says "many mothers and their partners feel very sad. Seemingly helpful advice like “you can try again,” or “it was for the best” can make it harder for mothers and fathers to recover because their sadness has been denied."

Here's a fascinating paper from the Journal of Clinical Nursing entitled "The experience of early miscarriage from a male perspective." The author says "there is a taboo in Western cultures surrounding sex, reproduction and death. Miscarriage embraces all three of these areas and is potentially a very difficult issue to research."

I've decided to believe that the miscarriage is perfect. I love babies and children, and I would be super delighted for Megs to be pregnant and for us to have another baby. And this recent miscarriage is exactly the perfect thing for us right now, a gift from a benevolent universe. I feel completely awesome about it.

Having said that, I don't want to invalidate the experience of Megs, nor of any of you, lovely readers. In fact, I'd love to hear about your experiences of miscarriage, if any. Whatever your emotional experience, I believe that it is or was exactly the right emotional experience for you, and I'd love to hear about it if you're willing to share.

I'm especially curious to hear about the experiences of other men whose partner has experienced miscarriage. The literature seems to suggest that some men feel both grief and confusion about their role, as well as possibly a need to deny their own grief so they can 'be strong' in helping their grieving partner. Not that this necessarily matches any particular person's experience. What was yours?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autism: ISM-ing and joining

For those of you who don't know, one of my very favorite things to do in the world is to spend time playing with very amazingly beautiful children who are on the autism spectrum. Over the last 2 and a half years I've had the privilege of spending hundreds and hundreds of hours playing one on one with a number of these delightful little ones--children whose parents have chosen to use the SONRISE program to try to help their little ones learn to connect with themselves and other people.

My very favourite thing about the SONRISE program is it's unique perspective on the exclusive repetitious behaviors in which many children on the autism spectrum engage. In the wider autism community, these behaviours are often referred to as "stims", and inside the SONRISE community, we like to refer to them as "isms". My belief is that everyone, including neurotypical people, have isms--behaviors which we like to do more or less alone, that we do over and over again, because for whatever reason we find them comforting, or relaxing, or centering, or what have you. Like nail biting. Or zoning out on the internet (teehee).

The perspective that the SONRISE program takes on isms is very different from the perspective that many autism professionals as well as many families of those with autism take. We engage in something called joining. It means that when the child with autism is isming, we do the activity with them. We don't just mimic, however. We really get into it with them--whatever they are doing, we really try to understand it, and really do it with them, exactly as they are doing it, with the same real delight and enthusiasm and concentration with which they are doing the activity. It's our way of saying "We love you, and we think you ROCK, and we think whatever you do ROCKS, and in fact we feel that way so strongly that we want to do it with you.". It's also my belief and observation that when I really join a child with autism in their exclusive repetitious behaviour, I can in a sense almost make that behaviour more effective for them--so that whatever they are trying to get from that behaviour, for themselves, they actually somehow get more of it, faster. The end result is that they do the behaviour less. Many SONRISE mums and dads will bear witness to this--that when they started joining their children, their children's amount of isming went down. Of course there are no guarantees, but this makes a lot of sense to me. I'm much more willing and able to engage socially with others when my sensation is that they totally accept me and are totally stokishly happy to do whatever I want to do.

Anyway, today I was playing with a beautiful little boy on the spectrum, and he was doing this awesome ism for about 15 minutes, and I so enjoyed joining him that I wanted to share with you my experience:

N was standing on one side of the little wooden table, holding a shirt. He stayed standing, but he gently shifted position occasionally, as if to find the optimal position for what he wanted to do. So he'd move back from the table a little, and then move toward it a little. He'd move a bit to the right, and then a bit to the left. All the time during this he was deeply engaged in two things. Firstly he was deeply engaged in the tabletop. He was studying it like perhaps a master antique wooden table expert might study it, or perhaps a master lifelong carpenter who only ever built tables. Secondly, he was deeply engaged in the shirt he was holding, studying its texture, its edges, its shape and color and just deeply fascinated by it. It was as if he was looking for the perfect way and place to hold it in order to use it to engage with the table JUST SO. Then he would swing it in these perfect little circular swings against the table. Also during the entire time, he was vocalizing these beautiful vocalisms--kind of a fascinating vowel somewhere between "eee" and "aaaa". These vocalizations would go up and down in pitch and in loudness.

So I joined him in all these wondrous delightful things. I got a pink sari to use as he was using a shirt, and I got on my knees so I was about the same height as him from the table, and I became deeply absorbed by the patterns of the wood grain on the table top, and by the strange sweet music N and I were making, and by the shape and feel and colour and texture of my sari, and by how the shadows on the tabletop changed as I shifted, back and forth, left and right. Obviously I don't totally understand exactly what N is getting for himself from this exclusive activity, but I can say this--it feels deeply centering. I always feel somehow like I'm the lucky one, when N chooses to ISM while I'm the room with him--like he's sharing this profoundly beautiful experience he creates with me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A dialogue

I'm choosing to feel really angry.

How come?

Cause this person asked me a question that appeared to be sincere, and as soon as I answered it they attacked my answer and me personally.

And given that they asked you a question and then attacked you and your answer--how come you feel angry?

Cause it felt like a setup--like ... I felt excited that they were engaging me as a human being, that they wanted to know about my beliefs and experiences, and then when I shared myself, they said my answer was clearly wrong, and accused me of unkindness toward my wife.

So which part do you want to talk about--the statement that your answer was wrong, or the accusation of unkindness toward your wife?

Both, really--it was more the whole setup. I feel like I fell for it--like I should have ... been aware that this person wasn't a safe person, and thus I shouldn't have shared myself. I feel like I set myself up for being vulnerable to being attacked.

Given that you knew that this person wasn't a safe person, why did you make yourself vulnerable like that, Benjamin?

I feel like I was sucked in by the question. I had shared something about myself, and the question they asked about it was just so inviting--as if they really wanted to understand me.

Okay--so given that you saw the question and felt really invited to share, and then this person attacked you after you shared--how come you feel angry?

It doesn't feel so much like anger anymore--it feels more like a feeling of not being safe.

What do you mean by not being safe?

I mean ... it feels like there are just these people out there who are going to ask questions that look really inviting and curious and non-judgmental, and then when you stupidly go for the invitation, they attack you. It feels like this nasty setup like a clever fisherman making a really alluring lure, I feel angry that this person would treat me like that--pretend with the pretty lure and then take out a knife and gut and scale me.

So how come you're seeing this person's response that they believe you're wrong, and that they believe you're unkind to your wife--how come that bugs you so much?

It's 'cause I grew up in this system (haha--that's funny 'cause 3 weeks ago I decided to stop believing in systems). Anyway I was gonna say that I grew up in a system where I was treated like this a lot--there was this superficial niceness, but it was contingent on agreeing with the consensus belief framework. So ... I felt like I had to really fight to get out of that system(haha--there's that word again)/community, and now somehow that makes me vulnerable to this sort of thing.

What do you mean by "vulnerable"?

I mean that I feel like I'm a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing.

What do you mean by "sucker"?

I mean that I set myself up for the fall on these things. It happened last week too with another unsafe person. I open up a little bit and be authentic with people who are pretty clearly unsafe--the sort of people who just attack other people's beliefs and opinions willy nilly, and they inevitably respond by attacking me.

Why do you do that, Benjamin?

I don't know.

Take a guess.

I do it because I'm hoping/longing for genuine connection. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. ... I want to change them. WOW. there's a huge insight. Yep. I feel like somehow giving these people an opportunity to interact with me--a person who is self aware and safe, will help them come to understand what fucks they are, and thus enable them to become less of a fuck and more of a self aware safe person like me.

Why do you choose to feel unsafe around certain people?

It's the element of nasty surprise. Oh my God. I totally do that to my kids--that nasty surprise thing. Like everything will be going along hunky-dory, and then I'll see that they've caused some shocking mess somewhere, and I'll use anger to motivate myself and to get them to do what I want.

Why do you believe that this person saying they believe you're wrong and accusing you of unkindness toward your wife is nasty?

Because it's not what I expected. I wanted them to respond by either saying that my answer made sense to them, or else saying that it didn't make sense to them, but then follow that with another question. Or at the very least to respond by talking about their own experience. I massively dislike it when people talk about my experience in a judgmental way. Why can't they just shut their face?

Why did you dislike it and feel angry when this person talked about your experience in a judgmental way?

Because ... I think I disliked my own sort of instant response--it felt very sympathetic nervous system. You know that fellow who is the cello teacher in Boston, he talks about how his students when they make a mistake they have this judgement about it, and they can then freeze up and get all tight--like a rat gets when it's scared--that frozen, curl in on yourself thing. He makes his students who do that put down their cello and stand up and throw their arms out in the air and shout with exuberance "HOW FASCINATING!". He makes them do it every time, 'til it's habit. Wait a moment. What if I chose to have that response instead today to this person attacking me. I'm gonna try it--one second.

Wow that felt really good. I'm gonna imagine that I just had that experience where this person attacked me, and I'm gonna do that response immediately. Hold on.

OK. Hot damn that feels so good and so much better than my original response. In future, whenever someone verbally attacks me, I'm gonna do that right then and there. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!

Do you feel finished with that?

Yep! Thank you! =)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mostly on facebook now

Just a note. I'm mostly posting on facebook now. I might write here again more often eventually, but I see it's been a month and a half. You're welcome to friend/follow me at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Notes on the death of my grandfather

A gentle warning--this post touches on physical and sexual abuse. Please be gently forewarned if you suffer from PTSD around these issues.

I learned today that my grandfather David "Buddy" Eaton died on July 1st, 2011, one week ago. He is survived by four of his six children and seven grandchildren and a bunch of great grandchildren.

This is my story about my granddad.

I'm pretty sure I met my granddad three times during my lifetime--Once when I was very young, my family visited Boston--I remember being at his house, and seeing him with two of his beautiful fascinating colorful parrots, who were riding on his left and right shoulders. I remember he seemed to have a funny egg shaped bump on his forehead, and a funny egg shaped concavity next to it, and thinking they balanced each other out somehow. I remember him talking to me a little bit about birds, and learning that he was president of the local birding society. I remember his house, in which my mother grew up, seeming very large, with multiple floors going up and a basement going down. That would have been in Saugus, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. All this must have been around about 1980.

I didn't see him again until 'round about 2004. But first, I should tell you that I learned in ~2001 that my grandfather was a pedophile. He raped my mother many times during the years of her adolescence. He was also psychologically, verbally, and physically abusive toward all his 5 children. He used to hit the children in the face with a fork at dinnertime if they did something wrong. Apparently both my mum and all her siblings left home and got as far away as possible pretty much the moment they turned 18--all joining the U.S. military, I believe. In the intervening years, they all settled in the general vicinity of Seattle, Washington, pretty much as far away as you can get from Saugus, Massachusetts and still be in the contiguous U.S. At some point my lovely amazing grandmother learned some of the details of what her husband had done to her children and she divorced him and moved to the Seattle area as well.

Back to 2004. In 2004 the extended family heard from an old neighbor/friend that Buddy was very sick, was refusing medical treatment, and was probably going to more or less die in his own shit in his home in the near future if nothing was done. At this point, having been taught a rather toxic brand of forgiveness by the Christian church with which they were involved, my mum and dad flew to Saugus, helped my granddad, apparently more or less against his will, sorted his affairs, sold his house, and brought him back to live in their own home in the Seattle area.

Here's to inviting toxic monsters into your home in the name of God.

Having lived in the same home with her childhood nightmare for a year, in 2005 my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died of it in June 2008. By the way, you can read my eulogy for my mum here. She was an amazing person.

Anyway, in 2004 when my grandfather was living in my parents' home, I went to meet him. I just wanted to tell him thank you for the $120 he had given to help start a college fund for me back when I was a very young child. I did tell him that, and he didn't seem to totally understand what I was saying, but we did have a little connection--he looked at me and verbally responded in some way. My dad overheard that conversation and explained to me afterwards that it was actually my godfather, a different man altogether, who had given that $120. Ah well.

After my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005, the decision was made to place my grand dad in an assisted living facility in Monroe, Washington, close enough that my dad could still go take care for him there, but far enough that my dad could mostly focus on spending time with and caring for my mum. My granddad was at that facility from 2005 until ~2010, when the exorbitant monthly fees finally depleted his substantial life savings and he had to be moved to a government funded facility nearby. It was at that first facility, Merrill Gardens in Monroe, that I met him for the 3rd and last time. I decided to go spend father's day with him one year--I think 2009. I went and had dinner with him in the dining room, and hung out with him and some others who lived there. He was I think 82 years old at the time, and pretty much unresponsive. You couldn't really have any sort of conversation with him. I didn't see him again.

During 2004-2008, there were multiple instances where my mother's extended family were getting together for various occasions, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, when I had to clearly explain to all them that I and my little family with two young girls would not be coming if grand dad were invited, because I didn't want him around my young daughters. I was usually roundly castigated for this, and sometimes they agreed not to have him come, but other times he was invited and thus our little family didn't go.

Other bits and pieces: My understanding is that my granddad fought in WWII in Europe, but I'm not totally sure about that. Also, he worked for many years as a chemist, I'm pretty sure, for some petrochemical company in the greater Boston area, from which he retired when he got to the age for retiring.

It's also my understanding that he made inappropriate and illegal sexual advances and comments toward the young nurses who worked at the assisted living facilities he was at from 2005-2011, and that the police were called multiple times because of this.

I'm glad he has died. He was an ongoing financial and emotional drain on my dad, who has enough of his own stuff to deal with, but who promised my mum before she died that he would look after my granddad.

Finally, if you or someone you know is committing or has committed sexual abuse of children, please call StopItNow's free helpline at 1888PREVENT. The folks at stop it now have a lot of experience helping abusers find the help they need to stop abusing and become safe people. And if you know of a situation of ongoing abuse, please act now to protect the victims--the phone counselors at Stopitnow can guide you as to what steps you can take to protect the victims and prevent further abuse. Even if you're just suspicious and want to know how to tell, they can help you with that as well. If you're not in the U.S., please find an organization in your own country that can help.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Notes on my visit to Carmel Welsh Presbyterian Church, Sebastopol, Victoria, Australia

I had a lovely walk through small-town Oz to the ancient-by-Aussie-white-person standards lovely old bluestone block church building—built in 1865. I came in a little late just as they were greeting one another. I was delightedly overwhelmed as person after person came up to me to introduce themselves, wish me good morning, and shake hands. They were using a karaoke machine to stream lyrics to a television set on a tall stand at the front so folks could sing along to praise songs. The regular organist was out sick, so the gray haired pastor, Bob Gray, played with gusto as everyone sang. There was a mixture of modern praise songs and seriously old-school hymns. I love singing and knew all the hymns from growing up in another old-school church, so I sang out, though I was slightly shocked at some of the lyrics.

Hanging from the rafters near the front was a Welsh flag—a gorgeous red dragon on a white and green background. There’s a fascinating Wales/Australia/Philippines connection here. The church was founded by the Welsh mining community hereabouts during the Aussie gold rush. They’re proud to bits about this, having last Sunday had their 150th anniversary celebration with some 200 people in attendance. Today there were about 30 in attendance. There were various mentions of connection to the Philippines, and several of those in attendance were from there. In the bulletin there were top quality eggs on offer, $3/dozen, from Brenda, with all proceeds going to feed malnourished children in the Philippine city of Salamanca, the home village of Jun, Ailyn, and Ivy--all church members. This same Jun came up to me in the very back row during service to introduce himself and welcome me. A bit later, during the offering, 68 year-old Reverend Bob himself came back and asked all our names, giving Megan a gracious if perhaps slightly forward kiss on the cheek. A bit later, Bob welcomed the five of us by name from the pulpit in the most gracious, delightful, countrified way, acknowledging as Megan had told him that she had ancestors who attended this church in the late 19th/early 20th century. He seemed truly delighted to have us.

The church was focused on temperance—a fascinating experience for me, as I grew up in a teetotalling church, and never drank a drop ‘til the age of 26, when my much freer Anglican-raised Australian wife brought me to a pub for the first time, during our courtship in Italy! =). There was bragging about the church having been at the cutting edge of temperance in Oz for nearly 100 years. “How far ahead of their time were they, standing up against drinking and gambling—ahead of us in this modern Victoria that we live in where you can’t walk down the street in Melbourne without getting bashed by some drunk”, said Reverend Gray from the pulpit (more on which later). A lady who didn’t look a day over 50 proclaimed “I’ve got a card at home that I signed in 1941 that I would never drink—and I’ve never drunk!”

The sermon was drawn from Exodus 33, with myriad other proof texts thrown in. There were three points, all answering the question “How can we know God?”: 1. Faith in his word. 2. Focusing on his way. 3. Full surrender to him. I found the sermon to be an endless series of delightfully shocking quotations. It was almost as if a caricature of fundamentalism had come alive and was standing before us. I include a few below, with my favourite bits bolded.

  • “Moses knew that knowing God is tied up with national security. We have divorced, of course, state and church, in our so called democracy, and we do this of course at our eternal peril”
  • “We live in this evolutionary age that says there is no god. You can’t get a book on plants and animals today that doesn’t mention evolution. Been around for millions of years—rubbish—no wonder our children don’t know God. Even those who claim to be Christians don’t want to stand on the truth of God’s words and tell these evolutionists they’re wrong. Any medical doctor will tell you that Monkey blood has no comparison with human blood! The Bible says very clearly the life of the body is in the blood.”
  • “My guilt and shame--Jesus took it all on Calvary. Exactly what are we without him?: the heart of man is desperately wicked. That heart needs to be broken. We need to be focused not on saving the planet, but on saving souls.”
  • “365 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament. Many of the Old Testament prophecies are being fulfilled today. ‘There shall be wars and rumours of wars.’ II Peter 3 talks about meltdowns in nuclear reactors! The time for Christ to return is growing very close. The book of Revelation warns of 666 on forehead/hand. They’re practicing on animals at this moment. That’s why councils are insisting on dogs getting these implants. They’re preparing so they can do it to humans next.
  • (Finally, in reference to the wine and bread for Communion, and just in case any stray Roman Catholics were in the building) “At no point do these elements become anything other than what they are: bread and wine.

After the service, Reverend Gray came and talked with us a bit. I gently mockingly told him we were from Melbourne, and (referring to his quote above about Melbourne and drunks) that we were regularly accosted by drunks in the street. He replied by sharing with us a story. When he was 13 years of age (that is, in 1956) his father, an engineer, was bicycling home from work and was hit by a drunk driver, leading to many years of back problems and back pain as well as (according to Bob) an aneurism which eventually killed him. Since then he’s had “no truck” with alcohol nor with those who do have truck with it. I expressed sympathy for Bob and his father, though his story leads me to conclusions about driving and drinking rather than about alcohol generally.

After that, we all retired to the church hall for tea, coffee, and cake. I got to see the small but growing church library, and met and talked for a bit with Peter and Gracie and their lovely family of three girls—about my own girls’ age. Peter gave the children’s sermon during the service, using (seriously old-school) a felt board! He told the story of Zaccheus, whose name he pronounced, much to my delight “ZAK key us”, which is rather different from the “zak KEY us” which I learned as a child. Peter recently finished his bachelor of ministry at Bible College, and works for a company which provides assistance devices such as wheel chairs. He wants a full time ministry position, and I think it would be lovely if he became minister at Carmel Welsh when Reverend Gray retires. His telling of the story of ZAK-key-us was connective, almost post-modern, delightful, funny, and he had all the adults and all the children, who had gone up front to sit and listen, raptly listening—in the palm of his hand. During the service Peter told everyone about the small library, which is his project, and asked folks to donate books, as apparently there is no theological library anywhere in Ballarat for those interested in studying more deeply. Hurrah for education and opening minds!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Joe asks an interesting question

In this post, he asks "How many cups of coffee does a man have to drink alone before he is a failure?"

What do you think?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Love and hatred

Today I visited, for the first time, the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. It's an edifice to the Myth of Redemptive Violence. At its heart is The Stone of Remembrance, upon which is written the phrase "Greater love hath no man". To me this represents an astonishing wresting of Jesus words in John 15. Jesus' point is that "the world" is going to hate Christians because of the revolutionary way they love. The Shrine of remembrance is about loving people for the violent way they hated. There's a vast difference between laying down your life for your friend (see for instance Rachel Corrie, or Jesus) and losing your life while attempting to kill other people for your friend (see for instance the world arms industry).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Grains

Today I gained a deep insight into my lovely Megsie's world, with an astonishing and delightful make-believe called "The Grains".

This conversation at our house today:

Meg: Did you put all the bowls I washed back in with the dirty dishes?

Bens: Yes. They weren't clean.

Megs: Yes they were. Why did you do that?

Bens: They had stuff on them. I can't put them away like that. I tried--I just can't bring myself to do it.

Megs: Oh! They're really actually clean. That stuff you are talking about is just the grains. You wouldn't be able to get them off either.

Bens: I think I could. Would you like me to show you?

Megs: No. Could you not do that anymore? It makes more work.

Bens:. Sweetie, I was just making space in the drying rack so I could wash them and all the other dishes. Sorry I don't mean to make more work. I really just can't bring myself to put them away. If you are going to wash them like that, could you just put them away yourself--I'm fine if you do that--I just can't actually put them away with 'the grains' on them.

Megs: Okay, lovely (puts stack of bowls away in cupboard where they go).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Random thoughts on Osama bin Laden

I have found myself over the past several days growing increasingly attracted to the image of Osama bin Laden. He seems to have a very beautiful and gentle face and eyes. This might merely be a case of exposure leading to liking.

The recent killing of Osama by forces loyal to the Empire and the massive news exposure which followed seems to me to have provided those of us in the west with an amazing and beautiful opportunity to put a face on the ultimate failure of the myth of redemptive violence. It also provides us with a beautiful opportunity to consider the final repercussions of the make-believe we call "justice".

A word about make-believe may perhaps be in order. I mean something incredibly simple by this phrase. I believe that all our feelings and all our actions spring from our beliefs, and that all these beliefs were constructed by each of us at various points in our lives in order to do the best we can to take best possible care of ourselves. Some we constructed when we were very young. Some we constructed later. But we constructed each and every belief we hold, each one of us, for our own selves and for our own reasons. What this means, among other things, is that we can at any time, for our own reasons, choose to reaffirm or to discard any of the constructed beliefs--these make-believes, as well as to construct new ones.

Sometimes lots of people come to hold more or less similar make believes, all together, in a sense. Justice is one such make believe which seems to me to be rather widespread. To me, the make-believe of justice is a belief people construct in order to justify wanting what they want. To me, it's actually preferable to simply allow myself to want what I want, without feeling a need to justify it by constructing make-believe called justice. The reason I prefer to choose not to need a make believe of justice in order to want what I want is that it seems to me that this make believe called justice is very much a driver of the great majority of the violence and war in the world. Both sides are using violence to go for what they want, and they are both, fascinatingly, appealing to this same make believe called justice--a make believe which strongly justifies their use of violence in pursuing what they want.

This brings us back to Osama. His beautiful gentle face is, in one sense, the face of one side of a war. Both Osama's side and Empire's side strongly appeal to the make believe of justice in pursuing what they want. I wonder how many of you, lovely readers, have a real sense of Osama's legitimate wants--the ones underlying his violent rhetoric? Have you ever read his two fatwa? Here's his 1996 fatwa. Its language so strongly appeals to the make-believe of justice.

I wonder how many of you, dear readers, have considered the wants of Osama bin Laden--the wants which motivated his attacks on September 11 and prior to that against U.S. embassies, U.S. warships, etc.? Have you been able to dispassionately consider what was driving him?

Wikipedia has an interesting article on motivations for the September 11 attacks--drawn from Osama's fatawa and interviews with him. He was concerned about, among other things: U.S. sanctions against Iraq, U.S. forces deployed in Islam's most holy nation (Saudi Arabia), and U.S. support of Israel against the Palestinians.

What's really fascinating is that all these actions by Empire (the U.S. et al.), and the violence which accompanied them, were motivated identically to Osama et al.'s motivation--appeals to justice. Sanctions against Iraq were statedly in pursuit of justice for Kuwait. U.S./Empire support of Israel grew (arguably) out of pursuit of justice for Jews after World War II.

That is to say--all the violence on both sides was, and continues to be, in response to previous violence, with strong appeals to justice. Obama has himself strongly appealed to justice over the last several days since Empire killed Osama. The problem with the make believe of justice is that what looks like justice to one side never looks like justice to the other. Osama's friends and associates don't see his death as justice, and are calling for and will doubtless carry out more violence in pursuit of justice regarding Osama's death. Similarly, America/Empire didn't see it as justice when Osama and associates carried out violent death on 9-11, or in embassy bombings etc. The ongoing violence is never going to end with a justice which everyone feels is just. The only way it is ever going to end is when someone decides to forgive. But that is a subject for a different post.

My main point here was that somehow, for me, Osama's face, so plastered all over the news recently, has come to powerfully represent this whole make believe of justice, and its futility, and the futility and self-perpetuating nature of the myth of redemptive violence, which percolates somehow through both of these major cultures (Western and Arabic) and both of these major religions (Christianity and Islam).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Surprised by Weeping over me.

I recently had a kind of strange experience which reminded me of another similar experience a while ago.

A (new to me--now my friend but formerly just Megs' friend) friend came over recently and spent the day--she's from out of state. In the course of our conversation, the subject of prayer came up, and I matter of factly told her I don't pray any more (all hail, by the way, Lucius Shepard's brilliant Handbook of American Prayer, which I massively recommend). She responded to this initially with gentle disbelief--the assumption that I must be joking. However I gently persisted, and when she realized I was serious she seemed a bit shocked, and said she wanted to hear more. So I shared with her a bit about my deconversion experience. She was genuinely and warmly listening, which is a really lovely experience, but then in the middle of my story she suddenly had tears streaming down her cheeks. I found this really surprising and interesting, and suddenly wanted to hear some of her story rather than telling her any more of mine. Alas, she was somewhat reticent to answer my questions, and despite gentle persistence I ended up getting only the very vaguest (I love that--"vaguest") of answers from her about why she was weeping. Maybe next time she visits I'll learn more. I hope so! =).

It felt astonishingly strange to me to have someone weep over my experience when my own feelings about that experience of are ones of delight, gratitude, and wonder. This strangeness feels very delicious--I want more of it. This is also a bit fascinating as my previous feelings about that same experience were also ones of pain and sorrow--ah the delight of switching over to happy-making make believes!

I see from the experience that I've changed a lot over the past couple of years--because it reminded me of a similar experience I had a little over 2 years ago. My mother had recently died, and my story about it at that time was one that had me feeling a lot of painful emotions--I suppose you might describe my experience at the time as being a bit raw. During that time, another friend/acquaintance (someone I used to know but hand't been in touch with for years--really more a friend of my parents) had a vaguely similar reaction. My amazing sister had expressed (on facebook) that she was no longer a Christian. This former friend responded by saying that my mother must be weeping in heaven (shitty version of heaven, right?) to know that both of her children were no longer Christians. At that time, my response was one of almost overwhelming anger. In fact, my written response to her on facebook was pretty much the unkindest thing I've ever said to anyone, from my point of view. I say from my point of view because of course unkindness is a totally different experience for the giver and the receiver of said unkindess, based on their own make believes. But from my point of view, what I said to this friend was me bringing my perhaps not-inconsiderable mental and emotional resources to bear, along with my knowledge of this person's make believe, to say the very meanest most unkind and outrageous thing I could possibly think of to say--I wanted to hurt her, because I was blaming her for the way in which I had hurt myself in response to her words. I'm pretty sure it worked really well too, as I heard reports that she spent the entire day weeping.

Under my previous make-believe, I would end this story by judging what I did as "bad" and saying I was sorry to have done it. But now it's simply really fascinating to me.

Have you ever been surprised by someone weeping over you? Tell me a story!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pirsig's Church of Reason

Tomorrow I am starting back to Uni, and I see that among other things I need to reread Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (also because the last time I read it, 20 years ago, I had never ridden a motorcycle).

Here's his introduction of the idea of the Church of Reason (clearly it's a little long, but well worth reading, in my opinion):

That night, for the next day's lecture, he wrote out his defense of what he was doing. This was the Church of Reason lecture, which, in contrast to his usual sketchy lecture notes, was very long and very carefully elaborated.

It began with reference to a newspaper article about a country church building with an electric beer sign hanging right over the front entrance. The building had been sold and was being used as a bar. One can guess that some classroom laughter started at this point. The college was well known for drunken partying and the image vaguely fit. The article said a number of people had complained to the church officials about it. It had been a Catholic church, and the priest who had been delegated to respond to the criticism had sounded quite irritated about the whole thing. To him it had revealed an incredible ignorance of what a church really was. Did they think that bricks and boards and glass constituted a church? Or the shape of the roof? Here, posing as piety was an example of the very materialism the church opposed. The building in question was not holy ground. It had been desanctified. That was the end of it. The beer sign resided over a bar, not a church, and those who couldn't tell the difference were simply revealing something about themselves.

Phædrus said the same confusion existed about the University and that was why loss of accreditation was hard to understand. The real University is not a material object. It is not a group of buildings that can be defended by police. He explained that when a college lost its accreditation, nobody came and shut down the school. There were no legal penalties, no fines, no jail sentences. Classes did not stop. Everything went on just as before. Students got the same education they would if the school didn't lose its accreditation.

All that would happen, Phædrus said, would simply be an official recognition of a condition that already existed. It would be similar to excommunication. What would happen is that the real University, which no legislature can dictate to and which can never be identified by any location of bricks or boards or glass, would simply declare that this place was no longer ``holy ground.'' The real University would vanish from it, and all that would be left was the bricks and the books and the material manifestation.

It must have been a strange concept to all of the students, and I can imagine him waiting for a long time for it to sink in, and perhaps then waiting for the question, What do you think the real University is?

His notes, in response to this question, state the following: The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It's a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.

In addition to this state of mind, ``reason,'' there's a legal entity which is unfortunately called by the same name but which is quite another thing. This is a nonprofit corporation, a branch of the state with a specific address. It owns property, is capable of paying salaries, of receiving money and of responding to legislative pressures in the process.

But this second university, the legal corporation, cannot teach, does not generate new knowledge or evaluate ideas. It is not the real University at all.

It is just a church building, the setting, the location at which conditions have been made favorable for the real church to exist.

Confusion continually occurs in people who fail to see this difference, he said, and think that control of the church buildings implies control of the church. They see professors as employees of the second university who should abandon reason when told to and take orders with no backtalk, the same way employees do in other corporations.

They see the second university, but fail to see the first.

I remember reading this for the first time and remarking about the analytic craftsmanship displayed. He avoided splitting the University into fields or 150 departments and dealing with the results of that analysis. He also avoided the traditional split into students, faculty and administration.

When you split it either of those ways you get a lot of dull stuff that doesn't really tell you much you can't get out of the official school bulletin. But Phædrus split it between "the church" and
"the location", and once this cleavage is made the same rather dull and imponderable institution seen in the bulletin suddenly is seen with a degree of clarity that wasn't previously available. On the basis of this cleavage he provided explanations for a number of puzzling but normal aspects of University life.

After these explanations he returned to the analogy of the religious church.

The citizens who build such a church and pay for it probably have in mind that they're doing this for the community. A good sermon can put the parishioners in a right frame of mind for the coming week. Sunday school will help the children grow up right. The minister who delivers the sermon and directs the Sunday school understands these goals and normally goes along with them, but he also knows that his primary goals are not to serve the community. His primary goal is always to serve God. Normally there's no conflict but occasionally one creeps in when trustees oppose the minister's sermons and threaten reduction of funds. That happens.

A true minister, in such situations, must act as though he'd never heard the threats. His primary goal isn't to serve the members of the community, but always God.

The primary goal of the Church of Reason, Phædrus said, is always Socrates'
old goal of truth, in its ever-changing forms, as it's revealed by the process of rationality. Everything else is subordinate to that. Normally this goal is in no conflict with the location goal of improving the citizenry, but on occasion some conflict arises, as in the case of Socrates himself. It arises when trustees and legislators who've contributed large amounts of time and money to the location take points of view in opposition to the professors' lectures or public statements. They can then lean on the administration by threatening to cut off funds if the professors don't say what they want to hear. That happens too.

True churchmen in such situations must act as though they had never heard these threats. Their primary goal never is to serve the community ahead of everything else. Their primary goal is to serve, through reason, the goal of truth.

That was what he meant by the Church of Reason. There was no question but that it was a concept that was deeply felt by him. He was regarded as something of a troublemaker but was never censured for it in any proportion to the amount of trouble he made. What saved him from the wrath of everyone around him was partly an unwillingness to give any support to the enemies of the college, but also partly a begrudging understanding that all of his troublemaking was ultimately motivated by a mandate they were never free from themselves: the mandate to speak the rational truth.

The lecture notes explain almost al of why he acted the way he did, but leave one thing unexplained...his fanatic intensity. One can believe in the truth and in the process of reason to discover it and in resistance to state legislatures, but why burn one's self out, day after day, over it?

The psychological explanations that have been made to me seem inadequate.
Stage fright can't sustain that kind of effort month after month. Neither does another explanation sound right, that he was trying to redeem himself for his earlier failure. There is no evidence anywhere that he ever thought of his expulsion from the university as a failure, just an enigma. The explanation I've come to arises from the discrepancy between his lack of faith in scientific reason in the laboratory and his fanatic faith expressed in the Church of Reason lecture. I was thinking about the discrepancy one day and it suddenly came to me that it wasn't a discrepancy at all. His lack of faith in reason was why he was so fanatically dedicated to it.
You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

The militancy of the Jesuits he somewhat resembled is a case in point. Historically their zeal stems not from the strength of the Catholic Church but from its weakness in the face of the Reformation. It was Phædrus' lack of faith in reason that made him such a fanatic teacher. That makes more sense. And it makes a lot of sense out of the things that followed.

That's probably why he felt such a deep kinship with so many failing students in the back rows of his classrooms. The contemptuous looks on their faces reflected the same feelings he had toward the whole rational, intellectual process. The only difference was that they were contemptuous because they didn't understand it. He was contemptuous because he did.

Because they didn't understand it they had no solution but to fail and for the rest of their lives remember the experience with bitterness. He on the other hand felt fanatically obliged to do something about it. That was why his Church of Reason lecture was so carefully prepared. He was telling them you have to have faith in reason because there isn't anything else. But it was a faith he didn't have himself.

It must always be remembered that this was the nineteen-fifties, not the nineteen-seventies. There were rumblings from the beatniks and early hippies at this time about ``the system'' and the square intellectualism that supported it, but hardly anyone guessed how deeply the whole edifice would be brought into doubt. So here was Phædrus, fanatically defending an institution, the Church of Reason, that no one, no one certainly in Bozeman, Montana, had any cause to doubt. A pre-Reformation Loyola. A militant reassuring everyone the sun would rise tomorrow, when no one was worried. They just wondered about him.

But now, with the most tumultuous decade of the century between him and ourselves, a decade in which reason has been assailed and assaulted beyond the wildest beliefs of the fifties, I think that in this Chautauqua based on his discoveries we can understand a little better what he was talking about -- a solution for it al -- if only that were true -- so much of it's lost there's no way of knowing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A lament for cancelled science fiction television

Referencing SGU and Caprica (and for me also Flashforward, SCC, Dark Angel, and alas too many others), Carmen says it so beautifully in this well written piece.
"Science fiction is one of the most thought-provoking genres out there with the potential to tell good stories—which, among other things, explore what it means to be human. It gets at who we are and why we do the things we do and takes us down the roads those choices lead. It tells us something about ourselves, the reality we live in, the people around us. It invites us to reflect on our lives, provokes us to examine what we believe and why, and helps us think through the issues facing us in our own lives"

Friday, February 11, 2011

miniaturization, and "eighth"

I totally owned one of these. It was about 6 inches long and half an inch thick. (I realize that this latter sentence leaves me open to certain snide remarks being made.)

Now I own one of these. It's about an inch wide and about an eighth of an inch thick. It holds exactly 1 million times as much information as the first one (yes, it's a different sort of memory, but it still works out.)

By the way--when you say "eighth" out loud, do you pronounce it "tth", that is, with a hard t followed by the th sound? Or do you simply pronounce it with the th sound?


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm a millionaire! Woot!

receieved today in my facebook inbox:

Subject: Please reply to my private email ID: for more informations
Senior Advocate, International Legal Practitioner
Sandra chambers & Financial ATTORNEY

Dear Benjamin Ady,

I‘m sorry if this proposal or information of mine may be a disturbance or harassment, Mr.P.A.Ady was a senior engineer here in Togo West Africa and he was my client as well, he died by car accident and he also left some funds with Commercial Bank of Togo before he died so contact me for the claim trough this address below and for more information because you have the same last name with him.

NB: The funds left by your late relation which was my late client with Commercial Bank of Togo is $6.5 millions dollars

Please reply to my private email ID: for more informations.

Remain bless
Best Regards
Mrs Sandra Kossi.Esq

Monday, January 24, 2011