Monday, January 31, 2011

The Hornby Rule of Novel Reading

I started Great House by Nicola Krauss last week and was reminded why I don't read many Novels-with-a-capital-N any more.

The Polysyllabic SpreeIt was exactly as Nick Hornby (in his wonderful collection of book reviews, The Polysyllabic Spree) described reading the Zoe Heller novel Desperate Characters:

Toward the end of the book, Otto and Sophie, the central couple, go to stay in their holiday home. Sophie opens the door to the house, and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there; she thinks about him for a page or so. The reason she's thinking about him is that she's staring at something he loved, a vinegar bottle shaped like a bunch of grapes. The reason she's staring at the bottle is because it's in pieces. And the reason it's in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie. At this point, I realized with some regret that not only could I never write a literary novel, but I couldn't even be a character in a literary novel. I can only imagine myself, or any character I created, saying, "Shit! Some bastard has trashed the house!" No rumination about artist friends--just a lot of cursing, and maybe some empty threats of violence.

I know I've told you about this notion of Nick Hornby's before, but I hadn't declared it a rule until now: The Hornby Rule of Novel Reading. Once the characters in a novel get so wrapped up in their own reveries that their behavior makes no sense, I am done. There are too many books and too little time.

And, Nick, no regrets, please! There's more insight in a single sentence with the honest observation of a character's behavior than in pages of fake reverie. And there's nothing wrong with plot either.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More on the murder of David Kato--an incoherent rant

Well, it's been a mighty fine display of protestations of innocence regarding the murder of David Kato this week. Yup, a lovely round of hand-washing and -wringing.

We've finally gotten the "crazy person" defense. Took a bit longer than the Tucson shootings because you could go first to the robbery gone wrong notion, or even better gay-on-gay violence (because gays are naturally violent, don't you know) or--better yet--the "it's Africa" excuse, much more subtly, though. After all, the people trying to wash their hands of any involvement with this killing are getting money from these folks.

We've gotten "taking our words out of context", "jumping to conclusions", and "a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.” Even a lovely bit of righteous indignation that anyone could THINK to imply they are involved.

You know what no one has said yet that I've heard? No one has said I'm sorry. I'm even good with an "if" clause, as in "I'm sorry if what I have said has led someone to do this terrible thing." "I'm sorry if our lack of response has made things more difficult." Nothing. Nada.

Well, I'll start with myself, then. I'm sorry. For things done and left undone that may contribute anything to a climate of fear and hatred, I am most sorry, and shall work to amend my life.

This morning GayUganda tweeted "Ok. Now i know what to ask. Kuchus [gay Ugandans] need spiritual re assurance. Books and literature. Gay positive. Christian. Moslem." We can do that.

One other thing I'd like to add: I would like to see us mark the sin of bearing false witness. Why don't we do that? Why don't we call it the sin that it is? That would be one of the big 10 after all. It is amazing to me how little we hear about it, compared to homosexuality. False witness, like "gay people recruit children." Can't the Archbishop of Canterbury at least speak against that? Or will he just continue to take stock?

Various links on this subject

Sunday Funnies, January 30

I should save this for a day when there's a lot of red carpet activity, but I can't wait. It's a song by Dr. Seuss. But you probably would have guessed that.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

David Kato

A couple of days ago, a man named David Kato was murdered in Uganda, bludgeoned with a hammer. Kato was an openly gay man and activist, working for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. He had recently won, along with two others, a case against a Uganda tabloid that had published a cover story with photos of him among others and the headline, “Hang them".

Whether or not he was murdered because he was gay, what happened at his funeral certainly was due to his sexuality. Reports are a bit muddled, but what seems clear is that the Anglican minister leading the service berated the mourners and began to expound upon the evils of homosexuality, when the mourners took over, "storming the pulpit" as the BBC put it. Reuters continues:

An unidentified female activist then began to shout from the pulpit.

"Who are you to judge others?" she shouted. "We have not come to fight. You are not the judge of us. As long as he's gone to God his creator, who are we to judge Kato?"

Locals intervened on the side of the pastor and scuffles broke out before he was taken away to Kato's father's house to calm the situation.

Villagers then refused to bury the body at which point a group of Kato's friends, most of whom were gay, carried his coffin to the grave and buried it themselves.

More thoughts on this in future. For the moment, I want to leave it there, maybe say a prayer. May David's soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Be very afraid.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Various and Sundry, January 28

Did you hear about the hawk that was hanging out in the reading room of the Library of Congress? No joke. Great picture, huh?

I found something very satisfying about the NY Times video feature on the women power hitters of tennis--especially the clip of Serena Williams. Made me want to go bash something.

In other sports news, I also loved this story about the Giants coming to NY to celebrate their World Series win with fans from their Polo Grounds days.

Also, FYI, A's single game tickets go on sale tomorrow.

Turning to religion, I thought Dave Walker's cartoon depiction of the discernment process was scarily accurate. (I think you can click on the image below to make it larger; if not, use the link above.)

And finally, on the feast of Thomas Aquinas, you really should check out it's margaret's blogpost which begins, "Joel brought me my coffee this morning and announced that he understood Thomas Aquinas for the first time...." Isn't that a great opener?

Grab a cup of coffee (or tea if you are so inclined) and enjoy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Best. Obituary. Ever.

Seriously. It's beautiful. Have Kleenex handy.

h/t Obit Mag

Letters to Lillian, posted June 17, 1922 (pt. 1)

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif.
June 15, 1922.

Dear Lillian--The mail is due to go out tomorrow, so I take my pen in hand etc.

     Last night and tonight I gathered the gang together and we put up the aerial. I put it where I first intended, running it to the store. Counting the lead in, it is about 600 feet long. It runs from a tree in front of my tent to a tree across the canyon. It is over 40 ft from the ground at the lowest point and over 100 ft at the highest, or I might say the lowest is the highest, as the upper end of the aerial is nearest the ground. I will try and get a picture to send you.

     Tomorrow I will take a vacation from lab. work and do store work. I have to take stock. Besides I have run out of lab. samples. I have been running two analyses every day lately, in addition to grinding my samples.

     Tonight Dennis brought his wife and kids up to camp. Betty, the older of the two, 20 months old, is a very good looking little girl.

     Today was hotter than it has been lately, being 87 on the porch at the laboratory door. Hot weather makes my lab. rather uncomfortable as the furnace runs intermittently all day long. The boss showed me how to operate the burner properly, which I had not been doing, and now my furnace is much quieter and somewhat hotter.

     My still got me into trouble today. I picked up a bottle to put at the recieving [sic] end and as I lifted it I hit a shelf with it and dropped it among my dirty apparatus. I broke three beakers and a flask. Total damage about $1.50, but the company pays for it. The worst of it was that the boss was in the next room and heard it.

     My doctor job is picking up. Dennis was around today, with a bum finger. Tonight I recieved quite a thrill. One of the Esteban girls met me as I came from supper and asked me if I could do anything for a rattlesnake bite. It was not as serioius as I thought at first however, as the dog had been bitten. I knew what to do, but we could not catch the dog to do it. The dog was bitten in the lower jaw and when I saw it, the jaw was greatly swollen.

     Today the pay roll closed, making it necessary to make up my store bills. Pay day comes twice a month here, the one going in now being in about 10 days.

     I expect my radio set tomorrow and my coils are not done. I could be working on them now, but I would sooner write to you. I have fixed up the battery and expect that it will work, although I have no way to test it until I connect it up. In my opinion the outfit will work, but as to that I had better not speak too soon. Today Blackie asked me if I would be able to help with the office work. I told him that I probably could if I had a wife here to help me. But as he suggested, maybe that would not appeal to you. But to get right down to details, although I can't say that time drags, I get pretty lonesome for you. The reason that time don't drag is that I am always busy, but not with reading my mail. The road to Mendota will soon be done and then we will have daily mail. But that will not likely help any, as you would not write any oftener. From the look of things the flood of mail from this end will not soon cease. I have about 200 envelopes, 75 writing pads and plenty of stamps in the office store. The supply of ink is limited, but I can make a few gallons with the materials on hand.

Well I will close for this time, possibly adding some tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meanwhile, in Cote d'Ivoire...

With all of the upheaval in Tunisia and now Egypt, I haven't kept you up on the slow standoff in the Ivory Coast between the generally accepted winner of the November elections, Alessane Ouattara, and the incumbent president who is holding on to his position with all his might, Laurent Gbagbo.

The recent news is that last weekend, West African leaders forced the resignation of the pro-Gbagbo governor of the Central Bank of West African States, which "effectively gave control of state accounts to Mr Ouattara, who ordered that two offices of the bank close." Today, the news is that Gbagbo has ordered the seizure of all local bank branches. The BBC reports that "gendarmes and armoured vehicles have surrounded the bank's HQ in the city."

Ouattara has also called "for a month-long ban on cocoa exports intended to increase financial pressure on Mr Gbagbo to cede power." In case you were wondering, "Ivory Coast produces about a third of the world's cocoa." So don't think this doesn't affect you.

This editorial from the Financial Times raises the interesting point that "The repercussions of allowing another African vote to be stolen could be severe in a year when 17 or so incumbents face the ballot box, equally tempted to jettison fair play." I had noticed there were a lot of elections coming up, but 17!

A delegation from West Africa will be meeting with President Obama today. We shall see.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Kids are like people"

Still working on this food curriculum which is pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and ran across this amazing 1957 ad. It was Found In Mom's Basement. This Velveeta ad is pretty good too.

You know what else is habit-forming?  Valium.  Thank heavens!

Monday Morning Preacher: The great temptation

Continuing on my hobby horse of late, I'm coming to the conclusion that one of the very hardest things to do as a preacher is to preach the gospel and not the institutional church.

I'm still working this out, but I do wonder and worry that when I hear a sermon about inviting people to church, or stewardship, or vocation, and it's all about increasing the number of members, or increasing pledges or giving, or recruiting more volunteers, that we've made our focus the institution and not the instituter.

I'm in the lucky position of not needing to worry about paying the heating bills for a church building, so I know this is an "easy for you to say" statement, but I wonder what would happen if we let go of the need to sustain the institution? What would that be like? What would we say?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Obit quote du jour

The obit for Joe Gores leaves you wanting more. It ends

Gores is survived by his second wife Dori, whom he took with him on their first date to repossess a Cadillac owned by the mobster Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno.

Oh, come on! You can't end there! Sheesh!

Sunday Funnies

Be warned: you are entering an irony-rich environment.

The manufacture of a food truck awning leads to a Portland-infused nightmare. Judge John Hodgman decides what the best compensation is for 40 hours of sewing, and teaches us what's really important: friendship.

The Sound of Young America

The awning under dispute

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Obit du jour: John Herivel

John Herivel was one of the code breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII (I'd love to visit there someday), and the creator of the Herivel Tip:

Herivel realised that lazy operators would move the rotors by only a few letters – or not even move them at all – and that the indicators would all cluster around the original settings: "If the intercept sites could send us the indicators of all the first messages of the day for the individual German operators, there was a sporting chance that they would cluster around the ring settings for the day."

That would allow the codebreakers to narrow down the possibilities from 17,576 to a couple of dozen settings, which they could test out individually by hand. "The next day I went back to Hut 6 in a very excited state and told my colleagues of this idea. 'Oh, brilliant,' they all said."

It wasn't laziness, actually, but stress and overwork that did it:

Welchman had it tested out daily, but it did not work until two months later, in May 1940, as the Germans invaded France and the operators came under pressure of combat. Then the Herivel Tip worked – "It was a very exciting moment," Herivel later recalled. typical British understatement.

The thing I love about this is that Herivel was recruited as a mathemetician, but had his insight because he understood what people would do. Numbers do not manipulate themselves.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Various and Sundry, January 21

In "Things I Never Thought You Could Use Social Media For" news, this morning Maria Shriver sent out a tweet saying, "If you would like to follow the wake and funeral for our father, please follow @sargememorial today and tomorrow. will have it live." Following a funeral on twitter? This I must see. I have to admit, it seems like a very practical use of twitter: a temporary account for a singular event.

The Dirt Therapist lists 10 gardening chores to do in January--well, actually 11. I've done some of them, anyway, but it was an excellent reminder to spray some copper on the roses.

Here's another list: Buzzwords to avoid for 2011. They are summed up nicely in this comment on the blog: "In these economic times we need to, literally, more than ever take it to the next level and ideate our people-centric skills and increase our bandwidth by using the cloud to initiate contact with the twitterverse." Like that.

I would just like to say HA! in reaction to this article headlined Tea 'Healthier' Drink Than Water -- though I don't appreciate the 'quotes'. "Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits, say researchers." So there. And chocolates have flavinoids.

I'll probably have more to say--certainly more to think about--in regards to the question of how the building projects of the post-war boom are being played out in today's church. But just this morning, I saw news of a friend, Scott Gunn of Seven Whole Days fame, being part of a church merger.

Gunn sent out a letter on Jan. 10, stating in part, “After much thought, prayer and listening, our vestry (or Board of Directors) has come to the conclusion that we can do the work God has given us to do more effectively if we merge … It is very sad to think about leaving behind our beloved buildings. No one would say these are 'just buildings,' or that this is an easy choice.

“However, as Christians, we are people of hope, who proclaim a resurrection faith,” it continued. “We firmly believe that out of this sadness will eventually come joy and freedom in our new life as a congregation — (one that's) able to focus on mission and ministry, and not mere maintenance and survival.”

As they do, they might want to check out the Internet Monk's Suggested Program for the Church.

If you're willing to cringe a little bit (at least I cringed), take a look at this video, "I want to be an aid worker." Ouch!

Finally, thanks to Futility Closet, I checked out the Amazon reviews for A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates. Really. It's a collection of a million random digits with...well, you know. But the reviews! People went to town. One man reports that he had put the book on his wish list just to read the reviews and his wife accidentally bought it for him.

Here's one-star review:

The book is a promising reference concept, but the execution is somewhat sloppy. Whatever algorithm they used was not fully tested. The bulk of each page seems random enough. However at the lower left and lower right of alternate pages, the number is found to increment directly.

Other tidbits:
* “I had a hard time getting into this book. The profanity was jarring and stilted, not at all how people really talk.”
* “Once you get about halfway in, the rest of the story is pretty predictable.”
* “If you like this book, I highly recommend that you read it in the original binary.”
* “I would have given it five stars, but sadly there were too many distracting typos. For example: 46453 13987.”
* “I really liked the ’10034 56429 234088′ part.”
* “Frankly the sex scenes were awkward and clumsily written, adding very little of value to the plot.”
* “For a supposedly serious reference work the omission of an index is a major impediment. I hope this will be corrected in the next edition.”

One can only hope.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Letters to Lillian, posted June 16, 1922

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

Sampson Mine
Calif. June 11

Dear Lillian—Another mail has passed and no letter from you.

Considerable has happened since I last wrote. I will start by telling the most foolish one first. Or perhaps I might precede it by telling you that one of the kilns has been started and is in operation as I write. One of the kiln men, an Italian we call Pete, was working last night and the oil line became stopped. He looked in the end of the pipe and started poking with a wire. About that time the oil started fine. Pete saw oil. In fact he had a pretty good oil bath.

The next unusual thing also happened yesterday. One of the fellows had the official flivver on the way down the line. He had my distilled water barrel aboard full of drinking water too. At any rate he left the flivver to open a gate. Then the flivver left him. It landed upside down in a hole alongside the road, landing on my barrel. The flivver is not together yet and the barrel never will be. The brakes on the flivver were in good shape because they are in the office and have been for a long time.

Another unusual thing yesterday was that I went on a horseback ride. We had the board of directors down for an inspection trip. They wanted to see the quarry so some horses were rented to take them. Joe and Dutch Larios and I returned them. It was about 4 miles down. Ben Dehn came after us with a flivver, but not the one that went in the ditch.

We have a new superintendent foreman. He knows about as much about magnesite as I do, but not the same things. Between us we know just a little. Furthermore we have to turn out the best magnesite ever turned out here. The foreman who was here, has left to take charge of the selling. The new man’s name is Lawrance Lawrence

Next day, same week—I did not get much written before I had to quit last night.

I have another job added to my list. I have to light the fire for the cook in the morning and turn it out at night. Hayden was doing it, but since he has left I have the job. I am a full fledged mess sergeant now. The best thing about it is that while I am mess sergeant I get $15 per month additional.

Yesterday I sent for my radio set. If I don’t hurry up it will get here before my coils are wound and my aerial up.

Yesterday I worked most of the day. I put a hot plate on top of the furnace and did some analytical work. Today I rebuilt my still.

I have been agitating to have the one segregated into two kinds before it is burned. I failed to consider that twice the analytical work will be required. According to my calculations I will be busy about 27 or 28 hours per day. But why worry. I will get that doped out in due time.

This commissary job involves watching supplies pretty close. Just at present we are out of most everything. Some supplies have been ordered since the first and are not here yet.

This weather is unusual. The sun is shining brightly and the rain is coming down. The sun has been shining nearly all day and we have had rain off and on since noon.

Today I had another hospital case. One of the Spaniards mashed his finger. I cleaned it with iodine and bandaged it up and sent him back to work.

I investigated about fishing. There is good fishing about three hours horseback ride from here and I can get about five or six horses. It does not matter if you come when the fishing season is closed, because the game warden has not been around since someone shot the horn from his saddle. The place we would go to is near the diamond mine.

Blackie is putting up a new lamp. I used it last night and it is some lamp. It is a large hanging lamp.

Well it is about chowtime so I will have to quit for the present.

Tuesday 13th—evening.—I am getting worse every day. This letter should have gone in yesterday’s mail but it didn’t.

I received your letter O.K. but it was about three hours before I could read it. Supplies came at the same time as the mail and chow was being held for the men in the flivver. The company flivver is still on the blink, but will soon be in order.

I found out one thing anyway. I wondered why Carmel, the cook’s kid looked so familiar. She looks almost exactly like the leading girl in the Hawaian (ow, I can’t spell it) act I was so interested in just before I left. I see Carmel quite often as the cook’s tent is next to mine and I go to the kitchen several times a day. She occasionally looks into the laboratory too.

But coming down to earth. If I have as much work to do as I expect I will have I will have to bring you down as assistant chemist. I could teach you to run the lab. alone in about a week. But you would probably want to be nearer town than we are here.

This is the west you read about but don’t often see. Just like the story books.

I am sending for my photos in this mail. I was pleased to receive your picture. Where was it taken?

In regard to your letter when Ben saw the pink envelope he wanted to know how long his girl had been writing to me. I called Carmel’s attention to the fact that I had a letter. She asked if it was from my sweetheart. I told her that it certainly was.

Well, ‘tis ten bells so I must close.

Your Jim.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's supper time

Take a look at this paragraph from Whitebread Christians. It's long, I'm afraid. But I thought it was incredibly revealing. I've highlighted the points I want to note, but the kicker is the last sentence.

In an in-depth look at the history of St. Paul's Church in Chicago, Daniel Sack writes:

Church supper, Harford, MI 1947 (LIFE)
In 1947 the church council contracted with Booz Allen, a nationally known consulting firm, to evaluate the church, its neighborhood, and its prospects and to propose solutions. The consultants argued that St. Paul's had gone from being a neighborhood church to being a "First Church"--a prominent congregation serving a city-wide constituency. No longer serving an ethnic enclave, its future lay in being the leading church of its denomination (Evangelical and Reformed) in Chicago. To attract members from a larger area however, the church would need to provide more services. The consultants recommended that the congregation build a new parish house, including up-to-date facilities for children's and family programs. With expanded facilities and programs, the church would need an assistant pastor for pastoral care, a director of Christian education, a program director, and a full-time dietitian/cook. With a food service staff, the church could offer regular Sunday dinners, which "help to build fellowship in a large church as well as to meet a growing interest of people in going out for Sunday dinner. Committees take advantage of them to meet afterward." They also encouraged the formation of small groups, called colonies. To keep people coming into the building during the week, the church could also offer "mid-week dinners around which a variety of activities are built such as choir rehearsals, young peoples groups, various group meetings of the church school, church officers meetings, a joint meeting of the colonies with outstanding speaker or special music and other groups." In addition, the kitchen could cater special dinners for outside organizations, to provide a service for local nonprofit organizations and to help raise some money for the congregation. "Most dining rooms operated on the above basis are not only self supporting but often are able to make a contribution to the total budget of the church. It eliminates putting the burden of church dinners on women's organizations except to help with table waiting which may also be shared by young people." Thus the consultants pinned the congregation's future on food.

Do you notice anything missing from all of this long paragraph? Like any mention of God, Jesus, or worship? Yeeeah.

I read this and what I see is "we need more! we need more!" Build more! Offer more programs! More services! MORE FOOD! Food will bring them to church! Then we'll get them to stay for the committee meetings, the programs, the choir, the small groups. Food will save us!

Oh how I wish I could go back in time and say to these folks, What if your time is over? Is it all right to grow old and die? To pass your ministry on to whoever has it next? Is it all right to fail?

I understand: they had the resources to build, so why not build? They thought by building they could reach more people for Jesus and serve God. And they did. For many churches, this era was probably their most successful. Still, I look at this and I see the seeds of the church's destruction being sown even as they grow, grow, grow.

I look at this now and I see this huge plant that probably sucks the congregation dry each and every year with questions of upkeep, heating, repair, cleaning. All the time, money, and energy is spent in maintaining The Plant which keeps saying, "Feed me!" while the congregation they wanted to satisfy with food dwindles away.

My new fake band

A friend of mine posted this exercise in procrastination bagatelle on Facebook yesterday, so I thought I'd pass it along so that you don't get anything done either just for fun.

1- Go to Wikipedia and hit Random article, found in the left sidebar. The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.
2 - Go to and hit Random Quotes, also in the left sidebar. The last few words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.
3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days” under the "Explore" tab on top. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover
4 - Use photoshop or similar ( is a free online photo editor) to put it all together.
5 - Post it with this text and invite friends to join in.

With that, I am pleased to announce that my new fake band, the London Country Bus Services, has just put out its first album, Rich Man Poor, available nowhere.

What's your new fake band?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Confession of Peter, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today is the feast of the Confession of Peter and the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

(Incidentally, I've added a new little widget over there in the sidebar showing the countries in the World Council of Churches' Cycle of Prayer. Appropriate to see much of North Africa, including Tunisia, there this week.)

Looking at the narrative of the confession of Peter I notice that when Jesus asks "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" they all answer (perhaps Peter included?) somebody else (Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist). Then Jesus asks, "But who do YOU say I am?" That's when Peter pipes up with his answer: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

I have this feeling that a lot of the other disciples said to themselves moments later, "That's just what I was thinking; I just didn't say it out loud."

And I think the reason why we celebrate Peter is because he's so darn willing to let himself look foolish and say what he really thinks. He's willing to take chances, to make stupid mistakes, and to look like an idiot. Which is the very next thing he does.

And Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to this impetuous driver, a hopeless runner-off-at-the-mouth? Not in very safe hands, those keys, are they? But I think that says something about what Jesus wants for the church: he doesn't seem to want the church in safe hands, the hands of people who think before they speak so that they're sure of their answer.

And when I think of it that way, when I think of the church in the hands of someone as rash and prone to error as Peter, I simply cannot imagine it. It is so completely foreign to the way the church as I know it works. How on earth would it work? It would fall apart in no time. But maybe that matters less to Jesus than it does to us.

Teaser Tuesday, January 18

I'll get to the teaser in a minute, but first a special announcement about a book giveaway over at Rose City Reader, a terrific book blog from up Portland way. This is apparently a regular feature that I have been missing because I would just check in to see what teasers Ms. Rose posts. I have learned the error of my ways. But how on earth does she get through all the books she does? Amazing!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)I am savoring my book this week and suspect I will be sorry when I'm finished. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was recommended to me by a friend, though I actually first heard about it through, of all things, the Costco Connection magazine. It is wonderful. Here's the teaser:

"Extra relatives are useful, I suppose--additional bridge player at family parties, or another kidney donor," he babbled. "I congratulate you."

I love the Major. I'm trying to think who should play him if and when they make a movie. It could be a terrific movie as well as a very satisfying read.

Information on Teaser Tuesday can be found at Should Be Reading where MizB is your gracious host.

Monday, January 17, 2011

From the Golden Globes

Best speech of the night by far.

Monday Morning Preacher: Martin Luther King Jr.

I still remember listening to tapes of MLK's sermons while driving across country. It was the first time I'd heard anything beyond the I Have a Dream or I've Been to the Mountaintop speeches.

It was so amazing to hear that voice again, saying things I had never heard him say before. As I listened to King's sermons, I felt like I was following him from church to church, hearing him tell some of the same stories and make the same points, but hearing new things, too. He definitely got better as he went along: his delivery was more polished and his message became deeper and more urgent, but without anxiety. More broken, too, in some ways, as you shall see.

This morning I thought it would be interesting to find out what King had to say about the ministry of preaching itself. And the King Papers Project turned up a treasure trove, let me tell you.

Take, for example, this outline King wrote for his first semester preaching course when he was a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948. Prepare to be shocked by King's atrocious spelling and grammar, and blown away by how consistent his thinking is with what he eventually did.

Oh, heck, I'm just going to copy the whole last part:

I fell that preaching is one of the most vital needs of our society, if it is used correctly. There is a great paradox in preaching, on the one hand it may be very helpful and on the other it may be very pernicious. It is my opinion that sincerity is not enough for the preaching ministry. The minister must be both sincere and intelligent. To often do our ministers possess the former but not the latter. This, I think, is a serious problem facing the ministry.

I think that preaching should grow out of the experiences of the people. Therefore, I as a minister must know the problems of the people that I am pastoring. To often do educated minister leave the people lost in the fog of theological abstractions, rather than presenting that theology in the light of the people’s experiences. It is my conviction that the minister must somehow take profound theological and philosophical views and place them in a concrete framework. I must forever make the complex, the simple.

Above all I see the preaching ministry as a duel process. On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that their societies may be changed. On the other I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change. Therefore, I must be concerned about unemployment, slumms, and economic insecurity. I am a profound advocator of the socal gospel.

One year later, notes on Preaching Problems That I Have Encountered. Problem number 1: "Difficulty in preaching on special days that appear in the Christian year." Oh, honey. I hear ya. But you're going to see much bigger difficulties than that.

Which leads us to his sermon delivered June 5, 1966: Guidelines for a Constructive Church. Beautiful, and still relevant, and much of it has to do with the ministry of preaching.

We remember King as a great orator and a great social activist, but it seems pretty clear from this sermon that in King's mind, those two things are married together: preaching is social activism. It's that "duel process" (I kind of like the misspelling, there) of changing souls and changing the world. And as I mentioned last week, words have a funny way of going out there and doing things, more than you might imagine.

I read this sermon and I hear 20 years worth of dueling, and it has taken its toll. When King talks about the broken-hearted, I am sure he includes himself among them.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, or listen to it. Here is a smattering, a far better way to end this entry than anything I could say.

And Sunday after Sunday, week after week, people come to God’s church with broken hearts. (Yes, sir) They need a word of hope. And the church has an answer—if it doesn't, it isn't a church. (Yes) The church must say in substance that broken-heartedness is a fact of life. Don’t try to escape when you come to that experience. Don't try to repress it. Don't end up in cynicism. Don't get mean when you come to that experience. (Make it plain) The church must say to men and woman that Good Friday (Yes, sir) is a fact of life. The church must say to people that failure is a fact of life...

But what religion does say is this: that if you have faith in God, (Yes) that God has the power (Yes, sir) to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain. So let not your heart be troubled. (No, sir) "If ye believe in God, ye believe also in me." Another voice rings out, "Come unto me, all ye that labor (Yes, sir, Yes) and are heavy laden." As if to say, "Come unto me, all ye that are burdened down. Come unto me, all ye that are frustrated. Come unto me, all ye with clouds of anxiety floating in your mental skies. Come unto me, all ye that are broke down. (Yes, sir) Come unto me, all ye that are heartbroken. (Yes) Come unto me, all ye that are laden with heavy ladens, and I will give you rest." And the rest that God gives (Yes) is the rest that passeth all understanding. (Yes it does) The world doesn't understand that kind of rest, because it’s a rest that makes it possible (Yes) for you to stand up amid outer storms, and yet you maintain inner calm. (Yes) If the church is true to its guidelines, (Yes) it heals the broken-hearted.

Secondly, when the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance (Yes, sir) to them that are captive. (Yes, sir) This is the role of the church: to free people. This merely means to free those who are slaves. Now if you notice some churches, they never read this part. Some churches aren't concerned about freeing anybody. Some white churches (Make it plain) face the fact Sunday after Sunday that their members are slaves to prejudice, (Yes, sir) slaves to fear. You got a third of them, or a half of them or more, slaves to their prejudices. (Yes, sir) And the preacher does nothing to free them from their prejudice so often. (Make it plain, Yes) Then you have another group sitting up there who would really like to do something about racial injustice, but they are afraid of social, political, and economic reprisals, (Make it plain) so they end up silent. And the preacher never says anything to lift their souls and free them from that fear. (Make it plain) And so they end up captive. You know this often happens in the Negro church. (Yeah) You know, there are some Negro preachers that have never opened their mouths about the freedom movement. And not only have they not opened their mouths, they haven’t done anything about it. And every now and then you get a few members: (Make it plain) "They talk too much about civil rights in that church." (That’s right) I was talking with a preacher the other day and he said a few of his members were saying that. I said, "Don't pay any attention to them. (Make it plain) Because number one, the members didn't anoint you to preach. (Yeah) And any preacher who allows members to tell him what to preach isn't much of a preacher." (Amen)


And then the church, if it is true to its guidelines, must preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Yes, sir, Make it plain) You know the acceptable year of the Lord is the year that is acceptable to God because it fulfills the demands of his kingdom. Some people reading this passage feel that it’s talking about some period beyond history, (Make it plain) but I say to you this morning that the acceptable year of the Lord can be this year. (Yes) And the church is called to preach it.


These are our guidelines, and if we will only follow the guidelines, we will be ready for God’s kingdom, (Yes) we will be doing what God’s church is called to do. We won’t be a little social club. (Make it plain) We won’t be a little entertainment center. But we’ll be about the serious business (Yes) of bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.

It seems that I can hear the God of the universe smiling and speaking to this church, saying, "You are a great church (Glory to God) because I was hungry and ye fed me. You are a great church because I was naked and ye clothed me. You are a great church because I was sick and ye visited me. You are a great church because I was in prison and ye gave me consolation by visiting me." (Yes, sir) And this is the church that’s going to save this world. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me (Yes) because he has anointed me to heal the broken-hearted, to set at liberty them that are captive, (Amen) and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Obit quote du jour

From the delightful obituary for Flo Gibson, Grande Dame of Audiobooks:

Though she adored Henry James, she was often moved to shake her fist and shout at him: “Why don’t you punctuate? Why don’t you paragraph?” She invariably forgave him, though, and recorded much of his work.

Sunday Funnies, January 16

Once again, the Onion, America's Finest News Source, breaks all the big religious stories.

From January 12:

Bible Study Group Preparing For Bible Aptitude Test

ALBANY, GA—A local Bible study group led by 18-year-old Elna Parker has begun meeting more frequently and taking regular practice exams in preparation for the upcoming high-pressure Bible Aptitude Test. "The fact is, if you want to get into a good church these days, you have to do really well on your BATs," Parker told reporters Wednesday as she flipped through a heavily highlighted King James Bible. "My cousin didn't take them seriously, totally blew his Second Maccabees, and wound up in a Unitarian congregation." Parker went on to say that the math section was a breeze, since it was all threes, sevens, and 12's, but memorizing the 3,087 character names is where most people trip up.

and another, from January 10:

Report: Majority Of Money Donated At Church Doesn't Make It To God

WASHINGTON—A shocking report released Monday by the Internal Revenue Service revealed that more than 65 percent of the money donated at churches across the world never reaches God. "Unfortunately, almost half of all collections go toward administrative expenses such as management, utilities, and clerical costs," said Virginia Raeburn, a spokesperson for the Lord Almighty, adding that another 25 percent of heavenly funding is needed just to cover payroll for the angelic hierarchy. "People always assume God is filthy rich, but they'd be surprised to learn His net worth is only around $8 million—and most of that is tied up in real estate." According to Raeburn, God currently has enough money saved to live comfortably throughout all eternity, but He may be forced to shutter a number of under-performing religions.

Shocking is right!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Various and Sundry, January 14

It's been a tough week, news-wise, hasn't it? I'm still trying to absorb what's going on and make sense of it.

I though Michael Chabon's reflection on the President's speech Wednesday was very good, very helpful--for me, anyway. Responding to the President's goal "to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations," he said

To attempt to live up to your children's expectations—to hew to the ideals you espouse and the morals that you lay down for them—is to guarantee a life of constant failure, a failure equivalent with parenthood itself. Surely this is something that the father of Malia and Sasha Obama knows all too well. Choking up at one point, imagining the Taylor-Greens' loss, it seemed to me, in terms of his own unimaginable bereavement, Obama was figuring himself (extraordinarily, I think) not as the Great Father but, more messily and searchingly, as an imperfectly lowercase father, "shaken from [his] routines ... forced to look inward," struggling in the wake of calamity to reclaim and to strive to measure up to a set of principles the burden of whose observance falls so unevenly on the narrow shoulders of the young. He was, at that moment, talking directly to me.

Lovely, is it not?

I was also moved by this transcript describing Rep. Giffords opening her eyes for the first time after being shot.

In the realm of rhetoric, I liked this reflection by Conor Friedersdorf on Tone vs. Substance.

The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense...They’re in a tough spot these days partly because it’s impossible for them to mount the defense of their rhetoric that is true: “I am a frivolous person, and I don’t choose my words based on their meaning...Don’t you see that this is all a big game? This is how politics works. Stop pretending you’re not in on the joke.”

In the "correlation is not causation" department, I got a kick out of this graph showing how the rate of assault has decreased dramatically since the release of Grand Theft Auto. The accompanying article does not, however, suggest GTA as a means of reducing assault. It does say we should stop and give thanks for the improvement of the quality of life (overall) that this graph suggests.

Meanwhile, The President has stepped down. The revolution apparently will be televised. The link above includes live video footage. Here's a brief video from the BBC:

Prayers for Tunisia continue.

It's seed-ordering month!

And I've gone a little crazy. Here's what's on its way:
  • Bullet Lettuce 
  • Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed Lettuce
  • Easter Egg Radish
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Red Bull Onion
  • Black Turtle Bush Beans
  • Sea Shell Cosmos
  • Five Spot Nemophilia (which sounds like a disease, but it's really pretty)
  • Baby Blue Eyes (also a nemophilia)
  • Pompom Zinnias
  • Valentine Sunflowers
That is in addition to the peas, corn, beans, tomatoes, basil, peppers, black-eyed Susans, poppies, and all the other seeds I've saved from last year--assuming they germinate, that is.

[rubbing hands together]

It's going to be a fun year in the garden!
Five-spot nemophilia

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Africa news

Well, three countries, anyway.

Voting continues in Sudan as southern Sudanese vote on whether or not to establish a separate nation. It hasn't all been peaceful, sadly, but people are voting. Robin Denney, a virtual friend of mine, is there as an agricultural missionary of the Episcopal Church and has some on-the-ground reports and helpful background on the situation at her blog.

Interesting developments in Tunisia (didn't expect that, did you?) where weeks of protests over the authoritarian government continue. It started when a man (an unemployed college graduate) set himself on fire because the government shut down his vegetable stand when he didn't have the proper paperwork. Really, the events there are incredible.

UN vehicle set on fire in Abidjan

And finally, in Cote d'Ivoire, the standoff continues between President Gbagbo and President- elect (by most counts) Ouattara. Sahel Blog has a great round-up of all the latest news reports. The latest news is that "Forces loyal to incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo have attacked several UN vehicles in the country's main city, Abidjan, the UN says." This comes after two days of clashes between Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters. It certainly sounds like things are intensifying, with no resolution in sight.

Please keep all these countries in your prayers.

Letters to Lillian, June 7, 1922 (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

Next night, same week.

Well I got my sleep out and got up early. That is, I arose at the hour of 10 minutes to six. I amused myself an hour cleaning up the battery, and as far as that is concerned, I spent a half hour tonight. I will have five or six complete cells, together with parts of two or three more.

Blackie must think that I work too easy. He brought down the sample from the quarry and I started to break it up this morning at 8. I broke the breaker, and eventually crushed the sample. I quartered it and I have yet to powder it. I ran two samples today in the lab. which means that I was quite busy. In fact I worked nearly an hour after supper. I have only one on hand now and no more in sight, so I anticipate a little rest. I have not finished with my wireless coils, so I need a little time.

Blackie is quite some fellow. He is a man about 35 or 40, and a native of Edinborough, Scotland, so I guess we will get along all right. He intends moving the floor of our new tent tomorrow, but we will not move for at least a week. I expect a payday soon, as the big boss will be up Saturday. I hope I get my lab. supplies soon. The box will probably bring some. I lose considerable time, and waste considerable gasoline on account of not having enough apparatus. My lime determinations are of only approximate accuracy as I have no Sodium Oxalate to standardize my Permanganate with.

So far the kilns have not started. From the way things look, it will be a few days yet until things get going. The main trouble is lack of distillate for the engines. Besides there don’t seem to be any crew. The boss, Blackie, Dehn, Esteban, Dennis, and I make up the crowd in camp. This of course does not include three women and 8 kids.

You ought to see me make a dive for the table at meal time. Sometimes I am five or ten minutes late, due to having an analysis at a bad point, but I go on the run when I get to a quitting place. The cook we have now suits me fine. Take a breakfast for instance. Mush, bacon and eggs, hotcakes and coffee make the meal. I omit the coffee but eat all the rest. Up here I can get away with things that I can’t use when in town.

By the way, what is the idea of letting the chickens track up the end of your letter. What’s it all about anyway. I don’t dare ask anyone here, because if the[y] knew it wouldn’t do any good. So use English or German or something like that.
[scribbled]Guten Abend
Lieben JimB

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Food, Justice, Religion, Meaning

As I search for other work (and if you know someone in the SF Bay Area looking for a capable administrator, please let me know), I have been contracted to create a 5-week curriculum, suitable for Lent, on food. It has been fascinating to create.

The most amazing tidbit was from The Agropolis Museum in France which has this to say about the history of food:

The oldest human vestiges known up to nowadays are dated 3 million years BP, agriculture started around 10000 years BP and the agro-industrial times have only 150 years.
If man had appeared on January 1rst, agriculture had started on the second half of December and the agro-industry on December 31st, late in the evening.

Isn't that incredible?

Oh, and by "agro-industry," we mean things like, oh, canning. It seems far too easy to say, "boo, bah, agro-industry BAD." But I for one don't want to go back to days before refrigeration.

One of the most amazing discoveries I made was this: in hunter-gatherer times, you went to where the food was. In agricultural times, you lived near where the food was. In agro-industrial times, the food travels to where you are.

The Local Food movement makes a lot more sense to me now as I realize how dependent our food culture is on petroleum--just in terms of transport. Doing this research, I'm less concerned about the worries of processed foods per se (a carton of milk is a processed food) than I am about the crazy number of miles food travels to get to my table. The notion of food miles is under serious debate right now, but it was certainly eye-opening to me to realize how novel this notion of food being transportable really is.

On the religion front, I have been absolutely fascinated in looking at food in religious culture as objectively as possible. What do we mean by our food? What are the messages we send? What are we trying to say? One of the lessons in the curriculum is to analyze your church's potluck supper: what are the norms? Why are they there? What would you find absolutely shocking?

Whitebread Protestants, the book I mentioned yesterday, points out in the introduction that almost every church in the U.S. has a kitchen, and asks the simple question, Why? Never thought about that before, did you? Neither did I. Why should there be a kitchen in a church? And what does this say about our faith?

I can hardly wait to get to the chapter on potlucks. Right now I'm reading about the (it seems now) utterly crazy two wine theory (any time the Bible mentions wine negatively, it was alcoholic wine; any time the Bible mentions wine positively, it was non-alcoholic--those prohibitionists worked so hard!) and the development of communion shot glasses.

Fascinating stuff. I'll post the link when the curriculum is ready to go.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, 1/11/11

Two books for the Teaser today, one kind of depressing and one remarkably funny.

I Still Dream About You: A NovelLet's start with the melancholy, shall we? Which is the mood I get from Fannie Flagg's new book, I Still Dream About You. I tend to think of her as a humor writer, but reading this, I am reminded that her characters often have very painful lives. I am assured, however, that it ends well.

Here's the teaser:

When Hazel was alive, they usually went. Hazel loved any excuse to dress up in a costume, but now Maggie hardly went anywhere anymore.

It's amazing how much depression Flagg can pack into a couple of simple sentences.

In contrast, the very funny book is, strangely enough, a book I'm reading for a work project that I'll tell you about later. The book is called Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, written by Daniel Sack, "the associate director of the Material History of American Religion Project." And I'm loving it.

Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American CultureHere's the opening paragraph:

It was a dark and holy night. The small group gathered in Jerusalem, prepared for the sacred Passover meal. Before this dinner, the central celebration of their faith, their charismatic young leader foretold a stunning series of events. He told them that he was about to be arrested; after they betrayed and denied him, he would die. His revelations complete, he passed them the holy meal--small cubes of white bread and little cups of grape juice.

I'm sure that's exactly what it was like.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading where you can find all the details, plus links to lots of other blogs recommending too many great books.

Jon Stewart continues to impress

Heart of it starts at 2:29. Though I do love John Oliver's panda PJs.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Morning Preacher: Words matter

I spent much of the weekend following both the news and the debate about the shootings in Arizona. Especially the debate about "Did inflammatory rhetoric play a role in this event?"

As a friend of mine said, does it matter? Shooting people in the head is wrong. Inflammatory rhetoric is also wrong. Even if no one ever gets shot, it would still be wrong. It may be that in God's eyes, one is not worse than the other. I believe Jesus said something about this:

"You have heard it said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire."
Matthew 5:21-22

I'm writing about this in my usual slot about preaching because I know first-hand that things you say can be turned into actions in ways you do not expect. I have had people come up to me weeks after a sermon and say that they've quit a job because of something I've said. They decided to put a student through school because of something I said. They have changed their lives because of what I said. And that's just the ones who told me.

For the most part, I have no idea how they came to the conclusion to do what they did based on what I said. It's likely that the step was percolating for the long time and something I said put the last piece in place. But one thing I do know: I never intended for my words to be taken as a call to the particular step that is made. But the step was taken nonetheless, and people credit my words as a motivating force.

This does not mean my words are responsible for the resulting action. It does mean I'm responsible for the words. Words are an action. They go out and do things. Once they leave us, they are no longer under our control. Especially in this day and age when we can make our words available for all to see with incredible ease, when they can travel around the world in an instant, when what is spoken or written cannot be erased, we must be mindful.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Check out that birdfeeder!

The one on the right, that is. It's been a busy day in the Japanese Maple.
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Various and Sundry, January 7

Happy new year! It's our inaugural V&S of 2011! Let's see what scraps I've been collecting...

First of all, let's celebrate the release of the expurgated version of Huckleberry Finn by going all the way and changing the title. Better Book Titles has helped us out:

Somewhat related, a friend of mine pointed me to this very cool website that tracks what's happening in the Civil War day by day in real time, 150 years later. They are also on Twitter. There's a whole bunch of mustering going on at Fort Sumter. Maryland is on the fence about secession. It's all very nerve-wracking.

In obituary news, I enjoyed reading about Catherine "Kay" Kerr, one of the founders of Save the Bay, an organization important to me, living where I do. I remember stuffing envelopes for them as a very young person. They really did keep San Francisco Bay from being largely filled in. Not that this was Mrs. Kerr's only passion. "When she wasn't fighting developers, Mrs. Kerr enjoyed gardening, playing bridge and reading." Isn't that delightful?

And finally, a bit of snark to lighten your day. Deadspin has the story: "In 1974, a Clevelander wrote the Browns complaining of the menace posed by the then-fad of throwing paper airplanes, and implicitly threatened litigation. The Browns' response is just about the most awesome thing ever committed to paper." You'll wish you wrote it yourself.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On the Feast of the Epiphany

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, the day when we particularly remember the arrival of the Magi from the East to visit the Christ child.

If anyone deserves to be called seekers, it's the Magi. They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Magi seek him everywhere.

The thing that struck me, thinking about the story this morning, is that, these guys show up at the palace saying, "Where's the king?" And the priests and scribes tell them, and the magi say thank you very much and head on out. And the priests and scribes don't seem the least bit interested in following up on this. Probably too busy with priestly and scribely duties. Herod at least pays attention.

The hope I find from this is that leaders of institutional religion can help people find God despite ourselves. The agony is that those looking have to work so hard to get our help, and that we limit our help to "here's what the Bible says." And the worst of it is our own lack of curiosity about anyone's wisdom but our own.  Who says we need to stop being seekers?

"The Magi before Herod" altar frontal of 'The Virgin with Roses' c. 1350

Letters to Lillian, June 7, 1922 (pt. 1)

Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif
June 7, 1922

Dear Lillian—I was somewhat surprised today when the mail came. I saw a pink letter and made a grab for it and found that it belonged to Ben Dehn. But I was soon cheered up by finding that the yellow one was from you. My last one had not gone yet but it is gone now. Tonight after chow, the boss, Dehn, and myself went to Ashurst’s, as the boss wanted to telephone. I went along to see the country. Central had gone out to eat, so the phone call did not go in. The mail is left near Ashurst’s, about five miles from here. Today I saw the first good looking white woman since I came up. She was at Ashurst’s. I suppose that she is married, as I saw a little child with her.

It seems that I will keep the store for a while after all. This morning I was quite busy and the Esteban kids came in with a big order for groceries. But I finished early at that as I only did one analysis. I will not have to climb the hill after all, as Blackie will collect my samples for me. He took three this morning, including the one from the quarry bunker. He prepared one and I prepared one. Preparing a sample is no ladies’ job, as it involves crushing it by hand. The crude stuff, which is all that I have been working with so far, is quite hard. It takes about an hour to grind up, quarter and sift a sample of crude. The calcined takes about 10 minutes. After the kilns start, most of my work will be with calcined, with an occasional crude sample.

My laboratory nearly suits me now. I intend to build and addition to my furnace as soon as I get time, and give the furnace and one of my workbenches a coat of magnesite, and whitewash the walls. So far I have been lucky. I have made four analyses in duplicate, making eight in all, and have not spoiled any. We had a similar analysis in school and I ran four to get two good ones. Which shows some improvement anyway.

Blackie did not move in today. His blankets did not come and he is doubling up with Dehn until they do. He brought his mattress in tonight.

I started work on the battery tonight. It was pretty dirty so I busied myself with some gasoline. Dehn helped me, but we did not work long as it was near dark. We cleaned up five cells, not including the jars, and Dehn put one together and I assembled two more. I intend putting the other two together before breakfast, that is, if I quit writing on this letter soon enough. I have two six volt electric lights to try them out with, but I can’t fill them (the batteries) until I get some acid. I intend to refill the fire extinguishers soon, and I will get my acid from them. Efficiency is my motto. The only difference in the acid is that it will be a little diluted, and I have to dilute it a lot more anyway.

Don’t let the gang kid you too much. We will hope that it will not be long anyway. Yesterday or maybe the day before, I saw the boss using the hunt system of typing, and I told him that if I came back next year I would bring an expert stenographer with me. This is a fine place to be if you have something to do, but no place to spend a summer with nothing to do. But I am doubtful about coming back next year, so don’t get worried. In a way I do not like to see time pass and my vacation up here, which is really what it amounts to, go by, but I do want to see you again. I’ll admit it, I’m getting lonesome. I guess I had better figure the days to July 22, which is when I expect to see you next. June 23 more days, July 21, making 44 in all. Well, tomorrow it will be 43, and at that I may get fired or something and see you sooner. Well I just yawned, so I will obey that impulse.

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More on Doonesbury

I plowed my way through all 9 pounds of the Doonesbury retrospective, and it was a surreal experience. It was like visiting a parallel universe, one very similar to this one.

The strangest thing for me was knowing what was going to happen--historically, I mean. Duke is sent as ambassador to China after Bush (Sr.) is recalled. Knowing now that not only Bush but his son would be president--it was a strange feeling.

I think it's because Doonesbury is written in real time. A novelist writing in a historical period about things in the recent past knows the same as you do what will happen to the world surrounding the characters as they age. Trudeau doesn't. The mention of Ambassador Bush has no foreshadowing in it. Trudeau is walking through history at the same pace as his characters, which made me as reader the only omniscient person in the picture.

What this brought home to me is something I don't usually acknowledge: that I really don't know what the future will hold. That none of us do. That things will happen that will change the picture. It's so obvious, and yet so hard to really believe.

Strip from 9/11/2001

Obit quote du jour

Dick King-Smith, author of "Babe," among other things, died yesterday. His obituary contained this wonderful sentence:

It became home to cattle, pigs, goats, hens, ducks and a succession of dogs, the most extraordinary of which was Susie, who managed to survive repeated brushes with death until she was finally killed by the Paddington to Fishguard express.

Susie deserves her own obituary, clearly.