Saturday, October 30, 2010

From the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

*Sigh* I wish I'd been there.

Mary Emma Allison

How apropos that today's obits include Mary Emma Allison who created Trick or Treat for UNICEF.

The wife of a Presbyterian minister and a graduate of Wheaton, Mary Emma Allison, along with her husband, "decided to come up with a plan, centered on Halloween, by which American children might help less fortunate ones abroad." The origin story is quite wonderful:

Shortly after Halloween some 60 years ago, Mary Emma Allison and her children came upon a parade in downtown Philadelphia that included children in dress from nations all around the world. They followed the parade, which led them to a booth inside Wanamaker's department store. At that booth, donations were being collected for UNICEF's powdered-milk programs.

And that was the seed of the idea.

So ironic that in many Christian circles today, Halloween is seen as something to fear and shun. I love the fact that this woman decided instead to make it an opportunity to share and be generous. "Mary Emma knew children already collected treats on Halloween, but she and her family were determined to turn that collection into something bigger, something that could help the kids all over the world still struggling to recover from World War II."

Trick or Treat for UNICEF has been going on for 60 years now and has raised more than $160 million. "All on account of a thoughtful young woman who, driving through town on a long-ago autumn, opted to follow a children’s parade."

A blessed and generous Halloween to you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Really good stuff that other people wrote, October 29

Let's see here...what's in my grab bag this week?

Well, there's this very cool carpet at the Sacramento Airport.

Isn't that nifty? It's "an aerial view of the Sacramento River woven into a carpet for the floor of a pedestrian bridge connecting the Sacramento International Airport terminal to the parking garage." h/t Design Fetish

I was interested to read this tidbit about our aging population. "By 2050, there will be more people aged 65 and older than children under 14 for the first time in history." What are the implications for churches or other organizations and social arrangements?

Nsubuga, who blogs at GayUganda, wrote an article for The Guardian on The Fear of Being Gay and Ugandan which is worth a read.

Finally, Trinity Wall Street has a virtual Day of the Dead Altar of Remembrance. You can submit photos to include in the altar via their Facebook page.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Oh, man! If only I were in Seattle this weekend, I could be at zomBcon, the world's first Zombie Culture Convention!

And I quote:

"ZomBcon plays host to more than 60 specialty exhibitors, 10 interactive fan workshops, a 6-part Zombie Film series, 8 unique panels discussions, and the premiere Halloween party ticket this year; The Zombie Prom."

Also a Thriller dance tutorial!

Apparently, this arose (so to speak) from an annual Red, White and Dead Zombie Walk held in Seattle on 4th of July weekend "at which 6,000 people in full zombie costumes mobbed the streets." Well, it makes for a different parade, I suppose. Somehow, Halloween weekend seems much more appropriate.

Ah, well. Guess I'll stay among the living here in the Bay Area and root for the Giants. If you're in Seattle, enjoy!

Obit quote du jour

Love this lede!

Richard T. Gill, in all statistical probability the only Harvard economist to sing 86 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Monday in Providence, R.I. He was 82.

And then there's this:

In some respects, he later said, Mr. Gill found the roiling world of opera more appealingly straightforward than the roiling world of academe.

“Performing is a great reality test,” he told Newsweek in 1975. “There’s no tenure in it and the feedback is much less complicated than you get in academia. When you go out on that stage, you put your life on the line.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More on teaching

Last Friday, I posted a link in which someone opined about changing the way we compensate teachers, with a smattering of thoughts on teacher training as well. There was some really good stuff in the comments about this (including this very compelling and scathing review of Waiting for "Superman") which made me think a little more about how I've come to my own opinions on the subject of teaching and teacher training, and I thought that would be worth repeating here.

I would especially love to hear more from people who have been teachers and can speak personally about what helped and what didn't and what they think would work. I know my own opinions are ill-informed, especially when it comes to credentialing requirements, so take what you read here with a very large grain of salt.

My perspective, however, is somewhat unique. I spent one year as a notetaker for Deaf students and five years as an Educational Interpreter. For a few of those years, I was the staff substitute, which meant that I saw lots and lots and lots of classrooms. I saw them on a day to day basis, not just when they were preparing for evaluation. And I saw them without the investment of being a parent or particularly worrying about how a child was performing in the classroom.

Now, this was over 10 years ago, but from what I remember the vast majority of the teachers I saw ranged from good to excellent. Excellent teachers could be found in every community and at every level. I remember one spectacular fourth grade teacher who dressed like an executive lawyer with four-inch heels. I remember one amazing 7th grade science teacher in an inner-city school who brought incredible energy to her class. I remember one suburban high school social studies teacher who caught my interest so much that I forgot to interpret.

From what I saw there were two things that made some teachers more skilled at teaching. One thing that seemed to make for a compelling teacher was their own interest in the subject matter. And the other thing that made a classroom teacher more effective was experience.

The teaching itself was both a gift that they had and a skill that could be learned, but I'm not sure any credential program can make you love history so that you want to share that love with your students.

I honestly don't know what teaching credentials offer. If you know, please enlighten me!

One of the reasons I question credentialing programs is because private schools don't require them and yet people clamor to get into them. If the credentialing confers such great benefits in teaching, why would people want to leave the public schools that require it to go to the private schools that don't?

So why are so many public schools doing so poorly on tests that measure their performance? I wish I knew. But I don't think it's because the teachers are "bad teachers." Whatever that means.

I thought this story about a large high school in Massachusetts was very intriguing. I really don't know how much to believe about anything I read regarding education, but I want to keep an open mind. What this school discovered seems at least worth exploring.

Here's the story: in 1999, after reviewing their dismal test scores, the leaders of Brockton High set up a restructuring committee.

The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.
The rest of the story is a compelling account of overcoming resistance, bucking the received wisdom, and stick-to-it-iveness. I really don't know if this is a viable general model, but it's a great story. Here's hoping their success can be replicated.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy 40th birthday, Doonesbury!

The very first Doonesbury comic strip was published 40 years ago today. A new retrospective is out (and is on my Amazon wishlist, should anyone want to know). 

Here's the very first (non-Yale) strip, published on this day in 1970:

Sorry it's so small.  But look at those babyfaces!  And how strange a feeling to know so much of what they have yet to experience.  B.D. and Mike seem as real to me as a lot of people I actually know, and more real that some.

A Doonesbury timeline, where you can see this strip and others in a more readable size, can be found here.

Teaser Tuesday, October 26

Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum)I'm still reading Wind, Sand, and Stars which is still magnificent, but yesterday while I was at the library I saw the brand new Janet Evanovich on the Hot Reads table. Score! I can't believe I don't have to put it on hold and wait 18 months.

So here's your Teaser from Sizzling Sixteen:

"Holy bejeezus," Lula said, eyes bugged out, looking at the building. "This is scaring the crap out of me. This is like where Dracula would live if he didn't have any money and was a crackhead."

The full scoop on Teaser Tuesdays can be found at Should Be Reading where MizB is your host and impressario.

Monday, October 25, 2010

From the obits

In honor of Alex Anderson, who created Rocky and Bullwinkle along with his friend Jay Ward, and also Harvey Phillips, "Titan of the Tuba."

Monday Morning Preacher: With a lot of help from my friends

I was flailing and floundering. I thought watching the Giants game would make it better. It didn't. Nine o'clock, Saturday night, I had no sermon. I knew I was going to preach on the gospel because that's what drew me. I loved a lot of things I'd read about the gospel, including this blog entry from the Internet Monk. I had nothing.

But I did have friends. I talked to a friend who's a great preacher. I told her what I'd been thinking about. I told her what I'd seen that I'd liked. I told her I was stuck. She took approximately .05 nanoseconds of thought and gave me three brilliant points to make.

Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I grabbed a notebook and copied the points down. And though I stayed up a while longer and got up early to work on fleshing it out, I ended up just adding a phrase at the beginning and one at the end to my notes, working through what I wanted to add in my head and trying it out verbally during the long drive in to church.

Here is the entirety of the notes for the sermon I gave yesterday:

Sneaky little parable.

Vertical not horizontal

Authenticity not achievement

Effort not outcome

Run your own race

Apparently, this filled up 10 minutes or so. And whatever I said to fill in the blanks apparently made some sense. People raved. Raved, I tell you! Several people wanted copies of the sermon; one wished it had been recorded so she could listen to it again. What on earth did I say? Whatever it was, any success is entirely owing to someone else's insights. Boy howdy, did I not deserve any credit. I know God is snickering over this one as humility strikes again. Any exalting I got was completely undeserved.

So, thanks, MD, for the brilliant sermon. I owe you big.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Funnies

Yeah. Like that.

Apologies to any non-baseball people for whom this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Go Giants!

Friday, October 22, 2010

God bless San Francisco

It was a bummer of a loss last night in the Giants-Phillies game. But at least we got to see this:

It was just so San Francisco. We all knew exactly what this was: the star of Beach Blanket Babylon in a fairly modest hat. As Big League Stew put it:

You could almost hear records scratching to a halt across the country as the woman above came out to sing "God Bless America" in the middle of Thursday's seventh inning between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies.

It was fun watching on Twitter as Phillies fans said, "WHAT the...what WAS that?!" Just a little something of ours. Me, I couldn't have been more pleased. Great choice, Giants. Best version of God Bless America ever!

Really good stuff that other people wrote (or said), October 22

It's my cop-out Friday blog post! Still, I hope you will enjoy something you find here.

First of all, thanks to Margaret for posting a great reading from Ecclesiasticus this morning. As someone often distressed by the nastiness in the blogosphere, I particularly liked this verse:

Do not find fault before you investigate; examine first, and then criticize. Do not answer before you listen, and do not interrupt when another is speaking. Do not argue about a matter that does not concern you, and do not sit with sinners when they judge a case.

Wise words. So hard to do.

One opinion I tried hard to listen to this week and found fascinating was this comment about the crazy way we compensate teachers. Such a hot-button issue, but I thought this made a lot of sense:

Work environments hospitable to continual innovation tend to have relatively low barriers to entry, and relatively low barriers to exit. Schools invert that. Many have extensive up-front credentialing requirements, forcing novice teachers to invest substantial time and money at the beginning of their careers, before they can even decide whether they are indeed well-suited for the job. Early career teachers tend to get the least desirable assignments, and to be paid barely enough on which to live. On the other hand, most compensation packages are grossly back-loaded, offering lock-step seniority raises and substantial retirement benefits. So it's tough to get in the door, and once you do, leaving entails abandoning the rewards for which you've already labored before you can enjoy them. That's crazy.

I hadn't thought of it that way.

In total nerd mode, I found these definitions of philosophers' names using their philosophies amusing. eg: voltaire, n. A unit of enlightenment. Yes, I know. Sad, really.

In movie news, I liked this Guide to Romance Cliches.

Teen romances have their own separate cliches. Actually, they have one separate cliche: teens from out of town find it hard to fit in so they start hanging around with social misfits or goths or beatniks or vampires suffering from social anxiety disorders.


Finally, if you have the time, here's a talk from one of the co-founders of Kiva. One of the things I like about this is that she speaks directly from the outset about how she was motivated to take up this work due to what she learned about Jesus in Sunday School. I think this could make an excellent Adult Education offering.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What you can get me for Christmas

If you are so inclined.

Isn't that gorgeous?

What I learned at the dump

The other day I took a truckload of debris to the county "transfer station"--not really a dump, I guess. I'd been there before to get rid of some household hazardous waste, and what a wonderful thing that was, as people dressed in hazmat suits unloaded the stuff that I had loaded bare-handed into the car and took it away. Where do they take it? I do not know.

But the transfer station was a different deal. I was getting rid of the last of the broken brick pavers from the back-yard re-do. I pulled up to the transfer station entry; a friendly woman popped her head out and asked what I was getting rid of. I explained; she said, "You're good to go." But go where? "Just go straight ahead and pull in; someone will tell you where to go."

I went straight ahead to a huge hanger-like building. I pulled in. I honked the horn. I listened to the birds squabbling for a while. No one appeared. I pulled out.

I went to another entry where there was a person. I pulled in. She asked what I was getting rid of. I explained. She said, "Oh, you need to go over there," pointing to an area down below. I thanked her. I pulled out. I drove down the road--and found myself leaving the transfer station.

I pulled around to the entrance again. The friendly woman popped out. I said, "Hello, again. I still don't know where to go." She said, "Go straight ahead and a little to the left and someone will tell you."

Deep breath.

I explained that I had just done that and I had been told I needed to get to a place beyond that; how do I get there?

She pointed and said, "Just follow the road there." I thanked her. I drove on, past the original building, over and down beyond where there was a man with a rake.

I rolled down the window and asked where to go. He gestured to one of the huge piles of debris. I pulled up alongside it. He told me to back in. I backed in. He went back to raking debris. I sat in the truck for a while. He continued raking.

I finally yelled over to him, "Is it ok if I just unload this on the pile?" He said yes and continued raking. I unloaded my debris and drove off.


What I learned: being friendly is not enough.

The woman at the entrance was perfectly friendly and cordial. What I needed in addition to that was complete information.

Of course it made me think of church (because almost everything makes me think of church). Although it's good to be greeted by friendly people, if you are new to a church, and especially if you are new to church culture and behavior, you need guidance on what to do and where to go.

When people come to church of their own volition when they have never been to church before and have not been brought by a friend, then it seems clear they really want to be there. I hate to think of how we frustrate people by withholding information that would make their first experience more pleasant.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, October 19

Wind, Sand and StarsAfter reading that beautiful quotation that I used last week in reference to the rescue of the Chilean miners, I had to check out Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Here is the teaser:

And despite our dwindling fuel we continued to nibble at the golden bait which each time seemed more surely the true light of a beacon, was each time a promise of landing and of life--and we had each time to change our star.

And with that we knew ourselves to be lost in interplanetary space among a thousand inaccessible planets, we who sought only the one veritable planet, our own, that planet on which alone we should find our familiar countryside, the houses of our friends, our treasures.

Isn't that gorgeous? A book to be savored.

Teaser Tuesday is sponsored by MizB at Should Be Reading, and by the letter T.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obit quote of the day

From the obituary for Benoit Mandelbrot:

“If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career,” he said, referring to his prestigious appointments in Paris and at Yale. “But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end. It was a very crooked line.”

I am appreciating that right now.
You are here.  Somewhere.

Monday morning preacher: Preaching in the first person (ay ay ay)

I had a devil of a time coming up with a way to approach the sermon that you see below. What was killing me was I didn't want to start with "I," even though in one way or another, that is what tends to happen. "The other day, I..." "One thing I have noticed...", etc. On Saturday, I was literally sitting in my office with my head in my hands trying to come up with a way into this sermon. I finally gave up and said "I." And after that, it poured right out.

I have to admit, I'm still a little uncomfortable with the sermon. I think it's all right. But there's something a bit dubious about preaching in the first person, it seems to me. As a once in a blue moon technique, OK. And (apparently) as a desperate Sunday morning Hail Mary pass, sure. But I don't want to make a habit of it. There's too much focus on me personally as the preacher rather than on God or the Word or how we can love one another.

What do you think?

Sermon, October 17

Given at All Saints, San Leandro

I have a confession to make. For most of my life I have resorted to bribery to get my way.

I don’t think I ever meant to do it. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I thought the easiest way out of a jam, the easiest way to fix things would be to grease the wheels of justice a little bit.

I didn’t start there. I usually would start with an off-hand prayer as I was thinking about it: God, when you have a moment, would you fix this for me? OK, thanks. Then, when that didn’t work, I’d try something a little more formal. Maybe kneeling. Maybe using a little more formal language. Maybe taking a little time. I’d look in the prayer book to see if there was something appropriate, something beautifully written that might get God’s attention and sound right. Something that would start by telling God how great God was, just to butter God up a little.

Maybe I’d couch my situation around with requests for other people and slip my own in in the middle, in the midst of some thanks to God for all God has done for me in the past. I figured that way God would know I was being sincere and not completely selfish, having taken the trouble to include other people as well. God surely wouldn’t know that the most important thing in that list was my own situation.

And sometimes that would work. I would thank God for responding appropriately and go on my way.

But there were times when God either didn’t get what I was saying, or was busy fulfilling those other prayer requests I’d put in for other people. If it went on long enough, if my appropriately formal, appropriately other-focused, appropriately grateful prayers just were not doing the trick, then I might find myself resorting to good old-fashioned bribery. And it usually looked like this:

“If you do this for me, God, I promise…”

The promise took different forms over the years. Some I kept, and some I kept for a while, and some I never had to keep because God didn’t come up to snuff. In some ways I was kind of relieved. Some of those bribes were pretty big pay-offs and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it.

But there was that one time when God didn’t take my bribe and it was so important, I went to extortion, the nuclear option:

“If you don’t do this for me, God, I’m going to…”

I know I’m not the only one to do this. Some people have offered to God some really good bribes, bribes that were good for them like giving up smoking, bribes that were good for their families, like being around more often, bribes that were good for the church, like making a huge bequest, and bribes that were just plain good, like serving the poor and the sick. But let’s be honest: they were all still bribes.

The extortion was a different matter. The most common one I’ve heard of, one I’ve never had the nerve to do, was to tell God that if God didn’t come through, that was proof God didn’t exist. I’m not sure that was any skin of God’s proverbial nose, but it certainly seemed to be enough for some people.

I feel for those folks though. It’s rotten when God doesn’t seem to care, or God doesn’t seem to be listening. God sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

But the weird thing about bribing God is that I never know if it’s going to work or not. And, now that I think about it, more often than not, it didn’t.

You’d almost think that God was somehow able to see through my clever ways of showing God I’m praying for others. You’d think God was maybe not interested in my bribe. You’d think God actually wanted to hear what I thought, what worried me, what concerned me. You’d think God might actually prefer my prayer concerns for others to be from my genuine concern and not window dressing. It’s hard to tell with God.

And after hearing this parable today, I wonder if my bribery made any difference at all.

I mean, look at this widow. She has no money, no resources, no connections. She has no money to bribe the judge. She has no power to bully him. All she has is herself and the rightness of her cause. She goes before the judge day after day and says, “Give me justice.” She doesn’t say, “If I give you this, will you make it right?” She doesn’t say, “If you don’t make it right, I’ll tell the papers about your scandalous behavior.” Over and over, in the plainest language, in the most self-interested way possible, with no specially trained person to help her, she makes her case.

Jesus has this weird thing about prayer. He seems to think that it should be done in normal language by normal people about everyday things. You’d think a super prayer warrior like Jesus would have some secret tricks up his sleeve, but then when his disciples ask him, he teaches them this little fillip of a prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. That doesn’t take hours. It doesn’t require you to prostrate yourself. And it's just so simple, anyone can say it and mean it.

And here he is again, suggesting that all we need to do is to present ourselves to God, and present our requests to God without resorting to fancy intermediaries or fancy language or fancy tricks or fancy promises. That all we need to do is show up again and again in the presence of the Almighty God with our hands empty and our desires known and our secrets unhidden. And that God is interested in that.

Maybe I’m not as clever as I thought. Maybe God hears me pray whether or not I have anything to offer. Maybe God is more interested in having me than in having my promises. Maybe all I need to do is to bring myself before God asking for justice and see what happens.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Funnies

In memory of Barbara Billingsley, aka Mrs. June Cleaver:

By the by, one lovely paragraph from the obit:

Ms. Billingsley, who had nothing but respect for June Cleaver, was a former model and career actress who was married three times and spent part of her career as a working single mother (of two boys, at that).

Ah, television!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A reasonably sincere pumpkin patch

I didn't think I would get to do this today, but I managed to get to Larry's Produce in Fairfield, which is awesome in and of its own right, full of every kind of vegetable you can imagine, and many I've never heard of.

I don't even know what "yuyuba" are over on the right, there.

But then you head out the back and there are...

Pumpkins galore!  Of every color...

and shape...

and size!

Such a perfect fall day activity.  I hope you got to do something autumnal wherever you are.
  Happy October to you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Really good stuff that other people wrote, October 15

So many this week! So let's start with a picture.

This has been making the rounds, and rightly so. (I first saw it courtesy of Stephen Fry's Twitter feed, of all things, but it's been showing up a lot of places.) I think you can click for a larger image, but if not, go to the link above.

So when you get annoyed when people suspect you are from SOUTHERN California, imagine how an Ethiopian feels when people ask what it's like in South Africa.

My fave Ta-Nehisi Coates asks his readers, "What does it mean among white people to be considered racist?" He is astonished at what he learns from his commenters.

Peacebang posted this link with SHOCKING TRUTHS! about church growth. The ones that shocked me most: Church membership is unimportant; and debt freedom always leads to church decline. Wow! Very provocative.

Frequent commenter Elisabeth has started a blog called Songs of a Soul Journey. I particularly appreciated her entry on Silly Bandz, something I only learned about last week when one of the kids at church was sporting about 6 inches-worth of them on his wrist.

Finally, having consumed a good portion of a red velvet cake this week, I deeply appreciated the new comic/memoir The God of Cake at Hyperbole and a Half. You know you want some cake, don't you, little girl?

All right, but just one piece.


Thursday, October 14, 2010


One of the words I keep coming back to in NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's speech last Sunday was the word "brainwashed." As in:

I just think my children, and your children, will be much better off, and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don't want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn't.
[emphasis mine]

It struck me as odd at the time because, as I understood it, one of the major techniques of "reparative therapy" used to "cure" gays was a form of brainwashing. I tried to see if I was remembering correctly and found this article from the BBC:

Those who volunteered for such treatments - often in preference to jail terms - were shown pictures of naked men and given a series electric shocks or drugs to make them vomit.

When they could stand it no longer, they were shown pictures of naked women, or films of nudist colonies, as a relief from the pain - or, in some cases, taken out on "dates" with young nurses.

All of which sounds to me like the traditional understanding of brainwashing, a la The Manchurian Candidate.

But in the course of finding this article, I saw far more often this trope of "brainwashing" applied as it was used in Paladino's speech.

Here, for example, is a rant from a website called Tradition in Action, reviewing a video called It's Elementary, "The groundbreaking film that addresses anti-gay prejudice by providing adults with practical lessons on how to talk with children about gay people." (In light of the need to eliminate bullying from our schools, this actually seems useful to me.) What I'm going to do is post the preview for the documentary and then post the rant, and then some thoughts. So first, take a look at this.

OK, got that? Here's how the writer at Tradition in Action views this:

Must-See Video!
Homosexuals Brainwashing Our Children

I am very concerned about what's shown in these videos and think that everyone should view them so they realize how our children in public and private schools are being taught tolerance for the homosexual sin, the sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance. I do not want my grandchildren being brainwashed by the pro-homosexual rot that is portrayed in these videos...

There are no adequate words to describe these sub-humans who would turn every country on the face of the earth into pro-sodomite totalitarian States. How dare they be allowed to commit spiritual abortion on the souls of our children without an outcry loud enough to be heard in Heaven!
[emphasis mine]


Here's the thing. Is it "brainwashing" or is it "repeating things I don't believe to be true"? Are some Christian schools "brainwashing" children not to believe the theory of evolution, or are they teaching what they believe to be true?

And though I believe it's the latter, I have to have some sympathy with those who claim brainwashing. Because people are hearing over and over and more and more often that homosexuality is not evil--"big whoop," as the little guy says in the video. For those who think it is evil, it really must be intolerable. And as more and more people agree that homosexuality is not evil, "brainwashing" must be the reason. It can't possibly be that people have weighed the evidence on both sides and come to their own conclusion.

BUT--the "sub-human" thing? That is not on. You can see why gays are bullied, beaten, and murdered if that's the message people are taught.

Is it brainwashing if that's what you've heard all your life? Not if my own definition holds. But it sure is repeating things I don't believe to be true.

My strong opinion is that the messages that get repeated to us do form us. I don't think that's brainwashing, but I do think that's brain-shaping. I can understand why some people don't want the messages they loathe repeated. But I also believe they hate the message because of the hate-filled messages of their past.

Scene from trash night

"Can we dump him?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the rescue of the Chilean miners

"Here I touch the inescapable contradiction I shall never be able to resolve. For man's greatness does not reside merely in the destiny of the species: each individual is an empire. When a mine caves in and closes over the head of a single miner, the life of the community is suspended.

"His comrades, their women, their children, gather in anguish at the entrance to the mine, while below them the rescue party scratch with their picks at the bowels of the earth. What are they after? Are they consciously saving one unit of society? Are they freeing a human being as one might free a horse, after computing the work he is still capable of doing? Ten other miners may be killed in the attempted rescue: what inept cost accounting! Of course it is not a matter of saving one ant out of the colony of ants! They are rescuing a consciousness, an empire whose significance is incommensurable with anything else.

"Inside the narrow skull of the miner pinned beneath the fallen timber, there lives a world. Parents, friends, a home, the hot soup of evening, songs sung on feast days, loving kindness and anger, perhaps even a social consciousness and a great universal love, inhabit that skull. By what are we to measure the value of a man? His ancestor once drew a reindeer on the wall of a cave; and two hundred thousand years later that gesture still radiates. It stirs us, prolongs itself in us. Man's gestures are an eternal spring. Though we die for it, we shall bring up that miner from his shaft. Solitary he may be; universal he surely is."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

quote and idea blatantly stolen from a friend's Facebook status update

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I really, really want to know more about the Kalashnikov

I never thought I would find the story of the AK-47 interesting, but as I was driving home today I heard an interview with a man who's written a book about the AK-47 and almost didn't get out of the car because it was so fascinating. Just released today, C.J. Chivers' book The Gun isn't even in my library yet, but I know I'm going to have to get my hands on it.

Largely because Chivers was such an amazing storyteller on the radio. He put the narrative together so well just in talking about it, and I would be willing to bet he does the same in his writing. Here's a little snippet from the transcript from Fresh Air:

TERRY GROSS: Tell us about some of the very odd, maybe even bizarre ways that the M-16 was tested.

Mr. CHIVERS: In the 1960s at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, on very short notice and with very little supervision, a group of scientists in this - what was known as the biophysics division, set to work on a number of tests to determine which rifle, the AR-15, the M-14 or the Kalashnikov, was the most lethal. Now, measuring lethality is not easy, right? I mean its kind of a concept that is very, very hard to replicate without killing things. And so they set about killing things.

Is that not incredible? The way he sets the scene and the clarity with which he introduces the characters and the conflict? Are you not dying to know what happens next? Holy mackerel.

I say again, I never suspected I would want to know about the Kalashnikov, but now I do. If you see a copy in your local library, snag it for me, would you?

[You can listen to the full interview here.]

Teaser Tuesday two-fer

It's the "recently deceased thriller writer" edition of Teaser Tuesday as I have managed to get my hands on both the newly published Dick Francis (and Felix Francis) and a Spenser novel that just came out, written by Robert B. Parker in the year before he died.

CrossfireThe first teaser is from Crossfire, the latest in a long line of Francis thrillers set in the world of British horseracing. Our first person protagonist this time is a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan whose mother is a top-level horse trainer.

I had stood silently in front of him, blocking his route away, waiting for the answer. He hadn't wanted to tell me, but he could see that I wasn't going to move until he did.

"It was a million U.S. dollars."

Painted Ladies (Spenser Mystery)Having finished that on Sunday, I've now started on Painted Ladies, the Spenser novel. More than two sentences are required.

"Do you have a gun?" he said.
"Of course," I said.
"Have you ever used it?" he said.
"To shoot somebody?"
"Mostly I use the front sight to pick my teeth," I said.

Bittersweet, these books, knowing the authors have died. The copyright for the Dick Francis is the "Dick Francis Corporation;" for Parker, it's "The Estate of Robert B. Parker." For all that I don't know these people, I've known their work for a long, long time. And they did good, solid work year in and year out, greatly to be commended.

It's going to be hard not having them around.

Details on Teaser Tuesday is found at Should Be Reading.

Obit quotes of the day

From the Telegraph obituary for Claire Rayner, "the journalist, broadcaster and novelist who died on October 11 aged 79, was one of Britain’s best-known agony aunts, a matronly figure prone to addressing everyone as “lovey”," about her novel Maddie:

Rayner claimed that she had based the novel on Medea, but added: it’s also about mental hospitals”.

I'm putting it on my "to read" list, assuming I can find it.

Other prime quotes:

She described her father, a tailor’s cutter, as “a fantasist”, and her mother as “exceptionally pretty, which is always dangerous. Thank God I didn’t take after her.”

And last, but certainly not least:

After retiring as a columnist, Claire Rayner devoted herself to, as she put it, “biting the arses of those in power”, in particular lambasting government for its failure to ensure proper care for the elderly. Among her most recent targets were the Pope (“His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.”) and the Prime Minister (“Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”)

Gotta love those outspoken East Enders.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday morning preacher: The Interpreter's Bible (1952)

If there is one resource I consult every time I am preparing a sermon, it is the 1952 version of The Interpreter's Bible. (You will notice the volume for Luke/John is missing from the shelf, there.) It remains the best comprehensive commentary I have ever seen.

Talk about don't judge a book by its cover! I think most mainstream church libraries have a set of these dull-looking grey-covered volumes on their shelf. Do NOT get rid of them! They are a treasure! They are insightful, thoughtful, and literate. They're also beautifully written.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from the commentary for this Sunday's gospel, the parable of the widow before the unjust judge, told by Jesus to encourage the disciples "to pray always and not to lose heart."

Do we covet cheap, quick, and easy answers to our prayers? If prayer were an Aladdin's lamp, bringing by instant magic anything we might fancy, no one would pray; for the world would become a topsy-turvydom in which prayer and life alike would become impossible...We are impatient folk. We must "get rich quick," and we must have canned music when learning music for ourselves becomes too painstaking, and we must fly in six hours the journey which our forefathers slowly compassed by covered wagon against many foes. But are we stancher in soul than they? So the parable was told lest we should weary in prayer, and to remind us that God is faithful in wisdom and love.

A topsy-turvydom! Isn't that great? And it's pretty clear that in 60 years we haven't changed all that much, with our "get rich quick" schemes and desire for instant gratification.

So don't discount those old, grey books. They're just what they used to be: an amazing resource for delving deep into the Word of God. Look for them in a church library near you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Job listing

A friend of mine, knowing I'm in the midst of a job search, sent me this listing from Craigslist. I particularly like the part about how you need "a strong stomach." Even without that qualification (which I don't have) I live too far away to take the job. Shucks!

But, wow, kudos to those who do this. It looks like a tough, tough job that's probably far too necessary.

Crime Scene Cleanup & Hoarding/Clutter Clean up Part Time

Steri-Clean "Hoarder Helpers" and Crime Scene Steri-Clean, LLC is looking to hire 1 or 2 additional part time technicians. This is part time work with average hours at 20-30 per week but can be busier or slower at times. Candidates must meet the following minimum requirements:
1) Must live within 15 minutes of our office in order to meet contract requirements.
2) Clean Driving Record - Proof by Current DMV Printout
3) No Criminal Background (Misdemeanor/Felony) - Background checks will be performed
4) Excellent Physical shape - be able to move heavy furniture, appliances, etc while in hazmat clothing/respirator
5) Must be on call 24 hours a day on certain days.

Job Duties:
Steri-Clean and Crime Scene Steri-Clean, LLC performs both crime and trauma scene cleanup as well as hoarding/clutter clean up. You must have a strong stomach and be able to work fast, work smart and work hard. There is no room for errors or laziness. We clean everything from suicides and homicides to homes filled with trash, dead animals and human waste. It is not a glorious job by any means. We provide all training, vehicles, supplies, and equipment.

Starting part time pay is $15.00/hour while on a 6 month probationary period. Raises there after are given according to knowledge, attitude, experience and work history. Promotions are possible to full time with medical benefits.


All that for $15 an hour. Amazing.

Sunday Funnies

I don't know if this is funny or just cool. Either way, wouldn't you like to have a dinosaur skeleton made out of pancakes?  Of course you would.

h/t Jen from Cake Wrecks

Friday, October 8, 2010

Really good stuff that other people wrote, October 8

Apparently, this is becoming a thing here at The Infusion. There's just so much interesting stuff out there I want to share!

I loved this NY Times interview with the CEO of VMware, deceptively headlined Does Your Team Have the Four Essential Types? I think there's lots of interesting stuff in there about leadership in general and of the changes in leadership as your organization gets larger.

As you manage bigger groups of people, you cannot be as closely connected to specific underlying issues and challenges...You have to realize that your contribution becomes more symbolic, in the sense that you’re trying to set a general direction. People want to see you as representing the general mission, not just yourself.

Seems like good advice that many leaders, church and otherwise, don't realize.

I'm not sure if I totally buy the hypothesis, but it was intriguing: Of Stink Bugs and Men suggests that the reason human populations in sub-Saharan Africa haven't grown as fast as they have elsewhere is because it's their native habitat. Everywhere else, we're an invasive species. As I said, intriguing.

On the fun side of things, I loved this list of maxims by the 17th century churchman Thomas Fuller. Oh, they're wonderfully pithy and clever. To wit:

A book that is shut is but a block.
A man is not good or bad for one action.
Unseasonable kindness gets no thanks.

And many more.

Finally, I love this dessert seen at Design Fetish. May I interest you in a Happy Meal?

Enjoy!  And happy Friday!

Evil cat brother #1 is appalled at the suggestion

Clearly this needs a good caption.  What say you?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It gets better

It's Thursday so it must be time for me to swoon over Tim Gunn yet again. Well, I can't help it. Not when he does things like this:

I hope you've all heard about the "It gets better" project, sponsored by Dan Savage in wake of the numerous suicides of youth in the past month. Gays and lesbians from all walks of life have been invited to make videos to reach out to youth, sharing their experience and saying, yes, life does get better.

But it does raise the question: why is life so bad in high school? Surely it doesn't have to be that way. What do you think could be done to make high school a better place for young people to be?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coming attractions

Finding myself with nothing much to say today of any substance, I will confine myself to remarking that I can hardly wait for October 15th. Why? Observe:

Helen Mirren with a machine gun! I am so there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, October 5

Our two-sentence teaser this week is from The Spy Wore Red by Aline Romanos--or, as it says on the cover, Aline, Countess of Romanones. I don't think this teaser gives away too much:

"This is the first school of espionage in the United States. And you're here to be converted into...S...P...I...E...S."
Spy Wore Red
Does it make a difference if I tell you the subtitle is My Adventures as an Undercover Agent in World War II?

Yeah, like that. Fun and fabulous.

For more details about Teaser Tuesday, check out the Mother Blog, Should Be Reading.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quote of the Day

We don't fact check, and we don't look at context because of any journalistic criterion that we feel has to be met. We do that because jokes don't work when they're lies.

Jon Stewart, in a fascinating interview with Terry Gross

Monday Morning Preacher: St. Francis

It's the feast of St. Francis today. Although he probably didn't say it, Francis certainly lived out the credo, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words." Such as when he embraced the leper. Like so.

Great sermon, right there. I wish I were a better preacher.

Image from this website.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Funnies

From The Onion, the world's finest news source.

After Long Season, Mere Thought Of Double-Play Ball Makes Second Baseman Nauseated

MINNEAPOLIS—Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill told reporters Saturday evening that after 161 games of baseball, the mere thought of a double-play ball rolling toward the middle infield is enough to make him feel physically ill. "As soon as a runner reaches first, my mind starts filling with thoughts of what I'll have to do if a ground ball is hit to myself or [shortstop] Yunel [Escobar], and I actually start gagging," said Hill, going into even more vivid detail surrounding his thoughts of shallow pop flies. "I'm basically just rooting for strike outs and home runs at this point." When asked if he carried the same sentiment with regard to his plate appearances, Hill explained that he stopped swinging at pitches weeks ago.

I'm not sure they made this one up.

C'mon, Giants!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Really good stuff that other people wrote

Here are links to a few things that I thought I would comment on, but now I feel I shouldn't bother because the originals were far better than anything I could add.

A while back, someone who's probably regretting it now wrote a long screed about how his salary of $250,000+ really isn't that much because living well is really expensive (I am paraphrasing). James Fallows has taken that dog to town with a whole series of blog posts on the self-pitying poor, all of which are worth a read. I particularly liked this entry, probably because it has data and a chart.

I recently added a blog called City of Brass, written by a Muslim on, to my reading list because I realized I need to know more about Islam. I need to add it to my blogroll on the left there. Also containing data and a chart, this blog maps mosque controversies nationwide, among other things.

Apparently, the Roman Catholic church is about to canonize a woman who was excommunicated for blowing the whistle on a predator priest in the early part of the 20th century. I thought the story was interesting and thought I'd pass it along.

And I would be remiss if I did not announce MadPriest's two new ventures in online community and worship: St. Laika's and its companion website The Anchorhold, a blog about spiritual practice. Your question of the day on St. Laika's is "When did you feel closest to God?" Feel free to visit and share.

Finally, Jenny at Ask the Bloggess has been offering some kind words, including this entry, This too shall pass which begins

No questions today. Just answers:

No. You aren't alone.

Yes. We all feel this way sometimes.

No. You won't always feel like this.

Yes. The world is a better place with you in it.

Good to remember today and always.