Wednesday, October 21, 2009

He Made His Home in That Fish's Abdomen

I feel like I need to get the various parts of my life together and tell them to take a number. Hey, you there, contractor problems! Back in line! When I'm done with family issues, work deadlines, and my next set of solos at church, I'll get to you. Nobody likes a line jumper.

Actually, the contractor problems haven't been all that bad, or at least I think they're nearly resolved, though I've been thinking that for about two weeks now. Maybe I'll talk about them in detail another time. Or not.

Now that my latest work deadline has passed, I feel a sense of urgency about getting moved into the house. On Saturday, I set off in search of boxes, but both of the local box stores had been closed. I had assumed the box business to be countercyclical: if you're downsizing, you need boxes, right? But maybe not. Maybe when the recession gets bad enough, people start storing their goods in garbage bags. I suppose that if you're downsizing and want to embrace thrift, you stop a garbage truck, pull out the garbage bags, empty them, wash them (optional), load your stuff into the bags, toss your bags into the back of the garbage truck, divert the truck with carefully positioned IEDs, then retrieve your (slightly compacted: it works best with clothing, and maybe pets) stuff at your new location. I should probably feel like a chump for going old school and hiring movers, but even after years of watching Law and Order and NCIS, I still don't know how to manufacture explosives. My bad.

Anyway, I returned home without boxes, so I looked online, where I found some at very reasonable prices, even after considering the somewhat steep shipping prices. There were also minimum order quantities, so I did have to buy twenty-five of the small packing boxes, but I have lots of books. Besides, a guy can never have too many boxes. In their original, flat condition, they make excellent hostess gifts. Especially with a nice bow. The boxes arrived yesterday, and I started packing my cookbooks, but my packing tape ran out as I was sealing the first box. Nom de plume!

This past Sunday, our church was ordaining one of our former intern ministers. Ordination services are kind of a big deal, so the choir was singing at it in the afternoon. The former intern minister was giving the sermon at the regular morning service, even though he was -- as of then -- still not reverend, and I was the soloist. I had been asked to sing ten days earlier (I usually get a month or more of lead time), when I was still navigating the sturm und drang of the extended tax season, but there are certain offers I almost never turn down. The sermon was about the importance of names, and I had managed to find two marginally appropriate but largely unappealing pieces that fit with the topic. I also got to sing "It Ain't Necessarily So," which is very appealing and always appropriate. The minister put it just after a reading from the Bible and just before the sermon.

I find "It Ain't Necessarily So" difficult to perform, mostly because the intervals I expect are not the ones Mr. Gershwin wrote, and that sort of conflict (correctly) always gets decided in favor of the composer. But I've been wanting to sing it in church (sadly, in my church, it offends no one) for years, and it went pretty well. The postlude, not so much. The music director had pounced upon my rather unenthusiastic suggestion of Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" for one of the pieces, and I could not get our pianist (who was splendid on the Gershwin) to play it at a reasonable tempo. Not that it would have been that much better at a quicker tempo, but if it had been twice as fast, it would only have lasted twice as long, which would have been a mercy, at least to me. The congregation enjoyed it, but from the very first phrase, I had that I'm-singing-on-the-Titanic-and-I'll-be-singing-until-this-damned-ship-goes-under feeling that, well, I don't remember having quite that feeling before, and let's hope I don't have it again. Ugh.

The ordination service was very moving, and the choir sang a particularly rousing arrangement of "Now Let Us Sing." It ran late, and I had to leave the building without congratulating the newly upgraded former intern minister, but perhaps I'll track down his email address. Or send him a nice box.

Home decoration plans have been somewhat on hold, but now that the upstairs bathroom shower installation is substantially completed and the downstairs floors have been refinished, I can move forward. I should be doing some priming and painting this weekend in the bathroom (goodbye, yellow!) and perhaps one or two other rooms. Also more packing of boxes.

Now that I have these beautiful hardwood floors, the first order of business, naturally, is to cover them up so that they stay beautiful, if largely unseen. I really like the idea of floorcloths. They're easy and fun to make (I've done it before), but they feel somewhat insubstantial all by themselves, so I've made a large order from this site. I've ordered 72 of the 24"x24" 10mm thick mats (in blue). The ones that go in the living/dining room will be covered (eventually) by a floorcloth. I suspect that YFU will leave the ones in her room uncovered, but we'll see.

While I was at it, I decided that what the upstairs bedroom really needed was a layer of the 40"x40" inch-thick mats, also in blue. It's the sort of thing that one typically finds in a martial arts studio, but I figure that if I ever take up Judo, I'll be ready. Alternatively, if something ever happens to get thrown out of bed (as, one hears, happens frequently in Judo), there'll be a soft landing. Plus: soundproofing! And insulation! And protected floors! I only ordered one 100-square feet pack of the thick mats, but given the way the roof slopes and where the furniture will be and the fact that I can leave the area under the bed uncovered, I can cover almost all of the usable floor space in my room with that one pack. It looks like I won't be able to get the pipe bed until next year, but at least I'll be well cushioned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Y'all must be as tired of reading about how little free time my work schedule has lately been leaving me as I am of writing about it, but I just thought that I would mention how I was in church on Sunday to sing with the choir, and the sermon was about love, but the service was mainly about gay marriage rights, and after the service, our minister and our intern minister were leading a group who were going to take the Metro into DC and march in the National Equality March. I know there are people who were opposed to the NEM, and I don't really get it. By which I mean that I understand their objections, but I think they make no sense. But I didn't join the group and march: I had to go to the office.

Anyway, the service itself was very moving. The couple who did the chalice lighting are very active in PFLAG, and the wife read the passage from Ruth that is often read at straight weddings:
Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

I got a little choked up. Of course, later in the day, in between tax returns, I took a moment to look the passage up, and it wasn't until then that I realized the person Ruth is cleaving to with such vigor is not her husband (who has died) but her mother-in-law. I couldn't help thinking that Ruth's steadfastness was less a reflection of love for Naomi than fear of returning to her own family. Then I read the rest of Ruth, which is very short, and while the language of the KJV is a little bit opaque, so I couldn't really follow exactly what was happening, it seemed like Naomi sent Ruth -- who must have been something of a looker -- to simultaneously seduce and tease Boaz into marrying Ruth and taking care of both her and Naomi. I reckon that things often seem more romantic when they're taken out of context, though that, of course, is no argument against gay marriage.

Anyway, I'm not sure it was this past Sunday, but it was sometime within the last week or so, and I was at the office, feeling displeased, but then I noticed that there was a new entry up on Mimi Smartypants, and that made me happy. I don't link to Mimi Smartypants on the sidebar because I figure that everyone knows about it already, even though I was once chastised by another commenter on another blog when I complained that the blogger had simply copied and pasted (although he had probably retyped it) an entire MS entry. This seemed to me a) lazy, and b) pointless because everyone already knows Mimi Smartypants, but this other commenter, who was from Outer Mongolia or Idaho or some place like that, told me that I was wrong because he hadn't known about Mimi Smartypants. Of course, my initial reaction was that he likely didn't know about indoor plumbing, either, but I kept that to myself. Anyway, there was a link on MS to a video by some heavy metal group called Teitanblood. I'm not a big fan of metal, but since I was at the office, where I always keep my speakers turned off, I figured it was safe to watch even a video called something very like (or perhaps exactly so: I really don't feel like fact checking on this particular item) "Seven Chalices of Blood and Vomit." I couldn't watch all of the video, because I found it tedious, but I became somewhat fascinated with the etymology of "Teitanblood." I was never able -- in all of the ninety seconds I spent trying -- to figure it out, but I did learn that there was an instrumentalist of some sort named Set Teitan in some European metal band, so perhaps it was his blood and/or vomit in the name of the band and video.

Anyway, while doing my extensive, ninety-second research into the history of both Teitanblood and "Teitanblood," I came across a page which referred to another, apparently also metal, group called We Butter the Bread with Butter, which struck me as certainly one of the most culinarily enlightened heavy metal band names of the new millenium. Unless of course, they went out of existence in the old millenium. it was sort of hard to tell because the site (I would link to it, but I don't think I could find it again. You know how it goes when you're haphazardly surfing, don't you? Exactly what it was that you saw on site A that led you to site B becomes murky over time. It's a lot like the way my mind works shortly before I fall asleep. Except that when I'm falling asleep, I don't ever remember to copy and paste before forgetting where I got the information from.) I found was in what appeared to be an Eastern European language of some sort. Still, I would like to think that, if I had any idea what it said, this passage would resonate with me:
Pod nazwą We Butter the Bread With Butter kryje się duet z niemieckiego Lübben tworzący muzyke na pograniczu deathcore’u i cybergrindu. WBtBWB ‘wyspecjalizowało’ się w nowych aranżacjach znanych i lubianych niemieckich piosenek dla dzieci (Alle meine Entchen; Backe, backe Kuchen itp, itd). Dzięki oryginalnemu połączeniu charakterystycznych, prostych i znanych tekstów, ciężkich i melodyjnych riffów, elektroniki, szybkiej perkusji, growlu i wrzasków zespół szybko zyskał spore grono fanów nie tylko na terenie krajów niemieckojęzycznych.

I mean, that says it all, right? Unless, of course, it says something horrific and/or illegal. I recently read Lev Grossman's The Magicians (recommended: well written and very entertaining), and there's a scene in there where during a lecture, the protagonist gets bored during a lengthy incantation and decides to make the professor's lectern (or something) wobble slightly, and that very small and apparently innocent alteration results in somebody getting killed in a particularly unpleasant manner. So you can imagine the sort of risk one takes by inserting an entire paragraph of an unknown language. Hopefully I haven't posted anything horrific and/or illegal. Or worse: there may be Eastern European metal aficionados out there who simply cannot believe that I would post that because it either over- or understates the influence of We Butter the Bread with Butter, and, believe me, that was never my intention: I believe they were exactly as influential as you believe they were.

Anyway, in case I've inadvertently broken local obscenity laws, ruffled the feathers of any metalheads, or caused your best friend to be devoured by a fictional character, please accept my apologies, along with the nearly infinite cuteness of these kittens. Kittens cure all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Predictably, I worked a lot this weekend, and I have reached the point where the accumulation of work makes me want to do little more than vegetate in my off hours. I should be spending at least some of that time working on the house, but most of what I want to do needs to be done in a relatively dust-free environment, and the current bathroom construction creates a lot of dust. It's meant to be completed by Wednesday, but we'll see. I stopped by last night to check on the progress, and the shower enclosure looked like it was about halfway tiled.

I think it was Sunday evening when I was driving home from the office (by way of the new house) when I flipped on the local NPR affiliate and heard the last half or so of a fascinating Radio Lab program about parasites. It reinforced the complex nature of, well, nature: the same parasites (hookworms) that were responsible for anemia and laziness in the early twentieth century rural South can also be useful in preventing allergies, and perhaps treating certain auto-immune diseases. I was most impressed -- and disgusted -- by the story of a young (American) man who was so desperate to rid himself of respiratory problems that he was willing to travel to Cameroon and walk barefoot through the latrines of its indigenous peoples so that he might contract hookworm. He did, and his allergies and asthma vanished almost immediately. He now markets -- with unsurprisingly limited success -- hookworms harvested from his own excrement.

I can't even be bothered to go and see an allergist, so I reckon my allergies aren't nearly as bad as I occasionally think they are.

I'm not sure about the exact sequence of events, but perhaps a week ago, I was reminding myself that no situation or concept is so complicated that it can't be boiled down to a single saying, and, most frequently, to a line from a popular song. I maintain that, in fact, any situation or concept can be reduced to a line from a song, and my occasional inability to do so is evidence only of my limited musical knowledge, not of the inadequacy of my theory. In any case, I wasn't quite able to find the song for the mental cacophony I was dealing with at that moment, but I realized that it could be reduced to "life is suffering," which (quite aside from the fact that there is surely a song to that effect) is, at least, the fundamental, and very widely known, teaching of the Buddha.

Except, of course, that I don't agree with the Buddha. Suffering is really the flip side of joy, so it's more accurate to say that life is suffering and joy. I think the Buddha was onto something when he said that the source of suffering is attachment, but what he left unsaid (I'm guessing to some extent: I have no idea what all the Buddha said, and I'm not interested in reading his teachings: every time I've tried, I've found the translations dense and uninteresting) is that attachment is also the source of joy. You can (and I have, to a large extent) avoid suffering by avoiding unwise attachment, but you run the risk of losing out on joy: it's not necessarily a good bargain. If I were to stop and consider it, I feel confident that I'd say that the attachments I've chosen have largely been those that have generated joy, but that it might be worth risking a bit of affliction for a larger joy payoff.

Irrelevantly, I work with someone named Joy. She is a big pain in the ass.

The problem with seeing the cosmos as a series of opposing forces (semi-relevantly, I have never been able to remember which is yin and which is yang, even though I have absolutely no trouble remembering the difference or distinguishing between joy and suffering) is that when you're always saying, "Well, this is true, but that is true also," it's sometimes difficult to make a decision. Or to care very much. But the lack of caring is also an error of balance. This is true: in the context of the universe, the actions, joys, and sufferings of an individual are insignificant, and in a hundred years, who will remember or care? But that true also: each of us is the center of his own universe and nothing matters more to us than ourselves. You can choose either of those statements for any given moment, and I reckon the only trick is to pick the right one for the situation at hand.

I was in church Sunday morning. Despite having been asked to show up at 9 for a 10 am service and despite a lengthy pre-service rehearsal, there were many false entrances in our first piece. False entrances are rare in our choir, and I attribute them to a) frequent changes in time signature within the piece and b) the rehearsal of the piece in fragments rather than as a whole. Once again, failing to see the entirety leads inevitably to error.

We sang just before the sermon. Normally, I view the sermon as a chance to catch up with my inner monologue and/or to ponder the relative virtues of various floor and wall finishes. But I was listening for perhaps as much as half of the sermon on Sunday. Not because of the topic (it was about faith, which is not nearly as fascinating as the notion of staining the hardwood floors Brazilian Cherry so as to obscure the stains which likely come from the pets of the previous owner), but because the minister was having an off day. I wondered whether she was rattled by the interpolation of "Greet Your Neighbor" by the member of the Board of Trustees who had opened the service that morning. I had noticed that the order of service didn't have the usual line item for greeting, and after I had finished turning and smiling and shaking hands with those around me, the alto who was sitting next to me whispered that the minister had, on the previous Sunday, announced that "Greet Your Neighbor" would be suspended for a few weeks due to concerns over the spread of swine flu. I suspect that some eyebrows were raised.

In any event, the minister seemed to be fumbling with her notes a bit, so I was paying attention when she started to talk about Simone Weil's four evidences for the existence of God. And I thought, "Oy. If you're not safe from a discussion about the existence of God in a Unitarian Universalist church, then what refuge is left to me? Should I stay home and watch football?" I didn't actually think that last sentence, but I couldn't think of an easier way to mention that I won the football pool at work this week. Forty bucks! That will buy me a tile splitter, with enough left over for grout.

Anyway, I've already forgotten two of Mlle. Weil's evidences, but I do remember that she believed that the existence of God was demonstrated by a) the beauty of nature and b) the utter lack of mercy in much of the world. I did about thirty seconds worth of research later in the day, and apparently Simone believed that our afflictions are something that God gives us so that we can grow through overcoming them. Or something like that: I suspect, though I don't know, that she said it in a less New Agey manner.

But I'm not going to bother to go and read Simone Weil. I suspect that translations of her works are as dense and uninteresting as those of the Buddha. Besides, while I might begrudgingly admire the ballsiness necessary to take what (i.e., the crappy state of the world) is typically seen as evidence against the existence of God and say that it is, instead, evidence of the exact opposite, I find the point itself ridiculous. Or at least I find it akin to saying that we're not meant to understand the ways of the almighty. Anyway, if you say that the awfulness of the world shows God's hand, you can't, or at least shouldn't, turn around and say that the awesomeness of nature shows the same thing. The utter lack of logic made me a little angry.

Actually, the notion of trying to prove (or disprove) the existence of God makes me a little bit angry. Philosophers have been scamming grant money wrestling with the question forever, and if they haven't solved it yet, it's a good bet that it can't be solved. Let me bottom line it for you: you can't prove that God exists, and you can't prove that he doesn't. Furthermore, the fact that you can't prove that God exists doesn't mean that he doesn't, and the fact that you can't prove that he doesn't exist doesn't mean that he does. Give it up.

There's only one potentially compelling argument in favor of the existence of God, and that's the personal experience of the divine. If you want to tell me that you have felt the presence of God, then I respect that absolutely. But if you want to try to translate that experience into logic or, much worse, into a prescribed code of behavior, then you've lost my respect. And if you try to tell me that the method you used to experience the divine is the only method, or even the best method for anyone other than yourself, then you've similarly lost my respect. If you try to tell me that the only way you can feel the presence of God is through a very specific religious practice, then you won't necessarily have lost my respect, but you will have gained my pity. My personal experiences of the divine have come mostly through hiking in especially beautiful settings, through singing well, and through particularly amazing sex, but if you find yours through meditation, chanting, or 80% dark chocolate, then more power to you.

Less power to you, though, if you want to yammer about it. If the experience of the divine is such a wonderful thing (and if it's not, WTF?), then shouldn't you be spending more time in the presence of God and less time trying to find and explain the nonexistent logical underpinnings of your experience?

The power (we're back to more power to you) of the experience of the divine is in its ability to transcend both logic and the everyday experience. Logic is a wonderful thing, but that which cannot be named is valuable because it lets you take a walk on the wild side, beyond the limitations of logic. Logic is what people need to use to make laws and set public policy. Religion and spirituality are meant to be pathways to transcendence. People who can't embrace walking on the wild side and who attempt to explain the divine in terms of logic simply don't deserve enlightenment.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


1. I've lost track of how many appointments I made with various contractors, but I think it was either five or six. Two of them showed up. They both seemed well qualified, and they both came up with workable plans to install a shower without taking away any of my bedroom. Sadly, the plan that I liked best (it involves taking away a closet, but it's a closet that was mostly useless) and that was bid 30% lower than the other one came from the not-so-cute Latino rather than from the tall and buff Korean.

I believe that, upon coming to the end of a relationship with a tri-lingual Ph.D. who reads all the time, it's entirely reasonable to fantasize about striking up a flirtation with the sort of guy whose twice-weekly presence at your house might be heralded by the sight of his workboots standing outside your bathroom and the sound of the shower he'd installed removing the day's soil and leaving him slick and wet. But it's probably not reasonable to pay an extra 30% because of such a fantasy. Besides, I can still fantasize about the tall and buff Korean even after I hire the not-so-cute Latino. In general, I don't go for tall guys, but while my fantasies are straying to the blue collar, why not?

My new neighborhood is mostly populated with blue collar types, many of whom are both Latino and handsome, though some of them are only one of the two, and I'm sure at least a few of them are neither. In any case, there is plenty of eye candy. But then, I find eye candy everywhere. When I'm by myself in the car, it's very rare for me to drive more than half a mile or so without saying, "Oh, pretty!" -- aloud -- about one or more of the passing men. Fortunately, I only do that when the windows are closed.

2. I still can't decide whether the end of my relationship represents a moral failure or a moral success. Maybe it's some of each, but maybe not. This is a question of the utmost interest to me, and probably nobody else, but I suspect that it's not really answerable, so at the same time, it's extremely tedious. I start to think about it and then stop. Again and again. I've decided that the answer to all of life's really big questions is, "Oh, whatever."

3. Earlier this week, I was sitting through a presentation about likely tax changes under the Obama Administration (Bottom line: nobody knows what's going to happen, but everyone has a guess, and he or she is willing to discuss the guess at great length.) and it became clear that one of my colleagues is some sort of supply sider. He's always struck me as something of a dick, so that wasn't a particular surprise. Anyway, between what he said and what the presenter said in response, I was put in mind of a particular passage that turns out to be in Matthew 25:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

And here is the same passage, in context:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

This seems to be a passage that cries out for socialism, or, at the very least, for universal health care and a highly progressive tax structure. And that made me happy because even though I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus, or even that he ever said much if any of which he's said to have said, it pleases me when the Bible reinforces my own moral and political beliefs.

Alas. I read back a bit in the very same chapter, where I found this ringing endorsement of capitalism:
14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Is a puzzlement! Jesus was not much of a political philosopher, I fear, or perhaps he anticipated Emerson's pronouncements about consistency, hobgoblins, and little minds. Oh, whatever.

I think I would probably have differently divided Matthew into chapters. It wouldn't have eliminated the contradictions, but it would have made them less glaring. The twenty-fifth chapter begins with the parable of the virgins and the lamps, which doesn't seem to have any political point of view at all. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's only message is that it's better to have sex with the lights on, but frankly, that's another area where I'm fully agnostic, so I won't go there.