Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wool Blankets and Me

I sleep with the windows open when weather permits. During the summer it's often just a matter of ventilation. But now you can feel in the air that fall is not far off: it got down almost to 50° last night. And so I'm back once again to using a wool blanket.

Actually, I'll use a wool blanket in the middle of the summer if I can get away with it. I have a thing about wool blankets. The wool blanket on my bed is a Hudson Bay point blanket, big white blanket with colored stripes, green, red, yellow, and dark indigo blue. And those little point-marks on the edge of the blanket. I've had it for years, it's somewhat worn but still serviceable. Got it back in the early 90s, back when I was generally still in my spartan ascetic mode of life, you know, little 12" B&W TV, furniture from St. Vincent's. But I did have a top-of-the-line wool blanket. Hudson Bay! Very warm on a cold winter night. Or, like I say, in the middle of the summer if I can get away with it.

On my couch I have a lighter grey wool blanket, picked it up at some Army surplus store. In the wintertime I break out a second wool blanket for my bed, a much thicker grey wool Army blanket, red stripe near either end with a white cross sewn into the red stripe. Add my quilt on top of two wool blankets, and I am pretty well set for the coldest of winter nights.

I don't know what it is about wool blankets and me. Somehow, no other kind of blanket feels like a "real" blanket to me. Yes, as you might guess, I had a special blanket as a kid; but it was not wool: yellow, and much worn, and I wish I knew where it went to.

In the meanwhile, far as I'm concerned there's nothing to beat a genuine wool blanket. In the cold of winter. Or, if I can get away with it, in the summertime.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Well, I'll be. I've had these headaches ever since I was seven. Always on the right side of the head, and often accompanied by nausea. Aspirin and the like don't cut the pain in the least, the headache just has to run its course, which for me usually takes the greater part of the day. The greater part of the day with a sensation like a railroad spike driven into the right side of my head. After the headache breaks, I feel woozy, spacy, lassid for the rest of the day, like I'm floating and drifting.

But just lately I've discovered something that knocks out the pain altogether: Alleve. I just took some, lay down a while, and here I am, pain-free. Much as I hate taking pills, after more than 40 years of these headaches I'll take a pill if it means getting rid of the damn headache.


Arrrrrgghhh... Right side of my skull feels like it's lifting right off into the air... I'm goin' back to bed...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Neon Genesis Evangelion

One of my many odd interests is a Japanese anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion which came out back in the 90s. Bought the entire series several years ago on videotape. Then bought it all over again on DVD. I've watched every episode numerous times, some of my favorite episodes probably 50 times. (!!!) It's about some giant robots (the Evangelions) fighting creatures known as the Angels which are attacking Tokyo-3 in the year 2015. Fifteen years after a catastrophe known as the Second Impact, which wiped out half the human race. Only a few select youth are capable of synchronizing with the Evas and piloting "mankind's ultimate fighting machine" in the battle against the Angels.

Weird conspiracies, cosmic mysteries, dense plotlines, and intriguing character development. Rocking battle scenes. Strange Freudian motifs. And I'd bet all that kabbalistic symbolism flies right by most viewers. For instance, the Human Enhancement Project is nothing other than the kabbalistic "mending of the vessels," with Unit 01 as Adam Kadmon...

I discovered on YouTube this excerpt from Episodes 1 and 2, Shinji's first battle piloting the giant robot, Evangelion Unit 01. Music not part of the original, I guess adding a new "soundtrack" is part of these remixes. Anyhow, very cool battle scene.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Yes, Virginia, Pluto Is a Planet

Dear Editor— I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say Pluto is not a planet. Papa says, "If you see it in Let the Finder Beware, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is Pluto a planet?

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the nominalism of a nominalistic age. They do not believe except they name or label. They think that no general term can be which is not first defined by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great and antecedently real universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, Pluto is a planet. Planethood is a real universal instantiated in Pluto and in every planet. Or rather, planethood is a cluster of closely related real universals; and this leads to a form of ambiguity. For there are planets in the astronomical sense of the term; and there are planets in what we might call the human or cultural sense of the term. Either sense of the term "planet" refers to objective realities, and up till now they have referred, at least superficially, to the same set of objects, the same list of planets. The problem lies in the fact that a pack of braying astronomers has now peeled the astronomical sense of the term "planet" away from the human or cultural sense of the term "planet."

So the International Astronomical Union has now voted that Pluto is not a planet. Actually, if they are using the term "planet" in a purely astronomical sense, this is no problem. If their definition of "planet" does not prove useful or valid in a scientific framework, then sooner or later their proposed usage will be taken out to the curb along with the rest of the trash. That is what science is all about: any garbage will eventually be carried out to the curb. And if a definition has nothing in it which could ever lend itself to being corrigible or "toss-outable," why, then it is not science, is it? If something is not scientific, it may well be valid, it may be useful, it may even be true; but, tautologically, it is not science.

The problem, and the ambiguity, arise from the fact that there is also an age-old and venerable human or cultural sense of the term "planet." That, and also the fact that we live in a culture where it is often held that any sense of a term other than its scientific sense is somehow bogus and contemptible. This dismissive attitude is itself a human or cultural view, and not a scientific view, since the notion that anything but science is bogus or contemptible is itself not susceptible of being tested or falsified. But let us not dwell on that house of cards known as scientism, which (being neither testable nor falsifiable) is not to be confused with science.

Let us rather note that the IAU might just as well have voted that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are planets, while the paltry minor rubble called Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Pluto, and 58 other bodies in solar orbit, shall henceforth be classified as "contemptible miserable worthless stupid dwarf planets." Let them so vote; if it is science, then any garbage proposed or produced will eventually be carried out to the curb.

Let the IAU propose whatever astronomical definition of "planet" they wish, and let their definition in the long run stand or fall on its own demerits. I for one will continue most of the time— that is, when not speaking IAU Astronomese— to use the word "planet" in its human or cultural sense, sanctioned by the long usage of history and tradition. And in that latter sense, in that human and cultural sense, yes, Virginia, Pluto is a planet.

Science has its instruments and its empirical data, and I do not presume to be in competition with it. But, as Goethe put it, Man is the finest instrument: and when I speak of Mars red with blood and war, or Mercury, Stilbon, "the Sparkler," I speak of deep realities, realities mediated on a human and cultural level, and inaccessible to us except on that level. Not realities in competition with science, in any sense; but realities nonetheless. "Planet" in the astronomical sense is a real universal; "planet" in the cultural sense is a distinct and not entirely overlapping real universal: and, as the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce put it, the test of whether any general sign, any real universal, represents truth is whether it would stand up over an infinite long run of interpretation. If it would so stand up, then there is no sense in saying it is not real, is not true, or does not refer to the realities beyond itself to which it purports to refer.

Postscript: I post below a rerun from several months ago. It talks about Venus instead of Pluto; but allowing for that difference, it's on much the same wavelength.

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The Morning Star

(reprinted from 2/10/06)

I've been noticing lately that Venus is once again the morning star. When I step out the front door in the dark of early dawn, there I see her, bright in the southeastern sky.

From everything in the natural world we drink in beauty; and not only beauty but also truth; and not only truth and beauty, but also goodness. The astronomer shows us the truth about the world, but so also does the poet. This take on things, which was once a commonplace in Western culture, has been systemically and needlessly filtered out in recent centuries, in the name of Man the Controller; and I sometimes think I must be the last man in the West to whom this older perspective comes naturally; naturally, as a birthright, and neither as a late acquisition nor as an oriental import.

I'm not talking daily horoscope or Coast to Coast AM here; no, far from it! I'm talking more like Coleridge. Coleridge the poet, and also Coleridge the philosopher of imagination as the tertium aliquid which alone is able to bind perception and conception together. Think of all the world around us as a seamless web of signification; and think of the process of signification as being structurally driven always by the object signified rather than by the interpretant, always by the morning star rather than by the seeing eye; and you'll be close to where I'm coming from.
This visible nature, and this common world,
Is all too narrow: yea, a deeper import
Lurks in the legend told my infant years...
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and wat'ry depths; all these have vanished;
They live no longer in the faith of reason!
But still the heart doth need a language, still
Doth the old instinct bring back the old names,
And to yon starry world they now are gone,
Spirits or gods, that used to share this earth
With man as with their friend; and to the lover
Yonder they move, from yonder visible sky
Shoot influence down: and even at this day
'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
And Venus who brings every thing that's fair!
  —Coleridge, from The Piccolomini

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Good Talk Now, Ask Me How"

good talk now
"Here at here, we learn to nouns, sentences, and talking..."

(QuickTime video, 7.9 meg download)

(h/t Urthshu)


Monday, August 21, 2006

The New Russian Watch Is Here!

raketa watch
This morning my accumulated mail from vacation was delivered, and what should I find but a package from Russia... containing none other than the new Russian watch I ordered a few weeks ago! It's a Raketa watch, 16-jewel mechanical movement, and I daresay it looks like a watch from some alternate reality...

Note the yellowish-orange dial. A 24-hour dial. Yes, the hour hand goes around only once every 24 hours, not twice like a regular watch. Takes some getting used to, that's 4:16 PM you see in the picture, otherwise known as 1616 hours.

One advantage of a 24-hour dial is that it's easy to compare times in different time zones around the world. Around the outer edge of the dial is a rotating ring with names of various cities, written of course in Russian.

I've really gotten into Russian-made mechanical watches, wind 'em up, gears and mainspring, tick tick tick, no battery required. Last summer I got that Russian watch, cheap but sturdy as an army tank. A couple of months ago I got that funky Russian chronograph, not-so-cheap, which has become my usual watch for everyday use.

Now I get this 24-hour watch that looks like something out of no known historical timeline; cheap, not quite discount-store cheap, but close. A watch as if from an alternate history where in the 21st century steamboats still ply up and down the sparsely settled Mississippi River from one British colonial river town to the next, and this watch has traveled across North America from the Tsar's imperial province of Alaska. (That's "Аляска" you'll see at 10 AM on the dial.) Believe me, you couldn't make up a watch like this, not even if you tried.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Screenshot as Self-Portrait

madcity screenshot
My brother Steven very kindly put together a computer system for me to use while I was on vacation over in Wisconsin. Above you'll see a screenshot. I find it fascinating that, if you know my brother, you can tell at a glance that that screenshot is him. Win98 restyled, Go game, carefully selected matching and contrasting colors, spare and informal-but-tidy layout... that is my brother.

This is something I've sometimes noticed with people. Not always, but often. Show me a screenshot from their computer, and often it comes across, somehow, somehow... as an abstract self-portrait. As an uncannily good "snapshot" of their personality. Not just decorated "in their own style," but a self-portrait of sorts. And it's far more than just the choice of wallpaper. It's the whole Gestalt of how their screen hangs together.

iowa screenshot
Here's a screenshot from my computer— it's changed very little, really, in the past couple of years. Once again, as you may well pick up if you happen to follow my blog, that screenshot is me. Retro, wrought iron fretwork, somewhat quirky and cryptic. The venerable command line. Technical whatsis readout along the lower right side of the screen. Yeah, the whole thing is technical, but in an almost Luddite fashion. If a steampunk Babbage engine had a screen, it might look like this.

A full-size version of my screenshot is here. For those who may be wondering, I'm running Mandriva Linux 2006, with the Fluxbox window manager— no, neither KDE nor GNOME, but Fluxbox. Further, deponent saith not.

And yes, I am the sort of person who wastes hours running Google image and AllTheWeb image searches for more and more cool or cryptic screenshots from out there. You'd be amazed how many of them come across like abstract "snapshots" of their users.


Thursday, August 17, 2006


Years back I had a copy of Markings, by Dag Hammarskjöld. Had it stored away at one time, and some mice got into it and chewed it up pretty badly. (Long story.)

Now the other day at a used book store I ran across another copy of Markings, and have been reacquainting myself with Hammarskjöld's often austere aphoristic musings:
To preserve the silence within— amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens— no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.

The irredeemable in a man of power: vice versa, the power of the redeemed.

Autumn in Lapland. The warm rain-laden east wind rushes down the dried-up river bed. On its banks, yellowing birches tremble in the storm.

The opening bars in the great hymn of extinction. Not a hymn to extinction or because of it. Not a hymn in spite of extinction. But a dying which is the hymn.

God desires our independence— which we attain when, ceasing to strive for it ourselves, we "fall" back into God.

The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others.

"Of the Eternal Birth"— to me, this now says everything there is to be said about what I have learned and have still to learn.

"The soul that would experience this birth must detach herself from all outward things: within herself completely at one with herself.... You must have an exalted mind and a burning heart in which, nevertheless, reign silence and stillness." (Meister Eckhart)
To read Hammarskjöld is to be reminded of a time, within living memory, when there was a Europe and a Western culture which, it seemed, would endure forever, even amidst a wide world of tumult and change: "Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine."

I'm still, in my own bearded post-Sixties "Birkenstocked Burkean" way, on the side of that once imperishable West. I'm still on the side of the stone edifices and the symphonies, the carefully measured philosophers and the essayists and the belle lettrists. But I must confess that, in these latter days, a stance like mine seems more and more like that of a Roman centurion, with Germanic blood and a Germanic name, who was striving to uphold Roman culture and Roman law and classical literature on the marches of the Western Empire circa AD 450.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Lincoln Jinx

Well, truth is indeed sometimes stranger than fiction.

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, declined an invitation to accompany his parents to the theater one evening in 1865. Robert was awakened during the night and told that his father had been shot. He was there at his father's bedside when his father died the next day.

In 1881 Secretary of War Robert Lincoln was hurrying to join President James Garfield on a train trip. Just as Robert Lincoln arrived at the train station, Garfield was assassinated.

Again in 1901, Robert Lincoln was invited to join President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York. Lincoln got there just as McKinley was fatally shot by an assassin.

After that, for the rest of his life Robert Todd Lincoln declined any invitation to an event where the President of the United States was going to be present.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fallow Time

I believe it was Mark Twain who said that work is what a body is obliged to do, and play is what a body is not obliged to do. Work, play... and for me there's always been a third division of my time, which I call fallow time or fallowtude. ("Fallowtude": is there such a word? I neither know nor care; let the pedants choke on their dictionary.) Play is what I'm not obliged to do, but what nonetheless has structure. Fallow time is neither obligatory nor structured.

Time to sit around and gather wool. Just sit there. Ruminate. Meditate. Gaze at nothing in particular, gaze off into the middle distance. Put mind in TV test pattern mode. Float and drift. Wander aimlessly through the attics and lumber rooms of the mind.

Sort of like what I'm doing a great part of the time here on vacation.

Work, play, and fallow time: for me there are three categories, and I've always needed a good deal of that third.

"A Slight Fee..."

Well, my Jeep will run endlessly without need for repairs, but it seems that every time I come over to Madison to visit my folks, I end up tossing a hefty chunk of change to my dad's mechanic.

This time it was a tire with a slow leak, sagging like a beanbag by the time I caught it. Mr. Madison Mechanic tells me that the tire was plugged before on the sidewall, and the plug is leaking. Yes, that's true, happened a few months ago. I'd been thinking of getting new tires pretty soon anyhow. So it's four new tires for the Jeep, which as you can well imagine adds up to a pretty penny; and my dad's mechanic is once again, as usual, enriched on the occasion of my vacation visit.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fan Death

Well, I'll be. I learn something new every day:
Many people in South Korea believe that, when operated in closed rooms, electric fans do not bring heat relief but sudden death... The belief is that an electric fan, if left running overnight in a closed room, can result in the death (by suffocation, poisoning, or hypothermia) of those inside. This belief also extends to air conditioners and the fans in cars. When the air conditioner or fan is on in a car, some people are apt to leave their car windows open a crack to avoid "fan death." Fans manufactured and sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.
The explanation of fan death is accepted by many Korean medical professionals. In summer, mainstream Korean news sources regularly report on cases of fan death, even if more likely causes (e.g. heart attack, gunshot, alcohol poisoning) are evident.
(h/t Steven)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gone Fishin'

Or, to be exact, gone on vacation. (I am not, repeat, I am not a fisherman.) Soon as I can get packed and on the road this morning.

I believe I will have Internet access where I'm heading, and if so, I will be blogging during vacation, albeit at a reduced vacation pace. If not, see you when I get back.

And in either case, I have no intention of doing anything constructive whilst on vacation...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Happy Pear Day!

When I was a kid, I noticed that August was the only month of the year that had no holiday in it. So I decided that August 8 was Pear Day.

No idea what Pear Day was about, or what it had to do with pears. But... today is Pear Day.

Monday, August 07, 2006

With a Mad Irishman Behind the Wheel

Here's another story from back in the days when I was a young punk, a grad student in math at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Math department picnic out at some city park, beginning of the school year, end of August, I rather suspect it was 1979. A couple of us were looking for a ride to head back to the math building. We ended up catching a ride with a fellow graduate student, an Irishman named Phil.

Phil was from Ireland, somewhere near Dublin. He had a little compact car, I forget what make. There was Phil behind the wheel, my office mate Dave in the front passenger seat, and me sitting in the back.

We went tearing off down the street. Phil was driving like a mad Irishman, whizzing through the streets of Madison at 65 miles per hour. I repeat, this guy was doing 65 in the city!

Coming up toward campus, where a sports event of some sort was letting out at Camp Randall Stadium. You know the traffic around a sports stadium after a game? I mean, traffic jam, gridlock, wait and sit and drum your fingers on the wheel? Well, Phil went tearing right through this traffic, weaving and twisting in between cars, scarcely slowing down from his full-bore highway velocity. How in the world did Phil know he was going to find a way through as he dodged between cars at high speed?

But my memory is that, even weaving through that heavy traffic, Phil hardly brought her down much below 65. Up front, I saw Dave with both arms frantically braced against the dashboard, knuckles white.

Now we had to turn left to head up toward the math building. Phil downshifted and made a left turn at 35 miles an hour, only yards in front of an oncoming city bus.

Finally we arrived at the math building and got out of Phil's car. Phil was standing there, lighting his pipe. My knees felt like rubber, and I realized I was trembling. Dave, who also looked rather shaky, said, "Say, Phil, did you used to be a race car driver?"

Phil stood there, his head wreathed in pipe smoke: "Och, it's nothin'!"

Tearing through the streets of Madison, with a mad Irishman behind the wheel. And I lived to tell about it.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

66° and Muskmelon

This morning it's 66° blessedly Fahrenheit, which is a relief after the hot weather we had. I have the windows open and a cool breeze is blowing through the house.

And I had the most amazing muskmelon for breakfast. I didn't know you could get muskmelon this good at the supermarket. Must be it's the new supermarket, that's where I got this muskmelon yesterday. I've heard people say, "Oh, that new supermarket, it's got fresher meat, fresher fruit and vegetables."

Cool breeze through open windows, magical muskmelon. On this Saturday in early August, I'll settle for that.


So last night I had this dream that I was at the enemy's house, remote and isolated on a rise far out into the country. Big old square wood frame house. And the enemy was nowhere to be found, but he had stolen my Jeep, so I was marooned there and couldn't leave.

And I was wandering around inside the house, and it was quiet and still. There was an ancient computer sitting there on a desk, glowing green monitor, all sorts of similar but cryptic commands typed in at the command line, with error messages. Supposedly I had typed in these commands, though I didn't remember doing it.

Still no sign of my Jeep. Then the enemy appeared, an evil man with grey hair, and he slid to one side a bookcase which had been partially obscuring a door. And beyond the door was a hidden room, like a garage, and there on the far side was my Jeep. And the enemy was coming at me, and I pulled out a small penlight light saber, orange blade, a souvenir of this house; only it didn't really work, it was a toy casting a beam of orange light.

Then I ran to my Jeep, and lying on the passenger seat within was my real light saber. The enemy was running right at me. I swung my light saber at him, vvvhhhhhhhhmmmmmm! He didn't realize my light saber was for real until I cut off his left arm. Again I swung, vvvhhhhmmmmm, and I cut off his head. (He did look something like Count Dukoo, by the way.)

And then I stood there with my light saber with its red blade. I repeat, its red blade.


Friday, August 04, 2006


I often like to save a splashy pictorial post for Friday, so I can leave it at the top of the page for the weekend. And I had a good one planned. But the item will have to arrive first before I can take pictures and all. Believe me, it will be cool, and worth the wait! In the meanwhile, I guess this is... a placeholder for a blog post. Or something like that.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Voice of Sanity on Net Neutrality

The other day in the latest issue of The Weekly Standard I saw an ad by a coalition that is for Net Neutrality: It's Our Net. "Senator, when you think of Net Neutrality, whose voices will you listen to?" Down one column: a whole long list of dozens of outfits and organizations. Down the other column: AT&T, BellSouth, Verizon.

The ad continues: "The huge phone companies are spending more than a hundred million dollars to convince Congress to let them control the Internet. Once they get their hands on it, there's no going back. Protect Internet freedom. Preserve the open Internet. Support Net Neutrality."

What a breath of fresh air, after some of the disingenuous magazine ads I've seen, which imply that letting the big telcos control the Internet would be a return to the status quo [sic]; or that not letting the big telcos control the Internet would be like remaining in the Middle Ages.

Yeah, right. The suits at some of the big telephone companies would just love to get their hands around the throat of the freest medium in the world. Me, as usual I'm not exactly interested in bowing down to the suits.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lucy, Thank You!

Many thanks to Lucy for her helpful and very thoughtful post, in response to my piece yesterday on bullies.

A person could know me for years and never know, looking at me from the outside, just how much I struggle inwardly with this whole issue of bullies and hating bullies.

Mentor, RIP

In late August 1983 I arrived out west, where I spent a year as student pastor of two small congregations up in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Evergreen and Trout Lake were 32 miles apart by road. That's as close together as things were out there. I lived in a basement apartment in a parishioner's house, across the road from Evergreen. When I stepped out my door in the morning, I had to look up at a 45° angle to see blue sky, up above the crest of Dog Leg Mountain. To a young twenty-something fellow from the Midwest, it was a whole new world.

My supervisor was a retired Presbyterian minister named Jim. Jim had in fact been pastor of these two congregations for eight years before he retired. He agreed to stay on for three years after his retirement, to supervise three one-year student intern pastors. I was the third of the three.

Jim had spent most of his life out west, though he hailed originally from Pennsylvania, where he had graduated from the old Western Theological Seminary. He had served various congregations in the Pacific Northwest, including nine years as senior pastor of a large church in a city in Oregon. He had spent a stretch as a prison chaplain at San Quentin. At one point he took several years off and worked as grounds supervisor of Timberline Lodge up on Mt. Hood. Finally he came to the Cascade Mountains in Washington, where he served as pastor of Evergreen and Trout Lake until his retirement. Oh, and in addition to his pastoral work, he was an electrician on the side.

Jim became to me not only a supervisor but a mentor. He knew his stuff. He knew these two churches, and the communities. At the time I knew him, he was in his late sixties. Talk about a lifetime of experience! One little schema I devised around this time had to do with whether I liked, respected, and/or trusted a person. Jim qualified on all three counts. Plus, he played a wicked game of pinochle.

You understand, my year out west was really my first venture as a young adult outside of the confines of academia. I'd spent four years as an undergraduate, then three years in graduate school in math at the UW-Madison, then my first two years of seminary. The situations I was diving into out there in Washington were a first for me. Jim was a steady and reliable guide as I tried to make sense of the non-academic real world.

Oh, we occasionally butted heads. I was a more feisty and fiery individual back then, Jim was more easygoing in a firm, mountain-hard manner. Theologically we made an odd pair: I used to joke with him that I was Karl Barth and he was Walter Rauschenbusch. But I very much came to like him. And trust him. And respect him.

I would've liked to stay there in Washington, but at the end of a year out there I had to return to the Midwest to finish seminary. For a while I kept in touch with Jim and some of the other folks out in Washington, but you know how it is as years accumulate and miles divide, especially for a young fellow who only just barely keeps up even with his Christmas cards. Once in a while, in some magazine or ecclesiastical mailing, I would run across news from the Presbytery of the Cascades. I would think of Jim, who last I knew was living near a small town in Oregon.

Then last night I was websurfing, and I happened to google on certain names. And discovered, from several sites out there in cyberspace, that Jim passed away last December, at the age of 89.

He was a good man. A good pastor. And a good mentor.

"For all the saints, who from their labors rest..."


Tuesday, August 01, 2006


You may know me a long time without realizing it, but in my heart I hate bullies. Not just hate, more like HATE. White hot, burning, supernova HATE. "Drench 'em with gasoline and toss 'em a lit match" hate.

Look, 98% or 99% of the population is generally decent, well behaved, and well inclined toward their neighbor. Toward that 98% or 99% I find it easy to feel good will, sympathy, and kindness. I have endless patience with basically well-intentioned people who are perturbed, or slow on the uptake, or just having a bad day. Most people in this world are easy to like, if you give them and yourself half a chance.

But then there's the 1% or 2% of the population who are inveterate bullies. Bullies. Small-souled, vindictive bastards who thrive on inflicting unkindness on others. Jerks who will go far out of their way to kick, and trample, and twist the knife. Monsters who know no way to build themselves up, except by hurting and inflicting pain and tearing others down.

You've known bullies. I've known bullies. And the origin of my hatred of bullies is not at all obscure. In the lower grades I had major difficulties with school bullies. It didn't help that I started school clueless and radically undersocialized. In the several years that it took me to come up to speed and get my act together, I went through hell with school bullies. And I came out of it with a blinding, burning, magnesium-flare hate of bullies. Or of anyone who walks, talks, and quacks like a bully.

Not all bullies are school bullies. You meet bullies in all walks of life. Bosses who lord it over their workers. Know-it-alls who live and breathe in an atmosphere of perpetual oneupmanship. Snobs who look down on anyone who isn't as "in the know" as they are. Drive-by hurters, wounders, slashers. By their fruits you shall know them.

Let me be frank: I have no human feelings toward bullies. I find myself emotionally incapable of feeling any human sympathy for bullies. The feelings I have for the decent 98% or 99% of humanity, are in the case of bullies covered over within me with emotional scar tissue. It's a good thing I fear God and the law, because otherwise I would feel strongly inclined to deal with bullies by going all Anakin on them.

In high school I had a gym teacher who was nothing more than a grown bully. He behaved exactly like the bullies in school, only he was one of the teachers. He was brutal, petty, sarcastic, mean, and he delighted in it. He gloated, he jeered, he exuded poor sportsmanship. He played up to the jocks. He played favorites shamelessly. Worse yet, he had the habit of singling out and relentlessly bullying the smallest and weakest kids in the class. I hated and despised him for all this.

A few years after I graduated from high school, I heard that this gym teacher had died of a heart attack. In his early 40s, with no warning and no prior history of health problems, he had suffered a sudden massive heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital, but he was DOA.

I'll be honest: when I heard this, I rejoiced and exulted with a pure and seraphic joy. I was glad he died! A wicked and evil man struck down, cut off from the face of the earth, cast down into the Pit in the prime of life! At age 20, I looked on this as the just judgment of a righteous God.

At age 50 I take a more nuanced view, but I'll be honest, to this day I find myself feeling a touch of joy, feeling that my gym teacher's untimely death was well deserved.

On some abstract level I can pull back from myself and attribute these feelings to the emotional scar tissue within me. On some "head" level, I can understand that bullies are driven by weakness and not by strength, by fear and not by secure self-possession. I can understand it, but nonetheless I cannot feel an iota of sympathy for my gym teacher, or for other bullies like him.

On some abstract level I realize that, in the web of cause and effect which shapes our life, the emptiness within the bullies I knew in grade school has led to an emptiness within my own soul, has led to scars which even after decades are not healed. On some "head" level I can understand that. But I cannot feel it. What I feel instead is the urge to pull out my light saber and use my anger as I slice and dice the evildoers limb from limb.

"Love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you": as regards the 98% or 99% of the population that's basically decent and well-intentioned, that's not easy, but I can sometimes more or less manage it. However, loving and praying for bullies... that's a great deal harder, one of the hardest tasks I've ever been called to undertake.