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John Ratzenberger is a Time Lord: The Life and Work of Jacob Riis

Forget about the alleged image of Jay-Z from the 1930s.

John Ratzenberger and groundbreaking photojournalist Jacob Riiss are one in the same.  They even have the same initials.  Nice try, Cliff Clavin.

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Riis most likely invented the phrase “how the other half lives,” the title of his epic 1890 publication exposing the squalor of New York’s tenements and the plight of America’s urban poor to middle and upper classes through emerging media.  Read How the Other Half Lives, now in the public domain, here (or download to your digital device free of charge).

A pioneer of visual story-telling, Riis may not really be the Voice of Pixar.  He was, for certain, a voice of and for millions with no other.

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With Super Bowl Looming, New Study: Youth Football Participation Down 29% Since 2008

“Football as mass spectacle has never been bigger.”   But youth participation is down 29% since 2008.  – ESPN Outside the Lines.

Christopher Cocca

American football, (that is to say, football), is a fascinating game.  Its history is complex and nuanced.  Like all the major professional sports, it emerged from somewhere in our collective memory, developed through amateur associations of working-class athletic clubs, became an outlet for the ambitions and frustrations of American male adolescence and is now one of the biggest industries in the world.

Even if you prefer baseball or hockey or basketball as products, hobbies, or metaphors, even if you know or care nothing about the game, you’d likely grant that much of its attraction among the faithful is visceral.   My playing experience starts and ends on the playground and in the backyard, with Nerf and, later, synthetic pigskin.  I don’t have a shared locker-room history, I didn’t play the organized game as a child, and I’ve always cared much for more baseball, likely for narrative and immigrant reasons, also visceral.

In the 80s and 90s, we had no way of knowing, as children, what CTE was or that some of our favorite players (Jim McMahon, Junior Seau) would suffer or die from it.  Our parents had no way of knowing that it existed, that playing the full-contact game as young boys even in the best of organized settings could damage our brains and limit our cognitive skills, or that if we played through our teens, that damage could increase our risk of suicide.

But we all know differently now.  I’ve argued before that game’s continued success, especially at the college level (the biggest piece of ESPN’s revenue, and thus a huge piece of Disney’s) requires that our kids keep playing and that the NCAA’s and NFL’s media partners keep mum about the true risks that have evolved alongside bigger bodies and harder hits.

Now, between Super Bowl Media Day and Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports on a new study from Boston University claiming that “former NFL players who played tackle football as young children were more likely to have thinking and memory problems as adults.” I’m not a neuroscientist or a youth football booster, but people from both camps weigh in here.

Interestingly, Dr. Robert Stern, lead author of the study, says:

“To allow your child to be subjecting themselves to repetitive head injury at a very early age when they could be doing the sport a different way and minimizing their chances [of brain injury], to me, is just insane,” he said. “It’s wrong. We should not be allowing this to happen.

“Tom Brady didn’t play football until high school. He picked up the game pretty quickly.”

Why didn’t Brady play youth football?  His dad, citing health concerns, forbade the game until Brady’s freshman year.

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Andrew Sullivan Retires from Blogging

Christopher Cocca

I have progressed past my libertarian stage, but this piece at the libertarian venue Reason.com does a good job of capturing the gist of what made Andre Sullivan’s blogging so mercurial and important: A Fond Farewell to Andrew Sullivan, Who Is Retiring From Blogging – Hit & Run : Reason.com.

Sullivan himself says:

One of the things I’ve always tried to do at the Dish is to be up-front with readers. This sometimes means grotesque over-sharing; sometimes it means I write imprudent arguments I have to withdraw; sometimes it just means a monthly update on our revenues and subscriptions; and sometimes I stumble onto something actually interesting. But when you write every day for readers for years and years, as I’ve done, there’s not much left to hide. And that’s why, before our annual auto-renewals, I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.

 

Also:

I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.

 

Sullivan is part of an increasingly rare breed.  Even when you disagreed with him, vehemently, you always appreciated him.  The way his mind worked, the way he could write…and write and write and write.  He helped define the best of what blogging could be, while also, like all of us, struggling with the realities of displaying deeply held passions in real time, of working hard, maybe harder than anyone, to synthesize a genius’ command of historic, social, political, and religious metanarrative with the many strains of their echoes across great and vast swaths of “digital saturation.”   He was and is brilliant.  He was and is essential.  I can’t imagine my own development as a writer or thinker without him.  He wasn’t always right, and it wasn’t always pretty.  That he could and did evolve in public on any number of issues was always part of the deal.  That he loved what America can be at its best was clear and infectious.

I’ve always loved this video, now two years old, in which he explains  his time as a Young Thatcherite.

Spread love, Andrew Sullivan.  Thanks for teaching us a whole hell of a lot.

 

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Planet Tolkien: Let’s Name J1407b, the New Exoplanet With Rings to Rule Them All, After J.R.R.

Christopher Cocca

It feels like astronomers are finding new exoplanets (planetary bodies outside of our native solar system) all the time in their quest for potential Earth-like worlds.  Just a few years ago, we’d only indirectly observed a handful, and, until 1992, as far as we knew, they existed only in theory.  According to the never-wrong stewards of Wikipedia, we’re now up to “1885 planets in 1184 planetary systems including 477 multiple planetary systems” as recently as yesterday.

Earlier this week, scientists reported discovering an exoplanet (J1407b) with Saturn-like rings for the first time ever.  Except these rings are so massive, if they were around Saturn, we’d see them dwarf the moon in Earth’s night sky.  They’re thought to be at least 200 times the sizes of Saturn’s banded system.

Truly, then, a Lord of the Rings.  I’d first thought we should name this planet Gandalf, but Tolkien, having created a marvelous literary world influencing the lives and work of millions, deserves a real world named for him.  Such a move is not without precedent:  the International Astronomical Union honored the literary giant (a Saturn for sure, if not a Jupiter) with Mercury’s Tolkien Crater.  In 1982, astronomer M. Watt named a newly discovered asteroid for Tolkien and a second after Bilbo Baggins.

People have talked for years about naming one of Pluto’s moons Mickey.  Fears of a dawning Starbucks Nebula mounting, a Tolkien namesake is so much less corporate than all of that.

Get it done, science.

Get it done, overlapping science and Tolkien fandom.  There should be a petition.  Like this one.

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The Problem with The Fantastic Four Trailer

Christopher Cocca

The Fantastic Four teaser trailer has been released by 20th Century Fox/Marvel, and there are problems.  First and foremost, it mimics the gravity of the Man of Steel promos (a tone that translated well to the film) unconvincingly.  The Richards family may be superdom’s “First Family” and represent an important moment in the history of comics (which, are, of course, an abiding part of American folklore, just as Brian Wilson is our greatest folk musician), but you don’t get that feeling from the teaser.  Comparisons to Superman don’t help.  There’s even the classic car shot from the Star Trek reboot, making all of this feel re-tread.

Reed’s outsider-genius status will always evoke a certain pathos, but the downright absurdity of his acquired powers sort of ruins everything.  Using IN CINEMAS SUMMER 2015 instead of simply SUMMER 2015 is another stab at unearned weight, and the most egregious.

Yes, this is just a teaser reel, but the best thing about it is the way the title is rendered at the end.

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Burning ISIS

RDG Stout

Editor’s Note: Stout, a Lutheran pastor, shares this anecdote about the origin of this piece: “For the first time in a decade I got into the pulpit this past Sunday, felt that my sermon stank, and made up a new one on the fly. What I can remember of it largely became Burning ISIS.

I want to talk about the Assyrians.

The Bible is full of evil empires that run roughshod over God’s people one after the other. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans. It’s easy for them to run together. But the Assyrians were different. The Assyrian Empire was not united by language or ethnicity or legends of shared ancestry. No, the Assyrian Empire was based on religion.

Their chief god was Asshur, and all you had to do to be considered Assyrian was to bow down and worship the Assyrian god. If you refused, well—the emperor was well within his rights to persecute you not only as an enemy of the state but of the cosmic order itself. Remember, the Assyrians are the people who invented crucifixion. When the nation of Israel broke in two, and 10 out of the 12 tribes of God’s people were scattered to the winds, never to reform again, it was at the hand of the Assyrians. They were the religious fanatics of their era, the archenemies of Israel. And I should note that they lived in what we now call Iraq. Basically, the Assyrians were the ISIS of their day.

This brings us to the book of Jonah. It’s a short book, only four chapters, takes about 10 minutes to read. Chances are that the last time you read the story, if ever, was back in Sunday School. We tend to treat Jonah as a children’s story or a comedy, and there are certainly comedic elements in it. But it contains a major twist, a real hook at the end, that makes Jonah a very adult book indeed. It goes something like this.

Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, there to prophesy that unless they repent of their evil ways God will destroy them for all that they have done. Jonah immediately hops on a boat—and takes off in exactly the opposite direction. He sails to the farthest land he can think of. And on the way, a great and terrible storm comes up, threatening to sink the ship. The crew, all gentiles and pagans, realize that there is something unnatural about this storm, and each man begs forgiveness and mercy from his respective god, to no avail. Meanwhile, where’s Jonah? He’s hiding from the storm down in the ship’s hold.

Finally someone thinks, “Hey, what about that Hebrew guy? Maybe he knows something about all this.” So they bring up Jonah and he says, “Yeah, this is my fault. My God gave me a mission and I refused to do it. You’ll have to throw me overboard.” And the pagan crew, to their credit, replies, “No, we don’t want to do that. Just say you’re sorry!” But Jonah stubbornly insists, “No, I’d rather get thrown overboard.” So the crew calls out to God, “We really don’t want to do this, but here it goes!” and they heave Jonah overboard. Immediately the storm is calmed.

Now Jonah is sinking down, down into the depths of the sea. And at this point he thinks, “Okay, maybe I should say that I’m sorry and ask forgiveness.” And right then, he is swallowed by a whale! Often the whale is portrayed as the punishment of God, but it’s not. The whale is actually what saves Jonah from drowning. And where does this whale finally spit Jonah up? Why, on the shores of the Assyrian Empire, right where he was supposed to head in the first place.

Now, the Assyrians have a god named Dagon—Asshur is top dog, but he’s not the only one—and portrayals of Dagon always envision him as a man being vomited up out of a giant fish. So when Jonah gets horked up on shore by a whale, what must the people think? Why, here is a messenger from God! “Great,” mutters Jonah, “now I have an audience.” And he utters the shortest and most pathetic prophetic speech in the Bible, just one single line: “40 days and Nineveh shall be no more!” And then Jonah goes up on a hill to watch the Assyrians be destroyed.

But wouldn’t you know it? Against all odds, the people of Nineveh repent! They beg forgiveness for their sins and turn to God in sackcloth and ash. And God says to Jonah, “Because they have turned from their evil, I will not destroy their city.” And Jonah goes ballistic. He yells out to God, “I knew it! I knew this is exactly what would happen! This is why I ran away in the first place! I knew that You were loving and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! I knew that if they turned towards You then You would forgive them—and I wanted to see them burn for what they’ve done!”

That’s the hook, right there. That’s what makes Jonah a very adult book indeed. Through the whole story we hear God pronouncing judgment and whipping up storms, and we think that God is the vengeful one. But He’s not. We are. We’re the ones who want to see evil punished, to see the bad guys get what they deserve. We’re the ones who want sinners to burn for everything that they’ve done. God doesn’t want blood. Man does.

It’s the same way when Jesus comes. He shows up and people flock to Him, throw palms before Him, try to make Him King. And they do so because they recognize Him as the Messiah and they expect Him to go to Jerusalem and kick out the bad guys.  At that point there’s a new evil empire over Israel: the Empire of Rome. And everyone expects Jesus to draw the sword and raise an army and conquer Rome—and He does! But not with violence. Not with fire and blood and steel. Jesus conquers Rome through the Cross.

We want Jesus to call down fire from Heaven. That’s how James and John earned their nicknames, “Sons of Thunder,” by asking Jesus to make sinners burn. That’s probably even why Judas betrayed Jesus, to try and force His hand. But that’s not how God works. He doesn’t burn up the wicked, no matter how badly we think they deserve it. Instead, He prays for those who hate Him, loves those who persecute Him, forgives us even as we are murdering Him on a Cross.

This is the love that conquers sinners. Who would’ve thought that Rome, the evil empire, would become the beating heart of Christianity for a thousand years and more? Who would’ve imagined that Saul—a religious fanatic who, far from being an Apostle, hunted down and persecuted and even participated in the execution of innocent Christians—would be struck down, not with fire from Heaven, but with a vision from Heaven, transforming him from the Church’s avowed nemesis into her greatest advocate?

Perhaps the hardest aspect of Christianity is the call to love our enemies, even as they hate us, even as they persecute us. This doesn’t mean that we love the evil that they do. We live in a world where fanatics behead innocent people and put it on YouTube. My God! We see the cruelties of ISIS on the news and we just want to see them get what they deserve. We want God to call down fire from Heaven—or if He won’t, perhaps the U.S. Air Force will. But God doesn’t work that way. If He sent His angels to slay every sinner, which of us could stand? We were all enemies of God once.

Christians have a duty to resist evil. But in the process we cannot allow ourselves to dehumanize our fellow man. Clichéd though it may sound, we must love the sinner and hate the sin, for indeed we are sinners one and all. And we are forged in the Image of God, one and all. You never know what the Lord will work through the hearts of wicked men. You never know what act of love will turn a sworn foe into a true brother. Grace is always available for those who desire it. And Christ is always bringing sinners to new birth in impossible and mysterious ways.

There are still murdering fanatics in Iraq who will kill anyone who does not bow down to their god. And we are still called, as we have always been, to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. It’s a 2,000-year-old story. And it’s still our story today.

RDG Stout was born and raised amongst the Pennsylvania Deutsch but has spent the last decade as a country preacher in the windswept wilds of Niflheim, a.k.a. rural Minnesota. He lives in a mead hall with his Viking wife, three kids, and a bizarre assortment of stories.

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Open Submissions: Blog Posts, Features, and Fiction

 

Rad Infinitum is a venue about many things. Pop culture, politics, people. Poetry and pilgrimage. Sports and science and social media. Business, and the business of health and food and communication. Art. Guys and girls and geeks and Good. We all have our obsessions, ephemeral or otherwise. Maybe it turns out that self-reference matters, and the things we like, our many fandoms, are part of how we fit together.

Starting today, you can submit blog posts, features, and original fiction to Rad Infinitum through Submittable.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you.


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Fridays with Francis: January 23, 2015

Melissa Maleski

Rabbits. Out of an entire lengthy interview  that covers some incredibly heavy subjects, all people could talk about this week were rabbits. I think Mr. Cuddles aptly expresses my feelings on the Papal news blitz this week:

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Mr. Cuddles and I want to direct your attention to the more relevant “R” word used in this notorious portion of the Holy Father’s interview: “responsible.” Pope Francis spoke of the irresponsibility of a woman who was having her eighth child after having seven cesarean sections. The Holy Father was not calling the number of children irresponsible, but how she seemingly disregarded prudence under the guise of “trusting in God.” In cases like these, “trusting God” is really just Pilot-esque hand-washing; life is going to happen, especially when we just sit there and let it.

The flip side of this responsibility–of this prudence–is responsible justice. Having large families and “being open to life” may seem an odd thing to be labeled as responsible justice, but think of it in terms of the second of the Great Commandments: love your neighbor as yourself.  This essential teaching of Jesus tells us four compelling things about how we’re meant to live.  One, everyone deserves love. Two, each of us is responsible for giving love to others. Three, we are responsible for accepting the love that others give us. Four, the two cannot be separated. When we give love and accept love it is an act of justice. The “responsible” part just means that we are making a conscious effort to act justly towards everyone. So “being open to life” is much more than just having lots of kids. It means being open to giving all people the love they deserve,

When you put these two together–responsible prudence and responsible justice–you can see Pope Francis’ mindfulness of human dignity in whole. Love your neighbor as yourself can’t become love your neighbor more than yourself or love your neighbor less than yourself without somebody getting the shaft.

And that, in my opinion, is the Holy Father’s point, a message that was dwarfed this week by rabbits. In case you aren’t able to read the whole interview, let me catch you up to speed. Pope Francis said:

One of the things that is lost when there is too much wealth or when values are misunderstood or we have become accustomed to injustice, to this culture of waste, is the capacity to cry…We Christians must ask for the grace to cry. Especially wealthy Christians. To cry about injustice and to cry about sins. Because crying opens you to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities.

When I say it is important that women be held in higher consideration in the Church, it’s not just to give them a function as the secretary of a dicastery — though this would be fine. No, it’s so that they may tell us tell us how they experience, and view reality. Because women view things from a different richness, a larger one.

But don’t forget that we too need to be beggars – from them. Because the poor evangelize us. If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message. The poor evangelize us. I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but allow them to evangelize you. Because they have values that you do not.

Another curious thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too, but for them a child is a treasure. Some would say ‘God knows how to help me’ and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity, but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.

Today, paper and what’s left over isn’t all that’s thrown away. We throw away people.

I don’t know what to say after that last one. It’s a brutal, brutal truth.

On a final note, Pope Francis threw out a book recommendation that will help frame his thinking behind “ideological colonization.” Written in 1903 by Robert Hugh Benson, it’s called Lord of the World. From his preface I think Mr. Benson will be quite entertaining:

I am perfectly aware that this is a terribly sensational book, and open to innumerable criticisms on that account, as well as on many others. But I did not know how else to express the principles I desired (and which I passionately believe to be true) except by producing their lines to a sensational point. I have tried, however, not to scream unduly loud, and to retain, so far as possible, reverence and consideration for the opinions of other people. Whether I have succeeded in that attempt is quite another matter.

In case you missed last week’s Fridays With Francis, which dealt with ideological colonization in more depth, read it here.

About this feature:  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church through thought, word, and deed. Writer Melissa Maleski brings an insightful Catholic convert’s perspective to the general themes (culture, politics, spirituality, art, and more) Rad Infinitum covers, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.

 

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Lord Huron Announces Sophomore Album “Strange Trails” via Facebook and You Tube Teaser Trailer

Nathan Key

After months of subtle hints, Lord Huron announced yesterday that their forthcoming album, Strange Trails, will be released in 2015. The band provided a teaser trailer to coincide with the announcement which showcases short snippets from the new project.

Musically (and visually), it appears that the band will continue to integrate the western motif and 70’s-inspired, narrative storytelling that was the primary appeal of their 2012 LP Lonesome Dreams. Keep an eye out for this offering in the coming months. If Strange Trails packs the punch of  Lonesome Dreams, we could be listening to a preview of one of the best albums of 2015.

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Notes from Niflheim: Death and Children

 

RDG Stout

Last weekend I picked up Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory from the local library. Ms. Doughty is the host of the “Ask a Mortician” web series and the founder of “The Order of the Good Death” over on Facebook. Her backstory is pretty straightforward: innocent, eight-year-old girl is deeply traumatized by seeing another young girl plummet to her gristly demise, and now as a millennial young adult seeks to change the unhealthy denial of real death (as opposed to the glorification of fictional carnage) rampant in American culture.

Her book is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s a quick read and worth the time. I stumbled upon Ms. Doughty’s work in my followings of Caleb Wilde’s similarly themed blog, “Confessions of a Funeral Director.” Like Ms. Doughty, Mr. Wilde seeks a revolution in the ways that we deal with death, or rather our refusal to do so. Both seem to have a healthy following, though both have also been accused of being a bit too Generation Overshare.

Theirs seems a decent quest. As someone who’s worked in both churches and trauma bays over the years, I can attest to our culture’s general befuddlement when it comes to the grave. Then again, mine is not a particularly normal perspective on such matters. I honestly can’t remember when I saw my first dead body. Nor do I have any idea as to how many people I’ve buried, scattered, or otherwise memorialized. What I can tell you is that my record in the hospital was six violent deaths in six hours, from midnight to morning.

Death has been a reality in my life for as long as I can recall. Raised religious, I was always taught that a good death at the end of a long life was an accomplishment for which to prepare, and that untimely or tragic death never has the final say. “Teach me to live that I might dread / the grave as little as my bed,” indeed. As a young child, I remember family walks through the graveyard behind my grandparents’ house. I found it neither macabre nor morbid, but peaceful. Here rested so many people who had walked this same path before me. Here I was full of questions, and these silent stones reminded me that those here interred had found answers. Death may be scary, but the alternative—life without an ultimate aim in mind—seems unthinkable.

Nor have I ever viewed age as a bad thing. In truth, it’s been nothing but kind to me so far. Aging has let me outgrow childish neuroses and embarrassing inexperience. It’s made me stronger, calmer, wiser, and most importantly given me a family. I feel sort of sorry for folks who pine for their twenties, or worse yet their teens. Sure, I had fun back then, but I’m glad it’s over now. The older we get, the more real life becomes. Who would want to go back? I have a feeling that 35-year-old me wouldn’t have terribly much patience for my 25- and 15-year-old iterations.

Of course everything changes when we become parents. Growing up I lost grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, high school friends, my Dad. These losses always kept death in mind, but in such a way that it made me appreciate life. I didn’t go Goth or anything like that. But then kids come along—and suddenly there’s something in life so much more terrifying than your own death. Before parenthood, everyone has a different set of fears. After parenthood, there is only one fear, to the exclusion of all others. It is a hard bargain.

My wife and I were given a rather dramatic introduction to Every Parent’s Nightmare when our son, our first child, was born blue. Here we were all ready to take him home to the nursery, to start a new life as a family, and before we could hold him he was intubated, thrown on a plane, and flown to the opposite end of the state for $300,000 worth of heart surgery. All I got to see was his one little half-open eye staring uncomprehendingly at me before he left.

Don’t worry. He’s fine today. In fact, he doesn’t remember a thing. Even that massive scar has faded almost to invisibility. But his mother and I will never forget, and that jolt of terror never fully goes away. Even when the next two were born perfectly healthy and happy, I found myself sneaking into their rooms at night to place my hand on their chests, to feel them breathe. I still do that. We have friends who have lost children. They humble me.

(It’s funny, but I’d always assumed that Shakespeare’s Sonnets were all romantic poems. Then I started reading them, and found that they sing of how children stave off any bitterness associated with aging and death. Clever man, that. We should read him more.)

I work with undertakers all the time. They tend to have great senses of humor, deep compassion for the grieving, and incredibly healthy and grounded worldviews. In fact, my affection for undertakers is what led me first to the works of Mr. Wilde, then to those of Ms. Doughty. Working routinely with funeral directors, caring for bodies, and walking with families as they perform the last great duty that any of us can perform for a loved one, you start to think that death really has lost its sting. Easter arises triumphant.

But when I look to my children, happily turning our lives to chaos, so full of life that we haven’t slept through the night in half a decade, I still feel that spasm of fear. I don’t fear dying, and I never have; but the thought of them going before me is absolutely terrifying. At such times the casual, even cocksure attitude of the preacher is laid bare, and we are revealed as vulnerable to the Reaper as everyone else.

And so I cling ever more tightly to the Cross, to the God Who is a family, to the God Who lost a Son. Sometimes I am less amazed at the promise of life arising from death than I am at the idea that God continued to love us even when we killed His Child. That’ll bring me to my knees every time.

RDGStout was born and raised amongst the Pennsylvania Deutsch but has spent the last decade as a country preacher in the windswept wilds of Niflheim, a.k.a. rural Minnesota. He lives in a mead hall with his Viking wife, three kids, and a bizarre assortment of stories.

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Why a Tie Goes to the Runner: Lessons from Contract Law and the Insurance Industry

Christopher Cocca

Simply put, the Runner is outnumbered.  Cut the Runner a break.

Let’s put a finer point on it.  In contract law, the law of adhesion states that when one party sets all parameters of a given contract with no chance for negotiation, the second party always wins any arbitration having to do with vague language or questions left open to interpretation. The first party must adhere to terms expressly spelled out in the contract.

The Pitcher and the Defense are the first party in our baseball scenario.  The terms of each half-inning (the contract) are clearly in favor of the first party, which is why we get excited when the Batter, the second party in this case, hits safely a mere one third of the time.  Just as a second party comes to a contract at a disadvantage when, say, buying insurance, so to the Batter steps into the box knowing he or she is outnumbered 9 to 1 and that the odds of hitting safely are historically slim (see also the law of large numbers).  Applying the law of adhesion requires that in the case of a Batter/Runner reaching a given base and the ball reaching that same base via delivery from one Defensive Player to another (assuming the second Defensive Player is touching the base in question) at the same time, the judgement ought to go to the Batter/Runner as the party with less ability to negotiate more favorable terms.

Like the law of adhesion, the law of utmost good faith (all parties to a contract are assumed to be honest) is only applicable in baseball in certain situations.  PEDs are banned, as are certain pitches, substances, and practices.  But a catcher trying to deceive an umpire after a pitch that misses, an outfielder taking credit for catching a fly ball when he/she really only trapped it, or any number of other instances of gamesmanship are not only permitted, but also widely lauded.  Gamesmanship is an integral part of the psychology and cerebral appeal of baseball. It’s why traditional fans want nothing to do with expanded instant replay.

Applying the law of adhesion to apparent ties is likely the best and only way to resolve MLB’s vexing (or, if you’re like me, charming) lack of clarity on the issue.

 

 

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Titles Leaving Netflix in February

All the questionable Batman entries in the lineage of Tim Burton’s original masterpiece.

TMNT 1990.

Jem and the Holograms seasons 1- 3.

What’s coming?

Freakin’ MASH.

Boomer much, Netflix? Booo.

Once you’re a Jem Girl, you’re never the same.

 

Here’s the big ole list.

Martin Luther King in 1968: Eradicate Poverty and Homelessness, Whatever the Cost

The Poor People’s Campaign was conceived to create the political pressure required to enact the types of economic changes that Dr. King and his advisers believed were necessary. “It didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters,” King said during a February 1968 trip to Mississippi, “…but now we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.” The same month, he announced to reporters demands for a $30 billion annual investment in antipoverty measures, a government commitment to full employment, enactment of a guaranteed income and funding for the construction of 500,000 affordable housing units per year.

Read the rest here, via The Nation.

More on the Poor People’s Campaign here.

Occupy DC 1.0:  I was never, ever taught about the economic aspects of King’s vision in school.  Nothing about the Poor People’s Campaign, carried out after King’s death, or Resurrection City, the PPC’s Washington, DC shantytown.  Were you?  While the occupation and the PPC were criticized for not having concrete goals toward economic justice, Dr. King himself had very clear demands. Mark Engler notes:

One of King’s most sustained pieces of economic reflection appeared in his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? The work provides an important window into King’s thinking at the end of his life.

In the book, King articulated a Keynesian, demand-side critique of the American marketplace. He argued, “We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution.” Unless working Americans and the poor were able to obtain good jobs and increase their purchasing power–their ability to pump money back into the economy–it would be sapped of its dynamism. “We must create full employment or we must create incomes,” King wrote. “People must be made consumers by one method or the other.”

King criticized Johnson’s War on Poverty for being too piecemeal. While housing programs, job training and family counseling were not themselves unsound, he wrote that “all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis…. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived.”

Rather than continuing with “fragmentary and spasmodic reforms,” King advocated that the government provide full employment. “We need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted,” he wrote. “New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.”

We’re still doing it piecemeal. Perhaps more important than honoring Dr. King with a national day of service would be honoring him and continuing his work with a national day of protest.  A national week or month or decade.  Imagine what he would have achieved, imagine where we’d be on the long arc bending finally towards justice, had King survived into the present.  Racial justice and non-violence weren’t the only things he was right about, they’re just easiest parts of his witness to praise in mixed political company. As a nation, we’ve forgotten that King knew what rising generations are only now beginning to intuit. How long must King sing the song of 1968, how long from the grave, before we see and realize the fullness of his vision?

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Why Do We Dream?

Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time,” wrote Carl Sandburg.  We delight in, struggle with, are comforted, haunted, challenged, or vexed by these sometimes sweeping, sometimes simple arcs. Dreams are fleeting tapestries of memories, fears, hopes, doubts, unresolved problems, traumatic events, desires, things we could have should have would have done or said.  Why do we have them?  Where do they come from, really?  How is it even possible that our brains construct them in the first place?

Science doesn’t really know.  Researchers have linked the phenomenon of dreaming to memory-making, problem-solving, and the processing of information and emotion.  Renee Descartes, the 17th-century French philosopher famous for formulating the maxim cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), warned that dreams prove the fundamental duplicity of our senses.  Lucid dreams (dreams in which we know we are dreaming) are rare, prompting Descartes to note that to a dreamer in the act of dreaming, the dreamed reality is experienced as reality.  Our senses are unable to properly distinguish the dream-time simulation from real-world experience.  Consider this an early formulation of the sensory anxieties inherent to various brain-in-a-vat scenarios or the Matrix films.

Can't_readMany people believe that left-brain functions, such as reading, are impossible while dreaming.  This concept was a key plot point in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series in which Bruce Wayne realizes he’s captured in an induced, idyllic dream (his parents are alive) when he repeatedly tries and fails to read newspapers and books.  This episode is so well-remembered that Google assumes you want to add “batman” to  the search phrase “can you read in dreams” (which of course you do).  Batman makes everything better, but it’s not as clear whether the no-reading meme is true.  Lots of people say they’ve read in dreams, but because that makes Batman a liar (more likely, they are lying, because Batman), I have my doubts.

Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, held that dreams were essential to problem-solving, allowing the otherwise resting mind to sort through millions of inputs and establish patterns.  Crick’s research partner, James Watson, famously claims to have realized the double-helix structure after dreaming of a spiral staircase in the thick of their research.  Descartes himself claimed to created what become the basis of Western material philosophy, the scientific method, in a dream.

Although we still don’t really know for certain why we dream, scientific consensus seems to be with Crick.  Minus the inventory of mental needs that comprise our waking hours, in sleep, our minds are free to fire different neural paths and establish intellectual, emotional, and other connections we’re often kept from making otherwise.  In fact, with apologies to Fiona Apple, problem-solving isn’t just the reason for dreams, but for the very act of sleeping.

We sleep, it seems, to dream, and we dream to make sense of life, to better understand and experience our world, ourselves, and our relationship to everything between.  Here the spiritual experience of dreams as visions or prophetic words are not at odds with the likes of Descartes or Crick, and certainly not with Sandburg.  We are vessels of knowledge, hope, and time seeking understanding, clarity of purpose.  We seek better patterns, fairer systems, and, sometimes, we find them.

 

 

 

 

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TV Review – Agent Carter: Season 1 Episode 3 (Time and Tide)

The beginning scene of Time and Tide was like something ripped from the diary of a fellow Cedar Crest College sister. I spent four years surrounded by photographs of women, dressed much the same way as Agent Carter and company, walking around the campus of our beloved college. The act of sneaking a boy into into a dorm room at my women-only college was something that few dared to even try. Before the days of RAs, there were house mothers.  Only the most daring among woman had succeeded and become the stuff of legend.  But that was where the nostalgic charm of Time and Tide stopped, at least for me.
At about the halfway point of this episode I scribbled down, “The ship is going down?” I’m trying to convince myself that the tension between Peggy and Angie serves a greater purpose. But…this is Marvel…but there was the diner scene at the end of the episode…

The sass from the British characters in this show is off the charts. Jarvis knows far more than he is telling and I’m not sure if I trust him, but his snark is making me fall in love. When it was revealed that Jarvis had been charged with treason and dishonorably discharged, my heart shattered. I thought this was the end of Jarvis. Alas, Agent Carter saved the day (and angered cranky misogynistic men in the process!).

The heartbreak did not end with Jarvis; that would have meant leaving viewers hearts’ intact. Souza. I’m holding on to the hope that he is one of the good guys. The way he is treated by his male colleagues pisses me off. Case in point, Krzminski, “No girl is going to trade in a ride, white, and blue shield for an aluminum crutch.” While I ship Angie and Peggy, I wanted to slap Krzminski for that, even though I’m not surprised he said it. After all, we spent the first two episodes watching him try to compensate for something.

And speaking of Krzminsk…is it bad that I didn’t cry? I found myself signing, “…he had it comin’, he had it comin’ all along….” More importantly, who the hell was the woman who shot him and the suspect? Part of me wants it to be Peggy and part of me wants it to be Angie. Or even better… Dottie: That would be an epic plot twist.

Next week’s episode is The Blitzkrieg Button, sure to include more scapegoating of Howard Stark, police brutality, and hopefully a reconciliation of the ship and more action between the ship. Also, am I the only one wants to see Anna and Jarvis together?

Agent Carter airs Tuesday nights at 9 EST on ABC.

Angela Smith is a seminarian and historian.  She cannot function without coffee, chocolate, and crayons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fridays with Francis: January 16, 2015

Melissa Maleski

Canonization announcements. Statements on fundamentalism, terrorism, religious freedom, the environment, contraception, marriage, the economy, and diplomacy. Trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. And that is just a portion of what the Holy Father was up to this week. There is a theme interwoven in all this, embodied by two related statements. These two statements are not found in any of this week’s news, but they summarize nicely the point Pope Francis is trying to make. The first one is: Peace and self-sacrifice are inseparable. The second: Ideological colonization is the enemy of peace. 

The phrase ideological colonization just emerged today, and it’s an immediate favorite of mine. Short and unassuming, once completely unpacked this phrase has the potential to knock you on your butt. Colonization, as a word, implies displacement. One thing comes in, another must be removed to make space. Forests fall so that buildings may rise. Settlers arrive and natives scatter. Rarely does colonization leave the displaced unscathed, if a continued existence is permitted. Applied to ideas, colonization is the overtaking of one idea by another. Pope Francis’ calling out of Fundamentalist terrorism introduces us to the concept of ideological colonization through its most recognizable strain. It’s fairly obvious that forcing your world-view on others via slavery, beheadings, and bombings won’t foster peace.

Where most people started to get squeamish was when Pope Francis called out the softer strain of ideological colonization. It is much harder to articulate, and spreads itself across multiple subjects, but in general is characterized but a fundamentalist zeal for relativism. There is no other belief than the rightness of all beliefs, I’d say it goes. Many of the topics Pope Francis spoke on this week are tainted by this soft strain of ideological colonization. His remedy lies in the repeated call for peace.

This is not your average call for everyone to get along and play nice. Speaking to princes and paupers alike, Pope Francis made it clear that real peace can only come when you run to people, not over them. And fostering real peace requires a sacrifice of self. It requires you to consider the dignity, the needs, and the rights of others before yourself. Economic systems are only as ethical as the most marginalized person they help. Freedom of speech is not really free when it offends the dignity of the subject of speech (dignity should not be confused with pride here). In the nicest way possible, Pope Francis is telling us that if what we say, do, and believe is primarily for the benefit for our selves, we are not working for peace.

The move to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra and Blessed Joseph Vaz reinforces Pope Francis’ particular message of peace. Both men were missionaries who left the comforts of their lives to tend to the spiritual and material needs of others. Their blatant example of this peace is the direct counter to fundamentalist terrorism, and our inspiration to find opportunities in our daily lives to bring real peace to the world.

Until next week, I challenge you to do two things: bring real peace into your life at least once a day, and leave a comment here with your perfect catchphrase for the Holy Father’s special message of peace. Because special message of peace is just long and boring. I need you guys to help me do better.

 

 

About this feature:  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church through thought, word, and deed. Writer Melissa Maleski brings an insightful Catholic convert’s perspective to the general themes (culture, politics, spirituality, art, and more) Rad Infinitum covers, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.

 

 

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5 Powerful People You Didn’t Know Were Related to Bill Gates

Chances are good that they’re related to you, too, because of how descent works.  Here are five famous folks who share a common cousin in the Microsoft founder and world-renowned philanthropist.

1.  Diana Spencer, more famously known as Princess Diana.  She’s related to Bill Gates through common ancestors Caleb Fobes and Sara Gager, Gates’ Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents and Diana’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandparents, making Bill and Diana 7th cousins, twice removed.

2, 3, and 4. George W. Bush.  Gates’ 7th Great Grandparents, Nathaniel House and Hannah Davenport, are also the 7th Great Grandparents of the 43rd President of the United States, making Gates and Bush 8th cousins.  Bush’s siblings, including presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, are also 8th cousins of Gates, and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, is Gates’ 7th cousin, once removed.

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Gates’ 8th Great Grandparents are also FDR’s 6th Great Grandparents, making Gates and Roosevelt 7th cousins, twice removed.

Bonus Cousins:  Gates is also related to John Kerry and Richard Nixon.  Use this ancestry list and this cousin chart to see how.

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Joan Didion is Betty White

Christopher Cocca

Last week, before I knew she was the new face of Celine (or before I knew what Celine was, to be honest), I shared Joan Didion’s “At the Dam” in the Required Reading feature here.  I was taught this essay, and I teach it.  Not because Joan Didion is uber-fashionable at the moment, but because it’s really good.

Flavorwire’s Elisabeth Donnelly has an interesting piece up today trying to take the pulse of the growing Didion-as-icon trend.  Donnelly quotes Haley Mlotek in what feels like an especially prescient observation:

As she puts it, citing Joan Didion as your idol says that:

…we’re cool, that we’re educated, that if we are not young and white and slender and well-dressed and disaffected and sad and committed to the art of writing as an arduous and soul-sucking process that must be endured yet Instagrammed simultaneously, then we will be, at least, as close as possible to those identifiers even if it kills us.

Fair? True?

We’ve also been doing this with Leonard Cohen.  Citing him as your idol signals different things, but the desire to look back and hold up great talents in their later years is nothing new.  We do it, of course, with Betty White.  We probably would have done it with Bill Cosby soon.  I for one am not sure why we don’t do it with Dick Van Dyke or Marianne Faithful.

Head’s up: New York Magazine, a mere four hours ago, has issued a warning that loving Joan Didion is a trap.

 

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4 Extinct Prehistoric North American Species Encountered by the Continent’s Ancient Human Settlers

1. American cheetah:  North America used to have cheetahs, or more accurately, cheetah-like big cats with puma faces. Like the other species on this list, it survived in North America down to the time of human migration to the continent.

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Glyptodon.

2. Speaking of which, it blows my mind to think of Paleoindian populations living alongside the mighty Glyptodon, but that’s apparently exactly what they did, at least for a while.  These armored tanks, relatives of armadillos, anteaters, and sloths, stood close to 5 feet high and 11 feet long.  They are thought to have been eradicated by humanity’s penchant for over-hunting. According to the never-wrong editors of Wikipedia, ancient peoples used Glyptodon shells for shelter.

3. In the 1840s, the U.S. Army thought camels would make good pack animals because deserts.  It didn’t work out because horses are apparently afraid of camels.  That’s not to say the idea was totally without historic or scientific basis.  The Camelops survived in North America until 10000 years ago.

4. Mastodon is often wrongly thought of as a synonym for mammoth, but it turns out the North American mastodon, though closely resembling both mammoths and elephants, is closely related to neither.

Can you imagine a world in which mastodons and glyptodons roamed the American plains down to recent history?  It’s a shame that didn’t happen.  So too the extinction of many other species since 1500.  Just the thought of human beings interacting with these creatures in the first place is outstanding.  I wish they would have left some.

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Why Does the President Want Free Community College?

indexA few years ago, Mark Cuban gave what he called “soapbox advice” to the Occupy Movement by way of a long blog post.  In it, he also talked about the idea that college loans had basically become predatory.

Since then, I’ve noticed out-of-area colleges advertising on billboards like never before.  All of the marketing going on in higher education has solidified my view that higher education is truly in an unsustainable market bubble.

For that reason, I support the President’s plan to make community college free.  He’s deflating the bubble before it bursts. He’s also right to say that we need more people in essential professions than the current way of doing things can reasonably produce.  And Cuban’s right about loan debt precluding recent grads, or grads 10 or more years out of college, from participating in the economy.

The system of pricing and paying for higher education is broken. Like the broken housing market before it, it’s leading more and more people to economic calamity with a sort of “trust us” je ne sais quoi. Before he’s through, I expect Barack Obama to enact the largest presidential pardon in history: the near total forgiveness of outstanding student loans according to some qualifying formula.

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Agent Carter Review: Episodes 1 and 2

Darling, ten seconds into Agent Carter, I was crying. This surprises no one who knows me;  I wear my heart on my sleeve, and in the deep Pennsylvania midwinter of this past week, there’s extra sleeve to go around — enough for the kickass heart the first two episodes of this new Marvel/ABC series brought.

 

I’ll admit when I first learned that Agent Carter was going to be a thing, I did not jump up and down. Hollywood does not have a history of accurately portraying women in positions of kickassness. Women always have to have a male sidekick at the very least, the tropes are clear;  no girl is complete until her knight in shining armor rescues her.

 

I set the bar low for Pilot and was not planning on watching on Bridge and Tunnel. WHOOPS.  Agent Carter has everything: things that go “BOOM!,” men who would use #NotAllMen, a woman named Angie (I’m a little biased), Jarvis, Sousa, and a man being threatened with a fork by Agent Peggy Carter.

 

And speaking of Sousa, can we just talk about how he nails being a feminist (although I’m not sure how I feel about the bet). He does not argue back with Agent Carter when she tells him that she does not need him to be her rescuer. He does not judge her when he finds her crying over a photo of our favorite Living Legend. So far he is a good guy and I hope he stays that way.

 

Now back to the fabulous women of Agent Carter.

 

Colleen O’Brien. Clearly someone paid attention to George R.R. Martin’s ability to kill off favorite characters early on. Despite the fact that we do not get to spend too much time with Colleen, we did learn that she had to teach a man how to use a rivet gun. We also learned that she is very lucky to have a job. This show gives no effs when it comes to calling out patriarchy.

 

Rose. I really hope we get to spend more time with her. Is anyone else reminded of Penelope Garcia?

 

Angie Martinelli. Like all women named “Angie”, she takes no shit from anyone. There is a cloud of sass in the diner when she has to deal with the epitome of white male privilege. Angie making faces at Peggy melted by little pansexual heart. They are my new ship. Sorry, but not sorry.

 

Agent Peggy Carter. First, a shout out to the people behind this show for not hiding her PTSD; y’all are amazing. She is scared and gorgeous and can I please have her wardrobe? If I had to pick a favorite scene in the two episodes of epicness that have been released it is without a doubt the scene in Bridge and Tunnel where she kicks some serious ass while the radio is portraying her as weak and needing a man-hero to fill out expected gender hero roles.

 

Next weeks episode is Time & Tide. Will someone drown? Or will it have absolutely nothing to do with water? Will Peggy be Angie’s neighbor? Will we learn Jarvis’s secret(s)? Will we see diner guy again? Who will die? Only time will tell, darling.

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The Batman Singularity Revisited

This post from 2009 about the Batman Singularity still gets traffic just about every day.  More recently, the internet has been asking if Batman would embrace transhumanism in his war against crime and injustice.

We know that Batman augments his strength with tech when he has to. Fights against Superman (The Dark Knight Returns), trips to Apokolips, contingency plans against a Justice League gone wrong.  But would Batman cross the threshold the singularity represents?

I think he’d upgrade within the confines of his own humanity.  I know he wouldn’t trust his deepest secrets, or the use of his particular set of skills, to tech he didn’t invent or wasn’t able to completely control.  He could already be Iron Man, but chooses Kevlar and Batropes over alloys and thrusters.  Pushing his limits is part of the deal.

I think about the so-called Batman singularity in another way: is it possible for a human being to be so physically and mentally advanced as to render the possibility of Batman meaningful in the real world?  Physically, Bruce Lee proves a vigilante Batman could exist on the streets of our Gotham analogues, at least for while.  But Batman isn’t Batman without almost unlimited wealth and a super-genius intellect.  See also Oliver Queen, Tony Stark and Ted Kord, none of whom are Batman.

It stands to reason that someone with enough resources and enough intelligence could, if born with the right genes, transform his/her body toward peak performance and master various physical disciplines enough to approximate Batman. A next-gen tech zillionaire.

Pope Francis

Fridays With Francis

Editor’s note:  Please join me in welcoming writer Melissa Maleski to her new weekly feature on rad infinitum. We’re very happy to have her rounding up the weekly activities of Pope Francis.  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church (myself included) through thought, word, and deed.  Melissa brings an insightful Catholic perspective to my own Protestant fandom, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.  – CC

Melissa Maleski

Pop your personal bubble before you suffocate in it. That’s pretty much what the Holy Father is telling us in the New Year. In stark contrast to the Magi, who traveled far outside of their comfort zone, Pope Francis called out those who have hard hearts and fall into a narcissistic cycle of fear, pride, and vanity. This cycle, says the Holy Father, gives the illusion of self-sufficiency, but really locks a person inside himself. The Magi, by opening themselves to something far beyond their knowing, find God and themselves.

Like the Magi, Pope Francis holds up mothers as wonderful examples of people traveling outside of themselves and being better for it. The Holy Father does not mince words about how he views a mother’s value:
“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Before anyone brings the snark about the Church valuing women only as far as they are actively breeding small nations, read what Pope Francis follows up with: “In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

And in case his words don’t quite sink in, the Holy Father’s decision to elect cardinals from the fringes of the world puts practice to his preaching. Cardinal-making stalwarts, like the United States, did not see any gains in the new election. Many of the new cardinals come from countries that never had a cardinal before, bursting the College bubble for the first time in a long while.

On a lighter note, the Holy Father raffled off personal possessions to raise money for the poor and rubbed elbows with Lara Croft.

 

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No Veggie Burgers At McDonald’s?

Venessa Wong with the original story, shared here by Ashley Lutz.    White Castle announced their own veggie burger on January 2nd, joining Burger King and countless fast casual concepts in catering to meat-free palates.

McDonald’s says it doesn’t carry veggie patties because no one buys them.  As Lutz notes, MCD CEO David Thompson told investors that when the world’s largest burger joint did offer meatless burgers, they “sold four a day” per location.

To me, that means veggie burgers are scalable.  If Burger King can do them, so can McDonald’s.  They just have to want to.  And they should.

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The Pen, Then the Sword: John Brownee Defends the New Lightsaber, Is Totally Right

Christopher Cocca

If you don’t read Fast Company, you’re missing a lot.  Look at the way senior writer John Brownlee deconstructs a few seconds of footage and comes up with basically everything we need to know about Star Wars VII’s new Sith.  Even if you don’t like Star Wars (click around Rad Infinitum for tons of Batman), anyone interested in story-telling should read this excellent piece. It’s about crafting far more than an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

 

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McDonald’s Had the Solution. It Was Called Chipotle.

Millennials want authenticity.  Because Chipotle has good food and invests in the kinds of things Millennials care about, they forgive the fact that Chipotle Mexican Grill is not authentically Mexican.  But when McDonald’s has to put out a video defending the authenticity of their chicken as chicken, you have to wonder what else is coming home to roost.

Here.

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Like It’s 1999

The last few years have been good ones for alternative music, even if the word “indie” has been rendered just about meaningless.  It’s been so good, in fact, that we’re now hearing novelty songs on alternative radio, which is usually the signal that a great artistic cycle is about done running its course.   I heard two in a row today and couldn’t help thinking we might be about ready to repeat 1999.  That means two things: 1) A new slew of The (Nouns) bands are on the horizon that will have either The Hives, The Vines, The Strokes, or The White Stripes as their first point of rock n roll reference, and 2) Jack White is about to put out a great album.

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Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.

 

“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/16/pf/tent-city/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.

 

Thinking About Chicago

 

This is an except from something I wrote a few years ago.  Below it is a Spotify link to the song.

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.

Today is Casimir Pulaski Day; Because of Sufjan and Slavery, I Offer This

It’s mostly an Illinois thing, but there’s also an important Lehigh Valley connection.  I wrote about this a few years ago, but because I love Sufjan Stevens and hate injustice, I’ll tell you about it again:

Pulaski was a Polish noble and general who helped the American colonies win their independence from Great Britain by training and leading American soldiers throughout the Revolution.  Pulaski died from wounds sustained during the Siege of Savannah, and is remembered today as a proto-typical Polish-American hero in many Polish-American communities.  Though his holiday is mostly celebrated in Illinois, two years ago I discovered a connection between the Duke and the Lehigh Valley’s very own Bethlehem, PA.

I was walking around the grounds of the old Moravian settlements in Bethlehem and come upon this grave in the historic Moravian Cemetery:

A few yards away, I found this historical marker, explaining Duke Pulaski’s role in defending the early settlement and the fact that women from the Moravian community created the war banner he carried into Savannah, an even later llionized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski’s Banner.

Reconciling the image of pacifist Moravians sewing banners meant for war is one thing.  But Cornelia’s grave made me hot with rage and then it made me weep.

When I got home, I wrote the piece below.  You need to know that Bethlehem, PA, was founded by pacifist Moravians (who were fleeing religious persecution) in 1741 and christened for its namesake on Christmas Eve.

CORNELIA
NEW YORK
1728-1757
MULATTO SLAVE
(THE HORSFIELD’S)
1755 RECEIVED INTO THE CHURCH

What scandal, these Moravians, these Peace Church nuns and friars rending martial banners? Duke Pulaski, their protector, marches to Savannah, is recalled in Illinois among the Polish and in the frontier psalter for his sword. How ancient, their Count’s mission, in its context on the Lehigh, infant, pre-incarnate by their Christmas City’s namesake — Bethlehem, Palestine?

Cornelia, theirs in life, (the Horsfields’), not her own or God’s, sewn in Pennsylvania with the city’s founding mythos. December 24, 17whatever. Theirs in death, the Horsfields, these Peace Church nuns and friars.

The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

’99 Problems: Jimmy Fallon Lost Me at Bitch

A few nights ago, Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” special was on.  Because I remember it being from 1999 and also hilarious, I watched it for a while.  A few things stuck out this time around.

  • Because it was made in 1999, it looks like it could have been made yesterday (Rock’s update on the Raw-era Eddie Murphy leather suit notwithstanding).
  • A lot of the jokes themselves still stand up.   Most of the ones that don’t have to do with gender roles and outdated (and even then, largely feigned) attitudes toward women.

The next day, I saw the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake bringing their History of Rap bit to The Tonight Show.  Near the end of the medley, we’re treated to “Move, bitch! Get out the way!” and “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” in rapid succession.

Watching two wealthy, talented, powerful men grunt bitch the way they did was, quite frankly, shocking.  In both cases, bitch is meant as a pronoun, a somehow acceptable substitute for woman.  “Demeaning” doesn’t begin to capture it, and, while they should be embarrassed by it, embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word.  It was lyrical misogyny and it was shameful.  Because we all love you, Jimmy Fallon, we may be inclined to give you a pass.  Poor judgement happens.  But this felt like watching little boys learning how to marginalize and mistreat other people.   It looked like grown men who should know better legitimizing their part of a culture that treats women like objects worthy of derision, possession, and shame.   Aren’t we past all of this?

IronPigs-Liberty-Bell-2014

Not Just Bacon: The IronPigs, the Liberty Bell, and Allentown’s Revolution Legacy

The new bacon hats are getting all of the attention (and a lot of it) in the regional and national press.  But for me, the most interesting new look in the ‘Pigs’ line up this year is the powder-blue/burgundy combo complete with a new alternate logo wedding the Liberty Bell to the local steel industry.   From the IronPigs:

“The IronPigs will don a new powder blue and burgundy two-tone Sunday cap this season that connects the rich histories of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia regions with a fresh-take on the world-famous Liberty Bell. In this new design, the Bell is suspended by an I-beam, a symbol of the Lehigh Valley’s steelmaking prowess, and features metal rivets to indicate the Bell’s iconic crack. Lehigh Valley residents may also be familiar with the fact that in 1777, the Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown so that the British army wouldn’t melt it down for munitions. The cap will be worn with the retro mesh IronPigs jersey which was introduced in 2013 to pay homage to the Phillies’ tradition-rich teams of the 1970s and 1980s in which the Phillies went to the postseason in six of eight seasons and won their first World Championship in 1980. “

Frankly, you had me (and always will) at powder blue and burgundy.  But there’s something even more interesting and historically important here, which the front office mentions but I’d like to expand on.   As many locals know, Allentown, then known as Northampton Town, did indeed hide the Liberty Bell (then known as the State House Bell) from the British during the American Revolution.  Specifically, the bell and ten other Philadelphia bells were hidden under the floor boards of Zion’s German Reformed Church (now known as Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ).   Also rendered Zion’s Liberty Bell Church, the site at Church and Hamilton (between 7th and 6th) has housed Allentown’s Liberty Bell Shrine and Museum since 1962.

From Zion’s website (libertybellchurch.org):

“Zion is known as the Liberty Bell Church because in 1777, eleven bells were brought here from Philadelphia for safe‑keeping during the Revolutionary War. Those bells included the State House bell B, now better known as the Liberty Bell. They were hidden under the floor boards on this very site so that the British would not find and melt them to make cannons.

Our Liberty Bell Museum on the lower level of the building commemorates this and other historic events at the church, and houses the Harry S. Trexler Portraits of Freedom collection as well as changing exhibits. Because of its historical importance, Zion is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

As the tour guides at Zion’s will tell you, the Liberty Bell did not become “The Liberty Bell” for another 80 years after the colonies were liberated from Great Britain.  Seizing upon the message emblazoned across the bell (Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof),  abolitionists in the 19th century made it a symbol in the fight to end slavery and a reminder of the degree to which we’d failed as a body politic to proclaim the ideals of the revolution in their fullest, truest sense.

It’s not often that the cities respectively hosting a big league club and their top affiliate have this kind of connection in terms of history, iconography, and branding.  I’ll be sporting the new hat (reserved by the ‘Pigs, of course, for Sundays) in proud support of my city and the role it played in preserving one of liberty’s greatest symbols.

Bullets With Butterfly Wings: A Writing Prompt About Nerves, Dread, and Fear

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The prompt (not the awesome title reference) came today from WordPress.  Butterflies like bullets.  You know what that’s about.  That song came out in 1995, which is probably exactly when my own strongest moment of heart-pounding, belly-twiting nervousness happened.  To make another reference, it was almost certainly about a girl.

And now I need to watch this, and so do you:

A few years ago I was on an obsessive workout regimen and dropped a million pounds.  Nirvana Unplugged was my cardio jam.  I wonder what that was about.

How Letterman Keeps Winning

Jay Leno may have delivered more viewers in the long run, but Letterman’s move to CBS 21 years ago created the late night ethos dominating NBC and cable even now.

Notes David Bauder:

“Like most comics of his generation, Meyers worships at the altar of David Letterman, but a more enduring influence is Conan O’Brien.” There’s no Meyers (or Conan, Fallon, Colebert, Stewart, or Ferguson) without David Letterman.

They didn’t just swagger and sneer…

They didn’t just swagger and sneer at the abyss. Between 1994 and 1998, they swaggered — sneered — it back to hell. Supplanting nirvana as a concept and a band, they called themselves Oasis, after all.

Those Unknown Search Terms on Your WordPress Dashboard

Vintage_mail_bag_at_the_Postal_MuseumThe Search Term Mail Bag is one of my favorite kinds of posts.  It’s that part of the show where we pretend your search terms are sent by you to me ala David Letterman’s CBS Mail Bag or Craig Ferguson’s email segment.  They’re collected here, but they’re getting harder and harder to do.

As Google encrypts more searches in an effort to satisfy consumer privacy demands, bloggers are seeing fewer real search terms come through in our metrics.  There are some, of course, mixed in with the growing chorus of unknown terms.  WordPress weighs in here.

We all understand why Google and other engines are doing this, but there was something charming about seeing every term and gauging all the reasons people found your koans and haiku about Axl Rose and Plato.  We can still use metrics about tags and posts to piece these things together, but that creates the kind of vacuum space and writers always seek to fill.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church no longer praying for the government; Tetyana Derkatch calls for Yanukovych’s excommunication

In an unprecedented move, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leadership says prayers for the current government will no longer be included in the liturgy.

Instead the denomination’s ruling body, known as the Holy Synod, advised believers to ask God to protect Ukraine and its people, and to pray [for] the many victims.

More here.

And from Euromaidan in English – Site of the Official English-language Public Relations Secretariat for the Headquarters of the National Resistance in Kyiv, Ukraine, this:

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate on February 20 issued a decision to stop the remembrance of those in power during worships.

“Taking into account that the repeated calls of the Church not to use weapons against people, who elected them to serve people and Ukraine, but not for violence and murder were not heard by the State authorities, it was decided not to mention those in power during services” starting from February 20, 2014 said the statement.

In addition, the clericals appealed to the authorities to stop using weapons against the people immediately. Now the church, in spite of the Scripture and the Constitution of Ukraine, which imply the necessity to pray for those in power, will pray for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people .

The church also appeal to pray for the dead and wounded in clashes in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, also this:

Tetyana Derkatch, the religious publicist, initiates public petition to Metropolitan Volodymyr and the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) for the purpose of excommunication and anathematizing Viktor Yanukovych. She has announced the action on her Facebook page, http://risu.org.ua reports.

“The idea of ​​excommunicating authorities and anathematizing them for their crimes, incompatible with even the slightest requirements for a Christian, is not new. This should be done when an especially high-ranking member of the Church sets a bad example for society by his or her inadequate response, which spells corruption for the whole society,” – Tetyana Derkatch explains.

The publicist advises everyone who agrees with this initiative to put a cross under her post.

“It is better to cut off the seducing hand than to lose the whole body,” – she notes.

Tetyana admits that it was not uncommon in the past for the Church to punish highly-placed parishioners.

“Somewhat similar events happened to the emperor Theodosius and Ambrose, bishop of Milan. It seems even more reasonable in circumstances where the leadership is no longer considered to be a sacred gift from the Lord. The President of Ukraine is not the Byzantine emperor. He is a parishioner of the particular Church. He does not only take the desired benefits of power, rather he also takes responsibility for its spiritual condition.”

“For example, an excommunicated person is no longer welcome to visit Mount Athos to pray for forgiveness,” – Tetyana states.

On her opinion, excommunicating Yanukovych will suspend the conflict between the people and the government.

“If the Church wants to contribute to the settlement of institutional conflict in Ukraine caused entirely by its parishioners, it must use all available means to influence them, and not only appeal to someone unnamed for peace and nonviolence. Otherwise it must not be surprised, if its voice is never heard,” the religious publicist summarizes.

Living Here In Allentown and on Reverse Frontiers

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania.  After long and short falls from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader, Allentown is again a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project (heavily subsidized, of course) poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.

Allentown is a mid-sized city, and here’s what that means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  Developers may be footing parts of the bill, but at 80 public cents spent for every private dollar, so am I.   So are the working poor, and I continue to demand real opportunities for everyone affected to have a voice in all this change.   Allentown’s size also means there are real opportunities for territorialism, silo-building,and cronyism, as well as well as real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   Those former things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally. It’s no coincidence that my spiritual tradition holds out a vision for a kind of city where those former things have passed away.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues now.  If developers and politicians assert with their branding and their braggadocio that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.

Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning

Yesterday I reposted a three-year old piece about Hess’s, the famed and sorely missed downtown commercial icon that owned the 20th century not just here in Allentown but really across this part of Pennsylvania.

As you know if you live here, Allentown is undergoing half-a-billion dollars in new capital investment (highly subsidized, of course).

This morning, I had a breakfast get-together downtown. I was early, and I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Butz building, about 830, silently praying. At some point, a kind woman I’d never met before who works somewhere in the building asked me if I wanted anything to eat or if I could use some coffee. Yesterday, I gave a little extra at a local coffee shop and said if you don’t want the tip, please do pass it on to a homeless friend in need. #solidarity #serendipity #grace.

The kind woman from this morning may have thought I was homeless or just simply hurting, and maybe that’s on her mind because of all the awareness being raised about the needs in Allentown. Maybe looking out for others is part of who she is.  In any case, I’m  grateful there are people out there wanting to help each other.  I’m grateful for her kindness and her courage, and I know that someday soon it will encounter someone with needs I can’t begin to imagine, and I bet it has already.

Tweet: Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning http://ctt.ec/smVhl+

Bill Russell On Michael Jordan (and Cartesian Circles)

I get a few queries for this topic every day, but I’ve never actually posted about it.  I’ve talked about Kareem on Russell and Jordan and about what Jordan says about Russell (as little as possible), but given all the recent talk about who should be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore and Will Kobe and/or LeBron Ever Get There, I thought I should see what I could do.

In so doing, I found a still-extant Tripod (yes) website explaining why Russell is the greatest ever, and you need to see it.   There’s also a detailed Straussian discussion about how Russell’s claim that Jordan was the greatest is purposefully meaningless.  I sort of said the same thing about Kareem.  And there’s also this picture of Wlit Chamberlain wearing a fanny pack that says Wilt.

Jesus Chills With Spider-Man, Hulk, and Captain America; The Comic Book Where Batman Was a Priest

Image

So many hits on this blog are because of things I’ve said about Jesus or things I’ve said about comic books.  Roll with it, right?

I saw this via George Takei via In Good Faith.  I love that George shared this and what he said about it.  Everybody wins.

It also reminded me of this, from one of the best Batman Elseworlds ever:

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I’m fairly certain this book has informed a lot of what I do.

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Brathwaite, Picasso, Nichols, and Maar Step Into a Writing Class

Last week, I shared this (regarding Brathwaite), with my students:

kb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got that from the amazing Robert Antoni.

In the context of the class I’m teaching, it’s important to present the modern formal structures of essay clearly, and for students to be able to execute these schema even as they learn to hear, develop, and deliver their unique, respective voices. It’s also important that they (and that all of us) read widely and across foreign and familiar cultural and linguistic settings.

Braithwaite, of course, is not saying that iambic pentameter is a more formal, academic, or polished form of expression than are the cadences of his experience. The old English forms, unlike the basic structures of essay taught at the undergraduate level, are not conventions to be mastered and then moved on from. They are simply different from other expressions, and just as valid. But the insight he gives about the ways in which experience, geography, and culture influence our voices and our framing devices is brilliantly stated: the hurricane does not roar in pentameters.

In writing, the old sports adage also holds true: you have to get good before you can get fancy. Braithwaite or Ferlinghetti aren’t “fancy” in this sense, nor are the old English conventions necessarily “good.” But we do, all of us, carry points of reference, and for better or for worse, the discipline, practice, and art of writing in English or in the West in general requires a certain level of engagement with things like pentameter and people like Shakespeare, Chaucer, and, later, Whitman, Emerson, Twain, Conrad, Hemingway, etc. In writing and in physics, we’re dealing with relative values and definitions: neither our experience nor our execution manifest in vacuo, neither are they hatched like Athena, fully formed, fully armed, out of Zeus’s head. Motion is always relative, and so too is the spectrum from “good” to “fancy.”

But developing our voice as writers or as people requires the mastery of certain modes of expression. We might even say that without the narrative frames afforded to us by the convention of language, we’d be a very different species arranged in very different communities. Even if we can’t read or write, language has given us the ability to think of ourselves as objects with stories moving through time. Self-reflection is in most cases a function of narrative, ours or someone else’s. Mastering the elements of basic structure (getting “good” with the basic tools of the written trade) brings deeper possibilities of expression closer to our reach. I may understand, conceptually, a great many things about black holes, but I’ll likely make no significant contribution to the study of them if I’m not conversant in the language of higher mathematics, even if I say, with Einstein, that all motion and velocity are relative (save the velocity of C). “Good” and “fancy” may be relative terms, but they occur within a written and spoken frame of reference alongside our experiences and efforts toward understanding and expressing them.

The Physician's Palette, Pablo Picasso.

The Physician’s Palette, Pablo Picasso.

It’s been said by Malcolm Gladwell (and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis) that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any given discipline. I like for students to keep this general idea in mind: you have to get good (proficient, comfortable, familiar, conversant) before you can get fancy.   Visually, I’ve used the work of Picasso to drive this point home.  Before he did his groundbreaking work, he become very proficient at using the language of the art world around him.  Before he was a cubist or surreaist, he plied his craft in the artistic realm of realism.  He became conversant at this formal aspect of the craft and, of course, transcended it.   But without The Physician’s Palette, we wouldn’t have The Old Guitarist or Guernica.

We’ve been talking about all of these ideas over the first few weeks of class. While preparing for our most recent session, I decided I wanted to revisit the Brathwaite quote in particular and did a google search for “the hurricane does not roar in pentameters.”   The second result was for a tumblr blog called Poets of Color using the quote as a tag line.  The most recent post on that blog?

Picasso, I want my face back.

2

Even my hat mocks me
laughing
on the inside of my grief –

My twisted mouth
and gnashing teeth,
my fingers fat and clumsy
as if they were still wearing
those gloves –
the bloodstained ones you keep.

What has happened
to the pupils
of my eyes, Picasso?

Why do I deserve
such deformity?

What am I now
if not a cross between
a clown and a broken
piece of crockery?

3

But I am famous.
People recognise me
despite my fractures.

I’m no Mona Lisa
(how I’d like to wipe
the smugness from her face
that still captivates.)

Doesn’t she know that art, great art,
needn’t be an oil-painting?

I am a magnet
not devoid of beauty.

I am an icon
of twentieth-century grief.

A symbol
of compositional possibilities

My tears are tears of happiness –
big rolling diamonds.

14

Picasso, I want my face back
the unbroken photography of it

Once I lived to be stroked
by the fingers of your brushes

Now I see I was more an accomplice
to my own unrooting

Watching the pundits gaze
open-mouthed at your masterpieces

While I hovered like a battered muse
my private grief made public.

15

Dora, Theodora, be reasonable, if it weren’t for Picasso
you’d hardly be remembered at all.
He’s given you an unbelievable shelf-life.
Yes, but who will remember the fruits of my own life?

I am no moth flitting around his wick.
He might be a genius but he’s also a prick –
Medusa, Cleopatra, help me find my inner bitch,
wasn’t I christened Henriette Theodora Markovitch?

Picasso, I want my face back
the unbroken geography of it.

- Grace Nichols

Dora Maar (nee Markovitch) was Picasso’s long-time partner and the muse/model for much of his best-known work.  She was also an up-and-coming artist in her own right in the 30s and 40s and photographed the creative process of Guernica.   The diamond tears Nichols speaks of refer to Maar’s role as the face of The Weeping Woman, a sort of Guernica writ large.   She also wrote poetry, and so we’re able to move from seeing Maar through Picasso’s lens to hearing Maar in Nichols’ voice to finally arriving at a place all writers want to be:  seen as we see ourselves, heard in our very own voice:

Pure as a lake boredom
I hear its harmony
In the vast cold room
The nuance of light seems eternal
All is simple I admire
the full totality of objects.

The soul that still yesterday wept is quiet — it’s exile suspended
a country without art only nature
Memory magnolia pure so far off
I am blind
and made from a bit of earth
But your gaze never leaves me
And your angel keeps me.

The hurricane does not roar in pentameters.  Dora Maar does not speak in the voice of Picasso or Nichols but is still, for them, an indelible symbol, a cypher for their own struggles (theirs and their peoples’).  Behind that is a person with a point of view and a voice, a photographer-poet wrestling with the ecstatic anxieties of having both and of using them.   That’s what we’re talking about here.

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Andrew Peterson: After All These Years

Christopher Cocca

I was unfamiliar with Andrew Peterson until reading this review by Adele Konyndyk Gallogly.  For some reason, maybe just the word “folk” and the album cover’s aesthetic, I was expecting something closer to Steven Delopoulos when I fired After All These Years up on Spotify. That said, there’s a sort of deftness to the writing, a lot of ideas and images and call backs you don’t typically hear paired with the kind of production Peterson seems to favor. As a writer, I appreciate the lyrical work he’s doing, and “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” is an all-around standout with a Rich Mullins feel.  Peterson’s penchant for this-is-how-it-was biography aside, “Dancing In the Minefields,” even as a phrase, is a great metaphor for marriage.

After All These Years develops a lived-in feel as it progresses, and the songs starting with “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” are generally better than the ones before it.  That could be because, on first listen,  it takes that long to warm to concept of Christian pop-folk, or because it takes that long to hear musical traces of Mullins and even Bruce Hornsby.  Still, forgiving cameos by Illinois on three tracks in a row (if you’re an artist working out faith in public, writing about Illinois, and are not Sufjan Stevens, the deck is stacked against you), the lyrics, as images, are interesting and often nuanced.  Mixed with occasionally straightforward Protestant catechesis, their spiritual appeal will, as with anything, come down to the listener.

Production-wise, Peterson would benefit from a fuller band higher in the mix.  I can imagine these songs getting that kind of treatment live to strong effect.

 

 

 

 

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Mark Twain on Ambitions

Originally posted on Bookshelf Battle:

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
― Mark Twain

Not sure I have anything profound to say about this one, other than I generally find that in life, one often meets many people who feel they have to knock others down just to make themselves look good in comparison.  Why do people feel the need to do that?  I don’t know.

This quote can definitely apply to writing.  Show of hands – how many of you have been laughed out of the room after mentioning you’re working on a novel?

It’s ok.  The people who haven’t been bitten by the writing bug will never understand.  Just hang out and commiserate with other writing bug bite sufferers.

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econ

$3650 puts you squarely in the richest half of the world’s population

Hopefully, this staggering fact will register in ways the 1% thesis didn’t.

To think that Roger Ailies urged Richard Nixon to make the elimination of poverty by 1980 a talking point in the ’72 election.