April rambling #2: Knowledge, Freedom, Democracy

The Public Library: A Photographic Love Letter

Do Not Lose Heart; We Were Made for These Times

On earth as it is in heaven: Why Jesus didn’t call his followers to be safe

The Gaslight Zone, Part 1 and Part 2

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Gerrymandering and Marijuana

Can We Get Real About Opioids? and Opioids, My Mom’s Death, and Why People Trust Science Less

How my daughter died from a simple case of flu

The Perception of Liberal Bias in the Newsroom Has Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Reality

Facebook use is a predictor of depression

The Internet Isn’t the Wild Wild West Anymore, It’s Westworld

Killing the Church with Sunday School

Girl, 2, defends her choice of doll to cashier

Carolyn Kelly, R.I.P.
Mark Evanier’s getting by, with the help of Henry Fonda

Sheryl Sandberg: ‘Everyone looked at me like I was a ghost’

Letterman’s mom was everyone’s mom: Dorothy Mengering dead at 95

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher

The Public Library: A Photographic Love Letter to Humanity’s Greatest Sanctuary of Knowledge, Freedom, and Democracy

Dianne Bentley saved receipts, helped take down her cheating governor husband

Arts in the Parks

Not me: Two longtime artists offer stunning works in ‘Traces’ exhibition

“Let me help” (Thoughts on “The City on the Edge of Forever”)

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the 1960s

Ken Levine interview: Voiceover artist Randy Thomas

I wrote about helicopter parenting four and a half years ago, and someone wanted to know if I wanted to read Abandon Helicopter Parenting, Embrace Negotiation Parenting; xooloo has developed an app for that.

7 Tips for Donating Old Books Without Being A Jerk

Now I Know: The Slave Who Spied on the Traitor and The Campaign for the Other Gary and Taking “One Person, One Vote” Literally — and Accidentally

Queen Elizabeth has someone break in her shoes before she wears them

Dawn Wells: Forever Mary Ann

I keep seeing references to crushed Doritos in recipes, e.g. replacing bread crumbs on fried chicken, or as the crust for mac and cheese. Have YOU used them?

Chopped liver


Just a clown singing Pinball Wizard to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues

The Beatles – Home Recordings, May 1968 (white album)

Coverville: Elton John cover story

Back in June 1980, the legendary Chuck Berry performed in the little village of Ladner, British Columbia, Canada

K-Chuck Radio: Music to help pretty plants grow

5 truly explosive performances of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture

Appreciating an Unusual Beach Boys Album

Who has opened for the J. Geils Band?

Linda Hopkins; blues singer won Tony for best actress

The Neuroscience of Singing

There is a reason to have a B# and an E#

John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music

Monkees Star Mike Nesmith Reveals All on Drugs, a Near-Crippling Illness, and Jack Nicholson ‘Bromance’ in New Memoir

Where Have All The Bob Seger Albums Gone?

Genesis Tour Manager Recalls His Role in One of Rock’s Most Embarrassing Moments

Rock’n’roll shrimp named after Pink Floyd because of its deafening vocal ability

Reconciliation: black & white, gays & the church

There were people who believed that once the bigots die off, then a more tolerant, more enlightened next generation would take over.

More questions from Arthur:

Do you personally chafe at the name “Liberal Christianity”, or do you see the name as a necessary counter-balance to the assumption that all Christians (Protestants in particular) are conservatives?

Interesting that after you asked the question, someone linked to Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition — Not a Liberal Agenda. The person who posted wrote: “Many Christians are wary of participating in social justice because of a deep-rooted fear of being labeled ‘liberal,’ ‘progressive,’ or ‘secular.'”

I replied: “I am a Christian, and I have ZERO fear of being labeled liberal, though I prefer progressive.” Yes, we need SOME designation to counter the narrative. You KNOW I’ve spent a lot of space in this blog both claiming my faith and saying, essentially, I’m not “like them,” so I’d rather make a positive assertion, rather than be anti a negative one.

I happen to believe actual Bible reading is likely to turn one into a liberal, unless you cherry-pick like the woman upbraided by President Bartlett on The West Wing.

Given how awful Christians—conservatives in particular, but even mainline Protestant churches—have treated LGBT people in the past (and fundamentalists still do), how do you think reconciliation could be achieved? Could that be a model for reconciling other segments of society that are divided because of past antipathy?

The churches that are accepting just DO it, not without a great deal of deliberation, mind you because that’s the Presby way. The Presbyterian Church USA has a More Light designation, which I happen to think is a terrible name, because almost no one outside the denomination gets the reference. But it involves providing an opportunity for full participation, from having LGBTQ pastors and lay leaders to same-gender marriage, conversation in adult education, and yes, participation in the gay rights parade, which, as I’ve noted in the past, is much more important now than ever, given the backlash. People will make mistakes in the process, but they need a safe space to do that.

The Daughter is not confused by her church friend who has two moms, e.g. A lot of the membership in my congregation is LGBTQ and the leadership of elders and deacons reflects that.

The United Methodist Church, of which I am a former member, has ducked the issue, for now, the last major Protestant denomination to do so, I think, fearing a schism. But the schism will happen whether they vote yea or nay in 2020.

Let me throw in a question from Reader Wil here:

How do we have to deal with racists? Whenever I want to tell about people who are discriminated against, there is always someone who denies it.

Oy, that IS a tough nut to crack. Lots of people seem to think that racism is over when I see no evidence of that being true, in the United States at least. I know I was more hopeful eight years ago than now. In the US, even the systems that had protected voting rights based on race – Congress and the courts – have let us down.

One of the great things I’ve seen, though, since Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, is the sheer number of WHITE people who seem to “get” it, that mass incarceration hurts not just the black community but all of us. It has always been thus, the need for white allies (or straight allies or male allies).

There were people who believed that once the bigots die off, a more tolerant, more enlightened next generation would take over. That may still be the case, but it’s going to take longer than I would like. Race, and specifically black/white in America, has a long historic framework. Just as you think you’ve torn it down here (Confederate flag moved from the SC capitol), it rises up there (the racist, often pro-Agent Orange tirades, post-election.)

I’ll say this: it’s heartening when white people talk about white privilege because it says that the problem of racism is NOT a black problem, it’s everyone’s problem. After the nine people were killed in a Charleston, SC church, the congregations of a couple of churches in that city, one black, one white, but with a common history, started meeting together, and it created greater understanding. THAT’S reconciliation, and we need more of that.

But it’ll be a slow go. Especially when courses designed to address the issue are fought.

I know it’s not much, but we have to keep on keeping on, embracing the “other,” as often as we can. I’m impressed how, in New Zealand, people of every ethnicity have adopted some Maori terms. I can’t imagine a lot of American people using some native American culture – “talk American!” – other than to denigrate it, but maybe I’m too cynical.

The return to church

I found a Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) service in Albany.

trinityalbanyAfter my rebaptism event, I was surprised to find that I felt no particular need to start going back to church. But I got a girlfriend in the fall of 1978, and Susan attended the Unitarian Church in Schenectady. I tried it, and it didn’t “take.” I was in the choir briefly, though the music never connected with me.

More to the point, it seemed that some of the policy discussions were silly, such as whether candles were “papist,” undoubtedly the concern of some lapsed Roman Catholics. Candles are CANDLES! I went to church on Christmas eve, either that year or the next, at a Catholic church, as I recall.

It wasn’t until my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1982 that I got to seriously thinking about church. She had died in Charlotte, NC on Super Bowl Sunday, but it was her wish to be buried in her hometown of Binghamton, NY. She was cremated in Charlotte, but her remains were brought back to Binghamton in May for a service at the church in which I grew up, Trinity A.M.E. Zion.

My father, sister Leslie, and I all sat in the choir. My goodness, I’m sitting in the choir! And it hit me, “I need to be sitting in a church choir.”

Thus began the Great Church Shopping Expedition. Susan, with whom I had broken up, and then had recently gotten back together with, and I went to at least a dozen churches. What I/we were looking for, I couldn’t say.

An early contender was Trinity United Methodist Church, which shares part of its name with my home church. Moreover, and it may have been my first day there, but the minister, Stan Moore, a great guy, albeit with a crushing handshake, gave a sermon. During his remarks, he had mentioned in a positive light the massive anti-nuke rally the day before in New York City, which Susan and I had attended.

It wasn’t until December, though, when Gray Taylor, one of the tenors in the Trinity choir, came down from the loft to the front of the sanctuary to note that the choir was seeking members that I decided to come to that church regularly.

Late in 1984, I joined the church. While I was at Trinity, I got involved in the governance of the church, including chairing the Administrative Board and later chairing the Council on Ministries, which dealt with aspects of church life, worship, education, and the like.

There’s a whole lot about this period I could share, but I’m saving it for the roman à clef that I will never write.

One useful exercise, in 1995-96, was a thirty-four-week Bible study called Disciple, generally held at the home of my then ex-girlfriend, and now wife. It coincided with the third, and last time I read the Bible from cover to cover.

One of the Disciple exercises was to go to a faith community different from one’s own. I found a Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) service on Madison Avenue in Albany. I was about five minutes late, but I needn’t have worried, as the service went on for three hours, mostly in Arabic. Afterward, there was a luncheon, and I had this lovely conversation with one young man, in English. When he found out about my Protestant membership, he said most pleasantly, “You DO know you are going to hell, don’t you?”

My departure in 2000 from Trinity UMC wasn’t about a couple of incidents, but rather the fact that the pastor (not Rev. Moore) had goaded the membership into abolishing the Administrative Board and the Council on Ministries. The subsequent system was more “efficient”, in that it was a cabal run mostly by the pastor. Thus, when conflict arose, there was no recourse.

During the discussion about the change three years earlier, one choir member, who had also been a pastor, asked the reasonable question, “Where are the checks and balances?” But “efficiency” won out; efficiency in a church policy structure is highly overrated.

Mansplaining and other forms of communication

There are lots of terms just alienate some people. Black Lives Matter. White privilege. Institutional racism.

mansplainer1Arthur, the executive producer of the vast AmeriNZ empire wonders:

How do you reconcile agreeing philosophically with people, yet being #@$%*! annoyed with them? I’m thinking of political activists, religious people, whatever. Generally speaking, do you tend to focus on the agreement and ignore what annoys you, or does your annoyance prevent you from acknowledging the agreement?

I used to have this brother-in-law. Back in 1977, my gypsy year, I crashed on his and my sister’s sofa during the summer. They lived in Queens, but he and I occasionally went into Manhattan on the subway. He was all into renewable energy, the kind of ideas President Jimmy Carter was talking about – and America largely rejected. But BIL was a sanctimonious pain, who would point out the foibles of other people – “No one is talking to each other” – while oblivious to his own.

I have found that period to be useful training in dealing with political activists this season, especially the Jill Stein for President people. Not that I can’t get a little irritable. I was asked if I really thought Clinton would do the litany of things she said, and I said yes, she’d make the effort, on the domestic front. Then I was told why I was wrong. Hey, do you want my opinion, which you asked for, or not? I got an apology out of that, shocking in the Facebook era.

Hey, I understand voting for the Green Party. I voted for Nader, twice, for President. I voted Green Party for governor at least thrice because New York State has this peculiar provision that, in order to have people registered in the party, the gubernatorial candidate has to get a certain threshold of votes. So don’t get all “you’re a sellout” on me.

I have a friend who’s aggravated by the imperfection of a certain religious institution in terms of inclusiveness, though it’s trying hard to meet that ideal. She’s frustrated; I’m of the opinion that it’s heading in the right direction, but the entity is made up of flawed, imperfect people – aren’t we all? – wanting to do the correct thing.

So it is situationally dependent. I’m fine with the Stein people – I don’t tell them they’re really voting for Trump. But they need to allow me the same courtesy. And religious people who, for reasons of goodwill, do the wrong thing, I sigh and say, “OK, did you know why someone might find that offensive?” But I don’t give up the ship, or the fight, or whatever analogy I’m going for.

We often hear about “mansplaining“, when a man, usually arrogantly, “explains” things to a woman. I recently also heard “whitesplaning” to describe white people “explaining” to black people what the nature of racism is, Black Lives Matter, etc. In your opinion, is there such a thing as “blacksplaining”?

[LAUGHS HEARTILY.] Oh, yeah, and I’ve heard it all my life, long before the term existed. And it comes from all political stripes, including people on the left who tell me X is racist when I just don’t see it.

Oh, and I don’t think “splaining” is always arrogant. Patronizing, sure.

And, are all these “splaining” names useful for understanding and exposing bias, or are they attempts to shut down debate? Are they used to intimidate people into silence, or are they merely a way to get people to see their own blind spots and arrogance?

Yes, it can be all of the above.

I got into some FB conversation with a guy I’ve known only online. Some woman accused him of mansplaining, and I thought she was correct. He did not, and went back and forth with the woman, and a bit from me.

By the end of the conversation, I was willing to concede, as he wanted, that maybe he wasn’t mansplaining, but he was just being, in his words, “an arrogant prick.” Hey, you win.

There are lots of terms that just alienate some people. Black Lives Matter. White privilege. Institutional racism. Racist, which, according to more than a few, only applies to people who wear white robes and hoods. So person T can’t be racist because he knows some black people, and some of them even endorse him for President.

Some days, I think calling someone a racist is unproductive, not because it’s untrue, but because it defines the totality of who they are, and they get their hackles up. (Random thought: What IS a hackle?)

Occasionally I find it easier to talk about racist acts because that’s more manageable. Of course, then they start quoting Avenue Q. They compare a verbal gaffe with excluding minorities from housing units, and shrug, “Well, everyone’s a little racist,” as though they were at all equivalent.


Christmas Eve 2015

A couple years, I’m drawing a complete blank.

xmastree2012One of the lovely things about December 24, Christmas Eve, pretty much since 1983, is that I know what I’ll be doing that evening: singing in church.

Back in the 1980s, the service at the Methodist church started at 10:30 p.m., and ended about midnight; when I went home, it was almost always snowing lightly. The service at my current church begins much earlier, but there’s a certain familiarity about the celebration, though the forecast this year is that the daytime temperatures will be in the 50s F (low teens C).

What I started thinking about was what did I do in the decade before I returned to the church. At least one year in the 1970s, I went to some random Roman Catholic church. Another year, I went with my then-girlfriend to her mother’s home near New York City; by New Year’s Eve, we had broken up.

Probably went out to eat with my girlfriend in the late 1970s, but what the heck did I do in 1980, after we had broken up earlier that month?

One Christmas, probably 1975, I lived in this coffeehouse in New Paltz, but, like the dorms, we had to vacate it during the winter break. I hitchhiked down to New York City and spent a week with my great aunt Charlotte. Surely we did NOT go to church – that wasn’t her thing – but we had a good time visiting cultural events that week.

Still, for a few years, I’m drawing a complete blank.

This is to say that I LIKE the tradition of going to church on Christmas eve. It’s not just theologically significant. It creates a sense of tradition when I feign not having one.


1966 CBS holiday messaage, which I well remember.

Several versions of 12 Days of Christmas; the first one is my favorite.

Christmas Dishes From Around the World.

Mark Evanier’s Mel Torme story.

Listening While Feminist: In Defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.

Charles Mingus’ Secret Eggnog recipe will knock you on your ass.


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