Welcome to my website. I’ve given a longer welcome elsewhere, so here I would just like to say that this is the blog part of it. This is where I will be posting, from time to time, interesting but short accounts of things. At least they are interesting to me; you are free to draw your own conclusions. They may be facts, factoids, links, opinions, and disjointed ramblings. Watch this space; I hope to update it frequently (but I probably won't.)
April 24, 2012
Nemos Ognios recently revised its sacred space ritual. I've updated both the basic ritual and the commentary, which can be found here.
April 21, 2013
I recently decided on a change in my PIE pronunciation. Up till then I had assumed that the third laryngeal, H3 was pronounced like a voiced velar frictiave, the letter represented by the Greek letter gamma in IPA, and for which I had used a "q." Since it causes voicing, I think that one of the alternatives, a [xʷ], is untenable. However, it also causes rounding, changing an adjacent [e] to [o], so I was won over the the idea that it had to be rounded itself. To put it another way, it had to be labialized. As a result, I now see the pronunciation as [qʷ], with the "q" still representing the gamma sound, which is then labialized, just like with the obstruent version, [gʷ]. I've made the changes in the PIE sections of this site. I'm still hoping to make it so that when you click on the PIE you hear the pronunciation. In the meantime, you can go to my youtube channel, CeisiwrSerith, and hear some PIE.
April 5, 2013
Some day I may put this into a poem, but for now I'll just post it here as a fragment:
To build again the welcome fence
'tween cynic's age and innocence.
April 4, 2013
What will I say if when I die it turns out that the Evangelicals were right, and I find myself before the judgment throne of God? I hope it will be something like this:
The stories told of you made you out to be a monster; so unjust, so capricious, that if I were to have believed in you I could never have worshiped you. If you are such a god, not only don’t I fear being banished from your presence, I insist upon it. If, however, the stories were wrong, then a God of truth would not punish someone for not believing in falsehoods. Therefore, it you are unjust, cast me out, for I will suffer more in your presence. But if you are just, then treat me with justice, and reward me for desiring truth. Either way I stand content.
March 21, 2013
Some people disemble when they say they see the emperor's new clothes; others, however, have quite convinced themselves they have.
Feb. 23, 2013
I went through my links page and removed some dead links. I also added these new links:
Ragnar's Viking Page - Links to sagas and the rune poems.
The World's Worst Website - Accurately named.
Celtic Scholar's World - The website of Celtic Reconstructionist Maya St. Clair who lives in, of all places, Kuwait.
Deo Mercurio - Gaulish Reconstructionism
Endangered Language Project - Descriptions of endangered languages, and, even better, sometimes there are recordings.
Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe - Youtube video of a lecture by J. P. Mallory on the origin and spread of Indo-European.
Liberty image by Matthughes on DeviantArt
Tropes - "Storytelling devices and conventions," with examples from TV, movies, literature, video games, etc.
This is Sand - Make your own virtual sand art.
Asteroids Revenge 3 - Asteroids from their point of view.
Prophecy News Alert - You'll be reassured to know that they'll be "updating this site daily until the end."
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America - Shinto shrine in Washington state.
Onomastics - The studies of names, including placenames.
The Role of Fire in Parsi Ritual - Journal article.
Feb. 14, 2013
Say what you want about the state of our economy, but how indicative is it of the robustness of our prosperity that a major news story is that 4000 people are uncomfortable on a cruise?
Jan. 30, 2013
America shares a religious link with all those countries/cultures which have adopted Liberty as their patron goddess. In this sense it might even be accurate to say that America has more in common, from a Pagan point of view, with Mexico, Latvia, and France, than with the UK, since the former invoke Liberty, while the latter is under the protection of Britannia.
This is not to say that America, the American system, or Americans have a greater similarity those other cultures than the UK. Religion and history do not always coincide. Nevertheless, we share the aspect of Liberty in the sense of those who have broken free from domination by a nation seen as an Other. We share, at the very least, the ideal of origin as a conscious act of self-identification, of having been created, not grown.
And, just as the Artemis of one Greek polis both was and wasn’t the Artemis of another, so too the Liberty of America both is and isn’t the Liberty of Mexico. We share a patron goddess in some way, and have different patron goddesses in other ways.
It might be possible to see this difference as expressed in the subsidiary deities identified with each of the countries. America (or Columbia, as she is also called) is a very different goddess from France’s Marainne, even though both are in some way a form of Liberty. They are separate goddesses, deriving their nature both from Liberty herself and from the local accidents of history that five each of the countries its unique culture. Liberty may be found everywhere (even if not recognized there); America exists only where her children do, although she may perhaps be seen as protecting her presence everywhere our culture penetrates.
Dec. 21, 2012
On this, the last day of the earth (note: just the last day of the world; apparently the rest of the universe will be fine), I'd like to make a few comments. First, why the Mayans? Seriously, why do we think that they had it figured out? And second, following on that, they believed the world was created in 3114 BC. If they got the beginning of the world wrong, why should we expect they would get the end of it right? Just wondering.
More important, I'd like to announce that I now have my own youtube channel. No surprise, it's CeisiwrSerith. Also no surprise, it will probably lean heavily toward the Indo-Europeans and ritual. Right now there's one called "So You Want to Learn Proto-Indo-European," in which I give book recommendations; one in which I sing my Xáryomen song; A Proto-Indo-European meditation ritual that I'm very proud of; and photos of my home shrine. Videos that will be put up in the near future (soon after Christmas) will include recommended books on Greek religion, an Indo-European ritual suitable for travel, a short Wiccan daily ritual, the ritual I do at my home shrine, and a prayer I translated in my conlang. There are more things I'm thinking of that are more long-term, such as a version of my Cernunnos paper, so check it out and subscribe.
Dec 11, 2012
How come on all of the Star Treks no one has anything personal on their desks? No pictures of kids, no souvenirs, not posters of Vulcan kittens hanging from clotheslines with the caption "Hang in there?" Do future cats not need cheezburgers? Just askin'.
October 19, 2012
I recently took a short trip to Cincinnati, OH. I was in Lexington, KY, for a few days, and took the one and a half hour trip to spend about 15 minutes before returning to Lexington. Why did I take a three-hour round trip for 15 minutes? I wanted to see the statue of Cincinnatus.
Let me tell you the story of Cincinnatus. Under Roman law, in order to serve in the senate one not only had to come from the senatorial class, but have a certain amount of wealth. Although senatorial in origin, Cincinnatus had fallen on hard times, so he had to leave the senate and farm his own land. In 458 BCE the Romans were involved in a war against the Aequi. The senate received news that the Roman army was surrounded and in danger of destruction. Panicking, they turned to Cicinnatus. In return for appointment as dictator, with absolute power, he agreed to help. He gathered all the Roman men of military age and marched off to the hills, where he defeated the Aequi. He then returned to Rome, where the senate was shaking in it sandals about what he might do. He had the legal power, and was now returning at the head of an army he had both led to victory and saved from death. Who knew what he might do?
What he did was go to the senate and say, "Senators of Rome, I have saved your army and now return to you your authority." Then he went back to his plow.
Fast forward a few thousand years. George Washingtion, with an army behind him which he has led to victory, is in the position where he can take over the country and make himself king. He resigns his commission and returns to his farm. Thomas Jefferson serves as president, then returns to his farm. John Adams serves as president, and returns to his law practice. All of these men had the example of Cincinnatus in front of them, and all wanted to live up to his example. Not only did Cincinnatus save ancient Rome from dictatorship, he saved America from that. Next time you are voting for someone who has been in office for many years, think of Cincinnatus and the Founding Fathers.
So I took the trip to Cincinnati to pay my respects to the man. I stood in front of the statue of Cincinnatus, with one hand on the plow and the other returning the fasces, and was as moved as I had hoped. Make the trip. Or if you can't, then at least remember the story. Remember it, and do your best to live up to Cincinnatus' example, just like those who founded America difd.
October 5, 2012
I've found some clips of myself on youtube. One is an interview (audio only) and one is me doing my "Cosmology Song":
Deep Ancestry - a conversation with Ceisiwr Serith. My part starts at the beginning of minute 23.
ADF Handfasting. (My part starts at 2:07.)
September 19, 2012
I do a lot of typing, several hours a day. I find it easier to type if I have something going in the background, and my distraction of choice is the TV (I also spend a lot of time listening to youtube videos, especially ones about the creation/evolution controversy. Just to be clear, it is a political and religious controversy; the scientific controversy was settled in favor of evolution a century ago). Since I like military history, especially about WWII, I watch a lot of military channel shows.
Here's my kvetch. Narrators often say "Wehrmacht" and "Luftwaffe" with the English pronunciation of "w." What's with that? If people know nothing else about German, they know that the German "w" is pronounced like the English "v." I don't expect the narrators to get such subtle distinctions as between the German "t" and English "t," or between German "l" and English "l" right (and I may even find it a bit distracting if they did, just as I find it distractinig when newspeople pronounce Hispanic names and words with a Hispanic accent. Never mind the fact that there's no such thing as a "Hispanic accent," and they are doing some sort of pseudo one), but come on; at least get the "w" right. Pronouncing the German "v" like an "f" would be a nice plus, but I suppose that would be too much to ask.
September 8, 2012
Today my wife and I were waited on by a young woman named "Desteny." Here's the thing: if you're cruel enough to name you child "Destiny," should you be cruel enough to concdmn here to a life of having her name mispelled?
September 4, 2012
Here's a great defense of the singular "they." There are two arguements there, actually, both based on the fact that a words can be grammatically singular while being semantically plural, and vice versa. Sort of like "you," really.
I don't know what it is about the singular "they" question bothers me so much. Maybe it's just the snottiness of prescriptivists when they object to it, combined with the fact that better writers than they have used it.
July 10, 2012
Why should speech be privileged over the non-verbal? In the West some of this comes from Christianity, especially Protestantism. "In the beginning was the Word" -and for too many that is where it ends, drowning in words. But "Word" is just an inadequate translation of the original Logos, which in the philosophy of the time, meant so much more. It was the divine essence, the Cosmic Law, Reason, the organizing Principle - it was the Tao, which cannot be captured in words even if it is the Word, cannot be named, even if it is the True Name. We should have been warned by the next verse: "And the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us." Not just words, but flesh, and flesh that acts.
The Jews escaped this; even with their scrolls to dance with they kept the Book in its original language, so as to keep the sounds of the words. So too the Muslims, who may memorize the Qur'an in Arabic; there is truth in the poetry that isn't present in the prose translation.
We can't blame it all on Christianity, though. The Greek philosophers first tried to pin down reality in words, to banish poetry and myth, even if they were willing to give a cock to Asklepios. Their descendants went even further, denying all mystery, continually trying to remove the metaphysical.
In the East we see a continuing awareness of the importance of forms. Hinduism rejects Vedic ritualism in favor of contemplation and immediately ritualizes meditation. And then it goes on to splinter into glittering shards of bhakti devotionalism, with chanting and circumambulation and songs and festivals and statues and temples. Even with the Vedic and Hindu reverence for the Word - there is even a goddess "Word," Vāc - the beauty of the sacred writings is part of their expressed truth, the sensations found in the ear and on the tongue part of the meaning.
July 9, 2012
The Fundamentalist Christian, considering himself freed from all externals, dedicated only to the Word and to the Spirit, fetishes his bible. Not just the Bible, the abstraction formed from the contents, but the physical object in which that is made manifest, his bible. You need only watch the preacher prowling the stage, clutching tightly to his book, raising and brandishing it, to see it as a sacred object. You need only see the protestor shaking it in the faces of his opponents to know that is has become a talisman. The rejecting of the external signs of religiosity has become manifest in a physical object.
July 6, 2012
My wife and I saw "Brave" last night. I was drawn to it by the Celtic and mythological themes, of course, but my wife liked it as well. I read a review of it from a feminist point of view that mourned that after Pixar taking so long to make a movie with a female lead they had to make her a princess. But what a princess! This is no Cinderella, no Sleeping Beauty, even no Tiana. Feisty, independent, fanatically following her own fate, and a good shot with a bow to boot. I would be happy for her to be a role model for any daughter of mine. So see the movie; it's very good.
July 4, 2012
A glorious Fourth to all!
July 3, 2012
A prayer of calling to the Great Pink Poodle:
Great Pink Poodle, follw the scent of the sacred;
hunt down the prey of the holy.
You of light hue, with beribboned ears,
You of light hue, with beribbond tail:
We call you in the ancient way,
as is right and true,
as our ancestors did,
with squeaky toys;
Wwe throw the stick of our prayers:
fetch it and bring back the gods.
Come to us, Pink Poodle!
Sit, Stay. Good dog!
A prayer of farewell to the Great Pink Poodle:
Pink Poodle, who dances about our legs:
Run through woods and fields,
doing your thing against tree and stone.
But come when called,
for you are a good dog.
Goodbye for now.
Go for a walk.
But come home when you hear your sacred call,
the Squeaky Toy of Summoning.
May 31, 2012
Life has been busy lately. My daughter was married on Sunday, so you can imagine the chaos that has been going on in my house for the last few months. This on top of trying to work on my book on ritual theory, and to develop a simple generic ritual in the ADF style. (This ritual will eventually end up here, but not for a while.)
One thing I've been able to find time for is to write an experimental ritual, which I've posted here: Ritual for the Release of a Soul. I wrote it to keep my finger in writing ritual in general, as well as ones in a particular ritual style.
Apr. 4, 2012
Educators are not there to serve the students. They are there to provide them with a service. What they serve is the Academy. The students serve the Academy as well. If there were no students, educators would continue to serve the Academy, by researching, and thinking, and writing, and speaking.
An institution of learning is not a store. It is a shelter for the Academy, where teachers and students can offer up their greatest service.
Feb. 14, 2012
I've been working hard lately on a new ritual that will be a fairly short home devotion that can be adapted to a number of purposes. It will eventually be presented in several articles on this site, and a film of it that can be accessed from this site posted to youtube. This won't be done for a few months, but I thought I would mention it here as part of an excuse for not posting as much on the site as I would have liked to.
I've also been working very hard on a book on ritual. It will be a presentation of ritual theory, with an emphasis on how it can be used to write better rituals. Right now it's mostly reading and typing of quotations from the sources; the typing alone is taking at least three hours a day, and the material that needs to be typed is stacking up. At the same time, I'm making notes for the book, which then also have to be typed into a file. In a year or so I'll sit down with the sources and the notes and see what I've got.
There have been occasional updates, mostly to commentaries on the rituals on the Proto-Indo-European ritual page. These have been small. One larger update I'm working on is a commentary on the sacred drink ritual. This will be just a summary, since to treat the ritual properly would require a book. This is something I'm having troubles with, because the short summary keeps veering into more complex territory. Digressions start to take over, and I have to whip them back into shape.
So there's a lot going on here. How much makes it onto this site in the meantime is an open question.
Jan. 4. 2012
I'm was watching the Iowa caucus returns last night on CNN, and I was appalled when an Army corporal in uniform spoke in favor of Ron Paul. He even criticized foreign policy. I'm disappointed in Paul for putting him there. Message to Paul: someone who is in the military doesn't have the right to express a political opinion if they are doing so in any way identified with the military. They serve the Constitution while they are wearing the uniform, and have no right to be seen as serving anything else. The corporal is young, and maybe we should cut him some slack, but I hope his commander (or someone higher) will make his mistake very clear to him. If not, I will be very disappointed in the military. But Paul, no excuse. You put yourself forward as the big champion of the Constitution, and the corporal has sworn to defend it, and then both you and he go on and do something like this. Someone at some level should have made it clear to Paul and his advisors that this was not something that should be done. The government controls the military, and the military must never be seen as wishing to have any influence in politics, even if it comes from a corporal.
Dec. 7, 2011
I watched a post by a Wiccan on Youtube that was about magical tools. Something that was said ticked me off, so I wrote this:
You say the power is in the witch, not the tools. This raises the question of why use tools in the first place. This is not meant to be a snotty remark, but one to truly think about. If it's the will of the witch that matters, not the tool, then why bother with a tool?
The answer is, of course, that a tool allows the power of the will to be increased and/or directed more efficiently. But that implies that a tool can be better or worse, or used in a better or worse way. For instance, I've often unscrewed Philips screws with the nail file on my knife. It works well enough. But how much better would my will be accomplished with a Philips screwdriver? A nail can be driven in with the handle of a hammer. How much better is it to use the head?
If we are to bother using a magical tool at all, we have to think about these things. Is it the best tool for the job? Are we using it in the best way possible?
An example would be using your finger for a circle casting. Sure, it would work. But how much better would an athame work? It is a cutting tool, and sacred space is cut off. It is a tool of fire, and how cool is it to think of a wall of fire? It is also the tool of the south, and the word for "south" in many languages is connected to the Irish word "deosil," the usual direction for casting a circle. The word for "right" is often connected too (such as Latin "dexter"). Now combine cutting, fire, south, deosil, and the use of the right hand. How much stronger have you made the meaning of casting the circle? How much stronger have you directed your will?
There's an even bigger problem with the idea that it's your will that matters, not your tools. One of the central beliefs of Wicca is that the material is as sacred as the immaterial. To say that material tools aren't important, that what matters is the immaterial will, is to deny this. Magic doesn't come from the immaterial will alone; it comes from the interaction between the material and the immaterial. If you don't treat your tools as powerful in themselves, you are treating them as if they were dead. You are treating the material world as if it were dead. That is inconsistent with Wicca.
Magical tools, like the altar you made your clip about, are important. The way they are made and the way they are used affects how well your will is accomplished. Everything is related.
Oct. 10, 2011
Last night, on "Pan Am," there was a reference to a linguistic urban legend that annoys me, that when JFK said "ich bin ein Berliner" he was saying, "I am a jelly doughnut." A real good place to see the details of the problem is on the discussion page of the sentence's entry on wikipedia. Bottom line is that without the "ein" it means that you are an inhabitant of or are from Berlin, whereas the second means that you belong to the category of those who come from Berlin. A subtle difference, but an important one. It turns out that the confusion comes not from the fact that that the sentence was translated poorly, but from its having been translated well.
July 18, 2011
There are four things I can remember from being a child that, looking back, showed what path I would end up taking. There are no doubt more than four that I should have paid attention to, but my memory is not the best, and besides, who knows at the time which things are important and should be remembered? So three things I do remember:
In fourth grade we were taught how to diagram sentences. This is an experience that is on most people's short list of "things I didn't need to learn in school." I think they are wrong, and that if they had paid more attention to it they would be better writers and better speakers today; they would understand the way in which they structure their language, and, since thoughts are mostly arrangements of words, they would think more clearly too. Can you tell that I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences? I'd like to be able to say that I was enraptured by the idea that one could analyze language like that. There is certainly a beauty to representing something in a chart that makes sense out of it. Maybe that was part of it. But what I liked about it was that it was fun. Yes, that's right, fun. It was a game to me, and I would do it on sentences that weren't in the exercise book, just because I liked doing it. It's not that much stranger than some of the other esoterica that fills the large amount of free time that children have. Or so I tell myself.
When I was in second or third grade, I came home very late from school one day. My mother punished me by grounding me. (It just occurred to me that that's what she had done; I had never thought I had ever been grounded.) For two weeks, I couldn't go out to play after school, I had to stay in my room. That wasn't much of a punishment; it meant I could spend a few hours lying on my bed reading. One book I had, which I read over and over, was Greek Mythology, by Evslin, Evslin, and Hoopes. I still have it, on the shelf with my other, more serious books on the subject. It's right up there with translations of Hesiod and Homer. I continued to read books on mythology, but that was what started it. I remember wondering why no one worshiped these gods any more.
The other two things overlap chronologically, so the order is arbitrary,
My friends and I would encipher messages to each other. But we wouldn't let them know the cipher. If they wanted to read the message, they would have to break it. How geeky can you get? Well, quite a lot, actually. I had the list of frequency of letters in English memorized -- etaionshrldu etc. --, as well as the most common two-letter words, three letter-words, letter combinations, letter combinations most likely to end a word, and so on. I can't remember them anymore, but I'm pretty sure I was good at it. These days it mostly comes in handy (if that's the word of it) when watching "Wheel of Fortune," but it sure taught me a lot about words.
Finally, I ran across a CCD report card from sixth grade a few years back, and there was this comment on it: "David is very interested in religion." Yes, I was, and I still am. Best game in town, the one with the highest stakes. I can remember taking CCD and being frustrated. The teachers wanted to talk about love, social justice, and how we should treat each other, with the occasional quote from Jesus or story from the bible thrown in. All well and good, but I was there to learn about religion. I wanted to know about the structure of the Church. For instance, what were the responsibilities of a cardinal, and did one get that job? But they just kept rabbiting on about "do unto others..."
The things that make us what we become are somewhat random. I think that people have inborn talents, attitudes, and even interests. I even believe that there are things that each of us is meant to do, and that our most important job in life is to find out what those things are and then to do them to the best of our ability. But we need help with this. We need to be exposed to the things that will show us the path, and help us along it, and teach us that it makes us happy. So this essay which started out promising to tell you some odd facts about my life ends with advice on child-rearing: throw as much as you can at your child and see what sticks. Pay close attention; it might not be obvious to either of you at that time what matters. But once you see it, encourage it. Heck, even require it. If your child really does like music, but doesn't have the discipline to practice their piano, it's OK to make them. It takes a while to learn how to learn. Help them along. In the end, it's worth it.
Apr. 13, 2011
I started writing a rant on a plane flight recently, and it got rather long. Regardless, here it is.
One pet peeve I have with eclectic Pagans is that they often misunderstand the element earth by confusing it with the planet, or with the fertile ground. Their having the same name leads people to mistakenly identify them with each other. This destroys the balance of the elemental system, and with it its point and purpose.
The system is one of balance through opposition. The defining oppositions are cold vs. warm, and dry vs. wet, each element possessing one characteristic from each set, and none of them having the same pair as the other. Air is warm and wet, fire is warm and dry, water is cold and wet.
This leaves cold and dry for earth. This alone should show that the element of earth is not the fertile earth. It is not rich soil, it is crystal. It is the infertile waiting to be made productive. Consider the physical items associated with it by Ceremonial Magic, sulfur and salt, the latter being used to stand in for it in the circle casting ritual. Neither of these is fertile. In fact, ploughing land with salt is a classic way to make it infertile, to the point where it has become a proverb.
The point of the system is that all four are needed for fertility - the air which contains oxygen and carbon dioxide, the fire which is the warmth of the living (as opposed to the cold of death), the water that is the blood of animals and that makes plants soft, not brittle. Earth is then what gives physical form to these that there might be life.
The four elements are therefore placed around a circle, each at its own direction. In the center of the circle is the fifth element, spirit, which is life. It is through balancing the other four elements that the spirit grows strong; it is centered, rather than being pulled towards any of the directions.
When the element of earth is seen as the fertile soil, it unbalances the circle. The direction of earth becomes more important than the others, it becomes the point of life, pulling the spirit towards it. The other elements acquire supporting roles to the star earth, rather than all four making an ensemble cast. We end up with 1 + 3 rather than the 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 which the elemental system is designed to produce.
The balance of the elements is meant to represent a balanced macrocosm. By the magical principle of the microcosm, the person, being identified with the macrocosm, the universe (each mapping onto the other), dealing with the elements as balanced produces a balance in the person working with them. Everything is provided to create life and power. An unbalanced earth-primary system doesn't do that.
Don't confuse earth with Earth the crystalline element with the fertile soil which can only be formed by a balanced combination of all four elements. Creating that combination is the reason for the elemental system in the first place.
This leads me to a second pet peeve, the sloppiness of many eclectic Wiccan altars.
An altar is the place where the divine is manifest. It is the sacred space writ small. It is a mesocosm which mediates between the microcosm of the practitioner and the macrocosm of the sacred universe. Through being present at an altar, the practitioner is present at all things. Through performing rituals at the altar, the practitioner is performing them in the microcosm, the macrocosm, or both. If the microcosm, the practitioner makes manifest in the themselves what is present in the altar; if in the macrocosm, it is by performing a ritual which manipulates the altar's mesocosm that the effect is created in the macrocosm.
It should be obvious, then, why an altar should have a thought out structure. It is supposed to represent the macrocosm in a symbolic way if it is to serve as a way of imprinting one's will on the macrocosm. It is through its mapping function that this is done; that which is done in the small representation of the altar is done in the large cosmos which it represents.
In the same way, what is done at the altar writes itself into the microcosm of the practitioner. By performing an act of ritual at an altar, even something as basic as a mediation or an act of devotion, the practitioner links themselves with the divine in the form in which it is represented in and by the altar.
This is why a sloppy altar is such a serious mistake. A sloppy altar means that one has a sloppy view of the universe. It means that one does not view the macrocosm with the ordered (and beautiful) structure implied by the "cosm" part of the word. It is a statement that one views the universe as disordered.
It also can create or reinforce disorder in the practitioner by means of its serving as a link between them and the cosmos. It imprints its own disorder. This is a serious mistake in that it reinforces the practitioner's faults rather than providing a means by which to correct them.
An altar should not represent what the practitioner is, then. Rather, it should represent what the practitioner wishes to become. It should represent the universe in its sacred schema.
That is why we can say that so many eclectic Wiccan altars are badly constructed. A search on Youtube will turn up many videos showing these altars. Many of them possess no structure. Instead, they are repositories of whatever those who set them up have acquired along the way, anything that feels "witchy." Statues of the Buddha share space with statues of Pan, Egyptian deities with Celtic ones. Herbs are scattered all over the place, and magical tools are placed willy-nilly.
This will raise outcries that one should do "whatever feels right." Again, an altar should represent aspirations rather than current situations. It should represent the divine reality rather than the one the practitioner finds themselves in. It should represent something beyond oneself, not simply one's own limited view. How much hybris is required to think that your perception of the divine is perfectly right? What is the point of having something which only reinforces what you already are, instead of transforming you?
The structure of an altar should therefore be carefully thought out. Each element on it should be there for a reason and it should be in is particular place for a reason. A case in point: I once got into a big argument with someone on Youtube because they had a ritual knife on their altar in an unusual spot. The knife is a tool of either fire or air, depending on the system, and placed therefore in the south or the east, respectively. I believe that in this case the knife had been placed in the west. So I asked why, and they freaked out - how dare I imply they were doing something wrong? I had actually been giving them the benefit of the doubt; silly me, I had thought there was actually a reason for the knife's placement. Apparently, the only reason was that it "felt right" there. But that is no reason at all, it is avoiding a reason. The person seemed to possess no curiosity about why it felt right. The knife wasn't being used to connect them with that which was beyond them, nor was it being used for self-improvement. It was simply there. What a waste of altar space.
So how should an altar be set up? First, it should represent a cosmic system. It should not be a mess, with anything that seems "witchy" simply dropped on it. Each item should be there for a reason. It also should be where it is for a reason. The articles are not there individually, they are placed in relation with each other. Each interacts with each other and different arrangements of the same objects will have different meanings and produce different results.
Think then of how you see the cosmos. Then think of what items can symbolize the parts of that cosmos. Then think of how those parts interrelate.
When deciding how you see the cosmos, think of how the system you are working with sees it. It may come as a shock to many eclectic Wiccans that Wicca is not in fact a "do your own thing" religion. Each Wiccan does not have their own personal religion; otherwise they would not belong to an already-established religion called "Wicca."
Wicca was invented as a blend between Ceremonial Magic, English (and to a lesser extent, European) folklore, and classical religion, with a smattering of other things. One thing which it wove in was the classical elemental system. As I talked about above, these form a system, and by working with that system one puts oneself in tune with a cosmos seen in that way (as well as with the thousands of Wiccans who have also seen it that way). The Wiccan cosmos therefore has a particular structure, and a Wiccan altar should reflect that structure.
There should first of all be representations of the four elements. For example, one cuold have incense or a bowl of fragrant oil for air, a candle for fire (perhaps of the traditional red) a bowl of water for water and a bowl of salt or sulfur, or a crystal, for earth. These would be in certain directions: air in the east, fire in the south, water in the west, and earth in the north. You might have a candle in the center for spirit. With this set up, you would have symbols of the principles behind the physical realities that make up our universe, and, by placing them in their appropriate directions, of their interactions.
As a Wiccan, you would want to have representations of the God and the Goddess, placed in the direction you face when you are at your altar, which varies according to tradition. These can be statues which should be from the same tradition (two Greek ones, or two Celtic ones, or two Egyptian ones, etc.). This emphasizes the balance that is at the center of Wiccan theology. They could be abstract symbols, such as an antler piece for the God and a shell for the Goddess. They could be candles of appropriate colors, such as gold for the God and silver for the Goddess. Again the location matters; the traditional sides in European folk custom are left for the female and right for the male.
Besides the fire and perhaps spirit or deity candles, you will want one or two to stand for the presence of the divine, one placed in front of each image.
That's it - the four (or five) elements each in its place, symbols of the two deities, and candles for the divine presence. No Buddhas, no herbs, no bells, no Book of Shadows no Tarot deck. Anything you need for a ritual can be put there at the time of the ritual (or better yet, on a lower table), and then removed when the ritual is over, leaving your macrocosmic altar balanced, clean, and beautiful.
That's how an altar should be - a representation in your home of the way the universe is seen when it is envisioned as a cosmos. In this way it serves as a link between you and that cosmos, increasing your power to do magic, and transforming you magically each time you use it. That is the point of having an altar in the first place, not having a place to store all your witchy crap.
Apr. 12, 2011
I've probably finished (barring the somewhat likely discovery of error) making the changes to the Proto-Indo-European orthography on this site. If you notice that I've missed any, let me know.
I'm going to be leading a Proto-Indo-European Nekter ritual in June at Spirit of the West, a gathering in Western Canada. This, combined with the addition of the Kówəs and my new-found ability to use proper vowel markings, inspired me to make changes to the ritual. So I did, and I've replaced the Nekter ritual previously on this site with the new version.
I've updated my calendar.
And so this isn't just a news announcement entry, why don't hotel rooms have more outlets? I hate having to unplug things to plug my computer in, or if I want to iron. What's up with that, hotel industry? Is it just that much cheaper not to install them?
Mar. 29, 2011
I recently learned how to make long marks, accent marks (other than the basic vowel ones), and dots under letters. See: ṃ̄́. So now I'm going through my Proto-Indo-European pages and fixing them up right. No more colons for long marks, or superscript "y" to indicate palatalization. Yee hah! It's a work in progress; so far I'm partway through the deities page. So if you see the old ways for a while, or the new way mixed in, you'll know why.
As part of my ongoing work on the Proto-Indo-Europeans, I've added a new priest to my rituals, the Kówəs. This celebrant will be speaking many of the ritual words, leaving the Ǵhéuter the role of performing prayers of invocation and the pouring of libations. The three priests -- Xádbhertor, Ǵhéuter, and Kówəs -- map onto the Vedic adhvaryu, hotṛ, and udgatṛ, and onto the Celtic druid, filid/ovates, and bards. I'll be adjusting my rituals accordingly.
Another thing I've been thinking about it the role of the fires in the ritual. I've always worked on the premise that the round fire, the xā́sā, was the origin of the Roman focus/foculus and the Vedic garhaptyā, and that both were the representation of the hearth fire in the ritual space. A couple of things got me wondering. First, I ran across the following in the Aeneid (12.118 ff.):
when Trojans and Rutulians made ready
the measured field for dueling beneath
the walls of the great city. In the middle
they set their braziers and their grassy altars
for offerings to the gods that they both worship;
while others, dressed in priestly aprons, foreheads
bound in verbena garlands, brought spring water
What struck me here is that the focus, even though it is a portable hearth, is not carried in lit. It is already in the space, but is unlit; fire has to be brought (along with that other requirement for Indo-European ritual, water) from outside. In other words, the focus (which is the word translated as "brazier" here) serves a ritual rather than a parctical purpose. It therefore corresponds even more closely to the garhapatyā, which is also lit during the ritual with fire brought from outside, this even though it represents the sacrificer's hearth, and which also serves a ritual purpose. In fact, it serves only a ritual purpose; any actual cooking that is part of the ritual is performed on the southern, dakṣina fire.
How this is going to influence my PIE ritual is still up in the air. I will probably change it so that the xā́sā starts out, unlit, in the ghórdhos, and that fire is brought into the space which is used to light the xā́sā there. The thing that's vexing me is that this hurts the part of the ritual where the fire is placed. That may just be that I've still got the cauldron to carry the fire in idea in my head. I may instead have the fire lit on the ground, using wood instead of charcoal, putting the wood in a circular shape.
All in all, big things are happening in the Serith world of Proto-Indo-European. Stay tuned.
Mar. 26, 2011
My new book, A Book of Pagan Ritual Prayer, is now out!
I've posted a new essay, Piety One (or So) Sentences at a time. It's about how to incorporate pious actions into everyday life.
Jan. 16, 2011
This is part of a work in progress on American and religion:
There are those who insist that America is a “Christian nation.” It’s certainly true that the majority of Americans are Christian. But that’s not what they’re really saying. Sometimes they include it in their arguments, but it’s not terribly important to them. If I were to say, “You’re right; America is a Christian nation in the sense that the majority of Americans are Christian,” they wouldn’t be satisfied with the bragging rights. They want more. They want first an acknowledgment that the American system of government, and the philosophy behind it, are based on Christianity, and second, that Christian beliefs and practices should be given special status by being written into our laws. They are asking for Christian (or at least monotheistic) prayers in government-sponsored contexts. They want “Under God” and “In God We Trust” to be in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money. They want gay marriage to be illegal. And many want some sort of Creationism taught in science classes, even if they have to hide dishonestly behind “Intelligent Design” and “Teach the controversy.”
So this is not a competition over bragging rights. It’s a battle over whether the First and Fourteenth amendments mean what they say. It’s over whether the rights of a minority should be trumped by the beliefs of a majority. It’s about whether non-Christian Americans should be treated like second-class citizens.
Most of all, though, it’s about whether we really believe in the idea of America.
Nov. 6, 2010
New Odysseus poems:
Agamemnon was a monster,
killer of his daughter,
Ajax a fool, made mad by pride,
Achilles a spoiled child, pouting in his tent,
and I a master deceiver.
How could such as we bring noble Priam down?
They were babies, some unborn even, when the ships set out,
carrying their fathers to war.
They cluster about me, asking for tales
of the men who sailed with me, fought with me,
whom they cannot ask for stories;
stories of those left behind before the walls
or on scattered islands
or at the bottom of ther sea,
their bodies rolling like waves.
I could tell them anything and they would believe me.
I tell them what they want to hear;
how each of their fathers was a hero who died with glory,
with laughter half-formed in their mouths.
Sep. 15, 2010
I revised my Proto-Indo-European sacred space ritual to include a commentary, which gives both sources and discussion.
Tomorrow night I'm giving a presentation on Proto-Indo-European religion at Gardenias in Derry, NH. It's 7:00 - 9:00, and costs $25.00.
Sep. 2, 2010
I know someone who has a game he plays with himself where he makes up band names and then tries to figure out what kind of music that band would play. I recently was driving by myself and decided to do half of the game -- I would just make up the names. So as I drove, I also scribbled. Here is my list:
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Cover the World
Driving in the Fog
Double Yellow Line
Eponymous (my favorite)
Far Beyond Gone
Mixing a Heavy Load
Moo, Cluck, Bow-wow
Never Forever Lost
Never Mind, Dora
Swimming in the Night
Yard Sale Kings
Feel free to name youself any of these. Just be sure to thank me on your first album.
July 13, 2010
I have some questions for the philosophers and students of philosophy out there, especially those who are Platonists or just students of Plato. It's about Forms.
1. If something has a Form (or if it is a physical representation of a Form) and that something is made up of parts, as so far everything seems to be, do those parts have their own Forms? A house is made of boards. There is a house Form. Is there a board Form? If not, why not? Would it have a Form if it were not part of a house? As I understand it, everything has a Form. Everything, in fact, only exists because it has a Form. Can something -- a board -- lose its Form? Can its Formn be subsumed in another Form? Are Forms additive? Or do they creat Forms in the way that three lines joined together creat a triangle? But that would make Forms emergent phenomena, and isn't it the Forms that phenomena emerge from? Or do the boards,, once they are linked together sufficiently "hook up" with the house Form? Are we able to create Forms from boards that already have Forms?
2. Are Forms pre-exist to the extent that they are out there waiting for a time when they become manifest? Has there always been a computer Form?
Please, anyone who knows anything about Platonic forms, contact me and give me your opinion.
July 10, 2010
Someone who was reading my site pointed out a mistake to me in the Nemos Ognios basic ritual. So I figured, what the heck, I'll just go in and fix other problems with it. There was nothing horribly wrong; it was just that our grove practice had changed slightly -- a tweak here, a tweak there. It's up to date now. I also made the changes to the ritual with commentary. For all I know, there are new mistakes. Let me know if you find any.
I went to a gathering a few weeks ago, and brought some books with me to sell. I didn't sell any, which is the bad news. The good news is that it was because most of the people there already owned my prayer book. (I did sell a few copies of Deep Ancestors.)
These days my time is spent mostly working on the director's cut version of Deep Ancestors. It's not a complete waste of time, since I'm learning an awful lot. I am doing some work on my Celtic Gods and Goddesses book, which looks to be quite a fun project. It's a few years away from being done.
May 25, 2010
I've added something to my ritual essays. Here's some of it:
We are too afraid of silence and stillness in our rituals, all spaces must be filled. God forbid there should be dead air.
But the chorus waiting for their lines, the brahmin repeating the ritual in his head, are performing vital roles. The monks meditating silently are an essential part of the ritual.
The fear is for the congregation. It is taking a while for the fire to catch. Are their minds wandering? A priest leaves the sacred space to make an offering to the land spirits. Are they wondering what will come next? The sacrificial food is being distributed. Are they looking ahead to their turn?
Let them. Let their minds wander, let them wonder, let them think ahead. Let them think, “When will this be over?” Let them ask themselves why something is being done. Let them wait their turn. Let them be bored.
Above all, let them be undistracted by external events. Let them be forced to engage with what’s going on by the fact that nothing is going on. Do not fill all of their time, leaving none in which to absorb the ritual.
Give people a chance. Trust them to find their way without their hands being held. Give them the opportunity to have their own experiences. Give them dead air.
April 12, 2010
My proto-grove's Beltane ritual will be held on May 1 at 2:00 here at my house in Durham. E-mail me for directions and more information.
March 13, 2010
So, Cei, what's up? You haven't posted anything here in a while. Well, I'll tell you.
My best excuse is that my computer crashed, and it took a while to get it fixed. Then came all the reconstruction work, replacing what I'd lost. Included in that was my ftp, which took some time to find a new one of. Now that I have it again, I've been posting things.
Something that was lost in the crash caused some consternation. I called my editor and asked if she could send my book file to me so I could have a copy of it here. Turned out that when I had sent the printed manuscript and the disk with the file version on it I had sent the wrong file. Fortunately I had e-mailed the prayer part to her when I submitted the book, so all that was missing was the first two chapters and the end material. I was therefore faced with a question: do I spend $1.50 a page for the publisher to scan 86 pages into a word file, or do I retype the material from the printed manuscript? Three days of typing later, I was done and sent it off. I now have my own copy, as well as one on a disk. Bad me for letting it happen in the first place.
I've also been working on two projects, my Indo-European notes file, and my "director's cut" of Deep Ancestors (I hope you've bought your copy.) So instead of working hard on my next book, I've been working on my most recent one.
The good news here is that I've posted some of it to this site, a commentary on why the animal in my PIE sacrificial ritual is "killed" with an axe. It's mixed in with the ritual itself. I'll be posting more as I write it.
I've also added more links. (Naturally.)
If any of you are in the NH seacoast, north shore of Boston, area, let me invite you to my protogrove's Spring Equinox ritual next Sunday in Durham, NH. E-mail me for more information.
Jan, 4, 2010
First of all, Happy New Year! We went to a New Year's Eve party this year, something I've wanted to do for a long time. Funny hats, champagne at midnight, and everything. Great fun. Best of all, it was in the neighborhood, so no drinking and driving problem, just drinking and staggering home through the cold.
I sent my manuscript of my next book to Weiser's on Wednesday. One more thing out of my life for a while. I had given myself a deadline of 90 days (and actually had it written into my contract, silly me), and just squeaked it in. It shouldn't have been too hard, since I was just writing two chapters (the rest having been written long ago), but those were almost from scratch, so there was still a lot of work to do. With about a month left, the chapters truly sucked. I split them into three parts, and would work on one until it went from "sucking" to "not very good," and would then went on to the next. When they all weren't very good, I put them together and edited them as a whole. They ended up "pretty good;" not perfect, but then nothing is. If I wanted my writing to be perfect, it would never leave the house.
So now I'm on to other projects. Since the book is another book on prayer, now that I'm done with it I have nowhere to put any new prayers I write. Nowhere but this website, that is. As I write more, I'll be using them to replace the ones on the prayer page, which are slated to appear in the new book. So if there's a prayer there you particularly like, I suggest copying it off the site; it will go away sooner or later.
I'm typing up my notes on subjects Indo-European. That way they'll be all in one place. I'm having great fun doing this, relearning things I've forgotten, and looking at others with a new eye. So far I haven't found anything that makes me want to make big changes in Deep Ancestors, thank God.
And on the subject of Deep Ancestors (I hope you've bought your copy), I'm using the notes project to work on another one. Something I didn't like about the book is that I had to leave out a lot of references and evidence. Couldn't be helped; the book would have been at least twice as long, and it was long enough as it is. But what I'm doing now is making a "director's cut," with all that infomation I had to omit. One reason I'm doing it is so that if people ask me to justify something it will be easy to find why I wrote it. Another is that it is allowing me to think more deeply on the subject of Proto-Indo-European religion. And of course there's also the reason that it's fun. Yes, I actually like this kind of thing. Some of what I'm writing for this version will make its way onto this site, but I doubt there will ever be a second edition. There's little enough of a market for the first one. (I hope you've bought your copy.)
I will also be starting a project that's been bouncing around in my head for a while, namely, a book on ritual. I've got lots of ideas that have to be coordinated, elaborated, and justified, as you will know if you've read my page on Ritual. Being who I am, I also want to do some serious research both on theory and practice, so there's a lot of reading ahead of me. It will probably be about year before I start writing, then about a year before I'm done, and then it takes about a year for a book to get into print (assuming it's accepted by a publisher), so don't expect to see anything for at least three years, more likely five. Still, I think it will come out eventually.
So that's my life for a while. That and wasting time playing Farmville and Virtual Family Kingdom (virtualfamilykingdom.com; a multi-player role-playing game for those of us not cool enough for World of Warcraft. If you decide to play, my title there is Naiant,) And of course taking care of the house. Busy me.
Nov. 1, 2009
To the tune of "Ode to Joy":
All the warthogs went out swimming
in the deep end, and they drowned,
while the aardvarks dialed 9-1-1
from their spot on higher ground.
For the aardvarks all remembered
what their loving mothers said.
So they waited one full hour,
the warthogs didn't,
now they're dead.
October 23, 2009
My new book, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans just came out. I'm not sure what the marketing scheme is, but it should be able to be ordered from ADF, if not now, then soon.
I wanted to say that, of course, but there is something else I want to talk about that was brought to mind by walking past the box of advance copies next to my bedroom door each day and that is this: I really don't like to look at my books. It may take a year or more before I am able to read any of them. My response, once I finally get around to it, is generally favorable, but for a while, I just can't face them. I don't know why. It may be that I am afraid of finding a mistake. That was the case with The Pagan Family, where I gave the wrong date for the Cancer/Leo cusp. Very embarassing. It probably is a result of being a perfectionist in my writing. That's why my books go through so many drafts; some parts of them may be edited a dozen times or more. It may be that I know there is more that I wanted to say and I just can't bear to see what was left, knowing what I had to leave out for the sake of space. I don't know. I wonder if other authors feel this way? I've seen photos of them on their books (there's one of me on this book, by the way; you can order it even if you only want to know what I look like) sitting in front of shelves with their books on them, so they must be able to stand to be with them for the time it took to take the photo. Not me, though. Not only would my three books make for a pretty short shelf; I wouldn't want to be that close to them. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of my books. I think I write well, and I think the results show that. I just don't want to have to face them too soon.
This can sometimes have funny results. I'm rummaging on line, run across something that I really like, especially a prayer. It seems just like the sort of thing I might have written. I reach the end, and there is the credit: Ceisiwr Serith, A Book of Pagan Prayer. Prayers are something I do very little editing of. I might work on them a bit when I write them, then make a change or two when I type them (but only rarely), then I have to see them after the copy writer has put all the commas in which I have to take out, and that's it. So I don't always recognize them when I see them. I think they're mostly good, fortunately, but even so I don't remember most of them.
Here's one I do remember, and try to say before writing. It's to the Vedic goddess Va:c (pronounced Vahch), whose name means "word:"
I prayer to Va:c in the simplest words I know,
for simpler words,
for words more true.
I really like that one, and if I run across it on line I will definitely recognize it.
September 29. 2009
I've added a handout from our druidic grove, Nemos Ognios, that we give to new people at rituals and presentations. Also some new poems, and I've rearranged some of the old ones. New links, of course, with some dead ones pruned. Soon to come: a store for buying some of my art and jewelry.
Other than that, busy writing and playing.
August 30, 2009
I can't believe I didn't have this link on my suggested links pages: Mary Jones. It's truly amazing, especially the Celtic texts she's assembled. If you're interested in the Celts, you won't want to miss this.
July 31, 2009
Yesterday I found a link to my Proto-Indo-European pages on a White Supremacist site. Apparently they missed this from the first page:
People who speak an Indo-European language as their primary tongue can loosely be described as "Indo-European." Note that it is a language indicator, not a racial one. You are not an Indo-European by genes. How many people whose ancestors came from Africa or Asia have English as their primary language? They are Indo-Europeans too, no matter what the color of their skin.
This can not be stressed enough. The idea that "Indo-European" is some sort of racial term has been the source of everything from confusion to downright evil. The Nazi racial theories, with the concomitant Holocaust, was a result of such a belief. ("Aryan" was sometimes used to mean "Indo-European," although it more properly refers to the Indo-Iranians. Needless to say that, like the swastika, its perverted use by the Nazis has limited its modern use greatly.)
So let me make it clear to them here. Guys, you are a bunch of losers with a sense of inferiority so big you can only deal with it by holding on to a fantasy that you're better than other people just because of the color of your skin. One has to wonder what you're overcompensating for. Get a clue and get a life. And stop linking to me, you pathetic crumbs of humanity.
July 17, 2009
And that's the way it is.
July 2, 2009
Wow, even for me this has been a long hiatus. Part laziness, part other projects, part my computer having to go in the shope a few times, finally being totalled, my getting a new computer, and then having to install a new ftp. I hate getting a new computer; I finally have the old one the way I like it, and now I have to set the new one up again. I had a photo editing program that I really liked, which was left over from a printer I had a few years ago. The program was easy, clean, useful. Now that I don't have the printer anymore, I can't install the program on this computer. Whine, whine. Sure, this computer has some cool features, such as a webcam and a lot more memory, but the old one worked fine. When it worked, that is.
The biggest work I've been doing is on Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.
For samples of an earlier version of some of what is in it, see my page on Proto Indo-European Religion
So maybe now that I have my new computer, and the ftp is working, I can update more frequently. Yeah, like that'll happen.
March 7, 2009
I've added a story, Flotsam.
March 6, 2009
Big changes. The Pagan Family has gone live. I haven't included the illustrations yet, and some of the appendices are still to be added, but the rest is there. I've moved some essays from "And the Rest" to a new section, Paganism. The calendar has been updated as well.
Feb. 14, 2009
Even as babies aardvarks are noble: Amani
Feb. 6, 2009
Back from Mickey's house, and back to work. Today I finished a solitary ritual and put it on-line. I've also started putting the second edition of The Pagan Family on. So far I've got the table of contents, foreword, and the first two chapters. It may take a while to get this done; I've done the basic html, but there are illustrations involved. I considered not putting anything live until it was all done, but decided on the compromise of not giving it its own tab for now. Instead this is the only way you can get to it. Lucky you for reading my blog.
Jan. 20, 2009
Our great national nightmare is finally over. The Republic survives.
Jan. 14, 2009
I've been watching a lot of youtube lately. There's some great (and some not so great) stuff on there. The pro-evolution/anti-creationism videos are amazing. I especially recommend those by thunderf00t. He has a series of two dozen with the title "why do people laugh at Creationists?" Well-composed, highly informative, and funny.
I found an amazing version of The Dresden Dolls performing "Rainbow Connection" in concert. I kept waiting for the irony to kick in; after all, they are cabaret punk. (Surprised that I'm a big Dresden Dolls fan? My first CD with a parental warning.) But it's sung straight, and quite movingly.
Finally, it's a great place to see music videos. Now that MTV doesn't play them, it's the most reliable way to se them. I miss being able to run across artists and songs I've never heard of before (that's how I found out about the Dresden Dolls, via the video for "Coin-Operated Boy"), but at least there's a chance to find one to go with a song you like. A lot of people make their own videos for songs, some of which are quite good, although I prefer to see the "official" ones first. I've also gone from performer to performer to hear different versions of a song.
I know I'm behind the curve on this, but if you haven't tried it out, give it a chance. But only if you have many hours to waste.
Jan. 11, 2009
Thoughts while watching Saturday Night Live:
1. Is anyone else amazed at how much Taylor Swift looks like Lauren Graham? Facial expressions, look of the eyes, body positions -- whole shootin' match.
2. There was a parody of the "Whopper Virgins" commercials. They were set in Romania. According to my wife, it is a bit sad that I was bothered by the supposed Romanians speaking a fake Slavic language when Romanian is (as the name should tell) a Romance language. Language geek.
Dec. 14, 2008
I was telling someone the other day what my family does for Yule, and thought it might be something other people were interested in. It's close to what I wrote in The Pagan Family, but a little simpler. So here it is.
In our dining room, I put garlands of small gold balls from the tops of the windows and doors to wrap around the light over the table. From it I hang ornaments in the shape of suns, plus gold Christmas tree ornaments and a brass rooster ornament (because the rooster is the herald of the sun). I call this the "solar canopy."
The night of Yule, we have a dinner on our fancy china. The food is solar-connected: chicken, cornbread, cranberry sauce. After we clear the table, we cover it with candles (and we have a lot). All the lights are turned off, and I say:
This is the long night.
This is the cold night.
This is the dark night.
But in the dark, a hope.
Here I light a match and then the center candle, which is a gold one in a holder shaped like a sun. I say:
And the light spreads throughout the world.
Here I start to light the other candles. My wife and daughter join in. When they are all lit, we go through the house and turn on every single light. This includes the outdoor decorations, which we light for the first time this night. It also includes such lights as the ones in the oven and dryer. For a few seconds, for the last light, we open the refrigerator to turn out that light as well.
We we're done with this, we come back to the table and eat cookies and drink eggnog while we play with the candles. When my daughter was young, it was a good time for her to play with fire in a supervised way. We talk, and eat, and play, until we feel it's time to end. We go through the house and turn off most of the lights, bringing things back to normal, and then blow out the candles.
This was one of my daughter's favorite holidays when she was young and at home. I love it as well. I'm one of those people who go around turning off lights, but on this day they're all on. The house is throbbing with light. It's a glorious way to celebrate the return of the sun -- it's all uphill from here.
Oct. 27, 2008
A long time ago I said I would give my impressions on the French from my trip to Paris. Well, I suppose it’s about time. Besides, I was catching up on typing some notes and ran across a piece of paper with jottings for it. So here goes.
OK, I know that in Europe restaurants don’t give you free water (although I don’t understand why. Because some like it with bubbles and some without? From the history of believing in the health benefits of certain brands?) But what’s with the small sizes of cans and bottles, or glasses of juice? Europeans must really be when an American waitress keeps refilling their glasses.
Topless women in advertisements on the street – works for me.
About 60% of Parisians speak enough English for the sort of conversations needed in shops. Of these, most make amusing mistakes, clearly based on French grammar, or irregularities of English: “person” (without an “s”) for “people” and such. The concierge in our hotel tried so hard to pronounce the English “r” properly that his he sounded like John Wayne. There are a fair number of people who think they can speak enough English but don’t.
Some of the people who don’t speak English should. I couldn’t find anyone in the National Archaeological Museum who spoke more than a few words of English. This is a museum that attracts scholars from all over the world, and no one spoke the most common primary or secondary language there is, (Chinese doesn’t count; the so-called “dialects” are completely separate languages), the one which has become the international scholarly language.
My German was completely useless. I could say just about anything I needed in German, but there was no point. I was unhappy about this because 1. I was trying not to be a monolingual American, and 2. Whenever I tried to say something in my limited French, the German for it popped into my head and crowded the French out. I would remember the French when it was too late.
Americans don’t have to feel as bad as they do about only speaking English. The French aren’t as bilingual as they’d like to make Americans think they are. (See number 3.)
On a formal basis, the French are charmingly polite. On a personal level, they can be as rude as they’re reputed to be. For instance, one of the non-English speakers at the Archaeological Museum was a guard who told me that the section I was in was closed. Even though I didn’t speak French, and told him so (in French), he continued to tell me this in French, each time faster and more angrily. Now, almost every foreigner in France speaks a few rods of French. “Fermé is one of them I know, and it would have been a good bet for him. Gesturing around and just saying it would have been a lot more effective than a paragraph. (As would a sign on the door, for that matter.) I know it’s pretty typical for Americans to assume that if they speak English louder it will be better understood, but Europeans, after all, aren’t supposed to do that.
Parisians fly their flag about as much as Americans. I was a little surprised by this; I had been told by someone who was European-born that Europeans were a bit nervous when all the flags came out after September 11. I was also surprised to discover just how beautiful the French flag, which looks so boring on paper, is when it’s flying.
Throughout Paris there are plaques on walls commemorating those who fell in the liberation of Paris. It gave a real feeling of history, recent history at that, and of patriotism. I hope the French notice them from time to time. I felt a bit jealous of the immediacy of their history until I remembered that I lived in Boston.
Most of the buildings look alike: same architectural style, same gray stone. One would think this would make things boring, but somehow it works, and the city is beautiful,
So those are my rough impressions of Paris. I loved it, and would like to go back (making sure all the rooms in the Archaeological Museum are open first). Go if you have a chance. Learn a little French first (and no other language which might get in the way) and give it a go.
Oct. 21, 2008
There's a fire in my fireplace. It's the first decent fire we've had since we moved here a year and a half ago (and we've had a lot). The others have required a lot of tending, with the addition of much kindling from time to time. That's what happens when you buy supermarket wood.
So we finally bought wood in bulk. What we ended up wasn't quite up to snuff. About a third of it needed more splitting, and a lot of it was wet under the bark. We set to work. My wife started peeling the bark off to dry the underneath, and I played mountain man. I bought a maul -- a sledge hammer, one side of which is an axe -- and I set to work splitting. I wore a proper plaid flannel shirt, although it wasn't the classic red and black wool shirt. Still, I think I qualified.
There are two things you have to learn about splitting wood. First, you have to learn where to split it. There are "fault lines," and if you hit the piece right it just falls apart. Second, you have to learn how to actually hit it there. The first is easy, and quite a pleasure. The second -- well, it's a bit harder. Swinging a maul is not naturally an exact science. Ah, but when it does...
I did the splitting yesterday, and my wife peeled the bark, and tonight we laid the fire. The bark turned out to be great kindling, and it doesn't send pitch up the chimney like the pine we've been using. The wood itself burned just like oak should, down to a gray ash. Finally we can do it right.
Now I need to play mountain man some more and do the rest of the wood.
Aug. 24, 2008
I'm sitting here trying not to cry. I hate the end of the Olympics. When the torch goes it it's like something beautiful, something sacred, is dying.
Aug. 2, 2008
I've added two things to my ritual page. First, Servants of the Fire of Brighid. a paper I wrote in a class on Irish Heroes. Second, a graduation ritual.
Aug. 1, 2008
Today is my 27th wedding anniversary. These days that's quite an accomplishment. Here's the secret of a long marriage: it isn't always easy. Just because it doesn't seem fun anymore doesn't mean you divorce. It means you work all the harder to see if it can be fixed. You talk, you cry, you make-up. You get professional help if necessary. But unless your marriage is your number one priority (OK, number two, after raising your children) you're probably not going to make it. Marriage is not a game, and it's not for wimps. But oh, can it be glorious!
Happy anniversary, Debbie. I love you.
July 16, 2008
I was recently interviewed for a PODsnet broadcast. You can listen to it here: Pagan Heart. I sound like I know what I'm talking about. The miracle of radio.
July 15, 2008
For the last month or so, we have been having a pool put in, and have been learning the truth of the saying that any construction job will take twice as much time and coast as much money as expected. Whih is not to say that our pool company has not been doing its job. There are just so many factors involved, so many different contractors to deal with -- blasters, excavators, electricians, propane installer.
And yes, blasters. There's a reason they call this the Granite State. Our backyard is a few inches of dirt on top of grantie ledge. The blasters had figured on three days, and took five. They hadn't figured on just how much ledge there was. The thing I hadn't figured on was the drilling. Three or four hours of drilling, and then a few milliseconds of blast. The drilling just went on and on and on. The blasts were a relief.
For a very long time our backyard looked like the moon -- rocks and dirt and nothing else. There is now an expanse of beautiful blue water -- surrounded by sand. The concrete surround hasn't been poured, and we need serious landscaping, but my wife was just able to go out to check the salt level. The water isn't warm enough to siwm in it, yet, but that's what happens when you put 50 degree water in a pool.
June 7, 2008
If I ever write a memoir, I have the beginning:
The earliest thing I remember was, at age three or so, standing on the edge of a cliff in my backyard, where it joined the next one. Everyone was telling me to jump, including my girlfriend Valerie. But I couldn't; instead I walked over to the step that led down.
If this were a novel rather than a memoir there would be some great significance to this story. I only know that when I went back there as a grown-up I saw that, as I've said, there was one step, and the drop was about a foot.
June 4, 2008
New ritual, Great Blue Hill Ritual. It's one my grove did a few years ago. The idea was to perform one with minimal props. We used two plastic bags per person, and a single bottle of soda water. Not bad.
June 3, 2008
I saw a bluebird today! First one ever.
May 24, 2008
I've added a Hearth Goddess Ritual.
May 15, 2008
I've added some prayers, and also a short essay to my Miscellaneous Thoughts on Ritual section.
My "c" key is sticking. God, that's annoying.
May 13, 2008
Just back from Desert Magic Festival in Arizona. If you've never gone, please consider it for next year. Their hospitality is justly famous.
I gave a presentation there entitled "Law and Order East of the Asterisk," which was about the Proto-Indo-European beliefs surrounding different kinds of law and order, and also the structure of PIE society. I hope to turn it into an essay to post here.
There was a roundtable there on the training programs of the ADF training programs. Looking good. Also, Ilious was passing around a draft of an ADF song book, which will be expanded before going to print. Finally an ADF hymnal! Yee hah!
Apr. 25, 2008
I've added a lot of material to my Proto-Indo-European Deities and Proto-Indo-European Ideology pages.
Apr. 21, 2008
Busy few weeks. My wife had some business trips, to conferences, and I tagged along. The trips were to Disney World and Las Vegas. Tough gig she has; all she had to do to get it was pass ten actuarial exams and work twenty years.
So, Disney World. Not as much fun not staying in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I had to drop by there for the gift shop and the buffet. The gift shop is the best one at Disney World. Much of what it sells is made in Africa, including a lot of percussion instruments. (Secret: Disney World is a great place to score percussion instruments.) The buffet is one of my favorite things, too; lots of African foods. Tip: don't ever go at a time of year when the park is particularly busy. We had no choice, but if you do, use it.
Went on the new roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom. Very disappointing. There are much better coasters there, especially the Rock and Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. That's my favorite in the world. You gotta try it.
I learned I hate Las Vegas, but love the south-west. Oddly enough, my wife, who hates the heat, loves the dessert. Go figure. We've even discussed a second home there someday. I'm especially attracted by the Indian cultures down there. The katchinas are particularly interesting; they have such a mystique to them that they definitely look like sacred beings. Love them, and am trying to be inspired by them. Saw some pictographs while I was there too. Nothing special, just hands, but still cool. There was a Titanic exhibit at the Tropicana. Spooky stuff, lots of it recovered from the wreck. There was a chunk of ice there that was slightly warmer than the water would have been. I'm surprised anyone survived any wetting for any length of time at all. You could buy coal that had been recovered from the ship. I bought some, of course.
I've decided for certain that I don't like to gamble. I can spend the same amount of money in about the same amount of time shopping for books and, when I'm done, I have books to show for it. I just don't get the appeal.
I've been productive lately. I finished a dawn goddess piece that I've been working on for a few months, the time mostly due to having to start over again after numerous mistakes. I made some Great Rite images from shells and stones, and have started on a Cucullati image. Eventually these will be for sale on this site, along with a cool Lugh image I made from tools. Not much writing, though. Maybe I'm going to shift from writer to artist. Makes sense, artists make even less money than writers.
Feb. 21, 2008
I've uploaded a story, The Voyage of the Dawn Shredder. It's a parody I wrote for a class in college. It's a bit raunchy.
Feb. 17, 2007
Kosovo has declared independence. It has a new flag, "a bright blue banner featuring a golden map of Kosovo and six stars, one for each of its main ethnic groups." A map of the country? Really? New rule: no region can declare independence until it has a flag that doesn't suck.
Dec. 7, 2007
New poems and new prayers.
Oct. 19, 2007
A new essay, Other People's Myths
Oct. 17, 2007
I've added my Dedicant's Oath. Those interested in how I came to be a Pagan, and in the twists that have brought me to where I am now, will enjoy it.
Oct. 16, 2007
Have you seen the commercials for "Frank TV?" It's supposed to "literally change the face of television." Is it possible to literally change something that's figurative?
Oct. 15, 2007
Aol had a sample of the new citizenship test, so I took it. Out of twenty questions, I got two wrong. Problem is, my answers were right. Aol had the Bill of Rights including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and the Constitution being based on the Federalist Papers. I hope to God this was aol being idiots, and not a case of these being the actual answers.
Sep. 24, 2007
I'm going to be giving presentations on Ancient Pagan ritual, and on Cernunnos, at the Southern New Hampshire Pagan Pride Day on Saturday, Sep. 29. I'll have copies of my book there to sell, and will also autograph ones you might already own. Here's your chance to tell me I'm wrong about Cernunnos.
Sep. 6, 2007
I've added a whole new section, my Dedicant's Program. This is a training program for Ar nDráoicht Féin that involves work in a number of categories. I had to write reports on each of these and submit them for approval. My package was approved a few months ago, and I thought I'd share it with you. Even if you're not interested in ADF, you might want to take a look at it. It includes my take on such subjects as why certain virtues are important and what the nature of the Divine Beings is. There are also pictures of my home shrines. Check it out.
Aug. 25, 2007
Lots of changes to the PIE ritual, Nemos Ognios Basic ritual, and suggested reading sections.
Aug. 16, 2007
I've added a lot of prayers.
Aug. 15, 2007
To be dishonest is to live a life that isn't one's own. It's a form of slavery -- a dishonest man isn't his own master; he has given his freedom to his lies.
July 31, 2007
Overheard on the radio:
2. literally almost
Jan. 25, 2007
I've added a fair number of small jottings to the ritual essays section.
Jan. 3, 2006
Things your English teacher told you that are wrong, number 4: Don’t say “he’s younger than me,” say, “he’s younger than I.” The argument here is that what’s actually being said is “he’s young then I am,” with the last word left out. Don’t get me wrong; if that was what has been said, I would completely agree that your teacher was right. But that isn’t what’s been said, is it? So is there a way we can analyze the sentence so that “me” is not only correct, but required?
The question revolves around what kind of word “than” is. Your teacher, in analyzing the sentence as “younger than I [am],” is classifying it as a conjunction joining the sentence “he is younger” with the sentence “I am.” If “than” is acting like a conjunction, then “I” is the only correct option, because it has to serve as the subject of the second sentence. But if there is actually no second sentence because we’ve accepted the entire sentence exactly as it’s been spoken, then putting the pronoun in the nominative case (using “I”) is no longer required.
Is there a required case? I would say there is. Without the “am,” “than” can no longer serve as a conjunction. But there it sits, in a sentence that everyone understands (even those who insist it’s wrong), so it must serve some function. It must fall into one of the categories we call “parts of speech.” If it can’t be a conjunction (because there’s no “am”), what part of speech is it?
Let’s look at another sentence: “He’s different than me.” Even the most diehard prescriptivists wouldn’t say that it should instead be “he is different than I.” (I suppose the argument could be made that what is meant is “he is different than [the way that] I [am],” but that would be taking things a bit far. What “than” is doing here can be seen by replacing it with “from”: “he’s different from me.” This can’t be a shortened version of “he’s different from I am.” This is because “from” isn’t a conjunction, so it can’t join two sentences. It’s a preposition, and prepositions take the accusative (objective) case, so “me” is the proper pronoun.
Since “from” and “than” are interchangeable here, and since “from” is a preposition, then “than” can serve as a preposition. And not only can it, that’s exactly what it’s doing here. Prepositions define relationships between nouns, which is what’s going on. Since prepositions take the accusative, “me” is the correct format of the pronoun, so “he is younger than me” is correct.
Further, since prepositions don’t take the nominative, “he is different than I” is wrong. Not only no preferable, but downright wrong. And this is by the same rules your English teacher used in their argument -- hoist on their own petard.
There’s a even better argument, though: no one, except for English teachers and their fellow travelers, would say, “he is younger than I.” Any form of a language used by 99% of its speakers is de facto correct. That’s just the way languages work; they don’t have to make sense. Perhaps we can make the English teachers happy by pretending the usage is “irregular,” just as the plural of “ox” is “oxen,” not “oxes.” But the rest of us will know what’s really going on.
November 23, 2006
Thanksgiving is the greatest of American holidays. My wife and I have had troubles explaining it to people from other countries. "So what do you do on Thanksgiving?" We get together with our families, eat a big meal which includes a turkey, talk, and maybe watch some football. "Yes, but what do you do?" "Well, technically the day is to give thanks for all we have, and most families probably say a prayer before the meal to do that, but mostly we get together with our families, eat a big meal which includes a turkey, talk, and maybe watch some football. Some people do some decorating, and of course we use our nicest dishes, but there aren't any presents or anything much public, except for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It's basically a day to get together with our families, eat a big meal which includes a turkey, talk, and maybe watch some football.
What a lovely day! Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans, and to all non-Americans who appreciate the specialness of getting together with families, eating a big meal which includes a turkey, talking, and maybe watching some football.
October 7. 2006
Cernunnos has arrived! He's in Cernunnos: Looking a Different Way. There's still some work to do, mostly on pictures -- don't try downloading this on a dial-up, it's big -- to make things prettier and smaller, but I figured that putting it up will make me do those little things instead of putting it off some more.
October 2, 2006
I finally got around to putting my Proto-Indo-European Cosmology Meditation up. Lemme tell ya, it's not much fun putting that much PIE in HTML -- changing real accents, long marks, and superscripts into HTML ones. But I did it, and now you can see it.
September 23, 2006
First, Blessed Equinox! May all the dark in your life be a source of wisdom, and turn again into light.
From my new book, Speaking of the Sacred, due out in the new year:
On one side the light, on the other the dark,
we stand in this moment of balance.
I would prefer the light, but the earth begs to differ,
and, turning, about the sun, turns her half on which I live away,
away into the dark.
I can’t help but grant you the power, what use would it be to resist?
I will go with you then, complaining as little as I can,
into the dark period of the year,
believing your promise that your turning will go on,
and return my half of the world to the light.
Second, something I received in my e-mail on religious liberty and Paganism. I'm truly surprised the fight to allow a pentagram on Veterans' graves has gone on as long as it has, but at least Nevada's wised up. I've found military chaplains to be cool dudes, fiercely dedicated to protecting each service member's right to practice their religion, and I'm happy to see that it's bureaucracy, not the chaplains, that are holding this up, and that the chaplains are helping.
LIGHTS OF LIBERTY CANDLELIGHT VIGIL
Monday, September 25, 2006
7 pm local time
Join in this worldwide spiritual support vigil for the Veteran Pentacle
Quest on the one-year anniversary of the death of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, the
first Wiccan to be killed in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
On Monday, September 25 at 7 pm in your local area, kindle at least three
candles as Lights of Liberty.
REMEMBRANCE: Kindle a candle of Remembrance to honor Sgt. Stewart and the
4 other soldiers of the 113th Aviation, D Company Mustangs, who were killed
in action on September 25, 2005 when their Chinook helicopter was shot down
by enemy fire in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Remember
and honor their service and sacrifice in the name of Freedom.
THANKSGIVING: Kindle a candle of Thanksgiving to celebrate that the State
of Nevada officials took action last week and ordered a plaque with a
Pentacle to honor Sgt. Stewart and his religious orientation in the same
fashion as those of other religions who have been honored by the US
Department of Veterans Affairs, which still has failed to do this for
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Kindle a candle of Religious Freedom to bring a
successful conclusion to the quest to have the US Department of Veterans
Affairs add the Pentacle to its list of emblems of belief that can be
included on the memorial markers, headstones, and plaques they produce to
honor deceased veterans. Call for religious freedom for all.
After kindling the candles, meditatively send support to those who are
working for equal rights for Wiccan veterans and their families in this
Quest, including Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, Aquarian Tabernacle
Church, Covenant of the Goddess, Correllian Nativist Church, Nomadic
Chantry of the Gramarye, Sacred Well Congregation, Isis Invicta Military
Mission, Military Pagan Network, Americans United for Separation of Church
and State, American Civil Liberties Union, and others.
Call on Lady Liberty and Lady Justice to aid this Veteran Pentacle Quest
and to bring victory. [Don't forget to honor as well Minerva, patron goddess of the Constitution and protector of those who fight for their country. CS]
VIGIL IN FERNLEY, NEVADA
Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, will be facilitating
a Lights of Liberty Candlelight Vigil at the Northern Nevada Veterans
Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nevada from 7 - 8 pm on Monday, September 25.
Joining her will be Sgt. Stewart's widow, Roberta, and Rev. William
Chrystal, the US military chaplain who has been providing support to her
and her family since Sgt. Stewart's death last year. The vigil will be
held at the Wall of Heroes where Sgt. Stewart's plaque is to be installed
once production is completed.
The Lights of Liberty candlelight vigil in Fernley is open to the public
and the media. If you wish to take part, please bring a white votive
candle in a votive glass to kindle.
The morning after the Lights of Liberty Candlelight Vigil there will be a
rally and press conference in nearby Reno, Nevada:
AMERICAN FREEDOM RALLY
Tuesday, September 26
8 - 8:30 am
Site of the new Veterans Memorial
in Downtown Reno, Nevada
* Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart
* Rev. William Chrystal, Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Reno,
Nevada and retired US Army chaplain
* Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary, Barneveld, Wisconsin
Staff from offices of elected officials who have helped in the Veteran
Pentacle Quest also plan to be present.
The Rally will begin with a tribute to Sgt. Patrick Stewart and the 4 other
soldiers who were killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom on
September 25, 2005.
This Rally will publicly congratulate the State of Nevada for doing what
the US Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to do -- to provide a
plaque with Pentacle on it to honor the service and sacrifice of Sgt.
Although Sgt. Stewart will soon get his plaque, the Veteran Pentacle Quest
continues. Therefore, this Rally also will issue a public call to the US
Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Pentacle to its list of emblems
of belief that can be included on the memorial markers, plaques, and
headstones it provides for deceased veterans and their families.
At the conclusion of this Rally, Rev. Selena Fox and Roberta Stewart will
issue a statement from Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
which speaks to the next phase of their efforts in this quest for equal
rights for Wiccan veterans and their families. Selena and Roberta will
then be available to answer media questions and give interviews.
For more information about the Veteran Pentacle Quest and how to help:
Circle Times: Friday, September 22, 2006
September 22, 2006
Still more links, still more reorganization -- I've added a Beatles section. I've also updated my calendar.
September 9, 2006
More links, with a bit of reorganization. I've also started to superscript the labials in the PIE section.
September 8, 2006
A letter in Dear Abbie today was signed "Too angry for words."
August 31, 2006
My favorite TV show is Gilmore Girls. That's right, Gilmore Girls. Guys, check it out; it may be largely about a mother/daughter relationship, but it's not a chick show. Or at least it doesn't have to be. It has two of the best babes on TV, plus the coolest guy on TV. It's also that rarest of beasts, the intelligent show. Those who've IMed me will have noticed the oddity of my away messages. That's because most of them are lines from the show, taken completely out of context. The fact that these could make any sense in any context, and be funny as well, is a tribute to the show's writers.
So now, the Zen of Gilmore Girls:
She knew far too much about sushi to be from Kentucky.
Four hours later, Sniffy was dead.
58 seats and 62 Koreans.
I defy you to read a Finn.
He was buried with it. Yep. He loved that musket.
Oy, with the poodles already!
I haven't been strafed in years.
Paul Anka! Mommy's got your broccoli!
July 26, 2006
Some new poems, a rearranging of parts of the meeting opening ritual, and some inserted blather.
July 6, 2006
I've updated the following:
Ritual; theory; miscellaneous thought on ritual. Some new comments.
Ritual; practice; Nemos Ognios Meeting Ritual. I've updated the Proto-Indo-European, and reversed the order of the purification and the offering to the hearth goddess. It occurred to me that of all ritual acts, an offering to the goddess who is the purest of all should be preceded by purifcation, not followed by it. I may make some other small changes shortly.
And the rest; poems. I've added some.
Calendar. Old stuff removed, but unfortunately nothing new to add.
Nuit; Poems to Nuit. One or two new ones.
Proto-Indo-European; Proto-Indo-European Deities. I've removed Meitros, because I now believe that he was only an Indo-Iranian deity who grew from an aspect/title of Xaryomen.
There will be more to come, especially in the PIE section, and there especially in the prayers that are in PIE. I've learnd a lot.
July 4, 2006
Time to rededicate ourselves to Liberty, "that these honored dead shall not have died in vain." Time to show that "we support the troops" by supporting the Constitution they swore to defend.
June 29, 2006
Much has been happening which has been talking up my time. I'll be trying to catch up. One of the things that took my time was a trip to Paris. I'll be writing some comments on that trip when I can. The big news for now:
My daughter has been accepted to grad school in social work. She's so bloody smart. She starts in the fall. She's been working in the field for a year and a half, and has decided she want to advance further into jobs that require a master's degree.
My wife has been promoted to full vice president at her company. It comes with a big raise, and of course greater prestige, but most of all it represents validation for all the work she's put in through the years. Her company is lucky to have her.
A new book of mine has been accepted for publication. It's a sequel to A Book of Pagan Prayer, this time solely a collection of prayers. The ones in the section on prayer on this site will be in it. (As I write more after the book is in final format, I'll be replacing the ones on this site with the new ones.)
May 18, 2006
Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty, or give me death."
Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY, deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY"
Thomas Jefferson:'And we solemly declare that we will preserve our liberties, being with one mind resolved to die free men rather than to live slaves.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts: "I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead."
May 14, 2006
Ted Kennedy's plane was struck by lightning recently. No word yet as to whether it followed a sentence beginning, "So help me God, if I was responsible for Jo's death...
Mar. 22, 2006
I've finally updated my calendar as it currently stands, all the way through July. I'm hoping to add a book signing or too, but I've posted dates for grove meetings, rituals, and Desert Magic, a gathering I'm going to in early May.
Mar. 10, 2006
I received an e-mail today from someone in Stoughton, MA, objecting to my entry of Feb. 10. They rightly pointed out that the town manager had no business putting up the Danish flag on the town's flagpole, since it wasn't his own. I had thought I had said that in my entry, and was disappointed with my self to discover I hadn't. I've edited the entry to make that clear.
Mar. 4, 2006
If you love freedom, you need to at least see what the fuss is about:
Shame on the newspapers who have refused to carry them.
Feb. 21, 2006
I'm looking forward to Bryant Gumbel's attacks on the NBA for not having enough white players.
Feb. 15, 2006
I've just added a bunch of writings that have been sitting around without being uploaded, so I recommend that my readers (do I have any? I've gotten e-mail about a number of the articles, but not about the blog) take a glance through this page to see what they haven't read. Wouldn't want to miss out on any of my brilliance.
Feb. 14, 2006
If we want to have an image of the goddess Liberty that's both updated, in the sense that it fits in with modern concepts of beauty, and traditional, in the sense that it's the old-fashioned young, beautiful, vibrant woman, it might be fun to look at female celebrities who fit that category. She'd also have to look good in a liberty cap. Any suggestions? My personal choice would be Parminder Nagra.
Feb. 10, 2006
In Stoughton, Massachusetts, the town manager of the town hall decided to fly the Danish flag under the American one to show solidarity with the Danes at this time when the Muslim world is showing that it doesn’t think much of freedom of the press. (At least, they don’t think much of freedom of the press when it offends them; it’s find to publish anti-Semitic cartoons). All hell broke loose. He certainly didn't have the right to do that, since it was the town's flagpole, not his, and he took it down once that was pointed out to him,
There were some some objections that were less justifiable, however. A veteran complained because he had taken the POW-MIA flag down to attach the Danish one. (I wonder when the whole POW-MIA flag thing will finally go away. It has its origin in the conspiracy fantasies of POWs still being held by North Vietnam, and should have been gotten rid of long ago. Why not honor the dead instead? But veterans groups are far too strong for politicians to take the risk. But I digress.) I’m disappointed to see a veteran feel that a symbol is more important than the values he served for.
Scarier still was that there were those who opposed it because they were afraid it would make Stoughton the target of terrorists. Let’s put aside the absurdity that terrorists would be interested in Stoughton, MA. Instead we should concentrate on the most appalling aspect: people were more concerned about their own safety than freedom of the press. I probably shouldn’t be too surprised, given the willingness of most Americans to give up their privacy to “fight the terrorists” and “keep the American people safe.” But freedom of the press? The very way that the government is kept honest, that we can prevent the rise of tyranny?
Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised, though. I haven’t heard enough of an outcry against Bush’s contention that opposing his ideas is helping the terrorists. If we aren’t willing to defend freedom of the press in our own country, why should we be expected to defend it elsewhere?
Feb. 9, 2006
Books and articles on how to be an Urban Pagan are generally written from the point of view of “how to be a Pagan even if you live in a city.” We are told of ways in which Pagans can feel connected with nature; by going to parks, for instance, or communing with weeds in sidewalk cracks. The approach comes across as desperate: “My gods, how can I still be a Pagan when I live in a city?” It can even seem patronizing: “There, there, maybe you can’t be as Pagan as those of us who live in the country, but we’ll help you be Pagan enough.” What comes through clearly is that Paganism is a Nature-oriented religion, and that “Nature” is the opposite of “city.”
Is this a legitimate position, though? History tells us it can’t be. If Pagan is “Nature-oriented,” then the lower-class ancient Romans who lived in apartment buildings weren’t Pagans. Those who lived in Athens weren’t Pagans. The inhabitants of Babylon? Not Pagan. And most shocking of all, the Iron Age Celts, who lived in oppida, towns bigger than the Rome of their time, weren’t Pagan.
What’s going on here? Clearly our definition of Paganism as a “Nature-religion” is wrong. Or perhaps its our definition of “Nature” that has to change. I want to look at the second and see where it leads.
The place to start is to ask, “Why do people build cities?” For economic and administrative purposes, of course. But there is something more going on here. Dar Williams gives us the answer in her song, “The Mortal City:” “People built cities because they love other people.” We are social animals by nature. We have evolved that way, so that our gathering in groups is one of our survival techniques; it makes up for our lack of physical strength.
This goes strongly against the modern myth the individual against the world. It particularly goes against the American myth of the rugged individual taming the wilderness. It’s odd that we can keep this myth in our heads along with stories of barn raisings and wagon trains. Or even with itself: “taming the wilderness.” This was beautifully put in an episode of Taxi, where the men go to a cabin in the woods to “get in touch with Nature.” Hey, they were men after all, so surely they would know how to survive. When a bear makes off with the food they had cleverly placed outside to keep cold, they are faced with the prospect of starving until they’re picked up in a week. One of them says they had to think of the pioneers; what did the pioneers do in this kind of situation? Alex Reeger gives the right answer immediately: “They built cities and moved into them.”
People build cities. It’s what we do. We build cities like beavers build dams. And we need to build a Paganism that doesn’t look toward the countryside with Romantic fantasy. We need to create, or recreate, if we keep in mind Rome and the oppida, a version of Paganism appropriate to where the majority of Neo-Pagans, to cities. If Paganism is about recognizing one’s environment, we need to start with our own. If Paganism is about recognizing nature, we need to start with our own. We need to look at the city and its gods.
Jan. 24, 2006
Bush thinks he can break the law if it's necessary for national security.
Bush thinks he can decide what's necessary for national security.
Bush thinks he can do this without telling anyone or without explaining it if people do find out.
Bush thinks that criticizing his policies endangers national security.
Jan. 7, 2006
If tolerance is a virtue, how should we treat those who are intolerant? If everyone’s values are to be seen as valid in some sense, what about those whose values say that ours is wrong? If we take tolerance to its extreme, we find ourselves in a very distasteful position, and if we don’t take it to its extreme, we find ourselves in the equally distasteful position of having to decide what values are to be allowed and what ones aren’t.
I believe the way out of this dilemma is found in the same distinction as is found between freedom and liberty. Freedom is when each person can do whatever they like. Liberty is when everyone is as free as possible. For instance, in a state in which there is no law against murder, each person is free to kill each other person. But to kill someone is to take away their freedom, so a truly free society isn’t free, because it allows individuals to take away the freedom of others. When there is a state of liberty, on the other hand, there are limits on each person’s freedom, but only such limits as to ensure as much freedom in a society as possible. When killing people is outlawed, we have limited each person’s freedom to kill. However, life is vital to the exercise of all freedoms. Thus, by limiting one freedom (to kill) we protect all the freedoms there are.
So what does this have to do with the question of tolerance? Just this: we may say that there is a state which allows for the greatest tolerance possible. This state, however, requires a degree of intolerance; just as liberty requires some limitations on freedom, so too that state requires limitations on tolerance. I call such a state “civility.” The analogy is freedom:liberty::tolerance:civility.
The questions that come up, of course, are what limitations are necessary to have a state of civility. This is something which will cause a fair amount of discussion, which will sometimes be acrimonious, dare I say intolerant? But that’s OK, because seeing civility as the virtue to be sought rather than tolerance we allow for disagreement, if civil of course. At the very least, however, I would say that the most basic requirement of civility is that no one try to force another to believe something they don’t, and that someone trying to change someone else’s mind doesn’t count as force. So chill, people; when I disagree with you, and try to change your mind without coercion, I’m not oppressing you, I’m being civil. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Jan. 5, 2006
Pat Robertson's hitman God's punished Ariel Sharon for wanting peace. My guess is that when he heard of the mine explosion his first thought was, "Damn; if only it had happened in Pennsylvania so I could have blamed it on the Intelligent Design decision in Dover."
Jan. 3, 2006
Thoughts While Reading Hume:
Why do we say that the watch has to have been made by human hands? It is not because its many parts work together in such a complex way. Rather, we infer that it was made by humans because we have seen other things made by humans that we view as similar to this watch in significant ways, and we have not seen items that we know were not made by humans that are similar to this watch in significant ways. This immediately causes a problem for the universe, because there is nothing significantly similar to it that we can make a comparison.
It’s useful to look at a category of things that can be either be crafted by human hand or not by human hands. Let’s choose patterns in beach sands as an example. We can tell instantly whether a pattern has been made by nature or by people, even though both are complex. We know this not because there is anything inherently human-like in one and non-human-like in the other, but because we have seen patterns we know were made by people and ones we know weren’t, and can compare our sample to those.
If we now look again at the analogy between the watch and the universe, we find the problem that although we can point to a category of objects into which the watch might fall we can’t find one into which the universe might fall. Is the universe like the watch, or like the wind-created sand patterns? We simply can’t say, since the universe is, by definition, the only thing in its category.
In the case of wind-patterns, we could easily sort each example into human/non-human categories. In the case of the watch, we can easily put this one example into a category which includes other watch-like objects.
We aren’t justified in saying that the universe must be divinely created, because we again have no category of divinely created objects with which to compare it.
Dec. 19, 2005
Watched Bush's speech last night. I was surprised that he didn't address the spying charges (which he had earlier admitted to, by the way). I wanted to shoot the TV a few times. Like when he praised the establishment of a constitutional government in Irag, something which he's opposed to at home. Or when he said that the terrorists didn't consider themselves bound by the rules of war, which he's also not fond of. I wonder how many people he fooled.
Dec. 18, 2005
So Bush authorized spying on American citizens without warrants. And the beat goes on. Of all the unconstitutional acts he's committed, this is surely the one most obviously so. Mr. President, read the Constitution you swore to uphold. I recommend starting with the IVth Amendment:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The Vth Amendment might be of some use as well, in regards to "enemy combatants":
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger ... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
There is strong suspicion that the Administration has established secret prisons in other countries into which people can be "disappeared," as it was called under the dictator Pinochet. I think that at this point we could say that Bush is responsible for enough violations of not just the Constitution, but of the standards of liberty as believed in and expressed by the Founding Fathers, and of the consensus of nations,that he can properly be called a dictator himself. Way to go, guy.
Time for impeachment hearings. If Clinton could be impeached for perjury about a sex case, surely a trashing of the Constitution should qualify. Maybe the Republicans in Congress will finally realize how seriously their core beliefs have been violated by this Administration and do something about it. At least it's messed up the renewal of the Patriot Act. Not worth it happening, but great that it was revealed at this time.
President Bush, may the God by whom you took your presidential oath take retribution on you for your false swearing. And may all the gods of oaths, justice, and liberty join in.
Dec. 17, 2005
Bill of Rights Day was celebrated recently. A really cool thing happened -- I was listening to the 80s channel on Sirius satellite radio (hey, I usually listen to the Underground Garage, on which I've heard everything from the Monkees to the Ramones, with occasional forays into several alternative stations and a bluegrass one, so don't judge!), and the DJ not only mentioned the day, but went through the rights guaranteed by the Bill. I was surprised and impressed. It's a shame I had to be surprised, but still great.
Dec. 5, 2005
No entries lately, I've afraid. We've been having our house painted. This means moving things from room to room, and then back again. The painters did a lousy job, so we've also had to redo a fair portion of it. Today we're finally getting some of the stuff back in the rooms it belongs in. To make up for not having the time to write anything new, here's something I posted to the Religio Americana list:
Most of you know that I'm not very fond of the Statue of Liberty. One reason is that she's become a thing in herself, rather than an image of the real thing. Another is that she's become so canonized that it's hard for Americans to think of portraying her any other way. And there's the babe question; we don't see so many examples these days of things like Liberty and the Rocket, Liberty and the Cannon ("calling Dr. Freud!"), or Liberty and the Bomber. But here's a version of Liberty Enlightening the World that breaks her free:
Great symbolism; Liberty freeing herself from being a statue to become a young and beautiful woman.
Nov. 11, 2005
Have a blessed and reverent Veterans Day. Remember.
Oct. 30, 2005
A guest comment today, from Karen Dutton, one of the movers and shakers on the ADF American Paagnism list, and on the Religio Americana one. This is taken from a post to the ADF list, but could just as easily have been on RA.
"This is a place to exchange ideas, test out things,
help folks clarify in their own minds their vision of what being an
American Neopagan in the IE [Indo-European] tradition means, what an American
Neopaganism might look like (and these two things might be different),
etc. It isn't about setting up an American Neopagan orthodoxy, though,
by any means."
Oct. 29, 2005
OK, this time I have an excuse. My computers died. Both of them. On the same day. Not a virus, though; one's hardware and the other software. The software one, on which I had my FTP, was fried to the point where the Circuit City people couldn't even get anything off it. We'd been thinking of getting a new one, anyway, and it finally gave me a chance to buy one of those cool thin screens. It would have been nice to get all of our files off, but in between the first one dying and the second one's demise, we copied the important ones. Since I now had to get a new FTP, I had something else to procrastinate about. Then I had to remember my user name and password. This was about two weeks ago. Sorry.
I have been doing some minor work, though. I added a few links, and cleaned out some old and dead ones. Right before the crash, I made some changes to my "What is Mithraism?" page -- I found some images that pretty much confirm my theory. Yay! So I invited those interested to take a look; the important bit is at the end.
I promise I'll be posting more soon. Really.
Sep. 9, 2005
Just a reminder that I'll be speaking at the Southeastern Massachusetts Pagan Pride Day tomorrow. I'll be given workshops on Mithraism (based on the essays on this site) and Cernunnos (based on a paper I gave at the Harvard Celtic Colloquium a few years ago).
Sep. 8, 2005
Here is a beautiful ritual written by Jenni Hunt for the victims of Katrina: Roman Litany for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina. Members of ADF will be performing it on Sunday at 6:00 PM Eastern Time. All are invited to join in, wherever they are.
Sep. 7, 2005
A wonderful Christian litany for the victims of Katrina: Monastic Mumblings. I recommend its reading to non-Christians as well. The site as a whole is very thoughtful and thought-provoking, definitely worth a look.
Sep. 5, 2005
I haven't set up my page on America yet, but I've put a number of Liberty images, which I don't think include any from my links page, here: Liberty .
I also have a number of images of Cernunnos, or related to the question of what Cernunnos is about, here: Cernunnos . None of these are labelled, but they still might interest some.
Sep. 3, 2005
They did not go to sea, Divine Twins,
but the sea came to them.
Diwó Sunú, saviors at sea,
preserve the lives and health of the people of New Orleans,
and return them to happiness and prosperity.
Lugh, you who protect from storms,
repair the damage of this one.
Lugh, you who maintain the order of society,
repair the chaos of this one.
Lugh, you who are the true ruler,
show the mercy of the righteous king
towards those impoverished by this disaster.
Sep. 2, 2005
I've updated my calendar (finally).
August 29, 2005
I saw a car today with a bumper sticker reading, "It's One Nation Under GOD, or bite me and leave." Has it really come to this? Is there really so much anger from Evangelicals? Are people really this ignorant of American ideals, or, worse, this willing to give them up?
I have a question I want to ask specifically to those who think the Pledge of Allegiance should include the words "under God." I doubt anyone who thinks that is reading this blog, since they probably would have given up on it long ago. But if any of you are, could you tell me this: I know you think that we are "one nation under God," and I understand your wanting your children to believe it as well. But why do you think that other people's children should say they believe it as well?
August 27, 2005
Actually, something more important happened yesterday, by daughter's birthday. She's living in Cambridge (Massachusetts), and has both a car and a job. Why anyone would rent an apartment, sell a car, and give a job to a four-year old is beyond me.
Happy fourth birthday (for for the twentieth time)! I love you, kid.
August 26, 2005
He's ba-ack! No, the gap between this entry and the last isn't due to laziness. If you've tried to access this site in the last few months, you will have gotten an error message. What happened is that I was switching hosts because my previous one had gone out of business. There were lots of complications, ending with a phone call to Australia, but things are finally resolved.
I haven't been slacking off too much since last we met, though. There are a number of new things on the site. New prayers, poems and links, of course, but also a new page of the Nuit one, a mass to Her. There will be more new things to come, including hopefully (perhaps a "things your English teacher told you that are wrong" topic will be why it's OK to use "hopefully" that way) a whole new page on America. I just need to write a few essays and get the format set up.
But I'm back in the saddle again. Hide the women.
May 10, 2005
Things your English teacher told you that are wrong, number 3: English has a past tense which is called the “perfect tense.”
A “tense” expresses the time an action occurs. “Perfect,” however, is an aspect. An aspect refers to the state of an action. The perfect aspect means that something is complete. “I walked” describes something that happened in the past, with no sense of whether it is completed or not. “I was walking” describes something that has the aspect of being incomplete, but still in the past. “I have walked,” however, describes an aspect of completeness. And what is the time of that completeness? It’s the present. The perfect “tense” describes something as being complete right now.
So, bottom line -- the “perfect tense” isn’t a tense, it’s an aspect, and its unmodified form is in the present, not the past.
May 9, 2005
I've added prayers and poems. And the links just keep rolling along.
April 25, 2005
The best solution to the debate over the Pledge of Allegiance is to replace it. Why have generations of children been pledging allegiance to a flag, anyway? Why not to what that flag stands for? We don't even have to write a replacement; one already exists -- "The American Creed." Here it is, something that I can get behind.
I believe in the United States of America as a Government of the People, by the People, for the People;
whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed;
A democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many Sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable;
established upon those principles of Freedom, Equality, Justice, and Humanity for which American Patriots sacrificed their Lives and Fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to Love it;
to Support its Constitution;
to obey its laws;
to Respect its Flag;
and to defend it against all enemies.
April 19, 2005
Two-hundred thirty years ago about seventy-five frightened men stood on a bridge in Concord, Massachusetts and waited for seven-hundred soldiers of the best army in the world to come marching towards them. They started to fall back when ordered to do so by the commander of the British, but then someone fired a shot. No one knows who fired it, or even which side, but it started the American Revolutionary War. Even when the story is stripped of legend, it is myth in the best sense: a story which is true even if it didn't happen. But this one is true. Remember that; when the greatest enemy imagined moves toward you, you may start to fall back, but once the battle is begun, you fight. And if you're dogged enough, and smart enough, and can win the right friends, you just may win.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, --
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.
April 13, 2005
I have an unfashionable taste to confess -- I love Norman Rockwell. He’s particularly unfashionable among intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals. He’s seen as at best depicting a white-bread and mayonnaise image of an America that never existed, and at worst establishing that image as the real America, excluding everyone and everything that doesn’t fit it. Of course, others dismiss his art as being sentimental and manipulative kitsch.
Those who have these opinions may doubt my qualifications to have my own. After all, I don’t have the sort of education in art history and criticism to judge art by the official and approved criteria. (It’s funny how the art community complains that society doesn’t value art, while at the same time creating art they know most people won’t be able to understand.) I’m not just an “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” type, though, since I’m constitutionally incapable of not analyzing things. In the case of art, my analysis is that art’s job is to communicate. If it doesn’t, then it’s the visual equivalence of speaking a language that no one or at best the properly educated few understand. My opinion is that whether art is good depends on how well it communicates its message and the quality of that message. The critics who see Rockwell’s art as kitsch are saying that his message is simple and shallow, or that we only like it because we already know it. In their view, there’s no novelty in it, no way in which he is making us see something new and meaningful. To them, I would suggest a closer look at art history, paying attention to whether ancient and medieval art was intended to make people view the world in a different way, to push the envelope (is anyone else sick of that expression?), or whether it was created to express shared beliefs and experiences.
Rockwell’s art performs this latter function brilliantly. It expresses common values, reinforcing what we already know. That alone serves the purpose of giving value to our everyday; by putting it into art, he has said that our lives are worth preserving in an artistic record. I have to wonder if his critics are criticizing our everyday lives as much as Rockwell.
Rockwell goes beyond valorizing our lives by expressing them for us, though. He doesn’t just provide us with a moment of recognition of our own current experiences. By drawing on our memories, even of a time that didn’t really exist, his art links up to the past, and by making us see the continuity of feeling, emphasizes the universality of human experience. The forms change, but the essence remains the same. When we see a Rockwell painting and see something we have felt, or could have felt, we are less alone. Others feel something that has a meaning to us, we are part of a shared humanity.
My criticism of the critics go beyond this, though. Those who think of Rockwell’s art as safe haven’t seen much of it. Or if they have, they haven’t noticed that many of his paintings present values that aren’t easy ones. In his almost hyper-realistic way, he makes it impossible for us to deny them. Confronted by his paintings, we realize that we don’t hold the values we thought we did, even that we don’t hold the ones we think we should hold. Perhaps through the shock we can be motivated to change that.
Nor is his artistic technique simple. Look at Homecoming Marine. Ostensibly it’s of a soldier who’s returned from the war, telling his glorious war stories. But look closely at his face, look how he holds the Japanese flag. He’s hesitant, gentle; he’s seen things he doesn’t want his audience to hear. He’s tired, and his soul is old before it’s time. Look now at the face of the man at the back on the right. He knows. At first glance he looks proud, happy even. But look more closely. He's gone inside his own mind, and the look on his face -- I just spent the last five minutes trying to come up with the words to describe it. A waste of time; just look at the painting and you'll see. This isn’t the cheerful memory we’re used to seeing from Rockwell.
Sometimes the message is more subtle. Look at this painting: . You can’t say that Rockwell’s hitting us in the face here. But think of the period, and think of what is going on. A black family is moving into a white neighborhood in Moving In (or is it the other way round?). We don’t see the adults who might be upset or afraid about it. We see children. There is curiousity, and some apprehension, of course. There is even a touch of humor; the blacks have a white cat and the whites a black dog. But look at the what the boys are holding behind their backs. We can predict that they will find common ground. How can an adult look at this painting and not see that if children of different races meet each other without our butting in they will grow up knowing that they are essentially the same?
In Scouters the message is more subtle still. There is no confrontation in this one. One of the scouts is simply black.
However, here is one that isn’t even close to subtle, and which is superb in its composition: The Problem We All Live With. This is a painting designed to shame adults who oppose integration into changing their opinions, or least not to act on them. Look at the girl. How can you avoid looking at her; the entire picture is designed to draw you in. Her spotless dress is a pure white; a light seems to come from here. She is innocence itself. Anyone who would oppose her, then, would be opposing innocence.
The only other strong color comes from the tomatoes smashed on the wall. They drip like blood. But they’ve missed the girl. The hate, the intended blood, haven’t touched her. But it has in its own way, hasn't it? She isn't really purely innocent. Look at her face. She's scared. Scared, but determined. She's looking straight forward, and will see this through.
Now look at the wall above her head, where "Nigger" has been scrawled. The girl is carrying school books, she is carrying education, and opposed to that is a scrawl.
Surrounding her we see her guards. We don’t really see them, though, only parts of them. Who are they? Rockwell doesn’t want us to know. If we did, we could relax in the knowledge that the job was being done by someone else. We wouldn’t have to do anything about it ourselves. But instead we have anonymous presences, and we project our own faces onto them. We want to protect that little girl.
There she walks, the only truly human thing in the picture. By comparison with the faceless gray-suited men around her, she is a living human being. She is young, innocent, luminous. We can’t deny it: we have to stand either with her, or with the blood on the wall.
There are many other of Rockwell's paintings with political and, for their time, radical, meanings. Some do it with humor: The Family Portrait of these WASPS includes buccaneers and Indians. But his masterpiece of shear brutal confrontation is Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi).
Rockwell painted some simple subjects which still served an important function. And he created some complex paintings which have even more important functions. But everything he painted was true. And isn’t truth what art is about?
April 12, 2005
The rituals are in. I still have some essays on ritual to load. Ritual is soon going to have its own page on the level with Mithraism. I've added some a Nuit rosary file, and created that kind of level page for her. There's one more ritual to be put together for that page. I've added to the Wicca page an essay on the history of the Legend of the Descent of the Goddess, as well as a version I wrote of the Legend I wrote a while back. I've put two essays on Paganism on the "And the Rest" page. And, of course, links. I think that in the last few weeks I've at least tripled the size of this site.
March 30, 2005
I've added some pages to "And The Rest." I've added a fair number, in fact. That's because I've been putting them together over the last month or so, and have finally figured out how to add the. So they were all ready to put in at once. I'm going to be turning "Miscellaneous Thoughts on Ritual" into a folder with the name "Ritual" soon, with both those essays and some actual rituals. It's a bit of a pain turning the rituals into HTML, though, so figure a week or two. Tomorrow I may even have some thoughts on the deteriorating shape of models, and then soon one on an unfashionable artistic taste of mine. Stay tuned.
March 28, 2005
For a long time now I've only been adding links to the less important parts of my site, things like Celtic Primary Texts and Linguists. I've now done some work on the more important part, the Unclassified section. Want to know about wombats? Who's dead? When the end of the world is, and what you can do about it? Now you can.
March 24, 2005
I saw a sticker on a pickup that said "Life is Good." It had a trademark symbol next to it. Yes, I know it's a slogan for a clothing et al. company, but come on -- you can trademark "life is good?" I guess if you do it with "Just Do It," you can do it with anything.
March 23, 2005
Sorry for the lapse in entries. I was finishing up a paper to deliver at a Celtic conference, and didn't have time for much else. I'm back, though, so we'll see what happens.
March 11, 2005
I am now selling copies of A Book of Pagan Prayer through this site. The price is $17.00, with free shipping. I'll be autographing them as well. Good deal. I prefer payment through Paypal, but checks or money orders will also work. E-mail me for orders.
March 10, 2005
I've finally added something to "And the Rest." Check it out. There'll be more there very shortly, now that I've figured out how to do it, as well as a new essay on the "Wicca" page about the origins of the scourge in Gardnerian Wicca.
And of course, new links.
Mar. 1, 2005
Score one for the good guy. The US District Court for the District of South Carolina has ruled that Jose Padilla must be charged with a crime within 45 days or released. Well, duh. Does the administration really think it can detain someone for as long as it likes without giving them a chance to defend themselves in court? Apparently they do, and they are appealing. This is something to watch; you can't get more tyrannical than putting people away because you think they're a "danger." For now, though, the administration is on the defensive.
Feb. 15, 2005
Over a month, huh? Some things have gotten in the way -- a trip to Disneyworld (yes, again), a pinched nerve (still hurts; thank God it happened on the way back from Disneyworld), a major research project (I'm writing a paper to be delivered at the Berkeley Celtic Conference in March), and some good old-fashioned procrastination. But I'm back, and I'll be posting some new essays here soon.
In the meantime, I've changed the Nekter ritual to the new version (it's very different, so if you've read the old one you might want to take a peek) and eliminated the old solitary version. I did add the promised section on domestic religion, though, which is a lot more useful anyway. There are also some small changes to the PIE pronunciation guide.
I hope that later today I'll be adding our protogrove's meeting and ritual dates and times to the calendar.
And I've added a bunch of prayers. Busy day.
Jan. 13, 2004
The preparation of the Nekter ritual has been updated. Some more links have been added as well.
Dec. 30, 2004
I've updated the PIE ritual material, except for the Nekter rituals, and most of the deities. The Nekter rituals will be done soon, I think. I'm going to be eliminating the solitary Nekter ritual, because recent research has convinced me that communality is essential to Nekter consumption. So if you want the ritual for yourself, copy it off now. I'm hoping to add a section on the domestic cult to make up for the loss.
I've decided to keep consonantal [y] spelled "y;" I don't see any confusion arising from using it for both this and indicating palatalization. And "Westja" just looked funny.
Dec 14, 2004
I've started to make some changes to my PIE material. Most of these will be because of increased knowledge of the language, others will be because of an increase knowledge of the religion, and some will be just because I don't like the way I said things the first time. An example of the first is that I've decided to include the laryngeals. The laryngeals are PIE sounds that are usually written as H1, H2, and H3. Their pronunciation has been debated, which was one reason I wasn't using them, but I think that there's enough of a consensus now to justify adding them. The system I am using will be H1 = h, H2 = x, and H3 = q. The sound of the second laryngeal, for which I'm using x is the German hard ch, the sound found in "Bach." "X" is the IPA symbol for this sound, so this shouldn't cause any confusion. There are two competing sounds for H3, one [xw] and one which is written with the Greek gamma. The first is a labialized [x], i.e., an x pronounced with rounded lips. The second is a voiced [x]. I've decided to go with the gamma pronunciation, because as Michael Weiss points out H3 causes voicing, so it should itself be voiced. Because a gamma might not show up on some servers, I've decided to write it a "q." By using this notation, not only do the PIE words become closer to what they were in PIE times, but those who disagree with these values for the laryngeals can remove them with not difficulty.
I'll also be making changes in the spellings of some of the sounds. For instance, there are two sounds, palatal [g] and palatal [k] that I haven't been able to indicate (they're usually written with either a circumflex or an accent over the letter). Following the system used by Piotr
Gasiorowski I'll be indicating them with a "y" after the "g" or "k." This necessitates a replacement for "y," so, again following Piotr, I'm going to be using "j" for consonantal "y." There will be some other changes, but for those will be explained in the pronunciation guide when I update that.
These changes will result in new forms of some words, including deity names, such as "Westya" becoming "Westja," and "Aryomen" becoming "Xarjomen." The most important change is probably "Artus" becoming "Xartus." For a while there'll be some confusion as I change over to the new pages, but if you see an x, q, ky, or gy on a page you'll know I've made the shift. I have faith
you'll keep up.
Dec. 12, 2004
I have a suggestion which could save a lot of people a lot of aggravation: store your remotes under the couch cushions. Whenever they're lost, you spend a lot of time looking other places, and then they usually end up under the couch cushions, so if you stored them there you could just look there first.
Of course, then they'd probably end up getting lost by being on the coffee table in front of the couch.
Dec. 11, 2004
When Marcia got her nose bashed in by the football, she should have dumped the Big Man on Campus and gone with Charlie not just because the BMOC showed that he was shallow and Charlie showed that he cared about the inner Marcia, but because the BMOC showed that he was stupid and Charlie showed he was smart. Marcia would heal and become hot again, so the BMOC either didn't realize this (stupid), or did but thought that avoiding any momentary embarassment was more important than having a shot at her once she became hot again. Charlie, on the other hand, could figure that now that Marcia had been dumped by the BMOC he could get in good with her, and eventually have a hot girlfriend. Smart boy, that Charlie.
Or maybe not. I don't remember seeing Charlie as Marcia's boyfriend in later episodes. Maybe once Marcia was hot again she dumped him.
Dec. 4, 2004
As an aside to yesterday’s entry, I would like to observe that just as men are attracted to women largely for their beauty, so women are attracted to men largely because of their success. Otherwise, how would you explain Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones?
Dec. 3, 2004
Today the words of a song from Hair were going through my head:
I would just like to say that it is my opinion
that longer hair, and other flamboyant affectations
of appearance are nothing more
than the male’s emergence from hid drab camouflage,
into the gaudy plumage which is the birthright of his sex.
There is a peculiar notion that elegant plumage and fine feathers
are not proper for the male,
that is the way things are,
in most species.
It’s an interesting argument, and one that is often heard for other practices, such as homosexuality: it’s found in other species, so it must be natural; after all, animals have no culture. (May I be quite clear that I’m not advocating any position on homosexuality; as should be quite clear from other entries in this blog, I am a strong supporter of gay rights. However, I suspect that the causes of homosexuality vary, especially between men and women, so that to say that it’s either genetic or cultural is an oversimplification. The question really should receive more research. Unfortunately, this isn’t in the interests of either side of the debate, so what research is going on is limited and receives limited distribution. But I digress.) This is a gross misunderstanding of the word “natural.” If something is natural, then it is to be taken in the context of the species being discussed – it’s natural for birds to live in trees, and we can hardly say that because of this it’s natural for dogs to.
We are human beings, homo sapiens, and any discussion of “natural” has to be placed firmly in that fact. That means that many aspects of our cultures, including morality, as I’ve suggested earlier, are innate parts of being human. That is the context in which we have to argue whenever we are arguing about what is “natural” to human beings.
So what does this have to do with the song in question? It’s relevance is that even so simply a question as whether it’s “natural” for men to wear their hair long or short has to do with what it means to be human. And oddly enough, I would like to argue that even though men are genetically equipped to have long hair, there is indeed a natural reason for certain men to wear their hair short.
Humans have evolved for a certain social structure to be natural. We naturally organize ourselves into groups, particularly ones based on genetic linkages, but also on mutual advantage, such as the increased ability of groups to defend themselves and coordinate activities such as hunting, and on friendship. Friendship is natural because of our social wiring; we simply don’t like to be alone all the time; those who do are rare, and it might be argued that they are a sort of aberration.
Because we live in groups, sexual relationships are extremely important. Further, there is a sort of alpha male situation, not as strong as in such species as lions, but still operating. What happens is that people have a biological imperative to produce children who will survive to the point where they themselves will be able to produce children. For men this means looking for beautiful women, since our judgments of beauty (within some cultural variations) are primarily based on health and ability to bear children. Women we consider the most beautiful tend to be ones that are symmetrical, which we unconsciously associate with health. And despite cultural variations, men tend to prefer women with a particular waist to hip ratio, which turns out to be one especially well-suited for bearing children.
Women are also looking for the symmetry of health, but because in the communities in which we evolved child rearing was primarily a woman’s job, and because not only does a woman looking after a child need both protection and the supplying of food, but a pregnant one even more so, women are programmed to prefer men who can both protect and provide.
But what does “protect and provide” mean? In some cultures, protection is of extreme importance, and those cultures will have developed standards of male attractiveness that tie in with that. When they develop into cultures in which protection is no longer of such importance, there will still be a lag time before the culture adjusts. A good example of this kind of culture is Iron Age Ireland, where male beauty was described in martial terms. Now, in any warrior culture there is actual a minimum of fighting, since that does neither the individuals nor society any good; dead men not only can’t tell tales, they also aren’t of much use protecting and providing. This is replaced by display of attributes connected in some way with power. Luxurious hair is one of them, and so we find the Irish heroes with particularly impressive hair.
In other cultures, however, providing is more important than protection, and this kind of culture the martial displays are demoted and other aspects of appearance become prominent. American culture is of this type. Despite the existence of subcultures in which display is prominent, as we especially find in teenagers, and despite changes in the economic status of women, the ability to provide is most important on a very unconscious level. Female nurses still tend to marry male doctors rather than the male nurses they work with.
In a culture based on providing, since display is less important, practicality rises. A man who spends too much time on his hair has less time to provide. In America there is also the cultural influence of the cowboy; despite the emphasis in movies on his protecting from criminals and Injuns, notice that his very identity as “cowboy” means that he is protecting the wealth of cattle – he is providing. And the cowboy wears his hair short, at least in the cultural image of him. Workers in other fields tend to wear their hair short as well; long hair isn’t advantageous when working with power equipment of any sort, and is even downright dangerous. American providers therefore tend to have short hair.
Even American protectors tend to have short hair. Short, even almost non-existent, hair is useful in soldiers, since that makes hair easier to keep hygieanic, an extremely important concern under battlefield conditions. Long hair can also get in one’s eyes, limiting both aim and the ability to perform tasks that involve bending over. The equation of short hair and soldiers creates an image of the short-haired protector, which is then co-opted by such groups as the police. There is therefore a strong incentive for American culture to value short hair.
So it might be said that neither short nor long hair are “natural.” What’s natural is for human males to wear their hair in such a way that signals to human females the things that they are naturally conditioned, i.e., programmed by evolution, to value, protection and provision. How these are provided, and therefore how signaled, will vary with cultures, and hair length will vary accordingly. Looking at other species can tell us the importance of displays of what is necessary to achieve mates who will carry on our genes. It won’t tell us, however, either what we need from mates to make this succeed, or how we’ll be able to tell those who meet those needs. That’s where culture kicks in.
Dec. 1, 2004
Often found in citations
for the Medal of Honor
or the Victoria Cross,
and unwritten as well
for those who have lived
for those they love:
“Disregarding his own wounds …”
Nov. 28, 2004
I recently added a lot of links to images of Liberty. I found them through Google searches for “Liberty Goddess,” “Freedom Goddess,” etc. There are a couple of things that I learned from the search and the images.
First, I was amazed at how many images there actually are. I knew that before the heads of presidents were put on coins, they used Liberty. I think that that’s a good idea. Although the presidents are required to have been dead a decent amount of time, there’s something imperial or monarchical about that which violates American principles. I suggest that Congress and the U. S. Mint listen to the people and put Liberty on the dollar coins they keep trying to push on us.
I was amazed and disappointed that so many of the images that I found were of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor (the official name of the statue is “Liberty Enlightening the World,” and the poem by Emma Lazarus on its base calls it the “Mother of Exiles”). It’s an amazing statue, but it seems that once it was built few other images were made. Coins still went through a variety of images, but in the popular mind the Statue of Liberty is the only version. I’d like to see a revival of the earlier tradition, especially with younger and softer versions of Her.
It was a bit of a shock to see Her in other countries. That I was surprised makes me a little sad, since it implies a bit that I don’t think other countries are free. I don’t think that’s the case, though; I think that what surprised me was that other countries saw Her as an important image. America didn’t grow, it was invented. Because of this, there is a strong awareness of the reasons for why it was invented. Frequently expressing these reasons by depicting them is therefore natural.
I should have thought, however, that there are other countries who were either invented or reinvented, and some of these use Liberty in their imagery, especially on coins. France wasn’t a big surprise, of course, since it is one of the reinvented countries, whose betrayed revolution was inspired by our own. But Mexico? This isn’t to insult Mexico; I was just surprised that images of Her would be an important part of their culture.
Best of all was the realization of how She had been played around with, especially the New York version. She’s been portrayed in ways from the intensely political to the obscene. For the first, see the photo of the young woman in the part of “Liberty with Eyes of Blood.” I think she’s one of the best versions I’ve ever seen. (If you’re out there and would like to be identified, let me know and I’ll add your name.)
The shock here is that people seem to think that Liberty belongs to them. Imagine that.
So check out some of the links. Maybe you, like me, will “take increased devotion to that cause” of Liberty. These days we can use it.
Nov. 26, 2004
One of the things that cause arguments in married couples is how Christmas is celebrated. Because my wife is Catholic, we celebrate Christmas, and even though I’m a Pagan, I have strong ideas of how it should be done. That shouldn’t be a big surprise, since Pagans are traditionalists.
My wife and I were pleased to learn that we shared the most important traditions. The Christmas season begins when the Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. OK, so the Macy’s bit is kind of weird, but that the Christmas season starts after Thanksgiving is important, I think. Otherwise, Thanksgiving disappears, being demoted into a day off which precedes a big day for shopping.
The thing that causes the biggest arguments is when to put up the tree. The answer to this question is quite simple: you put it up at the beginning of Christmas. And Christmas begins at sundown on Dec. 24. Before that it’s Advent. As a Catholic, my wife observes Advent. It’s a nice tradition, providing a way to prepare for Christmas. Also, if the tree is put up then, its decoration becomes not a question of when to do it, but ritual of its own, associated a special time. Best of all, you don’t get sick of it before Christmas arrives.
The actual decorating ritual involves all of us hanging decorations. Each of them is different, so each of them has a story – where they were bought and why. We tell many of them as each is placed. The last thing put up is an angel on top. This is a rather ratty thing made of colored burlap and yarn glued onto a cardboard base. I bought it for the first Christmas after we were married, on Christmas Eve, just as a stop-gap measure because I realized that we needed one. My wife’s never been particularly fond of it, so a few years ago she bought a beautiful teddy-bear one. As a traditionalist, I was against it, but I agreed to use it if my daughter approved. That was cheating, because I knew how much of a traditionalist she is; even more than me. She was appalled at the very idea of replacing the ratty burlap and yarn angel, and we took it back.
And when does Christmas end? On Jan. 6, Twelfth Night. That’s when the tree comes down. This means that the tree is up for the period of Christmas; not before, and not after. As a result, the tree means Christmas; it provides a central image of the season.
Another Twelfth Night tradition of ours is based on the fact that it’s Epiphany, the celebration of when the Magi reached Bethlehem. We put a creche up Christmas Eve (because Christmas doesn’t start until then and it doesn’t make much sense for Jesus to be put in the creche before he’s born), but the Magi aren’t in it, because they haven’t arrived yet. Instead they’re placed on the other side of the room, and each day they get a bit closer. On Twelfth Night they arrive.
Nov. 25, 2004
Happy Thanksgiving! This is a holiday that people from other countries don’t get. “What do you do on it?” “We get together with family and friends and have a big meal.” “But what else?” “Nothing special, nothing we wouldn’t do any other time we all get together.” “But why?” “Well, technically we’re supposed to be giving thanks for all the things we have, but even though we might say a prayer about that before the meal, it’s mostly about getting together and eating a meal.” A little hard to understand.
Every year newspapers run cooking articles with recipes for new Thanksgiving dishes. They’re missing the whole point: if Thanksgiving is about getting together for a meal, what the meal consists of is important. Few things are more tradition-bound than a Thanksgiving menu. The vast majority of Americans include turkey at the center of the meal, and certain other foods are pretty standard – stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc. The fact that these are eaten by so many people is important; that we’re all eating the same sort of thing ties Americans together. There are also variations, though, with different foods being traditional in different families. For instance, my daughter is quite insistent not only on cranberry sauce, but that it be the jellied kind from the can “with the rings on it.”
This all means that although we’re eating sort of the same thing as other Americans, we’re also eating what our own family specifically eats, and sometimes what only our family eats. By eating the Thanksgiving meal, we are defining our family both as part of American society and as separate from it. Maybe this anthropological interpretation can explain Thanksgiving to foreigners.
But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we get together with family and friends and eat a meal. Enjoy!
Nov. 24, 2004
I’ve added a bunch of links, especially in a new category, “Images of Liberty.” In did a Google image search on “Liberty,” and was amazed at how many coins and pictures showed up. I’ve been writing a lot of prayers lately as well, some of which I’ll be putting on the prayer page. Who knows, someday soon I might even figure out how to add pages, and I’ll put up some material on ritual and set up a section on America; I’m working on an exegesis on the Declaration of Independence and an essay on why America wasn’t founded on Christian principles. Stay tuned.
Nov. 21, 2004
Pine needles in a wind
left behind after a storm
fall on me like rain.
Nov. 20. 2004
I am a huge Beatles fan. I have every album they released, and a fair number they didn’t. It should come as no surprise that I’m also a big fan of the Welsh Mabinogi. So imagine my pleasure when, while reading the booklet that comes with Let It Be … Naked. I ran across Paul’s saying, “Ancient Welsh saying: a Fo bid bont. ‘He who would be head, let him be the bridge.’ It comes from the myth of Bendigeidran, who bridged the Irish Seas with his own body so that his people could cross over.” He even quoted it in Welsh. Pretty cool.
Nov. 18. 2004
Today is my wife’s birthday. She is a truly amazing woman. What I like best about her is her intensity – she cares. Whether it is her heart breaking in compassion for little things that suffer, or her professional ethic furious when someone at work insists on doing something stupid, she cares. She cares so much, in fact, that sometimes she hurts from it. But we all play a price for our best parts.
When we’d been married a year or two, I wrote my first poem for her. I’ve written quite a few since, and I may post them some time, but here is the first:
It I should come upon Thee unawares,
bathing in Thy pool, O Goddess,
Do not treat me roughly.
I am no impious Actaeon,
come to ravish.
Thy nymphs may keep their innocence
and Thy sanctity remain unstained.
It is for Your presence I am thirsting,
come from the great desert.
And if Your hand will not be stayed,
I am still content.
It is enough to have felt Your touch
and to be taken in by You at last.
Nov. 17, 2004
While Googling my name (hey, we all do it), I ran across this site: Cadre: Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research and Evangelism., which links to my Mithraism essay. A link from a Christian apologetics site -- how cool is that? I'm hoping that some of the Evangelicals who follow the link read the rest of the site. If any of you are out there, let me know, OK?
Nov. 9, 2004
Today is the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a day to be held sacred by all who love liberty.
When I was kid I went to East Berlin. My father was stationed in Germany, and we went to Berlin a few times. And there I saw the Wall – the old wall, with its bricks and barbed wire, and with buildings with bricked-up windows; and the new wall, the one with the gleaming white concrete and an asbestos tube on top, too smooth to grab onto, with the mines, and the tank obstacles, and the ditches, and the dogs, and the machine gunners with orders to shoot to kill, orders they had obeyed many times. I went to a museum with photos of those who tried to escape, those who made it and those who died trying. I saw how they had tried, jumping from upper stories of the bricked-up buildings, before they too had been closed – perhaps to be caught by waiting Westerners, perhaps to land on the cobblestones, injured or dead – or making their way through the sewers before they too were closed off, or tunneling, or crashing through barriers in a car filled with concrete. But I saw more on this trip – I saw East Berlin.
My family took a bus tour there. We went through Checkpoint Charlie, where border guards armed with machine guns ran a mirror on wheels under the bus, to make sure that no one was clinging to the bottom. On the eastern side of the wall, I saw a grey world. I saw a grey city, with grey people. In 1967 I saw bomb damage from WWII that hadn’t been repaired, I saw rubble that had been buildings. I saw East Berlin.
The wall came down in part because of a mistake. The East German government had planned to announce that its citizens would be able to travel to the West with passports and visas, but instead said that the Wall would be opened. When the East Berliners heard this, they went to the Wall in the thousands. The guards didn’t know what to do, calls were made, confusion reigned, and the guards ended up letting people through. What else could they have done; there only alternative was to begin shooting. And the people came.
They came from the East, but then they started to come from the West too. The border had crumbled, and soon the Wall started to crumble too. Hammers, and sledges, and chisels appeared, and the chipping away began. Order was eventually restored, but the Wall couldn’t last long, and the chipping resumed. The Wall fell.
A few years ago I took some courses at UMass, and some days I saw Communists handing out literature, and I wanted to shake them. I wanted to shake them hard, and scream at them, “Have you been to Berlin?” But they wouldn’t have understood.
But I went to Berlin. I went to the Wall. I went to East Berlin. And I know.
So tonight before I go to bed, I will hold a piece of the Wall, and say a prayer of thanks to those who broke it apart. I will say a prayer to those who died at the Wall, thinking that risking their life for freedom was a clear choice. I will say to them that they can rest now, the Wall is down.
The Wall is down!
Nov. 5, 2004
A few days ago, John McCain appeared on the Tonight Show, and as usual made trouble. When asked why he hadn’t agreed to run as vice president with Kerry he said that he belonged to the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. This is a code expression of his commitment to the Republican party that existed before the Neo-Conservatives took over, a party dedicated to freedom, the environment, and keeping government small and out of people’s faces.
Later he said that Bush should appoint some Democrats to his cabinet, suggesting Joe Liebermann for Attorney General. Another bit of trouble-making; a nice way of lamenting the excesses of John Ashcroft.
Give ‘em hell, John. We’re depending on you to keep the Neo-Cons in check.
Nov. 4, 2004
The only thing that's keeping me going is knowing that the Republicans don't have enough votes in the Senate to end a filibuster. Still, these words keep running through my head:
"That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends ..."
"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism ..."
Nov. 3, 2004
Vote for Liberty.
Oct. 24, 2004
My wife thinks I’m mean because of the great glee that I got from Ashlee Simpson’s crash and burn on Saturday Night Live last night. For those who didn’t see it, when she started “singing” her second song it became clear that what she was “signing” wasn’t the song that was on the tape. In other words, she was lip-syncing to a recorded track. After a few moments of confusion and some abortive dance steps, she ran off the stage. The band played on until a fadeout. I swear I saw smirks on their faces. At the end of the show, she blamed it on the band, saying they’d started the wrong song.
My wife thinks I shouldn’t take such pleasure at someone else’s misfortune. I disagree. The whole thing was dishonest in the extreme. There is Simpson was presenting something that she claimed was live when it wasn’t. There is her blaming the mistake on the band (what mistake could there be if she was performing live?). There is her father/manager saying the next day that she was only using the tape because she had a sore throat from acid reflux. (One would wonder why such a tape was so readily available.) There is Simpson saying in an interview that she would never lip sync in a concert. Worst of all, however, it is obvious that there are those around her who keep telling that she can sing when she can’t.
Why does this matter? Why should I not just get a life? The big answer is that truth matters, no matter in what. There are also other impacts. If we are presented with fakes often enough, we not only lose the ability to tell the fake apart from the real, but we may even think there’s no difference. If we start cutting those with no talent slack, we devalue actual talent. If we reward someone with a record deal, concert performances, money, and fame because they are related to another famous person, above those who have done the work (in this case the band) to become good at what they do, then we are saying that hard work is less important than good relatives. So this is not just a pop star crashing and burning. It’s an effect and cause of the dumbing down of our culture.
So sorry, Ashlee. You’re very decorative, but that won’t carry you far. At least it shouldn’t.
Oct. 23, 2004
I saw a card today with a picture of a frog sitting on a skateboard, and I though it would make a good curse: “Frog on a skateboard, are you nuts?” Then I thought of a better idea. A frog has a great way of getting around that it’s perfect at. A skateboard is a great way of getting around, but not for a frog. So I’d like to present the world with a new expression that means “Doing something that works beautifully for someone else but isn’t for you, when you’ve already got something that is best for you.” So “Don’t be such a frog on a skateboard!”
Oct. 18, 2004
A prayer for the presidential election:
It’s not your hands I’m voting with, Demokratia,
so don’t let anyone try to tell you that.
I mean, really, what would be the point?
If my vote isn’t independently given it’s not under your blessing.
It’s only when I don’t ask you how to vote that I can really honor you.
Freedom is your worship.
Oct. 13, 2004
While out driving today I thought I’d try an experiment by writing short poems on random things that I saw. It was a fun exercise, and I thought I’d post them here. I won’t say they’re brilliant, but some might prove interesting.
Driving in October
Above the clouds the sky is blue, they say.
Don’t listen to them,
or at least put them to one side,
and let the rain fall.
The end of a maple leaf is more beautiful that that of a nail.
But the nail holds our houses together.
The wheel touches the road only an instant before going on.
It the not touching that makes it useful.
How long is the road home?
How many years have you walked it?
“If you lived here, you’d be home now.”
Make the road your home.
These old eyes can’t always read distant signs.
I guess their meanings from the shapes and lengths of the words,
not knowing if I’m right till I’m quite near
If I’m wrong, then I’m lost –
Well, lost isn’t such a bad thing.
The cold metal rails cut the curving land.
The dead wooden ties press down the soft dirt.
The spat-out smoke blackens the clear sky.
But oh, the journey!
I’d thought the mewing gulls sounded perfect on the summer’s beach,
but in the leaf-carrying wind I realize I was wrong.
Rough rubs smooth with time.
Grey soft stone walls in the woods
were rocks dragged with curses out of fields being cleared.
Beauty from tired muscles and frustration.
Rough rubs smooth with time.
Today’s clouds will tonight cover the stars.
But if one should shine through a wind-torn hole
how beautiful its sparkles will be!
Leaves move with the wind.
Bare branches move on their own,
writhing in a dance with the grey sky.
Even though the hedge would be easy enough to push through,
the gateway, with white posts and grey lattice sides, is beautiful,
and is used out of courtesy.
Oct. 8, 2004
I had an interesting experience last night. I was saying my evening prayers, and during the one to Liberty I started running through the different images of her – the Mother of Exiles in New York, Armed Freedom on top of the capitol – the versions on coins – and suddenly there was an explosion of light in my head. She was there. I decided to take the opportunity of being in her presence to ask her to open the eyes of Americans to the threats to her, but she refused. She said that she didn’t make anyone do anything. But she promised that when Americans did open their eyes, she would be there for them to see.
So I don’t know who to address this prayer to, but may the appropriate god or gods open our eyes.
Oct. 6, 2004
Be your own manure.
September 19, 2004.
I recently finished a fascinating book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, by Garry Wills. It addresses a number of interesting questions, such as what Lincoln actually said there (believe it or not, that’s not completely clear, since there are a number of competing versions), what his literary influences were, what political beliefs lay behind the speech, and where at the Gettysburg cemetery it was made (only recently determined). I was surprised to learn that, despite all the actors who have played him through the years, Lincoln didn’t have a slow, majestic voice, but one which Wills describes as “high to the point of shrillness.” When this is combined with the way Lincoln looked, it’s pretty clear that he could never be elected today.
Lincoln didn’t, of course, write the address on the back of an envelope on the train there, which is no real surprise, based on the theory the more clever a story is the less likely it is to be true. He actually worked pretty hard on it. No one was surprised at how short it was, since the main speech of the day was the one by Edward Everett, and Lincoln was only expected to make a brief statement, which was listed in the program as “Dedicatory Remarks.”
The real star of the day, and the one always intended to be the star, was Everett, who spoke for two hours. By today’s standards that’s unbearably long, and we can’t imagine anyone sitting through it. But in the time of Lincoln, oration was entertainment. People went to speeches for enjoyment. And they were disappointed by neither the length nor the content of Everett’s speech. Wills gives the text, and it’s quite gripping, and would be especially so to those listening there. That’s because of an aspect to it which surprised me. Most of it is a report of both the battle itself and the battle as put in the context of the war as a whole. Many of us today know a fair amount about the battle (although too few; it’s a quite fascinating event, and crucial to the existence of our country), but most of those present at the speech only knew that a big and important battle had taken place at which lots of men died. They were listening to the story for the first time. Even those who knew what had happened there might not have known how it fit into the scheme of things, and would have been pleased to hear that explained by Everett.
One of the sides to being amazed at hearing that Everett’s speech went on for two hours is our reaction that people in those days must have had much higher attention spans than we do. In the age of the sound bite we find it hard to comprehend people could have paid attention to so long a speech. We find no problem, however, with watching at two hour movie. And that’s what speeches were to the people of Lincoln’s time, the equivalent in entertainment level to movies today.
Most pleasing of all was that Wills explains why in his Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln only freed the slaves in territory still under the control of the Confederacy. This has always seemed a bit cynical to me, as if Lincoln were only freeing those slaves that he couldn’t really free; a sort of gesture to the rest of the world that the war was about slavery, but with no real cost. A proclamation that actually freed slaves would have upset the border states in which slavery was legal but which hadn’t seceded.
The truth is far more idealistic than that, though. Lincoln only freed the slaves where he did not because he couldn’t really free them there, but because they were the only slaves that he could free. Under the Constitution he had no authority to free them in any part of the country which wasn’t in rebellion; the Constitution forbids depriving anyone of property without “due process of law.” If Lincoln were to follow the Constitution, he couldn’t free slaves in areas under the control of the Union.
But why could he free the slaves in the Confederacy? He justified this as a military necessity. He compared it to capturing mules from an enemy. It was acceptable to seize property from enemies that might be useful either to them or to the ones doing the taking. It was therefore perfectly legal, in his view, to take slaves, which might be useful to either side. But while you can make a mule work, a man will only work voluntarily.
And there’s the point. He was comparing them to mules insofar as they were considered property under the law, but once freed he was treating them as human beings. He was using the South’s own laws against them in their capture, and then the North’s once they had been taken.
Why, though, did he have to follow the South’s laws at all? Why didn’t he just go ahead and free all the slaves? Yes, I’ve said that he didn’t believe that the Constitution gave him that authority. But the South had themselves denounced that authority, which might be interpreted to mean the Lincoln could free all of the slave in the states which had seceded, even if he couldn’t do that in those slave states which had not.
This is where Lincoln’s view of the war as a whole comes in. He didn’t believe that the South had in fact seceded, because he didn’t think they could. This is a point which has always bothered me; if the southern states had entered into the Union voluntarily, couldn’t the leave it voluntarily? Lincoln’s answer was that they couldn’t, and he had a reason for this that I find so compelling as to be unarguable. The reason is found in the first three words of the Constitution: “We the People.” The Constitution is not a pact between states; it is an agreement among the People. And only the People can dissolve that agreement. The states have no authority to do so.
In this view, the states of the Confederacy were still part of the Union; they hadn’t actually seceded. Their laws were still valid under the Constitution, and as president, sworn to uphold the Constitution, Lincoln couldn’t violate those laws.
The reason why Lincoln couldn’t free the slaves that weren’t under the control of the Confederacy is quite simple then: he couldn’t without destroying the entire justification for the war. To do so would be to say that the war was one of conquest, of conquering another country. But that would be to acknowledge that the South had in fact seceded. He could not do that and maintain his position that the Union was indivisible. He saw the situation rather as being a fight against armed brigands who were attempting to destroy the rule of law. He would defeat those brigands and restore to the land in which they lived the blessings of the Constitution.
This, then, is why Lincoln didn’t free all the slaves. He had to be true to his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Under those circumstances, he had to do his best to put things right, with the confidence that once they had been the right things would be done.
September 15, 2004
A question for those opposed to gay marriage: Is marriage a right or a privilege?
If marriage is a privilege, then we hold it only at the sufferance of the government. This means that it can be taken away at any time. It also means that it isn’t a sacred institution, the basis of our society (as those in favor of banning gay marriage insist), but is instead something which can be defined at will by any government.
If, on the other hand, it is a right, then it is protected under the XIV Amendment, which reads in part:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.
Those in favor of banning gay marriage want to add two words to this. Their version would read:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities (except one) of citizens of the United States.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the first version sounds better.
September 13, 2004
I just got back from Las Vegas. Odd town, Las Vegas. People give out quite graphic little cards on the street for strippers to come to your hotel room. The billboards and adds on taxis are virtually softporn. Most of the shows there are topless. And yet, unlike some other cities in Nevada, prostitution is illegal. Odd town; they should just admit what they are and be done with it.
August 28, 2004
I've added a fair number of links to the site. I'm going to be making some fairly drastic changes to the PIE section shortly, but except for the pronunciation of the PIE words (including some of the deity names) the rituals are still fine as they stand; I'm just hoping to make them both more accurate and better ritually.
August 16, 2004
One thing I don’t understand is why companies changed the name of their personnel departments to “Human Resources.” The change was from considering employees as people to considering them as resources, as much as computers and paper clips. Perhaps many companies do indeed feel that way, but to admit it?.
August 13, 2004
The Olympics have begun! With all the cynicism that the world can muster, about such things as the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the Olympics are still sacred. They are a worldwide ritual period, filled with smaller rituals, in which that which is good in humanity can be celebrated. While the torch burns, a little bit of peace exists in the world. Let’s hope that when the torch is extinguished a little bit of that peace survives.
Aug 3, 2004
I saw the Declaration of Independence today. Not the original, mind you, but close enough. I saw one of the copies printed by John Dunlap, which were the first copies ever made. He printed 200, but only 25 still exist. I think that 25 copies of a document printed that long ago is pretty good, however, since it was the sort of thing that would have been like a newspaper, and would ordinarily have been expected to have been thrown out. Obviously people knew this was important.
I found the experience deeply moving. When I reached the part
But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
I had to choke back the tears, since I am beginning to fear that we are in such a state now. The word “duty” struck me strongly; not only do we have the right to fight those who would take away our rights, we have the duty.
I’ve seen the original, and that is a pretty moving experience as well, seeing what was essentially the death warrant of those men, a death warrant they voluntarily signed. This one had its own reason for being moving, however. This was the document that first told people of the vote for independence. This was the document that made that which had been done in the closed chambers of the Continental Congress public to all, to confirm or deny. I could imagine this exact piece of paper being passed from hand to hand, with people eagerly reading it and being inspired or scared by its words. This very piece of paper was one of the public announcements, to the people of the colonies, and to the people of the world, that something very important was going on, the beginning of a nation consciously founded on the ideals of liberty.
Frank Capra would have been pleased, too. I was there only ten minutes before the exhibition closed, so there weren’t too many people there. It was also at the Cape Cod Community College, an out of the way location. But of those that were there, there were young and old; black, white, and Hispanic; men and women. The policemen guarding it were mostly talking amongst themselves; they had an eye out for any trouble, but weren’t keeping people at a distance. In fact, while I was reading it, two children, around seven or eight, came running in, followed more slowly by their father. One of them, a girl, stepped up to the railing and put her hands right on the glass over it. For a moment I wanted to scream, “No, you might hurt it.” Then it struck me that what was going on here was that the child was claiming it as her own. It might be behind glass, but that was only to protect it. It wasn’t a relic to be put away and taken out time to time to be worshiped. It was a living document, belonging to us as much as it did to those who passed it from hand to hand in Philadelphia in 1776.
Even the location was perfect. The Declaration is travelling around the country, and the previous stop had been at the Kennedy Center for Law and Government in Cambridge. From there to a community college in a small town on Cape Cod. How perfect can you get; the document doesn’t just belong to city folk, and again it isn’t just something for museums. It’s something for all of us.
So as we are continually being asked to give up our liberties for the sake of safety, let’s remember that it is not only our right to say “no,” but our duty. Let’s take the risks. Let’s remember the words of Ben Franklin:
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Aug 1, 2004
Today is my 23rd wedding anniversary. Odd day for a wedding, since it’s Lughnasad, and traditionally marrying on Lughnasad is bad luck. It happened this way:
My wife and I were getting married after she graduated from college. (I had graduated two years earlier.) I wanted the wedding to be on a day I’d remember, so I suggested one of the eight Wiccan festivals. (I was a Wiccan in those days.) That year Midsummers and Lughnasad were on weekends. The next weekend festival was the next year’s Beltane. Beltane was too far away, and Midsummers was too short a time after her graduation to put a wedding together. So Lughnasad it was.
And why did I want the wedding to be on a Wiccan festival? For some deep religious reasons, or as a statement of my beliefs? Nope; it was so I wouldn’t forget my anniversary. I haven’t, either, although I did forget her birthday one year.
July 29, 2004
I always wanted to be omniscient. Problem is, that’s impossible. Now just because something’s impossible doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, but even so I wasn’t pleased with the results.
Then one day I had a flash of inspiration – it wasn’t completely necessary to be omniscient, appearing omniscient was almost as good. That might seem like a hard thing to pull off, but it really isn’t. First you have to realize that people have a slippery concept of “omniscience.” We hear them say, “Oh, he knows everything.” On one level they know they really don’t mean everything, but on another level they do. So pulling this off is easier than at first it seems.
The secret is not to bother learning the things that everyone knows. Concentrate instead on the things that most people don’t know. When they realize how many things you know that they don’t, they’ll think you know everything, even if you don’t know what everyone else knows. After all, everyone knows those things, so it won’t occur to them that you don’t. Not bothering to learn the things that everyone knows will free up your time for learning the things they don’t. And there’s really no point in learning those things, because if you need to know them, you can ask anyone, because, after all, everyone knows them.
By using this method I’ve come a long way towards appearing omniscient. Of course, wiping people away at Trivial Pursuit helps.
July 28, 2004
Having considered surprising ways in which women can be unexpectedly attractive, I thought I would mention one for men. Now as a heterosexual I can only judge the attractiveness of men in a theoretical sense, but there was one particular attribute that women find attractive that I only discovered recently – women like funny men.
I learned this when I was told that David Letterman was attractive. I mean, come on, he’s kind of geeky-looking. It turns out that his humor (and his intelligence) is considered attractive. Now the line in Roger Rabbit where Jessica Rabbit says that she’s attracted to Roger because he makes her laugh makes sense.
Who’d have figured it? If I’d known this when I was younger, high school would have been a very different place.
July 27, 2004
We learned yesterday that I think that women can be attractive even if only one part of them is. Today I would like to discuss how a woman can be attractive even if her parts aren’t attractive individually, but if instead they work together quite nicely. The examples I would like to use are Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
A close investigation of each of these women, in as cool and dispassionate a way as possible, reveals an amazing fact – they’re not really that attractive. Julia Robert’s mouth is uneven, and one of her eyes is bigger than the other. Sandra Bullock’s facial features are a little coarse, chunky even. Sarah Jessica Parker’s face is very long, almost horse-like. And yet these women are stunningly beautiful. Why?
Some might point to certain particular features, in the same way that I suggested yesterday, and say that those features are important enough on their own. The classic example of this would be Julia Roberts’ smile. It is true that she is one of those rare people who smile with their entire face. But that isn’t why she’s considered so beautiful. She’s beautiful because of the whole package. It isn’t just her face that smile, it’s her entire body. And it isn’t just her entire body, it’s the way that body moves, and the attitude behind it.
With Sandra Bullock it’s that she knows that she is beautiful, while at the same time not knowing it. The knowing means that she is comfortable with it, while the not –knowing means that she can relax about it. That’s a very attractive thing in a woman; if she is relaxed about her beauty, those around her can be relaxed as well. They don’t feel judged, and as a result, since this beautiful woman isn’t judging them, they feel as if they are themselves more attractive.
I haven’t quite figured out what it is about Sarah Jessica Parker that makes her beautiful. I think that it’s partly an attitude similar to that of Sandra Bullock, and partly the way she moves. The odd thing about the way she moves is that she doesn’t always have the perfect “tick-tock” motion of women, although she can certainly put it on. Yet somehow it works for her. I’ll have to keep working on this.
There are two points to this. First, contra to what I wrote yesterday, sometimes it isn’t individual elements of a woman that make her attractive. Sometimes it’s the whole. Second, there are many women out there who think that they’re unattractive who actually are beautiful. Sometimes it’s a situation like yesterday’s observation, in which they are so focused on one particular flaw they don’t see the parts of themselves that are beautiful. More often, however, they may indeed have many flawed parts, and they are focusing on each of them, or rather all of them at the same time, rather than on all of them together. Beauty can come from the way our parts fit together, or even on the way those parts operate together. The key to this last is attitude. It is unfortunate that a woman who doesn’t think she’s beautiful will find it hard to have the attitude that will make her beautiful. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. But maybe knowing that Julia Roberts, considered dispassionately, isn’t very attractive, will startle such a woman into realizing that she too may well be beautiful.
July 26, 2004
One of the things that confuses me about other men is that they will say that they are “boob men,” or “ass men,” or “leg men,” the like. They even seem to feel that a woman who isn’t attractive in their favorite parts isn’t worth looking at. To a boob man, a woman with iffy (which usually translates as “small,” although tastes do differ) boobs but great legs isn’t particularly attractive. To which I say, what a waste. Almost every woman has something about her that is worth looking at. Maybe she doesn’t have much in the boob department, but has a killer bum. So you look at the bum and enjoy yourself.
The odd thing is that I’ve expressed this view to women before, and they seem to think it’s flattering. Women who are uncomfortable with their boobs are thrilled to hear a man say that she’s got great legs, so who cares? What it’s really saying, however, is that I don’t have to look at the woman as a whole, as long as any one part of her is attractive. So it’s a rather sexist thing to say, I think. Still, I’ve never been slapped for it. The world is an odd place.
July 22, 2004
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday, dear David,
Happy birthday to me.
Not so happy a birthday, though. The Democratic National Convention starts next week here in Boston, and the restrictions put on the people of this area are appalling; essentially the city is being shut down. There are so many cooks in this broth – the city, the DNC, the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and who knows who else – that it seems as if any idea of any member of any of them is being adopted; the list of closings (highways, public transportation, bridges, train stations ...) keeps getting longer. Even worse is the list of violations of liberty, an example of which will be the presence of the police on the T (our subway system), who will search any bags people bring onboard).
Scariest of all, however, is the “Free Speech Zone.” This is an area set aside for those who wish to protest, conveniently allowing anyone at the convention to know how to avoid actually seeing any demonstrators. (The TV show “The Practice” put it nicely: “I though all of America was a free speech zone.”)
The organizers of the DNC have gone beyond the violation of the Bill of Rights in this case, however. They have shown themselves to be brutal and dictatorial by surrounding the “Free Speech Zone” with a chain link fence, barbed wire, and armed guards. Yes, armed guards will be watching over penned-in demonstrators, who will have been “allowed” to march down a street which is not in front of the convention center, into their pen, like cattle being herded in from the range.
And all of this under the eyes of men with guns. As she watched this, my wife turned to me with a horrified look and said, “Can anyone say ‘Kent State'?” And my daughter pointed out that all it would take is one rock thrown by someone to start the shooting, the shooting of penned-in demonstrators with only a few exits. Those that aren’t killed by the bullets will be killed in the stampede to get away from the bullets.
I don’t want to seem unfeeling about the possibility of bloodshed, but far worse is the destruction of liberty. The gloves have come off, and the government is showing its true colors. They are scared, and they want power, and they don’t care what happens to the rest of us. They’ve found a way around Ben Franklin’s dictum that “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” They’ve traded our liberty for their safety. I don’t think that that’s a good bargain.
The terrorists have won. They have destroyed America.
July 17, 2004
A ritual is a meaningful arrangement of symbolic words, acts, and objects.
But in a good ritual the acts aren't symbols of something, they are that thing – for the duration of the ritual. There is no such thing as symbolism inside a ritual. In a ritual things are what they symbolize. When we say that a ritual act is symbolic we are speaking from outside the ritual.
In order for a ritual to work, then, (we can talk about what I mean by “work” some other time) the symbols must be allowed to be that which is symbolized. For instance, if in a wedding the bride and groom light a candle while it is said that this is done as a symbol of their becoming united, they have just become united in a symbolic marriage. The ritual act becomes meaningless when it is explained as it is done. A participant, even a participant whose main involvement is observing, is ripped out of the ritual by this; they are reminded that what is going on is a ritual, and that puts them outside the ritual. As a result, anything they do while in that state is itself outside of the ritual. It doesn’t count as being part of the ritual.
If you don't believe the acts to be more than symbolic in the midst of performing them, you're wasting your time. Go do something you can believe in.
June 25, 2004
The summer solstice was a few days ago, and I’m sure you heard from the media that it was the “official first day of summer.” I always cringe when I hear that. Beyond the fact that its name is “Midsummer,” I have to wonder how it became “official.” Is there a national Bureau of Seasons?
June 5, 2004
I received an e-mail from one of my readers a while back complimenting me for being able to make things humorous without making them less serious. That was great to hear, but there will be none of that today. Today there is no humor.
Jose Padilla, an American citizen, has been imprisoned now for two years as a terrorist suspect. Not only hasn’t he been found guilty of any crime, he has never even been charged with one. He has only had access to a lawyer since March.
This past week, Deputy Attorney General James B. Corney explained why Padilla hadn’t been allowed a lawyer: “He very likely would have followed his lawyer’s advice and said nothing, which would have been his constitutional right. He would likely have ended up a free man.”
After I wrote this last sentence, I sat here shaking, unable to think of words to express my feelings. Even now I’m not sure they exist. I don’t know if there is any way to express both my contempt for an administration that finds the Constitution inconvenient, and my fear of it. We are being told that if the government has suspicions of someone’s guilt, even if they can’t prove it in court without a confession, they can lock them up forever, rather than risk that the accused might actually invoke the rights guaranteed by the Consitution.
Are any of us safe? The administration doesn’t feel itself bound by the Constitution. It finds the Bill of Rights constraining. They think that they can imprison anyone for as along as they like, with no explanation necessary, with no access to courts or lawyers, if they think they have some connection with terrorists. But they won’t show us in what way these people are connected, of course; we simply have to trust them.
The administration thinks that it can imprison you for as along as they like, with no explanation necessary, with no access to courts or lawyers, if they think you have some connection with terrorists. But they won’t show the rest of us in what way you are connected, of course; we simply have to trust them.
Are any of us safe?
May 24, 2004
Huzzah, Huzzah, Hurray!
My brilliant daughter graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College yesterday, with honors! It's nice to have it on paper just how smart she is, so now people can know it's not just bragging when we tell them that.
May 18, 2004
Did you hear what happened yesterday? Western civilization didn't come to an end.
May 10, 2004
There’s really nothing to add to the reaction over abuses in Iraq. It has damaged, and perhaps destroyed, America’s efforts to build a viable democracy there; it will prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for Islamic extremists; it has done serious harm to our relationships with other countries, including those who have supported us in the past; and it has, of course, held us up as a country whose soldiers violate the principles established at Nuremberg. All of this has been said, and will continue to be said. I would like to address something else that I haven’t heard expressed, and that shows an important flaw in modern American political culture.
Rumsfeld has taken “personal responsibility” for the abuse. These are meaningless words. People responsible for such crimes go to jail. Rumsfeld won’t even resign. To claim such responsibility doesn’t make things better, but only worse. It deflects criticism from those lower in the chain of command who would be expected to be punished severely onto those higher up who have the political capital to avoid punishment. To take “responsibility” but not punishment is to say that such deeds are not worthy of punishment. It says that actions of this sort are ones that can be committed without consequences, provided one is high enough up in the chain. It says that politicians don’t have to abide by not only law, but by simple human decency. It says that the United States is a criminal nation, run by criminals who take whatever actions seem most profitable to them.
Rumsfeld is either responsible or not. If he isn’t responsible, he should stop saying he is. If he is, he must resign. For such deeds, resigning would be getting off easy.
May 3, 2004
I fear for the republic.
I sometimes say that in a joking manner, or in a half-joking manner. But I’m not joking now.
This concern is a result of a heated discussion on one of the AOL boards regarding a recent court case in which it was decided that VMI could no longer require prayers before meals. Objections have been raised: that this denies the Christian foundations of our country, that it is itself a violation of the separation of church and state, that there really isn’t such a thing as separation of church and state, that the Founders only intended to outlaw a state church, and so on. That such objections are made is a real problem, and I will no doubt treat them on another day. For now, though, I would like to deal with a much bigger issue, the one that makes me fear for the republic.
What I have heard a number of times is that America is a democracy, so if the majority of the people want government-sponsored prayer then there should be. Worse, I have heard that the Supreme Court has failed in its job to protect the rights of the majority. Let me say that again: it is being argued that the Supreme Court is failing to protect the majority against the minority. This is why I fear for the republic.
I fear because the very fact that such a statement can be made shows a lack of understanding not only of the Constitution, but of the philosophy that stands behind it, the set of ideas that form our country.
The most basic of these is that governments only exist to protect the rights of the people. These rights are "inalienable." That means that they can never be taken away, only infringed. Some of these rights are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and others in the Constitution, although in neither document does it say that the ones they mention are the only ones which exist.
The belief that rights are inalienable leads naturally to the conclusion that a person possesses them regardless of the will of the majority. To say, therefore, that the majority opinion should prevail when it is a question of inalienable rights is to say that those rights are not in fact inalienable, and to say that, against the principles of the Declaration of Independence, governments do not exist to protect rights, but to take them away. This is unacceptable.
It's actually a lot simpler to see than this. Read the Constitution; in fact, read only Article I and the Bill of Rights. Notice that Congress represents the majority. Notice that in all of the amendments of the Bill of Rights (and many of the other ones), the statement is made that the government, that Congress, shall not infringe on the rights of the people.
But who is this Congress that shall not infringe on the rights of the people? It is the majority of the people.
Here is a truth then: the Bill of Rights is there for the sole purpose of protecting the minority from the majority. To say that the majority should prevail in the question of the practice of rights is to miss the whole point not only of the Constitution, but of the American philosophy of government. Bluntly put, it is un-American.
So I fear for the republic. If Americans have become so ignorant of the philosophy that is behind our country, how can we hope to survive?
April 18, 2004
Things that your English teacher taught you that are wrong (cont.)
2. The present tense in English is formed by dropping the “to” from the infinitive, and adding an “s” for the 3rd person singular. (I.e., the present tense is the root verb, the same form as the imperative, except in the 3rd person singular.) There is another form of the present tense, the progressive, which is formed by adding “-ing” to the root verb; this expresses and on-going process. Neither of these is true for all verbs.
When the verb is used in its bare form, it doesn’t generally refer to what is going on in the present at all. Rather, it refers to an abstract notion, or to what is done habitually. For instance, “I walk to school” does not mean “At the present moment, I am in motion between my home and my school.” It means “as a rule, when I wish to go to school I set myself in motion between my home and my school.” The implication is that this process went on in the past, and will go on in the future. It may be said in the present while one is actually in motion, but need not be, so it does not have a true sense of the present.
The progressive form of the verb, in this case “walking” is also not a present tense, because, as its name tells us, it describes an action which is progressing. Now, in order for something to progress, it must begin in the past, go through the present, and continue in the future. The progressive “tense” is therefore neither past, present, nor future, but rather contains all three within itself.
I said that what is generally taught isn’t true for all verbs, which of course implies that it is true for some. These are verbs that by their very nature have a progressive sense to them. And example is “to see.” In order to say, “I see,” there has to be a process. One does not see for a moment, and express that with “I see.” Rather, “seeing” is something one does over a period of time.
Note, however, that even in this case there isn’t a true sense of the present. With such verbs, however, the problem with the progressive arises not only in the progressive but in the simple present as well. Thus with such verbs the problem with not having an actual present is even worse than with verbs like “walk.”
There is one verb, however, that has an actual present: “to be.” However, the question of being in the present is a spiritual one, not a linguistic one, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
Apr 15, 2004
Things your English teacher taught you that are wrong.
One of the sad things about the American educational system is that English is taught primarily by people who have never studied linguistics. They are well-meaning, and dedicated, and have an abiding love for the language. However, they have been cheated out of learning how the English language works by never having been told how any language works. Worse, they are operating from books that teach a theoretical form of English that was invented in the 17th and 18th centuries in a conscious effort to make English more like Latin, the prestige language of the day. This theoretical form has become the standard against which all English, and all English-speakers, are to be judged, regardless of the fact that no one has ever spoken it as a native tongue, and, truth be told, it is doubtful that even its fans speak it themselves in their everyday lives. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd for children to reach school only to be told that they don’t know how to speak the language they’ve been speaking for years? They’ve been modeling their use of the language on those they hear about them, but they don’t know how to speak English?
Here, then, are some of the things that your English taught you that are wrong, and that English teachers themselves are taught are wrong:
1. The reason why using a double negative is wrong is because two negatives make a positive. Thus, “I don’t have no shirt,” means that I have a shirt, because it means that I am not in a state of shirtlessness. These are what is wrong with this:
a. Language is not math. This one should be obvious to anyone who has every scored significantly differently on the math and verbal parts of the SAT. It should also be obvious to anyone who has ever compared the unpredictable irregularities of any language with the solid system that is math. If we were to try to fit language to the bed of math, we would have to get rid of such things as the irregular conjugation of “to be.”
b. Let’s say that language were like math. If so, then the statement that two negatives make a positive doesn’t go far enough, since in math three negatives make a negative. This means that if the rule about not using a double negative is truly based on two negatives making a positive, then their should be no objection to such statements as “I don’t never have no shirt” being considered a negative, since it contains three negatives. On the other hand, “I don’t never have no shirt, no how,” is a positive, because it contains four negatives.
This can be continued to infinite absurdity. The point is, if indeed the reason why we don’t use two negatives is because two negatives make a positive, then shouldn’t we be allowed to go ahead and use as many as we like, with our listeners keeping a silent count of how many we use? They would have to make sure that we used 17 negatives rather than 18, and therefore meant an actual negative, but the principle, that language is like math, and that therefore an odd number of negatives is a negative, but an even number is a positive, would be intact.
But it gets even weirder, because English used to have a double negative. It was stamped out by a conscious decision of the grammarians who tried to make English look more like Latin. In short, the reason why English as it is taught doesn’t allow the double negative is because some writers who had convinced people that they knew what they were doing made that rule up.Let me say that again, the rule was made up deliberately, and didn’t reflect the state of the language at the time. Before that, the double negative was used by such respected writers as Shakespeare. (As we will learn later, the very people who hold Shakespeare in such reverence actually think he was a pretty lousy writer.)
It’s probably too late to rescue the double negative, but I would like to at least make a suggestion for how it could be used, based on how it was used. The double negative could be used in two ways. It could be an intensifier: “I don’t have no shirt” would mean “I really need a shirt, but I don’t have one.” It could also serve as a way of specifying what exactly it is that one is lacking. So “I don’t have a jacket and no shirt” would mean “I don’t have either a jacket or a shirt; I could probably do without the jacket, but there’s no way I could do without the shirt.” Now wouldn’t that be a delightfully powerful addition to our language?
On second thought, it wouldn’t be an addition to our language. It would simply be a return to how the language used to be before the inventors of grammatical rules got hold of it.
Stay tuned for some more examples, such as why English has no present tense, and why “He’s bigger than me” is more correct than “He’s bigger than I.”
Mar 30, 2004
My wife and I just got back from Disney World. We both love Disney World. I know many people hate Disney – the big corporation taking over the world, homogenizer of culture, master of the fake. Doesn’t matter, though; I still love Disney.
Disneyland is supposed to be “the happiest place on earth.” No way. Disney World is. If you stay on the property, especially in one of the major hotels, you are indeed in a world that is separate from the rest of Earth. Everywhere you go, you are dealing with Disney employees. (They call them “cast members,” one of the things that I don’t like about Disney.) And they truly seem to enjoy their jobs. More of the fakery? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. There aren’t that many good actors in the world, ours or Disney’s.
The happiness is infectious. You simply feel happier there. At one point I heard a couple arguing, and I was amazed. I thought, “You’re in Disney World; how can you possibly be mad at anyone?”
The whole atmosphere of the place can be summed up in the words of a busboy at the Polynesian hotel. I had spilled my water, and he was mopping it up with a towel. I apologized to him, and with a very sincere smile on his face he said, “You don’t have to worry about nothing. You’re in Disney World.”
Mar 12, 2004
Last week my wife and I visited San Diego, and of course went to the zoo and the Wild Animal Park. At the latter we went on the photo caravan, which takes you on a truck through an area where animals roam "wild." It was great fun (if a bit expensive); we got to feed giraffes and rhinos, and pet the rhinos. (If you can call touching an animal that feels just like it looks, like a rock, "petting.")
Our guide really knew her stuff, and had a great story to tell of how she had been an accountant for 10 years before she'd had an epiphany, went back to college to get a master's in animal science, and got a job at the park. If only we could all be so lucky. One thing she said, though, bothered me, and provided the topic for this rant: the meanings of words.
At one point we encountered a small herd of European bison, which are basically like the American variety, only smaller. As part of her description of them, she complained how most people, even the government on the old nickel, called them "buffaloes," which is wrong; that there is a big difference between buffaloes and bison. From a zoological point of view, she was right. From a linguistic point of view, though, she was wrong.
Except for echoic words like "bang," all words are random sounds to which a given speech community assigns meanings. These meanings vary somewhat from subgroup to subgroup, and even from person to person, but there is sufficient overlap among them to say that a particular sound has a particular meaning. It there weren't this overlap, words would mean completely different things to different people, and we would in fact have more than one language, or perhaps no language at all.
The upshot of this is that anyone who says that “everyone uses the word X wrong” is themselves wrong. Since X has no inherent meaning, it has only the meaning which “everyone” assigns to it. If one day enough people started calling dogs “cows,” the meaning of “cow” would be that of a canine, and no amount of fussing by biologists would change that.
I said earlier that a word can have different meanings in different subgroups. This is especially common when a word has been specifically defined within a technical field, but continues to have (or acquires) another meaning in general speech. A somewhat funny example of this is the word “bug.” Entomologists would like to restrict this to what the American Heritage Dictionary defines as “A wingless or four-winged insect of the order Hemiptera, especially of the suborder Heteroptera, including the bedbug, louse, and chinch bug, having mouthparts adapted for piercing and sucking.” (This is also called a “true bug,” which is what you’ll find this definition under in the AHD.) In everyday use, however, a “bug” is your basic creepy-crawly thing, providing a useful class which unites insects, spider, centipedes, et al. Which of these is “right?” It depends on the context in which you are using the word. To use the word “bug” in the everyday sense at a conference of entomologists might cause you to be taken less seriously; to use it in the technical sense in an everyday conversation (or, worse, to insist that others use it that way to, at the cost of being wrong if they don’t) may well get you labelled a snob, a pedant, a person with a superiority complex, etc. So neither is “wrong,” and neither is ”right.”
So to Tami, my apologies, but although I admire your knowledge of animals, your knowledge of linguistics isn’t as good. When used in an everyday context, when there is no necessity to distinguish between the two types of animals, a bison is, indeed, a “buffalo.”
Mar 10, 2004
Aardvarks are beasts with very long noses.
Aardvarks are beasts with very strong toeses.
They uses their toeses for ripping up mounds
Where termites do live, on African grounds.
Mar 9, 2004
The Artus, the branching of the tree, interpenetrates the Cosmos to such an extent that the branches are found between every space-time event. It is more accurate, however, to say that the space-time events are found within the branches of the Artus. They are infinitely small pieces of nothing, the spaces found embraced by the all-pervading Artus.
Feb 19, 2004
Vassar gave me "The Innocent Age."
It went like this. My daughter is a student there, a senior now. From south of Boston, where I live, to Poughkeepsie, NY, where Vassar is, is a four hour drive. I've driven it a lot to pick her up or drop her off, and usually by myself (at least one way), since my wife usually had to work. Everyone has seemed to think I should mind, but I love it. I love it because of "The Innocent Age," Dan Fogelberg's masterpiece.
Four hours is a long time to spend by yourself with nothing to do but drive. Travelling that far you move out of range of one station after another, so there was no point in trying to listen to the radio. Instead I brought CDs. The great thing about listening to a CD in the car when you're all by yourself is that you can really listen to it. You're not playing it in the background at a party, or while you're playing a computer game; you're not even dancing to it. Driving becomes pretty automatic, and all you are doing is listening. Even better, you can do this for a long time when you're driving for four hours by yourself.
I started listening to two-CD sets. These are even harder to listen to than a single CD; it's just too much of a commitment of your time. Ever listen to "The Wall" straight through? Amazing.
Of all the two-CD sets I listened to on the four-hour drive to Poughkeepsie, it was "The Innocent Age" that I kept coming back to, until it became my traditional driving music. I've never grown tired of it, finding something new each time.
The album is a collection of songs about being a child and about growing up. They're told from a bunch of different points of view, from very philsophical/poetic ones to a single event; one's even about a horse. The title is actually ironic; the album does a pretty good job of showing how there really wasn't an innocent age. But the album is never cynical. Instead it's true.
Artists of all kinds like to talk about the importance of a work being true. I can't speak much for painting or novels, but I do know that any good song is true. "The Innocent Age" is filled with songs that are true. Fogelberg is like a prophet on this album, saying the things we know, and letting us in on a few other secrets. His lyrics are perfectly structured, with internal rhymes, alliterations, and never the expected ending:
With the catch of the day in their holds
And the young boys cold and complaining
The fog meets the beaches and out on
The reach it is raining.
The music perfectly fits the lyrics of each song; that of "The Reach" has the ocean in it.
But more important, the words are true:
Death is there
To keep us honest
And constantly remind us we are free.
I hear Marcus Aurelius in those lines, reminding himself that "the door is always open," that he can always check out of this life, so he can stand anything life throws at him.
Or, this, a disturbing truth told in amazingly agile words:
Outside the pull of gravity
Beyond the spectral veil
Within our careful reasoning
We search to no avail
For the constant in the chaos
For the fulcrum in the void
Following a destiny
Our steps cannot avoid.
As a father, though, perhaps my favorite truth is found in the song about a horse growing up:
It's breeding and it's training
And it's something unknown
That drives you and carries
When I look at my daughter, I can see things we (and life) have taught her, and I can see things, not only physical, but mental and spiritual, that she inherited from her mother or me.
And I can see that "something unknown," that something undeniably hers, that came into existence with her, and has never been shared by anyone else. I saw it as she lay in her crib, even as she opened her eyes for the first time. It has never left her, and it that, above everything else, which will drive her and carry her home.
So I'm saying that you should listen to this album. Not only that, you should listen to this album. Take an opportunity like I've had, and do nothing but listen. You'll hear the truth.
Feb 18, 2004
My daughter is dating someone from Valencia. He has dual citizenship with Spain and the US, and is very interested in politics, so now that he is going to school here he is studying American government. What most impresses him is the extent to which we have been governed by the judicial system through the years. I had never thought of it that way before, but a comparison between the US and Spanish constitutions shows this quite well. The Spanish constitution is the length of a book; everything has been nailed down, and judges have almost no leeway in applying the law. The US constitution was, in its original form, four pages long. Pretty amazing, really, that we've governed ourselves for over 200 years on four pages, with only a small number of changes.
The reason for this difference is historical. When Spain wrote its constitution it had just come out from the Franco regime, and wanted to prevent something like that from ever happening again. They therefore devised a system that was as precise as possible.
The US, on the other hand, was coming from a system in which the most important source of law was the Common Law. Common Law is that which has developed through the years, mostly through court decisions. The concept has its own origin in the traditional laws of Pagan cultures, in this case the Anglo-Saxon peoples who established England. Common Law is, then, a codification of "the way things are done." In the famous Magna Charta this was, in fact, just what was being established; we read there:
In like manner let it be concerning the aids of the City of London. --And the City of London should have all it's ancient liberties, and it's free customs, as well by land as by water. --Furthermore, we will and grant that all other Cities, and Burghs, and Towns, and Ports, should have all their liberties and free customs.
Note here the reference to "free customs" -- the barons were making sure that the king agreed in writing to allow things to be done the way they had always been done, by tradition.
It is this way of viewing law that gave America the ability to govern itself based largely on court decisions; such decisions can be seen to be tradition written into the law. When a court declares something unconstitutional it is, in fact, comparing it to codified tradition, and asking whether that's the way things are done here.
Another interesting thing I learned from him is the basic view that Spaniards, and perhaps Europeans in general, have of the US. Not whether they like us or not, but who they think we are. I figured that when they thought of the US they would think of Los Angeles, or New York, since those are the cities most shown in movies and TV. I was surprised, then, when he said that they think of the Midwest. The interesting thing about that is that mythologically speaking that's exactly what Americans consider the archetypal US culture -- that of the "heartland." So even if they don't understand us, and even if they don't approve of us, at least they are seeing the same part of us that we like to think defines us. That's encouraging.
Feb 14, 2004 (Valentine's Day)
When I took Modern Irish a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that Irish verbs don't have infinitives, so that if you want to look up a verb in an Irish dictionary you use the imperative form. That seemed kind of odd to me; no infinitive?
But it occurred to me yesterday that we don't really have an infinitive in English. What we have is a verbal noun formed by taking the basic form of a verb and putting "to" in front of it. As its name implies, the infinitive form of a verb should be the non-inflected version. But we put "to" in front of the basic verb to get the "infinitive," so we are inflecting it right there; not by adding endings, to be sure, but it's an inflection nonetheless.
So why are we told that this inflected finite verb is the infinitive? Because, like so many other rules of English, that makes it like Latin. The grammarians of the 17th and 18th centuries who made up a lot of the rules that have been foisted on us by English teachers (such as the prohibitions against double negatives and splitting infinitives) thought that Latin was the most educated and elegant language, and that therefore any proper language should look as much like Latin as possible. Now, Latin had a part of the verb called the "infinitive" which was used in the same sort of constructions as the English verb form beginning with "to," such as being the object of other verbs, so that meant that the English verb form should be called the "infinitive," just like the Latin one.
Only it ain't so. (The prohibition of "ain't" was another of their inventions, although in this case it was because they thought for some incomprehensible reason that languages should be logical.) To begin with, there is the shocking fact that infinitives aren't verbs at all; they're actually nouns. That's why they can serve as objects of verbs. In what way, then can a noun be the most basic form of a verb?
Back to Irish -- when you want to look up a verb in an Irish dictionary you look up the imperative form, right? What form do you look up in an English dictionary? The imperative form. So my surprise at being told that in my Irish class was peculiar; it was based on the misconception that the infinitive was the most basic form of the verb. It's not, the imperative is, at least in English. Rather odd, don't you think? At the risk of ticking off English teachers, it would help if there was a requirement that they take courses in linguistics so that they would know how languages really work instead of how the books say English does.
Jan 29, 2004
Lately there's been a lot of talk about an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Beyond the absurdity of thinking that the role of the Constitution is to do things like that (doesn't anyone remember Prohibition?), it seems to me that those who are supporting it are storing up trouble for themselves. Since marriage is an area in which government overlaps with religion, such an amendment would be a precedent for the government involving itself directly in the doctrines and practices of individual religions.
Attempts by religious groups to legislate their beliefs can come back to bite them. There was the recent case in Pennsylvania where a teacher's aide was suspended for wearing a cross. This was illegal under Pennsylvania law. Evangelicals were up in arms over this, and rightly so. The delicious irony was that the law had been passed in 1895 to keep Catholic nuns from teaching; it outlawed any sort of religious garb or symbols. So an anti-Catholic measure passed by Protestants was used against a Protestant. You gotta love that.
What those who propose such an amendment are missing is that they are giving an argument against themselves when they say that marriage is sacred. If it's sacred, then why do they want the government involved? Accordingly, I wrote this letter to the editor of our newspaper:
Marriage is a sacred act, a holy bond between two people, a vow which writes their union into the fabric of the universe. That’s exactly why the government has no business interfering with it by passing an amendment defining who can and who can’t enter into it. To do so would be to deny the sacredness of marriage.
I am particularly surprised by the support of the amendment by the Roman Catholic bishops. To Catholics marriage is a sacrament. Do the bishops want the government to decide who can be given a sacrament? Who can be ordained? That divorced Catholics must be accepted into full communion?
Keep government out of religion. Keep us free to celebrate the sacred nature of marriage. Protect marriage by opposing the “Protection of Marriage” amendment.
I'm asking not only those who think that homosexuals should have equal rights, but also those who believe that marriage is a sacred institution to write to their papers and elected officials in a similar way. Let's keep marriage sacred by defeating any attempts to limit it.
Jan 22, 2004
Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to know everything. My parents had the Golden Book Encylopedia, and I read through it several times, plus the occasional dipping into it when I wanted something to read. I still remember a picture of a soldier running through a trench that was used as an illustration for the article on WWI. At the time I didn't quite understand what was meant by the use of "world" here. I thought that that meant that the war was going on everywhere. I wondered how my grandparents could possibly have lived through it, imagining them hiding in trenches.
Anyway, I figured I could eventually learn everything. I eventually realized that that was impossible, of course, but then, just because something is impossible doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Since knowledge is infinite, I had to give up my ambition of being omniscient. Instead, I decided to settle for appearing omniscient. The way to do this is to know the things that people don't generally know. You don't need to know what everyone knows, because people are going to assume that you know that, since everyone knows that. But when they see that you know so many other things, people will think you must know everything. It's no great loss not to learn the things that everyone knows, because if you need to know them you can ask someone, because everyone knows them.
So, that's the way to appear omniscient.
Jan 21, 2004
Bush's State of the Union Address was last night. I hate State of the Union Addresses. Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution tells us:
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both House, or either of them
This seems to me to be a requirement set on the President to let the Congress know what's going on, how he's doing his job. In short, it's like a CEO's annual report to a company's stockholders (or, in this case, to the representatives of his stockholders), or to send suggested legislation to them. What it is not is an establishment of an annual speech in front of Congress, something which was supposed to be done only "on extraordinary occasions." In fact, although Washington made speeches before Congress, every other president up till Woodrow Wilson sent their reports in writing.
However, what the State of the Union Address has become is a chance for the President to get up before the rest of the government and, via TV, the American people, and brag about what a great job he's doing. It's a bit like a campaign speech as well, with him telling us all the great things he's going to do in the future. Hardly a providing of information, and hardly an "extraordinary occasion."
What concerns me the most, however, is the obsequiousness of the whole thing. Except for someone in the line of succession, kept apart in case the building is bombed (a not completely useful thing, since the Constitution doesn't provide any procedure for recovery after such an event, other than for the succession to the presidency), the entire goverment is assembled: both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court (the President isn't given the authority to assemble them, so one can only assume that they come by invitation), the Cabinent, and the Vice President. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are also there, as well as whoever the President wants to use as props in his report. The President is announced, and strides in confidently, to a standing ovation which goes on for a very long time. He makes his speech, interrupted by more applause, and then strides out to still more applause.
All of this is particularly appalling when it is noted that most of the applause comes from Congress and the Supreme Court. Have they no pride? Aren't they separate branches of the government, equal in power to the President and existing in part to keep him in check? Yet here they are, toadying to him like he was their boss. I would go so far as to suggest that when the President arrives he should, like the Queen of England when she arrives at the House of Commons, ask permission from Congress to enter the hall. The Capitol belongs to Congress, and the President is only a visitor, even if, under the Constitution, he has decided that this is enough of an "extraordinary occasion" to convene them.
With that off my chest, I would like to say one good thing about last night's address. At one point in it, Bush said that the Patriot Act would end soon. Now, it was obvious that he was going to say next, that the "War on Terrorism" hadn't ended. But before he could say that, a high percentage of those in attendance applauded the expiring of the Patriot Act. I have never been so proud of Congress before (and I hope that the Supreme Court joined in). If you've ready any of the other entries here, you'll know how strongly I feel about liberty, and how much I detest the Patriot Act. It would seem, however, that despite the President's love of power, and the lust for it of John Ashcroft, the Congress has decided to do its duty and serve as a counterweight to the Executive Branch. If last night is any indication, the Patriot Act will be allowed to pass into history as an warning against acting out of fear and in the sort of highly emotional state brought on by 9/11. That's very good news for all of us: Congress has remembered the Constitution.
Jan 12, 2004
Today I would like to raise people's awareness of a serious problem in our country; namely, the raising of our awareness of problems.
We are constantly bombarded with attempts to raise our awareness of problems: diseases, both physiological and psychological; sociological problems; civil rights issues -- the list goes on and on.
And that is exactly the problem -- the list goes on and on. We are so bombarded that we can't escape awareness of problems, we can never relax, we must worry constantly. We must do so even about problems that affect only a tiny percentage of people.
People aren't meant to be always concerned about a large number of problems that don't affect them directly. We simply can't think about problems which, however tragic to those with them, will never affect us. All that we get from our awareness is a raising of stress. If we really could do something about all of those problems of which our awareness has been raised, things would be OK. But we can't; there are simply too many, and our time and treasure are both too short to make any real difference in all of them. This leaves us with not only the nagging worry that maybe one of these problems will someday affect us directly, but also guilt that we aren't doing everything possible to solve them. The result is stress, the result is a problem in itself.
I would therefore like to raise people's awareness of this problem. Many of those who want to raise awareness of other problems do so in part by wearing little looped ribbons on their clothing. I therefore suggest that we do the same to raise people's awareness of this horrible problem. The color I am suggesting is clear. Clear ribbons may be made by folding over clear packing tape a few times. Wear them with pride, content with the knowledge that you will be helping to stamp out this scourge by raising people's awareness of it.
The scary thing here is that I am not joking. This is a serious problem. The message I am sending is "relax." Help with those problems that call to you, and let the others be handled by other people. Too much awareness is a bad thing, so allow yourself to be unaware of some of the world's problems.
Jan. 6, 2004
Often a movie is classified, usually derisively by men, as a "chick flick." Like most things, however, the situation is more complicated. I would therefore like to introduce my own classification system:
Chick Flick, type A: This is a movie in which a group of women sit around and bond by revealing emotional events in their lives, usually involving what pigs men are. Type A may also include tearjerkers, with tragic deaths. (Perhaps these should be sub-categorized as Type A-1 and A-2.) A good example of a Chick Flick, type A-2, is "Terms of Endearment."
Chick Flick, type B: These are the romantic comedies. Think just about anything with Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts in them.
These two types are important for men to remember. Often men try to take dates to action/adventure movies, which may be defined as just about anything with explosions and car chases (and car chases that involve explosions). My reaction to this is, "what, are you nuts, guys?" Come on, admit it, we're all pigs. It may be just my military training speaking here, but the first rule should always be "remember the mission." Do we really think that explosions and car crashes are going to get women in the mood for anything interesting?
Now it must be granted that men will generally commit suicide rather than go to a Type A Chick Flick. This is understandable, especially with a Type A-1, after which your date will be ready to swear off men completely.
However, bear in mind what Type B is about: romance. After a Type B movie, women are likely to feel romantic. And isn't that what you want, guys? Always remember the mission.
Besides, if nothing else you get to look at Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts for a while.
Dec. 24, 2003
A lot of people complain about how stressful the holidays are. I have a solution that doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting adopted, but here it is anyway.
Starting even before Thanksgiving we are presented in the stores with Christmas displays. We hear countless references to it being the "Christmas season." We enter a whirlwind of preparations while also attending parties. Then comes the big day, and it's all over in a flash. We wonder why we even bothered.
The problem is, the Christmas season traditionally didn't start until Christmas Eve. Before that was Advent. Starting Christmas came the Twelve Days of Christmas. (It's not just a song.) That was the period of celebration, that was the time for visiting friends and having parties. Instead of one day, there were twelve. Instead of celebrating Christmas at the same time as preparing for it, the celebrations were put off until the period starting with the eve.
My family has always been traditionalist. We put our tree up Christmas Eve, and take it down on Epiphany, Jan. 6th. The Three Kings aren't at the manger until then; they make their way across the living room window sills, starting on Christmas Eve. In short, we don't celebrate Christmas until it is Christmas, and then we have a great time of it.
So here's the suggestion: return to the traditional way of celebrating Christmas, and put off the fun until all of the stress is out of the way. Let the "one day" let-down disappear. Let there be a real Christmas season of fun and family. Let Christmas be Christmas.
Dec. 11, 2003
Another threat to Liberty that I had wanted to talk about is CAPPS II, the "Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening Program." This system would allow the Transportation Safety Information to conduct searches of data records of everyone who wanted to fly, and then rate the passengers either green: OK to travel; Yellow: Take this person aside at the airport for questioning and and a search; or Red: this person can't travel on airplanes at all.
I hope that the idea of the government deciding who got to fly and who didn't based on data searches scares you as much as it does me. No need to worry about protestors at international conferences anymore; just decide that they're security risks and prevent them from getting there. CAPPS II is clearly a threat to our rights, particularly that of freedom of assembly; you can't very well assemble freely if you can't get to the place to assemble.
Fortunately, Congress saw through this program, as it did the Total/Terrorist Information Program, and has put a hold on it pending a review to make sure that it doesn't interfere with personal liberty. That shouldn't be too hard; it doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that the government controlling travel with a secret designation is a threat to personal liberty. We need to keep pressure on the government, though. I've written to my senators, representative, and the president on this. I urge you to do the same.
Since 9/11, our country has been facing the greatest danger to its existence in a long time. But that hasn't come from terrorists, but from government officials, who seem determined to save America by destroying it. Don't let them.
Dec. 4, 2003
As might be guessed from the links under the subject of "America" I am patriotic, but not in the sense of "my country, right or wrong," but rather "this is my patria, and I am a member of the family." That means that I am upset when someone else in my family does something stupid, especially when it goes against the very reason we have a family in the first place.
Because of all that, I am horrified at some of the things the present administration has done in the name of protecting our country. The thing is, America isn't really a country. It's not a geographical area, or a particular government, or a group of people. It's an idea, that liberty is not only a good thing, but the best thing, and that everything else that is good either comes from it or requires it in order to exist. And that idea manifests itself in our Constitution, which was written so that our government would have enough power to protect our liberties, but not enough to try to take them away.
A short while back the Pentagon tried to set up something they called the "Total Information Program," under which they would have linked together every database they could get their hands on so that they would have know everything about everyone. Can anyone say "1984?" Fortunately Congress balked, so the Pentagon withdrew the proposal. After a decent interval, the Pentagon resubmitted it, only this time they called it the "Terrorist Information Program." Congress essentially told the Pentagon that they weren't so stupid that a name change would fool them, and shot it down again.
But that the Pentagon would try such a thing should scare the bejeezus out of us. This is what comes of the carte blanche which Congress handed such government bodies after 9/11, when it passed the Patriot Act. Fortunately, reason has returned, and now many members of Congress are having serious doubts about continuing some of the provisions of the act. That's really good news. But they need to be urged to do the right thing.
I therefore wrote this letter a while back, and sent it to my senators, representative, the vice-president, and the president. I was very disappointed that only my representative responded, but at least someone in those others' offices have put my opinion in some tally sheet.
Here's the letter:
America has been under attack since 9/11. The attackers haven’t been terrorists, though – they’ve been us. We have willingly given up what we value most in return for a sense of security. We have put people in prison with no access to lawyers. We have approved of the holding of people without being told why. We have tried to make libraries and bookstores tell us what people are reading. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The worst part is that we’ve been doing it in the name of America. But America is not people, it is not a geographic area, it is not a government, not a flag. America is an idea. It is a belief in liberty.
We have the highest praise for those who give their lives for the cause of freedom. Yet when we perceive a threat to our own lives, no matter how small, we respond by limiting free-dom. We betray liberty so we can feel safer. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The assault on liberty is found in the Patriot Act. The name alone should make us suspicious. A law that was truly patriotic wouldn’t have to proclaim that it was; that would be obvi-ous from the law itself. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that our suspicions are legitimate. The Patriot Act is not, in fact, patriotic. It does not show love for our patria, our homeland. America is an idea, and the Patriot Act is a betrayal of that idea.
Even scarier is the Total Awareness Program the Pentagon is proposing. They have renamed it the “Terrorist Awareness Program,” as if Americans are so stupid that they can be fooled by a name. The TAP is nothing more than an attempt to establish a Secret Police. It is the ultimate betrayal of the American idea. It is especially horrifying to see it come from those pledged to “support and defend” the Constitution. What the TAP proposes is, in essence, a system by which the government will be given the power to curtail liberty wherever and when-ever it wishes. The TAP is not just a violation of the Constitution, it is an abandonment of the Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin wrote, ” They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little tempo-rary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Yet today too many Americans seem happy to sell their liberty for a sense of safety. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
I am therefore asking you to oppose both the retention of the Patriot Act and the implementation of the Terrorist (née “Total”) Awareness Program. You possess the great privilege of being able to defend the idea that is America in so direct a way. Stand for liberty.
I think of Ben Franklin, and in particular this quotation of him, a lot these days. The Founders considered him the wisest of them. Here we see that they were right.
More to come.
Dec. 3, 2003
I've added a bunch of new links, reorganized the links page a bit, and made some changes (corrections, really) to the Proto-Indo-European rituals, mainly in the translations into PIE.
Nov. 19, 2003
Well, I finally figured out how to use this thing.
I thought I’d ask people for help. There’s a poem that I think I wrote back in college, but I’m not sure. It simply doesn’t sound like my style. If anyone has seen this anywhere else, let me know:
Nowhere to go
Nothing to be gained
Since everything is by nature perfect
What need is there of salvation?