Stephen Kahn

Archive for the ‘Hard to tell’ Category

Last story. Part 1.

In Hard to tell on July 18, 2012 at 12:04 am

Old people talking about their illnesses is tedious (even, or perhaps especially) to each other in the hospital. It’s time for a story. It may be the last one I have, because I live on peaceful Whidbey Island, even though the local newspaper rumors that NBC Dateline will cover one of our big murder trials.

Or the exciting news may be the integration of our chicken coop. The black “sex-link” pullets (teenagers) are trying to sleep with the Dominique hens (doesn’t that sound racy)? (The Dominiques are a mixture of black and white, rather like Barak).

Except Lucy, the bottom of the adult hen pecking order (and a very belligerent hen with a very bad attitude) says, “No pullets on my perch and no pullets on the nice new perch next to mine Grandma installed.” Then Lucy pecked the pullets’ tail feathers in a very nasty way. The pullets fled and hid in their closet. But then Grandma talked to all the hens and sternly told them they had to sleep together like good little hens, and in the morning there were no feathers or bloody spots to be found. So peace reigns in the hen house, sort of.

Instead I will tell about the time I almost became a Kenyan millionaire, just before I retired.

The underground non church church

In Hard to tell, Humor on June 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Omnivores (a category that includes our chickens, my wife, and myself), seem to function best if they eat a varied diet and engage in a variety of activities. Thus our chickens eat a worm here, a beetle there, a blade of grass over there, and a clover leaf just next to where you are standing. They wander from one part or another of the chicken run, sometimes pecking each other to test the pecking order, sometimes hiding in the ferns (for who knows what reason), sometimes running to the gate in the hope I have brought them some “chicken candy” (raw oat flakes).

I appreciate that some of my blog readers are religious believers (who tolerate my atheistic rantings) and that some of them are like me, “ethical nihilists,” or very close to such. I hang out with the Lutherans at the wood splitting (and probably will again) when my current ailments mend enough. For the most part I find them amiable enough, but I do not attend their church services. I also hang out with the organic farmers and gardeners, and with the local library folk, and sometimes even head a little far afield, as when I attended the Whidbey Island Republican caucus, where I placed my own nomination for President (a libertarian but not Ron Paul) and spoke in favor of gay marriage (so my daughter and daughter out of law can make honest women of each other).

However, at the last Lutheran woodsplitters get together, their amusement at their indoctrination of tiny children rubbed me the wrong way. So I set forth to attend an atheistic church session. Which I did, though things almost went badly amiss. I will tell more in future episodes, as well as revealing my devious plans for Whidbey Island proselytizing.

Tell me why you stopped reading this post

In Bad news, Good news, Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Getting back to the cults I belong to, I will briefly and redundantly review the ones I have described.

Transition Whidbey. Worthwhile points: realize that we are running out of fossil fuels and that economics based on never ending growth cannot continue. Silly points: Failing to realize that humans are dangerous, wicked creatures; failing to acknowledge we need to shoot people before they shoot us; and thinking that positive thinking avoids conflict and tough decisions.

Trinity Lutheran Church. Worthwhile points: treating each other kindly and supportively; outgrowing nastiness and cruelty of earlier versions of Christianity. Silly points: Believing in unreal and imaginary concepts such as God, Satan, Heaven, and Hell and life after death.

Another cult I belong to is the Red Cross. As with other cults to which I belong, I am completely unsuited to this cult. Worthwhile points: The Red Cross acknowledges that bad stuff happens in this mundane life, and tries to prevent such events (where possible) and prepare for recovery and aid. The bad stuff occurs because of natural disasters – storms, earthquakes, floods, land and snow slides, forest fires, epidemics, and a multitude of other such events, as well as from human caused disasters, whether wars, genocides, land and snow slides, epidemics, forest fires, and so on.

As unsuited as I am for the Red Cross, I am even less suited to be a First Responder, a person who rushes to the scene of an disaster and provides immediate medical attention or SWAT team firepower. For example, if trying to perform CPR I would forget the exact steps and be squeamish about breaking the victim’s rib cage.

Transition Whidbey talks about future events that may not be occur or may be forestalled. We may not really run out of fossil fuel, or may at least discover some substitute that does just as well – solar energy, tidal power, bicycles. Religious believers talk about events that can’t not be proved or disproved – Heaven, Hell, etc.

The Red Cross forecasts events that occur often enough – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – that they seem likely to occur again – and also forecasts events rare enough – that many people consider them unlikely, and prefer not to spend time thinking about them, much less energy and money preparing for them. For example, the most likely disasters where my wife and I live are probably a major earthquake and/or a tsunami. My wife and I have prepared in ways large and small. Small: we have placed a sturdy rubber band around the knobs of our main kitchen cabinet. In the event of a moderate to strong earthquake, the band will (we hope) prevent the doors from flying open and all our china dish ware flying to the floor. It’s a little inconvenient because we have to remember to put the band back on each time we open the cabinet doors to remove or return a dish. Large: We have installed (at some expense) a large water tank outside our house. If power is out for days, our well pump will not work, so we may need to have enough water to live on for weeks. Also, we have purchased a large (cranky) generator so we can run the well for short periods of time, run our refrigerator-freezer, for short periods of time. If no earthquake occurs, this will all be wasted time and effort. On the other hand, if a major earthquake occurs, we will be glad, though we will then be faced with the issue of whether to share with (or leach off) our sparse neighbors, mostly (like us) living on acreage in the woods.

Some of the possible disaster events are unlikely indeed, but not impossible. For example, consider volcanoes. Having lived in Portland, OR at the time Mt. St. Helens erupted, and having quite a bit of volcanic ash land on our roof and our street (and having driven through a serious and almost blinding ash cloud on a trip between Portland and Seattle), I don’t consider volcanic eruptions impossible. However, scientists talk about supervolcanoes that have occurred in the past. Some have occurred in fairly recent times, one of the most famous being Krakatoa, in Indonesia. Just as the Richter Scale measures earthquakes, the Volcano Explosive Index (VEI) scale measures volcanic eruptions. Krakatoa was probably a VEI6, killing somewhere between 30,000 to 120,000 people. Geological records indicate that some volcanic eruptions have hit VEI8. In modern times, a VEI8 eruption would quite likely destroy humanity.

A lot of speculation focuses on Yellowstone, where VEI8 eruptions probably occurred before humanity was around to wipe out other species, such as dodo birds. If a VEI8 occurred, we (people living on Whidbey Island) would probably not have much time to worry about anything, but it’s quite possible that a VEI6 or VEI7 might occur, and then all our preparations for disaster might prove useful, or might simply prolong our agony.

But not to worry, there are lots of other natural and unnatural disasters to fret about, such as Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). During the cold war, both the United States and USSR considered using EMP pulses as weapons, as they might destroy the infrastructure of an enemy, particularly communications, power generation and transmission, and the like. Although the cold war has subsided a bit (though not dangers of various kinds of warfare), nature still likes to yank human beings around. So our old friend SOL (the sun at the center of the solar system) creates its own EMPs, by occasionally sending us star signals (solar flares.) We may be due for some jolly ones next year. Probably the largest documented solar “storm” in human history was in 1859. While there was no Internet at that time, humans did have some “modern” devices, such as telegraphs, and they were hit hard.

“Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe.”

One of the projects the Red Cross works on is encouraging people to be prepared for disasters. Mostly disasters likely to occur in our geographic region. My brother lives near Joplin, MO, so he should be prepared for a tornado. My brother’s situation is complicated as 1) he was a weatherman when he was in the Navy and 2) he is crazy (either schizophrenia or bipolar, depending on which of his psychiatrists you talk to). The last time there was a frightening storm in his area, he was looking out the door with interest describing the weather cells while his wife (who related the story to me) was urging him to get downstairs into the storm cellar. Also, a lot of people in these area don’t have storm cellars, though after a tornado hits, quite a few people who were not hit, rush to buy one. I think they may also be called “barn doors” as a nickname, as in “Closing the barn door after the horse has been blown away by the tornado.”

Here in Puget Sound, we are not likely to have a tornado. However, a few weeks ago I was a bit surprised to read in the local newspaper that a “twister” hit a nearby town, knocking down several trees (though injuring no one). Near the end of the story, a person who had observed the storm said that he had lived in the Midwest, observed tornadoes, and would have to describe our storm as a “tornado.” (I am guessing that the newspaper decided not to use the word “tornado” in the headline or lead paragraphs of the story.

Problems with trying to alert people to prepare for possible disasters include objections such as 1) “Prepping” (apparently “preppers” is now a term preferred to “survivalists”) is expensive; 2) Prepping is difficult; 3) thinking about disasters is frightening; 4) leading to “I don’t want to think about something so scary.”

If this blog post was so frightening (or boring) that you stopped reading about ten or twenty paragraphs ago, please leave a comment about why you stopped reading.

The bitter libertarian who hates social workers

In Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I met J at the gym. Gradually, we found we have much in common, but are also quite incompatible.

For example, in the stuff in common category, we are both Jewish (though do not much regard it as a meaningful label), both come from unhappy families, both at times lived in the New York City area (though Joe much longer than I), both have had some slightly dangerous and disquieting experiences. (J worked for an alarm company for a while.)

For one thing, my wife and I are both still alive, and both in reasonably good health, despite a variety of aches and pains (not unsurprising to people in their 60s) and despite my recent leg infection and hospital visits.

J, on the other hand, lost his wife to an illness a few years ago. Evidently, the experience left him bitter and angry, as he was I gather, quite fond of her. (Perhaps there is some guilt involved, but I can’t really decipher if this is the case.)

J has contemplated suicide, and as he is a bright fellow, he has thought through the most effective way to perform such a deed. He finds it difficult to amuse and distract himself, but he says what works best is to read books with short anecdotes. I tried to find some books for him that fall into this classification, but he is very prickly and and more often than not, says, “No. That does not amuse me that much,” when I suggest something, though on a couple of occasions I did have some success.

J, also considers himself a libertarian, and rails about big government and taxation. I gather (though I am not sure) that over the years he has amassed (through investments) quite a bit of money. We don’t have much money, though, for now we get by comfortably enough. I suspect, that now that his wife is gone – his money does not comfort him that much.

I attended the recent Republican presidential caucus for my part of Whidbey Island, though through most of my life I have more often voted Democratic (though not rigidly or exclusively). As this was before Romney became the probably nominee, people were all over the map in their choices, with interesting ironies and paradoxes. (Such as members of the party of “family values” fervently supporting Newt Gingrich, hardly a paragon of keeping it in his pants.)

There was a strong contingent of libertarians present. I was not entirely surprised to see J there, advocating for Ron Paul. I have an emotional attachment to anarchism/libertarianism, though I consider it quite impractical as an actual system of organizing human society.

J was there, crankily muttering about Ron Paul. Everyone got a minute or so to speak to the assembled group, before breaking up into small groups and then with members of our own precinct). I spoke in favor of Gary Johnson instead of Ron Paul. Gary Johnson is younger than Ron Paul. While Ron Paul seems fit and coherently incoherent, he is a bit on the elderly side, and as I am as well, I felt entitled to speak in favor of a younger person. Also, as Gary Johnson has actually held public office (as governor of New Mexico), he seems surprisingly pragmatic for a libertarian. No one paid any attention to me, including my acquaintance J.

Washington State is going through a commotion about gay marriage. My daughter and her partner don’t want to settle for civil union or domestic partnership. I spoke to others asking them not to sign the petition to repeal Washington State’s gay marriage law. [A while after the caucus I write about, it has been submitted, and there will indeed be an election in Washington state.]

I was amused. In a small group where I spoke in favor of gay marriage, limiting myself to one minute, and disclosing that my daughter wants to marry her partner). A gentleman politely responded, explaining that some of his best friends were homosexual, and that he had nothing against homosexuals, etc., etc., and going on for 15 minutes, (I checked my watch) and explaining about what God and Jesus wanted, etc.

Finally, after listening and not arguing, I politely said I had to rejoin my caucus group and left his table, where he may still be going on about what God and Jesus want, for all I know.

J has a thing about social workers. Apparently (I never quite got all the details), as his wife was dying in her hospital bed, a social worker told him something, or reassured him about something, or simply said something that upset him. Anyway, he speaks of social workers with great bitterness and contempt.

I have known a few social workers. Similar to how I regard people of various religious groups, ethnic groups, etc., I think they come in a variety of qualities as far as intelligence, ethics, likability, etc. J was having nothing of it. On the other hand, he doesn’t care a whit about homosexual marriage, though I doubt he objects to it. Side bread is buttered on, etc.

After listening to him rant about social workers a few times, I finally revealed to him that my aunt Arlene had been studying to be a social worker at UCLA and was murdered. J had the grace to restrain himself from blurting out, “Served her right,” though I suspect the thought ran through his mind. Whatever.

The entropy of salesmanship

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 12:25 am

Humans are quite varied, as individuals and in the groups we call “cultures,” and civilizations. Over long periods of time we gradually change. One of the changes I perceive occurring (at least in my culture) is that we are developing quite a bit more of “sales resistance.”

Humans are curious creatures (in several senses). As we developed reason and language, we observed and drew conclusions and then attempted to persuade others. One person ate some plants, did not get sick; and told others: “This is good to eat.” Another person ate some plants; threw up; and told others, “Don’t eat that; it will make you puke.”

These efforts to convince other people of various practical and abstract ideas has been called salesmanship, proselytizing , and so on. For example, humans noted that plants died down in winter and came back in spring; they eventually concluded that “human death,” (a depressing event) might not be permanent; they began to develop religions which spoke of rebirth. At first, these ideas were rather crude and silly (wrapping pharaohs in mummies and burying them in huge pyramids); then they became crude and silly in more sophisticated ways, such as Christian burials and ideas about Heaven and Hell.

During my lifetime, I have noticed that humans have gradually developed more sales resistance. There is still lots of sales activity going on; radio, television, and the Internet are deluged with advertisements. However, in person to person activities, most of the people I know personally are constantly selling something (whether it is something practical – such as how to eat well, grow carrots, or how to worship God – but most people are very resistant to other’s sales efforts. And even those doing the selling are much more polite and tentative.

When I was in my thirties, my wife and I ran a small prepress business. I constantly got calls from people selling equipment and supplies. Aggressive sales people called on me in our shop. I clearly and vividly remember one salesman, selling an alternative brand of equipment than the one we used. He walked into the shop, followed me around as I worked, and constantly explained to me how his brand of equipment would be cheaper to operate, easier to operate, and more effective in getting my work done. He offered to bring in one of his machines (which would have been quite an elaborate, expensive, and difficult operation at that time) and do all my work for a day, to demonstrate how much better his equipment could carry out our work. While I was irritated by his persistence, I did in fact admire his effort and determination. However, I refused his offer.

In fact, I had studied the matter enough to realize that all three major brands of equipment in the business at that time had good points and bad points, and all three could do the work we did well enough. After about an hour of his aggressive “salesmanship.” I finally reached my limit, confronted him, and said, “I am tired of listening to you. I want you to leave, right now. If you don’t, I will call your boss and complain about how you are harassing me.” Even with that aggressive response on my part, it still took me about ten minutes to get him out of our shop.

I have had religious believers, (most notably Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) knock on my door and behave in a similar manner. Once, when I was home alone doing some work for my job, and rather bored, a Jehovah’s Witness (surprisingly, by herself and without a partner) knocked on my door. Grateful for any excuse to avoid doing the work I was supposed to be doing, I invited her in. Quite sensibly, she backed away quite hurriedly and left my home as fast as her legs could carry her.

Certainly, in the earliest days of Christianity and Islam, salesmanship was quite a bit easier. Christians showed up in places such as Britain and Ireland, said, “Hey our loving God is much better than your Druids; go with us.” Even though the Christians got a little carried a way at times, and murdered those who disagreed as vigorously as the Vikings or Druids did, quite often preaching alone did the job.

Same in Mexico and Peru. While Cortez and Pizarro were not exactly gentle folk, quite a few of the inhabitants were not that fond of sacrifices in temples where hearts were cut out of virgins and whatever, and sometimes the gentle preaching of priests was persuasion enough. My favorite early Christian, Roger Williams, was much loved by the Indians he befriended and studied. He didn’t really try to preach to them, but he probably did convince a few Indians that Christianity was a pretty cool religion.

The Trinity Church Evangelicals I do volunteer work are full of opinions about what kind of chain saw to use (Stihl), what kind of truck to drive (all over the map), and what kind of God to believe in (a very kind version of Christianity with room for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists (and probably just about any non-violent version of God you want to worship). However, they are extremely polite and patient about my (finally revealed) atheism, and most reluctant to challenge it.

I am also a bit bemused by a recent comment in my blog trying to convince me of the wonderfulness of Christianity, even after reading my scornful and sarcastic comments about it. I am fairly sure that Robyn, the person who posted, will not persist in arguing after such a hostile reply on my part. Salesmanship just isn’t what once was, though this may not yet be true on Iraq, Afghanistan, or North Korea.

One of these days, we will all be almost completely silent. (Technological developments such as Twitter reflect our increasing reticence. Humans will approach each other quietly and politely, offer a little food or a kiss, and then slink back into the trees.


In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on June 2, 2012 at 11:06 pm

As I was congratulating myself on my infected leg’s progressing recovery and as I went to bed, I began to suffer from an upset stomach. After some dramatic moaning on my part, my wife called our HMO’s Advice Nurse, who after some diagnostic questions urged me to call 911 (she was obviously concerned I might be having a heart attack). So I called the 911 dispatcher, who advised me to CHEW four of my baby aspirin (I normal swallow one each morning as a prophylactic measure — chewing is vital so they get into the blood stream quickly). A couple of volunteer EMTs arrived and assessed me, a process I observed with interest mixed with my continuing discomfort. As the pain was not shooting up my arms and I was not showing other immediate indications of cardiac arrest, they did not start pumping my chest or applying paddles.

After a bit, a better equipped AID unit arrived with professional EMTs.

They also assessed me, with more sophisticated equipment involving EKGs and other diagnostic actions. They also evaluated that I was probably not having a cardiac event, but decided to transport me to the island’s hospital. My wife and I scrambled to bring necessary items. Interesting to me was that no matter how well one thinks one is prepared, one is never perfectly ready for emergency events. I simultaneously left things I might have brought and brought things that proved unnecessary.

I was gurneyed from our house to the ambulance, a little tricky with steps and doorways, but managed successfully.

One EMT drove, the other sat in back with me and monitored my EKGs, blood pressure, pulse, and so on as we traveled. At first I was in a stupor, but after a while I recovered enough to question the personable young man. He grew up in Oak Harbor (the city/Naval base at the north end of Whidbey Island); decided to become an EMT right out of high school; and alternates this work with working on Alaskan fishing boats (an occupation I consider right up in danger with climbing Mt. Everest, but he evidently regards as good clean profitable fun); and has a small child.

Eventually we reached the hospital emergency room. (My wife followed a little later and reached the hospital about 20 or 30 minutes after I arrived). Various nurses attended to me and continued the cardiac monitoring. As a “rural” hospital, the accommodations are a bit “bare bone” and the nurses very preoccupied, but I have no complaints about my care or treatment. However, one of the items I should have brought was reading matter as I had long periods unattended and bored.

As usual in hospitals, one gets little not very welcome awareness of other people’s suffering. I heard a lot of loud choking and coughing in a nearby room – I wondered if I should notify the nurses, but later heard one comment to another that someone had thrown up extensively. Nursing is fun work, but most of the nurses I have encountered over the last months (perhaps close to two dozen) seem to enjoy their work.

Eventually a personable young doctor arrived to examine me. (He was interrupted twice to attend to more urgent medical situations.) After asking questions, examining the diagnostic results, and listening to my heart with a stethoscope, he cautiously told me that I didn’t seem to be having a heart attack, but it is not always possible to know for certain. (I learned perhaps more than I wanted to know about the ambiguities of such events.)

He asked me when I had had a stress test [it had been within the last year, I think]. He told me that my heart has a slight murmur. (This was new news to me, despite many people listening to my heart, especially over the last month.) He said, unless I objected, he was going to release me to go home, but he advised me to get a stress test and exam from a cardiologist as soon as possible.

It was now about 3 am in the morning. My wife drove me home very carefully. As we got on the county road that extends the last five miles, we saw two different deer hoping to foil my safe return with suicide assaults, but my wife (despite lack of sleep) alertly avoided them and got me home safely, where I stumbled into bed and quickly fell asleep.

After about two hours of sleep, my wife sturdily got up to let the chickens out and get them their food. She then sat to rest on the couch, and fell asleep. I tiptoed around and went back to bed and listened to the radio on earphones, so she could catch up on desperately needed sleep. After all, she needs to keep her strength up until its my turn to care for her. (This is what life is like when people get old. Perhaps a good reason to avoid reading my blog.)

Monday we have to talk to my personal doctor about whether I should get a stress test (and whether my leg is yet well enough for such exertion). Also, my wife frets about whether our HMO covers the cost of our treatment at a remote location. It’s supposed to if I am admitted, but as I was merely treated as an “outpatient” perhaps there is some loophole and we will go broke.

Another tip. I have quite a bit of body hair. My wife has always said she finds this trait attractive, and regards the modern trend to remove most body hair as repulsive, and turning people into “newts.” However, when you are undergoing a lot of medical treatment, with many applications of electrodes and bandages and “PIC” lines and the lot, and removal of such, body hair causes quite a bit of discomfort as these medical paraphernalia are added and especially removed. (Though, I confess that cold, such as the application of cold hands to my body, causes me much more discomfort than the occasional bits of hair being ripped out.)

How young to indoctrinate?

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on June 1, 2012 at 3:33 am

The Trinity Lutheran Church is clearly an evangelical Christian church – that is, one of their main purposes and motivations is to get other people to join their church. Their style and approach in doing so fooled me for a bit – it seems so low-key and inclusive compared to other evangelicals.

However, despite their good nature and tolerance (compared to other evangelicals I have encountered), from time to time they still manage to rub me the wrong way. One of the behaviors that irritate me about religious believers is how they indoctrinate children into their belief system when the children are at a very young age. I am not sure what is a better method though. When my daughter was young, I did not say much about religion. When she was in kindergarten, George, a naughty boy who lived next door told her, “Santa Claus is not real.”

My daughter related this to me when she came home from kindergarten. Going Socratic, I asked her, “What do you think?”

“I don’t think he is real. Why did you let me believe in him?”

I said, “I thought it better to let you figure it out for yourself.”

After that, I didn’t have to say much about religion. However, she soon became an atheist, perhaps from being raised by atheists. Also, one of her baby sitters began to teach her about Jesus without asking us, which irritated me quite a bit, but it had no effect.

My daughter’s partner was raised as a Methodist. When she and my daughter became an “item” in college, my daughter converted her to atheism in fairly short order. As far as I can tell, their scheme for our granddaughter (now 8 years old) is to start taking her to various churches when she is a little older and let her decide which one she prefers. My daughter said to me, “I hope she decides not to become a religious believer, but it will be up to her.”

One of the last times I was at Trinity Lutheran Church, after a wood splitting session, the Pastor was teaching a religion class about Jesus and the Resurrection to a group of small children, probably about 3-5 years old. They were acting out (it was near Easter) a little play about Jesus rising from the dead. The Pastor came over to us (the wood splitters) after the children finished chuckling.

“I have to share a story with you,” he said with a grin. It seems that a little girl (about four or five) was playing the role of Jesus. I guess she got to pretend to be crucified on the Cross. As she was lying in the tomb, waiting to rise from the dead, the little girl began to call out, “I have to go pee pee!”

The Pastor and everyone in the group (except me) found the story amazingly charming and entertaining. I kept as amused an expression on my face as I could, but in fact I found the episode unpleasant and distasteful. I have said nothing to Craig or any of the other Christian wood splitters, but the next week I took a trip to the mainland to drop in on a meeting of “atheists, humanists, freethinkers” and the like. I felt a great relief to be around a group of people whose attitudes and thinking was much closer to mine. We watched a movie about abortion, called “Lake of Fire.” The movie and discussion was interesting and well done. (The movie was not “anti-abortion” or “pro-choice.” It was a documentary about the issue and portrayed many points of view and many incidents, including a scene of a baby being aborted and portrayed incidents involving people who had assassinated abortion providers.

Meanwhile, back at the cult shack

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm

After the Lutherans split and deliver some wood, they (and I) meet back at the church to chat, eat cookies, and drink coffee. Many of them worked for Boeing (which I have never done). Many of them served in the military, though as far as I know, none of them in combat. Most of them have more money than we do, so they travel the world (just as Craig and Sharon are visiting Greece and Turkey right now), so they chat about the places they have visited (which vary, but often involve the “Holy Land.”)

I regard them as amiable and pleasant, but I feel a bit of distance. I do not (at all) believe. I never worked at Boeing. I never served in the military (except for a tiny exposure to ROTC when I was in college). I have less money than most of them, though they are not condescending about the matter.

The area where we chat, eat cookies, and drink coffee is the church library. It contains many Bibles, many books about Christianity, books about other religious beliefs (in keeping with the Lutherans’ ecumenicism and tolerance), but no books about atheism, secular humanism, agnosticism, and the like. I could add a few books on such topics (I have a few favorites), and no one would object, but I know they would disappear.

On a couple of occasions, Craig spoke enthusiastically about a book he had read, called The Shack. He said it started out in a rather harsh way, about a man who had a bad relationship with his father, and who lost a young daughter to a murder. He said that he didn’t like to read about such grim matters, but as he read on, the man encountered some odd characters at the shack where his daughter had been murdered (during a camping trip the man took with his children). These odd characters turned out to be God (who mostly incarnated herself as a black woman), Jesus (a carpenter), and the Holy Ghost who appeared as an Asian woman.

Through his interactions with this Trinity in human form, the man became reconciled with the tragedies that had oppressed his life, and stopped blaming and hating God.

Out of curiosity, I read the book. I have known many Christians who stopped being Christians and regard conservative evangelical Christianity with some disdain. As I have never believed in it (and was not raised to believe in it), my disagreement with that religious belief does not fall into quite the same category. However, although the book was readable and held my attention, it did not convince me of the existence of God, nor did it reconcile me with the hostility I would feel if I knew God was real. I published a review of The Shack at


.01% of the way to religious belief

In Hard to tell on May 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Quite a while back, when I just began writing about cults I belong to, the lovely, intelligent, and ever hopeful of converting me KarenO wrote, “I don’t suppose any of the cults you belong to are religious in nature.”

On the contrary, Karen, my sweetie. [If you will forgive the presumptuous familiarity.] Across the street from the the Island Athletic gymnasium where I work out (yet another of the cults, yet undiscussed) stands Trinity Lutheran Church. On the readerboard each week appears an inspiring message. About a week ago, it said something to the effect of, “Skeptic? Doubter? You are welcome here.”

Of course, readerboards do not have enough space for footnotes. If there were, the footnote would say, “Assuming you are at least 80% of the way to faith.”

In my case, I am at about .01% of the way to faith. Nevertheless, I participate in this evangelical Protestant Christian cult.

If women ran the world …

In Hard to tell on April 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I have often been told that if women ran the world, it would be a more peaceful and better-run place. There certainly seem to be differences between women and men. Besides the obvious physical differences, there are differences in style. Women often seem to have a politer and more self-effacing way of conducting matters when they are in charge.

On the other hand, history seems to show examples of rather blustery and blood-thirsty females, such as Catharine the Great of Russia and Elizabeth I of England. In Africa, there were for a while a fairly fierce tribe of female warriors, the “Dahomey Amazons.”  .

More recently one can find examples of dominating female leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin, and violent women such as Belle Guinness and Aileen Carol Wuornos. Gunness was a female serial killer who lived in La Porte, Indiana. (My mother grew up in that area and told me about Belle when I was a child.) Wuornos was a prostitute who was eventually executed for killing seven men.

While not exhaustive, the following web site provides a good taste of women gone bad over the centuries.

However, as a generalization, in my experience female leaders more typically have a quieter and less blatant way of exercising power than men. I have had some good female supervisors and some bad ones; in general the less obviously domineering style applied to the full range. In my last job I was severely harassed by two female supervisors; the methods they used were quiet, polite, and sly.

Transition Whidbey is certainly not a violent or domineering organization. (In fact, it tends to go too far in the other direction.) It’s hard to say who “started” the transition towns movement, but women became important initiators and instigators from an early stage. At Transition Whidbey, women pretty much “run” the organization (or dis-organization as it may more properly be described). Which leads us to the next aspect of Transition Whidbey I will examine.