Tuesday, October 31, 2006

...could schadenfreude be part of love?

Eowyn pulled *all* the linen out of the linen press to make an enormous pile of towels, sheets, blankets, and so forth on the floor the other night. Her father, who had just finished working rather hard to tidy up the house, was quite dipleased, and he said to her "You will remain here and you will pick up all the linen and put it back in the linen press, and if you do anything else before this job is done, ... the universe will become even more excessively unpleasant for you than it is generally is." (this is a slight paraphrase of what he actually said)
Eowyn felt completely overwhelmed by the enormity of this task, and she wept hideously as she *so* slowly picked up one item, put it back in, and (with encouragement from dad) picked up *one* more item, and so forth. "I *can't* do it, dad" she wept piteously" "You can, and you will" he replied. This continued.
Some 15 minutes later, Eowyn came to find dad in the kitchen with a mega-enormous smile on her perfectly beautiful face. "Dad, I wanna show you something. Come with me." She proudly showed off the empty floor and the full linen press, and could be glimpsed beaming her pleasure at the accomplishment throughout the house during the following while.
While Eowyn was so piteously weeping and working on this task, dad was feeling some schadenfreude. It was composed of two parts. Part A was a sense of triumph that (at last) Eowyn was feeling a tiny bit of the weight of the burden that her destructive tendencies create. Part B was a sense that this was actually good for her, based on remembrance of some of his own overwhelmingly unbearably enormous tasks and how astoundingly good it felt when he actually got through them in spite of himself.

Other notes: 1. I wonder how many of you can follow the (strange yet funny) logic behind the ketchup above?
2. Word of the Day: Schadenfreudian slip--unintentionally failing to politely conceal the schadenfreude one feels

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Composite image of earth and sol

Isn't this kewl? It gives one some perspective. Of course it's a bit off, because we are also *much* further away than this from the sun!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday videos: From U2 and Green Day--"The Saints are Coming"

From Nikki's myspace

Monday, October 23, 2006

46 Percent of Americans believe that...

The universe was created on or about today's date, October 23, in the year 4004 B.C. (6010 years ago today)

Some caveats:

1. This is according to the gallup poll
2. This is according to Usher's chronology.

I'm terribly curious, so here's a little poll for you: do you:

A. Believe the earth is approximately 6000 years.
B. Believe the earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old.
C. Believe the earth is some other age--and if so, what age?
D. Have no idea what age the earth is.
E. Have no idea what age the earth is, and not really care anyway.

And 2. Do you believe Adam had a belly button?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

14 hours of real diplomacy and honesty

Was fascinated by this little vignette over the last two days.

October 22, 2006, 11:26 GMT: BBC News reports that Alberto Fernandez
, an Arabic speaker who is director of public diplomacy in the state department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told Qatar-based al-Jazeera that the world was "witnessing failure in Iraq". He was further quoted as saying,

"I think there is great room for strong criticism, because without doubt, there was arrogance and stupidity by the United States in Iraq."

The state department claimed that it was not an accurate quote, but BBC monitoring said he did indeed use the words "arrogant" and "stupid".

October 23, 2006, 1:43 GMT: BBC News reports
that Alberto Fernandez was quoted as saying,

"Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on al-Jazeera, I realised that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase: 'There has been arrogance and stupidity' by the US in Iraq,"

"This represents neither my views nor those of the state department. I apologise."

So he was allowed 14 hours to express the truth and be truly diplomatic at the same time. So here's my question: I wonder how overt and how extensive was the shit that came down on Mr. Fernandez over those 14 hours? I suspect we'll never know...

Meanwhile, one has to ask whether the only two legitimate responses to the following set of demands from a Baath party spokesman are to A. capitulate now or B. capitulate later.

"Fernandez was interviewed after a spokesman for Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party, using the pseudonym Abu Mohammed, said that the US was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that fighters opposed to the US forces were ready to negotiate, but would not lay down their arms.

He also set a series of conditions which he said would have to be met before talks with the US could begin.

They included the return to service of Saddam Hussein's armed forces, the scrapping of every law adopted since Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the recognition of fighter groups as the sole representatives of the Iraqi people, and a timetable for the gradual and unconditional withdrawal of US and other foreign troops in Iraq.

"The occupier has started to search for a face-saving way out. The resistance, with all its factions, is determined to continue fighting until the enemy is brought down to his knees and sits on the negotiating table or is dealt, with God's help, a humiliating defeat," Abu Mohammed said.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Video:

Harlan McCraney, presidential speechalist

Two ways to increase your happiness today

1. Surf around a little over at Dr. Martin Seligman's Reflective Happiness Site. Dr. Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology, and he's done a tone of really rigorous research into what happiness is and how people can increase their happiness. Fascinating stuff. You can sign up for his program for the first month free, or you can just read lots of his stuff and start to work on increasing your happiness without signing up for anything.

2. Make and eat some schadenfreude pie. (click on the name for the recipe) For those who don't know, "schadenfreude" is a brilliant German word which means (as best I understand it) pleasure taken from someone else's misforture. It seems to me that this is an emotion which David, author of the psalms, seemed to openly get right into, but which modern christians would mostly pretend to eschew.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Aussie and U.S. Citizenship oaths

Somehow the differences in these two oaths talk about the differences in the nations.

1. Australia:

Officially called the "Pledge of Commitment":
From this time forward, under God,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.
All new citizens have the choice of making the pledge with or without the words 'under God'.

2. United States:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Which country is more afraid? Why?

To see other citizenship oaths, check out wikipedia's citizenship oaths page.

Stateless persons and misuse of words

Somehow I found this featured story at English Wikipedia heartening, in that at least America is not the only nation committing evil in these ways (now there's a great example of Benjamin's evil twisted logic!). It seems that Australia's high court decided that Al-Kateb, a "stateless" person, could legally be "detained" indefinitely. Two thoughts:

1. I wonder how much of the crap I complain about would go right out the window if I were to be more generally aware of the number and present reality of people who are currently "stateless". Just try to get your head around what this adjective means. In fact, if anyone has any further information and/or knows of any way we can help such people/get involved, please let me know. I'd love to add a link to my A.M.C. section about this subject.

2. How do we get away with using a word that seems so very gentle--"detain"--to talk about something so awful? I guess the same way that Christians use "communion", "eucharist", or "the Lord's Supper" to talk about a cannibalistic feast. Our language as human beings seems to me to be often tilted in such a way as to avoid the unpleasant/horrific realities of the the things we are talking about.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Benjamin published at off the map!

So I have been hanging out lately over at the blogs of Off the Map, a non profit founded in 2000 to try to help Christians do evangelism. This week, I got "published" twice on their blogs. Firstly was on churchrater.com, where off the map encourages churches to download their church review form and pay a non attender $25 to come and fill out the review about their church--kind of like a secret shopper. I did a review of the church where I used to attend, Grace Seattle (but I didn't get paid for it =)
Secondly, an "interview" with me got published on Conversation at the Edge, another Off the Map blog which is a dialog for christians, atheists, and people in between.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Enchanting Justice!

Recently finished John Grisham's new book, The Innocent Man. It was riveting, as is usual for Mr. Grisham's legal thrillers. And fascinatingly, unlike his previous courtroom novels, this one is entirely a true story! The best thing about the story, in my opinion, is the overwhelmingly enchanting justice. "Enchanting Justice--what the *(@?^ is that?", you may ask. Well, I don't want to spoil the book for you. But there are *real* bad guys, who really hurt innocent people, and not only do they get their comeuppance big time in the story. They also get to have their names and their evil exposed in a book whose author sold 60 million copies of his books in the 1990's--that is to say, this book will probably hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and hang out there for a while, and perhaps 10 million people are going to know all about the evil that the bad guys in this story did, and their real names, and where they live, and where they work! I find that enchanting--completely magical.

your most terrifying moment...

Saint Louis, Missouri

So I have been having a lengthy conversation with Luke (from St. Louis) over here. We started out in some sort of debate about theology (at least that is how it seemed to me) which occurred because I rather don't like Dietrich Bonhoffer, and Luke rather does. I started to feel my attention drifting (as is bound to happen with me when theology becomes too much the subject of a conversation). Wanting to refocus, I thought "I know, I'll ask a question the answer to which is sure to interest me." So off the top of my head I asked "What is the most terrifying moment you ever experienced?" I was hoping to be spellbound--enchanted--something which Christine Wicker says we all have a huge desire for in her newish book "Not in Kansas Anymore". And then I thought--hmmm--what's my answer?

The most terrrified I can ever remember being was a 2 day period a little before Megan and I were wed on Nov 25, 2000. I awoke one morning--awoke quite suddenly--with the feeling of a ton of bricks piled directly atop my chest and the voice of god in my head. He was saying "Benjamin--guess what? I am going to require you to tell megan all your scariest darkest most horrible secrets before you get married." this is the only time in my life when god has ever spoken to me in such a commanding way--it wasn't as if he were giving me any choice--it was just that I had to do it, period. And I knew exactly what horrible secrets he was talking about. And I knew that telling them to Megan would hurt her mega enormously. I was completely terrified more than I ever had been. It wasn't that I was afraid she would hate me or not want to to marry me or stuff like that (although that came into it). It was just the horrifying fact that I would be hurting her so. In fact, I was so terrified that I made an appointment with a cousellor to talk with them before I talked to Megan. As it turned out, my fear was well founded. And yet, I am gigaprofoundly grateful that god made me do that, because it somehow helped create the space for our marriage to be and become the astonishingly beautiful/delightful thing that it is. god is very good to me (sometimes...)

So what is your most terrifying moment?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

oops--guess we miscounted, or 'what our U.S.$333 Billion is buying us' Part II

Oops. Looks like we miscounted. Here's what the United States has accomplished in the 42 months, and U.S.$333 billion (yes, that's a full one third of 1 trillion dollars (which is how much nobel in economics prize winner Joseph Stiglitz says the war will ulitmately cost U.S. taxpayers), since invading Iraq:

1. 655,000 extra Iraqi civilians dead--that is, 655,000 more have died than would have died if we hadn't invaded.
2. A resurgence of the Taliban (former harborers of Al Quaeda and women oppressors extraordinaire)
3. One member of the so called "Axis of Evil", North Korea, now has nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

where does meat come from...

The following conversation during the bedtime ritual with my two lovely children tonite:

Benjamin (singing): "...and zebras and mollusks ..."
Eowyn "What are mollusks?"
B: "Mollusks are little animals in the ocean that live inside shells that open and close like this (demonstrating with fingers) and they are really yummy to eat"
E: "You can't eat aminals (yes, aminals, not animals) (said with a "come on, you know you can't eat aminals, duh" tone of voice)"
B: "Well, where do we get meat, then?"
E: "From the store (same tone as above)"
B: "Where do the people in the store get it?"
E: "From the people in the store! (same tone, patiently lecturing a somewhat stupid student)"
B: "But where do the people in the store get it?"
E: "Oh...probably from dumpster diving or something"

(now where could she have gotten that idea???)
(let us all raise our glasses to subverting the dominant paradigm)

and this with my wife regarding this blog entry:

Megan: "Oh, 'mollusks' is spelled with a 'c', not with a 'k'."
Benjamin: "Actually (jumping to other firefox tab to look at wikipedia) ..."

Wikipedia says "The mollusks (American spelling) or molluscs (British spelling)..."
Now why would Benjamin and Megan disagree on a spelling...?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dry Fish...

Ok, what I don't get about the whole thing with Mr. Foley: Why is it about the republicans, and why does everybody act so shocked? People acting shocked about other people's "sin" (there, I put the word "sin" in a post) always strikes me as being a lot like fish acting like they are shocked because some other fish is wet. Whatever. Same goes for it being about republicans. "Oh my god, look at all those sharks trying to pretend like they are not wet. I'm sure glad we're *really* not wet" --overheard from a school of minnows.
Very strange. Still, if somehow the whole thing contributes to the republicans losing control of congress, well, I guess I'll consider that a good thing. Not because I necessarily thing democrats are so great, but rather because I suspect/hope that with different groups of generally evil people in the two different branches of the government, their opposition to each other *might* lead to a ... slowing down of the general evil.
Actually, nah, I guess that's prolly not gonna happen regardless... I guess Elrond had it right "The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

My ideal presidential candidate.

Over at Conversation at the Edge, back in August, there was a post along these lines: "Describe your ideal candidate for president of the U.S. in 2008". So I responsded, and I thought I'd post my response here. Let me just say that since there is no way I'm gonna find anyone to vote for who actually fulfills all my criteria, right now I'm going with the best option I can find, and joining others to urge Jeffrey Sachs to run for president. Following is my off-the-cuff description of my ideal presidential candidate for '08.
I would want a president who did not want to be president. I think we should have a draft for president, where you have to serve if you are drafted and elected. I want a president who has lived for at least two years outside the U.S., and ideally outside the west. I want a president who speaks at least 3 languages fluently. I want a president who is committed to reducing U.S. prison population (and not by killing them). I want a president who is committed to bringing universal health care to the United States. I want a president who wants to tear down, rather than build more, the wall between Mexico and the U.S. I want a president who thinks the one campaign is a brilliant idea. I want a president who has zero connections with big oil companies and big arms companies, and who would be thrilled to see arms companies go out of business (like reliant techsystems, for instance, or big chunks of honeywell). I want a president who will find a way to channel U.S. dollars to quickly clean up the UXO problem in countries where we’ve created that problem (laos, for instance, and vietnam), even though those countries don’t want money connected to the U.S. government for this purpose (understandably so!). I want a president who is committed to reducing the portion of the federal budget that goes to “defense” by 50%. I want a president who wants to spend more on higher education than we do on offense (oops, did I say “offense”–I guess that would be “defense”). I want a president whose ardor for professional sports is prioritatively similar to my own (I suppose you can guess what that means). I want a president who is not ashamed of the fact that she is a recovering ___________ and who feels at home in a 12 step meeting. I want a president who is totally committed to cutting world nuclear weapon stockpiles in half during his one term, starting here. I want a president who cannot be convinced to run for a second term.
I'd love to hear a description of your ideal U.S. presidential candidate in 2008

Monday, October 09, 2006

More evidence that ...

we live in a broken world which was cursed by its creator.

Helen Briggs

This story this week out of the United States: Virginia. It seems James and Helen Briggs of Alexandria, Virginia have decided they want to "unadopt" their 16 year old son, whom I shall call Jesus, although he was left unnamed in the news reports (thank God!). Facts of the case as I understand it:
1. Jesus was sexually and physically abused by his drug addicted biological parents (who were themselves doubtless abused (with, no doubt, infinite regression))
2. Jesus was in and out of 5 foster homes and various "psychiatric institutions" from the age of 16 months until the age of 10 years.
3. Jesus met Helen Briggs, excellent foster mother, in 2000 at the age of 10. The two came to love each other, and Helen and James Briggs adopted Jesus.
4. In 2003, at the age of 13, Jesus sexually molested a 6 year old boy and a 2 year old girl.
5. On an aside, these actions put Jesus at the top of the list of "types of pariahs in america in 2003".
6. Also in 2003, Helen Briggs learned for the first time of the darker elements in Jesus' history.
7. In 2006, Helen took steps to "dissolve" the adoption, saying she never would have adopted Jesus had she known his true history.
8. Under Virginia law, she can't do that unless Jesus consents, which he does not do.

quotes from the story:
*"[Jesus], now nearing 16, wants Briggs to be his mother forever, according to [his] file."
*"You don't want to throw somebody away, but sometimes you have to." said Helen Briggs
*"He feels unloved," a counselor noted in his file. "That he doesn't belong in the world."


1. Is god capable of redeeming such a situation?
2. Is god interested in redeeming such a situation?
3. If you answer yes, what about you allows you to answer thusly?
4. Did this story make you weep?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"what do I want?"

So I came to understand something about myself this weekend. I went to the OM Ships alumni reunion here in Seattle this weekend. There were perhaps 30 people there who had all served as volunteers at some point in the past 40 years on board OM ships. For those of you who don't know, back when I was generally over 50% Christian, I spent 2 years (1998-2000) working as a volunteer on board MV Logos II, a ship with an all volunteer crew of 200 people from 40 different nations. The experience was a lot like any human experience--that is to say, a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This morning after breakfast Myles (who, by the way, is another one of the people who has on a couple of occasions has created that lovely space that I spoke of in the George Macdonald post) invited us all to share one or two memories from our time on board the ship. The first two people who spoke shared these lovely, uplifting, encouraging, hopeful memories. I was sitting there trying to decide wether I should A. get up and leave or B. Say something quick. This was because my two strongest memories from LOGOS II are from just before my wife (then girlfriend) Megan and I were rudely and painfully kicked off (read: excommunicated) the ship and sent "home" (whatever the hell that meant at that point). In other words, my prominent memories were (still, after 6 years!) pretty freaking painful and negative. And with my overwhelming horror at fakeness and pictures of reality that are massively tilted towards the positvie etc. (read happy happy joy joy "Jesus took my burdens and he rolled them in the sea, never to remember anymore"), I wasn't coping very well with the idea of sitting there listening to another 10 or 12 or 15 people in a row share their happy happy joy joy memories. Well, gracious Myles noticed my agitation and graciously and very gently urged me to share. So I did--I told them the story. And they responded very graciously, mostly by other people getting up and sharing some of their painful memories and "thankyou, Benjamin, because I wasn't gonna say anything" and from the leaders of the alumni organization "Thankyou, Benjamin, because this is what we were hoping these reunions would be like", and so forth.

However, the second person who responded to me said "so what can we do for you, Benjamin--what are you looking for from us?". To which I responded, at that time, "I'm not looking for anything--I just can't stand unbalanced views of reality.". But afterwards I realized that I was looking for something from them, and what's more, I actually received what I was looking for. And it was that *they* honestly share their stories with me.
This was a lovely realization. My overwhelming dislike of happy happy joy joy is rootedly connected with my enormous need for REAL connection with other people. And when I am in a social setting and feeling (as I *often* do) like I can't stand another minute of all the fakeness and superficiality and positivity, this isn't just a negative/dislike thing, it's a reflection of a hugish desire for a good/like thing. That's me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Did you ever feel like this...

There is a misty twilight of the soul,

A sickly eclipse, low brooding o'er a man,

When the poor brain is as an empty bowl,

And the thought-spirit, weariful and wan,

Turning from that which yet it loves the best,

Sinks moveless, with life-poverty opprest:--

Watch then, O Lord, thy feebly glimmering coal.

George Macdonald is the one who more than any other, over the years, has magically created a space within which I could be a Christian when I could find no other such places. (There are a couple other people on the list of people who have done this space creation over the years, but none are as prolific in my story as George)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

In answer to the question...

'What are we doing to maintain this (economic) disparity (between the poor and the rest of us)', there's this story this week out of (where else) the United States of America. We are going to spend U.S.$1.2 billion to build a fence between the United States and Mexico. That's almost half the U.S.$3 billion we need to control malaria worldwide for one year, that is,to prevent half of 2.7 million deaths and 2 billion infections ((3/1.2)*2.7 million = 1.08 million) mostly in children under 5 years of age in Africa

In other words we've made the following choice for our U.S.$1.2 Billion:

1. Prevent 750,000 children under 5 from dying
2. Build a fence to help maintain our lofty economic status in the world.

(consider this my uplifting thought for the day)
(for a more even mix of actual uplifting and depressing news, see the executive summary of the 2006 state of the future report

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

oxymorons and other thoughts

Good news from this week: From a friend of mine: "The lower power has a powerful yet limited repertoire"
Bad news from this week: Looks like hostilities are restarting in Uganda
Oxymoronic Headline from this week: "Rice calls on Palestinians to Halt Violence. This from a senior official in the regime (oops, I mean, administration) that started the Iraq War, in which 48,000 civilians (try not to picture your local sports stadium with every seat occupied by a dead Iraqi civilian) have died over the last 3 years
Do we dare expose ourselves to actual images of what our 300 Billion dollars (see counter at upper right!) is actually buying us? See some photos of what's really happening in Iraq here Iraq War Images (warning: graphic photos!)
Question for the week. How do you feel about The Bush Doctrine (military preemption?) Is it ethical? Is it working?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Math headaches

I've noticed something peculiar. When I concentrate on calculus for a few hours, trying desparately to understand, especially when I haven't done any math in months, I get a peculiar and very specific headache which is centered directly behind the bridge of my nose and hurts like ... well, like a profanity. I don't get this particular headache from anything else. So I read a ... difficult article today from Simone Weil (she was a genius!) and she says the primary purpose of school studies is to develop the discipline of attentiveness in order that we may apply this discipline to prayer (loving God) and others (loving others). I urge you to read the original article here Simone Weil--Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God. Read more about Simone Weil