Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blue Angels of Death

This upcoming weekend in Seattle is called SeaFair, and there will be lots of celebration and conspicuous American-style consumption and production of green house gases.

Part of the festivities will be a performance by the precision U.S. Navy flying team called the Blue Angels. Six pilots will fly their six F/A-18 high performance fighter jets in various acrobatic maneuvers and formations to the ooh's and ah's of the huge crowds who will be watching. The Blue Angels have been practicing today in the skies above Seattle, and they are *loud*!

When I was a kid, I used to have these huge posters of lots of fighter and bomber aircraft all over the walls of my room. I wanted to be a fighter pilot when I grew up. I thought all those planes were *so* kewl.

Now I have a slightly different view. It seems to me that the F/A-18's are designed with one purpose in mind--killing people and wreaking death, destruction and mayhem, all from a relatively clean distance where the pilot, and those who send him/her, are able to avoid the sight and the smell of blood, death, tear, and horror. Which is all kind of kewl, I guess, from one perspective.

The Blue Angels involve the use of these aircraft to glorify and perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence. Even in extremely left wing Seattle, lots and lots of people will turn out to watch them and ooh and ah over their spectacular flying. And all the while they will be, at some level, ... supporting and imbibing the idea that such machines-of-death are kewl.

I'm not saying I'm immune. Just a few years ago I went to watch the airshow. I'm just trying to raise certain questions.

  • One wonders how many of the pilots of these aircraft are ever, during their lifetime, able to connect with and attempt to understand the stories of civilians whose homes are destroyed, and whose loved ones are killed, by the pilot's pushing buttons in his/her cockpit at 30,000 feet?
  • One wonders if the human and financial costs that result from the building and deployment of these aircraft is worth whatever the benefits might be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pathos (Grief, dysthymia, and annihilating self-hatred (well, mabye not annihilating self-hatred. maybe))

So here's a brief glimpse into Benjamin's mind. Warning: darkness ahead.

My delightful and brilliant father-in-law, David Jones, has been visiting for the last couple days. I have found his presence and company enormously encouraging.

Today we went hiking in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest and the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. It was cold and wet, but not raining, and it was beautiful, and I felt remarkably good (hence the remark). We hiked nearly 10 kilometers, there and back, along the Pacific Crest Trail.

At the end of the hike, we drove down to Kirkland to meet my lovely dad at Outback Steakhouse. We went in, and sat down, and a young waitress named Alline came to take our orders. She tried to start with me, and I hadn't decided yet, so I asked her to let me order last. So she took orders from Megan and my dad and Megan's dad, and the moment she was done with that POOF, off she went in the flash of an eye.

I had been feeling quite hungry after all that hiking, but suddenly my hunger was gone, and in it's place was a feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that has become rather familiar lately--a sort of sick, empty, heavy feeling like one is about to cry. I said to myself

"Self, you need to speak up and make sure you that Alline gets your order, or else there will be no food for you to eat."

"Ah, but I no longer feel like eating anything anyway, so that will be fine. Anyway, surely even if Alline doesn't realize her mistake, someone else here at the table will, and will take appropriate steps."

"Well, what if they don't? You're a perfectly capable grown man, and by God you should at the very least be able to speak up for yourself when someone makes a smallish mistake like that."

"Aha--yes, I suppose you're right. And beyond that, I will most certainly feel like a world class idiot when their orders all arrive and there's no food for me."

"Yes, that's true, you *will* feel like a world class idiot, and it will be your own fault. Dork. Loser. You're pathetic. Now do something quick."

"But ... alas, even if I wanted to, which I don't, not entirely, there seems to be this feeling right here, at the center bottom of my rib cage, which ... has sort of paralyzed me, and I can't seem to ... do much of anything with it."

"God what a pathetic loser you are. I mean look at you. College graduate. Grown man. Father. And you can't even speak up for yourself in a relatively tiny situation like this? I mean what if you had to deal with any sort of *real* disaster or catastrophe or difficulty, like all those suffering people who actually don't even have access to potable water, or maybe like all the schizophrenics or clinically depressed people or people with borderline personality disorder? Get a grip!"

"God, how I wish I could. I. just. seem. to. be. paralyzed. with. this. horrible. horrible. feeling."

etc. etc. (I'm not making this stuff up).

That all went on until the food actually came. At which point some of the predictions of my unkind self came true. As my pathetic self more or less knew they would.

There something rather awful about a sense of being left out in the quintessentially communityish event of eating together.

Someday, I shall be emotionally healthier than I am in this present time period, and I shall ... *feel* better than I generally do currently. I'm convinced of that. Among other things, I've felt ... nearly this bad before, and then it got easier. Multiple times, actually. Thus experience indicates that it will probably get easier again. Hooray for that.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Night inside the mind

Stephen King captures a bit of reality, just so, with his mind and his pen:

Eddie thought it had been night inside of Roland's mind for a long, long time . . . and dawn was still nowhere near.

-From Dark Tower IV, Wizard and Glass

His ability to do this touches on why he has sold 100 million books.

Ever feel that way?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eulogy ("Speech or Writing in Praise") for my mom

My lovely mom died 2 weeks ago at the age of 57 after fighting ovarian cancer for three years. Today was her memorial service. I was blown away by all the beautiful things people had to say about her. Below are the remarks I gave at her memorial service, as prepared

I’ve had the grand privilege of never doubting that my mom loved me. When I was born, I was weeks premature, and I had to be airlifted from Altus Oklahoma to a larger hospital hundreds of miles away in Texas for surgery on my collapsed lung. My mom was left behind in Altus to recover from the delivery. She quickly convinced the doctors to let her return to her house to rest, and then promptly got on a bus to travel those hundreds of miles to the hospital in Texas in order to be with me.

My mom loved my quirkiness, the way I saw things from a slightly different (even weird) perspective, and made her laugh. When I was 5 years old, my mom drove somewhere with me—an hour long ride--and she brought a tape recorder and recorded my hour long inquisitive monologue. She kept that tape for many years, and when I was in my mid-twenties I listened to it, and after about 10 minutes I was so annoyed with the non-stop questions in that annoying five year old voice that I had to turn it off. “Mommy, why do cows have spots? Mommy, why is grass called ‘grass’? Mommy, do worms yawn?” But she not only listened and attempted to interject an answer occasionally, she recorded it and kept it as a treasure. I remember once on Ben Howard Road we drove past a sign for a garage sale that read “Giant Sale”, and I said “Hey, kewl, they’re selling giants.” And my mom just totally cracked up, and soon we were all laughing. I remember standing in the kitchen while she was trying to cook, in my mid-teens, and pestering her and pestering her until she grabbed up a huge, half-cooked turkey drum stick and starting chasing me around the house with it, until we both collapsed in helpless laughter.

I remember my mom as an amazingly disciplined devout person. She would literally pray and read her Bible for an hour every single day. Sometimes you could catch a glimpse of her there kneeling by her bed, and sometimes she would be weeping. She would seek out prayer partners, and fastidiously meet with them to pray and talk about spiritual things. She memorized long passages from the Bible, and tried to live by them.

She delighted in my love of learning. She taught me to read and write at home before I started preschool. It was apparent to me that she was secretly delighted when she caught me in my bedroom with a flashlight reading after I had been clearly told to turn out the lights at night. When I recently completed my bachelor’s degree, she was *busting* with pride for me, and she told me so multiple times, as well as reminding me that I mustn’t take all the credit for my success.

My mom was the most gullible person I ever knew. Without fail throughout my life, I could set her up by telling her some story totally straight-faced, and she would believe it, and then we’d all end up laughing uproariously, and she’d be laughing with us. Back in the 1990’s, we used to go camping and fishing every year to a little town on the edge of the national Forest called ConcoNULly. One year my sister and I, on a whim, told my mom this elaborate story about how there had been a meeting of the town council and they had decided to change the pronunciation of the town’s name to ConCONully. We convinced her, and she went around the rest of the day calling it ConCONully to everyone she met. Finally, she realized she had been duped, and we all laughed together uproariously.

Perhaps the only thing that delighted my mom more than chocolate was her two grandchildren. She *so* delighted in Megan and my two daughters, Éowyn and Coco, and the delight was returned by them in full measure. She would drive the 80 mile round trip faithfully every week to hang out with our two girls while Megan and I went on a date. They would all walk down to the park, and Nana would read them some of their favorite books—the Katie and Madeline books, and Angelina Ballerina, and Hairy Maclary. And inevitably if we had any chocolate stashed anywhere in the house, it would have mostly disappeared by the time we got home.

I want to share with you a pair of quotes from Shakespeare and from Bob Budiansky. Put together, they go like this: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. There are transformers, more than meets the eye. Transformers, robots in disguise.”

Many of you knew my mom, and you knew the delightful, devout, kind, loving, amazing person I’ve been describing. But much like a transformer, there’s more to this soulishly beautiful, mind-blowingly hopeful person than you imagined. Her story is bigger and deeper and far more meaningful than you, or I, can possibly imagine—the reality of her is more than is dreamt of in your or my philosophy.

You see, there are also darker aspects to my mom’s story. To leave these out would be like erasing Mordor and Sauron and the One Ring from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings tale. It would rob my mom’s story of all its real power and beauty. So I want to tell you about three evil rules, and how my mom chose to break them. And I want to talk about something called “enstorying" by which I mean providing for others the enormous blessing of setting them within a story--of creating self worth for those we love by showing them that they are part of a narrative bigger than themselves. I want to talk about hope, and the reality of the possibility, at any time, of destroying the vacuum of un-story by choosing to enstory our loved ones.

There were three evil rules in the home in which I grew up. They were these: Don't talk, Don't feel, Don't think. They weren't designed by my mom. Rather they were imbibed by her as the rules of the home in which she grew up. I have little doubt that those rules go back to families of origin before my mom's. Today is a chance for me to break these rules again, and hopefully to encourage you to break them. I believe that's what my mom would *totally* want.

I would love to have known Mom better. It's *hard* to get to know someone under such rules. She was a very ... guarded personality. Dan Allender talks about how it's impossible to protect our children, and that the thing we *can* do for our children is to *enstory* them. In many ways, my mom was unable to enstory me. Some children grow up being enstoried in the culture and history of the families their parents came from. This never happened for me. I've met my mom's dad on three occasions during my lifetime--all very brief. Growing up, I was not set, by my mother's stories, into a longer line of being. I have absolutely no acquaintance with any of my mother's aunts or uncles, although she had many of them. I've never met any of her cousins. I was never initiated into the Catholic Church of her youth. I never heard stories of JFK, or the Vietnam War, the wild and wooly sixties of her adolescence. I was never introduced, as a child, to the music of the Beatles, of whom my mom, like most of her generation, was a fan.

In fact, looking back, the veritable dearth of story is absolutely astounding. I never heard stories of high school, of first love, of first driving a car, of running off at age 18 to serve in the U.S. Air Force overseas. I never heard stories of beauty school as a teenager, or what *was* Boston Massachusetts like in the 1960's, anyway? I hardly heard stories of her meeting my dad, nor of their wedding, nor much of anything else.

It's almost as if there were some gargantuan black abyss where all the stories should have been.

Of course, I never *realized* this, growing up. As is true for children in general, I accepted as denotatively normal pretty much everything that happened during my growing up. Unbeknownst to me, I lived through my mom's attempt to ... overwrite large chunks of her story, by setting down, more or less over top of it, a new story, a different story, one which in many ways ... matched up well enough with her real story so that she was, for 15 years at least, able to make it work well enough to keep her own true story hidden. In other ways, however, this new story absolutely denied vital truths about her own real story--truths that would eventually work their way free, in one way or another.

I only began learning about my mom's *real* story in the summer of 2001, when I was 27 years old. I had decided by that point to begin learning to break the three cardinal rules of the home in which I grew up. What I learned surprised me enormously, and yet ... also provided a framework which helped me to make sense of a lot of things which I had not previously understood, about myself and about my family. I learned that my mother had been the victim of incestuous sexual abuse at the hands of her own father. Since 2001, I've had a lot of time to process that, and I've come to understand, just a little, the sort of soul torture involved when an innocent child is abused, is raped, by an adult who was supposed to have been nurturing and enstorying them. I still have only the faint beginnings of an understanding of what undergoing such horrific trauma over a period of years and years does to a soul. What does it mean to carry around with one the paralyzing and totally false guilt that whispers that it's really my fault? What does it mean to travel with that for 3 decades before finally reaching a place where you can begin to process it and find some healing?

I am *astoundingly* proud of my mom. She is one of the strongest human beings I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Yes, it took a long time for her to reach the point where she began to face the horrifying truth about her own real story. But she did it. She could easily have turned away when that door opened, much as Frodo could have refused to carry the One Ring. When you obey a set of rules for 40 years, it is *astonishingly* easy to keep obeying those rules, even if the rules have caused really high levels of pain. But I have watched over the last 7 years as my mom began to break the three rules she grew up under. She started talking. Haltingly at first. Over these last seven years, I've had conversation after conversation with her, practically *begging* her at times to engage with me on a real level. And although it was clearly, at first, amazingly painful and difficult for her to do it, she *never* gave up. About three months ago, my extended family gathered around my mom's hospital bed and she gave a speech to all of us. She said "I've learned, from Megan and Benjamin and Kat, that the don't talk rule is no good. I'm going to die soon. And so we're going to talk about it. Here's what going on for me, and here's how I feel, and here's what I think. And now *you* guys talk! What do *you* feel? What do *you* think?" I just about busted with pride for her.

In choosing to open the door to the terrifyingly dark realities in her own true story, my mom also opened the door to the astounding beauty and joy and hope and *life* in her story. And she began, over these last couple years, to *enstory* us! So I know *some*--not all, not even *many*, but *some* of the pieces of my mom's story now. She began filling in that black abyss of unstory. I am *super* grateful to my mom for doing that. As I said, she is one of the gutsiest most amazing people I've ever had the privilege to know. I do *not* think of her as the victim of childhood sexual abuse, but rather as the *survivor* of childhood sexual abuse--it has the same sense as "holocaust survivor", and she deserves, in my mind, a similar honor. My mother chose to *really* hope--not the fake easy hope that pretends the darkness doesn't exist, or that the pain and damage and horror aren't real, or that they can somehow be dismissed or instantly fixed. But rather the impossible hope that chooses to turn and face the darkness head on, daring to hope beyond hope that somewhere in and through the darkness there is a *real* glory that is actually more powerful than that darkness. Her dizzyingly powerful hope is one I can only hope to emulate, as I attempt to choose to understand my own story and to enstory my own children.

Thank you for letting me share.

If you are a victim or perpetrator of child sexual abuse, if you know of or have suspicions about an abusive situation, if you have questions about how to prevent child sexual abuse for your own children or your church or group, or if you simply have questions, please feel free to call StopItNow’s totally confidential helpline:
1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368)
No caller ID is used on this line.
Or visit

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More proof

that I'm' ... hoping, again. Gotta stop that.

McCain recently made another "joke" about killing Iranians. God what a shit-head. Honestly.

But instead of thinking "Americans are *so* freaking obnoxious, blind, and violent.", I thought "This guy is so going to get his butt kicked in the November."

See--that hope thing. What's up with that?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hillary's "debt"

I'm a bit confused. Can anyone help me out with this concept?

Reports have it that Hillary Clinton's campaign to be President of the United States is 23 million dollars in "debt", including 11 million which she "loaned herself". Furthermore, apparently some people within the Hillary campaign, and some of her supporters, are upset because Obama and all his friends aren't doing enough to help her retire the "debt". For instance, here.

But reports *also* have it that Hillary ended 2007 as the proud owner of 35 million dollars in fairly liquid assets. (not to mention her husband's wealth).

So again, I'm a bit confused. If she ... "loaned" her campaign 11 million, that leaves her with ... 24 million. Which means she can quite *easily* pay of the other ... 12 million of campaign debt, and still have 12 million dollars left over.

Is 12 million dollars not enough? I mean if you stick 12 million dollars in a *super* conservative investment portfolio, you can very easily make 8 percent a year with pretty much zero risk. Which works out to ... an annual income of 960,000 dollars, without ever raising a finger. If you add in her Senate Salary of 169,000, that gives her an annual income of 1,129,000 dollars, which puts her in the top .001% of all wage earners in the world, basically making her approximately the 107,000th richest person in a world of nearly 7 billion people.

Maybe I'm missing something. I don't understand about the "debt", nor about the emotions associated. Can anyone help me out here?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Thomas Jefferson Bible

Making good on a promise to a friend to summarize his views on Christianity, Thomas Jefferson set to work with scissors, snipping out every miracle and inconsistency he could find in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Then, relying on a cut-and-paste technique, he reassembled the excerpts into what he believed was a more coherent narrative and pasted them onto blank paper -- alongside translations in French, Greek and Latin.

story continues here

Friday, July 04, 2008

this made me grin delightedly

It also represents a certain zenith/nadir (depending on you POV) for me. I used to have to pretend I didn't understand these things, as I found them too embarrassing. Now here I am posting such.

Stars and Stripes Forever, Muppet Version

H/T Helen

Empire Day, and River Vision

You should read my posts on Empire Day, ... er, the Fourth of July, over at

And you should definitely check out Brooke's She has this crazy awesome inspiring story.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


This is my ringtone--it's the kewlest ringtone I've ever heard. Which probably only serves to demonstrate how eclectically wierd I am.

This also strikes me an incredibly hilarious.

What their gambling habits say about the presidential candidates

I read this fascinating article on Obama and McCain's gambling habits. It sort of reiterates the doom for McCain in the upcoming election. From both a political and a gambling perspective, Obama's choice of poker, along with his style of play, speak to him being a winner. McCain's choice of craps, on the other hand, speak to him being a loser, both in gambling, and in politics.

Why? Well, people who play craps, for the most part (that is, except for the exceptionally dedicated dice control people), are there to lose, and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. The house has a definite edge off the top, plus for most people the house also have the edge in terms of standard deviation, which just means that completely aside from their disadvantage off the top, most players don't have a nearly big enough bankroll to avoid the house eventualy winning, on any given day, simply from the standard deviation downswings which will leave the player broke.

People who play poker in the Obama style are there to win, and they're fighting neither the house edge off the top nor the casino's bottomless pockets in terms of standard deviation.

Beyond that, Obama uses the poker games as a political asset. Whereas the craps games turn out to be a big political liability to McCain.

All of this speaks relatively clearly to the crushing McCain is crusing toward in November. Hooray.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's shockingly sad that

Helen Dewitt's brilliant The Last Samurai has an Amazon Sales Rank of 194,889, while William Young's The Shack has a Rank of 8.

Allow me to gently recommend that you read the former, and skip the latter.

I mean ... you can get it for only something like 43 cents plus about $3 shipping. The Shack is going to cost you 20 times that plus the $3 shipping. And Dewitt's book will definitely profoundly move you, if you have the gumption to read it all the way through, whereas Young's book will mostly just rehash a bunch of already over-hashed theology (although it almost manages to redeem itself, in the end). Plus once you get addicted to Dewitt's book, you get a full 544 amazing pages, whereas even if you *do* end up liking Young's book, you're going to run out of it at page 272.

Hey--look at that. Dewitt's book is *exactly* twice as long as Young's book. It's a sign. Twice as long, and at least twice as good.

If you do read, or have read, Dewitt's book, I'd love to hear your reaction =)

That sick empty feeling

Do you understand to what I am referring when I sat "that sick empty feeling"?

There are both physiological and cognitive aspects to the emotion.

I mean to say there is definitely something happening physiologically, involving the release of various hormones as regulated by various organs in the brain and elsewhere. I could talk about that a bit more in depth--I had to study it enough over the last 4 years getting the psychology degree.

But the more interesting thing is the question of the cognitive attribution, or misattribution, of that physiological stuff. As it turns out, we are *not* super good at understanding ourselves, in various ways. One of these ways is understanding what is *causing* the physiological stuff we call emotion. For instance, it's relatively easy to trick people into believing that the physiological stuff they are experiencing as a reaction to exposure to perceived physical danger, like walking on a really high up suspension bridge across a deep gorge, is actually a .... romantic/sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex. Which is to say that such a suspension bridge is a relatively excellent place to pick up guys or girls.

In light of all that, I'm wondering to what extent my own current ongoing experience of that sick empty feeling in what in the common vernacular is referred to as "the pit of my stomach" is related to the death of my mother last week, and to what extent the experience is related to my current status as university graduate who is seeking a job and feels like he has no actual place in the world where he belongs and wonders if he'll ever have an actual income again. I suspect most of the feeling is caused by those two things, but sorting out how much is caused by which is a bit of a challenge.

Not that it would make it any easier to know, really. That old insatiable love of learning/quest for understanding things seems to still operate with it's invariable efficiency, despite the rather powerful ongoing experience of negative emotion. =)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Addendum to my Christmas wish list

It's July 1, which means there are only approximately 175 shopping days left until Christmas. As an addendum to my Christmas Wish List from Last year, I want the following:

  • Ownership of the domain name
  • An opportunity for an amazing job (ideally well before Christmas)
  • Someone to pay off my school debts
  • A cure for dysthymia
  • My grandfather, David Eaton, to be prosecuted for rape of a child
  • A working malaria vaccine
  • A working HIV vaccine
  • A sense of community
  • Faith (this would please my wife, I think)
  • A cure for cancer
  • __________________
(I left one blank in case I think of something else)

What do you want?