Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's Bill Watterson's Fault

2005 was a terrible year for the world & for the United States.

The Earth shook, stormed, & flooded. There'a nothing we can do to prevent it, but there's much, much more we can do to make ourselves safer.

Our national government is in terrible condition, & we know why. I'm coming around to the view that George W. Bush is the worst president we've ever had. I don't want to believe it; Let that one go to Buchanan, giving up Federal armories to treasonous slavers. A few presidents have been dangerous because they were incompetent, & a few because of what they believed. George W. Bush is dangerous for both reasons. & he ran for election twice, lost twice, & is still president. But no matter what, a minimum of 30% of Americans are idiots, always were idiots, & always will be idiots. No matter what questions the pollsters ask, that 30% is there. This probably applies to the entire human race. 2005 comes to a gloomy end.

I've had worse years than 2005. But I haven't had a good year since 1995.

My girlfriend left me early in 1996. She was an artist; she got married about a year later, but I haven't seen or heard anything since then about her or her art. The civil service job I started late in '95 turned out awful, then I was laid off in the Clinton welfare reforms. Neither was acceptable. My mother died that year, a miserable end to her decades of alcoholism. I started therapy in '96, it seemed to be helping, then my therapist announced he was emigrating to Israel. There were some good times over the next decade, a few hopes. There were no new "relationships" of consequence. Until 1996, I'd rarely been alone for 30 years.

It's Bill Watterson's fault. We mark a sad anniversary today. At the end of 1995 Watterson gave up Calvin & Hobbes, one of the most intelligent, funniest, lovable, & best drawn comic strips of all time, & by far the best daily strip of its time. Calvin & Hobbes sold a copy of the Star-Ledger to me 7 days a week. Sunday's color C&H was often a frame busting work of art, & Watterson had waged a hard, bitter fight to win an open field for his beautiful creations. He was a giant among mainstream comic artists. There were a few other strips with integrity, but none with the genius. The single panel The Far Side had ended a year earlier. After C&H passed into history, none of the other strips I read while the comics pages were open held my loyalty. No doubt about it, my life went into decline when Calvin & Hobbes ceased publication.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vince Everett

Someone brought Elvis to the party, so
I put on the new Lennie Tristano
record & said, “Mister Presley, if you
added a final couplet to your new
song, you’d have a perfect Shakespearean
sonnet form, & what do you think of the
latest poetics from Charles Olson?”
Elvis replied, “Mister, I don’t what
the hell you’re talking about,“ & walked out.
He assaulted my innocent daughter
in front of the house before he went home.
I’d say he crashed the party,wouldn’t you?
But there’s nothing wrong with him that a few
years in the Army couldn’t straighten out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ornaments to Remember

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Strange Feeling: Death in the Fog

Sunday night, I caught the 8:03 train from Elizabeth. It was a few minutes late. This put me in Newark Penn Station about 8:15. The connecting PATH train to Jersey City hadn't pulled in, so I walked downstairs & picked up a train schedule at the info booth. I went back upstairs, through the PATH turnstiles, & after a couple of minutes the train came. I enjoy this part of the trip, & usually sit in the first car with an engineer's view out the front window. The train goes over the Passaic River, stops at Harrison, then across the Meadowlands, paralleling the Passaic for some distance, the scenery includes Pulaski Skyway angling in from the south. After crossing the Hackensack River the train stops at Journal Square before it drops underground. But as I was sitting on the PATH train in Newark waiting for it move, I felt very uneasy, even anxious about the trip. I flashed on a tragic accident decades ago when part of a commuter train rode off an open lift bridge over Newark Bay, & recalled news photos of the dangling cars. The unusual feeling was so strong that I actually considered getting off & waiting for the next train. But it was a Sunday night schedule, & since I'm a fairly rational person I reasoned my way through it & the trip was uneventful, except for the fog & an unsettling feeling that didn't fade away until after I arrived at the familiar & insular WFMU building (even the reliable Exchange Place station elevator scared me when the doors closed & it didn't ride up right away).

Back home Monday morning, I learned that at about the time I got on the train in Newark Station, two Jersey City police officers were driving to their deaths off a Hackensack River bridge they didn't know had opened for a tugboat.

Monday, December 26, 2005

DJ'd a six hour radio overnight, lots of Christmas music during the first half. It was old-timer's night at WFMU, with Bob Brainen, Frank O'Toole & I doing shows. We were in the studio together at midnight. "Wow, this is like 1985," I said to the dismay of the other two free form geezers.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Those Christmas Eves

My parents put a lot of effort into Christmas, making it quite magical, particularly when I was very young, 4, 5 years old. They had a feel for tradition & theater. Fans of Norman Rockwell or Doctor Spock, read on.

Christmas Season started when dad stapled up the strings of colored lights around the front porch. A some point he added two funky giant candles he'd constructed out of cardboard cylinders, cellophane. & light fixtures. Everything he designed looked designed by a dad.. There were lots of decorations tacked or taped inside the house, & our one classy display, a beautiful creche set probably purchased at Woolworth's in the 1930's. When dad knocked an opening between the living room & a narrow "playroom" addition he built on the side of the house replacing a wraparound porch, it became a kind of stage complete with draw curtains, spotlights, cotton snow, figurines, & the nativity scene. It looked like we had family puppet shows. Over time, the Holy Family & Three Kings were joined by small wind up robots, plastic dinosaurs, & various H-O size train accessories. Mom was into baking Christmas cookies, some of them flavored with ashes from her Raleigh cigarettes. In my earliest years, the tree wasn't put up until late Christmas Eve after the four children were in bed. So Christmas Eve was more about anticipation & mystery. It's supposed to be about those things.

Mom made spaghetti for Christmas Eve supper, was fast & easy, & she'd be pretty busy for the next 24 hours. One of my brothers wanted his wife to continue this "tradition" which she justifiably rejected as peculiar if not cultish. After supper, we were put in the care of "Nana," our resident gramma, & mom & dad went to the "visit" Phil & Gertrude Sprague, an older couple with a teenage daughter who lived next to the high school. Mrs. Sprague was a piano teacher & none of us became good pianists. In fact, all our presents were stashed at the Spragues; it was futile to try to hide them anywhere in our house. I'm sure mom & dad loaded up on a few drinks before they loaded up the car. Meanwhile, back home, we put out cookies & milk for Santa & hung stockings in the playroom. My parents came home after we were in bed & supposedly asleep. They carried in the presents & dad brought in a Tree, probably kept in a neighbor's garage. No doubt this was a romantic moment when they had only one child, but it was high-pressure time for them later, working against the clock. Furniture had to be moved; the tree set up in a stand; lights tested & burnt bulbs replaced; the tree decorated with the many old ornaments we stored in the attic. Certainly, some presents had to be wrapped. Every year one of us got a bike or some piece of child machinery that had to be assembled & tested. Then they filled the stockings. I have no idea what time my parents got to bed, but at 5 am they were yelling at us to to go BACK to bed for another hour. For the first few conscious years of my life, I really had no clue how it was all done, or who did it, & don't recall caring if I knew. It was magic; or as I would call it now, amateur shamanism.

One year, my sister Jean & I encountered each other in the hallway outside our rooms, propped up each other's nerve with whispers, & crept through the murky predawn shadows, down to the landing where one could lean over & peek through the bannister into the living room. I lost my balance & tumbled halfway down the steps. I wasn't hurt, but I was so alarmed, afraid not only of being caught but of actually SEEING the presents & somehow ruining the magic for everyone else, that I scrambled back upstairs in a panic, vowing never again to break the Immutable Law Against Peeking, for which I'd been obviously & instantly reprimanded by Santa Claus (probably tipped off by Baby Jesus in the creche). But the living room was dark, as if nothing actually existed there yet.
Although I later suspected sneaky oldest brother Joe of giving me a push then dashing back to bed. Eventually, mom & dad got up, put on their robes, went downstairs, cranked up the heat - in the early 50s this meant a coal furnace, turned on all the lights, & called the four excited kids downstairs.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sharing a cab to Bethlehem

Seven years ago, in the midst of general peace & prosperity, a Republican Congress began impeaching a President for lying about an extra-marital affair. I'm not joking, this really happened. They insisted it was a Constitutional crisis. The majority of Americans, who liked that president very much, yawned & kept on buying computers & SUVs, watching Friends, or whatever else we were preoccupied with then, but it made no difference. The impeachment failed. It was absurd. The president betrayed his family. But he did not endanger us, or the nation, or our freedoms. To most of us he had simply been very, very foolish.

Now we are in a real constitutional crisis. George W. Bush, who has lied about matters important to us continuously through five years in office, has been illegally spying on us, too. Surprised? Not me. This is so serious that, incredibly, even some Republicans are becoming concerned. & that ought concern everyone. A lot.

In New York, Transport Union leaders are wise in deciding to go back to work pending a settlement. It's a still union city; cops, fire, sanitation, teachers, theater, hotel, hospital, theater, TV, trades, all organized. While there's a lack of rancor toward the strikers, the timing & circumstances didn't feel right to anyone. There's a billionaire Republican mayor just re-elected in a landslide & a lame duck Republican governor & their ugly rhetoric was just terrible to hear. Major irony listening to Bloomberg trying to sow division among "working people," wearing a bomber jacker & jeans as he walked across Brooklyn Bridge toward a tailored suit waiting in City Hall. But it's Christmas week & if the weather isn't that bad now it can turn quickly. Besides, there's a long holiday weekend coming up & for almost three days commuters would largely succeed in ignoring the whole situation. Unless union leaders spent Christmas Eve in jail. Even Bloomberg was worried about that scenario, his hard line threats backfiring as TV reporters compared correctional system suppers with Salvation Army turkey & stuffing. Does TWU Local President Roger Toussaint know how to play that script? The kind of militant unionism bordering (so it seemed) on lunacy the late Michael J. Quill displayed is missing. If you're going to put New Yorkers through transit strike hell you have to at least keep them entertained, or intimidated.

WFMU narrowly averted a major disaster last week. Low voltage fried the servers containing thousands of archived radio shows dating back to 2002, a great treasure. It freaked me out, & I only have about 35 programs compared to the hundreds most DJs have online. WFMU's staff technogeeks erroneously believe everyone has the same expensive toys & that we all download our own MP3 backups, but I stopped recording my own airchecks when archiving began. Anyway, it was typical WFMU timing; Manager Ken, who likes to take a vacation at Christmas, was faced with a real crisis. Our e mail lists were strangely silent as we all held our breath. But somehow nearly all the archives were restored thanks to our 'puter jeenyuses, & the remaining damaged ones will also be magically recovered. Enjoy your vacation, Ken, you earned it.

Burger King up the street is offering a "Triple Whopper." Looks like same amount of regular Whopper toppings on three slabs of chopped meat. Costs over $6. 1230 calories. 82g fat. This is food for sled dogs. Bizarre. There's a point where the price of fast food surpasses the price of the dinner specials including salad bar at a good diner.

With due respect for Jerry Izenberg's incomparable experience, he's been known to shovel horseshit; & he dumps a very large pile of it in today's column (byline: Phoenix) about Rutgers & the Insight Bowl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cilla Black

At Elton & David's wedding party:
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Elizabeth Hurley, Bryan Adams, Gary Barlow and Kid Rock were among those who streamed into the gala event Monday night in London's Soho neighborhood. John and Furnish slipped into the Too2Much venue just minutes before the show started.

Shirtless waiters wearing black ties and riding boots [were they armed with riding crops?] served guests flutes of champagne. The nightclub, once a strip club known as Raymond's Revue Bar, features an auditorium with red leather and banquette seating, a bar decorated with Swarovski crystals, chairs dipped in rubber and sculptured glass walls.

Deliveries of sushi and presents arrived at the main entrance as the celebrities partied on. Though the couple had asked revelers to give donations to AIDS charities in lieu of gifts, Cilla Black playfully promised to ignore the instructions.

"I'm going to get them the tackiest toaster I can find," the singer told reporters.
I've always liked Cilla, a Liverpudlian coat check girl who performed at The Cavern Club over 40 years ago (urged on stage by friends, the story went at the time), had hit records, & wisely shifted from wobbly ballad-belter to British TV variety show star & then aged as an all-purpose celebrity always on the verge of a "comeback." You can take the girl out of Liverpool, but you can't take the liver & onions out of the girl.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"The idea that all of this is being done to us in the name of national security doesn't wash; that is the language of a police state. Those are the unacceptable actions of a police state."

Editorial: Big Brother Bush / The president took a step toward a police state
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers

Welcome to The Carnival of NJ Bloggers 31st & All-Holiday Edition.
A lot of the regulars are here plus some "guests" I picked up on the way.
First. our condolences to Jersey Beat Jim Testa whose father passed away last week after a long illness. Jim writes about him here.

The great Richard Pryor is eulogized at The Opinion Mill & Jersey Days.

Enlighten-NJ weighs in on why Corzine's deciding he'll raise the gasoline tax was not only inevitable, it's also necessary.
In the matter of NSA domestic "eavesdropping," NJ-Conservative picks liberty in Liberty vs. Security
The President's Tattered Bubble hits the couch for some Imaginary Therapy in A Bubble's Troubles.
Goodbye,Ohio & support Rush Holt's HR 500, says The Center of NJ Life, looking at the desperate, draconian attempt by the Ohio GOP to save itself.
How does an American become a lightning rod for controversy in Yemen? Find out by reading Jane Novak and the Democracy of Waq al-Waq at ArmiesofLiberation. & be sure to look at the comment section.
Will paid product placement in blogs (as in movies) corrupt us selfless public servants? Cinnaman investigates this potential scandal & all I can say is, Show me to the money!
Lots of money is what the creators of got when Yahoo bought them out. Fractals of Change tags the importance.
Just another day in Plainfield: Plain Talker describes One Man Down, passed out in the snow by her house.
It's not easy to imagine based on what one sees from the PATH train, but there's gold to be dug from Harrison's Gold Coast, reported by MediaInTrouble.

"Mine are the politics of mercy," writes Tata at Poor Impulse Control, as she considers last week's state-sponsored execution.
Rix of the Mix walks under a waxing gibbous moon & shows how he gestates the poems he rarely bothers to write down anymore.
Dossy contributes a moving piece on faith, inspired by Penn Jillette's controversial but authentic NPR essay.
Steven Hart writes about the wrongness of trading in intelligence for religious narrowmindedness in The Brains God Gave You.
Laughing At the Pieces finds The Trouble With Narnia. Is this what C.S. Lewis had in mind?
It's the question some "people" are asking: Is King Kong Racist? Coalition of the Swilling defends the lovable, doomed beastie.

Photo of Princeton by Maria
"Have you ever wondered how to enhance your own timidity and sorrow? Want to maximize the time you waste?" The Nightfly offers 22 suggestions for living The Simpering Life.
Gigglechick ponders some of the bizarre searches that land visitors at her website. "heroine junkie photos?" Share, please.
Check out Liz B's Mutant Animal Mania at WFMU Beware the Blog. & don't miss the two-headed tortoise.
ParkwayRestStop has no cavier on the menu, hates it, but he's a recent convert to Pez, [it was] a Cosmic Connection.
SluggoNeedsANap goes to one my fav musical places, Bakersfield CA about 45 years ago & spins some country-western guitar swingers for us in Sluggo's Friday Nite Jukebox.
It's a "love/hate relationship with the Food Network" for The Art of Getting By: And The Pudding Made of Fig...Aah!

At last, we've reached the holiday display of the Carnival.

This week's dilemma at This Full House: Real or Fake? Christmas trees, that is. The underlying question is always the same: Why does the clan expect mom to explain every decision she makes?
Shamrocketship is checking the list & checking it twice, & thrice, & decides to be charitable, & turns into A Self-made Nutcase. Send us the recipe, if it includes rum.
The Contrarian provides a Guide to Politically-incorrect Christmas Carols. & I wouldn't be surprised if he has every one of them in his collection.
All Hail Yukon Cornelius, writes LizzieBlog. What about that other claymation classic,"Nestor Meets the Donner Party."
Katespot revisits Santa Claus, circa 2003 (a long time in kid years).
Xpatriated-Texan explains the difference between The War that Wasn't - and the One that Is.
How crazy are the Warriors for Baby Jesus in this matter? Brilliant at Breakfast points to their sacred Christmas symbol of Jesus H. Christ On A Bicycle.
& right about now we're ready to hear The Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas from Tequila Shots for the Soul. I love them too. Except the eggnog.
Nordette Adams sends a lovely, fitting ending for this Carnival with an original poem, Sonlight (My Christmas Carol) (& hear Nordette on William F. DeVault's From Out of the City podcast.)
My holiday gift to all of you is a classic Jersey Shore greeting.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm hosting Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers this week, & it's really consuming
a lot of time. Have to work with google gmail, which still seems to be in a beta
stage. I lost some e mail & had to track down a couple of posts.
My editorial instincts have me looking beyond what's being submitted. The
one experience I had as a "professional" copy-editor was not gratifying,
in part because I was dealing with two publications devoted to ethnic cultures
that were not my own, Italian & Indian. The Indian one gave me fits with
spelling. Not to mention that India transplanted to America retains most of the
regional & religious variations & tensions, not to mention a caste consciousness
that also took on some attributes of British class attitudes. I couldn't
sort it out. In a way, WFMU spoiled me. A free form program is a kind of audio
magazine where one collects together a lot of recordings plus a list of reminders
scratched in a notebook, then creates something on the fly, in real time. It's the
radio waves taking up the space. There's no page. One doesn't chop up copy
to fit it around a bunch of advertisements. There's no headlines to write.
Best of all, it doesn't matter how many people, if any, are paying attention.
The only similar job I had was copyediting newsletters for elected politicians.
As long as politicians are satifisfied with the number of times their names
& photos appear on each page, the actual content is relatively unimportant.
My term for this was mayorizing. Aides & assistants provide the words, &
since these unheralded people receive no byline, they're not too finicky.
They're also concerned mostly with mayorizing, getting the boss's approval,
& then kicking ass at the local post office over bulk-mailing fees & timetables.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

under a waxing gibbous moon

Out to the post office & library, neighborhood branches, as the sun set.
Cold, no wind. Around the corner, the old Russian Orthodox priest knocking
hardened snow off the bushes in front of his rectory across the street from
gold domed St. Peter's, I wished him a Merry Christmas (January 7).
Two blocks along, a small stucco Methodist Church. & a lot where the last
really large unrenovated Four Square house in the area, a beautiful thing
with two story pillars in front that hadn't even been a funeral home,
was torn down last September. Later, walking home, waxing gibbous moon -
it's full tomorrow - shining through streaks of clouds that were like
shaved ice, I stopped several times to look at the sky. Only a few houses
had lots of lights & decorations, nothing in the neighborhood extreme
or theatrical. Although the making over of solid pre-WWII frame houses
into faux Spanish villas with brick walls & white ironwork fences does
nothing for me. There are thousands of old suburban neighborhoods like this
in Jersey, so many that you wouldn't know where you were if dropped into one
but it would look familiar all the same. My mom grew up somewhere around here.
I was raised on a street like it about two miles west, & they continue
pretty much without break for ten miles along the old commuter line
of the Jersey Central Railroad. It was a pleasant walk. It reminded me of
a brooding, teenage budding poet, walking on similar December evenings
over forty years ago.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hey Ho Let's Go

Monday, December 12, 2005

Headed into a two day freeze with mild temps & rain forecast by week's end. More years than
not our December weather in Jersey is damp & chilly rather than cold or snowy. It's usually
around Christmas that we get the first big refrigerator effect. But watching highlights from
yesterday's Steelers game, I understood why my friend
Liz recalls the Pittsburgh winters of
her childhood as being especially onerous. The snow began falling in the 2nd half, field
turning into mud & slush, visibility down to about ten yards, & the fans stayed frozen in their
seats. Maybe it wasn't cold & windy enough for the Chicago Bears, but the Steelers seemed to
hardly notice that conditions were abominable. With weather like that, one might consider
winter at a college in South Bend an improvement, & Jerseyans a bunch of pansyasses.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

West Caldwell New Jersey

Richard Hayley Lever, 1930

Mamacita hosts this week's Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Battle of Christmas Part Two

I went directly from the outer limits of the mall parking lot to a double caramel macchiato. That wired me up for the novelty sock cart, next to holiday stupid hat cart, where I bought a pair of candy cane socks that play "Frosty the Snowman" when you press the big toe.

From there, on to the Museum Shop. I found a deck of tarot cards designed by Jackson Pollock, a replica of King Tut's wedding ring microscopically engraved with the entire Egyptian Book of the Dead, & a comic book version of the Life of Leonardo DaVinci. Amazing what strikes one's fancy.

I rode the glass elevator up & down three times then took a gooey cinnamon bun & cappuccino break. I stopped by the magazine stand & browsed the entire December issue of Tattoo, which I didn't buy because it had sticky bun stuff on it. A side trip through the Everything Plus Drugs Store & I exited with a roll of Homer Simpson wrapping paper, a Santa Claus Pez dispenser, & a bottle of Tylenol PM.

This year all the employees at Our Toyz R Not Discounted were dressed up as wooden soldiers, which is better than than the year they wore propeller beanies. I wasn't interested in the 200 pound teddy bear at $1999, but I made the "associate" pull it off the display for me anyway. "Do you carry gorilla costumes?" I asked.

Shopping was wearing me down. I headed back to the food court. The sushi line was too long so I settled for a pint of moo goo gai pan & a corn dog.

Next time you're in the shop with the music boxes, see how many of them you can make play simultaneously.

The Environmentally Correct Store was devoted to saving the whales by selling very expensive biodegradable items. I picked up some buffalo chip patio torches & banana fiber rolling papers.

Time for a Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream cone, double dip.

Three glass elevator rides & a stroll past the mall Santa & his teenaged female elves brought me to the Native American Emporium. I tried on a Lakota war bonnet & Tlinget frog mask, admired a Kiowa beaded bag, & shook an Arapaho rattle to drive away evil spirits. But they no longer carried grizzly bear paw amulets, & by law there's a two week waiting period before anyone can walk out with an Iroquis tomahawk. So I bought a tiny Hopi Kachina doll for good luck locating my car & hurried out into the Great Traffic Tieup beneath the cold starry night of generic nonsectarian seasonal good cheer.

Now I have lots of presents to put under my tree, but I haven't a thing for anyone else except Spanish greeting cards from the dollar store.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Tale of Two Jerrys: Sloan & Falwell

Here's the story of a man who trapped Jerry Falwell into telling an ugly lie, was challenged to prove it, produced the evidence, sued Falwell for breach of contract, & won. Happened 20 years ago.

Dorothy Day

John Lennon was my favorite Beatle. He was the only Beatle I really liked. After the band broke up, John released one album I thought was uniquely brilliant. None of his other albums spent much time on my turntable. But solo, he recorded some songs that struck me as excellent; or outrageous enough to enjoy ("Meat City" comes to mind). In fact, living as close as I do to New York, I got tired of hearing about the guy. At the time he was killed in 1980, even with "Starting Over," I couldn't envision much of a career ahead of him. But if I had made a list then of well-known people I believed were good to have on the planet, Lennon would have been on it along with Muhammad Ali, the Dalai Lama, & Allen Ginsberg. I would have just taken Dorothy Day off the list - she died on Nov. 29, 1980.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Great Rift Valley

A troubling note from an old friend.
The last time I attended church, the pastor made the mistake of ridiculing evolution. He worked the congregation up something fierce with the "it's only a theory" argument. He ended by saying something like "I ain't descended from no monkey! I don't know about you!" "Amens" filled the air that day!

My personal beliefs aside, I'd never attended a sermon where I was asked to come right out and make a choice between the Bible and evolution. That, however, has always been my stick in the sand. Long ago I'd decided that I could not attend a church where I was steadfastly required to leave my intellect at the door. I've left other congregations for lesser reasons. I can't attend and pretend to believe and I can't attend and not believe, either.
My friend's letter also described a born-again anti-evolutionist cousin as "one of the most upright, honest and outstanding men I've ever known." We cannot always escape the narrowness just by walking out of a particular church.

I've never encountered any of this in my family (my nephew has been attending Liberty University, so maybe that's changing). In my Methodist Sunday School, the Bible was taught to children as factual stories but neither literally nor as science, if you get what I mean; as I got older I felt free to understand them as myth & metaphor. I cannot recall a pastor ever sermonizing on the creation story as valid science. Since I no longer attend any church, it's been easy to avoid or ignore creationist thinking in my private life. But I could skip the matter anyway just by going to any number of mainstream protestant churches or attending a Catholic Mass. I may not agree with a church's organizational structure or some points of doctrine (those might not even come up during a year of services), but I wouldn't have to "leave my intellect at the door." Few of the protestant sermons & priestly homilies I've sat through over the past thirty years were intellectually challenging, but none were so insultingly stupid I wanted to walk out. During the period when I felt most spiritually adrift - late adolescence with the Vietnam War raging - I was blessed to have encountered some "religious" people with very strong intellectual & moral standards, Catholic, protestant, Jew, & Buddhist who at least kept me focused the specific dilemma I faced.

My friend's reaction is understandable. He's college educated, thinks deeply on whatever concerns him, an agnostic who accepts the basic moral premises of the protestant tradition in which he was raised, & willing in the cause of family peace to put up with a certain amount of belief he personally doubts. Go ahead, tell me I'm a sinner in need of redemption. Say I have to be "born again" even, since that's what's being preached here. Let me enjoy the community, the social hours, suppers & picnics, be glad I'm a dutiful family man who doesn't drink to excess, use drugs, or rob gas stations. But don't demand I be ignorant as a condition of belonging. Don't insist this is the only way when I know for a fact that the history of Christianity is filled with intellectual giants, artistic geniuses, & nondogmatic saints. & I also know that humans are not descended from the monkeys we have now. The truth is far more beautiful & intelligent.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Four Poofs & a Piano

Some years ago I got to chatting with a British poet about seaside resorts & boardwalks & he said I absolutely must go to Brighton. I knew Brighton was an old town with Regency buildings & a broken down Victorian pier, & I'd heard stories about how a randy, spendthrift Prince of Wales made the place popular by keeping his mistresses & horses there 200 years ago (his horses had the better accomodations). It didn't occur to me at the time that this poet being gay had anything to do with his recommendation. I later discovered Brighton is a very gay place. & now it's gearing up to become Britain's Niagara Falls for gay & lesbian couples. It has the most Civil Partnership pre-registrations of any U.K. city in advance of the new law going into effect on Dec. 21. A wedding planners show held there on Sunday featured the entertainers Four Poofs & a Piano.

The U.K.'s law isn't "marriage," requires a two week wait & the signing of some legal documents, but there will be plenty of wedding ceremonies anyway. The law gives homosexual couples the same property and inheritance rights as married heterosexual couples and entitles them to the same pension, immigration and tax benefits. England used to have some of the most cruelly repressive "sodomy" laws in the western world. Now that enlightened nation makes parts of the United States of Texas look like Iran. An English news commentator on NBC suggested last night that Britain was ready for such a change because gay activists had been lobbying discreetly for it, unlike the United States (where gays are too out & pushy, he implied). I prefer to believe Brits are just better than us in this matter, if not quite as far along as the Netherlands & other EU nations. After all, Sir Elton John has been a knight for 7 years but a queen for over 35.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cape May City, New Jersey

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This Full House hosts this week's Carnival of New Jersey Blogs

Saturday, December 03, 2005

John Iannacone, "Sky Sailor"

John Iannacone, a Navy airship veteran and longtime worker at Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station, who survived the Hindenburg airship disaster and rescued passengers in the first critical seconds of the fire, died Friday. He was 94.

Iannacone was among the last surviving "sky sailors" of the Navy's rigid airship program in the 1920s and '30s. He served at sea in the aircraft-carrier fleet, and hunted U-boats from blimps during World War II.
Veteran who rescued Hindenburg victims dies

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Battle of Christmas, Part 1

"I'm dreaming of a White Christmas,
with every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright,
and may all your Christmases be white"

Irving Berlin, member of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame
Gen. George Washington did not spare the religious feelings of German Hessians or of his own troops when he ferried his ragged army across the icy, hazardous Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 & attacked Trenton. What a dirty, cheating rebel with no respect for the sanctity of the event! Three regiments of teutonic mercenaries had gotten drunk celebrating the birth of Blessed Jesus & let their guard down on the assumption that those pathetic Americans across the river had done the same.

Only Christians wage war on Christmas.

It used to be about the "commercialization" of Christmas. That complaint has been around for over 150 years, & the more we spent & the more merchants profited from the month of December the more we griped about it. Christians agreed, yes it's too bad it's become all about Santa Claus & being jolly & we should be more modest & show some restraint, but what can we do? Our children will hate us. It's the same reason the Southern Baptist boycott against Disneyworld failed so utterly.

What did Ebeneezer Scrooge do after he was visited by three ghosts? He bought a fat goose for the Cratchits & then dropped by their place for dinner. God bless us, everyone!

I was 18 years old when I first attended church on a Christmas Eve. It was a Mass at St. Joseph the Carpenter, I went with my beautiful Catholic girlfriend, enjoyed the theater of it all, she liked dressing for the occasion, & afterward we bundled up under a blanket in a car parked in front of her house & committed acts that were definitely illegal in many states at the time. She was 16 & her curfew didn't exactly apply on Christmas Eve when she was technically home & her parents were inside chugging spiked eggnog while wrapping presents for their six kids. I did suspect they were lenient because they wanted her to get pregnant as soon as possible after graduation if not before so she'd move out of the crowded house, & although I wasn't a Catholic at least my grandmother was, & Nana went to St. Joe's, & I'd be easy enough to shotgun. I was so contented that Christmas that I took some of my income from a job driving a delivery truck for a local hardware store & bought my honey a pricy cameo ring she wanted from local jewelry store owned by the father of a girl who later married legendary WFMU DJ Vin Scelsa, both of whom also lived in my town. I'm willing to bet she still has the ring even if she hasn't worn it in decades. It's good to be happy at Christmastime.

Hear me, Bill O'Reilly. I'm writing about America past, present, & future. Hardly anyone roots for the curmudgeon this time of year. Scrooge, Mr. Potter, The Grinch, & now you'll get your comeuppance, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

Grateful that only two people I knew died of the disease. A generation of young, creative men was decimated, we'll never know what we lost. Angry at some government funded American "faith based" groups promoting abstinence in Africa while downplaying the absolute necessity for condom use during sex, a strategy that hurts most those with the least power: women & children. Angry at South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for not endorsing anti-retroviral drugs, & saying she might use food supplements or traditional medicines if she became infected, which is far too easy for a healthy person to predict. Glad that most of the world is waking up to the reasons for hope as well as to the danger. The enlightened support of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo & India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Light a Candle

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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