Don’t Panic

It may be this is the End of Days, or it may not. We shall see, though it has certainly looked like this century has been rhyming with the last since at least 2008. Nevertheless, it’s a good time to recall the wise words on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Or, as it was written in the days when Men were Men and Small Furry Creatures from Alpha Centauri were Small Furry Creatures from Alpha Centauri,

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If—,” Rudyard Kipling (1910)

(Come to think of it, it’s no surprise that the Scout motto is Be Prepared. Baden-Powell and Kipling came out of the same mileau.)

Thou Preparest a Table Before Me

Last Sunday, the pastor of Freedom Plains Presbyterian Church asked for help cleaning the tiny cups used for Communion. They’d switched to glass, or back to glass, from disposable plastic. I was pleased: Glass cups were all I’d known when I was younger, last century.

I’ve helped prepare for Communion and clean up afterward. I’ve filled quarter-ounce glasses with Welch’s grape juice. I’ve collected the empties and not-so-empties from the backs of the pews after the service. I’ve washed the cups. It’s one of the things you do as the preacher’s kid.

Perhaps because I grew up a preacher’s kid in the Presbyterian Church, I’m curious about worship practices among Christians and across cultures. I am not anthropologist enough, or daring enough, to visit other ceremonies uninvited, but I have attended within my comfort zone: mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic.

The service of the Eucharist differs in the details. Some traditions break freshly baked bread; some, wafers. Some use wine; some, grape juice. Some go to the altar rail. Some form lines. Some pass a plate hand to hand. Some sip wine from a chalice; some, from little cups. Some plastic. Some glass. The way the liturgy is structured emphasizes or elides different aspects of the practice of life.

I love the ritual of the Catholic mass: The washing of the hands, the presentation of the gifts, the setting of the table, and then… the cleaning up. No crumbs are dropped. Dishes and utensils are cleaned–and put away–every time. The congregation silently, patiently, waits.

It’s part of the ceremony to set the table. It’s part of the ceremony to wash the dishes. This menial labor is not insignificant.

At some of the services I’ve attended, there’s a rush to leave, immediately, before “the Mass has ended; go in peace.” Parishioners receive communion and walk out the door rather than return to their pew. They jostle in the parking lot, impatient to get on with their day. Did they receive anything other than a stale cracker? I’ve seen this less recently, perhaps because of where or when I’ve attended, or perhaps because I’m older. Or perhaps because attendance has dwindled: those who are there want to be there. Church is not an irritant.

At Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian meetings, where the plate is passed, there’s no easy escape. In the Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran traditions, where the congregants rise and move forward to receive, the return is easily abbreviated.

But if you stay, see how the meal ends with the washing and the putting away.

Last week, a couple about my age collected the soiled dishes on a hand cart and wheeled them off to the commercial washer in the social hall’s kitchen.

Who prepares your meals? Who cleans?

Living on Margin

Instant gratification is made possible by just-in-time delivery. What if just-in-time never arrives?

I have four eggs left in the refrigerator and half a gallon of milk, so if I want to make waffles over the weekend, I will need to purchase more. Assuming that I have money to buy more. Assuming that there are more to buy.

I know someone with chickens, so eggs might not be a problem if, for some reason, I have to beg favors, or the local grocery store closes, or a delivery can’t be made because all the drivers are ill or fuel is scare, or the farmers or their robots can’t milk the cattle or gather eggs from the chickens. But do I know anyone with a milk cow? It’s still Winter; do I know anyone with greenhouse? (Actually, I know several, but they’re in Virginia and Connecticut; I’m in New York.)

What will you eat when the world ends?

What is your margin of error?

Echoes of Holy Wisdom

What we can do with physics and math–and curiosity–is awe-inspiring.

Natural light moving across the surfaces of marble and gold causes glitter that in turn simulates the perceptual memory of the quivering sea. The iterative marmar offers the linguistic basis of this experience: in Greek marmaron is marble; Marmara is the name of the sea washing at the southern harbors of Constantinople and surrounding the marble quarries on the island of Proconnesus; marmairein and marmaryssein is “to flash,” “to sparkle;” and marmarygma is shimmer. Marmarygma arises in Hagia Sophia at sunrise and sunset at the time when originally the morning and evening liturgies unfolded.

https://ccrma.stanford.edu/groups/iconsofsound/hagiasophiaaesthetics/

Bissera Pentcheva and Jonathan Abel’s Icons of Sound project at Stanford resurrected the soundscape of Hagia Sophia in concert with Capella Romana. Listen:

Like all good things, there’s also a book, Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium (2017) and accompanying website(s).

The film contains more details, or just listen.

(via NPR’s Weekend Edition and The World According to Sound)

What Practice?

Doesn’t this miss the point?

Tenzin Priyadarshi, a Buddhist monk and the CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. To automate the elaborate process of creating and destroying [mandalas], an important tradition in Buddhism, Priyadarshi teamed up with Carlo Ratti, an MIT architect and designer of Scribit, a $500 “write and erase robot” that uses special markers to draw and erase art on a wall. [emphasis mine]

“The robot does the hard work. Can you still attain enlightenment?” Tanya Basu, Technology Review (February 21, 2020)

Pride Goeth Before

Most of us find it hard to admit mistakes.

Was the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak worsened because admitting the scope of the problem, or that a problem even exists, could be embarrassing? Is that any different from a Church that claims to speak infallibly and act in-errantly, yet shelters and enables abuse?

Are we bound to ignore the probability of error? Why do we assert absolute truth, yet fester with lies; claim omniscience, yet remain ignorant?

What a sin is this pride, this hubris!

Why Don’t We Like Joe Biden?

FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon, Jr., offers some hypotheses to answer the burning question of why Millennials don’t like Joe Biden.

Well, I don’t like him because he’s a plagiarist. I haven’t liked him since he first ran for President. But my generation tends to be forgotten.

So in an effort to find an answer, I conducted a scientific poll of a representative sample of Generation Z: I asked my daughters.

Their answer was simple, straightforward, and visceral.

He’s a creep.

Put the responsibility where it belongs: the manufacturer

Finally, someone bothering to talk about whose fault all this plastic crap is.

It’s not the consumer’s. It’s the producer’s.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) have introduced legislation, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act (H. R. 5845, S.3263), to require producers of certain products to provide for their disposal. In economic jargon, producers will be required to accept some of the negative externalities of their products, rather than continuing to shift those costs to the public.

The horror.

The thought was so horrible that the beverage industry created an organization to convince the public that consumers bore all the responsibility for waste: Keep America Beautiful. If you’re of a certain age, you’ve seen their work.

In 1953, Vermont’s state legislature had a brain wave: beer companies start pollution, legislation can stop it. They passed a statute banning the sale of beer and ale in one-way bottles. … That October, Keep America Beautiful was born

The Crying Indian,” Ginger Strand, Orion Magazine (November 2008)

This is a fantastic piece, because nothing in it is objectionable or wrong. It’s so subtle; even the tagline is true. The campaign’s genius, however, is in the unasked question: where does all of that waste come from? The wrapper thrown out the car window wasn’t created, ex nihilo, by the car passenger. It was sold to him by someone else.

Old Friends

Wandering around a new library this morning, guided by Dewey’s decimals, I walked back into the past and other libraries I’d read. Here, I found Anthony Boucher’s anthology of Great Science Fiction Stories nearby Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. There, along the wall of low shelves, Frog and Toad are friends.

How long, O Lord?

“Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.”

Isaiah 6:9-13

Why Do I Keep a Library?

Hope.

My father keeps a library. His father and mother had books and albums of photographs galore. My mother keeps a library. Her mother and father did not. Visits to my grandparents homes felt different, and the difference was most obviously, to me, in the books.

I grew up among books. They were my playground, my refuge, my adventure-land. I could retreat to the library and lie with National Geographic, the World Book Encyclopedia, or ancient Triple-A maps. There lived philosophies, prophets, histories, fantasies, adventures. I traveled to far distant Camelot with a Connecticut Yankee. I never thought I wouldn’t keep a library.

But the reason for it was the future: my children would laugh and play here too.

They haven’t, not as I thought.

Their pleasures have been, in large part, electronic. What is there to see and love in a virtual world? How do you pass it on? My youngest, No. 2 Son, recently excavated the Apple Macintosh LC-III that I kept because maybe one day I might need it. It holds nothing much. I never bought much software, and toward the end it was not much more than an e-World terminal. He’s been playing Sim City 2000 (1993).

I feel a certain nostalgia, but of what use is an LC-III now? I regret my digital life. What is there to show of what I’ve done? I may have saved some documents, but who can read them? Even an audio recording of my grandparents needs a cassette player. Consider this website: It is not just HTML and CSS and a smattering of PNG images. It is WordPress and PHP and Apache and MySQL and FreeBSD and Pair.com and electricity and the Internet. What future does it have? It hardly holds interest for anyone now; of what interest will it be when I am gone?

But books, barring insect, fire, or flood, will remain.

And if my children do not play here, perhaps one day my grandchildren will.

Spreading Warmth

I’ve been watching the fog expand out from the creek. The hills were a pale pink over the thick fog, and there was a definite end to the cloud. Over the past hour the fog has expanded up around my house and taken on more of an orange glow. The hills can no longer be seen: only cloud beneath the baby blue sky. And the condensation coating the window.

Just now one of the pines jumped up and caught the golden light.


The sun burned the mist away while I wasn’t looking, but it lingers in the valley above the creek.

clouds over the creek

Perhaps this drama of thermodynamics will lovingly play out again tomorrow. Number One Son has reported some difficulty selecting a topic on density for a paper due next week for his science class.