Saturday, May 30, 2009

A story about family

Once, awhile ago, I was sitting an Irish restaurant* with theCSO, his parents and his sister Hillary. TheCSO was about to graduate from college. I'd been out a couple of years, tried grad school, disliked it, and left.

We were talking about theCSO's future plans.

Now theCSO is really, really smart. Smart enough to stay out of the little bar fights I start here, for example, and he's really really good with computers and for awhile was being flown around the country fixing them and setting them us. I used to say that theCSO's job was roughly "Batman." Now he's "the guy who trains Batman." I fully expect him to become "the guy who manages the guy who trains Batman" anytime now as Jesus himself couldn't get more fawning performance reviews. (Am I gushing? Sorry. I'm a little in love.)

But at this particular point in our lives together, theCSO and I weren't married and he didn't have a job. We were still kids in the eyes of his parents, and I see us that way myself in retrospect. It didn't help that I was something of a free agent myself in the employment department.

His parents were talking with great glee about the possibilities ahead and how he should be looking for jobs all over the country. He was listening quietly. TheCSO had been their son for 20-some years at that point, but he'd been my boyfriend for three, and I knew him pretty well. Excessive options do not lead to action for theCSO (or me, either, for that matter).

I said "I was thinking he and I could just pick a city, probably DC or Charlotte, and both move there and just look for jobs there. It's always easier to find a job in the city where you're living and that way we would both be looking for jobs in the same place."

Tension hit the table like a thunderclap. His parents both looked at me, concern for their son in their eyes and arguments on their lips. I get that now. Even long-term girlfriends are temporary and a job search is serious business. I'd had a post-college-wandering-around period that they quite understandably wished their son to avoid if at all possible. Goodness, I wish I'd avoided it.

Anyway, it was clear that my idea had not gone over well. At the table, everyone was silent for a moment, looking at each other like cowboys who just saw Black Bart walk into the saloon.

"Sounds reasonable to me," my now-sister-in-law Hillary said.

And then she went back to eating.

The tension broken, we all went back to eating and talking and planning, not as a family who wanted one thing and and a girlfriend who wanted another, but just as a family.

First he and I settled in Charlotte, where theCSO had a contract job for awhile. He did send some resumes to jobs in other places, but none of them worked out. Then we moved to DC where I had a contract job for awhile. Then we both got permanent jobs. Then we got married. Then we bought a house.

My guess is that theCSO and his mother will be surprised when they see this. I doubt that either of them will remember that moment. TheCSO's dad and Hillary don't read the Chaliceblog at all as far as I know. They may never see this and probably wouldn't remember the moment I'm describing if they did. But it was a pivotal thirty seconds in my relationship with the CSO and his family and in my seeing both he and I as adults.

TheCSO and I will have been together for ten years on December 5. We will have been married for 5 years on November 27. Today, I'm writing this from a coffee shop and used bookstore in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. At four o'clock, we will gather to watch Hillary get married.

Good luck, Hill. Wishing you love, luck and laughter on your wedding day.

And thanks.


*By which I mean "Irish-themed and in Charlotte, North Carolina"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Costco now test-marketing accepting food stamps


who first wrote about her issues with Costco not taking foodstamps here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blaming the term "victim"

Someone whom I was talking to in a therapeutic capacity called me a "second circle victim*" of someone else's sketchy behavior recently, and that has been very much on my mind. I knew what the person I was talking to meant, but I found that my dislike of being called a victim has not lessened in the years since someone has done it.

Though I've been through a few things that might justify my use of the term, and far better justify it than these recent events, I've always hated the idea.

It's not so much that I don't want people to feel sorry for me, though I don't. I'm most concerned that my status as a "victim" in some people's eyes will leak into my self-perception and become part of the way I myself view the situation.

And I really don't want that.

As far as I can tell some 99 percent of the evil in this world is committed by people who view themselves, sometimes rightly**, as the victim of previous evils. To get the Godwin's law violation out of the way, the 1940's era Germans were pretty directly victimized by the treaty of Versailles. For another political example, the French Monarchy really had put the middle class and poor through quite a lot before they struck back with the reign of terror***.

Our personal lives are rife with examples like these. In crim law, it came up that some huge percentage of murders between two lower-middle-class and poor men essentially start as arguments and escalate until someone pulls a weapon. Then the loser dies and the winner goes to jail. No doubt both sides would say they were the victims of the other guy's actions. In interviews where the charge was "attempted murder" that is almost always the case.

On 9-11, America became a victim and our victimization has justified what is to me an appalling number of unreasonable and out-of-proportion responses. The line between terrorist and "freedom fighter striking back against and oppressive and threatening government" itself is, of course, entirely dependent on perspective, but I'm more interested in applying these ideas to my own life.

If I have a busy life and a friend has a busy life and she's fifteen minutes late for lunch and that throws off my schedule a bit and it starts an argument, am I the victim of her inconsiderate nature or is she the victim of my needlessly critical one? We probably see both as true. But will either of us actually "teach the other a lesson" if we make it into an argument?

Are there cases where a 100 percent evil person inflicts harm on a 100 percent innocent person? There are a few. But I bet that those people whom we see as evil are as certain as any other victim that they were perfectly justified in responding to the way they were provoked and that they really are innocent of any serious wrongdoing. John Wayne Gacy's famous comment “I should never have been convicted of anything more serious than running a cemetery without a license.” comes to mind here. That in itself was probably sarcastic, but Gacy was vocal that he had been both the victim of child abuse and of an unfair media that was out to get him.

People tend to talk about the Stonewall riots, where gay New Yorkers fought back against a police raid, like they were a great thing. My oft-expressed dislike of police raids notwithstanding, I still maintain that mobbing outside the Village Voice and threatening to burn it down because the morning's edition made fun of the previous night's riots is not a good thing. Even when victims are in some sense justified in responding, their response is almost always out of proportion to the initial offense.

I find it especially scary when a person feels that they've been mistreated by an entire group, or their group has been mistreated by an entire group. At this point, I'd say every group in the world has arguably mistreated every other group that they have met in some way or another. In an age of rising political snark and rising unemployment, the guy who shot up the Tennessee Valley UU Church provided no justification for doing so that isn't available to millions of Americans. And he did it because of what he felt liberals had done to him. (OK, I still think he mostly did it to ruin his ex-wife's life, but I will accept the manifesto's explanation for his actions for the sake of argument.)

Bringing it again back to the personal, I've had to explain to both Christians and Atheists that the Simpsons doesn't have anything against them and does not have a bias toward the other group. I'm fairly certain that I was not successful and that the two Christians and one atheist that I've discussed this with continue to see their beliefs as victims of unfair treatment by Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge, Maggie and perhaps especially Ned Flanders.

So anyway, when I see that "victim" is a cherished thing to be, in society and perhaps especially in UUism, I worry. The very concept of "victim" seems to justify retribution, and again much of the time retribution is out of scale with the initial offense. I don't think in any example in this entire post could it be said that the perpetrators learned the lesson they were supposed to from the victim's response****. At the very least, when a victim, justified or not, strikes back in vengeance, it adds more pain to a world that has too much already.

who at one point got to hear all about the perpetrator of the above-mentioned sketchy behavior's actions and how none of them were his fault and how unfairly he has been treated by everyone since. This person has been a victim of the person who claims to be a victim of his whom he seems to feel blew the initial incident out of proportion, of his professional association and of the judgments of others and their nasty reading of his innocent behavior. Hearing all this has not made the victim role more appealing.

* When someone behaves badly, they have victims. But the behavior also tends to affect other people who are simply around the situation negatively.

** I don't have the perspective to provide a modern example of a group who think they are victims but are wrong, though people who claim that the government is trying to destroy Christmas come to mind, but I think it's safe to say that the medieval Christians who used to murder Jews since Jews must be poisoning Christians since Jews never seemed to get the plague are a safe example. Now, of course, we know that it was the hygiene practices of the Jews that kept them safer. Queen Elizabeth's resolve to take a monthly bath was unusually fastidious for her time.

***And for what it's worth, Marie Antoinette's hats and shoes did not bankrupt the French government, helping pay for the American Revolution did. So next time you're tempted to hold her up as a symbol of decadence and greed, consider that she quite literally died for the Founding Fathers' cause.

**** War reparations, ostentatious French people, unreasonable police raids, terrorism, unemployment, the election of liberals, tardiness and child abuse continue to this day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Odd conversations

Waitress: And what would you like to drink?

Me: I dunno, do you guys have any special drinks you do? Something
kinda sweet and fruity?

Waitress: No, not really. Since we're a brewery restaurant, people
usually order beer. We have a bar, but we don't do much in the way of
weird cocktails.

Me: ok, how about a 'sex on the beach'?

Waitress: Sure! But our bartender had his own special way of doing
those. I'm sure you will like it. It's really good.

Me: That's fine. Thanks.

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Don't you hate it when...

You see something that you know would be the perfect gift for
SOMEBODY, yet you can't think of anyone in your life who would
appreciate it?

Yeah, that's how Jana-who-Creates and I felt about this naked lady bong.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

CC's favorite little kid book

is now online.

So read it to your favorite small person before someone comes and takes it down.


My day started with a bad dream

and has included dogs being difficult, a helpful-if-draining conversation and no lunch as of yet.

I got nothin', kids.

So go check out Monkey Mind's post about a piece Killing the Buddha did about ways to be a bad meditator.

As I've mentioned here many times, I am the worst meditator ever and most of the time I try end up thinking about sex or falling asleep. But I am very aware of the benefits of meditation and keep intending to set up a regular practice schedule.

In other news, a religious person who doesn't know me well said "I will be sending blessings your way...I don't know how you feel about that" to me the morning and I responded "I never turn them down."

This is interesting to me because the response was more or less automatic. Used to, my wealthy grandmother would ask if I needed money. This was at the point in my post-collegiate life where I lived on like $10,000-$20,000 a year. I didn't NEED money in the sense that a child dying of typhoid in Africa did, and pride made me disinclined to say "yes, I need money."

But at the same time, yeah, I probably did need the money.

So when she would ask me that dreaded question, I started saying "I never turn down money." This denied her the emotional satisfaction of being my savior, but her money got her plenty of kowtowing from other people and if my response bothered her, she never let on and she still gave me a couple of hundred bucks.

So probably needed but perhaps not exactly wanted money and unasked-for and not-really-believed-in blessings from a person of goodwill elicit essentially the same response from me.

There's something to sit on a pillow and think about. (See, I suck at meditation.)


Ps. Headed on a trip with Jana-who-Creates this weekend, so updates will either be non-existent or constant. But I really did learn my lesson about posting photo essays.

Pps. That my womb has forever been empty as one of those big cones at the science museum where you can roll a quarter and watch it slowly spin down indicates that this will probably never be an issue for me, but if I do ever have grandchildren, I will just say "Hey, have some money, and if you don't need it, give it to someone who does."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another Sunday morning at home.

I really disagree with some decisions the board made recently on a matter I take seriously. I get that reasonable people can see situations differently, and while I don't agree with the way the board and a committee within the church approached this one and am particularly unhappy that the chair of said committee is now up for the board, the church is my community and I feel like I should be a part of it.

Katy-the-Wise points out that simply sitting in the congregation, week after week, as the voice of the loyal opposition is a powerful thing, and in theory I get that. But I just don't feel like I have the strength to do it. There have been a couple of Sunday mornings when I've dressed for church, been all ready to go and then not been able to leave the house.

There are plenty of other UU churches in my area. I could just pick another one and on several levels I would be happier there. Actually I know right which one I would attend.

But I've made commitment after commitment to this community. And it doesn't help that we are short of YRUU leaders at my current church as it is. I love my friends and my YRUU kids.

Different levels of community suggest different levels of commitment. I'm not moving every time Fairfax County does something I don't like, which is often as far as their parks and recreation decisions go, and the same time if I were a member of, say, a book club and they made crucial decision that I didn't really like, I'd probably just quit.

Church is kinda in between.

TheCSO's take is that "there is no non-Pyrrhic victory here" and that's true, though not terribly helpful. Actually, I'm not sure that the concept of "victory" even applies.

My inclination is to accept that even when I'm right, I don't necessarily win, go back to church and suck it up. Longtime readers will recall that when my Presby parents church fired a minister basically because she was gay, that's what my folks did and decades later their church is better for it. The church does a great deal with outreach to gays in the community and seems to be trying to atone for what I view as their sins.

Score one for the Katy-the-Wise approach.

But I'm having a really hard time doing that.

Thoughts welcome.

And, of course, those who are familiar with what happened and wish to discuss it in specific detail may email me.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Meet Ginsburg

Ginsburg was thrown down a flight of stairs by a drug dealer in Baltimore. Then she was in a shelter that might have killed her. Before her injection, she was taken by a dog rescue based in Virginia. We fostered her for the dog rescue, loved her and adopted her.

Now she sleeps next to me as I type this.

She walks with a limp due to the fall down the stairs but she's in no pain. If she ever needs the surgery, she will have it.

As I listen to her soft snores, I am the farthest I've ever been from an existential crisis. The effect of my life as measured on a scale that includes heat death of the universe is nothing. But we have so much power to make the lives of others, even four legged others with a limp, suck less.

Ginsburg is snoring, and this very second, that's all I need.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Above and beyond the call of marital duty

I have written before about how I really really admire that Dolly Parton is such a good human being that she can't even say anything about Jolene, she just praises Jolene's fine qualities and asks Jolene to leave her man alone.

Similarly and even more significantly given that this situation is non-fictional, I have always had great respect for how Jackie O. refused to invite Arthur Miller to a state dinner because she felt he mistreated Marilyn Monroe.

The sheer decency of that still stuns me.

Now, again, what Jackie O. did and what Dolly sings of are, as far as I am concerned, stunningly awesome examples of human behavior. That said, such treatment is not to be EXPECTED when you're sleeping with someone else's husband and have humiliated his wife on a national stage. That the wife would be ticked at you should not be a surprise.

Which brings me to how John Edwards' ex-mistress and the writer of this article talk about Elizabeth Edwards.

Apparently, Elizabeth Edwards wrote that Hunter was "pathetic"*, which on the grand scale of things women have said about chicks that screwed their husbands is extremely mild. She says that Hunter persued him, which I believe, and that she meant nothing to John, which I also believe.

Hunter is wounded, WOUNDED, she tells you, and is firing back in all sorts of dramatic ways, essentially turning the situation into one of those Paternity Test Episodes of the Maury Povich show, except on a national scale. And we all know how those paternity test episodes tend to turn out** If there is a God of shenanigans, I pray that Hunter's results will be similarly exciting. Like if her baby's dad was also the father of Anna Nicole Smith's kid. That would be awesome.

who thinks low things about people who always blame the third person in an infidelity situation and has, for the record, complained about John Edwards plenty. I hold Edwards responsible for his behavior, even though I think I can understand the "wanted to fuck someone who wasn't dying" motivation. I just also hold Hunter responsible for her actions.

*IMHO, consentual kinkiness/polyamory aside, sleeping with a married man is by definition rather pathetic and of the women I know who have slept with married guys, I don't think any of them would entirely deny that although some of them still don't regret their choices.

The whole act smacks of either "This man is so much more impressive than I am that sleeping with him will validate me" or "I can't deal with a bona-fide relationship right now, so I'm involved in something that is pretty much doomed from day one"

**Maury: "Ummm... Amber... We tested all three guys you said you were sleeping with, and NONE of them are the father of your child. Could there have been a fourth man in your life?

Amber: Oh, HIM!

I have heard people whine

that one cannot do anything with twitter and it's stupid and you can't express a good idea in 140 characters and it will contribute to the general ADDness of our culture, and... and...

I give you twitter short story writer Arjun Basu.

To quote Forrest Gump, also known for brevity:

"that's all I have to say about that."


Ps. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" = 73 characters.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

In other rich person news...

I would really like to see this play

Indeed, I would be willing to serve post-theatre omelets and desserts at my house to those willing to see it with me. Or we could just have drinks in the city, which would be logistically easier.

Let me know. Email is probably easier.

Sure, we criticize the rich for not giving enough, but what about ourselves?

During the epic argument over whether UUs liked people who have money too much or not enough that we had at Peacebang a couple years back, I responded to some of the more radical "rich people are evil" arguments by pointing out that the average household income in America is usually pegged at something like $40,000* and that if your household makes more than the average income in the United States, then clearly you were rich and should be giving the excess to the poor.

Upon being challenged that money meant different amounts different places, I pointed out that, worldwide, about half of all people have running water. If you have running water, you're rich.

Oh yeah, and if you were making choices that improved your lifestyle but lowered your income, shouldn't you really be making more profitable choices and giving the money away?**

TheCSO and I do make more than the average household income. We have running water and we do not give all our excess to the poor. I admitted as much throughout the thread, emphasizing that I was making a point that the rich aren't a "they," the rich are an "us."

Anyway, there's an article in Salon making a softer, more reasoned version of my points and it's really good. Also, there's lots of stuff about Peter Singer, which is usually good for a tiff in the comments.


*Just looked it up, it's more like $50,000, or was before the economy crashed.

** This argument sounds a bit saner when I phrase it the way I did in the post:

I don’t actually have an objection to a social safety net, and I do want to relieve suffering.

But I, politically and theologically, don’t know what to do with the idea that:

Anne wants to be an artist and sacrifices and scrimps to make art. She’s a starving, but well-respected artist.
Brian wants to be a professor and keeps himself a poor student for years on end. His students love and respect him even if he has to live on campus because of a state education salary freeze.
Carrie wants to be a mom and has five children, who bring untold fulfillment and joy to her life.
Dave wants to be a stockbroker and works night and day to make that happen. He makes some wise trades and is very successful.

Everybody got where the are because of the choice they made. But taking care of the poor is Dave’s, and only Dave’s, job, because he’s the “rich” one.

The worldwide median income is about $5,000. We’re all rich by that standard.

For me, it comes down to a question that others have struggled with far more heroically than I do: How much comfort is OK for us to allow ourselves in a world where people are suffering?
Should Anne quit painting and start designing advertisments and send the extra money she makes to charity? Should Brian give up his research and teach in an inner city school? Is Carrie expected to donate her kids’ college funds to feed the hungry?

How do I justify throwing parties in a world where people are starving?

I don’t have an answer. But at least I’m willing to apply they question to myself, rather than deciding that struggling with it is the province solely of “The rich.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Is Obama a funny guy?

Hold down the fort for me. This morning's post was not an intentional attempt to suck up to theists as to solicit prayers, but hey, if you feel inspired, knock thyself out. As always, CC needs all the help she can get. (Yes, yes, atheists, I also studied.)

Topic for discussion if you feel inspired?

In the words of Chris Rock, Bill Clinton was our nation's greatest comedy president, both because he was funny himself and because he was so easy to make fun of. Memorably, Rock phrased it that Clinton was "ha-ha funny" while George W. Bush was more "this milk smells funny."

Is Obama a good comedy president?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

My answer provided after exam.


A pretty simple argument for theism. (Or at least not against it.)

Jessica Sideways addresses the question of why she criticizes theists. My church runs around 50/50 theist, though I've never heard an atheist express him or herself with Jessica's bluntness there. Pretty much all of it is stuff that has been addressed a million times, either you take Jessica's position or you don't.

A few examples in direct response to Jessica's examples: Yes, lots of blood has been spilled, theoretically in the name of God. Either you accept that in defending their God the people who spilled the blood got to put themselves in charge and that even more blood has been spilled over people wanting to be in charge with various other justifications, therefore were it not for religion those inclined to spill blood would just pick another reason, or you don't. I do.

Before the invention of the microscope, anyone who believed in bacteria had to, at best, say that their theory that bacteria existed was one of many theories that were possibly true. They could not show anyone bacteria or in any way prove that is wasn't imaginary. The people who didn't believe in bacteria were perfectly rational not to do so as the claim that bacteria existed surely sounded like a fairy tale.
But the people who believed in bacteria were still correct, as the invention of the microscope would eventually prove. So there is at least some precedent, in science no less, for people to believe in things they can't see and can't prove exist at this moment to turn out to be correct.

There are lots of people who justify science and religion co-existing various ways. To give my Christian parents' views as an example, which I like to do since they are smart folks, God designed a world that could be left on its own to grow and change. One of God's greatest gifts is freedom and the freedom to chose a mate that creates evolution is part of what plan God has, though it isn't our place to know God's plans, the degree to which things are planned and/or the level of detail. Stories like Adam and Eve and the Great Flood are meant to be taken as metaphor and if you think about them, provide valuable lessons. Biblical admonitions against the eating of shellfish that sound crazy now made a hell of a lot of sense in a world that wouldn't develop refrigeration for another couple of thousand years. Even if you don't believe that the ten commandments are God's rules, they make a lot of sense and we would live in a much more pleasant world if everybody took them as good advice and followed them.* Etc, etc, and soforth.

To further expand on the point, in an argument at Steve Caldwell's blog once, I made an analogy that I've always sort of liked, comparing belief in God to my appreciation of modern art. I assume for the sake of argument that one "chooses" to believe in God or not, something that I don't necessarily believe**. Anyway, I'm going to edit it what I wrote a smidge and re-post it here.

Dale McGovern wrote: Many, many theists express their supernatural belief as a necessary alternative to a world they otherwise see as cold, wonderless, and devoid of meaning.

CC responded: Just because someone says "A world without God would be cold, wonderless and devoid of meaning" does not mean they are choosing to believe in an imaginary God to please themselves.

I could say "a world without modernn art would be cold, wonderless and devoid of meaning" and that doesn't make Picasso a creature of my imagination.

You don't have to believe in modern art for modern art to exist, after all, and if modern art doesn't enrich your life, that doesn't mean that modern art isn't valuable to some people.

Steve Caldwell wrote: Given the amazingness of the natural world, do we need to "gild the lily" by adding a supernatural layer to this world we live in?

CC responded: You can say "Given the amazingness of the natural world, why do we need to 'gild the Lily' by having an style of art that focuses on finding new truths by looking for new ways of seeing and considering new materials and the nature of art itself?" all you want but:

1. Modern art still exists.

2. It's still a valuable thing that enriches the lives of those who appreciate it.

3. It gives a new perspective and new truths to those who believe in it and understand it.

At the same time, lots of people decide that modern art is a bunch of hooey and don't bother and/or only look at more representational older paintings.

Since much of the discussion has centered around a "What you see is what you get world," I will put my response in that framework.

If you don't go see Modern Art, you will never get it. You will get other things that you do see, but you won't get what you decide has no value and not to look for or at. If you superficially examine modern art and dismiss it without really understanding or appreciating what you're looking at, it's really not very surprising that you don't get much out of the exercise.

And that's up to you and fine, until you start saying "I don't see any value in modern art, so modern art must be valueless for everybody else, too."


* As one who is still considering divorce law as a potential profession, it saddens me to admit that they have a point there.

**Sitting right where you are, just for a moment, choose to believe that the moon is made of green cheese.

Go ahead. Do it. I will wait.




Can't do it, can you? Even if you really, really, try?

IMHO, all belief works about the same way. You believe or you don't and your desires to believe or not don't have much to do with it.

I have met one guy who, when given this exercise, claimed that he was able to turn on his belief in lunar cheese and turn it back off again like a light switch. That dude sorta scared me.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Boarding the plane


> Me: is it a full flight?
> Stewardess: not at all
> Me: well, it would be awesome if one of us could switch seats if
> that's possible. He and I are married and would like to sit together.
> Stewardess: I figured you were going to tell me you were married and
> you DIDN'T want to sit together.
> Shrug. Stewardess humor, I suppose.
> Sent from my iPhone