These Are the Best of Times

EiffelTower ChristianRHamacher

Can we just stop complaining now? Even more important, perhaps: How ‘bout we cut out the fear, the foreboding, the heavy mantle of doom?

Hear me, folks: Never, ever, in the entire history of humankind, have so many had it so good. And whatever the ebbs and flows of your temporary situation or mine, or the tremendous individual suffering that undeniably continues around the world as I type these words, things on a global scale are getting better all the time—as they have been for the last 50,000 years, give or take.

“CONFUSED, CONFLICTED, TIRED NATION” read the recent newspaper headline. O.K, so those ISIS fanatics are awful, pure evil, subhuman in their explicit cruelty.

Ebola will get worse before it gets better (and it will get better; we can be quite confident we’ll die from something else).

And the economy isn’t exactly humming along (only a 4% growth rate!) and the Repubs and Demos are at each other’s throats per usual and we’re worried about our failing schools and deteri...

Read More

“Let’s Go Giiiiiants!” Sports As Modern Religion?

AT&T By Corey Seeman

The whole lot of us, marching down the switchbacks leading from the stadium to street level below, are packed body to body, moving slowly but feeling giddy for all we had just witnessed and felt an intimate part of.

Just minutes before, the San Francisco Giants had beaten the St. Louis Cardinals in their first home game of the National League Championship Series, a heart-stopping 10-inning affair that came to an abrupt end when one of our homeboys laid down a bunt that was followed by the pitcher making a wild throw to first base, allowing the runner who was advancing from second base to race home and end the game. Just like that!

Giants win, 5-4,  setting off a near-deafening, delirious roar among the 42,500 fans. And now, we are making our way back to the world outside, and there are chants erupting as we traverse the cavernous walkways: “Let’s go Giiiiiants, let’s go Giiiiiiiiiiiiants.”

Sing-songy, every person with wide boisterous grins, and every one of the chants begun a...

Read More

“The House Is on Fire”: Belief vs. Data in the Climate Change Debate

Drought150 By

A few months ago, blog reader, longtime friend and PhD scientist/oceanographer Walt McKeown asked me why I hadn’t written anything on climate change, given the clear threat it presents to everything we value in life and, indeed, to life itself on many parts of our globe. I answered that I didn’t feel I had much to add to a topic that has been exhaustively covered by others who have serious credentials in the matter.

So it is with some irony that I note recent comments by Senator Marco Rubio and others of similar bent who acknowledge they have no credentials or training in the matter either. Nevertheless, they freely dispense their opinions and “beliefs” on it, and then, to add injury to insult, actually have and use their legislative power to bend policy to suit those “beliefs.”

On one side of the debate about whether human activity is the chief cause of climate change stand educated, trained, expert scientists whose approach to all their work can be framed in four words: “Lo...

Read More

Walking the Graveyard: A Poem

I have taken to walking the graveyard,
An oak-tree’d resting place
Under whose towering limbs
A treasure of autumn leaves and acorns fall.

Strangely soothing, this gliding above the dead,
Pausing to note a name, an age, doing the math,
Adding or subtracting my own advancing years in
A fruitless assessment of my place in line.

Fall’s fierce abiding beauty comes at a price,
Golden everywhere sans the dark abyss where it points,
Each October a plaintive call to arms and attention,
Open arms of a love, that is, and attention to time, precious time.

Under every stone, a story of one who breathed, perspired,
Dreamed, questioned, loved, risked—and suffered, of course—
As I suffer now running hard up the hill from the potter’s fields,
Toward the stone monuments of nobles who lie there just as dead.

Breathless, I walk again, blood coursing, eyes horizoned,
Seeking a still point around which everyday life turns,
Not to stop time but to better watch its march, its inexorable
Passage ove...

Read More

Is It Ever Right to Hit a Child?

CryingBoyBy JeremyBrooks

In the 21st century, should we be hitting children as just another form of parental discipline?

And what do we mean exactly by “hit?” A pat on the backside to extra-emphasize to a 3-year-old not to run into the street in front of cars? Or the methodical creation and application of a “switch” with which to raise welts on a 4-year-old who apparently was overly aggressive with one of his siblings?

Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson had the latter in mind, apparently, in disciplining his son over the summer, injuriously enough that it came to the attention of law enforcement (and now, resoundingly, the media). He actually sounded unapologetic about it in his early responses, and found plentiful support from among the majority of the American population that still believes corporal punishment is at least sometimes appropriate in disciplining children.

Later, Peterson offered this official “statement” that sounded contrite notes about the physical damage he claims he i...

Read More

The Problem of ISIS and Religious Fanaticism

Artillery

Demilitarization would be nice, of course. Blow up all those munitions in far-flung deserts, toss the rifles into the sea, put the B-52s and Hornets and Raptors on display at the military museums, noting them all as relics of the bygone, violent infancy of human history.

But on the way to that rather starry-eyed but ultimately necessary development, it may be even more important that we engage in a process of deliteralization. Meaning that we learn to take all sacred texts and their often contradictory guidelines for human behavior with the proverbial grains of salt they require if we are to survive the fanaticism of religious zealots like ISIS, now that they’ve figured out how to organize armies and deploy big guns and use social media to spread their toxic message of hate around the world.

These thoughts occur as I grapple with the most recent essay (Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon, available here) by noted atheist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nat...

Read More

The Cry for Freedom in “The Adulterous Woman”

WomanBy LopesDossantos

She is sitting on a bus crossing the wintry Algerian desert, seated tight up against her slumbering merchant husband and surrounded by Arabs tucked deep into their burnooses to ward off the cold and the fine grains of sand that find their way through cracks in the vehicle. Suddenly, she notices a French soldier across the aisle who gives her a glance, carrying just a tinge of suggestion.

That glance and a couple of other feeling states to follow are about as far as the “adultery” in this story’s title ever goes, but it sets in motion a long and impassioned emotional storm inside our protagonist, with the reverberations extending far beyond this story and her life.

What transpires from there in Albert Camus’s 1957 short story, The Adulterous Woman, speaks in profound and enduring ways to the human condition. Which is why its mere 30 pages and few scenes carry such resonance for this and every other time.

The woman’s name is Janine, and she and her husband Marcel are French-Alg...

Read More

The Delectable, Delicious, Delovely——and Inimitable——Cole Porter

ColePorter@PianoSmall

I think Cole Porter is one of the great writers in history.

You’re the top!
You’re the Coliseum.
You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum

Porter was that rare talent whose gifts and cultivations would surely have made him successful in most any form, but his upbringing, intelligence, tenacity and love of a well-turned phrase landed him in the music world as a major composer and lyricist.

Too bad for you, poetry and fiction!

There’s something wild about you child
That’s so contagious
Let’s be outrageous
Let’s misbehave!!!

Unlike many songwriting duos of his era (Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, George & Ira Gershwin), Porter was a team of one, writing both the lyrics and the uncannily catchy melodic ditties that make of his music such a joyous and memorable romp.

I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Some get a kick from cocaine
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
That would bore me ter...

Read More

It’s Life, Just Life: Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

BoyInFountain ByCobalt123

Nothing much happens in Richard Linklater’s finely wrought film, Boyhood. No stabbings or shootings, no kidnaps or car wrecks designed to set the protagonists’ lives on a post-crisis course and get audience members’ guts churning. Linklater disdains virtually every conventional narrative technique out of Film 101’s playbook, going light on the trauma and minimalist on conflict.

And what he winds up with is one of the most absorbing movies in years.

Boyhood’s two hours and forty-four minutes of running time effortlessly depicts multiple lives as they play out over an actual nearly 12-year-span in various Texas locales. Meaning Linklater followed a real-life rather than movie calendar in assembling his main actors on an intermittent shooting schedule between the years 2002 and 2013.

It’s a daring and brilliant device, allowing us to watch the actors literally age in front of our eyes, sans elaborate makeup or tricky camera work...

Read More

Father Bob and the Misapprehension of Spiritual Life

MeditatorBy MoyanBrenn

Way back in 1980-81, I spent one of the most stimulating years of my life in seminary, taking whatever classes I wanted at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. It was one of those “exploration in graduate theological education” programs: one year, no requirements, graze to your heart’s content among the consortium’s eight seminaries. There’s a synonym for all that, and here it is:

Heaven.

I spent pretty much the entire year enraptured, mostly reclining on my mattress-on-the-floor (the true graduate school bedding protocol) with a pile of books when I wasn’t running in the East Bay hills or walking the never-dull streets of Berkeley.

Grazing through the catalogs from the consortium’s eight seminaries before the start of the semester, one easy pick was a course in spirituality from Father Bob, a learned and engaging Jesuit who would pace the floor west to east at the front of the class talking off the top off his head about the great spiritual questions of the eons and wha...

Read More