Friday, February 29, 2008

WE ARE THE falsetto

Too weird. Do any of you remember Bob Geldof? His lesser-known persona was that of being the lead singer in the Irish rock band The Boom Town Rats.

He became famous for organizing that singular event, Live Aid, a formal gathering of rock stars that recorded the really, I mean really horrible song WE ARE THE WORLD as a fund raiser for hunger in Africa. You may remember the song, if not the worthy cause it was written for. There were Live Aid concerts. I remember the hype surrounding it, how Bob Dylan was talked into performing. I remember a story about the actual recording session: some relatively little-known Canadian folk singer was standing next to Neil Young as the group of musicians sang. The folk singer leaned over during a break, saying, "Neil. You're flat." Young retorted, "Hey man! That's my STYLE!"

It seems Mr. Geldof's interest in the welfare of Africa the continent and in its manifold extreme problems has not faded. On President George Bush's recent trip to Africa, Geldof came along as a spokesman. As a spokesman for all of the good things Bush has done for Africa during his term! Here's the article.

The article is noteworthy not just in that it highlights little-known initiatives in Africa started by Bush (You'll remember his State of the Union address at the beginning of his second term when he spelled out what he was going to do for the continent?). What is enjoyable about the article is the relaxed give-and-take conversation between Geldof and the President.
"I gave the President my book. He raised an eyebrow. "Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?" he said without looking up from the cover. Very dry. "Who will you get to read it for you, Mr. President?" I replied. No response."

The Most Powerful Man in the World studied the front cover. Geldof in Africa — " 'The international best seller.' You write that bit yourself?"

"That's right. It's called marketing. Something you obviously have no clue about or else I wouldn't have to be here telling people your Africa story."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Long Way in the Same Direction

"I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics. Maybe he did. I told that to somebody at breakfast the other mornin and they asked me if I believed in Satan. I said Well that aint the point. And they said I know but do you? I had to think about that. I guess as a boy I did. Come the middle years my belief I reckon had waned somewhat. Now I'm startin to lean back the other way. He explains a lot of things that otherwise dont have no explanation. Or not to me they dont."

Cormac McCarthy No Country For Old Men

Wednesday, February 20, 2008



General Bhalyi, fully clothed

What do you do? You've killed 20,000, many of them children. You used to go into battle in the sad, endless Liberian Wars totally naked, feeding the hearts of slaughtered children to your troops beforehand. You were, and confess to it, totally given over to Satan.

You are now, and confess to it, a born-again Christian. This appears to have happened ex nihilo, a voice from God during a battle. I'm inclined to doubt it. The Holy Spirit forms faith through hearing the Word. "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" Sometime, someone--an old woman perhaps, or the mother of one of the innocent ones you slaughtered--whispered some Word of hope or warning to you. Or something of the Word spoken to you as a child sprang to life at the oddest of times to reclaim your sorry, hapless, forsaken ass.

The former general has returned out of exile to face a truth and reconciliation committee.
"I could be electrocuted. I could be hanged. I could be given any other punishment," the 37-year-old Blahyi said in a weekend interview following his truth commission appearance last week. "But I think forgiveness and reconciliation is the right way to go."

Since the time of St. Paul, Christians have been wary of these dramatic conversion stories. A lot of time has to pass, and the critter must be studied closely. What kind of fruit to expect? How long before we can be sure? Paul spent fourteen years back home in Tarsus before finally being fetched by Barnabas. Blahyi should rightly expect a lonely life.

Nevertheless, it is a great story. One can only stand and marvel at the grace,--the pure grace--that can accomplish so much with such wretched humanity.

Some years ago, after my mother died, my father took into his home a homeless man he'd met at a weekly Bible study. The man was ex-con; had been an extremely violent man prior to his incarceration, and had many fascinating stories to tell. What was striking about him was how he carried in so many ways the scars of his prior life. He was a powerfully built man, with a face that was just plain scary. He was a professional torturer in his other life, and spent many years in solitary confinement in prison. At the time of his capture, the state police of the state he was fleeing had standing orders to shoot on sight.

The man had been living in an empty warehouse prior to moving in with my Dad. The marriage was not one made in heaven--the two men weren't the most gracious people and just tolerated each other. There was a bit of concern that the man would revert, you know. I can remember sitting for two hours alone with him, listening to his story. He spent the entire time standing, towering over me; he never sat down. He hadn't ever been taught very much about living with other people.

This man loved to tell and retell the story of his redemption, as apparently does the former General Butt Naked, now reborn as Joshua.

Said Blahyi:
"I have been looking for an opportunity to tell the true story about my life -- and every time I tell people my story, I feel relieved."

Joshua Blahyi today

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm always looking around in vain for someone who's going to laugh with me.

More--less negative--tales from an American Boy In Korea:


and Here

Homecoming, and Koreans

My oldest son, Colin, arrived home Saturday after flying half of the way around the world. His body is still fourteen hours ahead, present in Monday but living in Tuesday. This is very strange for him.

But he is astoundingly happy to be home, if only for ten days. We are happy that he is happy, and happy to see him. Happiness abounds. Gone for the moment is the peaceful routine of Just The Three Of Us, each with room to stretch out and live. Back for the moment is the crazy havoc of two young men (Jeremy is with us for a time as well), full of life and adventure and crazy stories.

Part of the reason Colin is happy is that he's out of Korea. I've been hearing horror stories of both boys' experiences there, and they say all of the expats living in Seoul feel the same way. Racism is alive and well in South Korea, and it is directed at the rich (So it must be assumed by the natives) white faces of the Westerners who come to teach English and live in their country. Colin has been blogging about it for some time at Pure Pleasure! Good Grief!. A snippet from his farewell posting:

Thursday, January 31, 2008
Well, that just about says it all
It was an interesting year. Full circle and not much left to say about it. A native English speaker can travel and work almost anywhere in the world. The opportunities are unprecedented and, um, clammy. The world is my clam, clams is my world.

Oyster. It's my oyster.

That reminds me of the Korean lady who sliced her thumb open trying to open oysters with a butcher knife. I saw her doing it myself on the floor of her kitchen. It was one of the single most insane things I have ever witnessed. Right in the middle of dinner, without a word, she jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen. As I was reaching the next pinch of rice to my lips I heard a series of enormous crashes and a long string of Korean vulgarity. Fin fity fface fall! the gist. "Are you okay in there?" She didn't answer. More loud swearing. I went to the door of the kitchen and saw her on her hands and knees, pounding at a pile of oyster shells with a gigantic roofing hammer right on top of the linoleum. Then, flinging the hammer aside, long straight black hair flying in a flurry, she would grab the butcher knife like a throwing spear and jab at the openings. The onslaught was ferocious. Chunks of shell were ricocheting off the cabinets. There was blood streaming down her left hand from a gash on the thumb. She kept muttering "but how? but how?" in English. Has she had been starving for weeks?? "What are you doing?" she shouted at me. "Aren't you hungry?!" When she got most of them open she brought them out on a plate and started eating them raw, offering me one, dripping like salty jelly from the sticks, suddenly totally calm. "Ummm, delicious!"

Over the past year I have acquired a stack of pretty good Korean books but I am so bitter that I can't stand to study the language. And studying language is something that normally gives me a lot of energy, but Korean just makes me remember all the lousy things that have been shouted at me by self-important old men in buses, at subway stops, in restaurants, in taxi cabs, outside of churches, in the bank, in the mall, in the theater, in my own apartment building, at work, in the grocery store, at the post office, browsing the market, crossing the street, even strolling in the park on a beautiful sunny day. If all you ever use the language for is to put down other people and insult them, it's an ugly language. I get the gag reflex when I look at the textbook.

I'm going home in two weeks and I'd be crazy to come back. But I'm glad to have satisfied my curiosity, and it's a gold mine for weird anecdotes. Watch Korean it from a nice, safe distance!

The thing is, he's going back again.
For the moment, we're about the business of making him feel at home. The temperature this morning was -5 degrees. But the kitchen is open at all hours, and his sister is more than willing to stay up with him until, well, until the kitchen closes: to chat him up, listen to his funny stories about strange and exotic people, and await the dawn.

Who De Alpha Dog Here?


The Moon That Saved Columbus, an eerie red eclipse from more than five hundred years ago, will be recreated this week.
Christopher Columbus--aging and on his fourth journey to the New World-- was stranded with his men and his worm-eaten sailing ships,on the coast of pre-Rasta Jamaica. Dude was smart, though. Or maybe desperation just brings out the best in some men. Consulting his charts, and knowing that the Jamaicans did not yet own the cool technology he brought with him from the Hood, he basically played out a scene from Mark Twain's A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT, which, of course, hadn't been written yet.
He told the Indians that if they didn't feed him, and feed him well, he'd make the moon disappear. Knowing the future maybe brings out the worst in men, come to think of it. When in fact the demons Columbus served did start eating the moon, the natives capitulated. There is no sense in trying to compete with that kind of mojo. I think they even used the word, mojo.

Get up really early, and enjoy the eclipse! For me and my house, it is WAAAYYY too cold in Wisconsin these days to even consider leaving our nests at 3 am.

HT: Drudge Report

Saturday, February 16, 2008


On The Banks of the River Bougival by Nozal

GRRR, My heart's abhorrence!
A three hour appointment on a Saturday morning is prime-time real estate, and my client blew me off for the third time. But I'm a servant, I'm a servant. I'll smile and pretend there is nothing lost and everything gained.

Translation: I need this job.

The morning wasn't completely wasted. Another, quick appointment to drop off a lamp and finial at another client's home was rewarded with a longer-than-planned visit and great conversation.

This, second, client happens to be the nephew of Cy Twombly, the American Abstract Expressionist of the latter 20th C. The nephew is not an artist, but has great taste in art, and is an altogether interesting person. On the largest wall of his small apartment in Madison hangs an altogether UNtwomblyesque painting, a large mural by the French pseudo-Impressionist Alexandre Nozal. He was a contemporary of the French Impressionists Degas and Monet. His background was Realism, but you can see in my client's painting the influences of Impressionism.

The painting is enormous--five feet high and perhaps ten feet across. It is housed in an old gesso'd, gilded frame of appropriate grandeur. It is really fun to study this painting: a large lake--perhaps Swiss--ensconced between towering mountains, with a pink sky in the center background. Impressionistic is the sky and its reflection in the lake. Realistic is the little hut on top of one peak, and the jetty with its boats and men clearly visible when you come close to the painting. But my client had hung a large mirror on the opposite wall, and encouraged me to view the painting through its reflection. This put the painting at a good twenty five feet away, and now one could see its overall magnificence, and the wonderful effect Nozal managed to portray of a vivid sky and lake. A museum piece, hanging on an apartment wall in the Midwest. Very peculiar.

It brought to mind a time a few decades ago. I had been hired by the late Oscar Mayer, Jr (his wife, actually)--yes, the very same whose name graces many a bologna product. They lived part of the year in Madison, and I was the latest in a line of furniture restorers to be of service to Mrs. Mayer in the maintenance of her many fine antiques. In addition to fine antiques, the Mayers had invested in many rare paintings over the years. I remember walking down a wide hallway in the upstairs of their mansion in Maple Bluff, as Mrs. Mayer casually pointed out to me the odd Degas, Paul Klee, or Marc Chagall hanging in what amounted to a fine art gallery. What an experience.

Today was more fun, though, as this client is so very enthusiastically in love with his Nozal, and in fact with most of the things he owns. Everything has a story, and the stories are so very unusual. Here is a Grecian urn, here a huge old, tapered ceramic French pot used to make pate de foie gras. And here, a Marleen Dietrich crystal cigarette lighter, complete with matching ash tray and lamp.

And here:

One of his uncle's works.

Monday, February 11, 2008


This isn't cutting edge news to many of you, but we've discovered a new genre of film-making: The Sci Fi Western.

When you think about it, the two were born for each other.

We've just finished watching, via Netflicks, the FIREFLY series, which is just simply delicious. Its only problem is it comes to an end. It features a gang of very nice, polite rumrunners, the sort we've come to associate with the Wild West. Except they fly around in a flea-bitten old space cargo ship, trying to stay under the radar of the Federales; nearly broke at all times and running one transmuter short of a full deck. They DO have a state of the art medical lab, which comes in handy when one of them inevitably gets shot up, and a respectable doctor. The series is very funny and imaginative. And its a Western!

The anime version of Firefly, sort of, is COWBOY BEBOP
My son Jeremy brought back a set of these from Korea. Once here, Robin discovered it and has been showing me sessions. This is a Japanese creation, but whoever produced it has spent some serious time studying old American films, John Ford movies, and has read his Dashiell Hammett to boot. Add the spicy culture of the Orient, and animate the sucker: presto! Very bizarre, funny, and fun to watch.

Dog Puppy, Round Two


From Ethan at Stormfield Manor, of whom I had expected so much more.

The Rules
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
6. Tag another person.

Itsa called Book Tag, so here goes... Do I know five people?... I don't understand #6.

The joints used include butt, miter, T-joint, end, cross, double T, and surface (Fig. 10-47). These can be joined by one of three types of fasteners, forming (1) rigid non-releasable joints, (2) rigid releasable joints, or (3) flexible releasable joints.
A rigid releasable joint can be secured using a special one-piece fastener (Fig. 10-48).
There. I feel a lot better having done that. Not that it is included in the rules, but the book I grabbed is called FURNITUREMAKING, Design and Construction by Spence and Griffiths. I'm sure you've read it.

I haven't opened that book, quite literally, in decades.

Actually, the first book I grabbed was Christology by David Scaer. Guess what? It isn't of sufficient length.

I tag Lutheran Luciola, sorry. I'd tag the book club, but they don't blog. So who else? Jesse Jacobsen, Carol Rutz, Mental Llama, ElephantsChild. That's five; I ignore #6.

You know, what I'd really like to be able to do is make a flexible, nonreleasable joint.
But it isn't covered in the book...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What are YOU doing today?

I'm battling the elements.
It's me and the blower against 12-18 inches of pure, driven snow.
This is great!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ezra and the Guys

We started a new Bible study at the Oregon Prison Friday Night Bible Study, having finished a very satisfying read-through and discussion of the book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

I decided that we should head back into the OT, having read everything biblical that St. Luke had researched and written. Someone in the group said "Nehemiah!". I thought, ok. How about Ezra first, then Nehemiah, and let's throw in Ruth since we will have worked so hard to find Christ in the first two books and would by then be thinking in terms of types and foreshadowing. And maybe, just maybe, we'll do Job as well. Oh, gluttony, thou art my constant companion.

So, five of us. One guy begged off, had to get a haircut. I don't even want to think of his answer when asked about this before the Judgement Seat. But I've been there, I've been there. I sold a piece of land; I just got married. I've occupied this land my entire life.

Mike is an overweight white former CEO of a medium sized company from which he stole 1.6 million dollars. He has just been diagnosed as a diabetic. He started our readings in the Book of Ezra, which proceeded around the table to Dale, another white guy I haven't learned a lot about; to Udell, a large, handsome black man of surpassing humility; to Ken, who has been laying a cross on my shoulders lately in this modest enterprise. I'm having to seriously earn my chops with this black man from the deep South. So it always goes.

Here is the thing about Ezra: we had to spend a little time establishing the context. So I spun a tale of fierce pride and presumption--of complete cultural forgetfulness; of the leaders of Israel being dragged through holes in the fortress wall by rings in their noses, into slavery; of Assyrians and later Babylonians who did not suffer fools lightly nor did they mind plundering the Hebrew women and the Hebrew gold. They all got the picture. Seventy years in suspended animation, except Jews never suspend the merchanting of their collective lives. By the time they were given the surpassing gift of a return ticket to Palestine, they had 7,337 servants attending to their needs, and some very nice dinnerware.

Through which mask of God did they receive this gift?

It was in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia. It was done to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah, that suffering servant. Cyrus, the pagan king, spoke these rather astounding words:
"The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
"Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem."
Off they went, four months perhaps of desert travail to get to the rocky upland of Jerusalem. And you think: This is the will of the Lord.

And you think: Nothing can stop them now! The returning Hebrews had Cyrus and God on their side. The slope-headed, neanderthal, out-of-touch hicks who had taken up residence in Jerusalem and the adjoining lands didn't have a prayer.

Ah, but as Luther says somewhere, when God begins a great work, it always seems that nothing happens for awhile. And when it does happen, a cross is soon laid on the shoulders of that undertaking.

And so it always goes. The Hebrews started well, rediscovering the cities of their Fathers, and laying down roots. Brother Zerubbabel, and his bro Jeshua (The name of our Lord) set up the altar of the God of Israel on its foundations. And later, having purchased cedar from Lebanon, and having hired masons and carpenters, they laid the foundation of the temple, the work which Cyrus had freed them to do.

A strange thing happened at the dedication of the foundation of the temple. A spontaneous cheer of wild joy, and at the same time a wail of tears, rose from the peoples assembled, and could be heard from afar off. "...the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people..."

Why the tears? Why the sorrow? Ken thought it was tears of joy. He was ready to move on. I pointed out that it was the old men who were weeping--those who remembered the first great temple, the temple of Solomon (when times were GREAT). I wanted Ken and the others to understand how something can be a source of great rejoicing and at the same time a source of great sorrow. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb, and then proceeded to call him back to life. We rejoice as we are delivered out of great trauma while at the same time marvelling at the depth of our sin.

Can we weep and rejoice at the same time?

It is simul iustus et peccator all over again. It is Romans 7 writ large, and updated. And Ken got it. A light flashed across his face, and with that old smile of his and that slow drawl, he admitted--YES! He remembered times when he saw the glory of God and it reminded him of the depth of his sin. I cried YEAH, KEN! THAT'S SANCTIFICATION, BABY! God is making you holy, dude!

Later, quietly, Udell mentioned that he had never gotten anything like this out of Ezra. I mean, he'd READ it, but had missed a lot. I had to agree with him: Ezra is not the first place I turn when I rummage through my Bible. Just buried treasure, awaiting discovery, is all it is.

Soon enough organized resistance, to the building of this temple and the general settling in of these Hebrews, grew among the people dwelling in the land, and the officials from Babylon who oversaw the administration of Palestine. Spies and saboteurs tried to infiltrate the ranks of the naive refugees from Bablylon. Failing that, they started a letter writing campaign to the new administration in Babylon. And the work was halted, and the hope of the people must have wilted.

Would God start a project, grant the Hebrews freedom to return to their ancient homeland, and then lose interest? It must have looked like this to them. And so ensued a short exchange among us about the promises of God versus the View On The Ground, and why the whole conundrum itself is what calls forth faith.

I'll see where it goes from here, come next Friday night at the prison.