The Great Bomb Cyclone of 2018

There are things you don’t want to feel while driving. Your car, moving 60 miles an hour, shoved about three feet to the left is one of those things.

The commute home wasn’t bad. At least in the Baltimore-York corridor, the Great Bomb Cyclone Blizzard of 2018 was a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It looks like the accumulation where I live may have totaled an inch. Possibly less; my usual parking space in the lot had no visible accumulation when I got home from work.

But the wind! The wind was fierce. It was fierce when I went to work this morning. It was fierce when I was at the office. (The utility wires outside my office window swayed.) It was fierce when I left the office. Suffice it to say, it was fierce, and the ferocity made driving through the wind feel like driving through molasses. And occasionally, the Beetle was buffeted by winds and shoved around the road, making for a stressful drive home.

The roads were dry, until I got onto the secondaries in Pennsyltucky, and those roads were messy, clear from traffic and not any deliberate attempt at snow removal.

The complex’s parking lot is gross, but it’s been gross since the last snowfall on Saturday. Nothing new there.

There’s a feral tuxedo cat that lives near the dumpsters in my apartment complex. She’s been there for a few months, and it wasn’t uncommon in the autumn to see her wandering around the parking lot, exploring and (presumably) looking for food, sometimes sitting on someone’s front step, then running away or skittering under a car when someone approached or called out to her. I’d see her when I took my garbage out to the dumpsters; she’d run up the hilly slope overlooking the dumpsters, then sit at the top and watch what I was doing. I would try talking to her, in a high-pitched voice that I used to use when talking to cats, and though she never responded she also didn’t run any further away though, sitting at the top of the embankment as she was, it wasn’t like I could get any closer to her. (I presume the cat is a her. I frankly have no idea.) With this arctic blast, I’ve been worried about her. I’ve not seen her around, and I hope she’s found someplace warm and dry. The other possibility is too horrible to contemplate.

The Line-Up Revealed

So, the headlining acts at ShamrockFest this year are Sum 41, Shaggy, and Less Than Jake. Umm, what’s the point of this festival, again?

I’ll still go; Carbon Leaf, Barleyjuice, Kilmaine Saints, and Scythian will satisfy the Celtic rock itch.

But jeez. Those headliners, on St. Patrick’s Day…

Pi Day Planning

Pi Day is one of those geekish holidays that I don’t pay much attention.

Pi Day, by the way, is March 14th. 3/14. Ie., 3.141592653589793. The circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. π.

Fifteen digits of π is all NASA needs for its interplanetary missions. A calculation of the circumference of a circle with a diameter the distance of the Voyager 1 probe, 12 1/2 billion miles from earth, would be off by an inch and a half.

Forty digits of π are all you need to accurately calculate the size of the universe to the width of a hydrogen atom.

No, I’ve never eaten pie for Pi Day. I understand why people do — Pie and π — but that just seems silly. But I won’t mock anyone who makes a big deal about pie.

Especially key lime pie.

A Mistake or Not

I’m an atheist, but there aren’t many websites or blogs on atheism that I follow and read because there’s not a lot of “breaking news” to deal with and, frankly, each person’s atheism is an individual thing, so one person’s experience may not really match up with mine.

One I do read on occasion is Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie. Carter is a school teacher (math, I think) in Mississippi who came from an evangelical background in recent years, and his writing (which is good) tends to cover the things that he struggled with as he came to his acceptance of the nonexistence of gods and his rejection of Christianity in particular.

His most recent post, on his top posts of 2017, linked back to a post from April, “Our Biggest Mistake,” which he described as, “Most people who still inhabit the Christian tradition assume we left because we just didn’t do it right, or didn’t understand what it was all really about. But the reality is that most of us ‘got it’ a little too well, and that’s precisely why we eventually found ourselves on the outside of it.”

I don’t recall reading “Our Biggest Mistake” back in April. I had a lot of things going on then at work, such as powering through deadlines and working ahead because of a business trip to Chicago, and, as I said, I only read Godless in Dixie on occasion, when the mood takes me, really.

I read the article over New Year’s weekend. Carter said that the post “lists 7 things [atheists] did a little too well.” I thought, when I clicked through to read it, that I’d see a few things that I’d relate to, that described my experience. Among those “7 things,” I didn’t see anything I related to. That’s not to say that Carter’s list is bad, because it’s not. There’s value in it, but it’s a value for people who walked away from religion in general and Christianity in the specific in adulthood, past thirty-five or forty.

I knew what I thought about the Christian god early, by the time I reached Confirmation in the Methodist Church (which I remember as a difficult and traumatic process for me), though I didn’t have a label for those thoughts were until I reached college. When I was eight I had a map of the world on my bedroom wall. I was aware of the world’s many cultures. I struggled with the idea that the world was filled with people with different religious beliefs and different conceptions of god, and the idea that their beliefs were automatically wrong I found profoundly disturbing.

Because I hadn’t internalized Christianity as part of my identity, despite being nominally a Methodist, the seven things that Carter listed in his article were never part of my experience. I had the David C. Cook Picture Bible, which I wore out, and the Old Testament histories had some appeal for me, so of the seven the one I most align with is the first, taking the Bible seriously. But the others? Even prayer itself, as I wrote about two years ago, wasn’t part of my religious experience. I tell people now when they ask, because I happen to think it’s fundamentally true about me, that I never had any beliefs. They never took root. There was never a “god-shaped hole,” as Blaise Pascal put it, to fill. Others may think my atheism is a “mistake.” Others my pray for my soul (which I don’t think is a real thing). I’m okay with that. I know myself, and I know what I think about the universe and my role in it. The universe is big and vast and complicated. It was here long before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone, forgotten, turned to dust. But while I’m here, I can make the world at least a little better place, and that’s no mistake.

Even if Carter’s article didn’t speak to my experience, it was still an interesting read. My reading frequency on Godless in Dixie will probably remain at “on occasion,” though. And that’s fine; atheism doesn’t have a lot in the way of breaking news. :)

Winter Misanthropy

The new year began with a day bereft of human contact, save for the online kind.

At midnight, there was the sound of distant fireworks and gunfire. I’ve often likened it to the sound of artillery shelling. I wonder how people from Sarajevo or Aleppo would react.

I didn’t even sleep late today. But I was in no hurry to get out of bed. My phone told the tale. Bitter cold. Bitter, bitter cold. A full ten degrees lower than the day’s forecast low.

Who wants to face a day like that?

Who wants to go outside on a day like that?

I resolved not to go outside. I could sit inside all day, with the radio and the Christmas tree, and be content. I had food, I had drink. I would manage.

But that meant not talking to a single human soul.

Humans are social creatures. Conversation is a key component of human behavior. It’s how we bond and relate with one another.

I have misanthropic moods. We all have them, and how we manage them is important. I’m not misanthropic today because I don’t want to be around people. I’m misanthropic today because I don’t want to go outside. The ice planet Hoth is undoubtedly warmer than Pennsylvania is right now.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been kinda climbing the walls.

I did venture out once, to get the mail (which I’d left in the mailbow since Saturday due to the snow and the cold). I needn’t have bothered; it was a membership solicitation for the Sierra Club.

I’m thinking of putting on my coat and gloves and scarf to go look at the full moon. I’ve looked out the window and it’s quite bright.

But that cold! It’s twelve degrees! I wasn’t made for twelve degrees!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Taken from The Daily Post‘s Conversation prompt

On the Year That Was, 2017

With 2017 drawing to a close and 2018 about to begin, I decided to take a look back at 2016 and spotlight the best (or most significant) blog post of each month.

Writing Until I Drop

A few months ago, Andrew Sullivan began writing a weekly column for New York. As someone who read The Dish, Sullivan’s daily blog, for years and years and years, I welcomed his weekly column. I haven’t always enjoyed it, but I still read it.

In Sullivan’s column last week, he closed with a story on St. Thomas Aquinas who, after working for years on his Summa Theologica, suddenly stopped, and never wrote another word.

Sullivan began:

What would happen to you if you wrote 4,000 words a day for years and years? Not so long ago, something like this question came up for me in my crazed years of blogging. It’s also surely relevant to the journalists who now have to produce daily, hourly copy, then also tweet and Instagram and go on TV and on and on … until they, well what, exactly? The correct answer is: Drop dead.

This is a thought that’s preoccupied me, too.

I’ve written a lot the last eleven years, and sometimes I wonder how much further I can go. Will I slow down until I cease? Will I simply and suddenly stop, as Aquinas did, and write no more? Or will I “drop dead,” as Sullivan says is the correct answer?

I don’t know.

My fear is that one day it will be like the wheels coming off. Everything breaks apart, and I can write no more. That one truly frightens me.

I don’t know.

Revisiting a Beatle-Esque Christmas

christmas-tributeAbout two years ago, thanks to the Things We Said Today podcast, I learned of an album of Beatle-esque Christmas music, the Abbey Road Xmas Ensemble’s A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles.

(There’s also this one, The Liverpool Christmas Band’s Beatle-esque Christmas, which looks like it’s the same material, but with karaoke versions of the Christmas songs as well.)

With Christmas falling a week from today, I queued up the album over the weekend and listened to it, skipping the nine covers of Beatles songs because they’re really not necessary. The musicianship is fine, but the voices don’t sound a great deal like the Fab Four, some of the instruments sound weird (like, is that a synthesized harmonica?), and the distinctive guitar sounds of the Beatles, particularly George and Paul, aren’t recreated very well. The result is an album that sounds like it was inspired by the Beatles more than a “What if the Beatles made a Christmas album?” album.

At the time, I wrote of A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles:

The thirty tracks run 90 minutes total, and of the 30 tracks, nine of them are Beatles covers. (The 25-track version, Abbey Road Christmas, has five Beatles covers, by comparison. And one fewer version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as well.) The brain just goes numb. This is the kind of album that requires some DIY moxie — figure out the tracks you like and make a playlist of those in your mp3 player of choice, skipping entirely over the lesser tracks and Beatles covers. Whittled down to 12 tracks and a 40-minute running time, this could really soar.

Over the weekend, then, I did just that. Twelve tracks, less than 40 minutes.

My very edited version of A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles, with the Beatles inspiration where I could discern a direct correlation:

  1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (“Hey Bulldog”)
  2. Silent Night
  3. Hark, The Herald Angels Sing (“Run for Your Life”)
  4. Last Christmas
  5. Blue Christmas (“Love Me Do”)
  6. Merry Xmas Everybody (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”)
  7. Mary’s Boy Child (“Please Please Me,” maybe?)
  8. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (“Things We Said Today”)
  9. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (“Good Night”)
  10. Merry Christmas Everyone (“Let It Be”)
  11. Wonderful Christmastime (“Love You To”)
  12. We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Some of the correlations aren’t perfect. “Happy Xmas,” for instance, starts out as one sort of thing and then turns into something like “Good Night” by the end. “Wonderful Christmastime” kicks off with the sitar riff from “Love You To,” but then it’s sung by a John soundalike rather than a George soundalike and is wildly psychedelic. (Honestly, I get more of an Oasis vibe from the song than a Beatles vibe.) These aren’t necessarily great versions of the songs, and this isn’t necessarily a great playlist, but for my needs this works. The psychedlic, sitar-heavy “Wonderful Christmastime” makes McCartney’s throwaway into something interesting and worthwhile. “Merry Christmas Everyone,” a Shakin’ Stevens song I wasn’t even aware of until two years ago, is a delight. At forty minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There may be a better order, but this suffices.

There is, however, a Beatle-esque Christmas album I can wholeheartedly recommend — the Fab Four’s Hark!. I’ve bought this album twice, first in the two disc release by LaserLight fifteen years ago (bought at the Sam Goody’s on the lower floor of Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh shortly after I moved there), then in the single disc edition with bonus tracks almost ten years ago. I like it, it’s fun to listen to, and more evocative of the Beatles than A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles.

But both have their place in my collections, and as a Beatles fan, that’s fine. :)

A Grocery Store Encounter

I was at the grocery store yesterday — my stock of tea at the office is much diminished and needed replenishment — and, like usual, I asked the cashier, an older woman, probably in her sixties, how she was. (When I say, “like usual,” it’s a habit born of years of retail. I try not to be a grumpy and disinterested customer, especially this time of year.)

“I’m tired,” she said, as she started scanning my items. (Besides two boxes of tea, there were antacid tablets, a bottle of diet cream soda, and a jug of windshield wiper fluid.)

I nodded. “I can understand that,” I said.

She looked at me. “I’m blessed.”

Wait. What did she say? What did I hear?

Some confusion clearly played on my face. “Wait, did you say ‘blessed’? That you’re blessed?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m blessed.”

I had absolutely no idea to respond to that. I nodded, smiled, and said, quickly. “Yes, yes, blessed. Yes, that’s a good thing. I’m glad.”

She wished me a good evening when the transaction was finished. I wished her a Merry Christmas. Those exact words, despite my well-known reputation for being a heathen.

I still have no idea how to respond to “I’m blessed.”

The Dragons of Christmas

Perhaps I’d still be a Christian had there been more dragons.

Many elements of the traditional Nativity scene — in particular, any animals whatsoever — aren’t Biblically canonical. They all derive from apocryphal scriptures, essentially early Church fanfic, such as this passage from Pseudo Matthew about the infant Jesus and the dragons during the flight to Egypt:

“Lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired. Then was fulfilled that which was said by David the prophet, saying: Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons; ye dragons, and all ye deeps.”

Maybe we can add a middle verse to “Away in the Manger.”

The dragons encircle the manger this night.
Great and wise creatures, the drakes end their flight.
They bow at the manger, Lord Jesus they see —
Bask there in his presence where he sets them free.

This Christmas and every Christmas, feel free to add dragons like Smaug or Vermithrax Perjorative to your Nativity, and when someone questions their presence, you can say, “I’ll have you know that dragon is every bit as canonical as the sheep and the cattle.”

Oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t still be a Christian even with dragons; my issues with Christian theology run far deeper than the mighty firedrakes of yore. :)