New from Neil Young

And in all this crazi­ness I missed that Neil Young had just dropped a new tune on us.

And appar­ent­ly, this is just one of four new songs:

Famed rock­er Neil Young has played hun­dreds of towns and cities all over the world since start­ing his illus­tri­ous career in the ’60s, but last night marked his first per­for­mance in the beau­ti­ful moun­tain town of Tel­luride, Col­orado. Neil Young and Promise Of The Real treat­ed fans to a 21-song per­for­mance as part of their first of two con­sec­u­tive shows at Town Park in Tel­luride on Fri­day.

New Yorker New Yorker New Yorker

Web­sites are start­ing to talk about a Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­tial cab­i­net and the names high­light a curios­i­ty of this elec­tion: many of the prin­ci­ple insid­ers come from North­east Cor­ri­dor states that vot­ed for Hillary Clin­ton. Rudolph Giu­liani and Chris Christie, are, like the whole Trump fam­i­ly, metro New York­ers and as far as I know Newt Gin­grich lives in north­ern Vir­ginia.

I’ve lived in Chris Christie’s New Jer­sey since he was elect­ed gov­er­nor and I find it real­ly hard to believe he’s sud­den­ly going to have a strong inter­est in the Mid­west­ern red states that gave Trump the win. You can point to VP-elect Mike Pence of Indi­ana, but as far as I can tell he was only brought on for strate­gic rea­sons and is not part of the Trump cir­cle.

What real­ly can Trump do to bring back the good pay­ing jobs that dis­ap­peared decades ago? Our econ­o­my has been shift­ing regard­less of which par­ty occu­pies the Oval Office. There’s sops and pork to be doled out, but the nation­al econ­o­my has been cen­tral­iz­ing in the big coastal cities that our new polit­i­cal lead­ers call home (the same would have been true with a Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy). What if Trump’s elec­tion is the ulti­mate prank: red states sell­ing their vote to a New York devel­op­er who will most­ly con­tin­ue to devel­op the New York-to-DC cor­ri­dor?

QuakerQuaker on the move

Crossposting from QuakerQuaker:

Cardboard boxes in apartment, moving day

The biggest changes in half a decade are coming to QuakerQuaker. The Ning.com service that powers the main website is about to increase its monthly charge by 140 percent. When I first picked Ning to host the three-year-old QuakerQuaker project in 2008, it seemed like a smart move. Ning had recently been founded by tech world rock stars with access to stratospheric-level funds. But it never quite got traction and started dialing back its ambitions in 2010. It was sold and sold again and a long-announced new version never materialized. I've been warning people against starting new projects on it for years. Its limitations have become clearer with every passing year. But it's continued to work and a healthy community has kept the content on QuakerQuaker interesting. But I don't get enough donations to cover a 140 percent increase, and even if I did it's not worth it for a service stuck in 2010. It's time to evolve!

There are many interesting things I could build with a modern web platform. Initial research and some feedback from fellow Quaker techies has me interested in BuddyPress, an expanded and social version of the ubiquitous WordPress blogging system. It has plugins available that claim to move content from existing Ning sites to BuddyPress, leaving the tantalizing possibility that eight years of the online Quaker conversation can be maintained (wow!).

I will need funds for the move. The subscriptions to do the import/export will incur costs and there will be plugins and themes to buy. I'm mentally budgeting an open-ended number of late Saturday nights. And the personal computer we have is getting old. The charge doesn't hold and keys are starting to go. It will need replacement sooner rather than later.

Any donations Friends could make to the Paypal account would be very helpful for the move. You can start by going to http://bit.ly/quakergive. Other options are available on the donation page at http://www.quakerquaker.org/page/support. Thanks for whatever you can spare. I'm as surprised as anyone that this little DIY project continues to host some many interesting Quaker conversations eleven years on!

In Friendship,
Martin Kelley for QuakerQuaker.org

What does it mean to be a Quaker?

Craig Bar­nett tries to define Friends:

“I want to sug­gest that there is a liv­ing tra­di­tion of spir­i­tu­al teach­ing and prac­tice that makes up the Quak­er Way, which is not defined by a par­tic­u­lar social group, behav­iour­al norms, or even val­ues and beliefs.”

As usu­al Craig clear­ly artic­u­lates his premise: that Friends have become some­thing of a content-less, lowest-common-denominator group that fears mak­ing belief state­ments that some of our mem­ber­ship would object to.

I agree with most of his analy­sis, though I would add some pieces. I don’t think one can under­stand what it means to be a Quak­er today with­out look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of def­i­n­i­tions. Belief and prac­tices is one part but so is self-identification (which is not nec­es­sar­i­ly mem­ber­ship). We are who we are but we also aren’t. There’s a deep­er real­i­ty in not being able to sep­a­rate Quak­er phi­los­o­phy from the peo­ple who are Quak­er.

In this light, I do wish that Craig hadn’t resort­ed to using the jar­gony “Quak­er Way” ten times in a short piece. For those who haven’t got­ten the memo, lib­er­al Friends are no longer sup­posed to say “Quak­erism” (which implies a tra­di­tion and prac­tice that is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the denom­i­na­tor of our member’s indi­vid­ual the­olo­gies) but instead use the vaguer “Quak­er Way.” In my obser­va­tion, it’s most­ly a bureau­crat­ic pref­er­ence: we want to imply there is sub­stance but don’t want to actu­al­ly name it for fear of start­ing a fight. Con­tent­less lan­guage has become its own art form, one that can suck the air out of robust dis­cus­sions. A truly-vital liv­ing tra­di­tion should be able to speak in dif­fer­ent accents.

Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of sea­son one. Kodak has asked the adver­tis­ing firm to cre­ate a cam­paign around a new slide pro­jec­tor that has a cir­cu­lar tray. Don Drap­er presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped pre­sen­ta­tion that use his per­son­al pho­tographs to move both the Kodak execs and the view­ers at home, who know that these semi-focused pic­tures will soon be all that left of his dis­in­te­grat­ing fam­i­ly.

No falling apart fam­i­ly for me, but I find myself already feel­ing nos­tal­gic for a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Dis­ney World that doesn’t start for anoth­er six days. I’ve recent­ly been look­ing through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and real­ize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée tak­ing a cyn­i­cal me on my first trip. Lat­er vis­its bring kids to the pho­to­graph­ic line­up: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new chil­dren in this one. “The babies” are both walk­ing and tod­dling and are at their peak of baby pho­to­genic cute­ness. The old­er two are real kids now and the eldest is start­ing to show ear­ly glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exha­la­tion of air (“uh!”) to show dis­ap­proval of incon­ve­nient parental instruc­tions.

Icon­ic fam­i­ly pic­tures will hap­pen. Since our last vis­it five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to can­cer and my mother’s been slip­ping into the for­get­ful­ness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it some­how becomes more pos­si­ble to see our­selves as part of the turn­ing Carousel. Some decades from now I can imag­ine myself going through these pic­tures sur­round­ed by indulging chil­dren and antsy grand­chil­dren, exclaim­ing “look how young every­one looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008
Theo (then 5) and Fran­cis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cud­dly.

 

Update post-trip:

There are 104 pic­tures from this trip in our pub­lic Flickr set, with one of our four kids hold­ing hands as they walk to the pool a stand­out icon­ic shot of their child­hood togeth­er:
11208956395_863d0ebfb0_k

Desert temptations


Yes­ter­day I was home with the kids on comp time and got to par­tic­i­pate in their reli­gion ses­sion (my wife keeps them to a sched­ule in the sum­mers and reli­gion makes for a qui­et half hour mid­day).

My 9 year old was read­ing the pas­sage of Jesus’s temp­ta­tion in the desert found in Matthew 4. I find it such a relat­able sto­ry. No, no one with pointy ears and a red tail has offered me a king­dom late­ly, but there are a num­ber of nor­mal human ele­ments nonethe­less.

To start with, Jesus is fast­ing and liv­ing with­out shel­ter for forty days. I know I become less of the per­son I want to be when I’m hun­gry, tired, and stressed. The tempter also prof­fers a test to see if God cares. That too is famil­iar: how often do we want some­thing from close fam­i­ly and friends but hold back to see if it’s offered. “Oh, if they real­ly cared I wouldn’t have to remind them.” We do this with God too, con­fus­ing chang­ing states of for­tune with divine favor rather than wel­com­ing even hard times as a oppor­tu­ni­ty for growth and under­stand­ing.

One of my favorite parts of the Lord’s Prayer is the plea that we not even be led to temp­ta­tion. There’s a cer­tain humil­i­ty to that. Jesus might be able to resist the sweet promis­es of the tempter even when cold and hun­gry, but I’d rather skip the tests. 

It’s hard enough liv­ing in this world in a state of humil­i­ty and coöper­a­tion. None of us are per­fect, start­ing with me, and we all cer­tain­ly have plen­ty of room to grow. But it’s nice to know that we don’t have to face the tempter alone. God knows just how hard it can be and has our back. 

Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

Ten years ago today, U.S. forces began the “shock and awe” bom­bard­ment on Bagh­dad, the first shots of the sec­ond Iraq War. Pres­i­dent Bush said troops need­ed to go in to dis­able Sad­dam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruc­tion pro­gram, but as we now know that pro­gram did not exist. Many of us sus­pect­ed as much at the time. The flim­sy pieces of evi­dence held up by the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion didn’t pass the smell test but a lot of main­stream reporters went for it and sup­port­ed the war.

Now those jour­nal­ists are look­ing back. One is Andrew Sul­li­van, most wide­ly known as the for­mer edi­tor of New Repub­lic and now the pub­lish­er of the inde­pen­dent online mag­a­zine The Dish. I find his recent “Nev­er For­get That They Were All Wrong” thread pro­found­ly frus­trat­ing. I’m glad he’s tak­ing the time to double-guess him­self, but the whole premise of the thread con­tin­ues the dis­mis­sive atti­tude toward activists. Start­ing in 1995 I ran a web­site that act­ed as a pub­lish­ing plat­form for much of the estab­lished peace move­ment. Yes, we were a col­lec­tion of anti­war activists, but that doesn’t mean we were unable to use log­ic and apply crit­i­cal think­ing when the offi­cial assur­ances didn’t add up. I wrote week­ly posts chal­leng­ing New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the smoke-and-mirror shows of two admin­is­tra­tions over a ten-year peri­od. My essays were occa­sion­al­ly picked up by the nation­al media — when they need­ed a coun­ter­point to pro-war edi­to­ri­als — but in gen­er­al my pieces and those of the paci­fist groups I pub­lished were dis­missed.

When U.S. troops final­ly did invade Iraq in 2003, they encoun­tered an Iraqi mil­i­tary that was almost com­plete­ly inca­pac­i­tat­ed by years of U.N. sanc­tions. The much-hyped Repub­li­can Guard had tanks that had too many bro­ken parts to run. Iraq’s nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­grams had been shut down over a decade ear­li­er. The real les­son that we should take from the Iraq War was that the non­vi­o­lent meth­ods of Unit­ed Nations sanc­tions had worked. This isn’t a sur­prise for what we might call prag­mat­ic paci­fists. There’s a grow­ing body of research argu­ing that non­vi­o­lent meth­ods are often more effec­tive than armed inter­ven­tions (see for exam­ple, Why Civ­il Resis­tance Works: The Strate­gic Log­ic of Non­vi­o­lent Con­flict, by Eri­ca Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, reviewed in the March Friends Jour­nal (sub­scrip­tion required).

What if the U.S. had acknowl­edge there was no com­pelling evi­dence of WMDs and had sim­ply ratch­eted up the sanc­tions and let Iraq stew for anoth­er cou­ple of years? Even­tu­al­ly a coup or Arab Spring would prob­a­bly have rolled around. Imag­ine it. No insur­gency. No Abu Ghraib. Maybe we’d even have an ally in Bagh­dad. The sit­u­a­tions in places like Tehran, Dam­as­cus, Islam­abad, and Ramal­lah would prob­a­bly be fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent right now. Anti­war activists were right in 2003. Why should jour­nal­ists like Andrew Sul­li­van assume that this was an anom­aly?

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, 1902

I began Conrad’s clas­sic tale as a follow-up to last month’s State of Won­der by Ann Patch­ett. Her hero­ine trav­eled to the most remote reach­es of the Ama­zon; all sto­ries that make the trip from the bland­ness of civ­i­liza­tion (Min­neso­ta in Patchett’s case) owe a debt to Conrad’s clas­sic tale of a steam­boat trip far up the Con­go Riv­er.

The book cer­tain­ly has its odd­i­ties, start­ing with the nar­ra­tive voice: we are lis­ten­ing to a sto­ry told aboard a ship on the Thames that is wait­ing for a change of tide to send it on its way out to sea. The narrator-within-the-story, Mar­lowe, tells the entire tale in flash­back, with Con­rad only occa­sion­al­ly com­ing up for air to the deck of the Thames boat (Heart of Dark­ness was writ­ten as a three-part ser­i­al; I assume these nar­ra­tive breaks are the stitch­ing between install­ments).

I had heard much about this book over the years so I was curi­ous to see the exact nature of the deprav­i­ties upon which the infa­mous Kurtz had indulged him­self. But two-thirds of the way through the book I real­ized we were nev­er to real­ly learn them. We know there’s a remote camp by a lake and an African tribe that regards him as some kind of demi-god, and we hear tell that he’s law­less toward oth­er Euro­peans and single-minded in his quest for ivory. But these are all bare­ly more than hint­ed glimpses.

The sto­ry turns out to be not so much about Kurtz as it is about Mar­lows’ imag­in­ings as he gets deep­er into the con­ti­nent and gath­ers clues about the mys­tery man at the top of the riv­er. I found this to be a relief, as Con­rad seems almost as unin­ter­est­ed in flesh­ing out the Africans along the way. Kurtz is a bril­liant civ­i­lized man; in the jun­gle his sav­agery is unleashed and he becomes a force unto him­self.

I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of any­thing high or low. I had, even like the n******, to invoke him – him­self his own exalt­ed and incred­i­ble degra­da­tion. There was noth­ing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked him­self loose of the earth. Con­found the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or float­ed in the air.

Yes, this is a work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of a psy­chopath. If this were a mod­ern Show­time or AMC tele­vi­sion show, this would be the start of the action: the pro­duc­ers, writ­ers, and actors would leave lit­tle gore or deprav­i­ty to the imag­i­na­tion. But for Con­rad this is the moral­i­ty tale at the heart of the book. Short­ly after being found, Kurtz con­ve­nient­ly dies and our nar­ra­tor sails back down­stream, going (we are help­ful­ly told) twice the speed as before, back out to the ocean and civ­i­liza­tion.

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