Independence Day 2017

I will never forget the first time somebody used the line on me. It was in a newsroom in Revanna, Ohio. I think the reporter’s name was Craig, and Craig decided to lay a trip on me about Jesus while I was finishing my obituaries or whatever. And Craig laid the line on me for the first time I have ever heard it. Craig said to me

WE HAVE FREEDOM OF RELIGION, NOT FREEDOM FROM RELIGION.

I hope the look on my face at that time registered the sheer horror I felt at this horrifying statement. I mean I’ve always been a non-believer, I just stopped being shy about it in my 40s. At the time I was shy about it. But I hope my face looked like that time on the roller-coaster.

Because the sheer wrong-headedness of that statement is cruel and just downright wrong. Let us please be reminded of the introduction to Robert G. Ingersoll’s centennial speech: “One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics.”

You may very well want to go read that speech on this day. Because it clearly defines what the Declaration was truly about: We are rebelling against a king. And kings have told us all along that their power comes from a celestial being. And we are basing an entire new experimental nation, at the risk of our own lives and livelihoods, on the notion that people should not be ruled by kings who claim to derive their power from “on-high,” but that people should govern people.

That is the idea that sparked the revolution. And we are no more a “Judeo-Christian” nation than I am Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

The Declaration was about Indpendence from kings who told people for centuries that they got to rule and have all the wealth and got to make life-and-death decsions because The Lord told them they could. Our colonies said balls to that and made us a plainly secular nation.

Happy Independence Day.

Aaron’s Christmas Playlist 2016

1. Frosty the Snowman by Fiona Apple
2. We Wish You a Merry Christmas by Booker T and the Mars
3. Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You by Billy Squier
4. Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses
5. Christmas Song by Mogwai
6. Christmas Treat by Julian Casablancas
7. This Christmas by Donny Hathaway
8. O Holy Night by Weezer
9. Get Down for the Holidays by Jenny O.
10. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm (remix) by Kay Starr
11. Wonderful Christmastime by Sir Paul McCartney
12. Please Come Home for Christmas by The Eagles
13. Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC
14. Father Christmas by The Kinks
15. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town by Bruce Springsteen
16. White Christmas by Iggy Pop
17. Silent Night by Dinah Washington
18. White Christmas by The Drifters
19. 2000 Miles by Pretenders
20. Santa’s Beard by They Might Be Giants
21. Just Like Christmas by Low
22. We Three Kings by The Reverend Horton Heat
23. Whatever Happened to Christmas by Aimee Mann
24. We Wish You A Merry Christmas by Shonen Knife
25. I Did It For The Toys by Dance Hall Crashers
26. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
27. Winter Wonderland by Macy Gray
28. Ain’t no Chimneys in the Projects by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
29. Someday at Christmas by Stevie Wonder
30. Run Rudolph Run by Chuck Berry
31. Oi to the World by No Doubt
32. Christmas Feeling Ska by Toots and the Maytals
33. Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano
34. Do The Know It’s Christmas by Bare Naked Ladies
35. Sleigh Ride by The Boston Pops Orchestra
36. Christmastime by Smashing Pumpkins
37. Who’s Up there by Bhi Bhiman
38. The Christmas Waltz by SOAK
39. Ave Maria by Born Cages
40. Christmas Alone by YACHT
41. Jingle Bells by Avid Dancer
42. New Year’s Day by Turin Brakes
43. Champagne (I’m Ready) by Lisa Loeb
44. Surviving Christmas by Sondre Lerche & Jherek Bischoff
45. Donuts in the Snow by The Reverend Horton Heat
46. It’s Only Christmas by Moon Taxi
47. Christmas with You by Fruit Bats
48. Christmastime by Rogue Wave
49. Silent Night by Wild Child
50. Jingle Bells by Crash Test Dummies

Independence Day 2016

Today is Independence Day in the United States, and it should be a day of great celebration among those of us who are restrictively secular in world view.

Um, that means, “atheists.”

Two years ago, I posted an oration made by Robert Ingersoll on July 4, 1876, that simply begins:

One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics.

Later in the speech, Ingersoll further encapsulates the miracle of the grand Declaration of Independence and what it accomplished:

Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; thai it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence.

Before our great experiment, kings ruled, and kings claimed their powers over the people derived from on high. With the Declaration, with the Revolution, the Colonies declared war on that concept. Law, they said, comes from people. And they fought and died for that.

We are not, nor have we ever been, a society based on “Judeo-Christian” values, as many would have it settled in fact. We are the result of a fierce revolution against theocractic rule.

I like to reflect on that on Independence Day. And then, you know. Go light a sparkler and stuff.

Happy Independence Day, for the People, baby.

Jesus Christ

I had seen crucifix scenarios before. But none like this.

I think I was 8, maybe? 7? And I was staying with the grandparents in Kansas for the summer. And we were traveling from somewhere, and it was on a Sunday. And of course they just had to find a service. Where’d we stop, Eudora? Maybe? I don’t know. Some huge church in the middle of a corn field.

Now this church hadn’t just bought the normal Jesus on the cross statue thingie out of the regular Church Mart catalog. This thing was massive. Big, muscular Jesus. His hands bound to the cross and nailed solidly. His feet nailed with a single post. He was barely dressed, save of course for the bloody thorns on his head. And he was looking up at the sky with that forlorn sort of gaze.

The thing was massive and, rather than seeming to come from another era, it seemed real. Which I reckon was the point.

Bear in mind, I was reared secularly. I didn’t go to Bible study every week. I wasn’t in CYO. I got inklings via the occasional television preacher and when I stayed with friends overnight (there’s another story altogether there…they were Christian Science…) So my context for this was somewhat limited. I mean, your average Catholic is probably inclined to see at as simply part of the scenery.

I was a bit horrified.

And, it occurs to me to ask this Easter weekend: Who’s wrong? Childhood me? Or your average Catholic?

Ya’ll are celebrating a death cult tale with a zombie ending, one that is highly unlikely to have actually occurred, yet it is celebrated, and it is a cornerstone of our culture and the basis upon which many people make their moral choices.

It was only a few years ago that I gave myself permission to stop believing in supernatural forces. I’ve always been a skeptic, though not without some time wasted seeking in various capacities. But while many of these stories I have always found fanciful and irrelevant, I never said the words out loud much: I don’t believe.

I know many will take great comfort in their death cult rituals this weekend, and I do not begrudge them it. I think I may observe by replaying the recent Cosmos reboot on my magical box that relays images to me by some unexplained magic. Or maybe I’ll stick my nose into my Ingersoll biography on my magic tablet that magically puts word in front of me to read.

Great thanks to my wise parents for saving me the indoctrination. Happy Easter, and I think you Jewish folks have something or other going on as well, so mazel tov.

Next time: Why I try steadfastly as I can to avoid taking “the Lord’s” name in vain.

Mothers’ Day 2015

motherly_love

The lore is that the band known as The Mothers was christened on Mothers’ Day. I guess. I mean it sounds like the kind of story that could have actually happened or the kind of story that a man keenly interested in writing his own story largely would later tell. I don’t know. Then again, it would certainly match the AAAFNRAA creative model.

So yesh. Mother’s Day, which, with the new job I actually get to do something about since I don’t work Sundays. I mean the greeting cards went out last week of course. Say, have I mentioned to you Aaron’s rule of shopping for greeting cards?

Do not. I repeat. Do not take longer than two minutes to select a greeting card. Ever.

Reason one being of course, that one should not spend one’s precious life moments furrowing one’s brow trying to decide between sending a loved one the puppy or the kitty greeting card. There is, however, a better reason than sheer laziness: It is more effective.

If you don’t see the greeting card you seek in two minutes or less, you have simply not found the right card and you should move on. You approach the greeting card aisle generally aware of the level of sentiment or humor you want to impart and generally what message you wish to communicate. Either the right card will leap at you or you have not found it. Setting a two-minute deadline for yourself prevents the second-guessing, the hemming and hawing, strategies that are guaranteed to help you choose a milquetoast, inappropriate greeting.

Just a little unsolicted advice from me to you. Filed under Hints from Abelard.

So, yes, I woke up this morning and got myself together, then walked to Hart’s to grab a few victuals, including ground beef to later this week make some Sloppy Joe, some burger patties to boot, some Ithaca Farms ogrets, and a few other essentials, including beer. I then returned home and drank one of the beers and called the matriachical figures in my family to wish them good tidings. Then drove out to the farm and ate meat with the family. Stepmom recalled her formative training in muckraking hilarity, remembering when she was young and her Mom would drag her to protest the Tocks Island Dam. Fitting, since Mother’s Day originated not so much as a greeting card pusher’s fantasy but as a tribute to one mother’s peace activism.

Seriously. Go look it up.

Then Dad and I sat down and watched one of the truly great and utterly overlooked movies of 2014: Chris Rock’s Top Five.

I could not help but draw comparisons between Top Five and another of last year’s offerings, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which was for some reason quite critically acclaimed. The premise is similar, actor who previously found immense success with schlocky roles tries to pack on some credibility. The difference is that Chris Rock’s film is a likeable, accessible, smart, ribald, and funny movie, while the Michael Keaton vehicle was a self-indulgent, horrible piece of poo that I hated so much that I resented it for keeping me in the theater.

I could watch Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson banter for an entire film, which is fortunate because that approaches at least half of it. (Ah, let’s face it, I could watch Rosario Dawson do anything for any length of time. But that’s beside the point.) The banter introduces the movie and drives the story forward throughout, and it is a joy to watch. The writing is excellent and the cameos will keep you standing and pointing.

How that Birdman piece of crap garnered Best Picture and this thing only got a nod from the Critic’s Choice Awards is beyond me.

P.S. My top five: Public Enemy. De La Soul. MC Serch. Sage Francis. And let’s even it out with Mr. Chubb Rock.

I know. Too many white guys. What can I say. My sixth would be the word famous Beastie Boys to completely ruin it. Oh well.

Christmas 2014

We were across the street at 1030 on the nose. More or less. Kids, grownups, dawgs, grandparents. We ate sticky buns and drank coffee and exchanged gifts. Then we retreated to the farm to finish the carnage, of which the aftermath is pictured in the thumbnail above. Yes, it is clickable.

Gosh the panoramic camera is cool.

I was scheduled to work in the afternoon, but I think I got to make the most out of my Christmas morning.

Among my most intriguing gifts was the Brookstone Perfect Bake from my brother. Thing looks like a heck of a way to nail down some baking essentials. Can’t wait to play with it. My Mom picked away from the Amazon wishlist, and I got all kinds of tea accessories, a loose tea sampler, and a great seasonal cookbook, several other books to add to the reading list, and not to mention a snappy denim shirt.

Quite a haul indeed.

I was fortunate that a kindly chef was working today at the company store. He prepared quite a nice pot roast with rice pilaf and vegetables. Cuz there is NOTHING open today unless you want to survive on Doritos and powdered donuts.

We will extend the Christmas to tomorrow with a ham dinner and scalloped potatoes, as tomorrow is my Saturday as usual. That is all.

Christmas Eve 2014

We basically have two areas of low pressure, the first one off to the west with some colder air, and the second one bringing a whole lot of Gulf moisture, and this is really what’s impacting our weather.

That’s what the lady on the TV said last night. And, what it means, essentially, is NO SNOW FOR YOU.

I reckon we’ll get by. I opted not to dispatch my PTO for this portion of the holiday season, so I’m at work Christmas Eve and Christmas Night anyways. Lucky for me, the family opted to do a nice dinner on Friday rather than Thursday so I can eat too. That was nice of them. And I’m still gonna be there Christmas morning in my jammies, believe me you.

On the plus side, for once all of the shopping and wrapping were finished last weekend. That’s unusual for me. I found that if I employed two countering strategies for Christmas shopping, I could do better. Strategy 1: List the people I need to buy for and things they might like. Strategy 2: Go to weird stores, preferably in unfamiliar settings.

Another strategy: While you might not want to go out on “Black Friday” amidst the crowds, make use of it anyway. At least let its passing light a fire under your butt to make you get something done. If not Thursday, go get something done Saturday, at least.

One of these strategies is not as effective without the other. And so I did better this year, though gift-giving is not a strength of mine. It’s a matter of making the mountain of it seem too insurmountable, and so I inevitably procrastinate. I think I did okay this year. We’ll find out in the morning, won’t we?

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the first time in recent memory, we had snow for Thanksgiving.

Just call me Lorelai Gilmore; that’s how excited I was to have snow on Thanksgiving. A decade ago here in the Rochester metropolitan area, snow on Thanksgiving was a given. These days, not so much. And it’s a more daunting task, I think, to get excited about glüwein and to feel the snuggly comfort you’re pursuing on Thanksgiving when it’s a balmy 50 degrees outside. So I welcomed the snow gladly.

I took Wednesday as paid time off and was able to help where I could with the preparation, though Dear Old Dad had much of it in hand by the time I got to the house. The pies were made already (pumpkin not-from-a-can, peach, pecan) and much of the prep was done, and the day itself went smoothly. I was on stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole duty as usual. Dad worked the bird and rendered the gravy, as well as other sides and overall planning. We didn’t have quite the turnout we were anticipating, but it was still a robust crowd.

Among our guests this year was a family from Afghanistan, the father of which had served as an interpreter for the American effort there. Our family has been working with No One Left Behind to help get these folks—who are often in mortal danger in their native country—here. We were glad to have them. And it was truly a remarkable thing to know that our rather secular household could bring folks of so many different faiths to the table; Muslims, Christians, and the secular humanist variety.

The only problem was that whatever cold that was going around decided to choo-choo-choose me this week (this despite a powerful dietary regimine, a near OCD system of hand-washing, and a flu shot, although that this cold only kicked my ass for three days rather than a week I think says something for that). I began to notice it about on Tuesday evening and was probably most destroyed by the thing on Thursday. Any other occasion I would not have shown up; I would have spared these people my feverish presence. But I wasn’t missing Thanksgiving. I just got a box of Alka-Selzer plus and downed one every couple of hours. I also discovered that glüwein has great medicinal properties.

Thanksgiving is my favorite. At work, it is the holiday I tell my boss I cannot work under any circumstance. I can miss Christmas. I can certainly miss New Year’s Eve. But. Thanksgiving? A holiday centered around stuffing your face with comfort food? Are you kidding?

Well, we had a lovely one this year.

And then there was me on yesterday morning:

having tea by the fire

Yeah. It doesn’t get much better than a cup of tea by the fire.

Kitteh agrees.

kitteh by the fire