I always know there’s a bird on the other side of the feeder by the way it swings in the air. A lot of the ladderback woodpeckers like to stay where they can’t see me … and I can’t take pictures. I also know they are there because sometimes I see a feather sticking out of somewhere or suddenly a beak — or even the bird’s head appears, then vanishes.
I sometimes stand for half an hour with the camera aimed and focused … and there’s nothing. I give up, put the camera down, turn around and there are half-a-dozen birds. Cardinals, woodpeckers, and a whole flock of goldfinches. And more.
Today, there were a lot of birds when I got to the kitchen and almost none after that. It was a warm but drippy day. It wasn’t exactly raining, but it wasn’t exactly not raining. We had to put…
King George III is remembered as the “mad” British king responsible for losing the American colonies that became the United States of America, a constitutional democratic republic. The cause of George’s illness continues to be a matter of dispute.
The new American constitutional republic turned its back on King George III [shown here in Allan Ramsay’s portrait“King George III in coronation robes”] and on any future British royals who might re-claim the American colonies. But old habits die hard, and, it seems, old Kings never die.
Mad kings like King George III occasionally re-appear in dark suits and red ties without their coronation robes when a free people forgets its origins. “Mad King George” disguises himself as the people’s sole protector against barbarian invaders who threaten his realm. “Mad King George” throws a fit as defender of the republic, and once again raids the nation’s treasury to protect an anxious people from the threat that comes from his head.
This morning, King George III, acting under the limited powers granted a president by the U.S. Constitution, declared a national emergency to stop the invasion from the southern border. Announcing his decision in the White House Rose Garden, he declared, as he had centuries before in England:
“Anyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.”
I never believed in ghosts, but I do believe experience is our best teacher. Some ghosts come back to haunt us. After all these years, the ghost of “Mad King George” has emigrated to the colonies to reclaim the subjects he once lost.
“Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.
“For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.
“So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.
“Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.
“I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.
“But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.
Trump is a troll
And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.
And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.
There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.
Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.
Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.
And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.
Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.
He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.
He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.
And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.
That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.
There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.
So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.
This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.
After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form;
he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit
His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.
God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.
He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart
In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.
And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:
‘My God… what… have… I… created?
If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.
“She’s confused — and he’s confusing,” said my son, following lunch with an old married couple he’d met for the first time. Remove the gender specificity (‘he’ and ‘she’) peculiar to that lunch conversation, and it could describe many conversations across America in 2019. Our talk is confusing, and our hearing is confused.
Daily conversations — real ones in real time at Starbucks or virtual ones like Twitter — often take me back me to that scene that in the restaurant, and Douglas’ Readers Digest condensed version of it. Which of us is confusing? Which of us is confused? Confusing and confusion are now epidemic in America. Like the old married couple who made no sense to each other, we seem resigned to living in separate stalls at opposite ends of the barn.
For people like my son who want to avoid the confused-confusion conundrum of their parents’ generation, The Guardian published a a spoof story announcing the roll-out of a new app promising to bring better match-ups for prospective partners. It’s called “Tudder”.
Click “Tinder-style app for cows tries to help the meat market” to open the link to BBC story. If Tudder succeeds in matching up bovines with compatible, un-confusing or un-confused stall mates, might Tudder work for us? Tudder’s Chief Executive Officer doesn’t think so. He offers the opinion that matching breeding livestock “should be even easier than matching people.”
But don’t you have to wonder whether human Match-Up apps might improve their effectiveness by adopting the template of Tudder, or would the patent theft only contribute further to the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic in the barn called America?
— Gordon C. Stewart, writing from a stall in Chaska, MN, Feb. 13, 2019.
Viewing former NASA Space Shuttle Pilot Mark Kelly‘s video this morning, the day we face the possibility of another government shutdown, inspires hope for a wiser future. NASA photograph of Earth as the Blue Marble invites us to recognize we’re all in this together.
Click Full Speed Ahead for Mark Kelly’s announcement of his candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2020. Mark Kelly is joined by his wife, former U.S. Congressional Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose formal public service came to an abrupt end with a near-fatal shot to the head on January 8, 2011. Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly became leading voices for responsible gun control in the U.S.
A Razor Tongue and Razor Wires is the fruit of an unexpected conversation this morning between the news from Nogales, Arizona, and Psalm 52 on faith and politics. The Psalm texts are from The Book of Common Prayer.
You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness against the godly all day long? -Psalm 51:1
Why do you rip innocent children from their parents’ arms? Why do the babies and toddlers yell for their parents at the southern border? Why do you paint yourself as godly when the godly weep and cry out to you from the holding camp?
You plot ruin; your tongue is like a sharpened razor, O worker of deception.
Huffington Post, 02/07/2019 11:31 pm ET:
The City Council of Nogales, Arizona, has voted unanimously on a resolution ordering Trump administration officials to rip out new ‘lethal’ razor wire coiled on a border fence along the downtown shopping district.
“Such wire is ‘only found in a war, prison or battle setting’ and is highly inappropriate for an urban area, states the resolution the council passed Wednesday. The bristling concertina wire is now attached to the fence from top to bottom.
“‘Placing coiled concertina wire that is designed to inflict serious bodily injury or death in the immediate proximity of our residents, children, pets, law enforcement and first responders is not only irresponsible but inhuman, the resolution states.”
You love evil more than good and lying more than speaking the truth.
State of the Union Address:
You paint political opponents as enemies of the Country (with a capital ‘C’) and speak hate in the name of making America Great Again. You hold rallies where your base yells “Lock her up” and applaud your hoax that the Mueller investigation is a “witchhunt” like the Massachusetts Bay Colony burning the alleged witches of Salem.
You love all words that hurt, O you deceitful tongue.
You prey on our emotions. You carefully select the people in the balcony whose stories tug at our heart strings and demonstrate your humaneness. You position yourself as our only sure defense against all enemies foreign and domestic, pointing to the white family left to cope with their loved one’s murder by an illegal immigrant you call an“alien”. Your tactics are clever and effective. You say nothing about the killing of 17 students and one staff member and wounding of another 17 at the Parkland school shooting, or the alleged Russian contributions to the NRA. You divert the nation’s attention from the real world by pointing to heroes and victims who fit your purposes. Your words hurt and deceive by what you have spoken and what you have left unaddressed. You say nothing about climate change and a sustainable energy policy, claiming victory that we are now the world’s largest net exporter of fossil fuel energy. You ignore having turned you back on America’s closest friends and allies, and our withdrawal from international treaties that leave us more vulnerable. You say nothing about anything of substance.
O that God would demolish you utterly, topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling, and root you out of the land of the living.
O that Congress would act to stop you! O that your cabinet would invoke the 25th Amendment. O that Melania would abandon you and divorce you for your infidelities and bullying schemes. O that the Supreme Court would rule that you may be indicted while occupying the White House. O that God would snatch you from your opulent dwellings in Trump Tower and at Mar-a-Largo where only the one percent can golf.
The righteous shall see and tremble, and they shall laugh at him, saying,
“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.
O that we shall see and tremble at the greatness of his fall, saying,“This is the maker of the Tower of Babel who seeks to make his name great and confuses our speech. This is the one who claims of great wealth, surrounds himself with fixers and cabinet members sent to prison, arranges agreements with his mistresses to keep them silent and The National Enquirer to keep the stories in a vault, while concealing from public scrutiny the tax returns he promised to provide two and a half years ago.”
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
I will give You thanks for what You have done and declare the goodness of Your Name in the presence of the godly.
I am old and gnarly. Prune back my cynicism. Make me green again, drinking from Your mercy, trusting what I cannot see, and pay You the homage due Your Name alone.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, reflecting on Psalm 52 and the state of the nation, January 8, 2019.
I go to Sake Sushi‘s Happy Hour and strike up a conversation with a stranger. We look to be the same age. Turns out it’s his birthday. “Well, happy birthday!” I say. “How old?”
“A lot older than you,” he says. “I don’t think so,” I reply and ask “How old?” “Seventy-two,” he says. “Gotcha by four years,” say I. “I thought you were maybe 65,” he says. I love this guy! So began last night’s friendly conversation that took us outside our respective comfort zones.
We live in bubbles that burst even while celebrating a birthday — separate bubbles that collide when CNN is served with drinks on the big TV screen in front of the sushi bar.
“Fake news,” he says. “Just a pack o’ lies.” I have a feeling this isn’t going to go well. “So where do get your news?” “I don’t pay much attention to politics,” he says. “As long as the economy is good. That’s all I care about. Business is booming. I’ve made a lot of money the last two years.”
What little news he gets is from a different bubble from the one I live in. “We’re in big trouble,” I say. “What you’re calling an economy is not an economy; economics is not measured by the stock market. There is only one economy — the planet and everything in it — and it’s not doing well. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Where do you get your news?” he asks. I answer that I get it from as many sources as I can. “Ever watch FOX News?” “Every once in a while. As little as possible,” I say, and now we’re both out of our bubbles that make us both “Bubble Boys”. The conversation turns to the occupant of the Oval Office he credits with the booming economy. “He’s going down,” I say. He laughs. ‘No way,” he says, and changes the subject to Barack Obama as a failed president. “He almost destroyed the military,” he says. “Obama made us weaker. Trump inherited a mess. He’s turned it around. America’s strong again.” He’s ex-military, a former Marine once stationed for eight year in Okinawa.
I call his attention to the number of Generals who have left the Trump Administration. He knows nothing about that. I mention General Mattis. “Mad Dog? Great General! The best!” he says. “What about him?” I ask whether he’s read Secretary of Defense Mattis’ letter of resignation. He hasn’t. He has no knowledge of Mattis’ disagreement with the president’s policies. I urge him to read it. He says he will.
The wait person brings a large paper sack with a take-out order of his favorite Japanese dish. “It’s not on the menu,” he says. “Just ask for ‘Dynamite’. I guarantee you’re gonna love it!” “So it’s the ‘Dynamite Roll’?” I ask. “No, it’s different. You have to ask for it.” “So, if I ask for ‘Dynamite’, will they know what I’m talking about?” “The American girl won’t. Ask one of the Japanese guys. They’ll know. Get some and take it home. I guarantee you’re gonna love it!”
The mere thought of Dynamite puts us in the same bubble. We’re Bubble Boys in one bubble: the global economy of shared taste buds. As he rises to leave for home, I thank him for his Dynamite recommendation and the conversation, shake his hand, and wish him a Dynamite 72nd Birthday.
Next time I wander over to the bar at Sake Sushi, I’ll ask for Dynamite . . . and two Martinis.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 1, 2019.
We’re in a real pickle this morning, Elijah. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get out it!
I like pickles! Pickles are good. You’re getting senile, Bumpa. You can’t get in a pickle!
No, no, we’re not inside a pickle. It’s is an idiom.
You said a bad word, Bumpa! I’m telling Mom! Mom says we’re not supposed to use that word.
I didn’t say idiot, Elijah. I said idiom. It’s a figure of speech, like “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
It’s raining cats and dogs? You must be senile, Bumpa. I’m little, but I’ve never seen it rain cats and dogs, and I know we can’t fit inside a pickle! You’re freaking me out!
I like pickles, too. Well, most kinds of pickles. Especially sweet pickles, like bread-and-butter pickles. I also like Jewish deli pickles. But this morning’s pickle is a real pickle that makes me sick.
Yeah, I hate that. I was sick last week. I hate throwing up.
Some pickles are sweet. Some pickles are sour. It’s the sour ones that sour my stomach.
So, are we in a sweet pickle or a sour pickle? Are we in a little pickle or a big pickle?
A BIG pickle, and it’s really sour.
You should only eat bread and butter pickles, Bumpa, and stop watching Rachel and Ari. Turn off the television and have a bread-and-butter pickle. Pickle is GOOD!
TURN UP THE SOUND and listen carefully as Elijah with his pickle tells his mother “Pickle is good!”
— Bumpa Gordon, Chaska, Minnesota, January 29, 2019.
I’d forgotten the moment during the children’s sermon until David’s mother Jan refreshed the memory of everyone around the dinner table the night before David’s ordination. “Do you remember the time David asked you why Jesus had to go to hell?'” David is forty now. He was five or six when he asked the question on the chancel steps.
Who knows what goes on in a child’s mind? Who expects a Presbyterian church to become a comedy theater? When I turned to look back a my colleague for help, Jack smiled, shrugged, and said, “Your sermon!”
Jack was working toward his PhD. in semiitic langauges at Hebrew Union College at the time. Why Jesus had to go to hell wasn’t question of a Jewish education! Knox Church wasn’t big on hell either. The idea of Jesus in hell was strange enough, but David’s question was why Jesus had to go to hell.
David was a pure soul. A concrete thinker like others his age. He was also thoughtful. Curious. Questioning. Listening carefully to the words we adults spoke, like the Apostles’ Creed: “He was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell.”
“Why did Jesus have to go to hell?”
The Eastern Orthodox tradition of the Christian faith celebrates “the Harrowing of Hell” — the descent of the crucified Jesus to open the gates of hell. The Harrowing of Hell expresses symbolically that no one is so far from God that they cannot be reached; there is more mercy in God than there is sin in us.
This preserved parchment scroll from the sixteenth century depicts Christ having “gone to hell,” taking the hand of Adam, a symbol of the unyielding persistence and sovereignty of reconciling Love.
The Harrowing of Hell — Christ leads Adam out of Hell (1503-4)
David’s ordination took place on the same chancel where he had stumped the pastor. Now it’s his turn to field the questions. I’m retired!
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 27, 2019.