Category Archives: Religion

A way of examining religion and its aspects

One of the blindest, most irritating bicker-fest categories I see is that over what constitutes religion. A good example involves Judaism, where some people who do not embrace the religious principles still identify as Jewish. I know people who don’t follow the LDS faith, and who even identify as jack (or jill) Mormons, but the point is they still consider themselves Mormon on some level. We have people who actively pray for spiritual beings to do their will, yet are careful to toss in the caveat that they hope their own will to be that of their spiritual being.

None of it would entail bickering if it were not for people trying to exclude one another from a given religious tent. I think these are akin to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, typically an appeal to purity. It does matter to writers, and not only from a philosophic or cosmological standpoint. If a writer is going to incorporate any form of religion or spirituality into fiction, that writer must surely have a sense of the components of faith and practice that combine to form what we refer to as a religion. The subject has fascinated me ever since taking Sociology 349 at UW with Prof. Rodney Stark, one of the foremost scholars in the field of sociology of religion.

Let’s look at the various components of a belief system, some of which not all belief systems may address. As I see it, it is possible for a given individual to embrace some aspects but not others. Does that make that person not of that religion? That’s where the bicker-fests come in. Rather than have another such fest, we can take steps at least to create a belief system parfait of sorts:

Cosmology: Most religions propose to explain origins. Where did the universe come from? Where did people come from? Some embrace scientific explanations but venerate specific mythos. Some will insist that their own mythos constitute science.

Divinity: If there are divine beings, what is their nature? How many might there be? Do we know? Can we ever know? Or is it all a creation of the human mind? Faiths run this gamut, but whether or how a belief system addresses divinity is key to understanding it. The question of afterlife, if any, seems to straddle the worlds of cosmology and divinity. If there is an afterlife, it seems, a cosmology defines it and a divinity performs triage.

Magic: Most religions teach that people can influence their environments and outcomes. Some teach that this is done through appeals to divine beings (prayer, ultimatums, etc.); others teach that the power is within ourselves. Some would wet themselves over the application of this label to some forms of prayer, but to my eye those are simply another form of magic: the statement that one’s own judgment or desire should prevail.

Such are the perpetually unprovable factors. Their unprovability has never stopped people from fighting about them, naturally. Agnosticism doesn’t know whether or not there’s anything to any of those. Atheism asserts that there isn’t. But there are more:

Philosophy: How should we live our lives? What acts and perspectives are morally acceptable? Which are abhorrent? Into this category falls all definition of what Judaism calls a mitzvah (good deed) or what many religions call a sin (bad deed, ranging from minor to unpardonable). This one came into focus for me because most of us at times will face ethical dilemmas. I asked myself: “If my religion doesn’t help me figure out a right and valuable handling of these situations, what the hell good is it?” I might not be the only person who ever asked him/herself that.

Ethnicity: In many cases religion defines ethnicity to a degree. In the Serbo-Croatian-speaking world, Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs share a slightly varied common language in which one’s religious identification is part and parcel of one’s ethnic identity. Judaism considers Jewish anyone born to a Jewish mother. There are those professing Asatru who allege that only those of Germanic heritage may be Asatru. (There are Asatruar such as myself who reject this notion as bigoted and ridiculous.) This matters because it’s one thing to profess a faith; it is quite another to join an ethnicity, and in some cases problematic.

Culture: If religion is not necessarily an ethnicity, I find that it always develops a culture and a sense of cultural identity. Let’s take the Latter-Day Saint movement as mentioned earlier. Someone raised in the LDS church will surely gain some cultural overlay from it; same is true of Wicca, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or Chasidic Judaism. Someone not raised in a religious culture may seek to embrace it as an aspect of embracing that faith.

Evolutionism: No, not that. By this I mean a sense of whether religion should evolve or remain unchanged. How conservative (in the philosophic meaning of the term, not the faction label) should religion be? Must today’s Lutheranism be precisely the same as that of Martin Luther? (Evidently there are several different notions of that, or where it should go. Having been raised in a branch of the Lutheran faith, I have some personal experience with this.) We might examine Islam and its varying views on the subject, and we would find that the two largest branches differ on the rightful mantle of leadership post-Muhammad, so they differ not just on evolution of the belief system, but the departure point for any such evolution. It is akin to racers who do not concur on the starting line and stance.

I find that this compartmentalization helps me to look at any belief system by removing the conflation tendency that runs rife through most such discussions. If one person is arguing philosophy, and another is arguing cosmology, and both are insisting that philosophy and cosmology cannot be separated, they can’t even agree on what they are discussing. Of course they will never find common ground, nor even understand each other. One is talking about soil chemistry and the other is talking about marketing harvested crops.

In editing, I use this outlook to develop perspective on clients’ religious presentations in fiction. While I can imagine it playing a part in non-fiction, I’m most likely to encounter it in fiction because most religious authors aren’t terribly comfortable with an editor not of their faith.

This perspective is evolving. I may feel differently two years from now.

As this is the last blog post of the 2020 Dumpster Fire of a Year, I want to thank everyone who has been a reader and commenter during this time. May you all have an excellent 2021.


Unpacking religion and its associates

It’s an ongoing problem. Someone blurts out something about a religion. Someone else blurts out that they know people of that religion and it’s not true of them. A third person makes an analogy to a different religion and muddies the waters further.

They are arguing, and they can’t even agree on their terms and definitions. That’s no way to do this.

Maybe I can help. At least, I can describe the way I unpack and analyze religious movements and outlooks. It seems to serve me well.

Under the general banner of religion, I detect four subcategories of activity/belief/endeavor. Not all religions include all four; one may wonder whether that disqualifies a belief system from the label of ‘religion’ in the first place. Rational people could differ on that. My four:

  • Spirituality: views on the unseen, supernatural, and the afterlife–things relating to supreme or superior beings. Gods, spirits, souls…all of that. Into this category I also put interactions with supreme beings where there is no intent to influence an outcome. “Dear mighty Cthulhu: I am fine. I hope you are fine too. I hope you are sleeping well with minimal bathroom interruptions as I know you are greatly ancient. I praise you with a massive praising.”
  • Magic: views on mortal people influencing the world. In some religions this is done through prayer; in others, through ritual and/or meditation. Trying to learn the future, change outcomes, gain assistance–all the ways people attempt to shape events. “Dear mighty Cthulhu: please slip my sister-in-law a strong laxative, so that she does not sleep well and has maximum bathroom interruptions.”
  • Philosophy: views on morality and ethics, whatever their source–ancient books, tradition, common sense. What is right or wrong? Encouraged or discouraged? Fair or foul? Obligatory or contraindicated? How should we live?
  • Culture: each movement that is religious necessarily spawns a culture, or cultures, that influence even non-members or those less involved. It may involve ethnic heritage, even merge into same. A Jew, for example, might profess atheism yet remain associated with the cultural aspects of her upbringing’s faith, and insist upon having her son circumcised.

Once I began to look at the arguments this way, it helped me to send the combatants to neutral corners long enough to hush and listen. When one labels or generalizes based on religion, it helps to identify which aspects are in play. If one is going to say that Latter-Day Saints do not drink coffee, for example, very well; this is philosophical and to some degree cultural. (I’m not aware of anything in LDS scriptures specifically forbidding coffee, though I have read up on their applied rationale.) The boundaries will not always be strict, as we can see in this example; culture may be a lens through which people interpret and act upon philosophy.

Many examples exist and I have experienced some. Is there a Wiccan culture? Certainly there is. I never fit into it, but I understand it. I grew up in a Lutheran culture that could best be described as grim, threatening, cruel, and comfortless. I didn’t know of kinder, gentler Lutherans until I grew up, went to college, and learned that I had been raised by religious fanatics in an extremist group. The kinder, gentler Lutherans were the first to say: “oh, yeah, those folks–no wonder.”

Are Satanists religious? Well, I guess that depends on which specific Satanists. Most, I understand, do not believe in a Satanic godhead. They do have philosophies, and at least some engage in magic. I don’t know enough about left-hand path culture to say whether any generalization about that is possible. I’m not sure how seriously the Satanic Temple folks take the religious aspect, if at all, but their actions suggest a culture (and certainly a philosophy) of challenging the majority.

I am definitely not part of that majority. Since I have rather few co-religionists, and am a loner among them, most of my conversations about religion occur with people not of my belief system. In order to process that fact in respectful ways, I need this organization. Perhaps others will find it helpful.

The Hipster Nativity Scene: my holiday joy

Having grown up in a fascist religious household, in a Christian denomination in which the concept of fun received disapproving looks and frequent harrumphs, I entered adulthood mostly wishing to leave the holiday behind.

With a few spasms, that worked until marriage came along. You know how that is: it’s not just about you anymore. And as a husband, you learn quickly one of the great wisdoms of long-term marriage: don’t fuck up the women’s fun.

Sounds so simple, does it not? All you have to do is not find some creative or clumsy way to extract the fun from her world, and you’re golden? If it’s that simple, why can so many men not grasp it? Take “girls’ night” gatherings at your home. It should be obvious what you must do: make a brief appearance, offer polite and friendly greetings to the guests, and then pleasantly fuck right on off somewhere else. Yes. Do this. Off to where, though, ought one to fuck?

They don’t care.

It doesn’t matter. You are free. Sit in your office and drink beer; go to the library; hit the driving range; go out and eat guilt-free pizza; shop; watch the other TV; nap; if there are kids, lasso them into something fun. Just be elsewhere, accepting that it is not all about you all the time, so as not to impair the male-free time that the women want and need.

If you make them dinner, of course, without interrupting their fun, you’re off the charts. Same if you lasso the kids. But even the average guy can figure out how to be somewhere else. It is not all about him all the time. Sometimes he has to bend, and do so with dignified grace.

So when I married a woman who had a wonderful childhood and loved Christmas, it was time for me to learn how not to be a wet blanket about this. And in time, I came to like aspects of it (UW-themed ornaments, buying stuff for wife, overeating, supplying clever handyman solutions to adaptation and display problems, eggnog with rum) and be at peace with those aspects I might not like.

In some cases, that meant putting my own stamp on things.

Since neither of us are Christian, and since stodgy grumpiness and strife are parts of the holiday season I can do without, and since in any case there’s no historical reason to believe the attributed birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred in December (April seems a better candidate), we can have a certain amount of fun with all this. And thus, the joy of my holidays, the funniest thing we do: the Hipster Nativity Scene. Since I’m helping them market it, I feel perfectly justified jacking one of their photos to include here:

Yes, I wrote about it last year. I live in Oregon. We recycle! Happy holidays to you all.


There are many types of clergypeople. I’ve learned in life that most broad human groupings divide roughly into three parts.

A third are failures, or purely evil. In some fields–where they ruin many square miles, steal millions, terrorize thousands–I’d be okay with humanity taking them out to a ditch and coming back without them. In others, less in a position to do serious harm, it would be better to pay them not to work (thus keeping them out of mischief) than to pay them to show up and ruin the workplace. An alarming number of the purely evil tend to rise to great power. As one moves among a trusting, ignorant populace, a complete lack of ethics will permit this.

A third are all right. They’ll never shoot the lights out with greatness, but they will do the job. They will meet expectations, and they will not willingly do evil. They will have shining moments, but their worst moment is never as awful as the daily lives of the failures and disasters.

A third are the best people you’ll ever know. Bright, hard-working, often both; considerate of the world around them; having recognized their talents and weak spots, and having acted to handle both correctly. Some are mothers who raise multiple kids on their own and amaze everyone how great the little ones are. Some are the police you see kindly giving the confused elderly man a ride home. Again. Many quietly do great things daily and you and I never learn about it.

Thus with most of humanity, and thus it is with the clergy.

A third are some of the best people we’ve got. They come nearer sainthood than most people one will ever meet. They have given up much of what other people seek in order to help people, achieve a higher state, make a difference. They often do all three.

A third pretty much do what clergy are supposed to do. They hold the proper services, hear the proper things, play back the religious party line. They’re clergy, and they mostly go out and clerge.

A third are the pastards.

The pastards subgroup into two categories: those who try to tell the world “you can’t do this because it’s against my religion” (in other words, those who are pastards because they insist that non-flock members be required to obey the rules of their flock) and the megapastards. The megapastards have enormous places of worship, Denalian wads of cash. The megapastards long ago lost any connection to real life, except as it relates to milking money out of those living real life. Megapastardy is not always entirely monetary. Billy Graham said to my future wife, in person, when she asked what to do about her abusive then-husband: “You made your bed; you have to lie in it. Go home to your husband.” I hope Billy Graham had a very embarrassing, painful, soul-crushing long goodbye. He was a megapastard. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later rebranded as “Osho” in order to help people stop dwelling so much on the fact that his followers launched a biological terror attack against Americans, was a megapastard. Pastards harm few, however virulently and invasively; megapastards harm many.

Of course, there is often great overlap between the different types of pastard. The Ayatollah Khomeini was both. However, a lot of bad clergy have short political reach. If they were better at marketing, and more outgoing/brassy/photogenic/connected, they might aspire to be megapastards, but they’re stuck at the First Christlike Pure Fivesquare Gospel Church of Jesus Almighty Bible Power in Hoedown, Indiana, pop. 78. It takes a lot of business savvy to make the jump to megapastard. Likewise, the neo-pagan high priestess for whom it has become about power and control and adoration has no chance to be a megapastard. Not that she wouldn’t jump at the chance.

A megapastard is someone that induces people to give him or her money so s/he can supposedly do religious work, and who then hogs most of the money for him or herself. It’s usually a him. And the surest sign of a megapastard?

When everyone around him or her is impoverished or stricken with some terrible disaster, and the megapastard has the material means to help improve many of their lives, you will know the megapastard because s/he will never volunteer to do so. S/he may be shamed about it, and realize that giving in to the pressure is the cost of staying in the megapastardy business, but the megapastard does it only grudgingly.

What the megapastard will do most ostentatiously is to lean on his or her flock to join hands and contribute way too much of what little most of them have, telling them that it is their spiritual duty. Better they be further impoverished than that the megapastard worry about one of the yacht payments. And you know that the megapastard will take full credit for their generosity, as publicly and loudly as possible, making sure of course to collect a percentage as a small handling fee. You don’t understand! This costs money!

Pastards are why we should end the religious tax exemption. The greatest share of lost tax dollars kept by religions do not benefit the public. The greatest share benefit megapastards.

The only thing I can think of to do to pastards is stop listening to them. It follows, therefore, that megapastards should mega-not be listened to, given to, or shown respect.

Every time some Pollyanna tells you “everyone deserves respect,” point to a megapastard, and ask if Polly really means that. Bet she doesn’t.

Happy New Year from the ‘Lancer

This is a good time to thank you all for your readership in the past, present and future. I hope every one of you has a fantastic 2017. For those of you who use other calendars, well, please save up this post and read it again when it applies.

Let’s talk about calendars. Cool facts: in the C.E. calendar, there is no Year Zero. We go from 1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E. Not sure why, but I think this is because zero as a counting concept had yet to be invented. I think Arab mathematicians came up with it centuries after the establishment of the C.E. calendar. Also, we get “calendar” from the Latin “calends,” which referred to the first day of the Roman month. EIDVS, the “ides,” were the 13th or the 15th; every month had an eidvs. Many days were nefastus, which meant “inauspicious for the conduct of public business.” Back when I was in college, I made a Roman monthly calendar for our staff office. I received some heckling and a few queries. My boss at the time also had a background in Roman history at least as good as mine. One of my colleagues asked him: “For example, what the hell does this mean?” Steve looked up, then answered: “That means it’s a good day to cut up a goat and examine its entrails.”

The Western world mostly uses what I call the Christian Era calendar, C.E. I get a lot of flak for calling it that. I am lectured that I should be calling it the Common Era. The lecturers find it baffling that of all people, a rather stridently non-Christian person with a degree in history should adopt what they consider a grossly westerncentric term, then dare to defend it even when the speech police show up with warrants (“conform, or we will call you naughty names, jump to conclusions about your politics, and not consider you a member in good standing”). Well:

“Common Era” says nothing of use. Not one thing. It sounds dopey. Common? how so? Was the era before it the “Uncommon Era?” Can eras be said to be common or uncommon? How often does one find this era laying around, relative to that one? Should we go looking for rare eras? The reality is that we’ve used the Gregorian calendar for centuries (in Russia’s case, just one century right about now), and it was always “Before Christ” then “anno Domini” (‘year of the Lord’). Then one day we woke up and decided that not everyone in the Western world was a Christian; reasonable enough on its face. So we renamed it; however, the reality stared us in the face. Whatever we renamed the dating system, it was still based on the nominal assumed timeframe of a key religious figure of legitimately disputed provenance. Starting a new calendar, which would get us a truly secular dating system, would be difficult and icky and hard to obtain the necessary related consensus. Thus, we tried doing it the half-assed way, renaming it without changing its basis. Everyone with a claim to secularism was advised to obey the new usage or be lectured and shamed, as the goal posts moved again.

I’ve never been good about taking orders from those I do not consider my just authorities. Not very many people fall into that category. I have been described as immune to peer pressure, and it’s something of an understatement, because I am proud of this and seek to become more so, not less, which fits well with aging.

But hey, if we are going to adopt a secularist calendar, then let us do so. I’m down. When will we begin it? Should be fun trying to get agreement on that. In the meantime, this particular calendar’s period happens to coincide with the rise of Christianity. Just because I do not share this religion does not mean its rise is not one of the great shaping events of the last two millennia in the Western world. In fact, it is the only shaping event coincidental with that particular timeframe. Those of us who live in the Western world are perfectly entitled to choose and use a Western-centric calendar. Other cultures use their own calendars and dating systems, and we seem to accept that without whining. But if we want to reject a religious calendar, let’s do so by devising a new one, as did the French. In the meantime, let’s stop lying to ourselves with a silly feelgood solution that radiates hypocrisy. Go lecture the Saudis on why their hijri calendar is theocratic, if you want, and see how they react to that. Unless, of course, you hold them to a lower standard. Do you? Or you could write to the King of Thailand about his country’s calendar. I doubt you’ll get any traction with His Majesty, though you can try. (Just be careful how you word it, because lese majesté is a felony in Thailand even if committed off Thai soil, and if you show up there one day and they perceive that you were disrespectful, you could be arrested.)

Happy New Year, January 1, 2017 C.E. (Christian Era).

Other people have done and do calendars differently.

During the French Revolution, they decided that the event was so monumental it deserved a new dating system. Imagine if we had begun a new calendar on July 2, 1776 C.E. (when the Continental Congress voted to secede, and which John Adams assumed would be celebrated each year; it was ratified on July 4). They wanted a secular non-royalist calendar, so they began the French Republican Calendar or French Revolutionary Calendar (the initials are the same in French as well; CRF). Implemented in 1793 and lasting into the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, this calendar had twelve new months. Ever hear of Lobster thermidor? The month of Thermidor was late July and the first 2/3 of August, which are hot. All eleven other months were named similarly for natural or social phenomena normal in France at the given times, such as the grape harvest or frost. French revolutionary coins read, for example, “L’an 5” (Year Five of the French Republic), which was 1796-97. During the Paris Commune of 1871, which lasted ten days, the communards brought this system back. No one should be surprised that it didn’t take this time either.

I’m not sure whether the Haitians got the idea from the French, against whom the Haitians revolted and won their own independence in a war dozens of times bloodier than the War of American Independence, but they did win it. They began a new dating system, though they did not use it exclusively. 1804 C.E. became “L’an 1” of Haitian independence. While Haiti has also long made reference to the C.E. calendar, government paperwork still makes reference to the year of independence (I think we are now in Year 213).

Many countries in the Islamic world use the Islamic calendar, called by them the Hijri, and by the West “anno Hegirae.” As a general rule, the more religious the country, the more exclusively it uses the AH calendar, which begins in C.E. 622 when Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. Ramadan (yes, the fasting month), for example, is the ninth month of this calendar. Interesting datum: for two non-consecutive months of this calendar, fighting in any form is not allowed. AH is a lunar calendar and we currently are in AH 1438.

Iran and Afghanistan use the SH (solar Hijri) or Jalali calendar, which has the same start point as AH but is solar rather than lunar. In 1976, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran made one of the many secularist decisions that generated the discontent that would depose him: he decided to move the calendar’s starting point back to the start of the reign of Cyrus. What had been SH 1355 was now SH 2535. Take a guess how quickly the mullahs reversed this change once the Shah was out. Today, we are in SH 1395.

Starting in 1840 CE, the Ottomans used a solar calendar that included elements of the SH calendar and the Julian, which they called the Rumi (Roman) calendar. If the Ottomans were around today, they would be very offended that today their name means a footstool in English. It’s very offensive in Turkey to show someone the soles of your feet. So don’t do it to the Jandarma, Turkey’s national military police, unless you’re in the market for a pretty bad day.

While Japan uses the Gregorian calendar, it denotes the year based upon the Imperial reign. Each emperor’s era has a name; emperors used to change the era name now and then, but since the Meiji era, Japanese emperors have stuck with the same name throughout. Nowadays they tend to live a very long time, long enough that there have been only four eras since 1867: Meiji, Taisho, Showa (Hirohito) and Heisei (Akihito). Today begins Heisei Year 29 (though as you know, it began yesterday in Japan relative to us).

Several Southeast Asian countries, notably Thailand, use the Buddhist Era (BE) dating. Monthly systems vary, but Thailand uses the Gregorian calendar with BE annual dating. The Buddhist Era begins when the Buddha achieved parinirvana (nirvana after death; in other words, died). The Thais date this from 543 B.C.E. as we would reckon it, making this 2560 BE.

In India, they use the Saka Era calendar for official purposes. Saka Year 0 was C.E. 78, making this Saka 1938. However, many ignore this, and use Vikram Samvat dating, as is done in Nepal. Right now it is still 2073 VS, as this calendar begins 56.7 years before the Gregorian C.E. calendar. I question the prevalency of either in government reference, considering that a trip to the Indian government website tells me today is January 1, 2017, and I didn’t click a button for English. Unsurprising, considering that there are more English speakers in India than there are in the United States.

Just about all the people living on the North American Pacific coast, and a lot of people inland of us, know that the Chinese New Year tends to happen in January C.E. or shortly after. They are told to say things like “gong hay fat choy.” Well, if I were you (and I base this on two years working for a Chinese-owned company where about a third of the employees spoke Mandarin or Cantonese in addition to English), I wouldn’t try to say anything in Cantonese or Mandarin or any other dialect of Chinese until I had memorized its pronunciation with the approval of a native speaker. This is because meaning is inflected in tones, thus the same word can mean multiple things depending on how you articulate it. I was taught to say, rough transliteration, “goon ji fa dthai,” but without the correct tonals, it would be wrong.

Of course, Chinese speakers living in the Western world understand the intent of even a butchered New Year’s wish, and in a spirit of goodwill and gratitude, are likely to restrain their hilarity until you are gone. The official Chinese (People’s Republic) calendar dates from Year 1 of Han Emperor Ping, which very conveniently corresponds to 1 C.E. If you have a favorite Chinese restaurant, go to an Asian grocery store and get some red ‘lucky money’ sleeves. Break up some $20 bills into tens, and stuff a few tens into these sleeves. Go to your favorite restaurant, and with both hands and a “Happy New Year” (in English, unless you know the tonals) give an envelope to each person you deal with. Odds are the manager will make up an envelope giving you back the same rough amount of money, which you must accept just as the employees accepted your gift. That way, everyone gets their ‘lucky money.’ If you are Caucasian (thus not expected to know about this), they will never forget you thereafter, as you will probably be the only Caucasian who ever did it.

I hope you all have a wonderful year of love and light. If this isn’t the start of your own new year, you are wished love and light anyway until that time comes.

Removing stickers, fossilized or not, from books

Different people love books in different ways.

My mother first immediately broke the spine of every paperback she read. That way, she said, she didn’t have to worry about that any more. To me, that’s sort of like becoming a heavy tobacco and alcohol user so that one won’t have to save for retirement, but they were her books. Long as she kept her Visigothic, mutilating ways off mine, we were fine.

Some people keep no books, giving them all away. Some keep a selection, for show or rereading. Some have gone over to e-readers. Most people, I think, do not much care how much wear and tear they put on books. I believe this because of the condition of the used books I buy: creased covers, dog-eared pages, cracked spines, and probably body fluid stains.

Many have bookstore price stickers or remnants thereof. In many cases, someone brutally clawed at the sticker without much luck, leaving lots of nice divots and grooves. Sometimes there are three labels, one atop one or more others. Sometimes they are on the spine, which creates delicate circumstances; without special care, peeling the label may rip off part of the spine. ‘Used’ labels from school bookstores are always on the spine, and it’s not strange for them to be fossilized. It’s not strange for any label to be fossilized. The gum eventually hardens.

It’s not that my soul is crushed by the damage to a thing (though I think it’s pretty shabby to abuse a book, in my heart of hearts). It’s that I like to maintain valuable things in good condition. Books are valuable things. And for that reason, I’m going to take any sticker on a book as a personal challenge. I have now developed an improved method for this. Considering the demographics of my readership, there is a reasonable chance some will find this interesting.

First, gather supplies and books. I would practice on beat-up used books. Supplies:

  • Books with labels or remnants thereof
  • Bottle of Googone
  • Paper towel
  • Q-tips
  • Scissors
  • Some form of protection for the work surface, if needed, like an old plastic placemat
  • Plastic bookmark, or some other plastic potential scraper suitable for gentle work
  • A little patience


  • Examine the first book for stickers. Locate all, including all remnants and gum residue.
  • Make at least one gentle effort to peel off each sticker without help. New stickers may well come off. Some will leave residue.
  • Rip off a paper towel just so it’s handy. Cut a piece of that the size of the label you want gone, or slightly bigger.
  • Set the piece over the label and drip the Googone onto it. The idea is that by having the piece in place, it doesn’t all run off–Googone is thin.
  • Repeat for any other labels on the same exposed side of the book. Drip a bit more Googone on the paper towel piece, now and then–it evaporates, and if the label is paper, keeping it soaked is how you get the solvent through the paper to loosen the gum.
  • It can take some time to soften up completely hardened gum. You can test with the plastic bookmark (works better than fingernails). Most labels loosen up after several minutes kept soaked with Googone. Once you loosen it, you can q-tip some more Googone onto the residual gum.
  • If the label is plastic, this is going to take a while. If it won’t peel safely, use just a little Googone all around the edges, and wait for the stuff to eat away at the gum until you can peel up one side a bit. Then q-tip a little more on, wait, peel, q-tip more, wait, peel, etc.
  • Eventually, all labels will come off. Baste the remaining residue with Googone, then use the rest of the paper towel for a vigorous rub of the whole surface. If some got on the pageblock, or there’s a stain, don’t worry; it’ll evaporate. Give it a day or so to do that. The book will not smell like that forever, but a week or so is not odd.
  • Enjoy the original color of the cover, because on a used book, the uncovered area will be darker than the faded remainder.
  • Take a moment to scoff at their feeble labels.

If you are concerned about safety, wear those thin kitchen gauntlets and eye protection. I’m not, but I’d never encourage anyone not to. Googone has a very strong orange smell and is a petroleum distillate, and can be persistent, so I try to do this somewhere that won’t be a problem. I do make a point of washing my hands very well afterward, and that can take some effort before my hands no longer smell like this stuff. If you are concerned, the company website has Safety Data Sheets in .pdf.

The company’s website also indicates that they have a spray gel, and that may yet be a better method. I’m so cheap that I probably won’t consider it until I’ve used up my current supply of the original. They’ve even got a package they bill as the sticker-lifter, so the Googone people know their customer. Haven’t tried that one either.

Now if only I can figure out a way to fix cracked spines.

Sitting by the window with my checkbook

One of my investment philosophies I call “sitting by the window with my checkbook.”

Imagine there’s a downtown building, not too tall for openable windows. It houses mostly investment people. They are rich, but are too small to do it like the big boys, and have the public cover their biggest losing bets. If they take a bath, they’re wiped out.

They’re taking baths today, and they’re jumping from the 8th floor window. They cannot face their families with the news that they are falling out of the upper middle class. They will have to sell the cabin. The children will have to go to public school. The eldest will have to start doing yard chores, because the gardener is too costly. They have become what Trump calls ‘losers.’

They mistook their wealth for their sense of self. It’s impaired, and they are fundamental cowards who panic rather than hunker down and toughen up. I like that. I plan to profit from their pain. I’m not making any money today off anyone who isn’t a coward.

I’ve watched a few cowards jump already this morning. I judge the markets by the number of jumpers. When that number rises, I get my checkbook, grab a seat by the window (but not in their way; they will run you over), and wait.

They’re all still done for. They are all having trouble selling their shares. In fact, the shares have not declined in value that much, and will recover in time, but all these men (no women are this stupid) think purely short-term. They have become losers in life, according to their own hypercapitalist, left-hand path world view and assessment of human value. They would have to get real jobs.

I wait for them by the window. I keep the window down when no one’s jumping, to slow them down long enough to talk. As each one comes to the sill, we have a conversation. It may go like this:

Me: “Hey. Before you jump, think about this. Those shares you paid $11/share for? I’ll give you $6/share for them.”

The jumper looks at me in angry moral outrage. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Why would I do that?”

“Well, you’re about to jump. If you find someone to buy them, there’ll be something to pass along to your family. If not, there won’t. Your call?”

“What kind of human being are you, to stop people on their way to this window and offer them bargain basement prices without trying to talk them out of jumping?”

“A smarter kind than you, apparently. You’re jumping and I’m buying. But if you don’t want to, feel free to jump. Another jumper will be along.”

“That is beyond evil. You don’t care about me.”

“Of course I don’t. That’s how this works. It’s how it worked for you until today. It’s not as evil as playing casino under rules that say you can’t lose. At least if I lose, I truly lose, and truly have to pay up. Or jump, if I’m afraid to face my consequences. If I were the jumper, you’d be happy to get a good deal from me before I jumped. Look in my eyes and you look into a mirror.”

“God! Okay, I’ll sell, you horrible bastard.”

Pleasant smile. “Price went down to $5.50.”

“You are insane!”

“$5.40. Deal or no deal?”

“Fine! Give me my $5.40! At least by jumping now, I never have to see your face again!” *leaps, screams, goes splat*

“True. Don’t care. Ah, another jumper. Hey, hold on just a sec, man. I don’t mind if you jump, but before you do, I’ll give you $5.25 for those shares…”

Evil? Yes, in the purely capitalistic, satanic sense of self-interested evil. Capitalism is the purest form of satanism, of left-hand path worship. In LHP worship, one takes what one can according to a few morals and one’s own self-interest and ability. There are reasons why the Judeo-Christian scriptures equate money with a big-ass demon, and say that one cannot worship their god and the demon at the same time.

It’s very amusing to me watching rich televangelists ask poor people for their money–and get it, up to nine figures of it. The televangelists are Anton Szandor LaVey’s wet dream of Satanic principles in action. If people are stupid enough to give them the money, take it, and live high on the hog! the old carny and bunco artist would say.

I’m not LHP, but I play one for the markets.

If I were truly that evil, I wouldn’t come out here and tell you how I do it.

If you think this requires six figures of disposable wealth, think again. Entry point is about $5000 of investable capital.



There’s a junk bond selloff. Junk bonds are bonds that pay high yields because they have low ratings, i.e., the chance they might fail is greater than infinitesimal.

When any selloff happens, it means people are very fearful. Buffett tells us to be greedy when people are fearful. Therefore, this morning, I am greedy.

What that means is that I’m shopping for closed-end junk bond fund shares. I find that this topic is eye-glazing for many people, so I am going with very short paras that won’t lose folks.

First, Sunday is a good day to do this, because the market is closed. Prices aren’t moving. If I make any decisions, I have all day to think about them, chicken out, whatever.

Mutual funds are pooled investments; in essence, you send them your money and they invest it for you.

Closed-end mutual funds are also pooled investments, except that they already got all the money, so when you buy the shares, you buy them from someone who wants to sell, at the market price.

All mutual funds have both a market price and a net asset value (NAV). NAV is what the fund’s actual investments (the bonds themselves) divide out to be worth, per share of the fund in existence. Market price is what you can actually buy or sell those same shares for.

With old school open-end funds, you have to pay NAV. With CEFs, they may trade (could also say: “market price may vary”) at a discount or premium to NAV.

I like discounts, the bigger the better. I especially like them when they come from people’s panic and irrational behavior, because I believe courage should always defeat terror. I am not only willing to make money from freakouts, I find it sardonically satisfying.

Since mutual funds must adjust their investment values to agree with the markets, and since the markets are affected by fear and panic (or euphoria, in its time), we can agree that the NAV incorporates fear into its price, right?

If we agree that fear is priced into the NAV, it follows that a discount to NAV means that said fear is priced into the fund’s shares a second time. It has to be.

Example: If the JKK closed-end fund holds securities that the market has pummeled down to a total NAV of $20/share, but you can buy JKK on the markets for $15/share, obviously the market is adding a second dose of fear. That dose is irrational. The markets already beat it up once.

It’s too bad there isn’t a CEF that invests purely in CEFs of junk bonds. We could get yet another level of fear pricing.

When you look at a yield, the % is meaningless without understanding how your payout money would be calculated if you bought it.

One buys CEFs mostly for yield, not growth. If they appreciate, that’s a bonus, and the best way to have a shot at that is to buy during fear.

That goal harmonizes with the goal of maximum yield, so it’s even greater reason to go full avarice at those times.

That has me updating my CEF shopping list. I might sell some and buy others.

I keep a list of CEFs. Now and then, I look them all up and note the NAV, the market price, the payout, how many of those payouts per year. All that is easy to discover.

From that, the list will calculate the annual yield at market price (this matters), yield at NAV (this is fantasy, since I can’t really buy it, but it helps me compare and gloat), and current premium or discount of market price relative to NAV (of reality to fantasy).

If I see a good chance for a great yield emerge from that list, I consider buying. If I still feel like buying on Monday, I make a note to place an order.

Of course, by then, the market rate will have fluctuated. Naturally, I am not satisfied with a ridiculous bargain. I hold all the leverage here and I’m going to insist on an even bigger discount. If no one will sell it to me for that, fine, no deal. No hard feelings.

Therefore, if I do buy on Monday, I’ll place an order at a price lower than the day’s lowest market price. It will be good until canceled (I’ll have it expire about a month out). Maybe it will reach that price and fill, today or in days to come. Maybe not.

The best deals are when people are jumping.

At first, they all lose more money. That’s fine. A few of the underlying junk bonds may even go bust. All of them won’t. And all the while, every month (in the case of most CEFs), they will send me my yield payout. For years.

Today, I’m checking to see if any of those payouts have dropped, and how they relate to the prices I might have to pay as I sit beside my window with my checkbook.

Days like this come less than once a year, so I’m taking a comfortable seat.

Asatru: the reality

This post addresses religion as well as a social issue. If religion is not your cup of tea, then it may not be your favorite post on the ‘Lancer. For those who stick around to the end, you will see why I had to write it.

On Sunday, April 13, 2014, a rabid anti-Semite from Missouri named Frazier Glenn Cross allegedly committed lethal violence at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish assisted living home in Kansas City, Kansas. Reminding us that bigots usually aren’t too bright, the killer couldn’t even commit a gutless hate crime against defenseless people according to intentions. So happens that the three murder victims were all Christians.

That’s kind of like if Cliven Bundy had fired on the BLM, but through poor aim, killed a couple of sagebrush and a Steller’s jay.

That was bad enough. Then CNN got into the act, focusing on Cross’s ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the ‘White Patriot Party,’ and Odinism. Odinism might best be described as a subset of Asatru, the modern incarnation of the pre-Christian heathen beliefs of the ancient Germanic peoples (Norse, Goths, Suevii, etc.). I happen to be Asatru, so that randomly flung grenade sent shrapnel my direction, and I didn’t like it. It was careless and ignorant–but I know why it happened. The primary reason, which is that CNN is sloppy, lousy and sensationalistic, is becoming evident enough to most people that I don’t see a need to belabor that.

Some ass was chewed, and CNN presented another viewpoint–without, of course, demonstrating integrity by openly admitting that it had thrown a grenade blindfolded. This piece was by an Asatruar, and it presented an extended version of what I call the Standard Heathen ‘We Aren’t Nazis or Racists’ Disclaimer. You will find it on nearly every webpage associated with Asatru. You even get it from some representatives of some Asatru groups whether you ask about it or not, as one of their first points of description/explanation. When it is presented pre-emptively, one may fairly say they are touchy about it. It seems to anticipate the first question as: “Are you Nazis?”

Maybe that usually is the first question. I don’t know. No one ever asks me if I’m a Nazi.

Why would they be so touchy? Partly because of stuff like this CNN business. You might be touchy too, firing off pre-emptive disclaimers, if verbally incontinent and factually challenged news organizations periodically did stuff like this to your religion.

But its journalistic and ethical bankruptcy is not the only reason CNN conflated Odinism with racism; that simply made it possible. Nor did they do it simply because we are presumed weird, non-mainstream, fair game for such things–true as that may happen to be in a theocratic nation where the theo- in question is not our own.

Partly it was because there’s a grain of truth in there. Not enough to justify the way the article put it, but one that we must address. We cannot say we have addressed it until we confront it. We cannot confront it until we admit it.

Before we talk about what Asatru is not, let’s talk about what–for most of its adherents, including all of those who were paying attention when they read the ancient materials–Asatru is. The term means ‘true to the gods,’ as in, the Aesir (Odin, Thor, etc.). However, it’s not precise that way, because the Vanir (Frey, Freyja, etc.) are also revered by most Asatruar. There are people who self-identify as Vanatru, but that splits a hair. There is nothing fundamentally racist about Odinism, which is not to say an Odinist cannot also be a racist. A few are. Some keep it on the down low. It speaks well for us as a movement that they need to keep it there, but not well enough to satisfy me.

For most of its professing believers, Asatru is not just loyalty to the ancient gods. It also means a code of conduct based upon nine Noble Virtues derived from ancient lore: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, perseverance. A failure in any of those areas is shameful for any Asatruar (adherent).

Asatruar (it’s also the plural term) greatly esteem the ability to give and keep an oath. Politically, we lean right/libertarian on average, with a high emphasis upon personal responsibility. If an observant Asatruar fairly owes you money, you won’t have to send a collection agent after him or her. S/he will see to it that his or her obligations are met, or stand accountable. We have no salvation from the consequences of wrongs we do, save that granted by those wronged (and it isn’t recompense until the victim or his/her kin say it is). Asatru is not a pacifist belief system; we believe there are times when one must fight, and that one should do so with valor and ferocity. I dislike that I even need to mention that cowardly murders, such as those of innocent people at community centers and old folks’ homes, are diametrically opposed to Asatru values. A more Asatru behavior would have been to guard such places, and gun this murderer down in his tracks at the first sign he demonstrated a threat. And your typical Asatruar would own the firepower and will to do just that. Most Asatruar would have tackled him even unarmed, and if they died doing so, reckoned that an admirable end.

Let’s relate this to the hate criminal in Kansas City. As we reckon it, he was not only an idiot, but a coward, and he deprived innocent people of life. No amount of prayer will do him a damn bit of good. If the world operated according to our values, he would be outlawed, meaning that he could legally be killed as a public service. By anyone. He would owe weregild (compensation) to the kin of his victims, if they would accept it, which they would not need to do. His status is one of odium, not Odinism.

I often wish you, society, would let us do it that way.

Asatru is not an easy path, but it satisfies those of us who follow it, and helps guide us toward right conduct. Such conduct makes us outstanding friends, partners, hosts, guests, neighbors, business contacts, employees and warriors. It is completely egalitarian, recognizing no gender bias. We do not proselytize, so you will never find Asatruar at your door handing out tracts about Thor. I suppose we have some homophobes, but most of us don’t care who you boink.

The Asatru movement has several large, loosely-knit organizations that have zero say in the way local Asatruar handle their business, either individually or in groups. It could not be any other way. We don’t boss around easily, especially when one bears in mind that we don’t turn the other cheek. Many Asatruar are firearms or blade enthusiasts. Military service is an esteemed career among us. If oath-keeping and courage lead us to a grave, we esteem that a worthy way to die. Just as we are good friends, we make bad enemies, and a threat from an Asatruar is good enough reason to make plans to defend oneself. We are a fierce people, without apologies for that.

Asatru and Wicca (a far more numerous neo-pagan belief system, of which more people have heard) differ markedly. Many Asatruar heap scorn upon Wicca, though many also found their way to Asatru through Wicca. As for the greater neo-pagan movement, the best capsule summary of Asatru I’ve ever read is that we are ‘the Klingons of neo-paganism.’ Far nearer the truth than not, even though most Asatruar dislike the label ‘pagan,’ preferring ‘heathen.’ I’m not touchy about it, but most are.

On race, the subject brought to the fore by this event and its perpetrator, we vary. This variance of belief is generally accepted with comfortable mingling. For the most part, that is a good thing, because we don’t have very many real racists, let alone racial supremacists. However, in one area, it exposes a serious problem within Asatru. I’m going to talk candidly about it, and it’s going to offend and/or alienate some people.

Some will be mad because they know I’m right, but am saying the thing we aren’t supposed to say, making public an issue that most prefer to paper over. In my view, Asatruar need to face facts and take a stand themselves, for the sake of honor, truth and courage.

Some will be mad because I will have explicitly taken a stand against them. They need to build a large fire and leap in, because they are the members of the hate groups who call themselves Asatru. I am their enemy. I refuse to make nice, or to pretend comradeship I don’t feel.

We might assign Asatruar ‘wings,’ resembling political divides, for the sake of discussion and understanding. The primary questions that divide us involve views on ancestry and racialism. For purposes of this discussion, please use this definition of racialism: the notion that ethnic heritage is worthy of note, or can ever play a valid role. I would define racism as the notion that ethnic heritage is a grounds for exclusion, discrimination or antipathy in any form. I would define racial supremacism as racism with the added component of assumed superiority.

Far left: essentially Norse Wicca, which is to say, Wicca with Norse overtones. This view rejects racialism. There is minimal consideration of the Eddas and examples from the sagas, or the differences between Nordic and other pre-Christian pagan beliefs. Norse Wicca tends to be near-standard Wicca with Germanic deity names. I won’t go so far as to say they are not Asatru, but I suspect the Norse Wiccans would decline the label. Let’s say that if they adopt the label at all, their version minimally resembles mine, except in the ways that most life-affirming religions resemble each other.

Moderate left: universalism. Universalist Asatruar also reject the notion that race or heritage play any role in being Asatru. So far as I am aware, neither the Eddas nor the historical record say anything directly about race or heritage as they relate to religion, so they are on firm ground. In the first place, the universalists would point out, the Germanic peoples got around a lot; other peoples also got around to them. In the second, deeds and conduct matter far more. In the third, short of a mandatory genealogical study, we can’t really know anyway. (One could have great hilarity compiling and publishing genealogies on known racist leaders, considering that the typical ‘white’ American is probably about 10% nonwhite.) Anyone can get in, and deeds and conduct are all that pertain.

Center: tribalism. Tribalist Asatruar, like myself, consider it fairly natural that Germanic ancestry is a draw to the belief system (as best we understand it today) of one’s ancestors. The best I can describe this, from my own experience, is that it felt like coming home to what and who I was. However, a tribalist does not concern him/herself much, if at all, with whether others profess or possess Germanic roots. Put another way, if someone shows up, and feels truly drawn to Asatru ways, and lives an Asatru lifestyle, we reckon that common ground. If they ain’t blood kin, we can adopt them as such, strengthening us. Just because I feel drawn this direction by my own roots doesn’t mean I can assess anyone else’s commitment, or how they came to it, except in terms of how their actions demonstrate it. This is slightly racialist, but only on a personal level.

Moderate right: folkish. Folkish Asatru teaches as a core tenet that Germanic peoples are descendants of their ancient gods. However, that does not mean that folkish groups make a habit of inquiring into one’s heritage, or that they consider themselves superior to any other culture. The most similar (if not precisely analogous) examples would be some Native American belief systems, or Judaism. Folkish Asatruar respect such beliefs, and do not place themselves above or below any such group. In fact, if you took a poll of folkish Asatruar, you’d probably find that many admire Israel’s warrior spirit and strongly support Native Americans’ right not to have their culture strip-mined by outsiders. The Noble Virtues matter greatly to folkish Asatruar, but they would at least wonder why someone with zero discernible Germanic heritage might be drawn to Asatru. It’s fair to call that racialist. If grounds for exclusion, it is racist.

Far right: basically, Team Adolf. There is an extremist wing calling itself Asatru that is avowedly racist. Such groups are not necessarily violent, but for me, the key breaking point is that their doors are flatly barred to non-whites, and that many are racial supremacists. Many sympathize with Nazism, which means they favor a viewpoint that committed mass murder of many innocent people. Many, probably most, are Holocaust deniers, which means they are idiots concerning the historical record. Team Adolf is an embarrassment to respectable Asatruar at the very least–you can infer that from The Disclaimer. At mainstream gatherings, if Team Adolf shows up, it is usually sensible enough to keep its real beliefs toned down. Put another way, if a bunch of assholes start singing the Horst Wessel Song at a mainstream Althing, they’ll be squelched (I know of one instance where this actually occurred). A lot of Team Adolf is in jail, and/or joined Team Adolf there. That usually results in some symbols.

So let’s talk about symbols. The Nazis misappropriated a number of honorable and venerable Germanic emblems, making them hateful in most people’s eyes. There’s a lot of debate among Asatruar about symbols. I can tell you where I stand: I believe that we must reject and disfellowship racists and hate groups, which begins by calling them out in noisy and vulgar fashion. I believe we must not legitimize such groups in any way. I believe that the Holocaust was the ultimate dishonorable action, and that it is honorable and right for us to show respect for the many innocent people dead, brutally mistreated, robbed, tortured and otherwise subjected to unwarranted cruelty–not so much because we’re Asatru, but because we’re decent human beings with a sense of justice and compassion.

One way to show that respect is to set aside the swastika. We don’t have to concede that a very ancient good luck symbol is now fundamentally evil; I for one will not concede that, not least because it concedes a victory to Nazis, who will get nothing from me that they’d like. We should, however, abjure its display and use in public or private. This serves to nail our colors to the mast, emphasizing our hostility to the Nazi movement and its modern illegitimate spawn. I believe that, while no one has the right to demand this of us, they shouldn’t need to; we should do it for our own reasons and by choice, because it’s the right thing. I also believe that, with this done, we have the moral right to reclaim and use other symbols that were perverted in the name of evil, provided we do so in honorable causes and with consideration and common sense. I think it would be a stupid overreaction to remove the S-rune from the Elder Futhark, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to think it’s cool to tattoo two of them side by side on one’s body. Rights must be balanced with consideration and compassion in their exercise, if that exercise is to be thought honorable.

So. Mainstream modern Asatru is not racist, though some aspects have racialist overtones to one degree or another, not unlike some other groups. The racists are the fringe. But our movement has a problem. And if bringing this up makes some people angry, maybe they should ask themselves why.

Here’s the problem: we don’t always draw the line firmly enough, take the right stand. I have seen a desire to avoid making waves, or a reluctance to exclude, taken too far in many Asatru situations. This can take the form of tolerating the presence of Team Adolf, as long as it behaves (in essence, lies about itself by omission). Part of the logic probably stems from the strong individualism of Asatruar, and our nonjudgmental tendency concerning professed belief (and one that has positive sides, which is how universalist, tribalist and folkish Asatruar can find common spiritual ground). Part of it is just fear of confrontation. There may be other motivations I don’t understand, but I don’t really care what those are. There are no valid excuses.

To me, non-confrontation and tolerance toward evil serve to sweep the problem under the rug, where it is never disposed of. That’s just not good enough. Where it exists, tolerance of Team Adolf harms our movement. It lends a fig leaf of respectability to those who have forfeited all respect. It leads to stuff like this CNN article, which offends me with its ignorance, but we would have a stronger foundation against such ignorance if we did our rightful part by slamming the door in Team Adolf’s face at every turn. Why does the Southern Poverty Law Center keep suggesting that the smoke of racism, that some associate with Asatru, has its source in a small but actual fire? Because the fire does exist. And it exists because we do not hose it down with cold water, as noisily and fiercely as we can arrange. We post The Disclaimer, but we do not all refuse every association with members of Team Adolf.

There’s another reason to be vocal, a personal one. I’m the one who often points out that if other religions do not want to be lumped in with the scum who pollute their belief systems, they need to step forward and be vocal in that opposition. Christians should shun and condemn the late Fred Phelps’ picketing club, for example (and most do). Muslims should not make nice with extremists who murder (and I think most do not). Every group has low-lifes who wave its flag and do wrong. I can’t tell others they ought to take out their own trash unless I’m willing to help haul ours.

Take for example the pedophile priest revelations within the Roman Catholic Church. The pedophiles themselves were disturbing enough; what compounded the issue was that the church hierarchy warehoused pedophiles rather than defrock them and turn them over to the police. If your religion has an internal problem that some of your people aren’t taking seriously enough, and your religion matters to you, you will stand up. And you won’t be intimidated by big-name religious leaders. If a Catholic, for example, you’d make your point to your clergy hierarchy. And if they tried to pressure you to silence, you’d refuse. If they hinted at consequences, you’d tell them to bring it on. You either live by your principles or not. Sometimes leaders need to be clocked on the head and dragged back to their principles.

Was I eager to write a post calling out some Asatruar (whom I would otherwise respect) for lack of action? Of course not. I’m no social activist. Am I glad that this post will stay with me, and make it problematic for me to fit into some Asatru social circles? Surely not–but going-along-to-get-along, refusal to make waves, legitimization through silence, is less bearable to me than solitude. If not a form of outright enablement, at the very least it fails to answer the bell for action.

To the degree that it associates itself with Asatru, Team Adolf makes itself our problem, because the world notices. The Disclaimer is not adequate. We must reject Team Adolf, refuse kinship with it, and cuss it up and down the floor. We must stop looking the other way. The standard disclaimers aren’t good enough.

One of my greatest pet peeves is people who don’t believe their own philosophy. Do I really believe in courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, perseverance?

Either I do or I don’t, and sometimes living our beliefs means we have to fight, or that we may pay a price.

And now you see why I had to do it.

Locked out half naked on I-5

This story explains one reason why I remain open to metaphysical ideas, which is not to say I buy into them all without question.

Back in summer 1990, I bought my first real vehicle at the age of 27. We don’t count the Corvair with the failing transmission and rotting tires, which was stolen with the connivance of the dealer and the assent of our precious legal system, nor do we count the Skyhawk that also had a failing trannie, which I shoved up the seller’s rear end. It was the White Lightning, my 1990 Toyota pickup. I paid $10,200 for it. A two-wheel-drive vanilla-colored and vanilla-looking vehicle, it is, and some of the better money I have ever spent in my life. I’m still driving it.

It might surprise you, then, that one evening early in my ownership, I tried to kick the back window out–but I’m getting ahead of myself. At the time, I was engaged to K., an accountant about my age. She lived near Lynnwood, north of Seattle, and I lived in what would later become Shoreline. I was working over in Bellevue as a computer salesman in the trenches of the IBM/Microsoft wars. My work required that I wear a dress shirt, slacks, tie and dress shoes.

I was still wearing most of them late that summer evening, because I’d gone straight from arrival back at my apartment up to see K. I don’t remember why, but she was distraught about something–probably about her racist S.O.B. parents, with whom she still lived, or her abominable uncle, or her arrogant brother and cousin, or her idiot sister. If you are beginning to suspect that I didn’t have a joyous relationship with K.’s family, and that perhaps the relationship eventually disintegrated, you are a perceptive reader. Her distress wasn’t due to anything I’d done, at least.

The evening ended up with K. and I parked out in Alderwood Manor somewhere, with her bawling and sniffling, and me trying to be supportive. At one point, she had needed a mucous control method. Being the type, I had taken off my white dress shirt and encouraged her to load it up with snot and tears. That didn’t concern me. While I decided against putting the shirt back on, I figured it didn’t matter if I drove home topless. It was night. The only people who would see were my fellow tenants at the slum called The Villager, and I simply didn’t give a damn what any of my fellow Villager people thought about anything. About 10:00, I dropped K. off and headed for I-5. I’d be home in twenty minutes, maybe less. Couple beers and bed.

One decision I had made after buying the truck was a quiet protest against the apathetic climate toward stranded motorists, combined with the culture of fear. Everyone was afraid to stop and help someone, a mentality I still decry. This was before the prevalence of cell phones, so being stuck was a bigger problem than it is today, and being helped was mighty nice. I had decided to be the sort of person who would stop and help people if he could. Ah, those idealistic days. As I rolled down I-5 southbound near the 220th St. SE exit for Mountlake Terrace (mine was the next after that), I saw a vehicle stopped on the shoulder with a young man leaning against it. This Was My Time.

I didn’t stop and think about my appearance, of course. I flipped on my turn signal, braked back and pulled in behind the guy. It made sense to leave my engine running and the lights on, or so I thought. I got out, bare-chested but otherwise dressed for office work, and asked: “What’s wrong?”

The kid told me that his car had died. “Sucks,” I replied. “Where do you live?”

“Mountlake Terrace.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a ride to your place if you like.”

“Sounds good.” I moved to get into the driver’s side. It was locked. My long habits of locking doors behind me had caused me to screw myself but good. Now I was the shirtless guy who had locked himself out of his new truck along I-5 around 10:15 PM, and wasn’t much use to the kid anymore. I had a bit of a panic, and figured that I needed to break a window and get in, so I climbed into the bed. I sat on the right wheelwell, brought back my foot and booted the back window with all my might. Thump. Tried again. Thump. After a third futile kick, and a perverse gratification with the obvious fruits of Toyota’s PPG auto glass standards, I got out and tried to think what to do next.

I’ll bet it was a good thing I couldn’t see the poor kid’s expression. Then I had an idea, one of a series of naive ideas I had that night, each arguably naiver than the last. There’s naive, and then there’s twentysomething J.K. naive.

“Tell you what. I have to call a tow truck to let me back into this thing before it runs out of gas. There’s a gas station off the exit. I’ll just trot down there, call a tow truck, get him to slim jim me into my truck, and if you want, he can tow yours and take you home. Wait here, okay?”

And if you can believe this, I imagined that he would. So off I went, the jogger out for his nightly conditioning run in his dress clothes, manly chest bared for the world not to see (what with it being dark). I wasn’t in bad shape back then, playing hockey and softball, and it didn’t take me that long to reach the exit and then the convenience store. I used a pay phone–kids, that’s what we used to have to do back in the day–to call a tow truck, then set off at a return trot. This was not how I’d planned to spend that evening’s end, but stupid happens.

Can you believe that the kid had bugged out on me? What was the matter with that ungrateful little bastard? In any case, I had no other business but to await the tow truck. It was getting on around 10:45 now, and a vehicle pulled up behind me, headlights like little suns. I couldn’t tell who it was, but it didn’t take long to find out.

Out stepped a Washington State Patrolman, flashlight over the shoulder and directly in my eyes. I understand why they do that, even if it wasn’t any fun. One suspected that perhaps the officer would like to know what was going on, and might justly be prepared for risk, so I did the natural thing. Keeping my hands open, wide and visible, I gave him a cheerful: “Howdy, trooper!”

“Would you like to tell me what’s going on here?”

In fact, I would rather not have, but it was a reasonable question. And if the tow truck didn’t show up, he’d be able to summon any necessary assistance. Fair’s fair; he’d stopped to help someone, so I appreciated that on a couple of levels. I told him the story to this point, omitting nothing. “Now I’m waiting for the tow truck,” I finished.

“Looks like you’ve got yourself in a jam,” advised Trooper Obvious. Couldn’t blame him, though. He was trying his best not to laugh.

A second set of lights appeared behind his patrol car. “Trooper, I think your backup just showed up.”

He looked. “No, that’s a Snohomish County Deputy. Why don’t you stay here with your vehicle and wait for the tow truck, and I’ll go explain this to him.”

While the stater was furnishing his colleague with the Nightly Civilian Comedy Report, another set of lights pulled in behind the deputy’s car. That was the tow truck, and the officers directed the driver toward me. The driver didn’t start laughing, maybe because he had seen weirder things. He took his slim jim and got to work while I watched in nervous mode. He wasn’t succeeding, it was after 11:00 PM, my engine was still running, there were five vehicles present, and I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention at the best of times. The tow truck guy still wasn’t getting anywhere with the slim jim. He explained that on newer models, Toyota had redesigned the lock mechanism. Oh, joy.

I saw a sixth car pull up, just ahead of the kid’s stalled car. Oh, crap. More cops. Not that I didn’t appreciate that the cops had stopped to begin with, but I wasn’t looking forward to another addition to the merry throng. Then I saw the license plate.

Washington, WCA 105. It’s been nearly twenty-four years, and I still remember it purely for this reason. K.’s tags.

A little cautiously, K. got out of her maroon Mustang. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yeah, other than locking myself out of my truck.”

“What did you do, stop and help someone, then lock yourself out?”

She knew me that well, at least. I nodded.

This is where trust pays off. When I’d bought the truck, my first act was to give K. a spare key. You never know. She pulled out her key ring, walked over and unlocked my door. Situation resolved. Then I started thinking. “What brought you out here? I’d have thought you were in bed. That’s why I didn’t call you, I figured you’d have a hard time getting to sleep as it was. Did you call my place?” I rarely ask anyone for anything, and hate to inconvenience people, especially when it will require me to explain how dumb I can be.

“No. I just knew you were in trouble, so I got in my car and headed back the way I knew you would go home.” I thanked her, hugged and kissed her, and almost hugged and kissed the tow truck driver when he declined to charge me for coming out. While he hadn’t actually achieved anything, those things aren’t free to operate. I guess he figured I’d had suffered enough for one night. Nice guy. After advising the police officers of the solution, everyone saddled up and went our various ways.

And then I began to think. She had sensed I was in trouble, taken the correct route, happened to spot my truck despite the presence of a varied little fleet of vehicles making it less than easy to pick out, and shown up with the solution in her purse. How does such a thing occur? Most of my mental answers were in language unsuitable for the blog, which maintains rather tolerant standards in that area. The kinds of things one says when one is both creeped out and relieved.

While I’m not trying to cite this as proof of the existence of psychic phenomena, it’s enough to make you think. Anyone remember the old Charlie Daniels Band tune The Legend of Wooley Swamp? It’s one of my country favorites, as they are one of my favorite country bands. And as it keeps repeating:

“Some thangs in this world ya just can’t explain.”

And to this day, I will neither get into nor out of my truck without a spare key on my person.

It has since bailed me out a couple more times.

Burying a thrush

Just a small story about a thing I do now and then.

For whatever reason–and it isn’t poisons, as I use those sparingly on the property–birds come to our place to die. Some, sadly, hit glass despite my efforts to reduce that incidence. Others, it seems, simply come here to pass on.

The varied thrush, a slate-and-old gold-colored bird, winters in our area. Most winters, at some point, I find that one has not survived the winter. Today was such a day. I came home from work (I do some technical writing) and spotted the little body, claws up, clearly deceased.

I have always liked birds. My wife refers to me as her Raven Man, based on Alaskan legends of Raven as a trickster and protector. And interestingly, wherever she travels in Washington or nearby, she finds ravens watching her. Sometimes they are flying along with her, like a combat air patrol. But I was an avid bird enthusiast as far back as my single-digit years. I want this place to be popular with birds, and to be visited by many. So when a bird dies, it is a bit hard for me. There is only one thing I can do: a dignified little funeral.

For reasons of health precaution, I get a shovel and a big maple leaf, which I use to push the fallen avian onto the shovel as gently as possible. Then I take him or her around to where the hollyhocks sprout in the late summer, lay the body on something, and dig a small hole. When it’s over a foot deep, I nudge the deceased onto the shovel and lay him or her in the grave as gently as I can arrange. I then say a few words, making a holy gesture and bidding the bird farewell. I tell him or her that I hope that the passing was of old age, and that he or she had a good mate, many chicks, plenty to eat and lots of happy days flying and singing. I hope that the bird is now in a place where migrations are short and not painful, where predators do not exist and where there are sunny days to flock, make music and hunt for delicious fruit. I usually tear up.

And then, for there is nothing else to do, as gently as possible, I fill in the little grave, pat it down firmly, make a holy gesture once again, and walk away.

Farewell, little thrush.