Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

01 November, 2006


The autumn days are flying by. After an unseasonably warm day on Monday, it looks to be a chilly one today. This weekend was quite a bit of fun. The highlights were a party on Saturday with brunch and a video premiere on Sunday.

Saturday's shindig was a Samhain party hosted by I., from our writing group. The Dulcinea, her oldest, and I headed over for feasting and fun. For the occasion, I wore my wool cloak and I must say that it was quite warm. GD and his wife were there as well and they were the only folks that I'd ever met more than once previously. I got to meet I.'s roommates for the second time, although I was actually able to have conversations this go-round instead of a brief hello-and-goodbye. I. led a brief Samhain ceremony. A circle was cast and she went around with a mirror and matches. Each person lit a match, looked into the mirror and bid farewell to something. It had been a few years since I was involved in any kind of pagan or Wiccan ceremony and so it was rather nice to participate again.

It was a potluck and there were tasty foods of all sorts, including the hostess' Vampire Chicken which involves impaling fowl with a wooden spike. Since Des was along, we couldn't get too rowdy and I couldn't imbibe too much, although I did bring a bottle of cyser and drank my fair share of it. I also brought along my bottle of kvas and had my first taste of the stuff. The way Charles was describing it, I thought it would be some foul concoction but I really enjoyed it. The best way for me to describe it is that it tasted like pumpernickel bread that had more than its fair share of molasses.

We awoke Sunday morning to find that it was a beautiful day. The Dulcinea and I had a brunch date out at The Stead. Mistress R and J. put on quite a spread. It was funny to see the place decked out to accommodate several eaters as opposed to having all manner of pleasure-inducing gear strewn about. J. manned an omelet station and there was bacon, asparagus, spuds, et al. In addition to the savory, there were sweets and I made a glutton of myself with the Thousand Layer Cake which I topped with a generous amount of peach jalapeno jelly. I did this twice, in fact. I left not a square inch of space for a Dutch Baby. We sat with R.'s roomie, whose name I cannot recall and some of her co-workers and friends. One of her friends, to whom I don't think we introduced ourselves, unfortunately, was a co-worker of Lola. A small world. At one point, the conversation took a turn towards the dorky as it first became about the story Beowulf and Grendel in its various incarnations followed by Doctor Who. We had a good time and ate much too much.

We picked up Des from his grandmother's place and headed towards the mall. We had a couple hours to blow before our presence was required elsewhere. I hadn't been to a bookstore in ages so I decided to hit one. Being out by the dreaded mall, The Dulcinea could go to a couple stores in the vicinity for Halloween crafts and decorations.

I'm like a kid in a candy store when I find myself surrounded by books. Having a credit or debit card in my pocket while in such places is not the best thing in the world for my finances. Oddly enough, I walked out of there with only two (2) new acquisitions: Cry Rape by Bill Lueders and Letter To a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

I was rather heartened to see that the shelf on Atheism at the bookstore had grown considerably. Just a few years ago, it held only a handful of books which were all written by philosophers and were formal refutations of the Ontological Argument of God's Existence, Pascal's Wager, etc. And now a few authors have about doubled the numbers of texts there. There's Sam Harris and his two books, Richard Dawkins new tome, and Dan Dennett's recent contribution. (Next year Christopher Hitchens throws his hat into the ring.) While it seems like all these books touch on proofs for and against the existence of deities, they are primarily concerned with very tangible aspects of religion in the here and now.

Cry Rape caught my interest because it's about a woman - Patty - from right here in Madison. It tells the horrible story of the aftermath of her rape. Being sexually assaulted is terrible enough, but the police pressured her into recanting at one point and she suffered even more at the hands of the authorities. Interesting yet sad reading ahead.

Of course there were lots of other books that I wanted to get but didn't. For instance, there was a bio of Thomas Paine staring down at me in the US History section that was mighty tempting. Actually, the history section had a lot of tomes that I wanted to get, especially in the Ancient & Medieval sections. Looking back, I used to read mostly fiction when I was younger but now, my tastes usually run towards non-fiction. And I was never much for history until fairly recently as well. I think I've turned into my father.

Another book that I was sorely tempted to purchase was Misquoting Jesus. It concerns how the New Testament, originally written in Koine Greek, has been perverted and mistranslated throughout the centuries.

And so there were many, many books I wanted to get but I was remarkably restrained.

At around 4 we took off and headed to the Harmony Bar where The Dulcinea's grandfather would be for a book signing, panel discussion, and video premiere. The occasion was the publication of the book Long Shadows: Veterans' Paths to Peace and the completion of its accompanying video. The Long Shadows project is about letting some local veterans who have gone from soldiers to peace activists tell their stories. One of them was Will Williams. It seems like whenever I go to one of these lefty events, he and I are only smokers so we always end up meeting out back somewhere chewing the fat as we puff away. He's a member of the Madison Gospelaires (that's him at the left of the two left-most pictures) and a really nice guy. He's got this avuncular quality to him. But, seeing pictures of him laying down his anti-war views, he takes on a Frederick Douglass persona of majestic wrath.

As I sat there watching, I felt like, "You don't need to tell me war is hell." Granted, I did not serve, but I've read enough and, more importantly, have spoken with enough veterans who have broken down in tears telling me stories about the killing they did and the friends they lost in war to know that it is truly hell. But then I realized that, in a sense, it wasn't directed at me. While I suppose the project was aimed at various folks, including other vets, turning to my left to see Des sitting there reminded me that people aren't born with a sense that war is hell. This is something that each generation must teach that which succeeds it. We human beings really do need to keep telling the same story over and over again.

The video was only about 30mins long and so viewers only got brief snapshots of the veterans' stories and only about half of the vets in the book were represented. Still, it was really interesting. Will's story caught my attention because his was wrapped up in race. He grew up as a colored American in the South during the 1950s/60s and he drew parallels between how colored folks were treated here in the States and how he treated other non-whites in Vietnam. Will's story just had this interesting racial aspect that the stories of the white vets lacked. So now I've got another book to add to my to-buy list.
|| Palmer, 8:48 AM


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