December 4, 2020

Saturday Ramblings: April 9, 2016


1952 Nash Rambler Greenbrier

The world where I live is greening up, though as usual, spring can’t make up its mind about whether to revert to winter or sprint toward summer. But the grass is green and diaphanous sage-colored leaves are forming on the trees. So I thought I’d post this pretty little Rambler wagon today in two-tone green as a matching accessory to spring’s emerging display. Hop in, and let’s take a ramble…

Today’s funny bits come courtesy of The Church Curmudgeon.


springicon1460046231791Call a Swede, any Swede

Laura Wagner reports on her experience with “The Swedish Number,” a phone number that can connect anyone around the world with a random person in Sweden. She writes:

As a way to “spark people’s curiosity about Sweden” and foster communication between people from different countries, Sweden’s tourism association launched “The Swedish Number,” a project that connects anyone in the world with a phone to a random Swede. Swedes participate by downloading an app that patches the calls through to them.

The premise is simple: 1) Call Sweden’s phone number — keep in mind it’s international; 2) Chat with a Swede about anything you want — suggested topics include meatballs, darkness and feminism.

At least that’s what she talked about with her Swede, 19-year-old Artur Söderlund. But there must be plenty to talk about, for the idea has proven popular in the early going.

Söderlund told me I was his 10th call of the day and that he’d spoken with people from Turkey, Belgium, Finland and Egypt. According to The Swedish Number website, most of the calls so far have come from Turkey and the U.S., with the U.K., Russia and Germany rounding out the top-five.

Since it was launched on Wednesday, nearly 10,000 calls have been connected to random Swedes.

I see a post on Internet Monk coming soon: “What random Swedes say.” If anyone decides to try it out, drop me an email and let me know how your conversation went.


springiconreligiouspolicestopBut then there’s the Indy policeman who can’t stop talkin’ (’bout Jesus, that is)

Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton has been warned before about proselytizing people when he stops them for speeding. He has already been sued once before for witnessing while enforcing the law, but now he’s been at it again.

A complaint filed in federal court Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, on behalf of Wendy Pyle, accuses Hamilton of asking her whether “she had been saved” after pulling her over in Fayette County in January. Court documents claim Hamilton then told the woman about his church and gave her directions to it.

“Ms. Pyle was extremely uncomfortable with these questions,” the lawsuit says. “In order to hopefully end these inquiries Ms. Pyle indicated that she did attend a church and that she was saved.”

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because Hamilton has been sued before. The ACLU filed a similar lawsuit in 2014 when a woman named Ellen Bogan claimed Hamilton stopped her that August for an alleged traffic violation in Union County. After he handed her a warning ticket, she said, he asked her if she had a home church and whether she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.

“I’m not affiliated with any church. I don’t go to church,” Bogan told IndyStar at the time. “I felt compelled to say I did, just because I had a state trooper standing at the passenger-side window. It was just weird.”

…ISP Capt. Dave Bursten said Hamilton is no longer on patrol and was moved to an administrative desk job Jan. 15 after the new complaint was filed against him.

[Update: Hamilton was fired this week.]

Hey Brian, if you must practice your wretched urgency, I’ve got a number in Sweden you can call. For real, you can talk to anybody there.


springiconcats-prefer-rats-brain-for-dinner-21456295Calling all Toms

???? When the rats grow strong in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?…????

The Lincoln Park neighborhood is well-known as a trendy, upscale part of my hometown. But like many densely populated urban wards it has a problem with rats. A BIG problem.

“At one point we had around 400 rats living next door,” says Victoria Thomas, who lives a few miles north of Lincoln Park in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood. “It was horrible.”

Standing in the unusually big backyard behind her condo building, Thomas says she was completely overrun by rats a few years ago.

“No one used the yard one summer because every time you’d go out, they’d like run across your feet,” she says. “Once it got dark, you would hear them, ‘tch, tch, tch, tch, tch, tch, tch tch,’ back and forth on the deck. … We’d all lift our feet up because they’re underneath the table.”

The rats came over from the yard of apartment building next door, where they feasted on restaurant garbage and dog feces. Thomas says she tried everything from trenching and underground fencing to poison traps, but nothing worked.

Who ya gonna call? Lincoln Park residents have found the help they need by calling the “Cats at Work” program and putting feral cats to work. These aren’t cuddly house cats but outside animals that roam the neighborhood seeking whom they may devour. Residents put food, water and insulated shelters out for them, and they do the dirty work.

“The cats will kill off a great deal of the initial population of the rats,” says Paul Nickerson, who manages the Cats at Work program for the Tree House Humane Society. “But through spreading their pheromones, they will keep other rats from filling their vacuum.”

Nickerson says that’s what makes the feral cat program so successful in keeping the rats away long term.

“Before the cats showed up, there were no predator pheromones in the area,” Nickerson says. “Now that cats are here, there’s predator pheromones and the rats aren’t stupid. They smell the predator pheromones and so they’ll stay out of the cats’ territory.”

Feral cats that otherwise might be euthanized are back in business, doing important work and earning a living wage.

I’m Bernie Sanders, and I approved this message.


springiconsn-orangutans1Meanwhile, in Indonesia, orangutans aren’t so lucky

In the Indonesian regions of Borneo and Sumatra, farmers clear land by burning it, often for palm oil plantations. Last year, things got out of hand, and the orangutans paid for it.

Last year’s fires were the worst on record, and scientists blamed a prolonged drought and the effects of El Niño.

The blazes destroyed more than 10,000 square miles of forests, blanketing large parts of Southeast Asia in a toxic haze for weeks, sickening hundreds of thousands of people and, according to the World Bank, causing $16 billion in economic losses.

They also killed at least nine orangutans, the endangered apes native to the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra. More than 100, trapped by the loss of habitat or found wandering near villages, had to be relocated. Seven orphans, including five infants, were rescued and taken to rehabilitation centers here.

That area of the world is the largest for primate rescue and rehabilitation, including orangutans, and it is largely because of rapid corporate expansion in a developing economy. It is actually against the law to clear the land by burning, but it is rarely enforced.

“Investment is good, but so is the environment,” said Eman Supriyadi, the director of a satellite rehabilitation center where two orphaned orangutans — 6-month-old Oka and 3-year-old Otong — are bottle-fed human infant formula and sleep in bamboo cribs. “There has to be a balance.”

We have a beautiful, relatively new orangutan center here in our Indianapolis Zoo that has been called one of the most significant zoo exhibits in the world. Part of their mission is to educate people about how we can be more environmentally conscious and less dangerous to these and other primates in our business and consuming practices. If you go to their page, you can learn about their Indonesian reforestation initiative and how anyone can help by choosing to purchase only certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).

springiconChristian interrogator comes to regret his participation in torture

Eric Fair grew up in a devout Presbyterian home and in a family that has a long record of serving in the military. In his youth, he considered becoming a minister, but instead he joined the military before the war in Iraq and then tried to become a police officer in his hometown. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. When that failed because of health reasons, he joined a firm that was contracting to run prisons and interrogate prisoners in Iraq. One of the prisons was Abu Ghraib. After the war, he returned to Iraq as an intelligence analyst for the NSA.

Fair has written about his experiences in his new book, Consequence: A Memoir.

In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Eric Fair talked about the relationship between his faith and the acts in which he participated:

NPR: You are Christian, and that’s a very important part of your life. You applied for seminary before you went to Iraq and then studied at the Princeton Theological Seminary after returning from Iraq.

But you write – back in the time when you were an interrogator – you write (reading) I cannot ask God to accompany me into the interrogation booths. In scripture, God often works in prisons, but he’s never on the side of the jailer. He’s always on the side of the prisoner.

How did you try to reconcile being an interrogator, knowing that you were coming to feel that the techniques you were using were just wrong, that they were morally wrong? How did you try to reconcile that with your Christian beliefs?

FAIR: …The idea that, as a devout Presbyterian, I was going to be an interrogator in a war zone should never have sit well. And I allowed it to. So when I arrived at Abu Ghraib, prayer – morning prayer – had always been a part of my life, and it had certainly – like many believers – had fallen. But I remember a specific example on which I sat down before my first interrogation, walking over to the interrogation facility and attempting to go through my prayer. Presbyterians often pray through the Lord’s Prayer through stages. And when I got to the section on requests – the idea that God would help me in something or that God would assist me or favor me in some way – that concept of the idea that God appearing in prisons and never ever being on the side of the jailer was a shock to my system. And so at that point, I simply made the next justification and abandoned prayer and stopped seeking out God.

Fair decided to return to seminary after his time in Iraq, but ultimately realized he could never be a minister.

I abandoned seminary after a year, yeah. I dropped out. I knew within the first – really, probably first few weeks if not the first month or two that I wasn’t going to – I was not going to be ordained a Presbyterian minister. I’d written an opinion piece for The Washington Post in 2007 about some of the things I’d done in Iraq. And so I was out in the public about some of these issues. And so while I was studying at Princeton and at the seminary and trying to prepare a sermon or trying to read Karl Barth, I was also then visiting libraries or appearing on a radio station and talking about issues about interrogation. Now, at that point I hadn’t publicly suggested that I’d tortured anyone. I hadn’t made that leap yet. But again, my conscience was so stained, and a Presbyterian or a Christian would say my soul was so stained at that point, that I was smart enough to recognize that I was not going to be a Presbyterian minister.

I would say Eric Fair is preaching loud and clear now.


springiconSpeaking of preaching

Sojourners, an organization that strongly promotes women being involved in all areas of church life, including pastoral leadership, has issued a clever video turning around some of the traditional “complementarian” arguments for not allowing women in ministry —

7 Reasons Men Should Not Be PastorsI mean, they could still lead worship on Father’s Day …

Posted by Sojourners on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

springiconaztecwarriorbw_1806I see a new leadership seminar coming up

In a study published in Nature, Joseph Watts, a specialist in cultural evolution at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and his colleagues have analysed 93 traditional cultures in Indonesia and the Pacific, studying ethnographic records of what they were like before colonization in order to determine the role human sacrifice played in those societies. What they found is that the practice and stratification into more hierarchical societies co-evolved. In other words, human sacrifice was a means of “cementing power structures” and signifying who was at the top of the food chain, if you will.

The article goes on to draw some parallels (though it warns against overgeneralization and too close comparison) with the role of the death penalty in modern societies. Like practices of human sacrifice, the death penalty “still serves as, among other things, a demonstration of authority and a ritual of appeasement, whether towards supposed religious strictures or public opinion.” Perhaps, in my opinion, the parallels were closer when executions were public and the state (and state religion) more autocratic.

At any rate, the main point = if you want a sure fire way to bolster your leadership authority in a community, human sacrifice, with its proven track record, would be hard to beat.


springiconToday in music

One of the very best and most under-appreciated singer-songwriters out there is the prolific Bill Mallonee. With nearly 60 albums to his credit and having written approximately 1,500 songs since 1991, Mallonee works hard at his craft.

In an interview with PopDose, he describes his approach:

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-05-18 18:26:50Z | | http://codecarvings.comMusically, I’m in that wide net called Americana. My albums and themes tend to be “dark,” questioning. A juxtaposition of big, noisy Neil Young-type garage songs interspersed with vulnerable, acoustic, folkier songs. It’s all a search for some faith. You can only tell your own truth, you know?

I’m generally known as a “lyric guy.” My work has mostly been an attempt to save myself; to stare down the dark/sad/incongrouous parts of life and spirit. S’all i know. I don’t write to save anyone else. Life here seems to be such a fractured place of strange, heart-rending beauty and sadness.

I think every song should start, as American bard Robert Frost said about poems: “with a lump in the throat.” It’s always been the “big themes” that attract me. Love, heartache, loss, grief, faith, doubt, loneliness, struggle, death, hope. You know, that stuff. The raw data.

Words of a true poet.

Here’s a track from Mallonee’s recent album Winnowing, which he describes as a classic “Autumn” album, but which I’m enjoying now in the burgeoning Spring.


  1. I thought I was in too deep with Nutella until I learned about the plight of orangutans. But palm oil is used in many other products, so the orangutans are still in a bad situation.

  2. Robert F says

    Re: Human sacrifice: Warfare also is a means of ‘”cementing power structures” and signalling who straddles the top of the food chain, as much in our contemporary world as in any earlier time.

    • At least you can make a case for safely abolishing capital punishment. Warfare, OTOH, is *damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. The Baltic states, for example, would be utterly stupid if they were to abandon what military forces they have while Putin is in charge over Russia…

    • There is a case that can be made that capital punishment can be safely abolished. Warfare, OTOH, is a trickier dilemma. I for one, if I were living in the Baltic States, would not want my governments to consider disbanding their armed forces, what with Putin being our next-door neighbor…

      • Robert F says

        I didn’t mean to suggest that warfare could be abolished; I was just making a comparison between the way human sacrifice and warfare function, and the benefits they bestow on leaders who successfully employ them. Let’s not forget that human sacrifice was frequently something that ancient societies practiced in the wake of warfare, on captive enemies; and that the penultimate form of human sacrifice, cannibalism, was something that required the body of an enemy to perform.

        Warfare, by definition, cannot be conducted without human sacrifice. Since modern states specialize in war on a grand scale, we practice human sacrifice in the modern world to an extent that no ancient society ever could have. What human sacrifice has not been approved of in the name of freedom and democracy? They are different gods, and perhaps they are more worthy gods, than those of ancient societies; but they are gods.

        • Robert F says

          Correction: I should’ve said: …..the ultimate form of human sacrifice….

        • The difference between the ultimate values represented by the concepts of freedom and democracy in the modern world, and the gods of ancient societies: Modern humanity has found out that the ancient gods don’t deliver on the promises made in their names, because they are either powerless or don’t exist, and that any human sacrifices made on their behalf were, and would be, ineffectual and wasted. But freedom and democracy are believed to have, and no doubt do have, intrinsic value that make sacrifice for their protections worthwhile.

          The problem is that the newer, truer gods of freedom and democracy can as readily be used by deceivers and self-deceivers to consolidate power into their own hands; and their apparently universal application as intrinsic values can be used to justify any and all human sacrifice in the name of securing them, for ones own tribe, and all other tribes as well. That’s why the nation that most trumpets the intrinsic and ultimate value of these pragmatic and self-authenticating gods always stands ready to plunge the world into nuclear holocaust, to make the ultimate human sacrifice, in their defense.

  3. Robert F says

    I wonder if this song, by the Modern Lovers, started “with a lump in the throat”:

    Whether or not it did, it still belongs “in that wide net called Americana”.

  4. That’s a beautiful Nash.

  5. So weird. There is something really off about the Eric Fair story. And I would also like to add that I have never heard of a Presbyterian theology that claimed a person’s soul could be “stained”, let alone to the point of disqualification from ministry.

    • Michael Z says

      I don’t read that as him thinking that his sin is unforgivable. Rather, I think he’s saying that the spiritual and emotional wounds of having taken part in torture would make it very difficult for him to minister to others. For years he was doing, quite literally, the work of the Devil – seeking to degrade, diminish, and destroy the image of God in other people, while also learning to ignore God’s voice so he wouldn’t feel convicted for what he was doing.

      I think it’s quite possible that a decade or two from now, having had time to mature and to heal, he might reconsider going into ministry. But as with any other serious sin, you wouldn’t want someone who was still dealing with the scars of that sin to be your pastor. And, being in public ministry tends to stunt a person’s emotional and spiritual development because of the pressure to put on the face that your congregation wants to see. So for his own good, as well, it doesn’t make any sense for him to go into ministry right now, and I think he’s wise to recognize that.

      • I thought he was saying that since he had made his involvement in torture public knowledge, he did not think that his ordination would ever be approved, and so he dropped out.

      • melissatheragamuffin says

        Is he married? Maybe he should consider a monastery.

  6. melissatheragamuffin says

    I’m not familiar with Bill Mallonee’s solo work, but I did really like Vigilantes of Love way back when.

  7. “Predator pheromones.”

    Probably one of the best euphemisms ever for an undeniably distinctive odor. Anyone who has ever owned a male cat or been to a Crazy Cat Lady’s house knows exactly what “predator pheromone” cats give off.

    Cat pee.

  8. I just got around to reading yesterday’s post. When was that originally published? Very prophetic. Eric Fair’s memoir ties in, I think, as he seems to have, at some point, let the nationalism preached by much of evangelicalism overtake his Christian beliefs. It obviously still haunts him.

    The proselytizing State trooper has been all over the news here in Indiana. The Facebook comments seem to run about 50/50 as to “fire him” or “religious persecution!” I would come down more on the side of him facing some sort of consequences. If the cashier at Walmart asks me about my salvation, it’s one thing, but for a cop with a gun & lots of power starts in, it’s much easier to be concerned about where the conversation might go. I can’t imagine anyone has responded to him positively.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      The gun and the power are certainly why this particular example stands out, but it could be the clerk at the DMV and it would still be a problem. When a government employee is on the job, that person is a part of the government. That person proselytizing is the government proselytizing. If this clown believes that his religion obliges him to proselytize 24/7, then his religion does not permit him to work for the government. If you aren’t willing to do the job, then don’t take the paycheck. It would be like a Quaker joining the army then refusing to use a gun.

      As for the “religious persecution!” crowd, flip it around and imaging that the cop was pushing Islam or Satanism or whatever. Anyone who is perfectly happy to have a cop push Christianity (of their favored version, of course) but not Islam or Satanism or whatever is actually complaining that the Constitution forbids the government from establishing a religion. There are plenty of countries without this prohibition they could move to.

      • Christiane says

        is possible the ‘religious persecution’ crowd NEEDS to be confronted with the truth that they will not be able to control which denomination or Church or faith gets to control the shots once they have unleased the dragon that is being able to persecute others using the tenants of your own beliefs . . .

        yes, I think an awful lot of the Christian Right’s ‘religious persecution’ argument is simply expressing their own belief in THEIR way as the ONLY way for our diverse country,
        and when they are in any degree, however slightly thwarted, they holler ‘discrimination’. Of course, their view is hog wash when it impinges on the rights of others in our free American diversity . . . they don’t have the right to force others into their mold when their mold is not one that observes the dignity and worth of every human person.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I remember a blog comment from long ago (don’t remember the date or the blog):
          “Persecution(TM) means they’re not allowed to Persecute everyone else.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          is possible the ‘religious persecution’ crowd NEEDS to be confronted with the truth that they will not be able to control which denomination or Church or faith gets to control the shots once they have unleased the dragon that is being able to persecute others using the tenants of your own beliefs . . .

          But the KNOW they’re going to be the ones calling the shots because they have GOD on their side!

      • Let’s imagine a judge in the courtroom, while the trial is in session, proselytizing the accused. It’s really no different, and should be disciplined, up to and including termination, in both cases

  9. Robert F says

    April snow-big flakes
    melt like soft butter into
    the receptive earth.

  10. Robert F says

    Thomas Merton wrote somewhere that torture defaced the image of God in human beings by seeking to destroy human freedom, and turning human beings into resistless objects, things. No doubt it defaces the image of God in the torturer as much as, or even more than, in the tortured, by exalting the torturer’s sense of her own power to a blasphemously god-like degree.

    • Christiane says

      Hi ROBERT F.

      you wrote ” No doubt it defaces the image of God in the torturer as much as, or even more than, in the tortured, by exalting the torturer’s sense of her own power to a blasphemously god-like degree.”

      I can agree, having just been over at Wartburg Watch, where the discussion is on the celebration of Mahaney and his sort by other neo-Cal pastors who invite such men to speak at their own churches and thereby give these men ‘credibility’ . . . but I think backfires . . . those who ‘celebrate’ people who shelter paedophiles and try to intimidate victims into silence will find that they have become tainted by the positive recognition they have given the ones who protect predators. I wonder if gifts of money are exchanged so that the ‘leaders’ who protect paedophiles are ‘welcomed’ to preach at certain pulpits. If so, then the whole evil is much magnified by a greed that on both sides recognized the need to bribe and the willingness to be bribes into granting ‘credibility’ to that which can never be made credible again.

  11. “License and proof of salvation, please.”

  12. Robert F says
    • I used to go dove hunting. When going to and from the lodge to the fields it was “2,4 and 8.” Those were the three Merle tracks that got played. Only those three, repeated for about 10 years. That included the three hour drive from our home to the lodge as well. We are planning a 2,4 and 8 barbecue and beer get together in remembrance. I don’t even know the names of the songs.

    • Irreplaceable. The title of the album Robert links to is I AM WHAT I AM, which is what God told Moses to call him.

      • Great point. I didn’t associate it.

        • Robert F says

          And the song, How Did You Find Me Here that I linked to from that album has as its theme a subject much discussed here at iMonk: grace.

          • Yes. It sounded like he was left in a ditch to die but someone, somehow, found him.

  13. That Other Jean says

    “Does the valedictorian of @MastersSeminary get to wear a green jacket at graduation?”

    (strangled giggle)
    Thanks! I needed that.

    • Please explain it. I didn’t get that one.

      • That Other Jean says

        The yearly Masters golf tournament is going on right now (it ends today). The winner gets a ton of money, his name on a big, fancy trophy, bragging rights among his fellow professional golfers—and a green jacket.