AUG. 14, 2019 FIFTY YEARS AGO
I didn't go to Woodstock in August of 1969, but a few members of my college class did make it there. Can you find them in the crowd?
My latest article quotes Robert Krulwich's recollections about An Hour at Bethel.
My apologies to Lord Bulwer-Lytton, but I've heard that it was a dark and stormy night in upstate New York on this date 40 years ago. Rain poured down as the hour of eleven p.m. approached.
But the rain did not chase away, could not chase away, the half million people sitting in Max Yasgurs pasture. They had come to join in an Aquarian exposition: three days of peace and music known as Woodstock.
Ravi Shankar had just finished his sitar performance. The Incredible String Band was scheduled next, but they didnt want to play in the rain. In their place, a relatively unknown performer agreed to go on: a hippie folk singer with her guitar.
I wrote about Melanie last year; click here for that piece. It includes a link to a song she wrote later to capture the spirituality and magic of that moment, according to Ryan. To convey a sense of the warm crowd, she envisioned hundreds of voices joining her on the chorus.
[I wrote about Melanie again in 2015. Click here.]
AUG. 12, 2019 PAY NO ATTENTION
Eighty years ago tonight, the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, hosted one of the out-of-town premieres of the soon-to-be-classic motion picture The Wizard of Oz.
The movie eventually made it to television in November 1956, the same month that my family finally got a TV set. That's how most of us have seen it.
I naturally was reminded of the scene in the Bible in which Moses is just walking along when something strange happens. Out of bursts of fire, he hears the voice, I am the God of thy father!
Moses turns aside to get a closer look. The voice desperately warns him to stay back. Draw not nigh hither! Put off thy shoes from off thy feet!
Do dogs go to heaven?
In a story I wrote a couple of years ago, a little girl decides they do. But theres no real answer. We might as well inquire into the pay scale for elves at Santas workshop, or ask about next years enrollment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Like heaven, the workshop and Hogwarts are fictional places. Therefore, no details that we dream up about them can be proven wrong.
Do born-again mass murderers go to heaven?
This has been a problem for Christianity ever since the very beginning. The Gospel proclaims that if we are born again, our sins are forgiven. Now, asks Paul in chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans (J.B. Phillips translation), what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our hearts content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin how could we live in sin a moment longer? Nevertheless, its tempting to consider Gods promise of forgiveness to be a blank check.
A week ago tonight, George Sodini shot up an exercise class in suburban Pittsburgh, killing three women before taking his own life. He had been told that Jesus would forgive any and all of his sins.
Found among his writings was a grievance against the non-denominational Tetelestai Church and its pastor, Rick Knapp. Guilt and fear kept me there 13 long years until Nov 2006. I think his crap did the most damage. ... This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. Ask him.
A reporter did ask Rev. Knapp. That's not anything I have ever said. ... The message of the word I preach never reflected such a thing. (link)
But members of his church werent so sure. Senior deacon Chuck Matone said of Sodini, Is he in heaven? Only God and he know.
Another deacon, Jack Rickard, suggested that Sodini is in fact on his way to glory land, but he wont enjoy it there. Apparently God is grudgingly keeping His earlier promise to let Sodini pass through the pearly gates, but theres no way Hes issuing him a harp. Rickard said that according to the Bible, professing a faith in Jesus as savior means you will have complete eternal salvation. ... We believe in permanent security once saved, always saved. ... He'll be in heaven, but he won't have any rewards because he did evil.
This is a new concept to me, a restricted associate membership in paradise. Because heaven is imaginary, I suppose we can imagine whatever rules we want.
AUG. 8, 2014 SEARCH ME
Years ago, when I needed to do some research as an Oberlin College student, I walked over the repository of all knowledge on the campus: Carnegie Library. There, working back and forth between the card catalogs and the stacks, I eventually identified two or three books that contained some information on my subject. I carried them to a desk and turned the pages. When I found something I could use, I transcribed it in my notebook. Eventually these notes became the foundation of my little report.
But now theres an easily available repository of all knowledge in the world: the Internet. And its searchable by keyword! Theres no need to travel to a big library, no need to locate books using a card catalog, and no need to turn their pages. I cant get over how much easier this is.
This week, I was preparing an article that will appear on this website Monday. A small part of it concerns an obscure 19th-century preacher named John Ingersoll. He couldnt hold a job. None of his congregations liked him. However, I discovered, he was associated with a more famous revivalist named Charles Finney. And Finney later became the second president of my alma mater, Oberlin College. I'd discovered a connection with personal relevance!
Consulting the Internet, I opened a lengthy biography of Finney and asked my browser to find all the appearances of the word Ingersoll. And it did. Besides confirming his incompetence, the bio mentioned that in 1840 Ingersoll actually lived in Oberlin. Nothing was said of his activities there he didn't seem to have a pastorate but if he was in town, it seemed likely that at some point his friend Finney must have invited him to speak.
So I turned to the Internet again and searched for John Ingersoll and Oberlin. As it turns out, Google Books has helpfully indexed a volume buried in the periodicals collection of the University of Minnesota. The book consists of reprints of a semi-monthly newspaper The Oberlin Evangelist, beginning with the first issue on November 1, 1838. Google highlighted my search terms. Oberlin was highlighted on every page, but where was Ingersoll? Did I have to examine the 224 pages of fine print? No, I merely refined the search and found he was mentioned exactly once, on page 158.
Quickly checking my 1840 calendar (via an Internet application, of course), I determined that Thursday last would have been September 17. So now I had the exact date of a sermon that Ingersoll preached at Oberlin in Finneys presence as well as the text he used.
It would have been very difficult for me to unearth this nugget of history as a college undergraduate. We had no Internet access in the library in those days. We had only one computer, in a basement across the street. Now I have a home computer, and I can use it to do the research in a few minutes! I find this marvelous.
I cannot believe the earth is billions of years old.
Is there anything I could say to change your mind?
Impossible. My faith is firm.
Youre locked into your opinions, are you? I have these scientific studies....
I refuse to read them. Theyre the work of the devil.
Then further discussion would be a waste of time. Youve reached your conclusions without bothering to consider the facts. Youre prejudiced, youre unyielding, and your mind is closed. Goodbye.
I cannot believe President Obama was born in this country.
But there were birth announcements in two newspapers in Hawaii. And heres his Certification of Live Birth.
That document could be faked. I demand to see the original Certificate from the hospital.
And if you saw the original, you would be satisfied?
No, I wouldnt. The so-called original could also be a forgery.
So no evidence would convince you that Obama is an American?
I dont really want evidence. I already know the truth. Obama is an illegitimate president. Hes not like me. I want my country back! I want my country run by white conservatives, as it was in the beginning, should be now, and ever shall be! World soon will end, amen, amen.
Then further discussion would be a waste of time. Youre prejudiced, youre unyielding, and your mind is closed. Youve earned the right to be ignored. Goodbye.
I loved traveling with Bobby, until one day up near Salinas he went a different direction. I'd trade all of my tomorrows for a single yesterday.
So, um, do you have a partner now?
No. Since I lost Bobby, I have nothing.
So I guess you're free.
Free?! Then the refrain: Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.
JULY 30, 2019 HOURS PER GALLON
Forty years ago today, I mailed a letter explaining how I was conserving energy. Due to a reduction in oil coming from Iran, Americans perceived that there was an energy crisis. There were long lines for gasoline. I resolved to use my car as little as possible.
From my apartment in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, I could walk almost anywhere I needed to be. I estimated I could go 60 days between trips to the gas station. If it took 20 gallons to fill up the tank of my big Oldsmobile, on average I was burning merely one gallon every three days.
Fuel economy is normally expressed in Miles Per Gallon, but maybe we should think of Hours Per Gallon instead. Not hours on the road but actual hours, 24 of them every day.
The point is that to burn less fuel, we should simply drive less (if we're able). Carpool, walk, take public transportation, shop in our own neighborhood, work from home, visit via Skype instead of making long journeys, and so on. Let's save money and cut pollution by getting those HPG numbers up!
JULY 28, 2019 THEY COULD'VE CALLED IT ARXAS
Have you ever visited the city of 68,000 people known as Texarkana? I have. My parents and I drove through there exactly 56 years ago. The date was July 28, 1963. Just like today, it was a Sunday. In the afternoon. Around 2:00, Central Time.
How do I know that? As the teenager navigating from the back seat, I was carefully logging the progress of our vacation trip through the middle of the country. In previous years our family had driven to Louisiana and to Oklahoma, but I had not yet visited the neighboring states of Arkansas and Texas. This 11-day journey had been mapped out to remedy my deficiencies.
Baseball fans often complain about how many runs their team has allowed. Sometimes, they lament that most of them came after there were two outs in the inning.
Is that unusual? Im not so sure.
What are the Major League averages for runs scored with no outs, one out, and two outs? Are the runs evenly distributed at 33%, 33%, and 33%? Id guess it might be more like 25%, 33%, and 42%, simply because as the inning progresses there are more likely to be runners on base. But Ive never seen the actual numbers.
I suspect that the lament over runs allowed after two outs is actually a lament over missed opportunities. If we had only gotten one more out when we really needed it, we could have prevented those runs! (In this case, definition B is the relevant one.) This is similar to the lament over runners left on base. If we had only gotten one more hit when we really needed it, we could have scored those runners! And it may turn out to be just as meaningless.
A puzzle requires me to find two different eight-letter words following the patterns
_ _ _ W I _ D
inserting the same five letters into the blanks each time. The best I can do is WOODWIND and WOODBAND. However, although woodband could mean a wooden ring or a forested strip or Michael Wood's orchestra, I don't think it's a common word.
I finally give up and start watching an old Columbo, reading the closed-captioned dialogue for hints. Finally one character mentions the word head. Aha!
This past week, Scott Adams (the creator of the comic strip Dilbert) has been blogging about an ideal city called Cheapatopia, built from scratch as an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life.
So thats why I look back so fondly on college days! We lived in dorms, owned no cars, walked or biked everywhere, and ate at the dining hall. We knew that life outside, in what we called the real world, would never be like this. For four years we were living in a Utopia.