Monday, December 31, 2012

I resolutely resolve not to make resolutions.

It's New Year's Eve, so besides preparing for parties, Times Square, or Watchnight Services, people are setting about making New Year's Resolutions. Weight loss, job goals, learn a new language, try yoga, yadda, yadda, yadda. I say, good for them. For me? I'll pass.

I'm not anti-resolution, or against fresh starts. Or not so fresh starts. I'm not so caught up in the whole new year thing, though. As my slightly cynical brother pointed out years ago, January 1st isn't our new year, meaning, it's not our birthdays. So if I were to croak tomorrow, despite it being 2013, I'd still be thirty, same as if I croaked this very minute. My "new year", so to speak, is February 2nd. But backtracking from this tangent, resolutions can be great, if kept. I just see no need to chain them to a particular date on a calendar. Start today or start the second. Start tomorrow, screw up on the second and then restart on the third. Whatever, it's all good.

So if you've got some resolutions at the ready, more power to you and best of luck. If not, best of luck. To all, Happy New Year.

Great(ly different) Expectations

 Princeton University. I did not attend. I did, however, drive by a number of times on my way to the neurologist's office.

I attended and graduated from a state university, and one not in the top tier at that. That is not to say I received a second-rate education. Far from it. I learned so much, in class and even more-so, from occurrences not transcribed on to a syllabus.

Reading "Lost in the Meritocracy" by Walter Kirn at The Atlantic, I was heavily reminded of my college days. Sure, he matriculated at Princeton around the time I was just arriving on this Earth, but there are some transcendental experiences with which I could relate:

With no stored literary material about which to harbor critical assumptions, I relied on my gift for mimicking authority figures and playing back to them their own ideas disguised as conclusions that I'd reached myself. The deployment of key words was crucial, as the recognition of them had been on the SATs. With one professor the charm was "ambiguity." With another "heuristic" usually did the trick. Even when a poem or a story fundamentally puzzled me, I found that I could save face through terminology, as when I referred to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land as "semiotically unstable."

The need to finesse my ignorance through such stunts left me feeling hollow and vaguely hunted. I sought solace in the company of other frauds (we seemed to recognize one another instantly), and together we refined our acts. We toted around books by Jacques Derrida, and spoke of "playfulness" and "textuality." We laughed at the notion of "authorial intention" and concluded, before reading even a hundredth of it, that the Western canon was illegitimate, an expression of powerful group interests that it was our sacred duty to transcend—or, failing that, to systematically subvert. In this rush to adopt the latest attitudes and please the younger and hipper of our instructors—the ones who drank with us in the Nassau Street bars and played the Clash on the tape decks of their Toyotas as their hands crept up pants and skirts—we skipped straight from ignorance to revisionism, deconstructing a body of literary knowledge that we'd never constructed in the first place.

I came to suspect that certain professors were on to us, and I wondered if they, too, were actors. In classroom discussions, and even when grading essays, they seemed to favor us over the hard workers, whose patient, sedimentary study habits were ill adapted, I concluded, to the new world of antic postmodernism that I had mastered almost without effort. To thinkers of this school, great literature was a con, and I—a born con man who hadn't read any great literature and was looking for any excuse not to—was eager to agree with them.

I never drank anything stronger than coffee with my profs (I shudder to think how some of the wackier ones would be wasted), but that... that contrarian deconstruction of great literature, of bad literature, of politics, poetry, religion, life... that type of postmodern thought ran rampant throughout my English department. While Kirn hid not reading the lit he so heavily lambasted, I didn't. I didn't have to because many of my profs never bothered to even assign them. How I received a Bachelors in English without having read a single book by Hemingway or Steinbeck, I'll probably never know. But I felt like something of a con myself.

Closing in on graduation, Kirn fumbled at what to do next. Years of prepping for academia left him feeling unprepared.

All around me friends were securing places in grad schools and signing contracts with worldwide corporations, but I found myself without prospects, in a vacuum. I'd never bothered to contemplate the moment when the quest for trophies would end and the game of trading on them would begin. Once, I'd had nowhere to go but up. Now, it seemed, I had nowhere to go at all.

I felt similarly adrift as my undergrad career came to a close. I majored in English and Communications. I remember complaining repeatedly, "What does that even mean? I can speak and write. Big whoop." SAT prep class, years of honing study skills and writing on index cards for drills to get to college. And just like that, college was a wrap. How did this relate to life?

... I couldn't quote the Transcendentalists as accurately and effortlessly as he could. I couldn't quote anyone. I'd honed more-marketable skills: for flattering those in authority without appearing to, for ranking artistic reputations according to the latest academic fashions, for matching my intonations and vocabulary to the background of my listener, for placing certain words in smirking quotation marks and rolling my eyes when someone spoke too earnestly about some "classic" work of "literature," for veering left when the conventional wisdom went right and then doubling back if the consensus changed.

Flexibility, irony, class consciousness, contrarianism. I'd gone to Princeton, and soon I'd go to Oxford, and these, I was about to tell Karl, are the ways one gets ahead now—not by memorizing old Ralph Waldo. I'd learned a lot since I'd aced the SATs, about the system, about myself, and about the new class the system had created, which I was now part of, for better or for worse. The class that runs things. The class that makes the headlines—that writes the headlines, and the stories under them.


My cynicism had peaked, but later that summer something happened that changed me—not instantly but decisively. A month before I was scheduled to fly to England and resume my career as a facile ignoramus, I came down with a mild summer cold that lingered, festered, and turned into pneumonia, forcing me to spend two weeks in bed. One feverish night I found myself standing in front of a bookcase in the living room that held a row of fancy leather-bound volumes my mother had bought through the mail when I was little. Assuming that the books were chiefly decorative, I'd never even bothered to read their titles, but that night, bored and sick, I picked one up: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Then I did something unprecedented for me: I carried it back to my bedroom and actually read it—every chapter, every page. A few days later I repeated the feat with Great Expectations, another canonical stalwart that I'd somehow made it through Princeton without opening.

And so, belatedly, haltingly, and almost accidentally, it began: the education I'd put off while learning to pass as someone in the know. I wasn't sure what it would get me, whose approval it might win, or how long it might take to complete, but for once those weren't my first concerns. Alone in my room, exhausted and apprehensive, I no longer cared about self-advancement. I wanted to lose myself. I wanted to read. I wanted to find out what others thought.

It's oh-so amazing what one learns in the school of life, where the best classes often occur far outside ivory towers. Away from the pretending and preening, no need for false provocateurs. Meritocracy can shove it. Life lived apart from the race has much merit.

A losing battle in the never ending War on Drugs.

Federal judge Mark Bennett writes in The Nation of the incredibly long minimum mandatory sentences handed down to non-violent offenders found guilty on drug charges:

You might think the Northern District of Iowa—a bucolic area home to just one city with a population above 100,000—is a sleepy place with few federal crimes. You would be wrong. Of the ninety-four district courts across the United States, we have the sixth-heaviest criminal caseload per judge. Here in the heartland, I sentence more drug offenders in a single year than the average federal district court judge in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco—combined. While drug cases nationally make up 29 percent of federal judges’ criminal dockets, according to the US Sentencing Commission, they make up more than 56 percent of mine. More startling, while meth cases make up 18 percent of a judge’s drug docket nationally, they account for 78 percent of mine. Add crack cocaine and together they account for 87 percent.

Crack defendants are almost always poor African-Americans. Meth defendants are generally lower-income whites. More than 80 percent of the 4,546 meth defendants sentenced in federal courts in 2010 received a mandatory minimum sentence. These small-time addicts are apprehended not through high-tech wiretaps or sophisticated undercover stings but by common traffic stops for things like nonfunctioning taillights. Or they’re caught in a search of the logs at a local Walmart to see who is buying unusually large amounts of nonprescription cold medicine. They are the low-hanging fruit of the drug war. Other than their crippling meth addiction, they are very much like the folks I grew up with. Virtually all are charged with federal drug trafficking conspiracies—which sounds ominous but is based on something as simple as two people agreeing to purchase pseudoephedrine and cook it into meth. They don’t even have to succeed.

I recently sentenced a group of more than twenty defendants on meth trafficking conspiracy charges. All of them pled guilty. Eighteen were “pill smurfers,” as federal prosecutors put it, meaning their role amounted to regularly buying and delivering cold medicine to meth cookers in exchange for very small, low-grade quantities to feed their severe addictions. Most were unemployed or underemployed. Several were single mothers. They did not sell or directly distribute meth; there were no hoards of cash, guns or countersurveillance equipment. Yet all of them faced mandatory minimum sentences of sixty or 120 months. One meth-addicted mother faced a 240-month sentence because a prior meth conviction in county court doubled her mandatory minimum. She will likely serve all twenty years; in the federal system, there is no parole, and one serves an entire sentence minus a maximum of a 15 percent reduction rewarded for “good time.”


If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. I have seen how they leave hundreds of thousands of young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty and addiction. In fact, I have been at this so long, I am now sentencing the grown children of people I long ago sent to prison.

For years I have debriefed jurors after their verdicts. Northwest Iowa is one of the most conservative regions in the country, and these are people who, for the most part, think judges are too soft on crime. Yet, for all the times I’ve asked jurors after a drug conviction what they think a fair sentence would be, never has one given a figure even close to the mandatory minimum. It is always far lower. Like people who dislike Congress but like their Congress member, these jurors think the criminal justice system coddles criminals in the abstract—but when confronted by a real live defendant, even a “drug trafficker,” they never find a mandatory minimum sentence to be a just sentence.

You can read the piece in its entirety here. I'm glad Judge Bennett spoke up about this, but I feel pessimistic as to any real change being enacted in the law. After all, he upholds the law, not makes it. Maybe some in Congress will take note?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rolling with the overly self-critical homies.

Quite a few people have told me I'm far too harsh a judge of my writing. Jos most disliked this, taking it as a personal insult when I'd dismiss something I've written as boring, inconsequential or silly. Or sometimes, just plain bad.

My friend David continually boosts my pieces, while sheepishly and reluctantly accepting praise for his own. I know it's not low self-worth or a false sense of humility in his case. Most times, it's not with me, either. I genuinely look at my essays and think, "This could, no should be better." When I was younger and being graded or even published, this push for the best could become tiring and frustrating. Sometimes, it led to a stunting paralysis. I would stare at a blank Word document for hours.

This morning at Rod Dreher's blog, I read a post about the upcoming release of his book, "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming." In the combox, he expresses his own harsh self-critiquing standards.

... All I can see in anything I ever write are the flaws, and it’s very difficult for me to re-read it without cringing and feeling terribly guilty for my mistakes. I can’t take pride in anything I’ve written. This is one reason I love cooking: the proof of its quality is in the tasting. When I’ve fallen short on cooking, I don’t feel bad about it, only resolved to learn from my mistakes. When I’ve fallen short on writing, it’s crushing … and I always think I’ve fallen short on writing. The one saving thing is I know this is neurotic, and that I can’t trust my judgment regarding my own work.

Once I found a document on my computer desktop, opened it and started to read it. I was thinking, “This is good, I wonder who wrote it.” And then I remembered that I had written it a year before for a magazine that decided it didn’t want it. It was a tossed-off essay. If I had remembered from the beginning that it was my own work, I would have thought it was sh*t. Because that’s how I roll.

I've done the same thing. Guess I roll in good company, then, neuroses and all.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What is going on in my newsfeed?

WTH is this?

In the last week, I've been subjected to multiple shots of deformed babies and children, abused animals and even a disturbing photo of a mother and baby together in a casket. They're all captioned with something along the lines of "Like to show respect" or "Like to show you're against abuse." Some even do the 21st century, social network equivalent of a chain letter by adding, "Ignore if you hate God" or "Ignore if you don't care about child abuse" or some other kind of  jerky statement.

These awful things are circulating through my feed because my friends are liking or commenting on them. I'm not sure how or if I can get rid of them. Facebook is always in flux... oh quick tangential rant: what's up with FB trying to make a buck off everything? Promote a picture or link or whatever for money, send a message for a dollar, send a gift to a friend. It's getting ridiculous! But back to the bad memes, I'm thinking, like the ubiquitous bootleg Nike/ Louboutin photo ads that ran through my feed a couple years ago, this too shall pass. If not, Facebook is quickly going to fall into the trashy internet area once filled by MySpace. And then I'll pass.

Interviewing kids in a tragedy... for what?

Caught this segment from On The Media with WABC-NY's Bill Ritter and was... repulsed? Disgusted? I'm not even sure how to describe my reaction. Listen for yourself:

On the day of the Newtown tragedy, I flipped on the TV to CNN and watched clips of chubby faced elementary students attempting to describe the sound of gunshots. Mics were stuck in their faces, and they were usually standing in front of their shell-shocked parents. It felt voyeuristic and intrusive. Yes, they were witnesses, but their accounts added very little detail, no substantive information. It did up the emotional ante, which of course leads to higher ratings. When K got home, he immediately flipped the TV off. I'm glad he did.

Although I have watched Ritter for years on ABC7, I'm disappointed in his weak justifications for interviewing these kids. Even with their parents' (who were probably not thinking straight) consent, it just seems wrong.

Be My Guest: Redefining Tolerance

 My handsome, bro, Joe.

The following guest post comes from my brother, Joseph Flemming. Enjoy!

The other day I was watching CBS "This Morning" and the special guest was Pastor Rick Warren. At first I wasn't really paying attention, he was celebrating the tenth anniversary of his seminal book "The Purpose Driven Life", a book which I thumbed through at a friend’s suggestion but never really got into. So folding the clothes, I continued to breeze in and out of what was happening on screen until I noticed that Charlie Rose was starting to press Warren on the subject of gay marriage. Rose was very insistent on getting a clear answer from Warren, presumably to make Warren state a hard line definitive viewpoint on the matter. He brushed aside Warrens initial attempts at a non-committal open answer. This was live and Rose wanted to nail Warren to a view. At this point, Warren gave this reply:

"The problem is that ‘tolerant’ has changed its meaning. It used to mean 'I may disagree with you completely, but I will treat you with respect. Today, tolerant means – 'you must approve of everything I do.' There's a difference between tolerance and approval. Jesus accepted everyone no matter who they were. He doesn't approve of everything I do, or you do, or anybody else does either. You can be accepting without being approving."

I muted the TV and sat there thinking about this for a little while. After a year of exhaustive election political coverage from the news, from my friends’ Facebook news feeds, and even the barista at Starbucks, I had become numb with most conversations. It wasn't that people were talking about the election, or passionately believing in their particular viewpoint, it was because it seemed like there wasn't any substantive dialogue going on. People entrenched in their viewpoint would rattle off whatever latest soundbites they heard on the evening news, and take it as their personal view with little to back it up. Of course this was apparent on both sides, liberal and conservative friends engaged in this behavior just the same.

I had tried to spur conversations with various people but they would just repeat what they posted, or get mad at me for bringing up a different viewpoint. It was then that I realized that civility had left the building. Disenfranchised, I stopped getting into debates with friends, visited Facebook less (except to upload pictures of the kids) and feared for the state of not only politics, but conversations as a whole. Perhaps the Western art of the dialectic was lost. After finishing the laundry I looked up Webster's definition of tolerant:
a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own
b : the act of allowing something : toleration

In my view, I think that Pastor Warren might be on to something here. In modern societies zeal for political correctness, perhaps some have tried to expand the meaning of tolerance. I believe the initial want was to try to make things as inclusive as possible. Of course, it is a lot easier to redefine what tolerance means than to actually teach tolerance itself. Modifying people's behavior at the, core belief layer is a lot harder than socially engineering perceived biases on a cultural scale. Unfortunately in doing so, I believe that it has created a paradoxical effect. It seems that if people disagree with the general consensus, that they are quickly labeled intolerant and backwards by the very people pushing for tolerance. gives this definition of tolerant:

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

According to that definition, tolerance calls for an objective and fair attitude. I believe that we as a society are on the verge of losing what has made this country great. The ability to engage in thought provoking conversations, to broker deals that are made from compromises. To embrace new or better ideas that comes from the synthesis of divergent viewpoints. To do this through a time honored tradition of a dialectic, to respect our differences. We might not agree with our neighbors on a great many things, but if we narrowly stay within the confines of our own beliefs no new knowledge is gained. For those who use tolerance as a shield to deflect or dismiss the criticism, beliefs, or views of those they oppose must come to terms that it is themselves who are being truly intolerant of an opposing view.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Relationship meme fail.

Saw this meme liked by a friend on Facebook and immediately did a double-take. What the hizzy does it even mean? It sounds almost right, but is horribly, stupidly wrong. Why on earth would I want a guy who promises nothing? *Nothing*?!? Not friendship, honesty, loyalty, love, respect or fidelity? And what does trying to give me everything mean? I don't need everything. I don't want everything. Except friendship, honesty, loyalty, love, respect and fidelity. But that phrase doesn't really work photoshopped over a random, heavily edited picture of a couple to be shared a quadrillion times.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

True it is that covetousness is rich, modesty starves.*

I was raised Pentecostal, of the holy-roller variety that placed great emphasis on modesty, particularly (dang near exclusively) on women. Pants on women were a no-no, but at times accepted for modesty reasons (with the classic, fugly sweats under skirt combo). I managed to hold fast to my jeans because I think my parents honestly didn't agree with the rule, and also, I weighed 100 pounds when I finished high school. In other words, my teeny tiny self was deemed to not be a temptation, no matter what I wore.

I've been thinking of these types of modesty standards a lot lately. In a spate of unrelated stories across the interwebs, people are warring about the supposed indecency of bare legs, peek-a-boobs and the booty's contour in Juicy couture. Just yesterday I read this story at the Daily Mail that left me stunned.

Women in Swaziland have been banned from wearing miniskirts and crop tops because they 'encourage rape' - and offenders face a six-month spell in jail.

Police in Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in Africa and an incredibly conservative nation, have resurrected an archaic colonial criminal act from 1889 to stop women wearing clothes that expose their body.

Swazi police were responding to a march in the second city of Manzini last month by young women, some wearing miniskirts, who were seeking equal rights and safety.
In Swaziland women are legal minors and two-thirds of teenage girls have been victims of sexual assault, according to the South African Independent Online.

Police spokesperson Wendy Hleta warned: 'They will be arrested.

'The act of the rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women.

'We do not encourage that women should be harmed, but at the same time people should note acceptable conduct of behaviour,' she said.

The ban also applies to low-slung jeans and tank tops. However, the 'indlamu' costume, a tiny beaded belt worn when young women dance for King Mswati topless and with their buttocks fully exposed, is permissible, authorities declared.

 This was 'Coming to America'. In Swaziland, miniskirts can and must stay in America. (Source)

So these women in Swaziland who are raped... I'm still reeling over grown women being "legal minors".... are making it easy by wearing low-riders and short skirts? So instead of focusing on the predators who have made "two-thirds of teenage girls" into victims, the government will arrest the girls and women? Unless of course they're dressed in costume dancing nearly naked like an X-rated version of "Coming to America" for the king, that is. Facepalm.

While clothing is being blamed for inciting sexual assault in Africa, Emily Maynard, writing at Church Leaders, makes the case that a women's clothes shouldn't take the blame for inciting lust.

In the culture I was raised in, there were constant discussions about modesty.

Not the “oh, hey, don’t be a rude showoff, because that’s rude” kind of modesty conversations, but the rulers and rulebooks of big-time modesty. If you’ve experienced it, you’re probably nodding or cringing, and if you’ve never encountered it, well, use your imagination.

Though the trappings varied, the lectures and conversations were always essentially the same: People talked about what girls were wearing and how the act of putting on clothes in the morning could radically change what boys were thinking.

There were endless options for violations and validations in Modesty-land, depending on the exact situation and circumstances. It didn’t take long for me to absorb the idea that I wasn’t a person with a body—I was an outfit with the power to control the morality of men.

I believed the lie that I was responsible for everyone else.
There was always a part of me that was desperate for a way out of the burden of over-responsibility, but my diligent self just kept trying to shoulder the shame and paranoia of the Modesty Rules, because I thought they were God’s plan for me.

In the last few years, though, I am learning a subtle difference in responsibility.

I have learned that, yes, people should be responsible, but not to me. God created each person with a level of autonomy and responsibility tied directly to Him.

Many of the discussions of The Modesty Rules relate clothing choices to lust, but I think that’s a mistake.

Let me explain: I propose we’ve lost sight of what lust actually is.

In fact, we have confused biological sexual attraction with lust and called it sin. This is one reason why shame is so rampant in Christian circles, why we hide rather than confess our reality, why we try to control rather than offer each other the open love and freedom of Christ: We have made into sin something that is not sin.

Don’t get me wrong. Lust is serious, and lust is a sin. But lust is about control, not just sex.
Lust dehumanizes a person in your own heart and mind.

It is the ritual taking, obsessing and using someone else for your own benefit rather than valuing that person as an equal image-bearer of God.

Lust is forming people in your own image, for your own purposes, whether for sexual pleasure, emotional security or moral superiority.

Lust certainly can have a sexual component, but when we reduce it merely to sexual reactions, we miss out on God’s heart for all people: infinite value.

In the book of Matthew, when Jesus said, “If you even look at a woman with lust …” he wasn’t condemning a physical sexual response as sinful, he was lifting up the inherent value of all women and men. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly describes the worth of each person, no matter their circumstances.
I don’t think you dressing according to a set of modesty rules will ever stop another person from lusting.

There's much, much more. A few thoughts: as I read through Emily's piece, I felt a mix of emotions. I could relate, definitely. I felt happy knowing someone was finally articulating many of the thoughts that had streamed through my head for many years. I was challenged to approach the entire subject of modesty in a new way. Then finally, I felt conflicted. Although there is so much there that spoke to me, I still felt there were parts that needed some clarification. I agree that modesty standards are going to look different from culture to culture, place to place. There will even be some subjectivity. I just wish Emily had provided some type of idea of how or if modesty should be practiced. After all, she writes, "Before you start assuming I think people should be walking around naked, let me say this: I would absolutely encourage men and women to dress in a socially acceptable manner, but not because they are responsible for other people’s reactions."

Sexual assault, rape, harassment and even lust, as pointed out above, is about control. Even in countries in which women are required to be covered from head to toe, these things occur. All the fabric in the world cannot mask evil.

*Quote by John Milton

My nose is big, uh-uh I'm not ashamed.

No shhhh-ing necessary. The obvious can be said aloud. I've got a big nose.

"You've got a bird nose." So my prominent nostrils were described by my college boyfriend, L.J. Upon registering the look of hurt in my eyes, he also added, "And I have a pig nose. So?"

It was a level of bluntness I wasn't prepared to hear. My heart felt like it was going to burst.

It's not like he was the first person to say I have a schnoze. I knew it. I often complained of it's large size.I fantasized all through high school of getting a rhinoplasty (As an aside, they had to call it that? RHINOplasty? Way to make it just that much worse.). Even family members told me I had drawn the genetic short stick in this area. My grandmother made pronouncements about my poor "nose bridge." My dad said I had inherited my mom's "clown nose." And my cousin Quiana just summed it up with "You've got a big nose, Lee." But, to her credit, she added that I was "still cute." Blech. Who wants that consolation prize?

Months ago I read an article on CNN that stopped me in my e-tracks: "Learning to love my big nose." WHOA! The writer, Kat Kinsman, had put it all out there.

With a boyish bowl haircut and an outsized nose as the prow of my moon-pale face, I did not sail easily through the rites of womanhood. I was ugly and was told so, both in words and by omission. I remain unsure which was worse: being directly informed of my unattractiveness, or simply never being told I was the least bit lovely. Sure, it's all skin deep, but it can sink in and leave a scar.

After a "Mean Girls" experience on a field trip involving popular girls tormenting her and especially her "witch" nose, she experienced a dramatic shift.

Something in me fractured that night, and as it shifted, another part freed. There was no way I'd ever be beautiful -- so I didn't have to try.

It's astonishing how liberating that felt. I could focus on the things that brought me some measure of happiness while I was plotting my escape from my small town. I painted, I edited the yearbook, I wrote horrible angsty poems, I made weird and delightful friends and talked to boys like they were actual human beings, because I knew there was no chance they'd think such a funny looking girl was flirting with them.

In the first few weeks of art school, I ceased to hide, stuck a ring through my right nostril, dyed my hair the most shocking shades I could find on the shelves and was surprised as a person could be when a boy said he loved me. It flamed hard and burned out quickly, and I assumed he'd just been kindly enough to overlook my obvious facial deformities -- though he surely seemed to spend a lot of time painting pictures of the rest of me.

And then it happened again. Only this time it was different. I looked across the diner table to see my new boyfriend Jon and our friend Helen staring at me rather intently. I instinctively grabbed a napkin to blot my lipstick, and yanked my flaming crimson hair down over my face. "What?"
Helen nodded contemplatively. "It's your nose. Definitely your nose."

Jon agreed. "Yep. Definitely."

The grilled cheese sandwich I'd been enjoying suddenly threatened to reappear on the table. I could not take this. Not from the two of them, who I'd started to find essential in my world. "My nose...what?!"

"It's the thing that makes you beautiful. Like, it doesn't look like anyone else's. It's the thing that makes you look like you." Helen went back to chewing her fries.

"Yep," Jon said. He returned to Helen's fries, and I quietly imploded inside.

When I read Kat's story, I got teary-eyed and felt that ache in my chest. Being a big-nosed girl, I could totally relate. While I didn't embrace mine to far later, I decided years ago that I since I'd never be beautiful or an "It" girl, I could ride out my youth comfortably as a nerd. I got straight A's and a full ride to college. I took poetry classes and wrote about music for two of the university papers. I eventually got a nose ring, too. Since I couldn't hide it, I figured I'd decorate it. Wearing glasses became part of my persona. I have knock down, stop-traffic, gorgeous friends. I learned to appreciate walking at the green in the crosswalk.

Then of course, I met K. My handsome man has a nose much like mine. We laugh and say it's the family nose. Family... which brings me to Zoe. There's a better than good chance that she'll inherit it. And my little girl is my catalyst. Similar to how I refuse to pass to her my love-hate relationship with my small breasts, kinky hair, feet or thighs, Z will know a rose is still a rose, even with a big nose.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

This Christmas.

Yesterday started off tough. I had a headache most of the day and then got my period. The icing on my crap cake was the ache of missing Jos.

K, being both my Knight and Sunshine saved the day. He played counselor, comedian and waiter. By the evening, after a nap, I was up and we opened gifts, drank sorrel and ate a delicious dinner prepared by mother-in-law. This Christmas... was good.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All I want for Christmas is...

Zoe making a FaceTime call to Tante Kandi.

When I tell people Z's favorite  hobby is playing with electronics like my iPad, remotes, keyboards and cell phones, people usually laugh it off as "Mommy exaggeration."  After spending a couple hours with the kid, during which she grabs ahold of their cell, goes online and starts taking pictures, they quickly realize there's no flourish to my tales.

At just 17 months, Z is totally at home with video calls, musical apps and touch screens in a way that the late Steve Jobs probably didn't even expect (or maybe he did, the genius!). And it's not just my baby who's tablet-crazed. Turns out, kids all over are hoping to unwrap tech over traditional toys today. From Salon:

Children have played with dolls for millenia. It was a good run.

Mattel is the maker of Barbie and Hot Wheels, but this year its top selling toy is a plastic cell phone case, according to the Financial Times (subscription required):
 Whether a new Kindle Fire, or a hand-me-down iPad, analysts predict 2012 will be the year children as young as three-years-old will unwrap tablets at trendsetting rates. And that has the traditional toy companies scrambling to stay relevant.
“The top two guys, Mattel and Hasbro, they are terrified,” said Sean McGowan, managing director of equity research at Needham & Company, an investment banking firm. “They should be terrified, but the official party line is they’re not terrified.”
Toymakers have long been aware of creeping digitization of playtime and the annoying acronym KGOY (“Kids getting older younger”) But they may have been slow to realize that personal technology might pose an existential threat to more analog toys. They’re trying to adapt:
This Christmas, [Hasbro] has high hopes for the reinvention of its popular 1990s plush toy, Furby. The new interactive version comes with a free mobile app that kids can use to feed Furby, and translate the things it says in “Furbish” to English. The toy is also built with artificial intelligence, so its behaviour changes depending on how it is treated, whether its tail is pulled or it is tickled.
But even if this updated “hamster/owl creature” performs well this year it seems unlikely that toymakers will be able to get away with this kind of retread five years from now. “Everyone I know who has a kid under 10 has a tablet in the house,” a toy investor told the FT. “And that tablet is the babysitter.”

By the by, Furby has always seemed insanely creepy to me. I'm reminded of that "Simpsons"episode with Funzo. Shudder. Read the piece in it's entirety here.

Merry Christmas from Linus (and me).

May you all have a blessed Christmas day.

Are we in the Matrix?

Without having to take any pills, folks, some scientists are claiming they may be able to prove we are in a computer simulation. From the Huffington Post:

Physicists say they may have evidence that the universe is a computer simulation.

How? They made a computer simulation of the universe. And it looks sort of like us.

A long-proposed thought experiment, put forward by both philosophers and popular culture, points out that any civilisation of sufficient size and intelligence would eventually create a simulation universe if such a thing were possible.

And since there would therefore be many more simulations (within simulations, within simulations) than real universes, it is therefore more likely than not that our world is artificial.

Now a team of researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany led by Silas Beane say they have evidence this may be true.

In a paper named 'Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation', they point out that current simulations of the universe - which do exist, but which are extremely weak and small - naturally put limits on physical laws.

Technology Review explains that "the problem with all simulations is that the laws of physics, which appear continuous, have to be superimposed onto a discrete three dimensional lattice which advances in steps of time."

What that basically means is that by just being a simulation, the computer would put limits on, for instance, the energy that particles can have within the program.

These limits would be experienced by those living within the sim - and as it turns out, something which looks just like these limits do in fact exist.

For instance, something known as the Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin, or GZK cut off, is an apparent boundary of the energy that cosmic ray particles can have. This is caused by interaction with cosmic background radiation. But Beane and co's paper argues that the pattern of this rule mirrors what you might expect from a computer simulation.

Hat tip to my brother, Joe, for telling me about this story. Read the whole thing here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

To those who made us (briefly) look.

Do you remember Kony 2012? Kind of? What about creepy Tanning Mom, who once again made New Jersey look like the capital of Oompa Loompa Land, along with The Situation and Snooki? No? That's okay, the main reason I remember her is because I am a life long Jersey resident. Undoubtedly, you have to remember *the* highlight of this year's Republican National Convention. Not Mittens or his lovely wife, not Ryan or Condi, but Clint Eastwood's infamous empty chair. If for some reason you don't and would like to check out more of this year's top fifteen minutes of fame honorees, click here for Time's list.

A closer look at the wounds of the Wet Bandits.

I've watched "Home Alone" a quadrillion times since I was a kid, almost always around Christmas. The latest was last weekend. Watching it as a 30 year old is far different than at 9, mainly because I found myself cringing at the many, many injuries inflicted on Harry and Marv, AKA, the Wet Bandits. Falls down steep icy stairs onto concrete? Flames on a scalp? Paint cans as weapons? I would've called it quits after the BB gun shots through the doggy door.

Over at The Week, a doctor diagnoses some of those cuts, falls and first degree burns:

The injury: Iron to the face

The set-up: Thwarted by the BB gun at the back door, Marv runs around to the basement stairwell — which Kevin has deliberately iced. Once he has stumbled his way down into the dark basement, Marv grabs for what he thinks is the light bulb cord. It's actually a rope attached to a steam iron that is propped up on the laundry chute door. The heavy iron comes plummeting down and smacks Marv in the face.
The doctor's diagnosis: "Let's estimate the distance from the first floor to the basement at 15 feet, and assume the steam iron weighs 4 pounds. And note that the iron strikes Marv squarely in the mid-face. This is a serious impact, with enough force to fracture the bones surrounding the eyes. This is also known as a 'blowout fracture,' and can lead to serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly."

The injury: Handling a burning-hot doorknob

The set-up: While Marv is getting an iron to the face, Harry tries to enter the home through the front door. The first attempt doesn't go well, as the stocky burglar slips on the icy steps and falls to the ground, landing with a thud on his back. Easing up a second time with the help of the railing, Harry makes it to the front door, reaches for the doorknob — which we see is literally burning red — and grasps the searing handle, the pain of which forces him once again down the icy steps.

The doctor's diagnosis: "If this doorknob is glowing visibly red in the dark, it has been heated to about 751 degrees Fahrenheit, and Harry gives it a nice, strong, one- to two-second grip. By comparison, one second of contact with 155 degree water is enough to cause third degree burns. The temperature of that doorknob is not quite hot enough to cause Harry's hand to burst into flames, but it is not that far off... Assuming Harry doesn't lose the hand completely, he will almost certainly have other serious complications, including a high risk for infection and 'contracture' in which resulting scar tissue seriously limits the flexibility and movement of the hand, rendering it less than 100 percent useful. Kevin has moved from 'defending his house' into sheer malice, in my opinion."

The injury: A blowtorch to the scalp

The set-up: Unable to get through the front door, Harry returns to the back. He kicks his foot through the doggy door to disarm a potential BB gun threat, delicately taps at the doorknob to test its temperature, and, finding it cool, opens the back door — only to unknowingly arm a blowtorch that fires at the top of his head.

The doctor's diagnosis: "Harry has an interesting reaction to having a lit blowtorch aimed directly at his scalp. Rather than remove himself from danger, he keeps the top of his skull directly in the line of fire for about seven seconds. What was likely a simple second-degree skin burn is now a full thickness burn likely to cause necrosis of the calavarium (skull bone)." That means the skin and bone tissue on Harry's skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.

Read the whole thing here, if you're thirsty for more.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Twilight and butterflies.

 Joscelyne and Zoe enjoying the sunshine at the park in October.

I awoke this morning amongst thoughts of Joscelyne. I was barely awake, in that twilight stage between wake and sleep. I thought of Jos, and my "butterfly mug," and ends and beginnings.

Back in the day, the two of us loved butterflies, in no small part due to Mariah Carey's "Butterfly" album. We'd sing the title track together... well, I'd warble through it while she sang.

Around the same time, I remember at school one of the lower grades were studying butterflies, and as part of the project, got a caterpillar to observe. I haggled my way into getting one. I was surprised to learn how much of the caterpillar's life was spent in that ugly cocoon. I was most taken aback by how short it's entire life was. Creeping,crawling, cocoon, flight and death. It bothered me that just when it had gone through metamorphosis, just gotten it's wings, it was over.

Along with the hazy thoughts of Jos and butterflies, "Closing Time" by Semisonic played in my head. Yeah, my subconscious lives in the late 90's, I guess.

"Closing time/ Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"

Yesterday, the world didn't end. But for many, their lives did. Time flies, butterflies flutter, and new beginnings start at "The End."

Friday, December 21, 2012

A caffeinated toast to the world not ending.

My beautiful friend April updated her Facebook status this morning and mentioned she'd done some meditating at 5AM and enjoyed a cup of joe.

I remember years ago hanging out at Van Gogh's Ear cafe with her after she moved back to Jersey after finishing college in Seattle. We didn't get too many opportunities to do this since she got married shortly after and moved to Florida (and then Cali, and then North Carolina, and then... ha!). So I figured we could have coffee, social network style. So I posted the picture above and tagged her along with the caption, "Coffee cheers!"

As I was sipping the coffee a few minutes later, I noticed I had grabbed that mug. I laughed. Oh the irony of drinking from a mug with the caption, "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly". Thought the world was over...

 Here's to hoping we all can become more grounded, more calm and peaceful while embracing change.

I'll drink to that.

Why the world didn't end.

Because there's no Zombie apocalypse, duh!

For another reason, check out this video from NASA:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No, our one year old daughter does not have sexy eyes.

Last week, K took Zoe to his office holiday party. She held court like a nearly three foot tall queen, posing for pictures, calling everyone and everything "momma", and eating until her little belly was quite full. She received a myriad of compliments: cute, smart, sweet, funny and adorable. One of them, though, startled K. And me, later when he told me.

K oversees a bunch of young people, in their late teens and early twenties. One of them, totally enamored of Z, blurted out, "She has sexy eyes." Uh er... Nuh uh. K responded quickly, with a WTH-look on his face, "What did you say?!?" Poor thing was confused by his reaction. Sexy is a good thing, right? Not when you're referring to a toddler.

Word choice, people. Word choice.

Marty over the Mayans.

Waiting for His coming. Or Advent.

 One of these years, I'll finally get a routine down for Advent. Really. Last year I was in the hospital for a third of December, and this year, I've been dealing with Jos' death... so the Advent wreath didn't actually have candles until a week ago and they're not the right colors. I also didn't actually crack open my Advent/Christmas devotional book until last night. And I haven't made it to a single Wednesday Advent service at my church. Sad? Yup, but I'm keeping it a hundred with ya'll.

Despite my shortcomings, I'm really feeling the spirit of the season more than ever. For the non-liturgical, Advent is about preparing for the coming of the Christ child. It's about preparing in our hearts and minds what Christmas is truly about. It's also why there's those little calendars with the doors that open to candy or other little tokens.

With my sister's death, the hope of the resurrection, the promise of eternal life has become so much more real, so very personal. Please don't think I viewed all this in the abstract previously; that's not the case. There's one thing to hold a belief, and totally another to cling to a certainty through faith. I'm definitely at the second now.

Deep roots.

 My mommy, back in the day.

The results of my mother's DNA test came via a short email with a link. I spent a few minutes trying to recall my password, and finally logged in. A quick wave of anxiety passed over me. I knew it wasn't going to be a revelation. In my brokeness, I only had purchased the most basic test. It would not reveal specifics, so no racial background on her parents. Nothing on ethnicities like the likelihood she has ancestors from Sierra Leone, Syria or Spain.

This test reveals race: European, sub-Saharan African, East Asian, and Indigenous American. There is a statistical breakdown with percentages. It's not exact, but in the ballpark, give or take a few points.

I had spent the past two months imagining the results. Friends chimed in, too. My friend Marqui figured 15% Indigenous American, 15% European, and 70% sub-Saharan African. Jos had guessed some Native American, African and then speculated on various European countries (over the years, a number of our Italian-American friends have adopted her; growing up in Montclair, NJ, many assumed some Sicilian). My mother never really wagered. She continued to say "some mix," as she has repeated ad infinitum since she could talk.

 Seriously, my mom is crazy over the golden child, Joe. And he knows it.

My mother's racially ambiguous appearance has kept her in a somewhat influx state. She seems to be like one of those holographic comic trading cards from the 80s or those inkblot cards. Depending on the viewer, their vantage point, the setting or any other variable, Mom has been any and everything. Redbone Black, Greek, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Jewish, Indian, Creole.

I remember once, when I was five, a very confusing incident at Pathmark. Mom had told me and Jos we could have a free sample of cheese from the lady at the end of the aisle handing them out. We walked down to her and asked kindly for ours. The white female employee with the brown feathered hair and large glasses explained our mom would have to consent. I told her she had, but the lady wouldn't budge. I told her we'd go back over and ask again. I did, and Mom, still digging through her purse for coupons, again said yes.

 I heart my Mommy!

We ran back over and the woman, who had been watching us, was frowning. And maybe a bit angry, too. Undaunted, I repeated my niceties expecting the cubed cheese as all the other customers had. Instead, she said nastily, "Little girl, don't lie to me. *That* is NOT your mother." I was stunned. Her tone was so very ugly, I still remember this incident to this day, twenty-five years later. I had never been called a liar before, especially by a grownup... well, except for Joe and big brothers don't count when hurling such labels. I tried to explain that the woman was indeed my mom, but she shook her head defiantly and stared at me and three year old Jos.

 Jos was the baby, and undoubtedly spoiled rotten by my mom. They both loved it that way.

I was very confused and a little scared, so we went back to mom who at that point was very upset that we hadn't just got the dang cheese while clearly everyone else had. She marched us over to the stand, and the woman's tone was sweet as pie with her. My mom must've realized what was really happening, and she said, with her little sing-song soprano voice, that we were her girls and yes, we could have the sample. I noticed, though, my mom's face was dead serious and one eyebrow was raised. My mom was mad. The lady quickly offered all three of us apologies and samples and coupons.

It took a few years to realize that in feathered hair lady's personal Rorschach test, my mom was white and could not possibly have two little brown daughters.


Opinions are subjective, but DNA isn't. It turns out, Mom is a near 50-50 split of European and sub-Saharan African. She's White AND Black, like Lenny Kravitz, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, Barack Obama. I asked her how she'd now answer if someone asked her race. "Mixed." I burst out laughing. "Mom, that's what you've always said!" She laughed, too, and said, "Well, it's true!"

I realized then that despite how so many others have viewed her, despite even 21st century DNA tests, my mom has always known who she is. Mixed, mulatto, oreo, yellow, whatever. She's Doris Williams Flemming, proud mother and ecstatic grandmother, child of God. Those are the labels she proudly wears and displays for all to see.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I've had an Instagram account for close to a year now, but I don't have any followers and follow no one. In fact, only I can see my pics since my profile is locked. I've only ever used the app for the filters. That's it. I like stuff on Facebook, and follow on Twitter, and that's been more than enough for me. Now, it looks like I will have to do my photo editing elsewhere, thanks to Instagram's new policy change coming next month. From CNET:

Instagram said today that it has the perpetual right to sell users' photographs without payment or notification, a dramatic policy shift that quickly sparked a public outcry.

The new intellectual property policy, which takes effect on January 16, comes three months after Facebook completed its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing site. Unless Instagram users delete their accounts before the January deadline, they cannot opt out.

Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world's largest stock photo agency. One irked Twitter user quipped that "Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won't have to pay you anything to use your images."

"It's asking people to agree to unspecified future commercial use of their photos," says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "That makes it challenging for someone to give informed consent to that deal."

That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on -- without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo. The language would include not only photos of picturesque sunsets on Waikiki, but also images of young children frolicking on the beach, a result that parents might not expect, and which could trigger state privacy laws.


Another policy pitfall: If Instagram users continue to upload photos after January 16, 2013, and subsequently delete their account after the deadline, they may have granted Facebook an irrevocable right to sell those images in perpetuity. There's no obvious language that says deleting an account terminates Facebook's rights, EFF's Opsahl said.

Facebook's new rights to sell Instagram users' photos come from two additions to its terms of use policy. One section deletes the current phrase "limited license" and, by inserting the words "transferable" and "sub-licensable," allows Facebook to license users' photos to any other organization.

A second section allows Facebook to charge money. It says that "a business or other entity may pay us to display your... photos... in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." That language does not exist in the current terms of use.

This would be troubling for me if I had just uploaded pics of scenery and food I cooked, but since I have plenty of Z pics on there, too, it's an absolute no-go for me. Some company could buy her image and use it however without my having a say. So I'll be deleting it pretty soon. Since Facebook and Twitter app upgrades now feature editing/filters, it's unnecessary for me anyway.

God made him do it, and other fails.

My friend Kandi tagged me on Facebook in a video of Fox News host Mike Huckabee discussing the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Here it is:

Mike Huckabee's Incredible Response to Newtown Shooting - Where was God? from anberlin_fan on GodTube.

Hmm... I agree with parts of what he said. Yup, this country has rapidly grown more secular in the past few decades. Yes, there are a number of laws and rules and such kicking religiosity out of the public sphere, especially when said religiosity is of the Christian flavor.

But, and this is a huge but here, I cringe at the linking of children's murders to America's increasing secularization. Besides seeming incredibly heartless (yeah, way to comfort the grieving parents and siblings... your kid is gone because of the sins of millions of others...), it just doesn't make sense. By all accounts, western Europe's godlessness could totally whip our godlessness, yet we still have had far more Columbines.

Yesterday I read a post at Reason about bad responses to the tragedy, and Huckabee's made the top of the list:

I don't doubt the governor's sincerity, but among other things, he might want to think about the declining rate of school violence. According to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, schools have been getting safer and less violent at least over the past couple of decades - despite what Huckabee would doubtless consider a period of rising godlessness. During the school year of 1992-93, for instance, the number of on-location murders of students and staff at K-12 public schools was 47 (out of population of millions). In 2009-2010 (the latest year for which data is listed), the number was 25. Over the same period, the rate on victimizations per 1,000 students for theft dropped from 101 to 18. For violent crimes, the rate dropped from 53 to 14. And for "serious violent" crimes, the rate dropped from 8 to 4.

So it just doesn't follow through. Sorry. Numbers aside, this theme is quite popular among Evangelical Christians right now. Karen Spears Zacharias writes:

What shames me is that in claiming the name of Jesus I immediately become associated with some of the most judgmental people: Evangelicals in the hands of an angry God.

People like Fred Phelps and his Westboro clan.

Or James Dobson, who said the Newtown, CT., massacre is the result of Americans turning their backs on God.  Pay back for gay marriage as it were.

 I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on, Dobson said. 

And Dobson isn’t the only Evangelical acting like God’s loudmouth.

Bryan Fischer, host of American Family Association radio show, said God did not protect the Sandy Hook’s victims because prayer was removed from the schools. Former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Americans should not be surprised at the tragedy because “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

And Tennessee Pastor Sam Morris stood before his congregation and told them the following about the murders in Newtown:

- We ought to “string Adam Lanza up in public and set his body on fire and leave it out there to let the birds pick his bones.”
“We get all up in arms about 20 children being shot in a day care but we don’t give one good-glory rip about the 4,000 that were removed violently from the wombs of their mothers [in abortion procedures] the same day,” he explained. “I believe they use children and Christmas and all that to pull on our heart strings about gun control. That’s what it’s all about.”
-“What’s behind this shooting that we saw on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut and the other one’s like it? What’s going on. Well, number one, deception… I got news for you, when you kicked God out of schools, you’re going to be judged for that.”

Poor God. Do you think he ever ashamed to be associated with the likes of us Evangelicals?

I don't know the mind of God, but Lord have mercy, I'm embarrassed, and I'm not even Evangelical. Do I think there's some truth in those quotes? Yeah, sure, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

With the recent loss of my sister, I've been experiencing my own pain. It sucks. One day Jos was here, the next, her husband came home to her body. I'm not sure if it's possible for me to ever truly understand it.

One thing I do, though, is meditate on my Uncle Curtis' eulogy, about how horrible, unexplainable tragedies occur, not as God's vengeful wrath, but as part of this broken world.

 Me in bed... tre sexy?

I know this won't sit right in the minds of so many. We like to think, if I'm a good Christian, pay my tithes, don't cheat, read my Bible, well then, I'll be blessed, tenfold even. The consummate overachieving, straight "A", middle child that I was, I believed it, too. But life happened. I have health issues, ones so bad I had to leave my job. And now I'm broker than 18 year old me (and I was hella broke then making $5.50/hr.). If it weren't for K... Did my godlessness bring about my sorry state of affairs? Nah... turning back to Karen's post:

When will Evangelicals ever learn that we are not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but dear ones grasped by the nail-scarred hands of Christ?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Innocents loss.


Friday started off very well for me. The best day I had all week, actually. I spent so much of Sunday and Monday crying over Jos... the continual realizations that I would never have any of her fresh baked Christmas cookies or watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with her seemed too much.

But by Friday, I actually managed grocery shopping, some Wii exercise time, cleaning and baked chicken and sweet potatoes for dinner. I was finally feeling something like me when I clicked on the Facebook app and learned of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy.


Max Lindenman shared of his experience with Facebook in the wake of the shooting:

I wasn’t home when news of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School first hit the online media. I made some effort to catch up, but after about 20 minutes, it seemed pointless. There’s a depressing sameness to these shootings...

 Knowing there was no easy wisdom to be got, I went to the bazaar, the longhouse, the corner of the village common where my fellow villeins and I sharpen our sickles and put up our maypoles and compare our swelling buboes and listen to old Theobald the Bald relate for the millionth time how the unicorn kicked him in the groin. I logged into Facebook.

A number of people had posted a message delivered by Pope Benedict through the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. “The Holy Father,” it read, “was promptly informed of the shooting,” and had asked that his “heartfelt grief” be conveyed, along with his “assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event.”

If you’re one of those people who’s determined to impose fresh legal restrictions on gun ownership or ammunition sales, or who would like to see the mentally ill better monitored, a statement like this is meaningless. It’s a bromide phrased in formulaic language, presented by an underling, and possibly ghost-written by someone even less important. But at least in my own small corner of the Internet, it made a significant, not unpleasant impact. Some people Liked it, others shared it. A few dug up older Benedict quotes that seemed relevant, for example: “In the face of horror … there is no other answer than the cross of Christ: Love that descends to the abyss of evil.”

But, things quickly turned from "let's share uplifting memes and quotes" to normalcy to ugly political fighting. Which, for Facebook, is actually part of the normalcy.

The group hug lasted about as long as most of its kind. By the time night fell on Phoenix, PhD candidates were posting about their brain-dead students. A couple of bon vivants posted on new restaurants or microbrews they’d discovered. One gun-control advocate posted a meme reading: “How did ‘A well-regulated milita’ get twisted to mean ‘A well-armed, un-regulated populace?’” Someone found out that atheist blogger Hemant Mehta had reported on a couple of fundies who read the shootings as the natural consequences of a godless culture.

I had a similar experience.  Except the gun control advocates and the pro-gun folks went at it, big time. Meanwhile, some people declared that the answer was in homeschooling, while others blamed video games and movies (Blech to that last one. Reminds me of some of my teachers at the Christian school I attended, blaming Columbine on Marilyn Manson. I didn't buy it at 17 and I'm still not at 30.)  So annoyed by the e-fights, I FaceTime'd my brother Joe to complain and wound up getting in a similarly heated and pointless argument with him. Double blech.

Yesterday at church, we observed the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. In the midst of this season of calm preparation and solemnity, there's this day of rejoicing. Part of the Scriptures was from Philippians, chapter four:

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice. Always. Tough order.

"The Lord is near." Even in tragedy, especially at times like these.

Don't worry. Yeah, um... ha ha... But I will bring them to the Lord, no doubt.

That peace, the peace of God which will allow thanksgiving through tragedy, is far beyond my understanding, yes. So I will cling to the cross of Christ, knowing Love wins.

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K and Z enjoying the Christmas tree.

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