The choice for president in 2012

The presidential election campaign has already begun. Have you noticed? Mr. Crankypants has noticed. The Iowa straw polls — that’s where presidential hopefuls stuff scarecrows with straw and party hacks judge them on how scary they are (where “they” may refer to scarecrows, presidential hopefuls, or party hacks) — have already happened. New Hampshire is already trying to boost tourism in the state by creating a presidential-hopefuls petting zoo. And the presidential hopefuls are praying in public and raising the Christian banner, while at the same time refusing to join a church (Obama) or refusing to tithe (Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, and many others).

But as far as Mr. Crankypants is concerned, both major political parties are not worth endorsing. They are boring. Their candidates speak badly in public. Their candidates exhibit depressingly few signs of psychopathology. Therefore, just as in the last election, Mr. Crankypants will be endorsing a third party candidate: Cthulhu of the Great Old Ones Party.

The Great Old Ones Party has a refreshing party slogan: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” which is translated as “In his house at R’lyeh sleeping Cthulhu waits dreaming” — dreaming of how he will devour all humanity once he gets in office. The Great Old Ones Party has a refreshing economic proposal: after vigintillions of years, great Cthulhu will be set loose on the world, ravening with delight; this will put an end to economic woes by putting an end to the economy. And finally, the Great Old Ones Party has a refreshing proposal for ending the gridlock between Congress and the White House: Cthulhu will eat everyone in the House and Senate.

Now you may say that the Great Old Ones Party seems indistinguishable from the Republican and Democratic Parties. But Cthulhu is different. Where the Republicans merely claim they will make government smaller, Cthulhu will actually eat elected representatives, as well as ever federal employee he can grab with his writhing tentacles, thus literally making government smaller. Where the Democrats merely claim that they will tame Wall Street and Big Business, Cthulhu will actually do so, by eating bankers, billionaires, and plutocrats alive. And unlike the Republicans and Democrats, there is no hypocrisy about Cthulhu: he is evil, he admits it, and he glories in it.

Mr. Crankypants is sure you’ll agree. Support Cthulhu! Vote the Great Old Ones Party ticket in the 2012 election!


I had to drive up to San Francisco early this afternoon. When I left Palo Alto, it was sunny and warm. Heading north on highway 101, when I got to San Mateo I started seeing low clouds to the north. By the time I got to San Francisco, the sky was gray, and some people were driving with their headlights on.

In San Francisco, it was cloudy, damp, and down to 60 degrees, a good ten degrees cooler than it had been in Palo Alto, with a bracing northwest wind. You could sense the huge old mass of water in the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away.

At 4:30 I drove back to San Mateo along Interstate 280, around the Pacific Ocean side of San Bruno Mountain, and then up into the hills of the Coastal Range. Fingers of fog were creeping over the mountains, winding down through the tree-covered hills around Crystal Springs, but the sun evaporated them before they got very far.

When I arrived home in San Mateo, it was sunny and warm. But almost as soon as the sun set, the fog drifted over the Coastal Range, and became low clouds that now cover the sky above us. The temperature is down to 60 degrees, and outside it feels like it did in San Francisco this afternoon: cloudy, damp, and cool.

Reading notes

From the essay “It’s about Faith in Our Future: Star Trek Fandom as Cultural Religion” by Michael Jindra:

Most Americans think of “religion” as a system of private, conscious, and articulated beliefs, usually expressed in churches and formal creeds, and set off from the other “spheres” of life such as work, politics, or leisure. This view of religion, however, stems from the specifically Western process of societal “differentiation,” in which institutional religion was given a specific function. After the medieval era, when religious practice was intimately connected to everyday life, the practice of Christianity became “abstracted,” or disconnected from everyday life. As a result, we now tend to regard “religion” as something connected to institutions such as churches and denominations. Alternatively, we view it as something personal and private, a psychological aid that is only peripherally connected to a person’s life.

This view of religion severely limits our understanding of it….

Religion and Popular Culture in America, ed. Bruce David Forbes and Jeffrey H. Mahan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, rev. ed. 2005), p. 161.

Using a more expansive definition of religion, Jindra goes on to demonstrate how Star Trek fandom can be understood as a kind of humanist religion. He supports this in part by citing an interview with Rodenberry published in the March/April, 1991, issue of American Humanist, in which Rodenberry said he saw Star Trek as based on a humanist philosophy wherein human beings take control of their own destiny.

Pallas just posted to the local minister’s email list telling us about At first glance, looks like an antiwar demonstration that will take place in Washington, D.C., beginning on October 6. But unlike conventional demonstrations, they are modeling themselves after the protests of the Arab Spring. Here’s the pledge that they ask participants to sign:

I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day or the days immediately following, for as long as I can, with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine by occupying Freedom Plaza to demand that America’s resources be invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation…. [caps in original]

The focus of this demonstration will be civil disobedience. And it sounds like anyone who goes may risk arrest, based on what they say on in their FAQ:

There are important roles for those who choose not to risk arrest such as jail support, observation and other responsibilities during the occupation such as food, medical care and cleanup. That said, there are no guarantees because we cannot at this time predict the response by the DC police. Our experience in the past is that they give warnings prior to making arrests so that those who choose to do so may leave the action.

Speaking as a peacenik, I’m a little skeptical of this demonstration. Although the pledge quoted above seems to focus on an antiwar message, no Quaker or Brethren groups have yet signed on as sponsors; if this were a peace demonstration I’d expect to see at least one Quaker meeting as a sponsor. And when you read deeper in the Web site, this demonstration is not really an antiwar demonstration; peace is merely one of a list of fifteen issues. And this does not look like a broad-based coalition, but rather the usual narrow coalition of the usual leftist groups; as a leftist myself I can tell you that we are a vanishingly small segment of the U.S. population, so I’d expect a tiny turnout.

If you know more about, I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you’re a peacenik, or have a religious perspective on this.

Directory errors

D——, another minister, pointed out that my entry in the UUA’s online directory appeared to have errors. I went and looked, and sure enough, the entry was filled with errors.

A moral of the story: If you’re a religious educator or minister, it’s probably worth checking your entry for errors, if you haven’t already done so.

Another moral of the story: This is a fine example of UUA budget cuts at work: funding drops; staff hours are cut; chaos starts creeping into the system.

(Thanks, D——, for pointing this out!)

Millennial hymn for our times

Back in the early nineteenth century, Richard McNemar wrote a hymn commonly called “Babylon is Fallen,” which was included in the 1813 Shaker hymnal Millennial Praises. It is a hymn with typical Biblical apocalyptic imagery, probably based on Revelation 18.21 ff. Today the hymn is most commonly associated with an 1878 tune by W. E. Chute, and the Roud Folksong index number is S227926.

But the words most commonly sung today, e.g. in folk music circles and by Sacred Harp singers, are not the original words; four of the original six verses get ignored, and a third verse (probably added when Chute wrote his tune) is tacked on. I like the original words better, and when I read the first three verses, it feels as though the hymnodist were describing the current financial meltdown in the U.S.:

1. Hail the day so long expected!
Hail the year of full release!
Zion’s walls are now erected,
And her watchmen publish peace:
From the distant coasts of Shinar,
The shrill trumpet loudly roars,
Babylon is fallen, is fallen, is fallen,
Babylon is fallen to rise no more.

2. Hark, and hear her people crying,
“See the city disappear!
Trade and traffic all are dying!
Lo, we sink and perish here!”
Sailors who have bought her traffic,
Crying from her distant shore,

3. All her merchants cry with wonder,
“What is this that’s come to pass?”
Murm’ring like the distant thunder
Crying out, “Alas! Alas!”
Swell the sound, ye kings and nobles!
Priests and people, rich and poor!

Continue reading “Millennial hymn for our times”

Experiments with blog books

I’ve been experimenting with producing books from blogs, using the Web-based service BlogBooker.

BlogBooker appears to have one or two bugs. First, while blog entries appear in chronological order, comments appear in reverse chronological order. Second, BlogBooker regularly inserts close quotation marks at the beginning of sentences. It does not handle blockquotes particularly well, leaving too much white space above them, and sometimes indenting the first line oddly.

BlogBooker is not perfect in other ways. While BlogBooker captures still images posted on a blog, it will not include the images associated with most embedded videos (e.g., YouTube videos). It inserts an ugly title page. As an option, it can list links in footnotes, which is useful, but it places the footnote at the beginning of the link, not at the end. If a blog post includes internal links within that page, BlogBooker lists those links like any other, which is not very useful. BlogBooker does not retain the italics and bold type of an original Web page, though it does retain strikethrough type. And it will only accept output from three blogging platforms: WordPress, Blogger, and LiveJournal.

One last feature that annoyed me: BlogBooker places static pages within the regular blog chronology. But I feel that static pages should not be included in the regular blog chronology. I chose to edit the dates of each page so that they would not be included in the date ranges which I used to generate the blog book.

Even though BlogBooker is not perfect, it does produce reasonably good output with some customization allowed. It uses LaTeX as its underlying publishing platform, which means the typesetting is attractive. It does offer a number of options: specified date ranges; 5 page sizes, including U.S. letter, A4, 6×9″, 7.5×9.25″, and B4; 6 type faces; and 4 font sizes (9, 10, 11, and 12 pt.). You can choose whether or not to include comments or post author. It will automatically generate a table of contents and number the pages. Layout options include two columns, and starting each entry on a new page.

Best of all, the service is free. You can give them a donation if you want, but it is not required.

Because BlogBooker provides a PDF file as output, it is easy to create a printed book using one of the online print-on-demand Web sites. As proof of concept, I used to generate a printed book in trade paperback (6×9″) size. I added my own title page, and generally spruced up the PDF generated by BlogBooker; this, and fiddling with the time-consuming service, took up quite a bit of time. I have not yet received the printed copy, but has always produced excellent printed materials from PDF files.

As for ebooks: The PDF file generated by BlogBooker can serve as a perfectly adequate ebook. You can also use or other online print-on-demand services to generate an ePub file from the PDF.

In summary, BlogBooker can generate a reasonably good PDF book from a blog. If you’re satisfied with their somewhat quirky formatting choices, you can easily generate a print book or ebook from your blog.

Old blog posts back online

I finally got around to restoring blog posts from 2005-2010 that disappeared in February of this year when the old blog crashed after being damaged by a malicious intruder. The old posts may be found at the old blog address —

There is no longer a redirect on the old address to this blog. Therefore, if you haven’t updated your bookmarks or your RSS reader, or if you’re following an old link, you’ll wind up at the old blog. So please update your bookmarks, etc.

Coyote creates human beings

The following story of the creation of human beings is a Miwok story heard at Little Gap, California, and reported in Tribes of California by Stephen Powers and John Wesley Powell (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1877), p. 358; the version below is an adaptation of the version given by Powers and Powell. This story is included in the old Unitarian Universalist curriculum Beginnings by Sophia Fahs and Dorothy Spoerl (Boston: Beacon, 1958), pp. 103 ff., but the version in Beginnings states in the first sentence that “the Great Spirit” created the world, whereas the story reported by Powers and Powell specifically states that Coyote created the world. I have also retained some details that Fahs and Spoerl left out; and I have degenderized the language for use in a Sunday school setting.

After the coyote had finished all the work of creating the world and the animals, he called a council of animals to deliberate on the creation of human beings. The animals sat down in an open space in the forest, all in a circle, with the mountain lion at the head. On her right sat the grizzly bear, next the cinnamon bear, and so on around according to the rank, ending with the little mouse, which sat at the mountain lion’s left.

The mountain lion was the first to speak, and she declared, “I would like to see humans created with a mighty voice like myself, with which they could frighten all other animals. For the rest,” the mountain lion said, “I would like to have humans well covered with hair, with terrible fangs, and with strong claws, like mine.”

The grizzly bear said, “It is ridiculous to have such a voice as my neighbor, the mountain lion, for she was always roaring with it and scaring away the very prey she wished to capture.” The grizzly bear shook her head and went on: “Humans ought to have prodigious strength like mine, and they should be able to move about silently but very swiftly if necessary, and be able to grip their prey without making a noise, like me.” Continue reading “Coyote creates human beings”