Living in a sick world

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon has released a new single in which he takes on pandemic deaths and grief. Listen to Haddon’s soaring, swooping gospel voice over a compelling trap backing track: “Sick World” by Dietrick Haddon.

What I especially like about this song is that Haddon gets the way grief is additive. All the grief we’ve experienced since the pandemic began gets added to all the grief we’ve experienced from COVID deaths and COVID-related deaths. Haddon specifically mentions Kobe Bryant’s death, and the official music video references the insurrectionists storming the Capitol building: these and many other events get added to the people we know who’ve died because of COVID. Here are some of the lyrics:

We’ve got kids killing each other in Chicago,
Detroit just ain’t the same no more,
And it ain’t getting better on the West Coast —
Tell me why we treating each other so cold.
People would rather put faith in a vaccine
Than wearing a mask, keeping their hands clean,
And this will all go down in history
That thousands have died cause we cannot agree, yeah.
Living in a sick world, but I’m praying you are well,
We can’t stand to lose nobody else,
Can’t stand to lose nobody….

I don’t listen to much gospel or hip hop, but the powerful lyrics and the high level of musicianship make this song worth a listen. And yes, I am praying that you are well.

Story of Palm Sunday

Possum, Rolf, and Nicky, want to hear the story of Palm Sunday — although Dr. Sharpie and Muds are skeptical of that old story. So Dan gives them the Unitarian Universalist version.

Click on the image above to view the video on Vimeo.

The full script is below the fold.

Continue reading “Story of Palm Sunday”

YouTube is evil

I’ve hated YouTube for a long time, but they finally went too far. I’m going to start moving the videos I make for kids to another platform.

What was the final straw that’s causing me to ditch YouTube?

I created a children’s video for this Sunday’s online worship service. I was careful to use either my own content, or public domain content (e.g., music), or Creative Commons content (e.g., sound effects) I have a great respect for the rights of authors and creators, and I don’t want to violate copyright.

YouTube has a new process whereby when you upload a video, they scan it for copyrighted material. Fair enough. The scan of my latest video claimed to have found copyrighted material on my video. That’s not fair, but that happens because YouTube relies on machine algorithms instead of humans to review copyrighted material, and they give free access to the algorithms of known copyright trolls. So while it’s not fair, I can deal with it. I’ve dealt with it before — you submit a claim showing why the copyright claim is incorrect, wait seven days, and it goes away.

But as it turned out, this time not only did I get a message telling me that there’s a claim, but for the past two hours there’s been another message freezing the video because, so they say, they were still scanning for copyright violations. The effect of this is that YouTube has given me no way to contest the claim. Which is utter bullshit. And don’t tell me to contact customer support. YouTube is notorious for having no customer support at all — because, hey, we’re not customers, we’re the product they’re selling (or more precisely, our data is the product).

There are plenty of other reasons why I hate YouTube. I know they’re collecting unbelievable quantities of user data and using that data for purposes I don’t approve of. I don’t mind so much for myself — I’m going into this with my eyes open — but I’m making videos for kids, and I simply do not trust YouTube with kids’ data. Plus YouTube video compression sucks, producing inferior audio and video quality. Remember, their business model is to provide the absolute minimum of quality, with the least amount of paid human time, while selling the absolute maximum amount of data to advertisers and others; their sole goal is to make tons of money, with no apparent effort to provide any redeeming social value. By saying this, I don’t want to denigrate their workers, who work incredibly long hours and work software engineering miracles; but YouTube’s corporate management is, at best, amoral.

Do I need to add the fact that, as is true of all Big Tech employers, YouTube has insufficient numbers of women, people of color, and people over the age of 40 working at the company? The Big Tech firms are notorious for their sexism, racism, and ageism; YouTube is no exception.

I’ve known for some time that I need to move the children’s videos I make to a paid hosting service. So I finally bit the bullet and opened a Vimeo account. That’s where I’ll be posting all future kid’s videos that I make. Eventually I’ll move older videos there, though that will take time.

It’s been a relief to take this step. I’ve long been uncomfortable with YouTube’s exploitative business model. I’m glad I can stop feeling morally compromised.

Neighborhood pilgrimages

So we’re still stuck in lockdown, and maybe you’re getting bored with your daily walks. The British Pilgrimage Trust has a suggestion: turn your walks into mini-pilgrimages. Their Web site has a list of “holy places” in the U.K. that you can walk to. Next you set a spiritual “intention,” then treat your walk as a kind of “focused meditation.” In an interview with Religion News Service, Guy Hayward, director of the Pilgrimage Trust, says more about those “intentions”:

“Pilgrimage is about traveling, about being a stranger in a strange land, according to [Hayward]. The pandemic flips that on its head. ” ‘Staying still is actually even more of a strange experience,’ he said. ‘It’s like, how do you make yourself be a stranger in a place you know really, really well? How do you make yourself see it fresh and see it in a new way?’ “

This, by the way, sounds a lot like Henry Thoreau’s essay on “Walking.”

For us Unitarian Universalists, what might constitute a “holy place” to which we might make a micro-pilgrimage? Back when we lived in downtown San Mateo, I would walk to different houses of worship. As is true of many small American cities these days, San Mateo has quite a diversity of faith communities, so from our old apartment I could walk to a Hindu temple, an Islamic masjid, a couple of historically Black churches, a Pure Land Buddhist Temple, a UCC church, a Catholic church, a Pentecostal storefront church, and several other places of worship. I’d think about — maybe I should say, do “focused meditation” on — the religious diversity of the world, and my place in that diversity. It proved to be both uplifting (“A masjid? how cool is that!”) and humbling (“Gee, Unitarian Universalism is not as important in the world as I’d like to believe”).

Now I live next to a cemetery. Walking in cemeteries was something of a tradition in New England, in part because they plow the roads in cemeteries in winter so it’s one of the few places you can walk safely without skis or snowshoes. But it was also a meditative practice: you’d read the inscriptions and wonder about the person who had died. This is another exercise in humility, and a lesson in perspective. How well am I living my life now, knowing that I’m as mortal as that person lying under the gravestone? But perhaps you have to be from New England, with that grim New England worldview, to appreciate this kind of micro-pilgrimage.

You can also follow Thoreau’s lead, and look at the world of nature around you. Even when you live in the city, or in the inner suburbs, places where humans utterly dominate the landscape, there are still plenty of non-human organisms worthy of human attention. Recently, I find myself looking for flowering weeds, like this chickweed:

Or this flower, which is not a dandelion, but a related flower from the Cichorieae tribe (probably a Sow Thistle):

Why do I look for weeds? Maybe because of the same sentiment that Malvina Reynolds expressed in her song, “God Bless the Grass”:

God bless the grass that grows through the crack,
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back….
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it, and think that it is done….

The real point in all this is that any walk, even a walk around your neighborhood, can become more than just a walk. It can become a spiritual journey, where even though you stay in your neighborhood, you travel very far in spirit.

Limantour Beach

Photos from our trip to Point Reyes National Seashore:

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding in Estero de Limantour, watched by a Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) in a tidal pool formed from a ship’s engine block on Limantour Spit

One of about 145 Giant Bell Jellies that we saw stranded on Limantour Beach. Not a true jellyfish, this organism is actually a colony of smaller hydrozoans. The purple spots are ocelli, or primitive eyes.

The Timid Rabbit

Sharpie and friends act out the Jataka tale about the timid rabbit. This Jataka tale has been retold many, many times, but Sharpie, Possumm, et al., include a few things that are left out of most modern retellings of the story.

Click on the photo above to view the video on Vimeo.

As usual, the full script is below.

Continue reading “The Timid Rabbit”

“Newt Patrol”

Here’s an interesting citizen science project….

“The Newt Patrol is a group of citizen scientists in the South Bay. We have been surveying newt roadkills near Lexington Reservoir since 2017. We have documented over 10,000 dead newts so far, representing one of the highest rates of amphibian roadkill mortality known worldwide. This project aims to raise awareness of this problem and provide a rigorous database that could be used by the authorities to implement mitigation measures.”

You can see their Web site here.

Sweet sixteen

I completely forgot that February 22 was the sixteenth birthday of this blog. So here, a week and a half late, is this blog’s sixteenth birthday post.

Blogging is completely different now than it was on February 22, 2005, when this blog started. Back then, blogs were social media; there was no other social media to speak of. Back then, blogs were mostly run by individuals who were willing to learn how to install cranky software on remote servers, and social media was mostly a labor of love. Now, social media is dominated by big corporations like Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, which seem bent on destroying democracy. Now, social media is a big business where your data is the product that’s being sold. So now that “social media” is a dirty word, I’m proud to say this blog can no longer be considered social media.

Other things have changed over the years. Back in 2007, I attended Podcamp Boston and learned from innovative people called “vloggers” who were using videos to blog. So for the next twelve months, I uploaded a weekly video to my blog; the videos were hosted on a service called Blip.tv, which went defunct a few years later, taking all fifty-plus of my videos with it when it died. (And it’s just as well those old videos are gone: I still have files for one or two of them, and they were pretty crude.) To produce online videos in 2007, I had to purchase a fancy camcorder, edit the video footage on my laptop, make sure the encoding wouldn’t choke the host service, then upload it to the host. But today, people can shoot video with their phone and upload it directly to TikTok or Youtube.

And I’ve watched the audience for this blog change over the years. In 2005, my readers were the forty other UU bloggers, plus some tech-savvy people who thought to do a Web search for “UU blog.” By 2008, the peak of blogging was over; Facebook had begun its climb to dominance of social media; Twitter was just starting to become popular with what was then known as “microblogging”; and Youtube was becoming a destination on its own rather than just a host for video content. I had already begun to see a shift in who was visiting my blog. Half the traffic to my blog was readers looking at the front page to read the most recent posts; but half the traffic was through Web searches that found older posts. Today, most of my visitors are going directly to older posts.

But I still have a few regular readers who stop at the front page to check out the latest posts. I hope I continue to publish material that’s interesting enough that you, dear readers, continue to return here for another sixteen years.