This coming Sunday is the day when we switch to Daylight Savings Time — and lose an hour of sleep. So I decided to do a service all about sleep. I found several poems about sleep that I’m going to use. But I’m also going to work in a passage from the Nevi’im, the minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible — the famous passage in Joel 2:28, which is translated in the King James Version as “…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions…” As someone who can now be called an “old man” (I’m certainly no longer middle aged), I tend to prefer the International Standard Version (ISV) translation, except I use the word “elders” in place of the ISV’s “elderly people” as a term of greater respect:

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
Your elders will dream dreams,
and your young people will see visions.

As a Transcendentalist, I’ve had my share of both dreams and visions. I no longer see much of a difference between them. Martin Luther King, Jr., said he had a dream: a realizable, albeit distant, hope for a more just future. But isn’t that a vision, too? Both dreams and visions can be overpowering. Both can arise while we’re asleep, so that when we wake we know what we must do.

(P.S.: While it has nothing to do with this blog post, I can’t resist mentioning one of my favorite pieces of music about sleep [which won’t be part of Sunday’s service]: Thomas Morley, “O Sleep”.)

General Assembly: to go, or not to go

I’ve gone back and forth about whether to attend General Assembly this year.

At first, I was planning to attend in person. I have enough money in my professional expenses budget. I was looking forward to those informal interpersonal interactions that happen at conferences. On the other hand, it looks like it’s going to be expensive; I’m estimating a low-end cost of $2500 for five days, and I’m not sure that’s the best use of my congregation’s limited financial resources. I also admit that I’m still COVID-scared, and the thought of being cooped up with a couple thousand other people doesn’t sound good to me.

Of course I could attend General Assembly online. But the agony of sitting for hours in front of my computer screen for what promises to be a fairly low-quality experience does not seem appealing. Especially since it will be almost impossible to have any of the informal interactions that make in-person conferences interesting.

I feel like I should attend, one way or the other, just to be part of the business meeting where we will vote on the proposed revision to Article II. But at this point, it looks to me as though those revisions are going to pass regardless of what I vote. And my congregation has shown little or no interest in the Article II revisions, so my vote would only represent my personal opinion, not their collective opinion.

Probably my strongest feeling around General Assembly this year is cynicism. Which surprises me. But I haven’t been feeling good about the Article II revision process. I felt uninspired by both the draft versions I saw; and my congregation is still focused on recovering from the pandemic, with no time to spare for denominational politics. I don’t want to feel cynical. So my decision on whether to attend General Assembly will probably come down to this: which course of action will make me feel least cynical? I’ll let you know how that turns out….

Update: The board of my congregation would like me to attend, in order to vote on the proposed Article II revisions. Now I have to decide if I attend in person, or online.

Sign of spring

I went for a walk at the Norris Reservation in Norwell, Mass., today. Walking around Gordon’s Pond, I saw Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) beginning to sprout. Perhaps two dozen tightly curled green and purple spathes dotted the ground on either side of the boardwalk. One of the spathes had opened, revealing the spadix inside, with tiny little flowers blooming on it. This is the first native flower I’ve seen since the Witch Hazel bloomed in December.

A close-up of a Skink Cabbage inflorescence inside its purple-and-green spathe.

Soundscapes and ecojustice

Yesterday’s post on the different ways white people, and people of color, respond to charismatic megafauna and mesafauna got me thinking about a recent post by Desireé Melonas at the Blog of the APA. She went to Africatown, in Mobile, Alabama, as part of a group that received a grant to develop environmental justice curriculum materials for students living and going to school in Africatown. Why environmental justice curriculum? Because Africatown is another example of how communities of color and working class communities find themselves dominated by polluting industries.

In this blog post, Desireé Melonas reflects on her first impressions upon visitng Africatown: “…both Vince and Roald [other members of her group] commented on Africatown’s distinct soundscape. In a sort of astonished tone, Vince told of how the community is blanketed by what felt like an eerie absence of sound; no birds could be heard, a sound many of us are perhaps so inured to hearing that we take for granted what about our communities their being there signifies. This sonic experience Vince described paradoxically as ‘suffocating,’ a fitting term given the connection here between the existential experience and the literal source of the sonic absence.”

The lack of birds and other wildlife is a direct result of the toxication of Africatown by the industrial plants sited there, operated by such major manufacturers as the Scott Paper Co., International Paper, etc. So not only are the residents of Africatown experiencing higher levels of cancer from the toxication, they also have to deal with a “suffocating” soundscape.

This reminds me of another aspect of toxication.

Lichens are sensitive to air pollution, and are actually an effective way to monitor air pollution. I experienced some of this when we lived in San Mateo. When we lived downtown next to the train station, in a white minority neighborhood, there were no lichens growing anywhere in our little yard; this should have been no surprise, since we lived two blocks from the train line, right next to a major bus route, a few block from Highway 101, and not far from the usual landing route for jets into SFO; while the air pollution wasn’t terrible (not as bad as in Africatown), it was omnipresent. Then we moved just two miles away, up the hill into the old caretaker’s cottage owned by a nonprofit cemetery (who rented to us at below market rates). The surrounding neighborhood was quite well-to-do, and quite white. Quite a few lichens grew in the cemetery, because the air was a lot cleaner; and, no surprise, I stopped getting bronchitis as often as before. Now we live in Cohasset (which is very white), where there are lots of lichens growing everywhere, and not only have I not gotten bronchitis this winter, but my allergies aren’t as bad as they were a couple of years ago.

So an area that lacks lichens will have enough air pollution to cause noticeable negative health effects. An area that lacks birds is seriously polluted, with major negative health effects. While we don’t need to be sentimental about charismatic megafauna and mesafauna, a lack of such animals in a residential area might be telling us something about the level of toxication there.

An interesting anecdote

I’m still slowly making my way through is Fear of Black Consciousness, by Lewis Gordon. I’ll read a few pages, which will get me thinking hard about something, I’ll go follow those thoughts for a while, until eventually I come back to Lewis Gordon’s book. The latest bit that’s sending me off on a tangent is this interesting anecdote:

“During … [a] conference … in South Africa in the late 1990s, the hosts took the presenters to a wildlife preserve. I hate even the idea of a safari, but I went along in the spirit of being a good guest. As the game warden and the resident veterinarian were explaining safety measures at the facility, I glimpsed one of the guests, a white Frenchman in his thirties, straying away from the group. Curious about what he was up to, I watched as he made his way over to a fence, behind which rested a lioness. Seeing him coming close, the lioness rose on all fours. The Frenchman looked at her for about a minute and then slowly extended his hand to pet her. The lioness licked her lips.

“‘Stop!‘ yelled the game warden.

‘The Frenchman paused, his hand near the fence. ‘Why?’

“‘Because she’ll eat you!’

“There is something many people of color, especially those of us from the Global South, know about white people as a group but rarely discuss with them. Although many white people despise nonwhite peoles, especially blacks, they love animals. The love is to the point of many if not most whites seeming no longer capable of imagining animals as wild.” [pp. 40-41]

I have noticed this tendency among some of my white friends, a tendency I don’t quite share. I remember walking into a city park with a white friend, when we passed an eagle sitting, quite fearlessly, fairly close to a boardwalk over a constructed wetlands. We both looked at the eagle for half a minute. Then I continued walking, but my friend decided to stay and commune with the eagle for the net half hour. I didn’t share their impulse, but I could understand it.

Contrast that with another young white friend, who was majoring in biology and managed to get a summer job working with a field biologist banding birds. After that summer, she no longer thought birds were cute, nor did she particularly like them, although she did respect them. Or another young white friend who was in 4-H. After milking goats, and cleaning up their shit, and watching them give birth, and taking care of their illnesses, and sending them off to be slaughtered for food — she did not see goats, or any other animals, as cute and cuddly. Then, too, when I was working lower middle class jobs, I had a number of white friends who were hunters or trappers. They lacked any sentimentality about killing animals; in fact, for some of the older ones, hunting and trapping had been how they got through the Great Depression. So there are white people who, because of their experiences, lack sentimentality when it comes to animals. However, it’s worth noting that these white people tend to see animals in utilitarian terms, or as resources to be conserved or exploited.

Lewis Gordon points out: “Pleonexia — wanting everything — requires the absence of limits. White pleonexia transforms land, living things, including other human beings, and even thoughts, into property; the covetous mentality is applied to the skies, to outer space, and even to time…. This desire expands to the expectation, if not presumption, of invulnerability and absolute entitlement….” [p. 40]

[A side note: what I mean by “animals” in this post, and what I think Lewis Gordon means, are the charismatic mega-fauna and mesa-fauna, primarily in phylum Chordata, classes Mammalia, Reptilia, and Aves — we’re mostly not talking about poriferans, molluscs, arthropods, annelids, etc.]

Another who’s leaving social media

Science fiction author (and former librarian) Karl Drinkwater is leaving social media:

“…I’m going to close my social media accounts. They tie you in by becoming a habit. They tie you in by making you think you need continuous reinforcement. They tie you in with follower counts, and the implicit threat that if you walk away you’ll lose thousands of followers gathered over a decade. The last one isn’t true. As in, you don’t lose anything….” Plus, he adds, commercial social media sites like Twitter and Facebook spy on you, make money from your content, own your content, don’t actually show your followers your content, and do many other evil things.

Drinkwater is no Luddite. He details how he’s been an early adopter many times in the past. And maybe he’s being an early adopter now — we’re seeing the beginnings of a trend of tech-savvy people realizing the full horrors of commercial social media, and getting rid of it. Realizing the full horrors of Amazon, and withdrawing all support from it. Realizing the full horrors of Microsoft and Apple, of any smartphone made, and finding alternatives.

He’s fortunate that he can withdraw from all those things. I pretty much have to have a smartphone for my job. Given the press of demands from my job, I don’t have the time to make the switch to LibreOffice. Similarly, I don’t have time to switch to Linux — a switch that would entail too many hours of learning Linus, finding replacement software, learning how to use it.

On the other hand, Drinkwater says he’s done this as a gradual changeover. You don’t have to do it overnight. I’ve already pretty much stopped using social media. My laptop has about two more years of life left in it; maybe I should think about buying a new laptop now, one that I can install Linux on. Maybe it’s time to start researching dumb phones, ones without GPS or other spying capabilities built into them.

But I will definitely remain here at this blog. This blog is what social media used to look like. I use open source software to power this blog, and host it with an ISP that uses renewable energy. No one steals your data. No one owns my content (except me). This is what the web could be….