Email: curse / blessing?

I’m involved in an email thread at the moment. Everyone is very polite. I like everyone on the email thread. The thread has gotten pretty long. New people have been looped in. People in this email thread are carrying on email conversations on the same topic outside the thread. Result: lots of confusion. A couple of people are valiantly trying to straighten things out.

Email is a blessing, because you can carry out asynchronous conversations and include new people as needed.

Email is a curse, because you can carry out asynchronous conversations and include new people as needed.

Why I decided to like “De Colores”

Back in 1993, when they revised the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, the editors decided to include “De Colores.” I’ve always hated “De Colores.” It’s a kids’ song. Actually, I like a lot of kids’ songs, but to me “De Colores” sounded like something from that horrible kid show with the ridiculous purple dinosaur.

It didn’t help that I knew why they put “De Colores” in the hymnal. It was famous for being sung by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW). It’s great that they put in a union song, but if they’re going to put in a union song, then why not “Solidarity Forever”? Why not “Commonwealth of Toil”? Because, said my cynical self, “De Colores” could be passed off as just a kids’ song, or a song about racial harmony, instead of a song about stopping exploitation of workers. And the English-language verses in the hymnal aren’t even the ones sung by Cesar Chavez and the UFW.

Well, I’ve finally decided that I actually like “De Colores.” In part this was because I finally found a performance of it I liked: the very simple, straightforward version by José-Luis Orozco on Youtube. Then I found “The UFW: Songs and Stories Sung and Told by UFW Volunteers,” which has this story by Abby Rivera:

“I was familiar with ‘De Colores’ as a child…. I grew extremely weary of this song early on, until I discovered something uncanny about it. ‘Here we go again,’ I would complain to myself many times while making faces. Then we would begin to sing, and after the first few lines my entire demeanor and attitude would change. By the time the song was over, a total transformation of my spirit would occur, making me glad that I had sung it after all. It came to be my spiritual cleansing song, because the words reached deep into my soul and took me to another place where things are perfect, in harmony, of like mind and purpose….”

OK then. If Abby Rivera can find spiritual cleansing in this song, I guess I can too. But only if we sing the verse about the chickens.

P.S.: And if you want to turn it into an actual union song, here are two verses (in English) that I learned from Pat Wynne and the San Francisco Rocking Solidarity Labor Chorus:

“Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez devoted his life to the Farm Worker’s Union,
Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez dreamed of a good life for all campesinos,
Cesar Chavez, may your courage and vision live on in our hearts and our hands,
May your spirit endure and inspire us all to continue the work you began. (2x)

“Si se puede, si se puede means: yes, we can do it, if we all believe it,
Si se puede, Cesar said, “Si se puede,” and showed us the way to achieve it,
Cesar Chavez, may your courage and vision live on in our hearts and our hands,
May your spirit endure and inspire us all to continue the work you began. (2x)


Over the past year and a half, I’ve slowly been learning a little about botany. One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is that somewhere around one third of all plants in the wild are not native where I live here in Massachusetts. And along suburban streets, most of the plants I see are not only non-natives, they are cultivated by humans. The problem with non-native plants is that they do not fit into the existing ecosystem — they may not support native pollinators, or feed native birds, or provide food or shelter for mammals and other animals. The suburbs may look like a green landscape, but in many ways it’s a sterile green landscape.

So I was pleased to discover the “Grow Native Massachusetts” website, which provides resources for people who want to grow native plants. The tag line of the website sums it up: “Every landscape counts.” If you plant your tiny little 1/8 acre yard with native plants, you’ll be helping pollinators and birds. Heck, if you plant a container garden with native plants on the balcony of your apartment, you’ll be helping native pollinators.


Ngoc, Matt, and I are gearing up to offer a week of Ecojustice Camp here on the South Shore beginning August 14. I’m looking forward to translating the California Ecojustice Camp curriculum, which I helped develop, to southeastern Massachusetts.

We still haven’t figured out how much we’re going to charge, or what ages we’re going to include. But we’re hoping to keep rates below average for this area, and the ages will probably be much the same as the California camp. Watch the camp website for updates!

Update, April 20: The camp website now has rates and age groups.


Carol and I went for a day trip to Cape Cod. The first place we went was Sandy Neck in Barnstable. As we walked from the parking lot to the beach, someone said, “Are you here for the whales?”

About 80 North Atlantic Right Whales have been hanging out around Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Canal has been closed once or twice because one or more whales have entered it — a primary cause of North Atlantic Right Whale mortality is vessel strikes. Since there are only about 370 of these whales left in the whole world, it’s worth closing the canal to keep them safe.

We didn’t see any whales, so we walked up the marsh side of Sandy Neck, where we saw the carcass of a pilot whale that had died on the bay side and had been hauled over to this side to rot. After an hour of walking, we crossed back over to the beach. When the ocean came in view, I got my binoculars and started to scan for whales. Almost immediately, I saw two — no, three of them — just at the limit of visibility, where the ozone started to blur things.

Just as I told Carol, one of the whales breached. Given the visibility and the distance, mostly what I saw was the huge black mass of its body coming up out of the water, the water foaming white around it, and what looked like white patches on one side of the animal’s body — right whales do have white markings on their bellies. Carol got her binoculars up in time to see the huge splash it made when it re-entered the water.

We watched for a while longer. We could see the surging water around the whales, and maybe we glimpsed a sight of the black heads. Then they disappeared. Maybe we saw them for 60 seconds, or even two minutes — not a long time, but a very memorable time.

J.R.R. Tolkien and white supremacy

An interesting essay by Tolkien scholar Robin A. Reid points out that the beloved author’s works are also loved by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, etc. Why? Perhaps because Tolkien’s fictional universe sets up a fictional racial hierarchy similar to the real-world racial hierarchies promoted by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, etc. The essay’s title is, in of itself, interesting: “Why White Supremacy No Longer Provides Cover for White Academia.”

Reid also cites a recently-published article that uncovers the racism in Tolkein’s fictional world: “[I]n 2022, those of us working on racisms and Tolkien were amazed to discover a newly-published essay in The Southern Journal of Philosophy: Charles W. Mills’ “The Wretched of Middle-earth: An Orkish Manifesto.” … It turns out that this 2022 publication is over thirty years old: Mills wrote it at some point during the late 1980s and could not get it published….” Reid goes on to say that the simple fact that Mills could not get his essay published in the 1980s helps reveal how Tolkien scholarship has been dominated by white viewpoints and by white privilege.

Young owl

I was out for a walk at dusk in nearby Wheelwright Park, and heard a strange sound coming from a nearby tree — a sort of whiny “cheep” kind of sound. I looked up, and there was a juvenile Great Horned Owl about 10 meters up.

The fading light made it hard to see much, but the bird appeared to have well-developed flight feathers. The prominent ear tufts which are characteristic of adult Great Horned Owls were just starting to form. And the plumage was a lighter color than adult plumage. So my guess is that this was a young owl out for one of its first forays from the nest.

As I stood watching it — and trying to take photos with my smartphone — I thought I heard another owl cheeping from a tree farther away. It seems like there were two young owls out trying out their new wings.

An owl sitting on a branch partway up a tree, at some distance from the camera. The light is dim, and the photo is pixelated and of poor quality.

Easter as a cultural holiday

Someone I know was worried when I said I hadn’t bought Carol an Easter gift. I immediately felt guilty. Is that what one is supposed to do these days?

It turns out this is in fact a growing cultural trend. Religion News Service asked recently: “Is Easter the new Christmas?” They reported that there are now elaborate Easter gifts for children, along with Easter egg hunts for adults: “…at a time when fewer people are identifying as Christian and church attendance has been slow to recover from the pandemic, celebrations of the most sacred day on the Christian calendar are becoming bigger and more detached from their religious roots. In their place, events like the Adult Eggstravaganza Egg Hunt… the Boozy Bunny Egg Hunt, hiding plastic eggs containing candy and little bottles of alcoholic beverages for residents over the age of 21… [and] kiddie pools full of summery gifts….”

Gag me, as the Valley Girls used to say, with a spoon.

I’ve come up with a name for this growing movement: Consumer Capitalism As a New Religious Movement, or CCANRM (pronounced “kanrum”). No, this is not the Secular Age — this is the age when CCARM takes over from Christianity as the biggest baddest religion — when CCARM takes over from Buddhism as the most effective proselytizing religion among the Cultured Despisers of Religion.


I did not get Carol an Easter gift. She was happy that I did not. We did not have a special meal. We just had our usual cook-it-when-you-feel-like-eating meals. We went to the Sunday service at First Parish, we spent an hour at social hour talking with people, we took a long walk in Whitney-Thayer Woods. It was a good way to spend a nice spring day.

New website for early American sacred music

If you’re interested in early American sacred music (as I am), you might be interested in a new website being developed by Nym Cooke, a well known scholar and practitioner in the field. A friend forwarded me Cooke’s introductory email, which says in part:

“I invite you to explore a new website, Early American Sacred Music, at This constantly growing resource includes:
— a searchable database with extensive information on over 2,100 American printed and manuscript sources produced before 1821 (the complete holdings of 22 libraries), and over 10,000 manuscript music entries;
—600 pages of transcriptions from ca. 300 New England town and church histories, containing all that those sources have to say about early sacred music, and farmed out into 22 searchable subject files — with an index of the ca. 1,138 musicians those histories document….”

I’ll point out that this last item implies that anyone doing research on history of 18th century American congregations might find useful information on this website.

Also of interest to me was this statement: “Current inventorying plans include the collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University; the Newberry Library in Chicago; the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan; the Boston Public Library; the New York Public Library; and a number of town historical societies in New England.” Again, this could make the site a very useful resource for historians as well as musicologists.

New approach to defeating evil spammers

I’m trying something new.

For some years now, this blog has used a WordPress plugin called “CaptchaBank.” This plugin forced you to solve an arithmetic problem before you could comment (and I have had to solve an arithmetic problem before I could login). It was a great plugin that kept the spammers at bay. And it wasn’t based on Google’s horrible “reCaptcha” which steals your data and has an appalling user interface.

Alas, Captcha Bank is no longer being maintained. I finally had to deactivate it.

Fortunately, Cloudflare has released a new form of Captcha which they call “Turnstile.” You can read about it here. They don’t steal your data. And Cloudflare is a company that I have at least a moderate amount of trust in (as opposed to Google, which sadly I can no longer trust at all). So I installed a plugin that runs Turnstile on WordPress.

With luck, everything will run smoothly and you won’t notice a difference. But if anything goes wrong, this will explain why you’re unable to comment. If that happens, please let me know (you can find my email on the About page).