Wasp

This evening, I went out to look at the paper wasp nest that is well-hidden in the native plants garden at the church. I’ve learned that in the hour before sunset, the founder wasp rests herself on the nest, between the nest and its supporting twig, just below the petiole. And that’s exactly where she was when I got out there.

My camera is a good tool for getting a close look at her without getting too close; I have a healthy respect of wasps and have no desire to provoke her into stinging me. Looking at the photos I took of her, it looks like she has added some cells to the nest. The light began fading rapidly while I was taking photos, and it wasn’t long before the camera would no longer focus on the nest; as a result, I didn’t get any photos looking into the ends of the cells, so I’m not sure whether the cells contain any eggs or larvae.

Goats

St. John’s Cemetery, where we live, owns a strip of land between the actual cemetery and an adjacent residential neighborhood. This strip of land, while attractive, has gotten overgrown with undesirable plants like Russian thistle and poison oak. As an environmentally friendly way to control these undesirable plants, Kathy, the cemetery director, brought in Green Goat Landscapers.

The goats arrived this afternoon, and I went out to look at them this evening. They are safely installed behind a temporary electric fence — the fence not only keeps the goats in, it also keeps any roaming mountains lions out (and yes, mountain lions have been seen in the cemetery).

I found it very satisfying to stand and watch the goats. Perhaps I had distant ancestors from Eurasia who herded animals, and I still have some ancestral memory of that. More likely, it’s just that herd animals and humans spent a lot of time with each other, and while we humans domesticated goats, the goats for their part also domesticated us.

Eventually computers will domesticate us in different ways, but at the moment we humans are still closer to goats than to computers. I stood watching the goats eat the thistles. They didn’t seem to mind the prickles on the thistles; their facial expressions showed no signs of pain; only contentment.

I stood watching the goats for quite a while, and had a brief fantasy about being a goatherd. But goatherding is even less remunerative than being a children and youth minister, so I went indoors to check email.

“The World Is Full of Smelly Feet”

Veronika sent a photo of hymn number 736 in Anglican Hymns Old and New, Revised and Enlarged (Great Britain: Kevin Mayhew, 2008). The hymn is titled “The Wolrd Is Full of Smelly Feet.” Of course I thought it was a faked photo, but a little bit of Web searching reveals that it is, in fact, a real hymn with text by by Michael Forster, and music by Christopher Tambling.

I suppose if one is in a Christian church with a liturgical heritage, and one is looking for a contemporary praise-song-type hymn to sing during footwashing, one might consider having the congregation sing this; although it’s hard to imagine.

But then my Web searching revealed that this hymn is included in a collection for junior choirs, and that boggled my mind. If the junior choir I was in sang this song — which we wouldn’t have, since it was a Unitarian Universalist church — but if we had been told to sing that song, my buddy Barry and I would have been laughing so hard we probably would have been unable to sing. Maybe some of the serious older girls would have sung it, but I can’t even imagine them getting through the lyrics with a straight face.

I am sometimes annoyed by some of the hymns in the Unitarian Universalist hymnals. It is good to know that we, at least, do no have a hymn to smelly feet.

For educational purposes, and in the spirit of Maundy Thursday, I’ll include the chorus and two of the verses here. I think you’ll especially enjoy the unexpected rhyme between “toes” and “nose.”

Chorus: The world is full of smelly feet,
Weary from the dusty street.
The world is full of smelly feet,
We’ll wash them for each other.

Jesus said to his disciples,
‘Wash those weary toes!
‘Do it in a cheerful fashion,
‘Never hold your nose!

We’re his [Jesus’] friends, we recognise him
In the folk we meet;
Smart or scruffy, we’ll still love him,
Wash his smelly feet!


Polistes

Nancy saw a paper wasp beginning to build a nest. We watched it for a few minutes. The nest is still small, with perhaps 16 cells. We saw one adult, who sat quite still on the nest for more than a minute at a time; then she (presumably it was a female) would fly off and return after a minute or so. I wondered if she were working on building the nest; but she was working on the underside of the nest, and the nest was located where we couldn’t see the underside without disturbing her, we could not confirm my conjecture. I did, however, manage to take two photos with Carol’s phone:

I feel fairly confident assigning this individual to genus Polistes, a genus which includes dozens of species of paper wasps. The online “Bug Guide” of the University of Iowa’s Department of Entomology says of genus Polistes: “Predatory on other insects (predominantly caterpillars) to feed larvae.” Nancy left the nest there so the wasps could serve as a biological control on voracious caterpillars and other herbivorous insects.

Deity?

The DeYoung Museum in San Francisco has a number of Cycladic figures made thousands of years ago in what is now Greece. I was attracted to one of these figures, labeled as “Cycladic Figure, Early Cycladic II, Spedos variety,” dating to perhaps 2500 BCE, so I made a quick sketch of it:

This is a typical Cycladic figure of a woman with her arms crossed; it is made of white marble, though originally it would have been “painted with mineral-based pigments—azurite for blue and iron ores, or cinnabar for red.” There are those who assert that this type of figure represents a deity, perhaps the Great Goddess who may have been the chief deity of the ancient Greek world.

But of course there’s really no way to know what this figure represents. Is it a deity, or just a human figure? Or maybe something in between? Perhaps we would tend to call it a deity because the shape is so satisfying to look at; when we like looking at a piece of art it is tempting to think of that art as representing something beyond the mundane.

Odorous house ant

It’s that time of year: the Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile) are sneaking indoors to get out of the rain. At least I think that’s what they are: they’re the right size and shape, and when you crush one it smells vaguely floral (some people describe the smell as being like cocnout sun tan oil). One of the ants paused on the edge of our sink long enough for me to take a photo that’s only slightly blurred:

More about Odorous House Ants from Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants, on the School of Ants Web site.

Political correctness and moral dogmatism

A new podcast from the University of Macau, featuring philosophy professor Hand-Georg Moeller and doctoral candidate Dan Sarafinas, focuses on “virtue speech,” which is Moeller’s philosophical term for political correctness.

Moeller connects virtue speech to civil religion; in the United States, civil religion begins with the fundamental dogma contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” According to Moeller, this dogma is written so you can’t argue with it; all you can do is interpret it. (Although as Moeller points out, there are all kinds of ways you can argue with this statement; for example, Europeans like Moeller are not likely to believe in a Creator, let alone a Creator who endows human beings with unalienable rights.)

Virtue speech — politically correct speech — starts with this fundamental dogma and interprets it by applying it to specific situations, such as the MeToo movement, or Black Lives Matter. While Moeller says he’s generally supportive of the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, to someone who believes in the Enlightenment ideal of the use of reason, virtue speech is going to be just as much of a problem as fundamentalist Christianity: both are founded on dogmas that require you to accept them without reasoning. Moeller points how virtue speech subverts well-reasoned argument:

“Most of these people who are attacking virtue speech, who are attacking political correctness: in the beginning they’re just appalled by this virtue signaling. They’re appalled by this self-aggrandizing moralism or the moralists. But then they start thinking, ‘OK, I’ll prove that their morality is wrong.’ And then they get drawn into a moralistic, dogmatic discourse, because they start talking about the issue. They come up with very indefensible positions, even.”

Moeller’s title for the podcast is “The Issue Is Not the Issue.” He doesn’t want to get involved in moralistic, dogmatic discourse himself. Instead, he wants to point out the problems with dogmatism:

“The point is not to deny the values of liberty and equality, but to understand and critique dogmatic speech, no matter what the issues are. That doesn’t mean that these things are wrong. It’s just to point out the problems of engaging in dogmatic speech.”

While I highly recommend this podcast, I think it will be very challenging for many religions liberals. In their religious life, religious liberals studiously avoid dogmatism, but in their political life too many religious liberals engage in dogmatic speech with little consciousness of what they’re doing; indeed, many Unitarian Universalist congregations, while eschewing religious dogmatism, are hothouses of political dogmatism.

You can listen to the first episode of “The Issue Is Not the Issue” here.

California Tortoiseshell

At about 5:30, while wandering around St. John’s Cemetery enjoying the first warm spring day, I saw a number of California Tortoiseshell butterflies flying under some live oaks. I tried to count them but they were moving too fast: at least half a dozen, probably more. They were very active, but some of them settled long enough for me to take their photo. I noticed that the edges of their wings were quite worn.

California Tortoiseshells are migratory butterflies. They hibernate in winter in the foothills of the Coast Range — St. John’s Cemetery could be considered in the foothills of the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains . According to Arthur M. Shapiro in Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions: “When they emerge from hibernation in late winter the males are late-afternoon territorial perchers in classic nymphaline style.” Indeed, the butterflies I saw appeared to be patrolling territories, perching in one spot and periodically circling around a small area, sometimes flying at other butterflies in nearby territories.

I went back to the house to get a camera with a better zoom, but by the time I had returned, the sun was almost below the horizon and the butterflies had gone away.

Risk Reduction Resource Kit

Alex, a friend who works at Health Initiatives for Youth (HI4Y) in San Francisco, told me about their Risk Reduction Resource Kits. These kits contain resources to help teens teens learn about sexuality and safer sex. Alex knows about the OWL comprehensive sexuality education program, and has heard me describe our youth programs, and based on that he encouraged me to put in an application for the last remaining Risk Resource Reduction Kit, and Carol and I went in to JI4Y’s offices to pick up the kit on Monday.

The whole point of the kit is that it’s supposed to be placed where teens can access it without adult supervision, to encourage them to explore the materials on their own. The kit was designed to accompany a sexuality education curriculum developed by HI4Y, but be accessible both to teens taking the curriculum and other teens. So for our congregation, it’s a prefect accompaniment to the OWL unit for gr. 10-12; for those taking OWL the kit will reinforce the curriculum; and it can also serve as an educational resource for those not taking OWL.

The Curriculum Subcommittee of our congregation met the day after I picked up the kit, and we devoted the meeting to talking about the kit. The Curriculum Subcommittee has been exploring ways to be more intentional about our congregation’s implicit curriculum, asking ourselves: How can we structure intentional learning opportunities that are not part of the explicit curriculum, the formal educational programs? We agreed that the kit is a solid addition to our implicit curriculum: Not only does it educate teens about specific sexuality topics, it provides a larger lesson that information about sexuality should be easily accessible and shared without shame or guilt.

Beyond educational theory, we also talked about how best to implement this aspect of our implicit curriculum. Alex had warned us that sometimes the kits get forgotten, and stowed in some obscure corner. So we’re going to provide orientation to the kit for key adults (youth advisors, OWL leaders, ministers, and others) to increase the chance that adults will remember to make the kit accessible. In addition, we’re also going to provide a brief orientation to the kit to teens — both to youth group members, and participants in OWL gr. 10-12 — showing them what’s in the kit, and telling them where it will be located. (When we offer OWL for gr. 7-9 next year, we’ll do another orientation.)

But the real strength of the kit is what it contains. HI4Y came up with some excellent youth-friendly resources, including comics, zines, books, and samples — I’m putting a complete list of what’s in the kit below. The materials are housed in a wheeled nylon case, like airline luggage (actually, it’s a scrapbooking case HI4Y bought from Michael’s art supply). A highlight of the kit is contraceptives samples that youth can examine: condoms of course, but also dental dams, female condoms, and lubricant; HI4Y even has some grant money left to replenish samples when they get depleted. There’s both a penis model (made of wood, not plastic!) for trying condoms, and a vulva/vagina model for trying female condoms. We were able to add one very important thing to this kit: our congregation has a ten thousand dollar bequest that we can use to put books in the hands of children and teens, so we are able to provide copies of the book “S.E.X.” by Heather Corinna that youth can take for their own.

We would not have been able to afford to put this kit together ourselves, and we are grateful to HI4Y for writing the grant and assembling the kit, and to the federal government for providing the grant money. Just in case your UU congregation can find the funding, I’m going to provide a complete list of all the resources in the kit below; at the very least, this list of resources might spark ideas for you.

The Risk Reduction Resource Kit (we added the sign at top).

Here’s what’s in the kit:

Birth control samples and examples:
Dental dam samples
Female condom samples
Female Contraceptive Model (to practice inserting female condoms)
Lubricants samples
Male condom samples
Penis model (to practice with male condoms)
IUD model
The Ring model
The Pill model
The Implant info card
Plan B info card
Birth Control Patch info card
“How Well Does Birth Control Work” info card

Home test kits:
Pregnancy test kits
HIV Home Test Kit information (actual kit is stored separately, per instructions from Health Initiatives for Youth)

Handouts and Miscellaneous:
“Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis” handout
Individual Drug Fact Cards (handouts)
Drug Fact Cards set
Chlamydia Plush Toy
HIV Plush Toy
Youth Clinic Youth Guide to San Francisco and Silicon Valley (list of local clinics that serve youth; includes 1-page summary of California law on youth’s right to treatment)
(We also added handouts from the nearest Planned Parenthood Health Center)

Publications:
“Dr. Rad’s Queer Health Show: Self Exams & Check-Ups” zine by Rad Remedy and Isabella Rotman
“You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs” comic zine by Isabella Rotman
“Not on My Watch: Bystander’s Handbook for Prevention of Sexual Violence” comic zine by Isabella Rotman
“100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents” book by Elisabeth Henderson and Nancy Armstrong
“S.E.X.” book by Heather Corinna
“LGBTQ: The Survival Guide” book by Kelly Huegel Madrone
“Birth Control Top Picks” magazine by Bedsider.org

Lichen

Lichen, Parmotrema species

Several of the live oak trees in the older part of St. John’s Cemetery in San Mateo have branches on which grow bluish-gray foliose lichens with ruffled edges lined with black cilia. The thallus appears to be attached to the substrate mostly in the middle, leaving the edges curling up. On some, small round soralia could be seen (a soralium is where a lichen produces soredia, which are small bits of fungal hyphae and phtyobiont that can be released to produce a new lichen).

Lichen, Parmotrema species

After consulting Stephen Sharnoff, A Field Guide to California Lichens (Yal Univ., 2014), I’d place these lichens in the genus Parmotrema; without doing any chemical tests, I’d guess P. arnoldii Powdered Ruffle Lichen, or P. perlatum Common Powder Ruffle.