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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropYeah, after the little basement interruption, it was back to reno. Seem to be over the hump on that, but here's a sketch on which to attach a buncha linkies...with luck, I'll have some more pages this week, but if not, then next.

First up (& most fascinating to me, anyway) this cool old video on plastering from the 1950s? that very much aligns with my book (also from the same era, which I purchased because I thought I was gonna learn how to repair the authentic wood-lath-and-plaster walls of our century old house—ha!):

  • from the Gypsum Association archives, lathing and plastering—our old house had some of that transitional wall board, the 2x4 stuff with holes in it to form keys with plaster; also coved (curved upper walls) ceiling—and this was a post WWII starter home.
  • How to clean crusted paintbrushes using hot vinegar —I'd just as soon not use the petroleum based solvents found in ‘brush cleaner’, so this looks worth a try (though honestly, I cheated and bought a new cut-in brush, since my old one dated back to at least a decade ago, and yes, it made the job significantly easier: not so much in terms of putting the paint where I wanted it—that's more a matter of skill—but retaining the paint instead of dripping it so much. Despite pre-wetting and cleaning it immediately, however, there's still streaks of paint dried on it, so I think this tip is gonna be useful.)
  • Why our solar system is flat Ever wondered why all the planets rotate around the sun in basically a plane (Saturn's rings are another example). Well, here you go:) Plus, there's a bonus explanation about that ‘fake’ force, ‘centrifugal motion’.
  • Speaking of Saturn, its moon Mimas evidently has a liquid ocean
  • a former? republican? politico thinks Biden is not only a good president, but a great one. Dunno that I agree with that, but it's nice to have the administration's successes laid out. Seems like we mostly hear about the failures, and that can be kind of a downer.
  • The House of Dance and Feathers has an online gallery of their elaborately beaded Crewe (NOLA mardi gras) costumes which to my eyes have something of the woodland style in their organic, curvilinear designs.
  • Appendices (the organic kind) have evidently independently evolved multiple times, which tells you right there they're serving a useful purpose (possibly repopulating the gut biome, as, frex, after a bout of antibiotics; makes sense to me, anyway.
  • Facial expressions do not reveal emotions as clearly as we think they do, or IOW, some people are disposed to be stone faced.
  • Gustave Klimt portrait, lost for a century, found—gorgeous: the first time I've seen this, AFIAK.
  • Identical twins stolen from their mom, re-united. I've known a couple of sets of identical twins, and all described the bond as special and very close; it's dreadful to steal any parent's child, but seems an extra layer of cruelty to separate twins. Their story ends up being bittersweet, against a horrifying backdrop of thousands of stolen Georgian babies over decades.
  • On a happier note, two shipbuilders a century apart, explore cutting edge sailing ships, as well as the importance of family: and as my parents were sailors, and my brother actually owned a 60’ steel-hulled staysail schooner for a time, this was a pretty cool story for me. I would love for sailing ships to come back in a big way.
  • Micro acts of joy really do help provided you can get yourself to do the rather silly-looking exercises.

Well, one joyful thing I associate with camping is the time and peace to do watercolour landscapes. I don't do them consistently enough for them to get good, but they sure bring happiness, and they also serve as practical mementos of lovely scenes.


cropWoe is me, after being the principal instigator in a reno project involving little details like removing ceilings, putting in a new floor, rerouting wiring and replumbing a new sink (for which I had only to actually do a bit of painting & mudding) I thought I could go back to my lazy life, but alas, our basement “flooded”. By which I mean the switch on the sump pump evidently hung up, and an inch or so of the rain that's been falling ended up covering the floor—always damp, cold & conducive to mold, now it's a race to get rid of all the cardboard and other growth media before it become truly toxic. (Why yes, I do understand that as our flooding was low and contained no sewage backup, we were lucky.)

As with the reno, the work has been mostly done by the wizard, f2tE, and friends; nevertheless, but even the fitful efforts I've been contributing to these projects wear me out. (IOW, this is probably gonna be it for the week...)

But! A library hold, Tim Alberta's The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism came in on Friday, and I have to say, as an alternative to throwing out moldy crap and half-broken tools given me over the years that I was gonna ‘use someday’ I inhaled this book.

I had read an excerpt somewhere and found the narrative compelling, and since our library had it, I ordered it. Early in the book the author tells of his father's devastating and sudden death; at the church his dad spent his life building up, Alberta expects to be condoled by the church members he's known since childhood on the loss, but is instead taken to task over his prior book castigating Trump's rise within the GOP. His wife wonders ‘what is wrong with these people?’ and it must've been an absolutely shattering betrayal to be taken to task by the congregation of his own father's church at his father's own funeral.

I am—just ever so slightly—more aware of evangelical controversies than the average progressive, liberal atheist, but only because I read Fred Clark's Slacktivist, but one reason I find this sort of book compelling is because I think it's not only intellectually lazy but also morally dangerous to write people off, tempting as it is when they spout cruelty; and like most progressives, I haven't much patience for the pro-life anti-LGBTQIA crowd, given that I've accessed abortion care, have a gay child and am “transgender”.[1] Oh, and atheist. Not to mention a female bodied feminist.

All things, so far as I can tell, evangelicals hate and want destroyed.

Alberta is both a seasoned political reporter and a (devout) preacher's kid, and this intersection informs his views: what, he wants to know, do chants of USA! USA!, abundant flags, books and other GOP merch for sale in a church(!)[2] have to do with feeding the hungry, caring for the widow and orphan, submission to God? Evangelicalism is about preaching—informing—spreading the good news of Jesus’ kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven— not politics, let alone requiring one's congregants to vote for a specific candidate or party. Which, btw, both he and I note is against the separation of Church and State encoded into our country by the Founding Fathers, which shouldn't ought to need to be said...but obviously is. Idolatry—in the form of 35 million dollar buildings to dedicated corrupt individuals (not god)—sickens him.

He is horrified by the politicalization of church closures, mask-wearing, covid19 vaccines during the early stages of the pandemic. American evangelicals have lost the plot, fixing their eyes on earthly power instead of love of humanity, bowing down to corrupt power-brokers instead of a humble submission to god. They have substituted faux victim-hood for the persecution the early church experienced (& still experiences in other parts of the world where religious freedom is truly curtailed) & which, the author asserts, their faith directs them to seek out.

But the average christian—the average human—doesn't want to live with that sort of uncertainty, poverty, fear. Developing faith that god will protect one against the vicissitudes of earthly life takes a lot of courage, and one can't entirely blame people for attempting shortcuts. (Especially, in my view, because there is no balancing heaven, afterlife or re-incarnation. This life is the only one you get.) This is why I support UBI and universal health care, to free people from fear. Nor are evangelicals alone in wishing for material success: the other day I was in a metaphysical shop (a bastion of woo I would normally avoid) and was struck by the number of candles and herb mixes ‘to bring money’ to the purchaser. Calm, joy, serenity, even a quest for love I could understand, but cash?

Talk about your magical thinking! Yet, that's all the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is, just with a christian skin on it.

Alberta speaks of the growing pastoral shortage (in a community where a big proportion of its adherents still bar women preachers, evidently) and alcoholism and affairs as an ‘off-ramp’ (i.e. escape) from their callings, because they are exhausted and afraid of their own flocks whom ‘they can no longer control’. And, that, right there, is really where the author and I part ways.

Politics is all about find areas where your views intersect—in this case, helping the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the politically weak (both of us find gunshots being the number one cause of death in USAian children horrifying—not least, because until 2021, my bugaboo, vehicular death, reigned, and that's bad, but at least cars serve another purpose besides killing; guns do not); environmental conservation (& boy howdy do I find it ironic that most conservatives seem to be agin it). In all of those Alberta's views align with the standard progressive agenda. (And this atheist's wish-list for a better world.)

But where our views diverge, sharply, (over and above the political issues of abortion and teh gays, which are basically two facets of feminism) is his reverence and my suspicion of ‘discipling’. This is the pastor's task of leading his (and nearly all the preachers, good or bad, in this book are male) flock to a ‘deeper understanding in Christ’. They are to submit to the Lord; indeed the very title gives us the slang phrase of ‘lording it over’ someone. It is, as Libby Anne of the now sadly defunct LoveJoyFeminism explains, a hierarchical system in which God reigns, and covers the pastors/other authority figures; the pastors, the men; the men ‘their’ women (and children). God is to be unquestioningly and completely obeyed, because He is the all-Mighty, and we are mere limited imperfect—distorted—images thereof. Copies.

I'm all for accountabililty buddies, but I can't sign onto submission. I want peers, not rulers or minions. Mentors and students, I can and do treasure, but that's because it's a flexible role: I can mentor you in bead-stringing, you can mentor me in weight-training. I can be your student in learning how to better interact with neurotypical folks, you can be mine in drawing.

Alberta sees signs of improvement: women calling the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) on sexual abuse, children taking their parents’ hateful, FOX infused views to task, pastors, initially floundering, finding a voice in encouraging their congregations to radical love and acceptance. And I appreciated his snark and willingness to call out the many, many grifters who take advantage of the ‘sheep’ who've been trained by those self-same pastors only to watch the things and read the books the pastors said were ok—to do what they were told.[3]

But I find it troubling that his buddies who are hoping to rescue the evangelical church from its extremism are folks like David French, a powerhouse lawyer who spent years—decades—supporting hateful evangelical goals. This NYT's commenter on French's recent ‘never Trumpers’ column sums up my feelings well:

That is why I both feel deep anger at him [French] yet respect him when he says: “I’m deeply, deeply grieved by the thought that I did anything in my life before Trump to contribute to that unrighteous rage.” Mr. French, the fact is that you did do many things in your professional life before Trump that contributed to where we are now. The fact that you did those things as an excellent lawyer and writer and honestly believed you were supporting your evangelical faith is of little comfort for many of us who, at the time, could see the melding of your evangelical Christianity and secular government as an enormous danger.

Alberta, in his book, stresses the need for christians to repent of their sins, but in my view, one of the important ones—especially for protestants—is their substitution of the misogynist focus on abortion for the no-longer-acceptable racism which has infected white USian christianity from the nation's founding. Fred Clark of slacktivist is fond of noting that evangelical opposition to abortion is younger than McDonald's Happy Meal, and when I worked at Mickey D's happy meals hadn't been invented yet. Because sexism has been part of humanity for at least as long as recorded history, women paid the price when the honchos at SBC and elsewhere decided the southern strategy was no longer gonna fly.

Alberta and his buddies French and Moore all doth protest they're evangelical, they're anti-abortion—over and over and over again Alberta assures his reader, despite his christ-like focus on the poor, the immigrant, the ‘widow and orphan’—without justifying this view: by what right can mere [hu]men demand that the people losing their health, sanity, autonomy to an unwanted, life-changing and possibly fatal parasite endure this suffering while still claiming to believe in an omnipotent, merciful and just god? No merciful or just god would steal away the most closely connected person's right to decide her body, mind and soul's fate to some other imperfect human being with even less of an understanding of the situation.

It boggles the mind.

Yet these so-called compassionate christians do not trust the most nearly connected people to decide their own fates. —I don't think Alberta is misogynistic, nor even consciously sexist, but I'll note there are precious few women in his narrative, and the ones that do stand out are those in the chapter about the SBC's sexual abuse of women and girls (and their years—decades!—long fight to expose that abuse). Sarah Jones, in this Intelligencer critique of the book, puts it well:

Alberta invests his hopes for the church in a small remnant of Evangelicals who are dismayed by what their faith has become. They nevertheless appear conservative on issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. This sets up a greater problem, one that never really gets resolved in the book. On the subject of abortion, conservative Evangelicals are extremists, out of step both with medical science and public opinion. Even the remnant is complicit; if you think abortion is state-sanctioned murder, you cannot be apolitical. It’s a bit rich, then, to accuse your more partisan brothers and sisters of wrecking the faith: “Winning is a virtue. I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.” So do you, if you’re anti-abortion.

Early in the book, Alberta claims his father's Achilles’ heel is a ‘love of country’. This is true for many evangelicals, (judging by their slogans) but the great sin of the USA is that we stole the land from the tribes already here, and labor from enslaved Blacks imported from Africa specifically for that purpose. So if love of country is indubitably intertwined with evangelicalism, then those are the sins that need to be acknowledged and repented. But don't take my word for it—over the three days I've been working on this essay Mr Clark providentially dropped a column addressing Alberta's buddies on this very same issue:

In response to their critics, Moore and French defensively reassert and reaffirm their adamant abortion-is-murderism as proof that their white evangelical standing ought to be above reproach. And here I think maybe their critics come closer to glimpsing the truth than Moore and French do themselves. They’re a bit closer than Moore and French are to realizing that abortion-is-murderism has always primarily been a device to allow white racists to tell themselves that they’re the Good Guys without ever repenting of white racism.

Alas, the language on all sides of that “broader division” in the niche world of white evangelicalism is so muddied by layers of proxy subject matter and euphemism and deliberate imprecision that they’re not able to think about it, let alone to talk about it, clearly.

As Mr Clark has been known to say: Preach.

Because I think the robust answer is not, actually, radical acceptance of an ‘unseen world’ (the Biblical verse on which Alberta ends his jeremiad) but the acknowledgement, instead, that this world, this life, is all anyone gets, and that it's our duty to treat everyone's—every thing's—precious life with the honour and grace it deserves.

Any distraction that allows people to displace that reality (e.g. with fantasies of god or heaven) are therefore suspect, and why, though I honour the good work religious people do, I cannot wholeheartedly support the underlying philosophy.

And oh, yeah, here's that photo I've posted on which to hang this still-messy, rambling screed. But I gots basements to clear out and taxes to prep, so this will have to do. Take care.

[1]Non-binary, if you want to be picky, though actually I prefer the now outdated term ‘androgynous’ —perhaps because that was the closest description to what I felt when I came of age. We've always been here, even if the framework to describe ourselves...wasn't.

[2]Shades of Jesus and the money lenders in the temple, right? Riiiiiiiight?

[3]Thereby making them ripe for shearing by any huckster could don the appropriate religiously infused costume...oh my, the opportunities for a good writer to play with that wolf and sheep imagery...


cropI've been busy helping with a reno project, so I haven't been getting much else done, including web pages, let alone art. However, I did manage to edit the image for today's post before I ran out of steam, and moreover found a poem that evokes a similar kind of melancholy (to the photo); it starts:

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

Poetry is one of those things for which I've only dabbled in the shallowest way, though the Langston Hughs’ poem I've always called ‘Ain't no Crystal Stair’ is one of my most vivid reading experiences in grade school: I identified with it because of delivering newspapers in shabby duplexes up some of those bare stairs. (N.b., the actual name of the poem is Mother to Son.)[1]

Thus, Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays resonated, because to me it had a similar feel; of course, the poet, growing up in 1910s, was (roughly) of my grandparents’ generation, and I only experience that kind of cold while winter camping. Yes, today the inside of one of my bedroom windows has ice on it. No, it doesn't count—the room itself is at least 45–50 degrees, not least because I keep the register closed. (Whatever else you have to say about Laura Ingalls Wilder, she vividly captures the bitter cold of life before central heating.) It's not at all surprising that Hayden had read and admired Hugh's work, though according to the accompanying interview, his greatest influece was Countee Cullen, whom I'll have to check out.

I was additionally delighted to discover the poet was born and grew up in the same city (albeit different ‘boroughs’ —technically I lived in the McNichols and Woodward area, rather than Paradise Alley) though separated by half a century; the house I grew up in was built around the time this gentleman was born and at the time was considered upper class—housing built by middle management, so I was told by my father, for the big Ford factory down the street. It was also, he explained, why our side walks were 5’ wide, enough for three people: folks walked to work back then.

The majestic elms that lined those street were dying from Dutch elm disease by the time we moved out, and if not quite the slums, the area is now poor, despite the legacy of plaster walls and foot high walnut baseboards and ceiling cornices, both of which my mother stripped to expose the magnificent wood; now I live in a small town, which evokes another famous work with a melancholy mood, Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning.

Stay warm, everyone! —I gather we'll be back to rain, (and perhaps fog as well) lots of it, next week. Oh boy.

[1]That vivid experience is one of the reasons I absolutely deplore the current efforts to erase minority viewpoints from our public school curricula: it opened a window on the world that has stayed with me over half a century, and how dare they deprive other kids of experiences of this kind? Why yes, this is quite selfish—I expect one reason, though I hope not the only one we studied Mother to Son—is that most of my classmates were Black, and this was an opportunity to expose them to a great Black poet. But my point is that this was a superb poem, Black or white, which is one of Hayden's points in the aforementioned interview: hello! we exist! this is our experience, listen well, and understand.


cropToday is day two of a several day streak in the single digits, and the cold inspires a certain level of reflection, at least for me. Thus this post by Mr Clark over at Slacktivist seems apropos; and a longer essay linked in the comments develops the theme.

Oh, and I have a photograph of a snowy field.


cropOh man, the linkies have been piling up. Time to clear ’em out:

  • NPR on 9 ways to get healthier in 2024. Yeah, this stuff is catnip to me;)
  • Deep dive into the mechanical innards of a pinball machine; and part II specifically about the logic;
  • handsome origame stars —besides being beautiful gift decorations, I wonder if they could somehow be used in trying to draw five pointed stars, which is pretty difficult to do accurately.
  • Ugh, how could someone use a prayer breakfast to urge death to others? So inhumane, and unchristian.
  • Tom Wolfe was a conservative? Yeah, I guess. The article doesn't even mention the book I read, The Painted Word, which was his sarcastic take on the abstract expressionists (especially Jackson Pollack), but it was clear he didn't think much of either the artists from that movement or their patrons. I read it for a freshman seminar, and found it intriguing...but my own disdain was rather coloured by the fact that my jam—commercial art 100 years old—was terribly out of fashion, and I resented that. I'd like to think things have gotten better; at the very least I feel like there's more ways to experience art, albeit not nearly enough societal support—that was a problem in the 80s, and remains one now, 4 decades later.
  • Eater's fave recipes from 2023.
  • Via FTB This American Life chronicles the disintegration of a state GOP party.
  • Journalist on living with long covid.
  • this study seeks to better understand how cytokine storms (which I gather can happen in relation to pre-eclampsia, frex), deadly attacks on the body by its own immune system and are still poorly understood.
  • A reviewer's take on three iterations of Astro Boy (from the point of view of watching dubbed English versions)...I stumbled across this because of a list of recced netflix offerings, including this re-imagining on a famous Astro Boy story arc, Pluto. But I guess you can watch that without seeing any of the original versions...?
  • Fella takes down the latest iteration of ‘but we need marriage because two parents are better!’ tomes, which seems to be a perennial favourite, especially of conservatives. As someone who is part of a two parent household, sure, yeah, 2 parents (or even more...though Kearney doesn't promote polyamoury) makes things easier, but I'd argue that providing moms more resources are the real key to household health and happiness, and what's more, if the mom isn't stressed out working three jobs, she might have enough time and energy to scout a good person to help her co-parent (the same goes for dads too, of course, but men as a rule have more resources to offer their children.)
  • Yesterday, I mentioned Abigail Nussbaum's take on The Marvels. Today I have a link to her recced 2023 reading list, mostly because I was pleased to see Naomi Novik's Scholomance trilogy made the cut —even though Nussbaum was initially dubious “Hogwarts but evil, oh, groan” (because she has taste) whereas my response is, oh, cool, Hogwarts really is kinda evil, let's run with that...I've read and enjoyed the first book, (as well as many of Novik’s other works) so I guess I'll have to track the other two down. Goody!

And here's the final giftwrap for the foreseeable future!


cropWell, here's a blast from the past: a gift decorated in 2010, dug out of the archives at the end of 2017, with the page finally finished and posted in 2024.

It's still a bit early for spring cleaning, but finding old stuff like this to slot in makes me far happier than it should, cuz I'm weird.

Enjoy, or not, as it pleases you;)