Blip

I just stumbled onto this over the weekend. It's kind of like Twitter, but with music. If you click on the icon it takes you to my Blip station, where you can become a listener - just like following someone on Twitter. Kind of fun, and it gives me a way to expose all you young'uns to some good old fashioned hardcore!



I'll be putting this over in the sidebar permanently in the next few days.

Sunday Sermon - Vlog 1

I don't know what has possessed me to do this, but here it is - raw and uncut...

video

What do the Numbers Tell Us?

Lookit! They come in prints!
This week our poll shows what a compassionate group the Flock is...

The question was:
The wings on your panty liners are...

And you responded:
Essential: 4 (22%)
Sticky: 4 (22%)
Ribbed for her pleasure: 7 (38%)
Itchy and smell like Fritos: 2 (11%)
What panties?: 6 (33%)


Coming in at #1, "Ribbed for her pleasure" is a clear statement of caring for your fellow man, er... woman. The #2 response, while not as obvious, is just as touching once you understand it. "What panties?" indicates a serious commitment to... readiness. The willingness to comfort and give succor to others at a moment's notice, without impediment, regardless of how flimsy, lacy, or crotchless that impediment might be, shows what a giving group the Flock really is.

Not too giving though - only two people chose "Itchy and smell like Fritos," indicating a very low level of infection amongst respondents. As a group, we share - but safely.

See? Statistics CAN be fun!

Wings? We don' need no stinking wings!


Don't forget to vote in the new poll. This week's topic: INTELLIGENT DESIGN!

Repent - and Thin No More

Time for a haircut.

For me, haircuts are kind of like surgery - if I'm up and walking the next day, it went well. It's because I refused to face reality for about 40 years.

You see, I used to have long, fabulous locks. All one length, down past my shoulders, in a sun-bleached golden blonde. Even after I left California, it was still a rich brown color, and reached all the way to my elbows. I was more than once mistaken for a girl (when I was seated and viewed from behind), and women would often state their jealousy at the richness of my tresses. Ah, the halcyon days of youth...

But hidden within my voluminous mane was a time bomb - MALE PATTERN BALDNESS.

Of course, I knew it was coming. My maternal grandfather was sporting the "Captain Picard" by the time he was in his mid-thirties. It is my genetic heritage - and yet I pretended it was not so. I blithely believed that I would beat the odds, and have a long, flowing coiffure for my whole life, but it was not to be.

I have finally been forced by the departure of my cranial cillium to accept my condition. My hair has, in fact, issued its congé. Yes, there are special shampoos and creams, ointments and unguents, which can slow the exodus, but short of surgery, nothing can stave off the inevitable exposure of my pate. To prevent the papal paparazzi from making a spectacle of this, I have decided to go public myself - I don't want some tawdry video made in a poorly-lit hotel room to be my coming out of the balding closet.

BEHOLD! The Thinning...



Many thanks to Fleur, whose kung fu grip on the English language helped inform this post.

Sitting

Meditation has been part of my "Things I Should be Doing" list for over 20 years now. I began meditating when I was 21, just before I got married. At that time, I was living in Iowa, working a blue collar job for the family business (her family), and I pretty much lived for my martial arts classes (I went to college as well, but I was not the serious student that I am today).

I was studying Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Kendo, and Iiado all at the same time. I can recall my schedule very clearly - Judo on Monday and Wednesday, TKD on Tuesday and Thursday, Kendo and Iiado on Saturday. Each of those classes began with meditation - a few minutes of sitting in seiza (on your insteps) with hands folded, breathing and clearing your mind for the instructions to come. For me, it was never long enough to get any clarity. I usually just took a mental inventory of my minor aches and pains until it was over.

When I began meditating outside of the dojo/dojang, it was because of a little book by Robert Aitken Roshi called "Taking the Path of Zen." I sat in the attic of our rented farmhouse in Iowa, and counted my breaths. My ex never understood the point. "You're just staring at the wall," she would say, but to her credit, she generally left me alone. After the first few tries (which were dismal failures) I suddenly "got it" - for a few seconds, my mind was still. I joined the zendo in Omaha immediately, and started attending regularly.

Since then, I have always meditated. Not every day, not consistently like I should, but I always come back to it... eventually.

When I told you of The Big Sit, I had planned to sit for 20 minutes per day. But meditation has a way of sharpening my view, and after a few days of 15 to 20 minutes sessions, I became aware of some really glaring issues in my current academic plan. This led to a minor existential crisis (some of which has been shared on this blog) and in my usual fashion, I stayed up way too late and pondered my future. I can't meditate when I'm sleepy (I just sleep sitting up) so I missed a few days because of it.

My existential crisis has been abated somewhat (note: I did not say it was cured, merely that it has been scaled back to managable levels) and I'm back on track now, but I am more flexible about when and where I meditate. You see, I was originally trained in Soto Zen style sitting - on cushions, in the lotus position if you can manage it, facing a blank wall, counting your breaths. It's still the best way for me, but sometimes life doesn't always offer time for that. I've had to be creative.

-I have found that I can meditate in the computer lab; people think I'm reading from the screen.
-I can meditate in my office; my undergrads never come in for help anyway.
-I can meditate while walking to campus; in Zen, walking meditation is called kinhin, and it's actually an integral part of the style of meditation that is practiced at the little zendo I used to attend in Colorado.
-My favorite is while I'm soaking in the bath; I like the metaphor of washing away my delusions as I wash away the day's dirt.

If you are participating in The Big Sit, feel free to share your experiences here. If you aren't meditating, consider giving it a try. You, too, can stare at walls!

Getting Ready... but for What?

I have mentioned before that I think hard times are ahead. I've been making this prediction based upon the political and economic events of late, along with what I know of human history. There is no way to predict when or how it will go down, but if we accept that it could be in our lifetime, then we are faced with a unique problem.

We must go on, preparing for the future as we originally concieved of it - build a career, buy a house, raise a family, etc. Simultaneously, we should be preparing for the collapse of those dreams, and making ourselves ready to live in a harder, more dangerous world. I'm not talking about a bomb shelter approach (if I understand that illustration correctly, bomb shelters look kind of small...), but rather a program of personal preparation; a mental and physical readiness. Quite a departure from the way most Americans live, in the belief that our bloated way of life will continue forever.

What we will be facing depends on the nature of the final straw - economic collapse, nuclear winter, global ice melt, alien invasion, zombie appocalypse, Republican revolt, whatever - but it's safe to say that you are more likely to survive if you are fit and accustomed to hard physical toil.

I originally started working out again out of simple vanity and fear of death. Heart disease and diabetes run in my family, and I'm chubby. Less so now, and I'm pleased with that, but my reasons for pushing myself harder have changed recently. I'm still quite vain, but function is rapidly beginning to take precedence over form. This may sound corny, but I have friends and family who will need aid when the shit hits the fan, and I don't want to have to say "sorry, too weak and out of shape to help you." Also, being prepared physically has the fringe benfit of making it possible for me to play harder and enjoy this way of life more fully while it persists.

This ultimately becomes a form of Pascal's wager - if I'm right and rough times are ahead, then I'm more ready for them. If I'm wrong, then I'm more fit and will probably live a longer life. If, however, I choose to be fat and lazy like many Americans and a collapse does occur, I'm even more screwed in the aftermath, and if there is no catastrophe, I shorten my life and enjoyment by being a tub o' goo. Being physically prepared is a win-win proposition (I understand that Pascal's Wager is a much more complex argument about certainty, and that there are numerous arguments against it. Please don't quote Richard Dawkins to me...).

So, I am advocating a certain hardness of body, and toughness of mind. Not just for the young, not just for the athletic, and not just for males, either. Take a look at yourself and ask if you can run, lift and carry, fight, etc. for any length of time. If you can, great - keep it up. If not, think seriously about your place in a harder future.

Spring in Wyoming

The weather reporters were practically frothing at the mouth this morning- "100% chance of snow! Blizzard Warning for all of Eastern Wyoming! Expect 5 to 10 inches of snow! No unnecessary travel - there will be showers of snow, sleet, freezing rain, frogs, kittens, and Jehovah's Witnesses today!"

It didn't seem all that likely to me when I peeked out of the papal apartments this morning, so I wore my Converse, as usual. Although it was gusty and cold and wet and crappy all day, the snow amounted to about 1 inch. By Wyoming standards, that's not enough to even shovel - you just take a broom to your porch and call it good.

This is Spring in Wyoming; all the excitement of a floating craps game, without the mob connections. One day it's in the 60s, the next it's snowing - with equal probability of either, it seems. Reason #234 that I am ready to move away from here...

Sunday Sermon

Before we start today's sermon, let me direct your attention to the new poll over on the right sidebar. Your participation is greatly appreciated.

Spring Break is ending today. Tomorrow, I return to the grind of being a grad student - and this last week has shown me just how much of a grind it is. I am filled with a deep weariness, that only the end of this semester can remedy. I have never looked forward to Summer so much as I do right now. I've spent quite a bit of time this week trying to decipher my own mental state, and I believe I have realized what the problem is right now.

My education is, in many respects, a fools errand.

In simple terms, Sociology is a social science that seeks to study and understand the problems of society, and find solutions for them. Three criteria - study, understand, and solve. So far, we have one of the three working pretty well, but the other two are just not happening.

We can study things really successfully. We have a plethora of methods, and data out the wazoo about all sorts of social ills, and we have elaborate statistical means for comparing and analyzing and dissecting and interpreting those data, and numerous journals in which to publish said findings. Thus far, however, I don't think we can claim to actually "understand" much, and I'm pretty damn sure we haven't truly "solved" anything yet. We've come up with an asston of theories, and all fail to grasp the vast complexity that is society - for that matter, most don't even try to achieve that lofty goal now, focusing instead on smaller issues and facets of the whole.

In short, we are, thus far, 33% successful as a discipline. Depressing, that.

My part in all this is to learn from the work of the giants who preceded me, and add my little brick to the monumental tower of knowledge we are collectively building. Here is where the futility kicks in...

I don't believe that tower will ever be built.

We are racing toward species-ending sorts of events much more quickly than the tower is going up. Forces so much more powerful than Sociology - things like Nationalism and Capitalism and Religion - are the engines of our demise. Meanwhile, back at the University, the little engines that probably won't - things like Sociology and Psychology and Political Science - are puffing along, struggling to climb the hill on too lean a mixture of money and talent.

I'm going to say it right here, for all the intertoobz to read - I don't think our version of modern society has a prayer. Sooner or later, this way of life will eat itself. At this point, the best thing we can do is try to document as much as we can, and plan to minimize the suffering when it does fall apart. That way, the society that rises from our ashes has a chance to learn from our mistakes.

So - write it all down. Take the time to document, even if it doesn't seem important. Write about stuff that only you know, that only you care about - because there is no knowing what might be important in the future. And with that, I leave you to your own apocalyptic visions.

Go in Peace.

Miscellany

mis⋅cel⋅la⋅ny [mi-sel-uh-nee]
–noun, plural -nies.
1. a miscellaneous collection or group of various or somewhat unrelated items.
2. a miscellaneous collection of literary compositions or pieces by several authors, dealing with various topics, assembled in a volume or book.
3. a miscellaneous collection of little bits of crap that Linus can't stretch into full posts by themselves.


- Only one day left to vote in the "Why Do You Read the Ministry?" poll. At this point, there seems to be clear consensus... it's fear that drives you to read my ravings.

Results
For the laughs: 3 (16%)
For the angst: 2 (11%)
For the social commentary: 3 (16%)
For the spiritual guidance: 1 (5%)
For my own good (HSBP knows where I live...): 9 (50%)

A full 50% of you chose the threat and innuendo answer; my work here is done.

Tomorrow we will begin a new poll, and you'll all have a new opportunity to make your opinion part of another godless database. God DAMN I love the smell of statistics in the morning!

- In other news, I had to take the nifty search engine gadget off the sidebar. It worked really well - unless you wanted to search ALL of the archive. I guess the folks at Google said, "Why the fuck would you want to find a post from 2007? That shit is HISTORY! Nope - we're Google, and we say the only posts that matter are those from the last 12 months. How you gonna' argue with Google, bitch?"

Because of Google's bad attitude, we're back to using the trusty old Blogger NavBar up top. It's ugly, it doesn't match the page theme, but it works - beat THAT Google, you bunch of over-caffeinated code monkeys.

- Which brings me to our next item: caffeine. We all know gamers and computer geeks are famous for using stupid amounts of it, mostly in drink form. Some of you may not be aware that they can also get their fix from mints, cookies, gum, soap, body wash, lollipops, and lip balm - all courtesy of the warped people at Think Geek.

Some of you are, no doubt, surprised by this - both by this obsession with caffeine, and with the shocking number of grooming products on the list. I'm pretty sure that most of the hardcore gamers I've known only buy the caffeine soap and body wash as desk ornaments - they are just opened for a quick sample of their scents, and certainly never used.

Never the less, gamer grooming must be an up and coming market, as I did stumble upon two products on Think Geek's caffeine page that I had never seen before, specifically dealing with the breath.

Remember Listerine Breath Strips? I loved those things - used to carry a pack around all the time. By the way, if you leave them in your pocket when you put your shirt in the wash they all dissolve, leaving you with the disappointing empty container. It does, however, impart a fresh minty zip to your laundry.

Anyway, you can get those with caffeine now. Diablo Caffeinated Energy Strips. Each strip is a rapidly deployed 25mg of caffeine, and they taste kind of orange-ish, I guess.

If letting those little guys dissolve on your tongue isn't fast enough for you, technology is here to help, with what the folks at Think Geek called, "just about the most perfect caffeine deployment system ever devised." Behold: Primer Caffeinated Breath Spray!

Yeah, it's basically Binaca with 33mg of caffeine in each spritz. That means that three squirts is more caffeine than most energy drinks. The really amazing part is this - each 8ml canister contains 1400mg of caffeine. For the sake of comparison, this little sucker has more caffeine than 17 bottles of Bawls. If you shot the whole can in one sitting, you might die. Cool.

Why Here?

Do you ever wonder what possessed people to settle where they did? Like, for example, why some poor bastard in a covered wagon looked around himself and saw this...
... then turned to his wife and said, "Here! Here we shall make our new life!"

I imagine she brushed the dust from her eyes and thought to herself, what the hell is he talking about? He can't be serious! Perhaps he's seen something I've missed... So she turned around to look the other way and saw this...
I like to think that an argument began, eventually leading to a brief scuffle, and the only reason they settled there was ol' Jebediah got to the shotgun first.

Long-time readers of this blog have already guessed where "there" is. That's right, it's Wyoming. So much of Wyoming looks like this, it hardly matters where exactly I took these pictures, but to be accurate, it was just outside the lovely hamlet of Rock Springs, known by some as the methamphetamine capital of the state (a title hotly contested by Cheyenne and Casper). Yes, this lovely landscape is only a few hours from Black Vatican City, and your dear old Pontifex Niger has travelled through this wonderland of dust, scrub, and slack-jawed miners more times than he cares to remember. It's what you expect, really, in a state that proudly named one spot "Hell's Half Acre" and another "Camel Hump" (I wish I was making those up, but feel free to google them both...)

Now before the locals get all up in arms, I will admit that Yellowstone is lovely. It is, however, tucked up in the northwest corner of the state, a good distance from the more densely populated towns. Not far enough, however, to save ANY of us if the Yellowstone caldera decides to blow. The last time it went up, it chucked 240 cubic miles of rock and dust into the atmosphere. Maybe an event like that is what killed this guy...
He's a native too, and now his remains stand in the food court of the community college in Rock Springs (again, I wish I was making that up, but no. They have a triceratops too.).

I suppose if you have to live here, you might as well be comfortable. Julia Ferris felt that way, and when her husband the mining entrepreneur, George Ferris, ("mining entrepreneur" sounds much nicer than "greedy earth-raper" don't you think?) died, she had one hell of a Queen Anne Victorian built for herself in Rawlins, complete with ghosts...
I'll admit, it's a lovely home, and one could imagine being comfy there... until you remember that it's in the middle of Rawlins, which is in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Wyoming.

All of this is my round-about way of saying that it is REALLY time for me to finish school and move. I don't need much - a sunny place, with a decent university that has a good doctoral program in sociology, or religion. Hell, I'd even entertain the idea of an English degree if the weather was really nice. I just need to survive this place for one more academic year...

The Good of the Many...

Based on input from a few readers, the new template is a qualified success. Most have agreed that it was time for a change, and some have pointed out that it's positively cheery compared to its predecessor. I made some additional changes in order to please as many of the commenters as I could, but you can't please everyone, hence the title above. Some did not like the color of the text, others wanted it to be less dark, and still others thought it should have naked BCPs in each post. Ok, actually that was my idea, but the boys down in Legal say there's some kind of consent form that the girls would all have to sign. I would think that just coming into my room would be consent enough...

At any rate, there are a few kinks to iron out still - like a few more blogs to add to the Redeemed and the Sinners, and a little problem with the date of each post not being displayed, and a bit of an issue with the RSS feeds. I'm planning another session of code monkeying tomorrow afternoon, and I hope I can call it done after that.

I also spent quite a while today fighting with the new template for my other blog, 100 Pounds. I have revamped my workout schedule, so I decided to revamp my training log as well. It will now include more than just the facts and figures of my workouts. I'll be adding pictures and videos, as well as sharing my experiences as I get back into the martial arts (I have joined an MMA studio here in Black Vatican City - your prayers for my safety are welcomed).

The Spring Break goes well so far...

Sunday Sermon

Time for a change.

There is a new look around the Ministry, as of today. A new template, complete with a nifty new poll thingy on the sidebar! Go over there and vote. I'll wait right here for you...

I'll be using that doohickey to put a weekly question to the Flock. When I first found this, I was immediately struck with several dozen ideas for great polls. Over the next few weeks you'll have a chance to vote on topics like intelligent design, the violence in Ireland, the wings on your panty shields, and your favorite Beatle (Paul is still the cute one, as far as I'm concerned...).

Also, the new search widget , "Consult the Archives," is really handy. In addition to scouring the 700+ posts of the Ministry, it also lists all the sites that are linked from this blog that meet your search parameters. Just another service we provide here at the Black Vatican, where your ability to locate and comment on irrelevant shite His Sinfulness wrote 4 years ago is job one!

Not to worry, the link love will be back soon, complete with the Sinners and the Redeemed, just like the old template. I haven't had time to reconfigure those yet, but they will be back in the next few days.

Feel free to comment on our new look, and...

Go in Peace.

Sunday Sermon

I didn't study this weekend. I didn't do my laundry. I didn't work out. I didn't read for class. I didn't do any cleaning. I didn't watch any TV. I didn't even listen to my usual weekend radio programs - no "Prairie Home Companion," no "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!," and no "Car Talk."

I basically took the weekend off. I spent some time visiting a dear friend, and we didn't really have any plans. We drove around and looked at odd rock formations, including the ones above (that photo was taken a while ago though - there is a big hotel in the foreground now...). We made dinner together, baked some vegan cupcakes, sat in the hot tub, and played fetch with the dog.

All though I certainly have plenty of work to do for my classes, I just can't feel bad about spending my time this way. This is the lowest my stress level has been since before Christmas.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do nothing? This is significantly different from just not getting things done and then feeling bad about it - I do that all too often. No, this was a conscious attempt on my part to do nothing that could be construed as constructive work. For the most part, it was completely successful. As Raksha used to tell me, "I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be!"

I believe it is time for consciously doing nothing to make a comeback. We 21st century folk are not sitting on the porch enough these days. I believe that all of us should plan some nothing time. Get your work done to make space for it, then give yourself permission to be still. If you need a note for your teacher/boss/spouse, just drop me an email - I'll be happy to write one excusing you from all responsibilities.

Go in Peace.

Sunday Sermon

I'm late.

No, I'm not pregnant, nor am I the White Rabbit. It's just that I have never turned in an assignment late before.

It's not that I really procrastinated, either. I'm just really slow and plodding where stats is concerned; I didn't budget enough time to get it all done. It was due at midnight and I was nowhere near being done with it, and just today I put in over 10 hours on it. I'd say that I have 25-30 hours in it so far, and it probably needs another 15 or so to be done. I just submitted what I had, and attached a note for the instructor admitting my malfeasance. I have an appointment with him tomorrow, where I will face my lameness head-on. I will just have to accept whatever punitive damage to my grade he may assess.

I feel like I'm the worst student ever. I now understand why people hate college - if this happened to me a lot, I'd quit school and get a real job...

To prevent this from being a total loss, I am trying to make a sermon out of it. What is the message here?

Well, through the haze of self-loathing, I can see that I am overreacting a tad. I'm not the worst student ever (I can't be - that one guy in my Art History class who plagiarized a passage from a book written by our instructor holds that title). I can see that there are important lessons to be learned here, and not just about how tedious and time-consuming stats can be. I know from my experiences in various fighting arts that it's the bouts you lose that really teach you about your technique, and about your self. By failing, you learn how to pick yourself up and get moving again, and about how to be graceful in defeat. Hopefully, you also learn how to win the next one.

I'll get this assignment done in the next few days, and I'll budget a lot more time for the next one. This one failure will not completely ruin my life, my career, or even my semester, most likely.

I hope my instructor sees it this way too...

Go in Peace.