Planet Quaker

November 25, 2013

Quaker Ranter

Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of season one. Kodak has asked the advertising firm to create a campaign around a new slide projector that has a circular tray. Don Draper presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped presentation that use his personal photographs to move both the Kodak execs and the viewers at home, who know that these semi-focused pictures will soon be all that left of his disintegrating family.

No falling apart family for me, but I find myself already feeling nostalgic for a family vacation to Disney World that doesn’t start for another six days. I’ve recently been looking through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and realize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancee taking a cynical me on my first trip. Later visits bring kids to the photographic lineup: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new children in this one. “The babies” are both walking and toddling and are at their peak of baby photogenic cuteness. The older two are real kids now and the eldest is starting to show early glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exhalation of air (“uh!”) to show disapproval of inconvenient parental instructions.

Iconic family pictures will happen. Since our last visit five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to cancer and my mother’s been slipping into the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it somehow becomes more possible to see ourselves as part of the turning Carousel. Some decades from now I can imagine myself going through these pictures surrounded by indulging children and antsy grandchildren, exclaiming “look how young everyone looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008

Theo (then 5) and Francis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cuddly.

November 25, 2013 11:12 PM

November 22, 2013

The Good Raised Up

Transfer of membership

Last month, I submitted a transfer of membership request. I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend for a number of reasons and based on a variety of experiences.

Here's the text of my letter, with links included here for easy clicking:

29 Tenth Month 2013

Dear Twin Cities Friends Meeting,

After much prayerful and tender consideration, I am requesting a transfer of membership to Bear Creek Meeting in Iowa, part of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC). Like TCFM and other meetings in the Northern Yearly Meeting region, IYMC also practices unprogrammed worship and is socially progressive. (The word “Conservative” refers to the intention of conserving some of the original disciplines of Quaker tradition.)

I’ve attended a number of IYMC’s annual and midyear meeting sessions over the past handful of years, and I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend. In addition, just two years ago, Laughing Waters Friends Preparative Meeting, where I currently serve as its clerk, became formally affiliated with IYMC. When we minuted our affiliation plans, Laughing Waters made special note in the minute that we treasure and intend to maintain our personal connections with NYM Friends.

For me personally, I will continue to worship occasionally at TCFM. I also plan to participate in adult education presentations at this and at other meetings in the metro area.

What is of some concern to me, though, is: What if I am in need of support or care, which is far easier to coordinate among nearby fFriends? I hope that I can still turn to TCFM and its Ministry & Counsel if such a need arises. Regardless of my request to transfer my membership, I see myself and each of us as part of the wider Quaker community, with fFriends near and far, all of us held in God’s loving hands, as part of the same spiritual Family.


November 22, 2013 02:19 PM

November 19, 2013

A Musing Environment

Fukushima update—The current state of F-D cleanup, part 5

The previous two posts in this series looked at a number of concerns from the anti-nuclear community, and some newspapers that should know better, and found no evidence for their concerns. However, concerns about how Japan and Tepco are doing have been expressed by more credible sources. This is an update on those concerns, mostly […]

November 19, 2013 05:09 PM

November 16, 2013

What Canst Thou Say?

Cups of Tea and Hammer-strokes

I may be suffering from a lack of ordinariness. Most of my life, I have wished for exciting things to happen to me. And now that they are happening, I miss the simple things that I don’t have time for. Like making jam. Gardening. Sewing. Teaching First Day School. Serving on clearness committees.

Recently, I was at an international committee meeting that was hosted by Friends in a thriving meeting in a small town. I was really touched by the obvious care and concern and interwoven nature of their personal lives and their meeting life. It made me think of two passages on marriage that I love, in Catherine Whitmire’s book, Plain Living,

“We thank God, then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of [life together]: for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of the events of the day; for the ecstasy of caresses; for gay mockery at each other’s follies; for plans and projects, fun and struggle; praying that we may neither neglect nor undervalue these things, nor be tempted to think of them as self-contained and self-sufficient.”
from London Yearly Meeting, 1960.

And a poem by Ellen Sophia Bosanquet, from 1938:

If truth be told,
It was not priest, who made us one,
Nor finger
circled with gold,
Nor soft delights when day is done
and arms enfold.
These bonds are firm,
but in death-storm
They may not hold--
We were welded man and wife
By hammer-strokes of daily life.

[Bold emphasis mine]

I think these two images, the kind gestures of the cups of tea we bring each other, and the hammer-strokes of daily life, are both key to marriage and to meeting-life.

It takes time and active participation to be part of a meeting, just as marriage takes work and attention. It’s the same drudgery of washing dishes or making a budget work. The important conversations (and cups of tea) at the kitchen table late at night or in clearness committees for marriage or membership. The misunderstandings, getting hot under the collar, practicing forgiveness and receiving forgiveness, year after year. This is what makes a meeting or a marriage.

Any marriage is part of a family made up of marriages, and part of a wider community. This is where we learn that while every marriage is unique, it has a lot in common with other people. Likewise, a meeting needs the family of yearly meeting, and a wider community of Friends, where we sometimes learn other ways of solving our problems and sometimes we learn just to be grateful for what we have, and the problems we don’t have.

I don’t think I could do the job I have now without the grounding of 17 years of being part of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, the support and the hammer-blows of our daily life together. I think I need to be more connected to my new meeting, to stay fluent in Quaker practice, and to be a coherent, spiritual human being, in order to continue to be a blessing to the wider family of Friends.

I know I couldn’t do my job without the ongoing support and dedication of my husband. I have also learned a lot that is useful in this job from being a mother. I am blessed. I am grateful.

November 16, 2013 03:42 PM

November 15, 2013

Of the Best Stuff, but Plain

Back to bother and live a lot being lost?


That's a computer-generated status from an online toy called I discovered it on Facebook this morning and was quickly fascinated with that particularly narcissistic curiosity that has often driven me to fill out dozens of pointless "personality quizzes" online. The premise is simple: you give the bot access to your Facebook status updates and, with a similar action to a particularly dynamic word cloud, it spits back a status that it "thinks" you would say, based on your history. It's both hilarious and damning. Clearly over the years I've quoted a lot of poetry, complained an awful lot, and obsessed about cooking. Swearwords, anxiety, and silliness are prevalent.

A euro worth of shrill desperate meows. I think I somehow doubt this


It's an explicitly self-conscious exercise but randomised just enough to startle me into seeing myself in a slightly different light. I don't consciously craft my social media "persona", and though I've grown a lot of filters since I was last blogging, I think I was surprised to find how much of the bits of myself I think I'm good at hiding still come through. I'm self-centred, somewhat dramatic, somewhat profane, often uncertain. I guess what this shows me is that I'm better at hiding from myself than I am at hiding from the world, even through the screens of the internet. 

They are terrifying the exhausted and hardworking blackbird parents currently cloistered existence.

In a similar but more serious way, reading back over some of this blog again was difficult. There's a large part of me that would like to knock it down and start again, but I find the ugliness and the pain instructive. I'm amazed at how different I am now, and equally amazed at how much the same I still am. The parts I like best and least about myself are all still here and accounted for.

That feeling when night I addressed the light. Someone needs to sleep.


I have a fairly respectable lifetime behind me now, and as I turn again towards "something greater than myself" I'm struck again by how interior, and how self-centred I have always been. My religious explorations of the past have always been (by necessity it seemed, or I thought) entirely based on my own experiences, thoughts, ideas, and longings.

"Therefore be still awhile from  your own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in you, that it may raise your mind up to God, and stay it upon God, and you will find strength from him, and find him to be a God at hand, a present help in time of trouble and of need."

I'm sure I've probably quoted those lines from George Fox before on this very blog, but I know I almost never succeeded in putting them into practice. The second half was especially difficult, because my thoughts, searching, seeking, desires and imaginations were all about "God" and again and again I found myself stopped there. I desperately desired an exterior God to swoop in and heal me and cure me and make me fit for life.

So stressed about my life has been wanting to sip a little sick.


My mental health is sound now, but like many people, I still often feel as though I am somehow not quite equipped to face the day, even in its most practical and selfish aspects. It leaves me feeling weak and afraid when I think of trying to reach beyond myself to help anyone else or to make any difference in the world. Without supernatural intervention (which seemed at best a fickle thing, obviously outside of my control to command, in the unlikely event it existed), it seemed to me that getting through my life day to day was a big enough job for me, so I shut the rest down. 

I have heard and read and encountered the truth many times, in religious and psychological contexts, that the only way to "Salvation" was to go beyond yourself, to "deny yourself" through love, for the good of another, and I've misinterpreted that truth in various ways with various unhappy results, so I withdrew from that, too.

So I switch to defensive tactic #2 self mockery. Works every time, most of it


Starting again, I have had to come to a very calm and silent and empty place. No god there, no no-god there. Myself as it exists: the movements of self-protection, the movements of love, the layers of experience, the celebration, the worry, the strife. Daily failure and daily triumph, and all of those thoughts and desires and seekings and imaginations. I am not trying to judge them, or destroy them, or even to sift through them, I am only seeking to be still a while from them. Even the principle of God is a risky thing for me because it so often consists of all that stuff, and it gets in the way of moving out of my own narcissistic circle.

So the principle for me is this: to put aside the grandiose expectations for and of myself which give me an excuse to feel like a failure and give up. To be honest about who and what I am, to give what I actually have in the moment, and not demand or expect more. To value and have gratitude for my gifts as they exist now, and not as I wish they would be, if I were "better". To see abundance in myself where I am tempted to see only lack. To find the humility to accept and exist in the moment-to-moment struggles and joys and (most of all) choices with a sense of faithfulness and purpose, and to lay everything else aside.

November 15, 2013 12:40 PM

November 11, 2013

Of the Best Stuff, but Plain


It's strange to poke my nose back into the Quaker blogosphere. The landscape is almost entirely different. I looked around and found conversations I'd missed, a couple of years old, which I'm sure I would have had a lot to say about. I found that many of the blogs I read and loved and wrestled with years ago are dormant, or taken over by spambots, or simply just gone. I went in to tidy up my links and ended up just deleting the whole thing. I'll be adding links as I go, just adding what I read and what stirs my mind and heart, no matter where we stand on opinions and theology.

While it's a little disorienting and maybe even a bit lonely to discover that the conversations have moved on without me, in a way, it's very freeing, and a bit exciting. I positioned myself very strongly when I first began to blog. In my early twenties, full of fire and notions and the excitement of a new way to see the world, a new place to stand. I was urgently seeking truth, usually with a capital T, and I dove headfirst into matters of theology and conservatism and liberalism and testimony and ministry. I can see now that I didn't really understand these things, but I know how badly I wanted to understand them. And even from this distance I can appreciate the qualities and gifts which fueled that drive, and I can be grateful for them. It's almost a decade since the birth of this blog, and my approach to life in general has lost a lot of that blazing urgency and conviction. I don't exactly think of it as a loss, although occasionally in a sad moment I'll feel it as one. At any rate, it wasn't thrown away, it was traded for things of different, but hopefully equal value. Things which have more utility in my life as it now exists.

I'm rambling a bit, but there is a point somewhere in here. In thinking about why I left meeting and the community behind, I realized how much of it had to do with fear of disappointing people. If I ended up a non-theist, it would be embarrassing. That sounds much more trite than I intend it to. There is some matter of pride in there, though not monstrously. In fact, "embarrassment" was the Victorian euphemism for bankruptcy, and it felt a lot more like that. I felt impoverished, unable to meet my commitments. I felt as if I had failed to fulfill the promise of my early passion. I felt, in fact, like something of a fraud.

It goes to show how little trust and faith I actually put in my community, the Friends who loved me no matter what, in spite of and because of my questioning and changing. I like to think that if I had stayed in the community, I would have learned better. I would have healed and grown, perhaps, on a shorter and sweeter timescale. You can never be sure. I'm not too hard on myself for the choices I made. I was who I was, and circumstances are powerful things.

Then there's the name of the blog. When I laid down plainness and had taken up the overwhelming and involuntary concern of my serious depression years ago, I changed the name of the blog. It was a slightly glib way of attempting to be brave and truthful, though as usual I may have over-egged things a little. "Cracked" is a bit of a loaded, silly term, although as always interpretation is everything. I can't really think of a replacement at the moment, so I think the name will stay.

I intend to write as I always did here, sharing the impressions and movements of my heart as they occur. I think I will be less striving than I was. I will endeavor to be honest in the moment, though I no longer have that overwhelming urge to track and then nail down a Truth which I can then display for the benefit of humankind. I expect this will be a relief to us all.

November 11, 2013 08:05 AM

November 10, 2013

Of the Best Stuff, but Plain

And almost another year...

Well, it took many more months of wandering and wondering to bring me back again. I have may more to say, I may have more posts in me, I'm not entirely sure.

It's been a year of tremendous healing, and a general restoration of my self. It was a tough time when I was last writing here regularly, and it was a tough time when I wasn't. I'm in a much better place, now, and it's only now that I've been able to begin to revisit the part of myself which used to move me to write here.

I visited Frederick Street meeting in Belfast today, and it was good. I've been to less than five meetings on either side of the ocean in the last five years. I actually attempted to go last week, but got lost, and ended up finding myself in Saint Anne's cathedral, lifting up my soul on the sung service of the Church of Ireland, where the police posted by the door stood in dark contrast to the light and joy of the young choir's voices singing Mozart. I was moved by the music, and moved by the priest's generous sermon on mean little Zacchaeus in the tree and his change of heart. I still felt more outside of the experience than inside of it, but bid my fretful (a)theology be quiet and just sat with the experience. I escaped before tea, but felt the warmth and love of that little congregation in the huge church, and was glad my misadventures had brought me there.

This week, armed with better information, I arrived at Meeting just in time. I sat down in the very warm room, made a series of decisions about the several sweaters I was wearing, and tried to settle.

There were a lot of reasons why I had avoided meeting for the last five years. The most pressing was the continuing disintegration of my "notions" of God. I kept erasing and re-drawing the line for years, desperate to find some firm sense of who or what I was speaking of or to, some line of experience I could hold fast to, but I could never lay my hands on something solid and sure. I felt "cut to the heart" again, and again, like Margaret Fell.

"Then what had any to do with the scriptures but as thy came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a Child of Light, and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is inwardly from God, etc?"

This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart, and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, "We are all thieves, we are all thieves..."

but it didn't stop there. I couldn't trust my experience. I could not say at all that anything came inwardly from God, because it seemed to me that I couldn't truthfully say I was ever sure that what I experienced was not "simply" the agitation of my own emotions, the ignition of inherited ideas and forms, and again and again I found myself thrown against a possibility I didn't want to consider. It was desperately painful, another wound in a very wounded time of my life.

So I withdrew entirely. I avoided the question, I diverted what little "spiritual" attention I still possessed into a nominal humanism and tried to live my life by the "light" of what seemed the most loving and right thing to do at the time. I was still struggling with the aftershocks of a personally devastating breakdown, but I threw myself into a new country, a new relationship, and new pursuits.

And there was a lot of good there. I recovered some of my creative power, I made wonderful friendships, and I grew up in many ways. I entered therapy and did a lot of deep work.

But my world was bound by the simple existence of the day to day. My eyes and heart were focused on the business of keeping my mind together and keeping my relationship together. I avoided conversations or even thoughts about "spiritual" things. I resigned my role in any greater "plan" and even my ability to make any real difference in the world beyond my small immediate sphere. Many times, I even sincerely doubted my power there.

I'll skip over the gulf of pain and despair and hope and betrayal and my own many, many, many mistakes and say I finally washed ashore and found my mind and heart free for the first time in a long time, and I began to carefully feel my way back, and like I said, I began looking for some precious things I left behind. Most of them were questions. I've spent the last ten months examining them gently.

I still don't have any answers, and there's still no line I can draw, or hold. To put it plainly, I still don't have a God I can define, let alone address, or trust, or expect to speak in, or to, or through me.

What I do have, though, is some peace with that. And a strong conviction that I do need a community, and a space where I can raise my mind and heart to things beyond myself.

So I sat in meeting and waited. Listened to the messages. Sweated in my thermal shirt. Tried to clear my mind. Someone spoke of forgiveness, and I thought of repentance, of turning back. I thought of lifting up my heart, of how there is almost a physical (metaphysical?) sensation to that. So I did, I lifted up my heart, even without a God to lift it to. I lifted it out into the meeting, and out into the nothing, and everything. And I felt it, there, again, for the first time in a long time. That electric thump, half painful, in the centre of my chest, and the sting of tears at the back of my eyes. That sense of connection, that sense of height, of clarity and warmth, of light, of love. It is unmistakable and good and knowable, and it informs and changes your life. Wherever it comes from, a "divine" source, a mess of associations and expectations in my mind, or mere neurology, I don't care any more. It is good, it is a source of power, I have missed it dreadfully, and it is necessary to my life. I'm just going to follow it, and I am not going to worry about its origin anymore.

I am laying down that concern, and I am simply going to continue to lift up my heart, moment by moment. Lift it up, with courage, a dozen times in a day of depression. Lift it up in the face of the world's pain and my own confusion. Lift it up, consciously, continuously, with conviction and with discipline. I'm going to read more Whitman.

And I'm going to go to meeting.

November 10, 2013 01:45 PM

November 04, 2013

Russ Nelson

Ride starting Sun Nov 3 12:50:13 2013

23.19 km 76069.77 feet 14.41 mi 7033.00 seconds 117.22 minutes 1.95 hours 7.37 mi/hr

Rode a portion of the D&H Saranac Lake branch. Used to go from Plattsburgh to Saranac Lake. You know the long straight road that goes in front of the hospital in Saranac? That's the old railbed. And where it sharply curves to the left and goes up the hill? That's the old road. The railroad continued straight ahead on a cut through the hill.

It was below freezing. I had hoped that the sandy bits would be frozen, but being sand, they don't hold enough water to actually freeze into a solid surface. Fortunately, there wasn't as much sand as I feared.

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November 04, 2013 02:32 PM

October 27, 2013

Russ Nelson

Ride starting Fri Sep 27 16:48:20 2013

18.54 km 60820.58 feet 11.52 mi 4982.00 seconds 83.03 minutes 1.38 hours 8.32 mi/hr

Bicycled the Walkill Valley Trail northern extension. They bought up the right-of-way, got permission for the parts they didn't own, and decked over the Rosendale Trestle, so now the Walkill Valley Trail extends from practically Kingston down to New Paltz and beyond. GPS track has horrible accuracy, probably due to lots of trees.

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October 27, 2013 03:18 AM

October 26, 2013

Quaker Ranter

Quaker Folkways and Being Patterns on the Interwebs

Last Sunday I have a presentation to Haddonfield (N.J.) Meeting’s adult First-day school class about “Sharing the Good News with Social Media.” As I prepared I found I was less and less interested in the techniques of Facebook, etc., than I was in how outreach has historically worked for Friends.

For an early, short, period Quakers were so in-your-face and notorious that they could draw a crowd just by walking a few miles up the road to the next town. More recently, we’ve attracted newcomers as much by the example of our lives than by any outreach campaign. When I talk to adult newcomers, they often cite some Quaker example in their lives–a favorite teacher or delightfully eccentric aunt.

People can sense when there’s something of greater life in the way we approach our work, friendships, and families. Let me be the first in line to say I’m horribly imperfect. But there are Quaker techniques and values and folkways that are guides to genuinely good ways to live in the world. There’s nothing exclusively Quaker about them (indeed, most come from careful reading of the Gospels and Paul’s letters), but they are tools our religious community has emphasized and into which we’ve helped each other live more fully.

In the last fifteen years, the ways Friends are known has undergone a radical transformation. The Internet has made us incredibly easy to find and research. This is a mixed blessing as it means others are defining who we are. Careful corporate discernment conducted through long-developed techniques of Quaker process are no match for the “edit” button in Wikipedia or some commercial site with good page rank.

That said, I think people still are discovering Friends through personal examples. George Fox told us to be patterns and examples in the world and to answer that of God in everyone. A lot of our exampling and answering today is going to be on the threaded comments of Facebook and Twitter. What will they find? Do we use Facebook like everyone else, trolling, spamming, engaging in flame wars, focusing on ourselves? Or do Quaker folkways still apply. Here are some questions that I regularly wrestle with:

What struggles do others face? What might be our online folkways?

October 26, 2013 02:58 AM

October 21, 2013

A Musing Environment

Climate departure

A new analysis by Camilo Mora, et al from University of Hawaii, projects the dates of climate departure, when the projected mean climate of a given location moves to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability compared to 1860 to 2005. This is the date when the coldest year is warmer than the […]

October 21, 2013 12:55 AM

October 18, 2013

A Musing Environment

On the nature of science

I posted a portion of the notebook used in the Friends General Conference 2013 workshop, Friends Process: Responding to Climate Change (Gretchen Reinhardt and I co-led it). Go to On the Nature of Science to read more, leave comments here. Topics: • What is Science? • Scientific Consensus • How Scientists Communicate Results • “But […]

October 18, 2013 04:08 PM

October 17, 2013

Quaker Ranter

Expanding our concepts of pacifism

My blogging pal Wess Daniels wrote a provocative piece this week called When Peace Preserves Violence. It’s a great read and blows some much-needed holes in the self-satisfaction so many of us carry with us. But I’d argue that there’s a part two needed that does a side-step back to the source…

Eric Moon wrote something that’s stuck with me in his June/July Friends Journal piece, “Categorically Not the Testimonies.” His article focuses on the way we’ve so codified the “Quaker Testimonies” that they’ve become ossified and taken for granted. One danger he sees in this is that we’ll not recognize clear leadings of conscience that don’t fit the modern-day mold.

Moon tells the anecdote of a Friend who “guiltily lament[ed] that he couldn’t attend protest marches because he was busy all day at a center for teens at risk for dropping out of school, a program he had established and invested his own savings in.” Here was a Friend doing real one-on-one work changing lives but feeling guilty because he couldn’t participate in the largely-symbolic act of standing on a street corner.

I don’t think that we need to give up the peace testimony to acknowledge the entanglement of our lives and the hypocrisy that lies all-too-shallowly below the surface of most of our lifestyles. What we need to do is rethink its boundaries.

A model for this is our much-quoted but much-ignored “Quaker saint” John Woolman. While a sense of the equality of humans is there in his journal as a source of his compassion, much of his argumentation against slavery is based in Friends by-then well-established testimony against war (yes, against war, not for peace). Slavery is indeed a state of war and it is on so many levels–from the individuals treating each other horribly, to societal norms constructed to make this seem normal, to the economies of nation states built on the trade.

Woolman’s conceptual leap was to say that the peace testimony applied to slavery. If we as Friends don’t participate in war, then we similarly can’t participate in the slave trade or enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of that trade–the war profit of cottons, dyes, rum, etc.

Today, what else is war? I think we have it harder than Woolman. In the seventeenth century a high percentage of one’s consumables came from a tight geographic radius. You were likely to know the labor that produced it. Now almost nothing comes locally. If it’s cheaper to grow garlic in China and ship it halfway around the world than it is to pay local farmers, then our local grocer will sell Chinese garlic (mine does). Books and magazines are supplanted by electronics built in locked-down Far Eastern sweatshops.

But I think we can find ways to disengage. It’s a never-ending process but we can take steps and support others taking steps. We’ve gotten it stuck in our imagination that war is a protest sign outside Dunkin Donuts. What about those tutoring programs? What about reducing our clothing consumptions and finding ways to reduce natural resource consumption (best done by limiting ourselves to lifestyles that cause us to need less resources).

And Yoder? Wess is disheartened by the sexual misconduct of Mennonite pacifist John Howard Yoder (short story: he regularly groped and sexually pressured women). But what of him? Of course he’s a failure. In a way, that’s the point, even the plan: human heroes will fail us. Cocks will crow and will we stay silent (why the denomination kept it hush-hush for 15 years after his death is another whole WTF, of course). But why do I call it the plan? Because we need to be taught to rely first and second and always on the Spirit of Jesus. George Fox figured that out:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. …and this I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing.

If young Fox had found a human hero that actually walked the talk, he might have short-circuited the search for Jesus. He needed to experience the disheartened failure of human knowledge to be low enough to be ready for his great spiritual opening.

We all use identity to prop ourselves up and isolate ourselves from critique. I think that’s just part of the human condition. The path toward the divine is not one of retrenchment or disavowal, but rather focus on that one who might even now be preparing us for new light on the conditions of the human condition and church universal.

October 17, 2013 09:59 PM

October 14, 2013

Quaker Ranter

Wikifying Our Blogging

Continuing my recent post in reimagining blogs, I’m going to go into some contextual details lifted from the Quaker publications with which I’m either directly associated or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quaker Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new homepage for my two year old “Nonviolence Web” project. The new feature was updated weekly with excerpted material from member projects on and related organizations that already had independent websites. We didn’t have RSS or Twitter then but I would manually send out emails to a list; we didn’t have comments but I would publish interesting responses that came by email. The work was relaunched with blogging software in 2003 and the voice became more individual and my focus became more Quaker and tech.

The articles then were like they are now: reversely chronological, with categories, tagging, and site searching that allow older material to be accessed. The most important source of archive visibility is external: Google. People can easily find material that is directly relevant to a question they’re addressing right now. In many instances, they’ll never even click through to the site homepage, much less categories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time visitors are often trying to understand something new; the great majority bounce off the page and follow another search result on a matter of a few seconds, but some small but important percentage will be ripe for new ideas and connections and might be willing to try new associations.

But it’s random. I’m a bit of a nerd in my chosen interests and have been blogging long enough that I generally have at least a few interesting posts on any particular sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by colleagues, friends, my wife, and random conversations I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most meaningful blog posts–those with legs–have involved me integrating some new thinker or idea into my worldview. The process will have started months or sometimes years before when another spiritual nerd recommended a book or article. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to newcomers but essential for those trying to go deeper into their faith. You’ll be in a deep conversations with someone and they’ll ask (often with a twinkle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This culture if sharing is especially important for Friends, who traditionally have no clergy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of conversations into a public realm–one that can be Googled and followed. The internet has helped us scale-up this process and make it more available to those who can’t constantly travel.

When I have real-world conversations now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m sharing the “have you read” conversation in a way that can be eavesdropped by hundreds.

But how are people who stumble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just limited to an obscure faith blog. Yesterday I learned about a cool (to me) blog written by a dad who researches and travels to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Saturday afternoon and I find myself in a certain locale, how can I know if he’s been anywhere nearby unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s categorization taxonomy is complete?

What I’m thinking is that we could try to create meta indexes to our blogs in a wiki model. Have a whole collection of introductory pages where we list and summarize relevant articles with links.

In the heyday of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of automated version of this, but again, this it was chronological. And it was work. Even remembering to tag is work. I would spend a couple of days ignoring clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months later with even more metadata complexity. Writing a whole shadow meta blog indexing the blog would be a major (and unending task). It wouldn’t garner the rush of immediate Facebook likes. But it would be supremely useful for someone wanting to explore an issue of particular interest to them at that moment.

And one more Quaker aside that I think will nevertheless be of interest to the more techie readers. I’ve described Quakerism as a wiki spirituality. Exhibit one is the religious movement’s initial lack of creeds or written instruction. Even our pacifism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncodified testimony in the earliest years.

As Friends gained more experience living in community, they would publish advices–short snippets of wisdom that were collectively-approved using consensus decision making. They were based on experience. For example, they might find that members who abused alcohol, say, or repeatedly tested the dress code might cause other sorts of problems for the community and they’d minute a warning against these practices.

These advices were written over time; as more were approved it became burdensome to find relevant advices when some issue started tearing up a congregation. So they were collected into books–unofficial at first, literally hand-copied from person to person. These eventually became official–published “books of disciplines,” collections of the collective wisdom organized by topic. Their purpose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensuing centuries but their impulse and early organization is one that I find useful when thinking about how we could rethink the categorization issues of our twenty first century blogs and commenting systems.

October 14, 2013 08:16 PM

October 03, 2013

A Musing Environment

Fukushima update—The history of predictions on spent fuel rods, part 4

Part 3 addresses dire but unsubstantiated warnings that North America is in danger from a radioactive plume and fish. This will focus on another set of warnings, that the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Dai-ichi could turn out to be a major problem for human health, perhaps much worse than Chernobyl. Some of the material […]

October 03, 2013 11:11 PM

September 30, 2013

A Musing Environment

Fukushima update—the plume and fish come to North America, part 3

Some of the oddest accusations about the Fukushima accident imply that it has affected or will affect health of Americans. Tsunami debris Marine debris from the tsunami is expected to hit Hawaii this winter, and the US mainland in 2014. This is unrelated to the nuclear accident, but will it have health effects? Harm other […]

September 30, 2013 03:09 PM

Quaker Ranter

Rethinking Blogs

In last weekend’s NYTimes Magazine, Michael Erard writes about the history of online comments. Even though I was involved with blogging from its earliest days, it surprised me to remember that comments, permalinks, comments, and trackbacks were all later innovations. Erard’s historical lens is helpful in showing how what we now think of as a typical comment system–a line of reader feedback in reverse chronological order underneath content–grew out of technological restraints. It was easiest to code this sort of system. The model was bulletin boards and, before that, “guestbooks” that sat on websites.

Many of these same constraints and models underlay blogs as a whole. Most blog home pages don’t feature the most post popular posts or the one the writer might think most important. No, they show the most recent. As in comments, the entries are ordered in reverse chronological order. The pressure on writers is to repeat themselves so that their main talking points regularly show up on the homepage. There are ways around this (pinned posts, a list of important posts, plug-ins that will show what’s most popular or getting the most comments), but they’re rarely implemented and all have drawbacks.

Here’s the dilemma: the regular readers who follow your blog (read your magazine, subscribe to your Youtube, etc.) probably already know where you stand on particular issue. They generally share many of your opinions and even when they don’t, they’re still coming to your site for some sort of confirmation.

The times when blogs and websites change lives–and they do sometimes–is when someone comes by to whom your message is new. Your arguments or viewpoint helps them make sense of some growing realization that they’ve intuited but can’t quite name or define. The writing and conversation provides a piece of the puzzle of a growing identity.

(The same is true of someone walking into a new church; it’s almost a cliche of Friends that a newcomer feels “as if I’ve been Quaker my whole life and didn’t know it!” If taught gently, the Quaker ethos and metaphors give shape to an identity that’s been bubbling up for some time.)

So if we’re rethinking the mechanical default of comments, why not rethink blogs? I know projects such as Medium are trying to do that. But would it be possible to retrofit existing online publications and blogs in a way that was both future-proof and didn’t require inordinate amounts of categorization time?

September 30, 2013 03:16 AM

September 28, 2013

A Musing Environment

Fukushima updates on evacuation, food, and fish, part 2

What is happening with the Fukushima evacuation, and how the radioactivity in Fukushima compares to other places people visit and live. The cleanup, food and fish, and the cost of increased use of fossil fuels. Many places in the world have high natural background radiation According to World Nuclear Association, Naturally occurring background radiation is […]

September 28, 2013 09:03 PM

September 20, 2013

A Musing Environment

Fukushima update, bottom line numbers—part 1

Updated to correct the number of evacuation related deaths and to add the standards for evacuation. There have been a recent upsurge of odd assertions on the nuclear accident in Fukushima, along with reasonable questions on what-the-heck is happening there. The short answer is not much. The long answer will be spread over a few […]

September 20, 2013 09:21 PM

September 15, 2013

Russ Nelson

Rail Trails #10

I have a goal of riding every named Rail-Trail in New York State. There are many more railbeds not used for trains anymore which are also ridable. They are usually unnamed, unsigned, and unpublished. I speculate that this is because the owner is either indifferent or away. I've ridden some of these but I'm more interested in getting the named trails ridden first. I'm uploading them to OpenStreetMap as I go.

Here are the trails I rode this summer: Stillwater Rail Trail on a chilly end-of-March day. The El Camino Rail Trail, the Heritage Park Rail Trail, the Lehigh Memory Trail, and the Pittsford Rail Trail as part of the Erie Canalwail Trail ride. I hit the Kennedy Rail Trail, NYO&W Liberty and Parksville Rail Trails, the South Cazenovia Rail Trail, the Tarrytown Lakes extension, and walked the White Plains Greenway. Re-rode the Hudson Valley Rail Trail / Walkway Over the Hudson / Dutchess County Trail system (end to end this time), re-rode the Orange Heritage Trailway and the Gorge Trail, and rode a bit on the Walkill Valley Rail Trail.

Trails I've ridden:

Trails I haven't (yet) ridden:

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September 15, 2013 03:26 AM

Ride starting Sun Jun 9 18:54:14 2013

8.02 km 26303.10 feet 4.98 mi 2462.00 seconds 41.03 minutes 0.68 hours 7.28 mi/hr

I've ridden this once before, but after the South Cazenovia Rail Trail debacle, I needed to ride a real rail-trail (the Gorge Trail) to get it out of my system.

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September 15, 2013 02:41 AM

Ride starting Sun Jun 9 17:58:18 2013

7.17 km 23521.59 feet 4.45 mi 2139.00 seconds 35.65 minutes 0.59 hours 7.50 mi/hr

I tried to ride the South Cazenovia Rail Trail on this day in early June. Unfortunately, the rail-trail has some extremely wet spots in it. It's more of a snowmobile trail, really. I can't see how any wheeled vehicle, or even pedestrians could make it the length of the rail-trail. And don't even ask me about the mosquitos. All those puddles make it mosquito city.

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September 15, 2013 02:41 AM

Ride starting Sun Jun 9 10:38:30 2013

4.07 km 13336.97 feet 2.53 mi 1872.00 seconds 31.20 minutes 0.52 hours 4.86 mi/hr

Parksville's O&W Rail Trail is only about a mile and a quarter. It needed some clever work to get around badly eroded sections of railbed, some slumped into the creek below. So although it's short, I'm glad they put out the effort to create it at all.

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September 15, 2013 02:41 AM

Ride starting Sun Jun 9 08:32:11 2013

13.91 km 45633.92 feet 8.64 mi 5590.00 seconds 93.17 minutes 1.55 hours 5.57 mi/hr

The Liberty O&W Rail Trail follows the route of the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad through town. At the south end in Ferndale, it abruptly ends where a huge trestle carried the railroad over a valley. On the north end it stops when the railroad went behind a bunch of people's houses, and beyond that, at the high school, and beyond that, at another big missing trestle.

Unfortunately, the O&W was abandoned at a time when people weren't thinking about rail-trails, so when they ripped it up, they ripped everything up. Every last bit of metal was sold to help with the bankruptcy debt.

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September 15, 2013 02:41 AM

Ride starting Sat Jun 8 15:24:41 2013

6.32 km 20737.31 feet 3.93 mi 2346.00 seconds 39.10 minutes 0.65 hours 6.03 mi/hr

Tarrytown Lakes Extention is an extension to the North County Rail Trail, but it's actually the original main line for the Putnam line. It used to go through Rockefeller's estate, and he simply got tired of it. So he paid the railroad's expenses to relocate the line so it took a different routing. Now it's about a 2 mile long paved rail-trail that goes from Eastview almost to Old White Plains Road. It stops at a railroad bridge that has no decking. It would be a simple thing to add a deck; maybe there is a property restriction beyond that point? It's a nice trail and should be extended.

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September 15, 2013 02:41 AM

September 14, 2013

Russ Nelson

Ride starting Sun Jul 14 06:15:59 2013

66.13 km 216968.94 feet 41.09 mi 20783.00 seconds 346.38 minutes 5.77 hours 7.12 mi/hr

Day Eight of the Cycling the Erie Canalway tour, Scotia to Albany and the finish line. The route today is nearly all on a rail-trail except where the trail has to break away at a nuclear site and in Watervliet. Took two side trips to look at our water quality sensors on the Mohawk River.

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September 14, 2013 08:15 PM

Ride starting Sat Jul 13 06:58:51 2013

77.88 km 255506.47 feet 48.39 mi 34263.00 seconds 571.05 minutes 9.52 hours 5.08 mi/hr

Day Seven of the Cycling the Erie Canalway tour, Canajoharie to Scotia. The last two days are short. Together they would be one very long day. Went off-route in Fort Hunter at Schoharie Landing. This is one of the few points where the original Erie Canal -- Clinton's Ditch -- the Enlarged Erie canal, and the NYS Barge Canal take disparate routes. The advantage is that you can see what's left of each.

I rode the Towpath Trail on the north side of the Enlarged Erie Canal. It passes one lock that you can only see from this trail, then you cross over onto the main trail at the next lock.

Found a bridge on the Fonda, Gloversville & Johnstown trolley line. Like many trolley lines, it was double-tracked for bidirectional running, so the bridge was quite wide. Chased that into Hutchinson Crossing. Explored quite a bit of the warehouse district north of Amsterdam Road. Some of it is still an active military base even though the warehouses look derelict, so I couldn't explore everywhere there had been railroad tracks.

Rolled into Scotia and set up camp for the last night.

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September 14, 2013 08:15 PM

Ride starting Fri Jul 12 05:31:57 2013

127.33 km 417738.20 feet 79.12 mi 49679.00 seconds 827.98 minutes 13.80 hours 5.73 mi/hr

Day Six of the Cycling the Erie Canalway tour. A metric century plus. Almost 80 miles. Went off-route to find the Wheelers Creek bridge south of Rome. Then went on a six-mile "side trip". Or, rather, I got lost along with about a dozen other people. Just following the leader, like a sheeple.

Explored Utica's Blue Line -- a railroad spur which served the industries formerly served by the Erie Canal. Stopped by the brewery to grab some Saranac Root Beer (yummy!) and a shandy. Found an abandoned railroad bridge underneath East River Road. Big section of neither towpath nor railbed in the Ilion / Mohawk / Little Falls area.

Found a pretty abandoned bridge in East Creek, over the Canada Creek. It's got a tree growing on it that's at least 20 years old. I was able to walk out on it -- it's obvious that the locals go fishing off the bridge, so I didn't feel at risk. More road riding into Saint Johnsville. There was a lot of trail damage from rains a week earlier, so we got routed off the trail a lot.

The bridge over Caroga Creek in Fort Plain had its east abutment completely eroded away, so the bridge was falling into the creek. Gonna be an expensive repair, that. I entered the trail shortly after that even though the routing was on the north side of the Mohawk. I saw signs welcoming us into Canajoharie that probably nobody else saw. I felt very welcomed. Was late enough on this very long day that I didn't bother climbing the hill only to take the bus back into town. Just stayed in town and ate dinner. Climbed the hill with a full stomach. Not all that hard a hill.

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September 14, 2013 08:15 PM

Ride starting Thu Jul 11 06:56:34 2013

109.92 km 360621.97 feet 68.30 mi 35256.00 seconds 587.60 minutes 9.79 hours 6.97 mi/hr

Day Five of the Cycling the Erie Canalway Tour. A metric century day. Found the Elmira and Cortland Branch bridge abutments over the Erie Canal on the east side of Canastota. Went east off-trail to Hubbard Place to find a place where three railroad bridges crossed Cowelson Creek within 120 meters of each other. Two of the bridges remain, as do the abutments of the third. They were, from north to south, the New York Central, the West Shore Railroad, and some trolley line whose name I do not know.

On the way out of Oneida, I rode a little bit on the New York Central, just to the bridge over the New York, Ontario & Western. Climb down onto the latter and rode it north. They've had substantial erosion on that trail. Seems to be unmaintained, sadly. Would make a nice trail, if a bit short.

Followed the O&W north until it diverged away. Found the 1877 Oneida Lake Canal on the north side of the Erie Canal, then went back on the trailway route. There's an O&W bridge a bit south of Foster Corners Road, but it's too brushy to get back to it wearing bicycle shorts. Have to come back in the early spring before the brush gets growing, wearing pants.

Went off-route again to find the 1835 Oneida Lake Canal. It lasted for almost 30 years until it finally fell into disrepair, prompting the creation of the later Oneida Lake Canal, which was an abject failure, being built on quicksand, so it constantly sprung leaks. Almost no boats transited this canal for the single year it was in operation.

Yet Again, I got into Rome too late to see any part of the Erie Canal Museum. Barely had time to watch a bit of their introductary video. Rode into town, made camp, stopped into Fort Stanwyx, had dinner, and hit the sack.

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September 14, 2013 08:15 PM

Ride starting Wed Jul 10 06:53:03 2013

76.29 km 250297.27 feet 47.40 mi 32500.00 seconds 541.67 minutes 9.03 hours 5.25 mi/hr

Day Four of the Cycling the Erie Canalway tour. Seneca Falls to Syracuse, a short day, with almost no trail riding. Not sure why they routed us off so much of the trail this year. Could have been all the rain. The only exploring that I did was to go find the upside-down traffic light on Tipperary Hill. Yes, green on top, red on the bottom. It's just one of those things. Hail and lightning storm.

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September 14, 2013 08:15 PM