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February 14, 2013

Dan Fincke over at Camels with Hammers has produced a fascinating document; “THE CAMELS WITH HAMMERS CIVILITY PLEDGE”.  

I’m linking to it, as well as reprinting it as a page on the masthead  on the off chance you don’t want to give Patheos any money. This pledge is the culmination of a good two years of blogging and back and forth discussion on Dan’s blog about the feasibility of promoting civil discourse on the internet. It is far reaching and incredibly well thought out.  Just following the discussion has led me to moderate my language and reconsider some of my long held positions on how to deal with Trolls and other refuse on the intertubes.

And I’ve been one of the gadfly’s in this discussion.  I am going to fail to uphold a lot of this pledge because I firmly believe that there are lines that once crossed, forfeit one the right to be treated civilly.   In cases such as that the best thing to do is most likely to disengage as best as you can.  And in cases like the horrible people who harass Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson and others in the skeptical and atheist movement on a weekly basis… well I’m likely to lose my temper.

I have another reservation.  I recommend reading the whole Pledge. I recommend reading everything Dan writes, even the stuff about the dreary Christopher Nolan Batman films that I have grown tired of.  He’s an incredibly intelligent and reasonably friendly fellow.  The very fact that he and I can have silly spats on Facebook about careerist hack Andrew Sullivan is one of the miracles of the modern age, and I cherish those conversations even when I come out of them feeling like I’m on the short end of the stick.

Because lets face it. He’s a college professor, a full on practicing philosopher.

I’m a two time college drop out with a Chomsky fetish and an internet connection. If it weren’t for the Girl there’s a good chance I would be typing this as part of a Manifesto from my Unabomber cabin.

Giving up on vitriol feels a bit like disarming.  Snark is part of my armor, it helps keep the bad guys at arms length.  It’s easier to make forceful and eloquent arguments without resorting to personal attacks when you have been training your whole life for it.  Some of us are just dudes (and dudettes) with blogs trying to sort out the world. Give us some slack as we catch up.

But I’m signing anyway, even if I honor the pledge as often in the breech as in practice.  I have The Hellions to watch over, and their world is likely going to be even more interconnected by this internet thingy.  I suppose it behooves me to model the kind of world I want them to grow up in, even if that means I become a relic of a less enlightened age.

Monday Muse: Dar Williams

February 4, 2013

The mid Nineties were a weird time for me.  As a pretty naive nerd boy I made my first tentative steps into the wider world.   I made my best friends ever, moved out of my parents house, then back in, then back out again. I fell in love for the first time, actually got engaged at one point, and then crashed hard when that relationship hit the rocks.  I’m incredibly lucky that she and I have remained friends to this day.  I spent  the latter half of that decade pretty lonely though,  until the strange day in 2000 when I was lucky enough to sit down next to this Girl at Kaldi’s  and had my life changed forever.

In between loves I struggled, desperate at times, sometimes resigned.  Music got me through a lot of it.  One artist in particular flitted into my view as I shelved her cd’s at my job at the now defunct Arc Distributing ( a “one stop warehouse” for local music distribution, I used to describe us as the colon of the music industry). That artist was Dar Williams, and for a few years she became my imaginary girlfriend.  I sincerely hope that doesn’t come off as too creepy, but there it is.  When I was at my loneliest I could pop her cassette into my aging walkman and escape for a time, a time  in  which this intelligent and clever songwriter delivered a picture of the world that wasn’t dark. Melancholy at times and never saccharine, always delivered with hope and humor.

Dar Williams is much more than another  product of the New England folk scene. A graduate of Wesleyan University with a sharp sense of humor and a  firm grasp of Humanist principles and an appreciation for conceptual art,  Dar’s music can be a quirky Christmas carol of “The Christians and the Pagans” , or  the forceful defense of the avant garde in “I won’t be your Yoko Ono” (click on both links, the story is as good as the song), or a simple story of love lost and found like “February”.

On her 2005 album  My Better Self, she started a conversation on the concept of “paying it forward” in the song “Echoes”, as well as a brutal indictment of the Bush administration and American empire with “Empire” and “Beautiful Enemy”.  I’m still digesting “In the Time of the Gods“, but the closing track “Storm King” certainly ranks with any of her best.

I had trouble picking just one video, but I really like this one.

Youtube comment (yes a sane Youtube comment) from  TheMeemeister summed up this song, and my opinion of Dar Williams really well.

For a tomboy like myself – a tree climber, fisherman, horse rider, explorer – dirty dusty and totally content to be my boy self this song so poignant touches me with longing for that freedom – those places I once was free enough to live. I think I cried the first time I heard this with recognition that I was not the only one. Let’s hear it for all the girls’ inner boys and all the boys’ inner girls.


Forward Thinking: Mourning Death Collectively

January 31, 2013

This post aims to add some smidgen of value to the Forward Thinking Project, a biweekly values development series spearheaded by Dan at Camels With Hammers , and Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism. Libby collected the last round up of blogs on Civic responsibility here, and I was humbled to have my own bare bones contribution included.

This weeks topic… DEATH.  (way to keep everything upbeat guys)

Actually, the topic is “Mourning Death Collectively” and I think Dan laid a fairly sufficient groundwork with his essay  that I feel somewhat at a loss as to how much I can add. But he sums up with a wonderful short question;

In short: If it were up to you to design one or more basic models for messaging and for ritual through which people were to regularly mark deaths together, what would such ceremonies be like? 

I can riff on that for a bit.

To start with I should talk a little bit about my own experience with loved ones who have shuffled off this mortal coil.  I’m the oldest child on my Dad’s side of the family, and he himself was an oldest child.   My Mom was a younger child of her family, but aside from my paternal Grandfather who keeled over on the kitchen floor from a bad ticker a decade or so before I was born, the Brinkman family has been remarkably resilient. Grandma Brinkun as we knew her; lasted until the ripe old age of 98 I believe.  With the exception of some elderly relatives who died when I was very young, my Aunt Kay who was in a car accident,  and a couple of kids I went to high school with, nobody I knew had died. I managed to take thirty trips around the sun before I attended  my first funeral.

Grandpa Doench was a stand up guy, old school Cincinnati west side Catholic,  and he had a simple old school Cincinnati west side funeral.  He died of pancreatic cancer, but all in all he had a pretty good run.  The funeral was sad, but more melancholy than tragic.

Next was my Uncle Al. My moms brother in law, Al succumbed to leukemia the same year.  I actually miss Al more than Grandpa, he was one of the good ones, the kind of guy who knew all his myriad nieces and nephews by name, who threw himself into family reunions with gusto, I can’t even picture him without a huge smile on his face.

In both of these cases, the funeral and surrounding events were… normal, a part of life.  I loved them both, but neither had they been a big part of my life. In cases like that your position as a mourner is simple I think. Be supportive and kind to those most closely effected.  Follow their traditions as best you can.  The rather bland midwestern funeral rites seemed perfectly adequate to me and I hardly thought much about the form of them at all.

Then there was the punch in the gut.

On Novenber 22 1999,  a young woman, late to work after a night out at a party had an epileptic seizure behind the wheel of her minivan. Her foot jammed to the floor she spend through the intersection hopped onto the sidewalk, then crossed the street and crashed into the side of a dry cleaners.  At some point in that terrifying moment she struck my Dad,  Douglas Anthony Doench, on his way to pick up the Sunday paper.  He was killed instantly.

Dad is not hamming for the camera here. Notice his hand. He’s going to throw that ball to his left. He’s Looking off the defense!

Suddenly, all of the things that I had taken for granted previously were heaped on my family’s doorstep, like unwelcome visitors who were not only there to stay, but were in fact quite demanding.  What to do? The sheer overwhelming helplessness of that first day that didn’t have my Dad in it will stay with me forever. Funeral arrangements,  the visitation at a a funeral home, the funeral service. All of these wonderful responsibilities thrust at a family torn asunder by grief.

Yet it was all taken care of.  I’m still not quite sure how, although I suspect that my sister JJ had a big hand in keeping all the details straight. The funeral home and our old church, St. Anns, took very good care of us.   The visitation took all night, as Dad was both a schoolteacher, former radio news director and lifelong soccer coach. The funeral the next day was attended by hundreds.  I could barely speak, but managed to get through a verse from the Old Testament.  I had no eulogy planned, but could only sum things up with my Mother’s words. “He had more friends than anyone I ever knew”.  A friend remarked as we shared tears and smokes in the parking lot that it was the saddest funeral he had ever seen. I could not argue.

I’ve rambled a bit, and I don’t suppose that I’ve answered Dan’s question.  From what I’ve learned in my experience with deaths, both as I’ve described above and the times since; my wifes beloved mother Carol, taken too soon by breast cancer, and her Grandmother Frieda, as well as the more recent departures such as my old school buddy Glando; well I’ll bullet point it

  1. Structure and institutions help. Grief can be crippling, especially in the case of sudden tragedy.  Much ink has been spilt I’m sure about the problems of the funeral home business, and we Atheist and Secular folks have had our own problems with organized religion.  But on this subject they have us at an advantage. They have plans. Forms to fill out and checklists to tick off.  At a time when survivors are certain to be distracted, there is immense value in having an experienced hand about to say “Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of anything that you feel you can’t”.  
  2. Remembrance is part of ritual.  We are suspicious of ritual in the secular community, as we should be when it comes wrapped in superstition and fear as it so often is amongst our religious brethren.  But there is value I think in crafting a sacred narrative in remembering our loved ones.  There is no reason that ritual need be superstitious.  At Dad’s funeral, what stuck with me was not so much the prayers and readings, but the long line at the visitation, people waiting for hours to shake my mothers hand and tell us a little story about their connection to him. That’s a form of ritual.  I remember the hundreds of photos of him, not all of them brought by us, that’s a ritual as well.  At Glando’s wake we played his favorite songs (as well as some of his songs) and lifted drinks to him and told old stories.  That’s a ritual as old as beer.
  3. Be prepared. This is the hard one.  Not in the zen way that we should all be prepared for “the hammer to fall” as Freddie Mercury taught us. But be prepared in the practical sense.  Passing away may make your life infinitely easier (and shorter), but somebody is going to have to fill out a bunch of forms when it happens.  What happens to your remains, your property,  your collection of used bandages… all of that is someone else’s problem now and it behooves us to prepare them for that eventuality. Write a will, it will make everyone’s life easier.  But beyond that prepare yourself and your loved ones. Back to the thrust of Raising Hellions, talk to your kids about death in a constructive manner before they have to deal with Nana (or you) in a box. That’s a bigger subject than this bullet point though

So to sum up in answer to Dan’s summing up.  I think our dealings with death should be structured and reliable. As secularists this is something we should be working on more, no I don’t really know what that looks like yet.  I think we should embrace certain rituals, even if they are informal, with the intention of  cementing our remembrances. And I think we need to to more to prepare ourselves and our loved ones for death by talking openly about it and planning for what we want our personal passing to encompass.

Myself? I intend to have my body donated to science.  Actually, if you could donate my body to MAD SCIENCE, that would be great because I could still hold out hope of terrorizing the local villagers.

And this is the song I want played at my wake.

Peace, Love and More Love


Monday Muse: Cletus Romp

January 28, 2013

I’ve been lucky,  for someone with a complete lack of musical talent and admittedly quirky musical tastes,  to have made some good friends in the Cincinnati music scene.  Local bluegrass legend Katie Laur, played at my wedding, and was joined at one point by Scotty Wood of Jackass (I took a good number of the shots on their photos page)  for a rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. Jake Speed lives just around the corner in Northside.

This is not a very good picture... ;(

And then there are these guys.  Cletus Romp, like Jethro Tull, is NOT IN THE BAND.  He is just the twisted spirit that animates this collection of musical misfit toys.

How to describe Cletus Romp?  I can’t sum it up in a sentence. Backwoods? Junkyard? Garbage Can Blues? Who are they like? The Drive by Truckers? Tom Waits?  Hard Rockers or Hillbillys? Maybe all that tossed in a blender and set on Muddle?

Whatever it is, I like it.  Derek Stinson leads on vocals, growling out his lyrics like every line is being dragged unwillingly from a deep dark hole into the too bright light.  Tim Golliher on guitar and banjo provides harmony and an ounce of sanity.  Mark Karapondo on bass and Adam Brokamp on drums keep the the beat from wandering off into the woods. And Ryan Moore provides percussive counterpoint with his collection of junkyard drums and improvised noisemakers.

Snake Oil: Half Truths, Outright Lies, and The Gospel is available on Amazon.  It’s a rollicking good listen. If you can, toss these guys ten bucks. They are great guys and they work hard for it.

Here’s their latest video.

It is very strange.

Forward Thinking: What Civic Responsibility means to me.

January 16, 2013

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism , in collaboration with that Dorito fueled Nietzsche freak Daniel Fincke at Camels with Hammers, has launched a new blogging project; Forward Thinking: A Values Development Project  .  From her introduction:

Like many other bloggers, I spend most of my time criticizing the ideas of others – toxic religious beliefs, patriarchal gender roles, the elevation of virginity, and the agenda of the religious right – and comparatively less time building positive alternatives. While it’s critical to contest values and ideas we find harmful, it’s also important to build up positive alternatives, and it’s that understanding that birthed Forward Thinking.

On the first Monday of each month I will offer a prompt and invite input from readers and fellow bloggers alike. Two weeks later, on the third Monday, I will post a round-up of responses, complete with links and short excerpts from blog posts and especially insightful comments, and direct readers to Dan Finke’s blog, where he will post the next prompt. Then, on the first Monday of the following month, Dan will post a round-up of responses and direct readers back to my blog for the following prompt. In this way we will cover two prompts per month, one on each blog.

I personally think that this is an excellent idea. As I remarked at Daniel’s place, it is always nice for those of us with BAD (Blogging Anxiety Disorder) to have a prompt to get us off our ass and blogging. Because I could be killing monsters right now and that would be much  more relaxing… hang on… I’ll be right back…

(Intermission… accompanied by the sounds of horrible amounts of video game violence)

Ok, We are back. The first subject in the series is ” What Does Civic Responsibility Mean to You?

Well ok then. What does “civic responsibility” mean to us here at Raising Hellions?   Since our focus tends towards secular parenting issues, lets walk down that path and see what is revealed to us.

For starters, Civic Responsibility , as defined by The Free Dictionary, is merely “the responsibilities of a citizen”.  At first this doesn’t sound too helpful, but from the point of view of a secular parent it is actually quite salient. I see my most important Civic Responsibility is to raise citizens.  I don’t mean that in a creepy dystopian science fiction fashion, but as a practical matter of raising my children with the knowledge and skills to participate meaningfully in the life of the civic community around them.  I need to encourage them to engage with our civic institutions in a constructive manner, starting with their school and radiating outward to the wider community. I intend to make sure that they are aware of how the various cogs and levers of our community function and impress upon them how inescapably interconnected we are with the community around us.  From the post office to the community council and the city arts institutions to the local news teams to the little league to the health inspector to the community college, all of our various and varied institutions connect and support each other in some way, sometimes in ways that are really obvious and sometimes in ways that are really obscure.

This is especially important to us as secular parents because we have chosen to avoid the parallel institutions provided by the church.  I want my community to have a vibrant public sphere because I am intentionally avoiding the alternative provided by religion.  Part of having a vibrant public sphere is raising children who are aware of its existence and invested in participating in it.

I will admit that much of what I am talking about is aspirational. I certainly am not the best embodiment of civic responsibility myself.  But I aspire to do better and I aspire to instill in my kids a sense that we all can do better.  In fact I think that last sentence may very well sum up a big part of my thoughts on the subject at hand. “We all can do better” is the basic  message of  the progressive movement, of which I think the secular and atheist movement is a part. Civic Responsibility is the embodiment of how we come together in order to do better.  Or to paraphrase Bill S. Preston, Esquire; how we can “Be Excellent to each other.”


Raising boys to be non-rapists

January 8, 2013

Trigger Warning: Rape, here’s a recipe for Chestnut Fennel Soup instead

I found a new parenting blog that I really like, PhD in Parenting by Annie. It is the kind of smart science based parenting writing that Raising Hellions would be if I were in any way qualified to write a smart science based parenting blog. Instead I write this blog, where I get to swear and write about my weird music taste and link to people with smart science based parenting blogs.

I recommend browsing through the back catalog of PhD in Parenting postings about breastfeeding, values, or kid’s health, but the one that first brought her to my attention is from January 4th; “Will your son be a Rapist”. This is admittedly a sensitive subject, hence the trigger warning at the top. If you don’t know what a trigger warning is… what the fuck are you doing on the internet. Google it FFS.  Here, I’ll do it for you.

Like a lot of great blog posts this one picks up rolling a ball that another writer started rolling. In this case a piece at Frisky by Avital Norman Nathman about the Steubenville Ohio high school rape case.  Read up, it’s pretty appalling shit.

Both Annie and Avital have chosen to focus on an aspect of this kind of incident that is often overlooked. Beyond the frankly disgusting record of a small town protecting its star athletes at the expense of a justice for one so obviously wronged; past the predictable victim blaming and the hands thrown  in the air “kids these days” there’s nothing to be done shrug  from the professional  finger waving crowd; they have both chosen to tackle a question close to my heart. What can we as parents do to prevent our BOYS from showing up in a news story like this?

From Avital

Nobody wants to think of their son as a potential sexual assaulter. I know I don’t. I look at my sweet, sweet son and I know in my heart that he would never hurt a fellow human being, let alone violate and disrespect them in the way this 16-year-old victim was subjected to. But I’m also not living in a fantasy bubble. I’m sure the mothers and fathers of the boys involved thought their sons weren’t capable of such horrific, violating actions either. In fact, most of the town is still in denial, and they’re not the only ones.

From Annie

I think it is partially because most families don’t talk openly about sex and sexual relationships with their children. The parents prefer to assume that the children aren’t having sex and the children prefer to assume that the parents aren’t having sex and both do everything in their power to support that facade. But it is, of course, also because of rape culture.

Rape Culture is your Google homework for tomorrow Hellions readers (both of you), start with Ophelia’s post about Steubenville over there.

I look at my own son and wonder. I know he looks sweet and innocent now.  But what will happen if he grows up to be starting shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds like his father would have been if he had been able to actually hit a baseball?  Or maybe he grows up to be a dashing leading man on stage or screen.  Or a rock star. Or maybe he just makes it big on the stock market and becomes a high paid CEO, or Thor forbid a politician.  Or heck just being a guy in some countries.

All of the above are examples of men who have gotten away with rape, who have been defended from accusations of sexual assault because we as a society have chosen to value them higher than we value the lives and livelihoods of our daughters, sisters and mothers.

And it gets worse. When we look to prevent rape, what do we  talk about. What could the victim have done differently. We talk about her dress, her drinking, her drug use. Was she out in the wrong neighborhood, with the wrong crowd, with the wrong guy.  Maybe she should have been armed. Maybe she should just stay home.

All of which have proven to be horrible failures as rape prevention tactics.  We almost never talk about what the rapist could have done differently.

So lets give it a try attacking this matter from the other side. Lets talk to our sons when they come of age as much as we talk to our daughters.  “Don’t rape anybody” is a good start, but not enough. Make sure our boys know what that means. Teach them about consent.

The best part? This tactic WORKS.  The inestimable Greta Christina dropped this track today

The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign is a public service rape prevention campaign launched in Edmonton in 2010, and adopted by other cities in Canada, which took the radical step of aiming its message, not at potential rape victims, but at potential rapists. It took the radical step of educating potential rapists about what rape actually is. It recognized the role that alcohol commonly plays in rape — and it educates potential rapists that having sex with someone who doesn’t consent, or who is too drunk to consent, or who is passed out and therefore unable to consent, is rape.

And it appears to be working,  the number of reported sexual assaults in Vancouver fell by 10 per cent. Ok, that’s Canada so take it with a big grain of… well Canadians have their shit together more than we Amercans do on a lot of things. But still, its promising.

It is my contention that we as parents, especially us secular parents, have a responsibility to prepare the ground so that our boys (and girls, its rare but it happens) are already receptive to the message of “Don’t be that guy” campaigns.  It’s a place where I think we can make a huge difference simply by doing the job we already accepted, being intelligent and involved parents.

PS. This is one of the longest and certainly the most controversial post I’ve done here.  Comments will be heavily moderated. I should really have a comment policy. Tomorrows job.


Monday Muse: The Year in New Music

January 7, 2013

2012 was a disappointing year in many ways. There was no  Mayan Apocalypse despite the entirely credible warnings of respected crackpots and TV psychics.  The Reds parlayed a 97 win season into a three game losing streak to the eventual World Champion Giants.  The Bengals had a superficially good sequel to last years playoff run, but failed to come up with a new ending, instead simply reusing last years script; “get outmatched by the Texans..exit stage left.

But 2012 was not a bad year in music.  The magic of  Spotify has opened up a wide range of ways for new music to get plugged into my earholes.  From the playlist of WXPN in Philadelphia to the excellent recommendations of NPR’s “All Song’s Considered”   and Keith Law’s top 40 songs of 2012 I added a lot of fun new music to my rotation this year.

This year was also the year that the Schmoo took her first tentative steps away from Laurie Berkner (who is imho our premier songsmith for young ones) into pop music.  I blame her cousins for bringing“Party in the USA” into my life.

In no particular order, my five favorite tracks from 2012.

Arctic Monkeys: RU Mine

This scratches the same itch that OK GO does for me… just a little harder.  I had been unaware of the Arctic Monkeys until this song came up on Klaw’s list. I plan on rectifying that musical deficit ASAP. Also…that’s a great video, I had not seen that until just now looking it up to embed it.

Of Monsters and Men: Mountain Sound

This is the album that should be getting at least half the attention that Fun is getting.  Obligatory dig at Fun brought to you by Naomi Nelson, who would like Fun to please go away now.

First Aid Kit: Emmylou

First Aid Kit is Johanna and Klara Söderberg, two perfectly lovely young Swedish folk singers who I discovered because, being Swedish folk musicians they showed up on the similar list for Swedish folk singers  The Tallest Man on Earth. Its  practically a Swedish Folk Singer Invasion! This album has been added to my “Songs that make the Urge to Kill fade” playlist.

Alt-J: Tessellate

You really have to listen to this whole album to “get” Alt-J.  It’s the most intricate and well fashioned whole album I have listened to since “The Trumpet Child”

Bat for Lashes: Laura

Bat for Lashes channels a lot of 90’s alternative Diva through Natasha Khan’s gorgeous voice without sounding derivative.  Really digging this whole album.

Honorable Mentions.

Tallest Man on Earth and Regina Spektor both released great albums this year that I am still digesting.  The Lumineers, are probably the only band that I have intentionally listened to to be nominated for a Grammy (I liked them better than Mumford and Sons). Dar Williams released “In the Time of the Gods” which I didn’t like as much as 2008’s “The Promised Land”, that can be a hard thing for a fan to admit.  Aimee Mann released an album that I haven’t even listened to yet, I just discovered it whilst writing this article.

What will 2013 bring?  My old standbys took the 2012 off, will the new year bring new work from Over the Rhine or the Indigo Girls?  The New Pornographers? (OH PLZ PLZ PLZ!!!) Or will it be someone new to knock my socks off.

We live in an international golden age of recorded music people.  It has never been easier to make, share, listen to or love music. Take advantage of it just in case the Mayan’s math was off by a year…



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