Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Behold, I am the Resurrection and the Life

It is a common misconception that Jesus was dead for three days. It was actually a day and a half. He was killed Friday afternoon, and resurrected Sunday morning. But what if he'd died on Sunday, and been resurrected on Tuesday? And what if he was a car? Then you have my Saturn.

(Yes, I recognize the irony, Saturn being the Roman god of agriculture. Is this sacrilegious? I can never tell...)

I must praise God, for the good work he has done. Just a few minutes ago I got a call expressing surprise. My mechanic, Meffert Oil, had a welder look at the car, and the welder came running out, to tell the mechanic that he had to see this. My mechanic was then greatly concerned, thinking, "Oh, no? Is it worse? Is there a hole in the engine?" Well, it turns out both they and Sears didn't initially see the real problem- it was buried that deeply. When they looked again, they discovered it was only a bolt missing. All that would be needed was a replacement of a bolt, and the fan belt, which had shredded from the movement of the alternator, all for around $180! (So high for labor, for the alternator is buried deep in the Saturn, for it is such a poorly designed car.) So, thanks to amazing work by Meffert Oil, who always takes care of their customers, I'm off to return the rental car two days early and pick up my car today- for 1/10th of the repair cost, when I thought the car was dead, without hope for resurrection. Truly, if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Why Cars Suck

I took the car in today. The news is not good. I had to take a cab into the airport and get a rental car for the week, to get to work, and was told they would be able to take a look at my car on Wednesday, and it should take up to a couple weeks to fix it, if the worst were true. However, they couldn't imagine that Sears Automotive was correct- it didn't make sense that a loose alternator could have destroyed the engine.

Then around noon I got a call from the repair shop saying that they had actually found a whole in their schedule, and were able to take a look at it. The body shop had come over and looked at it, and had determined the accident definitely did not cause this current problem. However, Sears was correct. The alternator had come loose from it's moorings, and was no longer attached to the engine. The engine would have to be removed, and the alternator rewelded to the engine. That was a beginning- there might be more problems with the engine. Engine removal would cost $1200, and my mechanic doesn't do welding, so I have to find someone to pick up the engine and weld it for an at this moment unknown amount. There might be further problems with the engine.

Now I've got a decision to make. I'm looking at around $2,000 at least. My dad says that he finds my type of car selling for around $5,000 online, but I think he's thinking of the asking price, before bargaining. Kelly Blue Book tells me only $2,605. Edmunds tells me up to $3,500 - what the car is worth, and what one person in the US is selling it at. Either way, that's not a lot of margin, if I fix the car, and then sell it. The alternative is selling it as is, to a guy who knows how to fix cars, for around the same amount of money as I'd profit from if I fixed the car. I'm leaning towards that.

But there's not much I can do for a decent used car for $1,000 -$1,500. A scooter might be an option. I don't live on a bus line, so to get work I need to have something. The big kicker is, without a car, it'll make it very difficult to visit my girlfriend in Iowa. And this is after all the previous problems with the alternator and starter, in a car with only some 60,000 miles on it.

And this is why cars suck.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Meeting Friends and Intertwining Lives

This weekend, I got to meet Erin's friends, and she some of mine. It was also a weekend of car troubles. There was a game night of Carcasszone with Erin's friends, who are decidedly pleasant, and meeting others for ice cream at a dairy plant on the UW campus. (Actually, her friends are really rather wicked cool.) Erin came out to my church for service (and was of course roundly appreciated), and we had plans to get in a last ski of the season- she even brought her skis with her from Iowa- but as you can see, in a matter of hours the 5" of snow had entirely melted. It appears there will be no Swedish Snowdragon this year.

There was a play, The Birds That Are Your Hands. It meant well. It had great ideas. Intriguing ideas. The writer had compared the wall being built around the West Bank to the wall we are building between the US and Mexico- something I have commented on in the past here. I had never before considered how there were similarities in the Palestinian people having been in their land for years and the Israelis invading and claiming that the Palestinians were interlopers, and the Mexicans having lived in the Southeast for centuries, until we took their land in the Mexican-American War, now claiming anyone who comes there is an "illegal alien".

The play- a series of propaganda vignettes more than any concerted storyline- took place in a small community three-quarter round theatre, with minimalist set. We were both particularly moved by one true story, where a woman lost her baby at an Israeli checkpoint because the soldiers wouldn't let her go forward, though her husband begged and pleaded.

It was fairly well written. It wasn't just a good premise. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the directing and acting. I kept on thinking, "I could do a better acting job there." "I could direct that bit better." With a couple notable exceptions, nearly every actor was wooden. The director evidently felt that shouting and "running amok" replaced disciplined emotional expression. The result was not in-your-face so much as instigating boredom. The director felt that shock value (like stripping a guy down to his speedos or simulating sexual assault) was better than honestly dealing with issues in an intelligent and imaginative manner. We found we couldn't take much more, and left at the intermission.

But most of this weekend has been taken up with car troubles. Saturday morning my car sputtered to a halt, purely because of carelessness. I'd run out of gas. I began the 10 minute walk to the gas station, ordinarily nothing of significance, but that last snow storm of the season was about to begin, and it was cold. Thankfully a minivan pulled up and offered me a ride to the gas station, and then they waited for me, and drove me back to the car!

Having filled up, I thought my troubles were over. It was not to be. For the past couple weeks there has been a squeak when cold and a rattle when warm, coming from under the hood on the passenger side. It sounded like I needed to replace a belt. Then began a death rattle, at first when I turned, and then also when I accelerated, and finally nearly continuously. We stopped at Sears Automotive, and they took a look, and the prognosis is not good. They asked if someone had replaced the alternator. (Someone had- a shadetree mechanic back in October.) Turns out that guy had not put a bolt on right, and it had hit other things in the engine, rubbed up against the drive train, and destroyed the entire engine. Then I asked if the accident two months ago could possibly have caused this, and Sears said it was 95% certain that it did- but they couldn't say for sure as they hadn't seen what the car was like before the body shop worked on it. (I don't think "95% certainty" means what they think it means.) They recommended it be towed home.

This seemed to both of us to be overkill,
so we headed to a delightful Moroccan restaurant, the only one in town, Casbah. In warm weather, they have shisha out front, which is something I definitely miss. There are three levels to the Casbah. The lower level is on the left, and the most authentically Moroccan, our natural destination. You can recline on benches with pillows, in the midst of what feels like a dungeon- but in a good way. While the waitresses weren't aware of Arabic or many Moroccan customs, they were certainly very hospitable, and, may I say, the food is to die for. It's reasonably priced by Moroccan-American standards, and the tajine dajej- chicken solid soup- was just like mom used to make it, if my mother were Moroccan. It was just as I remembered it when I lived there. The tea actually tasted like mint tea with gunpowder, and the qisqisu- cous cous- was far better than the ordinary box variety we get here in the States.

Then we headed out to the car. It was now dark, and I noticed immediately that the window was slowing down. The windshield wipers were sluggish, and it seemed there was little light coming out of the headlights. I've been through this before. Sure enough, as soon as we got to our destination for the gaming night, when I turned the car off and tried to restart it, nothing. The alternator had failed, just as Sears had predicted.

I had to get the car towed back with my last AAA tow, and then Erin picked me up for service and the play on Sunday. Tonight I'm trickle charging the car up, and hoping, and praying, that there will be enough juice to get me to the repair shop. But I'm not optimistic. I'll need the body shop to come over and take a look at it too, to determine if the accident caused this problem. Of course, I gave the insurance company of the instigator of the accident a heads up, that there might be further developments, but probably Sears was incorrect, just to be polite. Of course, the insurance rep, Denis of Chuck Rafferty Insurance, called me back to say that he would be out of town again for the week, and I couldn't reach him until the end of the week, but he was going to respectively decline my request to pursue the insurance matter further. Thus I had to call and leave him a message reminding him that I wasn't saying there was a problem, but only being polite in apprising him of the situation; that I had stated to him earlier that I thought Sears had made a mistake; and that this wasn't a matter of what he might feel was good for his client or not, but a simple matter of fact. If the experts (car repairmen) determined the accident caused it, then his client was at fault; if the experts felt the accident didn't cause it, then his client was off the hook. This is what I've been dealing with with this insurance company.

It has thus been a bad weekend for cars. But far outweighed by a delightful weekend in terms of people, and thoughts, and new things beginning.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Terrorists Love Too Much

Faithful readers will remember I love my bumper stickers. I like them to be provocative and parabolic, like Jesus was, encouraging people to think, but not offensive just for the sake of offending. Thus, in a liberal area like Seattle, I had a sign saying "Jesus is a Liberal", to reach the liberals. But in a conservative area like the Waunakee countryside, I removed that sticker, as I felt it would be offensive without being provocative. Were I living inside Madison itself, it wouldn't be an issue.

So imagine my surprise today, when I experienced my first real persecution for following the Light with my stickers. I've had many people read the stickers. I can tell in my rear-view mirror- even what sticker they're reading. Some like them, and even shout out encouragement as they drive by. Others frown in distaste. In the past one woman complained directly to me, about the above bumper sticker, saying that it shouldn't have said "Jesus was a liberal," because Jesus was alive. I thought she made a good point, and so changed it in future versions. Today, I have the obligatory Obama stickers, an IXTHUS fish with legs, a Free Palestine sticker, and two self-made ones, stating "When Jesus said, 'Love your enemies', he didn't mean al Qa'ida, did he?" and "There is that of God in everyone. Even George Bush. Even Osama bin Laden." All very right Quakerly stickers. And seemingly suitable in a city like Madison, if anything redder than Seattle.

On the freeway, a guy was honking at me, and I turned around, probably too wrong, wondering if I had cut him off in some manner. But we were traveling too fast, and I thought nothing more of it. Then at the off-ramp, the same guy was to my left, motioning insistently for me to roll down my window. I did so, and he stated, "Do you know how stupid you are to have those bumper stickers?"

I must say, I wasn't prepared for this. I had expected something more congenial. Had I more time, I might have said something more parabolic, like, "Perhaps. But I am obligated to follow Jesus, no matter how stupid that might seem." Or "Love often is stupid." But all I got out was, "God be with you," with a smile, as I rolled up the window. Just in time to hear him say something along the lines of, "You know if you have those stickers, you're just like the terrorists, don't you?"

And that got me to thinking. I hope so. Because my stickers were all about love. All about how much God loves everyone, and how we need to emulate that love. So the only reasonable implication by this gentleman was that he was advocating that terrorists love too much.

Of course, he was suggesting nothing of the sort; it was only his words that suggested it. He was actually suggesting that I was in some manner providing "aid and comfort" to "America's enemies". But it is precisely this love that is offensive. It is that part of the cross- the part that causes such offense. Many have accused Christianity of being too violent and too power-hungry- and of those who have claimed the name of Christ, our accusers have too often been right. There are others who think it horrible that any religion, including Christianity, would condemn others to hell, for how could a good God do this?

And yet, when we get to certain peoples, suddenly the ground shift. Those same accusers, complaining of the lack of liberality in traditional orthodox Christianity, think nothing of condemning Hitler and the Nazis to hell, or even as we saw recently, condemning to hell any one who denies the full scope of the Holocaust. These are certainly great evils, and never to be supported, but there is a certain offense to claim, or even consider, that a good God could love such people. Indeed, how could he? He is good, they are evil. How could it be that God could love us while we were yet sinners? And how could the Christians claim that we happy chosen few are in the same league as Hitler and Osama bin Laden? How could the Quakers claim that, yes, there is that of God in those two as well, for they are also in His image?

Oh, I have no answers. I don't know. I do know that, forget the Trinity, and the manner in which Jesus is both divine and human. The real mystery of it all is how can God love those who do evil, when he claims that we all do evil? How can there be such love present in the universe, so outpouring.

And how can I come to see that, even in those I despise the most, even in those I like the least, there is that of God in them, and they have something to teach me of God? For this is why Christianity is by far, the most offensive of all the religions.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Decorah Days

This weekend, I braved the wilds of Iowa. But I had a very good incentive to do so.

It's a three hour drive from Verona to Decorah. Uneventful iPod travels, until I reached the small town of Postville. As at that moment I was unaware of the history of this town, I was shocked to see, coming out of the darkness and the gloom like some sort of Night of the Living, everywhere shadows swathed in black, women in veils and men in large black hats. It was Shabbat, and within seconds of driving into the town, it seemed like there were Hasidic Jews everywhere. More surprising still, for a town of 2,000, were seeing four police cars in the three minutes it took to drive through town. Actually, more than three minutes, but one of the Jewish families walking by was kind enough to point the way.

It was a relaxed two days, getting to know the town and more of Erin's life. We watched one of the finest movies of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (deep Christological allegories), and played a couple games with one of her friends, as the other friends were off for Spring Break. Then Erin took me for a walk through a very quaint and beautiful town, in the midst of the bluffs of glacial moraines in Northeast Iowa.

The Four Towers of Decorah

Erin's one true pride and joy.Part of the tour was a rare treat, getting to see some of the more interesting aspects of the Luther campus. Most notable, of course, was Erin's special atomic force microscope, able to analyze friction on the nanoscale. The stuffed animals of the biology labs were fun, as was the marine aquarium, full of invertebrates, but of particular interest was the planetarium, where Erin gave me a private showing. We listened to classical music with the lights dimmed and the stars brilliant, as Erin pointed out the various constellations she highlights in class, and how the planets move in
their retrograde motion, all the while with no guile on her part, thereby proving that she is simply inherently romantic without having to strive to be so.

It has been long, far too long, since I engaged in Open Worship. There are no Quaker churches in Madison, and the closest is an hour and a half drive away. So it was with great delight that I discovered that Hesper Friends is only a few miles away from Decorah. Thus off we went, to experience for the first time (for Erin) a Quaker service, and rejuvenate myself in my need for silence and the Spirit and Light speaking out of that silence.

And it was an even greater joy to discover this is a very traditional building, with the Meeting going back some 150 years, and the building nearly as long. The Meeting is small, but very warm, and the sermon was actually on John 3.16! For all it's quoted, I don't know that I've actually ever heard a sermon on John 3.16 before, and this was a particularly good one. He traced how we have repeatedly, in the past century, thought humans were getting better, and yet the 20th century has been one of repeated horrors, not limited to but in

the superlative with the Holocaust. And then, we return to John 3.16, and must struggle with, though we might not agree, God still loves those who have committed the worst of the atrocities, as he loves the whole world, while we are yet still sinners.

The weekend was rounded up with more romantic moments, as we shared food around a picnic blanket at the waterfalls, and read the first chapter of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord.

The drive home was long and dark. Particularly frightening were the giant man-eating mice that roam Northern Iowa, staring at me like I was more appetizing than their big hunks of cheese.

It was a weekend book-ended by strange creatures in the numinous moments of twilight. The whole weekend, I had been contemplating the Hasidic Jews I had seen Friday night, and thinking, "Since there are also many Amish in this state, wouldn't it be awesome to see a Hasidic and an Amish sitting down for coffee together in a small shop, discussing the issues of the day?

I wasn't to be fulfilled with that vision yet, but I did see the next best thing- a surreptitious photograph taken as I passed a horse and buggy in my car. For those in the Midwest this may seem like an everyday occurrence, but for a West Coast boy like myself, this was my first time seeing both Hasidics and Amish, outside the movies. An eventful weekend indeed.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Life on Mars No More

Last night, I was enjoying one of my favorite shows on TV, with an exceptional episode. That says something, since, in my opinion, it is the only good new show of the season. (I'll give you Kings, but we've only seen one episode of that.) It is one of the finest dramas I've ever seen, with amazing writing, directing, and acting. I love all of the 70s references, for it brings back so many memories- some of them good. (I don't remember the 60s.)

And then, right after the episode, when they gave the preview for next week, they also stated that you should be sure to watch this episode, for there was only one more episode before the series finale.

I did a double-take on that one. Actually, I rewound the DVR a couple times. I thought for sure they meant "season finale", and it was ending early. But no- series finale. This is it. One of the finest shows on TV, but suffering declining ratings, especially since ABC made a rather foolish move of putting it up against Law & Order, with it's strong fan base, and another cop show, splitting some of the demographic.

Yes, it is going one more episode more than it's British forerunner. But British shows never go for that long. And we had just begun to really set up the characters. They had just begun to start to evolve, now that they've been laid down. There's some major plot twists and developments that could be resolved in two episodes, but not with justice to good writing. It's a series that was wonderfully set up for continual exploration of mystery.

The 20-somethings-who-buy-more-products-demographic-bomb hits again. Of course, you have to be at least in your 30s to appreciate this show; otherwise it's merely an exploration of ancient history. And evidently, no matter how well a show is written, ABC's policy is to cancel if it provides only some revenue, rather than the high revenues of 20s-focused shows. Yes, they could do a mix, recognizing that anyone older than 29 also buys products, and having some well-written shows are good for publicity too. But it would appear that that's asking too much.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dude! I got my car!!!

Well, it was a lot of work, but finally everything is completed. After having to work through everything with insurance and the "responsible" party, the car is finally fixed. Not without having to really pull though. I insisted on going only through insurance, but Chuck Rafferty Insurance kept on sending me to the party that caused the accident. I insisted that they go through insurance, but they insisted that they didn't have to. My insurance company, Geico, told me that I have the right to make a claim, and Chuck Rafferty and the responsible party denied it. Geico clarified I could file it, and usually insurance companies accept that if the other party is 100% at fault (such as, when they back into your car at high speed from another street, and your car is stopped at a stop sign), but the insurance company could throw up roadblocks and make it difficult to get money, if their client wasn't interested in honoring the law and her obligations.

So I figured it would be easier just to have her pay it, rather than forcing this or going to court.
I called her up, told her where to send the money, and when to get it there- by Monday, so that the autoshop would have the money before they worked on my car. Monday I dropped my car off, and discovered they had not received their payment yet. Monday night I called the responsible party, and she told me, "Oh, I thought you wanted it to go to the other shop, and were considering which one to go to!" Except no such thing had been said. I went to a second autoshop, at her request, as a favor to them, so they could get a second estimate. Then she on her own initiative decided to try to contact her shop, and set up an appointment with them for my car, though I had told everyone repeatedly I would be using my shop. Then she decided that I had suggested I wasn't sure which shop I wanted. Now that the payment was late, she would have to send it overnight.

Which she did. Only to leave a message on my phone to order me that she had decided, since she had to send it overnight and I had not been clear on which shop I wanted, she would be deducting the $25 from the two checks- and had already done so. Probably about what you'd expect from a couple who has four accidents between them and is trying to hide a 5th accident from their insurance and auto records by not paying through insurance.

Happily, Waunakee Auto Body is really excellent. They not only repaired my car to a T, but told me not to worry about the additional $25. Any other issues in obtaining payment, if it was needed, would be dealt with directly between them and the responsible party, who may thereby learn a bit more of what it means to be the responsible party.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Wandering in the Land of the Dog

Today seemed a good step forward. After the last date, we thought to meet halfway in-between, in the town of Prairie du Chien- from when it was a French colony, and called Land of the Dog.

Prairie du Chien has a very intriguing history. It is Wisconsin's only War of 1812 battlefield (we lost), and was owned by the French, and then controlled by the British for years after it was legally supposed to be returned to the US. America only finally gained control after the War of 1812.

Prairie du Chien also houses an unique site, the Effigy Mounds, just across the Mighty Mississippi in Iowa. After a brief respite, it is there that we headed, up the slope, and through the woods, to ... the chipmunk's house we go.

It is quite a climb up to the mounds. I fact, it took a whole lot of trying, just to get up that hill. At the top we were promised these famous giant earthen mounds, built hundreds of years ago by the First Nation peoples. While this is found in other locations, uniquely here there are extensive mounds in the shape of animals, like Brother Bear and Sister Bird.

However, we soon found that Brother Chipmunk was going to be the most defined animal we saw for the day. From the air, they're huge and easy to spot. Once up
there...well, this is Erin, standing in front of a Bear Mound. See it? (She does, but she has some rather wicked excellent abilities at spotting things. Me, I saw a big pile of leaves.)

Evidently I wasn't far off. At the visitor's center below, we were told that the leaves had largely covered up the mounds. I am more inclined to think there are no mounds, and they just rake piles of leaves together for unsuspecting tourists.

Prairie du Chien is beautifully situated along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. I had no idea it was so wide this far North. I'd always pictured it as a wee stream at the Wisconsin level.
There is a bit of interesting white man history in Prairie du Chien as well. Before dinner we explored some parts of the ruins in the area. At what looks to me like a pagoda, but Erin assures me I'm about a continent off on that one, there is the remnant of the fort from the War of 1812, Wisconsin's only 1812 battlefield. We lost; Canada won. I mean England won. Future President Taylor's daughter, Sarah, met future President Davis there. They fell in love, but Taylor insisted they leave the harsh frontier and move to Louisiana. So they did. And both got pneumonia three months later. She died. Taylor and Davis didn't speak for 10 years, since Taylor blamed Davis for her death, though he had been the one who insisted they move to an area
Hail Erin, full of Grace
where she caught pneumonia. A tragic love story. Taylor and Davis patched things up eventually, and Taylor became President, and then died, and then Davis became President. Briefly.

An interesting story to contemplate on a second date. This is what I was ruminating upon, this romance linked with death, as I traveled down the two-lane highway at 65 mph in the dark of night, only to see a doe, a female deer, step out four feet in front of my car.

I quickly swerved out of the way of the deer, fish-tailing and skidding, spinning twice around, ending up facing the opposite direction on the opposite lane curb, slowly reversing into a ditch. Once I realized what was happening, I put the brake on, and tried to start the car, praying. It would not start. More prayer, and I tried again. It started, and I slowly turned around and continued on, flagging a police car a mile down the road, to let him know about the wandering deer, searching for an honest man in the dark of night. Either that, or trying really, really hard to be selected against.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Beginning?

Today I met a most intriguing woman. At the point where I wasn't thinking seriously about dating, or even paying, eHarmony had a free weekend. No sense looking a gift horse in the mouth, so I went on, and tried out a few leads. One of them seems at this point to be perhaps promising, and we met for our first date, after numerous emails and some phone calls. But since she lives in Iowa, three hours away, this was a very long date, as it's a very long drive. (I had accidentally misset the distance parameters on the eHarmony search when I first logged in. Usually I look no more than an hour's distance away.)

Nothing seemed to go as planned. We had hoped for a long walk in the arboretum, but it was a miserably rainy day, with Seattle-style rain- a cold, persistent, wet drenching that reaches into your bones and pulls them out of your skin. We had planned on going to the Geology Museum in town, where I recently set myself up to do volunteer tours, but I didn't realized it closed so early on Saturday. Happily, our first event, meeting at Macha Teahouse, went off without a hitch. Macha is rather cool, as it has a Moroccan Tea Room, representing where I spent three years, and a Japanese Zen Cave, representing where she spent a number of weeks and became enamored with the language. The Moroccan room did bring back memories. Additionally, Macha has some really excellent tea.
After some awkward introvert getting-to-know-you time, we headed out for a walk, to spite the rain, driving in and through the arboretum.

There she pointed out to me that wild turkeys roam the Madison woods, occasionally gobbling up unsuspecting children.
This is largely because they have no respect for the rule of law, whether that be rules against the eating of humans, or traffic violations.

The walk was short, due to the rain, and we found ourselves wandering into the zoo, the last major free one in America, where I'd previously been with my dad, and had him committed. Here he is, still trying to get out:

The museum was closing shortly after we got there- for two strong Js, it was a difficult day! We were having a great time getting to know each other better, but none of the events were going as planned. We visited my aunt's place, to care for the dogs, and then I - unknowingly - suggested the movie "He's Just Not That Into You". Unknowingly because I didn't remember that she'd already seen it, and I thought for some reason it was more romantic than the title suggested. (It's basically a long argument for not trusting men and ending relationships. I think I'd been won over by the use of Facebook within dating relationships, prominently featured in the previews.)
At the end of the day, it was gratifying to be able to talk, and find we were both on the same page. I personally have found the way she thinks, and what she thinks, incredibly provocative and engaging. We both felt there was promise here, and yet were mystified that there was not an immediate click. But there is definitely enough promise for a future meeting, and we are considering how to do that, somewhere between Wisconsin and Iowa.