Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Maxine Waters is Nuts

She's also, probably, a Communist dupe. I say this based on her association with World Can't Wait founded by Charles Kissinger a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and because I think she's too stupid to be anything but a dupe. But that is a different matter. I say she is nuts because she keeps saying nutty conspiracy things like the CIA starting the crack cocaine scourge in the 1980s and other weird stuff. I challenge you to listen to her questioning the Secretary of the Treasury, who I do not like, without feeling kind of sorry for him. Or look at Ken Lewis' face when he attempts to answer the congressman's nutso questions.


On the 26th of this month she got into it with Representative David Obey. But I think anyone with a memory and an affinity for ceremony will remember when, during the White Water hearings, Waters took to the house floor after one very intense meeting of the committee and verbally attacked one of her colleagues. The House was in an uproar. The Speaker ruled her "out of order" and commanded her to "suspend" several times. But she kept right on talking. Members were calling for the Speaker to have the Sergeant-at-Arms "Put her on her feet" (I don't know what that means but it sounds scary). Finally, the Mace was called for but Representative Waters fled the House before the Sergeant-at-Arms arrived with the Mace.

I'm sure it would be a terrible thing, but sometime before I die, I would really like to see the Mace employed against an unruly Communist Congressman. I bet it hurts really bad. I mean, how much must a 40 inch long collection of ebony rods capped with a solid silver eagle weigh? It must be brutal.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Many times over the years I have told Anselm Samuel that he has to stay with me, or more recently, when he walked to school, not take shortcuts through alleys and parking lots but to stay on the main drag where everyone can see him. I tell him this because of the possibility of being kidnapped by slavers. For the most part he has been diligent. He knows what we do to slavers when we catch and convict them: We send them to prison. But he didn't know that slavery used to legal in our country.

Tonight Anselm Samuel and I watched episode 1 of Roots. (I bought the whole series from iTunes.) He was more than a little horrified and covered his eyes during parts of it. By the end of the 2 hours he was visibly upset and asked, "Why did we do that?" That was not the response I was expecting. I had to explain to him that, as far as I know, our family never owned slaves,always lived in free states, and fought against the slave states at the Battle of Springfield. But I also reminded him of the captain of the slave ship in Roots. He started out as a good man but his association with evil, though he tried to keep it at arms distance(he tried to not even look at the slaves), eventually corrupted him.

Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, "the line between good and evil is in the center of every human heart." To that I would add, from experience, this idea: It is very easy to fall into sin, and once you fall you accelerate on the way down.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Soundtrack: Green Pastures

I don't know when I first heard this song. I must have been very young for in my earliest memory of it I was already singing along with the people on stage. Lately, this song has been much in my mind.

The lyrics are evocative. Like a painter using negative space the lyricist calls to mind what we have lost, what we don't have, by telling us what we shall gain, what we shall have. We are told that we are going home, not that where we are is not home. We are told that we are going to green pastures, not that we live in dead brown fields. We are told that "Even the Lord will be in that number" not that all our family has died and left us alone in this place. The contrast is implied and powerful.

The second verse of the song changes perspective. Instead of talking about "we" it talks about "those who have strayed". These are the ones we love who might not be in that number with the Lord. There is danger that we might not see them again. But there is hope. The Shepherd is good. He has left the 99 in the fold and has gone out searching for the one.

This song was written by someone who has experienced loss but not loss of hope. When I was young I thought it was a pretty song. Now I pray it is true, and am strengthened by the last verse that warns against heeding the voice that would lead to despair. As the Creed says, "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Wherefore despair?

The best version of this song is on an album released by Maranatha Music in the early 1980s. The name of the album is "Down Home Praise" but it is out of print and Maranatha says they can't re-release it because their rights to some of the songs have expired. I also like the Maharry Trio's version. (They were a bluegrass band based in Louisiana who played in churches and camp meetings in the south east United States in the 1980s.) This performance is by Alison Krauss. She's good but the audience is too rowdy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Yosemite Trip

We just got back from Yosemite.

Early Sunday morning we left San Jose on I-680, and made it over the Diablo Mountains at the Altamont Pass (near where the Rolling Stones had their difficulties.) which was a lot of fun due to Basil's amazement at the wind-powered electricity generators.

We crossed the San Joaquin Valley pretty quickly and drove up into the Sierras as we headed for Columbia. On the way, we passed through Sonora, where my parents had a vacation home in the 1970s, where I learned how to pan for gold and how to bowl as a boy.

Columbia was fun. The boys dressed up like 49ers and learned how to pan for gold. Yes, they did find a few flakes each. They enjoyed the blacksmith shop and all three of the candy stores. They each got a string of hard rock candy. They played on the same giant granite rocks I as a boy played on; labyrinths of granite all that remain of the earth after the hydraulic mining operation washed away 30 feet of soil. Yes, the town is actually thirty feet lower in elevation than when it was first built.

From Columbia we wound our way through the mountains, passing the the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Water System's Moccasin Powerhouse to the east of the Don Pedro Reservoir, which was very exciting to Anselm Samuel. (Readers might remember that I took Anselm and Basil to the Pulgas Water Temple a while back and that we have a cartoon map of the System.) eventually reaching the little tiny settlement of Midpines just inside the eastern edge of Sierra Natinoal Forest. In Midpines we slept three nights at the Yosemite Bug, a gift from my sister-in-law.

Review of the Yosemite Bug: Very good food. I appreciated the high quality fresh vegetables. Beds were way too bouncy and soft. Staff was helpful and efficient.

Our first hike was to a swimming hole in Bear Creek near Yosemite Bug. The trek was arduous. Athanasia barely made it. Once, the edge of the path collapsed and I only saved Basil by pinning him the the edge of the cliff with my walking stick. Much of the the hike involved me lifting and lowering Basil and Anselm up and down rocks. Part the path went down a steep and slippery clay hillside. The swimming hole itself was beautiful: At the bottom of a waterfall a pool of clear water that appeared to be about 10 feet deep. The only problem with the water hole is that there is no safe way to get into it. The rocks are worn smooth as glass by water and time. They are slippery when dry; impossible when wet. Once I got in the by water I quickly realized that getting out might be a problem. I won't describe to you the contortions Athanasia back up the rock. The water was also cold as ice. One very nice thing about it was the fish. It was pleasant to sit beside the water and watch the fish swimming down below. We did hold the hands of Anselm and Basil and let them put their feet in.

The next day we went up Highway 140 along the Merced River, into the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. We hiked to the baseBridalveil Fall and to the base of lower Yosemite Fall. The boys played in Yosemite Creek. We just sat for a while in a meadow near the Merced River. The boys found a "baby" frog and followed it for while.

The next day we went went up to Clacier Point which overlooks most of the Yosemite Valley. After that we went for a hike through some woods and found snow flowers and bear droppings. Believe it or not, Athanasia made me take a picture of the bear droppings. I guess she wanted proof that they really do do it in the woods.

The next day, and honestly I am having difficulty remembering everything we did and on which days, we went to Wawona and had a picnic beside the south fork of the Merced river. We were all in the river when Athanasia yelled "SNAKE!!!" I yelled "WHERE?!" and then I saw it swimming right towads her. We all scambled up the bank and away from where we thought the snake might be. No one was hurt bt the rest of the day Basil talked about how a snake bit him. (No idea what kind of snake it was. Black body, triangular head, two yellow stripes running the length of the back.)

The third day the boys and Atanasia went and played in the Merced River (I guess this is the north fork but I've never seenit called that on maps.) in the middle of Yosemite Valley while I went the the Ahwhanee where I sat in a big cushy chair and read the Wall Street Journal. But I began feeling like a bad husband and dad so I went and got Athanasia and the boys and we went to Curry Village to get pizza. They got our order wrong so we wound up with two large pizzas. (That worked out okay because Athanasia gave the leftover pie to the maids at Yosemite Bug.)

The next day, we got up late, had a leisurely breakfast, and didn't make it out of Yosemite Bug until 10 a.m. We went back into the park and over to Wawona again. At a gift shop there I bought Athanasia a "Junior Park Ranger" badge and I bought a back of plastic snakes for the boys. Filled up the tank with gas. We left the park via the Mariposa gate and headed towardmadera in the San Joaquin valley, where my Father-in-Law lives.

As soon as we came out of the pine trees and into the oaks we felt the heat. It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Valley. Along the way we saw a coyote hunting gophers. It looked pretty skinny.

When we got to Madera it was lush and green, though still hot. My father-in-law's house is 1/3 of a mile from the banks of the San Joaquin River and is surrounded by vineyards. They had a slip 'n' slide set up for the boys on the grass in front of the house. They played for a couple of hours while we drank wine. Beautifully, after the sun set behind the Diablo mountains the air began to cool. By dawn it was chilly enough that I began to wish for a blanket and not a mere sheet. We went for a walk thought the vineyards down to the river. I was surprised to see quail running through the vines. At the edge of the river watched some red tail hawks nesting in a tall tree. We ran into the owner of that particular bit of earth, the 19 acres between the house and the river, and talked about farming and and water rights for a long time. Turns out that because of a little fish called the delta smelt another 450,000 acres is being taken out of production. The farmer gave us a ride back to the road in the back of his pick-up, the only time the boys have ever experienced that. Walking back the last 100 yards to the house Basil noticed grapes on the vines and got very happy about it, which made me wonder what he had been looking at to that point. What goes though his head is almost a complete mystery to me. We ate a tri-tip lunch in Firebaugh (If you've ever wondered why there is a town there at all wonder no longer. It was the site of a ferry in the 19th century, one of the few places a person could get his wagon over the river.) then headed home. On the way we saw many dry empty fields. At each of them was a sign reading "Congress-made Dust Bowl". It makes me wonder why it is legal to have lawns and golf courses when the farmers have to do without water. I'll be calling some senators in the morning.

We made one final stop at Casa de Fruta on the way home. Then we were home and prayed the Prayer of Thanksgiving After a Journey.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rocket Man: Saturday Soundtrack

When I was little my brother Mark had some Elton John records. This is one of the songs I heard from his room. When it was released in 1972 Rocket Man achieved #6 on the Billboard Magazine pop singles chart. Rolling Stone Magazine listed at #242 Rocket Man on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. When I was little I had these little plastic astronauts and a plastic model of a Saturn V rocket. I thought the song was about my toys.

I don't really like Elton John but I think the song is interesting. Here are two versions of it I think are more fun than Mr. John's. The first is by a group of people assembled from classified ads. They had never met or played together before recording this together. Here is the song. (You should really hear the whole story of how thisband was put together.) The other version of the song I like is this one by William Shatner. Don't shoot me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


What I really wanted was to study at SVOTS. But to what end? Canonical barriers keep me from ordination. Then there is the expense and the hardship on my family. So, that isn't going to happen.

If not theology at SVOTS then the next best thing is a masters degree in city planning from Berkley. It would have placed me right in the middle of the policy debates swarming around land use, city shrinkage (as in Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, and Flint) and the New Urbanist movement. And as a pre-professional program it would have qualified me for a good paying job. But it was in Berkeley; far from where I live. Then I thought, if not the M.C.P from Berkeley why not the the technically equivalent M.U.P. degree from San Jose State, where the highly respected and vibrant Asha Argawal teaches. But, the idea of sitting in a classroom 4 hours each night, 4 nights per week, keeping me away from my family and managerial responsibilities prevented my attempting the M.U.P. program. (Though I did write a fun essay during the application process.)

So, no theology, and no residential programs. Were there any any distance City Planning programs? Yes. There is one. But WOW! What cost! It would have cost three times what the Berkeley degree would have cost. So, no master in city planning for me. I was very sad.

So, then I thought, why not just get an M.A.T. and teach social studies in public schools? So I looked into that. I found Western Governors University. I was all set to start, but California started laying off teachers. Thousands of them. And then there was the question of the teacher's unions, which I hate. But I was still going to go through with it, but they gave me grief over my foreign transcripts, AFTER I WAS ACCEPTED!!! Even though I have a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts which is ranked #45 in the WORLD by the Times (London) and enough American credit hours for 2 bachelors degrees, they wanted me to pay a third party to evaluate my 25 foreign credits. So, I thought to myself, "I don't think being a high school teacher is worth this hassle."

So what to do? Well, i don't know how I found it, but somehow I stumbled across American Military University. It was originally founded as a distance graduate school for military officers but has branched out since then. And guess what. They have a program in Ancient and Classical history. Now you might be wondering why I would want to study ancient history. Two reasons: I love the subject, and every college student in California has to take a course in it. What does that mean? It means when I finish the program I will be qualified to talk about Josephus, Herodotus, Livy, Plutarch, and Eusebius to my hearts content and get paid for it! Now get this, when I was a teenager I used to fantasize about studying western civilization and ancient history. I never thought I would have the opportunity or, if I did have the opportunity, that it would be practical.

I am astounded that at the end of a long line of academic compromises (even my undergraduate major was a compromise) I finally get to do something I really want to do. I start classes in August. God is really very kind to me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Long Walk

Today the boys and I walked a long way. We walked over to our little "down town" area of willow glen where I bought us two donut holes each. That was only 300 yards and 10 minutes, tops. Then we walked up Lincoln Ave toward San Carlos. And we saw some interesting things.

This area was once all farms. And for the most part there is no trace of that agricultural heritage left. But as we were walking we passed an abandoned warehouse, and next to that warehouse was a yard with a chain link fence wrapped around it. Inside the fence was rusting old farm equipment. Diskers, an old Fordson tractor, some mechanical fruit sorters, etc. But the neatest thing was an assortment of old nut and fruit crates. If you haven't seen them it is difficult to describe them, but I will try. They are about 4 feet cubed and made of sturdy plywood with metal fasteners along all the edges and corners. Nothing about them would make you thin they are disposable. When I was a boy, when there were still walnut orchards on McLaughlin Avenue, my cousin Bryan and I made forts out of these kinds of crates. The crates Anselm and Basil and I saw today still had the brand names on their sides where they were stenciled 40, 50, or 70 years ago: Libby, JackFrost, Dole, Heart's Delight, Mission, and others.

As we were walking up Lincoln we passed a building that houses a law firm. We've motored past this building hundreds of times but while walking today we saw that there was a historical marker burrieed in the shrubs in front of it. Then I looked at the building more closely and saw that it looked really old, though well maintained, and just barely visible from where I was standing on Lincoln, around the corner of the house, I saw a much older looking building. Then I moved some of the shrubs to read the marker. The building is one of the oldest remaining in the county; the Sunol-Roberto Adobe, built in 1836.

We kept walking north on Lincoln, cut through a corner of a fruit warehouse turned into a furniture store liquidator, and turned toward the east on Auzerais. We walked by what 10 years ago was the last fruit packing plant in San Jose, the big Del Monte plant #3. The location is now a condo development by KB Homes. It is really nice but, unfortunately, it is only residential. There are some other lots around this new development that look ripe for redevelopment. Let's hope they are mixed use with retail/office/light industrial on the first three floors and residential on the top 5 to 20 stories.

We crossed the Los Gatos Creek a couple of times and the Guadalupe River once. At each crossing Basil insisted that I pick him up so he could look over the concrete rail and down to the tree covered waters. I bought the boys ice cream from a man with a push cart. Anselm is still surprised when I talk to people in Spanish. Its funny to me.

We stopped at a taco stand on San Carlos Ave. and had pineapple drinks and flautas de pollo. While there I told some youthful campaign workers that they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to get Prop 8 overturned. They seemed shocked when I told them they were destroying civilization. It was like no one had ever told them that before. What are they teaching kids in school?

When we got into downtown San Jose the boys played in the fountain in front of the Performing Arts Centere. They played in the fountain in front of the Fairmont Hotel. Then we walked up Paseo de something or other to the Camera 12 Cinemas, where we saw "Up" and shared a large popcorn and Milk Duds and root beer. All together we walked about 2.5 miles in 4 hours. We took a cab home.

The boys just got out of the tub. Athanasia just walked in the door from her day at school. I'll end this post now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Soundtrack: TV Re-Runs

This Saturday Soundtrack posting is unusual in that it isn't about my memories of a song but about my experience with music on two television shows. As a boy I watched a lot of television. I'm not sure how it is now, but in the 1970's the late afternoon was the time for re-runs. I know I saw every episode of I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. that ever aired. I've already mentioned in this series how I was influenced by I Love Lucy,so I won't revisit that but I'd like to say a word about the other shows.

Both The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. were headlined by excellent singers, who sang very different kinds of music. The former was filled with, and I'm not sure how to describe it, music like what I was used to hearing in church, but not exactly. Sure, once in a while actual songs I sang on Sunday (I was a protestant then.) would appear in the show, and I have selected one of those for this post, but there was a whole style of singing on that show that seemed that seemed church-y to me. It was, I think, something to do with the way the men on the show sang together. Additionally, though the show was shot in the 1960s, and set in the 1960s, there was a very 1930s feel to it. I liked that.

The other show, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. had a very different kind of music. I think, the first time I heard opera was on this show, which was something of a showcase for Jim Nabor's voice. Here is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Last Night Was The Trisagion for the Departed

Fr. John came down from S.F. to lead us in prayer for my son Billy. The service he lead us in wasn't just the standard Trisagion for the Departed I was expecting but an expanded version of that short service. It contained at least one Psalm prophecying Jesus death on the Cross, and a composite of various scriptures that seemed to put a lament for the dead Jesus in the mouth of the Father. I am astounded by God who in every way became like us, including subjecting himself to losing a loved one to death and even dying himself. How easy it is for Him to show us mercy, how quick he is to give us comfort for He has felt these hurts himself.

Many people came to pray with us. Our little house was very full. Everyone brought much good food and strong drink. Special thanks to my sister for home-made buffalo wings. I have had buffalo wings in the past be never liked them. In fact, I tried some of my sister's last night and thought they were too spicy. But tonight I tried them again and really enjoyed them. Also, my friend Jeff came and brought a bottle of port wine to share. It was really really good.

A couple of people who are not Orthodox Christians asked me about prayers for the dead. I don't really have much of an explanation for it. But it seems to that if praying for the dead is something the Church has always done from, at least, 160 B.C., and if praying for the dead is something St. Paul did and if the early fathers of the Church said it is something we ought to do, and if it has been done right up to this day, it is something I ought to do. So, I guess I am simply resting on Tradition and not doing any kind of heavy intellectual work in trying to figure out if praying for the dead is okay. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are four facts should lead a reasonable person to pray for the dead.

1. The Last Judgment has not happened yet, so things are still subject to change.
2. God listens to the prayers of his people.
3. God is always merciful and desires the destruction of no one.
4. God is not bound by time or by death, so he can be merciful to us both before and after we die.

I think taken together, these four things alone mandate that I must pray for the people I love who have gone down to the grave. But as for me, I just do it because we have always done it. The older I get the less I trust reason. But I do trust in the mercy of God.

Image: Peter-Paul Rubens, Judas Maccabaeus Praying for the Dead, Museum of Nantes - Musee de Beaux-Arts,

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Vigil of Pentecost

Tonight was the Vigil for the Feast of Pentecost, the patronal feast day of my parish, Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is the oldest Orthodox Community in the lower 48 and has the distinction of having been the first Orthodox parish in the United States. Bishop Benjamin was there tonight, but also Metropolitan Jonah. There were a bunch of priests. Archdeacon Kyril, the son of my late pastor Archpriest Victor was there, too. I guess he travels in the Metropolitan's entourage. After the Vigil - and I want to say how good it is to hear and pray O Heavenly King again (you can read about a chanter's experience of this here.) - there was a reception for the Metropolitan. Its funny, the last time I talked to him he was the abbot of a tiny monastery in Marin County. Now he is the Metropolitan of All America and Canada. Its been six months and he still seems pretty amazed by it. I hope the strain of the office does not prove to be too much for him.

Bishop Benjamin came over and talked to me during the reception. He wanted to know how I was doing. I'm doing. Then he asked what Anselm's Bracelet said. It's one of those rubber bracelets. Actually, he had four different bracelets on, but the one Bishop Benjamin asked about was the white one. When Anselm told His Grace it was the Scouting Values bracelet Bishop Benjamin's eye's lit up and he said "Are you a Scout?" To which Anslem replied, "Yes, Your Grace. A Cub Scout." Well as it so happens, Bishop Benjamin is a Scout, too; Order of the Arrow, even. Anselm was very impressed.

My friend, Subdeacon Randy sent me a link to a beautiful Akathist for the repose of those who have fallen asleep. I love this about our Church. We have prayers for everything, and not just any old prayers, but prayers that have stood the test of time and have been proven by thousands and thousands of people. And, when any of us prays them, we know that others around the world, and in Heaven are praying them with us.

I made, with help from Athanasia, Basil, and Anselm, smoked salmon mousse for the reception. I guess the highest compliment came from Subdeacon Elias (He's from Nigeria. Pope Theodore II has loaned him to us for a while.) who said, "Oh my! This is like being back in Alaska!" Here is the recipe:

48 Oz of cream cheese
32 Oz of smoked salmon
24 Oz of sour cream
1 large red onion (peeled)
About 1/2 cup fresh dill leaves

Put all of the above ingredients in a food processor and them until smooth.
Line three bread pans with plastic wrap.
Cover the bottom of the pans with fresh cracked (a mini chopper works well for this) black pepper.
Spoon the mousse into the bread pans.
Set bread pans into a large container of ice and leave there for 4 hours before serving.

This morning Zack was Chrismated by Fr. John. I think that leaves Dennis as our only adult catechumen. We better get to work.

I very much appreciated so many of my brothers and sisters greeting me with the bright words "Christ is Risen" when they came to offer their condolences to me because of the death of Billy. Those three words put everything in perspective. When I hear them I don't just here those three words, I hear the whole Paschal Canon, and St. John Chrysostom's Paschal homily, too.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Yesterday Was The Funeral

I, my wife, Anselm and Basil left the house at 7 a.m. for the drive down 101 to Paso Robles. We arrived met my brothers, my sister, some of their spouses and children, my 2nd son Devon and Billy's employer for brunch before the funeral. I was overcome at lunch and had to lean on my brother-in-law. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it through the funeral later. Thankfully, at the grave side there were chairs, else I think my legs would have failed me.

The men who bore my son's pall were friends of his from high school and and the ranch where he worked. They were all balling. Huge cowboys cried tears for my son. I was amazed by how many friends he had. The Assemblies of God pastor who preached was Billy's next door neighbor and had known Billy for 11 years.

I learned much about my son Billy at his funeral. I learned from one woman that he was tormented by the memories of the things he had to do in Afghanistan. I overheard a man talking about Billy who said Billy had killed hundreds of Taliban in the war (he was a machine gunner). The rancher Billy worked for said he was awarded many medals. But more impressive to me than the medals on his chest (A U.S.M.C. officer officially thanked Billy's mother for Billy's service to the country. I have one of the shells from the 9-gun salute in my pocket.) was the deep love of his many friends. They talked about his loyalty to me. They told me how he was one of the nicest people they ever met. They told me that he was anextremely hard worker (That much I did know.) They knew a man I never knew. I wish I had known him. I am very proud of that man. I am looking forward to meeting him.

From Paso Robles we drove over to the coast and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz. We stopped at San Simeon to look at the elephant seals sleeping on the beach. We stopped at Carmel to let Basil and Anselm play in the water. We stopped in Santa Cruz to eat dinner at Vasili's. There was a Greek band and dancing. Anselm, Basil and I waved little Greek flags in time to the music. Basil danced in his chair. We drove over the mountains from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley. We got home a little after 9 p.m., the boys had baths and then to bed.