Thursday, February 24, 2011


Ordinarily I try to stick to fairly trivial things here.  Things like the misadventures with the dog or the furnace, or pop culture things like movies or memoria for fallen actors and writers.  But this morning I just have to remark on something a little heavier on the world stage.

As events in Libya continue to unfold, this morning I heard a report of a large group of protesters gathering in a mosque in Tripoli.  They were apparently warned to break it up or there would be "a massacre."  They chose to stay and continue their protest.  Shortly thereafter, one of Qaddafi's fighter units attacked the mosque. Dozens are estimated to be dead.

I am wondering this morning what kind of person obeys that order.

Libya's dictator is clearly "round the twist" as they say in the UK.  He is nutty as a fruitcake.  Anyone who saw his rambling press conference in which he droned on for over an hour under a white umbrella, calling the protesters "greasy rats and cats" and generally making no sense whatsoever, can have no doubts whatsoever as to his mental competence, or the lack thereof.  So what kind of person accepts the order from this nutball to go bomb a church?

Where does it stop?  Have we as a species learned nothing from our history?  That the "I was only following orders" defense is no defense at all?  It's bad enough that the mentality of a suicide bomber remains largely closed to me.  But I can -- barely, but I can -- wrap my mind around someone being so ignorant and depressed and oppressed that they feel that taking out themselves and as many others as they can is the only course of action open to them.  Barely.

But you can't be an ignorant peasant and fight in a supposedly elite unit.  To acquire those skills you have to be at least literate and fairly intelligent.  So again I ask, what kind of literate, fairly intelligent person gets the orders to go and kill a church full of people -- and says, "OK?"  What kind of sociopath can take those orders, carry them out, and continue to live with himself?

It's madness.

I wish the people of Libya well during this time of trials for them.  I hope they are finally able to rid themselves of their lunatic dictator with as little further loss of life as possible.  But I feel that there will be a lot more blood shed because of the small-minded men who continue to serve Qaddafi's whims and will do so until the bitter, bitter end.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Rest In Peace, Kenneth Mars

Last week we lost one of the funniest, most influential character actors of the late 20th Century, Kenneth Mars.  I first saw his work in the original film version of "The Producers" by Mel Brooks, in which Mars played Franz Liebkind, the author of the Worst Play Ever Written:  "Springtime for Hitler:  A Gay Romp With Adolf And Eva In Bechtesgaden."  He was hilarious.

Mel Brooks used Mars again in the brilliant "Young Frankenstein."  He played Inspector Kemp in a wonderful send-up of the police inspector who had been maimed by the monster in the original Universal horror film "Son of Frankenstein."  I still howl with laughter at the town meeting where Inspector Kemp intones, "A riot is an ugly zing, und I zink it's about time zat ve had vun!"  His schtick with his prosthetic hand is priceless.

I have always admired Kenneth Mars' work; back when I was a working actor, his career was one I would have loved to have had for myself.  He was funny, had great comic timing, and got to play the kinds of parts that the leading man-types never get their hands on.  He ranks up there with Hans Conreid and Tony Randall as one of the great comedic actors of our time.  Yet by all accounts he was kind, personable, and down-to-earth; the kind of guy who would talk to you while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Mars died of pancreatic cancer, a particularly nasty cancer with which he had been struggling for months.  I am thankful that his body of work will continue to inspire others.  The Mel Brooks films are truly classics, and other fans of Mars' work can count on seeing his performances delight audiences for generations to come.  He will be missed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Filling In Time

Once again, I find myself sitting around waiting on a visit from the HVAC technician.  We think we solved the furnace crisis, finally -- the computer in our new "smart" furnace thought it was connected to a multi-stage thermostat (whatever that is) and needed to be reprogrammed for the actual thermostat that came with it, namely a single-stage thermostat.  Since the reprogramming six days ago, it has worked flawlessly.  Unfortunately, the air in the house has been getting dryer and dryer despite out having a whole-house humidifier system.  So they are coming back today to make sure that the humidifier is wired up to the new furnace correctly.  What a pain.

My wife wisely keeps reminding me that this is the price of home ownership.  I wish I had her patience with those things over which I really have absolutely no control.

Although she herself lost patience, a little, this morning when she let the dog out to relieve himself and he took off like a rocket down the street.  Whatever extra time she might have had to get some work done and get a jump on the day went right out the window.  She had given up on finding him and was heading in to work when he rocketed in through the garage as she opened it up to get her car out.  My dear one left for work less than pleased with her dog.

I had the sense NOT to point out that getting a dog wasn't my idea.

So until the tech comes I will work on some stuff for church that will eventually find itself onto these pages:  hymn lyrics, poems, and the Easter reflection I'm signed up to do.  I really want that Easter reflection to be perfect, as it will also be my swan song as a Lay Liturgist.  Next year, our church will be going to two services, one at each campus and the lay liturgists will be expected to drive from one church to the other between services.  I disagree with this strategy on a number of levels, but mostly because of the waste.  It's hard to be an advocate for a Green Sanctuary when you are commuting between two buildings unnecessarily every week.  I can only vote with my wallet and my feet when it comes to church policy, so I have elected to leave the Lay Liturgist program rather than waste the fuel and add to the pollution that this commute will cause.  I know, it's only a few times a year, but global warming isn't going away just because I look the other way on my values in this instance.  We have enough members in our church to allow for each liturgist to pick their church and their service.  I would rather see us aggressively recruit more people who are looking for a soapbox than have us drive in haste between two buildings that are not even remotely close together.

I truly hope that they don't decide to do the same thing with the choir.  It would break my heart to quit, but I cannot in good conscience be one of the 40-plus people who drive the miles between churches twice each month.  We have not heard even a whisper about how the choir will be expected to deal with the change.  I personally am hoping for a split into two groups, but even that is problematic.

We'll see.  For now, I just want to go out on a high note with my Easter reflection.  So...I'd better get to work!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poetry for Hymns

My good friend, Dr. Jim Haines, is in the process of putting together some ideas he's had into some hymns for our church, the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  Why he asked me to collaborate I have no idea, but he has.  I've written down something based on some ideas I had for an upcoming "member reflection" which will show up here eventually -- both the written something and the actual reflection itself.  Meanwhile, Jim has also been inspired by the words of William Ellery Channing, and I kicked around an awkward phrasing -- Channing was brilliant, but not a poet -- into something that I want to publish here as a short poem.

Seeing as how I am sitting here waiting in a freezing house for a furnace technician to call me, so we can figure out why my BRAND NEW Lennox furnace keeps quitting ("unable to calibrate pressure switch") I will keep this entry brief, and end with my poem.  Thanks, Jim, for helping nourish my spirit even though for today at least, my physical self is freezing.  Here goes --

CIRCLES ©2011 by James L. Haines and Tom Hayes

I cannot myself suffer
Without radiating circles of evil
And I cannot myself improve
Without radiating circles of goodness
Around me
As a stone dropping into a pond.