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September 24th, 2015

To Whom It May Concern…

Message in a bottle…

“Maybe the journey isn’t about becoming anything.
Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you,
so you can be what you were meant to be in the first place.”


I hear them use the phrase “born again” as if it’s a single point, one extraordinary moment in a lifetime. But that’s a soul stillborn. This is why I dislike that sort of religion. He who isn’t busy being born is busy dying.  You hear them talk about the end of the world as if it’s a thing that will happen someday. The world ends every day. And every morning a new world begins.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on To Whom It May Concern…
August 12th, 2015

Wishing For A Lost Old Friend…

I have a story to tell about my life that I really should have told here before now. It’s about how a boy raised by a single working mother with very little household income and absolutely no hope of going to college, ended up working on the Hubble Space Telescope project and then the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

I got to thinking about it lately because I’ve begun a personal project at home to get a DOS virtual machine running. I wanted to be able to run some of my favorite old DOS programs again, XyWrite and PC-Outline, and archive and preserve some of my old DOS program and data files. It brought me back to a time when I was still just tinkering around with computers and had no idea what I was going to do for a living or what my future might hold, other than it would probably be as it had always been up to that point, just a series of low wage warehouse or service jobs. Mom had spent her entire working life as a low wage clerk for a company that processed ads in the Telephone directories, back when Ma Bell was a monopoly and you rented, not owned your telephone. I always figured my life would be pretty much the same as hers.  But it wasn’t.  And the story goes further back than those days I spent tinkering with the IBM PC compatible I’d built from parts I got at a HAM Radio Fest.

I should tell the whole thing here because looking back on it now amazes me, and I actually lived it. Here’s something I posted to my Facebook page reflecting on that first computer I built. I’ll just leave it here, with a few editorial tweaks, as prologue…

I’ve been wishing for years now that I hadn’t given away the first IBM PC compatible I built from parts. Yeah it was a parts machine, but it was my first hand built computer and I used the very best parts for it I could find at the time, and all in all in retrospect I’d actually designed a pretty good system.

It was based around an 8088 motherboard with the full 1.meg complement of memory (user memory was only 640k) and what was said to be the most compatible BIOS of the time. Just to make sure, I bought a shrink wrapped copy of IBM-PC DOS 3.1 just to verify that. If it would run PC DOS it was compatible enough for me.

I bought a “clamshell” PC case for it….

clamshell Case
This one is very similar to the one I bought,
though the innards of mine were a tad different
and I’m pretty sure I had the floppy drives on the left
side of the bay.

Clamshells weren’t FCC approved because they leaked radio emissions like crazy. If you ever run across an original IBM PC and wonder why it had that awkward metal sleeve over a metal frame construction, keeping it from leaking RF was partly why (also, back then IBM just over built everything because…IBM). I knew I would be constantly tweaking and improving the thing, and that case with its door opening like the hood of a car would make that easy. To the case I added a toggle switch, tucked under the front cover, to switch off the speaker. I was still living in the Rockville apartment with mom back then, and I didn’t want her disturbed while she was trying to sleep. The switch was for things that went beep in the night.

I didn’t have the money for a hard disk drive when I first built it. I bought two Teac 5 1/4 floppies which were then the best floppy drives made. Hard disks were hellaciously expensive then, but as it turned out, an expansion RAM disk card was affordable. I bought a two megabyte RAM expansion card, mostly for its speed. Then I would create floppy disks with batch files on them that copied my programs and their data to the RAM disk, and when finished, copied the data back from the RAM disk, and simultaneously to a backup disk I’d placed in drive B. Running things from the RAM drive made everything blazingly fast, even on an 8088, even off the hard drive I would later buy. Eventually I would add an external print spool device too, with a 250k RAM buffer that allowed programs to dump their print output quickly and give me back control. Most of you reading this will probably will never know the frustration of sending output to the printer and being unable to do Anything, even turn the PC off, until the printer was finished with your job. Ah…the bygone days of DOS…

Back then even the most expensive color cards and monitors were hard on the eyes when it came to displaying text. And I didn’t have the money anyway. So I opted out of color altogether and bought a Princeton Graphics amber screen MDA TTL text monitor, which was the sharpest text display on the market then, and the amber color of the text was easier on the eyes IMO than the standard green. I paired it with a Hercules Graphics Plus card, which was the best monochrome graphics card of the time. It had a very nice video graphics mode which alas never caught on, although early versions of Microsoft Word could utilize it and its user defined RAMFONTS mode.

My first computer was a Coleco Adam that only lasted a few days before I had to take it back because the printer stopped working. I bought a Commodore C64 afterward, and for several years the Commodore was my introduction to the computer world and what I could do in it. I wrote my first BASIC programs in Commodore PET Basic (which I would later learn was a variant of Microsoft Basic). I took my first tentative steps into the online world with it. Hooked it up to my shortwave radio and read the teletype traffic. But the Commodore was a closed system aimed mostly at game play and lightweight household tasks. The IBM PC was the real business computer. The Commodore was an 8 bit machine that came with 64k of RAM, of which maybe 40k was user RAM. The IBM was a 16 bit machine that had an entire megabyte of RAM, 640k of which was user RAM. 640k! 16 bit! I remember that first day after I got mine all put together and it ran and booted PD-DOS, sitting in my room on the edge of my bed, just looking at it, awed by what I’d just done. It felt so wonderful…and yet so scary…to have all that power at my command. Maybe this was how normal boys felt about finally getting that Mustang they always wanted. “That’s a real computer…” I kept thinking to myself. “What have I gotten myself into now…?”

Little did I know. Eventually I got a 20 meg hard disk for it. Eventually I got a copy of Microsoft PDS Basic, with the Jet database engine and learned to write business software on it. Eventually I got a 1400 baud modem for it, then a 2400 baud US Robotics and found my way to a gay community safely away from the bars where I could actually relate to anyone. Eventually I moved on to a hand built 386 tower with PC-DOS 5, then 6, and Windows, and Visual Basic. Eventually I got a job writing programs for Baltimore Gas and Electric, and then an apartment of my own and a new car. Eventually I got a job at the Space Telescope Science Institute and a house of my own.

I sure wish now I’d never given that first PC away after I moved on.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wishing For A Lost Old Friend…
July 26th, 2015

Would You Like The Knife Served With Or Without Love?

Oh look…the same damn thing I’ve heard a zillion times already…


No. There is absolutely nothing new about this. It’s the same old, same old. True there were lots of ex-gay outfits that claimed they could turn gay into straight. But there were always those who simply offered counseling and support for celibacy. Back in the 1980s, before the internet opened to commercial use, a user on the gay BBS I did volunteer work for, David Morrison, dived into a very rigidly conservative form of Catholicism, renounced his former gay activism, and signed on with their “Courage” (sic) ex-gay group which since 1980 has been counseling gay people against having sex. Eventually he wrote a book, “Beyond Gay”, where he argued among other things, against what he was calling “cheap sex” before he left G.L.I.B.. (He later wrote a column for the New York Post, titled “What Crime Of Hate And Anger?” in which he argued that Matthew Shepard had it coming, because he had a history of risky sexual flirting with strangers. Loving The Sinner. The right wing site Eutopia reprinted it, along with a deftly edited portion of my letter to the Post challenging it so they could wag their fingers at those of us who value our “certitude of experience” over their “certitude of Truth”…)

The neat thing about the anti-gay industrial complex is its convenient fluidity. Don’t like all that vitriolic gay bashing rhetoric? Well just walk right over here where we don’t do that. We =Love= the sinner. No, really! Think all that love the homosexual stuff is a lot of pussyfooting around what god plainly condemns? Well right over here we have all the fire and brimstone your cold little heart desires! God Hates Fags and so do We!

We can stick the knife into your gay neighbor’s heart any way that makes you comfortable…with or without love.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Would You Like The Knife Served With Or Without Love?
July 24th, 2015

If Only…

If only it were so simple…

boyfriend builder

No…it would never be that simple, even if it was that simple. How come “Intelligence” only comes bundled with the “Low Emotive Response” package? And why do I have to add the “Metal Head Banger” option if I want long hair? What do you mean that model is only available in Canada and Europe…??

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on If Only…
July 21st, 2015

Yes, Life Is Short. What Do You Think That Means?

Several months ago I started getting spam from this outfit…


My first reaction was to be creeped out. Then to wonder…were they also deliberately targeting gay men too. Because getting involved with a cheater is bad enough, getting involved with a closeted one is doubly bad.

I appreciate that a lot of gay guys, particularly of my own generation, got pushed into straight marriages that went completely against their nature. It’s a tragedy made worse by the fact that these marriages almost always dragged an unsuspecting heterosexual women into it, though sometimes the heterosexual woman is made to believe she’s helping somebody she loves very much. They were both lied to. You can hate the prophets of homophobia for what they’ve done to both gay and straight people.

But encouraging closeted gay people to have affairs on the side is just going to reinforce that sense of brokenness within, driving the knife in their heart even deeper.  Most of us of my generation have one time or another crossed paths with deeply closeted, married gay men. You see what it’s done to them and it makes you angry. But you learn to stay out of it. Everyone has to find their own way out of that thicket of lies, and see themselves not as broken, but beautiful in their own way. If you want to help a closeted gay man find their way out, set an example.

Life is short. Live the life you’d be proud of. Someone might see it and something inside of them will awaken.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Yes, Life Is Short. What Do You Think That Means?
July 12th, 2015

So Beautiful, The Promise Land I Now See…

One reason I think the struggle for gay equality has been such a scorched earth battle, apart from the immovable nature of bigotry, is fear of having to come face to face with the damage they’ve done to so many lives. Hearts who could have found their other halves. Lives that could have been lived together.  Love that could have been…and was not. The empty wasteland so many were condemned to wander alone, because of ignorance, because of arrogance, because of hate. At all costs, they do not want to have to know the magnitude of their crime.

And so the fight goes on. And so it turns from a bitter, angry struggle against the Homosexual Menace, into an even more bitter and more angry struggle against responsibility, against the guilty conscience that waits for them on the road ahead…patiently…patiently…


Some wounds will not be healed, but only eventually buried. That’s okay. Just so long as there are no more. There must be no more.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on So Beautiful, The Promise Land I Now See…
June 27th, 2015

Look At The Rainbows…

Yesterday, Friday June the 26th 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of extending marriage rights to gay people. Those saying that the court redefined what marriage is need to read the actual text of the decision. Kennedy wrote a paean to marriage, not a redefinition of it.  And of course, the usual suspects declared that they would go on with the fight, blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth. That was unsurprising.

But then…afterward, something amazing, something that lifted my heart to a place where I will never again doubt the power of love, and the essential goodness of (most of) my fellow Americans happened. The rainbows came out

rainbow world trade center

Rainbow Niagra Falls

rainbow whitehouse

rainbow empire state

rainbow marriage bridge

rainbow castle

Look…just look…at all the expressions of joy and affirmation. Go ahead and sniff that it’s just kowtowing to the militant homosexual agenda…and surely some of this, particularly among the corporate entities, is Hey There’s A Market There Let’s Make It Like Us And Spend Money! But look, just look for a moment, and the breath and depth of the expressions of joy at the decision. The sincerity of it, the massive scope of it, is something you need to grasp, if you can. Even if your prejudices can’t allow you to see the people for the homosexuals, at least try to understand that there are lots of people who aren’t homosexuals, who are absolutely thrilled that now their fellow Americans who are gay have equal rights in marriage.  Look at this carefully, all of you declaring now that you will keep on fighting this, because it’s why you lost, why you will keep loosing this fight.

Everything you think you know about gay people is wrong, and especially, emphatically this: that homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex. It’s why you keep miscalculating again and again and again our willingness to go on fighting no matter how much damage you could do to us. But more critically, it’s why you miscalculated, profoundly, what would happen when your lies lost their power over us, and we began to live our lives openly. You thought “normal” people would be disgusted when they saw the reality of our lives. You really thought that. You probably still think that.

They are disgusted. At you.

It’s one thing to keep on inciting prejudice and hate at the people who live on the other side of the tracks, in the ethnic and racial enclaves, at Those People that America, to its shame, still largely keeps segregated. It’s another when it’s your own children, your brother and sister, your neighbors, your co-workers, the people in your everyday lives.

Prejudice lies. It lies about other people. But first, it lies to you. You think you see reality, but you don’t. Others, not succumbing to prejudice, loving life, and willing to live in the world as it really is for better or worse, do. Anything that keeps you from seeing the world as it really is, makes you weak. The denouement came with the Proposition 8 trial. You’d built a multimillion dollar industry propagating one pseudo scientific lie after another about gay people you hoped would win the masses over, or at least enough voters. But be honest with yourselves for at least one thing: it was mostly to convince yourselves you weren’t really just a bunch of bigots after all. And when it came time to defend all of it at trial your prize experts ran away, all but two who nearly conceded our case for us on the witness stand. In the end the rest of the country saw your case against gay equality for the half-assed pile of pretentious crap that it is. The witness stand is a very lonely place to lie said Boies. Lonelier still is the bathroom mirror. Your prejudices lied to you. But you let them do it.

Surely you noticed how quickly everything came apart after that. Whatever doubts existed before Prop 8, they are gone now. Our humanity is understood. We are neighbors. We are family. We are fellow Americans. We have been embraced.

And you? Well…you are what you’ve always been. Still able to look at this torrent of love and support from the rest of America, convinced that most everyone agrees with you, and ultimate victory will be yours. So you dig yourselves deeper into the gutter. It doesn’t have to be. Listen to a gay man who gave a little beauty to this world and was wronged horribly and fatally by prejudice: “We are all in the gutter,” he said, “but some of us are looking at the stars.”

We are not all in the gutter, despite your best efforts to keep us there with you. And if you can’t bear to rise your gaze high enough to look at the stars, at least look at the rainbows. They are rainbows of joy and love…from Americans to Americans. Look at them. There’s the way out.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)
June 22nd, 2015

Why We Fight…(continued)

This came across my Facebook stream just now…I won’t go into detail about why it felt like a punch in the stomach. I came out to myself when I was still a teenager, and doing the research, seeing what the closet had done, was doing, to gay men of my generation and before, vowed never to let myself get locked inside of it. But I have seen what it did to so many good hearts, to one I have loved, to so many others who were not so stubborn as I…or lucky

‘I’m a gay man but married a woman’

Nick, who is in his 50s, has been married to his wife for 30 years. He is also gay.

He thinks his wife had suspicions about his sexuality for years, but things came to a head when he had an affair with a man.

“She asked if I wanted to leave and I didn’t. She’s my best friend really above all else, so we’ve decided we would like to remain together as best friends,” he says.

Nick isn’t his real name – many of the couple’s friends and family don’t know he’s gay and he wants to remain anonymous to protect his wife.

….The couple chose to stay together not for the sake of children – they don’t have any – but because of their feelings for each other.

While the couple have stayed together, they no longer have a physical relationship and sleep separately.

Nick has promised his wife that he will never again have sex or a relationship with a man – he says he owes it to her.

But can he stick to that promise? He says: “I’m hoping so, it’s my intention to. It didn’t feel like a choice in the past, it felt like it was enforced on me. I’m now making that choice that I would like to, in a sense, remain celibate.”

Nick is a member of a support group called Gay Married Men, based in Manchester and founded 10 years ago. Men travel from around the country to attend meetings.

Group founder John says most of the men are older – they married women in the 1970s and 80s when society was more hostile to gay people.

Now society is more tolerant, they are more comfortable with coming out as gay. But why did they get married in the first place?

That last sentence is about as stupid a question as it gets, especially considering the sentence directly before it.  Do you really not know why someone, taught since childhood that the worst thing a man could admit to was being a homosexual, that homosexuals are monsters, predators, might wish or do anything to make it not true. Can you not understand why, facing arrest and jail, the loss of family, friends, career, everything, might not want to do anything to make themselves heterosexual instead? Can you not understand how a cottage industry of ex-gay ministries offering bogus claims of a cure, telling gay men that if they just worked at it they could change, might convince many that marriage was the key to their salvation?

They’re still doing it…


They were lied to. There was nothing wrong with them. There was never anything wrong with them. But the lies did their work, kept the hated other from ever finding that happiness and joy and peaceful contentment in love that the scapegoat must never ever find. And that had its consequences…none of which, of course, fell onto the shoulders of the ones who told the lies. Many innocent women had to suffer too, so that gay men would hate themselves. But to that mindset, women don’t matter anyway. Scratch a homophobe, and deeper down inside you’ll find a misogynist.

John says the men are often quite desperate and struggling to cope with no support – many are suffering from quite severe depression.

“We’ve had bursts of tears when people have come because they’re so upset and also so relieved to find out there are other people that are just like themselves. Because that’s part of the problem, because we’re a myth, we don’t exist.

“We don’t exist in [the] gay world – we’re on the cusp of [the] gay world because we’re married men. We don’t exist in [the] straight world. So we seem invisible.”

The group members say they don’t judge anyone and Nick, who helps run the site, says his main message is that people don’t have to struggle alone.

Recently the trailer for the last movie Robin Williams made, Boulevard, was released. IMDB says of it that it’s about, “A married man’s (Robin Williams) long-suppressed sexual identity slowly emerges when picks up a male hooker (Roberto Aguire) and pays him for companionship rather than sex.”

The trailer is on YouTube, and it is so painful to watch, because Williams was such a great actor and great actors don’t just simply make you believe in the character, they make you feel what that character is feeling. It occurs to me that another great actor died shortly after playing the part of a gay man so completely inhibited and uncomfortable and miserable in his own skin it was very painful to watch.



For some of us it will always be a time before Stonewall. A few manage occasionally to struggle into that better world we’ve been working on since the riots, but it is painful, dangerous, heartbreaking. Nobody has the right to judge the ones who stay inside. They have to stay inside their comfort zones. Just consider yourself fortunate, lucky even, you didn’t get trapped in the closet, and keep working for that better world, where no gay kid ever again has to choose between their family, their career, their friendships, and all the hopes and dreams of love and happiness they ever had.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Why We Fight…(continued)
May 21st, 2015

You Repent First. Take All The Time You Need…

Some years ago, a young adult fresh out of high school struggling to find a workable career path, I fell in with some friends of a friend who had a shop building custom speakers and sound equipment cases for bands. In addition to building speaker and equipment cabinets, they also had an impressive sound system of their own design capable of filling a theater, which they would rent out along with their services as sound guys whenever a band needed something a bit more than the bar sized sound systems they had with them.

To make a long story short, one day while I was out with them doing a gig somewhere in Virginia, the manager of the band we were working with noticed my little lambda necklace. This was back in a time before the rainbow flag, when the lambda was the recognized symbol of the gay rights struggle. He points at it and says somewhat belligerently “Why are you wearing the gay symbol?” This was a period in my life where I was still being careful who to come out to, but at the same time I’d made a resolution to myself not to lie if cornered. Well, I was cornered just then, and hoping for the best I told him it was because I’m gay, “We don’t allow gays in our crew he says. Bernie, one of the co-owners of the speaker shop, begins laughing and saying that I’m just joking. Somehow this only made me dig my heels in more. “No, says I…I’m gay.”

Next day Bernie fired me, taking pains to insist it wasn’t because I’m gay…I just wasn’t working out. Somehow.

Time passes…the universe expands… Some years later I run back into the old friend who connected me with Bernie and George (the other co-owner). How are things? Fine, how about you? Blah…blah…blah… As we’re busy catching up with what’s been happening in our lives, Glenn asks me if I’d heard about what happened to Bernie. No, says I, what’s up with him? He’s in jail, says Glenn. Couldn’t keep his hands off of under aged girls, he says.

Glenn eventually stopped talking to me after friending me on Facebook and being shocked, shocked, to discover what a militant homosexual I am. Oh well. On judgement day let it be said I would rather stand before my creator as an unrepentant sodomite, than have to account for some of the heterosexual lives I’ve witnessed with my own two eyes.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Repent First. Take All The Time You Need…
May 20th, 2015

The Center Of The Universe…It Is Not You…

Browsing Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog today I see this…

First contact and ‘the great disillusionment’

The idea that there may be something new under other suns is nothing new under the sun.

That’s why I’m mostly just kind of meh about this Damon Linker piece and the other (semi-)recent posts James McGrath rounds up on the subject. Linker hits on several of the “challenges … to the world’s religious traditions” that first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life would introduce, but he misses the biggest one — the one explored by both Kepler and Wells. Kepler acknowledges the kind of questions Linker raises — “have they souls to be saved?” But then he quickly skips ahead to the more potentially devastating question: “Are all things made for man?”

That would be the Copernican shift in our theology forced by such an encounter. The main problem would not be that we would need to refine or reform how we think about God, but that we would have to completely upend how we think about ourselves.

Fred Clark is one of the most decent people you will read here on the Internet tubes. I could wish voices like his were heard more often in the popular culture. I was reading the other day one of the heavy hitters in the religious right arguing against the idea of other intelligent life in the universe, because of course the entire purpose of Creation was mankind. Okay I’m being a tad sarcastic about that, but not by much. And it reminded me of that day in the fields by a newly cut country road. It’s the same mindset.

I’ve told this story before, about the time when I was earning a living as an architectural model maker, and the shop owner I was working for at the time took his employees out to the countryside in late autumn to gather yarrow. Yarrow was a plant we used to make trees out of for the landscaping around our model buildings. At the end of a season the stalks were hard and the seed pods all dried up, and you could dip the pods in wood glue and sprinkle flocking (a finely shredded colored foam rubber) over them which made them look like little trees. Even better, you could then split the seed pods into smaller and smaller halves to get trees suitable for just about any scale you were working at.

So that day we all went to a place the shop owner, Ron, said was a likely place to find our quarry. Yarrow he told us, was very particular about where it grew in the wild. It had to be free of any shade trees or other competing bushes. It had to be open to the sky to allow lots of sun and rain. The best places he said, were where new roads had just been built, and the ground on either side cleared during construction. He had been scouting all summer for likely spots, and that day he led us to one. A new road that had just opened up county.

Ron was very much the devout fundamentalist. I had a job there because mom and I went to the same church he did for a time (I’d already left the church by this time, and mom eventually went elsewhere but stayed friends with Ron’s wife). Ron saw in my landscape paintings a talent he could put to use and despite the heavy air of religiosity in his shop I found I liked the work very much. He liberally scattered religious tracts all over the employee lunchroom, and held prayer sessions with his favorite, while the rest of us opted out for the safety of the shop and our work. I’ve written elsewhere about what he did to his gay son the day he came out to his family. I bring this up because of what happened that day we went yarrow hunting that I still vividly remember.

Ron passed out trash bags and told us to stuff them with every yarrow we could find. The bags would end up being stored in the attic space of his shop, and the contents used as needed for model landscaping. The idea was to get enough to tide us over until next fall.

So I wandered around looking for yarrow, and eventually my eyes got attuned to the shape of the things amidst all the other tall grasses we were wading through. I’d filled up one trashbag and was opening another when it occurred to me that I had no idea about the life cycle of these plants our workflow depended on. Might be a good idea I reckoned, to leave some behind so we’d have some next year. So I started leaving behind every third yarrow I came across. There was plenty there, so I figured we’d still get enough for another year’s work.

Ron came over and pointed out I’d missed some. I explained what I was doing and why. I’ll never forget the look he gave me. Not one of exasperation (I’d already seen enough of those…Ron had…anger management issues…), but…patients. He saw a teachable moment in it.

He nodded his head. “I see where you’re coming from,” he said to me kindly, “but God gave us these things to use.”

And so I was instructed to get the ones I’d missed and pick every one I saw. It was disheartening because I knew he’d check now that he knew what I’d been doing. So I shifted gears and picked more slowly hoping he’d eventually decide he had enough and we could go and some plants might be left behind. I was more naive back then. People like that aren’t deflected away from their missions so easily. He got every single one near as I could tell. He’d have had us all working until the next morning if there were that many more there to be had.

The universe was created Just For Us. So of course there can’t be any other intelligent life out there. And global warming is a socialist plot. Anything that makes you question exploring every last natural resource, or for that matter your human neighbor, is socialism. Beware the ideology that regards humanity as anything less than the masters of the earth. Well…second only to God almighty of course. Maybe.

Not every person of faith sees it that way. Remember that. I’m not sure that we’ll ever detect signs of intelligent life beyond Earth in my lifetime. I am certain of this: if Franklin Graham is alive to see it, he will insist they’re evidence that demons are real. That mindset is not disillusioned so easily.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Center Of The Universe…It Is Not You…
May 13th, 2015

That Old Time Sales Pitch

This came across my Facebook stream this morning. It clarified something I’d wondered about the relationship between American fundamentalism and its veneration of brutal survival of the fittest capitalism. How do you get from the sermon on the mount to Jesus would want us to take food stamps away from poor families?

Christian fundamentalism is a capitalist construct: The secret history of American religion

Henry Parsons Crowell was a purveyor of oatmeal. He is best known by business historians as the president and founder of Quaker Oats, one of the pioneers of the branding revolution. He used a combination of packaging, trademark and massive promotional campaigns and transformed oatmeal from a commodity into a trademarked product.

Crowell took oatmeal that used to be sold out of large barrels in your general store, put it into a sealed package, slapped a picture of a Quaker on it and guaranteed it pure. Now it no longer mattered who you bought your oatmeal from, only what brand you chose.

A company’s reputation was once rooted in its owner, but the trademark created this virtual relationship with consumers that was pure fiction. The trust that is engendered by a Quaker has no relationship to the company itself. There are no Quakers involved in that. Crowell was a Presbyterian.

He was also a purveyor of religion. And he did to American Evangelicalism what he did to oatmeal: he packaged and trademarked his brand of Christianity into a form that engendered a wholly fictional trust in its purity. It was that old time religion.

I mean…if you were raised in that culture like I was, doesn’t just reading that phrase make you hear it now…that song you heard over and over…

Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It’s good enough for me.

Admit it. You’re hearing it right now. You’ll have that ear worm in your head all day. But it wasn’t just a church song…it was an advertising jingle.

I grew up hearing the phrase “that old-time religion” so often it became something you just accepted as fact without knowing how it came to be that in your mind. It wasn’t until much later in life I began to understand that American Evangelical Protestantism was “old” only in the sense that a Ford Model ‘T’ is an old automobile. Yes, yes…the tin lizzy is about as old as they come alright. But the automobile itself isn’t exactly old transportation technology (let’s give a nod of grateful thanks to Mr. Horse), and American Evangelical Christianity isn’t exactly old if you’re measuring back to the time of Jesus. Actually it’s a pretty new thing.

Generously, I just assumed that phrase “old time religion” harkened back to that first generation Americans born after the revolutionary war. That was the time of the “Great Awakening” and it would have been, so I thought, from grandparents and great-grandparents telling their stories to their grandchildren that the phrase “that old time religion” came from. But no…it was pure advertising technique, from the man who convinced people they could trust a brand name more than the local merchant they actually knew, by putting a smiling Quaker’s face and the word “pure” on the package. His oatmeal had no more to do with Quakers than his “Fundamentals of Christianity” were “old time religion”. But he knew how to sell a product.

And it was when Evangelicalism became a product that it became about money. All those megachurches and TV ministries with their leadership living in lavish luxury can trace their roots back to the moment in history when Evangelicalism became a product rich men sold, and people bought. It’s old time religion like Quaker Oats is Quaker and Country Time Lemonade Flavored Drink Mix is country lemonade.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Old Time Sales Pitch
May 5th, 2015

Light At The Entrance To The Tunnel

Horrible as today was however, at least I did get a catcall out of it. While I was out on a cigar walk some guy in a passing car shouted Get a haircut at me. I haven’t heard that one in years. Made my day…

me 5-4-2015

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Everyone Needs A Hobby…

After three years tobacco free I am officially back to my cigar hobby. Because some days alcohol just isn’t enough, drugs are illegal, and it takes forever to come back down off a bullet to the brain. Yes…slowly killing yourself can be a hobby, you just need to take an geek like interest in the details.

In 1967 CBS ran a short lived comedy series called “He and She”. It was smart, witty, the main characters, a young couple in New York bantered with each other and the other characters in this very dry humor I just loved. I was attracted to it instantly and watched it religiously. So of course it was cancelled after just one season. There was a scene in the first episode, I forget the lead in to it, but the Dick Hollister character (a cartoonist!), played to perfection by Richard Benjamen was arguing with his wife Paula, played by Paula Prentiss, and she says to him exasperated “What are you’re saying!?” and Dick says “Never mind what I’m saying, just listen to me!”

Don’t you just hate conversations like that? Especially when it’s your manager and he keeps asking you what went wrong and every time you start telling him he interrupts and says he didn’t want to know that. “What went wrong?” “Well…A, B, C, D…” “I don’t want to know that…do you realize if we had done the entire operation manually we’d have been finished long before this?” “Well if I knew at the beginning what I know now…” “I don’t want to talk about that…”

He came down to my office and we went though the process. At least one of the problems I kept running into manifested itself for him. Some tasks fight you in a big way, but it’s the ones that fight you in every minute teensy little way possible that completely demoralize you. Either way, if my orders are to save the Kobayashi Maru don’t ask me why I’ve got a bat’leth sticking out of me afterward. Did you know that Klingons fight back? Surprised the hell out of me, let me tell you…

My attitude is this: why let stress kill you when can smoke a good cigar while death puts a scythe in your heart. Life is short. Never pass up an opportunity to enjoy something good.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Everyone Needs A Hobby…
May 4th, 2015

Not The Problem

Captain Jack on what the problem is…

the problem

For most of last week I was confined to quarters after 10PM, here in Charm City, aka Mobtown, aka Baltimore. I didn’t have it as bad as many here did…I have a small, but nice little Baltimore rowhouse to bounce around in and anyway I’m usually in bed by 10PM. I am not a service working trying to make ends meet on a job I suddenly can’t work because it’s closed during my shift. My income does not depend on tips from late evening revelers. And as the people of Hampden, a largely white neighborhood just down the street from me proved last Saturday, even if I strayed for a little while from the curfew orders, the police probably wouldn’t start beating the crap out of me. Unless I had one of my cameras and my press badge on me anyway.

And while I am completely sympathetic with the protestors, the frustration and anger generally with police unaccountability, and was greatly relieved when our State’s Attorney leveled what seems to me to be thoroughly appropriate charges against the policemen and women involved in the death of Freddy Gray (there was a joke going around about how, acting on a request by the Roman Governor, the Baltimore City Police determined that Jesus fell into a box of nails and accidentally nailed himself to a cross…), I was mostly in favor of the curfew. Human consciousness isn’t all perfect rational thinking even when it keeps telling us it is. When a mob gets started…and we are every single one of us vulnerable to getting swept up in one…then it’s the lizard brain in charge and the first thing is you have to break up the mob.

But on twitter the other day Atrios was saying that curfews don’t solve anything and that is absolutely true too.  A curfew doesn’t solve a problem anymore than a fire extinguisher does.  A fire extinguisher puts out a fire. The fire was the problem you didn’t solve.

Yes that extension cord keeps getting hot…yes it’s a little frayed…but it still works…

For a good overview of the problem Baltimore (and the nation generally), didn’t, isn’t, won’t solve, read this…

The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore

There is a difference people keep missing, conveniently or ignorantly, between excusing violence and explaining it.  Humanity didn’t fall from grace, we rose from the jungle and the hot African plains, seeking it. But we carry the jungle with us, and it lives within us…all of us…and any animal will fight back when it’s cornered. The problem isn’t the rioters, don’t be pointing your finger there, the problem is the attitude generally toward the neighborhoods that rioted, and the people who live in them. They are our neighbors, they are our fellow Americans, and look what we’ve done to them.

Look at what we are becoming.



by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Not The Problem
April 27th, 2015

Expectations (Message In A Bottle)

I was at the NOM March for Marriage rally on the Mall last Saturday, and I should post some of my thoughts here rather than my Facebook page, along with the photos I will eventually upload to the photo gallery here, because that sort of thing is what I created this website for. Which I will do later this week.  But there is another rally tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Supreme Court I will also be documenting so that’ll have to wait a bit. For now I’ll just say this about NOM: You simply cannot overstate the level of religious extremism and outright kookery that was on display at that rally. As I wandered the crowd with my camera I kept wishing H. L. Mencken was still alive to file a report on it for the Sun.  Strange as The Hills of Zion were, they’re stranger still when transplanted to a patch of Mall directly in front of the U.S. Capital.

In the meantime…this came across my Facebook stream just now and I’m rolling it up and putting it into another bottle to toss into the sea for a certain someone to find eventually…maybe…



I did that to myself too, once upon a time. The bars were made of the low expectations placed on a kid being raised by a divorced single working mother. Family gave me those bars.  And teachers. And well meaning members of the churches mom took me to. But I put them in place myself. I’m 61 years old now, and just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope with my co-workers here at The Space Telescope Science Institute…we got a group photo taken of ourselves and I’m there at the front with my camera and some of the astronauts and Matt Mountain who handed me a special service award last year…and I’m still trying to pry some of those bars down and free myself.

No matter I didn’t let them put me in the closet like other gay kids back in the day. That’s just one of many prisons people let themselves get talked into. There are all kinds of ways a kid can get talked out of believing in themselves.  But ultimately we are the wardens of our own internal jails.

We have to learn how to let ourselves go, so we can become the people we were always meant to be. It’s a struggle…but a noble one…because you can’t be the best you can be for others, until you can be all that you can be.

hubble gang

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Expectations (Message In A Bottle)
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