madison moving day madness magnifies mucked-up mid-town milieu

Students ignoring request to move their truck so that a city bus can get through.

Students who think they are above having to move their truck even though they are blocking the route of a city bus.  A ten minute delay resulted.

During the month of August, and particularly August 14-16, U-Haul and other trucking rental companies unleash thousands of trucks on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin–driven by people without licenses to be truck drivers.  Yes, it’s Madison Moving Day.

Does chaos result?  Yes and no.

In many ways its an annual rite of passage, and it has become somewhat of an exact science.  August 14 is often referred to as “Hippie Christmas” because of the wonderful opportunity for dumpster divers and curb pickers to find used treasure. The streets of downtown Madison used to be virtual canyons of used items. I knew one group of people who would rent a cargo van, divide up the streets between them, and comb their respective territories for treasure,  dressed in grungy clothes and work gloves. Nowadays the city will pick up junk before the pickers get to it, and the canyons of used items aren’t as high as they used to be.

But beyond the stuff left behind for others, there’s also the hauling of the rest of the stuff and that’s where the trucks come in. Naturally,  the trucks take up more room than cars. And herein lies the problem.  Or at least part of the problem.

In the photo above, students are pictured blocking State Street so that they can unload their stuff into an apartment.  While State Street is technically a pedestrian mall, it is also a bus route, and in this picture, the students ignored repeated requests to move their truck out of the way of a city bus running its route.

While this is an example of the exaggerated sense of entitlement that many UW students have, it is also indicative of poor planning at the City of Madison level that threatens to drive down the quality of life across the city.  While downtown developers are starting to toast Madison, Wisconsin as the next Austin, Texas, many of us who live near downtown fear that we are actually poised to become the next Los Angeles, California in miniature.  More about this in a subsequent post.


i am no longer a baha’i — and i defy religious labels

Religious symbols (animated)

Religious symbols  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s clear to me that I am no longer a follower of the Bahá’í Faith. Nor do I subscribe to any other religious labels, either.

I’m not sure if I was ever fully comfortable calling myself a Bahá’í in the first place. In some ways I think I moved too quickly in declaring myself a Baha’i back in 2007.  I did so partially because I felt the need to connect with another established  spiritual path after leaving the Mahikari spiritual organization.

I’d been involved with Mahikari for the previous eleven years but had become very disenchanted with the frequency of contradictions, hypocrisies, and incidences of lying, manipulation and coercion that I was witnessing in the Mahikari organization. Near the peak of my frustrations, I picked up a copy of a Bahá’í book that had been in my personal collection for some time. I began reading the Bahá’í books alongside my daily Mahikari readings and found that the Bahá’í writings made a lot more sense to me than Mahikari. But in some ways, I think I might have more running away from Mahikari than running towards the Bahá’í Faith. And now I’m at the point where I find a lot in the Bahá’í organization and even the Bahá’í writings that I simply don’t agree with. I will always respect the Bahá’ís and consider them my friends (as opposed to Mahikari, which I consider  to be a harmful cult) but I do not consider myself to *be* a Bahá’í–either by my definition or the religion’s definition. The specific reasons why I’ll delineate in a future post.

I understand the desire to throw oneself so completely into a practice as to make it part of one’s identity and that was part of my motivation. But now I think that identifying with a religion so much as to say “I am” something–whether it be a Christian,  Buddhist, Bahá’í or Muslim creates two problems: 1) the risk of engaging in identity politics that could lead to identifying non-followers as the “other” and perhaps lead to conflict–even if that’s not the initial intention, and 2) religious identities– even as broad and inclusive as that of “Unitarian”–often keep people from seeing the truth in paths different from one’s own.

Then again, I’ve changed spiritual paths a lot in this lifetime. I make zero apologies for that. I was baptized Catholic mainly to keep the peace in a religiously divided extended family, but grew up in a liberal mainline Protestant church that I still have a lot of fond memories of.  Nevertheless,  I explored a number of religions in college. In the early 90s I was drawn to Paganism  due to the desire to be involved with earth-based spirituality. But I grew frustrated with the Pagan community I’d been involved with as it seemed too amoral and fractured to make any real difference. In 1996 I was drawn to Mahikari because its told a great story that seemed to explain today’s uncertain times quite well and aI had a great desire to get involves in a spiritual path I perceived to be addressing these uncertain times.

These continual changes are not due to indecisiveness. I think having a healthy grounding in multiple religions can give perspectives that someone in the same religion their entire life might not have.  Furthermore, I suspect that I have been guided into and out of these multiple paths by God/the Universe (which I imagine to be one and the same) for the purpose of my spiritual growth.

I’ve sometimes joked that I’m coming out of my “Bob Dylan born-again” phase. I was never a born-again Christian,  but for various reasons, from 1996 until the present I embraced religious paths that were more conservative in their nature (even if considered heretical by conservative American Christians). I was following what I felt drawn and guided to at the time.  I feel that I might not fully understand the reasons for this “conservative phase” of my life until some time in the future–maybe even in a future life. Part of it was based on my desire for a well-defined way forward in these uncertain times in which life on Earth is itself threatened. It also well could be that I needed to learn firsthand what it is like to be in a religion that is more conservative and more restrictive in its nature. One of the reasons for that might be to enable me to help others recover from religions that make them feel like sinners for deviating from religious doctrine.

I find myself moving away from doctrine altogether at this point. My religious beliefs have essentially been Unitarian for my entire adult life, but influenced or altered by whatever other path I was involved with the time.

While my beliefs may most resemble that of the Unitarians, the spiritual community and practice that I’m most drawn to at this point is the Quakers–that is, their “unprogrammed” services. While the vast majority of Quakers identify as Christian, a small minority consider themselves to be “non-Christian Quakers.”  In any case, the focus of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) is more on communing directly with God, and “unprogrammed Quakers” do this through sitting in Quaker meetings in silence unless and until someone feels “moved by the Spirit to speak.”

To my surprise, I found that happening to me at only the second Quaker meeting I ever attended.  Someone spoke a few minutes before I did, and immediately after a sentence popped into my mind.  I sort of meditated on the sentence for awhile and kept running it through my head. Then it occurred to me that the nature of the way it just popped into my mind already fully formed might mean that the idea originated outside of me–i.e. from God. So I stood up and spoke.

I said, “Silence is an open door, rather than a closed door with words written upon it.” Right now, that statement is the most accurate reflection of my feelings about religion and my religious practice at this time.

mid 1960s cheese pop. admit it…you love it

The International Hits (Petula Clark album)

Petula Clark from a 1965 album cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Somewhere between the TV themes to “Leave It To Beaver” and “S.W.A.T.,” pop music evolved in interesting directions but a lot of this interesting pop history has been widely forgotten.  When people think of the 1960s, they think of beach and surf music, the Beatles, flower power, and acid rock.  But there’s another aspect of 60’s music that was popular. This is a genre that I refer to as “mid 1960s cheese pop.” As a child born in the 60s, its influence embedded itself in my brain because the style could be heard everywhere–or at least it seemed everywhere, according to my toddler mind.  Maybe it seemed that way to me because my parents weren’t avid fans of the rock n roll popular at the time.  They had albums by Peter Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio and the 5th Dimension, but their collection didn’t include any Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix.

In any case, the number one hit the week I was born was the song “Windy” by The Association.  I swear I have early memories of the song, and I absolutely love it.  (A friend of mine born the same week as me can’t stand it.)  You can hear the blend of folk, rock, lounge and pop styles within that band and even see it in their mode of dress.  It’s simple, light, whimsical, and irresistible.

The Seekers were the first Australian pop group to enjoy major chart success in both the U.S. and the U.K.

While the name of Spanky And Our Gang might invoke the Little Rascals TV series of the 1930s, the band, formed in Bloomington, Illinois, brought a significant “flower power” element into 60s cheese pop. Notice the complex and somewhat experimental arrangement of the song.

Arguable the queens of 60s cheese-pop had to be Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Petula Clark, born in Britain in 1932, actually got her carer start as a child singer during World War II but her career peaked in the 1960s. (She stayed relevant and even caused controversy in 1968 when she grabbed Harry Belafonte‘s arm when the two singers performed an anti-war duet.)

Dusty Springfield, also born in England in the 1930’s, was heavily influenced by Motown and introduced several Motown artists into the UK while also producing her own distinct style of soul music. This arguably peaked with 1969’s Dusty In Memphis album, with the hit below.

It would only be appropriate to complete this list with this classic camp video from Nancy Sinatra.