Posts by nicholas

Media Update: Three Things I’ve Enjoyed Recently

Three Things I Have Recently Enjoyed

Audiobook: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Cover art for the audibook Parable of the Talents

There are a lot of things that could be said about Octavia Butler's masterful writing and the perspective she gives us on our future (present and past as well.) For this short review I'll limit my comments to the three perspectives she uses to tell her story. Olamina, the protagonist of the preceding story, The Parable of the Sower carries the primary burden of narrative, but the additional perspective provided by her brother Marcus and her daughter Asha Vere give Olamina's story a balance that provides readers with a depth of perspective that gives us new insight into how to weigh the words and deeds of our characters.

I'm leaving unsaid the heavy parallels between "Phe Pox" as characters in the novel call the apocalypse and our lived experience in the United States in the year 2020. It is very rewarding to read Butler's words, but it can also be traumatizing, so consider carefully if you are ready for fiction that is very close to our daily experience.

Overall, Butler's novel and the Earthseed religion invented for it provide me with useful tools for coping with the daily challenges I face. On Twitter and other channels, many wise people are encouraging us to listen to black women. We should, starting with those we encounter in our daily lives. Beyond that, Octavia Butler is another voice that deserves to be heard and will richly reward the listener who pays heed to her vision.

Video Game: Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3 cover art

I am still playing this game, so I can't comment about the full narrative or how things are wrapped up, but I can say that I'm very happy with the first third-to-half of the game. The narrative is an interesting mix of the kind of absurd and juvenile humor that Fallout 2 (a game inspired by the first Wasteland game) was loved for and a more mature kind of apocalypse. The way each player role-plays their characters will influence how profound or how coarse the story is, but there will be plenty of both no matter how one plays the game.

One thing that stands out to me after fifteen or so hours of play is how the game mechanics and the game's story-telling manage to stay out of each other's way. While I enjoyed playing Wasteland 2, it took me quite a long time to find my rhythm with the game mechanics and that was a barrier to me getting into the story arc. I eventually overcame it, but when I played Wasteland 3 I was immediately immersed in the unfolding story without having to stop to think about developing characters that weren't constantly dying. It may be that I learned how to play the game in Wasteland 2 and that carried over, but Wasteland 3 is very polished, smooth, pretty and pulled me right in. I'm especially impressed with the balanced rewards and consequences of actions. When this is done poorly, a role-player feels like they have a choice between playing a witless ingenue or a sociopath. The social fallout for one's choices feel appropriate and balanced to me so far. It is also very possible (so far, in my progress) to play as a relatively peaceful character. There will be some violence, but players have the option of speccing a character who can find solutions to nearly every encountered scenario without having to fight. Reader be warned, I have a track record of playing games like this with non-violent builds that make it to the final boss only to lose every fight. However, I trust that the heritage of this game requires including an option to sweet-talk one's way to a successful conclusion.

On top of the game mechanics, narrative, and balance of the game; the polish is exceptional. The soundtrack is chef-kiss-fingers perfect. The animations and visuals are stunning without being distracting and if I've encountered any bugs, they did not break immersion or interfere in either the story or the mechanics. I don't have a ton of time to play games, but a half-hour here and there with my inside-joke sharing nerds and their post-apocalyptic posse is a welcome escape from our version of The Pox.

Music: at Budokan by Cheap Trick

Album cover art for Cheap Trick's at Bukodan

While I was born in 1971, I didn't encounter a lot of '70s rock standards growing up. Someone (thank you stranger with good taste!) on Twitter brought this concert album from 1978 to my attention and I keep coming back to listen to it again. I just love it and I may not have much more articulate to say about it than: "You gotta LISTEN to this, friend!" Back in 1997 I went to a premiere of Michael Moore's film The Big One where Moore was present to give a talk before the film. Rick Nielsen made a surprise guest appearance and I think he played a song or two for us.(At least he brought his guitar with him.) Then, Rick and Moore presented Studs Terkel (another surprise guest!) with a brick from a famous autoworkers strike and just putting me in the same room as Rick Nielsen and Studs Terkel has caused me to forgive Moore of a lot of his, um, excesses. I digress. Listen to this album. It's real good.

Discovering Myself As A Reader in 2020 So I Can Reinvent My Reader-Self in 2021

Person browsing for books between library shelves

The Project

The end of the year is a time for introspection and as much as year 2020 of the common era has felt endless, it is the first day of the last month of the year. After nine months I'm feeling my areas of struggle VERY acutely. My attention span and executive function are fragile and I'm vulnerable to my depression symptoms. I have also discovered new things to be curious about, new skills, and new areas of research; but these need tending and care before they can bear fruit. Acknowledging the challenges of the former and the opportunities of the latter I'm making an effort to become more aware of how I'm reading now and more intentional about how I'm going to go about reading in the new year. To do this, I'm breaking down my reading into four broad categories: news & social media, professional & research, pleasure, and hobby. I'll examine what I'm currently doing and then later plan how I might change this next year. As a note, I have a large bias towards text in how I think about information. My education was focused on text and while I've made some beginning efforts to think as critically about video and sound as I do about text, I have further to go. So, for this project, I'll consider documentary and how-to video as "reading" but keep cinema and entertainment video separate from pleasure reading. This isn't logically consistent, but it's where I am.

News & Social Media

Currently I spend far too much time on Twitter. It is the place where I connect with my friends, explore and express my values, professionally network, and pleasurably waste time. I can't live without some of those things, but I feel the need to manage it to better effect. The problem is I don't have an "off switch" when it comes to Twitter. Left to my own devices, it consumes my attention when I need to focus elsewhere. So in 2021, I'll need a plan. For now I'm tentatively considering taking a break for the month of December while I consider alternatives. For news, in 2020 I subscribed to the Washington Post. I'm not planning on continuing that subscription, but I need an alternative. I may subscribe to a local newspaper or I may develop a workflow for getting content from library newspaper databases on a daily basis. Another option is to listen to NPR news, which I subscribe to, but I do like reading a newspaper. So, in summary, I currently read too much Twitter and the Washington Post. I need to be more intentional and disciplined with Twitter and to find an alternative news source. Right now that looks like relying more on NPR, which I can compartmentalize into scheduled listening of national and local news shows in the mornings and something with Twitter that I haven't worked out yet. It will probably include curating my lists more carefully and scheduling certain days I'm allowed to look at the lists. (Yes, this is an aspirational goal.)

Professional Reading

In 2020, my professional reading plan was on an ad hoc basis. I read when I needed to know something and then I followed threads to new research that piqued my interest. For 2021 I'll develop a plan that supports my research agenda and my professional growth agenda. I am a person with great curiosity and I can lose myself exploring threads of research across disciplines and methods, but feeding my curiosity and building a clear research agenda are not (unless you are luckier than I) the same thing. So 2021 is going to me a more disciplined and ordered year with a focus starting on metadata for describing collections of born digital literature and also on video pedagogy for library instruction. I've been told (A LOT) that 2020 has been a great year for research because we all have more time to write. Let me tell you, friends, I have not written in 2020. I've worked on an article that is mostly finished, but much of the time I feel like I'm just moving letters around the screen, alternating changes until I'm back where I started. It has not been a great year for my research productivity. So to give my writing a metaphorical trellis of support and a place to grow, I'm going to develop a schedule of reading and writing for the new year. Right now I think that will include monthly check-ins to schedule weekly article assignments and monthly blog posts about what I've read.

Pleasure Reading

I've been a subscriber to Audible for over a decade, but I'm not renewing my subscription when it expires in January. That will shake up how I do my pleasure reading a lot. I have a huge backlog of unread titles and a similar backlog of unread Kindle titles that I can work my way through once the flow of new books is cut off. Once I've caught up with my digital backlog (Veronica Mars voice-over: He was never going to catch up on his digital backlog, you know that, right Marshmallows?) I want to move away from my digital-first preference for novels. Back when digital editions were new, there was a lot of overwrought worry that digital would replace print and print needed to be defended. The least insightful defenses of print annoyed me so thoroughly that I stopped reading print books nearly entirely. (It was as if I really thought this could un-publish Nicholas Carr's The Shallows.) Well, when I've run out of backlog (ha) or REALLY need something newly published, I'm going to source it through my local public library or Annie Bloom's books. Although I may not be able to resist the attraction of Amazon ebook/audiobook packages that keep track of my place across platforms.

Hobby Reading

Much of the hobby reading material I need is online (in YouTube or message boards) but I am teaching myself more about video and filmmaking, running w/ Atrial Fibrilation, and arduino hacks. I have an excellent digital library of reference books in these subjects through Humble Bundle (all but the running stuff) but if I need more I definitely plan on using the public library. For a career librarian, I've become far too committed to the digital hoarder lifestyle and I need to remember that borrowing books is okay.

Next Steps

Now that I've looked at how I'm currently reading (recap: digitally, purchasing from Evil Overlord Jeff Bezos or by spending too much time on Twitter) I'm going to think about this for a few days and then write another post with a prescription for fixing some of the things that cause me to be disenchanted with my reading these days. Making this a strict set of inflexible instructions will not lead to changed behavior, so I'm aiming for more of a roadmap that sets out my values and my reasons for reading. Making values and justifications explicit and visible are things that can lead to me changing my behavior. If this project is something you are inspired to attempt yourself, please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Love and Light,


The Covenant Church has suspended their university chaplain for officiating a wedding

The school I attended for my undergrad degree has suspended their campus pastor because she officiated at a wedding. I'm ride-or-die with queer folk, so I'm speaking up to say that this is (specifically and in order) wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up. Read on for details and reasoning. I've chosen to engage is semi-polite conversation here, but I don't actually think that is an appropriate tone for the topic. So, by the end, my language devolves into something more honest and appropriate to the topic.

TL: DR The ECC & North Park University's action to suspend the ordination of Judy Howard Peterson and place her on sabbatical is wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up.

Background and source material:

The Covenant Church suspended their university chaplain for officiating a wedding.

My alma mater has placed their campus pastor on paid sabbatical leave for officiating at a wedding. [1]Technically, the Evangelical Covenant Church, with whom the university is affiliated, has suspended her ordination for officiating at the wedding and the University has chosen to honor the letter of … Continue reading As an alumnus, this shames me. The Evangelical Covenant Church (Covenant or ECC) is the Church that sponsor's the university and which suspended the pastor's ordination. They are not an "open and affirming"[2] organization. They have official doctrines that are clearly bigoted against non cis-het people. [3] There are more recent updates to these doctrines that do not deny the bigoted declarations, but do leave enough wiggle room for people of conscience to remain in the organization. [4]I struggle w/ making this statement, but I respect the moral integrity of pastors I know in that denomination. I can't square the logic of this, so I'm choosing to trust that they see something I'm … Continue reading For example, there is a document [5] that seems to imply that the marriage doctrines apply absolutely to ordained ministry, but also leave room for non cis-het people married elsewhere to openly participate in ECC church communities. This document hasn't been officially adopted by the ECC despite it being used to justify the pastor's suspension.

Before I go further, I include how the pastor, Judy Howard Peterson, explains herself.

I officiated a same sex wedding of two beloved brothers in Christ. This broke a religious rule. The church believes the rule is so important that breaking it requires discipline. This discipline will most likely cost me my job, my housing, my credentials and my reputation. And I would put all of this on the line again in order to love like Jesus loves and I would do it without pause because I believe love fulfills the law. (Romans 13:10)

She offers a clear and well-written letter with much more detail, but the important bits are covered above. I haven't been a Christian since 1995, but I do have an undergraduate minor in Biblical and Theological Studies so I'm familiar with the underlying structures at play here. Using those structures Pastor Judy's recent choices align with what I read about the man Jesus. The policies of the ECC align with what I read about the chief priests and elders, and the choices of North Park University align w/ Pontius Pilot washing his hands of responsibility and punting to the demands of the chief priests, elders, and crowd. Judy, if you ever read this, I'm in awe of your courage and actions.

Since I'm about to make observations on theology and doctrine here, it's probably important to establish that I don't claim any religious credibility. I've read the source materials (in translation) and some secondary sources, but I deny both the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of sin, so it's not like I get a seat at the table for a religious debate. The Evangelical and Pietist branches of Protestant Christianity have a lot of core assumptions that I'm not willing to accept and cause difficulty when evaluating the value of these arguments.

It's also important to establish that I'm not here to argue for the place of homosexual people in society. I won't argue that gravity works or that water makes things wet. It's a core principle. It's not up for discussion. [6]Now, I absolutely refute fundamentalism, so I'm not going to claim that my strongly held moral beliefs are more true than your bigoted bullshit. (See what I did there?) I'm just not going to sit for … Continue reading

What I am setting out to do here is, as promised, explain how these actions by the ECC and North Park University are (specifically and in order) wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up.


The easiest way to unravel this mess is to read the underlying documents up to the first obviously counter-factual point and stop. That point is reached in the ECC's 1996 resolution on human sexuality. [7] We need go no further than the first sentence of the declaration. We could probably get caught up in the bits before the declaration, but I'm passing on that because "we choose to believe" type statements deserve different treatment from "this is the way reality is" type statements. The declaration opens with:

God created people male and female

I have no problem with the assertion that a deity created male-identified and female-identified people. (I don't assert this, but I don't think it's problematic to choose to believe that some deity made us. It's likewise non-controversial to assert that gender identity exists and is most visibly manifested as male and female.) What is clearly & demonstrably false is to move from this banal observation to the assertion that all people can be categorized as either male or female and that this distinction is obvious, absolute, and unchanging. We know this. Setting aside gender identity[8]which we can't do indefinitely, but I'm doing here to streamline the argument I'm making, biologists are aware of a broad range of sex diversity in humans (e.g.,  intersex and xx-male people.) Asserting that all people are either male or female is demonstrably false. It's simply not possible for a reasonable person to assert that sex is absolutely binary. So while it's non-controversial to affirm that a g*d created male and female people, it violates independently verifiable biological understanding to assert that humans can all be accurately categorized as male or female.

As far as I know, people who follow the ECC and rely on their chosen texts as "the only true guide for faith doctrine and conduct" don't insist that the sun goes around the earth. In precisely the same manner, there's no reason to treat Genesis 5:2 or "God created people male and female" as a point where people of faith must break from observable scientific understanding. There's no compelling reason to choose Genesis 5:2 as the one time an ancient text's description of biology requires a break from contemporary scientific understanding when other examples of ancient science are allowed to pass with little comment. Here's an example that shows biblical divergence with contemporary scientific explanations don't break your stance on scripture. "The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down for about a full day." [9]Joshua 10:13 NIV We all know that the earth moves in relation to the sun, the sun does not move in relation to the earth, yet people of faith don't seem to have a problem with this choice of words in the story. The sun, in relation to the Earth, is already stopped, and we know that if the earth stopped rotating that would cause other problems with our physics models. As far as I know, this and other problematic metaphors do not require people of faith to refute contemporary science. The Covenant is not the church of Galileo's day. At least they don't claim to be. The human sexuality resolution & Pastor Judy's suspended ordination contradicts this, but this is why I want to be able to believe that the Covenant's current actions are in error and contradict their core values. [10]This is definitely an X-Files or William James I want to believe moment. At very least, this line of reasoning demonstrates that ECC doctrine does not need to be closed and disapproving toward queer folk in order to remain faithful to their principles and texts and that the choice of sex and gender as the cornerstone of human sexuality doctrine is arbitrary.[11]Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system. OR (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority. … Continue reading


My favorite quote about religion changes over time, but Kafka's "There is hope, an infinite amount of hope, just not for us."[12] is a perpetual favorite. Kafka suggests that there is hope for g*d, but not hope for us humans. In their doctrines and policies, the ECC trumpets the blessings and sacrament of sexuality and marriage, while denying them to everyone outside their arbitrarily chosen cis-het binaries. In effect, the ECC declares to arbitrarily chosen communities that sex and companionship are wonderful, and heaven is the ultimate;  You just can't have them both. This is cruel. It's cruel because denying whole-hearted and open sexual relations to people is materially harmful to their well being. It's cruel because the people who are excluded are chosen arbitrarily.

Even if we ignore the previous section and assert that a deity has created the gender binary, that's a shitty thing for them to do. It's a shitty thing for people to decide that their god has done. It's a shitty thing for the people who function as the gatekeepers for their god's grace to enforce on their congregations. Sometimes, seemingly cruel things are necessary. For example, withholding an addict's item of dependence causes great suffering, but the suffering is necessary for a greater good. In that case, the ends justify the means. In this case, there is nothing to be gained by causing suffering. There is no greater good being served. Causing suffering for arbitrarily chosen groups can only be called needlessly cruel.


This section is not intended to provoke people who have struggled to keep faith with the ECC's doctrine. (I'm saving that for the next heading.) My intent here [13]For whatever intentions are worth, I'm a firm believer that impact > intent. is to build on two points from the previous heading, specifically that the ECC's doctrine here is arbitrary and causes harm. What's stupid about this is that this cruelty does not achieve anything. I have made the snarky insinuation in other conversations that the purpose of these policies is to ensure that major donors to the Covenant continue to give money. I have been assured that this is not the case. So I'm taking the Covenant at its word and rejected all financial explanations for maintain this doctrine in 2018. This leaves fidelity to scripture as a primary motivation for the mistaken and cruel doctrines. It has been established that there are, at absolute minimum, acceptable readings of the ECC's chosen scriptures that refute the foundation of the Covenant's exclusionary doctrine. This leaves the issue at a place where something may be appropriately discussed and debated. [14]Personally, this isn't enough, but it's better than the existing status quo in the ECC. There are legitimate readings of scripture that support differing opinions. Thus, open and affirming marriage sacraments are a thing that it is allowable for Covenant pastors to disagree on without breaking with the denomination.[15]I'm not sure I'd be willing to belong to a group that leaves open the closed and disapproving option, but that's far from the first barrier between me and church.

So if the reason the ECC chooses to be cruel cannot be justified by financial reasons and if it is possible to be faithful to their scriptures while fully accepting queer people into the church body, what benefit does standing by an incorrect and cruel doctrine offer? From my perspective as a non-believer outside the organization, there's no benefit to be gained by being assholes about sex and gender. It's just stupid.

Fucked up

I struggled with what voice I should use for my contribution to this conversation. While I settled on the kind of reserved and disinterested voice that is more likely to engage in conversation, I don't think this is appropriate. What is appropriate for this kind of stupid and wrong cruelty is confrontation and profanity. This shit is fucked up. To censor my honest word choice here is to privilege the oppressor by being a collaborator in placing tone barriers to conversation. It gives the advantage to the status quo and puts another barrier between the marginalized and conversations about them. Maybe the last remaining artifact of my North Park College Christian education is a respect for liberation theology. Give the primary option to the marginalized. Tamping these sentiments and outrage down make my arguments more palatable to some but also makes them less true.

Thus, the truest response to Judy Howard Peterson's suspension is: "THIS SHIT IS FUCKED UP." Of course, as a white, male-identified, cis-het, tenured, middle-class, American citizen it is even more true to say: "THIS SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND I'M COMPLICIT." An appropriate response to these arbitrary and cruel exclusions is "FUCK OFF, YOU ASSHOLES!" An appropriate response to the weak-tea compromises people of conscience in the covenant offer to placate the bigots is "NOT FUCKING GOOD ENOUGH!" It feels like a betrayal to self-censor this truth-speaking in order to placate those who might be offended by profanity and blasphemy but not by the Covenant's Goddesses-damned-fucking-shitstorm-abomination of a doctrine.

It's not okay to treat the personhood of queer folk as something to be bargained for, as something that can be conceded in order to achieve a nice compromise. We don't call that Covenant-nice, we call that Covenant-horseshit. It's not okay for cis-het folk to decide what others can or cannot do with their sexuality. The ECC, as with any other group, is free to choose their own conditions for entry. What makes this a problem that demands confrontation is dodging responsibility for this intentional decision and blaming their g*d or their scriptures for the arbitrary decision to exclude queer people from their sacrament. It is not the case that the ECC is bound by scripture to treat their faithful queer members like shit. It's a fucking choice and y'all need to fucking own it.[16]Better yet, y'all need to move forward beyond this sin and this error and ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. We all need to repent and ask forgiveness.

Obscenity is appropriate here because this situation is fucking obscene.

It's not fucking okay. I have a choice in how I engage. I can choose between being a fierce partizan uselessly screaming my objections from the outside or using my straight privilege to collaborate with the powers that be. There may be an ethical answer for how to engage in this conversation without either collaborating with the oppressor or being pure and useless.  I'm not smart enough to find it here. So I've made the choice of moderating my anger in the first sections of this blog post in order to collaborate and find a compromise. It's wrong, but the least wrong option I can come up with today. Please forgive me.

That said, this shit is fucked up and I'm complicit.


1 Technically, the Evangelical Covenant Church, with whom the university is affiliated, has suspended her ordination for officiating at the wedding and the University has chosen to honor the letter of their campus pastor job requirements—which specify she must be ordained—over all other moral commitments they have. I don't think these details signify, but I recognize and acknowledge them.
3, 7
4 I struggle w/ making this statement, but I respect the moral integrity of pastors I know in that denomination. I can't square the logic of this, so I'm choosing to trust that they see something I'm missing. FWIW, I resigned my membership in 1995.
6 Now, I absolutely refute fundamentalism, so I'm not going to claim that my strongly held moral beliefs are more true than your bigoted bullshit. (See what I did there?) I'm just not going to sit for a discussion of them. In the same way I wouldn't enter into debate with a flat-earther about geography or an advocate of slavery about human rights. I'm acknowledging that there's no argument against the full person-hood of queer people that I'm willing to accept, regardless of it's rational justifications or how well it is argued.
8 which we can't do indefinitely, but I'm doing here to streamline the argument I'm making
9 Joshua 10:13 NIV
10 This is definitely an X-Files or William James I want to believe moment.
11 Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system. OR (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority.
13 For whatever intentions are worth, I'm a firm believer that impact > intent.
14 Personally, this isn't enough, but it's better than the existing status quo in the ECC.
15 I'm not sure I'd be willing to belong to a group that leaves open the closed and disapproving option, but that's far from the first barrier between me and church.
16 Better yet, y'all need to move forward beyond this sin and this error and ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. We all need to repent and ask forgiveness.

#AcWriMo 2017

#AcWriMo is an online project inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It's a month-long commitment in November to be intentional and diligent about writing academic stuff. There are official-ish ways of going about it, but I'm just planning on using the hashtag to communicate about some of my research goals.

This November, I'm committing to giving 60 minutes a day to focused writing & other productive work on the various writing/publishing/scholarly productivity activities I have going on. I'll use this space and Twitter to report on my progress and to keep myself accountable to putting in time every damn day.

Currently I owe three people proposals for projects, and I have a few irons already in the fire, so these projects come first.

Obviously my list went well beyond the original three items. It's time to get out of productivity debt. Here's how I'm going to do it.

  • Dedicate one block of time (60 minutes) each day to working on these things. After the first week, I'll touch base to see if I need to be strict about whether this time must include putting words in a text file, or whether I can include reading, outlining, thinking projects. I'm leaning towards being strict, but some of my *writing* is going to be generating code and some other might be soldering parts in an electronic project, so time will tell what works.
  • Report back at least weekly. On Tuesdays I'll write a reflection post here in this blog to update on my productivity or lack thereof.
  • Relentless positive regard. This is hard for me, but I get more done when I'm relentlessly positive with myself. Somehow self-loathing and introspective cynicism are comfortable places within me and I can wrap them around myself like a blanket and not get anything done. If I'm remorseless with my positivity, more gets done. It's really disgusting, but it works.

To make all this work, I'm going to have to give up some time I'm spending doing other things. I do tend to phaff about with social media and Reddit and on the weekends I do spend some time playing video games. I'm hoping I can make all this happen without strict rules, because those are annoying, but if I need to I'll put the kibosh[1]I had to look this up to make sure this saying doesn't have unsavory origins, but all looks well. Carry on. on all gaming activities and restrict my reading of the Twitters and the Facebooks. I hope it's not too much to ask that I can do this without having to give myself rules. If history is any guide, I'll have to give myself rules, but I'm going to be relentlessly positive and give myself the benefit of the doubt to start.

So who's with me? Anyone else out there #AcWriMo-ing this year?


1 I had to look this up to make sure this saying doesn't have unsavory origins, but all looks well. Carry on.