A Lot of Work to Syphon Out the Liars

As much as I hate "conspiracy" theories”

As near as I can tell, Jehovah’s Witnesses buy into conspiracy theories in no greater proportion than the general population. It is a little surprising, since they have become privy to the greatest conspiracy theory of all—that involving religion having deviated so far from its source

As for me, I find myself nibbling at the edges, and in some cases accepting them. If I follow anything on Twitter, I make a point also of following its polar opposite. Sometimes I find the polar opposite point of view to be represented much more persuasively than the common wisdom.


“...After a while, one can develop an entire framework of areas (and players) where such admissions happen more often than others. When the pattern of 1)position, 2)slip-up, and 3)method of backtracking to regain the original position becomes very predictable, then you are probably onto something trending toward truth.”

That’s a lot of work to syphon out the liars. 

That’s not to say it is not a good idea, nor that it is any more time-consuming than what I do. It is just that few people have that kind of time. Most people take news from one or two sources, often the evening TV news for people our age, and pretty well accept that they are being told the truth. Usually they are, but it is not “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”—which can completely turn things around.

At one pioneer meeting the elder conducting it was highlighting the importance of neutrality, and never to give the impression of taking sides. “Now we all know that Trump is crazy,” he said, “but.......” I would stake my life on it that his only source of news is the evening news of one of the three networks. 

I was relatively up in years before I discovered to my surprise that my (non-Witness) Dad cared hardly at all about politics. Many were the political discussions swirling around the dining room table, as I was growing up, when the extended family was gathered. However, it turned out that my Mom’s father was very much a GOP person and would crank on about it endlessly, and my Dad was just too gracious to tell him to zip it—it was his father-in-law, after all, who his wife liked.


Photo: Evening News, by Vasilennka
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“I Saw Tears Well up in the Eyes of One Elder”

That sentence from yesterday’s Watchtower study called to mind an experience:

From paragraph 17: “A brother recalls appreciatively: ‘I saw tears well up in the eyes of one elder as he contemplated my situation. That image will always remain in my mind.’”

I was sure that the kid at the tire repair show had lost my specialty tool when I had my tires switched. The dopey mounted snowtires (that somebody talked me into buying) require a unique socket—it is not standard and it is not metric. I have two of them so it is not that big of a deal, but when it was not in its designated place after I picked up the car from the shop (it could only be there and nowhere else because I always put it there) I drove back to the shop and let them hear about it at the front counter. “He’s got it in his toolbox, somewhere,” I said, “just absentminded, not theft—he is just careless. Make him check for it.”

When I returned home I found the socket.

I know how companies bully their employees. I figured they must have leaned into him pretty heavily. I drove back to apologize—not to the front counter, but to him personally. Nah—they said it wasn’t necessary. I said it was. No, it was nothing, they said, don’t worry about it. Look, I know that “the customer is always right,” I responded—he probably was made to feel some heat. They said no—not a problem. (what’s the big deal? They just didn’t want to pull him out of the shop and interrupt his work flow.)

Did I tell you that when I get something in my head I am not easily put off? I said that I could probably just walk right in there and say it quick—which bay is he in, anyway? and made for the door. When they saw that I would not be dissuaded—what were they going to do? toss me out on my ear with a showroom full of customers looking on? they fetched him for me.

He looked defensive, as though I was going to yell at him. Instead, I apologized. I said that I was sure that he had lost the tool, but when I got home I found it. Very likely someone had made him sweat about it. He was a Spanish speaking kid and he looked like someone who doesn’t get apologized to that often.

A little to my embarrassment, I felt some tears welling up, just like the elder in the paragraph. I mean, several were looking on. I probably made a fool of myself. And maybe it was completely unnecessary. Maybe they had all had a good laugh over the jerk who griped over his “lost” tool. Dunno.

But it didn’t matter. It is not a bad thing to show empathy. The elder in that Watchtower paragraph not only benefited the congregation member by tears welling up—unless I am very mistaken, he benefited himself as well.


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Offering my Sacrifice to the Gods

Volkswagen is ending production of the New Beetle, first begun in 1997. That beetle was the reincarnation of the original Beetle, which was itself ended in 1978. Every hippie on earth drove a Beetle back in the day.

It’s time. It is a smart move on Volkswagen’s part, for reasons beyond mere sales. With people routinely screaming that their opponents on anything are ‘like Hitler,’ you know it is only a matter of time before a company offering a car that actually was inspired by Hitler is subject to wrath itself.

I never owned a Beetle, but a friend did. My car was a 64 Rambler Classic station wagon. I decaled a bumblebee stripe around the rear end, wagon and all.  Sometimes we took my car and sometimes his as we explored the old logging roads in the Adirondacks during college days. Many of those roads would disintegrate into pure forest when they reached back far enough.

Emerging from a quasi-road onto a dirt road only slightly more real, my friend, who was driving, asked: “Anything coming your way?” “Just a school bus,” I said, and he laughed, for we were in the middle of nowhere. He pulled out and a school bus took off his front bumper.

I did have a Kharmann Ghia afterwards, which was a sportier Volkswagen offering, and I have two memories of it. The first is when I was alone with it performing the same house-to-house ministry I do now, decades ago when I was much dumber than I am now. Now, VWs barely heated at all. So I had gotten it into my head that maybe a portable kerosene heater would be a good idea; I could roll the windows down a bit for the fumes. As I do even today, I waited till I actually needed it, on one frigid suburban street, to try it out. I didn’t want to fire it up right there in the car. At least credit me with not being that dumb. I lit it outside, and a two-foot high flame shot into the air because I had not done it right. What would any homeowner glancing out the window have thought? “Oh, man, another religious nut, this one offering sacrifice to the gods!”

The other memory that lasts of my Karmann Ghia is when I pulled into my folk’s drive right behind their station wagon. No sooner had I shut the engine off than the backup lights of wagon ahead came on and my brother launched out and into my headlights like a rocket for Saturn. This is the same brother who took my stamp collection and who cheats at Scrabble. I didn’t have a lot of dough back then, so I fiber-glassed over the two gaping holes and bought two truck-mounted headlights and mounted them between front side fenders and hood. The car looked like a frog. I drove it in field service afterwards until I got rid of it, but I was always careful to avoid the street in which I had sacrificed to the gods.





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In new New York You Can do Fireworks

Fireworks are legal in New York State. Not always, just a week or so around the fourth of July. Makeshift sales tents pop up everywhere hawking the goods.

It never used to be that way. I worked so hard with my boy when he, long ago, started pestering me about the stuff, harassing me night and day. Do you think I could convince him, my own child, that fireworks were not legal in New York State? Not just dynamite, but also cherry bombs and even ladyfingers. They are illegal. You can’t blow them off in New York. Yes, they are legal in some states, but New York is not one of them. Tired of arguing with a kid who dressed head to toe in Goth black to parade around in the mall with friends dressed the same way and didn’t stop until I threatened to dress head to toe in white and follow him everywhere, it suddenly dawned upon me how to solve the problem.Talk to a cop! What a brilliant idea! I drove to the area police station. Were fireworks legal in New York State? No, they were not. What about ladyfingers? No they were not. What about on holidays and special events? No, that made no difference! What about…..LOOK, said the cop, you got a listening problem?! NO means NO.!! Now if you want to break THE LAW, go right ahead, but we’ll be coming after you!! All that Download

as missing was for him to draw his gun.

Elated, I skipped home to grab my son and return. Yeah! Tell the kid what you just told me! Scare the everloving daylights out of him!

But Joe Friday wasn’t there!! Instead, it was jolly Officer O’Mallahan! Well….he patted my boy on the head, with a twinkle in his eye, just be careful, and don’t shoot them off too much!! Thanks a lot, copper!!! If this kid grows up to be a pirate, I’ll know who to blame!

And now it turns out that it was all for nothing! Fireworks are okay, now. And no, he has not become a pirate. He does do a lot of traveling, though.

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I Can Hear the Charges of 'Stealing From God' Now

When Gene was transferred to an Assembly Hall in Virginia, he said that Bethel likes to do that. If a given overseer remains too long at an Assmbly Hall, it gets to be known as 'Gene's Assembly Hall.' I told him the only reason I change from my pajamas is BECAUSE it is his Assembly Hall. He said I would like the new guy. I said I don't like him already if he is going to replace him. But, in fact, the new guy turns out to be fine, too.

Last year Gene was at the house Galileo-2813231_960_720
 and he was admiring the Galileo thermometer on the mantleplace - you know, those ones with the bobbing balls? A week later I called him and asked if he was at the Assembly Hall. He said he was and I told him to stay there. I drove over and gave him the Galileo thermometer as a gift (which is how I ended up with the dust-collecting thing myself). He said he couldn't accept it and I said he could. So he did.

But don't you know that my wife did some work at the Assembly Hall the other day and went into the office and what do you suppose is there? MY (alright - 'his') GALILEO THERMOMETER!!!!

HE LEFT IT! He went to Virginia and left it! I hope he fries or freezes because he couldn't dress properly because he didn't have a Galilio thermometer to tell him what the weather will be!

Moreover, I have no idea if the new guy will appreciate it or not. For all I know, he has a bowling ball on his mantleplace that he admires and wonders what the stupid thing is with the bobbling ornaments! But do you think he will let me take it back? I can hear the charges of 'stealing from God' already if I try it! 

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She Slammed Me Through a Supporting Wall and the House Caved In

They have jack-hammered the basement to install perimeter drainage. A cement truck backed in to cover up the new piping with cement. There was a backhoe in the front yard tying in the house gutters to the storm sewer.

The pipe delivery truck took down the phone line so I switched to cable internet and the cable truck came the next day. They had to string a new wire from a nearby pole.

By pure coincidence, the furnace truck also arrived for some scheduled maintenance.

The nosy neighbor is absolutely beside herself trying to figure out just what we are having done and how much it is costing us.

"Tell her we had a fight and you slammed me through a supporting wall, causing the house to collapse," I say to my wife. "That ought to satisfy her for awhile."

Collapsed house

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A Ferry, a Centrifuge, and a Toilet

Crossing the Adirondacks is a beautiful drive at any time of year. It was no less so as I was doing it at the end of winter. I would cross the mountains, take the ferry across Lake Champlain, and visit my friend who was doing graduate work at the University of Burlington.

Only when the sparkling, magnificent lake appeared in my sites did it dawn upon me that the ferry might not yet be opened for the season. It meant that I might have to drive around the stinking thing! But when I pulled into the ferry terminal, there was a car before me. It was the attendant. He was just opening for the season and if I waited 45 minutes, I would be the first car of the year. 

As I patiently waited, a TV truck pulled into the lot. Opening for the season might not register in your lofty town, but here it was an event. My 15 minutes of fame was about to begin. With camera upon me, I pulled onto the boat. Should I drive pompously, self-importantly? Or should I drive nonchalantly, nodding to the camera as I passed, as though such things happened to me daily and didn’t nonplus me even a little? I settled on a course in between.

My friend was working in the school’s science lab when I finally found him. He was patiently soldering together a piece for a centrifuge. But it wasn’t going well. He worked for a half hour, correcting this sad tendency and then that. Finally he looked at the mess and said: ‘Well, this might be okay for the toilet, but it doesn’t really cut it for a centrifuge.’

I advised that we watch the evening news. It is important to keep up with current events, I told him. Perhaps something truly great has happened. Adirondacks_in_May_2008

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Sir, can I interest you in some kitchenware?

You can listen In on the phone line when you miss a meeting, but I chose not to do it. I remembered my old man’s words from long ago: “let him go hungry if he can’t be bothered to show up for dinner – I guarantee it won’t happen twice.” Besides, I didn’t want to hear Sister Faithful comment: “So we must all remember our vow to Jehovah. We should not be like Brother Harley, sitting on his rear end at home, trading his birthright for a bowl of garage sale soup!”

Yeah, but it was a nice garage sale. For once in our lives, it was worth holding. Everyone knows I don’t do garage sales. By the time Harleys are done with something, there ain’t nothing left of it to sell. It’s different this time. We are seriously downsizing, so as to spare our kids some not so fine day the nightmare that my wife’s parents neglected to spare us. Plus, we have significant items from the home of the Great Forgetter to add. It’s a piece of cake to sneak them out before him, for he is also the All Unseeing One. Even if he should catch you red-handed, he immediately forgets what he has caught.

All Forgetting and All Unseeing. It’s a lethal combination. It reminds me of my words to a coworker about the public we both served. "Ican deal with a stupid person. I can deal with a belligerent person. But a stupid AND a belligerent person stops me in my tracks." "Yeah, that’s pretty unstoppable,” he agreed.

I was even ready for the pro who unfailingly appears at the crack of dawn to scoop up everything not junk. Sort of, anyway. “We’re not set up yet,” I told him, “you’re welcome to look around but I’m not dealing on anything.” One person later told me of an ad which read: “Prices doubled if you arrive early.”

Also later on that morning, someone grabbed a four dollar item and asked if I could throw in a 75 cents item for free. It’s not a big deal – usually I would, but we were just getting started. I said that, for now, I would hold firm. She got huffy and threw down both items! “I don’t want to deal with people like you!” she steamed. I almost told her I’d let her have them both for six dollars.

So it was a worthwhile garage sale. It justified missing a meeting. It was not like the garage sale decades ago in the poor neighborhood, in which the upstairs tenant held out a dented pot to a wandering derelict: “Sir, can I interest you in some kitchenware?”


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I was away and my brother took my stamp collection! He just took it, transferring my stamps into his album.

I was away and my brother took my stamp collection! He just took it, transferring my stamps into his album. I had to take them back.
This is the same brother that smashed out the headlights of my Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I had just pulled into the family driveway, parking right behind our station wagon. As I pulled the car keys from the ignition, I saw the backups lights ahead come on and the wagon shot into me like a North Korean missile launch.
This is the same Karmann Ghia that I drove in service as a pioneer and nearly froze solid because there was absolutely no heat in the car, which was typical of all VWs then. So I wondered if I could somehow rig up a kerosene heater inside. But when I tried to fire it up (outside the car) it shot out a foot-long flame. It looked as though I was sacrificing to the gods. No wonder people think we are nuts. IMG_4134
These are the same nuts that Davey the Kid thought he might be able to help when he became a shrink. "Poor Davey," I would lament. "He always thought half of us were nuts. Now that he's a shrink, he finds that even the half he thought were sane - they're nuts, too.
This is the same Davey the Kid whose story is told in the afterword of 'Tom Irregardless and Me.'
This is also the same Karrmann Ghia, or one just like it, that was used as the model car for the video on creation that we all saw at the mid-week meeting.
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The New Songbook

That last note of Make the Truth Your Own is one high, towering triumphant blast of a note....you climb as you approach it, and then reach way back in your lungs for every ounce of power to, not just belt it out, but sustain it. Each verse ends just that way, and then reverts into the chorus. On a recent rendition, Tom Whitepebble is ready. He bides his time. He waits for the song to come around. There! The moment has arrived. He nails that high note, with all his might!.....“believe what he tells you is truuuue.....!”

What the......?!  The note's been changed! It's no longer that high crescendo! Now it's just some low-key humdrum note! Worse yet....everyone knows it except him! He's hanging out there all by himself, and they all turn to stare! The new songbook strikes again! Whitepebble looks clear across the hall at me (who is merely minding my own business) and mouths “Why?!”

I know why, of course. It's on account of a woman named Pearl, who is the wife of Tom Pearlsandswine, and who attends the congregation across town, where I used to attend. She loves to sing....we have a lot of people who love to sing....but she really isn't that....um.....good. And when that final note used to come....that final note of each of the three verses, she'd let out a long piercing ape-like shriek that was enough to make you think “how come we don't have a paid choir, like the big churches do?” Moreover,  the way the song was constructed.....you held that last note, so there's no way anyone could ignore her braying in their midst.

I tell you, no one could keep a straight face. Worse, you knew it was coming....the verse built towards it.... so well before that climactic moment, snickering began. So, in the new songbook, they've changed that last note to some bland thing that any clod can handle. What else could they do?

It's not easy to write a review of the new songbook....we've been using it for ….what?....a year or two, now?.....because...because we're accustomed to praising anything we get as being exactly the food we need served up at just the right time, and don't think I'm about to break that tradition! Everything needs updating from time to time, we all know that. We'd used that old songbook for 25 years or so, as we had used the one prior to that. We had ample notice a new one was coming.  It wasn't sprung on us as a surprise. There was even encouragement to practice the melodies so as not to mess them up at the upcoming assembly.....you know how you'll sing a new song real anemic because you're not sure if the next note will be up or down. But, noooo....Whitepebble had to keep listening to his Bob Dylan CDs instead of the new Watchtower tunes. So it's his own fault.

The new songbook, “Sing to Jehovah,” is a substantial revision of the old one. It has 135 songs, of which 35 are brand new. That means 125 songs which didn't make the cut, since the old book featured 225. And many of the survivors have been reworked in word or tune, some to the point of being unrecognizable. Familiar lyrics are assigned to new melodies. Familiar melodies are given new words. It takes a while to get your head around it. Some of those new songs are beautiful, even hauntingly so. Others, though.....well, they might be if we can ever master the tune, but with 3 songs per meeting, and 135 to choose from, not that many opportunities arise. As to the 125 songs that vanished.....look, there was nothing wrong with any of them....nobody's saying otherwise. All of them were indisputable blessings from heaven. It's just that....well....we had to prune a few.

Of course, the instant I laid hands on the new book, I checked to see if "Dah da da da dah" was still there, a/k/a “We Must Have the Faith,” once song #144. It's still there, sort of. It's one of those which has undergone the scalpel, and only a ghost of the original refrain survives. That's too bad.

Our son was speaking by his first birthday. “Ball” was his favorite word, as I recall, and anything circular was a “ball.” Pulling out the MasterCharge card would excite him to no end, just like it does now for Mrs. Sheepandgoats, though for a different reason. But my daughter was not yet talking by her second birthday, and we began to worry. One day, however, Mrs. Sheepandgoats called me, all thrilled, to say she was singing the song.... “dah da da da dah”...the melody is very distinctive. I didn't believe her at first, but later on.....yes, I too heard it. Sure enough, she sang before she spoke (and when she began speaking, she quickly made up for all lost time). For the next few years, whenever that song played, she'd turn to us, eyes aglow, and exclaim: “It's Dah da da da DAH!” So we're not terribly pleased that they've messed with the song, but....such is the nature of progress.

I've even heard it said that they've “dumbed down” the songbook. That's unkind, isn't it? No, they didn't dumb it down!!! They just made it....um...uh....simpler in some places, dropping some lyrics that were absolutely untranslatable, you know, figures of speech and so forth that play well in one language but not another. Nobody, but nobody, translates material into as many languages as the Watchtower. Nobody comes close. By the way, they tell me that most of our translators in tiny backwater countries are youngsters in their twenties, since their parents tend to know the native tongue, but not any other. Another reason, I suppose, not to tax them with overcomplex vocabulary. Too, lyrics with any hint of “religiousity” have been dropped in favor of “plain speaking.” That's good, I guess, but sometimes I miss the old words. I mean, when you're singing some familiar tune, and suddenly your well remembered lines have been replaced, you find yourself grumbling “what on earth was wrong with those words?!” And there's a strange insistence on a few tunes that every note correspond to a syllable, a practice I find disconcerting.

Ah well. Maybe it plays out according to tastes in other parts of the world. The time for considering only English speaking persons has past, as it should. What one person doesn't really care for is all the rage somewhere else. So one has to move on.

You know, it would have helped had Manuel Noriega been able to move on. But, as it was, the onetime Panamanian dictator was stuck as a lover of classical music. He hadn't moved on to appreciate the modern stuff. So when the U.S. military wanted to flush him out of his Panama hiding spot in 1990 (much as NATO would like to do today with Muammar Gaddafi) they blasted him night and day with rock music mounted atop combat vehicles until the poor fellow couldn't take it anymore and gave himself up. And, when mall owners want chase away unruly teenagers, they simply play Mozart over the loudspeakers. Old people love it, but the kids run for their lives. If only we were more flexible when it comes to music.

Flexibility is not the defining trait of the Sheepandgoats clan, however. Predictability is. Thus, social gatherings of the Sheepandgoats men (not necessarily the women) invariably end with a game of Scrabble. Every time. “They always do it?” asked an incredulous new daughter-in-law. Yes. Always. Plus, we have developed peculiar quirks that make us incompatible with even other Scrabble players. The house dictionary rules, for example, and so the character of the game varies depending upon whose house we are in. Playing at Pop's house is a real challenge. There, a set of 1964 World Book encyclopedias still grace the living room bookshelf, a relic from the days he vainly hoped to pound some sense into us. His dictionary is from that era, too. It wasn't easy to get him to accept even such common electronic terms as “fax,” (which go unchallenged in my house or anywhere else) and I was robustly shouted down when I tried to play “adware” over a triple word score, the 'w' resting upon a double letter square.


Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!


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