Homebrew Results

June 28, 2007


The beer is ready. Its flavor has pronounced grain, not too hoppy, with a good head. It is clean and balanced. I’ve got another 5 gallon batch fermenting, so we’ll need to keep focused on freeing up bottles.


Old Feelings

June 26, 2007

I woke up this morning full of emotion. My diaphragm felt weak and sick, my ears were flushed, and I felt this awful shame. I can’t remember what I had been dreaming, but an old memory had surfaced and was pushing my mood around.

In the memory, I was in a bar called SoHa. “SoHa” was the clever name of this new bar, referring to its location on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan just SOuth of HArlem. It was dark inside, with red lights and some loudish music. The horseshoe shaped bar abutted the wall on the street; you entered on one side of the bar and circled around it as you got deeper into the space. I was with two people all the way around the bend of the bar. We were sitting in plush chairs around a little coffee table, leaning our heads in to each other to be heard. One of the people was the woman who would eventually become my best friend through my college years. For some reason, she had recently died her hair a platinum-y yellow. The other was a goofy, double-jointed, balding graduate student in economics who always wore a leather jacket and multi-colored leather shoes. It can’t hurt to reveal that his name was Tavis, a name I always thought odd but well-suited for its owner. I can’t recall for sure, but I think this was in December of 1997. I was a junior in college and had just returned from nine months studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Before and after my time away, I worked for a bartending agency. In fact, I had worked my way up in the agency and had become responsible for giving classes to aspiring bartenders. I would teach them several dozen drinks, including the fruity or creamy ones that no one ever orders, at least not in New York. In fact, most of the bartending jobs I did were at private parties or art openings and consisted of little more than opening wine or mixing gin with tonic.

Anyway, that evening at the bar, my friend Tavis, as he always did, decided to order some screwy drink that involved several liquors and juices and had some ridiculous name like Singapore Sling or Harvey Wallbanger. The cocktail waitress quickly returned to inform Tavis that the bartender didn’t know how to make his drink. Through the murk, we could see the hip barman pulling a beer, muttering, and rolling his eyes. Tavis cheerfully offered to give the recipe, which he proceeded to do. In a while, the waitress returned with the drink in all its unnecessary and pretentious grandeur. I was unreasonably embarrassed, and I remember that I wanted to leave and never return.

So there’s the terrible, shameful memory. I can’t believe I can still feel so small and worried about the bad behavior of others–insignificant bad behavior–after almost a decade.  I’m not even clear why this memory is so embarrassing.  Am I a freak? Do you feel misplaced emotions based on old memories?

For shame…

June 25, 2007

The very first “Sheep Days” post touched on the topic of torture sponsored by the U.S. government. Unfortunately, this topic continues to plague us.

A new twist has come up in the way U.S. armed forces and CIA operatives are torturing our fellow human beings: it has been revealed that they have been using trained and licensed psychologists to help them increase the pressure on their victims.

Mark Benjamin, a reporter for salon.com, details the collusion between these psychologists and the torturers:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, [the CIA and the U.S. military] turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military’s secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to “reverse-engineer” techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The military’s use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report.

Two psychologists in question, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, apparently specialize in the infliction of psychological stress. The reporter continues,

Isolation in cramped cells is also a key tenet of SERE training, according to soldiers who have completed the training and described it in detail to Salon. The effects of isolation are a specialty of Jessen’s, who taught a class on “coping with isolation in a hostage environment” at a Maui seminar in late 2003, according to a Washington Times article published then. (Defense Department documents from the late 1990s describe Jessen as the “lead psychologist” for the SERE program.) Mitchell also spoke at that conference, according to the article. It described both men as “contracted to Uncle Sam to fight terrorism.”

Mitchell’s name surfaced again many months later. His role in interrogations was referenced briefly in a July 2005 New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, which focused largely on the military’s use of SERE-based tactics at Guantánamo. The article described Mitchell’s participation in a CIA interrogation of a high-value prisoner in March 2002 at an undisclosed location elsewhere — presumably a secret CIA prison known as a “black site” — where Mitchell urged harsh techniques that would break down the prisoner’s psychological defenses, creating a feeling of “helplessness.” But the article did not confirm Mitchell was a CIA employee, and it explored no further the connection between Mitchell’s background with SERE and interrogations being conducted by the CIA.

This reminded me of another collusion between professional scholars and government travesties. During the Vietnam War, our government called on anthropologists to help them make peace (do battle) more effectively in a scheme called “Project Camelot.” One of the United States’s best anthropologists, Marshall Sahlins, condemned this cooperative project as early as 1965 when he addressed the American Anthropological Association. Sahlins declared that the project was,

an example of the corrosion of integrity that must accompany an enlistment of scholars in a gendarmerie relation to the Thrid World. Subversion of mutual trust between field-worker and informant is the predictable next step. The relativism we hold necessary to ethnography can be replaced by cynicism, and the quest for objective knowledge of other peoples replaced by a probe for their political weaknesses.

This is exactly what these shameful psychologists are doing–they are betraying their profession’s high purpose to heal, to comfort, and to hold confessions in confidence. They are preying on weakened men and women supposedly to help win a war. The pastor in me cannot help but point out that this commitment to victory no matter what the method or cost is surely not an American value, much less a Christian one.

I also await the day that the CIA or the Pentagon arrives in my Religious Studies department looking for sick and little men and women who are willing to betray our field’s sensitivity to the religious mores of others so that the torturers can know even better how to flush a Qur’an down the commode.

(Image is “Shame” by Ori Kleiner, 2004)

Before we moved here, friends gave me a CD by Sufjan Stevens entitled “Illinois.” I have obsessed over this CD in a way that I thought I had left behind in my teenage years. I listen to it over and over. The lyrics are fine and narrative, with honest and sometimes cerebral introspection about events and place. The music is varied, soft, and accessible. Stevens’s voice is better than mine, but not so much better; his voice is inviting to me because it suggests simplicity and intimacy.  “Illinois” is the second of Stevens’s proposed CD series on all fifty states (the first was entitled “Michigan”). 

Apparently, two radio producers invited Stevens to Brinkley, Arkansas, to explore how he would write music about the people and events that are unique to that place. As you may know, Brinkley is where the ivory-billed woodpecker was sighted after years of being considered extinct. It was first seen on my son’s first birthday, February 11, 2004.

Sufjan Stevens wrote a song and appropriately entitled it “The Lord God Bird,” a common nickname for the ivory-billed woodpecker. The song is available online for free–click here to listen, right-click and save to download. As a semi-Arkansan, I hope this means that Stevens is planning an “Arkansas” follow-up to “Illinois” very soon.

Guest blogging

June 20, 2007

Of late, I have been reading the blog of a Guatemalan anthropologist who is working in development in the country of Congo.  When she recently discussed her interest in the many questions raised by international adoption, I wrote a long response.  She has since (with my permission) posted my comment as a “Guest blogger” entry.  If you have some Spanish, you will enjoy her blog.


June 20, 2007

My name is Brett Hendrickson, and “Sheep Days” is my blog.  I don’t consider this blog to be full of fine writing or anything like that; I think of it more as a creative (and sometimes intellectual) outlet and as a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

I am a doctoral student at Arizona State University in the Religious Studies department.  My dissertation research has to do with religious healing and cultural contact between Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Anglo Americans in the U.S.-Mexico border region.  I’m especially interested in folk saints, curanderismo, transcultural “medicine,” popular devotions, and conceptions of power.

I am married to Alex, and we have two children, Thomas and Lily.   Alex is the associate pastor of a large Presbyterian church in southwestern Illinois, where we live.  Coincidentally, I am also an ordained Presbyterian minister.  When we lived in Arizona, I served Guadalupe Presbyterian Church, a bilingual congregation.  Many of the best posts in “Sheep Days,” in my opinion, have to do with my time with the Guadalupe church.  Currently, I don’t serve a church and am hoping to some day be a college professor after  I finish my degree.