Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The past twelve months have been tough on our planet.

There's the "natural disasters" - the Asian tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the hurricanes in the US and the Caribbean - all which have been both helped and compounded by our actions and inactions.

Then there are the purely "man-made" disasters - Darfur, Iraq, the Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Zimbabwe - about which we in the West often speak as if they are forces of nature beyond our influence.

The sheer number of troubles has seemed excessive and extraordinary making it hard to respond. What can we do?

Zalm at From the Salmon (a recent discovery for me) has written about "compassion fatigue", and his unhappiness with himself for often substituting "writing for action" - a feeling I share with him. But writing matters, too, and Zalm has done us a service with this post linking to his writing about the year's disasters and to a number of internet based efforts to help and inform. Take time to follow the links to remind yourself of what's gone on in our world.

So how do we fight off "compassion fatigue"? Lately, I've been wondering if our trouble comes from thinking that the need to take action and keep informed is somehow extraordinary. Temperamentally, most of us can only handle so many emergencies at a time, and so many over time. If we think of disasters as extraordinary emergencies, we will get worn down.

But what would happen if we started thinking of disasters, and our response to them, as a regular part of our lives? Would we feel differently if we budgeted money, time, prayer and political attention, in advance, for whatever troubles the new year may bring? If we did this, I think we'd at least find out if it is the compassion or the sense of crisis that wears us out.

Anyway, something to wonder about.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I Was Wrong and I Was Right

As Jim pointed out in the comments to the previous post, it turns out that the Little Red Book/DHS agent story is a hoax. I'm glad this wasn't true, but don't forget that a whole lot of other stuff reported this week is true. I'm sad that we live in a time which made it very easy for me to believe the library story.

On the other hand, we went to Casa Bianca last night with some friends, and as I've said before, it was amazing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'm Having Trouble Blogging...

... because of things like this:

- A student at UMass Dartmouth requested a copy of Mao's Little Red Book via inter-library loan to do original research for a paper in a class on totalitarianism. Instead of the book, he received a visit from two agents from the Homeland Security Agency. Just think about that for a minute.

- Still trying to still think the best about our leaders, I try to hold on to the idea that our government's spying on its citizens without warrants is just a hamfisted reaction to 9/11 and not an organized plan to subvert the Constitution and our status as a nation of laws by hard line Republicans still bitter over Watergate and the Church Comission. But then Vice President Cheney said this yesterday:
Returning from a trip to the Middle East, Cheney said that threats facing the country required that the president's authority under the Constitution be "unimpaired."

"Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters traveling with him on Air Force Two. "Especially in the day and age we live in Â… the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy."
I absolutely hate it when I think I'm overreacting or even being paranoid only to discover that things are actually much worse than I thought.

- Federal Judge James Robertson resigned as a member of the FISA court yesterday, reportedly in protest of the Administration's policy of conducting warrent-less searches in defiance of the FISA statute. This should really create fireworks, but I suspect that the joking response of the Editors at The Poorman will be closer to the reality:

Boy, is Judge Robertson ever going to feel stupid when he realizes that Presidential power is Constitutionally unchecked, that if Bush tried to follow the law we'd all be dead now, that the FISA statute was written using a Burroughs-esque "“cut-up" technique, that the President doesn't have to follow laws, and that there'’s a war going on. And, basically, that rather than getting hysterical with Bush hatred, he should really be concerning himself with making sure that the people responsible for exposing this completely legal and mundane policy are found, tried, and executed.

Hopefully, judges will remember to do some research in the Wingnutosphere before they throw their career away on legal issues which - if I may be blunt - they clearly lack the background, the training, antemperamenterment to assess rationally. Hopefully, the President will appoint someone a bit more competent to replace him.

Oh, and Clinton did it, too.

I want to write about more than what I see in the back seats of cars (although the sight of a Steven Seagal video in the back seat of a Jag is still pretty remarkable, unless, wait a minute, maybe it was Steven Seagal's Jaguar! That would explain everything) every time I try to write something serious, like a review or a reflection on the death of my wife's parents and the accelerated decline of my own, those thoughts get pushed out by the craziness of our government and by the unwillingness of my fellow Christians to engage in these issues because we're too busy fighting bogus wars on Christmas while not even having worship on Christmas and deciding that the real battle is not with flesh and blood nor with principalities and powers but with Wells Fargo. I find this all to be very discouraging.

Well, tomorrow's another day. Maybe things will look better then.

Update - 12/22: Nope, they don't. But this is kind of fun.

Edited on 12/22 to get rid of odd characters and a few mistakes and typos, the kind you only notice well after something is published, and to add the additional comment.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

As I Walk This Earth...

...I see:
  • a Jaguar in a parking structure in Pasadena, and in its back seat - a physician's coat, two tennis rackets, and a "straight to video" Steven Seagal DVD.
  • a small herd of deer grazing along side the 57 Freeway.
  • that both of the dogs of the semi-homeless guy who patrols Glendora avenue are wearing USC bandanas. The bandwagon is becoming very crowded.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Now That's Comedy

I like it, sort of, when I go to write a blog post and someone beats me to it, especially when they do it better than I would have. In that spirit, you should go read this post by Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly covering the White House's conversion from propaganda to stand up comedy.

Hilzoy begins with this winner from the President in answer to a questions about the Administration's assertion that the US would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq:
"I think we were welcomed, but it was not a peaceful welcome".
Wow, I mean, wow. I thought the President was at his best two years ago when the search of post war Iraq turned up no nuclear or biological weapons and he responded by asserting that our forces have discovered "clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction program related activities". (And go see Brad DeLong's post on this for maximum snark).

Hilzoy has several other comedic gems, including the President asserting Tom DeLay's innocence, which last I checked, is an "ongoing criminal matter" while refusing to address the Valerie Plame case because it is... wait for it... an "ongoing criminal matter". Comedy gold I tell you.

But Hilzoy didn't include the best line of the week. On Monday, Interior Secretary Gail Norton was shilling once again for opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The Washington Post reported her saying...

"ANWR would supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years," she told a friendly audience at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, "New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years, California for 16 years or New Hampshire for 315 years."

So how many years would ANWR's oil keep the whole country fueled up?

Norton balked at the question. "When you look at it for the whole country, you really get somewhat of a deceiving picture."
A "deceiving picture" indeed. Now that's comedy.

They're here all week. In fact, they'll be here until January, 2009. That noise you just heard was John Stewart and the writers of the Daily Show dropping to their knees to give thanks.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Linkage XXV

Bookmark This for Later The Chronicle of Higher Education recently hosted an online discussion about academic procrastination with researcher Joseph Farrari. Kind of ironic that they're doing it on the Internet. No wait, let me answer this IM first... (via Henry at Crooked Timber).

War on Terrierism Jamesey links to and breaks down the White House's Christmas video wherein the President explains the meaning of the holiday to his dogs Barney and Mrs. Beazley. Jamesey is unimpressed with the production values and says that in addressing his pets, the President "...speaks to them like he speaks to people when talking about terrorists".

"Does this go with this?" I can't remember where I first saw this, but go checkout Color Blender. This amazing site allows you to create a specific color by blending red, green, and blue, or you can specify a color using Pantone numbers and such, and then it will give you up to five other complementary colors.

Canções de David Remember those cool Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs that popped up throughout the film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizou"? Neither do I, because I haven't seent he movie yet, but Geoff and Shea and Matt and Josh (well not Josh so much) told me about them. We now, you can hear the full versions on Seu Jorge's The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. (via Marginal Revolution)

"African or European?" Via THN at Making Light, the question can finally be answered: Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow. Man, I love the internet.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In Praise of Self-Deprecation

by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservation.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer-whale's heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Group of Death

The groupings and schedule for the 2006 World Cup were announced today.

The US was drawn into a group with European powers Italy and the Czech Republic along with Ghana, the top side from Africa. All four teams are at least pretty good, and only two will advance to the knock out rounds. A true "group of death".

The US play their group matches on the mornings of: Monday, June 12; Saturday, June 17; and Thursday, June 22. Please do not try to contact me on any of those days. In fact, I will be mostly unavailable most mornings from June 11 through July 9.

That is all.

Boycott the Megachurches?

Is there a fifth column in the secularists war on Christmas? The New York Times reports that at least nine megachurches have decided to cancel Sunday worship services on Christmas Sunday.

The first year I was a pastor back in the day, Christmas fell on Sunday and one of the women in church cluelessly (I thought) said, "We're not having church that day are we? Christmas is a family day". Now the leaders of leading churches are saying the same thing.

Me, I wish they were saying this (from the Times article):
"I see this in many ways as a capitulation to narcissism, the self-centered, me-first, I'm going to put me and my immediate family first agenda of the larger culture," said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. "If Christianity is an evangelistic religion, then what kind of message is this sending to the larger culture - that worship is an optional extra?"

So here's the latest list of recommended Christian responses to the holiday season:
  • Calling down fire and brimstone on retailers who say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" - check.
  • Insisting that pre-Christian northern European customs and rites which have been incorporated into Christmas celebrations be vigorously maintained and supported by the State - check.
  • Putting up with all manner of sentimentality in the place of genuine spirituality because "It's the spirit of the season" - check.
  • Calling off worship because Christmas is really "a family time" - Check

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Boycott the White House?

As I noted in the post below, Christian culture warriors are making threats against companies which use phrases like "Season's Greetings" rather than "Merry Christmas". The usual mouth-breathing chorus of Donald Wildman and William Donohue has called for boycotts of Target and Lands End over the issue.

Now it turns out that the President and Mrs. Bush have once again sent out a Christmas card without any actual mention of Christmas! Only this year the forces of Good have noticed!

Joseph Farah who edits a conservative news website models the proper Christian response:
"Bush claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one. I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."
It took this for Mr. Farah to realize the President doesn't act like a Christian? William Donohue adds:
"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture."
the spirit, Bill. Merry Christmas one and all.

Update: Maybe there's a reason why the President and First Lady aren't wild about Christmas. Turns out that White House tradition has them hosting 26 Christmas parties in just 17 days. Wow.

Further Update: Faithful reader (and fellow LAR'er) Jeff writes: "26 parties in 17 days?!? Probably reminds him of college." Hee hee hee.

Christmas Music

We've got a real problem with Christmas music.

No, I'm not talking about the silly accusations of a secularist "War on Christmas" that Fox News shouters Bill O'Reilly and Jon Gibson have been yammering about. I'm talking about the music that passes for Christmas music.

Our culture's celebration of Christmas has lots of problems (Robert Gonzalez is making a list of commercials linking sex and Christmas), but I figure we've had some kind of problem ever since the early Christians decided to celebrate Jesus' birth during the time of the pagan soltice revels.

My point here is that Christmas is poorly served by it's music. Fred Clark at Slacktivist has two excellent posts (here and here) on Christmas music that are worth a read. (You'll learn that there is a John Waters Christmas CD!) especially his point that a great deal of "Christmas music" is actually "winter music". Growing up in Southern California, I always felt vaguely ashamed and disappointed that we didn't have proper Christmas weather. In adolescence, I used to argue with my family - "Shorts on Christmas" "Yes, shorts on Christmas. It's 88 degrees!".

Somewhere along the way I realized this had nothing to do with Christmas. Neither my insistence on wearing shorts nor the fetishizing of snow can or should be connected to Jesus. But then again, most of the "sacred" hymns also seem to miss the point of how the Bible tells the story of our Lord's birth.

Again, the indispensable Fred Clark points us in the right direction. He wonders why more songs don't take off from the original Christmas Hymn - Mary's Song (Luke 1:46-55):
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.
What would take for God's people to trade snow, Santa and sentimentality for the radical reversal of priorities heralded by Jesus birth?

I wish I knew. I wish I knew.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Linkage XXIV

Txt tlk 2? Lol! The Washington Post recently commented on a new trend: famous literary works boiled down into text talk. Is this a new wave, the end of literate civilization, or just a new way to do Mad Libs?

Timberrrrrrr Via Boing Boing, and just in time for Christmas, plush toy lumberjack that converts into a werewolf. How cool is that?

Oops! My Bad Not only are we still torturing people, it looks like many of the people we are torturing are the wrong people. Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the CIA is investigating 32 possible "erroneous" extraordinary renditions, i.e. grabbing someone and secretly sending them to another country that is even less squeamish than we are to have them tortured. If you have the stomach and the time, read Katherine's post about all this at Obsidian Wings.

List of Lists, Table of Tables For your year end assessments of practically everything, point your browser to Rex Sorgatz site Fimoculous for the ultimate meta-list, or list of lists for 2005, including the Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers' Association (I've read two of the recipients ) and 50 Coolest Websites from Time - I've visited five. Only five?

Get Mashed or Die Trying Another breakthrough on the mash up front, a combination of Queen and 50 Cent from an outfit called Q-Unit. It features works entitled "This is How We Bite the Dust", "Bohemian Wanksta", and "We Will Rock You in Da Club", but sadly, they have not produced "Bohemian Ramsey". (Via BoingBoing)

Friday, December 02, 2005

What Hath Montgomery Street to Do with The Castro?

Something has gone wrong with my gaydar.

For a straight man, my gaydar works fairly well, perhaps aided by the fact that I like to cook and make catty comments about people's clothes. But today I was shocked by two things.

First I learned that some of the bribes received by disgraced Congressman Randy Cunningham were... Antiques! His stash included a 19th Century Louis Phillipe commode of all things. I mean if my congressman was caught with something like this, it would make sense, but not a true manly man like Cunningham.

But reading further, I learned that my gaydar was still intact. It seems that Cunningham liked to use his yacht, another perk of his corruption, to entertain the ladies:
"...he would change into pajama bottoms and a turtleneck sweater to entertain them with chilled champagne by the light of his favorite lava lamp."
Trust me on this. It's not the presence of the ladies that affirms Cunningham's heterosexuality. It's that no gay man would ever combine a lava lamp with a t-neck and pajamas.

The second bit of news came as a bit of a shock. James Dobson has declared that my bank, Wells Fargo, is gay. Or at least too gay friendly. Yesterday, Dobson bravely announced that his organization, Focus on the Family, was severing ties with Wells because "... their corporate headquarters is (sic) in San Francisco, and they are heavily committed to the gay and lesbian agenda." I had no idea.

I mean, I know they're centered in San Francisco. I've toured their museum on the first floor of their headquarters building, and I can assure that the museum showed no homosexual influence. I know there was that guy who worked at the Wells branch in the supermarket that we use sometimes (the branch, not the guy - shame on you), but it seems to me that more than a few young guys who work at bank branches play for the other team, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, this comes as a real shock.

I guess I should honor Dr. Dobson for his bold and principled stand. I've thought a lot about corporate responsibility lately, and have wondered how my spending and investments should reflect my concerns about the environment, child labor, Sudan, Tom DeLay, sustainable agriculture and the like. But I haven't given much thought to withholding my business from a company because that company wants to sell products and services to homosexuals. I somehow thought that those other issues, because the effect the quality of life for millions and millions of people, should matter more. But I guess they don't.

So thank you, Dr. Dobson. I'll never look at my ATM card the same way again.

PS. Perhaps we should all boycott Blogger as well. The spellcheck feature recognizes "homosexuality" but not "heterosexuality". And aren't they headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area? Hmm.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Thoughts on the President's Strategy for Victory in Iraq

There is an old preacher's joke in which someone comes across the guy's sermon notes and finds written in the margin:

Logic and facts weak here - shout louder

But wait, I've got more.

When the President says he has a "strategy for victory" I'm reminded of Voltaire's famous quip about the Holy Roman Empire.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I Like This - Randy Cunningham

We've all heard too many non-apology apologies lately. You know the ones where the person talks about how they're sorry but also tries to contextualize or excuse what they've done. The thing is, you don't get to absolve or forgive yourself. When you mess up, all you get to do is to say that what you've done is wrong. It works even better if the wrongdoer can name what it is about him/herself that allowed them to do what they did.

Disgraced San Diego Congressman Randy Cunningham did just that today. Cunningham was caught taking bribes to steer military contracts to a particular company. Today he pled guilty to charges of bribery and resigned from congress. What Cunningham did was awful, and I suspect that he is just the tip of the iceberg with all of the Abramov scandals coming to fruition. But I must honor the way that Cunningham admitted his guilt today. No hedging, no blaming Democrats or vindictive D.A.'s. He said what he did and took it like a man:
I am resigning from the House of Representatives because I'’ve compromised the trust of my constituents.

When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public -- even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is -- I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.

Some time ago, I asked my lawyers to inform the U.S. Attorney Carol Lam that I would like to plead guilty and begin serving a prison term. Today is the culmination of that process. I will continue to cooperate with the government'’s ongoing investigation to the best of my ability.

In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Viet Nam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity. I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.

The first step in that journey is to admit fault and apologize. The next step is to face the consequences of my actions like a man. Today, I have taken the first step and, with God'’s grace, I will soon take the second.

Thank you.

Shame on you, Congressman, for what you did, but at the same time, I hope and pray that your second step goes well.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Would you rather..."

Wendy and I are helping Chris do a major clear out and reorganization of this room today. We've bought a new desk and dresser for him and it's time to get the new stuff in and old stuff out. The problem is that Chris absolutely hates doing this sort of thing. After a few minutes of sorting and tossing, he looked physically ill.

While we were working a few minutes ago, Mormon missionaries came by. I spoke with them for a few minutes and then when I was about to say good-bye I had a brain flash. I excused myself for a moment then went and asked Chris, "Would you rather continue on with your room or go talk to the Mormon missionaries for awhile?"

He chose his room.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Unintentional Comedy

While making one of my very occasional visits to my blog stats, I note that someone arrived here via a Google search for...
bohemian ramsey lyrics queen
To his or her credit, the searcher was from a non-english speaking country. Amazingly, I only come in second on the Google list.

Public Diplomacy

In September, Administration official Karen Hughes made her first trip abroad to engage in "public diplomacy". Hughes, a close aide to the President, was appointed recently to a State Department post and given the task of rebuilding the U.S.'s image, especially in the Arab/Islamic world. Her first attempt didn't go so well.

Perhaps our government should look to another possible source of goodwill abroad - American soccer players. A fellow member of the L.A. Riot Squad, known as SpursUSA, gave this report from England of his trip Saturday to watch Reading FC's 3-1 victory over visiting Hull FC. Reading features Americans Bobby Convey, a midfielder, and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann in their starting eleven:
We watched the two Americans play and Bobby Convey scored the opening goal. He was clearly the MOTM (ed. "Man of the Match"). Brilliant breakaway and finish and Hahnemann played great between the posts.

The supporters chanted: "ole, ole, ole, ole - Convey, Convey"

For Hahnemann it was even simpler: "USA, USA, USA"

Marcus would look over at the crowd and they would all cheer. There were USA flags all over the ground (ed. "stadium") and they were the most popular men on the pitch!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Chris Makes the Team

Chris learned today that he has made the freshman soccer team at his high school. He is very happy and I am very, very proud.

Chris started his soccer career in the U-6 division of Turlock Youth Soccer in 1995. I think he had three touches on the ball all season, and was the only kid on the team not allowed to take goal kicks when he played keeper. He didn't score a goal until he was nine, and was never an All-Star in our weak city league until this year.

Chris is shaping up to be a classic late-blooming athlete. But this means that both he and we, his parents, have had to swallow a number of hard episodes over the year. When he was nine and playing baseball, he was the kid whom when he came up with the game on the line, one parent remarked too loudly, "Oh no, he's coming up". When he was twelve, he kicked a ground ball in the outfield and a parent came to the dugout and demanded the manager take him out, for Chris's benefit, of course.

But all that was prelude. Last summer, when Chris was looking forward to high school, we discussed how he wanted to be involved. He said that making the soccer team was one of his goals and I told him that I didn't think it was very likely unless he would put in extra work. Well, he took that to heart, and has trained and worked out six days a week since late June. It paid off in our youth league, where he was the leading goal scorer on our championship team, and it has now paid off with a spot on the high school team. I really admire the way he responded.

I was nervous for him going into the tryouts, but it wasn't about whether he'd make the team. I was worried because his tryout was the first thing he has worked really hard for that had the possibility of rejection or failure, and I was nervous about how he would handle that if it happened. Now I guess we'll have to wait for something else to see how he handles a significant disappointment. Tonight, I get to watch him deal with success, and I like that a lot.
Edited on 11/21 to make the last paragraph a little better.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iraq and the Truth

The Administration is continuing their push-back against the charges that they manipulated and misrepresented intelligence and their intentions in the run-up to the war in Iraq. (Note the double aliteration in that sentence? Pretty snappy, huh?)

Last night, Vice-President Cheney responded to the charges of dishonesty by essentially saying to his critics, "I know you are, but what about me?" I imagine a few people will find this persuasive.

I have largely stayed away from the issue of Iraq on this blog. While I comment on things that have a political dimension, there is usually a humanitarian angle (hurricanes, Darfur, torture) and my focus is on how Christian leaders are or are not responding and how they are advising the Administration.

But here are two pieces that I think are worth reading as our country begins to examine the truthfulness of our President. The first is an article from the Knight-Ridder media group, In Challenging the War's Critics, Administration Tinkers with Truth. Read this carefully and I think you will find that the writers have judiciously evaluated the President's assertions against the known facts and found them wanting.

Second is a hypothetical speech from Edward at Obsidian Wings, The Case for War (sans Smoke and Mirrors) which is what the President could have said if he had been willing to be a little fairer with the facts. Edward sets out to answer this question: "If the administration had made the case for war without any exaggeration, what would they have had at their disposal to convince the nation to back an invasion?" I wish we had leaders who spoke to us like this.

Go read both, and then keep these articles in mind as you listen to Bush, Cheney, Hadley and their surrogates continue their push-back. You can keep other things in mind if you like as well, like the facts that Bill Clinton committed adultery, that Michael Moore is fat, that al-Qaida are really bad, that the President prays with his wife, that Saddam was really bad, that in politics people often twist things, but the current question our country is establishing the facts of how we were led to go to war, so don't lose sight of the facts.

Life Imitates The Onion - Again!

The satirists at The Onion just can't stay ahead of the game.

Last week, they noted the passing of Rosa Parks with an article titled, "Now We Can Finally Put Civil Rights Behind Us". In a mock quote at the top of the article, the President says:

"During today's service, America not only bade farewell to a seamstress from Alabama, America buried the idea of civil rights itself. Today, that long-ago chapter of American history is slammed tightly shut, never to be reopened."
With yesterday came the report from the Washington Post that prosecutions of gender and racial discrimination cases have declined by 40% during the Bush administration, and that the career lawyers are leaving the Justice Departments Civil Rights division in droves.

Just imagine what they'll do now that Rosa Parks is out of the way.

Update: Well, one of the things they could do would be to have the political appointees at the top of the Justice department overrule their career lawyers, and sign off on a new Gerogia election law which disproportionately effected black voters.

And, in the interest of evenhandedness, my friend Jim points to the guys at Powerline, who argue that the drop in prosecutions by the Bush Administration and the numbers leaving the Justice department are either coincidental or signs that discrimination is abating in America (but apparently, not in Georgia) or that the states are taking care of this.

I report, you decide.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Kids These Days

Gregg Koskela writes in wonder while sitting near three college students and watching them "multi-task" with their laptops (multiple chats, email, and "work"), live conversation, and cel phones. I'm dubious about whether this is really multi-tasking (and so is one of Gregg's commenters) - I suspect it is really a matter of doing a number of things really badly, as anyone who has read a transcript of a chat or overheard a cel conversation can attest.

In a similar vein, an anthropologist in Japan is contending that the behavior of groups of teens in his country is analogous to that of chimps. In his study, Keitai wo Motta Saro (Monkeys with Mobile Phones), Nobuo Masataka says, according to this report, "...that young Japanese have lost the ability to discern between public and private space. He adds that they have formed what he calls the dearuki-zoku (out and about tribe)".

The report continues, "...the actions of the dearuki-zoku closely resemble behavior patterns in chimpanzees, which tend to travel in groups, walking around for a long time without going to any specific place, then eating and disposing of their wastes in the same place before bedding down on piles of grass whenever and wherever the inclination takes them." This requires no further comment.

Gregg concludes his post by saying, "...maybe I can't claim the title "techno geek" any more". Gregg, are you sure you want to?

Linkage XXIII

White House Goes Green Well, not really. But they have embraced recycling. Sadly No breaks down the President's Veteran's Day push-back speech and shows that large parts of it are exactly the same as a speech he gave in October.

Progress Take a look at this, a 1975 500kb hard drive! (It's huge). I know it's lame to be amazed by stuff like this, but I am. I still remember buying my first 30mb hard drive in 1990 for $500. I was feeling pretty slick because I'd gone the whole way and not settled for the 20mb drive. It was nine inches square, 3 inches tall, and the fan sounded like a jet engine. (via BoingBoing).

On to Tucson Mark Sarvas keeps a wonderful L.A.-centric literary blog called The Elegant Variation. He is also preparing to ride a century (a 100+ mile bike race/ride) for the first time. His account of his training and his first brush with being an athlete as a man in his forties is both humble and moving. Good luck, Mark.

Old Skool Meets New Skool From BoingBoing, How to make a duct tape iPod case.

One Nation, under... nothing? Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution links to the 1796 Treaty between the U.S. and the Bey of Tripoli, whose ships (the Barbary Pirates) had been hassling American merchant ships. He quotes the eleventh article of the treaty, which begins, "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...". Hmm. The "Christian America" types like to tell us we have departed from the intentions of the Founders. Well, here are their intentions, in their own words, and they seem pretty clear to me.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Gerald Wilson

Aside from the post below, I'm taking a blog break today in honor my colleague Gerald Wilson, who died suddenly on Friday. Gerald was an excellent scholar and teacher, and was an acknowledged expert in the Psalms. He had been particularly generous and helpful to me in a project I'm working on in that area. He will be missed in many circles.

We'll return to our usual programming of soccer, ranting, and reviews soon, probably tomorrow.

Do Something About Torture

Further Google and Lexis/Nexis searches show no hits for "Evangelical leaders" James Dobson, Ted Haggard, Richard Land, and Rick Warren and "torture". But Sojourners, an evangelical group dedicated to social action and justice, has begun a campaign asking Christians to "take action to reject torture, no exceptions". (Their ad is on the left).

I have clicked on this link and registered my support. Please do the same. (Edit: the link is apparently specific to my email address. Please change it to your own when you click the link. Thanks, Ashley)

I am embarrassed and angry that torture has not been addressed by public Christian organizations and leaders. I imagine a few may say that this is not the kind of issue we should be addressing, that this is not a "pro-family" concern, but let me observe that the constellation of issues that receives the title "pro-family" has been very elastic when applied to issues the Republicans support. And if you doubt that torture applies to families, go read some or all of the horrifying posts by Hilzoy and Katherine at Obsidian Wings addressing U.S. Senate's attempt to hollow out the McCain amendment by offering another amendment to strip habeas corpus rights from the people we have locked away in Cuba. These stories are so awful that you will find it difficult even to read to the end.

I just cannot believe we are having this discussion in our country.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Linkage XXII

Cool Stuff A German artist put a projector on a subway car, so that as the train travels, the passengers see an underwater scene. Here's what they saw, and here's how it was done. (via Jamesey).

It's the Snacks That's the answer to the question of "Why are Americans so fat?" in a book by Eric Oliver, Fat Politics. Here's a review by Steven Levitt and some comments from Tyler Cowan. It's not the supersizing, it's the fries with ranch at 3:30 pm or the Cap'n Crunch straight from the box at 1:23 am that does it.

Alternative Candidates Now that "Arnold has lost all credibility as a new kind of leader, maybe it's time to look elsewhere. Here's a campaign poster for failed NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, and here's the campaign site for General Zod of the Superman movies, which has the nice caption, "A Nation Kneels before Zod", and a Q&A which includes the General's thoughts on Nicolas Cage's decision to name his son Kal-El.

Open Wide This is about sword swallowing. I mean, everyone thinks about it from time to time, but when was the last time you read a peer-reviewed article analyzing the medical risks? Well, you can read about it here. (via BoingBoing)

Dog, Gone? Classic L.A. hotdog place, Tail 'o the Pup, is losing it's lease, but it may be OK. This hotdog stand is one of the few remaining examples of a particularly L.A. style of buildings which look like what they're selling - hot dog stands that look like hot dogs or donut shots that look like donuts. This would be the second time Tail o' the Pup has moved. It was relocated when a hotel was built on its first site, and now it looks like it may be on its way to Westwood. And btw, it's not a bad hot dog, analogous to Cupid's, but not on the level of Pinks, and certainly not up the level of The Stand.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rant of all Rants - Everything that Makes Me Mad All in One Place - Aaarrrrgh!

Wow! I come home tonight, flip on my computer and what do I find? Torture justified, with Bill Frist saying it doesn't matter what happens in our gulag, that what is really wrong is that someone talked about it, the President following through on his threat to veto any bill that bans torture, while a supposedly mainstream blogger argues that opposing torture makes one "pro-terrorist rights". (Oh, and go read this too). I go on to find Darfur genocide bills being stalled at the Administration's request, Pat Robertson on the loose again, calling down God's judgment on Dover, PA, and that Frank McCourt still owns the Dodgers.

My head explodes!

I can't even rant. Just follow the links.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Questions for the President and Evangelicals

On Monday, when asked a direct question about why his Administration has advocated the use of torture, President Bush responded:
Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.
Of course, his Administration has, I'm thinking of the most charitable way to describe this, redefined what the law is, and has also asserted that the President is literally above the law when it has anything to do with his role in leading the American military.

But since the President has made a clear and unambiguous assertion, "We do not torture", then in the face of clear evidence that we are torturing people, it only makes sense that he should answer some questions about just what he means. Andrew Sullivan has a list:
If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the lee-way given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?
Sullivan goes on to wonder about what this says about the President:
Watching and listening to this man, it seems to me we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American servicemembers. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging. But there is, of course, an easy way forward for the president if this is truly what he believes: support the Congress in backing the president's own position. Pass the McCain Amendment. Given what he said today, why on earth would he not?
Evangelical Christians have intensely supported this President. They like to talk about how he is "one of us". Our evangelical "leaders" were ready to mobilize us to support the confirmation of a manifestly unqualified Harriet Meiers to the Supreme Court, but those same war rooms and phone trees and radio shows are silent about torture.

The United States is torturing people. And the Evangelical response is... [crickets, crickets]

A search of the website for James Dobson's Family Research Council shows no mention of torture or the McCain amendment, but they are all over the Alito nomination. The website for the National Association of Evangelicals still leads with a tribute to noted evangelical Ronald Reagan, which includes the statement, "Reagan saved the world", but nothing about torture. Ironically, there is a prominent link to a policy paper called "For the Health of the Nation", which tries to map out how Christians should interact with the state. It doesn't mention condemning torture, and to be fair, that paper was drafted before the torture issue became a big deal, but don't you think it might be time for an addendum? Does a healthy nation torture people?

A Lexis/Nexis search of individual Evangelical "leaders" comes up empty, too. Searches using "torture" and "Charles Colson" or "Rick Warren" or "Ted Haggard" (President of the NAE) or "Richard Land", (President of the Southern Baptists) return no hits. A search for "torture" and "James Dobson" returns 13 hits. Most have to do with his horrible comment from last summer that stem cell researchers were like Nazi doctors. Curiously, while Dobson chose to use the word "torture" to condemn stem cell research, he has not used the word "torture" to condemn "torture" by the Administration he so ardently supports.

So I'm calling out the evangelical leaders. Speak up. Now. Put your phone banks, email systems and radio shows to use in favor of the McCain amendment, which will prohibit U.S. forces and agents from torturing people. Prove to Americans and the world that Evangelicals care about something more than abortion, sex, and whatever the Republicans want us to care about. Prove to them that the hearts of American Christians are big enough that we think torturing people in our name should be illegal. Can we at least do that? Speak up. Now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A few days ago, my friend Gregg Koskela noted on his blog, "Did you know if you do a Yahoo search for "Jack Russell puppy stains on carpet"”...my blog has the number 2 hit? Who knew I was so knowledgeable?" I was very impressed.

Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that if you do a Google Blog Search for "California election", that out of 39,504 posts mine is...


My Thoughts on the California Election

Maybe (read this), No, No, a thousand times No, No, No, No, and No.

Update: Hey! Waddaya know, I went eight for eight. I did that once in a slo-pitch softball game (and Mark Perry kept hitting balls into the gap and making me score from first so I was really tired afterwards) but I've never done that in an election.

It's an odd feeling.

Monday, November 07, 2005

What Did You Do Last Tuesday?

Last Tuesday was our son Chris's fifteenth birthday. We started the day with gifts (his main gift was a Juventus jersey, which took three trips to the soccer store to get the right shirt in the right size) and then we were off to school. In the morning, I discussed the Jacob stories of Genesis and gave a lecture on the history of the ancient near-east, focusing on the Iron Age on, to my Exodus/Deuteronomy class. I had a very nice lunch with my wife Wendy. In the afternoon, my 1&2 Samuel classes discussed the way David is introduced via two episodes in 1 Samuel 16. The students were particularly sharp in one of the Samuel classes, and he we had a really good discussion about why God seems to chose rather unsavory characters in Genesis.

After school, I met Chris for a little personal soccer training (he was getting ready for tryouts for the High School team, which began Friday), and then we went out to dinner to finish the day. Katie told some great stories during dinner. It was a nice day for me, involving almost all of the things I like. I even had the highest number of hits ever on my blog last Tuesday.

On that same day, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a weekly lunch for Republican Senators. After ordering all staffers out of the room, Mr. Cheney made an "impassioned plea" in favor of torture. (And don't miss Laura Rozin's comments on this. She is exactly right).

What did you do last Tuesday?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Linkage XXI

Tipping Point? A guy out in Westlake Village heard a rumor that Hummer sales are going so badly that the local dealer was having to stash his bloated inventory off the lot just to keep from freaking out his sales staff and the buyers. So he did a little detective work and found 300 Hummers stashed away, and posted pictures on his blog. (Via LA Observed)

Ehud - tov, Omri - ra From The Revealer, an article on a list developed by Israeli rabbis of approved and disapproved names. Bad kings, like Omri, are out, along with goy-ish names - No Jennifers here! - and any theophoric names, ruling out not only names with the "yh" (from YHWH - the divine name) but also any with "el", the more generic word for God (or G-d, as these folks would prefer).
Note: I link to this not because I think what the rabbis are doing is silly. I don't, and I think, given the evidence, that quite a few people could have used some guidance before they named their kids. No, the real reason I linked to this is because I have dying to use the word "theophoric" in a sentence for some time. And now I have.
Shocking, Just Shocking Sometimes, there are good reasons for national stereotypes. Americans are fat, and Norwegians are polite. Now comes a study which confirms that Australians like to drink. Fifty-eight percent of Australians surveyed agreed with the statement that having too much to drink is "simply part of the Australian way of life". (via Crooked Timber)

Wow! Now That's a Bad Visual President Bush recently made a visit to some students at Howard University, a historically black college in D.C. The planning for the event did not go well, and students were surprised to know they were locked out of the cafeteria because it was in the same building the President was in. Later, campus security told angry students that because of the security need brought on by the visit "...if they wanted to eat they'd have to come back when the president and first lady were gone, then go to a service door at the rear of the dining hall and ask for a chicken plate to go." Wow! I mean, wow!

56.07 cups That's how much coffee I would have to drink in the 12oz cups I use at home to die from all the caffeine according to this nifty calculator. You plug in your weight and your favorite beverage and you get your red line. I've got a little more slack with Diet Coke - it would take 329.12 cans for me to peg out, but only 205.7 cans of Jolt cola and 185.13 cans of Red Bull. (via BoingBoing)

Friday, November 04, 2005

"Narrow-minded Idealists"

Since U2 were in SoCal this past week, it's time to hear from Bono (in Rolling Stone):

What do you think of the evangelical movement that we see in the United States now?

I'm wary of faith outside of actions. I'm wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.

Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn't believe it. It almost ruined it for me -- 'cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS.

I've started to see this community as a real resource in America. I have described them as "narrow-minded idealists." If you can widen the aperture of that idealism, these people want to change the world. They want their lives to have meaning.

I think this is exactly right. And I love his use of "aperture", because what the Christian community suffers from is not a lack of passion but a lack of perspective and vision. Bono is right - many, many Christians do want to change the world, but that desire is being focused on too small a target.

C.S. Lewis once remarked, but I'll have to paraphrase because I can't track down the exact quote, that God is grieved not that we ask for too much, but that we are happy with so little. I think God longs to empower his people to turn this world upside down, but instead we're told by our "evangelical leaders" that the most important thing we do is elect people who will appoint the right kind of judges, to blindly support U.S. foreign policy (as long as a Republican is President), and to pass laws to make sure that gay people can't visit each other in the hospital.

No wonder Christians seem so angry when engaged in the social and political arena. We know we've been transformed by God in order to help transform the world, and instead we're told to take that passion and cram it into these little, tiny packages which are devoid of idealism. A steady diet of that is bound to make you cranky.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Linkage XX

You've been wrong, literally According to this article in Slate, the word "literally" has evolved, twice. Initially, it meant what we mean by it, but in the 19th century, it took on a meaning closer to "figuratively", and now it's shifted back. And my friend Robert has some rather apt observations about another word the meaning of which seems to be changing: interrogation.

Can You Dig It? Via BoingBoing, the lyrics to "Shaft" in Chaucerian English - "ye dammne righte".

Activist Judges This article from the New York Times has been bouncin' 'round the internets for a few days. It reports a study that tries to figure out just who are the real activists among the current Supreme Court. It uses votes to overturn acts of Congress as the measuring stick. So who is the most activist judge? President Bush's and James Dobson's favorite: Clarence Thomas. Who is the least activist? Liberal David Breyer. One more talking point of the Right proves to be just that - talk.

Pulp Plato? Reservoir Republic? Plato's Republic done in the style of Quentin Tarantino. I'd quote it, but, you know, some of the words are not very nice. Via Teresa at Making Light, who also has some fun things to say about this.

Yikes Also from BoingBoing, Giant Drinking Birds, which are giant (like six feet tall) versions of those drinking birds which use evaporation to peck at a glass of water. Stunning.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I Like This - Leonard Cohen

Blessed are you who has given each man a shield of loneliness so that he cannot forget you. You are the truth of loneliness, and only your name addresses it. Strengthen my loneliness that I may be healed in your name, which is beyond all consolations that are uttered on this earth. Only in your name can I stand in the rush of time, only when this loneliness is yours can I lift my sins toward your mercy
- Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rosa Parks

At the U.S. Capital building yesterday, over 30,000 people paid their respects to Rosa Parks, and another 2,500 packed a D.C. church for her memorial service. The Washington Post has a moving story about the services - go read it.  Please.

As I thought about Mrs. Parks life, I was grateful for two ways that she had helped me, beyond the obvious way that she helped all of us, even white people, especially white people, live in a more just society. The first came when I was reading her obituary last week and I realized that she was the same age I am now when she refused to give up her seat on the bus in 1955.

Mrs. Parks' refusal to give up her seat was not spontaneous, and prior to that day, she had extensive training in non-violent protest. The early civil rights workers knew they had to strongly govern themselves so as not to rise to the inevitable provocations and cruelty they would receive. In the commonly told version of the story of that day in Birmingham, she was just too tired to get up.  In Mrs. Parks own version of her story, however, she said, "...the only tired I was, was tired of giving in". (This obituary in the LA Times is beautiful, too. Please go read it  I'll wait.)

I was helped by both parts of what Mrs. Parks did, by her refusal to give in and by her willingness to reign herself in.  I've now lived long enough to know, like Mrs. Parks, that things don't get better unless someone speaks up and acts.  I've also lived long enough to know that real change is never easy.  Mrs. Parks reached the point where she knew she had to chose between resignation and action, and I struggle with the choice between engagement and anger, cynicism and withdrawal. I can only hope that I can find a fraction of her courage and learn how to be "...tired of giving in".

I am also helped by Mrs. Parks' commitment to her non-violent training.  She could have made her protest years earlier, but, by her own admission, she wasn't ready. It was only after her training, and only after she felt she could reign in her own temperament (she had been, she said, a "feisty" girl), that she was ready to refuse to give up her seat.  My temperament and sensibilities make speaking out rather easy.  What's wrong seems rather vivid to me, and I kind of like saying something about it.  What's hard for me is making sure that when I say or do something, I'm compelled by the issue and led by the Spirit, and not merely by the habit of speaking out.  Mrs. Parks' example gives me encouragement, but it also challenges me to make sure that I'm not just willing but ready to say or do something.

My greatest personal thanks is for the way Mrs. Parks helped my daughter. Katie has had bad luck with friends. There are many little girls who are kind, but in early elementary school Katie could not seem to meet them. Among our neighbors and her classmates, she seemed to always be the nice one among some not very nice kids, and this began to wear on her.

There is an odd tendency among school age girls that allows the least kind to set the tone for everyone else. When Katie was in third grade (she's a sixth grader,now), things were particularly bad in her circle of girls, but third grade was also when she first learned about Rosa Parks.  She admired the way Mrs. Parks refused to be put down as a girl, and was especially taken by the line I quoted above, that she "...was tired of giving in".

Katie wrote a poem about Rosa Parks that won awards at her school and school district. It was really nice for her to be honored, but it pleased me more to see the courage she took from Mrs. Parks' example. We spoke about Mrs. Parks' death last week,  and I quoted the line about her being "...tired of giving in". Katie reminded me that she had used that line in her poem. She went on to tell me how that line has continued to guide her and encourage her when she has found herself in tough situations. I was amazed, and thankful.

So, Mrs. Parks, thank you for your life, and your example.  Well done.

Monday, October 31, 2005

"Expanding the Circle of Caring"

I like it when others say what I've been thinking better than I. Eric Umansky writes in The Coming Deaths in Pakistan:
One of the things we do in life to keep ourselves sane is assign higher value to those closer to, and more like, us: My brother is worth more to me than my cousin whom I value more than my fellow citizen whom I value more than, well, a random human-being on the planet. I don't think it is always this way, and I don't think it should be.
Neither do I. Go read the whole thing, and then go write a check, and then go pray if you're somebody who does that.

Don't Mess with the Soccer Gods

On Saturday (and part of Sunday), Chris and I made the seven hundred and fifteen mile round trip to San Jose to see the L.A. Galaxy play the San Jose Earthquakes in the first round of the MLS playoffs. We made the trip with two friends from the L.A. Riot Squad, Jamesey and Mr. A, driving there in the "Cadillac of minivans", and ended up joining about two hundred other Galaxy supporters in the southeast corner of the stadium.

The first round of the playoffs in MLS is played over two games, home and away, total goals. The Galaxy won the first match 3-1 the previous week, which meant they would advance with another win, a tie, or a loss by one goal. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, with Ned Grabavoy of the Galaxy scoring the equalizer right in front of us, so the Galaxy advanced 4-2 on total goals.

The Galaxy played really well at home and well enough to get the draw on Saturday. But here's the real key to the Galaxy victory:

The Earthquakes were pounding the Galaxy in the first half, and shortly before the half ends, the Galaxy gave up a bad goal, and so now only led by one in the aggregate score. At half time, I am consumed with dark thoughts. First, I have no confidence in our coach, Steve Sampson. Sampson came to the Galaxy infamous for having panicked as coach of the U.S. National team during the 1998 World Cup, resulting in the US finishing last in the 32 team field. Sampson carries himself as if he invented soccer, but all year the Galaxy have underachieved under his often inexplicable direction. Second, given the run of play, I was fully expecting the Quakes to knock one in early in the second half, which would lead to more goals, a total collapse, and the ugly fact that I had driven all that way only to witness the Galaxy's elimination from the playoffs. But then I noticed, for the first time, a giant bedsheet sign, I mean like 15' x 15' in the corner opposite us which said:

Don't Stop Believin'

At that moment, like John Wesley at Aldersgate, my heart was strangely warmed, because I thought, in fact, I knew...
"You can't quote Journey unironically. You can't tempt fate or provoke the soccer gods like that".
I don't get these flashes of insight often. But when they come, you have to honor them, and so I began to feel encouraged. And then, AND THEN, they actually played the song over the PA system, as if they were taking it seriously, as if they actually believed that Steven Perry's histrionic whine could lead their team to victory.

This was real turning point. It did not occur in the Galaxy locker room at halftime, nor on the feet of goal scorer Ned Grabavoy or Landon Donovan, who made the incisive pass, nor in the hands of the Galaxy's keeper Kevin Hartman, who had several brilliant second half saves, nor even within the giant head of our worthless coach Steve Sampson. The game and the series turned when they played that song.

Look, it's OK to like Journey. (Well, really it's not, but I'm feeling expansive today). But you cannot rely upon Journey. Journey can be the source of vaguely embarrassing memories from the 80's and they may continue to serve as the source lame requests for "Love Songs on the KOST", a cheesey evening radio show here in SoCal that does dedications -"Hi. Can you play 'Open Arms' by Journey? Send it out from Megan to Manuel, and to tell him that even though we've had our troubles, I think our love can overcome this, and I'm waiting for you with open arms." - but Journey cannot be relied upon as a source of soccer power.

Afterwards, I shared my flash of insight with the gathered Riot Squaders, and one of our more literate members responded, "So the soccer gods must hate Journey more than they hate Steve Sampson".

They most certainly do.

And that was that.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Linkage XIX

Cool, Cool Stuff Teresa of Making Light reads a new "craft" magazine, Make. Forget about articles on sponge painting your walls and knitting. This mag tells you how to make a cigar box guitar, Christmas cookies that explode, and has a whole bunch of coffee hacks. Finally someone is telling us how to make genuinely useful crafts.

Warning: Event-Horizon Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing has discovered an amazing new game, which he fears could ruin his life. He calls it a "geeky card game that rewires your brain". The game Set.

Crunk. Disposable Junk. But No Funk. Brendan Koerner at Slate breaks down the theme songs for the Astros and White Sox (edge to the 'stros) while ruminating on the broad genre of sports inspired raps and songs. Be sure to check out this link to CWA (Cheeseheads with Attitude) whose debut "Straight Outta Wisconsin" actually moved units, as they say, and spawned several other releases.

Use Your Computer to Lose Weight No seriously. I forget where I found this, but I give you: The Hacker's Diet - How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition. This is no joke.

One Star Review Amazon.com gives their readers a chance to review books on their website. Matthew Baldwin of The Morning News wades through review of classics and excerpts reviews which gave the books only one star. Both really funny and kinda sad. (Via Marginal Revolution)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Out

I had a really witty post idea but in doing the search to come up with the quotes, I found that somebody had already written it. Credit given where credit is due. Go take a look here. (I would have added a quote about Bernard Kerik, but he added one about Vladimir Putin, which I missed the first time around).

My friend Robert also has a good take on what this all means - he even cites C.S. Lewis, so I know he can't be far from the truth.

Rant: Ministers on TV and Film

So Tuesday night, we're all home and we sit down for our weekly gathering to watch Gilmore Girls, something our schedules have allowed us to do three times in seven weeks.

I really like Gilmore Girls. Each episode has more good writing than a full season of some of the more typical sit-coms. The writers have trusted their audience enough to actually have the characters develop over the show's run, and have even trusted us enough to begin to show us dark side of Lorelai and Rory's personalities. (At least I think that's what's happening). In fact, I like the show so much I've been working on a critical reading of this year's episodes, but I haven't seen enough yet to make a fair judgment of where the contretemps between Lorelai and Rory is supposed to take us. (But then I remembered that I had forgotten about Television Without Pity, which is already doing the job really well, so maybe I won't). And in response to the student who dismissed the show by saying "No one really talks like that", I say, "Wouldn't we be better off if we did".

Last night's episode focused on Rory's twenty-first birthday. Highlights of the episode were: watching (and cringing) while Paris (wearing a rather decolette dress she seems to have borrowed from Lorelai) and her fiance try out the same joke over and over at Rory's party (she coaches him sotto voce on the delivery of his line of the joke); getting further evidence that Rory's skuzzy boyfriend Logan really doesn't understand her; and hearing Luke deliver the line of the night. The party has been thrown by Rory's Grandparents Richard and Emily, and Emily has concocted a new pink drink for the even called "The Rory". Luke takes a sip and says "It's pink. Really pink. It tastes pink. It's like drinking My Little Pony". Taa-daaa!

Ah, but my point. Earlier in the episode, well as Wing Chun of TWoP puts it:

"Richard and Emily figure that Rory is about to have relations with Logan (er...), so they call their minister over for dinner to explain to Rory that her "virtue" is her most precious gift. She tells him that she's already given that one away, and he tells Emily and Richard, so... awkward."
Awkward doesn't even begin to describe that scene. I literally covered my eyes for most of it. I could tell what was coming as soon as Rory sat down for an obviously contrived dinner with her grandparents and the minister. First the minister is wearing some sort of high church/priestly outfit (Episcopalian?) and he has a pale, owl-ly kind of look, as if he were the product of an unnatural coupling between George Will and Hugh Hewitt.

Richard and Emily arrange to leave them alone, and then the minister starts with a "I'm sure it's great to be your age, I remember when I was your age, blah, blah, blah" kind of thing. And then he talks about those "urges" you have when your young and Rory says "Urges?" with a meaningful look and the guy blows right by this caution light and hurtles on with his speech, which turns out to be the standard "save yourself for marriage" speech, only turned up to eleven and run through a blender with a bunch of stupidity leaving the whole thing sounding incredibly lame.

I absolutely hate it when ministers are portrayed as idiots on TV or in film. Not that there are not many minister who are in fact idiots, but one would be very hard pressed to ever find a minister who acts as foolishly as this one. I know Gilmore Girls is a kind of heighten reality, but I can't imagine that any minister who has been around for more than two minutes would take the approach that this guy did. First, I think most (like 98%?) would tell Richard and Emily that they need to be the ones who talk to her. Second, if for some reason (like a recent head injury or misunderstanding the request) the minister thought it would be a good idea to talk to Rory about this, that minister would probably first actually, you know, talk with her. Third, there's no way the talk itself could be that lame. I mean a "sweater" as a metaphor for sex? Come on. And fourth, well fourth leads to fifth and sixth and twenty-seventh, so I'll stop there.

So I weather that, and the episode ends (lose that guy Rory - he's not worth the "sweater" you've given him, even if he did give you that mega-expensive bag) and on comes Supernatural a new show this year on the WB. I grew up on Twilight Zone and loved a short lived series from the 70's called The Nightstalker in which reporter encounters lots of scary stuff. This show is similar to those. In Supernatural, two hot young guys (this is the WB), one of whom is the actor who played Dean on Gilmore Girls, chase down urban legends that are actually real. Last night, for example, they took on Hook Man. It's actually a pretty good show, and I look forward to it each week, even if it involves watching another hour's worth of promos for Related which leaves me wanting to slash my wrists.

But anyway, Tuesday's episode turns on yet another minister, well actually two. The Hook Man turns out to be the spirit of a 19th minister who snapped over the immorality of his town and was executed after killing a bunch of people. The living minister in the story is not only insufferable in his relationship with daughter, trying to keep he within his narrow morality while she just "wants to live", but he also turns out to be, here it comes, wait for it... a hypocrite! He's widowed, but he's having an affair with a married woman from the congregation!

Look, I know that there have been many ministers who are grindingly awful moralists, and some have committed adultery, but this is just so... predictable. Arrrgh.

Why does this happen over and over again? Why do ministers usually look like knuckleheads in TV and film? Some of it we bring on ourselves. Far too many ministers are knuckleheads. I mean, knuckleheads make up a very small share of the ministerial population, but since there shouldn't be any full-blown knuckleheads in the clergy, even that small percentage is too much. And some of us who aren't knuckleheads occasionally get too full of ourselves, because speaking kinda/sorta on God's behalf is a heady thing, and so we can come across as insufferable.

I also think that too many of us in ministry forget how to talk with people who are not already part of our group. We end up saying things which make sense in our churches where have a highly developed understanding of how to talk about certain things, but that same language sounds smug, at best, to those who dont' share those common understandings.

But this time, I gotta put the blame on the writers of these two shows. They did a lazy job. None of these characters showed any evidence of actually having been part of a church. It is amazing to me that producers and writers can get some elements of a story exactly right, like Emily Gilmore's waspishness or giving the roommate of the girl in Supernatural just the right wardrobe to signify skankiness, and yet can resort to the broadest of stereotypes when portraying ministers.

I'm tired of this. Show ministers as good people, or show them doing bad things, or show them as complicated figures. But if you're going to use them in your story, spend enough time to show them as they would actually appear in real life.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One Thousand

Some people like to focus on their blog hit counts. Me, I write for the love and for the inner satisfaction brought by a well turned phrase. I really don't notice much else, especially not things like this. In fact, until my friend Gregg mentioned his own blog counts this morning, I had, err..., forgotten that I even had a counter on this blog.

But suitably prompted, I noticed that today this blog received its one-thousandth visit. My wife just missed being #1000, but instead it was someone from Portland, OR. Or at least someone using an ISP from Portland.

Thanks to all who have come. Special thanks to Johan, Jon, and Robert who have linked recently, and Jim and Gregg who have linked for awhile. And not that I'm really into to this or anything, but please tell everyone you know about this place.

Or not.

More seriously, I'm glad for what blogging has done for me. It really has given me a chance to gets some things off my chest and allowed me to reconnect with several people. And unexpectedly, it has helped me get even better focused on my real work. Many, many blogs have been started by people trying to avoid their academic work, but this has actually enabled me to become better focused on my real work, which in case you've missed it amid references to soccer, hot dogs, BoingBoing, and general misanthropic grumbling, is to be a teacher and a scholar.

Linkage XVIII

Fun with Firefox I'm using Firefox as my browser, because it works well and because it gives me the illusion that I am standing up to The Man. (And it is only an illusion - I am using a Windows computer). Eszter at Crooked Timber has a great post on how to maximize Firefox.

Idle Hands = Lucas' Playthings More cool stuff from BoingBoing. Someone has recreated almost every major scene from Star Wars Episode Four in 168k pixelart.

Bush/Clinton '05! You know we are in interesting times when Norm Ornstein of the Libertarian American Enterprise Institute proposes that in the face of an impending meltdown of the Bush Administration: Cheney resign (for many, many reasons); and is replaced not by Condoleeza Rice but by the President's father, George HW Bush; the President resigns (for many, many reasons) and is succeeded by his father; the new (old) President Bush appoints Bill Clinton as his Vice President in a government of national unity. Wow, I mean, wow! (Via Brad DeLong)

Check It Out! This comes from a few months back, but UC Berkeley psychologist Seth Roberts has really taken empiricism to new extremes. Take some time with this paper (via Marginal Revolution) in which Roberts reports on a variety of self-experiments, including drinking massive amounts of water and staying on his feet for more than eight hours a day - they both work for weight loss, as well as his report that viewing faces on TV in the morning elevates mood but viewing faces at night is depressing. Like I said, take some time and go read the whole thing - it's amazing.

And Yet Another Mashup Also from BoingBoing, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" brought together with the cult classic "All Your Base are Belong to Us" to make "Zero Wing Rhapsody". This is really, really good, and even includes Wayne's World-style headbanging on the guitar bridge!