Friday, September 30, 2005

Linkage XI

Haptic? What's "haptic"? Apparently something good. Via BoingBoing is a report that scientists in the Netherlands have developed a "haptic" vest. "Laden with actuators, the vest is programmed to push on specific muscle groups to improve the technique of rowers, skaters, soccer players, and other athletes." Or maybe not good. No, definitely not good.

Cats, Kindness, FEMA and Bowl Haircuts Last July, writer Blake Bailey and his wife, who had recently completed her PhD, moved back to New Orleans so she could intern at Tulane University. Early this month, they lost almost everything in the flooding following the hurricane. He has been writing a series of "Dispatches" at Slate which are well worth your time. In the latest dispatch, he combines heartbreaking/heartwarming stories of his wife getting resettled in Florida (from which they had just moved) with troubling encounters with insurance companies, mortgage lenders and a guy in a bowl haircut.

That's "veya-cheh-SLAV kyeer-eh-LEHN-kaw" Ever wonder how to pronounce foreign names that are harder to say than "Tony Blair"? This Washington Post article points to a very helpful online pronunciation guide maintained by Voice of America. It has both simplified pronunciations and short audio clips. Maybe the President can visit it when he has to start talking about Abu Ghraib (AH-boo GREHB) again.

Sex and Stones Every week it seems we learn more about penguins. Turns out those monogamous penguins "act single" quite a bit. (Via TNH)

Jay - "Tell Me Something About Myself", Rufus - "..." Something for the Kevin Smith fans. Get your Jay and Silent Bob Inaction Figures right here.

Worst. Team. Ever.

After last night's loss, the Dodgers will now have to sweep all three of their remaining games to avoid having their worst season in Los Angeles. Since magically beginning the season 12-2, the Dodgers have been worse than every team except for the hapless Kansas City Royals, who stopped being a genuine big league club some time in the early 90's.

But on the plus side, ticket sales were the second highest in team history, and while the alleged team enhancements (with the exception of Jeff Kent) blew up in Frank McCourt's parsimonious face, the revenue enhancements which have turned Dodger Stadium into a giant cash register have come along quite nicely.


Update: With their loss on Friday, the 2005 L.A. Dodgers are indeed the club's worst team ever.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Linkage X

Brilliant! Andy Detskas has a site called I Remember, in which he, well, remembers something daily (that's at least until he stopped on Sept. 1). I love things like this - we give far too much attention to the logistical tasks which fill our days and far to little to the memories which feed our souls. (Via 2020 Hindsight).

Well, At Least They Let Them Go Folks on one side of the political spectrum like the phrase "freedom isn't free", but I would like to think that freedom still includes, you know, freedom. links to a letter from U.S. Rep. John Conyers to the U.S. Park Service Police following the arrest of 384 protesters outside the White House on Monday. The protesters, many of whom were elderly, were detained, handcuffed, in vans, for up to twelve hours. Conyers wonders, as do I, why they received this kind of "special" treatment.

St. Mushroom Cloud? I'm not one of those Protestant types who have a "thing" for Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and especially not as it actually exists. Here's another reason why: a Russian admiral who led Tsarist forces against Napoleon has just been named the patron saint of Russia's nuclear bomber arsenal. I am not making this up. (Via Marginal Revolution).

Five Minute Man My congressman, David Dreier, has apparently just set the record for the shortest tenure ever as House Majority Leader. He was announced as the new leader by the Speaker, only to lose out within hours due to pressure from more conservative types. He was replaced by Roy Blunt, who will certainly carry on in Tom Delay's venal tradition - Blunt is literally in bed with a lobbyist, having divorced his wife to marry one last year.

Stand Back, This One's Hot! I don't normally go this far left in my reading, but today Hunter at Daily Kos got off an epic blast on one Mark Noonan, who asserts that in attacking Tom Delay, Democrats are "sitting in a lake of gasoline and... playing with fire". This drives Hunter into wild shrillness. The saddest part is that Hunter's shrillness seems like a reasoned response given the direction of our national political life since Bill Clinton had the temerity to get elected in 1992.


Tonight, Chris and I joined our friends the Stochl's for the first half and the LA Riot Squad in the second for the LA Galaxy's 1-0 victory to win the 2005 US Open Cup Final. Hooorraay for us!

Around the world, professional soccer leagues usually contest two prizes - the league championship, and a national cup, which is awarded to the winner of a season long tournament which is played along side the league schedule.

In England, winning the national FA cup can be as big a deal, if not bigger on a sentimental level, than winning the league. The FA cup final is contested on the weekend after the end of the league in the national stadium, and it is perhaps the biggest day of the year for the game. Our cup final was contested on a weekday evening in a stadium which was only allowed to sell 10,000 tickets because of parking conflicts with the university on whose campus the stadium sits. And I suspect that the Galaxy gave away many (most?) of the tickets to assure that we'd at least get to 10,000. Oh, well, so we have a ways to go.

The match itself was satisfying mainly for its result. Neither team has been playing all that well of late, although the Galaxy did show some flashes tonight. But the goal was an absolute "cracker" as they say in England, or a golazo as we say in these parts. It began right in front of us, and when I say right in front of us, I mean right in front of us with the nearest players no more than thirty feet from our seats. The play began with Galaxy defender Chris Albright winning a ball in the corner and then carrying the ball along the goal line until he sent a smart cross just outside the far edge of the six yard box. The pass was met by forward Herculez Gomez (on the left in the photo above) who struck the ball on the full volley (i.e. striking the ball while it is still in the air with a kind of sideways scissors motion) and buried the ball in the back of the net. It was a truly beautiful goal, and it proved to be the decisive moment of the match.

The Riot Squad was well represented tonight with over 120 in attendance, and many of the players, especially Kevin Hartman, Cobi Jones, and Herculez, who is special favorite of the LARS, came over to honor us. Even Galaxy and US star Landon Donovan came over to us, which is a big step for him. We really gave him the business when he played for the rival team in San Jose, and Donovan has been slow to warm to us, perhaps tonight was something of a breakthrough.

So, for one moment in an otherwise dreary season - the light shines through, and our team are now champions. It was great to be there and in the smallest of ways, great to be a part of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

He's Baaaack!


Disgraced former FEMA head Michael Brown is still working for FEMA, or more pointedly, still working for the Administration by doing the obviously good and necessary deed of trashing and lying about state and local officials so that current and continuing Administration officials won't have to.

Jim Macdonald has a great meta-take on all this over at Making Light. And my friend Gregg Koskela (at least I think he's my friend - we had a sharp email exchange last week and he hasn't responded to my last one sent on Thursday, but then he was away over the weekend, so we'll see), has made an amusing and ultimately brilliant connection to Brown and real life.

Go read 'em both.

Same Difference

I never understood why people would use that phrase, "same difference". If something is the same, it is not different, no? But I thought of it when I read a somewhat snarky Washington Post article today on a new web-based newscast by some al-Qaida wannabes called Voice of the Caliphate. It's filled with several weird vignettes, but the real kicker comes near the end of the article:
The final segment was about Hurricane Katrina. "The whole Muslim world was filled with joy" at the disaster, the anchorman said. He went on to say that President Bush was "completely humiliated by his obvious incapacity to face the wrath of God, who battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals." Hurricane Ophelia's brush with North Carolina was also mentioned.
The over the top language is kind of funny, or at least silly. It makes these guys sound like twelve year old boys trying to sound tough. But sadly, it also reminded me of the kind of thing many Christians, including some rather prominent leaders and writers were saying after December's tsunami devastated the Aceh region of Indonesia.

When the tone and level of analysis of supposedly seasoned Christian leaders and young Islamists playing dress up start to sound alike, something has clearly gone wrong.


Seems like our lives are going in a lot of directions these days, leading to some interesting combinations.

Last Sunday, we spent the morning praising Jesus with these people, and Chris and I spent the evening heaping abuse on these people with these people.

Last night, I finally started reading my signed copy of Nick Hornby's latest, A Long Way Down. Chris and I went to the signing last summer, and even got to visit with Nick for a few moments when we came across him sucking on one last cancer stick before the event. I wrote an account of our "adventure", which included a stop at Oki Dog, here. (I'm "S.Bones" among the LA Riot Squad). My post prompted a good discussion on the nature of creativity and art. And Radiohead - always a touchy topic when Nick Hornby is mentioned. (And WARNING! - some of the guy's board avitars may be "not nice". I have them turned off when I read the boards).

The book is a comic novel about suicide, and begins with five people accidentally, or incidentally, or providentially, coming together on the same building (the aptly named "Topper's Hall") on New Year's Eve to kill themselves. Obviously, they don't kill themselves (which is not a spoiler, because Hornby is not a magic realist so if you kill off the characters in his books they just stay dead), and spend the balance of the book trying to figure out, together, how to resume and live their lives.

When I was done reading, I put the book down on the end table, only to discover this morning that it was stacked on top of Rick Warren's massively best-selling Christian "how to" book, The Purpose Driven Life, another rather odd combination. Many people have been helped by this book, and its success combined with his own earlier successes have made Warren very sought after and influential. We have even reached the point where even more amazing results are being attributed to the book. Last spring, we learned that when served with pancakes, readings from the book can make a killer and hostage taker repent and turn himself in, and just this month, we read that Warren thinks that "Purpose Driven" principles just may be the answer to poverty and genocide in Africa.

So, that got me thinking. What would happen if Hornby's five failed suicides began to live a "Purpose Driven Life"? Rick Warren may have the answers for American criminals and Rwandan genocidiers (sp?), but what can he do for four deeply (or shallowly as the case may be) unhappy English people, and one rather silly American. Stay tuned, and we'll find out together.

Linkage IX

Don't Miss This Turn-key Business Opportunity... Ever here those commercials for home businesses based on vending machines? Usually, it's for candy, snacks, or soda, but now in Japan, you can now get and use a machine for selling live lobsters!

Come On! Order! Kieran Healy has a good combination of the "knucklehead at the airport" and "star sighting" stories in Scene from an Airport. This may make me listen to my REM cd's differently.

Pesto Susan Kitchens discovers it. And makes it. And loves it. You should too. And read my snobby advice in the comments.

NOLA Urban Legends Remember all those reports of killings and rapes and rampant violence in New Orleans following Katrina? And have you heard this used as justification to suggest that the poor residents of New Orleans, "those people", don't deserve help? Well, turns out that much of what reported never happened. (Via Eschaton) And here's a link to another, local report, covering the same ground.

Useful Skill From BoingBoing, here's instructions on how to Cut and Shuffle a Deck with One Hand.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Where's the Outrage?

Last night, Chris and I went to the Galaxy match, a 2-1 win (a somewhat undeserved win) to the good guys. Before the match, I stood and sang the "Star-Spangled Banner. I did it as I always do, unironically, with my hand over my heart. I do it to honor my country.

But last night I did it with very mixed feelings. Once again, late last week and through today, more reports have emerged that U.S. forces have been torturing and beating people. Torturing people regularly, systematically, and with the full endorsement of the Administration. As these reports indicate, this torture is not the result of a few soldiers and agents going over the line but rather a the result of policy and of a systematic attempt to blur or erase the lines which limit the kind of force American troops and agents are allowed to use.

A good place to start is this link loaded post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. The latest news brought this response by Michael Froomkin, who has been all over the torture issue. (This is an admittedly short list of links, but it's enough, in fact, it's way too much).

And yes, to borrow one of the President's favorite ways of expressing himself, I realize that the people our forces are fighting cut off people's heads. I understand that they set off bombs that kill civilians. But is that it? That's our moral justification for torturing people? As long as we don't decapitate people, it's OK to beat and sexually humiliate and shock them?

We're currently led by people who claim to put principle above political and immediate concerns. And Americans are supposed to be the good guys. That's why I can sing the national anthem unironically. But being the good guys must mean more than just being slightly less bad than the bad guys, and it seems we've lost sight of that.

Where's the outrage? America is defined by a set of values and not merely a border drawn around a piece of land. Our values are determined by laws and respect for those laws and never merely by power and and momentary expediency. Right? Right?

Where is the outrage?

Linkage VIII

Amazing Stuff Susan Kitchens has several great posts and lots of beautiful photos of Thursday's satellite launch at 2020 Hindsight. (These launches are SoCal's version of the aurora Borealis).

Take Off the Gloves That's what Mark Kleiman says, following the death of another boxer. In the LA Times, boxing writer Steve Springer breaks down the risks and the different proposals for what can be done to keep boxer's safer. (It may be that nothing can be done).

Shark Proof Suit My surfing career was pretty short, and I don't think I ever encountered a shark, except for maybe that time that something bumped my leg. But now those worries are over with the invention of an anti-shark wet suit, which sends out an electrical charge to the water around the wearer. Pretty cool idea.

More from NOLA Via BoingBoing comes a series of links to bloggers among the residents and relief workers in New Orleans. Inspiring and scary stuff.

Frummagem! Henry Farrel over at Crooked Timber tried to coin a new word, taking the somewhat obscure word brummagem, which means "shoddy" or "counterfeit" and affixing "Frum" to beginning, inspired by the egregiously right wing commentator and former White House speech writer David Frum. So frummagem means to make an argument that is both brutally unfeeling and poorly argued. But much to Henry's delight, it turns out that frummagem is a real world, arising from 18th century thieves slang. Who knew!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Linkage VII

Beyond Satire Apropos of my earlier post about the Onion, Billmon of Whiskey Bar wonders if our current national story, with it's latest theme of spectacularly unqualified and/or immoral political hacks being appointed to important government jobs, is not the result of a competition between Mark Twain and Franz Kafka to write the craziest characters and story line for us remaining here on Earth.

Hermeneutics, Get 'em Right Here! You know what that means, right? From theologian and Episcopal priest A.K.M Adam, or AKMA as he goes by on the internets, is a four part (one, two, three, four) discussion of the discipline as it applies to biblical interpretation. Even though I don't buy much of what he is selling, it is a very good discussion.

Phone Hell Refrigerarium From Teresa Nielson Hayden at Making Light, come two important links: How to Find a Human on many companies' phones systems, and the hard to get Customer Service Number. Hooorrraaayyy!

The Value of Literacy Video and the same four second sound bites are not enough. Since they started scratching into clay in ancient Sumer, writers have been essential in helping us both know and understand what has happened. So take some time a go read this first person account, "Apocalypse in New Orleans", by a writer with the local Times-Picayune. (Via Teresa at Making Light, whose own response to the article is worth a read, too.)

Not Bees, Deer In the last "Linkage" post, I linked to a discussion of the most dangerous animals to humans in the US, beyond, of course, other humans. The discussion develops further here.

I Like This

"The overcoat was a trademark of his. It was an impermeable thrift-shop special with a plaid lining and wide lapels, and it looked as though it had been trying for many years to keep the rain off the stooped shoulders of a long series of hard cases, drifters, and ordinary bums. It emitted an odor of bus station so desolate that just standing next to him you could feel your luck changing for the worse."
-- Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Darfur? Not Genocide to U.S., nor to Cuba!

The blog Darfur Daily News has posted a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof, U.S. Blocks Tougher Words on Genocide. Kristof begins:
President Bush doesn't often find common cause with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But this month the Bush administration joined with those countries and others to eviscerate a forthright U.N. statement that nations have an obligation to respond to genocide.
I'm sure there is some sort of real politik reason for fighting this language, but surely no moral one.

The column goes on to outline how little the Administration has done about Darfur, but also tells about they moved forcefully to prevent Brian Steidle, a military advisor and former Marine, from publishing photos of the atrocities. Go read it now. And pray. And then call your Congress person and write to the President. And pray.

More on Darfur

Members of the Save Darfur Coalition met today with a State Department official who has responsiblity for that area. The Coalition includes 138 different religious, humanitarian and human rights groups. Prominent among them and in today's meeting is the NAE's Richard Cizik, whose letter to the President I commented on earlier. They reminded the Administration of "...its moral duty to stop the genocide", and made a number of specific proposals on how to do that. You can read about it here.

To their credit, James Dobson's Focus on the Family also just raised the issue on their website. In the "Family News in Focus" section, they just posted "Adminstration Encouraged to Step Up Efforts on Darfur Genocide". Dobson and his rep in Washington, Tony Perkins, were silent on Cizik's earlier letter, but this is still a good development.

There's Always Room

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, there were scores of heartbreaking stories, but one has haunted me. It's the story told by two San Francisco paramedics of their failed attempts to lead a group out of New Orleans in the days just after the hurricane. At first, the story had the feel of an urban legend - an unarmed group, turned back while trying to cross a bridge out of New Orleans into the neighboring city of Gretna by armed police, with the police shoot over their heads, other police taking their meager supply of water, and later, a police helicopter being used to disperse them from a highway where they had taken refuge. The story was so over the top it had to be made up - but it turned out to be true.

If you haven't read it before, take a moment and read the first person story by the two paramedics. You will shaken and moved. But the immediate response by the Gretna government has been even more amazing. Last week, the City Council passed a resolution praising the police chief for ordering his men to turn away people in need at gun point. Even more amazingly, that same police chief continues to give interviews!

It was one of those interviews that prompted an amazing post "There's Always Room" by Fred Clark at slacktivist. Fred's blog has been a real find for me, one of the few places on the blogosphere where I come close to sharing the same commitments and sensibilities as the writer. If you're reading me, you should be reading him. Go read it now.

Back from Blog Silence

Long time no post.

I was thrown off of my blogging stride by the beginning of the school year and soccer season, along with the recent death of my mother-in-law, whose life we celebrated and remembered last Saturday.

I hope to have reflections on these events, plus a response to Gregg Koskela's post about "Peacemaking and the Old Testament" up soon. (Go read it so you'll know what I'm talking about when I respond).

Or maybe not. It can be that way.

The Onion Goes Meta

The Onion - America's Finest News Source is a weekly treat - a parody of current news and cultural trends. But it is clearly a measure of our times when the Onion's parodies inadvertently turn out to be true. Last week's issue covered the rise of the "home churching" movement among conservative Christians, in which families take their kids "out of church" and do church themselves. The article is really funny, except for the fact that some Christians are actually doing this.

More famously, the Onion hilariously (tragically?) anticipated the course of President's Bush's administration. In an issue published shortly after his first inauguration, they had the President declare: "...our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over". The President goes on:

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

This met with great approval from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said:

"Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

Well, there you go. Some kind of world we have where outrageous jokes become daily realities.

And it seems that the creators fo the Onion realieze this. This week's issue, perhaps referencing the January, 2001 speech, "covers" the successful passage of Virginia Senator George Allen's bill to turn Yellowstone National Park into a giant golf resort. The upshot of the article, however, is that Allen meant for the bill to be an outrageous joke (meta) but that no one in Congress and certainly not the President thought it was (meta meta). The bill, entitled "The Preservation of Public Lands in America Act" sailed through the Senate, and returned from the House with only minor amendments, including one which designated the course water hazards as "ecological conservation areas".

Allen took that as a sign that perhaps someone on his side of the aisle had gotten the joke, but alas, this was not to be true. Democratic Senator Joe Biden initially thought it was a joke, but then said, "...if it got this far, it must be valid". Biden went on to say, "Now, the bankruptcy reform bill that passed in April, I thought for sure that was meant to be ironic. I actually voted for it out of total sarcasm. My mistake, obviously."

But the Onion is careful to remain bi-partisan, indicating that Republicans can have a sense of humor too, by ending with this quote from Mississippi Senator Trent Lott:

"We're all very serious about our task, but that doesn't mean we don't enjoy a good-natured poke in the ribs once in a while. I remember the time [Sen. Russ] Feingold introduced his universal health care bill. I was laughing so hard, I almost needed medical attention!"

When parody becomes impossible, what's left?

Linkage VI

Watch Out! Are you frightened by bears, rabid dogs or coyotes? Your fears are misplaced, says Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution.

Penguin Wars It turns out that the documentary, "The March of the Penguins" has been a big hit with conservatives and especially Christian conservatives according to a recent New York Times article. (Which since I first bookmarked it, has disappeared into the Times not-free archive. Here's a similar article from England's The Observer/Guardian). Penguins are apparently "pro-family", and should be seen as examples of "monogamy" and "steadfast faith". Sounds like some people need to learn the meaning of "anthropomorphism".

Penguin Wars, Part 2 Following one of the links in the Times article is like falling down Alice's rabbit hole. It leads to the site for Lions of God, a Christian group (or maybe just one guy, it's unclear) offering the "March of the Penguins Leadership Workshop", which promises to give attenders (and not just Christian leaders!) "...insight into the godly nature of Christianity". If you're wondering if this seminar is "just the opinions of men", have no fear. It's creators have developed a "unique approach", which "...ensures that it is actually not 'taught' by anyone other than the Holy Spirit". No, I am not making this up.

China? Maybe Not How many times have you thought, "If I were to dig a hole straight down through the earth from where I am, where would I end up? Brazilian Luis Felipe has helpfully modified Google Maps to answer that question for us. (Via

Penguin Wars, Part 3 Maybe some of our conservative friends spoke a little to soon. Turns out that penguins are only "serial monogamists", and that some of them may be playing for the other team.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

More on Cizik and Darfur

Crickets, crickets.

That's what I'm hearing in the massive and politically engaged evangelical blogosphere after the NAE's Richard Cizik's condemned of the Bush Administration's inaction in Darfur last week. I commented on this earlier.

A Technorati search with the words "darfur cizik" returns three recent hits, one from an atheist, one from a Catholic, and one from... me.

A variety of Google searches continued in the same vein. Clicking through the first five pages of this one revealed a number of references to the statement on liberal/progressive blogs and semi-institutional sites, and even a few from Muslim sites, but absolutely nothing from conservative and/or Christian sites.

The Family Research Council, the Washington arm of James' Dobson's empire, asked us to pray for Darfur in July, after Congress declared a "Weekend of Prayer", but the FRC's head Tony Perkins hasn't gotten around to commenting on Cizik's release nor on Darfur since. To give you some idea of Perkins' priorities, please look at the item above the one I've linked to. In it, he chastises the press for ignoring reports that the London bombers left from a central location and moved in four direction in the form of a cross, and that they left from "King's Cross Station". Oh my goodness.

I'd be very happy to find that someone with better searching skills could prove me wrong. Please let me know if I am.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Speaking Out on Darfur

One year ago, President Bush declared the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan to be "genocide". Since the Second World War, the use of the word "genocide" by government officials and international bodies has carried with it an obligation for those governments and international bodies to do something stop it.

Or, maybe not.

In the past year, the U.S's progress in Darfur has been roughly equal to what our government did the first few days after the hurricane - not much. If you need to get up to speed on Darfur, spend some time at the site of the Save Darfur Coalition, a truly bi-partisan group that has been trying to rally Western support for the people of this troubled region.

The Administration's "minimal progress protecting millions of victims of the world's worst humanitarian crisis" has been noted, I am very glad to say, in this official press release from Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. (Hat tip to The Revealer)

Cizik has some hard words for our President and about the remaining challenge in Darfur. He says, "It is time to move the Darfur genocide from a talking point to and action item. President Bush must put this issue on the top of his inbox".

I hope this helps. And I hope this will be a sign of greater political independence by "official" Evangelical groups. In recent years, we have largely been a reliable voice in favor of whatever the Republicans put forward, and this needs to stop. But it shouldn't be replaced by Christians becoming a equally reliable voice for the Democrats either. I long for the day when Christians can speak to our fellow citizens persuasively and prophetically, and in a way that cuts across the traditional party lines. Maybe Mr. Cizik's press release is a beginning.

But politics aside, pray for the people of Darfur, and for those who are trying to help them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Thirty Seven and Counting

I finally made it Dodger Stadium tonight and took in a rather dreary 3-1 loss to the Padres. Jeff Kent, who continues to be so dialed in that he looks like he is playing a different game than his teammates, scored the only run off of a Jose Cruz Jr single.

This was the first game I've attended in recent memory after having given up on the team, which made it difficult to engage. But it also made their sluggish play much easier to take. I feel no ill will toward this team. I think they're playing hard and sadly, they're playing to their potential. They're just not very good.

I hated the increased commercialization of the stadium and the game time experience. It starts with advertising on the turnstile and never ends. New this year is the advertising ring on the edge of the second deck, product ads on the boards between innings and sometimes during the innings, and even ads on the screens used to drag the infield. Combining this with $10 parking and $29 for four bad hot dogs and two big sodas, it was a dispiriting experience.

I regret that I wasn't able to go earlier and more often this year, but at least I kept my streak alive. I've attended at least one game every year since my first trip to Chavez Ravine in 1969, a Dodger loss to the expansion Montreal Expos. I figure in that time I've attended just about a full season's worth of games, and I'll look forward to adding to that number in 2006.

I hate what McCourt has done to the team and stadium, but they were my team and my stadium before they were his, so I'll be back. I'm waitin' 'til next year, but I'll be back.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

We Can Do Better Than This

In Washington Post article I cited in an earlier post, the Rev. Alex McFarland of the Focus on the Family, after correctly refusing to attribute the hurricane to God's judgment, said:
"it's sad that people would take the opportunity to spin this into some kind of political sound bite" and blame the government.

"Are we taking the opportunity to make this into a religious sound bite? I suppose so," he said. "But that is only at the prompting of people's questions. Human suffering, and the longing for answers, and the desire to process this spiritually and emotionally -- that's a defensible reality. Whereas George W. Bush creating global warming, and consequently Katrina, is speculative at best."

McFarland was asked to represent a Christian viewpoint and he came across sounding like just another Republican party hack, but I am sadly growing used to this conflation of view points. I remain troubled by the way McFarland made his points, and the manner in which this approach debases even the possibility of genuine debate and dialog.

Here are the unfortunate but all too common principles utilized by McFarland:

1. Uncritically support your side

2. Assume your own point of view is the only reality.

3. Misrepresent opposing points of view

McFarland begins (and you can see the whole quote by following the link) by bringing in the political point even when that question wasn't raised by the reporter. But since, apparently, defense of the Lord and defense of the Administration are two sides of the same coin for McFarland, he feels like he's got to get it in there. And by using the words "sad" "spin" and "political sound bite" he leaves no doubt that the Administration is not only in the clear on how it responded to the hurricane, but that it is illegitimate to even raise the question.

He then goes on to make the amazing observation that his own theological reflections and people's desire for that sort of thing is a "defensible reality" while the science of global warming is "speculative". Now I (mostly) share McFarland's theological perspective on the hurricane, and I think theological reflection is legitimate, but the contrast he makes here is just silly and reflects a deeply skewed sense of what is "real".

But perhaps it's only global warming as he describes it here that he is rejecting, that is, that "George W. Bush (note the "W") (is) creating global warming". But the point here is that no one believes that. Not even the greenest of Greens and would say something this silly. And McFarland has to know this.

Can't we do better than this? Can't we trust our own truth enough that we don't have to lie about opposing view points? Can't Christian spokespersons, of all people, be counted on to do this?

Can They Do That?

Now that I have a few regular readers (but fewer in Colorado Springs now that I'm not commenting on Ted Haggard), I have a question for my assembled readers.

A few weeks ago, while we were in Ventura, we were stopped at a sobriety check point. The police officer asked for my license and then asked if I had been drinking, both of which seemed reasonable given the purpose of the stop.

But then when he noticed that I wasn't local, he asked me where I was going, where I was coming from, and what I was doing there.

So, can he ask me that? Or more to the point, can I refuse to answer?

I mean I understand the purpose of sobriety stops, and I know they've been declared legal, but this seemed over a line.

What do you guys think?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Linkage: Hurricane Edition

OK, So Far Looks like no major Evangelical leader has gotten loose with a statement attributing the hurricane to God's judgment. This article in the Washington Post does find a few folks who make that connection, but as far as I can tell, these people are just knuckleheads with web sites, and this blog is further proof that it's not hard to be a knucklehead with a website. (Please note: I expand on the article in this post)

Oh, No, She's Not Sayin' That No, she did. Yesterday, wife and mother of Presidents Barbara Bush, while touring the Astrodome, commented on the refugees:
"Almost everyone I'’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston. What I'’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."
Shorter Barbara Bush: "Let them eat cake". No, I am not making this up.

Oh. My. God. Seems there is plenty of blame to share. Brad DeLong quotes a Times-Picayune article from July on the City of New Orleans evacuation plan for people without cars: issue a DVD essentially telling them, "You are on your own". No, I am not making this up.

Truth/Lies Maybe natural disasters are like war - they both kill the truth. Michael Frookin keeps track at

Rumble, Rumble I'm not sure how the Administration's message people are going to suggest that this is "just playing politics" or "blind hatred of the President", because people clearly on the right are beginning to, um, take issue with the President's response. Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch says, in part:
Well, here at B.D. we'’re sick of the empty bear hugs and cutesy nicknames, the circle the wagons damage control mentality, cheap ass-covering and rampant buck-passing, the guitar-strumming and talk of Trent Lott'’s porch looking all antebellum swell post reconstruction and Kennebunkport '‘let them move to Texas' insouciance.

Monday, September 05, 2005

DMV - Friday, 3/18/05

I went to the DMV today and I saw...

...a forty-ish white guy sitting down with a magazine and a heavy cold.

...a woman reading the DMV review book, softly, aloud, to herself.

...a young Latino couple, the man was wearing a Raiders cap

...a white, upper middle-class father/daughter duo. The man was late forties, wearing a jacket from the LA Marathon and a wry look. The girl wore Hollister and passed the time speaking on her cell phone while turned, ever so slightly – away from her father.

I went to the DMV today and I saw...

...a forty-ish white guy reading a review of yet another literary novel he will never read.

...a teen boy wearing a sweat shirt with the caption, “I'm bored".

...another young Latino couple, the man wearing a Raiders cap.

...two guys from Victory Outreach up the street, discussing how the combination of Jesus and Pastor Rick had changed their lives. They quoted Pastor Rick directly and Jesus only by inference. They quoted Pastor Rick as saying, “Wherever you go, there you are", unaware that they were quoting Pastor Rick quoting the title character from "Buckaroo Banzai" quoting a watered down version of Zen.

I went to the DMV today and I saw...

...a forty-ish white guy check his wait list ticket one more time because he couldn't remember his number.

...a woman with full sleeve tattoo’s, many piercings, and a mother who followed three steps behind.

...a young woman who was too too:jeans too tight, top too tight, shoes too tall, too much bleach in the hair, too much make up, too much work on the eyebrows, and saddest of all, too much indifference to her mother, who obviously adored her.

...a forty-ish mother and her twenty-ish daughter and a girl about four and a boy about three. The forty-ish woman alternated threats with promises to her grandchildren's provocations, while her daughter seemed bored -– by her kids, by her mother, by the wait -– perhaps by life.

(Oh, and another young Latino couple, the man wearing a Raiders cap).

I went to the DMV today and I saw...

...a forty-ish white guy with a cold becoming panicked when he realized he had just used his last clean tissue.

...a middle aged Asian couple (Vietnamese?) - the woman was there for her driver’s test, and both she and her husband’'s faces beamed with hope.

...a pair of young Latino men: only one wearing a Raiders cap, while the other wore... a Raiders t-shirt.

...a little girl of three, lazily attended by her parents. The parents' faces showed a studied kind of blankness, almost like an armored mask. The girl shone with joy. I hope she never learns from her parents how to make her face into that mask. I hope her parents will learn something from her joy.

I went to the DMV today, and I saw...

...a forty-ish white guy walk back to his car with a replacement for his lost driver's license, after a fifty-five minute wait. He had to wait because he didn't have an appointment because when he went to the DMV website in February to make one and the earliest available was on March 9th, he had said to himself, "I'll just go there and show up. I don’t want to wait until March 9th".

That’s what I saw when I went to the DMV on March, 18, 2005.


On Wednesday, March 30, a forty-ish white guy moved a chair in his living room and found his "lost" driver's license.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Keeping Up with the Disaster

Michael Froomkin, who has suffered through his own share of hurricanes, is keeping tabs on the Katrina aftermath at Go take a look at the latest.

And I offer this from Laura Rosin, without comment:

There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.

"I'm Proud to Be an American...."

I love my country.

That love is tempered by my primary loyalty to the Lord's Kingdom, but I care deeply and passionately about my country. Most of the more obvious forms patriotism - nationalism, Toby Keith, an uncritical support of our country (but only during Republican administrations) - are not really my thing. But the one place I can be unabashedly nationalistic is with the National Soccer team, who beat Mexico 2-0 today to clinch a place in the 2006 World Cup.

When the US competes internationally in most sports, the biggest question is usually how much they will win by, or how many Americans will medal. I loved watching the US sprinters win medal after medal in last month's World Track Championships, although I can't say I was surprised very often. But with soccer, the US can be somewhat of an underdog, at least in the big games, and this allows me root unabashedly for my country, and I like that a lot.

US/Mexico matches are big - really big, and today, the guys played really well. The US showed an unprecedented control of the midfield and a quick passing game. I was amazed at how much better we are on the ball from just four years ago. Today, I was most impressed with veteran forward Brian McBride, who must have won 80% of the balls in the air, and defender Oguchi Onyewu. A newcomer to the team, Onyewu marked Mexico's star forward Jared Borghetti right out of the match.

So tonight I can shout, without irony - USA! USA! USA!

Friday, September 02, 2005

OK, Now I'm Mad

Yesterday, I received an email from a Christian leader asserting among other things that the hurricane was God's judgment for sin. Now I'm mad.

I'm used to silly stuff on the fringe of the Christian community. I mean, there's crazy stuff on the fringes of every community, except for the groups that are inherently crazy like... well, that's probably better left unsaid. But this kind of nuttiness seems to be creeping into non-wacko segment of the Christian community.

But let me say this unambiguously:

In this current age, God does not use natural phenomena to punish sin.

After the big earthquake and tsunami struck Southeast Asia, there were several (unfortunately non-fringe) Evangelical leaders, most notably author Henry Blackaby, who said that the destruction was God's punishment for the persecution of Christians in the areas struck by the quake and flooding. Blackaby tried to theologically justify his assessment by saying:
"If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how the nations treat his covenant people. The nations that persecuted, offended and killed his people, God came down and destroyed them. And he's the same God today. He's just as concerned about his people."
This is just so wrong in so many ways. But let me try to point out just a few, very quickly, and admittedly superficially:

At first blush, I'm happy that Blackaby said "...he's the same God today". As a Christian Hebrew Bible teach and scholar, I am very committed to the idea that the same God inhabits both testaments of the Bible. It drives me wild when Christians talk as if the Lord was some angry grouchy deity who suddenly decided to be nice right around the time Jesus came. To be clear, God is merciful and gracious in both Testaments, but God also kills and brings judgment in both Testaments. But Blackaby has merely taken the stereotypical "Old Testament God" and argued, almost purely by assertion, that He's still around.

That said, the Christian Bible says that there is a profound difference in how God deals with his people and the world since the cross of Christ. Prior to the Cross, God saved his people by killing - Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, etc. At the Cross, God saved by being killed.
Prior to the Cross, God promised to protect his people from harm, conditioned on their obedience. After the Cross, the Bible promises that his people would suffer, and that obedience could even lead to greater suffering! Prior to the Cross, humanity was divided into the many nations, and God's people were part of an identifiable nation-state and ethnicity. After the Cross, there is an undivided humanity and God's people are part of an "invisible" Kingdom. God will return to violent wrath, as the book of Revelation lays out, but only when this age comes to an end.

Even if you can push these rather large biblical concerns aside, the idea that God uses and even causes natural disasters as judgments fails due to its profoundly indiscriminate nature. As a friend wrote to me earlier today:
If one assigns judgment as a part of the why's and wherefore's of Katrina, isn't one then clearly indicating that the wealthy, the insured, and those with enough smarts and the means to exit prior to the storm--must be "more righteous" than those who ended up living in a sewer for 5 days and may suffer greatly through this?

So to my fellow believers, let's knock this off. The Bible gives us enough clear topics to talk about that we don't need to waste time presuming to know why this storm or that earthquake or car crash took place. We need to talk more about God's love, mercy, grace, and yes, ultimate judgment, but we need to stay away from presuming to know how God is at work in specific situations.

And to any readers who do not follow Jesus, I'm sorry. While the sentiments which prompted this post are becoming far to familiar, please believe that they are foreign to Jesus.

Must. Not. Give. In

The early reports of the hurricane and the slow-motion disaster taking place in it's wake have made me deeply sad. But then I read this, this, and this last night, and if those are too much, just look at this, and I started to get mad. But I'm not going to give in to anger, and I will heed warnings not to draw any implications about policy and ruling ideology from this, because, of course, no one has ever done anything like that before.

Besides, I don't want this blog to be about my disappointment with our current national leadership. If you want that kind of ranting, you can go here and here, or if you like the view from the other side of the looking glass, you can go here or here. But I will address cultural or political issues where Christian values or ideas are specifically invoked. So since the President has not tried to theologize this event (unlike his brother Jeb last year) I'm not going to comment. (that was, until I heard the President say this, but then this helped me keep my cool).

Linkage V

Please Note: This version of "Linkage" is a little short. I'm working on some longer things, and more to the point, the hurricane and flood have me focused elsewhere. Depending on responses to some emails, I have one or two rants coming, along with a reflection which came together yesterday.

Via Boing Boing is the report that Zombies have descended on a shopping mall in Vancouver and American Idol auditions in Austin. The Austin incursion, for some reason, makes me very happy. Perhaps we should all read this book. (Thanks, Darren)

Nuevo Bolivar? Since Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (I have a hard time not writing Hugo Sanchez - but he's a story for another time) has featured prominently on this blog, this article from Slate might be worth a look.

I Watch "Blowout" Too Dan Ewald, a guest blogger at Church of the Masses, writes about reality TV, Franken-bytes, and Christians in TV. Plus he gives "big ups" as the kids say, or used to say, to "Arrested Development" and "Gilmore Girls". Go take a look.

I Like This

"If reality TV has convicted me of one spiritual truth this summer, it'’s this: As a pro-lifer, I need to remember that even Pauly Shore'’s life has dignity."

Dan Ewald, guest blogging at Church of the Masses