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 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!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Go Read This: Johan Maurer

Johan Maurer has written a brilliant post, "Christians Gone Wild" at his blog "Can you believe?". He takes off from two of my rants and uses them to say something really smart and wise about how Christians relate to culture and to the state.

I've been trying to say something equally brilliant in response, either here or as a comment on his blog, but I keep coming up dry. So just go read it, and see what I mean.

Your Government at Work

I offer the following articles without comment..

Washington Post: Cheney Plan Exempts CIA from Bill Barring Abuse of Detainees

Los Angeles Times: Autopsies Support Abuse Allegations: U.S. military documents show 21 war detainees were homicide victims, an ACLU report says.

I report, you decide

Monday, October 24, 2005

Listening to James Dobson

I used to listen regularly to James Dobson's radio show, Focus on the Family, but the interest was professional rather than personal. I was a pastor at the time, and Dobson was probably the single most influential voice among the people of our church. Listening to him helped me know what many of them were thinking, and it kept me from getting into trouble by unwittingly contradicting something Dobson had just said.

I don't listen anymore. Thankfully, my wife and I have not needed the kind of help provided on most of the broadcasts, and I certainly don't find any value in Dobson's political and social analysis. It seems to me that while his perspectives perfectly mirror the concerns of white, conservative Americans, and the immediate priorities of the Republicans, Dobson's social/political message only imperfectly and selectively reflects the concerns of the Bible.

But one day soon, Dobson may be saying something that I will want to listen to. The Washington Post reports today that it is likely that Dobson will be called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to "...explain the private assurances he says he received from the White House about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers".

Dobson invited this attention when he told his radio audience on October 5th, "When you know some of the things that I know -- that I probably shouldn't know -- you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that Harriet Miers will be a good justice". Given the stinginess of information the White House and Miers herself have provided the Committee, it makes sense that the Senators would want to know what Dobson knows, "and probably shouldn't".

Me, too. But I think we already have a pretty good idea of what Dobson knows from this transcript of a conference call involving White House official Tim Goeglein, Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and a number of Christian influencers including Dobson, along with this report from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, about another conference call which took place before the nomination was announced, in which Dobson and others, including my new friend Donald Wildmon, received assurances from two close associates of Miers that she would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

It's been said that when you dine with the Devil, you should use a very long spoon. I think we're about find out that Dr. Dobson has been eating with his fingers.

Linkage XVII - Government Follies Edition

Boy, these people are busy.

The White House vs. The Onion
Each week, The Onion produces a mock version of the President's Weekly Radio Address, and posts it alongside an image of the Presidential Seal. Now the White House has told them to stop, because the seal cannot be used for "... in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement." Since The Onion is barely commercial, could the Administration lawyers be suggesting that the President endorses The Onion? Or that he doesn't? And if not, why not? Stay tuned. (Via)

Orwell, Very Completely Un-dead Another military blogger has been silenced for, you know, acting like an American. Read about it here.

GWB vs. the Truth: 0-10 A few weeks ago, the President said that since September 11, the U.S. had foiled ten active Al-Qaida plots. Eric Umansky produces the final fact check three weeks later. Was the President correct? Not so much.

Now They Tell Us Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, tells us that the Bush Administration has really made a mess of things. While it is somewhat gratifying to have one's suspicions confirmed, one wishes Wilkerson would have said this when it mattered, like in October, 2004, not 2005.

Hope that Dinner was Good Michael Brown of FEMA/New Orleans infamy is still on the payroll. Among other things.

Hat Tricks

My son Chris is having a break out season in soccer this year. He's fourteen and playing in a U-16 league. He worked very hard on his game in the past few months and is being rewarded, most recently by scoring the first two hat tricks of his career in his past two matches.

He has never been much of a goal scorer prior to this year. In fact, I think he has only scored more than three goals in a season once before. But now, as they say in England, he has his shooting boots on.

And not just his boots. Two of his goals have come with his head directly off of corner kicks. This past Saturday, he scored once with his head, once with his right foot after beating his man and going in alone on the keeper, and once with his left - and that one was a beauty.

On that play, he took a bouncing pass at the top of the penalty area, settled it with his right foot, played it away from a defender and then drilled it from twenty yards into the upper corner of the goal with his left foot. I (as the team's coach) usually don't react much to goals, especially goals by my son (that whole favoritism thing). But this one had me up and shouting. It was one of those perfectly struck balls that doesn't even spin as it flies through the air. And with the left foot!

I am very proud.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Linkage XVI

Happy Discovery While searching for something else, I came across Am I Right, a site dedicated to "Making Fun of Music, One Song at a Time...". Sections include Music Parody and Misheard Lyrics. Example from U2's "Vertigo" - Misheard: "Hell no, Hell no" Original lyric: "Hello, Hello".

Tupac Livz! Via BoingBoing, Pez dispensers honoring fallen hip-hop heroes. Pez refused to give "big ups" to the artist, turning down his request to manufacture the figures. Just another way The Man tries to keep us down.

That's Not Nice Dalia Lithwick at Slate produces a "Makeup Test - A questionnaire Hariet Miers can answer". Sample question: "True of False: Barbara and Jenna totally don't appreciate how cool their Mom and Dad are."

One More Mashup: Poe/Seuss I've been waiting for this. Someone has finally brought together the rhymes of Dr. Seuss and the macabre sensibilities of Edgar Allen Poe with this combination of The Tell-Tale Heart and Horton Hears a Who. Quoth (via):
I buried him under the theedlewog bush
And jumped in a pool to rinse blood off my tush.
How smart I was, Sam! How sane was my plan!
So sure I'd be implicated by no man!

And more seriously...

Divorce - Long Term My friend Jim Stochl has written a thoughtful and moving post on the personal impact of his parents' divorce. Like a good scholar, he connects his own experience with several longitudinal studies on the effects of divorce on children. Please go read this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Just one Pepsi"

Driving home last night from a church committee meeting, I turn on the only radio station I can stand anymore, Indie 103 FM, just in time to hear these words straight out of my past:
Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn't work out the way I wanted to.
I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time

and it doesn't work out the way I wanted to.
It's like I concentrate real hard and it doesn't work out
Everything I do and everything I try never turns out
It's like I need time to figure these things out
These are the opening lyrics from the Suicidal Tendencies' 1983 punk rock classic "“Institutionalized"”. The song is a “troubled kid'’s” story of receiving "help" for his “problems from his parents and others. The breaking point in the story comes in this hilarious exchange between the boy and his mother:
I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything but then again I was thinking about nothingAnd then my mom came in and I didn't even know she was there she called my name and I didn't even hear it, and then she started screaming MIKE! MIKE!

And I go: What, what's the matter?
And she goes: What's the matter with you?
I go: There's nothing-wrong mom.
And she goes: Don't tell me that, you're on drugs!
And I go: No mom I'm not on drugs I'm okay, I was just thinking, you know? Why don't you get me a Pepsi?

And she goes: NO you're on drugs!
I go: Mom I'm okay, I'm just thinking.
She goes: No, you're not thinking, you're on drugs! Normal people don't act that way!
I go: Mom just give me a Pepsi, please.

All I want is a Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
Just a Pepsi.
Just a Pepsi.

When that song first came out I was twenty-year-old punk poser with a funny haircut, red Chuck Taylors, and an Anarchy pin in the lapel of my thrift store suit jacket. But last, while wearing pleated slacks and a sweater vest, I realized I had switched roles in the years since I'd last heard the song. I found myself listening from the parent's point of view. I'm not too worried that I'’ll have a conversation like that with my son anytime soon (he doesn'’t even like Pepsi), but I've seen too many teen/parent combos fall down the same hole as the poor boy in the song, so the lyric's obvious humor was colored with a tinge of sadness.

But I also realized that getting older doesn't mean you have to lose your youth. It just means you get to go over much of it again from another angle. And that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Son, the Comedian

In our family, I have traditionally been the sole provider of irony and angled humor. My wife is too nice to do this, and my kids, up until recently, have been too young. But this is beginning to change.

Saturday night, Chris and I dutifully attended a really awful Galaxy match, in which the G's lost 3-1 in a game that was not even that close. We stood with our friends the L.A. Riot Squad, and after the game, joined the guys in the parking lot for the post-match tailgate.

A number of the guys in the Riot Squad like to drink, although almost to a person they are happy/philosophical drunks. On Saturday Kevin, one of the guys I particularly like, was particularly drunk. Just before we left to go home, Kevin came over to Chris and me and expressed his appreciation of my as a father, told Chris what a fine young man he was, and told us both how much he loved our family.

Then we said goodbye and headed out on the long walk to our car. In the quiet along the way, I decided to have a "Dad moment" so I put my arm around Chris and started to tell him:

Me: "Chris, I love you, and admire you..."

Chris (interrupting): "Not as much as Kevin".

I am now no longer the only comedian in the house.

"...and then they came for American Girl"

I wish this following item was from Lark News, a kind of Christian The Onion, but it's not. It's from the New York Times, (hat tip) announcing yet another Christian boycott. I am getting tired, really tired of Christian "leaders" announcing boycotts. These boycotts usually have something to do with homosexuality, and we all end up looking silly when we seem to be declaring that the most important thing the followers of Jesus have to say is that you shouldn't drive a Ford because Ford markets their trucks to gay men.

The American Family Association, led by Donald Wildmon, has announced a boycott of American Girl products because of their alleged support of abortion and homosexuality. American Girl, which makes a highly successful line of dolls and related books aimed at girls age 7-12, is sponsoring the sale of "I Can" bracelets, with the proceeds going to Girls, Inc, a non-profit group with the nefarious goal of "inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold."

Now I personally am very comfortable with girls being "strong, smart, and bold" and actually pray from time to time that my daughter will be all of these things. I was very pleased when Katie took a liking to the American Girls dolls and especially the books, because the stories are about girls being, well, "strong, smart and bold".

I am fully aware of the consumerism which underlies the American Girl merchandising, but Wildmon's boycott is not about consumerism - a topic people like him never touch and is a temptation for fifty times (as in, like, everybody) the number of people who feel inclined to homosexual behavior.

In fairness to Wildmon, he is not just making stuff up. The Girl's Inc website includes a series of "Advocacy Statements", which include some rather standard feminist positions about being non-judgmental on sexual behavior and identity and supporting abortion as a way of maintaining "reproductive freedom".

Look, I think that framing abortion as an issue of freedom is nonsense, and I continue to believe that any kind of extra-marital sexual activity is sinful, so I probably would never be a board member of Girls, Inc. But I just cannot see how Wildmon's approach would be a good idea.

First, none of his boycotts have worked. But second, and most importantly, Wildmon's targets are people to be convinced, not enemies to be beaten back and defeated. Christians are supposed to view even the gravest sinner as someone in need of redemption and forgiveness. Our struggle is not against "flesh and blood" but against the powers which lie behind sinful behaviors. We may have an Enemy, but shouldn't try to make enemies among our fellow humans. The weapons of the Spirit are service and convincement and witness, not coercion and threats and demonization.

Christians must engage with the culture, and I think that even boycott's have a place - I still won't shop at Von's after last year's grocery strike - but this kind of secondary seperation that Wildmon advocates is just silly. Campaigns like this don't make us look merciful or concerned with justice or give the impression that we even understand how society works. They just make us look dumb. And it needs to stop.

Edit 10/19/05: Fixed misspelling of Donald Wildmon's name as "Widlman"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Things I Like: The Stand

I like hot dogs.

I've always liked hot dogs. I loved them as a kid, and then loved them enough to finally stop loving Dodger Dogs. I ate regularly at Oki Dog back in the day. When Wendy and I were first married, we regularly ate at the "Hot Dog Factory" on Raymond in Pasadena, back when Old Pasadena was just... old. I stop at CostCo just for a dog. I've let following foursomes play through if the hot dogs I bought at the nine-hole turn of a round of golf were particularly good. I particularly remember a round and the hot dogs at Recreation Park - drove the green on the first hole, great dogs at the turn - in Long Beach sometime around 1991 or '92. I've made it a point to visit some of the classic hot dog places around L.A., eating at Cupid's, standing in a long line at Pink's, and chowing down at Tail o' the Pup. And of course, the bacon wrapped hot dogs, sold on carts outside the Galaxy's stadium, have become a staple of my soccer experience. "Dos, con todo" are my three favorite words in Spanish.

So it was with great pleasure that we added The Stand in Encino to our hot dog experiences this past summer. I had read about The Stand on the definitive L.A. hot dog site,, and was finally spurred to action by the cover of the August issue of Los Angeles Magazine. The Stand is located on a nice part of Ventura Boulevard which looks like the Champs Elysees compared to the blighted stretch of Route 66 by my house.

The Stand is very attractive, with comfortable tables inside and a nice, vine shaded patio out. It feels classy, like the owner was thinking, "As long as I do this, I may as well do it right". And the dogs are great. On several trips over the past few months, we've had their Loaded Stand Dog (just $2 on Mondays!), Chili Dog, Big Blue Dog, Midtown Dog, Downtown Dog, and Andouille. The Andouille was just all right (not very spicy), but the other dogs were all wonderful.

It all starts with a great bun, which is very fresh and nicely steamed. The dogs have some snap, but not a lot, which is how I like 'em. And all of the toppings are of a high quality. My favorite has been the Big Blue Dog, which is a grilled dog topped with grilled onions, blue cheese, tomato and the Stand's own special Red Sauce. And each dog is served with a generous amount of freshly made potato chips - the best I've ever had.

Not quite a destination restaurant, but clearly a "make the effort if you're in the area" kind of place.

Linkage XV: BoingBoing Edition

I go away from the computer for a few days, and my Bloglines reader shows over fifty posts from BoingBoing. Here are five of the best:

LOTR/Warcraft Mashup - in which someone with way too much time on his hands has combined images from The Lord of the Rings films with captions from the very popular game, The World of Warcraft.

Why Maple Leaves Have So Much Color Variation Turns out the color change protects the tree from losing too much chlorophyll in exposed conditions.

Life Hacking - Revealed! I like "life hacking" sites, which tell you how to do things and how to avoid time wasting alternatives. The New York Times covers this growing type of website.

Wal-Mart Works with The Man A High School student made a mildly anti-Bush poster as part of a class project on civil liberties. When he took it to Wal-Mart to have it reprinted, they reported it to the Secret Service, which took the poster. Just a little bit of irony here, no?

More Mashups Well, not really a mashup, but folk singer Jonathan Coulton has covered Sir Mix-a-lot's classic booty paean, "Baby Got Back". Off the chain, yo.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Bias Never Stops

The Washington Times is known for being a reliable mouthpiece for the Right. This apparently goes all the way to their sports pages.

Last week, L.A. Galaxy striker Herculez Gomez was invited to meet the President along with a number of other Latino athletes as part of Hispanic Heritage Week. The meeting caps Herc's meteoric rise from $11,000 a year reserve team player to the leading scorer in American soccer. The only sour note was that the President called him... by the wrong name.

According to the Washington Times, Herc was OK with this: "Even though the president called me Hector, it's OK."

But in an article produced by MLS, Herculez had a slightly different response. He is of course very gracious when he says, "I was very privileged and honored to be invited. It was a great experience and something that I'll never forget."

But in response to the President's gaff, Herc said, "I guess it's karma. I voted Kerry. Things happen." Funny how that part didn't make it into the Times article. And in another interview, Herc says, "Overall, it was a good experience. Without soccer, it's something I probably would never have gotten the chance to do, so I'm thankful for that. I was in the White House - I don't think I'll get to do that again."

Herculez, I think you can count on not getting to do that again, assuming White House officials read more than the Washington Times.

Linkage XIV

One More Way to Waste Time Or maybe not. Via Brad DeLong comes word of Library Thing, which for a small subscription, allows you to catalog your books online, along with tagging features and a way to connect the data to your blog. Actually, this sounds kind of cool.

So That's How They Do It Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber reviews Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Please read this.

Torture We're still doing it - read Von's chilling breakdown at Obsidian Wings. The U.S. Senate recently passed legislation, over the President's opposition, telling the Administration to knock it off. Nine Senators voted against the bill and in favor of torture. Nine. The same number as the Nazgul. Patrick Nielsen Hayden makes the connection. Anything for their Lord and Master.

Good to Know From BoingBoing, instructions on How to Make a Secret Bookshelf Door.

And More on Torture Three of the six Senators who voted against the Torture Bill will sit on the conference committee which will reconcile this bill with whatever comes out of the House. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who is already one of the most cynically egregious operators in Congress has signaled that he will only allow the bill to go through with a number of "carve outs" which will allow some U.S. personnel and non-U.S. proxies to continue to torture people. To continue to torture people. I am so glad the current Administration and their allies have restored moral government to our country. (Via Crooked Timber)

I Like This - Vaclav Havel

On the occasion of this of his 69th birthday, Fred Clark at the slaktivist offers this quote from Vaclav Havel, from Havel's essay, "The Politics of Hope":
"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

Linkage XIII

TomKat's TomKitten I don't follow celebrity stuff... much. The whole Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes romance strikes me as rather silly and somewhat creepy. But at Slate, Dana Stevens has a hilarious breakdown on the Cruise's (or Cruise's-to-be) plans to have their baby Scientology style. If these people weren't celebrities, this would be downright scary stuff.

Two Timely A recent discovery among my bookmarks from past surfing sessions is Query Letters I Love, a site maintained by people in the Industry on which they post really, really crazy, weird and lame movie script query letters. Two of my favorite recent posts covered a script about a gang of specially trained priests hunting down a group of children who have accidentally opened the gates of Hell, and then another about a psychiatrist who discovers she is the subject of an ancient Hebrew prophecy which also involves four women who are supposed to be in their sixties but look much younger and who may be hiding deeper secrets. Who says there are no original ideas in Hollywood?

Smurfageddon This has been bouncing around the 'net for a week, but I still find this UNICEF produced short film showing Smurfs as war victims, um, deeply misguided. I'm a pacifist, but this is just silly. Stuff like this makes John Bolton seem sane.

Shakespeare = Sir Henry Neville There is a whole sub-industry of people who try to figure out who really wrote William Shakespeare's plays, going off the assumption that this rather simple and unsophisticated theatre man lacked the experience and access to have written about the themes addressed in his plays. Brian Weatherson notes the latest alternative, Sir Henry Neville, whose movements and background seem to fit the work's background better than Shakespeare's. But what is more interesting is that people continue to wonder about this.

Another Way to Stick It to the Man? Worried that surveillance cameras are watching you in public spaces? Troubled by being the subject of facial recognition scanners? BoingBoing has the answer, hoodie sweat shirts which can turn into masks. But Michael Froomkin suggests that wearing masks in public my be illegal in the United States!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Obviously, I am not (yet) one of those bloggers who has carved out space and time to do this. So when the last week and this got hectic, we feel back into blog silence - a huge no-no when you are trying to build an audience.

I do have a number of things which are almost ready. They are a bit more ruminative rather than rants, and that sort of thing takes more time.

In the interim since I've last posted, I've been thinking more about the Dodgers and Eric Gagne's blast against management. I've been thinking about how amazingly different one's reception can be depending on context when last weekend, I was howled at as a villain on the soccer field on Saturday (my team is too rough!) and then blessed for my "sensitive" and "touching" sermon on Sunday.

And then as an appreciater of irony, I note with some relish that when opponents to John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court wondered if his religious commitments would influence his rulings, the people around the President and on the right screamed, "Unfair". "No religious tests". Then yesterday, the President said he nominated Harriet Miers because of her religious beliefs. And now today, the Scott McClellan, the President's Press Secretary, lambasted the press for bringing up Miers' religious beliefs. Wow! I mean, wow!

And I know this is isn't very nice, but have you noticed that Harriet Miers looks a lot like Joseph Ratzinger, the new Pope, and that they both look like Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tracy Out

Last night, the Dodgers' manager Jim Tracy left his post "by mutual agreement" with General Manager Paul DePodesta.

I had no love for Tracy. My Dad hated him as a manager, but my Dad is frustrated by a lot of things with the Dodgers these days. Talking to him about the team makes me feel sunny and optimistic. But I did think that he was a good man who did a good job. I don't think his Dodger teams ever underacheived, and I think last year's playoff club played better than their talent. Even this year's awful team was awful at a level appropriate to their talent and luck. This team did not fail to reach its level, 71-91 was its level.

But he was not on the same page with DePodesta, and publicly disagreed with the G.M. as Kevin Roderick points out. Roderick thinks that Tracy was no great shakes and doesn't see anything wrong with a GM getting his own guy. In the Times this morning, Bill Plaschke makes a big deal over Tracy not having heard from owner (loan holder) Frank McCourt and goes on about the differences between DePodesta's statistically based approach and Tracy's more "old school" perspective, as well as taking some gratuitous shots at DePodesta's age. (Go follow the links on Roderick's post for a better discussion)

This leaves me somewhat torn. I'm someone who likes hard data, and one who has always been troubled by assertions and commonplaces which are based more on custom than on demonstrable facts. This probably can be traced back to my first year of playing high school football. I played just at the time when science, which said that drinking lots of water while practicing was a good thing, was replacing an older football culture which said that having infrequent or no water breaks built character and asserted that too much water was bad for you. And so, we would open the paper and read how the Rams now had unlimited water on the practice field and then go to practice and get one water break in three hours - if we had earned it.

So I would like to be supportive of the Billy Beane/Paul DePodesta approach. I think you can and should find things out by research and analysis, but the actual phenomenon of watching Hee Seop Choi play baseball gives me pause, and makes me think that old school guys like Tracy know something, too.

So... I don't know.

But at least they knocked the Angels off the front page today.

Monday, October 03, 2005

"You're Giving Me an Ulcer..."

...or not, as it turned out.

For years, everyone "knew" that stomach ulcers were caused by stress. I can remember my parents talking about family members with ulcer problems and trying to figure out what it was about their personalities and habits and life circumstances that were causing them.

Then, in 1982, two Australian physicians announced their discovery that these ulcers were caused by a particular bacterium, and could be cured in most cases by a simple course of antibiotics. But Barry Marshall and Robin Warren had a difficult time getting anyone to listen. But eventually they did, and today they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Nobel Prizes in the sciences are often awarded long after a particular discovery or breakthrough due to the time required to see if the new idea really works. But that was not Marshall's and Warren's problem. They could show people right away that their discovery worked, they just couldn't get them to "see" that it worked since everyone "knew" what caused ulcers:
"This was very much against prevailing knowledge and dogma because it was thought that peptic ulcer disease was the result of stress and lifestyle," Staffan Normark, a member of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska institute, said at a news conference.

The Australians' proposal of a microbial cause instead was "very controversial and unexpected," said Goran Hansson, who chairs the Nobel committee that awards the medicine or physiology prize. "They had to spend the first few years convincing the rest of the world."

Marshall even deliberately infected himself with the bacterium in 1985 and showed that it caused stomach illness, noted Lord May of Oxford, president of Britain's Royal Society. Marshall suffered inflammation, which can lead to an ulcer.

I am always glad for "hey, wait a minute" thinkers like Marshall and Warren. Far too often we settle on an explanation for something that doesn't account for all of the relevant facts. I think we are especially likely to do this when there is a moral or ideological element to the question. With ulcers, everyone believed they were caused by the sufferer's poor eating habits or nervousness, which is another way of saying that the ulcers were his or her fault. So the Australians' were really addressing not only the mechanics of ulcers but the broader "moral" framework that had grown up around them, the "dogma" as the Nobel Spokesperson said above.

I see something similar played out in my classes, when my students arrive "knowing" something about what the Bible says that doesn't quite fit with the actual facts of the text. The best students learn to re-examine what they thought they knew. Some end up in the same place, but some end up in an entirely new world. The biggest challenge often comes from students with a fairly extensively developed theology, which often serves to insulate them from the hard questions the biblical text would like us to grapple with.

It seems to me that we are smartest and most faithful when we hold our conclusions lightly, whether they be theological or medical dogmas, subject to correction if they no longer fit all of the data. The physicians ignoring the bacteria around the ulcers seem to me to very much like theologians, both professional and student, who cling to a doctrine or way of thinking which doesn't account for every element of a particular biblical text. Each semester, I challenge myself to make sure that what I have been thinking and teaching really fit the texts under examination, and every semester I end up changing my mind about something I've been teaching. Who knows how many other issues and questions lie unanswered and unsolved because we already "know" the answer.

So I thank you and countless stomachs thank you, Drs. Marshall and Warren.


I've just had my six-hundredth and sixty-sixth visitor to my blog.

He/she was connecting to the 'net through MCIlink in Colorado Springs, at 5:07 pm pdt, using a Windows XP system and a Firefox browser.

He/she arrived via a Google Blog search for "Ted Haggard"

I'll let you digest that for a moment. The 666th visitor came via a search for one of the leading pastors in the US and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. On Rosh Hashanah.

Coincidence? I'll let you be the judge of that.

Second. Worst. Team. Ever.

Because Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed was wrong, I was wrong in an earlier post. This year was only the second worst season ever by a Los Angeles Dodger team, and not the worst.

I am not comforted by this.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Linkage XII

All Work and No Play Make Jack... a Charming Suitor? Jim Macdonald links to a contest for recutting trailers, so that "The Shining" becomes a romantic comedy, and "Titanic" is a scary movie. (Actually, I did find the success of "Titanic" frightening, but for more discursive reasons).

Laundry No pun, this link is about laundry - you know, washing things. Cheryl Mendelson has written a new book called simply that. Go read this short review at BoingBonig - you'll learn things you need to know. We've found the laundry chapter of her magnum opus Housekeeping to be really helpful, as is the balance of the book. I don't know about a big volume (416 pages!) devoted just to laundry, but Housekeeping has been an invaluable resource.

"Gollum is a Pimp" The website Worth 1000 has a daily photoshop contest. Follow this link and you'll see characters from The Lord of the Rings movies photoshopped into everyday situations. (also via BoingBoing)

Redeeming the Time A friend sent me a link to a blog by Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary. It's well done, and, despite a link to Hugh Hewitt, it's a good example of what a scholar can produce if he can focus on something more than soccer, hot dogs, and where he left his ATM card. I especially recommend his post, A Myth of Origins: America's Christian Founding Fathers?

The Irony of Ironists Lark News is kind of a Christian version of the The Onion. But like the Onion, this month's Lark News has already been overtaken by actual events. In the lead article, "Christian 'Looters' Destroy Sex Shops in New Orleans" one Melvin Smith says, "If looters can rob electronics stores, then we can tear down satanic businesses." Well, there you go. But the article goes on to describe Christians taking out tarot parlors, but it appears that something like this is already happening in real life.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I Like This

I lost my ATM card.

I'm somewhat absent minded,and so I lose things quite often. This is the third time I've "lost" my ATM card, although it is the first time I actually lost it. Normally, when I "lose" things, I can make them reappear by replacing them, like in this episode with my driver's license I wrote about earlier.

This time, though, when I called my bank, they said someone had already reported it lost. This means whomever found it (probably at In-n-Out), instead of trying to use it, had called the 800 number on the card and made the report.

Knowing someone did this makes me very happy.