Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The past twelve months have been tough on our planet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, something to wonder about.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I Was Wrong and I Was Right

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'm Having Trouble Blogging...

... because of things like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and Clinton did it, too.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2005

As I Walk This Earth...

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

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Now That's Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2005

Linkage XXV

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In Praise of Self-Deprecation

by Wislawa Szymborska

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 09, 2005

Group of Death

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

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

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

That is all.

Boycott the Megachurches?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Boycott the White House?

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Music

We've got a real problem with Christmas music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has filled the hungry with good things,

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

I wish I knew. I wish I knew.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Linkage XXIV

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 02, 2005

What Hath Montgomery Street to Do with The Castro?

Something has gone wrong with my gaydar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

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

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

Logic and facts weak here - shout louder

But wait, I've got more.

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

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