Friday, July 28, 2006

On Happiness

“One is happy as a result of one’s own efforts, once one knows of the necessary ingredients of happiness—simple tastes, a certain degree of courage, self-denial to a point, love of work, and, above all, a clear conscience. Happiness is no vague dream, of that I now feel certain.”
-- George Sand

At one level, this seems right to me. I've been on the other side of each of these things, and I know this leads to unhappiness. But is the opposite real happiness? More later.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My Father/Son Trip to Santa Barbara

My son Chris and I spent most of yesterday traveling back and forth to Santa Barbara. I was getting a little stir crazy with the heat, and I was longing to have some tacos and other goodies at La Super Rica. Plus, the L.A. Galaxy, whom Chris and I maniacally support, were playing a "friendly" match against the Mexican club Cruz Azul at U.C. Santa Barbara. So we made a day of it. Here is my account of our day in, suitably, eleven parts:

I. Bad Start I had trouble going to sleep the night before, and didn't conk out until 2:00 am. I awake unexpectedly at 6:00 am because my wife forgot to shut off her alarm when she got up with the cat at 4:45 am. I also have a bad headache due to the eating chocolate pudding the day before.

II. It Gets Better The headache dissipates and I have a couple of good hours of study. I find an amazing insight into Isaiah 43:10. This part of Isaiah just gets better and better.

III. Better Still Lunch is at The Stand on Ventura Blvd in Encino. The Big Blue Dog is a consistent winner. However, while we eat we watch the TV as the Dodgers' day disappears faster than our hot dogs.

IV. And Even Better Chris burned a cd for the trip from an iPod playlist. I like everything on it - this may have been his intention, he's a nice boy.

V. But Then, A Turn for the Worse We arrive in Santa Barbara with a few hours to kill. We decide, hoping against to hope, to go see The Lady in the Water. I've liked Shyamalan's movies in the past. I even liked The Village, and couldn't understand why people didn't realize it was about 9/11. And of course the acting was bad. The people in the story were all playing parts, badly. That was the point of the movie! Anyway, I knew this one could be bad, but I'm telling you, this is the first time I've been in a theater where the audience literally snorted as the movie ended. I mean, I saw a blaxploitation film at a revival house when I was in college, and about 30 minutes into the film, a large African-American man with an afro stood up, shouted "What the fuck is this shit?" and threw his popcorn at the screen. That was pretty impressive. But the unified disdain shown by the audience to The Lady in the Water was something I'd never seen before. Later over dinner, Chris and I were trying to clarify a number of plot points. Several times he asked, "Why did so and so do thus and such?" and the only answer I could give was "Because the plot needed it to happen."

VI. And Even Worse We drive over a few blocks to have dinner at La Super Rica and they are closed! I mean, this was the real underlying purpose for the trip. Then Chris nicely reminds me, "But Dad, you know they're closed on Wednesday. Remember when we planning to come here last July? You made sure we didn't go on Wednesday because you knew they were closed." I'm sure he's right, and the worst part is that I have no memory of having known this. I mean, I remember going last summer and I even remember what I had, but I don't remember the knowing about the Wednesday part. This is very troubling.

VII. The Nadir: wherein I experience for a moment what it is like not to be white by being in a place where being white is not an advantage We pop into a soccer shop down the street to get tickets for the match and to maybe buy a t-shirt for me because I was unaccountably wearing Cruz Azul colors. (I'm in a blue and white striped Ashworth golf shirt) As we walk in, the two clerks seem to rather pointedly ignore us. The shop is nicely appointed, but with only European and Mexican league shirts - no American or MLS gear, with the exception of a large rack of Chivas USA stuff. When we step up to the counter, we're waiting behind a guy buying tickets and trying to decide if he should buy a Barcelona kit for his young son. But while we were waiting, another Mexican guy walks into shop and is immediately greeted by the second clerk who comes from across the store and sells him tickets for the match while we stand there. After he sells the guy the tickets, this second clerk walks quickly away from the counter and returns to the far of the shop while studiously avoiding looking at us. Finally, the man with the Barca shirt is done, and the clerk at the counter asks me what we want. I tell him we want tickets for the match and he rather begrudgingly sells them to us. Out on the sidewalk I tell Chris, "Well, we just experienced for a moment the kind of thing blacks and Latinos get all the time."

VIII. A Turn for the Better We arrive at UCSB and parking is only $2. (It's $15 at the Galaxy's stadium. That's why I usually park on the street) We take a stroll across the beautiful campus and arrive at the very nice stadium and watch the teams warm up.

IX. A Quick Reversal The game begins and Cruz Azul are all over the Galaxy. The G's should should have had a penalty, entirely against the run of play, in about the sixth minute, but other than that, the first half was all cementeros. The Galaxy back line looked especially overmatched. Right back Chris Albright was sleep walking through the match while newcomer Kyle Veris looked like a boy among men. Our goalkeeper Steve Cronin made a number of amazing saves, he was clearly the Galaxy's man of the match.

X. My Hopes are Raised, Only to Be Dashed The G's start much more brightly in the second half and equalize after a few minutes on a beautiful finish from Kyle Martino after a nice build up. Sadly Cruz Azul score twice more in quick succession. Then the G's pull one back on a nice header from Chris Albright on a corner which the refs, after some discussion and an apparent decision to ignore the laws of the game, decide to disallow. Grr. The G's give up one last goal on a corner to reach the final score.

XI. And then this morning... I awake with a stye in my eye.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 2

It's not the worst movie I have ever seen. Pirates of the Caribbean 1 was far worse.

This one was just kind of.... dreary. For a popcorn movie, it was pretty slow moving. While the action scenes were predictably overdone, they lacked even the dubious virtue of the first film's "turned up to eleven" excess. Maybe the ponderous tone was due to the film makers trying to "go deeper" into the story - I suspect the limp plot line about Keira Knightly exploring her inner pirate was meant to be that. But while the writers/producers/directors/sausage grinders who were responsible for this may have thought they were making Godfather Part 2 or even The Empire Strikes Back, they were really just making Wayne's World 2. And I don't even want to start in on why those black people were standing waist deep in the water holding candles in the final scene as the guys poled their boats into the Pirates ride at Disneyland to go talk to Lisa Bonet's younger sister. (That is where they were, right?)

To test my perspective, I did interview one viewer, Katie R., age 12 from Glendora, California, who said: "I was bored. I was falling asleep". (And this was after she had slept 12 hours the night before!)

For another take: watch this review from Ask a Ninja. Here's a taste...
The structure of the movie, the best that I can tell is, they loaded about four or five different screenplays into a shotgun, and then just, and then just pulled the trigger, and then sent somebody around, like a P.A. around to just pick up random words and piece them together and then hand that to the actors. And then even that script was lost about half way through shooting and then the director just made it up every day.
Now that's good writing.

Linkage XXIX

Seven Deadly - Bears? The Seven Deadly Sins demonstrated with Gummy Bears (Via BoingBoing)

Great Line: "The menu, scrolled hurriedly across a white eraser board, reads like Hannibal Lecter's grocery list — cheek, lip, tongue, eye. I opt for the lengua (tongue), and dig into the tiny pocket." From "Chasing the Perfect Taco Up the California Coast" - The New York Times.

"Back in the U.S.S.R, you don't know how lucky you are boys..." According to this report, residents in the FEMA trailer parks set up after last year's hurricane cannot talk with a journalist without a FEMA official present. If they do, they can be evicted from their trailers. No indication in the article if the FEMA officials are called "commisars". (Via The Carpetbagger Report)

What's Going on in Lebanon? I don't know, but maybe Augustus Richard Norton, and he's interviewed by Ken Silverstein of Harper's.

And Here's What the President Thinks... about what's going on in Lebanon. If this article in the Washington Post in any way represents what the President is thinking, the world has become a much scarier place in the last week. Wow, I mean, just, WOW!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On the Stem Cell Veto: Right Said, Fred

In my return to serious blogging, I spent this morning trying to think and write about the ethical issues connected to stem cell research, prompted by the President's veto yesterday of legislation mandating Federal funding for this kind of research.

I am troubled by research on stem cells taken from human embryos. I cannot see any reasonable place to draw the line at where life begins other than conception. I know this perspective has problems, but not nearly as many as when one draws the line further along in the process.

I agree with the President when he said:
This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it. ...

Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed for their cells. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. ...
The problem is that I'm not sure the President believes what he said.

It's true that the embryos used for stem cell research are destroyed when that research happens. But the elephant in the room, which the President didn't address, is that these embryos, which are largely the left-overs from in vitro fertilization procedures, will be destroyed anyway. Doctors routinely fertilize a number of eggs for each couple trying to conceive, and the embryos not used are routinely discarded after the couple concludes their conception efforts. As one who does believe that life begins at conception, I can't see how this is OK.

So for me, I don't see how we can talk about stem cell research without talking about the problem of "excess" embryos created by in vitro fertilization. Christian blogger Joe Carter, who provided an audio essay today supporting the President's veto on NPR, agrees with me, I think, but sees the President's action as preventing further progress down an already bad road. I agree with Joe, but sadly, there is nothing in the President's statement that says what Joe and I were wishing he'd said.

You see, the President's statement from yesterday seems to recognize this linkage and then proceeds as if it's not there. I guess I can give him points for not being as blatantly untruthful as Karl Rove has been this week, but then I would also be naive, since this Administration routinely coordinates its messages with the harshest or most mendacious coming from surrogates so the President can seem more reasonable.

But I can't even give him points for reasonableness, because he justifies his obviously incremental decision by appealing to absolute principles. And this is where I start to lose it.

I know the President likes to speak in broad principles and absolutes, but if those words are to have any meaning they must actually serve as principles and absolutes and not as merely rhetorical window dressing. So if we apply the principle the President claims - innocent life should not be destroyed to benefit others - as a genuine principle, then one also has to ask:
What about those embryos that are being destroyed after in vitro fertilization? And if this really is a principle and not merely a poll tested phrase, then one should ask: What about the loss of innocent life in Lebanon this week? You seem fine with the Israelis killing innocent Lebanese. Maybe there's a kind of ethical calculation you've made - I understand that world leaders are sometime forced to make those kinds of choices. But yesterday you claimed absolute principle when you vetoed the stem cell bill. And what about the manifestly innocent people you've imprisoned and had tortured and even killed in Guantanamo and other prisons? Where's the absolute principle in that?
At this point, my head exploded. Thankfully it was put back together by a very well-targeted post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist. Fred calmly and clearly punctures the nonsense of the President's statement, and makes some rather troubling conclusions about our leader. You really should go read the whole thing. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Here's the thing. We need to have a serious conversation about the issues underlying stem cell research. Sadly, the President's manifestly unserious statement (and I'm being charitable in calling it that - again, go read Fred Clark) has made it harder now to have that conversation. I and others can think very hard and well about the issue, but if the people charged with the decision by our Constitution and laws are unwilling to do even that simple work, then I don't know where we are.

On Peacemaking

Yesterday at Chris Frazier's blog, Quaker 2.0, I tried to say something in answer to the question of where Friends are and should be in response to our world's latest spasm of violence.

Today, I'm less impressed with what I said, but I am very impressed with what Johan Maurer said on the topic. Go take a look.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

I really did intend to resume regular blogging in late May (and in February!), but it was clearly a bad time to try.

I was in the midst of teaching a six week grad course in Friends Theology. I was coaching my son for post-season, USATF track meets and the World Cup was starting. Plus I was preaching each week on something that it turned out that I wished I hadn't started

I think I'm still tired from the World Cup, but the other commitments are finished, except for the preaching part, and I've been talking about something I really like (Isaiah 40-54) so that's not a big deal.

So, back to blogging.