Saturday, September 30, 2006

"If nominated, I will..."

Last night, I was surfing through the stats on this blog, which of course is something I rarely do. I post for the exercise and the love of truth with little thought to who is reading or why, except, you know, for the part where I can't understand why nobody at linked to my post below about the American military interrogator who became a conscientious objector, and yes Jim, your response to that post was thoughtful and I'm working on a response which I'll post as soon as you respond to my response about why Hugh Hewitt is such a bad guy despite the fact that he was nice to you.

Anyway, as I said, I was making a rare trip through the stats and saw that last night at 10:02pm, somebody using a internet connection in Seattle came to this blog via Google using the search term "bob ramsey presidential candidate".

I have to say I'm flattered, and that I haven't really given it much thought. I mean, I have thought a great deal about how we would be much better off without our current President, but I haven't really thought about being President. I mean, I do daydream from time to time, and the other day I spent about five minutes thinking about what I would be saying if I were in Phil Angelides place running for Governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger rather than the awful campaign he's been running, but not about President.

But, if you guys really want me to, I'll at least think about it.

And a footnote: The Blogger spell check feature recognizes "Schwarzeneggar" but not "Angelides". Hmm.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

As Bad as It Gets

Three worst/stupidest things I've ever done:
  • Jumping from the high school grandstand onto a pole vault landing pad
  • Not visiting a woman just before she died of cancer because I was too freeked out by my own recent cancer experience and by her husbands anger at everything.
  • Not buying that Volvo in 1980 or buying that Saab in 2002.

Three worst/stupidest things our Congress has ever done:

As Dan Froomkin says:

Today's Senate vote on President Bush's detainee legislation, after House approval yesterday, marks a defining moment for this nation.

How far from our historic and Constitutional values are we willing to stray? How mercilessly are we willing to treat those we suspect to be our enemies? How much raw, unchecked power are we willing to hand over to the executive?

The legislation before the Senate today would ban torture, but let Bush define it; would allow the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant; would suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus; would immunize retroactively those who may have engaged in torture. And that's just for starters.

It's a red-letter day for the country. It's also a telling day for our political system.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I absolutely agreed with him" - a Christian and a Jihadist

There are several semi-funny but mostly sad passages in the Bible where God's people's opponents seem to know more about their story than Israel or the Christians themselves.

One of the best is in 1 Samuel when Israel brings the Ark of the Covenant into battle. This is a twofer of stupidity, with Israel treating the ark like an idol while thinking that putting the ark under threat will compel the Lord to fight harder for them.

The scheme goes horribly wrong when the presence of the ark in Israel's camp reminds the Philistines of several important points of Israel's story. They say "Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness". (1 Sam 4:8)

This is what Israel should be saying. God's people should have been saying to themselves something like, "Our God is the Lord, the one who saved us from the Egyptians with a strong hand and a mighty arm - surely he can deliver us from the Philistines".

But they don't. Instead, it's the Philistines who seem to understand Israel's faith better than God's people themselves. They also understand their own situation, and it leads them fight even harder and they defeat the Israelites and capture the ark.

I was reminded of this as I was reading this amazing article about Joshua Casteel, an military linguist and a Christian who was assigned as an interrogator in Iraq.

The article describes Casteel's encounter with an ardent jihadist. Rather than the brutal interrogations we've heard so much about, this one was a genuine dialog. Casteel says:
He tried to convert me to Islam from start to finish, and coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I felt in familiar territory, as if I were speaking simply to my Muslim counterpart. Then, we began to discuss war and violence. I asked him why he came to kill, he asked me why did I. At that point I knew I could go no further, unless I wanted to get into a debate about which one of us had the “more just” cause.

He then told me that I was not following the actual teaching of Christ, who said to “turn the other cheek” and to “not resist an evil person.” Coming from a jihadist who flat out told me he would kill me if he had the chance, I did not take the personal challenge all that seriously, but I came to a clear recognition of the fact that I absolutely agreed with him. I was in complete and total agreement with him, and I told him so. I did believe that my participation in systems of violence debilitates my Christian witness. I wanted to tell him that there was a different answer to injustice than the cycle of vengeance and violence condoned by Islam and by most systems of secular law: “killing in the name of justice or civil order.” I wanted to tell the jihadist that Jesus Christ (in Islam, the prophet “Isa”) had taught another way, and that I was living that way as a flesh-and-blood example for him — but I could not. For a moment, my job and duties completely faded to the periphery and all I cared about was confessing to this enemy my own sins in the hopes that he would recognize his. But, I could only take him so far. I could not actually lead him down a different path by my own example.

What I realized that day is that I whole heartedly believed, even when challenged by an enemy lacking legitimacy, that my participation in systems of violence completely debilitates the living example I believe is my bounded duty as a Christian to offer. And I believe this lack of coherence made my Christian witness totally impotent to a man who believed he was fighting a “just cause.”

When the self-avowed enemies of God's people can speak with greater clarity about the nature of Christian faith than we can, something has clearly gone wrong. When Christian leaders spout phrases like "securing our borders" and "reforming the judiciary" as if they come from Scripture while ignoring phrases like "turn the other cheek" and "not resist an evil person" which, you know, do come from Scripture, something has clearly gone wrong.

Israel eventually got the ark back. Where can we go to get our souls back?

(Via Zalm at From the Salmon)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gilmore Girls Season Debut: Random Thoughts

With the wonders of the MacBook and wireless internet (no tubes!), I offer the following thoughts on the new season of Gilmore Girls:
  • Thank God they didn't start with Lorelai in bed with Christopher
  • Rory's hair style doesn't work.
  • The overthetop rants and runons with Taylor and Babette are, well over the top. It will take the new writers and producers a while to get the tone right.
  • Paris is hard core. In a good way. I'd be really happy if they somehow flipped the focus of the show away from the Gilmores and over to Lane and Paris.
  • Lorelai is a narcissist. I've had it with her. I had just about had it with her at the end of last year, but I realize she is always, always, always going to be impulsive. But her delusional explanation of what happened to Sookie made me sick. Seriously. Run Luke. Run fast, run far. Run.
  • The first Lorelai/Rory fast talk fest is forced. It feels like a bad parody. If the writers are trying to show that the Gilmores are off their stride, it's OK.
  • The gab fest between the girls continues in a racquet ball court, and then they come home and continue jabber about the best thing to put on Lorelai's black eye. I sure hope this is leading somewhere, but I'm beginning to fear that it won't.
  • The Cingular commercial where the mom and daughter "argue" over the phone the girl has been given comes on. This is a great commercial, and it makes the dialog on Gilmore Girls seem really flat.
  • Finally, Lorelai explains the breakup to Rory. Slightly more coherent and truthful than what she told Sookie. I have a slight glimmer of hope.
  • Logan, whom I used to think was scuzzy and now I find rather appealing in contrast to the Gilmores, has been gone to London for like, twelve hours, and has called Rory from the airport, and Rory is already wondering about whether they're "really together". Lorelai ought to say, "Rory, get over yourself." Instead she says, "Go to London".
  • Rory figures out Logan's gift of a rocket and misunderstands his point. She calls him and shows she's lame by forgetting about the time difference. But then I show that I'm lame by misunderstanding Logan's point, but I did this because I was assuming that Logan had moved into the real world and away from Gilmore world, but it turns out he hasn't.
  • Luke didn't run. He comes to Lorelai's house to plead that she'll marry him. She tells him she slept with Christopher. Luke drives away.
Fin. That's it. No accounting for the bad dialog. It wasn't on purpose, it was the best they could do, and it wasn't very good.

They've jumped the shark. I'm out.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sentence of the Day

I had no love for the film Garden State. I had no idea at the end how Zach Braff's character knew whether it was love or just the absence of the meds he was feeling. But what do I know - it's been awhile since I was in my 20's and I've never taken mood altering drugs.

But one of Braff's fellow twentysomethings is even more annoyed than I. Writing in Slate, Josh Levin explains "Why I Hate Zach Braff", but you can sum it up in just one sentence:

If Zach Braff is the voice of my generation, can't someone please crush his larynx?


And if that's not enough, go read about the three part "Zach Braff Challenge" (here, here, and here) on the wonderfully snarky site The Hater.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Usual Suspects

Two developments on torture.

First, the three Republican Senators who were opposing the President caved. For analysis of just how badly, go read this and this. The upshot is that the CIA gets to keep doing what they've been doing, torture will be defined by what the President says, and no one can mount a legal challenge against it. And the three "men of principle" who initially stood up to the President - they caved to their party's leader and political expediencely like they have before.

In another development, the National Council of Churches re-released an ad in Roll Call, a newspaper targeted at the members of congress, asserting that "Torture is a Moral Issue". (The ad was first placed in the New York Times in June). Only in the through the looking glass state of this present world would Christians and Americans need to be reminded of something like this, but such is the nature of our times.

When I first saw the link to the NCC ad, I yawned. In the contemporary American religious scene, statements from the churches on the left side of the theological spectrum, the main constituents of the NCC, have no effect, or even the opposite effect on evangelical and conservative Christians. The folks I go to church with don't care what Jim Wallis, a professor from Princeton or a Catholic Archbishop have to say. More to the point, the President doesn't either. But they will listen to people like Ted Haggard, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rick Warren, a big deal pastor and mega-selling author, and both of them signed their names to the ad too.

Here's where it gets interesting. Both Warren and Haggard have had regular access to the President, with Haggard having a weekly phone call with the President or his close advisors every Monday. One wonders what they have said to the President after the ad was released in June. When Tony Campolo and Bill Hybels counseled Bill Clinton, they gave him the business. Have Haggard and Warren done the same?

I clicked through a lot of Google pages to see if either Haggard or Warren have said anything specific about torture beyond the ad, but I couldn't find anything. I can only pray (and I actually have prayed about this since June) that people like Haggard and Warren will use their access to speak the truth to our President, but sadly on the evidence so far, they either haven't, or it hasn't worked.

Report from the Streets re: Diddy

Put a fork in Diddy, 'cause he is ovah.

The signs were there. The commercials for ProActive. The silly daily video blog on his myspace. The transparent attempts for gansta street cred by involving himself in shootouts at clubs.

I'll come correct and say I've never really forgiven him for gettin' paid for his shamelessly commercial expropriation of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". But today, I offer this dispassionate critique of the latest offering from Diddy's ouvre, "Come to Me":


Somewhere today, Chuck D must have a really bad headache.

It starts with a couple of weak rhymes in Diddy's poor imitation of the slurred East Coast rap style, and then lots of Diddy's shoe-shine boy influenced dance breaks. Then the video moves on to lots and lots of gyrations from an out of work stripper who lip syncs a weak version of the already weak genre of soul r & b. (Update: my days from being a teenager daughter informs me that the "stripper" is the actually the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. Same thing, I tell her). The lyrics are about nothing. But Diddy's acne appears under control, so I guess he'll pick up an extra check from ProActive.

I'm a white 44 year old who drives a mini-van and lives in the last overwhelmingly white suburb of L.A. County, and this has been your report from the streets.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I've Finally Settled the Question...

...of whether the Lord still strikes people dead these days, like he did to Ananias and Sapphira when they lied about what they gave to the Lord, and he did to poor Uzzah during David's egomaniacal entry into Jerusalem. I'm now pretty sure he doesn't

The reason I know he doesn't is the absence of a great smoking hole where the Rev. Lou Sheldon and the board of the Traditional Values Coalition used to be when they issued this statement in support of torture.

The statement doesn't explicitly say they endorse torture. Rather, it echoes the President's call for "clarification" of the Geneva Conventions, which the Supreme Court recently reminded the President he has to obey. The reason the President wants this clarification is that we have been torturing people and he'd like to continue to do so. And he's more than a bit concerned that if his party loses power in the next election or perhaps regains its soul, there will be criminal prosecutions for those that tortured and those that ordered torture.

Look, I'm no longer surprised when allegedly Christian leaders parrot whatever the President and the Republicans want them to say. Proximity to power is extremely seductive, and Christian leaders have been co-opted by the state ever since the Roman government decided in the 4th century to use Christianity rather than exterminate it.

No, here's why I think, really think - no joking, that Lou Sheldon should be glad he's alive. The reason lies in the justification for why torture should be allowed:
"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post -World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits."
Let's parse this a bit for the obvious points of ignorance and dishonesty. First, there is nothing new about this "new form of war". People have been brutal too each other and have targeted civilians (or not differentiated combatants from civilians) throughout most of human history. Second, if the level of threat is a key decider, Americans were under much greater threat during the Cold War and WWII than we are now. Third, with a bit of snark, we should note that the TVC should expect a call from Karl Rove because the Administration has been careful never to call these folks "criminals". Remember Rev. Sheldon, it is the appeasing unchristian Democrat Party who want to treat terrorists like criminals!

That aside, here's whats wrong: The Traditional Values Coalition, in the name of Christ, and the President have essentially argued that if your enemy is evil, you may, in fact must do evil to prevent him from doing evil, except that when you do it isn't evil because you are the good guys.

Just look at what they're saying! Christ is not our standard. Scripture is not our standard. Understanding that even the vilest person is still has dignity because he was created in the image of God is not our standard. Understanding human evil against the backdrop of our common sinfulness rather than a Manichaean division of the world into good and evil is not our standard. The TVC and the President are saying that the badness of our enemies, not Christ, is our standard.

I don't know how to say it any more clearly: this is blasphemy.

Edited on 9/22 at 10:07 am pdt for greater clarity and increased snark

Sound Familiar?

As part of my daily internet timewasting, I read this account of a country in turmoil over its main political leader:

As the situation worsened, he chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. “His idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years,” one expert told me.

....For their part, the people have begun to wake up from his spell. This summer, the his popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The media, like its counterparts in other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Journalists have probed procurement scandals in the government. Even in the legislature, where his party controls the majority of the seats, members have become so disgusted with his style, as well as the continued violence in..., that some of his own party members have begun to speak out against him.

No, this is not the United States. The report is about Thailand, where a military coup occurreded yesterday.

Elsewhere, people in Hungary are rioting because it has been proven that the Prime Minister lied... about the economy. In the United States, we recently received further proof that the President and his administration were not honest in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating a military coup nor rioting, but this does make one wonder what it will take to make the President's most ardent followers to turn from him.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What's Wrong with Landon Donovan?

With the beginning of the semester, and even more astonishing behavior and speech from our President (Robert has a great take on W almost fighting - or fixin' to fight, as he would say - with Matt Lauer) I was once again knocked off of my blogging stride.

But this morning, I read this article about Landon Donovan, star of the U.S. National team and the L.A. Galaxy, who is widely recognized as the best soccer player in our country. Yet, for all of his gifts, Landon has not been all that effective this year for the Galaxy and he had a disastrous World Cup.

I understand that anyone, even the best, can have a good game, and some can even have a bad season. But Landon seems really unperturbed by his and his teams failures. He's not the annoying in the typical way of an American athlete - "I got my 20 and I got my check, so who cares" - it seems to run deeper.

Landon's malaise has been a frequent topic on soccer blogs, websites and discussion boards, so today, upon reading the article, and many, many others, I have decided to add to the literature by making these observations about Landon:

1. He doesn't want his life to be all about soccer
2. He doesn't want to be The Man
3. He really does need to have certain people around him and certain circumstances to feel OK

In response, I'd say:

1. It's probably good for Landon that his life isn't only about soccer, but what he is doing is entirely different than someone who is pro athlete or musician who quietly volunteers doing something that tangibly helps people. Hanging out in Manhattan Beach with you M.A.W. (Model-Actress-Whatever) girlfriend and listening to Air Supply or REO Speedwagon on your iPod do not count. Look, without soccer. Landon would be a sixth year student in business administration at CSU San Bernardino working part time at a Cingular Wireless store. I have no doubts that Landon has worked hard on his game, but I think the highly gifted have a responsibility to serve their gifts rather being served by them. Landon does not seem to understand this.

2. Landon was great at the 2002 World Cup because it wasn't his team. This summer, it was his team, and he seemed paralyzed by the role. I really don't think he wants to be the guy who makes a team go. When he returned to Germany to play in 2005, his team expected him to be that - they're not going to have a big money foreigner, and especially an American, being a role player. At Beyer Leverkeusen, his German club, it was be The Man or get out, and so now he's back. He needs to be a role player to be successful, but right now the Galaxy need him to be the star, and this is why, in large part, the G's may miss the MLS playoffs for the first time in the league's history.

3. To make this point, I must play amateur psychologist for a minute. Landon's parents got divorced when he was at a particularly vulnerable age. I know that some kids sail through their parents' divorce, but that is usually because they have a higher than normal level of psychological resilience. Landon, on the other hand, seems to have come up short just at the time he needed it the most. Ever since this time, he has really needed his situation to be right to feel OK. A more resilient person facing a challenge would take the bull by the horns and make his situation right, or realize that sometime you just gotta deal regardless of how you feel, but Landon does not seem to have it in him to be like that. I think the divorce combined with an unresilient temperament has given us the guy we see today, and it's not going to change. I don't think this is a matter of courage, as many have suggested. We're all broken people, all of us have weaknesses, and his is (or may be) a lack of resilience. This is no worse than having a phobia like fear of heights, but the difference here, and it's an important one, is that Landon has not yet figured out that he ought not to talk about his lack of resilience as if it's a good thing.

So for the sake of the Galaxy and the National Team, I hope Landon can find some way past this

Monday, September 04, 2006

I Like This: The Poor Man

From The Editors at The Poor Man Institute for Freedom, Democracy and a Pony come the two best sentences I've read at least this month, maybe this season, and perhaps this year. They are found in the description of film #91 in his list of the Best Worst Movies in History:
Have you ever been watching a Chuck Norris movie and been like “man, good movie, but Chuck’s characterizations are too multi-layered and complex?" I have been there, my friend, and I am here to show you the way: Steven Seagal.
Pure class. Simple greatness. I feel proud to share this planet with The Editors.

Friday, September 01, 2006

As I Walk This Earth... (Episode III)

...I see the height and depth and breadth of humanity. I saw...

...a young woman and her Mom looking into the window of a real estate office. It took me a minute to be sure she was her mom and not a slightly older friend because the late forties Mom was dressed as if she were a somewhat stylish twenty-six year old. Closer observation resolved my confusion. The young woman was uninterested in listings for Glendora. "I don't want to live in Glendora- in Glen-bore -a." she said. Did she want to live in Silver Lake? Santa Monica? Pasadena? Or further afield, San Francisco, TriBeCa or even South Beach? Sadly, no. She continued, "I want to live in Orange County." a track meet last summer:
Chris (my son): "I saw Don Cheedle in the stands."
Me: "Yeah, his daughter is a midget."

Explanation: USA Track and Field uses the term "midget" for the 11-12 year old age division. (Chris was competing as an "Intermediate Boy"). It amazes me that they still use that term.

...a woman driving while holding a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks and one of those eye lash curlers in the other. And yes she was in an SUV. This has got to be some kind of record.