Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Mix

A politically progressive writer I was reading yesterday coined a phrase I thought was pretty amusing and telling. He referred to the current political and cultural context in the US as The Christo-Republican Darkness.

I'm no fan of what's going on politically in the country and I'm truly alarmed by the political naivete of the conservative protestant church.

But after coming across this phrase I think I can safely say that some progressives have gone completely over the top. They may even become as politically loony and paranoid as many American conservative Christians.

At some point soon I'm expecting the grown ups to weigh in. That may take a few years and an election or two, but I'm pretty confident common sense will find a way.

Sometimes science can be pretty thrilling.

The human genome has been mapped at this point and to most everybody's surprise we have a lot fewer genes than people thought we did--way less than a lot of creatures who can't brush their teeth in the morning or invest in a mutual fund.

I was reading today about how we make the most of the genes we do have.

Genes make various proteins that create different kinds of cells and ultimately life itself.

Turns out there is a lot of junk stuff in our DNA that scientists couldn't figure out. Most of our caloric intake everyday is expended in supporting that "junk" which didn't seem to have any role in creating new cells.

But the junk may make sense after all. Seems like it may be the key to allowing for creative mutations that allow humans to develop new proteins--and hence whole new ways of being physically human--which allow us to adapt much better to new situations than creatures with less genetic junk. We may be extra-sensitive to evolutionary pressures and may adapt more quickly than other organisms because of the way we're genetically wired.

At the very least, it seems like we make the most of our relatively small number of genes by creating more proteins per gene than other creatures, though the other primates are close behind.

I really like the idea that the majority of our everyday energy may be expended in keeping alive the potential for change on a genetic level.

If this line of inquiry turns out to be accurate in the relative way that science operates--as opposed to the absolute and important claims of religious faith--it might help put some things in perspective.

God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, he plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Brains and Accents

Most people from the Northeast and Pacific Coast regions of the US discount a person's IQ about 10% when they hear a southern accent.

You know who you are dear friends. There may even be a few of you from outside of those parts of the country who share in our blame.

That was especially true for me--at least in my dark and unenlightened past--when that accent had Oklahoman and Texan overtones.

But I want to testify that I've been delivered from that kind of harmful stereotype.

Yes, I've been saved from the egregious errors of my obstinant linguistic path!

But I have to admit that I'm struggling with another obstacle.

In my work I talk with lots of folks in their 20's and 30's, and at least half of 'em are young women.

But I have a hard time, I must confess, with the by-now-mainstream Val Speak that I hear from so many of them.

I've always associated Val Talk with 80's San Fernando Valley teens and Moon Unit Zappa, and I have to admit that I've always dropped 20% off the top of any Val speaker's brains at the first hint of an "Oh my God!" or a "fer sure!"

A more toned down version has become pretty common now among young women from the West Coast. The silliest expressions are gone, but the tone and rhythm and cadences of the original Mall Speak are alive and well and have morphed into a new regional accent and idiom.

Even with this more sophisticated version they still sound like they're 13 or 14 years old, especially when they have higher pitched voices, though many are obviously gifted and accomplished people.

This puts me in the strange position of talking about the most serious life and career decisions with young women I'd expect to see working at Hot Dog On A Stick.

Yes, I'm a cultural troglodite. I admit it freely.

Pray for my linguistic and cultural enlightenment....

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Winning Spin

I'm guessing one of you signed me up for a Republican National Committee membership as an ironic joke. So thanks for the thought. I always get a little laugh when I run across my little plastic RNC membership card in my wallet.

Or maybe the RNC picked me out because of the marketing software they use. I'm religious and middle class and live in Colorado, so I guess I fit their target audience pretty well.

I just got my most recent mailing from the RNC. Sometimes there is no need for commentary. I've been getting this kind of message for a couple of years. Enjoy, and draw your own conclusions.

Dear Tom,

I don't want to believe you've abandoned the Republican Party, but I have to ask ... Have you given up?

Our records show we have not yet received your 2005 Republican National Committee membership contribution.

As the Treasurer of the RNC, I know our Party's success depends directly on grassroots leaders like you.

So I am surprised and concerned because I know how generously you have helped in the past and how instrumental your support was to our Party's historic victories in 2004.

I know other things come up, and perhaps you've just been delayed in renewing your membership. If that's the case, I understand.

But we've not heard from you this year -- and I hope you haven't abandoned the Party.

President Bush is counting on Republican leaders like you to help him with the tough challenges that lie ahead in his second term.

While we strengthened our majorities in Congress, the margin is still narrow -- and that means liberal Democrats will continue their delay and fillibuster tactics.

And that's why your 2005 RNC membership renewal contribution of $25, $38, or even $50 is urgently needed to give President Bush and the GOP Congress the resources they need to move our country forward.

Your support is important. The future of our compassionate conservative agenda is at stake.

President Bush has put forth a comprehensive plan of keeping taxes low and reforming our outdated tax code, continuing to provide for strong homeland defense and saving and protecting Social Security.

But as we learned during the President's first term, the Clinton/Kennedy/Kerry Democrats will obstruct and delay our agenda at every turn.

We cannot allow them to succeed!

We need your help to get our message out so we can bypass the liberal media filter with our own public outreach and communications.

It is also crucial we continue our efforts to build our Party from the grassroots up for the vital 2005-2006 elections.

So if you have delayed in renewing your membership because you feel the RNC has let you down or no longer needs you, please let me know. I need to hear from you.

But please don't turn your back on President Bush and our Congressional leaders who are counting on your help.

Just include your comments and suggestions with the enclosed Membership Confirmation and return them with your 2005 membership renewal check.

Please don't quit now! Renew your RNC membership today. Thank you.


Mike Retzer

P.S. Our nation is closely divided politically. We need the support of every Republican to provide the resources President Bush and the GOP Congress need to defeat the liberal Democrats and fully enact our agenda. Please don't give up now! Please renew your RNC membership today! Thank you.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Pitch Lingo

I heard a couple of radio ads today. One of them used the word "savory" to describe a sandwich and a salad, and another used the term "well-appointed" to describe the interior of a car.

In 47 years of talking and listening to people I've never heard a single real person ever use the word "savory" or the term "well-appointed" in everyday conversation.

It takes a long time for communities to create their own language, and I guess after over a century of pitching every conceivable product and idea to Americans the advertising fellowship has its own well-developed lingo.

In a way, language has never been more powerful. Whole religious and political and cultural universes turn on the pitch rather than on actions and convictions.

I'm just wondering where I can get a savory and well-appointed salad. Or government. Or church.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Mix

I just got back from Senegal which explains the lack of recent posts.

I'll write up some thoughts on the trip in my "essay" blog in the next few weeks (Hieronymus Blog

Some notes on what's been what:

Denver hosted the 2005 NBA All-Star game, and I left for Africa the day after the game. I got to the airport in the morning and noticed lots of very tall people walking around and realized this was the NBA crowd heading home. I ended up talking with a couple of players including Julius Erving, an all time NBA great who played with the Sixers.

I'm not big on heroes. But I've especially enjoyed watching a few special players over the 35 years I've followed the NBA closely, and "Dr. J" is one of them. He and his family were on the same flight I had to Cincinnati and I ended up sitting right next to them in the boarding area. He's much older now than the youthful images I remember, so I actually started talking with them before I realized who he was. Nice people.

I had a chance to talk to them for a while before a bunch of dads and their kids who eventually recognized him congregated looking for autographs. It was sort of sad to watch. I've never really understood the need for autographs or heroes. But he handled it very gracefully, which is the main quality I remember about his hoops.


I always try to avoid coming back from an overseas trip into a mid-west airport, but sometimes it can't be helped. Since 9-11 the security people in that part of the country are especially enthusiastic.

This time I landed at the Cincinnati Airport which is actually in Northern Kentucky.

During past trips I've been stopped and my baggage searched many times. The countries I normally visit aren't the usual vacation destinations for Americans.

In spite of that the customs and immigration people around the country are usually friendly and sympathetic.

But not if you land in the midwest. Or at least, not in my experience.

This time a young woman took my passport and various forms and looked confused.

She said to me, with a straight face, "Senegal's not a place Americans go."

"Uh, well, that's where I went, " I said.

It went downhill from there.

Happily, I made my connecting flight to Denver on time after aggressive questioning and the most intrusive kind of search through my baggage.

Welcome home!


I've been thinking for a while about a shift I'm seeing in the way people think and feel about moral and ethical decisions. I'll try to write something more serious about this at Hieronymus.

It seems to me that an ethic of self-improvement has replaced a committment to obeying a moral code. That change seems as true among Christians as among any group in the culture.

If anything, it seems like the ethic of self-improvement is an even harsher task master than the old moral codes.

Maybe that means it will lead people to grace better and quicker. I hope so.

This shift is so obvious to me that I'm sure other people have commented on it. I'd love to hear any thoughts about it or about any references you've come across.