Friday, March 31, 2006

Making Things Right

My time in South Africa got me thinking about the importance of making things right after you’ve made ‘em wrong.

Old timey Christians used to call that penance.

Current pop Christian culture and secular therapeutic culture are both big on forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness and forgiving yourself are at the heart of our soul sense right now. That’s all to the good.

More serious spiritual types outside of the mainstream are into what our ancestors used to call repentance. That means turning your life around and living differently after you figure out you’re not getting it right. That’s even more to the good.

But penance has sort of dropped out of our religious and psychological vocabulary. I’ve heard hundreds of sermons on forgiveness and repentance but I don’t recall hearing much about making things right after you’ve made ‘em wrong.

Medieval Christians thought penance was pretty important to a healthy soul. They believed that genuine forgiveness and repentance could only happen if the wrong doer did everything in their power to make things right. They even came up with a place after death called purgatory where you could finish up your penance before you graduated to heaven.

In that "paleo-view" of the world they recognized that sometimes you could restore what was lost and sometimes you couldn’t. If you stole money from someone you could restore it in full. If you took someone’s life or their future, you could only do your best to pay back "pennies on the dollar." They thought if you couldn’t pay things back in full you should undergo an ordeal of suffering to make amends and to understand in a deep way what you’d inflicted on others. They believed that was the only way to be saved.

Saw The Three Burials of Melchiades Estrada and Tsotsi in the past couple of weeks. Wonderful flicks. Both of them about penance. I can’t remember a movie since The Mission way back in the 80’s that took that idea seriously. The LA Times ranked Three in their top 5 flicks of 05 and Tsotsi won the Academy Award for best foreign film. The first 30 minutes of Three are hard to sit through but it’s worth the wait.

The Three Burials is about a border patrol agent living in a version of hell (a small border town in Texas :^). He’s arrogant and careless and accidentally shoots and kills an illegal immigrant cowboy. The Mexican cowboy’s close friend--an old white Texan played by Tommy Lee Jones--promises his friend Melchiades that he’ll take his body back to Mexico for burial if he dies. When he learns his friend has been killed by the border patrol agent and that the local sheriff isn’t going to do anything about it, he kidnaps the border patrol agent and digs up the body and takes ‘em both on horseback to Mexico to fulfill his promise.

I won’t give away more details, but it’s a moving and very Catholic take on someone forced to do penance in order to find forgiveness and redemption. Powerful ending. Might have some relevance for the current illegal immigration debate.

Tsotsi is a South African movie. Rebecca took Jan and I to see it today because she thought it captured some of what she experienced in the townships around Cape Town.

Tsotsi’s a young gangster in one of the townships around Johannesburg. He’s a monster in a place that creates monsters. Like Three, the movie is straightforwardly religious without seeming religious at all. South African hip hop. The kind of hip hop with something authentic to say. Tsotsi’s soul gets saved through trying to make right what he made wrong even though he still has to face the consequences of his life. Very creative and unique. The ending is even more powerful than in Three. For those of my friends working with inner city kids, take 'em to see this flick.

Made me wonder when penance ends. You can be forgiven but still be on the hook in the old timey religious way of thinking until things are put right. Does it continue from one generation to another if things still aren't right in even a pennies on the dollar sort of way? Wonder if differences in viewing penance are underneath the debate about affirmative action, dealing with Native Americans, international aid and debt relief, etc?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Border Wars

At the outset I’ve gotta admit that my family and I have a lot of illegal friends in our old neighborhood in So Cal. We lived among "wetbacks" for many years. The future of some people we care about depends on how this illegal immigration debate shakes out.

A few thoughts to kick off the discussion:

• The current firestorm over illegal immigration strikes me as a part of a wider culture of fear and polarization that got some deep roots in the country after 9/11. We might end up with better immigration policy if we’d calm down and slow down. There’s an urgency and extremity to this discussion right now that I don’t think is positive. We've been on a 5 year adrenaline high. Time to ease off and start celebrating patience and reflection again.

• Illegal immigration is good economic news for immigrants and for the countries south of the border. Illegals and their families make way more than they could at home and funnel big dollars into the economies of their mother countries by way of cash transfers to their families.

For those of us concerned for the economic uplift of the poor around the world and for the advancement of third world economies, that’s no small benefit. Some might even view it as a godsend. But what about the US economy?

I've looked at various studies and data including a recent Harvard study on the economic effects of illegal immigration. In spite of the extreme claims on all sides of the issue, I think it’s more honest to say that illegal immigration helps certain American industries by providing a low cost and large labor pool, is a boon for the immigrants themselves and their countries of origin, hurts poorly educated native born Americans, and has a very small but positive effect on overall US economic performance. That’s what the concrete data I've seen suggests.

• Basic social decency requires that we provide people—once they’re here—with essential services like health care, education for their children, etc. One Swiss observer wrote about his own country’s immigration challenges: “We wanted a labor force, but human beings came.”

• And Christian people will always want to take the values of hospitality and generosity to ‘the poor’ and ‘the stranger’ seriously. Even if that means committing civil disobedience, which may become necessary for some Christians if certain House bills pass. The LA Catholic Archdiocese has already announced they will disobey any law that makes aiding illegals a felony. Good for them.

• The real challenge that decency and Christian social ethics create is that low skill illegal immigrants don’t pay enough in taxes to cover the costs of the benefits they receive. That money’s gotta come from somewhere. So again, in spite of what a lot of pro-immigration types claim, illegal immigrants are—at least in the short run—a burden on various social services and on state budgets. A lot of people are pretty upset about that.

• Very few people are willing to say it openly, but much of the intensity and fear behind the debate is clearly about a clash of cultures. Some native born Americans simply don't like what they believe illegal immigrants are 'doing' to neighborhoods and cities. They look down on what they believe to be an inferior culture. So the illegal immigration debate is only partly about the "illegal" part of the equation. It seems to me that at least a part of it is rooted in straightforward cultural prejudice.

• I think a whole lot of Latinos got out onto the streets this past weekend because of that clash. And I understand their passion to defend their culture publicly against Americans who don’t understand what good and hardworking people the vast majority of illegals really are.

But why wave Mexican flags while you're at it? Every Mexican flag in an immigration rally guarantees thousands of mid-west and southern votes for the harshest kinds of anti-immigration laws and stokes even more fear and culture clash. Machismo and misplaced nationalism won't cut it.

• What about the Sensenbrenner bill that the House passed and got this whole firestorm started?

Other than turning them into felons, the bill does little to answer the question of what to do with the 12 million illegals already here. On the face of it, the bill would require a draconian 'round up' and expulsion of 12 million people, lots of 'em with kids who are born and bred US citizens. I don't think many of 'em would volunteer to simply get on a bus and go, so we're talking about a mass expulsion at the point of a gun. Very ugly. Fortunately, it will never happen. No sane politician would ever enforce such a law.

The bill would also make social workers, clergy, and medical personnel into criminals for offering aid or comfort to illegals. My wife and I would have been felons if this law had been in effect during our days in LA. It would erect a big wall along the border to keep illegals out.

Those types of walls may say more about the psychological boundary issues of their builders than they do about the common sense of the same :^) Like the Great Wall in China, an astronaut might be able to see this proposed wall from space but it will probably turn out to be largely irrelevant on the ground. Life and labor pools will always find a way.

• I’m pretty confident that a more common sensical and less punitive approach will eventually prevail. I like a lot of the McCain/Kennedy Senate bill—it seems to take the most humane and realistic approach that also makes room for legitimate border control and security.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Homeland Security

Just got back in town from the left coast.

Stayed pretty zen through the 100-yard-long security line stretching outside Terminal 3 at LAX this morning. Got to the airport almost 2 hours before my domestic flight and barely made it onboard before take-off.

The Transportation Security Administration folks funneled anxious passengers from 6 different airlines through a narrow bottleneck lane with a chatty and charming agent controlling the flow.

She wanted to know how my day was going. I'm guessing she was a waitress in a local coffee shop at some previous point in her resume.

In spite of the nonchalant security lady and the geologic pace at LAX I'm a loyal soldier in the 'war on terror.' :^) So I want to give the TSA the benefit of the doubt.

Here's my theory.

They're attempting to frustrate potential terrorists into submission through the sheer power of organizational incompetence.

Sort of a brilliant, counter-intuitive, Inspector Clouseau approach to combatting terrorism if you think about it for a few minutes.

Their patriotic goal?

Making sure that the potential bombers--compulsively checking their watches and cursing under their breath in frustration along with everyone else in line--never make it to their designated flights.

It's a subtle but potentially effective strategy. Very subtle :^).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cape Town

President's House Cape Town

Some of my pics and captions to give you a feel for Cape Town.
CT's gotta be one of the prettiest cities in the world. And maybe one of the most interesting too.

Was surprisingly in town during the third national elections since the end of apartheid.

Pretty encouraging.

The African National Congress (ANC) did a remarkable job navigating the country through its dramatic reformation.

But sometimes political reformers and revolutionaries struggle with more common challenges. Lots of people in SA are beginning to buck the ANC over a perceived lack of delivery of basic services. Fixing pots holes and delivering toilets and adequate housing can be every bit as difficult as overthrowing a cartoonishly immoral regime. The 'colored' population apparently gets the short end of the stick from both blacks and whites (I got the election poster above from a 'colored' Muslim neighborhood).

After the votes were counted the ANC lost political control of Cape Town.

I think that's a good sign for the country. When a wise revolutionary party can bring about change with grace and reconciliation, and then follow it up with a willingness to let others step onto the stage politically, you've got a best case scenario. Think of Mexico or the Soviet Union after their revolutions. Compare and contrast :^)

Got a chance to climb Table Mountain (that big mist covered rock in the background of the pic at the top of the post).

This is the view from the top of the Table down to Cape Town and Robben Island out in the Atlantic where Mandela spent almost 30 years as a prisoner.

A shot from boho Cape Town. The new South African constitution is the most hospitable in the world. Women and gays and others are guaranteed civil liberties they don't have anywhere else right now. Those of us from the new world are old school by comparison.

My daughter Rebecca and I had lunch here. The power went out in the middle of our meal. Load shedding and lights out on the electrical grid are pretty typical in CT as they are throughout the developing world, but this was the first time I've done my business in a pitch dark public men's room by candle light. Management had foot long scented candles ready and at hand.

A street corner in the Muslim Bo-Kaap district of CT. The only ethnic neighborhood still standing in town after the previous government bulldozed all the non-whites out of CT and sent them into appalling townships to the southeast of the city center. I'm still not sure why these folks escaped. Maybe some savvy market-oriented Afrikaaners realized that in the future this place would draw more tourists than any other part of town. If so, they were right.

Don't get a chance to see an ostrich on the beach everyday. Lots of em along the surf near the Cape of Good Hope.

An electrified fence. Everybody outside the townships seems to have one around their home.

Rebecca just finished her research project in the slums of Cape Town and will be home next week before she heads back to Stanford for spring quarter. I got a chance to hang out with she and her buds in Africa for a couple of days. Fun bunch.

Their research and recommendations under the auspices of the University of Cape Town are intended to guide a new effort by the SA government to create serious health care opportunities in the townships. I felt proud of all of 'em.

I'm out of town and offline starting tomorrow. I'll be back steady blogging early next week.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More South Africa

Black Madonna Cape Town

Saints and Shamans

South Africa is a pretty religious place.

Think George Bush America on the lower intensity end and India on the high side and South Africa lands somewhere in between. From my two weeks there, seems like people there feel pretty free to frame everything from tv shows to politics in religious terms.

The white Afrikaaner and the black African communities anchor themselves in the Christian church. Hinduism and Islam are strong and active among the large Indian and 'colored' populations. And beneath all of those ‘high religions’ tribal animism thrives. Neighborhood gods and demons are never too far below the surface for many South Africans.

Even a lot of respectable black African Christians combine traditional Christianity with animism. When somebody in a township gets sick, they get prayer from their local Christian congregation but also make a point of visiting the 'shaman next door' for the appropriate rituals to ward off evil spirits.

Folks all over sub-Saharan Africa try to cover their spiritual bases. That kind of mix-and-match religion drives a lot of local Christian leaders in South Africa nuts, but it's the reality of African Christianity in spite of all the claims of a "Christianized" Africa. I guess lots of believers in Africa are so pre-modern that they're post-modern. A question this raises for me is, "When does adapting a faith like Christianity to local culture cross the line into syncretism?"

Mosque Cape Town

Here's a quick example of the kind of religious influence I'm talking about.

The Dutch Reformed Church played a key role in creating and re-enforcing the cruel ideology and practice of apartheid. Though a few brave Dutch Reformed leaders labeled apartheid as a “theological heresy” and played a pivotal role in ending it, that powerful church, for the most part, helped give apartheid its moral and spiritual power among the Afrikaaners.

Yet now many folks in South Africa believe the DRC contributes big to what everyone seems to call “the new South Africa.” Lots of Afrikaaners, especially those under 30, have jumped into the experiment of a multi-ethnic democratic society with both feet.

I heard an interview while I was there with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African religious leader who preached steady against apartheid from the pulpit of Saint George's Cathedral in Cape Town and played such a central role in creating the healing and reconciliation that helped give the country a future. He said that the Afrikaaners, because of their religiously conservative DRC background, "have adapted to the new South Africa better than many of the white liberals who helped work with the ANC during the apartheid years."

According to Tutu, the Afrikaaner community has always seen things in polarized religious terms, and once they became convinced they were spiritually “in the wrong” many were able to “repent” and embrace a new way of life and thinking more readily than secular liberals who have now turned the same lively and rational scepticism they once used to challenge apartheid onto the The New South Africa.

Even Mandela, though not a religious man, embraced spiritual precepts like forgiveness and reconciliation so deeply that South Africa was rescued from the deaths of a lot of people. Mandela's spirituality gave "the new South Africa" moral legitimacy and a fighting chance to become a peaceful and prosperous African multi-ethnic democracy.

Or at least, that’s how lots of people in South Africa described things when I asked them about the changes they've seen over the past 15 years. They talk about things through a religious framework. Not something you hear every day here in the states.

I've gotta believe that pervasive South African religious world view explains some of their unusual hope in the face of the long odds I mentioned in my last post.

I've also gotta believe that kind of religious diversity and intensity--particularly when coupled with the extremes of wealth and poverty--could once again do some real damage if South Africa ends up with leaders with less wisdom and grace than Mandela and Tutu and others of their 'miraculous' generation. I guess only time will tell.

Artists and Shamans

I got a chance to see a unique art show called "Picasso and Africa" in Johannesburg. It was the first world class art exhibit ever held in South Africa and I got a kick out of doing the exhibit with the obviously delighted locals who came to see it. And admission was free. Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time.

P and A illustrated some of the themes I’ve been touching on in this post. The curator of the show brought together about 60 of Picasso’s works from galleries in France and displayed them along with striking examples of the kind of African tribal art that so influenced Picasso and many of the early European moderns like Matisse. The show underscored how African animistic and spiritual art undergirds much of modernist painting and sculpture.

Here are a couple of juxtaposed examples from P and A. The influence is pretty clear. The first is "Three Figures Under a Tree" by Picasso, the second a tribal mask, the third a side-by-side comparison of a Picasso piece on the left and a ritual headpiece on the right.

Pretty cool, eh?

Writing about the way African art influenced him, Picasso said, “The masks were not simply sculptures like any other. Not at all. They were magical objects.” Through them he came to view art differently. “It is not an aesthetic process; it's a form of magic that interposes itself between us and the hostile universe, a means of seizing power by imposing a form on our terrors as well as on our desires.

Or, in other words, Picasso came to see the artist as “shaman.” And art as something full of spiritual power. He even began to speak of painting as an act of "exorcism." Those convictions drove his art throughout the rest of his life and had a decisive impact on the intensity and power of modern art.

It's kind of moving to look back to a time when artists and art lovers in the west believed that art was more than simply a decorative investment.

And whatever you think about animism or modern painting and sculpture, who would have guessed the kind of influence anonymous African tribal artists would have on the stuff most of us think of as 'fine art.'

Seemed like a lot of us in the gallery that day felt good they were finally getting their due.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

South Africa

Fragmented Tile Work Johannesburg

Some impressions from South Africa. Next 2x too.

Getting There

South Africa is far away. 10,000 miles and over 30 hours of travel to be exact. So far that I had to watch Walk the Line and The Adventures of Zorro over and over again to stay awake.

As a result I’ve got Johnny Cash's stage moves down. I’m pretty sure I could also de-pants somebody now with the flick of a rapier if I had to.

By the time I got on the ground in Johannesburg I was exhausted and running a 102 degree fever. Welcome to Africa.

High Contrast

South Africa is a place of striking juxtapositions.

As a native Californian and as somebody who now lives at the boundary of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, I’m used to high contrast.

In some ways South Africa reminded me of California. Some of the most beautiful country and coastland you'd ever want to see right next to butt ugly stretches of desert. Anybody who’s driven from the Pacific coastline across the Mojave Desert to Vegas knows what I’m talking about. You can go from coastal beauty to desolation in the course of a few minutes and miles.

Johannesburg and Cape Town are a lot like Los Angeles too. Lots of big scratch segregated from huge swaths of poverty. The swank neighborhoods of Joburg rival anything in California, but the townships make South Central look like a resort area. While America is racially and culturally segregated in so many ways, the segregation in South Africa seems almost complete. During the course of my ten days there I kept wondering how South Africans hold those kinds of disparities together internally.

Khayelitsha Township

But mostly, I was struck by the contrast between the hard challenges South Africans face on almost every front and their moving sense of hope.

Even domestic servants I talked to felt it was just a matter of time before the country got its act together. Hardly anybody seemed ironic or disillusioned.

I also heard a lot about the superiority of all things South African.

When I mentioned that I was originally from California and that I wanted to try some South African wine, one black waitress told me with a big smile--I think only half-jokingly--that California wine was "no better than warm spit.” Made me laugh out loud.

I normally don't like booster-ism, and as an American of a certain age, I’m suspicious of a lack of irony. But this time the true believers rung true. I'm not exactly sure why. I'll take a crack at that question in the next couple of posts.

How do you hold extremes of wealth and poverty and overwhelming challenges and hope together? Somehow, at least for the time being, that's what South Africa seems to be about. Those tensions give the place a tremendous creative vibe and energy.

King of the Road

I decided to rent a car during my time in Cape Town.

Public transport in South Africa is weak. So renting a car was clearly the best option.

Only a few problems with my plan.

The steering wheels of South African cars sit on the right hand side of the car instead of the left like ours. South African traffic moves on the 'wrong side of the road.' And South African speed laws exist only in the minds of bureaucrats. South Africans I talked to before the trip warned me against trying to drive there because "Americans get all bolloxed up on the road."

My first ten minutes behind the wheel after leaving Cape Town airport? White knuckle time. Forehead a little damp, moving along like a blue haired granny in an '85' Caddy or a lowrider in LA.

And yes, I made a fool of myself a few times too. Worst of all I got into the shotgun seat more than once while trying to drive away. The first time I did it a parking attendant got a good laugh at my expense as I sat there for about 30 seconds. I eventually swallowed my pride and got out and went around to the driver's side and got in.

But overall, I went dyslexic surprisingly quickly and got the ass backwards driving down.

The best thing about internal combustion at the tip of Africa? I could punch it up as fast as I wanted.

At one point while darting through a part of downtown Cape Town in my juiced little Altima I had an unworthy thought. Some of those poor pedestrians, many of 'em summetime tourists, probably thought I was a reckless local who would flatten 'em first and ask questions later.

The tables were finally turned in my direction after years of dodging crazy drivers on foot in the 3rd world.

This time I was behind the wheel and rulin' the road.

Sometimes, it's good to be king....:^)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Madness Picks

More stuff for sportos. Yes, I'm hopeless :^)

I love the men's NCAA basketball tourney. March Madness is always fun for me regardless of what else is going on.

I've been on a role lately with picking eventual champions in various sports. Trying to predict MM is on a whole nother level, though. 64 teams. Single elimination. Teenagers are the principles and emotions are high. Anything can happen. More parity this year than ever and no obvious champion.

Now that I've covered my butt, my picks...

I won't break down my entire bracket picks. Let me get to the Final Four picks from every regional and an eventual champion.

Atlanta Regional: I'm going with a major upset here. Syracuse is on a role. The Orangemen shock Duke in the Elite Eight. They then knock off Texas in the regional final and advance to the Final Four. This is my riskiest pick but after watching Syracuse blow through the Big East tourney--the toughest conference in the country--I think they're peaking at the right time. I don't like Duke, but I'm sure that has no influence on my pick here at all.

Oakland Regional: I'm a UCLA homer all the way. I admit it freely. But the Bruins are also peaking at the right time. I've got em taking out Gonzaga in the regional semi-final and then upsetting either Memphis or Kansas in the regional final and going into their first Final Four since they won it all in 1995.

Washington DC Regional: UConn beats Tennessee in the regional final and goes to the Final Four.

Minneapolis Regional: Villanova struggles in the finals against Florida but wins down the stretch and gets to the FF.

Final Four: UCLA knocks off Syracuse and gets to the national championship game.

'Nova takes out UConn in the other semi-final.

It's painful to say so, but 'Nova beats UCLA in the national title game. The Bruins are just too young and inexperienced. But wait till next year :^)

Feel free to make your own picks. Maybe we can even make some friendly wagers. Oh wait, I might be banned from blogging for life if I make a bet :^) Let's just stick with the predictions.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking President

This is getting too easy. I'm actually starting to feel sorry for the poor guy.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Slum as Art

My good friend Dave Palmer just sent these along. He and his wife Mini are returning to the US from India after living and working in the vast urban squatter slums of Mumbai (Bombay).

He took the pics at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Mumbai over Thanksgiving where he and his team had a special T-Day dinner. The mixed media piece represents a typical squatter slum in the city.

The artist used resin for a base and then covered it with pieces of scrap metal and other typical building materials that slum dwellers use. If you look at the "up close" pic carefully you can even see a slum church and two Hindu shrines. The church is red and the shrines are red, yellow and orange so they stand out, which makes a lot of sense in a country as religious as India. If you look really hard you can even see little used tires – less than 1 inch in size – on some of the rooftops.

The Hyatt is one of the swankiest 5 star hotels in India's wealthiest city, so needless to say Dave didn't expect to find any art there focusing on the worst of Mumbai's squatter slums. It would be a little like running across an expletive laced hip hop south central art video projected on the walls in the lobby of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

Estimates vary, but most sources believe at least 6 million people--and possibly as many as 10 million--do life in the sewage and shacks of Mumbai. It's a collection of squatter slums roughly the size of New York City.

I guess I'm not surprised you'd find that kind of jarring juxto there. Because of Hindu philosophy and particularly their ideas about karma, a lot of people on the subcontinent apparently live comfortably with extremes of all and nothing and up and down and right and left.

But still, you've gotta wonder what the hotel folks were thinking when they decided to feature that particular piece of art.

Since it depicts the slums from above in a kind of God's eye view, maybe they were referencing the way most of the wealthy people who stay at the Hyatt normally see Mumbai's slums--from above as they fly in or out of the city. Could be a way to remind the well-to-do just how lucky they are without requiring them to actually go into the slums and see and smell and hear and feel them up close.

Or maybe there's some justice oriented subversive working in management at the Hyatt :^) Some of the folks paying $500 a night may be uncomfortable looking at a piece of art depicting the millions who live in Mumbai on $500 a year or less.

Or maybe they thought it was just a beautiful piece of art.

I've loved and followed art of all kinds since I was a teenager. I often wonder if art has a substantial role to play in seeking greater justice. I hope so.

Maybe some folks at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai are trying to find out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Roids and Records

Here's one for you sportos out there, though I think it's got some wider implications too.

If the Hall of Fame is the baseball equivalent of heaven, should Barry Bonds or Pete Rose get a shot at the pearly gates?

Rose had more hits than any professional ballplayer in the 140 year history of the game. He won multiple world championships with multiple teams. Rose was clearly one of the best of the best ever.

He also gambled on baseball when he was no longer a player like millions of Americans do every season. As a result he was banned for life from the game and barred from the Hall of Fame.

His bets—again by all accounts--had no discernable effect on his performance as a player. He was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds when he wagered on pro baseball games, and no one has suggested those bets influenced his performance as a manager of the Reds.

Rose repeatedly lied about his gambling for many years. Recently he finally acknowledged that he placed bets on baseball games in the hopes that fans and Hall voters would forgive him and finally vote him into the Hall of Fame, where I believe he belongs.

I’m no real fan of Pete Rose, but I’m troubled that Rose is banned for life while the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds faces no penalties at all at this point.

For those of you who don’t follow baseball, Bonds is also a great player. He's jacked more home runs than anyone but Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth and has a chance to catch 'em both and set what is arguably the most revered of all American athletic records.

Extensive excerpts from the upcoming book Game of Shadows just appeared in Sports Illustrated, and the legit authors--award winning reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle--carefully document Bonds’ addictive use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs over a 5 year period. Anyone who has been paying attention already thought Bonds was a serial steroid user but the book's meticulously documented allegations remove any real doubt. The evidence is overwhelming and is based on grand jury testimony, trial records, law enforcement interviews and numerous eyewitnesses.

Bonds played for many years in the majors as a strong but wirey outfielder. How many men in their late 30’s put on 40 pounds of muscle without chemicals? And how many men in their late 30's suddenly "grow" a much larger head ('roid head' is a sure sign of steroid use)? I mean, you could use Bonds' batting helmet these days as a jacuzzi :^) His home run and power numbers went up dramatically at the same time he started using drugs.

It's true that many other great power hitters of his era, like Mark McGwire, also used steroids. McGwire entered the major leagues as a tall and well built first baseman but left it looking like Mr Incredible. When called to testify before a Senate Committe on steroid use last year his tearful non-denial denial made it clear to everybody he'd been using roids. His reputation, sadly, was ruined.

"Mr. Inc-roid-able", Mark McGwire, Relaxes Off the Field

Like Rose, Bonds has repeatedly lied. But unlike Rose he has never fessed up and taken responsibility.

My favorite Barry Bonds spin? He told the San Francisco Chronicle a couple of years ago that he never realized he was taking steroids. He thought his trainers were giving him flax seed oil and arthritis cream, not the steroids in liquid and cream form he was actually using.

Guess he thought the "flaxseed oil" got him higher quality bm's and the "arthritis cream" (wink wink, nudge nudge) helped him get those creaky knees loose for an early afternoon game :^) You know, the kinds of things a guy over 40 worries about. Funny man.

One of the many steroids and human growth enhancers Bonds apparently used was trenbolone, a steroid used to increase muscle tone in cattle. If Bonds ends up playing this year for the Giants, I'm hoping some Dodgers fan will show up at Dodger Stadium with a sign that reads, "Bonds, It's What's for Dinner."

The main difference between Rose and Bonds?

Rose got his stats legitimately.

Bonds didn’t.

If they’re going to keep Rose out of the Hall they should keep Bonds out too. And while they're at it, I'd love to see his numbers and records carry an asterisk so future fans will understand they aren't legit.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Academy Awards and Jesusland

Jon Stewart

Caught some of the Academy Awards last night. Some takes on the show.

• The “gay themes in traditional Hollywood westerns” montage was hilarious. Reminded me of the new Willie Nelson song, Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other. Some of Willie’s Brokeback inspired lyrics:

Well there's many a strange impulse out
on the plains of West Texas;
There's many a young boy who feels things
he can't comprehend.
A small town don't like it when somebody
falls between sexes,
No, small town don't like it when
a cowboy has feelings for men.

Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other
Say..what do you think those all saddles and boots was about?
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way
that he feels towards his brother,
And inside every cowboy there's a lady
who'd love to slip out.

Inside every cowboy? :^)

How did the Village People miss out on writing those lyrics back in their YMCA day? And when did Willie start using Dr. Seuss rhythms and rhymes? "Frequently secretly," said Sam I Am, "I like to eat green eggs and ham."

Don't think the good folks down at the Baptist Church will be singing Willie's song with their kids in the car on vacations. Probably not many Brokeback DVD rentals from that crowd either.

It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp won best song. Wow. When they announced that award you could hear evangelicals all over Middle America clicking off their TVs.

Pimp seems like just the latest example of the kind of “grinnin’ and shufflin’” black minstrel show that so much of hip hop has become. Just throw in a lot of the “N” word and the “F” word and posture like a ‘gangsta’ so whites can enjoy watching 'immoral' and 'inferior' black men. Guess there's a very good living in 'coonin' so it's hard to blame the young men who do it.

I loved it that the Academy forced Three 6 Mafia (that can’t actually be the group’s real name, can it? :^) to remove the “N” and “F” words for the performance and made em change “bitches” to “witches.” Funny stuff. Does anybody wonder why so many people I talk to overseas think American blacks are all gangsters and spend most of their time calling each other “nigger”?

Crash the best picture? I sort of liked it though it rang a little false and over the top to me. Of course, I don’t think more than 1000 people combined saw all the best picture nominees this year :^), so maybe that explains the surprising victory. If you want box office go with American Pie and leave the grown up stuff for obscure film festivals.

• Got a kick out of Jon Stewart. I’ve watched the Daily Show regularly since it started and I love his ability to lampoon political blowhards with a measure of self-deprecation and class that’s usually absent in his ‘targets.’

• In retrospect, you wonder if the whole thing was a kind of joke at the expense of the citizens of “Jesusland” from the coastal cultural elites. Seemed like most of the movies with nominations were about homosexuality or violence or racism or the threat of political and cultural homogeneity and corruption. Oh, and a drug addicted country singer. All of it hosted by a Jewish, east coast, Harvard educated political satirist. Just a thought :^)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mama Africa

Table Mountain from the Company Gardens Cape Town

Just got back from the mother rock. A couple of posts on fascinating South Africa coming soon.

Some takes from my time with daughter Rebecca in Cape Town:

Pics 1 and 2: Rebecca at the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa
Pics 3-5: Bo-Kaap neighborhood (Muslim, 'colored' district)

Pic 6: Mist shrouded Table Mountain from the Company Gardens
Pic 7: Street beat