Friday, April 28, 2006

Greens and Guzzlers

Fellow Hugger

I guess I'm ambiguously green.

I’m a tree trunk lover who drives a gas guzzler.

OK, maybe my Jeep isn't that bad.

Does 18 around town and 20 too with the pedal down. Not a Prius for sure but less in league with the devil than some moving metal can be.

Hey, it could be worse. Lots of people here do the 3 ton 10 mpg do.

I got green early in life. We're Sierra Club types. We recycle. We hike and plant trees. We punish non-Greens at the ballot box. And in spite of our current political leaders, I'm pretty confident our best tree hugging days as a nation are still in front of us.

But I also appreciate tools that work well in the right place at the right time. 4 Wheel drive in LA and NY may be a monument to certain male insecurities but at the right height it does make some sense.

Leased a Jeep when we moved to Colorado because it does such a nice job here. Punches through the ice and snow and gets me anywhere in a state with more dirt than paved roads. Wish I had a serious hybrid 4 wheel drive option but no such luck so far.

My lease is ending soon so I've gotta make a decision.

Go ideologically green?

Or stick with an Ice Cap melting, Osama bin Laden loving Jeep?

Shrub Bush says we've got an addiction.

Maybe it's time to start a 12 Step Program and break my Jeep jones for good.

Or maybe not :^)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

High Brow Low Brow

Lots of “low brow” culture going on.

You know, most TV and conservative talk radio and Hollywood product. Online kitsch is pretty popular too.

Stuff like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol lead the pop Neanderthal wedge:^)

But low brow is definitely old school too.

Goes back at least as far as the groundling humor in Shakespeare and the rural Proverbs in the Bible.

I think there’s a difference now though.

Back in the day your only choice was low brow unless you were wealthy.

For thousands of years the unwashed had street magic and fart jokes and tellers of tall tales. Religion was pretty much your only source for something deeper and more varied.

In the mystical 7 channel broadcast universe of the more recent ancients your main choice was some iteration of Gilligan’s Island or horror movies or game shows. That was true no matter how much money you had. Somebody said TV in those days was a vast wasteland. From the point of view of an eyewitness that's an overstatement but basically accurate.

It was Gilligan's world. No cable. No computers. No internet. No interactivity. Movies only in theatres.

Sedating Gilligan: Coconut-Based Pharmaceutical Lab

But now--for the first time--pretty much anybody who can afford a cable TV hook up or a dvd player or an online connection can see and hear a lot of the best of the world’s cultural best.

Music, art, stories, visuals. Whatever.

The poor here in the US still can’t manage some of that. But most people can.

That’s remarkable—even amazing—from an historical point of view.

Here’s my question.

With that kind of multi-faceted access to the best stuff, why do so many highly educated folks in their 20’s and 30’s seem to spend so much blog and convo time on stuff that can only be called the current dynamic cultural equivalent of Gilligan’s Island :^)?

To expand that out, why would so many educated middle and upper class people savor the shlock when we've finally got a choice?

Maybe I'm just trying to figure out why I have every word of the Gilligan's Island theme song memorized when I can't remember the names of some of my relatives.

But hey, I had to watch that stuff. I had no choice :^)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mohawk Logic

Original Cool

Being a dad these days is all about improv and negotiation.

Janet asked me to come talk to my 13 year old son Andrew last week.
When your wife asks you in a concerned voice to talk to one of your children you know something’s up.

They were sitting in the living room when I got there and looked like they were hoping for the wisdom of Solomon or at least a tie breaking vote. Oh well :^)

I was relieved to hear that a haircut was the “life and death” issue at hand.

Andrew wanted a Mohawk. Full blown spiked and punk.

No real surprise there. He started pushing boundaries at 2. It’s one of the things I love most about him.

Janet is usually the voice of reason and tradition in the mix. When our kids color outside the lines they normally look to me first for support.

But not this time. Janet intro’d things and said she was willing to consider the rooster cut for Andrew.

I guess sometimes the irresistible sea finally wears down the immovable coast :^)

Had to recover quickly and figure out how to handle things. What to do?

I started asking questions as any good post modern dad would.

Turns out Andrew wanted more of the cool. He said he really liked a socially conscious band that does the old skool punk. He was articulate and reasonable for a 13 year old.

All I could think of was De Niro in Taxi Driver.

Time to go to the dad bag.

Started positive. Affirmed the importance of being unique and said I understood why that was important to him.

Went next with a short speech on the irrelevance of externals and the danger of focusing on them. And the critical importance of being unique on the inside.

He was only half buying at that point. Pretty clear from the body language.

He then wondered why he couldn’t have a Mohawk "if externals aren't important."


Finally went with how other people would respond. Told him a few friends would think his new cut was cool but that most people wouldn't. Admitted the weakness of that take and asked him to consider his willingness to take the opinion polls into account. Basic hard nosed pragmatism, you know.

Turned out to be less persuasive than I had hoped. He wanted to know how high and how narrow his Mohawk could be.

We were now down to horse trading.

Ok, time to go with raw parental authority in the guise of negotiation and introduce a 'poison clause' that's the deal breaker :^)

I told him I was ok with a Mohawk if it was at least 5 inches wide. And no gel spiking. Anything narrower or spiked up was absolutely out of the question.

He reluctantly agreed.

He and Jan then headed off for Super Cuts.

They never got there. Andrew vetoed the geek ‘hawk on the way and came back with a full head of hair. Thank God.

Of course, he’s been asking for a dog for a couple of months now. I don’t like dogs and don’t want one around the house.

I’m beginning to think this whole Mohawk thing might have been a bargaining chip put on the table by a superior negotiator. Give up something you don’t really want to get something you really do :^) I’ll let you know how the dog discussions pan out….

Friday, April 21, 2006

Stump Jumpin' and Rock Hoppin'

Front Yard

Spring has sprung in Colorado.

After four months of dead stuff we’ve got some bloomin’ and greenin’ going on.

The tulips and daffodils and hibiscus are up in all their glory. The grass is growin’ and the buds are shootin’ out of all those branches that looked dead about a month ago.

The snow's flowin' into the rivers in the high country so mountain biking season is underway. Time for stump jumpin’ and rock hoppin’

Got out onto one of my favorite trails late this afternoon. Great ups and drops with fun stuff over rocks and rubble and beautiful hard pack single track in between.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel down :^)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Breaking the Mold

Weighed in last time about non-violent self-sacrifice as the heartbeat of Easter.

Here are some folks breaking the current Christian cultural mold and busting out with something new:

Every Church a Peace Church

A bunch of Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers started a non-profit organization/movement called Every Church a Peace Church a few years back.

They’re dedicated to “the formation of new peace churches and the transformation of "war-justifying" churches into peace churches, so that the world will be turned toward peace as churches live and teach as Jesus lived and taught.”

At this point they’ve got about 20 churches in the fold and they’re organizin', educatin' and mobilizin' key folks in traditional "just war" churches and helping catalyze new church plants dedicated to seeking justice through non-violent self-sacrifice.

The traditional Peace Churches--including the Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, Brethren and the Amish--are pretty brittle shells of their former selves these days.

But at one time they had big time influence on American culture. The movement to abolish slavery came straight out of the heart of those groups and they were instrumental in the Civil Rights struggle.

Revitalizing that tradition in some new form--which is what these ECAPC folks are trying to do--would do nothing but good for the discussion among religious people about the use of violence.

The Emerging Church

The Emerging Church is the most common pop name for a large and increasingly influential ‘movement’ of ‘post-modern’ congregations all over the world.

Basically, it’s a new movement that discards older models of Christianity and seeks to create a fresh, post-western expression of gettin' saved and doin' good. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a big old 'who's your daddy' spiritual movement in the years to come.

You can slice and dice The Emerging Church lots of ways, but one of the most important characteristics is its identification with the powerless rather than the powerful.

Most traditional forms of Christianity eventually (quickly) become highly identified with the politically and economically and culturally powerful. Basically, the more a Christian tradition becomes identified with those groups the more it becomes willing to support state sponsored violence in a wide variety of situations. That only makes sense since the powerful wield that big state sword.

Because Emergents tend to identify with the relatively powerless, many of 'em lean toward pacifism or embrace it fully.

Non-violent models of change are in the DNA of The Emerging Church That could have big time implications over the next few decades.

Christian Peacemaker Teams

I love these guys. I'm doing something else important right now, but eventually, who knows? I may end up spending my "golden years" with 'em. Who wouldn't want to see an arthritic old fart on the front lines in Uzbekistan? :^)

You probably heard of one of the CPT members, Tom Fox, who was abducted and executed by stupid religious people in Baghdad recently. CPT has become a worldwide and influential phenomenon. Here’s what's officially what:

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) arose from a call for Christians to devote the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war. Enlisting the whole church in an organized, nonviolent alternative to war, today CPT places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world at the invitation of local peace and human rights workers. CPT embraces the vision of unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in an attempt to transform lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of God’s truth and love.

Their strategy includes:

• skilled, international teams that work effectively to support local efforts toward nonviolent peacemaking;
• “getting in the way” of injustice through direct nonviolent intervention, public witness and reporting to the larger world community;
• engaging congregations, meetings and support groups at home to play a key advocacy role with policy makers.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if 5% of Christian churches around the world got with non-violent self-sacrifice and sent missos to join a movement like CPT. Riffing on Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi but this time directly against warfare.

Many missos like that would get 6 feet deep quick. But big numbers die in your garden variety war anyway.

If you're as serious about peace as an army is about war it makes sense you'd be willing to lay down your life.

Why is that idea so strange to so many people when dying for US or Chinese or Russian strategic interests isn't?

Soon: Warfare wise or whack in the 21st century?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Between Good Friday and Easter

Part three of some Easter posts on religion.

What to make of the ancient Easter take?

Some of our ancestors thought God got up close and then said no to changing the world through well meaning violence.

According to the good book Jesus sacrificed himself willingly and absorbed violence rather than inflicting it on others. The old story says he accepted suffering without imposing it.

He was executed by the most civilized state of his day which was trying to violently introduce the most advanced political and economic ideas of that time into the cauldron of a backward and dangerous Middle East.

Any of that last paragraph sound familiar?

The quest to make the world a better place by offing others is always popular.

But during the first three centuries after the original Easter party pretty much all the Jesus People gave a no go to violence as a legitimate path to change.

They generally refused to serve in the military or participate in state sponsored violence and believed that non-violent self sacrifice was the only practical approach to making things a little bit better. And even when they didn't think that non-violence would necessarily make things better in the short run, they thought it was the faithful thing to do.

They read Jesus and Paul pretty differently than most Christians do today.

Their take?

1. Violence = more violence and unfairness that future generations will pay for.

2. Non-violent sacrificial service = real change of hearts and minds.

The early Christians had no problem with encouraging change. They thought change was positive and wholesome. They just weren't impressed with change at the edge of a sword.

Things have sure changed :^)

We're dishing out a lot of well meaning "missionary violence" right now in Iraq.

Our motives are mixed but I believe a lot of Americans--including some of our leaders--truly believe we're doing the Iraqis a favor by imposing 'freedom and democracy' on them at the point of a gun.

This isn't primarily a defensive use of violence. It's a pro-active effort to improve the world through warfare.

And we wouldn’t be there without the support of a big pile of enthusiastic American fundamentalists and evangelicals.

In fact, our military colleges are so stocked with evangelical Christians that the Air Force Academy had to issue orders to cadets and administrators to tone down the overtly Christian bias on campus.

I don’t remember much honest discussion before the war among Christians about the use of state sponsored violence in a pre-emptive strike in Iraq. The idea that people of faith should question missionizing violence hardly even came up.

Most people--including many well meaning American Christians—-believe in progress through violence.

But not everybody.

There are movements and churches and individuals who are representin’ for the greater spiritual authenticity and common sense practicality of non-violent, self-sacrificial efforts to bring change.

More on those life giving Easter folks next time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Gospel of Bob

The Gospel of Bob

A little satire inspired by The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas...:^)

Washington DC (CNN)

Lost for centuries and bound for controversy, the so-called “Gospel of Bob” was unveiled Wednesday by scholars at the National Geographic Society.

With a plot twist worthy of The Da Vinci Code and a hint of controversy reminiscent of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, the gospel — 13 papyrus sheets bound in leather and found in a cave in Egypt — purports to relate Jesus' life from the viewpoint of Bob, the previously unknown additional apostle who Jesus allegedly chose as an alternate.

Traditional Christians teach that Jesus had only 12 original apostles.

“We're confident this is genuine ancient Christian literature," said religious scholar Kurt Koine of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He and others on the translation team spoke at a National Geographic Society briefing, where they released a translation.

The manuscript claims that Jesus chose Bob as the 13th alternate apostle “in case somebody got sick or couldn’t make the meetings,” said Coptic studies scholar Ernst Grubelsticker of Germany's University of Munster, one of the restoration team members.

According to the fragmented parchments, Bob participated fully in the events of Jesus’ ministry that took place in Nazareth. “But he didn’t go on road trips due to a lack of apostolic general discretionary funds,” said Phil Williams, New Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary.

Dr. Williams argues that the absence of the Sermon on the Mount or any details from Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion in Jerusalem lend credibility to the authenticity of The Gospel of Bob. “As an alternate who didn't travel with Jesus and the other apostles, Bob had no first hand experience with the most critical moments of Jesus’ life and ministry.”

Most of the text of The Gospel of Bob concentrates on down time Jesus spent with Bob at his mom's house.

While containing many familiar teachings and parables of Jesus found in other gospel accounts, The Gospel of Bob also contains some previously unknown and potentially controversial sayings. In one of the more unusual passages, Jesus commands his followers to "Buy low and sell high."

The conspicuous absence of the other apostles in the narrative leads some scholars to speculate of a possible "falling out" between Bob and the more well-known apostles.

Other experts believe The Gospel of Bob may have been written after the four traditional gospel accounts had become widely known. "The Apostle Bob doesn't appear in any of the cannonical gospels, so The Gospel of Bob may be an attempt to give the overlooked alternate apostle his rightful 'day in the sun,' so to speak," said Lance Kerygma, Professor of Religious Studies at Cal Tech.

Some theologians, biblical scholars and pastors say this contrary text is not truly "good news" (the meaning of "gospel") and will make no difference to believers as Easter approaches. The Bible, they say, is a closed book, nearly universally accepted as the official church teachings since the fourth century.

"Just because you got some old parchments interpreted by leftist egg heads doesn’t make it true," said Pastor Billie Ray Sooey of the First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, Arkansas. “These are the same people who said we made a mistake goin' into Iraq. Jesus gonna jump on 'em in judgment like a chicken on a June bug."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Dumping Organized Religion

Jesus Kicks Tail at the Temple

Easter’s up next so I thought a few posts on faith might be in the spirit of the season.

The Afghan guy who converted to Christianity and fled for his life to Italy a couple of weeks ago got my attention.

Organized Islam required otherwise decent people in Afghanistan to kill the poor guy because he had a change of heart and decided to become a Christian. He avoided execution only because of world opinion and political pressure.

Afghan leaders got out of their religion-driven political fix by declaring him “insane” and therefore incapable of making a competent decision. Made westerners happy by getting “the man of conscience” out of harm’s way and made many Muslims happy by confirming that only a madman could refuse the comforts and truths of Mohammed.

But the whole thing was nuts to start with courtesy of organized religion.

I’ve become convinced over the years that organized religion—including historical Christianity--does more damage than good. Fundamentalist Islam is only the latest example.

Just finished Garry Wills’ “What Jesus Meant.” It’s only a little over a hundred pages and so well written you can read the whole thing in one sitting.

Wills is one of my favorite Christian scholars and writers. He's a freethinking Catholic and his take is getting strong reviews.

He argues that Jesus' teaching and life were fundamentally hostile to organized religion both then and now. I agree.

I wonder what a deconstructed and humble religious faith would look like?

At the very least it wouldn’t prop up arrogant political parties and regimes and encourage narrow cultural and ethnic prejudice. Real faith might even consistently challenge the use of violence and a fixation on money. It might dump priesthoods and rituals and rites. Seems like that kind of faith might have something to say here in the US and overseas too.

People of faith who recognize the danger of religion could even help lead the way in reducing—as much as possible—the unfortunate and widespread influence of organized religious mumbo jumbo.

People of faith taking on organized religion? Hmmmm. Things could really get interesting :^)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jury Duty

Served on a jury this week in a federal real estate fraud case. This is my third time around. Just a lucky guy I guess :^).

Some takes from my three stints in the long box:

• Blind justice depends on your next door neighbor.

One of my fellow jurors was a ‘glass fragment’ artist who worked in a previous iteration as an engineer for Lockheed Martin. He seemed pretty fragile. During one of our jury breaks he went off for 10 agitated minutes on the value of medicinal desert herbs.

Most of the other jurors shifted uncomfortably in their seats as they listened to him. Don't think they enjoyed him as much as I did. I'm just glad the realtor on trial didn't hear the guy's rant. Knowing your fate was in the hands of the hippy dippy herb man would make anybody break out in a cold sweat.

• People game the system shamelessly to get out of jury duty.

Emphasizing bad experiences with the justice system without seeming like you want to evade service is the straightest way to the grail. A bit of the old approach/avoidance works pretty much every time.

One young and articulate potential female juror told the judge, “I believe I can be impartial, your honor. Courtrooms aren't one of my favorite places. My dad’s been in and out of court his whole life. Drunk driving, felony assault, armed robbery, drug dealing. But I think I can be fair.” :^)

The old judge was wise to what up and gave her a go for service. The younger lawyers said no and dismissed her. She introduced enough doubt to get her way. Just like a defense lawyer. Fun to watch the real dynamics going on underneath the formalities.

• Jurors are supposed to evaluate the facts and assume the defendant is innocent and put aside their prejudices. We're required to be the firewall that protects the individual against the impressive and potentially corrupt power of local and federal governments.

Juries—in the oldest and most important sense of that term--are a check against the inevitable abuse of state power. That's why the government has to establish its case beyond a reasonable doubt and why the accused get the theoretical benefit of the doubt

But it’s hard to be objective. And it seems like a lot of us are pretty good to go with large concentrations of power right now. Hard to know whether most jurors come in with the necessary skepticism about big power that our theoretical justice system requires.

• And yet I still think juries usually get it right.

I served on a drunk driving/auto accident trial in So Cal about 10 years ago. A muscular Mexican-American police officer was the key witness. He arrested an illegal immigrant drunk driver. The defendant refused to take a breathalyzer test. So the cop and his partner put the guy through standard tests of coordination and he failed. Other witnesses on the scene confirmed the cops’ word. Still others testified that the defendant had a drinking problem.

Pretty straightforward case.

But one of my fellow jurors was a Mexican-American woman who went through a nasty divorce from a Mex-Am fireman. She spent hours during our deliberations blocking our guilty vote because she thought the cop was "a lot like my abusive ex-husband." We heard story after story of drinking parties where her ex-husband and other "muscle bound" cops and firemen "acted like idiots" and were "potty mouths."

Apparently, her ex-husbands' flatulence jokes were reason enough to let the drunk driver walk. It all made sense to her in her own little private Idaho :^)

Eventually, though, she was willing to listen and had a change of heart. Our "deliberations" ended up turning into a counseling session. Once she sensed we were all truly sorry about her painful past experience she voted to convinct along with the rest of us. She was a post-modern juror. Hey, she could have spent thousands of dollars going through therapy to work through that stuff, so it turned out to be a pretty good deal for her....

• Verdicts can feel bittersweet.

The trial this week centered on an inner-city black guy with bad credit who figured out how to clean his own credit record so he could qualify for a loan and buy a house.

The guy was the brightest bulb on the porch. He got his info from libraries and the internet :^) in the mid-90's and then developed sophisticated techniques for electronically forging fake social security numbers and other documents like W-2’s and credit statements. He then figured out he could make a bundle by fraudulently cleaning the credit of other poor folks so they could get loans and buy houses through the FHA (Federal Housing Administration). Eventually he recruited some loan officers and realtors into the scheme and they scammed the FHA big time for years.

Investigators finally caught up with him and got him to plea bargain for a shorter prison sentence in exchange for testifying against his co-conspirators.

We had to make a call about a reputable African-American real estate agent who got greedy and got caught up with this guy. He was convicted on two of the four counts. White collar criminals like our defendant don't do much time in jail but their reps get a serious makeover. Made me sad.

Turns out that most of the poor people who got home loans through the scheme made their payments straight and on time. The bad guys did some Robin Hood good for those poor folks who would have never qualified for a loan and never owned a home under current FHA lending rules.

Passing judgment can be tricky business :^)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Dozen Sounds Good

More on the Madness.

Had UCLA and Villanova in my original brackets in the title game. I'm surprised 'Nova got knocked out but not surprised the Bruins are back where they belong :^)

I took 'Nova to beat UCLA in the finals but that was because they had a great four guard lineup that I thought would overwhelm the Bruins with speed, quickness and skill.

Florida's a whole different deal so I want to revise my finals prediction.

I've got the Bruins over the Gators in the finals. Twelve national championships sounds good to me.

Florida plays only 7 guys consistently. UCLA goes 9 deep. Too many athletes in great shape playing knock down defense for Florida to win. None of the national commentators have mentioned that UCLA is simply in a lot better shape than other teams which allows them to play so intensely through the whole game.

I don't think I've seen anything like UCLA's last two games. They held two of the best offensive teams in the country to scores out of the pre-shot clock era. Some of the best defense and fundamentals I've seen in a long time.

I told my son Andrew that the UCLA--LSU game was over 9 minutes into the game. The LSU guys were bending over at the waist sucking for air and you could see by the looks on their faces that they had already quit. I was pretty disappointed to see that--you don't expect an excellent team like LSU to mail it in but you've gotta give UCLA a lot of credit for it.

Great for Ben Howland. Under Steve Lavin UCLA had the athletes and a lot of heart, but little discipline or fundamentals or toughness. Now they've got the whole package. No trash talking. They let their play speak for itself.

In the "playground/hip hop" era of college and pro hoops, discipline and class give you a huge edge. Maybe the Bruins can become the Spurs or the Pistons of college hoop.

Whatever happens tomorrow night, I think something good is going on in Westwood.