Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Whatever Happened To Conservativism?

Elections are up next. Let’s get political.

Though John Stuart Mill once said "Conservatives aren't stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives," I have the greatest respect for real conservative thought.

Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.

But it’s true.

My mom was a full-on western style libertarian conservative with an ideological and intuitive thing for personal responsibility and a suspicion of too much power of any kind. And an allergy about invading other countries or the smallest whiff of imperial arrogance. Oh, and a commitment to helping people become economically productive. And an even stronger commitment to affirm traditional values while recognizing the democratic (and libertarian) imperative to ‘live and let live.”

I remember walking the streets of San Francisco in 1964 as a 7 year old with my mom campaigning and handing out cans of orange pop labeled “Goldwater.” We were sticking it to The Liberal, Democratic Man. It took some cajones to support Barry Goldwater in the Bay Area in the mid-60’s. :^) My mom sometimes worried that those “crazy students” at Berkeley would follow us home after a Republican Party rally and “make trouble.”

I left ideological conservatism behind a long time ago because the real world version began to strike me as even more bogus than the usual political spin. When the people who talk about encouraging small government end up consistently expanding government more than ‘the crazy liberals’ you know you’re dealing with a shell game and misdirection aimed at getting well meaning folks to vote Republican. And when support for traditional values combined with a politically libertarian commitment to ‘live and let live” becomes weird southern-fried religious extremism it’s well past the time to head for the exits. And that was my take years ago. Probably not hard to guess my views on the current version of conservativism.

Yet old school, western style libertarian conservatism is worthy of respect. I've often thought that traditional conservativism and the best of liberalism are sort of a political ying and yang--you've got to have both if you want constructive and healthy political outcomes. In fact, I'd say traditional conservativism and liberalism go even deeper than politics. In many ways they reflect critical aspects of human personality and the way various people are 'hardwired' to view the world differently.

A bunch of students at the University of Colorado are setting up a new conservative organization aimed at rejecting what they believe is the betrayal of the best of traditional, libertarian conservative values by the current version of the Republican Party. They think Rovian conservatism is little more than gaining and maintaining power at any cost. Wonder how they got that idea?

Good for them. Maybe their approach will catch on. I’d love to have a chance to vote for or against a new (old?) version of real world conservativism I can feel good about again.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mid Course Correction

Washington (Reuters)

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced Friday that President Bush will no longer use the term “Stay the Course” to describe his policy toward the ill-fated invasion that has severely damaged his presidency and the election prospects of the Republican party.

Though publicly expressing confidence, White House insiders privately acknowledge that "the invasion has increased sectarian conflict and political division and has harmed a country we were trying to help."

One high ranking official at the State Department said, "Many of us now recognize that the right wing invasion of Washington was a big mistake."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ambitious Editor

Got an email yesterday from the editor of Common Ground Journal, an online theological journal with lots of readers among accomplished Christian folks trying to do some good in the developing world. CGJ is apparently a part of the Can Do Spirit Network.

Anybody with enough huevos to give their network that kind of name deserves an honest response.

She wants me to write an article explaining why the spread of Christianity in the two thirds world seems to have had "so little transformational impact" on society.

She’d also like me to break down the less common success stories and explain why some places seem to do better after a big bunch of folks come to Jesus.

I’ve got 3000 words :^)

I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to throw in my take on a unified, universal theory of physics.

I’m guessing she’s in her 20’s.

God bless young people.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Some Jokes Are More Equal Than Others

This Is How We Do It?

Some really interesting stuff from a couple of you in the comments section of the last post. Fun to think about humor in a little more depth.

Humor doesn’t translate well. It’s situation specific and fluid and so dependent on lots of almost unconscious references and right brain intuitive connections that it probably just can't make the journey across cultural barriers easily.

So when you do satire you can be pretty sure you’ll offend somebody.

And from my experience cross-culturally, when you do pretty much any kind of humor 'across culture' you're gonna get some ticked off folks and a whole lot of blank looks :^) Given how ethnically and ideologically diverse America is, you can't really do humor in any kind of public way without running the risk of hurting some feelings or confusing some people.

But unless you want to eliminate satire altogether--which would cut down big time on the general merriment quotient and remove one of the best and most powerful tools to remind us of our common pretentiousness--the goal of satire should be to take the risk to be funny but to do everything you can to avoid gratuitious offensiveness. Tricky, but I definitely think it's doable. Risk free humor simply isn't very funny cuz the risk part is what gives it the spice and the kick.

It's also much more immediately accesible and even more emotionally powerful than prosaic approaches. I suppose a nuanced, subtle and prosaic discussion of the extent of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world or among blue collar whites in the Southwest would be more 'fair' and illuminating in one sense than hearing Borat singing "Throw the Jew Down the Well,"
but who can deny how much more immediate emotional power Cohen has to show that anti-Semitism is alive and well and how fundamentally stupid that prejudice is.

Seems to me you need both subtle nuance and broader satire in the tool box. Some folks like nuance better but most likee their satire and jokes more.

Having said all that, it's clear some jokes are more equal than others.

Seems to me it’s all about the spirit of the thing. Some examples of good satire/bad satire:

P.J O’Rourke and Steven Colbert:
Risk taking guys without a hostile edge that satirize specific people and situations but do it to expose failings we all share (and privately think are funny in our best moments).

Carlos Mencia and Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G): Mencia's a really funny working class satirist. Really connects in a human way but unfortunately also packs some underlying hostility. Too soon to tell. The jury is still out. Cohen is hilarious and can be winningly self-deprecating. Doesn't have the undercurrent of anger you feel with Mencia but he goes way over the top sometimes into gratuitous offensiveness.

Anne Coulter and Bill Maher: Very funny political/cultural satirists. Coulter is truly vicious. Maher makes me laugh as much as anybody I know right now and is pretty intellectually honest but he won’t win any humility contests anytime soon. Makes him hard to hear sometimes. Too bad. Great satirists are usually pretty bright folks and arrogance is a common weakness in the genre.

South Park and The Simpsons: The ultimate satirical toons. Lemme do some Rocky Mountain bragging. South Park was created by Colorado folks. South Park is actually a real place in Colorado where I do a lot of climbing. Like I've said before, there's gotta be something in the water in the Rockies. Or maybe it's the lack of oxygen.

In my mind SP is super creative and really cuts to the heart of what's going on but goes way over the top into offensiveness for offensiveness' sake at times. The Simpsons, on the other hand, hit it just about right.

I wish most religious folks weren’t so afraid of offending people.

You've got a whole lot of exceptionally kind people in Christian communities and a good number of folks who genuinely want to be bring groups in conflict together, so the willingness to risk misunderstanding and give offense is low. You've also got a lot of folks who are pretty emotionally fragile--the church is for hurting people, after all! And all of us have a deep and not entirely healthy fear of being laughed at. So I understand why things are the way they are.

But I know there are a lot of very funny types out in the pews with a satirical sensibility because I’ve met some of them. It’s a shame we probably won’t get to hear from ‘em.

Some of us could use the laughs.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Punch Line That Ends History

St. Francis had it figured out.

Gotta be clowns for God if you wanna know God.

Christians believe that inflated self-importance is the root of all evil.

Satire is the funniest and one of the most socially acceptable tools to stick a pin in that whole unhealthy thing.

How come religious people—and especially Christians—are so afraid of using it?

Not sure why theologians have paid so little attention to humor either.

While I wait for The Punch Line That Ends History I’ll take
the funniest stuff I can get.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

We Are Not Worthy

"I Having Happy Time"

Here's the third straight post on message. Stay the course!

Most folks doing satire make up all the characters. Others play one of the characters and get real people to unsuspectingly take on the counter point roles on camera.

Sacha Baron Cohen can do both but he's really got the latter goin' on

I've been an Ali G Show fan for years. Still, a lot of people I talk to don't know who Cohen is (a Jewish comedian/satirist from England) cuz Ali G's mostly a cult thing on HBO.

That's all gonna change in a few weeks. Unless you've been living in a cave you know Borat is coming.

This is how you do it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

Welcome once again to Focus on Your Embarrassing Family. I'm your host, James Dobson.

Just a reminder to our faithful viewers to buy my books Love Must Be Tough, Tough Love Must Be, Must Love Be Tough?, Be Tough Love Must, and Bringing Up Boys Who Won't Turn Out To Be Fairies.

Though we always avoid politics and stick with the psycho-pastoral dimension here at FOYEF, I want to welcome an important political guest tonite. Many of you will be surprised and pleased to meet one of today's most important public figures.

She's here to announce that she won't be running for president in 2008!

I'd like you all to give our first time guest, Senator Hillary Clinton, a warm Christian welcome. You can just lay hands on the remote and say a special prayer for a lost sheep.

Thank you so much for your gracious introduction, Pastor Dobson.

Frankly, Senator Clinton, I'm shocked by the way you look. None of us have ever seen you this way before.

Well, to be honest, Pastor Dobson, that's exactly why I'm here.

I thought I was an exceptionally bright, courageous and well-meaning woman over the years. I believed I was a committed and god-fearing Methodist since childhood and someone who has advanced women's interests as much as anybody in the past decades. But now I realize I was just fooling myself.

After listening to your wise psycho-pastoral insights for the past few years and reading your books, I've realized I've been living a lie. I've seen the light! I've found the courage to allow God and his NASCAR followers to define me rather than insisting on that false image I always thought was really me.

I just didn't understand a woman's place.

I don't mean to shock your audience, but I've worshipped at the altar of the hairy female leg and have offended against nature and the order of things.

Yes, I admit it! I'm really a witch!! I'm a catty, power hungry bitch!!! I'm a grasping, man hating feminist!!!! (sobs quietly into camera)

But I sincerely want to change. I now realize you cannot serve both Mother Jones and the Lord High God.

And for the good of the country, for heaven's sakes, I can't run for president. My sweet Lord, what would happen if a joker like Kim Jong Il pulled some nuclear stunt during that time of the month? We could end up in WW3 over PMS. It's truly frightening!

Oh, dear, dear Hillary. My faithful viewers and I have known it all along in our hearts. By revealing your true self you've taken the right first step toward healing. I admire your courage in repenting here before my national audience. You're close to the Kingdom, indeed

I knew you would understand. I wanted to come clean here today with the kind of people who've always really understood me.

How easily we're all fooled.

Many of my Republican friends in Washington told me you're one of the most reasonable and deferential people in the Senate toward your male colleagues and that even the Republican senators like and deeply respect you. Karl Rove actually tried to order Republican senators to stop cooperating with you because working with you would enhance your presidential chances. They ignored him.

I was even starting to think I might have been wrong about you and that I might have to reconsider my hostility to feminism.

But you know, putting my biases and prejudices front and center has never let me down. I should have known better!

My spirit wants to do the right thing, Psycho-Pastor Dobson.

But my flesh says, "Yeah, the bitch is back in town! I want to be president! Why can't a woman have a shot at running things for once?! What have we got to lose?!" I shock myself with the kinds of things that go through my mind!

I've even thought of running for president with Barak Obama as my vice-presidential running mate. Are you aware he's a negro, Pastor Dobson?

Oh, what's happened to me?! How could I have let it go on so long?

You're struggling with your sin nature, near-sister Hillary. You'll have to subdue the flesh with the help of my latest compassionate conservative DVD, Submission to White Republican Men is Tough or its companion DVD, Bringing Up Girls Who Won't Turn Out To Be Feminist Witches That Run for President With Ambiguously Liberal Negroes.

Oh, Pastor Dobson, I don't want a political career! I just want to be loved by God and the NASCAR people the way you and Dorothy and Toto are. Nobody wants to be thought of as a bitch all their lives. I just don't have the strength to take it anymore! Will I ever be able to stop being a grasping witch?

Well, there is a way....

Just get out of politics. Shave that unsightly stubble off your legs. Put on the ruby slippers.

Then click your heels together and repeat over and over again, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home...."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Can Religious Folk Take a Joke?

"See, Not So Bad Once You're Up."

Haven’t heard a good sermon or read a good article about blasphemy recently.

My son Andrew and I both love Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Andrew especially gets a kick out of the “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” song that Brian and his followers sing while being crucified.

I like almost any form of religious satire. Makes little difference which faith or which place. Seems like Jesus himself spent a lot of his time skewering actual religion.

But maybe you can get too much of a good thing.

More traditional Christians have always thought so. And I’m guessing much of the Islamic cultural anger about the west basically comes down to a very different understanding of blasphemy and the kinds of limits on what can be said about God or religious people.

When the Pythons satirized Christianity they made sure to differentiate Brian from Jesus. When I poked fun at violence and power loving right wing Christianity in Confessions of Neo-Conservative Jesus I also made sure that the object of satire was a clearly bogus version of Jesus. To do otherwise would get you huge grief even in the current "secular" west.

When I was an undergrad I heard a famous 70 year old English humorist who came to Stanford say, “All humor is based on the difference between aspiration and actual achievement. At my age, that’s why sex is so funny.”

If that definition of humor is true, can people who believe God is perfect ever use real satire or joke about God? And if religions tend to make a close identification between religious followers and their God, how much satire and humor is OK when applied to religious groups and institutions?

I’m pretty interested in why religious satire tends to produce such intense emotion and even hatred and violence. Seems like kind of a key question right now.

Can religious folk take a joke?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

BCS Picks and Takes

The leaves are falling in Colorado. The first BCS poll is in. Time for some picks and takes on college football.

Cosmic Smack Down?

Oklahoma loses their best quarterback to a used car lot scandal before the season. They lose a game at Oregon when instant replay officials go temporarily blind. They lose the best running back in the nation when he breaks his collar bone while showboating and diving into the end zone at the end of a long touchdown run.

Slow and Potentially Low USC

SC has won 50 of their last 52 games in Division 1. Not sure any major college team will ever pull off that kind of streak again.

I’ve seen most of their games this year.

They look slow and seem to lack the passion of past years. Hard to keep the intensity when you’ve been so successful. Especially when everybody else brings their best effort of the season against you.

Pete Carroll might be losing his emotional mojo.

Best Conferences Top to Bottom

SEC but not by as much as some say. Big Ten. Pac Ten. Big Twelve. ACC.

Why does the Big East gets an automatic BCS bid? Why is the Big East even in the BCS mix?

Best Team That Won’t Win the National Championship


Basically the same team that beat SC last year in the title game. Breaking in a freshman qb. He’s getting better every game. They don’t have a strong schedule which will hurt them in the BCS computer rankings but by the end of the season they’ll be one of the best—if not the best—team in the country.

Sometimes All You’ve Got Is Hope

Stanford has lost every game this year. Colorado is 1-7. My guys are taking a beating.

Glad I’m a lifelong UCLA and SC fan too. Always good to diversify :^)

No Great Team

Saw a bunch of games today and every one of them came down to the last minute. Very cool. No great team this year. Gotta like college football without a current dynasty.

BCS Championship Game

Gotta go with Ohio State to beat Michigan and get to the finals.

The other team could be either SC or Auburn.

SC just isn’t playing very well right now. Seems like they peaked early and have been regressing every week since then. Hard to see them getting through the Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA gauntlet. If they can pull it off the BCS should just give them the national championship trophy without even playing a title game.

Auburn has an easier road than SC but still rough.

SC could lose one of those four tough games to end the season and still get into the BCS championship game because the computers will reward them for such a brutal schedule. Can’t remember a team losing a game near the end of the season and getting into the championship game but SC could pull it off this year.

Oh Well

No more political/premature ejaculation/Viagra posts here at P and P. Guess that last one was too obscure or too crude. Made me laugh, though. Sometimes being your own best audience can get you into trouble :^)

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Vice President's Premature Iraq Elation

Describing the Embarrassing Moment

Vice President Cheney admitted to Time magazine this week that he suffered an embarrassing episode of premature Iraq elation.

Hey, don’t take it too hard Dick. It happens to most guys eventually. Wives tend to be very understanding about that kind of thing.

Maybe it’s that Viagra you're taking.

If so some of the other side effects can be even worse.

If after taking Viagra you experience rigid and inflexible thinking that lasts for more than four hours, consult your doctor. It can be dangerous and cause long term damage to your health and to those around you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trusting the Blogosphere?

I’ve got mixed feelings about the underground media phenomenon.

I couldn’t be more pumped by the democratic explosion of creativity and opinion going on right now. I love it that anybody can start up a blog or make their own video or record their own podcast or create their own game and find an audience. No question in my mind we’re at the front end of a communications revolution that’s going to change everything including politics and religion in a big way.

I mean, look back at the thread from my post Coming Out of the Closet from last week. Where else would that discussion be possible? You’d have to work very hard to get a group of folks with that variety of opinions on homosexuality together in one place and speak in a painfully honest way with each other. But on a blog what would be nearly impossible becomes possible. And everybody benefits from hearing what people really think and feel rather than listening to spin. How great is that?

But on the other hand it seems like the underground media--at least at this point—is so subjective and derivative that I wonder why people trust it as much as many folks do as a source of information.

Most underground media stuff makes Fox News look like a paragon of Solomonic and Socratic balance and evenhandedness. It’s so biased and imbalanced that it’s funny. A couple of months back I thought about doing a satirical piece on how whacky a lot of it is, but I realized that the underground media is pretty much beyond satire. It’s its own satire. No need for a satirist to point out how goofily extreme most of it is. That’s obvious to anyone who spends much time surfing the blogosphere or listening to podcasts or checking out YouTube.

And I think that’s part of the design and the attraction. The underground media is post-modernism. Even if you can’t describe post-modernism easily you can see it and experience it online. It’s all about subjectivity. The person who experiences the whole bewildering thing is left to sort it out and to create their own biased take for the sake of ‘authenticity.’

The underground media is derivative because it still depends on serious mainstream media journalists for the ‘facts’ and the ‘news.’ The blogosphere is like a gigantic and somewhat manic editorial page. Great at getting people’s creative opinions out there but very poor at doing the basic bread and butter work of real journalism or uncovering ‘the facts.’

And at this point much of the blogosphere has become commentary on the rest of the blogosphere. When things get that self-referential the connection to ‘actual events in the real world’ becomes pretty tenuous. You end up with ideological feeding frenzies where members of sub-groups reinforce their own realities regardless of how little that reality corresponds to what's actually going on outside the blogosphere.

Again, I love the underground media. But its no substitute—at least at this point—for real journalism.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fair and Balanced?

It's Spin and Trust week at P and P.

Had some fun yesterday with political spin and why folks tend not to trust politicians.

Wanna look today at why people seem to trust the traditional media even less, and tomorrow at why we seem so willing to trust the emerging "underground" media.

Talked with a younger friend last week who is as ‘progressive’ as they come, and I would say as ‘fair’ as they come too. We were talking about something in the news and she finished up her comment by saying, “But of course, if it’s in the media who knows whether you can take it seriously.”

I was a little taken aback because I usually expect to hear that kind of thing from conservative folks whose hostility to the media is as old as the hills.

But I’ve come to recognize that this deeper distrust of the traditional media is a whole lot wider and less strictly ideological than it used to be.

In general, I think the traditional media does a pretty decent job most of the time. It’s not clear to me that ideology deeply colors what’s on offer (with some funny exceptions like Fox News) or that the traditional media is ‘too skeptical.' If anything, my more recent critique is that the traditional media wasn’t aggressive enough in challenging the kind of egregious political spin we’ve been exposed to during the last 6 years.

I understand that the traditional media news outlets are increasingly controlled by a few small companies and rich guys, and that a lot of it is sensationalism and entertainment in order to make money instead of real journalism. And I know that some people think the traditional media is grossly ideologically biased while other post mod types think the whole idea of big media news outlets who 'evenhandedly' report and interpret the news for a wider audience is basically impossible. And there's no doubt that folks right now are savvier about the ways that information and images can be packaged to spin effectively. So I get a lot of the scepticism.

Yet I wonder if we’re on pretty dangerous ground by continuing to fuel the idea that large and professional media outlets simply can’t be trusted.

In my mind that contributes to a breakdown of public dialogue across ideology and subgroups. When everybody only listens to their own ‘in house’ information sources it makes democratic dialogue almost impossible. Seems like we're starving for real dialogue and discussion right now. Can that be achieved unless there are some professional news sources that most fair-minded folks deem acceptably 'authoritative' and 'trustworthy?'

And I wonder if the current hostility toward the traditional media plays right into the hands of political power which always wants to discredit the media because of its potential watchdog role. Maybe that's part of the reason our current governing yahoos have gotten away with so much. Ironically, conservatives, who supposedly want to limit the power of government, may actually contribute to excessive government power by constantly harping on the media.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Return of Baghdad Bob

This is Anderson Cooper with CNN's “360” broadcasting from Iraq. I’ve got a special guest tonight. Many of you know him as ‘Baghdad Bob’ or “Comical Ali.”

Baghdad Bob served as the information minister for Saddam Hussein during the US invasion of Iraq and became famous for his shameless and entertaining spin.
Here are some clips of Bob’s announcements made as American troops entered and occupied Baghdad:

"Nobody came here. Those America losers, I think their repeated frequent lies are bringing them down very rapidly.... Baghdad is secure, is safe."
There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never! Truly. I can say, and I am responsible for what I am saying, that they have started to commit suicide under the walls of Baghdad. We will encourage them to commit more suicides quickly!”

After the war Baghdad Bob left Iraq and became a guest lecturer in Communications at Abu Dhabi U. He was recently hired by Karen Hughes, a longtime associate of President Bush. Hughes heads up the Bush Administration’s public relations efforts to improve America’s image in the Islamic world.

Welcome to my show, Baghdad Bob.

I thank you, manly and grey haired Cooper Anderson. May your effeminate competition shrivel like a fig in the noonday sun!

Uh, well, ok. Thanks.

You once worked for Saddam Hussein. Now you’re a spokesperson for the Bush administration. You’re obviously a survivor. How do you reconcile such a dramatic shift?

My father Baghdad Bill always said to me, “Young Baghdad Bob, the most important thing in life is to know which side of the pita holds the falafel.” This is wisdom Cooper Anderson.

You’re hosting your own morning talk show in Baghdad. Tell us about it.

We call it The Survive Today Show with Baghdad Bob. You know, the usual morning formula. Some cooking. Some weather. Some conversation. Up close and personal stories of beheadings and bomb blasts. Everyday stuff.

We’re getting big audience share among those few who have electricity in the morning. I think our Put The Smack Back In Iraq ad campaign really got your average Ahmad tuning in.

Many people in the US think the Bush Administration's attempts to improve America’s image through public relations campaigns are silly and counterproductive. Your 55 year old Republican boss Karen Hughes recently danced with young rappers in Morocco in a painfully staged attempt to get jiggy with the potential jihadists. A lot of people think this kind of thing is faintly ridiculous, particularly given the obvious failure of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy.

Who says such things?! May a diseased goat drag its nasty bits through their cereal! These people are impotent jackals yapping and nipping at the heels of the Great Lion Boosh. He will crush their scavenging jaws, Allah willing.

The strong majority of Americans—including an increasing number of high ranking Republicans—now believe that Iraq is a fiasco. Well meaning people on both sides of the aisle are trying to figure out how to do damage control and get out as soon as possible. They recognize that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war.

Civil war? What civil war?! There is no civil war!!

Yes, yes, there are some problems. Abdul bumps Mohammed’s sheep. Mohammed insults Abdul. Abdul calls in the relatives. Everybody gets out the AK-47’s. Tens of thousands are killed. You know how it is. Just a misunderstanding and a little overreaction. But no civil war.

Do not be fooled by the Defeatocrats with their shrunken scrotums and their skinny women congressmen who cannot suckle children. They have a bad attitude. That is their problem!

Every day in every way we get a little better. We are taking control of our lives. We will settle for nothing but the best. Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. A stitch in time saves nine. A penny saved is a penny earned. American ends in “I Can.” There is no “I” in team. If this van starts a rockin’ don’t keep a knockin’.

You see, we know and believe in your smart American sayings and wisdom, Cooper Anderson.

With the right attitude we can accomplish anything! (begins singing to the tune of "High Hopes") Once there was a silly old ant, tried to lift a rubber tree plant. Everyone knows an ant can't lift a rubber tree plant.... You know how that funny little song ends, don't you Cooper Anderson?!

I’ve arranged for Tony Robbins, your American inspirational speaker, to do a series of conventions throughout the country next month. We’re calling it the Release Your Inner Winner Before Dinner tour.

Many in America believe the administration’s position in Iraq has degenerated into little more than optimistic slogans and inspirational spin. They believe we're offering the Iraqi people nothing but pep talks because we're powerless to bring about real change at this point. Lots of Americans are hoping for more realistic and pragmatic leadership soon that can take practical steps to limit the damage of a disastrous war. Some say it’s time for the grownups to take charge of the playground.

Spin? What Spin?! There is no spin!!

I can say, and I am responsible for what I am saying, that the militias are putting down their arms even as we speak and joining hands to sing Blowin' in the Wind by your Bob Dylan and also other folk songs by your Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls.

We in Iraq have a glorious future, Cooper Anderson! (begins singing to the tune of "High Hopes") But we have high hopes, we have high hopes, we have high apple pie in the sky hopes. So anytime we're feeling bad, really feelin' bad, we just remember that ant, oh, oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree plant!

Monday, October 16, 2006

DAM Fine Building

Those of you who know me know I’m an art and architecture freak.

So I was geeked up big time last Friday when Jan and I went down to the brand new Denver Art Museum Fredrick Hamilton Building. I’ve been waiting for two years. Last week was the grand opening.

The people who founded the Denver Art Museum had a genius for marketing. Could have called it the Denver Museum of Art according to common practice. But would have missed out on every opportunity to sell Denver Art Museum (DAM) products. DAM Fine Art. DAM Fine Paintings. DAM Fine Food in the DAM Fine Cafe. DAM Fine T-Shirts.

Daniel Libeskind--the guy chosen to design the new World Trade Center in New York—designed the Hamilton Building. He’s a painfully hip Swiss global nomad wearing the obligatory black but his work breaks through stereotypes in a big way.

Denver is a visually striking city. A lot of cool architecture. Big skies. Remarkable light. And of course, the Rockies as the backdrop. Very sophisticated arts scene. Very few folks here are easily blown away.

But the Hamilton is the shock of the new in the best sense of that term.

It’s a jagged titanium crystal formation erupting out of the pavement. Libeskind says he was trying to capture the sharp geometric jumble of rocks and shattered angles you see in the Rockies. He definitely pulled it off.

The inside is almost as cool as the outside. Almost nothing at 90 degrees in the whole building. Going up and down the staircase is a little like mountain climbing over irregular terrain.

I loved it but a lot of people who visited the first week said they got vertigo and had to hang on tight to the railing.

What could be better in an art museum? :^) That's what art and architecture are supposed to do--knock you a little cock-eyed so you'll look closely and stop taking things for granted.

At least for the moment, the "dusty old cow town" is at the center of the art world. Sweet!

Check out the pics.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Just uploaded a ton of pics to my Flickr page.

You can plow through my photo stream one take at a time by clicking on the 'more of wordcat57's photos' link at the bottom of the Flickr badge on the right border of P and P.

Or, you can go straight to my sets (albums) here.
That’s the best way to do the grand tour.

If you go to the sets everything from “Family Roots” on is brand new.

Most of these shots are courtesy of my wife Jan. I only took up photography more seriously with the invention of digital cameras. With the dig cams you can take a hundred pics, erase the 95 crappy ones and keep the 5 good ones and it costs you nothing. Back in the day you had to pay for every mistake :^) With digital cameras everybody's Ansel Adams.

I promised to upload important family pics to the web a few months ago. Yow. Don’t ever agree to something like that unless you’re really committed. Ended up choosing a little over 500 pics from about 5000 which took zega spare hours. By the time I finished getting ‘em digitized and uploaded onto Flickr I burned a whole lot of free time.

But still, sort of cool to have a visual chronicle of our lives that we can access at any time and that other folks can check out too.

Be back Monday steady posting.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Case of the Cursing Missionary

"And May God Bless You All, My Dear @&%$#&*%@!!! Friends"

Got an update today from a friend who just got back from a stint as a missionary in India.

Trying to bring positive change across cultures and world views is tough. I guess we're all learning that very hard lesson once again these days.

Here's a passage from her letter:

Right before I left India, my friend Sunita pulled me aside with an embarrassed laugh. “You know when you say the word 'small?'”

“Yes,” I replied with an ominous feeling.

“Well. Well…...you’re making the wrong sound in Hindi. You’re saying a really bad word.”

She was so embarrassed, she wouldn’t even tell me what it was. I had to wrangle it out of the hair cutter.

Yup, basically every time I went to the vegetable guy, asking for the baby eggplants, or the numerous times I asked about the tiny grapes that didn’t ever appear this past season, and basically every situation where you would use the very important word small or little about things like children, I was in effect saying ”Give me the F**n eggplants!” “Go call your F**n brother!”

I’d say running around cursing out the neighborhood wouldn’t be an ideal missionary tactic, but I guess I’ll have to just rely on Jesus’ grace for that one!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

You May Now Touch My Pet Monkey

My favorite Mike Meyers character back when SNL was funny was Dieter The Post Christian Post Modern Uber Techno Dancing German. Always fun seeing pretentious European artsiness taking a satirical hit or two.

Here's another variation on the same theme by some pretty anarchical and funny backwoods bubbas from Montana. Couldn't be more 'out there' but made me laugh.

After watching this vid and considering that Napoleon Dynamite came out of Idaho I'm guessin' they're spiking our water here in the Rockies.

Can't figure out why Google would pay almost 2 billion dollars for financially hemmoraging YouTube but you've gotta love some of the stuff that sees the light of day there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Something For Everybody

We’ve got something for everybody right now in Colorado.

Amendment 43 will change the constitution of Colorado to define marriage as ‘a union between one man and one woman.’

I’m guessing some folks behind this amendment intend to send gays and polygamists fleeing back to California and Utah respectively :^). Others honestly believe that by passing a constitutional amendment people will somehow change their sexual behavior.

Referendum I will give gay and lesbian couples the legal right to join in “civil unions.” Not marriage but pretty much the same civil and legal rights that straight married couples enjoy.

We’re the only state in the union with both of these kinds of measures on the ballot at the same time.

Think I’m gonna vote no on Amendment 43.

I’m a Christian type of guy.

The institution of marriage is basically religious and has always signified the hope for a lifetime union of a man and a woman.

I’m all for it.

I’m doing it.

But I’m not sure we need constitutional amendments to support it. The best spiritual stuff always shies away from depending on the power of the state.

I’m probably gonna vote yes on Referendum I.

Can’t think of too many compelling reasons to deny basic legal and civil rights to people who want to try to care for each other for the rest of their lives.

I’m in no position to judge how well they’ll follow through. Probably not very well if the stats on divorce are any indication.

But why not give ‘em a shot to demonstrate that the stereotypes about gays are wrong?

We’re an experimental democracy. That’s what the whole thing is about and why it’s so cool and worth defending.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Coming Out of the Closet

Very few people seem to choose their own sexual preference.

I sure didn’t.

Thoughtful Christians are caught in a tough bind.

The Bible seems to teach that homosexual practice is a sin.

The science indicates that sexual preference is mostly beyond the control of individuals.

The current evangelical line splits the difference.

We’re told that being homosexual is ok as long as you don’t think like a homosexual or act like a homosexual and repent of the general results of The Fall in your own life.

I understand and appreciate the biblical passages that seem to teach against homosexual practice and I get the science too.

I’m not posting to rant one way or the other.

But when I talk to a lot of honest and thoughtful Christian people—especially young Christian people—more than a few of them seem to want to avoid the issue because they don’t appear to have confidence in the old time take.

But they can’t speak or write openly about it because of the current fundamentalist climate. If they even raise the question in a serious way they risk getting booted out of the ‘fellowship’ and if they have positions of responsibility they risk losing financial support.

Maybe some folks need to come out of the closet :^)

Christians have supported a lot of dumb stuff in the past based on old-timey and eventually repudiated takes on the Bible.

Hard to know what to make of all this without a more honest discussion.

Is honest discussion in the current climate possible?

Please hold all your biblical arguments about gays. I'm pretty familiar with most of 'em.

I'm really wondering out loud why evangelical Christians can't seem to talk about this outside the seminary setting.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Enjoy Your Flight

"In the Event of An Emergency Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!"

I’ve wracked up quite a few miles on a lot of airlines around the world.

Here are some facts about flying commercially that most people don’t know:

• Flying at 35 to 40 thousand feet without the protection of the bulk of the atmosphere, passengers are exposed to a whole lot of solar radiation, particularly on long international flights that often get close to the north pole. If you’re a frequent international flier and you eventually mutate into a 100 foot tall freak that attacks downtown Las Vegas you’ll know why.

• About 15 minutes into the flight the captain turns off the seat belt sign while offhandedly suggesting that you keep your seatbelt fastened even while you’re sleeping. Nobody pays attention but unexpected clear air turbulence occasionally throws food carts that weigh hundreds of pounds against the overhead luggage compartments and ceiling of the plane.

• No one has ever survived the emergency landing of a wide bodied aircraft on water in the history of aviation. So no worries about the parts of the safety spiel concerning the flotation devices under your seat or the emergency slides that will double as life rafts. The bright yellow ‘life-jackets’ are meant to make it easier for recovery teams to spot the corpses. If you’d like to increase the chances your remains will be found and identified wear the life jacket. If you don’t care one way or the other, forget about the damn thing and finish watching the movie or get right with God as the plane goes down.

• The flight attendants will also tell you to adopt a head-down fetal position in the event of a crash landing. The stall speed of a modern commercial airliner guarantees it will hit the ground with terminal velocity so you’ll be toast no matter what you do. Getting head down and fetal does tend to preserve dental data. So again, if you want to be identified definitely follow instructions. If you don’t care one way or the other, stand up and dance in your seat or even moon the other passengers. Might as well have some fun on the way out.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Forgiving and Loving Our Enemies

Pretty moving audio take on the Amish response to the recent massacre of their kids in Pennsylvania. It's short and powerful.

Every once in a great while you get to see the real spiritual deal in public. Pretty inspiring contrast to so much of what's been going on here and elsewhere under the label of faith.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Golf Is Not A Sport

Had a spirited discussion yesterday with a guy at the gym who tried to convince me that Tiger Woods is one of the greatest athletes of all time.

I was respectfully havin’ none of it.

It all comes down to a single question for me: Is golf a sport or just a game?

I played a lot of golf when I was in high school and college but finally gave it up due to the geologic pace. Maybe I’ll take it up again when I’m in my 70’s. Of course by then I’ll probably be incontinent and drinking out of a sippy cup too :^)

So I’m hardly unbiased.

But anyway, I hit this guy with my patented mathematical formula which clearly demonstrates that golf is simply a game and not a sport.

I won’t bore you with the details of the actual formula, but suffice to say that I grade any potential sport by assigning numerical values to various building blocks of that particular activity. So for example, any competitive pursuit that requires exceptional speed gets 2 points. Quickness gets 2 points. Jumping ability gets 2. Strength gets 2. Fine and gross motor skill coordination both get 3. Concentration and controlling fear get 3's. And so on.

Points can also be subtracted. Any competitive pursuit that can be done successfully by a middle aged guy with a 44 inch waste who just downed a martini loses a point. Pursuits where the competitors have been known to wear checked pants or knickers lose a point. If some other poor guy is forced to carry your equipment around all day, you lose a point.

Pro Golfer John Daly--Exhibit A

I don’t think it’s necessary to go through the whole exercise here and add up the points for golf or even explain the mathematical threshold that gets a competitive pursuit into the realm of ‘real sport.’ Or failing to pass that threshold, reduces a pursuit into the company of other mere games like horseshoes or Twister.

I think you’re feeling me and seeing where all this is going. Sorry Tiger :^)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Gay Canary in the Mineshaft

Historically, cities and urban economies seem to grow partly because they offer a more fluid and less judgmental environment than rural areas. Getting bright and productive people together across old timey religious and cultural barriers seems to make the economic world go around.

Or in other words, high levels of social tolerance appear to be a basic building block of economic growth.

Richard Florida’s argument just underscores that long term reality. He and other observers point out that the most economically productive places are also the most socially tolerant places.

When you look at the list of the top post-industrial metro areas which are driving our national economy and feathering the nest of even the most socially intolerant fundamentalist believers, you can’t help but notice that they specialize in greater openness to most every group, including (especially?) gays.

I’ll take a look at the whole gay marriage and civil rights thing next week from a Christian and secular point of view.

Miners used to take canaries in cages down the mineshafts to detect deadly poisonous gases. Canaries turned out to be much more sensitive to those gases than people. When the canaries survived and flourished productive work could go on. When the canaries died it was time to evacuate the mine.

Maybe gay folks and other socially marginalized groups play a similar role now in our urban and national economy. Most of the actual on-the-ground evidence suggests it.

Don’t think the right wing, conservative, Christian free markets group is buying :^)

Check that last comment. Quite a few of them may be buying. That's why I think the current free market/economic development right can't ultimately stay with the southern fried religious right. It's ultimately an incoherent alliance of convenience.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Perfect Storm?

Wanted to come back today and tomorrow and touch on a couple of the themes that Richard Florida raises in his book The Rise of the Creative Class and his Atlantic Monthly article I linked to on Monday. I think his take is potentially so key for the future of American cities and for the fight against inequality and social segregation in America.

For those of you who didn’t read the Atlantic article from Monday’s post (I’m guessing that includes most of you—come on, be honest :^) here’s a super brief take on his thinking:

• Florida argues that a new ‘class’ has arisen in America which he calls “The Creative Class.” Basically, these are highly skilled and highly educated folks who serve as the dynamic engine of the relatively new information/creativity based economy, or what a lot of folks call the post-industrial economy. Florida believes they will eventually not only dominate our economy but also deeply influence American culture and politics.

• He also says this class increasingly seeks to segregate itself in a relatively small handful of American metro areas. This synergistic collocation (his term--in plain English, creative gathering) of very bright, very educated and very well paid folks is accelerating because it brings such economic and creative benefits. As these folks live and work with each other it exponentially increases both creative breakthroughs and also individual earning power.

• The economic and cultural success of American cities in the future will depend on where the greatest number of the most skilled people settle.

• But that process is already well underway and a relatively small group of cities like San Francisco, LA, Denver, Seattle, Boston, etc. are the most common destinations of ‘the means migration’ (the huge demographic shift of the creative class to particular urban areas). Florida argues that those cities are becoming economically and culturally dominant and will become even more so in the future. He identifies the cities at the top of the means’ migration list by examining the percentage of city residents with college and advanced degrees and also the rise in real estate prices over the past few decades. He believes these cities with an early head start in the ‘means migration’ derby have a tremendous advantage over other cities and regions.

• He points out that the ‘spatial’ pattern developing in most of these cities is an increasingly wealthy, highly tolerant (more on that in tomorrow’s post) and highly educated class living ‘highly privileged’ lives in the core of the city, catered to by an underclass of service workers living in older surrounding suburbs.

I’m pretty sure Florida's on to something big. The only addition I'd make to his metro spatial take are the mostly homogeneous middle class exurbs growing out beyond the aging suburbs. Middle and upper middle class folks who don't want the creative class scene in the urban core and can't afford homes there seem to be heading that way in large numbers.

Certainly, Denver is following this pattern almost point for point and the urban and regional planning here is rooted explicitly in Florida’s thinking. Our cutting edge and progressive mayor John Hickenlooper quotes Florida regularly. Denver is aggressively seeking to win the ‘means migration’ battle by creating an urban core that will be highly attractive to young creative class types.

Some thoughts on what all this may mean:

Globalization and the post industrial economy have already begun to increase social and economic inequality dramatically. The economy grows but the rewards go to the creative class and the well off almost exclusively. Middle class and underclass wages and living standards stagnate even while overall productivity and corporate profits grow.

In addition, I think we’ve bought into some old timey American values—individualism and meritocracy—in a more extreme way than ever before. Folks right now don’t seem to mind that corporate executives make 300 times what average workers make even when that ratio might have been ten times lower 30 years ago.

Given the current effects of globalization and the post-industrial economy, and what can only be called the current fetishism of individualism and meritocracy, and granted that Florida’s ‘means migration’ is a growing trend, do we have a set of conditions that will produce a kind of ‘perfect storm’ of economic injustice and urban, class based segregation in the near future?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Buddy Christ Does Baghdad

Buddy Christ

Back tomorrow on cities but couldn’t pass this up. Just too funny.

Saw a news story on CNN about a US military action yesterday against suspected militants in Sadr City, a huge Shiite slum in Baghdad.

Once the US troops left and the cameramen and reporters arrived, some of the militants produced a blown up pic obviously downloaded off the internet of “Buddy Christ,” the funny (to me) Jesus figure from the flick “Dogma” a few years back.

Nothing gets lost faster in cultural translation than humor.

The Sadr Army dudes simply didn’t get that Buddy Christ is a satirical joke Jesus meant to stick it funny and sort of rough to American Catholics and not a serious religious icon.

They were spinnin' crudely and trying to convince the reporters that U.S troops had left the picture behind as a ‘religious calling card’ signifying the ‘crusader’ nature of the American occupation.

Gotta believe there were more than a few western reporters laughing out loud afterwards at the local press watering hole in the Green Zone....

Monday, October 02, 2006

Where the Brains Are

Denver: Top Five Brain Burg

Ever wonder why some American cities are so expensive that even people with high 5 figure incomes often can’t afford an entry level home?

Or why so many bright and creative young folks end up moving to the same handful of urban scapes where lots of ‘em eventually get forced out by the high cost of living?

Or why American politics and religion seem so divided between certain wealthy urban progressive enclaves on the one hand and less dynamic conservative cities and stalled out rural areas on the other?

Read on. Ran across this sharp take in this month's Atlantic Monthly.

The author, Richard Florida, wrote the book "The Rise of the Creative Class" which has deeply influenced how cities plan for their futures and market themselves over the past couple of years.

He writes about a whole new kind of segregation in the US that may be as powerful as any previous form of the same. Fascinating stuff.

More posts this week on the urban scene in the US and around the world.