Monday, January 29, 2007

That Was Fun

I’ve been doing Peaks and Pacific steadily for two years now.

I got into blogging as a guy pushing 50. So I knew from the start it would be a steep learning curve and a cross-cultural experience. It’s been both. In the best way :^) And a whole lot of fun too.

Trying to say something interesting or funny 6 times a week is hard to do in your spare time, though. I realized over the past couple of months that posting had begun to feel more like a chore than a joy. And though I’ve appreciated the big and growing bunch of you who read the blog regularly, I’m an extrovert who loves discussion. And that’s something that current blogging just doesn’t offer. I’ve never been a big fan of sermons or haiku length quips. Even my own :^)

And my changing responsibilities at work will require a whole lot more writing and creating of books, articles and various media tools, so I want to invest my creative energy there for the time being.

All that by way of saying, this will be my last Peaks and Pacific post.

I may pick up with P&P again in the future. More likely, I'll create a new site at some point. I’m thinking of trying an all humor/satire site sometime next year. Maybe with podcasting/videocasting elements added to mix. We’ll see. I’m going to leave P&P online, so you can check back from time to time for any updates or for new pics on my Flickr site.

Thanks so much to those of you who read regularly. And especially to those of you who mixed it up in the comments. I learned a lot and enjoyed getting to know some of you ‘from afar.’ Wish there were some way to have gotten the unusually thoughtful and interesting P&P readers together in the same room. Folks from six continents were reading P&P--that would have been a fun party!

In any case, I'll probably 'see' some of you in the comments sections on other blogs, so you'll still have to put up with my takes from time to time :^) Take care and God bless!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Mix

**The invisible hand decides. Even the prospect of posts on the dismal science blew my hit count from the highest it's ever been (Tuesday) to some of the lowest overnight and for the last couple of days. OK, I surrender :^) No series on economics....

**Funny vid take on the immigration debate Got this one from a North African bud.

**Revealing vid of Senator Leahy grilling Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez about the use of torture in the Bush administration Nice to see Congress act like Congress again.

Check out Gonzalez's facial expressions at the end of the clip.

Yeah, Leahy's a windbag and trying to score political points, but there isn't the slightest hint of regret or remorse on Gonzalez's part. You'd at least expect some sense of public contrition--no matter how phony--on behalf of a guy who was held captive and tortured for a year for no reason. All you see is the familiar arrogance and smirk.

I couldn’t find a clean clip of the questioning, so I had to rely on Jesus’ General’s vid spin. No need for JG to enhance it—-the clip speaks for itself.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ray Guns

The A-410 Neutralization Device Prototype

Washington (AP)

A day after revealing the development of a new military "ray gun" that harmlessly neutralizes enemy combatants by making them "feel as if they are about to catch fire," the Pentagon announced this morning another in a line of new experimental weapons that “disarm the enemy without the need to take human life.”

Pentagon spokesman Bull Meachum hailed the new weapons as ‘the dawning of a new day for the U.S. military.”

“Why needlessly risk the lives of our own servicemen, innocent civilians, and even enemy combatants if we can get the bad guys to drop their weapons and surrender without using lethal force? If this works we won’t see anymore ‘Join the Army, See the World, Meet New People, Kill Them’ t-shirts. We believe we can win the battle for hearts and minds with this new generation of military technology.”

Meachum unveiled the new A-410 Neutralization Device Prototype, nicknamed “The Cheney Ray” by Department of Defense staffers.

“The A-410 utilizes finely tuned microwaves projected in a 20 foot wide beam that can effectively reach targets up to the 400 yards away,” said Meachum.

“The non-lethal beam affects the frontal cortex of enemy combatants, disorienting them by convincing them they are the President or Vice President of the United States or a member of Congress. Combatants targeted by the beam immediately seek deferment from military service for themselves and their children.”

Meachum said the Defense Department is pleased with progress on the weapon system but that engineers are still ‘working out some glitches.”

“We field tested the device against Islamist militants in Iraq and Somalia recently. Unfortunately, along with disarming enemy combatants the A-410 also induced endless speeches and cloying insincerity from the combatants after capture. After a few days of listening to that kind of annoying verbal and social assault, our troops were tempted to shoot them. Obviously, killing captured combatants would undermine the non-lethal value added of the device. We’re working on eliminating that side effect and we’re confident the A-410 will be ready for production and field use by 2010.”

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yin and Yang

Old school: Conservative vs. Liberal

New school: Ideology vs. Competence



Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Makes Me Feel Better

Our butt kicking winter here in Denver continues....

Pictures of Siberia make me feel better. Comparing your situation to other people's greater misery sometimes does the trick :^)

The fam and I once stopped overnight in Green River, Utah in 40 below zero temps.

On the way to our hotel room I stepped on a pile of dog poop and it shattered. True.

The memory makes me feel balmy and tropical by comparison right about now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Getting Greed to Work for the World’s Poor

Hoping to do 5 or 6 posts over the next couple of weeks that will try to paint at least a semi-coherent picture :^) of both the potential and the limitations of capitalism and globalization as poverty fighting tools. I'll take a look at the unique role Christian folks can play too.

My previous posts on economics have always whacked my hit count. Oh well, here we go again :^)

Setting the Table

A couple of observations to set up the series:

• Seems to me that many “progressive” types, especially lots of folks in the progressive Christian community, have got an irrationally negative jones against market capitalism and globalization. And its not just the neo-granola crowd at the WTO rallies—those folks are pretty easy to dismiss as impractical romantics. Lots of otherwise reasonable people who genuinely want practical solutions to world poverty seem to get instinctively hostile when folks promote pro-big business and free trade approaches to ending poverty.

Not hard to figure out why. Capitalism has done a whole lot of damage in a variety of ways. We’ll get to that later. And trashing business and capitalism in pop culture has a long history from Dickens to Wall Street. Post-modernism—the intellectual spirit of the age—was originally created in part to deconstruct capitalism by exposing it as just the latest sophisticated tool to enable the strong to dominate the weak. And quite a few people simply don’t understand economics very well.

Whatever the reasons, though, I’m pretty convinced that the seemingly instinctive ‘progressive’ hostility to market solutions is counterproductive and contributes to keeping lots of people trapped in poverty.

• At the other end of the scale, the American pro-market lobby seems caught up at times in an almost pseudo-religious reverence for capitalism and globalization. I contrast those folks with their more reasonable European counterparts represented by publications like The Economist.

Strangely--to me--Christian conservatives who are serious about reducing poverty seem especially prone to this kind of idealizing of “market forces.” Some of these folks claim to be balanced and to understand the destructive underside of capitalism, but you’d hardly know it from their rhetoric or actions. Their critiques of capitalism are trivial if they make them at all.

The fact that pro-market conservative Christians don’t subject actual, real world capitalism to a prophetic, biblical critique or point out the obvious ways current capitalism contributes to injustice is literally a shame. At times it feels to me these folks are no longer capable of constructive, prophetic critique. At other times they seem aware of the problems and contradictions of real world capitalism but seem to feel the need to balance the knee jerk anti-globalization crowd by being even more extreme in their support of market solutions.

Either way, this kind of largely uncritical support of market approaches does plenty of damage to the poor as well because it allows some of the worst elements of global capitalism to go unchallenged.

• Seems to me the trick to making markets work for the poor is to steer clear of both extremes, to stay as practical as possible, and to focus on how markets actually work in the real world. Understanding economic ideas is important, but understanding actual markets and how they concretely affect the poor is far more significant. The proof of any actual market system is in the improvement of living standards combined with social justice. Or the lack thereof.

• I think Christians can play a unique role by staying out of the ideological wars and offering up a rigorous prophetic critique of real world capitalism and globalization. Right now we’re not doing either very well.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Children of Men

"Joseph and Mary"

Andrew and I saw Children of Men this past weekend.

Don’t do many movie reviews but this one struck me as unique.

I won’t ruin it for you, but the movie wonders what would happen if women stopped having children.

Or in other words, what would happen if there was no longer a reason to create art, or come up with new inventions, or pass on the most important moral and spiritual insights to the next generation because there would be no next generation and because nobody would be alive a hundred years down the line?

And what would happen if a child was suddenly and miraculously born into that world?

Children has more to do with the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation and the Nativity narratives than it does with traditional sci fi, but it reflects a lot of the usual dystopian visuals.

The movie is set in mid-21st century London which looks like a decaying Tokyo with huge plasma screens dominating the cityscape projecting endless ads and security warnings in the midst of typically lousy English weather. A lot like Blade Runner, which was set in a futuristic LA that looked like a decaying Tokyo with huge plasma screens dominating the cityscape projecting endless ads and security warnings in the midst of unusually lousy weather for Southern California. The visual references to Blade Runner are obvious.

And nobody looks like they've had a bath in about a month. How come people stop cleaning up and combing their hair in futuristic sci fi dystopias? I mean, you know, the showers still work even if the world is about to be hit by a meteor or destroyed by some alien pathogen. Why not end the world looking your best? :^)

Children is a religious take without being naively religious or sentimental (at all) or dangerously idealistic.

Or in other words, not much like popular American Christian faith. More like the Bible.

It’s also a powerful anti-war film. Lots of killing but all of it painfully realistic. “The authorities” and “the rebels” are both twisted by their confidence in shedding blood. Violence in Children is a tool of despair and not of hope just as it is in the real world. Pretty immediately relevant and well worth seeing.

A tip for you single guys, though. Don’t think I’d take a date to see Children of Men.

I remember going out with a woman I liked to see Apocalypse Now when I was an undergrad in the late-70's. I had no idea what the movie was about except that it was set in Vietnam. But I liked Francis Ford Coppola, the director of Apocalypse Now who did The Godfather series. Thought she would 'respect my mind' as a result.

Yikes. Take it from me. Dire apocaplyptic visions won't do your wooing a damn bit of good :^)

More Prophecy

And you thought high cholesteral and high blood pressure caused strokes :^) For him who has ears to hear.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Mix

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wish It Were True

"To understand all is to forgive all." French Proverb

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Reading Snow

Wind on Snow Bergen Peak

Slapped on my snow shoes and climbed Bergen Peak this afternoon.

No chance to get into the high country before now due to polar weather and bad roads. I’ve been going stir crazy and cabin feverish.

Temps in the 40’s today and blue skies. Wonderful. Time to get up high.

After four years here I’m finally learning to read the varieties of snow. No wonder the Inuits have got a hundred names for the stuff.

More pics.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Crossing Cultures

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Radical Religious Middle

I admit it.

I enjoy bashing the Religious Right as much as the next guy.

These jokers have left people like me in various states of depression for decades, though they’re good for a lot of laughs too. As someone who likes satire, I’ll miss them if they ever move off the national stage the way cartoonists are gonna miss Bush when he finally limps back to Texas.

But after the past election, when white evangelicals again voted largely in a knee jerk partisan fashion even in the face of a sleazy, ineffective congress and a baldly incompetent administration, it’s hard to believe the monologue of the Religious Right won’t go on indefinitely within the evangelical church.

Yet there are some big reasons for hope:

• The National Association for Evangelicals issued a document entitled “For the Health of the Nation” a couple of years back. Yes, it’s just a position paper and yes, it can take years for the consensus of pastoral leaders to trickle down to your average Joe Faith and his behavior in the voting booth.

But the document clearly calls for an emphasis not only on the sanctity of human life and family and marriage, but also on social justice and compassion for the poor, peacemaking, human rights, and "creation care" (the Christian euphemism for "crazy ass green").

In other words, Christians can feel good about chucking partisanship and moving toward a more authentic and Christian anarchical social teaching that doesn’t see abortion and homosexuality as the only game in town. The document makes room for Christians to take up a position in the ‘radical religious middle’ that no current political party or social movement represents.

• Glen Stanton—a big fish at Focus on the Family—recently wrote in Christianity Today that evangelicals have got to break out of a mean spirited, single issue agenda and embrace a ‘pro-human movement.’ The gospel according to Glen? Not only a focus on the sanctity of human life and the family, but working against “human death, pain and alienation caused by genocide, war, global poverty, substance abuse, fatherlessness, AIDS and cancer, as well as human trafficking, child abandonment, commercialization, and radical individualism.”

Geez, the guy sounds like Bono. Or Jim Wallis. And all of it emanating from Colorado Springs. Hell has now officially frozen over :^)

The New York Times recently called evangelicals ‘the new internationalists’ because of the vigorous work on the part of some evangelicals on issues like human rights, religious freedom, Sudan and now Darfur.

• A new organization called Evangelicals for Human Rights has emerged, and some big wig evangelicals have come out clearly against the Bush administration’s egregious use of “vigorous interrogation methods" (read torture).

• If I read the direction of the winds correctly, the most influential evangelical leaders among younger evangelicals right now are folks like Rick Warren and Brian McClaren who both clearly reject the methods and the agenda of the Religious Right and favor a much more centrist and anarchical social approach.

• The social teachings of the Catholic Church have always been in the radical religious middle, and some of us Protestant yahoos moved that direction decades ago.

What if the thoughtful Catholics and the growing number of Protestant yahoos got together? Given the numbers of both groups, it could change both political parties dramatically and might even spawn whole new approaches beyond the two party system. Radical religious middle indeed. Evangelicals might feel more free to join both parties in large numbers to help reform them and draw them toward more honest social and foreign policy goals.

Could be exciting. Might even make my 25 years in the wilderness waiting for the monologue to end feel worthwhile :^)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Divine Mission Accomplished

Colorado Springs (CNN)

In a move that may increase pressure on the Bush administration to reconsider the newly announced 'surge strategy' in Iraq, certain key leaders of the Religious Right are calling on President Bush to ‘acknowledge the tremendous success of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, declare victory, and begin bringing our troops home.’

James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, outlined the basic arguments of the “Divine Mission Accomplished Study Group” in a speech yesterday at Reagan and Jesus Memorial University in Colorado Springs. Conservative Christian leaders formed the study group in order to make a ‘Christian response’ to the James Baker led Iraq Study Group.

“No matter what the left wing and secular nay sayers may claim, the war in Iraq has been a great success. Let’s consider the facts,” said Dobson.

“What was once an officially secular government is now dominated by religious groups. You can bet your bible nobody's trying to keep religious symbols out of the public square in Bahgdad."

"And is there a country in the world where citizens more freely and frequently exercise their God given right to bear arms than Iraq? They don't even have the NRA! It's a miracle."

“The central government is weak and local initiative and control prevails throughout the country. Homosexuality isn’t tolerated and you don’t see any swishy attempts to legalize gay civil unions. Men are men and women are women in Fallujah, that's for sure!” asserted Dobson.

“There is no welfare state. No labor unions and no George Cloonified film industry. No stem cell research and no 'Daily Show.' No secular humanists corrupting the minds of naïve, helpless children. No family planning clinics and no eggheads babbling about global warming. They don’t even know who Al Gore is!”

“From the point of view of ‘values voters,’ Iraq is a model. Those of us who served on the ‘Divine Mission Accomplished Study Group’ can see no reason why more American money or lives should be spent to improve a country that so successfully addresses the most important moral and spiritual issues of the day. Let’s bring the troops home as soon as we can, Mr. President. We respectfully call on you to give our views the serious attention they so richly deserve,” said Dobson.

“With prayer and determination, America may one day live up to the example of Iraq. May the good Lord make it so,” concluded Dobson.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Mix

Laziness is the mother of invention. How many great breakthroughs resulted from lazy ass people coming up with an invention to save themselves the hassle of doing something unpleasant? To wit: A guy in Denver rigged up his two foot long remote control hobby car with a functional tractor shovel. When it snows less than 3 inches or so, he just stands at his window in his nice warm living room and pushes the snow off his sidewalks and driveway by remote control. Very niiiiiice....

• “The Great Winter of 07” continues here in Denver and parts of the Midwest. People here in town are actually starting to talk that way. Whenever people use a phrase like ‘The Great fill in the blank of fill in the year” it’s usually not a good sign.

Some cold pics of beautiful glaze ice in Nebraska from the recent mega storms.

• Funny vid. Is Bush the new Lincoln?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Queer Eye for the Sectarian Guy

Washington (AP)

A high placed administration source revealed today that President Bush has ordered a new special ops counter-insurgency strategy as a part of what many believe is a last ditch effort to stave off defeat in Iraq.

The official, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the increasingly desperate and embattled administration is now willing to try even unorthodox methods to extricate itself from “a potential disaster for the Republican Party.”

The new approach, code named “Queer Eye for the Sectarian Guy,” will send a team of five San Francisco based gay men led by heavily disguised fashion designer Serge Renata to infiltrate Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s inner circle and eventually befriend Al-Sadr himself.

“The goal is a complete ‘makeover’ that will transform Al-Sadr from a murderous sectarian thug into a civilized metrosexual,” said the high ranking official. "The Fab Five will clue Muqtada to the new in fashion, cuisine, beauty, interior design, and all things hip and cool. If we succeed we can bring peace and head to toe style to all of the Middle East."

Over the past few years Renata, a committed ‘log cabin’ neo-conservative and a regular guest columnist for The Weekly Standard, has harshly criticized Al-Sadr.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last fall, Renata spoke about the ruthless militia leader.

“OK, I love the turban and the robes. But the all black look, no! It’s intimidating. It’s yesterday.”

“And all that talk about Allah. It’s jihad this and jihad that. Blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to hear about that. The man needs a lifestyle upgrade.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Making Work Work For the Poor

Ran across this sweet series of articles in Sojourners explaining 5 practical ways to help the working poor in America. I was excited to see that one of my old Pasadena buddies, Jill Shook, wrote the article on affordable housing. Along with Jill's take, the authors tackle creating an alliance between the middle class and the poor, increasing the minimum wage, reforming the health care system and creating an effective system of job training. Solid stuff.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tigers, Monkeys and Free Will

Sorry about what follows. I couldn’t help myself :^)

The NY Times published this article last week about the ways current brain science is undercutting the idea of free will.

The experimental evidence of the past decade or so suggests we experience free will but don’t actually act and choose that way. Brain scientists call those kind of phenomenon qualia, where people feel they are experiencing something real and objective in the real world but aren’t.

Color perception is a good example of qualia. The world isn’t really colored—-it just looks that way to us. Our retinas are wired to pick up certain wavelengths of light and then our brain mixes those signals together to create the phenomemon we experience as color. Other animals—like birds—see the sky as ‘purple’ because their retinas and brains work differently. The sky is neither blue nor purple—-it just appears that way to humans and birds, respectively. People debate why we see color—most think it has survival value by organizing and differentiating the world—-but brain scientists think of color as a product of the way our minds work and not as an objective quality of the world outside of our brains.

Anyway, many scientists are beginning to think our cherished concept of free will is like color perception. We experience free will but it may be little more than a useful illusion cooked up by our grey matter. It may be important for us (for various evolutionary reasons) to feel we are choosing freely, but most of the experimental evidence suggests things don't really work that way inside our heads. The article above goes into some of that impressive evidence.

You’ve gotta love some of the metaphors these brain doctors have come up with to explain how human consciousness relates to our actions and decisions. Here are a couple of ‘em:

***The conscious mind is a like a monkey riding on the back of a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories of being in control. Funny and clever.

***The conscious mind is like a man who both watches a film and is a character in the film at the same time. This one’s got sort of a fun Zen/Yoda twist to it, young Skywalker….:^) But if you think of the metaphors used to explain relativity this one doesn’t seem so outlandish.

Of course, if brain science does demonstrate that free will is primarily qualia, those scientists who labored all those years climbing that mountain will find theologians sitting at the peak waiting to greet them. Most of the heavy hitter western Christian theologians through the ages have accepted one form or another of predestination, and I think that’s the consensus among Muslim thinkers as well.

The implications of scientifically chucking free will are huge. It’s the nightmare vision of the future of science that CS Lewis laid out in his sci fi novel That Hideous Strength. (that's your cue, Ruth :^)If we’re just sophisticated meat machines, what happens to moral responsibility or to the idea of a 'spirit' or 'soul?' Some of the scientists doing this research are scrambling to explain how a dialed down version of free will that still preserves moral agency could "fit the data."

I’m guessing this whole issue is going to blow up in the next decade or so. Might eclipse cloning and genetic modification as the next big science and religion controversy. Who would have thought we might return to a time when a whole lot of people would end up fighting publicly about predestination vs. free will?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Modern Western Tribes

A few more thoughts on ethnicity and individualism.

• Though folks in progressive Christian communities tend to harsh on individualism and dismiss it by comparing it to ideal (and rarely realized) visions of community, I think we’ll eventually have to find ways to talk about it in a more positive and balanced way. Developing a theology of Christian individualism that comes out of our current real life experiences and deep biblical thinking seems pretty important to me given the world we’re living in right now.

Most all of us in the west no matter our ethnic group(s) are individualists to one degree or another including pretty much every progressive Christian I know. Even the folks most proactively committed to ethnic identity are living an ‘ethnic lite’ existence because of the power of individualism and various other modern cultural forces. Folks who have seen the reality of more traditional ethnic identification-—a al Iraq or Zaire—understand that intuitively. And most of us, whether we admit it or not in progressive circles, feel just fine about that.

Lots of Christian folks talk about ‘returning to the New Testament church.’ I understand that nostalgia, but I wonder if we'd really want it if it actually came true. Our individualism is far too entrenched—and we’re far too aware of the benefits it brings—for most of us to ever want to ‘go back’ to a world of full blooded ethnicity.

So hesitating to actively engage individualism—in order to discern its weaknesses and strengths—and hesitating to proactively hold out the potential for a redeemed individualism can be understood as an act of deliberate cultural amnesia or even—-in more extreme versions--a form of ‘self hatred.’ At the very least, it leaves progressive Christian folks stuck with only a negative and schizophrenic way of thinking about a critical aspect of their lives. Not very healthy or realistic in the long run.

My experience right now is that most of the prophetic and pastoral energy in progressive Christian communities goes toward various approaches to revive and redeem ethnicity and to encourage ethnic and racial reconciliation. And that effort is very important for reasons I’ve mentioned many times here at P&P and that some of you mentioned in the thread on Abner’s site.

But though it’s important, I’ve gotta say I think it’s also unbalanced at this point. There are other central issues—like individualism and class, for example--that need a whole lot more attention if we’re gonna have a more realistic and less schizophrenic theology and practice.

• When I say Christian individualism, I mean a consistent Christian theology and practice applied to individualism. We’ve got to point out the dangers of individualism (which we’re all pretty good at) but we’ve got to find a way to show how it gives life too. Life is complicated.

How come those of us in the Christian justice and peacemaking communities are often unwilling to talk about the tremendous contributions of individualism in the area of basic human rights, for example? The concept of human rights and the institutions set up to promote it are the bedrock of justice and peace efforts around the world right now. The fact is they didn’t arise primarily out of the real world, historical church or out of the blood and land ties of ethnicity. The concept of human rights arose out of an individualistic rebellion against religious and political authority and old school ethnic and tribal ties. How do we interpret that reality and that history, find a way to show how God worked to bring about such an important moral advance, and incorporate it into the way we talk about and apply Christian individualism?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Redeeming Individualism

Been following a great discussion about ethnicity and individualism over at Abner Ramos’ place.

Abner and friends make a case for the importance of ethnicity and tribe and question the spiritual validity of current popular western notions of individualism.

Certain secular post-moderns and progressive Christians have been kicking individualism around since the 60’s and I've been one of them since before that kind of thing became the critique de jour.

Lots of reasons to kick individualism in its abstract butt and to go easy on deconstructing the pretensions of 'tribes':

No question that the level of individualism in the west--and especially in the US--has weakened families and institutions and produced a kind of spiritual and emotional malaise as people struggle to make sense of life without deeper ties to communities and to older ethnic ‘blood and land’ identities. Christian communities and other religious communities tend to be watered downed versions of their old school selves because people with a deep commitment to individualism resist comitting themselves to 'the group' and to accountability.

Individualism has sometimes served as a cover for European and Euro-Am ethnic oppression disguised as an even handed and rational appeal to ‘freedom.’ In order to control other ethnic groups more easily, breaking down their sense of communal and historical identity helps.

Avoiding responsibility for past communal injustices that still affect the present is a neat trick too. Individualism normally means never having to say you're sorry.

I don’t think most current white Americans feel much responsibility for the Native American genocide, for example, or any real reason to work for restitution. Since we’re individuals who can only be held responsible for what we do individually—a basic tenet of individualism--asking forgiveness or working hard at restitution for past communal wrongs makes no sense.

Other than the rise of free markets, I can’t think of a force that has done more to weaken ethnic identity than individualism.

Having said all that, I’d still say we need a lot more individualism around the world rather than less. Here’s why:

• Much of the violence and injustice around the world right now is rooted in ethnic and racial hostility and arrogance. Sometimes that ethnic and racial dynamic is masked by political or religious committments, but a fixation on blood and land remains the heart of the problem. Though western ideas of individualism carry their own dangers as I’ve already mentioned, they’ve got the juice to dilute that toxic ethnicity.

• A whole lot of Christian history has been about the abuse of tribal and ethnic identity. I grew up in the Eastern Orthodox Church and have first hand experience of a truly ‘ethnic’ Christianity. A fixation on ethnicity has eliminated most of the prophetic and spiritual power of that beautiful religion. And the mission of the Church has been severely damaged by an inability on the part of Christians to tell the difference between their customs and their faith.

• The western concept of individualism has produced life-giving breakthroughs in human political freedom, economic growth, and even moral development in some parts of the world. Those breakthroughs couldn’t have happened without diluting and at times even discarding our earlier roots in blood and land.

Some Christians argue that the Bible speaks primarily about ethnic and group identity and much less about ‘the individual.’ While I think biblical teaching at its deepest core rests on the importance of the individual, I’ll concede the point.

I wonder how else biblical writers living in a tribal and ethnic universe could have spoken, though?

The bible was written at a time when it was difficult if not impossible to think about the importance of the individual in the way we do now. The whole current concept of individualism is only a few centuries old. As a result, I view much of the biblical emphasis on ethnic groups as ‘descriptive’ and not necessarily ‘prescriptive.’ Or in other words, Christians are free to move more deeply into ethnicity if they choose to do so, or they can choose to move away from their given ethnic identity if that's more useful and relevant.

All this by way of saying, I’d love to see greater overt support for individualism rather than dismissing it or identifying it with 'white oppression.' Just as a modified and healthier emphasis on ethnicity can contribute to peacemaking, I’m convinced that a modified and healthier emphasis on individualism—a sort of Christian individualism—could make just as big a contribution.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

OK, Now Where Is That Off Switch Again?

Snow Cornice

Just finished clearing another foot of snow off the driveway and the sidewalks.

We’re in the middle of an unusual fall/winter here in my part of Metro Denver with over 80 inches of snow since mid-October and over 60 inches since Thanksgiving. We’re averaging ten inches of snow a week for the past month and a half. We had back to back blizzards just a few days apart over the holidays.

Driving is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and black ice rules the roads. Supermarket parking lots are filled with 15 ft. piles of snow pushed up by overworked bulldozers. Looks like another storm is coming in next Friday.

The weather here is normally beautiful and winter has become one of my favorite times of the year—lots of sunny days in the 40’s that are perfect for getting up in the high country. And because I’ve never been around snow before the whole thing makes me feel more like a kid than an adult. But not this year. The shine has gone off the icicle.

I think we’ve officially moved beyond El Nino into El Diablo.

Long time Denver natives have been playing it stoic until about a week ago. We native California weather weenies were told to shut our complaining pie holes and were then fortified with stories about epic past winters and kids losing fingers and toes on the way to school but still not missing a day in the classroom.

One storm after another after another, however, has reduced even the most leathery Coloradan to questions about the fairness of the universe.

The upside?

I don’t have to hear any more stories about how back in ’57 great grandma froze solid in her car on the way to the post office but bounced right back after a nice warm bath :^)

Friday, January 05, 2007

2006 in Review

Part 1 and Part 2. April 8 and August 30 are my personal favorites.

**explanatory note: for those too young to remember Edgar Bergen, he was a famous ventriloquist who controlled a puppet named Charley McCarthy way back in the day....

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Prophetic Inspiration

Virginia Beach (AP)

In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007.

"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network." The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

"I know it sounds grim, but my prophecy has a silver lining. God never brings judgment without double the measure of mercy and grace. The Lord told me only members of labor unions and the ACLU will be killed," said Robertson.

Robertson added that God also told him that the US only feigns friendship with Israel and that US policies are pushing Israel toward "national suicide."

"Our favoritism toward the Palestinians threatens the existence of the state of Israel and the tens of millions of dollars I've invested in a Christian theme park there. I think it's time to get tough with the Arabs. You can't believe how much money I'm spending on security to stop suicide bomber attacks on the construction of my "Ascend to Heaven With Jesus in Jerusalem" attraction. It'll be the most explosive verticle ride in the world. You don't get big time G forces and spiritual inspiration at the same time everyday," said Robertson.

The tele-evangelist is convinced God will bring judgment on the professional sports world as well. He told his viewers that "the Lord will finally clean up the NBA."

"God will incline the heart of NBA Commissioner David Stearn to crack down on the hip hop element by banning all negroes from the league," Robertson stated.

He believes Stearn will also re-introduce the set shot, eliminate the 24 second clock and bring back 'really short shorts' in order to re-establish 'your grandfather's NBA.'

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Too Much of a Good Thing

Now that we’re in Denver we're only five hours away from Santa Fe, the land of organic architecture and leftist enchantment. So as soon as the roads cleared after our pre-Christmas blizzard we jumped in the Jeep and got on our blue corn enchilada jones. You can get a look at some pics here.

I’ve been traveling to Santa Fe since I was a kid and I’ve had a chance to see the town grow into an art mecca and a favorite spot for artsy, left leaning snow birds and young, well off “creative class” types. Young or old, these are the kind of people who want a kind of San Francisco in the Southwest and who wouldn’t be caught dead living in Phoenix. I’m sure some brave soul runs a conservative talk radio station in Santa Fe, but he probably has to sleep in a different place every night to stay ahead of the hip mobs looking to eradicate him with progressive arguments and extreme prejudice.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Santa Fe. And you’ve especially gotta love the oldness of a place that dates from the early 1600’s as much as the oddness. The map of the downtown area-along with a lot of really old cities like London--looks more like a human heart than it does a rectangular grid pattern. No right angles but plenty of ring roads sprouting a jumble of snaking arteries that seem to have no rhyme or reason but do somehow get the job done.

Yet sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. Liberal yuppies and creative class types have turned the once gritty city of San Francisco into a kind of “San Francisco-Land” with far less social, economic and political diversity than it once had. I grew up in the Bay Area and I still think of San Francisco as The City, but let’s face it, the place has become sort of a bore. When pretty much everybody is from the same socio-economic class and everybody thinks the same things and everything looks pretty much alike—albeit, beautiful—a lot of the life goes out of any city.

Santa Fe’s not as far along that path as San Francisco, but you can see where things are going.

The city government forces every building to conform to pueblo architectural style or Spanish mission stuff and a basic pallet of pastel colors. So along Cerrillos Drive, the main commercial drag in town, you’re treated to cheesy pueblo IHOPs and Burger Kings that are supposed to look like they belong at Mesa Verde and lots of gas stations that look more like Taco Bells than they do the Spanish colonial gems around the Plaza.

I understand the basic impulse behind this kind of zoning. Well meaning folks want to protect the architectural heritage of Santa Fe and keep bad commercial buildings to a minimum. But the result is just the opposite. Most of the commercial town is repetitive and dull.

The drive toward playing it safe and toward conformity is pretty powerful. Hard to explain in any other way how a place like Santa Fe could end up looking increasingly like a theme park version of its original charming self.

But you've gotta have more than a little hope for the City Different.

Just gotta throw open those zoning laws to variety. And to the cool and beautiful new stuff and the well meaning ugliness that inevitably go along with it.

Oh, and maybe throw in some tax incentives to lure a whole bunch of right wing fundamentalists to relocate to Santa Fe.

Where is Rush Limbaugh when a city really needs him? :^)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

After watching SC smack Michigan you wonder what SC coulda done this year with a little more fire and maturity.

I’ve changed my mind about their loss to UCLA. After watching the Bruins get blown out by a lousy Florida St. team in the Emerald Bowl last week and SC clean Michigan’s clock the only fair conclusion is that the Trojans’ loss to UCLA was a fluke. SC just wasn’t ready to play that game emotionally. Sort of like half of SC’s games this year.

Does anybody who watched yesterday's Rose Bowl and the Michigan vs. Ohio St. game have any doubt SC could beat Ohio St.? Or at least, does anybody doubt the ‘good’ and truly motivated "Dr. Jekyll" SC team that showed up from time to time this year—including today--could beat the Buckeyes?

Oh well. Woulda coulda shoulda :^) Look out for SC next year, though.

Thought yesterday's Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Oklahoma was as good as it gets. God bless underdogs and trickeration. The whole idea of the superiority of BCS conferences over non-BCS conferences gets harder to maintain every year.

Time to go to some kind of playoff.