Tuesday, December 14, 2010

They're Canadian?

Canadian flag outside the Maritime Museum of t...Image via Wikipedia
I've recently been thinking about that vast mass of frozen tundra that lays north of the U.S. border, sometimes called The Great White North, formally named Canada. The reason I have is because I've found myself interacting with several Canadians online as of late, and I've been impressed with their knowledge of American politics and culture. By contrast, I have to admit that I know practically nothing about Canada. I would go so far as to say that my woeful ignorance is embarrassing! I seem to remember from history lessons in my formative years about the French colonizing much of the Canadian territory during colonial times, that a war we gauche Americans refer to as The French and Indian War led to British control of the territory, and ...well...that's about it. Other than Canadian stereotypes - calling people hosers and drinking lots of beer – I had to admit my ignorance was quite profound. Therefore, I felt it prudent to scour the Googleverse for knowledge about Canada, you know, just in case I'm ever goaded into a discussion pertaining to our northern neighbors, in hopes that I won't sound like a complete idiot. So far, I have to admit...I'm a complete idiot.

Cover of Cover of Strange Brew
Before embarking on my studies, I asked myself if I knew any famous and important Canucks. Sadly, the first people that came to mind were Bob and Doug McKenzie, from the movie Strange Brew. They were played by Rick Moranis, before he became famous in the Ghostbusters and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies, and Dave Thomas, before...well, the only thing I can recall seeing him in is the recent movie Rat Race, which is hilarious despite the drubbing it took from movie critics. I then thought of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, the other Great One, John Candy, and the Inuit, of whom I've subsequently read do not like to be called Eskimos.

Do you think Inuit Pies would have been as popular as Eskimo Pies? Doesn't quite have the same ring, but I digress.

Soon a slew of Canadian actors and musicians filled my brain, and I had to admit that I didn't know any Canadians other than entertainers. That's sad. So, after reading up on some Canadian history and politics (Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy?), I endeavored to find some Canadians famous for something other than their contributions to celluloid and vinyl (or, whatever material a CD is made out of). I have to admit, I was surprised by some of the people I found that hail from The Great White North. Although not a comprehensive list, I thought I'd mention a few that I found interesting.

Alexander Graham BellImage via Wikipedia
Alexander Graham Bell

Though the inventor of the telephone was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mr. Bell spent most of his adult life in Canada. He would have the telephone patented in the U.S., but all the inventing took place at his home in Ontario. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., and Scotland and the U.K. claim him as a citizen as well, but it would appear Mr. Bell's heart was in Canada.

I found it interesting that he wouldn't allow a telephone in his study, as he found it distracting. I wonder if I told my daughter that, she might be motivated not to spend every waking hour talking on her cell? Probably not.

Jack Warner

The Hollywood movie mogul and co-founder of Warner Bros. Studios was born in London, Ontario. Jack Warner was the main man at Warner Bros. Studios and is responsible for procuring the technology for the first “talkies”, or talking films.

By extension, one might blame him for the degradation of modern culture due to the immorality and depravity depicted in movies today. Not that I would! I'm just sayin'!

Peter Jennings informing viewers of World News...Image via Wikipedia
Peter Jennings

Born in Toronto, Peter Jennings cut his journalistic teeth on Canadian television before becoming the news anchor for ABC's World News Tonight in the U.S. Of the “big three” news anchors, with Tom Brokaw at NBC and Dan Rather at CBS, Jennings was the anchor I watched. You see, before the time of a billion cable channels and around-the-clock news coverage as we have it today, a person typically got their news from one of the big three anchors on one of the big three networks. My, how times have changed.

James Naismith

I grew up with a basketball in my hands. It was the sport I loved to play the most, and if my parents didn't know where I was, it was a safe bet they would find me at the basketball court down the street. Well, until I was in high school, then there was a 50/50 chance. I guess I have James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, to thank for all those twisted ankles and failed slam dunk attempts of my youth. Thanks, man!

Mr. Naismith was born in Almonte,Ontario, but it was in Massachusetts where he'd invent basketball. He would later move to Kansas where he was athletic director and head couch of the basketball team at the University of Kansas.

Leslie Nielson

I know, I know, he's an entertainer, but I didn't know he was Canadian until I did this research! I simply assumed someone that funny had to be American!

Leslie Nielson was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, a Canadian province I had to look for on a map in order to know where it is. I grew up with Airplane and The Naked Gun series, so imagine my surprise when I saw him in The Forbidden Planet. I didn't know the man that “would do anything for a laugh” made serious movies. He's one of my all time favorite funny men. I laugh just thinking about his work.

So, I guess Canada's number one export isn't actors and musicians after all. I don't know if you were surprised by the Canadians I've listed here, but I surely was, and pleasantly so. I think that we Americans can be a bit myopic when it comes to culture and country. We don't always see beyond our own proverbial noses at times, and miss out on a diverse panoply of interesting people, places and things that may lay just over the border. Perhaps the next time I chat with my Canadian friends I'll be a bit more appreciative and understanding. And maybe I won't sound like an idiot.

But, then again...

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don't Mess With Me

Click here first, then read.

Popular names when I was a kid, when I was growing up, were names like Missy, Eric, Michelle, Laurie, and Jeff. I lived in Minnesota back then, so I guess you could say those names were popular in Minnesota during the 70’s and 80’s. Andrew, too. And Denise.

Now I’m 42 and teach college courses in Phoenix, Arizona. The names of female students become just a little edgier every year, a little weirder, more and more misspelled. A glance at recent online rosters reveal Kelsie, Mimi, Ariel, Chyna, Cadence, and Sunny. Thankfully for the young gentlemen, their parents have been more traditional: we have Michael, Adam, Phillip, Justin, and Paul.

There was, however, one young man in one of my on-campus classes a few years back whose name gave me pause. His name was Blair. He looked like a witch project coming straight for you, anybody would've agreed. He had one perfect feature—bright blue eyes—but other than that, he was all scary movie: acne, greasy hair slicked into a shark fin Mohawk, clothes right out of the dirty laundry, dumpy fat, just a Pigpen of a guy with fangs.

Blair never talked much, but one day he had to do some talking because when I passed back graded essays, I noticed that I didn’t have one for him. “Blair,” I said. “Do I have an essay from you?” He shook his head and said, “No, I didn’t do that one. I couldn’t think of a good topic.”

I looked at him like he’d just told me he had to change his last name because people didn’t like the sound of “Dahmer”.

“What?” I said. “You didn’t do it? You can’t just not do it. You can’t just skip a unit.” I spit out those last words: skip a unit. Skip a unit. Lick dirty feet. What the hell kind of a world did he think he lived in? Skip a unit. Eat dirty poop.

“Well you said we only have to complete three out of four units, and I didn’t like this one, so I didn’t do it.”

Didn’t like it? Didn’t do it? Smelly poopy pants.

At this point I’m sure I was looking at him like he was pissing on my feet. I was Linda Blair in a face-off with the Blair I Didn’t Do My Witch Project. Everything was fecal and rank and wrong, retarded and Siamese evil, evil.

“I didn’t say you could just skip a unit,” I said, measuring my words. “I said if you fail three units, you can’t pass the class. That doesn’t mean you can skip one.” Rotten smelly fart. Shit finger. “You’re going to have to speak with me after class!”

And I was going to have to go home and take a shower. Skip a unit my ass.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Thimble of Difference?

In response to Leon's, America (pronounced "Ah-mur-ri-cah") 

So, the Republicans have kicked some Democrat butt by taking control of the House of Representatives and closing the deficit in the Senate.  Obama referred to the Republican gains in these mid-term election as a shellacking.  John Boehner will take over as Speaker of the House after Americans effectively fired Nancy Pelosi, changing not only the leadership of the House of Representatives, but changing the political playing field altogether as conservatives will surely challenge Obama's policies and both past and future legislation.  And why am I couching this in such competitive terms?  Because I'm watching the Dolphins lose to the Ravens.  Dang.

One thing I'm sure you've noticed about American politics is that it is very competitive.  I don't just mean between the politicians either, but between every American that follows politics. We're not just liberals, conservatives, moderates, libertarians, socialists (what, you didn't think there were socialists in the U.S.?) or whatever you like to call your political persuasion, we're also fans of a political party; Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist (and yeah, there is a Socialist Party) or whatever political party you like to party with.  And the smack talk?  What you might hear at your local sports bar pales in comparison to the smack you hear around the water cooler during an election cycle. Yeah, one could consider politics a sport, and full contact, at that.

That's too bad, too.  When I look back over the last decade in politics, I can't seem to find a whole lot of difference between the teams.  George W. grew the government by adding new federal agencies and expanding old ones.  He couldn't seem to say no to deficit spending and thought nothing of increasing entitlements.  When it comes down to it, W. wasn't much of a conservative, by most conservative's standards.  And then there's Obama who spends money much like...well...W.

Outside of the party's rhetoric, is there a thimble of difference between the two major parties?  I mean, there's a notable difference between the Tea Party and the Socialist Party (OK, I'm becoming redundant), but when you look back at the last decade can you tell a notable difference between the Republican and Democratic parties?  They both spend oodles of money and grow government.  The only difference that I can see is that Republicans spend a little less and grow government a little slower.  I guess Democrats are just more determined. 

I hope that the politicians do listen to the Americans that elected them, as Leon suggests in his aforementioned piece.  Will they?  Heck know!  They're politicians!  I hate to be so cynical, but after witnessing the past decade I expect more of the same.

Now, just a bit of a disclaimer; I'm expecting the worse, but hoping for the best.  I think the reason why our politicians pander the way they do to the voter is because, like their constituents, they think of politics as a competition, too.  It's about winning and losing, not about what's best for the nation.  Maybe this time things will be different.  It seems politicians understand that Americans don't like out-of-control spending and government expansion.  Maybe this time it won't be about who won the majority and more about actually representing the American people.  Maybe.

And as a side note; the Dolphins lost.  Dang.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

America (pronounced "Ah-mur-ri-cah")

George Walker Bush, Nancy Pelosi. Croped versi...Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday Nancy Pelosi learned a valuable lesson: 

For good or ill (depending upon your social worldview) the Democratically-controlled Congress threw it's considerable weight behind President Obama's legislative agenda and paid the price for it.

Somewhere George W. Bush is laughing that weird laugh of his and singing the praises of his fellow "Ah-mur-ri-cahns" who fired Nancy Pelosi from her Speaker of the House gig and handed a bunch of Democrats their pink slips period. 

To whit, Nancy Pelosi's lesson:  Don't mess with average "Ah-mur-ri-cahns." 

The average American (I'll assume you have the correct pronunciation down now) is not amused when they are talked down to by a politician. 

The average American can't stand arrogance in their leaders. 

And the average American isn't thrilled with the idea that they have to live within their means or the "take-back-man" will come repo their crap, but the federal government can just spend like there's no tomorrow.  

When Nancy Pelosi was asked what her agenda was when Obama became President, she asserted the following hardcore liberal items:  strengthen the economy, end the Iraq war, expand health care, create jobs. 

Honestly, each one of those sounds pretty damn good to me.

Unfortunately, the Democrats fell prey to the very thing that they decried in the Republicans who ran everything when W was in the Big House:  Pride.

Memo to politicians...  Just because you happen to win an election doesn't give you the right to assume you have a corner on the market when it comes to what the average American is thinking.  In order to know that you have to actually listen. 

Pelosi & Co. at Obama's behest moved with lightning speed when it came to a health care reform bill that is now proving to be not what it was purported to be in the first place.  They moved with the speed of mud when it came to ending the war in Iraq. 

They didn't listen to former President Clinton who had some really good ideas on how to get the economy moving and instead landed us deeper in debt and farther in the hole.  The only jobs they created were government jobs because they forgot that the government can't really create jobs... the marketplace creates jobs and the only way for the marketplace to create jobs is when things like small businesses are growing and expanding because they are free from exorbitant taxes and mountains of regulation and because banks were encouraged to lend to them. 

And the entire time they were doing this, average Americans were telling them that they were screwing it up.  But because they had a "mandate" Pelosi & Co. ignored them. 

And now they are crying in their beer.  And cursing the average American for being too stupid to know what's good for them.  And vowing like Senator Harry Reid (who basically had to cash in every favor he'd ever earned from NV union bosses to keep his seat) to keep "fighting."

So here's my message to the Republicans who seem to have ridden that wave and who also seem to be taking way too much credit where credit isn't due... 

Listen to the average American, my friend.  Or the average American will rise up and kick your a--

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Friday, October 29, 2010

A Sacrifice

In response to Cody's;  Not One

I was a bag of mixed emotions before the start of the Gulf War.  The United States was building up their war machine in the Middle East in preparation to liberate Kuwait from an occupying Iraq.  I was a part of a jet fighter squadron stationed in Japan and the word was we could be called at any time to deploy to the Middle East.  I was conflicted at the time because, while the prospect of going to war appealed to the Marine I'd trained to be, I was planning to be married in December of 1990 and going to war would most certainly end any chance of that.  Also, the idea of war, and the reasons for war, were considered and discussed by me and my friends and, while going to the aid of our Kuwaiti ally seemed right, we seemed to understand that we were also liberating the flow of Middle Eastern oil from the control of Saddam Hussein.  So, when the final word came down we would not be going to the Middle East I was both disappointed and relieved.  A seemingly paradoxical position to anybody that hasn't faced the possibility of going to war, I'm sure, but one I shared with many of my military friends.  I never entered a combat situation while I served, something that these twenty years later gives me some relief.  I'll try to explain.

 I've never been anti-military or anti-war.  To the contrary, I served proudly as a United States Marine for six years, trained hard and took my work seriously, fully knowing the potential if my services were called upon.  I have supported  the United States military's involvement in many conflicts since my time of service, although critical of the execution of some, as many have been who share my beliefs.  I've argued for the justice of the first Gulf War, felt our military involvement in trying to end the genocide in Kosovo right, and I rallied with the world to fight the extremism that killed so many on 9/11.  Each conflict has it's detractors and it's controversies and I have had to reconsider my positions from time to time, but I haven't wavered in my support of our military and I can't see a foreseeable future absent of war.   War's a cruel reality made all the more evident by terror attacks the world over.  With the venomous vitriol coming from Muslim extremists nearly everyday it would seem that we won't see peace for quite some time.  The men and women willing to protect us from this ongoing threat are more than worthy of our support, and our admiration.

And there's the crux of the issue for me; the soldiers and warriors, and the price they freely pay because of the inevitability of war.  When I was young and serving in the military I can tell you that I would have died to protect my family, my friends and their freedom.  Not many in military service would tell you different.  It's in their training and their youthfulness and their innocence; and they would, and do, die knowing their death is noble and right.  Those they leave behind also know and share that nobility and sense of justice, and I have to imagine that knowledge gives solace and peace in the face of tremendous pain.  Despite misgivings one may have over the cause of a war, the lies and the obfuscations, the ideology or politics, it never mitigates that honor of one laying down their life for another.  When you get into that foxhole all ideology and politics are gone and you fight for the one next to you and the family and friends waiting for you at home.

So, what does a soldier sacrifice?  It's not just a biological end to a metabolic process, it's the time spent doing what we do, the love we share, the families we have and the friendships we develop along the way.   When I hear about a death from the battlefield I think about the ultimate nobility of their sacrifice, and I think about just how huge a loss it is.  I think it's because I've had these twenty years since I could have been in a combat zone and could have died.  The risk I would have faced would have been minimal compared to others, but a risk all the same, and all I know about my life since would never have existed; my marriage, my two wonderful kids, the love and the laughs throughout.  Each life lost on the battlefield is the loss of a lifetime.  So what I wrestle with is not so much the rightness or the wrongness of the war, but the sacrifice.  It's the sacrifice that breaks my heart.  It's enough for me to never want to support a war of any kind, or to even see this current one on terror continue if it will cost us one more life.  It's a sacrifice that is too heavy to bare.

Still, we live in a world that will continue to war for the sake of some ideal or religion, a political system, or even for a dictator.  How do we ask someone to lay aside the potential of a long and wonder filled life for the fleeting ideals of today that will surely just dissipate tomorrow?  How could we ever think that sacrifice worthy?  Well, that's really up the person making the sacrifice, and everyday young men and women make that choice willingly.  They are amazing people.  I hope that one day everyone will see that life is far too precious to sacrifice in war, but as long as someone can't see that truth we will need our soldiers and warriors to defend life.  It's ironic to think that life could be lost to save a life.  A sacrifice I wish didn't happen.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not One

by Cody Kilgore

Not One.

Not one single name did I know, or even recognize, in the list of names that I was reading, but I could still feel something for each and every one of them. Something painful. It emanated from the page, at first as a realization that they themselves were very real people—even though their images were only abstract to me—and then as a realization of their connection to someone else.

It was their age that struck me first. So young. Lives measured in too short of terms. I thought back to what it was I was doing at their age, and then forward to everything that I did with my life after that point. So much missed.

Here in Iowa, in the early days of Our Aggression in the Middle East, government buildings and businesses would lower their flags to half mast whenever someone from the state lost their life over there. At first it seemed to be rare, rare enough that the local media would often feature pieces about the soldier and their families, would still treat them as someone real—flesh and blood, belonging to someone.

But, after a while, I began to notice fewer of those pieces while the flags seemed to stay continuously at half mast. I began to think of them as permanently positioned there, and thought they would be until the end of the war. Over time I lost sight of them. I struggle now to remember the last time I noticed them, if they still have been flying low. Shame on me.

That particular day had been a dismal day for soldiers from Iowa, and so the paper chose to headline as much and list their names and ages. I think the oldest was in his early twenties. It made me curious about the average age of our men and women over there in active duty, curious enough to go out and research it on the net, even compare it to previous wars. It seems our soldiers today are a little older than in previous wars, but are still too young for this, in my estimation. Why is it a country sees fit to throw its best and its brightest, its bravest and most ambitious, its most fit and most promising, into the carnage of war?

I’ve never known anyone personally who has died in conflict, not in this war or any other. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced the loss that a father or a brother or a son might feel over a loved one who went away in fatigues and never came back. I’ve never had to imagine what their final moments might have been like, or lose sleep over the empty feeling that I never had a chance to be with them or say goodbye to them, or in any way be even remotely connected with them in their passing. I’ve never had to answer that knock at the door that brought the news, news that would have to take your breath away. News that shattered the separation between the assurance and concrete comfort of a loved one in my life, and the immediately real absence of them. News that swiftly produces a sudden vacuum, a huge, gaping hole in your life.

Being a parent and just imagining what that would have to be like is both too potentially real, and too frightening. What would I ever do?

Because the conflict is usually so distant from our homes and the tolls often just a list of names in the news, we become jaded to the real costs of war, unless it strikes us personally. We objectify the enemy. We romanticize the warrior. We cling to an idea of war as right versus wrong, as good versus evil, as justified by our virtues versus irrational campaigns for power. But I think we fail to realize that it is, in reality, our attempt to press our life on to theirs, our attempt at Manifest Destiny, or—quite possibly—a product of our own greed and hunger for power. We strike a muscular pose on the world’s stage.

We still think we can win wars on foreign soil. We have too quickly forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. Our adversaries are no longer neat formations of uniformed minions, but instead are subtly different shades of the very people we believe we are there to protect, fight for, save. They no longer identify themselves for our easy killing, no matter how ingenious our killing devices, because they know they are no technological match for our massively funded weapons programs.

We still fight wars by rules long forgotten by others because we believe our wars are a matter of principle. They fight like the confederate that didn’t see anything wrong with taking a shot at Grant, atop his horse on a nearby hillside, as he looked over his troops going to battle.

This particular war was started with suspect reasoning. WMD’s never materialized, but just the threat of them—like a page ripped from the book written by decades of a Cold War nuclear threat—was just enough to raise our collective fears, sufficiently quell our questioning on whether or not it was the correct thing to do. Why do we feel like we have to stretch our long tentacles of weaponry into lands on which we’ve never lived, into a history so vastly different from our own, and into a way of life we will never understand?

We have no place there. We shouldn’t, and cannot, impose our definition of life and democracy on them, despite our convictions in how well it works for us. They are entitled to their way of life, and the mistakes they may make in living it, just the same as we are entitled to our way of life and the mistakes of our own history. And whatever threat we perceive is brewing there could just as easily be defended against, if not more so, with all those resources better utilized here at home.

But, my biggest question, the one that bothers me most, is this: at what point do we, either as a nation, or as a government representation, or as a presidential leader, so easily make the switch from thinking of a young man or a woman as a real person and convert them into an expendable resource? At what point do the functions of their living—breathing, speaking, feeling—disappear and make us able convert them to machines? At what point do their souls become invisible to us?

My questions are simple, maybe too simple. But I can’t get past them.

Why can’t we bring them home and stand them shoulder to shoulder along our border with Mexico, become our solution to southwestern states’ concerns over illegal immigration?

Why can’t we disperse them in dozens to our international airports and let them become the security that many of us would trust far more than that offered by insufficiently-paid people in poorly fitting suits?

Why can’t we let them swell the ranks of policemen and policewomen, and make our streets safer for everyone?

Or, for that matter, why can’t we let them become doctors or lawyers or artists or musicians or anything else they would dream to do with the rest of their lives, so long as it is not something that makes them a part of a grotesquely large and ugly killing machine? Why can’t we just stop making them machines?

Let them have the lives they deserve as much as any of us, without it being violently cut short, so far from home and loved ones, by an enemy neither they nor we will ever even see, let alone know or understand.

Because not one young man or young woman’s life is worth any attempt to convince a different culture in a faraway land that they should want our way of life.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth even a billion barrels of oil that might be sent back here with them, strapped on their backs.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth them bringing Osama Bin Laden himself into custody.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth any reason anyone can give me for us sacrificing it.

Not one.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Weezer will save us

Troublemaker WeezerImage via Wikipedia
This is in response to previous two entries on the state of pop music today.  A state that I can only describe as abysmal. 

First, I have to say that I'm not a curmudgeon.  I like a good song just as much as the next 40-plus year old dad seeking relevance with his kids.  I do have some Katy Perry in my iTunes.  And some Black Eyed Peas.  And there are moments when those songs could be appropriate to blast from my iPhone.

I'm trying to remember the reasons I listened to them, and they escape me for the moment... but there were reasons. A couple at least.

Sadly, the Top 40 song list is peppered with stuff that I can only describe as "crap" as decorum prohibits me from using the words that really come to mind.  Bruno Mars? Seriously? Bleh! At least on iTunes the top singles have a few interesting nuggets among them:  The new Lil' Wayne single "Gonnereah" is "bangin'"--to coin a phrase from my 15 year-old son who listens to such stuff.  Okay, I sort of like Rhianna, too... especially on Eminem's song about love and domestic violence - "Love the Way You Lie."

What the heck?  I guess I do like a lot of pop music.  Dang it.

Even so... Mostly these days I listen to Alternative music. Sirrius has a great station: "Alt Nation" where you can listen to all of the newest and most engaging music that is being made today.  Or you can just go to Pandora and find a similar station.  There are several.   I bought the newest Weezer release last week.  Weezer have sort of become the elder statesman of Alt Rock, and with good reason.  They're awesome.  Weezer draws from a number of influences for their sound, and if you're not familiar with them they sound a bit like a mix between Nirvana and the Beach Boys without the doom and gloom of Cobain's lyrics. 

I think that the defining characteristic of Alt Rock/Music is it's ability to reinterpret music without parodying it or bastardizing it.  For those of us of a certain age who grew up listening to both Iron Maiden and the Cure (depending upon the girl that we were trying to date, no doubt),  Alt Rock offers a welcome release from the shallow garbage that litters most of the airwaves of most radio stations.

Even now as I am writing this, I am listening to the Genius Mix on my iTunes for Alternative Rock and the inspiring sounds of Foo Fighters "Best of You" is causing me to pause from typing and pretend I am playing the drums.  There.  I am back. 

At any rate, go and buy Weezer's newest album "Hurley" (named for the character on lost, and featuring his mug on the cover).  Listen to "Memories" and allow the pop music toxins to flow out of you and leave you cleansed. 
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Defense of (my girl) Katy Perry

by Cody Kilgore

In response to Paul's Pop Goes the Music

Growing up, I distinctly remember my father’s musical tastes. It didn’t vary; you couldn’t have heard more country music than came from my father’s car radio unless you lived in Nashville. Dad was hard core Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton…the list goes on. Old school country, I think they call it nowadays. I still call it fingernails on a chalkboard.

I shudder to think what might have happened to me if that had been my only exposure to music throughout my childhood. Really shudder. But, I was fortunate to have two brothers that were six and seven years older than me and experiencing their teens when I was just beginning to pay attention to music, in the sixties. I cut my musical teeth on the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane (before that Starship crap). I was saved. I was even spared much of the pop 40 stuff, I think. Either that or I blanked it all out and the really good music stuck with me.

When I myself became a teen, I was into album rock (or so we called it). The station I listened to back then stayed with the heavier stuff and had times at night where they spun entire albums, or a collection of albums, from one artist. I was into Aerosmith, Styx, Queen, ELO, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Yes, and Van Halen, to name a few. Okay, more than a few. To me, these were superbands, larger than life, and their music was intricate, smart, and loaded with thought-provoking lyrics. They would come through Kansas City and pack the arena halls, even the outdoor stadiums, with people my age flocking to experience their music live. They were shows, but the power of their music was still the raw energy that drove most of the performance.

My music tastes since then have gone through a series of phases, but those bands are still a large chunk of my iTunes list. I even spent a great deal of money getting them back after years of neglect and garage sales depleted my album collection. That music of your youth, I think, stays with you.

But since then I have had the British phase that was prompted by the MTV explosion of the 80’s. Then I had a Bohemian phase, defined by mostly underground and punk bands of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Then I started listening to music that was then called alternative, until alternative became a nametag given a lot of music I would now call mainstream, borderline pop. I still have, and listen to, a fair amount of that music, but not as much of it populates my playlists as much as my high school music still does.

Lately my tastes have been fairly wide-open, although I will have to say I listen to more reggae influenced and college station music than anything. I watch the reviews in Rolling Stone and try to dial into the college station scene as much as I can. It keeps a fresh infusion of new and different music coming in, keeps me from getting musically stale. Sometimes I think there is nothing better than finding some good new band that has not been picked up by the pop stations and played into a numbing repetitiveness. Dave Matthews was in that category for me for a while, until he went mega-everything.

However, like Paul, I have a teen daughter, and that means I have to fight for control of the car stereo dial. Sometimes I win, but most days I just give in. Some days I can tune it out, make it sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher coming over the speakers, and other days I can’t. The days I can’t: when some super hit is playing and Megan and Kylee are singing along with it, or worse—when I am chauffeuring Megan and three of her teenage girlfriends to the mall and such a hit comes on. Ugh!

I’m certain I am getting into territory here where I am going to sound like my dad, and probably his dad before him, but there is very little about pop music today to like, unless you are a doe-eyed teenage girl with a heart as naïve and gullible as the ocean is wide, or a teenage boy with hormones raging through your bloodstream. It all seems so synthetically produced and so simple in lyric that a concert might consist of someone with Dr. Seuss level rhyming skills on stage with a computer hooked up to massive speakers. Check that: I think I just insulted Dr. Seuss.

Sure, we had our Bee Gees and disco when we were teenagers, but…well, no, there is no defense for the Bee Gees or disco. Sorry. What was I thinking?

I will say this: if you can set aside the production characteristics and revenue-generating motivation of the music of a couple of artists out there, you can see something interesting shining through. My arguments for this, oddly enough, are based on my evaluation of artists like Katy Perry, Black-Eyed Peas, and LMFAO.

During the 60’s—that all important time to us—a new genre in literature emerged called postmodernism, where the novel itself was self aware. Those authors broke rules, mocked the reader-writer relationship, and tried to convey their meaning sometimes in just the way the novel was constructed or written. Some of those novels (some of the greatest written) forced us to look at things we assumed, did, or took for granted, and rethink them, because they forced us to see them from a different perspective. (By the way, postmodernism was my focus in my major, if you couldn’t tell.)

Katy Perry has had several hits so far in her short career, but there are three that stand out from the rest (according to my teenage daughter’s Sing-Along Hit-O-Meter): I Kissed A Girl, California Gurls, and Teenage Dream. Take a wild guess who she is poking fun at guys. Yep, it’s us. And she is laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of male psyches. If you have any doubt about this, just take a moment or two to watch her videos for each of these songs and a clip of her performance of Teenage Dream on Saturday Night Live last week. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Katy Perry writes and sings postmodernism. Who’d a thunk?

The Black-Eyed Peas do pretty much the same thing, although they parody men and women, as well as the music industry and the relationship of fans with the music industry. It’s not all just party music pop. Fergie’s video for Fergalicious is just as obvious as Perry’s Teenage Dream. The message: “you lusty little idiots.”

But my analysis that yields the opinions of their music, that they are a little more intellectual than what can be seen on the surface, creates this big question for me: if these people are this sharp, why don’t they produce something more obviously intelligent? They seem to be wasting their talents on something less than they are capable of creating. And the self-aware message in their music is pretty lost on their teen audience; they don’t, I think, have a clue about the subtext contained in what they are listening to and singing along with.

Which means that even if this is a demonstration of something like the intelligent music we thought we grew up with, it’s not going to be seen or remembered by this generation as such. And if you miss making your point, you’ve missed your purpose by a mile.

Music changes, as do our tastes. I guess that’s part of the beauty of it. And the music that we identify most with is the music we think reflects the voice of our lives, serves as a narrative to it. For each generation it will be different. We likely understand today’s music little because we are not immersed in the teen culture today and not aware of some the current nuances of it. But some of those nuances are as much produced by the music woven into the teen culture as they are a reflection of it. It’s kind of an “art imitates life” question, where you are not sure which spawns the other.

So, let’s face it, Paul. We’re not teens anymore (thankfully). Now it’s our role to be disdainful of their music. Our music, the good stuff, is just Dust in the Wind.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pop Goes the Music

I figure one of two things is happening, pop music today really sucks or I'm turning into my father.  God help me either way.

Being an 80's kid and a lover of metal music -along with just about every other genre of music- I listened to what's been derisively called hair, sleaze or pop metal.  You know the stuff, Poison, Ratt, Mötley Crüe and the like.  I didn't just listen to it, I loved it.  Perhaps it was the excesses of the 80's the music represented, the excesses of sex, drugs and everything else rock-n-roll, that appealed to me.  I think a lot of it had to do with it's blues foundation as well as the classic metal influences that drew my attention.  Whatever the reason, I loved me some hair metal!  The more hair the better.  I sometimes miss the attitude and swagger.  I miss the party.

Now, I also love my dad, I love his music.  He introduced me to Muddy Waters and The Beatles.  We used to play vinyls of Elvis and Bobby Blue Bland...on the same night.  My dad is the only person I know to have had the complete recordings of Jonathan Edwards.  His music tastes were diverse and eclectic, that's why I was surprised to hear him say to me one night, "Why do you like that Ratt Poison?  It's terrible!"  I was traumatized!  I tried to sell him on hair metal with Whitesnake, a band heavily influenced by the blues, but he would have none of it.  To him, hair metal was the end of music as an art form.

Now, pop music has gone through many changes and hybrids since the 80's hair metal scene, and I've paid attention to some and not to others.  Still, I've kept myself fairly abreast of pop music's fluctuations and have considered myself tolerant, until lately.  I've noticed a change.  The question is, is it a change in me or in pop music?  I gotta know.

Having a thirteen year old daughter has exposed me to today's top 40 radio; and I have to admit, I listen begrudgingly.  There's a hodge-podge of  rappers, many times featuring some other artist, several teenage heart throbs, and that because of the provocative videos they produce, a spattering of country musicians and maybe a few adult contemporary artists thrown in that makes up the top 40 and I can't seem to find anything on there I can appreciate.  Lil' Wayne, seriously?  I keep hearing that Justin Bieber has great hair, but great music?  No way.  Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are cute, but is that enough to lionize them in the top 40's current Pantheon?  Uh, no.  And can someone tell Lady Gaga Madonna already did that?

Here's the thing, I find the music industry patronizes us, the music consumer, with some of the most banal and uninteresting music ever produced.  It's as if all you need to sell a single is sex appeal, either in the lyrics or packaged in a music video.  I have been told I should try Katy Perry, that she's not typical pop.  So I listened to Teenage Dream.  I wish I had that three and a half minutes back.  I've been known to watch American Idol on occasion and every time a rap artist graces the stage I start to contemplate never watching the show again; not because I think rap is horrible, but that the rapper's performances are horrible.  I always wonder why anyone would pay to see that live.  Has the music industry run out of good music to market to us?  I wonder.

Now, I know everyone has their own tastes in music and I respect that, but I'm trying to understand the direction pop music is going in.  I hear the music industry is suffering from slumping sales and from what I hear on the radio I think I know why.  Still, I have my Led Zeppelin and U2 albums I can listen to, so all's good.  I can throw in the ol' ear buds and get lost in what I consider symphonic bliss, despite the drivel oozing from top 40 stations.  I have some hair metal albums I throw into the rotation as well.  Oh yeah!  Still, I can't help but wonder if it's more me than the music.  I really could be turning into my dad.  Well, as long as the tunes are tasty...

And if I have to hear that song, Hey Soul Sister, one more time I'm putting a fork in my ear!

We're all Clones...

Fox News ChannelImage via Wikipedia
In response to the last post or the one before that... I forget.

I think the acrimony in our country has less to do with meta-debates over socialism and democracy and more to do with plain old marketing.

I agree that it is incumbent upon us as media "consumers" to realize that each brand is doing it's dead level best to sell a particular product. Fox knows its demographic and sells to it.  They give the faithful what they want.  They know that there's a certain amount of men watching Fox And Friends in the AM at a certain time and so they throw a couple of Hooters girls on the set to promote some lame wing special. They also know what stories to run that will excite and inflame their audience.

CNN is no different, MSNBC... the list goes on and on.  These are companies that are in the business of making money, first and foremost.  We lose sight of that far too often.

There's a profile somewhere in CNN's headquarters of their typical viewer: (white, upper middle class, college educated with at least a BA in something, prefers a Mac over a PC, lives in or near a large city, eats sushi three times a month).  They can try to make it sound like they are a serious news organization and that Fox is all about sensationalism, but they are both trying to give their typical viewer exactly what their typical viewer wants.

And because people want to belong to a tribe, they gravitate toward the same stuff that people in their tribe gravitate toward.  Do you know how many people that I know that drive Volkswagens AND own a Mac?  A lot. The same holds true for the shows we watch, the restaurants we frequent and... our politics. 

I watch Fox News off and on throughout the day.  I also switch to CNN occasionally and I begin each morning listening to NPR.  I also have an AP Mobile app for my iPhone and I check it two or three times a day to get news updates.  But I am an exception to the rule.

Most people stick with their tribe unaware that by doing so, they are limiting their knowledge and their perspective.  I am guilty of it with Apple products.  I probably could have a better phone than my iPhone for a lot less money.  But there is nothing in this world that will make me want to switch. 
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Thursday, September 9, 2010


 In response to Cody's: Polarity

My son and I had an interesting conversation the other day.  He's studying World War I in his history class and we were discussing the politics that led to it's advent.  I pontificated like I knew what I was talking about for far too long.  Our discussion wandered, as they often do, and he asked me if I preferred the phrase "European style socialism" or "social democracy" to describe the governments of Europe.  I told him I guess European style socialism.  He informed me his history professor hates the term European style socialism because it's misleading and that social democracy better describes the governing and economic realities there.  I shot back with it being nothing more than a semantic difference and hardly an issue.  Then I gave it some more thought.

In Cody's Polarity, he writes about the ongoing political rancor that's so divisive these days, the polarizing figures that foment said rancor and the mass media's role in the whole matter.  I couldn't help but stand up and yell, "Preach on, brother!"  It seems we don't discuss our differences anymore, but rather we draw a line in the sand and dare the opposition to cross it...at their own peril.  Why all the acrimony and hate?  Cody asks this question; "Something or someone has raised the rancor of the rhetoric these days. But who, or what?"  That made me think about my son's professor's disdain for the phrase European style socialism as opposed to social democracy.  For me it helps to partially answer Cody's question of who or what is behind the "us verses them" mentality these days.  I'll try to explain.

Think about the rhetorical difference between those two statements.  The phrase European style socialism will have a significant negative effect on American free market capitalists because of the juxtaposing definition of socialism.  The idea of government ownership of the means of production is anathema to free market economies like ours in the U.S.  The term socialism conjures images of Marx and Lenin, Soviet style totalitarianism and the human rights abuses of China to some, to others a lack of choice and long lines as governments nationalize social services.  Social democracy gives a completely different perception, one of a government for and by the people with a concern for social issues.  The negative connotations of socialism are negated by the idea of democracy.  Now, both of these images are too simplistic, as socialism is far more complex and diverse than most people know (me included), but I still think I'm pretty close to the mark here.  After further reflection, I had to conclude that the history professor was right, the idea of social democracy does better describe Europe than the alternative.  So why do I think of European governance in the context of classic socialism?

Well, that one is easy to answer; it's because of the the choices I make in getting information.  I watch Fox News.  I read  Reason Magazine and the Drudge Report online.  I consider myself fairly opened minded, but I do gravitate towards conservative sources of information.  And I choose more conservative sources because I tend to agree with conservatives more often than not.  My values are validated by conservative ideas.  Information that I can use to support my positions is found in conservative media.  The debate of political issues is couched in the rhetoric of conservatism in the media I consume, and phrases like European style socialism is part of that rhetoric..  Believe me when I tell you I'm well versed in the rhetoric of conservatism after years of conservative media immersion.  It can act like blinders sometimes.  And I would say that to be true of the liberal steeped in liberal media dogma as well.  There's been many a time I've found myself discussing something with a liberal who would not deviate from the talking points issued from on high.  Regrettably, I'm sure someone could say the same of me at times.

So, who is responsible for the vitriol that divides our nation?  Well, the media is complicit, so are our politicians.  In fact, you can follow the money more times than not to see who is partially responsible.  But the ultimate responsibility falls on you and me, the individual.  The media does it for the money, the politician does it for the vote.  There's probably several reasons why the individual chooses one side or the other, but we choose all the same.  The shame is we allow invective and acrimony to enter the debate.  I guess that is partly because of the media, but what media we consume is our choice, too.  Just like European style socialism is apart of my vocabulary because of my choice of media.  Still, I'm thankful for freedom of choice and wouldn't have it any other way..

With that, a partial answer, as I promised.  It's important to consider our potential complicity in all matters, and when it comes to agitating I'd say we all do our part to stir the pot.  It's something a lot of us do well.  Maybe too well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Newest Opiner.

Hi, my name is Diane.  I’m a wife, mother, teacher, portrait artist, student, and blogger… although not always in that order.

I began blogging earlier this summer as boredom buster.  You see, my kids are in college, my husband works out of town, and school was out for the summer.  It was just my poodle, Pierre, and myself.   Pierre isn’t very talkative and for some reason Target won’t let me bring him shopping.  (They blame the health department, but I think they just don’t like his under-bite.) Thus the boredom that desperately needed to be busted.   

Blogging had been rattling around in my brain for a few months, so I decided to give it a try.   I chose to blog about teaching because if nothing else, I could at least share my enthusiasm.   Maybe someone would even read it! 

Once my blog was underway, I went looking for those readers.  I stumbled across an innocent looking forum: the ‘bloggers coffee shop’.  Did you know that looks are deceiving?  While the bloggers inside are very helpful, innocent wouldn’t really be applicable.  I was hooked!   There I met many bloggers, including two of the contributors to this blog.  They couldn’t chase me away, so they invited me to contribute to the Opine Apparatus.  (I think they just want me busy so they can hog the forum.) 

I share some of the same opinions of my fellow bloggers here at the Apparatus.  However, other ideas have some wonderful potential for dialog.   So, let me tell you where I stand on some things.  

First, I am a Democrat who comes from a long line of staunch Republicans.  They mean well, they just can’t help it.  I used to be a strong Christian, however fellow Christians cured me of the affliction (as well as the republicanism) so I’m not really sure what to call myself now.  I respect the religious beliefs/non-beliefs of others.  However, I do not respect those with the “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude commonly found in fundamentalist Christians.

I do believe we should be careful with our environment.  Even if global warning wasn’t true, and I believe it is, we should still be careful with our environment.  For example, as a teacher I’ve seen the rise of asthma in children presumably due to pollution.  Polluted waters and other ecosystems kill wildlife and disrupt the food chain. There are too many examples to mention in this post.

George W. Bush?  No.  Obama? Yes.  That discussion could take a while.

I’m looking forward to Opining with my fellow bloggers and others who leave comments.  For now, Pierre and I will go for a walk.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


by Cody Kilgore

I have to wonder if this has been said by almost every generation, but it strikes me that there is a great deal of arguing going on these days. It seems like every issue sparks intense debate, if not downright nastiness, from people that are always on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum on any, or every topic. Middle ground is rare.

Take for instance the recent spate of oil rig disasters that have happened in the Gulf of Mexico. You would think that the destruction that the BP rig caused would be appalling to just about everyone. But, when I took up the banner--along with thousands of others--to boycott BP, there was no end to people that would argue with me over the benefits of fossil fuels and the virtues of Big Oil, no matter how moderate a position I tried to communicate.

Any proposed answer to our recent economic problem is met with both praise and tongue-lashing. It seems someone always feels that they are about to lose something, whether we do something to help resolve it or do nothing at all. Even those that seemingly would have no vested interest, or would stand to lose or gain nothing feel passionately (and express it so) about something that might offer assistance or an advantage to someone else. Sometimes the argument boils down to a simple disagreement over what it fair (whatever “fair” may be).

Just the mere mention of President Obama, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or any Clinton is enough to light up my Facebook page with a litany of comments. But, that is understandable; I don’t think any of them serve as good examples of people willing to listen, understand, and find compromise with opposing views. Instead, they all seem willing to state, or stand for, the starkest opposition of the differing position.

I used to think the level of emotion I see demonstrated on behalf of one point or another was reserved for some of the deepest moral conflicts we’ve all been called to decide on, things like abortion and the death penalty. Not anymore. Those things still divide us deeply, but they seem to have lost some of their importance by virtue of how vehemently we argue almost anything these days.

There is a distinct tenor of "Us vs. Them" boiling up in our culture and I am not sure how it has evolved to the level that now exists. Something or someone has raised the rancor of the rhetoric these days. But who, or what?

I know we owe it, in part, to the ability we are all afforded by the internet and television to gather news and information and dispense our own communication. News comes to us faster now than ever before, and we are able to reach out to more people faster as well. And in that speed and volume of incoming and outgoing information, there lies a vast opportunity for varying interpretations, representations, facts, and opinions. Often, it's a blend of all four of those things.

It is an inarguable fact—an intention, even—that mass media impacts and influences both perception and opinion. Even in the act of writing and publishing this, I am engaged in that same effort (although no “mass” will likely read this). I hope, however, that I am influencing people to do what I think is the exact opposite that many in the media intend to do. I would like us to pause and examine differences personally, and try to ignore the media lords of mass exploitation, on both sides.

I won’t name any one person as being to blame, even though you are probably thinking their names (or the names you believe I would blame) as you read this. I know there are perpetrators on both sides, although I would argue that certain ones are far more inflammatory than others. My difficulty with these people is that they use imagery and language and slant to exploit people’s emotions and fears in order, quite frankly, to make money.

If you believe they are out to save mankind, or save our culture from dishonor, or save all of us from our immoral selves, you have bought too far into their message, and you would be better served to think more for yourself. Please turn off the tube, and step away from the remote.

I once heard an interview of an author who posited that we have several generations already in existence who have absolutely no idea of who they truly are personally, because the entirety of their personality and behavior was formed by what they saw on television. I know that seems like the often-argued point against mass media and it’s “dumbing down” of our culture, but he was speaking to something beyond that. He thought it went beyond forming our opinions; he believed it shaped how we think and feel, act and react, on the most basic levels. He believed that we learn more about those things now through our exposure to human behavior we see played out on our sets and read in print, where before we learned it through interaction and experience in our personal environments. I think he had a point.

And I think that makes it all too easy for those who want to make a buck by fanning the flames of hatred. In our willingness to be the blank slate for the people who can issue little more than spiteful commentary, we hand over to them our will, our independent thought, and the power of our one voice. It is as if it is easier to let them do our thinking for us, tell us what we should believe about anything in the public sphere, or even about ourselves.

I have to wonder where we would be today, or what the tone of our discussions would be today, without the influence of mass media. Or, what would it all look like if we were only without the venom spewed by shallow, self-promoting show hosts whose main interest is only in stirring the pot. How would we all relate, if we were left to decide things for ourselves in the absence of such influences? Would there be such a division between us?

I think a much needed Emersonian “Self Reliance” is too rare these days. Emerson once espoused, when we were a very young nation, that we had to stop framing ourselves and defining ourselves as a nation and a culture by our comparison to what it was we left behind, and that we needed to make a clean break for ourselves. He proposed this not only in politics, but in art and literature and education, and within our collective and personal psyche. He believed in the confidence and power of one’s dependence on their individual thought and action. Thoreau, mulling in the solitude of Walden’s pond, professed the same, and went further in saying that we didn’t need a government or collective entity to act or think for us, in matters that are most important.

The common thread of those two admirable men (or my take on them) is that we need to think more for ourselves, define ourselves and our thoughts and opinions more individually, and that when we do, a personal strength is constructed that little can chip away at. Such a resolve, I propose, would make agreement, and disagreements, easier.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

An Evolving Respect

by Cody Kilgore

In response to Paul's "A Matter of Faith or Chicanery."

At some point, while getting to know someone, whether they're a new personal acquaintance or a coworker, the subject of religion or beliefs comes up. It’s the part of a conversation that I dislike; I’ve never understood why any faith has anything to do with a person’s value, and I've grown tired of trying to differentiate being an agnostic from being an atheist. I usually make light of it by saying an atheist doesn’t believe there is a God, and an agnostic is too apathetic to care if there is or not.

But you never know how that whole part of the conversation is going to go, and I know that sometimes my definition has done little to clarify it for them, or avoid their labeling me an atheist anyway. It’s just as well to let it go. I figure if I’m judged on it, it’s not a worthwhile connection anyway.

The problem I most dislike about how people view either atheists or agnostics is that they believe we pass judgment on people of faith, and it very well may be the case with many in those two camps. But, for myself, I instead prefer to view everyone’s faith or religion as a very personal conviction, something deeply felt, and deserving my respect. I personally believe this applies to every denomination and faith on the planet, meaning that I see Hindu, Muslim, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic…all of them on the same level. No one has all the answers or the inside scoop on a ticket to an afterlife.

Truth be told, I have more problems with organized religion than I do with the concept of any higher being or afterlife. Most instances of my life that have shaped my feelings about faith have been a result of my dealings with organized religion and the agents of such institutions. I think that any relationship one would choose to have with their respective deity would be best done directly, one-on-one, without any reliance on an institution between them and their god that can either interpret, or misinterpret, or interfere between the two.

This is exactly where my biggest problem with religion lies. Too many of the religions I have experienced, or seen, seem to want to act as an agent that determines the nature of one’s relationship with their god and what is acceptable morality to their god. I have difficulty with that. I think that morality has nothing to do with God, or religion, or anything to do with following either, and I always shudder at the thought that someone else would or could try to define those parameters for me. I also think a person is either good, or bad, or maybe a little mixture of both, whether they are a person of faith or not.

And when I see people like Benny Hinn—whom I had never even heard of before reading Paul’s piece—I have to remind myself that he is the extreme and worst product of organized religion, and try to maintain that healthy respect I want to keep (and pass on to my daughters) of most peoples’ faiths. He, and those like him, would make it easy to laugh at and look down on religion and the people that follow him or any religion, but you can’t do that. He’s ludicrous, and he is not the mainstream, despite what it looks like his duped audience size may be.

In short, the answer to Paul’s “Faith or Chicanery” question, obvious to me: chicanery. He is the ultimate example of the worst thing I see in religions; I distrust someone that inserts himself between man and God, posturing to be the appointed authority over others. Often, this is done for the purpose of persuasion, dominance, or financial gain. I always want to see people like him exposed, like so many televangelists before him have been. I think we all know the list of those that have fallen from grace when their on-screen shill is seen in a better perspective because their off-screen antics have been revealed. And, when one goes down, there always seems to be another one pop up in their place. That procession of pilferers will likely never end, so long as there are flocks to be fleeced. But, neither the false prophet, nor those that follow them are indicative of any healthy religious experience, or any healthy relationship with God, or a god.

Hinn is a con artist, but I can’t let him color my feelings about faiths or most people that follow them. In fact, all the friends I know that are people of faith are actually a couple of evolved life forms above him.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some Perspective

In response to Cody's post, A Nagging Sense.

Lili's first fish
I used to take my daughter fishing quite a bit when she was younger.  It wasn't about catching the biggest trophy fish as it is with many Florida fishermen, it was about getting as many fish as she could; quantity over quality, if you will.  We'd go down to the pond and fish with bread balls for blue gill.  Most fishermen enjoy the sport of the catch.  Many fish because it appeals to a primal "hunter, gatherer" instinct.  My daughter fished because she loved the fish; to see and touch them, to understand  their world and how it related to hers.  I know this because of the questions she would ask.  She wanted to know how they breathed under water and what did they eat.  Did they have families and could they get hurt in the water by gators.  Challenging questions for a father if he's not prepared, as I often wasn't.

One day she decided that it would be good to catch some fish and eat them.  We went to the pond late afternoon and dropped our lines in.  We must have caught forty fish in a matter of minutes.  We kept a dozen blue gill that were big enough to fillet, put them in a bucket of pond water, and headed home to clean, cook and eat our catch.  At home I grabbed a fillet knife and cutting board, asked my daughter to follow me into the back yard and help me prepare our catch.  The sun was setting and I wanted to get the fish cleaned before dark.  As I was dumping out the water from the bucket my daughter ran into the house.  I followed and found her in her room crying.  She couldn't watch me kill the fish.  In fact, she begged me not to do it, to go back to the pond and set them free.  I stood there exasperated, watching her cry, but you know what I did.  I went out back, got the bucket and drove back to the pond.  It was dark by then.  The fish flopped in about an inch of water and I thought their chance of survival was slim, but I had to try.  I dumped the bucket into the pond and immediately half of them swam off.  I reached out and touched the rest and three more swam off.  Three floated atop the water, not moving.  Knowing my daughter's disappointment if she knew three died, I grabbed one by the tail and moved it back and forth, hoping to get water into it's gills.  I did that with each fish and each one revived and swam off.  My daughter was very happy.

My daughter is thirteen now and a self proclaimed tree hugger.  If it weren't for her love of bacon I believe she would be a vegetarian, which would be very hard on me.  She's not overly zealous in her environmentalism, it has more to do with her love of animals and her desire to maintain their habitats.  I think that's pretty cool, even if I might not agree with every part of her stance.  She thinks to recycle and has voiced concerns over greenhouse gases, although I don't think she fully understands the global warming/climate change problem.  The funny thing is she never turns out a light when she leaves a room and she would love for her family to have a big truck.  Her understanding of environmental issues and the concepts and reasoning for conservation are limited by her knowledge of the issues and her personal perspective, which is based on her experiences and her personal desires.  I think this is true of many people, child and adult alike, when it comes to the issues of global warming/climate change and our understanding of stewardship of our planet.  Really, in most areas of life.

Cody, you're right about the fact that we need to be cognizant of our impact on our environment and resources. I believe that humanity will always adapt to the circumstances that will arise in the future, but that doesn't abrogate us of our responsibility to be wise stewards. In fact, I'd go so far to say that with the amount of natural resources being consumed today, we have a greater responsibility than any past generation.  Outside of cooperate entities, like the rightfully beleaguered BP, I believe this to be the consensus.

As to global warming/climate control, I think many are reacting to what I see as hyperbolic, apocalyptic rhetoric from politicians and celebrities much like my daughter did over the fish.  Although she could not bring herself to end those fishes lives, it doesn't mean we should end all fishing in the world.  This issue of global warming has a massive impact on the world's economy.  The fact that the Kyoto Treaty lingers in limbo proves the point.  The science for man made causation is compelling and warrants our deepest concern and our sincerest efforts, but also our desire to fully understand what global warming is.  Like I said in my earlier post, the scare tactics cause me to question the motivation of those pushing it.  If we accept every change that is considered necessary to combat global warming our lives will change dramatically as it impacts the very economies that make our lives possible today.  Doesn't that give you reason to think a bit of skepticism is healthy?

One last point.  My daughter recently came running into the house screaming that we had an alligator in our yard.  I went out, and sure enough, there was a two and a half foot gator by the house.  My wife wanted me to get rid of it, my daughter wanted me to save it.  I called our local animal control and they gave me over to an organization that deals with nuisance gators.  In Florida such an organization is necessary.  I was advised that since it wasn't being a nuisance I should leave it alone and it would instinctively find a body of water.  We all went into the house; my wife contacted people she thought would help get rid of it, my daughter and I waited.  Twenty minutes later my daughter and I went back out, and it was gone.  My wife followed us out of the house with instructions she received from a friend as to how to capture it.  None were needed, because the situation had taken care of itself.  Now, don't we think that the Earth will do the same if we humans screw her up too much?  Just sayin'.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Nagging Sense

by Cody Kilgore

I have spent a great deal of my life arguing and living both sides of the issues involved in ecological responsibility, and today I consider myself a Moderate Tree Hugger. That may warrant some definition.

A Moderate Tree Hugger is someone that admires the lifestyle, words, and deeds of those that are on the cutting edge of “green” living, but is unable to bring themselves to rise to that level of commitment. In other words, I would very much like to have little or zero impact on the ecosystem, but find that I lack the willpower and ability to sacrifice what it takes to do so. I’m too addicted, I guess, to many of the conveniences of modern life that make zero impact a near impossibility. Besides, I have a teenage daughter, which means my home houses one of the world’s most notorious consuming machines, where food, energy, resources, my income, and my patience is concerned.

So I resolve myself to do as much as I am able. It ends up being a blend that helps my conscience, and maybe in some degree, the environment. It is something likely not too different from what many of us do. I recycle what I can at home and work. I turn out lights whenever I leave a room. I turn off the water between shaving strokes and tooth brush rinses. I don’t let my PC run 24/7. I’ve traded the monster Expedition for a Grand Prix (Okay, so that was begrudgingly done more because of the divorce, but I can still claim it is a greener ride, can’t I?).

My point: I do what I can, given where I am in my life right now. I also tend to stay out of the arguments about whether or not global warming is either real or imagined or man-made or not. To me, that argument is too specific, and I would much rather see us debate whether or not humankind is negatively impacting the ecosystem, or positively.

I am not sure there is much argument on that idea; our very existence on the planet is going to impact and drain resources, even if we were all living at the basic level of hunter-gatherers of centuries ago. Our population volume today is itself a drain. I would not propose we do anything to reverse that, because I think the planet will one day do that for us, as one of the many miraculous cycles that it carries off, no matter our will or invention. But our subsistence comes at the cost of something, much in the same way other certainties of physics operate, like heat lost must be heat gained, water runs downhill, and teenagers must text. The trick, for the sake of our longevity, is in minimizing that cost.

So I do what I can. But, it has been a long and storied path that has brought me to this—at best—mediocre approach, because I worked for decades in industries that committed the worst of environmental crimes.

My first real job during summers at college, and for over a decade after leaving college, was with a railroad contractor that was hired to apply herbicides along the tracks to control vegetation. It was a company hired to do the right thing via the wrong methods. It is vitally important that there are no weeds in railroad beds; vegetation in the road bed holds moisture, which then can cause the rails and ties themselves to “float” along the top of a fairly hard subsurface. It is not a good thing to drive a vehicle of massive tonnage over floating tracks. They tend to go askew and veer off into any direction, and the end result can be wrecks, damage, and lost lives. Additionally, vegetation at points where cars and trains intersect needs to be kept low for the sake of visibility.

In those days of my career, we dealt with environmentalists, I think, just as much as many industries do today, thanks to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. And, like many view environmentalists today, we saw them as radical whackos. We dismissed them. We convinced ourselves that we knew what we were doing, that we were doing it responsibly, and that we were a necessary evil. So long as we were professional and responsible about how we applied all those tons of herbicide, we thought we were doing mankind a service and not really causing the problem. We, in fact, pointed fingers at farmers, who at the time were applying way more than we ever dreamed of using.

Truth be told, within the industry, we were fairly cavalier about the whole thing. Sometimes we did stupid things for the sake of logistics and profit, all the while knowing it was not the right thing to do. I remember the practice of draining the residue from our tanks—which we always said was legal and not damaging—so long as it was within the boundaries of our customer’s right-of-way. I remember pumping herbicides high into the air on windy days when we were applying brush killer to trees, and telling ourselves that it was okay so long as the wind was in the right direction and we had enough drift-prevention additives in the tank to make the droplets too large to travel off target. I once watched one of the principals of my company take a drink of mixed herbicides in front of a reporter, just to prove the point he was trying to make that the massive spill we had just released was harmless to nearby residents. I myself took a dive in a tank car mixture heavy laden with atrazine and 2,4-d to recover an expensive tool that I needed and feared would lodge in and clog the valve system.

And then, one day, deep in my career with that company, I was called in to give a deposition about a family that lived near the tracks of a job I had worked on. I don’t want to go into the details of a case that has been resolved decades ago, but I remember it as a moment where my conscience first started speaking louder than my wallet. I left that industry not long after that, because of that conscience, some changes in the leadership of the company, and to get off the endless months of travel.

My next step was not much better, however. I became a manager in the lawn care industry. Again, I used, we all used, the same rationale for what we did. We were the pros and we were not the culprits, and we were necessary. But, by now I knew I was kidding myself. It grew harder and harder to believe my own rationalizations.

It was during this time that I started a family. Somewhere along the line my oldest daughter came home from school one day and started asking me questions about what my company did, and what it was doing to the environment. Where I could kid myself about what it was I did, and I could spout off all the propaganda to any customer, reporter, or “whacko” that I had to confront while in my business persona, I could not bring myself to answer her sweet innocence in the same way. That was the day I decided I wanted out.

Today, I feel like I am in a career that makes far less impact (retail), even though it may not be perfect. But, ours is not a perfect world. It is never going to be. It never was before us. We are ludicrous to think we can ever get there from here. It is not ludicrous, however, to think we can minimize our cost and extend our time on this planet, for the sake of those that will live on it after us. We just have to try to think outside the scope of whether or not it affects our own little piece of the world.

Most importantly, we have to be responsible on some very basic levels. By that I mean we cannot be criminal in our neglect, and cannot be reckless in our exploitation.

BP (you had to know this was coming) is a company that is both criminal and reckless, and represents the worst attitude and behavior toward our planet and all of the planet’s dependant populations. They profess they are acting in the best interest of everyone, when in fact they are only acting in the interest of their profits. They are willing to put the environment and their employees in harm’s way, and they are quick to spin their defense whenever challenged on what they do, or what damage they have done. They dismiss anyone critical of them and anyone that might get in the way of their profiteering recklessness. And they are only one example of the very worst of companies that brazenly exploit resources and tear up our ecosystem in the process.

I know these guys and how they think, because I used to be one of them. Nowadays, I feel fortunate to have learned not to be, even if I am not the best steward of the planet that I could be. But, I am an individual capable of change, where BP is instead an investment driven monster, motivated only by the profits it can generate for those investors and its executives. Change won’t happen for them unless forced.

I’m laughing a bit at the predicament that BP finds itself in because of the catastrophe in the gulf. The damage they have done is nothing to laugh at, mind you, but BP’s attitude and behavior that has been put in the spotlight as a result is comical to watch exposed. They have no defense for what they have caused, and nearly every turn they take at trying to rationalize their actions is more absurd than the last. My hope is that they are turned into an example of what will happen to a corporation that is willing to flirt with disaster, and that a larger part of the public is made aware of how widespread this type of corporate behavior is, all across the globe.

If not, then we return to being quietly complicit, and we lose an opportunity to affect some real change that could benefit us and generations after us. We can learn from this, or we can continue to spin our way around the solar system, whistling all the way.

Which (finally) brings me to my feelings about global warming, that I guess can be summed up this way: if enough evidence points toward the possibility, even without a certainty, then why wouldn’t we want to do what is possible to avoid causing more harm, maybe even dial it back a little? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to be cautious, rather than argue its reality? I would prefer we err on the side of caution, rather than find out, at a stage too late, we can’t reverse the damage. I worry about what our disagreements on the issue display, which I see as reluctance to admit we might be doing something wrong.

I’ve had that feeling before in my life. Just saying…