"A good example is the best sermon." - Thomas Fuller
July 31st, 2008
If you keep up on the news you know about the death of the Carnegie Mellon University professor Randolph Frederick Pausch who died recently of pancreatic cancer. For those who don't know, Professor Pausch taught computer science and is most famous for his lecture, found on You Tube, called "The Last Lecture". I watched it, enjoyed it enormously, and wished I could have had him as one of my professors (most of whom put me to sleep)--but thanks to the internet I can at least profit from his lectures online. Thank you internet gods!
What most people don't know is he was more proud of a lecture he gave on Time Management, which I'm watching now and which I've embedded above. While he speaks in the language of academics and computer science (i.e. using terms like "workflows" and "efficiency") I like how he looks at time having value or more importantly, that our lives have value and we should "streamline" what we do and how we do it because our lives are limited and it's important that we engage in activities we get something out of, where we make a difference, that improve our lives and the lives of others.
Anyway, just wanted to share that with you.
Having said that, I'm in the process of refactoring (another computer geek term) my web site. The changes won't be extraordinary but I think they'll make it easier to browse the site (i.e. better organized) and likewise make it easier for me to add content (in particular stories, pictures, and other things I created in the past).
Anyway, gotta get to it! Bye for now!!!
July 28th, 2008
As many of you know I've been reading my Bible in my first true attempt to read it from one end to the other. This is my first Bible, given to me on my confirmation on May 22nd, 1988. I would have been in seventh or eighth grade at the time so wasn't exactly thrilled to loose my afternoons to learn about Jesus and his gaggle of merry men. So, being a teenager, I used it as a time to connect with my fellow church going peers and recall learning very little about the Bible and in particular Lutheran dogma. "Why?" you ask. Because I've never been one to believe in anything due to peer pressure such as that coming from my pastor, immediate family, and fellow congregation members.
In particular I remember one afternoon our cohort of young Christians were at a house and it seemed like most of the two to three hours was spent goofing off then suddenly we all went into a room and the pastor lectured us on Lutheran dogma. Okay, sure, Jesus is the Son of God and is also God. Also, the Trinity is three aspects of God: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost. Jesus died, was buried, went to hell, went to heaven, and on the third day came back, and so on and so forth. All of these sessions that culminated in the confirmation ritual are succinctly summarized in the Apostle's Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
By this time I'd heard this and followed along in the Sunday services thousands of times. Even now, after more than a decade of being spiritually eclectic (and possibly eccentric if not a riteous pain in the butt) I can recite the creed backwards and forwards. And yet it never really resonated with me. Sure, I have always believed in a higher power, but it's never sat well with me that small groups of human get together, write up a bunch of arguably irrational rules and beliefs, and say, "This is how it is and you must agree!"--while at the same time thousands of other people in thousands of other groups are doing exactly the same thing, all of them believing that their creeds, their dogmas, their faith, was somehow more right and correct than all the others, that some how God had come down from heaven and told them they're special and right and justified and blah, blah, blah, but nobody else is. Sorry, while I respect everyone's right to believe whatever they want, including things like unicorns and fairies, I do not, I repeat, I DO NOT respect a group or individual whenever they espouse the belief that they are somehow superior to everyone else based on a litany of unprovable beliefs.
So there I was, it was time to be confirmed, and I couldn't be--and I was frustrated. I was a straight A student in school, so didn't have trouble picking up anything the pastor taught, yet for some bizarre reason I didn't feel compelled to say I believed in something just because an authority figure said it was so. I mean, I was the kid that at five or six argued with my Sunday school teacher when she told me Jesus and God were the same person; I argued because not only didn't it make sense from a practical point of view, but their personalities didn't match. At school I was the kid who got into near screaming matches where I'd end up crying at my seventh grade algebra teacher because he'd give me an F on a test because I didn't solve the problems in the officially sanctioned way he said we had to even though my calculations were well laid out and mathematically correct (my favourite math teacher of all time taught me for three terms at the University of Oregon; the teacher had an outstanding challenge that any student that could prove a theorem in a way he hadn't seen before would earn an instant A for that term--and while I wasn't able to make that leap, at least one did and the professor kept his word--after all, he understood that math is about making people think and problem solve, not grind through calculations blindly like a calculator). Yeah, I was a huge pain in the ass, a child who thought for myself and stood up to pressure and stupidity. I wasn't a non-conformist because I didn't want to conform or belong, I have always wanted to belong, I just wouldn't conform when it didn't make any sense.
And I wondered why I never fit in!
My parents were incredibly worried for me, maybe even for my eternal soul. They called our pastor and there were back room discussions. I was counseled repeatedly by the pastor, once or twice in his office, and once at our home, and it was made clear to me that I was in trouble, that I would suddenly not quite fit into this community that I'd belonged to ever since I was three. Finally, after many hours of painful pressure and judgment it was officially decided I deserved a C minus (for effort) and I could be confirmed and partake in holy communion. Later, after experiencing the pressure and ostracism in other churches (particularly the Baptist), I came to realize what I'd experienced was relatively light--there are, quite frankly, places where speaking your mind or daring to have one in a religious setting is tantamount to being possessed by the devil (which I have, believe it or not, been accused of by a youth pastor at one anti-Halloween celebration when I was 16).
Interestingly, while I was confirmed I, like most confirmed Christians, had never taken the time to read the Bible from cover to cover. Instead most of us relied heavily on our pastor or minister or priest's leadership via scriptures of the day, the sermon, and so forth. Now that I'm reading it book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, I've begun to truly recognize just how much different Christian denominations cherry pick the scriptures for those passages that fit their world view and have become startled, if not shocked, by how much is left out, ignored, and even rationalized as "good" and "Holy".
A quick disclaimer: This reflection is not an argument against Christianity. Indeed, I believe that one can be devotely religious and yet actively question the teachings of one's church (this is, in fact, the very thing Martin Luther did which started The Reformation).
So being interested in the whole truth and nothing but the truth I've been reading and noting things I didn't know before, things I think about with fascination, introspection, and yet some I must admit reading with complete disgust. Having said that...
Take for instance the use of the words Israel and Israelite as found in the first books of the Old Testament. While I'm not a Biblical scholar or able to read/translate Hebrew, in the NIV edition, which I'm reading, these words do not necessarily relate to a country or tract of land but instead to the people who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Per Wikipedia:
"Over the past three thousand years, the name 'Israel' has meant in common and religious usage both the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish nation. The name originated from a verse in the Bible (Genesis, 32:28) where Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God."
The word itself, when translated from the Hebrew, literally means, "He who wrestles with God," so you could argue that at least on a metaphorical level every spiritual person is an Israelite, a being that wrestles with the Divine for meaning, purpose, and direction in their lives.
Anyway, it does seem strange to me having always gone to Sunday and Vacation Bible School that I never knew the roots of the word. Sure, I'd heard of "The Nation of Israel", but never really understood the meaning of the term. Once you understand the difference the Old Testament is a completely different book than it is otherwise, a story of a people wrestling with God, stumbling as they attempt to worship and praise him in a meaningful way as they themselves strive for meaning and balance in a turbulant and often unpredictable world.
And then there's Deuteronomy, a book which is mostly a codification of the rules, laws, and regulations passed down from God to Moses during the Israelite's forty years wandering the desert. When reading this I looked at it through an historical and anthropological lens. First and foremost, these laws were written thousands of years ago before ideas like democracy and socialism were invented. Likewise, during early civilization many governments were actually defined and ruled by a priesthood that understood the world and universe and how it should be run in a religious or spiritual context; mathematics and astronomy were often practiced under the robes of a priesthood as is seen with the Babylonians, Egyptians, Mayans, and so on. Also, life was rough, short, and dangerous, so it was much more difficult to keep the peace with large groups of people, especially in a world where war, famine, and disease, was the norm, not the exception. So I read with an open mind and recognized how some laws were probably created to keep the peace, others were created to help the society stay cohesive, while others were simply there to scare the hell out of people so they'd stay in line. Oh, and lets not forget the laws that kept the elite (i.e. the priests) in power.
I will discuss more of my thoughts on Deuteronomy at a later time as I found the chapter insightful, interesting, and found many of the ethical ideas worth bringing into the modern world (although truth is much of what we consider Western law has many of its roots in this chapter of the Bible).
Now I must admit, one area of the Old Testament has me incredibly concerned, especially in terms of literalists who believe every word of the book is divinely guided and likewise serves as the unquestionable guide by which we should live our lives and govern modern societies. Sure, I realized the world and societies have evolved and matured over the centuries, but while reading Joshua last night I experienced a few distinct moments of shock, that I am surrounded by a millions of fundementalists that believe in things that are nothing short of barbaric and immoral.
A little background: Joshua succeeded Moses and lead the Israelites to "the promised land". Many a warm song has been written and sung about the trip the Israelites took across the Jordan, away from a life of wandering aimlessly to one where they had a home, a place, earth to live upon and raise their families, food, and livestock, a promise from their Lord that the years of misery and suffering were behind them. What a glorious and beautiful story of a loving God who keeps his word and provides for the needs of his children, don't you agree?
What's never mentioned in these songs or the sermons I've heard, for that matter, are the numerous acts of unbridled aggression the Isrealites performed in the name of their god. Today we'd refer to them as "war crimes" or "crimes against humanity". From a sociological, historical, and anthropological point of view these acts are not exactly surprising or out of the ordinarily for the period. However, it truly frightens me that modern day Jews, Christians, or Muslims, could believe that these stories serve as relevant moral and ethical lessons about how to live in the present world, that somehow the crimes committed by the Jews against countless other societies were somehow moral or ethical just because Joshua had a heart to heart with God who told him it was perfectly okay to sack a city and shatter the heads of inhabitants' babies on the rocks.
Allow me to sdraw a modern parallel to get some perspective.
In the twentieth century an entire nation that, like the Jews, had been subject to enormous suffering, decided that they were the race chosen by the almighty to govern the earth. Like the Jews these people did not transform themselves overnight but over a series of decades systematically changed the way they thought and governed their lives. As with Deuteronomy, they created legislation that put a small group of people in absolute power, and likewise instituted laws that made it difficult or impossible to speak out (instead of stoning this society used hangings, firing squads, and the guillotine). After nearly twenty years of building up a way of life that caused most to march lock step with one another this country waged unbridled war on its closest neighbors. Like the battles waged by Joshua's army these wars were unwarranted, aggressive, and so quickly executed they were given a nickname translated roughly as "Lightening Strike". Country after country, nation after nation, was conquered and anyone that stood up against the onslaught were imprisoned or killed without pity, just as the kings Joshua assasinated were. Worse yet, those who were deemed "undesirable" were systematically put to work and/or murdered.
While reading Joshua I couldn't help but shake my head at the irony. Three or four thousand years ago the Jews went across the Jordan on foot and in chariots and engaged in all out warfare against every city and nation they encountered for no other reason than, "God said so". They assassinated kings and their families. They murdered entire cities including every man, woman, and child. When they were honor bound by their word not to destroy a people they instead enslaved everyone. The tribes of Isreal believed they were chosen, special, that the bloodshed they waged against farmers and peaceful city folk was in the name of their God, the One True God. Sure, they didn't have tanks and guns and fleets of planes and bombers, but how is the militaristic and genocidal behavior of the Isrealites under Joshua any different than what the Nazi party subjected European Jews to thousands of years later?
Now before you go off calling me an anti-semite I challenge you to read Joshua as impartially as possible. This is not the story of a people that crossed the Jordan with open arms, but with the sword in hand, a sincere belief in their cultural and racial superiority, the sanctioning of their supreme being to kill mercilessly, and the blessing of their leadership to pillage and steal what rightly did not belong to them. How could anyone, in good conscience, argue that these are the acts of a riteous people?
It is my sincere my belief that a war crime is a war crime, regardless of when it was executed. Aggressive, warlike, and murderous behavior engaged in during Biblical times, even by those people many believe to have been chosen by God, are just as reprehensible as those committed in recent history. So it concerns me, greatly concerns me, that these stories of greed, racial bigotry, and spiritual intolerate pepper the Old Testament and that so many modern believers are willing to take the text, in its entirety, and vow their life and eternal soul to it without recognizing that the acts of the Jews, at least under Joshua, weren't too far removed from the attrocities of the Nazies during the 1930's and 40's.
(On a related tangent, the Japanese also felt they were chosen by the gods, were in fact descended from the gods, and were superior to all other races on the earth. These beliefs, if you study your history, lead them to engage in undescribable crimes against not only the POWs in their care, but also civilians from such areas as the Philippines. In contrast, when Germans soldiers were sent to American POW camps they were incredibly surprised with the respect and humanity they were treated.)
So I want to ask several questions of you whether you consider yourself Christian, Jew, Mulsim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Agnostic, or Athiest:
- Has human kind ever benefitted from the idea that a race, group, or nation, is superior to all others?
- Has human kind ever benefitted from the idea that a group or individual can ethically engage in violence when it is believed that the act is sanctioned by a higher being?
- Has human kind ever benefitted from the unrestricted destruction of its cities, sciences, arts, and the like, especially when it was the result of a superiority complex as outlined in the previous two questions?
I think it's time all those who base their spirituality in these stories look at them through a critical lens, to recognize the warnings they give us, warnings that if we sugar coat our war like history, our mistakes will be repeated over and over and over as small groups of us in our arrogance rape, pillage, and destroy. As is often quoted in the TV series Battlestar Galactica, "This has all happened before and will all happen again." Isn't it time we learn from the lessons of three thousands years back, that belief in a god is not justification for bloodshed and murder? Isn't it time we recognize that the seeds of ignorance are planted throughout our ancient texts; maybe these are the words of an almighty God, but maybe the True intention was not to tell us how to get what we want at all costs as long as it has an almighty blessing, but maybe these ancient tales are there to allow us to reflect on the barbarism of the past in hopes that we might make a better world for the the entire of God's creation.
We are all His or Her or Their or Its children. That's a good thing. And it gives me hope. I think we have it in ourselves to learn to take care of each other better. And our world.
With many warm thoughts and blessings,
July 24th, 2008
After much research and pulling out of the hair I now have a bicycle. This is, I believe, my 7th bike, not counting that red and white tricycle I had when I was three. Having said that this is A Brief History of a Biker.
My first bike was sky blue color. It had training wheels and the tires were filled with tar or some such thing so they were hard and would last virtually forever. While my memory isn't firm in this regard, my recollection is I only had the training wheels on for one day, maybe even only one hour as I learned to ride upright, steer, and pedal. Once I had that down my dad popped the training wheels off, pushed me across the back lawn, let go, and I remained upright! I of course road at every possible opportunity and also sludged around the gravel driveway with my brother who was on his trike.
Once I was too big for this bike it went to my little brother and I inherited my big sister's. Now get this, here I was, first or second grade and a boy, and the first bike I had with tubes in the tires was a pink bike with high curved handlebars (with the necessary palm-palm cheerleader like accoutrements), a banana seat and four or five foot tall banana bar in back (I am still at a loss as to why these were invented!). These days I couldn't imagine your average little American boy getting this bike without throwing a tantrum of monumental proportions; the neighbors find out and instead of leaving well enough alone (as it's none of their business) they gossip; the school counselor finds out, calls you in, and suggest therapy for the family and maybe in a worst case scenario, suggests the child is being subjected to form of abuse that will later lead to gender confusion. And I'll be honest, I was so envious of all the kids with BMX's but I knew that's not where my parent's financial priorities were so I ripped the tassles off, snapped playing cards to the forks with a few of my mom's wood clothes hangers, and shot down the road doing wheelies. And I gotta be honest with you, that's one extremely positive aspect of my childhood. I didn't always have the newest toy or latest fashion but usually got the hand me downs for a kid a year older than me that went to our church and then once I'd grown out of those things my brother would often get them. While like most kids I wanted new and "cool" and "in" I learned to value what I had, take care of what I had, and share. I also didn't tend to judge people based on their clothes or their bike or their what have you. So I quickly got over the superficial malarkey of what other's would think and really grew to love the bike making jumps to go over with it and taking it off road, up and down dirt trails, and the like. Probably used it for five or eight years, going through many a popped tire and bruised knee.
My third bike was my mom's red ten speed (or what I've now learned should be refered to as a "road bike"). I don't recall the brand and model, only that my parents had both gotten ten speeds to get in shape then never took them out and my pink bike, well, I was getting a bit too big for it and also I wanted to ride into town to see my friends on the weekend and in the summers so I needed something more up to the task. So yes, another hand me down but something more fitting my gender and also, by the way, my first experience using gears. As mentioned, I used the bike to make the five mile trek into town where I visited one of two friends and sometimes went out riding with one of them who had a road bike of his own (much nicer than mine so I was always struggling to keep up!).
Next and somehow and for some reason I inherited that friend's black road bike which was probably a few centimeters too big for me though it was again, up to that point, my best bike. I must have been just out of high school, I don't recall, nor do I recall why he gave it to me except that he'd at some point found it necessary to smoke as much pot as often as he could so he stopped biking, we hung around each other less and less, and maybe he just felt guilty about where our "friendship" had gone and thought throwing stuff at me would make it all better (we definitely had two very different ways of seeing the world). So I road that in Prineville and when I moved to Eugene I owned and road it at my first, second, and third residence. After than I'm not exactly sure what happened to the bike. I think I moved and, angry with someone who I considered my "best friend" for three quarters of my life for pretty much abandoning me for sex, drugs, and the pursuit of "fun" regardless of how it effected anyone else--well, I think I left it there leaning against the wall or all the junk my roommates at the time had piled through the garage. Spent the last few years attempting to reach out to someone I'd been friends with since second grade only to be met with lies and avoidance, I was done; leaving the bike there was the final and physical act representing the fact that internally I had decided to move on.
And then, not too many years later, I bought my first brand spanking new bike! It was a shiny blue and purple Trek mountain bike, don't recall the model, with handlebar shifters and the ability to go on anything. I was so excited about owning a brand new bike you could say I felt like I'd just had a baby. I felt high, proud, and invigorated everywhere I went. "Look at me," I'd think, "look at my shiny, gorgeous, new mountain bike!" I had that bike for years, rode it to class, to work, to pick up groceries, to spend some time on the river on a nice summer day, yeah, that bike was everything to me, perfect in nearly every way for where and how I rode.
You never forget your first, do you?
That beautiful bike went to my x-wife when we divorced. Long story short, we split up "fairly" equitably and I offered her the bike because I'd bought a car and knew she couldn't afford to make the payments on that so thought it was nice of me to offer a few weeks or months later she called upset as the chain or sprockets had busted and never having experienced a problem with the bike and likewise not having owned/ridden it for some time I wasn't sure why she was calling me, expecting me to fix it. This is one of the few not so proud of myself memories I have of our parting, where I more or less blew her off with harsh words (I seem to recall saying, "So what do you want me to do about it?"). All I can say now is, "I'm sorry," but I don't think that cuts it...at least not for me.
So the next bike I bought after I moved into my house out here in Portland, Oregon. Thought hey, loved my last Trek, I'll get another one, went out, looked, picked something affordable out that same day, hated it, hated it, hated it. Okay, so I'm being melodramatic, the bike was in many ways a good bike but it felt slightly too big for me (I think I like a mountain bike an inch or two smaller than would be "correctly" sized for my height). And the gear shifts, oh my Goddess I hated those bloody things. Unlike my previous Trek where the handlebar turned to shift these were thumb shifters and though I am perfectly capable of adjusting gears on a bike and getting everything riding correctly these bloody thumb shifters would never work correctly on both ends of the gear range so either the whole bike would doing a clickity click up a hill or clickity click down a hill, whichever I found less annoying. Plus I'd rushed into it too quickly, trying to replace past memories of my beloved first Trek, trying to find something similarish but then realizing that while the knobby tires worked great scooting around the pot-hole covered streets of Eugene they were terrible for getting up and down the smooth hills in my kneck of the woods (I got a quarter mile on my first attempted ride towards my work and just said, "Screw this!"). So the bike went in the garage and every now and then I took it out on the path behind the house, struggled up the hill on those wide-knobby tires, turn around, deathly bored the entire time aware that the bike just wasn't right for me and like an expensive pair of shoes I'd bought for a special occasion but loathed I held onto the ridiculous belief that it'd just have to grow on me which it didn't...
A year or two later I sold the bike on Craiglist for a hundred fifty or so less than I'd originally purchased it for and, starting to experience leg and knee pain, didn't think I'd be getting another anytime soon.
Fast forward to the present
July 23rd, 2008
Yesterday while driving home from downtown my daughter turned to me and asked, "Dad, is Obama a Muslim?"
I was beside myself.
In many ways my daughter is your average teenager, more interested checking out viral videos on You Tube than how the next President will effect her decision to go into the armed forces when she's 18 (she wants to become an Air Force or Navy pilot; I've also encouraged her to keep her options open and consider the Marines which also has a top notch pilot program). While it's true that the next elected president will have an enormous impact on her life it's probably better that she not become overly concerned with the back and forth political ramblings as she won't have a vote. On the other hand, being a parent who wants to teach her the importance of objectivity and likewise the importance of spotting unjust character attacks and prejudice I make it a point to talk when I see an opportunity to open an intelligent ethical dialog.
I know there are times that this frustrates her. She's thirteen and as she's told me lately she just wants to "be a kid". At the same time, as a parent I feel part of my responsibility as a role model is to open the table to discussions of an ethical nature when she encounters bigotry and religious prejudice. In particular to this instance I told her no, that in fact Barack Obama is well known to be of the Christian faith and even while this is easily verifiable many in the country have used the color of his skin and his name (Barak "Hussein" Obama) to not only call him a Muslim but associate him with the very terrorists who attacked America in 2001. I also reminded her of an important tenant of American law, the most quoted piece of The Bill of Rights, the First Amendment:"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
In particular I pointed out that all Americans are provided full religious protections under the law, the point being that even if Obama were a Muslim this would not legally prevent him, a natural born citizen of the United States, from holding this office as outlined in the Constitution. More importantly the founding fathers, many who were subject to religious persecution by England, understood just how important religious expression was, so much so that they wrote it into the very value system of what it means to be an American, that we must learn to tolerate people of all faiths.
Truth is, it surprises me how something so fundamentally American, so important to the foundations of this country, are lost on so many. And frankly, it saddens me that the choice of who should lead this country is left to such arbitrary and, frankly, racist factors as skin colour and religious prejudice. While some high schools still teach civics I hope that one day it will be important enough that all schools will require every student to understand the basics of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence (often quoted but interestingly enough it's not law in the "legal" sense of the word), before earning their degrees. Hell, seems backwards that natural born citizen get all the rights and protections without, for the most part, having a basic understanding of them while naturalized citizens (those who are born elsewhere but become legal citizens) must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the basic rights and likewise the responsibilities that follow from them.
Me, I'm voting for Obama. He's not my first choice but many of his values align closer to my own than any other candidate including John McCain, who I have highly respected until very recently after his behavior and stances moved drastically from respectful and open to agreeing nearly consistently with conservative political ideologies that have proven extraordinarily disastrous to the economy, national debt, and especially the moral of this country (not to mention how we are now so negatively viewed by nearly every other country on the entire planet). Don't give a rats ass about his skin colour, don't care about his religious preference, and frankly, I wouldn't even care if he spends fifteen minutes every night reading the Penthouse Forum, I want someone who demonstrates the ability and intelligence to do the job. What I do care about is his stance on immigration, the illegal "war" on an idea, his health care solution, his focus on renewable energy (and stand on nuclear--which frankly creates a form of waste so hazardous no human society has any ethical right to force it upon the lives of our race fifty thousand years from now!), his focus on the issues and not character attacks (the recent incendent with him writing an op ed for the Times where McCain's wasn't accepted is a perfect example; Obama wrote about the issues, McCain tried using it as an opportunity to attack Obama's character), and so on. No, he's not the perfect candidate, no, he's not my first choice, but damn, he's a billion times better than someone who, just having accidently hammered a nail through his left testicle looks down, shrugs, says we'll alter our course, pulls out a drywall screw and power drill then proceeds to go after the right one. How dumb do our leaders have to get before we give them the boot? How many times do our leaders need to step on the Constitution before we say they've broken their oath? And how many international laws do they need to break before they are considered war criminals?
Fuck, I don't know anymore, but for my part I hope the next president is a transvestite hermaphroditic Wiccan half-Jew half-Irish half-Tibetan beach bum that's worked itself up from complete poverty and treats all people with respect, courtesy, an open ear, and can balance their checkbook. And oh, it wouldn't hurt if they had a weakness for Cheesy Poofs.
July 20th, 2008
There are black marks on my white board, scribbles, starting points, ideas that at some point will grow into something to share here but...but I don't sit at my computer too much anymore. Hurts too much. And I think, "Haven't I spent too much of my life behind a monitor?"
I'm thinking about buying a bike again. I had one, not too many years ago, but it didn't quite fit right: Slightly too big, too hard to ride long distances, and the shifters could never be adjusted quite right. Honestly, I think the biggest thing was it wasn't the bike I owened in Eugene, the first bike I'd ever gotten brand spanking new and that blue and purple Trek mountain bike fit my like a glove. I rode it for two or three or four years, had the perfect saddle bag for grocery runs, etc., etc., etc. Even my helmet matched. This other bike I bought, rode a few times, but could never quite get it to fit me right or me to fit it right and finally I just gave up trying. Sold it on Craigslist, made back most of what I spent, and gave up pedaling.
Recently I've realized, what with all the physical therapy I've been doing, that I needed to get out of the house and out of the gym and strengthen my hip outside. I'm tired of being in one place for hours on end doing the same routines over and over. I need some fresh air. On top of that my gym, which I do go to from time to time, ends up costing too much for the few times a month I make it out so why not readjust my budget and find a bike that fits?
Now if you've ever been shoe shopping with me before I won't have to tell you that bike shopping is twice the horror. For example, I went to The Bike Gallery here in Beaverton, where I'd purchased my last bike, and was full of questions. Spent several hours there, test drove two bikes, but wasn't ready to so quickly make a purchase. I went back a day or two later as they said they'd have a bike I wanted to test ride in but it had been sold that morning. In the meanwhile I've been researching online the different types of bikes, what people are riding in areas like I intend to ride, and the like.
First and foremost, I want something I can easily work to commute on. While I don't live far from my office, maybe five or six miles, I'm not exactly "biker fit", and there are a lot of hills between here and there, so I'll want something where I don't sweat to death getting from A to B. That leaves out mountain bikes. I also need something that can carry a few bags both for carrying work items back and forth but also for pick up groceries, which leaves out light racing/road bikes. I want something I can take in all sorts of weather, which means it has to have the capability to connect fenders and what not. Still, that leaves the playing field open to about eighty thousand different bikes!!!
So now it's just a matter of narrowing it down to something that "fits", something I can feel good about spending a nice chunk of pocket change on. This is not as easy as it would seem. I took three bikes out and while all three were nice, only one seemed like it might be a fit (even the Soho, which was a good price and shifted great, just didn't feel like me). And then when I found the bike that might be the one it was so popular that they had ten on backorder--not exactly a surprise to me.
This is all a part of redefining my life, something that has taken a great deal of my time lately. Who am I? How can I be more healthy? How can I make every dollar go towards to redifining myself? Who is it that I want to become? More healthy, more happy, more sound, more uplifting, and more sure of myself, my path.
And so I hope in the next few weeks to get a bike, start strengthening my hip, and getting more fresh air. I hope to bike to work at least once a week, bike to get groceries on another, and share a ride with my daughter on yet another. And maybe someday most, if not all of my choices, will help me find a better life both for myself and for everyone my life touches.
Back to it.
July 6th, 2008
I don't spend as much time sitting at the computer as I used to nor watching tv a la Netflicks. There is no polite way to say it, my butt just hurts too much to sit for any great length of time. So when I do sit down to write or watch or what have you I want that time to be meaningful, uplifting, relevant, or at least providing a window of therapeutic momentum.
I sat down this evening, after an afternoon of sanding and refinishing furniture, to watch a documentary called Escape from Suburbia (a title which should at least cause my partner a wry grin as she think I live in "the" boonies). The film discusses the subject of Peak Oil and how some forward thinking Americans are recognizing the reality and envisioning a more sustainable future based on the inevitable fact that we will, within then next sixty or seventy years, almost completely exhaust the Earth's supply of fossil fuels.
(If you don't believe in peak oil here's something to recognize: In the 70' s a barrel of oil, adjusted for inflation, was about $20. In 2000, when Mr. Bush took the wheel, it was under $50 [for those of you who have forgotten this is the magic number Bin Laden wanted to get it to as he knew that would begin to negatively effect our economy]. Today it's at about $140 and it ain't going down. Will this economy sustain your job when it hits 200?)
One aspect of the movie I found refreshing was the idea that to become more sustainable in the future we must, as a society, become more community oriented. I must admit that this has been a hard idea for me in some ways given both that I have never felt part of a community and likewise given what American culture looks like but then if I, a lowly introvert, can begin to open up to the idea of the importance of community than why can't the average American who typically has a larger social circle? I've also been influenced strongly by my partner who has engendered the importance of community in her life and who constantly shows me the positive that can come from it.
The documentary focuses on the rediculous nature of consuming (wasting) mass quantities of oil just so we can export something we think is garbage to China then pay for it to be reprocessed, packaged, and sent back! It also discusses the logic of creating sustainable communities where food and other commodoties are locally grown, manufactured, and distributed. Impressively logical ideas but I'm concerned that it will take a GREAT Depression here in America plus a few wars that make Iraq look like a cake walk before we get our asses in gear and start designing our communities and economy in a way that makes sense and would be sustainable for a thousand years.
Anyone who believes our lifestyle is sustainable for another sixty is, with all fairness, a complete and utter ignoramous.
A specific example shown throughout the movie is of community gardens which I see here in Portland and saw throughout Eugene while I lived there and it's encouraged me. I have a little land, not acres, mind you, but enough to grow something on, and when I moved in, four or five years ago, I tried to plant a few things but everything died or was eaten (damn gophers!). Comparitively, when I grew up in Central Oregon everything I planted as a kid grew large and strong whether it was corn or carrots or pees--my ability to grow anything in Portland was nothing short of frustrating. So I gave up, just threw my hands in the air and gave up. Then as my body has given out the idea of getting on my knees, which I know would cause a fair amount of pain, is just anethema to anything I might want to do after a long day at work. After watching this movie I've decided this is inexusable. While I have started to go to a farmer's market once a week it's also time I start growing a few things here. Too late now so here's the plan: Study, research, design. I'll get the various plant beds I want to use ready, purchase pots, and so on, until this winter when I can begin planting in an organized, scheduled, and knowledgable fashion.
Just because I program computers for a living doesn't mean I can't learn to use a bloody composter!!!
Over the last few years I keep hearing politicians, especially Mr. Bush, spout a bright new future in bio-fuels and hydrogen fuel cells. Now I know, I research far too much, but the reality behind hydrogen is it's too hard to create, store, and use; by the time you've done it you've wasted nearly all the energy you've put into it. Biofuels have a similar problem given that it takes incredible amounts of petrol to create the corn to in turn create the fuel saving us, in total--well, it is better for the environment, I'll give it that, but with so many starving in our communities it is a questionably ethical solution, at best. Likewise, it's a really spectacular way to deplete the soil. So this film was a breath of fresh air to me as it fairly examined these two technological solutions and quickly demonstrated that they're silver bullet solutions that really, my friends, aren't going anywhere.
So what is the solution?
While the movie was more about creating community and having proactive discussions it did touch on how we need to not just have enough locally to feed a community, but this same logic should be applied to technological solutions as well. In particular, instead of everyone consuming electric from a central monolithic power country homes would instead be built to save energy and have energy creation devices (e.g. solar cells). It'll take some money, time, and sweat, but is it so unrealistic to imagine a future where everyone in your neighborhood has solar cells on their roof and an electric car in the garage? If we, as a nation, made that push and committed to be switched over by 2018, we'd be absolutely 100% free of our dependence on foreign oil, our air would clean up, our power bills would be down to nothing...fuck, the only people who wouldn't like that are the fat cats making money off dip-shits like you and me who seem to enjoy paying for something we can, with a little thoughtfully spend cash, get for free.
So along with research into gardening I've committed to myself to read up on solar power, where the technology is at, and what tax incentives I can take of financially, both State and Federal. I've started by sending an e-mail to Mr. Sun Solar, a company I learned about last year when my partner, her sister, and I, did an eco-tour of Portland homes. Don't know if/how I could afford it but I do know my house is a few shingles short so why not do a little research, get some estimates, and plan to build a better future both for myself and for my community?
I need to start putting more of my money where my mouth is.
P.S. How can you?
July 3rd, 2008
When I reflect on America as a culture I find myself in a place of concern. We are engaged in an unethical and arguably deceitful war that has cost the American tax payer at least 872.6 billion dollars not counting the interest we will accumulate in loans from countries such as Communist China. Meanwhile back at home we've been experiencing a "slow down" of the economy; your average American is getting paid less and the job market has become saturated as companies let people go. The cost of petrol has gone up to a staggering $150 a barrel, or more than $4 a gallon, which is raising prices of all commodities, most worriesome of them being food (a gallon of orange juice in Hawaii, for instance, has jumped over $10 a gallon--yikes). Last but not least the housing market is fucked up by a decade of greed and nefarious business practices and it's the average person who ends up paying for it in one way or another. And all the while the top 1% are getting more rich than any human being in recorded history.
What the hell is wrong with us?
I often wonder how I can not only plan for a more secure future for myself, but also help a world that I sometimes think has lost its mind (though I should be fair: maybe it never had it). For one thing, while I love my job it doesn't really, in my view, benefit humanity in a substantially positive way--at least not one that is immediately noticable from the privacy of my cube. I have toyed with the idea of going back to school to get a degree and do something where I can have a direct effect on people's lives, such as an EMT, but then I have to ask myself how would I go to school while working at my present job which is sort of necessary to pay the mortgage. And sure, I could volunteer from time to time, something that sounds more appealing by the day, but the up and down nature of my health leaves me somewhat at a disadvantage.
One area that has been more and more on my mind is of the future, in particular the health of our planet. I'd love to think Obama is forward thinking enough to create legislation to force American car companies to move away from the waste of the pure internal cumbusion engine to hybrids and electrics, but he, like so many of our other leaders, lacks the balls to make common sense laws that will be in the best interests of both our economy as well as our children and grand children. Damnit, why can't they make a law that says all new homes over $120k must have solar panels and the like installed?
Their complacency is becoming more and more rediculous, if you ask me.
While I don't have it in my budget at present to make any improvements that would have a positive impact on the world I am thinking forward. For instance I know I need to have the house reroofed sometime in the next year or two (tops) so it would make absolute sense to use that as an opportunity to look into solar, get some panels installed, and begin generating power for myself and my neighborhood instead of blindly consuming something that has a negative effect on the nearby ecology. I'd also like to get the windows of my home replaced with the most modern energy compliant windows, further lowering my impact.
As most of you know I also ride a motorcycle which gets about 45 miles per gallon. Some think this is a solution but truth is while they have milage ratings comprable to hybrid cards they put out more CO2 than most vehicles (in my defense my Yamaha FJR has a catalytic converter, a boon to the environment missing from most bikes given the difficulty of building one that is small enough and doesn't get hot--excessive heat being something that can be uncomfortable or even dangerous on a bike). My car, a 1999 Volvo stationwagon, gets reasonable gas mileage (~26mpg highway) and has fairly low emissions considering what it is (it actually surprised the guys down at the Oregon DEQ station) but still, given the extent to which we are literally fucking this planet over there's a little voice at the back of my head saying, "Pay off your debts, wait for the technology to improve, and invest your money where your mouth is."
No question about it, if I were to choose a better vehicle today I'd head down to the Toyota dealership and order a Prius--but having owned an expensive new vehicle in the past I'm not exactly ready to have a $20k+ debt again. Additionally, while the Prius is the best on the market I'm dissapointed that they don't yet offer one that can be plugged in. Think about it, most people use their primary vehicle for daily commuting and errands, the average distance being maybe 40 miles per day (I do about 10 to 15). The Prius can be driven about 120 miles on a full charge before the gasoline engine needs to kick in. The point here is: if the Prius ran off the grid most people would almost never need to purchase gasoline for it, putting their emmissions nearly down to zero. Can the vehicle support this modification? Absolutely: quite a few California owners have already done it! Can you imagine how clean city air would be if only half of everyone drove an electric???
(In Toyota's defense they promise to have a plug in version in the not too distant future.)
I envision a future America where instead of having gas guzzling SUVs most families have two cars. One of the cars is an average size to larger vehicle, such as my Volvo, which would only be used as needed (such as on a trip to Lowes, helping a friend move, or when spouses are needing the convenience of two separate vehicles). The other, or primary vehicle, would be a daily commuter which would either be a Smart Car, a hybrid, such as the Prius, or an all electric vehicle.
I recognize that every dollar I spend is a vote, a consumer voicing his values and interests in a conscious way that effect the world around me. If and when I purchase my next vehicle I want that vote to count and until today I thought that future purchase (five to ten years from now) would be something like the Prius--but today I stumbled upon the...well, it's not exactly a car...and it's not exactly a motorcycle...well, I stumbled upon the vehicle of my dreams, an idea which I believe should be the direction of the future if our economy and our planet is to survive.
Ok, so maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but I've always liked to think of myself as forward thinking, so here we go...
Introducing the Carver 1, a wild and unique design that first hit the roads in the Netherlands. This amazing vehicle has three wheels, like a tricycle, but stears just like a motorcycle: instead of the front wheel turning the machine leans up to 45 degrees into a turn! The driving experience, so I've heard in countless reviews and at least one by a Grand Prix winner, is one of pure joy and excitement.
Don't get me wrong, I do love a fast and sexy looking vehicle such as my FJR motorcycle and the Mazda RX-8 I used to own, but I don't see why companies cannot merge sexiness, fun, and something that helps the environment into one sleak little package and that's exactly what the Carver 1 is. Getting a little over 40 miles per gallon it competes with hybrids and Smart Cars yet it does things neither of those vehicles do: 1) it's different, 2) it's sexy, and 3) it's fun. In my humble opinion if we're going to change the world what better way than to leverage what we're attracted to into that equation instead of trying to force people, especially picky consumers, into things like the arguably bulbous looking Smart Car.
Tell someone they can save the earth and they might think that's cool. Tell someone they can save the earth in something like a Carver 1 and they will think it's absolutely awesome.
So out of curiosity I did a little research and found that the Carver 1 is not being offered in the US (which is pretty typical--we are usually much slower to embrace new/unique technologies while Europe and Japan are usually years ahead of us). I did, however, find a company out of California which is going to use the same technology to offer a similar vehicle they dub the VentureOne. Unlike Toyota who has made the successful Prius but hasn't moved in a reasonable amount of time to offer different breads of the vehicle (yes, they now have leather interiors but so what?)--I digress, unlike Toyota this company is already looking into the future and will create at least three models: a pure gasoline powered version (probably ~40mpg), a hybrid version (~100mpg), and a pure electric version (yeeha!). What an absolutely refreshing thing to see and I can't help but admit I'd love to make their hybrid my daily commuter, a vehicle I could ride in any kind of weather, lower my impact to the environment, and maybe even turn a few heads while driving. Oh yeah, and it looks heck-a-fun too!!!
I hope that the company building this machine will get adequate backing to offer it at reasonable rates that will allow your average American to get rid of their gas guzzling SUV and pick up something like this. I also hope GM, Chevrolet, or Ford, will wake the hell up, notice this diamond in the rough, and put the backing of a few hundred million dollars behind the company. "Cars" like this are, in my view, the vision of things to come.
P.S. Another thing I think they need to start doing: Covering the outside of hybrid and electrics in solar panels...I mean, when the thing's parked at work it might as well be doing something, n'est pas? But then, that would make too much fracking sense...