Thursday, December 28, 2006


Now, I like pretentious, wanky, artsy movies as much as the next guy but the movie Babel pushes even me to the limits.

I like movies that challenge but I can't help feeling Babel is just doing it to be considered "artistic". Being obscure just for obscurity's sake. Critics will say it delves into the nature of family relationships and of misunderstandings of language and culture. Blah, blah, blah. It made me want to put a gun into my mouth.

Babel is a depressing movie with moments that are damn near unwatchable (most notably the kids in the desert). It was painful to watch as a parent and I simply do not understand how it propels the story at all.

It has disparate story lines in 3 countries tied together with a common thread like Magnolia or more recently, Crash. I liked those movies ... this one I'm not so sure about.

I know it's trying to say something about synchronicity or causality but it does so little that would allow you to invest in the characters or to care about what happens to them.

I get that the story is supposed to make you feel unconfortable and maybe confused ... like the characters. It's about what can happen because of misunderstanding borne out of not listening or just because of differences in language. But just because I understand what the director was trying to do doesn't mean it's an enjoyable or even an enlightened experience.

Maybe some clue to the movie comes from the word Babel itself. From Wikipedia:
Babel is mentioned in Genesis 10:10 as the home city of Nimrod.

[10] And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. [11] Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, [12] And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city. (KJV)
According to Genesis 11:1-9, mankind, after the deluge, travelled from the mountain where the ark had rested, and settled in 'a plain in the land of Shinar' (or Senaar). Here, they attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto Heaven, the Tower of Babel.

The attempt to build the Tower of Babel had angered God and in his anger, made each person involved speak a different language which ultimately halted the project and scattered and disconnected the people across the planet

It's not to say there are not great performances. Pitt's acting is as understated and mature as any he's done. Blanchett is great. Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, previously of the excellent movie The Motorcycle Diaries, is also good. The movie looks great and is shot in gorgeous locations. But it's all wasted because it's missing something ... I'm not sure what. Maybe heart?

I don't know how to rate it. It's either one of the most brilliantly original things that I've seen in awhile or it's an overwrought piece of crap in love with it's own cleverness. I may change my mind on this one. It would probably reveal itself better in a 2nd watching. But I'm not sure I have the patience or desire to do that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blood Diamond

I saw a really good movie Christmas night, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. It reminded me of two of my favorite movies, Killing Fields and Cry Freedom. In those movies, the story was told mostly through the eyes of the white outsider who befriends the oppressed native. It's not so much a criticism, but rather an observation. In many movies, it seems like that white role is added only to make the movie more palatable for a largely white audience. Of course, those two previous mentioned movies are based on real stories. This one is fictional but the problem of "conflict diamonds" is real.

From Wikipedia:

"A blood diamond (also called a conflict diamond or a war diamond) is a diamond mined in a war zone and sold, usually clandestinely, in order to finance an insurgent or invading army's war efforts." They have included Angola, Sierra Leone, The Ivory Coast and Liberia. International awareness has led to a reduction in the amount of conflict diamonds bought in the West, but they still exist and some have speculated that they have even had some part in funding of Al Qaeda.

DiCaprio is one of the best things about this film. His performance in this and Departed were outstanding. You see the arc of his character as he progresses from, what we assume, is a mercenary "make a buck" type to one who cares about the people affected by the sale of conflict diamonds. DiCaprio's maturation as an actor and the choices he has made in roles are admirable.

Hounsou, as always, is very good in his role. He's very passionate and believable as a father whose family has been torn apart by the rebels.

At times the Jennifer Connelly role (as an American journalist) seems superfluous. I suppose that you could justify it within the context of her role in exposing the diamond companies smuggling. But it sometimes seems to wander into the territory of being tacked on just for the sake of having a potential love interest. Her performance is fine and as always she looks stunning. I just wonder if you could have propelled the story without her.

The movie has a few moments of forced exposition of plot and message. Explanatory lines frequently come up inorganically. Movies about some of these important subjects have a tendency to do that because they assume, rightly so, that a large part of the audience does not know a lot about the subject. Of course, not all recent movies do that. For example, Syriana.

I liked the movie even if it did seem Hollywoody at times. But it didn't shy away from the gruesomeness of the violence or how shocking the behavior of child soldiers was. Also, it didn't try to paint just one group as the bad guys. Really everyone (including us) are complicit: governments, the factions in Africa, consumers, the media. I recommend this film. Grade: B+

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy, Merry Hanu-Kwan-Mas and a Cool Yule

We're going to be out of town through Christmas and I won't be blogging for a few days but I thought I'd give as non-cynical an appraisal of it as this sarcastic, liberal humanist/atheist can.

Christmas is still a bit fun for me because I see the idealization of it through the eyes of my 5 year old. He brims with a joy that I can only imagine. Though he loves the idea of presents, when Santa at the mall asked him what he wanted, he wouldn't tell him anything specific because he said, "I'm always happy with whatever you bring me, Santa."

I like this part of the year because even people that you are not a big fan of ,or that you have had disagreements in the past with, will soften and wish you "Happy Holidays" and they will mean it. For a few weeks, most people are thinking about parties, family, helping out the local food shelter, etc. Yeah, it'd be nice if people thought about these things all year. But I'll take this time of year over no time of year.

Don't let the commercialization of the holidays suck the life out of the festiveness of it. I could care less about getting anything but I love giving others things. I love seeing friends. I love the food.

Don't let people tell you what the holiday is supposed to be about (including me) and don't let people tell you there is a "war" on it. If some people think it's about God, that's OK. If others think it's about the celebration of winter or anything else, that's OK too. People that shove down your throat what they feel it should be about have a lump of coal for a heart anyway.

I was reading my son a Christmas book when I put him to bed last night. A passage in it, though unapologetically corny, seems to sum it up for me (through the words of a young girl):

... Perhaps what we need is not one more toy.
Maybe it's something more simple - like joy.
The presents are great, and we both love to play,
But I think that the meaning of Christmas Day
Is ore about loving and less about things,
And the feeling that sharing and giving brings.
I know it's a lot, but here's what I wish,

... I hope that tonight as you fly in your sled
That all the worlds's children are safely in bed,
And are warm, and are dreaming dreams that are sweet,
And have plenty of love, and plenty to eat.

Oh Santa, dear Santa, I think what we need,
Is a world that is peaceful and not full of greed,
Where everyone cares about one another
As if each child were a sister or brother ...

So celebrate it in any matter you choose ... or if you choose not to, that's OK. But try to take a little of the happiness of it and extend it on past the start of the year.

I'm truly thankful for all of you (my blog friends). I enjoy your words. I hope I learn a little each day through the dialogues we have.

Happy Holidays to you all! I'll be back in a few days to start inundating you with boring year-end "best of's".

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bueller ...

Sorry for the long delay in posts. I've been getting slammed at work (in a good way) and just have not had the time.

CK's recent post on the "War on Christmas" is a good read. Never has such a pampered majority been so intent on casting themselves as the picked-on victims. Much as they would like to say that Christmas is only a religious holiday, you cannot deny it's secular significance. Christianity itself and Christmas owe more to non-religious and pagan rituals than they would care to admit. I, as a secularist and humanist, have every right to celebrate the holiday as I see fit.

CK's post reminded me of a Christmas rant, purporting to be by Ben Stein, "Confessions for the Holidays", that ended up in my Inbox this week and I got myself into a bit of a shitstorm because I took the time to point out to the sender (and the rest of my business referral group) that this message was not completely by who it claimed to be. It got under my skin for several reasons:

- It's yet another e-mail pushing the myth of the "War on Christmas"
- It's factually inaccurate
- It was sent using our group's group e-mail feature, which is supposed to be used for group business. Even if the e-mail was completely accurate as to its attribution, it is still not appropriate to send it in a business context.

The sender and several other people in the group believe that is OK because they agree with the sentiment that it pushed (regardless of the accuracy). I wonder if they would feel the same about the use of this feature if they disagreed with the viewpoint.

E-mails like this are sloppy. They are rarely by who they say they are by. It takes roughly 10 seconds to refute 99% of these. They ultimately say more about the person that forwards them than anything. Unfortunately, people that are sheep will not be as diligent with checking of facts when they hear something that reinforces their own prejudices. Going into anything with a preconceived notion is a dangerous thing ... just ask W.

And that is a lesson that any of us can take ... seek the truth even when it's unpleasant or difficult.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jimmy Carter

Tuesday night was pretty cool because I got to meet my first ex-President ... Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter. That is if you use a very loose interpretation of the word "meet". By "meet", I, of course, mean hanging outside for an hour with 1600 of your closest friends and then getting quickly shuffled through an assembly line that runs you past a table where he signs your book at record speed. He signs pretty damn fast for a 82-year-old man! At that age, he's writing books, touring the country, and apparently angering some Jews. At that age, I'll probably be drooling on myself and angering my relatives.

After signing the book, he did look up and gave a peaceful smile and I thanked him. The wait outside before the signing was actually quite fun as most of those in the line, as one would expect, are like-minded Dems. I had some very nice conversations with a 60-year-old union organizer and a nice mother with her teenage son. Overall, a nice night.


An attorney friend (female) of mine sent this video. I couldn't help but think of my wife and Laura when I saw it ... two vocal and opinionated women (and we are better for it).

Too funny.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cards 27 - Seahawks 21

Some pics of my first game in the new stadium.

Friday, December 08, 2006


This happened yesterday here in Phoenix:
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2006 09:20 AM

PHOENIX - A 2-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by his 9-year-old brother has died, authorities said Friday.

The older brother apparently was playing with a .357 handgun that belonged to his mother's boyfriend when he shot his younger brother, Eric Sanchez-Velasquez, said Phoenix Police Lt. Tracey Miller.

The boys' mother drove the wounded boy to a hospital. Eric was taken by helicopter to another Valley hospital, where he died about 11:25 p.m., authorities said.

The accident happened about 9 p.m. on the 18000 Block of 40th Avenue between Union Hills Drive and Bell Road. The older child took the firearm from a closet and was handling it when he fired and struck Eric, who was in the same room, investigators concluded.

The boys’ mother was at home at the time, but not in the same room when the shot went off, said Detective Stacie Derg, a Phoenix police spokeswoman. A third child, a 12-year-old girl, and a family friend who lives in the house were also home but not injured.

I could go on a long-winded and sourced rant about our country's love for firearms but frankly right now I don't have the patience. All that I want to do is scream and to slap the shit out of any moron that tries to tell me that about their inalienable "right to bear arms". You are scared, weak-minded people that try to compensate by owning guns. And who pays the price? Not you. No, it's two year old kids who pay with their lives and nine year old kids who will bear the guilt of what they should never have had to worry about doing for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movie Review - Casino Royale

Though not as skeptical of Daniel Craig as a lot of Bond fans were, I was nonetheless curious how well he would fill the shoes previously inhabited by Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, etc. I'd previously seen Craig in Munich and Layer Cake, two outstanding movies. So I knew of his talent but it is not just talent that makes a perfect Bond. You must have an appreciation of the original source material (Ian Fleming's novels). You must have a ruggedness and cockiness that suggests an underprivileged upbringing and you must have raw sexuality. Sadly, only one of the previous Bonds had this ... Sean Connery. I liked the succeeding movies well enough but that was despite the Bond actors instead of because of them. Pierce Brosnan was probably the 2nd best in my eyes but even he was a little too refined and dandy to be a true Bond.

Daniel Craig is now my new 2nd best Bond and he passes all my tests of what a Bond actor should be. A lot of people had a problem when Craig was cast merely because he had blond hair intead of the classic dark hair. If that's the worst that can be said about him, he is doing well.

Casino Royale (loosely based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel) does a great job of not only stripping down the Bond character to it's original elements but also the setting in which he works. The movies of the 80's and 90's relied too much on the cuteness and novelty of the gadgets that Bond would use. This movie has few, if any. The violence is gritty.

The plot from MovieWeb:
... CASINO ROYALE traces the early career of James Bond. His first "007" mission leads him to Le Chiffre, banker to the world's terrorists. In order to stop him and bring down the terrorist network, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale. Bond is initially annoyed when a beautiful Treasury official, Vesper Lynd, is assigned to deliver his stake for the game and watch over the government's money. But as Bond and Vesper survive a series of lethal attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops, leading them both into further danger and events that will shape Bond's life forever ...

The movie runs long (2 1/2 hours) but is fairly well-paced. It has some unique fight scenes with Jackie Chan-style gymnastics. The supporting cast fill their roles well, particularly the beautiful Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. She is a French-born actress previously seen in Kingdom of Heaven. Overall, I liked this movie quite a bit. It's a worthy reinventing of the Bond franchise. Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick Hits

  • Is it just me, or is this really ironic? -- Bush's $500 Million Library
    From Huffington Post:
    "...The idea of Uncurious George building a $500 million shrine to his disastrous presidency is the political equivalent of a whoopee cushion; a veritable laff riot. The punchlines write themselves:

    A George W. Bush Library? What's it going to house, 100,000 copies of The Pet Goat -- with some Shakespeares and a Camus thrown in for good measure?"
  • ==================================================

  • Let me get this straight ... a silver-spoon in his mouth legacy who partied through his military service has the gall to define the terms in which a proud father can speak of his son serving in Iraq? Bush, Webb in testy exchange over Senator-elect's soldier son
    W, you pompous ass. That would have been sweet if Mr. Webb had popped W in the chops. Someone needs to.
  • ==================================================

  • Speaking of pompous asses: High Court Divided on Warming.
    "When is the predicted cataclysm?" Scalia asked with some sarcasm.

    Justice Scalia, you ignorant slut. The very definition of an activist judge. His limitless ego now seems to give him power to decide scientific principles.

Monday, December 04, 2006

He Still Believes ...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why Are Atheists So Angry?

Sam Harris on the Huffington Post:
While the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Yet the September 11th hijackers were college-educated, middle-class, and had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosques talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise.

How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is that in the year 2006 a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: They don't know what it is like to really believe in God.

The United States now stands alone in the developed world as a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead; 53% believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. This is embarrassing. Add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44% of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.

Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. This dewy-eyed nihilism provides absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization. Many of these people are lunatics, but they are not the lunatic fringe. Some of them can actually get Karl Rove on the phone whenever they want.

While Muslim extremists now fly planes into our buildings, saw the heads off journalists and aid-workers, and riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons, several recent polls reveal that atheists are now the most reviled minority in the United States. A majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist even if he were a "well-qualified candidate" from their own political party. Atheism, therefore, is a perfect impediment to holding elected office in this country (while being a woman, black, Muslim, Jewish, or gay is not). Most Americans also say that of all the unsavory alternatives on offer, they would be least likely to allow their child to marry an atheist. These declarations of prejudice might be enough to make some atheists angry. But they are not what makes me angry.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

I'm not sure where Harris got all his numbers, but they are basically in the ballpark. The "Jesus rose from the dead" number that I could find was closer to 75%. In any event ... scary stuff. If you said that 75% of Americans believe there are aliens, most people would think that the country was obviously delusional and that this country should not have control of a nuclear weapon. So, why is Jesus rising from the dead any different? The amount of proof for either is nonexistent. Some might even argue that there is more compelling evidence for aliens than for the Resurrection.

As Harris puts it, we are now "... a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism". And this is "unique among wealthy democracies". This is while Japan and the U.K. are among the least religious societies on Earth. Allowing faith to govern you personally is fine. Everyone needs to come to their own truth through whatever path they choose. It's when that "dewy-eyed nihilism" by our leaders allows them to ignore global warming and to provide quaint solutions to the transmission of AIDS (abstinence-only) that we have a problem. Your personal beliefs are now jeopardizing my children and grandchildren. If you don't cash in the bet that you are making, you probably won't be around anyway. But your children and mine will be. And what kind of world will we be leaving them?

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -- Stephen Roberts

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tipping Points

There's a great article in the latest Mother Jones on the different factors that color our planet's ability to respond to global warming. It's a long article and I won't include it here but there were some snippets that I found particularly interesting. The first is on how our station in life affects our views on global warming:

" ... found that Americans fall into "interpretive communities"—cliques, if you will, sharing similar demographics, risk perceptions, and worldviews. On one end of this spectrum are the naysayers: those who perceive climate change as a very low or nonexistent danger. Leiserowitz found naysayers to be "predominantly white, male, Republican, politically conservative, holding pro-individualism, pro-hierarchism, and anti-egalitarian worldviews, anti-environmental attitudes, distrustful of most institutions, highly religious, and to rely on radio as their main source of news." This group presented five rationales for rejecting danger: belief that global warming is natural; belief that it's media/environmentalist hype; distrust of science; flat denial; and conspiracy theories, including the belief that researchers create data to ensure job security." -- 2005 study by Anthony Leiserowitz, published in Risk Analysis

And the second on the need and the ability of our country to take action in the face of a threat:
"We also changed with breathtaking speed in 1941 when we recalibrated the entire economy of the United States in one short year to fight global enemies in Germany and Japan. The effort was promoted by the government but carried forward by individual citizens. Obviously, our powers of transformation are magnified by visionary leaders. Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March in 1930 ignited Indians of diverse religions, languages, and ethnicities to unite in the common cause of independence. Gandhi, in turn, inspired Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Biko, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who catalyzed their followers to change the world as well.

Leaders can rouse us against them, too. Whether or not Marie Antoinette actually said, "Let them eat cake," she inspired change that reverberated far beyond Europe. Likewise, when George W. Bush says we can't act on global warming until we "fully understand the nature of the problem," we can use his callous disregard as a rallying cry.

The truth is, we can change, and change fast, even in the absence of perfect knowledge. Like cockroaches, our hallmark is adaptability. Long ago, we looked out from the trees and saw the savannas. Beyond the savannas we glimpsed other frontiers. History proves that when we behold a better world, we move toward it, leaving behind what no longer works."

That's a recurring point with global warming naysayers ... waiting for "perfect knowledge". Or at least that is the reason they give. If they actually cared about having all the facts before taking action, they would have never invaded Iraq on a false premise. But in the case of global warming (and Iraq), they don't care what knowledge they have at hand. They will twist whatever data or testimony they have (from questionable sources) and use it to promote the policy that they have already decided on for other reasons. After all, we know who/what is really in control here -- (big) oil. If you needed any proof, Exxon Mobil is being allowed to influence what is considered science in our classrooms. They actually have the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) so scared that the organization is turning down a donation of 50,000 DVD's of An Inconvenient Truth:

Science a la Joe Camel

I'm sure I've overused Stephen Colbert's quote but it's so fitting -- "Reality has a well-known liberal bias". Conservatives will paint science as "left-wing" if it doesn't fit in with their worldview. That's a dangerous thing when it affects how our children are taught.

Sadly, it looks like it will take the courts to force any kind of action by a "see-no-evil" administration:

High court to hear global warming case

White House Sued for Not Doing Report on Warming

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Work and Politics

I just about had a "Dixie Chick" moment the other day when I was at one of my long time clients. You know ... one of those moments where you say something that you believe but that may hurt you in the pocketbook later on.

While at clients, I really try to avoid political discussions or even talking about subjects that divert sideways into politics. It's not because I'm not passionate about politics or that I feel people shouldn't give their views. It's because I believe the exact opposite. I am afraid if somebody asks me point blank about some issue, I will not be able to stop myself from offering an opinion. And because of where I live, there is a high probability that my client is a conservative. While I don't care if they have a differing viewpoint (everbody's money spends the same), I can't rely on them being as understanding.

Anyway, we were talking about a seemingly innocuous subject, high-definition televison. He had mentioned that our local NBC affiliate, Channel 12, had recently started broadcasting in HD. I said that was cool but I hadn't had a chance to check them out because I rarely watching network television. Like a true Republican, he immediately took this to mean that I didn't watch it because network news has a "liberal bias". It's funny how most conservatives automatically believe everyone believes the way that they do. They are genuinely surprised when someone has the audacity to disagree with them. While I don't necessarily feel that network news has a "conservative bias", I do feel that by not asking the probing questions, they have have inadvertantly become mouthpieces for the administration. That is why I don't watch, but I kept that to myself because I didn't want to start anything. So, he takes my silence as agreement and gets confident he has a captive audience. He then says that the only unbiased news you can get is on FOX News. After audibly choking, I had to compose myself. Under my breath, I said something about FOX News being the MOST biased news source and quickly tried to change the subject. At that point, he understood he didn't have a disciple and he was anxious to change the subject also. I have known him and his wife for a long time (she was the realtor that handled a couple of our home sales) and we have a pretty good relationship. Neither of us wanted to mess it up with a silly political disagreement. But I can't assume that other newer clients of mine would look at it that way. So, I try to be careful.

I'm not going to "dance" for anyone. I've left jobs for what I believed in. But by the same token, I'm not going to purposely try to sabotage myself and piss off a client for a throw-away political point.

On the subject of FOX News, this was not the first time that a watcher of that channel has said something that indicated they believed it to be the most reliable source. Hello, people, here's a red sign: if a station has to tell you that it is "fair and balanced", it probably isn't. I'm not sure which is worse, FOX for saying it or the vast legion of automatons for believing it. If you need any more evidence of FOX's bias and eithical sliminess, look no further than these recent events:

"Fox memo is 'smoking gun' proof of bias against Dems"

Murdoch scraps OJ Simpson 'confession' show

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Glendale Glitters

Hijinks with the family at Glendale Glitters (no relation to Gary Glitter).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dixie Chicks concert -- 11-19-06

Often you go to a concert and come home wanting. Either they didn't play your favorite song or they didn't play long enough. Neither could be said about the Dixie Chicks concert Sunday night. This was in stark contrast to the Prince concert we went to a few years ago in the same venue. Despite being what most people would call one of the most prolific songwriters of all time, he only played for 90 minutes. The Dixie Chicks, with only 4 albums to their credit played over 2 hours. Most of the songs on the new album were played.

Looking at the crowd, it would not strike you as being a country crowd. I've been to country shows and these didn't look like your typical attendees. Obviously the band's appeal has crossed over into the mainstream both because of their music and their politics. But to sell the crowd short as being just a pop music crowd would be wrong too. Playing some of their early bluegrass and country tinged songs, like Long Time Gone, White Trash Wedding and Wide Open Spaces, the enthusiasm of the crowd was just as great.

I went into this show much like I believe the band did ... not knowing the reaction of the fans or how enthusiastic they would be. And I think they were pleasantly surprised by that reaction. If the several minute long raucous standing ovation after Not Ready to Make Nice was any indication, these fans came to support the Dixie Chicks. It wasn't just about the music, which was great, it was about what they believe in and what they have went through. The Dixie Chicks merely said what a lot of us had been thinking. By giving voice to this, they gave each of us a little courage that we could do the same. You would have had to have lived in a hole the last few years to not know the story of the Dixie Chicks. Whether you know the saga or not, check out their outstanding documentary, Shut Up and Sing, which we watched earlier in the day. From Peter Travers review in Rolling Stone Magazine:

Life in Bush America gets a blunt, honest telling in this documentary that makes you want to stand up and cheer without ever begging for tears or glib sympathy. Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the chart-topping Dixie Chicks, set off a shit storm at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 when she told a London audience, "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Maines joined Martie Maguire and Emily Robison -- the two sisters who founded the Texas band -- in a media attempt to straighten up without flying right. But a concerted right-wing effort to kill their radio play and concert appearances, especially in the South, had success. Barbara Kopple, who directed this movie firecracker with Cecilia Peck, has been chronicling threats to democracy since Harlan County, U.S.A. in 1977. And she gives due respect to Topic A: free speech. For three years, the camera focuses on the Chicks as wives, mothers, entertainers and political flash points. Their fight to stay uncompromised is inspiring. When Bush himself claims the Chicks have no right to complain about "hurt feelings," Maines lets out a terse "dumb fuck." Amen to that, sister.

In a matter of 90 minutes you can be both ashamed (of the lame redneck response to the Chicks' statement) and extremely proud to be an American because of the strength the band had to stick to their guns in the face of unbelievable controversy. The movie helped to give some context for a lot of the songs on the new album.

Ironically, a couple sitting in front of us at the show were there because their son gave them tickets, courtesy of the Dixie Chicks. Their son is Craig Hymson. He was a producer of Shut Up and Sing and also worked on Bowling for Columbine. They were a really nice couple and I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Why am I not that guy?". How cool is his job?! Instead of working on films and working for causes you believe in, I stick my head inside computers every day. Lame.

Forgive me for being a name-dropper, but the band Jimmy Eat World sat next to us. They're from the valley but have had some national exposure and recently toured with Green Day. Evidently the section we were in was mostly spots held for the Dixie Chicks themselves and VIP's.

The opening act was Bob Schneider, a blues rock artist. He was very good and incorporated a lot of influences including, jazz and reggae.

I could not have had a better time at a concert. This concert had been postponed from it's earlier Sept. 3 scheduled date. Having to wait that long and the building up of the show in my head over that time could have set me up for a huge disappointment. But the Dixie Chicks delivered on every level. They played great (yeah, a country band that actually plays and writes ... rare these days in Nashville), sounded great and were friendly and gracious.

Here are some pics and a review of the concert by our local paper.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Top 10 Albums

I have a little post-election political hangover. It's going to keep me from putting up any political posts for a good long time ... maybe 24 hours or so (grin). It's not a full-blown 6-tequila-shot-hangover. Perhaps a 6-beer-on-an-empty-stomach-hangover.

Anyway, to completely change the tone for a bit, I'm going to post my top 10 favorite albums of all time (OK ... 11. I couldn't cut it down any further) and I expect you guys to, at the least, skewer or complement my list. Ideally, you would also post your own either here or on your own blogs. No "Best Of's" allowed ... except maybe Legend by Bob Marley.

I'm going to do this in descending order so that I can force you to read them all or to be a ninny and skip to the last (for those people that read the last page of the book first).

11. Disintegration -- The Cure
In a word, it's the "atmosphere" of this album. While a lot of the lyrics are upbeat, the feel of the album is very consistently dark. The signature Cure guitar sound permeates it. Highlights for me are Pictures of You and Lovesong.

10. Taking the Long Way -- Dixie Chicks
This is a recent addition to my list. I've always been a fan of the Dixie Chicks for their music. I think Natalie Maines has one of the best voices in country music (2nd only to Allison Krauss for me). But with this album, they took it to the next level because of the political content. Writing or co-writing all the tracks on the album, these songs are teeming with the angst of the last few years. Obviously, Not Ready to Make Nice is a highlight but it is by no means the only one with biting content. Upbeat defiance would be the most apt description for most of these songs. We are going to see them in concert tonight and will also see Shut Up and Sing in the next few days. Reviews of both will be upcoming.

9. Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses -- Slipknot
This album is very evocative of another album higher on my list, Angel Dust by FNM. A 9 piece heavy metal band from my home state, Iowa, Slipknot had two previous albums that showed promise but that had major problems with tone and dynamics. They were basically one note albums that went at 100 mph from the get go. With this album, the band sat down with producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin (also the producer of the Dixie Chicks album on this list) and came out with a great album. Not confining themselves to the normal constraints of the genre, they allowed songs to be slower or longer when necessary. Other songs would show up early in the album and then have a reprise later. With this album, they escaped from the banner of being a gimmick masked band. My favorite songs are Before I Forget and The Nameless.

8. Jar of Flies -- Alice in Chains
Just an EP, this album was recorded in a week. It is the only EP to ever have been #1 on the Billboard Album charts. It is largely low-key and acoustic but it shows the strength of the band: Layne Staley's haunting vocals and the vocals and guitar work of Jerry Cantrell. I Stay Away is a highlight.

7. Angel Dust -- Faith No More
Faith No More were like chameleons during their career and this album is the perfect example of that with songs ranging from metal to funk to avant garde. Most people remember their big album (The Real Thing) but this album is much better, combining jazz, classical, rock in a crazy mix. Outstanding songs were A Small Victory and Midlife Crisis.

6. Rage Against the Machine -- Rage Against the Machine
The perfect synthesis of musical angst and political commentary. I don't believe any band has done a better job of combining the two. It ranges in subject matter from racism in law enforcement to Native Americans to government control of media. Even if you didn't agree with their politics, it would be hard to deny the power of the music. But with me, since I did agree with them, it was that much more profound. The best songs are Killing in the Name and Freedom.

5. Ten -- Pearl Jam
I believe that Pearl Jam was the best band to come out of Seattle in the early 90's and their first album is probably their best. Along with Nirvana's Nevermind, they effectively killed the late 80's hair metal revolution ... thank god. Because they refused to do videos and rarely did interviews after this album, many people assume they disappeared but they have been going strong ever since. Singer Eddie Vedder cited the fact that they didn't want to influence people's views of what each song meant and didn't want to project their own feelings on to the listener. The music was and always should be the focus. Black is my favorite track on this album. Vedder's lyrics are typically very poetic.

4. ... And Justice for All -- Metallica
This album jarred a shy nerdy high-school kid out of his fondness for new wave and pop music. An unblinking, dry and angry album, it opened a new world of music to me that would culminate in me eventually liking bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Godflesh. That wouldn't have happened without this first step. And Justice for All addresses subjects like war, the environment, freedom and suicide. My favorite track is Dyer's Eve.

3. Nothing's Shocking -- Jane's Addiction
Brilliant and absolutely original. Nothing before or since as sounded like Jane's Addiction. Combining funk, metal and an arthouse feel, this album has no filler. It is solid from top to bottom. Jane Says and Mountain Song are my favorite tracks.

2. So -- Peter Gabriel
A haunting beautiful album with production from U2 producer Daniel Lanois. We all remember In Your Eyes from Say Anything but this album is all great. Oddly, probably the biggest single, Sledgehammer, is my least favorite. The guest artists on the album were incredible and lent their help to two of the best songs, Kate Bush on Don't Give Up and Yossou N'Dour on In Your Eyes.

1. Synchronicity -- The Police
This has always consistently been my favorite album and the Police my favorite band. They (and this album) were the perfect mixture of reggae, punk, literature and philosophy. On what other pop album would have references to Carl Jung, Loch Ness and Greek mythology? Highlights for me were King of Pain and Synchronicity II.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Organic Foods/Wal-Mart

Yep, I was just about to begrudgingly give Wal-Mart credit for greatly increasing their organic foods offerings. Although they were ultimately doing it for profit reasons, it was an opportunity to expose the masses to the benefits of eating organic. But like the earlier instance where Wal-Mart seemingly did something positive environmentally by promising to protect wildlife habitat for every store they build, the promise and the result are two different things. Ultimately, with Wal-Mart, it is about consumer perception and not a sense of real civic duty. And questioning where things come from (China, huge factory organic farms) doesn't seem to be high on the list of Wal-Mart's traditional demographic.

Wal-Mart Charged with Selling Nonorganic Food as Organic; Group Asks USDA to Fully Investigate Organic Product Misrepresentation

Quit shopping at this place. It's like buying a beer for your alcoholic uncle. By frequenting this place, you are an enabler. You're telling the owners of Wal-Mart that it is OK to make a profit at any cost ... wages, insurance, environment, truth be damned.

Speaking of enablers, retard Bill O'Reilly is applauding Wal-Mart for reinstating "Merry Christmas" as a greeting. It's part of his annual "War on Christmas" rant. Either he doesn't realize or he is ignoring the fact that Wal-Mart isn't doing it as a nod to Christians or "traditional" Christmas culture. Like every other decision Wal-Mart makes, they were doing it for a financial reason. Let's get portrayed as the "Christian" store and see the profits roll in. Is it any surprise that Wal-Mart is the 3rd largest contributor to the Republican Party? Pretending to be pious and screwing everything else for financial motives are part and parcel for them.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Of God and Men

I saw Richard Dawkins on C-SPAN tonight. I'd never actually seen him on TV. He was very thought-provoking and his new book, The God Delusion, is a must on my Christmas list ... if you'll forgive the irony of that. lol

He brought up an interesting point: There aren't actually "Christian children" or for that matter, "Muslim children" or "Jewish children". These are "children with Christian parents" or Muslim parents and so on. A child that is 3 or 4 years old has not made a conscious and informed choice to be of whichever religion. He/she is merely following the wishes of the parents. To project on a child those terms is more a reflection of your wishes than theirs. That is not to say that they won't come to that choice later on in life. And I am not suggesting that people shouldn't raise their children in their religion. Just don't call them what they can't possibly be yet.


Speaking of religion -- and I will be speaking a lot on religion because of the probable diminished political fodder of a lame-duck presidency -- Campus Progress has a nice article on the historically progressive causes of evangelicals. Though written before the election, it anticipates the defection of some evangelicals during this election cycle because of those causes:
"Progressives have long represented many of the causes evangelicals care about most, including peacemaking, anti-poverty and anti-hunger work, and environmental stewardship. Many have come to think that evangelicals are only mobilized around social issues like abortion or opposition to gay marriage. But, in fact, the issues that inspire the Christian faithful to act have broadened as evangelicals partner with religious and secular progressives to strengthen today’s progressive movement."

Don't assume that a new Democratic majority will cozy up the Religious Right, but also don't assume that Democrats and progressives don't see the mutual good of addressing common causes. And not all liberals are godless like me. Sorry, Ann Coulter. Don't mean to disappoint you.

Friday, November 10, 2006


OK, I like the new uniforms. The purple and aqua ones had gotten a little old and didn't really fit in with the colors of the desert.

D-Backs new uniforms

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Working Together

How heartening ... seeing Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Christians working together for a common cause. Man, we should bottle that up and solve the world's religious problems. What noble cause could this be? Hunger? The environment? War? ---- uh, no. It is their shared bigotry and hatred of gays:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest Jerusalem gay march plan

It's good to know that religious fundamentalism is alive and well the world around. Right.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Observations

Both winners and losers tend to overanalyze the meaning of a victory or a loss. So, I'm not going to harp on it too much here. So, just some general observations:

There is yet hope for our democracy. As David Brock said this morning, voters saw above the "din of Republican misinformation" in this election cycle. Something that they did not do 2 years ago. They saw past it so much that they pretty much suspected political jockeying in everything that happened (whether it was true or not). For example, the Saddam verdict and gas prices falling in the last month or so.

Watching CNN's coverage of the elections, I observed that Bill Bennett is a blowhard apologist for another blowhard apologist, Rick Santorum. I just about puked when he talked about how much of a "great American" Rick Santorum was. Bill Bennett, that paragon of virtue, opined on how graciously Santorum ran his campaign. Bill Bennett, who tells us how to live a virtuous life while he loses millions in gambling. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, utterer of these gems the last few years:

"I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts."

"Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?"

"Thirty-two years after the legalization of abortion by the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, the majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life."

tries to tell the rest of the country what a "family" is and what women should do with their bodies. The rest of the country responded:
... strident image sinks Santorum

South Dakota Rejects Abortion Ban

Stem-cell research finds a home in Missouri

Anti-gay marriage measure loses in Arizona

While the shift in Congress and the Senate owes a lot to a rebuke of Bush and the Iraq war, a lot of these local races and measures says more about common Americans pushing back against the bigoted, narrow-minded agenda of the Religious Right. And perhaps even a push back by some evangelicals who have realized that the teaching of Christ don't promote war and lying and ignoring the disadvantaged. A lot of Christians saw a scary side of Bush in the aftermath of Katrina. A suprising amount of evangelicals supported Democratic candidates in this election.

Meanwhile, on MSNBC, for some reason, somebody chose to give Tom DeLay some airtime. When faced with the obviousnous of the Democratic win, DeLay commented that Republicans should purposely try to gridlock Congress. Quite the promoter of democracy that guy is. Someone needs to tell him that his 15 minutes are over.

Living in a conservative state, I'm frequently disappointed by my neighbors, but I was heartened that they gave us a few more Democratic congressmen, defeated the anti-gay measure, raised the minimum wage, and re-elected our great Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano.

We peered into the abyss and thankfully took pause and then stepped back. Now, let's get some stuff done -- raise the minimum wage nationally, fix health-care, have meaningful corruption reform, and get our troops home.

For some great commentary on the elections (and Rumsfeld), please check out:

GWB's So... Who are the BIGGEST winners and losers?

Laura's Bye-Bye Santorum!

Jewish Atheist's Whoo-hooo!!!

Isabella's Thank you America!

Shawn's I wonder

"I know nothing grander, better exercise, better digestion, more positive proof of the past, the triumphant result of faith in human kind, than a well-contested American national election" -- Walt Whitman

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

In honor of the day and of the elections coming up, V for Vendetta deserves a re-watching. In this great movie, the protagonist V, who fancies himself a modern-day Guy Fawkes, gives some insight into our modern state of politics ... and blows shit up.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Arizona State Fair

Some of the hilarity and absurdity that can only happen during our annual visit to the Arizona State Fair. All rednecks rejoice.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


"Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people." -- Oscar Wilde

Nothing is as representative of democracy as voting is (or so we hope). But we're not actually a democracy ... we're a representitive democracy. After all, we're not all voting on every bill that is proposed in Congress.

People realize this and as a result they are excited by the concept of propositions, or referendums. It's their little chance to have a say in the law-making process. That's what they would have you believe anyway. Direct democracy at work. I have my doubts, though.

Like every other aspect of government and society, it's being subverted by big business and others that would have you believe they are for "common sense" and the will of the people. We have several examples of this here in Arizona. The first of which is the antismoking proposition 206. All of the ads for the proposition say it's trying to protect small business owners. Even it's name is Orwellian -- the Non-Smoker Protection Act. But as Deep Throat advised, "follow the money". If you want to find the truest indication of what is at stake here, see who is bankrolling this proposition. $8.48 million of the $8.5 million raised to tout this proposition comes from RJ Reynolds. The better alternative is the true smoking ban, Proposition 201. I can respect if you don't believe smoking should be banned, but don't try to sell me one thing when your only real interest is in money. And I'm sick and tired of the term "grassroots". It's a bullshit term that doesn't mean anything. And lump in "independent" and "underground" too. If any idea was truly any of those terms, we wouldn't be seeing it plastered on MTV and network TV or in a commercial.

The 2nd proposition that I want to highlight is Prop 107, or as I like to call it, the "We're Straight and Insecure Act". Officially:

What it would do:

• Define marriage in the state Constitution as a union of one man and one woman.

• Block any alternative for same-sex couples, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions.

• Bar governments from offering benefits, such as health insurance, to employees' domestic partners, gay or straight.

Again, following the money, one sees that one of the main players (and legal defense) in support of this proposition is the Alliance Defense Fund, a group founded by Focus on the Family's James Dobson. 'Nuff said.

This is a great spoof site for the proposition: Proposition 107. It shows how truly out of touch people that are for this are.

These couple of propositions are only a few of the 18 on our ballot. I'm all for "power to the people", but this is ridiculous. People are intimidated by the sheer number of them. If it takes an hour to vote, is that good? And are the people really being represented?

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." -- Winston Churchill

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Scary Congress

Monday, October 23, 2006


After former NFL player Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan, the Republicans used his sacrifice as a political tool, perverting the circumstances of his death for their own gain. They were in awe of his sense of patriotism for giving up a promising professional career to go and fight for his country. But for them, patriotism is a punch line, a means to an end. It means nothing. The people that die mean nothing. Only what things you can get from it mean anything to them. But Pat and his brother Kevin WERE patriots ... just not in the way that the Right would have you think. The Tillman's were willing to die for the ideal of this country. They were willing to die for the things that this country actually stood for. Things that this government has forgotten. Let's remind them on Nov. 7:

After Pat’s Birthday
Kevin Tillman Honors Late Brother's Birthday with Plea to Speak up for Democracy

by Kevin Tillman

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we get out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin was discharged in 2005.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Public Schools

"The highest result of education is tolerance." -- Helen Keller

Choosing a school for your kids is scary. Everything is life and death with parents. You feel like any wrong decision you make now in their upbringing will stunt their growth for life. While it's important to be cognizant of how we are raising our kids, at some point we have to realize that some of our decisions are actually making them less ready for the world.

The following block quotes are from a very good article by Ruth Conniff in the Progressive: Back to (Public) School
The article is useful because as a parent she went through a lot of the same decision making that all parents go through when choosing a school (or a type of school):

"...I'm proud of the parents who are keeping their kids in our community school, and who have decided that the best way to help their kids get a great education is to work to support the staff and help make the school as good as it can be.

All parents worry about sending their kids out into the world ... I don't blame the parents who are fretting enough to wonder whether they should pony up for private education if they can afford to.

...much of parents' nervous gossip about schools conveys less about the quality of the schools themselves than it does about the values of the parents. And while most people assume that private schools are generally of higher quality than public schools, a recent study shows better scores, controlling for economic background, among public school students.

One of the things that the author looked at (and that we did also) was diversity:

"...They were a diverse bunch, and there was something great about going to meets and seeing them all together--boys and girls, white, African-American, Asian and Latino--cheering for each other, fooling around, and generally getting along. It struck me then that some of the ugly cliquishness we read so much about lately--"queen bee" girls, the obsession with money and designer labels, and all the other poisonous elements of the culture I'd like to shield my own kids from--were much less in evidence at my old school than at some elite, private institutions. Part of the reason was that there were so many different kinds of people, from so many different backgrounds, no one really had a chance to establish a monopoly on popularity or status.

That democratic spirit is one reason I fell excited about my daughter starting public school. Besides learning reading and math and all the rest of those important accomplishments, I want her to develop into a happy, healthy, kind person with good values. Going to public school can nurture that."

Good values ... that's pretty much what all parents want their kids to get. But what are "values"? For too many, "values" equates to religious morals. And from one religion to another, they vary widely.

In looking for schools, we get conflicting messages on what to look for. Some say to treat shopping for schools like you would shopping for cars ... test driving certain ones (and even certain teachers): School debate: public vs. private
But the author of our article suggests the opposite:

"...To make it work, parents have to have less of a consumer mentality and more of a cooperative, civic-minded focus. It strikes me that the consumer mentality some of us develop when our kids are in preschool leads directly to a kind of victim mentality. We set out to try to get our kids the best education we can afford. From vouchers to Catholic schools to tony private institutions, more and more places give more and more parents the ability to exercise their consumer power. There's even a theory among conservatives that this sort of behavior will make the public schools better: that they will be forced to improve as more parents vote with their feet."

Ah, school vouchers. Proponents would say that competition in all things is beneficial. I'm sure that some that advocate these have noble intentions but I believe that implementation of school vouchers is wrong on so many levels. First of all, it would open the floodgates for using public tax dollars for religious-based education. The problems with that are obvious ... at least for those that believe in the Constitution. And even religious people should be against it because it would increase the government's ability to dictate how they teach. Secondly, it is reliant on the mistaken belief that private schools are providing a higher quality education, which there is no proof of (even the Bush administration admits this - Public/Private)

In general, I'm not really sure who is advocating school vouchers. They really don't make sense. Libertarians that would support the "free-market" aspect of them would have to be against the public-funding of education, particularly religious-based education. And religious people that would enjoy being able to afford to put their children in schools that taught according to their "morals" would have to be against the government intrusion into that education.

Or, there's home schooling, where the motivation is all too often for religious reasons. They equate religion with morality. How is this preparing your children for the real world? It seems to be more about preparing your children for a cloistered life than for giving them the tools to be tolerant of other religions. I think this comes down to the "it takes a village" vs. "it takes a family" argument. I'm on the "it takes a village" side.

I don't want to give the impression that the only reason people would home-school is for religious reasons. There are certainly many valid reasons for choosing home-schooling. But I believe that the push in the last twenty years in home-schooling has been a religious push.

We chose a charter school for Alex. These are basically public schools and are funded by tax dollars but they have to be first be approved by the state for their curriculum and they must go through the normal testing. The advantages of them are that they can have smaller class sizes and are freed from some of the rules of a normal public school. Do I think we're doing the right thing by sending him to a charter school? I don't know. Do I think it's the right thing to do for society in general? Again, I don't know. Parenting is a trial-and-error thing. So far, we are very pleased with the school, Alex is learning a lot and he enjoys the school. Is there the potential that taking these tax dollars out of normal public schools may harm them? Potentially, yes. And charter schools that are not properly monitered and made to meet state standards have the potential of hurting students in the long run. But this is true of any schools. One thing that I have noticed at about Alex's school is the high level of parental involvement and genuine desire by the faculty and staff to forge good relationships with the parents. I'm sure that's not true of all schools (of any type), but it's certainly a goal to strive for.

The author closed with:

"... I am most impressed by the parents I know who are acting on the idea that we must invest in the community where we live, and work to make it good for all of us. At some point you have to stop shopping around and make the best of things where you are. At least, that's the idea I'd like my kids to grow up with.

Maybe that's the best advice. Take into account both what is good for your child and what's good for your neighborhood. More involvement in the place where you live ... whether it means interaction with neighbors, schools, volunteering, patronage of businesses that keep their money in your community ... seems to be a wise way forward.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." -- Nelson Mandela

Hiking Pics at T-bird Park

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Departed

I'm not going to write too much with this review as all of you have seen the movie before me and provided great comments that I agree with.

But suffice to say, The Departed will be in my year end Top 10 list. This is a movie about cops, gangsters, allegiance, deception and how everything is not as it seems.

As Laura said, it ranks up there with the best Scorcese movies of all time, including ... it may be heresy to say so ... Goodfellas. Where I think it exceeds Goodfellas is in it's darkly comic tone. It's no less violent than that movie but I think it's dialogue is sharper and wittier. Some movies use violence and foul language arbitrarily but, in this movie, they are both so integral to establishing the environment of these characters.

The performances are universally outstanding, especially DiCaprio. Particularly notable in the humor of their roles were Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. I just about lost it every time these two opened their mouths.

One feels guilty for enjoying and laughing at scenes of such rawness but I think the mind can understand the difference between what is real and what is escapism. It's enjoyable because we are maybe just a little bit envious of those people that don't have to or choose not to live by the rules that we all live by. A primal way of living that is perhaps animalistic and instinctual.

But in any event, I don't want to overthink it. It's just good clean fun. Grade: A+

Your guys' takes on the movie:

Sadie (with help from Laura, JA, Reel Fanatic)

Vancouver Calling

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cartoon of the Day

And so it begins (or continues):

Bush Signs Tough Rules on Detainees -- We're supposed to just trust that Bush won't abuse his powers. Right.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ignorant or evil?

"Prejudice is the child of ignorance." -- William Hazlitt

I always like to say that I believe that people are inherently good. They may be uninformed or ignorant, but in their hearts, all people want the same things and care about others. After the last few days, I wonder if I'm wrong. Two separate instances at clients of mine have made me doubt my belief.

The first was a few days ago. My client, who lives in Sun City West, was complaining about a crew of people that had came out to work on his tile. They had arrived later than they were scheduled for and he was complaining about it. He automatically assumed they were illegal Mexicans. They may or may not have been. But that's not the point. He was equating tardiness with laziness and in turn with illegals.

He said that he was going to go out with a baseball bat and take care of all of them. He could just throw them in the garbage bin and no one would care because the were just "illegal Mexicans". He wasn't going to really do it but that's how weak-minded braggarts roll. They will complain about everything and will never take the time to actually get at the root of issues. Why don't you attack companies that would hire illegals?

The second instance just occurred today. I overheard a few workers talking at a plastics plant that I do work for. A lady was complaining that her ex-husband was going to visit a mission in Mexico with their kids. They were taking some toys to this mission, who in turn gave them to orphans in the area. It's obviously a very unselfish and humanitarian thing to do. They only thing that she could say was that if you want to see Mexican orphans, just go down to the local soup kitchen.

In the same conversation, a 2nd worker was complaining about how the show Amazing Race spends too much time in Third World countries. He commented, "Nobody wants to see that kind of filth and poverty." You pathetic, fucking clueless idiot. Welcome to the real world. Life isn't just your little protected middle-class existence. Just because he don't hear about pain, sickness and poverty doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. When are people going to learn that it is not how we treat those in the same financial position as us but rather how we treat those that are not as lucky as us. What a novel concept. "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land." -- Wow ... let me see, who said that ... that's right, JESUS!! Some people who claim to be Christians have seemingly forgotten that.

You complain about Third World countries ... why don't you take a look at the one right next to us. Nowhere else in the world does a first world country share a border with a third world one. You want to know the reason why people cross the border? There is your reason. If you want to stop people from crossing the border, get rid of the incentive for doing so. Do things that will help to bring up the economy of Mexico. And penalize those companies that hire illegals.

Now, the immigration issue is a non-partisan issue that intelligent people can justifiably disagree about. But the xenophobia that I see exhibited by far too many people is indicative of a far bigger problem. Little people with little minds always want to blame others for their failures in life. Whether it be blacks, Mexicans, poor people, etc., it's always someone else's fault. It high time that you people look in the mirror and figure out what's wrong with you instead of trying to blame the ills of the world on others. You people make me sick.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." -- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bush Day ... er, I mean Columbus Day

Is the Current Occupant the Columbus of Our Time?
by Garrison Keillor

October 12th, the traditional Columbus Day, is a day to reflect on the nature of celebrity. Columbus was a pirate and tyrant who sailed off and bumped into the Bahamas, had no idea where he was, and to his dying day believed he had reached the Indies. By the time he arrived in the New World, America was old news to the Vikings. They already had that T-shirt.

Five hundred years before, the Vikings had been sailing the Atlantic with confidence, making new friends and influencing people. Thorvald Asvaldsson sailed to Iceland in the 10th century with his son Erik the Red. After they'd been banished from Norway for manslaughter — if you've ever been in an argument with Norwegians, you probably considered manslaughter, too — and from Iceland, Erik explored the icebound continent to the west, which he named Greenland, for promotional purposes.

In 986, Bjarni Herjulfsson and his men sailed along the coast of New England. Around the same time, Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, sailed over and may have landed on the island of Manhattan. Did he come ashore and try to buy it for $23 worth of junk jewelry? No. And do we celebrate Bjarni Herjulfsson Day? No, we do not. The Vikings weren't into self-promotion, and Reykjavik was not a world media center at the time.

The Vikings were not out to lord it over the Indians or bring democracy here or teach folks about Nordic gods. They were free spirits, sailors, explorers, so they left some carved stones here and there, relished the exhilaration of the voyage and the sight of new lands, and went home and composed sagas for the amusement of their friends and families. That arrogant fool Columbus, who demanded 10 percent of all the gold the Spanish stole in the New World, got the holiday, a town in Ohio and another in Georgia, a major river in the Northwest, a university in New York. But who cares? Scandinavians don't.

Their history after Leif and Eric and Bjarni has been tangled, of course. The Norwegians suffered under the Danes and then the Swedes. The Danes suffered under the delusion that they were French. The Swedes suffered under Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman, neither of whom was the life of the party. All of them suffered from the long gray winters with twilight at noon.

But Lutheranism urged them toward kindness, industriousness and self-effacement, and this is not a bad strategy for contentment.

Look around today and you will find the Viking descendants, a calm and stoical and somewhat formal people, by and large, not given to extremes of fashion or chanting "We're Number One" or writing memoirs that hang out the family underwear. Walter Mondale is pretty much the prototype. He lost the presidency by one of the biggest landslides in history to an aging actor whose grip on reality, never firm to begin with, was becoming hallucinatory. Mr. Reagan was sort of the Columbus of our time, a better PR man than sailor, but so be it.

Mr. Mondale is a buoyant man with a sense of humor who enjoys his life in Minnesota, where people are happy to see him, and when you do, you see that losing is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man.

What's worse is the likely fate of the Current Occupant, who is contending with Pierce, Buchanan and Warren G. Harding for the title of All-Time Worst President. He's got a good shot at the title if only because he's had so much more to be worst with. (Any young persons who have been inspired by Mr. Bush to take up public service should be watched very closely.)

I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don't want or need. Also, by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people.

A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.

" ... A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty" -- indeed. Instead of the daily honoring of cowboy bravado, intellectual dwarfism and hubris that we get from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, Mr. Keillor is much wittier and much smarter than I in saying that.

The Columbus comparison is particulary apt in that there are many that still honor Columbus for a discovery that was dubious, unoriginal and harmful. Kinda like Bush and the "War on Terror". The honoring of Columbus (and Bush by his followers) have less to do with great acts than they do with cognitive dissonance. People want to believe that Columbus was good and virtuous and that his "discovery" led to the formation of our great country. People want to believe that Bush is protecting us from the "evil-doers" and that our intentions are noble. So, in both cases, when facts contradict the dream, people are forced to deny or misinterpret the new data. But that's disingenuous. Be honest to yourselves. Don't honor Columbus ... and don't honor Bush.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Human Race is Living Beyond Its Means

"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so." -- Theodore Roosevelt, Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1907

Published on Monday, October 9, 2006 by the Independent / UK
The Human Race is Living Beyond Its Means
by Andrew Simms

In a market economy, the only constraints on what we consume are what we may legally buy and what we can afford.
The result is, as the great environmental economist Herman Daly warned, that we end up treating the planet as if it were a business in liquidation. If you were managing a business, you would be considered grossly negligent if you had no idea of your assets or cash flow. Yet this is how we manage our environmental resources.

When we deplete oil in the North Sea and push fish stocks to the edge of collapse, it is treated as free income to the economy. It is shockingly easy for politicians, economists and planners to forget that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. And, on our island planet, that Earth itself is subject to fuzzy but very real limits.

One of the defining features of life in the UK, the world's fourth-largest economy, is the sheer scale of our material consumption, and the ease with which we ignore the burden that it exports around the globe.

Our high-consuming lifestyle is only possible because the rest of the world supports us with large supplies of their own natural resources.

No individual country has to be self-reliant. We trade what we can't produce locally, and positively enjoy exotic goods that come from all around the globe.

The world as a whole is living beyond its ecosystems' capacity to regenerate, and, looked at in terms of a calendar year, starts living beyond its environmental means on 9 October. Looking back, if the whole world had wanted to share UK lifestyles in 1961, the Earth would just have managed with its available resources - one planet would have been enough. Today we would need 3.1 planets to support them. To live within our overall environmental budget, the UK will have to reduce the burden its lifestyles create; such as the massive growth of leisure flights and subsequent CO2 emissions.

And while our consumption grows, with everything from 4x4s to energy hungry wide-screen TVs, all the academic research shows that consuming more will not make us happier. The same research shows that getting-off the consumption treadmill, finding more time for friends and family, reflection and creative pastimes, can.

Mainstream economics says that nothing must get in the way of economic growth and competitiveness. But in doing so we are inadvertently waging war on the environment, forgetting that, if we win, we will find ourselves on the losing side.

Andrew Simms is policy director at the New Economics Foundation

This article may be about the UK, but it obviously can be used to describe the U.S. Why is it that those that push the free market as being perfect don't recognize how closely it is tied with our environment? How is it good business to be making withdrawels from a bank in which you've never made any deposits? You don't get something for nothing. We'll all be paying for the hubris of the last 100 years. Come on people. Learn the lessons of our past.

"Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." -- Theodore Roosevelt, A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open, 1916

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Travel Update

Blogging on the road, check it out:

Going back to Cali ...

Day 2

And finally ... Day 3 (final day) .... crap!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I'm not meaning to continue the sullen trend of Laura and Sadie, but there seems to be something in the air. Perhaps as some kind of cosmic punishment for my family having a good time this last weekend, fate came down hard today.

My little guy Alex got two of his front teeth knocked out in an accident on the playground this morning. So, he and I spent all afternoon at the dentist. They are baby teeth and it doesn't look like the adult teeth beneath them got damaged. But, it just about killed me to see the sad little guy with guaze in his mouth and sad eyes when I showed up at school. He was quite the little trooper despite the fact that it took me an hour to get there. I was at a client in Fountain Hills when they called ... which is about as far away from his school as I could have been and still been in the Valley.

On top of that, they had to give him a shot in his mouth so that they could extract the teeth. I swear I would have switched places with him then and there if I could have. I can take any kind of pain or punishment that you heap on me, but I cannot stand to see my son in any kind of pain. The amount of bravery and guts in this little 5 year old exceeds anything that I have ever had. When I was holding his hand as they were working on him, I couldn't help but be transported back to when he was in the hospital after he was born early, with IV's in his head and strapped to a zillion machines. Sometimes it's hell being a parent.

(If you are gutsy, you can see a pre-extraction pic of Alex here. You've been warned.)