Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bernie and the Brewers

A Sorry Sight

It's not quite watching Willie Mays play for the Mets, which I'm told was just dreadful, but watching the devolution of Bernie Williams as a ballplayer is pretty sad. Bernie, once a gold-glove outfielder, now looks lost in centerfield (when he actually gets to play out there). His play is so bad the Yanks are experimenting with Tony Womack in center. His hitting has also been paltry. He hit as well as .333 as recently as 2002, but is now stuck at .243. Once a fixture in the middle of the Yankees' lineup, he is now relegated mostly to pinch hit duties for the ninth-place hitter.

This isn't especially newsworthy; watching a once great player's skills erode is one of the poignant countermelodies to sports' celebration of youth. Yet, watching Bernie struggle seemed to me symbolic of the death of the great Yankees teams from the late 90's. Bernie was part of the home-grown heart of that club, and did as much as Derek Jeter to produce for it in the postseason. Those teams had their share of free agents, but at the heart of it was a chemistry and professionalism that seems utterly absent from the current team. There was the fire of Paul O'Neill, the charisma of Jeter, the mystique of Mo Rivera, and the class of Williams. Williams wasn't Joe DiMaggio, but he did carry himself with Joe D's dignity and was as responsible as anyone in winning four rings in five years. He's probably not a hall of famer, but he was a great player on some great teams and deserves to go out better than this.

Serving notice

If the Milwaukee Brewers are ever, ever going to be good, it will happen in the next several years. This is because perhaps the two premiere hitting prospects in the game have joined the Brewers and are ready to begin their assault on NL pitchers. Ricky Weeks and Prince Fielder both provided a taste of what's to come this Sunday in an interleague showdown with the Twins this Saturday. Weeks, a second base prospect stepped in against Johan Santana waggling his bat like Gary Sheffield (who also began his career as a middle infielder with the Brewers), and proceeded to deposit a pitch from baseball's best pitcher in the leftfield seats at Miller Park. Later in the same game, Fielder, who's built like daddy Cecil but swings from the left side, hit a three run homer the opposite way off lefty reliever Jesse Crain.

These kids look like the real deal at the plate, and could form a Yount/Molitor-like foundation for the Beermen to build around. With Carlos Lee already swinging a hot stick and Ben Sheets anchoring the rotation, there's reason for hope in Milwaukee; strange as that seems.

All Stars

Here's my feeble attempt at an All Star roster for each league, including one from each team. You get a 32 man roster on both sides, apparently, so here goes:

NL

C Paul LoDuca, Fla; Mike Piazza, NYM
1B Derrek Lee, ChC; Albert Pujols, StL; Nick Johnson, Wash
2B Jeff Kent, LA; Chase Utley, Phi
3B Morgan Ensberg, Hou; Aramis Ramirez, ChC
SS Felipe Lopez, Cin; Bill Hall, Mil
OF Andruw Jones, Atl; Miguel Cabrera, Fla; Preston Wilson, Col
OF Bobby Abreu, Phi; Jim Edmonds, StL; Moises Alou, SF
OF Carlos Lee, Mil; Jason Bay, Pit
P Dontrelle Willis, Fla; Roger Clemens, Hou; Pedro Martinez, NYM; Roy Oswalt, Hou; Livan Hernandez, Wash; Chad Cordero, Wash; Jason Isringhausen, StL; Billy Wagner, Phi; Brandon Webb, Ari; Jake Peavey, SD; Adam Eaton, SD; Cris Carpenter, StL; John Smoltz, StL

Close call between Matt Morris and Smoltz; gave it to Smoltz on ERA and wins. Usually more closers get picked, but there aren't that many great ones this year. I don't see how managers do this when they're saddled with the ridiculous people fans vote on. I'd start Albie at DH. Cliff Floyd and Pat Burrell were hard to leave off, but I had to take a Rockie and Giant.

AL

DH David Ortiz, Bos; Travis Hafner, Cle
C Jason Varitek, Bos; Brandon Inge, Det
1B Mark Teixeira, Tex; Paul Konerko, CWS; Mike Sweeney, KC
2B Brian Roberts, Bal; Alfonso Soriano, Tex; Jorge Cantu, TB
3B Alex Rodriquez, NYY; Melvin Mora, Bal; Eric Chavez, Oak
SS Miguel Tejada, Bal; Michael Young, Tex
OF Vladimir Guerrero, LAA; Gary Sheffield, NYY
OF Manny Ramirez, Bos; Torii Hunter, Min
OF Johnny Damon, Bos; Jermaine Dye, CWS
P Roy Halladay, Tor; Mark Buehrle, CWS; Kenny Rogers, Tex; Jon Garland, CWS; Bartolo Colon, Ana; Eddie Guardado, Sea; Bob Wickman, Cle; Joe Nathan, Min; Matt Clement, Bos; Johan Santana, Min; Dustin Hermanson, CWS

One benefit of playing in KC is that Mike Sweeney's virtually assured an All-Star spot every year. Biggest name missing? Ichiro! Just having an off year. Probably too many Rangers; Arlington inflates stats nearly as bad as Coors Field. Still, Teixeira, Young and Soriano are all excellent players, and I left off Dellucci and Mench. Lots of Sox of both colors.

NBA Draft

I didn't pay a whole lot of attention, but a couple of things stood out to me. Ike Diogu at #9 is puzzling. He's a solid power forward, but I think Sean May is clearly a better prospect and May went at 13. I didn't see him in the first round on anyone's draft board. I don't understand the Rockets picking Luther Head at all. They have so many 2-guards they had to shift McGrady to the 3, so naturally they pick another shooting guard. Also, they could badly use a physical power forward, and Wayne Simien and Jason Maxiell were still on the board. I just don't get it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Punt and Let the Defense Hold

I was having trouble thinking of something to write about this week, but along came the Supreme Court and all my problems were solved.

The court handed down two decisions yesterday regarding public display of the 10 Commandments. So, what did they decide; are religious displays on state property constitutional or not? The Supremes' answer: eh, maybe.

The court does this kind of thing every once in a while. They'll take multiple cases on the same issue, then decide them like Solomon: half one way, half the other. Usually, they do it on issues that are politically or culturally hot. It's a way of kicking the ball down the field and hoping it doesn't come back at them anytime soon. They know their decision(s) will leave the lower courts, not to mention people who have to try to conform their behavior to the law, in the lurch. They know it will probably result in more lawsuits on the subject, rather than less. But they just can't face up to the issue being contested.

It seems to me a better approach would be simply not to take the cases at all. Find a reason not to grant certiorari. There are lots of them available. I really don't know what it accomplishes to take multiple cases on an issue, then decide them half-and-half.

The court did, of course, find ways of distinguishing these two 10 Commandments cases. One was outside and one was inside. One was old and one was new. One was put up explicitly for the purpose of proselytizing, one was not. The first two distinctions are silly. The last one has some substance, but I remain unconvinced of its sufficiency as a basis for decision. (Admittedly, I haven't had time to read the full opinions yet.)

Here's hoping the culture wars cool down soon, so our highest court can feel safe deciding cases based on logic rather than diplomacy.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Baseball bliss

Two of my favorite things came together perfectly on Sunday. Baseball and the Texas Longhorns.
How about those Horns? As a die-hard orangeblood, this was a great weekend. It was even better for me since the player I rooted for the most ended up being the CWS Outstanding player. Indulge me for a sec and see if you can follow this:

Texas 3rd baseman, David Maroul, is my wife's sister-in-law's first cousin.

Does that count as two or three degrees of separation? I'm not sure. But what it boils down to is that even though I've never met him, there was enough of a connection for me to take a greater interest in his play.

This guy is the NCAA baseball version of Big Shot Bob. He's a very good defensive 3B, who barely holds his own with the bat during the regular season. Then he blossoms in the post-season. In 2004, he hit 2 HR in the regular season, but had 2 HR in the Big 12 tourney and another HR against Georgia in a CWS semi-final game that the Horns eventually won.

Fast-forward to 2005. He had another offensively lackluster regular season with a .243 average. Surely he wouldn't have another post-season like 2004. He didn't. He was even better this year. He went a combined 8-for-16 (.500) with three runs scored, two home runs and a team-best eight RBI over UT’s five CWS contests. That's just sick.

It was a blast to watch, and I hope he can keep it up and make it to the big leagues. He'll be the only SF Giant (23rd round pick) that I'll ever root for.

Congrats Horns, and congrats David!

If you want something that you can disagree with, check my comments to Al's Sunday post.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Triple the Fun

In response to Joe's pity for the fact that ONE of us has to work Sundays, the good news is that I'm on vacation. I have, however, found a wireless hot-spot for my daughter's new laptop computer, so I'll at least throw in an article for your consideration tonight. This will not only make up for the fact that I won't be able to post an article tomorrow, but also set an all-time DH record for three posts in just one day.

[Side note: I have not checked the veracity (is that the right word?) of this article. It is, however, an article, so it does meet the stringent requirements set forth in our by-laws.]

By JOHN C. DANFORTH
Published: June 17, 2005
St. Louis

IT would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality. Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers. But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith.

Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues. In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.

John C. Danforth is an Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri.

Take two: Grinding an axe

I’ve voted (2 to 1) to post twice today. Why the debate? Well the matter is personal. I find it much safer to discuss a fight in which I have no dog. But this one made me down right mad. The two links here provide a telling view of two decidedly different newspapers.

While Arizona is overwhelmingly a blue state, Tucson is the haven for liberally minded Arizonans (God bless 'em.) The larger Tucson newspaper (in terms of readership) doesn’t like the military and for someone in my business it makes life “interesting.” Enter my first evidence of what is IMHO truly poor journalism (if for nothing else see one of the dumbest quotes ever uttered by your humble contributor, and you may be shocked to know there was much more said and cut.)

To see the real news which readers of the Arizona Daily Star didn’t see read the same issue from a better newspaper.

May your weekend be sunny and mild.

Attorney speak translation: Kiss your property rights goodbye

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision has ruled in Kelo v. New London that the government can condemn your property, take it, and then transfer it to another private party. The dissenters were Justice O'Connor, who wrote the dissent, and the usual suspects, i.e. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas. In the case at hand, the city of New London, CT, wants to tear down a neighborhood, and redevelop it for "economic development" purposes, using the power of eminent domain. You see, in 1998 Pfizer Pharmaceutical announced that it would build a huge research facility in the Fort Trumbull area. Evidently, the city fathers then began thinking, "Hey, if Pfizer comes in, we could rip out the surrounding residential areas, build a new park and marina, and sell the rest of it off after we rezoned it as commercial property. Pfizer could be the central hub of an exciting new business district. Man, imagine the tax money that would roll in! And sales taxes, as well as property taxes! Sounds like a plan!"Despite the fact that the plan was, as Justice Thomas puts it, "suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation", Justice Stevens, in a sophistry of reason, argues for the majority that it's a taking for public use anyway:

Those who govern the City were not confronted with the need to remove blight in the Fort Trumbull area, but their determination that the area was sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation is entitled to our deference. The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that
it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including—but by no means limited to—new jobs and increased tax revenue. As with other exercises in urban planning and development, the City is endeavoring to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of land, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment
So, the city had a plan. They thought about it and everything. So they should receive deference.
It is further argued that without a bright-line rule nothing would stop a city from transferring citizen A's property to citizen B for the sole reason that citizen B will put the property to a more productive use and thus pay more taxes. Such a one-to-one transfer of property, executed outside the confines of an integrated development plan, is not presented in this case. While such an unusual exercise of government power would certainly raise a suspicion that a private purpose was afoot, the hypothetical cases posited by petitioners can be confronted if and when they arise. They do not warrant the crafting of an artificial restriction on the concept of public use.
You see, they aren't taking property from the homeowners to sell it to a particular developer, which would be wrong. No, they don't yet know what private parties they are going to sell the land to, which is, like, totally different.
The disadvantages of a heightened form of review are especially pronounced in this type of case. Orderly implementation of a comprehensive redevelopment plan obviously requires that the legal rights of all interested parties be established before new construction can be commenced. A constitutional rule that required postponement of the judicial approval of every condemnation until the likelihood of success of the plan had been assured would unquestionably impose a significant impediment to the successful consummation of many such plans.
Besides, the the city claims that there'll be new jobs and more property tax revenues, so there's a valid "public use" element to economic redevelopment, even if all of the primary beneficiaries will be private entities. Because, after all, you don't want to make the "public use" definition, too narrow. If you did, people couldn't have the property confiscated by the state for hardly any reason. And then where'll we be?!

So, if you have a home like one of the Kelo petitioners, where you were born, and where you have lived all your life, then you'd better hope the government doesn't think Walmart or Pfizer could put it to better use. Because if the city wants it, it's theirs.

Justice O'Connor wrote the dissent, and put it very succinctly:

Over two centuries ago, just after the Bill of Rights was ratified, Justice Chase wrote:
"An act of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority ... . A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean... . [A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with such powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it." Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388 (1798) (emphasis deleted).
Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded—i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public—in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings "for public use" is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property—and thereby effectively to delete the words "for public use" from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.

You can't put it more clearly than Justice O'Connor does. Without a bright-line rule against using the government's power of eminent domain to effectuate a property transfer between private parties, then property rights are dead.

Well, that's not completely true. Bit of an overreaction, really. because, as Justice O'Connor also points out, some people will retain their property rights.

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. "[T]hat alone is a just government," wrote James Madison, "which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."
See, property rights aren't dead if you're rich and powerful enough to sway a local government into confiscating some else's property for you.

Friday, June 24, 2005

TGI Wednesday

Floored by the whelming flood of responses (all four of them) to last Friday’s APB sent out by the lord of the houseflies, I have, to quote Douglas McArthur, returned.

Spurred (notice how I work in “Spur” references now that the deserving team won the NBA championship?) on by illegitimate (I could’ve used another word there, but why mention the Pistons?) claims in some of those aforementioned responses, you may question where I’ve been since last you read the Friday installment, scratched your head and thought, “And this the guy who’s supposed to be funny?”

Such spurious (spur-ious) responses – as well as those labeling me a “douchebag” (and what do the Lakers have to do with this?) – are best ignored, but I shall not shrink from these queries. (A quick criticism of the Spurs: What, other than Eva Longoria, does Tony Parker bring to the table? I’ve never seen him play well; his skills at the point are a curious blend of Mark Eaton’s agility and Kurt Rambis’ shooting touch. Still, Eva Longoria...)

Wednesday’s Friday absences are attributable to one – ah, but which one? – of the following scenarios:

  • Trying to establish a solid connection between Michael Jackson’s acquittal and the subsequent mysterious disappearance/reappearance of a young Boy Scout in (nearby) Utah.

  • Working as a consultant to help choose the next set of contestants on “Has-Beens Dancing on A Crappy Reality Show,” which is not the title (but certainly should be) of ABC’s summertime hit (it's crappy, so of course it's a hit) TV series in which the likes of Evander Holifield compete in weekly dance-offs. (Who’s judging this thing – Michael Flatley?) Future contestants may include James Dobson (who won’t even sway rhythmically as he harangues nearby contestants on why they shouldn’t dance and why they can choose to leave the dancing lifestyle), John Bolton (because he’s not doing anything at the moment), Rasheed Wallace (ditto… and cue Simpson laugh: HA-ha!), Russell Crowe (because hoo boy! – it’ll be fun if he doesn’t win), Courtney Love (because if anybody can wreck the Soul Train, it’s Courtney Love), and Tom Cruise (because he LOVES to dance… he LOVES it, and he doesn’t care who knows it… HE. LOVES. TO. DANCE. Tom Cruise: Kid tested, Scientologist approved.).

  • Quizzing Mark Felt as to whether he really kept quiet all these years because he knew the guys in his bowling league would mock him mercilessly if they knew his nickname was “Deep Throat.”

  • "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" hangover. Would you believe we haven’t seen it yet? Somewhere (most likely in a trailer park) Mark Hamill shouts to no one in particular: “Where could he be?”

  • Working to infiltrate and destroy, if possible, a paramilitary organization that once enjoyed the USA’s support but has, over the years, become an annoying, too-often-violent thorn in Uncle Sam’s fleshy derriere. Its covert tactics involve disrupting all forms of written communication while operating under its own constantly changing rules and guidelines, cleverly burying its key operatives deep within a sea of red tape and bureaucracy, effectively rendering them unreachable until the day they walk into a government facility in some Springfield somewhere and perpetrate random acts of violence. I’m talking, of course, about the United States Postal Service, an organization – and that term is oxymoronic when applied to the USPS – with which I’ve become all too familiar of late.


For now, let me just say it’s good to be home. Thanks so much for caring. If you want to send mail, please consider using UPS.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Big Shot Bob

Has there ever been anything quite like Robert Horry in sports history? The guy is just uncanny, and he proved it again Sunday night, singlehandedly pulling San Antonio's (and, more particularly, Tim Duncan's) fat out of the fire with yet another unconscious shooting display. There have been other clutch performers on Horry's level, but they are usually superstars, Jordan, Bird, Reggie Miller; Derek Jeter or Tom Brady in other sports. However, I can't ever remember another role player who sleepwalks his way through the season yet repeatedly finds a way to become a superstar in the postseason. And it's not just hitting big shots; it's also rebounds, passes and superior defense. The only somewhat-analogous player I can think of is Jim Leyritz, who had a knack for coming off the bench and hitting huge postseason homers for the Yankees and Padres. Still; just for the length of time he's been doing it, I think Horry stands alone. Any one else like that come to mind?

And then, a strange lack of clutch

It was strange to see Tiger Woods miss big putts down the stretch Sunday (though he certainly had nothing to feel ashamed of considering the epic meltdown of Retief Goosen). You expect a competitor like Woods to stick it into overdrive when he's that close to a major victory. It does make you wonder a little bit, though, since Tiger has still yet to come from behind to win a major. Not to say that he can't pull out close victories; his playoff win over Dimarco in the Masters showed that. However, even then, he was in the driver's seat most of the day, and wasn't the pursuer like he was at the Open. It'll be interesting to see how Tiger performs in similar situations in the years to come.

A hidden treasure

If you have some free time and are interested in learning some of baseball's history, I'd recommend checking out anything you can connected with Buck O'Neil. O'Neil is a baseball hall-of-famer who played with Negro League legends like Satchell Paige and Josh Gibson back in the 30's and 40's. He's also a masterful storyteller, and he makes the life of the Negro Leagues come to life in telling stories of the legendary players of that time. There is obviously great tragedy associated with the Negro Leagues, but there's also a richness that even the major leagues at that time can't quite match. Part of it comes from the fact that the leagues didn't keep the same statistical records of the majors back then, so legends are more free to grow. Was Satchell Paige the best pitcher that ever lived? Was Josh Gibson as great a hitter as Babe Ruth? Sadly, we'll never know, but it's wonderful to hear the stories of that time. There are some websites where you can check out interviews with O'Neil. Wonderful stuff.

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/baseball/shadowball/oneil.html
http://www.annonline.com/interviews/960715/

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Books I Want to Buy

Too lazy to write an actual article this week, so I thought I'd just share with you my summer reading list (I know everyone is just itching to know). If I could afford to go to the beach, this is what I'd read on the beach. I can't afford it, so I'll read them on my deck (I will go shirtless, though).

The History of Love: by, Nicole Krauss. Okay, so I a) mentioned this book last week, and b) already own it, and c) have just a few pages to go before finishing it. And yet. If I could afford to, I would offer a money-back guarantee on this book to anyone who reads this post. I can't afford to. (I did make this offer to this girl at the coffee shop the other day, but she was way better looking and nicer than any of you.) Buy it or check it out from your local library.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: by, Jonothan Safran Foer. His first book, Everything is Illuminated, was great and I haven't really read too much about this one (so as not to ruin it for me), so I'm going on faith here that this will be a good book. (I assume there is tons of stuff about it on the web, though I haven't looked.)

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land: by John Crowley. Another book I'll buy on faith. Crowley's novel Little, Big blew me away, even if I didn't understand everything about it. If I were smarter, I'd write a review of it, but I'm not. The bit I know about this novel is: Crowley's book is a book within a book. Or something. One of the books in the book is a book written by Lord Byron, except that it is really not -- it's Crowley's vision of what a Lord Byron novel might have been. Crowley's imagination is incredible, and I'm itching to buy this book (I'm stranded in Arkansas right now and it is nigh on impossible to find an actual copy of some of the books I want to buy, seeing as our bookstores suck [yeah, I said it: they suck]. And even on the odd occassions they have books I want to buy, Juvenal is busy buying the last copy said books, such as this one.).

1776: by, David McCollough. Pretty much just because I got to meet McCollough once and he reminded me so much of my grandpa that I feel some sort of loyalty to him. Plus, if he could make John Adams interesting, imagine what he can do with Washington.

A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. I seem to just want to buy books from the writers I like. Hornby wrote the novels that eventually turned into the movies High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch. He is funny and doesn't take himself too seriously. He's probably one of the few writers who is a better writer than he thinks he is. Other than having a bad cover, I don't know much about this book. So again, I'm going on faith.

Gilead: by, Marilynne Robinson. Read great things about this book and the first few pages were great. That's as far as I got though, because I can't read in a bookstore for one reason or other.

Harry Potter. I don't plan to camp out dressed as Snape in front of the bookstore, but I am looking forward to the book.

The People of Paper: by, Salvador Plascencia. If you can find a copy of this book, pick it up and just thumb through it for a couple of minutes. The design of the book is worth a look. I hope it doesn't overshadow the content of the book. He's a friend of a friend, so there's also some loyalty issues in my buying this book, but I am interested in it regardless.

Saturday: by, Ian McEwan. Atonement, his previous book, is one of the best novels released in recent years, I think. Another faith buy.

I'm trying not to buy a book until I've finished reading whatever it is I already own. I'm not very good at this and usually cave in and buy a couple a week. Especially when people tip well (tip your servers, people!, we aren't all going to go straight out and buy drugs -- and plus-wise, we have extremely good memories, so if you don't tip well, hope you don't get the same server twice). It's one of my compulsions (buying books, in case that last parenthetical got you off course, as it did me).

Just thought I'd share.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Rekindled Respect...


...For Bob Geldof.

Anyone else remember this guy? Personally, I don't have to do much digging to bring him to the forefront of my consciousness. Being a child of the 80's, I knew him as an icon on three different levels.


Video Icon

His band, Boomtown Rats, was one of those that worked its way into heavy rotation during the earliest days of MTV (when they actually played music videos and didn't have that many to rotate). With a slight bit of concentration, I can still hear the melancholy sound of their one hit, "Up All Night."

African jungle
Big City Street
The only real difference
is in the people you meet

It was one of those songs you saw on MTV, but never heard on Top 40 radio (I was much too young to be in tune with "college radio," where these songs got any radio time at all). The tune was catchy and it had one of those hooks that stayed with me. In 1982, I didn't yet know Geldof by name, but I knew his band, and I knew him by sight.


Humanitarian Icon

Christmastime 1984. The new single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was all over the radio and MTV. I was almost 13 and just starting to think that I knew a little something about the world. Then I heard this song:

At Christmastime it's hard,
but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window,
and it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
is the bitter sting of tears

It opened my eyes to a world completely different than my own. And Bob Geldof made it happen.

MTV had the video in heavy rotation and made every effort to tell the story behind it. Bob Geldof saw a news report about the African famine in October of 1984. He was moved to do something about it. Even then, Geldof was pragmatc in his approach. He knew that he didn't have a high enough profile to generate much interest on his own, so he pulled strings and called in favors and got some of the biggest names in the music business to help produce the single as "Band Aid". It surpassed anyone's expectations and became the biggest selling single in UK history (since passed by Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" tribute to Princess Di). Oh by the way, it raised millions for famine relief.

July 13th, 1985. Do you remember where you were? I know exactly where I was. Glued to the TV watching everyone who was anyone in the music business give one of the greatest concerts of all time. The Live Aid concert incorporated almost 80 acts in multiple locations and lasted for 16 hours. It raised almost $250 million for Ethiopian famine relief. Again, Geldof was the driving force behind the colossal effort.

I remember going to the opening of Houston's Hard Rock Cafe in November 1986. It was a big event for an almost 15 hipster like myself. To me, the coolest artifacts on display were the shoes that Bob Geldof wore during the Live Aid concert.


Cultural Icon

It wasn't until I got to college in the fall of 1990 that I saw what was probably Bob Geldof's crowning artistic achievement. I had grown up with Pink Floyd in the background of my cultural consciousness. They were one of those bands that I knew existed, but never paid them much attention. I'd heard a few of their songs, but none that really grabbed me. Although, like any child of the late 70's and 80's, I could belt out "Hey! Teachers! Leave us kids alone!" with the best of them.

My roommate during my freshman year, Jack, was a music snob (a la John Cusack's character in High Fidelity), and he found it absolutely abhorrent that I had never seen Pink Floyd's The Wall . So we sat down one Friday night and watched it from beginning to end. As soon as I realized that Bob Geldof (playing the lead role of Pink Floyd) was involved, I was hooked. I can't say I understand every part of the movie, but the visuals and music were definitely entertaining. I'll echo what critics have said for years and tell you that Bob Geldof absolutely nailed the portrayal of the tormented Pink. To this day, when I hear a Pink Floyd song, even if it's not from The Wall, the face I associate with the music isn't Roger Waters' or David Gilmour's, but Bob Geldof's.


Back in the Spotlight

Over the past twenty years, the world hasn't heard much from Bob Geldof. He has steadfastly refused to try and recapture the magic of Live Aid with another concert. That is until now. Geldof, U2's Bono, and screenwriter Richard Curtis are at the helm of next month's Live 8 concert. The goal of this effort is to raise international awareness of the effects of extreme poverty and to push an agenda aimed at alleviating or eliminating poverty in Africa. The agenda calls for a doubling of aid budgets, the elimination of African debt, and a change in trade laws to allow for greater fairness. The timing of the concert is specific, hoping to catch the attention of the leaders of the G8 countries prior to a summit later in the month.


Why the Respect?

Some of you might ask why I am touting the rekindled respect I have for Bob Geldof. I've been quick to criticize the One Campaign and its supporters, and they're basically doing the same thing as Geldof. What makes Geldof so different? For me, it's the pragmatic approach he has taken to this effort. He really wants to see the effort succeed, and he knows that in order for it to succeed, he must draw the G8 leader's attention instead of pushing them away. He has recently issued instructions to all of the performers to stay on focus. He reminds them that the point of this concert is to raise awareness of the effects of poverty, and that it is not a platform from which to proclaim their disdain for the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq and on global warming. He's getting a little pushback from the artists about their desire to express their "righteous anger" with the administration. They just don't get it. But Geldof does.

He can cut through the politics and recognize good things when they are happening. Here's a quote from him that appears in the recent Time article about the Live 8 organizers:

"Actually, today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he has actually done more than any American President for Africa. But it's empirically so."

Forget politics. Geldof cares about results. I won't go as far as saying that I agree with every aspect of the Live 8 effort, but I respect it more because someone like Geldof is involved. Will he get the results he hopes for? I don't know, but for someone that can get the original lineup of Pink Floyd together, I wouldn't say anything is impossible.


p.s. You can sign the petition at the Live 8 website without putting your e-mail address in! But then, you won't get any e-mail from Bono or Madonna. Suit yourself.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

DEFINING LOVE

Well, it’s Father’s Day as I sit here to write, and several stereotypes come to mind. I’m suspecting that Sears put up some strong sales numbers this past week, and I’m betting that golf courses had their share of patrons, too. I imagine there were lots of steaks sold at lunch today, and that at least someone has a brand new tie. Those are all pretty safe bets.

On the other hand, I bet this week was a downer for the floral industry, and in spite of the holiday, I’m just sure Lifetime had some movie on where a man did something really wrong. These are just my suspicions.

Stereotypes are useful and dangerous and lots of other adjectives, too. When it comes to religion, however, one really important stereotype of men comes to mind. I’m talking VERY important…

Men are portrayed as lots of things, among which you find the idea we aren’t very fond of the word “love.” Part of this is bogus of course, since men are reportedly in love with their trucks, their hunting dogs, their favorite sports teams, and most foods high in cholesterol. Still, the picture comes to mind of a man stuttering because he just can’t bring himself to say the “L” word. I’ve watched enough television to understand the popular opinion.

I find this very important since Jesus identifies love as the center of everything that matters. If we are to follow Jesus, we are to love God and everyone else above all. All people will be able to identify us as Jesus-followers, in fact, by none other than love.

And this is popularly portrayed as something I wouldn’t do, given my particular gender. All of this combines, of course, to leave my buddies and I in a pickle. Either we are forced to buck the system, be un-manly, and live a life based on love anyway. Or not.

But maybe there’s a third option. Maybe (and I’m going with this maybe), the definition of love is so screwed up that we don’t even recognize it anymore, much less be able to depend on its stereotype.

In spite of my grammatical weaknesses, I believe definitions are very important. Because of this, I believe we need to recapture the definition of love. We need to rescue it from our cultural setting, redefine it in God’s terms, and actually USE IT in those ways. It would be impossible to underestimate the significance of doing just that. To follow God, it is something we have to do.

So here's my question: Using our current vocabulary, how would you put into words a definition of the love Jesus talks about being central to everything His followers are to do?

Note #1: I've read C.S. Lewis's book (The Four Loves) and heard my share of Greek sermons on agape, eros, phileo, and storge. I'm not downplaying those, just stating that you don't have to rehearse those for me/us. I'm just wanting some honest attempts at giving us a working definition that is useful in our contemporary setting.

Note #2: I don't think I'll be near a computer all week long. Please comment as much as you'd like - and I can't wait to read the comments - but I probably won't respond this week. Please comment anyway.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Identify friend or foe

The war on terror has made for some interesting bed fellows, and difficult decisions for foreign-policy makers. The violent unrest in Uzbekistan, a key strategic asset due to its close proximity to Afghanistan and Iran, could force the Bush administration to make a tough decision. Shall we overlook the murder and maiming ordered by the Uzbek leader or take a stand despite the potential for strategic loss? Here’s John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) opinion -- and the LA Times story: Uzbekistan Tests U.S. Policy Goals

Here’s a little lagniappe: From CNN/SI’s “The 10 Spot” - The Red Sox renamed Fenway Park's left-field foul pole the Fisk Pole to recognize catcher Carlton Fisk's famed home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The short right-field foul pole has already been dubbed the Pesky Pole after former shortstop Johnny Pesky. Later this summer, the team will rename the clubhouse icebox after Ted Williams.

Friday, June 17, 2005

This Is Not Funny

The title of this post reflects the fact that this is NOT Wednesday Housefly. This is Al, the Sunday Housefly, trying to rile up the masses to demand his return.

Okay Wednesday, we get the Dave Chappelle impersonation, and we truly sympathize with the internal madness that must be the plight of comic geniuses such as the two of you - but we really need you back.

If all the readers would comment on this matter and share the love, MAYBE we can get him back. Maybe this could become something akin to the ONE campaign. We'll sign petitions, buy bracelets, get Brad Pitt and the ghost of Sonny Bono to tour the world on our behalf.

Let the chanting begin... "We want Wednesday Housefly, we want Wednesday Housefly..."

Truthfully, I don't think our massive readership tunes in to read me misquoting Scripture, or hear Joe/Juvenal debate the future of fossil fuels, or listen to Mikey's adventures in auto repair shops in New England, or even DeJon's adventures in Keriewuroiewojwistan. Plus, perish the thought, some aren't even sports fans.

We are here to learn of breakfast cereals and the Sugar Frosted Council and laugh... And we cannot survive much longer...

So add your comments, folks. Both of you. We need Wednesday Housefly to know how much he is missed...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How Far to Pittsburg?

A couple of friends and I recently took a 4 day trip covering in the neighborhood of 2500 miles, involving stops at the Rock and Roll (or is it Rock'n Roll?) Hall of Fame in Cleveland, eating an embarrassing amount of food my friend Jonna (a saint) and her daughter Georgia (bakes wonderful cookies) cooked for us in Fairhaven, New York (a beautiful little village on the shores of Lake Ontario [or Superior or some large body of water--I've lived one hour from the lake for 4 years and have been there a handful of times, sailed on it with my friend Jonna, and can't for the life of me remember which Great Lake it is]), eating Baked Steaks at a restaraunt in a town whose name starts with an "L" in Ohio named (the restaraunt, not the town) Restaraunt, listening to a jukebox full of burned cds in the bar/restaraunt of the Days Inn in Fredonia, NY, listening to a Yankees game in Cincinnati (how bad is your team, exactly, when the local sports radio station broadcasts the games from a team in another league from another city?) and most peculiarly, picking up the hood for a '73 Charger in Pittsburg (I'm still not sure why we did this last thing, other than one of my friends asked at some point how far Pittsburg was and I said maybe an hour and he said, mind if we..).

We also hit a deer in my mom's 3 week old Mountaineer and left my Explorer for at an honest looking repair shop in Fairhaven (it was suggested by one of my companions, not in jest, that we put a concrete block on the gas pedal and point it toward the lake -- and I was all for it -- but seeing as the gas pedal's inability to propel the Explorer into any sort of motion was more or less the problem, we simply left the key in it and a note explaining that if they, like, wanted to take a gander at the thing at some point before snow starts falling this year, I'd reimburse them for their time and at some point try to remove it from their property), and I've never seen a grown man wet himself, but one of my friends ALMOST did it several times. He'd casually say something about how far the next exit might be and then within ten minutes his legs would be shaking and he'd begin moaning and rocking back and forth and yelling at me as if his bladder was my fault.

It was a tiring and emotionally painful trip and I hope I never take another one for any sort of similar reason. Even though it wasn't taken for pleasure, we made the best of it. We diverted our attention as best we could in Ohio and NY and Tennessee and Pennsylvania and Kentucky. We were in air-conditioned cars the whole time listening to music or watching DVDs or reading -- we had no lack of entertainment -- and our only physical discomfort, other than my friend's bladder, was lack of sleep. And the not at all pleasant numbness in the bum that inevitably occurs on long road trips.

2500 miles. In a brand new car. With a couple of friends I'd die for. Yet, I was done for when we got back. This is the closest experience in my life, I think, (and apologies for lack of details about the painful stuff, but there's really no need if you'll just trust me) to one of my favorite books: The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz.

The Long Walk is a war story, kind of. It's a travel narrative, in a twisted sense. It would make a great preacher's story -- you know, the kind where everyone gasps and wipes tears from their eyes. It's one of those Melville-ian / Hemingway-ian things where man must face the perils of nature. One of the blurbs on the book claims that it is a book that is hard to put down, and even though that is said of a lot of books, in this case, for me, it was. I read it in one day (something I never do, as I'm a slow reader). So, it's a page turner. Quite a few things going for it, in other words. The book was written about 50 years ago, yet, a quick look at Amazon has it still selling well (was in the top 1,000 selling books when I looked a few minutes ago).

The story is the compelling part of the book, and I assume that is why it still sells well (Rawicz isn't a great writer). Rawicz was a Polish officer in WWII when he was imprisoned by the Russian Army. He was held in a cell in Moscow (I think, the book ain't in front of me, and if I can't even remember the name of the Great Lake that Fairhaven NY borders, well, then) for a year without knowing why. He's beaten and after a holding out for longer than any should have, he signed a document confessing whatever it is they wanted him to confess. He is then placed on a train and shipped 1000 miles into Siberia (in an unheated cattlecar with standing room only and wearing the equivalent of doctors' scrubs). When the railway ends, they unload, are chained together, and begin marching. Five hundred miles or so later, they reach the prison camp.

That's the believable part of the story. After only a short stay in that particular prison, Rawicz and a few of his new friends decide to escape. He manages to save a weeks worth of food, and late one night, in the middle of a snow storm, they make their escape. Mind you, they're in Northern Siberia. There destination is India. 4000 miles in a generally southern direction.

There journey to India takes 15 months, so there are plenty of laughs and cries along the way. They cross the length of Siberia, the Gobi Desert, a mountain range. They survive by hunting and gathering (only once do they steal something -- a pig, early on in their trip, and they pledge not to do that again, as they are afraid it would alert people to their whereabouts), and the few people they meet along the way help them out in various ways. Not everyone makes it to India, and when they die, it isn't in pleasant ways. For a couple of them, they knew it was coming for a couple of days from the physical signs they were receiving while crossing the Gobi. One man dies while descending the last peak into India -- slips off the mountain and into the fog after 15 months of surviving the unsurvivable.

I know it is the incredible story that keeps the book in circulation. It really is worth reading, but I do wonder if Rawicz is puzzled by the success of his story. It's not like there aren't a lot of other incredible journeys with improbable survivors or with excruciating but valiant s. And so, since I have lots of time of my hands, I sit around and ponder what it is about this book that continues to make it important to so many people.

Part of it is the romance of the trip. It is a modern day Odyssey. It is David overcoming, or at least escaping, Goliath. But I really don't think that was Rawicz's intention, and I think that if that is all people walk away with, they are missing something. I'm not exactly sure what, so no profound answers here. Rawicz, it seems, wrote this as a political book, not an adventure book. He wanted to tell the world about the Gulag prison system, yes, but I don't think that's all he had in mind. I admit that the story is so compelling, so improbable, that I lost sight of most things political while I was reading it.

It's political in the obvious ways. Communist Russia was a bad place. The Gulag prison system was a bad place. It is also political in some not so obvious ways. For one, grand political visions don't actually mean much to a large portion of people. Time and again, Rawicz and his companions came across villages and travellers who didn't even know that the world was at war. To Rawicz himself, it didn't really matter that the world was at war. He was actually an ally of Russia during the War, but he became lost within one of the many grand political visions of the day. For two, it is very easy for people to be brainwashed into believing certain political ideologies. Okay, so that's nothing new, but still. The Russian soldiers were mean, yes, but Rawicz, oddly, doesn't say just too much about them. They weren't doing what they were doing just because they were mean. they were doing it because they believed that what they were doing was the best thing to do to achieve an ideal society. The triumphant ending to the book (they are rescued, they hug, they dance, they see each others faces for the first time in 15 months -- they'd grown beards and long hair and didn't actually know what each other looked like) can overshadow the idea that people can get so caught up in some political theory or other that they lose sight of individuals. It is easy, while reading the book, to forget about the people in the small villages of Russia and China and Tibet who were relatively unconcerned with world politics.

I guess I've been thinking about this book a lot lately a) because of my long trip that left me a bit disillusioned with some things I thought were very important and b) because, much as I like political discussions (I love to talk politics), I'm pondering more and more my own political beliefs and whether or not they are actually the best thing for other people.

A couple of notes: A) Happy Bloomsday (well, it's tomorrow, but I don't want to intrude on Coolhand) -- I expect everyone to take a day off work and read Ulysses. B) Run -- RUN, I say -- to your nearest book store and buy Nicole Krauss's new book, The History of Love. C) The R'nR HOF isn't necessarily worth driving too far out of your way for, but if you happen to be near Cleveland, it's definitely worth a detour. D) In case you somehow missed it, the new Harry Potter book comes out in precisely one month and one day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The 9/11 Effect

What happened on 9/11, exactly? Some Islamic terrorists flew some planes into some buildings in America, killing thousands of people. We know that much. But what did they really do? What did they accomplish? Anything?

To hear the Bush administration tell it, they accomplished darn near everything. They changed the world. The most consistent message coming out of the Bush White House throughout his terms in office has been, "9/11 changed everything." Every time they're asked a tough question, that's their answer. Why do we need to keep secret prisoners in Guantanamo? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why don't those prisoners have Geneva Convention protections? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why does the president need the power to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charging them or allowing them to have a lawyer or a trial or to communicate with anyone at all? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why did it suddenly become urgent that we invade Iraq? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why are we so at odds with the UN and most of our allies? Because 9/11 changed everything (and nobody gets it but us). Why does the FBI need to know what books we're reading? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why does this administration need to keep so many things so completely secret from the American people? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why did the economy take a downturn? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why has the recovery been so sluggish? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why is America losing so many jobs? Because 9/11 changed everything. Why do we need to drill for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge? Because 9/11 changed everything.

That's quite a lot for 15 Muslim fundamentalists to accomplish. They didn't even have to work at it for years & years, through a sustained series of attacks. They did it in one single act on one single day. All of that. To the world's military and economic superpower. The most powerful nation the world has ever known. Wow. I bet those guys get to double dip in the Heavenly Virgin Pool.

Or maybe not. Maybe 9/11 has become a fig leaf. A pretext. A cover. A handy justification for whatever the administration wants to do. A handy excuse for anything that goes wrong during their watch. If so, the 9/11 attacks went from real event to symbolic event in record time.

Oddly, the 9/11 attacks really did accomplish quite a bit. The Bush administration says these Muslim extremists attacked us because they hate our freedoms, our democracy, and our way of life; they want America to stop being so decadent and immoral, and become more like a good Muslim theocracy -- more like Afghanistan under the Taliban, I suppose.

If those were their goals, they did a bang-up job.

America has taken several huge steps back from our traditional commitments to freedom and human rights. Our democratic values have been endangered. Our way of life has been changed. Our government has acquiesced more and more to the wishes of extremists and religious fundamentalists, enforcing their views of patriotism and morality on everyone.

Of course, the terrorists didn't do this alone. They've had a lot of unwitting help from a short-sighted American government. (See 2nd paragraph, above, for specifics.) Contrary to the Republican/media talking point, the world did not change on September 11th. Only America changed. The continental Europeans we so quickly dismissed had been dealing with terrorist attacks on their own soil for decades. So had many of the other member-nations of the UN. The only thing new about 9/11 was that it finally happened to us.

Based on our reaction thus far, I have to say it looks to me like we're winning the battles, but the terrorists are winning the war.

~~

Lest I be accused of griping about policies but not offering an alternative, here's my suggestion for the best way to respond to Islamic terrorism: an aggressive policy to achieve energy independence. When I say aggressive, I mean something akin to, "We will put a man on the moon in this decade." An absolute commitment, and a deadline.

We need an energy NASA. An entire sub-agency, fully funded and staffed, and tasked with developing the technologies we need to achieve energy independence. When we create this sub-agency, we need to take fossil fuels completely off the table. Even if we had substantial untapped oil fields, tapping them would be just a stopgap. There's no point in making a huge, long-term investment in an energy source we know up front is going to run out in the not-too-distant future.

Parallel with that, we need to get serious about energy conservation. I mean really serious. That means drastic government regulations on lots of things, like fuel efficiency of all internal combustion engines (not just cars), conspicuous consumption of electricity for frivolous purposes, energy efficiency of anything run on electricity, recycling and reuse where they result in energy savings, conservation of resources in industries that manufacture other goods from petroleum (plastics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and so forth), etc. (I think Americans have forgotten how completely dependent we are on petroleum not just for energy, but as the raw material for manufactured goods, many of which are essential to, e.g., our military and our healthcare system.)

I know conservatives hate regulations, but this is not an area where we can wait for markets to create incentives; by the time that happens, it will be too late. Besides, like the space program, only more so, this is a matter of national security, and since when did those get left to the markets?

Make America energy independent, and you make it safer by an order of magnitude. Not just in military terms, but in economic terms. As China and India's industrial economies grow exponentially on the basis of petroleum-sourced energy, driving up the costs of everything in every oil-based economy, prices for American goods will remain relatively stable. And when dwindling supplies and skyrocketing demand in the petroleum market begins driving other countries to seek more reliable energy sources, America will again be the technological leader, poised in the catbird seat to sell either energy or technology or both to the rest of the world. Imagine: America as an energy exporter. What would that do for our trade deficit?

And if we don't do it, China or India will.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

THE STORY OF ME AND A TAX COLLECTOR

I didn’t get to this passage in my Young Adult class this morning, and I’m kind of interested in everyone’s thoughts:

The passage is from Luke 18 (RSV):

9: He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11: The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12: I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13: But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14: I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I’m not a fan of taking passages out of context, but in this section of Luke, the good doctor seems to be saying, “Here, take these out of context.” He even helps out by telling us what we’re supposed to get out of each section before letting us in on the words of Jesus.

I still have trouble getting it.

Oh, I’ve known the passage all my life, and I can read a sentence (once it’s translated from Greek, that is…). I’m trying to “get” it, though.

On the “duh” level, Jesus is on the record as being against extortion, injustice, adultery, and taking advantage of people for money. He is also pretty open about being for fasting (once He levitated back to somewhere) and an admirer of those who give (cite: widow’s mites story). We’re together on all this, I’m sure… He isn’t claiming that the Pharisee’s deeds are bad, or that the Tax Collector’s deeds are good.

So what is Jesus talking about?

According to Luke’s interpretive lead-in, this parable is aimed directly at those who believed in their hearts that they were okie-dokie with God while looking down their noses at other people. Okay, that gets a lot of us, right?

So what’s the message then? Well, the grand summation from the lips of Jesus is this: humble yourself, not exalt. Specifically, bring yourself down, don’t lift yourself up. Those are the definitions of those words at least.

So I need all of you to help me out here. I’m far too practical to leave the story hanging without a little thought on what to “do” about it. I doubt seriously Jesus told the story for the people to leave unchanged – or for me to be unchanged either.

So what do we do with it?

Because if it is saying that I/we cannot be confident in our acceptance by God, then I need to cut 1st John out of my Bible.

And if it is saying that God enjoys our groveling, then there goes a big chunk of Philippians, too.

But if it’s saying that we shouldn’t see ourselves as better than, say, drug dealers, child abusers, terrorists, traitors, and atheists… well, I’m afraid most of the Christian attempts at organizing religion are in the crosshairs, too.

Comments anyone?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Feeling the Rush

I am currently in the bowels of that infernal land known as reviewing for the bar. I'm sorry to make excuses, as I know my fellow bloggers are also busy, but I'll give you the bare bones of what I was going to write about, and you can respond how you like.

I thought I'd throw in a pigskin article to break the midsummer monotony. I was going to discuss what makes a good QB, then give you my top five of all time. Instead, I'll just give you the list:

1. John Elway
2. Joe Montana
3. Brett Favre
4. Dan Marino
5. Peyton Manning

Feel free to post your list and/or what you think separates the immortals from the pack.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On a Mission from God

It isn't until the epilogue of Under the Banner of Heaven that we know Krakauer isn't writing an indictment against the entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In the short epilogue, he explains that he grew up in a Mormon community, was taught and baby-sat by Mormon men and women, and that he has nothing but the utmost respect for the vast majority of Mormons. It just takes him a little over three hundred pages to reach this conclusion, and if he hadn't added that at the end of the book, I don't think any astute reader would ever have accused Krakauer of ever having met a sane Mormon.

Krakauer's assertion in the epilogue is that his original desire for this book was "a desire to grasp the nature of religious belief" that was tentatively titled History and Belief. However, he got sidetracked by the sensational. Under the Banner of Heaven is, indeed, a history of belief, although I don't think he does much in the way of helping anyone grasp the nature of religious belief. The problem is that Krakauer opts to study the fanatical and the extremists. This isn't surprising to those who have read Krakauer's previous books, Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. The first is an account of a young, wealthy, well-educated young man who changes his name to Alexander Supertramp and bums his way across America and then finds his way into Alaska and freezes to . The second was a controversial record of a distastrous trip up Mt. Everest. Both are wonderful books (Into the Wild is one of my favorite books ever), by the way, but I do think it is important to understand Krakauer's fascination with the extreme before reading Under the Banner of Heaven.

Krakauer's book begins with the of a young mother and her infant daughter. They were killed by the woman's brothers-in-law because she was not allowing her husband to take multiple wives, as per God's command to this particular family. She was a devout Mormon, and she, as the rest of the Mormon Church, did not believe that God wanted men to have multiple wives. She was throwing a kink in the Lafferty brothers' plan to wed several women, and this threatened to disrupt the relationships between the very close Lafferty brothers. Ron and Dan Lafferty received what they believed to be a vision from God commanding them to kill Brenda and her daughter.

There are several different ways to read books concerning Faiths quite unlike your own. I'm just going to name a couple, as this book elicited both of them from me frequently. The first is the humor method: how could they believe that? This is when I'm like Homer Simpson and like to laugh at people because they're different from me. And then there is the much more difficult method that I don't really have a name for. This is when I start to think about how silly my own beliefs much seem to someone who doesn't know much about Christianity ("Okay," they ask, "so Jesus's mother was a virgin?).

Although Krakauer begins with the Lafferty brothers, he mostly uses their story as a way into the history of Mormonism. This is a very interesting history. Most people know about the golden tablets and the revelation to Joseph Smith. What Krakauer does is tell us more about the man Joseph Smith, as well as other early leaders of the Mormon Church. Joseph Smith, according to Krakauer, was a con-man. He'd been a con-man before the revelation and he was apparently a con-man to those working with him during the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. He used those around him to get what he wanted. He was very good at this. The same goes for several other early leaders.

Despite persecution and being driven from several different states, the Mormon Church thrived. There was something in the teachings of these men that inspired people. People were inspired to believe in these men, of course, but they were also inspired to believe in God. And this is where Krakauer made a decision to follow the history of those who believed in the men. Which, of course, in the beginning there wasn't really too much of a difference. People followed the men who they thought were prophets of God. But as the Mormon Church matured, the vast majority of Mormons (and here I'm really just conjecturing as we don't get to read about the vast majority of Mormons in this book) put their faith in God more than in Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The leader of the Mormon Church is still considered a prophet, and Mormons still trust him, but that's about all I got from the this book about current, mainstream, Mormon beliefs.

The Fundamentalists. That's what Krakauer focuses on. The Fundamentalists don't go in for the modern ideas of the Church. They go in for Joseph Smith's original vision. And some of them are willing to who threaten to get in the way of their beliefs. There are entire cities in Arizona and Canada made up entirely by these fundamentalists. But other than a very strong and weird belief in polygomy (it's not just multiple wives to these fundamentalists--it's step-daughters and sisters-in-law and such as that), we don't really get much of a "grasp of the nature of religious belief." At least I didn't. I understand why Krakauer focused on the fundamentalists--they seem to be the ones who follow the original Mormon leaders' commands.

Under the Banner of Heaven is an interesting history. I'd be interested in reading a less sensational account of the Mormon Church to see if my suspicions about Krakauer's tendency toward the extreme are in any way warranted. And I do wish that Krakauer would have given more space his original desire to grasp the nature of religious belief. All we get in this book is that people believe some weird things. There is no grasping. At least not from the writer. Which is maybe the point. Through writing about some extreme beliefs, it can cause readers to attempt to grasp the nature of their own religious beliefs.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Minus One

I don't have anything to post this week. In lieu of content, I'll provide an apology and a link. A few weeks ago, I posted about the One campaign and asked everyone to sign their petition. Well, if you signed up, you've probably gotten a lot of useless emails from them, like I have. Sorry about that. Here's where you can unsubscribe.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

MAKING A MESS

I don’t like messes. Ask my youth minister. My office is never messy. I wouldn’t be able to stand it. Now I don’t apologize for this. Although “cleanliness being next to godliness” isn’t found in the Bible, I do think a case can be made that God isn’t messy. He loves messy people, but He offers metaphors of cleanliness. He washes away messes. He makes our robes fresh and clean and pure. I do not think “messy” is good, but my “mess-a-phobia” has me all screwed up – at least in my whole view of church – so if you’ll pardon the pun, I’m going to try to come clean.

When I came to Ocean Springs, I had the mega-church bug. I truly believed that if we would work out all the kinks, we’d bust out walls for all the people that would come. I didn’t hear Field of Dreams voices, but I might as well have. And what I hoped we would build together, at least at first, was a healthy environment. “Healthy bodies grow,” I told myself, and for over six years now I’ve been fussing over church health. I think we are much healthier now, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing! But it’s a misguided end-all goal. At least that’s what I’m thinking now.

Here’s the deal: There is no such thing as a healthy church. In the history of mankind, there has never been a mess-free group of people. Things have always been messy because sin is messy, and if you’ll pardon my “blunt-ness,” I now see that any place held up as a healthy church must not have any sin, which in John’s terminology would be a flat-out lie.

So after six years of wrong thinking, I’m trying a new approach. I don’t think we can be “mess free” without lying or leaving, so instead, my new goal is for love to be at the center of everything we do. I have a dream that everyone (and I mean everyone!) that comes to this family would simply be loved, though love isn’t simple, but messy. I’m just coming to terms with that.

So don’t be surprised if you visit here and discover that someone hurt your feelings or that everyone isn't having a happy day, and don’t be surprised if a kid breaks something or if someone is grumpy. It may be messy. It will be messy. There have always been messes, and there always will be messes. Our calling, while we continue to clean up, is not to get rid of them once and for all. Instead, our calling is to love. Love the unwanted, dispossessed, and needy, yes. But also, love the whiners, complainers, and grouchy, too.

That, my friends, would be grace. And that, in my new world, would be success.

- Al Sturgeon
www.centerfieldpublishing.com

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Politics & Religion

This week's entry is on the far-flung fringes of my assigned topic. (It was "World News" in case you'd forgotten or have become used to my venturing from topic.)

I introduce Rod Dreher. Mr. Dreher is from south Louisiana, a graduate of the THE Louisiana State Univeristy, and an accomplished writer. He is currently employed as an editorialist at the Dallas Morning News.

I've never met him, but our families are acquainted. I've heard about a "big shot" writer from our little corner of the world that writes at some "big city newspaper." But not until recently did I realize I want to be Rod Dreher.

This week I am submitting his op-ed piece and if this doesn't create some message posts, you either didn't read his work or the only reader of the Saturday post is the writer.

For the right-leaing readers: join me in trumpeting this well-written hard look at the media, politics and religion and flawless dissection of how the media has missed one, huge problem with liberals all along!

For the left-leaning readers: join me in tearing to shreds this illogical, offensive (although well written) myopic view of reality!

Like meat to lions ... Enjoy!

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/129/story_12994_1.html

Are the Democrats Anti-Religion?
How the media's reporting on the Religious Right keeps it from seeing the story of the Secular Left
By Rod Dreher

As a practicing Christian, a political conservative and a professional journalist, I've long been amazed at how ignorant and uncurious my mostly intelligent and urbane colleagues are about conservatives, especially religious conservatives. Many have looked at me--their friend, despite my Catholicism and Republican Party registration--with the same slack-jawed incomprehension as elderly Southerners when they step off the tour bus in London and hear a black man speaking with a crisp British accent (I’ve seen this, and it’s a hoot).

People like me--religious conservatives who are reasonably intelligent and sociable--aren’t supposed to exist. You may recall the furor a decade ago when a Washington Post story described Christian conservatives as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." It’s bad enough a reporter for one of the country's top newspapers made an error like that. It’s staggering that it got through several layers of copy editing. For all the caterwauling about "diversity" in the media, you'd be hard-pressed to find the same uniformity of thinking in any Catholic church on Sunday as you'll find any day of the week in most American newsrooms.
True story: I once proposed a column on some now-forgotten religious theme to the then city editor of the New York Post. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. "This is not a religious city," he said, with a straight face. As it happened, the man lived in my neighborhood. On his morning walk to the subway, he had to pass two Catholic churches, an Episcopal church, a synagogue, a mosque, an Assemblies of God Hispanic parish, and an Iglesia Bautista Hispana. He didn't see these places because he doesn't know anyone who attends them.

In the main, the men and women who bring America its news don’t hate religion. In most cases, they just believe it’s unimportant at best, menacing at worst. Because they don’t know any religious people, they think of American religion in categories that have long been outdated.
My fellow reporters think I’m putting them on when I tell them I’ve been a practicing Catholic for 10 years and have only heard one sermon about abortion and none about contraception. Outside the Jewish community, Israel has no stronger supporters than among American evangelicals. That's been true for at least a generation, but the news has yet to reach American newsrooms, where there's a general assumption that these "fundamentalists" are anti-Semitic. Because journalists tend not to know religiously observant people, they see religious activity the only way they know--in terms of secular politics.

So what? Everybody knows that pro-life marchers and churches that resist gay "marriage" aren’t going to get a fair shake from the newspaper. But this phenomenon is both broader and deeper than individual stories. In a media-driven society, the press sets the terms of public debate. It establishes the inescapable narrative of how society reacts to its challenges.
Anti-religious media bias also has profound implications for American politics. In an article published recently in "The Public Interest," social scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio say that journalists' parochialism blinds them to one of the biggest stories in American politics: how the Democratic Party has become a stronghold of fervent secularists, and how secularism "is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditional outlook."

Among political journalists, what you might call the "official story" holds that religious conservatives bullied their way onto the American political scene with the election of Ronald Reagan, and rudely brought into the political arena the culture war that had been raging since the 1960s.

That’s exactly wrong, say Bolce and De Maio, who attribute the "true origins of this conflict" to "the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic Party, and the party’s resulting antagonism toward traditional values."

Until relatively recently, both major parties were of similar mind on issues of personal morality. Then came the 1972 Democratic Convention, at which secularists--defined as agnostics, atheists, and those who seldom or never attend religious services--seized control and nominated George McGovern. Prior to that year, neither party had many secularists among its delegates. Democratic delegates were split between religious and moral traditionalists on one side, and secularists on the other. They fought over moral issues: abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, the family.

But in what Bolce and De Maio call a "secularist putsch," the non-believers triumphed, giving us what Richard Nixon mocked as the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion," and instigating--with help from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973--the long march of religious and moral conservatives to the GOP, which became the party of traditionalists by default.

By 1992, the parties had become thoroughly polarized around religious orientation. Only 20 percent of white Democratic delegates (N.B., this secular-religious antagonism is a white voter phenomenon, the authors say) went to religious services at least once a month, while over three times that number of white Republican delegates did.

But while the media have thoroughly reported the key role religious conservatives play in Republican Party politics, they’ve ignored the role militant secularists play in setting the Democratic Party's agenda. "Secularism," say Bolce and De Maio, "is no less powerful a determinant of attitudes on the contentious cultural issues than is religious traditionalism." Indeed, Republican traditionalists have not polarized politics by becoming more conservative, as conventional wisdom would have it. Instead, secularists (and to a lesser extent religious moderates) have become more liberal.

The divide has become so stark that the authors have discerned a new kind of voter: the "anti-fundamentalist." Twenty-five percent of white respondents in a survey called the American National Election Study expressed serious hostility towards religious conservatives, as opposed to only one percent who felt this strongly against Jews, and 2.5 percent who disliked blacks and Catholics to a strong degree. (Ironically, these are people who say they "‘strongly agree’ that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.") Eighty percent of these voters picked Bill Clinton in 1996, with 70 percent choosing Al Gore in 2000.
In other words, if the country's first Catholic presidential candidate, Al Smith, ran for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be the Bible Belt anti-Catholics rustics he faced in 1920, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities.

This could be the most important development in American party politics of the past 20 years, say Bolce and De Maio—and America’s two leading newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have both completely missed it. In a search of the Lexis-Nexis database of domestic political news stories, op-eds, and editorials those papers published from 1990 to 2000, the authors found only 14 stories that mentioned the religious gap between the two parties.

During this same time span, the Times and Post published 392 articles on the gender gap—which represented a 9 percent differential in favor of the Democrats. The average religious gap in these same elections was 42 percentage points."

But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade.
The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the "Religious Right" and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats.

I suspect that most reporters, editors, and producers would be shocked by these findings. They really do think of themselves as, to pinch a phrase, "fair and balanced." Yet Bolce and De Maio cite a poll showing that a majority of TV news directors and newspaper editors felt that Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians "have too much power." Fully one-third considered these believers to be "a threat to democracy." The same survey found that only four percent thought nonbelievers had too much influence, and the number of media professionals who perceived secularists as a threat was … zero.

America is a far different place from its newsrooms. Belief in God is, for most Americans, a sign of character. According to a March 2002 national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half of those polled thought negatively of "nonbelievers." Only half that number had a low opinion of the "Christian conservative movement."

Bolce and De Maio wonder if the media elite consciously do the Democrats a favor by not pointing out what, for all intents and purposes, they are: the Godless Party. "Perhaps it is for this reason more than any other," they write, "that we do not hear in election-night analyses and postmortems that Democratic candidates have shorn up their base among the unchurched, atheists, and agnostics, in addition to the ritualistic accounts and warnings about how well Republicans are doing with evangelicals of the Christian Right."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Back in the Saddle

After an unannounced hiatus, I'll grace you with another week's thoughts on the sporting world.

My All-Star Ballot after May

AL
C Jason Varitek
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Brian Roberts
3B Alex Rodriguez
SS Miguel Tejada
OF Johnny Damon
OF David Dellucci
OF Manny Ramirez
P Roy Halladay

Tino has been nice for the Yankees, but Teixeira has better numbers across the board and has 0 errors to Martinez's 8. . . . Carlos Guillen tops Tejada in average, but Tejada produces more runs and is far more valuable. . . . The OF is weak in the AL this year; Ichiro's down a little, and Vlad's hurt; Man-Ram is actually having an off year average-wise, but still leads AL outfielders in HR and RBI. . . . Halladay has more wins and a better ERA than Johann Santana, but Santana has 91 K's to Roy's 57. They are clearly the top two pitcher in the AL this season.

NL

C Ramon Hernandez
1B Derrek Lee
2B Jeff Kent
3B Troy Glaus
SS Cesar Izturis
OF Miguel Cabrera
OF Bobby Abreu
OF Jim Edmonds
P Pedro Martinez

Is Derrek Lee the most unexpected player to utterly dominate a league in recent memory? He leads the league in all the triple-crown categories and has 9 steals to boot. He's also handsome and fields a slick first base. Maybe Ken Caminiti that one year or Kevin Mitchell in '89. . . . 2B and SS could have easily gone to Grudzielanek and Eckstein, but the Cards will have two undeserving starters in Pujols and Rolen, so I'll have my petty revenge. . . . Edmonds gets the nod over Dunn because he's the superior fielder and Dunn just strikes out too much. . . . Clemens or Dontrelle could easily have been selected to start, but it's hard to pick a player with 3 wins as a starter, and Pedro is leading the league in K's and WHIP.

Come again?

A couple nights ago the genii on Baseball Tonight said something to the effect of how ARod was "clearly" the MVP of the AL so far. Pardon? How 'bout clearly not? ARod leads the AL in HR and RBI, which is very significant, but he trails Baltimore's Brian Roberts, the current AL batting leader, in nearly every other significant category. Roberts has a higher OPS, more hits, more extra-base hits and more stolen bases than Rodriguez. Also, Roberts, while playing a tougher position than ARod and having nearly twice as many chances as ARod, has 4 errors to 8 for Rodriquez, who has inexplicably become a poor fielder after a sparkling 1st season at 3B. Add in the fact that the Orioles are 5 games up on the Yankees, and Roberts is clearly the most deserving candidate.

This is hardly surprising, though, as power hitters have always gotten the nod over top-of-the-order types in MVP voting. Probably the most egregious example of this happened in 1987 when George Bell and Andre Dawson were given the MVP's over Alan Trammell and Ozzie Smith, in Dawson's case despite playing for a last-place team. There are rare exceptions (Rickey Henderson beating out Cecil Fielder in '90 comes to mind), but power hitters tend to get a bonus when it comes to the MVP vote.

It is free after all

The Spurs just wrapped up their series against the Suns, which does not prove you can't run in the NBA playoffs, but just proves that the best defensive team usually will win in a given series. The Spurs scored over 100 in all of their wins; so there's nothing wrong with a little offense, but you do have to play some defense, and that, more than an inability to score, sunk the Suns.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. The Spurs might have swept the Suns if not for one of the more bizarre phenomena in all of sports -- the inability of otherwise good shooters to hit free throws. In this case the culprit was Tim Duncan; who is, in other circumstances among the best shooting big men in the game. He routinely knocks in jumper from the top of the key or the elbow with a 7-footer in his face, but can only toss in from the charity stripe at a 67% clip.

Maybe it's the fact he uses the glass so much on his jumpers or maybe it's his unusual over the head shooting style. I honestly am baffled by the whole thing. It's especially puzzling with Duncan, since you usually associate free-throw shooting with diligent practice and Duncan is otherwise the model of professionalism. Likewise, you don't think of Duncan as one to be fazed by the pressure of stepping to the line. Bizarre.

Duncan's not alone, though, on his own team is Bruce Bowen, who's lead the league in 3-PT% before (2003), yet shoots free throws at 63%. Does this make any sense at all?

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