Saturday, December 02, 2017

The pure is the enemy of the real

I run in leftist circles (surprise, surprise).  Before the last election there was a lot of talk in those circles that HRC was a terrible candidate.  They pointed at her economic policies as representing the same neo-conservative track begun with Carter, enhanced by Reagan, then Bill, and continued by every president since.  True enough.  Then they pointed to a list of personal failings straight out of the right wing smear machine that had been targeting her since Bill was first elected.  Not true.  And we won’t even mention they way that they, along with many of Trump’s true believers, swallowed the Russian propaganda hook line and sinker. They looked at Trump and said as inept as he was, he still wasn’t much worse than HRC... besides, he would never beat her so they were going to “vote their conscience” and give their vote to a third party candidate who truly represented their pure visions for the US.  After all, why should they compromise?

Well... we have seen why.  Trump did win.  Indeed, there were many on the left who were predicting he would win (Michael Moore immediately comes to mind).  He has decimated every agency of government.  He has established a kleptocracy more brazen than we American’s could even imagine. He has nominated judges who will literally change the direction of US law, perhaps forever.  He has engineered a new zeitgeist where moral values don’t count and truth and facts no longer hold sway. And this morning, the Republicans voted in lock step to dismantle our economy, shifting everything to their wealthy overloads.

I almost can’t blame Trump.  He is simply stupid.  I truly believe that he does not realize the consequences of his actions... and because of who he is, when he does realize them, he doesn’t care.  Nothing more could be expected from him.  Ditto the Trump heads - low information voters filled with fear and hate - nothing better could be expected.  The Republican elected officials?  Them I can blame.  They knew what they were doing.  Some had been telling us this was their plan all along and we can’t be surprised at them, but there were a few who seemed to be thoughtful, principaled people.  They still voted to rape the poor, the elderly, the middle class, children, the disabled, and just about every other category other than the top .01%.  Yes, I blame them and I hope that the electorate will get smart enough and motivated enough to vote enough of them out in ‘18 to turn the tables and begin to rebuild America.

The one’s I am most disappointed in and are worried about as we move forward are those on the far left.  If you voted third party, I blame you.  I don’t care where you live, just by arguing for your moral purity you motivated people to stay home or to vote for third party candidates.  It didn’t take very many staying home, complaining that there was no good choice, the give the election to Trump.  You helped elect him and the minions below who are enabling his dystopian vision.  I only hope that moving forward you will be able to see that elections have consequences... that pure choices do not exist... that sometimes we have to hold our noses and vote for a candidate who will not destroy the very ideals that have made us who we are/were.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The face of evil

Charles Manson died Sunday.  For decades he was the face of evil.  He was evil.  That much is clear.  I could write more about that but that isn’t the issue that caught my attention.  When he was arrested everybody knew his name.  Everybody knew the crimes of which he was accused.  Many of us even knew the names of his little band of followers.  Some argued that he was mentally ill but nobody disagreed that he was evil.  There was discussion regarding whether or not he should have been executed but there was no discussion that he might ever be rehabilitated and able to find his way back into society.  Charlie Manson was the stuff nightmares are made of.

Jeffrey Dahmer likewise was evil.  We know his name too.

Here’s the bit that caught my attention today.  We don’t recognize evil today.  On October 1 a guy killed 57 people in Las Vegas and injured 546 more and I don’t even know his name.  It can be argued that reporting his name would lead to copycats but the reason I don’t know his name is not because it was not reported... it was reported.  I looked it up.  Steven Paddock.  No, the reason I didn’t know his name is because within a few days all of us who were not directly impacted by the violence moved on and essentially forgot what had happened.  Seven days ago another gunman killed four at an elementary school and again, I don’t know his name either.  We have grown numb to the violence and even an act as horrendous as the Las Vegas Massacre doesn’t frighten us as much as Charles Manson.

I don’t know what else to say about this beyond the fact that it frightens me and saddens me...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


It has been a long time since I’ve blogged.  Life has been busy.  I found myself wondering whether anybody really read my posts.  I began posting videos of my sermons on YouTube .  Then a week or so I was on a panel at an interfaith event and a person from the audience whom I’d not met before introduced herself and told me that she reads my blog.  I couldn’t help but feel guilty for not posting... so I’m going to try to be more regular.  We’ll see.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The antifa and neo-Nazis

Well... the antifa has been on the front page of my local newspaper the past two days and I assume is on others as well as probably being big news on every right or right leaning news outlet.  Yesterday's headline here on the Santa Barbara News Press (one of the only papers in the country that endorsed Trump for president) was "Attack on Free Speech."  Today's front page article condemned Democratic elected officials for not speaking out loudly against the antifa.

Let me begin by speaking out.  I am a pacifist and believe that violence is never justified.  That is another post.  I know there are folk across the political spectrum who are happy to find ways to justify their actions based in some myth of redemptive violence.  I condemn those actions by the antifa as being immoral.    Second, in this case, violence is particularly poorly planned.  It allows the neo-Nazis to be portrayed as the victims of radicals seeking to deny them their rights as Americans rather than the hateful radicals they are.  We see that alternative narrative already moving to the foreground as in both of the articles I referenced above.  So, I condemn the antifa's violent actions as being counter productive.

That said, I find it particularly troubling that those on the right are making some kind of equivalency between the alt-right and the antifa.  There is no equivalency here.

Let us begin by the simple observation - "antifa" is short for "anti fascist."  That strikes me a good thing.  Indeed, you could easily have labeled the entire US as "antifa" during WWII.  Certainly the US military was acting as an "antifa" organization.  I am not arguing that a group of thugs dressed in black is the equivalent morally or in any other way to the US military - but the basic orientation and goal of the antifa falls solidly within our historical values.  The neo-Nazis and other alt-right groups fall solidly outside of everything we claim to be as a culture.  It is important to underscore that the core values of the neo-Nazi movement enshrine violence against black folk, immigrants, LGBTQ folk, Jews, and basically anyone else who do not fit into their immediate community.  That is unAmerican.  Clearly there are some anarchists and far left folk who are part of the antifa... but I would argue that even those political views are more closely aligned with what it means to be an American than the views of the neo-fascists.

The goals of the antifa movement are based in positive ends.  They were in Charlottesville to protect protestors from the alt-right demonstrators, many of whom had come ready for violence carrying everything from semi-automatic long rifles to plywood shields decorated with swastikas.  In other instances they have sought to curtail hate speech, often by inappropriately violent means, that calls for and advocates violence against members of any number of marginalized groups.

I would be thrilled to see the antifa movement embrace non-violent ways of standing up to the alt-right.  Examples have shown that they are much more effective and do not feed the desire of the alt-right to be portrayed as persecuted victims.  In the meantime, I refuse to remain silent when people make the false equivalency between them and the alt-right.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blue Ocean Faith - book review

I believe in the Church.  Now, I do not believe in the Church the same way I believe in Jesus... but it is close.  It is close because I do not believe it is possible to be a follower of Jesus outside of the community of faith.  Community is central to being faithful.  At the same time, Church is full of cultural bits and as culture changes, the institutional expression of Church changes too.  We are in the midst of huge changes culturally and that is impacting the institution of the Church in significant ways.  Indeed, I believe that we are facing the birth of a new incarnation of Church that will be radically different from the institution in which I was formed and by which I'm employed.   So, my eyebrows usually go up when someone mentions a book that might be giving a glimpse of the not quite here yet...  Blue Ocean Faith by David Schmelzer promised to be one such book.

Let me begin by saying this book frustrates me.  A lot.  And I think I'll likely be proposing it to my church board for the next all church study book. 

So, what about it frustrates me?  The author speaks to a post-Evangelical audience.  I am so post post-evangelical that those arguments have no interest for me whatsoever. 

The argument whether or not we should be centered set vs. bounded set is not one I even see worth entertaining.  Indeed, if you need to question who we need to exclude... I don't have time or energy for you.

He writes about a third way when facing controversial issues that allows for room to differ over non-essentials and then defines the essentials as dogma - the ideas included in the Apostolic and Nicene creeds and says that if one does not hold those ideas, then they're talking about a different faith than Christianity.  I'm not sure about that.  Indeed, I come from a tradition that specifically rejects creedalism in favor of Statements of Faith which a very thoughtful friend of mine said must always be written in pencil.   The author defines disputable issues as those that bring together competing implications from dogma and over which otherwise faithful people might reasonably disagree.  I like the intent here... but fear we might disagree over what is disputable.  Schmelzer includes the issue of LGBTQ folk here.  I cannot see that as disputable.  Indeed, reject those folk and you're talking about something other than Christianity in my mind.  The bottom line is that I'm not sure how one defines the essentials vs. the disputables.

Perhaps most important of all, the author sees this new movement of the church standing on the statement - Solus Jesus (as opposed to sola scriptura).  I like that... but I fear we might have a lot of very different understandings of who Jesus is.  The implications of that range of images is very serious.

I observed earlier that Schmelzer is writing to a post-evangelical audience.  This became most apparent as he embraces ideas that more mainline churches have held for a long time as if they are new ideas.  He treats centered set as if it is new (he does give credit to a theologian from Fuller who wrote about it in the 70's) but in my circles it was part of the discussion in the 1980's.  He speaks of joyful engagement with secular culture when the mainline church never rejected scientific inquiry, the arts, etc. etc.  He calls for ecumenism when the mainline church embraced that wholeheartedly in the 50's and went on to wrestle with the even larger issues of interfaith connectedness. 

Finally, the book doesn't really address the institutional questions with which I struggle daily.  What does the coming Church look like?  How does it work in society?  What forms might worship take?  Ministry?  Do we have trained leadership and if not, what happens to a body of knowledge and wisdom that has been gained through centuries and requires a kind of commitment to it which lay folk don't have time or skills to address?

So... what do I like?

Their six distinctives are a good start... and especially for those in the post-evangelical world.  I have a bunch of younger friends who grew up in evangelical churches, left as they became more mature, and have been inoculated against church, thinking that all real Christian churches believe and act like the ones they abandoned.    There was no convincing them that something else exists out there where their gay friends would be welcomed, women can hold leadership, they don't have to leave their brains in the parking lot, and real faith is not identified with white middle class Republicanism.  This may have helped...

The dsitinctives are:
  1. Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS
  2. Our primary metaphor is CENTERED SET
  3. Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH
  4. Our approach to controversial issues in THIRD WAY
  5. Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL
  6. Our engagement to secular culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT 
In a good ecumenical orientation, there are some pieces they carry with them from their evangelical backgrounds such as picking 6 neighbors/acquaintances to pray for each day...

I like his pointing at Francis as providing a model for the Christian life... and his call for a real embrace of diversity. 

So... it is worth a read, especially if you're coming from an evangelical background and feeling as if there must be something more.  If you're looking for hints as to what the next incarnation of Church might look like... you'll be a bit disappointed I think.  I love to visit other churches when I'm travelling and will look for a member church of this organization as I travel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Monster 7 Red Microphone by Sire - review

Sire Monster 7  Red

I’m doing a review here of the Monster 7 microphone built by Sire, a company known for its very high quality basses built to Marcus Miller’s specs at a crazy price point to quality ratio.  I received the mic for free from the company and was asked to share my thoughts about the mic.  There was no requirement that I give a positive review for the mic so these thought are my own and represent my honest assessments of the mic.

OK, now some background.  I play as a side player on acoustic guitar and on fretless bass with a number of different folk, play fretless bass in a church band at Cambridge Drive Community Church in Goleta, CA (outside of Santa Barbara), and produce a small acoustic music series at the church called Cambridge Drive Concerts.

No microphone reproduces exactly what goes into it.  Each adds a little bit here and takes away a little there, giving each model its own sonic signature.  As a result, no microphone is perfect for every singer.  Some sound better with a given voice than others.  Then there are other characteristics such as pick-up patterns, susceptibility to pops and handling noise, gain available, how robust the construction, proximity effect, etc. etc. that also contribute to how well a mic works under given circumstances. 

So I have a couple of personal mics and we have a couple of other choices for the 4 singers in the church band and the performers at our series.  My first test was to line up 5 different mics and then have the 4 singers from the church band go down the line, singing through each.  They shared their opinion of which mic they preferred for themselves and the members of the church band shared their opinions.

Heil PR35, AKG 535, Monster 7, Heil PR20, ECM-80

The line up was a Heil PR35, AKG 535, Heil PR20, the Monster 7, and a Gauge ECM-80 - all some pretty good mics.  Just for information we have more than one of a couple of those mics and in addition have an Audix OM3 and an old Ibanez mic from the 70’s built to compete with a Shure SM58 that we left out of the line-up.  Other than the Monster, the price points range from the mid $100’s up to about $375.   We have a very high quality sound system through which we were testing the mics.

The four singers are each fairly different.  There are two males: both baritones but with fairly different tonalities; and two females: a richer alto voice and a thinner soprano.

The first surprise was that for 3 of 4 singers, the Monster was either the first or second choice.  It sounded very good with each voice.  Only one singer (one of the males) strongly preferred a different mic above the Monster.  For the other singers it was always I like the _____ and the Monster the best.  The listeners agreed in large degree with the thoughts of the singers.  The Monster sounds most similar to the AKG 535 or the Heil PR35 from our choices – two excellent mics at the higher price points.  Indeed, those two mics re always my first choices for the concert series.  The Monster does have significantly less handling noise or susceptibility to plosives than the PR35 and slightly better than the 535.  Sire says it has a cardiod pick-up pattern and it seemed very similar to the Heil in that respect.    

In the end, we ended up chosing a Monster on the lower female voice, the Heil PR 35 on one of the males (although we may cycle it out and replace it with a second Monster),  the AKG for the higher female voice and the other male singer strongly preferred the bigger low end of the Heil PR20. That is the line up we used this past Sunday and will going forward with the possibility of swapping the PR35 out for the other Monster 7.

My second test was at a fundraiser concert for a wonderful singer/songwriter who has been struggling with the financial burden of a serious illness.  We had 10 acts – male and female singers, some of whom are touring pros, a couple of professional producers, a couple of journeyman performers, and one who is a highly skilled amateur.  We had three set ups on stage – the two primary set-ups had Monster 7’s as the vocal mic and the third (at the grand piano) had the Heil PR35.  I asked the performers to let me know what they thought about the mics.  One did.

Again, it was apparent that everyone sounded good with the Monster 7 although I did notice a bit of thinness on one of the thinner female voices.  She may have benefited from something with a more hyped low end.  It was nothing that I couldn’t fix with a little EQ adjustment though.  That is exactly what I did - bring the bass up a tiny bit - and all was good.  We did have problems with plosives from a few of the performers.  I didn't pay close enough attention to tell if that reflected some difference between our two Monsters, if the problem was there with both, or if it was just a reflection of less than perfect technique on the part of the singer.  The Monster was still less susceptible to plosives than either Heil.  One of the female performers said that she felt the Monster was very sensitive to distance and that she had to be right on top of it and on axis for it to sound good.  I didn’t notice that as being more so than any other mics we have.

Here's a little video from the concert... the singers are on Monster 7's and the recording was done on an Iphone (thanks Lars!).  The primary singer/guitarist is Rebecca Troon with vocal back-up from Penny Nichols and Susan Marie Reeves with Dale LaDuke on accordion and me on bass.  It gives a taste of the mics...

All in all, I think the Monster 7 Red by Sire is a great mic and would be worth considering at any price point in those represented by our possible choices.  I believe they will be marketing the mic in a box of two for something like $130.  At that price point, it really is a no brainer…  I should say that the mics that were provided to me came without clips.  The mic is a bit fatter than an SM58 so you may need to go with a clothespin type clip or search to ffind one that fits.  I found a clip designed for some kind of wireless mic that fit very well.  Add another $20 for two clips and you're set. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Biased Press

There have been scores of recent articles decrying the bias of the press against Donald Trump.  As proof they compare the percentage of negative articles written about Trump during these first months of his presidency vs. the percentage of negative articles written about other presidents.  Regardless of the veracity of those numbers, the argument falls down for two reasons or at the very least requires significantly more investigation before those numbers really mean anything.

The first is that while there clearly are news outlets with bias (Fox News is clearly one, but so is MSNBC), as a general rule, the news media is biased towards the sensational.  In a world where they compete with the internet and truly fake news, they look for the sensational to catch the attention of an audience.  Whatever one thinks about Donald Trump, he pours out the sensational each and every day.  Stories that under normal circumstances would be front page - the attack by the Turkish president's  body guards on US citizens on a Washington DC street - barely get any mention because there simply isn't room.   It can be argued that the overwhelming coverage of his campaign by the mainstream press was the equivalent of millions of dollars worth of free advertising and clearly contributed to his winning.  Donald is always on the news because he is always doing something sensational.

Now, this leads to the real question... how many of those sensational actions of DT are negative?  If one president does 50 negative things while andother does 100, doesn't it make sense that the second one would have  twice the negative articles?  If one acomplishes three major legislative intitiatives while another accomplishes 1, doesn't it make sense that the first one would get 3X's the positive press?  So, does DT do 40% more negative things than did a given previous president?  I would argue, "yes."  I'd be hard pressed to come up with anything I could point to as a positive thing done by the current administration  and the negatives roll off the tongue.  From everything that I can see, reality has a negative take on DT's administration.

One might argue that the reason that is so is because I am a stooge for the mainstream news, the "enemy."  Actually, my local paper (which I do read) is one of only two I believe that endorsed Trump for president.  If there is a biased outlet, it is that one and it is clearly pro-Trump.  I do read some articles in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian online but I am aware of what the "other side" is saying.

Clearly I am not pro-Trump.  My avatar on Facebook still says "resist" and will until this administration and the spineless Republican legislators who keep putting power before country are gone.  I was never one willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I agreed with almost nothing he promised during his campaigns and find him as a person utterly with redeeming qualities.  That does not stop me from acknowledging that the rise in the stock market increased after his election (maybe a good thing).  The point is that if I saw something that looked positive, I think I could grudgingly agree it was there. 

Nope... the press is not biased against Trump nor are they out to get him.  He simply is an easy target who keeps doing  ridiculously stupid things.  As long as that continues... that is what we will see in the news.