Tuesday, October 31, 2006

history of the middle east in 90 seconds

I found this map at my friend, Billy's blog

amazing isn't it?

No on Propositions

As I said in an earlier post, California has an initiative process. It sounds like a great idea... any citizen, if he or she is able to get the requisite number of signatures on a petition, can get an initiative placed on the ballot. If the idea has merit and enough people vote for it. It becomes law. Democracy at it's finest, right?

Wrong. Instead, it has become an exercise in he who has the most money gets over. Huge amounts of money is being spent on the initiative process, mostly on 30 second television ads that spin things. Few people have the time or energy to think through long term implications of the initiatives (often including those who proposed them in the first place) and so many people vote according to 7 word tag lines that they've heard over and over again on television. It is a terrible way to make law. Writing laws should be a careful deliberative process without the influence of special interest groups. Instead we have a situation like prop 87 this year which is about a new tax on gasoline extracted in California - which has much lower extraction costs than other states. The oil industry has spent over $52 million into defeating the initiative. A bit more than $45 million has come from the other side for a total of $98 million spent on pushing this one initiative. That is more than is being spent on the governor's race.

Last year prop 73, a parental notification law, was defeated so this year we have prop 85... another parental notification law. And the street talk is that if this proposition is defeated, guess what we'll have next year? Wouldn't those millions of dollars be better spent on a program that reduces teen pregnancy?

A bunch of years ago we had prop 13, a property tax boon for those who owned property and a curse for those who didn't. Essentially your property tax is based on the purchase price of the property and doesn't change significantly as the property increases in value. Again, it sounds great. Allows elderly folk on fixed incomes to keep their homes... etc. But what are the implications? You can have two homes next to one another, built by the same contractor... indeed, they are exactly the same house and one owner pays $2000 a year in taxes while the neighbor pays $12000. The first paid $200,000 for the house and the second bought it last week for $1.2 million (the median price in Santa Barbara). People don't sell their homes because moving causes a huge jump in taxes. So... that lowers the stock available to purchase which artificially increases the prices. And if your family is growing,rather than move and take the tax hit, you enlarge your home (which does bring a tax increase albeit a much smaller one), removing the smaller housing stock from the market and again making it more difficult for people to get into the market. You can figure out what the tax structure did to the infrastructure and to the schools... I'm guessing that when this prop passed, very few people thought about those implications. And now, it would be impossible to change because those folk with houses for a length of time don't want to lose their tax advantage.

So, I'd like to see an initiative on the ballot next year... an initiative to do away with the initiative process. I can see the special interests coming out on that one.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No on 85

No on Prop 85

There's a bunch of political stuff that I will be blogging about over the next few days so here's installment #1.

In California, we have an initiative process where anyone with enough money can get a proposition put onto the ballot. Then all it takes is spin and advertising and it becomes law. Doesn't that sound great? (I'll be blogging about that in the next few days).

Last year we had prop 73 which would have required parental notification before a teenage girl could have an abortion. It was defeated. So this year we have prop 85... and it is the same thing.

So why would I urge you to vote "no" on a law that would require parents to be notified before a teenage girl could have an abortion? After all, she needs permission before she can get an aspirin at school, right? In the best of all possible worlds, no teenage girl would get pregnant and abortion would be a non-issue. In the next best of all worlds, if a girl did get pregnant, she would go to a wonderful supportive family who would help her through a very complicated and difficult time. We don't live in the best or the next best of all worlds. Some teenage girls get pregnant by a relative, even their fathers. Some live in abusive households and fear for their lives daily. Some have parents who could not care less. To require these vulnerable girls to go to their parents before having a procedure is unconscionable.

Some picture a 12 year old sitting alone in a doctor's office, scared, being pushed into a decision she does not want to make. Others picture untold numbers of girls seeing this as an easy out for them to have unprotected sex and then have abortions with no consequences. Neither picture is accurate. The statistics show that 70% of teenagers who get pregnant tell their parents and make a decision with them. Of the 30% who do not... well there is a reason for not telling and at least some of them are very good reasons. If those girls go to Planned Parenthood, they receive extensive counseling and opportunities to connect with supportive and caring adults who are not there to push them to have an abortion but who are trying to help them make decisions that are the best for them. As for 12 year olds, I was told that our local PP, which covers 3 counties - Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis - only had 3 abortions in the past year with clients 14 or under.

Those who argue for the proposition say that there is a legal remedy for girls who cannot tell their families. The question then is what scared teenager who has just learned she is pregnant to an abusive father is going to have the savvy to go through a complicated legal process? More likely, she would do something like the teenager did last year who asked her boyfriend to hit her in the belly with a baseball bat to try to induce an abortion.

What this issue really is about is keeping the most vulnerable of girls safe in extremely difficult times. Vote "no" on prop 85

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

hanging out

You know the old joke... what do you call someone who likes to hang out with musicians? A drummer.

Well, one of the fun things of being a reasonably good guitarist is that I get to hang out with some amazing ones. I am really blessed to have a bunch of friends who do things with guitars that shouldn't be done... or can't be done. Here are two of them...

One is Miche Fambro. Mick plays a classical guitar upside down and combines jazz, flamenco, and folk with percussion all on one guitar while singing with one of the sweetest voices you'll ever hear. He plays like nobody else I've ever heard.

Below is a video of another of my friends - Thomas Leeb who is an amazing player. Take a look at what he does with a beautiful Lowden F35C guitar. You can't see it in the video but Thomas has added a wooden reinforcement up near the cutaway so he doesn't wear a hole in the guitar there from hitting it so many times. Michael Hedges opened the door to this style of playing but Thomas takes in places that are all his own.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crazy Tom

Last post I said that Tom is crazy... then he sent me this photo from his last vacation. What sane person would do that?

Monday, October 23, 2006

crazy Icelanders

One of my closest friends does off-roading... the serious kind. Tom builds these monster Jeep thingsand goes up and down mountains and over rocks where no sane person would ever try taking a vehicle. A few years ago, he rolled his Jeep down a mountain... about a mile until he hit one of the few trees which stopped his rolling.

Well, to prove he isn't the craziest person in the world (even if he is the craziest I know) he sent me this link where a Jeep drives across water.

Well, Tom is right. He isn't the craziest person in the world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ken Lay gets off

Some months ago, I blogged about Ken Lay. Some folk thought I went overboard when I advocated that his decendants should continue to pay the vicitms of his crimes. After all, wealth and position open doors of opportunity that don't get opened otherwise. Lay's children, grandchildren, etc. would all continue to benefit from his crime even after he was convicted and punished.

Well, Lay was convicted of everything and was awaiting sentencing when he died. The government was poised to seize about $44 million in assets that he got illegally. Well, he died before sentencing and a federal judge in Houston this week wiped away the conviction because Lay had not had the opportunity to appeal it before his death.

So... Lay's family keeps the $44 million and those whose lives were turned upside down by his fraud, some of whom literally lost everything and whose children and grandchildren will have fewer opportunities because of his crimes... well, they get nothing.

some silliness

but boy is it fun...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why I am in ABCUSA?

This is a key question for me these days when I am feeling less and less welcome in the larger denomination.

I did not grow up in a Baptist tradition and didn't choose it until I was a student at Eastern Baptist Seminary. There I learned about a denomination that was committed to racial, economic, cultural, and theological diversity. I learned that we hear the voice of God most clearly when we struggle together with those who see and hear things differently. I learned that the voice of God is often, usually, first heard by a small minority who bring it to the larger group. There the message is often rejected, but I was told of a tradition that kept those subversive messages close to their hearts just in case there was something of the Spirit of God present in them. I became an American Baptist not because I agreed with all of the other American Baptists but because I didn't. I joined a denomination that had Unitarians and fundamentalists both (and I needed to hear from both). I learned of a mission movement that was committed to contextualization of their ministries and was very effective and efficient because work was contextual. I saw the extravagant beauty and grace of God in that disparate mix of people.

Through the years, my theology has changed radically. Still, I felt there was a place for me in that mix because no matter where I was on the theological spectrum, there was someone both to my right and my left with whom I could fellowship, struggle, serve, and grow.

I am progressive on most social issues (and believe that way because I believe that is what faithfulness to the scriptures require). Because of those views, I am feeling more and more alienated from the denomination I joined back in the 70's. There are groups that are probably closer to me theologically such as the Alliance of Baptists, but I don't want to lose the diversity of the ABC. I like having conservative partners in mission. I learn from them and I think they learn from me.

So... I stay in the ABC.

Friday, October 13, 2006

missing an old friend

Back in the 80's I played in a band called August in Philadelphia (the band is still playing too!) We used to play at this wonderful little music club in New Hope, PA called John and Peters, often on Sunday afternoon. There was a music store 2 doors down that I would visit on breaks that had this amazing acoustic guitar hanging on the wall... I loved it but couldn't afford it.

Then one week, there was a sign in the window - "Going Out of Business Sale." The guitar was still there and the price was slashed. Monday I went back and purchased the guitar, then sold another one and broke even. It is the guitar that I am playing in the photo.

In the late 80's I switched from electric to acoustic as my primary instrument. That guitar was the only guitar I played from about 1988 until August of '99 when it was stolen on a visit to Philadelphia. I felt as if my fingers had been cut off and truly considered giving up playing. I couldn't imagine making music with any other guitar. That Lowden was "my" guitar and my sound.

The folk at Lowden were great when my guitar was stolen. They built me a wonderful replacement and a person in the company even loaned me a guitar for 6 months while my guitar was being built. George Lowden personally carved the braces in an older style that they were not using at the time and chose the inlays to match their 25th anniversary model. In those days, the large shop guitars where built by the folk who now run Avalon Guitars and George Lowden was president of the company. They have since parted ways with George taking his designs and starting a new company with the other folk becoming Avalon. Both George and Steve from Avalon were amazing to me. Thank you both.

Alexis and I have one of our rare gigs coming up (10/28 at Cold Springs Tavern outside of Santa Barbara) and I was watching an old video from a television show we had done in Albany in '98. Man did that guitar sound great! Indeed, I would say it was the best guitar I've ever owned and possibly the best one I've ever played - certainly among the top 5. Something just worked that day in the Lowden shop when they built that guitar back in '86. I love the new guitar but I still miss "my" Lowden. I'd love to get "my" guitar back someday so... if you run into a Lowden L25C serial number 271, it is my baby. And if I never get it back... I hope someone is still playing it and realizes what an amazing guitar they have.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

convenient scapegoat

If it wasn't so pathetic it would be funny to listen as Republican leaders have tried to blame Democrats for the Foley mess. In spite of the growing evidence that the leaders in the house had received multiple reports and did nothing perhaps for years... they're claiming it is the Democrats playing politics that Foley's actions came out now.

And then... and then... the Republicans tried to blame Clinton for the mess with North Korea. And that is after they had both houses and the presidency for how long?

I only hope that in November, the American public will show that they have learned.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

multi-cultural mess

About 7 years ago we did an exchange with a church in Leicester, England, a place that calls itself the heart of multi-cultural England. I was surprised at how multi-cultural Great Britain is. Leicester has very large populations of Pakistani and Indian folk (and some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten!). As we traveled around we saw road signs in Welsh in Wales, stayed with a family in Scotland whose children went to a school where instruction took place in Gailic, and on another trip we visited a church in London where the small congregation included people who spoke 22 different languages. We saw a picture not only of diversity but of a culture that was working to celebrate that diversity. It was wonderful!

Then this week I saw a news article reporting that some British government officials are calling to bar Muslim women from wearing their veils as it emphasizes their differences and one of the government officials said that he feels uncomfortable talking to someone whose face he cannot see.

I was aghast. This came the same day as an interfaith event here in Santa Barbara where Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish speakers shared some of their faith and spoke of their dreams that we can learn to live and work together for a more civil society. Yes, there are differences and the veil makes them obvious. They need not keep us apart though. And to the government official who feels uncomfortable... get over it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shocking the Monkey

I've been a huge fan of Peter Gabriel for a long time. Today I came across a link thatjust thrilled me. His record company - real World - has a site devoted to remixes of songs in their catalog. They have just completed a competition for remixes of Shock the Monkey. It is amazing what someone with talent and the right equipment can do in remixing a song.

I have only listened to about 20 but the different takes on this song from individual to individual really do amaze me. At this point, this mix by Caml is my favorite. It takes the song in a completely different direction but works perfectly. If you click on the link to top twenty at the top of the page you can listen to some other takes on the song.

Grace Abounds

In this week where the horrific violence in Iraq continues to mount, we've heard multiple reports of deadly violence in schools in the US, the most unexpected event taking place at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine a place where such violence is less likely to happen. These are quiet, simple, peaceful people of faith. But it did. Charles Carl Robert's entered the school planning to molest 10 girls and ended up shooting instead. And as of 10/4, 5 young girls had died, 3 were in critical condition, and 2 were serious. Roberts is also dead.

It was a terrible disconnect that this took place in a school where a sign proclaimed, "visitors bring joy." This visitor brought grief and pain. He tried to leave hatred and revenge in his wake but the folk in that little community refused. Instead, they returned grace. The Amish do not have insurance so when a need arises the community and other Amish communities around the country rise up and contribute until the needs are met. Funds were established to help the families of each of the girls who were shot. The Amish also set up a fund for Robert's family, knowing that their lives were turned inside out as well. It was also widely reported that the Roberts family would be welcome at the funerals of the girls to share as they all mourn.

These expressions of grace will not bring back the girls who have died but they will offer healing to the entire community. They will not make sense of meaningless deaths, but they will offer hope that the love of God overcomes even senseless violence. They stand out as a radical example of the power of Jesus' love to change the world works. In these violent times. We need those examples.

I am heart-broken that this event was the catalyst for this example of grace but deeply glad that if such events take place, at least amazing grace is available to see us through.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I've been a fan of Ansel Adams photos since my college days when I first saw them. He captured the majesty of Yosemite like no one else. I wasn't aware that he ever photographed people.

While we were in Hawaii, we visited the Honolulu Academy of Arts and saw an exhibit of photos that Ansel Adams made of the Japanese interment camp at Manzanar in California. It was heartbreaking to see the pain inflicted upon these folk - mostly American citizens - simply because of their ancestry. One photo that still haunts me is of a mother holding the Congressional Medal of Honor she received for her son who had sacrificed himself to save his colleagues by diving on a hand grenade. She received the medal while living behind barbed wire and after having had everything she owned taken away from her. And here we are talking about profiling people because they look Arab or are Muslim... and history threatens to repeat itself.