Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Keith Olbermann on Iraq

I don't watch much TV and almost never MSNBC so I missed this comment when it was aired. I came across it today on Mike Leaptrott's blog. It is long and perhaps not quite as timely as when it was delivered a few days ago but still very much on target and worth watching and sharing.

Thanks Mike!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Arlington West

This photo of is of the Arlington West Memorial at the beach in Santa Barbara. There are 3000 crosses in the sand, most with names, many with photos. Of course there is also a sign that recognizes that as of this writing there are actually 3497.

Memorial Day is always an ambivalent day for me. I am a pacifist. I always think there is another way to solve conflict than with military might. The Iraq War itself involves no ambivalence. I think Bush, Cheney and the rest of them should be tried for war crimes and imprisoned. Now we know that they told yet another lie when they tell us that nobody could predict what has happened. Before the invasion they had received intelligence estimates that predicted exactly what happened. Of course, they ignored those predictions. They must be held responsible for the death and destruction they have caused.

My feelings about the casualties are very different. (here's a link to the names, details, and photos of those who have died). Some who have died signed up for the military because they truly believed in this mission and believed they could make a difference in the world. Some were in the reserves because they believed it was an easy way to supplement their income and never dreamt they would be in combat. At worst they expected to be deployed to help clean up after a natural disaster. Some were confused young people who joined the military in hopes of finding direction for their lives. Someone had told them that "joining the army will make you a man."

The men and women represented by those crosses in the sand, many of whom were too young to really know who they were or where they were going, gave their lives at the bequest of the nation. It is a noble act to be willing to sacrifice your future for the greater good. It is an act to be honored. At the same time, it is an act that should not be required without the most serious of discussion and not until every other option has been exhausted. In this case there was no serious discussion and much of what there was was laced with lies. It wasn't a case where every reasonable option was exhausted, it was a time when the option chosen should not have been on the table at all.

These men and women did not waste their lives. They sacrificed for their country. Still, their lives were wasted. George Bush wasted their lives. They died for his macho fantasy in an unnecessary war that cannot be won.

I seriously doubt that he will be held accountable for his actions in this life, but I believe he will stand before God and listen to each name read, see each face of each soldier who died, of each one who has come back without limbs, of each one who cannot adjust to life after having seen what they saw and done what they did. He will see each face and hear each name of each Iraqi citizen who died as "colateral damage" or in the sectarian violence we fomented. He had better pray that his view of God is not accurate. If we do have a God of violence and vengence, as George Bush seems to believe, he will surely pay for what he has done. I imagine him standing and saying, "But I thought it was the right thing" with that goofy look on his face and God responds, "Go away from me. You never knew me."

Sunday, May 27, 2007


We aren't wine snobs but if we could afford it, we could easily become so... Cheryl and I are members of one of the wine clubs at Beckmen Vineyards. Yesterday we had a wonderful day at a tasting of futures (and a few current wines) exclusively for wine club members. Beckmen produces wonderful Syrahs, Grenaches, and Rhone style blends. We learned about Beckmen's biodynamic farming, had a nice picnic, enjoyed the tastings, and ordered a number of bottles of wine which will be released over the next year or so. Then, some we'll drink and some we'll hold for as many as 10 years. Buying good wine is a statement of optimism regarding the future.

Ecclesiastes was right when it tells us that "wine makes the heart merry." Good wine does it doubly

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

no to feeds

Sometimes I'm a luddite... I find myself rejecting some technological changes just in principle. Feeds are one that I'm still rejecting. Why? I like the surprise of finding something I wasn't expecting to find. I like not having to read everything that is out there (even from people who's blogs I want to read). I like the possibility of going to a blog and finding nothing new or a whole bunch of new posts. It feels relational when I choose to go to someone's blog to read what they have to say.

On a related note, there is a wonderful film available called The Devil's Playground which is a documentary about the Amish rite of passage called Rumspringa. In the film there is one Amish man who is interviewed regarding their relationship to technology and he said that they are not against technology for technology's sake. They are against the impact that it has on relationships with one another or with the world around them. Zipping by in a car stops the individual from being in relationship to the landscape. Sitting around a television stops the family from interacting.

So... I'm resisting feeds.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


My daughter, Alexis, is working on a masters degree in the international studies department at UCSB and has been looking for a place to do some required international work. Door after door seemed to close in front of her and I was more than a little worried that nothing would come together. She wasn't concerned. She reminded us that doors open when they are supposed to. An example took place during her undergraduate work. One week, a speaker from The Institute for European and Social Studies in Szombatheley, Hungary spoke at her school and impressed her. Within a few weeks, she was in Hungary for a semester. It turned out to be a formative time for her.

She seems to have done it again. This time in a place equally as surprising. Alexis is headed to the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Chandigarh, India. Assuming that she can work out the visa issues, she'll be there in about 6 weeks. The current plan is that she'll spend about 6 weeks in Chandigarh and then move on to Delhi for about 5 more months.

I have to say that the possibilities both excite and frighten me... it is amazing how much smaller the world is than when I was her age, how many more opportunities there are, and the possibilities for growth and for making a difference in the world.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I have been a pastor in three churches for a total of about 29 years but I still wouldn't say that I really understand churches. Why one grows and another doesn't, why one seems to thrive while another struggles, why people choose to attend one over another... It puzzles me. Plus, every church is different. They do things differently. They understand their ministry differently. The members wear the tasks of keeping a church going in different ways. All of that adds up to a surprise whenever we experience another community of faith so one thing that I look forward to when we travel is visiting other churches.

Few have surprised me more than the one we attended a few weeks ago. I found the church via google - did a search for emerging churches in that city - and it seemed a reasonable choice that I would likely find positive.

There were about 350-400 people in the worship service. I would guess that about 60% of the folk present were past retirement age. There were very few 40-50 somethings and a lot of younger adults and small children. The younger children seemed to feel very much at home and didn't feel constrained as they moved around the worship center during the service and made a good bit of noise. It was a typical 70's style architecture and there was a large screen in the front. Dress was conservative.

Now for the surprises... A number of people recognized us as visitors and greeted us warmly both before worship and during the greeting time about 1/2 through the service. Almost every one of them (including one of the pastors) asked what church we belong to. I'm curious as to why we stood out so and more curious at the question that every person asked. I don't know if tey were looking for common ground or it they were testing us.

When we entered the room, I couldn't see any instruments and there was no background music going on. I didn't give it much thought though. I looked through the printed bulletin and didn't recognize the titles of most of the songs to be sung. So I opened the hymnal and was surprised to see the music was written in shape notes. I still hadn't put things together. There were no instruments. The service began with a video advertising the National Day of Prayer... Then a song leader went to the front, played a single note on a pitch pipe and began to sing. The congregation joined in, in parts. For one song, the novelty (to me) was nice. By the 3rd song, I was deadly bored. Communion followed... it was done in the pews and frankly was the least moving communion I've ever experienced. The preacher had a warm and engaging style and did a nice job of exegesis on the scripture, but he didn't ever really get to application (and there were lots of doors opened for that to happen). The sound was poor and it was very difficult to hear the folk upfront other than the preacher (who wore a lapel microphone).

It was one of those churches that I couldn't understand at all. It flew in the face of everything my gut tells me about churches. If I lived in that town, I would certainly never attend there again and couldn't understand why anyone who wasn't a serious shape note singing fan would... but the space was pretty full and it seemed as if the folk there were committed to that community of faith.

So what did I learn? I still don't understand churches. And don't trust everything google tells you.

Monday, May 14, 2007

a Strad

Anyone who knows anything about violins has seen hundreds of violins advertised as "Stradivarius." Just look on e-bay and there are probably 50 tere right now. Of course they aren't. The real thing is very rare and very expensive. There may be as many as 700 of his instruments surviving today and values run as high as $3.5 dollars.

I heard the real thing on Saturday evening. We saw Martin Chalifour as soloist with the Santa Barbara Symphony playing the "Milstein" Stradivarius, built in 1716 (courtesy of Mr. Jerry Kohl, i.e. Kohl owns the instrument and allows Chalifour to play it).

It was an interesting and informative experience. The violin sounded wonderful... it was rich and carried well in a large room over an orchestra. But it didn't sound that different to me than any number of other wonderful violins that I've heard, especially when playing with the orchestra. Indeed, in that context, I thought a violin that was a little brighter might have worked better. He also played a solo piece by Bach and the instrument shown more there. I have no idea what it felt like in Mr. Chalifour's hands.

It made me think about Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, instruments in context, and how instruments feel and sound to the player vs. how they sound to an audience.

Audiences can't usually tell the difference between an extraordinary instrument and an excellent one, especially in a mix with other instruments. We don't know how the violin responds to the player. Does it fight back or is it very easy to control? Is it forgiving or does it expose every little issue with one's technique? Again, we don't know the answers and while an audience may not hear these differences, they certainly affect the performance. And does the audience hear what the performer does? Most likely not but the differences may or may not be what one would expect. And probably most important of all is the law of diminishing returns. Somehow, I can't imagine that there is nearly as much difference between a $1 million violin and a $3 million one as there is between a $300 violin and a $1000 one. Heck, I'll be there is more difference between those last two violins than between the Strad and the violins worth in the 10's of thousands played by the rest of the orchestra.

So what does that say to me as a guitar player? I've got a few wonderful instruments... enjoy them. Nobody in an audience can tell and 99% don't care what it is or what it is worth. If it sounds good and fits in the mix... that is enough.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Immigration and the Devil

I've only voted Republican once in my life. After reading this article, I'm even more embarassed to admit that one time. It seems the Utah State Republicans met recently and ended their state convention by debating the influence of Satan on illegal immigrants. Yep. You read that right.

The Daily Herald, a daily paper in central Utah, reports that
Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

What in the world can you say to that?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

mission accomplished

4 years ago Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and proclaimed to the world that major combat operations were concluded. How many have died since then? And what could have been done with the nearly $1trillion spent thus far?

Yesterday, seated behind me on a flight from El Paso was an Army officer recently back from Iraq. I overheard him tell the man sitting next to him that "there is no military solution to Iraq." What he didn't imply but should have is that there is no military solution to any international conflicts. We spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined and even with that plus the help of over 100,000 mercenaries in Iraq, we still can't beat that little country!?!? War doesn't work any longer. Terrorism cannot be defeated by bombing a village. Economic development, education, medical help, talking... these are the only techniques that can make a difference in today's world.

It may be that military might is needed to contain violence, but as a long term solution, it accomplishes no mission. All one need do is look at the quagmire that is Iraq to see that.