Monday, March 31, 2008

Life is still hard in SB

One side event we're planning around Alexis' wedding is a wine tasting tour for friends attending from back east. We have a couple of wineries chosen already but a tasting is always worth doing.

One of our family's favorite wineries is Beckmen, so much so that we're members of one of their wine clubs. They're first on the list for our tasting followed by Stolpman (big, tannic Rhone style reds) and Mandolina (CalItal wines) but we needed at least one more and maybe two for the day.

We've been thinking about one of the larger wineries in the area - either Firestone or Fess Parker (yep, the Daniel Boone Fess Parker). Both of these wineries have decent wines at a lower price point than the others I had chosen. The women folk in the family prefer the tasting room at Firestone so we're leaning that way.

Last Friday, we had to pick up a few bottles of wine that we had ordered at Beckmen so we took part of the afternoon for a tasting. We started at Beckmen and had some wonderful wines from both their estate wines and the higher end Purisima wines. We tasted two Grenache's - an estate and the Purisima Vineyard wine. Both were wonderful and very drinkable now or worthy of a few years of cellaring. We also had two different Syrahs - the Estate Syrah and a Barrel Select Purisima. Again, wonderful big wines... a bit more fruit forward than the Grenache. We finished our tasting with a taste of a blend just called Purisima. Heaven in a bottle!

From Beckmen we headed to Zaca Mesa, one of the first wineries founded in Santa Barbara County after prohibition. We had heard good things about some of their wines but hadn't tasted any before this. We began with two Rhone style whites, a viognier and a roussanne. We don't drink a lot of white wine and I don't usually care for either of these varieties but both were very, very nice. If we were on a shopping trip, I would have come home with a bottle or three of the viognier. From there we went to the reds. Their Estate Syrah was very nice, but not quite as good as the Beckmen estate version. Our final wine was the Z Three, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache. It is a wonderful wine. We had to purchase a bottle.

Our last stop was Babcock. One of our wino friends really likes their Pinot Noir so we thought we'd try a tasting to see whether we should add them. Many who've seen the film Sideways, associate Pinots with Santa Barbara County. I guess there are a few good ones here (I don't particularly care for Pinots) but they really do pale in comparison to the Rhone style wines which are perfect for this place. So... we went to Babcock and began with a few whites - a Pinto Gris and a Chardonnay. Neither were "wows" but both were reasonably good wines. Then we had their rose - Big Fat Pink Shiraz. It was simple, but fun and we bought two bottles. This was followed by a Pinot Noir (still not my favorite varietal) and a Cabernet. Again, passable but not something I would purchase. We ended with a late harvest Chardonnay. Late harvest wines are very sweet, almost syrupy. The grapes are left on the vines until they begin to turn into raisins. The concentrated sugars make very complicated wines that can be amazing in small quantities... too much and you go into diabetic shock. Usually late harvests are made from Riesling, Muscat, or Gewürztraminer. The Chardonnay version was much more simple without the floral flavors one expects especially from Gewürztraminer... again not bad but not anything I would purchase.

So... we may add Zaca Mesa to the list along with probably Firestone although, we may do another tasting or two just to be sure. Life is hard.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

who are we

I've been fascinated by brain research ever since I read a book with the title The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. A friend sent a link to this lecture and it is fascinating as Dr. Bolte Taylor shares her experience and challenges us to live in both halves of our brains.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

McCain on health care reform

Let me first off say that I believe a McCain presidency would be almost as big a mistake as the Bush presidencies were/are. Occasionally I'll post reasons why.

The first has to do with health care. On his web site's health care page, McCain says, among other things that he would
Reform the tax code to eliminate the bias toward employer-sponsored health insurance, and provide all individuals with a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) to increase incentives for insurance coverage. Individuals owning innovative multi-year policies that cost less than the full credit can deposit remainder in expanded health savings accounts.

Let's unpack that for a minute. "Eliminate the bias toward employer sponsored health insurance..." What is the bias in the tax code? Employers can deduct the cost of provided insurance from their corporate income. If employers could not deduct these costs, does anyone really believe they would continue to provide it? Think how that would increase their already unsustainable costs. For example, if an employer was paying $10,000 a year for insurance for an employee and they suddenly could not deduct those costs, their real costs for that same benefit could jump as much as 35% to $13500. Bye bye health coverage as a benefit.

So what is McCain's solution then? a $2500 tax credit or $5000 for a family per year. Now, I don't know what insurance costs are where you live but my employer pays a lot more than $5K for my family's insurance. If I could purchase insurance in my area - which I can't because of controlled health issues - it would probably be at least $25K a year and possibly more. That means $20K+ out of my pocket. Of course, we cannot afford that so my controlled medical condition would no longer be controlled and well... you get the picture. And for those folk who are currently uninsured, the tax credit is not enough to enable them to purchase insurance either so it helps nobody.

So what solution does McCain's plan offer to the health care crisis? Even fewer people with adequate health insurance.

Is that the kind of health care reform you want? If it is, vote for John McCain.


The big claim from the Clinton campaign has been Hillary's experience qualifies her to be president while Obama has done nothing but talk. Wes Walls at Ketchup and Caviar has a great post outlining the accomplishments of both.

It is really worth a read and completely blows away the Clinton camps argument. Just one number to compare... in his first year as a Senator, Obama introduced 152 bills, most of them substantive, and co-sponsored 427 more. In 6 years as a senator, Hillary introduced 20 bills... and most of them were about things like naming courthouses.

Read the list and you'll quickly see that Obama has exactly the kind of experience we need.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Ever wonder about the songwriting process? How does a songwriter sit down and come up with words, melody, and chord changes that touch our hearts and make our spirits soar? Obviously, the process is different for different songwriters and under different circumstances. Some songwriters are inspired by events in their lives and the songs just flow. Others work at it like a 9-5 job. I remember reading once that Paul Simon has an office that he goes to each day and sits at a desk and writes.

Well, my friend Miche Fambro is a great songwriter and an all around astounding musician. Mick has put this wonderful video up on youtube to give us all some insight into how the process works at least sometimes.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Five years and now the official death count of US military in Iraq is now 4000. There are officially 29314 wounded. And the department of defense reports that 145 US military personnel in Iraq have committed suicide. Of course, nobody is really counting the Iraqis. You can see all of the statistics at Iraq Coalition Casualties.

Bring them home.

But ending this war is not enough. We must address the mindset in this country that sees violence as the primary and best response to conflict. This must be changed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Race in America

"My name is Roy. I'm a white, middle-aged, middle class, well-educated, male."

"Hi Roy!"

For years, I've had the fantasy of beginning a sermon on MLK Day that way. But having said all of that, I need to say some more. I grew up in what was then a blue collar, integrated neighborhood in Pittsburgh (Wilkinsburg) and experienced the racial tensions that were so prevalent during the 60's. We joked that we got off school 5 days every May for the annual riot season. I saw as the police waded into the violent confrontations between the black and white kids and essentially took the side of the white kids. I watched as my white friends went off to college and my black friends ended up in menial jobs or jail unless they were good enough athletes to get into a college on a scholarship. One friend from my high school got a basketball scholarship to the same rural white college I attended. He never graduated.

I could give hundreds of illustrations, some from my past and some as recent as a few weeks ago in beautiful Santa Barbara, all of which point to one inescapable truth - that the black experience in America is not the same as the white one. Unless we acknowledge this and work together to address it, it will continue to poison our common life.

Yesterday, I was driving a distance to a meeting and was listening to right wing talk radio as I drove. I came home and read a number of comments from folk on the right regarding Obama's speech on Race and I am struck by the inability to see what strikes me as obvious. Race still is an issue in the United States and Obama provides us with an opportunity to address this issue in ways that we have not. Again and again I heard or read comments that denigrated or even denied the black experience and in doing so, removed any possibility of movement forward. More and more I find myself motivated to become involved in this campaign.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama on Race

that's why I'm hoping that he becomes our next president.

that's why the world needs Obama to be the next leader of the United States

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gee... life is hard

My daughter is getting married in August and we're working on all of the details for the service and the reception. Parts of the preparation have been a lot of fun.

Alexis and Christian wanted two things at the reception... live music for dancing and decent wine (we do live in wine country). That presented problems. Volume rules and anti-alcohol policies ruled out many different spaces. Add to that the fact that we live in Santa Barbara where everything costs more and the possibilities narrowed quickly. We chose a venue that met our hopes, was reasonably affordable (it is Santa Barbara so reasonable is relative), allowed live music, and had a great menu. We tasted the wines available and at $20 a bottle and up, we were less than impressed. There is a $10 corkage fee so we figured anything $10 a bottle or less and we'd be ahead of the game. So... we've been having tastings of sub $10 wines.

This evening we were tasting some whites. Today, I picked up two bottles - a Tiger Hill Sauvignon Blanc from India! (as a joke, we tasted some Indian wines when we were in India in October and they were bad) and a bottle of Montes Chardonnay from Chile. From an earlier shopping trip I had bottles of Kono Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a Firestone Chardonnay, a Fetzer Chardonnay, and a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay - all of which were well under our $10 limit.

Cheryl made some amazing chicken and Cheryl, Alexis, Christin, and I had dinner and tastes of 6 wines.

Here are some thoughts...

Tiger Hill - very simple, watery... let's just say that everyone dumped their little tastes.

Kono Sauvignon Blanc - This wine is from the Marlborough region of New Zealand which is known for wonderful citrusy wines. Some great ones like the Kim Crawford cost $13-15 a bottle. The Kona still had some of the grapefruit flavors I associate with this region but it didn't have a lot more than that. I liked it. Nobody else did.

Fetzer Chardonnay - years ago we used to drink Fetzer Sundial and thought this would be a reasonable wine to try. The label said "apple, pear, and tropical fruits." I tasted a dominant flavor of banana which I'm not crazy about. Everybody else liked it more than I did.

Montes Chardonnay - Alexis took a sip and immediately dumped it. She said, amoxicillan! bubble gum flavored amoxicillan." Everyone dumped it.

Firestone Chardonnay - I liked this idea since Firestone is a Santa Barbara winery and they have reasonably good wines. This chard had a bit more citrus than the others. I liked it. Alexis and Cheryl didn't.

Kendall Jackson Chardonnay - KJ has some vineyards right along route 1 in the northern part of Santa Barbara county and blends grapes from a number of regions including Santa Barbara County to make these lower level wines. While this one wasn't a great wine, it also didn't have any overwhelming flaws. Everyone liked it enough to add to it our list and nobody dumped it.

We tasted reds and a few other whites earlier (I'll blog about this later) and it seems that it is much easier to find reasonable reds than whites in the sub $10 range. We'll likely purchase a few cases of the Kendall Jackson to supplement a Paul Mas Sauvignon Blanc that we purchased after an earlier tasting...

someone is wrong on the internet

I participate in a number of mostly guitar related forums online but one I frequent is a the Christian Musician Forum. There are some wonderful folk who visit the list and I enjoy their online company... most of the time. It is one of the few boards I frequent that allows discussion of political topics. It also often has theological threads. In both cases, many of the views of the participants are far to the right of mine. I haven't learned to keep quiet and as my friend Toni, has reminded me, sometimes disagreeing causes more light than heat. Still, I find myself identifying with this cartoon that Toni had on his blog.

The cartoon comes from xkcd. Go there and do the mouse over to see the rest of the text. Thanks Steve!

Friday, March 14, 2008

If Obama Wasn't Black

He wouldn't be Obama. It is that simple. If he was white, female, differently abled, whatever, he would not be Obama. The man is where he is because of who he is and he is who he is because of the experiences that have shaped him. A central part of that experience comes from growing up as a man of color in the United States. His experience shaped his career choices. It presented him with a specific mix of opportunities, culture, and obstacles - all of which contribute to the man he is today. It shaped his message. It shaped his view of America. It shaped his dreams of what he could be and what we could be. So yes, Geraldine Ferraro, were Obama not black, he would not be where he is. But that is no different than saying, "if an eagle didn't have wings, it couldn't fly."

Of course, that is not what Ferraro meant. She meant that he is not qualified and that somehow, Barack Obama is the recipient of some kind of affirmative action for politicians that catapults him to the front of the line because of race. He is not capable but we'll give him a shot because he's black. She is belittling him... and all of the rest of us. It gives those who are blatantly racist a good excuse to not even consider Obama and it calls into question the judgment of anyone who is in the Obama camp.

This represents racism of the worst kind. It plays on all of the old stereotypes of a black man both as incapable and as irresistible. Just as race seems to be receeding as an issue in American life, it calls it back to the forefront and renders any progress we have made as suspect. That Ferraro doesn't seem to get it only shows the depth of racism in her. That Hillary Clinton has not condemned the statement in a categorical way only shows the degree to which she is willing to turn her back on what is right if it is politically expedient.

Of course, Obama is not only black. He is male. He is well educated. He comes from the midwest in urban settings. He had a specific experience of class. He has a lifetime of experience in the African American Church. He has a genetic makeup with certain abilities hard-wired into him. He has a wide variety of descriptors, each of which has served to help shape him into the man he is. And there is something in his character that has decided how each of these influences would change him. All in all, of the choices available, it adds up to the candidate for whom I would like to vote for president.

Olbermann on Ferraro

We've all heard the comments by Geraldine Ferraro that Obama would not be where he is where he not black...

Keith Olbermann has a hard hitting commentary on this incident.

my next post will give another perspective on Ferraro's comments.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Southern Baptists and the Environment

As the question of global warming moved to the center of public discourse, the evangelical Christian community was visibly vocal in opposition even to the issue being raised. When they did address it, it was often seen as a ruse of the devil to keep churches from addressing "real" issues or a part of some left wing conspiracy to destroy our culture. There were some pockets of dissent as some evangelicals talked about the responsibility of stewardship of the earth but, in large degree, they were drowned out by the majority voice. The Southern Baptist Convention was among the loudest in dismissing any discussion of global warming as a moral issue for Christians to consider.

This past week, a group of over 40 prominent Southern Baptist leaders released a Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change that represents a very cautious but real change in direction. They acknowledge that in the scientific community "there is general agreement" regarding the cause, the nature, and the severity of global warming. They go on to say
Though the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial and cannot be dismissed out of hand on either scientific or theological grounds. Therefore, in the face of intense concern and guided by the biblical principle of creation stewardship, we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or our responsibility to address it. Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.

Again and again in the statement the writers reaffirm stances on abortion and homosexuality - the social issues that Southern Baptists have held central. The writers did not want to open themselves to criticism that they were abandoning what the SBC sees as clear issues for controversial ones. Still, they take a stand on climate change and, given the history, it is a courageous one.

I have little respect for the Southern Baptist Convention. In my opinion they have abandoned the heart of the Baptist tradition. In shutting down any room for difference of opinion, they have lost the ability to hear the voice of the Spirit and deadened any sensitivity to the movement of God in changing contexts. Having said that, this statement gives me hope that perhaps there is a possibility for movement in the SBC. In spite of the cautiousness of the statement, it still represents the possibility of seeing new problems, new contexts, and new answers. That is grace.

which president?

Which Great US President Are You Most Like?
created with
You scored as John Kennedy

35th President, in office from 1961-1963
Born: 1917 Died: 1963 (assassainated)

John Kennedy


Theodore Roosevelt


Abraham Lincoln


Dwight Eisenhower


Franklin Roosevelt


Thomas Jefferson


Woodrow Wilson


Ronald Reagan


George Washington


Lyndon Johnson


Harry Truman


How the Mighty Are Fallen

By now everyone has read or heard about the fall of Elliot Spitzer, governor of New York. Spitzer was State Attorney General while we still lived in Albany and I have to say that I was impressed with him. He was a staunch defender of the rights of the general population and went after power people who were abusing their power. He made tons of enemies in high places. He was elected to the governorship with 69% of the vote on promises to reform the ethics of New York State politics. The people were behind him. He ran smack into the state legislature with both parties opposing his reforms and his agenda stumbled causing public support to sag. Still, he was charismatic and principled and some still spoke of an eventual presidential bid.

Then this. He is caught with a telephone trail of interactions with a prostitution ring. A politician whose career was based on standing against corruption and pursuing law breakers in the highest of positions with relentless determinism is caught breaking some of the very laws he had worked so hard to enforce. New York City papers are calling for his resignation with Newsday saying he "is either viciously self-destructive or pathologically arrogant, believing he wouldn't be caught."

I find myself wondering about that. In the church, we have more than once heard of very prominent church leaders being caught in similar sins and just like with Spitzer, they are often issues against which the preachers have railed long and hard. They cannot but know that getting caught would not only deeply damage their families and destroy their careers, it would damage, perhaps beyond repair, the work they have committed their lives to. Spitzer has just added one more reason to not trust politicians or the political process. All of those preachers have added one more example of the hypocrisy of people of faith. Any hope of reform was completely derailed.

What was he thinking? What were they thinking?

I suppose he'll need to resign. If he doesn't, accomplishing anything through the rest of his term will be next to impossible. Re-establishing trust with the populace would be the key and doing that would involve public contrition and public acknowledgement that he had betrayed not only his family but the hopes and dreams of the 69% who had voted for him. It wouldn't be pretty and would hurt his family even more.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ten Canoes

I watch a lot of movies because I use clips in many/most of my sermons. So, I am always looking for interesting films that might have a 2 or 3 minute clip that I can use to underscore a theme in a sermon.

Yesterday I rented Ten Canoes, a wonderful little film directed by Rolf de Heer that tells a traditional Australian story within a story. The film is slow and quiet but worth seeing in itself. When pared with the documentary on the making of the film in the special features, it is as life enhancing as any film that I've seen in a long time. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bible meme

I ran across this Bible meme at Bob Cornwall's blog who got it at Even the Devils Believe.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

These days, I'm using The Message most often. I know it is not always a good translation and at times it misses the point entirely... but there are times when the phrasing is just perfect for today. If I want accuracy, I go to the NRSV.

2. Old or New Testament?

My gut wants to immediately say, "New," but there are some amazing stories in the Old that I would never want to lose. So a slight edge goes to the New.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

It's going to be one of the prophets... probably Isaiah

4. Favorite Chapter?

Isaiah 60... Arise! Shine!

5. Favorite Verse? (feel free to explain yourself if you have to)

how about 2? Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)

6. Bible character you think you’re most like?

boy... I'm not sure I want to answer this honestly for all to see...

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

how it inspires such idiocy in people

8. Moses or Paul?

Frankly, neither one... and both. Moses is kind of a cardboard character. We don't get much of his guts. And Paul, I'm not sure that I would like him in person. He seems a bit to sure of himself for me. Having said that, both of them are important characters to my faith.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

This really is the wrong question. It isn't an instruction manual, there for us to study and learn whether A, B, or C is the proper answer. It is a story book, telling the story of people's experience of God through the centuries and their interpretations of those experiences.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?

Zipporah. As other's have said, I wanted to use this as the name for our daughter. We could have called her Zippy for short. Well, not really... but it has been a fun story in our house. For a while Alexis used it as her screen name.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Fall of the Soviet Union and Iraq

What do these two subjects have to do with one another? Let's first talk briefly about the Soviet Union. It fell not because of the strength of America but because of the weakness of its own economy which was overburdened by a military budget that bled everything else dry. Military spending is not productive spending. It doesn't provide infrastructure or goods to the public. Instead it is just a little better than throwing the money away. It is the epitome of the disposable product. So all of this wasteful spending as they tried to keep up with us in an arms race while sustaining a war in Afghanistan was more than they could afford. When their economy collapsed, as was inevitable because of the percentage of non-productive sending, the nation crumbled.

Last Thursday Joseph Stigletz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, and Robert Hormatz, vice chairman of Goldman-Sachs International, testified before the Joint Economic Committee of congress. Stigletz said that he believes the overall cost of the Iraq war will be around 3 trillion dollars with the direct cost to US taxpayers being at least $2 trillion.

Both men testified about the opportunities to make this country better that are rendered impossible because of this war. Stigletz said that for a fraction of the cost, Social Security and Medicare could have been kept easily solvent for at least 50 more years. Each day's spending could put 58,000 children in Head Start, make college affordable for 160,000 students, pay the annual salaries of 11,000 border patrol agents or 14,000 police officers. And that is one day's costs. Watch this little film from the American Friends Service Committee to see more of what could be done with just 1 day's expenditure for this war.

Stigletz also noted that 40% of the vets from the first Gulf War are eligible for disability benefits which will go on for decades. Imagine, he asked, what the numbers will be for this war which will involve 2 million troops and go on for at least the 5 years we already have under our belt? Imagine with me the social costs when the safety net for them fails as it did for the Viet Nam vets - remember how many of them ended up homeless on the streets? How many of these young men and women will end up discarded? And what will happen to their families?

And finally they testified that because of tax cuts during war and what was an already growing deficit, this war is financed almost entirely by deficit spending. Bush has worked to try to hide the costs of the war by bypassing the normal budget process and using emergency appropriations for the funds. The costs will be hanging around our necks like an albatross for decades to come.

And John McCain says we should expect to stay there another 100 year!

Let me make a prediction. If we do, we will fall just like the Soviet Union did and for essentially the same reasons. It will have nothing to do with the strength of our ideals or the beautiful vision upon which this nation was founded. It will be because of a poorly planned and completely unnecessary war that strangled our economy.

A vote for McCain will virtually insure that end. Actually, I think a vote for Hillary will too. It is only Obama who is talking about seeing security in a new way - of building coalitions and negotiating before dropping bombs.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

new layout

well... not very new. It probably looks pretty much the same to you, but it reflects a new way that blogger manages the layout of the page. In switching over, I lost all of my links and widgets on the sidebar so it gives me a chance to re-evaluate what is there. I'll be adding more as I go along.

The first new one is the music player with the tunes from soundclick. I have it set to play automatically as soon as you navigate to the page... is that too annoying?

The blogs that I linked are ones that I read regularly. There are obviously lots of others out there that are worth reading and which I visit occassionally, but these are my regular reads.