Sunday, November 30, 2008

more music

there are players out there who take their instruments beyond the apparent limitations inherent in the instrument. Jimi Hendrix was one. Michael Hedges was one. Jaco Pastorius was one. Michael Manring is one. Check out this video of what he can do with a bass guitar...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

auto bailout

My friend Dave Miller, has a wonderful idea that I think deserves to go viral. So, here it is.

The US auto industry needs help. If we sit back and do nothing, thousands of workers could lose their jobs. It is said that over 10% of the US work force is connected to the auto industry.

So here is my solution. Let's start with the 25 Billion issue. Face it Detroit, we're not just going to give it to you. Philosophically, we are against straight handouts to save failing businesses. But here is what we can do.

We should give the poorest 5 million US taxpaying families a car voucher for $20,000.00. That's right. Just give the money to the taxpayers. So they can buy a new car. But only a car.

Here is how it'll work. The voucher must be used to purchase a new American made car from either Ford, GM, Chrysler or their affiliates.

To encourage fuel conservation the car must get at least 30 MPG based on EPA estimates.

Obviously there would have to be some other bits attached - only tax paying families so it wouldn't be the poorest folk, maybe it should have some restriction on re-sale but maybe not, anything else? - which would give some lawyers income for a month or two but the bottom line is that it would get those companies working, contribute to the larger economy, it encourages competition as the three companies compete for the business, it doesn't hurt the companies that are doing better as those customers aren't in the market for a new car anyway, it helps the environment as it would push some of the big older gas guzzlers and polluters off the road, and wouldn't be the same as just flushing the money down a toilet as seems to have happened with the bank bailout. If the auto-makers needed to retool a few plants to increase production of the smaller cars rather than SUV's, they would have the solid promise of a chunk of income coming their way as encouragement to the lenders.

I think it is a great idea that deserves wider discussion, consideration, and bettering up. What do you think?

Advent 1

Advent is my favorite season of the year... as I feel it most keenly as I yearn for what is not yet but will be in the grace of God.. This week, I felt it especially keenly as I watched and read the news about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
I was struck as I put those attacks in the context of the Old Testament text for this the first Sunday of Advent where Isaiah says -

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

It strikes me as a prayer for God's violent intervention into history against not only God's enemies but "ours" for we are the ones on God's side. I would guess that same kind of prayer was on the lips of those who murdered so many in Mumbai and who terrorized an entire city.

Elsewhere in Isaiah, we are presented with a very different picture where the divisions between us and them melt away in the fullness of God's kindom. In the best parts of the Christian tradition we see that God did in fact, come down, but it was not in wrath and violence, it was in grace and love and it was Isaiah's other dream that was filled full in the child of Bethlehem.

As I go through this season of yearning, it is my prayer that we will embrace that vision, that we will refuse the nightmares of violence and division, that we will embrace God's yearnings for the peaceable kingdom, shaped by God's grace and God's love. It is my prayer that Edward Hick's painting with its symbolism of the children and animals in front, taken directly from Isaiah, and also the native Americans and Euro-Americans sharing in the background, erasing the barriers between us and them and reaching out to those whom we most fear, become the vision we work for in our future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

some more beautiful music

Pat Metheny is a master on the guitar. Anna Maria Jopek is a wonderful Polish singer. Here's a video of a live performance in Warsaw from 2002.

I came across the video after reading about a signature model guitar that Linda Manzer is releasing. It sounds great and looks pretty cool but the price is... a bit high at $32,000.

this is another guitar that she built for Metheny...

and a video of it...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tomorrow's gig

I don't post a lot about my gigs... I'm not sure why. So this week I am. Tomorrow (Friday Nov. 21), I have a gig at Cold Spring Tavern, an historic - well as historic as California gets, stage coach stop built in the 1860's, nestled in the Santa Ynez mountains just above Santa Barbara. The food is great, the atmosphere in the restaurant is romantic and in the bar, funky. It is a fun place to visit and a great place to hear music.

I'm playing with the amazing Jamie Green and groovemaster, Bob Terry on cajon.

We'll be doing an acoustic set but we'll be trying something new as well - adding a few tracks from some of Jamie's recordings. While this is a bit constraining, you have to play with the track and can't add any measures, slow down, speed up, or take any lierties no matter how right it feels at the moment. On the other hand, it will free me a lot. Most of the time, there is just Jamie's voice, my guitar, and Bob's cajon. I have to fill a lot of sonic space. With the other tracks there, there is more room for me to play other stuff... so it is a trade-off.

I am going to get to play a little electric guitar which I haven't done with Jamie before and I'm really looking forward to that. You see, electric guitars actually fill up less sonic space than acoustic guitars so it would be virtually impossible for things to sound full with an electric guitar, cajon, and voice...

If you're in the Santa Barbara area, stop by to hear the music between 7 & 10. Come early and have a meal in the restaurant and have a beautiful evening. Hope to see you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

War Crimes #2

Boy, I got a few really quick responses on my earlier post on the possibility of trying some of the Bush Administration for War Crimes.

a quick observation and then a story...

the observation is that I don't know enough to know whether anyone is guilty. From what I have read and seen, I strongly suspect, yes, but I don't presume to know.

now a story.

Once upon a time there was a Hindu holy man sitting next to a road during the heavy rains of monsoon, meditating. As the rains poured and the water began to rise, he turned his attention to his surroundings. Almost all of the area was covered in water that was quickly draining away down the road. There was a small high spot near him that had become an island and was soon to disappear under the rising waters. A scorpion had retreated for safety to the high spot. As the holy man watched, he knew that the waters would rise, carry the scorpion away, and it would drown. He reached out to save it and as he did, it struck with its tail. He was quick enough to avoid the sting. He reached out again and again the scorpion tried to sting him. Again, he was able to avoid the sting. This happened a third time.

There was a man watching who decided to advise the holy man, "Don't you know that it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting? If you keep reaching out to save it, you will get stung."

The holy man replied, "Don't you know that it is in my nature to save life? Why should I allow the scorpion to cause me to change my nature?"

Fragile Beauty

My friend, Fernando blogged about a recent concert he attended with jazz guitarist Nguyen Le and singer Huong Thanh and it sounded wonderful. I'm not a huge jazz fan and don't know anything at all about Vietnamese music so I wasn't familiar with either artist and did some quick surfing to find them. They both have some wonderful music and together create something that truly is beautiful.

I couldn't find a good video of them together, but here is one of Huong Thanh performing what I assume is traditional Vietnamese music... Watch it and then check out their most recent recording Fragile Beauty

War Crimes Trial

I believe that there are folk in the Bush administration who should be tried for war crimes. I'm not sure how high it should go, but perhaps as far as President Bush. I don't know whether he or anyone else should be found guilty but I think they should be tried. Here's why.

1. The data from Guantanamo seems to indicate that our government at the highest level is complicit in breaking international law.

2. If they are guilty, then a trial is the only way to restore the US's reputation.

3. If they are not guilty, a fair trial is the only way to restore the US's reputation.

It is critical for the moral standing of the US, to show that we do not see ourselves as above the law. Judge Patricia Wald, a judge in the War Crimes Tribunals for Yugoslavia, implied this question in her forward to Guantanamo and It's Aftermath, a study published by the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley, will the US hold itself to the same standards it imposes on other nations? It is critical for our standing in the world to restore our moral integrity. It is critical for our security to be able once again to say we are what we claim to be. It is critical that we put this dark history behind us. The only was to do so is to bring to trial those who are responsible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

laugh when you can

I was just watching CNN's coverage of the fire. They were showing a home burn in the Montecito hills. It was probably between 3500-4000 square feet. The host said something to the effect of "that is a huge home, it is probably worth more than $1 million!"

I had to laugh... it may be worth 10 times that or even more. It is certainly worth at least $6 or 7 million. There are lots of homes in the fire area that are worth $10-20 million and more. Remember Oprah paid $50 million for hers and then renovated it and that area is where she lives. It wasn't that long ago that I remember seeing a little cottage - about 900 square feet - sell for $1 million in Montecito.

Even with the drop in home values, prices here are just ridiculous. How can entire communities be able to afford these prices? And what does it do to a community when the middle class and the poor are completely priced out?


We are experiencing the third major fire in Santa Barbara county in a period of 15 months. As I write, about 3500 acres have burned and over 100 homes, mostly very large luxury homes, have been destroyed, a monastery has been completely destroyed, Westmont College has lost numerous buildings, and evacuation warnings extend well into the city of Santa Barbara, to within blocks of the downtown business area.

Yesterday, I stopped at Costco on my way home... about 5:30. I came out of Costco at 6:15, began the drive home and as I got to the entrance of 101, I looked to the south and saw the flames in the foothills about 5 miles from where I was. The scene I saw was very similar to the photo above taken by Pilot Productions which also has a number of other photos of the fire. I turned on the radio and heard about the Tea Fire which began at 5:50. The conditions were perfect for a disaster. The humidity was very low, under 20%. The winds were strong with gusts over 70mph in the hills. The topography in that area is very rugged with amazing multi-million dollar homes interspersed between canyons and hills which are covered with chaparral. Many of the homes have the native vegetation growing very close to the structures. We are experiencing record heat because of a high pressure system over the desert pushing daytime temperatures inland up into the upper 80's. And we are still in a drought situation. The fire took off. The information officer of the fire department referred to the incident as a "fire tornado," a situation with swirling high winds pushing flames in multiple directions at once.

At this point, about 13 people have been injured including some with burns but there have been no deaths reported. Evacuations have proceeded smoothly. The number of homes destroyed - over 100 - is rough because the authorities have not even been able to assess that yet because of the seriousness of the fire itself. They aren't even talking about containment yet, they are only trying to position themselves to minimize damage as the winds kick up again towards evening.

The fire teaches a number of lessons. First is how fragile our lives are. Even these fabulous homes that cost 8 figures, have gates and security guards are still only temporary. The owners may keep out the poor and the curious, but they still are not safe. Some of the families who lost their homes reported having only 15 or so minutes to gather what they could and flee. I think that even Oprah's $50 million home is in a mandatory evacuation zone and is perhaps seriously threatened.

Second, is that nature does what nature does. The chaparral eco system requires fire to be healthy. It has evolved to depend upon a fire every few years. Human beings, on the other hand, don't do well with fires like this and have worked very hard to contain and even eradicate them. As a result, some of the areas have long periods when they have not burned and have built up incredible amounts of fuel for the fire when it does come. The Gap Fire from earlier this year burned in areas that had not burned for over 50 years. It was an incredibly large fire that burned just under 9,500 acres. While it did threaten the community of Goleta, most of the fire burned in remote, mountainous areas and the winds cooperated. Avocado orchards to the north of Goleta acted as a fire break and saved 100's of homes. The lesson is that if homes are built into this beautiful eco system, the owners had better plan on the likelihood of a fire at some point and the longer the period between fires, the bigger the fire will be.

And we learn again what is truly important, that stuff is just that. Relationships are what counts. That community is bigger than even our small intimate connections... this fire fighting requires help from all over southern California and without that help, the extravagant homes of Montecito would all be gone.

Cheryl and I have talked about what papers we need where, whether the area where we live now could actually be threatened by a fire, how fragile we are...

In the meantime, send your good thoughts and prayers this way, that the 100's of fire fighters will be safe, that as little property as is possible is destroyed, that we again learn the important lessons from this event.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

a new tack

I really want to get away from politics for a while... as important as it is, it is not my primary interest in putting this blog up.

I have a few guitar students and it is always thrilling to get one who really loves the instrument and seems to have a connection. I have gotten a new student who will be a very interesting experience. Of all of the students I have had, he is most captivated by the instrument. If desire alone was all it took, he would play like (insert your favorite guitar virtuoso here) already.

So here's the issue... Ethan is 4. That presents a number of problems. First is the size of the instrument. A normal guitar is bigger than he is. Fortunately there are some very good travel guitars available these days at a variety of price points. A reasonable instrument is critical for a beginner and the "musical instrument shaped objects" that are widely available are an almost sure way to discourage any student. His parents got him a Baby Taylor which should work well and will be a great travel guitar for him years from now.

The second issue is a more difficult one. Playing a musical instrument is a muscular thing and requires lots of fine muscle control - something 4 year olds do not have. Plus it requires a degree of strength to press down strings. I don't know whether 4 year olds have that. I'll probably string his guitar with silk and steel to lower the tension and make this easier... we'll see. Also, I've been wondering whether I should start him with some open tunings to make some fingering easier... not sure yet.

And the other problem that I'm anticipating is how I make this fun for him. He listens to a lot of bubblegum pop like the Jonas Brothers... how do I find material that he'll both be able to play and enjoy? Should I use a Suzuki style method or one of the other children's methods that are available or should I cobble something together? I'm just not sure how to approach this yet.

There are some amazing players out there who happen to be children. My friend Thomas Leeb, who certainly is one of the possibilities to put in the fill in the blank for virtuosos above, ran across a kid at a workshop he was giving in Korea. The boy's name is Sungha Jung and I believe he was about 9 when Thomas first met him. He's all of 12 now. So here's a video of him playing at Thomas' workshop. And there are lots more videos of him at his Myspace page and on youtube. If Ethan learns as fast a Sungha did, he'll leave me in the dust pretty quickly.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I apologize

Last night as I was watching the election returns, a commentator told a story from his childhood. In 1964, at age 10, his family visited Washington DC and some of the surrounding areas. They stopped to have a meal at a diner and on the table were printed place mats that said something to the effect of "We apologize for our government that has removed the traditional right to refuse to serve colored people." He said that message underscored the racial divisions in our country in a way he had not experienced before or after. With Obama winning the election, that scar would finally heal.

And then last night in multiple states laws were passed to institutionalize discrimination against GLBT people. On the night when we finally embraced the fullness of American promise for people of all colors, we shut the door on those of differing sexual orientations. I apologize for that.

I am doubly ashamed of those who call themselves Christians and yet used lies and fear tactics to push through this legislation. It was a strategy below the standards of anyone who calls themselves followers of Jesus.

I don't know what comes next. I don't know whether the law can or will be challenged in the courts or if we will once again have an initiative on gay marriage in the future. I do know I am heartbroken for friends who have been told that they are not deserving of full rights. I feel angry at a government that has told me how to practice my ministry in presuming to tell me who I can and cannot marry (FWIW, I won't listen). I am frustrated at the African American community who do not see the parallels here to their own experience and voted overwhelmingly to institutional discrimination. Still, I am hopeful because the arc of history and the movement of God through the years always moves towards justice. I am resolute in standing with those whose love must withstand not only the prejudice of some of the surrounding population but also the weight of unjust laws.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this video...

President Obama

When I was a boy there was a song - "Only in America, a poor boy like me can grow up to be president." It fed the dreams of some of my friends. We knew we could do anything and become anything. The future was completely open to us. Others knew that it didn't apply to them, they are black. Others knew it didn't apply to them, they are female. This presidential campaign made the possibility of that song apply to all of us... a black man as candidate for president and a woman for vp on the other ticket. In either case, it would have been an historical election. The promise of our nation is there for all Americans.

Now, Obama was not my first choice among the Democrats but he was my choice over McCain. As his campaign moved along I came to see that he was the best choice. He ran a superb campaign that at least hints at the way he will run the nation. He is not a messiah and he will face some very difficult times. Still, I believe that he is uniquely capable to lead the United States through these difficult days and I believe that he is uniquely positioned to restore the stature of the United States in the world. I have hope for the first time in 8 years.

President Obama! That sounds good to me!


I voted yesterday... because I was afraid I would not be allowed to vote. It wasn't because of malice, just incompetence. Here's the story...

When we moved, I went to the California DMV website to change my address. There's a check thing there to change your voter registration. I clicked it and forgot about things. As the election neared, I got to thinking that I should call the county to make sure I am registered. I did and told the person on the phone what I had done. Her answer: "Oh, that doesn't work. You have to re-register."

OK, I had time so I went online to the voter site, printed out the form and filed it in. It was 10/17 and registrations had to be complete by the 20th so we decided to carry them to the registrar. "Oh, you got this form online? It is incorrect. We need more information." Good thing we hadn't just mailed it in. So we gave the extra information.

You can check online to make sure that you're registered so last Monday, I checked. I wasn't there. I called the office. "That's strange. You're in the system but there is no zip code entered so you weren't assigned to a polling place." She took my zip code and assured me that we would be able to vote and encouraged me to check online again at the end of the week. Friday night, I looked again... and guess what. I wasn't there.

So, we made the extra drive to Santa Barbara yesterday, waited in line, and were able to fill out absentee ballots and turn them in.

When we got home, our voter registration cards were in the mail so we would have been able to vote today without problems but it sure felt good to have it done.

I do wonder about those who wouldn't have followed up like I did and who would not have been able to vote. I don't think there was any malice anywhere along the line but it would have been very easy for an overly complicated and inept system to keep me from voting.

If you haven't voted yet, do it. It is the central right and the central responsibility in our country.

Monday, November 03, 2008

consolidated power

There has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of the Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and Presidency after the election tomorrow. The question is whether that is too much power, unchecked, in the hand of one ideological group.

It is a good question. We have seen what happened when the Republicans held both branches. In theory, it is a bad thing, but I think the consolidation of power that the Republicans wielded will not happen with the Democrats... which isn't the same as saying that I don't expect them to win solid majorities in House and Senate plus the Presidency. No, the difference is that in large degree, the Republicans acted in lock step with the administration and voted as a block. Around all of the issues they were most concerned about, they were virtually unanimous. This will never happen with the Democrats. They are too diverse as a party. Regardless of official party platforms, there is always a broad spectrum of understanding in the party on any issue. Abortion? There are pro-choice and anti-abortion folk. The military? There are hawks and doves. Taxes? There are fiscal conservatives and near socialists. Any issue you can name, there is a broad range of understandings among Democrats.

What that means is that Obama will have much more difficulty getting his agenda passed than Bush did. It also means that radical change will not happen quickly... although I don't see Obama advocating any radical change.

Great movie

We rented a great film the other night - The Visitor.

I highly recommend it. Themes of friendship, unexpected change, where we find meaning... and it deals with illegal immigrants in a human way.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

No on Prop 8, #11

I think this will be my last post on prop 8...

The other day I was reading some blogs and came upon Glenn Layne's blog He is a conservative pastor in California. He has a post on voting "yes" on 8 where he talked about a the need to pass 8 to protect religious freedom. In the comments on that post it was clearly pointed out that each of his arguments were unfounded and there was no reason to frame the argument in that way. Indeed, one piece that was not raised is that when the court in California wrote it's opinion in support of gay marriage it specifically excluded any constraints on religious institutions.

For pastor Layne though, none of that matters. He says this to the person who posted
I just don't trust your side. Your used judges to to overrule the people. You side cheats and lies--it's that simple.

How do you respond to this kind of thinking? How do you build a sense of community when one side automatically dismisses facts because they don't matter in the face of irrational fear?

My friend Fernando has a post on his blog where he raises a similar question... how can we get past those unfounded resentments and what will they do the the role of the evangelical church in this culture?

It doesn't bode well for the future of our country and I don't blame it on the evil leftists. They aren't the ones who have majored in using wedge issues to divide this nation.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

no on 8, #10

another video... this one from the Republican mayor of San Diego.

Nobody believes that a civil union and marriage are the same. If they did, we wouldn't be struggling with this issue. There is no way that it is fair or just to enshrine in our state constitution discrimination against a class of people.

Vote no on Prop 8.