Sunday, December 31, 2006


I wish everyone a new year of peace.
May it bring changes for the better.
May those who are truly in need, be heard and served.
May your world be a better place.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Turn left, NOW!!!

Ever seen animal hatred manifested in humans before, first hand, up close and personal? It’s a very hard thing to understand. I’m not talking about a drunken fist fight, or nasty words and flying fingers during the morning commute – I’m talking about the offended party following the perceived offender until they stop, and then shooting them, point blank, in the head, for cutting them off in traffic. I’m talking about stepping out of a car with an automatic weapon on the campus of your soon-to-be-ex wife’s college campus and indiscriminately cutting loose at anything living. I’m talking about wanting, more than anything, to kill someone because they’re of a different faith, or color, or nationality, or political affiliation: That kind of hatred - I have, and I don’t understand it at all. I don’t think that anyone really does. This is the kind of hatred and violence that dismays God…
There are many, many books written about these things, past and present – The holocaust, the Middle East, the Balkans, Darfur, Stalin’s pogroms, Mao’s social cleansing, and on, and on, and on… There are first hand accounts, scholarly treatises – I’ve read some of them. The first-hand accounts are shocking, sickening, and heart breaking. The scholarly accounts strike me, (In general, with a few notable exceptions), as exercises in presenting the intelligence and wisdom of the author, rather than vehicles for change or healing… I’m sure that a few tenured positions have been won on the merits of these works, but what does that do for us in the big picture view? Not much, apparently – Granted, it’s vital to be aware of it, to acknowledge it and to the best of our ability, try to understand it, if we are to make any serious efforts to keep such things from happening again.
Writing about the Bosnian conflict, the military historian John Keegan, called it, "A primitive tribal conflict only anthropologists can understand:" That to me is probably about as intellectual as one can get regarding such events and still be on the mark.
What does this say about human beings, that when the facade of civilization is stripped away and we are reduced to our basest instincts, our predilections are for violence and homicide? How do we counter, fix, or help fellow humans who truly believe that if they act in this way, the world will be a better place? What’s the cure? Is it science, or faith, politics or diplomacy, or some alchemical mix thereof? Whatever the cure, if we’ve genuinely been seeking it, we’ve not found it yet.
I’d love to be able to point at our sick society, the ills we’ve plagued each other and the earth with, as the culprit for this, but it ain’t necessarily so – This kind of horror has been visited on humans and human society since the get go – It’s older than our current problems, without question. It’s apparently ingrained in humankind, like our forgotten 6th sense and vestigial tails…
So, is there a way out? Well, in fact, I believe that there is – And in fact, I think that we can indeed blame this problem on society, or civilization, or to be more precise; a distinct lack thereof. See, I think the reason we’ve never outgrown this horrible manifestation is that we have never actually formed the society or civilization along the lines of the one we are truly called to be. I think that the answer is so simple, it’s just plumb evaded us all these millennia – I think a lot of other people know this, too.
Here it is, although, actually, I’ve already mentioned this here, in a rant about politics: It’s called a human civilization, or a humanistic civilization, if you prefer: It’s called a world where we care for each other: A world where the aim is to live with and for one another. A world where we take aim at our problems; hunger, disease, poverty, and ignorance, and we fix them. A world where what we do is not strive for more profit, more waste, more politics, more business, more this and that and everything, but a world where we realize we can feed everyone if we work at it. A world where we aim to do what we’re called to do – To cure the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and end the hatred - To care for this earth and everything on it.
Now, go ahead, call me simplistic, naïve, ignorant, blah, blah, blah – But you know what? If that’s what you believe, you’re wrong; dead wrong. Not believing it is why we are where we are. Not believing it is why we don’t try. Not believing it’s necessary is why we’ll kill this planet and go the way of the dinosaurs as a species. Not stopping all this soon and very soon and changing course radically is why Darfur, and Bosnia, and Auschwitz will happen again, and will keep happening, popping up here and there and everywhere, until we do get a clue - or not...
So what, you ask, got me on this rant this morning? Well, let me tell you – It was an NPR piece about the competition between two top American research labs to produce the newest nukes for our submarine fleet. They are going to design these without having to test them. One of the spokesmen called the design they were working on, “Classic,” and “Elegant.” A nuclear device – Elegant and classic – I’m sorry, but how completely fucking sick is that?
So, ask yourself this; do you want to keep going merrily down the path we’re on, or is it time for a hard left turn?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmyth Time

OK, as mentioned numerous times, I are a devout Christian. That said, this does not mean that I’m not aware of the machinations of politics that lead to Christianity as we know it today. This is especially true when it come to the celebration of holidays, and probably nowhere more than around Christmas.

Perhaps the first controversy that comes to mind is the day itself, December 25th. Historically, there’s no indication whatsoever that Christ was born on this day, of course. The current date of Christmas was supplanted from earlier faiths, without a doubt – Many peoples and cultures celebrated winter solstice, and in the 4th century, the early Christian church snagged the holiday to knock down Mithras and all them other Pagan upstarts.

Interestingly enough, Christmas didn’t take hold right away in America - Our forefathers, the Puritans, disdained the common celebration of Christmas as "the heathen traditions," and railed against all things Yule log, holly, mistletoe, etc. The late, great Oliver Cromwell preached against Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event." The celebration itself was briefly illegal in my birthplace, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ok, so how about this Xmas thing? I can’t count how many Christians have expressed disdain at this, “Modern bastardization of the Christian holiday.” How wrong y'all are, eggnog breath! Xmas actually derives from the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. So, the fact is, it was waaaay back in the 16th century when Europeans began using that first initial of Christ's Greek name in place of the word Christ as a shorthand expression of the holiday. UNfortunately, somewhere between then and now the dark ages erased knowledge of Greek and the origins of this shorthand, and "Modern Christians" now mistake Xmas as a sign of disrespect...

Next come trees - Christmas trees, that is. In the last 24 hours, on NPR, I have heard a Christian conservative knock them because they’re “Clearly a Pagan symbol,” and a Rabbi do the same because they’re, “Blatant Christian symbolisms.” - So, who’s right? Well, potentially both, or neither, actually… Fact is, the Pagans did not cut down trees, drag them into the house, and decorate them: They revered nature, and doing the tree thing would have been antithesis to their reverence. They would, however, decorate trees with metal and such, and put boughs in their homes during winter solstice as homage to the gods and a celebration of all things living. Now, in the Middle East, centuries before Christ, trees were cut down, carved into images of the Gods, and gilded and such. Such habits things mightily pissed off the prophet Jeremiah, as he attests herein:
"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Jeremiah 10:2-4
The fact is, Christmas trees as we know them didn’t really come into vogue until the 19th century, around 1850, which also happens also to be the point in American history wherein the first White House Christmas tree appeared, courtesy of President Franklin Pierce, (President Who? Don’t feel bad, nobody else remembers him either – Suffice it to say that for a bunch of reasons, he is generally considered one of the worst presidents in our history – Right there with Millard Fillmore – But I digress…). Fat boy Calvin Coolidge performed the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1923.

Oh by gosh by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly, which are indeed blatant rip offs from Paganism - Centuries before the birth of Christ, Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. Scandahoovrians dug it as a plant of peace and harmony associated with their goddess of love, Frigga: The kissing under the mistletoe thing most likely came there from. And Holly, you ask? Well, it's those pesky early Christians again: They banned the use of mistletoe for the reasons detailed above, and suggested holly as an appropriate substitute greenery.

So, how about Poinsettias? Well, like good Tequila, they’re native to Mexico. The plant was named in honor of America's first ambassador to our southern neighbor, Joel Poinsett, who brought ‘em back north with him in 1828, (No, I ain’t makin’ this up - He was an avid amateur botanist!) The Mexicans of that age, (Having been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the gentle hand of the Conquistadores), thought the plants were symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, and there you have your Christmas connection. By the way – The flowers of said plant ain’t big and red or white – they’re small and yellow – The big red and white things are leaves surrounding Mr. flower, not petals.

And candy canes? Well, frankly, this here candy has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until around 1900 that they were decorated with red stripes and bent into the shape of a cane. They were sometimes handed out during church services to keep the brats quiet. One story often told about the origin of the candy cane, this deal about a 17th century Indiana candy maker who wanted to express the meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy, blah, blah, blah – Whatever…

Okay, best for last – Sandy Claws: Ok, fact, as we know it – Around 270 ad, St. Nicholas was born in Turkey. He devoted his life to Christianity and became widely known for his generosity to the poor. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," (Which transmogrified into "The Night Before Christmas.") Moore is generally credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus; the jolly fat man in a red suit. There is some consensus that the first department store Santa in this country appeared in the 1840’s in Brockton, Massachusetts. R.H. Macy began creating his famous window displays in the early 1870’s, and in 1873, Louis Prang made the first American Santa Christmas card. Norman Rockwell followed suit in 1922, and in 1931, Coca Cola ran their first Santa ad campaign. The rest is history...

So there you go – Ho Ho Ho!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fingernails on a Chalkboard

Everyone has met someone whose voice just absolutely grates on you, right? Of course you have; in fact, each of us is probably one of those people for somebody else – It’s a prevalent phenomenon… Now, for me, there are certain strategies involved in dealing with such people: If the person in question close to me, say, from church or work, I will make a real effort to curb whatever autonomic function that stirs up such a reaction within me. If, however, the person is somebody with whom my relationship is casual, I’ll just avoid contact with them like I would a plague rat. This latter strategy is effective for people like Rush Limbaugh, Fran Drescher, the guy who sells Oxyclean on TV, or, say, our President and Commander in Chief.

Why, you ask, would I raise a blog with such a topic? Because on the way to work this morning, I was subjected to the President’s press conference, that’s why. At first, I was just gonna put it on ignore, but suddenly recalling James Baker’s adage that it is important to communicate with your adversaries, I decided to listen in. And then I started taking notes based on what I heard…

The first thing that struck me is was the reason that The Shrub’s voice bothers me so much, (Which is probably the reason that John Stewart has such a good time poking fun at it): It is, quite simply, because the voice of our President, the leader of the greatest super power in the world, always sounds strident, pissy, rude, and petulant, although not necessarily in that order. I listened to Dubyah speak to the reporters, wondering if he had any of their names right, or if they just roll their eyes and ask anyway when he appears to be pointing at them. I heard him get a question he didn’t like, to which The Leader of the Free World responded, “Nice try,” and “You think you can just ask whatever you want.” Uhhh, I thought, is this a trick press conference? Is this the U.S. of A.? Do we have a free press? You mean our reporters aren’t allowed to ask whatever they want? Really? Dang, I feel silly now, I mean, heck, I’ve been buying this openness bullshit for some time now!

I listened also to see if he would actually answer any of the questions, and of course, he didn’t – Oh, don’t get me wrong – He spoke after a question was asked, but it was done in latter days Reagan style; “What a beautiful country is this land of ours…” When asked if he was concerned about the fact that public opinion seems squarely against our involvement in Iraq, he worked that into a statement indicating that failure in Iraq will doom future generations of Americans to lives filled with terror… He then added that, regardless of what the poles say, he was only “Interested in the path that leads to victory,” and that “Most Americans believe that we can win in Iraq,” and that said conflict is, “The calling of our generation.” Now, other than from deep up his Presidential ass, I have no idea where he came up with those “facts.” A question about what specifically he intended to do to keep the economy on track in light of the huge costs generated by the Iraq conflict brought a rambling response about how nuclear energy was “Renewable,” and ‘Generates not one greenhouse gas, that commuting Americans “Don’t drive more than 20 or 40 miles,”, and how new battery technology will allow those commuters to travel, “Without using any gas.” What all this illuminates, clearly and brightly, is that our Fearless Leader is dangerously delusional and completely out of touch with reality: There are, of course, other possible analyses, but my supposition seems, sadly, to be the most accurate scenario.

There was more, but it was, for the most part, similar to this… What this tells me is that it is dangerous for us to discount this man, and to not pay attention to what he is saying and doing. Those that made him will not go quietly into the night. They will find another stooge to throw up in ’08, and if we want to get out of this house of horrors, we’d best pay close attention and be ready to act. It may be like listening to fingernails on a chalk board, but nonetheless, we’d better listen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Miss Glenn Mitchell

I really do. It’s been over a year now since he passed away, and I feel his loss every day. I suppose that’s strange, considering I never met him in person, and as such, never knew him personally. I was, however, a loyal listener and a regular caller, especially to the Friday Anything You Ever Wanted To Know shows. I believe that Glenn recognized me as a caller, and knew that when I was calling, I had something genuine to contribute – He had the ability to make you feel that way, even if you were just a caller – That’s probably one of the reasons he was such a celebrated interviewer.

If you’re not from the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex, you probably don’t know of Glenn. He hosted his radio show from KERA for many years. His interviews were always excellent; the only person I can think of who comes close in preparation or knowledge is Terri Gross of Fresh Air. His interests, experience and education were eclectic, and his interviews reflected that: He might go from a Harvard scholar to a leading author to a local musician in one week – In each instance, he would know more than enough to not only ask excellent questions, but to have an uncanny knowledge of his guest's place in things as well. Glenn’s long time friend, Don Mason, said Glenn was, “An incredibly deep, well-rounded, thoughtful man. It’s important to understand the depth of this guy. He can cover a baseball game or write an essay or do a brilliant interview with another smart person. Combine all that with a great and wicked, and often quite sick, sense of humor, and you have a pretty remarkable package.” That’s an honest to goodness Renaissance man, indeed.

Fridays were always Anything You Ever Wanted To Know shows, the origin of which outlines Glenn’s humor and smarts – in the early 80’s, while covering for another KERA host, his guest, Linus Pauling, stiffed him at the last minute. rather than panic, Glenn calmly invited listeners to “Call in with any question and I’ll answer it.” This wonderful diversion became a much loved regular event, wherein people might call to ask the origin of a word, the best Indonesian restaurant in Fort Worth, or what those people are doing in the grassy area beside a local highway interchange. On occasion, he’d host the Friday shows live from the Dallas Public Library, allowing him to add “Professional Smart People” to the show's mix.

His Annual Christmas Blockbusters made that holiday an extra special treat. A mélange of music, interviews, commentary and features, the Blockbuster was always unique and never boring. In keeping with his sense of humor, Glenn seemed to delight in finding the worst possible renditions of popular Christmas songs that he could, (And believe me, he could find ‘em), nowhere else could you hear so many songs that would make you cringe and laugh at the same time…

Glenn grew up throughout the American heartland; Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Illinois, tagging along with his Registered Nurse mother and sister. He chose SMU for college because it was the farthest away from his Chicago area home, (As did I with the exotic University of Washington).

Glenn worked for KERA from the day it opened until his passing, with a couple of years’ hiatus at a local am station. He loved radio for what it best offered, what he referred to as, “The immediacy of broadcasting.” He listened to his own station, but also haunted the local sports am station, which notably hosted Howard Stern. When asked how a guy like him could listen to such shock jock schlock, he answered, “That intellectual stuff is a bunch of bullshit; I don’t see why you can’t listen to The Ticket in the morning, read Proust in the afternoon and go to a ballgame at night. I’ve never understood that kind of attitude.”

Maybe that’s why he could always make you feel welcome, and a part of his world.