Thursday, January 25, 2007


In my experience, about 80 percent of all religious tracts are just obnoxious. That figure jumps to 100 percent or higher when you limit the tracts under consideration to those by Jack Chick.

A lot of tract distribution, while well intended, comes from a misunderstanding about the Great Commission, that it requires a special effort on the part of every Christian to be an evangelist and purposely strike up conversations and steer them into opportunities to share the gospel, reducing the person from a person with inherent value worth engaging in honest discussion and relationship with, into a potential "convert" and the discussion merely as a means to an end.

I try not to get offended when I'm handed a tract -- as I said, I like to assume the intent is often good -- but if I weren't a Christian, I can't say they'd move me much in that direction.

Friday, January 12, 2007

war on christmas

After years of calmly urging people to get a grip and allow businesses to celebrate "the holidays," sell "holiday trees" and say "Happy holidays!" or even "Season's greetings," I have decided to accept that not only is there a war on Christmas, but it's time for me to enter it.

Since the Religious Right formally has declared that a "war on Christmas" exists, beginning in 2007 retail troops will have authorization to shoot on sight anyone celebrating "Christmas" instead of a generic winter holiday.

2007 will mark the end of the conflict, and Christmas will be destroyed. Have a nice shopping season!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

self-appointed prophet of doom

Pat Robertson's at it again. Once again, he has opened his mouth and let something idiotic tumble out. To be fair, Jeremiah and the other prophets often did give dire prognostications, although theirs were usually a lot more specific than "There will be a horrible terrorist attack somewhere in the United States, some time in the next year."

Christianity Today has an interesting and prophetic take on things. They compare the moralizing and attention-grabbing stunts of self-professed servants of the Lord with the work of people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who are giving billions to make the world a better place for the neediest people in it. I wish I had a fortune worth billions; I'd love to do what they are doing. In the meantime, I'll settle for what I can do in my own meager way.

I know of a few people who started making fun of Robertston as soon as he inserted his foot into his mouth, but honestly, why bother? Who cares? the best way to handle Pat at this point isn't a bunch of angry tirades, hoots of ridicule, or even clever commentary. He's become so ridiculous he's impossible to parody. He's way past the fringe. The best thing to do with him is to ignore him.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

pia otolaryngologist

So Evangeline needs a tube operation in her left ear. Or does she?
That's what the otolaryngologist we saw today tells us, and ordinarily I'd be inclined to trust his judgment. After all, he's the guy who went to medical school; he's the one who chose to specialize in ailments of the nose, ear and throat; he's the one who has seen the results of her CT scan and her hearing test; and he's the one who can see the fluid buildup behind her left eardrum.
The problem is, Dr. Sable, whose real name I choose not to use, is one of those whiz-bang doctors who comes into the room, fires off his diagnosis and prescribed treatment in a rapid-fire stacatto that puts most machine guns to shame, and then leaves the room. His visit to the room was so fast that papers fluttered through the air in his wake, windows were blown out, and I was left spinning like a dreidl on Hanukkah trying to follow him.
It started to hit me when I got home just how annoyed I was. First I called the woman in charge of scheduling surgery and left her a message saying that I needed to schedule an operation and that I'd like to know who all would be available to perform the surgery. It was starting to hit me by now that if a doctor can't be bothered to slow down and give his patients or their parents time even to process what he's saying, let alone ask any questions they have, then I'm not sure I have a good enough feel for his professionalism at surgery.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I don't want someone operating on my daughter, even if it's just on her timpanic membrane, unless I have confidence in him, not only as a doctor but as a human being. By treating us like a bullet on his to-do list, Sable blew that completely.
So, since we had gone to that practice in the first because Sable's partner had come highly recommended, I called back and said I wanted to see the partner, and that what's more, since Sable had completely failed to deliver a satisfactory visit today, I'd like the co-payment from this visit applied to the make-up visit. The receptionist was obliging, but I could tell she was a little taken aback by how upset I was.
I doubt I'll get the refund, but it should work that way. If I buy a shirt and it's defective, I get a refund. If I hire an electrician and she doesn't do the wiring correctly, she comes back and does it the right way at no extra charge. So if I take my daughter to the doctor and he's a putz, I shouldn't have to pay for his shoddy service either.
The thing that's really biting me on the butt here is that I feel I essentially failed today to be the advocate that Evangeline counts on me to be. I should have interrupted Sable in mid-whirlwind and said, "Would you mind repeating that at a speed that I can understand?" I should have reminded him that my daughter is not a file in the drawer, not a hearing chart, not the results of a CT scan, and not even an ear with some apparent fluid buildup behind it.
Two adults failed Evangeline today, but at least Sable has an excuse. To him, it's just a job.

pearl of wisdom

Reading the New Testament, you find that Jesus was a lot of things: compassionate, wise, strong, loving, protective, convicting, and confrontational. But he was never what we call "nice."

i've lost my mind

If you find it, hold onto it for a while for me, please. I'll need it back in another twelve years or so.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

how to bake fresh bread

  1. Toss and turn in bed before falling asleep at 2 a.m.
  2. Get up at 6 a.m. to make bread before everyone else wakes up.
  3. Find bread recipes in your cookbook. Realize that you don't have the necessary ingredients for the first dozen or so recipes.
  4. Rule out going to the supermarket because of time constraints.
  5. Find recipe for potato rolls that doesn't require milk.
  6. Upon re-reading ingredients, discover that recipe calls for two packets of yeast, whereas you have one.
  7. Begin halving the recipe.
  8. Two steps into the process, forget that you are having the recipe and add the full amount of sugar, eggs, salt, butter, water, potato-boiling water, and flour for mixing.
  9. As you mix in third cup of the next 8¾ cups of flour, notice that the dough is getting thick and floury very early in the process.
  10. Realize your mistake.
  11. Panic.
  12. Having calmed down, try deducting the "extra" flour from what's left.
  13. Knead the dough. Notice how it keeps sticking to your hands in much larger amounts than it did with that nice buttermilk you bread you followed the directions for perfectly two weeks ago. Maybe you shouldn't deduct any flour.since you did add the full amount of water.
  14. Add more flour, but without measuring it.
  15. Jeez, this stuff is really sticking to your hands.
  16. Add more flour. Why bother measuring this time either? You've no idea how much you've put in at this point.
  17. Keep kneading.
  18. Try to flip dough over. Hold down kneading surface with one hand while you remove dough with other.
  19. Add more flour. Who knows how much?
  20. Debate tossing mixture into garbage and finding something else to take to friend's house. Like leftover stir-fry with frozen vegetables.
  21. Knead.
  22. Add more flour once you pry your hands loose from doughy morass.
  23. Imagine potato rolls as hard as rocks, and everyone lying as they compliment you on the delicious homemade bread.
  24. Dread moment when your friend, who loves to bake, asking you how you made bread.
  25. Add more flour.
  26. Finish kneading.
  27. Cut dough into 12 pieces -- recipe calls for 24, but you're halving this, remember? -- and roll into balls.
  28. Wonder if you should let dough rise twice as long, since you did include only half the yeast.
  29. Accept the inevitable: Either it's going to suck, or it won't, but it's out of your hands now.
  30. Thank God that cooking isn't a science.

Friday, January 05, 2007

christianity and conservatism

I was talking with a friend of mine recently, Buddhist by philosophy, and he raised the question of when and how American Christianity became linked with conservatism, since until fairly recently in terms of history, it's been linked with liberalism and progressive thought, viz. abolition, women's suffrage, child labor laws, pacifism, opposition to capital punishment. (Overseas, in fact, it's still linked with liberalism.)

"Liberal" became a dirty word in America's political landscape in the 1988 election, when Lee Atwater managed the elder Bush's campaign and was able to link Michael Dukakis with Willie Horton via racist "soft on crime" campaign ads and Bush's continual harping on Dukakis as a liberal. Dukakis, foolishly, resisted the label, until a week before the election when it suddenly hit him that some of America's favorite presidents, like JFK and FDR, had been liberals.

Reagan, and by succession Bush Sr., did a lot to co-opt Christianity as a voting bloc, but I think the truth is that they were building on the powerful machinery established in Falwell's Moral Majority in the mid-1980s with its outrage over pornography, which most liberal groups defended as protected under the First Amendment; and then, of course, with the Summer of Mercy and the backlash against abortion.

The main problem with the Moral Majority was its view of morality as a series of rules that should be obeyed, and that should be established by society (via government, as society's erstwhile father), rather than as something that flows from a relationship. With the Democratic Party generally in favor of abortion as a woman's right to equality, and that platform creating a driving wedge between it and the evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who traditionally had been a reliable voting bloc on social issues, it only made sense for GOP strategists to manuever the party into the "values" camp -- something too many Christian leaders have been willing to go along with, to the point now that an entire generation of evangelicals has been raised with a politicized gospel, thinking too much on how the government can aid in fighting our social ills, and equating the faith with things like capitalism, democracy, trickle-down economics, and nonprogressive taxes.

And now look where we are.

change of power

So, if we're to recall the spirit of heady optimism that marked the elections in November, we must be on the precipice of a new Golden Age. After all, Nancy Pelosi is the new Speaker of the House, and the Democrats control both houses of Congress.
That's good. I'm glad the GOP no longer has a lock on D.C. power, and I'm thrilled we finally have a woman Speaker, but I wonder how much really has changed inside the Beltway. There has been no articulation of a policy; no moral leadership, vision, or guidance; no Moses leading us to the Promised Land. The Democratic revolution of 2006 appears to have been driven solely by dissatisfaction with what the Republican revolution of 1994 has produced. (And that in turn was fueled primarily by dissatisfaction with Clinton's less-than-stellar opening years, and a failed health care reform package.)
Perhaps the movement among voters right now is not one of realignment to a new political allegiance as much as it is "dealignment" with the two major parties, but our nation is suffering right now for want of a leader, of virtually any sort: political, moral, spiritual, social or what have you. Polls and a clinging desire for power are what's driving our elected officials, not any sort of leadership compass.
I think the terrorists won four years ago, when we invaded Iraq.
We're unable to deter Iran or North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons; annoying little pests like Hugo Chavez and now Daniel Ortega also get to multiply and act alternately tough and beneficient before a worldwide audience bursting with applause; political terror groups like Hamas have no reason to heed us or work toward peace; and even our economic hegemony is slipping away from us and toward China.
The irony is that Bush has fulfilled his prediction for what would happen with an invasion of Iraq: Toppling Saddam's corrupt regime has created a new world for us all to live in. He has emerged as the architect of a new world order.

what the hell

Hell is a blanket that will not keep you warm.

Hell is unrequited self-love.

Hell echoes like an empty mailbox on Valentine's Day.

Hell is winning the first baseball game of the season, and the last baseball game of the season, and every game in between.

Hell is the distance between yourself and other people.

The way to hell is paved with no intentions at all; we simply lay it one brick at a time, unthinking, on a long, steady, lonely slope that we tread our entire lives.

bible study

Evangeline is starting to do some of the math. We were saying something about Noah today -- actually, I was sharing some of the jokes from Bill Cosby's "Noah" routine -- and she said, "How could he be 600 years old when the Flood happened? That's impossible!"

Gyiah. The former evangelical in me feels like I should give her answers and assure her that the Bible is absolutely reliable, even in those mythic stories about people living several hundred years old. Traditional explanations include the nature of the world changing because of the Deluge; the nature of human physiology changing because of the much smaller gene pool after the Deluge; and the notion that it took people longer to die then because the world was still rather Edenic, and the Flood signaled a fall of Nature that removed everything much more from Paradise.

Part of me feels like I should give her answers and explain that the story has a meaning that's more important than a literal truth, and that we should view the mythic stories of early Genesis in that way.

And part of me feels like a coward and a fraud for not talking about it with her more openly.

tv highwater marks

I have a friend who every year has made it a point to watch the original Star Wars movie with his son.

His rationale is very simple: "Star Wars" was one of those watershed events for our generation. When it came out in 1977, everybody went to see it. It shaped our generation's entertainment for years -- literally. Donny & Marie, "Quark," heck even the Saturday morning "Happy Days" cartoon show -- they all had episodes that were direct rip-offs of "Star Wars." It and Star Trek pretty much defined science fiction up until the new Battlestar Galactica series.

So, since "Star Wars" with its pop religion, blockbuster status, runaway merchandising, and GOK what else was so important to Tom and everyone else in our generation, he wants to pass that experience on to his son.

It's something I've been thinking about the last few weeks. Amid all the drek that gets foisted upon us every year, there are some movies, some TV shows, some books, and some music that absolutely must be passed on to the next generation. There's the high culture stuff, like Tchaikovsky and Victor Hugo, but there's stuff we're inclined to dismiss as irrelevant or unworthy because it's pop culture.

What should get passed on? It's stuff that has more value than just what you immediately perceive. It has to raise awareness of the human condition, and inspire us to be better people. It's why we all should remember The Beatles when we're 54, but forget most of what the Beach Boys produced by the time we've grown up to be a man.

Sad to say, there's not much TV that I've watched that fits into this category. (Which is probably one of the reasons why we don't get cable or sattelite TV, and don't let the girls watch much of it, even on DVD and VHS.)

In no particular order, here's my initial list of TV shows I intend to share with my girls when they're old enough to appreciate them:
  1. M*A*S*H. No one would remember the Vietnam War-protest movie if it weren't for the TV show, and there's a good reason for that. The movie was just dark and despairing; the show moved beyond a bleak view of war to show the compassion and decency that can rise out of humanity in the middle of our worst moments. More than any other movie or show, M*A*S*H shaped the Gen X view of war, the military, and blind conformance to authority.
  2. Star Trek, specifically Classic Trek, Deep Space 9 and about half of The Next Generation. Although its wasn't value wasn't initially recognized by the execs at NBC, Classic Trek gave us the premiere treatment of the Cold War and the social tumult of the late 1960s. It defined science fiction for the next 30 years, and sowed the seeds of a franchise that it took Voyager and Enterprise a total twelve years to kill. Unlike the original series, NextGen had an aura of cultural superiority about its morality tales, with the basic message that we'd all be better off if everyone were a late 20th-century enlightened Western humanist. DS9, despite a few false starts, had an amazingly complex web of stories that ran for five years as the Federation grappled with the Dominion, and it dealt with a number of timeless themes about fear, suspicion, loss, faith, hope, security and freedom, identity and prejudice. I saw the entire series in 2006 and had to keep reminding myself that it was not about the war on terror and post 9-11 America.
  3. Battlestar Galactica. Not the original series, but the remake. Everything that Star Trek was to science fiction and the 1960s, BSG is to science fiction and post 9-11 America. And it hasn't had a single "Spock's Brain" episode.
  4. Looney Tunes. For sheer laughs, nothing beats the work of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and the other geniuses behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the crew. My parents grew up watching them, I grew up watching them, and I'm proud to say that my kids are growing up watching them. Nothing comes close, not even
  5. Rocky and Bullwinkle. The animation is dated, and the kids aren't going to get the Cold War jokes surrounding Boris, Natasha and Fearless Leader, but the wit behind the series and its features like Dudley Doo-Right, Fractured Fairy Tales and Mr. Peabody have given this series staying value.
  6. Monty Python's Flying Circus. I'm not so keen on the post-Cleese era of the show, where they relied more and more on shock and crude language to get laughs, but I still bust a gut laughing at sketches like the World's Deadliest Joke, the Mouse Problem, and Cheese Shop. Evangeline, who has never seen a single episode, still knows to ask me if I write my music in the shed.
  7. Get Smart. At least I think so. It just came out on DVD, and I'm waiting to get a set so I can watch it from the safety of my Cone of Silence. Perhaps I find it assuring that Maxwell Smart triumphs over Kaos despite being such a bumbling idiot, perhaps I simply enjoy the outrageous antics of the show. Still, it's a keeper.
  8. The Simpsons. First eight seasons. There is no better record of America in the 1990s than Homer's household. All the faults and virtues of the American family lie there, in all their exaggerated glory. The show is a sitcom, but it's a sitcom that nonetheless provokes some serious discussions about issues we will face as long as there are humans to face them.
Heh. I notice that all but one of those series are comedies. I guess "St. Elsewhere" and "Matlock" don't make my personal cut, but if anyone thinks I've overlooked a show, let me know. I'd also love to hear if you think I listed something that's better off forgotten.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

cancer news

Well, I got some good news and some bad news today on the cancer front.
The good news is that Rachel, who came to the doctor's office with me, appears to be cancer-free. The bad news is that so do I.
How is that bad news, you ask? Do you have any idea how much fun it is to have cancer? How great it is to shock people in the check-out line at the supermarket or waitresses in restaurants when they ask, "How are you?" and you say, "I've got cancer, how about you?" Do you realize how much emotional capital you can get out of having cancer, or the exciting experiences you can have, like meeting Homer the nuclear technician, getting a phone call at 6 a.m. from an imaginary person, or feeling your body start to shut down?
And now it's all over. I've been robbed. I get to go through the routine of checkups and evaluations, but it's like living on the Moon in a virtual reality chamber: all the nuisance, without any of the payoff. Medicine is such a cheat.
The toll of doom came today when I saw my endocrinologist and she told me that my thyroglobulin levels are undetectable. As for my hobglobulin and green globulin, even the greatest spider-sense in the world couldn't track them. Where there once stood a proud and mighty thyroid, growing ever larger in defiance of the restrictions imposed on it, there is now nothing left but smoldering, bombed out ruins left by a nuclear assault. Not a single thyroid cell is left to produce thyroglobulin apparently.
Now in March I get to have an injection of Thyrogen, a synthetic form of the Thyroid Stimulation Hormone that urges thyroid cells to do their dirty work. If that produces any evidence of thyroid holdouts -- decidedly unlikely -- then at least I'll get to go through that whole "My body is dying" routine again, and my imaginary friend may call me back, but let's not fool ourselves. It's over. I need to find a new way to get people to feel sorry for me.
(Rachel enjoyed her own cancer checkup today. She complained to the doctor that she was sick too, so the doctor listened to her heartbeat and breathing, and then put her stethoscope on Rachel's nose. It was a lot of fun, but of course the hospital is probably going to send us a bill for that checkup too, and our insurance company will probably refuse to cover it since Rachel saw a specialist without a proper referral. Bunch of cryptofascists.)

dumbing down our kids

Every now and then my wife and I look for a good children's Bible to give to relatives or friends who we know will appreciate it and actually read it to their children at bedtime to familiarize them with the classic Bible stories that have lain at the foundation of our culture and faith for thousands of years.
It's not that easy, actually. A lot of children's Bibles emphasize good theology over good storytelling, which is odd when you consider that the authors of the Scripture had the opposite approach. Other times they'll couch things in familiar terms that are utterly ridiculous on their face, such as referring to the temple or the tabernacle as a "church," and to priests as pastors or ministers. And it can be embarrassing the way they avoid uncomfortable aspects of the stories and paint people in stark good-or-evil terms, like the way Joseph is depiocted as the righteous brother who tests his evil brothers to see if they've changed. (Yeah, like he wasn't planning to kill or humiliate them when God put their lives in his hands. All those threats and reversals weren't the product of a man struggling with bitterness and unresolved anger, they were just a "test.")
My own favorite children's Bible is one that has been out of print for thirty years, but that's beside the point. Hurlbut's Story of the Bible seems like it might be a good choice, except the editors have decided that children today are too stupid to understand all the big words. From the back cover, as quoted on Amazon:
This new edition, with a new name, new cover, and updated and simplified text for today's children, introduces a whole new generation to this timeless classic. From Genesis to Revelation, the 127 Bible stories retold come alive and are enhanced by 30 new, awe-inspiring color and black-and-white art pieces by Joel Spector. Printed in large and clear type, this more than 460-page book will keep young listeners spell-bound as it assists parents in the age-old custom of telling their children stories from the Bible.
Simplified text? Sheesh. So much for setting the bar high and encouraging children to reach for the stars. No wonder we're fostering a generation of cultural illiterates, if "classic" works have to be stripped down to pieces small enough for the parents to understand them.