Monday, November 24, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."
But the LORD said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
"The death penalty violates [the] justice of God, because it asserts that some human beings are not redeemable; that some human beings should not be saved from death. The death penalty not only seeks to cut a human being off from physical life; it seeks to impose a spiritual death on the person executed by denying the person the time to change, to convert.
The death penalty would impose a human timetable upon God, by saying if God really wants to save this person, God could. Indeed, God could, but who are we to tell God when and where this is to take place? The death penalty makes the state into God, deciding who is redeemable and who is not. The death penalty violates God's justice in deciding that some people should not be allowed the chance at salvation, at conversion, at change. The death penalty even goes so far as to say, "We want this person to rot in hell" - as if we are to determine who is to be saved and who is not.
The death penalty, then, is not only not God's justice, it is idolatry. And as idolatry, it is the worst form of injustice-it does not give to God what is due to God as God - namely, power over life and death. It is idolatry in that it makes the state into God. It is idolatry in its preaching of a false god - a god of death rather than the God of life. God is a God of life, not a God of death. My God, what is so wrong with us that we so pervert God's Word to make God into a God of death?"
Steven D. Stewart (Prosecuting Attorney for Clark County, Indiana)
"Along with two-thirds of the American public, I believe in capital punishment. I believe that there are some defendants who have earned the ultimate punishment our society has to offer by committing murder with aggravating circumstances present. I believe life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent."
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
"One of the great counterarguments death penalty opponents face is the challenge, 'If it were your spouse/child/sibling who was murdered, you'd feel differently.' Never did I feel that that boy's shocked parents, who were losing their son as surely as my parents lost theirs, and who have the added pain of shame, needed to suffer more. An 18-year-old's execution would not give back the dead. Nor would it have given me 'closure', which I regard as a myth - a politician's fiction. Spare me, please, your feel-good vengeance." -- Paul Bosco, whose brother was murdered (son of Antoinette Bosco).
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Hmm...why the sudden interest in stability and confidence, banking industry? Debt-fueled over-consumption no longer quite as popular as it was last year?
Monday, November 17, 2008
Unbelievably, Halliburton tries to patent patent-trolling (that's where a company that didn't invent something files a patent for an invention somebody else is already using, then suing them for patent infringement, or forcing them to pay to use their own invention. It's basically corporate blackmail.)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
My favorites, with commentary in italics:
• He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics
Spider-Man's motto is that with great power comes great responsibility. You don't get much greater power than President of the United States. Plus, Conan was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a Republican. It's bi-partisan!
• He is left-handed – the sixth post-war president to be left-handed
• He has read every Harry Potter book
Probably with his kids. Which is nice. Plus they're just good books.
• He ate dog meat, snake meat, and roasted grasshopper while living in Indonesia
Margot wouldn't approve of the first one, but it's just badass to eat snake.
• He can speak Spanish
Should come in handy.
• He kept a pet ape called Tata while in Indonesia
Maybe instead of First Puppy, the Obamas can get a First Monkey. Previous presidents have had giraffes and elephants and stuff. I think it was John Adams who kept an alligator in the White House bathroom, so this would just be traditional.
• His favourite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Both excellent. Watch them.
• He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.
• His favourite music includes Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bach and The Fugees
The first three are probably carefully calculated and safely focus-tested preferences. But a president who listens to the Fugees...I think the generational change here is lost in the (however appropriate) hoopla about Obama's race.
• He enjoys playing Scrabble and poker
• He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol
• He repaid his student loan only four years ago after signing his book deal
This is why the "Obama is elite" argument was always stupid. A half-black kid with a funny name raised by a single mother who is basically a self-made man could not possibly be more "elite" than the son and grandson of admirals (which is not to disparage John McCain's family). The overwhelming majority of American households carry large debts, so this can only help him identify with normal folks.
• He uses an Apple Mac laptop
President Clinton sent only 2 emails while in office. President Bush, apparently, none. This is more of the generational change--I want a president who knows what MySpace is and can set up his or her own voicemail. How can you set technology policy if you can't program your TV remote?
• He was given the code name "Renegade" by his Secret Service handlers
Well that's just cool
• His specialty as a cook is chili
This aggression shall not stand, man. Barack Obama, I hereby challenge you to a chili cook-off. I await my invitation to the White House.
Monday, November 10, 2008
2. That was inevitable.
3. A belated happy birthday to Billy Graham; celebrate by reading this remarkably prescient interview from 1981: “I have often denounced the kind of gambling that goes on among speculators in stocks and commodities. Though the exchanges represent legitimate enterprise, some of the business transacted there is motivated by a desire for quick profits.”
Sunday, November 9, 2008
as we think, the death of love,
any more suffices to differentiate
of place and condition
with which we have been long
as if seen
wavering through water.
We start awake with a cry
but soon the outlines
become again vague.
If we are to understand our time,
we must find the key to it,
not in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries,
but in earlier, wilder
and darker epochs...
So to know, what I have to know
about my own death,
if it be real,
I have to take it apart.
From "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (Book II) by William Carlos Williams. Emphasis mine.
Friday, November 7, 2008
It was pretty obvious that she liked me. The sly way she looked at me out of the corner of her eye, the way we talked in shorthand like old friends almost immediately. Still, sometimes people are just friendly. Did she like me, or did she like me? She was taking the LSAT on Saturday.
“I’m taking the LSAT on Saturday.”
“What’s the LSAT?”
“The test to get into law school. I’m taking it on Saturday and I’m not allowed to study on Friday. I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t know how I’m going to keep from studying.”
You’re not supposed to study the day before a big test. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Besides, if you’re not ready by then, you never will be. So she said. Whatever, it was clearly an opening to ask her out.
“So you’re looking for something to do on Friday?”
So two hours later she called me and said, “Ask me out, idiot!”
Okay, that’s not what happened. I asked her out and she said yes. She liked me. For some reason. She was clearly cooler and more interesting than me in every way. She had spent a semester in England and a month in India doing missions. She had red hair and a nosering and a tattoo and she’s smart as hell and what am I going to do on a date with Amy? Crap! She’s way cooler than me.
My father died when I was twelve. He was diabetic, and he had a heart attack in his sleep, surprising everyone. He was only 41. Ironically he was probably in the best shape of his life. People sometimes assume that my parents got divorced, the way I only talk about my mom. I tend not to talk about my father. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking about it. Then again, maybe it is; if I was comfortable, I would have used “him” in the preceding sentence rather than “it”. Why do I only think or talk about my father in terms of his death and its impact on me? The man was more than that, surely.
I picked Amy up at her indescribably awesome house in my very describably crappy car. The only good thing about my car is that the passenger door only works from the outside, so I always have to get out and open it like I’m a chauffer or someone with manners. I took Amy to the movies. The early, old people movies. We were out of the theater by five and it was disturbingly still bright outside, like we were living in Alaska. Then, brilliantly, I took her to the pet store. I knew she would like the pet store because she has a rat. I’ll repeat: this chick has a pet rat. Why is that so appealing?
The rat’s name is Geoffrey. He’s fat, kind of, in a Will Ferrell way, not a Chris Farley way. He’s extremely friendly and I’m pretty sure he was my first test. Women have tests, you see. There’s the best friend test, the music test, and the all-important animal test. If you’re not ready when the tests come, you never will be. I passed the animal test like it was a Cadillac with its blinker on.
The pet store was fun because it’s the pet store, and it has to be. The fish were pretty, which is half the reason I believe in God. The lizards were lazy and bored with you immediately, like rich teenagers. The dogs were all suitably pitiful, staring at you with the look that says, “You know you don’t want to leave me here in this little box.” And you don’t. So you look back apologetically, saying, “Yes, but I also don’t want to pay my landlord $200 and then feel bad because I’m too busy to take care of you.”
Pet stores are bittersweet in this way.
My father was a minister, which, like being a doctor or government official is a time-consuming profession. He was a good man, and a great father. I think. It disturbs me how truly little I remember about him. You don’t know your parents as people, as Jim or Cynthia or Mary, when you’re a kid. I know my mother now not just as Mom but as Janet. We talk about things like grown-ups, because we are. I never got there with my father, and I never will. I don’t know who he really was, which means I have to figure him out from vague memories and other people’s stories, like an archaeologist trying to describe an entire civilization of people from broken pottery and the shape of their turds.
Amy is the first romantic interest I’ve had to get to know from the ground up. She is, without exaggerating, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. “Interesting” sounds like it’s not quite a compliment, like it’s a fallback word for when you want to say something honest but not unkind about someone or something you don’t like. That isn’t the case here. She’s bloody fascinating and that’s all there is to it. She talks in funny voices and smiles like a child is passionate about important causes. When we got out of the pet store and went to eat it was only like 5:45. It was official: this was an old-people date.
Or it would have been apart from the fact that we went to a Thai restaurant. I don’t think old people eat Thai food. Except, of course, old people in Thailand. The food was good but I wasn’t very hungry, it being a first date and all. We talked really well. That sounds dumb when you say it out loud. “We’re good at talking.” But it’s true. She is, challengingly, direct. We were talking casually the way people talk who are getting to know each other. Then there was kind of a long silence, what people who use clichés like to call a pregnant pause. She leaned in, tiny smile like she was going to tell me a secret, and asked, “So what are your thoughts?”
Unspoken rest of the sentence: about us.
If I remember my father only vaguely, I remember his death with startling clarity. It was Sunday afternoon and he was taking a nap. I don’t know what I was doing, but I remember sitting on the couch listening to my mother explain to my brother and I that he apparently had a heart attack and was dead. I was twelve and wearing silk boxer shorts with the Tazmanian Devil on them. We went to a neighbor’s house because for some reason they make you leave when someone dies in your house. It was Sunday so we were supposed to go to church, supposed to like you’re supposed to brush your teeth. There wasn’t church that night. People rather quickly found out what happened, and came to us and said the sorts of things people say when someone dies and you are left. I went outside, and sat on a trampoline, somehow knowing silence is the best response to tragedy.
Amy had asked me a question, one that required an answer. My thoughts about Amy include, but are not limited to, the following: I like her, and I like being around her. We get along well together, and the more I know about her, the more I want to know. That was my answer and I think it’s a good one. She seemed to agree. I asked the waitress for a box for my uneaten food. We left and I still can’t believe this incredible girl smiles at me when I tell her I like her.
We went back to her place. It’s a big awesome house and her roommates are funny and nice and it’s just a great place to hang out, warm like a fireplace hearth that makes you want to stay there and maybe take a nap. We sat and talked of many things. I don’t remember any of them specifically, but sometimes those are the best conversations, the ones you get lost in like an old city.
Sometimes not having a father is like not having a circus tent, and sometimes it’s like not having a lung. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, not anymore, not having grown up used to the fact that my dad is dead, like a tree that long ago adapted to a fence or a post and is okay with the weird shape it’s in. Sometimes, though, I am unmistakably aware of the void, of the fact that I have questions I can’t ask the man who gave me half my DNA. I don’t know who my father really was, and more damning, I don’t know what he thought of me. What he would have thought. It does no good to say, Of course he would have loved you, been proud of you. I know this. But he’s not here to say it. I am forever waiting for the approval of a dead man.
It was pretty obvious that she liked me, but I knew for sure when she ate my leftovers. I accidentally left the box of Thai food in her refrigerator, and she totally ate it. Even the part of me that is insecure cannot deny the fact that you don’t eat someone else’s leftovers unless you’re comfortable enough with them. She didn’t even really apologize, just told me my food was gone. It was strangely intimate.
I had left at some strange early time, like 9:45. She had the LSAT the next day, which gave me a perfect opportunity to call her and ask how it went.
So I did.
My father is dead. I know that has shaped who I am and will continue to. I wonder if I’ll be a good husband, a good father, a good man. My father is dead and I am mostly left wondering. I wonder who I really am. I wonder about my past and my future.
I wonder what Amy’s doing right now.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
1. A problem with God: fear.
2. A problem with Self: shame.
3. A problem with Others: enmity.
4. A problem with the World: exploitation/irresponsibility.
We've usually focused on just the first problem, with maybe a few jabs at the second. "The Gospel" usually means getting right with God (entirely thought of in legal terms) so you can be whisked away from the evil world. This is what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management. It's good, but not good enough, and certainly not the robust gospel found in the Scriptures.
(Things I did not say: that Jesus didn't die for your sins, that a penal substitution theory of the atonement is wrong, that evangelical Christianity is bad, or that evangelizing is wrong.)
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
1. Whiteboard pong
2. Rest in peace
3. Prayer for the President-Elect
4. Crazy Paper Heart Gears
5. Cool wildlife cameratrap photography
6. Run free, tiny horse
Not a hologram:
Here's what actually happened. I'm not saying it isn't also cool, but it isn't as cool as an actual holodeck-style image in real space. And it's definitely made infinitely lamer by Wolf Blitzer pretending it's a real hologram. It's also completely stupid that they made it look flickery and indistinct to trick everybody into thinking it's like Star Wars, even though they could easily have made it look as clear as the weatherman in front of his computer-generated map. Which is basically what this is.
This basically sums up how I feel about fasting. I suck at it. I've actually never successfully fasted for more than like 8 hours. Seriously. Jesus fasted for 40 days and I always end up in a McDonald's parking lot at midnight.
Does anybody have any stories about fasting (good or bad)?
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Things I'm glad about:
1. My kids will grow up in a country that already elected a black president.
2. I believe our new president will govern by hope, not fear. I don't believe that makes me naive.
3. We're done with Baby Boomer presidents, and hopefully we'll soon be done with the stranglehold of the 1960's on our politics.
4. John McCain's concession speech was genuine, respectful, and inspiring. Class act.
5. We will have an intelligent president, who is committed to bipartisanship. Plus the State of the Union speech won't be boring, I think.
6. Less war. Less death penalty. Less poverty. Less torture. More life.
Things I'm concerned about:
1. He is inexperienced. I think he'll learn quick, but he'll need all the help he can get.
2. Abortion. I really would have loved to add this to number five above. Yes, I voted for Obama in spite of this. Yes, I would do it again. But it's still tough.
3. 1 party control of Congress and the presidency. It may be necessary as a kind of chemotherapy for the last 8 years, but I think balance in D.C. is good.
What I hope for:
1. McCainiacs don't think it's Armageddon. Obamans don't think it's the Second Coming. Politics matter, but only Jesus can save us.
2. I'd like to see more than the usual token Republicans in Obama's cabinet. Chuck Hagel, Colin Powell maybe. If McCain wants to ease into retirement, make him head of the VA or something.
3. We all, as a nation, need to learn fiscal responsibility. And by all I mean all.
4. We can move past the bitter divisions we've seen recently. I hope we can learn to have honest and respectful conversations with people who disagree with us. Our church small group was pretty evenly split, and I have friends with a huge variety of conflicting beliefs. But I feel like I'm alone, and that too many of us are living in the echo chamber of Fox News or MSNBC.
I'll reformulate the John Wayne quote from before: I did vote for him, and he's my president, and I hope (and pray) he does a good job.
While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California Riverside, he realized that Prosperity's central promise -- that God would "make a way" for poor people to enjoy the better things in life -- had developed an additional, toxic expression during sub-prime boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe "God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house." The results, he says, "were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers."
Does God promise that he'll provide all your needs? Yes. Does God promise that we'll all get to live in our own fancy houses with laundry rooms and a 2-car garage? Not so much.
John Wayne, on learning that John F. Kennedy was elected president rather than his own choice, Richard Nixon. Hopefully a reaction we can all share if the person we didn't vote for wins.
[Update: According to my poll, Barack Obama should win the election. If you're a McCainiac, though, take heart. A nonscientific, unrepresentative poll of 9 people means absolutely nothing. Unless Obama does win, in which case I predicted it all along.]
Monday, November 3, 2008
Which got me thinking about Family Matters. It's supposed to be based in reality. Carl is a cop, the Winslows live in a normal house in Chicago, and yet Steve Urkel makes his own clone, and then turns it into a sexier version of himself named Stefan Urquelle. How did Stefan get by in the real world? He has no Social Security number. No birth certificate. How does he find work?
How does he adjust socially? Presumably he has all of Steve's memories, and yet his own distinct personality. He doesn't have parents. He has no past, no real family. He must feel like an imposter, particularly since Laura eventually chooses Steve over him. What kind of psychological problems would he develop? Would he go insane? Would he try to eliminate Steve and take his place?
And if he does, isn't he perfectly positioned to ruin Steve's life? They share identical DNA, yet Stefan Urquelle isn't in the system, Steve is. Stefan Urquelle doesn't officially exist. He can kill and rape with impunity, not caring what evidence he leaves behind, because the blame will all be pinned on his progenitor and nemesis, Steve Urkel. And when Steve breaks out of prison, finally tracking Stefan down in his seedy lair in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum, Stefan will just laugh wickedly, adjust the awkward glasses he has carved for himself out of animal bones, and nasally taunt, "Did I do that?"
And now I have to write a script for a bizarrely dark and twisted spinoff of Family Matters, in which Steve Urkel's evil clone comes back to ruin his life. Thanks, Wikipedia.