Saturday, November 29, 2008

We could do worse.

Wife reports that Hedgehog is responding to the Everly Brothers.

Pigeonholing Christians

Throughout 1997 and into 1998, I carpooled with a buddy of mine who was student teaching with me. We spent many, many hours stuck in traffic on the 520 bridge, and with nothing to do but talk, we became pretty good buddies. But then, one day, I said something that really, really shocked and may actually have disgusted her a little. The following sentence will probably shock and horrify you, but I said it, and I will live with the consequences of what I said. Here's what I said:

"I think I'm going to go to the memorial Mass for Mother Teresa tonight."

You'd think I'd advocated baby-beating. Her entire face fell, and she essentially told me that she couldn't believe I would do that when religion had done so much bad in the world. I suggested that perhaps Mother Teresa's religious beliefs had done more good than harm, and that it seemed like a small sacrifice to give up an hour of my time in thanksgiving for her life. But she was adamant. She continued to insist that if she'd not wasted her efforts on religious beliefs, Mother Teresa could have accomplished so much more.

I don't remember how exactly the conversation turned from there, but I do remember it led to the following exchange:

ME: So what you're saying is that, if I were a little more intelligent, I wouldn't believe in God.
HER: Yes. That's what I'm saying.

I became incredibly pissed off, of course. This woman (who remained my friend, by the way), actually thought that religious belief was a sign of unintelligence. (She declined my effort to declare AP or SAT scores or to play a round of Jeopardy!.)

How is it that a human being who brags about her own tolerance could be guilty of such bald-faced bigotry?

This has crossed my mind again lately with the election and with Bill Maher's movie.

I never got around to writing this back when Religulous came out. I didn't see it because I knew it would just piss me off. But hen I saw Maher on Jon Stewart back on September 30, well, I was actually pleasantly surprised. He came so close to hitting on the head my pet peeves about religious fundamentalism and certainty. He said the following:

I'm not an atheist because I find atheism to be a mirror of the certainty of religion, and I don't like certainty.

Good. This shows a higher level of understanding than my friend did. Why are fundamentalist atheists let off the hook for their own arrogance while fundamentalist Christians (rightly) get so much grief for theirs?

But he then blows it by letting his own stereotypes about Christians trip him up when he says the following:

"I don't know if Barack Obama is a very religious person. He, of course, has to say he is, because he's running for President in the United Stupid of America. But I hope he's lying. I don't have a problem with fake piety."

Barack Obama is a very religious person. Anybody who consistently goes to church for 20 years meets my definition of "very religious," and, I believe, any reasonable person's definition of same.

The interview with Maher ended before he could really address what it would mean if Barack Obama is a "real" Christian (and, for that matter, why Maher gets to be the one to decide). But I've been on the business end of this often enough that I feel safe saying that Maher likely believes that Obama is not a "real" Christian only because Barack Obama is not a fundamentalist.

I'm not sure which pisses me off more; the fact that fundamentalists have hijacked Jesus' message to the point that I'm not considered a "real" believer, or the fact that my liberal friends buy into the stereotype just as much as the fundamentalists do. I've been told that, to be a "real" Christian, I cannot be supportive of gays and their right to marry, for instance. Jerry Falwell didn't say this to me (although he could have). It was two separate liberal loved ones, both of whom are nonbelievers. That's right...nonbelievers telling me that I'm not Christian enough because I don't act like a butthole.

Maher is guilty of playing the "real Christian" vs. "not real Christian" game, and given how close he was to slaying the true enemy--false certainty about something unproveable--I'm terribly disappointed he slipped back into the kind of stereotyping that's bad for everybody. It's every bit as offensive as Sarah Palin defining "real" America, and you all know how I feel about that.

I don't think anybody gets to say what a "real" Christian is, any more than someone gets to say "oh, you're not a real American," "you're not really Black" or "oh, you're not a true gay." But it happens all the time, with both Christians and non-Christians doing it. It's an area where the really Christian and utterly non-religious are indistinguishable. When I can't tell my agonostic and atheist liberal friends apart from Pat Robertson on matters of religion, it's not only deliciously ironic, it's sad. And while it makes me mad when fundamentalist Christians act this way, it makes me more upset when "tolerant" liberals use the exact same sentences. They should know better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Traveling with a pregnant wife

We stop more often. It makes the jaunt up the I-5 corridor seem like a happier adventure somehow. You know, in a stop-and-smell-the-roses-and-admire-my-wife's-belly kind of way.

I was a little worried my relatives might be tempted to touch Swankette's belly (a no-no). But my family was as cool as ever and laid off--with one exception. My 6-year-old niece put her head against Swankette's belly just as we left, as a way to say goodbye to the baby. Man, I love that kid. She's pretty excited...she's the youngest of all 10 of her cousins. It'll be good not to be the baby anymore.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm about to lose control and I think I like it

I'm so excited about the President Elect's selection to run the Office of Management and Budget that I just might have an Orszagm.


My wife has been having some issues with the kid beating her up. As you see over there, yesterday was an especially challenging day. (Overheard her pleading with the kid: "I am NOT a trampoline!!!")

This morning started out the same way. Hedgehog awoke with my alarm, and as I was about to go off to school at 6:30, Swankette had pulled the laptop into bed. That's a bad sign, usually...insomniac wife plus active kid.

"You should tell Hedgehog that he/she should stop beating me up so I can sleep," wife suggested.

Well, I've got me a singing voice. So I leaned over right by the belly and improvised a lullaby. It went something like this:

Go to sleep
Go to sleep my baby
You should rest now
and stop kicking and punching your mommy
Because she needs to sleep
and she can't do it
When you treat her like the speedbag at the gym
So please stop
We love you
go to sleep my baby

As I finished, Swankette said:

"I really think Hedgehog liked that...
because Hedgehog is kicking me MORE now!!!"

As much as I felt for my bride, I must admit, I spent today kinda high that Hedgehog recognizes and responds to my voice...and my singing voice at that. There are definitely some lullabies in the future. Let's just hope they don't make the kid kick and punch.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's play a game...

of You Are The Minnesota Vote Counter. Check it here.

A few of these voters are probably stupid...but some others probably have motor skills trouble that makes marking a ballot difficult. Either way, some of these are tough calls to make.

(From Jim, who is now a fellow NBCT.)

This will kill an hour of your day.

Did the 11-10 NFL game last week get you thinking about NFL numbers?

It did for this WSJ author.

The most common final score in NFL history: 20-17.

Be forewarned...the first comment may well take you here. You can search every game i NFL history by score. And you might wind up finding really weird games.

Like this, the only game in NFL history where a team had negative net yardage at the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How big was she?

I am increasingly glad daily that I have a wife without big body image issues. Because when I'm saying things like "Man, honey, are you ever BIG!" she smiles and laughs and touches her belly. I don't think every woman is like this, even late in the second trimester.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The unlocker/locker remote thingy for my car

Back in '04, I bought my first new car; a Chevy Malibu. I chose GM because I'd saved a couple thousand dollars in down payment using a GM credit card.

Since then, I've ditched the GM card because I've ditched any hope of purchasing a GM car again. Little crap kept breaking, and once the warranty ended, that little crap was costing me a lot of money.

There were three moments in particular that bugged me.

1. I went in because the blinkers weren't working. Thought it was a bulb. "Oh, no, that's not it," they told me. "The whole electrical system could shut down while you're driving. In fact, we're not allowed to give you the car back until we fix that."

2. The driver's seat couldn't move forward or backward anymore. I figured it was electrical, since every damn other electrical thing about my Malibu is screwed up. "Oh, no, that's not it," they told me. "Turns out the tracks that the seat moves on are warped. That'll be a thousand dollars." No thank you. My car is now only driveable by six-foot-three people. My wife can't drive it unless I pay a thousand dollars.

3. The very same day, I went into the shop to get the battery replaced on my clicker-doodle that unlocks and locks my car. "Oh, no," he said, opening the clicker-doodle. "It's not the battery. The whole inside is now corroded. Look. And that's not covered by your warranty. It'll cost you several hundred dollars. Or, you can solder this part on yourself." No thank you. I simply subbed out the first clicker for the second.

Yesterday, on the way to work, I heard news about a possible bailout for GM.

After work, I headed out to the car with my (second) clickerdoodle in hand and hit the button to unlock the car.

Nothing. The second clicker lasted just a little over two years of normal use...just like the first one. As a point of comparison, my wife's 2001 Subaru's clicker is still going strong. Meanwhile, I've burned through two in half the time.

If your product sucks, you're going to go out of business. If economists who know more about this than I do say that we have to rescue this lousy company with a shitty product because the consequences of doing nothing are too great, I'll defer to their judgment.

But I don't have to like it if my tax dollars go there. They already have taken too much of my money.

You want to make a profit? Make a product worth buying.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The girl I reference here has made excellent progress in her AP essays. In fact, although I've still got half the current batch to go, she's an odds-on favorite to get the highest score our of her entire AP class on two essays in a row.

But she's still dotting her i's with little hearts.

I did talk to her about it about a month ago. I said that AP graders could be negatively swayed by her handwriting...might (incorrectly) peg her as unintelligent. She said she'd work on it. But every i is still dotted by a heart. It looks like a junior high love note (not that I got many of those...although I did go with Tiffany for 10 days in seventh grade...but I digress). And she does not want her essay that determines if she gets college credit to look like a junior high love note.

It occurred to me tonight that this might be the only way she's ever written. She started dotting her i's with hearts in first grade and never stopped. And if that's true, asking her to change that habit would be like asking me to start writing my i's upside down tomorrow, with the dot on the bottom. In other words...very difficult.

So I have a plan.

Tomorrow, I will ask my brilliant heart-dotting student if she prefers M&M's or Skittles.

I will purchase a package of them.

Then, before the next in-class essay (Monday), I will tell her that the package belongs to her...but that, upon collection of the paper, I will remove one M&M/Skittle for every time she dots an eye with a heart.

Repeat until victory is mine...

Monday, November 10, 2008

A little more on the December Public Forum Topic

Update 11/11: Welcome to the debaters who have clicked over from Jim's decorabilia site. Feel free to chip in any arguments you're thinking of making; we'll see if we can help each other out.

As I slog my way through my new Facebook account to try to figure out the new PuFo topic, I'm doign a little reading.

Most helpful was a chapter entitled "Niche Culture" from Chris Anderson's The Tail Effect. Here are the money excerpts:

It's the end of the couch potato era. When you think about it, in the peak of the network TV age, we may all have been watching the same things, but we were all too often watching them by ourselves--"bowling alone" in prime time. Online today we're doing different things, but we are more likely to encounter other individuals, either by reading their writings, chatting live, or just following their example. What we've lost in common culture we've made up in our increased exposure to other people.

Today we're not so much fragmenting as we are re-forming along different dimensions. These days our watercoolers are increasingly virtual; there are many different ones; and the people who gather around them are increasingly self-selected.

Or, do we believe U of Chicago professor Cass Sunstein, who Anderson quotes?

[S]ociety is in danger of fragmenting, shared communities in danger of dissolving...[Y]ou need not come across topics and views that you have not sought out. Without any difficulty, you are able to see exactly what you want to see, no more and no less.

Robert Putnam only made tentative predictions in his 2001 Bowling Alone, as social networking websites were still in their infancy (I was in, as I recall). But he suggested that:

Real-world interactions often force us to deal with diversity, whereas the virtual world may be more homogeneous, not in demographic terms, but in terms of interest and outlook. Place-based communities may be supplanted by interest-based communities.

The Big Question On Which I Think The Debate Hinges: what have we lost by surrendering place-based communities for interest-based ones? What have we gained? Is it a net loss or a net gain? If we believe--and I do--that talking to smart friends who disagree with you is the best way to grow, do social networking groups do that as effectively as Putnam's dearly-departed bowling leagues???

J.J., you're Putnam's champion. I think I get his thesis, but I need you here, since I've only had time to read the above-quoted chapter 9. Do the losses he laments in face-to-face communication counteract any gains from "virtual social capital"? Is "virtual social capital" an oxymoron?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I just got a Facebook account.

The only reason I did it is because next month's Public Forum debate topic is on whether social networking web sites have, on balance, been good for the United States. So I'm sitting back, watching the friends roll in.

As best as I can tell, the Con side needs to argue that social networking sites keep us away from our neighbors, in our bubble, and prevent us from ever talking with people who disagree with us. The way Facebook is set up, how would I ever really have a conversation with someone whose different views will expand my own?

Anyway, if you know me, go ahead and friend me. We'll see how long this lasts. (But my first impression is that I like it.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

R.I.P. Tuba Man

Just today I learned that The Tuba Man died a few days back as a result of a vicious attack by five teens near a Seattle bus stop. He was 53.

If you've been to a Seattle sports event, you've heard and seen Tuba Man. He was absolutely a fixture, playing his tuba outside the stadium. He had a spot near the Kingdome and another spot within the niches of Safeco Field's exterior, just on the west side of the ballpark along First Avenue. In the crowds leaving a game, it was easy to hear those notes coming up. His fan-dom was legendary. I remember going to a ballgame completely unmemorable except that it was Randy Johnson's last day as a Mariner. He was dealt at the trade deadline that night--was yanked out of the dugout, in fact, during the game--but nobody in the crowd knew to whom. As I headed out to the bus, I passed Tuba Man playing a sad tuba tune before stopping to say "That's for Randy." He seemed to really mean it.

To be honest, he actually weirded me out a little bit, and although he's played tuba in a couple of orchestras, I never cared much for his music, either...I'm not a tuba fan, and I think his instrument may have been a little old and worn from decades of outdoor busking, as I felt like I could hear clanking metal more than the deep tuba sound. Still, I can't imagine going to a Mariner game without that sound. It says Mariner baseball to me almost as much as the crack of the bat, Tom Hutyler's voice, the "I-Chi-ro!" and "EHHHHHD-GRRRRRRR!" chants, or "O-Bla-Di, O-Bla-Da" escorting me to the exits after yet another M's loss...Paul McCartney's piano fading out as I go down the stadium stairs, and Tuba Man's sounds fading in as I head out to the bus, shaking my head in amazement at how he's there absolutely every night. I wasn't a fan, and yet I'm mourning his loss.

One of my favorite blog posts my wife has ever written says the following:

I don't think we give enough credit to the nameless people who play an important part of our daily lives. We've all got these people in our lives, it's just a matter of identifying them.

Indeed. Tuba Man was not a friend, nor even an acquaintance, but he has unquestionably been in the fabric of the last dozen years of my life...and now he's gone at the hands of a gang of sadistic punks.

Safeco Field is a little quieter now. I'll think of you after games quite often, Tuba Man. Thank you for being a quirky, fun, nameless extra in quite a few great moments in my life.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

And the movie...

You can skip Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Honestly. It's a mix of boring humor-to-shock and boring conventional-love-story. It's Jersey Girl with several dozen anal sex jokes.

It's time for Kevin Smith to try something entirely new. No more twentysomethings-trying-to-find love. Kevin, you're my age and raising a kid. Why not let your movies mature a little too? The genius of Chasing Amy will always be there. Now it's time to find your genius elsewhere. Maybe a movie about challenges of being a parent approaching 40 and trying to figure out how--and whether--to stay cool?


What I'll always remember from tonight is the way that crowds spontaneously--and joyously--assembled in places like Harlem and the White House. I can't recall tears of joy so liberally shed by random citizens over elections of Bush or Clinton (or anyone else).

This has to change us. This has to unite us. Obama really can make this a nation that maximizes its potential.

I've never trusted a politician before. Ever. And I've been happy on election night before, but never felt joy like now.

I believe he can go beyond my party and into the best in all of us. It's time.

Love days like this

when one wakes up and knows history will be made. Four years ago I was nervous. Today I'm totally stoked.

We'll continue our tradition of going to the movies to avoid too many nerves. Four years ago it was Ray. Tonight it's Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

After that, I'm eager to see what he has to say.

I never thought we'd see a Black President even in my lifetime. This rules.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A letter from Barack Obama to me

I've sent a few bucks to Obama's campaign over the past few months. I thought I was done a couple of months ago, but then my buddy Jay died, and he asked for people to contribute to Obama's campaign in his memory, so I reached into the wallet and tossed a little more his way.

Today I got a postcard. On one side, it has a picture of the junior senator from Illinois shaking hands with supporters. The other side begins thusly:

"Thank you for your recent contribution to my presidential campaign. It is an honor to have your friendship and support."


On the one hand, I'm pretty honored that Barack (and as his friend, I can call him Barack) considers me a friend. I mean, out of all the people he's known in his life, I'm a friend! Maybe he can come over after this whole election business is done, and we can watch football and play backgammon.

Of course, this could also be code. I've been calling Barack my boyfriend for nearly all of 2008 now. Maybe this postcard was a way to get me to back off a little bit. Maybe it's a "hey, come on, we're just friends, ease up" thing. Maybe he finds me stalkerish, what with the calling him my boyfriend and insisting on sending him money. Hard to say.

But he considers me a friend. That's awesome.

One man's loss of control is another man's breath of fresh air

On Wednesday, I popped off at a kid. It wasn't a big deal...I didn't cuss, I didn't embarrass him in front of everyone. But I did let him know he was out of line. He had done very little of the homework, and even as he made a couple of lame excuses, I let him know it wasn't acceptable. When I got about a step away, he shouted "God! I HATE this class!" I turned right back around and let him know that this wasn't acceptable, that there's no way he should talk like that when he knew I could hear, that his not doing the work was not a reflection of the class, that he needs to learn not to quit when things get hard, but to solicit help, etc.

I was pissed.

It was only two weeks ago that I had similarly laid into a kid at a meeting with his parents and the counselor. It was similar shit...he was giving extremely lame reason after extremely lame reason why he was not turning in work. (He is getting a 30% in my class, which is higher than what he got for me last year as a sophomore.) I called bullshit on him without cussing...but I absolutely did point and raise my voice, telling him that he had a whole room full of adults here who wanted him to get a diploma, but it didn't matter if he was going to make such terrible decisions and back them with lame excuses all day, every day, for two years.

I'm worried enough about these episodes' impact on my psyche...and my ability to teach long-term without burning out...that I visited the principal and told her about my recent misadventures and my worries. I recounted the issue in class that day, then the issue with the kid in the counselor's office.

"Oh yeah! Bob [the counselor] came in after that meeting and told me about it!"

Really? Was it that bad?

"No! He loved it! He said that you were giving the kid absolutely no wiggle room as far as making excuses or avoiding work! He said it was refreshing, and he wishes he had more meetings like that!"

Wow. Refreshing??? Really, when you come right down to it, all I did was have a minor meltdown. If that's refreshing, I could do it daily! But, to hear my boss say it, enough teachers in my building are willing to look the other way while kids' bad decisions are fucking up their lives that a lashing-out like mine is actually the sign of good character, not a character flaw.

Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of potential burnout. But hey, popping off at a kid every two weeks isn't that bad if it's "refreshing." If I can leave the stress at work and not take it home, it might even be sustainable over my career. And if we change the culture in our building such that people who don't accept failure become the rule rather than the exception, perhaps I won't be the countercultural maverick any longer.