Tuesday, February 28, 2006

No more T.V.!

One of my goals this week is to limit my television viewing to three hours. That's right...only three hours of t.v. for the entire week! Is this possible? Sure it is. Will I actually accomplish this goal? I'll let you know. Television has become more stupefying than ever. You truly can become dumber by watching most of what's on the 'one-eyed god.' It's also amazing how much time you can find in your day if you turn the thing off.

As I stated in an earlier post I grew up without a television for the first eleven years of my life. I actually had to either read or go outside for entertainment. I don't even remember missing television during those days. Sure, I didn't get the Mork and Mindy jokes at school. But I think the trade-off was worth it. My parents didn't have an over-arching plan about television viewing...we were just too poor to buy one while my Dad was in graduate school.

When my parents finally relented and bought a tv set so we could watch the 1984 Olympics I joined the great unwashed masses of television zombies. Yes, my parents set limits but once I was on my own I became a television zombie like everybody else. The transformation was easy. You come home from a long day at work or school and plop on the couch to vegetate in the comforting glow of the idiot box. But my move to Spain in 1996 jolted my pattern. In Barcelona I did not possess a television, telephone or even a computer! Once again, I had to either go outside or read for entertainment. That was a good thing.

I've had my relapses. But when Kimberly and I got married we agreed not to subscribe to cable or satellite. We wanted to save money (approximately $480 a year...that's 10 lift tickets at the ski resort!) and to spend time together. Of course, with eleven free channels, not including half a dozen Spanish language stations, it is easy to watch too much tv without cable or satellite. However, I was amazed how much more time I had in the day when the television was left off. With my Trinitron off I have time to get things done around the house. I have more time to read, write, think, play music, converse, enjoy the outdoors, pray and spend time with my wife.

I'm not giving up on television entirely. There are many intellectually stimulating programs on as well as those shows that provide a healthy moment of escapism from the harsh realities of life. Even your brain needs to relax every once in awhile. So this week I'm watching the premiere of The Amazing Race 9 and Survivor (an apalling guilty pleasure!). I'll let you know if I meet my goal of only three hours of tv this week. I got nothing to hide.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Media Giveth...and The Media Taketh Away

Everybody's down on Bode Miller. He didn't win a single medal at the Torino games. What a loser! He skis drunk. He's arrogant. He doesn't care enough. Bode Miller...the big flop.

The media is such a joke. It's become a cliche how the media builds up heroes only to tear them down. All that is important is the story and the ratings. And the Bode Miller saga is a perfect example of this hypocracy.

It was NBC's marketing machine and all the various sports pages that played Bode Miller up before the games. They needed buzz for either ratings or circulation. 60 Minutes was completely irresponsible in the way they hyped Bob Simon's interview. They released quotes like "skiier admits skiing drunk and will do it again." Anyone who watched the piece quickly realized that Bode Miller never admitted any such thing and never endorsed skiing drunk. He said he had been feeling the effects from the night after he had won the overall World Cup Title...when he had to race a race that didn't matter to the outcome the next morning. And he couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't happen again. All the time CBS is showing footage of him taking the traditional swill of the victory champagne on the podium...like they had caught him in the act of being in a bender.

Then he goes medaless at the Torino games and the same media that was hyping him earlier tore into him relentlessly. Maybe they were upset that their psuedo-expertise had been exposed. I follow World Cup skiing regularily...not just every four years. Bode has been talking about this media hypocracy for years. Last year after he won the World Cup Overall Title...the first American in 21 years to do so...he stated he might skip the Olympics because the media was taking all the fun out of skiing. He saw friends of his on the circuit go through the same cycle...built up by great exaggeration and then thrown to the wolves when they didn't perform up to expectations.

Of course he skiied. But it didn't look like his heart was in it. He already had his two medals from Salt Lake. He is already the best American skiier of all time. I don't think Americans understand how big the Overall World Cup Title is around the world. I believe he was weary of all the media crap. Funny things is, I don't think Bode is too disappointed by this Olympics. He skis for fun...medals are a bonus. Maybe that's what drives the media the craziest...someone who does things on their own terms.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

CD Pick of the Week - Teatro

Growing up I never, I mean never listened to country music. Growing up in Kansas City admitting you listened to country music meant that you were some kind of hillbilly bumpkin. And to be honest, I don't like most of the country music you hear on the radio today. But while I was in college I began to develop an appreciation for roots based country music and alt-country. I began to listen to guys like Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, Junior Brown, The Mavericks, Nickel Creek, and the indomitable Willie Nelson. My appreciation turned into full blown admiration when I heard the soundtrack to 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Willie Nelson became one of my favorites and last year saw him in concert for the first time in Grand Prairie, Texas. My favorite Willie Nelson album is 1998's Teatro. Teatro is a concept album about loss and heartbreak. You know you're in for something different when the album begins with an instrumental piece and the first line sang on the album is "The sun has turned to ice and gives no warmth at all." Teatro is definately not a traditional sounding country album. Blues chords backed by latin syncopation and reggae pacing gives this album an otherworldy sound. When I saw Willie Nelson singing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake on t.v. I knew he was the man. Teatro is one of his best.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Things I like...gastronomically speaking.

Short end ribs - Gates BBQ - Kansas City, MO
Chicken Fried Steak - only at The Chuck House - Oklahoma City, OK
Winstead's Hamburgers - Kansas City, MO
Crispy Tacos - Taco Bell - Anywhere
Green beans - Boston Market - Anywhere
Barq's Rootbeer
Green Tea (especially Bigelow's)
Little Debbie Fudge Cakes
Iced Animal Cookies by Keebler
Frozen twinkees
Tamales - made by hand by Senora Flores - Kaufman, TX
snickerdoodle cookies - made by my wife Kimberly
Steak - Ken's BBQ - Amber, OK
Kobe Burgers - Who Who's Burgers - Highland Park, TX
THE Hamburger - The Big Texan - Amarillo, TX
My wife's tilapia
Snapple pink lemonade
White rainbow sprinkled doughnuts - Winchells - Kansas City, Kansas
The meat and vegetable pizza - Rosa's at the Empire State Building - NYC
fajitas - Mamasitas - OKC
Angel Food Cake made by Kimberly's Grandmother Crews
Cinnamon Rolls - T.J. Cinnamons - Kansas City, MO
Sausage and Pepper Parmasagnia - Mama's Boy Italian - Durango, CO
Sausage Spaghetti - Paisano's - Keystone, CO
Pepperoni Pizza - Aardvark Pizza - Banff, Alberta, Canada
Onion Rings - Brownie's Diner - Tulsa, OK
Paella - Ferrocarriles Cafe - Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain
Pepper Steak - Chan's - Mesquite, TX
Kobe Steak House - Wichita, KS
Sopapeas - Casa Bonita - Tulsa, OK
Chocolate Ice Cream - Sears Tower - Chicago, IL
Cinnamon Coffee Cake made by Mom
Sweet Tarts
Three Musketeers chocolate bar
Lindt Swiss Chocolate
Ocra - Jack's BBQ - Warr Acres, OK
French Silk Pie - Tippins - Overland Park, KS
Frozen Egg Rolls - Wal*Mart
Schlotsky's Original Sandwich (no black olives)
The Three Piece fish and more - Long John Silver's
White Castle Burgers
The 6 inch on wheat Italian BMT - Subway

I'm sure there's more...but that will get it started! I'm going to go eat!

Friday, February 24, 2006


I wrote the following manifesto on the eve of the Iraq war. My old college newspaper advisor, Professor Jim Wilcox, asked me to submit this to Southern Nazarene University's college newspaper since a uni-lateral hawk perspective had permeated the campus. He felt another view of war from a graduate was needed. This has become my personal manifesto. I certainly don't presume to judge others...this is simply my vision for myself...as Kierkegaard would say...a man before his creator.

The last seven years of teaching high school has radicalized my belief in the importance of preaching Christ and modeling His life. Coming face to face with the effects of sin everyday made me realize that my life-long Christianity needed to be more than just a "religion." I decided not to serve the cause of Christ...but to just serve Christ. Not to serve him when it suited me to do so...but to make my personal relationship with Christ shine through everything I say and do.

Everyday I see students who are the victims of all sorts of abuse, students who are in that state of sin (ie, seperation from God) themselves, students who are lost and who are not being guided toward the truth and freedom of God. The Gospel message acquired an urgency for me that I hadn't really considered. So I broke things down to the basics and examined Christ's model on its own sake...trying to see it from a purist perspective, without all the muck thrown on the lens from the past 2,000 years of human interpretation.

It was amazing how my worldview began to change. My allegiance to political ideologies, beliefs, and just about everything began to become superceded by an all-encompassing allegiance to Jesus Christ alone...and I've been a "Christian" my whole life.

Unfortunately Christ's message is seen as foolishness in today's world...as it was in the Apostle Paul's world. His message of peace and pacification is a stumbling block...especially here in Texas where we execute a prisoner a week and guns are sold over the counter at Wal*Mart. I cannot ever see Christ advocating violence in any form or fashion to solve any problem. Our "real" world is so flawed that even the Christian establishment endorses war to liberate those under tyrannical governments. But Gandhi and Mandela were somehow able to bring down tyranny without bullets.

It would take a massive revolution in thought to restructure the construct of the world; even the one the "Christian" world has created. People are trained to fight for the U.S.A. and freedom from the time they are kids. Turning the other cheek is not "realistic" in the construct of modern thinking. People have lost their faith in God's omnipresence and his ability to give us the strength to persevere in tribulation.

The model of Christ is completely foreign to the mass of men and women in today's world. It would be like fish trying to learn how to live on land...the change would be that drastic. But the current model of thinking isn't working. Capitalism has spawned rampant materialism. Nationalism has created genocide and world war. Consumerism has pillaged our environment. These isms aren't working and people are living in darkness.

The change we need would be drastic...but it is the only change that can truly bring peace to the world. I've turned against the theory of "the good war." I am trying, albeit slowly in some cases, to live as Christ would have me to live...like He lived. And sometimes that is hard...because I've grown comfortable with the material amenities of modern life. And Christ lived a life that was anything but comfortable...at least from a temporal view.

Sometimes I feel as if I'm confronting a brick wall. My students want to kill the Iraqis, Muslims, and anybody with an Arab name. They drink to excess, destroy their temple with cigarettes, indulge in illegal drugs, and turn sex into something meaningless. And they all think they are saved because as Texas Baptists, once they are saved, they are always saved. It is an uphill battle showing Christ to these kids. But it is the only battle I would ever want to fight. And besides...I'm really not the one doing the fighting. And I am not the one to judge.

So when someone asks me if I'm conservative or liberal, or republican or democrat, right wing or left wing, I try my hardest to rise above all those human labels and state that I am a humble, imperfect follower of Christ. In Texas they usually say that means I must be some sort of "liberal."

I became a teacher through the side door...emergency certification. And I think it is one of the best jobs in the world. God gave me a wonderful wife and a wonderful job and better yet...hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless world. Underscore seemingly...because I believe God is with us and will change the world...through us.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My Moleskine

I really got into journaling in college. My first choice of journal was a beat up old spiral. I moved from format to format for years until my wife discovered the Moleskine at a Restoration Hardware store in uptown Dallas. I was originally attracted to the Moleskine because it looked a lot like the journal used by Indiana Jones to record archaelogical information...you know, like the key to finding the lost Ark of the Covenant...those mundane everyday kind of notes. She bought my first one as a Christmas stocking stuffer about four years ago and I haven't been without one since.

They come in a couple of sizes and a variety of styles. I now prefer the 3x5 sketch book. All Moleskines (pronounced Mo-la-skeen-a) are covered in black leather, have a small pocket inside the back cover and are affixed with a black elastic band to keep the book closed when not in use. Mine comes with 80 blank pages that I use for both writing and the occassional sketch. They are made by an Italian stationer who claims that Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin all used their Moleskines.

I was surprised recently to discover that they have become a cult item and have entire blogs dedicated to them. I take that annoying pride of being someone who jumped on the bandwagon before it was fashionable (i.e. being one of the "first" Weezer fans in 1994). There was even an article in the Washington Post last week about the Moleskine phenomenon. There are some people who are trading in their precious PDA's for the little journals.

I always have one with me. I list, sketch, journal, write poems, write short stories, outline, prep notes, etc etc and etc... It helps me connect with my surroundings and become more observant of the little meta-physicalities of life. And I like looking back on past adventures. They can be found at Borders, Barnes and Noble, Restoration Hardware, online, and many other strange locales. Thanks to my wife for first purchasing one for me over four years ago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Getting The Brain In Gear

It is often said that the brain is very similar to a muscle. It will atrophy from lack of use. With so much mindless entertainment in our world it can be easy to let the mind become a couch potato. My students often ask me...how do you get your brain back in gear? It's strenuous at first to get your brain back in shape. But once it's fully charged it can be invigorating. Your thoughts become clearer, your understanding deeper and your awareness greater. It truly is enlightening. I'm no genius by any means (not even close) but my humble advice to anyone who wishes to get off the mental couch...and I write this to myself for any future lapses...and get their brain back in gear is the following...

1.) READ. Not just magazines but books, good books. If you're out of practice don't start back up with Ulysses or Tolstoy. Start off with something shorter and more accessible. If you're rusty, look for books with short chapters. Books of short stories (i.e. by Hemingway or Fitzgerald) are good as are well written escapism (i.e. Elmore Leonard) for getting back into the groove. Then alternate between the heavier stuff and the lighter fare.

2.) Turn off the T.V.

3.) Think about issues. Talk out issues out loud as you drive...alone...or people will think you strange...and don't get into the habit of answering yourself.

4.) Listen to a classical or neo-classical piece of music every once in awhile. Studies have proven that there is something about the composition of classical pieces of music that help stimulate thinking. So take the Beastie Boys out of your CD player now and then.

5.) Discuss, debate, and converse with people smarter than you. Those people are easy to find for me...they're everywhere.

6.) Write. Not an e-mail. Write with an actual pen and paper. Write in a moleskine. Write in a notebook. Write on a napkin. Write a letter. Don't just type everything. Take time to go old school every once in awhile. Studies show that writing fires up those synaptic impulses.

7.) Learn to read music and play an instrument. If you are already conversant with the treble or bass clef...take some time to play.

8.) Study a foreign language. I've been procrastinating on this one for a long time. But I'm resolved to start back up this year. When I studied Spanish in Barcelona I began to think in whole other directions.

9.) Take a class or teach a class. JUCO or whatever. Get those academic juices flowing.

10.) Watch an intellectually stimulating movie. Ones I like include 'Waking Life,' 'The Spanish Prisoner,' and 'The Constant Gardener.' Those are just a few.

Those are some things that work for me. I know there are many more things that belong on the list. Tailor things to your brain. When you are thinking...you feel more connected to life.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ahhh...The Aroma of Nationalism, Part Two

The other day I drove up to my local car wash and as I waited for a free stall my eye was drawn to one of the pick up trucks in front of me. Painted on the tailgate was a giant bald eagle. Written below the eagle in huge words for anyone who might be following this truck was the following: "AMERICA: LOVE IT OR GET THE *%@# OUT." Such a lovely sentiment could not have been expressed more eloquently. So, of course, this got me thinking.

What is more "American" than the Fourth of July celebrations at a public park? I like the fireworks, watermelon, BBQ, hamburgers and hotdogs. But when I go to the park and look around I see a whole lot of people I don't have much in common with. I don't wish to come off sounding snobbish or elitest but I don't get drunk or wasted. I don't wear my scrubbiest clothes in public. I don't swear and use offensive language at high volume. I wouldn't beat and yell at my kids...especially in public. I'm not necessarily judging my neighbors. I'm just expressing that I don't have much in common with many of them. Maybe I'm going to the wrong park. Yet, I usually still enjoy going year after year.

I don't blindly buy everything the government tells me. I can admit America's faults. I'm not intolerant of other religions or recent immigrants. And I certainly don't support the idea that you must support George W. Bush or else you are not a true "Christian American." Granted, I live in a so-called "red state."But these are the attributes I see in great evidence all around me. Besides, I believe this red state vs. blue state phenomenon is greatly embellished by a media that likes simple catergorization.

So, am I American? Obviously yes. How do we define the term American if immigration rates continue to rise? How do we define Americanism if diversity continues to grow? Is there a gold standard? Are we American because of our diversity? Are we American if we love freedom and democracy? The old concepts of nativism will have to change if we are to remain a peaceful nation. I believe nebulous and abstract notions of "Americaness" will cause chaos and tumult. We need clear standards because the old clear standards based on race and religion can no longer be used in a society growing more diverse by the day. I would hope to see values of tolerance, peace, acceptance, thoughfulness, freedom and ethics become the core of what it means to be an American.

I may be cynical but I see the opposite happening. I see an increase in sectarianism and division. Ironically I do not believe the fierce divisions fall so much on racial lines as on ones that are ideological. The media obsesses over labels and catergorization. Since more and more Americans no longer contemplate things for themselves and buy everything the media sells...well, you can follow things to the logical conclusion...we are becoming more divided in many more ways.

Nationalism cannot survive in such a divided environment. We will have to change our definition of what it means to be an American. Unless clear standards are accepted nationalism will collapse (and would that be such a bad thing?). Look to Iraq and the former Yugoslavia as recent examples. Look to the riots in Paris. We must focus on what unites us, rather than what divides. Lincoln, quoting the Bible, said "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I loved strolling through Little Italy or Chinatown in New York among Americans who didn't look just like me. I enjoy teaching students who were born in Mexico but are now Americans. Let's not let such differences seperate us...let's create a new nationalism...based on ideas and not skin color, the majority's religion, or linguistics. Let's bring people in...not tell them to get out. That's the kind of nationalism I'd like to see.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

CD Pick of the Week - GO!

My CD pick of the week is GO! by Dexter Gordon. Recorded on August 27, 1962 for Blue Note records, GO is a supercool example of Long Tall Dex's hard boppin' tenor play. Highlights include 'Cheese Cake' which is anything but cheesy and 'Love For Sale' which is anything but a sell out. Samples can be found here. Recorded in the studio Dex does not allow that fact to keep him from stretching out on his solos. The net effect is the sound of a live recording date without the technical deficiencies sometimes associated with live music. So if you're looking for a hard charging tenor sound...go check out GO!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ice Day

It's raining ice in Texas today which is okay since we have nowhere to go. So we got a roaring fire in the hearth, the cats are re-invigorated by the cold and are running around like rabid lemurs. The watching of their non-stop stalking each other as prey is much more interesting than the Biathalon currently playing on NBC. Speaking of stalking...the biathalon is a great training ground for future psychos. Think about it. Guys skiing through the deep pine forests with high powered rifles shooting at targets and then skiing away as fast as possible. Great stuff. Also good for a day like this...green tea. Now, I've never liked hot drinks...never liked coffee (I tried so hard to like espresso in college...all the hipsters drank it...tasted like burnt embers to me), hot chocolate, hot cider...nothin'. But about two years ago when I was sick with a cold Kimberly made me a cup of green tea. Within an hour I was feeling a hundred times better. Now I drink the stuff every day. Studies show that green tea helps fight all kinds of cancer, free radicals, bad complexion...all kinds of ailments. It soothes sore throats and helps ease colds. I swear by it. It took me awhile to acquire the taste...so give it a fair chance. Hey, one of the things all those 110 year old men in Japan have in common is that they all drink green tea regularly. So give it a shot.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ahhh...The Aroma of Nationalism, Part One

Do you have the fever? Olympic fever? I know I'm down with it. The first eleven years of my life I lived without a television. My parents finally broke down and bought a little 10 inch black and white job so we could watch the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo. I actually prefer the Winter version as opposed to the hot sweaty summer games. I love to ski and enjoy living vicariously through the madness of the downhill skiier.

Don't you just love the smell of nationalism in the morning? The Olympics are the petri dish for this old and in my opinion archaic system of political organization.

Most people today are almost born with the pre-supposition that nationalism is part of the natural order of things. They don't even question it. But is nationalism good for our health? I think history has made the emphatic case that nationalism is an abysmal failure and an on-going anathema to the idea of global harmony.

The case against nationalism is massive. Nationalism has caused war, division, genocide and discrimination. Of course in response to nationalism what do we do? We create newer nations all in the name of ethnic security.

Nationalism is a rather recent phenomenon...only emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a reaction to the even more cruel system of empires ruled by absolute monarchs. Nationalism hasn't always been with us and now it is high time to re-evaluate its usefulness.

To even question the idea of the nation state is to tread dangerous ground. You are in danger of being labeled a traitor or even worse...un-patriotic. We are brainwashed at an early age to love and adore our nation. Texas state law requires us to recite the Pledge of Allegiance everday in our public schools. How democratic of them to force people to say the pledge! We sing the national anthem before every sporting event. Any contrarian thoughts on such things are considered treacherous.

I mean I like my country and all. I feel fortunate to have been born an "American." I greatly enjoy the privileges associated with my great luck of being been born in the right place at the right time. However, as a Christian, I owe my loyalty to God first and foremost. I grow weary of any criticism people receive for criticisizing the policies of our government. That is nationalism's greatest weapon...making people feel uncomfortable when they question the ruling authority.

Nationalistic fervor has become as natural as breathing. When you watch the Olympic games whom do you root for? Naturally you pull for the good old U.S.A. You have more in common with the American competitor...so get off that couch and urge on the Yankee!

But what if you have more in common with the guy from Norway than the guy from Rhode Island? What if the guy from Norway has the same religious, political and moral beliefs as you? What if they even like the same books, music, and movies as you? Let's say the guy from Rhode Island has beliefs that are completely anti-thetical to yours. Worse yet, let's say he's an arrogant, intolerant, racist lout. Would you still root for him over the Norwegian?

After all, that's what nations were originally created for...to organize people into groups of similar religious, cultural, linguistic and political persuations in the name of mutual security and economic interest. Often the motivations were legitimate. Mutual security and economic considerations are worthy desires. Unfortunately nationalism often spirals into the abyss of selfish ambition and superiority complexes.

I can tell I am boring you. I will write more on this in my next post. Until then, don't worry...I'm a proud American. I am not declaring revolution. I will be rooting for Bode Miller to win that elusive gold. He's only got three chances left. God Bless America!

My New Blog

Well, I've had an internet website for about five years now. But today I start blogging. I hope I don't tick people off too much with anything I might say. I just wanted an outlet to express my thoughts and opinions. So don't take anything personally. These are just my humble thoughts and opinions on anything that pops into my field of consciousness. If you'd like to comment...I'll be more than glad to hear what you have to say.