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Monday, February 26, 2007

Microsoft Code, Blogger, Iran, Gulliani, Islam, Roses, John Mayer

Last week I was asked by a reader for an opinion from the "other side" of the pulpit. I wrote out some thoughts in a text file and pasted them into Blogger. Despite pasting in from a text file, apparently there was still Microsoft code in the piece, which I think kept it from getting picked up by the aggregator. The 101 aggregator hates loose Microsoft code in Blogger. I've tried to get rid of it. If someone could tell me if they see this post it would help me.

My response to the invitation was as follows...

My pulpit opinions having to do with the kingdom of God don’t get much of an ear around here. And as a private citizen, I have no more voice or credibility or insight than anyone else. I am happy to tackle any thorny biblical/theological matter if asked, wearing my pastor hat. I am happy to opine on the state of things, with my pastor hat off.

I look forward to the Spring garden. I have lots of plans -- roses, new butterfly plants, lilies, maybe abelia. Of course the usual veggies.

I’ve spent a lot of spare time lately on my big genealogy and Flickr projects. That’s what has keep me quiet.

So, machine gun variety, some opinions:

We can’t just up and leave Iraq, no matter how or why we got there. The only reason to do so would be out of some perverse joy to see Muslim people slaughter each other. Well, maybe just being naive would be another reason.

If Iran won’t comply soon, someone will have to take her out – her weapons systems I mean. We simply cannot have Iran with the bomb. Under no circumstances can we let that happen. That would spark a nuclear race in the Middle East. That would threaten countless millions of people, and would ultimately kill thousands more Americans than would result in an attack soon and their retaliation.

We have to get unhooked on their oil. That needs to be a hugely serious effort. It has to include more than ethanol - but wind, solar, new types of batteries, new high tech hydraulics, and I think nuclear energy. Do Democrats and Republicans have the will to do this? I am not sure. Duh, we're funding the very people killing us!

I am so confused now about global warming I don't know what to believe anymore. But I do know that there are a hundred good reasons otherwise to clean up our air, and just doing that would take care of a lot of the warming problem right there (because it's not just about CO2) and solve other problems we're sure of in the process.

On immigration, particularly from Mexico, were I king, I would do two things. I would grant almost universal amnesty and fast track to citizenship to all illegal immigrants already here who are not criminals. I mean, are we going to kick them out? No. So why not just accept reality and embrace them. I would lock down the borders so tight, no matter how much money and manpower it took, that the flow would come to a trickle. I would criminalize the hiring of illegals. We cannot be Social Services for Mexico. Their leaders have squandered countless billions of dollars of oil revenues, they are corrupt, and they leave the poor people in squalor. They need to figure out their own mess.

On local stuff, I think the latest tape will prove hugely damaging to David Wray. I don’t care how nice he is. That was abuse of power.

On our local councils – what, are you kidding. They should make a comedy show out of us. Speaking of which, we have to do something about the real estate whores in our leadership so as to reduce sprawl, protect open spaces, single family neighborhoods, and everyday non affluent people.

We need to give students in terribly disfunctioning schools choice – vouchers.

Lee Street is a disgrace to the city. I hope we clean it up.

About taking to democracy to the Muslim world, I mean, is George Bush in idealistic la la land? Ok, maybe we can show that most Muslims want peace and stability and not suicide bombings. That's one thing. But a secular government is another. The very notion of a secular nation is contrary to Islam. Islam is fundamentally, at its core, theocratic. It would be like telling me I can only be a Christian on Sunday to tell a Muslim his government cannot be guided by Muslim law. It isn’t going to happen.

Turkey is an interesting experiment that may not last.

Secularization, and secular government are an affront to Islam. Nor does our secular materialistic sex drenched culture help matters. No wonder they hate us. Maybe if we hated us more things wouldn’t be so bad with us in the world! I mean by that hated our excesses, hated our gross materialism, hated the way we export so much smut. It’s no wonder...

And why do we wink at China’s oppression? Money. Money rules. It rules Democrats. It rules Republicans. But maybe we’re too far down that path to change it.

I am happy about the Honda plane deal.

On the upcoming elections. I think it will be Hillary against Rudy. It should be a dandy. If the Democrats keep looking the other way about Iran and the imminent danger she poses to Israel, us, and many others, I think Lieberman will jump to the Republican camp.

I’ve been groovin’ on John Mayer lately. I love “Continuum.” Oh, and my daughter and I are going to go see Norah Jones. I am so excited about that.

I have gotten a serious photography bug again. It is like a long lost friend come home.

I turn 50 this year. Wow.

Well, all for now.

Joel

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Iran, Gulliani, Islam, Roses, John Mayer

Last week I was asked for an opinion from the "other side" of the pulpit. Despite pasting in from a text file there was still microsoft code in the piece which I think kept it off the aggregator. If someone could tell me if they see this it would help me.

My response to the invitation was as follows...

My pulpit opinions having to do with the kingdom of God don’t get much of an ear around here. And as a private citizen, I have no more voice or credibility or insight than anyone else. I am happy to tackle any thorny biblical/theological matter if asked, wearing my pastor hat. I am happy to opine on the state of things, with my pastor hat off.

I look forward to the Spring garden. I have lots of plans -- roses, new butterfly plants, lilies, maybe abelia. Of course the usual veggies.

I’ve spent a lot of spare time lately on my big genealogy and Flickr projects. That’s what has keep me quiet.

So, machine gun variety, some opinions…

We can’t just up and leave Iraq, no matter how or why we got there. The only reason to do so would be out of some perverse joy to see Muslim people slaughter each other. Well, maybe just being naive would be another reason.

If Iran won’t comply soon, someone will have to take her out – her weapons systems I mean. We simply cannot have Iran with the bomb. Under no circumstances can we let that happen. That would spark a nuclear race in the Mid East. That would threaten countless millions of people, and would ultimately kill thousands more Americans than would result in an attack soon and their retaliation.

We have to get unhooked on their oil. That needs to be a hugely serious effort. It has to include more than ethanol - but wind, solar, new types of batteries, new high tech hydraulics, and I think nuclear energy. Do Democrats and Republicans have the wil to do this? I am not sure. Duh, we're funding the very people killing us!

I am so confused now about global warming I don't know what to believe anymore. But I do know that there are a hundred good reasons otherwise to clean up our air, and just doing that would take care of a lot of the warming problem right there (because it's not just about CO2) and solve other problems we're sure of in the process.

On immigration, particularly from Mexico,, were I king, I would do two things. I would grant almost universal amnesty and fast track to citizenship to all illegal immigrants already here who are not criminals. I mean, are we going to kick them out? No. So why not just accept reality and embrace them. I would lock down the borders so tight, no matter how much money and manpower it took, that the flow would come to a trickle. I would criminalize hiring of illegals. We cannot be Social Services for Mexico. Their leaders have squandered countless billions of dollars of oil revenues, they are corrupt, and they leave the poor people in squalor. They need to figure out their own mess.

On local stuff, I think the latest tape will prove hugely damaging to David Wray. I don’t care how nice he is. That was abuse of power.

On our local councils – what, are you kidding. They should make a comedy show out of us. Speaking of which, we have to do something about the real estate whores in our leadership so as to reduce sprawl, protect open spaces, single family neighborhoods, and everyday non affluent people.

We need to give students in terribly disfunctioning schools choice – vouchers.

Lee Street is a disgrace to the city. I hope we clean it up.

About taking to democracy to the Muslim world, I mean, is George Bush in idealistic la la land? Ok, maybe we can show that most Muslims want peace and stability and not suicide bombings. That's one thing. But a secular government is another. The very notion of a secular nation is contrary to Islam. Islam is fundamentally, at its core, theocratic. It would be like telling me I can only be a Christian on Sunday to tell a Muslim his government cannot be guided by Muslim law. It isn’t going to happen. Turkey is an interesting experiment that may not last.

Secularism, secularization, and secular government are an affront to Islam. Nor does our secular materialistic sex drenched culture help matters. No wonder they hate us. Maybe if we hated us more things wouldn’t be so bad with us in the world! I mean by that hated our excesses, hated our gross materialism, hated the way we export so much smut. It’s no wonder…

I am happy about the Honda plane deal.

On the upcoming n elections. I think it will be Hillary against Rudy. It should be a dandy. If the Democrats keep looking the other way about Iran and the imminent danger she poses to Israel, us, and many others, I think Lieberman will jump to the Republican camp.

I’ve been groovin’ on John Mayer lately. I love “Continuum.” Oh, and my daughter and I are going to go see Norah Jones. I am so excited about that.

I have gotten a serious photography bug again. It is like a long lost friend come home.

And why do we wink at China’s oppression? Money. Money rules. It rules Democrats. It rules Republicans. But maybe we’re too far down that path to change it.

I turn 50 this year. Wow.

Well, all for now.

Joel

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way, Review Reprise fom June 2006

I wrote this first in June. Present comments are in brackets.

Bad news today [June 2006] about the upcoming Dixie Chicks tour. Ticket sales are sluggish, and some of the dates and venues may have to be pulled. They are scheduled to play here October 22nd. I’d like to go, so I hope this is not one of the venues pulled.

I bought their new CD, Taking the Long Way, a couple of weeks ago. The CD consists of fourteen songs all written by the Dixie Chicks with some helpers here and there.

Based on their original songs from their last CD, I am all for a CD of their own songs. I think they are terrific song writers. In fact, musically, Taking the Long Way is a superb piece of work. I have no idea what genre to call it. It’s not country, not really rock or pop, not blue grass. Maybe some sort of folk/country/pop/rock fusion. But I’ve never cared about genre types really anyway.

There are enough melodic hooks, unexpected but cool chord changes, surprises as to where you think a song is going, to cause me to expect to enjoy the CD for a long time to come.

Their single, which I heard them do on Leno or Letterman, is Not Ready to Make Nice. It is basically a middle finger to the country music powers that be, and the fans who got on their case after Natalie Maime’s comments about President Bush while they were on tour in England.

I admire their spunk. Not being a fan of the Country Music Establishment I don’t mind their rebellion against its rules and standards. Good for them.

Not Ready to Make Nice is not even in my top five favorite songs on the CD. As of today I’d go with Baby Hold On as my favorite, Easy Silence second, Everybody Knows third, Bitter End fourth, and The Long Way Around fifth. But I expect that to change as I listen to the CD more and more.

I think the Dixie Chicks are simply great musicians and songwriters.

I also think they have been really stupid, and have dug their own grave to a great extent. [well I guess Hollywood put Nasville in its place Sunday night!]

The crack about President Bush made in England before an adoring British anti-war crowd was just a cheap shot, and that it was taken out of country at the beginning of the war justifiably rubbed people the wrong way. Their upcoming concert was mentioned at the Chris Daughtry show at Grimsley Stadium and there were resounding boos. I don’t think those folks were all Republicans.

I really don’t think most people care what Natalie Maime’s personal view is of the war in Iraq or President Bush. She is hardly uniquely qualified to offer intelligent commentary. She is free to run her mouth as she sees fit. [She ran it too much at the Grammys] People are free to buy their CD’s and go to their concerts as they see fit.

The Dixie Chicks should incorporate their thoughts about life and the world – and the war – in their art, in their music. They do this to some extent in "I Hope" which I find to have a hopelessly naïve “why can’t we all just get along” message, but I still like the song. I just don’t think political commentary, even in music, is their strong suit. And I am a fan of good protest music, even when I don't agree with it. OK, so I miss the sixties. [and seventies already...War Pigs and all!]

Much of the CD is about how they have dealt with their fall from grace. There is too much of it for my taste. I think the over focus becomes self indulgence. It focuses attention too much on their own struggle with their fans and with country stations when there are simply too many other things to write about. Yet, existentially, they have been living in that struggle, so it is no surprise that they would write something about. Just too much I think.

What I worry about is that the buying of their CD’s or the attending of their concerts will be less about their music and more about whether people agree with or disagree with their political stance. I think that would be a real shame.

Having said all that, I will keep enjoying the CD for its musical excellence, and if I have the money I will go see them when they come here, if they do. And, again, I admire their grit.

Mostly I admire their music making. I admire their genre busting. I admire their musicianship, and that of their supporting cast. I just wish they would change the subject a little bit.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

In Memory of Rachel Elizabeth Johnson


Dear Friend,

Tomorrow, February 9, 2007, marks the twenty year anniversary of the death of two and one half year old Rachel Elizabeth Johnson. Rachel was my sister Mary’s first child.

A month or so ago. in working on my own 2007 calendar, I realized to my surprise that we were soon coming up on this 20 year anniversary. Then, shortly after that, I came upon some old photo albums my mom had put together of the first grandkids when they were young. Suddenly I had all these pictures of Rachel. Hmmmm.

So I talked to my sister and we decided together that putting together a “set” of pictures in Rachel’s memory on my Flickr site would be good and appropriate. So I have stayed late many days at the office going through these old albums, scanning pictures, trying to fix some of them that had faded or become discolored, and hoping to reach a goal of 100 pictures by the 9th. With my sister’s help I reached that goal yesterday.

Rachel’s death was very sudden, as she was overcome by a bacterial infection that invaded her body, and which looked like the flu or a stomach bug until it was too late. Almost all the organs of her body had been laid waste by this infection. She never had a chance.

It is hard to put into words the sense of loss and devastation of that day and that week. Rachel was the first grandchild in the family, born about a month before my oldest daughter Shannon. Rachel was the apple of my parent’s eye. She was a lively and inquisitive and lovely child.

I don’t think there is anything in life so terrible as to lose one’s child. It was hard enough for the rest of us. My parents were devastated beyond words. I suppose that some of the sorrow felt by the rest of us was sorrow not just in Rachel’s death and thus our own loss, but the pain of knowing how deeply this death had cut into the hearts not only of Mary and Sandy, but of my parents, and Sandy’s parents. It was beyond articulating.

There is a kind of grief without hope that goes beyond coping. Thankfully, my sister Mary and her husband Sandy were and are solid Christians with a strong and real trust in God, and a true Christian hope. Despite Rachel’s age, and all the nagging questions that accompany such terrible things, she not only was a covenant child, but also a child who seemed even as a little girl to have a lively and real faith in her own right. Thus the devastation was accompanied and diminished somewhat by our common hope.

My daughter Shannon was born about four weeks after Rachel, and as we all lived in Columbia at the time, Shannon and Rachel were together a lot. Rachel would be just about 22 ½ were she still alive today.

Mary said to me when we were thinking about this that she wanted her friends and family who knew Rachel to remember her, and those who did not know her to have a glimpse of this dear life that had lived so briefly on this earth, and which had had such a huge impact on my family. Mary did not, and does not, want the memory of her first child forgotten.

Similarly I want to share this part of my life with those who may know me. These things never “go away.” They remain with us; they are always in the background. They impact our personalities and spirits in many ways. One cannot know my sister, nor can one know me either, without knowing this part of our lives.

So this is my tribute to my niece Rachel, and to my sister Mary and her husband Sandy, and in a way to all of us who were so much a part of the life of this little precious person.

In Memory of Rachel Elizabeth Johnson.

Joel

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Top Ten Beatles' Songs Not On “1.”

Whoa, this is hard. There are SO many. I think the list would change from day to day. Here is today’s list.

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

This is my favorite George Harrison song, though I can’t say I understand it. I do like the idea of randomly picking up a word or a phrase and building a song around it. I liked the regular version enough already with the Clapton lead, but recently I heard a more acoustic version on “Love” that includes more or different verses, and it is beautiful. I think I may like that version even better!

2. Because

I can’t decide if the whole medley on side 2 of Abbey Road should be considered as one song, so I have compromised and just chosen the first part of the medley, “Because.” Again, the acappella version on “Love” underlines the beauty of the harmonies, as well as the symmetry and simplicity of the lyrics, which for me has various levels of meaning. There is an ethereal quality that shows a side of the band I wish had had more time to develop.

3. Across the Universe

This is my all time favorite song about writing songs, and one of Lennon’s most poetically beautiful songs ever. They are to me a window into his heart – or shall I say his best self.

4. Rocky Raccoon

So many people find this song funny, yet, there is a pathos in the opening notes that pervades the song to me. It is a fun and silly story, but it also is sad, and it also raises lots of profound questions, all surrounding the Gideon Bible theme.

5. I Am the Walrus

OK, it is more a less a nonsense song, a medley of unfinished songs and silly phrases with all kinds of silly word play and heavy duty tripping out behind it, but musically it just appeals to me.

6. I Saw Her Standing There

This is a quintessential early Beatles song. Somehow the inherent energy of the song, the in-you-face rocking out beginning, survived the toned down editing of the early records, though there is a bootleg version that will blow your skin off. It reminds me that the Beatles were an incredible working band for years and years, and the world had not quite seen such a show of musical force.

7. A Day in the Life

A neat concept, sort of existential and all, a slice of life, a miscellaneous day, depicted in two ways, via the news and via personal experience. Great blend of two songs with complementary themes, plus all that orchestrated tension!

8. Revolution

What can I say, I love to crank this up as loud as my speakers will play it and ears stand it. I prefer the fast version. Maybe this song contains one of the few instances where I actually agree with John Lennon! There is a lot of wisdom in this song, and what a great guitar/drum opening!

9. If I Fell

OK, I grant, this maybe the most schmaltzy sounding of all Beatle’s songs, but the harmonies are beautiful, and the sentiment realistic. One can sense John’s fear all over and around this song.

10. I Me Mine

It sounds like a total smack down of the rest of the band to me, though Harrison said not. I think it’s just a groovy song, and pretty much expresses the narcissism of our day pretty well. Let It Be was actually the first Beatles album I bought with my own money – I was only 12 when they broke up – and I have always had a deep affection for it, Phil Spector notwithstanding.

I Love Snow

I am sitting in my office looking out at the beautiful snowfall. This old southern boy loves snow. And it makes sitting in an office almost bearable - just to look out at it.

Some of my best memories of childhood involve snow, sleet, and freezing rain, with the family huddled around the fireplace, my dear Irish Setter Clancey loopy with happiness, long walks, great sledding (Columbia is quite hilly), stupid games like standing under pine trees and running when we hear the limbs pop. And boy did they pop, like gun shots.

Then there was the "great" snowfall, in February, of 1972 I think, or maybe '73. That storm came up from south of Columbia. Orangeburg, SC got 22 inches. Columbia got 14-17 depending on here you were, and north in Greenville they had maybe one inch. It started snowing while we were in school. They let us out and my bus couldn't make it to y home, so we had to walk the last two miles. Got sort of lost on a golf course, but that was all part of the fun! I remember the huge enormous flakes, floating down so slowly like parachutes. There was no wind. The snow fell straight as an arrow. We had a little metal rail around our back porch. It was maybe an inch wide. So absent was any wind that an inch wide wall of snow built up on the rail over a foot high. It was incredible. The snow fell all day. When we woke up the next morning it was still snowing. We had never seen anything like it. It made us so excited we could hardly contain ourselves. I remember being out in the front yard with my dog. I would stretch my hands out to each side and just fall straight backwards - right into fluff. I would lie there, the surrounding wall of snow above my eyes to the right and left. It was so warm and so peaceful lying there, well, until Clancey pounced. He wasn't going to waste this opportunity lying around. He wanted to play.

South of us along I-95 in southern SC people were in grave danger. Helicopters flew in to rescue stranded motorists. I think the governor declared a state of emergency.

So, looking out my window, I remember how much I love snow. Maybe one's love if it is inversely proportional to how much one gets. I would guess the snow gets old week after week, month after month.

But for me it is all joy. Thank you God for the snow today!