Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Global Warming

A friend of mine recently sent to me an article about the television documentary in Great Britain that challenged conventional wisdom on global warming. He asked me for my take.

I have long written publicly that I am a skeptic about global warming - about how much there actually is, about what the causes of it are, and, if CO2 is a cause, how much of the increase of CO2 is due to human activity. I've read over the course of time too much research that contradicts the mandatory opinion. And too many actual climatologists are unconvinced about it for me to be convinced about it.

My view is that if we 1) take serious extra measures to clean up our air (for ten other good reasons than global warming), and 2) radically reduce our use of hydrocarbon fuels, then we will have done that which is both environmentally and geopolitically sound, and will have reduced greenhouse gases as a result. I am also an advocate of building more nuclear power plants, now that that technology is so much safer and cleaner. Taking this view of course makes me anathema to some fellow environmentalists. So be it.

I think that over the next six months the tide will swing; more and more scientists will feel emboldened to buck the system and say what they really believe about global warming.

Which gets me to the hoopla about John Edward's and Al Gore's respective houses. I think buying carbon offsets is a wussy way to rationalize excessive lifestyles. We don't even know if that approach is effective for reducing CO2. And since we don't really even know that CO2 is the main culprit vis a vis global warming, it's silly at that level too. To make matters worse the energy plants used to provide power for these respective houses are not just spewing out CO2. They are also spewing out all sorts of other nasty pollutants that foul our air and impact the health of forests, animals, and people too. And all that power may well be using up nonrenewable resources such as coal or oil or natural gas.

People like to point to religious folk like me and cry "hypocrite." But there are few folks more hypocritical than globe trotting environmentalist celebrities.


Better Off Dead?

Animal rights activists are all in a lather over the prospect of a baby polar bear being raised by humans and living in a zoo. Read about it here.

The poor creature was abandoned by his mother and the mean ole zoo keepers decided not to let it die. How terrible. As put in the CNN article:

"Animal rights activists argue that he should be given a lethal injection rather than brought up suffering the humiliation of being treated as a domestic pet."

So, I want to know something. How do they know that the bear will suffer humiliation? Have the captive bears been sending bear notes to the the animal rights folks saying that they feel humiliated? do we really know what makes a bear happy? I mean, we ourselves are genetically wired to be hunter/gatherers, but most of us, if given a choice, would rather not spend our days out in the elements. So how do we really know the polar bear will be miserable? The evidence overall is that bears bond well with human surrogate parents. No reason to think this baby polar bear will be different.

On a trip once to the Toronto zoo one time two of the polar bears were involved in a non stop wrestle and play fight. They seemed to be having a good time to me. Plus they got three squares a day (or the bear equivalent). Do we know that bears would rather have to spend all day hunting (and ripping apart other animals) than being fed. It may make them a little too sedentary and over weight (hey, like me!), but miserable and humiliated?

Animals respond differently to living in captivity. Many, if not most higher mammals seem to find some comfort and ease with having relationships with human beings along with fellow "inmates." Some seem to downright enjoy it. How do we know this bear will be miserable? We don't.

I love animals almost more than I can put into words. I am not overly sentimental or neurotic about it. But the almost universal affection I have for my fellow creatures is a deep part of my being. I am devoted to saving habitats for animals to live in in the wild. Zoos play an important function in helping human beings feel the need to save and preserve animal species and their habitats. They often play a role in staving off extinction. Yes there are some terrible zoos. But they are getting better and better. And do we REALLY know that a bear would rather be our floating on an ice sheet somewhere looking for a nice seal to eat rather then living in a zoo? I don't know if we know that.

I have run into the "life not worth living" argument all too often as regards human beings that we do understand fairly well. It is a bad way of thinking there; it is a bad way of thinking about animals.

I am glad they rescued the little bear, and are feeding it, and will raise it in captivity. It might just live a fairly happy bear life as far as we know, and it might just help a lot of human beings love bears all the more and want to help preserve their "natural" way of life.

And it might just be me, but looking at the picture I get the sense that the little bear enjoys its bottle. But what do I know about what bears enjoy.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Top Ten Singer/Songwriters

So just what do I think makes someone a singer/songwriter?. Well, my criteria are that the person writes both the words and music to a song, sings the song, and plays an instrument in the process. These are four separate skills and they do not always come together in the same person.

1. Bob Dylan

As I sit here, with a push of a mouse, I can listen to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from the early 60's, to Modern Times of 2006 (including "A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” to “Thunder on the Mountain”), both albums being excellent collections of songs from the master himself, separated by over forty years. And what a wealth and richness in between! What an amazing career! So many of his songs speak to and touch me, and are so musically and lyrically interesting, that it is hard to know where to even start taking about his music. I will say this though: as much as I already liked Bob Dylan, it was buying The Times They Are a Changin’ a couple of years back that made the ultimate connection and pushed him to number one on my list. Specifically I think it was the “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” that sealed it. Odd, after so many years with Bob Dylan as part of my life, it was that song that pushed away all competitors in my heart to him having the number one position.

2. Jackson Browne

What can I say. When my brother Mike gave me Jackson Brown, better known as Saturate Before Using, for my 17th birthday, a musical love affair began that has never abated. I will admit that I favor the older stuff, but I’m learning to love some of the newer stuff too. I wish he would get David Lindley back with him on an album. But I want to say this – the guy can still sing, he can still play, and he still has that winsome humor that make his concerts so delightful. When he played here a couple of years ago and started with “Looking into You” I thought I would cry, that being my first or second favorite of his songs. It was a magical night. No musician has dogged the ups and downs of my life like JB. To him I say “thank you for filling my life with your songs." If you don’t know his music I might start with Late for the Sky.

3. Iris Dement

I first heard Iris Dement on Prairie Home Companion. I then illegally downloaded a bunch of her songs (which I don’t do anymore) and was hooked. I have all her CD’s now, so hey, I’m clean. Iris Dement sings with a high twangy voice that carries one over the other side of the other side of the hills, and yet, there is such a surreal beauty to her voice. Her songs are simple though clever, heartfelt though not indulgent, and so very real. she has struggled in her life. When I saw her at Cat’s Cradle there she was in all her, well, plainness, self deprecating, with that great slooooow drawl when she introduced her songs, almost the antithesis of charismatic, and yet the audience was absolutely transfixed. I can listen to Iris for weeks at a time without getting tired of her. For an intro to her music I might suggest My Life.

4. Bill Mallonee

Bill Mallonee is the best singer songwriter that no one has ever heard of. He used to front a band called The Vigilantes of Love, but even then he wrote all the songs, sang them, and played guitar. I have heard him with and without band. Hey, he is available for a house concert this month if anyone is interested. It would be one of the most memorable evenings of your life, I can promise you that. Bill Mallonee has written more good songs than most song writers could ever dream of writing. He speaks from a Christian worldview, but his songs are full of the realities of the fall, that is, the real world, and counts himself amongst those who need help from the outside. For a starter I might go with To the Roof of the Sky but they are all good.

5. Bruce Springsteen

With all due respect to the E-Street Band, which I think is fantastic, I still think of Bruce Springsteen as a simple singer/songwriter at heart. Again, we have a man who has had a long career, and who writes as well now as he ever did. I did not like Springsteen early on. He grated on me. That started to change with Tunnel of Love, then Nebraska, then The Ghost of Tom Joad, "Streets of Philadelphia,", and then, finally, The Rising. The Rising really got under my skin. Parts of it, like "You’re Missing," are almost too much to bear. I confess I am partial to the more mellow Springsteen, but either way, he writes as every man, and what man cannot connect to his lyrics.

6. Hank Williams

The very first LP I ever purchased was some sort of Best of Hank Williams, which I bought at a Roses store after I watched the George Hamilton movie Your Cheatin’ Heart about the life of Hank Williams on TV with my parents. Funny how he spoke to me as an older child. I have his whole collection now, and never cease to be amazed at the uncanny ability he had to put word and music together, and the pathos and humanity of his voice! "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry" is maybe my favorite of his songs, but I’ll take him anyway I can get him! I love Norah Jones’ cover of "Cold Cold Heart."

7. Johnny Cash

From "Folsom Prison Blues" to "Like the 309" Johnny Cash is another artist who was creative and compelling over the course of decades. I am forever thankful to U2 and Rick Rubin for knowing that Johnny Cash had a lot left in him! On top of his incredible abilities as a songwriter, Johnny Cash could cover other people’s music in a way that brought new aspects of the song, not revealed in the original, and I am talking about many of the greatest songs ever written, such as "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," my vote for the most beautiful popular song ever written in our language. Johnny Cash’s "When the Man Comes Around" gives me goose bumps, well, maybe because I believe with him, and anticipate the same terror and wonder and beauty of that day.

8. Keith Green

When I was a teenager, around the time I was first exposed to the Christian faith, I had the blessing of seeing Keith Green in concert several times. He had an “in” with a Christian music station in Columbia and they promoted him heavily. The concerts I saw were just Keith Green and his piano. His songs were not finely produced and slicked up – there was a raw power in the piano playing that matched the power of the lyrics – to convict, to draw, to delight, to terrorize. And he only got better and better until that fateful day in August 1982 when his plane went down and he died an untimely death. Of all overtly Christian artists he remains the one that “gets to me” the most. I would suggest No Compromise as a starter, if you can find it.

9. John Mayer

I hadn’t given John Mayer much notice until this year. My daughter Heather gave me Continuum for Christmas, and it took a while for me to get into it, and then, BAM, he was all under my skin. I love his lyrics – they are both accessible and multi-dimensional - and I like his little lead guitar licks. I have no idea where he is coming from personally, but, for example, “Gravity” speaks to a reality that is very real to me as a Christian. I can hear and understand the song on many different levels. Since Continuum I’ve started listening to his earlier works, and it is a great great find for me. Since he is current, and compelling, I give him the nod over a couple of great artists in the “others receiving votes” section below.

10. Norah Jones

Norah Jones is a fabulous artist. I can’t wait to see her here on April 24 with Heather. What jazzy soulfulness, and, as was shown on The Little Willies, what a capacity just to have fun with music! When I first heard her first album I was drawn in quickly. She reminded me a little of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Roberta Flack – which means that despite being very current and contemporary she was accessible to an old guy like me! It’s nice to have current music I can enjoy with my children. I might suggest Feels Like Home as a starter – that makes me think of “Humble Me.” I mean a great song is a great song, and that is great song.

Others Receiving Votes

Carole King
Gordon Lightfoot
Van Morrison
Joni Mitchell
Glenn Campbell
John Prine
Lucinda Williams
Roberta Flack
Janice Ian
Sarah McLachlan
Neil Young

Next Top Ten - Top Ten Rock/Pop Groups

The Beatles
The Allman Brothers
Led Zeppelin
Counting Crows
Fleetwood Mac
Savoy Brown
The Dixie Chicks