Pampered Pooches, Damned Civilization

I posted this on my personal blog, but I had to repost here because it's so gross. The LA Times Business section runs a column, "Big Spender," which caters to people who have 'cash to burn.' And apparently no conscience.

Today's story was about pampering your pooch. Now, I once wandered into an upscale pet boutique, looking for a cat collar to replace the vinyl one I bought from the 99 cent store. I left feeling pessimistic about of humanity. The LA Times article and accompanying video just confirmed my feelings. Here are some entries from the photo gallery.

Tell your Bichon Frisee "Cheryl" you love her more than you love humans, with this real pearl necklace and diamond pendant. $2300. Talk about casting pearls before s-whine. I wonder if these necklaces come with a phone number for a psychiatrist.

You can get an indoor Pet-A-Potty Mini Lawn.
Because why should you or your dog have to get up to go pee outside? No. You've got Cheryl on a steady diet of chocolate covered dog biscuits and a quick trip to congestive heart failure. At least you know Cheryl will never LEAVE you. Okay, perhaps among the BWC readership there might be the lone Japanese executive who lives in a 129th floor Tokyo penthouse, and when his toy French bulldog Yoko Ono has to take a dump, they can't get down to the street in time. But then you're in Tokyo. There is no grass on the sidewalk. See? there's no reason for this.

"Want to take your dog camping but can't bear to rough it up in a pup tent?" This custom built mini airstream trailer comes with "hand-crafted" (like a soy latte is hand-crafted) hardwood floors. Five Thousand Dollars. The thing is, if you can afford a $5,000 airstream trailer for your dog, you do not go camping. You stay at the Ritz Carlton, and your personal chef and live-in therapist come with you.

Here's why you buy one of these: Why raise spoiled children, when they'll just end up blowing your hard-earned, burn-money on prescription drugs or on therapy sessions where they blame you for their unhappy spoiled lives? Create your own fantasy childhood of campouts, S'mores, and hand-crafted hardwood pergo floors, with your dog playing you. It's Malibu Barbie for lonely grownups!

Where have we as a people gone wrong, that we find human-to-human relationships sooo hard, that we transfer all our longings for love and companionship, even pampering, onto a creature that can't tell the difference between a fire hydrant and the corner of a mattress?

Where has our psychological development broken down that we can no longer distinguish the ego boundaries between ourselves and our pets? It's called anthropomorphizing, where one transfers human emotions, values and needs onto an animal. That's what happened in that documentary, Grizzly Man, and that guy ended up on the inside of a bear.

Anyway, I know that BWC readers aren't the type to do this kind of thing. But it just scares me that there are people out there who do. And not just Leona Helmsly. People who shop in Santa Monica and do power yoga and are wear "We are the ones we've been waiting for" T-shirts.

Please. I just ask that every mini Airstream trailer and dog jewelry box come with a resource card that lists charities like Compassion International and the Red Cross. Sheesh.

Happy Anniversary To Me

It was on this day four years ago, or is it one year ago, that I hit my first and only hole-in-one. Also, I propose Leap Day should be a holiday, a day we get off work every four years. It would be something to look forward to, unlike the extra day of work it is now.

Link Dump

Sorry there's been a lack of blogging of late. I've been slammed with a variety of things. Not sure what's going on with everyone else, but thanks to John Pattison for the last two excellent posts.

I still don't have much time, so here's an old-fashioned link dump:

Garfield Minus Garfield
- "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness in a quiet American suburb." (courtesy Deadspin.com)

Stuff White People Like - Painful, hilarious and true. (courtesy of my brother, Tyler)

Inhabitatio Dei - A theology blog. (also courtesy of my brother, Tyler. Thanks, Ty!)


It's All About Meme

So it turns out there are these things called "memes." Derived from the Greek mimema, meaning "that which is imitated," a meme, in everyday language, is "an element of a culture or system of behavior" that is passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation. In the language of the web, a "meme" is a "catchphrase or concept that spreads in a faddish way from person to person via the Internet" (this from Wikipedia).

I have only just learned about the meme. (Even my blogging software doesn't recognize the plural of the word, "memes" - which sounds like a kind of Internet gremlin.) My friend posts the occasional meme on her blog and they're always kind of fun. I decided to indulge the Barefoot Bohemian's memetic ways and pass along her latest, about books. You can play at home, or in the comments section.

One book that changed my life:
"The Life You Save May Be Your Own," by Paul Elie.

One book that I've read more than once:
"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," by James Joyce.

One book that I'd want on a desert island:
"Ulysses," by James Joyce (so I could finally finish it).

One book that made me laugh:
"The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount," by Italo Calvino.

One book that made me cry:
A book has never made me cry, though the beauty of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" made my heart hurt, and "Everything Is Illuminated," by Jonathan Safran Foer, made me wish my soul wasn't a parched desert.

One book that scared the hell out of me:
"Foucault's Pendulum," by Umberto Eco (a conspiracy theorist's dream, or possibly nightmare).

One book I wish had been written:
Aristotle's second book of "Poetics," about comedy

One book I wish had never been written:
It's a tie between "The Magnificent Ambersons," by Booth Tarkington, and "The Ginger Man," by J.P. Donleavy (numbers 100 and 99, respectively, on the Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century).

Two books I'm currently reading:
"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz, and "John Brown: Abolitionist" by David S. Reynolds.

One book you've been meaning to read:
Anything by [author's name]. Seriously. I've never read anything by [author's name].*

*Please insert:

Saul Bellow
Truman Capote
John Cheever
Ralph Ellison
Gunter Grass
Graham Greene
Henry James
Robert Lowell
Cormac McCarthy
Thomas Mann
Toni Morrison
Vladimir Nabakov
William Styron
Derek Walcott
Richard Wright
Virginia Woolf


Father-Daughter Talk

Yesterday I received an e-mail that stuck in my craw. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've used that phrase.) Normally when I receive forwarded e-mails of a potentially divisive nature from this person, a beloved relative, I let them slide. It is unlikely that either one of us will ever change the other's mind in the areas of politics or religion - the usual topics of his forwards - and I have decided it's more important for our relationship to remain in harmony. For a variety of reasons, I couldn't let this e-mail go like all the others. I wrote up a lengthy response.

I am posting the forwarded text of that e-mail here, though without my relative's introduction. I am also posting my response. (By the way, my relative doesn't know about this blog.) The title of the story is "Father-Daughter Talk."

Father-Daughter Talk

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and among other liberal ideals, was very much in favor of higher taxes to support more government programs, in other words redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his. One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the need for more government programs.

The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?'

She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.'

Her wise father asked his daughter, 'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.'

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back 'That's a crazy idea, how would that be fair! I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, 'Welcome to the Republican party.'

Here is my response:

Dear ______,

I believe in the "redistribution of wealth." Not out of allegiance to the Democratic party platform, but because I try and take seriously the Sabbath principles of the Old and New Testaments.

That being said, I know very few liberal Democrats who are in favor of the "redistribution of wealth" in the sense in which the father in your story meant it, though I know a great many who would agree with the great Republican Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society."

The idea that the rich should pay more than the poor is not socialism; the progressive tax system - which is what the father in this story is decrying - is as prevalent in Adam Smith as it is in Karl Marx. Smith believed that the necessities of life constitute a greater expense for the poor: "They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it." Smith also maintained that the rich demand more services from the government than the poor (one easy example is the amount of money spent by the government protecting private property, which is, of course, more concentrated in the hands of the rich), even as they spend most of their money on "the luxuries and vanities of life." He writes, "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." (This is all from Book 5 of "The Wealth of Nations.")

What Smith doesn't mention in Book 5 - maybe because it goes without mentioning - is that the great wealth of the rich is often built on the backs of the poor. The railroad baron of the 19th century and the steel magnate of the 20th century were not laying down tracks and processing iron ore themselves. They were paying low wages to people who were desperate for a job and willing to put in a hard day's work in order to make a better life for themselves and their families.

In addition, higher taxes on the very wealthy can help spread the prosperity to others, leading to a better society for all. One example is the estate tax, which is often demonized by conservatives as an unfair "redistribution of wealth." A few years ago, more than 120 of the wealthiest Americans, many of them titans of modern industry, including Warren Buffett and George Soros, signed a petition urging Congress not to repeal the so-called "death tax." Warren Buffett said repealing the estate tax would be a "terrible mistake," and compared it to "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics." He went on: "We have come closer to a true meritocracy than anywhere else in the world. You have mobility so people with talents can be put to the best use. Without the estate tax, you in effect will have an aristocracy of wealth, which means you pass down the ability to command the resources of the nation based on heredity rather than merit."

In the story, both father and daughter decry Audrey's party lifestyle and low GPA. And rightly so. But when the father compares Audrey to the poor, he goes too far. The poor are often prejudiced as lazy and good-for-nothing, people who are only too eager to take other people's money in order to support their hedonistic lifestyles. Such people do exist, though they are as likely to be rich as poor. More often, though, the "least among us" are the working poor, those who must toil at two full-time jobs because neither pays a living wage, straining marriages, families, and all of society. These are the people God is speaking of in Deuteronomy when He says: "You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt" (24:14-15).

Someday, all of these issues will be resolved and we will live in a society that is truly, perfectly civilized - a day when we all be judged not by what can be seen or heard or touched or purchased, but by One who with righteousness shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. Until that day comes, I'll try and side with the poor and the meek as often as possible.

Does this e-mail make me a bad relative, a bad economist, a bad Christian, or all three? Is there anything else you would add?

Update: I got a call from my mom this morning. While taking the above-mentioned relative to the doctor yesterday, he told her that he got my e-mail and really appreciated it. "I love it when Johnny [that's right] responds to my e-mails," the relative said. "He really makes me think and question some of my long-held beliefs. I wish he'd respond more often." OK. So there is room for dialogue. I need to make sure that I'm as open to questioning my own long-held beliefs.


Surveys Say...

Fascinating poll on CNN.com today about the direction of faith in this country.

I don't buy fully the decline of Protestantism...a lot of the "non-denominational" churches are still Protestant at base.

What do you think?



The King of Kong

Along with the skipping record and and "Bad to the Bone", The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" is one of the most cliched movie trailer ingredients of all time. Still, is there a single song that so consistently works?

Before he left for Nashville this week, Don told me to watch this movie. Damn, was he right.

I just finished up a full review of "The King of Kong" for the upcoming issue of Burnside, but I wanted to get this out earlier.

I don't care who you are: RENT THIS MOVIE IMMEDIATELY. It's safe for the whole family.


I want a new drug (companies).

Right now, Mindy is reading "The Truth About Drug Companies" by Marcia Angell, M.D. Dr. Angell was the former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr Angell points out, in 2002, "the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion)." That's including commercial banking and oil companies.

She also describes an industry which spends very little on research and development. As an example, she recounts the story of AZT, the first drug on the market to treat HIV/AIDS. Here's a loose timeline:

1964 - Michigan Cancer Foundation uses AZT molecule as possible treatment for cancer. Treatment proves ineffective.

1974 - German laboratory finds AZT to be effective against viral infections in mice. Drug company Burroughs Wellcome aquires molecule for possible use against herpes virus.

1981 - AIDS burst on to scene with the publication of three papers in The New England Journal of Medicine.

1983 - Researchers at the NIH and Pasteur Institute in Paris pinpoint culprit of AIDS, a type of virus called a retrovirus. Samuel Broder, head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), sets up a team to screen antiviral agents from around the world as possible treatment for AIDS, including AZT.

1985 - Broder's team, along with colleagues at Duke University, find AZT effective against the AIDS virus in test tubes. Burroughs Wellcome immediately patents the drug to treat AIDS, does some later trials.

1987 - FDA approves AZT after a review of only a few months.

Burroughs Wellcome then claimed far more credit than it deserved, probably to justify the $10,000 per year cost of AZT. The company's CEO even sent a self-congratulatory letter to The New York Times.

Dr. Broder and his colleagues responded angrily with a letter of their own, listing the contributions Burroughs Wellcome did not make:
"The company specifically did not develop or provide the first application of the technology for determining whether a drug like AZT can suppress live AIDS virus in human cells, nor did it develop the technology to determine at what concentration such an effect might be achieved in humans. Moreover, it was not the first to administer AZT to a human being with AIDS, nor did it perform the first clinical pharmacology studies in patients. It also did not perform the immunological and virological studies necessary to infer that the drug might work, and was therefore worth pursuing in further studies. All of these were accomplished by the staff of the National Cancer Institute working with the staff of Duke University...

...Indeed, one of the key obstacles to the development of AZT was that Burroughs Wellcome did not work with live AIDS virus nor wish to receive samples from AIDS patients."
As Dr. Angell puts it, this is typical. Universities and private researchers make discoveries because drug companies would rather spend vast sums on lobbying. Drug companies patent the information gathered by the studies. Drug companies make more profits than the entire rest of the Fortune 500 combined.


A Book to Savor

Today I finished "Gilead," the second novel (25 years in the making) from Marilynne Robinson, a native of the Pacific Northwest. Published in 2004, "Gilead" went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. I don't have anything to say about "Gilead" that hasn't already been said in dozens of other reviews (including this one from the Writers Collective), most of which have been nearly breathless with praise. But I would be negligent if I did not publicly recommend the book here.

I was greatly moved by "Gilead." It is beautiful and wise, sad yet hopeful, and full of deep spiritual insights. It’s been my experience – first with “Housekeeping” and now with “Gilead” – that Marilynne Robinson’s books take longer to read than the typical modern novel, measured somewhat crassly in pages per minute. Or at least they should take longer. They are too substantial to rush through. To fully appreciate these fine works, which have rightly been described as “contemporary classics,” we are forced to slow down, to pay more attention. These are not novels to devour; they are meant to be savored. The stories unfold like the successive courses of a feast. It is the reader's great pleasure to linger over each sentence as a delicacy.

You should read this book.

Pastor McStabby

Just ran across this article on CNN.com.

A few things here:

First, I applaud the guy for confessing. While a confession should've come a long time ago, it seems clear this man has turned his life around. Is there a statute of limitations on murder in Houston?

Second, what are the congregants at Elim Church forgiving this guy for? Lying to them or the murder? It's not like they were the convenience store clerk or his family.

Third, this line:
"He's a hero, really," said Kelley Graham, 24. "I don't know how many people would do what he did. The Bible says you just need to confess to God. Calvin took an extra step."
'Hero' is a little strong. Confessing to murder is not something to be considered heroic, regardless of when it happened or what the guy is doing now. It's a moral obligation. It's almost more heroic this guy went so long with this horribly gnawing guilt inside him. The guy in Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" didn't have that constitution.

Finally, the Bible asks us to do more than just confess to God when we've wronged someone...after all, He already knows what happened.

I don't want to be down on this guy...I'm not sure I'd confess, either. But let's slow down the pats on the back, Christians. Especially when the man killed was named Iqbal Ahmed.


What's the better city?

My fiancee, Mindy, is in her final year of medical school. During their final year, med students must pick a specialty and then apply for residencies. Mindy's specialty will be pediatrics, and she's applied at programs all over the West.

So, next Wednesday, Mindy has to turn in a list ranking where she'd like to go. The residency programs also make a list. Then, a computer matches them up using some crazy formula, and Mindy has signed a contract saying she'll go wherever they assign her. It's a weird system.

Here's the timeline:

February 27: Mindy turns in list.
March 20: Match Day. This is when all the med students all across the country find out where their residency will be.

April 26-May 9: Mindy and I get married, go on honeymoon.
Late May-early June: Mindy and I move if we have to, and won't return to Portland for three years. (Well, on visits we will)

The point is, it's pretty hectic.

Here's why I'm telling you this: Mindy and I are making this list together, so I'm asking for feedback on any of the cities we're thinking about. We know all about Portland, so I'll just give you the other options in no particular order. Denver, Seattle and the Bay Area are out, which is a shame because they're all great towns.

1. Orange County, California

Pros: Nice beaches; opulence.
Cons: Rich people; opulence; really, really expensive.
Burnside readership, according to Google Analytics: Nothing to write home about
Number of times I could see the Blazers play: Twice if I drive to L.A.
Weather: Excellent.

2. Phoenix, ArizonaPros: I lived in Arizona for a few months, and love the state; cheapest living of all options.
Cons: Californian-esque urban sprawl; strip malls.
Burnside Readership: Pretty good!
Number of times I could see the Blazers: A couple, and I wouldn't have to drive far.
Weather: Hot as balls.

3. San Diego, California
Pros: Great people; excellent breweries
Cons: Really expensive
Burnside Readership: The largest of these cities. Go San Diego!
Number of times I could see the Blazers: Zero
Weather: Best in the country.

4. Salt Lake City, Utah
Pros: Outdoorsy stuff; great people; similar smaller town feel to Portland (less sprawl); moderate cost of living; shortest distance from Portland.
Cons: Serious lack of good beer.
Burnside Readership: Abysmal
Number of times I could see the Blazers: Twice, and they're in Portland's division.
Weather: Cold and snowy in the winter.

There are, of course, many other factors I won't go into detail on. I just thought I'd ask your thoughts. Help us out here!


Marketing as Religion

I'm a Mac guy. About 5 years ago, I bought my first iBook, and I'll never go back.

I'm sure, even if you're a PC person, you know Mac people. When you mention you're shopping for a computer, they tell you to buy an Apple, that it's a no-brainer, and they might even get a little upset if you buy a Dell. Apple users tend to be a little pretentious.

In a sense, a person converts to Apple. After going through such a dramatic lifestyle change, the new Apple convert might begin proselytizing, sharing his or her experiences with Mac computers to any who will listen. People who buy Apple computers don't do so and think, "Eh, I could've gone either way." They become disciples of this new way of life.

Marketing as religion has been picking up in recent years, and there's no better example than the PC/Apple battle. Umberto Eco, in the link above, compares PC/Apple to Protestantism/Catholicism. In some sense, it reminds me of Mormonism and mainstream Christianity. Within Christianity, there are a myriad of denominations to choose from: where Baptists might be Dells, Presbyterians might be Compaqs and Church of Christ folks might be eMachines. If you become a member of the LDS Church, you're a Mormon. From that standpoint, it's not difficult to see why the LDS Church is the world's fastest growing religion...it's not just about birthrate.

(It'd be interesting to hear Eco explain the especially fast growth of the Mormon church in formerly Catholic dominated regions like South and Central America. Are they upgrading to OSX?)

Computers aren't the only place where conversion marketing happens. Coke and Pepsi have long battled over followers, with Pepsi as the sort of quasi-Emergent church, preaching a new and sleeker version of cola, while Coca-Cola dwells on nostalgia.

This sort of marketing seems disturbing, but are there things we could learn from it?

Apple, for instance, offers a tangibly different experience. If you convert to Apple, you can immediately tell your computing experience is more simple and intuitive. Putting all existential aspects to the side, buying an Apple computer makes your life better.

I was talking to a non-Christian the other day about my faith, and he mentioned he doesn't follow religion, never has, etc. I asked him why. "My life's good already," he told me.

I didn't know how to respond. Partly, his reasoning seemed ignorant, like a PC user who's computer crashes on occasion, dumping text files and MP3s into the stratosphere, but who doesn't know any other way.

But here's the question: do our tangible lives really get better when we choose to follow Christ? In my case, I'd say 'yes', but Job's tangible life certainly didn't.

Anyway, these were just some thoughts I was running through. Plus, there haven't been many blog entries lately.


The Undeserving

This past Saturday evening, I had a long drive ahead of me. I knew
that four plus hours of snowy, sleety weather on the treacherous
darkness of the 401 would be a stressful experience so I did my
best to buckle in and mentally prepare for the journey. I was headed
to Perth (a small town located 45 mins outside of Ottawa, Ontario)
where my friend Nathan was throwing a party. It was his 32nd
birthday celebration. In all honesty, I wasn't that excited about going.
Don't get me wrong - I like Nathan and his wacked out sense of
humour - but I had been awake since before 6 am that day as my
wife had an early interview in Toronto.

I would like to think that I am a pretty personable guy. I generally
get along well with most people. I enjoy making new friends and
maintaining old ones. Having that mindset and trying to keep my
relational 'street cred', I trucked on through the storm and chalked
up my devotion to Nathan's party as 'putting in an appearance'. In
fact, I even called Nathan a few times, when the storm was raging
pretty hard and raining white shrapnel from the heavens, and said
the phrase 'I hope you appreciate what I'm going through to get to
your party'. He merely responded with 'If you back out, I'll be pissed.
Just take your time and get here when you get here.' What I really
wanted was an out from him...but Nathan would have none of that.

I ventured closer to Perth and made a few left lane passes I probably
shouldn't have, counting down the mileage on my odometer while
listening to Air Traffic Control. At least I had my music. I was on
Highway 7 and off the beaten path. It was the nice in the sense
of being off the major highway/slushbucket-parking-lot of the 401 and
only having one lane to worry about staying within. I prayed that
God would allow me to live to make it to the party. I actually even
started to de-compress and feel comfortable driving in the bad
weather. I remember thinking 'Ya know, I'm a pretty good guy for
going to Nathan's party. Lots of other people would have bailed but
I stuck with my social commitment.' I nodded my head in satisfaction.
The roads were caked in snow and ice and it seemed, at times, as if
I was driving on a farmer's field.

With about half an hour left on the trip, I called Nathan to tell him of
my whereabouts. I felt pretty good about myself. Finally, I arrived in
Perth, parked my car and watched the snow fall loosely in a nearby
streetlight in realization that I had reached my goal. I trudged through
a few feet of fresh snow and buzzed Nathan's apartment.

But before I lift the curtain, let me backpedal for a moment.

About a week before the party, Nathan had sent me an email asking
me for some information. Now Nathan has a weird sense of humour
and has sometimes been known to gather information from
people in a curious format. In his email, he wrote 'Matt - please
answer the questions below:
What is your favourite junk food/candy?
What is your favourite type of chips?
What is your favourite pop (that's Soda in the States)?
What is your favourite alcoholic beverage?
What is your favourite place to spend money?'

So I answered him:
'Whoppers/Chocolate Malt balls, Sweet Chili Heat Doritos, Dr. Pepper,
any kind of beer by Sleeman except Honey Brown and HMV Music'. I
thought nothing of my responses and merely sent them back to
Nathan. I figured he was going to assemble some sort of pie chart or
graph and post it online.

Let's go back to the party, shall we? I heard Nathan's galloping
footsteps coming down the stairs to let me inside. I was cold,
wet and very tired. My glasses showed flecks of melted snowflakes
but I was too beat to even wipe them off. I just wanted a couch.
I gave Nathan a hug and told him about my trip. He listened and
I asked him about his life. He ushered me inside. I hugged an old
friend named Andrew (a mutual friend of Nathan's) who I hadn't
seen in some time, Nathan's wife and a group of three other guys
I had never met before.

That's when it happened. 'Come over to the table, dude' Nathan
said while motioning me away from watching his friends play
Rock Band.

There it was - The table.

I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating after such a long
and arduous trip. The table contained a giant portion of eveything
I had sent to Nathan in that email. It contained TWO massive
bags of Sweet Chili Heat Doritos, a massive bag of Chocolate Malt
Balls, a 6 of Sleeman Original, a case of Dr. Pepper AND something
Nathan handed to me. There was a business card attached to a
more shiny piece of plastic about the size of a credit card. The
business card had some writing on the back that contained a
long string of expletives and the words 'Sorry dude - No HMV
in Brockville'. (Brockville where Nathan works.) It was a 50 dollar
giftcard to Future Shop (Canada's version of Circuit City but
better). I'm sure the colour in my face drained out. I looked
at Nathan, searching for something to say. He smiled and
said 'This is my way of blessing those who have blessed me -
I've been saving up for a while to do it'.

Oh yeah - and the table contained similar trappings for every
other friend that Nathan had invited to his party that night.

My heart sort of collapsed inside of me.

For the rest of the night I enjoyed myself immensely (played
some serious Rock Band, ate trashily, drank some ale and chuckled)
but it was really on the ride home that I started processing what
had transpired. A few hot tears trickled down my face as I
smiled and cried and despised myself all at the same time.

Here was a man who, on the day that is supposed to be all
about yourself, turned every cultural notion backwards and
ass over tea-kettle and poured out to others. On an evening where
all I could do was focus on me, and basically deserved a smack
in the head, I received much more than I deserved.

My cup...ranneth over.

"2 Samuel 19:28: All my grandfather's descendants deserved
nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your
servant a place among those who eat at your table."


Bits of Life

If you haven't read the new Letter from the Editor at Burnside's main site, you probably don't know Aaron Donley launched a new daily comic site devoted to his oddly hilarious "Bits of Life" series.

Anyway, that's something you should know. Here's the site. Bookmark it and return daily.


Doing My Part

Save The Banana is dedicated to the rescue of this endangered fruit. The site is under construction now, but as it grows, it's sure to be the premier site for musaceae-rights activists and banana-lovers everywhere.

Don't smell like a turtle cage

I'm no shill for Old Spice deodorant (I use unscented Sure invisible solid, thanks for asking), but some of these ads that Will Ferrell cut for Old Spice, in character as Jackie Moon from his new movie, made me laugh out loud here at work. It takes a lot for that to happen.

I can't embed the videos here, so you'll have to go to the site to see them, but if you like Will Ferrell you won't be disappointed. (my favorites are "Number Two" and "Armpit")

Wiener Poopie


Journey Through the Tenth Grade (continued from page 97)

You reach out your hand and Robby hands you the cigarette. Placing it in your mouth, you inhale deeply, and begin to cough. Pepe` laughs and Zeke punches him on the arm.

“What do you think?” asks Robby

“It is awful,” you say. “But I love it.”


Soon you are smoking three packs a day, and listening to Toby Keith. When you turn sixteen you drop out of school and take a job washing dishes at Denny’s. You don’t make much money, and what you do make you spend on cigarettes. One day during a smoke break you meet a girl named Tina, she smokes more than you, and within two months you are married. The two of you have seven children, all of whom learn to smoke before they can read, and after the last one is born Tina leaves you for the lead singer of a Poison cover band. The state comes and takes your children away, and you die of lung cancer at the age of thirty.



On Meeting My Heroes' Relatives Well

For those of you who write (or want to), I recommend one book over any other: William Zinsser's On Writing Well. It was recommended to me by Donald Miller as the Bible of writing, and it does not disappoint. I have both an audio copy and a hard copy, which I purchased at the University of Oregon bookstore.

Zinsser preaches economy of words. One exercise encourages the reader to take the last thing he or she wrote and get the same point across after removing 50% of the words. I go back to On Writing Well over and over again, and I learn something new each time.

I bring this up because I carded a girl at my checkstand the other day who turned out to be William Zinsser's great niece. I told her he was my writing idol. She was sweet about it, and I hope a little proud.


"The Urgency of Now"

He started his speech by talking about Martin Luther King's concept of "the urgency of now." I think we all know what he means.

I took the bus down to the Key Arena today, with eleven-month old Quinn in a backpack. It was 42 degrees and windy, but by the time I got there at 11:30 (the doors were to open at eleven) they were turning people away. The lines had been growing since dawn and reached capacity at 9:30 for a stadium that holds nearly 20,000 people. Hundreds (thousands?) milled about outside waiting to hear from the man who has injected hope into the Presidential campaign for the first time since I've been paying attention. Anyone who watches (or listens, like me) the news probably knows I'm talking about Barack Obama.


And even if some people think that makes me an enemy or a Muslim or something equally scandalous, I still tell you: I brazenly, openly love the guy. Sure, he has some flaws - like he doesn't tell us how he's gonna bring about his ubiquitous promise of change - but I don't really care a whole lot.

You know what matters more? He inspires me; he gives me something to believe in; he reminds me of the importance of my every-day service to my community, nation, and world. And I believe in his integrity and I believe that he can make our country a better place because he will do one thing we have long been unable to accomplish: unite us, not divide us; bring us together, not tear us apart. Yes, all cliched, but damn it people, we need a little hope and a few hackneyed sayings to keep us going in a time of unrelenting upheaval.

It was cold, but I needed hope, and I needed to believe. It was a great day.

Gotta love those End Times!

According to Burnside's stat page, 48 people have searched for "obama anti christ" and 36 have searched for "barack hussein obama antichrist". Spectacular.

Fortunately, all 84 found this article. And probably didn't get it.

I'm glad they at least found us and possibly got the joke, because there are plenty more links out there which are deadly serious. I'm withholding judgment on any presidential candidate until barcoding on foreheads becomes a major campaign point.


That's good stuff.

This may go completely against my Christian principles, but I'm a big fan of the advertising world. Not because of the products they represent, but of the art of advertising itself. Partly, this is because most of the nation's great creative minds now work for ad agencies. It's sad, but that's where the money is, you know?

Instead of canvas or paper, ad guys work with a 30 second television slot. On one hand they need to be creative, make something so memorable it will be talked about for years. On the other, a lot of money and jobs are on the line. My favorite column at Slate.com was Seth Stevenson's informative and funny Ad Report Card.

And, of course, the Super Bowl is the showcase for these ads, which have lately featured such innovations as talking babies, talking animals, and attractive women.

The most notable Super Bowl spot is Apple's "1984" as, which launched the Macintosh computer, but my favorite of all time is Outpost.com's ad, which was from quite a few years ago. I just found it on YouTube.

I only saw the ad once, and I'm shocked at how much I remembered: the top down shot of the marching band dispersing, the wolf pulling at the conductor's leg, the final line...it's all seared into my brain from 8 years ago. I also remember my dad and I laughing and laughing. Most importantly for the company being advertised, I remembered the name "Outpost.com". I can't say I shopped there, but I remember.

I didn't recall this one, but it's almost as good.



Wow I found this at my friend Lori's blog. Talk about dipping into the same speech writing pool!

Where is God?

Erica and I were helping out in the 4-5 year old class at church this past weekend as we do on the first Sunday of every month. It's a great way to serve at church (we're still looking for volunteers!), and it's also a great reminder that even though your kids act up sometimes, they really aren't as bad as other people's kids.

To follow up a lesson we taught them earlier about God being everywhere, we sat the kids in a large circle and rolled an orange ball at one of them. Whoever caught the ball had to tell us where God was, and then roll the ball to someone else. The beauty of the game was that there was no wrong answer. No matter what the kids said, they would be right. In our church? Yep, God is there. In the bathroom? Yep, God's there. In your Uncle Frank's trunk? Yep, I guess God is there too.

The game went on for five minutes or so. Some kids copped out with the "He's everywhere" line while others repeated what the child before them had said. It was cute to hear their little 4 and 5 year old voices squeak out answers, and to see their faces light up when they were affirmed that "yes, that's right susie, God IS in your toy box."

Then the ball rolled to Nicholas. He picked it up and looked around the room with a blank stare on his face. "Where's God, Nicholas?" another volunteer asked him after a few seconds had elapsed. "Just say anything kid," I was thinking to myself, "ready to fire a 'That's right!' at him after he named his location.

After a few more seconds of silence, he finally mumbled "God is dead."

*silence --- followed by more silence --- followed by 3 startled adults looking around at each other, not sure if we should gasp, laugh, or perform an exorcism*

We gently corrected Nicholas so that the whole class understood that God was not, in fact, dead, and we politely asked him to roll the ball to someone else.

Turns out there was a wrong answer after all. Yikes.


So, you're thinking of moving to Portland...

That's great! I'm all for it. I think it's the best city in the world.

But before you do, here's the weather forecast for the next week. This was also the weather forecast last week. And the week before that. It snowed once, but melted immediately.

This isn't a fun drizzly rain, either. It's cold and wet and muddy. Doesn't Southern California sound nice right now? Here's the forecast in L.A.

"But I love the rain!" you might say.

You think you love the rain. You love the rain every once in a while. You would not love this.

Good Reads

Last fall, the National Book Critics Circle board of directors introduced its Best Recommended List as a way to harness the power of the internet and direct hungry readers to satisfying books that may or may not be on the bestseller lists. The NBCC wanted to know: "What are smart readers not just buying, but reading and recommending to their friends, roommates, coworkers and anyone they can collar?" The organization polled its 800 members, as well as past winners and finalists for its book awards. The rules were simple: 1) the books had to be recent releases; 2) voters could vote for only one book per category (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry); and 3) the votes could be anonymous. The votes were tallied and the results posted on the NBCC's fantastic blog, Critical Mass. (I visit every day and you should too.) Top recommendations included books that ended up on several Best of 2007 lists - including novels by Pers Petterson ("Out Stealing Horses") and Junot Diaz ("The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao") and nonfiction works on topics as diverse as the CIA, a world without humans, and Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts.

The Best Recommended List returns today with a new name, Good Reads, and an additional rule: 4) Voters can vote for the same book for the same titles they did in the first list. (Critical Mass is talking about doing a Best Recommended List every month, which would be a great service.) Along with its Top 5, Critical Mass has also compiled long lists for each category. Here are the top fiction and nonfiction books:


1. Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson
2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
3. Diary of a Bad Year, by J.M. Coetzee
4. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
5. Zeroville, by Steve Erickson


1. The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross
2. Brother, I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat
3. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
4. Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks
5. The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

Several of these books (by Johnson, Diaz, Coetzee, Pollan, and Klein) just vaulted up my to-read list. A few others (by Brooks, Erickson, Ross, and Danticat) are being added for the first time.

By the way, I heartily recommend another Goodreads.

Happy reading.



I was only able to watch a bit of the Super Bowl, and I'll let others pontificate on the Giants win. But I watched long enough to see this commercial, which is excellent. Coca-Cola may be a massive multi-national corporation aimed at dumping high fructose corn syrup into the gaping maws for our fat, lazy children, but you can't fault their ad campaign.

Charlie Brown makes the ultimate hero.

The Language of Football

Several months ago, right about the start of the football season, I showed a friend a YouTube clip of George Carlin's classic stand-up routine comparing and contrasting baseball and football. "Baseball," Carlin says, "is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle."
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.
Football has "hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting, and unnecessary roughness," says Carlin. In baseball, you're called to sacrifice. The objective of baseball is to "go home."
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
The Carlin video sparked a long and sometimes heated discussion between my friend - a huge football fan - and me about the "language of football." Yesterday, on the eve of the Super Bowl (and spurred by an e-mail from someone we both respect an awful lot), my friend and I got into it again.

I don't have a hard and fast theory about this, and, as my friend, a trained social scientist, was quick to point out, there is no data to back up a theory anyway. But I did have questions for him:

Does it matter that the language of football is laden with metaphors of war and violence? Does it matter that the biggest television event of the year - in this country and around the world - uses terminology which evokes the heat of battle, real battle, even as we're fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it significant that the most popular sport in the United States (with the possible exception of NASCAR, which is a different post altogether) organizes itself around this kind of vocabulary?

Most of us have come to recognize that words can carry subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle vibrations that can be used to reinforce power structures. I'm talking about the language of patriarchy, racism, classism, homophobia - bigotry in every form.

My friend and I both deplore it when western Christianity employs the language of militarism to describe the role of the church in the world (we both grew up singing rousing choruses of "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war"). Do we give football a pass because it's just a game, not a religion (except in Texas and Nebraska). If words do indeed matter, is it possible for our country to remain unaffected by the violent language of its new national pastime?

And what are the consequences? Worst case scenario: by turning a game into a war, we make it easier to turn war into a game.

My friend is smarter than me, and I make it a point to disagree with him very rarely. He had a few great responses to these questions (though I remain unpersuaded). I'm going to invite him to respond formally on my blog. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts as well, here on the BWC blog.


Back on The Wire

Why doesn't Netflix offer options for couples? Since movies tend to be sent to households (and not specific people), it would make sense for their to be multiple queues. Maybe alternate back and forth or something.

That way, I wouldn't have to send back a bunch of "Love Actually" retreads in order to get my sweet, sweet "Wire" fix. You can't imagine the disappointment at tearing open that red envelope while simultaneously turning on the DVD player and pulling out the disk only to find "Music and Lyrics" starring Hugh Grant.

Ladies, he solicited the services of a prostitute. If that's the kind of guy you like, I can't help you.

Season 4 of "The Wire" is absolutely incredible. It's focus is on the educational system, depicted in part by the lives of four 8th grade boys. It struck me, 5 episodes in, that these kids were acting. Every bit of genius about the show, from the writing to the adult actors, is at least somewhat understandable. But how these kids are this good completely blows my mind.

I don't want to ruin anything. But I want to tell you there was a scene, right at the end of episode 3, where I just started sobbing and sobbing. I've cried like that with books, but never for a movie or television show.

I will say this many more times, but PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW.


But now talking to God is Laurel beggin' Hardy for a gun...

I started to write an entry on politics, but then my head got winded, so I'm writing about Josh Ritter.

On the way to the airport for our Vegas trip, Don played me this song. It's about asking God "why?"

The video...I'm not so crazy about. There isn't much going on. It's set in front of Joshua Trees, which has some obnoxiously obvious connotations.

But I like this song.

Journey Through the Tenth Grade (continued from page 45)

“Ooh, let me see,” you say. And as soon as you put your eyes to the peep hole, Coach Johnson rounds the corner and yells, “What are you boys doing over there.”

The four of you try to play dumb, but Coach Johnson sees the hole, takes a quick look, and drags all of you to the principal’s office. Minutes later an FBI officer is in your face, screaming about viewing underage girls.

“Technically, some of those girls are older than us,” you say.

“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “You are now a sex-offender, and will have to register as such whenever you change addresses.”


To avoid the embarrassment of registering as a sex-offender after every move, you live with your parents until you die of loneliness at the age of forty four.

The End