Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm just experimenting with uploading video. This is pretty crappy quality because I just used our digital camera, but we thought it was funny nonetheless. This was the first time Owen's hands have gone even remotely close to where his brain instructed them to go.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

planet flat

"Americans whining--that is something we haven't seen before..."

-Rajesh Rao (as quoted in The World Is Flat, Friedman.)

at some point, everyone must take on a task the no one else will touch. i have a fuzzy memory of my favorite babysitter cleaning up a...well, lets just call it a "mess" resulting from the ill-advised fusion of a beans and franks tv dinner and a four-year-old's stomach flu. and unfortunately, this guy was just not the domestic type. (incidentally, his senior year of high school he lead the nation in rushing with 2,600 yards , 100 yards better than some kid from florida named emmitt smith...but i digress). innocently attempting to make small talk as he scrubbed the carpet, i mumbled, "looks like peanuts." he politely warned in response, "they sure wouldn't taste like peanuts."

i remember once in high school watching jake, a guy i considered my nemesis, walk over and sit down with the ultimate outcast to share a lunchtime conversation. the guy was new to our tiny school and looked downright odd, covered with acne and scars, a do-it-yourself haircut and obvious hand-me-down clothes from late-1970s iowa farm country. i can't even remember the guy's name. tom, maybe? and i think he had some sort of disability, i don't know what. all i remember is that jake went over and sat right down with him, and not just that one day, but several times per week for the rest of the year. that image never left me, and my shame became especially acute when i heard the news of the outcast's untimely death a few years later.

the list could go on: jesus touching the leper, a friend reaching out in reconciliation after she has been wronged, or cleaning jared and jon's breese terrace cesspool of a bathroom. life teems with the undesirable.

at lincoln high school, teaching economics has been considered for years the ultimate punishment a social studies teacher could be asked to endure. history, government, social issues, geography, even psychology are all words, ideas, points of discussion and role plays. but economics? every stinking economics textbook is covered with demand curves and production possibilities frontiers! did the gods of the social studies forget the chief dictate of our discipline when they created economics? no numbers! complex ideas...fine. large vocabulary...great. just no numbers please. and if you must use numbers, they need to stay put. no adding or dividing, and never, ever make us use formulas. it's just not in our constitutions. there's something i can teach about, the constitution, where the only numbers are the date and the outline numerals.

as you may have guessed by this point, i have been assigned economics. in a faustian bargain, i agreed to teach satan's discipline in return for a full time position at the high school, forever leaving behind the vagabound existance of a "travelling teacher." i am now in my second semester of graphs and charts, and despite the previous hyperbole, it's not actually that bad. nevermind the fact that i've never taken an econ class. no macro, no micro, no nothing. in fact, i'm not even totally clear as to the distinctions between macro and micro. the point here is, i'm surviving.

ok, actually, that is not true. in reality, i'm thriving. i really enjoy teaching something to others that i am currently learning myself. you simply cannot conjure up the genuine enthusiasm that comes from personal growth. i can't tell you how many times each week i catch myself saying to my students, "you know what i just learned about this?" or "i just read the coolest book on this..." from the populist prowress of, "the wisdom of crowds," to the street-level scholarship of, freakonomics, to the unstoppable globalization of, the world is flat, my horizons are continually expanding into the vast and pleasantly numberless world of economic thinking and reasoning. here are the most interesting additions to my neural networks:

1. economics-land does not resemble any kind of reality that i know. it is completely based on relatively unreasonable assumptions (insert "my-first-wife/husband" joke here). this is fun because students constant ask questions that are unanswerable because the struggle to follow the assumptive rules.

2. drug dealers live with their moms and abortion stops crime. and even though most of us would agree that these things simply are not true, it is fun to read how a harvard guy can use economic reasoning to prove that they are.

3. there are no unbiased econ texts written in capitalist countries. you should read the free market rhetoric presented as fact in our books. don't get me wrong, i like our system better than most others, but i also refuse to teach out of those textbooks. i spend so much of each class period saying, "now, the book calls this 'economics,' but what they mean is 'free-market' capitalism."

4. everyone always acts in self-interested and rational ways. (insert any joke you'd like here.)

5. the world is changing really really fast. not only are predatory capitalists preying on the naive like multi-billion dollar snake oil salesmen, but our co-workers and competitors are now as likely to be sitting 2 continents over as they are to be 2 cubicles over.

all this to say, don't be afraid to take on the jobs that no one else wants. doing so will allow you to become who you were truly meant to be. and always, always sit by the person sitting alone when you have the chance.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ok, ok.

as promised, i am now blogging again. blog, blog, blog...yep. that's what i'm doing. i'm blogging. and it's great, let me tell you. the thing is, i'm not sure i have anything to say...

so, in the spirit of keeping it on the positive tip (thank you arsenio), let me start with some raves:

1. sufjan stevens: he basically rules the indiefolkpop universe. if the world has ever met a greater musical genius, well, it just hasn't. if you (who?) haven't discovered his spellbinding fusion of carnival instrumentation and elementary school choruses...well, you're just missing out.

2. nt wright: back in my fundamentalist days, i would have deemed bishop wright eternally tainted for even sitting next to those jesus seminar heretics. i'm glad i grew up. this brother has a gift for theology, especially tricky issues of christology. he refuses to stick with the pat answers, or to resort to baby-out-with-the-bathwater liberalism, instead charting a new course. his insistence that we understand jesus and his words in the 1st C. jewish context in which the originated brings a fresh new relevance to our time-honored understandings.

3. spring: i never used to long for spring, but a week of sub-zero, plus next week's predicted "warmup" of the teens just makes my want to cry. (stay positive, stay positive) but...i know that...uhh...well...oh, yeah, spring is only a couple months away! (does that count?)

4. city of god: i wish i could articulate why i loved this movie so much. the acting was terrific, and i think the writing was good, although it was clear that much was lost in translation. maybe you could watch it and then tell me what you thought about it and then i'll just repeat your ideas to others as my own. okay?

i have to go now. my wife is actually standing over me with her jacket on. that is a less-than-subtle hint. we are going to a benefit concert with local acoustic musicians, so that should be great.

i write again soon. i promise.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

i think...

...i'm going to start blogging again. i think major changes are coming our way, and i'll need a space to work through them. probably more hope and less "anger," which is a cool thought. does anyone else routinely look back at their lives and ask, "how have i been able to live with myself?"


Thursday, October 12, 2006


i am angry. angry enough to write for the first time in months. it's sort of funny actually, because i haven't been angry like this in a long time. maybe summer allows me to check out of reality long enough to calm down a bit, but once i start teaching...look out.

now, don't get me wrong. i'm not angry at my students or fellow teachers or administrators. i really like all of these folks quite a lot. sure, students can be frustrating when they make repeated poor choices, over and over and over. but this is a regular part of life, and we do what we can to help them, to show them a better way, to encourage them to live well. i'm not angry with them.

no, today i am angry, frustrated, disgusted with the powers that be. for example: last wednesday night i watched a bill moyers special on PBS about the abramoff scandal. now, abramoff is a died-in-the-wool bastard, and SOB, a piece of crap. but that's not my gripe. my gripe is with hypocrite numero uno: ralph reed. i remember going to see reed speak in college. i remember the hubub surrounding his visit, the protesters (in madison?), and the vigorous civil liberties debate before he even took the stage. then he spoke, and frankly, he was amazing. silver-tongued and impassioned, he cast a vision of a new america so ideal that i was ready to drop everything and work toward the creation of it. but somehow, somewhere he veered off course. his own personal correspondence with abramoff displays his greed, corruption, and contempt for the people he claims to lead. or, maybe he never was on course at all. maybe he's been playing evangelicals for years?

no, that couldn't happen. i mean, christians are good people who would never deceive other christians for personal or political gain. take our fine president...errr...maybe that's not such a great example. according to David Kuo in his new book, Tempting Faith, "the Bush White House is playing millions of American Christians for suckers."

i've been watching an amazing documentary today called, "Why We Fight," and honestly, you just need to see it, period. but it is fueling my anger, and it makes me just want to run very far away, to norway or new zealand or patagonia...but it's likely just a matter of time before that warmonger bombs the hell out of all those places too.

last night i saw another moyers report on pbs called, "is god green?" about christians and the environment. i just can't believe that dobson, robertson, falwell, etc. would sell out so easily. they are the false teachers! they are mouthpieces for their party who will stop at nothing, including hiring junk scientists to prove their point.

this morning i read a story about a journalist in Russia who has dedicated her life to exposing the russian atrocities committed in chechnya. last week she was found executed "KGB style" in her apartment.

oh, and tonight, i'm going to listen to a speaker at a local church who believes that all things "emergent" in the church are leading us all straight to hell. so that'll be good.

on second thought, i might be better off staying home and watching the office.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

wonderful weekend

i always struggle with going back to madison. all the great memories come rushing back and i find myself face-to-face with some of the best times of my life. i really love that place, and when i'm there and just can't escape the thought of, "why in the world did i ever move away from here?"

the last visit was no exception. first, the hospitality. one call to jon leads (him) to call chris & sara who then make arrangements with mary to make sure my wife and i have a great place to stay. how cool. thanks again to all of you! then we arrive at the pre-wedding party made up of a bunch of texans we really didn't know and abby. within minutes we felt at home, like we had all been friends for years. probably the only party i've been to where everyone there had at least a master's degree and most had phd's, and where the religious make-up was mostly left-leaning christians with a smattering of atheists.

the next morning i meet jon for a pancake breakfast and a couple hours of good conversation. he drops me off at the union where i spend the next couple hours reading on the terrace for my IB class. then i meet kara for lunch, and as we wander state st. looking for a good joint at which we can eat, we walk by some people setting up for a concert on the street...and it's marques! if you are not from the madison area, marques bovre is a local musician with a select, devoted following who has played fewer and fewer shows over the years. God really smiled on me at that moment. we hurriedly grabbed some fresh-mex and headed over to the show...over an hour of mostly new material with a new band. it was awesome.

after that, we went to maria and matt's wedding (the whole reason for our trip), which i can honestly say was one of the coolest (even though it was well over 90 degrees) weddings i have ever attended. held at a nature center just outside the city, it was a pretty casual affair with an incredibly inspiring cameo appearance by pastor rick, of past UCC/Hope Community fame. he spoke of simple living in the face of the demands and temptations of the culture, ultimately encouraging the couple and us all to live with "one handful and contentment." the food (all locally grown, in season, organic) and drink (spotted cow on tap!) were fantastic.

the lesson for me from this weekend was pretty simple: (as our pastor said on sunday morning) "life takes friends." i know, pretty earth shattering stuff...but it's true. life takes friends. it is fuller, richer, and more beautiful than life lived in isolation, or with mere acquaintences. the theme song for the golden girls is starting to play in my head...

Monday, July 31, 2006

genesis 4

i guess i decided to just move on instead. so on we go to cain and abel...let the bloodshed begin.

first, i am struck by the understated introduction to the concept of sex, or at least, procreation. i mean, "adam knew his wife"...that's it? an act that has led to the rise and fall of millions of families, not to mention empires, and the only real introduction we get is the word, "knew." i really have to wonder how they figured it out for the first time, and how they got any farming done after they figured it out. but i digress...

i also found the naming interesting. again, the names hold rich symbolic meaning. "cain," is basically an exclamation from eve loosely translated, "woohoo! i got one!" but abel, the second born, is best translated, "vanity," or as i read it, "extra one." (someone please correct me if i've taken too much liberty here.) if they really were twins, "extra one" sort of makes sense, but then why does the extra one end up being the righteous one, and the prized firstborn, cast out of the land that the family had ended up in after they had already been cast out of paradise.

another interesting name here is "nod," the land to which cain wanders and begins his family. nod translates "shaking" or "trembling." what a great word picture of this wilderness, increasingly further east of eden. this land, by the end of the chapter, becomes a hotbed of wickedness and more and more of God's precepts are neglected and/or violated. while the earlier act of cain murdering abel is the most memorable event of the chapter, it seems clear to me that it is really only one piece of the larger theme here of increasing wickedness, specifically, that sin begets more sin, leading up to men like lamech who mock god and laugh at their violence.

so eve's naivete coupled with her ambition and adam's willingness to collaborate, lead to their son's apathy and laziness, which ultimately leads to the first recorded conflict between good and evil in humanity: brother killing brother. mankind then continues to bow to its own will, introducing polygamy, and increased violence with a boastful spirit.

but then, in a typical biblical redemption act, at the height of violence of and godlessness, God steps in and gives eve a new day. a child named seth, whose birth indicates, rather cryptically, a renewal of humanity through people beginning to again call on the Lord. this is the beginning of a cycle that will echo into the next several thousand years.