Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Jena 6

After a particularly heated office discussion about whether or not the Jena 6 demonstrations were useful and necessary, a co-worker gave me a copy of this article which suggests that the story is far more convoluted than what was generally represented in the news media (go figure).

Among the conclusions that our discussion came to, the following ideas are underscored in this article: there is more to the story than what we heard on the news and in the paper, and none of the young men involved can be characterized as innocent.

But, the legal response to the Jena 6 story, the outpouring of emotion, the creative response, and the thousands that converged on Jena, LA and demonstrated in their own towns and schools suggest a reason why we did take to this story with the fervor we did.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Strange Fruit

"Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root"
- Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol)

-tshirt image courtesy of Glenn Bracey

September 20, 2007

Nationwide protests today bring a new generation of activists into the ongoing fight against entrenched racist power structures in the U.S. The "Jena 6" are accused of conspiring to murder a white high school classmate (who spent a total of 3 hours in an emergency room as a result of his injuries). These six young men--Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Mychal Bell, and Jesse Beard--were in fact responding to a racially-charged tensions in the small Louisiana town of Jena (pronounced gee-na)that heightened after two black students had the audacity to sit under "the white tree" on school grounds for lunch.

The following day, several nooses were found hanging from the tree, an all-too-clear message from white students intent on preserving the Jim Crow privilege of their favorite eating spot. When black students protested the hateful display, District Attorney Reed Walters threatened, "I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen."

When a white student continued to taunt black students, a fight ensued and D.A. Walters got a chance to make good on his threat. Perhaps saddest of all is that even if "justice is served" and the young men are exonerated, the damage is incalculable. Mychal Bell, the young man whose conviction is currently under review stands to lose out on his pick of college scholarships. Worse still is the hard lesson these young men have had to learn at such an early age that the system is stacked against them. The thousands of people who are traveling to be a part of the protest illustrate that the problems these young men face aren't unique, but in fact systematic oppression still occurs and has mobilized the next Hero Generation.

Visit the following sites for more information and to support the defense efforts of these young men:
http://www.freethejena6.org/
http://www.colorofchange.org/jena/

Thursday, July 05, 2007

To Be, or Not To Be

I'm having an epistemological, ontological, existential crisis with regard to my doctoral program. In a recent course geared toward helping students prepare our dissertation proposals, I discovered a huge gap in my education.

The opening essay to Conceptions of Giftedness, by James Borland, makes a compelling case for dismissing with the notion of defining giftedness. My very first reaction was a feeling of validation since I found correspondence between Borland's points and some ideas I had been developing independently since my introduction to the field. One such issue is the need for an umbrella term to describe giftedness and retardation (my suggestion is lamentably uninspired: "differently abled"). I suggested the need for such a term since there seems to be some emotional baggage attached to the term "gifted" that leads some administrators and teachers to believe that gifted students will fend for themselves in an average educational setting. The other point of correspondence that I found was with my idea that early entrance programs are an imperfect solution to the need for accelerated learning opportunities for gifted students. I suggested that instead we should have an educational system that provides access to suitable learning opportunities for students from birth through college, regardless of age.

Borland's solution is simple and elegant. If the end goal of programs to serve gifted students is ability-appropriate educational opportunities, the amount of time and energy we are spending on identification is a ridiculous waste of time, not to mention a process fraught with uncertainty and inequity. Instead, we should spend our resources ensuring that all students have an ability-appropriate education. In so doing, the gifted constituency, however one wants to define it, has their needs met, as do all other students, including those that might have been otherwise marginalized.

Which leads me to my crisis/es. Most of my chosen field has taken up the banner of one or another definitions of giftedness, and usually, some method of concluding that a person meets those criteria. I don't think that we can accurately say what giftedness is, figure out how to determine who is actually gifted, or continue to have a viable field while recognizing the ethical, political, and professional implications of being so unsure.

Ive come to the conclusion that I'm not satisfied with the rigor of my doctoral program so far. I don't have a good command of the literature (as evidenced by my startling discovery), I'm not confident in the soundness of some of the major theories in my field, and I'm not convinced of the viability of my degree. I need to immerse myself in the literature and find my way back out.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Radicalism as a Democratic Social Indicator pt. II

A few more thoughts on the subject. Unpolished. Let me know what you think..

******************************************************************************

The more firmly entrenched persons in positions of power tend to be, the less likely they are to be willing to share power and access to power. In shoring up their positions, such persons tend to choose as their successors persons of like mind and intent. Maintenance of the status quo (i.e. classical conservativism) is a tool of those who would consolidate power. Such a process is inherently un-democratic and leads to ideological inbreeding.

Radicalism, understood in the socio-political sphere as agitation (e.g. demonstrations, proselytization) and pursuit of change that is inimical to centrist positions because its end is widespread social change (hopefully for the better). Understood in this light, the claim to be apolitical and/or not vote is, in fact, a vote in support of the status quo.

Political parties, no matter their stripe, that have massive infrastructure and resource needs that extend past an immediate election, campaign, or mission can fall prey to this underlying principle.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Full Circle

NOWisNOW is a band whose sound you're not likely to have heard unless you frequent small, hip venues on the eastern seaboard or are a SKEMER. If lead singer Mitch Alden has his way, though, that might change. Mitch is petitioning the director for a (hopefully) upcoming big-screen production of The Dark Tower to include his original music in the soundtrack of the movie. In his blog, Mitch writes:
King's office told me that once the deal is set, more often that not, the Director, not the author, chooses the music for their movies...and here is where I could really use your help - getting JJ Abram's attention. I'll be sending his office a CD with a letter and all that stuff, but having the outside hype concerning these tunes would be an added bonus. If any of you guys know of message boards or other areas where folks talk shop about JJ Abrams &/or "Lost," or "The Dark Tower," would you be into starting some threads about getting these tunes in the production? I'm thinking during the outro credits, the tunes would be used best, but I'll leave that opinion to your tasteful ears. And if you're not into message boards, Of course, you could always write JJ Abrams or Stephen King directly :)The 3 tunes are "other worlds", "daydream", and "wheel."


The Dark Tower inspired tunes can be found here.

Listen to the songs, and if you feel so inclined, help spread the word on Mitch and NOWisNOW and help the inspiration for these songs come full circle.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Movement to Transform?

I sent the following letter to Sojourners in response to their exclusion of over half of the Democratic presidential candidate field from their recent Candidates' Forum:
Dear Sojourners,

I was appalled, dismayed, and disappointed to learn that your organization declined to find a way to include all of the Democratic Party candidate field in your recent forum. At the very least, Sojourners should be quite sensitive to how media access and portrayal of candidates influences voter perspectives. More to the point, you excluded the candidate that best exemplifies the values expressed in your Mission.

Not one to let such an injustice go unchecked, Rep. Dennis Kucinich corrected your error by securing time for the rest of the field to also share their perspectives on and commitment to Faith, Values, and (ending) Poverty. In this action Rep. Kucinich clearly demonstrated his commitment to social justice, helped to inspire CNN and the rest of the viewing public to see beyond the choices made for them by self-serving interest groups, and gave some hope that a true message of peace and love can prevail even when it might not seem marketable.

I invite Sojourners to admit their error and publicly acknowledge the leadership that Rep. Kucinich has shown in this situation. Until such time, I don’t intend to monetarily support Sojourners and will be canceling my subscription to your journal.

Peace!


In response, I got what seems to be a semi-personalized form letter directing me to Sojourners website:
Mr. Kotinek,

Thank you for expressing your concerns about the recent Democratic presidential forum. We appreciate your willingness to share your views with us, as your thoughts have not gone unnoticed. Rep. Kucinich's absence, and the rest of the second-tier candidates, came in order to fulfill our need to engage in a broader dialogue on the issues. Filling in eight different candidates within one hour of time would make for a very limited discussion, which is something we very much wanted to avoid. I would invite you to take a look at our website which looks into this matter in further detail.

Blessings,


And my response:
Thank you for your response and dialogue on this issue.

Respectfully, if the intent of the candidate’s forum was broad dialogue, was choosing the three candidates receiving the most press the most effective way to achieve your goal?

My frustration and disappointment stems not as much from the fact that Rep. Kucinich was not included, or that any particular candidate was included or not; rather, I hold Sojourners to a higher standard than most mass media outlets and had hoped for an honest and real exploration of this subject. Sen. Clinton pointed out that she does her best (and it showed in the forum) to distance herself from the topic of faith. I feel that she was included only because the DNC and major media have anointed her as the “frontrunner.” Any such attempt this early in the game is ridiculous if the intent of an election is free-ranging debate and an opportunity to democratically select (on the part of the American people) the best candidate from the field. All of which begs the question, if that isn’t the intent we’re operating under, what is?

Peace!


Today Jim Wallis published four questions he didn't get to ask at the Candidates' Forum. These questions cover the topics of extreme poverty, the practical application of the Commandments of Blessedness, the cultivation of fear as a political tool, and government funding of faith-based charitable organizations. I'm hoping to see Dennis Kucinich exhibit leadership in stepping up and being the first candidate to answer these questions, and in so doing, perhaps, kindle an acceptance of his legitimacy in the minds of the folks at Sojourners (Romans 12:20-21).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More Media Bias

I wanted to insert a quick note to point out a small milestone. Depending on which of my visitor counters you prefer this blog either has just, or will soon, roll over 500 visits. I appreciate your support and comments.

And now, on to the story...

This past Sunday night, June 3, Sojourners hosted a forum for the Democratic Party candidates to talk about "Faith, Values, and Poverty". As Rep. Dennis Kucinich's site reports, Sojourners had no intention of including any "second-tier" candidates. It was only Kucinich discussed the problem of leaving out half of the Democratic field with CNN executives that the remaining five candidates were invited to participate, albeit only in the second half of the program and with half as much time for comments.

Steven Thomma notes that the mass media outlets seem to think that the American people can only understand and participate in a dualistic decision-making process. As I've pointed out before (here, and here), its undemocratic to narrow the field so early in the race, and will likely result in a ticket that is so bland as to not provide a real alternative to the status quo.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the DNC looking for a donation. I clearly and emphatically noted that so long as the DNC did nothing to agitate for more fair media treatment of all candidates, I would continue funding my candidate of choice directly.

I encourage you to act similarly. Don't accept the inevitability of a choice made for you by those who purport to represent you. Use the power of your support to ensure that our election process remains (or becomes, if you prefer) open, democratic, and representative.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Do Redheads Have More Brains?

The following is an article that I read for the first time as an adolescent. I had just started high school and this article helped me find a sense of pride in an appearance otherwise ripe for ridicule. At a time when home computers were still very new and the internet as a public sphere was unheard of, I remember carefully typing the article word for word; I even tried very hard to match the fonts used in the magazine. I still have the original article, pages ripped from the magazine, stuffed in a case with other mementos of childhood.

I contacted the author, Dan Rottenberg, to see if the article is available online since I am fond of referring others to this article in hopes that it would provide a similar sense of pride in their red hair. Mr. Rottenberg responded that it is not available digitally elsewhere, and granted me permission to reproduce it here. I am honored and proud to do so.

Do Redheads Have More Brains?
By Dan Rottenberg
Town & Country, August 1991

On a recent trip to London, I engaged in a little mental game. Everywhere I went, I asked my English friends and acquaintances to pick out the five most important people in the past thousand years of British history. Without any prompting from me, they invariably produced a list that was comprised of William the Conqueror, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill. Occasionally, in the hope of tripping me up, someone would toss in a more obscure fellow like James I (who united England and Scotland) or a nonpolitical figure like Shakespeare. No matter: when they were finished, I would ask, “Now, what do all these people have in common?” After allowing a minute or so for sufficient head-scratching and brow-furrowing, I would point dramatically to the answer: my own bright red hair.

It may not mean anything, but it is a mystery worth pondering. Redheads make up only about 2 percent of the world’s population, and some 4 percent of Americans. Yet, they’ve produced 15 percent of U.S. Presidents, not to mention some of the world’s greatest overachievers [see list below], attaining a significance far out of proportion to their numbers. Can anyone imagine American history without Christopher Columbus, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson? Literature without Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, George Bernard Shaw or Sinclair Lewis? Music without Vivaldi, Paderewski or Beverly Sills? Sports without Red Grange, Don Budge or Red Shoedinst? Crime without Jesse James or Lizzie Borden? In his 1943 book The Hero in History, Sidney Hook suggested that only a handful of people can be said to have altered the course of world history, and of the half-dozen examples he cited, three---Cromwell, Napoleon, and Lenin---were redheads.

We carrot-tops take great comfort in such recitations because, frankly, the world has given us pretty rough time. Throughout the Middle Ages, male redheads were considered “sons of the devil” and, as a result, experiences great difficulty finding wives. And at the height of Europe’s witch hunts, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many women were stripped, shaved, pricked and otherwise tortured, then put to death simply because they were redheads. Painters since the Renaissance have generally depicted prostitutes with red hair. In nineteenth century Germany, barbers did a thriving business in concoctions aimed at altering their red-headed customers’ hair color. An American newspaper once explained to its readers that twenty-one Cincinnati men who had married red-headed women were color-blind and had mistaken their sweethearts’ tresses for black. And who could be more revolting than Dickens’ Fagin, in Oliver Twist, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured my a quantity of matted red hair?

“Everyone stands in horror” of red hair, said the seventeenth-century French scholar Jean-Baptist Thiers, “because Judas, it is said, was red-haired.” But Christians hold no monopoly on such superstitions. At one time, the Brahmins of India were forbidden to marry red-haired women. And in ancient Egypt, redheads were worshipped---and occasionally sacrificed ---as fertility symbols.

Even in our own, more secular age, redheads are still widely regarded as passionate, hot-tempered and adventurous. Alice Crimmins, the Queens barmaid convicted in the mid Seventies of murdering her two children, suffered in the jury’s estimation at least partly because she had flaming red hair, opines Kenneth Gross, author of The Alice Crimmins Case. Conversely, red-headed men are perceive as goofy characters: take, for instance, Bozo, Howdy Doody and Ronald McDonald.

“In the movies, there are no red-headed leading men,” says Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, himself a redhead. Adds California beauty-pageant promoter Steve Douglas, the 36-year-old founder of Redheads International, “You can watch TV all night and never see and attractive male redhead. There are no top TV stars or other people to help a little red-headed kid who’s growing up form an attractive image of himself.” That isn’t entirely true: who on television is more influential than Ted Koppel? But perhaps he’s the exception that proves the rule.

My own entry into the world in 1942, is also instructive. Upon seeing my bright red hair, my relatives quickly split into two philosophical camps. The pessimists said, “What a shame!” The optimists said, “It’ll probably change.” My parents were actually pleased with my hair color, but mystified at to whence it had come, since both of them were brunettes. But a few months later, while showing me off to her grandmother, my mother noticed that the aging woman’s gray hair had a pinkish tinge. When my mother asked about it, my 78-year-old great-grandmother reluctantly admitted that, as a girl in czarist Russia, she had indeed been a redhead. But in that time and place, red hair had been the mark of a “fallen woman”—so once her red tresses had faded, she had never mentioned it again.

To be sure, we redheads have had our moments of glory. Red hair was fashionable in Elizabethan England, for the simple reason that Elizabeth I herself was a redhead and proud of it. The reddish-gold-haired Venetian women portrayed in paintings of Titian—himself a redhead inspired women in sixteenth-century Italy and Greece to tint their hair in imitation. Hair dye, in fact, is said to have originated with the Gauls—the men , not the women—who colored their hair red. And many red-heads like to be conspicuous: the late comedienne Lucille Ball imported fifty pounds of henna from Egypt early in her career and later imported and additional 100 pounds—enough to maintain her distinctive brilliant red tint for a lifetime.

The real trouble with being a redhead, you see, lies not so much with whether red hair is in favor or out, but in the fact that redheads are the objects of extreme reactions: if we’re not being put on a pedestal, we’re being sacrificed on an altar. Either way, to be a redhead is to stand out in a crowd. As movie actress Myrna Loy once observed, “Red hair isolates you.”

To grapple with those feelings of isolation, redheads periodically band together in support groups. In 1977 a group of Brown University students launched an organization called Redheads Are Special People—at a party whose menu featured red punch, strawberry ice cream and red candy—and the organization subsequently expanded to thirty other college campuses (although he Brown chapter disbanded in 1986). In it’s heyday, the Brown chapter of RASP sponsored and annual thirty-hour dance marathon to raise funds for the American Cancer Society (since redheads are especially susceptible to skin cancer), but most of its energies were devoted to defending the honor of redheads whenever it was maligned in the mass media.

That was also what drove Steve Douglas, a former musician who in 1982 left his job in a band, to launch Redheads International, which produced a newsletter, cosmetics and T-shirts bearing slogans like, “Don’t mess with red’ and “Redheads do it in color.” The Redhead Book, self-published in 1982 by Al Sacharov of Takoma Park, Maryland, sold several thousand copies, prompting New America Library to come out in 1985 with the Redhead’s Handbook, a sort of “everything you’ve always wanted to know about redheads but were afraid to ask” treatise.

This is not to suggest that red-heads are about to emerge as a new political force. Even in Scotland and Ireland, redheads are believed to comprise only some 10 percent of the population. Sacharov says redheads make up nearly 5 percent of the populations of Russia, Denmark, England, and Sweden, but only 2 percent of Americans. RASP claims that there are 9 million red-headed Americans, which is more than 4 percent. (DO not ask how these statistics are compiled: red-headology is perhaps the least scientific of the sciences.) On the other hand, redheads do turn up just about everywhere: among Hungarians, Egyptians, Australians, Israelis, and even among certain Nigerian tribes.

Obviously, most of the myths about redheads can be traced to the fact that they are such a tiny and conspicuous minority. But do any of the superstitions have any basis in fact? In the words of Tom Robbins, red-headed author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, “Could they be right about redheads? Are we really moonstruck mutants whose weaknesses are betrayed by the sun?”

The study of redheads as a science has long been neglected, partly because geneticists and dermatologists have had more pressing matters on their minds, and partly because of the lack of animal models suitable for experimentation (the yellow mouse is the closest approximation). British dermatologist H.C. Sorby, who discovered the “pink constituent” of human hair in 1878, believed that the substance influenced nothing beyond one’s hair color. As recently as 1952, the existence of this “pink constituent’ was challenged; conventional dermatological wisdom held that red hair was caused solely by the absence of the factors that make hair dark.

But a smattering of studies conducted over the past twenty years suggests that while most of the ancient folklore is ridiculous, there may be a germ of truth to the notion that redheads are physiologically different from others in significant ways—and these differences can sometimes affect redheads’ behavior.

The color of hair depends on the amount and type of melanin (dark pigment) granules present in the cortex (central core) of the hairs, and this in turn is dictated by the hair-color genes we inherit from our parents. All mammals, including redheads, have melanin, but redheads have much less of it than others do. Just as dark colors tend to obscure light ones, so a very active gene will obscure a red gene—which explains why it usually takes two red-haired parents to produce a red-haired child. (Not always, though, as my case demonstrates: because it’s produced by a recessive gene, red hair often skips a generation or two.)

What wasn’t known until the mid Eighties was just what substance (if any), in the absence of melanin, made redheads’ hair red—rather than, say, green or blue. But in 1969, after conducting a series of experiments on humans and animals, Dr. Peter Flesch of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the substance that causes red-headedness is iron-based. Thus a redhead’s pigmentary system operates somewhat differently from those of brunettes and blonds, whose pigment is predominantly melanistic: a redhead’s hair and skin are more vulnerable to the effects of sun, wind, cold heat or careless handling. Flesch concluded that red coloring has a great deal to do with redheads’ unique genetic and historical development. Unfortunately, Flesch died before his study was published, and he was unable to pursue its mind-boggling implications any further.

More recently, two dermatologists at the Harvard medical school, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Madhu Pathak, classified the people of the world according to the reaction of their skin to the sun. There are six categories. The first group—people whose skin burns most easily, always peels, never tans—consists entirely of blue-eyed, freckled redheads, mostly of Celtic lineage. A few redheads with splotchy pigmentation turned up in the second group—people who burn easily but minimally and can tan to some extent—but this group consists mostly of blonds. There are very few redheads in the remaining four groups, which consist of people who have darker more sun-resistant types of skin.

This study reinforced the view that redheads are set apart from the rest of humanity in important physical ways. As Pathak puts it, “Redheads are three-time losers.” For one thing, he says, red pigment is an inadequate filter of sunlight, so redheads’ skin is more likely to burn when it is exposed to the sun, and wrinkle as it ages. For another, redheads are more susceptible to skin cancer than anyone else. When ultraviolet rays damage DNA—the “genetic blueprints” of life—darker skin types can repair the damage, but redheads’ skin can’t.

Some scientists speculate that the physical gulf separating the reds from the non-reds traces back to the dawn of human evolution. In 1952, the dermatologist F.J.G. Ebling wrote a monograph for the World Health Organization, which noted, among other things, that redheads are generally more numerous in northern latitudes. Dr. Flesch seized on this point in 1969 and theorized that the first specimens of Homo sapiens lived in colder climates—usually in the north—a conclusion he deduced from his belief that they had a hairy coat covering their entire body. According to him, the eventual disappearance of this hair enabled mankind to thrive in warmer climates as well.

The disappearance of body hair also made human skin vulnerable to the sun, however. At that point, Flesch theorized, when exposed to warmer climates, red-headed humans with darker hair and skin thrived. But others, who were red-headed and fair-skinned, were so vulnerable to the sun that they only thrived in the colder northern latitudes, which is where most redheads are found this day.

This theory holds forth the intriguing possibility that the first humans may all have been redheads—that the development of darker hair and skin were later stages in human evolution. To be sure, Flesch’s thesis represents a minority opinion: most scientist think the first human-like creatures appeared not in the cold north, but in eastern and southern Africa and Java. But Flesch bolstered his thesis with this tantalizing evidence: red hair shafts are the thickest. A redhead needs only 90,000 hairs to give the appearance of a full head of hair; by contrast, a black-haired person requires 108,000, a brunette 110,000 and a blond 140,000. That being the case, argued Flesch, it’s not unreasonable to presume that redheads’ thicker hair is a survival from the dawn of human evolution, when thick hair provided necessary protection from the cold.

Do these physical differences influence redheads’ behavior? That question hasn’t been studied. But one researchers findings seem to suggest that, for whatever reasons, redheads do behave differently from other people. In 1977, Israeli psychiatrist Michael Bar reported that red-headed children are three or four times more likely to develop “hyperactive syndrome”—whose symptoms include overexciteability, a short attention span, easily sparked feelings of frustration and, usually, excessive aggressiveness.

Bar arrived at these conclusions after comparing the behavior of forty-five red-headed boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 12 with that of a control group of non-red-headed children. The evidence from such a sampling, of course, is far from conclusive. Still, Bar contends, the study points to a generic link between red hair and hyperactive behavior. “It is possible,” he adds, “that the characteristics attributed to certain ethnic groups, like the Vikings’ adventurousness or the Irish temperament, are connected to the high incidence of redheads among them.”

Since both my head and my daughter’s are as red as they come, and since neither of us has exhibited any of the symptoms described by Bar, I naturally give his claim short shrift. Besides, even if you could prove that the Irish are innately hot-tempered, that wouldn’t prove a link with their hair color: as stated before, redheads comprise only about 10 percent of the population of Ireland.

If many redheads seem aggressive, overexcitable or easily frustrated, the most likely reason is that they’re responding to the way people treat them. Being a redhead can be exhilarating or traumatic, but it’s rarely dull.

“I’ve been watched my whole life,” says Sandy Rubin of Philadelphia, who has flaming red tresses. “I walk into a room and I’m noticed instantly.” Another red-haired friend of mine notes that, in the presence of red-haired women, even older men become adolescent, frisky and familiar: “They feel they already know your name, which is ‘Red.’”

Movie star Arlene Dahl, who claims direct descent from the tenth-century Norwegian explorer Erik the Red, argues that, contrary to the stereotype, the typical red-headed personality is characterized by confidence, inner security and a sense of humor. “I think men are fond of red-headed women because generally we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” she says. “Since childhood, many of us have been teased about our red hair and freckles, and we’re used to it.”

Are redheads really different from everyone else, or do they just act differently because they’re perceived as different? It’s a chicken-and-egg question, so you can answer it however you wish. Personally, I subscribe to Flesch’s theory that redheads are endowed with more iron than other mortals. It doesn’t change anything, but it’s comforting to think about on a summer’s day, as I sit alone beneath an umbrella, swathed in towels, watching my blond or brunette friends frolic on a sunny beach.


A Red-Headed Hall of Fame


WOODY ALLEN (born 1935), film director
ANN-MARGRET (born 1941), actress
ARNOLD (“RED”) AUERBACH (born 1917), basketball coach
LUCILLE BALL (1911-1989) , actress
WALTER (“RED”) BARBER (born 1908), sports announcer
BORIS BECKER (born 1967), German tennis champion
SARAH BERNHARDT (1844-1923), actress
LIZZIE BORDEN (1860-1927), acquitted of murder
DON BUDGE (born 1915), tennis champion
JAMES CAGNEY (1899-1986), actor
MICHAEL CAINE (born 1933), actor
JIMMY CARTER (born 1924), U.S. President
WINSTON CHURCHILL (1874-1965), British Prime Minister
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506), Italian explorer
CALVIN COOLIDGE (1872-1933), U.S. President
ALICE CRIMMINS (born 1938), convicted murderer
OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658), British Lord Protector
GEORGE A. CUSTER (1839-1876), U.S. Cavalry officer
ARLENE DAHL (born 1924), actress
EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886), poet
ELIZABETH I (1533-1603), Queen of England
ERIK THE RED (tenth century A.D.), Norwegian navigator
MIA FARROW (born 1945), actress
SARAH FERGUSON (born 1959), Duchess of York
LYNETTE (‘SQUEAKY”) FROMME (born 1948), Presidential assailant
GREER GARSON (born 1908), actress
JOHN GLENN (born 1921), astronaut and U.S. Senator
ARTHUR GODFREY (1903-1983), radio and TV personality
HAROLD (“RED”) GRANGE (1904-1989), football player
RED GROOMS (born 1937), artist
NELL GWYN (1650-1687), actress
RITA HAYWORTH (1918-1987), actress
HENRY VIII (1491-1547), King of England
KATHERINE HEPBURN (born 1909), actress
WILLIAM (“RED”) HOLTZMAN (born 1920), basketball coach
RON HOWARD (born 1954), actor/director
ISABELLA I (1451-1547), Queen of Spain
JAMES I (1566-1625), King of England
JESSE JAMES (1847-1882), outlaw
THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826), U.S. President
VAN JOHNSON (born 1916), actor
JOHN PAUL JONES (1747-1792), U.S. Naval Commander
SONNY JURGENSEN (born 1934), football player
DANNY KAYE (1913-1987), actor
JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-1963), U.S. President
TED KOPPEL (born 1940), television journalist
ROD LAVER (born 1938), tennis champion
VLADIMIR LENIN (1870-1924), Russian revolutionary
SINCLAIR LEWIS (1885-1951), novelist
MYRNA LOY (born 1905), actress
MAN O’ WAR (“BIG RED”), champion Thoroughbred
SHIRLEY MACLAINE (born 1934), actress
BETTE MIDLER (born 1945), actress/singer
NAPOLEON I (1769-1821), French emperor
NERO (37-68), Roman emperor
MAUREEN O’HARA (born 1921), actress
IGNACE JAN PADEREWSKI (1860-1941), Polish pianist and statesman
BONNIE RAITT (born 1949), singer
VANESSA REDGRAVE (born 1937), actress
WALTER REUTHER (1907-1970), labor leader
MOLLY RINGWALD (born 1968), actress
TIM ROBBINS (born 1936), novelist
CHARLES (“RED”) RUFFING (born 1904), baseball player
JILL ST. JOHN (born 1940), actress
SALOME (14-62 A.D.?), Biblical dancer
MARGARET SANGER (1883-1966), birth-control pioneer
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616), English playwright
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1856-1950), Irish playwright
MOIRA SHEARER (born 1926), actress/dancer
BEVERLY SILLS (born 1929), opera singer
RED SKELTON (born 1913), comedian
MAGGIE SMITH (born 1934), actress
WALTER (“RED”) SMITH (1905-1982), sportswriter
BLAZE STARR (born 1932), stripper
DANIEL (“RUSTY”) STAUB (born 1944), baseball player
TITIAN (1487-1576), Italian painter
SPENCER TRACY (1900-1967), actor
MARK TWAIN (1835-1910), author
MARTIN VAN BUREN (1782-1862), U.S. President
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890), artist
GWEN VERDON (born 1925), singer/dancer
ANTONIO VIVALDI (1675-1743), Italian composer
MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN (1892-1918), German aviator
ROBERT PENN WARREN (1905-19889), U.S. Poet Laureate
GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-1799), U.S. President
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR (1028-1087), King of England
TOM WOLFE (born 1931), writer

This article originally appeared in Town & Country, August 1991. Copyright 1991 by Dan Rottenberg. Reprinted with the author's permission.
Readers may learn more about Dan Rottenberg and read more of his work at http://www.danrottenberg.com

Friday, May 25, 2007

My Journey to Orthodoxy

Yesterday after I posted a little "gem" of political insight written some time ago, I realized that my blog is very heavily weighted toward political commentary. Though the situation in our world requires some action on that front, I didn't ever have the intention of making this my political pulpit. I also realized that, unlike several of the orthodox blogs I read occasionally, I didn't have the story of my journey to Orthodoxy posted. So, in the spirit of digging things out of the hard drive, here is the story of my journey as I wrote it just over two years ago.

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My journey to Orthodoxy started about a year before I had ever heard of such a creature. As part of our preparations for marriage, my wife and I had been meeting regularly with Rev. Buddy Walker at A&M United Methodist Church. I was raised in a series of progressively more liberal Baptist churches, and Ashley had been raised in the Episcopalian Church. We both deigned to visit the denomination of the other, and both found worship in the unfamiliar setting unfulfilling.
As we began wedding preparations, one of our chief concerns was finding a beautiful church to be wed in. A&M United Methodist, because of its prominence and classic architecture, was an early favorite. We contacted the church office and found that a prerequisite for marriage in the church for non-members was attendance at seven worship services. We began visiting A&M United Methodist for worship in the Spring of 1998.

Also at this time I was taking a course on “Nature in Literature” and found the nature communing spirit of Emerson, Muir, Matthiessen, and Dillard very appealing. Further, I found in these works mystic connection and affirmation of the connection of spiritual and material things. I was especially interested to read the Buddhist thought in Matthiessen and even attended a talk given by a visiting Buddhist monk that semester.

When I talked with Rev. Buddy, I brought up the attraction that these philosophies held for me and his response was the first time that I believe that I had really been shaken out of a spiritual slumber. He indicated that the Christ who had spoken the Beatitudes would have no problem with the tenets of peace and communion in many Eastern philosophies. Rev. Buddy and I spend many afternoons together talking, especially because, at that point, his journey mirrored my own: he was raised in the Baptist church and had become Methodist as a young adult. The biggest points of contention for me, coming from an evangelical protestant background, were the things that Rev. Buddy told me about infant baptism and salvation as a process instead of an intellectual decision.
As I read the articles that Rev. Buddy gave me and listened to the sermons given by Rev. Charles Anderson on Sundays, I generally became more aware of the truth in the position that I was balking at. By the beginning of 1999, Ashley and I had decided to become full members of the Methodist Church, effectively negating our obligation to prove our attendance to be married. Of course, our attendance promptly fell off.

For a number of reasons, about six months prior to our wedding, I fell into a spiritual and emotional funk which gradually grew to a crisis. As any man at a time of crisis will, I thrashed about, looking for any sort of life preserver I could find. As it happened, my salvation had been sitting on my bookshelf for a year or so. My mom and stepfather are fond of giving me books as gifts; and I am equally fond of receiving them. The book, given to me by my parent, was The God Who Is There, by Francis Schaeffer. In this book, Schaeffer takes American society to task for becoming so relativistic, and, in the process, making God an optional entity. I mentioned to my parents that this book had made an incredible impact on my life, and I would be interested in reading more by the same author. This life-affirming work helped me re-establish perspective, along with the loving patience of my then-fiancée, and I was feeling generally good again.

My parents, meanwhile, started looking for Schaeffer in the library and bookstores. Instead of the Protestant apologist Francis, they found his son Frank. Frank Schaeffer’s book Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion was their introduction to Orthodoxy. My parents had the opportunity after reading the book to visit Orthodox churches in California and near their home in St. Louis and were generally making their way toward the East. They sent me a copy of Dancing Alone for my birthday just before our wedding. In a phone conversation with my mom, I asked her what Orthodoxy was about. Her answer frustrated me and, admittedly, turned me away. She said, “you have to experience it.” I put the book away and went on with life. I know that my mother is an intelligent, articulate woman, and I just couldn't understand how she couldn't convey the sense of her experience.

Just after our wedding and honeymoon, my National Guard unit did a rotation at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA. I packed several books, among them Dancing Alone. My trip to the Mojave Desert was challenging for a number of reasons, among them my recent diagnosis with asthma and the harsh conditions, including wind, sand, and CS gas, which exacerbated it. Our presence at NTC was just a handful of support personnel attached to a company in our home battalion, guys who we knew vaguely, but not men we had trained with on a regular basis. Once at NTC, we were reassigned to the Quartermaster of the battalion that our tank company was sent to support. No one knew us personally, we were not faces—we were assets. Our experience at NTC was plagued by poor leadership, which at one point lost two vehicles in a night road march through the desert, and at another point left a remote fuel point unsupplied for two days. To make matters worse, the NCOIC of our detachment was a timid despot that refused to act as a filter for the abuse that came from above. Early in our stay at NTC, one of our small group of six, my co-driver, was called home because of the death of a grandparent. As a result, I was paired with the above NCOIC.

I was disappointed, but resigned. Of everyone in our group, my personality was best suited for rolling with the punches. Also, as a result I had lots of time to think and read. I read all of my other books before picking up Dancing Alone, but once I began reading, I found myself having an transcendent experience. Here was someone putting together pieces that I had been trying to sort out of all of the faith professions I had encountered over the years, and was making sense. Granted, Frank’s approach is acerbic, for which reason he has been subject to censure by some Orthodox bodies, but it worked well for me as a generally disillusioned seeker. My joy was so complete that I composed a song.
Upon returning home, I began my search in earnest. However, there were no Orthodox churches in Bryan/College Station; the nearest was in Houston, and I was not so committed yet to make the weekly pilgrimage. I did find out that the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, a student group at A&M, sponsored bi-monthly Liturgy at All Faiths Chapel. I started attending these sporadically, convincing Ashley to visit even less frequently. In early Spring of 2001, my journey had a jump start.

My parents had, as a result of reading and searching on their own, decided to become catechumens at a Greek Orthodox church near their home. We traveled to St. Louis to see my parents and two younger siblings be baptized at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church. We also had the privilege of seeing my parents’ marriage blessed. Over the course of the weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with their priest and sponsors, as well as experience my first Liturgy in a “real” church. The combination of sight, sound, smell, and touch made the experience almost overwhelming. Having come from a non-liturgical background, I felt completely out of place—but like I had finally made it home.

Once back in Bryan/College Station, I became even more ardent in my desire to learn more about the historical church. My interest coincided with the establishment of a mission community sponsored by an Antiochian parish in Houston. I attended Liturgies when I could, both on campus and at the mission. I was sincerely impressed by the talk given by Fr. Peter Gillquist about how his group of evangelical protestants had left the Campus Crusade group looking to find the authentic faith of the New Testament. What they discovered in the end was that the Church is alive and well.

The mission group started hosting Thursday-night discussion groups that acted as a catechism of sorts. I began to see in Orthodox theology the missing pieces, such as the ideas of the linking of spiritual and physical things that I had searched for in the Far Eastern philosophies. The overriding sense I had the more I studied Orthodoxy was that it was cohesive, not only internally, but externally as well. I read books such as Ladder of the Beatitudes by Jim Forrest, and Sacred Symbols that Speak, vol I & II that reaffirmed biblical Christianity on the firm ground of two millennia of consistent interpretation. I will readily admit that the appeal to historical evidence was one of the greatest factors in my decision to become Orthodox. I find it intellectually and spiritually fulfilling to affirm that God participates in, yet is not bound by the laws of, His creation.

On that note, the mysticism of the Church fulfilled the inveterate fantasy lover in me. Having had spiritual experiences in my life, and being presented with the overwhelming evidence of the supernatural across cultures and time, I found the complete disavowal of mysticism in the evangelical protestant tradition unfulfilling. In Orthodoxy I found some concrete answers, but more importantly, an allowance for the interaction of the spiritual and physical.

After having studied and spent a lot of time participating in worship, I contacted Fr. Matthew, the priest at St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston—our sponsor parish, in the spring of 2002 to let him know that I felt that I had overstayed my welcome as a seeker and wanted to move forward toward formally committing myself to the Church as a catechumen. Fr. Matthew let me know that he already considered me a catechumen, though there was a service it make it “official.” Before we could get any farther, however, Fr. Matthew asked me how Ashley felt about becoming Orthodox. I had anticipated the question, but my answer “she’s got some hesitation, but she’s ok with it” didn’t cut the mustard. At this point, Fr. Matthew let me know that my marriage was an important component of my life spiritually—something I hadn’t thought much about—and that if my pursuit of Orthodoxy was going to become a point of contention in my marriage, that I should remain outside as a “friend of the Church.”

Having made such an arduous intellectual journey, I was floored. How could the “One, True Church” advise me to stay away? Gradually it dawned on me that the Church is the visible expression of the invisible God in this world and that by supporting and affirming my marriage—as it is intended to mirror the complete unity of the Trinity—the Church is affirming its own being. Thankfully, Ashley was interested in pursuing Orthodoxy as well, she just wanted to study and have some questions answered. To meet this need, we began meeting regularly with Fr. Matthew.

My wife is continuously a spiritual help to me because just as soon as I feel confident that I know something about God, she gives me a perspective or asks a question that is truly humbling. When we began our meetings with Fr. Matthew, I felt like I knew everything I needed to know. However, paradise keeps turning out like the end of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle; we keep going further up and further in. Fr. Matthew started at the beginning, all in all, quite a logical place to start.

In the Orthodox understanding of Creation is the root of the difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. The Orthodox understanding of the Fall is an incredible study and worthy of its own treatment; to sum up here: the direct consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was the disruption of their communion with God. What is interesting is that studying the Biblical account shows that God didn’t just say, “that’s it, you’re outta here!” Instead, he gives them a chance to reestablish contact in asking them to confess, however, they persist in their sin and choose to blame anyone but themselves. By eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve are imbued with knowledge that their experience was not mature enough to handle. Their actions also brought Death into the world and made them subject to his power. As an act of mercy, before Adam and Eve could disobey and eat of the other tree from which they had been warned, the Tree of Life, God removed Adam and Eve and all creation from Paradise. If He had not and they had eaten of the Tree of Life as well they would have become immortal and been forever subject to Death.

There is a wealth of theological implications here, one of which is that mankind is responsible for the removal of the Earth from a state of Paradise because we needed it to sustain us—therefore, our stewardship takes on a new level of responsibility. The best analogy for the Fall that I’ve heard is that Adam and Eve were like two people in a big warm house sitting next to the fire. They had been warned that if they were to go outside, they would not be able to get back in, yet they decide to go out of the warmth into the cold regardless. As a result, their children are born outside of the house unable to get back in, yet are innocent of making the decision to step outside in the first place. This is the Orthodox understanding of the Fall—our curse is not innate, it is the situation into which we are born. God made Adam and Eve a promise that He would send a deliverer that would reunite mankind to God; that is why Eve says after Cain’s birth “I have made a man with the LORD”—she believes that the promise is already being fulfilled.

The upshot of the Orthodox view of the Fall is that the image of God in man is not destroyed, it is marred, and damaged. Our salvation depends on the reestablishment of communion with God which was achieved in the person of Christ. This is why an Orthodox Christian will emphasize Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection as all equally important to our salvation, whereas the evangelical protestant sees the rest as incidental to the crucifixion. In His Incarnation, Christ, God the Creator enters his Creation (time and space) and becomes physical matter for the sake of communion with us. As a result, all matter is sanctified. Christ’s baptism, likewise sanctifies all water and makes participation in the act of baptism mystical participation in the transformative life of Christ. Christ’s death is important because as God, He is the only being that could enter Death’s realm and defeat him, releasing humanity from Death’s rule. As a result of living in a fallen world, our physical bodies will still die, but we will not be eternally subject to Death. The caveat to this is that holy men and women throughout history, as a result of their faithful participation in the transformative life of Christ are so physically changed that their bodies are not corrupted even after death. This is why the Church says that salvation cannot be outside of the Church—because the Church is the only designated repository for the sacraments, which are the ways in which we participate in a mystical way in the physical life of Christ. Yet, at the same time, the Church affirms that truth is found all throughout creation because the image of God remains in man, it is only in the Church that the fullness of Truth resides. Further, the Church would affirm that salvation is God’s work and He can effect it anyway He so chooses; we are only given one path, and we must do what we know.

A total of four years passed between my starting to research the Ancient Church and my baptism. I was made a catechumen just eight months before my baptism. While I felt ready for conversion long before that, I think that God granted my priest insight about what I needed to learn that I didn't have. When I first started searching, participating in Orthodox worship in our town meant the once-a-month Liturgy that Fr. Matthew would do, and a smattering of OCF on-campus Liturgies. I read, my wife and I attended services, and I began to attend catechism classes. After about two-and-a-half years I felt moved to approach Fr. Matthew and tell him I felt I had overstayed my welcome as a seeker, and that I would like to become a catechumen. At that point he made me realize that my wife and I weren't in the same place and that we needed to be...so I waited a bit longer. When we were made catechumens, it was a special event for our mission, and one that helped build a sense of community. We were received into the church, I through Baptism and Ashley through Chrismation, on Holy Saturday 2003.

There is so much that I have found corresponds with Orthodox theology; I continually find that it is a very satisfactory and robust explanatory framework for every facet of life. This has, as I noted earlier, been the most significant realization that I have made in my Journey. The idea that each of us is an icon of Christ in that the image of God remains in each of us resounds with the best aspects of progressive social theory. In the lives of the saints the consistent teaching of the Church is reaffirmed throughout history in a manner that only the worst kind of revisionism can ignore.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Radicalism as a Democratic Social Indicator

This was written almost exactly two years ago. Not recalling the impetus, I did a quick news search, and apparently the most important thing happening in the U.S. that day was the opening of Star Wars Episode III. Anyhow, it seems even more relevant today
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In a society that purports to be democratic, revolutionary or regime changing tendency ought to be successfully channeled through the democratic process, assuming equal representation for all. Thus, widespread sentiment advocating radical change in a democratic society is a signal that the democratic process is not working and is in need of change.

Though this is a simple idea, it is one whose salience is lost on the majority of those in a position to negotiate change. A survey of major sociopolitical watershed moments in American history reveals that it is only when those in positions of power within the democratic society are threatened with embarrassment due to the inconsistency of their positions that change is made. One need only reflect on the slow and tortuous history of struggle for equal rights for women and persons of color in this country to discover the veracity of this statement.

I believe that the power of this idea is due in large part to the work of the framers of our nation’s government. Guided by a general principle of equal representation, the men that set out the governing principles for the country insisted on a pragmatic solution. They were more interested in forming a lasting government than a perfect one, and that is reflected in the adaptability of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.*
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*In contrast to the Declaration of Independence, which articulates a more idealistic sense of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are more liberal in the application of the principles that infuse the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Christ is Risen!

This past Thursday, on which the Orthodox Church celebrated Christ's Ascension, I called a friend to make plans for the weekend. She greeted me with a hearty "happy feast day." I responded "Christ is Risen!"

My friend, who is not a convert (edit: like me), paused for a moment and then responded in Greek, "Alithos Anesti!" before asking whether or not we were allowed to use that greeting now, and I had to stumble through an apology for a bad religious pun (rise/ascend). I didn't broach the subject of St. Seraphim of Sarov's use of the Paschal greeting year round.

Anyhow, check out Fr. Joseph Hunnycutt's post (& podcast!) It's good for what ails me.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Prognosticating Peace

U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich - OH has been chillingly prescient in foretelling the disastrous effects of Bush43's administrative consolidation of power in the executive branch. With respect to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, Kucinich recognized the dangerous and unwarranted expansion of power as a serious threat to Fourth Amendment rights, a truth that is only now being widely recognized.

One of the leaders in Congress against Bush43's Orwellian onslaught and the rush to war in Iraq, Kucinich stood alone on the Democratic ticket in 2004 emphatically denouncing the war and the lack of universal healthcare (though, by that time, he was joined by others in denouncing the U.S.A. Patriot Act). It seems as though Kucinich was just "ahead of his time" since the "frontrunners" in the 2008 Democratic race now sound like they're using D.K.'s 2004 talking points. Let's step back and consider for a moment where we might be had Kucinich been given more respect (from his party and the media) in 2004, and the Iraq War and national healthcare were issues we tackled three years (and $300 billion) ago...

Kucinich's major obstacle in 2004 and also in 2008 is also the strongest argument in favor of his candidacy. As a candidate with no strings attached, Kucinich is depending on well-reasoned argument, common sense, and grassroots support to get the Dem nod for 2008. The downside to not being in someone's pocket is that its a lot harder to be visible when you can't buy the million-dollar TV spots. Let's be clear on one thing: it's not just the media that's to blame for the lack of coverage for Kucinich's big ideas. The Democratic National Committee was so keen on declaring a nominee for 2004 that they effectively declared the race after the media frenzy over Dean's post-primary speech in Iowa. I truly believe that the Democrats lost in 2004 because they effectively silenced competition so early that they failed to realize that the most "electable" candidate was the most uninspiring.

Kucinich is electable if you vote for him.

All of which begs the question, why should we vote for Kucinich? Think about Bush43. What are your criticisms of his presidency? (Mine are) belligerence, cronyism, abridgment of constitutional freedoms, shortsightedness. Kucinich, by contrast, is committed to peace and diplomacy, is as much a threat to the DNC establishment as he is to the GOP, has been a voice in the wilderness since the passage of U.S.A. Patriot Act, and was delivering this message long before it was just so much old news rehashed on the 24-hour networks.

[Edit]I've taken down this video so that you can load the page without having to wait for this to load or listen to it again, but I highly recommend this compilation of quotes from Dennis Kucinich as an example of what we knew and when we knew it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

April Snowshowers bring May's...




A snowy central Texas Easter - photo courtesy of Donna O'Connor











...Global Warming?

One of my biggest pet peeves right now are the folks (in the media and otherwise) who point to unseasonably cold weather as evidence against "global warming." I'll readily admit that the term "global warming" probably does a disservice to the cause in that it is easily interpreted to be something other than what it is not (much in same way as the term "gifted" seems to imply that children two standard deviations above normal IQ don't require special services when those in the opposite position do). Perhaps a better descriptor is "global climate change," though I suspect that this phrase doesn't have quite the alarmist overtones that serve both supporters and detractors.

For those who have yet (or are unwilling) to see Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, I'll give the two minute version here. Yes, Gore does use his bully-pulpit to make a few good-natured jabs at the 2000 elections. he also masterfully translates the science of global climate change into common parlance much in the same way that Dr. Stephen Hawking does for theoretical physics. There are a few points to the take-away message: 1) The ocean currents power our global weather; 2) Increased temperatures at the poles result in ice melt, ice melt results in exponentially faster ice melt because water absorbs the sun's energy and melts the ice from below (when frozen, most of this energy is reflected back into space); 3) increasingly warm water at the poles will shut off ocean currents causing massive, widespread climate change in a matter of years instead of millenia.

Those who would point to unseasonably cool weather to disprove global climate change fundamentally misunderstand the thesis; they are, in fact, unwittingly drawing attention to the harbingers of such a shift. Though "global warming" accurately describes the root of the problem at the poles, the resultant climate shift everywhere else won't necessarily mean higher temperatures. It might mean less rainfall, or more. It might mean more big, destructive weather for some, and milder weather for others. Certainly, one year of cooler-than-average springtime doesn't provide conclusive evidence for climate shift, but three years looks like a trend, and in five we might have completely different weather patterns.

Taking a broad view of the global ecosystem, one might argue that there have been much warmer periods in earth's history (Mr. Gore does point this out). What is markedly different about this moment in history is that the change is likely to happen far more quickly than it has in the past, and with much greater impact on the world's ecosystems, which are already hard-pressed by other man-made threats such as habitat elimination and excessive harvesting.

The sobering, and hopeful, coda to An Inconvenient Truth is that we can make a difference. Start thinking about your carbon footprint and how you can live a lower-impact lifestyle. Check out Slate.com's Green Challenge. Save your gas money and ride a bike...or a Segway. Vote for green energy and sustainable practices with your wallet.

In closing, I offer these thoughts penned by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew
The Lord suffuses all of creation with His Divine presence in one continuous legato from the substance of atoms to the Mind of God. Let us renew the harmony between heaven and earth, and transfigure every detail, every particle of life. Let us love one another, and lovingly learn from one another, for the edification of God's people, for the sanctification of God's creation, and for the glorification of God's most holy Name. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Kurt Vonnegut's death this week has left me with a peculiar sadness that is hard to describe. Though I enjoyed (very much) the two books of his I have read (Galapagos, Timequake) and have fond memories of my stepdad telling stories about Tralfamador, from which planet a younger brother was purported to hail, I've never really thought of myself as a Vonnegut fan. Thinking about it now, I suppose that Mr. Vonnegut might have thought about the concept of fans as slightly ridiculous anyhow. I've not yet read Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle, though I have vague plans to do so in the way that I think all English majors have a list of great books they just haven't gotten around to reading yet. In spite of this all this good-natured disinterest, Vonnegut's death leaves a hole in my world that I don't think I could define better than Jon Stewart's comment, "the world got less interesting." Vonnegut was one of those rare authors who seemed to be able to work hope out of postmodernism. A comment made in a literary obituary in The Observer sums up Vonnegut's genius this way: "he told us the hardest of truths, but in the gentlest, funniest and most amiable way he knew how." I really think Vonnegut is what Mark Twain would have been like had he been an optimist.

Vonnegut's death made me think of another unexpected loss of an author whose distillation of hope from the absurd has helped me understand the human condition. Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy and all its related stories, and Last Chance to See. Though Adams' death is several years past, his passing also permeates the sense of loss I feel for Vonnegut. I think that it is increasingly rare to see such selfless truth-giving from authors, and that we're worse off without them. I don't think that their perspectives necessarily need to be lost, though, as their readers--dare I say, fans--can take advantage of a cultural tipping-point in calling to account the absurd abuse of power in the world. I don't think their lessons are being lost, we just have to act rationally irrational. Both might agree, "Don't Panic."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


This time last year I was on a trip abroad with my Century Scholar Learning Community class visiting London. On March 17, Ashley and I took a day trip to Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. The trip itself was quite an adventure. We got up early to catch the first train to Bath where we spent the better part of the morning. Towards noon, we finally purchased bus tickets for the rest of the journey to Glastonbury. The bus ride was close to three hours...we had anticipated spending about half of that time traveling. We arrived at Glastonbury Abbey about two hours before they were to close and stayed until close to 6:00 PM.

Glastonbury Abbey is noted as the site of the earliest above-ground Christian church in Europe. Legend holds that Joseph of Arimathea (who purportedly dealt in tin...a good reason to travel to Britain) established a daub and wattle structure on the spot thirty years after Christ's Ascension (and his staff, once planted, also bloomed into a unique thorn tree). The oldest ruins extant, the Lady Chapel, are about 1100 years newer, but are dwarfed by the ruins of the later church. The disrepair dates from Henry VIII's schism and subsequent persecution of English monastics. In the small museum on the grounds, I was sorely disappointed to find a brass etching plate of Henry VIII among other icon rubbing plates, given his hand in destroying the vibrant community there. I was similarly disappointed by the lack of recognition of the historic church in England that, no doubt, stems from inherited distrust of anything Catholic. How ironic that one of Prince Charles' favorite retreats hearkens to that rich heritage.

Glastonbury Abbey is rich in legend. In addition to Joseph of Arimathea, other storied visitors (and sometime residents) are St. Patrick, Arthur and Guinevere, and perhaps even Christ Himself! I was particularly pleased to say a prayer at the old stone altar in the chapel dedicated to St. Patrick on the Abbey grounds which was spared in the Reformation. There are competing legends about where St. Patrick is buried, but one claim holds that he was buried on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey with the honor of being its first abbot. This is the closest I've come to a pilgrimage, and was incredibly humbling to honor St. Patrick on his feast day.

Through the prayers of Sts. Patrick, Dunstan, Benedict, David, and Bridget, and of all of the British and Celtic saints, may God Bless and keep you all!

Peace for our time?

This post is ambitious. I hope to look at the nature of war, the threat of perpetual war, my take on the proper Christian response, and what we can do about it. I should make a note here that while I have faithfully tried to represent Orthodox Christian teaching as I understand it, there are a number of Orthodox Christians who would disagree with my take that all war (understood as combat between humans) is evil and avoidable for Christians. I earnestly entreat the forgiveness of any who might be scandalized by what I've written here.

Though I’ve been actively involved in peace-making since 2002, the particular stimulus for sitting down to write now is a pair of interviews on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. Most recent was Zbigniew Brzezinski’s evaluation of how the last three presidential administrations have squandered opportunities to change our foreign policy to effect peace.



AND

Ted Koppel on “Our Children’s Children’s War”

After watching Brzezinski’s interview, my wife turned to me, holding our three and a half week old boy and said,” I don’t want us to still be at war in twenty years.” Her statement was fraught with meaning. What would perpetual war mean for an already de-stabilized economy? How much further might our socio-political relations crumble in the face of increased fundamentalism (on all sides)? What role might our son be forced to play in this future? I responded that we have to be proactive in pursuing peace.

During my military training (Army National Guard), I came to a realization that I would wrestle with for five years. The realization didn’t crystallize overnight, but was something I came to gradually. The first germ of the realization was in the cognitive dissonance I had trying to integrate the training I was receiving into my still-developing value system. My mother had instructed me never to start fights, but told me to finish one if someone else started a fight with me. My drill instructor told us that he believed he was damned to hell because he had participated in war. If the notion that a strong military is a deterrent to military aggression, thereby securing peace, was true, then it seemed as though civilization was being held together by training men and women to do the most uncivilized of things. To Kill. Basic training has a number of facets. New soldiers learn chain of command, equipment recognition, disaster response, first aid, teamwork, and self-respect (and probably not enough military history and ethics). But, if all that had to be trimmed out of the training process, what would remain would be combat training: rifles, grenades, bayonets, and hand-to-hand combat. I recognized that the change in me was that I now knew how to kill someone. I don’t expect that 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds regularly engage in this kind of metacognitive evaluation (neither, I suspect, does the military establishment).

War has become a very useful metaphor in the English language. We can wage war against drugs, cancer, obesity, poverty, and a number of other social and physical ills. We are also able to war against an idea: Terrorism. In Western Christian history, the idea of the “Just War” developed to provide some insight into the always sticky prospect of Christian participation in war. One thing that just war theory, and most wars up until our “War on Terror” commenced, assume is a known enemy. War, as it has been redefined, is not limited to a particular theatre, enemy, or timeframe. Instead the war against terrorism mirrors those socio-political “wars” in that it is a protracted, consuming struggle, or “jihad” as the concept is known in Islam. In Christianity, an analogue might be asceticism. I don’t believe that Bush43’s polarizing statements about an “axis of evil” and a fight between the forces of good versus evil are gaffes. I think that in those moments he is being truly transparent and revealing in that language his moral understanding of the stakes of this war. This is truly and epic, ongoing, and eternal struggle.

If that doesn’t trouble you, then I suspect that you are among the growing number of American revolutionists that wish to change our form of government. If you are troubled by the thought of becoming the (nominally) Christian answer to RadIslamism (not to mention the financial stake that this administration, broadly imagined, stands to gain from perpetual war) our call to action is simple. We need a radical politic of peace.

In the process of working for peace, Christians must be careful not to make the struggle an end unto itself, but understand such work as serving Christ, however disfigured His image might be, in our enemies, in the poor and destitute, in those imprisoned, and those dealing with spiritual and physical illness. We have to be careful not to expect Paradise here on earth (chiliaism), but to be good stewards of the economic and political power we’ve been granted. We Christians that have the privilege of living in the United States should certainly be grateful for the freedom we enjoy to practice our faith. At the same time though, that security is not worth mortgaging our faith. We should look to the early martyrs as examples of fidelity. If we truly believe in Christ’s radical transformation of reality, and that we have the opportunity to participate (however imperfectly) in Paradise now, we need step into a role of active peacemakers, forgiving and loving our enemies. For the obvious reasons, this would be an inappropriate stance for the United States government to take, given its role in the social contract to protect its citizens. Indeed, this would be an inappropriate stance for any secular government to take, as it would require its citizenry to be willing to become martyrs. As individuals, however, we can utilize the means at our disposal—wealth, influence, and votes—to influence a compromise in the direction of true Peace.

My response to my wife’s concern about perpetual war, that we have to proactively wage peace, is ultimately a personal choice with universal implications. St. Seraphim of Sarov told us that if we could acquire peace, thousands around us would be saved. I believe that St. Seraphim is talking about physical and metaphysical salvation. Ghandi’s experience with Christianity in practice led him to conclude that Christians aren’t much like Christ. As Christians practicing in what is arguably the most permissive (on all sides) society we have ever known, we don’t all naturally get the privilege of suffering for Christ. Like the men and women that fled to the desert to preserve Christianity, I think that modern Christians can find a useful ascetic yoke in pursuing peace through practicing a personal politic of peace. We have few examples of this path which seems difficult to our comfortable sensibilities.

In persons like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa and Mohandas Ghandi, Christians can distill a sense of the spiritual import of waging peace. For Orthodox Christians, the example of St. Maria of Paris, and countless other Holy Fools for Christ stand out as shining examples of how we can put into practice the hard sayings of our Lord. Nor is this a journey that needs to be taken alone. The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is one of many Christian organizations (also Sojourners, CPT, Fellowship of Reconciliation) that persons with pacifistic mindsets can turn to for support and guidance in waging peace. There are analogous peace organizations that represent a number of religious and political affiliations. The crux of the matter is that peacemakers can’t be passive; we have to actively assert love and forgiveness, speak truth to power, and engage in these actions in our own lives.

Selected peacemaker resources:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors

The Saints on Peacemaking

The Early Fathers on War and Military Service – Louis J. Swift (out of print…I have permission from the author to distribute copies to my friends as necessary. Contact me if you need one)

The Peace Alliance – Campaign to establish a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace

Ladder of the Beatitudes - Jim Forest. This is a nice meditation on how to actually live out the "hard sayings" of Christ.

Love is the Measure - Jim Forest. A biography of Dorothy Day.

Mother Maria Skobtsova - Essential Writings - St. Maria of Paris



Monday, March 12, 2007

Noah at 3 Weeks

Last night Noah turned three weeks old. To mark the occasion, we held a bath party. It wasn't so much a party as a well-documented bath, but it was a bunch of fun. Noah seemed to enjoy the comfort of floating in warm water again.

Yesterday also marked our transition to cloth diapers. Much thanks to Pam for providing the bulk of our cloth diapers. Our Ebay purchased Swaddlebees made overnight changes much easier.

Pictures will be added as soon as I can figure out how to do frame capture from DVD (or even better, add video from YouTube).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kucinich: The Black Candidate?

The current Doonesbury Straw Poll asks which candidate has the most authentic claim to blackness
Blockquote
Obama. His grandfather served as a houseboy in Jim Crow-era Africa. His white mom's from Kansas. How much more African-American can you get? If he wins, he goes down in history as the first black president -- so why are we having this conversation? Say Amen, somebody.
Hillary Clinton. Sure, technically she's white, but you could say the same thing about Obama, whose mixed parentage doesn't make him any more black than white. Also, she grew up in Chicago, city of blues and hoods, whereas Obama was raised in Honolulu, about as gay a hometown as there is. Plus, Hil's guy, headquartered in Harlem, still brings it, community cred-wise.
Not surprisingly, Dennis Kucinich is invisible in this discussion of Democratic candidates. What is troubling is that the good folks at Doonesbury had to stretch to include Edwards in this lineup:
John Edwards. Looked down on for being a trial lawyer, referred to by Rush as "Breck Girl", bashed by Ann Coulter as a "faggot" -- Edwards knows about having to fight for respect. Besides, we need three choices for the poll.
(emphasis mine)

Dennis Kucinich, on the other hand might have been and easy choice to include in the line up if there was actually some equivalent coverage of candidates. The Black Agenda Report ran a story with the headline, "Kucinich: The Black Candidate." BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon notes that Kucinich's voting record matches up with the best of the Black Congressional Caucus' voting record "across the board."

The Doonesbury Straw Poll cites "a recent poll" that says 84 percent of Americans claim that a candidate's blackness will have no bearing on the way they vote. Since the performance of racial/ethnic identity is something of a personal project (another story, another time?) I am very interested in the implications of both polls. First, the inherent privilege of whiteness is to disavow the existence of privilege. From Beverly Daniel Tatum's concept of passive racism (and here, and here), we see that uncritical participation in the accumulated privilege of whiteness is problematic. I don't trust the majority of white america to know that they would unconsciously seek to consolidate their relative positions of power by limiting access to the Oval Office (or any other threat, real or perceived to their way of life). Second, BAR's implicit and explicit (re)definition of blackness vis-a-vis Kuchinich mirrors my own thought that there is a voluntary, cultural element to black identity that could be universally accessible. I say the foregoing with full understanding that such a train of thought could go in a number of wrong directions including thinking of black identity and culture as a monolith; ignorance of/insensitivity to the involuntary participation in being stigmatized, excluded, and violated based on skin color.

What remains to be seen is just how accessible media-poor candidates like Kucinich will be to a voting public who desperately needs them. I got a call from a Democratic National Committee fundraiser the other day, who despite his persistence, finally got the message that the DNC screwed up '04 by encouraging the major media outlets to focus on Dean and then Kerry almost exclusively in the primaries. He finally conceded the point that while the DNC is going to support who the public supports (in the primaries) they have the power to make sure that the primaries are, in fact, democratic.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

To Do items...marked Urgent

The New York Times has published a list of actions that need to be undertaken in order to reverse the slide into despotism that has marked the Bush43 presidency. Hopefully, these items can be checked off by Congress before the next President takes office. If not, here's hoping that Dennis Kucinich will be the person who oversees the final mop-up.

No matter who is elected to the Oval Office, my great desire is that the American people will see the last decade as an object lesson in what happens when we abdicate our democratic rights and responsibilities and let ego and money become the prerequisites for holding office.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

He's Red, He's Curly...

Thanks to Amy Toth for this delightful homage. = )

I am working on the burly part...

More about Fish Camp, the biggest, baddest and most successful student-led college orientation program there is.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What's the deal with Hyberbilirubinemia?

[Please note, I am not a doctor and this is not intended to be medical advice.]

Several of you have asked for more information about the health issues that Noah has dealt with since his birth a week ago. Since his mom and I are first-class worriers, we've taken the time to study up on hyperbilirubinemia, the condition that Noah's doctors believe he has. Hyperbilirubinemia is a condition that is characterized by early jaundice in newborns, but is confirmed by blood test.

Many babies develop jaundice within a couple of days after birth. This is a result of their immature liver trying to recycle red blood cells. Bilirubin is part of the blood that if not flushed out of the body properly can cause jaundice (it also is responsible for that yellow color in bruises and the brown color of stool). In a very few number of cases, babies with very high bilirubin levels can end up with deposits in the brain that can cause mental deficits. Noah's doctors responded aggressively to an early high reading with phototherapy, which can help break down the bilirubin and get it to pass out of the body. In the first couple of days, while the baby's stool is transitioning from the meconium stool to the breastmilk (or formula, I suppose) stool, the color is dark green and looks like it has little black seeds in it. The appearance of these seeds in the diaper means the body is getting rid of the excess bilirubin.

Noah's levels have been coming down from a high of 16 at about two days after birth to just over 14 this afternoon. The older the baby gets, the higher the level they can tolerate, though eventually the levels settle somewhere around 1 for adults.

For those interested, a couple links to read up on hyperbilirubinemia and breastmilk jaundice:

American Association of Pediatrics - Mangement of Hyperbilirubinemia


Cost Consideration in Hyperbilirubinemia Treatment (requires registration)

Breastmilk Jaundice

A Very Merry-Unbirthday...

This particular unbirthday finds Noah at one week old (well later tonight it does). An unbirthday is not the same as a half-birthday, which Becca always manages to remember. Noah is continuing to adapt to home life despite daily visits to the doctor's office (and/or phlebotomist's office) for follow-up bilirubin tests.

This post will have a side-rant now to talk for a second about quality of healthcare. I am a supporter of Dennis Kucinich's Healthcare for All plan, and think that socialized medicine is the only way that we're going to correct the incredible disparity between rich and poor peaople's healthcare access in our nation. One issue that is being solved is the doctor shortage, and while med school enrollment is going up, we need to also address patient care expectations. In the last week we've had a doctor tell us that our baby is starving (he isn't and wasn't) and have had pescriptions for bilirubin management made without consulting--much less being familiar with--Noah's patient history. I explained to the healthcare worker that was relaying this recommendation that I understood that they talk to many patients every day with the same problem, but that this was our first time to deal with it. She agreed and thanked me for correcting her when I said that it was irresponsible to make reccomendations without knowing the context of our case. Our goals for building a sustainable, openly accessible healthcare system, I think, depends on training enough capable doctors to know their patients personally.

Oh, and we need an ethics examination prior to medical training. Our national "Burger King Mentality" has resulted in a generation of doctors (and I realize this is a broad brush; take some responsibility for the integrity of your profession...physician, heal thyself) that are more willing to do surgery than insist on lifestyle change.

[/end rant]

Poor bedside manner aside, we're doing well given where we are at with the jaundice. We had a wonderful consultant come out yesterday to talk to us about making sure that Noah is getting enough food. Why can't they all be like this?

So, now for some photos...

Our phototherapy has gone from Tron/Buckaroo Banzai sci-fi

to

Aeon Flux


Perspective...Grandparents for the first time...
grandparents for the eight time...

Thanks to all who have called, written, and visited. Hope to see you again soon!