Saturday, July 28, 2012

Seeking Apologia

The Christian faith has a long history of apologetics. Many turning points in the history of the church occurred with the publication of various martyr’s apologetic. We do not often hear these arguments today. Despite profound differences in theology between and within denominations, the foundation of the Christian faith remains fairly settled and people are rarely challenged to prove or defend that they are Christian.

I would like to see more genuine political apologetics. Over the last decade as both dominant political parties have staked out more extreme positions, little genuine discourse has been offered to justify the radical and fringe views other than that the view proves the greatest distinction that can be drawn to the stance of the other party. Rather than offer reasoned discussion, political debate quickly deteriorates to name calling vilification. We diminish the value of any idea different from one’s own by diminishing the person proposing it to a label. Calling that person a [insert favorite insulting epithet here] eliminates consideration of the idea no matter how worthy. Instead of reasoned dialogue, emotional vitriol dominates political theatre. Facts are inconveniently boring. Unfounded fear mongering is convenient drama.

As each side has migrated to its own pole, libraries have been composed regarding policy and position from each side. None of the books I have read (or scanned) reaches the depth of insight I believe achieves apologias. Most serve to further the distrust of the other side or to extend the author’s fifteen minutes and offer nothing of substance. I sometimes wonder if party leaders understand how to communicate core beliefs and let them stand along without placing different (not even necessarily opposing) ideas in a threatening context.

Strategies that rely on destruction of opposition make me question the vitality of any idea that it cannot stand alone. In the natural world, the weak and wounded are culled (usually by becoming lunch for the strong). We should be demanding ideas that thrive on their own merits without relying on debasement of any competing concept. Present an idea. Tell my why it is good. Trust that I can determine what idea works best.

Sometimes when we listen and debate the merits and not the fear-factor, we find that some combination of competing ideas creates the optimum solution. Rarely does “either-or” offer an option better than “both-and” or some combination of features of each. The use of fear to manipulate discussion to the emotional level only serves to isolate and divide. Forcing thought into the amygdala instead of the cerebral cortex eliminates any chance for problem solving or solution focused thinking.

I fear too many of the current leaders have worked themselves into intractable positions with no vision of how to work themselves out. The simplistic answer is to throw them all out and demand better. The realistic answer is for the moderate-middle to rise up and force those we have elected. We must demand clarity and action from our leaders. Demand that they adopt the apologias and clearly delineate their ideas, argue merit, and use facts to win the debate. Together we can have the best.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Justice, Vengeance, or Something Else

Because of the energy-savings program at work in the summer months, we work four ten-hour days each week instead of five eight-hour days. As a result, I was home for the deluge of media – both social and mainstream – coverage of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Everyone had an opinion about what happened, what could have prevented it, or what mental illness the shooter must have had. By the evening news, much of the originally reported information had been revised or corrected. Nevertheless many of the tweets, posts, and even online news articles remained accessible with the faulty information.

Common in all the media were calls for justice. Depending on the bent of the media, the level of rancor around the call for justice ranged from “string him up” to “life in a mental institution (because only a crazy person would do such a thing).” The more I listened to the discourse, the more it became clear that no one talked about justice: everyone imagined some form of vengeance.

venge•ance [ven-juhns]  noun
1. infliction of injury, harm, humiliation, or the like, on a person by another who has been harmed by that person; violent revenge
2. an act or opportunity of inflicting such trouble.
3. the desire for revenge.

Vengeance comes naturally when we have been harmed by a known entity. The nature of the attack in Aurora threatened us all because it occurred in a situation common to almost everyone. People doing something people do every day suddenly found themselves caught in a situation beyond what a normal imagination could invent. We all felt the threat and found ourselves imagining that we could have been in that theater and wondering how we would have reacted.

We want to hurt the person who destroyed our sense of safety in a mundane activity.

We falsely latch onto the idea that vengeance guarantees that such an event will never happen again. History shows us that similar events happen repeatedly with new twists inspired by technology available in the time. Our entire penal system works on the principle of vengeance; if vengeance truly worked, far fewer people would be incarcerated.

jus•tice [juhs-tis]  noun
1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.
2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason.
3. the moral principle determining just conduct.
4. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
5. the administering of deserved punishment or reward.

So many of the commentators felt they used the fifth definition of justice when they proposed penalties for the gunman. They failed to meet the definition by speculating without full knowledge of the story. They reacted to the events as the initial presentations captured the emotion of the events as recounted by survivors or assumed by commentators in watching the cell phone videos some took as the event unfolded.

We do not know if the shooter is mentally ill. We do not know the motivation. We do not know volumes related to the case. In the coming weeks and months, because the police captured the (alleged) shooter alive, we will likely be able to develop a more complete understanding of the story. Even so, a clear explanation of why or how the event came to be may never emerge.

Human nature desires concrete answers to events that shatter routine. When they do not emerge, we seek solutions that make us feel better. Vengeance serves that purpose. Justice, when viewed in its fullness, rarely alleviates our pain, so we turn to more drastic measures found in vengeance. I do not blame any of the commentators for their jump on the vengeance bandwagon. We feel better when we imagine the worst possible thing that can happen to a person who does such a heinous act. I simply think we need to be honest in our vocabulary. Justice does not always make us feel good. Vengeance often does.

When I believe I have been wronged, I never imagine justice; I only imagine vengeance. When I talk about it, I call it justice, but it is not. Justice, as a central principle of the United States, is the political word to say. Vengeance, though, orders my thoughts and wishes. It is not as ugly as we imagine; how often do we actually enact vengeance on those who have done us harm? When all plays out, I usually settle for justice. My mind, of course, still considers vengeance, and I let the situation drift into history with all the might-have-beens.

Justice in the Aurora shootings will be hard to define and even harder to enact. Too much pain and suffering extends beyond the walls of that cinema. All of us who go to a movie will, for a period (we have short memories), look at the arrangement and those sitting around us differently. The lives ended and the injuries incurred cannot be redeemed through one maleficent person – regardless of the punishment we inflict upon him.

We can, for a time, relish our darkest thoughts. Eventually we return to the world in which we live. In it we understand the shortcomings of friends and coworkers and we love them for their quirkiness and we compensate for it in planning our daily work. Vengeance has its place, but let us be cautious that it does not become a defining characteristic. Let us embrace justice, even when it fails to satisfy our base needs, and let it define who we are as a people.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How Did That Get There?

I bought a new iPod for my recent road trip so I could download my entire music library to give myself the full range of music to match whatever mood I found myself in. Over the course of the trip, I made it through a variety of genres and in each one, more than once as an unfamiliar song began to play, I asked myself, “where did that come from?”


To be honest, I have not completely listened to much of the music in my library because I like free stuff. My 15.2+ days of music consists mostly of purchases I have made over the years – either digitally or on CD and transferred. Still there are a few dozen albums I raided off the free downloads on Amazon and other sources (LEGITIMATELY!).


The problem with most of the Amazon free downloads is that they are sampler albums from many smaller studios. Some of the artists they feature are quite good and may well make it into mainstream circulation at some point; however, far too many of the artists will never make it out of their garage. Most of the songs that made me scratch my head at how they came to be in my library came from these albums. One takes this risk with freebies.


Of course there are a few of the collections in the library that I listened to on repeat at one point and now wonder what I ever heard in the songs. Conversely, some of the collections have grown in favor with time. And of course there are the classic standbys that are as good today as when they came out.


I enjoy the way the standby classics transport me back to earlier events. Certain songs I hear transport me to high school while others take me back to the dorm at college. One in particular takes me to a San Antonio dance club in 1986 (I Wanna Be a Cowboy). The power of music never ceases to amaze me in the ways it can alter my mood, recall memories, and cement new experiences into memory that any other medium.


Free stuff is too alluring for me to resist, so I will continue to download the good, bad, and ugly as it becomes available. You never know when that rejected song will be the one most perfect for a special occasion.


Or which one will have me again scratching my head.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fiat's In-Car Espresso Machines To Debut In Italy

Fiat's In-Car Espresso Machines To Debut In Italy:

'via Blog this'

Rarely do I see a news story that restores my hope for human innovation as much as this one. I may  have to go for a Fiat if these ever become available in the United States.

I have made multiple 21+ hour road trips. I'm thinking packing the right ingredients for the machine and a few adult diapers and I will be set for another lengthy trip.

Monday, July 16, 2012

No Stir Fruit Cobbler

Every once in a while I get a craving for something sweet. When I want something that I can whip up quickly with any variety of variation, I make my No-Stir Fruit Cobbler. The cobbler offers a variation of a cake cobbler rather than a pie-crust type cobbler. Do not count on it being low fat or low calorie. Do count on it being delicious.


½ C butter (use REAL butter)

1 C sugar

1 C flour (I have started using ½ C white, ½ C whole wheat especially with fruits that let me use cinnamon as a spice)
1 ½ tsp baking powder

Dash salt

¾ C milk (I often use half-and-half)

3 C fruit canned or fresh (I prefer frozen, thought it adds to cooking time)

1 C sugar

Other spices as appropriate for the fruit selected


Preheat oven to 325°. Melt the butter in a Pyrex baking dish (8 X 12). While the butter is melting, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder (optional spices) and milk. Pour this mixture over the melted butter. Do NOT Stir! Spread the fruit over the batter mixture. Do NOT Stir! Sprinkle 1 cup sugar over fruit (I sometimes mix with a spice appropriate for the fruit). Bake at 325° for 50 minutes or until brown and bubbly. If using frozen fruit, it often takes an additional 20 (30-40 in a toaster oven) minutes of baking time.


The spices I use include cinnamon, apple pie spice, ground mustard, cayenne pepper, and allspice. It simply depends on what works best with the fruit I’m using. The cayenne pepper, just a dash, works GREAT with peaches and the ground mustard works really well with apples. When using apple, I sometimes sprinkle a little sharp cheddar cheese in the batter.


Some of my favorite fruits include peaches and blueberries (frozen), apple (sliced with my mandolin), and blackberries (fresh or frozen).


Over the years there the cobbler has become one of my most requested desserts, next to the Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake (just trust me, it’s wonderful).


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Almond Apricot Chicken and Rice

When it comes to cooking, I rely on recipes more for inspiration than for actual directions. Such was the case with the variation of chicken and rice. I knew I was cooking with chicken breasts, but otherwise had no idea where the meal was going until browsing through several cookbooks. I then turned to my pantry to see what was on hand and came up with this flavorful and satisfying variation of chicken and rice.

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 9 pieces)


8 oz sliced blanched almonds

8 oz dried apricot

4 C frozen mixed vegetables thawed

3 C brown and wild rice

1 T red pepper flakes

¼ C diced onion

¼ C diced green pepper

2 t minced garlic



1 stick butter

Olive oil or Grapeseed oil (to stir-fry veggies).

4 C water or chicken broth

1 C grated cheese (optional)


For marinade:

¼ C soy sauce

2 T brown mustard

1 T rice vinegar

1 T red pepper flakes

While the vegetables and chicken breasts were thawing, I diced most of the dried apricot slices, reserving a few to garnish the top of the dish. After dicing the apricot, I mixed it with the sliced almond, red pepper flakes, and rice (I put all the ingredients in a large lidded container and shook vigorously until the rice, almonds, and apricot pieces were evenly combined), and set aside.

I prepared the marinade and added the chicken breast pieces, mixing and turning them until they were all completely covered. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

In a deep baking dish or roaster place the stick of butter and put in the oven as it preheats to 350°. Use the middle rack of the oven.

While the oven is preheating, heat up a wok or large skillet.

When the butter is completely melted, remove the roaster from the oven and place the chicken breasts in the pan. Return to the oven.


While the chicken is in the oven, add the onion, pepper, and garlic to the wok or skillet and heat until the onion is translucent. Add salt, pepper (and maybe a dash of powdered cayenne). Add the other mixed vegetables and mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat.

Remove the chicken from the oven and spread about ½ the vegetables over the chicken.


Spread the rice, almond, and apricot mixture over the chicken and vegetables.


Then spread the remaining vegetables on top. I like Monterrey Jack cheese with this dish so spread 1 cup shredded cheese over all. Then garnish with the reserved apricot slices. Finally, pour 4 cups water or chicken broth into the pan.


Cover with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours.  Remove the foil and let bake 15 minutes more until the cheese and apricots brown.


The mixture of savory from the red pepper flakes and sweet from the apricot as well as the crunchiness of the almonds gave the dish an appealing flavor profile and texture. The friends who shared in the meal enjoyed it, so in some variation (I rarely cook anything the same way twice) a fruited chicken and rice will make it into my repertoire. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wash Your Hands!

I do not know why anyone needs the Internet or television when all one has to do for entertainment is read the labels on everything. The habit of label reading came about a few years ago when I started noticing odd statements certainly placed on packaging to fulfill some legal requirement.

The latest label statement though, has me stumped.

I bought yet another suitcase. This one particularly because its size fills a void I did not have in any of the other luggage. It is bigger than the carry-on that came with the set of luggage on which I mostly rely, yet it still meets carry-on size requirements. I justified my purchase by pointing out that I grossly over-pack for most trips because I want to fill up the suitcase. My other carry-on was too small to pack sufficient clothes.

Now I can pack just what I need and not carry all that extra weight.

I think of it as doing my part for the environment: the plane will need less fuel because of my smaller suitcase.

Nevertheless, I remain stymied by one of the notices on the label. 


I generally maintain good hygiene and wash my hands regularly, but I need to wash my hands every time I touch the luggage? Certainly baggage comes in contact with many different things and who knows how many dirty-handed kids played with it while it remained in Target. My paranoia rises every time I move the bag from one place to another; I feel compelled to rush to the sink and wash my hands - singing the “ABC” song to ensure that my paws are sanitary.

I think I will run over the handles with a sanitary wipe – and pack a few for each leg of my trip – to guarantee I will not be infected by the mysterious toxin that lurks on the trunk.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Signs of...

While in New Mexico I had the chance to enjoy a few of the state signs that were posted. As usual, it was the signs that had something unusual about them that captured my interest and forced me to stop and take a picture. For one we actually had to turn around in order to get the picture.

My first thought at seeing this sign convinced me that New Mexico has clumsy cows in the least and at worst suicidal/homicidal cows.


I actually think some graffiti artist had some fun with the signage, but the state transportation department does not find it disruptive enough to replace.

New Mexico also provides a home to special fish.

Particularly trout.


I wonder where the regular fish water can be found. Apparently the fishing in the stream is pretty good judging by the line of fishermen gathered in every accessible spot.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Little Hiking

On my final day in New Mexico, I finally found a park with hiking trails that allowed dogs. This park experienced a major fire last year but has been spared this year from fires raging in New Mexico and Colorado. I went early in the day in hopes of making several of the trails before the day heated up too much. I arrive to find only two trails open. All the others were long walks through the scorched earth (only to be scorched earth themselves with “hike at your own risk” signs posted at the entrances and exits). Little of the wildlife viewing that they promised was available due to the fires the year before.

I was able to do the most historical, though least pleasing as far as nature hikes go, trail up to the caved in entrances to old coal mines. The trail wandered through the streets of the old mining town with little more than foundations remaining of the buildings that housed the miners and businesses that supported the mines. They were well identified with signs and photos from the heyday of the town and mining operations. The trail had clear markings and while there was quite a rise from the trailhead at the visitors center to the mouths of the mines.

I do have to wonder why they paved most of the trail with crushed black stone. Did they want the visitor to consider the black pits of the miners? I cannot say for certain what their motivation was, but it made for a blistering hot walk even in the relative cool of the morning. It made the walk especially uncomfortable for my dog and he regularly changed sides of the trail to walk in whatever shade the scrub-oak provided.


While the trail made only minimal promise of wildlife spotting, I did manage to look quickly enough toward a commotion in the brush and glimpse a black bear fleeing to the other side of a ridge through the low brush.


No - the bear is not in the picture, but the photo is where it would have been had it stayed still

A short distance up the path we found more proof of the bear and the answer to the question: Does a bear s*!# in the woods?


No. It does it in the middle of the trail.

Despite the discomfort of the trail, it did give me a chance to enjoy a bit of wild New Mexico up close. The next time I come to New Mexico (big if on that one) I will come on my own and find a place with more outdoorsy things to do and some trails that are actually functioning. 


Friday, July 06, 2012

Aging Ungracefully

After spending the last day and a half with my parents, I reached the conclusion that I will not be one of the people who ages gracefully. Old people things fall so far from anything I have ever been interested in that I am certain I will grow to be as old and unpopular as I have been young and unpopular. By "old people things" I mean things like: driving from tourist trap to tourist trap and calling it sight-seeing. There were mountains and a few antelope and buffalo along the side of the road, but 90% of the towns were artsy/craftsy overpriced kitsch shops. eating dinner at 4:30 to get the 2-for-1 special at an already cut-rate chain restaurant (give me the check, we can eat someplace with food that is edible). sitting for intolerably long periods of time watching shows that aired when I was in the prime of life - I watch so little television now that I barely know what is on, so while it would all be "new" to me, I wouldn't know what the good shows were. sleeping for more than ten hours a night. I never knew sitting was such an exhausting endeavor. staying inside with air conditioning when outside is far more pleasant. Nice breeze, view of the surrounding mountains (well foothills to the Rocky Mountains), thunderstorms rolling over the tops of the mountains/hills in the distance but not making it to us. These days have been vacation for me and I have attempted to relax, but I have so much more fun while doing that sedentary endeavors annoy me. I have found myself clinching my jaw so much as to not say what I am thinking that I give myself a headache. (My dog is even so bored he voluntarily goes into his crate and lays down with a sigh.) I usually take vacations by myself so I can DO the things I want to and not rely on anyone else. If I had arrived here on my own and found the options of things to do so limited, I would have demanded a refund and moved on to another location. As it is, I promised my parents this time and feel obligated to honor it. It costs me nothing but time (and a little bit of sanity). I want to age ungracefully - to be more rebel in old age than as a youth. I want to continue enjoying life and the world around me actively much the way my grandmothers did into their 90's. When I start doing the "old people things" I will know it is time to move into a senior facility where I can be fed through a straw and have my diaper changed regularly. From what I can tell, there is not much difference in the quality of life.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Chip Boy

On one of my favorite radio shows a few days ago, a prominent philosopher/historian discussed the essential freedoms that built our nation. Each freedom brought with it an accompanying responsibility. I was most struck by the statement, "Freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to listen." In a world in which volume and dismissive insistence have become the norm, listening has become viewed as a sign of weakness rather than the proof of power it embodies. Every major issue we face today would benefit from a good round of listening. One of those issues much in the news and much on my mind is immigration. Given the holiday we celebrate this week and the history of the nation, the timeliness could not fall much better. Friday night I went to one of my regular hangouts - mostly because I wanted chips and queso. As is common in the food service industry, the staff has mostly changed since I first started going there regularly about ten years ago. I thought about one of my favorites, who I referred to as "chip boy" because his job was to bring the chips and salsa to the table whenever new patrons came into the restaurant, when the new "chip boy" started my evening. With the former server we ate so many chips just because we wanted him to bring more chips to the table. Over the years, I only had the chance to talk to him once beyond asking for more chips. He was in the same bar as I was one night and we had the chance to sit and visit a while. I actually learned his name (but in the ensuing years have forgotten it again). The conversation we had, though, stuck with me because it was so different than what I expected. Given his job as the "chip boy," I did not know what to really expect from him. I did not know his level of education or his career aspirations. I did know I liked him to bring me chips. As we visited, he began to share his dreams of returning to Mexico with all he had learned by working in a restaurant in the United States so that he could open his own, successful restaurant. That revelation stunned me. As much as I have enjoyed the trips I have taken to Mexico, the idea of someone wanting to go back (and open a restaurant) floored me. The message so often delivered in the media and by immigration opponents is that the immigrants only want to invade the country and raid the wealth. Yet the only wealth this young man wanted was a wealth of knowledge so he could be a better businessman when he returned home. I have always claimed to seek justice for immigrants which I took to mean a rational immigration policy that allowed those who could and had the will to come take the jobs available for them. In my mind, that translated to permanence. That was my thinking and in its own way proved as inaccurate as the fear mongering promoted by those who oppose immigration. Chip boy and many subsequent conversations have proven me wrong. The United States is not the eternal refuge our own vanity holds it to be, but merely a stopping point on the journey for many. Continuing the conversation toward a meaningful and workable policy means including those who have come here using legal means, those who have come here in violation of the law, and those who would yet come here - and not just those from south of the United States, but from around the world (undocumented persons speak hundreds of languages, not just Spanish - some of them are even white). We do our nation immeasurable harm when we rely only on our own knowledge which is, as I found out personally, often based on our own assumptions rather than reality. No matter what the political affiliation, we all know we have to do something about immigration; automatically demonizing anything the other side suggests as an idea will never solve the problem. Neither does leaving the voices of those most affected out of the solution. If history has taught us anything, it should be those lessons. As we celebrate Independence Day this year, let us reflect on those things that have worked to build the nation, none of which are found it the partisan battles fought over fringe ideology (of which BOTH sides are equally guilty). The freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to listen. Immigration is only one policy, brought to the forefront of my mind as I remembered Chip Boy, but one that could definitely benefit from our exercise of the responsibilities built into the freedoms we celebrate.