30 January 2005

Cheap Stuff

Everything you might want -- from toilet brushes to tube socks, salsa to stained glass -- all for 99 cents. All under the nonstop glow of miles of fluorescent lights. Shopping has never been so random.

They Deserve Our Respect

I am surprised at how relieved I am to hear the news out of Iraq today. This is tremendous courage on display. Maybe there are finally some signs of hope in the whole mess. They definitely deserve a break. [photo from cnn.com]

28 January 2005

This Is Really Good News

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday night he believes the Palestinians have created conditions for a "historic breakthrough" in relations between the bitter rivals.

Pray that this continues.

27 January 2005

In The Spaces

I am on my back in this strange hour
On the roof with time to spend
Looking for the moon in darkness
Finding silence without end

Astonished by the night
I have found a place to rest
I am hoping for a place of rest

But across the way there is a light
In the neighbor's window I can see
And overhead the clouds are rushing past
Like waves along the beach

And you are climbing up to join me
We are climbing up so high
We have climbed and climbed so high

Was that a satellite that went so fast
Swinging north past the Pleides?
I wonder can it see us?
And see this oak that sways under the breeze

I hope it can
Because I can feel you warm against my side
I certainly can feel you warm against my side

But from here we see only the fragments
Arms and legs and bits of wing
Between this cloud and that
The heroes dance and sing

And we find light in the spaces
We are waiting here for now
We are watching out for angels

Let's climb down to where it's warm
Pour the wine and eat the bread
Sit for a moment in the light
Then lock the door it's time for bed

Long Time Gone

Been a little busy with life. Sorry about the absence, although I'm sure you've managed just fine. Anyway...don't worry. Zippy The Fish is not defunct. We're just a little slower right now.

21 January 2005

Crazy

I am going to bite my tongue on this one and only say one thing:

Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think that SpongeBob SquarePants is the problem with the world today.

19 January 2005

Tony Campolo, Troubled Evangelical

Tony Campolo on NPR's Day To Day, "It's one thing to spell out the moral implications in political issues, but it's something else to lend religious legitimacy to one particular political party."

18 January 2005

Bagdad, California II


Here's the lone recognizable structure in Bagdad, California. It's a natural structure, a desert tree, which is somehow comforting, since a hundred years of railroad town has disappeared without a trace while, on the other hand, nature has gone on its way, fiddling around, representing itself pretty well without even breaking a sweat.

One of the thoughts that can always make my head spin is the realization that the sun is really just a big star hanging there, right there in the sky. Of course, it happens to be a pretty close star to us here on this planet, but it obviously looks a great deal different from the stars that we see at night. If this doesn't blow your mind a little and if you're thinking this is a lame excuse for a blog entry, just go back to work and pretend all this never happened. But, if it does, take a moment to be thankful for the immaculate balance of this place we live in and, if you're feeling ambitious, be thankful for life.

Anyway, those are the things I was thinking about when I took this picture.

Space


Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear—we could not speak low enough to be heard... -- Thoreau, Walden

We were having some trouble hearing each other so we spent the MLK holiday visiting places where there's a little more room and much more stillness. We both think it helped. I'll tell you this: my woman, she's a good woman.

Speaking of stillness, we stopped by the not-so-bustling town of Bagdad, California. Around 1900, it was "a bustling small railroad town complete with a company commissary, depot with telegraph office, dining hall, hotels, library, post office, restaurant (Harvey House), saloons, school and stores."

By the 40s, all that remained were "a few homes, guest cabins, gas station and Alice Lawrence's very popular Bagdad Café...[which] was the only spot in the region to have a jukebox and dance floor, and was a popular stopping place." (quotes from Ghost Town USA)

We were there yesterday. All we found was one windblown tree and some bits and pieces of metal and melted glass.

14 January 2005

Tiny Kernels Of Good

Evil grows and bears fruit, which is understandable, because it has logic and probability on its side and also, of course, strength. The resistance of tiny kernels of good, to which no one grants the power of causing far-reaching consequences, is entirely mysterious, however. Such seeming nothingness not only lasts but contains within itself enormous energy which is revealed gradually.

-- Lithuanian poet Czeslaw Milosz, quoted in First Things

13 January 2005

A Practical Piece Of Information

You may want to write this down for a time when you need it...

The best canned chicken noodle cold remedy soup out there is Campbell's Select Roasted Chicken with Rotini & Penne Pasta, Recipe #17.

Of course, I'm open to other suggestions, but this one does the trick for me every time.

[This rather irrelevant bit of information brought to you courtesy my very short night of sleep last night. So long, farewell, the sun has gone to bed and so must this cold of mine.]

11 January 2005

Planting Apple Trees

I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania celebrating my grandmother Edna's 80th birthday. She had difficult year and it would have been worth celebrating its end even if it hadn't been the beginning of her 9th decade of life. Most of the family were there and it was a good time. I was glad to be a part of it.

We were also celebrating the fact that her husband Kermit, my grandfather, is still with us. He spent a couple weeks in early December in the hospital trying to stay alive. Complications following a relatively simple surgery almost took him down. At the time, no one knew if he would make it to see the new year.

But he did and we're all glad.

On Friday afternoon I sat with him and my grandmother eating chocolate-covered pretzels and talking about the experience. The doctor had told them afterward that my grandfather was "knocking at death's door" during those days. Kermit laughed as he remembered his crazy, drug-induced dreams. At one point, he was positive that he and Edna had given birth to a new baby. Somewhere along the way, in his dreams, he bought a herd of cattle that now needed a barn and a fence. One day he confided in Edna that they were going to have to make a break for it, that the doctors didn't know what they were doing, that they might have to sleep in the car that night.

Now here's the thing: active imaginations run in the family. You don't need to administer drugs to discover that. I've got my share of the inheritance, which is mostly good, but sometimes it can be a burden. Also, I tend to be a bit of a worrier, which is almost always a burden. Occasionally, out of the blue, I'll find myself running down a mental list of potential tragedies, that HAVE happened before, things that COULD VERY WELL HAPPEN right now right here. It's a form of diseased entertainment, I guess, for an overactive mind, but it rarely leads to anything good. This is probably why on some mornings I make plans to run away to a monastery and never come back.

The problem is that this imagining leads to questions, which are mostly of the type which can't be answered very solidly, at least not in the flesh-and-blood, bricks-and-mortar sense. This brings about a vague sensation of unease, which leads to more questions, and more unease, which all begin to spiral slowly downward in great sweeping circles.

So, as a result, I can get squirmy when I get around to thinking about death. I believe in God and, more than that, I believe in Christ. I even mostly-believe most of the fluff about angels and streets of gold. But things still get weird for me sometimes; the sheer edge of life dropping off into the unknown still rattles me a little when I take it seriously.

So, when my grandfather finished his stories about his brush with death, there was a pause while I sat quietly, not knowing what to say, inescapably aware of his fragility and of the shortness of the days.

And then, with a sparkle in his eye, he said that he had planted an apple tree in the front yard, as if it were nothing, as if it were the most natural thing for an old man at the end of his career to do. "I'll need to trim the top," he said, "so that I can still reach the apples." I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and slowly asked the obvious question, edging myself inch by inch closer to that dropoff: "How long until it will bear fruit?"

And then he turned to me with that radiant grin of his and a secretive wink that let me in on the big joke, which I think is one of God's favorite things. "Oh, maybe in about six years or so," he said. Which, for someone whose life was just a few weeks ago being measured in terms of minutes and hours, is a beautiful and outrageous thing to say. Which is just one of the reasons why I'm really glad he's still around.

08 January 2005

Souderton

07 January 2005

Doylestown Train Window

Philadelphia

06 January 2005

Proof That McDonald's Is The Antichrist

"One of the driving forces [of the fast food industry's research] has been a desire to not exactly make better foods, but to approximate them by...chemical enhancement." -- Harold McGee, interviewed on Fresh Air

All this and more on Terry Gross last night.

05 January 2005

Golden Opportunity

Another reason why the U.S. government should be jumping at the chance to provide aid for the tsunami:

"This is a golden opportunity for the United States," says Gunaratna. The refrain that the United States and the West are losing the war of ideas, especially in the Muslim world, was the main topic at a recent conference about al Qaeda

But counter that with images of U.S. helicopters bringing aid to places like Aceh, delivering something that insurgents can't, and Gunaratna thinks that devastation can unwittingly bring some good...that it might overwhelm the message from bin Laden, at least in Indonesia, which is after all the most populous Islamic country in the world.

Could it possibly be that compassion and mercy may be a more efficient means to national security than laser guided missiles and tanks? Who knew?

----------------------

slacktivist has some good comments too [thanks to whitenoisejunky for the link]:

America's response to tragedies like this -- particularly when they center on Muslim nations like Indonesia -- is therefore politically important. It provides an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of our ideals and our good will, and to refute the terrorists' message that America is simply a self-interested, imperialist, evil nation.

04 January 2005

What We've Got To Look Forward To

Silly blue state fun from the New Yorker. Note: If you're a Bush supporter, it's still okay to smile a little at these.

EXPECTED 2005 LEGISLATION FROM THE PRESIDENT: The Highlights

The Healing a Divided America Act: Shocked and saddened by the divisive nature of the recent Presidential campaign, President Bush will attempt to reach out to and pacify the two warring cultures in our country. Accordingly, a twenty-foot-high concrete security wall, topped by electrified razor wire, will be constructed as a barrier between blue states and red. Democrats and Republicans will have thirty days to relocate to blue states and red states, respectively, or else they will be placed in attractive government relocation camps for their own safety and comfort.

The Affordable Health Care for Everyone Act:
All persons, regardless of age, sex, race, or income, will, for a nominal fee, be issued a Band-Aid, two aspirins, a Tums, a wallet-size card illustrating the Heimlich Maneuver, a recipe for chicken soup, and a leech.

The Gay Rights Act: All persons of the same sex, including family members, will have the right to hug, provided that there be at least two inches of air between their bodies during said hug and provided that both parties continue slapping each other’s back for the duration of the hug.

The Enhanced Homeland Security Act:
Madame Cleo will be appointed head of airport security; she will train a cadre of psychics to scan the minds of boarding passengers, looking for terrorists. Illegal immigrants along the Mexican border will be subjected to random trick questions, such as whether they like hummus. Heads of households will be issued rocket-propelled grenades.

The Separation of Church and State Act: There will be no separation of church and state.

The Endangered Species Preservation Act:
All endangered species will immediately be preserved by a national corps of expert taxidermists.

03 January 2005

An Adventure

Despite loving the outdoors, I've never learned to ski. I've played at cross-country skiing before, but as every real skier I've ever met has been sure to inform me, cross-country skiing is Not Real Skiing. So this past weekend, due mostly to the vision and determination of my fair wife, we ventured up to the mountains. This is the story of how I didn't learn to ski.

A note: I don't like being a "beginner" at anything. When I am learning something, I prefer to hide away out of sight until I have gained some level of proficiency. If you've ever skied in Southern California, you'll know that there is no such thing as a private skiing environment for really bad beginners.

So we drove up the mountain and I put on my skis and stumbled around like Frankenstein on wheels with an audience of thousands, maybe millions. And they were all looking at me. It was great.

But that's not the real adventure. The real adventure lies in the fact that as we were arriving at the mountain, a big cranky winter storm was also arriving. We got our lift tickets, I signed up for the beginner class, and we started the ride up to the top, which seemed a bit out of order to me. Shouldn't we practice a little first before we leap off the lift at 8000 feet?

Anyway, I scrabbled my way onto the lift and watched as the ground gradually receded from view. This was NOT because we were climbing so high, but rather because the storm was getting heavier and heavier. Soon we began to imagine ourselves floating in a sea of endless gray. Out of the fog ahead a lift rider passed us on his way down, wrapped tightly in his parka. He lifted his head for a moment to croak, "Turn back now."

By the time we finally reached the top, we were in a virtual whiteout. The lift operators warned that it had started snowing at the bottom of the mountain and if we didn't have snow chains, we'd better head down now. Although I was just beginning to feel emboldened, we began to realize that this might not be the day to learn to ski. So we got a hot chocolate from the lodge and got in line for the lift back down.

So that's the story of how I went to the top of the mountain and didn't learn to ski. The picture is of us on the way down trying to keep from falling prey to hypothermia and frostbite. I'm thinking next time we'll check the weather before we go.

Shopping In The New Year

Not meaning to go all Mother Jones on you, but this is pretty rotten. And you want to know what's pretty rotten about it? Here's what's rotten: I spent a decent amount of time and a few dollars at WalMart and Target over the holidays.

That means, for example, that I'm going to have to go home and take a look at the tags on those comfy (if rather shapeless) $7 sweatpants I bought on Saturday and I will probably have to absorb the fact that the couple bucks I saved were paid for with the stolen minutes and hours of human lives.

And this is going to be uncomfortable. And I will probably try to forget it as quickly as possible, mumbling something vaguely comforting to myself ("5 cents an hour is REALLY GOOD MONEY in that country.") I'll try to think of other things I needed that money for, like an alternator for the car and rent and some new DVDs to watch on my new DVD player. And I'll probably succeed in distracting myself, because I am distractable and because responsibility is often uncomfortable.

So that's why I'm writing this: to remind myself. It's a new year, after all, and what are you gonna do about it, that's what I'd like to know.

Happy New Soul!

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. --G.K. Chesterton

And I guess the question of the day is, like Paul Simon says, "what are you gonna do about it, that’s what I’d like to know."