Archive for March 2008

American Idol

In this post, I included a chat with a friend of mine about the cultural meaning of American Idol.  In short, I said that AI is about a culture of humiliation and rejection.  People who think American Idol is about finding a talented singer don’t understand the show in the context of our culture. The most talented singer is the enticement to keep you feeling good about yourself.  But ultimately, the core of the show is about rejection and humiliation.

I have watched The Soup for a number of years and have enjoyed Joel McHale’s evisceration of the hapless, talentless hacks who have comprised the bulk of American Idol.  Tanya and I have avoided Idol because of what we saw on The Soup.  But we decided to watch it.  Tonight, we watched the episode we TiVo’ed this week. 

Wow.  Pretty lame talent for the most part.

Until David Archuleta took the stage.  This kid has stage presence and he’s a performer, as opposed to just being a singer. 

And then David Cook sang.  Seriously: holy fuck! This dude took an amazing arrangement (originally done by Chris Cornell) and nailed it to the wall.  My skin was crawling just from the arrangement alone but Cook’s singing, emotion and stage presence astounded me.

 

And this video is one of my favorites on YouTube.  It’s an amazing story. 

My Dork Quote of the Day

While shopping for a shower present for our friends Rob and Sarah, one
of the BB&B employees asked if I am the best man.

"I'm pretty good," I replied, "but I'm not the best man."

I crack me up.

Yet Another View

Another View

Tanya and her manager spent the day in this room to prep for their
conference next week. We get to spend the night here. Yay!

Room at Los Gatos Hotel

Genius Founding Father Humor

Available as a t-shirt at Torso Pants.

Oddly enough, while I would be perfectly okay with wearing my WTFWJD? t-shirt in public and even church, I would not necessarily wear this shirt in public.

I have an odd sense of propriety.

Taking Nice A Little Too Far

This morning I rode my bike over to Starbucks/Noah’s for breakfast.  I just wore my jacket and helmet and the rest was casual dress — no need for full gear. 

There is a group of riders who get together every morning for coffee and I’ve noticed that one of them just puts his helmet on top of his handlebars while he has coffee. I don’t do that because a). I don’t want to risk some sclhub bumping my bike accidentally and my $500 helmet hitting the tarmac and b). I don’t want to risk someone stealing it.

So, I take it inside with me.

I got my Starbucks, went over to Noah’s, got a bagel, put my helmet on one chair and sat down in the other one.  As I’m eating my second bagel, this woman comes in and starts taking chairs from the other tables and putting them at her table.  All together, she snorfed up six chairs for her kids and a friend.

She came over and pointed at the chair that had my helmet on it and asked if she could use the chair.  I did a quick assessment of the situation and told her no but that I would be leaving in a few minutes and she could use it then. I was kind of surprised at myself when I said No but I stuck with it.

This was my thought process: I was using the chair for a purpose, which was to protect my helmet from being bumped on to the floor by me or someone else.  She had already taken five chairs by that time. And her request to use my chair was implicitly saying that she thought her intended use was more important than what I was using it for.

She was a nice, polite Asian lady but I realized she was counting on me to be nice and acquiesce to her request.  I didn’t play ball and here’s why:

  • She was being quite selfish by scooping up most of the chairs in Noah’s. By the time she was done the only chairs left was the one my ass was on, the one my helmet was on, and the one another customer was sitting on.
  • I was annoyed that she thought her use for the chair was more important than mine

So, I said No.

I have to admit it felt great!  I didn’t make any excuses. I just said, No but you can use it when I leave.  I was polite but firm.  It was kind of funny because she just stood there for a second or two, like she couldn’t process the fact that she had been denied.  I think it caused a ripple in her world because it wasn’t nice of me to say No.  Her hesitance suggested she actually expected me to say Yes and when I didn’t, she was at a loss for how to respond.  After a few more seconds, she went over to the other customer and asked for her chair.

I finished reading the Mercury News, cleaned up my table and left.  For some reason, I’m in a good mood.

Measuring Innocent Imprisonments

In This article at NYTimes.com, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that the current rate at which the American justice system convicts and imprisons innocent people is an acceptable .027%.  Scalia based his calculation on the work of an Oregon prosecutor who took the number of exonerations in murder and rape cases and extrapolated from those two crimes.  The article goes on to say that extrapolating from only two data classes is fallacious because there are many other crimes for which one can be unjustly convicted and imprisoned.

This is true. But I’m guessing the reason why the rate of false imprisonment is derived from murder and rape cases is because DNA usually plays critical roles in exonerations.  You have read many stories of convicts who have been released from prison because of new DNA technology that has been applied to the case and which incontrovertibly proves the man’s innocence.

Prosecutions of burglaries, money laundering, assaults, drug dealing and prostitution tends to be dependent on physical evidence and witness testimony.  Witnesses and physical evidence, while certainly not without flaws, are not rendered moot by technological advances because their veracity isn’t dependent on technology’s ability to make witnesses and physical evidence somehow better.

Perhaps Scalia would have been better off saying that the rate of conviction of innocent people for serious felonies like murder and rape is an acceptable .027%.  But even if Justice Scalia had narrowed his assessment with that qualification, his assessment of the rate of innocent imprisonments is further flawed because he is basing the assessment on exonerations that have surfaced specifically because of at least two factors:

  • advances in DNA technology
  • the democratization of the world, national and local press

It’s not enough for there to be advances in DNA technology.  What is required is someone to drive the case of a particular individual who has ostensibly been imprisoned unjustly.  I can think of several movies that are predicated on the problem of the imprisoned innocent and the need to exonerate him or her.  Invariably, the plot is dependent on some motivated, vocal person to drive the issue with the powers that be.

The powers that be are often disinterested in considering claims of innocence, mostly because such claims are almost always wrong and also because the demands placed on investigators, prosecutors and the judicial system are severe.  There is substantial disincentive to make double extra triple dog dare sure that the person was really guilty.

So, it is because of the internet that we are seeing more exonerations of innocent people.  There is more freely available information AND it is easier for motivated individuals to inform larger numbers of people about an unjust conviction.  Engaging the citizens in a demand for a second look with new information is critical to the process of exoneration.

Scalia’s assumptions are that .027% is an acceptable rate of innocent convictions because of contemporary exonerations is spurious because the rate is dependent on the emergence of technology that wasn’t present 10 years ago.  What of the innocent people who have been imprisoned prior to 1990, the approximate beginning of the advance of the internet?  Prior to 1990, there was less effective DNA technology and media was dominated by corporations.  As a result, there were fewer exonerations.  Had Scalia applied his same reasoning to exonerations known in 1990, the rate would have been substantially lower. And it would have been false.

I have long questioned the claimed statistics that say a rape happens ever x minutes.  The value for x varies over time and by the source.  There is a simple reason for this: most rapes go unreported.  Consequently, it is impossible to accurately derive a true rate of rapes in America.  However, it is interesting that, according to this Washington Post article, the rate of reported rapes has dropped from 2.8 rapes per 1,000 people to 0.4 per thousand people.

My point here though is that it is impossible to get an accurate view of the rate of rapes in America as long as many of them are not reported.  Anyone who asserts a "1 rape every 6 minutes" rate is doing so for propaganda purposes because such a rate is mathematically unknowable.  It is simply based on an emotional assumption.

And this makes sense because 84.6% of all statistics are made up.

Like that one I just made up.

I used to lead bible studies at two maximum security prisons in Michigan.  What amazed me was the number of innocent people in prison.  A ridiculously small number of men had the integrity to admit that they had done the crime.  All the other "innocent" prisoners had bogus claims of being framed or that they didn’t do that particular crime.

And that’s the rub: there are men who may not have committed the crime that landed them in prison but they certainly committed others.  People do not suddenly wake up and become violent murderers or rapists.  In his book, Masters of Death, argues that violent behavior is cultivated over the course of time.  Specifically applied to the SS and German culture, Rhodes argued that the violentization of an individual is a set of experiences of violent trauma where the individual then reaches a point where he decides to respond with increasing levels of violence and, in the case of the SS, a sociopathic dissociation from the effects of their violence on other people.

The notion of "priors" is always relevant in a prosecution because priors point to a history of a person’s willingness to escalate the severity of their crimes.  The many smaller acts of violence that lead up to murder are still crimes.  Yet, in many cases, particularly with assaults and domestic violence, the perpetrator is not arrested and convicted.  By the time someone is convicted of first degree murder, you can usually trace back to a history of escalated violence.

So my point is that in cases involving murder and rape, it is possible that a prisoner didn’t commit the particular crime he is imprisoned for.  But he certainly committed others and there is a very good chance he got away with them.  Guys in prison probably do get framed but the reason the framing sticks is because of their past, because of their lifestyles and because of the people they associate with.

It is important for us to observe how fantastic it is that DNA evidence and the democratization of media have enabled another check on the process of prosecuting those accused of crimes.  It is to the advantage of our society that we can be more confident of our convictions of criminals and that surely, we imprison fewer people unjustly today than we did 50 years ago.  Scalia reinforced his statement that the reality of unjust imprisonments is "a truism not a revelation" by saying that we have the ability to be more certain about capital convictions and to recover more quickly from wrongful imprisonments.  But he was errant to say that our wrongful imprisonment rate of .027% is an accurate measurement of that reality. 

We cannot truly know the rate of false imprisonments just as we cannot know the true rate of rapes.  However, we can say qualitat
ively that the American judicial system is, for all its faults, still effective at assessing guilt and protecting society from criminals.  There is no other criminal justice system in the world that I would rather be subject to than the one we have in America.  I don’t have plans to test it with my own life, but if that were to happen for some reason, I would prefer to be tried in a US court.

Laptop Testicles

OK so look, I’m just gonna say it: someone needs to come up with a solution to the warm testicles problem that results from the use of laptops.  (I suppose there is a possibility that there is a warm clitoris problem for women, but I can’t speak to that directly, so I will only deal with the male version of the problem here).

Lest you think I am just being crude, please refer to this c|net article that describes the risks associated with unprotected laptop use:

"An elevation in heat has been known for years to cause fertility problems…and the heat from laptops is very localized, with exposure repeated often, depending on work use," said Dr. Yefim Sheynkin, who led the research team behind the study.

That’s great and all, but what this article neglects is the weightier issue:

When is someone going to solve the sweaty testicles problem?

This Is Why It’s Hard to Get A Good Spot

I was at Valley Fair Wednesday to take my Macbook Pro in to have a
Genius assess the optical drive.

I had a 9:00 AM appointment. And yet the best spots in the parking
structure were taken. Few customers were in the mall but the employees
were filing in.

I Fought The Wall

And the wall won.

Apple Mac BSOD

Well at least the Mac is more colorful when it BSODs

Overwhelmed Steve

Happy Steve

The Cirque Tent

Front Row at Cirque

Craig Ferguson

There were many benefits that came from going on our anniversary cruise but the one that I get to experience five times a week is watching Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show.  Royal Caribbean had a special CBS channel that frequently showed Craig’s interviews and I was amazed at his comedic timing and his ability to riff on the fly.

Leno, Lettermen and Conan are simply no longer funny.  Leno and Lettermen are dependent on their writers and seem to come across with a sense of comedy entitlement: my jokes suck but laugh at me anyway because I’m Letterman, bitches.

Here’s what I like about Craig:

He invites you in. Most times during his opening monologue, he steps up to one of the cameras, taps it a couple times and then waves the camera in toward himself.  “Come on in.”

He has self-deprecating humor. I dig this because it means he doesn’t take himself seriously.

He’s a great facial actor. Much of his comedy is conveyed through his facial expressions, particularly his eyes.  He communicates a lot of his self-deprecation through his facial expressions as he rolls his eyes at himself, he flirts with the audience and generally makes hilarious sardonic expressions that add to the mirth of his humor.

He conducts excellent, unscripted interviews.  This is where I think he shines brighter than his counterparts.  Craig has this uncanny ability to be actively interested in his guests, to tease them a bit and to come up with dynamically-placed questions throughout the interview.  I’m sure he has an idea of what he wants to ask before they come on stage but it’s obvious that he’s having a fairly normal conversation with them.  It’s part of his warm, welcoming demeanor.

He is real.  Craig did this monologue and it completely endeared him to me.  I love his honesty, his ability to laugh at himself and his willingness to admit to going over the top with his act.  Check out this video of Craig talking about his alcoholism:

 

Here are a few other videos of his comedy that I particularly like:

Irony or Just A Bad Ad Buy?

irony or bad ad buy

[click to expand]

Almost done with portal

What an amazing game

Why Do You Call Me Lord, Lord?

 

In this meaningless life, I have seen everything,
including the fact that some good people die young
and some wicked people live on and on.

So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself?

On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either – don’t be a fool!
Why should you die before your time?

- Ecclesiastes

 

I hate self-righteousness and I sometimes find myself hating those who are self-righteous.

I hate self-righteousness because I am self-righteous.  I rant and rave against ideas and actions that I think are wrong.  I elevate my own ideas and actions to contrast against what I see as wrong.  I see weaknesses in the way people practice their lives and I jump on it. 

I forget that we are all like clay.

Self-righteousness is a dangerous thing because if you believe your own press, you begin to think that what you say can cover over what you do.  It’s an overcompensation.  And as a self-righteous person overcompensates, they grow increasingly blind to the disconnect between what they say and what they do.  I know this because I do it myself.  You’re reading my most favorite way to parade my self-righteousness.  It’s part of who I am. Welcome to me.

I grieve for Eliot Spitzer today.  His whole life is crashing and tumbling apart.  His zealous self-righteousness has laid him low before not only a nation but the world.  Eliot Spitzer has unwittingly provided supporting evidence for a belief I have held for many years:

When you see someone crusading against something and they do it zealously and publicly, you can be sure their crusade
is an outward expression of their own battles with themselves,
most often in the very area they crusade against
.

Mr. Spitzer launched himself into the governorship of New York in large part by his zealous attacks against corruption, particularly on Wall Street.  He is a pugilist, a man who brings fists and anger into the attacks he mounts against his enemies.  He has a long record of delighting in bringing men and companies down low, usually in the name of self-righteous virtue.

In learning about Eliot Spitzer, I find one question keeps surfacing in my mind: How much of Spitzer’s attacks against corruption were really attempts to suss out the corruption he saw in his own dark heart?  What motivates a man to be so destructively self-righteous?  For sure, pride could be seen as the motivation most obvious to many.  But perhaps below the surface of pride there is a branch from which another motive drives the man, where he quietly and probably infrequently says to himself: I hate my own corruption.

In this article on Ted Haggard, I made this same observation and brought its relevance to the nature of the church.  I said that we fool ourselves into thinking that we, as people who aspire to connect with God, are very much like the world we claim to be separate from.

We are all wild, carnivorous beasts, prowling about,
searching for the meaty flesh of a weak soul on which we can feast.
And with blood covering our lips,
we talk about morality, righteousness, what God desires
and what it means to be a true believer.

Yet I find myself with another question today: How do we, as spiritual people, integrate our own failings and the failings of others with the notion that there are actions that are wrong and actions that are right?  And how do we best respond when someone’s wrong actions have been exposed? 

What does the balance between proper judgment and compassion for human weakness look like?

Part of my confusion comes from the disparity between the responses of Jesus and Paul.  To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Yet to the man in Corinth who was having sex with his father’s wife, Paul responds with mighty judgment and proclaims that he has handed the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.

For many years, when I read the new testament, I see a huge disconnect between the attitudes of Jesus and Paul.  Given a choice to be caught in my own hypocrisy and self-righteousness by either Jesus or Paul, I would not hesitate to choose Jesus. Paul scares me.

I have no answers to this question, though.  The older I get, the less willing I am to loudly condemn the failings of another person.  It’s easy for me to take this quote from Governor Spitzer’s web site, point to it and say, “Grab your nads, hoss, cuz you brought this on yourself:

In his inaugural address, Governor Spitzer said: “Every policy, every action and every decision we make in this administration will further two overarching objectives: We must transform our government so that it is as ethical and wise as all of New York, and we must rebuild our economy so that it is ready to compete on the global stage in the next century”. 

Precisely because it is so easy, many people will point to Spitzer’s self-righteousness and delight in his demise as a just and proper vindication for his victims.  Today’s Wall Street Journal had several quotes from those who were attacked by Spitzer where the sentiment was, I’m glad it happened. He deserves it because he’s a complete asswipe.

I kind of feel the same way toward him.  Mostly, because I hate his hypocrisy.  What’s easy for me to feel is the judgment and harshness of Paul.  What’s not easy for me is to have the compassion, forgiveness and insight into the human condition that Jesus has.  Judgment and condemnation is easy for me. The way of Jesus is not.

For the last week or two, I’ve been thinking of a question Jesus asks in Luke 6: Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?  He asks this question in the context of a teaching on the relationship between the fruit of a person’s life being a function of the kind of person they are.  I’ve always interpreted this question as a rhetorical one with an implied sense of frustration and exasperation.

But lately, I’ve been thinking of it as a diagnostic question, much like when he queried Herod: “What is truth?”  Clearly, Jesus was not soliciting Herod’s take on the nature of truth.  It was a question intended to drive Herod to ask the question of himself.  In asking the question, Jesus was inviting Herod to diagnose himself.  Similarly, the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” is perhaps intended to to get you and me to diagnose ourselves.

Why do I, as a man who desires to know God and live well, constantly make decisions about how I live based on my own desires, my own darkness and my own insistence to find life on my own, without any guidance from God?  Jesus is asking the philosophical Why Are You Like This? not to condemn us but to bring us to a place where we see ourselves more clearly. He already sees us for who we are, so the question isn’t intended to backfill a lack of knowledge on Jesus’ part.  It is intended to get you and me to ask the question of ourselves.

So, this morning, I have some compassion for Mr. Spitzer because he’s just a man.  He’s made of clay, just like I am, and he has had the misfortune of being exposed.  One of my deepest life fears is to have all my weaknesses and failures known to the world.  If anyone should ever spend a few days listening to the inner dialog of my soul and mind, I would be friendless and destitute. 

Yet, on the other hand, Spitzer is a tool whose self-righteousness and behaviors have brought his own ruin upon him.  In a profoundl
y real sense, he deserves what he is getting.

And it is in this tension that I find myself sitting. In sitting in this tension between compassion and satisfaction at his exposure, I keep asking myself,

How do I as a man hold judgment in my left hand
and forgiveness in my right?