Friday, April 22, 2005

U2's April 21, 2005 Denver Show

Incomparable.

That is the only word that fits. U2, after over twenty years solidly planted in the landscape of rock music, and for many of those years overlooking the landscape from a well-earned highest perch, still gives up the Big Show to its audience. I saw them first in 1992. In 2005, it’s still straight from their hearts to ours.

A few highlights worth mentioning from the 2nd Denver show at the Pepsi Center last night:

- Bono sounds great. He may not be able to fill the space created by his falsetto quite as fully these days, but he’s still powerful, emotive, and in tune. And he removed his glasses a number of times. Even though I knew he planned it, there was real candor in the gesture.

-Larry sang on a number of songs. As usual, his cadence was simply powerful and his technique simply perfect. What an incredible miking job on his set, too.

-Adam moved around more than usual, taking advantage of the elliptical outer stage.

-Edge was in top form, harmonics, watch cap, and all. I found it satisfying that both he and I were wearing black Chuck Taylors.

-"City of Blinding Lights" opened the show. A solid opener, the best song on the Vertigo album, I think. "Oh! you! look! so . . . beautiful tonight," sung large, with the lights pulsing, was cathartic. Then more rockers to get–and keep–people out of their seats: Elevation, Beautiful Day, Vertigo. My brother and I never sat down.

-"Bullet the Blue Sky" was longer than usual and took on a dark, Bluesy overtone that worked well. Edge improved on the solo in a fresh way.

-"Gloria," not heard live by most fans for many years, was incredible.

-During "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono dedicated the song as follows: "This is no longer about the orange, white, and green. Now it’s about the red, white, and blue."

-They played "Bad," which has been a rarity so far on the tour, and seemed to make the entire stadium levitate.

-"Running to Stand Still" was welcome, silent, wonderful.

-During "One," dedicated to Africa (what Bono called "a continent in flames"), the audience held their cell phones open with outstretched arms. Bono killed the lights, and it was like looking at stars from a mountain top, so many blue and white dancing points of light. The point–if suggested by anyone but Bono it would have been melodramatic–was that the Western world should work as one to save Africa now, before historians looking back write that we missed our chance. Effective. Look how bright we are as one.

-Bono on two occasions thanked Denver for being with the band through thick and thin, "even when we were at our most pretentious, our most artsy," he said. And he harkened back to the Red Rocks show captured on Live Under a Blood Red Sky.

-Ending with "40" was a great move. Each member of the band left one-by-one as the crowd chanted the chorus. Bono first, with a few nods and waves. Then Adam put his bass down, waved, and descended into bowels of the stage. When Edge left only Larry remained, gradually tapering off until he only played just the bass drum: Dum . . . da-dum-dum. Dum . . . da-dum-dum. Then he stopped and the crowd was a capella for about 30 seconds. Then Larry came back in full force for another minute. Being a drummer, singing along with just Larry playing was transcendental for me. Then he stopped, his techie took his earpieces, and he jumped off his throne and trotted down the ladder. The audience continued: "How long . . ." until the lights came on.

-Bono’s the only rock superstar who can say, "God is great!" at a sold-out stadium show and receive standing, roaring applause. Regardless of your views on God, that’s an incredible thing.

-Great show. Buy tickets from the scalpers right before it starts and save yourself 62 bucks off the face value like my brother and I did.

"40"

I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit.
Out of the miry clay.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song?

You set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Realclimate.org

Science, the science community's preeminent peer-reviewed journal, endorsed this global warming facts site. I repeat their endorsement here because geoscientists of all political stripes agree that global warming is both real and directly related to human activity, and I'm tired of "debunkers" promulgating false "facts":

Frustrated by Web sites claiming to debunk global warming, several scientists this month [Ed.: Dec. 2004] launched their own blog on the evidence that humans are heating up the planet. Realclimate.org is hosted by a public relations firm called Environmental Media Services, but nine academic and government scientists write the content, says co-organizer Gavin Schmidt of NASA (speaking in a personal capacity). They hope to counter industry-supported sites such as http://www.co2science.org/ and http://www.junkscience.com/, where so-called experts "have a habit of seriously misquoting, distorting, and outright manipulating data," says Schmidt.

So far, the site has addressed topics such as why the heat generated by large cities makes only a minuscule contribution to surface warming and the flaws in Michael Crichton's latest novel, State of Fear, which dismisses global warming as hype. Visitors can chime in, but comments are screened before they're posted.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

You Know You're Profiting from Oil Exports When . . .

It's not often I come across a story like this one.

Evidently, Qatar has become concerned about pressure from human-rights groups to stop using underfed slave boys as young as four as camel jockeys in its national camel races.

So--being as wealthy as it is--it is funding the development of robot jockeys. That's right, Asimov: robots. (Look at the photo. They're unbearably humanoid, complete with jerseys.)

This is a country with way too much money and way too much free time to be so ethically disturbing.

I'm not gonna expand on this to cover other countries in the region, but feel free.

Ten Thoughts for Today

1. Why is it that I have to go the National Review to find an article about how much of the revenues from United States' purchases of oil imports from Venezuela (the U.S. buys more than 15% of its oil from that country) go to Cuba, who, in return, sends "intelligence personnel" (read left-wing radicals/militiamen) back to strong-man Chavez? (Even more of the revenues fund Venezuelan contracts with Russia to buy MiG-29s and 100,000 AK-47s.) Even if any part of this is untrue, why hasn't Big Media been doing intelligence gathering of its own? The Christian Science Monitor has this story today, but NR had it almost 2 weeks ago.

2. I think younger liberals and Democrats need to realize that sometimes, even though it may "feel" strange at first, we live in a post-Vietnam, post-Gulf War I age where terrorism is real, tyranny is real, and using the "big stick" (rather than speaking softly) sometimes makes the most sense. That said, from whom can the future leaders of the world now learn diplomacy?

3. Dying Rwandans need some Big Dubya. (Speaking of big sticks.) If there is one place on the planet where nearly everyone would get behind Bush saying "Screw everyone else; we're goin' in," it's in Darfur. C'mon! I'm becoming annoyed.

4. AJMac had a good post on leadership the other day. I like this passage:

The sine qua non of leadership is merely that people follow you. Nothing else is required, really. Which means, of course, that a lot of bad leaders out there are leading people to terrible places. Good leadership requires more than simply taking charge; it requires one to lead in the right direction. However, all leaders have one thing in common. If you are to give others the opportunity to follow you, you must decide to go where no one else is going. You must make up your mind, commit to your course 100%, and not be dissuaded by the lack of popular support for your decision. You must lay everything on the line. You should base your decision upon the best information possible in real time. However, once you have first stepped on the road less traveled, you must not turn back at the first sign of resistance.


5. The accipiters are a genus of forest hawks. I like the idea of navigating around obstacles--large trees, shrubs, rocky outcroppings--at high speed. All in pursuit of something worthwhile. Like a dragonfly. Or a mosquito. That is, if you happen to be a gyrfalcon.

6. I'm tired of women I know putting down birds. I love birds. I'm an amateur ornithologist, actually. I don't know a lot, but I recognize most of the birds I see. I'm constantly reading about them, drinking in all the details: beak shapes, wing lengths, scapular colors, breeding plumages, habitat range, forage behaviors, etc. A lot of these women seem to think birds are like flying rodents. I simply don't get it. Luckily, my wife is a Ph.D. ecologist, so she appreciates birds and other living things.

7. I've come to realize that it would be very easy to be an atheist. There'd be a lot of good reasons to be one, I suppose. But it would feel so empty. I often say that Nature and love are enough God for me. Well, that's simplifying it; but there's a kernal of truth there. It seems that atheists must be devoid of wonder or a sense of mystery. Because, looking out across the valley in Yellowstone or over a reef in the Florida Keys, I feel so much beautiful, creative, living energy. Such astounding complexity and order. And the love I know in my life: it has a source beyond me, beyond those who love me. I know there are arguments for and against what I'm saying. Some very elegant. But for me, maybe it's that I'm left yearning for so much more than humanity. Because, despite the goodness therein, there's a lot of ugliness in being human.

8. All that said, I often reflect on John Lennon's line: "Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try." Written and sung for peace here.

9. When I think of the Inupiat people who live on the North Slope of Alaska, I think about eating an apple when I was working up there. That one apple cost the funding agency close to $50 to make available to me. In that same outpost (Atkasuk), I met two teenagers on an ATV coming back from a hunting trip. Their machine was covered with blood. They carried rifles. They had just shot a caribou and were coming home to find some others to help them bring it back. Ambivalence about oil drilling should be expected.

10. Real Fig Newtons are better than generic ones. The cake is lighter, richer. The filling more golden, softer, juicy.

"Secularism" and "Relativism" as Warped by the Right

Two words are increasingly ping-ponging their way around the blogosphere–indeed, around the cultural crossroads of America defined by the various media organizations, both Left and Right.

The Christian Right’s freewheeling application of these concepts to anyone who has not come to believe in their orthodox views is disturbing. What is outrageous, however, is the ease with which the purveyors of these terms characterize those embodying the traits symbolized by the concepts as either disabled, stupid, or, much worse, evil.

I take the rote dictionary definitions from Mirriam-Webster Online:

"Secular": "1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal b : not overtly or specifically religious c : not ecclesiastical or clerical 2 : not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation 3 a : occurring once in an age or a century b : existing or continuing through ages or centuries c : of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration."

"Relativism": "1 a : a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing b : a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them."

The term "secular" is used by the Christian Right on the one hand to connote "without God," which is in context with definition 1a, of or relating to the world or temporal. On the other hand, "secular" has frequently been retooled to mean not only "without God," but "against God." As an extension, it seems that Christian orthodox apologetics now use it to mean "against us."

The term "relativism," as used by the Christian Right, has nothing to do with definition 1a, but rather 1b, which, translated into its current socio-political context seems to mean, "a view that there is no absolute truth and/or that truth claims are only valuable in relation to other truth claims and/or that everyone’s idea of the truth is viable because there is no one truth."

I want to talk about "secular" first. I, as far as I know, am neither disabled nor stupid. Moreover, I hope that I do not embody evil, despite my humanity. That said, I am very comfortable with a secular world, as I have always known it, which is based on definition b: "not overtly or specifically religious." I am private about my spiritual beliefs, as are most folks I know who were raised in Midwestern Protestant congregations. I hold my faith close, and soberly consider God and whatever His wishes might be. I trust, however, that he has a certain amount of trust in me, in us, made in his image.

I firmly believe that the world, in and of itself, is good. Orthodox Christians would, I think, agree: God created it and said it was good. OK. And the temporal nature of the world is what we, as humans, are afforded. OK. So the issue is not about "the world," or "worldliness" per se, but the "absence of God." This is where I take issue.

Here’s why. Recent surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God. Europeans, I’m not sure. But I’m willing to bet that a majority across the pond would check that box, too. When the Religious Right criticizes those who are secular, they cite their opponents in the abortion debate, the gay-marriage issue, the Creationism-versus-evolution fiasco. But being on "the other side" in those debates does not necessarily mean that that person does not believe in God, or that that person is not a Christian or person of faith.

What it may very well mean is simply that the opponent has not reached the conclusion that Orthodoxy is the best description of ultimate truth.

Most often, the Christian Right scoffs at the "modern era’s" concentration on the satisfaction of individual desires as the end-all-be-all of life. It’s no wonder. By most moral and ethical standards, pure selfishness is held in disdain. Certainly, the Christian worldview puts the self far down the priority list. I agree that this age in the history of civilization has found many of us far too focused on individual taste, desire, and fulfillment.

That does not mean, however, that all of us out here struggling with day-to-day survival and the details of the life we know for sure–that in front of our eyes on the planet Earth–are either "without" or "against" God. And with the many palatable and convincing versions of what is ultimately true available to educated Westerners, it is hardly a surprise that many people–even many Christians–disagree on what is absolutely true. This is not easy stuff.

To the extent that the Christian Right scoffs at those atheists who believe only in the world "in front of us" as the only one that exists, and calls them "secularists," fine. But, don’t throw the rest of us in that hole.

To the extent the "secular world," however the Right characterizes it, seems wayward from God, I am not surprised. These–like most–are confusing times. These–unlike most–are times of intellectual and scientific advance, of globalization, of high education in the West and in many parts of Asia. And–sadly perhaps–searching for and finding the absolute truth, whatever that is, takes more energy and intellectual and spiritual commitment than many folks can muster in this world. That is not reason to debase honest folks for doing the best they can in this life.

Finally, to the extent that "secularists"–read, those who are not Orthodox believers–write in the Mainstream Media about the Church and criticize it for being "backwards" or "anti-progress," it is one thing to explain to them their misunderstandings of Orthodoxy.

It is quite another thing to react with knee-jerk defensiveness and put them down for treading on sacred ground that to many–even to many other Christians–is not sacred. Education is one thing. Outright warfare–to an extent from both "sides"–is another.

Now, "relativism." Just briefly. Those Orthodox Christians who believe in absolute truth believe in their version of absolute truth. That version may be what is "absolutely true." But no one but God knows that for sure. To call everyone else who does not believe in that version of absolute truth a "relativist" is both arrogant and demeaning.

I, for one, believe that there is an absolute truth. There is only truth and falsity. That’s it. God is the One who knows absolutely what is true. He is the only one who knows fully His mind and His way, the nature of the universe. We humans are left to struggle with the evidence and lack thereof that we can comprehend with our five senses. Beyond that, we must rely on faith.

For the Christian Right to say that all those who look at the evidence or lack thereof and come to different conclusions than their own are "relativists" is to invalidate their own journeys of faith. In fact, ironically, many the Christian Right call "relativist" are probably just "absolutists" of different persuasions.

It is one thing to disparage those out there who believe that there is a unique universal truth subject to each person’s whimsy, each person’s idea of what may be true. Certainly this is impossible because, at the least, there is mutual exclusivity.

Beyond that, God, Truth, is whatever It is. Nothing more or less.

It is another thing to disparage those of us who are struggling with the truth, or like me, are willing to say, there is one Truth, but I have more questions about It than I do answers. I suppose in that way I am a relativist by the first definition: "1 a : a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing." I can only know what my mind allows me to know. What my soul allows me to know.

I–in what I can only hope is viewed as humility–am the first to recognize God–and only God–as the reservoir of knowledge of the absolute truth.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Vision Thing

I was struck by two occurrences in the blogosphere over the weekend. Really, in the grand scheme of blogness, they were tiny, minor. But I was struck by them.

First, over at ANWR News, there are two readers who have taken to ruthlessly debating the merits of the last few posts over there. These guys--one an oil-industry insider, the other, a biologist/journalist--are carrying on hours' long conversations in each comment stream, giving Haloscan a run for its money. (Good thing it's free.) What strikes me is not the passion, which I appreciate. That can be found in every corner of the blogworld. What strikes me is how these guys are throwing facts and citations at each other in support of their cause: one link to an oil site, one to the USGS, another to a Senate hearing, another to a North Slope newspaper. On and on. "Facts" v. "facts".

Reading over it, I have no idea which facts are actually facts or which facts are opinions that look like facts. In order to find out the truth, one would have to devote solid days online and on the phone to figure out where the data came from and who did what with it. I and few others have time for such independent research.

What I'm realizing is that out in the blogosphere there really are no facts that will win over a person who has his own facts. Why? Because it's like two attorneys arguing over the facts and merits of a case without a judge or jury. There is no objective party willing to fully digest the information.

So, while it's interesting to me as a reader to watch the "facts" stream by, I'm left empty. Sure, I might come away with a few new ideas, but I feel like I've been watching commercials end-on-end for days. In a dark room. In an unfinished basement.

Civil lawsuits in this country are decided by a preponderance of the evidence. Criminals are convicted by juries only when there is no reasonable doubt of their guilt. Based on the evidence. I'm all for the evidence. But in the context of the blogosphere, does the "evidence" matter out here, or are folks just flogging each other?

I realize this is not profound. I also realize I've done my fair share of citing to what I consider facts. So maybe this is all hooey. But I was struck by it.

That brings me to the other post I saw. This was at althippo, home of the Beltway commenter who seems refreshingly removed from the Beltway. It's a simple concept. Recounting a conversation he had, he wrote on April 15, 2005 that he was struck by this idea about responsibility: "Your kids are going to live there someday. That captures in a nutshell so many of my concerns about current events: the bankruptcy bill, Social Security, or destroying a wildlife refuge. Put in other words, we have a generational responsibility."

This is not particularly profound either.

But it meant so much more to me than reading about all the facts.

Because at the end of the day it's not about the facts. It's about the gut feeling, the worldview, the attitude, the priorities, the spirit that runs you.

I'll use ANWR as an example. Why don't I want drilling in the Refuge? Because when my daughter grows up I want her to live in a country where she can dream about the land, about wildlife, about nature removed from humans. And I don't want her dreams to be longings for what once existed.

As althippo said, it's about vision. I can see beyond 25 years' worth of replacement Saudi oil. I can even see beyond the need for oil, even though I and every other citizen in this country can't live without it today. I can see beyond ANWR to other resource conflicts. More and more of them. I can see beyond my own lifetime on this planet. I can even see beyond my daughter's. And her daughter's.

It's when I allow myself to see beyond the existence of relatively wild, relatively open, relatively untouched landscapes that my heart sinks.

What depresses me is that so many people don't want to gaze that far. Their vision is myopic.