Friday, June 27, 2008

The air apparent

I'm starting to begin to commence to make some sort of sense of, or at least get some distance and a new perspective on, my brief sojourn to Uganda, and so I am going to write quite a bit about that in the coming weeks and months, I'm sure. This particular reflection has very little to do with Uganda except as a starting point for thinking about the air.

About a month before I left Kampala, I got a bad cold with a horrible cough that never really went away. "You got our local crud," one of my co-workers said, though not using the word crud, but that was the gist. I realized not long before I left that the poor air quality in the city was really starting to get to me. The dust from the dirt roads, the diesel fuel clouds, and the smoke from burning trash all conspired to make it difficult to get over any respiratory ailment. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to have asthma in Kampala.

There are fires all over Northern California at the moment and the sky has been hazy every day. The other night driving home, the sun was a big red-orange ball in the sky. I have the slightest trace of a cough but by and large the whole respiratory situation doesn't seem to be troubling me, though it's pretty clear that the air is in poor shape around here.

Not as bad as Kampala, though. And not as bad as it used to be around here. I remember growing up and seeing the brown layer of smog over San Francisco. I don't know if the air can be cleaned, but the air can be cleaner.

I read a couple of days ago that the Chinese government is going to restrict automobile traffic in Beijing in hopes of clearing up the air quality before the Olympics. Drivers can use their cars on alternate days, depending on the number on their license plate.

The thing about air is that it affects everyone. It's so clear that this is not something that one can keep at arms length. It is never merely someone else's problem. More often than not we're just fooling ourselves when we use that excuse about anything.

You can't move far enough away to avoid someone else's air or what their actions do to the air. I thought when I got back from Kampala that that would be the end of it. But the air has become noticeable to me now, in part thanks to noticing how it affected me elsewhere.

The thing is, I realize it would be easy for me to say, "We're better than China. We're better than Africa," because our air quality is better overall. But I think that's an easy out, it's the "Thank God I'm not like this publican!" excuse. The truth is, I saw that big orange sun while driving home from an errand. Catalytic converter or no, I'm part of the problem of air pollution and I need to be honest and humble about that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I went to my first baseball game of the season today under hazy skies as fires still burn throughout California. It was a lovely day nonetheless, and the seats (courtesy of a former parishioner) were right behind home plate on the upper level. "You'll be able to see a curve ball or a change-up or a slider," he told me, which assumes I would know one if I saw one, which I don't. What I did see was a lot of strike-outs: 11 all told, a personal best for Rich Harden, the starting pitcher.

In between two of the innings, the PA announcer invites the crowd to pick a sports highlight to be shown on the jumbotron. The choices were two other baseball games or the European Cup semi-final between Russia and Spain. The crowd went wild for the football option, and a mighty lovely highlight it was, too: a beautiful pass and goal for Spain, making the score 1-0.

Later on, they showed an unannounced highlight with yet another Spain goal. Spain wins 3-0 and is going on to the European Cup final.

Perhaps it will happen. Perhaps the U.S. will become soccer mad. There's just so much sport here; at what point do we get tapped out? I suspect something will have to give. I'm a little worried it will be baseball.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An attack ad...for the rest of us.

God bless Mark Fiore of the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's an attack ad you might want to see.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pain du Banane

This morning at staff meeting, we had banana bread. Not just any banana bread, however. This was banana bread from Joel Robuchon's 3-star Michelin-rated restaurant in Las Vegas. It was topped with bits of chocolate covered with gold leaf.

The thing is, it still just tasted like banana bread to me. I'm sure there's a deep message in that somewhere, but I think the message is, you can't really gussy up banana bread.

Friday, June 20, 2008

For Heresies

Yes, I am playing off Irenaeus' "Against Heresies," and, yes, I am being obnoxious in referring to Irenaeus in my blog. But I'm working on an adult education lesson talking about heresies and found all sorts of wonderful quotations today that I would like to share, starting with my personal favorite:

“There are no heresies in a dead religion.” Andre Suares, French poet (1868-1948)

I have no idea who Andre Suares was aside from this quotation. Born exactly 100 years before I was, which worries me. Will I die in 2048? In any event, I do love this statement, which rings true to me. Any living faith will struggle with heresies; it's a sign that it is still alive.

“A virtuous heretic will be saved before a wicked Christian.” Benjamin Franklin

Oh, Ben! Mr. Pith himself, encapsulating the debate between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (another obnoxious drop-in, but it's a great word). But I believe that belief plays out in action. No right belief can truly co-exist with wicked behavior.

“A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.” John Milton

Which goes very well with

“Heresy is another word for freedom of thought.” Graham Greene

I think that one from GG is a bit flippant, but it's worth a moment to consider.

Another lovely matched pair:

"The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next." Helen Keller

"The difference between heresy and prophecy is often one of sequence. Heresy often turns out to have been prophecy when properly aged." Hubert H. Humphrey

Hubert Humphrey, who'd've thought? And Helen Keller the only woman of the bunch. Are women less concerned with heresy, perhaps? Or merely less quoted?

Here's to good heresy. Long and well may it age.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I just finished reading a very wicked book indeed called "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" by Florence King--oh, my, my. It sets its premise in the last sentence of the prologue: "No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street." Well! Who can resist that?

It was hysterically funny--literally, as Florence's grandmother delights in "female trouble," recounting what Florence's father calls "The Ovariad" at family gatherings. But more than any other book, it gave me the picture of how very hard it was to be a woman in 1950's America and how much the culture conspired to keep women in their place. Florence finally gains a measure of independence by writing "true confessions" for magazines, described in Writer's Market as follows:

For the housewife with a high school education. First person stories with sympathetic narrator, emotional impact, and strong reader identification. Stories may be about any subject of interest to the homebound woman: premarital and extramarital sexual temptation, sexual maladjustment in marriage, adultery, problem children, alcoholism, illness, accidents, religious crises, or the loss of a loved one. Upbeat ending essential. Some sadder-but-wiser okay. Narrator may sin but must feel guilty about it; no blithe spirits. No humor; our readers take life seriously.

Florence's first confession is "I Committed Adultery in a Diabetic Coma." Seemed humorous to me. But painful, too, watching Florence struggle to get out of the conundrum of being female without the constriction of constructed femininity, and watching how many women didn't even make the struggle.

Monday, June 2, 2008

This is a joke, right?

I don't normally read the comments on the more active blogs about the Anglican comings and goings. They tend to be more rough and tumble than my soul can bear. But I noted one where I wanted to find a link mentioned waaay in the back of the comments of a posting about All Saints Pasadena offering marriages for same-sex couples so I scanned through. And found this comment from someone signing him- or herself "Anglican." Here's the part that made me go, "Huh?"
Years ago, I lived in a liberal diocese, attended a liberal parish. Now I do not. About two weeks ago, I went "home" and visited my previous church, the first time in about three years. I'm struck by how unchristian it is. The priest seems to think feeding the poor, blanketing the homeless, and having dinner for members is what religion is about.

Silly me! I guess that's what I get for listening to that Jesus guy.

"Sex and the City" criticism

I went to see Sex and the City last Saturday, in Kampala, as you can see at my other blog. It had been panned big time by the NY Times, but that's what there was to see, so we went. I liked it a lot, actually. So I came back and looked up the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes. (And, yes, I am going crazy with the link thing having finally figured out how it works.)

I thought the criticism was far more interesting than the movie itself. It seemed to fall almost equally into three categories: Group A thought it was fine if far short of the best thing they'd ever seen. Group B said, "If you like the series, you'll like the film, so what are you talking to me for?" Group C hated it. HATED IT. Loathed. Detested. Abhorred. In short, they didn't much care for it.

But I got the sense that they didn't so much hate the film as much as they hated the people and hated what they did. It's hard for me to gauge. I mean, I liked the film, but the reason I liked the film is because I know those characters and even when I don't like them, what they did in the movie made perfect sense for who they were and how they live in that fantasy world that is Sex and the City.

There were critics who wrote that they hated it because they didn't know any real woman remotely like these. I'm not sure I do either, but these particular women seem real to me anyway. There were critics who wrote that they hated it because of the exasperating consumerism it promotes, the product placements for every designer under the sun. I could understand their point but to be honest, I noticed the product placement for Burger King in Iron Man more than for Oscar de la Renta here. Some critics hated it for sidelining the men. Well, a) too bad for the men, but you've already got four main characters and b) I found Big's emotional behavior quite believable.

There's a part of me that thinks I should hate, loathe, detest this movie and all it stands for, too. But I don't. I'm not a movie critic. I got invested enough in these people to care, so much so that I wanted to jump into the movie and bop 'em with one of their ugly as sin handbags. It's a movie. I enjoyed it. Maybe in ten years I'll look back and say, "What were we thinking?" But I'm sure in ten years we'll also have a better sense of what our fantasies were all about.