Category Archives: current events

Post Royal Wedding Thoughts for Husbands

Hi Husbands.

Most of you rock.  Keep up the good work.  I’ve heard some bemoan the Royal Wedding and can practically see the eyes of your profile pictures roll when the topic comes up.  And for you I have the following thoughts.

I am not naturally sports-minded.  I enjoy the emotion in the last few minutes of any close game.  I get a kick out of watching lives change, for example, with the NFL draft this week and watching guys’ faces upon the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams.  But I can’t predict the next play, or come up with a good game strategy, or tell you stats.  My patient husband never writes me off when it comes to sports.  He is happy to explain things to me in a way that does not make me feel any less smart.  Even though the Super Bowl is of no importance to me, I can still buy snacks at the grocery store and invite people over on the day of the game.  I’m interested in what interests him.

You are (probably) not Royal Wedding-minded.  But I’ll tell you a secret. If you pay attention to it, for just a few minutes, you may score some points with your wife.

Some have said, “What’s the big deal about some people we’ve never met getting married?”  Good question.  What IS the big deal?  I can tell you for this girl the curiosity of anticipation involved things girls love.  For example: weddings (duh!), traditions, nobility, fashion, and people (could have a whole conversation on Elton John alone).

But here’s the heart of the answer.  She walked down the aisle.  He exchanged glances with his brother.  He finally saw her.  And we watched him mouth the words “You look beautiful.”  Forget about it!  Prince Charming is telling his bride she is beautiful.  That’s the part I can’t explain.  I physically had to grab the hand of the woman next to me.  You don’t have to get it.  But if you can be interested in what makes your wife’s heart leap, you just might see the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

We all create our own circus.

I totally agree with Jerry Seinfeld, that the upcoming royal wedding is a circus act.  But so is the Superbowl.  So are the Oscars.  And so was the last episode of Seinfeld.  We are all drawn to different events that make life fun and interesting.  Therefore, I say, cheers to the handsome couple!

It’s Friday, Friday

So, a few weeks ago, ARK music productions unleashed what is, unarguably, the worst pop song ever inflicted upon a listening public. That song is called “Friday”. It has been watched by 34 million people. 34 million.

What I offer here is a bit of musical sorbet, a palate cleanser if you will, to remove the fetid taste of bubblegum ice cream from your mouth. Here are the days of the week, as they deserve to be songified.








The Days of the Week

Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.

Scouting at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouting in America. I am an Eagle Scout, a proud alumni of Troop 257 of Camarillo, California. I owe much of who I am today to Mr. Lance Kistler, our Scoutmaster. He was a former Navy demolitions diver who earned a graduate degree in History and then started his own very successful construction company. He was thoughtful, strong, compassionate, intelligent, worked very hard at everything he did, and in many ways he defined manhood for me.

Today, I am a college professor, and work with young men and women just coming into adulthood. I am convinced that the lessons of scouting are as relevant and significant now as they have ever been. The lessons of scouting don’t have anything to do with tying knots or scaling mountains or starting fires. What scouting really teaches is how to be a virtuous man, and it does that by providing two things that boys rarely get, but badly need.

First, scouting provides a rite of passage. It provides a set of tasks to be completed, and a ceremony upon completion where a boy is acknowledged and welcomed into a new stage of life. From that day forward, he is expected to shoulder new responsibilities, and is held to a higher standard for his actions. Some cultures have retained things like the bar mitzvah, but in our culture at large, we don’t really have anything like this. Ask any Eagle Scout what it meant to walk through that Court of Honor, to have every other Eagle Scout in the room, men of all ages, stand up and surround him, and to have them say, “You belong here with us. You’ve accomplished something significant, and should be proud. You also have a new level of obligation to those scouts coming up behind you.” It’s a very powerful thing, to have a rite of passage into manhood.

Second, and I think more important, scouting provides extended periods of time for boys to be in the company of men, while doing masculine things together. Our culture segments people into groups by age, and children spend long periods of time being influenced, primarily, by other children their own age. When children are the primary influence on other children, the result is always only one step above Lord of the Flies.

When they are under the care and influence of adults, it is still much more likely that those adults will be women. Boys need the presence of strong and intelligent women in their lives, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of that. They need to learn things that are best taught by women. But it’s also essential for boys to observe men, to join them in projects, to feel like they belong in this tribe, and hopefully to imitate the virtues that those men demonstrate. Scouting creates a unique environment where boys are invited to try on the trappings of manhood, where a set of virtues are upheld and praised that are different than those offered by their normal peer group.

There is a sense in our culture that as children reach a certain age, adults can no longer influence them. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think parents slowly lose that privilege, but the influence and attention of other adults, especially those who are not parents or teachers, becomes even stronger. And that’s really what’s happening when a group of boys and men walk 15 miles, setup camp, light a fire, cook food together, sharpen axes and clean knives, sit around telling scary stories and crude jokes. Boys are being steeped in the influence of good men, who are not their parents, and who can offer them models of how to be men.

On one of our local weekend backpacking trips into the hills above Malibu, a new kid showed up. He had missed the pre-trip meeting, where we bring packed backpacks and check over gear, so that everyone is prepared. He was a very rotund kid, and was being raised by his single mother. He showed up at the trailhead with his clothes, sleeping bag, and lots of snacks, all packed into two suitcases. If you’re missing the mental picture, suitcases don’t work well when you have to hike six miles uphill before you setup camp.

As soon as he and his mother figured out what was going on, he looked completely defeated; his mother started apologizing to him, telling him that they would have to wait until next time, and they started to move back toward their car to drive home. He was crushed.

One of the boys in our troop realized right away what was happening, walked over and said, “Hey, my name is Robert, me and these other other 3 guys are your patrol. You belong with us.” Without another word, they unpacked his suitcases, pulled out the essentials, and divvied them up into the packs of the other boys in the patrol.

Where else do boys learn about the special obligation of the strong to the weak? Where else do they learn the power of those words, “You belong with us”? Where else do they learn about the power of small groups committed to the same purpose? Where do we teach them to look out for each other, that the failing of one is the failing of all? Where do we teach them to work with others their own age not as rivals or rebels, but as a team, as brothers? Where do we send them to learn about leadership, and how real authority comes from competence and integrity, not just from conferred title or brute strength? What better workshop could there possibly be for teaching boys that the truest test of character is the endurance of failure, and perseverance in the face of defeat, that the thrill of the summit is made sweeter by the miles of sweat that came before?

Happy 100th birthday, Boy Scouts of America. Today, more than ever, I can think of no better environment for helping boys discover the substance, the virtues, obligations, and challenges of becoming men than scouting.

(This post was originally posted as a comment on this post)

Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize … and the moral necessity of war?


Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, and did it with a rather unusual defense of just war. Following is an excerpt:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

The rest of the speech is online here (and a billion other places). I thought it was a very astute distinction between the role of social critic (MLK, Ghandi, Bobby) and the moral obligations of a head of state.


Dear Flash Forward: Really???

Dear Flash Forward,

I really want to like your show. I love the premise. Love the casting. Seriously. Want to love it.

But a high-stakes poker game for the fate of the world? Really? That’s your big idea for this last week? Did you fire the writers and hire Ms. Peterson’s 9th-grade creative writing class to take over? Are we going to find out next week that the blackout was caused by emo vampires? Guest appearance by the Jonas Brothers to rock out at someone’s backyard party?

COME ON!!!!!

Love (but not in that way),
A Hesitant Fan

Fire Season, Rain Season

Thankfully, it looks like the massive Station Fire is slowing down. Our thanks and prayers with the firefighters who have been slugging it out on the front lines.

Tuesday night was a little scary, when the fire moved over into the canyons above Monrovia, and for a little while Gretchen and I had to think through what we would pack up and what we would leave if the call came to evacuate. This is the first time we’ve lived close enough to the city / mountain divide to have to think about things like that. I don’t like it.

So, not to add more fear to anyone’s week, but I haven’t really heard anyone talking about this yet. This winter marks the return of El Niño, and all that comes with it. I wonder how the hillsides in the burn areas will fare if the rain really starts pouring in a few months.

Well, that’s for another day, I guess. I’m just glad that the danger is abating, for now.

Lance Rides Again

Lance Armstrong is 37 years old, he hasn’t ridden in a race in almost 4 years, and he is currently in 3rd place in the Tour de France. By any measure, that’s an incredible thing.

And yet, he became such a dominant presence in that race that it kind of feels like anything less than a win will be a complete failure. What a strange thing that must be, to race not against the other riders, but against the echos of your former glory.

Iran erupts

Giving people the illusion of democracy is always a dangerous thing. It turns out they come to expect their voice to be heard.

Ahmadinejad declared himself the victor in yesterday’s Iranian elections, and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who gets to decide which things are ‘islamic’ and which are not, and therefore actually runs things) gave his nod. Pre-election polling showed that the challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would win by a wide margin, as much as 2-to-1 in some estimates.

The Iranian people are justifiably upset, and have taken to the streets in riot and protest.

If I were Ahmadinejad, I would be terrified right now. He has the guns and the media, but the people seem to have found their voice.

The illusion of democracy is a dangerous thing.

updated 6/14, 1:23 am

Thank God for Talented Friends

Last year, I was hired by a non-profit group called Many Mansions, to produce a video celebrating their 30th Anniversary.  Many Mansions is a really great organization. Through donations and government subsidies, they provide homes for low-income families and the homeless.  

Without the budget for licensed music and voiceover, I called on Chad to help me out.  In one easy session, he laid down a great voiceover. Further, he donated music to the project. (“The Science Project” totally kills it!) Bryan Ashmore also donated a great track – one that Corey and I used before on another project, that worked perfectly for this video.  

Isn’t it great to be surrounded by insanely talented and diverse friends? Artists, musicians, teachers, nerds, etc. A big thanks to The Dailies, Chad Reisser, and Bryan Ashmore for their contributions to this project.

Many Mansions 30th Anniversary Video from Frequent Flyer Productions on Vimeo.

Save a Child, Change the World

So, last year, my parents and sister went for a few weeks a remote village in Uganda on a ministry trip.  It was quite a thing for them to do.  My dad, in case you don’t know, is a family practice doctor, so he spent much of the time he was there basically seeing patients.  

There’s a picture, and I don’t have it on my computer unfortunately, of him seeing one of the women in the village, and there was literally not enough space inside the room, so he’s actually standing outside, examining some wound on her arm through an open window. 

Now, if you know my dad, Dr. German, this is not acceptable.  He is an unrepentant fanboy of infrastructure.  The folks on the trip decided to do some research, and discovered that it would cost about $60,000 to build a full blown medical clinic in this village.  They’ve been working for months to put together what promises to be a successful fundraiser this weekend.  

Anywhoo, Erica and I were asked to contribute some music, and here it is for your consideration.  I’ll embed it without further ado, and then make a little commentary after you’re done listening.  Or skimming.  


Welcome back! I found it terribly challenging to write a religiously ecumenical song, “We Are The World,” type song, especially as the name of the fundraiser is “Save a Child, Change the World,” and it was requested that I use this phrase in the song. This is not my cup of tea.

With that said, I feel pretty proud of the lyrics. I was actually trying to speak about such things without the usual utopian hogwash that typically sinks into a song like this. I was trying to convey the reality that when something like this happens, it’s not magic, it’s not some massive awakening. It’s just one good person trying to step outside their own skin and selfishness long enough to do an act of kindness for a stranger. I’m especially proud of the lyrics in the second half of the second verse. I find them terribly hopeful.

Now, I am not a guitar player, and the budget for this was $0.00. There was to be no Corey Witt love for me, this time, because Corey Witt won’t work for free because he hates Africans. He’s from Texas. That’s not true, people. I actually didn’t ask him, because I’m pretty stupid and didn’t plan ahead, instead using my usual technique of procrastination and then frantic creation.

So, anyways, I was searching for ways to make this feel more organic, and I am proud of my Ukulele debut. The cool thing was that, if you listen again, you’ll hear a distorted loop that emerges in the mix during the 2nd chorus, giving the mix a bit more mid-range energy. This is actually my ukulele parts fed through several delays and distortion and a 16th note tremelo. I think it’s a nice, original sound, and that it doesn’t sound like samples. I think the other thing I’m most excited about is the bridge. It just slams. I did a fair amount of manipulating and tweakage to get all the elements to sit down as well as they do, and it’s a very rewarding moment for me.

I was laboring hard for this to not sound like a home studio creation, and I think we got to about 90%. The cool thing is that with another day of edits and tweaks, I feel like I could get it to 100%. However, I’m out of time, so that’s that. But, it’s still cool for me as I listen back to old home recordings and hear how far we’ve come with our Dailies experiences.

Anyways, if this song has inspired anyone to do something generous, you can check out Embrace Uganda and make a donation. They’re good folks, and their cause is just.

On Unions

On Unions

I am a member of two labor unions: The Association of Pleasanton Teachers and the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 (I play trombone).  In the last few months, I have been synthesizing some of my experiences where I have observed the importance of unions, and also their potential negative side effects.  I would love to hear what my friends and colleagues have to say about some of my jumbled thoughts.

Musicians’ Union

It seems that every time I do a non-union gig, something weird or unusual happens.  Something as little as making announcements during my warm-up time, being asked to show up and hour early (without overtime) before a concert for some last-minute rehearsal (I said no), or being told the wrong start time, and consequently staying at a church service for an hour after the stated end time.  (I stayed, and received no extra compensation for my time.)

All of these stories come to mind when I agreed to play for free at the church I attend with  my family this Easter.  When I said yes to my church, I felt like  tried to check my “union” attitude at the door and wanted to serve Christ’s church however I was needed.  Then I received the first e-mail about rehearsal times.  4 hour rehearsal on Tuesday, 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Saturday, call time an hour before the 8:00 first service.  My part in all of this consisted of playing five 3-4 minute long tunes, about 20 minutes of music total.  My union sensibilities crept back into my mind.  Much of the rehearsal time was spent with the vocalists working out parts around the piano.  My thoughts were 3 fold:

1) If I were being paid and hourly rate, they would have had me come 2 hours later during the 4 hour rehearsal, and rehearsed the vocal stuff without me.

2) There are many people in the church who donate much more of their time and expertise than I do, and that humbles me.  We are currently without a music pastor, and many lay musicians are maintaining the high quality of our program.

3) I am glad I brought a good book to read.  (I am an orchestral bass trombone player, I know how to come prepared!)

On Sunday, I am embarrassed to say, I arrived a couple of minutes after the 7 AM call time.  No need to worry, as rehearsal as far from commencing.  the first thing that was rehearsed, at 7:20 once all forty musicians were in place, was a vocal solo accompanied by a single keyboard.  This went on for about 10 minutes or so.  After 7:30, the whole ensemble did a sound check for a couple of minutes.

In contrast, when I arrive at a union gig, it almost always starts and ends on time.  Announcements are made after the clock has begun.  They are brief.  On the rare occasion that service goes overtime, I (and everyone else) get compensated.  Our time is given a great deal of respect.

Teachers’ Union

This brings me to my membership in the teachers’ union.  In the 1980s the teachers in Pleasanton went on strike to demand more respect of their time, their professionalism and of course, to demand more money.  Teachers are constantly being asked to do things that are not in their contracts.  Much like the requests made of me at a non-union gig, teachers are asked sometimes to go on overnight field trips, spend non-paid hours filling out detailed report cards, bring home essays to correct, etc.  In this context, I bring up that Pleasanton teachers were recently asked to work 2 fewer days and take an equivalent pay cut for the upcoming school year.  For teachers who had gone on strike to gain the pay, benefits and respect that we current teachers enjoy, this was  a tough pill to swallow.  The pay cut would preserve programs for students, and jobs for our fellow union members.  How responsible for providing programs to students are teachers?  Are we entirely responsible, and should we carry a burden for a large chunk of the budget cuts through a cut in salary?  (We would be providing a tremendous benefit to the community at no additional cost to the community.)  Are we somewhat responsible or not at all?  I found myself solidly on the side of “take the small pay cut for the good of our students and the teachers that were given lay-off notices (pink slips) for next year”.  I had trouble understanding why any teacher would be again saving programs within our district.

The Connection

I had a better understanding as to how some of my teaching colleagues could vote against taking a pay cut to preserve programs after this recent Easter.  Since I was not being compensated for my time, it was easy for those in charge not to use it efficiently.  If I don’t say to my church, “You can’t do that again next year, or I am not playing,” then they have no incentive to be more time efficient.

Similarly, if teachers simply say, “Don’t cut programs!  Take some of my money!” this will automatically become the first choice for fixing budget problems.  Other solutions will be skipped and avoided.  It was remarkable to me when a young pink-slipped teacher voted NO to this pay cut, when he of all people had something to gain (the likelihood of his job).

I have been bouncing back and forth on these ideas.  If you carry the “no cuts for teachers ever” idea too far, you can end up hurting students by allowing programs to be cut and newer teachers to be laid off.  If you offer and inch in pay cuts today, you might be asked for a mile tomorrow.  I am trying to find a balance between these opposing concepts.

Where We Are Now

The teachers in Pleasanton agreed to forego 2 days worth of salary and we will have a 2 day longer Summer… IF the communty matches our efforts.  We traded less money for more time (furlough).  The caveat is that the community has to come through as well, and a parcel (land) tax that will be put to the voters in Pleasanton on June 2 has to pass for the teacher 2-day furlough to occur.  I like this approach because it ensures that everyone in the community will sacrifice, not just the homeowners and not just the educators.


Two very different news stories, same event. See if you can spot which one is state funded based on their opening sentences:

Tibetans and their supporters rallied across the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday demanding an end to Chinese rule in their homeland on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama being forced into exile.
(from here)


On March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his supporters started an armed rebellion in a desperate attempt to preserve Tibet’s feudal serfdom and split the region from China.
(from here)

John Stewart Destroys CNBC

Stock Raving Mad

Just when you think you’ve started to understand how the stock markets and the economy work, you cruise to Bloomberg and see a headline like this:


We found out today that a lot of people lost jobs, so some people think that some other people might vote yes on a plan to take money from future people and give it other people who already did a pretty bad job of managing the money they already had, and those first people decide to buy lots of stocks.