30 December 2006

Another Sobering Milestone in Iraq

Last night, while I as hanging out with my friend Alex at the Salt Lake Roasting Company, the Iraqis hanged Saddam Hussein. If every time I went for coffee a dictator was terminated, I'd probably go more often. Last night, while I was reading the news and analysis on the matter, I came across this great obituary by Brian Bennett with Time. He wrote:

For many who watched it, the execution of Saddam Hussein was a personal vindication. He killed their brothers, uncles, tore apart their families and ran their beloved country into the ground. Even if his finger didn't pull the trigger, they blamed him for everything: every nail-biting visit by an intelligence officer, every midnight execution, every tongue cut out by a sadistic guard, every body in the mass graves at Hillah and Hawija and Musayeb. He projected absolute authority while he was in power and now faced absolute responsibility for every death under his rule. The moment the steel trap door below his feet was released, he suffered the absolute punishment — a powerless old man, dying alone.

In this sense, death at the gallows at the hands of his countrymen is a poetic ending for a man who spent his life terrorizing his own countrymen and his neighbors for the sole purpose of securing and enriching himself and his enablers. The timing of the execution was also poetic. Saddam's death came at the dawn of Eid ul-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ismail (and not Isaac, as it was written in Genesis) out of obedience and devotion to Allah. Eid ul-Adha also marks the end of the Muslim Hajj.

Considering that many Shi'ite imams and ayatollahs in Iraq have publicly prayed to God to exact revenge on Saddam, was the timing of his execution lost on those who meted out the punishment? Even President Bush framed Saddam's execution in terms of justice and sacrifice, marking the incident as an "important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror."



I've always attested that the world is better off without a man like Saddam around to raise hell. In this regard, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 accomplished a good deed. And I can appreciate the relief that many Iraqis must feel now that he is permanently, irrevocably gone. The Ba'athist party was such a personality cult that it is unlikely someone could rise up to take up the mantle of Saddam. He was so roundly humiliated during his capture and the trial that there is no mantle left. This, too, is a good thing.

But for the President's talk of a milestone on Iraq's journey toward democracy, I'm skeptical. We've heard these words from him before, after the completion of major combat operations (remember "mission accomplished"?), after the installation of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council, after the empaneling of the interim authority of Dr. Iyad Allawi, after the referendum on the constitution and the election of the current transitional government. The milestones go on and on, and yet the violence is unabated. There's nothing to suggest that the execution of a de-fanged dictator will be any different. In fact we are on the verge of yet another milestone: the 3,000th U.S. combat fatality.

For all the good we accomplished by removing one dictator from power, our follow-through has been grievously, criminally, devastatingly inept. Because of this, a unified Iraq isn't likely, let alone a healthy and prosperous democracy. Instead of making the world safer by bringing democracy and stability to the middle east, our mismanagement of the enterprise has sown the dragon's teeth for some future generation to contend with. As any student of the region will tell you, this war didn't begin with Saddam and it won't end with him, either.

(Image credit: John Fewings)

29 December 2006

Romancing Vancouver

Vancouver skyline from Stanley Park

Last week, while I was vacationing in Vancouver with Rob and the Shawns, I was called a "city geek" when I pointed out to them (after having consumed three martinis, no less) that we drove past the Vancouver Law Courts, a building that I recognized but had never seen before. Indeed I am a city geek, and I have been all my life. it surprises me somewhat that in all my blogging so far, I haven't spoken much about cities, and how I see them. The three days I spent in Vancouver brought my love of all things urban into a new focus and rejuvenated my professional and intellectual interests in urban planning. It had been well over a decade since the last time I was there.

Downtown Vancouver - very early in the morning

My return to Vancouver was a homecoming of sorts. As a child, I recalled a number of road trips my family went on - to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle - and a trip my grandmother and I took to Vancouver en route to Alaska. I credit seeing these cities for the first time as the seminal moments of what has turned out to be my vocation. Going back to these cities over the years - and especially to Vancouver - reminded me of what I saw as a child, and afforded me the opportunity to elicit more intelligently what I found so attractive about these cities.

A new skyscraper near English Bay

San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have similar characters (and to a lesser degree they share a common character with Boise and Spokane). Each city developed at similar times under similar economic circumstances; each city shares cultural influences; each city has similar topographies. Each of these cities is also changing with the global economy - they are becoming part of a much broader and more influential community of Pacific Rim conurbations - including Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, Honolulu, Anchorage, and Los Angeles. In North America, the four cities of the Pacific Northwest are the cities to watch in the coming years and decades.

Vancouver is a city on the rise. The ebullience is infectious, and may be national. I took this photo at the Chapters Bookstore (similar to a Barnes and Noble) in Downtown Vancouver. Maybe the world does need more Canada.

What makes the cities of the Pacific Northwest so appealing to me is a combination of factors including dense, thriving, urban cores, access to cultural amenities, quality urban design, interesting skylines and arresting views. As I reflected on this, I realized it was the aesthetic of these cities that has captured me. It's the beautiful bridges, the skyscrapers, the captivating marriage of mountains and water, the forgiving climate that allows for verdant parks and evergreen hills.

Lion's Gate Bridge as seen from Stanley Park

As I woke up on my first morning in Vancouver to watch the sunrise, I looked out over English Bay where I saw float planes come and go, traffic zipping across the Lion's Gate Bridge, a huge container ship approach the port, glittering condominium skyscrapers, and above it all, a huge mountain range topped by lit ski runs, I realized that Vancouver captures the aesthetic in a unique and remarkable way. It is probably the most beautiful major city in North America. I stepped out of my hotel room to walk the downtown with the morning commuters, I realized how clean and seemingly well-organized the city was. The downtown was full of thriving businesses and ample commercial retail. Unlike so many cities that claim otherwise, central Vancouver really is a place to live, work, and play. All this adds to a vibe that is unmistakable and - to me - enchanting. It's little wonder then that I fell completely in love with Vancouver.


Vancouver is an amazing city to observe - with water and mountains, industry, commerce, and housing, planes, trains, cars, and ships - all in one vista

Architecturally, the city is quite interesting - and quite distrinct from American cities. The influence of modern Asian design is apparent in the city's newer skyscrapers (owing perhaps to significant investment from China - Vancouver has a huge community of ex-pats from British Hong Kong), and the tall narrow buildings give the downtown a look not unlike that of Honolulu or parts of Tokyo. Yet there are the familiar trappings of western or indeed American urban design: streets that meet at right angles, set-backs and plazas in front of buildings, and monumental public and government spaces, including a magnificent library which was the inspiration for Salt Lake’s public library.




The Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden hosted a winter solstice celebration while we were in Vancouver. Everyone gathered with lanterns on sticks and strolled the gardens. There were lanterns hung in the trees and floating on the ponds. A jazz band was playing Christmas tunes in the pagoda.

Vancouver has strenuously avoided the encroachment of traditional suburban-style commercial retail. I saw little evidence of it in the suburbs and virtually none of it in town, other than in the context of the multi-story retail centers that you'd find in any major city. A notable exception was a Costco, which I was surprised to find just east of downtown. It was built underneath a highway viaduct. The city also lacks the limited access highway network that frames (or strangles) so many American cities (especially San Francisco and Seattle). And Vancouver looks healthier for these reasons: the city is more tightly contained and neighborhoods (even the trashy ones) appear to be thriving and bustling.

The traffic in Vancouver is quite bad, but I’ve yet to see a major city with good traffic. I don’t think you can design a city that is perfect for both people and cars. Where they come in conflict, a wise planner will err on the side of the people and encourage denser living, shorter trips, more compatible land uses, enhanced walkability, and better access to public transit. This appears to be the case in Vancouver.

Granville Island is an urban planning success story. A warehouse district turned into a public market/retail destination. The wine merchant at Granville was second to none. There's also a store called "Crash" - effective solutions for small spaces.

I was not the only one compelled to photograph the produce at the public markets.

Flowers, persimmons, pears, and lychees.

Much of the produce was beautifully displayed.


The island itself is a visually-intriguing space. A road bridge soars overhead, and the architecture is reminiscent of the island's heritage as a harborside warehouse district.

With a regional population of over 2 million people (Vancouver proper has a population of 600,000 people, it’s quite surprising that the city appears, at least from this untrained tourist’s eyes, to be so healthy, happy and comfortable. It is ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities, and housing prices and a very tight job market attest to the city’s desirability and strong economic profile. They must be doing something right.

The price of dining well in a desirable city. Four of us shared a $10 chocolate cake.

A good city needs good coffee. I sipped on this artfully done cappuccino and read the newspaper as the city hummed around me. Despite this good coffee, there was a line snaking out the Starbucks across the street.

Why Geography Should Be Mandatory In School!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Check out this story. This poor man has to be the dumbest German alive. It goes without saying that you should know where you're going before you don't get there.

18 December 2006

Christmas in Zion

Red rocks and snow: Zion National Park in December

This last weekend, Rob and I drove five hours to the other end of the state to celebrate Christmas with his parents, his brothers and sisters, their husbands, wives, and partners, and all the neices and nephews - in all we were 29 people. As the family is too large to stay at someone's home, Rob's mom and dad found a guest ranch a few miles outside Zion National Park to be our gathering spot. As they say, two's company, three's a crowd, and well . . . we had fun anyway. 24 straight hours of non-stop, chaotic fun.

Each of the brothers and sisters and their families were responsible for one meal. We shared the duties of Sunday morning breakfast with Rob's siter Sarah and her husband, Chris. As we were making gingerbread waffles with mulled maple syrup and turkey sausages with fennel, apples, and onions for 30, it dawned on me how rare and amazing it was to see a whole family - three generations total - perfectly intact. Aside from the minor quibbles that are inevitable in such a large gathering, everyone gets along and no one is estranged. The love the Rhoades clan feels is limitless, joyful, and sometimes a little suffocating. Nonetheless, it's astonishing to see a family so large, so happy, and so productive (my family's just the same way - except we're a much more manageable crowd of six).

The entire Rhoades Family (I'm on the back row, far left)

Rob's mother Kathy is big into investments, and is encouraging her children to invest. She gave each of her children and their significant others a goose, a golden egg, and 25,000 Iraqi Dinars - worth about $20. Kathy told us the dinars may go up, they may go down, they may disappear - her hope is that the crisp Iraqi currency will be a reminder of our need to build a nest egg and who knows? If the dinars increase in value, we'll all be in decent shape. I have my reservations about hoarding Iraqi currency - all that blood and treasure! - but the thought was beautiful.

It's always quite an experience to spend time with the Rhoades clan. As devout Mormons with deep roots in Utah, their spiritual and cultural vernacular is entirely different than mine, and sometimes the dissonance can be frustrating or even painful. But their love and commitment to each other is an inspiration for me.

Anyway, here are some photos from my experience this weekend. I hope you enjoy, and may your Christmas and New Year be full of joy and abundance.

Some of our nieces and nephews! From left: Melanie, Katelyn, Laura, Andrew, and Joseph. In the background, Sarah hold's the family's newest addition, Alexis.


Rob's sister Tiffany (back row, far right) and her beautiful family, the Earls.


It snowed on Saturday night, and the sunrise on Sunday was spectacular. Everyone was sleeping as I was making breakfast and enjoying a few quiet moments. I saw the sunrise, stopped what I was doing, and stepped outside the ranch house to take this photo.


A very friendly puppy loved to play with anyone who stepped outside. I wanted more than anything to take him home with me.


The sun rose above the storm, blowing away to the south and east.


Zion National Park was unbelievably beautiful that day. Beautiful and still.


The cliffs of Zion were shrouded in clouds.


Rob and I had great company: his brother Shawn, in the hat, and Shawn's partner, also named Shawn.


Robert and I, looking tired!

Three looming massifs comprise the Court of the Patriarchs.


The Great White Throne, the symbol of Zion National Park, flocked in snow.

10 December 2006

Beautiful Christmas Songs...

I'm not all negative, all of the time. In accordance with the principle of "equal time," I'll now list some of the Christmas songs, carols, and hymns that have always inspired me. Without further ado:
  • "Adeste Fideles" - Catholic hymn attributed to St. Bonaventure, but probably dating to the eighteeth century. This version is sung by Enya. A simply stunning song that I heard at many a midnight mass while growing up.

  • "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley. So why do I like this but not "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"? I dunno, but say what you will about Elvis, the boy had soul...and I think it comes out in this song. This is a particularly cool video - Elvis is singing "unplugged" to a small audience.

  • "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by various artists as part of the Band Aid Project. Sure it can be a little heavy handed (and certainly overplayed) and it's certainly an ego trip for the performers, but I think it's quite lyrical and the message is worth noting. The song keeps being reinvented. Here's the latest Band Aid version.

  • "Elf's Lament" by the Barenaked Ladies. I've always liked the BNL's witty and gentle irreverance and while this song probably won't stand the test of time, it's fun to listen to.
  • “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. This song will stand the test of time, because it speaks beautifully to the anxieties of a generation (at least - I think it speaks to my generation as well). This video is beautiful.

  • "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - Lots of performers have sung this song, and it's easy to tell why. It's beautiful and a little melancholy. Originally sung by Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis," it's a song I just don't get tired of. Neither do performers. It's incredibly versatile - with different performers and writers leaving their mark on the song over the years. I think that's the mark of a classic. The link will take you to a video of James Taylor, who does well by this song. Chris Martin of Coldplay also has a nice rendition of this song.

  • "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" by Gayla Peevey. I just discovered this song this year, while driving home from work. I was laughing so hard I had to pull over.

  • "In Dulci Jubilo" - Fourteenth Century German/Latin Carol. This song, along with "Gesu Bambino" was on a tape of operatic Christmas music my grandmother used to play. A beautiful song combined with happy memories has made this a favorite of mine.
  • “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. Surely this will go down as a great moment in contemporary music. Their two voices, when combined, were unforgettably beautiful. Besides, I can't imagine a Christmas without Bing Crosby.

  • "O Tannenbaum" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The 1950s and 1960s gave us some astonishingly good jazz music, and Guaraldi is a part of that wave. I love this style of jazz, and I can relate with Charlie Brown.

  • "The Coventry Carol" - There are two sides to Christmas, and this sad 16th century lullabye tells of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod recounted in Mark. Still, it is so beautiful.

  • "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Bing makes my list twice. This song is perfect, made moroeso by the presence of Frank Sinatra.
Did I miss any? What are your favorite Christmas songs? Leave a note, and have a Happy Christmas!

Loathsome Christmas Songs

So in trying to capture the Christmas mood yesterday, I was listening to FM100, a Utah radio station that believes that Christmas should start every year at Veterans' Day. And for about a stretch of thirty minutes, they played nothing but the worst Christmas music I've ever heard. I'm just not convinced that this season brings out the best in the star performers today, although I'm willing to concede there is some good stuff out there from big players on the music scene today.

So I thought I would compose a list. I've heard all of these songs within the last few days, and all of them make me want to throw myself out the nearest window. These are the songs whose master tapes should be buried in a 600 foot hole out in the Bonneville Salt Flats, never to be seen again.

Of course all of these songs are on YouTube. Click on the links below to listen to them...if you dare.

With no further ado, Vox Civitatis presents the most loathsome Christmas songs in history, complete with commentary!

  • "A Wonderful Christmastime" by Sir Paul McCartney. He's a great musician - one of the best of our time - but really, what was he thinking? The Queen named Paul Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Did she know about this song? Take that medal back, ma'am.

  • "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. The faux jazz band brassiness of this song is beyond the pale. Besides, does every star need to produce a Christmas album? (The answer is "sure" if they have something worth singing!) Furthermore, Diane Ross she ain't.

  • "Chipmunks' Christmas (Don't Be Late)" by Alvin and the Chipmunks. God never intended chipmunks to make albums, and now we know why. Although the video is funny.

  • "Christmas Canon" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I think they meant for this song to give people the chills, and that's what it does for me, but not in a good way. There's a long tradition of adapting someone else's music, but covers and rearrangement should be creative, if not as good as the original. This is a rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major that's been hit by a train. But the video is cool! Complete with children dressed in white, and fog machines! Yeah.

  • "Christmas Eve - Sarajevo 12/24" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Here's the story behind the music. Oh, but this piece is soo ponderous, as if Christmas were a Michael Bay or John Woo movie. The worst part is that this awful, awful song get so much radio play. The video clip is of a christmas light show at someone's house -- timed to the music. Classy, huh? For more tract home yuletide extravaganza set to Trans-Siberian wonderment, check out "Wizards in Winter." I know these people mean well, but really - who let this orchestra out of the Gulag?

  • "Christmas Shoes" by NewSong. Oh I suppose the song speaks for itself. But it's about a poor boy, his dying mother, the kindness of strangers, and Jesus. Each of these things are worth singing about, but in one song set to a slow, romantic country beat, complete with a childrens' chorus at the end? Um, no. Never. Check out the video...I hate to say anything bad about it, because it's so...earnest. But the song still sucks.

  • "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer)" by Little Cindy. My friend Danny introduced me to this song on an album of unbelievable christmas songs compiled by John Waters (peace be upon him). My first thought was, "Is this for real?!" Apparently, it is. Creepy!

  • "Last Christmas" by Wham! Now George Michael has done some great music, and he's made some questionable calls in his personal life but goodness, this song is probably the worst decision he's ever made. Ever.

  • "Mary Did You Know?" by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd (and lots of others - this song's here to stay). Oh, she knew allright. That's what made her Mary. She also knows that this song is treacly pap.

  • "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee. Recorded in 1960, this song has stood the test of time, and who knows why. Sure, it's iconic. Sure it has an iconic beat and rhythm. Sure it invokes nostalgia. But so do fuzzy dice, but that doesn't mean we should all put them in our cars, does it? Send this song back from whence it came!
Which songs did I miss? Surely there are more. Do you like a song that I hated? Leave a note! And...Merry Christmas.

07 December 2006

"I Was Here"

Yesterday morning, I took public transit to work. It's incredibly convenient - I catch the bus right in front of my house, take it to the City Library, walk across the library plaza to the train platform, and take the train to the University. Seamless, easy, and very pleasant. I should commute this way more frequently.

Anyway, I was walking on the plaza, on a cleaned path between banks of old, dessicated snow, when I came across something special. On a part of the plaza that hadn't been cleared of snow, someone carefully drawn the words "I was here" by removing the snow and revealing the bricks underneath. In the sun, the snow had melted and refroze as ice inside each of the letters. It had been there at least a day. It was one of those moments that called for a camera.

Of course, after three cups of coffee, my mind was afire that morning, and the snow grafitti set me on quite the tangent. Who was this great "I was"? What compelled him or her to write the phrase in the snow? Was he or she alone? Was this a one-off, or does this person leave messages like this in other places?

And then the irony dawned on me: There I was, alone, standing in this large public plaza at the heart of a city of over a million people, surrounded by monumental public architecture, skyscrapers, a Burger King, billboards, electronic signs, sculptures, fountains, gardens, rumbling light rail trains, automobiles, and buses, thinking "huh...how funny it is that this person felt like telling the world she was here."

If humans have an ecological role, it is to alter form. We leave a place changed from what it was when we arrived. We tell each other, our posterity, and nature herself that we were here. Some of our greatest human achievements are celebrated for their immutability. The drive for immortality - through fame or some other legacy - is a drive to have someone in the future remark that we were here. So maybe we want to leave our mark because we fight constantly against the fragility and capriciousness of human life. Individuals do this, and so do societies, writ large. One of the most enduring symbols of our modern achievements are an American flag and some bootprints on the moon, after all. "We were here." The artist, whatever his or her motives, left the most elegant statement of that fact of our human nature, in the form of three very short words drawn in the snow. It doesn't take much to make the statement.

This isn't entirely a bad trait. It's what's given us our great books, our beautiful cities, our timeless art and music, and our stunning advances. But for good or bad, it's worth recognizing that by our nature, we change the world around us, and that's something we cannot escape. Change is evidence that we were here, and clearly so many of us have the desire to leave evidence of our presence. Maybe if we're more cognizant of it, we'd be more careful of the changes we do make. Maybe the question is not always "what do we need to do to mitigate or to prevent change?" but rather is "how do we change for the better?"

03 December 2006

Veni, Veni

Today marks the First Sunday in Advent, the four-week liturgical season that presages not only Christmas, but Christ's eventual triumphant return on earth. For as long as I can remember, my family and my parish church have commemorated the season with a wreath of five candles, four marking the four Sundays preceding Christmas and a fifth white candle to be lit on Christmas. I've loved this tradition; as a child, watching the candles burn down bit by bit each evening provided an important rhythm as the family prepared for the holiday. The advent wreath also heralds a very joyful and hectic time of year for the family, as we commemorate several birthdays (including mine) and a wedding anniversary all in the weeks before Christmas.

As I got older, I came to see Christmas with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I still loved the joy of the season - fortified with so many good memories and countless blessings over the years, I felt that the month of December was a time set apart, with an abundance of happiness, joy, and good will. But I dreaded the the sheer work involved and the stress of the season. Not only was December the apex of our family's social life together, but it was also the busiest time in school. Dealing with the social obligations and the demands of work and school came to be a bit much.

But the advent wreath was always a symbol of peace, and a potent, graceful reminder to me of God's love, which is deep and abiding. This is why I light the wreath, year after year. Lighting the advent wreath has come to be the thing that I look forward to the most at Christmas.

To a Catholic, Advent is the season to commemorate the events leading up to the birth of Christ, but it is also a reminder that we expect Christ to come again. Because of this, my relationship with God comes into very high relief during this season, as I ponder His presence in my life, and the degree to which I embrace that divine presence.

In the last few years, I have found my faith clouded by the relentless march of life, so much of which seems to be devoid of God's presence, and by lingering doubts in my soul over my worthiness as a Catholic. Although we are told that we are made in the image of God, and to celebrate God's love and care for us, sometimes - well, many times - that is not entirely self-evident to me. I've come to realize that some of these doubts have their origin in the unfortunate condition of my sexuality being a political issue, both in the church and in civil society. As much as I would rather be seen as an integrated, fully endowed human being with many qualities, the prism of public conversation both in and out of the church keeps focusing on one aspect of me: my sexuality. I hate being in the limelight that way, I hate being used as a symbol, and I hate having perceptions, values and behaviors projected upon me. This is the world in which I live, and it makes feeling the full embrace of the Catholic communion difficult for me at times. Simply, my doubt stands in the way of my faith.

But does it, really?

In the last few years, I've developed a new sensibility on the question of doubt and faith that has helped me through the challenges I've faced in my religious life, and elsewhere. And earlier today, this new sensibility has crystallized into a deeper understanding of doubt and its role in the Christian experience.

The Gospel of Mark offers a vivid account of Christ's final moments on earth:

About noon darkness fell upon the whole land and lasted till three o'clock. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a strong voice: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani," which means: "My God, my God, why do you abandon me?" (Mark 15:34 - Kleist-Lilly translation)

One of the greatest legacies of Christianity is our belief that Christ, though divine, is human. He experienced the full panoply of human experience, including passion, joy, temptation, dispossession, and at least in the final moments, agony and doubt. Whether Christ was speaking for us or for himself is a matter for debate, but either way, the line in Mark is a testament to his fellowship with us, as a human being. If nothing else, God as man understands and feels our doubts and fears.

Doubt, which is nothing more than uncertainty, is integral to faith. For if we had perfect knowledge about everything, would we need faith? No Catholic I know of has seen a virgin birth, a transfiguration, and certainly not a corporeal resurrection. These events are outside of our perception. And yet, although none of us can be certain of these things, many of us believe in them. Faith in this understanding cannot exist without a modicum of doubt.

A common interpretation of Mark 15:34 was that Jesus' cry was a recitation of a psalm, and the fulfillment of a prophecy that God would hear him when he cried out, and would deliver him. And of course, we believe that's exactly what happened. Likewise, our doubts give rise to our pleas and our prayers. When tempered by faith, doubt can be the fertile ground in which we cultivate a relationship with the Divine, whose ultimate nature is unknowable to us.

This crying out for deliverance has become a ritual in the Roman Catholic advent liturgy, in the form of one of the most haunting and beautiful songs of our religion, one whose words date back to the ninth century: "Veni, veni Emmanuel" - O come, o come Emmanuel.

The lesson of Advent is that God is with us. As I commemorate the birth of Christ, I am also reminded that although I cannot see God, He is present in my life. Even though I doubt, I find that when I cry for help, an answer is never far away. I often find it in the love I experience from my partner, my family, and my friends; in the talents and gifts that I see in others and in myself; and even in something as mundane and repetitive as a sunrise.

From now on, I need to learn not to let my doubts hinder me from crying out. Thanks for reading, and may your Advent and Christmas be full of abundance and joy.

07 November 2006

Vote Republican!

There are many good reasons to keep the Republican majority in Congress - epitomized brilliantly in this political ad. Enjoy the election, folks.

Vote!


Today is Election Day. Those of you who read this journal (yes, both of you), make sure you vote today!

When it's all over, I think the Democrats will have a razor-thin majority in the House, but will fall short of a majority in the Senate. I look forward to the day when Congress will act like Congress again - providing a much needed check against a reckless and powerful executive branch.

Enjoy this clip. Leave it to "The Simpsons" to beautifully capture the national mood.

03 November 2006

Video from an Alternate Universe

I've taken some time on YouTube to hunt for videos showing live in North Korea. It's pretty harrowing. If it interests you, look them up on YouTube. They're facinating. Among other things, I saw images of a concentration camp that doesn't exist, rice from the World Food Program (intended to be given freely to the people) being sold in a market, people walking over a dead woman in the middle of the street, other people riding their bicycles on the rims - no tires, and then there's this:

16 October 2006

Men Working

I am exhausted. I spent yesterday roto-tilling the back portion of our yard - about 1400 square feet in total. It had been a vegetable garden but was neglected in recent years.

Rob and I felt it was time to reclaim the back yard, and this is the beginning of the process. In the spring, we'll be doing some landscaping, and hopefully, if money allows, we'll install an automatic sprinkler system.

While tilling, I unearthed a treasure. I heard the teeth of the tiller scrape against something metal. I stopped the tiller and noticed what looked like one edge of a lawnmower blade. But it wasn't. It was a vintage men's room sign - aluminum, painted with enamel.

I've decided the sign needs a second life, but I'm not sure what to do with it just yet.

13 October 2006

As the Dear Leader Turns


I dispute the notion that Kim Jong-il is crazy. If he truly was unhinged, he would have been defenestrated long ago. I read a book about the Kim dynasty called "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader." The author uses a lot of source material to suggest that while Kim is the undisputed dictator of North Korea, he speaks on behalf of a large extended family whose very wellbeing depends on the DPRK's survival. The legitimacy of the regime - you know, the notion of juche, stalinism, and confucian spirituality - is really a house of cards, and the author suggests that the small elite in the DPRK knows that much. But their survival and their wealth - and there is a lot of it - depends on keeping the regime as opaque and mysterious as they possibly can.

Imagine - a nation where travel is restricted, opportunities are foreclosed, concentration camps are maintained, education is limited, and starvation and famine are permitted - all because a few thousand people want to live in quiet luxury!

The book suggests that Kim's leadership is attenuated by the demands of this family, who propagate his legitimacy throughout the nation. He in turn funnels signifcant assets, resources, and opportunities to them. It seems to be a very durable, mutually agreed-upon relationship.

Whether or not the book is right, I have a hard time dismissing Kim as a power-mad dandy. He has played regional and world powers too effectively to be dismissed outright. He's an inveterate liar (and an expert, having perfected the craft since the day he was born), a brinksman, and ultimately, a survivor. He is not an ideologue - socialism in the DPRK gave way long ago to kelptocracy and opportunistic capitalism, at least for the elite, while the masses are mired in a subsistence economy while they continue to strive for the "workers paradise" they were indoctrinated to believe in.

The Koreas at night. Electricity in the DPRK is turned off at 9:00 pm, except for Pyongyang.

Kim knows that the power vacuum that would form in his absence would be too much for South Korea and China to bear. He also knows that China does not American troops on its border. He also knows how to play the mutual grievances between China, Japan, and Korea, to hamstring and neutralize the six-party talks. He certainly knows that Russia, deep down in her soul, will never sublimate herself to the Americans in a foreign policy crisis. And so our "six-party" strategy plays right into his strategy of dissembling and biding time.

Sure, the DPRK speaks well of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula (as indeed Iran talks about an atomic bomb being un-Islamic...but you and I know that Iran is going to set up a system whereby they are, as they say, only a screwdriver away from a bomb) but I think this is a ploy. The DPRK will be able to say in a few years' time the distrust between the parties requires them to maintain a nuclear arsenal in self defense. Because of his proven nuclear arsenal, Kim will be able to decommission some of his army and cry "victory!" as the troops return home to engage in more productive economic activities, namely the provision of cheap labor for other Asian economies.

So in ten years, one of two things will happen: the regime will be deposed, and it will be a total mess; or the DPRK will be building more cheap cars for China and South Korea. The Kim dynasty will reap the whirlwind, while the masses will receive piecemeal improvements to their lives, so they can be comforted in their heartfelt belief that workers paradise is slowly, but surely being realized.

06 October 2006

Excuse Me?!

Congress' response to the revelations that forer Representative Mark Foley engaged in inappropriate online conversations with teenage boys has only revealed to me the depths to which the national Republican Party has sunk to since 2000. If there was any question if the Republicans deserved re-election last week (in my mind, there wasn't), what we have learned since then reinforces my belief that the Republicans have lost the mandate and the trust of the electorate.

The issues surrounding Mark Foley and his unconscionable acts (while they may not have been illegal in an age-of-consent sense, they are certainly revolting, especially considering the power differential between a current or former congressional page and a ranking republican congressman) are complex, but for me, the GOP's response to the scandal is far more telling than the scandal itself.

Take for example congressman Tom Reynold's response. The other day, he staged a press conference, surrounded by the young children of his supporters, to declare to the world what he knew and when, and to deny a cover-up. When a member of the press asked him to remove the children in order to facilitate a frank discussion over the acts that Foley committed, Reynolds refused, saying that they were his supporters and that he was an advocate of children. This is the very nadir of political cynicism and showmanship.

Commentators like Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh have trotted out all sorts of explanations ranging from alcoholism to Bill Clinton to childish pranks to the liberal media to cynical democrats. Then former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich offered this gem last Sunday:
Well, you could have second thoughts about it, but I think had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would have also been accused of gay bashing.

Excuse me?!

This coming from a member of a political party who has repeatedly used gays and lesbians as a wedge issue to incubate the political support of conservative Christians. This coming from a party that, state after state and in the halls of congress, has demonized the potential for gays and lesbians to build lasting, stable, committed relationships and families. To raise the smokescreen of political correctness and gay bashing is shocking, and it makes my blood boil. How dare they?

Nobody I know, gay or straight, would approve of Mark Foley's actions. This isn't about being gay, this is about being a creep. Foley's colleagues in Congress failed to acknowledge the truly greivous and dangerous path he was going down, and so they all deserve to be tossed out.

A Boston Globe editorial rightly compared the congressional GOP's response to the Foley scandal to the Boston Catholic Church's inept handling of abusive priests. Senator Rick Santorum shamefully had this to say about the Catholic Church's scandal in Boston:
When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political, and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

Well we now know better, don't we? This has nothing to do with ideology; it has everything to do with the preservation of power. And when any group is so self-centered that their primary concern is the maintenance of their own control, then quite simply it is time for them to go. That includes lechers like Mark Foley, scapegoaters like Gingrich, opportunists like Reynolds, and hypocritical moralists like Santorum.
Incompetence, abuse of power, and corruption: George W. Bush, former FEMA director Michael Brown, and former congressman Mark Foley (courtesy Andrew Sullivan).

Where the Hell Have I Been?

I know, I'm a loser.

I start up a blog, post a few times a week, get my friends involve -- and I abandon it. I'm sorry.

You know what, though? It's been an insane couple months for me. But I'm back, and I promise to keep up the posts because there's just so much to talk about.

So where have I been?

Well, in late July, I went to St. Louis to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday and my uncle's 75th, and it was nice being with my family to celebrate the occasion. I'm also proud of my dad - he's in better health in body and spirit than I've seen him in a long time. Way to go, Dad!

During our St. Louis trip, my Dad, my sister Cathy and her son Robbie, my cousin David, and my best friend Alex and I went to Six Flags St. Louis and had a fabulous time. I brought my backpack with me, and it had all of my electronic gear - a digital camera, a cell phone, and an iPod (which I didn't even realize was in there) and to the last one they all got fried because I got DRENCHED in a whitewater raft ride. Foolishly, I didn't put my backpack in a locker.

I ended up replacing my cell phone in St. Louis, and I just recently bought a new camera - a digital SLR that I had been eyeing for a long time, thanks to Alex.

The first week of August took me to Boise, Idaho where I gave a presentation with my best friend Danny on the impacts of big-box retail at a regional planning conference. Our presentation was reasonably well-received and, more importantly, we had fun doing it. Danny, ever the frat boy, made me party harder than I ever did in College. All these months later, I'm still recovering. He introduced me to my first cigar, which tasted good...but I'm not sure it was worth the trouble: Afterward I felt like a dog. had to take a shower and I brushed, rinsed, and flossed TWICE.

When I returned, a friend of mine was in a difficult domestic situation at home and he needed a change, so Rob and I invited him to stay with us until such a time as he could get on his feet and on his own. For the month of August, he joined our little family of two and we ultimately got him secured into a very nice basement apartment (with a garden, natch!) near the University of Utah.

Also in August, a man resigned from the at-large seat on the South Salt Lake City Council. State statute provides for the council to select a replacement, so I applied and threw my heart and energies into running. I knew I faced challenges as a gay non-Mormon man, but I also knew that I had some advantages - my work on the planning commission has been quite an education and I have some friends in the city who were willing to stake their names to my campaign. It was a wonderful experience, having talked with so many people and having learned a lot about myself in the process.

Despite my efforts, I was unsuccessful. In the end, a loquacious grandfater got the seat, and a lot of us challengers were left shaking our heads. But I felt like I did everything I could in order to gain the seat. While I didn't win, I feel I gained a lot of respect. I may try again in an election in the future, but for now I'll keep working on the commission and assisting the political campaigns of others, such as my state senator, Scott McCoy. He's smart, dignified, competent, and capable. He's also openly-gay. He's an inspiration for me and for the community.

In my free time, I've been reading a couple magnificent books, including Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here and Austen Tappan Wright's Islandia. I'm also enjoying reviewing the second season of Battlestar Galactica (television's best show currently) before I start the third season.

So that brings me to now. I'm back, and I'm sorry I went silent for a while.


The view from my window at work.

19 July 2006

What Iran is Really About


I want to call your attention to an execution that occurred in Mashad, Iran, a year ago today. Two young men, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari, aged 18 and 17, were hanged in a public square, allegedly for the sole reason of being lovers. A few days later, the Iranian government claimed that they were being executed for sexually assaulting a minor, but most western observers believe the charges were trumped up ex post facto, as the Iranian media made no mention of them when the two men were executed.

[I complain about the injustices I face as a contributing homosexual member of a western society, yet I am cognizant of the fact that I am not due for the gallows now or, likely, ever (unless Fred Phelp's Westboro Baptist Church ends up running the country).]

Barbaric actions like this abound in Iran. The Islamic Republic thinks nothing of stoning adulterers, hanging young homosexuals, and persecuting religious minorities. Meanwhile, they are busily importing their ideologies and fomenting a civil war in Iraq, and transferring cruise missiles to paramilitaries in Lebanon. Afghanistan's Taliban went on a similarly psychotic rampage, destroying ancient relics, demolishing walls atop convicted homosexuals, murdering adulterers and unwed mothers, and ultimately hurling their country back to the dark ages.

What chills me to the bone is that these actions are the logical and expected outcomes of Islamic theocracy. How do you think a country like the Islamic Republic would act when armed with a nuclear arsenal? Especially when unemployment is rampant and a young population is faced with a deep and abiding hopelessness? Is it reasonable to think that appeasement and containment (which seems to be the "least-bad" short term strategic solution) will work in the long run? On the anniversary of a barbaric and senseless murder of two young men, it may be worth our while to wonder if "America is the Great Satan" and "Death to Israel" are empty slogans, or more?

By the way...

Yesterday, proponents of the gay marriage amendment failed to muster 2/3rds of the U.S. House of Representatives to approve the amendment. Georgia Representative Phil Gingrey administered the floor debate yesterday. After the amendment failed, he spoke of the symbolic value of supporting a marriage amendment regardless of its chances of success, saying, "This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now." That's just great! Raising the spectre of homosexual rights to appease Islamists. In light of the picture and of what I said above, that's pretty ironic.

18 July 2006

Yeah - What He Said

My friend Henry Briscoe from Graz, Austria responded to my post below, on Israel's war against Hezbollah and Hamas. His response was left as a comment to the post, but I think it's worthy of promotion. He is a much better writer than I and he provides some much needed context. Read on...

One must ask why is Hezbollah doing this now. It seems to me that after their high in 2000 after the Israeli withdrawal, their popularity has massivly diminished. Many Lebanese (both Christian and Muslim) see Hezbollah as a major obstacle to peace and economic development. On top of which the Lebanese now refuse to be Syria's (or indeed Iran's) pawn - as witnessed by the waning of Syrian influence following the assasination of a major Lebanese politician.

Hezbollah were counting on massive Israeli retaliation (and the inevitable emotive images of dead civilians) to bolster their domestic support. However I think this is all about Iran's domestic politics and regional aspirations. Who is the big winner from this? Iran. Their efforts to forge a militant pan-regional Shia coalition under their command is suceeding. Their president promised massive development and raised standards of living, promises that he cannot deliver. So, by provoking the West into placing economic sanctions against Iran - through WMD development, tinkering in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah - he can then say to his population, "I couldn't deliver what I promised because of the Great Satan. Sorry." The worst thing is that his policy is working. Sanctions are inevitable, war with Iran possible. The youth of Iran, once upon a time drifting Westward have now been radicalised.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's the voice of Iran's discontent and her mouthpiece to the world. The real power, however, resides in the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the clerics who support him. Thus the dangers of a theocracy.

Why is Beirut being bombed? Beirut is one of the most sectarian cities anywhere in the world. The north is broadly Christian and untouched by Israel, however the south of the city is very much a Hezbollah stronghold - supported by an army of poor urban Shia.

What should Israel do? There's little they can do. Catch 22. If they let their soldiers be kidnapped without retaliation it will make their enemies bolder - they'll correctly see it as a sign of weakness. If they launch an all-out invasion they'll be doing exactly what Hezbollah wants them to do. I believe their current action is the least bad option.

What should the West do? A multi-national (including Muslim) force should patrol southern Lebanon and get medievel on Hezbollah's arse. This will never happen though - we're not about to do Israel's dirty work and put our already overstretched militaries in further danger.

What should Hezbollah do? Bugger off.

17 July 2006

A Return to War

The story of the week at least in the United States is the low-grade war Israel has undertaken against Hamas and Hezbollah and, by extension, Palestine and Lebanon.

I haven't followed the conflict as well as I probably should have, but my first reaction was supportive of Israel. Given how high the stakes are in the region (notably an ebullient Iran sowing dissention in Iraq, playing diplomatic poker regarding its nuclear abitions, and continuing to support Hamas and Hezbollah, militant groups with political representation in Palestine and Lebanon, respectively), I can understand and sympathize with Israel's fury over the abduction of her soldiers.

Israel seems much more comfortable defending itself after the withdrawal, which has allowed the country to fortify along borders that are accepted by most international authorities. We now know that a withdrawal did not portend peace in the region. Nonetheless, Israel's grievance seems legitimate: although both Hamas and Hezbollah are active players in the Palestian Authority's and Lebanon's democratically-elected government (with Hamas winning a stunning mandate in Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006), they have maintained their paramilitary actions, with Hezbollah in particular enjoying materiel support from Syria and Iran.

In January, foreign policy wonks were debating whether or not Hamas would be forced to cease its terrorist operations now that they were now responsible for the mundanities of government: making the payroll, providing clean water, and removing garbage from the streets of Palestinian cities. That question seems to be answered, which is why Israel attacked.


I can understand their frustration. Quite simply, if a militant group wishes to be a player in democratic politics, then it must disarm. Now I know this is a pipe dream, especially in Lebanon. There, Hezbollah seems to run southern Lebanon as its feif and has threatened a reprisal of the nation's suicidal civil war if it is forced to disarm. But then - why the pretense of democratic action? Why must they force the Palestinian President and the Lebanese Prime Minister to utter sad little claims of plausible deniability for their governments' actions against Israel?

With the abduction of a handful of soldiers, I can understand why Isreal struck back as hard as they did. I don't see the effectiveness of a political solution solving the conflict between Isreal and these two political movements who behave like political parties but who also continue terrorist operations against Israel. And so there we are, in a state of war.

One thing that seems counter-intuitive to me is the concentration of Israel's wrath upon Beirut, Lebanon's capital. The south of Lebanon is Hezbollah's stronghold, and as a result of two decades of civil war, they have few friends in Beirut. Indeed, the strikes on Beirut seem may alienate the very people that Israel most needs now: an urban population of Muslims and Christians who fought hard for a Lebanese democracy (remember how they threw out the Syrian military and intelligence thugs a year ago?) that now seems to hang by a thread.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. I wish I understood this sad return to war better. Feel free to leave comments or thoughts of your own (I'm especially interested in what you have to say, Henry).

Photo credits: Reuters (top) and the New York Times (bottom).

15 July 2006

Granola Week

I had a bit of an epiphany this week. It actually started last Saturday when I ran my car out of gas in downtown Salt Lake. As I was walking to a nearby gas station, I was contemplating the ever-escalating cost of gasoline and how energy costs were beginning to take a notably-larger chunk out of my financial resources. It looked grim - my driving patterns are such that I spend $80 to $100 a month on gasoline (which is probably less than average) and I was trying to figure out a way to cut it down. Do I ride the bus more? Should I trade in the car for a hybrid?

It also just so happened that my gymnasium, the legendary (infamous) University of Utah Field House, has gotten impossible to deal with. It's summer hours are bad, and there's no air conditioning. I usually go to the gym at 5 o'clock, after work gets out. And walking into an un-air-conditioned gymnasium at 5 o'clock on a July day when the temperature is peaking at or near 100 degrees is like walking into a gigantic used gym sock. In other words: cruel and unusual punishment. I think that gymnasiums are boring, repetitive, and barbaric on a good day, so you can only imagine how anxious I am to work out under these conditions. And yet - I need the exercise. Anyone who works a sedentary job needs the exercise.

The Einar Nielsen Field House at the University of Utah. Beautiful building, and not a bad place to work out in the winter. But in the summer? Ehhhhh - not so much!

I decided to kill two birds with one stone: that Saturday, I promised myself that I would ride a bicycle to work every day this last week. I tested it out that afternoon. I rode up my street into downtown, where I put the bike on the train that goes up to the University (the hill to the University is huge and I would be in no condition to report to my office after riding up it). I then rode it back home, since it was downhill or flat, most of the way. According to MapQuest, it's roughly a 10-mile round trip.

Technically, I didn't meet my goal because I had to run an errand on Friday which required use of my car, but I still think I passed the overall objective because I rode my bike every day this week - whether to work, to visit my grandmother, or to attend a meeting. By thursday, after riding all week and stopping at the locally-owned Emigration Market to pick up organic fennel and artesanal cheese and receiving a $0.05 discount because I threw the groceries into my back pack instead of using one of their plastic bags, I must confess I felt a wee bit smug. See how wonderful I am? Working out, supporting local business, and sparing the world more carbon monoxide? I was only smug for a moment before another thought entered my mind: Dear god! I'm turning into a granola! I could just see my father through my mind's eye, wagging his long finger at me and chiding me for becoming a "limousine liberal."

Emigration Market, at 1300 South and 1700 East, is a wonderful little locally-owned supermarket. What this store lacks in a Supercenter's selection it makes up for in style and character. I blew away all the cost-savings on gasoline this week by shopping here after work. This photo is courtesy of Beth Adams, a Salt Lake native who writes a charming blog called Crazy Us.

Oh well. The food was excellent. Having done so much cardiovascular exercise, I felt like a new man, and I saved money on gas. By these measures, my granola week was a smashing success.

10 July 2006

Vincerò! Vincerò!


Yeah it was just a soccer game, and I didn't even watch it. But I love the Italians, and being part-Italian myself, I couldn't help but enjoy the victory, even if I really didn't give a damn. about the game.

Considering that Italy is a nation of people who love, dress, and eat well, Puccini sums it up best. So this is for all my Francophone friends:

No one sleeps!... No one sleeps!...
Nor do you, o princess
in your cold room
Look the stars that tremble
with love and hope!
But my mystery
it is locked in me,
my name no one will know!
No, no, only on your mouth I will reveal it,
when dawn's light will shine!
My kiss will break the silence
and make you mine!

His name no one will know...
And we shall have, alas, to die, to die...!

Disperse, o night! Set, you stars!
Set, you stars! With the dawn I will win!
I'll win! I'll win!

- Nessun Dorma - "Turandot" by Puccini

05 July 2006

The Statue of Liberty, Born Again

Photo Credit: Rollin Riggs for The New York Times

Can you believe that? What you see above is the Statue of Liberation through Christ, a $250,000 reimagining of the Statue of Liberty in front of a Memphis Mega-Church. She holds a cross aloft in one arm, and in the other the Ten Commandments. Her crown has the word "Jehovah" inscribed in it, and she is shedding a tear.

When I was talking about how Evangelical Christians have aggressively attempted to incorporate their theologies into our nation's traditions and symbols, I did not imagine that a congregation would literally attempt such an endeavor. But there's the result, which is amusing and shocking to me. The more I think about it, the more I feel that a national symbol is being desecrated. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of emancipation, political freedom, and American prosperity. To reform Lady Liberty as a Christian symbol, I fear, forecloses its moral and social impact to anyone who is not a Christian, and that's plain wrong.

Another blogger says it better than I can:
To a very real extent, the Statue of Liberty (despite being the product of the French) has come to symbolize America -- and America does not stand for theocracy. The Statue stood over New York Harbor where it welcomed immigrants of all faiths and no faith. The only belief America has ever demanded of its citizens, native-born and naturalized, is belief in America itself, belief in the idea that freedom and diversity were inherently good. To show the Statue holding a cross is a desecration.

- Post by Lizard, The Journal of Applied Misanthropology

But among America's highest virtues is our freedom of expression. Americans are free to reinterpret our national symbols, even to the point of desecration. That applies to our flag, too.

Courtesy Andrew Sullivan. The original article was in today's New York Times.

02 July 2006

The Perú Travelogue

The Travelogue is posted, in several chapters, below. It took me a long time to compile, and it's basically a transcription of my diary, which I wrote on the trip.

I'll be adding pictures to it soon. I won't do it tonight, because I'm tired of looking at my monitor.

Just to prove to you I was there, here's one photo of me, perched precariously on the walls of Machu Picchu.

Getting There is Half the Fun!

7 MAY

I just took a short nap on this pleasant flight. I practiced some digital photography. I am very tired – stress from a perfect storm of work and life issues. But I am sure I will be fine. We are due to arrive in Kansas City soon. I am very excited about this trip, and nervous about many things as well.

Practicing my photography as we swing back over the Salt Lake City International Airport

Many people who travel across or above the Great Plains describe them as monotonous or boring. I think they are magnificent. As I look out the window, I see these beautiful, symmetric bright green fields of crops, cut by rolling hills, streams, and arroyos. Superimposed on this vista that stretches forever is a grid of roads, each one perfectly straight, stretching north and south, and east and west.

7 MAY -1:00 pm

KANSAS CITY. Our flight to Atlanta is delayed, and I will likely just miss my connecting flight to Lima. If this is the case, I will have to find a place to stay and hope for the connection tomorrow night. Is Terry in Atlanta? Will I make my connection? If not, what about my flight from Lima to Cusco tomorrow morning? So many questions in this little drama, and only time will tell.

7 MAY – 2:30 pm

SOMEWHERE OVER MISSOURI. This flight will probably arrive at 4:40 pm in Atlanta; it is unlikely that I will make the Lima connection. I spoke to Cathy and we agreed that she will go without me. I am hoping that I can route through Miami to catch a flight that arrives in Lima at 4:30 tomorrow morning. If not, I’ll stay in Atlanta and visit the aquarium tomorrow morning.

I indulged in a decent barbeque pork sandwich and a glass of stout – all for $18 – at the Kansas City Airport. A little bit of overpriced tranquility to begin a trip that in the planning stages has been fraught with anxiety, beginning with a hellish project at work, a tire blow out, the loss of Sonia because of an injury she suffered, and various other issues. Oh well – this will make the destination all the more exciting. Also – it is healthy to let go and let things happen as they will.

An Unexpected Side Trip

7 MAY – 8:20 pm

ATLANTA – I missed my flight by 8 minutes! I was in the airport talking to Cathy as I was running like hell from Concourse A to Concourse E. By the time I arrived at the gate, the plane left with Cathy on board! Amazingly, they would not wait although they verified through my sister that I was in the airport. Re-routing did not work; there were no guarantees that American Airlines would honor my ticket although Delta would gladly get me to Miami if I really wanted to go (memo to me: don’t buy a bulk ticket in the future. Yes, they are cheap, but your options are extremely limited if you run into trouble). I’m stuck in Atlanta, but Sonia has re-arranged our flights to Cusco. I’m not sure what has happened, but she assures me that all will be well and that her family will meet Cathy in Lima later tonight.

I’m staying at the Country Inn and Suites, a boring and overused airport hotel in College Park, Georgia. Delta provided me with a discount voucher, although they did not need to because it was weather, and not a mechanical failure, that caused me to miss the connection. In keeping with the weirdness that has been ,my life as of late, a self-proclaimed voucher scalper offered to buy my ticket and take me in an unmarked minivan to a Best Western. I was tempted for a moment, because I just wanted a bed at that point, but I politely declined. After settling in at the hotel and ordering a pizza, I walked to the nearby Kwik-E-Mart to buy a bottle of wine (Pizza and wine are what I indulge in whenever I’m feeling sorry for my self – those are my pity party supplies). Unfortunately, the county blue laws meant that the liquor refrigerators were locked. I was however offered some bootleg outside the store. I declined that as well.

The pizza was excellent! I ate the entire 12” pie! As I write this, I’m watching Desperate Housewives and soon I’ll go to bed. It’s been a wonderful day despite it all. Tomorrow I’m going to wake up early, go to town, and check out the Georgia State Capitol and the High Museum. The Georgia Aquarium, though by all accounts the largest and most fabulous fish tank in America, is also very expensive, and I want to save my money for the real deal: Peru.

8 MAY

ON MARTA – I’m tired. I’m heading back to the airport to finally catch my Lima flight. Unfortunately, the High Museum was closed today, but I enjoyed myself anyway.

Atlanta at 10 am on a Monday - a sleepy metropolis.

I am seeing the strangest things today. Just now, a black man in a baseball cap was dancing on the train. Maybe dancing isn’t the right word: he was standing absolutely still while nodding his head rapidly to and fro as he listened to his CD Walkman. Everyone in the car was stunned into silence, as we were witnessing an apparent feat of human bone structure. He moved like a bobble head. Needless to say, as he exited the train, bobbing away as he walked, we all erupted in laughter.

Earlier this morning, I saw something just as unusual. A man boarded the train, and he was jangling three or four Eisenhower Dollar coins in his open palm. He would stop, put the coins in his back pocket, gesture, shift his weight around cockily, and take his coins out and jangle them again. He was met with bemused stares, annoyed glances, and shaking heads from the passengers. The poor guy reeked of alcohol.

The beautiful gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol.

Anyway, I had a pretty good day in Atlanta. I went to the Georgia State Capitol and joined a tour of young school kids. I enjoyed tramping through the Governor’s office and sitting in the House Chamber as they debated a bill extending a school recess, the Governor, played by their teacher, threatened a veto unless the kid-legislature added an extra fifteen minutes to the school day. The bill passed the House, but failed narrowly in the Senate.

Schoolkids voting on the recess bill.

Nice streetside dining near Georgia State University.