Monday, November 28, 2005

Is it Too Early for Fireworks?

Josh and I returned to Mt Hood this weekend to ride 13 inches of fresh snow. Wanting to dodge the crowds and enjoy the untracked stuff, we opted once again for the Glade Trail. At the end of our second run some teens were hanging out in a jeep right where the trail meets the road. I answered a few of their questions about the trail and during our exchange, one of them reached out the window and offered me a bottle-rocket. Now, I love fireworks as much as the next guy, but I declined. It makes me chuckle even now. What were they doing with bottle-rockets? And what made them offer one to me? I guess in all my snowboarding gear I don't look like a 34 year-old, volvo-driving, computer nerd, who isn't even carrying a lighter or an empty bottle to enjoy such a toy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Tale of Two Americas

While I agree with my friend Adam that there are more productive activities than watching TV, I confess that I do sometimes bask in the warmth of its glow. That being said, I will dispense with the apologies and continue with a discussion of 2 documentaries I recently watched.

I have close friends who admire Michael Moore, but I had never seen any of his work. While this would sometimes leave me on the outside of their conversations, I couldn’t bring myself to pay for any of his showings. A few weeks ago Bravo aired Bowling for Columbine and I caught it on Tivo. Now, I’ll admit that I am a bit to the right of MMoore’s views and that may have motivated me to avoid his work in the past. But, I try to approach issues with an open mind. I will often find my self listening to progressive talk radio just as often as I hear the conservative stuff. I am in favor of less government, but I don’t think the way we do healthcare in this country is working. I am a registered Independent who takes an honest look at each issue and tries to avoid making decisions or judgments just because it is the party line.

So, with remote in hand, an open mind and my faithful companion at my side, I watched; and I was entertained. He had me from the opening scene where he gets a free gun at a bank for opening a CD to the end where he pesters Charlton Hesston into an interview and challenges him to justify gun-ownership. Bowling had it all: interviews, cartoons, surveillance footage of the Columbine tragedy and wacky gun-toten militia-men in Minnesota.

Did you know that the creators of South Park are from Littleton, and went to Columbine? They provided a funny little cartoon titled A brief History of America that, although humorous, drives home Michael’s point—we white people are living scared and we have the guns to prove it. According to the film that is what drove the murders at Columbine—I think. It was a bit hard to follow his arguments, mostly because he makes so many. Was it the militia in Minnesota? He spent more than a few frames talking with Timothy McVeigh’s brother; perhaps that was what inspired them?

Could it be because the world’s largest weapons manufacturer is in Littleton? Moore actually asked a Lockheed Martin executive:

"So you don't think our kids say to themselves, 'Gee, you know, Dad goes off to the factory every day and, you know, he builds missiles. These are weapons of mass destruction.' What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?'"

And Moore wasn’t kidding; the polite executive just stood there for a minute and replied,

“I guess I don't see that connection.”

Moore interviews Marilyn Manson so we know the cause wasn’t the music.

Soon the movie begins to build to a climax when the possibility that gun violence in the U.S. is triggered by the number of guns Americans own is explored. It is just so easy to get a gun and since everyone has one, that must be why we lead the world in gun crimes; and it probably explains Columbine. However, Moore points out that Canada has even more guns than we do, yet they only have a fraction of our number of gun homicides. So the problem can’t be the guns. I really didn’t see that coming. Up to this point in the film I thought Moore had been leading me down the need-for-gun-control path. But here he is saying it’s not the number of guns we have—just look at Canada. So what is different about Canada? According to Bowling for Columbine, Canadians don’t live in fear. They leave their doors unlocked, they have great healthcare and their news is ‘nice’. Much different than the U.S. where we live in fear which is perpetrated by the evil media.

I don’t necessarily buy all of this, but it seems to be leading somewhere and I certainly can’t turn it off. Now comes the kicker, Moore is wrapping up and he has one last punch to throw. Given his last line of reasoning, I expect him to go bother some media exec. They are, after all, responsible for instilling all of the fear that makes us shoot each other. But, instead, Moore uses his final scene to interview Charlton Hesston and question him about gun ownership. This seems misplaced to me since he just convinced me that the number of guns isn’t our problem. Oh well, the credits roll and I don’t feel cheated, just a little confused.

(You don’t have to spend much time on the ‘net to find a lot of talk about Bowling for Columbine. It spurred a lot of interest and there are many people who claim it is filled with lies. There are also plenty of people, Moore included, who stand by this work as truth. I’ve tried not to comment on this debate. I figure if that interests you, you can go decide for yourself. What I was impressed by was its ability to entertain, where I felt it lacked was in the failure to complete its argument.)

Another underlying theme in Bowling for Columbine is the horrible state most things are in. The media is bad, wages are low, healthcare is failing, we have too much violence, too much fear and things are not getting better. Even the places where you’d expect goodness, like a suburban public school, are torn down in this film. Moore’s interview with South Park co-creator Matt Stone ends with a rant about schools messing up kids:

“… the teachers and counselors and principals don't help things. They scare you into conforming and doing good in school by saying: ‘If you're a loser now, you're gonna be a loser forever.’ They just beat it in your head as early as sixth grade: ‘Don't *&%@ up. 'Cause if you do, you're gonna die poor and lonely.’”

So, wow, the schools are bad. That kind of put me in a funk...

Until the other night when Christa brought home a documentary titled Paper Clips. Paper Clips is a documentary that spends its time asserting that there are good things going on in the world, especially in Whitwell, TN. When the story begins we meet the Whitwell Middle School principle and she tells us that she has decided to do something about a problem at her school. You see, everyone in her community is the same. They are all white except for 5 black students and one Hispanic. They are all protestant. And for the most part the students, in this small town of 1600 people, do not have contact with people who are different from themselves.

Her solution was to start a special program focusing on the Holocaust. Under the direction of teacher Sandra Roberts and Assistant Principle David Smith, students were introduced to the atrocities carried out by Hitler. At one point early in the teaching they were discussing the number of Jews that were killed and one student asked, “How many is six million? I’ve never seen that.” From his question the journey begins and their goal of collecting 6 million paper clips is born. They learned that during World War II paper clips were sometimes worn on lapels as a sign of resistance to the Nazis so they wrote letters asking for donations of paper clips.

The documentary traces their collection process, which starts slow at first, but picks up momentum after an article by the Washington Post and a segment on the NBC Nightly news. Each step of the journey is captured in this film and I could sense the changes the students and teachers were experiencing as their world began to grow. You see, each shipment of paper clips that came to their tiny school was accompanied by a letter which usually told the story of a Holocaust victim or survivor. Then they were visited by a group of survivors from New York who shared their stories at a town meeting. Students who had only read about Jews and the horrible suffering they endured were now sitting across the table from people who were actual concentration camp survivors. It was touching to see the people of Whitwell soften as they heard the survivor’s stories.

When the Whitwell students reached and then surpassed their paper clip goal, they built a memorial to house them. Now they conduct educational tours for other students who come to visit them on field trips. It was amazing to see them not only learning about tolerance, but also teaching it. I couldn’t help but wonder what Michael Moore would have to say about this town. They are the very people he mocked in his History of America cartoon—Whitwell is only 116 miles from the birthplace of the Klan, they are mostly white and I am sure that they are armed.

At one point, the Assistant Principle tells us about the change this project has made in his life. He explains the prejudice that was passed down to him from his father, a Klan member, and the struggle that has caused him. He confesses that he has changed and plans to pass on a different model to his sons. When the film finished I was inspired with hope and motivated to pursue change in my own world.

Monday, November 14, 2005


OK, this picture was taken back in 03, but I rode this trail just yesterday. My friend Adam L. needed one last trip to the mountain before heading off on an extended African adventure and far be it from me to miss a chance to carve some turns. Our original plan was to climb up the snowfield above Timberline Lodge. When we arrived at the lodge, the conditions made visibility an issue that neither of us wanted to challenge. So, we opted for the Glade Trail that runs from Timberline to Govy. Aside from one set of cross-country tracks we had the snow to ourselves. At the end of the ride we hitched back up to Timberline and did it again. It gave up some sweet turns and I was reintroduced to that weightless, floating feeling that I have only felt while strapped to my board. I'm looking forward to many more powder turns this season, let's hope the snow is here to stay.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

That Time of Year

I love Christmas music. It is one of my favorite things about Christmas. I grew up singing it in school choirs and have since developed a passion for it. To keep my passion in check, I've had to adopt two rules. We only listen to it from Halloween to Christmas and the first album played is always: An Evening in December by First Call.

I first heard this album in the winter of 1989, when my roommate Chris Smith played it for me on cassette. We also had a copy in the Music Haus on vinyl. I got my own copy when I found it on cd in a bargain bin at a music store in the mall a few years later and I still have it. It has spot on the first track where it always hangs, but that hasn't kept it from the top of my Christmas list since I bought it 10 years ago.

The arranging and creativity on this recording are timeless. It is a cappella, so the vocal talents of First Call shine through on every track. It weaves through the season with updates of classic hymns and fresh covers of contemporary songs. I'm partial to One Small Child for the simplicity with which David Meece nails the melody and the message annoucing the King.
One king bringing his gold and his riches
One king ruling an army of might
One king kneeling with incense and candlelight
One King bringing us life
Also, don't miss the 5/4 meter found in O Come, O Come Emmanuel--genius.

It is still available at Amazon and I've also seen it on Rhapsody.
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