how many barrels of oil does it take to fuel an american life?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

so this oil spill is fucked up, and there are really no two ways about that.

i have been waiting, i guess, to process the scale of the tragedy, not really sure how to wrap my mind around the quantities involved, or the implications that will surely continue to emerge as the food chain is disrupted, the currents disperse, and storm season begins.

i have also been waiting, i realize, because scandal and catastrophe are becoming so commonplace that my initial reaction when something terrible happens is to resist being sucked into the circus of mainstream media coverage and reactionary online commentary until after the opening parade has passed and i can begin to get a sense of what’s really going on.

now it has been two months, however, so i can’t justify a holding pattern any longer.

this tragedy is real, and it is difficult for the press to inflate it.
we could still happen upon a miraculous solution.
or, you know, aliens could show up and offer to help us in exchange for our loyalty to the alliance of gnib.

but in the meantime, oil continues to spill, no one can really say for certain how quickly it is flowing, and it is starting to feel like all we will ever be able to do is sit here and watch the numbers climb:

at some point, we are going to have to figure out how to move forward. we are going to have to accept that children born today may spend their entire lives in a world where the gulf of mexico is black and too toxic for swimming. that shrimpers and fishermen are going to have to find new sources of livelihood. that our insatiable thirst for oil and willingness to ignore safety violations until enforcement becomes a meaningless rubber stamp that corporations don’t really have to worry about actually earning, as long as they know how to make nice and hire the right middlemen, can lead to real devastation.

we need to admit that we are playing a high-stakes game here, and it is very possible to make mistakes that we can’t take back.

as we search for a silver lining, or at least for ways to alchemically convert our frustration into impact, it is very tempting to believe that this may be just the wake up call we need to curtail our oil use.

for starters, outrage against BP is rampant, and the creative catharsis is humorous and fun to look at. but while high-level investigations continue, and we wait for the scales of justice to weigh the arguments on all sides, most of us are left with a profound sense of powerlessness. a boycott of BP stations is tempting, at first, but it is important to remember that gas stations are locally owned and managed by people with nothing to do with corporate HQ, so please consider the big picture if you feel yourself drawn in this direction.

BP Logo Redesign

image via GreenpeaceUK

finding ways to cut back on gas use is more promising, and existing grassroots efforts to motivate a critical mass to change their habits are enjoying a surge in popularity, which is good, but only time will tell if the surge will lead to any long-term behavioral change.

i have been thinking a lot about gasoline consumption over the past few years because i have been on the road so much, and now that my transmission has kicked the bucket in an expensive way (yeah. hugh is dead. sucks.), leaving me carless, i am taking the opportunity to consider my next steps carefully.

while i’m here in watsonville, my mom’s car is available for basic transport and emergencies, which is very convenient. in other universes, where i am still commuting to work in san diego, or in the middle of driving cross-country, i imagine that i am much grumpier.

as it is, i am taking the opportunity to rest a bit, acquainting myself with public transport, and scouting for bikes. what i will do next is still uncertain, but since i have a bit of leeway in my decision period, i am tempted to do something dramatic, like pledge to not buy another vehicle unless it runs on biodiesel, or natural gas, or is a horse.

the dual punch of the oil spill and the loss of my car is perhaps a blessing, because these ideas that we hear all the time – we need to reduce our dependence on oil! find alternative fuel sources! promote public transportation! – are all so familiar that we almost risk tuning them out, or participating mechanically on bike to work day, which makes us feel good, like when we recycle.

but when it really comes down to it, i am realizing that even with the best of intentions, i was viewing the crisis point as sometime far in the future, and that is dangerous.

when will the turning point come, if not with a tragedy of this scale? do we really need to wait for all seven horsemen to show their heads? or are we already so jaded that we’re just digging out bomb shelters, stockpiling canned goods, and backing up our hard drives so that we have every episode of lost to keep us company?

i guess that’s a start.

meanwhile, i have decided to perform a playful thought experiment.

if we were previously going to run out of oil on day x, and i was therefore going to be forced to stop using oil at around that time, how much sooner will that day come because of the oil spill?

you know, like those statistics that tell you how each year of smoking takes so many years off your life?

what i want to know is: how many years of driving do we collectively lose for each day that the oil spill continues?

i crunched some numbers, and using the rather conservative estimate of 20,000 barrels of oil being spilled a day (this number keeps rocketing higher, and everyone disagrees about the flow rate, but no one seems able to dispute that the number is at Least this large, so i will start there), and the estimates that the department of energy gives for gallons of gas per barrel of oil, and the EPA’s assumptions that Americans drive an average of 12,000 miles/year at 20 miles/gallon, we get the rather amusing answer (for apocalyptic conspiracy theorists) that we are losing 666.66 years of oil per day.

taking an average human lifespan of 66.6 years (for the sake of round numbers and fun), this means that, for every day that the oil spill continues, we lose 10 driver-lifetimes of oil.

i like this statistic so much that i made a little chart:

Chart of Oil Spill in Lifetime Supplies of Gas

so, at the two month mark, we have spilled a quantity of oil which, under other conditions, could have been distributed across 600 lifetimes.

go us!

as i said, this is just a thought experiment, and a rather silly one, at that.

basically, my brain is attempting to put the oil spill into terms that make some kind of sense to me, numbers that i can relate to my own life, and use to try to motivate myself to truly grok the scale of this disaster.

in my quest for understanding, i hit upon this 10 lifetimes per day idea, and suddenly, i saw 10 future-people in some imaginary line in some big office building where they hand out ‘lifetime supply of gas’ ration cards. the future-people are standing there, waiting, reading old magazines with all the crossword-puzzles filled in, and they’re cranky, and hungry, and the air-conditioning is broken, and it’s almost their turn! but then… the window slams shut! they stand agape, not knowing what to do, and a pasty-faced bureaucrat in a suit that’s too small, with a tie that looks like a cheap piece of christmas ribbon, sneers at them and says: “oh ho! all gone! sorry, buddy! no gas for you! too bad about that oil spill back in 2010! that was YOURS!” and then he cackles maniacally and the vision fades away…

what can i say? my brain is a strange place.

but future-people aside, i think that measuring the oil spill in lifetime-sized chunks is useful. if instead we were to look at it alongside the ridiculous amount of oil we use each day, or share it equally among all licensed American drivers, our personal share of the problem starts to look very small (~ 0.002 gallons/day), which is a tempting consolation.

continuing this line of reasoning, we could theoretically tell ourselves that it will be possible to recoup our loss from the oil spill if we each agree to reduce our gas use by some fractional amount each year, which would be a lot easier than figuring out how to go without gas entirely.

we can remain calm, and keep fighting obesity with reduced-fat potato chips.

the problem with this is that, years down the road, when we have made up for the lost oil and learned to live comfortably with this fractional reduction, we will all still be demanding more oil, whereas, if we begin to take more drastic steps today, some number of us will instead be free.

[cue inspiring video clip of birds in flight with soothing vocals in an melodic, yet unfamiliar language]

the goal, as i see it, is to do whatever it takes to change our destructive habits so that the future will be different, not to simply make the tiniest concessions possible in order to continue our bad habits forever in a watered-down form.

i mean, we’re running out of water, too, you know…

so take my chart or leave it, as you see fit.

i will continue to seek ways to reduce my oil use, and i will tell you what i decide to do re: my next vehicle.

suggestions are encouraged.

and yes, i understand that, when it comes to making sense of the oil spill, the quantity of oil involved is only just the beginning.

next, i’m going to have to deal with the trickle-through effect on wildlife habitats, including our own.

but that still makes my head hurt, so first, i will watch a couple episodes of fringe (moving on with jj abrams, now that lost is done!), and work on my bomb shelter schematics.

do you think there will be enough battery power to bring my wii?

props to colin powell

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Powell endorses Obama and speaks out against the blatant bigotry inherent in the “I’m worried he might be Muslim” argument.

yeah, but when you face the sun? please cast no shadow. light’s too bright. kthxbye.

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

i was listening to marketplace the other day and there was this piece about these new apple ads starring “mac guy” and “pc guy”. story goes that they make mac users out to be all slick and savvy while showing pc users as geeky and frustrated. i don’t have a tv, so i haven’t actually seen these ads, and i should probably go watch one on youtube or something before writing this post, but whatever, because i’m not actually responding to the ads, i’m responding to the way they were covered on the radio.

the piece talked about how apple might be biting itself in the ass with the ad campaign because “mac guy” is so self-confident as to be annoying, and current mac users might not enjoy the association. marketplace quotes marissa gluck, a marketing analyst, as saying:

The character of the Mac guy is almost too perfectly cast. He is smug. He is condescending. He’s just that uber-hipster you love to hate. It just makes you want to slap him.

fair enough. condescension not always the best marketing strategy. noted.

but the piece goes on from there. after assessing “mac guy” in this manner and questioning apple’s wisdom in promoting itself through him, it cites a study by a media research group that surveyed 7,500 different computer users with regard to their lifestyle habits as well as their computer usage. the direct quote from a representative of the research group was:

This is a group that is not afraid to shout its accomplishments from the mountaintops. They’re happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments, and that can come across as possibly a bit conceited.

can and possibly being rather major keywords in that summary, imh?o…

but the Marketplace correspondent summarized this information thusly:

They found that Mac owners pretty much personify the Mac guy from the commercials. Among other things, they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe.

and at that point, i’m scratching me head a bit, guvna, because i thought we were talking about how this stereotype might not be the best to use for the PR division, but now we’re using our own NPR-special heads to decide that mac users have superiority complexes because —

The survey revealed that Mac users often describe themselves as perfectionists. They’re also more likely than PC users to whiten their teeth, drive hybrids, drink Starbucks coffee and eat organic food.


i think that what i actually said aloud after the “they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe” nod was something like “or, um… their computers actually let them do stuff and then they are happy…”

now again, for clarity, i’m not talking about “mac guy” here at all, because i still haven’t seen the commercials, and i’m definitely not saying that there aren’t some annoying, conceited mac users out there, with myself on the ballot like everyone else.

i just found it striking that being “happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments” is apparently so closely synonymous with “being an arrogant arsehole” in our cultural vernacular that the two can be used interchangeably on a major evening radio program, not just without the commentator batting an eye, but with her apologizing for her own audacity in sometimes engaging in similar behaviors herself.

um… yah.

sent from my iBook, sure, but…

[begin sarcastic grunting voice]

me think things.
me say some things out loud.
me change mind sometimes.
you do whatever.
we grow.

[raised-eyebrow smile at world and self as transition from grunting voice]

onward with the week.

for erik, re: angles of approach, aka the bigger-than-burningman convo i wasn’t sure how to begin as we walked home across the UCSD campus with much in our arms and minds and hearts

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

because perhaps an online record should begin, no? considering we both aspire to full disclosure? ;)

other folks, please feel free to toss in any change your pockets care to share.

an excerpt from prometheus rising, by robert anton wilson, which i finally finished this morning after a multi-month hiatus:

Intelligence is the capacity to receive, decode, and transmit information efficiently. Stupidity is blockage of this process at any point. Bigotry, ideologies etc. block the ability to receive; robotic reality tunnels block the ability to decode or integrate new signals; censorship blocks transmission.
If intelligence could be increased, obviously solutions could be found more quickly to the various Doomsday scenarios threatening us.
If each scientist working on the energy-resources problem could double or triple his or her intelligence, work that would require 20 years might be done in six.
If human stupidity in general decreased, there would be less opposition to original thinking and new approaches to our old problems, less censorship and less bigotry.
If stupidity decreased, less money would be wasted on vast organized imbecilities such as the Arms Race, and more would be available for life enhancing projects.
There is nothing rationally desirable that cannot be achieved sooner if rationality itself increases. This is virtually a tautology, but we must consider the corollary:
Work to achieve Intelligence Intensification is work to achieve all our other sane and worthwhile goals.
Maurice Nicholl, physician, psychiatrist, student of Jung, Gurdjieff and Esoteric Christianity, wrote that “the only purpose in work on consciousness is to decrease the amount of violence in the world.” This is Public Health Problem Number One in the nuclear age, the age of overkill.
We are not talking about mere increase in linear IQ – third-circuit semantic cleverness. We are talking of also the kinds of right-brain intelligence that Nicholl acquired from Jungian neurogenetic research and Gurdjieff’s meta-programming techniques. We are talking of, say, Beethoven’s intelligence, which so disturbed Lenin, who could not bear to listen to the Appassionata (Sonata 23) because it made him “want to weep and pat people on the head, and we mustn’t pat them on the head, we must hit them on the head, hit them hard, and make them obey.” More of Beethoven’s intelligence is needed, desperately, to create a signal that the current Lenins cannot ignore, that will make them weep, and stop hitting heads.

holy roman empire, batman

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

i kind of have a rule for my netflix – i try to arrange things so that i always have one fun movie, one serious movie, and one tv show. this came about because i found that if i had too many “you should really see this!” movies at once, they would often just sit there for weeks because i would secretly be in the mood for buffy reruns, not hotel rwanda, but that would be hard to admit even to myself so i just thought about other things. on the other hand, if i always Have buffy reruns (or actually what i’m hooked on now is 24), i will watch them and then enjoy the more serious options while i’m waiting for replacements to come, so a constant inflow of freshness is maintained, i get my money’s worth, And i am a well-balanced media absorption machine.

psychology is fun!

anyway, sometimes i succeed at diversity within my selections and i Still don’t watch anything for a while, which is the boat i was in this week, so i just made myself sit down and start watching. as a result, i ended up watching Rome (Season 1, Disc 1) and Why We Fight in rather quick succession, and this was an interesting experience.

Rome is a rather new HBO drama about life in the roman empire, and the first two episodes are basically about the events leading up to caesar’s revolt against the republic and establishment of himself as, well, Caesar. that sounds all serious and historical and shit, and i guess it is, but the war and sex and corruption bits make for some rather gritty TV, which is more of what drew HBO to the subject matter, imho. the historical element is just strategy to make people feel classier. those marketing folks are no shirks. and did i mention psychology is fun?

in the other corner, Why We Fight is a prize-winning documentary about the american war machine, and while it doesn’t exactly qualify as piercing cultural commentary to point out the potential thematic similarities between its storyline and the history of the roman empire, the thing that really appalled me was that i didn’t even have to take the time to enter into highschool english class “study questions” mode in order to draw such connections. at several points in Why We Fight, they actually come right out and talk about the fact that we are engaging in strategies to “build the new Rome”, and having just watched the Old rome displayed as blatantly corrupt, warmongering, and the playground of elitist power plays, i could only just sit there and be all “um… you know how that whole approach turned out last time, right?”

the more i thought about it, though, and the more i listened to the speeches from various governmental officials throughout Why We Fight, the more i realized that yeah, we Do know how it turned out last time, but that doesn’t seem to sway us from believing that this time we’ll go all colonel sanders on the whole thing and do empire RightTM. i might just be slow on the uptake here, or maybe it’s the whole “e”s become “i”s and vice versa when you conjugate it confusion, but somehow hearing “imperialism” bandied around all the time in the media never really smacked me in the face hard enough to realize that this? this is one of those things that isn’t just hype where they borrow words from movies to make things sound flashier on the news. i mean, star wars and age of empires probably doesn’t help our brains much with the “process this literally and not just as a tagline” function, but seriously folks, it really is the same word it always was: EMPIRE. US OR THEM. THIS IS OUR FOREIGN POLICY. NOT FREEDOM. DOMINATION. SEE THE DIFFERENCE?

ok that many caps means i’ve lapsed into “too preachy” mode, but really? i’m just trying to capture that feeling where something completely and utterly obvious blows your mind a bit, and you feel kinda stupid about that but at the same time it really does feel like a little sliver of something new slipped through, and i think blogs are for trying to capture that little sliver, or my blog is for that, or my blog Should be for that, and every day is a new chance to make that more of a reality, and thereby balance that “fluff” tag over there with some other tags of a similar size.

so i guess my blogging strategy and my netflix strategy are kind of the same in the end…

now that we’ve had personal insight time, it is time for tea and princess mononoke. weekend of the netflix ninja continues. they sent me walk the line and some iranian movie to replace the conquered dvds above (I AM BUILDING A CINEMATIC EMPIRE!!! RAAARRRGGHH!!). is there a way to put my netflix queue in the sidebar? hmmm….

officially done typing now. in case you were wondering if i got that i should have stopped already. yep. making up for lost time, i suppose.


Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

i know i make a lot of references to stuff i want to post about but don’t, and you may or may not know that i think and scribble about many things that i don’t even manage to refer to obliquely in what survives the grueling gauntlet of distraction to make it into post form, but, fwiw, if you want a fun introduction to one of the concepts (arguably The concept) that drives the distribution of my interests across the worlds of design, the internet, cognitive science, developmental psychology, consciousness, mysticism, drugs, public health, and politics, have a listen to this radiolab episode on emergence.

it’s an hour long, but do what i do: listen while you wash the dishes. or eat. or put together a jigsaw puzzle of warholesque popart lips. ok maybe that last one’s not on your list, but tif and i had fun at the toy store the other day, so the gauntlet lengthens. :)

and sign up for their podcast while you’re at it, eh? folks do a damn fine bit of radio programming. even if the ideas aren’t new to you, i bet it’ll make you smile, and think a bit, and maybe ask me a question. and thus the march of progress continues. ;)


Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

the whole reason to deny rituals and acknowledgement to those on the margins is to keep them marginalized.
denying those same things from ourselves and our friends in the name of solidarity is playing into that game and accepting disempowerment.
i do not believe in keeping people i love from things that renew and inspire them.

“don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

this post suffered from draft dodging, so it’s a bit old, but i wanted to finish and post it anyway:

i’ve been engaging in an interesting little political exercise over the past couple of days.

firstly, as a backdrop, i should tell you that david and i are conducting what we call “liberty class” as a part of my unofficial self-administered phD project. we have both become interested in the revival of interest in libertarian thought that seems to be occurring with increasing regularity among the generation that is now coming of professional age, perhaps most prominently in the business philosophy of john mackey, CEO of whole foods, but first really registering on my radar through the journalistic commentary of jonathan rauch.

because of jonathan rauch, actually, i first subscribed to reason magazine a few years ago (fwiw, rauch was very recently interviewed by reason on, in his own words “my philosophy of everything,” and the interview can be found here), and because i talked about articles and ideas from the magazine somewhat often, david picked up the subscription when i left the country for a while, and it became the first shared text for what would evolve into our liberty class.

somewhere in those same past few years, david took a few crosscountry drives and listened to atlas shrugged on tape in the car. i listened to book one (of three) before we took it back to the library, and agreed to read the whole thing eventually so that we could talk about it more, a committment which i finally honored just last week, and about which i intend to write a paper soon. in the meantime, david listened to another book on tape – Libertarianism: A Primer, which is a new book by one of the head honchos at the cato institute that was written to take advantage of the aforementioned revival in interest amongst the new generation. david also started doing things like reading john stuart mill for fun.

so class is in session, eh?

anyway, anyway, anyway, the political exercise in which i have been engaging over the last few days is listening to Libertarianism: A Primer for the liberty class while also watching the youtube/cnn debate that was held last monday night for the current democratic presidential candidates.

commentary on the format of the debate aside (which is a big aside… internet media coverage of this election is going to be a fascinating thing), this has been an interesting experience. i haven’t put much time into thinking about the election yet, and i think that is partly because i don’t really know how my shifting politics will impact my behavior in the upcoming months, and i have been postponing thinking about it all that much.

as a longtime (as longtime as one can be at 28) bleeding heart liberal and proud of it, it’s hard to contemplate association with a political philosophy that many people i respect see as tantamount to treason, or at least as selling out or succumbing to a nice brainwash. it’s hard for a lot of reasons that will take a long time to fully explore, but one of the top reasons has to do with money, and it is money that inspired me to write this post.

i am coming to believe, you see, that the liberal camp does quite a bit of damage by going to such lengths to distance itself from the pursuit of wealth. i agree that there are many important things in life that money cannot buy, and fixating on money as the sole pathway to happiness is silly, but neither of those beliefs imply that money itself is evil, and the idea that caring about profit requires not caring about people is dangerous in its ability to disarm us of the very tools most crucial to our defense.

money is a tool, and like any tool it is wielded most powerfully by those who are not afraid to grasp it with purpose. we could make a statement about the potential danger of sharp blades by refusing to learn how to hold a sword properly and flailing around wildly whenever anyone hands us one as a show of studied ignorance, but we are much more likely to lose fingers that way than if we allow ourselves to grip the handle firmly and learn to gauge the weight and edge for ourselves. perhaps more tragically, however, if we don’t take the time to learn such control, we place ourselves at the mercy of other’s protection in times of danger, and we open ourselves up to being fleeced in the process.

i think this happens a lot with people, myself included, who sometimes wear poor money management as a sort of badge of pride. “oh, i just don’t want to bother worrying about such things” is the ultimate statement of privilege, and we can’t really complain about the concentration of wealth in the hands of conservatives as long as we ourselves refuse to put effort towards the accumulation of our own. if we honestly don’t want to play the money game, that’s fine. i’m going to burning man this month (which operates on a gift economy), and i am quite happy to support models of community where something other than money is the focus of interaction. at the same time, however, i think that money is not an idea that should be tossed aside simply because it is possible (or even probable) for people to use it irresponsibly, and i don’t think that it is fair for us to shame people for their pursuit of wealth and then turn around and tell them that we think they should spend it on things they don’t really value.

bottom line: if we think money can do some good, let’s shut up and work on getting our own; if we really don’t think money is the answer, let’s stop asking for people to give it to us.

anyway, this is turning into quite the rant, and i know i need to take the time to articulate myself more clearly and succinctly. i know, for instance, that there are many liberals who are quite happy to manage their money and do so with aplomb, particularly among the rising tide of my own generation (which is indeed why the increased interest in libertarianism is so intriguing). i also know that this is a rather unintuitive position for me to be honing during a time of voluntary unemployment and self-imposed poverty, and to that argument i can only offer my word that reconciling that conflict is indeed the focus of my current energies, and i’m doing it the best way i see how. so perhaps irate commenters will provide me with the motivation to clarify my positions as i go. :)

in the meantime, i exercise my license to blather about ideas in progress, and i now turn to the actual source of inspiration for this post, which was a comment joe biden makes in the following clip about taxes:

the comment, as i’m sure the title of this post has already revealed, is his father’s quote: “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget” which is really basically just the flipside of “put your money where your mouth is.”

i started thinking about all of this because my kneejerk reaction to that quote was a kind of snorting noise, driven by an emotional upswell on the order of: “as if Money is the most meaningful reflection of my values!!”, to which the part of me that was also listening to libertarianism: a primer, promptly rebutted: “hold up, who said anything about most. what does your budget reflect if not your values? why does the idea that you should be open about money make you defensive?”

and that really got me started. why do i relinquish the decisions about where my money goes to the goverment anyway?! why don’t i see it as my responsibility to ensure that i am supporting my values in whatever ways i can?! how do i get off telling people that they don’t know how to handle their wealth when i don’t even want to look at how much i spend on candy or beer because i might not like what i see?!

and the clincher revealing the true extent of my current political shift:
what makes me think that supporting my values is anyone’s job but my own?

basically, if i choose to spend money but i’m not certain that my budget reflects my values, how can i honestly say that i know what my values are? wearing a blindfold when we open our pocketbooks because we associate money with depravity and we’d rather be above it is ridiculous and irresponsible, and i just need to grow the hell up.

this led me to two immediate conclusions:

1) the complexity and obscurity of the national budget is a disgrace
2) i should follow senator biden’s advice

so herein begins a monthly experiment in disclosure:

Kynthia's July Budget

i need to figure out how to wrap in credit card expenses, which are unfortunately rising this month due to aforementioned unemployment. and i’ll try to break down “other” a bit more.

but it’s a start, eh?

we can talk about whether this means i’m turning against taxes later. :)

the BOP, middle america, and me

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

a couple of nights ago tif and i were out at a restaurant having drinks and snacks after checking out the “first thursday” gallery walk that happens once a month in portland, and we were accompanied by two of her new friends from the “new in portland” meetup group that she hangs out with. i have remarked upon how different my experience of starting this new job is going to be from tiffanie’s because she blazed a trail just recently enough for it to still be fresh for me to follow, but not long enough ago for it to be overgrown or for her to be bored and onto the next stage of firmly entrenched habits. she knows some cool places to go but is still searching for “her vid” on the portland scene, and we still get quite a few laughs joking about trying to convince people newer than us that, just as the willamette is pronounced will-AM-it in the local lingo, the columbia is actually pronounced coo-lum-BE-a. crazy oregonians and their rivers.

i’m not sure if we could actually pull of that speech without collapsing into laughter, or if we would really be so mean, but… i digress.

out for drinks and tapas the other night at this trendy south american joint that made me a cucumber mojito, the topic of our recent midwestern life came up, and we were offered consolation. tif, who is actually From indiana, not just a transplant like me, appropriately bristled in desfense of her roots.

ever since the last election this attitude has really not sat well with me. i remember going home from the informatics building where we were watching the results on the big tvs and realizing that enough americans had voted w. back into office voluntarily and thinking about how cut off i felt from

i read “what’s the matter with kansas” as well as some conservative handbooks and

so the other night i say something like “it’s not smart to disregard red america or think of them as only a bunch of hicks,” which was received with raised eyebrows. “i think it’s dangerous to think of
“oh, i don’t think they’re stupid.” the friend responded.
and i realized i had backed myself into a corner a bit because i haven’t spent the time i really should spend making sure that my argument is more than just an emotional upsurge and a really strong hunch.

so this morning the topic returned to my mind as i was reading something about the war in iraq and i thought, “hey! maybe i should blog about it!”

the simplest way to put it is to say that i think that the intensity of american fundamentalism can only be attributed to some very real, very deep psychological, emotional, moral – in a word, human – needs going unmet, and any time a group of people can be united behind the righteous force of an unmet need you ignore them at your peril. i think the same is true of islamic fundamentalism, of straight up christian fundamentalism, even of newly gestating atheist fundamentalism. i’m really just talking about the way we react as a society to

i should say quickly that i understand that i’m not saying anything deep or profound here. just as i really do believe that educated, compassionate, forward-thinking folk like our friend at the tapas bar really don’t view

they say heresy, i say “here, see!”

Monday, November 27th, 2006

last week’s episode of this american life is phenomenal.

apparently it’s a year old, but i didn’t hear it the first time, so yeehaw podcasting. :)

it tells the story of a fundamentalist preacher named carlton pearson, who rose through the ranks of the charismatic movement and led a huge pentecostal church in tulsa, oklahoma that was one of the stars of the fundamentalist christian world.

then, a few years ago, he decided that he didn’t believe in hell anymore, which is a rather startling move for a pentecostal preacher.

he was the kind of guy who thought about things, though, especially when they seemed to be coming from god, and the more he thought about this one, the more he decided that, in fact, the damnation of the pure at heart simply because they didn’t know about christ was anathema to his understanding of god. he had a sort of epiphany where he saw hell not as something that god would ever do to his children, but rather as something that we create for ourselves by not believing in universal forgiveness.

these ideas ran counter to the very foundations of what he had been taught, but he knew that sometimes god had reasons for not revealing everything at once, so it just felt to him as if god was saying that people were ready to advance to the next level, like in mario 3, where suddenly in level 6 it makes sense to use that suit that lets mario turn into stone, but in level 3, where there’s a lot of water, that suit really didn’t make any sense, and actually it sucked hardcore because you just sank to the bottom and sat there like an idiot. but that didn’t mean that level 3 didn’t have it’s place or it’s own wonders. who doesn’t like that frog suit? people just work with what they’re given at the moment, mmm-k?

ok so that’s my analogy, not his, but maybe you get the idea.

anyway, he was used to preaching what felt true to him, so he started talking about changing the charismatic doctrine. he didn’t feel like he should leave the church, and at first, he was just met with disbelief. people did this awkward kind of throat-clearing “how’s the weather?” kind of song and dance because they didn’t Really want to believe that he was serious, and you know, maybe it would pass.

but eventually, his ideas went further and he began to say things like: if you think about it just a little bit, you realize that it’s the Spirit of the word that matters, and not necessarily a literal adherence to the translation that happened to make it into the king james.

round about there he crossed a line, and it wasn’t long before he was shunned and officially branded as a heretic. his church attendance plummeted, he fell into debt, he was asked to leave the board of oral roberts university, and eventually, he was forced to reinvent his church on a much smaller scale.

about 100 of his original members stuck with him through the whole ride, despite being shunned themselves, and today he preaches to about 400 of what may be the world’s only pentecostal universalists, with his numbers slowly growing.

and remember, this is in oklahoma.

i believe that this is an incredibly important story for anyone concerned about the outcome of the faith and values debates that are raging in contemporary america, and it is also the 53839th reminder of why this american life is a great show and i miss out when i forget to listen (so again, yeehaw podcasting!).

it is important because these are people who looked at their long-held beliefs, looked at the world, saw a discrepancy, and realized that they had the choice to either push the discrepancy away as a threat to their way of life or embrace it as a chance to learn more about what they truly believe, even though what they found might be different from what they always expected.

and they chose to take the chance.

bishop pearson’s former colleagues and friends saw this decision as a failure of faith; a failure to trust the bible without question, even if (or especially when) it might seem to contradict itself. the idea that there are compelling reasons to not believe in hell is seen by them as proof that it is a particularly pernicious temptation meant to test them, and they just need to be strong.

but bishop pearson chose a different interpretation of faith, and i think this is important, not because “follow your heart” or “live and learn” are particularly new ideas in this world of ours, and not because, in this case, the people involved happened to have a change of heart that made their beliefs a lot closer to mine.

whatever we believe about damnation and salvation, and wherever we think faith comes from, i think this story is important because, in general, the idea that, when our way of life is threatened, faith could be what leads us to embrace change rather than resist it, is a Big Idea. the kind of idea that changes the shape of our world.

i know it doesn’t sound that revolutionary, but bear with me here, because i’m not sure we really get it.

the world around us right now is a pretty scary place.

at the end of the day, we are frightened that the way of life that we cherish is being threatened, and, in one way or another, the weapon we wield against this fear is our faith.

faith in god. faith in democracy. faith in ourselves.

but what are we really asking that faith to do for us?

are we saying “give me THIS! NOW! prove that you love me!”
or are we saying “give me the strength to grow and remember that love is never in doubt.”

because big and grown up and developed as our civilizations might be, we’re still pretty young in the grand scheme of things, and in some ways i think we’re just a bunch of kids with superhero suits that we refuse to take off even when we sleep. we wear the suits because they make us feel invincible, or invisible, or strong or smart or brave. we think the suits are part of who we are, and we’ll fall apart or disappear without them, so if anyone suggests that we might actually enjoy wearing a t-shirt and jeans, or a pinstripe suit, or maybe a sari, we just yell at them and run away and hide under the bed, consoling ourselves with dreams of flight or xray vision or whatever other power we are sure we will have just as soon as our true nature is revealed.

now i’m not a parent, or an expert in psychology, but word round the campfire is that the best thing to do in this situation is let the kid wear the suit as long as they want. that 9 times out of 10, if we come to believe that we are safe in our superhero suits, after a while we just wake up one morning and decide to wear something else of our own accord, confident of the fact that any superpowers that we really need are still with us, and always will be.

what i’m saying is that it’s important to remember that, wherever this world of thinning and shifting borders takes us, and however much it might not look like we thought it should look when we were little kids, we have a choice about how to respond. we can either make our decisions out of fear of losing what we thought we were, or out of faith in finding what we know we will become.

i tip my keyboard to bishop pearson and his church for that reminder.

you can stream the episode or pay a buck to download it here, or sign up for the free podcast here or, as lucy was lovely to announce to the world, through itunes. i still have numerous problems with itunes, but right now i am using it to keep up with this american life and this i believe while i’m abroad, and, as a portal for those progams, it brings me moments of joy that almost balance out the overwhelming sense of fatigue that overcomes me every time i think about all the hours i would have to put into organizing and annotating my music in order for itunes to live up to its distant, barely visible promise of flexibility and power.

i said almost.

if you have an hour while you’re making dinner or something, i hope you’ll give the episode a listen, and i’m all eyes if you wanna let me know what you think.

i warned you i was gonna write some this week, right?

this post took a wicked long time.

and that downloading music. it didn’t take any time at all.


i still want to go work on that paper, but i might just have to sleep a bit first…