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The Casey Anthony Verdict

July 6, 2011

I don’t really have a lot to say about the Casey Anthony trial or its subsequent verdict. I have a vague understanding of the evidence given and possible lines of thinking for the jury, but that’s about all. My intent for writing this stems not from pleasure or displeasure with its outcome, but more from a general bewilderment of the national reaction towards the case.

I love social media. I am an active Facebook user and have been since the glory days of it being exclusive to .edu registrants. In some ways I have been resistant to their slow expansions, but overall I approve of the way they handle things. I enjoy being able to interact with people I’ve known all over the country and get quick opinions and group discussions going with people I (generally) respect and want to hear from.

On the other hand, the things I love about social media and our fast-paced, interwoven web society are also things that I loathe about it. I think social media has changed the way we react to things at both an emotional and intellectual level. I think it has served to spread the half-cocked opinions and nuanced semi-truths of the cable news charlatans that somehow manage to pass themselves off as trustworthy sources. Time and time again when I read through my Facebook feed and see the emulation and repetition of these talking heads and wonder if we conduct discourse in this manner because we’re following their example, or if they exist in such ubiquity because of the way we choose to conduct discourse.

I’ve been hearing my wife talk about the Casey Anthony trial off and on for the last couple of weeks. We have the most basic cable package that is offered by Time Warner here so we don’t have any of the 24 hour news networks. I get the bulk of my news from the local 10 and 11pm broadcasts or from the front page of Yahoo!. I figured my wife was getting a lot of information from the mom forums she’s involved with and thought this trial was one of those “woman” things that was better suited for a human interest story in Us Magazine and that most people (male or female) would have no idea what was going on. I could not have been more wrong. A little after 2pm today I started seeing comments from several of my friends pop up on Facebook. Some were less direct than others. Most were condemning. I suppose many of these people could have just read about it today, but I still found some of the quotes a bit jading. Here’s a sampling:

“Poor Caylee Anthony, her murdering mom got off, what is our country coming to.”

“rest in paradise caylee marie anthony! i’m so sorry that the person who ended your life is not being brought to justice.”

“i can not believe the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. what is the country coming to?”

“I convinced Catlee’s [sic] murderer was Casey Anthony. No one knows the truth. But, we will all be judged before the lord, and there is no jury.”

“Who did it then?! Zanny the fake nanny… Ugh. Shocked…..”

Of course, I’m sure the 24hr news outlets will milk this story for another week or two before they find something else to try to distract us with. When I take a moment to reflect, I don’t think the thing that bothers me is what people’s opinions are on the case. I do think its a bit foolhardy to believe that what the pundits on the idiot box tell us is the absolute truth of the situation. Given the various versions of “the facts” I’ve been told about the trial, I’m not sure how many of us common-folk really have a grasp on the situation.

What does bother me, however, is that these people have any opinion on the case. Why are we hearing about it? Is this really worthy of national news? I certainly understand the local outrage. I understand (though I disagree) with the residents of the greater Orlando area who have basically determined to run Casey Anthony out of their town whenever she is eventually released. What I think is tragic about this story is that guilty or not guilty the media has created a situation where Casey Anthony (for better or worse) will not be able to live any sort of normal existence anywhere in the United States (I hesitate to say Canada). Why? Because it was a good story…it was good for ratings.

Casey Anthony was a nobody before this trial. Now she’s being hailed as the second coming of OJ Simpson. Maybe this trial, the forthcoming Lifetime movie and all of the subsequent interviews she will be involved in will make this national exposure of this trial the best thing to ever happen to her. I suppose that could happen…

I don’t say this to undermine the tragedy that is the loss of Caylee Anthony. When she went missing she was about a year older than my daughter is now. I do think children are precious and it is sad that this story will likely not have any sort of conclusion. Still, this story has not affected my life. It hasn’t affected the lives of anyone I know. There’s really no reason for anyone outside of the affected areas to know anything about this story.

Like most things here, this is another collection of shoddily thrown together thought. Every now and again a news story gets me thinking about what we find important and why we think it’s important. I know I’m guilty of reading every single thing I find interesting, but I do think that as part of our thought exercises we need to start making active decisions on what news events are truly major stories and what events are side-bar conversations that will only serve to distract us from more important things…and for some of you, maybe the Casey Anthony verdict was a very important thing.

On the War on Terror and the death of bin Laden

May 2, 2011

The killing of Osama bin Laden comes at an interesting time for me. For the last week or so I’ve been noting how my opinions have shifted towards non-aggression, at least for Christians. I don’t feel like Christians should necessarily not be in the military. I do think we need to be more careful about the methodologies we used in achieving set goals.

The various conflicts in the “War on Terror” were birthed from the terrorist attacks that occurred on September, 11, 2001. This event killed about 3,000 civilians with an additional 6,000 injuries. In the decade since then we’ve frequently heard people reference 9/11 with mantras like, “Remember 9/11” as the justification for war.

I am not necessarily against these sorts of retaliatory events, which I supposed leads to a major personal conflict. The question that has frequently come up in my mind is, “to what end?”. In the last decade we’ve managed to topple the Iraqi government and deposed Saddam Hussein. Yesterday President Obama announced that we have hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, who was considered the leader and mastermind behind Al-Qaeda. Both of these events are certainly good things for people interested in eliminating enemies of the US and those that fund them.

However, in the process of achieving these two goals we have also done things that I question. The cost of “Remember 9/11” in Iraq and Afghanistan is approaching $1.2 trillion. The combined death toll has been somewhere around 300,000 with roughly half of those being civilians. With the death of bin Laden, lots of social media is getting thrown around that basically says, “The US always finishes the job” and “Don’t mess with the US, because we will get you” and “That will teach you for killing US civilians”, which I recognize are largely reactionary opinions. Still, these sorts of attitudes often make me wonder to what extent are we willing to go in order to “prove” our superiority.

I realize this post is very disjointed. What I posit is the following: today is not a day to celebrate as some sort of great victory. Yes, we have killed the leader of Al-Qaeda, and that is good. However in doing so we may have further shoved a stick into the hornet’s nest. Yes, in killing bin Laden we have achieved a goal put in place nearly a decade ago, but let us be sober in our elation, remembering that in order to achieve this goal many more than the September 11th, 3000 have died or been killed because war was brought upon their lands.

#20: The Last Airbender

July 2, 2010

I started watching this TV series with my younger sister when I was still living at home with my parents and always felt it was really well done for a program targeting kids. This is a review of the M. Night Shyamalan adaptation of that series. It is currently getting hammered all around by the critics. I haven’t seen it yet, but my sister and I have talked about the previews and she went to see it yesterday. I stole the following review from her blog. It is completely unedited by me:

the last airbender almost made me cry.

SPOILER ALERT!

time for my rant about it. thank you, m. night shyamalan, for ruining one of my favorite shows. i sat through the movie, and was fairly content with it. then i walked out and started talking about it with peter, and realized everything i hated about it.

first of all, what is up with the pronunciation? its like these actors have never watched avatar. when did aang (ay-ng) become aw-ng? sokka became s-oh-ka? avatar became aw-va-tar?

second, from the first time i ever saw the previews, i knew i was going to HATE nicola peltz as katara. who was right? oh yeah, i was. the movie opened, i saw her, and i wanted to punch her in the face. also, the boy who played aang, noah ringer? yeah, his acting was pretty decent at some points, and tragic at others. personally, i felt the only character who actually looked her part was princess yue, i dont feel like looking up the actor who played her. and i thought the guy who played sokka did a pretty decent job. iroh played the part well, but didnt look the part really. he needed to gain a few pounds.

third, i’m so confused about this race thing. obviously, yeah, in the show all the nations are different races. but i dont agree with the ones they used. zhao, zuko, ozai, azula. yeah, those TOTALLY sound like indian names. the fuck? no. seriously.
in my brother’s words “they fire nation is very like, japanese. the earth nation is more like, mountain people. like mongols or something. who cares about the airbenders because they’re all dead.” and then we both agreed that we think the waterbenders are more siberian-ish.

AND WHAT WAS UP WITH THE LAST LIKE THIRD OF THE MOVIE!? last time i checked, AANG CANT FUCKING RETURN TO THE MORTAL WORLD UNLESS HIS PHYSICAL BODY IS IN THE SAME PLACE AS WHEN HE LEFT.  and i was really disappointed that they left out the bit of humor while he was meditating. i distinctly remember in the show, aang yelled at them because he was trying to meditate and they were distracting him. probably one of my favorite parts of the episode. believe me, they play that episode like every day on the nicktoons channel (and yes, i watch that channel every once in a while -.-“). also, that entire last like third of the movie strayed from the show completely. it stuck to the basic idea, but details were majorly off. like, if you’re going to make a movie based on a tv show, you NEED to stick to the story. cuz fans WILL notice the minor details that you miss, or stray from.

BUT, i have to say, the movie redeemed itself with the special effects. i wasnt disappointed in the bending, as i kind of expected to be. it seems like they focused a LOT on making the bending seem realistic, which, i’ll admit, they did. very well. so i can say they redeemed a few points right there.

so here’s to you, m. night shyamalan, for ruining the movie so many of us have been waiting forever to see.

i can tell you right now that steve is gonna be pretty disappointed -.-“

Plans…

January 16, 2010

So I had planned to make two blog posts this week. One on Youtube videos and one to kick off a series of “Best albums you’ve probably never heard” based on my music collection. This probably isn’t going to happen this weekend, but hopefully within the next week or so I can crank out one or both of these posts.

#19: Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

December 17, 2009

Rarely do I purchase albums on the strength of the single.  I picked Monsters of Folk‘s self-titled album at Target the other day off the strength of hearing them perform the track “Say Please” on Conan O’Brien’s show. Other than that song, I really didn’t know what to expect from the album. I’m not really familiar with M. Ward’s music, nor am I particularly familiar with anything from Jim James’ My Morning Jacket. Aside from a couple singles, I haven’t heard anything from the combination of Oberst and Mogis (Bright Eyes) since 2000’s Fevers and Mirrors.

This is an incredibly solid and enjoyable album. I didn’t really know what to expect going in, but after repeated listening I’ve determined that this album holds a unique spot in my CD collection. Bordering on a line somewhere between indie rock and country, Monsters of Folk have brought a sound that is as equally comfortable in Bakersfield as it would be in Portland. I think that really summarizes what I’ve enjoyed the most about the album. Tracks like “The Right Place” and “Baby Boomer” hearken back to a 1960s country sound without being corny, while “Whole Lotta Losin'” and “Losin’ Yo Head” bring an alternative rock sound that is simultaneously rustic and modern.

While the album as a whole doesn’t really do anything risky or mind-blowing, it maintains a solid pace and doesn’t have any songs that feel like filler. Because of this, the album retains some widespread appeal, yet sits comfortably in its indie folk/rock box. The aspect of the album I appreciated most was the old country vibe that permeates so many of the tracks. If you’re a fan of M. Ward, My Morning Jacket or Bright Eyes, or are looking for something that’s both fresh and familiar sounding, I would definitely check this out. I picked my copy up at Target. I’m sure it’s available in stores all over and on iTunes if you swing that way.

The end of rock ‘n’ roll?

October 29, 2009

I wrote this as a comment to a friend on FaceBook when my wife suggested I post it in my blog. This started as a response to the following article: Rock music is dead, and all the Rock Band in the world won’t save it. I didn’t really intend to make a point-by-point rebuttal of what I didn’t like about the article, but I’ve found that the demise of “rock music” is a very popular subject of debate in musical circles.

Everyday is the end of rock “as we know it”, but it’s not the end of rock. If you were a metalhead in the 80s and 90s, the Metallica era is pretty much over “as you know it”, but there’s still music that is rooted in metal.

I think there’s something to be said about RB/GH being the ultimate commercialization of music, but I don’t think that means rock music is dead. I think the article does bring up a good point regarding hip-hop and rap filling a gap that rock once filled, at least in the mainstream. Jay-Z’s last two singles (“Run This Town” and “DOA”) are (at least to me) more musically interesting than 95% of what’s going on in mainstream rock right now. However, this doesn’t mean rock is dead. Both of those songs, while being firmly rooted in the hip-hop genre, borrow heavily from a palette developed in rock music (with “DOA” sampling Steam’s classic “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”). What it does mean is that rock is continuing to do what it’s always done, evolve.

Yeah, kids are way into video games right now. Good for them. I started playing video games when I was 5. I still play video games. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 15. Video games didn’t prevent me from being creative. I don’t think it’s going to be hugely detrimental to today’s kids either. … Read More

I don’t agree with the writer’s belief that more hip-hop albums have been sold in the past ten years than rock albums. Yeah, it’s a terrible excuse for rock, but Creed and Nickelback have put up some ridiculous sales numbers in the last decade. I know Kanye, Lil’ Wanye and Jay-Z have done the same for hip-hop but the reality is that general pop music (ranging from Taylor Swift to Britney Spears) has demolished them both. Bubblegum pop has done that for decades. As far as “no new stars in the last five years” in rock…is that any different than any other genre over the same time or for rock during any other period?

Rock ‘n’ roll will survive another lull in music sales. While there isn’t a current big, new face of really any rock style, I don’t know that it matters. What matters is that the hugely famous acts of the past are being perpetuated through a slew of new, young acts spanning rock styles. Check your local listings for some shows in your town, I guarantee that more often than not you will find that rock isn’t dead in your city. It doesn’t look like what it did in 1973 or 1986 or 1992, but neither does your hairline.

Re: Hot Topic Punks in a Fake Punk World

October 9, 2009

Every day I read the headlines on Yahoo. I read a lot of articles and shortly afterward wish I had that 90 seconds of my life back. Rarely do I find articles that I find so frustrating that I decide to write about them. Previously, I have written about Jericho Scott and well…nothing else that I’ve found on Yahoo.

But recently I stumbled on a blog entry titled, “Hot Topic Punks in a Fake Punk World”. Growing up in what I felt like was the heyday of pop-punk (mid/late 1990s) and having an ongoing interest in marketing and the commercialization of musicians and their music I felt compelled to read the article.

I can’t honestly say that the authors thoughts on the topic don’t echo my own. The problem I had with the article was that his criticism comes half a decade (at least) too late. Avril Lavigne hasn’t had a hit since 2007. Blink 182’s last album came out when I was still in college.  Yes, Hot Topic has done a lot to water-down music trends and market genres, but that has been going on for years. I remember being told in high school that MxPx sold-out when they released “Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo”…that was 1998.

More than anything the article bothered me because it felt uninspired, yet I suppose it inspired me to write this. Whether it’s Dave Matthews/John Mayer/etc. on college campuses, the latest Miley Cyrus clone, 50 Cent vs. Kanye or the punk-rock status of Green Day/Blink 182/Avril/whatever, commercial enterprises will continue to find ways to manipulate trends and market their products to their desired demographic. It’s nothing new to take a trend in music and pervert it to the needs of commercialism. I wasn’t old enough to remember, but I bet Sears and JC Penney sold ton of flannels riding the coat-tails of Kurt Cobain in the early 1990s, and Hot Topic selling tight jeans and eyeliner to appeal to a generation that thinks it has the market cornered on “emo” is no different.

As a people we just need to find a way to sift through the mess that is music marketing and decide for ourselves what is good and what isn’t. We need to figure out what we want to wear and decide that we’re going to wear it because it makes us feel good about ourselves, not because it was featured in the latest Britney/Gaga/Attack! Attack! music video. Most of all we need to realize that people are people, and there are reasons that people do things (marketing/conviction/for kicks) that we cannot understand unless we take a moment to listen to what others try to say with the way they live their lives. Only when we listen can we also have meaningful discourse and determine what music/fashion/art truly means to the individual and how these things can impact or be impacted by positive change.

Nobel Peace Prize…

October 9, 2009

Does anyone really care about this award? Yes, Obama was given it, but can anyone name any of the other recipients from the last decade besides Al Gore and Jimmy Carter?

I know it’s en vogue to criticize the President for anything he can be criticized on, but in this situation I don’t really think the issue is Obama. The issue is an overzealous committee that is trying to fulfill some need to be current by pushing Obama into his role as spokesperson…not of the United States, but of the free world in general.

Fortunately, the Nobel Peace Prize is a honor that is quickly forgotten. In twelve months, the majority of Americans will have forgotten that Obama was a recipient and almost no one will care within a decade. It will be a hot-button topic for a few days…maybe weeks, but soon enough we’ll find something else to fault the President on.

#18: Gran Torino

August 8, 2009

I realize this movie came about about 6 months ago. I never had the chance to see it in theaters, but was able to borrow the copy my parents’ rented from Netflix and watch it tonight.

I’ve always considered myself a Clint Eastwood fan. Granted, I haven’t seen every Eastwood film, but I have yet to see an Eastwood film that I didn’t enjoy. Of course it’s quite possible that my fascination with some of his classic characters (the man with no name, Dirty Harry, etc.) has convinced me that I can enjoy everything he is in.

Gran Torino was a very interesting film for me. There were parts of it that seemed over the top and there was definitely some rough acting, but something about the film resonated with me. In both of the main characters (Walt and Thao) I found elements of myself that I struggle with from time to time. In brief, Walt is an old haunted by ghosts of his past that he doesn’t want to talk about. His wife has just died and because of his past he was never able to connect with his children. The boy, Thao, is naive,  quiet and comes off as weak. He has yet to begin to forge his own path in life and is torn between doing what is right and what is easy.

In these two characters I saw my non-expressive nature and the naivete of my age. I recognized and identified with their reserved beginnings and their desires to take the next step in their lives. This is where I felt the movie excelled. I found the plot of the film and its execution to be very honest and real. The evolution of these two characters through their interactions with each other and their respective cultures exemplified both the ability of individuals to reach out to each other across generational and cultural barriers.

Overall I really felt like this film was simple enough to understand, but also something that was able to be enjoyed at a more complex level. I appreciated how it took a displaced culture (the Hmong) and explored their interactions with an old-school (perhaps too much so) American. This isn’t an easy film to watch for people sensitive to violence (though the most violent part of the film isn’t shown, only it’s aftermath), blatant racism or general coarse language, but the film certainly uses those elements to build the story rather than detract through flippant abuse. While I wouldn’t recommend this film to just anyone, I do feel like it’s something that most viewers could sit through and appreciate.

It’s been a long time coming…

July 29, 2009

Wow…my writing time has really gone downhill. Here and there I get ideas on things to write about, but by the time I get a chance to write the moment (personally or historically) has passed me. Additionally it seems like most of the people I read have stopped posting as well, which isn’t a great motivator to even check in on this.

The past few months at my church have seemed like a drastic transitional period. We’re expanding into new areas while simultaneously contracting in others. About a year ago, a ministry I was heavily involved in was canceled in favor of a less personal, more energetic and less volunteer intensive program integrating heavy reliance on parent participation away from church. Now that program is being morphed into something that resembles (just based on reading on the church’s website) a hybrid of the two programs. At the same time other facets of the church have changed. In June our music director left due to a change in his wife’s employment leaving a leadership void. At about the same time, my wife took a sabbatical from playing piano giving us a total loss of two, about 20% of our music team. One family, the head of our nursery and a deacon, is currently traveling to the East Coast on a military move while another family is looking at heading east in early 2010. Two other families moved outside of the church area last spring.

Still this church continues with its plans. While we expand our sights to other parts of San Diego County we rely on new growth to sustain our strength (financial, physical, mental…) in numbers. As an aware congregation member, it’s hard to see new growth and still feel like it’s barely keeping up with the rate of attrition and I can’t imagine what that feeling is like for church staff, paid and unpaid alike. It’s a strange feeling to look at this all through short context of time I’ve been at the church. In the six years I’ve been there, we’ve seen five different head pastors. Despite a downward growth trend over the last few months, it’s hard to keep the perspective that just a few months ago the church numbered higher than it had been at any other time I’d been there and that just a few years ago a pastoral leave followed by a pastoral death and some brutal church politics ended with about half of the church (for one reason or another) leaving.

Occasionally I remember that churches, like business aren’t static entities, or at least they shouldn’t be. Christian churches often make themselves analogous with the human body or with a living organism, yet they fail to think in stages and end goals. Just as humans aren’t born as adults, corporate entities don’t start out in the form they will achieve at the apex of their growth. It’s easy to get caught up in the short term, “what the heck is going on?” mentality and start looking for the  life jackets when things aren’t looking up and even easier to lock into a fixed, dogmatic approach when things are going well. While the long-term goals remain unchanged, the methods used to reach those goals cannot remain static if the entity wishes to survive. The “well this is the way we did it in 1987” mentality has to be abandoned when it’s 2009 and attendance is in decline. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but on the whole I feel that many churches, like many businesses in our recent recession, are beginning to wake up to the problems of their rigid, dogmatic approaches with only a sliver of hope for recovery. This isn’t to say that these entities will necessarily fail but that dynamic creativity could have prevent the crisis period altogether.

The real difficulty is ascertaining what will work and what is failing before it’s too late. In churches, even the most minor change can be devastating. I spoke to a woman this past weekend who asked me about the cost and usefulness of electronic drum kits. We talked about whether or not it was viable for the church to get a traditional kit and (among other things) was told that since this would be the church’s first drum set they wanted to ease the congregation into the idea of using drums in church. Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon. The idea of leaving a church over the incorporation of drums seems like an absolutely trivial thing to my young, Southern California church mentality, but it is an absolute reality for an entire generation or two of American churchgoers. Whether it’s a decision on coffee carts, drums or the pastor wearing a tie or a polo, church leaders are bound to offend someone when they decide to make a change. People view changes made outside of their control or in opposition of their preferences as a threat to their existence. Coffee inside of the church building wasn’t allowed in 1979 or 1989 when the old guard held power, and when it is allowed in 2009 it becomes symbolic of a passing of the guard and the demise of a generation’s sensibilities.

The growth of churches that got their jump start catering to the college crowd (for me, circa 2002, it was Flood and for some of my friends it was The Rock, I couldn’t tell you what San Diego churches fill that void now) has widened the gap between age groups by giving many 20-somethings the impression that these large, concert-esque services are the ideal way to fill seats and spread God’s message. These services are something older generations often simply do not connect with, not because the methods of these services are necessarily wrong, but because “that wasn’t how it was done in 19xx”. They see the darkness and the loudness as excessive pandering to secular culture. Meanwhile, the “rock concert” worship team (Crowder, Tomlin, etc.) has become an ideal in the mentality of many young church-goers who become enamored with the (generally) simplistic language, uplifting message and emotional atmosphere delivered in these types of services.

In many ways, these differences are reasons to be glad for the plethora of churches and church styles. Some people want the intimacy of the small church atmosphere. Others prefer being part of a large church that is capable (because of sheer manpower) of having a multifaceted approach to ministry. Plenty of people want their church to either be more contemporary or remain rooted in the evangelical traditions of previous decades/centuries/millenia. Instead of celebrating our common bonds though, we use them as leverage for complaining. We visit other churches that move us at some level that doesn’t happen in our regular churches then complain about how our regular churches aren’t doing things like the place we visited. Now, not all complaining in church is bad. Certainly there are things that are worth taking a stand on, however more often than not we take our passive-aggressive attitudes into church and sit there, arms folded, showing everyone else that we are there because of duty, not because it’s where we actually want to be.

I’m guess I’m going to end this extended diatribe with the following: if you aren’t happy with the church you’re at, then either look beyond the surface of your church to find reasons to be happy with it, positively affect changes in the church to make it the church you want, or go to the church that you want to be at. Growing up in a given church or being a member since 19xx doesn’t grant you the priviledge of dictating church policy or moping around when policies aren’t to your liking. There’s nothing dishonorable about leaving a church because you’ve outgrown it, or because it has outgrown you.