Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank Goodness

When someone sneezes, I say "bless you". It's one of the many common English phrases that I use that have a religious origin (e.g. "heaven forbid", "you're a saint", "a good soul", and many others). I'm an atheist, so lord knows I don't mean it literally. More thoughtful atheists substitute these phrases with non-religious equivalents like "Gesundheit". One example of this is using the term "Thank Goodness" instead of "Thank God".

A couple of years ago, I read an excellent essay in the Skeptical Enquirer called "Thank Goodness" by Daniel C. Dennett. In it, Dennett makes a case for why it's more sensible to thank goodness (because "there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it" ) than to thank God ("what could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you?")

Last year, I shared the essay with my atheist friends at the Corvallis Sunday Group. Since rereading it has become my new Thanksgiving tradition, I wanted to share this link to the essay.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Losing touch with the Denver sports scene

Saturday morning, I was working the box office at the Majestic Theatre. It was slow, so I talked to my mama on the phone for almost an hour. The conversation came around to the Broncos, (which happens a lot in my family) and she was saying how strange it was to see Jason Elam kicking field goals against the Broncos the other week. What?! - I didn't know Jason Elam wasn't a Bronco anymore. It was strange; I don't remember a time when I was so out-of-touch with the Denver Broncos.

Later that day, Chris and I and several of our friends got together for a Thanksgiving dinner. My friend Eric asked me if I'd be interested in catching a Blazers game sometime. I said yes, especially when they play the Nuggets. I said I was an Allen Iverson fan before he was a Nugget. "You know Iverson's not a Nugget anymore" he said. No. I didn't know that. "Also, Matt Holliday plays for the Oakland A's."

I give up. I was bummed when the Crush traded Damian Harrell last year (that's Arena Football for those who don't know), now I can't seem keep up with all the roster changes on the Denver teams (yet somehow Eric does).

I was planning on getting a #3 Iverson jersey to wear to the Rose Garden whenever the Nuggets play there, but now I think I should accept the fact that I've got a new home team and get a #52 Greg Oden jersey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If it hadn't been for Marco

I've attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival 16 times. I've had great times at each of these festivals and have hundreds of stories I could bore a stranger with. Of all 16, there is one in particular that I relive more frequently than the others: 1995 - the year I went with Marco.

It was my fifth festival, and Marco's first and only. My roommate, Drew, Our friend Lee, his boyfriend Ken, and several of their friends that I had never met before were also going. They were renting a condo, but I declined to join them on principle; I believed the best way to experience the festival was to camp in the parking lot and skinny dip in the river like the true bohemian I imagined myself to be. Marco opted to join me, since he was even poorer than I was at the time.

I was nervous about road-tripping with Marco. We were close, but he was still more Chris'-friend-from-college than my friend at the time. And road trips are notorious for testing friendships. I remembered how Chris and Marco's road trip from the March on Washington two years earlier had strained their relationship, and how Drew and Marco's road trip less than a year earlier had caused a rift that still hadn't healed (another reason Marco wasn't staying in their condo).

I rented an SUV from my brother (thanks Ken!), and picked Marco up before dawn. We barely had room for everything since Marco was bringing his guitar and bike, and I was bringing all my juggling gear (in a classy new prop bag that my sister bought for me in Mexico - thanks Tami!). It was good that we left so early, because even though this was my fifth time doing this, I got lost (my sense of direction is genetic - thanks Dad!).

We ended up in Lake City. We were looking at a couple of hours of backtracking around the mountain range, or... "Doesn't this thing have four wheel drive?" asked Marco. I wasn't too sure about his plan to four wheel it over the mountain range; the vehicle was rented, and I couldn't afford the fancy insurance, but Marco had a way of daring me into doing things.

I didn't need to worry. The four wheel road was in good shape, and the SUV made it to Ouray without a scratch. More importantly, it was a hell of lot of fun. And the view was gorgeous. It turned out that the four wheel road from Ouray to Telluride was closed, so we had to backtrack around the mountain range anyway, but I had no regrets.

During the Festival itself, Marco and I parted ways. He couldn't afford a ticket, so he just listened from the river bank and caught the free shows in Town Park. He hooked up with a hippy boy named Dan who became his constant companion for the weekend (his name officially became Sexy Dan in the retelling of the story ever since).

To this day, regular Festivarians remember the 1995 Festival for its extreme weather. It rained non-stop the entire weekend, it got below freezing every night, and it even snowed one night. The weather prevented me from juggling as much as I usually do, but it didn't stop me from having a great time. This was during the time in my life when I was going barefoot everywhere, so I was walking and dancing through slush and mud. It got really cold sometimes, but I was too blissed to care. Marco introduced me to Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, which was really good at keeping me warm. It's still my favorite Irish Whiskey, and it became a festival tradition of mine for years since.

One night, festival staff went around the parking lot kicking out the campers. In a policy that was new that year, they would no longer allow people to camp in the parking lots. This prevented bums like us from doing the Festival on the cheap. Unfortunately, I had drunk too much whiskey to drive away safely, so I just went to sleep in the back and let Marco drive us out. He found a great hiding spot on Airport Road that I would continue to use as my festival camping spot for years to come.

One morning it was raining so hard that we decided not to leave the SUV until it let up. The three of us stayed cooped up in the back of the cramped vehicle for over an hour while Marco played Neil Young songs on his guitar. With all the great music I heard that weekend, that's the set I remember most vividly.

The professional music was good, too. I was excited to see Wolfstone again; they were the highlight for me the previous year. It was also the first time I heard Ani DiFranco. I was so impressed with her that I made Marco and Sexy Dan listen to her free Town Park concert the next day. They were less impressed than I was.

After the festival, I was making my annual post-festival trip to Parachute to visit my dad, so Marco needed to arrange another way home. He decided to hitchhike. This wasn't unusual for him. He had hitchhiked up the Pacific coast from San Diego to Washington, as well as other trips. We talked about it often, and I told him how I'd love to do similar trips before I got too old.

As we were packing up to leave the festival that sunny (figures) Monday morning, I reflected on what a great time I had despite the weather, and getting lost, and being kicked out of my usual camping spot. I realized that Marco was a significant reason why the festival rocked when by all rights it should have sucked. I also knew that it was something you should say out loud when you get a chance. I distinctly remember the scene: I was trying to get a brush through my tangled mess of long hair, and he was brushing his teeth with whiskey. I said "You know Marco, I had a blast this weekend. And it's all your fault!" He gave me the open-mouthed squinty-eyed smile that I will always picture in my mind when I think of him, and he gave me a spontaneous hug.

Ever since I found out yesterday that Marco had died this weekend, I've been preoccupied with memories (as well as other thoughts) of Marco: memories of tubing down Boulder Creek with him, visiting him in New Orleans, learning to make cocktails from him, etc. I struck me how many ways Marco had influenced the direction of my life, from the music I listen to to the cocktail I drink. It's impossible to know what I might have done differently. I might not ever have had the courage to take my hitchhiking trip if Marco hadn't dared me to. If I did, I certainly wouldn't have been brave enough to go to New Orleans by myself. Would I have ever been a bartender? Would I appreciate bagpipe music? One thing's certain: I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun at the 1995 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chipotle is coming to Corvallis!

How pathetic is my life that I get excited about a fast food chain opening a new franchise in town? But it's true, I am really psyched about the new Chipotle opening on Monroe Street next to campus this week.

I haven't had much luck finding spicy food in Corvallis. I've tried ordering the "hottest you got" salsas at the other jumbo-burrito fast food places (Qdoba, Baja Fresh, and Del Mar), but their hot isn't on the same scale as Chipotle's.

It's not just the restaurants; the grocery stores here stock mainly mild and medium salsas with a very small or non-existant selection of hot salsas and pepper sauces, and the ones I've tried are neither very hot nor particularly tasty. I've been craving my favorite Colorado salsa (Religious Experience) and pepper sauce (Boulder Hot Sauce).

There's also a comforting back-home feeling to it. Like me, Chipotle was born in Denver, and I've eaten there many times, so I'm looking forward to reassuring familiarity of ordering the exact same burrito I always get.

UPDATE: After adding links to Religious Experience and Boulder Hot Sauce, I discovered that they sell their stuff directly from their websites and can ship it here. So there's a solution to that as well!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Craigslist got me into this time...

I was surfing Craigslist as I often do and I found an ad under the 'volunteer' section looking for someone to volunteer at the box office of the Majestic Theatre.

I've worked box offices before (at the Great American Beer Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival), and I could sure use an excuse to leave the house and interact with humans, so on impulse, I responded.

After exchanging a few e-mails and stopping by and meeting the house manager during the week, I agreed to give it try on Saturday (yesterday). It was good fit, so I volunteered to do it every Saturday morning.

This is not the first time Craigslist got me involved in Corvallis. About this time last year I met up with a group of folks that wanted to form a non-religious community gathering group (what I've referred to somewhat misleadingly as an Atheist Church). I really enjoyed the Corvallis Sunday Group while it lasted. Perhaps someday I'll try to contact those folks to see if we can try to re-establish it.

I should also mention that Craiglist is where I found my current job.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Mormons v. The Gays

Activists in California are targeting the Mormon church for their involvement with Proposition 8, the measure to deny marriage equality to gay and lesbian families. They're protesting at Mormon temples and petitioning to revoke their tax-free status. As a gay atheist, I sympathize, but as a conscientious objector to the culture war, I strongly disagree with these divisive tactics.

Gay and Lesbian couples (and their friends, families, and allies) have put enormous effort into gaining marriage equality in California, so it's understandable that these people would feel hurt and angry and want to lash out against those that hurt them. I am as heartsick as anyone about the 11,000 gay marriages that have been nullified by Prop 8, but fanning the flames against another minority group that itself has been the victim of bigotry is counter-productive, and sort of misses the point.

I would assume everybody, even anti-gay folks, would want gays and lesbians to be held legally responsible for their families, but there's obviously something about gay marriage that the Mormon church feels threatened enough by to devote a great deal of time, money, and energy. So the challenge to those of us who support marriage equality is to assure them that their gay neighbors are willing to peacefully coexist with them even if we have strong disagreements on the definitions of family, but as long as there are cops in battle gear guarding their temples from gay protesters, their fears will only be validated.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Choose Adoption* (unless you're gay)

It's hard to not feel optimistic with the results of last night's election. It really seems like America is ready to move forward from the mean-spirited fear-mongering that has divided American politics for the last couple of decades, and I'm excited to be around for this transitional moment in American history.

But... It was an awful night for gay issues. Californians voted to nullify Ellen's marriage (and Sulu's too). I'm sure they'll rest easier now that their families are no longer threatened by likes of her. Marriage equality bans also passed in Arizona and Florida.

What disappoints me more than the marriage bans is the Arkansas measure to ban unmarried folks from adopting. It wasn't a surprise; the polls were showing it would pass. I just wish it would have been a bigger part of the national discussion.

Adoption is one of those issues I could become a crusader for. I have an adopted brother and an adopted niece, and I don't think families that are open and inclusive are somehow inferior to traditional ones.

I also happen to be pro-life (in a nuanced liberal sort of way), and when you reduce the options to abortion, you increase the incidence of abortion. People are pro-life for different reasons; I tend to side with the pro-lifers I've met in my animal rights circles whose motivations are based on their empathy with the suffering of sentient beings, not the pro-lifers whose primary motivation seems to be the resentment of people who have sex for the fun of it.

Some issues separate these two kinds of pro-lifers: the anti-suffering pro-lifers oppose war and capital punishment, and the anti-sex pro-lifers oppose birth control and stem-cell research. This measure is one of those issues; it places a higher priority on sexual morality than on placing unwanted children in loving stable homes.

In this election, Sarah Palin emerged as an infuential new face of the Pro-Life movement. I wish somebody would have asked her about this measure. I would like to know which kind of pro-lifer she is (she's a pro-war hunter, so I have a guess). If she would have opposed this measure on pro-life grounds, I think it could have influenced the outcome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome to the Blue States, Colorado!


When I left Colorado last year, I bragged to my friends and family that I was moving from a Red State to a Blue State. I was moving from the state represented by Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave to a state where Chris and I could file a joint tax return.

As recently as 2004, Colorado's Governor and both Senators were Republican, and aside from Clinton's Perot-assisted victory in 1992, the state hadn't voted for a Democratic President since LBJ (Yup, we even voted for Ford and Dole).

Now look.

The Governor and both Senators are Democrats, Tancredo's gone, and not only did the anti-gay Musgrave lose her re-election, but you guys actually elected a gay guy! Now Congress' gay and lesbian causus has increased 50% and are only one short of a bridge hand. Way to go Jared! - Say hey to Barney and Tammy for me.

But more importantly, Colorado played a pivotal role in electing the most promising President of our generation.

Way to go Colorado! You make me proud!