Monday, January 24, 2005

The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, 38th Moderator (2003-2006)
[ Moderator's Letter to Members of Parliament on Equal Marriage ]
January 17, 2005
Please accept greetings from The United Church of Canada, and our gratitude for your service to Canada through the work of Parliament. I am writing to you because of the recently delivered Supreme Court opinion on marriage legislation, and the prospect of an early introduction of such legislation in the House. We wish you well and pray for you as you prepare for the coming session.
I want to contribute a perspective from the United Church to your deliberations. Whether or not you agree with what I am setting before you, I think you should be equipped with the knowledge that the General Council of Canada's largest Protestant denomination welcomes equal marriage. I believe that this decision has been reached not by abandoning Christian faith, tradition, and values, but by implementing them. I write to you in the hope that you will resist the assumption that anyone who speaks from Christian faith, tradition, and values must be against equal marriage. Some are, some aren't. This is true within the United Church, just as it is true within Canadian society as a whole.
The United Church has been deeply engaged with questions of same-sex relationships for 20 years. In August 2003, its highest court asked the Government of Canada to include same-sex marriage in marriage legislation. I am attaching a copy of the letter to the Prime Minister outlining the United Church's resolution.
In some ways, The United Church of Canada is tracking a common path with the courts and the federal government. While our General Council indicated its welcome of equal marriage, our polity upholds the freedom of each of our congregations to follow its conscience. In the year and a half since the Council's decision, many of our 3,000 congregations have been engaged in the same discussion that is about to take place in the House: whether or not to proceed with equal marriage. We know this conversation is difficult for many of our congregations, just as it has been difficult in the public sphere. In our own house we experience all the elements of this issue that are familiar in Canadian society: a clear opinion from the highest court; varied beliefs and expectations on the part of participants; freedom of religion; discussion preceding emerging policy; and the price to be paid for it.
I want to put before you now a Christian perspective on faith, tradition, and values. I write of these precious things because I believe they ought to be considered in making public decisions. I am aware of your responsibilities toward a multicultural and multi-faith society, and so what follows is not intended to be normative for all. It is specifically and unapologetically of the Christian tradition, a tradition that runs deeply in Canadian life and history.
I understand faith to be a way of living. To have faith is to implement a vision in one's daily life; in this sense, all live by some faith or other. Faith is not simply about the received doctrines. Doctrine is essential to religious life but it is not the final arbiter, neither of our decisions nor of our hope. After all, doctrines have been used to support slavery, apartheid, and the exclusion of women.
Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavourable view of intimate same-sex relationship. But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text. It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness. Every generation of the Christian faith must decide how they will honour that demand of love in the living of their days. Changing circumstances and changing ideas are not the enemy of faith.
In fact, change is the only medium in which faithfulness can truly become faithfulness. Uncritical repetition is more like being on autopilot.
Similarly, I understand tradition to be a living treasure. Tradition is not to be confused with habit, custom, or convention. These are simply vessels that seek to hold the living tradition of God's presence in the world. Habit, custom, and convention are not themselves the light; they come to bear witness to the light. John's gospel says that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ. The Word became a living being, John writes, not words. The Supreme Court follows this traditional wisdom when it declares metaphorically that the constitution is a living tree. In Christian tradition the measure by which we choose a course of action is the measure of the love of Christ, a measure that judges even scripture. It is never legitimate to use the words of scripture to promote a loveless agenda.
Further, I understand value to be created by God, not by ancient custom nor by current fashion nor by general approval. God does not love because human creatures have value. Rather, it is in loving human creatures that God gives them value. Value is a gift -- not a rule, not a partisan lever, and certainly not a weapon. It is wrong to invoke the love of God in order that one person's "values" might diminish another's value. Those who claim that homosexual people threaten to dismantle the value of heterosexual marriage would do well to remember that if anyone destroys marriage, it is married people, not gays and lesbians.
In the end, faith, tradition, and values do not decide for us. They equip us to take up the responsible and difficult task of deciding for ourselves. This deciding is itself an act of faith. So we pray for one another, we struggle to live in the love of Christ, and we take our step in humble trust that the next generation will deal generously with us, knowing we did our best with the vision of love God gave us for our day.
For me, Christian faith, tradition, and values contribute to our hope for that day when earth once more is fair and all her children one, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people -- all her children. The General Council of The United Church of Canada believes that equal marriage is a step on the path to justice, peace, and the common good. If prayer is a part of your life, please pray that we may tread lightly, wisely, lovingly, bravely, and faithfully.
Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts, which are offered in a spirit of commitment to the good of Canada. Please consider attending a breakfast [for Members of Parliament that] I will be hosting on marriage on Thursday, February 24, on Parliament Hill. In the meantime, I am attaching an essay on marriage I wrote for The Globe and Mail, in the hope that you may find it useful. Again, let me extend to you my prayers and the prayers of the church, as you pursue the difficult path of putting into legislation the best hopes of Canadians. May God bless you in your efforts and may your efforts be a blessing.
The Right Reverend Dr. Peter Short, Moderator
The United Church of Canada

The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, 38th Moderator (2003-2006)
[ Let No One Be Turned Away ]
By the Right Reverend Peter ShortModerator, The United Church of Canada
I have been married for 30 years, but I'll not put that forward as any sort of qualification.
Experience is not the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom is like a guide and grandmother to the changing, exploring, learning mind. Wisdom says that it's a good time to change your mind when it widens your heart.
I have changed my mind about marriage and had my mind changed by marriage many times in 30 years. It isn't over yet. I could say the same thing about my many years of interpreting and articulating the treasures of the sacred scriptures. I suspect that the aim of scripture is not so much fixing the mind as it is widening the heart.
Marriage, whatever it comes to be in Canadian law and society, will not benefit from excessive sentimentality. While I would be the first to encourage a joyous and festive celebration of the marriage rite, I know that in most of its moments, marriage is less like a celebration and more like a trade.
Marriage lays a foundation, constructs a framework, and builds a house for love. Since constant perfect love is impossible (that's another story) marriage provides a structure, a habit of being together, a promise of faithfulness to carry us through those times when we know we must act with love but do not feel like loving. Eventually the house becomes a home, the wedding becomes a marriage, and the relationship becomes a habit of the heart.
Marriage functions the way any good habit or discipline functions. It helps us hang on through short-term ambiguity on the way to long-term freedom. The ambiguity is in the conflict between feeling and commitment. The freedom is in knowing there's a place to stand beneath the ambiguity - common ground. Common ground is not the same as having things in common, but you find that out in time.
Because it is a habit of the heart, marriage should be hard to get out of -- and into. Marriage is not casual, just as any good house is not casually built. That's what the old tradition of an engagement is about. It's a probationary period. In most jurisdictions, you can't get a licence and be married on the spot. The law requires that you afford yourself sufficient time to consider and reconsider.
Thus, marriage is not a spontaneous relationship, but a formal one. This is why a couple plans a wedding carefully and sets the wedding in significant traditions of people, place, clothing, and language. The marriage is constituted by promises given and its will to survive is sustained by a dependence on grace, that gift beyond explanation. It is not temporary. Not casual. Not for convenience.
We fail to take marriage seriously when we think of it as the private "experience" of two people. It's more than an experience. Marriage is an event that holds a couple from within and from without. The within part has to do with the love and commitment the couple generates. The without part has to do with society's investment in marriage as a carrier of stable relationships, social cohesion, and shared values.
The Christian tradition to which I belong has called marriage an "estate." This estate is a reality into which two individuals enter. In the act of marriage, they leave one estate and pass into another estate. Taking this passage changes both of them. It is a transformation they enter willingly and knowingly (well, at least they know in part). They are transformed from individual artists into a collaborative work of art. It is a transformation that is much too perilous an undertaking for those who are concentrating only on having their needs fulfilled. It is also a transformation that can never be fully realized if the depth, strength, and mystery of marriage are defined exclusively in the language of human rights.
The estate itself is not perfect (not to mention its occupants). Divorce happens. It hurts. Life must be reoriented. People must find a way to love again. For all its good and humble powers, marriage cannot banish the alienation that haunts the human condition. Marriage is, nonetheless, a good house that shelters the imperfect human's quest to persevere in love.
In the tradition to which I belong, we bring faith to the discussion of marriage. More importantly, it is faith that brings us to this discussion. Faith prompts that old question that stands at the heart of our experience as followers of Jesus; the question that runs like an aortic artery through the writings of the New Testament; the question that has haunted us from the very beginning and haunts us still: "Who is in and who is out?"
Christian faith brings us again and again to this question, as it brought our ancestors and will bring our children: "Who is in and who is out?" Our faith brought us here in the question of the ordination of women in the early years of The United Church of Canada. It brought us back again in the debate about divorce and remarriage in the 1960s. This same question is the essential element of our slowly dawning awareness about right relations with Aboriginal peoples: "Who is in and who is out?"
In the current discussion about marriage, the question looks like this: "Who will be invited to enter and live in the good house? Who will be welcome to give themselves to transformation by love in the honourable estate
This is not a question that can be answered adequately by relegating it to "the marriage file" in Ottawa. Certainly anybody who has been married knows there is no way in God's green earth you can put that experience in a file.
As we await the responses of the Supreme Court of Canada, the House of Commons, and Mr. Martin to questions raised in "the marriage file," it is a good time to think and pray and talk about marriage--an estate that in one form or another has been with us since time immemorial.
The General Council of The United Church of Canada has made clear its response. All those, regardless of sexual orientation, who are willing to give themselves to transformation by love in the honourable estate are welcome in marriage. I am aware that among ecumenical and interfaith responses to equal marriage, the United Church is mostly alone. Nevertheless, and with great respect for our partners and friends, I believe that the General Council has made the right response, true to the gospel and true to our tradition.
The identity of The United Church of Canada has never been primarily in our denomination. At our very beginning, denominational identity had to be relinquished by those Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists who took the risk of becoming the United Church. Our deepest and truest identity is still in our willingness to follow Jesus Christ as he crosses the boundaries that divide and alienate people. This is not an innovation. This is our tradition. God help us; it will always be that way. We expect change. At our best, we give ourselves to transformation. We hope for the widening of the heart. We believe that when you give yourself to following Jesus, you are led to a place God alone can see, in other words, to that same place marriage leads those people who give themselves faithfully and willingly to it. **
How, then, shall we be faithful to marriage? Not by forbidding change. Change is the only medium in which faithfulness can really be faithfulness. Faithfulness is to an unchanging environment as autopilot is to flying.
So let me express my hope and my prayer for all who are married and for all who stand at the gate of the honourable estate. Love is always a risk. So is life. But we believe in marriage as a good house that shelters the presence of the greatest of gifts. It is a good house for all the people and an honourable estate from which no one should be turned away.
** This paragraph was edited for space in the version of this commentary that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, January 31, 2004

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

How Christmas went, by Reid, age 6.

We had a great Christmas. I had to work the week prior and the week after, but things at work were pretty quiet.
On Friday, December 24th, Joe and I invited friends over to our place for Xmas dinner. We had more people show up than anticipated, but we were able to feed them all and have leftovers to boot. Who came over? Sean & Nancy, Jerome & Bruce, Allie & Noel, Ryan & Donna, Carrie and Mike, Nick, Darryl, ???. I had quite a fill of wine that night. I shut it down around 1:30am, since I had started drinking wine by myself in the afternoon while making pots of food.

I also received the most awesome news on Xmas Eve as well. Owen and Chloe are going to be parents! Yup, little brother is breeding. Their due date is July 8th, so that's going to cause a lot of happy turmoil in the middle of the summer. I'm gonna be an uncle! How cool is that?

Xmas day was quiet. Joe and I opened gifts. I was very fortunate this year. From mom & dad, a new ski jacket. From Owen & Chloe, a DVD/DVD-R/CD/CD-R/MP3 player for the house stereo, and a copy of the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD. From Joe, two shirts, Futurama seasons 1 & 2 on DVD.

On Boxing Day I went to A & B Sound to use up my gift certificates -- Bought seasons 3&4 of Futurama. Headed to Future Shop and bought a Canon Powershot A400 digital camera. It was a package deal containing extended warranty, rechargable batteries and charger, camera bag, 256MB memory upgrade...I figured the cost of the camera less the extras was only about $250. The entire package came to $440.

That night, Jerome, Bruce, Ryan and myself headed to Twisted Element to visit Natasha while she was in town. Her and Laura showed up, as well as Debbie and Sandy, Calvin & Doug, Curtis and man, plus two other cute friends. As well, Kevin McCuish showed up out of nowhere and hung out with us. Afterwards the gay boys headed to Curtis' place for a few brews. Curtis was obliterated and was starting to do weird things to Kevin (even though his boyfriend was there??), so I figured that was as good a time as any to get out.

The rest of the week is a blur. I had to work on the 29,30,31. I don't think I did much of anything that week but watch movies and sleep in my spare time.

NYE was fun. Joe and I went to Hugh and Brian's place. It was a very cold night, so they didn't have the turnout they were expecting, but we had fun anyways. Tim & Doug, Rob Blain, Mike & Shawn, Darren Stolz were all there. Nick showed up later after work. We headed home around 1:30am.

NYD was slow and dark. We relaxed all day, but had tickets for the BT show at Tantra that night. Hugh and Brian decided not to go, but Doug, Nick, Joe and myself went, and met up with Mike & Shawn there. There weren't many people out that night -- it was still bitchin' cold and the hangovers didn't help much. BT put on a good show though - it was his typical sound, nothing new or surprising. He did play a lot of remixes of old tunes though -- is this a trend or what? I don't care for it much if it is.

I went back to work a day early on Jan. 3. I wanted to bank the day for use later in the year. It's now the 12th, and I'm finally getting back into the training and working groove. We started Phase 3 of the Synergy sprint training program at Peak Power yesterday. I'm sort of sore today. We did our baseline testing yesterday as well, and I improved across the board. Some highlights: 7.2m triple jump, 346kg leg press x 6 reps, 3 sets of 70kg cleans x 5. It's been too cold to keep up with 55km+ weeks running, so I've been spending some time on the bike trainer, which hasn't been so bad with the portable DVD player in the spare room. It doesn't play the DVD-R copy I have of the 2003 TdF unfortunately.

I bought airline tickets for BK and myself for Tucson last week. $382 each, April 1-10 on United. One stopover in LA en route, two stopovers on the way back in LA and SF. Reid C. bought his ticket on the weekend as did Marcus, Chris, Cory, Craig all have yet to buy. We have seven going so far, can fit eight in Cory's parent's timeshare. I'm so excited!!!

Bandit and Gizmo are doing well. Bandit is such a little troublemaker. He loves getting dirty and teasing Gizmo into a wrestling match. I think we're getting him fixed in the next few weeks, once the weather improves.

Fetish report: I 'accidentally' won an eBay auction for a black zentai spandex suit in November which I received in early December. It was surprisingly close to my proportions and fits like a glove. I've tried sleeping in it; I find it almost too arousing to relax in. It's a lot of fun though. Joe's even fucked me in it once already.

I went a little crazy and bought some rubber items from based in Vancouver and based in Germany. Everything was delayed shipping out over the holidays, but I received the order last week. It is wonderful! A pair of black footed rubber leggings with built-in C&B sheath, a black pullover shirt with long sleeves and attached gloves, and three masks, plus a pair of bike shorts with sheath and some Rubber polish as bonus items for patiently waiting. The leggings are skintight and feel wonderful, especially when everything is in place in the sheath. The shirt fits tight around the torso and lower arms, but the upper arms are pretty loose. I guess I'll have to build up the bar muscles to tighten up the shirt. The masks fit very tight as well. Everything was ordered in size small, which was definitely the way to go. I've had the stuff on about three times already. Took photos during the last session - very hot. Joe fucked me again with all of the rubber on - even hotter. I've noticed a few pinholes erupting. One is in the side of the right knee in the leggings, the other is in the left hand glove between the thumb and index finger. I have to contact Fernando at and find out the best way to repair these. Probably simple-layer bike patches will do the trick. The rubber isn't very thick so I'll have to be careful.

The order from should be coming this week or next, I ordered three more bondage balloons from them, that I promise not to destroy on first attempt this time! I've also bought some surgical tubing to put in the balloon once I'm in to suck all the air out with the vacuum, and see how long I can spend vacuumized and immobilized in my rubber prison. I'm hoping for more photo sessions too, both with the rubber clothes on in the balloon and naked. I'm getting hard just thinking about it....

I have to lay off the fetish purchases for awhile. With the amount of bike equipment and travelling I'm planning on doing this year, I need all the money I can get my grubby paws on!

That's about it for now. Curling starts again this weekend. I'm hopefully going to test ride the Trek Madone 5.2 at Calgary Cycle and the Cannondale Six13 R3000 at Bow Cycle next week. I should be able to make a final decision on a bike then. I think if the Madone rides anything like my old 5500, that will be the choice to make because of its slightly more aerodynamic design. I've heard wonderful things about the Six13 too. Both are around the $4000 range. I will also order a front Ksyrium wheel (probably Elite instead of SSC) to complete another wheelset.

I've also ordered a new track bike to be built by Cochrane Cycle. It begins with the 2005 Giant Track frame, and it built with FSA and Deda parts. Jon Keech suggested Sugino components, and BK suggested Campagnolo which he has on his, but I was going for a lower cost. It's still going to cost just over $1800 to put this bike together (without wheels). I wasn't prepared to go over the $2000 mark, which would be easy to do with Campy or Dura-Ace components. I hope it won't cause any big problems. I'm still debating buying another wheelset specifically for the track bike, plus the Zipp 909 set or Corima disc wheel (another $2000). Cripes, this is gonna hurt!

The theoretical disturbing and upsetting thing about the entire Southeast Asia tragedy is that I don't think it will even compare to what humanity is in store for in the next 20-50 years. Horrific, yes, but just you watch for what's to come....calamity and destruction never before witnessed, but in what form will it take? Human-induced or Nature-induced, or something else?

God Does Not Cause Tsunamis How do you process such an epic tragedy? Where do you lay blame? Can you even try?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
And like millions of Americans, I was on a reasonably relaxing and relatively effortless holiday break with my family when the earthquake/tsunami devastated Asia.
A fact that somehow managed to double if not quintuple the utter surreality of the event, as there I was, sipping wine and sharing laughs and opening gifts and lamenting the lack of Pacific Northwest snow for decent winter photography, safe as could be in a cocoon of middle-class all-American consumer-happy comfort as over 160,000 innocent people, most living in conditions you and I would find intolerable even in our nastiest and most Sally Struthers third-world fantasy, died in a horrific flood in about the time it took you to read this overlong sentence.
And like millions of across the world, I was jarred and horrified and utterly stunned by the raw power and random predisposition of nature, of God, of the universe, of karma and energy and the frail human animal and of water-displacement ratios and plate tectonics and whatever other terms you want to try and use to access the tragedy and believe me, people are trying everything they can think of, because, well, this is what we do.
We try to figure it out. Find a reason. Understand the roots. Blame something. Someone. Somehow.
Maybe this, then, is the most jarring thing of all. Bogus presidents and unwinnable wars and humiliating foreign policy, rabid homophobia and misogyny and pseudo-Christian absolutist agendas that seek to maul the kaleidoscopic nature of the national spirit, these are issues and events we can access, get our minds around, things the media can report on and people can discuss with something resembling articulation and alacrity. And yet here we are, the most massive and horrific disaster in decades, and ... nothing.
There is no available perspective, little by way of opinion or viewpoint except of course for reports covering the turbulent ecology or the amazing survival stories or the massive relief efforts and the U.S.'s initial embarrassing wimpiness therein, coupled with a few mentions of President Bush's own weird and paltry $10K personal contribution. (Note to Dubya: When the spoon-fed multimillionaire WASP president of the United States won't even match the donations of the star of "Miss Congeniality 2," better to not donate anything at all, OK, George? Now go back to your nap.)
Of course it makes sense. Of course there's so little commentary because, well, what can you say? There is no one to blame. There is nowhere to protest. There is no activist group to join or pundit to throw sticks at or candidate to get behind, no issue to rally around and no action you can take besides sending your check and suddenly becoming concerned about the state of tsunami early-warning systems in places you've never even visited and probably never will.
It is, perhaps, the most helpless and disorienting feeling in the world.
And unless you're House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, a charred and black little nub of a human who actually stood up at the White House prayer breakfast last week and read a passage from the Bible that would seem to blame the tsunami's victims for their own unspeakable fate (to listen to DeLay's reading, click here), given how the majority of them were Muslim and therefore they of course believed in the wrong God and therefore got what they deserved ha ha snicker.
And then he sat back down. And lightning, shockingly, did not strike him dead on the spot.
Unless you're a hunk of rank spiritual mold like Tommy, you don't claim any sort of understanding of such massive tragedies, knowing as you do that no matter how you come at it and no matter how many pictures you see and how many island communities and entire cultures you read about that were simply wiped off the face of the Earth, no explanation, no manner of verbiage can possibly do it justice, can possibly frame such epic natural disaster. We simply don't have the tools, spiritual or otherwise.
God fails. Earth fails. Man fails. The disaster, it just is. We stare at it and see the devastation and feel a deep relief that we were spared this time because we know, deep down, it could have very easily happened to us.
And we blink hard and we are touched on some primitive level, some ancient chthonic instinct that hearkens us back to the beginnings of time, before there was a person on the planet to conceive of a god who would gently explain it all away as a grand master plan and you just have faith and stop your worrying there there now. Right.
How could God let this happen? I've read that question a few times, seen that query posed, by adults no less, which is just a bit sad, if not bewildering. As if God really was some sort of bearded and angry old puppeteer yanking strings and wreaking random havoc across the world for mad, inexplicable reasons all while favoring Republicans and evangelical Christians and war, a childish and simple kind of God conceptualized mostly by 5-year-olds and fundamentalist Bush supporters and Mel Gibson.
As if God were not, actually, a raw and deeply pulsing energy force, a vibration, the ambisexual gender-free love-torn luminosity of all things that we as a species can relish and contribute to and celebrate and drink from but that, instead, we seem to be trying very very hard to beat the living crap out of, every single day. You know?
Don't ask why God let this happen. Maybe ask, instead, why the vibration of the world and our treatment of the environment is so low and ugly and un-God-like right now that these things seem more inevitable than ever. Maybe there's a hint in there somewhere. Earth as living organism. Earth as dynamic barometer of our progress and awareness. Earth shuddering at our mad lurches toward war and overdevelopment and overpopulation. You think?
Many, I've read, see the tragedy as a big wake-up call from the universe, something meant to jar us out of our bitter insularity and realize that we are, in fact, one species, one humanity, not all that different and not all that isolated, and, if nothing else, maybe we can feel a few of the barriers normally separating us break down, finally, at least for a while.
Well, maybe. Sadly, this is not the traditional American way. Our cultural memory is terrifically short. Our range of global humanitarian experience is terrifically limited. Besides, we've got a nasty, violent, deadly, unwinnable war in Iraq to keep losing.
Maybe you see such horrors, as I tend to do, as a call to carpe diem, to cherish the day and enjoy the moment like never before and maybe make a change in your life and your perspective before it's too late and because you have nothing, really, to lose, and because life is frighteningly fleeting and it can all be literally washed away in the time it takes to walk your dog to the park and back.
Primordial. Primeval. Prelapsarian. Many other polysyllabic words come to mind to describe the tragedy that only seems to point up the fact that we know far less than we think we know about How It All Works and even less about Why the Hell We Have to Be Here to Witness It.
And what's worse, there's not a damn thing we can really do about it all, except get slapped, again, with the fact that life can be unspeakably violent and brutish right alongside stunning and beautiful, and there is not a single place on the planet that is absolutely free of potential catastrophe or epic disaster or slow and painful rebirth. Nowhere.
And therefore, no matter how many luxury resorts and how much money and how many McMansions and how many manly SUVs we gather desperately to ourselves like hollow and ultimately useless security blankets, this very fact, this slippery transitory insanity, is in our blood, our cells, our genetic code.
And in the end, we realize terror has nothing to do with angry Islamic fundamentalists or right-wing Christian warmongers, and everything to do with surviving this mad shocking circus so as to milk this experience for all it's worth and haul its cartload of shimmering and bloody and fragile lessons to the next level, the next life, the next Mystery.
Could the lesson -- if there is one -- be that simple? And that incredibly difficult?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Christmas updates coming soon.....

Do SUVs Make You Stupid?
Pointless, dangerous and vain as ever, land tanks still sell millions. Only one explanation possible

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Maybe stupid is too strong a word.
Maybe it's more like willful ignorance. More like intentional blindness. More like a calm and conscious denial in the face of a staggering stack of overwhelming facts that if you looked at for even one minute would prove that land tanks are some of the most overrated and silly and harmful and utterly pointless vehicles on the planet.

OK, maybe stupid is the right word.

Because there really is no other explanation for the still-roaring success of the land tank. Still no other explanation for their bizarre popularity, for the fact that, according to the Census Bureau and despite California's legendary rep for organics and environmentalism and concerns of health and body and air, our fine and heavily Schwarzeneggered state leads the nation in new registrations for SUVs.

Sad but true. Registrations for the huge lumps of bulbous steel jumped 39 percent between 1997 and 1992, from 1.9 million to 2.75 million, and overall there's been a whopping 56 percent jump in sales of the beasts in a mere eight years across the country, totaling nearly 25 million of the ugly tanks now lumbering across the American landscape and hogging all the parking and burning up most of the oil and sneering in the face of air quality and all rational thought and flipping over and bursting into flame after hitting a pinecone at 80 mph.

You can see it in the eyes of most every new SUV buyer as they stare, wide eyed and overwhelmed, at the massive vehicles in the showroom: some sort of veil drops over their eyes, some sort of weird opiate pumps into their brains and they lose all sense of reason or intelligence or common sense or environmental concern and their ego balloons and their testosterone kicks up three notches and they go into some sort of spasm of denial about how purchasing one of these things will, in fact, contribute quite heartily to the overall ill health of their own bodies and the planet as a whole, not to mention the very reason we are so desperately, violently at war.

And the salesman sees that look and just smiles and licks his chops and points out how this 4-ton hunk of environmental devastation can seat nine and tow a large tractor or maybe 15 head of cattle, plus it has 27 cup holders and three DVD players and a built-in sense of false superiority, and the vaguely depressed regularly emasculated suburban dad or the gum-snapping Marina girl with way too much of her parents' money and way too little self-defined taste takes one look and goes, oooh.

What, too harsh? Not really. Most people know these facts to be true, but buy the tanks anyway in a mad collusion of wishful thinking and raw denial and false advertising, absolutely convinced the beasts are somehow safer and sturdier (they're neither) and that they absolutely must have 37 cubic feet of cargo space to haul their grocery bags and 4-wheel-drive traction to get over those little concrete barriers in the mall parking lot and just ignore the fact that the thing rides like a brick and handles like a block of lead and is about as attractive and beautifully designed as a jar of rocks.

Irony? The SUV drips with it. Fact is, most Americans consider themselves environmentally conscious and claim to care deeply about protecting natural resources and don't really want war and suffering or the insane BushCo-brand oil dependence that causes both.

But the truth is, if Americans really cared about energy and pollution and reducing reliance on foreign oil and getting us out from under the massive hypocritical terrorist-supportin' Saudi thumb, they'd buy smaller or more efficient vehicles. Period. But they don't.

Waiting for that hybrid SUV to make it all better? Good for you. Step in the right direction, truly, though of course improved gas mileage and reduced emissions do nothing to allay the fact that SUVs still roll and still can't maneuver to avoid accidents and still hog parking and still assault the eye and tread as lightly on the planet as Arnold Schwarzenegger in ski boots. But hey. It's a start.

Another big fallacy? SUV roominess. Hell, ugly ol' minivans have far more storage and headroom, as do most sport wagons, PT Cruisers -- even large hatchbacks have more than enough overall storage (and often better headroom) for any but the largest of families and oh my God even this is a moot point because you well know that 97 percent of all SUVs on the road are single occupant and the only "cargo" is their purse or their gym bag, while the other 36 square feet is taken up by, well, ego and attitude and air.

Machismo? Well, yes. There's that. Big feeling of invincibility in an SUV, of a high and mighty driving position that gives you that commanding sensation, so strong and so powerful that you are willing to overlook that it's just an illusion, deceptive and harmful given how SUVs actually have more accidents, actually cause more accidents than passenger cars because they can't maneuver in emergency situations and can't stop in rain or snow and tend to flip over easier than Paris Hilton after a dozen Bacardi shooters.

And then you hear that, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, minivans are 10 times safer than SUVs in a crash. Whoops.

Truth is, small, nimble passenger cars may not survive a head-on collision with a Freightliner quite as well as your bigass Navigator, dude, but they do a hell of a lot better avoiding it in the first place. Which is why rates of serious accidents and incidents of death are actually lower for smaller cars than almost any lurching monster truck on the road. Period.

And sure you can be cheered slightly at the news that SUV sales are slightly sluggish lately, down 2 percent, and that Hummer sales are way off and Prius sales are way up and there's still a three-month waiting list for Mini Coopers.

Until you realize that 2 percent ain't much of nuthin' and until you read how the U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil each day, with passenger vehicles burning up three quarters of the total -- and SUVs alone burn half the total for all passenger cars, far more than their fair share and more petroleum than our entire country produces in a year.

And then you learn how that little pip-squeak tyrant Saddam was sitting on 10 percent of the world's oil reserves and that he might have once thought about threatening the nearby 60 percent owned by our buddies the terrorist-lovin', women-slappin' Saudis, and you realize that anyone who thinks we're in Iraq for democracy or humanity's sake is absolutely full of Rumsfeld.

Look. I know many people who own SUVs. Good people. Lovely people. Friends. Family. I know their arguments for owning them. I know that they know, deep down, that most of those arguments hold little sway and most are rather hollow and the result of slick marketing and just a little bit of fear.

And I know there is no accounting for taste and that a big part of the sad American ideology is a willful separation of cause and effect, and that there are worse atrocities in the world than owning a shiny black knobby-tired 5-ton Ford Expedition that never sees anything more rugged than a pothole in the Krispy Kreme drive-thru.

But, really, we have to just admit it: the SUV is hypocrisy incarnate. It is the perfect emblem for the American view, for our position in the world: gluttonous, vain, mostly useless (over 85 percent of SUVs never see a dirt road, much less need 4-wheel drive), ugly as hell and as graceful or practical as a school bus on an ice-skating rink.

Just admit it. Maybe it will help. Maybe a tiny confession of guilt will put us back on the right track. After all, admission of the problem is the first step toward recovery, right? That, and placing your order now for the badass new VW GTI.