The Evangelical Crackup

The New York Times has a nice piece about the disintegration of the religious right, and high time, too.

Much of the action takes place in Wichita, Kansas, which Thomas Frank might have had in mind when he wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a terrific book which chronicles the ways that the Republican Right has used the Religious Right as their dupes and pawns for the last 30 years.

But lately, the times, they are a-changin’. The top three most-influential conservative Christian pastors of Wichita megachurches have all left their pulpits in the last 14 months, some voted out by their own congregations:

“They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!” [right-wing religious crackpot Terry Fox] told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. “And these were deacons of the church!”

…The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. “The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” [Bill] Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. “People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

…Today the president’s support among evangelicals, still among his most loyal constituents, has crumbled. Once close to 90 percent, the president’s approval rating among white evangelicals has fallen to a recent low below 45 percent, according to polls by the Pew Research Center. White evangelicals under 30 — the future of the church — were once Bush’s biggest fans; now they are less supportive than their elders. And the dissatisfaction extends beyond Bush. For the first time in many years, white evangelical identification with the Republican Party has dipped below 50 percent, with the sharpest falloff again among the young.

…”Even in evangelical circles, we are tired of the war, tired of the body bags,” the Rev. David Welsh, who took over late last year as senior pastor of Wichita’s large Central Christian Church, told me. “I think it is to the point where they are saying: ‘O.K., …let’s just get out of there.’ ”

…In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on [Southern Baptists] 20 years ago, the establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.”

Read the full story at The New York Times
“The Evangelical Crackup”
October 28, 2007

Insane Housing Foreclosures Chart, Redux

From this space, August 7, 2005 (‘Sell! Sell! Sell!’):

Oh, man, watch out, the sky is falling.

And then, of course, starting in 2006 and going completely nuts in 2007, foreclosures really did hit the fan.

Update! For your viewing pleasure, this chart from yesterday’s Los Angeles Times:

A scary graph of foreclosures in Southern California over the last 15 years, showing an intense recent spike to a record high.And, as before, note:

This isn’t another phoney-baloney non-zero-based graph, where the Y axis goes from, say, 1000 to 1005. Nope, this graph’s Y axis starts at zero, and it’s a linear scale, so if it looks 20 times bigger, it is 20 times bigger.

Check out the big foreclosure hump in the center of the graph, about 10 years ago, when housing prices in Southern California had tanked to the point where some houses had lost half their value.

Now look at what the graph has done in the last couple of quarters. That thing’s still not even thinking about slowing down.

We probably have at least another year of crazy, unconventional predatory loans that have yet to reset from their teaser rates. And then a much longer period, years more, where buyers sit on their hands, waiting for prices to finish falling, and sellers stubbornly refuse to sell their homes at the market rate (or are unable to, because their mortgages are under water).

The one possible bright spot on the home mortgage front: our crazy deficit spending over the last 6 years has eroded (and continues to erode) the dollar, which has lost half its value vs. the euro since 2001. This inflation makes U.S. goods and services relatively cheaper overseas, and lowers the real level of indebtedness on existing loans.

Unless, of course, you have an adjustable-rate loan.

Read the full story at The Los Angeles Times:
“California home foreclosures again set a record”
October 27, 2007

If you buy a home for 10% down, and its value falls by 10%, you’ve been wiped out.

Wind Tunnel, With Pictures

The plan:

I’m repeating the 100-kilometer long, 5,000-foot ascent Mt. Wilson ride, with new riding partners this time — Ron is temporarily out of the running, recovering from minor surgery, so I’m riding with a couple of other guys from Alcatel-Lucent, who I’ve never ridden with before.

Both are almost certainly younger than I am, and both are serious grown-up cyclists: Vincent Magret, who rode from San Francisco down to Los Angeles last year, 80 miles a day, sometimes 125 miles a day, and Carlos Navarrette, his regular riding partner, including for that same SF-to-LA ride. Are they going to be faster than I am?


But they’re game to ride with me, and I with them, so off we go!

My goal: to do the ride slightly faster than last time, for some positive value of “slightly”.

What actually happened:

Did you see the series finale of Gilmore Girls last year? It started kind of normally, but every so often, in the background, another truck would pass by loaded with hay bales. And then the characters would talk among themselves a little more, and the plot would progress, and…there’s another hay bale truck, that’s kind of odd, and maybe the characters have come inside now, but you can see the occasional hay bale truck passing by through the window. And then more normal show development, and…okay, what’s with all the hay bale trucks?

Our ride was exactly like that, except with fire trucks, and gale-force winds.

I had mentioned to Mom the day before that we would be doing the Mt. Wilson ride again, and she said, “Ooh, I hope you don’t get blown off the mountain, what with the Santa Anas blowing so hard.” Mom lives in Indiana, but that doesn’t stop her from knowing the weather on random weekends in Southern California.

Then, on the morning of the ride, Carlos called me up to say that trees were blown over in his area. Plus, the weather forecast was 25-28mph winds, which seemed…windy. We mused over that a while, and I walked outside, and it wasn’t that windy; there were periods of actual calm, too. Weird. So we thought about it, and I said, well, we can reschedule; or, we can start out and see how it is in the mountains, and just turn back if we don’t like it; or, if we get further into the ride and it gets bad later, there are ways of cutting the ride short and still having a nice ride in civilization. Everybody was game to try to have some kind of a bike ride.

We got going by 8:30am, slipped over the Mt. Gleason pass down into the Tujunga Wash, and started the more-or-less steady climb that makes up the first hour of the ride. And the thing is (and this will really surprise you), it was windy. About 30 minutes into the ride, before we’d even gone over the first bridge crossing the Tujunga Wash, and with Vincent in the lead, I told Carlos that geez, my heart rate on the monitor was already up to 85% of capacity, about 10 or 20 beats per minute higher than usual for this stretch. Carlos turned to me in kind of an alarmed way, and said (paraphrasing now), “No, no…don’t try to keep up with Vincent, that’s a bad mistake. When the hills get steep, he just goes faster.” So, I backed off to 80%, a little more appropriate for a stretch of road that wasn’t even supposed to be the hard part yet.

And we plugged along, and sometimes the mountains blocked us from the wind, and that was great. We crossed the second bridge and started the climb up past the dam, and the wind was…well, it was pretty bad, but it still seemed like we might have a chance.

I met up with Vincent and Carlos at the dam overlook, and we got some photos (click to enlarge):

Vincent and Carlos, at the Big Tujunga Dam overlook.

Then we headed off up the next leg to the first T-crossing. And the wind…was indescribably bad, especially when going through cutouts that had been blasted into the mountain, creating a channel that they could lay a road through. In those things, the wind was hard enough to sting, especially with the clouds of grit that it was carrying along. Okay, here’s one way to describe it. Up until that morning, I would have been able to say, perfectly truthfully, that in 28 years of cycling in the modern era, I’d never once gotten off the bike and walked. I can’t say that any more — I was afraid that I was going to be blown down and not be able to unclip in time. So I walked 100 feet out one of the worst of the wind channels. I heard later that some parts of L.A. had winds in excess of 100mph, and I can believe it.

We regrouped at the first T-crossing, marveled at the ferocity of the wind, and wondered what to do. And it was here that I told the guys a little excerpt from an earlier ride, also started with great ambition, which had gone Horribly Awry:

My friend Chris Gibson likes to read Aviation Safety magazine. He tells me that one thing that they’ve noticed is that small planes with two pilots in them (with one as the passenger) crash much more often than small planes with a single pilot, and the reason is this: where one pilot might be frightened of some oncoming weather and turn back, in a plane with two pilots, neither one wants to admit to the other that he isn’t game to go ahead.

“…and so, ” I concluded, “…with that in mind, I’d just like to say that if anyone doesn’t want to go up to Mt. Wilson just today, I’m totally on board!”

At this point, we could have just turned around, a 30-mile ride. Or, we could have turned left, bridge, tunnel, Hidden Springs Cafe, and planned on not going up Mt. Wilson road, but still secretly having that as an option if everything calmed down, about a 55-mile ride. But a significant portion of that ride would be heading virtually straight into the wind, up some evil grades. Or, we could just adapt to the conditions, and turn right, and do the 55-mile Sunland/Rose Bowl loop featuring the Angeles Crest, Descanso Gardens, a Victory Lap around the Rose Bowl, back out through Montrose, down La Tuna Canyon, up the short evil uphill in Shadow Hills, and home.

So, that’s we did, and as we were headed up Angeles Forest Hwy., a fire truck passed us going hell-for-leather in the opposite direction, sirens blazing. Then again, on Angeles Crest Hwy., more fire and rescue trucks. Huh.

A view of the Big Tujunga Reservoir from Angeles Forest Highway.

Carlos and Vincent, at the Angeles Crest Highway (which can be seen winding down from the pass).

I got another flat on Angeles Crest, the second one in two weeks straight, after no flats for a long, long time. But I had hit a stone pretty hard, and the tube just popped. I had bought a little one-use CO2 canister to re-inflate the tire, which I’d never tried before, and it was awesome. This was the threaded kind, which you screw all the way in to the adapter, push on to the valve, and then slightly unscrew to allow gas to flow. Worked great.

Back in civilization, we headed over towards the Rose Bowl, and virtually immediately were beset by fire trucks. Then my brother-in-law Steve called to inquire after my health, because there were fires all over Southern California, from the insane wind and near-total lack of rain this last year, just over 3 inches in the entire year running from July to June). Pepperdine University had been evacuated. I reassured Steve that we didn’t live anywhere near there, though my work was kind of near there. I told the guys about the fires, and they looked a little concerned; it turned out that they lived in Oak Park, right next to work, and near enough to the fires to make someone look concerned.

After the Victory Lap, and a sighting of the Mt. Wilson summit, from below this time, along with an oath that we would make it ours one day, we started back. The guys both had GPS units, and took off ahead, to meet at Descanso Gardens. Vincent managed to get far enough ahead that Carlos missed seeing him take a turnoff, and Carlos ended up in the wilds of La Cañada, surrounded by dogs, though most of those dogs were behind fences. But we had cell phones, and I more or less knew the area, so we were fairly quickly all reunited.

We stopped in at Descanso Gardens, where they very nicely just waved us in to refill on water and use the restrooms.

We headed out Honolulu up to La Tuna Canyon, and I was again struck by how much easier this route was becoming for me. Just an easy 55 miles, in mountains.

As we approached Shadow Hills, we got our first unobstructed view of the horizon, and it was…horrible. An entire arc of the horizon, as far as the eye could see, was a mass of black smoke. It turned out that a fire had started on one of the ridges, and the wind had blown the fire along the top of the ridge into a 15-mile fire line in just no time. And that was just one of the dozen or even quinzaine (“about 15”) fires in the area. Just one of them, and it dominated the horizon, from 20 miles away.

As we headed through Shadow Hills, I warned the guys that there was one more short, evil uphill near the end (as is in the best tradition of centuries and half-centuries). They weren’t impressed by my words, because they are actual grown-up cyclists, but I did hear a soft gasp of awe as they turned the corner, and the hill was revealed, climbing up to — who knew where? — the actual top of the hill was hidden from initial view by the closer canopy of trees, as it climbed up, apparently to Jesus.

The wind had been laying low during much of our romp through civilization, but was thoroughly noticeable coming back the last mile on Day St., which is a straight, wide street. Here we were, going pretty level, and not too fast, and the old heart rate was back at 85% of maximum.

A fun ride, all-in-all, but then the guys had to bolt for their homes, which were being lightly covered in falling ash, and which had been seriously menaced 4 years before. Everybody keep your fingers crossed.

      distance:    54.4 miles
  total ascent:   4,100 ft

Tom's Cycle Computer:
      distance:    54.8 miles
   saddle time: 4:57:05       (not counting rests)
 average speed:    11.1 mph   (not counting rests)
previous speed:    10.7 mph   (not counting rests)

Carlos's Edge 305:
      Distance:   55.86 miles (includes small detour)
    Total time: 6:33:38       (including rests)
     Avg Speed:     8.5 mph   (including rests)
     Max Speed:    42.9 mph   (eek!)
        Ascent:   5,586 ft

Vincent's Edge 305:
        Ascent:   6,345 ft   (does not include a small part of the ride)

“Slightly faster! Excellent!”

Mt. Wilson, With Pictures

What a ride! The climb up past the Big Tujunga Canyon Dam overlook was almost routine by now: no wondering if we can do it, just the thrill of having done it, again, and, by now, comparatively easily.

Tom at the Big Tujunga Canyon Dam overlook.

Ron at the Big Tujunga Canyon Dam overlook.

So it was with a glad cry of “New road!” that we turned left, rather than right, when we got to Angeles Forest Road and headed toward Hidden Springs.

Google Earth had made wild claims about insane ravines and peaks in the route, but I had already preflighted it in the car, so we were expecting the huge bridge over the ravine, and the dark, scary tunnel under the peak, but they were still, respectively, huge and scary.

The bridge had a neat little observation deck made out like a castle battlement. Look at the scale of the thing!

The bridge over the ravine, seen from the battlements side, with the road down in the background.

The battlements leading to the scenic overlook.

The battlements at the scenic overlook.

The glory and the majesty of the bridge. Look at the trees underneath! And the sign on the far end!

As for the tunnel, we went through one-at-a-time, but that didn’t stop a car from accompanying each of us. Woof, it was dark in there. Next time, we’ll have some tiny lights, at least.

Tom enters the tunnel…

…with a car.

Ron exits the tunnel…

…with a car.

There was a tiny rest area immediately after the tunnel. It might lead down to the Hidden Springs, but we didn’t check it out.

Just a little bit later, we turned the corner to see the Hidden Springs Cafe. You have to understand, this is out in the middle of nowhere, on the road from nowhere to nowhere — a welcome sight. Good food and fresh water for sale, and clean restrooms for customers. Cash only.

Tom and Ron at Hidden Springs Cafe.

Also, a huge biker event on the day.

Just a mile after the Hidden Springs Cafe, we turned right onto Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and started over some rolling hills. I had told Ron that the worst of it would be on mile 22-27, with the worst of that at the end, and wow, did that come true! At one point, we came around a corner, and both involuntarily gasped at the stretch of road uphill that was revealed.

We plugged along, and turned another corner:

“Tom, look at that huge mountain straight ahead — do you suppose that’s Mount Wilson?”

“Well, you see, Ron, the road to Mount Wilson leads off from the Angeles Crest Highway, which follows a crest along the San Gabriel Mountains. We are on the wrong side of that crest, and have to climb up, and over it, to get to the highway. I think that mountain ahead is…involved.”

And look here, some power lines, headed up the hill in roughly the same direction, and yes, there’s a pass, but still leading…up, dammit. In the distance, we could see a line of pine trees, placed on the Crest in single file, as if to beckon to the lost traveler that civilization is Over Here.

Imagine our joy when we came upon the warning sign for “Firetrucks Ahead” at last! Oh, right, you don’t know: the authorities like to situate the fire/rescue stations at, or at least very near, the intersections of major mountain roads. That way, in the event of an Event, the firemen can race down whichever road is more convenient. So, here was the Shortcut Station! We were getting close!

And here was a lovely little downhill. And…a cyclist, coming around a corner from the other direction, and really coming up the (for him) uphill with remarkable speed — the kind of speed that comes from just having come down a big downhill. Which, after we turned the corner, was a another nice long uphill for us.

Eventually it ended, and we came to the Angeles Crest Highway for real. Some rolling hills, a mile and half of uphills, and then sweet downhills to our final challenge: the Mount Wilson Red Box Road leading to the observatory complex at the summit. 1,000 feet of climbing to go, more or less.

But first, please God, let there be water somewhere at the base. I was running low, and just wanted the security of a couple of full water bottles as I attacked the summit. And yes, near the Indian Cultural Center at the base, a fountain! I have seldom been so happy.

Our Hero.

We chatted briefly with T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), back from the dead and wisely sticking to bicycles now rather than motorcycles. He had virtually no square inch of skin exposed to the sun, and even still had the desert sun hat covering his face and neck, but most peculiar of all was his foot attire: what looked like Teva sandals, with socks, but fitted out with standard SPD bicycle cleats, so that he could clip in to the pedals — amazing. He reassured us that there weren’t any significant climbs left — just some good, general uphills.

Later, as we rode up, and up, and up, we thought of hunting him down and giving him a talking to, but of course he was much faster than we were.

About half-way up. You can see the Angeles Crest Highway, where we just were, in the distance.

A little farther to the right. Sure, we’ve ridden our bikes there.

Still only about half-way up.

Nevertheless, however slowly, but slowly, we made good the summit, and made it our own by dint of photographing it for posterity.

The place was riddled with these things.

Ha, Ron has an antenna growing out of his head.

Here, you can see an old quarry (now partially filled with water) near the San Gabriel River near the intersection of the 210 and the 605, about 8 miles to the southwest of us:

…and hey, we’ve ridden our bikes there, on Ron’s first century on the river trails!

And here, about 8 miles to the southeast of us, you see a bridge where the 134 passes south of the Rose Bowl:

…and we’ve ridden our bikes there, as well!

As we started our descent, a horrible thought struck me. I had been pretty consistently outperforming Ron on the uphills, though it was a little unfair, because we were consciously saving ourselves for the later hills, and Ron was playing with a new and unfamiliar heart rate monitor, which was telling him (the lying robot that it was) that his heart was beating at 106% of its maximum heart rate. But I was sure that I was, for the moment at least, ahead of Ron in average speed. I should try to get this number on record. Artificially in my favor — maybe! But all the more reason to get it on paper!

But there went Ron, ahead of me, down the hill, and he’s really much faster than I on the downhills, because Inertia doesn’t tug at him with the same insistence that it does me. And it’s not as if I have special Fat Guy brakes or tires, after all. Alas, by the time I caught up with him, back on Angeles Crest, my average was 8.2 mph, and his was…8.3! Too late!

The only bit of unfamiliar road left was a rather fierce downhill on the Angeles Crest Highway, with a moderate uphill leading back to Angeles Forest Road. Ron zoomed down it, and I chugged along at 20 mph or so.

But what’s this? A flat! Well, I had a spare tube, and a patch kit, too. But as I took the machine apart, I couldn’t find any reason for the flat — the tire seemed fine. The tube wouldn’t hold air, but I like to be able to find an evil thing in the tire, and remove it, and I couldn’t.

A nice Forest Service guy came by, and asked if I needed any help. No, no, I’ve got everything I need. Five or ten minutes later, I’m just about to put the new tube in the tire, and here comes Ron! The Forest Service guy had noticed him waiting uphill, wearing the same shirt (Ron’s idea to coordinate!) and asked him if he was waiting for a guy dressed the same way. Why yes! Oh, just at the bottom of this hill? Super!

We muscled the tire back onto the rim, and the thing held up for the rest of the ride, though I crippled Ron’s time by asking if he wouldn’t mind hanging back with me on the downhills.

We’d never gone back on Angeles Forest Road the other way, from Angeles Crest Highway to Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Ron insisted that there would be a significant uphill there. I didn’t remember it…until I was climbing up it, rather than sailing down it. Oh, yeah…that.

The downhills got to be almost Too Much Downhill. I wanted them to be over already, and finally we got past the dam, over the bridge, up the final noteworthy climb, and back on the last 10 miles to home, which are still downhill, but of the perfect grade for me to sail effortlessly down, rather than having to apply the brakes for the whole time. Delightful!

 total ascent:   5,000 feet

     distance:   63.91 miles (102.85 kilometers)
  saddle time: 6:30:31       (not counting breaks)
average speed:     9.8 mph   (not counting breaks)

     distance:   62.97 miles (101.34 kilometers)
  saddle time: 6:26:57       (not counting breaks)
average speed:     9.7 mph   (not counting breaks)

“Hey, I saw you guys when I was driving up to open the Cafe! Slow? Well, you’re faster than I’d be!”