Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Not To Write A Headline

On www.money.cnn.com, the headline reads: Worst Holiday Shopping Season Since '70

Now, to read just the headline, you would think CNN is saying that retailers sold about as much in 2008 as they did thirty-eight years ago in 1970, which would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Fortunately, if you read the article, you'd discover that they really meant holiday retail sales were down around four percent from last years holiday retail sales, which is the worse year-to-year decline since 1970.

In terms of actual dollars, retailers actually sold over three times as much in 2008 as they did in 1970.

Considering the state of the economy, that year-to-year sales were down no more than four percent would actually be pretty good news if it weren't for the massive markdowns retailers took to try and maintain their revenue.

Still a four per-cent decline isn't news that the sky is falling. In fact, retail sales beat in 2008 beat some projections and some retailers like amazon.com reported their best Christmas sales ever.

A big part of any recession is the pessimism people feel about the state of the economy which curbs spending. With that in mind, one would hope that a responsible news agency would forgo incendiary headlines in favor of more factual ones so not to inflate people's fears.

This doesn't seem to be the case over at CNN.com.

You can read the article here: http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/30/news/economy/holiday_shopping.reut/index.htm

The lesson here may be that if one really wants to understand the news they have to go a good bit beyond the headlines, and even then it's best not to trust just one source for your news. The downside is that it's actually a lot of work to keep yourself informed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Rules for the Faithful

The attacks of September eleventh, made many people realize that religion can be dangerous. There is no solace in saying "that wasn't my religion", because all religions have had equal moments of insanity.

Not surprisingly, people have turned to atheism in growing numbers as this act drove a wedge between people's trust and their faith. People of faith can respond by relying even further on their old ways, which may help some, but drives others even farther away, or they can adopt some new concepts for the future.

It's disingenuous for people who believe in an all powerful God to ever assume they should use the earthly forces of violence or law to enforce God's will. Control has no part in faith. People must come to God of their own choice or it means nothing. Likewise, people must follow God's law because they believe in it and not because they are forced by other men or it means nothing.

All people have different ideas and understandings of God and none of us have the right to enforce our perspective on any others. How can you be sure they are wrong and you are right? If someone is wrong in their beliefs, then that is an issue between them and God, not them and you.

It may feel confining, but it protects us from each other and allows us to have faith and follow our faith under any condition. It's one of the greatest gifts of our ancestors. Embrace it and protect it and it will protect you and your faith.

People of faith have fought science many times through the years and they've always lost. Science takes nothing away from faith. It gives the faithful an opportunity to refine and redefine their faith based on new information. Embrace this. It may seem painful to give up old understandings and embracing new ones, but doing it only makes us stronger.

We were never made to be perfect. Never be ashamed of your mistakes. Admit them easily and be willing to learn from them. This is much more difficult than it seems.

This does not mean "love the sinner but hate the sin." None of us are wise enough to distinguish between men and their acts. Love all unconditionally. Their sins are an issue between them and God, not you. Love before all has the power to end all conflicts and ease all suffering, but only if we are strong enough to do it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Objective Christian

If you're brave enough to take a completely human and objective look at the bible and all the people who wrote it and all the people who compiled it and embrace the considerable amount of truth that journey leads you to, but still come away a believer, then you're in for life and there's nothing anyone can ever do to change that.

There's not even very much that can upset you. If you already know all the criticisms, but still believe then there's nothing humanists, atheists, agnostics, Satanists, Pagans or Scientologists can say to upset you.

You might even agree with them on some points, but since you already know these things, but still remain faithful, then it's no challenge to you.

It's the people who wont take that journey, who won't look at the bible objectively whose faith is in jeopardy, because it's built on the sand of superstition and not stone of reason.

For example: the objective christian knows that there is a vast collection of evidence in support of Darwin's theory of evolution, so that means the creation story in genesis must mean something other than what we thought it meant and they go on with their life.

They may or may not try and find out what that "something other" is, but it doesn't matter because their faith isn't threatened if every single word of the bible isn't historically and scientifically accurate. They know that's not the case and they don't care.

On the other hand: the theory of evolution has the superstitious christian under siege. For them, if genesis goes down then the whole bible is bullshit and they've been fools all their lives, so they fight like hell to keep that from happening, even if it means isolating themselves from the rest of the world.

Now, who serves God better, the woman who walks freely in a changing world but still believes, or the man who digs himself a bomb shelter to live in because he might have descended from apes?

Suzanne Marrs on Eudora Welty Video

Below is a YouTube copy of MPB's Gene Edwards interviewing Millsaps Professor Suzanne Marrs about her book Eudora Welty: A Biography.

This is a couple of years old and Dr Marrs may not even know it's still available on the Internet.

I have to admit that I'm not the biggest Eudora Welty fan, and it's for pretty stupid reasons. Her writer's voice and her characters are so finely aligned with my cultural background that her stories make me feel like I'm listening to gossip and not fiction and it's been that way ever since I could read.

Faulkner's writer's voice was very different for me. He was more like someone confessing things they'd really rather not talk about, which is hugely compelling by itself.

That being said, I dearly love hearing Suzanne talking about Miss Eudora. She speaks from the two very different cultures, the one she was born to and the one she adopted after twenty something years in Mississippi, which I find exciting, and she has a powerful mastery of words that's both beautiful and descriptive, but also structured and efficient. Her book reads much the same way as she speaks.

The thing that separates this book from really any other other biography I can think of is that Marrs is a fine academician and she does all the things that requires, but she's also writing about someone who was a loved friend for many years and the merger of those two points of view makes the book worth reading.

If you haven't picked it up, I recommend it.

She has a great speaking voice too. It's not an actor's voice or a radio voice but a really authentic voice, filled with humanity and personality. I love Gene Edwards, but I can tune him out pretty quickly, Suzanne's voice compels you to listen though, like you'll miss something if you don't.

Watch the video, it's great:

On Dogs and Free Markets

I want to talk about free market economies, but first I want to talk about dogs.

Dogs in the City
Dog-owners who live in cities and don't have yards know that they have to walk their dog once, sometimes twice a day.

Dogs are remarkable creatures. They're highly intelligent and blessed with sharp natural instincts as well. Their senses are far superior to ours and pound-per-pound, they are much stronger and faster than us, but, the city isn't their natural environment.

Owning a dog in the city means using a leash. The leash prevents the dog from walking in front of a moving bus, going into a sewer drain, after another dog, into a garbage can or humping a cop's leg. It keeps the dog safe and healthy and keeps the owner out of trouble.

The leash needs to be long enough to allow the dog some natural freedom of movement, but short enough to keep the dog out of dangerous situations and keep the owner out of trouble.

Dog owners will tell you that, at first, dogs hate the leash, but pretty soon they grow to love just the sight of it because it means they get to go outside.

Markets are like Dogs.
Markets are like dogs. They're remarkable creatures, but stable societies aren't their natural environment. Markets are made up of human beings, but they, themselves are not human and they require human supervision and control to keep them out of trouble.

Think of government regulation as a leash for markets. They prevent the market from wandering in front of a bus, chasing after squirrels or humping a cop's leg.

Completely free markets are like dogs in a city without a leash. They're free to run around and have a great time, but there's a really high risk they'll end up as road kill, getting lost, or getting the owner in some sort of trouble, so responsible owners invest in a leash.

Regulation isn't necessarily anti-capitalism. Its a recognition that, unlike ants, human beings clearly aren't more intelligent when they act in groups than they are individually and need some sort of guidance to prevent them from doing something really stupid.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Passing of George Harmon

Now that I've gotten over the shock a little bit, I feel like I can write something about the passing of George Harmon.

I say shock because Dr Harmon always worked on staying in shape and a week ago was in far better condition than most people his age. He died from a blood infection from a scrape on his arm which just goes to show that no man knows the hour of his passing.

Dr Harmon came to Millsaps at a fairly low point in the college's history. We were a small, liberal arts college, awash in a sea of small, liberal arts colleges, with nothing to distinguish us from the others.

Harmon's idea was to build up the business school. We didn't even have a business school at that point. We offered accounting and economics, but nothing that you could call a business management curricula.

That actually put us at an advantage. We didn't have a business school, but neither did most of the schools we competed against. By putting one in, we were in the position of an early adapter which gave us a considerable head start on the competition.

The move didn't come without controversy. There were those who saw it as abandoning the liberal arts roots of the college and bringing in a business school meant bringing in conservative thinkers who would clash with the school's more liberal base.

The plan worked though, and a rising tide raises all ships. Pretty soon enrollment was up, the school became more financially stable and we were building new buildings. As a result, the liberal arts program went from barely surviving by the skin of its teeth, to being fairly stable, although less populated than the business school.

Harmon had an unforgettable personality. He was relentlessly aggressive, which sometimes got him in trouble, but most often made him a bulldog at accomplishing his goals.

He didn't socialize with the faculty much and they were often at odds, but something many people didn't know, he was dearly loved by the maintenance department who would invite him when they had barbeque's or other social events.

Dr Harmon was perhaps one of the more controversial individuals ever involved in Millsaps, but there's no way you can look at the college when he came and compare it to the college as it is today and not think we were much better off that he came.

He is survived by two daughters, Mary and Beth, a son, George and his lovely wife Bessie.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Moses Rebellion

I've always had my doubts about the story of Moses as told in Exodus.

Suppose a Muslim Jihadist came to George Bush and said that everything from Katrina to the stock market crash were signs from Allah that America should release the detainees at Guantanamo, get out of Iraq, stop supporting Israel and take ham off the menu at Dominoes.

Would you believe him? Probably not. Likewise, I think Pharaoh just shook his head every time Moses came to town trying to blame whatever recent misfortune befell Egypt on his mysterious god who was angry because the Hebrews were slaves.

The Plagues
The truth is, if you know anything about that region, then you know that whatever hell Moses rained down on Egypt isn't all that different from the hell that rains down on them most of the time anyway. It was an ecological disaster that prompted the Jews to move to Egypt in the first place.

Pretty much all of the plagues that befell Egypt fall into the category of normal but unfortunate ecological disasters. All, except one.

The Angel of Death
The last plague, the death of the first-born, finally tipped the balance and freed the Jews. One interpretation of this is that an angel of death moved among the Egyptians in the form of a green mist, killing children. This is what you see in the movie with Charlton Heston.

Would a loving God condone the killing of children, even if they were pagan children and their parents were persecuting the chosen people? Probably not.

"First Born" can mean children, but it can also mean the head of the household. Many cultures at that time passed their wealth down to the first born male. That would mean that many of the wealthiest and most powerful adult men in a culture were "first born".

You can read this part of the story as God acting in mysterious ways, but you can also read it as a slave rebellion. A clue as to which is the correct interpretation might be the blood on the door.

The Jews were told to paint lambs blood on their doors as a sign that whatever was out killing the first born should pass them over. Now, the angel of death (whatever that is) probably wouldn't need a sign to know who to kill and who not to kill, but an army of rebel slaves going through town killing the heads of the households would.

When this country still had slaves, we also had slave rebellions. The most famous was led by a man named Nat Turner. None of the American slave rebellions ended in anyone being freed, but they were very similar to what we see in exodus in that they featured slaves, going through the community, killing the male slave holders.

For Nat Turner's army, it was easy to tell who was the enemy: they were white. For Jews living in Egypt, the racial or biological differences wouldn't have been nearly so pronounced. They would need some sort of sign to know who not to kill. The blood on the door was just such a sign.

Free at Last!
After a night of such killings, the next day the Egyptians would have been completely unable to prevent the Jews from leaving. At that time, most cultures didn't have a standing army. It took some time to bring an armed force together, which gave the Jews a significant head start in getting out of town.

Once the Jews were clear of Egypt, we're told that Pharaoh had a change of heart and sent chariots after them. You could say he had a change of heart, but you could also say that it took him some time to raise an army to go after the rebels.

Another clue that this was a slave rebellion is that the Jews took Egyptian gold with them. They would use it later to construct the golden calf idol while they waited for Moses to return with the ten commandments. It's unlikely the Egyptians would give up their gold willingly. The Jews would have to take it by force.

The Battle of the Red Sea
The same holds true for the miracle crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus doesn't give a very precise location for the crossing. Historically, people have placed it in the south at a particularly deep part of the sea. If that's where it was then their crossing would have to have been a pretty impressive miracle.

Suppose it was farther north though, in the Sea of Reeds? This area was more like a broad marsh than a deep sea. Strong winds and low tides would take most of the standing water out of the marsh and the Jews, traveling on foot with their flocks could easily pass through it, but the Egyptians, traveling on chariots would have been hopelessly stuck in the mud.

The Jews could hide in the tall reeds and pick off the bogged down Egyptians from a covered position. So, was the crossing of the Red Sea really a battle and not a mind-blowing special effect kind of miracle? It seems more likely.

Chariots were like the stealth fighters of their day. With them, a smaller group of Egyptians could conquer a much larger army on foot. But, with their chariots stuck in the mud, the Egyptians would have been sitting ducks.

What about God?
So, does this mean there was no God and the story of Exodus was just the act of men? Not necessarily. Throughout history, very few slave rebellions ended successfully. Nearly all slave rebellions ended with the slaves being returned to slavery and their leaders executed. That this story ended with the slaves going free could be a sign of God's intervention.

Exodus tells the story of Egyptian society weakened by a series of natural disasters to the point where an organized slave rebellion could beat the odds and enforce their own freedom. I have no trouble seeing the hand of God in that.

It's not as beautiful a story as the version presented by Cecil B Demille in his movie, but by telling the story more realistically, it also becomes much harder to dismiss. It also tells us that God still works in our lives even without the special-effects type of miracles we see in the movies.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Candy Cane Myth

This time of year, many of you will come across the Legend of the Christian Candy Cane.

It's a beautiful story unfortunately it's not at all historically accurate.

See http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/candycane.asp for the true story of the candy cane.

The thing is, if you take out the inaccurate stuff about some unknown guy in Indiana and just say "one can find some beautiful christian symbols in a candy cane", then the story still works.

For me, it's a much stronger testament to know that these symbols are there, even though nobody intentionally put them there.

Christian symbols show up randomly and beautifully in all sorts of unexpected places. Like the sand dollar which even has christian symbols inside it's bony shell or Passiflora Incarnata, known in the South as the "passion flower" or "May pop" that grows wild along fence lines and roadsides.

It's important for Christians to steadfastly maintain the difference between parable and fact. The world and its events don't come to us prepackaged with Christian ideals. It's up to us to take the real stuff of life as it comes to us and make some sense of it from a Christian perspective, and to do that, we must maintain the difference between the two.

Jesus himself often used fiction to illustrate greater truths. We call them parables and they're part of our tradition. Jesus never meant for us to believe that the Good Samaritan was a real person who we could go and find and talk to. If he had, he would have given us his name, but that doesn't keep the story of the Samaritan from being an incredibly important part of the Christian life.

Candy canes are just candy. There's no hidden symbols in them, but that shouldn't keep Christians from teaching their children to take the ordinary stuff of life and reinterpret them from a Christian perspective. You have to do it honestly though, without trying to sneak in mysterious confectioners from Indiana without explaining that he is a parable, and never really existed.

It's all about the strength of the house you want to build. Parables are houses built on stone, but parables presented as historical fact are houses built on sand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fiddling while Detroit Burns

Reports from the failed senate bill on the auto bailout are still sketchy, but at this point it looks like the holdout was between the UAW and senate republicans.

The UAW agreed in principal to lower the wages they charge American auto makers to the levels they charge foreign automakers producing domestically, but they wanted a year to implement the cuts. Senate republicans wanted the cuts to come in 2009 and when the two sides couldn't agree, the bill failed.

I have a few questions:
First, why was the UAW still charging more to work for american companies than they were for the same jobs at foreign companies? That this wasn't done years ago really makes the UAW look pretty greedy and unreasonable.

Secondly, we're told that the president may provide funds to the big three out of the already passed TARP money anyway. If that's true, I really would like to know how much a part this possibility played in the UAW's unwillingness to play ball with republican senators.

Playing Hardball
This is serious business. The market will probably take a really big hit today on the news. There was plenty of motivation on both sides of the senate to come up with a bill. The only player who might possibly benefit from the bill failing is the UAW who might have seen getting some money now from the president and more money later from the new more union-friendly, democrat senate as preferable to taking wage cuts now, rather than later.

Unions are used to playing hardball. That's what they do. Senators and Representatives and Presidents have to answer to their constituency, but unions have nobody to answer to but their members, and the best way to do that is by wringing out every last penny they can from management.

They're not fighting with management now though. They're fighting with the American people, and holding us over a barrel like this isn't going to play well. Not only do we hold the key to their future with this bailout money, but we're also the future consumers of their product and for the unions to burn what little goodwill they have left with the American people over two dollars an hour is simply foolish.

So who's at fault?
I think they're all guilty of fiddling while Rome burns, but then they were fiddling when the fire started too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Atheists and Hubris

Richard Dawkins frustrates me.

His earlier brilliant work with memes completely predicts his later work as an evangelist for scientific atheism, yet he refuses to acknowledge it.

He steadfastly maintains that since his collection of memes are "The Truth", then he and his peers are the only true evangelists and all other evangelists, (particularly the religious kind) are just charlatans.

Here's a tip: anyone who holds up a sign claiming to know "The Truth" is either deluded or a liar, and often both.

Dawkins will tell you that the proof for his one and only "Truth" comes from the scientific method. Now, not everyone can just go out and prove his theories with this scientific method. It takes years of specialized training and education to participate in the process.

Here's the kicker: the academic institutions that spawn all these participants in the scientific method to "prove" scientific memes evolved from medieval institutions used to educate monks and priests to "prove" religious memes. It's the very same process simply turned around to produce propaganda for another perspective.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of science, but I'm also a pretty big fan of religion too. The difference between people like Richard Dawkins or Jerry Falwell and me, is that I don't hold out my hand and tell people that I possess "The Truth, and if you'll but follow me I'll share it with you!"

Hubris is the greatest of all human weaknesses and it is simple hubris that leads men to claim they know "The Truth" in any form. Even saying this, I'm on the very edge of hubris myself.

There may be such a thing as "The Truth" out there, but I don't believe any one of us is capable of understanding anything but small pieces of it. It's only by bringing all these small pieces together that we're able to make out the rough shape of anything like the larger truth.

People who claim to know "The Truth" separate us though, and prevent us from ever seeing this unified truth. They gather together their followers and call them blessed and castigate those that follow any other prophet calling them heretics.

Scientific atheists like Dawkins are pretty good followers of the first commandment: Science is the lord thy God, and thou shalt have no other gods before it. They're also pretty good about casting out false idols and false prophets. Gee, I wonder where they got the idea.

I'm not saying that Dawkins' ideas don't have merit. What I'm saying is that dogma is dogma is dogma. It matters not whether it's the religious kind or the scientific kind, it's all human and it's all questionable.

You could say that some ideas are more reliable and more valuable than others, but I would say that is really just a matter of perspective. Humans have accomplished quite a lot based on ideas that we today would call unreliable and no one has yet produced any ideas that are absolute or unquestionable, be they ideas about God or ideas about gravity.

So, Richard Dawkins, I'm a big fan of yours, but it's time to lay off the hubris and the evangelism before your other fans start telling me you walked on water.

Old School Bear Market Benefits

There were a couple of bear markets when I was a kid.

My dad had several friends who were stock brokers or bankers and he would call them a couple of times during the day and at the end of the day to see what the market did and to prevent monopolizing one guy's time, he would change up who he called from day to day.

The calls themselves were really cool. They would start with "how's the market", then go through a short discussion of national and local business news then end with news about wives, children and other relatives.

These were real two-way conversations with people he knew. You don't get that from watching the news, which is, at best, a one-way exchange of information. They built connectivity between two human beings, which, in turn made the whole community just a little bit stronger, especially when you consider how many other people were having just the same sorts of conversations.

Were my dad alive today, he would simply check the Internet to see what the market was doing, then go about his business, completely missing the opportunity to connect with someone, with anyone.

Technology has added so much to our lives, but it has taken some away as well. We have more information available to us than ever before in human history, but we're also becoming more and more isolated.

Perhaps that's why the fastest growing parts of the Internet are all companies that offer some sort of social interaction like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the like.

The trick now will be to evolve these sites from being not only very useful, but also very profitable so they'll stick around. That was a hurdle my dad's brand of social interaction didn't have to pass. It will happen though. There's almost always a way to make money on things that are useful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Turning the Other Cheek to Terrorists

Some men asked Jesus, "teacher, what should we do if a man hits us across the cheek?"

They asked because this is something people are afraid of. Afraid, not of being hit the first time; that's already happened. They're afraid, for whatever reason, their attacker will hit them a second time or a third time or keep on hitting them until they just can't take it any more--or worse encourage others to hit them as well.

We have two natural responses to this situation. We can retreat and hide so that our attacker can't find us to hit us a second time, or we can go on the offensive and beat our attacker to the point where they either cannot hit us a second time, or are afraid to try. Scientists call this "fight or flight".

Jesus offers a pretty remarkable third option. "Turn and offer your other cheek". At first it sounds crazy. Nobody wants to get hit a second time, but Jesus recognizes there's something else at work here. Being afraid is worse than getting hit. If we turn the other cheek, then we take from our attacker his ability to make us live in fear and that makes us much stronger than he.

Turning the other cheek, we will get hit again, and perhaps a third or even a fourth time. Taking the hits, but not moving, our attacker soon sees he is powerless against us and has no choice but to withdraw.

Everyone has heard this story and knows this lesson but it is incredibly difficult to practice in our lives.

Seven years ago, terrorists hit us brutally in New York city. For fear that it might happen again, we attacked both Afghanistan and Iraq. Although highly criticized now, people forget the enormously high approval rating George Bush had at the time. Without question, this was the path most Americans wanted.

Suppose we had taken another path. Suppose we had turned the other cheek. What if the president had gone and TV and said "We cannot respond to this violent act with violence without bringing more suffering for the innocent" and chosen not to attack our attacker.

Following 9/11 people were afraid to leave their homes or engage the world in any way. They would have hated George Bush for choosing nonviolence and he probably would have lost his bid for re-election, if not outright impeachment. But, would he have been right?

Our attackers wanted to make us afraid. A military response was a pretty good indicator that we were indeed afraid, perhaps more so than if we had responded by hiding or retreating.

To turn the other cheek, we would have had to stand our ground firmly, without attacking offensively. It would have been difficult and required remarkable bravery on the part of millions of ordinary citizens and I'm not at all sure we would have been up to the task, but what if we were?

Without fear, terrorism is impotent. Our enemies would have lost the only weapon they had against us. They would have created a great deal of pain and suffering, but accomplished nothing and we would have been immediately triumphant.

Imagine how powerful a nation would be if it could take a hit like 9/11 and not responded, not changed our path in any way. Our enemies would have been astounded and pitiful for their lack of any weapon to use against us.

In 2001 we weren't strong enough to do this. We responded in fear as humans always have. We can learn though. Knowing that our counterattacks didn't accomplish what we'd hoped they might and taking the lessons from Jesus and Ghandi, we can respond differently next time. It will hurt, deeply hurt, to stand and turn the other cheek, but imagine the possibilities if we do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reconsidering Genesis

The creation story in Genesis is perhaps the most criticized part of the Bible, but I love it most of all.

It is not a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe, the earth, and the life upon it, but knowing what it is not allows me to sit back and listen to the story for what it is.

While other cultures populate their myths with gods who are very human and nearly human and some even have the audacity to believe their political leaders were gods themselves, the Jews instead recognize a very basic truth of life: we are alone.

There are no demi-gods in this story, and no golden age. We're not shadows of greater beings or slaves to a master. We are simply creations, like all the other creations, and we're given no clear reason or purpose for our existence other than knowing God wanted us to be.

In Genesis, God is inscrutable. There is no mention of his existence before the moment he creates light and he remains a mystery throughout the story. We're given no clue why God creates us or what he wants from us. The same is true even today. We may believe in God, but we have no idea of what he is or what his purposes are.

He creates us, protected in his perfect garden. We are alone and naked and unaware, but in some way we cannot understand we are like him and he favors us and has a purpose for us.

God is merciful and recognizes our isolation and creates for us a companion so that in this life we'll at least have each other. The point is not that they were male and female, or who came first, but that in this life we have only each other to cling to, and how valuable we are to each other.

God creates the forbidden tree and calls it "the tree of knowledge of good and evil". Now, anyone who's ever spent any time with human beings knows that before the end of the story, we're going to eat of that tree. It's our very nature to do so.

We're told that it's disobedient, and perhaps God creates the device that separates us from all the other creatures with some sadness, but he must have known that we would seek out this knowledge, why else would he create the tree?

Had we not eaten of the tree, then the whole of history would never have happened. We would have remained innocent and ignorant in the garden forever. God created us with the capacity to fill the earth, and even cross the boundry of the sky to walk on the moon, but none of it would have happened had we not eaten of the tree.

The loss of innocence comes from knowing the difference between what is innocent and what is not. The capacity for that knowledge is what separated us from the other animals and we were made to follow that path.

God isn't surprised by our choice. He knows that our fate, and our highest purpose lies outside the garden. It's told as if it's a punishment, but it's not because God doesn't abandon us outside the garden. He stays with us and appears to us to guide us and help us several more times after that.

There's no Prometheus to give us fire in this story, no Dianna to help us hunt and no she-wolf to suckle us. We go into the world naked, with nothing but our wits to help us endure and the knowledge that God is with us.

It's so easy for us to dismiss this story and assume the people who wrote it were ignorant and uneducated on the true history of creation, but I think they understood a lot more than we give them credit for. Perhaps they didn't understand the mechanics of cells and gravity and such things, but if you give the story a chance you'll see that they understood a great deal about the condition and nature of man and the situation we find ourselves in, even today.

The story of creation isn't about an event thousands of years ago, it's about this moment, today, and the situation we find ourselves in every day. We are born no different from Adam and Eve leaving the garden. We have only our wits, each other, and God to help us survive.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Charles Darwin Loses His Religion

As you may know, Charles Darwin studied to become a clergyman before settling on biology. It is said that he finally lost his faith, long after publishing his controversial theories, when his daughter died as a child.

Like many of us, Darwin hoped his faith might spare him that kind of pain and suffering. If you read the bible though, you'll see fairly clearly that the faithful and the faithless often share the same fate.

The promise of faith is not that you'll have a better time of it here on earth. The promise of faith is that this isn't the end of the story. Though we can't see it or tell anything about it, faith promises us that we transcend these bodies and we survive the suffering here on this planet.

I can't imagine the pain Darwin endured on losing his child. There can't be anything worse. Nor can I blame him for losing his faith in the wake of such a tragedy, even though it was really the only thing I can think of that might offer some solace to a man in that horrible position.

Darwin's suffering did end though, with his death; and I believe, he and his beloved daughter were then reunited in a way unimaginable here on earth.

Though often vilified by the faithful, Darwin gave us much knowledge with which we can celebrate and marvel at the beauty of God's creation. His work brings me much closer to God because, through it, I can see the brushstrokes of the master's creation. I only wish his faith had brought more comfort in his own life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dinosaurs and the Bible

Suppose you read a history book that said "John Kennedy said we should go to the moon, so we went to the moon."

Now, that would be a fairly accurate reporting of what happened, but it also omits a heck of a lot of important information, like "who", "why", and most importantly, "how".

The bible tells us that God created the universe and God created us, but like the example above it omits pretty much all of the details, especially "how".

Many people believe there's this conflict between science and religion because science has come up with a different narrative for the creation of life than the one found in Genesis. I don't see a conflict at all, but rather two different ways of telling the same story.

The Genesis writers were primarily concerned with telling the story of God's relationship to us. They tell us that God created us and God created the universe, but they make no attempt to get into the details of "how". Neither do they give us any indication of "who" or "what" God is.

Science, on the other hand, is completely concerned with the details of "how" man and the universe were created, but make no attempt to give the details of "why".

If you're reading the bible hoping to make it a book of science or history then you're going to be disappointed, it simply doesn't deal with those questions.

The bible is a collection of many different stories, written by many different people over an extraordinarily long period of time, trying to illuminate the relationship between God and man. They weren't even trying to account for the types of information one finds in books about history or science. It simply wasn't their purpose.

People who find a conflict between the bible and science or history are trying to make the bible something it's not, which means they're completely missing the point of the bible for what it is.

There's an incredible amount of valuable information in the bible, but if you're looking for the answer to where dinosaurs came from, or why the earth orbits around the sun, then you'll simply have to look elsewhere.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What Happens When We Die: Reincarnation

Reincarnation is probably the most difficult topic for me to cover in this series because it is the most alien to my culture, but, perhaps foolishly I'll give it a try anyway because it's something a significant number of people believe in and I think there are lessons in it for all of us.

Most modern Christians reject the concept of reincarnation because the larger church always has. We're learning now though, that reincarnation was a concept shared by many early, pre-Constantine, Christians in one form or another. Since we can't posit any theology as undeniable fact, perhaps it's wise to inform ourselves of all of them, even if we've already chosen the one that suits us best.

The basic tenet of reincarnation is that, like most religions, there is a greater form of life beyond this physical one, and each of us is invested with some aspect of it. There is a spirit that invests the physical body and survives it when the body dies.

What separates reincarnation from other religious beliefs is that they believe the spiritual form inhabits the physical form to improve and perfect it through a process called "karma", and when the physical form dies, the spirit moves on to another physical form to continue the process of perfecting the karma.

Part of this, I think, comes from observation. When one thing dies, other things are born. Even in cases of massive destruction, like the eruption of Mt. St Helens, the process of rebirth begins almost immediately.

If one believes that some physical forms are invested with a spirit, then it's not an unreasonable stretch to believe that all physical life is invested with a spirit. This also prevents the hubris that comes with believing we're the only creatures blessed with such an endowment.

There is a trap here to be avoided where a person might get the idea that they do better in life because their karma is superior and it's acceptable when bad things happen to people, because it'll all be corrected in the next iteration of incarnation. The correction is that hubris is bad for your own karma and should be avoided, lest you be the person bad things happen to next time.

Many forms of reincarnation believe that eventually the spiritual form reaches a point where it can exist entirely separate from the physical world in something similar to the Abrahamic concept of heaven. This answers the question many people have of why there would be a physical world if the spiritual world is all that really mattered.

So, what to make of all this? Perhaps there is a difference between spiritual energy and the individual personality we consider our spirit form.

What if we possess not just one individual spirit, but a million, each one sharing the experience known as our lives. When we die, some of these spirits could move on to plants or animals or some could combine with other spirits in new people and some still could move on to the purely spiritual plane we call heaven.

Each would be still fully and completely "us", but after we die they would scatter through the universe to occupy new forms and fulfill new purposes. Grandma would still be looking down on us from heaven, but she would also be a part of the grass beneath our feet, the birds in the air and the new baby we hold in our arms.

Go to the ant, thou sluggard

Go to the ant, thou sluggard (proverbs 6:6)

An ant has thousands of sisters, one mother, no husband and no children. It's not the best comparison, but you get the idea.

We forget sometimes that the point of our economic system is to provide for the public good. Making money is just a side-benefit. If making money were the sole objective we'd allow the most profitable ventures like theft, extortion, prostitution and the like.

Like the ant colony, the vast majority of Americans need a daily task to provide for themselves and for the greater good of the colony. We've chosen capitalism as the model for our economy because, unlike the ant, we're fearful creatures, and we feel safest when we have at least the opportunity to have a little more than our neighbor.

Left to its own devices, a completely free market would resolve all the problems in our current economy, but it would cause untold havoc in the process. We put restraints on the free market because people need stability and security and those are things a completely unfettered economy can't provide.

In our efforts to free the markets over the last thirty years, the top ten percent of us have seen unprecedented gains in income while the middle class have been losing ground when adjusted for inflation. When the overseers make more and more money while the workers make less and less, that's a recipe for slavery, which is where we were headed.

In some ways, this current economic crisis was a needed thing. It's caused us to take a much needed sober look at what we were doing and gives us the chance to make corrections. America, and all it's ideals and convictions, works best when the middle class is the strongest. We have an opportunity now to re-dedicate ourselves to this objective. I say we take it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Life of Suffering

This is the subject of a post I've been working on for a long time and just haven't finished yet, but my friend Nicole wrote a pretty remarkable piece today that moved me to go on and put something down even if it's not complete.

The question is: if there is a God, why would God allow suffering, really horrible, pitiful suffering, worse than most of us can't even imagine?

The atheists have an answer: they say it's all random; good and bad happen randomly and there is nothing more to it. It's tempting to believe their answer, but random can't exist mathematically, so there has to be another explanation.

That puts the ball back in the court of the believers.

Perhaps the answer lies in perspective. In this human form our perspective is so very limited. We are so bound by these pitifully weak bodies, by time, by space, by gravity, by physical needs, by fear, by doubt, that it's very difficult for us to see suffering for what it truly is.

Consider this: all suffering, no matter how horrible, no matter how long lasting, is only temporary. Even if suffering ends in a tragic senseless death, it still ends. We all have suffering, even though some of us seem to have more than their share, and all suffering ends.

Love, however, is eternal. There are people who died forty years ago that I love as much today as I did the day they died. Millions of people love Jesus, a man they never knew, who lived in a place they've never been, and died almost two thousand years ago. Love supersedes death. It is perhaps the only thing we know that truly does.

God created us out of love many thousands of years ago. There has been an unimaginable amount of suffering since then, but all that suffering, all the wars, the disease, the failure, the crime, the evil that men do, it is all gone now, yet the love remains, we remain.

This boy may not have had love in his home in the brief time he was there, but, just like Nicole with her writing, many thousands of people have loved him since, and now his suffering is over and he has God's love forever.

I can't tell you why God allows suffering, perhaps it's just unavoidable in these imperfect bodies, but, a physical life of suffering is unimaginably brief when compared to an eternal spiritual life of love.

These bodies are pitiful. They're weak, they don't last very long and they make us vulnerable to an endless variety of suffering, but they are not us. We are eternal and when we shed our physical bodies we shed all the suffering that goes with them.

So yes, there is suffering, but it's not the end of the story. If we could see our true lives, our true spirits then we would know that suffering is but a brief moment that passes and is gone forever and forever is a very long time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New On Squidoo!

Here is something new I'm trying. It's sort of like blogging but with some extra bells and whistles.

How to Stop a Panic Attack

Willis O'Brien

The ABoyd Company

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hiding Behind States' Rights

People tend to hide a multitude of sins under the banner of "states rights".

There actually are states' rights issues involving property and taxes and other mundane things but nobody knows about those so they could hardly get upset if they lost them. No, it's only issues involving basic civil rights where people really cling to their states rights.

Occasionally a state may invoke states rights because they're ahead of the curve on some issue, but usually, it's a matter of a state or a collection of states desperately holding on to something the rest of the nation moved away from a long time ago.

The problem with this is that the most basic model of this country is the premise that all people are created equal, therefore they all have equal civil rights and you can't say we all have equal rights if they fluctuate from state to state. You can't have "equal protection under the law", if a person has a civil right in Wyoming but doesn't have it in Mississippi.

The first of these issues we had to deal with was slavery. Resolving it took the most bitter and brutal of all courses in a horrible war. You can tell yourself all sorts of bed-time stories about how the Civil War wasn't over slavery, but it doesn't change history.

The next two issues over the right of women to vote and the right of all people to drink were settled the most civilly of all, by voting on amendments to the constitution. This is how the founding fathers designed for us to handle these issues.

The next big issues was the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws in the South. Those were fought in the supreme court and settled by executive order. That may have been the best way to handle those issues because they weren't actually new rights, but reinterpretation of existing rights. It was still far more painful than it needed to be though.

Currently there are three issues on this field: abortion, the separation of church and state and gay rights. There is at least one side with each of these issues trying to make them an issue of states rights. That's simply not going to work with any of these issues.

You can't allow abortion in one state, but not its neighbor. Likewise, we can't have gay marriages recognized in some states but not in others and we can't have different standards for separating church and states across the nation.

Using the civil rights movement as a model, people have been trying to resolve these issues in the court. With the possible exception of separation of church and state, that model is inadequate in these circumstances.

For one thing, it has lead to a fight to manipulate the composition of the Supreme Court one way or another to try and make their decisions come out whichever way partisan groups want.

We need to face up to our responsibility with these issues and settle them, not in the courts, but with amendments.

Amendments can be difficult. Sometimes to get the necessary votes, compromises must be made, but, it is the way our government was designed and it's the most logical and peaceful path we have available to us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fixing the Economy--Efficiency Vs Security

So, what the heck went wrong with our economy?

In business school you're taught that the purpose of a business is to increase shareholder wealth by maximizing efficiency. Efficiency here is defined as the difference between your income and your costs. In other words: profit.

The flaw of this definition is that your costs are also your neighbors income, so the short-term benefit you get by cutting costs may come around to bite you in the end when you're able to sell less to your neighbor.

Henry Ford showed a remarkable understanding of this reciprocal nature of business when he decided to raise his employees pay to the point where they could afford to buy a car. His peers cursed him because they had to raise wages as well, but Ford's decision remains as a real watershed moment in the history of American Business--and he sold a heck of a lot more cars.

The second point to consider is that any engineer will tell you, the most efficient structure can also be the least secure and often the only way to increase security is to increase redundancy. In this way, a bridge made of six regular steel beams is more secure and more easily repaired than a bridge made of two mega steel beams.

American business has been on a thirty year efficiency binge. Down-sizing and mergers and out-sourcing became the rule of thumb. Profits rose for a while, but now we find ourselves in a heck of a lot of trouble.

Nowhere is this lack of security more evident than in the financial sector. Ronald Reagan assumed that interest rates would go down if banks became more efficient and more competitive, but what good is low interest rates if banks are so unstable nobody can get a loan?

With a new president and a new understanding of our economic problems my advice is to think small and think local. If we work to foster and promote and protect more smaller, local businesses then we introduce redundancy into the system. This will decrease profits for a while, but it will also increase security.

With many banks having to reduce their scope in the wake of the credit/mortgage crisis, this may be the perfect opportunity to rebuild the concept of local banks. There will always be room for interstate and regional banks, but local banks have to be the backbone of the system if we're ever to regain the stability we once had.

Should an era of financial instability hit again, it's a heck of a lot easier to deal with if you have more smaller banks than fewer giant banks.

I'm not saying we should abandon the idea of efficiency all together, but for us to prosper in the long run, we must find a balance between efficiency and security. For thirty years we pushed and pushed and pushed for efficiency, now, unless you want to lose everything, we have to push and push and push for security until we find ourselves back in balance.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Meanwhile: Back on the Island

Just in case you forgot. There's a whole new season of LOST on the way. Not a whole lot of information from this official trailer but it does wheat the appetite.

What happened to the Republican Revolution?

They called it "the Republican Revolution", but revolutions sometimes eat their children.

They promised a new focus on the middle class, yet, adjusted for inflation, the middle class was earning less when Ronald Reagan left office than when he was elected. Today, the middle class earns less in real dollars than they did in 1970, yet the earnings of the top one percent have increased over six hundred percent.

They promised balanced budgets, yet no republican president since world war II ever balanced the national budget. They called the Democrats "Tax and Spend", yet the Republicans had another plan, spend the same or more, but don't raise taxes: not a recipe for success.

George Bush waged two, very expensive wars, but would not relent on his pre-war tax cuts. Math was never his best subject.

Instead of delivering on the things Americans wanted from them, they brought in an agenda nobody asked for. Like making abortion and death penalty laws even more divisive than they already were.

They sought to break down the barrier of church and state that had been so successful for us with prayer in school and revisiting the Scopes Monkey Trial and they maximized the mistakes of an already woefully unsuccessful drug policy that benefited no one but organized crime.

The Republican Revolution came in with great hope and great promise, but we were never able to take delivery of that promise.

It's not like we didn't give them a chance to follow through with their plan. Twenty-Eight of the last forty years saw a Republican President.

For the next two years, the Republicans are completely out of power in two of the three branches of government. Let us hope they use this time for self reflection on how and why they could never deliver on their promises and come back with a new focus on the things that are really important to the American people.

If they can't do that, then let them stay out of power until they do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Happened on Proposition 8

The problem with being in a big tent party is that there are so many damn people in the tent and they all want something, usually all at the same time.

One day after a huge and historic victory for the Democratic party and already chinks are showing up in their armor.

At issue is the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Prop 8 amends the California constitution to make gay marriage illegal. The proposition was written by California conservatives with two motives. The first most obvious was to roll back the advances of the gay rights movement, but there was a second, less obvious motive, to encourage right wing voters to the polling booth in an election when John McCain needed all the votes he could get.

The only thing is, it didn't turn out that way. Obama won big in California, but prop 8 won too, by a similarly large margin.

Mathematically, there are only two ways that could have happened. Either a whole bunch of right wing people voted for Prop. 8, but didn't vote for McCain, or, much more likely, an awful lot of people who voted for Obama also voted in favor of Prop. 8.

We've heard before that some race minority Democrats weren't supportive of gay rights issues and this may have been the proof of it. If that's what happened, then Democrats will need to move pretty quickly to close ranks or there could be some problems.

It would be a problem for the party if some people thought they were faithful to the party by voting for Obama, but the party wasn't faithful to them by allowing Prop. 8 to pass in California. Adding similar measures with similar results in Florida and Arizona and the scope of the problem becomes apparent.

It's not just the seven to nine percent of the population who votes for gay rights issues because they themselves are gay that's at stake here. It's the twenty to twenty-five percent of the population who classify themselves as white, educated liberals that also support gay rights issues. Combined, you're looking at fifty to sixty percent of the Democratic party that's understandably upset that members of their own party voted against one of their key issues.

The black church leaders are major players here. If they don't push their faithful to start voting for gay rights issues then this divide in the party could widen.

Right now, there's no where for these people to go. It's not like they can up and join the Republican Party. But what they can do is stop voting for each other's issues, effectively handing whole elections to the Republicans.

If I were Barak Obama, I'd hit this issue pretty hard, pretty early: before the inauguration. If I were Howard Dean, I'd be working pretty hard behind-the-scenes to let these church leaders know what's at stake if they don't close ranks on this issue.

Ronald Reagan used to say the new Golden Rule was "thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican." For the Democrats there might need to be a new Golden Rule as well, "thou shalt not vote against another Democrat's important issues."

Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro tells a story of her failed effort to unseat Ronald Reagan, and the moment she knew she never would.

The Democrats had always owned the unions. It was something they considered their birthright, (and still do). Yet, despite the fact that pretty much everything in his platform spelled doom and pain for the unions, Reagan had managed to steal them away from the Democrats.

On behalf of the Mondale campaign, Ferraro was meeting with some mid-level union officials to try and bring them back into the fold.

So she asked the union leaders why the heck they stayed with Reagan when everything he did weakened the union. What they told her was that Reagan made them feel...proud to be an American again.

Ferraro said, at that moment, she knew it was over and she would never beat Ronald Reagan.

I think that's a lot of what happened with McCain. Even though he had some persuasive arguments, in the end, he could never make people feel about themselves the way that Obama did.

There's two things you want to do in politics to be successful. First you want people to feel good about your candidate. That's fairly obvious. More important than that though, you want people to feel good about themselves and if you can connect those good feelings about themselves to good feelings about your candidate then your campaign becomes an unstoppable force.

That's what made the Obama campaign so strong. That was the brilliance of the "yes we can" message. It made people feel even more strongly about themselves than they did the candidate.

Even if you didn't vote for Obama, you have to recognize how that feeling of empowerment, that self confidence that came from the Obama win is good for America.

America grew stronger during the Reagan years, not because of Reagan, but because of the way people felt about themselves and about their country. The same thing is possible with Obama. Even if you didn't vote for him, this can still be a very good time for you and for the country.

Why I didn't Vote For McCain

I've been a McCain supporter for something like twenty years. Yet I didn't vote for him yesterday.

Like most people, I first heard of McCain when he got in trouble as one of the Keating Five. I heard about his remarkable history in Viet Nam and watched him struggle to regain his reputation by fighting like hell against the kind of bad government he himself had been guilty of.

I saw him turn the negative of the scandal into something really remarkable and really positive with the McCain/Feingold Campaign Reform Act.

I saw him struggle with is own party and be rejected as their presidential nominee in 2000 for being right when his party was wrong and the bitter betrayals in South Carolina that killed McCain's hopes for the nomination and pushed Bush into office.

McCain would have been a great president. I wish to hell he would have been president in 2000 instead of George Bush. Think of how different things might have been.

But none of us knew that in 2008 the Democratic party would offer not one, but two presidential candidates that could, just by getting elected, change the scope of America's future.

The thing is: no matter how remarkable a person John McCain is, no matter how brilliant his record in the senate, no matter how brave or moving his personal history may be, no matter how great he is, there was no way he could give people hope the way Barak Obama did. Not hope because of the man, but hope because of the nation, hope because of us.

There's no way electing John McCain could make people believe that now they too might become the beneficiary of America's promise, that they too are now part of the plan.

No one could say "I've waited all my life to vote for a man like John McCain."

It doesn't really matter what kind of president Barak Obama will become. The day after he's sworn in he goes from being a fundamental paradigm shift in the history of the world to being just another man.

You see, it's not about what McCain did or didn't do and it's not about what Obama can or can't or might do, it's about what we the people did.

It's about us finally being willing to judge a man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin or any other superficial element. It's about us finally taking that last step and fully living up to the promise that all men are created equal, no matter who they are.

McCain was my candidate, but this wasn't my moment. This was a moment for the people who didn't look like me, for the people who didn't grow up the way I did, for the people who never really had a chance before.

I've had many chances to elect people who were like me and I'll have many more, but for the others, for the people who weren't like me, this was their first chance ever and, in the end, I couldn't bring myself to take that away, so I cast my vote with them for Barak Obama.

Monday, November 3, 2008

So What Can We Expect From Obama?

Getting elected the first non-white individual ever to become president of the United States will probably be the most radical thing Barak Obama ever does. Everything is pretty much a let down after that. It's not quite up there with Neil Armstrong as the first human to walk on the moon but it's pretty close.

After that, I think we can expect fairly moderate, measured leadership from him, for a number of reasons. First, he comes from the senate and you don't make it to the senate without being fairly moderate. The real nut cases on both sides are limited to the house if they even make it that far.

Secondly, Obama knows that the country will be slightly on edge with a new kind of person as president, and with the republicans being as strong as they are, if he got too wild and loose with his ideas the house and senate would turn republican pretty quickly and then he'd be a stranded president, unable to get any of his plans made into law.

Don't get me wrong, Obama is a liberal but liberalism covers a pretty broad spectrum these days and among liberals he's more center leaning than many. You hear a lot of wild talk about Obama redistributing the wealth and shutting down the coal industry and on and on, but remember a president can't just talk about something and make it law. Presidents have to work their agenda through congress and the courts before it becomes effective law.

Obama knows this and he's smart enough not to strand himself out on a limb. To get his agenda passed he has to reach out to the center and he's proven he can do that in his campaign against Clinton.

Suppose he really does become unhinged and take all the guns and everybody's money and whatever other crazy idea you've heard about him, then he has to deal with the courts and the courts right now are very conservative. He'd be shut down pretty quickly and then he'd lose whatever credibility he had and would be completely isolated.

During his campaign, Obama was pretty quick to distance himself from radicals, even if they were life-long friends like Reverend Wright. I think we can expect more of that when he's president.

Bill Clinton came to the white house with some pretty radical ideas but found out pretty quickly he had to measure, adjust or abandon them if he were to govern effectivly. I think you'll see Obama go through the same process, but probably more quickly and effectivly than Clinton because I think Obama is a more reflective and calculating person than Clinton who showed himself as impulsive on several occasions.

I could be wrong. We could be well on our way to communism by this time next year, but somehow I just don't think so.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sarah Palin Forever

Having proven themselves really poor losers over the past several years, the American Democratic Party now shows us how really bad they can be as winners.

Instead of doing a little happy dance when they came out of the convention season ahead of the Republicans and an almost certain shoe-in for the presidential election, they went into full attack mode, not at the Republican nominee, but his vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin.

Completely unknown six months ago, Palin is now a part of our permanent cultural experience. Stories are coming in from all directions of the offers she's had for national television gigs after the election and she's twice now suggested she might be a candidate for president in 2012.

Had the Democrats reacted to Palin with a shrug as they should have instead of a full court press, the nation would have too. By now she'd be almost forgotten if it weren't for the almost pathological reaction Democrats had to her.

Having run a pretty clean campaign up to that point, Obama supporters will now go down in the history books as really a bunch of jerks for the way they attacked Palin instead of the fairly obvious choice, McCain, the actual Republican nominee.

Oh and let's not forget the pain we Democrat sympathisers felt when the possibility of the dream ticket hung in the balance, Obama announced Joe Biden of all people as his own choice for veep. Biden? Really? Biden?

It's not just the real Sarah Palin we'll have to put up with for the next twenty years, it's all the false Palins too. The Palin impersonators on SNL, YouTube, Political Cartoons, Halloween Costumes and more. The doctored photo of Sarah Palin in a Bikini and the real pictures of Sarah Palin as a beauty queen will hang around forever like painful mementos from that bad weekend trip to TiaJuana when you were in college.

So, thanks very much Democrats. Thanks to you we'll be living with this women for the rest of our natural lives: assholes.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What Happens When We Die: Part 1

What happens when we die?

It's an obvious enough question. It happens to each of us and to everyone we know, yet nobody really seems to know for sure.

So far nobody who crossed that boundary for more than a few moments has reported back. They say Jesus was dead for two days before he came back, but that was almost two thousand years ago and the only testimony we have was passed around a good bit before anyone wrote it down so basically what we have from Jesus just wouldn't stand up in court.

There are several schools of thought on this issue. The first and nominally the most logical is that nothing happens when we die. We wink out of existence like a cheap light bulb and our bodies are disposed of.

This philosophy depends on the idea that our consciousness is nothing more than the biological and electrical processes of the brain and once those processes break down, we cease to exist.

The proof of this comes from observation. If you cut off the head then death is almost immediate. So far nobody has been able to keep a head alive without a body or a body alive without a head.

I think a lot of people refuse to even consider this possibility because it's very discomforting. It's not themselves they're worriying about primarily, when it's your turn to go, there's pretty much no turning back, but we all have friends and loved ones who died and most of us would like to think they continue somehow, even in a way that's utterly beyond us.

You can't posit this as the final word on the matter yet though. We understand so little of how the brain really works. We know some tricks, for instance if you add certian chemicals it produces certian effects, but when it comes to the real basics of how ideas are formed and stored we just don't understand how it's done.

It may be that the brain isn't the repository for our conciousness, but rather a conduit between our real selves and this physical world.

Marcus Aurelius talks about the futility of life because there's such a huge spance of time before we're born and after we die and such a brief moment in-between when we're alive, but, what if the issue here really is time itself.

We exist in four dimensions: three of space and one of time. The demensions of space we move about pretty freely in. We can go forward and back or up and down at any speed we wish whenever we wish. Not so with time, we are a slave in time. In time we can only move from the past to the future and only at one speed.

But, it's only in time that we die. Six months ago, my mother was alive, sixteen years ago, my dad was alive, and sixty years ago, my great-grandfather was alive. It's only in the present that they are not alive.

If we were somehow freed of time, then everyone who ever lived would still be alive because all we have to do is move through time to the peroid where they were alive or they could move from the time when they were alive to times when they weren't. If we could move into the past or the future of our own will then we would effectivly live forever.

Perhaps that's what happens we die. Perhaps that moment of breaking between life and death is the moment where we become free of time and maybe the reason nobody ever reports back after death is because our perspective is so different once we are free of time that there is no way to communicate with those who are still its slave.

I'm convinced that we are still in just the earliest stages of our full development. In time, we will overcome these ideas of life and death.

There was a time when light and dark were absolute forces to us. During the day, we had light, but at night or in the shadows we had none and there was nothing we could do about it. Then we discovered fire, then mirrors, then electricity and more and now light and dark are a matter of choice to us. We can bring light to the darkest room or the longest night.

Perhaps it will be that way with life and death too. At the present we have no control over it, but perhaps, in time, we will come to a place where we can illuminate death as easily as turning on a lamp.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Millsaps vs Belhaven

I was never a big fan of the program they have over at Belhaven. Mixing evangelism and academics never made much sense to me. I always thought learning should be free of any preconceptions, be they religious or social or political so that you could follow the path wherever it took you.

They sure are successful though. Their program is growing much faster than ours at Millsaps. Part of it I think is because college is for young people, and parents always want their children to take the most secure path and maybe they see tying math and science and literature and art to some sort of larger religious purpose as more secure.

Being successful or popular doesn't mean it's the right path though. Sometimes the safer path doesn't travel nearly as far or as high as the one with more risks.

The Belhaven plan wasn't always that popular either. There were times when nobody knew if they could keep the doors open from one semester to the next. Millsaps has had its share of lean years before, but never as bad as that.

In the end, I will always believe that Millsaps offers the best deal possible for the people who can keep up with the challenge. We're not at the top of our game right now but that's just temporary. The time will come very soon when we'll shine brighter than ever.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Not Everybody Loves A Parade

A parade is great if you're in it. It's about half that great if you're not in it, but you have a child or grandchild who is and it's about half of that half if you're just watching for whatever entertainment value the parade might hold. (That figure increases slightly if the parade features multi-million dollar special effects like Disney or young women exposing themselves for plastic beads like Mardi Gras.)

For the rest of the world, a parade is pretty much just and obstacle to traffic and a nuisance. The nuisance factor is exaserbated by the size of the parade (and the amount of traffic it blocks) and the noise and garbage factors.

The trash factor is not negligible. The Mal's St Patricks Day Parade, besides enough beer bottles to open a pub, has in the past left dog shit and dirty diapers in the small space in front of my business, several blocks away from the parade itself. They do a pretty good job of cleaning up, and within 24 hours most of that stuff is gone, but still, if you're not in the parade, it just isn't very pleasant.

Today they had the Jackson State Homecomming parade. They've been having the Jackson State Homecomming parade every year for my entire life. You'd think, by now, everybody involved would have it down to a science. Not so. You never saw so much confusion and mess for one marching band in your life.

The worst part was the traffic detours. The parade stretched from the campus itself to the fairgrounds, which meant it split downtown in half with almost no possible way to get from one side to the other. The detours lead to nowhere, mostly moving you to dead ends or stuck, the wrong way, on a one way street.

Twice I stopped to ask the police officer or homeless person or whoever was directing traffic at intersections how to get around it, and all they could say was "follow the signs". Well, the signs lead to nowhere. Eventually, I was able to cross Capitol street somewhere around The Stewpot and wind my way back up to court street and finally to my destination.

So, I called city hall to find out what went wrong and let them know what they were doing just wasn't working very well. Nobody knew and nobody cared. One lady told me, it was Jackson State and I just had to put up with it. I suppose she was an alumi.

So if you're ever in a position to plan a parade or be in a parade or even just watch a parade, keep one thing in mind. It's great for you, but for the rest of the world who's not involved in your little event, a parade can be a huge pain in the ass.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If Obama Can Do It

It looks like the next president will be a Democrat. I'm pretty much OK with that. The parties are so polarized now that we really need to change colors once in a while so that one administration can check and repair the excesses of the previous administration.

In case you haven't noticed, Obama is a pretty liberal guy. The problem with liberals, is that most of what they want, if it were that easy, would have been done a long time ago. It's much easier for conservatives. Most of what they want is to remove restraints from the rich which is pretty easy to do. Liberals however have to try and figure out a way to make their big ideas work and often that's not so easy.

For instance: Bill Clinton ran for president on the promise of national health care, and he spent the first few years of his presidency trying to get national health care, but in the end, there were so many obstacles and so many challenges to the idea that he eventually had to give it up.

All of those problems with making national health care will be waiting for Obama once he takes office. Problems like that tend to stick around. We could use national health care though, if they can figure out how to make it work.

Jimmy Carter ran on a platform of peace in the middle east, but by the time he was done, Anwar Sedat was dead and our embassy in Iran was under siege. Obama has similar goals, lets hope he has better luck.

Carter also wanted to improve housing for the poor and working class. It's pretty hard to be against that idea. After twenty years though, his plan for improving housing evolved into the sub-prime mortgage disaster. It was a great goal, we were just on the wrong path for getting there.

Lyndon Johnson ran on the idea of a "war on poverty". Who could be against such an idea? It's not like somebody was going to come out and say they were for poverty.

Forty-five years later, a lot of people blame Johnson for creating a near-permanent welfare class that's almost impossible to evolve out of. It took another Democrat, Bill Clinton to go in and roll back a lot of what Johnson tried to do.

One of Obama's plans is to re-strengthen the unions. He says we were a better country when the unions were strong. That may be so, but I don't know how you're going to strengthen the unions without bringing back manufacturing and I don't see how you're going to bring back manufacturing without weakening the unions. So, if Obama wants to bring back the unions, I'm all for it, I just don't see how he's going to do it.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm bagging on the liberals needlessly. What they want to do, we need as a nation. It's just that they face a lot more obstacles to their goals than just the opposition party.

There's only one way to achieve these goals though, and that's to keep trying, from administration to administration, through the years until we eventually do get what we need.

Some of the efforts towards these goals will be misguided though, and in four years or eight or twelve, we'll elect a republican president to roll back Obama's mistakes, just like Obama will roll back the mistakes of George Bush.

That's how our system works. Checks and balances. It's the promise of Democracy and we'll rock along toward the future, even if it is three steps forward and two steps back sometimes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hiding in The Choir Loft

When I was a kid, we went to Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church. That's a pretty long name, but the people there were plain enough, and good minded.

My dad and Grandfather both preferred the eight-thirty service on Sunday Mornings, because it was simpler. Instead of the full choir, they had just one person singing. Usually the same lady from Sunday to Sunday, but sometimes the choir director himself would sing.

The eight-thirty service was held in the chapel rather than the big sanctuary. There were just enough attendees to fill up the little chapel pretty well. As small a crowd as it was, it was still too crowded for my dad though.

What most people didn't know was that there was an almost never used choir loft at the back of the chapel, and every Sunday, we as a family climbed the winding stairs up to the loft so we could attend services quietly, with nobody but the preacher, the organist and hopefully God ever knew we were ever there.

People would tease my dad that sitting up there in the loft, nobody but God ever knew he even went to church. That suited my dad pretty well. He believed that you should go to church, and support your church, but you just shouldn't make a very big deal out of it, and up there in the choir loft was just about as close to not a very big deal as you can get. As a bonus, if he fell asleep during the sermon (which he often did) nobody would ever know.

I think Jesus would have approved of this as well. In Matthew 6, he tell us not to be boastful or loud when we pray, but to do it quietly and in private so that only God saw you. That's the way my dad liked it too. Up in the choir loft, in the back of the chapel where nobody but God even knew he went to church.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Natural Cycle

There has been bad news about the economy lately and, in times like these, many people are worried and afraid. Don't be too afraid though, a lot of what we're going through is natural. We've been through it many times in the past and we always came back stronger.

The economy behaves like a living thing because it is made up of millions of living things and like any living thing, it goes through cycles of expansion and contraction.

Contraction is a disturbing process, but everything I read tells me we are doing the right things to come back form this strong and healthy.

We'd like to think the economy would grow forever and on the news and among economists we tend to call an economy that grows from one quarter to the next "good" but one that doesn't grow or declines "bad".

That's not a very practical way to think of a living thing though. All living things have times when they must pull back to mend wounds and correct mistakes and prepare for the next cycle of growth.

We made mistakes with the housing market and sub-prime mortgages and now our economy needs to pull back to mend wounds and correct mistakes. This is natural and nothing to be afraid of. You could even say it was a necessary thing.

Even in declining times, living things always seek a means to grow and thrive, so will our economy. Even now, people all across the nation are making plans to grow again. We will come back stronger and better than before. We always have.

Have faith in God and nature and believe in each other and we'll come through this healthy and strong.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I hate Voter Registration Drives

I hate voter registration drives.

To be perfectly honest, if you have to go out like a door-to-door salesman and harass people into registering to vote, then I'd kind of rather those people didn't vote.

It smacks of the days when Richard J. Daley had teams going out to register drunks and dead people in Chicago.

Everything should be done to protect people's right to vote, but if they're not going to actually take the steps to do it of their own accord, I say just leave them out. They don't deserve to vote.

Years ago, I actually did this for the Democratic party. Here's how it went.

Knock, Knock, Knock

ME: Hello sir, we're out registering people to vote so you can exercise your precious right to determine your future. Brave men and women fought and died to give you this right. Do you have a few minutes to fill out these forms?

UN-REGISTERED VOTER: Yeah dude, just leave the papers and I'll do it later, I'm watching People's Court now though.

Are you kidding me? That guy should never vote. Ever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Crossroads with Abraham

We stand at a crossroads, some four thousand years from the day a man named Abraham gave up everything to follow a nameless god.

We don't know the exact date, of course. We don't even know if the story is true. Abraham isn't recorded by any other historian and he left no artifacts.

What we do know, is that this story, this tradition spawned three of the greatest cultures yet known to man: the Jews, the Gentile Christians, and the Muslims.

At this crossroads, many of us blindly reach back into the past in an attempt to refute the present, but many others question whether the tradition is even worth keeping any longer--if any faith is worth keeping any longer.

I propose a third path, one which preserves the wisdom of our ancestors, but recognizes their humanity and imperfection. A path which incorporates and embraces science and history and new learning--even when it conflicts with the ancient texts. God gave us the capacity to learn. It's foolish not to embrace it.

Further, I propose a reunification of all the children of Abraham.

A reunification that can only begin by setting aside the false prophesy of the apocalypse. We can only come together and live together if we abandon the fear that God will destroy the world and only by coming together and living together can we hope to prevent destroying the world ourselves.

If we don't do this, then the instinct for self-preservation will take over and more people will abandon their faith in order to survive and avoid any self imposed apocalypse.

Faith can be the future, but only if we recognize that it is human and imperfect and forgive ourselves for the mistakes of the past.

Monday, September 15, 2008

National Abortion Amendment

We require an amendment to the constitution describing precisely our national abortion policy.

Currently, we have left the issue up to the courts to decide, but that is insufficient. It's beyond the scope and design of the court to make these decisions.

Likewise, the issue is too sensitive and contains too many human rights' issues to govern on a state-to-state basis.

The reason we don't already have a constitutional amendment on abortion is because both extremes know they don't have the votes to get everything they want out of an amendment so they're satisfied trying to manipulate the courts instead.

This is not good government. The onus of good government is that we consciously decide what we think is best and right and proceed with it, not allowing ourselves to be controlled by special interest groups of either extreme.

The obvious solution is a compromise between both extremes.

Here is what I propose: A normal pregnancy can be divided into three trimesters.

For the first trimester: allow no state to enact a law that prohibits or limits a woman's right to a safe abortion for any reason. This way, the state doesn't force anyone to be pregnant who doesn't wish to be. Women may decide to abort and the state has no say in their decision.

There is some pressure for women to make their decision quickly, but that pressure exists anyway. This also prohibits states from trying to eliminate abortions by putting unreasonable restrictions on abortion providers.

For the second trimester: abortions are only allowed on the recommendation of a licensed physician based only on the mother's physical health. This addresses those cases where abortion is more of an issue of health than one of choice--and it puts the decision in the hand of those we entrust to make those health decisions in other matters.

At this stage, we begin to give the fetus some human rights, but the focus remains on the health of the mother if not her preferences. There will be some physicians who "rubber stamp" all abortion requests, but medical ethics is really more an issue of peer evaluation and licensing than one of statutory law.

For the third trimester: every effort must be made to deliver the fetus alive. No state may allow an abortion during this period unless proscribed by both a physician and a judge.

During the third trimester, the fetus has a growing chance of surviving premature birth, therefore the full focus of the law is on the civil rights of the fetus.

Certainly there is room for discussion on each of these stages, but with my proposal, neither side gets everything they want but we get everything we need to know we did our best to govern wisely.

Frantic Financial Chatter

Just like hurricanes, storms on Wall St. may seem like the end of the world, but they're not.

They're saying this is the worst financial crisis since the great depression, and I suppose in some ways it technically is, but, it's a long, long way from being as bad as the great depression.

This started twenty-five years ago with Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan when they de-regulated the financial sector and began artificially stimulating the economy by manipulating the fed funds rate. It's the primary reason I'll never agree with the people who call Reagan a great president.

The good news is, that like with hurricanes, we are strong enough to recover from this and we are wise enough to learn from these experiences and take measures to prevent them in the future.

You'll hear a lot of frantic chatter over the next several days, but don't lose heart. The basic economy is fundamentally sound, even if these ancillary financial groups are not.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Bad Shepherd

The bad shepherd lies to the sheep.

He tells them he saw wolves, when he didn't. He tells them the grass near the tall rocks is poison, when it isn't.

When you ask him, why he tells all these awful lies, he says: "It's my job to tend the sheep, and it's a lot easier to do that when they're afraid. Otherwise, they do what they want and get in all sorts of trouble."

I question whether we should have human shepherds at all. We call them pastors and give bishops gold plated shepherd's staffs with encrusted jewels. It's a very weak man who builds his ego by presuming to lead the sheep.

The bible says "The Lord is my Shepherd", not some priest.

Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep. That's not the same as being a shepherd. That's a guy that helps the shepherd.

It would be ironic if the people we look to for getting us closer to God actually moved us further away.

Veronica by Elvis Costello

I suppose it says something about me, maybe not. The one song in the whole world that can always make me weep uncontrollably is Veronica, by Elvis Costello.

How many times I've held a frail old woman's hands while she struggled to capture the flame from the girl she once was.

In her heart, there was really no difference between a girl of sixteen and a woman of ninety-two. In my own heart, I don't suppose there really was.

If anything, as the years went by, it got harder to remember which was which.

Fay, Nanny, Bubba, Mother... this one's for you

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I could have sworn
that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Did the days drag by? Did the favours wane?
Did he roam down the town all the while?
did you wake from your dream, with a wolf at
the door, reaching out for Veronica
Well it was all of sixty-five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

On the "Empress of India"
And as she closed her eyes upon the world and
picked upon a plate of last week's news
She spoke his name out loud again

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Veronica sits in her favorite chair
She sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get
right and if they don't then nobody else will

But she always had a carefree mind of her own
with a devilish look in her eye
saying you can call me anything you like
but my name is Veronica

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Official Ted Lasso