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.

Official Ted Lasso