Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mississippi Fried Politics

Jere Nash and Andy Taggart follow their earlier more serious book with this fun collection of stories and anecdotes about Mississippi Politicians. Available at Mississippi Fried Politics: Tall Tales from the Back Rooms

Who's that doing the voice-over? It kinna sounds like either John Maxwell or J.C. Patterson

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Baby

Francis Vachon offers this cool video of his 9 month old son Charles-Edward at play in stop-motion.

Proof that all babies are cute, even if they're French.

Miss-Matched Presidential Hands

Ok, I feel competent to comment on this story since I'm in it. Believe it or not, Barack Obama has white hands.

Among a lot of other novelty items, I sell Cardboard Standups. They're kooky, they're fun at parties and they come in all your favorite characters: including the new president of the United States, Barack Obama.

A week ago, I get a phone call from what sounds like a young, black woman asking about the Obama standup. That part wasn't all that unusual as I'd been getting calls about it for weeks. She didn't want to buy one though, she wanted me to look at its hands.

At this point, I should admit that I'd long suspected the photograph from the Obama Standup was photoshopped. The grain and focus of the head is pretty different from the body. Other than that, I never gave it much thought.

The caller wants to know if I notice anything unusual about the hands. "Not really" I said. That's when her questions start getting really pointed. "Who is this?" I ask.

She identifies herself as Dayo Olopade, saying she's a reporter for the Washington Post. For people of my generation, the Washington Post has something of a gilded reputation because of their part in Watergate. Needless to say, that caught my attention.

I'd never talked to a reporter from the Washington Post before, and I guess I had really high expectations of Post reporters, because this young woman wasn't at all what I expected one to be like. She didn't seem very professional, especially since we're ten minutes into the conversation and she's just now told me she's a reporter for the Washington Post or anybody else.

First she wants me to look at the hands. "What's he holding?" she asks. I can't really tell, it looks kind of like a blackberry, which I thought would be cool since Obama seems to be a crackberry addict. "Look closer" she says. It's glasses in his hands. "Obama doesn't wear glasses" she says.

"Well, Duh!" I'm thinking. That's because it's not his hands. The body is a stock image. To make a cardboard standup you have to start with a head-to-toe photograph and it's unlikely Advanced Graphics, the maker of the standup could have found one in the early days of the Obama campaign when they came out with the Obama standup, so they improvised, putting Obama's head on a stock image body. Several of their political standups are made the same way.

"Do you think those are white hands?" She asks. "Oh, boy" I'm thinking. This conversation just got serious. There's a young black woman from the Washington Post asking me if a product I'm selling of the first black president, just a few days from his historic inauguration has white hands.

The thing is, I'd been staring at the hands for a few minutes trying to figure out what he's holding, and it never occurs to me that they're white! We'd sold a bunch of these by this time and nobody else had noticed they were white either.

"What was your name again?" I ask. I'd been searching the Washington Post website for any mention of her name, spelling it in several different names and nothing's coming up. "You're with the Washington Post?"

That's when she adds that it's not the Post she works for but a news magazine they own called The Root. She directs me to, and sure enough her name's on there, so I take more questions.

The thing is she's not asking questions, she's making statements and not particularly asking me anything. This lady is mad that Obama has white hands. For some reason, she has it in her head the body belongs to Tom Daschle, because he wears glasses and Obama doesn't.

I try to explain to her what photoshop is and what stock images are and she's just not getting it. "And who owns this stock image company?" She asks. I don't know! There are dozens and dozens of them, maybe even hundreds. Asking me who owns the stock image company is kind of like asking me where they bought their cameras.

At this point I'm beginning to suspect that my caller isn't who she says she is. She's not a reporter. Reporters ask questions and all this lady wants is to give me a schoolin'. Tom Daschle's hands? Give me a break.

I'd never heard of The Root, but if the Post owns it they must have some sort of professional standards and whoever it is on the phone sounds more like an angry college student than a professional reporter. "Are you sure you're a reporter?" I ask.

She offers to have her editor confirm her identity. "Sure, let me speak to him." He's not available, but he can email me. I agree he should do so.

Finally, she starts asking questions:

"Are these Tom Dashle's hands?" "I doubt it." Why is she obsessed with Daschle?
"Was it just sloppy work?" "Not particularly."
"Am I ashamed the hands aren't black?" "Not particularly."

I try to explain to her that President Obama's skin isn't very dark, and it may have been easier to start with a white model's hands and darken them than to start with a black model's hands and lighten them.

The color of the hands on the standup are a fairly good match to the face, good enough that I'd been looking at the image for months and not noticed and none of the people we sold them to had noticed either. She even admits in her column that she'd taken a photograph of herself kissing the standup before she noticed either. (Not sure a reporter should admit to kissing the photograph of any politician. So much for the media not having a bias, I guess)

By this time, she's getting belligerent and not asking any questions and I'm convinced she's not who she says she is so I end the conversation.

About an hour later, I get email from an editor at confirming that the person who called me does indeed work for them. By this time I'd been able to find out more about the company. It's a black perspective blog with about eight or nine writers. There are a lot of black folks who live in DC so I'm assuming that's the connection with the Washington Post.

I call the telephone number listed on the editor's email. He doesn't answer but, Olopade does. (hmmmm...) At this point, I'm wondering if he sent me the email or if she did. I'm willing to believe she is who she says she is this time though, because her photograph on their website looks like she's in her mid-twenties and her other articles tell me she's not so much of a reporter as she is a commentator.

The editor, who may or may not have sent me the email, (I never got to speak to him) looks from his photograph to be about my age. I'm wondering if he's really going to publish her piece when it's finished because this lady's kinna crazy. Well, he does.

Not surprisingly, Olopade doesn't quote me correctly even once. It never seemed to me like she was taking notes like a reporter might. She's already made up her mind what to write, she's just looking for somebody to pin her assumptions on, other than herself. Fortunately she doesn't say I told her they were Tom Daschle's hands.

Well, that's the end of that, I think. Alexia puts's readership low enough that I don't see many people ever reading the story. That might have been the end of it, but she repeats a truncated version of the story on some sort of weird tag-team blog over at

Two things happen at this point. The websites that repost the Slate's RSS feed reprint the story and NPR picks up the story, doing a short piece on it in their Morning Edition broadcast. Fortunately, I'm not in any of those. They at least manage to get an interview with Steve Hoagland who works for Advanced Graphics and he does a pretty good job at explaining the situation.

While all this is going on, stock levels on the original White-Hands Obama Standup are getting really low. The original standup was made fairly hastily at the beginning of the campaign and Advanced Graphics intends to replace it with two new designs now that Obama won the election.

I try and make the case that they should continue offering the original white-hands version, because with all the press it's now a collector's item and might sell even better than before. They decline.

So, no, you can't get the original white-hands Obama standup from us. If you already have one you got from us, hold on to it because you can probably sell it on ebay for more than what you paid for it. You can get the new design for the Barack Obama Cardboard Standup here, and the second design Obama speaking from the presidential podium here.

As for Olopade, she may be a really good writer one day, but for the moment, not so much. Woodward and Bernstein have nothing to worry about from her.

For a brief moment there, I thought I was really being interviewed by the Washington Post, which wasn't really a life's goal of mine, but would have been pretty cool.

As to whether it was morally wrong to use a white model's hands on a Barack Obama standup, I really don't think so. If his face were much darker then maybe it would have been an issue, but the fact that none of my other customers noticed says something. Race is mostly a social construction. When it gets down to actual skin tone, the differences aren't always as great as you might thing.

I have to wonder if Olopade would have still kissed her Obama standup had she known he had a white man's body. Let's not tell her Obama's momma was white. That might ruin the whole experience for her.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hope and Fear

In his first inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", which is interesting because fear itself elected Roosevelt, fear kept him in office and fear gave him the political clout he needed to enact his political agenda.

Fear for the environment (the dust bowl), fear for the economy (the depression) and ultimately, fear of foreigners (WWII) were key elements of Roosevelt's popularity.

Historians almost unanimously credit Roosevelt's New Deal with resolving the Great Depression. Economists are less generous. The numbers by themselves support the economists' view, but, at the very least, Roosevelt did with the New Deal what any competent physician would do, which is to treat the symptoms until they can find a cure for the disease.

Although the catchphrase of the Barack Obama campaign was "hope", since his election, all of his speeches featured fear prominently, falling just short of the old action hero line "follow me if you want to live!"

I favor big chunks of Obama's recovery plan, but his rhetoric is beginning to bother me. Certainly he faces an uphill political battle on a lot of it, but one of the "changes" he promised us was more sincerity, honesty and responsibility in leadership and trying to energize his legislative agenda by frightening the public won't cut it.

So Mr. President, what we want is more hope and less fear.

Protecting Steel from Foreigners

Last week I made an argument that there were some circumstances where protectionism might be logical and needed. Apparently the president agrees, because it's part of his economic stimulus package, particularly in regards to steel.

Almost immediately, representatives from the EU began calling for the removal of any protectionist elements from the bill, particularly with regards to steel. European steel isn't the problem. European steelmakers operate on a fairly level playing field with US steelmakers because Europe requires their factories to meet standards similar to those in the US with regards to pollution, product and worker safety. The problem is Asian countries who don't have these safeguards and can produce steel much cheaper because they don't.

There's a diplomatic problem though, with singling out Asia or particular Asian countries from the stimulus bill, which is probably why they chose to word it so that it covers all foreign-produced steel. The other possible problem is that I suspect this aspect of the bill comes from the United Steelworkers Union and invoking protectionism for the sake of unions can be problematic.

It may also be that we have WTO, EU and other treaties that prevent this element of Obama's stimulus package. If that happens, then we have the choice of either passing them as is and trying to change the treaties after the fact, or we can remove the provision until such time that we can secure changes in these treaties, or we can just pass it as is and let the chips fall where they may with regards to any trade treaties.

I can't recommend the third option, but I can't rule it out either. The answer here has to be a policy of not entering into international trade agreements with countries who use a lax legal environment with regards to pollution, worker and product safety to cut costs and make their products cheaper than ours. If we can get the EU to agree with us on this, then the move would have even more clout. Moves like this might even make agreements like the Kyoto document redundant and unnecessary.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Science of Thought

Scientists think a lot about thought, but what they've come up with so far seems to ask more questions than it answers.

Emerging is a body of theory suggesting that the brain has four distinct functions. I'll list them in order of how much we seem to understand about each.

Perception is the flow of information as raw data from our sense organs to the brain. We know that data flows from our organs to the brain through nerves allowing us to "tap into" those transmissions, giving us a pretty clear picture of what's going on. Scientists can even trace data flowing through the optic nerve to re-create the image our eyes send to our brain, (although not very well). Scientists understand enough about this function to create working artificial eyes.

Thought itself seems to be the interaction between different parts of the brain. We may know more about thought than other brain functions because technology allows us to make images of thought as it happens.

While nobody has legitimately been able to use science to "read" thoughts yet, we can see pretty clear patterns of activity within the brain based on what the subject is doing or thinking about. We're also pretty good about tracking the effect of damaging or disabling particular parts of the brain on the activity of thought.

Memory we know a lot less about. Some say memory is entirely electrical, some say it's electro-chemical, almost nobody believes it's entirely chemical anymore. Some believe memory is the interaction between clusters of brain cells, but there is study showing that individual brain cells might be capable of holding memory by themselves.

Invariably, when scientists write about or think about memory in the brain, they tend to relate it to memory as we know it in computers. I often wonder if that paradigm isn't holding us back. It's entirely possible that memory in the brain is nothing at all like memory in computers, which might explain why we've made far fewer advances in artificial intelligence than we thought we would by now.

Consciousness we know the least about. We think that consciousness is the merger of perception, thought and memory, but it might be something completely different. Although you'll never get scientists to admit it, at this point along the way, religion tells us about as much about consciousness as science does.

There's a growing number of scientists who draw a relationship between consciousness and quantum physics. If this is true, then the intelligence in "intelligent design" might be our own. If it's true that consciousness creates reality on some quantum level then that changes everything we ever thought about everything.

Image: Leonardo Da Vinci sketch-study of the brain

What do Teacher's Make

Since everybody seemed to enjoy my earlier post on the the impotence of proof reading by Taylor Mali, I thought I'd include this one of him reading his poem: What do Teacher's Make. This is really great stuff if you're a teacher and really important stuff if you're a person who doesn't think much of teachers.

After that I've included some random chick on Youtube reading the same poem as an audition piece. My point in doing so is to show how Poetry read aloud as poetry can be brilliant, but poetry read aloud as an audition piece generally sucks sweaty donkey balls. (sorry, random chick on Youtube, you seem talented, but choose another piece.)

If you're going to read poetry aloud, use the music of the poem first, before you try to make it sound "natural".

Taylor Mali:

Random Youtube Chick:

Here's the text of the poem:
What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school
By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Barack Obama Chia Pet

When I first saw these I thought it was a joke, but this is real!

In what has to be the worst presidential novelty item ever, Joseph Enterprises, maker of the world famous Chia Pet, now offers this stately bust that (sort of) looks like the 44'th President Of the United States, Barack Obama.

Chia Pets were first introduced in the 1980's and feature a terracotta statue that you can slather with Chia seeds to grow into a green pelt on the sculpture. Historically, the most popular Chia Pet has always been the sheep, but I'm thinking the Obama Chia Pet is gonna' kick its ass.

Chia is a plant of the salvia family, related to mint. It's entirely edible, although I have no idea what it tastes like. What I do know is that the Obama Chia Pet is in such horrible taste that it's almost irresistible.

Not satisfied with offering just one version of the Barak Obama Chia Pet, Joseph enterprises offers two versions! The "Happy" Obama Chia Pet which is kinna goofy looking and the "Determined" Obama Chia Pet which is just kinna creepy. Both feature a commemorative box with an American Flag. YES WE CAN!

Available at Amazon.Com Buy it NOW before people start to think you have taste! Chia Obama Handmade Decorative Planter

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Famous Artists Bar

This is just a weird bit of animation, but it's fun to try and name all the famous paintings it references.

Included are artists like Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Torturing Chocolate Bunnies

Lernert Engelberts en Sander Plug (yes, that's a real name) presents this artistic video essay on the many ways to melt a chocolate bunny. I'm particularly fascinated by his use of color and composition. Melting chocolate bunnies is pretty much funny no matter how you do it, but a little bit creepy too.

25 Things about me

Nicole tagged me in this so I guess I gotta do it...
  1. Most people are more interested in my ancestors than in me. It can be annoying, but for the most part it doesn't bother me. I think they were interesting people too.

  2. For thirty years now I've suffered from pretty severe depression. I fight it by trying to find something positive about everything, which can be annoying by itself.

  3. In my youth, I was a champion weight-lifter. Other than that I'm a terrible athlete.

  4. I'm fascinated by monsters. Fictional, fantasy or real, I just dig 'em.

  5. I am something of an expert on the 1933 movie King Kong

  6. I've met a lot of celebrities along the way, but my favorite by far was Fay Wray. She was just so sweet and so much fun. Other favorites include Alan Shepherd, Gerald Ford and Leonard Nimoy. Least favorite by far: Prince.

  7. My ex says I'm a name-dropper. It's true. If it annoys you just ignore it. Most of these people would never remember meeting me, even though I remember them.

  8. Some people think I'm gay. I wouldn't mind being gay if it weren't for the whole having sex with men part. How do women do it?

    The saddest part is that there's a whole sub-culture of gay men who are extremely attracted to men who look exactly like me, but there are no women who are.

    A lot of guys would be freaked out if they suspected anybody thought they were gay. I just think it's funny.

  9. With reference to #8 above, I am a junkie for women. Their hair, their bodies, their faces, their voices, even their skin just fascinates me. Maybe half of that is sexual, but the other half is entirely aesthetic.

    I've painted women, sculpted women, photographed women, recorded women and written about women. It's something I'll never completely get out of my system.

  10. I have the reputation for being wise. Don't let it fool you. I may think about things more than most people, but it doesn't mean I know any more than anybody else.

  11. I reflect on things chronically. Some would say I obsess on them. I thought about writing this list for two hours before I started typing.

  12. I have a reputation as a rebel, but it's only because I have trouble keeping my mouth shut sometimes.

  13. I far prefer babies, children and young people to adults.

  14. I was once an atheist, but now I'm a believer. I'm a very liberal believer though, because I believe Jesus was too. Anybody want to go hang out with some lepers?

  15. Politically, socially, and culturally, you'll never correctly pin me down as either a conservative or a liberal. Most of the voices I hear from both sides of this spectrum just annoy the crap out of me.

  16. I heard the voice of an angel once. My car was spinning out of control in the rain on Interstate 55. The voice said "Don't worry. I've got you." There were a hundred ways that story should have ended with the car crumpled and me dead, but both it and I came away without a scratch.

  17. I love most people much more than they realize.

  18. Damn, Nicole! Twenty-Five is a lot to come up with!

  19. I smoke, but I know I'll have to quit. That makes me sad, because I really do enjoy it.

  20. I swear like a sailor and I love it. To me it's like cooking with spice and pepper rather than milk and sugar.

  21. I sleep in strange positions. The strangest is with my arm straight up in the air like a flag pole. I have no explanation for this.

  22. Good acting makes me cry. Bad acting makes me laugh. Either way, I enjoy the show, unless it's bad directing. Bad directing really annoys me.

  23. I'll never accomplish most of the things I'd like, mainly because I'd like to accomplish much more than I ever could.

  24. If you're reading this, then I probably love you more than you realize. Try to remember that.

  25. The people I'd most like to tag with this would never respond, so I'm not going to tag anybody.
There it's done. That wasn't so painful.

Jimmy Kimmell Previews the Pope Channel

Earlier I reported that the Vatican now has their own YouTube Channel.

On his show Jimmy Kimmell gives us a preview of some the offerings on the Pope's YouTube account.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Save Money At The Zoo

For the month of February, the Jackson Zoo is offering a half-off discount on admission.

Zoo attendance tends to fall off during the winter months, so the Zoo is offering this discount to encourage off-season visitors. Considering our summer sun, the winter is actually a great time to visit the Zoo and if you go now you can see our new Sumatran Tigers.

Jackson Zoo Official Website
Jackson Zoo at Wikipedia

Blame The Media, Again?

Dan Gillmor writes a pretty interesting piece suggesting financial journalists should have played a larger role over the last ten years in warning the country about the looming financial crisis:
"Journalists are notoriously thin-skinned, defensive about even legitimate criticism. But this lapse has been too blatant even for reporters to miss. Two-thirds of financial journalists in a recent survey said the news media "dropped the ball" in the period before the crisis became apparent. (Still, almost none of them assigned the press any responsibility for what has occurred.)"
Gillmor goes on to suggest that the media should play a larger role in warning the country about this and other disasters:
That common practice suggests an opportunity. When we can predict an inevitable calamity if we continue along the current path, we owe it to the public to do everything we can to encourage a change in that destructive behavior.

In practice, this means activism. It means relentless campaigning to point out what's going wrong, and demanding corrective action from those who can do something about it."
Although I like Gilmor's article very much there are some things I'd like to point out:

First, he's overly critical of print media journalists, suggesting their reporting might have been skewed in favor of their advertisers, even though, from my perspective print media journalists (and blog journalists) were much more responsible in reporting about the building bubble than electronic media journalists.

Secondly, he makes no mention of the obvious fact that although financial journalists were far too optimistic five years ago, helping build the bubble, they have also swung too far the other way now and their pessimism might slow the recovery.

I'm very much in favor of activism among journalism, but you have to temper it a good bit, because, sometimes these guys have no clue what they're talking about. If you're going to follow an activist journalist on any issue, it pays to also read another one on the opposite side of the issue so you can forge your own sense of the truth out of the middle.

It should be pointed out that Gilmor himself is a print (and blog) media financial journalist, who made a name for himself writing about the bubble, but failed to accurately predict its ultimate bursting.

You can read the entirety of Gilmor's article here: The Media's Role In The Financial Crisis

I recommend it, but with the reservations noted above.

Theater Safety: Accidental Shooting in Florida

Tragedy nearly struck during rehearsals for an amateur production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in Sarasota, Florida. The actor playing George shot the actor playing Lennie, as per the script, but this time the gun was real and so was the ammunition.

It was an accident, and luckily the bullet didn't penetrate the actor's skull, Incidents like this illustrate the very real need for anybody involved in theatre to really know what they're doing before trying to use potentially dangerous props or equipment.

Here is an article on the incident in Florida.

Here is a good article on using guns on stage.

Below are some books on Stage Safety:

The Pope On YouTube

Twenty-First Century Pope

In a pretty tech-savvy move to reach the flock, Pope Benedict XVI now has his own YouTube Channel. It's even in HD!

From their YouTube Profile:
This channel offers news coverage of the main activities of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and of relevant Vatican events.
It is updated daily. Video images are produced by Centro Televisio Vaticano (CTV), texts by Vatican Radio (RV) and CTV.

This video-news presents the Catholic Churchs position regarding the principal issues of the world today.

Links give access to the full and official texts of cited documents.
Holy See (Vatican City State)
Watch the Pope on YouTube here, but be careful about leaving flame comments on his videos. God is watching you.

Peter Schiff is Insane

Peter Schiff gets a lot of credit these days for going on television and predicting the banking collapse of the current recession, even though some other economists missed it. Through his television appearances, Schiff earned the nickname "Dr. Doom" because of his dire predictions.

So, is Schiff the brilliant prognosticator of the future? Not necessarily. Lots of other people saw the current economic crisis coming, especially the housing bubble, they just lacked the desire or the personality to go on television. Yes, some of Schiff's predictions came true, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Before you sell all your belongings and follow Schiff, there are a few things you might want to consider:

He's one tin-foil hat away from being a full blown survivalist, yet he graduated from Berkley. Like Stan Lee says "nuff said".

His father is currently in prison for income tax evasion, not because he's a crook, but because he's a tax protester.

Many of Sciff's investment clients took a beating in 2008. It turns out, hiding your money in Singapore wasn't such a good idea after all.

Sciff follows the Austrian school of economics, or as I like to call it, the "Mad Max" school of economics, whose main tenets are that human beings are too evil and too stupid to ever govern effectively, so the only solution is the thunderdome of absolute laissez-faire.

"Dr. Doom" is a financial adviser for "Dr No." Schiff works for Ron Paul. Birds of a feather flock together, especially when they're both radical libertarians who want to bring down the government.

He was wrong about the dollar and wrong about gold and on his radio show Jan 14, 2009, he said Americans should stock up on guns and ammunition to fight off the wandering hordes of the coming apocalypse. That's just great radio...If you're Art Bell!

Schiff was right that Americans didn't save enough and spent too much on consumer crap made in Asia. Duh! You didn't have to go to Berkley to know that. This has been a known criticism of the American economy far and wide for forty years.

A bear market doesn't make survivalists suddenly brilliant and "right" any more than a bull market means you should invest in rose-colored glasses. A little faith in each other tempered with some common sense will carry you pretty far in this old world. In the mean time, try and avoid the people trying to grab your attention at either end of the pendulum. They're not necessarily all that bright or right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Strong is your Artistic Vision

The strength of any artistic endeavor is related directly to the strength and clarity of its vision. Art is an act of communication and the success of that communication depends almost entirely on the clarity and purpose of the message.

For many, there is no purpose. They simply like to paint or sing or act and that becomes the message. You can't expect the world to care if you like doing something. The message has to be something they care about too.

If your message is about something other people care about, and you can express it clearly enough, then you will find your audience and you will be successful, otherwise, be grateful for the friends and family who come to see your work because that's all you'll ever have.

The best example I can think of to illustrate this principal is Ballet Magnificat, right here in Jackson Mississippi. Most people would never think to try and send an evangelical christian message using classical dance. There's almost nothing in the cannon of ballet that carries a christian message, yet that was the goal when Keith and Kathy Thibodeaux started their company in 1986.

Thibodeaux found her success, not among the community of dance lovers, but from the evangelical movement. "Traditional" ballets tended to look down their nose at Ballet Magnificat, but their companies dwindled and died while Thibodeaux's company thrived.

Andrew Wyeth, who died recently was one of America's most successful painters. His message was not cultural or religious, but entirely aesthetic. He had something to say about texture, emotion and color and his work conveyed that message clearly enough and strongly enough to drown out his many critics in the art world.

Wyeth found his greatest success in a time when his work had the least in common with the prevailing trends in painting. He succeeded because successful art has nothing to do with trends or movements in the field. It has to do with how it impacts those outside of the art world, and that's where he found his audience.

If you're an artist hoping for success beyond pleasing yourself, then you have to ask, "what is my message?" and "who wants to hear it?" Once you've discovered these answers, then put your energy in making your message as strong and as clear as you can and more than likely, you will find your audience and find success.

Image Information:

"Late Fall" by Andrew Wyeth; source:

"Deliver Us" Source:

Utrecht 468X60

Deepening The River of Our Economy

Right now, everyone is focusing on the crisis in banking as the cause of our economic problems, but I wonder if this is an effect and not a cause.

The financial sector certainly made some really stupid mistakes, but they actually were doing fairly well until something set them off.

When that happened, they realized they had, over the years, removed a lot of the safeguards we installed to protect them. That was the stupid part.

For thirty years, maybe more, maybe twice as long, our economy has been a shallow river. The water moved very fast, but it wasn't very deep.

Two years ago, we found ourselves in a situation where growth in the the world's economy was outstripping the resources we built to fuel it. The problem was fuel itself. We were too reliant on fossil fuels and when demand outpaced supply, we saw fuel prices more than double.

Energy costs are a fundamental building block of any economy, and you can't double the cost of energy without having serious repercussions throughout the rest of the system. Fuel prices doubled and the economy stalled. When the economy stalled, it created a major back flow in the banking system so the banking system broke.

As painful as this recession is, it may have come not a moment too soon. Without a slow down in the world's economy we were facing the serious problem of literally running out of energy. This recession may give us just enough time to correct the problem before it's too late.

The river of our economy overflowed its banks and threatened the villages in the valley below.

Alternative forms of energy have been a part of our economy for more than seventy years, but they were only a small part. Instead we supplied our demand for energy with fossil fuels as a commodity. It was more profitable in the short-run, but lead to two major problems: global warming and dwindling supply.

Renewable forms of energy are part of the infrastructure, not a commodity. Wind, solar, tidal, thermal, hydroelectric, even nuclear energies cost more to build on the front end, but then they are free from the fluctuations of the commodity market as they are self-supplying to a large extent.

Our energy has always come from a mix of infrastructure sources like hydroelectric and commodity sources like natural gas and oil, but in the past the ratio of that mix was something like 10% infrastructure and 90% commodity, leaving us incredibly vulnerable to the fluctuations of commodity markets.

Suppose we change that ratio, to say 60% renewable infrastructure sources and 40% non-renewable commodity sources. We need to retain that 40% from commodity sources because they're more flexible and can respond to fluctuations in demand, but it's unlikely demand will ever fall below the 60% provided by infrastructure sources.

To do this will require a genuine increase in both leadership and responsibility in the public and corporate sector. Some will say we can never expect that kind of performance in people, people are too greedy and too stupid, but I say we can. We can accomplish anything we want to.

Hell, we went to the moon strapped to the tip of an over-glorified bottle rocket. We can do anything.

By changing the mix of where we get our energy, by investing in our energy infrastructure, we deepen the river of our economy. The water won't move as fast, but more will flow past us and our future will be more secure.

Image: Hoover Dam from the air; Source Wikipedia

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sins of the Father

The worst mistakes of the Bush presidency were trying to correct the mistakes his father made.

Lots of people are saying the presidency of George W Bush was the worst in American history. I think it's way too soon to say such a thing, but he certainly didn't have an easy eight years either.

After serving as Vice President, George H Bush ran for President and uttered this phrase "read my lips, no new taxes." He was elected, and as president he chose not to veto a democratic backed bill that raised taxes.

It actually was a pretty good bill and was a direct contributor to the budget surplus of the Clinton administration. The republicans hated it though and saw it as a betrayal of their Republican ideals, which many think was a significant factor leading to his unsuccessful run against Bill Clinton.

When George W Bush became president, he saw this as indicating he should never cooperate with the Democrats in congress. Although he ran for president as a "uniter", once in office, Bush almost never reached out to the Democrats unless he knew they were already on their backs. This policy of not crossing party lines made Bush one of the more divisive presidents in the last hundred years, which is ironic because his predecessor, Bill Clinton, was most successful when he crossed party lines.

The other time Bush tried to correct what he saw as his father's mistakes was with Iraq. Republicans had long criticised George H Bush for not ousting Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Bush said he did not have a UN mandate for ousting Hussein and they had achieved the primary objectives of the war to push Iraq back within their own borders, so he brought the troops home.

When George W Bush became president, he was overly eager to oust Hussein at the first sign of trouble in the middle east. After 9/11 Bush had overwhelming public support for pretty much anything he wanted to do in the middle east so he chose to invade Iraq based on some pretty shaky intelligence.

Once in Iraq, he learned that ousting Hussein was fairly easy, but rebuilding a stable country out of Iraq afterwards was very, very difficult.

One of the benefits of putting term limits on the U.S. President is that they can't go back and amend what they see as their earlier mistakes. Each new president starts with a fresh slate to make his own unique mistakes.

The term limit legislation didn't foresee a son following his father as president, though, or that the son might want to revisit his father's decisions. This may not be a situation that comes up very often, but it's worth remembering when it does.

The Impotence of of Proofreading

I need to get this guy to help with my blog posts.

Taylor Mali performing "the impotence of of proofreading"

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Re-posted From The Constant Monster Blog When I was a kid, between the years of 1971 and 1975, WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Jackson Mississippi had their own horror movie series called Horrible Movie. 

 Horrible Movie was broadcast on Saturday nights after the news. It featured mostly old Universal Monster movies. Movies both from the classic 30's era, like Dracula and Frankenstein, but also the revival in the 40's like The Wolfman and even Universal's Sci-fi Era films from the 50's like The Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Monolith Monsters

 The host of the show was an unpleasant woman named SCARTICIA, who wore a slinky black dress similar to The Addams Family's Morticia, who she was clearly named for. Unlike Morticia or Vampyra, who wore similar outfits, Scarticia had a painted-on extreme old-age makeup, and her black wig was more matted than luxurious. 

I haven't been able to find out a whole lot about Scarticia, except that her real name was Annette and she was fairly young at the time. Her day job was working as a secretary to the station's general manager. Scarticia called her loyal viewers (like me!) "animals" and generally acted like they were monsters themselves, which was a lot of fun. 

Usually, Horrible Movie was broadcast from the studio with only a chair or a sofa as set pieces. I can remember at least one occasion though when the show was broadcast from a wrestling ring in the old Armory on the fairgrounds where WAPT also occasionally broadcast Mid-South Wrestling. Scarticia's guests included characters like "Thing" which was a guy covered in fabric looking like a cross between the blob and McDonald's Grimace, The Black Genie, and Dr. Choke Throttle. 

 Her regular co-host was Scoop Gravely, played by local radio and TV personality Ed Hobgood. Horrible Movie was a big hit among a certain age group in Jackson. In one episode, Scarticia showed a stack of letters she received from a local junior high school. She acted like she was going to read them, but instead threw them up in the air saying "who has time?" 

 The early seventies was also the era of "Streaking" where people ran naked in public places for no particular reason. One Saturday night, Scoop Gravely said Scarticia was caught streaking and he'd show us videotape after the next commercial segment. When Scoop returned, the videotape he promised showed a naked doll with black hair "running" in front of a still photograph of downtown Jackson. 

When Horrible Movie ran the 1933 classic King Kong, Scoop said he also had a videotape of a real, live dinosaur in Jackson. The tape showed a yellow Marx Toy Brontosaurus in front of the same photograph of downtown Jackson.

I only have this one photograph of Scarticia. (click to enlarge) If you have any more, please send them in and I'll post them. If you have any information about Horrible Movie or memories about this classic show, please share those too and I'll post them here.

New Blog Just For Monsters

I've started a new blog. This one is dedicated to one of my favorite subjects, Monsters!

It features Movie Monsters, Cryptozoology, Mysteries, Models, and more madness. I've moved some of the older posts from my other two blogs to the new blog to get it started.

I had a heck of a time coming up with a name for the new project. Just about everything to do with the word "Monster" is already being used. Finally I started playing around with the sounds of the word and came up with The Constant Monster Blog!

Check it out! Let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Rational Flea

A flea hears from other fleas that there such things as mountains. Being a rational and inquisitive flea, it decides to set out and see for himself if it is so.

A fleas segmented eyes are made so that it can only focus on things a few inches away. Everything beyond that is a blur, so it cannot see any mountains. Fleas have acute senses of smell and taste, but since mountains have no smell or taste the flea can't detect any mountains that way either.

Fleas have moderate, but limited intellectual properties, so our flea is unable to create a tool to detect mountains or devise a system to deduce the presence of them either. The way fleas are made, he can start at sea level and walk straight up the side of a mountain and never know it.

Because he can neither detect, nor deduce the presence of mountains, the flea decides that there is no such thing, and the fleas who say there are mountains must be either deluded or fibbing.

This particular flea though, lives in the wool on a goat living in the Alps. He has, in fact, lived his entire life on a mountain, even though he has no way of knowing it.

Human beings have set out to discover God in the same way as this flea. Some of them, because neither their senses, nor their tools, nor their reasoning can detect God, have decided that there must be no God, and anyone who believes there is must be either deluded or fibbing.

Fleas cannot detect mountains, but that's not an accurate test of whether there are mountains or not. Likewise, humans cannot detect God, but that's not an accurate test of whether God exists or not.

A flea may be correct if he says he doesn't believe in mountains because he cannot detect them, but he goes beyond his bounds if he says that there is no such thing as mountains.

Likewise, a man may be telling the truth if he says he doesn't believe in God because he cannot detect God, but he goes beyond his bounds if he says there is no God, because he has no way of knowing whether there is or not. Hubris leads us to believe the only things to exist are those our meager senses can detect or our limited intellect can deduce.

Just like the flea who lives on the goat who lives on the mountain, I believe we would be amazed at the remarkable things that do exist but are beyond our ability to detect them.

Image: Mountain Goat Statue Near Corviglia - St. Moritz, Switzerland

Weight Watchers Sues Casino

Weight Watchers is suing a local casino to recover monies gambled there by an employee who embezzled them from the company. Read the story in the Clarion Ledger.

Weight Watchers doesn't mind if you get the idea they're a health related non-profit organization. They're not.

They make a lot of money. So much money, that one of their employees could embezzle almost a million bucks from a local franchise before anyone noticed.

Weight Watchers is one of the more effective weight loss programs out there, but it still pays to look into what they are and who they are before giving them your money.

Protectionism for the Right Reasons

A lot of people are looking at how and why America lost so much manufacturing to Asia and that discussion always leads to protectionism. Protectionism is the act of adding taxes or quotas to imported items to favor locally produced items.

Protectionism isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is one of those things where it's a lot easier to do it for the wrong reason than for the right reasons.

The Wrong Reason
There really is just one wrong reason here and that's to protect local companies who aren't competitive due to poor management or greed on the part of either the owners or the workers, which especially happens when the workers belong to a union or the owners make large political donations.

It's bad because companies use this shield to avoid meeting consumers' needs and wants. Invariably they start out a little less competitive, but entropy sets in and they grow to become a lot less competitive.

Since it's such a bad idea to use protectionism in this way, and it's so easy to fall into, a lot of people favor prohibiting protectionism all together and letting market forces do as they will. While this is tempting, it abandons the use of protectionism for some very valid reasons.

The Right Reasons
Some countries, like the United States, work very hard to protect the consumer, the worker and the environment from irresponsible business practices. This protection isn't free. It adds considerably to the cost of the final product. Emerging economies will often abandon these protections to give their products a competitive edge in pricing.

Image: Air Pollution in Beijing;
Source ABC News
China, for example, enforces very few commercial laws to protect the environment. As a result, China has become the world's center for manufacturing, but they're also arguably the most polluted country on earth.

During last summer's Olympics, China prohibited much of the automobile traffic in Beijing in a desperate attempt to clean up their air before the world showed up for the games. Even with that, many athletes chose to wear particulate masks to try and protect themselves from the polluted air so they could perform at their peak and all the athletes avoided locally produced food and water because of its reputation for being tainted.

The thing is, pollution doesn't recognize national boundaries. China's pollution becomes the world's pollution instantly and we in the United States are culpable for China's contribution to world pollution because we're the ones consuming the goods made in these polluting factories.

Not to pick on China, but they also have a really bad record when it comes to protecting the consumer. From tainted foods to lead paint in toys, everyone knows there are risks inherent in consuming goods made in China.

Better For Us All
In these instances, the world would be better off if we used protectionism to make products produced in countries that have laws to protect the environment, the consumer and the worker more competitive than products produced in countries that don't.

For instance: it's much more expensive to produce paper and steel in ways that protect the environment than it would be not to protect the environment. In the U.S., we force companies in these industries to be environmentally responsible, but China doesn't.

Not only the U.S., but the world would be better off if we consumed more paper and steel produced in this country rather than China, but because the U.S. produced goods are more expensive, the only way to achieve this would be to use tariffs and import quotas on these goods coming in from Asia.

China won't like this. It's the kind of move that can cause a trade war or even a real shooting war, but I think it's we're extremely careful to use protectionism only for the right reasons, it can still work.

A Level Playing Field
If we use protectionism in this way, then eventually emerging nations will be forced to enact similar laws to protect the environment, the consumer and the worker just to sell their goods on the world market. When that happens, we'll have to learn to compete on a level playing field.

If we don't employ protectionism for these reasons though, then emerging nations will avoid enacting these types of regulations until their local environment gets too polluted to live in or their reputation for consumer safety is so bad nobody is willing to buy their products and there never will be a level playing field.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Well, Crap

Thanks to Frank Melton, my favorite city now looks pretty stupid on my favorite blog.

Boing Boing (how's that for a title) reports on Melton's threat to ignore the constitution when it comes to baggy pants. They also report on how nicely he folds a handkerchief.

Print is Dead, and I Don't Feel So Good Myself

In the 1984 film, Ghostbusters, mousy secretary Janine tries to sex up uber-nerd scientist Egon Spengler by impressing him with the books she's read, to which Egon replies: "Print is Dead."

It's no secret I get frustrated with electronic journalism. Conservative, liberal, politics, showbiz, lifestyle, all of them, they just disappoint the crap out of me sometimes. When I was a kid, there were some truly great journalists working in the electronic media, but, the only one left in the business is Barbara Walters and she's a hundred and eight(sorry, Barbara).

For fifty years, print journalism was able to compete by offering more depth, and better quality. Newspapers survived by doing the same things TV and Radio news did, only better, even though they were less convenient. They were even pretty profitable.

Then along came the web, and you could get the same data (the exact same articles in many cases) without having to deal with a stack of printed pages. It could have been really cool. Newspapers could do pretty much what they always had, but without the expense of having to print anything.

The problem was, it's a lot harder to sell advertising on the web. Most advertisers only want to pay for web advertising if the end user actually clicks on their ad. Nobody wants to pay just for the exposure without somebody clicking on the ad, even though anybody who's ever studied advertising will tell you, exposure is the most valuable part of advertising. There's also no way to insert a whole page of advertising in the middle of the news on the web.

Newspapers are in the business of publishing the news, but they made their money by selling advertising, which gave the end user the expectation that the news itself is either free or nearly free. Double that on the web where almost all the non-pornographic content is free and it became almost impossible for newspapers to profitably make the transition from printed paper to the internet.

I think you'll see many of the best writers and comic artists and some of the most fleet-footed mastheads successfully make the transition over to web journalism, but it will be a painful transition and the newspaper printed on paper itself will be an anachronism in fifteen years. Ironically, I think we'll probably retain the term "newspaper" for text based journalism long after there's no actual paper involved.

This will be painful, and I can't promise that what we'll get will be nearly as good as what we had, but I don't think there's any way to change the path we're on either.

Seth Godin makes an interesting blog entry on what he'll miss about newspapers. He's kind of an asshole about it, but he makes some good points.

Brownie points and kudos if you can name the newspaper writer I ripped off for the title of this article.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Confessions of a Superhero

You see these guys on Jimmy Kimmel a lot, but it's fascinating to watch this behind-the-scenes documentary on the life of people who dress up like super heroes to sell photo opportunities to tourists on Hollywood Blvd.

Of particular interest is Christopher Lloyd Dennis who plays Superman getting ready for a day as the "man of steel"

Cool animated GIF

I hope everybody can see this in all the various formats they read the blog from

At first I thought maybe it was just an optical illusion, but it really is an animated gif. I love images with subtle movement.

The source is an article on the Popular Science website about a real-life cloaking device which sounds way cool but is still pretty limited in its capabilities.

A Radical Proposal For Peace

How do you respond proportionately to somebody who's willing to die to attack you? You can't, and that's Israel's dilemma. That's also why their enemies have chosen this tactic: it's almost impossible to defend against.

A person who's already decided to die attacking you will attack from a school or a hospital or a mosque. They don't care. Attacking from a place you might be reticent to counterattack might give them a few more minutes to inflict whatever damage they can while you hesitate.

The only thing Israel can accomplish with counter attacks is to diminish the enemies capacities before they build up enough strength to inflict more damage.

It's a catch-22 though. The collateral damage from their counter attacks creates more fanatics who are willing to attack them, so each counterattack may end the current round of attacks from that area, but it lays the groundwork for the next round. It is literally a vicious cycle.

So, how do you break the cycle?

It's brutally painful, but one tactic might be to adapt a policy of no reprisals. If Hamas or Hezbollah launch missiles or mortars into Israel, simply don't respond with violence of any kind.

If counterattacks had any hope of ending the violence, then I would never suggest such an outrageous course of action, but since counterattacks don't end the violence, one has to look at the total body count here, not just which side has the most casualties and a policy of no counterattacks dramatically reduces the total amount of suffering in the region.

Nonviolence may be the only hope for dealing with an enemy that's willing to blow themselves up to attack you or launch missiles from a school playground. An enemy who's already decided to die attacking you isn't going to stop for fear of counterattacks. They don't care what you might do to their countrymen either. All they care about is inflicting as much damage as they can before they die.

It may be inappropriate to refer to the teachings of Jesus in this context, but there's a real genius behind his lessons to give your coat to the man who stole your cloak or turning the other cheek.

Israel can break the cycle of violence if they respond, not with guns but with love. If they worked to build up these areas and improve the lives of the people who lived there, despite the attacks, then their enemies would soon learn that life is a lot better with Israel than with the people who are encouraging them to attack Israel and the violence would end.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mecca and Israel

People say there's no precedent for the Jews returning to Israel. Indeed, nobody has ever repatriated their land after nearly two thousand years in exile the way the Jews did. That doesn't mean there's no precedent though, there's another historical incident in the region that's worth mentioning here.

Image: The Kaba in 1880; Source Wikipedia

Mohamed began his ministry in the city of Mecca where he was born. The existing powers in Mecca saw Mohamed and his followers as a threat, so the newly formed Muslims escaped to Yathrib (later called Medina). When they were strong enough and made the right alliances, the Muslims returned to Mecca, conquering it and the rest of the Arab Peninsula.

Likewise, the Jews were born in Palestine (then called Judea), but the existing power (Rome) saw them as a threat so they were exiled to Europe. Although it took nearly two thousand years, when the Jews were strong enough and made the right alliances, they returned to Judea (then called Palestine) to reclaim their land and re-establish the nation of Israel.

To be fair, the Muslims took control of Mecca in 630 c.e. and the Jews claimed their independence in Israel in 1948 c.e. One would hope that in thirteen-hundred years, human beings would have grown in civility, and indeed I think they have in many ways, but the moral implications and similarities of both events remain applicable.

I'm not wise enough to say whether or not the Jews had a right to take their land back, but I can say that morally it's not all that different from the Muslims taking Mecca. Both were done for the same reasons and both either displaced other people or forced them to convert.

I would like to point out one difference though. For the Jews there is no site more holy than the temple mount, yet when they returned to power they allowed Islam to maintain a mosque on the site, completely under muslim control, but when the Muslims returned to Mecca, they immediately took control of the Kaaba, destroying any non-muslim statue or reference in it or near it, including statues of Jesus and Mary.

I'm a believer in the two-state-solution in Palestine, but for it to work, Islam has to agree that the Jews have a right to establish their own state. One step toward that might be pointing out that what the Jews did in 1948 wasn't really that different from what the Muslims did in 630.

Oops CNN Does it again

Here's the headline: Retail sales drop for 6th straight month

Here's the Sub Head: Slump is the longest in at least four decades.

Pretty dire huh? Ready to cut your wrists yet?

Don't give up hope yet though, buried deep in the article is this: Of the $9.4B drop in sales between November and December, just over half was due to the plunge in gas prices, which pushed gas sales down by $4.9B, or 15.9%.

So, rather than going with a headline that says something like "Retail Sales Drop Driven by Falling Gas Prices", which would be true, instead they go with the end of the world scenario.

Never mind that six months ago gas prices were at an all time high and people were ready to go through the village with torches and pitchforks to hunt down oil executives, or that the real drop in retail sales is more like under 2.4%, let's REALLY scare the crap out of people with our headlines!

People are frightened about their economic future and that's understandable, but it would really help if the fourth estate would step up to the bar and start trying to make things better rather than worse. All they have to do is start reporting the news rather than trying to sell it with supermarket tabloid headlines.

read the article here

Monday, January 12, 2009

Law and Disorder

Mississippi can't ever get in the swing of things. Just when the Democratic party is on the rise nationally, here in Mississippi it's in the crapper, due almost entirely on the fallout from the Dickie Scruggs web of intrigue.

While most of us focused on the executive and legislative branches of state government, the real power was in the judicial all along and since it wasn't as well noticed as the other two, hijinks ensued.

I think it's time to admit that the Republican party, in Mississippi and nationwide, was far too influenced by big business and big finance, but the Democratic party was likewise far too influenced by big law and big labor.

Since Mississippi doesn't offer much by way of big business or big finance, big law stepped in to fill the gap and we're only now discovering the full extent of their influence and their corruption.

How big was it? Let's put it this way: they could afford to pay Ed Peters a million bucks just to be the bag man, and that was just the tip on the tip of the iceburg. I really hate it too, because Peters was a guy I admired in a lot of ways, but a million bucks can do a lot to lure a guy to the dark side.

Looking on the bright side, it may be a good sign that any Mississippi scandal could involve so much money. Maybe that there was so much money to be had is an indication of how far Mississippi has come and how much potential there is out there for somebody willing to do things the right way.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Economic Stimulus

For twenty years now we've been adjusting the Fed Funds Rate as a panacea for all our economic woes. Hey, it worked for Reagan so why not, right?

Adjusting the Fed can provide a short-term stimulus or regulation for the economy, but it's useless for dealing with more systemic problems. The way we've been using the Fed for the last fifteen to twenty years is sort of like treating chronic fatigue syndrome with caffeine.

I'm encouraged by Obama's plan to invest in our infrastructure as a means of economic stimulus. Working on our infrastructure, building roads and bridges, can provide real long term economic stimulus that no quick-fix can.

We need to invest in and develop the means of producing our economy rather than relying on mathematical tricks.

We must develop the means and the discipline of controlling our economy rather than just letting the free market take us wherever the hell it wants to go, because where it wants to go isn't always where we want to go.

Temper, Temper, Temper

Shots ring out in someone's home over the holidays. Someone dies from an argument on what channel to watch on television.

It's really hard to get anyone to control their temper. I've tried lots of different ways and none of them worked very well.

The issue is getting what you want from other people effectively. None of us are very good at it. Those who are good at it are almost dangerous to be around because you never know if they're manipulating you.

Unable to get what we want, we raise the stakes: first by frowning, then by yelling, then by violence. None of this necessarily increases the chances we'll get what we want, so, why do we do it?

Psychologists tell us the culprit is the fight or flight reflex. The tendency to lose our temper is born into us. This fight or flight reflex causes enough problems that I almost wish we were born without it.

They also say you're more likely to lose your temper if you are or have been around people who also lost theirs, which is why the propensity is more common in some cultures and some families than others.

Stress is also a factor. The stress doesn't even have to be related to the issue at hand. Stress in any part of a person's life can lead to losing their temper in others.

Here are some steps that might help to control your temper:

Access the threat: You may not be getting what you want, but are you in danger? If you're not, then realize you're not and adjust your response accordingly.

Break the cycle: Your boss loses her temper with you, her husband lost his temper with her and his mom lost her temper with him when he was a child. If we lose our temper with the next person then the cycle continues, if not then it's broken. It's that simple.

Deal with stress: Stress in any part of your life puts stress on every other part of your life. Deal effectively with stressful situations as they happen to prevent it from spilling over.

Change your perspective: Look at your behavior from the other person's perspective. Are you dealing with them the way you'd want someone to deal with you? If not, why not?

Don't spin your wheels: Losing your temper actually makes it less likely you'll get what you want. What would you rather do, lose your temper or accomplish your goal?

I can't promise that any of these ideas will work for you, but if you've read this article, then at least you're thinking about it and thinking about it is the first step toward controlling any problem.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mohammed's Hope for Peace

If you read the Koran or study the life of Mohammed, it's pretty clear the one thing he really wanted was peace for his people, yet considering the violent strife within the Islamic community and violent strife at almost every border of the Islamic community, peace is something that's eluded Mohammed's followers, almost from the beginning.

Although we, in the west, tend to concentrate on violence between Islam and other cultures, violence within Islam is almost as prevalent. Mohammed himself was threatened by the violence of Arabic tribalism which is why he entered a period of self-imposed exile in Medina. For the lack of peace, he left his home and became a refugee.

I have no idea what it means to receive messages from God, but I do know what it's like to be a man who deeply wants peace and happiness for his people, so it's easy for me to sympathize with Mohammed on that level.

Mohammed created the Constitution of Medina, which was a watershed accomplishment in the very concept of peace among differing people and the traditional greeting among Islamic people is "As-Salamu Alaykum" meaning "peace be upon you". Despite all this, almost from the beginning, Islam has been embroiled in violent confrontation.

You would think peace was possible. Islam is a very disciplined religion, much more so than Christianity and its followers are very devout. If Mohammed wanted peace then there should be peace both within Islam and without, but why isn't there?

Part of the answer may be that, from the beginning, Islam had violence thrust upon them. Mohammed had attained peace in Medina, but soon afterward armed forces from Mecca attacked them. In response, Mohammed left the path of peace and became a man of war.

By unifying the people of Medina and using ideas from outside his own culture (see Salman The Persian), Mohammed was able to repel the attacks from Mecca and force Mecca into a treaty.

That may have been the turning point. To protect his followers, Mohammed made the transition from prophet to general and in the years to come he used his army to conquer not only Mecca, but most the Arabian peninsula.

Instead of maintaining peace in Medina, he became a man of conquest. Elements of a warrior's code found their way not only into the Islamic culture but also into the Koran itself.

I can't posit that Christians are any better than Muslims in this regard. Christians have their own history of violence to deal with that's at least as substantial as Islam's. Jesus may not have been a warrior himself, but his followers certainly took on that mantle.

I would say though, that it's very difficult for a warrior culture to ever find peace, and for one to truly follow Mohammed, it may be necessary to divorce the prophet's desire for peace from his own actions as a military man.

We're trying to come to a point where the people of the world can practice their different faiths without fear that anyone will attack them for it. To do that we have to eliminate all traces of tribalism or primativism or any warrior's code that tries to tell us that the only path to peace and safety is by eliminating anyone who believes or behaves differently from us.

Islam is truly a religion of peace and Christianity is truly a religion of love, but how far are we from either of these in reality? Particularly, we who descend from the faith of Abraham must rededicate ourselves to the real values of our faith beyond the interceding fallacies of tribalism that followed.

Peace? Love? The choice is ours.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cruel God

People say the God of the Old Testament is cruel and if you read it, it seems so.

It's really a matter of perspective though. Writers of the Old Testament ascribed everything in life to God, and since life can be cruel God comes off as cruel sometimes too.

If a city like Sodom is destroyed by a volcano, they felt compelled to come up with a reason so they said the people in the city were sinful and that's why God destroyed them.

I don't know if the people in Sodom were any more sinful than people anywhere else, but there have been several cities destroyed by volcanoes through the ages and people of faith want to know why.

It's hard for people to accept that we don't know why cities are destroyed by volcanoes: probably because they are built near a crack in the crust where magma can force its way through to the surface, but that's not a reason to say God is cruel.

The Old Testament, particularly the Torah, covers a vast period of time and these disasters stand out. It doesn't mean God is cruel though. There are other parts where God is shown as kind and merciful, but those parts aren't nearly as memorable as the more painful ones.

What's missing from the Old Testament is the Jesus message that all things work for the good, and even though life is cruel, it's not the end of the story--there is another life that comes after this one where justice and mercy reign.

If that message were clearer in the Torah and the Old Testament, then God would not seem so cruel. That's why it's so important that Jesus came when he did to give us this message of hope.

Children too think their parents are cruel when they don't get their way and it can take many years for them to understand how much their parents really loved them, especially in the dark times.

God is our parent and the bible is the story some of us wrote along the way of our life with God. There are parts of the story we didn't get exactly right because then and even now our perspective is that of a child and like a child we can't always see how much our parent loves us no matter what happens.

God isn't cruel. God loves us. That doesn't mean things will always be pleasant though. It does mean that we will make it through the unpleasant bits, then and now. There is love and there is hope, no matter what happens.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

They Don't Care About My Opinion

We allow ourselves to really care about things we have little or no control over.

Not just "care about" in a generic sense but really deeply love and become devoted to. Organizations are often the most common target of these feelings, anything involving people: schools, churches, political parties, even sports teams, we develop true and deep feelings for them so that their fortunes, good and bad, become a part of our lives.

It can be heart breaking though because, even if we allow ourselves to become really devoted to these things and spend a great deal of time and effort to try and help them, we often have little or no control over what happens to them.

There have been too many times in my life when I felt like something I cared about was headed in the wrong direction or suffering needlessly and I tried to appeal to the people involved to make things better, only to be told that they were very grateful for my concern and even my service, but they're really not going to implement any of my suggestions or change the path they're on.

It's frustrating because there's this thing you really, really, care about and it's headed for a train-wreck or even in a train-wreck and there's nothing you can do, they're on that path and they're going to stay on that path no matter what you say.

It's a lot like having children. You love them and care about them and try to teach them and help them, you may even be willing to give your own life for them, but ultimately they're in charge of their own destiny and there's nothing you can do about it.

There's just such an organization that I love. I'm not going to say who it is (although some of you have probably already guessed) but for the past eight or nine years, I've been really worried that they were headed in the wrong direction and I've really struggled with the people involved to make things better, but it seems like every time I turn my eyes in that direction, things are just getting worse and nobody is willing to listen to me.

I love loving people and I'm really glad God gave me the capacity to love, but that kind of love can be a cruel mistress sometimes.

Sometimes, I wish what I loved was just a sports team because at least then I'd have the comfort of knowing that ultimately it wasn't really all that important, but I've never been lucky that way: the things I love tend to be more substantial than that.

I really don't have an ending for this piece. There's no lesson here. Just that--loving means opening yourself up to suffering because the world is an uncertain place. It's still worth it though, loving is. If anything I would encourage you to love more, even though it makes you all the more vulnerable, but, how I wish there were another way.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is There a God Delusion?

One of the major tenets of books like The God Delusion and The God Part of the Brain is that we invented God to make ourselves feel better about death and the various insecurities of life.

I don't subscribe to that theory. People use their faith in that way, but, I believe the impetus for our concept for God comes from a very different place: probably from God himself trying to reveal the truth to us or from our own latent ability to see beyond our senses.

Let's suppose for a moment though that it is true; that we invented all this just to make ourselves feel better, to have some comfort and hope faced with the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life.

What kind of cruel person tells people this without offering anything as an alternative?

It's one thing for some over-read, middle class twit like myself luxuriating in the relative ease and security of the west to speculate that God doesn't exist, we at least have the consolation of knowing that we have it fairly well in this life, but most of the world isn't nearly so fortunate.

Most of the world needs some sort of comfort and assurance that their lives have meaning, that they're not just the fodder of evolution and random chance. Even if it is just a delusion, it gives them hope and with hope, even the most unfortunate life becomes bearable and full of potential.

Even though it's controversial, I highly recommend the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The film is the fictional account of Jesus speculating what might happen if he escaped the cross and lived rather than sacrificing himself.

In it, the Jesus that didn't die encounters Paul, preaching about the Jesus that did die. Jesus comes to Paul and says "I am the man you are preaching about", expecting Paul to embrace his new life as an ordinary man, but Paul gets angry. He says that the people he preaches to need the Jesus who died. Jesus says "You can't save the world by lying" and Paul replies:
I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world, then I'll crucify you. And if I have to resurrect you, then I'll do that, too.

...You don't know how much people need God. You don't know how happy he can make them. Happy to do anything. He can make them happy to die and they'll die. All for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. You know, I'm glad I met you. Because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
Death is inescapable. We all know that. We have all always known that. If the concept of God gives us hope in the face of this unerasable but horrible truth, then it is worthy of us, even if it is a delusion.

If a man's search for truth should lead him to the conclusion that there is no God, that's fine, but don't evangelize it, don't shout it, not without something to offer in its stead because it's better for men to live with a delusion but have hope then to know the truth and have none.

Where's the mercy in taking away hope? Where's the love? There isn't any.

People who don't believe have a tendency to consider themselves superior to those who do, because they at least know "the truth".

Maybe that's what they use to fill the void left when they abandon faith. Considering oneself superior in life can go a long way toward replacing the hope they abandon, but that too is only a delusion, because none of us are superior to anyone, no matter what we believe or don't believe.

Science offers us information, not "the truth". Certainly information is innately and uniquely valuable, but it's not God.

One thing that's very clear from the history of science, is that no matter how much information we uncover, there's still more left to be uncovered. Science brings us no closer to complete knowledge now than we were ten thousand years ago.

I'm capable of abandoning my faith. I've done it before. But after very careful consideration, I choose to embrace it now

Maybe I am deluded for believing in God or believing that our lives extend beyond these physical bodies. Maybe I am. But, you know what? I'm satisfied with that.

I'm satisfied with it because I know my limits, and one of my limits is that I need God. I need to know there is more to me and the people I love than just what I perceive.

Official Ted Lasso