Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Another Guide

Now that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has made a temporary jump from geek culture to mainstream culture with the release of the movie I'll discuss the religious aspect of the movie. The book, TV and radio have all had a chance to influence our society with this obscure science fiction. But, what made Douglas Adam's work separate from other science fiction is that he didn't take himself serious but he raised serious questions.

In fact, it's a bit surprising that the Fundamentalist Christians aren't jumping up and down protesting this movie. After all it challenges the fundamental idea that God created us for a purpose. This whole series of stories is based on the idea that earth is a tiny bit of the entire universe. In fact the Earth itself is a bio-computer, which was programmed to solve a problem. The solution to the problem is heralded in geek circles as the meaning of life, and its answer is 42. Of course the problem the bio-computer Earth was asked to solve was finally discovered to be 6 X 9. Most people should recognize that the solution actually doesn't match the problem, unless you are calculating it in base 13.

The whole point of this little story is to point out that our life on Earth could really be pointless.

But the thing that Fundamentalist Christians would surely be upset about if they thought about this is that the premise of the story is that there is a book that guides us through all the problems in the Galaxy. It is an enormous book containing more than a million pages, but it is contained in a little PDA. This is obviously a thinly veiled jab at the book that Christians tend to wave in everyone's face proclaiming truth. The point Douglas Adams is trying to make here is that if there really were a book that had all the answers in it what would it be like. The answer is nothing at all like the Bible.

Douglas Adams continues to slam culture and religion throughout this story in so many situations and ways that it is hard to imagine how a 2 hour movie could be made out of all this material. But, on the other hand, weeding everything except the essential premise out of the movie make it accessible to the short attention span general population who may not think much about its attack on religion.

Douglas Adams asks all the important questions surrounding human existence on this planet in this galaxy. His irreverent answers offer those who are willing to listen an alternative explanation to many of these questions. But, everyone can always say that those answers are truly wrong, because we know that they have never been proven correct. However, instead of simply being a silly story of impossibility it becomes a story of hope.

Hope is a feeling that is the opposite of despair. To look around the world and see people fighting and killing each other over religion and ideology most people feel despair. The reaction of many people is to ignore the world and find another place away from the world to put effort and energy. But, this reaction is like putting ones head in the sand. Douglas Adams manages to proclaim all religion pointless and offer hope that there really is a plan beyond this Earth. It may be just as silly as the religions of the world, but at least it will be the truth.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Private Accounts

Since George W Bush won the 2004 election he became determined to tackle his domestic agenda. Top of the list seems to be Social Security. I am still not clear on the logic surrounding this issue, so I’ll try to understand it by writing down what I’ve been told.

So, first of all the Social Security plan of FDR is currently running just fine, but the future is beginning to look dire because of the number of baby boomers that will begin to retire in the coming years. This is because there isn’t enough money going into the system to cover the payments. We still have about twenty years before the amount of money going into the system equals the amount of money going out of the system. However, there is money in the system that the government owes to social security recipients, because the government spent this money on other programs and wrote IOUs to Social Security. After another twenty years of redeeming these IOUs Social Security will be broke.

So, how does George W Bush plan to fix the problem?

Last night he proposed two ideas that would help fix this problem. The first was to decrease the amount of money the wealthy receive after they retire. This is known as means testing. Obviously this is a fuzzy concept, because it is difficult to know how to determine if you qualify as being wealthy. After you retire your income is much lower than while you are working. If you put your money in foreign accounts, stocks and bonds can it be hidden from the US government in a way that allows one to collect the full payment?

The second solution is to create private accounts. This plan is confusing to say the least. Why is this even being considered? Don’t we already have 401K and IRA accounts? Aren’t these private retirement accounts? So, cutting the amount of mandatory contributions to social security and making those mandatory contributions go into a private 401K or IRA account would essentially be the same exact plan as creating these accounts. So, how does this solve the social security crisis? Wouldn’t that be the same as cutting the amount of money going into social security by the amount of money that is now going into the 401K or IRA plan?

The problem is that Social Security is running out of money. How does this second idea solve the problem?

But, why would the administration be so determined to impose these private accounts without explaining how they solve the problem?

Perhaps the social security plan of George W Bush is just one small step in the direction of getting rid of the program. In order to get rid of a popular plan one must move slowly and deliberately. It wouldn't be popular to eliminate Social Security in one step. But, what is the point of these individual accounts? This plan increases risk with the possibility of making more money. However, the administration doesn't advertise the possibility of loosing more money. Hence the politicians are not being honest with the public. Why don't they want to be honest about this simple truth? This is because they want the plan to pass. Why do they want the plan to pass if it is going to be more risky than the current plan? Social Security can be fixed easily by correcting for the effects of inflation and raising the cap on contributions to 1950 levels for example. Why doesn't the administration want to do this? This is because they want to impose individual accounts. Why do they want to impose individual accounts? They want to do this because after these accounts are in place they can make the simple argument: “Why do you want to give the government your money to invest for you? Can't an average person just take a portion of his take home pay and invest it himself?” Once they make this argument a majority may follow the piper to this tune. I am sure that they will entice people with stories of someone who invested in AT&T at the turn of the century and their kids all live in the Hamptons with their servants.

This could be you! Don't you know?

It’s Not a Question of Faith

Senator Frist has challenged people of Faith, read that Christian Faith, to object to Democrats view that extremist judges have been nominated to the various federal courts. He has claimed that Democrats are opposed to these nominees because of their Christian Faith. Based on the following list of reasons for opposition I find it hard to see that this is the case. Only Pricilla Owens comes close to this because of her extreme activist views against women’s rights issues, which usually means abortion.

Last night George W Bush contradicted what Bill Frist told us about the Democrat’s filibuster as an attack on Faith. He answered a reporter’s question about faith saying that his judicial nominees were not being held up because of their faith. And, he said that faith is a private matter and it shouldn’t be considered.

So, the question becomes, why is the administration so hell bent on ramming these extremist nominees through the process? Is it simply paving the way for appointing an extremist to the Supreme Court when the opportunity presents itself?

Here is the evidence supporting my views on eight of the ten nominees. I haven’t found the other two yet.

From saveourcourts.org

William G. Myers III is being opposed because of his disregard and disrespect for the concerns of the Native American community and his troubling legal philosophy that would elevate property rights to a level of constitutional scrutiny reserved for fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech and equal protection. Among other things, but not because of his opposition to abortion or his Christian faith.

Terrence Boyle is being opposed because “Judge Boyle's record reflects a deep and abiding hostility to civil rights cases based on race, gender, disability, and age.” He is not being opposed for his abortion rights views or his Christian Faith.

Pricilla Owens is being opposed because of “of her activist and extreme views on important civil rights, worker's rights, consumer's rights, and women's rights issues.” So, maybe abortion is an issue with her. But, this has nothing to do with religion.

Brett Kavanaugh is being opposed because of his extreme partisan views and “Such a partisan advocate should not be confirmed for a lifetime position on the critically important D.C. Circuit.” This has nothing to do with religion.

William Pryor is being opposed because “Pryor has demonstrated a commitment to rolling back the clock on federal protections against discrimination based on race, gender, age, and disability. He has pushed his extremist agenda not only through litigation in which Alabama was a party, but also by electing to file amicus briefs in cases in which Alabama was not involved, and through numerous public speeches that make clear that the ideological positions he has taken in these cases are his own.” He is an extreme activist judge that the right claims it doesn’t want. However, his opposition has nothing to do with religion or abortion.

Thomas Griffith is being opposed because “His views on educational equity for women and girls, and the implication of those views for the continued vigorous enforcement of federal civil rights laws, compel us to conclude that Mr. Griffith is a poor choice for the federal appellate bench.” This has nothing to do with Christian Faith or abortion.

Janice Rogers Brown is being opposed because, “Brown's record as a California Supreme Court justice demonstrates a strong, persistent, and disturbing hostility toward affirmative action, civil rights, the rights of individuals with disabilities, workers' rights, and the fairness of the criminal justice system.” This has nothing to do with Christian Faith or abortion.

William Haynes II is being opposed because, “We believe that Haynes' record as the chief architect and defender of the administration's policies regarding the treatment of "enemy combatants" in the United States is so extremist that it raises serious doubts about his commitment to even the most rudimentary principles of due process and human rights.” So he likes the administration’s view on torture which has nothing to do with religion or abortion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

How Democracy Works

Obviously I am not going to be able to write a civics book in my blog. Well, actually I could, but no one would read it. But, I thought that I would try to explain something that continues to bother me about how Americans are programmed.

Yes, Americans are programmed from birth to defend “Our Country” and “Our Government.” Americans are taught from an early age that there is no place on Earth like the Good Ol’ US of A. Obviously this is good for the survival of the Union. But, supporting something without understanding it leads to actions that don’t make any sense.

For example, in a recent discussion about Federal Judicial Appointments we were reminded that some people would accuse activist judges of not being accountable or elected. We were reminded that some people accuse those who disagree with the Constitution as attacking the Constitution. While thinking about this I came up with a few thoughts:

1) Is criticism of the Constitution “good” or “bad?” As an American we should realize that the Constitution is a living document that should be modified when needed. It can not be modified if you don’t question it from time to time. Questioning it will eventually make it stronger.
2) However, Criticism of the Constitution is held to be as evil as criticism of the government or the Bible by the conservatives. So, does that mean that conservatives are not “good” Americans because they don’t want to improve the living document of the Constitution? Of course not, but they feel justified in name calling by saying that progressives are attacking the Constitution. This has the emotional effect of angering those who love “Our Country” and “Our Constitution.” Logic says that they shouldn’t be angered, because the document needs to be continually re-examined. It is not the Bible, it is meant to change.
3) Finally, judges should be un-elected and unaccountable. That is the entire point. If judges serve for a lifetime they will not feel obligated to make rulings that favor someone because of campaign contributions or other perks. Judges should only feel the need to judge actions based on the law. They should not feel the need to be accountable to anyone in order to make fair judgements. However, this phrase has been used in a derogatory way to imply that justice must be controlled. This idea should frighten every American. Without this justices could feel obligated to support efforts like the McCarthy Committee on Un-American Activities. And, then free speech would certainly be a thing of the past.

Democracy is a responsibility that every American has. People don’t usually like to have responsibilities, but in this case our freedom is at stake. If we don’t examine the Constitution as our needs change we are doomed to suffer from the short sightedness of our forefathers. If we don’t continue to keep justices free from politics we will be doomed to have our freedom taken away from us. And if we fail to criticize our leaders they will run away with our liberty and freedom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Activist Judges

Yesterday I swapped cars with my wife. Since the AM radio on my car no longer works I found that I could surf the AM dial for the 40-some minutes that it takes to get to work. I listened to Rush for a while, but his obtuse view of the world makes no sense, and it isn’t even worth arguing about any more. So, I flipped over to the local talk radio where the talk show host isn’t quite so radical. On the way home from work I also listened to the AM dial for the ride home.

I was inspired by one talk show host who pointed out that the radical right is being quite dishonest about its description of activist judges. This talk show host, a self proclaimed Libertarian, had no axe to grind with either side of the aisle. He pointed out that the radical right doesn’t really want to get rid of activist judges. The radical right actually wants to appoint activist judges that want to push the radical right’s agenda. This is normal for the party in power, but they are being dishonest about what they want and how they are doing it.

Take Bill Frist’s speech on Sunday. He is basically claiming that the Democrat’s objection to some judges is an attack on the Christian Faith. However, the ten judges that the Democrats oppose actually are activist judges. The ten judges as a group are being objected to because these judges have a history of interpreting the law to support the conservative agenda instead of following the law. This is exactly the point that the radical right makes against judges that imposed busing back in the 1960s and 1970s.

But, the case that the radical right used to crystallize support to “clean up” the judiciary was the Terri Shaivo case. There have been cries from the radical right saying that activist judges put Terri to death. Even in the one day of talk radio I listened to, I heard callers echoing the cry of Activist Judges putting Terri to death.

However, this is far from the truth. Most laws of the country and certainly the laws of Florida say that the husband actually is responsible for his wife. This means that the non-activist position on this issue is to support the husband. This is the law and to support the wife’s parents is certainly the activist position. If conservatives feel that there is a problem here, then there is a problem with the law and not with the judges. If conservatives think that the law should be changed, then they should change to law to what they think it should be. Perhaps they want parents to retain control over their children even after marriage.

I would suggest that this position is contrary to the Religious Conservative’s reading of the Bible. For example: Gen 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” After the joining of these two people they become responsible for each other.

So, at every level of the court system the Shindlers asked for the judges to be activists. And, the radical right is using a case of consistent non-activism to claim that the courts are full of activist judges. To make matters worse they are trying to change the Senate debate rules in order to place radical activist judges on the bench. Then Tom DeLay has said that he will cut funding to the activist judges in Florida that allowed Michael Shaivo to let his wife die. And to top off the deceptive practices of the radical right they are publicizing this radical effort by calling it an effort to remove activist judges.

An interesting thing to note is that when governments grab for power they tend to go after the judicial branch. Of course this is because friendly judges will not prosecute crimes of the leaders who appointed them. If the radical right floods the courts with activist radical right judges, then the law will no longer apply to the leaders of the radical right. This issue is actually more important than most people realize, because it goes to the heart of our Democracy. People like Tom DeLay will be able to break the laws with no consequences, while people like Bill Clinton will face hypocritical abuse of power like impeachment for infidelity.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Just Another Trip

Yesterday I was driving through the California farmland, cutting across fields and orchards on a well-traveled road. Suddenly the cars ahead of me came to a screeching halt. My daughter said that it must be the traffic light up the road. If it goes to blinking red the traffic backs up. But I thought to myself that the traffic light was quite a ways up the road. Cars kept coming in our direction, so there wasn’t any reason to believe that the road was closed. The cars ahead of me continued to move slowly forward.

After about 10 minutes I noticed that a number of the cars coming in the other direction had passed us earlier on the road. In fact, I saw a few cars actually turn around just a few cars ahead of me. But, as I began to realize that the road was indeed blocked I noticed something quite unusual. There was a fountain of water shooting out of the ground producing a fountain higher than the near by telephone poles. I figured that the road could be opened soon if that was the only problem, because it was clearly off to the side of the road.

Then as we actually got close enough to have a clear view of the fountain I saw that the water was coming out of an irrigation pipe. Just as we were observing this sight a television news truck went racing by us on the shoulder of the road. Then almost in slow motion animation the water spewing out of the pipe began to grow smaller and smaller. I watched as the cameraman jumped out of the truck and ran to a spot to get a glimpse of the now tiny fountain. And, as he placed the camera on his shoulder the water shut off completely.

I watched for a few minutes thinking that the cameraman might ask them to turn the water back on just for a minute so they could get a good shot of the spectacle. But, instead a fireman pointed to the cameraman to take a shot of something else.

By this time I knew that we wouldn’t be going through for a while, because a couple of firemen started telling people to turn around and go the other way.

I knew which TV news I was going to watch last night, because curiosity had me in its grasp. And, it turned out that the news story was the first story last night.

Now, as Paul Harvey says, for the rest of the story. Apparently a police officer was in hot pursuit of a speeder who refused to stop. Being a four-wheel drive SUV they decided to take off through the farm fields. The police car took off after it and rolled his car into a telephone pole and broke the irrigation pipe. The shot the cameraman used was a picture of the police car lying on its roof. The three men riding in the SUV got stuck in the mud and they jumped out and ran across the field where they jumped a fence. Two of the men were caught while the third was still on the run. Quite exciting I would say, but I had no idea what was happening while I was sitting on the road waiting for traffic to move even though I was right there at the scene of the crime.

This leads me to think about events that we never know about. This leads me to think about the events that we do know about and why we know about them. I don’t know what the answer is because I’m not even sure what the questions are. I don’t think there was really a problem with the news coverage of this event, but I thought it was interesting to watch some of it from behind the scenes.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Religions in America

All religions believe that God has given them the answers to every moral question that there is. They also believe that God is infallible. The interesting thing is that not all of these religions agree on these laws given by God. Why is that? It is because people are fallible. It would seem that no matter what path that you would take to religion and theology you would come up with the way God wants you to live. How could you arrive at any other answer? It is because people choose not to listen to all of the signs that God gives us. People are selfish by nature and the want policy to favor them and when they have control they choose to construct rules that favor them.

Take for example the original reason that priests are not allowed to marry and have a family. The reason stems from inheritance. If the priest is not married, then his property is free to go to the church and would not be contested by wives or children. This simple church rule allowed the Catholic Church to build its wealth and property to unimaginable levels.

The pope is just another person and a large number of Catholics believe that the Church has misunderstood what God wants. Maybe God does want the sexes to be treated differently, but this assumption doesn’t seem to be born out except in some of the misogynistic writing’s of St. Paul. Jesus on the other hand trusted women in his preaching. But even St. Paul wasn’t totally misogynistic. He thanks a large number of Women in Chapter 16 of his letter to the Romans. How can a church proclaim equality among sexes and also say that women can not be priests? This looks like hypocrisy at almost any level I can think of.

But, I shouldn’t only consider the Catholic Church, there are many misunderstandings and disagreements between Protestant Christian Faiths. Was Mary a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth? Was she a virgin until she died? Is the body of Jesus actually in the Eucharist, or is it a metaphor or symbolic? Is God the actual father of Jesus, or is God the father of Jesus just as He is the father of us all?

But, why should I limit this discussion to Christianity? How can a man be a “good” person? What does a man need to do to find Nirvana or Heaven? What is the afterlife? Is there an afterlife? What is the role of nature in man’s life? Are there minor deities? What is the role of sacrifice in our lives? Is wealth a “good” thing? What are the problems with wealth and how should we treat the poor? Can sins be forgiven? If so, how are they forgiven? Are there sins? What sins are the most heinous? What is the nature of the supernatural? How is the sacred related to the profane? Why should we try to be “good?” Is there a special day that should be set aside to worship God? What day is that?

How can America welcome people from all religious faiths to this country not be open enough to except a wide variety of religious faith? It is strange that during prohibition the Catholic Church was allowed to import wine to use for celebration of the Eucharist, but native Americans who use psychoactive drugs in there rituals have not been able to use those drugs legally. An objective reader should be bothered by this case of hypocrisy, and worried about the direct the Radical Right is taking our country.

Sudden Snail Death

I have always loved keeping a fish tank. I had at least one tank until I graduated from college. However, when I moved to Texas I never considered bringing my tank with me. I never really had time of money to set up a fish tank until we moved to California nearly ten years later.

About two years ago I received a 50-gallon fish tank for my birthday. I never had a tank this large, but from all the literature I believed that a 50-gallon tank would be just as easy to keep and maybe even easier than the smaller tanks I had been accustomed to keeping. In fact, I was lead to believe that because of the large amount of water in the tank the less sensitive the tank would be to fluctuations in the chemistry of the tank.

A few weeks ago I noticed that some of the live plants I have living in the tank had died and fallen to the bottom of the tank. These plants normally float on the top of the tank and offer places for the fish to hide and some vegetation to supplement their diet. Importation of these plants to the tank also brought a small number of snails with them. Snails are actually very good for the health of the tank, because they eat scraps that fall to the bottom of the tank.

In order to clean the scraps of dead plants off the bottom of the tank I used a siphon that I have used many times before. This siphon has a large mouth at one end that picks up loose material on the bottom of the tank. For the most part the filter takes care of cleaning the water, so it isn’t necessary to siphon dirt off the bottom of the tank very often.

Well, I siphoned dirt from the bottom of the tank and some of the dirt that was actually trapped in the gravel. The tank looked much nicer and I didn’t worry about anything.

About a week later I noticed that the snails had laid a large number of eggs all over everything. Then over the next few days the snails began to die off. In a very short period of time the snails were all dead. Then I noticed that the guppies began to die a few at a time. I had no idea what happened. In fact I had no clue as to why cleaning the tank would have anything to do with the snails dying off. I thought that maybe there was a virus that had been harbored in the siphon I had used. But, how could I have had a virus that would attack the snails so strongly and also effect the guppies. The guppies were dying at about one or two per day, but it is a large tank with a large number of guppies and only about eight tetras and two catfish. The tetras and catfish didn’t seem to be effected at all.

My daughter came home from school and we were talking about the problem with the tank. She said that they had made a pH indicator at school from red cabbage juice and we could check the pH of the tank with it if we bought a red cabbage. “Maybe it is the pH,” I thought, but I still couldn’t understand how the pH could have changed by cleaning the tank.

Well, I didn’t buy a red cabbage, but I did look on the web for what might cause snails to die. There was a list of things that might cause the problem, but I could rule out almost every one accept the low pH. The acid dissolves the snail shell and eventually they die.

Finally, yesterday I went to the pet store to pick up food for the cavies and mice. But I wandered over to the aquarium supplies to see if acidic water was a problem that could be treated. I found a pH indicator that was sensitive in the range from 6.2 to 7.6. And I found a bottle of pH up, which is just a bottom of some base solution that shouldn’t harm the fish. I also read a bit about aquarium pH and I found that egg laying fish actually like the water to be slightly more acidic. And, live bearing fish like the water to be slightly more basic. That would explain why the guppies (live bearers) were effected and the tetras (egg layers) were not.

I took the pH indicator home and I found the pH to be very acidic. I can only raise the pH of the aquarium 0.2 per day, so it will take several days to get the tank back up to 7.0 (neutral). I also need to look into using some filter material to help keep the tank neutral.

Wish my fish luck.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reflection on a Comment

I was hoping to have a little more response to my entry on Progressive Politics. I thought that readers on the right would tell me what was wrong with this view of politics. I was quite surprised that I had so few comments.

I did have a series of comments from one reader who said the following:

“Progressive politics relies on the belief that human beings themselves can be improved. Conservativism (sic) denies this.”

Of course one example of a man improving himself comes to mind. So, I told him how George W Bush claims to have improved himself. I asked him if he was denying this improvement.

He came back with the following:

“I never said persons cannot change. But a New Style People will never be created.”

Of course I have no idea what a New Style Person is. I asked for a definition and an explanation. He also started writing about horizontal and vertical controls, which I was more apt to understand in terms of a video control. This term must be some right wing jibber-jabber of some sort, because I have never heard of them before and my commenter never bothered to explain what they mean. But he did come back to define New Style Person. He wrote:

“Individuals can change. But the people (the mean of society, the "average man," whatever) does not.”

This means that the average of society remains constant. So, for every person who improves himself there is another poor bloke who falls from the grace of God. If this is truly the conservative philosophy it is very nihilistic. What is the point of trying to make things better? If this is the basic philosophy of conservatives, then no wonder they feel so selfish. “Get what I can for myself before I become the poor slob who looses everything” must be the conservative motto.

I wonder if this could actually be proven by some measurable quantity. So, we could look at some measurable quantities to test this theory. Lets look at education. Students are tested every year. If the conservative theory were correct there would not be any point of making this measurement, because it would always be the same. But, the point could be to point out which schools are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. But, based on this conservative philosophy nothing could be done to change anything on average. If you improve the education at the poor schools, then the better schools must slip into mediocrity. If you are still reading this I hope that you realize the absurdity of this statement.

If we look at the economic situation we would come to the conclusion that the mean income must remain the same. Well, maybe it should be corrected for inflation. This means that the economic boom after the Second World War never happened. It also means that the great depression was also in the imagination of the people who lived through it. What absurdity!

But, maybe he is referring to ethics or morality. After all he is a self-proclaimed Christian and morality may be his only true concern. If this is so, then what is the point of Christian Evangelization. With all the effort in the world the average number of people who are going to be saved must remain the same. Why make the effort if you don’t believe that the effort is going to make a difference. Why not become a monk or recluse and make sure that you are going to be saved. After all the mean number of people who are going to be saved remains constant no matter what effort you make.

The idea of creating a new style person dates back to Karl Marx. He believed that once people were forced to work for the common good of the community they would realize that working for the common good of the community was better than working for yourself. This was obviously proven false with the collapse of the experiments of communist and socialist countries. But, like I pointed out in my entry on progressive politics, progressives want to try new ways to make things better. If they learn that something doesn’t work they try new ways to make a better society. No one is suggesting forced communism or socialism in the United States. The idea that liberals or progressives are suggesting that is a scare tactic being used on the right to get people to fear the idea of improving society.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Progressive Politics

When people are introduced to politics they don’t usually get a couple of lectures on each type of politics and asked to decide which group they would like to throw their support behind. Many people never really hear both sides of the argument in a non-biased way. This is because politics is biased by nature. If someone is interested in politics enough to tell you about politics they will tell you their side of the story. This can be done in two different ways.

The first way is to tell you all the bad things about the other group. They can go on about this for hours, because it’s always easy to find bad things about people if you look hard enough. The second way is to tell someone all the good things about your group. This is an equally valid way to present your argument, but it takes more time and it is generally nuanced with details that most people don’t care about. It is quite easy to come up with denigrating slogans that make fun of the other side, but it is more difficult to condense your view of the future under the leadership of a political party into a few meaningful words.

So, it comes down to politics is like religion. Someone tells you about a political way of thinking, but they don’t tell you the rest of the story. It could be your parents or your peers. You could even read about politics in books or watch political commentary on your favorite news channel. But, no matter where you learn about politics it’s usually biased in some way. I am no different, so I thought that I’d describe some of the positive aspects of progressive politics.

Progressive has several definitions, but they are all generally referring to the same concept. The first three are here:

1. Moving forward; advancing.
2. Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change.
3. Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods: a progressive politician; progressive business leadership.

So, the idea is to move forward and make things better. This means that in order to move forward and make things better we must make two assumptions. We need to assume that things are currently not as good as they could be, and we must assume that there is a way to make them better.

This is opposed to conservative ideology that assumes that things are very good now, unless of course there are things that have recently changed for the worse.

So, the progressive ideology must look for the things that need to be improved and decide which are the most important things that need to be changed and prioritize the importance of changing these things. Once the most important issues are identified a plan is needed to improve the problem.

Most people usually find themselves on different sides of the fence on different issues. It would certainly be irrational to change everything because changing everything without a good plan would be irresponsible. It is equally irresponsible to refuse to change anything or change everything back to some known “good” time based on the idea that everything that the government is doing is working perfectly well or worked well at some previous time in history. In real everyday politics we know that there are only a few issues that are being debated and considered and they come down to the issues of how we should take care of the poor, working class, and the wealthy classes when it comes to economics.

When it comes to ethical laws should they be determined by religion as they were in the past, or should we create a new way of creating ethical laws based on what is best for a multicultural multi-religious society. Conservatives believe that religion has done a good job in the past and we should rely on tradition to dictate laws. Progressives believe that religious ethical ideas are arbitrary from religion to religion and a better law that encompasses many religious ideas would be better and each person is still free to observe there personal religious laws under these laws. Progressives ask the questions: “Why should one religion hold more influence than other religions in this multi-religious society. Likewise, why should one cultural perspective dictate one perspective to see the world?”
In addition to economics and ethics, the preservation of our environment has also been a crucial issue among progressives. Progressives believe that the current rates of consumption of natural resources can not be sustained. If we want to live in a clean future we need to consider how we are going to get to that future. Conservatives believe that they don’t see any problems with the current course and when they do they will be able to correct the course by economics. Progressives believe that change now is cheaper and easier than changes further down the road.

Almost any issue in today’s politics stems in some way from these three issues, the three E’s. Education, crime, drugs, guns, and war all come from these issues in one way or in more than one way. Education leads to opportunity and a way out of the economic despair that the poor regularly experience. How much money we should contribute to each of these issues falls out of the economics of the issues. The ethics of protecting our children from temptation and danger stem from the ethics issues. When we should fight wars with weapons or words also stems from the ethics of protecting our nation verses ethics or protecting the innocent citizens of other countries and the world. One could even argue that the protection of the environment and the economics of the classes are themselves actually descendent from the over arching ethics, and conservatives do argue this way. But I would say from a society point of view these issues rise to the same level ethics because society must have a “good” environment and a “good” economics in which to prosper just as we should have “good” ethics. I would also say that which industries get tax breaks are economic issues but not necessarily ethical issues.

Since, make progress on these issues is not guaranteed and quite often different ways of improving our life require experiment and trial and error progressives are sometimes painted as flip-floppers by the conservatives. This is because the effects of change are not always known with certainty. But, with progressives the vision is known even if the path is not known. With conservatives the path and vision have been lived before and to change it in hopes of improvement are too risky. Conservatives by definition avoid risk.

The above paragraph illustrates how progressive politics offers the traditional American vision of a great future based on taking risks. This is the spirit of the colonists and the pioneers. In my view it is quite sad that America has taken a step backward to take less risk out of the fear that risk may yield failure. In fact, many of the working class Americans that have been lured to follow the conservative ideology don’t actually realize what this means for their vision of the future. Conservatives would like to change the economy back to the times before regulations and unions. They are looking back to the 1890s or 1920s as the golden years. We should remember that these were the years where corporations exploited workers and unions rose up to fight this exploitation. The wealthy class lived in style with servants and didn’t associate with the lower classes. Prohibition was a law that effected the working class, but not the wealthy who had alcohol shipped in to private parties.

The point is that Progressive Politics offers a clear and bright future with calculated risk. Conservative politics offers more of the same, or actually turning the clock back to nostalgic times of the wealthy which offers less risk to the wealthy and ironically more risk to the working class and the poor.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I Hate Running

I hate running. I ran cross-country in High School, and I hated every moment of it. I hated the start when everyone pushes and shoves everyone out of their way. I hate going up the hills when you feel like you can no longer run but you have to walk. I hate running down the hills when you begin to go faster than you can control and you trip and fall. I hate the finish of the run when the other runners run by you and you are doing your best just to pick your feet up and cross the line.

Somehow I thought that if I trained and got better at running I would get to the point where I could at least tolerate running. When I was young I swam on a swim team and trained extensively. Swimming like running is just a continuous motion trying to make distance as fast as you can. But running distance differs from swimming distance in that after every length of the pool you move in a slightly different way. There is gliding after each push off that offers a short moment of recovery that you just don’t get in running. So, I was attracted to overcoming my hatred of this activity.

I graduated from High School and I no longer needed to run distance again. But it wasn’t that easy, because I got older and fatter. I needed a way to exercise – to get back into healthy shape. But I hate running and when you are out of shape and hate running it is very hard to motivate yourself. My wife ran cross-country in high school and she egged me into running with her. But, she was in better shape and faster than I was, so I needed another way to exercise.

Finally last year an athletics club near our house built a pool. Finally I could workout doing something that I liked. It worked and I got healthier than I have been in the almost twenty years. Being healthy motivates you to do things that you might not normally do. And, I started running on the treadmill at the club. I did it more out of challenge than a strong desire to run. I also thought that running on a treadmill was “safe.” I could quit running at any time and just get off the treadmill at any point without a need to walk (or crawl) home after I hit the “wall” running. So, I started running more and more on the treadmill until I was running more than 5 miles. If I get to 6.2 miles that would be 10k.

But, with my new found confidence I started running 5k races, which are only 3.2 miles. And, until yesterday I always found it difficult to run a constant pace. I would run too fast, get tired, then I would walk a bit and finally start to run again. But, yesterday I finally ran a 5k race and I didn’t walk any of the race at all. And, it was the first run that I ever ran and actually enjoyed every moment of the race.


During the 1960s I was a young patriot child. At least I knew that I was American and I knew that America was on the side of “good” in the war between “good” and “evil.”

I have particularly vivid memories of the summer of 1969. It had nothing to do with Woodstock or going to San Francisco with flowers in my hair. Instead it was the patriotic feeling that comes with going to a Fourth of July parade wearing the three-cornered hat of the American Revolution and carrying a toy musket. This was the summer when I was eight years old and many of my ideas about America began to interest and confuse me.

The previous summer we had traveled to Williamsburg, VA. My parents had always enjoyed history and architecture and a vacation to Williamsburg offered a place to study both. I learned about the colonial times and the founding of our country. This is where I got the musket and the three-cornered hat. The following year when our Banana Bikes became our horses we proudly fought the British the entire summer.

Later that July Apollo 11 landed on the moon and I couldn’t have felt prouder to be an American.

But, in 1969 we also traveled to Illinois to visit my cousins. Politics became a heated debate between my parents and my Aunt and Uncle. I listened and I learned quite a bit. Since the Democrat’s convention in 1968 had been held in Chicago, my uncle pointed out the convention center and the park where the protesters stood. Being only eight and being sheltered in my parent’s house I knew very little about the greater argument that was taking place in the country as a whole. In the months following this visit I actually asked questions about war and racism and poverty and the radical protesters of the 1960s. I learned of the brother of my mother’s friend who was killed in Vietnam and I couldn’t understand what they were fighting for. Amid all of this history that was happening I still had the backdrop of the Revolutionary War behind me.

If I think about the Revolutionary War and the people who fought in it I wonder what they saw that was so important that one would give their life for the cause. The simple fact about the war was that it centered on the exploitation of the colonists by the British doesn’t seem to effect the working class. The irony of this was that some of the colonists who had problems with the British were both exploiting slaves and exploiting working class employees.

But in 1775 when the Minutemen woke up early that April morning because of Paul Revere’s Ride we need to wonder why the farmers turned out. The farmers had strong feelings about the ownership of the land. Those feelings did not extend to the British who ruled from several thousand miles away. So, when the Minutemen heard that the British were coming to confiscate the weapons the colonists had collected together they left their homes and met the British head on at the North Bridge just outside of Concord. This standoff at the Bridge is romanticized as a true patriotic act. These farmers from Concord and Acton and other surrounding communities put their lives on the line to prevent the British from taking their weapons.

In my eight-year-old mind I could see that the protestors were also being patriotic. These protestors had realized that the government had gone astray and put the interests of international corporations ahead of the American people. This time those in opposition realized that the authority was fighting a war that wasn’t in the national interest of the people. But, at the very same time there were people who believed that stopping the spread of Communism was the highest of American values. Fighting this war was a patriotic endeavor. In fact, this group began to suggest that those who go against the government were not patriotic because the government was America. But they could be further from the truth, because American is the people, not the government. After all, Thomas Jefferson said it best, “Decent is the highest form of patriotism.”

When you muster the courage to stand up against the immense strength and power of authority in the form of government in the interest of the people you are truly being patriotic to the highest degree. I believe that is what I am doing in the blog. I believe this is what the group over at “Bring It On” and “Right Wing Nut” are doing. These are the true patriotic efforts of the modern age.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Shock – More Hatred in the Blogosphere

Cao or Caohanifin or Whatever is attacking the French again. Her evil gang of right wingers don’t even understand the ideology and philosophy of Jesus, let alone the Republican Party. The Bush administration is trying to apologize to Europe without actually saying it. Cao is still pushing the “hate France” button on her blog. The rest of her clan gathers round to hear the wisdom of her hate. Well, like the Christians have always taught, “Evil has a pretty face.” The Christian preachers always warned their followers to watch out for the anti-Christ, because he (or she) would look desirable, but the anti-Christ’s actions would show us his (or her) true face.

So, Cao’s writings have degenerated into attacking, not just ideology or philosophy, but a couple who live in France because they have shown their gall to raise their heads and speak the truth against the hatred she has dispensed. These people are not just patriots with national ideology at stake, but we should invent a new word that means patriot in the sense of making the world a better place. These worldly patriots make the world better by promoting peace and unity instead of ranker and cancer on the world stage.

I pointed out Cao’s writings out as an example, but she is not alone in spreading hatred in the blogosphere. In fact, the right side of the political spectrum has taken to attacking the left with posts like these as in the same way that gangs walk around the New York subway platforms and spit on the beggars for not joining their gang and selling the drugs that is their economic lifeline.

These people are actually working for peace and they actually have morals and ethics. Unlike the likes of the false Christian morals lacking tribe or clan or is it a gang? These so-called Christians tend to use the Bible as a weapon to get their right wing fascist propaganda into the innocent heads of children. I feel so sad for these so-called Christians and their so-called souls. Hopefully Jesus will have pity on them, for they do not understand what they say. They do not understand the harm and hate they spread with their evil ideology.

It is a strange world that we live in where people who are teaching and spreading peace are being abused by people who are claim to know the Bible and claim to love Jesus.

If this isn’t the exact hypocrisy that Jesus rails against in Matthew chapter 23 then I don’t think that I will ever live to see it.

Where did Jesus teach us to spread hate and hate those who love?

Why is it that Cao stopped writing “Warm Words” in October of 2004? Perhaps she no longer needs to pretend that she has any warm words now that the election was won by the fascists…

A Total Disregard for Economics

A Total Disregard for Economics

Taxes are on my mind. That yearly (or quarterly) torturous ritual of going over your records and determining what you owe to cover the expense of living in a modern society.

My pet peeve at tax time is how Congress has total disregard for economics. I don’t care what party you support or hate, Congress passes laws that work for the current time and place, but they do not take into regard the changes that happen in our economic system. Inflation, efficiency, economic growth and many other economic variables are rarely considered.

Disregard can be seen every year when you look at the Child Tax Credit. This is an arbitrary value that is not tied to any real economic variable. The idea is that politicians intend to make families with children happy enough to consider voting for them again at the next election. Congress thinks to itself, “how much child tax credit do I need to add enough votes to my side of the equation?” People with children tend to vote, because they care about the kind of world their children will grow up in. They may feel slightly more emotional about these things than your typical single male who is just trying to make ends meet. So, when things were looking gloomy after 9/11/2001 George W Bush thought that increasing the Child Tax Credit would make families with children feel a little bit richer. But, that tax credit wasn’t based on any economic principle. The only economic principle was to get more money into the economy quickly. This could have been done both more fairly and more efficiently. But it wasn’t.

But, what really shows disregard for understanding economics is the disregard for inflation. This is one such variable that Congress never takes into account. This is because most people think of money in terms of its current value. But money always looses its value if it isn’t invested in something that maintains its value over time. For example, if you invest your money in real estate the value of your assets is tied to the value of your real estate investment. Everyone needs a place to live and homes are built to last a reasonable length of time, therefore the value of a house will rise when the value of money goes down. One house is still going to be equal to the value of one house in the neighborhood you live in. If you invest your money in stocks, the value of the company is bound to go up with inflation because the value of one food company now is likely to be worth the value of one food company after inflation raises the prices of everything we buy. So, when Congress sets an absolute income level for a tax rate to kick in we should realize that the tax rate will always be lower after inflation acts.

For example, if Congress says that people making less than $10,000 a year don’t need to pay taxes this year, and the law isn’t changed for ten years then people who make $5,000 a year this year would actually pay taxes ten years from now. Well, I don’t actually mean the exact same people, but instead people who are doing the jobs and getting paid at that rate this year and people in ten years who are doing the same type jobs and get paid the inflation corrected rate in ten years. So, if congress does nothing about taxes the compounded inflation effect actually lowers all of the set points for taxes every year in a very gradual way until more and more people have to pay higher and higher taxes.

But, this type of tax increase effects people who earn their income through salaries or wages. People who have their assets in stocks, bonds and real estate are not effected in the same way. This is because these items are taxed by percentages and there are very few places where there are cutoffs that are determined by absolute values. People who have assets in the stock market pay taxes on dividends. The tax on dividends is not dependent on how much money you make, but instead it is based on a percentage of the dividend earned. And, that tax was lowered under the Bush tax cut, a clear bonus paid to the wealthy.

So, what Republicans have managed to do was to raise taxes on the lowest income taxpayers by not doing anything about taxes. Inflation did it job. One particularly nasty tax that has been taking effect slowly is the alternative minimum tax. This tax was placed on the wealthy many years ago. It was intended to prevent the wealthy from declaring so many deductions that they didn’t need to pay any taxes. Once someone makes more than this value many deductions become null and void. The effect is to be a sudden increase in taxes once you make more than this value. Because of inflation more families earn more than $100,000 per year and this increase in tax is swallowing more people. Republicans who control Congress don’t want to do anything about this tax, because the longer they put this off the more revenue the government makes on this disregard for inflation. The more revenue the government acquires from the middle class, the less revenue that is required from the wealthy or the corporate taxpayers. This is good for the Republicans who get most of their campaign funding from these two groups. Congress doesn’t have to vote to raise taxes, but taxes are effectively going up with respect to inflation anyway.

If Congress would actually tie not only taxation but also projects to economic variables that mattered, then taxes would become more stable and the economy would become more stable. Taxes would fluctuate, but the government would be able to finance projects that were planned and approved ten years earlier. Government spending would not depend as much on changes in the economy. The business cycles could be flattened out and people could more honestly predict government requirements for projects and voters would have better information to be able to decide which projects would be better for the community.

Of course that is a fantasy of what could be. I know the reality is no where near that nice. But, if the government were more honest about the economics it would be a small step toward a fair system of taxation.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Johnny B. “Good” is Dead

Johnnie Johnson was Chuck Berry’s keyboard player and he died yesterday April 13, 2005 at the age of 80. In an interview with Terry Gross recorded earlier he admitted that he was “the Johnny” that Chuck Berry wrote the song about. Johnnie Johnson was a restless musician who wasn’t happy just playing in the band. He said that on most nights Chuck Berry was done playing around 9:30 or 10:00 which is quite early for the Club Scene. Because of his tendency to go out to clubs and sit in with other bands until late in the evening Johnnie acquired a reputation for being a hard partying guy. In fact drinking was the reason Chuck Berry used to describe why he decided to break up with the band and tour solo. Johnnie continued to claim that he was more interested in playing in bands that offered different styles than the Rock-n-Roll of Chuck Berry. None-the-less Johnnie’s reputation earned him the lead in the now famous song: Johnny B. Good. This phrase had been used to scold Johnnie Johnson many times before it made it into the lyrics, but he would argue that it wasn’t deserved. However, he was proud to say that the song was about him in the interview with Terry Gross replayed today on Fresh Air today, April 14, 2005.

Fresh Air today, April 14, 2005

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I do some of my best thinking while I surf the blogosphere reading blogs from every corner of the world. People think the strangest things and they come up with the strangest justifications for their thoughts. The funny thing is that somewhere there was a seed of truth that bore out the strange thoughts.

I ran across the blog of a teenaged Christian who was complaining about the difficulty of being a Christian. He claimed that part of his difficulty was not his fault, but the fault of the television that broadcast sin. He described the sin in the form of scantily clad women. In another entry he went on to talk about the child of a preacher he knew who had fallen away from Christianity. Perhaps his description was not exactly this blunt, but it began to remind me of this age-old problem of the preachers kid (PK) always being the first to see the hypocrisy of the preacher. They know the hypocrisy of the preacher and they have been pushing the limits since they were tiny. They know the reality of the situation, because they live with the preacher every day.

I wrote the following comment describing the irony of the “bad” PK.

“If anything, meeting a “bad” preacher’s kid should shed light on the reality of religion. Christians go through phases like the followers of any religion. They jump on the bandwagon and take it in without question. After some period of time reality sets in and the lies of the claims become apparent. Doubt sets in and religion falls to a more realistic level. What people don't tell you is that the more gullible you are in the first phase the more skeptical you will become in the second phase.

“Remember, moderation is the key...”

Well, teenagers aren’t much for irony or moderation. I tried to explain what I meant a couple of times, but I could see that he wasn’t interested in thinking about it. Another teen claimed that moderation was not an option when it came to the Bible. “God gave us all the answers in the Bible and we just need to follow.”

Well, it got me to thinking about the scantily clad women he mentioned in his first entry. The idea that scantily clad women on TV was a sin was a bit puzzling. Were the women being sinful for being scantily clad, or was the viewer being sinful for watching the TV. If it was the latter, the viewer could just turn off the TV and find something to read. If it was the former, how could wearing little or even no clothing being justified as a sin. I don’t remember reading that walking around naked commandment. I don’t remember Jesus saying to clothe the sinners.

Well, I dropped a note to my friend to ask him who the sinner was, the performer or the viewer. He responded by telling me that both were sinners. He quoted me from the Lord’s prayer saying “lead us out of temptation.” He told me that the Bible tells us not to lust.

Based on this then there is no sin in being naked. Temptation is not a sin, temptation is a precursor to sin. You are tempted before you sin. Therefore being tempted in itself is not a sin. Seeing a naked woman is the temptation, not the sin. The sin may be what you do with the naked woman later. So, it makes sense that people who are weak and may be tempted into sin by seeing naked women should avoid viewing naked women.

But, this goes for other things besides viewing naked women. For example, people may be tempted to kill the preacher’s kid because he is a real pain in the ass. He may play his Christian music at top volume and you feel like you want to just go get a gun and shoot him in the head. Should the sight of guns be avoided so you aren’t tempted to kill him? Are movies that depict people who kill their neighbor be considered sinful? They are leading some people into temptation, aren’t they? Should the sales of handguns be prevented because of the sinful temptation of the handguns? Maybe the pervert is actually contemplating killing a robber. The temptation to become the hero vigilante might be to great once a person owns a gun.

It makes complete sense that one should not want to be lead into temptation, but the things that temp a person vary from person to person. It may seem strange that people are shot more often by a gun owned by someone they know than by a gun owned by a stranger. But if you consider the increase in temptation when the gun is only a few feet away it doesn’t seem that strange any more. Maybe sometimes the temptation just becomes to great.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Naming Names

I was listening to the BBC news the other night and I was shocked to hear the names of the witnesses and accusers in the Michael Jackson case. I guess I was under the impression that the names had been concealed by the judge or by law. They may be, here in the US, but apparently in the UK anything goes. In this day and age of instant communication it is quite strange that the names of these people are not rolling off the tongues of those who talk about these things.

So, the question is: “Was this censorship done by choice or by force?” Personally I don’t know, but it is quite interesting to read the BBC stories with the people’s names in it. See for yourself:

BBC Coverage of the Jackson Case

So, I guess the USA isn’t the freest nation in the world anymore.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Reflections on the Passing of a Leader

I have had a few days to think about the passing of Pope John Paul II. I began my reflection on him by thinking about where I was when Pope Paul VI died. I know exactly where I was when he died because I was on a bus riding it from Colorado to Ohio. It was over a thirty-six-hour period spanning a Sunday. Most people may not think twice about this, but as a Catholic this was a minor problem. I wasn’t able to attend mass that weekend, because I was trapped on a bus. I had always thought that it was funny that I could say, “The first Sunday that I ever missed mass, the Pope died.” Obviously the two events had nothing to do with each other. And two months later when Pope John Paul I died I attended mass as usual, so it wasn’t my fault. But, it’s a funny story none-the-less.

I have kept a Journal since High School, so I thought that I would look for an entry from the end of the Summer in 1978 to see what I was doing. The interesting thing was that I had no entries for much of the entire year from June 1978 to June 1979. This was my senior year in High School, and I had been quite introspective over the first three years of High School. By writing down my thoughts and re-reading them I had learned quite a bit about myself, but I also learned to over analyze every situation. By June of 1978 it became so bad that I forced myself not to write in my Journal anymore so that I could learn to live in the “real world.” At least that is one of my last entries in June of 1978.

So, when the death of the Pope happened I have no record of my thoughts or feelings on the subject. Instead I have memories of what took place. I don’t remember anything specific. I don’t even remember being shocked that John Paul I died only 33 days after becoming Pope. I would guess that I was the typical High School student that was more interested in school than current events. But, that wouldn’t be totally true, because I think that the death of Elvis may actually have effected me a bit more than the death of the Pope. Maybe it was because I didn’t really know anything that Pope Paul VI had done. Even though Vatican II effected my life I didn’t know that he and John XXIII should receive any credit for it. I know differently now, but that’s due to reading the history of these things.

So, when I think about my reaction to the Pope’s death while I was a High School student I can imagine that High School students today would have a similar non-reaction. But, I think about people coming from different experiences and having different reactions. I am sure that there were High School students in 1978 that broke down and cried when they heard the news. They had most likely been brought up in strict Catholic families and their life was rooted in the Catholic culture. Even though I attended mass every Sunday without exception until the Pope died I wasn’t as emotionally tied to the Church as some families I observed. Members of these families may have reacted in a much stronger way than my family.

Once again a Pope died. This time, however, I knew a great deal about what this Pope had done. I didn’t agree with everything he did, but I understood much of his reasoning. I supported his stance on international issues 100%. There is a place for war, but peace is the goal. He was against the Iraq invasion and he stood up to President Bush and told him so. Unfortunately President Bush had no respect for him and chose to go ahead with the invasion anyway. I agree with the Pope’s views on helping the poor and the poor countries. And, I agree with his view that modern culture is too materialistic. But, I have problems with his view of different roles for different sexes. I believe that women could offer a better input into some church issues. And, women could make good priests. It’s hard to tell your daughter that they could grow up to be anything that they want, except a priest. It is hard to say that the church believes in equality when there is a clear separation here. But, looking at the big picture there isn’t all that much that the Pope taught that I can’t live with.

The most interesting thing I found was that there was even more about Pope John Paul II that I didn’t know. I didn’t know many details about his life before becoming Pope. I knew he was from Poland, but that was about it. I knew what he did after becoming Pope, and I thought he did a very good job.

I pray that his replacement can fill his sandals.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Someone on the Right is Having Second Thoughts a Few Months Late

While cruising the blogosphere I ran across this question posed by a right leaning blogger:

“The most pressing examples President Bush is not taking adequate action on are presented of course as:

 Long-term American financial strength
 Illegal aliens from south of the border
 The astronomical prices of gasoline

So, now this right leaning blogger has seen the light. No, I doubt it, but it is frustrating that she would post this a year too late. If she was worried about these things the time to care was during the election so something could actually be done about this situation. But, now we have three years in which the Bush administration can do what he wants until till the Primary season begins and he has to put on his election persona. But, what surprises me the most is that Bush put these ideas forward during the election and he got elected anyway. Why would he change his policy now?

Bush is doing exactly what he said he was going to do during the election. Why should anyone be surprised and expect him to do something else. The time to think about this was during the election.

He thought that our borders were secure. He said so many times and didn't think anything should be done. What changed to make it different now?

He has told us many times that we should trust the free market and nothing should be done to change the market balance. Why should we expect him to change the market now. In fact, the high price of oil and gasoline helps all of the Big Oil special interests that got him elected anyway.

Finally, most importantly the Republicans only care about the current time. They borrowed Billions of dollars in order to invade Iraq. They refuse to raise taxes to pay for this in current dollars. So, with interest we will be paying more than twice the price in the long term. Everyone knew about this during the election and they voted for the idiot anyway. Why would he care to change now if he didn't care to change these ideas during the election?

The American voter doesn't think, and this is obviously the proof.

Weekend Reflections

I had two interesting experiences over the weekend that seem to be related.

First, I finally saw the movie “Saved!” This is a wonderful movie that every teen should see. The movie hits on most of the issues that are foremost in the minds of teens today. The movie is set in a “the best” Christian High School in town. Some of the students begin to discover the hypocrisy of this Christian School and a few others have already come to terms with the hypocrisy. But, the movie also deals with the classic high school click phenomena as well as teen pregnancy and homosexuality. It is quite amazing how all of these topics can be dealt with in 90 minutes.

There are several “great” lines or scenes in the movie that get one to think about the world we live in. At the beginning of the movie a “good” Christian girl Mary is at the top of the High School food chain. She is a member of the “in” senior click who have called themselves, “The Christian Jewels.” She has a boyfriend who secretly reveals to her that he thinks he may be gay. Mary conks her head and believes she sees a vision of Christ telling her to save her friend. In the convoluted way that teens sometimes think she comes to the conclusion that she needs to convince her gay boyfriend that girls are better by having sex with him. Obviously this does not change her boyfriend, and now Mary finds herself pregnant. I love this whole convoluted way of thinking this through. Even though it is a totally ridiculous idea, in the context of Christian thinking and lack of sex education classes it is a totally plausible conclusion based on the information available. It also serves as a good vehicle for discussion with your teen who will unsuspectingly watch the movie with you thinking that it’s really funny, but most likely ask some questions either during the movie or at the end.

Of course, the best line in the whole movie is: “There is only one reason a Christian girl goes to the Planned Parenthood Center.” “To drop off a pipe bomb?” “Well, maybe there are two reasons.”

Second, I heard an interesting interview with an author of a new book titled, “Freakonomics.” This book explores some of the reasons that things happen without the political bias. An example of something that happened is the drop in the crime rate in the 1990s. Politicians claim that they were responsible for the drop in crime, but none of their explanations seem to hold water. Republicans claim that they got tough on crime, but the statistics don’t bare that out. Democrats held the presidency and the Attorney general, but no new policies can be correlated to the drop in crime. The authors of this book put forward a theory that the increase in abortion rates in the 1970s lead to the fall in crime rates in the 1990s. Because women weren’t forced to take care of unwanted children the number of unwanted children went down. Unwanted children are more likely to act out and eventually find their way into crime because they are seeking someone to want them. The authors argue that this hypothesis doesn’t support the pro-life or pro-choice sides of the abortion debate. Anti-abortion groups can still claim that the death of 800,000 fetuses does not justify the saving of 1,000 lives by murder prevention. I would argue that it shows that we should work together to find ways to make sure that every child is wanted. If a mother finds herself pregnant and she knows that she can not take care of the child every effort must be made to find a caring home for that child so the child feels wanted. This analysis shows us a key issue that seems to be missed in the discussion – Children need to be wanted.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Proof that God Forgives All Sins

I have asserted in another blog that God forgives all sins. This is something that makes sense in the context of what Jesus taught. This is something that most liberal Christians that I know believe. This is something that is taught in the Catholic Church.

But, the Internet being what it is a Christian surfaced to denounce my claim as not proven by the Bible. Well, I hadn’t thought that everything needs to be defended by the Bible. Jesus certainly used the Torah and he also reasoned and taught in parables. As Christians following Jesus’ example we should all reason and teach what we understand in the form of parable. Well, at least those who have studied ethics or religion and make an effort to understand what Jesus taught. Jesus is an example of what a Christian leader should do. St. Paul took Jesus’ example and he used what he knew to expand what Jesus taught. St. Paul drew on the not only the teaching of Jesus, but also the Jewish rabbi’s, and Greek philosophers as well. Drawing on what these great men taught to get the message of Christianity out to those who are less initiated is a noble cause.

So, instead of brushing this question off I attempted to answer it. To be totally honest I didn’t answer it on the first try because I was puzzled by the question. I pointed out places where Jesus valued forgiveness, but this didn’t answer the question. If Jesus valued forgiveness it doesn’t mean that God forgives all sins. It only shows that God values the fact that humans should forgive each other. This is a good point that I hadn’t thought about much. I was still operating on the basic tenant that God forgives all sins if you repent. Of course the key is that one must repent to be forgiven. But, where did it say this in the Bible?

Well, in Matthew we read: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

This seems rather straightforward. If you forgive those who sin against you then God will forgive your sins.

Even with this quote my Christian Moriarty would not agree that God would forgive all sins. So, I set up a little proof to demonstrate how this implies that God would forgive any sin. First of all we need to look at the “anding” of these three statements.

Assume that there exists one sin that God does not forgive.


Assume that a person commits that sin.


Assume that he forgives every person that has sinned against him.

Now we can show that this statement is a contradiction of the following text:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

If we have a contradiction between two statements, then one of the statements must be wrong. So, either the assumptions above are wrong or the text is wrong. But, the text can not be wrong, so the statement containing the assumptions above is wrong. Since we are asking for all three of the statements to be true, if one statement is false the entire statement is false.

Well, if statement 3 is wrong - he doesn’t commit the sin, it doesn’t matter. God won’t forgive a sin that hasn’t been committed.

If statement 2 the man doesn’t forgive all the sins against him God won’t forgive his sins. We don’t care about this case, because this is actually the point of the statement. We should all forgive the sins of man against us. It will make our society better, and we’ll get into heaven to boot.

So, statement 1, the first assumption must be wrong. To make statement 1 true we need to operate on it with the NOT operation. This means that the following statement is true:

There does not exist one sin in which God does not forgive.


Well, my Christian friend still doesn’t believe the statement that God forgives all sins. He came up with a way around my proof by saying that it works on a class of forgivable sins, but not on the class of unforgivable sins. So, even though we have no evidence for the existence of any unforgivable sins he postulates that this class exists. Mind you there isn’t any mention of unforgivable sins in the Bible. So, why would this Christian cling to such a strange idea that God would not forgive some unknown sin? It’s certainly rooted in his beliefs and not in logic or the Bible. But the truth is that God forgives all sins and we should find comfort in that fact.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Eye of the Needle

In a discussion on Jesus’ true intentions behind the Eye of the Needle quotes in the Bible ( Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25) I thought it would be interesting to read the comments on the web.

I did a quick Google search on "Camel eye of the needle explanation" and I have found several different ideas. I read about a man that actually saw such a gate with a label in English posted on it describing a small gate. I read about someone saying that Camel is a homophone in Aramaic for Rope. And, I read about Jesus' use of the hyperbole and that this is just another example. I even read one person that claimed that this interpretation should be taken literally.

If Jesus were alive today He would certainly laugh at this discussion, because the point is clear: "It is nearly impossible for a rich man to get into heaven." But, all the wealthy Christians want to feel comfortable in their decision to retain their possessions. Obviously wealthy Christians need to come to terms with this bit of hypocrisy. This is especially true for Christians who argue the literal interpretation of the Bible. Show me a rich Creationist I will show you a man who is going to Hell. After all, Jesus tells us how we are going to be judged by our standard of judging others. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2

At least this quote in Matthew gives me comfort. I don’t believe in judging people who choose to live their lives based on their own understanding of what being a “good person” is meant to be. If they are atheist or any other Religion they have some basis of ethics that they live their life by. It makes sense that they would find a way to be “good people” in their own eyes because they understand what other “good people” do. Christians are taught to live and be an example to others by Paul in First Corinthians 11:1. This is actually something that Paul teaches that makes sense in the context of what Jesus taught. Live as Jesus lived and your example will be what people point to when they are looking for an example of a “good person.”


One thing that the radical right tends to lack besides compassion is forgiveness. Since the Bush campaign learned through polling that the public thought that conservatives lacked compassion and they came up with the catch phrase “compassionate conservative” some people have been swayed their way. However, lacking any action to back up these claims of “compassionate conseravtiveness” people still hear the catch phrase and think to themselves, “Ya, I could go for that. I little compassion with conservative ideas. I bet they cut my taxes and give money to the poor. That would be nice.” Well, in the real world that’s not how it works. People need to get money before they can help the poor.

Another value that conservatives lack is the ability to forgive. This is strange because the conservative base is Christian and Jesus told us:

Matthew 6:14-15

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

This means that one should forgive others if they want to be forgiven themselves. But George W Bush doesn’t understand the idea of forgiveness. He went in an attacked Iraq without any reason tied to terrorism. Many people believe that he did this because of an assassination attempt that was made on his father. Others believe that it was because Saddam Hussien wouldn’t act like a defeated leader after the first Gulf War. Either way George W Bush went in and attacked him without talking or negotiations. George W Bush made the call to give up on forgiveness and compassion. He gave no compassion toward the 10,000 Iraqi civilians who were killed by US bombs.

But, war isn’t the only thing that George W Bush and the radical conservatives have done for revenge instead of the forgiveness that Jesus taught. These fellows hearken back to the time that when people believed that the poor were poor because God was punishing either them or their relatives for some sin. People make mistakes and they should be forgiven. For example, the changing of the bankruptcy laws will make it more difficult for those who loose their jobs or have an expensive tragedy happen to them be able to get back on their feet again. The majority of bankruptcies declared every year are because of one of these two issues. The conservatives, however, have painted the picture of the deadbeat charging up his credit card and then refusing to make payments on it. It turns out that most Americans make every effort to be honest and pay back their debts to the best of their ability. These deadbeats are a very small number of the bankruptcies that would be effected by this new law.

Even Jesus told us about the specific case of forgiving debts. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus says this in Matthew chapter 6 verse 12. But, the bankers aren’t Christian they are special interests that have taken hold of our Republican Congress and they will influence the passage of this unchristian law.

But there is even more to the lack of forgiveness among these so-called Christians of the radical right. They wholeheartedly support the barbaric use of the death penalty in their culture of life. They believe in their minds that someone can not be changed after sinning, or if they are they do not deserve forgiveness. For if we believe in forgiveness of the repentant person how can we put them to death they have been changed and they deserve a chance to make something out of their life even if it is behind the bars of a jail cell.

In Luke chapter 17 Jesus tells us: “"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."” Seven is a significant number in the times of Jesus. It meant more than seven because it was a special number. We must also remember that when Jesus said brothers, he didn’t mean just family but all members of the community because he continually referred to God as not only his father but “Our Father.” (That would be in Matthew 6:9 for those who won’t take my word for it.)

Forgiveness is certainly in short supply among the radical right. Maybe some of the Christians that are not so radical and not so far to the right will be able to talk some sense into these radicals that are leading our country away from the Christian ideals of Love, Compassion and Forgiveness.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Sound of Breaking Laws

It seems quite strange how the Radical Right is so hypocritical about the law. They seem to believe that they are above the law while they believe that those who they disagree with must be held to the highest standards of the law. In a free society I would hope to believe that we could come together and agree that every American should be held to the same standard of the law.

In the 1990s the radical right was just finding its legs and it reached for every weapon it could find to club and maim those it opposed. They claimed the house ethics rules were not strict enough and they managed to shame Democrats into passing stricter rules that were later used against the Democratic leadership at the time. Of course, the strict conservative stance came full circle and Newt Gingrich was forced to resign from the House because of his questionable but legal behavior. The Conservatives continued to play the ethics card through out the 1990s by accusing Bill Clinton of the never proven illegal Whitewater land deals in which an overreaching investigation climaxed with the revelation that Bill had received a BJ at the White House and lied about it.

Now that the Republicans have used both legal and illegal power moves to secure both houses of the legislature and the White House they have suddenly become much less concerned with the ethics of the lawmakers. In fact the Speaker of the House, Tom DeLay has allegedly participated in quite a few inappropriate financial deals, but the Attorney General doesn’t seem to be very interested in even launching an investigation into these activities. Compared to the accusation of Bill Clinton’s land deals these financial activities actually effect how people in our government have actually been elected. They concern how Texas government officials acquired power and obtained election funding. But, our government remains silent.

Conservatives pride themselves on how they support the defense of both our government and our country. They place patriotism next to religion on their priority list. They believe that extraordinary measures including the limitation of our own liberty need to be taken to protect the American way of life. They believe that the simple act of burning an American flag in protest should not be an act protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. So, when the Speaker of the House threatens a Federal Judge shouldn’t the Conservatives put their collective feet down and reprimand Speaker DeLay? By not even mentioning this, the Congress has sent a message in the form of an example. If you are with the ruling party, the rules don’t matter.

The Conservatives are saying: “Join us and break the law, because we are above the law.”


Monday, April 04, 2005

Right Wing Nuts

Blogging is the instant publication of your emotional reaction to the events of the day.

We write about what matters to us. When we blog we put our emotion on the line. We are saying that we care enough to write about what we find important. We are telling everyone what matters to us. And, we are asking everyone to care with us.

I find myself writing about politics because I care about how our country is governed. If I didn’t care about politics I’d be writing about something else. So, you can imagine that when I read blogs from the radical right telling the world that the left doesn’t care about America it provokes an emotional response. Obviously, the radical right is also emotionally charged and they want to tell the world about their thoughts as well. But, just because people feel emotional about a subject it doesn’t mean that they know what they are talking about. It also doesn’t mean that what they say is right or factual.

I found a new blog that attempts to expose the truth about the radical right’s emotional outbursts. The blog is brand new, but the idea is clear. At Right Wing Nut excerpts of emotional outbursts are posted and clear headed factual responses are made to those posts. Sometimes the response isn’t needed, because the temper tantrum outburst is clear. In other cases a Right Wing Nut will make a statement that seems to makes sense on the surface, but historical, philosophical or religious context will show that the “ Wing Nut” is just blowing smoke and a little bit of information goes a long way to exposing the truth.

Right Wing Nut

Friday, April 01, 2005

Why Waste Your Time

What’s the point of listening to someone when you already know that you disagree with them?

Isn’t it a waste of time to talk to people who have a convoluted vision of the world?

America is polarized. We know this because the media tells us that this is so. We have been told that the religious Americans are pitted against the secular Americans. We are told that there are only two ways to look at the issues, the right way and the wrong way. Some people are members of churches that teach that there is only one way to deal with each major issue. Some churches teach that one issue is more important than any other issue and to reject that importance is to reject the love of God. Others have had epiphanies where they have realized that life one earth can not exist if we continue to use our resources at our current rate. Existence of the human race on earth becomes the defining issue and all other issues become dwarfed by this issue. So, with the importance of these issues becoming even more important there doesn’t seem to be any way these issues can be resolved, because there will be winners and losers on each of these issues and Americans don’t like losers.

So, shouldn’t we hunker down for the big fight. We should start lobbing word bombs at each other in the hopes that unsuspecting people drop in and read the discourse and align themselves with our issues. What’s the point of talking to the enemy when they surely don’t have anything to say? Let’s fight the good fight and win the next vote. The issues will surely fall to the righteous and true American values, because that’s how America was built.

Well, America hasn’t always been this way. There have been moments of extremism and moments of compromise. When the moderates realize that one extremist group has lead the country astray the moderates will switch sides and the country will be back on track again. When the country is polarized like it is today the moderates have split their allegiance with the two political groups. Today we have the case where the extreme right has taken hold of the majority of moderates and the left has moved to the center, but the split seems to be growing wider. So, how can one talk to the other side? And, even more importantly why would one want to listen to these people.

Listening or reading the thoughts of the conservative radicals shows us how far the radical right is from what most Americans want for America. After a short while you will see that these people have an idea that those with money should be treated with more esteem than those who don’t have the same resources. But, this agenda is hidden beneath the rhetoric. This is why one needs to read and listen to the rhetoric. The radical right uses patriotism and religion to lend authority to this goal. The wealthy are meant to be protected and it is our patriotic duty to do so is the result of this rhetoric. The wealthy need to keep their money and pass it to their children so that America will continue to be ruled by the same wealthy families. The wealthy need to be protected and that is because God told us to protect them. This is the action the radical right strives to promote through laws and legislative actions. However, since this is not a populist message because most people are not wealthy the words need to be molded to justify these actions based on a populist message.

When we listen to the radical right we hear about Jesus, but the message is warped. The Jesus we read about in the first three Gospels tell us about love and forgiveness. Jesus tells us to take care of the poor in the Beatitudes. Jesus tells us to love one another, as we would want to be loved. Jesus tells us to forgive when we are wronged not seven times, but seventy times seven times. Jesus tells us to forgive one another as we would want to be forgiven. It’s funny how you never hear these things from the radical right even though George W Bush professes a “great faith in God.”

Instead, the radical right chooses quotes from St. Paul to emphasize the nature of sin. St. Paul would have you believe that pain brings you closer to God and thinking the wrong thoughts are sinful. There is no place in the Gospels that Jesus directs these things. Instead Paul gets these insights from Plato and the Stoics. The radical right would rather have the message be pain is good because the working class will certainly have a more difficult time under their radical ideas. The radical right would also like the masses to keep in mind that the “wrong” thoughts are sinful, so they can make sure that the masses don’t think about their circumstances too often. But, since the radical right can point to these things in the Bible they should not be questioned. God would not want people to question the Bible or any interpretation of it.

So, whenever you think that you don’t want to waste your time listening to or reading what the radical right has to say keep in mind that the rhetoric has an underlying intention. Look for that underlying intention and call the writer on the carpet. Question the speaker until you are satisfied. Make sure that the radical right defends its positions. Don’t stop at “…because the Bible says so.” That is only the beginning of the discussion. Jesus told the wealthy that it would be as difficult for them to get into Heaven as it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle. That’s in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25 for all you who want to see it in print before you believe me. Jesus also tells us “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21. It’s really funny how this quote isn’t mentioned much among the radical right.