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Some thoughts from my childhood. Life on the family farm.

I just read a paper in one of my classes that a peer wrote. It was on the Vermont family farms. It really stirred a lot of thoughts of mine. I thought I would post them here since this blog is also a journal of my life.

***

I grew up one generation removed from an active farming family. My grandparents were farmers and were still active at it while I was child living across the road from them. My grandfather lived in the same house all of his 72 years. He was born in the house across the creek from where I live. When he was married to my grandmother and was ready to move out, his parents moved out. He bought the house from them and never had to move. That is the house I remember crossing the road to visit when I was a little boy. I would sit on his lap and he would crack walnuts that he had picked up from a walnut tree out behind the barns. It was the house that was his home at the time of his death, although he did not pass away there but died of a heart attack at his winter vacation home in Sarasota, Florida.

I remember spending countless hours playing on and around a giant tree in the front yard. The tree might now be gone, but that tree brought lots of memories. There was a swing that my mother swung from when she was little, and it was the swing, albeit with a different rope, that I swung from when I was little.

There is something sacred about a place where childhood memories are made. My uncle lives there now after having been away and having a financially prosperous life. Sadly, we are now just owners of all the land my ancestors worked hard on. The house I live in was acquired by our family farm around fifteen years ago when they acquired it at an auction of the neighboring farm. I guess we are part of agribusiness.

Conscientious Objectors and Those Who Went in their Place

To Whom It May Concern:

"I have to go because if I don't, someone else will have to go in my place."
--- Jeffery Gurvitz, a U.S soldier killed in Vietnam in '68.)

As a conscientious objector or war resister, have you given any thought to who might have gone in your place, and whether his or her name is on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and in the book at the Abbey chapel?

There is yet another level of understanding the term "unknown soldier" when one considers that, though they never had to go to Vietnam and kill anyone, a soldier may, indeed, have been killed because he or she went in your place. While most people may not be naturally drawn to concern themselves with such matters, it is our conscientious duty as pacifists to do no less.

The name of this "unknown soldier" may be entered in the Vietnam Book at the Abbey chapel which includes the names of 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam. There is no way of knowing who went in your place, and if he or she made it home alive.

Only God knows.

--- Lewis Randa, discharged from the military as a conscientious objector in 1971.)

Pulled from The Peace Abbey.

An Examination of Public Education through the Experiences in New York City - Mayoral Control is not the Solution

When a change of the bureaucratic management system is the avenue pursued to bring about change in public schools, the new bureaucrats must remain focused on what needs to change to improve the student's education rather than just get caught up in changing the structure. A highly publicized bureaucratic change over public education is continuing to unravel in New York City. The Board of Education was considered inept: “The New York City Board of Education has failed to prevent the local decentralized school districts from mismanaging their budgets, ignoring ethical standards and often placing politics ahead of educational concerns, education officials, union leaders and representatives of community watchdog groups say” (Buder). It is this great mismanagement that led to only 50% of New York City students graduating from high school within four years (Greene). The main source of the problem might very well be the bureaucracy, yet changing forms of governmental management and style has done little to change the performance of the students. Mayoral control over education, although gaining popularity, is not the answer to the problems facing the public educational system in New York City nor in other cities around the nation.

Different approaches to improving education have been tried throughout the United States. Some cities have tried to bring about positive change by placing successful professionals (businessmen, lawyers, government officials, politicians, etc.) into authority to bring about positive change in failing public education systems (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). It is thought that a different perspective will bring about positive change. Another alternative that is being implemented throughout the United States is to free school systems from the government bureaucracy through charter schools, freeing the principal to experiment, or offering school vouchers. Lastly, the approach that is currently in vogue among many cities is to shift control of public education to the mayor.

During his campaign in 2001, the future Mayor Bloomberg ran on a platform to reorganize and streamline the educational bureaucracy, install back to basics in math and reading, eliminate bilingual education, increase parental choice, institute merit pay for teachers, demand greater accountability for teachers, principals, and the heads of education, give teachers greater control over how they teach, and reduce the educational system red tape. Although the ideas for change were lofty and exciting, the disconnect between idea and implementation caused the New York City school system to produce the same results - a lackluster graduation rate and inferior scores on nationalized tests. According to the most recent report released by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, New York City has shown no gains in 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, or 8th grade math during Bloomberg's tenure as mayor and head of the public education system (Lutkus, Grigg, and Dion). “There were significant gains in 4th grade math, but the rate of 'accommodations' (eg. giving extra time) was so high for NYC (25% of the students taking the test received accommodations), that some testing experts doubt the validity of the gains” (Ravitch, “Re: A Question for Diane Ravitch”).

Despite all of the planning, bills passed, reorganization, and heavily-promoted press conferences, the New York City public school student is in the same situation that he or she was before the many changes that Bloomberg implemented. Through his initial changes in the Children First Initiative of 2003, Bloomberg overhauled curriculum to focus on the basics of math, reading, and writing, streamlined the bureaucracy to make it more efficient, provided parent coordinators in every school to give the parents a line of communication to the new Department of Education, and began a leadership academy to recruit and train new principals (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). In early 2007, Bloomberg revisited some of the previous changes and made further changes. The most dramatic of these new changes was to give principals more power, base teachers tenure on the test results of their students, and equalize the spending per student to also include the salary of the teachers (Garland).

This last change might be one of the most critical in that with more money, the less desirable schools can reduce the class size for the students. The Brooklyn High School of Science has math classes with an average size of 32.5 students per class for ninth graders and 29.2 students per class for twelfth graders while the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice has an average math class size of 19.3 students per class for night graders and 16.0 students per class for twelfth graders. The difference in class size is staggering. There is no consistency throughout the system. The average math class size in the city is 27.1 students (New York City Department of Education). The National Education Association recommends class sizes of no greater than fifteen students in regular programs (National Education Association, “Class Size”). Only a few of the math classes in the city of New York meet that standard. The city numbers for class size are in stark contrast to the state's numbers. According to National Center for Education Statistics, the state of New York averaged 14.3 students per class during the 2001-02 school year (McGraw Hoffman 16).

This last round of changes differs greatly from the first round in that they are focused more on what happens in the local public school rather than in the transformation of the Board of Education into the Department of Education and other lofty changes; however, the mayor still seems to be missing the main changes that needs to take place to really improve the NYC public schools: He does not address what is a great teacher and what creates a good education. The bureaucratic structure is irrelevant as long as a good, solid education is connecting with the students in the classroom. Cities are using many different forms of bureaucratic structure from mayoral control, to board control, to any sort of compromise in between. There are successes and failures in every system. Education will not improve based upon a change in bureaucratic structure.

The root problems of Bloomberg's system run much deeper than a failure to improve national test scores or to actually increase the citywide graduation rate. He has instituted changes that create an environment of educational totalitarianism. The removal of a lay board has removed any transparency to the educational system. No longer are budgets or plans presented to the public prior to approval. They are discussed behind closed doors and then unleashed on the public during a highly publicized press conference. This prohibits any constructive criticism from opposing viewpoints to be included in the budget or policy changes. Bloomberg has brought in business practices from his successful business background; many teachers feel that these changes have amounted to micromanaging the time they are given to instruct their students (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). The other problem is that education decisions are being made by people who are only being advised by educators and have no educational experience themselves. This might result in a better business structure but has done nothing to improve the conditions of the education received in the classroom. The final major flaw to note in Bloomberg's system is the lack of accountability. He ran for mayor with a stance that the teachers, principals, and the heads of the educational system should be more accountable, yet he has failed to implement a way for the electorate to hold a second-term mayor accountable in a two-term limit system. Bloomberg's power is untouchable. He even sacked people from his appointed board when they disagreed with him on holding back failing students (“Teach Us, Mr. Mayor”).

One of the disturbing elements of the failure of the New York City schools is that Mayor Bloomberg and chancellor Joel Kline spin the lack of progress in New York City as a success; other cities are believing these tales. Bloomberg has been invited to speak at mayor conferences around the nation and is currently being regarded as an expert on how to turn around a school system (“Teach Us, Mr. Mayor”). Across the nation, many mayors are proposing to take over the school system from the hands of the school board. All of this despite Bloomberg's mayoral takeover not bringing about tangible results.

There should be enough money in New York City to enable an adequate or even better education of children in the city, yet the school system has had failure after failure. There is a general public education epidemic in New York City that changing the bureaucracy has not been able to remedy. There was failure under the previous board system, a seven member board that consisted of two politically appointed members by the mayor and one each from the five boroughs. This board had no budgetary control, they were seven people overseeing 32 different school districts, and they were known for political grandstanding (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). Then Mayor Bloomberg came in to change the failing system. He was focused on the bureaucratic structures in which education takes place and has ignored the main goal of how to properly educate students.

The evidence shows that the departments and boards of education on the national, state, and local level within the United States are doing something wrong with their education policies; public funding of private education might be the improvement the educational system needs. “Of the thirty nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only seven do not permit any government funding of K-12 private schools; in addition to the United States, they include Greece, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Turkey” (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). Of these thirty nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment's (PISA), five of the bottom six in mathematics were from the group of seven that do not permit any government funding for private schools (PISA 53). Of the same thirty nations, the bottom four in science were from the same group of seven (PISA 22). The United States also did not fare too well on the survey: In science the United States students finished 21st out of 30; in math they finished 25th out of 30 (PISA 53, 22). These students were not graded in the reading results. All of this despite the United States spending the second most out of the thirty nations at $11,152 per student (Sharek).

Removing bureaucratic control is the most valid alternative to improve the city schools in monolithic bureaucratic systems like the New York City Department of Education and other large cities. Vouchers have only been implemented to any major degree in the United States in the inner-cities of Milwaukee and Cleveland, yet they show great potential (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). Publicly funded private schools has been a success abroad. Seventy-six percent of all public spending in the Netherlands was given to private schools, yet they finished 3rd out of 30 in math and 6th out of 30 in science (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”, PISA 53, 22). Belgium, who comes in second of the thirty nations by spending 58% of all their public money in private schools, finished 8th out of 30 in math and 16th out of 30 in science (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”, PISA 53, 22).

The evidence shows that publicly funding private schools is not a recipe for disaster. In cities like New York City, where only 50% of the students graduate in four years, vouchers would be worth checking into since current attempts at change have not produced positive results. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ, and neighbor to New York City, believes that his city could turn around education much faster than NYC if he is given mayoral control and the use of vouchers (Garland, “Booker Seeks Vouchers”). Vouchers allow a variety changes to be implemented at the same time, and these changes are focused on the classroom as well as administration.

Vouchers, despite being argued against as a violation of separation of church and state, are in actuality a liberating program that provides religious freedom. This is the reason publicly financed private schools are popular in the Netherlands (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). In a private school, the government does not need to decide what religious holidays are celebrated or ignored, whether the science classes teach intelligent design along with evolution or not, or make any decision in regard to any other religious topic. Vouchers provide an actual separation of church and state in that the state would not have to make religious or anti-religious decisions in regards to a student's education while allowing parents to educate their children with the religious or secular convictions they hold.

Vouchers provide inner-city schools the option to receive a better education than the public education system currently can provide them. Even with the growing school of choice programs, many inner-city students do not have the means to take advantage of the ability to go to a better neighboring school district if one exists. These students would benefit from vouchers because private schools would be able to open up in the inner-city to provide a valid alternative within their community to the public schools that are failing them.

In any educational system, accountability and control are needed. The questions that need to be furthered studies are how to control and what to control. Looking at successful nations like the Netherlands would show us how to use vouchers and still insure that student's are being educated. Education systems need to be separated from politics. It is the natural state of politicians to spin everything into successes in order to raise more money and win the next election. There needs to be a divide between politicians and educators in order to insure that educators are free to educate (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). Diane Ravitch concluded her speech at the Brookings Institution with the phrase “The 'public' needs to be involved in public education” (Ravitch, The Brookings Insitution). The recent trend, especially in NYC, to make decisions in isolation from the public and away from any scrutiny is the opposite extreme of public involvement. Finally, ineffectiveness or effectiveness can occur in any system. It should be paramount that systems are focused on students and their education; everything else is just a means to that end.

Works Cited
Buder, Leonard. “New York School Board Faulted For the Disarray of Local Districts.” New York Times. 7 Jan. 1989. 6 Dec. 2007 <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE2DB143CF934A35752C0A96F948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print>.

Garland, Sarah. “Booker Seeks Vouchers, Says He Could Best Bloomberg on Schools.” New York Sun. 20 Feb. 2007. 3 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nysun.com/article/48896>.

---. “Mayor Sets School Showdown.” New York Sun. 18 Jan. 2007. 3 Dec. 2007.
<http://www.nysun.com/article/46896>.

Greene, Jay. “High School Graduation Rates in the United States.” Civic Report. 2002. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. 6 Dec. 2007. <http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_baeo.htm>.

Lutkus, Anthony D., Wendy S. Grigg, and Gloria S. Dion. “The Nation's Report Card: 2007 Trial Urban District Assessment in Mathematics.” Washington: National Center for Education Statistics. 15 Nov. 2007. 6 Dec. 2007. <http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008452>.

---. “The Nation's Report Card: 2007 Trial Urban District Assessment in Reading.” Washington: National Center for Education Statistics. 15 Nov. 2007. 6 Dec. 2007. <http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008455>.

McGraw Hoffman, Lee. “Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools and Districts: School Year 2001-02.” Washington: National Center for Education Statistics. May 2003. 9 Dec. 2007 <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1b/42/90.pdf>.

National Education Association. “Class Size.” 6 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nea.org/classsize/index.html>.

---. “Vouchers.” 9 Dec. 2007 .
New York City Department of Education. “Average Class Size Final Report.” Jul. 2006. 6 Dec 2007 <http://schools.nyc.gov/ToolsResources/classsize.htm>.

Programme for International Student Assessment. “Executive Summary PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow's World.” 2006. 9 Dec 2007 <http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/15/13/39725224.pdf>.

Ravitch, Diane. “Re: A Question for Diane Ravitch.” E-mail to the author. 4 Dec. 2007.

---. The Brookings Institution. Falk Auditorium, Washington D.C. 1 Jun. 2005. 3 Dec. 2007 <http://www.brookings.edu/events/2005/0601education.aspx>.

---. “The Right Thing: Why Liberals Should Be Pro-Choice.” The New Republic. 8 Oct. 2001. 3 Dec. 2007 <http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2001/1008politics_ravitch.aspx>.

Sharek, Dylan. “U.S. Drops in International Education Rankings.” Mosaic. 20 Oct. 2005. 9 Dec. 2007 <http://media.www.srumosaic.com/media/storage/paper658/news/2005/10/20/News/U.s-Drops.In.International.Education.Rankings-1026807.shtml>.

“Teach Us, Mr. Mayor.” Economist. 18 Jan. 2007. 3 Dec 2007. <http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8570102>.

Reconsidering School Vouchers

Teachers, those who should be most adamant about improving the education system, lead the charge against vouchers (National Education Association, “Vouchers”). For the sake of religious freedom and failing inner-city schools, teachers and other citizens should reconsider the school voucher issue.

Vouchers provide inner-city schools the option to receive a better education than the public education system currently can provide them. Even with the growing school of choice programs, many inner-city students do not have the means to take advantage of the ability to go to a better neighboring school district if one exists. These students would benefit from vouchers because private schools would be able to open up in the inner-city to provide a valid alternative within their community to the public schools that are failing them.

Vouchers, despite being argued against as a violation of separation of church and state, are in actuality a liberating program that provides religious freedom. This is the reason publicly financed private schools are popular in the Netherlands (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). In a private school, the government does not need to decide what religious holidays will be celebrated or ignored, whether the science classes will teach intelligent design along with evolution or not, or make any decision in regard to any other religious topic. Vouchers provide an actual separation of church and state in that the state would not have to make religious or anti-religious decisions in regards to a student's education while allowing parents to educate their children with the religious or secular convictions they hold.

The evidence shows that the United States is doing something wrong with their education policies; public funding of private education might be the improvement the educational system needs. “Of the thirty nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only seven do not permit any government funding of K-12 private schools; in addition to the United States, they include Greece, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Turkey” (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). Of these thirty nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment's (PISA), five of the bottom six in mathematics were from the group of seven that do not permit any government funding for private schools (PISA 53). Of the same thirty nations, the bottom four in science were from the same group of seven (PISA 22). The United States also did not fare too well on the survey: In science they finished 21st out of 30; in math they finished 25th out of 30 (PISA 53, 22). They were not graded in the reading results. All of this despite the United States spending the second most out of the thirty nations at $11,152 per student (Sharek).

Removing bureaucratic control is the most valid alternative to improve the city schools in monolithic bureaucratic systems like the New York City Department of Education and other large cities. Vouchers have only been implemented to any major degree in the United States in the inner-cities of Milwaukee and Cleveland, yet they show great potential (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”). Publicly funded private schools has been a success abroad. Seventy-six percent of all public spending in the Netherlands was given to private schools, yet they finished 3rd out of 30 in math and 6th out of 30 in science (Ravitch, “The Right Thing, PISA 53, 22). Belgium, who comes in second of the thirty nations by spending 58% of all their public money in private schools, finished 8th out of 30 in math and 16th out of 30 in science (Ravitch, “The Right Thing”, PISA 53, 22).

The evidence shows that publicly funding private schools is not a recipe for disaster. In cities like New York City, where only 50% of the students graduate in four years, vouchers would be worth checking into since current attempts at change have not produced positive change. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ, and neighbor to New York City, believes that his city could turn around education much faster than NYC if he is given mayoral control and the use of vouchers (Garland, “Booker Seeks Vouchers”). Vouchers allow a variety changes to be implemented at the same time, and these changes are focused on the classroom as well as administration. It is time for other cities to allow vouchers and give other failing students a choice.

Works Cited

Garland, Sarah. “Booker Seeks Vouchers, Says He Could Best Bloomberg on Schools.” New York Sun. 20 Feb. 2007. 3 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nysun.com/article/48896>.

National Education Association. “Vouchers.” 9 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nea.org/vouchers/index.html>.

Programme for International Student Assessment. “Executive Summary PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow's World.” 2006. 9 Dec 2007 <http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/15/13/39725224.pdf>.

Ravitch, Diane. “The Right Thing: Why Liberals Should Be Pro-Choice.” The New Republic. 8 Oct. 2001. 3 Dec. 2007 <http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2001/1008politics_ravitch.aspx>.

Sharek, Dylan. “U.S. Drops in International Education Rankings.” Mosaic. 20 Oct. 2005. 9 Dec. 2007
<http://media.www.srumosaic.com/media/storage/paper658/news/2005/10/20/News/U.s-Drops.In.International.Education.Rankings-1026807.shtml>.

Bink Video Problem

I had this problem around a year ago when I installed Patrician 2. I found an answer then; I could not find one this time. The problem was that the game would not start. When you would click on the game, a black screen would pop up.

What I had to do to disable the Bink Video error was to right click on the game, go to properties, go to the shortcut tab, and add /nointro behind the target. This removes the intro scene, but it allows the game to run.

In case I have this problem again, I will now know where to look.

Soldiers and Voluntary Fighting

If a nation believes the wars they fight are just, then that nation should have no problem with allowing its soldiers to decide whether to fight in specific wars. If the cause is truly just, then the soldiers would be more than willing to volunteer and fight. If the war is not just, then the lack of volunteering soldiers would reveal that the war is not one worth fighting. Voluntary fighting would be a preventative measure from fighting too many wars while at the same time insuring the effectiveness of the military in fighting the wars it does fight.

From a purely military perspective, morale would be much greater if a soldier could make the conscious decision that he believes the war he is to risk his life in is worth fighting.

From a social perspective, the citizens of the United States would know for a fact that the soldiers were not giving their lives away for something they did not believe in.

From a political perspective, having voluntary fighting would have a taming effect on the nation, forcing it to be more particular in where and how often military incursions are undertaken. No longer would leaders be able to send people to war without making a solid and convincing case for that war.

From a religious perspective, this would allow people to join the military that believe in the "just war" theory. Right now, a soldier has to subject their or their religion's opinion of whether a war is just or not to the decisions of the state. When they join the military, they are making a permanent surrender of a religious conviction to the decision of the leaders of that nation. An individuals religious beliefs should not be subjected to the state. Changing service in wars to voluntary service would eliminate the state relegating people's religious convictions to an unnecessary status.

For this to really be effective, there would have to be transparency of information from the top of the executive branch all the way to the soldier in the barracks. Information on why a war should be fought could not be withheld. All citizens would need to be considered equal.

The benefits of allowing soldiers to decide whether to fight in a war outweighs the detriments to such an unorthodox process. Just wars would be decided based upon the conscience of the people rather than the conscience of a select few. The bar for the case for war would be raised. The responsibility for the war would be on the shoulders of those actually fighting it. All soldiers would be allowed to participate with a clean conscience. There is nothing to fear in allowing soldiers to decide whether they will or will not fight in a war if the war is just.

The Wealthy, The Poor, Equal Representation, and Presidential Campaign Financing

The current system of funding our presidential candidates creates an atmosphere for the President to be beholden to wealthy citizens and corporate interests rather than equally representing each American citizen. This allows our foreign and domestic policies to be a “private preserve of the rich and corporate interests” (Mandle). The problem of money corrupting politics on the campaign trail was addressed in the 1970s with the formation of the Federal Election Commission. Various other laws have been passed since that time to prevent candidates and their supporters from circumventing existing campaign finance laws.

Campaign law is not set in stone and can be changed if needed. The FEC was formed in 1971 and given the task to oversee that contributions and expenditures were limited and publically disclosed. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case that it was unlawful to place spending limits on the candidates (Congressional 4). In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Amendment (legally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Act). This act tried to limit the loopholes in the previous campaign financing laws that candidates had abused. The McCain-Feingold Amendment is still being challenged in courts with one ruling against it in the Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission case which allowed for issue advertisements to still be aired if Congress is still in session (Be Fair).

One of the dangers of the current system is bundlers. A bundler is a person who collects campaign contributions and bundles them together as a gift to the candidate. Current contributions are limited to $2000 per person, but a bundler can raise much more for a candidate. “Bush’s re-election campaign raised $262 million in the primary elections. At least 29 percent of the money Bush raised during the 2004 primaries – $76.5 million – came from only 548 bundlers” (Public). “Kerry raised $248 million in the primaries, breaking all previous records for a Democrat. Nearly 17 percent of that – at least $41.5 million – came from 546 bundlers – although this number is likely closer to 21 percent” (Public).

Both John Kerry and George W. Bush opted out of public funding in 2004 presidential race in order to be able to raise more money than would be allowed if they were under public funding. The ability to opt out of public funding makes public funding irrelevant. Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres propose in their book Voting With Dollars that campaign contributions should be given through vouchers which would be given to each citizen to distribute to the candidate of their choice (Wertheimer 4). This system would allow for equality in campaign contributions along with giving every citizen an opportunity to run as long as they shared a message that connected with the people. In this system, the wealthy would not control which candidates had the money to spend. Every citizen would be on equal standing when it came to supporting the presidential candidate of their choice. The only funding would be public funding funneled through the citizens.

Two different zip codes, 90210 and 90011, that reside only 16 miles apart are representative of the difference between classes in the realm of presidential politics. In the zip code 90210, 1846 different campaign contributions have been given to candidates and political organizations for the 2008 presidential cycle (CampaignMoney). This zip code has an estimated population of 21,934 people in 2005 and an average adjusted gross income of $408,901 in 2004 (City-Data). Compare that to zip code 90011, which is only 16 miles away. The zip code 90011 has an estimated population of 102,217 people in 2005 with an average adjusted gross income of $20,486 in 2004 (City-Data). Despite a population of almost five times that of 90210, they have only had a total of ten different campaign contributions from five different people (CampaignMoney). 1846 campaign contributions versus ten. Who will the presidential candidates try to appease when it is necessary to raise a lot of money in order to get elected?

With any changes in presidential campaign funding, there will still be two prevailing problems. The impact that the media has on all areas of electoral politics, especially presidential elections, is enormous. Exposure is influence and the media provides the “leading” candidates with story after story during the election season. The United States is the only “economically developed” democracy that does not provide free media time to presidential candidates (Mandle).

The second area that will always be a problem is enforcement of campaign law. Fred Wertheimer wrote, “"weak enforcement and a reluctant Congress are the forces that undermine the current system" (Wertheimer 12). Enforcement will be a problem no matter what system we move towards. The best designed system, if not enforced, is meaningless. "Ultimately, any campaign finance system that regulates the source of campaign money will necessarily have some complexity. Under the current system, as history shows, it is not well-meaning innocents who typically risk running afoul of these provisions, but strategically aggressive players" (Wertheimer 3).

If the goal of a democratic government is to represent the people and not just a small yet wealthy segment of the population, then it is the responsibility of the people to insure that they have equal representation. Equal representation can only happen when there is equality in all areas of electing candidates. The current system and most of the proposals in the public arena for campaign finance reform do not provide equal economic viability for people to run, nor do they provide equal opportunity for citizens to support who they want to vote for; the only equality currently provided is equality in the value of a vote in the voting booth. Every citizen has an equal vote, but the money that candidates raises influences the promotion that a candidate receives. This causes the wealthy to be able to promote their favored candidates and effectively control the political environment in our nation (Mandle). A true representative democracy should provide equality in running, supporting, and voting.



Works Cited:

Be Fair. History of the Case. Milwaukee, WI, 2007. Wisconsin Right to Life. 1 Nov. 2007 <http://www.wisconsinrighttolife.org/BeFairCaseHistory.pdf>.

CampaingMoney.com. CampaingMoney.com. 2 Nov. 2007 <http://www.campaignmoney.com/finance.asp?type=iz>.

City-Data. 3 Nov. 2007 <http://www.city-data.com/zipDir.html>.

Congressional Research Service. Campaign Finance: An Overview. Washington: The Library of Congress, 31 Jul. 2006. 2 Nov. 2007 <http://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL33580.pdf>.

Mandle, Jay. "FOLLOW THE MONEY : Why campaigns should be publicly financed." Commonweal 128.13 (July 13, 2001): 12. Academic OneFile. Gale. Vermont College of Union Institute. 1 Nov. 2007
<http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.

Public Citizen. Final Analysis of Bush-Kerry Fundraising Shows Heavy Reliance on Small Number of People Who Bundle Contributions. Washington, 2 Dec. 2004. Citzen.org. 3 Nov. 2007 <http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1835>.

Wertheimer, Fred, and Alexandra T.V. Edsall. "Response to 'Voting with Dollars: A New Paradigm for Campaign Finance.'." University of Richmond Law Review 37.4 (May 2003): 1111-1145. Academic OneFile. Gale. Vermont College of Union Institute. 1 Nov. 2007
<http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.

Poverty through the Eyes of the Poor

Panos London has recently put up a series of interviews with poor residents of Zambia and Pakistan.

"These testimonies are a powerful reminder of the human indignities that lie at the heart of poverty and why effective approaches to poverty reduction matter."

Oral Testimony of the Poor.

What is Genius?

Genius is the result of a rare natural ability which, often when nourished, creates new ideas or items.

Saying that it is a “rare natural ability” makes my definition different than that held by Simone de Beauvoir when she wrote, “One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius” (Beauvoir 133). It comes down to a philosophical question about the nature of man in which one must decide if we are all born equal mentally or whether some people are born with different mental makeups than others. My definition implies that not all humans are born with an equal mental capacity that just needs to be nourished. We are each different and unique, and some of us might be blessed with genius. “Rare” is an intentionally vague word because I really do not know how much of humanity is gifted with the potential of genius, but it is not common.

Although nourishment helps, it is not always required. Sometimes an individual can exhibit genius without seeing examples of genius or being instructed how to create new things. It seems to happen in some cases because they are not nourished. Others might not exhibit genius until being nourished to a point at which a new idea just clicks in their head.

Just because you are born with the ability to be genius does not inherently mean that genius will manifest itself. Genius must create or it will be wasted. Genius must manifest itself in an expressed intellectual manner or in a new creation if it is to be truly called genius. Otherwise, it is just potential. One might have the ability, but if that ability is not nourished and given an outlet, it might just rot away and never reveal itself. Jean-Paul Sartre spoke about genius in his essay on Existentialism: “There is no genius other than one which is expressed in works of art; the genius of Proust is the sum of Proust's works; the genius of Racine is his series of tragedies. Outside of that, there is nothing. Why say that Racine could have written another tragedy, when he did not write it? A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing” (Sartre 1206). A person can exhibit genius and we might label them as geniuses, but not everything that a “genius” does is genius.

Genius is not just expressing the old in a clearer or more concise way. It is connecting “concepts or physical elements” in a completely new way. Creation is taking what is there and bringing it together to produce new ideas and items. Genius is a new way to look at the world, the creation of a new metal, the manufacturing of an item that we all need but never realized, or a new way to interact with one another. Genius is the ability to bring to reality that which nobody has ever created before.

Genius is the result of a rare natural ability which, often when nourished, creates new ideas or items.

Beauvoir, Simone de. “Since the French Revolution: the Job and the Vote.” The Second Sex. 1949. bk. I, pt 2, ch. 8: 133. Wikipedia. 23 Oct. 2007. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Simone_De_Beauvoir.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 1199-1207.

Essay Review: Jean Paul Sartre's Existentialism

Sartre's thesis is that existentialism is the belief that we are defined by our actions and we are only what our actions reveal. If I claimed to be a loving person but spent all of my time selfishly trying to con people out of money, manipulate people into doing things for me, and destroying that which I have, could I really claim to be loving even if I felt I was loving in my heart? Not at all. If I am a loving person, it is my actions that will say such – not any statement I make with my voice or meditation I do in my head.

When Sartre states “Existence precedes essence,” he emphasizes that our essence, who we are, is defined by our existence, what we do (1200). We cannot pretend that we are someone different than what we act like. Who we are is defined by what we do. If we want to be social, then we will be social only once we start acting social. If we want to be giving, we will only be giving once we start giving. According to Sartre, we cannot think ourselves into being social or giving; it is our actions that will make us be what we want to be. That is existence preceding essence.

Sartre describes anguish as “the feeling of total and deep responsibility” an individual has when he realizes that “he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself” (1200). Anguish manifests itself when we realize that we know we must make decisions that impact others. These decisions will make our path become the only reality we will ever know.

Forlorness is the result of realizing “that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this” (1201). This causes distress that we will encounter when we realize that there is no God who has laid out a right and wrong answer. Sartre claims that this will lead us to a point where we will have to use our “instincts” to decide what actions we should choose (1203).

Despair “means that we shall confine ourselves to reckoning only with what depends upon our will, or on the ensemble of probabilities which make our action possible” (1205). Despair traditionally means “Complete loss of hope” (Despair). He tried to redefine “despair” to mean a state of mind in which we only deal with that in which we have control over. Sartre is guilty of what he claims Christians do: “The word (despair) is not being used in its original sense” (1207). He uses the word for impact, but he uses it in a completely different sense than what it means. “I shall have no illusions and shall do what I can” (1206). To him, that is what despair is. Thankfully, he explicitly defines his terms in his writings.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 1199-1207.

“Despair.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. 2006. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=despair. 23 Oct. 2007.

Essay Review: Paul Theroux's "Being a Man"



According to Theroux, the concept of manhood is to “be stupid, be unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and stop thinking” (233). In defining manhood in such a negative light, he makes us probe into the question of what should a man should strive to be if he is not to strive to be manly, but he fails to clearly define any of the words that he uses in his definition. We have our opinions of what is stupid, unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and to be a person who stops thinking, but he never elaborates on what he means by those words.

His thesis for this essay is that manliness is not a healthy goal for a man because it is “emotionally damaging and socially harmful.” His support is very weak because he never really expounds on why that is so. The closest he got to laying a framework for the flawed results caused by our society's idea of manliness is when he says that it “denies men the natural friendship of women” (234). He makes a list on how sports is a “recipe for creating bad marriages, social misfits, moral degenerates, sadists, latent rapists and us plain louts”; however, he fails to explain how sports causes those outcomes. It seems that his belief that manliness is harmful is so ingrained in his thinking and should be self-evident to anyone once the idea is mentioned that he does not need to explain how it is emotionally damaging and socially harmful.

Instead he begins to self-probe on how that mindset personally frustrates him. He spends almost a third of his essay dealing with authors who are more accepted because they have exhibited signs of manliness and laments how it is difficult to not adhere to society's idea of manliness and be accepted as a writer. This is likely a frustration to his feeling that he is not being accepted as much as those “manly” writers which he blames on his non-compliance to society's standards of manliness.

This essay provides more of an emotional hoorah to people that already believe that our society's stance on what it takes to be a man should change rather than laying out a good argument for why that is necessary or how it should be done. Despite the inadequacy of the essay to prove its point, it still brings up questions that we should carefully consider. Does who we raise our boys and girls to become damage them or harm society? What would be a better alternative? How would we go about raising children in that better alternative? How can we change an ingrained societal norm such as our expectations for men and women?

Theroux, Paul. “Being a Man.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 233-35.

Book Review: John Tosh's Pursuit of History

The Pursuit of History is a general overview of what history is, the specific fields of history, and the various methods used by historians in studying in those fields. John Tosh's purpose in writing the book is to show that “the most accurate history possible is a social necessity” (xv). The book “concludes by asserting that historians will continue to merit the support of the societies in which they work as long as they acknowledge the validity of relevant history” (xv). To further explain that he states in the conclusion:

“If society looks to historians for 'answers' in the sense of firm prediction and unequivocal generalizations, it will be disappointed. What will emerge from the pursuit of 'relevance' is something less tangible but in the long run more valuable – a surer sense of the possibilities latent in our present condition. For as long as historians hold that end in view, their subject will retain its vitality and its claim on the support of the society in which they work” (343).

John Tosh comes out and states exactly what his biases are; however, I think that he does a good job at discussing all of the elements of historical research in an unbiased manner. His own research experience is “in the fields of African history and gender in modern Britain” (xix). Here is his statement of his opinion on the role of history and how history should be conducted:

“History is a subject of practical and social relevance; that the proper performance of its function depends on a receptive and discriminating attitude to other disciplines, especially the social sciences; and that all historical enquiry, whatever the source of its inspiration, must be conducted in accordance with the rigorous critical method which is the hallmark of modern academic history” (xix)

Tosh clearly conveys that history will remain relevant only as long as historians keep researching areas that are relevant to society at large. He seems to have a slant towards theory guiding what one researches. Despite believing in topical research, he also shows a great appreciation and sees a need for well written surveys of periods of history. The overriding theme throughout the book is that historians need to make an attempt to connect with the masses in writing and delivering their historical studies.

Tosh wrote, “Almost any theory can be 'proved' by marshalling an impressive collection of individual instances to fit the desired pattern” (218). In regards to this concern with using theory as a basis for what to probe, I was struck with a concept of biblical hermeneutics. One approach in biblical studies, which I adhere to, is that when studying the Bible we must try to empty ourselves of any preconceived notions. This allows the the Bible to speak for itself rather than making it say what we want it to say. This is not as easily done as said, but it is a worthy aspiration. It seems that the same approach should be taken in regards to history. When studying a specific period, event, or person (an idea Tosh appears to be against (119-122)) in history with an already conceived theory would always taint one's research. One aspect I deeply appreciate about the historical community is that they are quick to admit their bias; however, it does seem that the quickness to admit one's bias has led to an almost indifferent approach to bias.

One aspect of the book that peeked my interest was the section on oral history. Living in a country town where there really is no credible written history, it is depressing to see the past of this town die off with every dying generation. Oral history would be the only way to keep the story of the people residing in this working class town alive. Tosh mentions an aversion to oral history by historians as a result of “contemporaneity is the prime requirement of historical sources” and an “aversion to any radical change in the habits of work required for historical research” (312). I would add that historians have misgivings about oral history because they overvalue the credibility and accuracy of written history. Unless we have a collection of videos with audio covering all angles of an event, we have a filtered view of history. Even if we have that accurate of a view of all history, we would still benefit from an oral history in which we tapped into what people who were there, watching it live on television, and hearing about it second or even third-hand felt happened and attempt to discern what the results of that event caused and what caused that event. No written record or video can truly express the thoughts and feelings of the people or attempt to study causes and effects. Perception might not be reality, but one's perception is their reality.

John Tosh with Sean Lang, The Pursuit of History, 4th edn, Longman, 2006.

The Declaration of Independence and the Laws of Nature

“...and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...”

With this passage of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made the case that the newly christened United States of America deserved a spot as an equal among the nations of the earth. Unlike the story of King Arthur and Excalibur, there was no sword in the stone that Thomas Jefferson or any of the Founding Fathers had removed that could be shown as proof that their succession from British rule was ordained by God. Jefferson had to rely upon rhetoric to convince the world, the members of the British Parliament, and King George III that the United States of America were doing only that which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God necessitated that they do.

According to John Locke, the law of nature is based upon “reason and common equity” (Locke II,8). All humans are under the responsibility to do what is good for all and that is revealed through reason. Locke's arguments also calls for justice to be undertaken by any people if the law of nature is being usurped or neglected (Locke II,7). Thomas Jefferson made the argument that King George III was not living up to his responsibility as a proper king because he continued to violate the Law of Nature that “governments are instituted among men” to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.

In hearkening to this belief in the the Laws of Nature, the individual's responsibility to not neglect it, and the violation of those laws by the king, Jefferson made his case that the United States of America must take its place among the other nations of this world. According to the list of grievances that followed the first two paragraphs, the people in the colonies were being held under oppression and were victims of a king who violated the reasonable laws that everyone – even the king – are under.

Jefferson did not frame the Declaration of Independence against the British nation; instead, he argued that the colonies were living up to their responsibility as rational humans under the principles of the Laws of Nature. For instance, if I was a soldier stationed at a remote base in the mountains in Afghanistan and had received a direct order from President Bush that I should never leave my position guarding that base until he personally told me otherwise, I would not leave that base even if a commanding officer came along and told me to leave. This fictitious case is similar to the argument Jefferson is making. All humans are under a law given to them by God and revealed in Nature that should never be violated. If an earthly king, who is supposed to be their authority placed there by God, violates the Laws of Nature, then it is the responsibility of all people to adhere to the Laws of Nature and not their earthly king. A commanding officer never overrides the President, and an earthly king never overrides Nature's God.

Jefferson was trying to walk a tightrope in declaring the independence of the United States while not alienating the support of people in England that had stood up for the colonies' rights up to this point. It was the colonies' responsibility to assume their spot as an equal nation on the world stage due to the failure of the King of England to recognize his position under the Laws of Nature. By framing their independence with the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, Jefferson made the case that all who would oppose their independence would also be fighting against those natural and divine laws.

To paraphrase this section of the Declaration, it would be like Jefferson writing, “Because of our responsibility given to us by God to adhere to reason and look out for the well-being of all men combined with the failure of those responsibilities being taken care of in our current circumstances, we must assume our position as an equal nation among the many nations of earth.”

Locke, John. “The Two Treatises of Government.” 1690. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/locke/locke2/locke2nd-a.html

A Brief History of Antibiotics

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1929. "At the time antibiotics were discovered, there were a number of serious infectious diseases that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Infections from contagion and trauma were rendered seemingly impotent by the long-awaited miracle drugs called 'antibiotics.' With their new-found arsenal, doctors slowly began to expand the use of antibiotics to include the treatment of bacterial diseases that were not life-threatening...We then saw the emergence of prophylactic, or preventive antibiotic prescribing. In cases that were often of viral origin, children were given antibiotics to 'prevent a secondary bacterial infection'" (Schmidt).

This brings us into the last few decades. Strains of bacteria have become more and more immune to antibiotics due to their abuse. Vancocin was a trusty and reliable last defense against any bacteria until the new superbugs figured out a way around them (Mayo). We currently have no defense against bacterial infections that have developed an immunity to Vancocin.

This has led to a major rethinking of the use of antibiotics, but it is taking a while for that rethinking done by elite medical institutions, the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to reach the family practitioners around the country (CDC). "Each year in the United States, doctors write an estimated 50 million antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses for which antibiotics offer no benefit" (Mayo).

The current educated opinion is that antibiotics should not be prescribed every time that a patient comes into the doctor's office because of earaches, colds, or the flu (CDC). Being a parent, I know it is very tough when you have an ill child to just leave the doctor's office without a prescription. We like to feel like we are treating our child and are making him better. Antibiotics gives us the fulfilling sense that we are being responsible by the fact that we are doing something. However, feeding that neurosis is causing bacteria to develop into superbugs that we will no longer have antibiotics or anything else to treat.

Prior to the mid 1980s, we used to get antibiotics for nearly every common cold, flu, and other ailments that antibiotics had no impact on. Now that is changing. The average American still might want their antibiotics, but the educated leaders in the medical community know that it is not what is best for them in the long. Most problems just need a little sleep and lots of water.

1 Michael Schmidt, Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent's Guide to Alternative Treatments (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004), 27-28, http://books.google.com/books?id=nGjDjqaz-fAC&pg=PP1&dq=childhood+ear+infections&sig=_4F4viiHo13aYm2mYRN3X27TwlU.
2 Mayo Clinic, Antibiotics: Too much of a good thing, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antibiotics/FL00075.
3 Center for Disease Control, CDC Issues Public Reminder About Proper Antibiotic Use, http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r050106.htm.

Who is the best conference in college football? SEC, Pac 10, Big 10?

Listening to ESPN Radio and all of the hype on the SEC made me do an online search to find out which conference is actually the best conference in college football. I found a good article that has some great statistic on what conference is actually the best.

His study has been updated and here are the new results.

Watch out for the potholes.

The Gospel is the Kingdom

What is the good news of the New Testament? That is a question I always thought had a simple answer: "Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might have a proper relationship with him." Although that statement is true, it is not the good news as it is described in the New Testament.

Early in his ministry Jesus started talking about the coming kingdom. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt 4:17). This kingdom had been what God's people throughout the Old Testament had been waiting for. This kingdom would be a blessing to the world. It would finally be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." The kingdom that would bless the whole world was near! The people of Israel were expecting that kingdom, and Jesus' proclamation that it was near was the good news.

Jesus states, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God because that is why I was sent" (Luke 4:43). We are often taught that the reason he was sent was to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins; however, that is not what Jesus Himself said. He said that he came to preach the good news of the kingdom. His death on the cross is part of the bigger framework of the kingdom. We should not make his death and resurrection the framework or else we miss the larger picture. The death and resurrection are glorious things indeed, but they are not why Jesus was sent. Jesus was sent to preach and bring about the kingdom.

The kingdom of God, the kingdom each Christian is residents of, is "not coming with things that can be observed" (Luke 17:20-21). This transformed kingdom was not what the Israelites were expecting. If I was a Pharisee, I would've replied, "You mean to tell me that you're going to start a kingdom but that kingdom isn't going to be visible. That is not a kingdom. You say it is already here? I see Roman soldiers just down the street. How can you say the kingdom is here among us when I see the Roman kingdom all around me?"

God does not always do what is viewed as "rational". He had Gideon lower his army from 32,000 to 500 before invading another nation. He had Joshua march around Jericho blowing trumpets in order to defeat them. He saved the world by having Jesus die on a cross. In hindsight his acts are glorious, just like his kingdom. But at the time, they usually seem to be a little off.

The kingdom of God was there among the people Jesus was talking to and is here among us. Although I live in America, my true residence is in another kingdom. All of us who profess to follow Christ need to realize that we are part of a kingdom that is among us. Our nationality belongs to the kingdom of God, not to any of the kingdoms of this world. Jesus' kingdom might not have physical borders or a common language; His kingdom is unlike any other.

And the Good News that Jesus taught was that we can be citizens in that kingdom. Too often we focus on the gate to the kingdom (Jesus dying on the cross) and describe that as the good news. That is missing the point of the good news that Jesus Himself taught. We can be citizens in God's kingdom here and now. We can be vessels in helping his kingdom breakthrough to the fallen reality around us. That is the good news of Jesus. That is what Jesus came to invite us to. That is the Gospel as the Bible describe it.

(Other relevant verses if you want to do more research: Matt 4:17, Matt 4:23, Matt 6:33, Matt 9:35, Matt 10:7, Mark 1:14-15, Mark 9:1, Mark 11:10, Luke 4:18-19, Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1, Luke 9:11, Luke 9:60, Luke 9:62, Luke 10:9, Luke 10:11, Luke 16:16, Luke 17:20-21, Acts 8:12, Acts 19:8, Acts 28:23, Acts 28:30-31, Rom 14:17, I Cor 15:24-25, Rev 1:5-6, Rev 11:15.)

A rational exuberance?

The following quote from the article on Yahoo, Secrets of 1957 Sputnik Launch Revealed, struck me as somewhat funny.

"Each of these first rockets was like a beloved woman for us," he said. "We were in love with every rocket, we desperately wanted it to blast off successfully. We would give our hearts and souls to see it flying."

This very rational exuberance, and Korolyov's determination, were the key to Sputnik's success.

Maybe the word "rational" no longer means "influenced by reasoning rather than by emotion".

Watch out for the potholes.

Talking with the "enemy"

Peggy Noonan just wrote a opinion piece on talking with our enemies: Hear, Hear.

This growing trend to not talk with our enemies is one of the "American" actions that infuriates me most with the American political system. Not only is it very unChristlike, it is also very arrogant and ineffective.

Maybe we have a swelling tide of arrogance in this country. To think how great we are might be all that we have left to cling to as we lose a war, bridges crumble, the dollar crashes, jobs move overseas, house values plummet, levies break, and our political system only deals with issues that will implode in less than two years. Our pride might be all that is left.

I would much rather have no pride and live in a country heading in the right direction than to have all the pride in the world as everything crumbles around me. Proverbs says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Maybe that old book does have some relevance.

Watch out for the potholes.

Drive your truck like you have some

People should drive their big, macho, superduty trucks like they mean it.

The big, superduty Ford F-250 was being driven (or should I say pampered) at the elderly woman pace of ten miles per hour on the country stone road. A detour placed on US-37 between Harlan, IN, and Ft. Wayne, IN, was forcing people to veer off the regular path and take the back roads around the normal route. I was one of the people on the detour stuck behind a nice, new, slow-moving Ford F-250 that was scared to drive fast along the country road - apparently, a little afraid to stir up some dust. How does one of the "manliest" vehicles in the world end up in the hands of someone that is afraid to go faster than a mini-van on a country stone road?

This is not a rare occurrence. It is "pampered truck" syndrome. I once had a friend who bought a superduty truck but would not load anything in the bed for fear of scratching it. One does not buy a Clydesdale (a draft horse) to do the job of an Arabian (a horse known for speed and refinement). You buy an Arabian for that. If you want a vehicle that is shiny and pretty, there are many options out there for that. Stay away from the big trucks.

Something is wrong in a person who wants to appear tough but is not really tough. They spend $25,000 or so on a nice, new Ford F-250 that is marketed as "Stronger, Tougher, Better". Apparently they do this, not because they want a vehicle that is strong and tough, but to give the appearance of strength and toughness in order to compensate for the frailty that is certainly within them.

I could not stand waiting behind that macho truck driver as they coddled their superduty beauty on that country road. I flew by them in my Chevy Lumina stirring up stones and dust.

The moral of the story is "Don't be a mental case, drive and treat your superduty truck like it deserves." There are other vehicles that are made to be pampered if that is what you want. If a tough, strong, superduty truck is not for you, then do not own one. Being a pretty boy and insisting on driving a superduty truck will reveal more about you than you really want when you pamper it.

Drive your superduty truck like it is strong and tough. That is what they are made for.

And watch out for the potholes.

Fred Thompson's Announcement and What it says about American Politics

The way in which Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for the 2008 election represents all that is wrong in American politics. Announcing his candidacy on the Tonight Show and avoiding a Republican Debate earlier that evening was representative of the American political scene in which star power and entertainment overrides the relevant and pressing issues in the election cycle. Rather than joining in a debate with his fellow Republican candidates, he successfully overshadowed the debate with a public relations-manufactured announcement on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He even aired a commercial for his campaign during the debate, which was prior to his announcing his candidacy. The whole announcement borderlined on circus lunacy rather than presidential seriousness.

The "official" announcement came on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on late Thursday, September 6, with an official speech released on his website. As early as Friday, August 31, media outlets were reporting that former Tennessee senator and Law and Order star would announce his candidacy for the President on the Tonight Show the following week. In reality, announcing that he would announce that he would run was the real announcement of his candidacy, but the media seem to march right along to join in on his campaign's marketing blitz to make his "announcement" all that much more exciting. The media was focused on his upcoming "announcement", even though he had for all intents and purposes already announced.

What we saw here was a candidate orchestrating the media to raise his star power and receive more publicity. The media should be ashamed of themselves for being used in such a way. What they were doing was not covering news. The Tonight Show announcement was not news. That was the media being used for public relations by a political campaign. Thomspon's public relations head should be giving a firm pat on the back for manipulating the media in such a extraordinary way, but the media should be embarrassed for being puppets.

A healthy election must have issues at the forefront. In order to be a functioning democracy, the people must know what candidates believe in, how they deal with opposing beliefs, and how they plan to implement their beliefs. We do not need more sideshow shenanigans that distract us from the serious issues that our nation is facing.

But it would be wrong for us to blame the candidates for doing what they have to do to get elected. This act of the Thompson campaign is just one example of the travesty that American presidential politics has become, and it is the people's fault. We want good-looking, well-groomed, and great acting candidates. We do not want sincere and honest opinions about what should be done concerning all of the tough problems that confronts our nation. We do not even want to admit that we are facing serious problems that need to be dealt with.

Let us work to get this nation back on track by being people that reward candidates that tell us what they believe rather than remaining to be bystanders of an exciting "political" show.

Romney's bribe? The Pharmaceutical companies and Mitt Romney. Breastfeeding and formula feeding.

In 2006, Mitt Romney overturned the Massachusetts Public Health Council's decision to ban formula bags from hospitals. Was he doing what he believed was right for his citizens or was he bribed by the big pharmaceutical companies?

My wife subscribes to Mothering Magazine. In the recent issue (September/October 2007), they had an article entitled "A Quiet Place" which focused on the battle breastfeeding proponents face in the public arena. One section of the article had my wife reading out loud to me. I post it here for your consideration. It eliminated Mitt Romney from my "Potentially Receiving My Vote" list.

"In December 2005, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit formula sample bags in hospitals, as part of an update of an update of the State's Department of Public Health regulations. Bot the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have called for an end to this practice(www.massbfc.org/news). Governor Romney pressured the Public Health Council to rescind the ban, but the council successfully resisted his pressure, until he fired and replaced three members just prior to a vote on it; the ban was rescinded in May 2006. Less than two weeks later, Romney announced a deal with Bristol-Myer Squibb, the world's largest formula manufacturer, to build a $66 million pharmaceutical plant in Devens, Massachusetts."


Sounds like a really interesting coincidence to me. In the best scenario, Romney is convinced that formula feeding bags should be distributed because corporations should have the freedom to distribute whatever they want in hospitals. In the most likely scenario, Bristol-Squibb Myer bribes Romney by saying if you allow our baby formula bags to be distributed in your hospital, then we will build the new plant we need to build in your state. In the worst scenario, Romney takes some person bribes from Bristol-Squibb Myer to allow the company to restart the banned practice of distributing formula bags in the hospital.

For those who have not had a baby recently, a formula bag is a nice diaper bag given to new parents in the hospital filled with coupons and all sorts of gifts. One of the main gifts is formula. Also in the bag are coupons for future formula purchases and pamphlets on the benefits of formula. We really liked the baby bag, but we did not use the formula until we added it to cereal after our babies were much older. The bags are provided to the hospital by the big pharmaceutical companies that manufacture baby formula.

The question of whether to allow these formula bags to be distributed is a difficult dilemma which seems to be representative of the current debate centered around the government's role in protecting the public from corporations. When a company continues in practices that are harmful to society, should the government make those practices illegal. Obviously, there is a point where we say that the government should step in an force the action to be stopped and make the company pay for damages to the people harmed. It is difficult in deciding where that line is. How harmful does an action have to be to initiate the process of penalties? Does the distribution of formula bags in hospitals to new parents cross that line? Distribution formula bags seems like a right of the pharmaceutical companies that should not be taken away in such a scenario, but it is a sticky situation.

Nobody is making money off of the much healthier practice of feeding your kids breast-milk, so breast-milk proponents cannot compete on the marketing field with the pharmaceutical industries. Despite being much healthier, breastfeeding is handicapped in the field of concepts when it comes to convincing people that they should breastfeed rather than formula feed.

This practice takes place in a publicly funded (at least in the state of Massachusetts) hospital. The pharmaceutical companies bombards new parents through their gift bags with the message that formula feeding is a "healthy" alternative when there really is nothing healthy about using that alternative. What this all results in is parents being told that formula feeding is a "healthy" alternative despite it not really being such. Breastfeeding proponents do not have equal resources to compete with the pharmaceutical company at the same level.

There are rare cases where formula feeding is necessary, but it is not even close to being equal to breast-milk on the healthy scale. It is a sufficient alternative meaning that it will sustain the life of your child till you get the baby on real food, but it is not a healthy alternative.

But should we take away the freedom of a company in order to protect individuals from doing what is not optimal for their baby?

Guns, Germs, and Steel - a review

Guns, Germs, and Steel is a documentary in which the author tries to explain why some civilizations are more advanced than others. It is definitely a unique way to look at the history of the earth, and I do not ever think that I will look at the history of civilizations the same ever again.

Doing his theory injustice due to brevity, his proposal is that the farming animals in certain regions is what allowed those regions to have more free time and prosper above and beyond the civilizations that did not have the great farming animals. He comes at it from a purely secular approach, but it does make one wonder about God and the placement of those animals into the hands of certain culture.

One of the main reasons for the documentary is to explain why Africa lags behind the rest of the world in development. I was convinced by his arguments.

This comes with my highest possible recommendation.

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The Corporation - a review

Last night I was going to watch The Corporation for an hour and call it an early night. Three hours later, I was just shutting off my DVD player and feeling depressed about the world.

The Corporation was the culprit. It is a documentary about American corporations and their role as plunderer in the world.

My feeling when watching the documentary was a great "what can I do".

I was overwhelmed with the same feeling the other day as I was traveling on the People Mover in Detroit. I saw the giant skyscrapers built by multi-national corporations like GM and EDS. And the same feeling overwhelmed me then. These skyscrapers are maintained on the backs of workers making extremely terrible wages overseas. What can I do?

The documentary does not really give us an answer to that question.

In the movie, we see how corporations market, manufacture, and acquire the natural resources necessary for doing business. One of the most disturbing things is the way corporations dealt with the 14th amendment. Corporate lawyers used the amendment to give corporations the classification of "person" rather than just a corporate entity without individual rights. However, corporations do not bear responsibility for their actions like a person does. They have a special status where they have the rights of a person but not the responsibility.

It is definitely a documentary worth watching.

Watch out for the potholes.

Newt Gingrich Email Address Sharing and the Word "Free"

I signed up to receive a weekly email newsletter from Newt Gingrich yesterday. Since then, I have already received emails from Ann Coulter and Robert Novak. I JUST WANTED NEWT GINGRICH'S NEWSLETTER! This frustrates me. Now I will have to waste time unsubscribing to a bunch of newsletters I never signed up for. I did that for three hours around three months ago in order to reclaim my email box.

And I hate the use of the word "free" in our society. It is thrown around all over the place and does not usually mean "free". It means "free if you do something for me". I wish there was a new word that actually meant "free with no strings attached". That way we could really know if something was free.

Percy Gloom

I must give a solid recommendation to a book that I found wonderfully inventive. I read this book around a month ago and have not been able to forget about it. It's like Tim Burton directing an amazing story about a person finding the meaning of life (I cannot say too much without giving the story away and I am not a reviewer at heart).

If you are looking for something new to read that will make you look around and find all of the wonder in life, then read Percy Gloom.

The book's website can be found here.

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Fred Thompson, not a conservative candidate

I'm still waiting for the Republican party to offer a legitimate conservative candidate in this election. It is very frustrating for me.

Fred Thompson is libertarian and pro-choice in his approach to abortion.

He is the epitome of all that is wrong in Washington when it comes to lobbyists.

And now, he reveals himself as a Bush Republican rather than as a person of justice no matter who breaks the law. I do not understand this party bias where we only care about perjury or breaking the law only when it is the other party.

I'm just frustrated with the current options for President, and even more frustrated that Fred Thompson is receiving all of the glory as being a conservative candidate when he is not such.

Fred Thompson might be what people are looking for, but he is definitely not a conservative candidate. He is another middle of the road Republican running for office.

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An Unfair Tax System - Democratic Debate at Howard University

Last night I watched the Democratic debate. It is the first debate I have been able to watch this year since I do not have cable.

One of the themes that the Democratic candidates kept stating was that we have an unfair tax system.

What would be a fair tax system?  I came up with the idea that people would pay taxes equal percentage-wise to the amount of wealth they have. That seems fair to me. After deciding what fairness in taxation was, I then went and found the numbers to see if our tax system is unfair.

Unfortunately, these numbers just deal with the wealthiest 1%. I do not know where to go to find the wealthiest 5% or 20%.

Economics Policy Institute
states: "The wealthiest 1% of households control about 38% of national wealth, while the bottom 80% control only 17%."

To be fair as I defined it above, that would mean that we have an unfair system to the poor if the wealthiest 1% pay less than 38% in taxes. However, the opposite would also be true. We would have an unfair tax system to the wealthiest 1% if they paid more than 38% in taxes.

Here is what I found.

The Wall Street Journal quoted in a National Center for Policy Analysis states: "The top 1% pay 35% of the taxes."

The logical conclusion, if you agreed with my premise of a fair tax system, is that our tax code is unfair to some of the people outside of the wealthiest 1%. I cannot conclude which group is getting the shaft; however, some group is paying more than their fair share of their wealth.

Warren Buffet, the third wealthiest man in the world, said that he thinks our system is unfair because he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than his secretary. Here is the full article on that.

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"I always give money to homeless people in case they're Jesus undercover."

A quote from one of the comedians on Last Comic Standing.

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Toward a Loving Penal System

I just read this story from the BBC.

Row over religion's role in US jails

Part of me wants to scream in agreement: "We should not use the prison system in this way. It is against separation of church and state." I like separation of church and state, especially when it comes down to another religion doing the same thing in our prison system.

However, my main allegiance is not to this nation and the principle of "separation of church and state", so I am left with saying that it sounds like a good idea. Something needs to be done with our prison systems. It seems pointless to have a prison system where the prisoners come out with the same attitudes or worse than when they went in. We need to raise prisoners up to be people that will be beneficial to society. It is our loving responsibility to give them the opportunity to become better people.

I have a friend who became a Christian in prison while serving out a sentence for drug trafficking. (It's an amazing story. I will ask him to write his testimony so I can share it). He came out a changed man.

But it looks like we will become a nation where Christian people who are making a difference in people's lives will be kicked out of the prison system. So much for us being a "Christian nation".

Watch out for the potholes.

A Tee Ball Trophy

Isaac received a trophy the other day for finishing his first season of tee ball. When they handed it to him, he held it up high with a big smile on his face and looked at me for approval. I frowned at him. Every kid in the league received the trophy. It seemed like a pretty worthless trophy to me.

So when we got home, I set the trophy out on our sidewalk. I went to the garage and picked up a sledgehammer. I took Isaac out to the trophy with my sledgehammer in hand.

I then told him this: "You see this trophy. It is meaningless. It is worthless. I want you to pick up this sledgehammer and destroy that trophy because I do not want the first trophy you have ever earned to just be earned for completing a season. I want your first trophy to mean something."

He then tried to pick the sledgehammer up. He couldn't even budge it. Maybe it was the tears making him weak. I don't really know. Anyway, I said, "You can't even pick up this sledgehammer; you definetly don't deserve this trophy."

I then picked up the sledgehammer and pulverized the worthless trophy. He wept.

Just kidding.

We sat the trophy up in a prominent spot in our dining room. I smiled back and gave a thumbs up when he looked at me for approval. I hope that he can win some in the future that actually have more of a meaning behind them, but until then I am happy this trophy has brought a smile to his face.

Watch out for the potholes.

Alan Keyes for President

It appears that Alan Keyes has started a website to explore whether there is demand out there for a conservative candidate in this election.

He is my favorite politician and will always have my vote if he runs.

Here is a petition to sign if you want him to run.

Watch out for the potholes.

A New Blog - Chi Rho Live

A group of friends and I were hanging out and came up with the idea to start a community blog that would be updated every day rather than the individual blogs that we currently have that are infrequently updated. The accountability among us will hopefully make us update regularly.

One of the requirements for me was to make my blog posts shorter. So you will still see my sermons, pictures of the kids (if I ever do that again after the bad experience), and other material that does not quite fit over there posted here. However, my regular updates will be over at...

Chi Rho Live

Feel free to go check it out and add your thoughts if any. There is only one post now, but next week all of the fun will begin.

Watch out for the potholes.

Suffer the Children a documentary on some of the televangelists

I heard about an interesting film that was recently made. Unfortuately, I do not have the extra cash at the moment to pick it up and write a proper review.



Here is the main page and an excerpt from it:

For most of the desperately sick or poor, that will be their only exposure to Christianity and they send their money in the hope for a miracle from God...a miracle, of course, which never comes. The problem, they are told, does not lie with the ministry or God, but rather with themselves. Their sickness and poverty not only degenerates but they are now made to believe that it's because God is mad at them. For many, this leads to lack of faith, depression and even suicide.

Millions of people around the world watch "Name It and Claim It" preachers sell faith as a commodity with a huge price-tag. These church leaders flaunt their wealth and health as blessings from God reserved for those that plant seed (money) into their ministry. The more you give, the bigger the chance that God will bless you in return. These "donations destined for God" are then used to fund palatial homes, private jets, extravagant lifestyles for church leaders.


It can be ordered here.

Watch out for the potholes.