Monday, December 31, 2012

FAUX HATE 2012

The 2012 roundup is again mostly college reports, with some scattered lesbian faux events and one meant to influence the election.
  • 2012, Central Connecticut State University, a student claims she's getting hate letters under her door because she's a lesbian. Police catch her slipping the notes under her own down on security camera footage.
  • 2012, Montclair State University, two black roommates claim racist, sexist message has been slipped under their door. They are arrested later for of false reporting, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct the next week when its shown that they wrote the note.
  • 2012, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, a black student claims she was sent a list of racial threats including a 'hit list' of students to be targeted. Authorities investigating the case find the student sent the letters to herself. Police were tipped off by how the only name spelled right on the list was her own.
  • 2012, this one is a bit different. A black man and white woman received a package in the mail containing a noose and a picture of the murdered body of Nicole Simpson. Police track down the perpetrator and find it is a black man, a PhD who said "My motivation was stirred by, again, the presidential election. It doesn’t bother me in the least bit that someone date someone outside of their race." The crime was real, but the hate part was a hoax designed to influence the presidential race.
  • 2012, lesbian and former University of Nebraska basketball player crawled out of her home bleeding and crying for help. Someone had carved anti-homosexual slurs into her skin with a blade, she claimed. Police investigated and found she'd foreshadowed the crime on her Facebook page and she later admitted to having done it herself to sway debate on a 'fairness ordinance' designed to give special protections to homosexuals.
  • 2012: A lesbian couple find "Kill the gay" spraypainted on their condo garage door.  Frightened they turn to the police, who later find that it was the lesbians themselves who did it, to frame the neighbors they dislike.
This is part of the Faux Hate Crime Series.

Friday, December 28, 2012

MOST POPULAR WATN, 2012

"Dude, its meta, its a blog post about blog posts..."

Well its that time again, the most linked, visited, and popular posts of 2012 on Word Around the Net.
After the shooting in Connecticut, a huge debate online arose over mentally ill people getting guns and who is responsible for dangerous lunatics on the streets, which led to my Common Knowledge post on Ronald Reagan and the homeless getting seriously hammered for weeks - it is still getting a lot of attention and forwarding around through emails and facebook.  The sad thing is, you probably know someone as crazy as that shooter, they just haven't snapped and done anything awful, and probably never will.  And you can't throw someone into confinement on the fear they might do bad.
It was just a quick throwaway post because I thought she was cute, but my post on the woman who plays Wendy in the latest ads -  Morgan Smith Goodwin - has been consistently popular and high ranking in my stats ever since I posted it.  It appears I'm not the only one that thinks she's cute.  She's married, guys.
Other Common Knowledge posts that got plenty of notice are the one I did on Kitty Genovese, Hurricane, and the Titanic.  That series has been pretty popular all year, and I still have more to post on it.
The series I've done on surviving economic depression continues to get plenty of attention, as people continue to have the sinking feeling things just aren't quite right despite the reporting we get.  Every so often I get a big spike from the Songs I Like series, as people read one then start going through the long list picking out songs they know and are curious about.
And as always around this time of year I get plenty of links to the King Star post I did about the star of Bethlehem based on Rick Larson's extraordinary work.
Other honorable mentions are the Faux Hate post on faked hate crimes, a post on "food deserts," and my overview of Ayn Rand's philosophies.  Posts I wish got more attention this year include the one on the Treaty of Westphalia and the one on Celebrity Culture.  There's a chance I'll start reposting stuff I think got over looked or insufficient attention next year.
Have a happy new year everyone.

Friday, December 21, 2012

CHRISTMAS AMID TRAGEDY

Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman's conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface:
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the Newborn King.
-Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

It was interesting reading various blogs around the net this week as people reeled in shock and horror from the insane shootings of kindergarteners and first graders in Connecticut.  Many people have tried to make a political point or advance their agenda with this event, to one degree or another, and I suppose that is inevitable.  But one theme that kept coming back up is how the events made it hard to celebrate Christmas or talk about the holiday season because of sadness, mourning, or just shock.
And that's really quite sad to me because it reveals how much our culture - even many Christians - have reduced Christmas to giving gifts, parties and decorations instead of what it is really about.  I suppose that's why there are all those "reason for the season" comments and pictures around this time of year, but really, Christmas should be celebrated all the more in the face of tragedy and horror.
The entire point behind Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, that's what the -mas suffix means (we don't use it for anything else these days, but a lot of birth events were celebrated like that in medieval times like Michaelmas).  Now, before you yawn and move on to the next page, think about that a moment.
The birth of Jesus Christ was about salvation, grace, joy, peace, and hope.  Not campaign slogan hope, not hope as a cliche, but real hope for real glory and peace.  The birth of Jesus Christ was because of things like the evil murder of children.... however old they happen to be.  Jesus himself was the target of a demented evil murderer as a child, and his family fled to a neighboring country to survive.  King Herod, desperate to stop the rise of a foretold king he thought would replace him (or his children) murdered every child of 3 years and younger born in Bethlehem.
See, when the wise men visited Herod, following a celestial event, they asked about a king born in the region, and knew it had happened about 3 years previous to their arrival.  No, the wise men weren't there for the birth of Jesus the Christ, they were there years later, in the winter.  When Herod heard about this, he became alarmed - a king born, with a celestial event that attracted scholars and masters of astronomy from a thousand miles away?  This had to be dealt with.
So Jesus' life started with horror as babies were slaughtered all across an entire region just to prevent a rival king from rising up from the Bethlehem area.  It didn't work, but the thing Herod - and most people of the day (and even some today) didn't understand is that King Jesus wasn't born to conquer regions and rule an earthly realm.  He wasn't there to fight oppression and bring Israel freedom, he was born to deal with the problems behind why oppression and terrible things happen.
This is the main flaw with many reactions to the Connecticut shootings.  Many people are crying and praying to the government to fix everything, if only there was a law against shooting children in schools!  It would stop such an event!  There are calls for gun bans and gun control and people in other nations, ignorant of guns and America, are mocking the country and baffled anyone would want to be able to protect their kids from murderers with their own weapons.
The problem is, banning guns doesn't do away with psychotic murderers.  It just makes a certain method of killing more difficult to obtain.  If there was a sudden rise of killings with potatoes, banning potatoes would not solve that problem.  The problem isn't with the tool, its with the motivation behind the deed.
And that's why Jesus Christ was incarnated, why He came to earth to begin with.  Jesus was born to deal with what's behind the evil in the world, not its symptoms or actions.  If you have a brain tumor, the aspirin might bring relief from the headaches, but its not going to save your life or deal with why you get the headaches to begin with.  What you need is something radical, risky, and shocking to be done.  You need that tumor out of your head.
And that's the scope we're dealing with on earth today.  Putting away murders or banning guns, arming teachers or home schooling kids won't get rid of the evil in the world.  What's needed is a savior, someone who will bring an end to sin, to what makes the evil happen to begin with.  Behind those horrific acts through all of history is a cancer of the soul that all humanity suffers from; that cancer is sin.  We all rebel against what is right and good and true and beautiful because we are sinful by nature, it is part of who we are.
What we need is someone to save us from that sin, not its consequences and results.  The briars and horrors of life are because sin exists within us.  There is no "noble savage" living in peace and harmony apart from the corrupting evils of civilization; we can't run away to a better place or time because we bring the evil with us.  Its like a horrific plague we carry, wherever we go, that horror lurks within us all.  Bad people don't happen because of bad surroundings or culture.  The bad is inside them - and us - waiting for a way to manifest its self.
Jesus Christ was born to live a perfect life of absolute sinlessness so we could have a hope of salvation.  That perfect life is what is needed, that's what justice demands: no sins.  And because we have sinned, justice demands punishment as well.  So Jesus came not just to live on earth but to die.  And the doing and dying of Jesus Christ fulfilled that justice and brought a hope, a hope that we can finally be without sin, finally find peace, finally find justice, finally see an end to tears and sorrow and loss and death.
I've gone into much more detail explaining this in the Emptiness and Light piece I linked above, so you can read that if you're curious what exactly I mean by all that but what's significant here is something few people stop to consider.
Every religion on earth but one teaches you save yourself.  You either work your way to salvation and paradise through specific deeds, such as the seven pillars of Islam, or you detach yourself from the world and embrace your insignificance and the illusion of life such as in Buddhism and Hinduism, or you keep commandments like in Judaism, and so on.  They all boil down to one thing: law; you do this and you achieve nirvana or get your virgins in paradise, or what have you.  All religions, everywhere on earth, but one.
Christianity teaches that it was done for you, by someone far greater, in your place.  It teaches us that all we bring to our salvation is sin, all we offer is our lives of rebellion and pleas for mercy.  Because we are incapable of saving ourselves.  We can't reach that bar, its too high.  When the standard is perfection, any deviation whatsoever means you fail, and since you can't do better or more than perfect, there's no extra credit to make up for the difference.
Because the sin is within us, we are inherently unable to do what we must to be saved, and can only rely on another in our place, a representative to do what we cannot, for us.  And that someone was the baby Jesus, born in a manger with legions of angels exploding into a cold night to celebrate before astounded shepherds.
We all want to fix things our way, we all want to have some credit and do our part.  We all have so much pride and certainty we're right that we figure we can make it all better if only given a chance.  So much unbelievable evil has been done in the world in that very name, from the inquisition to communism and beyond.  We wrap up our horrific deeds in a pretty package of well meaning and pleasant slogans, but the bones jut out and the blood leaks out onto the floor.  You can put a bow on the whole thing, but you can't keep the flies away.
Christianity is the truth, and the way - Jesus is the truth and the way, the only way.  Our only hope came to earth in the form of a tiny helpless baby who, despite the words of Away in a Manger, did cry.  That hope gives us a chance of salvation, like a drowned man lying on a beach has only one hope: resuscitation by someone else.
And once saved, our lives should, and over time do more and more, reflect the amazement and gratitude for what has been done.  Not because we're ordered to be gracious, but because we respond naturally to it, like a human responds naturally to resuscitation by breathing.  Yes we fail, yes we stray, yes we are "prone to wander" away from the God we love, as the hymn puts it.  But Christ lived the life we fail to and died for that sin, too.  And washed clean by the blood of the lamb, we stand before God like a child weeping that we've failed our beloved father once more and forgiven once more to try again.  O, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.
And each day we live in the hope that one day we'll rest from our sins, finally find peace from that struggle against what we know to be wrong, and celebrate in a time when tragedy ceases, joy abounds, and we finally see the glory we've long known was out there but could never find on this earth.
Celebrate Christmas in the light of tragedy?  That is absolutely the best time to do it.
Merry Christmas my friends. God be with you and your family.

Monday, December 17, 2012

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Civil War

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.”
-Abraham Lincoln

The American civil war - or the war between the states, depending on who you ask - is one of the most contentious and divisive events in the nation's history, even today more than a century later.  If you ask most northerners, or people in the west, they'll say the war was fought over slavery, to set the slaves free.  If you ask southerners, they'll say the war was fought over the right of states to self govern without federal interference.
Abraham Lincoln is another divisive topic.  He's either a saint who held the nation together and freed the slaves, or a monster who raped the constitution and a tyrant who ruined the country.  To this day, people get into fights over the topics that tore the nation apart over 100 years ago, and it shows no sign of lessening over time.
What's right here, what's wrong?  Who has the truth on their side?  How can we weed through this?  The truth is... both sides are right, and wrong.  The truth is a bit more complicated and subtle than is usually presented by film or debate.
To understand the origins of the American Civil War, you have to go back a long time before it started.  The south was largely settled and populated by two groups: immigrants from the British Isles and Ireland who tended to settle further inland (the mountains, mostly), and landed nobility who purchased and settled large farms and plantations.  Younger sons of nobles in England, Scotland, and Ireland would come to the US to find their fortune, and kept their nobility in mind.
While the north was generally more of a mix of ethnic backgrounds and of more diverse class structures, the south tended to be more blue blood.  They were often very wealthy, very powerful, and very convinced of their superiority.  To this day, many Scots and other UK residents who visit the area are more comfortable with the culture and accent, finding it more homely and familiar than the rest of the US.  It isn't that there were no poor or other groups of people, its that the culture, leadership, and most powerful people in the region tended to be these wealthy aristocrats.
With that perspective of noble background and wealth came a tendency to reject not just authority, but the idea of democratic rule.  They didn't oppose voting and representation and all that, they opposed the rabble telling them what to do.  And further, they opposed a central government including other states' representatives having any say in their actions.
When the US Constitution was being written, not a few people from the south wanted no federal government at all, simply a loose coalition of sovereign states.  The fight to get the constitution written and finalized was a very difficult one, and included actual real violence in the process.  That story is a pretty big one in its self, and I recommend digging into it more fully.
One glimpse into the history behind that battle is the 3/5ths compromise, where southern and northern states battled over how slaves should be represented in congress.  The south had many more slaves than the north, although both had slaves (as did the rest of the world at the time; Africa included).  The south saw a potential for greater power by counting all the slaves for representation.  If they could load up congress with southerners based on their slave population, then they would have more power over the federal government.  The north didn't care for that and wanted more power for themselves.
And then there were folks who pointed out that slaves could not vote, had no voice, and hence were not being represented in any way so they shouldn't be considered for the purposes of congress at all.  And yes, there were people calling for slavery to end back then, too.  I've written more extensively in the past about the 3/5ths compromise, but it was basically a way for the two regions to find common ground and get a constitution passed to begin with.
The founders such as Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and so on all were opposed to slavery in principle, although most kept slaves.  They knew that they couldn't end the system and have any hope of building a nation that they dreamed of, so they worked toward a future when it could one day happen.  The south, heavily dependent on slaves for agriculture, would have simply refused to have any part of a nation which banned the practice.
The south continued to rebel against federal control, even after the constitution was signed and the nation formed.  One of George Washington's first acts was to put down the "whiskey rebellion" in which southern bourbon distillers rebelled against the federal tax on liquor.  Southern states insisted on the right of "nullification" which essentially was the power of states to ignore federal laws they consider unconstitutional.  
Nullification came to a crisis under Andrew Jackson, who on the whole was for small and limited government and states rights.  South Carolina's economy was suffering and they blamed a tariff applied by congress to trading with England for their problems.  The state's legislature passed an act that permitted them to simply ignore the tariff as unconstitutional, and the federal government responded by passing a law allowing the federal government to use the military to enforce law.  South Carolina backed down, this time, but the tariff rates were lowered as well.
However, the animosity and concern over encroaching federal power continued.  Southern states were very strong on the principle of state sovereignty, the idea that except in matters of foreign trade and interaction between various states, the federal government had no power whatsoever within states.  This is, incidentally, the position the founding fathers took in both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, and one I happen to agree with.
Also, the growing anti-slavery movement made southern states very uncomfortable.  They still relied on slave trade and labor for their livelihood (or, at least, the level of wealth they liked) and saw each  new state added to the union which banned slavery a threat to their future.  Each new area which had congressmen in the federal government which opposed slavery meant one more that might eventually ban the practice in America overall.
Further, the southern states tended to be independent overall.  They didn't care to pay taxes to a federal government, and any new tax was met with great resistance.  They didn't like northern states having any say at all in what they did.  Frustration, animosity, and conflict between the two regions built over the years and little was resolved.
This is something to be very clear on; the civil war didn't spring out fully formed like Pegasus from Zeus' head.  The seeds for this conflict were sown before the revolutionary war, as two very different regions began to clash in ideology and principle.  Surprisingly enough Wikipedia has a pretty good timeline of events that show how the conflict built over the years.
By the time the southern states met in South Carolina to discuss seceding from the union, this struggle had been going on for over a century.  The core of this fight was over slavery, but the general theme was of states' rights versus central federal control.  Its like an argument a married couple has over a personality clash, but it takes focus on something specific, like the toilet seat being left up.  The argument is over the toilet seat, but the background is something else unresolved.
In this case, it was southern states wanting to be more self governed, but it took focus over slavery because that was the lifeblood of the south's economy.  Here are a few stats from 1860, the year it all blew up:
  • U.S. slave population in the 1860 United States Census: 3,954,174
  • Total US population: 31,443,321, an increase of 35 percent over the 1850 Census
  • About 20,000,000 citizens lived in the north
  • About 8,000,000 citizens lived in the south
  • 26 percent of all Northerners live in towns or cities
  • 10 percent of Southerners live in towns or cities
  • 40% of the Northern work force works in agriculture
  • 80% of the Southern workforce works in agriculture
The south and the north had very different cultures, and very different concerns.  Each had their say in congress, but the overall momentum of the country was against slavery and against the south's system of agriculture, and they were outnumbered more than 2:1 in general population, which is how Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860 despite winning no southern states.  Although the Republican Party platform declares that individual states are allowed to form their own "domestic institutions" the south can see the writing on the wall.  The federal government will inevitably declare slavery illegal and end it, despite having no constitutional power to do so.  The northern states already were refusing to extradite escaped slaves, which were considered lawful property of southern owners.
Every state in the union had already outlawed the slave trade (although South Carolina started it up again for a while).  The federal government had only the power under the constitution to prevent slave trade between states and importation of slaves, it could not tell individual states what to do within their borders, not legally.  But the southern states could tell that was on the way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

TINTIN COMES ALIVE

"Billions of blistering blue barnacles!!!"
-Captain Haddock

Ever since my brother brought home Tintin books from his French class in high school, I've loved the comic (both it and Asterix comics).  The art was wonderful, the stories loads of fun, and the settings fantastic.  Tintin was like a junior James Bond, traveling the world and having amazing adventures.
Although technically a reporter, Tintin rarely showed any real evidence of his work, giving only the impression of being a globe-trotting adventurer.  He was never wealthy, but always had as much money as he needed.  His age was never clear, although he looked like a kid (and was called one) he was also treated as an adult and lived on his own, could drive, and so on.
Written and drawn by a Frenchman named Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name of HergĂ©, the Tintin comics spanned six decades, with the first being printed in 1929 (and it was the pulp era that the comic stayed in, all those years).  The comics have been translated into 60 languages and sold over 200,000,000 copies over the years. Although less instantly and broadly well known as Superman or Spider-Man, Tintin is a comic giant.
When Spielberg took up the idea of making a Tintin movie, I had mixed feelings.  The stories fit Spielberg's skills well, and they would translate well to cinema (all comics can).  However, movie translations often go horribly wrong, especially when not treated with respect and appreciation of the medium, such as the ghastly Electra and Catwoman movies.
I finally saw The Adventures of Tintin last night, on Netflix.  The company had just added the filmi and I had wanted to see it for quite a while.  Tintin is animated, but done with such lush, complex and true-to-life animation that it was sometimes easy to forget it was animated at all.  The characters were not quite true to life, and not quite cartoons, but were a functional and acceptable blend of the two that worked well in my opinion.  My only problem was that Captain Haddock's schnozz was a bit too pronounced.
The film blended several different comics together, sort of a best-of-Tintin blend of events and bits tied around elements of Red Rakham's Treasure and some other comics.  The overall effect is a fun, often slapstick, often tense adventure that I enjoyed greatly.  It isn't great cinema, but then most of what people call great cinema isn't either.  Tintin was a fun experience of watching his adventures come to life and was very entertaining in the process. I came into the movie thinking I'd have fun, and I did.
The storyline was simple but progressed well, without contradictory or nonsensical moments (there are absurd situations, but nothing that violates logic or consistency of behavior).  The animation was amazing, and although there were a few "Look, its 3D!" moments that were intrusive, the director and writers took very good advantage of animation to do and stage things that would be very difficult or impossible in real life.  Captain Haddock's unfortunate but comical experience with a plane propeller is one that springs to mind.  Another was a sequence of sword fighting cranes that has to be seen to even be comprehended.
The film didn't do terrifically well in the US, although overall it has earned more than $300 million worldwide.  The Aventures of Tintin cost about $150 million to make, and in Hollywood terms, doubling your money is not a huge return (don't get me started on hollywood accounting again).  Still it made enough that a sequel could be seen, and it certainly was set up to have a sequel at the end of the film.  I'd like to see one.
My only real problems with the film were the Captain's nose, the odd choice of giving the blatantly and famously French characters UK accents (??), and the slight notice given to Tintin's moral character.  He's a huge boy scout, a guy who always does the right thing, no matter what it costs him and stands tall because of it.  The Adventures of Tintin didn't have much evidence of that at all, instead he seemed to be driven by his job and curiosity more than anything else, and that's too bad.  Still, a very great movie that all ages can and should enjoy.  I recommend it, especially if you already know and love Tintin: 4 stars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SO WHAT CAN WE DO? Pt 2: Yes

"Remember when America was called 'the land of opportunity?'"

So we're in an America in decline, with economic disaster looming over us all, in an economy far worse than the federal government or press cares to admit, watching our culture, heritage, and future collapse.  What can we do?  Can it be saved, and how?

The short answer is: no.  I know that sounds awfully defeatist and depressing.  The Tea Party Oregon facebook page keeps putting out stuff like "will you fight or surrender" as if that's what we're faced with.  They won, and there is no question of surrender, its over.

PIONEERS
Consider the history of the United States.  America was discovered and settled by Europeans who were self sufficient adventurers, men and women of courage, virtue, and strength who were willing to leave the comforts and ease of civilization to start completely over in a land with nothing but raw materials and hostile locals.  Imagine today leaving your home, your computer, your car, your lights, food, television, cell phone, everything behind, to go essentially camping... for the rest of your life.  In an unknown place, filled with unknown threats, even hostile locals.

That's what the pioneers and settlers of America did.  They deliberately gave up what they had so they could have more.  They abandoned the old comforts of home to build a new, better home for themselves.  Only the strong, the self-determined, the responsible, the hardy, and the bold could even consider such an act.  You want a house?  Build it.  You want food?  Grow it.  You want protection?  That's you. You want roads?  Clear them out.  You want fuel?  Gather it yourself.  From the land, and back then, you had to do it without machinery or technology we recognize today.

The people who did this did it because they wanted to face life themselves, to carve out a new life in a land so open and rich that they could be anything they were strong and determined enough to be.  They left behind a world that was safer and more comfortable, more regulated and predictable, for a life that was freer and had more opportunity.

The new world represented a place without kings, without lords, without oppression and taxation. The people who came to the new world wanted a world where they didn't have to bow and tug a forelock to every lord, where they could own land and hunt, where no man could kill and abuse them without consequence or their ability to fight back.  The new world meant a world where a man could stand up and build his future, rather than kneel as others did instead.

And the people who were left behind?  The followers, the people who lived off others, the pampered and the people without vision, boldness, ambition, or drive.  So America was based and built on people who took chances, stood on their own, and valued freedom.  And the heritage, the tradition, the history of America was forged in the crucible of facing terrific hardship and conquering it all.  The sacrifice and hard work of our ancestors built the mightiest nation the world has ever seen.

THE LONG MARCH
While that was the core of America, the majority, we kept building and growing and doing.  But for about 100 years, the left has been working to corrupt and undermine all that, to build a world where nobody has to take risks, where nobody can fail, where nobody gets more than others, to create a concept of justice that is not just and fairness that is not fair.  They've worked through the education system, the judicial system, the entertainment community, the political system, even labor and religion.  And as a result, the people who take risks and stand on their own have become fewer and fewer.

Now, the people who built America, the traditions of America, the culture of America are all outnumbered and eclipsed.  The country  has gone from the land of opportunity to the land of people with their hand out, expecting big brother government will take care of us all, and those rats who have more than us will pay for it all.

So that's a quick rundown of how we built the nation and how we got where we are now, and it helps explain the basic problem with where we are now.  We can't leave the takers and the leeches behind.  There is no new world to flee to where there's liberty and opportunity.  There is no America left to run to. Canada right now is moving more toward freedom than America, but it is very limited in its nature and won't last.  Their movement is an elastic reaction to the excesses of the left, but in time people will tire of the tilt and run to the other side again.

And that's why I say there is no stopping this.  Because the entire system, the entire culture is filled with the people who oppose everything we stand for, believe in, and want to see.  Our dreams of liberty and opportunity are considered unjust and horrible to them.  Their ideas of justice and fairness are repulsive and tyrannical to us.  The twain will never meet, and now we're buried in their power.

It isn't just that they have the positions of power, its that they've convinced people not only that taking and depending is superior to making and personal responsibility, but that its evil and awful to think otherwise.  It isn't just that they are the mainstream establishment, its that they've convinced everyone that they are hip rebels and outsiders in the process, so its cool.  Its like how Apple, putting out a phone in several ways inferior to Nokia and other devices, became a huge seller based on how cool it seemed.  Logic doesn't even enter into this, they appeal to a gut level emotional reaction and have convinced people that logic and reason are like, boring and lame, bro.

BUT WAIT
However, all that does not mean there's nothing at all we can do.  It just means that we can't do anything to stop the disaster.  The two trains full of nitroglycerine are full steam on the same track toward each other.  The only thing to do now is to get to cover.  So that's the first thing to do.

By "get cover" I don't mean run away.  I mean you need to be ready for when things start to fall apart.  We take many things for granted that may not necessarily be there for us in the near future.  Things like regular, reliable energy and internet, things like safe streets and cops, fire departments who show up swiftly and for free, things like the freedom to say what you want and go where you want.

THINGS BREAK, DON'T THEY?
To survive the coming times you need to learn how to fix and care for what you have, be more self sufficient, form networks to get what you need, and how to stay out of the attention of people in charge.  I don't expect to see a massive dictatorship arise, but I do expect to see a system of rewards and Chicago-style dealing become standard.  If you work with them, you'll do okay.  If you buck the system, well paperwork gets lost and regulations we usually ignore get noticed.  If you make too much money, or you pay cash too often for purchases, if you don't hire the right people or shop the wrong places, well things might get a bit tough for you.

In 3 years, the Obama administration added 106 new major regulations and over 10,000 new rules.  Cops say you can't drive across town without breaking a traffic law, you can't live without violating at least one of these rules.  There are laws that are only enforced to give cops a handle by which to grab bad guys: if your wheels touch the center line, that's illegal and they can ticket you.  If you don't go 100 yards before changing lanes, that's illegal and they can ticket you.  On and on it goes.  These laws are ignored most of the time because police view their job as keeping the peace, not mindlessly enforcing every rule and people make mistakes.  But when they want to, they have those laws around to use.

Now think about the federal government, which is intrinsically hostile toward you and further is driven by a system of favors and deals.  A government which helps people that help them and punishes those who fight against them.  A government which investigates and sends the IRS against major donors to their political opponents, which tells businesses to violate the law because they'll pay for fines, that ignores electoral law about foreign donations and election places.  The kind of government built around the concept of scratching backs in return.

Now, you're unlikely to get noticed if you are just an individual.  If you don't blog, don't have a major business, don't rock the boat, and don't have a high profile, you're basically invisible in a sea of 300 million faces.  But ask Microsoft what it was like to just run your business and not need to lobby.  Ask them how it turned out under the Clinton administration when they were targeted by Republicans in congress for daring to not give out their tribute to congressmen.  Now they lobby and donate to politicians like good boys.

Another thing to do is to maintain your culture in the midst of an increasingly alien one.  The truth is, crosses and all Christian references and images in the nation are going to go away.  In time, any religious symbolism in even graveyards will be sued and torn away.  The establishment clause!  they will cry; it makes me feel bad, you're oppressing me! they will claim. Keep the things you hold dear to yourself, for yourself and your family.

Think of how Jews lived in hostile cultures - and still do - for over a thousand years.  They kept their traditions, quietly, to themselves.  No more merry Christmas in stores?  That's okay, say it to each other.  No more crosses displayed in public?  You can wear one under your shirt.  No more praying?  You can pray in private.  That gun an offense to have visible?  Keep it under cover.  Cut out the bumper stickers and the facebook posts, keep quiet when people attack and slander you, you know what is right and true inside.  Survive and wait for the future, when you will prosper rather than survive.

And work, work hard.  Produce, do the best you can.  Be good at what you do, quietly and humbly.  If you make shoes, make the best shoes you can and sell them for a fair price.  Eventually some people will hate you for it - just ask Jews about that.  But in the meantime you're building a future, setting things aside, and preparing for when Israel returns.  That's what the Jews planned for: some day they would have their home.  And that's what we have to do, work toward our own Israel.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A LITTLE BIT OF POWER

"Do not answer a fool, lest he become wise in his own eyes."
-Proverbs 26:4

If you have paid close attention to WATN the last week or two you've seen something happen in the comments.  There has been a commenter who posts anonymously who got upset because I deleted his comment, then began to hammer the comments with complaints about it which were increasingly frustrated and abusive.
Now, in the past I left everything in place unless it was obviously spam (except in the Comment Types thread, where spam sort of fits the theme), because I was interested in reaching out and trying to change things.  I've pretty well given up on that, and just post things I think about rather than any real attempt to convince or persuade.
And this commenter isn't new at WATN.  I remember him from back when I was reading and posting at World Magazine's comment section and when he used to post here.  He tries to present himself as reasonable and thoughtful, but always finds something to pick at and criticize, to undermine and attack.  I wrote about that kind of comment as the Cherry Picker, the kind of comment that ignores the bulk and purpose of a post, and focuses on one point to attack the writer rather than their point.
His tone is passive-aggressive, coming on with thinly veiled contempt and attacks on someone's integrity and intellectual capacity, then backing off when confronted and claiming that he just wants to discuss matters. Whether that is due to frustration or feeling guilty for being so hostile, or because of a personality quirk, I don't know.  You can see some of his commenting style in a post a few years back I did on President Obama's alleged Christianity.
But I refuse to engage that on my blog any longer, I've had enough of debates and arguments to last me two life times.  And nothing really comes of it in the end but a sick feeling in my stomach and my nerves on end.  I might not seem like it but any time someone criticizes or confronts me it makes me go away full of doubt, upset, and even feeling sick.  I try very hard to do what is right, and while I fail a lot and get things wrong a lot, I do my best to learn and pursue the truth.  There's really only so much of that anyone can take.  So for my sake, I don't care to get into that any more and I don't want to clutter up the blog with what are essentially trolling posts demanding attention.  It seems to me the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore them.
However, despite the bearer of the message being someone I don't want to engage, the questions asked were pretty good and if it were someone else I trust or know is in good faith - my friend Lance, for instance - I would have been glad to answer them.  So I'll give it a shot here in case some readers were wondering about it.

The main question was this: doesn't the utter failure of your political ideas to win in the election make you stop and think you're wrong?  Never in my life has conservatism really been given a real shot to fix things in Washington DC, despite a brief period in the 90s where the House of Representatives led by Newt Gingrich gave it a shot.  Everything they accomplished has been totally undone by the Democrats now.  Conservatives can win but never in numbers or positions enough to even attempt to implement their ideas.
The answer to that question is three fold.  First of all, as I noted above, I always question and doubt what I've said, even if it doesn't come across that way.  I lay awake at night with my guts churning wondering if what I said or did was right.  I pray and read and study to try to see if what I thought was correct.  I used to read leftist blogs regularly to get the other side's take on matters.  So yes, I do stop and think.
Second, I used to be a leftist.  I was terrified Ronald Reagan would kill us all in nuclear war.  I thought he was an evil man for creating so many homeless and heartless for cutting welfare.  I thought we could have peace if only we'd get rid of nukes, all that stupid nonsense.  I know what the left thinks, all my visits to sites like Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post simply confirmed what I figured they would say, from my past.  I changed my mind based on the facts and evidence before me, and grew up.  So I did change based on the world around me.
Third, truth and right is not based on electoral votes.  If every person on earth except me voted that we should skin babies alive and drink their blood, that wouldn't make me wrong for opposing it.  The positions I take and the ideas I hold are based on objective truth and what little wisdom I've gained over the years to examine the facts.  Majority rule does not determine truth.  A vote does not decide moral right and wrong.  It simply doesn't matter how many people hold to something or how few in this context.  What matters is whether they're right or wrong.
America has, as I've taken some pains to point out here, come to the point it rejects what's right and true and good and embraces foolishness.  That doesn't make the position of the majority of Americans somehow right, it simply means there's a lot of people who want short term happiness and to feel cool rather than to make hard choices.  That's too bad for the nation and too bad for the people in it, but that doesn't somehow change the truth.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

SO WHAT DO WE DO? Pt 1: No

I don't have to tell you things are bad. 

Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. 

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. 

We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' 

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. 

 All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. 

But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!'"
-Howard Beale, Network

Last week I wrote about the state of America, how the culture has overwhelmed common sense and virtue, leading to a mentality of "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."  Faced with the challenge of fighting through the difficulty of tough times and the responsibility required to rebuild the nation, people are fleeing it and seeking the last few moments of pleasure they might find.
So we're faced with this basic set of problems: a nation slumping into disrepair, an economy in shambles about to crash into the rocks, a culture that has lost its virtue, a people who are so immature they reject hard work and personal responsibility, and a political class that has abandoned all restraints of honor and law to achieve power and whatever goals they might desire.
And that's just the beginning.  When I watched the build up to November's national election I was fascinated by the campaign being run by the Obama team.  It was the worst campaign in human memory, a strategy that had absolutely no chance of winning politically.  They continually played to their base, who should have already been locked in.  They were insulting and offensive to everyone except certain specific identity groups small in number.  They wrote off the biggest voting blocs in the past, such as married couples, elderly, and middle class whites.  And they picked the stupidest talking points and topics to hammer.  An old man claiming his wife got cancer because of Mitt Romney.  The claim that Republicans were going to take away contraceptives.  Big Bird.  Binders of women.
It was so stupid I just shook my head.  Who would be stupid enough to fall for that crap?  Well now we know: most of America.  Listening to the stories about people discussing the election is simply depressing.  Women claiming Romney would ban tampons.  Young people claiming the Republicans would outlaw contraceptives.  On an on it went, with the stupidest, most blatantly false and ridiculous claims taken with absolute seriousness.  Only an idiot, someone devoid of reason and critical thought could possibly believe this crap, and millions did.
And that was the strategy all along.  Obama knew he couldn't possibly win an election on politics.  His campaign wasn't about winning, it was about keeping the base on track, getting them to show up.  The actual campaign to win was waged in the popular culture, academia, and media.  President Obama didn't really even have to campaign.  The teachers and professors in education shaped young minds and told the lies they believed.  Popular culture pushed the lies about Romney, ridiculous nonsense that felt hip and trendy.  The news media just blatantly covered up the absolutely horrific stuff that was going on with the Obama administration.
And while this has long been the practice of the left, the country has slumped to such a low of cultural and intellectual nadir that it worked very well indeed.  Mitt Romney ran one of the best campaigns I've ever seen, but it didn't matter because that's not what anyone was paying attention to.  To be sure his tone hurt him too.
Campaigning on hard choices, personal responsibility, achievement, and stories of how great he was because of his business and personal acumen all made Jersey Shore America feel bad about its self.  Every tale at the RNC of someone who made their way without government help made leeches and takers feel disgruntled and annoyed; dude you're making me look bad.  
The left has succeeded not only in taking over the culture and becoming the establishment, but in presenting that establishment as revolutionary and exciting.  That's right, the man thinks he's the revolutionary.  And what's more astounding is that real revolutionaries, real outsiders and counter establishment types are considered the staid old establishment.
In a nation like this, what can we possibly do?  What can we hope for?  Well I know what wont work.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BREAKING UP THE FAMILY

"For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."
1 Corinthians 12:12

This is a hardcore Christian post full of theology and inside references, so it might not be of much interest to some readers.  Fair warning at least.
The Christian church has two meanings.  The first meaning is the church in general, the body of Christians worldwide through the centuries; everyone who is a child of God through the grace of Jesus Christ.  This means every Christian ever has been part of the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, of whom he is the head.
The other meaning is more local: a specific congregation.  This sense of the church is generally understood to be a family, a body created by God for fellowship, worship, learning, exhortation, and aiding the needy and broken in their community.  It is a place for prayer, teaching, hymns, and healing the wounded soul.
In the 90s, I attended a conference by Ligonier Ministries in Seattle with the great R.C. Sproul and luminaries such as Rod Rosenbladt, Sinclair Ferguson and so on.  The topic was about the church in both senses, and one of the best talks was about when to leave a church.
R.C. Sproul said that there were three options:
  • You must stay in a church if it is faithful and teaches the gospel and is faithful to God, regardless of how much you like the pastor, how well you get along with the other people, or whether the people there do what you demand they do or not.
  • You may leave a church if it is theologically troubled, but is generally orthodox; has discipline, sacraments, and the word of God.
  • You must leave a church if if abandons the basic faith and teaches total heresy; a church that rejects the Bible, rejects the triune God, and so on.
This is for the layman, the person in the pew.  In other words if you're in a good church but like another one better nearby, you should stay where you are.  Why?  Because you're part of a body, you are part of the family there.  You should only break up that family for very good reason, properly, not simply for personal problems or some whim.  Yes, that lady sitting in the nearby pew might sing off tune or the pastor might not visit as often as you like.  They might sing songs you don't like so much or too slowly, they might not have the certain specific ministry you want, but you're part of a body, and tearing that apart should be done only for a better cause than personal dislikes.
There are other circumstances, of course.  A couple from two different churches might marry, which means at least one person must necessarily leave their church for another.  Someone might be in a job that moves a family around often (the military for instance) and thus they have to change churches. There are valid reasons why people can't stay at a given church.  The conference was more targeted at "church shoppers" who keep moving around to find their ideal congregation, though.
As a Christian, being part of a church body and regular attendance means not only that you become part of a community and fellowship, but that you place yourself under the visible discipline of that church.  If you do wrong, they then have some leverage, so to speak, to help push you back on the path.  In addition you'll be both in the witness of other saints around you, but be a positive influence on the others.
The talk, and Sproul's later writings and talks are very helpful for people dealing with a problematic or annoying church.  In modern culture where everyone is so self-focused and selfish these days we need reminding that our lives are about more than just ourselves and how happy we are.
However, there's a bit of a problem with all that.  Its not that what he says is wrong, its that it is incomplete.  So much so good for church members in the pews, but what about the pastor?
I attend a Christian Reformed Church, a denomination with a heritage of great theology and truth that is falling on bad times theologically.  The local church is very good still, like many scattered across the nation even if the denomination is falling.  It is a typical pattern for the church to swap pastors every five to ten years, each pastor moving on to another church after a short term.  Since I started attending the chuch in 1975, I've seen six pastors, plus all the interim ones between.
Although some churches retain a pastor their whole lives, the typical pattern is for them to move around between congregations.  The Anglican church, for example, will often swap out a pastor after a few years, with some Bishops alternating between a more liberal (theologically) pastor with a conservative one.
And this brings up the question; what about all those arguments for why you should stay with a church?  What about the church being a body you wound when you leave?  What about the fact that you're part of a congregation, a family, and should only leave that reluctantly, and for very good reason?  I understand pastors are a special sort of bird with a different calling than others, but that doesn't negate all the reasons to stay at a church?
So how about it pastors?  Why this exemption, why is it suddenly okay to break up the body, why is it fine to tear part of the family apart for job reasons?  Why shouldn't the pastor be encouraged to stat at a congregation as much as an ordinary pew sitter?
I bring this up because it seems like any time a pastor gets a better offer they "feel the spirit move them" to move on.  This one always wanted to be a missionary and suddenly got an offer, so they go.  That one leaves to head up a school because they always liked the idea.  Another moves on to be at a bigger church.  Still another moves on to be in a church in an area or state they prefer.  A church closer to their family, a church in a climate they prefer, a church with greater opportunities for their talents, a church with more room for growth, on an on.
I am sorry if I sound cynical, but it seems to me that too often this "calling" business is an excuse rather than a cause for moving on, and pastors just get to do it whenever they want.  And if one guy leaving the church hurts it by their loss - and hurts that one guy by his leaving - doesn't it hurt far more to massively disrupt the congregation by a shepherd leaving his flock?  Does a pastor not have an even greater burden to stay with a congregation?
In the end it seems to me that pastors are at least as guilty of "church shopping" for the ideal congregation that bends more completely to their vision of the church and career than even ordinary paritioners.  Individual Christians are guilty of moving about churches for petty reasons and selfish whims, but so are pastors - and when a pastor leaves, its a serious problem for a church.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A QUICK NOTE

WATN has been getting a lot of spam and trolling lately, so for the time being, comments are shut off.  I appreciate people's thoughtful posts and input, but its too much work to keep going in and cleaning the place up, so for now I'll just go without and see how it goes.
OK I've opened up the comments with moderation to control what comes through.  For some reason the last two weeks has been an ocean of drug spam (levitra, viagra etc) and a troll lately, so I want to cut back on the nonsense a bit.

PARTY LIKE ITS 1999

"You cannot raise a couple of generations in liberal air from kindergarten to university -- with motion pictures, with television, with newspapers, with mainline churches -- in a default liberal setting, and then turn it around with elections. You can't save the country with a guy in the voting booth punching the tab of the fella with the (R) after his name every other November."
-Mark Steyn

Years ago I wrote about how I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh much any more.  At the time I got a few annoyed comments and mentions on other blogs, but people more and more seem to be having the same reaction.  It isn't that Limbaugh is any less informed or thoughtful, its that he's not as entertaining and is a bit behind the clock.  Back in 1992 he was the cutting edge, but these days what he comments on 87 blogs have already written about by the time he's on in the morning.
In fact, Rush often these days seems to rely on blogs for his content, judging by his website.  And I do check that often, because he had links and stories to check into for writing - since I wasn't interested in being first, but in analysis with a fuller picture.  I still check his page once in a while for stories, especially just after the election.  I was curious how he'd respond.
You see, a lot of bloggers and pundits are soldiering along as if this was just another election, a bad loss, but nothing final.  Right Wing News for instance is still sending out polls (the last one was "who do you back for 2016 in the Republican Party).  That's just ignorant, or deliberately blind.  I guess I understand, its their job.  John Hawkins makes money on all his websites, so he keeps chugging along for the dollar at least.
But Rush has been different.  He's been dead on with several monologues and comments, pointing out that all the analysis by the usual suspects is trash.  He asks them over and over: what do you think will change things? Becoming Democrats?  Why vote for Republicans at all then?  Pandering more?  Look at the parade of women and minorities at the RNC, and how much difference it made.  The official media, leftist, and Democrat operative line is that Republicans are all old white males, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It simply doesn't matter.
None of it matters, not any more.  The fact is, Republicans lost for two reasons, one of which is what happens when you allow the Chicago political machine take over national politics, and the other is all cultural.  Rush keeps hammering this point, based on his website: you can't win this with elections, you can't win this by changing advertising or who you nominate.  Others have picked up the same theme, such as Mark Steyn.
The truth is, America has fallen off that cliff.  For a few years now, I've been comparing the nation to Wiley E Coyote running on thin air, chasing the Roadrunner, before he looks down.  Well, we looked down.  Now all that's left is the funny sign Wiley pulls out from behind him to indicate his dismay.
Everyone in the country knows something is not just horribly wrong, but doom is on our horizon.  We all feel it, deep down; we sense it like that wet dust smell of rain before it starts to fall.  That's where all the Mayan calendar and zombie apocalypse nonsense comes from.  We joke about it but we know its all going terribly wrong.  Even people who don't really understand the facts, who don't know much about politics or economics can tell something is awful.
In the past, the response would be to bear down, work hard, change leadership, and look for a way to cut back, sacrifice, and prepare to rebuild.  That's what virtue and the Calvinist Work Ethic was like.  Instead of whining that it wasn't fair or demanding the government fix things, people would roll up their sleeves.  That's how we got through the depression.  People hopped trains to find migrant work, sold apples in the streets, helped each other out, and did what they had to.
These days, the reaction is quite different.  They demand everyone fix their problems, give up what they earned, share more, redistribute more, and government should make it all better.  It all relates to virtues, and western culture hasn't just abandoned virtue but has become institutionally contemptuous to virtue entirely. 
  • Courage is how we make it through the hard times when it doesn't seem like there's any future.
  • Fortitude is what makes people keep going when all seems lost or get back up when they're knocked down.    
  • Humility is why you help others and stand on your own feet instead of demanding others pay your way.
  • Justice is how we understand its wrong to demand others give what they earned so we don't have to.  
  • Temperance is what lets you cut back and show restraint to avoid loss and waste. 
  • Wisdom is what gives you the ability to find a way through.  
With those virtues, the United States built from a ranging frontier to the world's most powerful military, greatest economy, richest nation, and most potent industrial power in history.  Through the work ethic, Edison saw 100 failures just 100 ways that didn't work, its how the US was the source of most of the greatest achievements in technology, art, science, music, and more for over a century.
The loss of those, the abandonment of any objective sense of ethics, and the rejection of tradition without a single effort to replace them has led to the grinding halt we're experiencing.  The efforts of generation after generation working hard to do right led us to several generations of momentum, but it has been slowing and we're in the last shuddering steps before it all falls down.
So people are partying now.  They voted to keep the party going than to make the hard choices to turn it around.  They had a choice: cut their budget or cut the government's and they chose their own, then pretended they wouldn't have to because the government would get it all from rich people.  Sal Traina calls them "Suicide Voters" fixated on their cause and caring nothing about what happens to everyone else.
The math doesn't add up, history proves its a lie, and I think deep down most people know it but they just don't care.  They sense its all a lie but they'd rather eat, drink and be merry one more day because its too hard, too scary, and would require them to give up the last shreds of what keeps them from noticing the emptiness in their lives.
Because that's what its all about, distracting ourselves from how wrong we know it all is.  In Rome Caesar would distract the people from their situation and the crumbling empire with bread and circuses.  We do it to ourselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

THE FOURTH TALENT

"Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed"

I recently read a book about the fall of Rome that for once was actually about the fall of Rome.  It detailed the very last emperors of Rome and how the entire empire collapsed, leaving only shattered remnants in the peninsula of Italia.  Previously I'd read of the first invasions, of how Rome's once mighty status collapsed, and so on, but it was nice to find something about the actual end rather than the beginning of the end.
Called The Fall of Rome: A Novel of a World Lost by Michael Curtis Ford, the book was pretty entertaining and interesting, and I've read several of his ancient history novels.  What really stood out in my mind, however, was a sequence in the second third of the book, an encounter between the main character Odoacer (who became King of Rome as it fell) and a hermit.
Odoacer had a rough life.  He excelled at leadership and tactics, he was a great warrior, but he kept backing the wrong guys and over and over again he was defeated through circumstance, treachery, or misfortune, and he was feeling pretty awful.  The hermit gave him some words of wisdom in the novel and while these words are fiction, they were particularly wise and interesting to me.
If you're familiar with the Bible at all, you probably know one of the parables Jesus taught as recorded in the gospel of Matthew 25.  In brief, it tells the story of a powerful man who entrusted three servants with money (called "talents,").  Each talent was a significant sum of money; worth about 6000 drachmas, or roughly sixteen years wages.  In America, that averages out to around $800,000.  Each servant was given an amount equal to what the master believed they were capable of properly handling while the master was away.  He told them to invest the money and further his fortunes.
When the master got back, he checked on his servants, how well had they handled their money and their responsibilities?  Well the first doubled his money, an incredible display of skill and luck.  The second had also doubled his money, but the third had a different story.  He didn't invest or attempt to do anything with his talents, he buried the money and gave it back when the master returned.  This man was hurled into punishment and misery for his failure to follow orders (and for insulting the master as well).
So far so good, a story of obedience, service, gratitude and the consequences of misusing what we've been given to work with.
But the hermit had another servant in mind, one not in the scriptures.  He proposed a fourth servant, another man given a talent.  This servant, he said, invested the money and failed, producing no return.  He had to come to his master and admit that he'd tried, but failed.  Now, given the picture we're given of the master in this text, he seems like a pretty lousy guy, but the hermit suggested that the response from God to failure was different than you'd expect.
Failing, he said, was no sin.  God doesn't care if you succeed He cares if you obey.  If you try and fail, that doesn't make God unhappy, it makes him very pleased because you tried.  If you give your honest best and try to serve God, but things don't work out, God is happy.  Because success or failure here on earth is irrelevant to a servant of God.  Service is what matters, doing His will and bringing Him glory to the best of your ability.
This is a tough lesson to learn and live through.  All my life I have tried over and over to find a way I can combine my talents (yes, that's where the word comes from) with a way to make money and I fail over and over.  I work hard, I focus on doing the best I can, and yet nothing ever seems to come of it.  I have definitely failed God as well, sinning through my life and at least on occasion deliberately defying Him to do what I wish instead.  But most of the time I try to do what is right, whatever the cost, and that cost is very high.
I have limited health, I have few resources.  I don't have a rich uncle or connections anywhere, I don't have a legacy to rely on, I am a poor man in a poor family and don't have a lot to work with.  I have some talent in writing, art, languages, and so on, but have never found a way to turn that into any sort of living.
Failure is hard on a soul.  Trying and falling down again and again becomes wearing.  A few times it can be tough but challenging.  A score of times it simply becomes depressing, corroding your will to live and try again.  Hope fades away, dreams become cruel taunts, and in the end you wonder why you even wake up in the morning.
I seem to have a unique knack for being good at things nobody wants to pay for any longer.  I have skills which seem to be outdated and unwanted.  And what's worse, I face a culture which almost uniformly celebrates and rewards the worst, meanest, and most crude and salacious approach to business.  Great works and significant, meaningful efforts are ignored or derided, but crass and filthy efforts become incredibly successful.  Patrick O'Brian didn't see success until he was nearly dead, but Jersey Shore keeps getting renewed contracts.
I say this not to whine or seek sympathy, it would be pointless.  I've had all the sympathy a man can stand before becoming resentful.  What I'm trying to point to here is that I know what failure is like, more than most.  More than nearly anyone.  My whole life sometimes seems like one big mistake, and I used to lie awake night after night wondering why on earth I was even alive.
The truth is, I'm alive for the same reason everyone is, everywhere, always.  We all exist, we all live and breathe for one purpose and one purpose only: to serve and glorify God.  We were created to serve God, whether ill or healthy, strong or weak, stupid or smart, foolish or wise, successful or unsuccessful.  Each and every one of us lives for that one driving, ultimate purpose.
Seeking anything else above that purpose will always lead to misery and confusion.  Its like a train that looks around at all that beautiful landscape and wants to go exploring.  Once you leave those tracks, you will be bogged down or even ruined.  Losing track of that ultimate, overarching purpose means losing your way entirely.  Staying on the track means you keep moving toward your goal. In the end, finally in glorification, you stop being a heavy, track-bound train and become a creature that can go and be everywhere, like you have always longed.  Wanting that before its time is childish and impatient.
Yet even if you aren't a Christian, there are lessons here.  That fourth talent brings up a very important point: winning or losing is secondary to how you play.  If you cheat to win, if you break the rules or stoop to the worst approach to succeed, what have you accomplished, what have you earned?  That money, that acclaim, that success is wonderful, but behind it all is a rot inside you that you cannot ignore, and it will inevitably taint your soul.
Lets say, for example, you betray agreements, lie about your opponent, pander to the worst aspects of society, abandon any attempt to address your job and the problems it is supposed to deal with, and work with people to miscount and inaccurately report the results of an election. You can win that way, but what have you just done?  You've undermined the entire process of election, you've presented yourself to history as a scumbag, and you will usher in misery and depression the likes of which the world has never seen.  Your lust for power to implement your schemes means you're not doing your job and in the end you'll be revealed for the failed incompetent everyone always suspected you were.
Sure, your sycophantic friends will always cover for you.  Your allies and those who gain from your efforts will try to rewrite history and spin the truth into lies.  But ultimately, like it or not, the truth does come out.  Stalin had a whole government covering for him, and allies in the west like Duranty writing lies to protect him.  Nobody thinks Stalin was anything but a monster these days, with a government that utterly failed its people.
Trying well and doing the best you can, yet failing, is part of life.  And it does bring growth and wisdom.  Yes, it brings sleepless nights, ulcers, sadness, even depression.  But it brings learning and understanding as well.  One of the biggest problems the right has politically - conservatives, etc - is the belief that success is a God-given reward for doing the right thing.  That's a cruel lie.  Doing the right thing, working hard, and being a good citizen can lead to nothing but failure, loss and misery.  These days especially doing the right thing makes you look like a sap, a dupe.  
Why work hard, pay your bills, and keep your mortgage paid off?  Sometimes your best just isn't good enough, and in modern America, we've got a government working hard to reward you for not trying and punish you for working hard.
The truth is you can do your best and work hard as you can and everything can end up horribly wrong.  In fact, I would suggest that it often turns out that way, especially in modern culture.  Yet what you learn and how you grow as a person is a success in its self.
Financial and worldly success is a nice feeling in the world - I've had small glimpses of it - but it is always hollow and can even be damaging if it comes too easily.
Take writing.  There are authors who had success and sales too early in their careers and their work suffers for it.  There aren't any real "overnight successes" but some can be pretty close.  And when that happens they don't learn how to craft their work properly, they don't learn skills, polish their writing, and worst of all their success leads editors to tend to leave their work alone - or at least the writers to ignore editors.  Its selling, it must be right!
So their books end up monstrosities, poorly written and even lazy.  Their work suffers, and their dreams and ideas suffer for it.  How much better could they have been with more effort put into learning and perfecting their writing?
Or consider someone like Quentin Tarantino.  His movies are pretty good and he does a decent job as a director, but they all suffer, each one more so, from a lack of proper editing.  He loves to write clever dialog, but he gets too clever by half, too cute.  I'm reminded of pulp writers who spent more time trying to come up with a witty or creative way of describing a situation or person rather than creating a good plot well written.  The stories start to read like a series of cute lines packed together rather than a story.
All really successful movie makers seem to fall into this trap, of needing yet getting less and less editing.  Imagine if someone had been overseeing episodes I-III of Star Wars, how much better they could have been.
Failure teaches skills, success can reward a lack of them.  And is the world really better off for having 874 reality shows on television?  They're successful, but are they making the world any better... or worse?  Is culture and society really benefited by Paris Hilton finding a career based on a debauched lifestyle and "accidentally" leaked cell phone videos?  Is the nation really better off because pastors have found they can build a career by saying what people want to hear and avoiding any talk of God and sin?
America is fixated on success, it permeates our culture.  Success becomes the goal rather than what brings about success.  Everyone wants instant, or very swift, gratification and success.  We all want to have what we want as fast as possible.  I become outraged if my internet connection is slower than normal, when I used to wait 5 minutes to download a file in the late 80s, amazed I could even do it.
But success is something that is hard to accomplish or it has no value.  If I walk out of my door and suddenly am showered with cash and fame simply for existing, none of it has any meaning.  Yes, its useful and pleasing, but it doesn't mean anything.  It has no purpose or significance beyond simply making me happy.
And maybe in the end that's what God is trying to pound through my thick stupid head: you've bought far too much into the culture around you.  And honestly, I'd probably be insufferable and awful if I had the success I sought for.  I have a tendency toward arrogance that I fight every day.  When I was younger, because I was a quick learner, school and life went very easily.  I barely had to try to study or read and I'd pick up what other students were struggling with.  And as a result I didn't learn much about hard work or trying to achieve things through struggle.
Thankfully my parents saw this and did something about it: my mom forced me to take piano lessons for years and I got pretty good at it, but I had to work hard every day practicing to even get there.  That didn't come easily, not at all.  Probably they could have done more to challenge me, but dad was always at work and mom had poor health too.
But its been a tough lesson, like I suppose all of them are.  At least the important lessons. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY

Evelyn: Look, I... I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am.
Rick: And what is that?
Evelyn: I... am a librarian.
-The Mummy

I donate the books I write to the local library.  This isn't just generosity, it also is a cheap way to advertise, and it is a bit of an ego boost to think you have a book in the library (that people are actually checking out) but I have another motive behind it as well.  I love the library.
Its not just that I like books, although that's a pretty significant factor.  The Salem Public Library has been part of my life for more than forty years.  Ever since they were in that old building on Cottage street in the early 70s until the city hall complex (and temporarily out on Fairgrounds), I've been getting books from the library to read.
These days my  mom tends to get the books and I read them at her house when I visit on Sundays.  Its relaxing stretching out on the couch and reading while she naps in the afternoon.  The Salem Public Library is a massive one, especially for a town this size.  The Salem area has grown to about 200,000 people but the library was always gigantic, with over 300,000 books, DVDs, periodicals and so on, in a gigantic three story structure built in the mid 70s.
The thing about a library is that its dirt cheap.  Even if they charge for a library card, its incredibly cheap.  Libraries aren't as valuable as research source with the internet around, but they're still a gigantic resource for reading and learning, and costs you virtually nothing.  Your taxes go into it, donations if any, sometimes you pay for a card, and if your books are late you pay a little.  For that, you get hundreds of thousands of books on your shelf to browse through and find.
Its even a bit intimidating.  A long time ago I knew the library so well I could find books blindfolded, but they've since shifted things around many times and I just don't know where anything is any longer.  Still, it isn't hard to find out, and the search is interesting in its self.  And the old books have a nice sort of smell to them as well.
Libraries are struggling these days.  Book borrowing isn't as popular as it once was, because people just don't read as much as they used to.  Cities can't afford to pay for all the things they used to, states are finding things to trim so they won't have to touch union pensions, and libraries are an easy target.
But when you're facing tough times, high prices, and budget cuts for your house hold (remember, the American people were faced with two choices: cut the government's budget or cut theirs... and they chose their own), a library looms pretty big on the horizon.  Its cheap, its plentiful, and the entertainment you get there lasts a great deal longer than that $60 console game you bought.
Think about your last entertainment purchases, lets even assume they were all great fun.  How long did they last?  How many minutes, let alone hours of entertainment did you get from them?  How likely are you to go there again?  Was that on demand purchase of the movie, the 13 hours of playing Call of Duty 84: Son of Duty, the new app you bought for your phone something you'll go back to again?  How many times are you going to watch that DVD again?
But the library is practically endless.  You'll never read all those books, even if you wanted to.  And they keep adding more.  Every week the library  here has new books added in (and older ones shuffled out, sadly - I can't get Zorro from our library, which is frustrating).  Its great for the whole family, because any child who can read will find things at the library to enjoy.
And unlike almost any other form of entertainment, you have direct input to your local library.  Is there something you wish the library had and it lacks?  Tell them, and chances are it will show up.  They love input from readers, and the more you go there, the more likely it is you'll be remembered.  Donate a little money and they'll remember you even more.
The local library also helps your kids learn to love books.  If you can get them reading, then you've built a lifetime of learning and study that they'll benefit from after you're gone.  I know it can be a challenge just to get them to pick up a book, but you can get them hooked on Harry Potter (or even Twilight, shudder).  Once they've started reading, you can move them on to other options and there are millions of choices out there.
If you've not been to the library for a while, give it a shot.  They probably have a computer there to find books with, and if you need help, those librarians just love to help people find books.  The more people checking out books from the library, the more important they seem to the community when it comes to yearly reports and budgets.
And who knows, you might find some struggling new author's work to read.