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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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

RADIO RIDES AGAIN

"The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both 'the Six Shooter'"

Although I don't waste the time I used to on political blogs, I do spend a lot of time on the internet. I still use it as a massive research library, and play games like Pirate 101 (lots of fun, I'll probably write about that some time in the future) and World of Warcraft.  And while I'm doing anything other than writing, I like to have something to listen to.
When radio first came out, companies had to do a lot of learning about what worked and didn't, how to make money with the radio, and how to produce content that people would want to listen to.  The most successful radio stations had a lot of variety, like modern television.  They found out early that music was popular, and all the major stations (the modern alphabet networks like CBS) and radio shows done live by dramatic reading became very popular.
Shows like The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and theater programs such as the Mercury Theater (with Orson Wells) became tremendously popular for giving cheap entertainment over the air that the whole family could enjoy.
Remember, before television, before video games, before even electric lights outside in most areas, people came home when the sun went down.  You'd gather and read or chat or play a game, draw, sew, etc in the light before you went to bed.  The whole family could sit by the radio and listen to the adventures of Private Investigators, enjoy tales of cowboys, and laugh along with comedians.  It not only brought the family together, but solidified a culture which shared themes and characters.
These shows were careful not to cross certain lines, avoided racy and controversial subjects, and had themes of heroism, good triumphing over evil, hard work, and virtue that were passed on through entertainment to generations.
The radio shows actually were popular all the way through the 50s, as television did not really become so common in houses until the 60s, and had limited broadcast hours.  And thanks to the internet, you can have it all back to enjoy right now.
I tend to have a couple options open to create my own mix.  I don't even mind the ads, because they are so dated and often humorous to listen to.  Advertisers were more than willing to lie outrageously and just invent crap to sell their product.  Its pretty fun to listen to the differences between modern ads and the past.
There are a lot of resources online to use, but my favorites are Dumb.com's Old Time Radio site and Top 100s Radio (formerly Nutsie) which gives you the ability to choose a specific year, or decade, and listen to lots of songs from that time period.  Between these two I can craft a whole day's programming.
For instance, I'll usually start with Gunsmoke, then listen to a few songs, then do a Jack Benny show, then The Adventures of Frank Race, then a few more songs, then The Adventures of Phillip Marlow, then The Six Shooter, and so on.  By mixing back and forth you can really get a feel for a full day's radio programming, particularly as most of the shows have ads in them.
There's some pretty awful stuff out there, just cheesy melodrama you want to avoid.  Some of the shows are of really low quality audio so its hard to hear them, but they're all fun to listen to.
Gunsmoke is really the best of the best.  Starring William Conrad (later known for his role as the PI Cannon in the 70s), the show was created to be a "western version of Phillip Marlow"), and is acclaimed almost universally as an incredibly realistic and high quality show.  Certainly it is entertaining, unexpected, and surprisingly smart and cliche-busting.  I have heard a few episodes that weren't the best of the genre, but they're all well above the average, and there are a lot of them out there.  Gunsmoke ran pretty late, 9 years all the way into 1961.  Then of course, it became a TV show (they replaced the stout Cannon despite his spectacular voice and skill with the role with the more classically handsome James Arness who did quite well also.  But then, he had almost a decade of previous perfection in the role of Matt Dillon to study).
Also very good is the PI show Jeff Regan.  Starring a younger Jack Webb for the first year, then Frank Graham from 49-50, this was a surprising gem to find.  I'd never heard of the show, but it is about a typical grizzled tough guy PI who works for a transparently greedy boss named Lyon who will take any case, as long as it pays.  Regan who is basically a good guy has to find a way to bring about justice and truth while working with scumbags and crooks and not getting fired for his $10 a day plus expenses.  Webb's voice is terrific, and less wooden than his later work, and the show really works.
Another surprise was Frank Race.  Race was a lawyer before WW2, then worked for the OSS and came out as a sort of investigator.  Race's primary work was insurance fraud, although he'd take any case just to find out what happened and pursue justice and truth.  He traveled all over the world and the show has a bit of a James Bond feel to it as he moves through Istanbul, the South Pacific, and to various exotic locales dealing with French spies, smugglers, and masterminds.
The Six Shooter was the most surprising show, however.  This again I'd never heard of, but while its of fair quality, the most astonishing fact was that Jimmy Stewart at the height of his fame was the main character.  Jimmy Stewart's trademark delivery combines with fairly ordinary but interesting cowboy episodes, and is highlighted by Stewart's whispering of action scenes, lending a sense of urgency and suspense to them, like you're in the middle of it and he's trying to avoid giving away his position.  The show only ran a year.
Although the Nero Wolfe show isn't as sophisticated, intelligent, or clever as the books, I really enjoy the show.  Part of the charm is that Wolfe himself is played by the irreplaceable Sidney Greenstreet (best known for playing The Fat Man in The Maltese Falcon), but the writing is just hilarious and charming and while I think Archie is an unlikable cad in the books, I can't help but like him in the radio show.  Unfortunately they ran though about 5 guys playing Archie and some of them aren't as good as the first man (Lawrence Dobkin), but Greenstreet's lazy, brilliant, and condescending Wolfe is always great.  The show you want is the third series (The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe) because the first two weren't as great and Greenstreet wasn't in them.
In short, there's a lot of great stuff waiting for you, from classics you'll know like The Shadow and Burns & Allen to unknowns you will find surprisingly fun, its worth tapping into when you want some entertainment you can be sure is not just clean but will be fresh and straight forward.
And if you want to learn and study things you've not heard much about, I strongly recommend Ligonier Ministries, where you can get not only regular teaching by the brilliant Dr R.C Sproul, but the last ten or more conferences where you can get talks by John McArthur, Sinclair Ferguson and many others for free.  If you're a Christian, I can't recommend these highly enough.  If you aren't... get ready to be challenged.
There's a lot to listen to out there.  Give it a try, you may find yourself hooked.  And since its audio its low bandwidth and won't take up much of your computer's resources, freeing it for something else, like pet battles in WoW.
Its a great way to escape your problems and worries for a little while, and it costs you nothing more than your internet connection.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SONGS I LIKE - Darkness, Darkness (The Youngbloods)

Keep my mind from constant turning 
Toward the things I cannot see now

The Youngbloods were a more or less typical hippie band in the late 60s that arose at the same time as bands like the Byrds and Cream. They did a lot of psychadelic and peace & love stuff that I don't particularly like, like the hippie anthem Get Together.  There is one song that the Youngbloods produced really stands out from the rest of their work, however, and that song is "Darkness Darkness" from the album Elephant Mountain.
Produced by the legendary fiddler Charlie Daniels, who also plays violin in this piece, the song "Darkness Darkness" is open to a lot of different interpretation.  It can be a very grim and depressing piece, or it can be simply a cry of weariness.  I think of it as a call to sleep to take away the difficulties of the day and fears of tomorrow.  No matter how bad a day is and how filled with fear or depression I may be, sleep takes it all away, shutting out my sorrows in sweet oblivion until the next day.  Indeed, the first inclination of anyone who is depressed is to sleep, because it takes away the pain.
However, this song could also be about death, yearning for the final end to all the pain of life.  Calling to death to take you away is something everyone who has faced great sorrow or pain has known as well.  The repeated reference to emptiness seems to suggest this as well.
During the Vietnam War, this song was especially popular with soldiers, who described it as how they felt while living in constant fear of death and fighting a war they did not understand.
Either way, everyone who has lived to adulthood has known moments when they just need to close out the world and escape for a while, just a respite so you can go on.  And sleep is an incredible curative, turning the sadness and misery of night into a new day.
This song has been covered more than a dozen times by artists ranging from Mott the Hoople, Screaming Trees, and Ann Wilson from Heart to Cowboy Junkies, Golden Earring, and Robert Plant.

Darkness, Darkness 
Be my pillow 
Take my hand 
And let me sleep 
In the coolness of your shadow 
In the silence of your deep 
 
Darkness, Darkness 
Hide my yearning 
For the things I cannot be 
Keep my mind from constant turning 
 Toward the things I cannot see now 
Things I cannot see now 
Things I cannot see 
 
Darkness, darkness, 
Long and lonesome, 
Ease the day that brings me pain. 
I have felt the edge of sadness, 
I have known the depth of fear. 
 
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket, 
Cover me with the endless night, 
Take away, take away the pain of knowing, 
Fill the emptiness of right now, 
Emptiness of right now, now, now 
Emptiness of right now. 
 
Darkness, darkness, be my pillow, 
Take my hand, and let me sleep. 
In the coolness of your shadow, 
In the silence, the silence of your deep. 
 
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket, 
Cover me with the endless night, 
Take away, take away the pain of knowing 
Fill the emptiness of right now, 
Emptiness of right now now now 
Emptiness of right.... 
Oh yeah Oh yeah 
Emptiness, emptiness 
Oh yeah


This is part of the Songs I Like series.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A DIFFERENT WORD

2000 zero zero party over, oops out of time
now I'm gonna party like its 1999

After some time off and reflection, I've decided to keep up with Word Around the Net, but with a different approach.  I had been treating WATN as a job, plugging away at it no matter how I felt or what was going on, and driving hard to get regular content out every day.  I don't want to keep doing that, because the job wasn't paying and I need my energy for other things.
So my plan is to post here irregularly, when something comes up or I have ideas.  And the tone will be different as well.  I don't want to follow or examine politics any longer, save when they touch on culture or ideas indirectly.  They're depressing and frustrating and honestly politics are irrelevant to my life now.
Call me a crazy man or a demented conspirator, but I see America as a write off now.  The grand experiment of the constitution, liberty, and democracy has failed.  Over and over the founders and other writers such as DeTocqueville and even Heinlein warned that a democracy can only survive as long as its members are virtuous.
The reason for this is plain enough.  Once the voters become selfish, greedy, hedonistic, and short sighted, then all they will vote for is goodies for themselves, whether poor people demanding they not need to work or earn their pay or rich people demanding government help them get richer and stop competitors.
And there's a flip side to this.  A virtuous government will avoid corruption and do what they are supposed to, follow the constitution and act honorably.  One without virtue will do whatever it takes to implement what they want to see, embrace corruption, work with cronies to enrich themselves and those who help them do so, and most of all will break the law, cheat, and violate the rules because they know when they're in power nobody but them can investigate.
According to a recent news story, UN elections monitors and European press were astounded that the US has no Voter ID.  They could not believe that anyone would go on the honor system for an election at the national level.  In the past, a more virtuous people and government could be trusted to be honorable and vote more honestly.  Not so today.  It isn't that voter fraud is new, its that it was more limited and not so much national.
All that is over, and with it, the Republic.  America still stands in effigy, a sort of burnt out shell of its former self, but the experiment has failed.  The culture is the problem, not politics as such.  Politics reflects the popular culture, who leads and is in power is a direct reflection of the people.  Even if they cheat outrageously to gain power, they can and will only do so if the culture is willing to let it happen.
So I'll be looking at other things instead of politics, because its too late to change anything and time to pull back to friends and neighbors, to your family and community.  Those of us who are more conservative-inded should look to how Jews survive the lands they lived in and ready ourselves for a day when, God willing, the rebuilding can begin.
I'm sorry if this is depressing or sounds like I'm about to walk in front of a bus, I'm not.  I'm just very, very sad and disappointed.  So instead I'll be focusing on other aspects of life.  Movie reviews, songs, culture, depression survival stuff, food, funny things, beauty, and especially my art and writing.
When I dabbled with Twitter, it was all about my writing and other things, I deliberately avoided almost all political issues because I was trying to avoid annoying potential customers and readers.  That's what I'll be focusing on at Word Around the Net.  If you came here for political analysis, such as it was, I am sorry, but there are ten thousand other blogs out there and they will continue to wage a futile effort to influence the political realm in America.
So I won't be pouring out the multiple posts a day like I used to, and days may go by with nothing at all.  That's so I can get more energy into other things that need doing.  I would have just written WATN off, but it gives me an outlet for certain kinds of writing and keeps me in touch with at least a few people who might be interested in something else I write.
I keep reading that the use of social media expands your customer base, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to do that.  I'm just not that kind of thinker or man I guess, I just am not good at selling myself.  I don't even really know where to start.  But I'll keep plugging, maybe I can figure something out over time.
In any case, thank you for the few emails I got encouraging me to keep going.  I'll give it a try.  Assuming anyone even ever checks back here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

NO MORE WORD

For this entire election I feared I was in a cocoon, despite reading leftist stuff, having left-leaning friends, and reading as broadly as I could.
Apparently I was, I could see no feasible scenario by which Obama could win. It just didn't make rational sense, and all the indicators were of him losing.
Now, I'm convinced that there are some hard core shenanigans going on, but even without them, the election apparently would be incredibly close. And close= Democrat win, every time except one rare moment in time when Bush managed to stop it.
So any way you paint it, my understanding of politics and the nation's leanings was wrong. Completely wrong. So apparently I am in a cocoon. Funny how it doesn't feel very comfortable or safe.
But I'm done here.  The purpose of this blog was to reach out and try to influence and educate, to try to help people learn and understand the world better, and to try to influence worldviews and do a tiny little bit to help my country and the world.
Its too late.  It doesn't matter.  I'm done with this, I was getting a bit burnt out anyway having trouble finding things to write about.  I am giving up on a lot of things I've been doing, like Facebook.  My twitter experiment didn't lead to any book sales, and honestly I don't know what I'm going to do now.
If the economy does what I fear it will next, nobody is going to have extra cash to buy any books anyway.  It doesn't feel good to go out a failure, but I can't argue with the facts.  Gloat all you want leftists, enjoy your moment of happiness.  I can see what's coming even if you can't.  It doesn't make me feel any better.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

THE CRISIS IS UPON US ONCE MORE

These are the times that try men's souls. 
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. 
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
-Thomas Paine

DON'T CHECK THE NEWS

I'm avoiding the election today because I figure people are kind of burnt out and everyone, everywhere is fixating on it online, so you can probably use a refuge but I did want to say one thing: if you haven't voted yet... don't check any results, don't turn on the news, and don't look for election data. 
It just doesn't matter how anyone else is voting.  You go do your part as a citizen, if you're American, and ignore the news.  If you absolutely have to, then go ahead and look after you've voted.  But never do until you have done your part.
Here are some suggestions of what to do instead of checking electoral results on the news (or online):
  • Call a family member you haven't talked to for a while
  • Pray
  • Play with your pet
  • Go for a walk and enjoy the fall colors
  • Help a neighbor rake leaves
  • Clean out your gutters
  • Make love to your spouse
  • Play with the kids
  • Try out that new game you bought but never played
  • Make a special meal for someone you love
  • Learn how to make something from origami
  • Buy and read Old Habits
  • Learn how to say "hello" in ten languages
  • Watch old black and white movies
  • Catch up on shows you've missed
  • Level up your Pandarian Monk in World of Warcraft
  • Make some home made pudding
  • Speculate how Princess Leia would look in Disney animation style
  • Catch up on old episodes of Mythbusters featuring Kari
  • Make a mix CD/MP3 playlist for your significant other - or if you want to be retro, a tape.
  • Learn how to cook something new
  • Vacuum all the rugs in the house
  • Donate to a reputable charity organization for folks in the Northeast
  • Wash the shower curtains/doors. What, they probably need it, right? 
  • Lean the Japanese tea ceremony
  • Work on your putting game
  • Write a chapter in that book for novel writing month
  • Read that book you have been putting off
  • Think about your first kiss
  • Make a top 10 list of your favorite songs
  • Learn how to play a song on an instrument

Just don't fixate on the election and give yourself an ulcer.  Let the election happen and find out tomorrow, you'll be happier for it.

THE COWBOYS

"...and forgive me for the men I am about to kill..."

As long time readers know, once a year I go stay a week at the Oregon coast with family.  For a while now I've taken a movie along that I think everyone will enjoy, such as Casablanca or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  I pop up some popcorn and we all watch the film together, and this time I took over The Cowboys.
There are a lot of westerns that have been made over the years, most of them pretty bad (although usually fun enough to watch) but some of them truly stand out as works of art.  The Cowboys is one of the very best.
The film has a few really amazing moments, such as John Wayne being shot to death - my aunts couldn't believe it happened, much like movigoers at the time.  John Wayne only died in a few movies, and the only Westerns he ever got killed in were this one, The Alamo, and The Shootist.
It has very strong performances from everyone, especially the three main stars John Wayne,  Roscoe Lee Browne, and Bruce Dern.  This was typical work for Dern, who up to that point was mostly known for western roles and had regular appearances in TV series like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Big Valley and others, usually as a villain.  Dern actually was in a string of classic westerns like War Wagon, Support Your Local Sheriff, Hang 'em High, and Will Penny.
When the film came out (1972), Westerns were starting to fail in popularity, and hippies were all the rage.  Dern's character is named "Long Hair" Asa Watts, which seems to be a reference to the long-haired hippie types.  He was a hippie himself, and considered John Wayne to be a neanderthal, a throwback conservative brute.
Yet when they met, Dern said Wayne taught them all a lot about filmmaking (and with hundreds under his belt, he'd know), was a complete gentleman and very friendly.  In the final battle between Bruce Dern and John Wayne, Wayne apparently hammered Dern against the tree so badly he had bruises all over his body, and they didn't film the shooting of Wayne in the back until the next day.  Dern relates the story where John Wayne told him "they'll hate you for this."  Dern scoffed at this idea, knowing his hippie buddies would consider him a hero.
But people did hate him for it, and apparently his daughter Laura Dern got a lot of grief at school for being the daughter of the coward who shot John Wayne in the back.
The movie was filmed in New Mexico and Colorado, except for the night scenes which were filmed in a studio to control lighting and weather.  The boys were either actors or kids from ranches, and most of them already knew how to rope and ride.  You can see their skill in the movie because almost all of the riding and cowboy stuff is done by the actual kids.  They took a course in cowboy ways for several weeks before filming and all of them became very good at it.
Stop for a moment and imagine you're a boy, age 11-14, who gets a chance to do a movie with John Wayne, as a cowboy.  You get to ride and rope and fire guns at bad guys and do a cattle drive.  Now days that might not seem like the ultimate dream to boys but back then it was like winning the lottery ten times over.  And Wayne was fantastic with the kids.
Several of the young riders became rodeo stars, with the youngest actually becoming a national champion several times over.  A Martinez played the surly, proud Cimarron, who was actually the best of the cowboys in terms of raw skills.  He has had regular work since, and now can be seen as the somewhat shady Native American investor Jacob Nighthorse in the recommended show Longmire.
The Cowboys is one of the best westerns made, and is both entertaining and moving.  It pays proper homage to the beautiful countryside and the themes of the old west (although its landscape is odd given their stated journey roughly Bozeman to Belle Fourche South Dakota -  they start on the plains and end up in the Rockies, which is the opposite direction).  It contains the finest acting ever by John Wayne and is well worth viewing.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sean Connery is still cooler than we'll ever be.

SONGS I LIKE - The Wall (Kansas)

Gold and diamonds cast a spell, it's not for me I know it well
The riches that I seek are waiting on the other side

Kansas is one of the art/progressive rock bands that showed up in the 70s after Yes and Pink Floyd.  Although Yes is the greatest of these bands, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and others put out some great work and Kansas was very good as well.
Kansas had some of the most profound, thought-provoking, and meaningful songs any popular music group has ever attempted, wrapped in complex, unusual music for the rock genre.  Combining jazz, classical music, and rock they created something unique, and enduring with songs such as "Dust In The Wind" and "Carry On My Wayward Son" are still in heavy rotation today.
"The Wall" is off the album Leftoverture which is considered by many to be their best effort.  It is one of those discs you play and can't find a bad song on, and belongs in any proper collection of rock albums.  The song deals with decision points and impediments in life, times when you face a challenge and have to find an answer.
The writer (Kerry Livgren) likens these moments to traveling along a path and coming to a wall in your way.  You can by pass the wall by going around (or over or under) it, you can try to smash through the wall, or you can stop, even turn around and go back where you came from.  But The Wall changes everything and forces you to deal with it in some way.
And life is full of these barriers, times when you face a moment when you have to change to face the world around you.  It can be a new relationship, a personal health issue, a world event, it can be something as simple as a car not starting or as complex as a new baby.
For the singer, The Wall blocks out his dreams and hopes, and he longs for what is beyond it.  The riches and desires of life mean nothing for him, only what lies beyond that wall.  And the fact that Livgren later became a Christian suggests a spiritual significance to "The Wall" beyond mere troubles in life.
Sometimes songs are great without understanding what they say - and become less so when you hear how vapid or stupid the lyrics are.  Sometimes they become even greater, and this is one of those songs.
I'm woven in a fantasy, I can't believe the things I see
The path that I have chosen now has led me to a wall
And with each passing day I feel a little
more like something dear was lost
It rises now before me, a dark and silent barrier between
All I am, and all that I would ever want be
It's just a travesty, towering, marking
off the boundaries my spirit would erase

To pass beyond is what I seek, I fear that I may be too weak
And those are few who've seen it through to glimpse the other side,
The promised land is waiting like a maiden that is soon to be a bride
The moment is a masterpiece, the weight of indecision's in the air
It's standing there, the symbol and the sum of all that's me
It's just a travesty, towering, blocking out the light and blinding me
I want to see

Gold and diamonds cast a spell, it's not for me I know it well
The riches that I seek are waiting on the other side
There's more that I can measure in the treasure of the love that I can find
And though it's always been with me, I must tear down the Wall and let it be
All I am, and all that I was ever meant to be, in harmony
Shining true and smiling back at all who wait to cross
There is no loss.


This is part of the Songs I Like series.

Quote of the Day

"I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."
-Harry S Truman

Monday, November 05, 2012

SOME MORE TV

"For future reference, when I say 'I agree with you', that means I'm not listening. "
-Sherlock Holmes

I panned Elementary pretty badly after the first show on here.  The show is an American take on the BBC hit Sherlock which I do enjoy, but the US version looked just awful.  However, I have watched a few more shows, because I hate to just junk someone's hard work on one try and my complaints were mostly based on problems I had with the one show rather than with the concept, actors, and themes.
After seeing four episodes, I am mellowed a bit.  Sherlock is still an unlikable freak, the mysteries are still not very good, and the writers still can't seem to work out how to depict a really intelligent person or deductive reasoning, but the show has gotten better.
Sherlock hasn't thrown any destructive tantrums since the first show and the deliberate attempts to shock by showing him to be a scuzzball have been moved away from.  They are depicting him more as a very strange guy, not a sleazy psychotic.
The show is slowly developing the relationship between Watson and Holmes, which is interesting.  I liked how they did it in Sherlock, but it felt a bit rushed, like the writers felt everyone knew they'd be together so lets just get it over with.  In this, Sherlock and Watson truly don't like each other at first, and are beginning to grudgingly respect each other.  They still aren't friends, and they only reason they stay together right now is because Watson is a drug counselor keeping watch over Holmes because of his previous heroin addiction.
An aside here: as much as I like Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer (and he's far, far better than his Sherlock stuff in other books such as The White Company), he got it all wrong with Sherlock's addiction.  Doyle had Sherlock so bored with life he wanted a distraction to calm his mind so he took cocaine in a 7% solution.  Cocaine does not calm your mind, it intensifies your mind and hypes you up.  That's the last thing Sherlock wanted or needed.  This show has him instead addicted to Heroin to calm him, slow his mind, dull his senses and get him to forget analysis and deduction for a while.  This is much better for two reasons.  First it makes more medical sense, and second, I have long thought Holmes was the kind of guy that can't help himself, he continually, without intent or conscious effort analyzes everything.  That gets very tiring after a while not just for those around you, but for yourself.  Sleep becomes an escape, and I could see someone like him reaching for a drug to help out.
However, here lies a problem.  The modern writers for Elementary cannot imagine someone like Holmes being entirely sexless and disinterested in relationships.  So they not only have him sleeping with hookers as a distraction, but they strongly have implied he had a relationship that went bad in the past that drove him from London and to take drugs (my guess is it will be Irene Adler, who returns later).
By doing this, they've done harm not just to the Sherlock Holmes legend, but part of what made him so interesting and unique.  He's not a sex obsessed 20 something with scuzzy hair, tattoos and no shave.  He's a thinking machine who simply has no interest in sex or women, or relationships at any level.  They are distractions from his real interest, which is to save himself from boredom (something Sherlock handles very well).
Yet the hipster writers and entertainment types who came up with Elementary apparently either cannot conceive of someone like that, or think it simply wouldn't relate to modern viewers, so they abandoned that key, fascinating part of Holmes' character.
And it gets worse.  One of the more obnoxious things that the two major efforts to bring Batman to movies is that they had to fix him.  The last Burton-era Batman film with George Clooney was all about a psychologist helping Bruce get past his pain so he isn't so obsessed with fighting crime and can retire from being Batman.  The latest Batman film is all about how Alfred so desperately wants Bruce to just have a nice life and forget being Batman, and ends with him doing just that, getting over his pain and finding a nice life with an amoral cat burglar he has nothing in common with other than nightwear.
You don't fix literary heroes like that.  It not only makes them boring, it makes them stop being what people care about.  And this show is all about Watson fixing Holmes.  She psychoanalyzes his behavior, she gets him to share about his feelings, and Holmes gets all pensive and thoughtful like he's having a breakthrough.
That's just trash.  Not only does nobody except apparently the writers give a crap about Sherlock Holmes' psychology, it ruins the character.  If you fix Sherlock Holmes, you obliterate Sherlock Holmes.  If he just becomes a stable, normal guy, he's ruined, its like doing a lobotomy on a genius to make him regular.  That's just unacceptable.
There are bright parts though.  The writers are getting better at showing Holmes thinking, and they don't go to the ridiculous extremes that Sherlock sometimes does (solving a code, in his head, that nobody else in the world could, in less than 30 seconds, for instance).  And the cops are smart, and good at what they do.  Most of Doyle's portrayal of the police was of them being dolts and cretins, barely able to lift their head, knuckles dragging as they drool on the evidence.  These guys are professional and very capapble, although their reliance on Holmes makes sense.
So I am not a fan, but its not as bad as it was, and has some promise.
A show that I am a fan of is Vegas with Michael Chiklis as a mobbed up casino boss and Dennis Quaid as a rancher and reluctant Sheriff of Las Vegas county.  The setting is 60s Vegas, there are mobsters and casinos and desert and corruption and strong jawed heroes and so on.  The good guys are smart and good, the bad guys are bad but interesting, subtle, and deeper than just a mob caricature.
I recommend Vegas, particularly if you're looking for a filler between Longmire seasons.  Quaid's gruff cowboy sheriff throwback is a terrific and intense guy to watch, and Chiklis' smooth, clever mobster who you can't quite figure out is great fun.
And Vegas is based on real events with real people.  Sheriff Lamb is a real guy.  The events that are depicted are real as well.  The mysteries are probably mostly fictional, but its following actual events as Las Vegas shook its self free of mob control in the era depicted in the movie Casino.
Another show similar to this is Magic City.  This is a show about a Hotel owner in 1950s Miami up against the mob and unions trying to run a good resort without being taken over.  I liked the show okay but it didn't stick with me, and I am not exactly sure why.  I think part of the problem is that its a bit too limited in scope, so there's not much future for the concept, and a lot of it is that the bad guys are kind of boring and wooden.  They're just growling evil corrupt mobsters, they don't have any style or cleverness to them.  I'll give it a few more shots to see if there's more to it than I think.

IDENTIFYING DEMOCRACY

"That's racist!!!!1!1!!!"

We're told that the only possible reason anyone would want to require ID to vote is in order to intimidate and shut out poor and minority voters (yes, the presumption is that if you're not white, you are poor and/or don't have valid ID).  We're told that it would "suppress" and "disenfranchise" voters.  We're told that its a poll tax and illegal.
Did you know that both Georgia and Indiana have had voter ID laws for five years?  And you can look back at voting patterns in these states and discover that instead of suppressing the vote, it actually had no negative effect whatsoever.  In fact, because of the increased minority voter participation in 2008, there was an increase of minority voters after these laws passed.
The fact is, requiring people to show ID to vote has not caused any suppression or disenfranchisement.  Overall, the country has quite a few states with voter ID requirements.  These states require photo ID to vote:
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
And these states require ID even if a photo isn't involved:
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut 
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
That's over half of the 50 states that require ID to vote.  And yet, recently when states such as Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Missisippi tried to pass the same law, suddenly courts decided it was unconstitutional or would harm voting.  That's only in the last year that these courts suddenly ruled in this manner.
Previously, under Presidents before Obama, the federal government saw no reason to interfere with how states ran their elections, since the US Constitution plainly requires that states control their elections, not the executive branch:
The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.
-US Constitution, Article I, Section 4
Any state in the "south," that is states who were part of the Confederacy, are required to go before the federal government and get permission as part of the Voting Rights Act before they can make any changes to voting laws.  This is outrageously tyrannical and even if it had the slightest shred of validity in the past is now simply unacceptable.
The fact is, every single state which has a voter ID law also has a free "voter ID" card which anyone who can sufficiently demonstrate need can get for free.  There is no good excuse for opposing these obvious and common sense laws, no valid reason.  I am against national ID cards as much as the next guy, but that's not what these are and protecting elections is incredibly important for a democracy.
Its hard to not be very suspicious of anyone who opposes this idea.

"DON'T GET COCKY"

"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."
-Niels Bohr

Things look extremely positive for Romney's chances to win the presidency, and we're one day out, so I'm going to do some predicting here.
First, I see Romney winning the presidency, by around 53-46, possibly more.  Michael Barone has the electoral college vote around 315 for Romney, but I think that's probably high even though he's the best political analyst around when it comes to this kind of thing.
Second, I don't see the Republican party winning the Senate.  The Democrat majority will be greatly reduced, possibly to 1 or 2 votes, but not a win.  This ought to dump Harry Reid out of the leadership position, but it won't - Nancy Pelosi oversaw the biggest loss ever for the Democratic Party in the house and is the minority leader.  Failure and catastrophe doesn't seem to have a price for the Democrats.
Third, and this is the most obvious and easy prediction, the Republican party retains the House of Representatives.  How on earth anyone could possibly have been so deluded as to think the Democrats would take that over I can't even speculate about.  I see a few seats being added to the GOP majority.
I keep reading "don't get cocky" all over the place and I can't understand why that keeps being said.  What, exactly, do they think is going to happen if people get confident?  Do they think people will stay home and not vote?
If they're referring to a lack of desperation that leads to donations, its too late to make a difference with any cash except to pay for after parties.  If they're referring to a possible reduction in phone calls, canvassing, etc, I seriously doubt the value of those tools.
I'm serious, I am certain that the way elections are won is not by hard work but by a general mood of the country, the cultural spirit and inclination.  That can be swayed slightly by advertising or gaffes, it can be blocked by incompetence or horrendous news (say, Candidate Bill Blogsmith is found to be too young to run for the presidency, or something) but all those phone calls and yard signs and so on do is tend to annoy people.
Folks just don't like them, most folks anyway.  That's why pollsters are having a hard time getting more than 9% of the people they call to actually respond to a poll.  I think pushing people like that is more likely to backfire than help, to annoy people so they just say "well that's enough I'm just not going to vote for that position."
In the end I think we're going to see very low Democratic Party turnout (probably 3% or more margin in favor of Republicans), huge support for Romney among independents, and a very depressed vote for the president at least by blacks and youth.  And a big time spike in the elderly vote, which was pretty reduced in 2008.
And in the end, I think the faith vote is going to make a huge difference.  There is a delusion on the left that thinks evangelicals won't vote for a Mormon for president.  That might theoretically be true if they thought there was a valid choice between a good Christian and a Mormon, for instance.  But that's not the case in this election - not very many strong Christian people believe Barack Obama is actually a Christian.  They don't think he's a Muslim, either.
An oddity that I think is going to shock or fascinate analysts is the Amish vote.  Although they don't vote very much, Amish do vote, and they are very, very annoyed with President Obama's administration leaning on them with the unpasteurized milk stunt they pulled.  Since the Amish are pretty sure everyone but them is at best heretical anyway, Romney being a Mormon isn't going to concern them.
It is surprising though how little anti-Mormon stuff came out this election.  I thought for sure some of the whackier sounding beliefs of the Mormon people would be trumpeted by now in special reports by newscasters in the guise of informing the public.  Instead it was barely mentioned.  I wonder why, at this point?  Its just possible that they're so cocooned they don't think Romney has much of a chance, or perhaps they realize that the general perception of Mormons is that while they may have goofy ideas, they really seem like good, hardworking people so it would backfire.
And while I expect to see a lot of shenanigans by both parties to win - especially Democrats in big cities - I don't think they're going to go nuts.  The left may scream about turning the clock back 50 years and so on, but they don't really believe Romney is a radical right winger. He's pretty moderate, and will annoy conservatives like me a great deal while in office.  He's not a scary candidate for them, not like, say President Ryan would be. So they won't go crazy trying to stop him.  Deep down I think most if not all of them are annoyed with President Obama and won't cry real hard if he loses except for really loopy fools like Chris Matthews.
In any case, that's how I see it.  We'll find out in a few days.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

And now, something to distract you from politics: 

Quote of the Day

"We live in a moment of history where change is so rapid that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing."
-R. D. Laing

Saturday, November 03, 2012

WORD AROUND THE NET

“Being a Muslim girl whose role models are the wives of the Prophet, who were required to wear the hijab, is better than being a Christian girl, whose role models are whores,”

Ohio was the site of a union crime.  The police arrested four union men in a pickup belonging to the local sheetmetal worker's union, filled with Ryan/Romney signs they'd stolen from businesses and private property.  These guys are so behind the times they think yard signs move an election.
Television channel G4 was launched as a young gamer geek paradise, intended to focus on gaming, movies, and general geek culture.  Its centerpiece shows were X-Play and Attack of the Show, which were pretty big shows for a while but have tailed off in popularity.  Now both shows are being canceled and the channel is claiming they want to be more like magazines such as Maxim.  Which is what Spike TV is already.
British schoolgirls have been given birth control implants at ages as young as 13 without any notification for their parents.  The school nurses were even banned from attempting to ask parents for permission.  Why?  Because sex!  Its great!  Shut up, you puritanical loser!
Reason magazine has been following a story where professional dieticians have been trying to shut down anyone but them from giving any dietary advice.  The trick they use is a law which prevents "practicing nutrition" without a license, which is a dubious law to begin with.  Thus, if a blogger posts some suggestions on a certain kind of diet (the odd "paleo" diet, apparently designed to get people to die at age 35 which was more typical in ancient times), they get nailed by the government for "practicing nutrition."  Blatantly this is a free speech violation but its also the government protecting a certain sector of the economy from competition, which is simply absurd.
According to Kerry Picket at the Washington Times, the Obama administration has been using an old espionage law to silence whistleblowers.  If someone tries to point out misuse of power, funds, or personnel, the White House often claims that falls under the WWI era law and silences them.  Bloomberg News has reported that Attorney General Eric Holder has prosecuted more people under this act than every single one of his predecessors combined.
When the Obama administration bailed out the United Auto Workers Union by taking over GM and Chrysler, one of the things they did was cut back on workers.  But they did so by specifically firing only non-union workers, such as at the Delphi plant.  Now emails revealing this was at the specific behest of the White House and President Obama have surfaced, showing deliberate protection of unions.
Probably you saw this picture if you have Facebook:

That silly sorority girl, she misspelled Kenya and thinks Obama came from there, what a loser!  She's obviously one of those radical racist southerner Tea Partiers who want to bring back slavery!  Except... she's an Obama voting Democrat from Massachusetts.  Yet again, someone trying to make the Tea Party look bad ends up being a hard left twit.
Robert Reich was President Clinton's economic adviser, and when it comes to economics, he's almost always wrong.  A hardcore Keynsean he's all in favor of huge government and a nation of serfs serving the feds.  He also thinks this, according to his twitter feed:
Will we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable under President Obama, or do the exact opposite under President Romney?
He thinks the governments job is to afflict the comfortable.  That's an old quote about ministers of the gospel, although some believe it applies to the news media as well, betraying a certain evangelical viewpoint about the job of reporting.
While Jews historically have been the world's most persecuted religious group, right behind them are Christians (from Rome onward) and these days Christians are by far the most persecuted group.
Why is such a huge scourge chronically under-reported in the West? One result of this oversight is that the often inflated sense of victimhood felt by many Muslims has festered unchallenged. Take the fallout of last month’s protests around the world against the American film about the Prophet Mohammed. While most of the debate centred on the rule of law and the limits of free speech, almost nothing was said about how much more routinely Islamists insult Christians, almost always getting away with their provocations scot-free.
Typically the Persecution happens in Muslim countries, or those where Muslims desire to take over, such as Nigeria.
Long ago, Bill Maher used to be somewhat funny when he ran Politically Incorrect, but these days he's just disgusting, obnoxious, and pathetic.  He recently declared that people who vote for Romney should be scared because "black people know where they live."  In that he managed to threaten people for disagreeing with him, smear all blacks as brutes and violent, and show himself to be a ridiculous clown.  How this guy gets paid to talk in public I'll never understand.
Other voter intimidation news includes an Oregon mailer from the AFL-CIO, suggesting how they think people ought to vote.  The front of the mailer includes the words "your voting history is a matter of public record."
Last week a big story about hate crimes and a Republican man being attacked for his politics surfaced.  A homosexual working for a Republican campaign claimed he got threatening emails from the opponent of his boss, and like almost all "hate crimes" being reported ended up being false.  Maybe if we junked this idiotic false category people would stop crying wolf for attention using it.
While I think the Gangman Style video is weirdly funny, it was a single-watch distraction to me.  For some reason its become a huge internet sensation (mostly because of people who also think the Emperor has a really great new outfit, I suspect) and Youtube has been hammered with people watching the nonsense.  Amar Prabhu at Forbes did the math and while its very hard to be exact, estimates that it has cost Youtube around $70,000 thus far, and earned them over $300,000 in ad revenue (a number I'm skeptical about, since I personally ignore all ads online and block 90% of them with addons).
Virginia's sitting Democrat congressman Gerry Connolly is running for reelection to the House of Representatives against a man who served 24 years in the Green Berets.  Connolly is having a tough fight to keep his job, and recently said that vets are "unqualified to serve in Congress" because their service overseas prevents them from putting “sweat equity” into their districts.  Now, personally I find that a lot more shocking than anything Akin ever said, but more importantly I doubt Connolly has sweated a moment in his life working for his community.
According to data from the Senate Budget Committee, last year the United States Federal Government spent almost $60,000 per household under the poverty line in the United States in the form of various welfare payments.  Since the median income for the USA is just over $50,000 you'd think that would be pretty solid life for poor people.  In fact, if you look at this chart you can see that spending on welfare has skyrocketed to an astounding rate over the years:

However, if you listen to the rhetoric of the left, America is a miserable place where the 1% are greedy bastards who don't pay their fair share, despite it being about 50% of the total tax burden.
Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of destruction, including many toppled trees.  And one, in New Haven Connecticut, revealed a human skeleton.  Apparently buried long ago, it was left when the graveyard was moved and new construction built over it. There's been no word on poltergeists so far.
Also during the Hurricane, President Obama's campaign emailed voters telling them to tie up the phone lines during the emergency calling people and telling them to vote for Obama.  I get 5-6 Obama emails a day begging for funds and telling me to get others to vote for him.  It doesn't stink of desperation and failure at all.
Saudi Arabia was the scene of a wedding, with traditional automatic weapons fire into the air to celebrate.  The fire cut a power line, which fell on the wedding party and killed 23 people.
For decades now the United Kingdom has been pushing for "alternative energy" sources such as wind turbines, and finally they are giving up on the plan at least in part.  The government of the UK has announced a moritorium on all wind farm construction, possibly because the things are failing, produce tiny amounts of power, and cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars the government just doesn't have.
Facebook tends to avoid public political statements but they really stepped in it recently.  A group of vets against President Obama recently posted this image:

Facebook immediately ordered that they take it down.  The group refused, so Facebook took it down and shut down their Facebook page.  Then, after being told this was asinine and possibly actionable, they restored the page and tried to apologize.  The only policy this image violated was the "reelect Obama" policy.
Hurricane Sandy also has revealed a serious flaw with the government of Northeastern States: while they're real keen on things like limiting transfats and the size of drinks, they haven't been very vigorous about emergency preparation, preventing floods, and so on.  When people talk about how they want a government that is involved in peoples' lives, they tend to mean one that helps when they need help, not one that continually interferes with how they live.  Don't expect that to change how they vote, though. Seriously though, New York City is about 3 feet above sea level, did they really think it would never crest over that level?
One of the most powerful condemnations of Nevada voters and politics is the reelection of Harry Reid to the Senate.  A despicable, pathetic wretch, Reid should have been shown the door in 2010, but managed to hold on to his position anyway.  And he can partly thank President Obama, who illegally used Department of Energy funds to help pay for Reid's reelection campaign, according to newly released emails.  Ends, means, justify, etc.
Pastor Joseph Lowery gave the prayer at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, calling for peace and cooperation among all peoples.  And recently, this week, he declared all white people are going to hell.  This isn't an especially new perspective among blacks - its doctrine for the Muslim Brotherhood, for example - but it is new for a presidential pastor and Medal of Freedom recipient to spew.  Of course, "this isn't the Pastor Lowery that President Obama knew", just like all the other radicals and monsters he's called friends, allies, and mentors in the past, then had to distance himself from when their true colors are revealed.  Meanwhile, the Bible makes it clear that color, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, etc have nothing whatsoever to do with salvation.
Meanwhile at the National Health Service in the UK, more allegations that doctors are killing off patients they declare terminally ill and unsavable to clear out beds and reduce costs.  According to documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, 85% of trusts have adopted a system called "pathway to death" in which dying patients have water and nutrition removed to hasten their demise.
Typically any group in Europe which is nationalistic, dislikes immigrants, and loves socialism are called "right wing."  Americans just call them ethnocentric leftists, because their politics are clearly left leaning.  But the group Golden Dawn in Greece is one of those nationalist groups that take it a bit further than fervent patriotism into fascism.  However, the group is gaining power and followers in Greece as its government continues to prove it is completely unwilling to cut costs and save the nation's finances.  And that's one of the serious dangers of socialism: eventually the money runs out and when that happens, people panic and start gravitating to a strong leader who promises them everything they want, for the small price of their liberty.
Most cars do poorly when immersed in salt water, but only the Fisker Karma has been proven to catch fire and explode when that happens.  Sixteen of them in a lot did so after being inundated with seawater by Hurricane Sandy.  The New Jersey lot is a scene of burnt out carnage with over a dozen of the charred $100,000 electric sports cars ruined.
Buckyballs are one of those executive desk toys, the kind you can shape into various odd structures by using magnetic spheres.  They look interesting and give you something to do while you wait for a meeting, but now they've been pulled off the market.  Why?  Because of continual harassment by the US Consumer Product and Safety Commission.
[the CPSC] estimated 1,700 people have been hospitalized in the past three years after ingesting parts from these kinds of magnet toys. As a result, the CPSC filed a lawsuit in July against Maxfield & Oberton, calling Buckyballs "hazardous" because the strong magnets "contain a defect in the design, packaging, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury to the public."
In the lawsuit, the CPSC demanded that Buckyballs and several high-power magnetic toys from other companies be recalled immediately.
"In response to a request from CPSC staff, a number of retailers have voluntarily agreed to stop selling Buckyballs, Buckycubes and similar products manufactured by other companies.
This is why we can't have anything nice.
One of my favorite books is The Thin Man by one of my favorite authors, Dashiell Hammett.  The series of movies based on that book were entertaining, and now a series of novellas based on the books is being written which is good news.  Almost all of the films were partly written and overseen by Hammett before he got tossed out of Hollywood for his radical politics and heavy drinking.
Finally, Michael "Piltdown" Mann's absurd lawsuit against National Review Online for saying things about him that he didn't like has hit a few snags.  One for instance, was his claim to have won the Nobel Prize (which was a lie) in his statement to the judge.  Mark Steyn has been having a lot of fun with this nonsense, and he's an old hand at being sued for saying something the PC crowd didn't like.
And that's the Word Around the Net.  Next time I do this, we should have a new president-elect, God willing.