Saturday, December 31, 2016

FAUX HATE 2016

And we come to 2016, when things got really crazy.  More fake hate crimes are reported this year than any previous one, especially with an explosion of them after Donald Trump is elected president of the United States.
  • January 2016, a hispanic man claims he was attacked by a group of white men, stabbed with a screwdriver, and racially harassed.  Police find that he had actually been attacked by members of a rival hispanic gang.  He has been charged with "falsely reporting a hate crime," a misdemeanor.
  • January 2016, five black girls from University of Albany SUNY claimed that they were called racial epithets and physically attacked by white men on a bus.  Rallies and the usual outrage resulted but upon examining the twelve cameras on the bus at the time, policed noted that there is absolutely no evidence of any such activity taking place whatsoever.
  • March 2016, a woman claims she is intimidated outside a Toby Kieth concert by a white male, calling her a "cross dressing fag" and other slurs, then later that same man punched her in the face.  When police later offered to go over the video evidence from surveillance cameras, she suddenly decided to drop the case and left.  Later, she admitted she'd made the whole thing up and punched herself in the face, then went into psychiatric care.
  • April 2016, a homosexual orders a cake from Whole Foods.  When he gets the cake, he is outraged that it says "Love Wins Fag."  He files a lawsuit, runs to the nearest camera weeping, and gets lots of press.  Whole Foods counter-sues, revealing surveillance video showing that the cake did not say "fag" on it until the homosexual had control of it. 
  • April 2016, a transexual claims he was forcibly and violently removed from a bathroom in Durham, North Carolina.  Video footage shows the man walking out of the women's room alone and peacefully.
  • April 2016, the Associated Press publishes an article about a Muslim woman who claims a white man slashed her cheek with a knife then ran away.  The woman claims he called her a "f***ing terrorist."  While knife attacks rose 20% last year in New York City, it turned out that the woman cut her own cheek and made up the entire event.
  • May 2016, a man and his family claims three white guys struck him "several times" while calling him racial slurs.  The family raised a lot of noise about him being ignored by the university authorities.  Later, he admitted it was all a fabrication.  The University still changed its policies and probably punished the men who didn't leap into action based on his allegations.
  •  June 2016, British man makes a video on You Tube all about how he was assaulted in America for being homosexual.  His Arabic friend claimed to be with him on the night and witnessed the assault.  But police found that the two men's accounts were very different, and further found the man to be utterly unharmed at the club when they answered a complaint about 3 men attacking him.  The police arrested the man for vandalizing a car at the scene.  He was seen later beating himself in his cell with the receiver to a pay phone to produce bruises.
  • November 2016, a Muslim college student files a report with the police. Young white men came up to her, insulted her, beat her, and stole her hijab.  The white men were wearing "Make America Great Again" 'Trump hats' she claimed.  It was all a lie.
  • November 2016, a chapel in Northwestern University in Chicago was vandalized with swastikas, racial slurs, the word Trump, and more painted on the walls.  Investigation revealed it was done by two freshman leftists trying to make it look like Trump supporters were responsible..
  • November 2016, a black college student claims along with several others that they are getting threatening messages in their University of South Florida dorm.  She then said she was set upon by several black men and robbed.  Police were able to recover all of the things she said were stolen at the scene of where she reported the act.  She later admitted to the police that the robbery was a lie.  The messages are still under investigation.
  • November 2016 (yes, this was a bad time), a 20 year old black man tells police he was jumped by two white men who told him its "Trump country now" and threatened to lynch him.  He says he was able to elude the men and called the police.  Yes, it was all fabricated, all a lie.
  • November 2016, a girl at Bowling Green State University tells Facebook she was attacked by three men wearing Trump shirts.  They threw rocks at her, and yelled explicit language at her.  Taken to the police by her mother, she reports the crime.  Police investigate and find that she was not in that location at the time of the reported crime.
  • November 2016, a Santa Monica homosexual man is shown in an image on twitter covered in blood, with the claim that he was hit in the head with a bottle for being homosexual by Trump supporters.  He supplied media outlets with forms supposedly of him being admitted to the hospital for injuries.  However, police found that the forms were fake, that the man is a makeup expert, and that they can find no evidence of him being admitted for any harm.  The case is still open, but the man now shows no signs of the alleged harm the image shows, and admits the people may have even been Hillary supporters at this point in his story.
  • November 2016.  A student complains of getting hateful messages toward her at North Park University, both in emails and in print.  One said "back to hell" and all had #Trump on them, to make sure the association was clear.  The university later noted that the entire thing was fabrication.  There's a running theme here I'm sure you've picked up on: the repeated clear indication of Trump being somehow connected... but not.
  • December 2016.  Orlando emergency services responded to a report of a car on fire. It had been doused with gasoline and a brick thrown through the window. Taped to the mailbox of the home was a note with "KKK" and "trump" on it.  The woman's ex-boyfriend was arrested and confessed he had done it over a child support dispute.
  • December 2016.  A Muslim woman at University of Michigan claimed she was "approached" by a man with a "lit lighter" threatening to burn her hijab if she did not remove it.  Police later ascertained that the entire incident was fiction.  Amazingly enough she didn't claim the man had any Trump merchandise on.
  • December 2016.  Swastikas began showing up at Long Island College, scrawled on walls and the letters "KKK" as well.  Trump supporters are suggested as the origin by local press.  Police investigate and find that a Pakistani man who apparently has problems with Jews is to blame.
  • December 2016, A church is burned in Mississippi, one largely attended by blacks.  "Vote Trump" is found spray painted inside.  Police investigate and find the perpetrator: a black man with no connection to the Trump campaign.
  • December 2016, A man's home is spraypainted with "Nigger Lover" on the garage and set ablaze.  The white family inside is traumatized, and calls for help.  A GoFundMe page gathers more than $5000 for the family's bills.  Later the man admits he did it, and checks himself into a mental institution.
This is part of the Faux Hate series.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

FAUX HATE

"Brawley has been the victim of some unspeakable crime. No matter how she got there. No matter who did it to her and even if she did it to herself."

It was May in 1992 when Azalea Cooley said that vandals had spray-painted a swastika and "Burn, Nigger, Burn" on her house. Cooley, a black 40 year old former corrections officer won instant support from those living in the Portland, Oregon area. The mayor, the Police Bureau, the Urban League, the Anti-Bigotry Coalition, the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission all expressed their outrage and fury at the hate crime, and it was on the national news.
She claimed to get threatening letters. A black doll with a .38 bullet in its forehead was found on her porch. Swastikas painted on the property and finally a burning cross was found in her yard. Chris Woodgate writes in Willamette Week:
On Nov. 1, supporters held a rally to "Take a Stand Against Hate," which began with a spiritual "wombing," after which Azalea, in her wheelchair, led a throng of 500 protesters in a march across the Hawthorne Bridge to Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Those protesters had no idea that a secret police videotape from that very morning showed a woman with close-cropped hair step past her wheelchair, stick a wooden cross in a flower pot on her back porch, and set it alight.

It was Azalea.

When detectives confronted her with the evidence, she slashed her wrists and was hospitalized. A week later, she penned a handwritten note, confessing that the incidents had been staged, and admitting that she didn't have cancer or need a wheelchair.
As Woodgate puts it: black woman in a wheelchair? She was the perfect victim. Nobody even questioned her claims. And it was all lies, from start to finish. She was the first fake hate crime victim I remember hearing about, although there had been plenty invented to demonize the south in the past. As if the lynchings and church burnings weren't bad enough, people invented more to make the civil rights struggles more dramatic and horrible, I suppose.

I'm actually having a hard time remembering the last valid 'hate crime' even assuming the category has the slightest shred of credibility. It doesn't of course, its just a crime. Only Big Brother type tyrants would insist on making a crime worse based on the bigotry of the perpetrator. As if killing someone is not as bad because you failed to harbor some special bigotry.

The litany of fake hate crimes, of course, is long and pathetic. Here's a quick rundown of the faked hate crimes of our times in years past:

Monday, October 31, 2016

THE CURE

In 1996, a group of theologians, teachers, pastors, and Christian thinkers gathered and decided that a single, guiding statement of faith and intent would be useful for the church to follow and consider.  They formed CURE: Christians United for Reformation, with the sole intent of being a focused, united front to help guide Christians and shape the Christian Church toward more Biblical theology.
Cure was founded by some of the greatest living leaders in Christianity at the time: Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, James M. Boice, David Wells, Gene Veith, Robert Godfrey, Albert Mohler, Alistair Begg, RC Sproul, and many more.  They produced a document, a statement of intent that came to be known as the Cambridge Declaration.
So why bring this up on Halloween?  Because for protestants, October 31st is when we remember that Martin Luther hammered his 95 theses on the Whittenberg chapel door, as was the fashion of the time, laying out what his next talk was going to be about.  I've written about that in the past, but in short, it kickstarted the Protestant Reformation.  And that's what the Cambridge Declaration was about as well, a return of the church to the Bible's teachings.
The document was a statement of faith, with a series of declarations of concern and complaint, followed by the answer and where the church should then go.  It was in effect, a 20th century version of the 95 theses.
Here is the declaration:
Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.
In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word "evangelical." In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions.
Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the "solas" of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.
Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word "evangelical" has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.
Sola Scriptura: The Erosion Of Authority
Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church's life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.
Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church's understanding, nurture and discipline.
Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises, and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God's truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God's provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preachers opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.
The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God's grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.
Thesis One: Sola Scriptura
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
Solus Christus: The Erosion Of Christ-Centered Faith
As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.
Thesis Two: Solus Christus
We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.
We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ's substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.
Sola Gratia: The Erosion Of The Gospel
Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.
God's grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.
Thesis Three: Sola Gratia
We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God's wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.
Sola Fide: The Erosion Of The Chief Article
Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ's imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.
Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ's cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.
While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ's substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God's children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ's saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.
Thesis Four: Sola Fide
We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ's righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God's perfect justice.
We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ's righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.
Soli Deo Gloria: The Erosion Of God-Centered Worship
Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God's and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God's centrality in the life of today's church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.
God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interest. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God's kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria
We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God's glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.
A Call To Repentance And Reformation
The Faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ's kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.
We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the "gospels" of our secular culture, which are not gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure adequately to tell others about God's saving work in Jesus Christ.
We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God's Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church's worship, ministry policies, life and evangelism.
For Christ's sake. Amen.

Monday, October 17, 2016

THE GROWING CANCER

"Maybe not solvable within your laws"
-Mathematics

We are in a time in America where everyone is massively divided on politics, to the point of tooth-gnashing rage over every single issue and candidate. Not just divided like two friends, but turning into enemies with furious bitterness.

The last time this happened, we erupted into the bloodiest and most ghastly war in American history. And I know the cause. Its not "heated rhetoric" or the internet, or radicalism in candidates or culture wars, although all that contributes.

The cause is power.

The federal, state, and local governments have gotten so much power over every aspect of our lives that instead of being a contest over which fellow will waste our time and smoke cigars in office, they affect us in critical, absolute ways. The bloat and expansion of the government at all levels, particularly federal means that there's too much at stake every election. We're not voting for representatives. We're voting for our future, desperate to control what the state can and will do.

A smaller government would have so much less impact on your life and influence your liberty and day to day behavior that elections would have significantly less import.  150 years ago, the government was so much smaller and weaker it had little impact on most people's lives.  You could go weeks, months, even years without even being aware there was a federal government -- there wasn't even a yearly federal income tax to pay.

Even just thirty years ago nobody seriously believed the government would monitor all our phonecalls and drag people off to prison. Nobody seriously believed that you could be arrested for how the dust blew off your property when you plowed a field or where you smoked. Nobody believed you could be fined or jailed for who you baked a cake for or didn't. And already by that time the federal government was far too vast.

Now its even bigger, exponentially, like the Blob. Its eating everything. And that means every election everything is at stake. The last 8 years of President Obama has seen a deliberate, systematic, and overwhelming drive from the top down to totally change the culture and throw everything that we know and became in America away for something radical and new.

Even if you believe this is a good change, its so fast and so dominating and so top-down that it is incredibly disruptive to culture and our identity as a nation, not to mention the function and identity of the nation in the world at large.

And that is something people do not take lightly or go through easily, even if they aren't really aware of what's happening. This complicates matters, making people especially uneasy as life is unstable and unpredictable, but its also an example of how power is being exercised at an even greater rate and with even greater force, making each election more dire and important.

Every election becomes ever more important and the stakes get ever higher, because every election the federal government has spread further like a cancer devouring more and more freedom, power, and influence. Each election is a desperate bid to control that power, because of how it can and will be used.

And as each presidency goes by, we see that power used for more and more extreme and expansive things -- in the name of doing good and helping out of course -- but used either way. So each election is more horrifying and important. The stakes have gotten so high that I fear there will be blood on the streets before the next one.

And there's only one way out of this: for the monster to be cut back, for the government to shrink. And I see no possible way for that to happen within the system and within the boundaries of law. And that's an outcome we all should fear and pray God does not happen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE IMPERVIOUS HORRORS

Oh, were it mine with sacred Maro’s art
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart,
Then might I with unrivalled strains deplore
Th'
impervious horrors of a leeward shore. 
-William Mowatt (from The Ionian Mission)

It may be hard to believe, but conservatives such as myself are big fans of immigration.  My grandfather immigrated here from Denmark, and all people living in the USA, including those designated "Native American" tribes, at one point immigrated to this land.
This nation built by immigration, however, is one built also by the rule of law and a love of freedom.  And this is where conservatives part ways with other groups, in a love of both of these things, in proper perspective, without ignoring either.
Illegal immigration ignores the rule of law in favor of freedom.  Closed borders ignores liberty to focus only upon the rule of law.  These two pressures can be viewed as negatives as well: imagine a ship sailing through a narrow channel, with jagged rocks and cliffs on either side, beneath the choppy seas are hidden reefs and shoals.
So, if you would, consider with me an analogy that helps understand this tension and perspective.
THE ANALOGY
Think of the nation as the great ship America, a sailing ship from the times of wooden ships and iron men.  It sails down a passage between jagged, lethal rocks on either side, manned by sailors of independence and personal ambition, working together to move ahead in this treacherous channel.
The main passage, through the center of these deadly cliffs, is freedom.  To stay on course toward liberty is to stay away from the ruinous shores on either side.  Shores which, if examined closely, can be found to meet beneath the hull of the ship, hidden deep by the waves.
On the port side is the evil of tyranny, in which liberty is destroyed.  On the starboard side is anarchy, in which law is abandoned.  Charting a course between these two evils that destroy civilization and happiness is a treacherous and dangerous job.
For centuries, this nation has been piloted through that narrow channel with a rudder called the Constitution and captained by leaders of integrity and wisdom.  To veer too close to one side or the other means the ship is wrecked, and as we pass through the years, we can see the skeletons of ships that veered one way or the other too far.  Nations destroyed by abandoning the rule of law or tyranny litter the passage of history.
To drift too far to port crushes the ship of our nation on tyranny, grinding its hull to pieces on laws that control us, rules that dominate us, and a culture that obliterates liberty, ambition, creativity, productivity, and even hope.  This tyranny can come to us in many forms, and always, without exception, is presented as being better for us, for our own good, and from well-meaning notions such as equality, safety, or morality.
Drifting too far to starboard eliminates law and order, creating only chaos and anarchy.  This demolishes the nation with rioting, violence, instability, crime, and disorder.  Anarchy need not be a wild man with a bomb, or a mob rising in fury.  It comes from leaders who ignore laws, from laws which the nation refuses to heed, and from exasperation, frustration, or rage at leaders who will not lead or listen.  Anarchy can come from a culture so comfortable with ignoring ethics that it mocks virtues and avoids order.  
Anarchy is when every man does what is right in his own eyes, and every woman lives her own life without regard for anyone else. It comes to us in the name of equality and freedom, but in the end only gives us bondage when after all the violence and madness, the people cry for strong leadership to bring us safety and order -- leadership which is tyrannical.
For these two extremes are like a circle: tyranny often leads to revolution and anarchy, which leads to tyranny.  Anarchy leads to tyranny when people cry for strength and order.  The two evils are incestuous, connected with tentacles of corruption and injustice that reach far into the past and, if we are not careful, our future.  There is no safe port to either side.  Both lead only to rocks, destruction, and misery.
THE PROPER COURSE
Following the course between these two extremes leads ever onward to a future of liberty, prosperity, safety, comfort, ambition, achievement, equality and all the virtues of free civilization,  All of the benefits we are told lie on either side can be found down this course. 
At times our ship will be tossed by the storms of war and the doldrums of economic difficulty, but these difficulties are far better than the rocky doom of either shore.  These troubles are short-lived and the benefits are great, if only we keep this course.
 A wise captain will chart a course between jutting rocks and shoals from port or starboard that we must navigate between.  At times we will need to pilot the ship more to one side or the other, but always through the middle course, and never too close.
When faced with temporary difficulties, often voices call us like the siren to pull to one side or the other.  "Come to the side of tyranny, where you can give up the burdens of personal liberty" they cry; "steer toward the harbor of anarchy, where you can abandon the harsh demands of laws" they implore.  Often they do so out of ignorance, not knowing the terrors they call for.  Sometimes they do so out of malice, hoping to command the ship once the captain is undone.
THE MUTINOUS WHISPERS
When hardships or down times come sailing through the safe, true course, some aboard ship will grumble, hoping to mutiny and move us to one side or the other.  Their arguments may sound emotionally persuasive.  For those without the perspective of history and reason, these mutinous voices can be very compelling.
"Let us steer toward tyranny," they murmur below decks.  "There are those among us who do not have as much as others, surely this inequality is unfair.  If only there was some force to compel those who have more to give of what they have to those who do not have as much!  If only we could force equality of treatment and outcome, a strong leader, a controlling central council, a government that made sure no one felt bad, felt wrong, felt out of place."
"No, let us steer toward anarchy," another whispers in your ear.  "The chains of law and other people's standards are keeping you from having fun.  Imagine what you could do if only we abandoned these old, outdated morals.  Think of what you could have if you just stopped following their rules.  Are you not tired of this course driven by others?  Do you not wish to find your own way, without guidance or rules?"
And each of these would sound strong, if you could not but turn and look back to see where others have crashed, or looked to the side closer, to see the jagged rocks, the flash of bones, and the ribs of ruined ships that have gone before.  These arguments sound stronger when the economy slows or when war arises.  They can seem compelling in times of hardship, and only wise, sure leadership can move us through those epochs without disaster.
OUR PRESENT COURSE
Too easily we are moving to one side or the other, wildly veering about.  Wisdom and integrity are gone at the wheel.  We have no captains of virtue and honor.  We have no schoolmasters who teach us the evils of the past others have fallen prey to.  We have only voices of outrage and fury that they do not get their own way.
The entire concept of liberty as our dearest heirloom, bought at such a terrible price by those who have gone before, is abandoned.  Never do you hear politicians or pundits mention it any longer.  Our rudder is in tatters, broken and brought aboard only to bludgeon those we disagree with, not to guide us.
Our future inevitably, surely lies upon the rocks on either side -- and in the end, it matters not which, for they all lead to the same place.  Only through generations who move back into the proper course have we a future or hope as a nation.  Only by having children, teaching them well, and demonstrating the wisdom of this teaching in our lives can we hope to correct this course, repair the rudder, and replace our captains.
How close are we to the rocks?  I can hear the waves pounding in my ears.  I can see the spray of foam off the hull to the side.  I can see their slick, deadly surface dead ahead.  How much time do we have?  How much are we willing to do in order to right the ship?
I know what it took long ago when this nation was founded.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

REAL MEN COOK 29: Deviled Egg Salad

I grew up in a home where we didn't have a lot of money, so my my mom would work hard to make the limited food budget stretch the whole month for lunches when we went to school.  One of the things she'd make was egg salad sandwiches, which I never liked.  I finally got to the point I couldn't eat them and asked her to try something else.  To this day I feel queasy when I think about them.
It wasn't that her recipe was bad, everyone else loved them.  Its that it just didn't work for me.  So when my brother suggested maybe making some for lunches here, I was skeptical.  I wouldn't really be able to eat any of it, and I eat lunch at home more than he does.

But an idea occurred to me: I like deviled eggs.  And the very simple recipe I have for them works well, and is very well-received any time I make them (also mom's recipe).  So I thought: why not make egg salad sandwiches with that recipe?

It turned out super easy.  And it tastes great.  There are two keys to this:
  1. Chop the egg up fine
  2. Keep the ingredients simple
Forget those fussy overworked recipes you see on TV.  Simple, fresh: that's your key.  You keep that in mind, you get good food.

So, what does it take to make this?
  • Eggs
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mustard Powder
  • Paprika
That's it.  No celery, no onions, no bacon, no onions, no cilantro or eggplant or whatever the heck people put into egg salad.  Just those simple six ingredients.  If your recipe looks like Alton Brown's shopping list, its too fussy and busy.

Just use the recipe linked above for Deviled Eggs to make perfect hard boiled eggs then chop them up and mix in the ingredients.  If you need more specific directions, here's some proportions that worked well for me:
6 eggs, hard boiled
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

I recommend chopping the eggs up into small bits, a quarter inch or smaller.  That way its more a spread than chunks of white in your bread.  This is key to the recipe and letting people like me who don't like the texture of egg whites (or their extremely mild flavor) tolerate the food. Once you have the parts chopped, mix in the rest of the ingredients and store for a half hour or more in the fridge to blend together.

With enough mayo, you don't even need anything on your bread.  Easy, takes about a half hour or so, and this makes quite a bit; enough for a bunch of sandwiches.  I couldn't even find a good representative picture, because people hack the egg into gigantic bits and don't use paprika even in the simplest recipes.

*This is part of the Real Men Cook series.

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE MORAL INFANCY OF GEORGE LUCAS

"Let me say here once and for all: [Jar Jar Binks] was the best damn character in any of the six movies. He was by far my favorite."
-George Lucas

So I was watching the Star Wars commentary track recently.  This is sometimes very interesting and informative, but sometimes very unfortunate.  For example: Die Hard track, pretty great.  James Bond tracks: terrific.  But I almost shot myself after listening to the endless stupidity and sermons on diversity on the Lord of the Rings commentary tracks, and it turns out that Kirsten Dunst is dumb as a bag of wet sand based on the Spider-Man commentary track.  I lost IQ points listening to her.
The technical guys are terrific.  They have lots of details of how they set up a shot, what they used to get an effect, how the sound was designed, costuming, on and on.  They never disappoint.  But the directors and actors are usually vapid and pompous at best, and it goes downhill from there.  I've lost tremendous amounts of admiration and respect for directors and actors from having to sit through their self congratulation and grossly overblown sense of significance and meaning.
Star Wars was no different.  I didn't have a very high opinion of George Lucas to begin with.  I mean, he's a great idea guy and he really pushed the boundaries of film making technology, but he's an idiot and a terrible director and writer.  The guy claims he had this huge overarching story worked out in the same breath as explaining that they had to make stuff up to fill in the movies because the original script and story idea for Star Wars was so limited.
Basically he wrote a story for Star Wars, then rewrites and better writers cleaned it up, so he used unused parts for concepts for the later movies.  He never had a huge long story in mind, just one Saturday Matinee-style space opera/fantasy.  Then he started thinking he was as cool and important as his fans said.
But what really struck me was how morally immature and lost Lucas is.  He's really an infant when it comes to issues of ethics and morality, almost completely unconsidered but absolutely certain.
ABSOLUTES
George Lucas went on at some length about the significance of costuming and coloration in the Return of the Jedi commentary.
He said that it was significant that the Empire wore black and white, because they were so absolutist, and the rebels all wore earth tones, because they were so organic.  Now putting aside the bright red Imperial guard in that film, and the various grays the pilots wore in the Empire, putting aside the pure white costume Leia wore in the first film, consider.
This statement on "organic" vs "absolute" was repeated overtly in the dialog of Revenge of the Sith with Obi Wan quipping "Only the Sith deal in absolutes"  OK, sure, that was its self a tautology: an absolute statement denying he belives in absolutes.  But the problems go deeper than that.
George Lucas would say that the Emperor is evil.  That destroying Alderaan was an evil act.  Absolutely.  He further would not agree with the idea that "organic" morality allows us to support slave trading like Jabba the Hut engaged in.
The same writer that made the stupid "absolutes" statement also had Yoda quip in a faux zen statement "there is no try.  There is only do and do not."  Again, an absolute statement, in direct contradiction to Anakin's childish line.
REDEMPTION
This moral confusion and lack of awareness continues through the entire commentary.  Lucas makes some grand statements about redemption and moral redemption in the Han Solo character arc where he goes from allegedly cold-hearted mercenary to heroic savior in A New Hope.  But there's no arc.  he just suddenly shows up Deus Ex Machina style when he's needed.  There is no explanation, no scene showing his transition, no moment of realization.  There's no story to it.  He just suddenly cares more about his friends than money and his own life.
Lucas goes on about this, comparing the Lando Calrissian character to Han Solo: both are self focused, both are money hungry cold men, then become better men through a story arc of redemption.  Yet again, Calrissian has no such story.  The deal he made to save his friends falls through with Darth Vader, so he takes action against the Empire.  There's no transition.  He doesn't change his mind.  If anything, he's just being consistent.
Lucas doesn't have any idea what it takes to depict morality or redemption, because he doesn't understand good and evil or what redemption really even means.
Consider his depiction of Anakin Skywalker's fall in the latest trilogy, episodes I-III.  There's no real story of how he goes evil.  The kid is just a lucky kid in the first movie, a petulant brat in the second, then an apparently insane individual who almost murders his own wife out of the fear that she'll get hurt, then joins with the man who caused her danger because... well its never really explained.  he just is, because that's how he ends up in Episode IV, as Darth Vader.
Lucas doesn't understand the whole idea of corruption beyond a term.  Anakin doesn't naturally and "organically" end up as Darth Vader.  He ends up that way not out of a character progression, but out of the necessity for the story to end that way.
THE CAVE
The most significant moral scene in the films is the Cave scene in the Swamps at Degobah.  Plato had his analogy of the cave trying to explain the depth of meaning and how only through enlightenment by someone else can a person understand more than what they see around them.  Lucas uses the cave to... well it depends on who you ask.
Lucas thought the cave scene was obvious.  Yoda tells Luke he won't need his weapons to go into the cave, but Luke isn't so sure.  Yoda looks sad.  Lucas makes a statement about how clearly this was him showing weakness, that his need of a gun showed how weak and small Luke was.  
Lucas further went on to say how clearly it was if he took the gun into the cave, then he'd need to fight.  Obviously.  Then he met Vader, who showed that the violence in his heart was making him more like Vader, who he might turn into!
Except... nobody else got that out of the scene.  Not because its an implausible explanation, but because its not explained or even hinted at.  Yoda is disappointed, but why?  Because Luke doesn't trust him?  Because Luke doesn't rely on the force (the explanation most commonly given) instead?  Because Luke is too rash and won't stop and listen to instruction?  There's no way of knowing.
After all its a swamp full of snakes and water monsters, who knows what is in there?  Taking a tool belt including weapons along into an unknown cave on a wild alien planet doesn't strike me as particularly rash or foolish.  It seems completely rational, only the presumption that Yoda is right, a challenging one based on his bizarrely almost childish and annoying behavior when they first meet, makes you think Luke should obey him.
I get that Lucas had a short time to establish Yoda as a wise person, but since he spent a large portion of their scenes together establishing Yoda as whimsical and annoying, that doesn't come across well.  Which is again his poor writing skills on display.

Monday, June 13, 2016

ROCK SOLID NO MORE

A butterfly with broken wings 
Is falling by your side 
The ravens all are closing in 
And there's nowhere you can hide 
Cymbaline 
Please wake me 
-Pink Floyd, "Cymbaline"

I have experienced a couple of earthquakes in my life.  Most of them were so tiny I didn't notice, but a big one happened in Scotts Mills, about 15 miles from the home in 1993.  The quake was 5.6 on the richter scale, and did some damage around the town, although little if any that I could see in the house.
I left the house when it started, in my bathrobe.  At just before 6:00 it was just getting light in March and cool outside, but I was alone.  I stood there, as the rumbling stopped and the movement died down staring at the ground.
What was once so solid and trustworthy, wasn't any more.  All the terms you use to describe something absolute and reliable: rock solid, rock bottom, foundation, all of them presume the place you can go for safe stability is the earth its self.  Now it was moving around, it couldn't be trusted.  Suddenly the world felt... untrustworthy.  I was filled with a queasy sense of unease and uncertainty.  There's simply nowhere else to go when you can't trust the solidity of the planet beneath your feet.
Welcome to 2016, where the entire nation of the USA is feeling that.
CULTURAL RAM
For decades now, the extreme left has been successfully pushing culture and society ever more radicalized and leftward.  But in the last few years, its accelerated to the point of madness.  In just a few years, many solid, reliable, absolute, and trustworthy things about society have been removed, replaced, or reversed.
What was once laughable and unthinkable has become mandatory.  What was once reliable and comfortable has been banned or shamed.  What you could just last year freely say or do is now considered hateful and horrific.
Now, putting aside whether these changes are good and proper or not, consider the state of a nation where this keeps happening over and over.  The very definitions of basic foundational fabric-of-society concepts such as marriage, gender, and language have been uprooted suddenly and radically.
When you combine that with the contrast between what the economy is like down on the streets and what we're told its like in the media and by pundits, people are more than confused.  Add to that continual murderous attacks by Islamic radicals which we're told aren't really radical or Islamic.  Americans are looking at the ground with suspicion and accusation. 
That fundamental distrust of the world and what was comfortable and predictable has hit everyone - even the people who basically support these changes.  Needing to shift from, say, thinking a guy dressing as a woman is silly to stating unequivocally that this is now a woman and heroic for doing so costs a person psychologically.
In the past, big changes of this sort tended to either be accompanied by huge upheavals of another kind (war, famine, etc) or were slow and organic.  New generations tried out an idea, and over the generation it became standard.  As the older generations died out, no one really remembered the difference.  That's something a culture can absorb and people can comfortably adapt to.
But this sudden, almost violent radical change - a series of one after another, after another - that's very difficult for an individual to absorb, let alone entire cultures.
You can see this all around us.  People are on edge, easily angered, easy to take offense, easy to fight.  There's an unease around us among everyone that people are seeking solutions for.  Most people, perhaps the vast majority, don't even know exactly why they wake up feeling as if things are not quite the same color as last night.  As if they've stepped into another, very slightly different world where all the furniture was moved 1cm while they slept.
OASES
There are some who aren't affected by this.  Some who are comfortable and feel no disruption or change.  They are rich, powerful, comfortable, and surrounded by all the same things they always were.  Their jobs are safe, they know no one who is in trouble.  These people are isolated from what the bulk of society goes through and knows.
The last time I saw this was when Jimmy Carter was demolished in the general election by Ronald Reagan.  The pundits were sure Carter was an easy win, because Reagan was an idiot and a radical and a fire breathing bigot.  Things were kind of tough, but not so bad, and voters understood Carter meant well.
VICTORY
The first politician that taps into this sense of unease and gives people what feels like - not seems or logically proves to be - a solution, that politician wins, and wins big.  It doesn't even matter if they have any actual solutions.  Just the feeling that this person gets it and can handle things is enough.  Just the sense that someone like that can bring us back to what Reagan campaigned on -- "normalcy" -- can win.
What that means for this year's election or the nation's future I don't know.  All I know is, this situation is not something that can continue indefinitely.

Monday, June 06, 2016

RETRO WATN: The Constitution

Originally, I intended this to be the start of a long series on the Constitution, covering all the amendments and sections of the document in greater detail. I did in fact get through two of the amendments, but then gave up on the effort because it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be like writing about the Magna Carta: an interesting, but old and now ignored document with no bearing on modern reality.  

Still, this is the first of the major weekend essays I wrote, which I kept doing for five or so years: one big post on the weekend and then little stuff over the course of the week.  In time I began taking both Saturday and Sunday off, writing bigger pieces as they came to me rather than holding them for the weekend.
The United States Constitution is one of the finest documents human beings have been able to develop and write in all of history. Simple, elegant, powerful, and wise, it is the foundation of liberty and democracy in the western world and the template for new countries writing their own constitutions for over 200 years. But in the United States, it is barely known any better than in any other country and it is not a requirement in any public school to have even looked at the document, let alone be conversant with it.

Original 13 StatesHISTORY
The United States were originally guided by and governed by the Articles of Confederation, which since 1781 provided for single congress to deal with matters of largely independent states - so independent they printed their own, largely worthless, money. A group of representatives from the states planned to meet in Annapolis to revise the Articles, but while some states didn't bother sending anyone, many weren't able to actually make it to the meeting in time. The delegates that met came to the conclusion that an entirely new document was needed, and a meeting of representatives from all the states would have to take part.

The primary writer of the Constitution was James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and considered the most intelligent and intellectual of the founding fathers, who were no simpletons. Starting in May of 1787, representatives of each of the 13 states except Rhode Island (the last delegate finally getting to Pennsylvania in August of that year) met at the Philadelphia Convention and voted to keep the deliberations secret and that 9 of the 13 states were required to pass the document.
However, in time, the congress voted for the constitution to be released and decided on by the states, and finally in 1787 the document was ready. Although Benjamin Franklin admitted there still were some problems with the Constitution, he admitted that it would never be perfect, and encouraged everyone to ratify the document.

The men who worked on constitution published materials in the press to help people understand what the document was about, what was meant by the different parts of it, to argue for and against it's ratification, and to explain the ideas and concepts were that behind the Constitution. Books of some of these writings are available in the form of the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written under the pen name of Publius (in honor of Roman Senator Publius Valerius Publicola) by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. They are considered the a primary source for interpretation of the Constitution. James Hamilton in particular argued that what would eventually become the Bill of Rights was unnecessary and redundant in paper #84 (by Alexander Hamilton).

The Anti-Federalist Papers argued that it was necessary for some manner of explicit protection of individual rights be added to the constitution or the citizens were not sufficiently protected from federal power. The writers of the Anti-Federalist papers argued that the constitution was not ready for ratification as it was written, and the writers were again anonymous, and to this day are not precisely known.

By May of 1790, all 13 colonies finally voted to ratify the constitution, with Rhode Island being the last and North Carolina reversing their original opposing vote in November 1788. Several of the states voted with a recommendation of what would become the Bill of Rights as outlined in the Anti-Federalist papers be added, and the first amendments to the United States Constitution became law on December 15, 1791.

These amendments were primarily written by the forgotten founding father, Virginia Delegate George Mason, who is considered the father of the Bill of Rights, and they reflected the perceived need to protect the states from too much federal power and the people from government of any kind. Since that time 17 amendments have been added, the last as recently as 1992.

PHILOSOPHY
The United States Constitution was primarily written by men who were heavily influenced by such writers and thinkers as John Locke, Charles Louis deSecondat baron of Montesquieu, Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (who wrote under the pen name Voltaire), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians, all were heavily influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview which was prevalent at the time, and especially by Calvinist Christianity that was a strong influence from the time of the puritans in the 13 colonies.

These influences helped form an entirely new concept of government, a republic more pure and protective of and subject to the people than previous efforts, such as ancient Greece. The United States Constitution was written not to grant powers to the government, but instead to limit the government's powers to a specific and narrow range of areas. Each branch of the three in government is coequal and are in tension, thus protecting the people from any one branch being dominant and dictatorial.

The ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution - the final two and most forgotten of the original Bill of Rights - are the most critical and overt statements of this philosophy:
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
These amendments make the concept behind this document abundantly clear, as does the writings of the Federalist and especially Anti-Federalist papers and personal writings of men such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RETRO WATN: Profiles in Commenting

This was a project that started back when I was doing a blog about comments on other blogs. I had noticed patterns and repeated types of of comments - not commenters, but the ways comments were made, by a variety of commenters. I started to categorize these comment types and have over 40 identified, so far over 10 years.
Typewriter
Over the years, I've outlined dozens different kinds of comment types that people leave on message boards and blogs. They've ranged from the well-known such as the spammer to the less so, such as the sock puppet. As time goes on I'll likely add a few more, but for now the project is done and I have a handy resource to refer to without needing a lengthy explanation for each type of comment.

Here are the links to all the comment types, condensed into one post rather than flooding my Weekend Essays section in the side bar:

Friday, May 27, 2016

A DECADE OF WORDS

"I only read the comments"

Word Around the Net started 10 years ago.  I've made it through a decade with a little project I started because I was fascinated with the detail, information, and feedback that people left in comments on various blogs.  Often, the main article was not nearly as informative or interesting as the discussion or the things brought up in comments attached to it on a blog.
So that's what WATN was, and where the name came from: comments from blogs all around the internet that I found interesting, including discussions.
Over the years, that changed, and now Word Around the Net is just my thoughts and analysis of events and ideas, but the concept is still very intriguing to me, and I still think its a valid one for a website.  An aggregator of comments that are particularly witty, meaningful, important, informative, or hilarious strikes me as a great idea for a business.
If you can make a business out of twitter conversations as Michelle Malkin did with Twitchy, why not comments?  Alas, I seem to be alone in this thought, and it would take someone with more energy and item to devote to this project to make it happen.
Still, its been interesting.  WATN was building up into a fairly important blog over the years, but I got into it in the tail end of blogging, and things went away after a while.  Having to take a few months off because Google wouldn't let me access my own website didn't help (it was a misunderstanding combined with the bill coming due when I couldn't pay, not some conspiracy).  
I had to change the name of the blog and was unable to put any forwarding info on the old one, losing many readers.  And I lost interest, losing the drive to post several times a day because it all felt and seemed so pointless and frustrating.
So these days I post less frequently, when something occurs to me, I find the time, and can spare the energy.  And I appreciate all the people who come by and read, especially those who check back regularly.

Ten years.  Who'd have thunk it?

RETRO WATN: Reading and Understanding

About 10 years ago, I wrote this piece on deconstruction, words, meaning, and text.  It is pretty common sense stuff, but academics get seduced by concepts and philosophies that better fit what they wish to be true instead of what they know to be true.  And so we get folks like Foucault and Derrida who are so praised on the modern campus.

"Deconstruction is inventive or it is nothing at all..."
-Jacques Derrida

Reading is fundamental, went the old slogan, trying to get more kids to read and more people to pick up a book. What is fundamental about reading, though, the mere act of seeing and understanding words? Finishing a project like reading an entire book? Or does it mean the purpose and ideas of the words, what you learn and understand and grow from reading?

Any time someone reads anything of consequence, they are introduced to ideas, situations, discussions, and events that they might not have thought about or been confronted by before. It is the substance of the books that is significant, expanding our education and understanding and teaching us the things that great minds and creative hearts have laid down in the past. Great thinkers of today are only that way because they've studied even greater thinkers in the past, who stood on the shoulders of great men. This continuous passing down of knowledge and information is critical to growth and advancement, it is the lifeblood of civilization.

In recent decades, however, this has stagnated. People know less about what has gone before and especially what men and women thought before than ever in our history in the civilized West. Rather than knowing what great thinkers had laid down for us to learn in the past, we're at best hearing recent pundits and coming up with our own ideas, which are feeble echoes of the past. This, combined with the rejection of books as boring and slow has been corrosive to our shared understanding of the past and the wisdom of those who came before.

There is another contributing factor, however, and in some ways it is far more deadly and influential. Some do read the past and study what was said and thought about before, but rather than thinking about what these writers said and meant, they think about what they mean and what they think the writers meant or said. This is a critical difference. Let me use a familiar tale for an example, this being the Christmas season: Luke, chapter 2.
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
This is the basic Christmas story, which is familiar to most, although fewer than in the past. This is why we have Christmas at all - the date is a bit off, it likely happened in the Spring, but at this point that is irrelevant. This is a short tale, two paragraphs long. For the purposes of this essay, whether it is historically accurate or true is irrelevant, that is for another time perhaps. For now, all that is of essence is the meaning and purpose of this text.

In this context, there are two basic ways of reading this - and any - text: what the writer meant, and what you think it means. Following the concepts of writers like Jacques Derrida and others, many especially in the academic and literary community have taken up the second as their primary method of reading. I say primary, not only, because some things they take at face value like warning labels and newspapers.

The idea is to take almost every piece of literature or writing and apply one's own worldview, perspective, or "narrative" and view what is said and why through that narrative. Let me give you a few examples to make this more clear. Note, these are exaggerated for effect.
COMMUNIST
The agrarian peoples of the ancient middle east were typical of the time, with absolute rulers controlling every aspect of the lives of workers. We see Joseph here, a carpenter, an honest proletariat who works with his hands. He is wrested out of his life in Nazareth by the bourgeoisie and forced to the village of Bethlehem for registration, a simple and important step once revolution has freed the working classes, but under the hands of the oppressive ruling class a tool of tyranny.

Joseph and his young bride are unable to secure lodgings at an inn, typical of the many simple ways that the working classes are oppressed by the bourgeoisie. The land owner gave an excuse of not having room, but he clearly had a fine suite of rooms and comfort at the expense of even the people he called customers. With so many people demanding rooms, no doubt this oppressive land owner took advantage of his power and charged more and more for each customer, forcing their hard-earned money out of their meager pockets and thus establishing is power even greater. The political struggle could not be more clearly expressed.

A visit from shepherds is the only bright spot we have, we're told it is because of some angelic vision, but no doubt this explanation merely covered the true purpose: a revolutionary council. The shepherds who worked in the fields for little pay and much danger suffered in the cold for fascist land owners, exerting economic force on them. With this convenient excuse, they visited Joseph and Mary and formed a plan for a new king to come to their land, a child that they would raise with revolutionary ideals and plans for how to remake the land, throw off the yoke of oppression from both the Roman invaders and the proletariat ruling classes. As we all know, this sadly ended in death and misery for all involved, a king is no answer to fascist oppression.

CONSERVATIVE
Mary, unwed and pregnant, faced a difficult choice: leave her husband as was the proper thing to do at the time, or bring shame on him and corrupt society through her selfish teenage inability to control her hormones. Mary's husband was patient though, he embraced the pregnant teen and tried to make an honest woman out of her.

Mary and Joseph went to do their patriotic duty, to pay taxes and register with the government to demonstrate their allegiance to the flag. In Bethlehem, however, Mary was ready to have that baby, and since in those days there was no Social Security to drain the pockets of hard working citizens, she would normally be able to rely on friends and neighbors. In this case, however, she was in a distant town and knew no one around. Thankfully she had a good old fashioned education and knew what to do, and although a booming economy made it so there wasn't room even in the little town's inn, Joseph was a good entrepreneur and found a way to work around the problem. The local stable would do, and in that rustic setting, a baby was born, perhaps to later do his patriotic duty and serve in the Roman army.

Local shepherds who were working a night shift turned out to be less than dedicated to their work, and showing little personal responsibility or loyalty to their employers, used the excuse of a birth in the stable to abandon their sheep. Angels would keep them, no doubt, because there is no criminal class to prey on the weak, requiring the strong arm of the law and prison time to hold them away.

Sadly despite their best efforts, society's corrosive influence led Jesus to a bad end. His education - no doubt a public school - and the local media were more powerful than parents, and his mother was probably too permissive. Jesus a shiftless hippy with no job, no possessions, but a group of followers who tried to build some kind of Judean commune. In the end, just capital punishment was what he faced for his many crimes against the state.

EVOLUTIONISM
Thousands of years ago, we see the superstitious reliance on gods and supernatural events to try to explain things that happened. Although this is but a few millennia ago, evolutionary process inexorably has advanced modern man, society, and our understanding beyond these simple people and thier ignorance about life and biology. A woman becomes pregnant and cannot explain it - what is her response? It must have been a holy spirit, some divine visitation.

We now are evolved enough to know that even casual sexual contact that any teenage couple, even unmarried in the dark ages of Hebrew culture at the dawn of the Current Era can transfer enough sperm to cause a pregnancy, but in those ignorant times, pregnancy was largely a mystery, a visitation by gods to grant fertility. As you can see, the culture at the time was so unevolved and unsophisticated that a pregnant girl was turned away from the inn - no doubt due to simplistic moral concepts that bound and damaged a culture. As a society grows, it begins to reject moral ideas that in the past were needed to bind a civilization together and keep it from chaos. A more evolved people need no such rules and laws.

The shepherds working in their fields experienced what they considered a visitation by angels, but what was it? Rye is known to have caused mass hallucination by those who suffer from St Vitus' Dance - eating moldy rye bread and being afflicted by ergot. Perhaps it was this sort of effect that the shepherds suffered from, or perhaps they heard about the girl's "divine" pregnancy and concocted a mystical tale to add them to the excitement.

A shepherd would have little education or knowledge and thus in a time of unevolved, unsophisticated superstition would be more likely to embrace such a tale, even embellish on it. In simpler minds, this tale might even be believed, especially if it was combined with some stellar event like a supernova seen for weeks even in the day sky. As our minds, education, and culture evolves, we can move away from this sort of superstition to a more clear understanding of events that does not rely on gods and angels.

FEMINISM
We see in this story the oppressive culture of the ancient middle east, with a Womyn being a pawn in the games of gods and men - even the angels sing about how men shall have goodwill, that men will find peace on earth.

A teenager, Mary is trapped by Her pregnancy, likely caused by Joseph's irresponsible need to slake his lusts at her expense. A story is concocted by the disempowered Womyn to save face in a society that condemned a Womyn's pleasures and sexual acts while ignoring the men's brutish behavior. Yet through all this, we see Her conquer and triumph, giving birth to a child in the worst of circumstances, and watching all She saw.

What is the final lesson of this tale? Mary, who alone among the thuggish male oppressors around her watching and treasuring in her heart all that she saw and learned. For in that time, a Womyn had to use what she learned to survive, she had to keep Her eyes open, use her wits and her wiles to have any status or power. While the men plodded mindlessly through life enjoying their dominance and unquestioned patronistic authority, a Womyn had to be smarter, more observant, and more thoughtful.

MODERN LIBERALS
This story is a triumph of the little guy, a repudiation of prevailing morality, and an example of how the poorest and disempowered among us require assistance and a hand up. With a tyrant in charge of the area under the invading Roman rulers, Joseph had little choice but to take his young wife to Bethlehem to register for the census, and thus taxation. Unlike Bush, Joseph was a successful businessman, a carpenter, but with this meager earning could hardly support a sudden family, but he was a good man and against popular culture of the time did not care if his wife was pregnant before marriage. Who can deny that teenagers will be teenagers, and although owing to the times a story of some "spirit" visiting was invented to explain her growing baby, we all know what really happened between those two! Mary chose not to have an abortion, and although Joseph may have been gay, at the time he had little choice but to put up a front of an ordinary life. We can see later on the influence his father's possible difficulties had in Jesus' lifestyle choices.

Without a safety net, Mary and Joseph could not afford medical care, as is so often the case today where almost 50 million people are without healthcare, leading to tens of millions of homeless on the streets due to Bush's tax cuts for the rich and bloody war based on lies. When they reached Bethlehem, Mary was due, but despite this condition, the heartless businessman who owned the Inn turned them away. No hospice had been established, but the local stable would do for one night. Mary became a symbol, the Rosa Parks or Cindy Sheehan of her time. Facing difficulty, although not as bad as losing a son to a pointless war for oil like Mother Sheehan, rallied local people to visit her and think about what changes could be made for the poor, minorities, and women who are always hardest hit.

TELEVANGELIST
When baby Jeeeesus was born, he was born in a stable, how many times in your life have you found yourself in the stable? A lowly place, with animals, without anything, you are at the low point in your life. Perhaps you've been using drugs, perhaps you've been SEXually active with someone, perhaps you struggle with some dark secret sin. In this stable of our lives, we need Jeeeesus, we need to find Jeeeesus and have faith. Do you have faith? Do you know that faith can help you through those darkest times?

I want you to put your hand on the television right now and say it with me "I have faith!" say it with me now praisegod, "I have faith!" Yes, I can feel your faith, you belieeeeve! But that's not enough, faith withoutwithoutworksisdead the good book says, and you will never leave that stable without showing your faith. This ministry works hard to reach good people like you, but that costs money, evangelism costs money, and all these gold thrones cost money. Wait, we'll edit that out later. Live, you say? Uh...

Missions cost money, and all the work we do here, well, it takes money. You can see Joseph did his part, he took his whole family to Bethlehem to be registered in the census, yes he did, and he did it because then he could pay his taxes. Well Jeeeesus wants you to pay your taxes to the church, and this ministry needs those taxes. That stable you find yourself in, it's never going away until you exercise your faith, you can see at the bottom of the screen the number to call, give generously. Let's have a number, do you think you can sing something for us, Agatha Toomuchmakeup?

"When your world view is made up entirely of round holes, your mind is a lathe that can turn everything into a cylinder." -James Lileks

ENOUGH!
I could keep this up all day. Seriously I could, every viewpoint has some way that they can take any text and make it fit what they think about and want to say. For some, this is inescapable, almost like a mania where they force everything to fit into their predisposed way of looking at the world. This is what compels radical leftists to bring every discussion, every topic, every news item into yet another rant about President Bush. You probably know other people who do the same thing with a different topic: their job, their kids, their hobby, what have you.

The problem with this approach is that when a book is written, the author usually has a point, and knows what they really meant when they wrote it. The writer almost always writes understanding what they are trying to say and usually why. You can read stories about Winnie the Pooh and get almost anything out of it, the book The Pooh Perplex does exactly the kind of thing I did above with stories about Pooh. Books like the Tao of Pooh try to jam the simple children's story into a philosophy and teach things from it.

To some extent this is fine: many different lessons can be taken from any great work of literature, or even just a great children's story like Pooh. Pooh did teach some simple lessons and give a viewpoint about life that A.A. Milne taught his children, likely without even meaning to. The problem is when you violate the meaning and intent of the writer. In some cases, this can be difficult to determine (some books are written deliberately like this, most poetry is very cryptic). In most cases, however, the meaning is fairly plain and even can be determined by other writings and statements by the author.

For example, the US Constitution was written extensively about, the writers were very plain about what they meant and why in sources such as the Federalist Papers. Rather than jamming your viewpoint into what you read, you should take from it what you can learn and try to remember what the writer was trying to say.

Why? Because if you do otherwise, you aren't learning from the text. Remember, the greatest benefit of reading is exposure to new ideas and thoughts and great concepts in the past. If you impose your thoughts on what is being said, all you are doing is confirming what you already think and want to believe. You learn little to nothing at all, and the exercise is more masturbatory than intellectual. Reading men like Locke and Socrates is only enlightening and helpful if you're willing to take in and learn what these men have to say, not what you want them to say or how you care for them to have stated something.

Why did this system of reading start, and how much has it infected our society (I use infected rather than influenced advisedly - it is pernicious and damaging, and was not a process of leadership and influence)? That's the meat for another essay, but suffice it to say that this enables an ideology that rejects any absolute meaning and truth to flourish in the very realm that truth and meaning should reign supreme: academia. Taking a literature class today is a festival in this sort of imposition of meaning.

When news is reported, rather than the bare reporting of events and facts, sometimes reporters take this idea of narrative interpretation to heart and give the lesson they learned or want others to learn. Instead of news, you're getting opinion. If this happens in an editorial, column, or blog, that's fine. If its front page news... that is a problem.

When you see an explanation of an event, when you read something, keep this in mind and how it affects what you read. Consider it when you hear a professor talking about deconstruction and meaning, think about it when you read a news story about an event.

CONCLUSION
So what does this Christmas story mean? What is Luke trying to say? Briefly, Luke is a doctor, a Greek man of education and learning. He starts out the first book he wrote (he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, a history of the early church) with these lines:
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Forgive me for showing some common sense, but this is a clear statement of intent and meaning. Luke says "here's an eyewitness account of things happened, so you can know they really happened and are true." Luke is writing an account of events for a friend, to demonstrate their veracity and validity. So what is this about? Simple history of events: Jesus was born to Mary in a stable because her husband took her to Bethlehem for a census, and there was no room in the inn. Shepherds visited them to see what all the fuss was about.

AngelLuke records events that could be considered fantastical or miraculous and thus dismissed by many, but his purpose is to be factual - he wrote these down because he believes them to be true and accurate. So he tells about a visitation from God to tell Mary that her pregnancy is from divine sources and for a magnificent purpose. The sky explodes over Bethlehem with angels who cannot contain their joy and amazement, they sing an anthem and say "you will NOT believe what God is doing now!"

The purpose is evangelistic - to tell about spiritual events - and to fulfill prophecy, the purpose is to tell about Jesus Christ and the circumstances that showed this birth was far more than a simple pregnancy and delivery in a stall. Not only was the king of kings born, Luke wants to tell us, but he was born in the humblest manner possible, to the simplest people. That in its self says enormous volumes just in a few lines.

So what about those other, previous attempts to interpret the text I quoted? Are they wrong? In a sense, yes: in that they are reducing the whole into some valid concepts that can be gleaned from the text. Luke is relying on Mary's wisdom and observation for part of his tale, he states he used eyewitness accounts. The coming of Jesus is portrayed as being for the weak and downtrodden rather than the rich and powerful - in a spiritual sense, primarily. Joseph was a responsible and good man who worked hard and was a good citizen. Each of these interpretations takes a shred of truth and exaggerates it to eclipse or destroy the rest.

That's what makes this sort of challenging: the grain of truth. All good lies are based on some small amount of truth, they have enough truth in them to be plausible and believable, buried in a texture of invention and deception. Make no mistake, to bury the plain meaning and intent of the writer in a pile of invention and distortion to fit your worldview is a lie.

Want to know what a book means and is trying to say? It's easy. Read it.