This Hard Land

Note to all you folks thinking of moving to North Dakota to start cashing in on the oil boom:  North Dakota is cold.  

There aren’t a lot of trees.  And outside of the eight or nine significant-sized cities (Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Bismark/Mandan, Minot, Williston, Dickinson, and maybe Valley City), there just aren’t a whole lot of people. 

More below the jump, so the rest of the page can load…

Continue reading

I’ll Take A Moment…

…to send my best wishes and prayers to my friend and former NARN colleague Michael Brodkorb and his family.  Michael was critically injured in an accident last night.

And whatever your political point of view, I’d urge you to do the same.

Not much information is available.

UPDATE:  A demented ghoul tried to comment that I was “defending (alleged) drunk driving”.  No; for starters, it’s alleged.  Beyond that?  The time for hashing that out is after he’s recovered.

It’s been a big day for dementees on this blog.

Alas, Babylon

I thought about writing a long, acerbic piece about Roe V. Wade, the SCOTUS decision handed down forty years ago today.

About how the decision – which sniffed imaginary emanations of penumbras from between the lines of the Constitution – was an incredibly badly-written decision.  About how it was a deeply wrong-headed over-run of the Tenth Amendment.  About the two-faced notion of “rights” that it bequeathed to a couple of generations of identity feminists.

But honestly, it’s all too depressing.  If I were to write a history of the decline and fall of the United States, Roe would have a chapter of its own.

Not just because it legalized infanticide – although that is damning enough.

But because it was, and is, emblematic of the trivialization of thought, of logic and of reason that is degrading our society at every level today.

So celebrate like it’s 1999, baby-killers.

Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part V: The Cross Of My Calling

Rock and roll has always been, ostensibly, about upsetting the existing order.  In the beginning, its very existence upended what passed for “order” in popular culture, at least to the extent of helping create a “youth culture” – something that’d never existed before, and really started in America.  As culture and the genre evolved through the sixties, pop music smeared itself in the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the rest fo the counterculture; in the seventies, the punk counter-counterculture (at least in the English art-school variety) flipped the hippies’ putative idealism on its head in an orgy of self-indulgent nihilism.  Post-punks – U2 would be the most famous and enduring of the bunch) in turn, flipped that on its head in an welter of often self-righteous activism.

And against that backdrop, the music of Bruce Springsteen has always been refreshingly non-revolutionary. Continue reading

Prudence

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

I like this analogy, from Instapundit

***

Don’t think that zero is as low as interest rates can go: money as a store of value is also threatened.

Primitive man often faced an interest rate of -%50 per hour, if he caught some meat for instance, and was trying to get it into the bellies of his family it spoiled or was snatched by competitors. Now you can store your income and wealth in financial instruments and only buy meat when you want to eat it, or keep it in the fridge or freezer for even greater convenience. We take all this for granted, but as near-zero nominal interest rates come to be paired with rising inflation–an outcome that is pretty much guaranteed under QE3–even coin and currency will no longer keep stored value from wasting away. We are heading into difficulties that should be a thing of the past, and its not just bedbugs and resistant disease. Government is squandering EVERYTHING.

***

So we need to invest in stuff that won’t spoil, that people will be willing to trade for after the economy collapses. Honestly, gold bullion doesn’t strike me as useful for everyday living. More useful, durable stuff would be:

Whiskey

Bullets

Toilet paper

I’m pretty much good to go.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Americans at large – other than Mormons – have never really taken the possibility of complete collapse seriously.

It’s looking smarter and smarter.

I bet I just got onto a DHS watchlist, didn’t I?

The Baby Bust

P.J. O’Rourke – the greatest writer of my generation, even though he’s a generation older than me – writes on the dolorous effect of the Baby Boomers on not just American society, but the idea of America.

O’Rourke laments the death of far-sweeping goals – going to the moon, building the biggest dam or the tallest building, being the biggest and the baddest:

But if America is still rich and strong, why should it matter that we’re no longer interested in doing anything spectacular? Maybe critics of an America whose grasp exceeds its reach are victims of atavistic machismo. Maybe we have Freudian issues. Professional help might be in order. No Americans are scheduled to go to Mars, but plenty are scheduled to go to therapy. Perhaps the realities of 2012 demand a change in attitude.

Except the change has already happened, the result of our shift from an exterior to an interior existence. America once valued the high-skilled. Now we value the high-minded. We used to admire bold ideas. Now we admire benign idealism. This doesn’t make us good, it makes us wrong. The bold can be achieved. Of the ideal, there is none in this life.

And why does it matter?

America’s retreat from visible, tangible manifestations of superiority doesn’t hurt just our pride, our economy, and our place in the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s also a bad advertising campaign. America has one great product to sell, individual liberty. It’s attractive, useful, healthy, and the fate of the world depends upon it.

We are the most important and maybe the only country that fully embodies the sanctity, dignity, independence, and responsibility of each and every person. “American” is not a nationality, an ethnicity, or a culture; it’s a fact of human freedom. Our country was not created and is not governed by a ruling class or even by majority rule. America is individuals exercising their right to do what they think is best with due respect (to the extent human nature allows) for the right of all other Americans to do likewise. This is not an ideology or a system. This is a blessing.

You should read the whole  thing.  And vote accordingly.

All Of Life, From Zero To Eleven

Let’s imagine, if you will, a big knob or dial with a scale from 0 to 11.

This dial measures…

…well, anything, really.  For purposes of this article, let’s measure “Liberty” – the prevalence of and respect for the rights to think, speak, act, work and prosper freely.

Let’s say the numbers on the dial mean something like this:

0 – You’re in a North Korean concentration camp.

1 - You are in North Korea, but not in a concentration camp.

2 - You are in Cuba – unfree, and most likely dirt poor.   Your only “opportunity” is found in a bottle of some kind.  You are fed, more or less, and cared for, sorta.  Like a farm animal, really.

3 - You are in Red China – unfree, and a little less likely to be dirt poor.  Like an animal on a farm where the back forty is “free range”, if Farmer Brown Hu lets you live back there.

4 -  You are in Greece – Rioting and living on the dole? You’re “Free”.  Starting a business or excelling on your merits, absent lots of graft and what the Mexicans call mordida (maybe the Greeks call it “Mordidos?”  I dunno), and faced with paying taxes to pay for the problems caused by the earlier excessive taxes?  Not so free.  You are fed well enough, and cared for (or should be, if the government can figure out how to balance its budget) – like a house pet with a badly-organized owner who’s going to have to file for bankruptcy if he doesn’t square his act away, and who seems unlikely to do anything of the sort after the weekend’s household elections.

5 - You’re in the Netherlands or France.  You are “Free” from most wants, and have lots of “Free” time – but taxes and regulations make entrepreneurship exceptionally difficult, although it’s a more orderly form of difficulty than in Greece.    Food and care from the government are plentiful (provided that taxes and borrowing are in turn also plentiful, which is a big “provided” these days); you are like a pet in a well-organized and happy home, albeit one that has to keep renegotiating its credit cards.

6 - You are in a highly regulated United States or the UK – think “the worst of the seventies, on turbo”, run amok.  Entrepreneurship is marginally more free than in socialist Europe, and the social “safety net” is almost as smothering and the taxes almost as debilitating.

7 - You are in what Newt Gingrich might call Mitt Romney’s America – with lower taxes, but still more regulation that the United Freaking States of America, the land of people who risked all to come to the new world to risk all, could do without, and still too many taxes.  A place that is essentially a welfare state with some doors of opportunity left open for the lucky and incredibly motivated (or connected) few.

8 - You are in an America that Ronald Reagan worked toward – where we have the government we actually need, but not too much, and where feeding government comes in second to feeding and educating your family and financing your dream of success – a place where the rising tide lifts all boats, and where we don’t level out the peaks to fill in the valleys, but where we (as Churchill said) spread a net over the abyss.

9 - You’re in the America that Ron Paul’s party line says he works toward; where government is stripped down to the bare minimum, and people have the responsibility – and opportunity – to fend for themselves.

10 - The pure Big-L Libertarian Ideal.   Government guards the borders, enforces laws regarding order and property rights, and adjudicates contracts.  That’s it.  You are free to succeeed or fail precisely according to your merits and work.  And if you fail?  Social policy, especially the whole “Safety Net” thing, is in the realm of society – the individual and their own organic institutions (the church, Packers Nation, trade unions, the Elks, the NRA, the Oprah Book Club or whatever).

11 - One more than ten.

Where do you want to live?

That’s one way of looking at life, anyway.

———-

I was listening to Jason Lewis the other night – something I don’t get to do nearly enough.  And he looks at political life a little differently; “You’re either for freedom, or against it”.  Instead of a dial from 0 to 11, you have a light switch, or an LED; it’s on, or it’s off.

How accurate in measuring anything in life is a lightswitch?

Is your marriage either wonderful, fulfilling and perfect or utterly miserable, abusive and dysfunctional?

Is your job either your dream come to fruition or something that makes you want to stick a gun in your mouth every morning?

Are your children either endless joys that make you thankful to wake up every day or little deviants on whom you can’t find enough dimes to drop?

If your marriage, job and kids aren’t perfect, do you instantly file for divorce, quit, and look up a pack of travelling gypsies?

Of course not.  So – is all of American political life really a choice between either “North Korean Concentration Camp Inmate” or “One More Than Ten?”

Of course not.

You put up with your spouse’s imperfections and insanities (or, in about half of marriages, you don’t).  You tough out a job you may not like until something better comes up (or doesn’t).  You try to focus on and bring out the best in your children, and get them to the point where you can say “I did the best I could”, and others answer “We can tell”, and you both keep a straight face.

Everything in life has a “dial” that goes from zero to 11 – your marriage, your job, your kids…

…and political life isn’t any different.

There are two political battles going on today, if you are a conservative and a Republican.

The big one is against Barack Obama.  Obama’s America is at or below a “Six” right now, and – measured by executive branch action – heading south.  He’s putatively targeting a “five” – but his deficit spending, as any sane conservative knows, pretty much inevitably leads to “four”.  Which, then, can just as easily lead to overreaction on the part of government and those who’ve come to depend on it – the Democrat constituency – that leads to points south of four; see “The Weimar Republic”.

So if you’re sitting at a 5.5, and your options are “Five and dropping” or “Seven (at worst) with the potential to move up, if you keep engaged and don’t let up the pressure?”, what would you take?

Which leads us to the other – and first – battle we face; between those who answer that question “If I can’t get at least a nine, then I don’t care and I’m going to stay home”.

Now, during the caucus and endorsement process, I’m all for accepting no substitutes – for pulling like hell for whomever your ideal candidate is, and eschewing compromise like the plague.

But once the endorsement process is over, there’s another time for choosing.  And if you’re a conservative Republican, at any level, your choice is, ineluctibly, this:

You held out for your ideal.  Now it’s time to choose; the US is at a 6, maybe a 5.5, today. Another term of Obama and we’ll be a weak 5, maybe headed south.  The only realistic choice right now is – at worst – to increment the counter to a 6+.  Maybe a 7, maybe shooting for an 8 if we get a good Congress.  You will not get your 9 or 10 in this election – and if the needle slips further, and more Americans slide into dependence and choose that comfortable, entitled “Five” on the big dial of political life, it’ll become much, much harder to budge things upward again.

Do you let the dial slide?  Or do you push the dial up?

There is no other option.

What do you say?

Some Good News

Jack Jablonski – the kid injured and potentially paralyzed after a hockey accident - is apparently moving his arms, which is a good sign:

Eight days after a check sent the Benilde-St Margaret’s hockey player into the boards breaking his spinal cord and paralyzing him, Jablonski moved his arms.

In an interview with several media members prior to Benilde-St Margaret’s hockey game Saturday night, Jack’s mother Leslie delivered the encouraging news.

Leslie Jablonski says Jack moved was able to flex his left arm at the elbow, something doctors intiially said he would not be able to do.  He also was able to move his right arm away from his body.

I promised someone I’d mention the case on the show over the weekend, and I may have booted it (sorry… :P ) but hopefully this helps too…

By the way, the link to learn more about the case is right here.

A Day-Brightener

Every so often, I need something that reaffirms my faith that not everyone is trash.

I mean besides the NY09 election results, of course. That was good too.

No, I’m actually referring to this video, which you’ve no doubt seen: A group of bystanders rescue a motorcyclist who’d slid under (ow, ow, ow ow ow) the BMW during an accident.

OK. Back to the regular news.

The Kids Aren’t Alright – Part I: Life Lessons

I’d have never thought so at the time – but one of the best things that ever happened to me was getting fired from my first radio job when I was 17.

I’d have never thought so at the time.  My first radio job was – not to be overdramatic- the first great love of my life.  It gave me some things that I – a gawky, uncoordinated, athletically-inept, greasy-haired acne-ridden nerd – needed badly; an identity that I really liked, an area where I excelled, something that nobody else in my school did at all, much less did well.

After a year or so, the station was bought by a couple of slick twentysomethings who’d been knocking around the business for a while, including some time in the major markets. They wanted to make the station like a big-market station in a small town. High school kids working weekends weren’t part of the plan.  So I got whacked.

It was a kick in the teeth.  I was just another high school kid again.

And in that, there were some great lessons. I learned…:

  • Loyalty Is Earned – But Almost Never: My father, in almost forty years of teaching, taught for exactly two school districts.  After we moved to Jamestown, in 1964 or ’65 or so, I think he had exactly two classrooms, to say nothing of jobs.  Many of my generation’s fathers were similar; they worked in one career, usually one job for one or two employers.  I learned a good ten years before the rest of the economy that loyalty to an employer was a chump’s bargain; you, the employee, were an asset, not a person.  You needed to look out for yourself, because your employer wasn’t going to do it for you.
  • What Have You Done For Us Lately? I learned when I tried to get back into radio a year or so later that not only didn’t the world owe you a living, but in fact you owed it to yourself to know how to earn one.  Life wasn’t just about having a skill – it was about keeping it up to date, and making sure you could “sell” your skill to new employers (or clients), perhaps in new flavors of your career, or even in entirely new careers.  You had to be your own marketer.
  • Schooling Is Not Education: Not long after I got whacked, I went to Jamestown College.  And then four years later I went out into the world, where nobody had heard of Jamestown College.  And while I’d been under no illusions that I’d be able to wave a diploma in anyone’s face to open a door, I ran into plenty of kids who did – and I had to out-perform them in the great competition to actually get  a job.  And I usually did. Because while my diploma from an obscure little school didn’t open any doors, the things I learned – who I was, what I wanted, how I thought, and how to solve a problem – did.
  • Mobility Is Life: KQDJ wouldn’t be the first radio job I’d get fired from (never, ever for cause, by the way). Finally, 12 years later, in August of 1992 when K-63 went dark and no decent radio jobs awaited anywhere, I had to take my skills – knowing how to tell stories whose subjects I didn’t start out understanding, in ways that the listener could understand – and find a career that paid.  It led me to Technical Writing, and thence to User Experience.  Your job description and your paper credentials do not sum you or your capabilities up – indeed, if you let them, you can lose big.
A few weeks back, I heard a piece on NPR about the psychological impact of tough job markets on young people – especially college graduates.  And I thought back on that lesson – because, not to play “you think you got it tough”, but by the conventional wisdom of the piece, I had two strikes against me; I left college in a state that didn’t really feel the Reagan Recovery until the nineties, and did it with an English degree and no Education certificate, with experience in field that had low job stability and high unemployment even in the best of times.  I shelved my blog post because, honestly, who cared what I had to say?

Well, apparently the Atlantic, for starters. Yesterday they released this piece by Derek Thompson about the anger of “Millennial” graduates and their job-hunting travails.

And as a parent of a college kid and a son who’s still figuring it all out, and has had to re-figure it all out a few times in the past 20-odd years himself, part of me wants to give the kids a fatherly hug and a little encouragement…

…and part of me wants to slap them upside the head.

And so – partly for the benefit of any other kids who are feeling the same way, and partly for the benefit of my own kids, I’m going to do a little bit of both, and respond to the four “Millennials” who, as Thompson wrote…:

…responded with beautiful, heart-wrenching accounts of the job search that we have published in four parts: The Unemployed Speak and Advice from Employers, Longer Voices of the Jobless, and What It’s Like to Be Jobless in Your 20s.

There were several bits from unemployed twentysomethings.  I’ll feature one of them today:

“I want to blame the universities and grown-ups who should have known better. Instead, like my me-first generation, I blame myself.”

Subject line: MAD AS HELL

I’m only 23 and it’s been barely over a year since I graduated from university. Yet already the work environment and the consequences of the “real world” have warped and degraded me.

Not to bag on the kid excessively, but dude – what did  you expect the adult world  to be, anyway?

All I have are feelings of disillusionment and betrayal.

“Betrayal” implies trust.  Who – outside of yourself – did you trust when setting out into the world?

 I work full-time at a temp position that under-utilizes me. I make sure not to finish work to quickly, for fear it doing so will only shorten my employment. Before that I worked in retail. Before long, I may end up back there.

Perhaps that’s one of the advantages of coming from a place – the rural Midwest – where nobody really expects much of you, or an unranked obscure little college that imparts no academic mythology on you to change your mind on the subject – but on the one hand, that’s life, and on the other, if you approach it right, none of it’s wasted.  In my various travails, I worked as a temp, and some awful temp jobs at that – but it was where I learned to use a PC, back before everyone learned it at birth.  Just saying – if you use that time at a miserable job to takeaway the parts you need, it’s not wasted.

Much of my rage is reserved for a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I’m angry that a “state” university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV’s Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don’t try. Lax entrance standards means that even in smaller classes, half of the students do as little as possible, have nothing to contribute, and see learning as a necessary evil, if even that.

And now we’re onto something.  The education bubble is a real thing, gobbling up immense capital, while spitting out a lot of students who have failed to learn the most important lesson one can learn from a degree (that’s not intended as a direct entree to a career, like engineering or nursing or computer science or whatever) – how to think, to analyze and solve a problem that one isn’t innately equipped to solve, and how to know what one is really about.

Then there’s the baby boomer generation. Guardians of the state, they have left it dysfunctional. Watchdogs of the economy, they have let it burn.

Well, yeah, but…no.  We’ll come back to that later in this series.

But most of my anger is reserved for myself. I pursued a “Liberal Arts Degree” in communications rather than a B.S. in engineering or computer science. I spent all four years at a state university rather than the first two at a community college. I worked in the summer instead of getting an internship. I worked harder at my classes than making contacts and networking with professionals. Not everyone is suffering in this economy, and if I were going to college for the first time this fall I’d know how to prepare. But I didn’t at the time and now I’m left to face the consequences.

And while the kid in question has picked up the odd bit of wisdom here, he missed out on something that, perhaps, only comes with experience; life is not a crap game where you cast your die at graduation.  It’s an endless (well, not endless, but you know what I mean) game of hold’em, where the terms and parameters of the game change, sometimes radically, in the middle of the game – and then you’re on to the next hand.  And if you’re smart, you don’t let a bad opening hand spook you.

That higher education today doesn’t make sure kids know that – and equip them to deal with it – is one of the great failures of our system.

More on Monday.

Cancer Doesn’t Know Who It’s Messing With

My friend Robin, who used to write the blog A Girl’s Gotta Vent, and has met a bunch of you at at least one MOB party, has a project going on – and it is, in fact, life or death:

I /WE are working feverishly to save my sister in-law’, Lenecia Weisbender’s life. We have CANCER ASS to Kick .. But, it ain’t cheap .. any and all donations appreciated … Nothing is too small .. Everything donated is 100% applied to Lenecias Medical expenses.

Lets Git ‘er Dun!!!!

Here’s a link to the website.

If you know anybody that is passionate about kicking cancer in the butt, please forward it to them. Every $5.00 counts, it adds up! I know that Lenni would be very touched.

THANK YOU in advance

Hope you can help.

Neuropathological

Politics may not be rocket science, but apparently it is brain surgery.

Understanding the genesis of political orientation has long been a subject of biological interest, with every few years a new study suggesting our ideological differences aren’t skin-deep, they’re sub-atomic. 

Add to the list the findings of the University College London, which takes the theory of different liberal and conservative genes to another level.  Liberals and conservatives have always thought the other had their brains wired differently and, according to the University, physically speaking they’re right.

But the University’s study is also a case example in the sideshow of the politicization of science – namely, “proving” that conservatives are mentally (or genetically) deficient:

Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex–a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.

Using every inch of my larger amygdala, it’s hard not to notice how many of these studies inevitably lead to a conclusion that liberal physiological differences are viewed as genetically preferable – if not superior.  A similar outlook could be found just this last year with the ballyhooed discovery of a so-called “liberal gene”:

As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that “it is the crucial interaction of two factors — the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence — that is associated with being more liberal.”

Outgoing, popular kids equals well-balanced, politically liberal adults?  Conservatives are creepy, adolescent shut-ins?  Curse my shriveled anterior cingulate cortex for reading anything into that study.

Of course, not all scientists are inferring that our political and genetic differences are so stark as to invite a Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal comparison.  In fact, some recongize the potential for political bias in such a report and actively work to tap down any broad-based partisan conclusions…including the actual authors of the study:

While the London study does find distinct differences between Democrats and Republicans, its authors caution that more research needs to be done on the subject. One unknown is whether people are simply born with their political beliefs or if our brains adjust to life experiences–which is a possibility, Kanai writes.

“It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” he said in a statement accompanying the study. “More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Talk about burying the lead.  And I thought we were just told that larger anterior cingulate cortexs led to understanding complex subjects better. 

Truthfully, we want our differences to be genetic for they absolve us of needing to convince others.  And seeking to find that absolution – that genesis of political thought – in the genius of others brings to mind the words of the discoverer of the double helix, J.D. Watson

One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

Beyond The Factions…

I’ve been reading Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario for years.

I’ve applauded himfew times, and thrown the odd brickbat as well.

But I’ll ask everyone to put any partisanship and stylistic differences aside to give him your prayers, wishes, or whatever your worldview calls for:]

I left with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, an incurable blood-related cancer.

Roughly 11,000 Americans die from it annually. Geraldine Ferraro had the disease, and succumbed to pneumonia while being treated for it in a decade-long battle. The general survival rate, I was informed, ranges from two to five or six years. But there are many folks, like Ferraro, who keep on going for years and years. She had been diagnosed in 1998.

I start chemo this week. Wish me luck. I don’t like writing about myself. But I make an allowance on this occasion. Hope you bear with me.

Here’s hoping you’re one of the outliers, Mr. Rosario.

Words Are Inadequate

Since I haven’t done it, at least in writing, I’d like to send this note into the ether in the hopes that some of it skitters about the cosmos and finds its way to Rep. Giffords and her family, and those of the other victims of last Saturday’s shooting.

To the families of the six dead: nothing can replace your loss, or make up for the arbitrary, demented nature of it all.  I can only hope and pray that you find some peace and comfort, sometime.  I am sorry beyond words for your loss.

For those wounded: I  hope you recover completely physically – and as completely as possible, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

And to Representative Giffords: I pray that the miracles keep coming.

In all sincerity, I thank the God we both believe in that the bullet took one of the infinitesimal paths it could have taken through the human brain that left you (as I write this) not only alive, but responsive enough to leave doctors optimistic about your prognosis.

I know you have a couple of young children.  The thought of being yanked away from them by any of life’s arbitrary caprices – to say nothing of this sort of evil – used to haunt me when my kids were that age; I hope you and yours are together again as soon as humanly possible.

Political differences should be tabled at times like this.  It should go without saying.

Anyway – for whatever its feeble worth, I hope for the best for all of you.

Father’s Day

Via Night Writer, one of the better Father’s Day posts:

I was moved by the story yesterday of the Mentor, MN man who was killed when he used his own body to protect his 25-year-old daughter from debris during a tornado. The man, Wes Michaels, was the owner of the Cenex station in Mentor and was taking the day off to celebrate his 58th birthday. His daughter was covering for him at the station. When he heard the news reports of severe weather headed their direction he went to his business to check on things and to warn his daughter and their customers. Shortly after arriving he saw the tornado coming right at them, and directed everyone into the business’s walk-in cooler, finally laying himself down on top of his daughter as the tornado hit. She survived with bruises and some stiffness … and an eternal reminder of a father’s love.

It symbolizes for me the ideal of a father literally laying down his life for his child; I’d even imagine that Mr. Michaels didn’t even think twice in the moment but reacted automatically as he would have done if his daughter were five instead of 25.

Of course, Night’s daughter, Mall Diva, is having a baby pretty soon here.  Mall and her husband (whose name nobody can remember) (no, I’m kidding, it’s Ben, formerly of Hammerschwing, and currently of Grumpy Old Men) are planning on having a home delivery, a technique used in 35% of the births of first children and .06% of second and subsequent ones.  Night’s not going to participate…

As I confronted this in myself today I knew that my place is here. Not in the same room, but close by, praying, jingling car keys, lifting furniture…just — as I’ve always promised my girls — being there. Even if I’d rather face down a tornado.

Anyway, read the whole thing. And happy belated Father’s Day, all you dads out there.

Congratulations Are In Order

When I went over to Night Writer and read “The Son@Night” writing…:

Q. What do you get when you cross a pastoral intern and a hairstylist?

…my first response was “an ABC sitcom with lots of “edgy” culture-war jokes”.

But then I remembered – S@N’s wife, Mall Diva is the hair stylist in question.  Which can only mean…:

Yes, Faith and I are expecting a little one to arrive in August.  That is to say Faith is pretty pregnant.  And she’s just plain pretty too, but that’s not new news.

Well, congratulations!  And it’s time to step up that search for a preachin’ gig!

Speaking of the the whole “family way” thing – my stepson and his lovely wife told me last night that they, too, are expecting.  Which means I’m going to be a…stepgrandfather?

That can’t be right, can it?

Clogged With Hate

I helped my neighbor put up his nativity scene on his lawn the other day.

In it, Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three kings and a couple of Roman soldiers are pelting a scrawny, smug-looking, nerdy guy in a dishdasha with rocks and garbage.  The nerdy guy has a little callout balloon with an arrow (made out of mylar and wire) saying “Ooh, don’t hurt me, I’m an atheist douchebag wuss”.

When my neighbor put up the display, I looked at him for a moment, mildly dumbfounded. 

“What?” he asked, handing me a can of Miller.

“Well, nothing – and thanks for the beer!  But…do you honestly think that this -  mocking atheists – is the real spirit of the season?”

“Well, sure!  What else is faith for?”

“Um…well, focus on the eternal, as well as on the best that our Christian tradition asks of us?”

“Well, sure”, he said with at tone that really meant “Duuuuh”.  “But mocking atheists is part of it, too!  It’s a vital part, in fact!”

“Where on earth did you learn that?”

He pointed his thumb over his shoulder, toward Bud Ismir’s house.  Ismir, a Moslem, had put up his own scene; a group of children, animated by the spirit of Mohammed, whacking at a figure labeled in Arabic (with helpful English subtitles) “atheist” who was trussed up like a turkey in a net bag dangling from a tree, like a sort of organic pinata.

“Er…wow”, I said, cracking the beer.   “That doesn’t even make cultural sense”.

“Well, you’ll love what the Rubensteins put up for Chanukkah”, he said, pointing over to our other neighbor had erected the previous day; a huge, aluminum and plywood Dreidel, powered by an electric motor, spinning randomly, coming occasionally to a stop as a light inside illuminated the Hebrew/English messages on the sides; one read “Atheists!  Go Straight To Hell!  Losers!”

“Um…” I started – and then gave up.  I took a long drag off the beer, and submitted to the spirit of the season, dabbing a little bit of splashed “frankinsense” onto the shoulder of the cringing atheist figure.

Tis the season!

——–

On the one hand, the Illinois state capitol would seem to have a much more sensible approach to holiday decorations than many city, county and state governments; they allow displays from all faiths to put up displays in the Capitol rotunda.  Christian, Moslem, Jewish, or what-have-you. 

Including the atheists.  And that’s where the story begins:

A conservative activist and Illinois comptroller candidate was escorted from the Illinois State Capitol building Wednesday when he tried to remove a sign put up by an atheist group.

William J. Kelly announced Tuesday that he planned to take down the sign put up by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and on Wednesday, he tried to make good on his plan.

But Kelly said when he turned the sign around so it was face down, state Capitol police were quick to escort him away.

Was Kelly right to flip the sign over?  Maybe not.  First Amendment, free speech, yadda yadda yadda.

But let’s not dismiss him entirely:

The sign reads: “At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

So in a display intended to celebrate the spirit of the season, what do the “atheists” do?  Put up a sign whose sole purpose is to piss in other peoples’ Wheaties. 

“I don’t think the State of Illinois has any business denigrating or mocking any religion,” Kelly said, “and I think that’s what the verbiage on the sign was doing.”

And so while Kelly’s methods may have been wrong, his motivations – in a purely ecumenical sense – were absolutely correct.  If – as Establishment-Clausers constantly remind us – the government has no business promoting religion, then isn’t disparaging the beliefs of others even less appropriate a use of public space?

As to Kelly’s claims that the sign mocks religion, foundation co-President Dan Barker said: “He’s kind of right, because the last couple of sentences do criticize religion, and of course, the beginning is a celebration of the winter solstice. But that kind of speech is protected as well – speech that is critical and speech that is supportive.”

The obvious response is to found a “religion” – in my case, a denomination of a religion, since I’m not giving up Christianity anytime soon – part of whose liturgy is to mock the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” as a bunch of self-indulgent, intellectually-indolent, solipsistic jagoffs.

And apply for permits to display signs explaining why.

Tis the season!

Give Me Half A Pound Of Soul

An ambulance crew brings in a shooting victim; one shot to the chest, one to the head.  There was a lot of blood loss from the chest wound, and the victim is in immense cardiopulmonary distress.

The head wound missed the medulla, at the brain stem, the part that controls the heart and breathing and the rest of the body’s automatic functions (and, for most of the Minnesota Progressive Project staff, their writing as well) – so the victim didn’t die instantly.  But the victim seems to be non-responsive; there are indications his brain functions are badly damaged; he may be in a coma, or worse.

So the doctors give up and administer a massive overdose of morphine to kill the patient, because it’s all over anyway and why drag it on?

Well, no.  They don’t. They stabilize the patient as best they can.  They check further to see if the brain is really shut down; if it’s not, they do what they can to restore function.

When in doubt, they err on the side of saving lives [1].

Now, I don’t write a lot about abortion.  I’m opposed to it, of course; I’m personally pro-life.  I find most of the arguments in favor of “choice” to be self-indulgent and childish.  I’m going to skip most of them – it’s nothing I haven’t written about in some depth, of course.

With that in mind, the argument about the “viability” – the idea that a fetus isn’t really all that terribly human until it’s “viable”, or capable of living on its own – is perhaps less stupid than most.  It’s wrong, of course; after three kids, I can say with authority that a “fetus” isn’t “viable” until it can get a job and pay its own rent.

More seriously?  I believe that since a fertilized egg, left to its own devices (no medical intervention for or against its existence – just like in our great-great-grandparents’ time) will gestate for nine months 75% of the time, and those who get that far will be born alive two out of three times (those stats are from primitive cultures like 1890-era rural Minnesota), it’s fairly clear that whatever the physics and physiology and metaphysics behind the process, the whole thing is intended to create living, breathing human beings.  Beyond that?  I think it’s fairly clear that since preemies have been successfully brought along to fairly normal lives as early as 22 weeks into gestation, that the idea that a “fetus” isn’t “human” until a 40-week fetus’ umbilical is cut is a self-indulgent, illogical absurdity.

None of the above, by the way, touches on spirituality at any level.  It’s nothing but logic, so far.

But I’m a Christian.  I believe  that every person (except Ryan Seacrest) has a soul.

“When?”

We don’t know.

Souls are not measurable.  There’s no place in human physiology that’s been identified as a “soul fill valve”, leading to a “soul tank” where the ephemeral concept is kept.  It’s not like a brain wave, much less synonymous with it, and if it were, the gunshot victim in the example above would be out of luck.  Not everyone agrees that there is such a thing; atheists all bet the “under” on Pascal’s Wager.    No matter – if you assume there is no soul, and are motivated by anything other than naked self-interest, it actually makes the question harder to resolve.  We’ll come back to that.

So the question – part of it, anyway – is “when does a fetus get a soul?”

Dog Gone at Penigma writes a very long treatise that says, essentially,  we don’t know because spirutual authorities have never agreed on the subject:

I have read widely on the subject of our human soul and spirituality, and listened to many different voices pontificating ther dogma on the subject in the course of satisfying my own curiosity…This breadth of recognition might suggest some sort of consensus, some unanimity of understanding, a clarity and agreement on definition, right?

Of course, not.  Ecclesiastical bodies have fought long, bloody wars over the subject; when two of the great Christian denominations have been split for almost a thousand years over the Nicene Creed and the job description for saints, when Presbyterian congregations fall into epic near-blood-feuds over applause in church, to say nothing of gay marriage, looking for general consensus on the nature of the Soul is hopelessly optimistic.

There is no consensus across history or across the geography of our planet on any single specific aspect of that essence we name souls. We don’t agree on what it is; we don’t agree on when it is inside of us; we don’t agree on the origins. We don’t even fully agree on whether or not the soul is immortal or eternal; some believe that the soul can die, others that it grows as the body grows, with experience. We don’t agree on how, where, and from whom our souls derive. We don’t agree on who or what possesses a soul.

DG goes on to note that even within Christian tradition, the idea of the genesis of the soul has knocked around a bit:

The Christian tradition is contradictory. The roots of early Judaism posited that animals, at least some animals, had souls, as do other religious and spiritual traditions. In Islam, the belief is that the soul enters the body of a fetus in utero after 40 days. Not 90 or 180 days, not 30 minutes, and not at conception; they are quite definite on the 40 day figure. But then, in the Islamic faith, not only humans have souls either. Djinn and angels also have souls in that faith’s traditions. In the Druidic tradition, and in many other traditions (the many irreverent verses of “Give me that old time religion” are playing in my head) so do some trees and other inanimate objects.

Right.  But then, traditional religion from the dawn of time until pretty recently believed all sorts of stuff we find crazy today; insert boilerplate here about burning witches and kosher laws and selling indulgences and human sacrifice and stoning gays (oops; one religion still does that).

Of course, in that era people couldn’t tell with any certainty that the crop they planted in April wouldn’t be eaten to the ground by bugs in July or blown away by a sudden storm in August; people never connected “taking a dump upstream from where you get your drinking water” and the hacking, fever-ridden wave of deaths that would periodically befall the village; in a village where the people had raised vegetables and sheep for uncounted generations, humans were born the same way the animals were; the way nature had left the process.  And it was an ugly process; 1/3 of babies (of the 3/4 that weren’t miscarried earlier) were stillborn or died of complications during delivery, as did 10% of the mothers (with each birth); and that was even before infant mortality set in.

So given the exceedingly crude nature of “science” back when years had three digits and the world’s major religious leaders were half a generation removed from raising keff and goats, especially the understanding of human physiology and development at the time, the question “when exactly does the soul inhabit the body” was purely academic; like “what will I wear on my third date with Scarlett Johannson”, it might be fun to think about, but the practical application is pretty minimal.

But today, the vast majority of “fetuses”, barring pseudomedical interference and, of course, miscarriage, survive until birth and beyond.  Not only that, but as noted above “fetuses” born just past half-term go on to live normal lives – utterly unthinkable even a generation ago (which, if logic rather than politics reigned, would make most non-health-related third-term abortions murder).  We don’t know when life is viable, but the boundaries keep getting pushed back.

The objective boundaries, anyway.

And since, unlike my third date with Scarlett Johannson, the essense of life is actually a valid, testable question these days, the question “when does viable, human life begin” isn’t an academic question.

100 years ago, the gunshot victim in the first paragraph might have been given up for dead without bothering with a trip to a hospital.  Today, science can find out if there really is a brain function in there that can be nursed back into control of the body.  People what would have been give up for dead fifty years ago walk among us today.

And definitions of “when does a human become human” written a thousand years ago by people for whom it was an utterly academic question are no more informative to us today than surgery textbooks from 1700 are to the Mayo today.

Leaving aside the fact that the concept of “the soul” is ephemeral and unmeasurable in any way; even the fairly objective measurement of “when life begins” is, paradoxically, more difficult than ever, since science has made the instrumentation and criteria so much finer than before.

And so the paradox is, if you care about the intangibles that make humans human, the more we know about how life works, the less meaningful the attempts to put an arbitrary, “objective” limit on them.  How do you put a number on something that gets less measurable, the better able to measure it you theoretically are?

Since we don’t know – and, unlike the rabbis of the Old Testament and the druids and popes and mullahs of 1000 years ago, we know what we don’t know – then if you believe that human life has any intangible but real value (call it a “soul” if you want, or “worth as a human life” if you don’t), then the only logical response, as with the gunshot victim above, is to err on the side of life.  If we don’t know life to be absent in an organism that is intended to live, then you assume it – he or she – is alive.

And you can tell Pope Pius II I said so.

[1] Although with Obamacare in place, they’ll have to check with a committee of government accountants and lawyers for medical advice, first.

I See Statist People

Some leftybloggers famously dubbed themselves the “reality-based community” – a clumsy, junior-high shot at neo-conservative “faith based” ideal.

Apparently the lefties got the idea at a seance from Egyptian political philosopher and lobbyist Ram-Gar:

“Conservatives and Republicans report fewer experiences than liberals or Democrats communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts and consulting fortunetellers or psychics,” the Pew study says. For example, 21 percent of Republicans report that they have been in touch with someone who is dead, while 36 percent of Democrats say they have done so. Eleven percent of Republicans say they have seen a ghost, while 21 percent of Democrats say so.

And remembering how the nation’s lesser party roasted Nancy Reagan, I thought this next bit was a hoot:

And nine percent of Republicans say they have consulted a fortuneteller, while 22 percent of Democrats have.

It’s explain a lot about Represenative McCollum.

But I think there’s some omission bias at play here:

Fifteen percent of Republicans say they view yoga as a spiritual practice, while 31 percent of Democrats do.

No question about whether a day at the range is a spiritual experience?

To Good To Be True

Is Barack Obama from another planet?

Mystery as spiral blue light display hovers above Norway (while Obama was in Norway?)

The mystery began when a blue light seemed to soar up from behind a mountain in the north of the country. It stopped mid-air, then began to move in circles. Within seconds a giant spiral had covered the entire sky.

The light bears some resemblence to Obama’s logo!

Are his people trying to beam him back home?

Is there a way we could assist them?

Extraterrestrial citizenship would certainly play into the Birthers argument.