New Years Resolutions

Making resolutions is a statement. You are saying you believe you have some level of control over your actions. You are stating such control is a force of your will. You are stating that you are in control of your choices.

Determinists will say that there is no such thing as free will. We are simply following a path laid out by necessity. Feeling threatened by quantum physics’ indeterminism, they’ve even set out to prove that all decisions are formed subconciously, before we even know there is a decision to be made.

Try that one on a judge. “Your honor, all the forces of the universe guided me rob that bank”. Expect a response on the order of “I understand. All the forces of the state’s correctional facilities will guide you for the next twenty years”.

The widely touted experiment involved subjects making a choice to push a button while wired to EEG. The electrodes recorded brain activity when the subject made a choice. There was brain activity before the button was pushed. This was interpreted as meaning that a subconscious, organic force caused the decision to push the button.

In another, simpler time we called that force THINKING.

You are aware you will be pushing the button, you consider the moment you will push the button, choose one moment and then push. Your EEG should reflect all of those events. For some reasons, the researchers expected activity only at the moment the button was pushed. It appears the experiment was flawed from the design stage. Nonetheless, the Fried study (ironic name) has been hailed as proof that free will doesn’t exist.

Society tries to push away responsibility. There is always an excuse, a rationalization to say “I didn’t have a choice”. We praise people for their resolve, and forget when they waffle.

There are indeed things we have no control over. That does not mean there is nothing in which we have control.

The first choice is “will you be yourself, or would you rather just be a sheep?” Do you rationalize your behavior with “That’s what everyone else is doing”? Be your own person, please. A world of sheep is a scary thing. I don’t mind being in the minority, being one of the few people that think the way I do, but I do mind being one of the few that think at all.

A recent political article sought bias, beginning with a factually incorrect title. The people who chose to read it were primarily those who subscribed to that line of thought. The comments were voluminous, more than I usually see on this organizations comment section. The majority of the comments were simply repetitions of the theme, nothing new to add, just an arm in the air and “Heil Fuhror”. At least half the comments were simply quotes from accepted pundits. No discussion, just validation.

This year, resolve to think for yourself. Resolve to actually investigate the positions you hold. In simpler terms, resolve to know what you’re talking about. Because the rest of us can tell when you don’t.

 

 

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How fast is the economy growing?

Gross Domestic Product growth rate, expressed as a percentage annually, by quarter.

The economy is doing better. Or not. Why do you care? Look in your wallet and tell me how the economy is fairing.

What did you see? Cash, or credit cards? How do measure the economy, and its impact on you?

The graph above reflects growth in the Gross Domestic Product. That’s a number that reflects goods and services produced. Growth is a ratio. Annual growth is how much growth actually takes place in a year. The graph above is of annual growth rates that are based on quarterly growth, and those quarterly numbers are estimates. In other words, the most important thing about the graph is how pretty it is. The choice of colors and symbols is more meaningful in any data put forward, and the data represented is only estimates. Revisions of revisions of revisions, because nobody really knows what the numbers are.

If anyone knew what those numbers were, would anyone know what they mean? They are the basis for international trade, currency rates, and credit ratings, which are themselves only abstract ideas.

Is it important to you that a German company shipping parts made in South America to China by ships registered in Greece so they can be assembled and sold in North America by a company based in France makes a profit in Euros? All those exchanges of goods, services, and currency were based on the relations between the countries involved, at the time of each transaction. A great web of finances, constantly shifting, so you can spread your unemployment check around the world.

Do you measure the economy by other numbers, the Dow Jones average perhaps? Is the stock market’s position important to your welfare? Only if you happen to be selling stocks that happen to be valuable enough to pay the bills you want to pay. When the market drops, do you lose anything? Only if you’re selling shares that have decreased in value. Your portfolio is only a collection of possibilities, and those possibilities are only meaningful on the day you redeem them.

Do unemployment numbers affect your finances? If you’re unemployed, does it matter if there are ten million or twenty million people also unemployed? Do fewer people looking for a job increase your skills in the field you work in? How low does the rate of unemployment need to be to guarantee you a job for which you are not qualified?

Are you impressed with the distribution of wealth? What does it mean that there are four hundred and forty two billionaires in America this year? More wealthy people means fewer poor people? I don’t think it means more poor people, because there is not a finite amount of money.

Notes and coins are money. Debit cards are not. When you buy something with a debit card, the issuing bank charges the merchant two and a half percent of the purchase amount. Credit cards can charge as much as four percent. So the merchant raises prices to cover the expense. If you buy something on sale with a credit card and don’t pay the balance in full? Then you’re paying the bank instead of the merchant, and you’re probably paying more for the item than the original price. When you drive out of your way to buy gasoline two cents a gallon cheaper than in your neighborhood, a full tank of gas might save you thirty cents, thirty cents worth of gas will take you maybe three miles. How far out of your way did you drive?

All the financial data in the world means nothing if you’re hungry. It doesn’t mean much if you’ve never missed a meal either.

If you’re looking for financial advice, ask your grandfather. Don’t buy what you can’t pay for today. Don’t buy what you don’t actually need. Waste not, want not.

There will always be people with more money than others. There will most probably always be people who are so poor in spirit that no amount of money can help them. Life is like that. We are provided with perspective, and opportunities to help those in need. What we do with that perspective affects how we help others.

Apologies

The reason for apologies is not to sooth the person who has been injured. It is to better the soul of the person offering the apology.

Forgiveness should be given regardless of apology, in fact it is better without an apology. Forgiveness is the grace of the injured. Demanding an apology is a lack of grace. Desiring an apology is hoping that the person you have forgiven will grow from the damage they have done. The reason bad things happen is so we can all grow, victims and perpetrators alike.

A few years back my step son showed a great lack of respect for his mother. We demanded an apology, wanting him to acknowledge the pain he had caused. Instead, he refused. He said, “I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry”. At that moment he earned a great deal of respect from me. He was not going to give a phony, meaningless apology. I realized that he had adequate character to learn from the situation, and some time later he did make amends. I think we all learned from that incident.

A few other people out there have displayed only their weaknesses, we all travel through life on separate paths. I was speaking with someone about one particularly disappointing individual the other day. He has my forgiveness, but I will never let him close enough to do any more harm. In Matthew chapter 18, “21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It takes a lifetime to forgive that often, until the only response left is to expel the person from your life, as earlier in Matthew 18:17 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” So it goes.

The essence of an apology is the recognition of injury, and the desire to cause no further pain. In the case of spreading hurtful words, an apology does not require the strength to face the injured party(s), but a first step would be to stop causing pain. A person of character might rescind his comments, “Bob, you know when I said this? Turns out it wasn’t true”. A truly weak person continues spreading the story, knowing it to be false, to preserve their own ego. That person requires forgiveness, an exposure to grace, more than anyone. Sometime after seventy times seven times it is time to just walk away, as a final act of grace.

These things have been difficult for me to learn. My life has been entwined in repairing things that are broken, giving up was never an option. I wanted apologies not to ease my pain, but to satisfy my need to repair the other person. Some people can’t be fixed. It was never my job to fix them, just to give them opportunities, which I have, as they have given me the opportunity to grow.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Christ gives what I consider to be our most important lesson, “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Those that hurt you give you people to forgive, and for that alone you should love them. Continue to aim for perfection, which in this case means “completion”. We exist in our own bubbles, other people are only opportunities to respond gracefully, or less so.

Time

The Doctor Who Christmas special was, predictably, on Christmas night. It is one of the fixed events in space-time, every Christmas, the Doctor saves the world, sometimes the entire universe. Or always. It’s one of those timey wimey things.

For fifty years, through twelve (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?) faces, he is always The Doctor. Time loops around and around, so the idea of a “chronological” progression is patently illogical. He occasionally runs into himself, or selves, but understanding that time contains events that can be altered, who is to say which self precedes which? Cause and effect become fuzzy, Who nose?

It is often secondary to the immediate story to ponder the meaning of time itself, the media through which the Doctor travels. Yet we all travel through time, my personal journey spanning the distance between 15 November 1958 and some unknown point in the future. In our experience, time is both eternal and transient. We believe the past took place, and we imagine the future will, but all that we have is this very moment. Time, past present and future, exists only within our individual experience. A study by the BBC concludes as of Dr. Who’s fiftieth anniversary, he had traveled over two hundred trillion years.

Doctor Who, like any fantasy series, inspires the imagination. Anything can happen and often does. Despite initially being one of the more violent programs on television, the Doctor most often seeks non-violent solutions. The theme often revolves around unlikely heroes. Perhaps this is a reflection of the soul of Doctor Who, the appeal of the idea living beyond any one incarnation. Sydney Newman’s loose concept of a Doctor, traveling through time and space, not even an idea of what kind of doctor. Verity Lambert’s strengths as a producer, the youngest and only female producer at BBC at the time. A string of young directors and writers who might not have had the opportunity to expose and develop their talents on a more mainstream project. Even the music, written by Ron Grainer and created using an early version of the Mellotron, is iconic. Now Doctor Who is mainstream, a fixture in our culture, made so by the unlikely heroes.

Time itself is a mystery. We appear to be able to travel in one direction only, at a fixed speed. We see the cycles in nature and imagine cycles in time, anniversaries creating points on an imagined circle. We seek to renew ourselves each year, seeing New Years Day as a point on the circle when we are allowed to start again. There are an infinite number of points on our timelines, we may start over whenever we wish. Each moment we are recreated, why hesitate to be created as the best person we can be at that moment? Our time is too short to waste it being anything other than the best we can be.

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Liberty

There is an exchange between Naji Al-Hadithi and Robert Wiener in the film “Live from Baghdad”. It may or may not be based on an actual conversation, we are often much more clever in our memories.

Al-Hadithi says “You people take a  lot of liberties”

Wiener replies “We’re the liberty people”

That was 1990, the world has changed. A nation which Abraham Lincoln described as “conceived in liberty” seems to have lost interest in freedom.

Oh, they don’t like to admit it. In a twist of speech that would make George Orwell proud, the definition of “freedom” has changed from “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” to “the compliance with necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action”. You have the freedom to do as you’re told.

Intellectual growth springs from the free exchange of ideas. Not only because we build on each others ideas, but because the act of thinking about new ideas stimulates our brains, and we in turn come up with more new ideas.

This is why we once led the world in innovation, and today can’t replicate what we once invented. Seriously. One NASA scientist has said we couldn’t build the space shuttle today because it’s “too complicated”. We could build it fifty years ago when no one had done it before, but not now. A space walk on the International Space Station is hyped as being extraordinarily dangerous. When Alexey Leonov stepped outside Voskhod 2 on 18 March 1965 it was extraordinary. Forty years later it was all but routine. Today it’s scary news?

An example of the mind numbing effect on a grand scale is China. Centuries of repression has left the nation bereft of innovation. They are excellent at replication, although without innovation in the west, they’re even falling behind with that. The Soviet Union landed on the moon in 1959, America in 1962, Japan in 1993, the European Space Agency in 2006, India in 2008, with China finally managing a hard landing in 2009. The Chineese government, seeking to increase innovation, has mandated 3.5 new patents for every 10,000 people. You cannot mandate creativity.

Not that I care. The measure of humanity is not technology, it is spirituality. You can frame this any way you wish, but who we are is defined by how we treat each other. The growth we have experienced through the revolutions of the eighteenth century and experiments with other social systems is regressing. Our freedom of education allowed the freedom of ignorance. Ignorant people prefer to be told what to do. They’re more comfortable when everything is the same, surprises, differences, can cause them to become agitated. This is the flaw of pure democracy. The weak minded need to be taken care of, so when they speak out they ask for uniformity.

After the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, there was a segment of Russian society that expressed a desire to return to totalitarianism. This is why Russian society has not progressed as quickly as other Eastern Bloc countries. They have elected leaders from the old school.

The desire to be taken care of leads the voting block that empowers totalitarian leaders. Well meaning but uneducated activists manipulate this voting block. It is important that we take care of each other, but legislating compassion is as useless as mandating creativity.

Over the last decade or so I have seen an increased move towards totalitarianism. An outright campaign against free thought. It most often masquerades as free thought, enlightenment, or intellectualism, and the weak minded fall for it. Those that don’t embrace the campaign are bullied into submission or ostracized. This should be obvious to an observer, but no one likes being chased by an angry mob.

There are plenty of problems with our political process, one of them being a lack of alternative ideas. So how can eliminating one of the two political parties be a solution? Yet that is the chant of the “progressives”, who envision an end of the Republican Party. Not to be outdone, the “Tea Party” dreams of the destruction of the Democratic Party. Both sides are calling for totalitarianism! Open your eyes and recognize these people are not talking about democracy. They are not talking about working together, they are not entertaining compromise, so do they represent you?

If it was only politics it wouldn’t be as disturbing. The recent “Duck Dynasty” debacle has illustrated intolerance in the name of tolerance. The hyperbole used to attack a person for their beliefs would be untenable were those beliefs of any different origin. The same people would insist on his right to express his beliefs were he Muslim, so the problem isn’t that he belongs to a religion that says being Gay is a sin, the problem is that he’s Christian. If he were Muslim he wouldn’t be saying “it’s up to God”, he would legally (under Sharia) be killing Gay people in the street. The same people who decry Phil Robertson’s “judgement” in quoting the Bible, are perfectly comfortable calling him a racist, homophobe, Aryan, and member of the KKK. It would appear, absent of Tourette syndrome, such words require a judgement. Not a rational, fact based judgement, but judgement nonetheless.

I used to believe that facts were the realm of science, but even the world of science has been over run by irrational thought. Despite all the data actually pointing towards “global cooling”, the “global warming” chant is relentless. Carbon Dioxide, a product of warming and thus a result of a period of global warming, has been used as an explanation of impending global warming. The effect cannot be the cause within a scientific statement. Research is ignored, rational discussion is abandoned, and the chant continues.

Another scientist I once respected has used his position as someone with an allegedly inquiring mind to stifle the inquiries of others. Neil DeGrasse Tyson  has joined the ranks of those that believe that creation is inconsistent with its creator. Belittling others for their religious beliefs is not within the purview of an astrophysicist, but Neil seems to believe science and religion are mutually exclusive, and as a premiere scientist he can speak about religion. Were a priest to lecture on astrophysics I would have the same confidence in their views (none). Neil is not alone, another “humanist” recently said to me “The number of us who think humanism needs to supplant ancient flat-earth superstitions is definitely growing”, displaying an unbelievable ignorance of both world religions and demographics. Not that religion is, or is supposed to be, a democracy. Every religion I can think of teaches individual responsibility, the individual’s relationship with God is all that matters, which can only be vindicated at death, so how does that threaten the non-believer? Unless that non-believer thinks we should all believe exactly the same thing.

Our most precious liberty is the freedom to think for ourselves. If you deny that freedom to others, you have already denied it to yourself.

Just use it

Think for yourself

 

Merry Christmas

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I’m going to say this as quickly as possible.

Turn off your computer and be with your loved ones. Exchange the gift of each others presence. Laugh, love, eat drink, and be merry.

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Be warmed by the fire and the love of friends.

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Then tonight, don’t miss the Dr. Who Christmas special.

We all have our traditions

We all have our traditions

Ongewenste

One interesting thing about having an email address based in another country (Belgium, or .be) is the emails in my “spam” folder (or in this case “ongewenste” or “unwanted”).
BNP Paribas Fortis is one of the largest banks in Belgium, but I don’t have an account with them. I received this notice the other day telling me my online account would expire if I didn’t log in using the link in the email. I guess some people still fall for these, even if I did have an account with this bank, or perhaps particularly if I had an account with this bank, I would use my own bookmark to access my account.
BNP PARIBAS FORTIS (msanchez@ceaaces.gob.ec)
Toevoegen aan contactpersonen
7-12-2013

Foto’s

Afbeelding van BNP PARIBAS FORTIS
Van: BNP PARIBAS FORTIS (msanchez@ceaaces.gob.ec) Microsoft SmartScreen heeft dit bericht gemarkeerd als ongewenst.
Verzonden: zaterdag 7 december 2013 6:24:00
Aan:  
 
Microsoft SmartScreen heeft dit bericht gemarkeerd als ongewenst en het wordt na tien dagen verwijderd.

Dit bericht is veilig!|Ik weet het niet zeker, ik controleer dit

Geachte BNP PARIBAS FORTIS Client,

Houdt u er rekening mee dat de toegang tot uw online-account dreigt te verlopen.Om de toegang tot uw
online account actief te houden, vragen wij u dan gelieve om zo snel mogelijk in te loggen.Gebruik de
onderstaande link om verder te gaan en toegang te krijgen tot uw account.

Nadat u gebruik heeft gemaakt van de onderstaande link zal er door één van onze medewerkers nog
contact met u worden opgenomen om het gehele proces te voltooien. Wanneer het gehele proces gereed
is zal u weer als vanouds gebruik kunnen maken van uw BNP PARIBAS FORTIS-online.

Klik hier

Met toegang tot uw BNP PARIBAS FORTIS online kunt u het grootste gedeelte van uw bankverrichtingen
uitvoeren door u aan te melden op het onlinebankieren.

Wij willen u alvast bedanken voor uw medewerking BNP PARIBAS FORTIS.

Hoogachtend,

Klantenservice

Germán Alemán E11-32 y Javier Arauz
Telf. (593 2) 2256470, 2920003, 2920098,
2245988, 2460051, 2460101, 2460006.

Quito – Ecuador

The other obvious error is the return email address. “.ec” indicates it is in Ecuador. BNP Paribas Fortis is a Belgian Bank, which operates primarily in Europe. It does have operations in the Western United States, Guam, and Saipan, but it has no offices in Ecuador, or anywhere in South America. The phone numbers at the bottom of the email all indicate an Ecuadoran country code.

They’ve been relentless, new emails every day with increasing urgency. The latest was titled DRINGEND‏, or “URGENT”. If I had an account with them I might be concerned.
Then I started getting emails from other banks. When I do move to Belgium, I probably will open an account at KBC. I mean, how cool is it to have a bank whose name is your initials? KBC originated in Lueven, and from this email it seems a third party has attempted to gain access to my account which does not exist.

KBC-BEVEILIGINGSPROBLEEM‏

George Hrivnak (ghrivnak@bond.edu.au)
19-12-2013
Afbeelding van George Hrivnak
Van: George Hrivnak (ghrivnak@bond.edu.au) Dit bericht is naar de huidige locatie verplaatst.
Verzonden: donderdag 19 december 2013 4:48:33
Aan:
Dit bericht is als ongewenst gemarkeerd en wordt daarom over tien dagen verwijderd.

KBC-BEVEILIGINGSPROBLEEM

Geachte klant,

Uit onze gegevens blijkt dat uw KBC Bank rekening mogelijk door een derde partij
is geprobeerd binnen te dringen.

De veiligheid van uw rekening is onze primaire zorg, daarom is er besloten om de toegang
tot uw rekening tijdelijk te beperken.Om weer volledige toegang tot uw rekening te krijgen
moet u uw gegevens herstellen en bevestigen via de link: Klik hier

Zodra uw gegevens door ons zijn gecontroleerd en bevestigd, word er zo spoedig mogelijk
contact met u opgenomen door een van onze medewerkers om de toegang tot uw rekening
volledig te herstellen. Wij danken u voor uw medewerking.

Met vriendelijke groet,
KBC BankAfdeling Veiligheidszaken.

Again, very strange that a bank in Belgium would base its department of security affairs in Australia. Apparently these multi national scams are quite popular, and/or people don’t read the email address to ascertain its origin.

I got another today in English, claiming to have three hundred million U.S. dollars in a money laundering account in Ouagadougou Republic. This was a basic “send me your information” phishing scam, the address he wanted the information sent to is in South Africa (.za), but the email originated in Brazil (.br). So a guy using a South American email address to send a scam based in Africa to a European email address that belongs to a guy in North America doesn’t draw the attention of Interpol because the NSA is busy monitoring the facebook page of my grandson.

Scams appeal to either fear or greed, but they can only be successful if the target isn’t paying attention. Don’t “click here”. If you need to contact your bank, they’re probably in your bookmarks, or you can search them, but if the email didn’t originate in your country, it’s certainly not from your bank.

Duck and cover

You’ve no doubt heard about the interview in GQ of Phil Robertson. I certainly hope you’ve read it, because having read it I couldn’t identify many of the quotes I’ve seen in the media.

I’ve never actually watched “Duck Dynasty”. “Reality” shows don’t appeal to me, they typically exploit the subjects so that people can feel better about themselves. At least I’m guessing that’s their purpose. Maybe it’s an exploitation of the audience. Shows like “Real Housewives”, “Jersey Shore” and “Honey Boo Boo” are laden with the worst society has to offer, yet there doesn’t appear to be an educational theme to the programming. It’s just point and laugh at the foibles of people who are different.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I discovered the lead in Duck Dynasty shares his name with my cousin Phil Robertson.

Impala

Cousin Phil Robertson in Africa with an Impala

Both Phils are hunters and devout Christians, although I would have to express my personal prejudice and say my cousin is a better hunter, I believe he has successfully hunted every animal species in North America and many on other continents. How someone is as a Christian is a pass/fail test, and only God grades those papers. I would say that both Phils and I are all on the same level there.

One aspect of Christianity I share with the two Phils is a belief that of all the things we’re supposed to do in life, judging our fellow humans is not one of them. We’ve read the book, and know that God is our judge, and that trying to do his job isn’t a just a bad idea, it’s meaningless. Or, as Duck Phil said, “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

For some reason there are a group of people who think that’s “hate speech”. Because they hate it. It’s not Phil’s judgement that troubles them, he’s quite clearly stated he passes no judgement at all. It’s the idea that they might be judged by anyone other than themselves. They might be held responsible for their behavior, and found lacking in some way. The truly crazy thing about that is many of them say they don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe anyone will be there to judge them anyway. On the other hand, they’re the first to judge other people, throwing around labels like “homophobe” and “racist”, condemning the beliefs of people that think differently than they do. The same people who don’t want to be discriminated against are perfectly comfortable discriminating against other people.

But there’s another story here. A&E, the network that airs Duck Dynasty, is claiming they didn’t know anything about Phil’s beliefs. Heck, they’ve only filmed five seasons of this man, he just came out of left field with this stuff. They’ve conveniently “suspended” him now that filming is over for season five, and made sure the story receives maximum press just weeks before the new season premieres. Not only has A&E exploited the Robertson family for years, now they’re exploiting the Gay community, pitting one against the other for maximum effect.

Once played up in the media, reality took a vacation. Phil’s words have been mangled and edited beyond recognition, even by major news outlets. Asked what is sinful, Phil answers the question. He does not place any weight or equivalence on the various “sins”, but for some reason all these legal scholars judging his words are claiming that he did, which says a lot more about them than Phil.

He did not equate homosexuality with bestiality. He said they were both sins. If I say that helicopters and submarines are both vehicles, am I equating them? He said that he shares God’s word with everyone, including homosexuals, drunks, and terrorists. Did he equate drunks and terrorists? Or did he include them in the larger group of “everyone”? When he says “Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy.” Is he saying black people were happy about segregation, or is he saying they were happy with life, working side by side with white people? Considering that three of his adopted grandchildren are black, I don’t think he’s a racist. Just an aside here, in case you don’t understand race relations in the South. It was far more about wealth and power than race. After the civil rights movement, everything is about race. People who were friends suddenly were divided, it was supposed to be the other way around.

The article was clearly a hatchet job by a publication fading into obscurity. It has been twisted into a controversy that has no doubt tripled GQ’s readership this month, and increased viewership for both A&E and its parent companies ABC/Disney and Hearst, which by the way also owns GQ. Publicity stunt anyone? Who loses? Not the Robertsons, they have their money. Not A&E, if they had truly been “offended” they would have cancelled the series, but now the publicity will make it even more profitable. GQ lost its relevance over a decade ago, they have no credibility to lose.

The loser is the Gay community, which now looks foolish for its reaction to a non-story. One consequence of fostering divisiveness is finding yourself divided from the rest of society. Intolerant people demanding tolerance from others builds walls, not bridges.

I would like to think there’s a winner, that the conversation opens some eyes, people see the media manipulation, perhaps a few people start to understand that a lack of endorsement is not equivalent to hatred. I keep believing that eventually people will figure out that attempting to censor someone because you find them offensive is in itself offensive to other people. Perhaps a little understanding of the meanings of grace and judgement is in order.

The most wonderful time of the year

On Wednesday we celebrate the birth of Christ. This is a time of much reverence.

Whatever your beliefs, you are probably aware of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. You may not be aware of his teachings, I cannot comprehend why the message of loving one another has not caught on, but I guess if you were trying to spread an opposite message you might start by masking the truth of your opponent. Behind the dogma of the various churches, hidden behind the dull passages of the old testament, the message of love and peace is there for anyone to see.

There is a fair argument that Jesus was not born in December. There is widespread skepticism that he was the son of God, but there is ample evidence that he existed.

So a man comes to a part of the world torn by religious conflict before and since, shares the message that God loves you and wants you to love each other, and there’s some reason to deny his very existence? Might that reason be to deny the message? It isn’t Jesus’ “birthday” that we celebrate, it is his birth,and thus his life, and with his life the message he shared.

The message is what we honor every 25 December. The idea. The concept that God is willing to give of himself to us, and in honor of that, we should give of ourselves to each other. If you don’t believe in God, how does that make love a bad thing?

This Christmas, take a deep breath and contemplate what the holiday celebrates. Release yourself from the shackles of ritual, whether that ritual is blind adherence to the practices of a church, or blind avoidance of the message of Christ. Read about Jesus of Nazareth, the book about him is everywhere.

Lawyers, guns, and money

There are a variety of stereotypes about “spies”. Having worked in the intelligence community, and having had some of those stereotypes applied to me, I can verify that they are almost uniformly false. I do prefer my martinis shaken though.

There are no James Bonds, Jim Phelpses, or Jason Bournes. The effective operative doesn’t draw any attention to him or her self. They blend in, just interesting enough that their blandness is not notable. They tend to live relatively boring lives, and when its all over their recollections are usually low key.

There are a number of agencies that use field operatives for various purposes. It’s not the kind of job you find in the newspaper, there’s not an HR department that you send a resume to. That’s because it’s not the kind of job you list on your resume. It’s the kind of job that you kind of fall into. You can aim for it, but usually it finds you. When the field operative gets caught, he’s not missed. If he’s lucky, he’ll get traded for someone from his target country who also wasn’t missed, because spies are not acknowledged as existing. There’s not a position titled “spy”. It’s all part of the job.

Once in a while they make the news, outing a spy ends his job, if he can’t be arrested he’s at least been neutralized, called home if he has any value there. If he can be arrested, he’s fortunate if he’s in a country with “Western” sensibilities, where he has a chance of a public trial and humane prison.

Robert Levinson has not been so lucky. After a career in the FBI, he did some consulting on money laundering for some old contacts. He ended up traveling to Iran to investigate a couple of leads. Then he vanished from the face of the Earth. That was six years ago.

A video has surfaced that may be of Levinson, along with the story that he is being held as a Central Intelligence Agency spy. Iran denies he is in custody. The CIA denies he is a spy. His family knows he’s missing.

Reading between the lines, anyone who has been connected to the community can see what probably happened, and how it will probably turn out. Levinson had a full career in the FBI, he probably understood the risks he was taking, and his family probably never knew a thing. His paycheck probably didn’t say “Central Intelligence Angency” on it, so Langley is telling the truth. He was probably not even directly employed, just a “contractor”. The government of Iran may not have him in custody. They may have executed him, or he he may have been kidnapped by a radical group, so they’re telling the truth. When the United States Secretary of State says we haven’t abandoned Levinson, he’s telling the truth. Levinson wasn’t technically a government employee, so he’s only a missing person. There’s not much the Department of State can do (as if there ever was).

I suspect Levinson, if he is still alive, is aware of his “situation”. He may have been collecting intelligence, and that may depend on what definition of “collecting” and “intelligence” you apply. Iran isn’t Disneyland, he knew what kind of people he would be dealing with.

I do feel bad for his family. They couldn’t have known what he was facing, they probably didn’t know what he faced in the FBI either.

Our intelligence community is a mess. After Clinton eviscerated it, rebuilding in the aftermath of 9/11 was an impossibility. Assets take decades to develop, leadership is expected from people with inadequate experience. Filling the ranks with contractors has given us a variety of problems, Edward Snowden no doubt the worst, although when the President acknowledges that he has no idea what the NSA is doing, maybe Snowden was a blessing of sorts. This is not a good time to foray into unknown territory without an extraction plan.

 

Black and White

With family gatherings approaching, there will ba a number of “hot topic” conversations taking place. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a reasonable discussion lately. I’ve seen a number of instances in which an issue is defined as “polar”, there is no middle ground, there are simply two possible alternatives. Black or white. I know that sometimes an issue does have a simple, binary nature, but most of the time these black and white issues turn out to be purple. Sometimes it’s even helicopter.

When an issue is framed as only having two possible sides, it is often more a reflection on the person presenting the situation’s lack of experience. There’s a possibility that escaped the person’s imagination. An obvious and repeated example this time of year is the ethnicity of Jesus, and new in the news this year is Santa Claus.

In a confluence of circumstance often described as a “perfect storm” but more properly referenced as a “Charlie Foxtrot”, Megyn Kelly, former model and current talking head, said “Santa just IS white, like Jesus he’s an historical person”. Faced with an outpouring of criticism, she later said it was meant as a joke. Too late, the “it’s a joke” part didn’t make the headlines, and millions of ideologues are arguing (which appears to be the primary function of FOX). As one person said, “I love it when people offended by stupid, unfounded remarks make stupid, unfounded remarks”. The arguments evolved anything to do with Christmas. People who feel a kinship to FOX ignored the “joke” defense and treated anyone suggesting that Santa wasn’t white as an enemy of their way of life. People on the other side blamed Santa for Global Warming.

Saint Nicholas of Myra was a fourth century Greek bishop, born in what is today Turkey. Jesus of Nazareth was born in Northern Israel, and regardless of your beliefs about his heritage, most scholars agree that he did indeed exist. Neither man would be considered black, nor would they be seen as white. They were both Mediterranean, with dark skin, hair and eyes. The best explanation came (inadvertently) from a woman defending the “whiteness” of Santa. “He was originally ‘Sinter Klaas’, a Dutch Saint, so he was white”. Sinter Klaas is the Dutch translation of Saint Nicholas (shortening Nicholas to Klaus rather than Nick), but the characterization in Northern Europe stayed popular with people of European ancestry. If you visit a black household, Santa will be a black man, and so will Jesus. The beauty of the two men is that they are identified with, their message of love and generosity is personalized to the point they are a part of the family.

Another polar approach is the sarcasm defense. Faced with a fault and unable to apologize or acknowledge wrongdoing, the response goes to hyperbole. “Yes, I’m the worst person in the world”. As if there are only two possibilities, either they are the worst, or they have no responsibility for the issue being discussed. This is essentially the “there are no logical comments left” point. Along these lines is the nonsense defense. I once asked my sister in law why she didn’t recycle. Her response was “They don’t take plastic”. There was a mandatory recycling of paper, plastic, and metal, but she didn’t recycle any of those things because there wasn’t recycling of plastic. She might as well have said “There’s a banana in the attic”.

One more, actually the genesis of this article (yeah, I know I write backwards). The “It’s either this or that” statement, denying the existence of other possibilities. There are a number of variations to this, from the simple “If you’re home late from school, you must have been robbing the grocery store”, to the witch trial logic of “If she drowns, she’s innocent”. I heard one leveled against a colleague, “If you’re telling the truth, you would have been fired, and since you weren’t fired, you must be lying’. Adding additional conditions, in this case that the truth equaled being fired, destroys logic. Instead of insisting on one assumption, the person was insisting on a series of assumptions. The possibility that the action wasn’t a fire-able offense is ignored. Any response that negates one assumption does not (in this persons mind) negate any of the others, it verifies it, along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?”

The root of all of this is people who are more interested in being right than knowing what they’re talking about. When someone starts misinterpreting your comments, and refuses to understand after you’ve explained again, walk away. It’s not worth the frustration. “You FOX news followers are all racists”, “No, I don’t watch Fox and I’m not racist, we’re discussing healthcare”, “So do you have pictures of yourself in a white sheet at a KKK rally?”, “Hey mom, do you need help with the dishes?”.

I genuinely love conversations with people who have different points of view. Sometimes I change their views, sometimes they change mine, and always I learn something about the subject and the person I’m discussing it with. It seems that too often what I’m learning is about the other person, because even though they don’t understand their position, they’re defending it. I would rather not be aware of that fact.

The point of a conversation is to learn and teach. Let the lesson you teach be that you are a gracious and understanding person.

“The” conversation

The teaser before a commercial break on the nightly news was “With the family around the table on the holidays, is it time for the conversation?”

I pondered some humorous subjects that might be the topic of this mysterious discussion with the family together. The facts of life? Grandma’s having a sex change operation? We’ve decided to offer little Johnny as a human sacrifice?

“The conversation”, that you should consider having with the family gathered this year, is about your end of life plans. I’m thinking that if you’re not the kind of family that’s comfortable enough to have already had this discussion, you’re already immersed in holiday stress with the family gathered. This may be the worst possible time to discuss this particular topic. One of the reasons this topic is avoided is because some people are not comfortable fulfilling wishes that do not match their own. So perhaps the topic should be broached with “Even though I don’t agree, I want to honor your wishes” as an opener.

After a fairly well produced segment about the importance of making your plans known, the anchor chatted with the producer about whether he had spoke with his own family on the subject. This is where it veered off course. “I spoke to my daughter, and she was glad I told her what I wanted”.

Last year we found out my father in law has a incurable condition. When we mentioned it to my step son he said “Opa has a lot of years ahead of him”. He may, the man is eighty and he could very well see ninety, but it was obvious he simply could not picture losing his grandfather, in his mind it will never happen. The other day, one of my step son’s friends died in an automobile accident. My point is we never know how much longer we’ll be here, there is not a particular age at which you should start planning. In fact, by the time you have grandchildren you have probably made your desires known, I have. Younger people should be the ones talking about their end of life decisions.

Younger people are the ones that are taken by surprise. So the conversation between the producer and his daughter should have been about her plans.

Our final plans in life represent our life after death. They are ever so much more important than our funeral preferences, what we want done with our body or whether we prefer flowers or gifts to charities. Some people will remember the ceremony, but the people we love will remember the other things we leave behind. Not just assets, but also liabilities.

Will we leave behind an argument, as family members decide what care we should receive in our final hours? Will we leave behind guilt, as a loved one struggles with the decisions they’ve had to make for us? Will we leave behind responsibilities that we be completed without us? A child that wonders why its parent made no provisions?

End of life and after life desires are our legacy. Talking about sex will not get you pregnant, talking about death will not make you dead. Survivors do better knowing they’ve done the right thing.

Holiday beverages

There are a variety of special holiday beverages, I’ve stocked up on a few special Christmas Beers, and there are a couple of warm drinks that fit the weather.

I don’t have anything nice to say about Egg Nog, the traditional salmonella and alcohol favorite. Here’s why. Properly prepared Egg Nog contains raw eggs, a bad idea when sharing holiday bacteria, and the description of Egg Nog is ” a sweetened dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk and/or cream, sugar, and whipped eggs. Brandy, rum, whisky, bourbon, vodka, or a combination of liquors are often added”. In other words, it is a vehicle for whatever alcohol you have laying around.

My favorite warm beverage is Hot Buttered Rum. A few years ago I found a bulk recipe, and made a Winter’s worth of mix, which I kept in the fridge so that making the drink was as easy as boiling water, adding mix, and adding rum. This recipe will make about ten servings:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch salt
Bottle dark rum (I prefer Black Seal for this)
Boiling water
In a bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Refrigerate until almost firm. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture into small mugs. Pour about 3 ounces of rum into each mug (filling about halfway). Top with boiling water (to fill the remaining half), stir well, and serve immediately
Mulled wine is also popular this time of year. You may have heard it call “Gluehwine” or “Glow wine”. This is easy to prepare in a large crock pot, if you don’t have one a double boiler will do. Worst case, an exceptionally low heat under a very thick pot. Use an inexpensive heavy red wine, Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon work well:
One bottle (750 mL) of red wine
One  orange
8-10 cloves
1/3 cup honey
3 cinnamon sticks
1 inch fresh ginger julienned
Slice the orange into quarters, insert the cloves into the peel, the ginger into the flesh. Dissolve the honey in the warming wine, add the cinnamon and the orange pieces. Ladle into cups when hot, do not boil.
If you’re looking for celebratory bubbly, I prefer blanc de noirs, it’s not quite a rosé, and is a bit unusual. Chandon has a festive holiday bottle this year, I haven’t been able to find my favorite, Domaine Ste Michelle. Prosecco, a sparkling wine from Italy, is also a nice alternative to traditional sparkling wines. If you want to try something completely different, how about Kriek?
kriek_lindemans_25cl

Kriek is a cherry beer from Belgium, there are several brands, we prefer Lindemans. It’s a low alcohol (4.5%) beverage, the flavor is black cherry so it’s not exactly “sweet”, and it’s a lovely red color. Another new beverage is from Stella Artois, “Cidre” is an apple cider also rated at 4.5% alcohol.

Several Belgian breweries produce Christmas beers, winner of the cutest bottle is from Delirium.

Delirium_Noel

Which brings us to the effects of alcohol. Know your limits, and those of your guests. The measure of “safe to drive” includes how safe it is to drive with all the other wankers sliding about. Stay close, stay warm, make good memories.

The burden of responsibility

The other day was the anniversary of the mass murder in Newtown Connecticut. There was great hope for changes following that disaster, the possibility that “common sense” might prevail and reasonable legislation might be passed.

But this is America. A real live common sense bill, written by a Republican and a Democrat, that might have had some effect, didn’t make it into law despite popular approval, while New York governor Andrew Cuomo shot himself in the foot with his hastily passed bill. Beyond driving several large, tax-paying companies out of New York, Cuomo’s law, which only allowed weapons that don’t exist, made clear what a fool he is.

There were several insane images in the days after Newtown, legislators displaying weapons in grotesquely unsafe ways only made it clear that these are the people who shouldn’t be allowed to handle firearms. Which led to the unveiling of the hypocrisy of government, Dianne Feinstein, a proponent of gun bans, not only owns but carries a weapon that she banned.

The idiocy of our elected officials is part of what makes people fight against gun legislation so passionately, ultimately killing common sense legislation like the Toomey/Manchin bill. When you stand before the public and announce that you have just passed a healthcare bill that you haven’t even read, voter’s may think you’re a fool, but they still would like to see some progress in healthcare. When you start banning weapons because of how they look, and making statements that indicate you know nothing about a subject and you’re restricting the access of people who do understand the subject it tends to engender more anger. Excuse me, you don’t know what that is, and you want to prevent me from owning it?

Responsible people get a little nervous when they’re lumped in with irresponsible people. It’s rather insulting. I taught my children to handle firearms, and taught them that the damage a firearm can inflict in a second is irreversible. I tried to teach them to be responsible members of society. None of the people involved in shootings of late have been responsible people. Very few of the legislators trying to control violence by removing one tool are responsible people. They just want to do something, I’d rather they do something effective.

Some good things have followed the Newtown shootings. I am saddened that it took the deaths of twenty children to accomplish these things, but some folks are exceptionally dense. Two of those people are John Hockenberry, host of “The Takeaway” on NPR, and his guest on Friday 13 December, Lindsay Gerakaris, a public school teacher from New York City. In a segment bemoaning safety in schools, the two whined about how sad it is that school teachers need to remain vigilant. Gerakaris says at one point “I have to be suspicious of any stranger walking through the school”. Dozens of school shootings, child abductions, and sexual assaults, and finally she’s suspicious of strangers. And it’s a burden. All of us idiots who had thought our children were safe in the classroom with a teacher looking out for them were not envisioning this woman as the teacher.

The changes that will make schools safer cannot be legislated. They require common sense, which everyone can talk about but few can engage in. We need to be aware of our surroundings. We need to be able to obtain help for obviously troubled people. We need to instill a sense of responsibility in society. Responsibility for ourselves, responsibility for those around us, and responsibility for our actions. I’m not talking about “snooping” on each other, I’m talking about caring about each other to know what’s going on.

The government is not going to save us, They are not capable. There have been laws in place that would have prevented the majority of recent tragedies, so new laws are not the answer, enforcing existing laws is a good start. Sitting down to dinner with the family every night will probably accomplish even more.

Unconditional Love

Today I’m going to bounce around a bit. The topic is unconditional love, and though we often talk about it, we seldom practice it. It’s hard, we are immersed in a world of quid pro quo, expecting something in return from those we love appears natural. But that is not what love is about.

First Corinthians chapter 13 is often recited at weddings. It speaks of the attributes of love, verses 4 through 7 are familiar “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. But the part that I want to explore today is the first three verses, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Love happens. It is not a product that you can create or earn. It is it’s own “reward”. I see it as a gift from God. God loves us unconditionally, and as we know God, we know love. It still isn’t easy. I still find myself expecting something in return for love at times, but as Tina Turner said “What’s love, but a second hand emotion”. My love is within me, it does not compel another to reciprocate in any way, and certainly not in a way I desire. My second wife would often say “but I cleaned the kitchen for you”, when what I had wanted had nothing to do with the kitchen. I don’t know if she did what she did as an expression of love or payment of a debt. It doesn’t matter. I claimed to love her, yet I expected a quid pro quo on my terms.

Jumping to a section of the fourth chapter of First John, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us“.

Love is the manifestation of God within us. It may be, if there is a measure, the measure of our acceptance of God’s presence with us. Are we merely clanging cymbals, speaking of love but not knowing it? Without love we are nothing, we can choose to define love however we wish, but saying it doesn’t make it so. You have to do it. Love one another, without expectation, without condition, and you will know love. You will find what you are seeking, the fulfillment you dreamed of, by knowing love.

One last bounce, to the fifth chapter of Romans, which speaks to the unconditional nature of God’s love. The theme is repeated throughout the chapter, I’m fond of the eight verse “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.

Do not let the evil in the world stand in the way of love. It’s not easy, if it was easy everyone would do it. But it’s certainly worth it.

Plagiarism

Contrary to popular opinion, plagiarism is no more popular today than in the past. It is easier to find, with software that can analyse entire databases of songs for similarities, but it still needs to be proven. The U.S. Copyright Act says “The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”

Leslie West said a number of times that he liked using the opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra, because he thought that less than six notes didn’t constitute plagiarism, but cases have successfully found the use of as few as three notes to be interpreted as going beyond “fair use” standards.

Plagiarism in writing is fairly obvious. Simply changing a name does not create a new story. Plagiarism in music is much the same, but the majority of people are tone deaf so it is less easily recognized. There are, after all, only seven notes, and concepts such as chords and progressions limit the melodic possibilities. The formulas of counterpoint are mathematical in nature, certain genres follow specific patterns, so the definition is less artistic than legal in some cases.

The point of litigation is usually money, the root of all legal, but the motivation for plagiarism is usually ego (lack of talent is a close second).

Consider the Beach Boys, who listed Brian Wilson as the sole composer of “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, even while acknowledging Arc Music, Chuck Berry’s publisher, as owning the copyright. Later Chuck Berry was listed as the songwriter, and some releases list both writers, although the copyright has always been owned by Arc Music. Will you ever hear Surfin U.S.A again without hearing the obvious Chuck Berry riffs?

I can hear The Chiffon’s influence in George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, but it really didn’t seem like plagiarism to me. Bright publishing certainly heard it, or perhaps they heard the jingling of coins from suing a Beatle. George’s response above, “This Song”, takes a number of jabs at the testimony, my favorite is “This song has nothing Bright about it”.

When Men at Work were sued for using a riff from “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” (a popular children’s song from 1932) in the song “Down Under”, money was the obvious motivation. By 2009 sampling was de rigueur, but the important point of checking licenses was made. Which is how many rap “artists” made their living. Simply talking over someone else’s music doesn’t require as much talent as obtaining the right to talk over someone else’s music. Which might explain why Coolio got over his initial issues over Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”, a parody of Coolio’s “Gansta’s Paradise” which was itself a “reworking” of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”.

Song parodies, the use of a song while changing the lyrics, can be an odd forum. The firm Goldieblox recently parodied the Beastie Boys song “Girls“, essentially turning the lyrics one hundred and eighty degrees, from abusive to empowering. In a blinding flash of irony, the late Adam Yauch, writer of the song, was a Buddhist and defender of feminism, but had made specific in his will that none of his work be used for commercial advertising. Plagiarism and irony often walk hand in hand, as in the time John Fogerty essentially sued himself for plagiarism. After he left Creedence Clearwater Revival to embark on a solo career, Fantasy records, the owner of the rights to “Run through the Jungle” sued on the grounds that “The Old Man Down the Road” was too similar. Fantasy lost, and John was allowed to continue being John.

Compensation for plagiarism can be as creative as the artists involved. Sometimes just a listing as a songwriter (which infers a percentage of royalties) as in the Chuck Berry v Brian Wilson case and The Hollies v Radiohead over “Creep” v “The air That I Breathe”. Oasis ran into a number of issues (that lack of talent thing), awarding credit to Neil Innes for “Whatever”, cash to The New Seekers for “Shakermaker”, and after initially pulling release to avoid prosecution over “Step Out”, released it as a B Side and gave writing credit to Stevie Wonder. Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva won a judgement against Madonna, claiming that her 1998 hit “Frozen” had been lifted from his early-1980s song, “Ma Vie Fout le camp.” The judge declined to award damages, but did order the withdrawal of all remaining discs for sale and barred the song from airplay on Belgian TV and radio. John Lennon agreed to record covers on upcoming albums as settlement for using Chuck Berry’s lyric “Here come up flat top / He was groovin’ up slowly” from “You can’t catch me” in the song “Come Together”. John didn’t quite fulfill his obligation (you may remember “Ya Ya” on “Walls and Bridges”, featuring nine year old Julian on drums) and had to pay $6,795. Absolutely worth it.

You don’t even need to claim to write a song to be sued for plagiarism. Ariana Grande, who has emulated Mariah Carey to the point that some people have asked why she hasn’t been sued for copyright infringement (oddly, Mariah never copyrighted herself) has been sued for plagiarism over her latest song, “The Way”. The problem is, Ariana isn’t listed as a writer of the song, which leans very heavily on Big Punisher’s “Still not a Player”. She’s just the vocalist.

Which brings me back to the question of assigning a value to plagiarism. Imitation is often considered to be the highest form of flattery, so being seen worthy of homage is payment enough to an artist who is happy with his place in the universe. When the fact Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” is amazingly similar to “867-5309/Jenny” was brought up to Tommy Heath, he said “I’m really honored at a similarity, if any, I think there’s too much suing in the world now”.

For my part, every fax machine I ever installed has a speed dial button marked Jenny, with the number 867-5309. I used it as a way of training users how to program speed dial buttons, every now and then there would be a smile from someone who made the connection.

Isolation

It seems odd that as technology brings us closer, we are perhaps more isolated than ever.

There’s the obvious, we live on the internet, many of our “friends” we have never met in person. Many of our “friends” don’t even fit the definition of “friends”. Social Media, Facebook in particular, has altered the names we give to relationships.

The anonymity of the internet has lead to a good deal of antisocial behavior, aggression is easier when you are not face to face. I had expected that to soften a little, as identifiers changed from aliases to actual names, but it hasn’t. Someone on line now provides their name, address, family tree, and place of employment, and feels comfortable making aggressive, profanity laden comments in public.

Yes, it’s public. All this fuss about internet security is ridiculous. If you put something on the internet, it’s there forever (“forever” being defined as until we run out of electricity). Anything posted on the internet has all the privacy of the front page of your local newspaper. This begins with any profile information you place on social media, and continues through any purchases you make on line, all the way to your electric bill. And that’s just what you’re telling people on purpose. How concerned are you about the NSA reading your emails if you’re using public WiFi hotspots? Has it occurred to you how wonderful it is that advertisers have ads for just what you’re looking for on every web page you visit? Every word you type is being read by a number of computer programs, mining for data.

As the world looks into every aspect of our lives, we find ourselves walking a tightrope of self expression over a crevasse of public judgement, protected only by a net of self confidence. That was rather poetic ;~) Fear of “being judged” or offending others stifles the very freedoms we cherish. Children singing Christmas carols were told to leave a store’s property because “It might offend someone”. Not being able to sing carols offends me, in case anyone is interested.

A recent photo of model Gisele Bundchen breastfeeding while having her hair and nails done has drawn a number of comments. Ignoring the fact this is a posed and airbrushed image, designed as a publicity stunt, it is quite wonderful to think that this abberation of the human form retains the humanity to function as a mammal. That’s right, those bumps on the female were designed to feed offspring, they are glands so intertwined with our identity as members of Class: Mammalia they are named Mammary Glands. Due to their secondary function as an erogenous zone, they are also referred to as “naughty bits”, and must be hidden, as we isolate ourselves from what we are.

A six year old boy was expelled from first grade in Denver, Colorado for “Sexual Harassment”. He kissed a female classmate on the hand. Okay, he had been asked to stop by the teacher, but there is no record of any complaints from the little girl or her parents. The little boy has stated that he “has a crush” on the little girl, but school rules prohibit touching. Touching is the most basic form of establishing reality, it is the first sense we rely upon. It is the sense we use to express closeness. It is the lack of intimacy that allows people to kill strangers en masse, just in case anyone wants to check on this kid ten years down the road.

Children used to play together. Social skills were valued. Today we sit them in front of a video display, where they watch television shows about rude and violent behavior which carries no consequence, play video games that reinforce a sense of detachment, and engage in “friendships” with people with whom they have no physical connection. It’s not real, and you can’t hurt people who aren’t real. But those people on the internet are real,  and they are equally isolated, so when the thoughtless comments become overwhelming they have no support system. We call it “cyber bullying” and act as if it’s an aberration.

Far more important than the headlines are the subtle ways we move away from each other. Take for example the Kuerig coffee maker. Individual cups of coffee produced at a premium price. By the time the fourth person’s coffee is ready the first person has finished their cup, so the social event of sharing a cup of coffee takes second place to each person having their very own special blend. Reinforced isolation flavored with snob appeal.

We are preparing for the collapse of civilization. We have systematically moved our arts from hard copies, such as paintings, photographs, vinyl  analog recordings, and books trading them for packets of electrons arranged as .jpeg, mp3, and .dx. We don’t even keep our electrons, entrusting them to “the cloud”. Book burning has been replaced with electromagnetic pulses. There will be no record of our society, and our communication skills for a verbal history have been reduced to “you know what I mean”.

Be aware of your surroundings, and the people around you. Smile, say hello. Humanity is contagious, spread it.

I love Creedence

Sometimes things slip your mind. Lieve decided we should give little gifts to each other for our anniversary. I think a part of her motivation was to justify rummaging through the $5 CD bin. She decided to give me a CD by the group Creedence Clearwater Revisited, “Extended Versions“.  I didn’t notice that it was “revisited” instead of “revival”, John Fogerty apparently wasn’t too happy about it either when his old rhythm section started putting out albums.

It’s nice stuff. A little slower than the originals, and the vocal range isn’t what it was in the screaming seventies, and the harmonies are oriental, but forty years of playing the same songs has resulted in some very sweet bass lines.

My memories of Creedence are sunny days and garage bands, a friend’s Bar Mitzvah where someone had preesed E7 for “Sweet Hitchhiker” so many times we had to disable the selection, and the movie “Twilight Zone”. Kind of weird that I think of John Lithgow in a strait jacket every time I hear “Fortunate Son” or any other CCR song.

One nice thing was being reminded of all the great songs I hadn’t thought of in a while. Another was singing along at the top of my lungs while driving home. Yet another was finding this to be the kick required to crank up my bass and play along. It also made me laugh to find that Lieve had trouble deciding between this CD and one by Soundgarden.

There are good things about having varied tastes in music. There’s almost always something to listen to, bands break up and reform making old music new, sometimes you hear stuff you have no idea how you ever forgot.

Listen to something new this week, even if it’s something old.

Appropriate grief

Another celebrity committed suicide. Precisely how disturbed should I be?

Any death is a tragedy, and the loss of a healthy, forty year old with a sweet fifteen year old daughter would normally tug at my heart. A well loved celebrity who was involved in charities, the distributor of his latest film has decided to make a donation to his favorite charity for every copy of the DVD purchased. Not that they’re exploiting his death to sell more DVDs, or that there is any irony that the charity supports emergency responders who travel to natural disasters, ignoring the fact that first responders are needed wherever wealthy film stars choose to drive race cars on public streets. I might have suggested a charity devoted to safe driving, but that might have hurt DVD sales, suggesting there might be consequences for driving fast and furious.

The Porsche Carrera GT. Before.

The Porsche Carrera GT. Before.

That’s a very pretty car. Certainly worth the nearly half million dollar price tag. The rear spoiler adjusts automatically based on speed. The body and chassis are made of carbon fiber, keeping the weight under three thousand pounds. The 5.5 liter V-10 engine produces five hundred fifty eight horsepower. It’s rated with a top track speed of over 205 mph, and can go from zero to sixty in under four seconds, zero to one twenty five in ten seconds.

Braking device

Braking device

The precise speed the car was traveling when it hit the concrete lamp post above has yet to be determined. This “track” was obviously not designed for vehicles traveling in excess of 205 mph. In fact, in this view from the other side of the impact area, travel at such velocity was unexpected.

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Porsche Carrera GT, after.

Most of the photographs you have seen are from the other side, with the forms of the bodies melted into the wreckage. The injuries sustained were so severe that dental records were required to determine who was driving. It has been determined that the driver died on impact, when the leather-covered telescoping three-spoke steering wheel crushed his internal organs. The pasanger survived impact, but succumbed to “thermal injuries” before first responders could reach him. You’ve seen the video, no more graphic description is required.

Or perhaps a more graphic description is exactly what is required. Mourners have attended the crash site in their muscle cars by the thousands, grieving the loss of their idol in this “tragic accident”. Images with his smiling face quoting him saying “If one day the speed kills me, don’t be sad, because I was smiling” are distributed. He wasn’t smiling. He burned alive, doused in the twenty four gallons of gasoline required for a nine mpg vehicle, trapped in the mangled remains of a automobile that cost more than most of his fans earn in a decade. He is not a tragic hero, he is an idiot who placed his life, along with the lives of anyone in his path, in danger. Both he and the driver had attended the Bondurant school of driving, where one of the first lessons is “Don’t try this at home”.

The word “accident” infers lack of intention or expectation. Both passengers were well aware of the operation of the vehicle, and the conditions of the roadway. This was not an accident. This was suicide. We can only be thankful that it wasn’t also a murder.

Economic inequality

There was a strike the other day, by people who clearly don’t understand what the word “strike” means. In an irony of the English language, their “demonstration” demonstrated that they were not qualified for what they were screaming they were qualified to receive. Economic inequality is a factor of having an economy. If we were all equal, it would be called “Communism”.

People who earn minimum wage, which is the amount the federal government has set as the absolute minimum an hourly worker can be paid, would like more money. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, unless you are a “tipped employee” (typically waitresses), for whom minimum wage is $2.13 per hour. This is not enough money to own a house, drive a car, and raise children. Conventional wisdom would suggest that if you are earning minimum wage, you should not own a house, drive a car, or raise children. Conventionally, people who earn minimum wage are not wise.

I do not mean to suggest that people earn what they deserve. I will state quite emphatically that many people earn far more than they deserve. Some of those people own businesses, some of them serve hamburgers.

I can’t recall the precise moment, but I know it was before I was eight years old I learned life isn’t fair. I was quite a bit older when I realized fairness cannot be legislated. We are all created equal, we are empowered to create inequalities through education and training. Sometimes we are blessed with talent. Some people fall upon lucky breaks, some people don’t know the right people. Life isn’t fair, but it is fair in the distribution of unfairness.

With the rate of unemployment holding at over seven percent, and arguably well over fourteen percent in reality, many people who are qualified to earn more money are working in minimum wage positions. Typically, these people are capable of understanding that although they may be very talented microbiologists, their value to McDonalds is far less than their actual “value” to society. The average minimum wage earner (and I use the term “earner” loosely) has a much higher opinion of his value to the corporation. The job determines the pay rate, not your desires.

National Public Radio, which is usually a defender of the poor and under educated, chose spokespeople for the strikes that fit the stereotype most Americans hold of minimum wage workers. Barely literate buffoons, unable to clearly express themselves and unable to understand when they are being set up. NPR host: “Are you aware that the local franchise owners set wages, not the corporation?” Spokesperson: “I mean, yeah, we don’t want to hurt the franchise owners, we takin this all the way to the top”. Maybe NPR chose this approach because fast food workers are not the only people who are paid minimum wage, and NPR may have a vested interest in keeping minimum wage right where it is. NPR sells the idea that having worked for them will look good on a resumé, and pays college graduates minimum wage.

Following a misquoted news item, in which it is reported that the minimum wage in Seattle is $15.00 per hour, fast food workers are demanding an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. The reality is Seattle Tacoma airport, or “Seatac”, has enacted a $15.00 minimum wage for its employees. Take a position as a janitor at the Jimi Hendrix museum and you’ll be paid $9.19 per hour, the minimum wage in Washington state.

The “strike” took the form of workers walking off the job. What they fail to realize is their employers are under no obligation to retain them. They do not belong to a union, so they have no right to strike. There are literally people waiting in line to work for minimum wage. In addition, there was a call through social media to boycott fast food outlets. Think this one through. You own a fast food outlet, and your workers walk out. You consider paying more so you can serve your customers, but the costumers boycott your establishment, so you don’t need the workers. This explains why fast food workers, and not economists, were at the fore of this job action.

Market forces drive wages. Where workers are at a premium, wages exceed minimum wage. Where there is a glut of workers, a bachelors degree is required to work at a fast food job paying minimum wage. If the federal minimum is increased, what happens to those workers who had advanced to positions that paid $10 0r $15 per hour? Do they see the fruits of their labor erased? What about the skilled employees earning $20.00 per hour, who now find themselves making just above the very minimum allowed by law?

What about the small business owner, who paid her employees above minimum wages to attract better workers, but is now losing money as her old employees find work and pay commensurate with their skills, and she pays more than she had before for employees who don’t understand they are required to be at work every day?

How long does it take for the inflationary wave to pass through the economy?

In a related story, the next item on NPR was about nutrition. The guest proposed a rebate on healthy foods (defined as vegetables) when purchased with food stamps. While this woman was allegedly an economist, she didn’t explain where this money was supposed to come from. Would grocers lower the profit margin on vegetables, or would they pay farmers less? Or would this be paid by tax dollars, collected from farmers and grocers and fast food workers?

That evening, I heard that the President is once again pushing to extend unemployment benefits. My head did not explode, but I am unable to get out of bed this morning. The unemployment rate is down only because some people have been out of work so long they are no longer looking for work, and thus not counted as unemployed. Some have taken jobs at minimum wage, some have just given up. Fewer people are paying the unemployment insurance tax, and many of those are paying less as their income has decreased. But they would like to extend the coverage for those people who lose their jobs when businesses close due to an increase in the minimum wage?

One theme of the feminist movement was “Equal Pay for Equal Work”. The chant of the wankers is “Equal Pay, Period”.

One big happy

You can look at humanity in several ways. Whichever way you choose, we are all related. Whether you see us as children of God, or as having evolved from a common ancestor, we all have one common point in antiquity from which we have gone forth and multiplied.

You can observe a family and see differences. One child is taller, one has red hair, one is clever, one can’t make it across the room without stumbling. They are all immediately related. Give that family a few thousand years and the tall one finds a tall spouse and has tall kids, the clever one is only intrigued by a clever mate and has clever children, eventually those differences work there way into familial customs, the families move apart and adapt to their new surroundings. Ten thousand years ago these distances resulted in the formation of tribes, today we hold no allegiances to our surroundings.

A natural trait in animals, including humans, is to be wary of anything out of the ordinary. Keeping the bloodline pure was critical to survival for our ancestors. The child born missing a foot was destroyed, and thus whatever caused the mutation was not passed on to another generation. People who look different were eyed with suspicion. Red hair was unusual, and has almost been bred into extinction. Being left handed was unusual, and was fought with such force by society that being forced to live as right handed may be the source of dyslexia.

More severe differences drew more severe reactions. The skin color of Africans and features of Asians resulted in segregation that amplified the differences over time. While at one time, these people were just odd family members who moved away.

In contrast, today there are no great distances separating us. We can travel from one side of the world to the other in a day (less if we’re flying West). At a point in human history when we could all celebrate a world community, we cling to our differences. People emigrate and want to make their new country into their old country, hanging onto traditions their grandparents had abandoned.

It only takes the experience of seeing someone from your own culture living abroad to realize that we’re all the same. The Mexicans and Chinese and Lebanese who want to make their part of America like their homeland (or the homeland of their ancestors) are no different from the Americans trying to make their community in Spain more like America. We all resist assimilation.

So when I hear someone speaking about “racial injustice” or any of the other terms applied to xenophobia, I am saddened. The obvious reason for sadness is because I realize that at some level we are all related. Another reason is because by focusing on the differences, those differences tend to be reinforced.

We excel when we exploit our varied strengths, and use them to carry our varied weaknesses. When we treat a person as less than human, it is our humanity that is brought into question. We are all family. Civil rights are human rights.

A simple Scripture today, John 13:34 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another“.

Calling a spade a spade

Today, the sixth of December, is the Feast of Saint Nicholas, a holiday of Catholic origin. In many European countries this is the holiday of commercialization, the day on which gifts are given to children. Christmas is a holy day, a day of worship, a day of family gatherings.

The feast day of Saint Nicholas happens to be the first day of advent, the period of preparation for Christ’s birth. Six December is the day of Nicholas’ death in 343 AD, his life is reputed to have been marked by graciousness and the giving of gifts to the needy, often anonymously. Although his origins were in present day Turkey, his following was most intense among the Germanic peoples, even after the reformation he was celebrated throughout the Netherlands and Germany, where Saint Nicholas was known as Sinter Klaas, which became Santa Claus.

Our tradition of Santa Claus differentiating between the “naughty” and “nice”, and of elves assisting Santa Claus, are derived from Saint Nicholas as well. In Medieval iconography, Saint Nicholas is sometime depicted as taming a demon. This idea morphed into a servant, in Hungarian depictions an actual demon (Krampusz), in Germany “Farmhand Rupert” (Knecht Ruprecht), and in Belgium and the Netherlands a Moorish servant named Black Pete, or “Zwarte Piet”.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

Sinter Klaas and Zwarte Piet

The tradition of Zwarte Piet can be traced to 1850, in a story by Jan Schenkman, “Santa Claus and his Servant”. In the story the servant is nameless, but is depicted as dark skinned and wearing clothing associated with the Moors. The two characters arrive from Spain, enhancing the Moorish connection. By 1859, Dutch newspaper De Tijd noticed that Saint Nicholas nowadays was often accompanied by “a Negro, who, under the name of Pieter, mijn knecht, is no less populair than the Holy Bishop himself”.

Pete has come under the scrutiny of the politically correct crowd of late. Protests allege racism in the depictions of the character.

I find this sad, particularly the day following the death of Nelson Mandela. How do I make that connection?

Black Pete is Black. His skin is the color of his ancestors, his clothing is the style of his times. If anything is racist it is the depiction of a Turkish Saint as a pale man with a snowy beard. Nelson Mandela was a great man who championed human rights. The crimes of apartheid and slavery are not about the color of one’s skin, but the denial of rights to other human beings. When one focuses on skin color they have missed the point. When one misses the point, the crime continues.

Christmas is about the birth of Christ.

The Feast of Saint Nicholas is about celebrating generosity.

Black Pete is a Moorish servant, thus his skin is black.

Will we, one day, decide that traditional South African clothing is a racial stereotype, and that depictions of Nelson Mandela should be seen as racist unless he is portrayed as a white man wearing a polo shirt, dancing to eighties music rather than a black man in traditional dress dancing to traditional African music?

Driving

I take driving rather seriously. While I may appear “casual” to some people, I’m always in control of my vehicle. I spent a good part of my youth learning precisely what the limits are, usually by exceeding them. There is nothing that gathers your attention like asphalt where the sky should be.

I’ve done just about everything you can do with a car, and when I was a field technician my drive time between calls was described as “traveling in low Earth orbit”. I would rather drive a manual transmission, no power steering or power brakes, to easier be one with the car. Traffic is like floating down a stream, or being a leaf in the breeze, I am aware of everything in front of me and behind me. Driving in Manhattan is like Fólkvangr, a field where I can commune with my peers, without the distractions of mortals.

It didn’t take much for me to stop driving. I was pulled over for not slowing down in a school zone. I hadn’t noticed the flashing yellow lights on the sign. It occurred to me that if I didn’t notice the lights, I might not notice a pedestrian. I called my manager and told him I wouldn’t be driving, and if that meant he would need to dismiss me, I understood. Instead, he called me back the next morning and told me he would be creating the first walking position in the district, I just needed to take the train into the city every day.

I didn’t drive for over ten years, then after I stopped working and moved to Princeton I decided to give it a try again. It’s took a bit, but I’m comfortable behind the wheel again.

Now, even more than ever, I am amazed at the way other people drive. I stopped doing what I loved so that I wouldn’t be one of these people.

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This is a corner on Quakerbridge Road. You are observing the barrier on the inside of the corner, the recommended speed limit for the right turn which the car you see just made is twenty mph. It’s a ninety degree turn uphill. The barrels you see crushed were whole the other day. I have no idea how they were hit, nor do I know how the section of guardrail, nice and shiny in this picture, gets crushed. It’s shiny because it has just been replaced for the fourth time since I moved here, and the entire road was closed for almost a year at one point.The road also closes regularly during heavy rain. The stop sign you see is on a gate that swings across the road when the road floods.

I can’t figure out how someone making a ninety degree turn up a hill runs head on into a guard rail on the inside of the turn and crushes twenty feet of guard rail. Four times in two years. And they all wonder why insurance rates are so high.

Lieve and I made a wager the other day when we noticed the rail had been replaced again. Lieve thinks it will take a week until it’s hit again, I immediately went cynical and said within twenty four hours. At the time the orange barrels were in tact, so someone has hit there, just not hard enough to crush the rail.

Apparently, it really is difficult to stay in just one lane for people in Princeton. It’s much safer driving in Manhattan, people who can’t stay in their lane don’t make it through the tunnel.

 

Update, 13 December 2013: The guard rail on Quakerbridge road has been crushed as of this morning.

 

A simple wedding

Three years ago, I did something I thought I would never do. I got married.

I met Lieve less than two months after the end of the world. There was certainly no reason to get involved in a relationship, particularly with a woman who had two teenagers and lived in New Jersey. New Jersey? They don’t even have enough sense to pump their own gasoline over there. I had been married in New Jersey, twice, and neither of those relationships ended well.

It turned out that Lieve wasn’t really from New Jersey, just passing through. And she had the most beautiful smile. And she made me laugh, when I couldn’t remember what laughter was.

We were puzzle pieces, our eccentricities complementing each other, making each other whole.

We married just a few months after we met, in the bitter cold of a December day in Philadelphia. Initially we had considered doing it next to the LOVE statue in center city, but decided on the less crowded and less windy venue of Magic Gardens, a sculpture garden (really just one big sculpture) created by Isaiah Zagar. We both enjoyed Isaiah’s work, seen throughout Philadelphia.

It took a bit of work convincing everyone that Quaker weddings are in fact legal. There is no clergy involved, and the involvement of the state is limited to issuing the license. You can only obtain a Quaker license if you live in Ohio or Pennsylvania, so as a resident of Philadelphia I was able get the license and we performed the ceremony within the state of Pennsylvania.

A Quaker wedding requires that the two participants promise to love each other, the state requires two witnesses, so we all met at Magic Gardens and picked a spot. The staff was friendly, and even though we told everyone they could stay in the section we chose we were left alone. Isaiah walked through the lobby as we were preparing but had other commitments. I don’t think anyone else realized the entire ceremony would take just over a minute.

After the ceremony we all went over to Monk’s, a Belgian cafe, for mussels, frites, and beers.

Our honeymoon was a few weeks later, we flew into Frankfurt Germany during the worst storm in forty years and spent Christmas Eve working our way through a series of cancelled and rerouted trains (made easier by the lack of luggage) to Leuven. We arrived in a deserted and snow covered town, and I woke Christmas morning in Lieve’s childhood bedroom.

No honeymoon lasts forever, but everyday we spend together is a gift, a reminder that hope springs eternal.

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Search results

I’ve now written over two hundred articles on this blog, and as I tend to do, I’ve looked at some of the statistics gathered about my readers and found things to be thankful for.

Over one hundred people are followers, that is, people who receive my blog by email. In addition, some twenty five or so people visit the web site every day. They come from over eighty countries, filling the map of the world. There have been over seven thousand views at the website. I notice that on the website, the most viewed article each day is seldom the one published that day.

Certain articles have been more popular than others, but I’m not always sure what that means. There was an increase in views of the GPS blog last week, then I noticed in the “search terms” section that people had been searching GSP, or George St. Pierre, a mixed martial arts fighter. I wonder how far they read in the article about Gertrude taking me on an adventure on Staten Island.. Over time, the home page is the most often viewed page (of course), after that, the article about the Pillars of Creation, a study on time travel as we experience seeing a nebula that was destroyed thousands of years ago, but is also thousands of light years away.

There have been some interesting comments and conversations, I met one guy who lives about a mile from Lieve’s parents in Belgium, and some back and forth about vegetarianism that seemed to be more about the other party wishing to argue about something we agreed on. I’ve only had to delete two comments, from past acquaintances who wanted to bring up issues from long dead relationships. Everyone else has been polite.

I do enjoy exploring new subjects, so if there’s a conversation anyone wold like to have just let me know and I’ll start with my point of view. I would like to develop the discipline of writing at least one science article each week, a food article, a news article, something political, and my religious theme each Sunday. Lately Obama has been throwing so much material that it’s been overwhelming.

Today I’m off to brew beer with a friend who often brings up interesting topics, and I think Wednesday will be about my wife, it will be our three year anniversary so I’ll tell you about our wedding.

Thanks for being there.

Faith

I have a passion for language. As with any passion, the very thing I love is often the source of frustration. In order to be useful, words must have an agreed upon meaning, otherwise we are just babbling at each other.

Faith: A complete trust or confidence in something.

I have faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God. There are a variety of reasons for that faith, and as I examine them against the argument “there is more evidence that Jesus existed than that Julius Caesar existed” I find that the argument is faith. One argument for Caesar is that he wrote books, while Jesus was only written about. That would indicate more faith in the person who says the books were authored by Julius Caesar, there is no “proof” that he actually wrote the books. Meanwhile, there are multiple sources contributing to the Bible, and for some reason the story of a Jewish carpenter has survived two thousand years after his life on Earth.

Certainly Jesus of Nazareth existed, and the fact that his story survives through today is one indication that he is the son of God.

The argument comes down to “Do you believe in God”, if you do not, you cannot believe that Jesus was his son. If you do believe in God, then you are worthy of arguing whether Jesus was his son.

Do you believe in “The curse of the Bambino”? That having traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, Boston was cursed to not win a world series for 86 years? Yet to believe that Jews would eternally have difficulty with hand tools for rejecting a carpenter seems foolish?

If the New Testament had been one story, it would be easy to dismiss. But it is several stories, all told from different vantage points, of the same events. The lesson within the story is there are different interpretations to reality. You and I see something, we describe it differently, at some level that proves that the event actually took place. One rule of interrogation is when multiple sources tell precisely the same story, it indicates they could be lying.

Can you prove that you exist? It all comes down to what you accept as proof. We exist because we have faith we exist. We have the testimony of our senses. We sleep at night and our senses tell us we can fly. Where our consciousness separates from the universe defines our existence. We choose to believe whatever we believe, we accept that reality. Mine is no more valid than yours.

This week’s scripture comes from Douglas Adams’s book “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy”:

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,'” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.” “But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.””Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.”

Where is your faith? What proof do you require?