More AUDACITY

I was very confused by this passage on p. 177 of Senator Obama’s THE AUDACITY OF HOPE:

…FDR recognized that we would all be more likely to take risks in our lives — to change jobs or start new businesses or welcome competition from other countries — if we knew that we would have some measure of protection should we fail.

That’s what Social Security, the centerpiece of New Deal legislation, has provided — a form of social insurance that protects us from risk.

I guess I don’t understand this because the fact that I have a Social Security account that I’ve been paying into for the last umpty-ump years doesn’t enter into my calculus on whether to change jobs or anything else. Nor do I see how Social Security protects anyone from risk. If you lose your job, or your business fails, you don’t start drawing Social Security — in fact your overall Social Security status is hurt because you’re no longer paying into the system.

So if someone could explain that to me such that it makes sense, I’d appreciate it.

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Following as the Spirit Leads

For the last four days I puzzled over what song to sing in church today.* By this morning I’d narrowed it down to four choices:

– “Big Enough” by Chris Rice — “I hope you don’t mind me asking the questions”
– “Trinity” by Jennifer Knapp — “Where do I stand, on the rock or in the sand?”
– “Pray Where You Are” by the Lost Dogs — “In our hopes and fears and struggles, great or small”
– “Beautiful Scandalous Night” by the Lost Dogs — “At the wonderful, tragic, mysterious tree”

I like each one for different reasons; they all speak to me, but I wasn’t sure which one to do. I was leaning away from “Big Enough” because it’s the hardest to play; I need to practice a lot more to get the chord changes. And I wasn’t sure how many people would appreciate the whole of “Pray Where You Are.”

Then, stopped at a traffic light on my way to church this morning, I thought, “I’m a little hungry” … whereupon the song “Hungry” popped into my head: “Hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy.”

I thought, No way. (I didn’t even remember what chords it had in it.)

But when I got to church I figured I had to at least try it, so back in the music room I found it in my notebook and gave it a go. It was rough, and awkward, and I still thought hard about doing “Beautiful Scandalous Night,” but in the end I went through with it and nobody threw anything at me. It helped a lot that Pastor Mark played along on the piano (without any music, of course, the show-off 😉 ).

And all the time I think God was chuckling, pointing at me and saying to the angels, “Look what I made him do.”

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* I wasn’t asked to sing until Tuesday evening, after choir practice.

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Genesis for Scientists

My friend Karina Fabian, whose flash fiction story, “Innocents,” tied for first place in the Muse Marquee Flash Fiction Contest and will appear in their May issue, had a great post on her blog yesterday. She must not have had time to edit, since she misspelled “Darwinism” [:confused:], but I love this:

It’s not like God could say, “In the beginning, I (complex problem in physics involving quantum mechanics and unification theory) and created light.” Even if he gave Moses the divine ability to understand that–which puts him ahead of our current scientists–what’s Moses going to tell the people? “God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was.'”

I imagine Moses on the mountain, trying to wrap his human brain around the immensity of creation …

“How’d you make all this, LORD?”

“In the beginning, Moses, all the matter that would eventually become everything you see around you — the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars — was compressed in an infinitesimal space where what you know as ‘gravity’ and even ‘time’ didn’t exist….”

(Reminds me of a story I tried to write [and may revisit some day] about an alien scientist who tried to reproduce the initial conditions of the Big Bang.)

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Taxes, and the Heart of America

With tax day approaching, I was interested to read that “California Republican John Campbell yesterday introduced in the House his ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act,’ which would amend the tax code to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to the federal government above their normal tax liability.” Notwithstanding that you can already do that if you want, which the Wall Street Journal editorial points out, I of course thought of my Ornery American essay on taxes:

Tax day offers us the privilege of demonstrating our civic duty and pride by giving our fair share….

Imagine if we had a new 1040-series form … with boxes for various agencies and programs from Agriculture to Commerce to Transportation and beyond. You could check as many boxes as you like, to split your money between different agencies….

That’s not exactly what Representative Campbell suggested, but his bill would put a box on the 1040 form that you could check if you want to donate extra to the government. So warm up your checkbooks!

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With respect to the “heart of America,” this was one of the most moving things I’ve read in a long time:

A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America.

Read Michael Yon’s Wall Street Journal op-ed for more. And be proud of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who stand in the gap and make life better for oppressed people. I salute each and every one of them.

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More Books I Want to Read

“So many books, so little time” has been a refrain in my life for years. My Christmas list is full of books, and I barely get through the ones I receive one year before the next set of gift books arrives. (I’d do better if I didn’t go to the library and pick up books from time to time.)

This evening I had a nice chat with John, a friend from church, and he told me about two books from the Barna Group that I added to my “want to read” list. The first is unChristian, and it presents “research into the perceptions of sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds” that “reveals that Christians have taken several giant steps backward” in terms of how we come across to nonbelievers. The second is Pagan Christianity, which traces the historical development of the church structure and service to see how different the current church is from the original church. Both of them sound fascinating to me.

In Heaven, after the feast is over, you can find me in the library. 😉

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A Visit to Whateverville

My writing friend James Maxey put up an interesting post on his blog entitled, “Why I’m not afraid of Muslims (or Christians, or Atheists, for that matter).” He uses some interesting statistics to make the point that we need not lose much sleep worrying if the Islamofascist bogeyman is going to strike us in our particular, individual situations.

However, he seems to discount the existence of Islamofascist bogeymen who, I believe, surely intend to strike somewhere, sometime. He admits that

when Muslim fundamentalists get thier fingers into the governance of a country, that country is pretty much screwed. Stonings, beheadings, hand-choppings, and the horrible [degradation] of women become the law of the land … trust me, I don’t want fundamentalist Islam holding any power at all in American politics. I’m deeply grateful for a Constitution that prevents this.

and does a good job of explaining his position vis-a-vis what he perceives as fear-mongering. But I submit that we need to remain vigilant against those whose stated aim is to attack us, and I sleep better knowing the U.S. military is on the alert and on the prowl for, as Jethro Tull put it, “folk out there who’ll do you harm.”

On another note, I was amused to learn that I drive James bonkers. He wrote (emphasis his),

I would much rather live in a nation that’s 50% Christian than 50% Muslim. I’m not trying to make the argument above that [Christians] are dangerous; 39,999 out of 40,000 of them aren’t murderers, after all. I work side by side with Christians. My whole family is Christian other than myself. I like Christians! It’s just thier beliefs that drive me bonkers.

I sent him an e-mail to let him know that my Christian beliefs drive me bonkers sometimes, too. 😀

James is an excellent writer (I highly recommend his novel Bitterwood and look forward to the sequel, Dragonforge), and I appreciate that he’s also a straight shooter. He followed up the passage quoted above with,

But, the beliefs of many of my fellow atheists drive me bonkers as well. Christopher Hitchens, after all, believes in the Muslim threat and supports the Iraq war. A whole lot of atheists I know are also liberals, and seem to drink the kool-aid on every liberal cause that comes down the pike. I know so many who call themselves “freethinkers” who are anything but.

I think the problem a lot of us have is our tendency to adhere to our beliefs and positions without thinking critically about them. And with respect to my beliefs that drive James bonkers, I probably have deeper doubts and ask more questions than is spiritually healthy. But I figure it this way: If faith can’t stand up to scrutiny, and can’t weather the storms of doubt, then what good is it?

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Political Climate: The Democracy Crisis?

It may be natural for former Vice President Al Gore to express discontent with the state of democracy in the U.S. His remark that “we have to solve the democracy crisis” comes a little more than two minutes into his new slideshow on TED.com. He doesn’t elaborate, nor does he identify a nation whose version of democracy he prefers. Perhaps he would prefer our democracy to be less participatory, so long as it was dedicated to the higher cause of controlling atmospheric carbon.

Historical note: We first encountered then-Senator Gore’s environmental activism about 20 years ago. We were serving at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory — perhaps its name had changed to the Astronautics Laboratory by then, we don’t recall — as Chief of Bioenvironmental Engineering, and were called upon to answer a Congressional Inquiry from the senator. We produced a detailed report on the emissions from our rocket testing, to answer the question of whether proposed revisions to the Clean Air Act would hamper our development of national security-related propulsion technology. (These were the days of dot-matrix printers and e-mail did not exist, so we stood at what was probably a 2400-baud fax machine, hand-feeding our 30-page report into the thing; it’s a wonder we got anything done back then, things were so primitive.)

Back on topic: We were very interested in — read, “concerned by” — Mr. Gore’s assertion that it’s one thing to change our individual behaviors, but “it’s more important to change the laws.” What does that mean? If a law typically either requires something or prohibits something, what new requirements or prohibitions would he put on our citizenry? In pursuit of the elusive carbon molecules, would we be required to purchase and use mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs,* or to pay a tax on all our exhalations?

Note that we’re not challenging the scientific argument, because we haven’t studied the subject enough and frankly our days as an environmental engineer were limited and long ago. Some of the evidence, like the loss of ice caps, is quite compelling; we recall discussing the relative thinness of the ice sheet we stood on in North Star Bay at Thule Air Base in Greenland during the spring of 2001. No, what we’re challenging is the idea that governmental action is the best means of addressing the issue.

We challenge the assertion that we have a democracy crisis. Our democracy is deliberately deliberative, yes, and can be slow to act — especially from the perspective of those who feel like they are ones calling in the wilderness. But quick action is not necessarily good just because it is swift; and neither is carefully considered action necessarily bad.

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* For the record, we already use them in several of our lamps, despite the fact that their light is quite garish and uncomfortable to our eyes. We’ll try not to break them.

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Bankruptcy Notice

Some disappointing news today: the furniture store I used to work at,* C.J. Woodmaster, closed this past weekend and will file for bankruptcy.

The announcement was in Saturday’s News & Observer (second item).

The CJ Woodmaster furniture stores in Raleigh, Cary and Fayetteville have closed. Those three stores, plus the one in Durham, which had already closed, will file separately for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in a few weeks.

I drove by the plaza on Sunday afternoon and it looked dark, but it was just a little after what would’ve been opening time so I didn’t think much of it. I hadn’t seen the newspaper article; one of my old associates called me this evening and let me know.

That’s too bad. I worked there a little over a year — the longest I’d ever worked in retail — and knew they were having trouble when they let me go (right before Christmas last year). I’m sorry to hear that’s how it ended.

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*Apologies to the grammar ninnies: “at which I used to work.”

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Hello, my name is Gandalf

Elliott, one of our church friends, has taken to calling me Gandalf: as in Gandalf the Grey (or, if you will, the Gray). This morning, Brian, our piano player, followed suit and called me Gandalf also. It amuses me.

I really appreciate the fact that so many of our church friends are science fiction & fantasy fans. (Maybe not to the point of being fen, but fans nonetheless.) My Star Trek tie was a big hit, for instance, and one of the girls drew the U.S.S. Enterprise on a star-strewn curtain that was put up for decoration. Pastor Mark has even used Star Trek references in his sermons.

So if you’re a fan of SF&F, and find yourself in Cary on a Sunday morning wondering where you’d be welcomed in church, come on by North Cary Baptist Church. You might be surprised at how well you fit in.

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And now, it's a lawsuit…

Just 3 days after I found my house on Google Map’s “Street View,” I saw that a family is trying to sue Google for posting the images of their house. As if anyone can’t drive by and see the house — so what if they use the Net to virtually “drive” through the neighborhood?

Okay, it was a little creepy to open Google and see my house. But not creepy enough to file a lawsuit over.

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