Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sharing A Love of the Savior

Recent discussion about reverence brought something very important to mind. When we talk about teaching our children reverence, we seem to resign ourselves to simply teaching a respect for the church building. We tend to focus on the outward evidences of quiet, respectful actions rather than the motivation that leads to what others can see. I think this is true because we struggle to truly teach respect for or love of the Savior. We settle for something far inferior.

So the question comes down to this. How do you teach this respect for or love of the Savior? Love of the Savior is probably one of the most important aspects of anyone's testimony. Our children aren't an exception. If we can convey to them a foundation of this critical detail, then we've helped our children gain a solid testimony on which they can build a strong spiritual life.

My life would have been far easier had I been the benefactor of such. I'm not suggesting my parents failed or that they even did anything wrong. However, there was definitely a period in my life when I rejected just about everything they had to offer. Interestingly, it was the gospel that anchored me in a way that my wanderings always tended to lead me back home.

What is the secret? What can we as parents do to help our children not only understand the gospel but build a personal love of the Savior? Family Home Evening and regularly reading the scriptures as a family. That's the answer. That is where it starts; that is where it ends.

Introducing basic gospel principles to children starting at a very young age and continuing through their adolescence will provide ample opportunity to expose them to the Savior's love. This is not rocket science but it is something that needs to be done from an early age and made a consistent part of their lives through out their entire childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. We need to seek opportunities to help our children recognize the spirit. Incorporating their lives into the Family Home Evening lessons makes the lessons relevant. Focusing family scripture readings on those subjects that might have greater meaning at particular times can also be instrumental in helping convey the feelings we need our children to feel.

One more thing. Parents do not share their testimony enough. Our youth need to see our testimonies in action, this is so very important. We tend to also forget that it is through hearing the testimonies we have the opportunity for the spirit to convey the truthfulness of that testimony to our hearts. Our actions are important, so very important but if the young people do not hear the words, they miss out on that most important opportunity to feel the confirming message that is only possible through the spirit. Our children must see our testimonies in action, hear our testimonies in word and feel our testimonies in spirit. Through feeling our testimonies in spirit, they can gain their own testimony of the redeeming love of our savior.

I could see my father's testimony, as he was a very active man in the gospel. I heard him speak about the gospel a lot but the times he bore his testimony were few. I think he missed many opportunities to share his testimony in spirit with my siblings and me.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I truly enjoyed the Winter Concert the high school choir put on last Thursday night. Many times parents will run to these things out of obligation since their children are performing. To be totally forthcoming, since I paid for admission, it would have been nice to have enjoyed the whole show and not suffer through the bad just to get to the good.

Anyway, one of the pieces performed by the Chamber Choir was this, the Twelve Days After Christmas. I thought it was terribly funny. Funny enough to lead me to share it here. The one spoken part about keeping a drummer was my daughter's.

12 Days After Christmas (Frederick Silver)
(Not sung to the same tune as the other song!)

The first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight.
And so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
Then, with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge,
That my true love, my true love gave to me.

The second day after Christmas, I pulled on the old rubber gloves
And very gently wrung the necks of both the turtle doves,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The third day after Christmas, my mother caught the croup;
I had to use the three French hens to make some chicken soup.
The four calling birds were a big mistake,
For their language was obscene.
The five gold rings were completely fake
And they turned my fingers green.

The sixth day after Christmas, the six laying geese wouldn't lay:
I gave the whole darn gaggle to the ASPCA.

On the seventh day what a mess I found:
All seven of the swimming swans had drowned,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect,
I bundled up the . . .
Eight maids a-milking,
Nine pipers piping,
Ten ladies dancing,
'Leven lords a-leaping,
Twelve drummers drumming
(spoken) Well, actually I kept one of the drummers.

And sent them back collect.
I wrote my true love, "We are through, love"
And I said in so many words,
"Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds!"
(echo of "four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.")

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Are They Human?

What's up with putting silly hats on the dog? Sweaters and other clothing? Look, most of these guys are born with nature-given coats. Anthropomorphism reigns rampant around me.

So, is this something people do just because they think it is cute or is it something far more sinister? Look, I've seen it when pet owners treat their dogs and cats like they are children. Some treat the animals better than they would children. This is a curious thing for me!

Do the dogs enjoy the attention? Do they really feel special when they're wearing that new sweater? I fear the opposite is true. I think that most animals would prefer to be left to their natural clothing.

What of these things we do that are just plain silly?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Frosty the Public Menace

So, there's this family living in Anchorage, Alaska who has been building a giant snowman every winter for the past couple years. They made their first Snowman that exceeded 16 feet in 2005. It drew a lot of attention both locally and internationally. Japanese and Russian news organizations went to Alaska to film the not-so-abominable, yet rather large snow sculpture. It seems that each year the Powers family remade the snowman only bigger. Well, they've some pretty ornery neighbors who've had enough of the traffic. According to msnbc Anchorage city officials announced Frosty was a public nuisance and a safety hazard. The once big boy is nothing more than a pile of snow rubble.

Progress achieves a new height!

Indoctrination Vehicles - Hollywood has not Changed One Bit

The modern iteration of the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still was by most reports completely unnecessary. No, really. The first movie was done very well. The original movie was so good that I don’t know why anybody really thought it necessary to make a new version. However, much of modern U.S. culture has turned into a cheesy imitation of the past. So why should the movie biz be any different?

So, the movies are tremendously similar. You'd expect that considering the later release most certainly is a remake of the first. Although the producers of the recent release made changes, the original story remains mostly undisturbed. In the 1951 version, an alien space ship lands in D.C., whereas the latest version has the landing site in New York City's Central Park. In both movies, some trigger-happy soldier shoots the alien which sets off some pretty chaotic footage before the alien is able to restore order giving pause for open dialogue. There is a little confusion over to whom this big blue marble on which we live belongs, some alien induced destruction provides ample opportunity for the special effects crews to wow the audience. Then a pretty protagonist brings the Alien to a more reasonable state of mind and helps stop the destruction of mankind. Ultimately, the humans are made to promise they'll refrain from destroying the earth with their nuclear weaponry. Oh, wait, that is the 1951 version. You see, the cold war was just beginning to escalate back then. Today, however, the cold war and nuclear weapons aren't considered nearly the threat they once were. Hollywood had to change the promise we had to make. 2008's version was about global warming and environmental changes. In 2008, Earth is saved while mankind has to promise the aliens that we’ll stop wrecking the environment.

This trend in movies isn't new. Hollywood has been using the movies to cajole the American public into political correctness since the dawn of the medium. So, when they alter the Day the Earth Stood Still I should not be too terribly concerned, right? I'm just wondering what it is we're supposed to do to immediately gain such security. Just what does it mean to stop wrecking the environment? Will the aliens be satisfied now that Carol Browner is going to make energy and environmental policy at the Obama White House? Or do the aliens want something more than that? Is there something more than that? Really, even science fiction has its limits and Carol Browner may well be the one to take it to the edge of physics.

After it's all wrapped up - the action scenes with flying nano-bugs and colliding helicopters and loud explosions and bright flames - The Day the Earth Stood Still doesn't explain how 6.5 billion people can continue to exist on this planet without industrial energy supplies, industrial agriculture to supply food, using minerals, water supply, public health or much anything else on such a grand scale. Will that be in the next remake? If we're to find real answers we cannot wait another 57 years for a remake to show us the way.

Advent This!

The draw to the advent calendar is something of a mystery to me. The count down to Christmas is marked each day with a piece of candy or other some such treat. The day of Christmas or possibly on the eve thereof, the treat is much grander. Some advent calendars are more focused on Christ while others tend toward the more commercial. Either way the result is nearly the same - a count-down of days, varying in length.

Advent calendars have even made it into popular Christmas carols. We all know the first few days of the twelve Days of Christmas. I tend to get a little mixed up when the drummers are drummin' and the maids are a milkin' and the pipers are a pipin'. I get tongue-tied too when trying to recite everything on that last day of Christmas. Boy, whoever this gal's lover was, he set a pretty high bar for gift giving.

I've made my own advent calendar, using a string of pockets inside which I placed a scripture and a thought related to Christmas. Of this sort of advent calendar I actually made two versions. One version was more LDS-centric while the other was less so. These I gave out as a pre-Christmas present of sorts one year.

The best Advent Calendars are those homemade creations for our loved ones. I think that is what has ruined all other Advent Calendars for me. My Grandmother made an Advent Calendar for my Parents when I was very young. A simple depiction of a Christmas tree on a flour sack dish towel sewn together on a dowel for hanging. The tree would be decorated with a single ornament each day from December 1 through December 24. On Christmas Day, a note from Santa written in my Grandmother's precise hand presented a Holiday wish. Reading this became as much a part of my Christmas as anything else.

I cannot say how many times the ornaments have been replaced through the years and I tend to lose interest in the daily decorations but the Christmas Day note is still something I enjoy. The glimpse into my childhood and the memories of my grandmother continue to be a very important part of my Christmas morning.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Carol

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that my most favorite of Christmas stories has absolutely nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas - well, there is absolutely no mention of the birth of our Savior within its pages.

Alas, it is still one of my favorites. I look forward to seeing the silver screen adaptation each year, though I do not care for some of the more modern derivatives. In changing, or updating this classic tale, it loses some of its meaning.

It is time to read through the story again. Only 88 pages in the original publication, it is a short story that is long on insight into what lives we should lead and what could happen when we focus our attentions on the wrong goals.

Spend, Spend, Spend - there is no tomorrow.

I have to wonder what motivates people to just throw caution to the wind and act without any real consideration of what the consequences might be. Seriously, how can we think to put our futures in jeopardy simply to extend little comfort for today? Our current president and the president-elect have recently announced some very expensive endeavors:

President Bush tossed 17.4 billion dollars into the air to flutter down like a light snow fall onto the decrepit tongue sagging out of the hungry mouths of the Automobile industry. And like the snow flake, this money carries with it absolutely now nutritional value. Nothing will sate the appetites of these behemoths.

President-elect Obama wants to conjure up $850 billion to throw at various programs designed to “stimulate” the economy.

The Peterson Foundation recently announced, “According to recent calculations by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the sum of America's debts and other financial commitments is about to exceed the collective net worth of its citizens. That means that for the first time in our history, we'll owe more money than all of us have combined."

We are simply out of our collective mind.

A Few Days Before the First Christmas

The Christian world is making great preparations for one of the more Holy of Christian holidays - Christmas. Considering its import, very little is actually known of the events leading up to and the very day of Christmas. In fact, it seems a significant portion of Christiandom is confused even on the specific day on which the celebration should be held.

I recall the months leading up to the birth of my children. How we made preparations for those things we could and worried about those things over which we had not control. I remember once going to the Hospital for false labor. My choice of apparel was not appreciated by those nurses who happened to read George Carlin's "Sometime a little brain damage can help" comment on the back. We weren't there for very long before the medical staff had determined the nature of her contractions. Those stopped and we returned home. That was as close as the child came to ever making the effort unaided. Weeks later, we were still pregnant and had to schedule inducement. Our second baby, she was born because of an earthquake and Dearest's undeniable fear of moving ground. We spent the day at the hospital and she was born during the Oprah show. The sound track: Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits. Baby number three: The doctors, worried about the possibility of a very large baby, induced labor a little early.

So, I sit here pondering on the eve of the celebration, wondering just what was Mary and Joseph doing two days before the Babe was laid to rest in a manger; "because there was no room for them in the inn." Consigned to travel to Bethlehem while nine-months pregnant, this could not have been a day full of leisure and comfort for Mary. Two days before His birth, Mary and Joseph were probably traveling. We conjure visions of the pregnant Mary riding on a donkey led by Joseph, going from inn to inn looking for a place to stay. Most women would be nesting, getting ready for the baby to come. Mary didn't have such pleasures.

The weeks leading up to our first daughter's birth, I was driving a 1957 VW pickup truck. I'm sure there were times when Dearest thought it would be better to be riding on the back of a donkey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Great Expectations, Exhortations, Music to the Ears

"Long ago, the renowned author Charles Dickens wrote of opportunities that await. In his classic volume entitled Great Expectations, Dickens described a boy by the name of Philip Pirrip, more commonly known as Pip. Pip was born in unusual circumstances. He was an orphan. He wished with all his heart that he were a scholar and a gentleman. Yet all of his ambitions and all of his hopes seemed doomed to failure. Do you young men sometimes feel that way? Do those of us who are older entertain these same thoughts?

"Then one day a London lawyer by the name of Jaggers approached little Pip and told him that an unknown benefactor had bequeathed to him a fortune. The lawyer put his arm around the shoulder of Pip and said to him, 'My boy, you have great expectations.'

"Tonight, as I look at you young men and realize who you are and what you may become, I declare, 'You have great expectations'--not as the result of an unknown benefactor, but as the result of a known benefactor, even our Heavenly Father, and great things are expected of you."

Thomas S. Monson, "The Call for Courage," Ensign, May 2004, 54

Although I probably should not be, I am impressed with President Monson's practice of citing literature in his talks. I have always looked to General Conference with great anticipation for the opportunity to hear the prophet speak. However, President Monson's use of literary works within his talks tends to peek my interest. It certainly makes it easier for me to listen.

Easier . . .

Should it be easy to listen to the prophet? In a way, the great expectations we all have before us lead to a trail that is not easy to traverse unless we embrace the gospel and the Savior. Decisions we make might lead us to places we'll find to be hard.

The Savior pleaded for us to "come unto [Him], all . . . that labour and are heavy laden. and [He] will give [us] rest."

Is this the easy way? I know that when we consider the true consequences of such choices, it is difficult to suggest any other way is easier. Many times, however, we are faced with decisions and are blinded by our desire for instant gratification, a need to fit in, or our pride telling us we know better. If this were not true, the whole world would be choosing to embrace the Savior and His way.

Should listening to the Prophet be easy? I guess this has been something I've thought about for a while now. Does the ease with which I find listening to his message interfere with my ability to actually hear what he is telling me? Are we really in a position to have the easy given to us?

A discussion in which I involved myself a couple months ago touched on this very subject. In reference to General Conference, it was suggested the world was not in a place to hear the feel good but needed to be told what they were doing wrong. Does the uplifting message always feel good? Could a message from the prophet contend for necessary change yet still be easy to hear?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Achieve Inner Peace

Many of us are stressed. We live a life completely full of stress. Although many of the stresses we feel are beyond our control we can introduce some calm to our lives simply by following the advice Doctor Phil recently shared on his show. He said, “the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished.”

So, I looked around my house this morning before heading out to finish my Christmas preparations just to see what things I might have started and hadn’t finished. Wouldn’t you know it, there were a few things I could take care of right away. I finished a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a bottle of Kalua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos and a Hershey’s Chocolate Bar.

You have no idea how great I am feeling right now! Please share Doctor Phil's advice with others who might need help finding that inner peace.

The contents of this entry were blatantly plagiarized, based on an email my sister-in-law sent to my wife. I was just so tickled by the contents of that email that I had to share it here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Killing Me!

Just before getting to work this morning, I'm sitting at a red light and without any real reason begin inching my way into the intersection like I'm going to sneak through before it's my turn to go. I'm not kidding. The light was red but there was very little traffic going in either of the other directions. So, I start moving forward as if the light or the few cars moving through the intersection are of no consequence. It's my road and my life, everyone else is just a nuisance - at least that seems to be what I was thinking. I came to my senses before it was too late. I either need to cut back on my commute or find some streets that do not require me to share with any other drivers. I bet those around me were wondering what I thought I was doing. Sadly, I have to admit I wasn't thinking at all. This week has been one very long commute after another. Every single day had something going on that made it unusually bad.

This week has been the absolute worst week ever for commuting in Los Angeles. I do not pretend to have sound evidence of this but from my perspective it could not have been much worse. It started out with rain and Angelenos' inability to adapt to weather. Seriously, if someone were to spit out their window the extreme moisture would cause traffic to back up at least a mile. The news services were riddled with reports of accidents, overturned trucks and street closures. Monday was not a good day to be on the roads. Tuesday wasn't a lot better. More overturned trucks, some jutting out over the middle divider into oncoming traffic. Such madness stops traffic in both directions, which is better than those times when a flat tire on the shoulder slows traffic going in the opposite direction worse than the traffic sharing lanes with the obstruction. By Wednesday, we were wet again. The sink holes were fixed but the traffic wasn't. My commute home exceeded three hours for no real explicable reason. Thursday was dry and cold but the traffic conditions did not improve much. I had to leave work early because I wanted to be sure I was not late for the choir concert at the High School. After a quick survey of the freeways, I realize that surface streets were my only option. I considered this a wise move and thought my commute would not exceed 2 hours 20 minutes. I was sorely mistaken. Overturned trucks again! Seriously, what is the deal with drivers this week. We cannot seem to stay out from under each other. Well, this time the overturned vehicles were enough to cause problems to spread throughout the freeway complexes. All roads east of Los Angeles were slowed to a crawl. My thoughts of avoiding the traffic by sticking to the surface streets were foiled by like-minded individuals trying the same tactic. 3 3/4 hours later, I arrive at the high school only moments before the concert is to begin.

This was my driving week in review, which brings us to this morning. . . Argh! I've got to figure a way to reduce my commute. Maybe mass transit is my only answer. At least then, I would have some sense of my commute's duration. There would never be a long commute day. Alas, there would never be a short one either.

Few people living outside the Los Angeles area have any real idea how good their commute really is. Most people live in a world blissfully unaware of how bad traffic can truly get. Tonight I'll be sitting in some of the worst traffic all year. It is the last Friday before Christmas, which means about two million of the 12 million residents in Los Angeles are getting out of town. They will get in the way of the rest of us who are just trying to get home. They will think they have good reason for interfering in the standard flows of traffic.They will blame the slow progression on the rest of us who are making this drive just like every other Friday night. Well, not just like since the added traffic will slow us to a complete stop. We'll count our blessings if the way is clear of accidents, stalled vehicles or other delays.

Seasons Greetings From Illinois

Some emails are just too good not to forward on to everyone you know. Well, since I am not the kind of guy to forward emails and I really thought this was quite funny, I'll share this one here. One of my employees from my job in Elgin, Illinois sent these lyrics which fit with the tune from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". So, imagine these words set to that tune (unless you really want to sing it out loud).

Get packin', Rod Blagojevich
The state's in disarray
The Tribune wants you unemployed
At least by Christmas Day.
The TV pundits want your head
Could there be pay to play?
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Save Illinois !
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Good riddance Rod Blagojevich
Your Elvis look's inane,
The Senate's mad, so's Lisa's dad.
You drive us all insane.
Our transit's broke, the state's a joke,
The Tollway's one big pain.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Save Illinois !
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Good luck old Rod Blagojevich
The feds have quite a place.
Fitzgerald's poked his nose around
And if he has a case,
George Ryan's moving stuff around
Creating extra space.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Save Illinois !
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Individual Discovery

I heard a story this week that had me wondering if I ever snuffed out the young inquisitive light of exploration. The storyteller explained that when she was a child, she found out for herself the effects of centrifugal force. She had placed a basket full of Easter eggs on a rope she had strung in a fashion like the gondola ride at Disneyland. Having grown tired of the gondola, she began swinging the rope and the gondola. She made it go higher and higher until eventually the basket continued over the top of the rope. Not a single egg dropped out of the basket. She had thought the eggs would fall out so she tried again. This time she would swing in the opposite direction. With the same result, the basket flipped over the top of the rope and not a single egg found its way to the floor. She was amazed at this discovery. So impressed was she that she called her father to the room and displayed her over the top find. He was not nearly as excited as she was, expressing irritation at the interruption. The storyteller was crestfallen.

Most everything we encounter in our lives has been discovered by someone else first. No matter how incredible, there is a great chance our lives will not uncover anything brand new. This, however, does not relieve us of our responsibility to continually seek out new knowledge and new discoveries. Our lives are so much more fulfilling when there is more to them than just the daily grind. What better way to add meaning to life than to continue developing as adults.

Knowing individual discoveries are likely to be less than astounding new revelations means we have significant responsibility to make every discovery our children make seem as meaningful as possible. New discoveries fuel the desire they will have to continue to learn. We should be seeking opportunities to make even the smallest milestone special.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The strangest things. . .

Strange stories tend to make me giggle. I look forward to seeing things that are different in the news. Those stories that make you laugh or think. I get tired of the same old stuff. It is amazing how much energy and time we spend focused on some events but totally gloss over others.

While reading through the news today, I found a story about a lady who some have claimed to have been the first reported case of sleep emailing - or zzz-mailing. I read the story with interest only because I've done this. Not email but I've sat at the computer composing what I thought would be an email or a blog post and, waking up, I find my comments are not nearly what I thought I was writing about. I should have saved my comments though because they were funny. The sleep emailing story can be found here.

Another recent news item of interest is about this family in Pennsylvania who've had a little problem getting their son's birthday cake decorated. I guess the cake decorators refused to put the child's whole name on the cake. The boy's name: Adolf Hitler Campbell. The child is only three years old so I am pretty sure he doesn't realize the commotion is about him. The parents have named their other two children with similar names (JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, 2 years old; Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, 1 year old). I won't even begin to consider what I could say about the parents. Adolf is a common enough name in some places in this world - not in America, too much baggage. Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler can be read here.

Even Santa's political ties in New York city couldn't protect him from the parking ticket. Although the politician and the children present weren't happy about the turn of events, a policeman ticketed the SUV that was following Santa's horse-drawn sleigh, carrying gifts and protecting the sleigh from traffic. I think too many people believe certain laws do not apply to them. I think too little enforcement encourages this kind of behavior. The police haven't commented but the politician has given lip service of support for Santa. Nothing in the story here suggests what the ultimate outcome might be.

I'm a pet owner so I found this story reporting a staggering 67% of pet owners claim their pets can talk. The USA Today story continues to report 62% of pet owners assert the pets understand when they speak to them. Look, I love my pets as much as the next guy. I enjoy rough-housing with the dogs, wrestling and knocking them around. When they start to growl or whine or get vocal in most any other way, I'm not going to pretend I know what they might be saying. As for my dogs understanding me? Well, they certainly undestand the tone in my voice. I would not consider claiming they understand what the message is. A shocking story, for sure.

A few months after we first married, I prepared baked chicken for dinner. This wasn't just any baked chicken. This meal will go down in infamy since I over used garlic salt in the seasoning of the bird. Yep, this was a garlic encrusted meal. Dearest and I still joke about that night's epicure dinner. I was reminded of this sad point of my history when I read about the small town in Iowa who is using donated garlic salt as icemelt for their roads. It seems Tone Brothers Inc. donated the salt to the city instead of sending it off to the landfill.

Back to my favorite subject, Politics. It seems that Barack Obama's cabnet picks are pretty good basketball payers. The president-elect himself has reportedly claimed he was possibly putting together "the best basketball-playing Cabinet in American history." USA Today reported today that many of Barack Obama's new advisors could add a little something about basketball to their resume.

The president-elect's national security adviser, General James Jones played forward for Georgetown University in the early 60s. Susan Rice, the nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a star point guard at the National Cathedral School in Washington. Eric Holder, nominated for attorney general, played B-Ball for Stuyvsant High School in New York City. Timothy Geithner, who is supposed to take over for Henry Paulson as Treasury secretary is reported as saying he "hates to miss a pickup basketball game." This is just the beginning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Farewell Kiss!

"This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" exclaimed Muntadar al-Zaidi as he threw his first shoe at President Bush. This was quickly followed by another shoe that he dedicated to the widows and orphans of the Iraq war.

Throwing shoes is an age old custom. Traces of this custom are readily available in just about every town you might visit in the United States. Inexplicably, evidence is strewn about small towns and large cities alike. Dispersed about tree branches and hanging from telephone and power-lines, the errant shoes and the symbol expressed by them hang for all to see.

It has to be true that in the course of the past eight years, just about everyone, their brother and their dogs (not cats, they don't want anything to do with shoes or politics) have wanted to show displeasure with the Bush administration for one thing or another by tossing the closest thing at hand in the President's general direction. I'm not advocating physically harming the man but expressions of such frustration cannot always be suppressed.

I might be alone in the United States but I stand with others across this world who call for the release of Mr. al-Zaidi. He hadn't any intention of harming President Bush but wanted to express his displeasure. I cannot condemn this man's actions - shoes hanging from power-lines and tree branches, on the other hand; that's just plain rash.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What a novel idea.

So, I'm reading various headlines when I come across this one that says:

Italy to prop up iconic Parmesan industry by buying and giving cheese to the poor

I'm thinking that sounds pretty interesting so I go on to read the article. If you would like you can read it here.

I know the US Automotive industry is claiming that because of dropping car sales in the United States, they've been having a really hard time lately. They're off to Washington twice in as many months, hat in hand, seeking some financial help (Bail out) from the taxpayer. I've not thought all too kindly on the industry leaders. They've had 30 years to figure this out and now that the time has come to pay the piper, they're regretting the dance they've chosen to dance.

I'd would prefer the government stay out of this all-together but. . . if the government is going to be "giving" away money. Why don't they learn a lesson from Italy. Odd thought that. Big ol' United States learning from Italy. How many cars could we buy for 19 billion dollars? How many poor in the United States might find their way out of their dire situations if they just had some reliable transportation?

I don't know. There is a big difference between the 66 million dollars the Italian government has dedicated to their welfare project and the 19 billion (and counting) the Automobile industry is seeking. At least, there would be something to show for our money this way.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And so it begins . . .

No one would ever plan to live their final moments in such a place. White washed walls, white tiled floors, and starched bed sheets belie the nefarious reality. The stark light and faint hum bleeding from florescent lights cannot overpower the miasma of death that pervades the stale air. The forgotten residents relying wholly on the state, pretending to live, are in a holding pattern that can stretch out for days, weeks or even years. Contrary to their deepest hope, some grasp with all they have for the torturous yet familiar life rather than embracing the inevitable but unknown pale of death.
So, there it begins. It has become something more than a thought in my head where it has rattled around for well over eight years. Maybe, just maybe, it will become something far more. We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Political Machines in Our Past

I’m not a native Illinoisan; I don’t play one on TV. I did live in the state for just shy of 10 years. That time was spent about two hours south of Cook County. Well, most of it was anyway. I lived in Cook County during the week for about nine months, though. This, however, does not make me an expert. It doesn’t give me license to spout out like I know something about politics in the windy city, which is why I’ve remained rather silent on the subject over the past week.

I heard about the good governor’s problems early enough to be able to deliver the news to a few who hadn’t heard yet. One of the responses was nothing more than some very strongly negative feelings about Rodney R. Blagojevich. The voting public mostly accepted that he was as crooked as a barrel of snakes – about as slimy too. There’s just something about the politics of Chicago that makes me nauseous. For nearly 10 years, I found myself looking at the statewide elections and those on the ballot and seeing nothing but bad and worse as my choices. Am I surprised at the news this week? No.

Now, recently, we elected a fellow from the Chicago political machine to the highest office in the land. President-elect Barack Obama knew these men with whom he had to rub elbows as he ran for public office. I’m not going to get into the “you know a man by the company he keeps” arguments. For the record, I believe Mr. Obama is a pretty honest man. I hope I am not proven wrong. Anyway, I’m pretty certain our president-elect knew very well the caliber of men with whom he was rubbing elbows. I’m sure there are some skeletons in his closet. That’s one of the hazards of playing the game on the Chicago turf.

So, Mr. President-elect has this off-the-wall guy who’s been elected to be the state governor, a nobody who came from nowhere. He was elected to a couple of good political jobs and now he’s somebody. He’s somebody with some very interesting political problems but you just cannot pick and choose your associates in the windy city. You see, like everywhere else, that’s the job of the voters. So, Mr. Obama is pretty much forced to play with the likes of Blagojevich because that is how you get things done. They aren’t blood brothers or anything.

So, here’s something that Barack Obama probably knew all too well. His past associates in Chicago were possibly going to pop up in some kind of scandal in some way at some time. It was only a matter of time before something was going to happen. This Governor guy, he was one of these guys. The worst part of this, however, was that Mr. Governor would have the power to pick his successor. This loose cannon, rolling around and smashing things up was going to be a problem. Mr. Obama certainly recognized that such a scandal would be distracting and embarrassing. Do you think he is the kind of guy to just sit back and wait for something to happen? Or, did he see an opportunity to clean up a little bit.

A month or so post-election and the “Yes We Can” frenzy is over. We’ve got a little over a month before the inauguration so the “We’re Changing the World” fever has not had a chance to kick into gear. Mr. Obama has been assembling his “Team of Rivals” for his cabinet. He has placed most of his main opponents from the primaries safely in positions within his administration, giving them secure positions in history for the next few years. Barack has done a pretty good job managing the media, though that isn’t too difficult since the economy is keeping everyone distracted and Christmas is only a couple weeks away.

Slow news cycle, distractions and . . . Bam! One morning at 6:45, the FBI knocks on the door of Rodney’s home. “I’m special agent . . . from the FBI and I’m here to place you under arrest.”

After a quick surge of news interest that won’t last long and damage control in the right places at the right time, Governor Blagojevich will be out of the picture and Mr. Obama will be free of any ties he might have had with the slime ball. The Governor is toast. The replacement senator will be selected in some other way, lending some credibility that would otherwise not exist. It’s a twofer!

I am enjoying this political stage play. I am left wondering, though, what will the next act bring!

Layoffs and Volitile Markets

It's telling when the news story is about who isn't going to be doing any layoffs...

Doom and gloom, that is all you hear any more on broadcast news about the economy. Talk radio hosts are fumbling over themselves to focus on the negative. People are taking it in as doctrine, embracing the news as if it were foreordained. Universities doing research on the economy all pretty much agree that the foreseeable future holds nothing but the doom and gloom. Layoffs and market instability will continue through next year. That's the news. Even CNBC's Kudlow has done little more than strain to find a small hope on which to pin our future in this inauspiciously tortured financial landscape. Few organizations aren't in the bread line, lining up for some kind of relief, bailout or governmental aid. Few people can see what will happen in the next week through the dense fog of pink slips. Looking beyond next week seems far more impossible.

The Senate has gone outside the box and rejected the bail out for the Automotive industry. Some are suggesting the skies will fall, now. I think, though, that there are better solutions. The government is not the only possible way for these organizations to pull through. It is possible that Chapter 11 bankruptcy would bring the necessary relief these organizations need to restructure for today's market. Maybe we need to work out a way for this to happen. It won't happen if the government pays their piper for the dance they've been dancing over the past 30 years!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dassen Saseru (Derailed)

There are many times when circumstances prevent desired action. The world waits for no man, life goes on. Whether we participate in progress or we sit on the side of the street holding our heads in our hands, rocking as if to comfort ourselves, as the parade passes us by, it is the same. At least, time sees no reason to pause. When our emotions demand we take a break although the incessant pace of life prevents any such possibility, we continue going through the motions - doing only that which must be done but accomplishing very little else. The hope, at least, is that no one recognizes anything is different. The hope is we can carry on the charade skillful enough as to prevent betrayal of the truth. It is hopeless of course. Hiding the struggle is certainly no more possible than convincing all who see a freight train in the number 2 lane of the Golden State Freeway that nothing is out of place. The proverbial thousand pound gorilla is only invisible to the one struggling to keep anchored to a reality that hardly exists.

Each morning is met as the previous thirty. Climbing out of bed to realize the reality is not the dream and the dream is not the reality. Waking to a reality that could only be accepted as the nightmare you wish would end but is only beginning anew – the new day embraces yesterday, seizing the old burdens.

Cracks form beneath the steel wheels, concrete and asphalt rend under undue pressures. The freight train continues forward as if it belongs except for the ruinous slipstream. A wake of destruction rather than a celebration of triumph, the freight train can do nothing but go forward, neither turning left nor right without the solid, stout rails to guide the way. Working, struggling to find the rails again before too much is lost.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh, the Drama!

Terry Goodkind has written a rather impressive series called by the name of the weapon bestowed on the main protagonist at the beginning of the first book, The Sword of Truth. Although I haven’t completed the series, what I have read has been a joy. Mr. Goodkind provides a fantastical account with significant detail, a plot that twists its way beautifully through each book and subplots that provide enough closure at the end of each installment to relieve the reader of the frustration that so frequently accompanies serial novels.

Upon hearing about the creation of a television series based on these books, I was very excited. I neglected any leery feelings I might have had in favor of the hope this series would be at least half as good as the books. Certain disappointment resulted from the first episode and has repeated with almost every installment since. Although the producers stated they wanted to be able to diverge from the storyline as indicated in the books, I was not prepared for a complete neglect for or semblance to the story as originally written. Right from the start, blaring and wanton inconsistencies eliminated any hope that the dramatization would hardly resemble the books beyond the sword the main character might carry.

Television has been a source of much consternation over the years. Although much is available to suggest redeeming qualities may exist, the difficulty to find the needle of hope in the haystack of garbage is nothing short of unthinkable. What is supposed to be a public service has turned into a money grabbing debauchery. Even with this understanding, it is very disappointing when the opportunity to hit a home run is bypassed for obscure reasons. Drama, situation comedy and documentary alike could be so much more impressive. The network and local news programs are not any different. The news tends to focus on the sensational leaving little room for true substance. How rare it is to hear a news story on anything from the scientific or medical fields! Certainly, we can turn to the specialized broadcasts but the lack of science or medicine news is indicative of broader problems. Like almost all other programming found on television, news is a vehicle to sell advertising. The free market does not always provide for a better quality service. When 90% of the viewership is clambering for a certain kind of television, programmers are going to respond. Sadly, the majority has far more time they like to devote to viewing the same garbage that already overwhelms the airways.

The normal problems with the conflict between that which is normally accepted by the majority and quality programming has nothing to do with what has happened with the Legend of the Seeker television show. I just do not understand the purpose behind these changes. I simply do not understand. I don’t know if the market for this program extends much beyond those who have already read the books. It would probably not surprise many to find the Legend of the Seeker’s divergence from the story as written by Mr. Goodkind could repulse a good segment of otherwise loyal viewers.

I wholeheartedly recommend the books for their entertainment value. Although the tomes aren't necessarily written for those who like to finish a book in an evening's read, they are artfully written and very enjoyable. I cannot suggest the same for the television show. I'll probably continue to watch these shows but try my best to separate them completely from the books.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Gibbing

We’ve been living in a far away place for the past few years, only recently to have returned – moved back. Over these past few years, Thanksgiving has become our holiday. Yes, we’ve taken Thanksgiving and owned it. It was ours. Interestingly, this was not something that just happened overnight. Seriously, Thanksgiving was certainly not our best holiday until after we moved to Illinois.

After we were married, on our very first Thanksgiving together, we had our very first fight. Yep, Thanksgiving will forever be burdened with the memory of our first fight. It was also the beginning of the traveling holiday. We’re blessed to have our families living close enough to make traveling between my parents, her parents and her grandmother’s very possible. On that day, like many Thanksgivings since, we started the day at her parents – our first meal. After eating a full Thanksgiving meal at her parents, we moved onto the second home – her Grandmother’s. Although this was not a full meal stop, we ate some of the snacks that were offered. And finally, we ventured onto my parents where another full Thanksgiving meal awaited. We progressed from home to home on schedule. It was a schedule we all understood; however, no matter how fair the time is divided, someone will feel like we spent too much time at one place while another will feel like we didn’t spend enough. That was the foundation of our first fight. Although we haven’t had such a fight since, the feelings that were part of that fight have truly been a cloud overshadowing some of the many holidays in the ensuing 20 years.

Yep, for the next nine years, we traveled every Thanksgiving. Not to enchanting new destinations far, far away but from our house, to her parents’ house, to her grandmother’s house, to my parents house. It was not ideal but it worked for us and everyone was mostly happy with the arrangement.

In 1998, we moved our family to Illinois. Yes, and similar to our marriage, the first holiday after this life-changing event was Thanksgiving. It was only weeks after our exodus. No one was quite used to this strange land in which we found ourselves. It was certainly very strange to this group of hitherto Californians. We had only just begun to experience the wonder that is autumn. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees and the days were getting very short. To the uninitiated, it was quite cold. Though it had a population of 45,000 and it sat right next to a city of 60,000, our little town seemed to be nothing but a small island in the middle of nowhere.

Interestingly, we had never actually prepared a complete Thanksgiving holiday feast. We were both pretty excited about doing the whole kit-n-caboodle but that excitement was not enough to over come the dread we felt at being alone – five people alone together 2000 miles away from the rest of our families. To look at the pictures of the Thanksgiving spread, you can see how difficult the day was for us. The smiles are forced and the windows in the background are very dark – the normal mealtime had passed hours before. We just didn’t get into the holiday mood that Thanksgiving day.

The next eight Thanksgivings though were wonderful celebrations. Sometimes we’d invite new families – others who had recently moved into the area. Our hope was to help other families avoid the disappointing first holiday away from family. The day was a very relaxing day of family togetherness. Our mealtime turned out to be the normal mid-afternoon event, followed by a long evening of games, movies or other family togetherness. Thanksgiving became our favorite holiday. It was MY holiday. My family day. My Day of thanksgiving and My time to enjoy the people that meant the most to me. I fell in love with the holiday.

We’re back in California this year, after moving back to the west coast in February. It isn’t going to be the same as it has been the last nine years. My holiday has to change. My Thanksgiving is no longer MINE. I have to share My Thanksgiving with the Parents again.

Sadly, Grandma Palmer has passed away. She will not be part of Thanksgiving this year. I will miss that stop on our Traveling holiday. In fact, I think I will drive down Imperial Highway just so we maintain the same course we always took before. We’ll drive near her house, though, without stopping. I think it important enough to express some gratitude for what she brought to our lives. She was a very kind woman and I can see much of this in my Dearest.

This year is our 20th Thanksgiving together. 20 years and I’ve a lot for which I most assuredly feel thankful. I think this year will not be anything like those past years. I have matured; many things have increased import while others have lessened. Dearest has been a wonderful part of my life. I can hardly recognize how the time has been spent so quickly. I’m amazed. Our oldest is 17, a senior in high school and eyeing college with great anticipation. It almost seems like yesterday we hadn’t any children at all. The journey has been wonderful but quick. I’m grateful for the intensity with which we’ve lived the past many years. I hope the next 20 will be just as intense and full of life.

My Dearest has never been one to wait for life to happen, grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns and steering the course she wishes to take. I like that! My Dearest has always stood behind me in all my endeavors – even when she was opposed to them – giving me the strength I needed. She’s even helped me get back on my feet when my failures were those she had foreseen. I’ve much comfort knowing how much I can depend on her. My Dearest always expresses her concern for me, never leaving me room for speculation or doubt. I love my Dearest with all my heart even though I seldom show it perfectly. I am grateful for everything she has brought into my life and every feeling she with which she has endowed me.

As we embark on a new chapter in the Traveling Holiday, I know that one thing hasn’t changed. Thanksgiving just would not be a Holiday without Dearest. I fully intend to maintain Thanksgiving as MINE. Sure, I’ll not spend Thanksgiving morning and much of the afternoon sitting in my own family room watching college football. It will still be MINE. Sure, I’ll spend a few hours on the road traveling from our house to her parents’ house to my parents’ house and back again. It will still be My Holiday. Sure, there may be someone who is unhappy with something. That someone will not be one of us. Thanksgiving will still be OURS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Citi Field Bailout!

20 million dollars a year is hardly enough to irritate your eyes when you consider the price tag of Citigroups bailout came to 326 billion. Citigroup - too big to fail, not poor enough to lose the $400 million dollar naming rights on the Met's Baseball stadium.

The money trail: Citigroup gains their 326 billion dollar bailout and is thus able to afford the 20 million dollar annual payments to the Mets. Here's for an additional taxpayer subsidy to the Mets, who've already been receiving government subsidies for building the stadium which sports Citigroup's name. Excellent, not!

Stop It!

I’m seldom the smartest guy in the room but I’ve seen more than once the multitude of prescriptions many seniors take regularly. Hands full in the morning and again at lunch and again at dinner. Sometimes the ritual is repeated just before bed as well. As much as some of these people take, their health continues to deteriorate. That is it continues to deteriorate until someone comes along and empties out their medicine cabinet. Then starting over from a clean slate without so many prescriptions, a balance is restored and health returns.

I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t claim to know medicine. However, periodically, it seems most doctors rely too heavily on prescriptions. Oh, you’ve got high blood pressure; here’s a prescription. Oh, you’ve got head aches; here’s a prescription. You’re suffering from intestinal infortitude; here’s another pill. Complications from various prescriptions acting on the others are not too rare. We hear about it all the time. Writing another script to combat a symptom might simply be adding another link to an ongoing chain – the symptom itself might be derived from this chain.

I worry that what we’re seeing in Washington is like this illness-Doctor-script cycle. We’ve a big problem, one we’ve watched Washington worry about for a couple months now. It’s big enough to have at least two lame-duck sessions of congress. Hearings, big-three-pleadings and more hearings. Not one of these dim wits has held their eyes open long enough to actually see the cause of the cancer.

The root of all this financial evil can be traced to the most corrupt city in the world – Washington D.C. There resides that gang of marauders known as the Congress and President. They prescribe more and more bureaucrats, taxes and other sham-ridden hoopla to fix any problem they encounter. Seriously, this is the pattern we’ve seen for well over 150 years.

Even though Slavery was disappearing rapidly and it had been illegal for 55 years to import more slaves, the biggest move toward big government in the history of our country happened in the name of “Saving the Union” and the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m not exactly sure what the better solutions would have been but there was a very large body count to go along with this big government decision. I’m not certain if this was necessary.

FDR ushered in a complex string of prescriptions for the ills of his day. Poor education required the development of the Department of Education, which gobbles up a ton of money, educates no one, and hampers what education is left. Private education was simply not enough to meet the grade. Increase taxes on everyone and make public schools where, today, few get educated. Public schools have been around so long they are taken for granted. Even the most liberal minded have to admit the public school system is failing our children immensely. The department of transportation transports no one and gobbles up a ton of money as well. We needed better roads. So, we built an interstate highway system at taxpayer expense, charge no tolls, and kill tens of thousands of businesses, kill railroads, escalate the price of fuel to pay for them forever, and change the cities, air, and oil consumption of America. Housing is bad? We’ve got HUD, which houses people who shouldn’t be housed, at the taxpayer and neighborhood’s expenses, and which has become one of the most expensive and corrupt outfits today. The biggest fraud perpetrated on the American people might have been the creation of the Federal Reserve, which is not federal and hasn’t any reserves. Our money is printed – nearly created out of thin air.

The US automobile industry – more appropriately the big 3 – has known for years there was a big change brewing on the horizon. Rather than prepare for the change, they continued to make oversized, gas-guzzling monstrosities. The American public who purchased these atrocities and the Big three should have to sleep in the beds they made. Seriously, why should others bail them out of this mess? Why should the American Tax payer give money to those who failed when they had a chance to do the right thing? If the government is giving money away, why don’t they give it to those who made the right decisions? There are companies who have solutions right now, who have the technology right now. Let the big-three file bankruptcy; let them fail. The big three might fail big, leaving a void in the American Business landscape. This void would most certainly be filled by those organizations that have already made the necessary changes to meet the business environment of today. Let those companies that have spent the money in research and development move into the big factories and assembly lines with their new technology. If we must spend government resources, let us spend them wisely. Support those who have had the necessary forethought to make the technological breakthroughs that could help our auto industry stay at the forefront of technology.

Bureaucratic prescriptions of the past are only just the beginning. Sadly, we’ll see more long before we pull through this crisis. I don’t wish to be a pessimist but I think we’re heading into something far worse than a recession. I think it is probably something more akin to a depression. I don’t think Congress or the President has the right answers for this monstrous problem we’re facing. I don’t think our new President will have better answers. I worry about the day the bill comes due.

Am I completely off base? Is the answer to our problems a bigger, more expensive government? Am I wrong to think we’re going down a dangerous path? Is it OK to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have in an attempt to avoid a depression that might be inevitable? Is it in our best interest to bet the farm on Congress getting it right? Was this what our fore-fathers envisioned for us? Did they get it wrong?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Righteous Traditions of Family

As a parent, I often worry about my daughters' eternal welfare. Although they seem to be happy with the gospel, there hardly seems to be a fool-proof plan for successfully raising children to embrace the gospel. My girls are living their lives in accordance to those things they are taught but what is to say they will continue on this path?

Some of my closest friends from my adolescence and during young adulthood have chosen to live outside the safety of the gospel. Of these dear friends, some seemed to have stronger faith, stronger testimonies and a firmer grounding in the gospel than did I. In fact, I remember getting a letter exhorting me to hold onto the gospel at a time when I was struggling mightily with gaining my own testimony. The author of this letter left the church only a few years later. Although we've spoken many times since, I still struggle with what has happened and why there could be such a change of heart.

Many of those who have turned from the gospel came from households seemingly similar to my parents' home. Family Home Evening, Family Prayer, Family Scripture Reading . . . These are all part of building strong testimonies among our youth. These were part of the lives my friends were leading. Something, however, changed and they decided other things were more important.

So, my thoughts have been more to instilling a foundation of faith, of personal revelation, and of following the guidance of the prophet and other church leaders. We've read about the "traditions of the fathers" in the scriptures.

Tradition can be a force for good or the foolhardy. Seriously, how many traditions have led to harm rather than good? We watch with awe every year as the running of the bulls takes a few more of the trailing runners down. The pain we endure to participate in some of these traditions is frightening. Even as dangerous as some traditions are to our physical welfare, other traditions can lead us away from our Heavenly Father. While many people will embrace certain beliefs because it was the way of their people, these beliefs aren't necessarily going to enlighten them or lead their posterity toward a better tomorrow. Conversely, tradition can also be a means for helping our children recognize how important the gospel is to our lives.
“I would invite all of us to take a moment to reflect on the traditions in our lives and how they might be affecting our families. Our traditions of Sabbath day observance, family prayer, family scripture study, service and activity in the Church, as well as patterns of respect and loyalty in the home, will have a great effect on our children and on their future. If our parenting is based on the teachings of the scriptures and of the latter-day prophets, we cannot go wrong. If every time there is a challenge our hearts turn first and always to our Father in Heaven for direction, we will be in a safe place. If our children know where we stand and we always stand on the Lord’s side, we know we are where we need to be.

“Now, the important thing is that we consistently work to do these things. We will not be perfect at it, and our families will not always respond positively, but we will be building a strong foundation of righteous traditions that our children can depend on. They can hold to that foundation when things get difficult, and they can return to that foundation if they should stray for a period of time.”
Ok, do these traditions guarantee success? No. These righteous traditions will only provide opportunities for our children to learn about Faith. They learn about the Gospel and see how important it is to their parents. What traditions are the most important ones; which will help the most in our efforts to bring a testimony of our Savior's love, the redeeming value of His sacrifice for us, and the importance of listening to His prophets?

I remember well the time we spent during my childhood and adolescence. I remember the efforts my parents made. My father is a meticulous man. Time is managed in everything he sets out to accomplish. Our Sundays were not an exception. Every Sunday had a schedule which focused the efforts and attention of the whole family on uplifting activities. The family always had family prayer before anyone of us had to leave. This meant even those who did not have early morning seminary got up early. After family prayer, those who didn't leave for seminary read the scriptures together. Dinner together every evening, or nearly so. I think all these traditions provided a foundation for successfully teaching my brothers and I the importance my parents placed on the gospel.

How dangerously close I came to rejecting everything! I do not wish my children to come to the brink of disaster before they turn to the Lord. It has been my greatest desire that each of my daughters find their own testimony through their own personal revelations. I can only speak to their minds. It is the spirit that brings the truth of all things to bear on their lives. Not the strength of flesh but the power of the spirit, through the power of divine revelation.

I've embarked on a journey, one that is not new or unusual. I've set out to bring my children to the knowledge of our Savior's love. I want them to know personally of His love for us. I want them to rely on their personal revelations. My testimony can only provide them with an example on which they can rely but it can do precious little in the face of the life they must live on their own merits. It is only through these Righteous Traditions that I can bestow on them an understanding of how important these things really are.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fuming Mad! Stupid bail-out. Misled Congress.

I started my day at a different office, which meant I’ve spent a lot more time in the car than on a usual commute to work. I listened to the radio about 2 hours longer this morning than I usually would have. I basically flip between two AM stations to get twice the traffic coverage. One broadcasts Los Angeles traffic on the “ones” while the other broadcasts on the “fives”. Generally, there is not a lot different between the two broadcasts but I’m tend to interrupt the pattern with work phone calls, which means I’m not actually getting two traffic updates every 10 minutes.

Anyway, between phone calls and traffic reports, KFWB has an interview with Senator Barbara Boxer. The main point of the interview is predominantly focused on what she intends to do with legislation about the environment now that we’ll be having stronger congressional and Whitehouse support for policies which conform to her point of view. Close to the end of the interview the topic moves toward the “bail-out” the big three are currently seeking. Although I am not fully on board with the environmental legislation she was touting, this was actually where my blood began to boil. I am furious.

When did the federal government become chief loan officer and financier of big business? Yeah, I know. It didn’t start in the last couple months, though that was the biggest foray into the financial world the government has ever made.

For the sake of our country’s long-term interests, I just wish our lawmakers would look at the constitution just a little. Seriously. I have looked and there is not a “Bailout Clause” in the constitution. There is, however a “Bankruptcy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 4).

Here’s the deal, the framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically anticipated the nation would have serious economic troubles occasionally. Since this was anticipated, they included the power to enact bankruptcy laws as part of the Congressional Powers. They did not include the power to enact “bailout” laws. Throughout U.S. history, we’ve encountered various economic “panics”. Every couple of decades something in our economy gets off kilter. These hardships always lead to some kind of evolution in state and federal bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy allows individuals and corporations to hit a kind of reset button. It works.

At some different points the bankruptcy laws have favored the creditor class. The other times, the bankruptcy laws favored the debtors. Here’s the deal. In most cases the economic hardships were eventually manifested in bankruptcy proceedings.

Just as all rivers flow to the sea, bad debt must find its way to discharge. Bankruptcy court is where judges and attorneys and other financial exerts – actuaries, accountants, etc – deal with each case on the merits. Through this process, some sort of solution is arranged. Some people come out OK, while others lose it all. Capital flows from the weak hands to the strong ones and the economy plugs along.

So, why are we doing everything we can to avoid a process that has worked many times over during our 200+ year history? We’ve “bailed-out” financial institutions, which has propped up poor business practices. The natural strengthening of the overall system that is a result of bankruptcy will never happen with a bail-out. The burden of the poor choices rests squarely on everyone’s shoulders.

This leads us to what got me steamed this morning. The U.S. automobile industry is seeking their share of the TARP money. Dire are the consequences if they don’t get a bail-out of their own! That is what they want everyone to believe. Well, what will happen? They’ll have to file for Chapter 11. So?

When the automakers file for bankruptcy, the automobile factories will still be there. The patents and designs aren’t going to disappear. The workers and design teams will still be ready and willing to work. Everyone still has their part in this.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – without the legacy costs of pensions and health care and contracts for non-working union members – would be a decent investment for a Debtor-in-Possession form of financing. You know, the kind of financing available to firms who’ve filed chapter 11. Just about any DIP-lender would certainly jump at the chance to go into the management suites to take names, fight the good fight and eliminate any and all deadwood. Over the long term, if U.S. automakers actually paid more for steel than they have to pay for retiree health care, then we would probably see a revival of that industry.

So, what comes of a bail-out? Imagine all that money that we’ve already given to Mr. Paulson. Out of the 700 billion dollars of TARP funds, most has been given away. Not a penny has been given out with strings attached. We have AIG’s executives running off to a conference on my money (Taxpayers). This is seriously not the right plan.

We need to let these organizations follow the path that will provide for the best future, not the easiest path that doesn’t require change. We need to remind congress. We need to send them a message - Bankruptcy is a good solution that will put us on the right road to overcoming these problems. A bail-out does nothing but cost us money and reinforce bad business.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama: The Feel Good Brand

It’s been a couple weeks since the election and I’ve had some time to think about it. I am not worried that the American voters made a big mistake. It’s great that a black man can be elected President in America. It does not, however, come close to making up for the great national sin of slavery, does it? Martin Luther King exclaimed that he dreamed of an America where a man could be judged for the content of his character and not the color of his skin. But it looks like most black people voted for Obama because he’s black, not because of what he believes. No, this does not bother me a whole lot by its own merit. It may be a good thing that 12% of the American population woke up and for the first time felt like they belonged to an America where anything really is possible. That is great.

It is pretty sad that a significant segment of the American population has struggled to identifying with their country for so many generations. I wonder, though, if people are any more proud of America than they were before. If people are proud of America for seeing past race, America could justifiably be proud for surprising the world again. But as far as I can tell, people are more proud of Obama than they are for America.

This actually reduces what this election was all about to something less than it otherwise could have been. This election was not about the deficit, global warming, or the neo-cons. It was about a vote people could make to feel better about themselves. Obama offered people that chance. The Republicans got exactly what they deserved for betraying small-government, fiscally-conservative, sound-money and non-interventionist foreign policy principles. They also underestimated how badly people want to believe in something. This election was about feelings not reasoning - Pathos not Logos.

The campaign season started out all right. In fact, there were a few times when I thought it would begin to take off and really become something. It never did. It was not a campaign at all. In most cases, we were subjected to nothing more Barack Obama’s personal history, two years of reality television very well produced and edited. In fact, once Barack Obama convinced America that his story was their story, there was only one way for the election to end. America loves a winner.

Many in the media and even political pundits have compared the Obamas to the Kennedys. I sincerely struggle to even understand what that is supposed to mean. Race still matters in America just like religion still matters. I was beside myself when people would claim Barack Obama was a Muslim as if that were a bad thing. The Obama campaign made it even worse by denying he was a Muslim, as if being a Muslim were a bad thing. Being very touchy on the subject of race, segments of the public turned to religion – a religion that has been rather unpopular in America since the terrorist attacks in September 2001. Anyway, the things that make us different actually tend to make us a stronger society.

People who claim the Obama Whitehouse is the next Kennedy Whitehouse seem to be grasping at romance and nostalgia. These are people who have always wanted to believe that a dynamic leader could take us toward better, more enlightened government. These people are crazy hungry for something that seems to be missing from their lives. They seem to be living their fantasies vicariously through Obama’s life. It is human nature to want to be part of something greater than oneself. The fervor felt by many, however, tends to drive people to do stupid things like burning books or drinking kool-aid.

This election was not about something transcendent like civil-rights, it was a synthetic election. The power of America’s mass media and the entertainment image-making machine harnessed itself to a candidate for national office. Barack became the feel-good brand. He would magically repair America’s damaged worldwide reputation and fix our economy. Seriously, the Obama brand has the depth and staying power of a catchy pop tune. Very much like Dr Pepper, all sugar and caffeine rush but zero nutritional value. You’ll feel better for drinking it but you’re not getting any healthier.

I don’t think Barack Obama was any worse in this aspect than John McCain. Neither campaign had enough substance to support a feather, let alone the lead weight of the economic crisis or world-wide terrorism.

Modern politics is about the manipulation of the people’s emotions. We were barraged by fear, hope, anger and envy. Each campaign founded themselves on these emotions. They used words, images and really compelling but very likely false promises. The Obama Campaign was a masterpiece in manipulation. His was a triumph of style over content. John McCain’s campaign just could not find a big enough line onto which they could latch strong. Certainly, Barack Obama represents the triumph of the cult of personality over substance in American politics. Seriously, anytime people have faith in a man that exceeds their faith in ideas, it’s dangerous. We’re a nation of laws. Ideas should command loyalty. Equality before the law, freedom of speech, a right to own property. These are ideas on which we can hang our hopes. These are the ideas to which we should be loyal.

I might be sounding a bit sore – like a child who has a problem dealing with rejection. Much to the contrary, I am very used to losing. I lose all the time. I’m pretty used to it. It seems, though, that the high voter turnout was a disaster for people who love liberty. Some have argued that high voter turnout ensures better results or better government. Generally, high voter turnout is only a triumph for State power. It means that people who believe the government should have a great role in your life have succeeded in politicizing ever greater aspects of private life. Every problem becomes political. Every solution requires a new law. This election made one thing clear: Americans tend to believe in big government power, they just disagree about whom it should be directed against.

Why do people have so much secular faith in politics and in ‘transcendent’ men like Obama? It seems this trend has coincided with a loss of faith in the institutions which used to give life meaning and purpose. Things like family, community, the local school or the local church have been marginalized. We’ve become less about the local and more about the federal. Big government has become the mediator in a world that has become ever smaller, pushing out the local relationships. People have used the government to enforce their moral outlook on the world, the entire world. Once life used to be about the community. How many of us even know our neighbors anymore?

People are actively seeking a way to bring meaning to their lives. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, says men can find meaning in their lives in three ways. First, through work that matters. Second, through relationships with other people. Third, through the attitude which we choose to have when we encounter the suffering life inevitably throws our way. Today’s America is largely made up of people who are alienated from their work, they see it as merely a vehicle to pay off their mortgage. The trend has been for us to recognize our work as less than the work we want to do with our lives. Most of us do not find meaning in our work. We labor, sweat, but gain no fruit.

The family has also been marginalized, reduced importance due to too much time looking at the television, e-mailing and texting constantly. We’re completely free to pursue our individual goals and desires and selfish pursuits. We have more ways than ever to communicate but we find ourselves alone more than ever.

Church and community have suffered in much the same way as the family but on a much grander scale. We moved from the mid-west to the west coast. The biggest shock to the family was the lack of community even among members of our congregation.

Most Americans don’t suffer anymore. We were born into a world of plenty. Plenty of energy, plenty of credit, plenty of food, plenty of surplus. Suffering in the modern world has no redeeming value – no value at all. When we do suffer it is a self-imposed torture of sorts. We voluntarily go to the gym, we commute through harsh traffic, we suffer through work. Superficial suffering. These aren’t in the service of any worthwhile purpose. They do nothing to give our lives meaning.

Barack Obama gave people something to which they could tie their wagon, gave them something to make them feel like their lives had meaning by voting for him. I don’t really understand how he pulled it off. I did see this, though, on the news when the media would show his rallies. People used to find meaning in the day-to-day relationship. Family, friends, neighbors. The cult of individual materialism and the Nanny State paternalism has made the relationship between a man and his government more important than any of these. This is rather depressing.

I fear people are going to ultimately be disappointed. Some may even be devastated. Political rhetoric can make you feel good for a while, something like that feeling we get when our sports team wins the championship. The sun always rises the next day and life remains the same as it did before – all the challenges, fears, hopes and opportunities are still the same. Mr. President-elect cannot live life for us. He cannot pay our mortgage, fuel our cars, make our jobs gain meaning they didn’t already have. He cannot fix our love-lives or our other relationships. Life is still the same as it was before the election. Seriously, wherever we go, there we’ll be.

So, the President-elect has a big job ahead of him. The task ahead of him may be greater than the man. In fact, I think it is probably greater than any man. John McCain and his team would be in the same boat but would not be burdened with the extreme expectations that accompany Barack Obama. My good wishes are with our President-elect. God’s speed.