Monday, October 27, 2008

Signs of something bigger

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, firefighters and paramedics in the Second City are being instructed to take their gear home with them until two days after election night. The idea is that if there's any trouble, they'll be able to get right to work instead of going back to their headquarters to get their stuff. But of all the disturbing elements in this story, the one that hit me hardest was this graf:

The mayor would have preferred a more "controlled" environment like the United Center or Soldier Field. But, he said, "Could you see me saying 'no' to Senator Obama? Give me a break. I'm not that dumb."
So the mayor of Chicago doesn't dare say "boo" to Obama? Who would he say "boo" to? More to the point, if the mayor won't do it, who will? Who's going to stand up and say "No!" to the Lamb of Chicago if he wins? Joe the Plumber tried it, and he got his life taken apart on national TV for his trouble. If that's what happens to an ordinary citizen who dares to ask a question, what the hell chance do the rest of us big mouths have? I don't trust anyone who won't take "no" for an answer.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beat me to the punch, he did.

When Barack Obama said in Tuesday's debate that healthcare was a right, my brain immediately began thinking of why it wasn't. Unfortunately, I was already halfway through my second cosmopolitan, so by the time the debate was over I was ready for bed. The next morning, I'd forgotten about it.

Luckily, the ever-ready Bill Whittle was on the case, and his (unusually short) take on the subject can be found here at National Review Online. The money quote:

Constitutional rights protect us from things: intimidation, illegal search and seizure, self-incrimination, and so on. The revolutionary idea of our Founding Fathers was that people had a God-given right to live as they saw fit. Our constitutional rights protect us from the power of government.

But these new so-called "rights" are about the government — who the Founders saw as the enemy — giving us things: food, health care, education... And when we have a right to be given stuff that previously we had to work for, then there is no reason — none — to go and work for them. The goody bag has no bottom, except bankruptcy and ruin.

Does that ring a little familiar these days? Because isn’t the danger here that if you’re offered something for nothing… you’ll take it?

Only it’s not something for nothing. "Free" health-care costs us something precious, and no less precious for being invisible. Because there’s a word for someone who has their food, housing and care provided for them… for people who owe their existence to someone else.

And that word is "slaves."
The other thing that got me was Obama's story about his mother, while she was dying of cancer, having to wrangle with the insurance companies from her hospital bed. While it's horrible that anyone would have to go through something like that, it wasn't the government's responsibility to make sure she didn't have any problems. And she still got treated, didn't she? There are always options if you can't pay for a medical procedure. Drug companies have programs to help people with their prescriptions. Charities (on every scale) can help with bills. Just a few months ago, I saw my own community raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of a few days to help a young man get a bone marrow transplant because his insurance was maxed out. (Unfortunately, he died about a week later, but the point still stands.) I myself got tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills forgiven by two different hospitals, and only one of them qualified as a charity. There is always something to be done. It's only when you throw up your hands and say "Oh, it's too much, I can't do it" that it becomes someone else's responsibility -- and that's only because you force it to. Medical problems suck, and it sucks that they're so expensive, but you know what? I would rather be bankrupt and alive than dead from substandard care that I didn't have to pay money for. Bankrupt I can do something about. Dead, I can't.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I'm going to catch flack for this one, I guarantee.

I have a real problem with the Creationist movement. Before I go further, let me be perfectly clear: I believe that the Bible - and that means all of the Bible - is the infallible Word of God. I do not believe that the universe sprang out of nothing without a divine force to drive it, and I believe that divine force was the god known to the Jews as Yahweh and to the Christians as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not believe in evolution, simply because there are too many unanswered questions and too many holes in it for me to find it credible. Given what we know today of the complexity of the organic cell, Darwin would be laughed out of science if he attempted to propose his theory today.

That said, I do not believe pounding Genesis 1-3 is an adequate explanation for why I don't believe the world came out of nothing. Millions of scientists with centuries of data haven't just pulled their theories and base assumptions out of their butts, and the age of the universe can be confirmed by measuring the distance light has traveled, something that is a physical constant in the world as we understand it. Dismissing this data as the product of Satan and putting quotes around the word "science" (as they do on the Answers in Genesis Web page) is not the way to deal with this. The Vatican tried it with Galileo and Copernicus, and in the end they were proved wrong - not for their beliefs, but for stubbornly refusing to adjust in the face of new data.

I'm not trying to say that these people's faith isn't sincere - I'm sure that for many of them, it's the most important thing in their life. But if someone presents you with information that goes against the interpretation of your belief system, you shouldn't deal with it by retreating further into that system and ignoring other information. You find out how they came to their conclusions, what methods they used, where they got their information. You gather your own information, keeping an open mind and pursuing all avenues, even if they seem to disagree with what you're trying to prove.

Once upon a time, the church (and, by extension, science) believed that the earth was at the center of the solar system. The church backed this up by reasoning that because we were God's most important creation, it only made sense that He would put us there. When Copernicus and others proved that we were not, in fact, at the center of the solar system, the powers that be couldn't wrap their brains around it - couldn't adjust their beliefs to match the new data. If you believe that God created the universe, earth and all life as we know it in less than seven days, then get out there and prove it. Don't just argue that a person who doesn't believe what you do isn't "a 'conservative' Christian" - again, from Answers in Genesis. The whole movement, up to and including the Creation Museum, smacks of desperation. Real faith is able to take questions, examine them and explore all possible answers because it is grounded in the unshakable reality of the love of Almighty God. Resisting change is a clear mark of immaturity, both of personality and of identity. It is my goal as a Christian (and as a person in general) that when I am confronted with something that disagrees with my worldview, I say "Interesting. Tell me more," instead of poking my fingers in my ears and shouting until it goes away. That's not to say that I accomplish that goal; my fingers are in my ears a lot. But more and more my ears are open.

The Answers in Genesis Web site reeks of the desperation seen in people who don't understand their own position well enough to answer their opponents or speak their language. In parents, this leads to "Because I said so!" In children, "You're a stupidhead! I'm going home!" When the Creationists attempt to tackle science on its own ground, they leave out one very important thing: There can be no assumptions in testing a hypothesis, and that includes the influence of the Almighty. We don't know how He handled something, so we can't include it as a constant in our equations dealing with the physical world. It takes the attempt to speak the scientific language and twists it into a mockery of itself, much like the missionary who goes to the pagan tribe and says, flat out, "Oh dear, these idols are false gods! You should tear them all down and worship my god." Without learning what makes the tribe tick, the only thing he'll accomplish is ticking them off.

I can keep an open mind about the origin of the universe because my faith isn't grounded in the first three chapters of the book. It's grounded in the four books about two-thirds through. If nothing else, those books can be proven time and again by nothing more than the scientific method - although that isn't enough to inspire faith. If, tomorrow, it turns out that yes, there was a big bang and the universe was created over billions of years and there's really no questioning it, not even a little - well, I'll be okay with that. I won't be standing there with my mouth open, stammering "But ... but ... but that's not what it says!" Who am I to say for certain what God did and didn't mean in that passage? All I have is my human intellect and, with any luck, some divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit. I can't begin to understand the motives or methods of God beyond the barest, most infantile (from His perspective) level. And that's okay with me. Anyone - on either side - who tells you that he has all the answers is only fooling himself. And I don't want to be like him. With God's grace, I won't be.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Something funny for Thursday

My coworker sent me an e-mail with Urban Dictionary's definition of an "October Surprise", which is a last-minute revelation of a fact guaranteed to promote or damage a presidential candidate and ensure the outcome of the election. The example was, "Hey, we've had Osama bin Laden under the Pentagon for three years. Here he is!"

I'm rather proud of my response:

Osama's not under the Pentagon. His head's on a stick at the foot of Dick Cheney's bed. Sometimes he and Karl Rove use it to round out their poker table. And that's why I'm a Republican.
Good times.

[Note: this post was rewritten with more information after a reader told me it was confusing. As you were.]

Ah, there we go.

Yesterday, I announced that I wasn't going to do a big post on the financial crisis because I didn't understand it well enough to take an really informed position. Well, I'm still not that informed, but Charlie Martin's article at Pajamas Media today does a lot of the work for me. I don't pretend to understand all the higher abstractions of business, but he lays it out well enough that I'm beginning to think I have somewhat of a handle on things now. In the meantime, I've been meaning to budget my spending anyway, so I'm just keeping half an eye on Congress and the other 1.5 eyes on my checking account.

On a side note: Instapundit's opinion polls have been fun this week. I keep voting for the "Can't answer; too busy burying gold coins in the back yard/learning to trap and skin small game" answers. They make me laugh.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I did well in economics, but not that well ...

I've been putting off blogging about the financial sitch (use slang; makes it less threatening) for a while now because, as the title of this post states, I don't quite understand the whole thing. The root causes are too complicated for me to take a detailed, intelligent position, and the potential fallout is too depressing. Plus, I'm only 25: I've never been through a depression. I imagine I'd do all right, provided I didn't get laid off -- and even if I did, I have in-demand practical skills and I'm not above cleaning bathrooms or digging ditches. Frankly, though, the whole things stinks so bad I'm just putting it out back by the ol' mental dumpster for someone else to take care of.

So: To make up for my lack of original material, here's an interesting read on how this whole thing went down. It's long, but I guarantee it'll tell you things you didn't know before. That, you can take to the bank. It's interesting: I generally don't buy in to conspiracies unless there's overwhelming evidence for them, but after reading that article I'm starting to wonder. A couple months ago I heard a random snippet of the Rush Limbaugh show where he wondered just who was behind Obama. His record, at least as presented to the public, is nowhere near enough for him to have gotten this far, and his personal qualifications (mesmerizing public speaking aside) are equally inadequate. So who's pushing him?

Last year, I remember watching the Patriots rack up win after arrogant win, pushing toward a 19-0 season and generally making a nasty spectacle of themselves. Between cheating, unnecessarily running up the score and just generally being snotty, entitled punks, it was like watching a bad high school movie where the horrible mean girl gets everything she wants because she's pretty, rich and manipulative. It was enough to make me doubt my faith in humanity, as hysterical and overblown as that sounds: If these guys beat out the '72 Dolphins, it would be a black mark on the entire sport. Not for any concrete reason, mind you; it was purely philosophical. The bad guys shouldn't win. And then the Giants spanked 'em hard in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with a come-from-behind push and a play nothing short of miraculous (you know the one I'm talking about), and everyone except New Englanders was jumping up and down on the furniture and screaming because, to put it in Saturday morning cartoon terms, the good guys won.

Now, granted, I'm an Indianapolis-area Colts fan, so I'm a little biased re: New England. But if the team that played dirty -- and rubbed the fact in everyone's faces -- had gotten away with it, the emotional and moral defeat for football fans would have been tremendous.

I feel largely the same way about this election. I don't trust John McCain any farther than I can throw him, and Palin is, let's face it, a newcomer. But they're playing fair. They're not instructing their base to flood radio shows and Web site comments and forums to drown out opposition. They're not threatening organizations who support Obama. They're not desperately trying to hide connections to, say, Stormfront or the Aryan Brotherhood. They have two checked bags and a carry-on each, not seven U-Hauls full of baggage they're trying to keep hidden behind the warehouse until the election's over. Not to mention, there's this. We're taught from childhood that cheating is wrong, that lying is wrong, that misrepresenting ourselves for personal gain, especially at another's expense, is wrong. We're taught by the law of the playground that such actions will inevitably result in ruin. So what happens if the candidate who ignores these rules wins? What happens if he doesn't suffer the consequences of his actions? What if the Lamb of Chicago, our Chosen Messiah, gets elected and then falls off his pedestal? It's enough to make me retreat to the basement and eat beans out of a can for the next four years, except a) I don't have a basement and b) I'd get bored and want to help, regardless. For all the talk of "digital brownshirts" and "suppression of dissent" that leftists threw around regarding the Bush administration, they seem remarkably short-sighted when it actually happens on their own side. The people desperate for an enemy to rebel against have become the oppressors they claim they despise. Except -- and this is the biggest thing -- their opponents aren't enemies of the state. They're bad people. Reframe it in personal terms, and it's that much harder to fight against. It's easy to keep your convictions in the face of a snarling, spitting crowd. It's harder to do when the crowd is insulting and condescending and just wants to help you see the light.

Man, this started off as a post about how I wasn't going to post. I guess I got on a roll. Hey, a kitty! And another kitty! And a, uh, ... I think that's a kinkajou?