Friday, December 25, 2009

Three Cardinals and a Robin

A few minutes ago, for an instant, three cardinals and a robin were sunning themselves together on a tree at the back of my house. There are several other less colorful birds on the tree with them. I had just enough time to zoom in for the picture before two of the cardinals moved.

The same tree branches that stretch out from a tree near my house in the picture of the blizzard in my previous blog are visible in the foreground of this picture. Two cardinals and a robin are framed within the fork at the end of the tree branch that is in the foreground. That will give an idea of the distance from which I was taking this picture. The high resolution image from my camera is much better than what can be uploaded.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The view from our rear window during this Oklahoma Blizzard

Will, Monica & Jose are stranded in Los Angeles. Their flight was cancelled due to the blizzard conditions in Oklahoma.

At the moment, the snow is falling horizontally due to 45-55 mph winds. The snow is landing on top of about 1/2 inch of ice from the freezing rain that fell this morning. Snow accumulation at my house is already 4-6 inches with another 4 inches expected.

Big Government Cheaper than Private Industry

After all the claims that private industry could perform at less expense than government, here's the lead paragraph from a story in today's Washington Post:
The Defense Department estimates it will save an average of $44,000 a year for every contractor it replaces with full-time federal personnel to perform critical defense jobs, according to the House-Senate conference report on the fiscal 2010 defense appropriation bill.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Podcast: God's Enlightening Word

Podcast (27Mb Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 12-20-2009 "Religious Talk" radio program. Dr. Prescott talks about "God's Enlightening Word" and reads excerpts from Russell King's "It's Time to Put Christ back in Christmas."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Democrats as Bad as Republicans

A public option for health insurance makes a lot of sense to me.

Lowering the age for medicare eligibility to 55 years or younger makes a lot of sense to me.

Preserving the system we have now makes no sense to me.

I don't know who to trust about proposals for healthcare reform that lack either a public option or a medicare buy-in.

I do know that if the following information from Democracy for America is true, then the healthcare reform that the administration is now pushing appears questionable.

Here's what DFA is saying:
Senate leaders are all over Washington claiming they finally have a healthcare reform bill they can pass, as long as they remove the public option. After all, they say that even without a public option, the bill still "covers" 30 million more Americans.

What they are actually talking about is something called the "individual mandate." That's a section of the law that requires every single American buy health insurance or break the law and face penalties and fines. So, the bill doesn't actually "cover" 30 million more Americans - instead it makes them criminals if they don't buy insurance from the same companies that got us into this mess.
Democrats are as bad as Republicans in regard to obscuring the effects of legislation. It's getting harder and harder to tell who is on the side of truth and transparency.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to put Christ back in Christmas

Russell King has posted an outstanding diary entry at Steet Prophets entitled "It's time to put Christ back into Christmas."

The entry needs to be read in its entirety. To give you a hint of the perspective from which King writes, here's a footnote from his blog:
*When we insist that others join in our customs, use the words we like to use and participate in our celebration, we are violating the life and lessons of Jesus and ripping Christ from the heart of Christmas. When we force non-Christians to utter the name of Christ when they do not believe in Him, we are making mockery of the Christ in Christmas. When we take offense when others celebrate the season in ways that are meaningful to them, and are different from our ways -- especially when we pretend that respecting others' celebrations constitutes a "war on Christmas" -- we are ignoring the spirit of Christ. When we insist that our government join in our religious celebration, we are acting exactly like those who opposed Christ. When we insist that the tax dollars of non-Christians be used to celebrate our Christian holiday, we are ignoring Christ's teaching (Matthew 22:21) and tearing Him out of Christmas. When we put more emphasis on the word "Christ" than on the message of Christ, we are making a mockery of Christmas and the one whose birth we celebrate (we don't do salvation by syllables). When we make a fuss over "Xmas," we show that we don't know much about our own religion's history: In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Xmas has been used for Christmas, by Christians, for centuries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Perils of Ignoring the 14th Amendment

The citizens of Ashville, North Carolina recently elected an atheist, Cecil Bothwell, to serve on their city council. North Carolina's state constitution prohibits anyone "who shall deny the being of Almighty God" from holding public office. The state's GOP and the Religious Right have filed suit to remove Bothwell from office.

Among those opposed to Bothwell's holding office is Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who says that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution does not apply in North Carolina or any other state. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Fischer, North Carolina's GOP, and the Religious Right have long been reviving "states rights" arguments that legitimated the losing causes of the civil war era. This time instead of slavery, they are trying to legitimate the establishment of religion and the persecution of persons of minority faith and no faith.

If the 14th amendment did not apply all the rights contained in the Bill of Rights to the citizens of every state and if the North Carolina GOP, the Religious Right, and Fischer's contentions were true, what else would that mean?

It would mean that freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and the free exercise of religion are no longer rights but mere benefits granted and withdrawn at the shifting whims of the electorate in every state. It would mean that no one can be sure that they will be free from unreasonable searches and seizures or free from cruel and unusual punishment. It would mean that we have no guarantee of legal counsel or of a speedy trial or of a public trial before a jury of our peers. In effect, it would make the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights a hollow and meaningless document.

It wouldn't surprise me if Fischer and the Religious Right would gladly trade these birthrights for a bowl or two of Chrstian Nationalist porridge.

It would surprise me if they would be happy to learn that they were no longer guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms -- and that would also be in jeopardy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Climate Change and Pascal's Wager

Michael Westmoreland-Wright at the Levellers blog has written one of the best opinion pieces that I have seen in regard to global warming. Entitled "Pascal's Wager and the Global Warming Debate," Westmoreland-Wright astutely examines the possible effects of climate change by the logic of Pascal's wager about the existence of God. Here's his conclusion:
So, it seems to me that the smart wager would be that global warming is real, really caused by greenhouse gasses, and can and should be prevented or minimized through massive efforts cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop green energy alternatives. The potential gains to be made even if this is wrong and the potential costs if it is right and we do nothing (or not enough) seem clear to me.

I am also puzzled as to why conservatives (self-declared) are so opposed to efforts to stop global warming. After all, to be conservative is, by definition, to be cautious. So, if something is potentially disastrous, but not all the evidence is in, the cautious, conservative thing to do is to stop the potentially bad behavior causing it while investigating further. If I am speeding in a car toward what looks like a cliff or wall, but could be only a mirage, the conservative thing would be to slow down or stop while investigating further–not to step on the gas pedal in a potentially suicidal manner. But the latter is what so-called conservatives are doing regarding global warming. It's just not rational. It's reckless -- as conservatives always claim liberals to be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Being a Ruralpolitan

The Wall Street Journal has posted a story entitled "Green Acres is the Place to Be" that chronicles an exodus from cities back to "the country."

The article describes people moving from the sprawl and congestion of cities to rural areas as "ruralpolitans."

After living eleven years in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, then eleven years in the Houston megasprawl, I've spent the last eleven years as a "ruralpolitan" on the outskirts of Norman in the Oklahoma City area.

WSJ is right about green acres being the place to be. Concrete jungles and manicured lawns can't compete with life near the lake, acres of trees, soaring eagles, wild turkeys, fawns and deer.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On the Advent of the Holiday Sales Police

While most free and faithful Christians are trying to celebrate this season of Advent, Liberty Counsel has posted a list of "Naughty" and "Nice" retailers. The list differentiates retailers according to how they greet customers over the holiday season and whether their advertising is focused on Christian customers.

The greetings and advertisements of American retailers have nothing to do with Christ, Christmas or the Advent season.

If they truly want to share in the Spirit of the season, the people at Liberty Counsel need to spend more time reading their Bibles and less time shopping and thumbing through advertisements.

U.S. and Israel at Odds over Iran

David Ignatius has posted an Op-Ed at the Washington Post describing the depressing results of a simulation game at Harvard about the looming confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

It appears that Iran holds most of the chips in this game. Here's Ignatius' summary of the exercise:
My scorecard had Team Iran as the winner and Team America as the loser. The U.S. team -- unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war -- concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.
Ignatius' essay did not discuss the reaction of American Christian Zionists to the scenario proposed.

You can be sure that they will demonstrate more loyalty to Israeli interests than to American interests. They are on a countdown to Armageddon.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Martin Marty on Disponsibilité

Martin Marty's 2004 Commencement Address at Eastern Mennonite University provides on of the best summaries that I've seen of the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel's idea of disponsibilité:
A Marcel scholar (Seymour Cain) says that it is easiest to define disponibilité by looking at its opposites: "unavailability," "a holding-back, self-adherence, closed-in-ness," Kierkegaard's Indesluttedhed (in Danish), or "shut-in-ness." The "disposable" person opens freely and gives herself unreservedly in a mutuality of presence, "the indisposable person is self-preoccupied, encumbered, self-enclosed, incapable of giving himself, of opening up, of giving out. If he listens to me, he gives me only his ear, the outward attitude, but he refuses me himself, for he cannot 'make room' for anyone else in himself."

Being available is thus not only a habit of expression but a deep focus on personal philosophy. It is not only a matter of psychology or bodily posture, but of the spiritual life. Marcel sometimes used a kind of economic metaphor, "opening a line of credit" for someone else. "I put myself at the disposal of, or again I make a fundamental engagement which bears not only on what I have, but on what I am." You give credit to another, and you are giving a gift to yourself. Marcel: "To be unavailable is to be in some manner, not only occupied, but encumbered by the self."

A theological or ethical dimension appears: Marcel speaks of "self-presence:" "the portion of creation which is in me, the gift which from all eternity has been given me of participating in the universal drama, of working, for example, to humanize the Earth, or on the contrary to make it more uninhabitable." And "from the very beginning there must be a sense of stewardship: something has been entrusted to us," and we are responsible to the Giver of the trust, the "Other," God. What is the whole drama of God visiting the world in Israel and the prophets and, finally, in the divine Son, in the life and death and resurrection of a Jesus who "condescends" and is a "com-presence," a shaper of community, available to us and through us, in prayer and work.
In three brief paragraphs Marty has provided a very good introduction to a key idea in the thought of a very neglected and overlooked philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. For those interested in learning more, here's a link to the best book from which to understand Marcel's thought, Creative Fidelity.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Stonehenge Reloaded

Wally Wallington of Flint, Michigan demonstrates the technology -- without the use of machinery -- that he thinks the ancients used to erect Stonehenge.

You have to see it to believe it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

What About Medicare-for-All?

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has offered an amendment to the healthcare reform bill that would make medicare available to everybody.

Medicare is one of the most popular government programs in existence.

I think it is a worthy alternative to the private insurance-if-you-can-get-it program that we have now.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dr. Coburn's Alarming Prognosis

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. tells Americans that they are going to "die sooner" if healthcare reform passes.

Somebody who is uninsurable and terminally ill needs to sue him for malpractice.