Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I will probably be geeking out about this for at least another week. So, if you know me personally or have the misfortune of being related to me, I apologize in advance for the radiant smile and the constant murmuring of "I can't believe it."
So, to Monda who had to wade through an unknown number of submissions to narrow it down to the 9 selections I say simply: Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, tell me your favorite liquor and where to send it, thank you, gracias, danke, thank you.....
To my fellow award winners, congratulations. You all ROCK!!!!
Friday, September 25, 2009
But, now, I have new follower. Someone named Mel. I thought I'd take a moment to thank you for your patronage. Welcome to Preachers and Horse Thieves, Mel. I will now proceed to hug you and squeeze you and call you George. Yes, I watched Bugs Bunny religiously every Saturday morning as a child. I do a fantastic Marvin the Martian impression if you'd like to hear it sometime.
(Step away from the soapbox. It’ll be okay. You’ll always have the book. I promise.)
One thing I have discovered in my forays across the line in the sand is that I am really fascinated with the social insight of science fiction. I am also amazed by the fact that literary critics and English professors seem to be only recently catching on to this. I mean really. Good writing is like any other art form that stands the test of time. Art imitates life; and, sometimes, life imitates art. Can someone please explain to me why the works of Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein are any less relevant as social commentary than the works of Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson? I challenge you to pick up any science fiction novel, take a look at the copyright date and then read the book. Odds are good that understanding the times in which it was written will reveal a wealth of social context and commentary in the book. For instance, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War makes a lot more sense when you understand that it was written in the middle of the sexual revolution and the Vietnam War. Ditto for Heinlein’s Starship Troopers written in the era of McCarthyism, the Korean War, etc.
One of my favorite sci-fi TV shows was a little, short lived thing called Firefly. I believe it ran as a summer replacement series on Fox a few years ago. I enjoyed the show immensely, and was very disappointed that it didn't get a longer run. Fortunately, they were able to do a feature length movie called Serenity to wrap up some of the loose ends. In one of the episodes, there is a little exchange between characters about why they were going through middlemen to sell stolen goods instead of selling the items themselves to maximize profit. One of the characters replied with a line something along the lines of: "One third of the universe is middlemen, and they don't take too kindly to being cut out of the middle."
When you start thinking about it, one third of the population really is a middleman. You buy your cars from a dealership instead of direct from the manufacturer. You buy your houses through an agent instead of directly from the seller or builder. You get your groceries from a store instead of direct from the farmer. You get insured through an agent or a broker (although some companies have started direct writing programs).
What started me thinking about this was a discussion I had with a mediator not too long ago. For those that aren’t familiar with the tragic comedy that is the litigation world, a mediator is a (supposedly) impartial third party (Hey, look! A middleman.) who aids opposing parties in a lawsuit in resolving their case. The Texas Legislature calls it “Alternative Dispute Resolution”. Mediators are usually former attorneys who got sick and tired of the rat race that is personal injury litigation and decided to become intermediaries for others still stuck in the rat race.
Anyway, back to our story. I have spent the last 18 years working in the insurance industry the last 14 of which I’ve spent as a claims adjuster handling complex, high exposure and litigated injury claims. So, I go to mediation at least a couple of times a month. Sometimes I go a couple of times a week. On this particular occasion, I was at a mediation trying to settle a case as a favor to a co-worker when this mediator was asking me why people in the claims business (and me in particular), needed mediators (and her in particular) in the first place.
First, I found it interesting that a middleman would ask one of their customers why they needed a middleman. To me, that’s sort of like a grocery store manager asking their customers why they don’t milk their own cows or brew their own beer. After some thought and setting aside my natural tendency to issue snarky replies, I answered that I thought it was because we have developed a culture of distrust. Nobody seems to be able to trust anyone anymore. Given all the scandals reported in the news, it’s not surprising. This minister is going to be “called home to Jesus unless you send me all your money.” That politician got caught with $90,000 in cold hard cash in their freezer. Some Nigerian wants to send me millions of dollars and all he needs is the routing numbers for my bank account and a small earnest fee to show my good faith. In small bills, of course.
Take buying a house for instance. My great grandfather bought a house in Austin, TX back in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s with nothing more formal than a handshake. A sweaty palmed handshake I’m sure, but a handshake none the less. I’m not even sure they checked to see if the fingers of his other hand were crossed. Compare that with the inch and a half worth of paperwork involved when I refinanced my house a year ago. The Queen and I had to sign a piece of paper affirming that our signatures confirmed that we were the people our identification verification forms said we were not to mention the form that we had to sign swearing under oath that we were not members of a terrorist organization or that the home would be used for nefarious purposes. Apparently, you can lie about your income and the fact you actually do have a job that earns enough income to pay for this tremendously expensive asset that you cannot afford, but they are going to make certain that you’ve certified on pain of death that you are who your driver’s license says you are. Next time I buy a house, I may just sign all the documents “P.T. Barnum” to see if anyone notices.
Seriously, though, does anyone else see the absurdity of what we’ve come to as a society? We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t even trust ourselves anymore much less our friends, family and neighbors. So, what do we do? We go get middlemen. We abdicate our own common sense, experience and personal responsibility to someone else do in the hope that they will do what’s right for us. For a nominal fee. In small bills, of course.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I wish I could explain this away as a garden variety mental unhinging, but I haven’t gone on a shooting rampage yet. Not that I would right now anyway. There’s the whole “Thou shall not murder” thing in the way, and people generally frown on having semi-random gunfire aimed in their general direction. Not to mention the fact that I’d have to clean the guns first after my last outing to the range (which has been a while). I have procrastination issues in addition to my many other character flaws. Besides, I’m running low on ammo and there’s not really anyone or anything that I think just really needs to be shot right now. That is, unless you count corrupt politicians and televangelists. They’ve always got it coming.
I think the source of my detour from coherent mental processing and the ability to put two sentences together is the realization that my life is boring, I no longer enjoy what I do for a living (mainly because of corporate seagulls adding plenty of fertilizer to my already overgrown workload) and I am generally not in a position to do anything about it in the immediate future. It didn’t help that I got in touch with a high school classmate via Facebook who owns his own engineering company making racecar parts and races cars on the weekends. Yes, I’m jealous.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame anyone else for the current state of affairs. Well, actually, I could be like everyone else and blame my parents. They’re easy targets. Sadly, though, I mostly did it to myself. My dad’s dad, before he died, would occasionally ask me “what I wanted to do as my life’s work” to which my reply was usually something like “Huh?”. It was supposedly Confucius who said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Somewhere along the way, I started working and never took the time to find a job that I loved.
Now that I’m closing in on middle age, I’m trying to rectify that defect in my existence; however, I’m finding it difficult due to my upbringing (see I told you it was my parents’ fault) which gave me the mistaken impression that I was capable of doing anything. Actually, it’s not an entirely mistaken impression. I really am capable of doing just about anything I want to. The secret, however, is to figure out how to do what I want and get paid enough for my efforts to support the Queen in the manner to which she should be accustomed and support my various less profitable interests. I’m mean, shooting guns is fun and all; but, it just doesn’t pay enough to support my Netflix bill much less a wife and a mortgage unless you’re a professional hit man. That “Thou shall not murder” thing gets in the way of me of taking up that particular vocation. Morals really interfere with earning a conspicuously luxurious living sometimes.
To achieve my occupational renovation, obviously, I need a plan. This may be more of a challenge for me than others as I was not exactly a poster child for career planning when I was in school and not much has changed since I graduated. Fortunately, I have discovered several things that I do NOT want to do which I consider to be a good start. For instance, despite the fact that several people have told me that I’d be really good at it and that it would be a natural progression from what I am doing currently, I have absolutely no desire to become a lawyer. I have had my fill of the legal profession and the American judicial system thank you very much, and I’d be very pleased to walk away from it with my soul intact. Everyone thinks being a lawyer is prestigious, honorable, and respectable. The truth is closer to making sausage. It can be messy, disgusting, undignified and you really don’t want to know what goes on. I have thought about going back to school to study aerospace engineering given my love of airplanes, but the math really scares the stuffing out of me. I barely made it through calculus with a C. Then again, that may have been due, at least in part, to my lack of academic diligence at the time. I may come back to that one.
Or I may just work at being a starving writer/artist/pilot/potter/chef/etc. until I hit it big and become sufficiently wealthy such that I don’t care about being taxed into oblivion anymore. Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
One of the problems, I think, is that people are no longer taught how to separate fact from fiction. We seem to have lost our ability to critically think and assess the validity of information. I mean, if you can find it on the internet, it must be true. At least until you find the next website with completely opposite information. I think Mark Twain said it best: "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
Facts are really irrelevant in debate, though. The side that is able to control of the rhetoric controls the terms of the debate. For example, the end of George W. Bush's presidency saw a rip roaring, howling debate over immigration reform. I personally think it was nothing more than a mid term ploy by the Democrats to get minority groups angered at Republicans in the run up to the 2008 presidential elections in which the American public somehow managed to elect a post turtle with a teleprompter. For those of you who have not heard the term, a post turtle is a turtle that is found sitting on top of a post. You know full well it didn't get up on top of the post by itself, you know it has no clue what to do while it's up there or how to get down, and you have to question the sanity of the person that put it there in the first place.
Speaking of President Obama, I found it profoundly amusing that he dignified Congressman Wilson's "You lied" outburst during Obama's address to Congress on Wednesday by saying "That's not true." I guess he told him. Did we suddenly have a mass regression to first grade that I missed? The only thing that would have made it funnier is if it had degenerated into "did not/did so", "my dad can beat up your dad", "I'm gonna tell my mommie." Now boys, play nice or go play somewhere else.
Anyway, back to our main story. The immigration reform debate got hijacked by rhetoric pretty quickly. If you were in favor of building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, or against amnesty for illegal aliens already here, or for enforcing existing laws and rounding up and deporting illegals; the rhetoric painted you as "anti-immigrant" and against the very melting pot that made America great. If, however, you were in favor of letting millions of people who entered the country illegally have a "path to citizenship" (a.k.a blanket amnesty), the rhetoric painted you as Ceasar Augustus watching Rome burn as the Visigoths raped, pillaged and plundered our great nation. What? You've got to be kidding me. Instead of focusing on real issues, we're going to demonize our opponents and their positions?!?!?
Preachers are getting into the act now, too. I recently started seeing billboards pop up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area with a couple of variations on the theme: "Would Jesus Discriminate? Why Should We?". Well, the short answer is: No, He wouldn't and neither should we. The problem I have with this billboard campaign is the blatant misrepresentation of scripture to support an agenda.
If you go to the website advertised on the billboards (http://www.whywouldwe.org/), you will find that this ad campaign is supported by a group of churches primarily catering to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual community. They cite Matthew 8:5-13 to claim that Jesus "affirmed a gay couple". They also cite Acts 8:26-40 to claim that "the early church welcomed a gay man." As you probably have guessed, this group's position is that we Christians shouldn't discriminate against those of the GLBT persuasion because Jesus and the early church didn't either. So now, if I don't accept homosexuality, I am somehow discriminating against GLBTs and being hypocritical of my Christian faith at the same time?
I don't think so. Let's look at some ugly facts for a moment. The folks at whywouldwe.org would have you believe that Matthew 8 is the story of a Roman Centurion (an officer in charge of 100 men) who comes to Jesus to have his gay lover healed of an affliction. The term in question in this section of the scripture is the word translated in English as "servant" from the Greek word "pais". Whywouldwe.org claims that this word can mean "his master's male lover." According to my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and it's Greek Dictionary, pais means "a boy (as often beaten with impunity), or a girl, and a child; specifically a slave or servant (especially a minister to a king...).
Similarly, whywouldwe.org says that the eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 was actually a homosexual. They claim that homosexuality was widely associated with eunuchs in the ancient world. Here again, Strong's tells another story. The Greek word translated in English as "eunuch" is "eunouchos". The definition is "a castrated person (such being employed in Oriental bed-chambers); by extension an impotent or unmarried man, by implication a chamberlain (state officer).
Now, I am gracious enough to concede that understanding cultural and historical context is as important to understanding the Bible as anything else. However, just because a Roman officer might have used a male servant as a sex toy or that a eunuch might have been gay does not mean that those verses cited by whywouldwe.org automatically mean what they say it means. Further, you can't take one verse out of context and ignore what the rest of the Bible says. There is plenty of other scripture that condemns homosexuality as sin (just as it does for adultery, murder, and several other things).
The rhetoric whywouldwe.org is using would have you believe that condemning the sin is the same as condemning the person, but that is not the example that Christ set for us. Look at John 8 and the story of how He handled the adulterous woman who was brought before Him for stoning. He didn't tell her that it was okay to be an adulterer. He told her: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." He had compassion on her and forgave her the punishment prescribed by the Law, but He did so with the strict admonishment for her to cease her sinful ways.
To borrow from Congressman Wilson, you lied whywouldwe.org. Would Jesus discriminate against a GLBT person? Absolutely not. Would He accept them into the church after repentance and baptism? Absolutely. Would He condone homosexuality? Absolutely not. He would love the person but hate the sin. We as Christians (literally followers of Christ) should do the same.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
But, no matter how hot it was or how tired you were, there was always one thing that would make you come running. It was a sound that you could hear blocks away, and you'd go crazy trying to figure out which way it was coming and how many stops it would make before it got to your street. You'd also have to play "beat the clock" with your mom or dad if you had already spent your allowance to get a buck or two before it passed your house; and your parents, being the sick and twisted creatures that they were, would hold out until the last possible second when it was directly in front of your house headed for the neighbor's place. You'd run out the front door waving whatever cash you had scrounged, begged, borrowed or liberated from whatever source was handy hoping that the ice cream truck driver saw you before he made the turn and dropped out of sight up the next street.
The ice cream truck doesn't bring me running anymore as I much prefer a pint of Ben & Jerry's to offerings of your garden variety mobile ice cream vendor who in all probability was a child molester cruising for his next victim, but there is still one sound that brings me running outside like that pre-teen kid I used to be looking for another sugar fix. I heard it again yesterday while I was trying to multi task between real work, Netflix, cooking lunch and taking care of the Queen. I can't help myself. It's downright freakishly Pavlovian.
The sound that gets me every time is the sound of an airplane flying over head. But not just any airplane mind you. It has to be the sound of a big, fat radial engine to get me to come running out into the Texas heat like a 6' 4" radar dish turning every which way to find the source of the noise. I'm not talking about a little 7 or 9 cylinder radial that pulls some of the old biplanes around either. Don't get me wrong. Those are nice, too; but, if you want to see me slobbering like Snoopy waiting on a Scooby snack, it has to be one of the monster Pratt & Whitney radials that they used to hang off the front end of planes back in World War II.
Yesterday was a feast for the eyes and ears alike. As I mentioned, I was knee deep in several crucial tasks all at once when I heard the unmistakable sounds of big, beefy radials growling fairly low above my house. I tried to use a little will power, be a responsible adult and not go running outside with my tongue hanging out yelling "Airpane!!! Boss! De plane, de plane." I'm sure the neighbors find it amusing. The queen just rolls her eyes and sighs. But, I digress.
I ran out the office door into the backyard and looked towards the sound at which point I was briefly rewarded with having my retinas seared because the sound happened to be where the sun was in the sky at that point. Once I remembered to squint and raise a hand, I had the pleasure of seeing not one but four WWII vintage warbirds flying formation headed for points unknown. At least two of those glorious birds were North American AT-6's. One of the birds might have been a P-51 or a P-39 (neither of which has a radial engine, but both still make a lovely noise). I didn't get a good enough look before I lost sight of them behind the trees to say for sure. The last of the four was a smallish, twin engine that I had never seen before, but it didn't matter one bit because of the sounds made by those beautiful, throaty radial engines.
I am not entirely sure fortune smiled on me when the queen and I chose to live nearby to a modestly sized airport. One of these days, I know what's going to happen. I'll be in the middle of a conference call when one or more of those birds decides to make a pass over the house. It'll be interesting to see if the 12 year old boy hiding inside my older, wiser self wins the fight.
Before I get too much further on this subject, allow me to fully disclose my personal feelings as a man on makeup:
1) Men should never wear makeup. End of story.
2) Ladies, be considerate to your man. Strawberry flavored lipstick isn't. Foundation and blush tastes like clay pancakes with a 30 grit sandpaper syrup. The truth is that makeup tastes nasty, and there is no way for a man to avoid it when there is some serious kissin' to be done.
Now, back to our story. I've read the Bible cover to cover, and I even took the time to actually study what the Book has to say on the subject of make up. It doesn't take long as there are not very many verses even remotely related to the subject. The first thing you will find is that there is not one single verse in the entire Bible saying, "Thou shalt not wear makeup."