Sunday, August 31, 2008

Margaret Lathrop and Thoughts About Music

In a novel I'm working on which has a working title of "A Conscientious Life," one of the characters is a nature writer who waxes philosophically about life and purpose. Margaret Lathrop is modeled after Wisconsin writer Margaret Jarek. In her latest column, she writes about "The Art of Living Can Be Very Simple" connecting biology with philosophy:

There have been too many examples of people who have done great things and lived worthwhile lives who came from the most challenging circumstance. The opposite is also true. Plenty of folks have had great opportunities given to them who fell far below expectations.
It seems to me the folks who have learned the art of living are the ones who, like the plants in my driveway, are not fussy. They thrive because they embrace the challenge and are ready to make the most of even the most insignificant opportunity.
In short, they're born optimists. They aren't' complainers. They waste no energy pining for what they do not have. They're too busy just being glad for what little they do have. Above all, self-pity is completely alien to their thoughts.



I plan to publish my book soon and Margaret is one of my favorite characters. She gives my main character much motivation in life. Stay tuned for more on my upcoming book.

My other main passion besides having a family and writing is playing guitar. Here is one of the songs I have great respect for. Richard Shindell did it on his latest studio CD but it was written by the great Jeffrey Foucault.


NORTHBOUND 35 . . . Jeffrey Foucault


(C)Northbound 3(G)5Through the (Am)iron hillsUnder (Fmaj7)infidel skiesIt's (C)two hundred miles to (G)driveYou won't be (Am)home (Fmaj7)
(C)I saw an elsebound (G)trainOn the (Am)overpass In the (Fmaj7)driving rainEvery (C)ticket costs the (G)sameFor where you can't (Am)go (Fmaj7)(C)
CHORUS: (G)Mustang (Fmaj7)horses, (C)champagne (G)glasses(Am)Anything (Fmaj7)frail anything (C)wild (G) It’s the price of living (Fmaj7)motionWhat's (C)beautiful is (G)brokenAnd (Am)grace is just the (Fmaj7)measure of a (C)fall (G)(Am)(Fmaj7)
(C)So I rolled into your (G)townI passed the (Am)smokestacks And the (Fmaj7)ore docks down off of (C)MainAnd the sky spun a(G)roundWith her diamonds on (Am)fire (Fmaj7)
We (C)fought all night and then we (G)dancedIn your (Am)kitchenYou were as (Fmaj7)much in my handsAs (C)water or darkness or (G)nothingCan ever be (Am)held (Fmaj7)
CHORUS
(C)It's just flashes that we (G)ownLittle (Am)snapshots Made from (Fmaj7)breath and from boneAnd (C)out on the darkling plain a(G)loneThey light up the (Am)sky (Fmaj7)
(C)It's 51 and driving (G)southAin't it (Am)funny How (Fmaj7)things'll turn outI (C)never even kissed you on the (G)mouthWhen we said good(Am)bye (Fmaj7)
CHORUS




As Dan Rather would say, "That's a part of my world tonight----goodnight."



OBAMA RALLY MONDAY






labor day rally


going to the obama rally on labor day
going to show my opinion and listen in every way
hope will show its face for sure
for democracy's illness there is a cure

it will not be trickle down, but hope from the foundation
at the rally a unique combination of folks--a great association
love burgeoning without limit
placing our flag at the ideological summit

the dignity of work and the america's promise
to fulfill destiny of every man and woman on this planet
with dr king energy we will sail
hope will prevail hope will prevail hope will prevail

i am my brother and sisters keeper
to love's core i go deeper and deeper
i will follow barack's dream
because we are on history's right team


We will be attending an Obama on Monday and my wife and young son will be passionately at my side. I look forward to seeing the seeds of change being planted first hand. :)






When picking up my tickets for the event at the local Democratic Party Headquarters this afternoon, I also volunteered for some phone calling around the town I live in. I will have to study up on the issues. Step one is to watch Obama's Denver speech and pick up some new ideas. Step two is to study Obama's issues section of his website to be absolutely ready for anti-Obama counterpoints that callers bring up. I will probably also get some coaching from the Democratic Party HQ on how to best go about making the phone calls in the most effective and efficient way possible. . So far their leadership seems pretty good. Time will tell, but Democrats have better ideas but have some trouble getting organized.

Jaifa

Survival Acres


If you want to get depressed and enlightened at the same time, read an interesting blog called Survival Acres at http://survivalacres.com/wordpress/?cat=8

It is obvious the writer does not hold out much hope for America. That is the difficult part of reading it. Survival Acres with a little hope mixed in would be a much better blog. Bring on your negativity----I can handle it.


Here’s a worthy read from Truthout, one you might consider an endorsement for President.


Americans must be as insane as McCain. Or they’re just too stupid to care anymore, I don’t know which it is. I pretty much despise all politics and once again, WILL NOT VOTE, because I’m withholding my consent. But that isn’t going to change the (s)Election outcome in November one iota. Not even if 10 or 30 million of us withhold our consent. Nothing will, they’ll just crank up the old Diebold again and spew out the results they want. Business as usual.
But good grief, this guy is a walking, talking fool. IT IS GEORGE W. BUSH ALL OVER AGAIN. I doubt very much this country can handle this again, we’re teetering so badly now that another colossal failure in the White House will be just the right nudge to destroy us. And that is exactly what I suspect will happen if this idiot achieves the presidential seat by any means.
We’ll have to see if they’ll steal the election for a third time, anything is possible now. Expect HUGE voter complaints and discrepancies again, why fix what obviously works? But I’m not calling the (s)Election yet, I don’t know.
But once again — it doesn’t matter. Nobody is listening, certainly not Congress, nor the American people. We will get more of the same, only worse. That flushing, sucking sound you hear when you listen carefully is the vortex of an Empire imploding. Next, you will hear the titanic crack of nuclear weapons going off as the Empire denigrates its reputation even worse over some undeserving region.
Wow. Some strong statements. There are also some very tough to watch videos of political protests in Devner involving Ron Kovic and Cindy Sheehan. Some graphic violence.
Here is another post:

The prospect of global wars driven by climate change is not something often discussed publicly by our political leaders.
But according to one of America’s top military analysts, governments in the US and UK are already being briefed by their own military strategists about how to prepare for a world of mass famine, floods of refugees and even nuclear conflicts over resources.
Analyst Warn Of Looming Global Climate Wars
But maybe they should. The data is readily out there, available for anyone to read and pay attention to. A definite, “I told you so” moment.
Refugees, floods, starvation, crop failures, nuclear missiles, melting ice, it’s all there.
“And it’s not just the analysts. I spent the past year doing a very high-speed self-education job on climate change but I think I probably talked to most of the senior people in the field in a dozen countries,” Dr Dyer said.
“They’re scared, they’re really frightened. Things are moving far faster than their models predicted.
“You may have the Arctic ocean free of ice entirely in five years’ time, in the late summer. Nobody thought that would happen until about the 2040s - even a couple of years ago.”
It’s dead-clear that we already well on our way to this “runaway” scenario everyone is terrified of. Here’s some more proof:
Arctic Sea Ice Drops to 2nd Lowest Recorded Level

Don’t believe the pundits that claim we’re recovering ice, what little there is, is very thin and rapidly disappears for this reason. September is when we receive the final results of this year’s “melt”. But I can already tell you what the results will be…. (Admin wets finger in mouth and raises it into the air ….) We’re toast!
Don’t forget — we are only now measuring decades past of human industrial activity. What do you suppose this is going to mean when our recent explosion of global greed and gluttony and planet raping activity catches up to us? Doesn’t take an analyst to figure that one out, but for whatever it’s worth, “analyst” is what I used to be.
All we’re doing now is sounding the alarm bells — about 20 to 30 years too late.
Or how about this?

I’m going to publish some harsh words that speak to the truth of some things that have been weighing on my mind for some time now.
We all live in a world of diminishing resources. Just five short years ago, the planet was a different place, one that offered more possibilities, more potential and more future then it does today. Every passing year, hell, every passing second, we are diminishing our collective futures, especially for the young and the unborn. We’re robbing the future, essentially, by our wonton ways and excessive greed. Our culture is saturated at every level with this type of behaviour, which is widely accepted and applauded as being the most desirable way to live. We reward this lifestyle as the very highest level of personal accomplishment.
I think this subject of global diminishment (resource depletion) and human expansion is grossly misunderstood. Its significance is such that it creates a cognative dissonance in our minds, because it forces us to focus on the very root of our combined cultures and our physical existence as a species.
Resource depletion is the logical results of constantly expanding human populations. A lot of finger pointing attempts to blame the Third World, but such activity is in my mind, wasted. The real problem isn’t the Third World and never was. Without the support and intervention of First World nations, the Third World populations would stabilize to their environmental limitations or quite simply, starve, effectively accomplishing the same thing.
The real resource consumers on this planet are First World nations. Using by far the lions share of global resources, they have enabled their own populations to achieve a very high standard of living, and with their support, have enabled the developing nations to strive for the same thing. This democratic approach to global resource depletion needs to be recognized for what it is. But the fault isn’t in the Third World nations desiring what we have. The fault is in the First World nations taking what really isn’t theirs.
Global capitalism has made this all possible. Capitalism is often thought of as good, necessary and productive. Its aberrant behaviour however, and capricious discrimination is most often overlooked. Capitalism basically espouses that anything is possible or available, for a price. Everything, in a capitalistic world, is a commodity, even humans. It doesn’t matter if you’re robbing the resource inheritence of existing nations, or the future generations, if you can make a profit on it now, do it by any means possible. Entire national governements have been developed to enable this activity. Our entire global economy is based upon this rather flawed concept.
The abundance of production produced by First World nations has caught more then the eye and fancy of the developing world, which is fast trying to play catch-up in living standards, capitalistic enterprises and resource consumption. You could say that they are following the First World nations economic model and be pretty accurate.
This enables continued expansion of human populations throughout the world, which of course, creates even more resource depletion and destruction. This blog has documented the collapse of global resources throughout the world, asglobal population growth continues, constantly excaberating the world resource situation. The outcome of all this unchecked procreation and human consumption should be obvious by now to everyone.
There is something wrong with calling natural assets “resources” by the way. Hidden in the use of that word is humans alone have a right to use the resource for their good pleasure at the expense of everything else. The intrinsic value as it is found in the natural world is simply not appreciated by most humans, nor its essential contribution to the existing environment and biological diversity. Putting a price tag on everything from clean air to healthy soils so they can be bought and sold like a commodity is considered progress. Deciding what lives and at what quality, and what dies or is destroyed is called capitalism. The human propensity to place monetary value upon intrinsic resources and even human existence is the engine which drives the global gluttony and greed.
The issue of resources and resource consumption is a human population issue, but it’s not so cut and dried as that. It’s really a issue of First World nations populations. Developing countries with exploding populations cannot feed themselves without the assistance of First World nations. These nations by helping developing countries, are making the problem of population and resources worse.
Unless global populations are brought under control, and First world nations are held to the same standards as every other nation on earth, the imbalance of resource depletion, living standards and consumption will continue. Yet, I don’t actually believe in this socialistic form of human government and control because it too is flawed. It presumes too much, such as equality, justice and fairness. These are not traits which humans exhibit in great abundance, despite all the rhetoric that claims otherwise. In point of fact, the vast majority of humans exhibit all the qualities that have created the global situation we are in today, greed, gluttony, irresponsibility, injustice, hatred, violence and jealosy.
Try as we might, we cannot seem to shake off the seven deadly sins that plague us. I suspect that this is really a component of this insane culture we live in. I don’t believe that humans are inherently bad, despite all the commentary I’ve made to their behaviour, I think it is an issue that human systems are inherently bad because they are so out of synchronization with the “real” world. Our systems are fatally flawed and prevent us from exhibiting the greatest human “good”. Instead, we’re all forced to practice competiveness for everything, relationships, resources, ownership and control.
Our world is an artificial fabrication of social structures and institutions, all wrapped up in glass, steel, plastic and rubber. Early human civilizations had the same deadly sins as we did, but they were prohibited by their environment from making a global problem of them. Not so with us, our so-called inept “mastery” of the mistakenly identified “our” environment has allowed us to make far greater and lasting mistakes then they did. But that environmental limitation, or rather their lack of knowledge, didn’t last long as humans pushed the boundaries of technological progress further and further.
What we’re really talking about here is our ability to change our environment. This knowledge was only grasped in rudimentary forms by earlier civilizations, or better said, symbiotic relationship. But that was abandoned in favor of a violent type of relationship - ownership. Sailing ships, for example, gave way to steam powered ships, which gave way to diesel and even nuclear powered ships. Suddenly, the world became a much smaller place. No longer being “local”, our ability to create widespread destruction and global gluttony was exponentially increased, leading to the results we have today of our so-called “mastery” of the planet.
We’ve done this now in every field of human endeavor, transportation, communications, medicine, technology and even government. Everything has fallen under the heel of “control” and “manipulation” and “ownership” for our so-called benefit, which ultimately reduces us all.
But human nature didn’t change along with human knowledge. It did not adapt or mature to govern itself as our ability to grasp technological concepts grew exponentially. Instead, human nature remained static, despite our best efforts at creating a “better world”. The world we have now manufactured, is still inhabited by the same sins as before.
We’re now able to make war anywhere on earth, in a matter of minutes. We can communicate with almost anyone nearly instantaneously. And if you need to be “there”, anywhere on the planet, you can arrive in a matter of hours. It’s just a matter of throwing enough technology and enough money at it and it’s “ours” for the having.
Yet, nobody is asking, is this a good thing? Is this really the best humans can do? The side-effects of our attempts at global control may well wipe us out as a species. And getting to this level of mastery has already wiped out tens of thousands of other species. And we’ve yet to “arrive” at that dubious place where we can really declare ourselves gods of this universe. But the quest continues, and so does the planetary destruction. That is the price we’ve had to pay, but in reality, it never was “we” that was paying the price directly. That was and is the price every other species has had to pay and continues to pay for our experiment in global control, but who in hell gave us that right? And as long as this continues, which it will, we will ultimately have have to pay the ultimate price - human extinction.
Is it worth it? I think not. I think we’ve gotten off the right track a long, long time ago. We’ve enabled technological development, but human development has stagnated terribly. We continue our practices of injustice, gluttony and greed and wrap it in flags of democracy and patriotism. We create new enemies as fast as we can play new sound bytes in between inane commercials for useless junk, exhibiting our own ancient prejudices and jealousy.
The world has changed, because we caused it to change, but we haven’t changed one bit. If anything, we’re stupider, dumber and less learned then those who existed before us. We’re more callous, arrogant, indifferent and out of touch with each other then ever before. We’re better “informed”, but strangely, indifferent. We understand almost nothing about the real world that exists outside of our cubicles and our office chairs. Beyond the city limits is the great unknown, that dirty, cold and brutal world we are desperately trying to enslave and master for our own exlusive use. We’re surrounded by shiny toys and distracting baubles to keep us from really thinking, but we’re really only being diminished as being truly human.
We’re entirely dependend now upon this vast social and technological infrastructure we have created, which makes us terribly vulnerable now as a species. We’re in a very dangerous place, but the warnings are being repeatedly ignored.
It is the lack of understanding the interconnectedness of all life forms on earth to the existing component of human populations that will ultimately, destroy our species. If other forms of life cannot live here because of our excessive ways, our arrogance and our indifference, then neither can we. Once we have irradiated the soils, polluted the atmosphere and the water, destroyed all forms of plant and animal life, all in the fools quest to “have it all”, then we will find ourselves without the sustenance and energy sources which have kept us all alive for milleneum.
But long before then, long before that comes even close to happening on a global scale, in fact, right about now, we’ll start experiencing the effects of our supposed “mastery” of the world and all the human and social ills this has caused. In our striving for ‘advancement’, we’re now taking two steps back for every step forward as we continue to fail to see the futility of our efforts and destructive ways.
We indeed are living in a diminishing world and I doubt very much that anything can really change that at this point. The wherewithal to stop, slow down and change direction simply isn’t there. Certainly not in my lifetime or in the lifetime of your children’s children. We’re going to have to ride this one out to the finish, which is highly uncertain and even doubtful.
The present global inheritance and all that it contains, which if we’re honest isn’t just “ours”, is flawed, perhaps fatally in many ways, by our own hand. The need to critically examine our methods and institutions, our cherished beliefs and economic models, our lack of compassion, understanding and empathy, our dependency and the interconnectedness of all life on earth, is more important now then ever before.
It is our continued and persistent failure to understand and accept these conditions and limitations that will doom us and everything humankind has tried to do. I cannot accept that, not ethically, not morally and not responsibly. But I fear, with a growing dread, that I am utterly powerless to do anything at all about it. My audience is tiny, nearly voiceless and without any power whatsoever. The only thing I can change is myself and I struggle with even that.
This demonstrates, to me anyway, just how difficult and impossible a task it is, to truly change the course of human nature and human events. I see no evidence anywhere else either that anyone else is having any demonstratable success. Therefore, the diminishing world we live in will continue, unabated, despite our “best efforts”, because all of these efforts, now fall woefully short of the radical changes that are truly needed.
We’re past the point of self-control and the ability to steer off into a new direction. This is at best, disheartening and hard for me to accept. I don’t want to be forced to accept a diminishing world and I don’t think you should either. But what we can actually and truly do about it now, at this stage, is beyond me. I simply do not know. I don’t know if anybody does.
I have some advice for Mr. Survival Acres. Watch some inspirational movies like "It's a Wonderful Life"; take some walks in large gardens, hug the people you love, think about people who have helped you in your life, then forget about your root cellar plans for awhile and write some thing more meaningful in your blog. Thanks to the man from Steve Kilbey's circle for the URL. Pessimists have their value, but it seems like this guy has gone a little over the edge. I sure hope the world is not as bad as you say it is. I still believe in a place called HOPE.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin a Scary Choice for VP



Who is Sarah Palin? Here's some basic background:



1) She was elected Alaska's governor a little over a year and a half ago. Her previous office was mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. She has no foreign policy experience.



2) Palin is strongly anti-choice, opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.



3) She supported right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000.



4) Palin thinks creationism should be taught in public schools. (very very scary, and reveals a lot about her intellectual level)



5) She's doesn't think humans are the cause of climate change. (ditto)



6) She's solidly in line with John McCain's "Big Oil first" energy policy. She's pushed hard for more oil drilling and says renewables won't be ready for years. She also sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species—she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska.




How closely did John McCain vet this choice? He met Sarah Palin once at a meeting. They spoke a second time, last Sunday, when he called her about being vice-president. Then he offered her the position. Wow.

Palin is a scary airhead. She strikes me as arrogant, ignorant and solipsistic. McCain picked her solely for her looks??? Very scary indeed.





Obama Rocks Convention




Seeing Barack's message of unity at the Democratic National Convention in Denver was a powerful call to the American people to believe again---to believe that we can be the best country the world has ever known. He is encouraging us to have faith in ourselves and our fellow citizens. Even though there are significant risks to his security, I believe a Barack Obama presidency has gains that clearly outweigh the risks. Barack is one of the best public speakers I have ever seen and it is imperative that enough Americans see this humble man for who he is, a bright shining light of hope.

Here is Barack's big speech in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it.

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/content/acceptancespeechnd?source=feature_nom


I wonder what McCain will throw at him next. This should be an interesting few months ahead. Every soundbite makes a bigger difference from now on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drinking Age Should Remain at 21

A Statement Regarding the Amethyst Initiative


Ripon College has officially endorsed the Amethyst Initiative (AI), a potentially controversial initiative borne out of conversations within the Annapolis Group, a cadre of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges, of which Ripon College is a member. The degree to which this initiative stirs controversy is wholly dependent upon whether the public understands its intent and why it is being supported by nearly 130 institutions nationwide. I would like to take a moment to a) clarify the tenets of the document Ripon College has signed, and b) explain its importance.
The National Minimum Age Drinking Act was passed by Congress in 1984, which basically forced states to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 through the threat of reduced federal highway fund appropriations. Suffice it to say that many young adults below the legal drinking age do not view this law to be a significant hurdle in the procurement and consumption of alcohol. In fact, the law as written may have helped create an illicit culture of so-called “binge” drinking that pervades the college experience from coast to coast. The Amethyst Initiative represents a commitment by college presidents to do three basic things:
Support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.
Consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.
Invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.
It is important to note that none of these objectives specifies lowering the drinking age or any other particular solution to the issue. I and other AI signatories do not question the validity of good research, nor do we deny that the 21 drinking age law has had some positive effects over time. We are simply saying that if “conditions on the ground” are any indication, the law as it stands does little to mitigate the effects of irresponsible drinking on college campuses. Therefore in the interest of our students’ health, safety and well-being, we believe that investigating alternative policies is a worthwhile endeavor. As educators, we have a responsibility to challenge the status quo even when doing so may be unpopular or controversial.
We feel that a three-year (or more) disparity between the driving, voting, marriage, military-service age, and the drinking age is disingenuous at best. A young man or woman can get married, pay just about every kind of tax, vote for their leaders and fight (and die) for our country for three full years before he/she can legally drink under any circumstances. It sends a mixed message: Society believes you are mature enough to make virtually any life-changing decision, but not mature enough to drink responsibly. It is a mixed message that does not give our young people the credit they deserve.
I believe that the current generation of college students is one of the most academically serious and civically engaged I have served. They have plans and résumés. They contribute meaningfully to their communities through service. They are largely color-blind when it comes to race and culture. They value teamwork and fairness. The phenomenon of social networking has created a sort of real-time accountability in ways that my generation has not fully understood, as much of their lives are chronicled online for perpetuity. We need to listen to them, respond with clarity and consistency, and then hold them accountable for their actions.
My point is simply this: For as many college students in this country who drink irresponsibly, there is a vast and growing majority whose actions and attitudes demonstrate that they are capable of making smart life decisions - even about alcohol.
College leaders will continue to combat underage drinking on our campus. I do not claim to know the best solution to this national problem, but I do know that the current policy simply isn’t working well. Senior leadership at Ripon College is united in its belief that a tenable solution to this very serious problem is possible through a vigorous public debate – one which we are happy to lead. Indeed, to oppose such a debate would be antithetic to one of Ripon’s most cherished core values, the promotion of “honesty, fairness, candor, respect, responsibility, trust, inclusiveness, and openness.”




Here is what I think. I would first look for studies that compare drunk driving deaths in states which had a 21 drinking age and then switched to 18. Is there a significant difference in the number of deaths? If there is, then one can say that it does make a difference and it does save lives.

A good friend of mine from Wisconsin tells me how, in his estimation the subtly infectious culture of alcohol had a role in taking his boyhood innocence away. The vaunted bottle of beer is worshiped on the TV screen, at college town bars, at graduation parties, anniversaries and American weddings. There is something intuitive in me that sounds a silent alarm in my mind, "Something is wrong here." Like me my friend from college(let's call him Glen) will often reflect on what path my life and career would have taken if I had made different decisions in college. I too was drawn into this culture of drinking. The drinking age was 18 when I went to Ripon College. I feel that my life was negatively affected by this kind of culture in some subtle way.

I have a friend named Tim who almost died from alcohol. Tim clings to his Christian faith and says God saved his life. I tell Tim that he should take more credit for pulling himself out of the meaningless muck of alcohol abuse. Tim's story is one of true courage and I will always respect him for that. What will lowering the drinking age do to future Tim's or Glen's who whose innocence is confronted by a chemical force beyond their control? Alcohol is overrated. It like what writer John Updike called the "vaunted orgasm." It provides a buzz and a false sense of confidence and security for awhile, but it doesn't last and you wake up with a headache and sometimes a guilty conscience in the morning. Glen says he wants to send a letter to Dr. Joyce to tell him about some of the lives he sees that were corrupted or ruined by the permissive alcohol culture at Ripon. I urged Glen not to get too graphic and to stay the course with logical arguments. I hope Dr. Joyce gets to read Glen's letter and perhaps there is a chance that common sense will prevail, that reinforcing such a culture is turning a blind eye to the right way to live.

As I closed my phone conversation with Glen tonight, I agreed with him that we as citizens must strive to make the right decisions in life because we don't have much time to get it right. We both agreed that in our late 40's, we are still working hard to get it right. The learning doesn't stop and it may be time to give some heartfelt advice to young and impressionable Ripon College freshmen.

(to be continued)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Review in Progress-"God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens




The following is a review of the Christopher Hitchens book “God is not Great.” The setting for the writing of the review is beautiful Door County. The weather turned out to be in the 70’s and 80’s all week. Each morning I would rise and write a little bit while listening to my Mp3 player and drinking caramel flavored coffee. The first morning I rose at about 7am, stepped out onto the porch and spotted a doe. She was feeding on a plant near the path at the foot of the large deck. A pristine morning was made better by glancing at this miracle of nature and symbol of peace. I stared at her and she at me for at least three or four minutes. After a while she capriciously sauntered on into the woods. I felt that the deer was a symbol for my careful but natural movement through life, being cautious not to hurt any living thing. As I write this review, I hope I am going to be as careful and sensitive as possible to different points of view. As my sister said at age 6, "Everybody is different. I know it and you should know it too." Well said Sarah. I will never forget your pearls of wisdom. :)

Well, on to the subject at hand. The book I have chosen to read while on vacation at Door County is “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Author Christopher Hitchens seems to revel on controversy and argument. Like a good lawyer he is constantly he is building a better argument for his case.
At the book’s beginning, he talks about a teacher he had when he was nine years old who made a poignant impression on him. At that impressionable age, he was imbued with a sense of the sacredness of nature thanks to someone named Mrs. Jean Watts. Hitchens eloquently talks about his disturbing “ah-hah” experience when he realizes Mrs. Watts is teaching about the details of nature but is simultaneously delivering a message of magical thinking---that God created the mountains, the streams the lakes and all of the wonderful creatures. She asks Hitchens about such things as the infinite color variation of the wild flowers and asks how there could not be a God making all of this just for us. Hitchens says he was tempted by ignorance and didn’t take the bait. “If Satan chose her to tempt me into error he was much more inventive than the subtle serpent in the Garden of Eden. She never raised her voice or offered violence---which couldn’t be said for all of my teachers. “ Wow.

In somewhat a related fashion, Hitchens takes some pride in unveiling the late Mother Theresa’s humanness. He has written a book about Theresa, who had a private side that was much more flawed and less confident than her public persona. As he saw this poignant cognitive dissonance in his earlier teacher he noticed imperfections after studying the late religious figure. He exposes how Mother Theresa struggled with her faith until her last days. Hitchens with his rapid-fire, William F. Buckley type intellectualism is able to put things in perspective, accepting the vast imperfections even of one who is thought to be God like by some many millions of followers worldwide. This experience of psychologically ingesting Mrs. Watts’ ideas on faith led to an epiphany of sorts---confirming to his young strong intellect that he would see many more apparent contradictions that he (and only he) would be able to sort out. Having a strong intellect also carries with it the strong responsibility. With his great propensity towards and aptitude towards logic and learning I believe he knew had the power to sway opinion at an early age.
At this tender age of nine he would continue to critique the Bible. “Why did I have to continue to say in public that I was a miserable sinner?” At 13, he would read Sigmund Freud’s “Future of an Illusion,” which would give him another totally new intellectual paradigm for assimilating postulates of human good and evil. The Id made more logical sense than some outdated black magic being imposed by non-logical thinkers.

Here are Hitchens’ objections to faith in a nutshell:

1. It wholly misrepresents the origins of man and of the cosmos.
2. It combines the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.
3. It is the result and cause of dangerous sexual repression.
4. It is grounded on wish-thinking.

These are hard to argue with.


Hitchens says atheism is less a doctrine and more of a distrust of anything that contradicts science or enrages reason. Wow. The atheist intellectual continues with his insights:

“We are not immune to the love of wonder and mystery and awe; we have music and art and literature, and find serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and Elliot than in mythical morality tales of the holy books.”

As I was reading the book I started thinking about Carl Rogers’ term called congruence. It seems to me that the religious crowd may have more problems overcoming contradictions in expression and being honest and direct. Inherent in the scientific method(as Sam Harris aptly puts it) is honest reflection of hypotheses and must have the ability to humbly admit right and wrong. Such humility is scarcely seen in religious circles where minds are already made up. All the answers are known. I saw some of this in Promisekeepers and it made me feel uncomfortable. There is a certain non-intellectual drama inherent in religious ritual it seems that is empty of any objectively meaningful content.

Mighty religious scholars like Aquinas and Augustine "may have written about many evil things and many foolish things, and may have been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the globe in the solar system, let alone the universe."

So what Hitchens seems to be saying(in his William F. Buckley manner) is that we have been fast asleep like a little children at Christmastime, imbued with magical thinking. As Daniel Dennett aptly puts it, we must courageously break the spell.(Have you seen Dennett's brilliant interview with Bill Moyers. Please google it on Youtube!)

Mr. Hitchens says that people who proclaim answers from belief and tradition alone and not on reason and personal experience should not have the audacity to pretend to know all, arrogantly standing over all non-believers. He says I quote, "Such stupidity, combined with such pride, should be enough on its own to exclude belief from the debate. The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. (As Daniel Dennett says, "Playing the faith card is a disqualifying move.")

Hitchens adds that such a farwell should not be protracted. Let's say our goodbyes with a courteous smile and get on with more interesting people. Life is too short to debate with unreasoning individuals.

I cannot help but to think that I may be misrepresenting myself as a "seeker" to my Christian friends, (who by the way are patient with my apparent potential for growth as they see it.)

When Christopher's father died, he read perhaps the most awe inspiring passage from the Bible at this funeral:

"Finally brethen, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things."

Richard Dawkins has proclaimed that religion holds many things we hold near and dear hostage. By this he means it's all knowing presence at weddings, funerals, baptisms, Easter, Christmas, etc. Religion is infused with all of these events with a pious intensity, like they own them and the human feelings and compassion that go with those happenings. The events have a religious context and no other, which leads to a sort of cognitive narrowing. It is simply the one-dimensional paradigm that we are all the most familiar with. To abandon religious tyranny of this kind too quickly, I fear, would be too traumatic of a change on people who are firmly rooted in tradition. How about a marriage without God in it? How about instead of "Amazing Grace" we sing "Amazing Energy of a Higher Power That Has Yet to be Scientifically Proven?" It wouldn't fly. We cling to tradition like a security blanket like to Mommy and Daddy when we were four years of age.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that even though Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett are well meaning and make very convincing points, their paradigms require a deep intellectual committment not just taking in information on faith.

My Christian friend Craig seems says he is afraid of the bottom dropping out if we learned that God isn't real. It could be mass kaos in the streets. The foundation would drop out and there would be no reason to be good. This life would be a meaningless contest devoid of any reason to do good---hence the only answer is to follow as many selfish desires as is possible during our finitely but sometimes infinitely troubled lives. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer believed the same after he converted to Christianity. (I'm in no way comparing my friend Craig with Dahmer, but trying to point out a faulty piece of thinking.) In an interview with Stone Phillips, he said that evil would flourish without this structure and goodness provided by Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind.

This may be most subtly evil idea in the world, that people would be incapable of morality if the paradigm shifts(or as Daniel Dennett calls it 'the Cosmic Shift') The reality is that we live in a world which is changing quickly and if we fail to adapt---we will not survive. This is perhaps Sam Harris's greatest trepidation as well, that he has professed on many occasions. What responsiblity do athiests have once they reasoned believers half way out so they cannot find themselves back in? They are left in the void to search for a messiah they will never be able to reach??



As I read on, I noticing a confrontational mode that Hitchen's ego seems to thrive on---a politically confident tone that could border on unnecessary arrogance. My brother Will saw CH speak in Madison and said he lost respect for him when he got entangled in an argument with anti-war protesters. Will said he felt sorry for the audience because they got shortchanged out of what they came to see, a debate on religion. One of my reasons for reading the book is the investigate this apparent arrogance and to see how it may get in the way of the truth Hitchens wants us to know. How much of his ego is just plain getting in the way??

Hitchens is empathetic to author Salmon Rushdie when he asks why such a "lonely and peaceful individual" would be hunted down by extremist groups. He blames the fanatical mindset for this. True genius is attacked by those who do not understand. That is too bad. There is a quote by Martin Sheen that my mother loved and I believe applies directly to me an my life and Rushie's life,


I do it because I can't seem to live with myself if I do not. I don't know any other way to be. It isn't something you can explain; it is just something that you do; it is something that you are.



I believe that we need to gain the courage to live our own lives as bravely as possible, not afraid of giving our true loving selves to others.

It is up to those with free thinking propensities to shed light on black and white thinking, for example the different between the all or nothing mindsets of pro lifers versus the pro choice thinkers who are able to see the subtle grays. BIG DIFFERENCE!! The black and white thinking of religion says "You believe or else you will experience hell fires for eternity." That is a fairly arrogant claim, don't you think??

Hitchens also offers his thoughts on 9-11. He talks about the rediculous claims of Robertson and Falwell that infer that the terrorist attacks were the result of our moral weaknesses of permitting too much homosexuality and abortion---ant that as then AG John Ashcroft said that America had "no king but Jesus." That is scary. George Bush consults religious leaders before making decisions that could alter the future of the free world. Faith thinking is not the same as thinking based on reason.

CH's book is full of shocking facts about how supposedly learned men are still hanging on to superstition because it gives them more spiritual comfort than science. Timothy Dwight president of Yale University(one of the most respected adults in the country) was opposed forto the smallpox vaccination because he regarded it as an interference with God's design. What about a former first lady who believes in astrology??

Hitchens hits hard again....

"In the city of Jerusalem, there is a special word in the mental hospital for those who represent a special danger to themselves and others. These deluded patients are often sufferers from the "Jerusalem Syndrome." Police and security officers are trained to recognize them through their mania. Their mania is sometimes concealed behind a mask of deceptively beautific calm. They have came to the holy city in order to convince themselves as Messiah and to proclaim the end of days."

Religion is not rational.

"The holy book is the largest continuous use, the Talmud, commands the observant one to thank his maker every day that he is not woman." Hitchens goes on to say, "Throughout all religious texts there is a primitive fear that half the human race is simultaneously defiled and unclean, and yet is a a temptation to sin that is impossible to resist."

Why does religion carry with it the fatalistic belief in armagedeon? In this age of nuclear weapons why resign oneself to destruction just because the Bible says it's so? There will fire on the planet, then Jesus will come? Don't bet on it. I think we are responsible for our own survival. Hitchens talks about the death wish which "may be secretly present in all of us." He continues...."When the earthquake hits, or the tsunami inundates or the twin towers ignite, you can see and hear the secret satisfaction of the faithful. Gleefully they strike up, " You see---this is what happens when you don't listen to us. With an unctious smile they offer redemption that is not theirs to bestow and when questioned, put on the menacing scowl that says, 'Oh, so you reject our offer of paradise? Well, in that case, we have quite another fate in store for you.' Such love, such care."

Obama-Biden Speech in Springfield, Illinois

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Vice President Announcement

Springfield, IL August 23, 2008


Nineteen months ago, on a cold February day right here on the steps of the Old State Capitol, I stood before you to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.
We started this journey with a simple belief: that the American people were better than their government in Washington - a government that has fallen prey to special interests and policies that have left working people behind. As I've travelled to towns and cities, farms and factories, front porches and fairgrounds in almost all fifty states - that belief has been strengthened. Because at this defining moment in our history - with our nation at war, and our economy in recession - we know that the American people cannot afford four more years of the same failed policies and the same old politics in Washington. We know that the time for change has come.
For months, I've searched for a leader to finish this journey alongside me, and to join in me in making Washington work for the American people. I searched for a leader who understands the rising costs confronting working people, and who will always put their dreams first. A leader who sees clearly the challenges facing America in a changing world, with our security and standing set back by eight years of a failed foreign policy. A leader who shares my vision of an open government that calls all citizens - Democrats, Republicans and Independents - to a common purpose. Above all, I searched for a leader who is ready to step in and be President.
Today, I have come back to Springfield to tell you that I've found that leader - a man with a distinguished record and a fundamental decency - Joe Biden.
Joe Biden is that rare mix - for decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn't changed him. He's an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class. He has stared down dictators and spoken out for America's cops and firefighters. He is uniquely suited to be my partner as we work to put our country back on track.
Now I could stand here and recite a list of Senator Biden's achievements, because he is one of the finest public servants of our time. But first I want to talk to you about the character of the man standing next to me.
Joe Biden's many triumphs have only come after great trial.
He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His family didn't have much money. Joe Sr. worked different jobs, from cleaning boilers to selling cars, sometimes moving in with the in-laws or working weekends to make ends meet. But he raised his family with a strong commitment to work and to family; to the Catholic faith and to the belief that in America, you can make it if you try. Those are the core values that Joe Biden has carried with him to this day. And even though Joe Sr. is not with us, I know that he is proud of Joe today.
It might be hard to believe when you hear him talk now, but as a child he had a terrible stutter. They called him “Bu-bu-Biden.” But he picked himself up, worked harder than the other guy, and got elected to the Senate - a young man with a family and a seemingly limitless future.
Then tragedy struck. Joe's wife Neilia and their little girl Naomi were killed in a car accident, and their two boys were badly hurt. When Joe was sworn in as a Senator, there was no ceremony in the Capitol - instead, he was standing by his sons in the hospital room where they were recovering. He was 30 years old.
Tragedy tests us - it tests our fortitude and it tests our faith. Here's how Joe Biden responded. He never moved to Washington. Instead, night after night, week after week, year after year, he returned home to Wilmington on a lonely Amtrak train when his Senate business was done. He raised his boys - first as a single dad, then alongside his wonderful wife Jill, who works as a teacher. He had a beautiful daughter. Now his children are grown and Joe is blessed with 5grandchildren. He instilled in them such a sense of public service that his son, Beau, who is now Delaware's Attorney General, is getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And he still takes that train back to Wilmington every night. Out of the heartbreak of that unspeakable accident, he did more than become a Senator - he raised a family. That is the measure of the man standing next to me. That is the character of Joe Biden.
Years later, Senator Biden would face another brush with death when he had a brain aneurysm. On the way to the hospital, they didn't think he was going to make it. They gave him slim odds to recover. But he did. He beat it. And he came back stronger than before.
Maybe it's this resilience - this insistence on overcoming adversity - that accounts for Joe Biden's work in the Senate. Time and again, he has made a difference for the people across this country who work long hours and face long odds. This working class kid from Scranton and Wilmington has always been a friend to the underdog, and all who seek a safer and more prosperous America to live their dreams and raise their families.
Fifteen years ago, too many American communities were plagued by violence and insecurity. So Joe Biden brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass the 1994 Crime Bill, putting 100,000 cops on the streets, and starting an eight year drop in crime across the country.
For far too long, millions of women suffered abuse in the shadows. So Joe Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act, so every woman would have a place to turn for support. The rate of domestic violence went down dramatically, and countless women got a second chance at life.
Year after year, he has been at the forefront of the fight for judges who respect the fundamental rights and liberties of the American people; college tuition that is affordable for all; equal pay for women and a rising minimum wage for all; and family leave policies that value work and family. Those are the priorities of a man whose work reflects his life and his values.
That same strength of character is at the core of his rise to become one of America's leading voices on national security.
He looked Slobodan Milosevic in the eye and called him a war criminal, and then helped shape policies that would end the killing in the Balkans and bring him to justice. He passed laws to lock down chemical weapons, and led the push to bring Europe's newest democracies into NATO. Over the last eight years, he has been a powerful critic of the catastrophic Bush-McCain foreign policy, and a voice for a new direction that takes the fight to the terrorists and ends the war in Iraq responsibly. He recently went to Georgia, where he met quietly with the President and came back with a call for aid and a tough message for Russia.
Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be - a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.
Joe won't just make a good Vice President - he will make a great one. After decades of steady work across the aisle, I know he'll be able to help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people. And instead of secret task energy task forces stacked with Big Oil and a Vice President that twists the facts and shuts the American people out, I know that Joe Biden will give us some real straight talk.
I have seen this man work. I have sat with him as he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and been by his side on the campaign trail. And I can tell you that Joe Biden gets it. He's that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol; in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis.
That's because he is still that scrappy kid from Scranton who beat the odds; the dedicated family man and committed Catholic who knows every conductor on that Amtrak train to Wilmington. That's the kind of fighter who I want by my side in the months and years to come.
That's what it's going to take to win the fight for good jobs that let people live their dreams, a tax code that rewards work instead of wealth, and health care that is affordable and accessible for every American family. That's what it's going to take to forge a new energy policy that frees us from our dependence on foreign oil and $4 gasoline at the pump, while creating new jobs and new industry. That's what it's going to take to put an end to a failed foreign policy that's based on bluster and bad judgment, so that we renew America's security and standing in the world.
We know what we're going to get from the other side. Four more years of the same out-of-touch policies that created an economic disaster at home, and a disastrous foreign policy abroad. Four more years of the same divisive politics that is all about tearing people down instead of lifting this country up.
We can't afford more of the same. I am running for President because that's a future that I don't accept for my daughters and I don't accept it for your children. It's time for the change that the American people need.
Now, with Joe Biden at my side, I am confident that we can take this country in a new direction; that we are ready to overcome the adversity of the last eight years; that we won't just win this election in November, we'll restore that fair shot at your dreams that is at the core of who Joe Biden and I are as people, and what America is as a nation. So let me introduce you to the next Vice President of the United States of America...

[enter Joe Biden with his million dollar smile]

Friday, August 22, 2008

Interview with a Promisekeeper 8-9-2008 in Peoria

video

This is another excerpt of my documentary about Promisekeepers from Peoria. I learned alot about people and faith at the conference. A lot of the men seemed to be saying they are losing control of their households, and need to dedicate themselves to live more ethical lives through faith. None of the men I talked to, however, had a very good answer to the possibility that the Bible may be partially or wholly fiction.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

GOD DEBATE WILL FORCE PEOPLE TO THINK RATIONALLY?



On my vacation in Door County, the chosen reading material is "God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens. Hopefully my wife will not be too disappointed in me that I am choosing athiest reading material. I would like to ask her more about her feelings of Christianity and my doubting ways---to see what impact it has on our marriage, but she may not want to go that deep. Maybe my brother and sister will have opinions of Hitchens. I think they both have said Hitchens is arrogant, but my impression is that he is an extremely deep thinker, with good logical arguments for the various cases he lays out.

Here is an article I found through my news search on my blog:


GOD DEBATE COMING

The existence of God and the role of religion in modern society take center stage as two well-known authors and religious commentators go head to head on the topic, "God on Trial." The debate is being sponsored by Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit Christian think tank based in Birmingham, Ala.
The "God on Trial" debate takes place on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008 at Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis. The debate pits Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, against Dinesh D'Souza, the author of What's So Great About Christianity, a book discussing the significance and uniqueness of the Christian faith. More information can be found at http://www.godontrialdebate.com.
Hitchens is a British-American author, journalist, and literary critic. In addition to his various books, he has been a columnist for several prominent publications, including Vanity Fair and The Nation. D'Souza is a New York Times bestselling author and a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House and several high-level fellowships at the American Enterprise Institute and the Robert and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
"This kind of debate and dialogue is very important -- and useful -- for people of all faiths," says Larry Taunton, Founder and Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation. "The decisions we make regarding the question of God's existence or non-existence has vast implications both for the individual and for society as a whole, so we do everything we can to encourage thoughtful consideration of these issues."
Fixed Point Foundation held its first debate of this kind last year in Birmingham, Ala. Titled "The God Delusion Debate," the event featured Dr. John Lennox and Professor Richard Dawkins.









Here is a very interesting review from Amazon on "God is Not Great:"

In the genre of athiest criticism of religion, Hitchens' book fills a niche. Where, for example, Bertrand Russel approaches religion with a philosophical mind, and Richard Dawkins approaches religion with a scientific mind, Hitchens approaches religion with a literary mind. This makes for some fresh and caustic athiest insights that you might not expect to find in either Russell or Dawkins. Hitchens, for example, begins his book by offering three quotes from classic pieces of literature, and within the first few pages he also alludes to George Eliot's "Middlemarch" without even mentioning Eliot's name (presuming his readers will know who wrote "Middlemarch"). In other words, Hitchens is a man of letters writing to educated, thoughtful people with more than a smattering of English literature classes in their background. In this sense, Hitchens, unlike Russell or Dawkins, leads his readers not just to think their way through the book's issues, but to feel them emotionally, in the way that one might feel one's way through a novel by Dostoevsky. Hitchens is always on the side of suffering individuals, and resists at every turn religion's dogmatism and "one size fits all" obtuseness. And in this sense Hitchens has hit upon an angle to come at religion that is not usually trodden: popular religion, unlike great literature, resists the tragic, the ambiguous, and the particular. Thus if you love literature, and identify with frail humanity via literature, you will resist the easy platitudes of religion. It is not just science and religion that are in tension for Hitchens, but literature and religion, or more accurately, the literary sensibility and religion.






Here is another review from Kabir Davis:

I have to say, the author gets it right both with his message and his research. I read excerpts of this book online at first, and even from that I knew that this wasn't just someone 'ranting and raving' against the 'establishment' but rather one who took the time out to educate himself, and then pass this education on to reasonably intelligent people. Heres the thing - nothing polarizes people as much as religion. I mean, EVERYONE has something to say about it, and EVERYONE gets defensive about it. Why do people get defensive? Its because no religion has proof of anything - just a bunch of abstract ideas and stories thrown together in random/organized fashion. No wonder we have so much chaos in the world today. I don't think the books tells us to blame any one religion. As I see it, the author is pretty clear when he says that ALL religion is to be doubted and questioned. He actually saves us the trouble because from the facts he presents, its quite evident that what we thought all along about organized religion is indeed the truth - it sucks. Not only that, there is money involved in the higher reaches of it, which is why you have jokes like The Pope and the Catholic Church still in existence with as much power as they have. We all know for example, that "The Bible" we have in its current form is the highly edited, rewritten version that the Church wants us to see. Now many of you reading this don't even want to believe that, because THAT is the effect your religion has upon you. It automatically blinds you to outside questioning, and makes you queasily defensive. An excellent read. I think that religions like Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, have seriously overstayed their welcome. Anything with a 'founder' should be doubted and questioned. As a product of parents of two religions, and being spiritually inclined myself, I have to say, the MESSAGE of all religions are pretty basic, but then again, if they're so basic, do you have to belong to that religion to practice these messages? Hitchens is not just an intelligent man, he is a very open person, and this comes across in spades. Instead of harsh and cruel name-calling, he only opens your eyes to the downside of your religion, and shows us that the reason you need to hold onto your religion is FEAR. Nothing else. If you weren't afraid you wouldn't need it. An excellent addition to the genre, and definitely the highlight of the year in the publishing field. Get this today, and WAKE UP!

Or how about this from perhaps a more intelligent reader?



At last somebody in the current wave of welcome atheist literature hits the right tone for me, much more so than Dawkins and Harris. He is aggressive against theism, but less so against deism: 'you can believe in a divine mover if you choose, but it makes no difference'. Dawkins is too fanatic about proving that this kind of god does not exist. Harris is too much caught in his small American world; small in the intellectual sense. (Not that he got much wrong.) We like to read things that confirm what we think anyway. (Alas, so do the believers.) I don't think I have learned all that much from Hitchens, but he says what he says so much more amusingly and with so much less dogmatism than others. He imports a sense of cosmopolitanism into the sometimes parochial anti-belief scene. Also, he does not seem to forget one essential aspect: the main enemy of reason and humanity is not religion as such, but anti-reason in whatever shape, i.e. atheist convictions are perfectly able to combine with murderous superstitions as well. We had some of those cases in history. The atheist is not as such a better person. Of course, the main thrust of the book is not about belief vs atheism, but about the various religions and their books and histories. Generally a sad history. Hitchens handles the big stumbling block of atheism gone genocidal very well in his chapter on an 'objection anticipated'. I also particularly appreciated the chapter on 'Eastern' religions, dealing specifically with the charlatanery of some gurus, and with the shameful involvement of some Buddhist schools in the Japanese militarism, comparable to the Vatican's shameful involvement with fascism. Of course the way that Hitchens attacks selected people, books, times, makes his book vulnerable to claims that he attacks strawmen, since people can easily disassociate from single elements and state that Hitchens had missed the point. That is an eternal element in this kind of discussion and seems ineradicable. But is Hitchens possibly boasting a little bit when he claims that he figured out the main falsities of faith already before puberty? I can't honestly say that I did. There was a vague sense of inconsistencies between the concepts of benevolence and allmightiness and the need to worship and the idea of permanent surveillance. But I definitely did not have this strong sense of revulsion against servility that I have now and that apparently came early to Hitchens. Respect.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fascinating New Artists

I've just posted some new music on the blog by some new artists I just discovered through Youtube. Youtube is a whole new world for sure! Amy Laber, Jude Roberts and Maggie Seligman are captured on film playing at a place called The Town Crier Cafe.

Jude Roberts is particularly striking. One reviewer said his lyrics were like Bernie Taupin imagery. Great stuff. I am going to have to find a way to get to the Town Crier Cafe someday. :) I have also posted David Wilcox Words and Music. To my friend in West Virginia, Michael J. ---- please watch this. You will be impressed.

As far as my own guitar playing (strumming my modest chords,) listening to the experts like these is infinitely motivating!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Door County


With a little sadness we will be missing my mother this year at our family reunion at Door County. Mom is still battling her diverticulitis and nausea and we wish her the best. Dad will have to stay home and take care of Mom. They are looking to go to the Mayo Clinic to find out some more answers. My brother Will and my sister Sarah will be there and they are both emailing today saying how we should make it a positive vacation, especially for the grandchildren. Thanks for your positive spirit Will and Sarah.

We will be doing a lot of hiking, sailing, playing baseball, going to plays, concerts, fish boils, etc. The grandchildren are apparently getting more interested in baseball.

My earliest memories of Door County are at The Bay Shore Inn. It is there I had some of my most pleasurable childhood memories. I will never forget winning 10 dollars at BINGO at the lodge when I was nine years old, or my first childhood crush the same summer. There was the fish boil, sailing with Duke and picnics. I will return with my family to Door County 40 years later and my enthusiasm for the place has not diminished :)



BTW....It's good to see the Brewers doing so well. Tonight it is San Diego. Go Brewers!!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Jesus Apparently Alive and Well in Peoria, Illinois


It certainly was an "interesting" experience. 10-15 thousand men all in one auditorium screaming their lungs out for Jesus Christ. This past weekend, I attended a Promisekeepers conference at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois. The experience helped me focus in more strongly on my own spirituality and politics. I respect what Promisekeepers is trying to do, but it also seems like a little bit of an exclusionary club, which does not recognize several character traits that are key to being fully human. One of those traits is tolerance. The group does not appear to be as tolerant as they could be of different races, cultures, and lifestyles. They also appear to not be too open to the democratic party, as a recent survey showed that about 90 percent of the membership are Republicans. There were some offhand remarks and jokes that were disparaging of both gays and Democrats.


Secondly, the entire conference, entitled MANHOOD 2008, focused on the many battles that men are fighting including at home, at the workplace and in society in general. Many of the videos had aggressive themes. One of the videos depicted a man who turned Christian from the Muslim faith, inferring that the man had gone from evil to good. The video connected Al Quada with the Muslim religion which I thought was very politically dangerous. There were generally good themes being promoted like integrity, honesty, accountability, and searching for the truth, but the undertones were of extremely conservative politics, homophobia and anti feminism. That kind of tone is unacceptable in my view. A lot of people who attended were probably also members of the NRA, given their political make-up. There was a loud, almost violent cheer when one of the speakers talked about support for our soldiers in Iraq, which was a little over the top. I believe in respecting the soldiers, but it seemed like these guys were a little too "gung-ho" about going into battle.


There were some other postives to the conference. The emphasis on the family and making it the number one priority got me thinking about my own family and how I need to continue to concentrate on its health and development. I also thought about my sons and how I need to set the best example possible for them. Some of the speakers talked about the importance of a being a good father. I enjoyed hearing large cheers from the audience when they were asked if they were interested in making a committment to being the best fathers or husbands they could be.


The Reverend Samuel Rodriguez also mentioned that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are wrong to question whether or not the Bible is fiction or whether or not God exists, and that his God saves. That brought a thunderous roar from the throng of men. I believe Richard Dawkins would have probably been booed off of the stage no matter what he did or said. That's sad.


I also enjoyed a George W. Bush impersonator and a Christian comedian and a couple of the speakers including a youth ministry leader from the Milwaukee area who talked about sexuality and responsiblity. The event was interesting enough for me to do a mini-documentary on it. I will attempt to post it on my site or http://www.youtube.com/ soon.


I will write more later. What are your experiences with Promisekeepers? I would love to hear more. :)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Leaving for Promisekeepers

This weekend, it's off to Illinois for a Promisekeepers Conference called Manhood 2008. I will take all the good parts in and discard the bad. (Yes, you will get a full report Will) This is sort of an experiment because I don't believe all the things a Christian is "supposed" to believe although I do have a curiousity about a higher power somewhere, somewhere on the order of Einstein or Spinoza. I may have some interesting side conversations. Instead of saying I don't believe I could say I am struggling with my faith. It would be interesting how much openness there is to someone who is struggling, how much empathy there will be from people fairly set in their thinking. That's my test---how much empathy will I find out there? A complete update is coming up on my upcoming post when I return from Illinois.

Wish me a safe trip. The GPS is set for its destination. (No recalculating allowed :) )



Other Notes:

If you have time, check out Richard Shindell's youtube new song called STATE OF THE UNION. It has a powerful political message.


STATE OF THE UNION

by Richard Shindell

Capo V
Asus2: 002200


Intro: (Em)(Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)

That (Em)nice easy (G)mark at the (C)edge of the (G)parkA (C)slam dunk if (G)ever I've (C)seen (D)oneI (Em)don't know what (G)happened;
I just (C)let it go (G)byI (C)guess maybe (D)out of res(Em)pect (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
This old (Em)town is my (G)home, and I'm (C)not so far (G)goneBut I (C)don't feel like (G)anyone (C)else(D)
And it (Em)didn't seem (G)right to (C)add to the (G)wrongI de(C)cided to (D)get me some (Em)help
If (C)not now, then when, I was (D)asking my(Em)self(C)Over and (G)over a(D)gain
Make it (Em)right, get (G)free, get (C)rid of the (Asus2)junkI've (C)heard it can (D)happen that (Em)way (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
I went (Em)down to the (G)clinic on a (C)hundred and (G)tenAnd I (C)got on the (G)methadone (C)pro(D)gramI (Em)waited on (G)line every (C)morning at (G)nineFor my (C)little white (D)cup, my re(Em)prieve (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
It was (Em)going o(G)kay, I was (C)feeling al(G)rightI (C)even got (G)back with my (C)daughter(D)I (Em)lost a few (G)friends who were (C)anything (G)butI just (C)took it one (D)day at a (Em)time
If (C)not now, then when, I was (D)asking my(Em)self(C)Over and (G)over a(D)gainMake it (Em)right, get (G)free, get (C)rid of the (Asus2)junkThey (C)say it can (D)happen that (Em)way (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
I (Em)can't say for (G)sure how it (C)all fell a(G)part(C)One thing just (G)led to an(C)other(D)(Em)Next thing I (G)knew, I had (C)stolen a (G)carAnd was (C)flying straight (D)up to the (Em)Bronx (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
I must have (Em)lost the old (G)touch, 'cause I (C)blew through a (G)tollThey (C)caught me just (G)outside of (C)Rye(D)Sporting (Em)all that re(G)mained of my (C)new-found re(G)solveA (C)shirt that said (D)NYP(Em)D
Some (C)shred of my soul could (D)almost be(Em)lieveThat the (C)Lord sent those (G)cruisers for (D)meMake it (Em)right, get (G)free, get (C)rid of the (Asus2)junk
But it (C)don't always (D)happen that (Em)way (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
At the (Em)halfway (G)house we're (C)sitting a(G)round(C)Watching the (G)State of the (C)Union(D)And I'm (Em)rolling that (G)stone right (C)back up the (G)hill(C)Watching the (D)mud coming (Em)down (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)
And the (Em)President's (G)up there, (C)grinning that (G)grin(C)Thinking he's (G)some kind of (C)John (D)WayneAnd we're (Em)howling and (G)cheering all this (C)talk about (G)drillingAnd (C)shooting our (D)way out of (Em)this
If (C)not now, then when, I'm (D)asking my(Em)self(C)Over and (G)over a(D)gain
Make it (Em)right, get (G)free, get (C)rid of the (Asus2)junkBut it (C)don't always (D)happen that (Em)way (Cmaj7)(Em)(Cmaj7)(Em)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Darold Treffert

I would like to tell you about a role model of mine. His name is Dr. Darold Treffert. He is one of the nation's foremost experts in the field of autism research, especially research on autistic savants. Treffert was also consultant to the movie "Rainman" starring Dustin Hoffman. It's Darold's contention that studying the minds of savants can give us tremendous insight into the human mind in general and most importantly, human potential.

Dustin Hoffman's character on "Rainman" was based on Kim Peek. Peek has some very unusual talents and skills, like complex calculation of numbers and fantastic memory. Darold has studied Peek extensively. Peek can tell you the weather from a day twenty years ago. That's just the way his mind works.

This video will tell you more about Kim Peek and includes comments from Darold.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJjAbs-3kc8


About Dr.Treffert

Dr. Treffert graduated from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1958, interned in Eugene, Oregon, and then completed a Residency in Psychiatry at University Hospitals in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1962 he joined the staff of Winnebago Mental Health Institute where he developed the Child-Adolescent Unit. In 1964 he was named Superintendent of the Institute, a position he held for 15 years. In 1979 he left that position to divide his time between the private practice of Psychiatry and a position as Executive Director of the Fond du Lac County Health Care Center. During that time he was also Medical Director of the Alcoholism Rehabilitation Unit of St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac. In 1991 he retired from those positions and now combines private practice with writing and lecturing.Dr. Treffert was President of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin in 1979-80 and Chairman of the Board of Directors of that organization from 1981-87. He has been President of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association and the American Association of Psychiatric Administrators. He was a member and Chairman of the Controlled Substances Board of Wisconsin from 1970-1982. He was reappointed to that position by Governor Doyle in September 2004. In 1995 he was appointed by the Governor to the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board and was elected Chairman of the MEB in January, 2002. Dr. Treffert is on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Medical School as a clinical professor. He is also a clinical professor at UW-Milwaukee.Professional speaking and writing interests include prevention in the mental health area under the title of Mellowing and prevention in the physical health area under the title of Rustproofing People. He is an internationally known researcher on the Savant Syndrome (islands of genius in otherwise severely disabled persons) and nationally known as well for his writings in the area of the rights of the mentally ill. In these areas he has made appearances on 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, McNeil/Lehrer Newshour, Larry King, Today, Donahue, Oprah, Discovery Channel and number of documentaries in the U.S. and other countries. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Time, People, Newsweek, USA Today, and Scientific American. He has over 50 publications in professional journals as well. His book, Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome, was published in 1989 by Harper and Row and Ballantine, and was re-issued with an epilogue update by iUniverse.com in 2000 and 2006. It was also translated and published in five other countries. An earlier book, Mellowing: Lessons from Listening, has also been widely distributed. Dr. Treffert was a consultant to the movie Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman portrays an autistic savant. He maintains a Web site on savant syndrome through the Wisconsin Medical Society.Dr. Treffert has received honorary awards from the Wisconsin Mental Health Association, the Office of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. In 2006 Dr. Treffert received the National Torrey Advocacy Commendation from the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington for his efforts on behalf of mental health law reform and treatment access for the severely mentally ill. He has been listed in The Best Doctors in America, by peer selection, beginning in 1979. He resides in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and is on the staff of St. Agnes Hospital in that community.


By the way, Darold has written a book called "Extraordinary People" and is now working on a brand new book. Darold is in his 70's but his mind is young and curious. He's a fascinating person. Check out his website at www.daroldtreffert.com

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Promisekeepers Experiment

This coming weekend, I will be attending a Promisekeepers Conference in Peoria. I see this as a continuation of my spiritual journey. I will find one on one interaction with "the believers" a very enriching experience. My friend Tim from church will be accompanying me. Hopefully I will coming back with many stories about how my perspective on life has been enhanced.

What I'm most interested in is how Christianity makes peoples' lives better. I will be the silent observer, silent about my pro choice inclinations, silent about my being a Democrat, silent that I side with NOW on many issues, silent about the possibility that Christianity may not be the only path to God. And..yes...silent about the fact that I'm not sure there is a God. I will find the one on one conversations interesting. A lot to write about. This experience will be truly be one "outside the box. "

Wish me luck. I have faith that everything will work out alright. (ha)