Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. -- John 3:16

Is is the time of year we celebrate the birth of Christ, yet it seems that it has become more and more about an arbitrary holiday, one that is about reindeer, elves, eggnog, mistletoe, tree decorating, and frantic shopping for gifts (many to be returned) at the last moment. As I grow older, I care less and less about the trappings and more about faith, hope, and charity -- with a deep gratitude for forgiveness.

At the core, the celebrations should be about healing, the kind of healing that happens from forgiving others and hopefully being forgiven in turn. Whether it be with family, friends, co-workers, or complete strangers, we should be appreciating the good things we have and letting go of the hurts of the world. That is the only way that love can be felt and this holiday is one about the love of God for His children on Earth.

So while I don't feel the "Christmas spirit" this year (or the last few years), I am focusing on what really matters: family, friends, and faith. Those things run deeper than any amount of candy canes or presents can and aren't as easily forgotten.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Silencing the Critics

The video I linked to before has been pulled down supposedly due to copyright infringements, but the reality is more political than that as protein wisdom posits. Then there are the "truth squads" formed by prosecutors and sheriffs in Missouri threatening TV stations that air "lies" about Obama in paid ads. Given the left's variable belief in what constitutes truth, that is a clear attack on the 1st Amendment right of free speech. With the media and press so deeply in the tank for Obama this year, it is getting even more difficult to get opposing views and facts out. If it weren't for talk radio (which I'm not a huge fan of) and Fox News willing to show both sides, none of it would get out. Yes, I'm omitting the Internet, for there are huge swaths of people still not connected and many of them vote.

The willingness of Obama to send the lawyers after anybody who dares to accurately report his record is chilling. Like all demagogues, he uses others to insulate himself from the dirty work, all the while approving of it. If he is elected, we'll see freedom of speech eroded, especially since he'll have both houses of Congress behind him. The tools of suppression will be lawsuits and legislation, very carefully aimed at anyone who opposes his policies. It will be done in a way that won't raise alarms in everyday people and by the time they begin to feel uneasy about it, it will have been too late to stop.

It is times like this that I wonder where all the great leaders have gone and why we don't have anyone stepping up to lead. But given how spoiled and corrupt our culture has gotten, I shouldn't wonder -- the Democrat voters decided that they wanted someone to project all their hopes and desires upon, rather than one with substance. If the country chooses Barack Obama, the pain that will come will be of the kind self inflicted by ignorance. So much for ignorance being bliss, eh?

There in lies the problem of making decisions by feelings, rather than cold, hard facts. Facts aren't touchy feely, they are rather abstract and complicated. They need to be actively considered and mulled over. Facts require research, paying attention: in a word, work. People claim they don't have time for it come election year, but they manage to watch their favorite TV shows, go to parties, and a myriad of other distractions. Yet they won't devote the time to check out who they are voting for (or against), instead being apathetic or waiting until the last minute to decide. Then it becomes a purely emotional decision and like most decisions in life, it is the highly charged snap decisions that bring us the most woes. Carefully selecting our leaders should be high on our priority lists.

I'm probably beating a dead horse, but at least the writer's block I've had for over a week is gone.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Must See Video on the Banking Crisis

Watch this video all the way through to understand what has just hit us and the real culprits that caused it:

Then pass the video on to everyone you can.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Internet Socializing and Loss of Community

Be warned, rambling be ahead.

Much has been made about the rise of the Web 2.0, focusing on the changeover to emphasizing social networking over knowledge or commerce in content. The rise of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites has garnered a great deal of virtual print. Most kids have adopted living on the Net and so have young adults, but where does this take us as a society?

Back when AOL ruled the roost and Compuserve was still around, the World Wide Web was just getting going, with a little program called Mosaic being the first widely used web browser. It was followed by the dominant Netscape, which was then destroyed by Microsoft's late and desperate entry into the Web, Internet Explorer. Heady times, I remember when Yahoo first appeared and challenged my use of WebCrawler for a search engine. It was amazing, there were thousands of websites out there to search through. Seems silly to those used to tens of thousands of hits to a search these days, but at the time it was like looking at a newly opened frontier that was ready and waiting to be explored.

There was a fear that the newly popular form of communication, email, would turn us into anti-social shut-ins, never seeing the light of day for fear of bursting into flames. Then came a few studies that said people were communicating with each other more than ever thanks to the Web, families were being brought together, far off friends re-connected and we breathed a sigh of relief. Soon we had ICQ, then AIM, then YM and eventually MSM filling our quota of acronyms as the rise of instant messaging began to displace email. Writing emails became passe and the art of composition was sacrificed for LOL, BFF, IMHO and the other LOLspeak abbreviations and acronyms. Apparently the quota hadn't been fully met after all.

This still wasn't enough. No, we needed embarrassing pictures for future employers to see, connected to hordes of people across the globe on your very own personal networking sites. After all, reality television showed that we should all aspire to fame or infamy, attention is all that matters in life. Now everyone has their chance to be seen by an adoring world. Forget Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame, fifteen seconds on YouTube is where it is at. So the Web 2.0 is born, with people living their lives out there for everyone to see. Well, except for those hopelessly stone age parents who aren't hip enough to find out what their kids are doing online.

Is this a great advancement for humanity, with all this unprecedented connectivity between people from all around the globe? I have to wonder.

My experiences on the Net over the years have taken me from thinking it would civilize humanity more to the suspicion that it is achieving the opposite. While we have instances of atrocities being better documented in totalitarian states despite a mad scramble to censor and control information access, we are also witnessing the rise of the rude and uncompromising in every day discourse. The flame wars on message boards of the past have given way to deliberate segregation into cliques on the social networking sites. That way you don't have to worry about dealing with people with opposing viewpoints, don't have to practice manners. Not that people on message boards were much better about it, but now no attempt has to be made.

Essentially, what I have witnessed is things getting cruder, ruder, and more narcissistic with each passing year. People band together only with like minded thinkers and with the ability to filter out those who don't hold the same beliefs, basic discourse of the past is vanishing. Often politics has been criticized for becoming groups of people shouting past each other. That applies now to almost every facet of Net socializing, whether it be about politics, hobbies, sports, or movies.

Enabling one another, those who share a viewpoint begin to ignore or demonize those that disagree in a most high school manner. There is no need to interact with those that don't agree with you and soon you inhabit a nice little echo chamber, divorced from the rest of the world. At the same time, I'm witnessing this happen in real life as people are becoming less community minded and the decay of organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and various lodges comes to mind. Those were places where people from various incomes and walks of life could get together as equals, something valuable for any healthy society.

So we have these sites dedicated to creating "communities", but are they helping to build a sense of community? Or are they falsely encouraging a sense of elitism and entitlement? My suspicion is that they are assisting the break down in society by allowing people to escape the social obligations of dealing with the "other" in real life. After all, nobody likes being disagreed with and everyone who has a differing opinion is an idiot.

But it is dealing with those that we don't agree with, don't get along with, or don't usually run into that helps us mature into adults. A big part of adulthood is realizing that we can't get our way all the time (usually most of the time) and that the world is a much bigger place than what goes on inside our heads. That means cultivating manners and the ability to interact with people unlike us are necessary to keep the wheels of civilization turning, not to mention survive. Perpetual adolescence with its accompanying self absorbed personality and short fused temper is not desirable. It invariably leads to conflict and friction. Too much friction and the gears bind, followed by watching the wheels come off as you veer over a cliff.

There are other forces at work, of course. Western culture is increasingly adolescent for a variety of reasons, but I've rambled on enough as it is. Perhaps that will be a topic for another day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Meanderings on a Monday

It is a tired Monday, the norm after a busy Sunday at church. Without any terribly coherent idea for a post, I decided to post a few observations on this and that.

Russia was stood up to diplomatically by most of the West, to my surprise. It looks like there are enough people left who remember the Cold War, thankfully. The forth coming arms race looks to be guaranteed, with Poland signing a deal to base US missile interceptors in exchange for Patriot surface-to-air missiles. I expect Ukraine and Georgia to end up in NATO eventually, if the Russian troops do withdraw completely. That is suspect, as their word means nothing at all. The Bear wants territory and control, with nukes being their big stick of late.

I recently received an email from ebaY titled "Dumb and poor? Here's a simple way to make MONEY!" This may be the most amusing piece of spam I've ever gotten. From capitalizing the wrong letter in eBay to insulting the recipient's intellectual capacity, it would appear to be the most ineffective come on in history. They failed to use at least three exclamation points, perhaps in a bid to look classy. But there will be thousands who will click on the thing, spam really does work, sadly.

I've been misidentifying a local woodchuck as a gopher of late and wish to apologize to the rodent. I had no intention of slandering your species and meant no ill will.

The Chicago Cubs are 30 games above .500 in a season when I've forgotten to seriously follow them. This clearly shows that they are better off without me.

Joe Biden as Democratic Party VP nominee is a gift to the Republican Party. Obama could have only done worse if he'd selected Cindy Sheehan. Watch for a lot of Hillary supporters to vote for McCain.

Democrats bashing teachers unions?! Along with the Cubs winning, this may be a sign of the end of times. Both are very unnatural.

Still don't miss satellite TV, having gone cold turkey beginning in February. Too many movies, old TV series and documentaries to catch up on at Netflix. Hopefully, I'll be able to start freeing up time for more reading. Okay, any reading.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

Well, the Bear is back, Russia having invaded Georgia's break away provinces earlier this weekend, then rolling toward Tbilisi, the Georgian capitol today. Starting with a classic case of false provocation, Putin and his minions claimed they had to invade to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia. South Ossetian seperatists had conducted escalating attacks, which finally resulted in Georgia sending their troops in. Since Russia funds and controls those seperatists, it is pretty clear that the Georgians stepped right into a classic Russian trap. It gave them the thinnest of excuses to invade and put President Saakashvili in his place for standing up to them.

It is clear that Putin and his puppet, Medvedev, intend to make an example of the former Soviet possession. My suspicion is that they intend to take the country, then install a puppet regime so that they can can achieve several goals. The most obvious is control of the oil pipeline that goes through Georgia to Turkey, giving Russia further control of fossil fuels in Europe; they control half the natural gas and a quarter of the oil already. The second is sending a message to the U.S. and Europe that they are in charge of Eastern Europe and to keep out. But the biggest reason is the most dangerous reason: the desire to subjugate former Soviet territories and rebuild the Soviet Union. This doesn't necessarilly mean a return to communism, it is about Russian power and pride, ie: nationalism.

If the West permits Georgia to fall (and I think we will), it will be only the beginning. Russia will wish to extend their power and other nations will start equipping for war. An arms race is probable, with Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics leading the way, determined to not be slave states again. Unlike oil rich Russia, they will be more dependant on foreign aid, which we had better provide.

In the meantime, I'm wondering how long Georgia can hold out if Russia besieges the capital. Currently, the Russian Air Force owns the air, which gives them an immense advantage in addition to their larger ground forces. I hate watching a democratic country fall to a dictatorship and wonder if this is how people felt watching Hitler annex the Sudetenland in 1938, knowing that appeasement would only feed the nationalists.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Flooding, Redux

Once again our county is a disaster area, though not as bad as last August. The rains came more steadily and widespread, with already saturated soil refusing to absorb the 5 to 10" of water pouring from the sky. The South Fork of the Root River runs behind our property and we spent Sunday watching it rise slowly until it finally crested its banks over night. Water had pooled up in the adjacent field giving the illusion of flooding, but it took until today to become reality.

August was not that long ago and earlier this year the water had threatened briefly, so I'm well tired of the flooding. Eight years ago, we had the flood of the century, or so we thought. That appeared to be a once in a lifetime flood in the valley, but here we are -- again. Fortunately, the damage has not been as severe as last year in the immediate area. Over in Wisconsin, it is looking worse as Gays Mill, Viola, and Soldiers Grove are facing record flooding.

I'm counting my blessings and hoping the forecast rains this week turn out to be light, or we'll be seeing mudslides again. Some more pictures from our neck of the woods follow:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Walking Away from the Media Madness

On February 1st of this year, the satellite TV service was disconnected at our request. My father and I had found the multitude of channels to have steadily eroded in quality, finally crossing that line of not being worth paying for. Even the theoretically high brow channels of the past, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel had all turned into the rare poorly researched documentary sandwiched between a cacophony of so-called reality shows. Though we were sacrificing a small handful of drama's we enjoyed, the decision was made to double our Internet DSL speed and still save money in the process. After all, we were getting our news from off of the Net more than from the shallow talking heads on TV. So how has it worked out in the intervening months?

I love not having the television set on all the time as background noise. Truly a blissful silence is a welcome thing. After several months, we did hook up the antenna on the roof, after experimenting with a Gray-Hoverlock antenna built from scratch (didn't see a difference, but we haven't gone digital yet) we do have local ABC, PBS, and Fox. Local news can be picked up, but I find it to be less than shallow and have stepped into mud puddles with more depth. That is the nature of the industry and reflects a national trend, I'm afraid. So we aren't completely without TV, just don't have much we want to watch.

So do I miss the satellite service? No. I thought I'd suffer withdrawal and instead have experienced relief - no longer do I end up muttering at documentaries that have the facts and events wrong, which I consider a torment for a history buff. The shouting talking heads and sound bite reporting were a nuisance at best, no matter if I agreed with them or not. Impossible to miss it.

We live in a culture of mass distraction and I am enjoying having less distractions. It is one of those roads once taken that one can't go back from, I'm finding. Watching TV at a waiting room is now painful, now that I've been away from the din, I see even more clearly what dreck modern broadcasting has become.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Requiem for a Heavyweight

One of the joys of using the Netflix DVD rental service is the vast library of titles to choose from. Many years ago as a boy, I caught part of a film on TV that stuck in my head and never saw it again. Wandering around the Net, I found a reference to a 1956 Rod Serling teleplay that was remade into a 1962 movie, Requiem for a Heavyweight. A lightbulb clicked on above my head and I knew that was the film I'd seen, the images of Jackie Gleason being chased around a ring and worked over being what had made an impression. So I put it in my queue and eventually got to see it in its entirety a few weeks ago.

Now I understand why the film haunted me so much, it is a film that remains with you for days afterward and one that dares to be something very un-Hollywood. The story starts with the brutal loss of a match by Mountain Rivera to a young Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali's original name) and the sobering news that he can't fight again or he'll go blind. The aforementioned Gleason plays the best performance of his career as Mountain's mangaer, Maish. Maish is a reprehensible person and has gotten himself in trouble with a female gangster, Ma Greeny, owing a considerable sum of money.

What follows is a wonderful character study in B&W and is a truly adult film. By that, I mean that it follows the very realistic consequences of the actions of flawed adults in a tough world. There are scenes in this film that will make you cringe, as you come to care for the obviously brain damaged boxer. The budding romance with a social worker played by Julie Harris leads to some sweet moments, but also the ones that make you cringe the most. Mountain is trying to make a new life while maintaining his sense of honor and dignity, but is acutely aware of his shortcomings. The scheming of Maish interferes and eventually leads to an ending I don't think I'll ever forget.

People think fondly of Rod Serling due to the immense success of the Twilight Zone television series, but few realize what a brilliant writer he was. The human condition and authentic characters were always hallmarks of the series and Requiem for a Heavyweight was his best work. No fantasy, no science fiction, but a realistic look at people operating at the lower end of society. This is an older film that modern directors and writers should be studying.

Highly recommended to adults, children won’t understand it and may find some of it disturbing.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Thomas S. Monson New Head of the Latter-day Saints

Today it was announced that Thomas S. Monson is the new president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This came as no surprise, as the tradition of the longest serving apostle being selected meant that he was next in line. What was interesting to me wasn't that Henry B. Eyering was chosen to be 1st Counselor, but that Dieter F. Uchtdorf was named 2nd Counselor. Though one really shouldn't play favorites by choosing a favorite amongst the Quorum of the Twelve, I took a shine to him as soon as he was made an apostle and always look forward to his talks. So I was very happy to see him be brought into the First Presidency of the Church and brought a smile to my face.

While President Hinckley will be missed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints goes on as does the work. I had no worries or qualms about the succession, for I knew the Church was in good hands. Tension about leadership changes may be good for politics, but it isn't good for religious organizations and once again our system has shown itself to be inspired.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

President Gordon B. Hinckley Has Passed Away

I was called by Thomas Odenwalder who had been text messaged by his sister in Utah that President Gordon B. Hinckley, head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passed away. Details can be found here.

I know I will see President Hinckley again, but in the mean time I will miss him greatly. There is no question that he will go down in history as one of the greatest Prophets of the Church. His legacy of temple building, his soft words, his great and loving heart marked his stewardship of the LDS faith. A gentle man and a gentleman who presided over the greatest growth of the Church, he was 97 years old.

I'm glad he is back with his wife, whom he missed greatly.

Updated: Identified the friend who called (Sorry Thomas) and bring the post in line with the English language (as it now stands)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Running on Empty

The title covers two subjects today, the first being how alternately I've been busy or sick, hence the lack of posting. I've managed to miss three holidays in the interim, but plan to do more writing. The second thing that running on empty applies to is the Fred Thompson campaign. Much to my disappointment, it is clear that he will be unable to get the endorsement.

I find it fascinating that when given a candidate who does everything people say they want candidates to do, they end up rejecting them. Constantly heard is the desire for a candidate who isn't after the job for power, but out of a sense of duty. Yet Fred was blasted for not acting like he wanted the job more than anything else in the world. We hear how a straight shooter who will tell us things we don't want to hear is needed, yet Fred has been ignored on the issues of social security and medicare benefits. Candidates should run a clean campaign, that's what we want say the voters, yet Fred took heat for not being aggressive enough. In fact, the only uptick he saw was when he pointed out how Huckabee is essentially a Democrat in the South Carolina debate. The issues, only if the candidates would stick to the issues is a cry heard often, but nobody paid attention to the white papers or long, thoughtul videos Thompson put out. Finally, it has been said we are waiting for another Reagan, a true conservative who believes in smaller government, protecting the Constitution, and who is also a social conservative. Well, the voters have been clear, they want the GOP to go to the political left, with the primary winning candidates all being center or center-left.

Simply put, what the voters in the Republican Party say they want and what they really want are two completely different things. I suspect the general electorate are no different.