Monday, February 28, 2005

Hell and human freedom. Bits of theology that really aren't all that new.

Act I: In which I discuss the rule using dumb analogies and dirty language, ramble about exceptions to the rule while getting progressively more boring, pose problems to the rule based on my distorted understanding of the Bible (some might call it quaint), and complain about propositional theology like a düsseldorf (wait a second, isn't that a city?).

Every time I read (or reread) Robert Farrar Capon I get smacked with something new. Today it came from Ch. 13 of Hunting the Divine Fox, where I was reminded that although there is talk in the Bible of a real place called hell, Christ wants to redeem everyone. Like Safeway.

So while we're all little coupons on our way to coupon hell (I should never have touched this analogy), Jesus wants to redeem us like we're going out of style. He wants us, and badly. So badly in fact that he was willing to endure some crappy (aka, shitty; aka, whoa I'm swearin') things to prove it.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. -- Jesus, in John 12:32

Notice that Jesus says he will draw all people to him. All. Everyone. You and you and you and you and you. You, too. Regardless, theologians throughout the ages have theorized about who gets into heaven and who doesn't. Orthodoxy (that branch of the church that beats unpopular opinions to a bloody pulp) has come to the conclusion that most people, having not heard the Gospel story, will be going to hell. In their humanity, most orthodox theologians (again, the "winners," not those chilling in Constantinople) felt a little guilty saying that, because it's a pretty big pill to swallow. So some began making exceptions, that while lacking direct, Biblical support, seemed in keeping with the merciful nature of God.

The OT Jews were the first exception, because of their faithfulness in keeping the Mosaic Law. Some theologians went even further, and decided that even Jews who stuck with the Law after Jesus got to go to heaven, too.

Next came kids and babies. While no one is willing nail down a specific cut-off date/IQ, most theologians like to think that children and the child-minded who die before cognitively grasping the concepts of sin, grace and forgiveness don't deserve the punishment of hell, since they never had a real chance to "repent" in the first place.

Somewhere along the line, we started giving smart people "get-out-of-hell-free" cards, too -- like the Greek philosophers, who reasoned their way to something like the Christian concept of God (sort of). Because if they had heard of the Christian God, they would have immediately recognized and accepted him. Don't freaking argue with Aquinas. DON'T.

Running with that little bit of arrogance, theologians began arguing that people of all faiths who pursue God as their religion understands him/her/it will get into heaven, too. For they would (quite obviously) accept our God in addition to their own faith, had they ever heard of him (quite obviously).

It's not much of a leap from there to letting all the "good" or "moral" people in as well, from the beginning of homo sapien sapien to the end of time, regardless of their actually hearing of Jesus. For so, as you ought to know by now, if they had heard the Gospel, in its entirety, as "good" people they would have surely accepted it (quite obviously).

Problem. Rut-tut-tut-tut-tut. We've extended the goodness of God past Scriptural truth. "There is none good, no not one." (Rom. 3:10 - Paraphrased, naturally.)

So why don't the elect just drop everyone else into hell on their way to heaven? Because remember, Christ desires all people to be saved (I Tim 2:4), and is actively drawing them all to him through the power of the resurrection and ascension (Jn 12:32). And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

For the Classical Theist/Calvinist, these verses refer only to the elect. We read them in light of other, more straightforward proof texts -- propositional Scriptures, less muddled by context or "hyperbole". As if there were a hiearchy to the way Biblical comments on human freedom functioned. "Statement A is of more import than Statement B because A is made propositionally and logically precedes the baser nature of B."

Hogwash (see, I don't have to swear). Christ never said he was drawing the elect to him. If that's what he really meant, he would have let us know. If it were that true and important to the Christian faith, Paul would have come right out and told Timothy that God our Savior desires all of the chosen/elect to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

But Paul and Jesus don't say that. They say all people. And because it is all people, this is where the importance of human freedom comes in.

It's also where I'm going to stop for tonight.

Signed, Morrissey

Saturday, February 26, 2005

40 days, 40 dates, and a tourbus named Jacki. Is that too much to ask?

Nope, still not over Eisley. Additionally, I am also in re-love with the Polyphonic Spree. If I were in charge of life, the Spree and Eisley would be coming soon to a major metropolitan area near you. There would be David Bowie covers. And free apple pie. Also, a friendly-shark petting-zoo.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Behold, all that was old is now Eisley!

Newness happens every once in a while. It can come by surprise, though for me, I'm always looking out for it. A unfamiliar song by a brand new band. You know the feeling. A melody that you can only remember wisps of -- maybe a piece of the bridge. A few loose lyrics that transmute into something other than what you heard, and stand uncorrected until you hear it again. Anxious when driving. Humming the bits you can recall at work. Not quite sure about the whole chorus, improvising guitar solos in your head.

It happened all the time in junior high, when radio was king. Brand new sounds by a band or an artist you'd never heard before. I remember it with Weezer, with Ben Folds Five, with Fiona Apple, and with Radiohead. It still happens, but just in very different ways. Downloading a track from Epitonic. Mix CDs from friends. And most often in my case, every couple months, when I receive my copy of Paste in the mail.

It doesn't happen every issue. In the two and a half years I've been a subscriber, there've been just a handful of new artists that stuck in my head like a roach to one of those sickly smelling death "hotels." Hem was the first. Susan Enan and Jolie Holland came that way, too. New sounds by unfamiliar voices. Snippets of piano and bits of melody. It doesn't happen as often as it used to. But it still happens.

Case in point, my new favorite band, Eisley. Not two weeks ago their new album was playing in Barnes and Noble while I thumbed through the travel writings of Bill Bryson. For a moment, I was sure it was Sixpence None the Richer drifting down from the ceiling. But the songs were too good to be honest. Sixpence hasn't sounded that immediate, that vital, since This Beautiful Mess some 6 or 7 years ago -- which in pop music years might has well have been a lifetime ago. That's how some new artists are. They can pounce on you, going for the jugular of whatever part of the brain contains our taste in melody, harmony and kick-ass guitar solos.

Eisley didn't quite do that. It took another week or so, when I got Paste #14, and hit track 9 on the sampler. I knew the song, but I couldn't say from where. About two minutes into the thing it hit me -- this is the Barnes-and-Noble-Band. And it sounded much better coming from the speakers of my computer than it ever could have from the PA at a semi-cozy and over-lighted chain bookstore. And I was hooked.

The song was "Marvelous Things," track 5 as I've now discovered on Eisley's first full length, Room Noises. If you held me down, and forced me to describe the album at knife-point (as often happens to me), this is how I would begin. Imagine if Leigh Nash of Sixpence and Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays became 19-year-olds again, started a new band, and locked themselves in a house with the complete catalogs of Radiohead, Coldplay, Denali and Pedro the Lion. Sort of/Something like that. Maybe it would sound like Eisley. Maybe not. But it's the best I can do, especially with you waving that knife around.

"Marvelous Things" gave me the shivers the second and third times I played it. I wanted to put it on repeat, letting it go over and over again; but I didn't want to tire of it either. So I simultaneously downloaded the album two nights ago while placing an order for it on Knowing I wouldn't hear this on the radio anytime soon, unless Eisley somehow manages to catch the attention of MTV, internet file-sharing is the best way to hear a few songs before going out and buying the album. Sometimes, it's essentially the only way.

After dowloading the first track, "Memories", I knew "Marvelous Things" wasn't a fluke, and bought the CD while waiting at 5 kb/second for the rest of the album to download. I missed out on the downloading frenzy to get Kid A weeks before anyone it came out in stores, in the pre- cable/DSL days. I didn't download my first song until the T3 lines that came with college life. Patience isn't what it used to be. Can it really be called delayed gratification when instead of waiting the 5 or 6 days for the CD by mail, I download it over the phone line in more like 5 or 6 hours? Maybe, compared to the 20 minutes it takes over DSL. But probably not.

So anyway, I listened to a burnt CD of the album while driving tonight, which instantly makes any album it better. And to top it off, they're a family band from the birthplace of my younger brother -- Tyler, Texas. There's just too much to like here.

And yes, I know I'll probably tire of it someday -- every artist has their cooling off period. It happened with Damien Rice. It happened with Rosie Thomas. It happened with Sigur Ros. It will happen with Eisley.

But until then, I'm going to enjoy the crap out of this CD. I'm going to listen to it with headphones cranked ("still waters run deep...") and while the sun sets on my way to work at night. It's a good album. It took me back to those junior high days, when radio was king, and Rod Stewart, DC Talk and Boys to Men sounded like nothing else in the world. So while it does have moves unfamiliar to anyone else, Eisley still manages to sound like an old friend, hearkening back to the 90s girl pop like that of the Cardigans or Mazzy Star, freely copping Radiohead's theatrics, full of lyrical phrases that wouldn't seem out of place on Mum's Finally We Are No One or early David Bazaan records, before he was trying to prove anything to the indie rock community.

But maybe, in all honesty, nothing is entirely new any more. For as much as I love Jack White or Sam Beam, they're really just reinventing the wheel, albeitly in profound and pulse-quickening ways. If we can admit to that, Eisley sounds vital, too, because in recognizing their influences, we can learn to ignore them, too. And hear a new band -- a new voice -- singing new songs. Songs that rumble around the subconscious, brain waves straining to recapture the chorus until that moment we can hear the song again, or fork over a little hard earned cash to make the music our own, adding it to our own little musical library. Handpicked to join the ranks of whatever it is our ears prefer.

How I wrote this much about one CD I'm not real sure. It's a keeper, though. And I'm glad to have graduated from the bits-of-melody and longing phase to the playing-on-repeat in my CD player phase.

You're right, the courtship was short. But who cares? I'm in love.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

a long day continues, we sound amazed

You are 93% Pisces

Except that I was born in September. This is why my horoscope is never right; I was born six months early! Stupid stars. Can't get anything right...

Monday, February 21, 2005

romantic melodramady

I think I'm in love with Patty Griffin. I can't stop sighing every time I think her name in my head. So I'm kind of afraid to actually say it out loud because I feel like I might die instantly.

Spent the past two nights trying to download the 2000 Silver Bell album that was never released, but sits in the secret bins of A&M/Interscope Records. It's been a bugger finding some of the songs (I think I have half of them now, after two nights of searching). Plus, my delicate dial-up connection isn't quite up for the job. Poor little guy.

I can't freaking stop sighing. This is ridiculous. Oh, well.....Jesus, thank you for LimeWire. Amen.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

the first rule of internet debate is this: don't do it

I embarrass myself, my family, and my faith on two separate Live Journal communities in the time it takes to cook a microwavable pizza.

Alright life, you win.

Friday, February 18, 2005

for you weekend wishing pleasure

A recently downloaded cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall" by Chan Marshall of Cat Power has led me to believe that what the world really needs is an Oasis tribute album. I don' t know enough Oasis songs to fill out such an album, but I'm sure we could come up with some 14-odd candidates for the following artists to work on. The only stipulation is that only minimal electric instrumentation is to be used. I will be the final judge on all such matters, because, let's face it, this is my kick-a idea.

Chan Marshall (Cat Power)
Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes/Desaparecidos)
Damien Jurado
Daniel Smith (Danielson Famile/Bro. Danielson)
David Bazaan (Pedro the Lion)
Devendra Banhart
Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co.)
Joanna Newsom
Jolie Holland
Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters)
Rosie Thomas
Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)
Sufjan Stevens

Someone with the proper contacts should get on this right away. So if you work for Sub Pop, I guess it's up to you to make this happen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Your Daily Moral Compass -- brought to you by Diet Dr. Pepper

This one's for the Christians in the house.

If you haven’t heard of Cornel West, do yourself a favor and Google the man. His book Race Matters, written in the wake of the Rodney King verdict and the ensuing Los Angeles riots, is the best book I’ve encountered on modern race relationships. Just to call it a book on quote/unquote “race relations” doesn’t even do it justice. It’s more than that. It’s one of the great works of American sociological thought -- a book that refuses to pander to either side of the political aisle -- a book that speaks of people and their communities instead of statistics and demographics -- a book of virtues unlike anything William Bennett could ever dream to compile.

In case you couldn’t tell, I liked it. Alot.

Not far into the first chapter, West makes an interesting point concerning the recent decline of morals in American life. He argues that radical feminists and other counter-cultural radicals of the 1960s have less to do with our current state of moral decay than conservatives are willing to admit. The 60s radicals are the classic whipping boy for arch-conservatives when decrying America’s failing "moral compass" from the steps of capitals and courthouses everywhere. They make for an easy target, because they really did oppose many of the moral and cultural restraints of American society at the time.

West, however, turns the tables on conservatives, arguing that corporate institutions have done even more to erode cultural morals than anything the radical left could have cooked up. Sure, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll shook the moral fiber of American conservatives, and literally brought them out of the closet as a political force in the process. But American conservatism could have absorbed and rebounded from the 60s counter-culture, had not corporate America co-opted these themes to sell shampoo, potato chips, and German luxury cars.

For example: Take the 60s feminist act of bra burning. Choosing to go braless was a statement of defiance and freedom in the face of America’s patriarchal-dominated society. But what was once an act of dissidence, has now become a statement of cover-girl fashion and chic culture. Corporate institutions took a counter-cultural "f-you" and turned it into a mass-marketed, homogeneous fashion-statement, stripping it of its original politically-subversive meaning. What conservative moralists are left with is simply a Hollywood trend to criticize, which they do incessantly. But rather than attribute its wide-spread acceptance to corporate advertisers, they continue to blame the 60s feminist movement.

Conservative politicians and right wing talking-heads, beholden to the free market model, turn a blind eye to the culpability of corporate multi-nationals in the decay of America’s “moral fiber.” Instead, we rail against feminists and other radicals, because those groups (supposedly) represent our ideological opposites. Rather than raise our voices against the influence of marketing and advertising on our nation’s moral norms, we go after those groups who had their hey-day some 40 years ago. In short, we’re beating a dead horse while a herd of live ones kick down the corral.

Is this criticism of corporate America a uniquely Marxist concept? And if so, should that make Christians wary of it? I’m not entirely certain. But more importantly, in spite of its political affiliations, is it a Biblical concept? I’m beginning to think so. If standing up against concentrations of power in the hands of the few who abuse such power draped in the American ideals of liberty and a free-market economy is a Marxist idea, I couldn’t care less. If looking out for the rights of the oppressed and the voice of the marginalized is unique to the socialist position, it’s of no matter to me. All I know is that these concepts are noble, these concepts are righteous, and these concepts are Biblical.

The God we serve is one of boundless compassion and infinite justice. His wrath is held for the hand of the oppressor, and his love is poured out on the tears of the oppressed.

The prophet Micah said it best, “And what does Yahweh require of you -- but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That’s all what matters.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Long Dark Moon

A few days ago I posted an unusual story about a group of Wal-Mart associates in Quebec who voted to form a union, and who will now be jobless come May 2005 when their store will be shut down for good. Quebec, it seems, has a bit of history in this regard. In 1997 a McDonald's outside of Montreal had the privilege of becoming the only unionized McDonald's in North America. The owners of the franchise hired a team of lawyers to postpone the process whereby the workers would be certified as an official union. The Teamsters stepped in and argued that the owners were stalling in hopes that employee turnover would process a new batch of workers who didn't care to unionize (the fast food industry has a 300 to 400 percent yearly turnover rate).

Even after a full twelve months, a majority of workers still supported the union. A hearing was finally scheduled for March of 1998. About a month before the certification, the franchise owners shut the restaurant down. They gave their workers one day's notice. On the very next day they closed their doors. The owners claimed the store was losing money, even though it had been in operation for 17 years. The chain's failure rate in Canada is 1 out of every 300. It seems downright suspicious that the 1 in 300 happened to be a store on its way towards union certification.

And it wasn't an isolated incident. The same thing happened in Lansing, Michigan some 25 years prior, when a store heading for unionization was shut down, its workers fired, and later blacklisted from hiring on at a brand-new McDonald's that opened just down the block. McDonald's has a team of executives on hand that fly out to stores considering union certification at a moment's notice. For the most part, they hold informal "rap sessions" where they listen to employee criticism free of the fear of retribution from the store's owner or managers. It works most of the time. If it doesn't, stores simply close.


On a totally different note, I had the day off work today and did absolutely nothing until after dinner, when I spent a couple of hours at the local Barnes and Noble, reading books but not buying them (Damn the man!). It wasn't until a few minutes in that I realized I was in the midst of Valentine's Day. For a second, I felt utterly pathetic, in my cozy B&N poofy-chair, sipping my skim mocha-latte. But there was solidarity in the store, of a reassuring tone, as a handful of others scattered across the store flipped through books that didn't yet belong to them, lonely but never alone, tapping their feet to what might have been the latest Lisa Loeb lp, or something equally inoffensive to our (capital "S") Single-yet-strangely-satisfied ears.

Then we burnt the place to ground.

That was true all except for that last part. And the part about the skim latte. I'm pretty sure it was 2%.


And finally, recent conversations with Liz Swart have led to a new name for my car. Liz lives in Colorado Springs these days, the hometown of Focus on the Family Ministries. In honor of its illustrious founder, I've decided to re-christen my car "Dobson." He seems satisfied with the new moniker (and subsequent gender change as well). The old name is now long forgotten, by both of us. Dobson's a conservative car, a small Saturn, with small-town American values like good gas mileage and an anti-bling exterior. He's dependable and family friendly, knowing that sparing the rod can spoil the child. (Although it should be noted that he will have no hand in raising my future children; If he does last that long, he will simply find contentment shuttling them to and fro soccer practice and/or turntable lessons.) I will forward all congrats to Dobson on his new Extreme Makeover: Auto Edition that friends and family may have for him.

Thanks to Liz, MTV and FOTF for name-pimping my ride. Now here's a crappy video by Simple Plan.

Monday, February 14, 2005

I've been thinking a lot about things, and might have a bit too much to say. So instead, I say nothing, not being sure of what's important and what's not.

Rather than ramble, there's this song by a band named Low, that you should all listen to. It's the most romantic song about losing your hearing that has ever been written. I will not simply post the lyrics, because that's would make me hate the song. Instead, download it here, and listen for yourself.

(I hope it works; I've only used my website for photo hosting. Cross your fingers.)

Anyway, it starts like a typical Low song -- a little dark, a little sweet. But half-way through it turns into something Sonic Youth like, aka waves-of-death-rattle-guitar. Okay, maybe not THAT good -- more like Starflyer 59 walls-of-distortion-frenzy. Only minus the frenzy part.

I'm going to stop trying to describe it now, because I'm failing miserably.

Low-When I Go Deaf-mp3-getitnow.sucka

Tomorrow will be about Medicare/No Child Left Behind/Sugar-Free America/The Deficit/Bob Woodward/Quebec's Failed Unions/The Minimum Wage/Fast Food Nation/Global Warming/Bush At War/Steven Patrick Morrissey/


Today is about this song. And about how, in spite of what all the health/fashion/excercise industry tells you, ice cream is an essential part of a well-balanced diet.

End quote.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wal-Mart's Union Woes

Wal-Mart announced the closure of one of its stores in Quebec this past week. I'm not sure how often the company closes stores, but it's not something you hear about too often. So one less Wal-Mart should be a cause for celebration, right?

Except that this Wal-Mart was the first in the history of North America to unionize. Ever.

And now they're shutting it down.

I've got to admit, I'm not a huge fan of unions these days. I understand the impact they made on the workplace in the past, but most days it seems like they did the job they set out to do. There are child labor laws and five-day work weeks and 8-hour work days and sick leave and anti-discrimination laws. These days we don't really need more laws, we just need tougher enforcement of the laws that already exist.

But there are other days when I look across the vast landscape of hourly employees in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and see how a union could help some of these people to get off Food Stamps and find themselves affordable health care. But Wal-Mart is famously opposed to the idea of unions within its stores.

A few years ago, the meatpacking department of a Texas store voted for union representation. Instead of bargaining collectively with the new union workers, Wal-Mart closed down the meatpacking department and switched to carrying prepackaged meats. Then, just for kicks, Wal-Mart Inc. closed down every meatpacking department in their 1,000 or so Supercenters. They had to make it look impartial, right?

But the Quebec store owns the first store-wide union. Its workers voted last August, and have been bargaining collectively since then. The official word from Wal-Mart is that the store was already losing money, and the threat of paying its workers even more put it under for good. The store will close in May.

Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has decided against calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart, because they're still working with workers in Wal-Mart stores across Canada, encouraging them to join unions. Since August, one other store in Quebec has voted to form a union (they haven't reached an agreement, either).

So will this have a positive effects for Wal-Mart's attempt to block fair union votes in its stores? The closure might be enough to scare associates in other stores from supporting a union vote. But it could also turn many of Wal-Mart's hourly associates against the company, encouraging workers to unionize where the wasn't much support beforehand.

All I know is that the whole thing stinks. And I agree with Bob Linton, the National Communications Coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, who said this past week, "It seems kind of funny that the one store that is organized in their empire is the only one not making money and they're prepared to shut it."

Wal-Mart can't afford a beachhead for union supporters, and while I know of no law which they've broken by shutting this store down, I still can't help feeling a crime has been committed. These are people's livelihoods we're talking about. And the strongest corporation in the world just got a little stronger.

Hurray for capitalism.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Presidential first and greatest love.

There's two kinds of fun,
There's things and there's stuff,
And they just cannot get along,
Which side are you on?

Now who loves their stuff?
[unintelligible echo]
Our country has let stuff direct it,
And there we chomp, chomp at the bit.

So what does Bro. Danielson have to do with what this post is really about? Not much as far as I can tell. But I just thought it would be wicky-wicky-hot-pot to start a post about President Bush's budget with a quote by Daniel Smith. Dan would approve; George probably couldn't care less. Which is why I'm nominating the Danielson Famile for the next presidential dynasty in America. (You might want to just skip to the end, Mukala-style, if you hate it when I talk about politics.)

Budgets, etc.

So in case you missed it, our Prez issued the big budget (projected, natch) for the fiscal years 2005-09 this past week. In his campaign, Bush promised to cut the budget in half by 2009 (it ran $427 billion this year). So now he's trying to make good.

Bad news though, it's kind of a crock. The budget, that is. It's a good thing to want to balance the budget -- that much we can all agree on. But Bush has repeatedly said he wants to do it while making permanent his tax cuts for the wealthy. If you'll remember, the original purpose of the cuts was to be a short-term boost to the all Americans (but especially those with lots'o'money) in order to spend our way out of a recession that we found ourselves in not long after taking Bush office. And guess what? No more recession. Hurray!! So there's no real reason to keep make the cuts permanent, especially when the Fed Govt can't keep up with its expenditures. Right?

Wrong. As Bush tips his post-election hand, we can clearly see that the cuts weren't simply in the interest of the economy -- they were a reward to his wealthy constituents. (And all the Republicans moaned. Oh yes, I am kind of a bastard.) Never mind that Bush put together a coalition of the working-class and poor who would suffer most were our economy to falter due to astronomic deficit spending. Bush knows they didn't vote for his economic policies. So he knows he doesn't have to pay them much mind. Just keep mentioning that Constitutional amendment against gay marriage and we're supposed to follow him all the way to privatized Social Security and the bankruptcy of Medicare.

Grievances, etc.

In case you skipped all that, I don't mind, because here's the meat. This budget is a joke. From the NY Times: "The budget is notable for including limits on spending that are unlikely to be enacted and for excluding expenses that are sure to be incurred." What? In English, please.

First, the budget does not include projections for the war in Iraq come 2006 and afterwards. That's right, according to Bush's budget, we won't be spending a single penny in Iraq after the end of this year. Everyone with a 6th grade education and a general knowledge of current events knows we'll still be there in 2006 -- and still be spending money. We spent about $81 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Let's give Bush the benefit of the doubt and say we'll cut it in half for 2006 (not very likely though). That comes to about $40 billion fiscal year 2006. Bush's projected budget for 2006 just jumped from a projected $390 billion to $430 -- That means if we count the war, we'll actually lose more money next year than we lost this year! So much for cutting the deficit.

Second, the budget assumes that all non-military spending will be frozen until 2009. That means no increased spending for Medicare/Medicaid, our national parks, public education, scholarships for college students, etc., etc., etc. Ergo, as health care and college get more expensive, we can expect no efforts by the government to help us keep up. Again, everyone knows that this sort of spending will increase. Year to year it always has, and it most likely always will. Bush knows it will. But in order to make it look like he's "balancing" the budget, he's "assuming" that Congress won't try to spend any more money that it spent this past year. Fat chance.

Third, it completely ignores his Social Security plan! Whoops? Bush seems to be warming to the idea of borrowing to fund the initiative, which means big deficits in 2009 and years after when Bush will be sippin' tea and eatin' biscuits out in Crawford, Texas. So even though he *might* cut the deficit by 2009, his Social Security plan will drive it right back to where it is now as soon as he leaves the Oval Office. Which is genius in it's own twisted, perverted way. And that's the kind of Prezy I like!

Fourth, some of Bush's proposed cuts come in veteran's benefits and education. That's right, instead of repealing the tax cuts on his wealthy friends, Bush has decided that we need to send less money to retired War Vets and kids in public school. What a guy! But here's the other thing. Bush's budget is just kind of a suggestion. He can't force Congress to go along with his cuts. So again, years from now he can feign innocence. "I tired to cut the deficit in half by the time I left office, but the Congress just wouldn't screw over the kids or the old people who risked their lives to defend our country. What more could I do?"

Tirades, etc.

When Bush first pledged to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009, he projected the budget deficit for 2005 would be $365 billion; and $260 billion by 2006. That was about a year ago. In his new and improved budget, we have an actual 2005 deficit of $427 and a projected deficit of $390 billion for 2006. So why should we trust him now?

Does anyone remember a time when conservatives were for actually for balanced budgets, and not just pretending they were with fake budgets that would find better uses in public restrooms? What the heck happened to fiscal conservatives within the Republican Party? (Do I sound like a broken record by this point?)

Quotes, etc

Let's end with a nonpartisan quote. It comes from Robert Bixby, Executive Director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan org concerned with budget spending and deficits. (And unlike those other non-partisan think-tanks *cough-cough,, cough-cough* it really is nonpartisan. Check the website.)

“The President deserves credit for proposing cuts in entitlement programs. Any serious deficit reduction plan must do so. On the other hand, closing the budget window at 5 years omits the cost of the President’s two biggest initiatives - permanent extension of expiring tax cuts and Social Security reform. Given the huge demographic challenges that begin to impact the budget over the coming five years, we need to take a longer view of how today’s policies will play out,” Bixby said.

Or maybe the more overtly partisan, and more overtly Christian, Sojourners is more appealing.

"This budget reflects a set of priorities that stand in clear opposition to biblical values. Spending more money on nuclear warheads and tax cuts that benefit the rich is not a strategy that would be affirmed by the biblical prophets -- and the proposed cuts to low-income programs will not even realize the president's stated goal of reducing the deficit."

Either way, they both get an amen. And amen, Brother Danielson. Download his song from the Secretly Canadian website, and forget about how our White House seems hell-bent on bankrupting the government. Starve the beast, biaaaatch!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Letters to authors

Though there are larger and more sinister things afoot, I don't have much to say this week. Except that PBS's "Frontline" is the best show on television (followed ever-so-closely by "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"). If you have the chance to see the current "Frontline" about the history between the House of Saud and the U.S. government, you should, even though it's two hours long with no commercial breaks. It's a really great piece of journalism, and makes me guilty that I've never pledged money to public television.

I did come across this tonight -- a letter I wrote to Anne Lamott a few months back, but never mailed. I think I will finally print it off and mail it tomorrow. You really shouldn't bother with it. Only if you're bored and/or dying. Othersie, Drop it likes it's hot.


Dear Miss Anne,

I have no idea if this letter will ever reach you hands. Writing letters to people through big, scary agencies is not the way things should be. But you have fans upon fans I've come to realize. And you probably don't want them at your front doorstep, bearing gifts of homespun, woolen blankets and crockpot/stewey concoctions, that smell heavily of unkempt livestock and sweaty herbs.

So maybe you won't get this. But that's okay. Maybe the reason for writing letters is actually more in the writing -- in the the sending of messages -- than it is in the receiving and reading of messages. Not to make this sound like a writing exercise; think of it more like shouting at a picture of one's mother after getting off the phone with her that one time when she wouldn't stop hinting that it's harder for 25-year-olds to find a wife than it is for 24-year-olds. But this isn't yelling. And you aren't my mother. And I have no pictures of you. Also, we rarely speak on the phone.

Mostly, this letter is saying about how much enjoy what you write. And the things you write about. And how you write about them. I first was introduced to you during a Creative Writing class with Del Doughty. (You don't know Del, I just like to name drop people with great names that roll of the tongue.) And he had us read Bird by Bird and another book on poetry that sits in my bathroom. Bird by Bird I loved, drinking it like apple juice with pretzels (which I also love). The poetry book I didn't read, didn't even do the exercises we had due in class, because the cover was so much better than the introduction. And I couldn't get over that. So it sits in my bathroom, because I hope to get past the introduction someday. And collecting dust in the bathroom makes more sense than collecting dust on the bookshelf. Why? Because it just does.

After that was Traveling Mercies, during the summer after my Junior year when I didn't get a job, mooched off my older brother for a few weeks, then returned to my parents house, broke and depressed. Not because of your book, but because I passed up my regular summer job as a camp counselor in hopes of landing an internship with a major publisher, being rejected by said major publisher, then having difficulty finding jobs at grocery stores and small radio stations after having DJ'd at my college station for two years. That doesn't help much with grocery stores, but I had hoped it would with radio stations. But neither would have me. I read your book and half of Anna Karenina that summer. Some others, too. But those are the only ones I can remember.

Operating Instructions waited until this last year, during my AmeriCorps year in Montana, at a young Boys & Girls Club in small-town Montana. I bought many, many books two summers ago, before I came out here, called "rah-rah Jesus Books," because I thought my faith might suffer in the midst of small-town narrow-mindedness, and churches that have American and Israeli flying in their sanctuaries, speaking of our President as if he were God's right hand. But it didn't. In fact, I did better than expected. I didn't get into fights, didn't patronize, didn't even make jokes under my breath (there was this one time where I mentioned unions and Wal-Mart, and a large man looked like he might hit me, were it not for his wife politely stepping in). So the rah-rah Jesus books didn't get read, expect for Operating Instructions
(which wasn't rah-rah at all, contrarywise to my friend's advertised opinion), and two separate books by Philip Yancey and Oswald Chambers (more name dropping!).

You might notice that I didn't mention any of your fiction. This is for one reason. Since Modern Brit Lit with Todd Martin, especially since our reading of To The Lighthouse, I have had laborious difficulty reading adult literature, for more reasons than this letter is long. So in the interest of brevity, Virginia Woolf has ruined fiction for me (though not children's fiction, which I have come to simply adore in recent years). I really can't read grown-up books anymore, except the occasional Nick Hornby, because his characters are children in grown-up bodies. Which makes them OK I guess. Don't worry if it doesn't make sense to you, because I don't understand it either.

That's that I guess. I really like to read what you write. Because it makes me buoyant, and it keeps me grounded. And it makes me want to write, too. Senior year of college, I had a column in the school newspaper, where I wrote about anything, and they even let me use run-on sentences and improper punctuation and way too many conjunctions, like I was a big-shot or something. And people liked it. Which made me impulsive and rash, and led me into an impulsive and rash relationship, which led me to an impulsively, rash broken heart, which led into a spring break trip to Haiti, visiting orphanages and hospitals, receiving more than I could possibly give. But what I meant to talk about was writing, and how my writing friends had said I sounded like you, only worse. Personally, I was offended, thinking I sounded like Dave Eggers, only worse.

A little about me before I go, just to give you an idea of who is actually writing this. My name is Jonny, not John. I was born Jonathan, but Jonny stuck early on, and even though I'm a 20-something with a beard, Jonny I shall remain. Music and God and politics and take up much of my time. I guess I'm a liberal Republican, which I've isn't supposed to exist so far away from the coasts. But oh well. It makes life interesting.

As far as music goes, I like bands with names like Cake, Over the Rhine, and Iron & Wine. It's funny to me how music can make you like names that you used to hate. Say, for instance, the name Damien. Such a creepy, occultish kind of name. But when I found not one, but two artists with the name Damien to enjoy, suddenly it sounds as common as Danny or Kevin. I could even have a friend named Damien now, and not even think twice about the off-chance that he might be the anti-Christ (though I might think it at least once, before I got to know him and all).

So that's it, I guess. I've said my peace. And more, too. I'm moving back to the midwest soon, for more school, in hopes of finding a trade of some sort that pays the bills. Because I tend to like electricity, hot showers, and foods other than beans from the can. Wish me luck! (I'm such a sellout.)

Thank you for writing such wonderful words in such wonderful patterns about things that I needed to so desperately hear. Enjoy yourself.

Yours truly,

Jonny Rice


Mailboxes, etc. Goodnight.

Monday, February 07, 2005

from the morning

It's late. And I can't find sleep. So instead I worry about things beyond my control, and read the funnies.

Sorry if this is too cynical, and sorry for all the "f" bombs, but David Rees's "Get Your War On" is the funniest comic strip on the planet. Rees started it about one month after 9/11, just as the War on Terror was heating up. It's complete and utter satire, and complete and utter leftist propaganda. It's maddening and hilarious and depressing all at the same time. Here are a few of my faves, "f" bombs included. (I feel like I will lose friends with this post, but can't help it...)

I can't believe these are real.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Twinkies can't be alive...Or can they?

Okay, okay, so maybe twinkies have little to do with biology, BUT they are awesome little treats on which we can perform a variety of scientific experiments. As two post-grads from Rice University can attest. Their results can be found at the aptly named website, "The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project."

The researches performed a variety of experiments in order to test the conductivity, flammability, solubility, gravitational response, radiation output, maximum density and intelligence/sentience of Twinkies brand snack cakes. This is science! Don't try to refute the indisputable facts of empirical observation and the rational mind!

And seek to answer the question once and for all -- animal, plant or mineral?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Continuing Biology Week

Again, from Instant Biology, by Boyce Rensberger:

In the nineteenth century, it became fashionable in Asia to grind away the brown hulls of rice, leaving the grains a more appealing white. Soon after, a new disease called beriberi (Singhalese for "extreme weakness") became widespread. Symptoms varied, but the disease usually involve debilitating heart disorders.

Various researchers noticed that beriberi was common among eaters of polished rice but absent among the poorer social strata, where people made do with old-fashioned, less-desirable brown (unpolished) rice. In 1912 the Polish scientist Casimir Funk found that pigeons with beriberi could be cured by feeding them discarded rice hulls. Funk suggested beriberi and some other diseases were the result of certain nutrients missing from the diet. He dubbed them vitamins, for "vital amines."

Funk was wrong about the chemical nature (amines are substances derived from ammonia) but right about the existence of diseases caused by the absence of certain trace nutrients. The necessary factor in rice hulls was isolated in 1926 -- thiamine, now usually called B1.

So even though brown rice is icky, it's better than death.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Interrupting Biology Week

In tonight's State of the Union address, President Bush will make a strong push for his plan to privatize Social Security. Before he does, however, we would do well to review the facts of Social Security as they now stand.

Fact #1 - The federal government has historically run a cash-flow surplus on Social Security. That means that it has collected far more tax-dollars than it gave back in benefits. Instead of returning our tax-dollars, our government smartly looked longterm and set the money aside in a trust fund to be used if this surplus ever ran out.

Fact #2 - This surplus has been used by the government to fund the deficits in our Medicare program. Benefits given by Medicare spending have been higher than revenues brought in by taxes. The government has been borrowing money from the Social Security trust fund to keep Medicare from running out of money.

Fact #3 - If the Social Security trust fund is ever depleted, the federal government could still pay 80% of benefits to retirees drawing Social Security.

Contrary to what the Bush Administration is saying, Social Security will not go bankrupt any time soon. Bush has been floating a 2018 figure, though I'm sure where he's gotten that from (I'm open to comments). The Congressional Budget Office has said that the trust fund will run out by 2052, but keep in mind that the government will still be able to pay 80% of benefits after that date.

One thing our President has failed to mention is how much Wall Street will benefit from the privatization of Social Security. Some of our tax-dollars will be diverted from going straight to retirees, to being invested in the stock market. Which would be a boon for investment firms and the mutual fund industry, who will make money on the accounts by service fees regardless of whether or not the accounts actually make money.

It must be noted that there is no guarantee that moneys diverted to the stock market will find a greater rate of return than if they were left in the Social Security trust fund. If our economy keeps clicking, they might. Emphasis on might. If we run into trouble due to inflation, federal budget deficits, public credit spending, American imports far outweighing exports, or a combination of the above, our economy could be in for a major rough spot, something akin the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Which is why Social Security needs to be there. If we privatize accounts, and the economy tanks, there's no safety net for the low-income and middle-class elderly. If we keep Social Security as is, Americans won't be hit quite as hard. This isn't to say that Social Security has no problems. It does. But other options should be considered, rather than overhauling the whole system.

President Bush has repeatedly said that he will not borrow the $2 trillion it would take to privatize Social Security. Diverting funds from Social Security into private accounts for young Americans leaves a shortfall in funds needed by current and future retirees. That's where the $2 trillion comes in. Borrowing the money would be a disaster, and Bush recognizes that. But he's also said he will not raise taxes to cover the shortfall either. In fact, Bush hasn't said a word about how he plans to fund his privatization plan.

In his road map to a so-called "ownership society," all President Bush has left us with so far is the ownership of trillions of dollars worth in debt.

But here's the funny thing -- there is an actual entitlements crisis, but not with Social Security. The real crisis is with Medicare and Medicaid, which are borrowing money from Social Security in order to stay afloat. That should be where the focus of our attention lies in the short-term. Health care costs, due to a number of factors, have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. And government programs that partially cover health costs for the poor and elderly are running out of money.

But no one wants to talk about that. For one, because Medicare and Medicaid only benefit the low-income, who have little voice in Washington politics (while everyone, wealthy or not, receives Social Security). But also because there's no easy way out of Medicare's deficits, other than by raising taxes. Which is why the subject is so taboo. In our current political climate, talk of raising taxes is akin to legislative suicide.

So instead, we debate Social Security. Which isn't in crisis, but sure as heck makes for better political bantering, and also helps score major points with constituents.

Yeah for politicians.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005 first and greatest love.

Today's biology excerpt comes from Instant Biology by Boyce Rensberger.

So far biologists have identified and given names to just over 1.4 million species of animals, plants and microorganisms. As any camper could guess, most of them are insects. To be almost exact, 751,000 of them are insects. And of the insect world, 290,000 species (nearly 40 percent) are beetles. That makes beetles by far the most diverse form of life known on Earth. Biologists noticed this fact back in the 1800s, and it led to one of the most celebrated quips in biology: When Darwin's friend, Thomas Henry Huxley, was asked what the study of creation had revealed about the mind of the creator, he replied, "That the Almighty has an inordinate fondness for beetles."

Thus begins "Biology Week" here at TBCBYL. Excitement!