Comparing the Candidates

Choosing a President, not a Dictator

What is the role of the President of the United States?

According to the White House web site (https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/executive-branch), the following are the roles of the President of the United States:

  • Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress.
  • The President has the power either to sign legislation into law or to veto bills enacted by Congress, although Congress may override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses.
  • The Executive Branch conducts diplomacy with other nations, and the President has the power to negotiate and sign treaties, which also must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.
  • The President can issue executive orders, which direct executive officers or clarify and further existing laws.
  • The President also has unlimited power to extend pardons and clemencies for federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment.

It may come as a surprise to some how limited the President’s power really is. If you’ve taken any civics classes in school hopefully it isn’t such a surprise. I bring this up because I am about to provide the “campaign promises” of 3 of the presidential candidates. I would like you to try to keep in mind the above while I provide the information from each candidate’s web site as to what each candidate is claiming they will do if elected President. Anything in parenthesis I have added for clarification (I pretty much copy and pasted the promises right from the site so I wouldn’t contaminate what the candidate was trying to say. The sarcastic labels and ridiculous fake quotes are mine.

The Promises

Hillary Clinton

The Socialist Dictator – “I will fix all of your problems and make everyone be nice to you.”

Source: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/

  • Hillary will make debt-free college available to everyone and take on student loan debt.
  • Hillary will commit to preventing, effectively treating, and making a cure possible for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025
  • Hillary will work so that every citizen is automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they opt out
  • As president, Hillary will work to reduce air pollution
  • As president, Hillary will End violence against the transgender community—particularly women of color.
  • Hillary believes that we can afford to pay for ambitious, progressive investments in good-paying jobs, debt-free college, and other measures to strengthen growth, broaden opportunity, and reduce inequality. Hillary will use the proceeds from ensuring the wealthiest and the largest corporations pay their fair share to pay for these investments without adding to the debt.
  • She will also guarantee equal pay for women.
  • She will help families that are being squeezed by rising health care costs—reducing the burden of co-pays and deductibles, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and making insurance premiums more affordable.
  • Hillary will set bold national goals to eliminate lead poisoning within five years, protect public health and safety by modernizing drinking and wastewater systems, clean up the more than 450,000 toxic brownfield sites across the country, and expand solar and energy efficiency solutions in low-income communities.
  • Hillary Clinton will fight to bring an end to sexual assault on America’s campuses.
  • Hillary will build the tech economy on Main Street by:
    • committing that 100 percent of households in America will have access to high-speed, affordable broadband by 2020
    • Deploying 5G wireless and other next-generation systems that can deliver faster wireless connections and enable the Internet of Things
  • As president, Hillary will work to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Hillary Clinton is proposing a bold plan to prevent and treat addiction, support people in recovery, and take on this epidemic (drugs) once and for all.
  • As president, Hillary will make preschool universal for every 4-year-old in America.
  • As president, Hillary will double our investment in Early Head Start and the Early Head Start–Child Care Partnership program
  • Hillary will increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems.
  • As president, Hillary will strengthen American manufacturing through a $10 billion investment in “Make it in America” partnerships that bring together workers and labor, business, universities, community colleges, and government at every level to harness the strength of manufacturing communities across America.
  • As president, she would oppose Republican efforts to raise the retirement age
  • Hillary will ensure Medicare can negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, so we lower costs for seniors.

Donald Trump

The Businessman – “I’ll hire the best, fire the rest, and make my company… err…  country great again!”

Source: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/

  • Provide 6 weeks of paid leave to new mothers before returning to work.
  • Incentivizing employers to provide childcare at the workplace.
  • Order an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities, including critical infrastructure, by a Cyber Review Team of individuals from the military, law enforcement, and the private sector.
  • Make the VA great again by firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down, by modernizing the VA, and by empowering the doctors and nurses to ensure our veterans receive the best care available in a timely manner.
  • Negotiate fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages, and reduce America’s trade deficit.
  • Reduce taxes across-the-board, especially for working and middle-income Americans who will receive a massive tax reduction.
  • Ensure the rich will pay their fair share, but no one will pay so much that it destroys jobs or undermines our ability to compete.
  • Issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations that are not compelled by Congress or public safety in order to give our American companies the certainty they need to reinvest in our community, get cash off of the sidelines, start hiring again, and expanding businesses. We will no longer regulate our companies and our jobs out of existence.
  • Cancel immediately all illegal and overreaching executive orders.
  • Decrease the size of our already bloated government after a thorough agency review.
  • Work with Congress to fully repeal the defense sequester and submit a new budget to rebuild our depleted military.
  • Increase the size of the U.S. Army to 540,000 active duty soldiers, which the Army Chief of Staff says he needs to execute current missions.
  • Establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.
  • Protect the economic well-being of the lawful immigrants already living here by curbing uncontrolled foreign worker admissions
  • Repeal and replace Obamacare with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
  • Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.
  • Establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged children living in poverty.
  • Appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who will uphold our laws and our Constitution. The replacement for Justice Scalia will be a person of similar views and principles who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.
  • Defend the Second Amendment of our Constitution. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.
  • Enforce the laws on the books. We need to get serious about prosecuting violent criminals.
  • Reform policies with a pro-growth tax plan, a new modern regulatory framework, an America-First trade policy, an unleashed American energy plan, and the “penny plan.” (reduce discretionary spending each year by 1%)

Gary Johnson

The Libertarian – “Sex, drugs, and peace man…”

Source: https://www.johnsonweld.com/issues

  • Governor Johnson has pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.
  • Governor Johnson advocates for the elimination of special interest tax loopholes, to get rid of the double-taxation on small businesses, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that determines your tax burden by how much you spend, not how much you earn. Such a tax would be structured to ensure that no one’s tax burden for the purchase of basic family necessities would be increased.
  • Limit terms. Increase accountability. Bring back representation.
  • We simply need to apply common sense to regulatory policy. Let’s get rid of the unnecessary laws and taxes that syphon the resources businesses use to create the jobs we need.
  • Protect Privacy. Promote Freedom. Trust Liberty.
  • No Nation Building. No Policing the World. More Security Here at Home.
  • Protect Religious Freedom. Enforce Common Sense Non-discrimination Laws.
  • Our military will not be asked to engage in nation-building or to somehow resolve conflicts on the other side of the globe that have defied resolution for hundreds of years. The men and women of our military will only be asked to protect and defend the United States – and to do so with a firm understanding of the objective.
  • For our veterans who have served and returned to civilian life, many with injuries and emotional scars, Gov. Johnson pledges to provide them with the health care, support and transitional assistance they deserve – and rightfully expect.
  • Practical (Immigration) Reform. No Walls. Incentivize Assimilation.
  • End the War on Drugs. Reduce Recidivism. Support Law Enforcement.
  • Too many unnecessary laws have produced a society with too many people in our prisons and jails.
  • Keep the Internet Free (as in speech, not beer). Protect Privacy. Get a Warrant.
  • Protect the Environment. Promote Competition. Incentivize Innovation.
  • Governor Johnson believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education.
  • Appreciate Life. Respect Choice. Stay Out of Personal Decisions.
  • Governors Johnson and Weld would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol.

My take on these goals/promises

Hillary Clinton

While one could argue that many of these campaign promises are noble goals, I have a few problems with several of them. I will go over just a few, and it’s worth noting that the list of what she is promising to do is nowhere near complete above.

But first, let’s start with something I appreciate in concept but have my doubts about. She will work to fulfill the promise of the ADA. Now, obviously this is near and dear to my heart and I certainly want to ensure that universal accessibility is encouraged so that people with various disabilities have the same opportunities for success that everyone else has. This is at least a constitutional mandate and something which she has some control over since she is supposed to over-see enforcement of the laws on the books and those laws already exist. This is all at least plausible.

Now for some not so plausible promises. For instance, apparently, a vote for Hillary means we’ll have a cure for Alzheimers, campus rapes will end, air pollution will be reduced, lead poisoning will be eliminated, and nobody will be harassed for being different than anyone else. I’m sorry, but the idea that the person who holds the office of the President of the United States is going to magically be able to fix all of society’s problems in 4-8 years is preposterous. I find it hard to take anyone seriously who doesn’t have realistic goals. Speaking of realistic…

The idea of offering free college tuition to all AND taking on all of the existing student loan debt is an insanely expensive proposition. There is currently over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt (per Federal Reserve report). Now, I realize that she is convinced that she can just take enough money from rich people to pay for all of this. In fact, in another of her statements above she mentions that if rich people and large corporations just paid their “fair share” of taxes, this country would have enough money to pay all our debts and pay for all of the new things she wants the Federal Government to do. Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone thinks this is realistic.

Another unrealistic claim is that Hillary is going to provide affordable high speed internet to 100% of households by 2020. First off, the Federal Government doesn’t deploy high speed Internet for consumers so, no, she isn’t. Now, if this is a real goal perhaps she means she’s going to pay for the infrastructure required to get high speed Internet everywhere and then lease it to telecommunications companies. If that’s the case I don’t think she has even considered both the upfront costs and ongoing costs for something like that. There are many technical, legal, and logistical reasons it’s been slow to reach rural areas. But honestly, I think it’s more likely that she’s just not thinking of rural areas. Her primary support comes from big cities.

My final concern with these goals is that I don’t want a Dictator in Chief. I don’t want the Federal Government determining down to the city level what has to happen. That’s not how our country was designed and there are many excellent reasons for this. My son had a writing assignment asking him to explain how the Constitution defends our country from tyranny. It does, and that is why I get concerned when people call it a “living document” to be interpreted like it’s some ancient script. It’s the law. It’s the law that the government must follow to ensure we are able to live free from unwarranted intervention.

Donald Trump

Mr. Trump seems to have put a great deal of his focus on military and law. He wants to increase the size of the military in terms of people, weapons, etc. There also seems to be a strong desire to strongly enforce existing laws. Interestingly, I find this a bit worrisome since I don’t think many people know the actual laws of this country. There are simply too many to know and many that exist have been unenforced for so long that people ignore them. His stated goals of putting our country first is reasonable and understandable but I am concerned that doing so by re-negotiating all trade treaties while bolstering a military which is already larger in many ways than the next several countries combined could certainly be taken as “saber rattling”. I’m not convinced that’s the posture that we, as a country, should be taking. Defend our country? Absolutely. Make sure the whole world knows we can take them all out? Not so much.

I do appreciate his statements regarding stopping additional regulation until the existing ones have been vetted a bit. Regulations are a significant cost to small businesses and can make it very difficult to try to start a company without accidentally running afoul of obscure rules that you didn’t know exist. You shouldn’t need a lawyer, accountant, and HR consultant just to build and sell some widgets.

While he appears to be staying within the confines of the Presidential office, I do have a problem with the rather heavy-handed approach that he appears to want to take out of frustration. He has stated his frustration with the government for many years, especially in regards to what he sees as “weakness” or “leniency” and I am concerned his goal is to over-correct for this.

Gary Johnson

I think one of the most difficult promises Mr. Johnson has made is the one to balance the budget. This is no small or simple task and it is certainly unpopular. Consider that we are currently running a deficit of about $500 billion. Making a real budget that actually reduced our expenditures to what the government was expecting to bring in through taxes would be no easy task. It should also not that while he can submit a budget for approval, and he can veto spending bills, at the end of the day it is still Congress who really decides where the money goes. Gary vetoed many spending bills as Governor of New Mexico but still couldn’t stop increased spending in the State. But at least he’s honest about it and he’s done it before.

While Mr. Johnson does want to ensure that the US is defended from enemies he also feels strongly that our interference in foreign conflicts has actually made us less secure and has not been the correct use of our forces. I believe a focus on strengthening real defenses around our country instead of being spread out around the world will allow us to spend more wisely and get more bang for our buck (forgive the pun) when it’s not being spread out across the entire planet.

Finally, I feel Mr. Johnson is even stronger than Mr. Trump in his desire to reduce unnecessary regulations while still using the rule of law to protect people and the environment. I also believe Mr. Johnson will make sane, rational, decisions for our country and take steps to wind back much of the over-reach the Federal government has made into States, counties, cities, and neighborhoods.

Summary

Obviously my writing is biased, I support Gary Johnson. So please don’t read this thinking I have taken some completely logical and disconnected analysis of the candidates. However, I think I have fairly summarized what they would say about themselves. I have also done my best to avoid the controversial issues such as legal problems, personality traits, etc. There has been enough dirt digging and mud slinging. I thought it would be interesting to look at what each of the three candidates was saying about their policies and approach to the position and look primarily at that. I think that even if we just look at that, Gary Johnson best represents what most Americans want for our country. Less government, more freedom, and less war.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gary Johnson for President of the United States

What is a Libertarian?

Hi. My name is Michael, and I’m a Libertarian. I say it like that because it almost feels as big a stigma as admitting I’m an alcoholic. There are some pretty strange ideas about what a Libertarian looks like, and realistically, that makes perfect sense. That’s because Libertarianism should, by definition, attract a very diverse group of people.

For instance, the Libertarian platform supports the right for anyone to marry anyone. Score one for the left. It also supports lower tax rates for everyone, including businesses. Score one for the right. It supports the right for people to have access to drugs such as alcohol and marijuana. Score one for young adults. It supports a smaller government with fewer laws and regulations which could eventually lead to the revocation of laws that allow people to be targeted by police (such as misdemeanors, jay-walking, panhandling, broken tail-lights, loitering, etc). Score one for the poor and targeted minorities.

There is a misconception that Libertarians are for no government. That would be anarchists, not Libertarians. Libertarians believe in limited government. There should only be the amount of government and law necessary to secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Now, this article is not really about Libertarianism. However, I thought it necessary to at least touch on what it means a little before going on because I have done a reasonable amount of research on former Governor Gary Johnson, who is running for President of the United States in 2016 and is endorsed by the Libertarian Party. I would say he is the Libertarian candidate but that might confuse things a bit because he’s not actually allowed to run as a Libertarian candidate in all States. In fact, in some, such as Ohio, he will be listed as an Independent.

Who is Gary Johnson?

Gary Johnson was born in 1953 in North Dakota. In 1975 he graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. During college he made money as a door to door handyman. In 1976 he started his own company, Big J Enterprises. It was a mechanical contracting company that started as just him. When he sold it in 1999 it was a multi-million dollar construction company that employed over 1,000 people.

His political career started when he ran for Governor of New Mexico in 1994 as a Republican. He won against a Democratic incumbent and kept his campaign promise of reducing the 10% annual growth of the State budget. In order to do so he vetoed 200 of 424 bills in just his first 6 months and used his line-item veto on nearly every other bill. He earned himself the nickname “Governor Veto”. According to former New Mexico Republican National Committee member Mickey D. Barnett, “Any time someone approached him about legislation for some purpose, his first response always was to ask if government should be involved in that to begin with.” However, that didn’t stop him from increasing spending on education by ⅓ during his first term because he understands the value of an educated constituency.

Governor Johnson was re-elected in 1998. After seeing that his plan to improve education by putting more money into public schools failed, he attempted twice to introduce a voucher system which would allow students in poorer performing schools to go to the school of their choice, on the government’s tab. Unfortunately, the Democratic majority congress refused to do vouchers and both initiatives were blocked. Governor Johnson did not run for a third term due to term limits for Governor of New Mexico.

What are his stances on the major issues?

Drugs

In 2000 Gary Johnson joined others who pointed out that the war on drugs had been largely unsuccessful and very expensive. He feels that drug addiction should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal issue. He is for the legalization of marijuana and for currently illegal narcotics to be treated instead like other restricted narcotics currently used by doctors. It’s not that he is against education about and restrictions on the use of marijuana. However, he feels that the end result of the war on drugs has been much like that of prohibition.

Taxes

The tax code has been used as a tool for government to pick winners and losers in a wide variety of areas. Providing tax incentives for some activities but not others has affected decisions such as:

  • Whether or not to get married
  • Whether or not to use debt to buy a house
  • What kinds of investments to invest in
  • What kinds of savings accounts to put money in
  • What country to put your corporate headquarters in

The list goes on and on. Ironically, many of the people I hear crying about corporations “not paying their fair share” seem to be forgetting two things. First, most of them are obeying the law and paying exactly what the law requires of them. Second, the consumer pays their taxes. The money that any corporation receives to qualify it to pay taxes comes from me. So, why not lift the complex veil of secrecy and have a flat consumption tax so that for the first time ever we might begin to actually see just how much money the government has been taking from us?

The Federal Budget

Speaking of taking money from us, apparently we don’t have enough to take. So, the Federal Government has been borrowing from foreign countries at an alarming rate. Gary Johnson would require a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no borrowing, an actual balanced budget where the citizens of the United States contribute directly to the funding of necessary Federal Government services. I know, it’s unheard of. Inconceivable. But it’s more than necessary. The current 2017 U.S. federal budget is $503 billion. Total spending is $4.1 trillion. That means we are projected to spend 13.8% more than we take in. Let’s not forget the fact that we owe about $14 trillion already. As Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson vetoed spending bills and line items in spending bills to reduce government spending.

Term Limits

Despite being on the receiving end of term limits himself, Gary Johnson is in favor of enacting term limits on congressmen in order to curtail the negative effects of having career politicians. At some point, campaigning becomes nothing more than job security and even the best intentioned person can become stuck in the rut of focusing on the next election instead of on the real work and issues necessary to keep the government running. I would point to the existence of large regulatory bodies which have taken the place of lawmakers in many ways as one of the unintended negative side effects of career politicians.

Government Spying

There has been a great deal of information revealed about the extent to which the U.S. government has been spying on it’s citizens. At best, there have been easily obtained warrants requiring almost no evidence. At worst, there hasn’t even been that. The Federal Government has even attempted to require private companies to intentionally weaken the security of their systems by building in secret back-doors that would give the Federal Government access to all encrypted data and computer systems. Gary Johnson is against this kind of all-invasive and all-knowing government intrusion.

Immigration

Gary Johnson’s strategy for illegal immigration is a unique one. Fix the immigration system. I know, that shouldn’t seem unique. Yet, with all of the talk about immigration going on the simple fact of how complicated and expensive and, quite honestly, seemingly arbitrary the system is it’s no wonder people choose the easier route. That would be illegal immigration. Having gone through the entire process from temporary foreign worker to permanent resident to citizen I can assure you that every natural born citizen I have told my story to has been shocked at how hard it all has been. I wonder if H1-B visas still have the education exemption for fashion models (no I’m not kidding).

But You’re a Christian

Some people might wonder how I, as a very conservative Christian can support a candidate who is for same sex marriage and marijuana. It’s pretty simple, really. From my point of view, the government needn’t be involved in marriage at all. Marriage is a religious ceremony and many different religions do it differently. This is a country that espouses the freedom of religion for good reason. So, if the government wants to give permission to people to marry animals it really doesn’t affect me because I’m not going to marry an animal. As for marijuana, honestly, I see it as being about as dangerous as alcohol. There are many things in this country that are legal that I will never do. It doesn’t mean they should be illegal.

It’s Not a Wasted Vote

I have encountered many people who have said they agree with most of what the Libertarian Party, and Gary Johnson, stand for but aren’t willing to throw away their vote. The Democrats I know don’t really like Hillary but are terrified of Trump. The Republicans I know don’t like Trump but are terrified of Hillary. Most folks seem to be encouraging each other to vote against the “other” candidate instead of “for” any candidate. And really, who can blame them? But seriously, I’m going to vote “for” Gary Johnson because he is “for” the Federal Government following its constitutional limitations and “for” more freedom and less debt for us all. Please read more about Gary Johnson and his running mate, former Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld at http://www.johnsonweld.com/ and consider voting for Gary Johnson for President of the United States.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts from the Abbey – April 2016

The Teaching

I don’t generally attend the Saturday morning teachings offered by the monks. In the past I have found them to be a bit too “theoretical” and amorphous for use in daily life. Sometimes there was even far more reference to extra-biblical sources than the Bible itself which I tend to question when the teachings seem “non-traditional”. However, a newer monk named Brother Carlos, who had only been around for about 20 years, gave the introduction Friday evening. He really caught my interest so I decided to attend the teaching the next day.

I appreciated that he shared a bit of his own life in his teachings and stories. I also appreciated that he had some very practical advice about both life and how to spend the time in retreat. He encouraged us not to dwell on all of our past failings. These, he said, were the sign of a chaotic heart and we should be here to quiet our hearts. He also discouraged creating resolutions while we are here for the simple reason that what seems like a good idea in the quiet of solitude doesn’t necessarily work out when you hit the world again.

Another topic he touched on was tenderness. He pointed out that we often see tenderness as a sign of weakness but that, in fact, it is a sign of great strength. He shared a story of when he was watching a group of sumo wrestlers get off a train in the presence of many fans in Japan (Brother Carlos apparently gets around). A woman broke free from the crowd and “shoved” her baby in the face of one of the wrestlers. He smiled, took the baby in his huge arms and cradled it lovingly, much to the glee of the baby. That is how Brother Carlos asked us to think about tenderness, as great strength that gives comfort, security, and joy to the receiver. Isn’t that exactly how Christ is toward us? Isn’t He all-powerful and yet comforts us when we are weak?

As a side note, when we entered the room there were some notes on the whiteboard which apparently had been from someone else giving the same lesson at some other time. There was a part of the notes that, while I couldn’t be sure of the context, seemed wrong and out of place to me. As Brother Carlos was going through the teaching and using the notes already on the board he noticed this extra part, stopped, and said “I disagree with that, I’m going to remove that”, and continued on with his teaching. So, of course I like him, we had something we disagreed with in common and how uniting is that?

The Catholic Bible

There was a Catholic Bible on my desk this time and I noticed it said “The Revised Standard Version Catholic Bible”. The name intrigued me because it sounded not far off of the kinds of names I hear for Protestant bibles. I read the introduction and it was a very interesting history about why the Catholic Bible has more books than the Protestant Bible (called the Apocrypha). It also mentioned a hope that a single Bible based on critical translation principles of the oldest original texts could help bring together the various denominations and reduce the amount of misconception and prejudice between the Churches.

I decided to read the Apocrypha. They were Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Macabees. Sirach felt kind of weird and out of place but the others seemed to fit in well. Not that I would know how to determine something like that. I also appreciated that the Macabees helped fill in some history closer to Christ’s coming.

The Catholic Explanatory Notes

I was reading the “Explanatory Notes” section in the Appendix, which appears to be a bit of a watered down version of the notes found in a Study Bible. In there I found a few things that concerned me and would like to expound on some of those.

Evolution

While I have no problem with the statement that the Bible isn’t meant to present a scientific picture of the creation of the universe, I do object to the fact that this often, as is the case in the notes on Genesis 2:4, turns into a statement that this does not exclude the evolution hypothesis.

However, we see constantly throughout the Bible the theme that sin brings death. God clearly wants to get this point across to us. Before “the fall” (or sin), animals and humans ate plants, not meat. There is no indication of death in human or animal. After the original sin, death came to creation. Creation was changed so that there were thorns and thistles. God himself killed the first animal for clothing Adam and Eve. Now, scientifically, evolution states that life evolved from a primitive single-cell organism to eventually mutate over millions of years into the wide variety of creatures we see today (I won’t even start with the purely scientific problems with that). If you believe that, then death existed long before even the concept of sin. At what point in human evolution did God reveal himself to mankind then? Were Adam and Eve Homo Erectus or Homo Sapien? Or, is it just a fairy tale with a moral to the story?

Here’s why it matters spiritually. If sin does not cause death then we don’t need to be forgiven for our sins. If sin does not cause death then when we die either we really are just dead (as the atheists believe) or God gives everyone everlasting life and “everyone goes to heaven” (as many “progressive” churches try to claim). But neither of these beliefs hold up to the rest of scripture. All of scripture from Genesis to Revelation points the believer to the fact that a Holy God has defined “sin” and that the consequence of sin is death. However, God is also merciful, so He sent His Son to live a sinless life in our place and to take His wrath in our place that we may have eternal life with the Father. Who is “we”? We are those who God has pre-ordained to receive the Holy Spirit and believe.

This is a hard truth because it feels “unfair” to the human mind. Why doesn’t God choose to save everyone? For that matter, why does he save any of us? But God is the creator of the entire universe and everything in it. He knows each and every one of us and made each of us in His image. He gets to set the rules and everything He does is to reveal His attributes. But all of this hinges on whether or not it is sin that leads to death or if death is just a tool God used to turn us into people over millions of years and is really no big deal.

The Manna

While I’m on my soap box, let’s talk about manna. The “Explanatory Notes” state that “The mysterious manna may have been a substance secreted by the tamarisk or perhaps by an insect that feeds on its leaves and is edible.” OK, so, if you want to try to make this all scientific then let’s be realistic. According to the rest of the story this fed an entire nation just the right amount of food 5 days a week and then doubled up once a week and stopped once a week. Also, these bugs or this substance just happened to be all over the desert as they wandered for 40 years and was able to feed the entire nation of Israel which likely numbered in the hundreds of thousands of people (conservatively). Then there is the term “Manna” itself as well as the description. The word “manna” suggests it was something they had never seen before (and the fact that the first thing the people asked was “What is it?”) and the description has not matched anything in the region before or after. This was clearly something completely unique created by God to sustain his people. If you struggle with that as a believer then I must presume you also don’t believe Christ’s miraculous provision of food to the masses.

The Name of God

One more rant before I get off my soapbox. In the Catholic Notes regarding Exodus 3:14 where Moses asks the name of God and God replies “I AM that I AM”, the notes say that “The translation is uncertain; it is, therefore, difficult to decide whether this is a refusal to disclose the name or an explanation of the divine title Yahweh revealed immediately afterward.” OK, so, you aren’t sure if God refused to give His name, and then changed His mind in the next breath. Whenever God doesn’t answer us the way we think He should we get all freaked out. I’m not certain why the translation is uncertain. There could certainly be something that got goofed up in different copies that is causing confusion (that I am unaware of). The KJV/Strong Concordance combo I used to study this seems pretty clear.

הָיָה אֲשֶׁר הָיָה

haw-yaw’ (Strong’s H 1961) / ash-er’ (Strong’s H 834) / haw-yaw'(Strong’s H 1961)

Now, admittedly, haw-yaw(1961) is a pretty generic term. It’s a single word that is used for the English words: is, was, be… You see a tonne of it throughout scripture for obvious reasons. So I can get where we, as humans, might not fully understand the implications of what God was saying. (If you wanted to be silly you could translate it “I is what I is”) But in the very next sentence He uses his covenantal name “יְהֹוָה” (yeh-ho-vaw’ – Strong’s H3068). I’m not sure how it’s not clear He was saying something profound about his existence and then “dumbing down” the conversation (because clearly we weren’t going to get it).

Do you believe?

Reading more through the “Explanatory Notes” I find a distressing pattern. God’s miracles are washed over and one seems to be encouraged to “take it with a grain of salt”. In reference to Joshua 6 and the fall of Jericho the “Notes” simply state “Here, as elsewhere, the history has been worked over in accordance with certain theological ideas.” Seriously, I would expect that from an atheist, not a believer. I get that the chronologies often skip generations and that numbers in Hebrew writing are often have more meaning than merit. However, if you can look at direct specific quoted conversation and basically just say “Yeah, someone probably just threw that in because it sounded good” then you can’t trust what’s in the Bible. If you can’t trust the Word of God then you can’t trust God and so, by definition, you don’t believe and you aren’t a believer.

And that’s OK. I’m not saying all of this to bash anyone. Either you believe the Word of God or you don’t. Either you have hope in your salvation through Jesus Christ or you don’t. But if you don’t believe the Word of God passed down through millennia and you don’t rest in the forgiveness of your sins through Christ’s work on the cross, please stop calling yourself a Christian. As I look at the world around me it’s clear that it is going to stop being “cool” to be a Christian in Western countries pretty soon anyway. You know, like how it’s not so cool to be called Christian in some places in the Middle East and Africa where you can be publicly executed for it. So please, stop checking the little box that says “Christian” when someone asks.

What is a Christian?

A Christian isn’t someone that thinks the fairy tales about a guy named Jesus Christ have some good ideas worth taking or leaving. A Christian is someone who, by the grace of God, believes that the God of the Hebrews, the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac, has judged all of mankind and found every one of us guilty of sinning against a Holy and Righteous God. A Christian believes that God, in his Mercy, sent his Spirit to Mary and she gave birth to Jesus Christ who was, in fact, a part of God humbling Himself to be born into flesh in order to live a sinless life as a human. A Christian believes that Jesus came for the sole purpose of being crucified on the cross as a physical representation of the wrath of God that He took in our place for our sins so that we could be forgiven. A Christian believes that 3 days later Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared physically in a real, working, (mostly) healed body to be a sign for all believers that they can share in His resurrection through faith in His works. A Christian believes that eternal life and forgiveness of sins can only come through faith in this truth. This is why Christians preach the Gospel whenever and wherever they can. If you truly believed this was the only way to save mankind from God’s wrath, wouldn’t you?

This is perhaps the real reason for the divisions in the Church. It’s not just about translations and inconsistencies. It’s about intentionally taking texts out of context. It’s about looking at a single verse instead of the Bible as a whole (which presumes you have even read it). It’s about not believing that God can and did get His message passed down to us over millennia despite using fallible humans. It’s about placing traditions over the authoritative word of God. It’s about teaching heresy in the name of Christ. That’s where the divisions between believers are created. And quite frankly, we saw some of the beginnings of this in the letters from the Apostles so we shouldn’t be so surprised that it exists today.

What is Human Life?

The Bible says God breathed life into mankind (Genesis 2:7). Science says human life is defined by DNA markings that are only slightly different than that of other animals (and even plants). The Bible says that God knew Jeremiah before He formed him in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5). That would indicate that a soul was prepared for the womb and that God forms us in the womb. Science would say you are a composition of the DNA strands that begin reproducing after the sperm fertilizes the egg. In fact, much medical research and technology is going into the science of reading that information so that diseases and other attributes of the person being born can be determined before birth.

I would argue both are true. It’s probably one of the few arenas where science and theology are more or less saying the same thing. So, if this is true, how can one argue that the fertilized egg is not, in fact, a human being? And if the unborn child is a human being, does it not have the same rights and protections under the law as a newborn, whether prematurely born or delivered via cesarean section, or otherwise? Obviously, I would argue yes. In that case, then intentionally cutting the human life short is murder.

So what then about abortion? How can we, as a civilized nation condone murder? Well, let’s consider the “actions” of the infant. At some point the child will come to term and need to be born. There are certainly medical issues that cause a very real risk of death or severe injury to the mother. Those are very vague terms which could lead to a large grey area. But is that a scenario where the right to health and safety are awarded to the mother over those of the child?

What of instances of rape? A woman has already been horribly assaulted and will already keep the emotional scars for life. Does the mother have the right to end the life of the child to avoid the trauma of giving birth to a child that is a constant reminder of her assault? But then, isn’t it also fair to ask about the trauma inflicted through abortion? It seems to me that this is a truly horrible position to be put in. There has already been one traumatic experience and now a woman (or child) is put in the position of choosing between two different traumatic experiences (one arguably shorter than the other but not necessarily less traumatic). But in all of this, what of the rights of the living human being? Who is his/her advocate?

Then what of “oopses”. What of the use of abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy because contraceptives failed (which happens a lot). The mother may or may not be married or have a committed partner. The mother be a professional and unwilling to give it up for motherhood yet. The mother may simply not desire children at all. So, one might argue (weakly) that it’s not the mother’s “fault” and that she has the right to “fix” the problem. However, this argument against the rights of another human being to live seem to pale in comparison.

Again, it’s not that I am looking to judge or say what is right. These are very difficult questions. However, I do believe the discussion around this issue is fraught with the “dehumanization” of the child in question when by both scientific and Biblical standards the unborn child is unquestionably a human being. Now whether or not the legal system wants to acknowledge the rights of a person not yet born is a whole other issue. At this point in the discussion, the law does not. So long as that is true, there is absolutely no legal protection for an unborn child and it has no right to life unless the mother says so. An interesting legal question to me would be, how long after a living child leaves the womb must it live to count as a person under the law? I ask this because that clarification might at least conceivably make the process of killing abortion procedure survivors illegal. Right now, I don’t believe it is.

Final thoughts

We continue to try to put God into a box we can understand. We want to be able to explain how He does what He does. We want to make Him more like us. This is all understandable. The idea of a God who can by His Word change the laws of physics, create a new element that doesn’t exist, or even change the constant of the speed of light and knows every thought we are thinking even before we think it is an awesome and frightening concept, as it should be. So we fear God and want to feel like we can control Him and manipulate Him. Well, that only works if He thinks and reasons like we do. So we imagine He is like us and can be tricked or bribed or that He likes the same things we like. But as Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

So He’s way smarter than us, morally perfect, all powerful, and scariest of all, He’s actively involved in our lives. Some people find peace in the hope that if there is a creator He’s off doing His own thing and ignoring us. But millennia of records state just the opposite. So where does that leave us? Well, as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Although I am imperfect, petty, jealous, and sinful, I will serve my Lord with as much Faith as He has given me and constantly ask forgiveness for my sins even as I battle against them to live a holy life. I don’t do this to earn anything, but out of love and gratitude for the saving changes He has made in my heart and His promises for what is yet to come.

Posted in Life | Leave a comment

Thoughts From the Abbey – February, 2014

The Arrival

This trip was different from the beginning. As I approached the Abbey I felt like a runner at the end of a long distance marathon. It took every last bit of strength I had to arrive and I felt like I practically stumbled across the finish line. Then I collapsed in the peace. It was only 11:15am and I was exhausted, worn out, hungry, tired. Did I mention I was tired? I slept for the hour before lunch, then returned to my room and slept until dinner. Then I returned to my room and slept until 5:00am when my alarm went off. I had decided that, although it was clear I was exhausted, I didn’t want to sleep through the entire weekend and I always enjoy my time worshipping with the monks. So I showered, worshipped, prayed, had breakfast, returned to my room, and this time, stayed awake.

I don’t think I’ve ever arrived at the Abbey feeling quite as broken as I feel this time. Coming here has always helped me to see just how much stress I’m living under as I do my best to live every day serving my Lord and standing up under my own sin and feeling the effects of the sin of others. But this time I’m truly spent. Having a moment to stop and think clearly has allowed me to see just how hard this past year has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Thoughts on Thomas Merton’s Thoughts

I read a book I found in my room called “Thoughts in Solitude” written by Thomas Merton. I’ll preface this by saying I have found Merton to be, in general, a bit too esoteric for my liking. But, I did find some thoughts I enjoyed which sparked some thoughts of my own which I thought I would share.

“This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find Him.”

This struck a chord with me because the total desperation and despair I see all around me both in my neighbors, and even my children, seems to envelope them and cause them to completely shut down. It’s as if they have “consented” to allow despair to overtake them and they exist day to day comfortably enveloped in despair but no longer living. It’s this very despair and surrender that I pray against and try to argue against. It’s this despair that I try to fight with words of encouragement and reinforcement when I see my friends or family succumbing to it. But it seems so pervasive through every aspect of life that it’s become a never-ending battle. But it is encouraging to be reminded that Christ is by my side fighting it for me if I will just remember to invite Him to the fight.

“Temperament does not predestine one man to sanctity and another to reprobation. All temperaments can serve as the material for ruin or for salvation. We must learn to see that our temperament is a gift of God, a talent with which we must trade until He comes. It does not matter how poor or how difficult a temperament we may be endowed with. If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.”

“A temperamentally angry man may be more inclined to anger than another. But as long as he remains sane he is still free not to be angry. His inclination to anger is simply a force in his character which can be turned to good or evil, according to his desires. If he desires what is evil, his temper will become a weapon of evil against other men and even against his own soul. If he desires what is good his temper can become the controlled instrument for fighting the evil that is in himself and helping other men to overcome the obstacles which they meet in the world. He remains free to desire either good or evil.”

I have struggled with bouts of anger all of my life. Most folks who know me find that hard to believe, but that’s only because I chose many years ago that I wanted to do good, not evil. I’ve always struggled trying to reconcile the anger in me with my desire to serve God. There’s a part of me that thought it would go away after I gave my life to Christ. And although it hasn’t gone away, it has certainly changed. It has become a strength that I can call on to overcome. A strength that helps me persevere when I might give up. It no longer controls me, but I control it. It aids me in being a better servant and has given me resolve when I have felt weak.

“What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”

This question truly convicted me. I often struggle with my prayer life. I wonder if I pray enough, or about the “right” things. I find ways to couch my prayers with words like “your will be done” which, in my heart, often means “I don’t actually expect you to do anything, I’m just praying because I’m supposed to”. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous to me that I would doubt Christ’s direct involvement in my life since I can see clearly the many times and places and ways he has saved me from my own self destruction. On the other hand, I still harbor these doubts of whether I’m doing His will or my own.

“…we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins. We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven.”

I can’t begin to put into words how powerful and important I think this is. We have all heard of (or seen) the person who claims to follow Christ but has no compassion for the downtrodden or the person lost in their own sin. I have always wondered if such a person has been willing to publicly acknowledge their own sin and be forgiven by the person they wronged. I suspect not. It’s a truly humbling and terrifying experience. I have seen people who get angry at their own sin and then become just as angry or more so at the sin of others. But this is not beneficial nor what we are commanded to do by our Lord (for those who claim to belong to Christ, that is). Instead, we must accept Christ’s forgiveness for our own sin but we must also ask for and, most importantly, accept forgiveness from the person (or persons) who were affected by that sin. For those who say some sins (particularly the ones they commit) can affect only the sinner, you’re wrong. Sin always affects those around us whether they know the cause or not. Then, and only then, will that person be able to truly forgive when they are wronged by the sin of others. And please keep in mind, nobody can sin against you, they can only sin against God. If someone steals your car, the fact that they stole YOUR car is irrelevant. The fact that they stole anything is a direct sin against God, the creator of the universe. His claim doesn’t just trump yours, it eliminates yours. But it would be right for that person to ask for your forgiveness because their sin affected you.

“What one of us, O Lord, can speak of poverty without shame? We who have taken vows of poverty in the monastery: are we really poor? Do we know what it is to love poverty?  Have we even stopped to think, for a moment, why poverty is to be loved? Yet you, O lord, came into the world to be poor among the poor, because it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. And we, with our vow, we are content with the fact that we legally possess nothing, and that for everything we have, we must ask someone else’s permission? Is this poverty? Can a man who has lost his job and who has no money with which to pay his bills, and who sees his wife and children getting thin, and who feels fear and anger eating out his heart – can he get the things he desperately needs merely by asking for them? Let him try. And yet we, who can have many things we don’t need and many more which are scandalous for us to have – we are poor, because we have them with permission! Poverty means need. To make a vow of poverty and never go without anything, never have to need something without getting it, is to try to mock the Living God.”

This isn’t really relevant to me as I have never taken a vow of poverty (although I have experienced it). But I thought it was extremely insightful to how the vow of poverty really works with monks in the church. After all, they are supported by the larger church and by whatever incomes they earn (this Abbey makes and sells fudge). Realistically, they would never be allowed to truly go without while under the care of the Catholic Church. So, is it truly poverty when it’s really just a matter of being supplied all your needs but not owning anything?

And of course, that makes me think about generational poverty that is supported by safety nets designed to ensure those who can’t support themselves are taken care of. They too have many things they don’t need and some things which are “scandalous” for them to have based on the “permission” of the government. And a person reliant on the government would be no more likely to go against that government than a monk would go against the Church. Somewhere in all of this is a perverted parallel, I think. The Church is funded by the voluntary gifts of those who give to the Lord. Whereas the government is funded by the involuntary taxation of everyone. But perhaps that’s a topic for another day. J

“Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us. Those that speak like good men hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them. They teach us to know ourselves better by recognizing ourselves in another. Books that speak like the noise of the multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfil.”

This really stood out to me because I find I can read until I collapse if it’s about politics or technology or even just some good fiction. But I find I tire too quickly of reading the word of God and I don’t reach for it as often as I want to. Instead I find myself enticed to more “interesting” reading than the Word of God. It’s a sad statement to be sure, but an honest one. Hopefully in confessing it I can ask for the Grace of God to change it.

About Mary

On Sunday morning I attended the morning teaching. I almost didn’t because the topic was listed as being about our inheritance and, to be honest, I wasn’t overly interested in the topic. That’s not to say that I’m not interested in the eternal life and communion with God I will receive when my work here is done. I guess really I was just a bit gun-shy about where the topic would lead. Anyway, the topic ended up being more about Mary instead. I have to say it was very interesting. I’m not saying that I necessarily accept everything that was said at face value (there were many extra biblical references and a couple of mystics involved in the teaching), but it was helpful to understand much of what I see in the Catholic tradition about her. One thing I really appreciated that the monk said was that they don’t worship Mary, they love her (that has been a concern of mine). And that, in their opinion, she wouldn’t accept worship anyway, but instead turn anyone toward Christ.

Another thing the monk said that I truly appreciated was that although there are many ancient texts available to read about Christ, the apostles, Mary, etc. (that is, extra biblical references) everything you need for salvation is in the canonized bible. What I appreciate about that statement is the acknowledgement that we can disagree about certain points of theology and still agree that we are brothers and sisters in Christ so long as we can agree that Christ was who he said he was, the Word made flesh, and that he came on purpose to take the punishment due each one of us for our sins against God, and that those who believe receive his Holy Spirit and are saved. Outside that, we can agree to disagree or simply wait to ask Him ourselves.

Speaking of Extra Biblical References…

Don’t get the idea that I think anything not in the Bible is wrong. In fact, in general, I’m a big fan of extra biblical references because they have typically backed up what can be found in the Bible. OK, I’m going to do it. I knew I couldn’t avoid it forever. Let’s talk about Bill Nye and the whole implication that you can’t trust anything that was “translated from some ancient language into American English” and therefore can’t trust the Bible.

Now, Mr. Nye is a fan of peer review and scientific process. So are scholars of old texts. In fact, there are a large number of ancient texts which refer directly to events in the book of Genesis. You know, that book that you have been led to believe is full of fairy tales? For instance, in Genesis 10 there is a description of the areas that the descendants of Noah began to settle. One of those areas was in northern Syria where we also find what are called the “Ebla Tablets”. These are a collection of “thousands of commercial, legal, literary, and epistolary texts that describe the cultural vitality and political power of a pre-patriarchal civilization in northern Syria.”(NIV Study Bible) The dating of these texts puts them about 2400 B.C. and would then be describing the culture of the descendants of Noah’s son Shem before the birth of Abraham (in 2166B.C.), which begins the era of the Patriarchs.

Then there is the Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur. A Sumerian poem dated at about 2050 B.C. which “mourns the destruction of the city of Ur at the hands of the Elamites” (NIV Study Bible). For those who didn’t check out Genesis 10, Elam is also one of the descendants of Noah who settled in Mesopotamia, which stretched kind of from Northern Syria to the Persian Gulf.

Are you bored yet? If so, you’re not alone. My brain turns to mush when I study history too. And that’s the point. The book of Genesis and the next 4 books that Moses wrote are history books, not fanciful entertainment for children. Is there some poetry in there? Absolutely. A little creative license on genealogies? Thankfully, very likely. In fact, it is believed by scholars that he intentionally left out an unknown number of generations when he wrote the genealogies. That’s not to say he didn’t have them, he just didn’t need to reproduce them here. Anyone who has read through the Pentateuch may beg to differ (because the genealogies are really long), but there you have it. This is why extra biblical sources are so important, they can help us confirm timelines. And more importantly, not only do they help us date events in the Bible, they confirm the events recorded in the Bible. Another thing to keep in mind. If you don’t think God Himself was involved in writing and preserving at least the Pentateuch, let alone the whole Bible, consider this: Moses somehow managed to write the history of the Universe (as it pertained to God and His chosen people) in the desert wilderness, up to the date of his death. Oh, and about the last 1000 years of it matches up with extra biblical records. As we discover other ancient texts, since archeologists continue looking for them, perhaps we’ll find more extra biblical material to corroborate dates, events, and people recorded in the history of the Bible texts.

Posted in Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What Do You Have To Hide?

Since the 9/11 airline hijackings and subsequent deaths we have seen a significant change in people’s willingness to give up freedoms for security. We have been warned over and over again how dangerous and elusive this threat is. Two huge new agencies were created; The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency. The TSA was “created to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems and ensure the freedom of movement for people and commerce.” The DHS combined 22 pre-existing federal agencies under one umbrella with the mission “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.”

And so it began. We have sent military troops into Iraq and Afghanistan to fight “the war on terror”. Only one problem, this country is not actually “at war”. You see, to be at war requires Congress to officially declare war on a nation. Prior to the propaganda of “the war on drugs”, the word “war” had a real meaning in government. In fact, that is why the U.S. was technically never “at war” with North Korea. It was a “police action” involving the U.N. Therefore, it didn’t need the approval of Congress or a formal declaration of war.

But I digress. The point I wanted to make is that the U.S. Is not at war. The reason I make this point is that the government has been excusing many of it’s constitutional transgressions based on congressional war powers because we’re “at war” with “terrorists”. But “terrorists” are really just criminals. It is a crime to kill one person and it is a crime to kill 100 people. Why you kill is irrelevant. Murder is illegal and assault is illegal.

So, let’s focus on the controversy at hand. Why does it matter if the NSA or other government organization monitors my phone calls and e-mails? The first objection many folks will point out is that it’s impossible to have enough people listening to all of those conversations and reading all those e-mails. And, even if it were possible, who cares? Let them listen to me talk to my mom about the weather or my friends about what we are going to do Saturday night or connect me to my YouTube page where I show off my trip to the State Capital building. I’m not doing anything illegal and I have nothing to hide.

Here’s the trick. The monitoring is done en masse by automated software applications such as NarusInsight. There has been a great deal of work done on mass processing of data to search for “intent”. This means that computers listen to the phone calls and read the e-mails, not people. Now, off-hand, that might sound pretty good, and legal. After all, nobody is being “targeted” because all communications are processed. No individual people or government employees are actually listening in or reading the communications so it doesn’t seem to run afoul of privacy. After all, is your privacy really being invaded if it’s an automated computer program reading your e-mail and listening in on your conversations? Well, yes, it is.

Here’s a question you should be asking yourself. What, exactly, is the system looking for? Remember a computer program is only as smart as the programmer and only looks for what it’s told to look for. So, what does our government think a potential terrorist looks like? Well, the DHS has a document that lists 7 suspicious activities. I take issue with 4 of the 7:

  1. Surveillance – “Someone recording or monitoring activities”. So, that’s pretty much everyone with a smart phone or recording their family vacation.
  2. Elicitation – “People or organizations attempting to gain information about military operations, capabilities, or people”. So, that would be any conscientious objector to war because they tend to be the ones who most want to know what’s going on in order to have an idea of when it can end.
  3. Acquiring Supplies – “Purchasing or stealing explosives, weapons, ammunition, etc.” So, purchasing weapons and ammunition is a sign of terrorism. Of course, the fact that we have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms and a large number of recreational hunters wouldn’t be a problem.
  4. Suspicious persons out of place – “People who don’t seem to belong in the workplace, neighborhood, business establishment, or anywhere else.” Yeah, that’s not vague. So, basically, if you’re a minority, you might not “seem” to belong in a certain neighborhood or business establishment. Because, of course, if someone doesn’t look like you, they might be a terrorist.

The problem that I am trying to point out is this. There is really no way to know in advance if someone is going to commit a crime unless they tell you. We have automated programs labeling individuals as “possible” terrorists and anyone suspected of terrorism can be treated as a military combatant. This means you can lose all of the basic protections that are the cornerstone of the American legal system. We still have many people held on terrorism charges who have not been tried after years of confinement. That’s not how this country’s legal system is supposed to work. If a terrorism “suspect” does not have legal protection and the above extremely vague indicators could mark you as a terrorism “suspect” then we have a defacto system that allows the abduction, confinement, or execution of nearly anyone for any reason.

So what do you have to hide? In a system that is beginning to lean guilty until proven innocent you may have more to hide than you think. If nothing else, if random, circumstantial evidence is available at the push of a button then we are increasing the chance of false positives in the system. That’s a much larger problem when you aren’t guaranteed a timely trial or other protections afforded by the constitution. It’s important for our country to re-focus on the fundamentals of small government, a small military for defense, and freedom above all. It’s important that we not have secret laws or secret interpretations of laws. It’s important that we remember that our government must follow the same laws that we are required to follow. That’s what government by the people and for the people is about. No amount of totalitarian monitoring and enforcement can keep us safe. Giving up our privacy and freedoms for the perception of safety is a poor choice. This is the home of the brave and the free. It is not the home of the scared and the enslaved.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

48 Hours Off-Grid

Background

My wife and I have been interested in emergency preparedness for quite some time. She is a volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps (although currently inactive) and I’m an Amateur Radio Operator (though I haven’t had a great deal of time to put toward emergency communications lately). We have always felt strongly that the Lord put us in this neighborhood to help our neighbors in times of need, and we have been able to do that in various ways over the years.

I wanted to paint that background in order to help others understand where we were coming from with this project. There are all sorts of folks interested in “prepping”, and they are interested in it for various reasons. It would be quick and easy for someone to misunderstand and think we’re some kind of “doomsday whackos”. We’re not. We have, however, had friends and co-workers go without water and/or electricity for up to two weeks because of storm winds. We’re also aware of the many other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, which have caused severe, sustained, disruption to basic services and utilities.

Having been involved in some of the Red Cross and City of Cincinnati disaster planning, we know that the worst case plausible scenario for this area is an earthquake large enough to break the main gas pipeline and damage multiple electric grids during the winter time. This would leave folks across the Midwest with no power, no gas, and conceivably no water when the temperature outside is below freezing.

We are still beginners and learning so we certainly aren’t up to being prepared for that kind of disaster. However, for this scenario we presumed a few things. First, that we have already been “off-grid” for about a week and have therefore exhausted all of our fridge and freezer food and emptied the water out of our house pipes. We also presumed that all gas, water, and electric service was disabled. We also assumed that we would be attempting to continue on with life as normal as possible and that we would be needing to help feed others in our neighborhood, as we live in a densely populated neighborhood with a high poverty rate.

Supplies

Let’s talk about some of the supplies we had in advance that helped us complete this test. First, we have a 55 gallon rain barrel full of water with a spigot near the bottom. We don’t have a water filtration system yet so this water could not be used for drinking but could be used for washing (hands, bodies, laundry, etc) as well as for flushing toilets.

Second, we had 30 gallons of drinking water in 5 gallon containers. This was used for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and in some cases washing hands or anything that interacted with our food.

Third, we had a wide variety of canned and dried foods. We own a dehydrator, so my wife has dehydrated a wide variety of food products for long term storage at room temperature. She has also canned a good amount of our meat so that it too can be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time (years). Remember, we are running on the assumption that everything in the freezer will have thawed and gone bad.

Fourth, we built a Zeer pot. This is a refrigeration method which works best in drier climates than ours but did the job adequately in mild temperatures with a higher humidity. This allowed us to keep some of our fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and powdered milk cool and preserved.

Fifth, we built a cardboard oven which uses charcoal as it’s heat source. This allowed us to bake brownies, although it’s clear I need more practice with the use of such a device. Keeping the temperature controlled and the heat evenly distributed proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated.

Finally, we have a variety of oil lamps, flashlights, and batteries for light at night. It’s a little less important during the summer time when the days are longer but during winter, spring, and fall you can lose light pretty quickly and you want to be able to continue your work even in the early evenings.

In Practice

Some obvious “practical” problems arise very quickly. Let me start with body waste. We are all accustomed to pressing the magic button that takes our excrement away. Thankfully, it’s actually a very simple physical mechanism that, barring significant backups, will continue to work even with everything shut down. It does need a little help though. A gallon ice cream bucket, half to three quarters filled will, when dumped directly into the toilet, flush the toilet for you. For obvious conservation reasons, we only did this when necessary.

Health and hygiene is something that many people think need to go to the wayside in an emergency. We would argue that keeping up your health and hygiene in an emergency situation is even more important because there is less room for error. We kept fresh drinking water in the bathroom in a pail to be used with soap to wash after using the facilities. We felt that 2-3 uses was good before replacing the water, but this is really up to individual preference. Sponge baths were accomplished effectively the same way with a larger pail.

Some folks tend to go into emergency eating mode and try to live off granola bars and fruit roll-ups. We took a different attitude toward this utilizing my wife’s varied pantry. We had spaghetti with meat sauce, bannock, oatmeal, fried Palenta, eggs, and fruit. In fact, we even had brownies for desert thanks to the oven we built. Emergency situations are stressful enough. It’s a bad idea to suddenly and drastically change your diet at the same time. Keeping as many things as “normal” as possible can help with the emotional and physical stability of everyone while getting through the emergency.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the most stunning things to me was the lack of distraction with no electronics. I sometimes forget just how large a part of our lives is devoted to the use of electronics whether it’s looking up information online or calling/texting a friend. Even entertainment tends to come from a TV or streaming video online. It was really nice to sit on my front porch and read a paper book and listen to my wife sing. It’s these simple pleasures that I think we forget about and lose with all our electronic distractions.

So, the end result? We did fine for 48 hours and, if needed, could have easily finished up the week. We would like to improve the use of our space though. Our basement and back patio could be put to better uses. Our basement for food storage and our back patio as a secondary outside kitchen. We would also like to get a shed to store fuel and other items. Having a couple more rain barrels and all of them connected to our downspouts would also be ideal. But for now, we have a good start and we’ve learned that we have the basic supplies and tools we need. Now we can improve on that and be more confident in our ability to provide for ourselves and our neighbors in an emergency.

You can watch the video my wife made as part of the contest that got this going in the first place here.

Posted in Life, The House | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Death, Guns, and Perspective

I have been hearing a great deal of talk about gun control, gun violence, and gun rights lately. It got me wondering what some of the real statistics were and how it fit in with the rest of life. I found a copy of the October 2012 edition of the National Vital Statistics Reports entitled “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011”. It gives a useful breakdown of how people die in the U.S. Here are some take-outs from the information:

The population midway through 2011 was about 311,000,000. In 2011 there were 3,953,593 births and 2,512,873 deaths. So, about 0.8% of the population died and about 1.3% of the population was born. Of the 2.5 million deaths, the top 5 categories of causes were as follows:

  1. Diseases of the heart – 596,339 (24%)
  2. Malignant Neoplasms (tumors) – 575,313 (23%)
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases – 143,382 (6%)
  4. Cerebrovascular diseases (strokes) – 128,931 (5%)
  5. Accidents – 122,777 (5%)

Seeing accidents so high got me wondering how many people die of gun accidents. You hear from time to time of these things happening on the news and a close friend of mine lost a family member due to a gun accident.  So, here are some take-outs from the accidental death category (not complete):

  1. Motor vehicle accidents – 34,677
  2. Falls (as in falling to your death or an elderly person falling and not being able to get back up, etc) – 26,631
  3. Firearms – 851

So, it appears you are significantly (31X) more likely to accidentally fall to your death than accidentally get killed with a firearm. Another concern some folks have is that a firearm can be used to kill yourself. Here are some statistics about that:

  1. Total number of suicides – 38,285
  2. Use of a firearm – 19,766 (52%)
  3. All other uses – 18,519 (48%)

So, there is certainly some credence to the fact that firearms are a preferred tool for suicide. However, I think that the fact that about half the people who commit suicide find another means also makes the point that if someone is going to do it, they will find a way. A gun may be convenient, but it isn’t necessary.

Then there is the question of gun violence and people being killed with a firearm. Here are the stats:

  1. Total homicides – 15,953
  2. Homicides by firearms – 11,101 (70%)
  3. All other homicides – 4,852 (30%)

So, if someone is going to kill me, they will probably do it with a gun. Since it’s not possible to keep guns out of the hands of someone who wants to kill me, it seems like my best defense is to have a weapon of similar capabilities. Quite frankly, a knife, a stick, or even a 911 call will not reduce my odds of being shot at. However, a weapon to shoot back with may reduce my chances of being murdered.

So here is my biased interpretation of the data. There are an insignificantly small number of accidental deaths from firearms compared to all of the many other accidental deaths. Although a firearm is used in a significant number of suicides, I doubt that a lack of firearms would reduce the number of suicides. Finally, if my life is truly in danger from another person, it’s going to be because they have a gun. Unlike in the movies, the bad guy with the gun always wins when he has a gun and you don’t.

I think, in short, that the concern about average folks carrying a gun are overblown. We’ve already seen that a person intent on killing many people will find a way, even if it’s with improvised explosives in a pressure cooker. We can’t make the general populace safe by disarming the law abiding citizens. Quite frankly, we can’t make the general populace safe period. The world isn’t a safe place. We all take some level of a sense of security from different things. Some folks might have expensive security systems on their home or vehicle. Some hire body guards. Others build shelters, and still others lobby for larger police forces with cameras on every street corner and UAVs in the sky.

As for me, my sense of security come from the Lord. But I’m not opposed to a Glock in my pocket.

Posted in Life, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments