Monday, December 21, 2009

Tyranny and Theocracy

The purpose of the Iranian revolution was not just to overthrow the Shah and his despotic regime but to establish a theocracy. The Iranians held a theocracy under a collective of spiritual men would establish and lead a just upright society and the country would flourish.

One of the principle architects of the theocracy Grand Ayatullah Montazeri recently died at the age of 87 as an outspoken critic of the theocracy he helped established. As one of the theocracy’s founders and Grand Ayatullahs Montazeri even though under house arrest since 1997 he had greater freedom to speak his mind and thereby give some legitimacy to the Green Movement for questioning the results of recent elections.

While maintaining he was not disillusioned he criticized the theocratic government for exchanging one oppressive tyranny for another. Monatzeri took issue with political clerics for amassing power and wealth rather than serving the people. He condemned ongoing mass executions of dissidents and for issuing death statements that give people the impression that the Iranian theocratic government is in the business of killing people. He came to advocate freer speech and an open press that he repressed in his earlier years.

I suspect that most conservative and middle of the road Christians would say that they are not surprised by the religious tyranny and clerics using their positions to accumulate power and wealth for themselves. They are not surprised because Iranians cannot have a true theocracy since they worship a false god and have a flawed human penned holy book. Hence, the theocracy is a failed experiment. Rather than the clerics being spiritually minded and guided by the God’s Spirit, they are guided by self-centered motives and do things to keep themselves in power rather than serving the people.

I concur that the Iranian theocracy has not served the Iranian nation and that it is a very impressive regime. History is replete with examples of leaders corrupted by absolute power. It happened in Rome, in France, England, and the Soviet Union. It occurred in the Roman Catholic Church. It happens within an unfettered capitalist system. Even though there are checks and balances against absolute power, the corrupting nature of power and amassing of wealth through office also happens within a democratic system.

Some conservative Christians dream of having a theocracy. If a Christian theocracy were established in any country would we see the same corrupting influence? It is pity to say this, but yes we would see the same. Human beings who are high minded have a way justifying their actions while doing ungodly and unrighteous things. It would not take long for narrow set of religious views to prevail while those who differ in thought and lifestyle are oppressed, and sometimes oppressed in an ungodly fashion. Quietly at first leaders would gather greater power and the wealth trappings of that come with it. Two decades or so later their hording of self-serving power and gathering of immense personal wealth will be done less quietly. Hence, over the years tyranny would be firmly entrenched.

Regardless of the title or the justification absolute power is dangerous for the populous.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Are “War on Christmas” Warriors Helping to Further the Secularization of Christmas

For at least two decades the conservative element of the American church, particularly fundamentalist and a significant part of the evangelical church, has been concerned over the secularization of Christmas and fearing the Christian holiday in a secular holiday.

Since 2005 heavily driven by right wing Christian elements and spinmister Bill O’Reilly a “war on Christmas” has been waged. The “war on Christmas” is an effort to keep “America’s favorite holiday” from being secularized and neutered so that non-Christians are not offended. The Family Research Council argues “Christmas” is inherently a religious term and therefore the holiday is inherently a Christian holiday and should be celebrated as such. They argue that if a person is to celebrate Christmas then it should be celebrated as a Christian holiday or not at all. In essence this most benevolent position holds that whether a person is a Christian or not, they should use the religious greeting, use the religious symbols, the trappings as if they are Christians. The argument is that they should put on a mask and behave as if they are Christian.

As part of the war O’Reilly has created a “Christmas friendly” measure to which merchants are evaluated regarding their friendliness towards Christmas. Merchants who do not use “Christmas” in their advertisements, have their staff say “Merry Christmas” and who do not put up an adequate display of Christmas trimmings are scored poorly. A merchant is graded down and berated for advertising “Holiday” sales or using the phrase “Happy Holidays.” Rather than leaving it to their staff to decide what to say many merchants have mandated that their employees say “Merry Christmas”. Advertisements are festooned with Christmas greetings and artwork and stores are decorated according to the seasonally politically correct manner and that “Christmas” is prevalent.

Four years ago The Salvation Army was criticized by the soldiers of the war on Christmas for becoming politically correct and removing “Merry Christmas” from its kettle signs. “Merry Christmas” was never removed as it was not on the sign to begin with. The other day I was looking at some old pictures and came across three of with kettle signs from the late 1970s…no “Merry Christmas” was on these old “Need Knows No Season” signs either.

The other week O’Reilly and one of his colleagues running into bombast were pleased that they made a difference and are winning the war on Christmas. They are pleased to be in the forefront in beating back the secularization of Christmas.

For all their glowing pride, these soldiers who are fighting against the secularization of Christmas are decades late. Just a rose by any other name is a rose, Christmas by any other name is a secular holiday in both Canada and the United States. It is time for that we take a deep breath, get a life and recognize the reality that Christmas is a secular holiday. GASP.

Yes the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ rests below the surface, but it the celebration and worship of the Christ child has become encased in layers and layers of cultural celebrations. One only has to work one day in a Salvation Army distribution center or stand at a kettle outside WalMart for a day to see that people of various non-Christian faith traditions are participating in the gift exchange.

Though efforts are made to tie the Santa story into the Christian story of Christmas, Santa has nothing to do with the religious holiday. Neither do the decorations and the parties. The great Christmas feast is not part of the Christmas story. Likewise, the tradition of traveling great distances to spend the holiday with family and friends has no connection with the Jesus story and worship of the Christ-child. The timing of the holiday is tied to ancient pagan Roman, Germanic and other ancient cultures celebration of the winter solstice. All these elements have become attached to the celebration of Christmas and as each was added, each in their own way added to the secularization of Christmas.

A stone through from my office is the Egyptian Embassy where last week they put up a Christmas tree and decorations. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, druids, atheists, etc. are celebrating the holiday by putting up trees, lights, decorations, exchanging gifts, and partying with friends and family. Many of these folks are comfortable with being greeted by “Merry Christmas” and giving the greeting too. Evie and I know Jewish families that celebrate both Hanukah and a secular Christmas holiday. In Iowa I knew a Hindu family that celebrated Christmas as an American cultural holiday…they sang the songs and carols, they put up the decorations, they bought and exchanged gifts and other than going to church you would not know they were any different from our family.

Outside the Sunday Advent readings and carol or two sung, from my observations few Christians become mindful of the religious component of the holiday until Christmas Eve, and possibly part of Christmas Day. Why I say part of Christmas Day is that the birth of the Christ-child is not part of or upon the minds of the family during much of what happens during the Christmas Day celebration with family and friends. Sure we listen to Christmas music on the radio, ipods, stereos, etc., but the religious carols intermingle with the secular songs and the Santa fable to be part of a cultural celebration.

As for expecting, nay demanding “Merry Christmas” be widely spoken and be the standard retail establishment greeting once we are into December, a troubling question plays upon my mind. Given the “Merry Christmas” greeting being mandated by managers, and expected to be said to all and from all their employees regardless of their faith, how would the “Merry Christmas” advocates react to a store requiring all their employees to give a Jewish or Hindu or Muslim greeting during those religions high holidays and festivals? I fear that there would be a huge cry out from the Christian community over such a requirement being placed upon Christian employees and the greeting being spoken to all. Such an outcry would expose the fallacy of the “war on Christmas” position and that such a hard stance is not in keeping with the constitution.

I shake my head and laugh at the “war on Christmas” warriors. Instead of getting to the heart of the issue and challenging the Church to jettison the secular elements, to simplify the holiday and focus upon the heart of the Christmas story and the worship of the Christ-child, I suspect that in the long run the “war on Christmas” warriors are reinforcing the opposite of that which they seek. The more “Merry Christmas” along with all the celebration and trappings are used and spread about within the secular and non-Christian communities, the deeper Christmas will become an American cultural celebration. In so doing they are helping to reinforce the commercialization and secularization of the holiday that is celebrated by everyone, regardless of one’s faith system.

Warriors like O’Reilly are focused upon and battling for a phrase, as if that phrase was a mystical magical phrase. They are treating the phrase as if it were lucky rabbit’s foot, say it enough and all will be well with the country because God will bless us type of mindset. They are repeating the same error Israel did with the Tabernacle which they brought into their camp thinking it would give them victory (they lost badly).

These warriors push retailers and civic leaders to have the trappings of Christmas. They are attempting to keep the holiday from being neutered many decades after it has already been commercialized and neutered. In their fight for the Christian Christmas face, they are overlooking the message of Hosea 6:6, that it is not the trappings and the practice of a religious ritual that is called for, but the a generous compassionate heart.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Necessity of the Separation of Church and State

As a Canadian who is also an American citizen, one of the most puzzling things about American society is how the separation of church and state is understood. The concept has gone well beyond the separation Canadians understand.

In Canada the government is religious neutral. It does not promote or support one religious faith above another. It recognizes that every resident has the right to congregate for worship and worship as they so wish without governmental interference. People are free to hold any religious views a person so wishes. Likewise her residents are free to reject any and all religious believes as conscious so dictates. In return what the government and the country expects is that its faith communities to be respectful of those that hold different beliefs, to carry out religious dialogue in a civil manner and to respect the law of the land.

In return, the government protects the individual’s and group’s right to religious express if that expression is not contrary to the law of the land. Each group’s property is treated the same and allowed certain property tax exemptions and its income is tax exempt if it falls within designated bounds. Gifts to all recognized religious bodies treated the same with no group being favored above the other.

In other words, in Canada not only is government and religion not antagonistic towards one another, they frequently partner together to provide significant good for the overall welfare of the community. In the United States there is an antagonistic edge towards church and state relationships.

When the Unites States was created, it appears that the founders had similar religion neutral practices in mind. In various commentaries penned by them regarding the founding documents are references to religious neutrality and the recognition that other than Judaism other religions such as Islam may well be part of the American milieu. They also recognized that it would be left to subsequent generations to work out religious neutrality in practical terms as the country evolves and changes.

The religious neutrality has been an ongoing challenge, particularly in the last six decades. As the nation became more pluralistic court ruling and other laws were specifically designed to be religion neutral. Unfortunately some the the reaction from the conservative church became anxious that the Lord's Prayer and other Christian expressions were being removed from schools and other government locations. The intent was for neutrality but various elements in the church saw it as a threat to the church and the "dechristianization of the Christian nation." While there was some cause for concern as there was some rulings and legislation that appeared to be an effort to create a religion free environment, the bulk was an effort toward religious neutrality. As with many other conflicts the more conflicted the spirit, the further both parties pushed each other apart so that increasingly a religion free environment seemed to the goal.

Today there is a growing reluctance to see religious communities be involved in any venture that involves public funds. A religion free rather than religion neutral stance appears to have greater force. Some on the left fear that the funds will be used to proselytize while some on the left see the funds as providing an opportunity for the government to dictate religious belief, conduct and employment policies. The church does not have innocent hands.

What I find most interesting is those who are most fearful of governmental interference in her beliefs and practices are frequently the very same groups that are aggressively attempting to force government legislatures to design various laws around their religious teachings. The Roman Catholic bishops and the right to life elements of the church are demanding that government funding for abortion for any cause (including incest, rape and immediate physical health risk to the mother) be explicitly prohibited in the health reform legislation. This is an example of religious views being pushed out upon the country which on the whole does not support such an extreme position.

One bishop has gone as ask a Roman Catholic Congressman not take communion because he is willing to allow for federal funding of abortion. Communion within the Roman Catholic Church is one of the primary sacraments of grace, and the Church is withdrawing that primary vehicle from the Congressman because he will not agree with the Church on this one point. There is no separation of church and state.

Another example of a branch of the church that is attempting to force its views upon the community as a whole is the ballot and other initiatives regarding gay rights and gay marriage. While the initiatives are carefully crafted in their wording, and positioned to be defending “the traditions marriage”, what underlies it all is inflexible religious teachings and homophobia. As an aside, any cursory understanding of western and world history through the course of history shows us that the “traditional marriage” is anything but traditional, but is for the most part a modern North American creation.

Interestingly these groups do not see their political lobbying as being wrong or as entrenching a particular set of views upon the country at large. If the Jehovah Witnesses had greater political clout and were pushing for blood transfusions not be permitted or paid from public funds, would these same groups not take issue with the JWs for imposing their religious views upon the country as a whole? I doubt that they would remain silent.

It is such political activities of the religious right that pushes for people to have a stronger demarcation between church and state within the United States. In the last year I have come to see that the more dogmatic views of the separation of church and state is necessary in the United States whereas it is not in Canada. The separation is necessary to protect the state and the citizens of the country at large from a highly active and forceful religious group from having undo sway and having that brand of religion receiving preferential treatment, or worse tyranny of one religious viewpoint dominating society and how the country is governed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bowl Challenge - My Choices

The other day I posted a blog pick as many as possible 20 bowl winners. While all five BSC games must be in the mix, the other 15 can be selected from any of the remaining 29 bowl games. My 20 selections are in red. For a few I have provided some rationale.

My pics are in red...when the game is over the winner will be enlarged and in bold.

BCS Five

BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2...... Alabama vs. Texas

Rose Bowl (1st).... Oregon vs. Ohio State

Allstate Sugar (1st)...... Florida vs. Cincinnati
I would love to see Jeff Quinn, Cincy’s interim coach and his charges defeat Florida, but I cannot see the Bearcat defense handling the Florida offense, particularly when they are out to show that their lost to Alabama was a fluke. I hope Quinn does a strong enough job to earn the head coach position.

Tostitos Fiesta (4th)..... TCU vs. Boise State

FedEx Orange (5th) .....Georgia Tech vs. Iowa
My heart hopes for Iowa but my realist side says “get a life.” Though Stanzi is back, he will be rusty after being out for the last three games. GT’s triple option offense will challenge and overwhelm Iowa’s defense. After LSU trouncing GT last year, GT will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Ferentz will have Iowa prepared and they will be gritty, but they lack the depth on both sides of the ball to handle a top tier team like GT.

My Other 15 Selections

St. Petersburg (19th)..... UCF vs. Rutgers
Meineke Car Care (26th)..... Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina
Emerald (26th)...... USC vs Boston College
This is the under achievers versus the over achievers. USC’s pride is on the line. I expect a hungry and focused USC to win by at least 14.

AdvoCare Independence (28th)..... Texas A&M vs. Georgia
Champs Sports (29th)..... Miami (FL) vs. Wisconsin
Pacific Life Holiday (30th) ......Nebraska vs. Arizona
I do not think Nebraska has another game in them like they had against Texas. Arizona’s offense should score at least 17 points. I do not think Nebraska’s poor offense should score more than 13 pts.

Insight (31st)..... Iowa State vs. Minnesota
Chick-fil-A (31st)..... Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech

Outback (1st) ..... Northwestern vs. Auburn
Konica Gator (1st) ..... Florida State vs West Virginia
On paper WV should win and will because FSU’s defense is too anemic to stop the running of Divine and the scrambling QB Brown who has an arm that will pick FSU’s secondary apart. Though FSU will be motivated to give Bowden his last victory, and Bowden will have a good game plan his defense will not be strong enough to handle the Brown-Divine attack.

Capital One (1st) .... Penn State vs. LSU
My head says go with Penn, but I am selecting LSU. LSU could carry the day if the right LSU team shows up. A focused LSU defense should handle Penn’s offence, but the LSU D-line will need to keep pressure on Clark or Clark will have a field day with the passing game. Jefferson will need to have a great game like last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl in order to compensate for an anemic run game that is missing the injured Scott.

Valero Alamo (2nd) ...... Texas Tech vs. Michigan State
Mich State does not have the horses to match Texas Tech and Mich. State coaching has made questionable calls throughout the season. I will still be cheering for Michigan State to upset Texas Tech. (2nd) ..... Connecticut vs. South Carolina
SC is a well coached team and while UConn has done very well and is building a solid program, its offense will not have a tough go against SC and SC’s inconsistent offense which started to mature late in the season should have enough success to win if they can avoid turnovers and the untimely bad penalties

AutoZone Liberty (2nd) ..... Arkansas vs East Carolina State
Ark defense is too porous – ECS has handled high powered offenses like Ark and has a solid offense too. Also Chip Holz is a creative motivational coach who is on the rise…his team will be ready and disciplined.

International (2nd) ...... South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Nor Ill almost took down to Big Ten teams and they are stronger than they first appear. SF started well but stumbled in the last third of the season. If SF is to win, they have to stop NI’s strong running game and again have a solid offensive game that they showed against Florida State.

Others – italic print are teams for whom I am cheering and believe will win:

Brut Sun (31st) ..... Oklahoma vs. Stanford
AT&T Cotton (2nd) .... Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State
New Mexico .... Wyoming vs. Fresno State
Gaylord Music City .... Clemson vs Kentucky
Sheraton Hawaii ..... Southern Methodist vs. Nevada
Little Caesars Bowl .... Ohio vs. Marshall
Texas .... Navy vs. Missouri
Roady's Humanitarian ..... Idaho vs. Bowling Green

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Football Bowl Challenge

This is a challenge that for the most part is primarily for Josh, Evie and myself…and possibly for Christian too…as we tend to follow US college football more intentionally than others in the family. The challenge is to go on the record as to the projected winner of 20 of the 34 bowls.

By the end of December 17, about 36 hours before the first bowl being played, select 20 out of the 34 bowls. While in the mix must be the 5 BSC bowls, it is left to the individual to choose which 15 of the remaining 29 bowls he or she thinks will be the winner. Feel free to explain your choice. Let’s see who is able to project the most winners and have bragging rights

I plan to make my selections by Monday morning.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Conservative Church and Divorce Rates

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post this deals with a response to troubled marriages and divorce within the church, particularly within the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Joanne in her commented noted several divorces whereas Barb was not aware of any. I know little about this division, but I am aware of eight divorces within the division, and there are not many large congregations.

We need to ask ourselves why the evangelical and fundamentalist churches have the highest divorce rates, rates that are about 50% higher than those who admit that they are agnostics and atheists. Part of the issue lies with why so many believe Dr. Tom Ellis’s laughable claim that only 1 out of 39,000 who receive premarital counseling, attend church regularly and pray together experience divorce.

Such a claim assumes that those who are saved and led by the Spirit are virtually immune from divorce. Such thinking leads to the belief that if the marriage is in trouble, then there is something spiritually wrong with one or both of the marital partners. Faith in Christ and divorce are viewed as mutually exclusive. Hence the prescription is prayer, confession of sin and all will be well. This is dangerous thinking.

Such dangerous thinking sows the seeds of marital problems. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists live in the real world. They are not immune from temptation. They are not immune from interpersonal conflicts and tensions created by thoughtless actions of the other. To claim that marital tensions, arguments and other issues should not happen in a godly marriage brings a strong social pressure to put on a false face and deny that there unresolved problems within the marriage. Such denial creates an environment for a problem to fester and grow, to become attached to another unresolved problem and become magnified.

If one is part of a church that holds such dangerous thinking, is such an environment conducive to approaching the pastor to receive counseling? Of course not. Further, if a pastor and church holds that the divorce rate is as small as Ellis’ claims, why would a pastor prepare himself/herself for such counseling moments which would rarely occur during his/her professional career? Even if one felt that the divorce rate was less than 2%, such a pastor would not likely give much attention to marital counseling skills and knowledge sets.

Feeling awkward and fearful in acknowledging a problem brings alienation. In such an environment, most couples whose marriages are at risk would likely drift to the fringes of the church, or even leave the church as separation approaches.

Though evidence is to the contrary such individuals such as Ellis dogmatically hold that the biblical models of the family provide a protective marital bond that the secular models cannot own. They cannot accept that atheists have such a low divorce rate.

Why would atheists have a lower divorce rate than those claiming to be Christians? The studies have not examined the issue to any significant degree. Is it possible that those who stand outside the church have more honest and realistic expectations of their marital partner and their marriage as a whole. Is it possible that atheists may well see marriage as a partnership that involves active work, honest communication, mutual respect and affirmation, and are not as deeply offended when their partner offends them? Is it possible that lacking the “religious denial" baggage they are more freely admitting and addressing issues earlier, working out their problems and creating the foundation to forgive one another more freely without dismissing or dealing with their conflicts through the use of empty platitudes we too often find being tossed around in the church?

Saying and believing, "Just take it to the Lord in prayer" or "Surrender the matter into the Lord's hands and He will work it out," or "You just confess you sins and you will find peace", etc. tends to allow a couple to avoid dealing with a problem. Marriage demands ongoing work, open honest communication, respect and facing issues in a forthright and upright manner.

It is overdue for the conservative branch to open its eyes, to look at the data, to admit the truth of what is happening within the marriages conservative Christians, to move beyond empty platitudes, roll-up its sleeves and help families deal in meaningful ways with everyday life issues.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Difference Faith Makes in the Divorce Rate

When I was in college, a confidential survey was conducted by a Christian grad students at the University of Kentucky as part his PhD. He was studying whether faith made a difference in moral conduct. The survey focusing upon conduct over the past year and was being conducted at three evangelical colleges and five secular colleges. The short questionnaire asked about sexual activity from petting to intercourse, academic cheating, and the consumption of alcohol and drugs.

The survey was conducted in the spring with the results tabulated in the summer. The college said that they were going to make announce the results in the fall. The following fall, no results were announced not because the surveys were not tabulated but because the results shocked the administration. They were expecting to see a significant difference in the conduct of their students, and those who claimed to be evangelical Christians versus the “secular students.” The difference existed somewhat with regard to alcohol and drugs, but those differences could be explained away as being the impact of the college’s rules and somewhat segregated life.

I learned later that they administration was stunned that their students reported being engaged in academic cheating at a higher level than students on the secular campus. Also they were disappointed that their students were just as active sexually as their peers at the public universities. It appeared that Christian faith was not making a moral difference in the lives of their students.

There is a popular slogan that says, "The family that prays together, stays together." It is widely reported within the evangelical church that the divorce rate amongst Christians who attend church regularly is lower than those who do not, and that within the church, Evangelicals have the lowest divorce rate. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family as stated,"...born-again Christian couples who the church after having received premarital counseling...and attend church regularly and pray daily together..." experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages -- or 0.00256 percent.

The figures quoted by Dr. Ellis appear to be impressive, but the figure is false. At the best his claim involves bold creative counting, such as the church that claims to have never had a member be divorce expelling people and withdrawing membership when the couple separate. Another shocking explanation is summarily and arrogantly dismissing that those who divorce were “not truly Christians" in the first place. At the worse, Dr. Ellis’ claim is a dishonest and bold fabrication used to hide what he knows as being true, that faith and regular attendance at church does not inoculate one from divorce, and that an argument could be made that it increases the likelihood of divorce.

In its survey on the subject the widely acclaimed evangelical Barna Research Group has found that the divorce rate within the church is higher than it is amongst atheists and agnostics. Further, Barna found that the divorce rate amongst Evangelicals to be higher than within any other segment of the church.

Evangelical and fundamentalists.... 34%
Baptists.... 29%
Mainline Protestants.... 25%
Mormons..... 24%
Catholics..... 21%
Lutherans.... 21%

Jews.... 30%
Atheists/Agnostics..... 21%

Other surveys have the divorce rate amongst “born again” Christians at 27% and those claiming to be Christians but not claiming to be “born again” as 24%.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Paranoia, Conspiracies and Obama

Two the elements of the American character are distrust of government and a bent toward conspiracy theories. These two elements are alive and well in the health care debate. As there were some who did not view Bush as a legitimate President during his first term, there are those who hold Obama is a usurper.

Though the evidence is to the contrary, there are those who still maintain that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore not eligible to be President. Even worse is when a politician like Palin who give tacit support to the claims that officials in Hawaii have falsified records (and the birth announcement in the paper was a recreation).

These same folks hold that Obama is not a Christian but a Muslim. They ignore his statements of faith. They watch and firmly believe videos on youtube that have Obama admitting he is a Muslim. The authors of these videos have vivacious and maliciously edited out words and phrases that would give a contrary meaning to the words. Yet these videos continue to live on, particularly in the church with the “my friend at church” statement testifying to its validity and reliability.

What is interestingly many of these are the same people who attacked Obama for being part of Rev. Wright’s church. They argue that he is a Muslim one moment and then condemn him for being a long time member of a church under the leadership of Rev. Wright without seeing the inconsistency.

This past week the President made a speech to the nation on Afghanistan. Even the timing is viewed, by individuals like Russell Wiseman mayor of Arlington TN, as a nefarious plot to preempt Charlie Brown’s Christmas and keeping people from hearing a character reading the Christmas story ( While I want to laugh at the unwiseman and others with similar views, when there are pastors telling their congregations to pray for the President’s demise, I can laugh. I can only feel disgust at the utter hatred that lies in such hearts and which is masked by religious language.

These are the same individuals who are attacking Obama with the following picture by saying that that on Veterans Day he showed disrespect to the Veterans and Nations by not saluting. At first glance the picture does look poorly upon Obama.

According to this picture was taken not on Veterans Day (Nov 11) but on Memorial Day. On Veterans Day President Obama was wearing a blue tie and an overcoat, not a red tie without an overcoat. The picture in question was taken seconds after the President entered the platform and “Hail to the Chief” was still being played. In other words, those on the stage, and those in uniform below were not saluting the nation, the flag or veterans, but President Obama, the President of the United States. Yet, the falsehood continues to live on and spread fueled by the paranoia of conspiracy theorists who are anti-Obama and a distrust of Obama and his motives.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Say It Is Not So Tiger!

Tiger Woods confession of an affair has stunned many. Jesper Parnevik who along with his wife introduced Woods to his wife Elin said, “I really feel sorry for Elin, since me and my wife were at fault for hooking her up with him. We probably thought he was a better guy than he is. I would probably need to apologize to her.”

In preparation of this blog I read a quick sampling of about 140 comments posted by followers of the story. A good number of comments, about 25%, are saying that it is a private matter and it is none of our business what takes place within the Woods family and marriage. No doubt Tiger and his wife agree with those sentiments. Yet, he is a high profile celebrity who has not just made tens of millions of dollars by winning tournaments but from commercial endorsements and presenting a wholesome persona. He has sought to keep his family and personal life private, but when one enters a high profile position, an element of privacy disappears. The higher one’s profile becomes the less privacy one will have. And nothing like a tabloid scandal will bring attention of the press who make huge profits by covering, and even pumping up, a salacious celebrity scandal.

Few comments I have commented, far less than 10%, have argued for her staying with him. For every one who takes such a position there are eight or nine times that number who say that Elin should divorce Tiger. Many say that he cannot be ever trusted again. The assumption is that if he cheated once he will cheat on her again.

It is fair to say that a good number of people will criticize her for trying to redeem their marriage. Jenny Sanford, wife of disgraced South Carolina ex-governor Mark Sanford was commended by many in the church for asking her husband to move out of their home and for taking the first steps to divorce him. She is hailed as for taking a moral stand against wrong.

Those who commend Jenny Sanford tend to be the same voices who condemned Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Edwards for remaining with the husbands. These women raised the ire within significant segments of the conservative branch of the church for forgiving their husbands publically (and privately?), seeking to work through the rough times and to redeem their marriages.

Commending Jenney while condemning Hilary, Elizabeth, Kobe Bryant’s wife, and others who have sought to salvage their marriage bothers me. Those who condemn Hilary et al. need to not only get a life but also take a look at their own beliefs. Is there not a disconnect between what is preached in the Gospels and the Letters about redemption, forgiveness and restoration? Or are we saying that infidelity, whether by the man or the woman, is such an unforgiveable sin that all hope is lost for the marriage and that like Humpty Dumpty it is destroyed beyond repair?

If the answer to the above second question is “yes”, then why are Christian bookstores filled with pastoral aids and marital counseling aids regarding rebuilding marital relationships after infidelity? Are these books, a significant number of which are published by conservative printing houses, for show? Again, if the answer is “yes”, then let’s stop the hypocrisy by no longer publishing such books, having seminaries and other pastoral training programs training pastors for such moments, and cease expecting the clergy of the church to even attempt to salvage the unsalvageable.

If the consequences of the “yes” option are unpalatable and we say “no” to the above question and affirm that there is hope, then why do members of the conservative church (evangelical and fundamentalist branches) condemn Hilary, Elizabeth, et al. at a higher rate than do other segments of our society. Hence my personal disappointment in the conservative church and in the church’s leadership for not speaking positive of Hilary and Elizabeth who in the heat of the public eye seek to redeem their marriages. They need to be commended, not condemned.

Just under one in five men are unfaithful to their wives. Before we speak negatively about men, most of the women with whom those men are unfaithful are women who are married to other men. Infidelity happens both within and outside the church. It happens to people who claim sincere faith. It happens to pastors, and even a giant of the faith like King David was not immune. It always has happened and always will happen.

Tiger Woods has not disappointed me. Whose who say "Say it is not so Tiger" need to get a life. Though he is a fantastic golfer, Tiger is not super-human. He is not divine. Jesper Parnevik’s comment is troubling. If Parnevik thinks that there is a special plain where one becomes immune he could well be headed for trouble. There is not level of spirituality or character to makes one immune. Since the beginning of time infidelity can happen to people of any character if they do not carefully guard their heart and mind.

Woods’ statement states that he is far short of perfect. He is true on that point, neither am I or any reader of this blog. I am content to allow them privacy and space, to allow them to work through their issues. They have enough tensions without me or others being voyeurs into their home. If Elin and Tiger work to salvage their marriage, I will celebrate and commend them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

College Bowl Season Cometh

This weekend the bowl forecasting will start to become clearer. We already know that Ohio State is in the Rose Bowl and their opponent will be the winner of Saturday’s Oregon/Oregon State game. After this weekend, unless Florida or Alabama is defeated, the championship game will contain a SEC team, Florida or Alabama, going against a team from Texas…more likely to be Texas rather than TCU. Whoever looses between Florida and Alabama will get an at large bid to a BCS game…likely the Sugar Bowl.

Rightly so TCU will earn one of the three remaining at large bids…likely the Orange or Fiesta. Boise State deserves one of the at large bids too…likely to be the Fiesta or the Orange. Boise will likely play the last at large team, which could well be either hurting Iowa or Penn State. Without Stanzi at QB, Iowa will have difficulty beating whoever they play in the Fiesta Bowl. As a Hawkeye fan I am conflicted over Iowa going to the BCS when their starting QB is out of the rest of the season. With Stanzi being hurt I suspect that Penn State will receive the last at large bid leaving the Hawkeyes going to the Capital One Bowl against Mississippi or long shot LSU.

LSU would have to have a convincing win over Arkansas and Mississippi loose to hapless Mississippi State. LSU’s poor clock management has likely moved them down to the Cotton Bowl, or worse, the Gaylor Music City Bowl.

I would have loved to see LSU and Iowa in the Outback, but alas it will not happen this year. By the way Josh asked his mother if LSU and Iowa played against one another, then for whom would she cheer. Her wise and simple response is precious, “I will cheer for the LSU band to play and march well at half-time.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tailgating at LSU

One of the unique American traditions which is foreign to Canadians is tailgating. While at Iowa we witnessed college tailgating but what happens at Iowa pails in what we saw at LSU. Some people claim their tailgating locations the evening before the game, others the morning before the game.

Following are some pictures of tailgating that takes place throughout the campus. The first three pictures were taken 6 hours before game time. Already people are gathering to visit and party with friends.

The above RVs are in a prime location near the stadium. Another large RV area about a half a mile from the stadium has people camping and tailgating for the weekend.

Tailgating sites are located around academic buildings. Notice the trailer by the curb...we saw a good number of such trailers that people use to store and transport their tailgating equipment.

The above two and those below are taken about 4 hours before game time and a little over a half mile from the stadium. In the one above, notice behind the man in the chair there is a flat screen TV. We saw several people having TVs used to keep track of games that were currently underway. Josh's dorm is in the right background. The last two are across the street from Josh's dorm.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Questions about CFOT Sessions in Canada

Year after year, children of Salvation Army officers have made up the core of any training college session. When I look at the officers I have known in NCV over the last eight years, a good number of their children have or are entering the CFOT in Atlanta. From the 24 couples who have children have reached 20 years of age, 17 children are Officers, or in CFOT currently or in process. From my experience during my teens and young adult years, while the ratio may not be as high, a large children of officers in Canada entered the work.

If the percent of children of Officers entering CFOT dropped dramatically, it would not bode well. Such a drop should be not the red flag storm warning, but a red flag with a square in the middle of it, the hurricane warning. It would stand to reason for a healthy TSA and a sign of a healthy office corps that the core of any session, about 15 to 25%, should be made up of children of officers.

Last week on Facebook a friend who is a second year cadet in Canada was tagged in an album from the Remembrance Day service in which the cadets participated. One picture in the album showed a group of cadets with a description suggested it was of all the first year cadets. I was stunned that there were only thirteen cadets. From antidotal information I understand the two current sessions are small but surely the first year session is not that small?

Each cadet was identified. I did not recognize any last names. Are there not seven to ten children of officers in a given session? This caused Evie and I to try to do a count of how many children of officers we know in Canada have entered the work in the last ten years. We are somewhat out of the loop but we cannot think of more than one or two.

If there are few officers’ children entering the work in Canada then something wrong that has taken place. What we cannot say as we are too removed. Culture may be a factor but not a dominant factor since the USA which has a similar culture, is not seeing the same trend. If there is a decline, what have the children seen in the Army, or in how their parents are engaged by the system, or by the expectations/appreciation, or the attitude they hear from their parents in the home, that discourages them from entering officership? If there is a decline it may well be a combination of factors, none of which speak well of and for the immediate future of the Canadian territory.

If the sessions are much stronger than my impression and children of officers are still entering in good numbers every year, I would appreciate comments to that end.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Honoring Veterans

Yesterday's Tigerband half-time show was posted on youtube. With Nov 11 just days before, the show honors veterans. The person who recorded the show was sitting in upper nosebleed territory....where we were sitting.

I have not idea where Josh was on the field. If he reads this post he may leave a comment as to what letters he was part of for each service branch.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Is the Ballot Box Supreme?

In a democracy is the ballet box supreme over the Constitution? Does majority rule of ballot box such an inviolate principle that the majority can use ballot measures to marginalize unpopular groups?

In the United States these questions are real. Over the last twenty years local and state-wide initiatives on the ballot have become increasingly popular. They are being used “to correct” legislation and court rulings. While proponents claim not to be bigoted, a significant number of the initiatives are aimed at minorities, such as gays, Hispanics, Muslims, non-Christian groups in general and atheists.

When unfettered majority rules does that then not mean that the equality clauses in the founding documents like the Constitution becomes merely lofty words with little effective meaning? I think so. The character of a nation is partly measured by how it treats and protects the rights of unpopular groups...and that character is being tested by various ballot initiatives targeting minority groups.

The ballot box cannot be supreme or we can end up with the tyranny of the majority. The nation's primary documents take primacy over the ballot box and so do court rulings, even the court rulings I do not like.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Traditions and Alma Maters

During our visit to LSU I was struck that the playing and singing of the LSU alma mater is so central to campus traditions, far more than it was at Iowa.

At Iowa most students know their alma mater and are able to sing it when it is played before every football game (in contrast to Canada colleges where a large number of students can only sing their alma meter if given the words.) As with Iowa, at LSU the alma mater is also played before every sporting event. At LSU the alma mater is utilized more than at the beginning of the game. After the game, victory or lost, the team gathers before the band, and the team stands arm in arm to sing the alma mater as the band plays. Many of the students in the stands link arm in arm as they join the team in singing too.

Following the team’s departure as the band plays “Let us Break Bread Together” (a nice tradition I also like…we fought hard on the field but we depart as brothers/sisters in spirit), the band sets their instruments down, link arm in arm and sings their alma mater. This is the second time the team has sung the alma mater together on game day, the first being at the end of practice before exiting the IFF (see picture below).

The same takes place at other sporting events. Evie and I witnessed at the end of the woman’s volleyball game on Friday night. The little pep band playing for the team to sing the alma mater at the end of the game and the before putting their instruments away, the players put down their instruments, linked arms and quietly sung the alma meter.

The use the alma meter is wonderful tradition.

FYI - Josh is in the red shorts by the guy in the blue shirt.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Evie Brought to Tears

Saturday morning Evie was brought to tears.

This September Josh pledged a music fraternity. He is has been going through the pledge period for the last 6 weeks. He is a probationary member along with five other men....five trumpets and one trombone.
On Saturday morning following the practice on the IFF, the six probationary members sang "Blood Stained Banner" to the parents.

The six young men sang an old barber shop love song, I cannot recall the title but it made reference to "you are my gal" and deep abiding love. At the right moment the young men knelt before the mothers who did not have dry eyes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Great Trash Can

A European firm has found a way to encourage people to not only use the trash bins but to pick up litter that is nearby. Enjoy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mini-Vacation Ahead

Evie and I have been in PA for the weekend. The next two days we will be repacking and getting ready for our mini-vacation. We head direct to the airport on Wednesday. Wednesday evening Evie and I fly to New Orleans from where we will travel to Baton Rouge to see Josh for the weekend.

Before heading to Baton Rouge we will be staying at a old elegant hotel, the St Louis, in French District of New Orleans.

Thursday afternoon we will drive to Baton Rouge to take Josh out for dinner...the pep band is playing for Friday's volleyball game so we will take him to dinner to a nice restaurant Thursday evening before driving back to New Orleans, about an hour's drive.

Friday we move to Baton Rouge to take in the tailgate atmosphere and the game Saturday night. I am looking forward to hearing the LSU band. We return to Washington Sunday night around 9 and 7 AM Monday I am back to the same airport to fly to Atlanta.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Would You Claim Him As Your Son?

I laughed when I saw this last night. If this was my son….I would not know him.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Social Networking and Fundraising

The last Presidential election cycle has again stirred the fundraising field to jump into social media as a way to raise significant money. Again we are hearing that the death of direct mail is only a matter of years away and that by 2015 that social networking and the internet will be the primary vehicle through which organizations will raise their funds.

In the mid 80s similar predictions were made about brick and mortar colleges, that the rapid growth of inexpensive videos would transform education. A series of lectures could be taped once, and with graphics, video clips and notes inserted, the finished product would be superior to the classroom experience. By the hundreds of thousands students who did not need highly specialty labs would be studying from home and never darken the campus. Such advocates argued that building of new dorms, recreation and classroom facilities was a waist. Similar arguments were again made with the advent of the DVD, and high speed internet. Are brick and mortar colleges dying….far from it.

After 9-11 predications were made that the internet was the fundraising vehicle of the near-future and any organization who did not move quickly to the net would be left behind within five to eight years. Hundreds of organizations invested tens of thousands of dollars on internet initiatives only to find that they received through the net a small fraction of what they invested.

More sobering predictions were again made following Katrina and now again after the recent election cycle. History has shown that the net is not a magic bullet. The organizations that raise money via net tend to be groups that are involved in political action or those responding to a high profile emergency where the urgency to give is immediate.

Social networking is a vehicle for communication, but it is not a magic fundraising solution. Social networking will work for those groups, like a Habit For Humanity, whose fundraising model was social networking based prior to the creation of e-blasts, blogs, Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Most social networking vehicles are shallow tools of communication. They are filled with shallow messages. In looking at TSA Corps social networking sites, the membership indicates two things. 1) Few Corps have a broad base, and 2) most of the member is from within the Army….in other words, we are talking to each other. Let us also not forget that the majority of people who have social networking sites are not as active on the network as we would tend to think!

Nonprofits should be in the social networking space only if the organization has a thoughtful and realistic strategy that works with an organization’s overall fundraising and market strategy. Also, an organization should not spend a great deal of resources developing and maintaining the site. The return on investment is not there. A major reason for being in this space is not for raising dollars but as a component of donor communication and education, and then it should not overshadow more effective donor communication vehicles such as direct mail, newsletters, calling and meeting with donors.

The Social networking should only be one vehicle, and even then a minor vehicle, that is used for fundraising and donor communication. It could pull from existing material that is either suitable as is or with some slight adjustments. Whatever the message may be, it should be cogent and be content focused. What is shared should not be trivial, nor should it be too data packed or ethereal. The messages should be success story and ethos focused. Messages that ask for volunteers and money should be rare (less than 10% in total).

Investment of resources (human and fiscal) should be minimal as the rate of return does not justify a heavy investment. Again, it is an awareness tool that should be part of our communication mix, not a direct fundraising tool. It should be used as such a tool to tell the same or similar story that we are telling via other channels. A thoughtful organization should be in the space, but without drinking the spiked cool-aid.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rush Limbaugh Denied Opportunity of NFL Ownership

Rush Limbaugh the conservative commentator mega-millionaire was approached to be part of a pool of investors trying to purchase the St. Louis Rams. Last weekend the news of his participation created a stir amongst various social groups, players and even some league officials. The controversy was so strong that the head of the pool of investors announced early Wednesday that Limbaugh would not be a co-owner.

The remainder of the week a host of conservative voices spoke out against the wrong being done Limbaugh. Noting Limbaugh’s love of the game and marketing savvy, these voices proclaimed he had been torpedoed by his liberal media enemies who inflamed owners and players with their lies. They also decried that he was being prevented from investing his money as he so wished, and such an act is un-American.

Since 1988 when he started his syndicated radio talk show, Limbaugh has been unapologetically and stridently opinionated. Claiming that he is speaking his mind and the truth plainly he has not only offered opinion but done so in a controversial neo-tabloid format. It is not uncommon for his facts and interpretation to be questioned truthful on a daily basis. Even more so, it is rare that a week goes by without one or two statements creating a stir.

Limbaugh is highly influential in Republican circles – so much so that only a handful of Republicans could survive upsetting Limbaugh on an ongoing basis. His clout in Republican circles was evidenced in 2008 when he urged Ohio Republicans to switch parties during the primary and vote for Hilary Clinton and putting the Democrat party into chaos. Limbaugh said "The dream end of [Operation Chaos] is that this keeps up to the Convention, and that we have a recreation of Chicago 1968 with burning cars, protests, fire, and literal riots and all of that, that is the objective here." There were over 16,000 Ohio Republicans who did what he suggested.

Speaking of Obama’s Presidency, “I hope he fails.” He demeans anyone who has any hint of what he terms liberalism. He repeatedly demonizes feminists as “femanazis.”

In 2003 he had a brief stint as a NFL commentator. His career ended because he was too controversial and unguarded with his opinions. He became the focal point of controversies, particularly with regard to how he expressed his views about Philadelphia’s quarterback, Donavan McNabb.

Throughout his career Limbaugh has dug out decades old unflattering quotes of those he attacks. He has often taken the statements out of context and not balanced them off on later statements and actions. In his pontification he encourages his followers to organize, to speak their minds with forcefulness, to lobby against things that they think are wrong and press their ideas forward forcefully not only to politicians but to corporate executives.

The majority of the mainstream media more middle of the road than Limbaugh and conservatives hold. In this past Presidential election, there were as many editorials supporting McCain and Republican candidates as Democratic. One of the purposes of the press is to shine the light upon issues and the actions of public personalities, and Rush Limbaugh is certainly a public personality. The press summarizing his controversial nature was doing its job. The press is the avenue for airing and vetting. When he is the focal point and they do what Limbaugh himself has been doing for decades, he and his supporters cry foul.

The vast majority of NFL owners are conservative socially and politically. Most would have sympathy for many of his views. That said, the last thing that they want to have is for an owner to become a distraction for the NFL, for owners to be asked regularly about the views of one of their own, or for a team’s executives, coaches and players to be asked regularly by the press what they thought of some controversial political comment made by their owner. The NFL owners club wants their owners to fly below the radar and not be controversial.

The press and social advocates did torpedo Limbaugh’s chance to be a NFL. They merely noted that Limbaugh has been a controversial personality and will continue to be a controversial personality. What prevented his desire to be an NFL owner is his ongoing strident controversial opinions….the NFL owners club and Limbaugh are a mismatch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dean Martin

Recently I watched clips from the old Dean Martin shows. Watching the clips two things keep standing out. First, from his actions, facial expressions and speech it appears to me that he had been imbibing. Second, his public reputation for drinking heavily was the foundation for too many sketches. A person’s heavy use of alcohol should never be the basis of humor as it only further enables such activity.

Martin had a deep and diverse connection into the heart of the Hollywood talent pool. He was known as a fun loving party guy, which would in my opinion may well be somewhat based upon his personality when he was intoxicated. Martin’s talent is undeniable. I loved his westerns and his stuff with Jerry Lewis. In other films, particularly in many of his later films, his work seems to be a little off. In looking at him in the old clips of his show I am left wondering how much further he could have gone if not been for alcohol.
Fortunately, making light of one's drinking habits and alcohol addiction is not as socially acceptable as in the past. That said, we still have still have a way to go.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Best of Intentions...

I find it sad how people tend to use the expressions about good intentions as a condemnation of following good intentions. It is true that some bad results happen when we try to do something and offer help with the best of intentions. Why do we allow such moments to speak negatively of good intentions?

Why are we allowing human foibles and misjudgments speak negatively of good intentions in general?

Let us not overlook the broader reality. More often than not the best of intentions bring about positive results, and often great good. How many of us keep track of our positive results arising from good intentions? Most of us forget to count how often the best of intentions work out for the good, and sometimes for the tremendous good.

Friday, October 09, 2009

America Attacked From Within

I learned of this story today. Jamie Leigh Jones, an employee of Halliburton was required to sign an arbitration agreement regarding issues that arise within the context of her employment with Halliburton. What Halliburton knew, and Ms Jones did not know, was that she was signing away her civil rights as a condition of employment. Thinking that such arbitration pertained to minor disagreements and differences between employees and between employer and employee, I have looked favorably upon such agreements.

No longer do I support such agreements. Such agreements must be explicitly outlawed if such agreements protect a firm and its employees from being held accountable. Once again we have exposed the ugly underbelly of the corporate environment in America. Halliburton remains unapologetic for its shameful conduct and not working swiftly and diligently to bring the perpetrators to justice. While threats to America do come from without the country, Halliburton has shown that an equal threat to America can and does flow from its corporate boardroom.

While no American should be asked to sign away their civil rights as a condition of employment, such an expectation is far more common in the United States than its citizens realize.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lighthouses of the Outerbanks

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are known for the their beaches and lighthouses. The first picture is the Hatteras Lighthouse on Hatteras Island. We climbed up the interior...268 steps.

Evie on top of the Hatteras Lighthouse and the beaches to the south. Below is a look at the town of Hatteras to the north.

The last time we visited, the lighthouse was being moved on a crawler from its original position due to the beach being eroded. Below are two pictures, the first shows the track the lighthouse followed and the second the site (you can still see the old stone foundation on the edge of the beach).

Below is Bodie Island Lighthouse which is to the north of Hatteras Island.

Friday, October 02, 2009

North Carolina Ferries

We reported taking two ferries on our recent trip. The ferries on the short runs, such as those between the Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, as pictured below are basic. Some have sitting areas while others lack such areas. There are no metal gates as there are on the longer runs that are exposed to rougher seas. As you can see from the last pictures the waves can wash over the front...and our trip was done on a calm day.

There is not fee for cars or passangers on the shorter runs like the Hatteras to Ocracoke. These ferries carry all supply trucks and construction equipment Ocracoke.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Tragic Story

As it is my 500th post I have elected to tell a story from T. R. Reid’s Healing of America. This story of Ms. White eloquently captures the problems of the American healthcare system. Functionally, America does not have a healthcare system, it has a healthcare marketplace that is driven to produce as large a profit as possible.

According to studies arising from Harvard, one of the conservative bastions of capitalism, each year 40,000 to 44,000 Americans die every year with a medical condition that could have been readily addressed if the person received adequate medical attention but died because they lacked adequate medical insurance. The Harvard figures do not include the number that do not die but who become prematurely disabled or miss work at a high rate due to untreated medical ailments. While horror stories can be told about any system in the world, Ms. White’s story is more common than Americans wish to admit, and some will heatedly claim the Harvard figures and Ms. White’s story are lies.

In blue print is Ms. White’s story as found in two sections of the Reid's book. It is rather long for a blog but deleting sections would do the story a disservice.

RESIDENT OF ANY OTHER rich country, she would be alive today. Around the time she graduated from college, Monique A. “Nikki” White contracted systemic lupus erythematosus; that’s a serious disease, but one that modern medicine knows how to manage. If this bright, feisty, dazzling young woman had lived in, say, Japan—the world’s second-richest nation—or Germany (third richest), or Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Sweden, etc., the health care systems there would have given her the standard treatment for lupus, and she could have lived a normal life span. But Nikki White was a citizen of the world’s richest country, the United States of America.

Once she was sick, she couldn’t get health insurance. Like tens of millions of her fellow Americans, she had too much money to qualify for health care under welfare, but too little money to pay for the drugs and doctors she needed to stay alive. She spent the last months of her life frantically writing letters and filling out forms, pleading for help.

When she died, Nikki White was thirty-two years old. “Nikki didn’t die from lupus,” Dr. Amylyn Crawford told me.“Nikki died from complications of the failing American health care system. It was a lack of access to health care that killed Nikki White.” Dr. Crawford is a family physician at a no-frills community health center in an old strip mall in a downscale section of Kingsport, Tennessee.

Who was Nikki and what is behind her story? T.R. Reid goes at the end of his book returns to her.

The late Monique “Nikki” White, the bright, vivacious young woman…Tall, slender, athletic, she grew up in a middle-class family in Bristol,Tennessee; her parents were both middle managers in corporate America, and she was covered by a family health insurance plan until she finished college in 1999.

She earned a degree in psychology at the University of Texas and went to work after college for a bookstore near the campus in Austin. It was a perfect job for her. But Nikki, beginning to feel ill, felt obliged to look for a job with health benefits—the bookstore didn’t provide them, and her parents’ plan wouldn’t cover her after she finished school. She found work at a hospital in Austin, where she was eligible for the employee health insurance plan. Some days, Nikki was too sick to go to work; she developed severe stomach pains, extreme fatigue, and skin lesions on various parts of her body.

A doctor confirmed that Nikki had contracted systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that mainly strikes women. This was not good news, but it was hardly a death sentence; about 80 percent of Americans with lupus live a normal life span. “For the vast majority of people with lupus,” says the Lupus Foundation of America, “effective treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce inflammation, and maintain normal bodily functions.” But effective treatment requires health insurance.

In 2001, Nikki was so ill that she had to leave work. That’s when the long, frustrating, and eventually fatal struggle with America’s health care system began for Nikki White. Like most working Americans, she lost her health insurance when she lost her job. “The timing was just tragic,” said her family physician, Dr. Amylyn Crawford. “The insurance system dropped her at the point when she needed it most.”

With grim determination, Nikki applied to every individual insurance plan she could find—in vain. No for-profit insurance company in the United States was willing to cover a person who had chronic lupus. Unemployed and uninsured, she moved home and set up an apartment over her mother’s garage in the green, rolling Appalachian country where Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia meet. This not only provided free housing, but the return to Tennessee also meant she could enroll in TennCare, the local version of Medicaid, the government program that provides health insurance for the poorest Americans.

Nikki had trouble finding a specialist who would treat her condition at Medicaid’s payment rates—Medicaid pays doctors less than Medicare, the U.S. government program for the elderly—but eventually she found a rheumatologist who agreed to take her on. The doctor prescribed azathiopine, a drug that would control the inflammation that was causing painful lesions on Nikki’s chest and hands. He warned her clearly that this powerful medication could have dangerous side effects. To avoid them, she needed regular blood tests, CT scans, and office checkups. Neither Nikki nor her mother could pay for such expensive care.

Fortunately, they had TennCare to help. In the summer of 2005, though, Tennessee cut back sharply on its TennCare insurance program. Under the new rules, Nikki White had too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Once again, she was uninsured. She kept trying to get health coverage, but all her appeals were denied. By now, her hands were so painful from the lesions that she had to wear thick gloves just to fill out an application. “She fought and she fought and she fought,”

Dr. Crawford recalled later. For months at a time, as Nikki dealt with a bewildering onslaught of cold bureaucratic form letters, it was unclear whether she was insured or not. “If your TennCare has ended, you should not have gotten this letter,” one missive said. That was followed by another, equally mysterious: “If this box is checked, the person listed in line 3 has at least 18 months creditable coverage. IMPORTANT! This does not mean you have coverage now.” The state Department of Human Services sent TennCare Form Letter 207.5, explaining the extent of her legal right to get insurance: “You can still apply for individual health insurance coverage. Some companies may let you buy a different kind of insurance (not a HIPAA plan). But, they don’t have to. AND, they don’t have to cover preexisting conditions.”

Nikki White was a college graduate and had worked in medical care. She knew how to research health insurance regulations. Eventually, she figured out that Medicaid would have to give her coverage if she was legally determined to be “disabled.” She began filing applications with yet another government department, the Social Security Administration, the agency that determines whether or not an American is disabled. Denied.

By the summer of 2005, Nikki White began to fear that she would never get the medical care she needed. “I don’t want to die,” she said on her thirty-second birthday. “Please don’t let me die.”

In her last weeks of life, Nikki began to receive medical care. In November of 2005, she suffered a seizure—due to kidney failure and perforated intestine—and was admitted to the emergency ward at Bristol Regional Medical Center. From that point on, her insurance problems didn’t matter; under federal law, the hospital had to treat her until her condition was “stable.”

Over ten weeks, she had more than twenty-five operations, all provided gratis. By then, though, the patient was too sick for any hospital to save. In the spring of 2006, at the age of thirty-two, Nikki White died.

Officially, the cause of death was listed as “complications of lupus.” In fact, as her doctor said, the proximate cause of death was a health care system that failed to provide the treatment that would have saved her life. Monique White was an American citizen, guaranteed equal access, along with every other American, to certain basic rights. But she didn’t have equal access to health care. If Nikki had received the standard treatment regimen for lupus readily available to any American with health insurance, she could have lived a normal life span. If she had been a resident of any other developed nation, she could have lived a normal life span. No other rich country would have tolerated the inequality that left Nikki White dead.

Friday, September 18, 2009

LSU Football Facility

American college sports is a serious matter, particularly football and basketball at major colleges. Following is a Youtube clip of a tour of LSU’s football facility.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Going For the Close-up

At Ohio State one of the traditions is for the band to spell out Ohio in the pre-game. It is a great honor to be the sousaphone chosen to dot the “i” with flare and finishing with a bow. Watch what happened this past weekend when the cameraman got a little too close.

Thanks Josh for drawing this to my attention.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Equal But Not Really Equal

The Constitution of the United States states that all men (male and female) are created equal. These noble words are taught to the young, and held close to the hearts of each adult citizen. Entrenching them in the Constitution does not make them a reality in everyday life.

Equality in America is must be understood within a narrow context as clearly not all are created or are equal in America. Equality means that there are no first or second citizens, each citizen of age having a right to vote, having the opportunity to express their opinion to the community and elected representatives, to run for public office, to travel freely, to live anywhere within their means and as zoning allows, to free public elementary and secondary education, to have their day in court if grieved or if charged with a crime and to walk the streets without fear of arrest.

While each has the right to vote, and all votes within the ballet box are equal, not all votes are equal outside the ballet box. While all are free to express their opinions, not all voices have equal weight. Due to wealth and financial support some individuals and groups have far greater access to their representatives and to influencing the outcome of legislation. While all have available to free public education, not all schools are equally funded or equipped with equally skilled teachers. This inequity means that students from a community and family of less means are far less likely to succeed than their neighbors in other communities. Such students do not lack the capacity of their neighbors that live in wealthier communities, what they lack is equal opportunity.

While justice may be blind, access and the veracity of an argument are influenced more by the dollars of the one before the court than we wish to admit. Those with true and legitimate grievances who have the means have a far greater capacity to pursue their claim than those who are the working poor. Courts history is replete with cases victorious and questionable cases being successfully pressed by those with means over those who lack.

While in theory all have access to medical care, it is all theoretical to the 45 million Americans who lack insurance. This result is that 24,000 uninsured people under the age of 65 yrs. die a year from treatable and recoverable illnesses a year that those with adequate health care coverage. While that 9-11 attacks are considered a national tragedy the deaths annual of a number eleven times than those who died at the Pentagon and Twin Towers is not considered a tragedy. Eight years ago we saw the vivid images but the 24,000 dying one at a time hidden from sight does not move the heart of nation. Instead of being enraged it into moral action far too many of us shrug our shoulders and dismiss their deaths as being of little consequence…that is until one of our loves ones or a very close friend becomes part of that statistic one year, and will happen for at least half the families at least once in 50 years, then we will howl but our neighbors will shrug their shoulders and remain unmoved.

In America, all are equal, but some are just more equal than others…that’s just the reality of life. While all should not be equal, the nation does not view health care as something to which all should have equal access which will continue to remain in contrast to other developed industrializated nations that have said yes, all should be equal when ill or need of a health care professional. In America it is not a moral imperative as it is within its world peers.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

LSU Band Goes Into Hall of Fame Saturday Night

Last night Josh told us last evening of the “LSU Golden Band from Tigerland” being inducted into the Louisiana music Hall of Fame. I got this google alert on the news coverage. If you watch carefully you will see Josh in the background several times (2:08-2:12, 2:31-2:32). He is in a gold T-shirt and red shorts. At the 2:31 mark he is front left on the screen whereas in the earlier section he is well in the background.

Congratulations to the band on their recognition.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Representative Joe Wilson's Shout-out

Joe Wilson’s shout out during President Obama’s address to Congress shocked many of his colleagues and friends. It also raised a storm of criticism from a host of Democrats.

His defenders explain it away as Wilson being loosing it on a subject over which he is passionate. Let’s hold that explanation in reserve and measure it by what is evident for any observer to put together.

1. Wilson is a lawyer by profession. Lawyers are trained to control their emotions and to remain cool, deliberate and thoughtful when others panic. As a practicing lawyer for over twenty years he has honed the lawyerly skill of anticipating an argument and then honing a phrase or statement so that its impact will have maximum affect.

2. Wilson practices his skills in the military for 31 years and retired as a colonel. Military personnel are well drilled in remaining calm, cool and collected in the heat of battle. A military officer who is prone to losing their emotions will soon be out of the military. Officers are models of decorum. To rise to be a colonel speaks volumes as to the level of control he is able to maintain.

3. Though Wilson represents a district in South Carolina that has never elected a Democrat since 1965, in the last election Wilson was nearly defeated by Rob Miller who is running against Wilson again in 2010.

4. Increasingly Wilson is working at stirring and shoring up his Republican base while also attracting the independents who are angry about the level of illegal immigration as well as those who are concerned about deficit spending.

5. The outburst has been well received within his district.

While I do not know Wilson, and will not judge his heart, I the explanation of his defenders about losing his calm on a matter close to his heart does not match Wilson’s background and context. Notwithstanding the quick call to apologize to the President, I would not be at all shocked to learn in the weeks or distant years that the cry was the honed lawyerly courtroom skill at work and that the outburst will be leveraged by his campaign during the next election.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Health Insurance Firms Fight the Public Option

Whether measured by GDP or on a per capita basis, Americans spend more money on healthcare than any other industrialized nation. It would stand to reason that Americans would therefore have the best system for the average citizen. Yet measure after measure, it is in the bottom rather third. Here are just some of the measures, life expectancy, infant mortality before the age of one, life expediency at age of sixty, recoverability from treatable medical conditions, etc.

In America 20% of medical premiums is insurance company overhead and profit. This figure does not include the medical billing costs and overhead experienced by provider. Nor does it factor in the amount of time a patient and the patient’s family spends pouring over medical bills to ensure accuracy. For Canada’s single payer system, the overhead is 3%, the same as it is for Medicare and the Veteran Affair’s program for Vets.

When an insurance company pays a bill, they call it a “medical loss”. The companies seek to have a “medical loss” no worse than 80%, and some aim to push it toward the 76% market. To achieve this end, they deny coverage to people they consider to be too risky. Another vehicle is to put great efforts into avoid and delaying payment on medical claims. About 30% of claims are “denied”, the most of which are paid upon appeal by the recipient of the treatment.

Some excuses for denial are dubious, such as a signature not in the right place. One person’s claim was denied because the services were given to this businessman while he was in Japan. The insurance company denied the claim for two reasons, the bill was in yen and they could not verify treatment. The company says that the provide insurance for out of country treatments but policy holders only learn later that the statement must be in US dollars and is paid in US dollars. Second, and the more daunting is that treatment must be verified by the insurance company personnel which creates two problems, a) the company’s phone system does not allow for out of country calls to verify treatment and payment information, and b) having to find someone who speaks English well enough on the other end to answer satisfactorily the range of questions being asked by the company. Hence, the insurance company puts up walls that the insured must find a way to overcome in order to have the out of country treatment paid by the plan.

A host of minor treatments provided within the US are routinely denied with the hope that the insured will cover the items out of their own pocket (one out of two will not appeal) even though the company knows they will pay the bill if the insured appeals the decision. A majority of the 30% denied claims fall into this category. For profit companies have teams of people who examine bills to find reasons to deny them so as to maintain the targeted profit margin.

Medicare on the other hand which does not have to pay out high seven figure and eight figure salaries to executives or pay out dividends to shareholders, or have teams of people whose primary purpose is to deny claims, which is why it has a 3% administrative overhead versus from profit companies 20%. Insurance companies are right when they say that they will not be able to compete with a public option as either the government will be able to offer the same coverage for about 15 to 17% less or for the same premiums offer greater coverage. Regardless of what other reasons the health care insurance firms will give, the 17% difference will kill them.