Thursday, June 30, 2011

Burial, Cremation, Heritics and Limits on Divinity

The other day while reading James Michener’s Chesapeake there is a passage about the bodies of “heritics” being burned. The passage remined me of how archaic misbegotten religious notions are passed down uncritically from generation to generation shape today our lives and thinking. While it is diminishing in our society, there has been a strong reluctance against cremation due to an ancient religious teaching.

Burial is rooted in the belief in the resurrection of the dead. If there is no body to be resurrected, then the person cannot be resurrected to have eternal life or so goes the reasoning. Hence, for more than millennia, religious and civil leaders burned the bodies of “heretics” and major political opponents. The pronouncement that someone was to be burned served as a strong control over the middle age masses and burning protected the leaders from seeing their opponent in the afterlife if an injustice was carried out on them in this life…after all they assured that there would be no body for God to resurrect and correct the injustice. Today, the effects of such thinking linger effect in the number of people who see cremation as abhorrent.

For me, the ancient rationale for burial contradicts the Christian teachings about God being all-powerful, just and wise. It suggests that God is limited in his power by suggesting that the God who created the universe is powerless to resurrect someone if there was no physical body. Further, burning the bodies of heretics also suggests that God’s justice and power are limited in that the human activity makes it impossible for God to correct an injustice.

Over twelve years ago Evie and I have told our sons that we are to be cremated.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I Could Never Support a Politician Like Sarah Palin

In yesterday’s post I noted that the politics attracts some people of questionable character but not all are of unsavory as there are a good number of honest brokers who have not been seduced. I noted that we, the voter, must give due diligence to weed out the former and seek the latter.

Regardless of my political leanings, I was the recipient of a mailing a year ago from one politician that very quickly disqualified her from ever being considered as the recipient of my vote. The letter contained a survey with five questions that recipients are encouraged to return.

One of my ongoing concerns is the way politicians of various parties and levels twist and intentionally obfuscate information to manipulate the public to support them or the issue they are pushing, and pushing not always for reasons that are apparent to the voter. One issue that greatly concerns me, and which I believe the public does not appreciate, is how push polling is being used to convince (manipulate?) the person being surveyed into coming to one and only one conclusion, and then to use the results to make claims on political talk shows and on the campaign trail that a large number of my and your neighbors feel about something, and if I think differently I am in a small minority and better rethink my views.

Most telephone push polling last three to five minutes and contains twelve to fifteen questions. The organization sounds innocuous enough or patriotic, but they are often fronts for an organization or party with an agenda. The first three or so questions are normally demographically related and are followed by two or three qualifier questions. If the person answering the survey answers the two or three qualifier questions in a particularly manner, the survey may well end quickly and before the primary questions are asked. If they are answered in another way that survey often moves quickly through two or three set-up questions before getting to the two or three primary questions.

The set-up questions are carefully crafted to draw the person to respond and think in a particular direction and thereby answer the primary questions in the way the survey designer is seeking. If the person being surveyed sends mixed signals with the qualifier questions two or three more set-up questions may be added.

One of the signs of push polling is not only how the wording moves you in a certain direction but also in that they require only a simple yes or no answer. No somewhat or gradient scales are used as are done with neutral and academic polling. Being forced to give only a yes or no answer is a telling sign of a push poll.

The survey in the letter not only has all the signs of push polling but also includes hot button words and demonizing language, another sign of push polling and driving people to think and feel along a particular line. The letter says that the author is interested in their views and will use them to help shape the Republican party.

What turned me off was the second paragraph in the letter inviting the recipient to join millions of other Americans in expressing their views and frustrations. The second paragraph reads, “If you think Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are doing a good job running America, the put this down. This Victory 2010 Survey isn’t for you.”

I already viewed Sarah Palin with a high degree of askance for stepping down as Alaska's governor in her first term to respond to "the higher national need" (code for...I'm a hot item and I will make as much money as I can). Any small vestige of a chance of supporting her vanished in the second paragraph.

In light of the second paragraph for Palin to on to say in the letter that she is not only interested but needs the public’s views is disingenuous. The second paragraph and the nature of the survey disqualified her from ever being considered for my vote. She does not want my honest views or yours. She only wants to have her own views reinforced by a choir of loyal supporters who do not think independantly. Regardless of the person's party a politician like her will not have my support.

We already have too many politicians seeking to manipulate how I and the public think and feel. The country does not need another, particularly one who does so with such unashamably bold craseness. We need honest brokers who wrestle with weighty issues, who are willing to listen, to change their mind and work for the overall interest of the whole country.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scoundrels, Ballots and Power Trips

Politics has always been a cutthroat endeavor. For millennium men, and in more recent decades women too, have manipulated the public through misrepresentation, obfuscation of facts, inflaming people by playing to their more base fears and with carefully crafted public relations machines that help to project one persona while in private another and a contrary persona exists. They have manipulated the power system for their own personal gain, those of their friends and those who give them the most money to get elected.

We only need to look at the recent scandals to see this…and I am not just talking about those who are caught but the reaction of the opposition and their own party to their unsavory actions. I find it appalling and hypocritical that those who defended and kept a “family values” Senator in power after it was discovered that the Senator was visiting high priced prostitutes regularly, and maybe paying for them out of campaign contributions, were the first voices to attack a man of the other party for sending a nude picture of himself to several women. I was gravely disappointed that a Senator who covered up sexual harassment and an offer another Senator had with a woman who worked for him and delivered money to hush her received to calls for resignation from his own party. It happens with all parties…defend my party member, explain away his actions, and if the actions were wrong then minimize their significance while aggressively attacking the other party on the same, overplaying it, keeping the story going with the press by adding to the feeding frenzy.

Politics by its nature draws scoundrels and vipers. By its nature, it seductively boosts egos and inflames libidos. Power and the money are corrupting. Hence some cynics state that the only honest politician is the one who was not elected. I am not quite so cynical as there are politicians of every stripe across the globe who provide honorable service to their constituents and country. It is incumbent upon us, the voters, to cut through the clutter, to cease holding the view that my guy is always right, and that we seek people to be in office who consistently put the needs of the country ahead of the needs of their party, their friends or those who are filling their campaign coffers. We need to be diligent to not be unduly influenced by the politics of fear, image projection, the sound bite and the misleading obfuscations.

We do not need angry demanding movements who shout and press an agenda that more often than not is too narrow and unbalanced. An angry demanding movement is easily inflamed, co-opted and reactionary. Instead, we need thoughtful reflected voters who research issues, speak cogently to their elected officials and weight a host of issues when casting their ballots. We need voters not only hold our election officials accountable but who push beyond the superficial campaign image to give due diligence before casting their ballots.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Crossman Broke Camp On Saturday

Yesterday the Crossmen broke camp and hit the road. At the end of this video you will catch of glimpse of the bedroom. Could I live like this day after day from Memorial weekend to mid-August? No way, but Josh doesn’t mind. Their first competition is in Indianapolis on Tuesday June 21, Fairfield Ohio on Wednesday, Pittsburgh PA before coming to Washington DC on Friday for a show in Arlington on Saturday night…and then on to Old Bridge NJ. Evie and I will be helping on the food truck on Friday evening and Saturday. Josh will meet Hypatia at that time.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On All Levels, A Failed Donor Call

Shortly after I arrived home on Friday I received a call from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a Virginia non-profit which we have supported in the past. After thanking me for my past support the caller did not interact with me, or tell me anything about the organization. Instead he immediately asked if I would pledge to increase my level of support. As a fundraiser I found the call to be most interesting. The caller made several mistakes which ultimately resulted in him settling for a gift that is about 20% of the size of last year’s gift and well below what I would have likely given later.

When the caller asked if I would give at a particular level, about 33% above last year’s gift, I noted that it would be a reach this year. I also noted that I would definitely give but it was too early to say the size since I normally make decisions about gift at that level in October/November. I implied that the gift would likely in the range of last year’s, but would not make a decision in June. Yet the caller asked if he could put me down that day for pledge, send me a pledge card for an amount just above what was given last year and if I could immediately return the pledge. Again, I noted that I only make that size of gift only in the fall.

By this point in the call the fundraiser had made some fundamental errors. First, he was not listening to the donor. I said, a) I would not give at the asked level, and b) that I gave the assurance that there would be a gift in October around the level of the last year. The caller not only did not acknowledge either statements but worse seemed have not heard them which lead to the next error, not engaging the donor as to the donor's desires and plans.

Hence, the second error the caller made by not picking up on the statements when a gift decision is made and not asking if he could call back in early to mid October. Such a request is normally received positively from committed donors as it works from the their timeframe. It also received well by the donor as the caller is acknowledging what the donor's statement and the donor's intentions. This was a perfect moment to engage the donor, to draw the donor closer to the heart of the organization. A less bonded donor could be driven away.

A judicious and donor centered fundraiser would have turned the conversation into a victory by talking about teh organization and why I like supporting it. The fundraiser could have but did not ask if I had any questions or if he could send me any information about the Foundation's work and upcoming projects. Instead, the caller made his third mistake, settling for a far lower gift.

His third mistake was being focused upon the sale rather than the donor. Hence, to make a sale (gaining a pledge that day to be paid in two weeks) the fundraiser settled for a far smaller gift. The fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind…make a sale, secure a pledge at any level so that he could send a pledge card and add another tally. To this end the fundraiser went on to mention that a gift at $35 would allow me to receive Colonial Williamsburg's magazine for another full year. He then asked if I would commit to give a $35 pledge and pay within two weeks.

There had been numerous stop lights along the way but the fundraising speed through them on. I decided to see what would happen if I replied that if he wanted me to right then to pledge $35 to be paid immediately that I would do so, but that the gift would be the only gift for the year. In other words, I warned him that the ask was premature, and that he was about to get a little now rather than more later. He thanked me for the $35 pledge rather than giving in the fall. He thanked me and said the pledge card would arrive in the coming week.

As noted, the fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind...make a sale and secure a commitment to give today at any level.

Since Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a classy organization, I have observed the Foundation and some of its work for several years. I have even used the Foundation in three studies as positive external comparison points for units within my own organization. I have felt it was the type of first class organization to which a fundraiser would be honored to be attached. I was greatly disappointed with the call and the fundraiser.

The message left me wondering if the unproductive call was a training issue or if my positve impression of the Foundation's development program is unfounded. There is another question that lingers in my mind…that Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Colonial Williamsburg is in such dyer straights that they need cash now so badly that they are willing to sacrifice future larger gifts for smaller gifts today. Dyer finanical straights is definitely not a message or question you want to leave in a donor’s mind.

Am I turned off by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation? Dissappointed, yes. Turned off, not really. Colonial Williamsburg is a cause worthy of support, and I suspect that it is either a training issue or that the Foundation farmed out the calls to an outbound call center...and the wrong call center at that.

Whether it was an internal staff person/volunteer or a call center, the fundraiser did not serve the Foundation well. The fundraiser was out to make a sale, conduct a transaction, gain his short-term goal, and not build a relationship with the donor. Thanking me for my past support was not at the heart of the call but only the jumping off point. I am sure that the fundraiser was happy with the result as he made a sale even though it cost the organization more money in the long-run. A donor centered fundraiser would have focused on the donor and secured the larger donation 100 to 120 days later.

For those friends who read this blog, many of whom are within my organization or are fundraisers other nonprofits, I would note that using outbound call centers can be effective if they are selected well for organizational fit and with proper success metrics in place.

If the Foundation used a call center they have not been well served by the center they is a firm that I would never use. There are call centers that work well for nonprofits and are sensitive to the differences between the profit and poltical sectors and traditional nonprofit sector. One must be mindful of the call center appraches as some make hard sells. Even when you think you have the right center continue to monitor their texts and randomly listen in calls (a common feature that can be done remotely) as they are being conducted.

By its nature fundraising has a transactional nature to it, particularly direct mail. Direct mail by its mass processes is highly transactional but can be less so when correct analytics is coupled with donor cultivation processes. Whenever one is talking live with a donor, even an annual donor who gives at a low level, it is the perfect opportunity to move beyond the transactional nature of fundraiser. Whether it is a call such as this, or a donor visit, conversations with a donor is an opportunity to build and enhance the relationship between the donor and organization. It is the the opportunity to learn learn a little more about the donor, to record what you have learned on their file, to educate donor and be educated on the donor, and to project your organization’s ethos and mission. Every conversation, even a call to say thank you can be the opportunity to draw the donor into the heart of your organization. The fundraiser failed to do any of these things and as the expression at that moment of the organization, the Foundation too failed to measure up to being a donor centered quality organization that I believe it to be.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

General Family News

Posting some general family news is overdue.

·         We enjoyed our Memorial Day Weekend trip in our RV. Though I stayed in it for two nights at camp in late April, this was the first weekend away and a full test of all systems. One the way home we dropped it off at the Ford dealer for the annual state inspection. Other than oil changing (vehicle and generator) and only replacing a side light was the only work that needed to be completed.   

·         Josh left for San Antonio TX the Friday of Memorial Weekend. Another summer with the Crossmen is underway. This year their first competition is on June 21st in Indianapolis. The next night they in Fairfield OH, followed by a show in Pittsburg on the 23rd before coming to the Washington area.

·         We spent Mother’s Day weekend and last weekend in Leola with Evie’s mother who turned 83 last weekend.

·         We, along with Hypatia, will see Josh on the evening of 24th and around meals on the 25th as we will volunteering on the Crossmen food truck that evening and Saturday. The Crossmen are staying at the Suitland HS in MD ahead of Saturday’s completion at Wakefield HS in Arlington VA. Rather than sleeping on the school floor or driving across town for home will be staying in our little rig for the night.

·         After the Crossmen show on Saturday night, as Josh heads to northern NJ for a show we will head to Annapolis for a week’s vacation and camping. We have yet to go in that direction and we thought it was about time. With the cost of gas, the wedding and moving we are not taking any long trips this summer.

·         Last night Jonathan and Maggie brought Ally over to spend the night with Hypatia. Once the initial introductions were over and ten minutes or so of watching each other they started to do to things together… see Evie’s report entitled “Gal Pals” on her blog

·         After some whimpering Hypatia settled down Saturday night in her small carry crate. Around 2:40 she started to whimper…time to take her out to illuminate, which she did and was rewarded with a treat. The next whimper wake-up call was just before six. Duty fell to me both times to take her out to the grassy areas. We were pleased by how the night progressed…of course teaching her to signal that she needs to relieve herself and to do it outside is only started.  

·         Today will be our first visit to the pool for the season. For about two hours as we try to deepen what remains of our tans, Hypatia will experience her first time alone.

·         In mid July we take possession of a new apartment. With Jonathan getting married we are downsizing as well as saving money. The new place has much more grace, less dense and very dog friendly. Movers will be moving our major items on July 22nd. As the movers get paid by the hour, over the prior week we will be transporting boxes and miscellaneous small items to the new place. As we started packing a month ago much of the non-last minute item work has been completed.

·         With moving we will not be taking a week in July as we do normally. This year will go out the second week of August…where has yet to be determined…as well as the second week of September.

·         Jonathan and Maggie continue to refine their plans their October 8th wedding. The wedding will be at 10 AM with a luncheon reception. Invitations should be going out at the end of June. They have already been talking with the priest about involving various members of the family in the ceremony. They are looking at going to Jamaica for their honeymoon.        

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Hypatia, the newest member of our family is named in honor of Hypatia of Alexandria, a fourth century mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. Her philosopher and mathematician father was the librarian of the great library of Alexandria.

In an age when women were rarely educated, Hypatia was one of the leading intellectuals of her age. Herself a teacher, Hypatia taught students at what we would consider today the university level, several of her students went on to be civil, scientific, education and church leaders. Several of her students helped define the church’s evolving theology. Hypatia taught Synesius of Cyrene, and continued to correspond with him after he became a bishop. Synesius was one of the prime shapers of what we know today as the doctrine of the trinity.

She was not only known for her work on conic sections, much of which not only advanced the concepts of hyperbolas, parabolas and ellipses, but her teachings continue to be taught today in high schools and colleges around the globe. Further, in any age Hypatia would be considered to be an outstanding mathematician. She invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope. Over thirteen-hundred years later Descartes and Newton extended her teachings further. On the sociological level this independent woman also did the most unlady-like thing, driving her own chariot.

Her violent death in 415 in Roman Egypt at the hands of a Christian mob must be understood in the context of the age. Christianity only became accepted in 311, in other words open acceptance of Christianity only occurred just before she was born. By 385 Christianity was starting to grow not only in great numbers but also in political influence. While the producers of the 2009 movie Agora took liberties with the timeline and sequence of events, the movie does nicely catch the political dynamics and societal tensions of the age between Christians and non-Christians, and the violent encounters in the 390s between the two populations.

The Church was beginning to dominate the public square. Pagan beliefs and teachings even those held by individuals like Hypatia, who was more of an agnostic or atheist than anything, were not only being challenged but were being persecuted…interesting development that those who were persecuted did some of the same things to others that were done to them.

Hypatia found herself at the center of a religious as well as a political struggle. If the influence of Cyrus, who became bishop of Alexandria in 412 and who would later be canonized as a saint, was to increase the pagan Hypatia’s influence upon students and society in general needed to be neutralized or better, ended completely. The church was already settling into being male dominant and a strong female who had great influence upon the minds of her students was a challenge to the church leadership.

All the dynamics behind her violent public murder is unclear as various accounts and fragments of accounts are not consistent in their details. What is clear is that she was murdered by Christian monks, monks who were encouraged (possibly ordered by Cyrus and remains a question and stain upon him until today) and protected by local church leaders and that the church celebrated her death.  What is most interesting is that though demonized by the Church as an ungodly influence, she was instrumental via Synesius to helping the Church to define its understanding of the trinity (yes, like today politics were hardball and vicious back then too…and strongly practiced by church leaders.)

Due to her influence as a teacher in an age where strong intellectual women were viewed with askance, the Church also vilified Hypatia as being a demonic libertarian seductress…for how else could she have gained such an impact upon men. Yet, most interestingly centuries later is that some Christian leaders held up Hypatia as an example of intellectual womanhood and virtue.        

It is after this extraordinary woman that our beagle pup is named. Below are some pctures taken on the drive home.

Is Democracy At Risk? Can We Learn From Rome?

Last year’s trip to Italy rekindled an interest in refreshing my knowledge of the Roman Empire, a glorious empire that dominated the Meditation and much of “civilized” Europe. All empires go through a life cycle of rise and decline. Though causes for both the rise and decline of any empire are numerous and can be debated, with Rome the decline highly involves three primary factors:
a.  Corrupt leaders who used their positions to advance their own wealth and power as well as those of their family and friends
                b. Centralization of power in the hands of Caesar and the leaving the Senate marginalized as a paper tiger
                c.  A military industrial complex that increasingly dominated the society and the budget of the empire to the point where the military, and a handful of public works which more often than not were either military driven or designed to placate the poor with entertainment.

Threats from outside were real, but Rome declined due to internal reasons and when it moved away from what had given rise to the empire.

News reporters and commentators, and political leaders at all levels and of all persuasions in modern democracies need to be heedful of what happened in Rome. The citizenry likewise needs to be heedful of the lessons.

To remain vibrant and strong, modern democracies ensure that all branches of government civil discourse, freedom of information and the exchange of the same, and each branch in the checks and balance process are vibrant and well. Consolidating power in the hands of one or two leaders is unhealthy and moves any country down the Roman pathway.

When Congressmen, Senators (or MPs in Canada, England) are expected/required to fall in line behind their leadership (President, PM, House or Senate Leadership) on all but minor matters a democracy is under threat. Thinking that what is good for the party is good for the country is dangerous thinking…it is dangerous is like a driver driving at a high rate of speed and thinking that they are too skilled to have an accident. Party winning at all costs stifles independent thinking, civil discourse and undermines a democracy.

When a party membership is reluctant to call out its leadership for potentially immoral or criminal conduct, or when it gives them passes for what they would consider most unacceptable if done by those of the other party, democracy is under attack. When leaders say that their number one priority is to defeat the opposition in the next election and to obstruct as much of their other party’s agenda as possible, democracy is eroded and slipping away. The good of the country should never come above the good of the country. When an is attack, even ones the attacker had proposed in the past, primarily because it is put forward by the opposition, democracy is starting to become a shell.

When people are appointed to the judiciary, particularly to the highest court in the land, mainly because of narrow political beliefs on a handful of issues ranging from the highly questionable unitary executive doctrine to abortion, the checks and balances within that democracy is being lost. The court system, including the highest court, should not be used as an extension of a political position for if it were, not only is democracy threatened but so is justice itself.

Any country which does not give attention to lessons from the past is at risk of repeating the same mistakes. Are our democracies vibrant and on a sound footing? While for the most part they are solid, I fear that they may not be on as firm as we believe.     

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lapsarian Debate Continues to Speak to Today's Church

A few statements earlier today drew my mind back to the lapsarian debates of the 3rd and 4th centuries when the church wrestled with what to do with those who under the threat of civil persecution, torture and/or threat of death renounced their faith. Following Constantine’s Edict of Toleration most of those who renounced their faith quickly returned…some privately continued to believe contrary to the public statements they gave publically. Could they truly be restored or once they denied their faith were they forever condemned to hell?

Though most tended to argue for restoration, the most challenging element of the debate related to priests who renounced their faith. Could these former spiritual leaders be restored? Was it possible that they were still saved regardless what they said under physical and emotional threat? Some questioned whether they were saved to begin with for if they were how in the world could they deny their faith in Jesus Christ? If they were not saved, or if their salvation was deficient, then what does that say about those who were saved/baptized by such priests? If they were not saved, then how could anyone who was “saved” under their ministry be a Christian?

At the end of the day the church decided that salvation/baptism were effective independent of the priest. Salvation/baptism’s efficiency depended upon the faith of the individual and the power of God, not the purity or non-purity of the priest. Hence the church concluded that God can and does work in and through non-believer leaders whether those leaders are in secular positions in the world at large or in holy orders within the church. Since then this conclusion has been the orthodox position of the church.

There is a tendency today for Christians to forget the orthodox position and imply in its language that the church’s ministry can only be fulfilled and fully effective if it retains only dedicated Christians. Besides being rooted in mystical and holiness teachings, this fallacy is also grounded in the human bent to shape simplistic thinking.

Clearly those who have made a personal commitment are in the best position to be faith teachers such as preachers, and congregational and denominational instructors. That said, if whose in those positions are later to be found lacking, the impact they may have had upon the spiritual life of others is still in effect and valid. In a host of positions ranging from social workers and counselors to finance and fundraising staff is still effective even if they are filled by non-believers. The central issue is their willingness to understand, respect and support the mission. Another key is leadership who are mature in the faith as well as committed and spiritually attuned to the mission as such leaders are critical to helping the church remain focused upon its spiritual ministry..