Monday, November 24, 2014

Does A Poetic Phrase Negate the Work of Jesus on the Cross?

This evening I heard a Christian minister proclaim on the radio that in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s attacked on Eve went “to her need for security, significance and strength.” Evidently it is part of the basis for his book and the phrase rolls off the tongue and who doesn’t have a need for security, significance and strength.


Do you resonate with the statement and agree with him?


In that statement in question the speaker claims that Eve was felt insecure, insignificant and threatened in some manner by the created order around her. When she yielded to the temptation Eve was seeking to satisfy those needs, those deficiencies in her nature that were designed into her by God.


The implication of the speaker’s theology is that the crux of Eve’s decision was much more than a moment of decision, to obey or disobey God. At that moment Satan is attacking those deficiencies, those flaws God designed into her, or could not remove from the design. In other words, Eve had designed into her some elements of a poor self-esteem.  The speaker by saying that humanity and the created order was not perfect, but flawed. He thereby stands against how the church has understood Eve, Adam and the initial basis of disobedience.


This position has implication for how the Garden of Gethsemane is then to be understood and salvation of humanity.


It means that in Gethsemane what transpired there was more than Jesus, a perfect human being, wrestling with a decision to obey or not obey God the Father. The church has held for two millennia that just like Eve and Adam Jesus too was truly human and perfect. The church has maintained that Jesus as the perfect man was faced with the temptation and a decision to obey or disobey, but that unlike Adam and Eve who disobeyed, Jesus obeyed knowing full well what was ahead. The church argues that Jesus as the perfect obedient human going to the cross therefore saved humanity, from the consequences of the Fall. But if Adam and Eve were not perfect humans, the basis of salvation and message of hope is unraveled.


Therefore the speaker’s statement about Eve means:

  • That both Eve and Adam were defective by design, and as they were defective, the created order was not perfect.
  • That Adam and Eve fell because they were not perfect. They were bound to sin because they were not perfect.
  • That Jesus was perfect, unlike Adam and Eve.
  • That Jesus did not sin because unlike Eve and Adam he was perfect.
  • That Jesus was not like Adam and Eve, he was “human plus” and that this extra element helped Jesus not to sin. An argument then could be made that Jesus could not have truly yielded and if that were true he was not truly tempted.
  • That if a “human plus” Jesus saved humanity, then the church’s theological argument of the last two millennium that only a perfect obedient human, the man Jesus could truly redeemed humanity for like Adam and Eve, Jesus was perfect human in every way. Like them Jesus was truly tempted and could have disobeyed, but he did not sin for he obeyed God. The church has maintained since its founding that if Jesus was not like Adam and Eve, that if he was a human plus and if Jesus did not face the same temptation and could not have truly disobeyed then humanity was not saved.   


Clergy, regardless of the denomination, must be cautious in crafting nice sounding statements for a book or a sermon so that poetic beauty doesn't undermine church dogma. This is particularly true regarding Adam and Eve, for how they are handled could readily result in impacting the work and nature of Jesus and even negating the basis of salvation through Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ebola, AIDS and False Prophets

On the evening of November 14th I heard a radio personality, state the following,


“I just read that another medical doctor is being flown to Nebraska to be treated for Ebola. Why are all these medical personnel coming down with this thing if it is so hard to contract as the government tells us. You have to be intimate to contract this thing, so we’re being told. Why don’t doctors and nurses come down from AIDS? When did you last hear of medical personnel coming down with AIDS while treating a person with AIDS? Don’t you think that doctors and nurses know how to protect themselves? So if they are catching Ebola, what does that say about the decease and what we are being told? I don’t know. Just asking, that’s all!”


Before I left the show, while he did not explicitly say it, he implied that Ebola is a highly contagious airborne virus that being in the proximity of someone with Ebola was sufficient to infect those around the person with Ebola. I was stunned. Had he really read up on the decease and transmission issues from knowledgeable experts? If he were to claim that he has read about the decease then the readings he has accepted as being informed and valid are those produced by either the uniformed speculators or by those who twist reality for political reason. As many “social and political” commentators are more entertainers than anything else, I wondered that night, if he had shut down his critical thinking capacity for provocative tabloid like entertainment?


Since, what happens if I accept at face value his claim to be a critical thinker searching for truth regardless of where that truth rests. If I did that I find myself concluding that regardless of his posturing and pontificating that he is willing to set aside facts for pandering and ratings purposes, thereby pushing hot button issues while playing upon the ignorance and fears of his listeners. Masking his language in seeking truth and informing his listeners, would he not be the modern version of the traveling tonic salesman of yesteryear? Just asking and wondering!


I’m enraged by his implication that we are being told Ebola is primarily a sexually transmitted decease and that the government is lying to the public when it is an airborne virus that is easily caught by being in the proximity of a person with Ebola. I’ve never heard or read from an informed source that like HIV Ebola is a decease primarily caught through sexual activity. Yes, Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, and during sexual activity bodily fluids are involved, but that does not equate to Ebola being a decease that is primarily transmitted by sexual activity.  Can a severe flu be caught during sexually activity? Yet is can, but when was the last time you were driven to sexual activity when you had a high fever, experiencing chills and sweats, experiencing diarrhea, body aches and severely vomiting?  If you have, then you must have one of the strongest libidos in your community. Add into the mixture that  Ebola it zaps them of energy. While theoretically a person with Ebola could have sex, functionally it is highly unlikely.


This radio entertainer is about my age, and as such he was in his early adult years when AIDS emerged as a disease that entered our collected consciousness. Back then there was much misinformation and fear about those infected with the HIV virus. There were people who feared that being in the same room with a person with HIV let alone touching the person put them at high risk of becoming infected with the virus. Unfortunately rather than helping to inform the public, some political, religious and media leaders in the 1980s who had a megaphone used their megaphone to play upon the fears of the public and advance their personal and/or political agenda. Today it is evident that the pandering, prejudices and misinformation of these alarmist false prophets of yesteryear made it difficult for both medical community and informed civic leaders to educate the general public about AIDS and HIV how it was and was not transmitted. Today most of us are exposed several times a year to people who are HIV positive without any of us becoming infected. Since the 1980s we have become more balanced in our views and any shrill of a comment brings more discuss than a following.

Today we have a fresh crop of false prophets and uniformed alarmists. Included in that group I would include civic leaders who during an election cycle used Ebola to score points and enflame fears to help secure more votes for themselves. Do you wonder like me why so many of our elected leaders who spoke frequently about do this and than to shield America from Ebola, and who spoke of it as something that is going to devastate America have said nothing in the last two weeks. The election and their silence speaks volumes. And if they do such things on this issue, then how can I ever trust them on other issues?  


The gentleman I heard the other night with his megaphone into several hundreds of thousands of ears is not helping. Is he not akin to the false prophets of the prior years who make matters worse?


Medical personnel are the greatest at risk because they are the ones who are exposed to the sweat, vomit, diarrhea and the other bodily fluids flowing out of the Ebola infected patient. It is those fluids that transmit Ebola. It is those fluids that are covering their protective garments, garments which have to be carefully put on, removed and disposed least the skin of the medical worker becomes exposed to bodily fluid of an Ebola patient and thereby infect the caregiver.


Why are so many in the three African nations in question coming down with Ebola? Simply put, there issues there are cultural and economic issues at work against them, issues that the average westerner has difficulty grasping … a extremely poorly staffed and equipped health care system, a rudimentary sanitary system and absolute squalor, and a cultural that puts high importance upon the family caring for a person who is ill and when the family member passes away, prepare body for burial.  Many of those who are becoming infected with Ebola are family members and neighbors who without even the most basic protection have cared day after day for the infected person and prepared the body for burial.    


The radio personality in question is either clearly ignorant regarding medical personnel coming down with infectious illnesses, including illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV, or he is informed and ignoring that information. While rare medical personnel do contract such deceases from treating those with infectious deceases. Fortunately over decades protocols have been developed and followed that greatly minimize their risk. Why do think doctors and nurses in your local office always wear disposable gloves when their predecessors of forty years ago rare did so? Still each year medical personnel do become infected, we just hear about it on the nightly news. A stray needle accidently pricking a medical staff does occur, or some error in protocol does lead to a medical person being effect. The son of one of my former professors who is a medical doctor contracted hepatitis when he nicked his finger while doing surgery on a person with hepatitis.  Fortunately when these exposures occur they are caught early.


When my baser and ungodly fears seek to take hold and drive me, I need to remind myself to take a deep breath, recall what I know and educate myself further from reliable sources, and resist chasing ghosts and bogymen.  Further, I need to reject politicians, commentators, religious and other leaders who play upon our ignorance and fears, and express that rejection to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Legalization of Marijuana...My Stand

In November the citizens of Washington DC are voting to decriminalize the smoking of marijuana. If passed, it is a step short of legalizing the retail sale of marijuana.  While I don’t know which jurisdictions would be doing so, other jurisdictions may be doing the same this November or in the coming years. A handful of jurisdictions in the United States already permit the sale of marijuana.  


The arguments for and against abound, some of which are fallacious while others are much stronger. One prime argument against legalization of marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, a mild drug that leads to the taking of harder drugs. The reasoning is that if smoking of marijuana is legalized that the consumption of harder drugs will increase. The anti-legalization advocates note the number of people who are taking hard drugs who had smoked marijuana first. I’ve not been impressed with such an argument. While those using this argument are trying to make a direct cause and effect argument the argument is built upon a correlation of two behaviors that may or may not be linked.


It is true a high number of hard drug users first smoked marijuana, but does that mean that behavior drove or caused them to take harder drugs? The anti-legalization advocates claim that the high correlation argues that it does. I see some problems with argument. One is that the correlation between consuming of alcohol and the consumption of hard drugs is much stronger. There is a strong correlation between those who smoke marijuana and those who smoke cigarettes.  Are we then to argue that drinking alcohol or smoke cigarettes leads to the consumption of hard drugs?


The reason no one is making such arguments about alcohol or cigarettes being gateway drugs is that there is a high number of people who drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes who never take hard drugs. And that is my issue with linking marijuana with hard drugs, for there are millions of people who have smoked marijuana and have never then consumed hard drugs. Add to the mix is that when the Netherlands legalized marijuana, there was no increase in hard drug consumption.     


Does marijuana lead those who smoke it into the taking of other drugs?  Indicators suggest that other causes and issues are likely at play, not the smoking of marijuana.


Likewise, I’ve not been overly impressed with the argument that marijuana is a harmless drug. It is a drug which is much like alcohol, that when consumed affects the body. It is not harmless just as alcohol is not harmless. The degree of intoxication as well as detoxification is directly related to the amount consumed.  The more consumed in a short period of time the more marijuana impacts the body, judgment and conduct. Just as people get addicted to alcohol, people can become addicted too to marijuana.


The United States effort to expunge alcohol from society was a dismal failure. People consumed alcohol underground and increased black market related crime. America realized that its citizens were going to drink alcohol whether it was legal or not, and that it there are fewer social consequences in permitting and regulating it manufacturing, sale and consumption in the open than to have it unregulated and driven undergrounds. Are we as a society at the same point with marijuana?  Should we legalize and regulate marijuana just like we do alcohol?  Should we be more pragmatic about as do the Dutch?


At one time in my life, I would have been firmly in the anti-legalization. While I’m open to the idea, I’m not an advocate for legalizing of marijuana. If legalizing of marijuana was on Virginia’s ballet this year I’m uncertain how I would vote. Fortunately, due to the nature of downstate politics in Virginia, I have several years to become more settled on the matter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This Could Be a Long Stressful Winter

The winter of 2014/2015 may well be one of the most stress filled winters in recent memories, equaling and possibly surpassing the oil crisis winters of 1973-1974, and 1976-1977, 1979-1980. In those winters, many with modest to low incomes wondered if they would have oil to heat their homes, and gas to drive their cars as well as the anxiety the affordability of heating oil and gasoline. Those winters were years of significant stress across America.


The winter of 2001-2002 was also a winter of increased stress. Experiencing terrorism on its own soil, Americans were under stress that winter wondering not if another attack would take place but when and how it would strike. While many nations in Central America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Far East had experienced and long adjusted to such events, for Americans the 9-11 attacks was a new experience which created stress across the nation. Added to that stress was the stress that the nation was quickly moving to war with its people’s crying out for amends and its aging leaders voting to sacrifice the lives of the nation’s youth.


The winter of 2014-2015 has the potential to well surpass the stress and fears experienced during those four winters. There is no oil crisis looming for heating oil and gasoline are not only in good supply but their prices are dropping. The cause of the stress are the common flu and cold. We normally handle our own and the colds and flu of others with little concern, but there is evidence all around us that this winter may well be different. A person with a slight fever or who vomits would not give us much concern, but this year our irrational nature will wonder if the person has Ebola and that we will catch Ebola too. That fear will bring stress to many across the nation, and if they later have the flu many will become alarmed. 


This week a person at a community college in the Shenandoah Valley had a fever and vomited in a bathroom. Immediately he was identified as an Ebola suspect, quarantined, the men’s bathroom in which he was ill was sealed and quarantined. Then those who had likely were in contact with him were identified and put on a list.  In Charlottesville a feverish woman was also viewed as an Ebola suspect, treated as if she had the decease and tested. There was no evidence that either person had traveled in the past months to Africa or had been in contact with anyone who had or with any current Ebola victim in the US or Europe. Yet, around both individuals people reacted and treated them as if they had Ebola.  Both had a common illness. An overreaction? Most definitely.


If we are overreacting to these two individuals, what are we headed for as the flu season hits? Are our fears going to drive us to avoid people with slight flu symptoms and colds, force them to go home and not return until they are well? Are parents going to rushing a child with a fever to the emergency room with a fear that their child has Ebola? Are we months away from thousands of people around us refusing to go to church, parties, sports events and other group gatherings, and flying or traveling on mass transit, all because they fear of being exposed to Ebola?

Are the fears realistic? Not from what I understand of the decease but what can I expect when the press hypes the story and how it covers the story by airing unfounded statements. Was is unfortunate are states made by a growing number of politicians and political operatives who during this campaign season talk of Ebola in irrational uninformed manners and speak as if within months all across the nations many thousands will be fighting for their lives. (The comments made by their politicians and political operatives again reminding me that for too many politicians it is all about the election and the power, not about statesmanship and leadership.)


While humanity can be so rational, let's also remember that we can become so illogical too if we don't stop, take a deep breath and think thoughtfully about things.  As for me, I'm going to treat your cold and flu symptoms, and mine to, as just that. 

I fear that this could be a long winter people around us a state of higher than normal stress.      

Thursday, October 09, 2014

What's In a Name

What’s in a name? As evidenced by actors changing their name or author’s having a pen name, a name has great significance for marketing purposes. In the Middle Ages someone crying out “Vikings” created fear and even panic across England and the north coast of Europe. In the tenth century, Erik the Red knew the value in what name can project when to attract new settlers he named an ice laden rocky Arctic island Greenland. Today when most of us hear the word “gas” it doesn’t evoke an emotional response but someone yelling “gas” in 1916-1918 in the trenches of northern France evoked the emotions of urgency, dread, fear and in some cases panic.


I’ve been reminded afresh by three events of the significance a name may carry for good or for ill. The first two are apartment complexes. University Fields, a complex mainly populated by students suffered from a declining reputation over the years as the complex had not been well maintained and operated. With declining occupancy the complex was sold to a group of local investors who announced with some fanfare plans to renovate and upgrade the complex, and in doing so they changed the name to “The Harrison” as a means to distance themselves from past baggage and a poor reputation. A wise choice and one that is not uncommon for firms to do when a brand name has become toxic.


With grand plans announced and promised The Harrison saw a good number of James Madison University students willing to sign leases in April and May with a late August move in. Over the summer, the owners commenced the renovations. While crews were working daily across the complex, as those who have been involved in construction projects know, when work is being done on a budget and you use low cost subs, the schedule falls behind. Subs have a way of taking portions of their crews elsewhere when higher paying opportunities come along. That is what occurred at the Harrison, and their major interior projects ranging from new flooring, freshly painted walls, electrical upgrading, new kitchen cabinets with new appliances and new furniture (furnished apartment complex), started to fall behind in June. The schedule was so far behind that when JMU students were moving in August, many of the apartments were not yet available for occupancy.   The Harrison as a brand took a major hit and became toxic, so much so that by late September the complex quietly returned to its former name.

The new owners overpromised and under delivered, and in the process destroyed the new name they were using to signal a change in ownership and an improved complex. It may well be years before the owners of University Fields will see their investment yield the return they projected earlier in the year when they bought the complex. It will take another two classes of students to come and go before they will have a chance to build a new brand around a new name...yes I anticipate a name change will happen because University Fields is still somewhat toxic, just not as toxic as The Harrison.  


Across the street from University Fields another housing complex, The Commons, announced in April that it too would be undergoing some upgrading…new flooring and appliances, and new siding. All the work was to be completed by mid August, but it too fell behind schedule. Flooring and the appliance installation that was to be completed by late July didn’t finish until mid August, just ahead of the return of the students. The siding installation to give the complex a fresh appearance started late and while the work will not be completed until late October, the outside work is a minor disturbance. Interestingly, this second complex likewise quietly underwent on the first of October, changing its name from The Commons to Campus Edge in an effort to market itself afresh to the JMU students whose campus is a half a mile from the complex. 

The other event revolves around the growing reaction and in some cases panic in some circles off American politicians, political commentators and segments of the public to two terms, Ebola and IS (and its various name derivatives). It is interesting to see how such names evoke panic and fear, and is being used by some “leaders” to inflame such fears and calling for drastic responses that are beyond the level of their threats. And it is likely the fears and paranoia will be further enflamed over the coming months. Hopefully we will not only return to a more balanced reaction but that the public will increasingly view the “brand” of those who played upon their fears as toxic.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Walmart - Sign of Progress

Recently the town council of Timberville Virginia had before them an application for Walmart to open a store in the community. Various voices, both individuals as well as organized groups, stood against the proposal. Such opposition isn’t new for since the late 1990s Walmart has experienced some opposition from various communities across the nation, and in growing frequency.  Walmart coming into the community will depress wages is one argument put forward.  Another argument they put forward regarded the estimated economic impact upon the community (both wages and tax revenue) that Walmart projects are overly optimistic. The major argument against approving the request was that when Walmart moves into the community, it kills local businesses.


Interestingly, the majority of the opposition voices came from outside the Timberville/Broadway community. Many from the community via email, letters and appearances supported the proposal. At the end of the day, the council approved Walmart’s request and the store will likely open in the first half of 2016.


That Walmart doesn’t pay well the average store employee in a low skill position is true, but the same can be said for so for food stores, restaurants, and convenient stores. So do the common retail stores like Macys, JCP, Best Buy, Target, etc. If one stands against Walmart because it pays low wages to workers in low skilled positions, then you must also stand against the opening in your community fast food restaurants, food stores, convenient stores, other big box stores, or a even a mall coming to your town. And if you don’t oppose them, then why do you oppose Walmart and not those other places that also pay low wages?    


Walmarts’ economic impact statements/figures give a favorable picture. The figures are not false but have to be viewed as incomplete and at places optimistic. This is to be expected as they are casting their argument in the best light. If Ford, Microsoft or another firm was opening a large plant in a community, the figures from the company would likewise be rosy and not taking into account the farther reaching impacts.  Walmart’s figures don’t often include all infrastructure costs that may well be incurred by the town, costs ranging from installing of extra lights along the route to the store to an extra police officer or two. That said, the increase in tax revenue from Walmart will more than offset those costs. So too will revenue from the types of businesses which will in the coming years cluster or expand in the store’s area.


The concern about lost of retail businesses is a legitimate concern as some retail businesses will close, but it is a concern that if heeded holds back progress and efficiencies. Change and the successful new ways ultimately bring the relinquishing of the old ways.


The railroads of the expanding railroads in the 1870s to 1890s not only united a nation but they made it possible for goods and services to be transported more rapidly and further than ever before. The railroad system transformed the economic and business models. The railroads provided for the great expansion of what had been a limited profession, the traveling salesman. Railroads enabled beef raised in Texas to Wyoming to be moved quickly to new large meat processing plants in centers across the nation and from those plants for fresh meat to find its way into the hands of the local butcher in small towns. The railroads made it possible for S.S. Kresge to bring to his stores thousands of low cost items from afar into his store, a store that would expand into the Kresge chain and then become Kmart. The railroads enabled two salesmen to establish a store with a catalogue and warehouse, and to sell items through the catalogue across the Midwest to people in small towns and on farms, and to grow that company into a major retail giant, Sears (now a dying firm).  


Look at how the interstate system transformed Florida and our way of doing business. Do you think Florida would have the even a third of its current tourist, snowbird and retirement communities if there was no interstate system? Much of Florida would be a swamp without the interstate system allowing people to travel five to six hundred miles a day in order to spend time in Florida’s winter sun. That same system now transports goods across the nation, transforming the manufacturing and retail structures of 1950s and 1960s. A local farmer who a hundred years ago could only sell his milk to a few local small towns can now has a heard ten to twenty times the size and sells his/her the milk in communities hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The handful of chickens that once were only sold locally are now raised in the thousands per year at a fraction of former costs, processed in plants that can process and package over a million chickens a year with the products from those plants being sold across the nation.  


Gone are the days when the vast majority of one’s furniture and clothing was made within a twenty mile radius of home. Now clothing, furniture and other household items are made thousands, or even tens of thousands of miles away for a fraction of the costs, and for the most part are better quality too (see my posts of August 16 & 23).  


Progress and scales of production has brought forth greater efficiencies, lower prices and a greater range of products to every community.  Yes local businesses that made a few furniture items a week have died. They failed to adapt or had products whose quality could not compete with better quality products now reaching their community at a lower cost. Just as businesses like buggy manufacturers and radio tube firms have fallen to the wayside because they failed to adapt, so too will other inefficient businesses.


Local businesses will fail when Walmart comes to town mainly because they have failed for a host of reasons to be competitive.  Some of those reasons were outside their control, and others were beyond their control. Kodak is a recent example of a huge company that is a shell of its former glory because it just didn’t adapt to the new trends and technologies quick enough.  Kmart’s decline is a result of its management and model being too slow to change and adapt. If Walmart does not adapt to new trends, products and other changes that will take place in the coming years, it too will fail. As attested by the decline of Sears and Kmart, a profitable formula in one decade may well become unprofitable one a decade or two later.


Today Walmart is an example of progress and efficiency. And it is also an example of how its current way of doing business may be at risk from a new form of doing business…the Amazon  model, a digital version and revamping of the Sears catalogue a hundred years ago.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Coins in Direct Mail Letters

On Friday I was asked by a friend what I thought of direct mail letters from a nonprofit with a penny or two included. He explained that he recently received such a letter. I noted that I’d received such letters, and some have included a nickel, not just a penny or two.


There is evidence that including pennies and nickels will increase response rate, and thereby the number of gifts. My friend confirmed that he was not a particular supporter of the cause but had been thinking of donating to the group because of the two pennies sitting on his desk. The strategy plays to the dynamics being experienced by my fried. The appeal rests more upon appealing to the recipients’ sense of guilt more than a person’s commitment to the cause and a willingness to do something to support the cause.  Many donors will give a small gift, just large enough to satisfy their sense of guilt.  I noted that appealing to guilt is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of such letters for the organization for whom I work.  My organization should appeal to the rightness of the cause, to the need to help people in need rather than play on a person’s sense guilt. It may be a technique that fits with some organizations and their ethos, but I think it is not appropriate for my organization which is faith based and should be above appealing to guilt in such a manner.


I noted to him that while the technique does bring in more new donors and gifts, there is a substantial increase in the number of small gifts in the $5 to $20 range. The costs of “servicing” these small donors (costs of thank you letters, data storage, sending subsequent letters, etc.) over the subsequent year will often consume much of the funds received from these small donors. Additionally, as they have given out of guilt more than support for the cause, a very high number of these donors will not give again without another appeal the includes a coin or some other appeal to their guilt, and rarely do they increase the level of the giving.


I’m not a fan of this type of technique as it can readily give the impression that the organization has money to waist. My organization is a poverty faith-based organization which prides itself with being efficient with its use of resources, and often speaks to cost efficiency in various newsletters and fundraising documents. It is my opinion that including a coin in a fundraising letter undermines that the organization is careful with how it spends funds. I noted to my friend that I would be unlikely to give to a cause that is not careful with its use of resources.


I hope that any direct mail vendor my organization utilizes understands about fiscal efficiency and organizational nature and thereby would not propose the use of such a strategy even if there is evidence that it works for some organizations.


Friday, when I got home, what did I have in the mail that day? A prospecting letter with a nickel enclosed. While noting not to give to the organization, and without a second thought or feeling of guilt, the nickel went into my pocket. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Prime Case for Capital Punishment Becomes a Prime Example Against the Death Penalty

Advocates for capital punishment commonly point to horrendous murders as justification for the citizens to terminate a life of the person convicted of first degree murder. More often than not such cases involve murder of children and/or where gruesome suffering was been involved. One such case used to validate the need for capital punishment was the conviction of Henry Lee McCollum of Sabrina Buie who was raped and murdered in September 1983. 

The rationale and need to execute McCollum was sited by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia as a prime example as a case that unquestionably supported the value of capital punishment. In addressing another Justice's questioning of the value and appropriateness of capital punishment, Justice Scalia responded that the McCollum case is one preeminent case “cries out for punishment”, and that punishment being capital punishment.


Henry Lee “Buddy” McCollum, 19 at the time Buie was murdered, along with his younger half brother (age 15) were arrested and convicted of murdering eleven year old Buie. The police were so certain that McCollum and Brown committed the crime that while McCollum and Brown were in jail, another rape and murder that took place in the same area less than a month later, and with marked similarity as the earlier murder, were never viewed as connected to the Buie murder. The man who lived near where the Buie murder occurred was arrested for the second murder, and later convicted, yet even with similar MOs neither the police nor the District Attorney ever considered that the two murders could be connected. The police and the District Attorney never reconsidered that Buie could be murdered by anyone other than Buddy McCollum and his half brother because they had confessions from the two men.


Though the DA and police had confessions from the two teens, other than them knowing the girl and being seen with her, and having no alibi as to their whereabouts at the time of the crime, there was no direct evidence that the teens committed the crime.

What was not considered was that both young men are intellectually handicapped…McCollum’s IQ was between 60 and 69, and that as both were intellectually handicapped, they could easily be led and misled by others. They were likely terrified in being arrested and jailed. Clearly they lacked the capacity to understand their Miranda Rights or the nature of the crime they were being accused of committing. If people with IQs of 125 common police interrogation tactics that can confusing and challenging, what does this say about these two men and their “confessions” that took place without legal representation present both before or during confession. The claim by the police that the confessions were true must be considered with a high level of askance, but the DA's office didn't hold such a view. They had the confessions that would give them the needed conviction and increase their batting rate for convictions.  


Despite the other murder, lack of direct evidence and questionable confession, the case moved forward resulting in McCollum and Brown being convicted and with McCollum receiving the death penalty. This case was the first time North Carolina jurors had ever recommended the death penalty for anyone who evidenced mental retardation, let alone with an IQ as low as McCollum. Also this was the first time that capital punishment was recommended for anyone under the age of twenty at the time of the crime. Though the trial judge acknowledged that McCollum lacked the capacity to understand the crime and the proceedings, he supported the jurors recommendation of death. 

The prosecutor and the jury noted that there were two compelling reasons for the citizens of North Carolina to remove Mr. McCollum from breathing on this, that he killed Buie to keep her going to the police (a conjectured conclusion), and two, the especially heinous nature of the murder and suffering Buie experienced. Since, concurring with the jury and judge, the advocates of capital punishment have sited the McCollum case as a prime example as a just conviction and penalty. They have argued that McCollum confessed to the crime, that the court carefully examined the evidence which definitively points to McCollum and Brown as the murders, and that it is a case where the State and the people of North Carolina justly convicted them and McCollum deserves to be expunged from the earth.  


While there were many who questioned whether the ultimate punishment was warranted given McCollum’s intellectual capacity, and questioned the validity of the confession, for the most part their arguments were dismissed as being of little consequence. Even US Supreme Court Justice Scalia in his unabashed certainty and rightness of his views held firmly that the system had got the case correct and that capital punishment of McCollum was more than justified.     


To the frustration of many death penalty advocates, McCollum was not been executed as scheduled for since 2006 a series of lawsuits in North Carolina have blocked any capital punishment executions from being carried out in the state. But for those successful lawsuits, Buddy McCollum would have been executed years ago. Advocates for capital punishment were working to remove those blocks with Mr. McCollum being one of the first on the list to be executed. At least his name would have been on that list until September 2014.


Thirty years after being arrested, McCollum and his half-brother are free men, thanks to DNA evidence on a piece of preserved evidence. The DNA evidence points to the man arrested for other murder as being Buie's murderer too. Suddenly, the case which was viewed with absolute certainty as being gotten right and execution justified. We now know that if McCollum had been executed that the people of this nation would have executed an innocent other words we the people through our appointed officials would have committed willful murder.

Any human judicial system is highly flawed. The judicial system of the United States is a highly flawed system. Our system is fraught by politics, inequities, and inappropriate economic and racial prejudices. It is filled with snap conclusions by police and the DAs, flawed theories, police investigations that ignore evidence and twisting of evidence to fit a theory. It is a system that too often places value upon conviction and vindictive punishment than upon the seeking of truth and restorative justice. The failings of such a system are so evident that even men and women like Justice Scalia who possess such vast knowledge of the law, exude such confident dogmatic reasoning and judgment can be so wrong. 

Capital punishment has a finality to it that should give us pause. For me, Justice Scalia's citing the McCollum case as substantiating the value of capital punishment now serves as an argument against. This is not a case where the system eventually got it right for if the system had continued as it should have continued, today McCollum would be dead. The system on so many levels got it wrong.  But for factors outside this case McCollum would not be alive today for us to acknowledge the injustice he experienced. The system is flawed and it failed in this case. 


A nation's views on capital punishment is one of the clarion declarations of nation’s values, not "the nation" in a general sense, but the values of its citizens like you and I, and with those who walk our streets, work beside us and with whom we recreate. The time to rethink the utilization of capital punishment dawned long ago.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part Two

While many complain that “they don’t make things like they use to,” I’m one person who is most grateful that that is not the case. I will not measure today’s average quality by the best of the best which survives today as examples of the supreme quality of past skills and achievements. The best of past workmanship should be measured against the best of the today's workmanship. 

On the whole the quality of today’s average products are superior to the average products made a century ago, or five decades ago, or even two decades ago. Following is a sampling list for your consideration:

  • How many of us would accept today from our primary car the gas mileage of the equivalent car made twenty years ago? Today's large cars far outperform the mileage of the thrifty cars of the 1980s, let alone the thriftiest from the 1960s.
  • Forty yeas ago, in the 1970s when a car reached 80,000 it was quickly approaching the end of its life. Rarely did a car from that era hit 100,000 miles. For today’s car is a car, a car hitting 80,000 is only entering its later mid-life state. Cars manufactured today are expected go at least 140,000 miles.
  • When was the last time you changed a tire by the side of road? When was the last time you saw someone changing a tire by the side of the road. Fifty years ago changing tires by the side of the road was a common happening. I wouldn’t exchange the average modern tires for the best tires made in the 1960s.
  • Would I accept a new television made even twenty years ago. No. I’m certainly pleased to have today’s higher quality televisions with their crisper picture and full sound than the fuzzier picture quality of the televisions from years ago which in themselves were great improvements over the televisions from the mid 70s.
  • The modern stoves certainly outperform, outlast and have more features than those made many years ago.
  • How many of us would exchange today’s refrigerator for any of the ones made in the 1980s, or the ice chest refrigerators from the 1940s? How many families would like to return to the days of the wringer washing machine? Today's new washers and dryers are more efficient and perform better than those made decades ago. 
  • Though today’s average new home may not have solid wood floors which were more common in the new homes of the 1960s and earlier, today's average new home is superior with those from the past. past, which in large measure explains why many people prefer to buy a new home. Today's new home are far more insulated and built to a higher quality than those built in the 1930s, 1950s or even in the 1970s. The windows and doors today seal out the cold/hot air far better than in the past. The wiring and plumbing are of a higher quality and the lighting more efficient. Just look at the improvements in the bathrooms. Our toilets and showers are more efficient than those of yesteryear. How many families would exchange their whirlpool/jet tubs for even the upper end tubs of the 1970s? Today’s homes are for the most part roomier are equipped with more storage.
  • Though paint still receives a tough time from the elements, the paints of today do stand up longer than those in the past.
  • I’m certainly pleased that the modern train engines do their work (an pulling far greater loads) without spewing black smoke from the coal used to fuel the great engines of the past.
  • I would certainly not swap my iPod the early Walkmans. I much prefer the compact iPod with its weeks of stored music stored to the bulkier Walkmans.
  • Today we have far more medical devices, equipment and drugs than in the past that enable people to live longer, and remain more mobile and independent than in the past. I would certainly not want to return to the quality of medicine from the past days.
  • How many of us are able to do our banking and get cash out of our accounts while thousands of miles from home? Little of what we do today could be done four decades ago without going to the local branch…and in some places your bank was limited to doing business in your state, and in some cases only in your county.  When you went on a trip, you had to use credit cards and make sure you had enough cash with you.
  • Whenever I’m sitting behind a transit bus I’m pleased it is not an old model. I never did enjoy the smell of diesel fumes.
  • I certainly don’t miss the old diesel trucks with their black exhaust trailing behind them, or the noise created by the old engines.

I hope you too are thankful that they don’t make things like they use to do so.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part One

“They don’t make things like they use to” is frequently used as a putdown of modern workmanship. We have around us of homes, buildings, clocks, furniture, jewelry, etc. that are superior when compared to most modern examples  of similar items. When we gravitate to using the phrase in question, I argue that we are uncritically buying into hagiography, the over glorification of the past events/things/people.

Yes, we have examples of fine high quality design and workmanship from a hundred or more years ago that survive today as examples of the quality of their craft. But “fine high quality design and workmanship” is the operative phrase.  The fruits of this high quality workman ship survive because they were crafted with care using high quality materials, and of sufficient skill and quality to endure beyond the common products produced by their peers that haven't lasted. Today, we too have high quality design and workmanship which will continue to stand as signposts to their craftsman's skills for many generations to come.

Today’s fine craftsmanship is not common. We must remember that such high quality craftsmanship was also not common in the every past generation. Many arts of work, music, crafted furniture of past generations have not survived because they were not of superior quality to be cherished, maintained well and passed down. For each item that has survived, hundreds more, whether they be furniture, machines, art, public or private buildings or homes homes have perished because they lacked quality design and workmanship. I’ve seen many old homes that go back a to the early 1900s or earlier that are dilapidated, and which by today’s workmanship and standard are substandard.

Let’s not be premature in dismissing the quality work and labor around us today. We do have poor quality workmanship today, that cannot be denied but the same existed in the past generations since the beginning of time. Just as the common and poor quality work of the past has more or less perished, so too will most of the common and poor quality of our generation’s workmanship.  We can take comfort that our best too will join the collection of the best from the past generations we have inherited.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

VA Scandel - pox on both houses and then some.

For the fifteen to twenty years anyone who has followed veterans affairs issues, particularly with regard to medical care would not surprised by the recent scandal involving the American VA. In the early 90’s funding going into the VA system shrank. WWII vets were becoming fewer and the VA was deemed to be a place to help balance the budget  or free funds for Congress’s pet projects. Yes, the was an aging pool of Korean and Vietnam vets that as they aged would need more support, but they were still years away from needing more intensive support and by when they did need such support the rapidly declining pool of WWII would soon be minimal.

Hence, over the 90s instead of facilities being updated, they were allowed to age, and not always gracefully either. In the mid to late 90s facilities were closing resulting in vets having travel two to three hours further to VA hospitals for treatment and care. Some vets in the areas of the country by 2000 were traveling a half a day or more to reach their nearest VA hospital. The overall strength of the medical staff not only decreased because of the closures of hospitals but also from decreases in medical staff at existing hospitals with aging and sometimes equipment that was not current.

The dedicated medical staff worked hard to care for those who came under their care in the same or greater numbers while having less and less resources to manage their care. And when this country went to war and its youth came home wounded in body and spirit, increasing the annual budget was not a priority of either Congress or the White House. In the 2000s to the present there were some budgetary increases, but they were not nearly enough to make up for the cuts, to modernize facilities, to open new facilities and clinics, to increase staff. The VA continued to serve more and more with inadequate resources.

With fewer and fewer resources, and with more demand, what is the logical result? What happens at a remote busy gas station and half the pumps are turned off? Lines and with longer wait times. And yet we are shocked by longer wait times at underfunded, underequipped and understaffed hospitals?

Earlier this year Congress refused to take up and pass a bill that would have given the VA an extra $2.1 million a year for the next ten years. This has been going on for decades. Congress by its action continued then and still does underfund the VA. Yet many of those who have underfunded the VA have been the first to cry out in scorn at the VA and the President for breaking faith with our veterans as if Congress and they themselves by their votes are blameless. Political commentators cry out in alarm, but the story has been there for decades and they did not cry.

Who has broken faith with our vets? It is not just this President with our veterans! It is the prior President too! It is not just past Congresses who bear a good part of the blame, but the current one as well. And on a personal level, personal blame goes to each Congress member and Senator  who has by their deliberate votes and willfully turned a blind eye to VA underfunding. Add to the mix the political commentators, politicians for their false horror, who push the story for political attack purposes.

Each member of Congress who is pointing fingers elsewhere, who is not accepting a portion of the blame and not saying, “I’m going to join others to do something about the underfunding” are not only perpetuating the problem, they are at the heart of the problem. They are breaking faith with our vets. Shame on them!

The story has been there for years. From time to time over the last decade there have been stories about the VA’s underfunding and growing wait times. Often this is not a new story has been marginalized and yawned at. Now it has finally has gained traction. And finally, I too am part of the problem for not writing my Congressman and Senators more often about the VA’s underfunding.

Dismissals are not the answer. The answer is simple, give the VA the resources that they need to do the job that they are not only charged to do, but want to do.  

The citizens of the United States, including myself, and our leaders who have broken faith with their veterans!!         


Friday, May 23, 2014

Mail Delivered to the Door versus Group Mail Boxes

Today I received from a firm working in the direct marketing field an email about the US House’s proposal to allow the Postal Service to convert 15+ million people to group mail boxes on their street who are currently having mail delivered to their door. The article's tone suggests the proposal was a bad idea and talked how I and my organization should resist the change.

The rationale for moving to group boxes is logical. As the proposal allows those with limited mobility to have mail delivery to their door, the rationale for resisting the USPS efforts in this direction is anemic. I am not downplaying the emotional element but it is more tied to people feeling uncomfortable with change.

I've experienced both, mail delivered to the door and group boxes. By far, for three primary reasons, I prefer to have my mail delivered to a group mail box than to the door.   

1. Mail delivered to group boxes is more secure than mailed delivered to the door. I don't have to worry about someone, maliciously or as a prank, tampering/stealing my mail. One of the vehicles for stealing identities is through the taking mail from mail boxes at the door step.  

2. If I am away for two to four days, the mail does not build up in my door side box and it giving a major clue to a thief that no one is home. Arranging for a neighbor to gather the mail, or arranging for the Post Office hold the mail until I return is diminished.  

3. It cuts delivery costs for the USPS by 25 to 30%. In group boxes more homes can be serviced by one carrier than by someone walking from door to door, particularly in areas where walking to the next house could by 40 or more yards away.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gay Marriage Battle in Virginia and Defending of the Virginia Amendment - part 2

In yesterday’s post I noted that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard a lower court ruling that Virginia’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, civil unions and gay partnerships was unconstitutional. I am troubled after reading several of the arguments put forth by the lawyers defending the amendment, some of which essentially devalue marriage, the very institution the defenders are arguing that they are defending as having high and sacred value.


Following are some of their primary arguments, the ones I found alarming. While I am far from being legally educated, I brief note why I found several of the key the arguments defending the amendment to be troubling.


Voters by a 57-43 margin approved the amendment to the VA Constitution and their vote should stand: This argument calls for majority rule as the primary rule of the land, that majority rule trumps all including fundamental rights belonging to each person, that a citizen has no preexisting human right to liberty, freedom and happiness. This argument means that any right, even the right to life, can be denied or removed from individuals or a class of people by the state if the majority so decide to do so. The argument means that the claim Americans have proudly proclaimed and boasted about being the nation of fundamental rights is a false assertion. The claim is that a person has a right only if the majority agree to grant the person or class of people a right. The flip side of the coin is that the right can also be taken away at some point in the future if the majority so wills it. The argument means that minorities, whether racial or religious or political or lifestyle, are tolerated only as far as they don’t offend too many outside their group. Hence the only defense against the tyranny of the majority is not the courts, but by either conforming or finding little niches in the nation where your neighbors are tolerant of your kind of minority.  


What I find most interesting is that not only does this mean majority rule as the ultimate principal of the land, and contrary to what I’ve understood as the heart of a founding principle of the United States, is that the argument is akin to the arguments King George and the British Parliament used to deny the Colonies representation in Parliament…that the majority of British Parliament, the British citizenry and the King deemed it appropriate to deny the Colonials basic rights that they enjoyed. The Colonies has no right of representation because the majority wished not for them to have such opportunities. Therefore in a way, if this argument holds, this nation has come full circle, that King George and Parliament were right, and the founding fathers wrong.



Marriage is primarily about procreation, and as gay marriages cannot procreate, such marriages cannot exist:  This argument is simple, that my marriage, and your marriage too, is defined by my wife and my ability to procreate. It means that if marriage is defined primarily by the ability to procreate, there is no reason for the marriage to exist. By extension it means that women who have gone through menopause and men with very low or nonexistent sperm levels should not marry as there is no grounds for such marriages to be allowed. It also means that those who do not have children have marriages of a lesser order than marriages that produce children.


Not only am I extremely uncomfortable with any marriage that is defined primarily around having children, I am firmly against any such argument that devalues, and in a sense even negates the companionship and love elements of marriage. When my wife and I stood before the alter of the Paxton United Methodist Church that June morning, not one word in our vows even hinted at procreation. We testified to our love for the other, our commitment to each other, to be mutual companions and comforters for each other, and to cherish and nurture the other through good times and bad times for the rest of our lives. Our marriage was not a contract about having offspring and raising children together. While alarmed by this argument, I am highly offended that Christians are embracing this argument as being solid and proper.


For anyone who agrees with the argument put forward in the Court I would point out that if you are a Protestant that this argument contradicts what most Protestant churches have taught about marriage since their founding. Protestant churches have traditionally claimed that their beauty and value in marriage and marital sex. The value of marriage is founded upon mutual companionship and love. For Protestants marital relations is wholesome in itself, a beautiful and enjoyable way to express one’s love for one’s spouse. Marriage they have taught is about the quality of the husband and wife relationship, about the loving couple, not about having children. Children are the by-product of the essence of a marriage, not the ground for the marriage’s existence.


If this argument prevails, it does more to undermine the value of my marriage than if the amendment’s defenders lost.  



The State has the right to determine who can procreate and marry: Wow, reading this one sent chills down my back. The lawyers are claiming that the State has the right to say who can and cannot have children.  Are we going to require people to pass a test or gain permission of some government official in order to have children? Are we going to deny people the right to have children if they lack a certain level of intelligence? Lack a certain amount of annual household income? If to have a child and support the children they are having, the mother would have to work outside the home (after all is it not best for children to have mom at home rather than working in the community?), or the father to work a second or third job?  This rationale sounds too much like a totalitarian state argument.



Marriage is a fundamental right that historically has focused on preserving stable families. As such every child deserves a mother and father: It is the later part that bothers me. If every child deserves to a mother and father, what does that actually mean? Are we saying that children should not be raised in a gay household because a parent of a particular gender is lacking from the home? I’ve heard friends and Christian preachers and talk shows argue this point in the affirmative. Pointing to various studies some conservative Christians argue that children raised without both genders present in the home are at much high risk of socially dysfunctional behavior as children and adults than do children in homes where both a mother and father are found. But is this a result of parental disengagement or the lack of two adults of opposite genders? Are not the at risk rates similar in two adult homes where both parents are disengaged from their children? I can readily agree that when parents disengaged, regardless whether there are one or two parents in the home, and are too busy to nurture and care for their children that children from such homes have a significantly higher at-risk rate than those from loving homes where both parents, or even one parent, is supportive and engaged with the children.


While there are studies that support both sides, let’s remember that the body of research into gay households is thin as it has been for the most part lacking. A number of studies are full of unanswered questions, and some are poorly designed, or lack longevity to be reliable. Also we much recognize that some authors of studies have biases, they design studies in a manner and cherry pick data that will help support their desired proof. Further, the general public and politically engaged people tend to pick and choose the studies and data that lend support to their positions while dismissing studies which contradict their position. For me the studies claiming children in gay homes are highly impacted have reliability issues, and at first glance appear to be less scientific than are the climate warming studies those out of my religious tradition so quickly tend to dismiss.


Regardless of the quality of the science behind the studies, for the sake of argument let’s say that there is some type correlation. Even if there was some type of harm, if we deny gay marriage based on this argument are we as a nation then going to remove children from all single parent households which have a similar or greater rate of risk? What about homes where one parent is convicted of a felony for children raised in such homes also are at high risk too? What about removing children from homes where wife abuse exists, whether that abuse be physical or emotional? Are we then going to remove children from two parent homes whose household income are near or below the poverty level since numerous studies over the decades have indicated that those homes too have a high risk rate? If we are to be consistent in our arguments our communities should start removing tens of children from their homes, and if we are not going to do so, why not? If the only reason is that I was not to do so because I am talking about a gay couple, then what does that say about me?



I find myself troubled by the above arguments. Why did the lawyers defending the amendment use such arguments? We did they not craft and put forth more solid and balanced arguments?