Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Free Advice to Democrats on Health Care

I know Senator Reid has been itchin to hear what I have to say. Fortunately, for him and the other Dems, this time I wave my consulting fee. First off, I don't get the Health Care legislation. I read lots of stuff from folks I respect and come away with very different takes on the effects (cost control, access, etc). My bias is to health care reform and increasing access, but this bill seems to spend lots of money without making the necessary "hard choices."

Nevertheless, I really don't get the Democrats marketing. They keep pushing the sob story, describing case upon case of people getting screwed by the system. This effort works if you are in favor of reform (or have gotten screwed before), because the stories of pain and suffering concur with your predispositions. However, if you are ambivalent about reform these stories seem a bit pushy, forcing you to buy something because you feel bad, not because it is in your best interest.

Instead of guilting folks into supporting reform, Democrats should tell the American people* that health care reform aligns with American values. They should say something like this (note Sen. Reid, don't write it at 6:30 AM):
America is a country of entrepreneurs, full of people who want to start a new business or begin a new career. America is great because it rewards risk and does not restrict individuals access to success. However, our current health care system is a stone around our necks, limiting our chances for a better life. Because our health care is tied to specific jobs Americans have to make unnecessary sacrifices if they want to start a new business. Or they have to take the job they don't want, only because it offers health insurance. With Health Care Reform Americans can be American and take risks for success.
 Fancy the language up, and *BOOM* a much better message. Your welcome.

*I love that the media refers to politicians speaking to the "American" people. This implies that at times the representative from Sheboygan is sometimes speaking to other people, like Canadians or perhaps Croatians. 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stuck in Minnesota

Well, the whole state of South Dakota is shut down. I-90 is closed from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. Our plans have gone awry and we are stuck in Minnesota. Now 'sota is a nice state, but we got a wedding to get to.

UPDATE: Made it to SoDak. And made it to the wedding. All is well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jeremiah or Bad things are going to happen or You're an idiot, listen to what I'm saying, which is actually what God is telling me to tell you

I'm not a biblical scholar or expert in the Ancient Near East, so feel free to ignore anything I'm about to write.

Jeremiah, the 6th C BC prophet, was a major downer. You can't beat around the bush. He would've been no fun to be around, always preaching woe and doom, with the unfortunately uncanny ability to be right. When we think of Jeremiah we fit him in that general category of "prophet," meaning he walks around in the wilderness, has crazy hair, probably smells a bit funny, eats bugs and such, and is really good at raising his eyebrows. This description of Jeremiah may be completely accurate, but Jeremiah as revealed in the book named after him is a bit more than a roving prophet.

Along with acting as a conventional prophet, Jeremiah was a political commentator and foreign policy expert. He noted the moral failings of his society (especially the behavior of the political/social elites) and also advocated an alliance with Babylon. In the 6th C BC, Judah had two competing powers to align with. One was the traditional power in the Levant (Egypt) and the other was the latest Mesopotamia power (Babylon). Egypt was geographically closer and traditionally held more sway in Palestine, however, Babylon had the momentum. Jeremiah saw the shifting power structure and advocated for a close relationship to Babylon, telling the King not to put his faith in Egypt. Alas, like most prophets, Jeremiah was ignored, and the Judean King went with Egypt and Egypt did not come to rescue Judah.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow a coming...

This Redhead is heading out over the great plains to Minnesota for Christmas. Unfortunately the snow and ice and wind are a coming and he might not be able to make it. TBD...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What English Sounds Like to Non-English Speakers

Making its way around the web: made up english.

Cold or Things I Remember

I moved from Washington DC to Rapid City, South Dakota four months ago. Though I spent 23 years in Minnesota, my year in London and four years in DC had softened me. I became weak. In my time of winter purgatory I forgot the feeling of cold, real cold. I forgot the way jeans freeze as you walk around in 0 degree temperature (-18 degrees celsius for our foreign readers). Or how the skin tightens and the cheeks actually become rosy. In five years of dealing with mushy snow, I was delighted to rediscover the squeaky sound of boots walking on deeply cold snow. And with joy I remembered the beauty of cold snow faintly falling, covering the trees and grass in a downy blanket. The cold reminds me that I'm alive.

Friday, December 11, 2009

GAO Report of the Week

Your GAO report of the week is another winner with a fantastic title:
NASA: Commercial Partners Are Making Progress, but Face Aggressive Schedules to Demonstrate Critical SpaceStation Cargo Transport Capabilities
This report came out a while ago (June) yet despite its dry title and content, highlights a important point. Namely, that to push boundaries (technological/economical/scientific) we need to get commercial enterprise involved. In other words the activity needs to demonstrate such an opportunity for profit that many individuals and corporations are willing to risk fortunes for even larger fortunes. This was true in the settling of the New World and in the expansion of information technology and is absolutely true of the human settlement of space. Government can't just keep doing what its doing and chucking folks through the atmosphere. We need folks to try something new and explore new possibilities that may lead to dramatic breakthroughs.

Furthermore, as this report shows, "government" has a role this process of discovery. For space exploration NASA is wise to give a stream of money to reach a goal (service the space station) and then allow the companies go at it. Hopefully the companies will be successful and it will lead to more involvement of corporations willing to risk the big bucks for even bigger bucks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold and the Biblical Story

The temperature reads 54 degrees. The moisture has frozen to the inside of the windows. The thermometer between the window and the storm window read -2. goes for -11. It's "freeze your boogers as you walk to the car" cold. 

Which brings me something I've always wondered about: what would the Biblical story and its metaphorical language look like if it had taken place somewhere cold? In the Bible the only mention of anything really cold is the snows of Mt. Harmon. And almost all the references to snow are similes--"as white as snow," or "scattered like snow on a hill." I think we would have references to Christ or God as the everlasting fire that does not go out and keeps you forever warm. And instead of a cloud of locusts, we'd get a mean Alberta Clipper followed by extreme negative temperatures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Silence and the Cold

I live in a cabin in the woods, seven or so miles outside of Rapid City, South Dakota. Two hundred feet from my door runs a creek, striving for the sea, rushing down rocks, following an immutable call. An inch of snow has fallen, and the trees and meadow are covered in a cold blanket. And with the snow and cold comes silence. The birds have gone south and those that remain are huddled in their holes. The deer, so alive a month ago, have moved on. The squirrels have buried their seeds and now rest in hollows. The wind is holding its breath and the trees are quiet. I hear no nature and I hear no human. My world is silent, except for the sounds I make in fear of the silence. In this place, this patch of earth, I am alone.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Strategy, War, and Afghanistan

This last week President Obama announced that he, as Commander-in-Chief, was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan (on top of the 21,000 he sent in the late spring). Much has been said by better and more informed people, but let me give my two cents. First off, this decision is why I don't envy the President and his power. The President had no good choices. And all three choices (surge, keep the same level, bring them home) could go horribly wrong. Moreover, smart individuals who want what is best for America vehemently disagree over what to do in Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror. With that in mind I appreciate this statement from President Obama:
As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."
Decisions are never made in a vacuum, especially decisions made by our President. He must weigh the costs and benefits of any decision, understanding the consequences of action and inaction, within the framework of America's interests. If we want, we can "win the war" in Afghanistan, but that would require hundreds of thousands of troops and billions and billions of dollars. That, obviously, is not in our interest. Or, we could pull back from Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the world (i.e., go European) and just hope for the best. But that also is not in our interest. Somedays, its tough being President of the USA.

This image is from some TV news station in Montana. Awesome.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

(more) Judas

Hatred controls the same glands as love: it even produces the same feelings. Had we not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say by their actions alone whether it was jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?  
                                                              —End of the Affair
How do we interpret the actions of Judas? Did he act out of love? Did he think he was bringing about the Kingdom of God? Or did he do it because he asked to do it (also known as the Dumbledore Judas Theory)?

The Problem with Bible... that we've heard the story before. If we've grown up in the church or even lived in a culturally Christian area, we've gotten a taste, of sorts, of what this whole bible/christian thing is about. Everything seems repeated and a little boring. Dot dot dot, Jesus was a cute baby, dot dot dot, did some nice things, dot dot dot, something about dying and then not dying, dot dot dot, boy those christians sure are annoying. Over 2000 years the story of Jesus Messiah becoming the Messiah for the whole world has become routine. Since we know the ending and have heard it all before, we don't really care how the story unfolds.

But as an unrepentant English Lit major, I think that the story matters. How Jesus (and for that matter all of Israel) gets to the resurrection affects what the resurrection means. And then how Peter, Paul, et al share the story shapes the meaning of the story. To understand the Bible and to shake it out of its routine I need to live in the story. I need to feel the free and terror of the Marys at the tomb. I need to accept (and not sanitize) Paul's anger that other disciples believe you need to get circumcised to become a follower of the way.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
So ends the book of Mark. Jesus, crucified and dead, is not in the tomb. A strange man dressed in white tells Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome that he is raised and is gone. In an awful turn of events Jesus words have come true. The impossible is possible. And in that reality the response is terror. For at that moment Jesus followers can only experience the narrative. They cannot cross reference their experience with Old Testament verses or check out Matthew to remember exactly what Jesus said about his death a year ago. No. In the story, Jesus is dead. And now he is raised. And terror seizes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Judas Iscariot. The Zealot. The Treasurer. The Great Betrayer. Judas, destined in Dante’s world to be forever frozen and eaten by Lucifer. A cursed name.

I like Judas. His life and motivation fascinate me. What made him do it? What turned him from true believer to betrayer? Did he, perhaps, believe that his betrayal would lead Jesus to reveal his true identity, which Judas thought would lead to a renewed Kingdom? Maybe Judas understood the nature of Jesus. Maybe Judas saw the divinity and understood that He was the true Messiah, only Judas was blind to what that meant. Judas did not understand the power to forgive sins. Thus, Judas tried to force Jesus's hand. And when it failed (or so he thought) Judas killed himself. I wonder what would've happened if he had only waited until the resurrection?