9/25/2009

Post 101 - The Next Chapter

It escaped my notice that my last blog post was my 100th. To anyone who has read them all, my hat is off to you. (And I could suggest some books and other sites that would have been a better use of your time ;)

For my 101st post, it seems fitting to talk about the next chapter of my life. I suppose it really began when I found out last year that I was being laid off. When I got the job at the church, it seemed to be a culmination of education, experience and desire; I fully anticipated staying there for the foreseeable future. It was not to be.

As I searched for both a job and a vocational direction, I kept running across nursing jobs. Initially it was simply an observation, but I began thinking about it as an option for me. I started college as a psych/pre-med double major, so it's wasn't something snatched from the clear blue. And I've always found medicine, and anatomy & physiology and other sciences fascinating. After attending informational meetings at several schools, I began to feel increasingly comfortable with the idea. It seemed a good blend of working with my hands, helping people and stimulating that scientific part of my brain. As I ran the idea past others, more often that not, the response was "Hmm, wow, never would've thought of that. But now that you mention it, I think you'd be a great nurse." Confirmation...of a sort, at least.

So, after a Bachelor's and two years of grad school, I've returned to school, taking classes here at a city college in pursuit of an Associate's in Nursing which will allow me to take the NCLEX-RN to become a Registered Nurse. I hope I am close to finally getting a job again after a long dry season (thank you to our loving family which has so generously helped us out during this time). It seems likely that it will be in direct care, either social services or healthcare.

Long-term, I have to say that I have a real burden for Africa. After visiting Kenya and Uganda last year, I would like to go back on a regular basis, and the idea of doing medical missions trips as an RN excites me. It's tough to say where my family and I will be led in the five years (possibly less but not substantially) it will take to get my degree, but I suspect Africa will be a part of our life in some way or another.

So what about that creative part of me? For now I'm enjoying doing design work for my wife's photography business. We make a great team. Even if that were all I did, I think I could be content, but that creativity comes out regardless. I pray that I will be used and content.

7/12/2009

Headlines - Offending Those On Both Sides of the Aisle

Thoughts, in brief, on recent news:

HEALTHCARE - Frankly, the administration's plan is bunk. Whatever noble aims may be there, they are compromised by the other junk that's included (including federal funding of abortion). It should be read (that would be a good start, Congresspersons) then scrapped. But don't scrap the whole debate. Let's actually have a debate not some ABCNBCCBSETC-sponsored infomercial with the President.
We do need massive reform of how health insurance is handled in this country. Already we have Medicare and Medicaid to help protect the most vulnerable populations, but there are tens of thousands who go bankrupt or have lifelong financial woes because of catastrophic illness and accidents. Instead of government-run healthcare for all that is going to increase waiting periods, diminish patient/doctor input in their care, and bankrupt the government while increasing it's control over our lives, let's look at more targeted but effective measures. Let's look at tort reform to rein in medical malpractice awards, eliminate "pre-existing condition" prohibitions, allow greater freedom to purchase health insurance from anywhere to expand risk pools and keep costs down, and focus on making catastrophic health insurance affordable/available for everyone.
NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT - It appears that President Obama recently violated Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution by signing a treaty with Russia to reduce our nuclear arsenal by a third without "the Advice and Consent of the Senate". Regardless of the constitutionality, I think this is an admirable goal. Equally as important, or perhaps more important, however, is securing the world's nuclear weapons and material. If we want a world safer from the nuclear threat, this should really be the focus. Simply adjusting our arsenal from Maximum Overkill to Impressive Overkill is not particularly meaningful, even if it's a move in the right direction.

SARAH PALIN - I don't have any strong opinions about her stepping down as governor. I'm amazed she juggles everything she does. When she first came on the scene, I'll admit I was excited. Women in government are a good thing, and I like to see those outside the Beltway have a voice in politics. It's refreshing. Palin is an appealing person in many ways, but I have to say that I don't think she's presidential material. While many of the attacks on her have been unfair, I've taken those with a grain of salt but still found her wanting. Hopefully she'll stay involved in politics; it's good to have more "average Joes and Janes" in politics, but I think it would be a bit of a waste for her to pursue higher office. Just being realistic, folks.

WATERBOARDING - Enhanced Interrogation Technique or torture? It sure depends on whose description you read. I've read some that seem so benign as to be laughable, and I understand why some people roll their eyes at critics of the practice. But I've also read descriptions and seen videos that I suspect are more accurate. Based on those, I'd definitely say it's torture. Should we ever use it? That's a whole other debate, but I believe torture dehumanizes the torturer and the tortured alike.

6/01/2009

The Cure for Our Broken Political Process: My Suggestions

Over a month without posting...shameful.

In my last post, a review of The Cure for Our Broken Political Process, I mentioned that I would offer my own thoughts on the current state of politics and suggestions for improvement. This is not a comprehensive list, but I've boiled it down to some essentials.

- Establish term limits in Congress now. This is huge. Presidential term limits were established to prevent the president from becoming a monarch. Term limits on Congress would help eliminate the ruling class of career politicians. It would also bring fresh ideas, break the stranglehold incumbents have on the political process and, hopefully, bring representation that more closely reflects the common man/woman. Think "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". The sad thing is that those affected by term limits are the ones we need to pass them.

- Overturn the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka McCain-Feingold). Like many pieces of legislation given flowery names, it is not what it appears. A more apt name would have been the Incumbent Protection Act. There is too much to go into here, but McCain-Feingold is, quite simply, bad law and harms our political process by contributing to the ignorance of voters, violating our 1st Amendment rights and making it all the more difficult for reformers to challenge the status quo.

- Seek quality votes not quantity. Now, before you accuse me of being elitist or some such nonsense, let me explain.

The Cure for Our Broken Political Process suggests that our current political process suffers from voter apathy. That is clearly true, to an extent, and part of the reason we have such low voter turnout. An even greater problem, however, is voter ignorance. (For some eye-opening research on this issue, read “When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy”.) What does it matter if someone votes if they don't know the issues, where the candidates stand on the issues and what they themselves think about the issues? I'd be happy with 10% voter turnout if those people were actually informed voters.

Rather than looking for quantity for political expediency, as groups like Rock the Vote and ACORN do and politicians have done through "Motor Voter" laws, let's aim for quality, informed votes. There is no virtue in voting for the sake of voting. I don't believe anyone should have to jump through undue hoops to register to vote and some individuals may require special considerations, but requiring some small effort on the part of the voter would be wise. And, rather than parties targeting demographics most likely to vote for them and registering them, how about educating the population as a whole where candidates stand and let the battle of ideas determine who governs.

- Shrink the federal government whenever possible. Though this is generally a conservative perspective, my reasoning is not based on ideological bent. Simply put, not even the President of the United States has a handle on the federal government. Even the Congressmen who've been in office since the '50s cannot grasp the breadth of this government.
How in the world is a voter supposed to have some understanding of how he or she is being governed and how his/her tax dollars are being spent?

Many (probably most) in Congress don't even read the legislation that comes across their desks in its entirety. What kind of oversight are they providing? How can we possibly hold them accountable?

The tendency of those in power is always to expand that power. Our responsibility as the electorate is to be a check to that power whenever possible. Only when we begin to shrink the federal government will we have any hope of eliminating the waste and corruption that is so easily hidden from the public eye because of the sheer enormity of the institution and its inner workings.

- Get over the knee-jerk aversion to lobbyists and special interests. The NRA has lobbyists. So does PETA. So does the ACLU, the UAW and the National Right to Life Committee. This is not a bad thing.

President Obama vowed to keep lobbyist influences out of the White House, but he's reversed himself on that one. Aside from the disingenuousness of his initial claims, it's probably a good thing.

No one wants to think that their government is beholden to Big Oil or a teacher's union or other entity. It seems undemocratic somehow, and is to a degree. But the fact of the matter is that lobbyists and special interests go to bat for the issues you hold dear, the industry in which you work and the people groups for which you're burdened.

Simply shunning lobbyists is a good way for a politician to remain ignorant on a great many issues and to turn a deaf ear to a great many people in need. Saying that you're closing the door on lobbyists and special interests is simply political grandstanding and voters need to recognize this so they won't be hoodwinked by the next smooth wordsmith to come asking for their vote.

Other suggestions?

4/29/2009

REVIEW: The Cure for Our Broken Political Process

The full title of this book is The Cure for Our Broken Political Process: How We Can Get Our Politicians to Resolve the Issues Tearing Our Country Apart by Sol Erdman and Lawrence Susskind. Despite the overly long title, it's actually a fairly quick read and written in a style accessible to the average reader.

The premise of the book is that Americans are uninvolved in the political process because they feel their votes don't matter, their perspectives aren't represented in Congress and the current system results in such gridlock that nothing ever gets done. To remedy this, the authors have a number of ideas, but the centerpiece of the book is Personally Accountable Representation.

Personally Accountable Representation (PAR) consists of a few elements, the major ones being as follows:

- Preferential ballots. Rather than "winner takes all," we would rank our preferred candidates and there would be a handful of winners, likely broken into a third liberals, a third moderates and a third conservatives.
- Expanded districts with more representatives. Three representatives per district would likely be ideal to improve the chances of one representative being close to your perspective.
- Self-selected constituents. After an election, each voter gets a card listing the winners. The voter then has the option of returning that card to the representative who best represents them. They would then receive regular updates from that representative and hold that individual accountable.

There are many other elements, but those stand out. Presumably, implementation of PAR at the House level (Constitutional roadblocks prevent its use for Senate elections) would result in an electorate that is more involved in the political process, a greater sense of citizens being represented, increased accountability in government, and less legislative gridlock.

These objectives are lofty--and the authors admit as much--but their hope is that these principles will take root at the grassroots level. In time, once people have seen the effectiveness in the local school councils, board rooms, city government, etc., it is hoped that they will demand change at the state and national levels.

So would it work?

Tough to say. They make a compelling argument. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about this book before reading it. Last year's election was long on style but short on substance, and I was tempted to lump this in with the other "change for the sake of change" notions floating around. PAR has some merit, though, and the authors have gone to great lengths to discuss the pros and cons and look at ways of mitigating many of the cons.

I think the bottom line is that PAR probably couldn't hurt. Increased voting for its own sake is of little value. Frankly, I'd like fewer people voting if those who did would educate themselves. If PAR succeeded in increasing people's knowledge about candidates and motivated them to stay informed and hold their elected officials accountable, it could be a great thing. For me that's the strongest argument for such a system. Gridlock in Congress, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. With government as bloated as it is, a bit of inaction on the part of the Big Spenders is not necessarily a bad thing.

Simply from a writing perspective, The Cure was very effective. After a short intro, the book is primarily dialog between legislators and their staff (semi-fictional) hashing out ways to improve the political system. This works well and keeps a potentially dry topic interesting. Beyond that, there is a wealth of demographic and other data, as well as an extensive appendix full of expansions of some of the ideas, stories of similar ideas tried elsewhere, etc.

All in all, I'd say Erdman and Susskind have done an admirable job of applying their years of experience in mediation to the political process. The Cure for Our Broken Political Process will likely appeal most to independents who've traditionally not been well represented but would be a good read for anyone interested in politics. If nothing else, it will likely get you thinking in fresh ways about how we got here politically and what we can do about it.

In the near future, I will follow-up with my own ideas about our current political state and some suggestions for making things better.

[For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I was sent a free copy of this book to review. I have tried not to let that unduly influence me one way or the other.]

4/17/2009

Coleson Academy for the Gifted, Talented & Adorable

Last year, my daughter Addy turned five. Leading up to that, my wife and I debated and prayed about what to do for her schooling. Despite Chicago Public Schools being famously bad in general, Jen and I both went to public schools and survived. So, we applied to a couple of the better elementary schools and didn’t get her in.

We then made appointments to visit the two schools in our neighborhood but weren’t impressed with either of them. We’d thought about private school, as well, but the cost is prohibitive and would pretty much impossible once we had two kids enrolled. So, we started researching homeschooling—well, Jen did the bulk of this and I’m grateful to her—and quickly warmed to the idea.

Since last fall, we’ve been holding school in our dining room. Jen teaches most days, but since I was laid off I’ve been able to teach a day or two each week, as well. It has been great! Here’s what I/we like about it:

Homeschooling is efficient. With one-on-one attention, you’re not dragging out school into an all day affair simply because those are the hours the school’s open. Home school lasts long enough to cover the material each day and allow for one or two of Daddy’s nutty tangents, and then it’s over. No wasting time.

Speaking of tangents, homeschooling allows for spontaneity and creativity. If we want to take a field trip related to something we’re studying, we can. If we want to act out a story we just read, do a spontaneous craft or look up supplemental videos about what we’re learning online, we can. I love having the freedom to flesh things out on the spot and make dull things more interesting when I see the kids' eyes glazing over.

Homeschooling is flexible. We’ve been going with a 4-day week, generally, but some weeks it may be 3, other weeks it may be 5. We do school in the morning but we don’t have to. We can have yearround school, or we can take breaks as we see fit.

Homeschooling gives my daughter (and my son--he sits in) a better education that she'd get in a public school for considerally less cost than a private school. She's learning things in kindergarten that I didn't learn until 3rd grade. For me, kindergarten was about counting, the alphabet, naps and crafts. She's doing science experiments, hearing poems and full-length books (The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz, etc.), studying history, learning addition, etc. She also participates in social activities through the church and other groups and is taking dance classes.

Lastly, I know that my kids are getting truth and not whatever nonsense is in mental fashion. We're able to integrate our faith into the teaching and, though we're not wrestling with too much controversy yet, we will be able to address all sides of an issue and not simply the "approved" perspective.

Homeschooling isn't for everyone. It requires patience and a desire to push through the tough days. It takes time, energy and creativity. Some circumstances simply don't make it workable. But if you're curious about it all, I encourage you to look into it and talk to those who are doing it.

4/11/2009

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

If you haven't heard, some time back Anne Rice--the one famous for her vampire novels--returned to the Catholic faith of her youth and vowed to use her gift for God's glory. To this end, she's written an autobiography and two novels about the life of Christ. I'd previously read the first novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and just finished Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.

These novels differ quite a bit from her previous work. They're well-written but in a simpler, lighter style. More notable than the change in style is the perspective she tackles. Both are written in first person from Jesus' perspective. Yes, it is audacious. Some might even argue that it's blasphemous to even go there. But I'd say it's as well done as such a thing can be, adroitly balancing Christ's humanity and divinity, and a fascinating "what if?"

In both books, I felt there were times when Rice was uncomfortably close to the edge of what I thought was presumptuous, less so in the first book because she was dealing with a period in Jesus' life that we know little about. In The Road to Cana, we get a speculative account of the connections between stories we are familiar with in Jesus' life. This seem somewhat riskier. But, if you look to it not as Scripture but as an effort to portray Jesus and his community as living, breathing beings with real feelings, relationships and temptations, I think it is rewarding. The descriptions of Jewish life, apparently thoroughly researched, are intriguing all on their own.

The Road to Cana ends with the turning of water into wine, essentially the beginning of Christ's public ministry. I'll be curious to see if Rice continues this series. I do recommend these first two books but encourage you to press through any uncomfortable parts, for I think you'll find the resolutions satisfactory, even moving. Though the portrayals weren't always as I would've written them, I do believe Rice intends to honor Jesus and portray him true to his character and natures.

4/10/2009

Current Reads

I just added a little sidebar to this blog called Current Reads. Depending on how interesting/challenging/whatever the books are, I may offer a brief review. Even if I don’t, I’ll share what I’m currently reading. Generally, I read a few books at a time, generally at least one fiction, one non-fiction and whatever the current selection is for our small group, Dead Theologians Society.

I just finished Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Nine hundred plus pages of poetry and endnotes. Whew. If you’re not familiar with the work, it is divided into three books—The Inferno (Hell), The Purgatorio (Purgatory) and The Paradiso (Heaven) and follows the author’s fictional trek through each of the possible afterlives. The Inferno is often required reading in English classes and for good reason. It is fascinating, bleak and vivid. Dante's hierarchy of punishments is the most famous aspect of this book and perhaps the most interesting. The punishment fits the crime, as they say, and often dark comically. The Purgatorio and The Paradiso aren't quite as spellbinding, unfortunately, though Paradiso has some poignant moments.

Though a classic and worth wading through, you'll likely find yourself skimming through the allusions to myriad Italians, both blessed and condemned. I have to wonder how well Dante got along with some of his countrymen after drafts of The Divine Comedy came out. Perhaps, as in Purgatory, some offered supplication to him for a favorable portrayal.

It was interesting to ponder Purgatory. I am not a Roman Catholic and find nothing in Scripture to suggest the existence of such a place. I have to say that it's fairly depressing, this strict regimen of prayers and penance. Those with praying friends might get sprung early but those without are out of luck. It diminishes Christ's sacrifice. His death PLUS a few years bearing a millstone will get us into Heaven? On this Good Friday, I have to say that His sacrifice for us was enough.

3/29/2009

Yes!


Though the weather has been increasingly spring-like lately, I've been hoping for one more good snow. No one seemed to share this hope; they simply looked at me with shaking heads. This morning I woke up to what you see above. Not quite the six inches I'd hoped for, but I'll take it.

Am I crazy? Probably. I do like cold weather, though, and there's just something about a good snow that brings a bit of the wild to this manmade landscape.

3/28/2009

Changing Your Own Oil: Black Gold

Thanks to Suzanne for her comment on my post, 12 Ways to Live More Cheaply. Along the lines of saving money on auto maintenance and repair, I wanted to add a tip. Change your own oil.

Not everyone will be willing to try this, but it is really much easier than you'd think, and it will save you a good bit of money. I used to change my oil on occasion when I was in college, but I'd left it up to others for several years now. That was until I went to Jiffy Lube recently, with a $7 off coupon, and still ended up paying $38 for a basic oil change. There's no excuse for that.

Now, it is possible (easy, really) to find oil changes for less than what I paid, but even at $20-25, you can still save money. Plus, you have the added benefit of familiarizing yourself with your vehicle, being certain you're getting quality oil and filters and doing it on your schedule.

So, what's involved? Every make and model's going to have its own specifics, so do a bit of research or purchase the Haynes manual for your car. Your owner's manual should help you identify the recommended type of oil, the capacity of your engine and the location of the oil filer. Beyond that, these basics will get most of the way there:

First, you'll need jack stands or ramps ($20-60). You may be fortunate enough to have enough ground clearance (the distance between the pavement and the bottom of your car) that you don't need them, but chances are good that you will. To use jack stands, you raise up one corner of your car with the factory-issued emergency jack, slide the jack stand under a solid frame point, adjust to height and lower the car onto it. Repeat on other side if needed. Ramps are quicker and fairly self-explanatory, but I'd recommend using them with a second person acting as a spotter. Chocks to keep the grounded wheels from rolling are a good idea, too, though wood blocks or other things can work as well.

Second, you'll need oil and an oil filter. The oil cap on your engine should indicate the type of oil you need and your owner's manual will tell you how many quarts. Auto parts stores often have deals on 5 quarts and a filter for $13-15. They'll also have books (and employees) that can help you identify compatible oil filters.

Third, take your oil filter and look at the oil filter wrenches ($5-10). Find a universal one that fits it or, even better, find a wrench specific to your filter size that can be used on a socket wrench (if you have one). In a pinch, you can simply take a screwdriver, punch a hole in the old oil filter and screw it off, but that's pretty messy. Ideally, the filter should only be hand-tightened on, so it shouldn't be too hard to get it off, but it often is.

Fourth, get a drain pan ($10). There are a variety of them that can capture your old oil then store it until you take it for recycling (at the same place you bought the oil--Autozone, Murray's, etc.). Be warned, however, that nearly all of them leak. So store it laying down, not standing up.

Fifth, figure out the size of the oil drain plug (the bolt on the bottom of your engine where the old oil is drained) and get a wrench to fit or a socket to go on your socket wrench if you don't already have one. My Honda's was a 17mm. I had 15 and 19mm but had to go pick up the proper one. This shouldn't cost more than $3 or so.

Lastly, be sure to have some rags on hand to wipe up spills. Work gloves and a flashlight can be useful, as well. And a funnel can be handy but isn't necessary if you're careful pouring the oil in.

The first time you change your oil may be a bit daunting and take longer than expected. Once you get the hang of it, it shouldn't be hard to knock it out in 15-20 minutes. And, once you make your initial investment in a few tools, you'll be saving anywhere from $5-25 with every change. Nice, eh? You'll probably find that changing your own air filter is simple, too, and costs about a third of what others would charge you.

One other way to save money is by changing your oil every 5,000 miles rather than every 3,000. Most modern cars don't need the oil changed as often as the Jiffy-Quickie-Speedy folks say. It's simply a money maker for them.

WARNING: While changing your oil is very simple, if not done right, it can be dangerous. I've given you the tools and, hopefully, the motivation to do it. I'm not walking you through the specific steps, however. Be sure to research the process for your vehicle or find someone knowledgeable to walk you through it. Once you have it down, I suspect you'll enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Be safe and enjoy it!

3/24/2009

Feel the Pain

By God’s grace, I am celebrating ten years of sobriety today. It’s good to mark these milestones. I hope you’ll indulge me a moment as I’d like to share something specifically for those in need of some milestones, some distance from their bondage.

If you are going to experience healing from addiction and other types of brokenness, you have to be willing to feel the pain. Just as the old fitness adage goes, No pain, no gain. It sounds trite and easy to say, but is so true.

We desperately want God to deliver us from our addiction to porn or our thirst for alcohol or our inability to be without a “romantic” relationship. We long to be free. We pray. We study. We might even fast. But we don’t experience that freedom. Why? I believe a lot of it has to do with our fleshly self-preservation instinct. We avoid the pain. We’re not willing to feel the pain. We simply want God to take the pain and addiction away and make us whole.

Do you know what? He can do that. He has that power. But I believe that He often doesn’t because we would learn nothing and the glory would most likely be misappropriated. In order to fully put our trust in God and surrender our addictions and hurts, we must set aside those things we are using to soothe ourselves. We must be willing to see our broken state unclouded by chemicals or other distractions. There’s some truth to the 12-step notion of “hitting rock bottom” before you can begin to heal. At that point, you are completely vulnerable and really seeing your life for what it is.

Now, I’d like to point out that the same holds true whether you have earned your addiction all on your own or if you’ve been wounded by others. It would be easy to excuse those who’ve been wounded, believing that they are entitled, at least to a certain extent, to some balm for their pain. Why should they have to re-live the pain to receive healing, right? But however we got where we are, God wants us to put our complete faith in Him. In order to do that, we must let go of our bottles, our remotes, our Blackberries—whatever is lulling us into a false sense of wholeness—and feel the pain. Then, with both hands open and outstretched to the One who knows our hurts like no other, we can receive the healing, the freedom, that we desperately need.

Parting Ways with Bipartisanship

Someone once said Republicans are the party of bad ideas, while Democrats are the party of no ideas. And there’s nothing worse than when the two join forces and say, “Hey, let’s team up and see how we can make that bad idea of yours even worse”.

Let’s talk about bipartisanship. The term’s been thrown around a lot lately, but what does a “bipartisan bill” or “working in a bipartisan manner” really mean? On a literal level, it means Democrats and Republicans are working together to accomplish something. I think it also suggests some sort of noble compromise, a setting aside of petty ideologies for the greater good. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Politicians are right up there with used car salesman for most folks, so any time they’re on speaking terms with one another and not simply pipelining pork back to their districts, it seems like a good thing.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not.

When people choose cooperation over fighting, it’s usually a good thing. But not always. Our Founding Fathers (and their wives, I’m certain), constructed a government that was intentionally branched to provide checks and balances on power. We have the—c’mon folks, say it with me—the Executive branch, the Legislative branch and the Judicial branch. Each has a role and each has some authority to rein in the others’ power (though the Judicial branch is probably a good deal more unfettered than was intended).

What happens, though, when one party gains control of all three branches? Do the checks and balances work as intended? Not really, which brings me to my point. Some people complain that Republicans are becoming the party of “no.” Fine. People will complain. They want their change and they want it now. But in the long run, if the minority opposition doesn’t stay vocal and adversarial, they grant far too much power to the majority. It is their responsibility to say “no” whenever they feel it’s needed, and they shouldn’t be ashamed or cowed in doing so.

The same really holds true for both Democrats and Republicans. Either party, with majority control of all three branches, has potential for great abuses of power. I will say, though, that the Democrats’ intrinsic fondness for big government does exacerbate the problem of one-party rule, though Republicans have certainly not shied away from enlarging government in recent years.

So, regardless of your political affiliation, let’s stop assuming bipartisanship is always a good thing and acknowledge that partisanship is not only typical but necessary for a healthy democracy. Let’s hear it for the dissenters!

3/13/2009

Thoughts on Cloning and Other Life Issues


I’ve sworn off commenting on news sites for the duration of Lent, possibly beyond. It’s become a frustrating and distracting exercise in futility. So, rather than “cast pearls before swine” and reap sophomoric ad hominem attacks in return, I’m going to post some political commentary on this blog. Hopefully these posts will be food for thought, whether you agree with my perspective or not.

This week, President Obama overturned President Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. At the same time, he expressed that human cloning, a potential path for embryonic research, is “dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society.” He added that this action was “about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

There is much that could be said about this. One could address Obama’s severely misplaced priorities; his convenient use of ideology one moment followed by his condemnation of it the next; or the propriety/impropriety of using tax dollars to fund research which definitely destroys human life while only potentially saving or improving life for others. But these criticisms are being addressed well enough by others elsewhere. I want to look at a couple of things few are talking about.

Let’s talk cloning. Obama describes it as “dangerous” and “profoundly wrong.” Based on what, I wonder? Human cloning certainly has a stigma to it. There’s a sci-fi thrill we get thinking about it, but few people—polls suggest roughly 10%—support the practice. People of faith often have a gut instinct that human cloning is “playing God” and, therefore, wrong.

Contrary to movie portrayals, clones wouldn’t be soulless (as far as I know), arrive as adults or have the same minds as their “original.” They’d just be a much younger twin of whoever was being cloned, but shaped in unique ways by the environmental variables and decisions made in their own life. So what is the big issue, aside from feeling that it’s creepy or narcissistic? As odd as it is to say, I really don’t have any strong objections to the practice of human cloning, at least on the surface level. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, the end product of human cloning is not a lost life but a living twin. The likelihood of human embryos being killed in the process of perfecting such a thing is a problem for me, and I don’t believe we should ever even consider cloning for “parts.” I just can’t find a solid basis for considering it “profoundly wrong,” though I’m open to hearing the arguments.

So, I’m not bothered by cloning. But I think we’re really asking the wrong questions on these issues. We’re pondering the morality of cloning and the appropriateness of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but I’m not certain we’ve really thought through the implications of manipulating life and reproduction in the first place. It’s like asking if it’s right to build a children’s hospital with stolen money. Regardless of the good done in the end, it doesn’t negate the wrong done in the first place.

Here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world, there are large numbers of children waiting to be adopted. At the same time, with advances in fertility treatments, previously barren couples are now able to have their own biological children. On the face it of, this would seem like a good thing. But is it? While I have no wish to condemn those who’ve gone this route—I’m a father and know the powerful desire to have children—this is really a powerful tragedy and one that is compounded. It is one thing to have structural defects repaired to enable a couple to reproduce. It is yet another thing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other treatments, some of which result in embryos that are then destroyed. Lives are lost, fortunes are wasted and orphan children are neglected, all for the sake of one (or more) biological child.

Just because we can do something, technologically, doesn’t mean that we should. What would the world look like if one generation of people chose to adopt rather than go to extraordinary measures to have their own, biological children? If the president wants to "get radical," he should try that one on for size.

3/03/2009

12 Ways to Live More Cheaply

Unemployed? Feeling the financial crunch? Or maybe just wanting to live more frugally? Here are a dozen ways you can save during times both lean and fat. Feel free to add your ideas in the Comments section below.

1. Get rid of your landline and keep your cell contract. Also, resist the urge to upgrade your phone and get a more expensive plan with more minutes. Just be diligent about watching your minutes.
2. If you’re keeping your landline to keep your DSL, don’t. Most providers now offer standalone DSL at decent rates, but you’ll have to do a bit of looking; they don’t push this service.
3. Shop at Aldi. Granted, there are some things you can’t get at Aldi, but you should be able to do at least 75% of your grocery shopping there and save TONS. There are some things, such as Smart Balance spread and good salmon for which you may need to look elsewhere. Produce is better than expected, though quality and selection will vary. If you’re currently a Whole Foods loyalist and can’t imagine shopping at Aldi, stepping down to Trader Joe’s will cut your bill substantially without totally offending your “foodie” sensibilities.
4. Toss the Mach 3/4/5 razor and switch to double-sided safety razors. I bought a two-year supply of blades (100) for $8.50. That would buy me roughly 3-4 of the latest “high-tech” blades. I tried to go all the way and use shaving soap and a brush but wasn’t satisfied. So, I use the super cheap blades and whatever generic sensitive skin foam’s available and get a very smooth shave for pennies, literally.
5. Be a “late adopter.” OK, full-disclosure here. I’m a Consumer Reports guy. I don’t subscribe anymore, but I have in the past and still research big purchases thoroughly. OK, small purchases, too. There’s just too much easily-accessible product information out there not to. If you want to save money and buy things that last, be patient and thorough—be a late adopter.
6. If you don’t have health insurance, be sure to look into the many generic prescription plans available at pharmacies these days. Check the list of covered prescriptions first, but if they include even one or two of yours, it would likely save you a good deal of money. I save around $80 on one prescription every three months through the CVS program.
7. If you own a car, find a good mechanic. Unless your car is under warranty, it really doesn’t make sense to take your car to the dealership for repairs. Though they may have some unique familiarity with your particular make and model, unless you’re driving a DeLorean or Trabant, any competent mechanic should be able to make most repairs and do it much more cheaply than the dealership. Ask friends for recommendations.
8. Sell stuff on eBay. The fees have gone up for selling things on eBay, so it’s not as lucrative as it once was, but you surely have some things lying around which could be sold. If you haven’t used it in the past year, consider it fair game.
9. Stop eating out. Or, if you do it, be intentional. Instead of going out for a big dinner for a date, eat dinner at home then go out for coffee and dessert. Eat frozen pizzas. They’re nearly as good as freshly-baked these days and cost much, much less. Keep one in the freezer to avoid breaking down and getting one delivered.
10. Shop online. Let’s face it, for many items, shipping costs are going to be cheaper than the outrageous Chicago sales tax (10.25%). Plus, you can comparison shop more easily, read reviews and save on gas.
11. Instead of going to movies or even renting them, check out Hulu.com for a good number of free, streaming movies and TV shows. Or sign up for Netflix’s cheapest package for around $9 which allows you to have one DVD out at a time but also allows you access to a lot of instant online movies and shows. If you have an urge to watch a new release that you can’t find elsewhere, try out the $1 rentals at the Red Box kiosks located at many area grocery stores. Just remember not to keep it too long or the fees add up. Public libraries have a surprisingly decent selection of movies, as well, and most are free to check out.
12. Bake a cake instead of buying one for special occasions. A decent cake’s going to run you $15 or more these days as the cost of many basics has gone up. Save at least half by grabbing whatever brands of mix and frosting are on sale at the grocery store or save even more by making it from scratch.

2/24/2009

Facebook: Deactivated

At midnight, I'm "deactivating" (their term) my Facebook account for Lent. I plan to reactivate it after Easter, but we'll see.

Facebook has definitely been a mixed bag. It is great to keep up with cousins I never see, friends I don't run into so often, old friends from years ago and even my close friends and family. While I initially turned down every invitation to join Facebook, I eventually gave in. Don't recall exactly what tipped the scales, but I've been surprised by how much I enjoy learning and sharing things both deep and shallow with these people. It's good to know when someone's been sick, got a promotion, wrecked their car or has an apartment for rent.

But, as many have complained, Facebook is addictive. I'm not a Constant Updater. Thankfully, nobody's seen fit to curse me with a BlackBerry or iPhone. I definitely spend time on there that could be better spent elsewhere. That minute here, minute there adds up through the day.

So, I'm cutting the tether. Will I be back? Tough to say. In the meantime, though, I look forward to the season of prayer, studying the Word, spending more face time with friends and reviving this nostalgic old thing I call my blog.

2/16/2009

Preparedness Series Revisited

A couple years ago, I wrote a number of posts on preparedness. Some are practical, "what to do" posts. Others deal more with the mental aspects of preparedness. I've compiled a list with links below for anyone interested in reading the series without having to hunt through the Archives. Enjoy! And let me know if you have any questions.

Building Tangible Margin: “It Can Happen to Me”

Building Tangible Margin: Thinking Ahead

Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part I

Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part II

Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part III

Preparedness Poll Results

Preparedness Poll Reflections

Building Tangible Margin: “What’s In Your Pocket?”

Who’s Gonna’ Jump Your Car?

Building Tangible Margin: Heading Out

Building Tangible Margin: Outfitting Your Car

1/04/2009

City Harvest promo video

This was posted on Facebook and shown at New Life Lakeview (and possibly Lincoln Park), but I'll post it here for those who missed it one place or another. I have about three hours of video from the trip, but my goal with this was to give a brief snapshot of Kenya and the work City Harvest. This is only about two minutes and primarily for fundraising purposes. My hope is to do a longer recap of our time in Kenya at some point. All footage and audio is from our trip this past September. Enjoy!

video