December 30, 2008

March of History

       March of history,
       flow of time,
       imbued with meaning
       oft sublime.

       Flow time will,
       as if down hill,
       to its own home,
       like a rolling stone.

       We push left,
       while we push right:
       we're Prometheus-bound
       against our might.

       Four steps forward,
       with three steps back,
       or is it three steps forward
       and four steps back?

       We work our art
       so ever smart;
       yet march our band
       on a bed of sand.

       If Zeus won't check
       or annul his hate,
       will Heracles come
       to change our fate?

       Can Pandora's hope
       avert the brunt,
       or shall we avow,
       'that pup won't hunt'?

       No intent here
       to denigrate
       the role of hope
       -'less it's too late.

       For time flows
       whether or not hope grows,
       and history may march
       under no hero's arch.


December 24, 2008

O Holy Night

The reverberating voice of the baritone floats on the night like a ribbon of silk  . . .

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

And then the voice pierces the night ......

Fall on your knees,  o, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, o night when Christ was born,
O night divine, o night, o night divine.

Merry Christmas.
Happy Holidays.

* * *
Credits -
     Music, 'Cantique de Noël' composed by Adolphe Adam, 1847
     Poem, 'Minuit, chrétiens' by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877)
     English Lyrics, John Sullivan Dwight, 1855
     source, Wikipedia


December 22, 2008

A Comparison

Location makes a difference:

                                     USA                             Zimbabwe

population               300 million              11 million
land size                     --                                  slightly larger than Montana
arable land               18.01%                       08.24%
birth rate                  14.2 /1000               31.6 /1000
death rate                 8.3 /1000                 17.3 /1000
infant mortality     6.3 /1000 births     33.9 /1000 births
median age               36.7 years                 17.6 years
% employed             93%                             20%
rate of inflation       1.1%                            231 million%
life expectancy        78.1 years                 44.3 years

In the USA the Republican administration is currently in the process of transferring power to a Democratic administration following the November elections.

In Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is under increasing pressure to step down amidst rampant inflation and continuing repercussions following the disputed runoff election last June in which supporters of the opposition were brutalized or killed.  President Mugabe, now 84 years old, has been in power since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980.  Last Friday Mugabe said, "I will never, never, never surrender.  Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean.  Zimbabwe belongs to us, not the British."  The country is currently facing economic collapse and a cholera epidemic.


December 18, 2008

Human Nature: Religiosity

Religiosity means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, the 'quality of being religious.'  Religion is defined, by the same dictionary, as 'a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader,' while Random House defines religion more extensively as 'a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.'

With respect to human nature, I wish to use the word religiosity in the sense of our affinity, if any, for religious belief or religious feelings.  A place to begin this short review is the World Factbook (a CIA publication), which provides the following distribution of religious and non-religious adherents:

            33.32%            Christians
            21.01%            Muslims
            13.26%            Hindus
            05.84%           Buddhists
            00.35%           Sikhs
            00.23%           Jews
            00.12%           Baha'is
            11.78%            other religions
            11.77%            non-religious
            02.32%           aetheists

Wikipedia provides similar statistics, with minor variations, along with other information about classifying modern and ancient religions.  The EMuseum at Minnesota State University offers an online introduction to the study of world religions (not a class, but a series of links), while a site named ReligionFacts (just the facts, ma'am) offers a point and click technique linking you to numerous books and references for 37 different religious belief systems.

Religion is an explosive issue, so it is not my intention, at this time, to delve into the specifics of any belief systems.  Religion versus religion is an explosive issue.  Religion versus agnosticism is an explosive issue.  Religion versus aetheism is an explosive issue.  Religion versus science is an explosive issue.  Why is that?

But it does seem that our propensity, or our affinity, for religious belief is part of our human nature.  And a deep part, at that.  Why else would humans become so aggressive, so spiritually territorial, if you will, over differences in religious beliefs?  Feelings sufficiently powerful to motivate us to kill each other over these differences, as numerous periods and numerous episodes in human history seem to show.  Conversely, religion is frequently credited for its redeeming, uplifting, saving, rescuing, redirecting and reorienting effects, as personal stories too numerous to recount also seem to show.

This seeming contradiction is reflected in Random House's two-part definition of the idiom to  'get religion' as meaning:

            a.    to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious
                   beliefs and practices.

            b.   to resolve to mend one's errant ways.

I might be inclined to add a third element, or part, to the definition, along the lines of 'to experience a deep spiritual or emotional connection with a spiritual power, force or entity greater than oneself.'   But perhaps that thought is already contained within part a, if not part b, of the current definition.

One other thing also seems certain.  The CIA's World Factbook could not include an analogous list, like the one above, for any other species on the planet other than humans.  Why is that?

 * * *
See previous postings in this conversation:
            - Human Nature: Selfishness
            - Human Nature: Maelstrom or Multi-threaded

December 13, 2008

Hi Ho Silver (and Gold) Away

By guest author, Brad:

Where is the Lone Ranger when you need him?  A Wall Street icon arrested for allegedly cheating investors and causing, or hiding, losses of more than $50 billion over a 40 year period.  And not just any Wall Street player:  this guy, Bernard Madoff, is a former chairman of the NASDAQ.

For you younger readers, the theme song of the Lone Ranger TV show includes the following lines:

       With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring
       and resourceful masked rider of the planes led the 
       fight for law and order in the early West.  Return with
       us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Well, Hi Ho Silver AND GOLD Away!!   Don't get me wrong, the FBI is great.  But wasn't somebody watching sometime during those 40 years?  Accountants maybe?  The SEC?  Experts from the other funds that hired this guy?  Didn't anybody notice the disappearance of $50 billion?


December 9, 2008

Trash-Out II

By guest author, Anonymous:

Let's see how we are doing:  Democratic Governor Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested today for trying to sell President-Elect Obama's Senate seat; Congress and the White House have apparently decided to loan taxpayer money to GM and Chrysler even though 60% of the American public opposes the bailout; 500,000 more Americans lost their jobs in November; Paulson switched directions in November on how to spend the $700 billion Congress rushed into his hands in October; additional taxpayer money has been given to restructure the AIG bailout; suprisingly (or not suprisingly) few Republicans and virtually no Democrats have steadfastly opposed all this government money being used to "save" the free enterprise system; convicted Republican Senator Ted Stevens decided to run for re-election and he nearly won; the mayors of Philadelphia, Atlanta and Phoenix are requesting federal bailouts; and not to be outdone, the mayors of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have all lined up with their requests for federal handouts.  Long time Democratic Senator Dodd called for GM CEO Wagoner to move on in exchange for the auto industry bailout.   Wagoner has been with GM since 1977.   Dodd has been in Congress since 1974.   As far as I can tell, not one member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, has voluntarily resigned since the debacle of 2008 began.  Isn't there an old teaching story about people who live in glass houses?

Is it possible that the United States of America is facing, not just an economic recession, but also a recession in leadership?             

December 6, 2008


By guest author, Anonymous:

A story called Foreclosure Alley originally aired on Sept 25 '08 on KCET (a Los Angeles public television station).  You can see the entire story by clicking on the link.  The statement in the story that 700 families a day were losing their homes was surprising enough, but what caught my ear and eye wasn't that.  It was the segment showing a company hired to empty out these houses.  They called the process a "trash-out" because they rapidly removed and dumped everything into a dumpster in the driveway.  The dumpster was then hauled, not to Goodwill or a used funiture dealer, but directly to a landfill. 

"Everything" included things like computers, big screen TVs, sofas, coffee tables, beds, clothes, china sets, wall hangings and family pictures.  These houses were less than 6 or 8 years old and had been selling, just a year or so ago for over $350,000.  A lot of the furniture looked very usable.  It all looked like a hollywood movie where families had just fled for their lives, leaving almost everything they owned behind.  The contractor emptying out the houses said that even though the families probably knew for months that foreclosure was coming, they were probably just too depressed or too broke to pack up and leave.  They just left.  Apparently hundreds or even thousands of houses are being abandoned like this.

The next story on the show was called Down But Not Out.  It was about a family with two children whose primary bread-winner had been the wife earning around $70,000 as a sales executive.  She lost her job about a year before, the husband's income was not high enough to pay the mortgage, so they lost their house.  Because her husband earns $900 a month, the family is apparently not eligible for welfare.  They are now being evicted from their apartment, which also costs $900 a month.  The woman has not been able to find any job, even at reduced rates of pay.  She and her husband live in fear of  becoming homeless.

These two stories were produced by SoCal Connected.  They put a real face on the current economic situation, at least in Southern California.


December 3, 2008

Common Sense

Common sense means, 'sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge; native good judgment,' according to the American Heritage Dictionary.  It's roots trace to the ancient Latin, sēnsus commūnis, or 'common feeling of humanity,' which itself is a translation from the ancient Greek, koin aísthēsis, according to Random House.  Like the word welcome, it's a phrase which is readily translated into numerous languages used today around the world.

Like the word truth, it's not clear that there is such a thing as a 'common feeling of humanity.' We face such diversity in thought, culture and personality that perhaps there is no such thing.  Or, if there is such a thing, it is not clear from whence it comes.  After all, we do not agree very much, on this planet, about religion.  We do not agree very much, on this planet, about politics.  We do not agree very much, on this planet, about the distribution of wealth, about cultural goals, about the use or effect of technology, or about any systems or sources of morality.

In American history Thomas Paine, in the early part of 1776, used Common Sense as the title to a phamplet calling for independence from England.  In his introduction he stated that 'a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.'   He proceeds to make a case, in keeping with the political philosophy of the American founding fathers, in favor of independence, offering 'nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.'

The British in 1776 did not agree that common sense supported American independence.  Nor had the Americans and the British reached a mutual understanding of 'common sense' by the time of the War of 1812.  Nonetheless, there seems to be something intuitively correct about Paine's statement that 'a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT.'  Habit and routine CAN mask a wrong, dulling our ability to reason clearly, or to use sound judgment about an important matter, can it not?

Or, are we forever going to be bound by Paine's other statement, that 'time makes more converts than reason?'  Do we, as a species, really have time for that anymore?  Given the perils we potentially face on this planet, hadn't we better at least hope that we all possess some form of common sense?

 * * *
Credit -
         The pamphlet Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (1776)