Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Tone of the Election

The thing I like the very least about this year’s Presidential election, is the way the major candidates have campaigned; largely on the claim that the other guy is not only worse, but a catastrophe waiting to happen. I certainly agree that there are strong differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, but the “Bush’s Third Term” and “Carter’s Second Term” snipes are far below the level I would expect of men who want our trust in their leadership.

It really comes down to who can make a reasonable claim for their ability to lead the nation, and who can point to a track record that shows accomplishment. I am dismayed a little to see both major parties relying so heavily on negative tactics, especially this early.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Earlier this week, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy released a four-page letter alleging that the NBA fixes games in playoffs and sometimes in the regular season. It should be observed at the start that Mr. Donaghy is hardly an objective witness in this matter, having admitted to gambling on NBA games he officiated. NBA Commissioner David Stern has pointed out that Donaghy could very well be trying to play for sympathy from the sentencing judge, or to make a deal with prosecutors. Also, as a group the referees of any professional league are a largely misunderstood group, who have to hustle just as hard as the athletes and who must be just as smart to what is going on, yet who never get paid even a fraction of the money made by just about everyone else in the sport. Ric Bucher of ESPN has a great article on just what it’s like to be an NBA ref.

I do not believe Tim Donaghy’s claims, frankly. Officiating is a vocation more than a profession; you do it for love of the game if you do it for any length of time, and you accept, in addition to all the study, training, road travel and stress of doing the job, a lot of undeserved abuse from people who do not have the first idea what the rules are, much less how they apply in the situations you call. When I called Baseball, there was a running schtick where umps in my TASO chapter kept a list of the “best” insults they’d heard from coaches and fans. If the NBA had decided to rig games on anything like the basis claimed by Mister Donaghy, we’d have heard about it long before now from the veterans who love the sport like their own kids. A lawyer representing several NBA officials (who are not allowed to speak publicly, as part of their employment with the NBA) said “if a referee were to do that he wouldn't be around long. Right now, they feel like a cop feels when another cop goes bad.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Stern, that does not settle the matter. I believe the facts are that the NBA referees do not give preferential treatment for any one team over another, nor would they be party to any plan to rig games or a playoff series. That does not mean, however, that the league’s hands are clean. For many years now, the NBA has ignored incidents of thuggery by players on-court and off, by a sharp decline in moral standards of personal conduct, and apparent inequities in how the league treats different franchises. The ‘rigged game’ claim found a ready audience this year, because of the sloppy and unprofesssional standards of this year’s playoffs. Whether or not it is fact, the sense that the NBA wanted a Boston-LA championship series is a strong one, and that appearance is important to the league’s condition and needs. The NBA’s refusal to address how its actions and statements are perceived has caused minor issues to become a major scandal. This problem won’t go away, Mister Stern, unless and until you sit down with the owners and fans of each town, and find some honesty and humility in your answers and pro mises. Arrogance won’t cut it anymore, and neither will denial.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

God and Agony, part 2

I started to discuss the relationship between God and suffering yesterday, and I continue today. I wrote about the fact that we all suffer, and there is, I think, a reason for that, that we live this life for the purpose of learning at a level much deeper and more profound than merely training the mind. We are, if you will, souls in training, and we become the result of our decisions, especially when we choose to help. The suffering is completely real, but so too is the help, and when the pain and trauma have faded – and they do – the fact that someone helped address the suffering is significant. That’s not to say that I have suffering, pain, loss and death all figured out, but it seems to me that since Man’s actions brought all those things on himself, God took it upon Himself to find a way to make use of them fior good, to such a point that He suffered alongside us, as one of us. One of the most compelling images for me, is that Jesus died in between two thieves. For here it is not so much the question of whether the men deserved to die, but the fact that the Son of God willingly died as they did, for His love of us.

We don’t see much real humility these days, and when we do frankly we miss it for what it is. Modern society makes a big deal about getting ourselves full credit for what we achieve, and even if we fail, we still make sure we feel good about ourselves. Sadly, a side effect of that is that we obsess about ourselves and pay little attention to anyone else. That’s not new, though. Jesus was angry at the Pharisees for doing very much the same thing, and even then it was an old, common problem. Kings and princes do not think much about the common people, you see. And even when we have done with the titles, these days there are still plenty of “rich, young rulers” around. And I am not pointing fingers much here, because I include myself in that group. I say my prayers, try to live as I ought, and read the Bible regularly. For all of that, however, I sin every single day, even when I promise myself in the morning that ‘today will be different’. For some folks that makes me a hypocrite, and I won’t deny that either. But I do think that once a person has it in their heart that they want to be better, to help others and not be selfish, to give more than they take, it is a different kind of suffering to fail as we try to be better than we were. Not the same as physical suffering, mind you, but still, suffering all the same. This is important to the point, because some folks get the idea that the eternal Lord does not suffer, being all-powerful and such. I’d say that any parent who worries about their children knows that power does not mean there is no pain. I’d say that anyone who has read Scripture in context, comes to understand that God has spent all of time trying to deal with our pain, as I it were His own, which indeed I believe to be the case.

Enough for now, but something on which to think.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

God and Agony

One of the things that is very difficult to address on any level, is the sheer scale of a genuine catastrophe. My cancer diagnosis hit me hard, but at least it was just me and did not threaten my familt. When Hurrican Rita blew through in 2005, it was a mess and gas and power were out for a time, but I was confident that the basic structure of things was sound. When I look at the devastation from the earthquakes that shook the Sichuan region of China, however, I am all but silenced by the scale, the vast size and numbers of the destruction. It’s as if your house burned and every house in your neighborhood, and the fire and ambulances could not get through because the roads were destroyed, and you could not call for help because the phone lines were gone, not merely down but the towers and grids also destroyed. You could not ask your boss at work for a loan to get back on your feet because the place you work had also been destroyed, and you could not file for insurance because the insurance company was also gone. You had no idea where your family was, and no way to find out. You had nothing to eat or drink, no way to cook it, and no safe place to live. That gives you a small idea of just what has happened. It’s all gone, everything these people knew as their home towns and communities. I had not posted in a while about the earthquake, because frankly the sheer size of the thing made me feel that my words were inadequate, but saying nothing is worse. Therefore this poat, an admittedly poor attempt to examine the disaster from different perspectives, in the hope of finding, well, hope itself.

For today, the perspective is God. That might seem a bit strange at first, especially for those people for whom such a thing as an earthquake seems to suggest that God does not exist or worse, that if He does that he is some cruel overlord, unconcerned by the suffering of people. I lack the intellect to prove the case beyond doubt I confess, yet I must speak in defense of the truth I know.

All humans suffer. We are born in pain, and we die in pain. In between we experience all manner of difficulty, from common hunger and injury to extremes caused by accident or malady. Some few are blessed to never suffer serious deprivation or illness, while others must experience ghastly suffering, either in scale or duration, and far too often there is no justice apparent in the suffering. Some philosophers have argued that this is why we believe in God, in the hope that there must somehow be a right behind it all, beyond our understanding but there all the same, waiting to make things right, for everything to somehow make sense, lest we lose our sanity among other costs. I understand the argument, but it fails to sway me. Other religions besides my own Christianity have tried to address suffering. From what I understand, the Muslims believe suffering is God’s reminder to Man that God is Sovereign, a position I find untenable to my sense of Reason. The Buddhists believe that suffering exists in order for people to address it, for there to be a clear good cause for anyone with a mind to help his neighbor, and I sense that is closer to the truth. With God the all-powerful and perfect creator, how can any mere human hope to understand what He is about, what He wants us to be, unless we first take care for those among us who need help and healing, especially those in pain? Yet even there, I sense there is more than that.

It comes to this: I believe that Jesus Christ did indeed walk among us, as one of us, because of the courage and faith of His disciples. Peter, James, all of them who followed Him became convinced that he was indeed the Messiah, so much so that they would die rather than deny Him (post-crucifixion and resurrection you understand, and mere delusion would not explain the change in Peter, in Thomas, in James). This was not simple hysteria or the normal psychosis of hallucination, for the faith of the early Christians was – so far as anyone has been able to tell – one of significant practicality, humility, and peace. Would that we Christians today were of like faith! The skeptics try to suggest that Christ did not really die, or that he was made up, a fable to teach a moral lesson only, or some such story. But the faith and courage of the early Church, which survived and even prospered despite cruel persecution for over a century, this comes from something real, and something undeniably essential to the human soul. And I think it is this; that Jesus did not merely work among us and teach, He did not merely accept a mortal life, but one of poverty, of the social outcast, even of accepting punishment for horrific crimes He did not commit, in order to prove to any man that He bore our sins and punishment, for the sake of our very soul. Before we even knew Him, he loved us and died for us.

But it is not merely the death which I speak about. It is the life before it, the acceptance of every hardship without complaint. He was hungry and tired as anyone, but never complained. He was mocked even though completely right, He was insulted even though by right He deserved the adulation of every living thing. He took no wife, indeed He had no romance, because he belonged to all of us and therefore could not have the things granted to ordinary men, though He was fully human. He hurt, He suffered, He bore every slight without complaint, though not one was merited. And when His mission here was complete, His disciples began to understand. And they lived as He did, out of that same love, a love born not out of hope of reward or fear of suffering, but in hope of helping others and bearing suffering in order to help others who suffered.

Suffering seems to know no limit. I cannot imagine what it is like to rebuild everything you know, but I note and applaud the spirit of those who take on the challenge. Some may say that they have no choice, but I say that such who take up the difficult work become who they were meant to be in such work. And it is our place to help them, and so become who we are meant to be.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Convince Me

I had some fun yesterday, kicking over the anthill that is the Obama cult, and my, how the little critters are still furious about it. This is one reason I can’t be a Democrat; the people in that party appear for the most part to be driven only by emotion. Sure, it makes sense to care about the issues and your candidate of choice, but there really should be rational, logical reasons for your positions. And frankly, the Left seems to hate the very idea of defending its positions with logic and evidence. Take Global Warming, for instance. I agree that we humans must be responsible for the materials we use, and to be accountable for the effect our actions have on other people and living things. But accepting radical demands simply because they are couched in the ‘we can’t wait to prove our case’ arguments of Global Warming advocates is not rational, especially when there is reason to suspect hidden agenda and ulterior motives. Global Warming is an unproven theory, to say nothing of the claims that man’s actions cause it or can stop it. The Kyoto Treaty stands out as a particularly deceitful and hypocritical example of the thinking, punishing the US while excusing, even rewarding third-world nations and places like China, whose actions are – using the logic of the Left - far more contributory to pollution and Global Warming. A reasonable person could well wonder why we should even be concerned with Carbon Dioxide, known to be beneficial to most plants and inert to humans except in levels on concentration impossible to find in Nature, especially when we could and to my mind should focus on real pollution from particulates and known carcinogens. And that is merely one of the more obvious examples.

Economics is another arena where Leftist demands run into brick walls of Reality. Take the recent hike in the minimum wage, an artificial creation of Congress which does nothing to increase the economy’s effectiveness, but is merely another mechanism for wealth redistribution. The money to pay for the increased minimum comes from the businesses which pay employees, businesses which for the most part are sole proprietorships or small partnerships, that is businesses already running on tight margins which cannot afford to have their expenses increased simply because Congress wanted to do so. So they did what they had to do, they cut positions to make ends meet and this raised the unemployment rate. This is the same logic that adding a half-dollar tax on your gas would be a good idea, but if you look on the side of the pump the next time you fill up, you will see that the government thought that was a great idea, as well. The Left does not understand Economics, and certainly never considers the law of unintended consequences.

This brings us back to the Left’s poster boy for President; a guy whose experience is so thin that he barely got started in his first year as a Senator before he started running for President. A guy who boasted about his superior judgment, but who has had to admit that he did not really understand the character and nature of some of his closest associates. His mentor, Jeremiah Wright, has been exposed as an America-hating racist, yet Obama called this man his mentor and his closest advisor for years. Obama was a close acquaintance of Billy Ayers, even declared his candidacy from Ayer’s house, but now it turns out that Ayers was not only a member of the infamous ‘Weatherman’ terrorist group in the 1960s, he still holds the same values he did then. We find that Obama made deals with his fund-raiser Antoin Rezko, at least before Mr. Rezko got himself indicted and convicted for fraud and corruption. The list goes on much further, but you get the idea … Obama’s associates were and are as dirty as those we once saw surrounding Richard Nixon. Different party, but the same game.

So, convince me guys. What is the rational argument for electing Obama? What empirical support can you point to, that shows he can do the job and is fit for it?

Is there anything inside that expensive suit but a con man?

Monday, June 09, 2008

No Kings Here, Including Obama

One of my favorite stories about our first President, George Washington, concerns the period immediately after the victory at Yorktown in 1783. At long last the hated Redcoats were packing up and leaving, and the Yanks could see about putting their plan for an independent America into peacetime practice. The story goes that a grateful Continental Congress wanted to crown George Washinton as the first King of the United States, and made the offer not once but three times, before General Washington made it clear that he would wear no crown. “No kings here”, he said plainly.

George Washington was a brilliant and charismatic leader, but he also understood that the nation needed a broader leadership than a monarchy could provide. Too few people realize that the Constitution of the United States was not drawn up until long after the War for Independence, and Washington’s decision was one of many critical choices that proved the United States different from so many other rag-tag revolutions. The leaders of the French Revolution did not choose nearly so well in their structure and form of government, for example.

Now here comes Barack “The Messiah” Obama, and with him all manner of arrogant assumptions. Arrogant, because nowhere in these fantasies does he accept limits to his authority or whims. At best, Obama’s supporters have a very poor grasp of the role of the President of the Uniited States, and at worst they mean to ignore the job’s clear limits. For all the whining about imaginary abuses by President Bush, Obama’s supporters expect him to be in complete control, without regard for the Constitutionally defined limits to the roles of the office. Already we are hearing how Obama will address domestic economic issues, military decisions and diplomatic overtures, taxation and spending. We have heard how the Kennedy family is ‘America’s Royalty’ and Obama is somehow heir to a crown of indisputable right to lead the country as he chooses, without obstruction or opposition. And that scenario ought to scare anyone with a grasp of history, anyone who understands the need for the checks and balances which were carefully built into our system of government.

The President of the United States is an executive, yes, but he remains essentially an employee of the citizens of the United States, working in a position which role is limited to specific responsibilities and limits of authority.

Someone should advise Mr. Obama that there are no kings here.