Monday, February 25, 2008

The Greatest Gift

My mother is an interesting person. Some people might go as far as to call her “eclectic”. Some might go a little farther. She is, after all, a woman who finds joy in the strangest things; one of her greatest pleasures is to push her shovel into the ground and turn over fresh earth. I kid you not.

Her garden is made up of 20 raised beds, each about 4’ x 16’, and she turns them all by hand. No roto-tillers or plows for her; just her shovel and her foot. She has worn out 2 shovels in the past 10 years, and when I say “worn out” I don’t mean a broken handle, I mean that the shovel head has literally been worn away.

Her mind is still wonderfully curious. She got it in her head at age 60 that she wanted to try beekeeping, and she has experimented with her hives ever since – sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing – and we have been the recipients of the honey from those hives on many occasions.

She is intrigued with solar power, wind energy, composting toilets, and other such things. No chemical fertilizer has ever touched her garden, and though she has lived most of her life with the conveniences that we have all come to take for granted, she now hangs her clothes on a line to dry, heats her home with a woodstove, and – though she has city water – prefers to gather her drinking water in buckets from a hand-pumped well just outside her door or from the spring several miles down the road.

It’s her choice.

I’ll admit, some of her choices make me laugh, some of them make me shake my head in wonder, and some of them make me hold up my hands and say “Now Mom, let’s talk about this first.” But there is one choice that she made long ago – a conscious choice – that has been a blessing on my life. I look at that choice as the greatest gift she could have ever given me, because she didn’t have to do it, but my life has been made better than it ever could have been otherwise simply because she did.

It’s not that she carried me for 9 months and then brought me into this world. It’s not that she loved me and always did her best to provide for me as I grew up, nor is it that she always forgave me when I did something wrong. It has nothing to do with money, or discipline, or advice, or material things that I could hold in my hands. I have been the beneficiary of all of those things and more, but they all pale in comparison to this one single thing that she has done for me:

She loves my wife.

Absolutely, unconditionally, and without question.

She understood long before I did what my priorities in life must be: God, my wife, my children. In that order. She understood that she was not in this “top 3”; that she was no longer “the” woman in my life, and that for the sake of my own young family, she had to step aside and accept a new role in my life: That of a friend, a confidant, an encourager, and a mentor. Not for her son, but for the woman her son married.

My mother loves my wife. Absolutely, unconditionally, and without question. What a wonderful thing. It is – by far – the greatest gift she has ever given me.

And her son rises up and calls her blessed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

May I Suggest . . .

I thought I’d take the day off from my own opinions today and instead share some perspectives from others that you might find interesting if you have the time.

The first is a short article written by Sharon Harris that I came across on the Advocates for Self Government website. It’s not very long and it makes a most interesting statement in a very clever way. You have to read it all the way through to it’s conclusion to find out what she’s really talking about, but I’ll tell you this much; it’s not gun control.

They Pry Them From Our Cold, Dead Fingers

Next is an article that I think everyone should read, period. It was written by Alan Greenspan back in 1966 (yes, that Alan Greenspan) and it gives a very clear & basic explanation for what money really is in the first place, what banks were originally designed to do, and how the Federal Reserve (yes, the same Federal Reserve that Greenspan would later run for almost 20 years) was actually one of the root causes of the 1929 stock market crash.

Please don’t shy away from this article just because it deals with “economics”; it’s not very long and it’s very understandable. You may find – as I did – that when you get to the end of it you wished it was longer. There are many sites on the net that have the article listed; below is one of the places that you can find it.

Gold and Economic Freedom

Finally, a very interesting article about the government school system (i.e., what some people refer to as the “public” school system). I first read this about four years ago, just as I was really starting to question the world around me by thinking about it for myself rather than strictly relying on what others told me I should think.

It’s fairly long – about 18 printed pages – but it’s well worth a ½ hour of your time. And don’t let the title fool you; although it certainly starts out analyzing the relationship between nerds & popularity, it goes on to dive much deeper into the school environment that we subject our children to for over 12 years of their young & impressionable lives.

Although I can’t say whether or not every point of view that the author makes is valid, I know for a fact that some are, because they personally applied to me back when I was in school (please forgive me if I don’t tell you which ones!). Regardless, if you have an open mind and a few minutes to spare, this article certainly has the ability to make you re-think the entire concept of our present day school system, and I think that was the author’s intent more than anything else.

Why Nerds Are Unpopular


Monday, February 18, 2008

"Friend, move up higher"

I had quite an amazing experience the other day. One of the ladies at our local library emailed me to say that a lady had checked out “Finding Liberty” and that she now wanted to purchase a copy of it.

Now, “Finding Liberty” hasn’t exactly been flying off of the shelves. I understand why; it’s a collection, and collections of any kind – whether essays or short stories or articles – generally aren’t the biggest sellers, even when they are penned by very well known authors, of which I am not.

I’m just a man. An ordinary man no better and worse than anyone else who wrote down some thoughts about various things and put them together in a book. Not many people are looking for a book of thoughts & reflections written by somebody they’ve never heard of, especially when he has no lofty credentials and the book he has written doesn’t apply directly to any specific problem in their lives that they are trying to fix.

I knew all of that before I published it, and in truth, because of those reasons I almost didn’t even bother. But, I had the stories already written, and some people had commented favorably on them, and I wanted to have at least one offering available from Linear Wave Publishing, so I figured, why not? I’ll burn a thousand copies and have the rest of my life to do something with them.

One of the things that I did a few months ago was to donate a couple copies of “Finding Liberty” to our local library. Since then – what with the new book and everything else going on – I had pretty much forgotten about them.

And then I get this email from the library regarding this lady who wanted to buy a copy of it. So I gave her a call. As it happened, the very next morning I was going to be down at the library annex at 9:00 a.m. to work my 2-hour shift for the book sale that our library holds twice a year. I told her if she wanted to, she could drop by and I’d bring a book for her.

Shortly after nine o’clock the next morning, Rosia (pronounced “Rosa”) walked into the annex with her son, a man about my age, and what happened over the next 20 minutes absolutely blew me away.

She said the most wonderful things to me. I can’t even begin to describe the words she used, the manner in which she treated me; even the way that she looked at me. It was incredible. She – and her son – treated me like I was some sort of celebrity or something; like I was important. She even brought her camera because she wanted to have her picture taken with me. Nobody has ever asked to have their picture taken with me before.

And she didn’t buy a book from me either; she bought five. To put that in perspective, our library sells books at these sales for 25 cents each. For the same $60 that she gave me that morning, she could have walked out with 240 books written by proven, best-selling authors.

But she didn’t do that. She walked out with 5. Of mine.

I was high all day. I still am when I think about it. And as I reflected on that amazing experience, I couldn’t help but think of the parable that Jesus told of the wedding feast:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both shall come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” - Luke 14:8-11

In my corporate life I had a lot of opportunities to praise myself, and I often did exactly that, many times only to suffer a predictably humiliating aftermath. I’ve also been the beneficiary of my fair share of legitimate awards and commendations, and yes, those do still hold some amount of pride for me.

But it was not until a lady named Rosia walked into my life to share a brief 20 minutes with me that I truly knew what it actually felt like to be exalted. I’ll be honest, she didn’t just move me up higher at the wedding table, she all but kicked the groom out of his seat just so that she could give it to me.

What an absolutely amazing, wonderful feeling. I wish that experience on everyone.

And that’s kind of the point to writing this today; not to put in a subtle plug for “Finding Liberty”, and not to say “hey, look what happened to me”, but to show yet another example of how living our lives in accordance with God’s instructions – however backwards they may seem in our world today – are truly the best things that we could ever do.

I think sometimes we look at God’s word as being limiting. We see these commandments and rules and obligations and we don't like them because we view them as unwanted restrictions which hold us back in our lives. But that’s the incredible irony of it all, because they’re not. They don’t restrict us at all; they free us.

They allow us to understand, for instance, what real joy actually feels like. Not the momentary pleasure that we get from constantly participating in our materialistic culture, but the kind of happiness that penetrates to the very core of our spirit and never goes away. All we have to do to experience that is to trust God and let go of everything else. He won’t let us fall.

Because of this experience I now know firsthand what Jesus was really talking about with this particular parable. What I have to do now is to remember that while many times in my life I will be a guest at the wedding feast, there are also many other times where I will be the host, and as such, I need to be vigilant and aware of who is seated at that table, so that I too can approach someone with a smile and an outstretched hand and say to them, “Friend, move up higher.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Business of Fear

On December 8th, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave an impassioned speech about a day that will live in infamy. In that address, he reminded the American people that “The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.”

I wonder, was he completely wrong, or has something changed during the last 67 years that has now made that statement obsolete? Because from what I can tell today, we have much more to fear than “fear itself”. Everyone is telling me to be afraid, and of so many things.

Insurance companies tell me that I need to be afraid for my family’s welfare if I don’t have life insurance, health insurance, and every other kind of insurance. I need to join an identity protection service because of the danger that someone is going to steal my electronic identity. I need to be afraid that I won’t have enough money for that mythical creation known as “retirement”. I must have extended warranties and protection plans, a monitored home security system, and a GPS trackable computer chip implanted in my dog in case he gets lost.

I get it; it’s business, and business is about sales, and sales are emotional, and fear is a powerful emotion. I wouldn’t expect anything less from corporate America. The problem is, it’s no longer just corporate America. Now, my government – the very same entity once led by Franklin Roosevelt less than 7 short decades ago – is telling me that I need to be afraid. Very afraid. And I’m kidding myself if I’m only being afraid of “fear itself”.

Although there is a continuous stream of fear propaganda coming from the Federal level, you certainly don’t have to go all the way to Washington D.C. to get the Full Monty; the Kentucky Department of Homeland Security, for instance, is doing its part to make sure we all get the message here in the Bluegrass State.

Several months ago the KY DHS was showing a commercial that exploited children to incite its fear: Mommy, Daddy, what should I do if I come home and you aren’t here? Nice. The current commercial airing bombards me and my family with terrifying images of tornados, floods, and explosions. This may never happen, it proclaims, but if it does . . . Don’t Panic!


I have to tell you, I’m not sure how much confidence I have in an organization whose entire strategy is founded on the same one used by Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Good, bad, or otherwise, however, let’s forget the strategy and focus on something else instead; what is the motive? Knowing the relationship between sales and emotion and fear, it certainly makes me curious as to what “business” my government is now employed in, because isn’t the spread of fear something that terrorists are supposed to do?

I’m sorry to be such a non-team player, but I recognize a sales pitch when I see one. I would suggest that what our government is selling – on both a state and federal level – is a concept, and what they want from all of us is “buy-in”, because when everybody’s on board, the train moves along a whole lot faster. The real question we should be asking is this: Where is that train going?

I don’t know. But I do know this: I won’t be buying their products. I accept that I will die one day, but whether that day is tomorrow or 50 years on, whether it happens peacefully in my sleep or in a hail of flying shrapnel from a suicide bomber, until that day comes, I will NOT live in fear.

Please don’t get the impression that I am an eternal optimist blinded to reality by my rose colored glasses. I understand very well – without anyone reminding me – that the world is a dangerous place, but I also understand what many others seem to have forgotten; it always has been. Historical trends clearly show that 100% of all people will die.

Probably Just a Coincidence . . .

As I was considering everything above, there was something else about the Department of Homeland Security that was bothering me. Following a hunch, I did a little historical digging, and I unearthed some more things that were rather surprising and unsettling to me. I’m not passing judgment, nor am I making accusations, but for some reason I’ve always thought that the difference between good and evil would be a much broader line than this:

* The role of the Gestapo was to protect the “Fatherland”; the role of the Department of Homeland Security is, by virtue of its name, to protect the “Homeland”.

* Germany recruited members from professional police departments and ran the Gestapo as a federal police agency. The federally run DHS now includes the United States Secret Service, the CBP (US Customs and Border Protection), the Coast Guard, FEMA, TSA, and INS, to name a few.

* The Gestapo’s power encompassed all of Germany. The Department of Homeland Security has authority over all 50 states.

* The Gestapo maintained the security of the German people at home as the Nazi war machine spread throughout Europe and beyond. The DHS maintains security in the United States as our government conducts wartime operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and continues a military presence in over 130 other countries worldwide.

* The role of the Gestapo was to investigate and combat “all tendencies dangerous to the state”. The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is almost identical, if not as succinct.

* The Gestapo had the authority to investigate treason, espionage, sabotage, and cases of criminal attacks on the Nazi Party and Germany. The DHS also has this type of authority.

* In 1936, Germany passed a law which effectively gave the Gestapo carte blanche to operate without judicial oversight. They were specifically exempted from responsibility to administrative courts, where citizens normally could sue the state to conform to laws. The USA PATRIOT Act of 2002 provides the DHS – and other government organizations – with a similar capability. Several major US telecommunication companies are currently enjoying amnesty from lawsuits regarding personal information that was turned over to the federal government without consent.

* Also in 1936, a law was passed that gave the Gestapo responsibility for setting up and administering concentration camps. In early 2002, the United States created – and still maintains – an all-purpose detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

* One of the powers most often misused by the Gestapo was called Schutzhaft, or “protective custody”, which allowed for the imprisonment of people without judicial proceedings. Hundreds of “suspected” terrorists are currently being detained at Guantanamo Bay with no charges pending against them. Many have been there for years.

* At its height, the Gestapo was made up of around 45,000 members. The DHS presently employs over 180,000.

Oh, well. No sense being paranoid. I admit that it’s all very interesting when you compare the two organizations side by side, but at the end of the day, I have to remember that I live in the United States of America. We’re the land of the free and the home of the brave. We’re the good guys; our leaders are not above the law, they are not psychopaths, and they certainly have no intention of expanding their power over the rest of the world.

It’s probably all just a coincidence. I probably have nothing to worry about.

I’ll leave you with this quote that I came across during my web surfing on the above. I normally don’t make it a point to quote Nazis, but considering the subject matter, it seemed apt, and in context with the subject matter, it seemed very . . . I want to say “illuminating”, but I’ll settle for “disturbing”.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a Parliament, or a Communist dictatorship . . .”

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
- Hermann Goering, as told to Gustav Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Real Quick . . .

Just a quick post to direct your attention to the "Prelude" link at the top left of the page. It's a pdf file (about 1MB) that contains the entire Prelude section from What So Proudly We Hailed. Please feel free to read it; that's what it's there for. What you do after that is entirely up to you.
Thanks! - Blaine

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

He Said: Doing the Laundry

After all the whining and complaining that women do about housework - not to mention the whole “a man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done” thing - I figured my wife would really appreciate it if I went out of my way to assist her in her wifely duties.

First, let me be very frank: I never complain. Ever. Not once have I ever said anything to Catherine like, “Maybe women could get their work done if they weren’t sitting on the couch all day watching Oprah and eating Bon-Bons.” I would never hurt her in that way. After all, what would I gain by throwing such factual information into her face?

Oh, I can hear you ladies crying “foul!” already. You don’t know what it’s like, you say. You don’t have to cook . . . you don’t have to clean . . . you don’t have to take care of the kids . . . blah, blah, blah. Got it. But let’s just put all this into perspective, okay? For example, here’s part of an actual conversation that took place at my home recently:

Me: Hello my beautiful sweetheart, light of my life. I’ve finally made it home to you again. Knowest thou that every minute away from your presence was sheer agony for my soul.”

Cat: “You’re late. Where have you been?”

Me: “I built a bridge for you today, my darling. It compliments the massive skyscraper I constructed for you last week, and will safely ferry many people across a wide expanse of water in luxury automobiles much like the one I recently bought for you.”

Cat: “Oh. Well, I started to do the laundry, but I couldn’t get it all done.”

You see? That’s perspective. Today, I built a bridge; she couldn’t get the laundry done. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a just a slight imbalance of achievement here? And yet, even though I got more done by accident before breakfast this morning than she was able to accomplish all day, I am not here to judge. Maybe there is more to “doing the laundry” than I at first imagine. So, in an effort to help relieve her burden, as well as to gain valuable wisdom for myself, I decide to do the laundry for her.

I put the clothes in the machine. I add soap. I push the button. I walk away to enjoy 30 minutes of absolutely free time. Then I take the clothes out of the first machine and put them into the second machine conveniently located right next to it. I push another button. I walk away to enjoy another 45 minutes of absolutely free time. Total elapsed time: 76 minutes, only 1 of which required any actual human intervention. I’m sorry folks, but this isn’t work. Beating the clothes on rocks down at the stream, yes, but not this. This is easy.

So easy, in fact, that I go ahead and do all of the laundry in the house for her. And as if that isn’t enough, in the process I also find a couple of shortcuts that she can use in the future (it’s amazing how many clothes you can fit into the washing machine if you just push them down with your foot). I am a cleaning machine, and by the time I’m done, I’ve not only washed & dried 9 full loads of laundry, but all of it now fits into this one little basket. Pretty darn efficient if you ask me.

And guess what? Not only am I completely finished, but the sun hasn’t even set yet. I can’t wait to see the look on her face.

Let the appreciation begin!

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Ethics, Morality, & Logic of “Safety”

Here’s a question for you: If someone from an affluent neighborhood across town began dumping their household garbage on your front lawn simply & solely because they did not want that garbage in their own front yard, would you be “okay” with that?

I can understand why the “affluent neighbor” might see nothing wrong with it, but I think it would be a rare person indeed who would be receptive to being on the receiving end of that idea.

So it’s interesting to listen to people come up with justification for continuing our US military presence in Iraq. One reoccurring theme that I’ve heard over and over is that if we weren’t fighting the “war on terror” over there, we’d have to be fighting it over here. And nobody wants that, because we’ve spent a lot on our landscaping and we like to be able to admire it without any of those annoying dead bodies laying around.

I guess that’s a privilege we’ve earned. We are Americans after all. We live in a nice neighborhood, and it’s not our problem that Iraq happens to be on the wrong side of town; I mean, the trash has to go somewhere, right? Better in their front yard than ours, that’s for sure. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s certainly convenient. But is it moral or ethical? Do we even care?

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who subscribed to the argument of “better over there than over here” and I asked them a question: If China was suffering terrorist attacks against their country by a fringe group of disgruntled Americans, would you be “okay” with a large Chinese military force patrolling the streets of the United States as they fought their “war on terror”?

Rather than answering the question, the answer they gave me was, “that could never happen”.

“But supposing that it did,” I asked.

“The question isn’t relevant,” they said, “Nobody could ever do that to the United States; we’re too powerful”.

Avoiding any debate on that particular point, I pressed further with the original one. “So what you’re saying is that because we are too powerful for other countries to do with as they please, that gives us the right to do as we please with them? In other words, you’re saying it’s okay to be a bully, as long as we are the bully.”

“You don’t understand,” they said.

Maybe I don’t. In my defense, however, I have to say that they didn’t do much to enlighten me.

During my research for this post, I came across a thought provoking article entitled "The Price of Loss", written by Lily Hamourtziadou. Here is an excerpt that seemed to echo my own thoughts better than I could state myself:

"It is the ‘price to pay’, the ‘sacrifice’ that has to be made as we fight terrorism, the ‘cost’ of this war against evil forces. That is what we say to justify these killings. But those of us who speak of this price to be paid, this sacrifice to be made, do not pay this price, do not make this sacrifice. Our own country is not being destroyed, attacked, occupied. Our own children are not being blown up, our civilians are not becoming homeless by the millions. Those who speak of the necessity of this sacrifice, would they be prepared to pay such a price? In their own country? With the blood of their own families?

How much easier it is to sacrifice others, to let others pay with their lives. The value of those lives is hardly high enough to trouble us."

Tough argument to beat. But I'll be honest with you, even if someone could win that debate and convince me that the “war on terror” currently being fought in Iraq is both morally and ethically just, it would be difficult for them to convince me that it was either successful or necessary.

Consider the following statistical information as of 31 Jan 08:

September 11, 2001
US deaths: 2,974
Financial Cost: 191 Billion (note1)

Iraq War:
US deaths: 3,942
Financial Cost: >600 Billion (Note 2)

To put those numbers into one perspective, since September 11th, we could have suffered another terrorist attack on an even larger scale than 9/11 and actually have fared better (in both human and financial respects) than we did by pro-actively taking the fight "to them".

In a perverse irony, have we not in effect actually perpetrated an act of terrorism against ourselves even more horrific than 9/11 was? And although we rarely think about it, it's not just the bodies of Americans that are piling up.

I have to ask: Is it worth it? Is it worth anything at all? And too, have we gotten that "Safety" that we wanted so badly?

There are so many questions. Are the lives of US soldiers less valuable than US citizens? Would the more than 80,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the violence that has occurred during the US occupation been better off if we had simply left Iraq - Saddam Hussein and all - alone? Are we still the “good guys” that we have always seen ourselves as, or have we instead become the global bully? And if so, are we prepared to deal with the consequences that every bully eventually must face?

I don’t know.

I’m sure that Bill O’Reilly would undoubtedly call me an “America Hater” just for questioning the actions of the United States, but that’s patently untrue. I don’t hate America at all; in fact, just the opposite. But patriotism does not mean blind allegiance, and just because I love my country doesn’t mean that I always love her behavior.

Perhaps we, as Americans, might all be a little wiser if we spent more time looking at our country as if we weren’t Americans. I wonder if we would be surprised at what we saw if we actually had the courage to take a long, honest, objective look into that mirror.

Note 1: total financial impact to United States. Includes 83 billion (direct & indirect) as a result of attacks on WTC; also includes all estimated business & tourism losses nationwide

Note 2: through end of 2008; includes Afghanistan also