Friday, May 29, 2009

Media Influence

How much toothpaste do you put on your toothbrush?

Do you put a line of toothpaste from one end of the bristles to the other, or do you use a little bead about the same size as the tip of your pinky?

For years, I had fed my toothbrush with that full line of toothpaste, but at some point in my life – probably at a time when I was almost out of toothpaste – I realized that I could brush my teeth just fine by using only a little bead of toothpaste instead.

Same effect; the only difference being that there were no longer any clumps of unused toothpaste falling into the sink, and a tube of toothpaste suddenly lasted 3 times longer

Which got me wondering, “Why had I ever thought it was necessary to use so much in the first place when I didn’t need to?”

What I realized was that my parents taught me how to brush my teeth, but it was the TV that taught me how much toothpaste to use. Without even realizing it, I had been influenced by every toothpaste commercial I had ever seen to cover my brush with toothpaste from end to end.

I was indoctrinated into this mentality from my youth, even though it was unnecessary and wasteful. In a word, it was wrong.

It doesn’t bother me that toothpaste companies would want me to use toothpaste faster (and therefore need to buy more sooner), but what does bother me is that I was subtly manipulated to think a certain way, and I never even knew it was happening. I never questioned it. I never even thought about it. The “thinking” had been done for me.

All for a corporate dollar.

When I first started shaving I used to coat my face with about a ¼” of shaving cream. Why? Because that’s how I had seen it done on TV. Today, I use just enough to barely coat my face. A regular can of Barbasol now lasts me the better part of a year instead of a couple months.

I remember seeing a commercial decades ago (and long before I even started shaving) that made a big deal about a disposable razor that could “shave 10 tough beards”. The commercial showed a bunch of manly football players in a locker room all passing a razor around from one to another – not something you’ll see in today’s AIDS influenced world – and acting incredulous that the same blade could actually shave 10 of them! Wow! (It should be noted that they all had about ¼” of shaving cream on their faces.)

For decades I used to use a razor for about 2 weeks before throwing it away for another. Then one day, just for kicks, I decided to see how long I could actually shave with the same cheap disposable razor. It lasted for months. I was shocked.

I started using a new razor in January of this year. I only threw it away a week ago. Funny thing is, now that I’m using a new razor, I find that I’m suddenly cutting & nicking myself.

Toothpaste. Shaving cream. Disposable razors.

Trivial things, yes, but they start adding up, and they are not the only things that TV has influenced (taught? indoctrinated? manipulated?) my mind about.

Why are our medicine cabinets so full of drugs & ointments? Because TV has taught us that they should be. It’s “normal”. Commercials tell us what we need, and movies & shows reinforce the concept by showing us medicine cabinets that are always full of stuff.

TV shows us that when we drink beer, we will have a great time and be surrounded by good looking women with large breasts.

TV shows us what to think about sex. TV show us how a “family” acts at home. TV shows us that fathers are idiots who aren't really necessary and can’t do anything right except be the butt of a joke.

TV tells us what to like, when to like it, and how much we should like it. TV tells us what to eat, what to wear, who to love, where to go, and what to do when we get there.

In short, it tells us how we are supposed to live. And without even thinking about it, we pattern our lives after what we see. We live the way TV tells us too.

And why not?

According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.

* Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes

* Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66

* Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5

* Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680

* Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54

* Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900

* Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500

* Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000

* Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000

* Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000

* Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million


Update 6/3/09 This related story seemed timely: TV Causes Learning Lag in Infants

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lewis & Clark Abbreviated

from the book "Finding Liberty"

“Daddy, can we go camping in the backyard sometime?” my 8 year old son asks.

“Sure,” I reply, safe in knowing that a camping trip is well off into the future. It’s January - we’re still living in Florida at the time and I’m still running a daily sprint in the corporation rat race - and though the landscape is not exactly covered with a blanket of snow, it’s still cold enough to keep two novices (this one without even a sleeping bag) indoors and waiting for warmer weather. “But we’ll have to wait a few months,” I finish.

A happy & excited boy bounces off like Tigger, already imagining the adventure.

“Daddy, is it warm enough to go camping now?” He’s back, and he hasn’t forgotten the promise. The seasons have changed - perhaps faster than I would have liked - and it is now April. This time, I lift my head to make a serious looking inspection of the outside world through the living room window. Cold weather is no longer an issue.

“I don’t know, David,” I say with due gravity. “Looks pretty cloudy out there. I think it’s supposed to rain tonight.”

“Okay, Daddy. But we’ll go soon, won’t we?”

“Absolutely. Very soon.”

A happy & excited boy again bounces off like Tigger. For a moment, though, it seems to me that his bounce is maybe not quite as high as it once was. Must be my imagination, I think to myself.

My son is blessed with an uncanny memory and dogged persistence. His father has been given the gift of procrastination and the ability to prioritize those things that are important only to himself. And so as the weeks go by, the litany of excuses continues:

“Can we do it tonight, Daddy? Can we?”

“Maybe next week, David.”
“Daddy’s not feeling too well today, buddy.”
“It’s Wednesday, David. Daddy has to be at work tomorrow.”
“Daddy has to finish some work for a big meeting on Monday.”

. . . and so on, and so on, and so on.

With each request, my little Tigger approaches me with boundless optimism and excitement, and with each rebuff, no matter how gentle, I can’t help but accept the fact that his bounce is a little less than it was before.

Finally, almost as if to spite me, a beautiful Saturday arrives that can accept no excuses. A promise must be kept. Lewis & Clark, however long delayed, must now depart for the wild unknown, even if the wild unknown is only 50 feet from the back porch.

Supplies are gathered, coonskin caps are donned, checklists are reviewed. The two intrepid adventurers cut their way into the dense wilderness - St. Augustine grass cutting viciously at their ankles - as they find the perfect spot to make camp. A site is selected and the tent is pitched, with only minor confusion and sorting of poles, rods, & ropes.

Soon, our meager supplies are safely stored inside; our one sleeping bag for David, a few threadbare blankets for me, and what little food we have left. We take our minds off of the peril of our situation by playing some video games on the 12” color TV that I rigged up.

By sheer luck more than anything else, I had rescued the 100’ orange extension cord from my pack just before it had plunged over the cliff earlier in the day. As more sheer luck would have it (what can I say, I’m a pretty lucky guy), we had located a natural 110v 3-prong power source nearby.

In preparation for the next day, Lewis patiently instructed the older Clark how to play a wide variety of video games. Lewis’ favorite teaching method seemed to involve trouncing Clark into oblivion over and over, but to his credit, the elder Clark was an attentive student, and soon learned methods & skills that allowed him to get trounced not quite so badly.

Midnight came and went. Finally, the two weary explorers, facing dawn in only a few hours, secure from the day’s instruction, take a quick walk of the perimeter, and then lock down the tent to keep the savage forest creatures at bay. As they lay there in the darkness, with only the nighttime sounds of insects, animals, and people driving around way past their bedtimes, the ever inquisitive Lewis begs to be regaled by some of the more perilous stories of Clark’s past. Namely, he wants to hear some ghost stories (“but not too scary, Daddy”).

And so passes the night.

In the morning, the two adventurers are abruptly awakened by a beautiful Indian squaw, who had thoughtfully prepared both men breakfast in a nearby teepee. The young Lewis was up almost instantly and bounded off, without even a glancing thought for his own safety. The older Clark, however, took a little more time shaking off the effects of the night; somewhere in the past 30 years, the ground had apparently gotten a little harder, and wounds once ancient and forgotten had been reawakened.

Two things entered into Clark’s mind as the morning sun bathed the stiffness in his body. The first were the words of another great adventurer, Indiana Jones, who once said “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.” The second was a Far Side cartoon where a settler lay beside his wagon, his body pierced with a dozen arrows even as the Indians still circled, who looked up to his partner and said, “Yeah, Clem, I hurt. But it’s a good hurt.”

The expedition was a success.

After breakfast, I came out to the back porch with a cup of coffee to enjoy the peace of the morning with Catherine. David had returned to the tent and was just lying there inside, looking up at the top of the dome with his hands behind his head, a smile on his face. When we asked him what he was doing, he stated that he was just trying to make the campout with his dad last a little bit longer.

Suddenly, I realized for the first time how truly important this had been for David. This had not been a silly campout in the backyard at all, but a chance instead for a young boy to get the attention & affection of his father that he so desperately wanted.

I made a decision: Lewis & Clark would travel again. And if a brave little air mattress happens to make the next journey with them, well, so much the better.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Defense of Fort McHenry

In 1814, British forces captured Washington D.C. and set fire to much of the city, including the Capitol building and the White House. President James Madison was forced to flee.

The British then advanced to Baltimore, knowing that the loss of both Washington D.C. and Baltimore would be a demoralizing blow to American troops.

In September, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key sailed out to meet the British commanders to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Although the negotiations were successful, Key was not immediately allowed to return to land because of the imminent British attack, and he was forced to spend the next several days on a ship behind the British fleet.

At 7:00 a.m. on the morning of September 13, the British attacked Ft. McHenry from both land and sea. The battle raged all day and throughout most of the night, and Key was a witness to it all.

Early in the morning, the bombardment suddenly stopped; the battle was over. But who had won? In the darkness, Key could see nothing, and for the next few hours he waited with anxiety to see which flag would be flying above the fort when the sun arose.

Key was so moved by the experience that he wrote the poem which we know today as the American National Anthem. However, the lyrics we sing are only the first of four stanzas to his original poem, and though we sing those words with boldness, pride, and conviction, it becomes very clear in the context of the entire poem that they are actually words filled with the anxiety and fear that Key felt during the hours of darkness following the battle.

Although I had 12 years of public education and served 8 years in the U.S. Navy, I had never read the original poem in it’s entirety until about 3 years ago (shame on me). In fact, I never even knew there was more to it than what we sang as our National Anthem (shame on them).

It has haunted me ever since, and I still have a hard time reading it without my eyes welling with tears.

Happy Memorial Day.

“In Defense of Ft. McHenry”
By Francis Scott Key

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

A Real "Full Service" Bank

Every Friday morning the Casey County Bank across the street has free doughnuts. It’s my usual habit to walk over and get a few for me & the ladies who work here in City Hall.

This morning we got a phone call from Denise at the bank just after 9:00 a.m. She hadn’t seen me yet and was a little worried that I had forgotten. I can’t help but laugh.

Does that kind of thing happen in your town? It does in mine.

We don’t have much, but we have each other.

Monday, May 18, 2009

No Muss, No Fuss

I’ve known for quite some time that they existed . . .

VeriChip – RFID for People

And, of course, I knew they would eventually make them smaller . . .

Luddites still objecting to having an 11mm chip implanted in an arm will no doubt be relieved to hear that VeriChip has developed an even-smaller implantable RFID tag, measuring a diminutive 8mm by 1mm.
VeriChip shaves 3mm off human RFID chips

But even I was shocked to actually see this:

German media outlets reported last week that a Saudi inventor's application to patent a "killer chip," as the Swiss tabloids put it, had been denied.

The basic model would consist of a tiny GPS transceiver placed in a capsule and inserted under a person's skin, so that authorities could track him easily.

Model B would have an extra function — a dose of cyanide to remotely kill the wearer without muss or fuss if authorities deemed he'd become a public threat.

The inventor said the chip could be used to track terrorists, criminals, fugitives, illegal immigrants, political dissidents, domestic servants and foreigners overstaying their visas.
Saudi 'Killer Chip' Implant Would Track, Eliminate Undesirables

At the risk of being redundant, I’ll refer you to yet another excerpt from What So Proudly We Hailed. The line between fiction and reality sure looks mighty blurry from my perspective:

The answer, as it had turned out, was incredibly simple.

All that was needed was a slight modification to the RF chips that everybody already had at that point anyway, and as it happened, there had been manufacturing facilities already setup to start producing them. Imagine that.

They called them Deterrent Identification Tags, or “D-Chips” for short, and they were going to revolutionize the criminal justice system. They weren’t much different from the regular chips – they still emitted a unique ID number – but they also came equipped with a self-destruct mechanism that would cause the ampoule to shatter if it received a special signal. That was a serious problem for anyone who had the D-chip implanted in their body, because inside the chip was a tiny – but highly toxic – amount of neuropoison that would shut down your vital organs in a matter of seconds,

Although everybody called them D-chips, nobody but the government and the media ever had the gall to use the word “deterrent” with them. The “D” stood of something else, and everybody knew it.

If you’ve already read What So Proudly We Hailed and thought that it was a little paranoid and “over the top”, maybe now you’re not quite so sure. If you haven’t already read What So Proudly We Hailed, maybe you should.

He Said / She Said - Chivalry

He Said - by Blaine Staat
There I was, reclined in the banquet hall in front of the roaring hearth, feasting on a leg of roast mutton and a stein of ale following an arduous day of riding around the countryside on my noble steed. Content was I in my day’s work of saving maidens, slaying dragons, swinging my sword around a lot, and generally making quite a ruckus as I pursued my chivalric tendencies.

Suddenly, a shrill cry pierces the dusk, and the peace and tranquility of my gluttony is shattered. A damsel in distress!

Woe to be a knight in these dark days; our work forever unfinished. I jumped instantly to my feet and paused only the few merest of seconds to take another couple of bites from that well cooked hunk ‘o meat before I dashed out across the cobblestones to the stable.

My warhorse snorted at my approach, it’s breath a white fog spewing from flared nostrils, and he stamped impatiently at the cold earth. He too knew that evil was yet to be confronted this night.

In moments the hedges, ramparts, and rows were but mere blurs as together we raced towards what peril we knew not; battlecries and the thunder of hooves now issuing an urgent reply to what could only be the fairest of maidens whose fearful plea must place her in the direst of straights indeed.

A corner is turned, a sword unsheathed, and a nemesis so vile as cannot be described is revealed, hideous in countenance and unscrupled in intent. And at it’s mercy, trembling with fright - an angel. A vision so pale and beautiful as to rival a petal from the most delicate of England’s roses.

I say to you now, all who may witness these words, that there may come a day when evil triumphs over the hearts of men, but it will not be this day, and with a cry of Havoc! I charge, and the steel of my blade sings through the night to find mortal purchase in the heart of the beast.

In but moments I am at her side, even as the slain oppressor still writhes in it’s agony, and I lift her fainted body in my arms to spirit her away. After a few steps I hear a ‘pop’ in my lower back and I gently lower her back to her feet, taking instead her arm and assisting her – with much strength and gallantry – back towards the safety of the castle walls.

This is a true story.

She Said- by Catherine Staat
I’m not sure about the “whole fainted body in arms thing”, but…okay that works for me as long as that creepy crawly “nemesis” that has made it’s way within 5 feet of where I’m standing is slain (smooshed). I’m a very happy damsel in distress who will gladly fall into the arms of a gallant and not to mention rather good looking knight.

I hate roaches. Wait, “hate” is a strong word…nope…it fits! Living in Florida, roaches were just a part of life; no matter how much you tried to prevent them they unscrupulously made their way inside. As far as I’m concerned, they are what He Said, “…a nemesis so vile as cannot be described . . . hideous in countenance and unscrupled in intent”, not to mention unwanted, disgusting and just plain gross.

When I see one - and believe you me you will hear me scream from a block away - I cannot rest until it has been obliterated from the face of the earth. Man…another strong word there but I kinda like it…o-b-l-i-t-e-r-a-t-e. (Please see definition number 2 below – That one works for me!

Obliterate: oblit·er·ate
1 : to make undecipherable or imperceptible by obscuring or wearing away
2 a : to remove utterly from recognition or memory b : to remove from existence : destroy utterly all trace, indication, or significance of

The house will be turned upside down until it has been found and destroyed by my very strong and very brave knight in shining armor who has no problem in slaying the oppressor (squishing the intruder). Sometimes it is one of “those” that flies – which are called Palmetto Bugs.

They are still roaches, but far worse! Not only are they roaches with wings – yes, I said wings! - but they are about 2 inches long and always seem to make a beeline right for me! Sounds like something from a science fiction horror movie, but I kid you not these things are HUGE! It might as well be a Cessna! A Cessna that has radar (antenna) and knows where to find me.

Can you tell that I am totally creeped out by them? I’m sure there is much joy and pleasure - by the mini airplane-like creature - in hearing me scream and watching me run like a wild person as I’m hitting myself frantically to get the thing away from me.

Blaine knows that scream all too well. He doesn’t have to ask what it is that I’m screaming about, but quickly comes to my rescue with his oblitteratus (shoe and bug spray) in hand.

Did I mention that the bug spray is the kind you can spray from 20 feet away? Yes, he is a very brave knight indeed. Who wouldn’t be with a range like that?

Please tell me there are no such “things” here in Kentucky!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just Like That

About two weeks ago there was a bad automobile wreck on Hwy 127 about 10 miles south of Liberty. It was a gorgeous, sunny Spring day; good weather on a good road.

A southbound car had slowed to a stop in order to make a left hand turn into a driveway. A second southbound vehicle directly behind it also slowed to a stop. A third vehicle didn’t.

Instead, it hit the second stopped car and went airborne, directly into the northbound lane.

In the northbound lane was a 17 year old girl from Michigan who was driving home with her family from Tennessee, where she had gone to visit the college she planned to attend in the fall.

She was a beautiful young girl.
She won’t be going to college.

Last Friday, I drove southbound past the site where the wreck took place. A flowered cross was all that remained to mark what had happened.

Later in the day, as I was driving back home, I realized that I was taking the same path this young girl had on the day she died. The same road. The same direction. The wreck site was about 5 miles ahead of me.

I couldn’t help but imagine her taking this same route two weeks before. Seeing what she saw, taking my car through the same meandering turns as she had. I felt like I was looking at it through her eyes.

She has no idea that she only has 5 minutes left to live. What conversation was she having with her family? Was she smiling? Laughing? What song was playing on the radio?

A feeling of sadness follows me as I retrace her final steps.

She could have never known when she got dressed that morning that it would be the last time she would ever do that. What did she eat for breakfast? Was she excited about getting home? Was there a young man she was looking forward to seeing again? Girlfriends to celebrate with?

I can see the cross up on the hill now.
She has less than 10 seconds to live, and she still has no idea.

I imagine that she sees a car coming towards her now, slowing down with it’s turn signal on. It’s waiting for her to pass by. Perfectly normal. What is she thinking about? Is she speaking or listening? Does she see the second car coming to a stop behind the first? Does she see the third car at all?

A fraction of a second.
A moment in time.

I pass through the spot marked by the flowered cross. She never does.
My life goes on unaffected. Hers ends instantly.

I glance up and see the cross in my rearview mirror, slipping away behind me, then disappearing altogether.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Singular Choice

Several months ago I read an article in one of the major news magazines – Time or Newsweek; I can’t remember which one – dealing with religion.

This particular article dealt with morality, and the author was trying to make a point that while it’s nice to say that there is such a thing as “good & evil” and “right & wrong”, the reality is that it isn’t so cut & dried as it may appear. The “reality” (according to the author) is that morality is actually a very gray area, and subject to interpretation.

To help prove his point, he listed out several scenarios that were all very similar in their presentation. One of these scenarios was that you are part of a group of people – a dozen or so – who are hiding from armed men. These men are looking for you, and if they find you they will kill you. You know that.

One of the people in your group is a woman with an infant child. The baby starts crying, and it’s only a matter of time before the men hear the child and find you.

So the question is this: What do you do? Do you – because of your deep sense of morality and belief in the sanctity of human life – do nothing, and thereby allow the men to find you and kill everyone? Or, do you sacrifice the child – kill it – in order to save the lives of the rest of the people in the group?

It certainly sounds like a difficult dilemma. Until you realize – if you realize – that it’s a trick question. It’s loaded. It is a question specifically designed to illicit an incorrect answer. It’s no different than asking someone “What’s the answer to 2 + 2? Is it 5? Or is it 6?”, even if it’s not quite so obvious.

The author is counting on a couple of things here. For one, he’s counting on the fact that you’ve never seen this question before, and that, unlike “2 + 2”, you won’t notice the fact that both answers that you are given to choose from are incorrect.

He’s counting on the fact that you’ll be concentrating so hard on the question that you’ll never stop to think about who’s asking the question or why they’re asking it (which in this case is a secular humanist who is trying to discredit Christianity and reduce the concept of morality to a pile of rubble).

And he’s also counting on the fact that you’ll be so focused on trying to pick the best answer that you’ll never realize that they are not the only options available to you.

Who is to say, for instance, that if I were in that situation, I couldn’t leave the group myself and lead the armed men away from the others and thus save their lives by sacrificing my own?

Sounds perfectly plausible to me. As plausible, at least, as the original scenario itself. Funny, though, that it wasn’t listed as one of my possible choices. Can you think of any other possible courses of action that someone could take in that situation? I can.

So why write an article like that?

Well, I can’t be sure of the author’s intentions, but realizing that a world in which morality can be defined (and redefined) at will is definitely part of his personal agenda, I can take an educated guess.

In my opinion, the article serves 3 purposes.

First, it is meant to initiate the uninitiated. To influence the thinking of those who really haven’t given morality much thought one way or the other and guide them to the author’s point of view.

Second, it provides reinforcement to those who already subscribe to the author’s philosophy by presenting a series of seemingly concrete examples which prove his point.

And third, it is intended to sow seeds of doubt in the rest of us – Christian or otherwise – who are already well grounded in our understanding of right and wrong. It serves to make us second guess ourselves; to think that maybe morality isn’t quite as black & white as we originally thought.

Whether you agree with that analysis is entirely up to you, but I’ll leave you with one question of my own: If what the author of that article says is really true – that morality is open to interpretation – then why does he have to resort to deception in order to prove his case?

Real truth can stand on its own. It needs no lies to prop it up.