Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Revisionist History

Several years ago I came across the book “Underworld”, by Graham Hancock.

For those of you not familiar with Hancock, he is a modern day “explorer” who has investigated and written about some very intriguing topics, from ancient astronomy to the Ark of the Covenant. What makes him interesting is that he takes a completely unbiased view of the things he researches and pushes no agenda in his conclusions, leaning neither toward science, religion, superstition, or conventional wisdom.

In the book “Underworld”, he explores some very interesting “ruins” in several parts of the globe that are located under approximately 100 feet of water. He posits that these may in fact not be “ruins” at all in the conventional sense, but that they may in fact be the remains of human architecture that was originally built above sea level, only to have since been covered with water.

(You can see a few of the startling photographs here; take a look and make your own determination)

What Graham suggests is that at one time, sea levels were around 100 feet lower than they are today, and that these human-made ruins were covered up as frozen water from the last ice age melted and joined the oceans around 20,000 years ago.

That’s kind of interesting. What was also very interesting to me is that, in the book, he had a map of the globe showing how the land masses of the earth would have looked if the oceans were 100 feet shallower than they are today.

One of the things that caught my eye was that in this scenario, the present day Persian Gulf would not have existed at all; the entire area currently covered by the waters of the Persian Gulf would have been dry land!

What was immediately intriguing to me about this is that both the Tigris & Euphrates rivers empty into the Persian Gulf. The Tigris & Euphrates are two of the four rivers that the Bible uses to mark the geographical location of the Garden of Eden. The locations of the other two rivers – the Pishon and Gihon – along with the Garden itself, are unknown.

I remember thinking at the time, “What if the Biblical Garden of Eden – along with the Pishon and Gihon rivers – are all actually located beneath the Persian Gulf?"

An exciting speculation? I thought so. True, the Biblical and scientific timelines don’t match up, but if you could account for that, it would certainly explain a lot.

Having that brief look into my “mental history”, you can understand why the following article caught my eye a couple of weeks ago:

Lost Civilization May Have Existed Beneath the Persian Gulf
The article is quoted:

Veiled beneath the Persian Gulf, a once-fertile landmass may have supported some of the earliest humans outside Africa some 75,000 to 100,000 years ago, a new review of research suggests.

At its peak, the floodplain now below the Gulf would have been about the size of Great Britain, and then shrank as water began to flood the area. Then, about 8,000 years ago, the land would have been swallowed up by the Indian Ocean, the review scientist said.

How interesting is that? In addition to the fact that we now have Hancock’s speculation merging with current scientific research, we now have a scientific timeline (8,000 years) much, much closer to the Biblical flood account in Genesis.

That certainly doesn’t prove anything, and it still leaves a thousand questions unanswered, but it is interesting. And, it also raises – inadvertently – another question: If the Persian Gulf did indeed “swallow up” that land, where did the water come from? The last Ice Age, remember, was 20,000 years ago, not 8,000. Or was it?

Ahhhhh! Don’t you just love a good mystery!

But while we’re at it, why don’t we throw a little more wood on the fire? Here’s a couple of paragraphs from an article that started working it’s way around just yesterday (emphasis mine on bolded items):

A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said teeth found in the cave are about 400,000 years old and resemble those of other remains of modern man, known scientifically as Homo sapiens, found in Israel. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half as old.

The accepted scientific theory is that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and migrated out of the continent. Gopher said if the remains are definitively linked to modern human's ancestors, it
could mean that modern man in fact originated in what is now Israel.
Source: Researchers: Ancient human remains found in Israel

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know; the timelines aren’t even close. Still . . . very interesting to see “science” continuing to dovetail with myth, legend & religion despite it’s best efforts not to.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ridiculous Island

I was going to start this off by saying that I’m not a big fan of Jules Verne’s writing, but I decided against it.

I mean really, who am I to criticize him? After all, Verne was – along with H.G. Wells – one of the Founding Fathers of Science Fiction, and he was an enormously successful author back in a day when books didn’t just roll off the presses like rain.

He brought us 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in 80 Days. His most successful titles are still widely read today, and his work has inspired dozens of movies either directly or indirectly.

But . . . ?

Yeah. But.

I don’t know how to explain it other than to guess that I’m just spoiled. I love his imagination; I’m just not a big fan of his writing. The best I can explain is that – in my mind at least – he doesn’t tell a story so much as he tells what happened.

And that in itself wouldn’t be so bad except that he doesn’t really even do a good job of making me believe “what happened”.

Well Blaine, it is science fiction after all . . .

No! See that’s just it. I can believe him when he tells me about the wild submarine, the expedition to the earth’s core, or the “bet” to circumnavigate the globe in two and a half months. He’s got me. I’m in.

The problem is when he tries to tell me about the things that I should have absolutely no trouble believing in at all – that’s where he loses me.

Here’s one glaring example of what I’m talking about that I ran into while reading “The Mysterious Island” a few weeks ago. (The “five brickmakers on Lincoln Island” refer to the castaways who have become stranded on the island. In this passage, they are building an oven so that they can begin forging metal from raw materials to make tools and weapons.):

Generally bricks are formed in molds, but the engineer contented himself with making them by hand. All that day and the day following were employed in this work. The clay, soaked in water, was mixed by the feet and hands of the manipulators, and then divided into pieces of equal size. A practiced workman can make, without a machine, about ten thousand bricks in twelve hours; but in their two days work the five brickmakers on Lincoln Island had not made more than three thousand, which were ranged near each other, until the time when their complete desiccation would permit them to be used in building the oven, that is to say, in three or four days. - excerpt from “The Mysterious Island” (Chapter 13), by Jules Verne

Did you catch that? In case you missed it, here it is again in slow motion: “A practiced workman can make, without a machine, about ten thousand bricks in twelve hours”.

Okay. Now, let’s forget for a moment that, within just a few days of becoming stranded on the island the castaways have already learned how to make usable bows & arrows and have become proficient in hunting big game with them. Let’s push the “I Believe” button and submit that it is possible that one of the castaways could have knowledge & abilities eerily similar to the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island”.

So far, not so tough. I have a big imagination, and I want to believe.

But . . . A practiced workman can make, without a machine, about ten thousand bricks in twelve hours?

My imagination just broke. Why? Because that’s just not possible.

In case you don’t have a calculator, ten thousand bricks in twelve hours breaks down to about 833 bricks per hour, or 14 bricks per minute, or 1 brick every 4.3 seconds.


For 12 hours straight.

Not possible.

By way of comparison, last week I had to mail out 81 letters. I timed myself on how long it would take me to affix address labels to them.

Bear in mind, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair at a clean desk with all my envelopes and labels ready to go right in front of me, and while I wasn’t trying to set a land speed record, neither was I sandbagging. Elapsed time: 9 min, 45 seconds. Or one envelope every 7.2 seconds.

So that’s what I mean when I say that Verne loses me on the things that he should have no trouble making me believe – ordinary, everyday, commonplace tasks.

The puzzling thing to me with this particular thing was, How could he have erred so badly?

Verne was an educated man who came from a privileged French family. His father was a successful lawyer and his family spent their summers at their country home on the Loire River. Verne studied law himself until he began writing.

Is it difficult to believe that Verne never made a brick in his life?

That perhaps he saw a “practiced workman” make a single brick in a matter of seconds at a country fair once and extrapolated his “ten thousand bricks in twelve hours” from that, never considering that it was simply impossible for any human being to maintain that kind of output for any sustainable length of time?

I don’t know. What I do know is that he apparently saw nothing unbelievable about it, which would suggest that even everyday tasks were science fiction to Verne.

So who cares right? Big deal.

Well, ask yourself this: Who is it that makes the decisions in our world on what is made, how much of it is made, and how fast it is made? Who decides how many animals a single man can slaughter in the course of a day, or how many brackets can be welded in an hour? Who makes decisions about what kind of food we should eat and how it should be produced?

Is it the people who actually know how to do these things, or is it, more possibly, people from privileged families who sit in Ivory Towers around lacquered mahogany boardroom tables? People who – like Verne – have only the merest suggestion about how to do any of the things that they have been charged to manage?

What if all of our important decisions regarding government, manufacturing, agriculture, medicine, etc., were being made by people just like that?

Yeah, maybe you’re right. It is just science fiction after all . . .

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Disappearing Into the FOG

I seem to have a knack for predicting the future, or, barring that, at least making pretty good educated guesses. I haven’t been keeping track, but since writing “What So Proudly We Hailed”, three years ago, I’ve seen roughly two dozen concepts from the book come to fruition in the real world, ranging from mandatory healthcare to RFID implants that can kill the wearer remotely.

Here’s another interesting news article I read today:
FTC proposes Do Not Track tool for Web marketing

Compare that with the below excerpt from “What So Proudly We Hailed” written in the summer of 2007:

FOGNet was the first company to take advantage of the situation. What FOGNet did was allow you to log into their system first, at which point you would receive a randomly generated IP address. From there you could then surf the web, visit chat rooms, send email – whatever you wanted – and no one could trace anything back to you. No “cookies”, no electronic trail; nothing. And no one could access FOGNet’s records either, because they didn’t have any. They didn’t have any storage at all. No disc, no tape; nothing at all. Everything just passed through and anything you did just vaporized in the next instant.

Their company slogan was “Disappear Into the FOG”, and that’s exactly what millions of people did.

The only problem was, you were still trusting someone else – yet another corporation – to provide your anonymity, and it wasn‘t long after FOGNet and a couple of other like startups hit the scene that the first scramblers entered the market. Scramblers did essentially the same thing – scrambled your IP address so you looked like a different user every time – but it was hardware that you could buy and own, and in doing so, not have to put your faith into a service provider like FOGNet, because, let’s face it, who really knew how benevolent they were either?

Huh. Pretty good shootin', don't you think?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Piece of the Action

This is Fiction:
Your entire life is now part of a central database, and all aspects of it are intricately woven together and can be used for individual study or in comparison to any other person or group to gather statistical information. Everything can be monitored, and of course, since it can be monitored, it is monitored.

Who used this information? Maybe a better question was, who didn’t?

Regardless of whatever else had changed, capitalism was still the shining star of America, and the huge corporations that owned and ran the economy still lived & died by one thing and one thing only: continuous year over year revenue growth.

Wall Street wanted results, and doing as well as you had the year before impressed no one. The stock market analysts and the brokers and the shareholders didn’t care how you increased revenue, they only cared that you did.

And what Wall Street wanted, Wall Street got.

Every publicly listed corporation wanted their hands on that information, and since almost every one of them was already tied to the database in some way because of the broad encompassing reach of the DHS who controlled it all, the vault was opened. And why not? They all put data into the system; it wouldn’t be fair if they weren’t allowed to take some out.

Things just began to happen.

(from the novel "What So Proudly We Hailed")

This isn’t:
"The age of the plain old credit score is gone, says a report at the Wall Street Journal, and it's been replaced by ever more intrusive efforts by banks and credit agencies to gauge exactly what you're worth, and what you can pay.

To that end, financial firms are now tracking their customers' bank deposits, rent payments or home values, and even utility bills to figure out who may soon become a financial risk, reports WSJ's Karen Blumenthal.

So, for example, if your employer pays you through direct deposits and those deposits stop, financial institutions can now have warning that your money situation is likely to tighten, and may deny you credit on that basis.

But the efforts don't end there. A new area of research, income estimation, "took off earlier this year," WSJ reports, and involves financial firms collecting information about mortgages, personal loans and credit history to determine how much an individual makes and how much credit they should be given.

In this new era of deep data-mining, even your utility bills and rent check aren't out of bounds."

(source: Banks spying on your bills, rent payments, paychecks: report)

I'm confused now; which one was fiction again?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Money Well Spent

A fellow ponderer got me thinking about time the other day.

He was referring to all of the additional time that it now takes people to get through airport security, and how this is being done solely in the name of saving lives. The question then, was how many millions of additional hours has this now totaled the American people, and how many “man-lives” does it equal to?

That’s kind of an abstract concept. After all, even if hundreds or even thousands of additional “man-lives” have been “lost” at airport security, each individual passenger has only lost a few of those hours themselves. For most of us, if a concept doesn’t affect us personally, we either have a hard time grasping it or it simply doesn’t matter to us all.

Five years ago I left Orlando, FL and moved to a tiny little town called Liberty, KY. The change was dramatic; a population of half a million people to less than 2,000, a 6-figure paycheck to hovering around the poverty line, and, for this example, a 45 minute commute traded in for (quite literally) a drive of less than 2 minutes.

I should clarify to say that my 45 minute commute was one-way; I spent fully 1-1/2 hours in my car every day, 5 days a week, just going to and from work. By comparison, the 4 minutes I spend now isn’t even worth mentioning.

It was this 1-1/2 hours that I no longer spend each day that I started to think about in earnest. 90 minutes a day doesn’t necessarily sound like a lot until you consider that it equals over 16 days each year.

Think about that! I used to spend 16 days each year just sitting in my car.
Usually frustrated.
Usually stuck in traffic or sitting at a stoplight.
Talk about a waste of time!

To take it further, what that means is that in just the past 5 years I have gained almost 3 entire months of time – 3 entire months of my life – that I was able to use for anything I wanted!

How many times have you heard someone lament that they wish they could have had “just one more day” with a loved one? How would they react if they learned that they could have had days, weeks, months – even years – simply by getting rid of one or two of those things that we waste our time on every day?

Each of us has a finite amount of time on this earth, and yet so often we spend it without even thinking about it, as if there was an unlimited supply.

There’s not.

And the cruel twist is that none of us even knows how much time we have left on our own personal lunch ticket. In light of that, how could we ever waste it as if it means nothing?

To look at it from another perspective, if we could buy time, how much would we pay to get an additional 16 days of life each year? For that matter, what is a single day worth in monetary terms?

I would imagine that if you needed one bad enough, it would be priceless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Money for Nothing

For various reasons - not the least of which is that they wanted to try it out - we decided to put our remaining two children in a local Christian Academy this year.

We’ve homeschooled since 2001, and we don’t subject our children to vaccines. People might say that’s not good parenting, but our kids aren’t plagued by the issues that affect so many other children these days so I would argue otherwise.

Our kids are healthy and have strong immune systems. They are not overweight, have no medical conditions, and take no prescriptions. They are like children used to be when I was growing up.

To enroll them in school, however, we needed to either get them caught up on their vaccinations or request a waiver from the health department. (The only way you can bypass vaccinations is with a “religious” exemption, even if it has nothing to do with your religious beliefs).

So I went to the health department, wrote out the statements for each child, and then had to wait 30 minutes to have a “state mandated counseling session”, which amounted to a nurse telling me for 3 minutes what a good idea it is to have my kids vaccinated. This undoubtedly has a high success rate for 19 year old mothers who are too shy to say “no”, but it doesn’t have much affect on a grizzled old cynic like me.

But okay. I’ll jump through the hoops. Dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”. So I did.

They charged me $48. Twenty-four for each kid, neither of which was even there.

How’s that for a deal? It cost fifty bucks to not have anything done. Is it just me, or is it a strange world we live in when we not only have to pay to get something, but we also have to pay to not get it.

The funny thing, though? I would bet that there is some state program that would have allowed me to have each child fully vaccinated at no absolutely no charge.

Go figure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Moby Dick - Smash or Trash?

I enjoy reading classic literature and have finally gotten around to Moby Dick. It’s taking awhile to read, partly because I have to concentrate harder to comprehend the style of English used at the time of its writing, and partly just because it’s a very long book in its own right.

Moby Dick is, without a doubt, a classic piece of literature. But, 159 years after its original publication, I have to wonder how well Herman Melville’s story would be received had he written it today.

My honest guess? He would not even be able to get it published. Certainly, at least, not without massive amounts of editing.

As a case in point, consider the below passage taken from Chapter 42. It’s just one piece of a much longer explanation that Ishmael is giving about the color white; how, while it is usually associated with cleanliness, good, purity, etc., it can also have a much more sinister and ominuos connotation (such as the pale white of death):

From Moby Dick, Chapter 42 – “The Whiteness of the Whale”:
“Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”


Other than the obvious changes in grammar & language that make it almost incomprehensible to today’s reading public, two things drew my attention to this particular passage.

For one, it is a single sentence, 467 words long. Do you think you could have gotten away with that had you turned it in to your English teacher in high school? That single sentence is 1/3 the length of my entire senior term paper!

Secondly, did you notice the whopper of a politically incorrect statement buried inside the text: “and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe”.

Whoa, Nellie! That dog ain’t gonna be hunting in 2010, now is it? In fact, “classic” though Moby Dick may be, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that particular statement didn’t one day make a quiet exit from the text entirely. (And maybe more telling is that I doubt anyone today would even notice if it did.)

Anyone who has ever attempted to put pen to paper with the intention of forming a novel can truly appreciate - and stand in awe - of the sheer craftsmanship that was required to carve out the 500 pages of Moby Dick. In today's world unfortunately, that, plus $1.50, will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald's.

Dear Mr. Melville,

I regret to inform you that your manuscript “Moby Dick” does not fit our needs at this time. The book is so endlessly complicated by details and reference information that the very action of the story becomes hopelessly bogged down, making the book, eventually, unreadable. It is so dry, airless, and lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have contained is entirely dissipated by what seems to be nothing more than an immense amount of extraneous material.

Yours sincerely,

21st Century Editor

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why I Believe in God: Part III - The Church of Evolution

(to start at the beginning of this series, click here)

If there is one single overriding factor that gives evolution presumed validity over creation, it is that evolution is based on science, whereas creation is based on superstition and ignorance.

In ancient times, it is supposed that people didn’t understand the things that happened in the world around them. They knew that things did happen, and they also knew that they were not the ones that caused those things to happen, and so they assumed that someone or something had put those events into motion. They called these unseen – and obviously very powerful – things “gods”.

Science, on the other hand, establishes fact based on cause & effect, not wild speculation. Science is non-judgmental. It is unbiased. It is rational. It seeks the truth.

“Creation” says that the earth, stars, mankind – everything – was created by an unseen entity of incomprehensible power. “Evolution” says that it all came about through natural causes, random chance, and progressive evolutionary growth. Religion is based on wishful thinking; Science, on the other hand, is based on fact.

It certainly sounds like evolution – backed with the authority of science – has a legitimate argument. Until you realize that science doesn’t really have any facts at all, and evolution is, like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc., merely another religion.

How could I believe that?

Well, start with the concept of evolution, or more to the point, the theory of evolution, because despite all of the pomp & circumstance, that’s really all that it remains – a theory.

While evolution is “widely believed to be true” by the scientific community, it has not been proven by any stretch of the imagination. If it had been, you can bet the very first thing scientists would have done would be to trumpet that particular fact to the world.

But they haven’t. All they have done is to simply stop referring to evolution as a theory and forge ahead under the assumption that it is true.

Personally, I have never been presented with any “proof” of evolution, only a “preponderance of evidence”. The problem with that is that there is also a “preponderance of evidence” for the existence of God – a creator – as well, though, like evolution, there is no “proof’ of God either.

People believe in God by faith, and faith, by definition, is belief without proof. That poses a big problem for evolutionists, because evolution is based on science, and science is supposed to be based on fact, not speculation. But regarding evolution, there are no facts and there is no proof, and without those, evolution is just as surely a faith-based religion as any other.

Make no mistake about it, evolution is a religion. It all boils down to which church you choose to enter; the church of God, or the church of man.

In fact, the only thing that even remotely resembles “proof” of evolution seems to be time, or more specifically, the dating of fossils and artifacts.

Looking at the Biblical record, there certainly appears to be roughly 6,000 years from the time of Adam to the present date. Scientists, through several different means, have dated things back millions of years. How to account for the huge discrepancy?

Some people fault the methods that scientists use to date objects, saying that they are loaded with assumptions (which they are) and that their results cannot be validated (which they can’t). But though there may be some anomalies with the various different dating methods used, I have no doubt that they are essentially correct. Even if they are not 100% exact, I would have to guess that they are at least “in the ballpark”.

The “time” issue is without a doubt a massive hole in the argument for creation. It’s a huge disparity, and it is that disparity – from all that I see and hear and read – that seems to be the one single horse upon which almost all information about evolution is riding. If there was ever anything at all that provides legitimacy to the theory of evolution, “time” would have to be it.

But what if “time” was not an issue? What if there was no disparity? If “time” were taken out of the equation entirely, is there anything left that would truly lend any sort of factual, scientific validation to evolution?

Those were some of the questions that I asked myself, and once I started looking at time as a separate entity, I realized that there could actually be a very plausible explanation to account for it. Not proof mind you, but certainly something that I think casts plenty of “reasonable doubt” on the issue.

If you’re following my train of thought, I’ll need you to humor me at this point and suspend your belief about the disparity of “time” as I did; I’ll address it at a later date. And please remember, I’m not trying to convince you of anything; I’m only trying to share how I came to believe that God is real. You can believe whatever you want. You will anyway.

But if you have followed me to this point, let me summarize where I found myself:

1) There either is a God or there isn’t, and I either believe in Him or I don’t.
2) Evolution is just as much of a religion as Christianity.

Once I truly understood what I was dealing with, I was finally able to get down to some real searching.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blaine Does Butter

Last summer, at age 43, I did something for the very first time: I made butter. And it was so absolutely rockin’ cool that I’ve been making it every week since. Don’t ask me why I enjoy it so much because I really don’t know.

Maybe it’s because we only use real butter in our house and a pound of it in the grocery store goes for around $3.50 these days (we almost never have to buy any since I've started making it).

Maybe it’s because it tastes better than store-bought butter and we know EXACTLY what’s in it and how it was made (not to mention who made it :-)

Or maybe it’s just because I like making it so much. Did I mention that I think it is SO ROCKIN’ COOL?

I know; I’m weird.

Every week I skim about a quart of cream from the milk I get from a local farm. Catherine uses a little bit of the cream to put in her coffee, and in the summertime we’ll put some to good use making homemade ice cream. The rest of the time, it’s butter.

It’s so easy to make it’s ridiculous. Just shake it up and watch what happens. The below photos are from a batch I made last week. From cream to butter took about 10 minutes total time.

Half a jar of cream (it will expand).

Starting to thicken up . . .

Just before it starts to separate; really thick here
and hard to shake, but only for a few seconds.

Starts collapsing and clinging together . . .

And suddenly, you have pure butter and
old fashioned buttermilk!

Pour it into a collander (I got this one for $1
at the dollar store) . . .

Unworked butter (still needs residual buttermilk
wicked out or it will have a slightly sour smell)

Push the butter around for a minute or two until
no more buttermilk squeezes out . . .

Press into a mold . . .

New batch ready to stick into freezer. Once frozen,
I'll remove from mold, cut in half, wrap, & put in
freezer until needed.
So Rockin' Cool.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peak - a - Boo

Interesting to see this kind of article in the mainstream news:

Oil Production to Peak in 2014, Scientists Predict

More and more I see topics that used to be relegated only to conspiracy theorists showing up through more “credible” sources like the Wall Street Journal, AP, Reuters, etc.

I have no idea if the scientist’s predictions in this case are correct, but it would sure seem to me that regardless of the specific date, sooner or later we will reach that “peak oil” plateau. And just for the record, very few scientists seem to be proposing that it will be “later”.

Most people, when thinking about a contracting oil supply, tend to focus on rising gasoline prices. It's viewed more as an annoyance and a personal financial burden than anything else.

Rising gas prices would certainly be one effect, but they would only represent the very tip of a what is actually an extremely large iceberg.

Think about how you live your life now and compare it to what life was like just 100 years ago. (Do a little Googling into history for photographs & descriptions if you need to.) What you will see is that up until the beginning of the 1900’s, the way people lived didn’t really change all that much from one century to the next. There were improvements to be sure, but they were all generally very small and incremental.

And then suddenly, just a little more than a century ago . . . Boom. Everything changes, with incredible speed.

Our entire way of life today – from interchangeable parts and the industrial revolution, to plastics and electronics, to transportation, to food production, to heating, to manufacturing – is all based on oil. If it’s not made of petroleum it was made with petroleum and transported by petroleum.

It’s all possible because of oil. It is all completely dependant on oil. And if – or maybe more appropriately when – oil isn’t available anymore?

Well now. That's something to think about, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why I Believe in God: Part II - Pascal's Wager

(to read Part I click here)

Back in the late 1980’s my brother and I had an in-depth discussion in my sister’s kitchen one day. The topic: Did God exist or not? I must have been 23 or so, because I’m four years older than my brother and he was in college at the time.

It was not an antagonistic conversation, but it was most certainly a debate; I was making the case for the existence of God, while my brother – who was a philosophy student – was taking the opposite stance.

(Some might question at this point which “god” I’m referring to; there are, after all, more than a few to choose from. At this point, simply understanding God as a “higher power” (i.e., the antithesis of evolutionary doctrine) will suffice. Explaining why I believe in the Christian God of Abraham as opposed to others is another discussion entirely, though there is certainly a reason for that too.)

As we went back and forth, each presenting our “evidence” for or against the existence of God, I wound up stumbling upon (and verbalizing in my argument) a realization that I have never forgotten: There either is a God or there isn’t, and you either believe in Him or you don’t.

I’ve always thought of this in my mind as the “Four Outcomes”, because it lays the groundwork for understanding that there are only four possible paths – and therefore only four possible “outcomes” – that are open to us.

Outcome #1: God does NOT exist / You do NOT believe in God.
If you are an atheist, this would be the outcome that justifies your existence. The big “win”, if you will. You were right all along. But it’s an interesting “win” if you dig into it a little.

First of all, you would never even know that you were right. Upon your death, consciousness would abruptly end and you would simply cease to exist. No thoughts, no realizations, no “I told you so”. Certainly no parades or celebrations. You would never even know.

And before that, what kind of life would you have “knowing” that there is no God? “Knowing” that when someone that you love dies, that’s it for them; too bad, so sad, they’re simply gone? “Knowing” that you are completely alone, with no one to talk to, no one to listen, and no one to help? Your life is an accident, and it has absolutely no meaning or purpose whatsoever.

And hope? Hope in what? It’s just you. Hope for what? There is nothing else.

It’s important to know that if you are an atheist, this is the best case scenario for you. This is as good as it will ever get; your “value proposition” for denying God, if you will. And this is what you’re telling other people that they should want as well.

I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sound all that good to me, especially when you consider the alternative . . .

Outcome #2: God DOES exist / You do NOT believe in God.
I don’t think there needs to be a whole lot of elaboration here. As before, your life would be just as meaningless and hopeless as if God did not exist, only this time, the end of it would be very different.

You wouldn’t just “fade away” into nothingness at your death; instead, you would have thoughts, you would have realizations, and you would understand that you were terribly, terribly wrong.

Not a situation I wish upon anyone.

Outcome #3: God DOES exist / You DO believe in God.
Again, not a lot of elaboration is necessary. If you’ve ever been to church, you’ve heard the message: no more tears, no more pain, just an eternity in heaven.

Outcome #4: God does NOT exist / You DO believe in God.
This one is a little more interesting, and it is the scenario that a lot of atheists seem to get very upset about; that people would believe in a God that does not exist. How foolish and silly. But look a little closer.

Again, just as in the “best case” for an atheist, if God does not exist, I would never even know. I’ll go through my life believing in God, and then, when I die, I would simply cease to be. I’d never know that I was wrong.

But before then, what a difference! A life filled with meaning, purpose, and hope. Facing my own mortality without fear. “Knowing” that when someone I love dies it is not the end, and being able to hold that hope in my heart for the rest of my life. “Knowing” that I am not alone; that there is someone watching over me, listening to my pleas, and helping me when necessary.

“Knowing” that I am loved in this world.

I have to ask, even if it turns out that I’m deluding myself, so what? Why should that bother anyone?

What’s interesting to me too, is that this would be the worst case scenario for a Christian, and yet, it seems to me that it is a far better outcome than the best case scenario for an atheist.

And, of course, all of this assumes that I'm wrong, which I don't believe I am.

This was all pretty deep stuff for me back in my early twenties, and I’ve carried it around in the years since thinking that I was pretty wise for being able to lay it all out like that. But you know what they say about pride, and as you might imagine, I eventually wound up eating a couple slices of humble pie when I discovered several years ago that – big surprise – I was not the first person in the history of the world to unearth this concept.

Solomon wrote that there is nothing new under the sun, so it wasn’t really a big shock for me to find out that Blaise Pascal outlined the same thing in almost the exact same way back in the 1600’s (and undoubtedly so did many others before him). The concept is commonly known as “Pascal’s Wager”, and there are some very interesting viewpoints & discussions on it if you should choose to run it through a search engine.

And if you do read some of the commentary about Pascal’s Wager, you’ll eventually see (roughly) the same “fatal flaw” that my brother made to me over 20 years ago in my sister’s kitchen: You can’t just decide to believe in God the same way that you would make a business decision.

My brother was absolutely right. Belief is not something that you can turn on or off with the flick of a switch. But if that’s true, then why even mention this at all, whether you call it “Four Outcomes” or “Pascal’s Wager” or anything else?

In and of itself, Pascal’s Wager proves nothing. It’s not a foundation to build anything on. It won’t make you believe or disbelieve anything.

But for me it was incredibly important because it was the first time I realized what the “playing field” looked like, and I was able to understand with all clarity that there are not an infinite number of possibilities available to us.

There are only four: There either is a God or there isn’t, and you either believe in Him or you don’t.

Once I understood how simple the playing field was, the search for the truth became a whole lot easier.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. – Matthew 7:7
(to read Part III, click here)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I Believe in God: Part I - Introduction

One of the things that I’ve struggled with on this blog is what to write about.

In the beginning, my main purpose was to use it as a means to help market the books I had written. Over the past few years, I’ve made more than a few posts relating to What So Proudly We Hailed, especially in instances where I’ve seen the reality of the world following the fiction of the story. I’ve also posted half a dozen or so of the stories from Finding Liberty to give people an idea of its subject matter and style.

To date, I’ve witnessed no “Harry Potter” type of mass hysteria for either book, but that’s okay; while hopeful, I wasn’t really expecting that anyway.

But the blog remained. What to do with it? What to write?

At first, I tried to differentiate myself from the approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000 or so other blogs on the web. Right.

I tried posting funny stuff. Nothing.
I tried some “thoughtful” posts. Nothing.
Political: Nothing.
Historical: Nothing.
Etc., etc., etc.,: Nothing, nothing, nothing.

This eventually led me to ask myself, “Why do I bother doing this at all?” It’s not like my “fame” & “renown” is growing (15 to 20 hits a day has been about the average), I don’t make any money from doing it, I’m certainly not saying anything that can’t be found on more credible sites, and – as previously stated – it’s not driving the sale of my books.

So, other than being a questionable use of time and maybe even becoming something of a burden, what was the point?

I settled on the answer of continuing to post simply because I like to write. I like to think, I like to speculate, and I like to ask questions, and writing posts has helped me to do that in a concrete, visible way. For myself.

If I had – or have – any other agenda to my writing, it would simply be that maybe, just maybe, I could encourage someone else to look at a particular topic in a way that they never had before. To question conventional wisdom, shun the “experts” of the world, and think about things for themselves and, subsequently, arrive at their own conclusions.

There is an unbelievable freedom in thinking for yourself. That much I know without a doubt. But I would also suggest that it doesn’t even make any difference what it is that you think about; even if you’re wrong, you’re still right, because in your mind, whatever answer you arrived at is the correct one.

It’s what you believe. It’s yours. It belongs to you, and no one can take it away without your consent.

One of the “answers” that belongs to me is the fact that I believe in God.

I know that puzzles some people. Makes them angry in some cases. After all, “God” is nothing more than a fairy tale for the ignorant, right? Haven’t we settled this already?

How could I be so archaic in my thinking? How could I ignore the “preponderance of scientific evidence” that supports evolution? How could any reasonable, educated, intelligent person – humor me here – actually believe in God?

Those are good questions. They deserve answers. And I’m going to try to answer them, because I know that there are a lot of my friends (and some of my family) who think I’m just being simple. That I walked into a frenzied church service one morning and left as just another brainwashed, hand-waving basket case.

I can see how some people might think that, but, in my case at least, it’s just not true. I have real reasons. I’ve given it real thought. I have real life experiences. I was told that the “debate” was over; I simply decided to open it back up again and take a look for myself. I’m like that sometimes.

So if you care to know, I’m going to share with you why I believe in God. It will take awhile, because there’s a lot to it, but my plan is to add posts over the next few weeks (or months), providing as much explanation as I can put into words.

Why would I do that, and, more importantly, why would you care?

First of all, understand why I’m not doing it; I’m not doing it to change anyone’s mind. If you don’t believe in God, that’s fine. I respect that. I’m not evangelical; it’s not my job – nor is it in my power – to make someone believe in God.

Christians may be shocked at that statement; “What about the great commission?”

What about it?

If you’re already familiar with God and the story of Jesus then the purpose of the Great Commission – spreading the word – has been satisfied. The way I read it, there is nothing in the Great Commission about “convincing” people to believe in Jesus Christ; just making them aware of Him.

I think the fact that Jesus Himself did nothing to “convince” people bears that out. When He sent out the disciples to spread the word, He told them that if people didn’t want to listen, the disciples were to shake the dust from their feet, leave town, and go find people who did want to listen. Not a word about staying around and preaching until people were badgered into submission.

So if you already know about Jesus Christ and choose not to believe, then that’s your decision.

My purpose then in doing this is simply to let you know why I believe in God, because I have real reasons and I don’t think most people understand what they are. Interestingly enough, I’ve never had anyone - Christian or Atheist - ever ask me why I believe in God. I find that very odd.

And I think it’s important that you understand why I believe in God, because I can absolutely understand why you may not. I grew up in the same public school system. I see the same TV shows, commercials, and movies. I read the same news articles. I hear the same disembodied voice on the Discovery Channel.

I was – and continue to be – inundated with the same continuous barrage of evolutionistic messages that serve to reinforce the concept as everyone else. I just see them differently.

I feel the ridicule and condescension of non-believers, but I choose to ignore it.

I see the hypocrisy of so many people who wear the label of “Christian”, but I try to let my own life be an example of my faith since that’s the only thing I have any amount of control over anyway.

I am well aware that “religion” can be – and often is – used as a self-serving tool for control, power, and wealth, but I focus on what it should be rather than what mankind has turned it into.

My question is: Are you curious as to why?

If so, check back from time to time and I’ll tell you. I can’t promise any sort of time frame, but I will eventually put it all down in words. If you're not interested, that’s okay too. Just skip anything you see that has “Why I Believe in God” in the title.

Comments along the way will be welcome, but please remember: I’m not trying to convince you that God exists, so please return the favor by not trying to convince me that He doesn’t. It would be a waste of your time anyway.

(to ready Part II, click here)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Funny Money

Over the past year there has been a lot of saber rattling by various states over states rights. Here’s an interesting concept out of South Carolina, a place where a lot of interesting things have come from in the past year:

South Carolina Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Federal Currency

"South Carolina Rep. Mike Pitts has introduced legislation that would mandate that gold and silver coins replace federal currency as legal tender in his state."

The article points out two problems with his legislation:

"As one expert told the Scoop, however, his bill would likely be ruled unconstitutional because it 'violates a perfectly legal and Constitutional federal law, enacted pursuant to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, that federal reserve notes are legal tender for all debts public and private.'"

They are legal tender, but by the U.S. Treasury’s own admission, you don’t have to accept them:

Question: I thought that United States currency was legal tender for all debts. Some businesses or governmental agencies say that they will only accept checks, money orders or credit cards as payment, and others will only accept currency notes in denominations of $20 or smaller. Isn't this illegal?

Answer: The pertinent portion of law that applies to your question is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled "Legal tender," which states: "United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues."
This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

That’s why, as one of our (very) small local businessmen here in Casey County found out recently, Frito-Lay was perfectly within their rights when they told him that they would no longer accept cash or checks starting in January of this year. This particular businessman is now faced with either setting up electronic payments with Frito-Lay (which he has no desire to do) or simply walking away from using them as a vendor.

So if a business can dictate the terms of how they will accept payment – including the mandated use of tokens, bus passes, or electronic payment – what would be so wrong about using silver and gold, other than the fact that the Federal Reserve vehemently does not want us to?

The article goes on to say:

"In addition, since gold and silver regularly fluctuate in value, they could not easily function as stable currency."

Okay, do I really need a reference for this one? I mean, c’mon; that statement is so ridiculous I have a hard time believing that it’s being passed off as a serious comment. Since when does the dollar not fluctuated in value?

Interestingly, the following article also came out recently. This one is a complete satire from “The Onion”, but while it is absolutely hilarious, I'll leave you to tell me how much of it is conceptually wrong.

U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion

I thought it was a pretty sad day when I realized that “The Daily Show” was the most unbiased news source on television. How much more so when we now see that the entire U.S. monetary policy has been nailed down tight by "The Onion”?

At least we can laugh about it. For now at least.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Greecing the Skids

When we think of money, our minds automatically conjure up images of paper bills with presidents on them, and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the loose change of quarters, nickels, and dimes.

Strange that we think that way, because how much do we even use those things anymore? Other than a newspaper here and a soft drink there and maybe a couple of dollars at a garage sale, I would suggest that our reliance on actually currency – the kind you can hold in your hand or jingle in your pocket – is virtually non-existent.

Think about this for a second: In today’s world of checks, debit & credit cards, Paypal, direct deposit, and online payments, it is 100% possible to live your life without ever touching any actual money at all.


I can readily admit that I rarely ever carry cash myself, other than a few dollars that I keep on hand for “emergencies”.

It might give us pause to wonder, do we even need cash anymore?

December 22, 2009:
National Irish moves to cashless banking

National Irish Bank has written to thousands of its customers this month informing them of a “new style of banking” in which branches will not handle over-the-counter cash transactions.

The letter says branches will no longer handle cash withdrawals and lodgements, night safe lodgements and foreign currency cash. Branches will continue to lodge cheques, drafts and postal orders and issue drafts.

February 9, 2010:
HIGHLIGHTS-Greek FinMin unveils tax reform, wage policy

"From 1. Jan. 2011, every transaction above 1,500 euros between natural persons and businesses, or between businesses, will not be considered legal if it is done in cash. Transactions will have to be done through debit or credit cards"

July 4, 2021:
United States Outlaws Use of Hard Currency (from the novel What So Proudly We Hailed)

In the past, whenever two people wanted to make a transaction, they agreed on a price and money was exchanged for goods or services. The entire event was contained solely between the two people involved.

When a transaction was made electronically, however, there were actually three parties involved; the buyer, the seller, and a middleman who transferred funds from one account to another.

No one doubted the convenience or safety of electronic transactions because they were easy, and it was much safer than carrying cash, but no one had ever questioned the role of the “middleman” either, or more specifically, the power that the middleman had to decide whether the transaction should occur at all.

Of course, those “middlemen” had always held a rather benevolent position in the past. They didn’t cause problems because they wanted us to use their services, and they knew we had the option to forego them entirely and just use cash instead if they made things difficult for us.

But that was just it; we didn’t have the option of cash anymore.

Every transaction was now required to go through that middleman, which gave them the final authority to approve or disapprove as they saw fit. The power to buy or sell had been taken away from the actual buyer & seller, and transferred instead to these unknown, unseen middlemen.

And the funny things is, that power? That unbelievable power? We had just given it to them.

Not so funny, was that they now began to use it. Who was going to stop them?

You're right. Probably never happen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sweet Nothings

So here is a news story from what I would guess would be considered a “reliable” source (Reuters):

Study links sugary soft drinks to pancreas cancer

The conclusions from the article are right upfront:

* Regular soda drinkers had 87 percent higher risk
* Theory is that sugar fuels tumors

The substance behind the conclusions starts with:

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - People who drink two or more sweetened soft drinks a week have a much higher risk of pancreatic cancer, an unusual but deadly cancer, researchers reported on Monday.


"The high levels of sugar in soft drinks may be increasing the level of insulin in the body, which we think contributes to pancreatic cancer cell growth," Pereira said in a statement.

And finally, in conclusion:

One 12-ounce (355 ml) can of non-diet soda contains about 130 calories, almost all of them from sugar.

The rest of the article was filler material (both literally and figuratively), but please feel free to read it if you like; it’s not very long.

I counted the word “sugar” used a total of 6 times in the article (if you include the title), and although the article does not claim that the conclusions of the study are definitive, it certainly implies that “sugar” should be considered a dangerous substance.

But here's the funny thing:
Soft drinks do not contain sugar.

Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself. Read the label.

With very few exceptions - and I mean very few - regular soft drinks are sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - not sugar - and diet soft drinks, of course, use aspartame almost exclusively.

Interesting that they didn't mention that. Just an oversight perhaps?

I’m no detective, but I’m a little hard-pressed to understand how sugar can be blamed as the villain when it wasn’t even at the scene of the crime.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beat Me Up, Scotty

Just when you think you’ve scraped the bottom of the stupid barrel, you discover there is a secret compartment underneath whose depths are as of yet unknown.

If you lift the lid to this compartment and plunge your hands beneath the oily surface, you might pull out something like this:

Studies Reveal Why Kids Get Bullied and Rejected

I’ll spare you all of the touchy-feely-zen tripe from the end of the article; mercifully, the “money shot” is right upfront:

Kids who get bullied and snubbed by peers may be more likely to have problems in other parts of their lives, past studies have shown. And now researchers have found at least three factors in a child's behavior that can lead to social rejection.

The factors involve a child's inability to pick up on and respond to nonverbal cues from their pals.

What they’re saying – and the rest of the article bears this out if you don’t believe me – is that if a child is being bullied, it is their fault because their “social skills” are not up to par.

Makes perfect sense to me. Remembering times when I was bullied as a child I can now realize that it was the fact that I was walking home from school on the sidewalk minding my own business that earn those kicks and blows.

I’m sure rape victims will now be able to understand – if they think about it with an open mind – that they did indeed “ask for it”.

And the kid whose drunk father beats him with a stick is not only guilty of inspiring that wrath, but he’s also probably to blame for why his father is a drunk in the first place, having not provided him with sufficient pleasure to remain sober.

I remember the first time I read “1984” and saw those three ridiculous slogans “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”. They make no sense at all, I thought; how could the people in Orwell’s fictional world “buy-in” to them without a second thought? Surely in the “real world” the lines of truth and fiction could never become so blurred.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

You were a child once; you lived in that world where children were left to their own devices and allowed to shape their faux society as they saw fit. What do you think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lord of the Flies

It’s pretty sad when you have to leave your own country to get away from a government that insists on intruding into your private life. There may come a day when there’s nowhere left to run, but for today I can not only say “Yeah!”, but I can say “Yeah!” to a judge.

US judge grants German homeschooling family asylum

If you’re not up to speed on homeschooling, Germany has been turning the screws on any type of education other than state education for years, hence the problem for the referenced family.

What’s really amazing are the statements in the article made from a state school representative, which range from the ridiculous to the hypocritical. It amazes me that someone could make these statements with a straight face:

"The [public] school is an embryonic democracy and will help to integrate children and young people coming from different backgrounds into the democratic culture," he said.

Embryonic democracy? Are you kidding me? It’s government approved “Lord of the Flies” in a controlled laboratory setting.

If you want an honest appraisal of the public school system, I refer you to one of my absolute favorite articles on the subject, “Why Nerds are Unpopular”, by Paul Graham.

Integration into democracy and learning to get along with those who hold opposing opinions are important skills that children cannot learn when homeschooled, Bruegelmann said, and that is especially true with highly religious parents.

WHAT!?! I’m sorry, but that really burns me, both for the “cannot” and the “especially true” parts. It is an absolute, unequivocal, 100% false statement. All you have to do is look at the “product” being pumped out of the public school system to see the fallacy of this statement.

"They should not have the right to indoctrinate their children," he said. "It's important for children, besides the experience they make at home, which is respected, to have access to other sources of understanding the world."

Ah! So here is the actual crux of the matter! The issue at hand is indoctrination – not education – and obviously, it is the state that should have the right to tell our children what to think, how to think, and when to think it.

Forgive me if I abstain.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Investing or Infesting?

According to a recent Bloomberg poll, 77% of U.S. investors see President Obama as “anti-business”. (Source)


According to the article, it’s because of his “efforts to trim bonuses and earnings, make health care his top priority over jobs and plans to tax ‘the rich or advantaged’”, and the fact that he “has been in a “constant war” with the banking system, using ‘fat-cat bankers’ and other misnomers to describe a business model which supports a large portion of America.”

Should we be concerned about the views of this 77%? Well, yes and no.

Certainly investors are essentially to capitalism. They are needed.

If, for example, I had a great business idea that I wanted to put into action, I would need money to start it, and odds are that I wouldn’t be able to come up with the money by myself. Finding someone who shared my vision and would invest some of their own money to help start it would be the only way for me to get my business off the ground.

If my enterprise is successful, the investor is rewarded for their risk by sharing in that success. If it’s a failure, they share that too. Fair enough.

The question I have to ask though, is at what point has the investor been fully compensated for their investment? Is there a point at which their investment has been repaid in full, or is the investor entitled to continue to make money from my labor in perpetuity?

If you buy a house with a 30-year mortgage, for instance, some entity has essentially “invested” in you to allow you to purchase the house. They’re taking a risk in lending you the money with your promise to pay it back. The interest that you pay is that entity’s reward for taking the risk.

As a general rule of thumb, by the time you finish paying back the loan over that 30-year period, you will have paid 3 times the actual purchase price of the house. So if your home cost $150,000, you will actually pay roughly $450,000 for it by the time the smoke clears, with $300,000 of that being free & clear profit to the lender.

I would think that tripling your money on a single investment would be more than a reasonable return, especially when you consider that the lender isn’t actually doing anything except cashing checks. Whether you consider a 3x profit to be fair or not, the point here is that there is an endpoint to the profit taking.

With Wall Street investing, however, there is no endpoint. “Investors” are invited to attach themselves like a remora to a business and ride it forever if they so choose. They add no value to the business; they do no work. They merely make a profit from the labor, ideas, and initiative of others, and in doing so they deny those same profits to the ones who have actually earned them.

Certainly the investment of their money is essential. Certainly they should be rewarded for the risk when their gambles pay off, just as they should be liable for the loss when it doesn’t.

But should their rewards be allowed to go on forever, or should there be a point where the rewards shift to the people doing the actual work instead?

I believe that this is the underlying cause of dissent from that 77% of investors – they are simply unhappy that there might be limits placed on their profit taking.

Should we care?

I don’t think so. It would only matter if they suddenly stopped investing entirely, but I don’t think they will. Like spoiled children they’ll be unhappy that they can’t make as much, but they’ll still invest, because money for nothing is still money for nothing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 1

Yesterday, January 20th, was the first time in over 20 years that the earth made a complete rotation on its axis without me smoking a cigarette.

I’ve smoked for just over 30 years. There have been 2 occasions when I’ve gone a week or more without a cigarette – instances in the Navy when I found myself in situations where they were simply not accessible – but they both occurred back in the 1980’s, and both were involuntary.

When I started smoking at age 13, cigarettes were 55 cents a pack; today, they are $3 to $4 (or more) a pack. Over my lifetime, I figure I’ve given Phillip Morris & R.J. Reynolds somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000.

At 2 packs a day, I estimate I’ve smoked approximately 440,000 cigarettes. If laid end to end on the ground, that would stretch out over 20 miles.

Through the years I’ve heard countless pleas from my children to quit, and I’ve callously ignored the fear I saw in their little eyes just as many times. I’ve put unnecessary strain on my family’s finances to support my habit. I’ve made my wife endure the smell I wore daily on my clothes and on my breath.

And I’ve witnessed children die of cancer before age 10 through no fault of their own, while I arrogantly continued to pump toxins into a perfectly healthy body that they would never be able to have.

The earth has rotated 10,950 times since I started smoking. In light of that, 1 revolution doesn’t seem like very much, and it’s not. But the earth is still spinning.

Here’s going for 2.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Shot Across the Bow

Last night the people of Massachusetts – without a doubt one of the most liberal states in the country – did something that is almost unthinkable; they elected a Republican to fill the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy.

A quick perusal of Facebook shows that my “Democrat” friends are shocked, dismayed, and feeling as if the everything right in the world has suddenly gone sour. My “Republican” friends – as might be expected – are delighted, happy, and popping the corks in anticipation of even more “good news” in November.

For myself, I’m very encouraged by the results of last night’s election, but not because I’m happy that a “Republican” won; I have no more faith in the label of “Republican” than that of “Democrat”, and I don’t associate myself with either.

I’m encouraged because maybe, just maybe, the people of Massachusetts are seeing beyond the “Us” vs. “Them” mentality that our 2-party system has devolved into.

Forget about “Democrats” & “Republicans”. Back away from the “liberal” & “conservative” labels. Don’t get caught up in the political sideshow of “everything we do is right and everything they do is wrong”. None of that has anything to do with the underlying problem.

I think last night’s election was a clear message from the people of Massachusetts, not to any particular party, but to the United States government as a whole.

The message is this: “We told you we wanted things to be done differently, and you’re not listening to us.”

Nice shot, Massachusetts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Heroes in the Mist

For the past few months, we’ve had a homeless woman living on the streets of Liberty. That may be no big deal for most cities, but for a small town like us with a population of about 1,800, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

I don’t know this woman’s story. I do know that she is from Casey County, that she graduated from high school here years ago, that she has resisted help from the community on several occasions, and that she has been arrested a couple of times, but that’s about it. I’ve heard she may have some mental problems, but I don’t know. I’m guessing that she’s in her forties or fifties.

This past Monday morning I was told that a local “Good Samaritan” had put her up in our local motel for the weekend because of the extremely cold temperatures, but that they weren’t financially capable of continuing. The woman was due to be back on the street Monday afternoon facing an entire week where the “high” temperatures weren’t expected to get out of the 20’s, and lows at night down into the low teens & single digits.

I was asked, as the director of the local Chamber of Commerce here, if I could talk with the folks at our local motel and see if they could grant a reduced rate if we could get volunteers to help "sponsor" one night each of a week's stay, which would get her past the worst of the cold spell.

This request really didn’t have anything to do with the Chamber of Commerce, and in truth, it almost slipped my mind to follow up on it, but I drove down to the motel and spoke to the manager. I explained what we were trying to do, and he agreed without hesitation to cut his daily rate by 25% if we booked a room for the whole week.

Just after lunch on Monday I wrote a brief email to the folks on my mailing list requesting help. The message was pretty simple: $30 bucks and the woman gets to sleep inside for the night. I needed 6 volunteers. (I had already decided to pick up one of the nights myself).

I pushed “send” and went to get a cup of coffee. I couldn’t have been gone 2 minutes. When I got back, over ten people had already responded, and more were coming in even as I watched.

It was like a wave:
“I’m in.”
“I have $60 for two nights.”
“Where do I send the money?”
“Put me down for a night.”
“Does she need food? Clothes?”
“Our business would like to do three nights.”

And on and on and on.

I immediately sent out another email telling everyone that we were covered for the week, but that didn’t stop people from responding. I continued to get calls and emails from people wanting to help for the rest of the day and on into Tuesday. It’s strange to find yourself in a position where you are telling people that you don’t need their help, but that’s where I was.

Some people where genuinely upset and hurt that I was telling them they couldn’t give money to help out. Others simply ignored me and sent in money anyway. Cash was dropped off anonymously at my office. One lady who had committed $30 brought in $150. Like that.

Currently, our homeless woman is booked into our local motel until next Monday. Good thing too, as it was 12 degrees this morning. Our local leaders are working to come up with a more permanent solution for her, but in the meantime, I have a surplus of cash in my desk in case we need to put her up longer.

And I know where to get more if I need it. All I have to do is ask.

You need to understand; None of these people have any obligation to take care of this woman, and Casey County is a not a rich community. I can’t think of a single person living here who drives a Lexus. Over 20% of our population lives below the poverty line, and 10% live below half of the poverty line. Not a lot of “bling” around here unless that description includes rolls of hay.

And many of the small-town rural stereotypes certainly apply to us: We gossip a good bit. We’re too nosy. We certainly can be a little backwards, simple, petty, self-righteous, opinionated, and judgmental at times. All that may be true.

But nobody’s going to freeze to death on our streets.