Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm not an economist and I don't play one on television. I never had an economics course in college. I am reasonably bright and thoughtful and I'm very good at looking at issues from every side, including the ones with which I don't agree. I'm also very good at realizing that things are rarely if ever simple and that complicated issues usually don't have simple solutions. All that said, there are multiple issues in the current economic discussions that strike me as stupid.

A couple of assumptions. I believe in taxes. They are part of the social contract. If you don't want to pay taxes you have two options... lower your income to the point that you drop below the threshold or move someplace like Somalia.

I believe in government. There are some things that the free market cannot or will not do that must be done. There are some things that non-profits and religious organizations cannot do that must be done. Civil society requires a strong and active central government.

Nobody does it all on their own. We all stand on the shoulders f someone who stood on the shoulders of someone who stood on the shoulders... and because of that we all have a responsibility to maintain the larger system for those who come after us.


1. The argument goes that if we tax wealthy folk, they will not invest and if they do not invest, we will not have new jobs. Let's think about that one for a second. If someone makes an investment, they get a tax deduction for that investment. So, doesn't it follow that a higher tax rate encourages investment? After all, why give the money to the government when you can do something positive with it? On the other hand, if there is no tax incentive to invest, why take the risk? It makes sense to me that higher tax rates encourage rather than discourage investment. And that is before we look at the raw data. W dropped taxes on the wealthy to an historic low and we lost rather than increased jobs. The times when we had significantly more economic growth all had significantly higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. The higher rates then increase revenue in two ways. If the wealthy do not invest, they pay higher taxes. If they do invest, the tax rolls increase as jobs are created.

2. Debt reduction/government austerity seems to me to be a stupid plan when the economy is so weak. Take 20 million dollars out of the economy tomorrow and what happens? Everything falls a little lower. Low and middle class folk tend to be money in, money out folk. They spend their income because they have to and that feeds the economy. They purchase clothing or food and that creates or sustains jobs for other folk who then spend their income and it goes around and around. Cut unemployment or aid to poor families and the cycle stops. Let's look more long term. Cut student Pell Grants and other student aid and some students will not be able to go to college. 4 years later, we see a significant drop in capability of the work force and we all pay for that. Let the infrastructure continue to fall apart and moving goods costs more which raises prices which causes everything to slow down more and that spiral goes down. Laying off government workers adds to the unemployment roles and decreases economic productivity rather than increasing it.

3. Healthcare costs are central to the debt discussion. We have the highest costs in the world but by no means the best results. Many studies have suggested fixes but none will be easy and politics rather than economics or health are the problems. S+We need someone with cajones to look at long term real solutions.

4. The military. Nobody is going to suggest that we dismantle our military superiority... but we don't need to fund an empire. End the wars. Close the bases all around the world and bring those folk home. Then put them to work rebuilding America. Engage the companies that are building weaponry to build green technologies and come up with ways to reduce dependance on oil so we can defund the Middle East's terror machine. Finally build a national Peace Academy that studies how we promote peace, justice, & development. How many War Colleges do we have? Doesn't it make sense from a security standpoint to put some of our best minds to the study of what makes for peace? Take a percentage of the money we spent supporting an empire and use it for foreign aid. Build schools, especially for girls. Support infrastructure, education, and industry in the developing world.

5. Entitlements? As for Social Security? I'd raise the maximum income on which the tax applies so the tax is not so regressive.

Medicare? Remove the constraints that support big pharma and learn from places where Medicare costs are lower (Minnesota for example) and duplicate those ideas in places where costs are higher (Texas). The problems are systemic and shifting the costs to the elderly and the poor is not an acceptable or workable solution.

6. Get realistic in the discussions. Again and again we hear politicians saying that we should run the government like a family and every family has to have a balanced budget. First off, I don't know any families that do not borrow. We have mortgages. We have car loans. We have credit cards. Second, I don't know any family that defunds basic needs. If my wife is diagnosed with a serious illness... I'll borrow to get her treatment. Yes, I may/will forego some purchases and choices but I would not stop basic needs. I would not decide to stop eating because I have to pay medical costs. And if there were any way possible, I would not decide to stop medical treatments so I could pay to eat. I would borrow as much as I possibly could.

The entire discussion of a balanced budget amendment is just stupid. Imagine if there had been such an amendment during WWII. "Sorry, we can't invade Europe... there isn't any money."

So... my solution to the current mess... First, a government jobs program. Get unemployed folk out there working to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Reduce rather than increase costs for education so that we can actually compete on a global scale. Spend more rather than cut. Increase taxes on the wealthy and remove loopholes for corporations while at the same time increasing tax benefits for investments that either create jobs or rebuild infrastructure. Reduce military expenditures and put those funds in productive areas.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

look... a chin!

I shaved my beard and mustache last night. This morning when I shaved my entire chin, lip, and neck, I remembered why I hate shaving so much...

so why did I do it? I was tired of the beard and mustache and wanted a different look. Women can change their hair in radical ways and still fit in. They can change color. I've been married to a brunette, a red head, and a blond. They can change length. I've been married to a woman with waist length hair and every other length down to about 2 inches long. They can do radically different styles. I've been married to a woman with straight hair, curly hair, layered hair... you get the picture. All of that still fell in the mainstream and never got a second look other than the one that said, "what beautiful hair."

Men don't have as many options. Some men do color their hair, often to cover gray, but Just for Men still gets looks, especially in the business world. More radical colors just don't happen in men out of their mid twenties who work somewhere other than the entertainment business. There also isn't a lot of leeway in choice of styles especially when you are no longer, "young." I can go a little shorter or a little longer but not much in either direction before it is less "respectable." A well trimmed beard or mustache is allowable in most circles but they can't be too long, thick, or unruly without being pigeon-holed as a biker, an eccentric, or an outsider, each with its attendant expectations and stereotypes.

I've had the beard and mustache for about 6 years this time. I grew them because I was tired of shaving and wanted a change. I've been thinking about removing them for a few months. It wasn't that I wanted to change back... I just wanted something new. We'll see how long this lasts. And guess what... I do have a chin! Photos coming

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Multiple Religions

I mentioned Rachel Held Evan's blog the other day... yesterday she posted an interview with a friend of hers who is an Orthodox Jew. It is a fascinating read... Often the questions were formulated like "What do Jews think about..." and answered, "Jews think..." or "the majority of Jews think..." I commented that the answers may have been representative of Orthodox Jews but readers needed to be aware that answers from Conservative and Reformed Jews, let alone secular Jews, might be radically different. The woman who was interviewed responded, "The vast majority of Orthodox Judaism consider Reform and Conservative to be a different religion."

My first reaction was WHOA!!! and all of the hairs n the back of my neck went up. How many times I've been written off as not really being a Christian because I don't agree that TULIP is an adequate or accurate condensation of the Christian faith or disagree with what someone else feels is required in a statement of faith. Then I thought about the answer... clearly it is accurate. The way that many Reformed Jews and Conservative Jews understand their faith is so radically different from what this woman described that they may easily be seen as separate religions. That got me thinking about an experience I had a few years ago and think I shared here but couldn't find so here it is again.

I was flying someplace by myself and ended up seated next to a young woman. It was the time when the Episcopal Church was fighting about Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, to the position of Bishop. Whatever I was reading led her to ask me what I thought of ordaining an openly gay, non-celibate man as a Bishop. I told her I thought his orientation was irrelevant to the question and we had an interesting discussion. It turned out she was an Orthodox Presbyterian. To put the highlights in a nutshell, she told me that her brother is gay, God created her brother that way, and that God would condemn him to hell for being gay. The potter can create a pot for whatever use the potter chooses... Obviously, I was aghast at her theological construct. We talked for a bit and she observed, "we worship two very different Gods." She was correct. She might have also observed that we practice two different religions... even though both are called or, at least, call themselves "Christianity."

I've raised the question of definitions before. I still don't have any good answers but the questions still remain. Who is the real Jew, Christian, Baptist, Muslim, American, whatever? Who gets to define the term? And, perhaps, most important of all, when terms are used with such radically different definitions, how do we ensure that we are understood or understand?

Monday, July 18, 2011

a radical benediction

I came across this Fourfold Franciscan Blessing today at Experimental Theology and love it...

here it is
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

thanks for sharing it Richard.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I regularly read Rachel Held Evans blog and follow her on twitter. The other day she called a prominent pastor on the carpet for behavior that was anything but Christlike. I think she was right on target with her criticism but that isn't what really caught my attention. In her critique, she cited a couple of sources outside of the conservative Christian media. She was criticized for citing unbelievers and the message was that anything said by an unbeliever was by definition untrue and unworthy of consideration, especially if it was criticizing someone in the Church. It is a fairly typical argument in parts of the evangelical community.

Truth is truth is truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from. 2 + 2 doesn't cease to equal 4 because a serial killer tells us it is so. And 2 + 2 doesn't equal 5 just because a prominent preacher from a large and influential church tells us it does. I couldn't help but think of the story in Numbers 22:22-35 of Balaam and his donkey. Truth comes from unexpected places. The donkey saves Balaam's life and sees the "truth" of the situation. Now, I am not implying that the secular sources cited in the blogpost are equivalent to Balaam's donkey. Not in any way whatsoever. I am saying that if we ignore the truth that comes to us from a wide variety of sources, we do so at our own risk. In the case of the blogpost, to ignore the truth in the sources cited is just... stupid.

Monday, July 04, 2011

a religious test for president

Last week, Politico had an article that missed the point of the constitution. It begins with the statistic that 1 in 5 voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon. They then ask, "Doesn’t the Constitution say, in Article VI, 'No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States?'"

They miss the point. The article is referring to a legal test. Nobody can be excluded from running for president on the grounds of his or her religion or lack thereof. The article says nothing abut an individual's right to vote for whomever they want for any reason that is important to them. If I want to vote for someone just because they practice one religious tradition or against someone because they practice another, that is my right.

They also misunderstand religion. If an individual truly believes a given religion, we can expect that it will impact the way that individual would see and experience the world which must impact the way they govern. If I knew that someone running for president was a young earth, 6 day creationist Christian, I wouldn't need to know anything else to vote against them. That would tell me a great deal about the way they would approach education policies, scientific research, and likely even foreign policy. A religious system, if truly embraced, must impact the way a person sees and acts in the world. Therefore, it is fair game for an individual voter to consider. Likewise, it tells me something if an individual claims to hold a faith but also says it will not impact the decisions they make. Then I wonder what does inform that person's decision making.

Of course, in the United States the question of religion is always more complicated. Some years back, Martin Marty referred to the "baptistification of America" - the idea that each individual can construct his or her own faith system and that no outside authority can impose itself on the individual (or local congregation). That means that one can no longer assume that a Catholic agrees with what the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church says even though that system clearly expects individual believers to follow the teachings of the Church. In the US, just because an individual is a Mormon does not necessarily mean that they abide by the directives of the Mormon church. While this trend cannot be ignored, we still can expect that any given religious system will have an impact on the particular paradigms in which a person lives.

The bottom line though is that one can vote for a candidate for any reason the individual feels is important - the color of their hair, their educational background, where they grew up, or their religion.

Friday, July 01, 2011

what makes good music?

I've been thinking about this question for a few weeks. I read something while surfing a few weeks ago that cited a study done where brain activity was charted while people listened to music. They had a piece of classical music that was played perfectly, no mistakes or flubs of any kind. My guess is that it was played by some midi program. The brain activity was fairly flat. Then the same piece of music was played by a human being. There were no huge mistakes but it was anything but perfect. It included some notes that were a little early or late, maybe some pitch wasn't perfect. It also included emotion. The brain scans showed a lot more activity. Basically, the brains of the listeners were much more engaged with the imperfect renditions of the piece of music.

OK, I don't have the link and I'm not even 100% sure that the study was real or if real, reported accurately. Still, it rings true to me... I find human music much more engaging and players who play like midi computers don't impress me.

The second piece of the question goes back to our days in Albany when the Eighth Step ran a weekly open mic. It was a wonderful community. There were seasoned and touring pros who would show up and play new material they were readying for the road and there were rank beginners just learning. Sometimes the music was sublime. Other times, it was clearly the work of beginners. Everyone was affirmed and appreciated and encouraged to move further along their journey. There was none of the stereotypical, "I could do that better" that sometimes happens among musicians. There was no sense of competition. Instead, it was a wonderful and supportive community and the music was reflective of that. Alexis and I had similar feelings when we played at Songwriters at Play about a month ago.

So, where am I going with this? Music, "real" music, for me, is all about community and relationships. It need not be perfect. Indeed, when it is perfect, that probably indicates that something is not quite right about it (when have you ever experienced perfection in any of your relationships?). If you want perfect, hire a DJ or pop on a CD. If you want music, enjoy the warts, clams, and flubs and find the beautiful and sublime in the joy of creative relationships that reflect the souls of those making the music.