The Phoenix

Well, one of the last things I wrote on here was a sort of positional statement about trying to write from a less negative perspective — there’s an old Switchfoot song about “adding to the noise” that was kind of the unofficial anthem of that feeling. And I wrote that and tried to hash out how I could do it (in a very vague way) and then I got stuck.

But today’s a good day to start back. It’s been a long time, and I miss writing. Writing is great, and today was great too. Let me tell you what’s good in the world.

People. People are good (not in the theological sense — Back! Back you Calvinists!) but in another sense. Let’s not bother giving it a name or classification.

Today, I got to sleep in just a little bit, but I was still having kind of a rotten, lazy sort of day. I was just tired, but then all sorts of great things happened. I got a nice email from a co-worker when I got to work. Right before I headed to class too, and that was great.

And then my class completely, or almost completely, bombed this short writing assignment they were working on, so I got to scrap the lesson plan, put them in groups to start working out their problems, and travel from group to group helping them with the questions they had.

Those are fun days. You get to go around and fix things, little things that were getting in the way of their writing that I could explain and see the lights come on. It’s fantastic. You can see it happen: their eyes get just a little bit wider, and then they furiously grab the nearest pen and starting writing down what you told them. One student made a chart of the ways arguments are structured and that was fantastic too. And so I told them to go home, enjoy the Fourth, and we pushed back the short writing assignment that was causing all the trouble until next week. I’ll admit it, I reveled in their cheers — maybe a little too much.

And then my brother called me from Germany and we talked about soccer and language and religion and his upcoming test and that was great too.

Also, on the way home, my friend Seth left me a voicemail mocking my inability to have conversations with people who disagree with me. (I think he’s wrong about that, but we won’t discuss it now). And when I called him back we had another great conversation about board games and religious freedom.

And then, when I finally got home got to see my kids and my wife for a little while before I went to Jiu Jitsu (I took up Jiu Jitsu, it’s a long story, I’ll tell you later) and a couple people told me “you’re getting better.”

And then, when I finally got home again, I had one great conversation via text messages with Logan, in which he said some hilarious things that I won’t repeat here (they’re not bad — just need some context), and another great phone conversation with my friend Andrew. We talked about music and work and a bunch of other things that were equally great. We also talked about blogging, so everything came together and I figured the fates and stars had decreed that I should start back.

No, not the fates and stars, that’s stupid. People. People made me want to write here again. So I’m doing it.

And my beautiful wife has been working all day as a climbing tower, waiter, maid, cook, chauffer, and personal assistant while I’ve had such fun. Maybe one day I’ll be able to love her as she deserves.

People were good to me today.

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Some Perspectives on Dishwashing

DishwasherMy thought process:

Hmm. That’s really stuck on there. Will it come off in the dishwasher? Yeah it probably will. I’ll make sure it gets positioned for an optimal amount of soap and water.

Well what about that then? Well yeah, if that other thing would come off, then this probably will too. I’ll spray it with a little hot water first, just to be sure. There, let that soak in a bit and I’m sure it’ll break loose when the cycle starts.

Ok, that probably won’t come off in the dishwasher. But. . . you know, for the sake of science I think I’ll put it in anyway. At least see how much does come off. Maybe it’ll all come off. Heck, maybe I’ve been underestimating our dishwasher this whole time and a mess like that is a piece of cake for it. Yeah. I’m gonna put it in and see what happens. (I better make sure that I do the emptying though: women just don’t understand scientific inquiry and she’d get mad at me for not rinsing it off first—when I obviously didn’t forget to rinse it off).

Really, in order to thoroughly test it, I should try with a couple different detergents to see which is the best one. They all advertise that crap about making wineglasses shine: I want to see which one can strip the finish off my non-stick pans.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure this mess is really enough of a challenge. Maybe I can bake it on there a bit more. Hey look! The oven is still preheated from dinner. . .

My wife’s thought process:

If I re-stack the blue bowls in sideways overlapping triangles, I can squeeze this white bowl into the row with the others and the top shelf will be perfectly packed.

But the bottom shelf is woefully disorganized. Ugh. I have this space here that would be perfect for a row of coffee cups, but I’ve only got one that’s dirty. Imagine that: this whole big pile of dishes and only one dirty coffee cup.

I know! We have company coming tomorrow night and we’ll have coffee after dinner. That should produce the perfect amount of coffee cups to fill this section evenly, and the colors will actully match well with the mixing bowl section next to it.

Well, there’s no sense in running the dishwasher if it isn’t full yet. I’ll wait till tomorrow after dinner. (But I better go ahead and hand-wash all of these dishes that won’t fit. Otherwise in the morning he’ll wonder why in the world the dishwasher hasn’t been run while all these dishes sit here. Men just don’t understand that if you do something right the first time that you won’t have to do it wrong three times.)

Oh look, another spoon—but the spoon slot is full. . .

My three-year-old son’s thought process

Water running!

Sprayer!

If I help daddy with the dishes maybe he will let me use the sprayer to help rinse and I can push the lever on the back and spray the water on the soapy dishes and rinse the bubbles down the drain and maybe I can use the sprayer to do that and make the water come out but try not to get the water outside the sink but that’s really not a problem because water makes everything SO MUCH BETTER!

Why do they makes sinks so high that I can’t reach them and I have to push a chair over from the table and it’s so heavy that I can’t push very fast and what if dad finishes washing the dishes before I can get there even though I told him to wait for me after he said yes and if that happens I won’t get to use the sprayer and then I would be really sad?

Oh I can see the water! Touch it touch it touch it! Ow it’s hot! He’s handing me the sprayer THE SPRAYER! Now I can wash the bubbles down the drain.

Oops I got it out of the sink.

 

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You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

I haven’t blogged in at least a month. I feel terribly bad about this, but not too much, because you’re not really out there. You’re not real people.

I’ve been on the track of an idea, which is my favorite part of blogging. It’s immensely satisfying to chase after an idea and hold it down until it condenses itself into a manageable amount of words—and then to organize and fiddle with those words so that other people will like them and say: “hey, nice words.” Positively addicting.

But I can’t get this idea right. It’s complicated and difficult and I feel like I could write a book about it at times, and then, at other times, like I couldn’t write a single sentence. Is it driving you crazy to know what it is? Well too bad. You’ll have to check back later and see if I’ve managed to track it down.

But I’ve also had a minor sort of revelation about blogging that is throwing a wrench in the works.

A lot of blogging and writing on the internet in general has a distinct sort of character, even in sources that claim—or pretend—to be more than blogs. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it is intentionally meant to inspire a sort of outrage. It leads with an inflammatory title and follows with a vilifying damnation of a person or group of people in a way that readers can get behind. It’s all a “grab your pitchforks and torches!” sort of mentality.

And I’ve had one of those moments where I have recognized it and don’t want to write it anymore. It’s like learning the definition of a new word and suddenly realizing it’s ubiquity (I had this experience with the word ubiquitous of all things), but it’s the opposite. Instead of seeing it everywhere and being happy in newfound knowledge, I see this kind of writing and momentarily lose a little bit of hope.

There’s a verse in James that springs to mind. It says that the anger of men does not produce the righteousness of God. Or something like that. It’s somewhere in the first couple chapters.

Fine. I’ll look it up.

I got it right, but the Authorized Version says wrath instead of anger. (It’s important to capitalize Authorized Version, just as it is important to say it slowly and with emphasis when speaking; everyone carrying around their NIV’s and NLT’s should feel slightly ashamed— I kid, I kid.)

It’s easy to write angrily. Really, I think it’s the easiest of moods to write in. Word’s flow, they’re biting and witty and immensely satisfying. But I’ve grown tired of reading it, and I’m a little upset when I see it in my own writing.

So, it’s time for a new strategy. I’m working on developing it, but at least for now I’ve got a good excuse for the poor pattern of posting that all of you non-existent people can read.

Also. . . I played a lot of video games.

Oh, and kudos to Logan for picking up the slack with some good stuff.

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We’re all to Blame

ImageThe 2008 financial crisis was felt globally.  Prior to the crisis, for years, stock prices and real estate values had climbed.  This was due because of complex investments that were backed by mortgages whose value dropped. This contributed to a plunging market, country, and the various firms involved on the edge of collapse.  This recklessness, as illustrated by S. Mitra Kalita’s Wall Street Journal article, cost American families’ wealth to fall by $11 trillion, an amount equal to Germany’s, Japan’s, and the United Kingdom’s annual output.  This collapse led to the largest extortion case in world history, a 700 billion bailout, funded by American taxpayers.  Where did the government fail?  The government failed to oversight the bank’s leverages.  Consequently, as short-term profits increase the long-term stability decayed leading to a cataclysm, the 2008 crash.

First, the cataclysm happened because banks were overleveraged.  The apex of the overleveraging was subprime mortgages and the securities and derivatives that were spun out of them, meaning that there was too little cash to cover the risk.  How bad could it be?  Bear Stearns, an investment firm, leveraged at thirty-five to one when it failed, according to Roddy Boyd’s Fortune Magazine article.  Jimmy Cayne, the CEO of Bear Stearns, was playing bridge during the meltdown and according to CNBC, smoking pot.  Traditionally, commercial bank leading is leveraged at 10 or 12 to 1, thus illustrating Bear Stearns recklessness.  This is where the government failed.  It failed to oversight and restrain the excessive leverage that was being practiced.  This lack of oversight was encouraged by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that compartmentalized how certain banks can operate, such as commercial or investment bank.   These compartmentalizations allow individuals to pick their risk.  It encouraged a bottleneck affect on leveraging within commercial banking, creating more protection for accounts and the financial sector.  This act was put into law in response to the Great Depression.

There are bizarre critics about what caused the financial crisis.  Some argue government intervention within the market was the culprit.  Daniel Mitch, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argued the problem was the government’s policy within the Federal Reserve’s “easy-money policy.”  This easy-money policy was the Federal Reserve’s decision to lower interest rates to “artificially low levels” which he argues, “set in motion the conditions for a housing bubble.”  The second part of his criticism is the Community Reinvestment Act.  He argues that the act “extorted” banks into making loans to persons that would they otherwise would not.  Third, he claims that tax deductions such as the mortgage interest deduction in the tax code contributed as well, however he stops there and does not follow through on why that is.  He is not alone in blaming the government’s Community Reinvestment Act.  Economist Stan Liebowitz, in a New York Post article, argued that the act, in the 1990s, encouraged a “loosening of lending standards throughout the banking industry.”  The language changes from Daniel Mitch’s “extortion” to Liebowitz’s loosening of standards; the latter case is the best depiction.  The banks, housing lenders, and the government were playing a non-zero game.  The private banking industry no doubt encouraged government to pass acts such as CRA along with the repel of Glass-Steagall Act, doing so created profits for decades.

The government was not going to regulate leverages in industries that seem to be working well, both monetarily and civically– yet it was all delusional.  The critics do not address what were the penalties on the lenders if they withheld loans from qualified individuals, if any penalties at all.  Second, what about the complex investment packages such as the Collateralized Debt Obligation, which is made up of hundreds of individual residential mortgages. The CDOs are largely blamed for the crisis, as Warren Buffet defined them “weapons of mass destruction.”  The government did not encourage that.  That was an industry led profit scheme.  Arguably, the CRA and the Fed’s “easy-money policy” was a deregulation.  Instead of regulating leverages, those policy gave greater mobility for investors to maneuver into positions to create profits which were unsustainable.  To say that over-regulation was the problem is wrong, it is too general.  The government did not regulate the correct area, the leverage. There is a difference. Additionally, government regulation needs to be consistent, too often regulation is subject to political winds.

Who deserves most of the blame for 2008?

Big government?  Big Banks? Lenders? Investors? Insurance companies?

Image

or

Regular Americans  who were not realistic about their budgets or their ability to pay.  If regular folks were rational and number oriented, regardless how appealing a loan may look, Americans wouldn’t have created 2008 crisis.

The real answer is all.

This is a great song to use to reflect on your new found glory.

Sum 41- Were all to Blame

Take everything left from me
ALL
TO
BLAME

How can we still succeed, taking what we don’t need?
Telling lies as alibis, selling all the hate that we breed
SUPERSIZE OUR TRAGEDIES(You can’t define me, or justify greed)
Bought in the land of the free!
(LAND, FREE)

And we’re all to blame
We’ve gone too far
From pride to shame
We’re trying so hard
We’re dying in vain
We’re hopelessly blissful and blind
to all we are
We want it all
With no sacrifice!!

Realize we spend our lives living in a culture of fear
Stand to salute, say thanks to the man of the year
How did we all come to this?(You can’t define me, or justify greed)
This greed that we just can’t resist!
(RE-SIST)

And we’re all to blame
We’ve gone too far
From pride to shame
We’re trying so hard
We’re dying in vain
We’re hopelessly blissful and blind
to all we are
We want it all
Everyone wants it all
with no
SACRIFICE!!

Tell me now, what have we done? We don’t know!
I can’t allow what has begun to tear me down,
Believe me now, we have no choice left
With our backs against the wall!!

And now we’re all to blame
We’ve gone too far
From pride to shame
We’re hopelessly blissful and blind
When all we need
Is something true
To believe
Don’t we all?
Everyone, everyone
We will fall

‘Cause we’re all to blame
We’ve gone too far
From pride to shame
We’re trying so hard
We’re dying in vain
We want it all
Everyone, don’t we all?

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The American Cave Dweller

ImageIn Plato’s Republic, he saw democratic citizens as chained prisoners in a cave. The only existence the prisoners have known was the life in the cave. These prisoners can only look forward. In front of them are figured shadows that are placed on the cave’s wall. These shadows are the prisoners’ understanding of nature and reality. There are two outcomes if a prisoner is released. First, once a prisoner sees where the shadows are projected from, the prisoner can become fearful and sit back into the reality they know and are comfortable. The alternative, the prisoner sees the true reality and adventures off outside the cave to get a further understanding.

It is commonly understood, in the United States, that the purpose of going to college is to receive greater pay rather than a deeper reflection of the nature and context of the world one lives. With this philosophy or ideal pursuit of materialism this may produce a culture that promotes ideas of a good life, that may, only serves the economy rather than the psychological need or the realities that American society faces.

An example can be given in the wake of September 11th when President Bush encouraged Americans to go shopping to encourage economic stability and growth, therefore, ignoring the psychological effects and the realities of September 11th while pursuing a course of war and tax cuts to the upper classes. These actions are similar to Plato’s cave analogy. Instead of educating Americans on the reason for those events and providing for the psychological needs, America was told to continue in the same coarse of understanding, prejudices, and practices. This was America’s fearful return to the figured shadows. The American leadership made no call for a shared sacrifice when it came to taxes to pay for a war, a first in American history, and no call to service but only a call to shop. This event was a lost opportunity for Americans to further strengthen their communities, reflect on the ideal citizen, and reevaluate America’s perception according to lands that are most foreign to it. America can benefit from Plato’s warning, therefore, avoiding a culture that does not provide the appropriate mechanism to deal with physiological stress and problems.

Plato criticizes democracies because its leaders have a tendency to give to its masses rather than call for sacrifice in times of need. Such example is the Bush Tax Cuts. For the first time in American history, the United States chose not to raise taxes in a time of war, a 700 billion dollar bailout, and a costly heath-care reform bill. Instead of raising taxes, the United States has chosen to raise the debt ceiling. Since 1962, the ceiling has been raised 74 times and the last 10 , where from the past decade (Austin and Levit, 2012).

Plato predicted these actions in democracies. For Plato, the masses are reluctant to bear the burdens and cost of its society. For when the people have the power to boot officer holders, it forces the leadership to kick difficult issues down the road because of the desire to retain their position. Plato argues, that this will lead to the demise of democratic governments. America cannot ignore this warning from Plato. We, as citizens, must ask themselves what are the mutual obligations in times of good as well as bad and encourage long-term thinking. Aristotle’s argument of the role of the legislator is to produce laws that produce good citizens. If laws are to produces good citizens then there may be laws that have a sacrificial nature, therefore, making it difficult to enact. If legislators were to follow the Plato argument as being philosophers, perhaps the United States will benefit in the long-term and ponder on the implications of ignoring difficult issues such Medicare and Social Security.

Sources:

Austin, Andrew, and Mindy Levit. “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases.”http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL31967.pdf. Congressional Research Service, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL31967.pdf&gt;.

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Follow Your Bliss

Walking out to see the land
I wonder how it began.
The sun burns magnesium blacken souls
Brittle leaves dry scaly cold.
Atoms move slowly taking toll
Bitter with absent knowledge
Being hordes forever old.
 
Perceptions touch and electric nodes
Broken, crumbling, abductive fear.
Hume churning blackened holes
Kant with Paine at Nietsche’s glare
My, my, what to bear!
 
What does it matter if we are here?
Spiders weave their noble webs.
Birds sing and craft their little beds.
Clearly they are playing another game instead.
 
 
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Moral Reasoning as an answer to Harris and Epicurus Part 2

My last post started an exploration of this difficult issue, and it needs some clarification before it can be further expanded.  Let me start with what I feel is a safe assumption.

In the U.S., the dominant moral philosophy is a sort of democratic relativism. Morality is mostly a private affair (unless it has crossed into the realm of legality). If a person believes a certain action is immoral, that person is free to manage their own life according to their beliefs, but any attempt to impose that morality on another person is met with resistance, unless enough people agree that an action is immoral, then society imposes morality by law, convention, or shame.

Morality, then, is seen as a matter of preference, and it only becomes a social force when it becomes a social preference. (In a system like this, there are always issues that fall into the middle of the consensus and then become a severely debated topic: abortion, homosexuality, internet piracy, etc. And often this leads to mildly conflicting statements like “I think it’s wrong, but I don’t think it should be illegal.)

Also, our current morality is mostly a pragmatic system: i.e. it answers the question “how should I live?” and produces practical answers. This is distinct from dogmatic moral systems which tend to make statements more about the nature of the world: i.e. “it is immoral to become intoxicated.”

So, our system is preferential, societal, and pragmatic. To be clear, I haven’t tried to establish this, merely explain it. So just go with it for now.

There’s nothing wrong with a system like this. It works. Sometimes it is not very logical, especially when viewed from a historical perspective (this is mostly my opinion), but morality does not necessarily have to be logical.

Now, here’s the important point: people like Harris, Epicurus, and other atheists have fairly often leveled the claim at religion that in such a world as ours, a deity must be either impotent, indifferent (or evil), or non-existent. Because the world is so full of evil.

This argument is not logical. It is akin to saying that God must be impotent, indifferent, or non-existent because he isn’t a Republican. If morality is an interrelated system of human preferences, why in the world should a deity follow it? (A moral system does not have to be logical, but a moral argument must be.)

And if morality is something more, where does it come from? It can’t come from the nature of reality, because you can’t logically get the way things ought to be from the way they are. (I covered this more in the previous post).

So, the dominant morality in our society is a distinctly human idea, and a pragmatic one; it is functional, but not dogmatic. For moral criticism to be leveled at a deity from this standpoint is patently absurd. You and I can agree all day long that it is a bad thing evil things to happen, but it does not logically follow that anyone else should, just because we do. The entire human race can decide that stealing is wrong, but, logically speaking, that does not make stealing wrong. When we try to add logic to the statement “stealing is wrong because. . .” we very quickly get lost in circles and semantics. We can easily say, “because it hurts other people.” But why is hurting others wrong? “Because I would not want it to happen to me.” But then we have only come back to your preferences.

Everyone knows it is wrong. But we have no logical reason other than everyone “feels that way”.  Either that feeling is merely a strangely universal preference, or there is some other force behind it: some spark of the divine.

And this, simply, is the catch-22 of Harris’s criticism. If we disbelieve in God because he is morally unacceptable to us, we must assume the existence of a morality that is higher than ourselves (i.e. supernatural) in order to do so.

The moral argument against the existence of a deity is logically inconsistent. In order for morality to serve as a basis for that claim, it must presuppose the existence of that which it seeks to deny.

 

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